« March 2009 | Main | May 2009 »

17 posts from April 2009

Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Favorite Things


The other day, Kathleen asked me to make a list of my favorite things and then she wrote them all over a Renoir painting.  Sorry, Auguste, but my daughter is creative like that.  I wanted to share her story with you that she published on her new blog: Katrunk (an abbreviation for Kathleen's Trunk). 

My Favorite Things
by: Kathleen Smith

The best things in life aren't things at all..

In fact, they are the moments we share that landmark the things we remember. The very things we keep as mementos in our minds to remind us why those moments were so special.

Yesterday was one of those occasions for my mother. It was her 50th birthday and I have chosen to dedicate my brush to create a painting which captures what's special to her.

The title for this piece is "My Favorite Things"

This will be a Master Copy of my Mothers favorite artist, Auguste Renoir. The girl in this portrait is remarkably identical to a photo taken of my mother when she was a small child which makes this piece especially significant. Framing the portrait is a whimsical list of all my mothers favorite things, be it Music, Movies or .. Me!

Sincerely, I couldn't resist.

I certainly look forward to the completion of this lovely memento.


Thank you Kathleen!  You sure are growing up fast.  Oh, you're already grown up?  But wait a minute!  I'm not!  I'm still a kid!

Well, this week sure has been a busy week - and a memorable one too.  My children made it the best birthday ever - all week long.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?...


It's a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?...


I've always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.


So, let's make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we're together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?


Won't you please,
Won't you please?
Please won't you be my neighbor?


Don't ask me what made me want to break out into song from Mister Roger's Neighborhood.  Maybe it was this lopsided cake.


Or the chocolate donuts that the kids and I wolfed down in about 50 seconds.  Get it? "50 seconds?" Yeah, yeah, you get it.


Or maybe it was this exceptional work of art presented to me by my grandson, Glen.


Then again, maybe it was this picture that sent me over the edge with joy singing "It's a Beautiful Day in this Neighborhood."


But wait!  There's more!  While I was napping yesterday after having been up all night with worry about Geneva (my mother-in-law), Matthew tiptoed into my room and put birthday surprises all around me.


And they were all hand made I'll have you know!  My goodness!  No wonder I broke out into song!


And all this love and all this joy!  All the good intentions! ha ha ...


Just made me want to do a jig - and there was a lot of huggin' going on too.


And you know, it really is the sentimental things that mean the most.  Take this beautiful painting by Renoir, for instance - Kathleen knows that Renoir is my favorite artist, and she thinks this little girl looks a lot like I did when I was a child, and so she had me make a long list of all of my favorite things and then she wrote them on this painting.  But this is only a reference for something bigger as Kathleen is going to paint this Master painting for me with all my favorite things written around the edges.  What a beautiful gift! And, she posted a beautiful story for me on her blog Katrunk.

And sweet Sarah. She dedicated this song to me for my birthday, and posted it on her blog The Pink Life, because she knows that in the 70s I was the dancing queen - young and sweet - only seventeen! Oh my! Don't get me started!


Oh, and as for the "Soapsuds" - that was my nickname given to me by my Daddy when I was a baby because I cried every time my mother took me out of the Mr. Bubble bubble bath.  I wanted to play until the water was 50 degrees.  Get it?  50 degrees?


I received phone calls and emails from old boy friends ...


and the best girlfriend in the world - Beth, who sang "Happy Birthday" to me over the phone. Which, by the way, was the most beautiful rendition I have ever heard - but, of course, that is because Beth is a professional songstress and has been singing her heart out for 30+ years (when she's not cooking).


Now that I think about it, the fact that I had me a glass of very sweet Alice White Wine from Australia with my dinner and my slice of cake may just have something to do with me breaking out into song to Mister Roger's Neighborhood - off key a bit too (and a little off balance). (Thank goodness Beth wasn't within ear shot).


Yep, everything was a little off balance this birthday, except for the love, the joy, the family, and friends  that surrounded me.

And, I think I'll keep that with me for another 50 years.  How about it neighbor?


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

And then I Turned 50


April 27, 2009

Kathleen made this collage for me today.  I got the message loud and clear.  I'm 50.  Now what?


April 28, 2009

You know, though, the more I look at this collage the more I love it.  I think 50 is awesome and I am going to savor this positive frame of mind going forward.  I am going to enjoy today, learn from yesterday, and live for tomorrow.  I'm 50, and that's pretty great.

Thank you Kathleen for all the hard work you put into creating this banner and for making my birthday so special and fun.  I am truly proud to have you as my daughter, to have learned so many growing-up lessons with you and from you.  We sorta grew up together and took the tough shots along the road of life together too.  I am thrilled to have you home, to have you close to me, to have you in my life.  I look at you in amazement that you are my daughter - my 30 year old daughter at that!  We have a lot to learn from each other and a lot of life to share.  I am looking forward to helping you reach your goals each day and to make your dreams come true. 

I love you Kathleen.  Thank you for showing me how much you love me too.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Irony is a Strange Bedfellow


This is supposed to be a happy day.  Today is my 50th birthday and will hopefully be the day I get my second wind.  But, for the last 25 years I have thought, in the back of my mind, that I would not live to be 50.  Death seemed to knock at the door of my subconscious.  Well, death is knocking at the door, and the call came at 3:00am as we were all sleeping.  Not mine, but my mother-in-law's. 


Geneva and I have had a strange relationship from the beginning.  A relationship that began in my pre-teen years when she worked for my father in politics.  Bob used to come to our house from time-to-time to stuff envelopes for our political party or attend the parties we had at our home that were politically centered.  I never gave Bob a second look during those years, but that is beside the point. 


When Bob and I announced that we were getting married, the day after Christmas 1992, we did so with Bob's Aunt Bernice and Uncle Tommy present in addition to Bob's father, Ken.  We did this strategically, because no woman was good enough for Geneva's son, and we knew she would react.  We could never have guessed how she would react though - although we knew it would not be joyfully. 

KandG2 Bob and I sat on the fireplace hearth and Geneva was in her recliner facing us to our left and Ken was in his recliner to our right, also facing us (facing the fireplace).  When Bob announced that we were getting married, Geneva launched out of her recliner like a bullet and came for my throat screaming "No! No! No!"  She got her hands around my throat and I proceeded to smack her off of me as Ken and everyone else were yelling at her to sit down and shut up.  Bob, being the 6'4" 240 lb bud that he was at the time, picked his mother up, threw her over his shoulders kicking and screaming, and promptly sat her butt back down in the recliner and told her if she got up again he would call the police.  She was having a temper tantrum worse than a child and it was pathetic. 

She began to scream obscenities about my father (who had passed away 12 years prior).  She began to judge me and call me "tramp" and anything else she could wrap her brain around at the time - until Uncle Tommy piped up and said "Geneva, sit down and shut the hell up!  If the daughter of Jesus Christ were to want to marry your son, she wouldn't even be good enough!"  And, with that, Geneva sat down with horns coming from her skull and flames coming from her nostrils.  It was not a pleasant experience.  As it would turn out, Bob and I got married almost 3 weeks later in a lovely, rather private ceremony at our church, and as we turned to walk from the alter, I gave a single red rose to Geneva, who was sitting in the front row looking lovely.  It was my way of extending to her a peace offering.  Peace that would not come until years later, until she developed Alzheimer's disease.


Bob and I have been married now for almost 17 years, and in that time, we have had some hair-raising arguments with Geneva.  Most of them were emotionally driven (by her) but even I understood that that had to do with the fact that she was uneducated (she quit school in 9th grade) and didn't have the tools to control herself or think clearly, logically, intelligently, about certain situations.  She reacted to everything emotionally and argumentatively.

KandG9 We noticed in 2000 that she was having difficultly remembering things and taking care of Ken.  Ken was a severe stroke victim and suffering from many physical and mental challenges of his own, and he needed someone to take care of him - not the other way around.  And so, after months of what was obvious deterioration, we made the difficult decision to move Ken and Geneva in with us just after September 11th - and our already large family of 6 that included our 2 children, my mother who had lived with us for years, and my grandson whom we have raised as our own since he was 2 weeks old, became even larger.  Our house may have been situated on 3 acres, but it was bursting at the seams with only 4 bedrooms - and 4 very small bedrooms at that.  But, we managed.

We managed for 4 years, and a tough 4 years it was too.  During those years, Bob and I remodeled and upgraded his parent's home of 32 years, and we did it all together.  We worked tirelessly to bring it to the point of being able to sell.  It looked beautiful and we sold it within a month of putting it on the market.  Those were different days, though, too. 

In addition, both Geneva and Ken had become incontinent, and caring for their needs became my responsibility - showering them, helping them dress, serving them, coming their hair.  It was exhausting work, but Bob was their only son and I loved him dearly - and I still do.  For Bob I would do anything within my God-given power to care for his parents, and I did, even when it was the most emotionally and physically trying experience for me.  This is not to say that Bob did not help, he did.  Believe me he did.  He also cooked for the family and helped clean and do the laundry which was the size of Mt. Everest.  We shared in the lawn care and cutting 3 acres was a job, but we also cut the grass of several of our neighbor's each week and they were also on 3 acres each.  You try cutting 18 acres each week for a few extra bucks and see how hard it is - especially on your back!  My back was put through hell during those years of all that yard work and landscaping business that Bob and I had on the side.


During that 4 years, my mother had a hysterectomy, I had a hysterectomy, I discovered a lump on the back of my mother's neck that turned out to be lymphoma, Ken broke his hip, Geneva broke her hip, Bob lost his job, I just about lost my mind, Geneva went through numerous stages of not knowing any of us, including her husband of 52 years, and then Ken got pneumonia, but didn't show any symptoms.  Bob even took him to the doctor who said he was clear.  I knew something was wrong.  I even took his picture because I thought I had to and I am glad I did.  I told Bob that we should take his father to the hospital.  It was a Sunday.  Bob said that his father just needed to rest and that his doctor said he'd be fine.  (You'd think after all our years of marriage he would've learned not to argue with me on issues like this) Something in me told me to get Ken to the hospital immediately, and so I called 911 and told Bob, who was out on the tractor, that an ambulance was coming for his father.

KandG12 Ken sat in our front hall and all of us took turns hugging him and kissing him on the cheek and telling him that we loved him.  Ken really liked my mother and they would joke a lot together.  He looked at my mother, Mary, and said "Well, Mary, I guess this is it."  My mom replied "Ol, Ken, you'll be back here before you know it.  You are going to be fine."  He knew otherwise.  He knew.

Bob and I followed the ambulance to the hospital and the rest of the family stayed at home.  They x-rayed Ken's lungs and discovered that not only did he have pneumonia, but that one lung was completely full of fluid and the other was nearly 3/4 full.  Why had the doctor, just the day before, not caught this?  Well, we learned something that day - that when the lungs are full or nearly full, they sound normal.  They don't make noise to indicate that there is fluid in the lungs.  Bet you didn't know that did you?  So, they put him on an aggresive antibiotic, but he had already gone septic.  We prayed.  We waited.  The hospital staff did everything they could for him. 

By 2am he looked like he was turning the corner and may recover.  We prayed some more. I looked at Bob and said "He's going to be fine, sweetheart, he'll be coming home and joking with all of us again in no time."  Bob, with tears in his eyes, looked at me and said "Hon, we haven't reached the witching hour yet." "Huh? What's the witching hour?" I asked.  "That's the hour that most people pass away.  The hour is 4am."  I had never heard of that.  I said "No way. Dad is going to be fine."  Bob just looked at me sadly and said "Let's hope so." 

KandG14 At 3:45am Ken's vital signs started to deteriorate.  He had been in a coma for about an hour or so. The doctors called us back into Ken's room.  The doctor said that we should stay with him and that they had done all they could.  It was his time.  Bob stood on one side and I on the other, and we both held one of his hands.  We told him we loved him.  We kissed him.  And then we watched him take his last breath at 4:00am.  Irony is a strange bedfellow don't you think?  Even more ironic is that they didn't have a cemetary plot, but my family had several.  My father-in-law is buried in the same cemetary with my father, my uncle, my paternal grandparents, and my paternal great-grandparents.  He is toe-to-toe with my family. Ironic isn't it?

Geneva had to go into a nursing home shortly thereafter for Alzheimer's patients.  As if fighting her when she had her faculties wasn't tough enough, fighting her with Alzheimer's was next to impossible. 

Before we put her in a nursing home, though, Bob and I felt we needed to make a decision.  An important decision.  You see, we both had grown up in Maryland.  Maryland was our home, but living there had become increasingly too expensive.  We were being taxed out of our own home you might say.  So, while the iron was hot and the market was perfect for selling our home, we had our home re-painted, and we fixed it up beautifully, and we sold it.  But, not before we decided where we would like to move.  And where we moved was to somewhere we had never been before - Charlotte, North Carolina.

KandG15 It is beautiful here, and the cost of living was far less than in Maryland.  We liked the people (most of them anyway) and we liked the architecture.  We liked the weather and the mild seasons.  We liked the schools (if we decided to put our children in a public school) and the colleges are some of the best in the country.  And so, shortly after Ken passed away in 2005, we found a place to call home in South Charlotte and we found a nice place for Geneva as well.  A place where she would be comfortable and cared for, and close by.

So here we are.  It is now a little after 5:00am and we are awaiting a call from the hospital.  Geneva fell earlier in the evening and was complaining that her hip hurt.  She has had a few tumbles in the last several months and we think they may be mini strokes, but we aren't sure.  We have kept close to the phone and they have kept us updated of her condition.  Shortly after 3:00am we received a call from the hospital.  It doesn't look good.  Geneva has a UTI and it has gone septic.  They are treating it aggressively and are doing all they can but it doesn't look good.  We are praying.  Bob is holding up stoically at the moment.

We all got up and got dressed, prepared to go to the hospital.  They were transferring her to another hospital with better facilities to treat her condition and an intensive care unit that had space.  And so we wait.

TKandG5oday is my birthday, and if you have been reading this blog for any time at all, you may recall that I have had a suspicion that I would not live to be 50.  Today, at 3:13 this afternoon, I will be 50.  I have had this nagging feeling since I was in my mid-twenties that I would see death's door before 50.  Much of my family have a short lifespan.  Here's hoping that this will change.  Still, death knocks at the door.  It is not my death, but rather, it is at the door of my mother-in-law, Geneva.  Maybe it is her time to go home.  To be with her dear husband Ken.

 I was nervous this weekend when I went out shopping with my daughter to get her clothes.  I had my eye on every side street looking for someone to run a stop sign or for someone to cross over into my lane.  Believe me I was overly cautious this weekend when I went out.  Plus, having been sick with the flu all this past week didn't help and I'm still not completely over it. I wasn't taking any chances.  So, when the call came at 3:00am that Geneva had taken a turn for the worst, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  Irony is a strange bedfellow.

Oh my God, please don't let her die on my birthday.  On my 50th birthday.  Lord, please let her pull through this ordeal.

I'll let you know.


P.S.  If you get a chance, pop on over to my daughter, Sarah's website The Pink Life and read her post dedicated to me.  It is her special way of wishing me a happy birthday.  Naturally, it made me cry, but I sure did love the music at the end!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Making Beautiful Music Together

Saturday was an interesting day, the best part of which was listening to the children play music.  Thanks to a very nice tax return, we pumped up the creative processes in our music room by hooking up the baby grand piano to a midi interface and a MacBook laptop with Logic Express so that Sarah could create and turn her music into notation, record, and then upload it to iTunes.  Right now, she is the only one working the hardest to get her beautiful compositions on iTunes.  Matthew still has a way to go.

Garageband is really cool, and we also downloaded some tutorials from Sarah's favorite artists.  Like the song "Bubbly" by Colby Caillat. 

Sarah practiced all day.

And of course, Matthew and Glen wanted to get in on the action.

Matthew loves playing the guitar in striped pajamas.

Glen enjoys playing the drums.  And, I enjoy it too just as long as he has on the earphones and I can't hear it.

Hannah seems to always be at Sarah's feet when she is playing the piano.

Pretty cool setup, eh? 

Pretty crowded too, but I don't care. 

Sarah got into the swing of the whole setup, and was determined to learn her favorite song.

She practiced and practiced.

She enjoyed the video of Colby teaching how to play "Bubbly" on the guitar.

And I enjoyed listening.

"Hey, quiet down there, I'm trying to show Mom something I learned on the guitar."

"Mom, this is really annoying.  Why can't I have this room all to myself?"

"I really hate sharing.  I'm going to disconnect all of Matthew's instruments one day - soon."

"Finally - I have the room all to myself." 

Not for long. 

Note: All of these pictures were treated with Totally Rad's Action "Pool Party." 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

African Safari - "No, this is Not the Zoo"


In 2006, Big Bear went on a safari.  A real one.  It was a business trip, so he was obviously employed at the time.  I was so jealous.  He went for 10 days to Africa and brought home some of the most beautiful souvenirs, the best of which were the pictures and the movies.  Since yesterday, I have been going through the pictures and wanted to share some with you.  As I finish editing and uploading the videos, I will share them as well. 

I hate to admit it, but I have never been out of the United States.  I am not a traveled person and I envy anyone who is.  Traveling the world has always been a dream of mine - if I can muster up enough energy, time, and money.  So, while Bob scurried off to Africa, I stayed home with the children and took care of the homefront.  I remember how anxious I was for Bob to get home - safely.  I even pulled up the flight tracker and tracked his trip on every flight. 

So, today, for starters, I am going to share with you some of the pictures that Bob took on his safari from the cab of a jeep.  I was amazed how close these animals got to their jeep.  No, Bob did not have a zoom lens.  As a matter of fact, he took a cheapy Olympus pocket digital camera because it was easy to carry around.  The pictures were beautiful and some of them were amazing. 

If you have never been on safari - like me - then you might wish you had the chance when you see these pictures.  National Geographic we are not, but Bob tells me he sure wishes they would offer him a job.  Enjoy ...


Isn't he beautiful?  Big Bear just told me a story about the lions - The lions, and only the lions, were kept in a separate area and preserve of the several hundred thousand acre game preserve and this is done for a good reason.  That reason is because the lions will naturally hunt and they wreak havoc on the rest of the animals.  The other animals are free and do kill each other, but not as proportionately as the lions.  They let the lions out once every week or two to do a natural kill but they are tracked by radio transmitter so that they can be located, tranquilized, and recaptured.


So, see the fence behind the lions?  This is their protected area of the preserve.  I can't get over how beautiful they are.




Here is a water buffalo.  Bob said he just took a picture of him staring at him. 



An antelope or a gazelle


This hyena was the smaller of the others that were stalking in the bush.  This one walked out in the road and dared them to come close.  He walks with such a deliberate strut that he knows he's a bad ass and dares you to tell him otherwise.  These hyenas were almost the size of the small lions.  They are really huge and very ugly. 



This was looking out over the park.  They were out for about 5 hours.  Bob said that if you break down you had better hope somebody comes along to help because you wouldn't want to be stuck out there at night.  Uh, Nope, wouldn't want that to happen.


The zebras tended to roam near the wilderbeasts.  The zebra uses the wilderbeasts as a radar for danger.  If the wilderbeast gets nervous, the zebra knows to get out of the way and seek safety.


This is a wilderbeast.  Bob saw them in herds of thousands and occasionally stampeding.  They are the most numerous animal in the preserve and a source of food for the predators.



My favorite shot of all.  Bob has a video of these 2 elephants getting rough with each other right in front of the jeep.  I can't wait to edit the video of that and get it uploaded.


Someone else wants to get in on the action.  This is a younger elephant who wanted to be part of the action, but they wouldn't let him because he was still too young. Poor little guy.


Maybe 3's a crowd.  Ya think?  This is funny, Bob said that the elephants started off fighting about 30 yards away from their truck and in a grand game of tug-o-war, the group of elephants backed their way up against the vehicle and actually bumped them back and forth.  At one point, Bob was able to reach out and touch one of the elephants during the fight and then thought better of it as the guide tried to quickly get them out of there.  Remember, these are not trained elephants, they are wild and going thru the mating ritual.  They are practicing tusk wrestling in preparation for their mating season.  Ladies watch out!


He and his colleagues stayed at some golf resort.  The view was beautiful.

That's it for today.  I'm still trying to shake this flu believe it or not.  It's been over a week and I just can't shake it entirely.  So, while I've been resting, I've been looking through discs of images that I've come across, uploading them to my computer, making some edits as necessary, and then uploading them to Flickr.  It is a breezy, beautiful day outside and I should probably take a walk.  As long as no hyenas get in my path, it ought to be enjoyable.  I do, however, believe that it will not be like any walk through Africa.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Motherhood's Identity Crisis


I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about my life and motherhood.  Too much thinking if you ask me, but enough that I wanted to talk about it.  You see, I'm going to be 50 in one week, and the strange thing is, is that I did not think I would make it this far.  Actually, I haven't yet - I still have a week to go and just about anything can happen in the course of a week - let's hope it's all good. 


Ever since my father passed away when I was 21 years old I've had this feeling that I was not going to live to a ripe old age, that somehow, due to my family's history of kicking the bucket at an early age, that somehow I'd be the one to go before my older brothers, before even my mother, before my husband, and definitely before my children.  Somehow, though, I think a lot of that has to do with fear.  There is no other way for me to explain it.  Take a look at this picture, for instance.  Now, is that introspective or what?  hmmm.  To think how far we've come.  See my brother Bill on the left?  He had a heart attack in December, 2007.  He has always had a laissez faire attitude about things.  He told me the other day that I was going to live to the ripe old age of 96.  Not.  I don't feel it.  I don't feel like there is this life and years ahead for me.  But Bill - I hope you're right.  You're still going to outlive me.  You watch. 


And Mike, the guy on the right.  He's my older brother.  He is 11 years older than I.  He has had skin cancer from spending too much time out in the South Florida sun.  But he's okay and wearing protection now.  It's about damn time.  My father - he passed away at the age of 55 in 1980.  I was 21 years old and 5 months pregnant with my 2nd daughter when he passed away.  My mother - she has lived with us for 11 years and is now visiting with my brother Mike and his wife in Florida.  Keeping Mike out of trouble (just kidding).  Mom will be 85 this year and is still as sharp as a tack.  A little rusty around the joints, but otherwise sharp where it matters - upstairs, and her hair looks a lot better now than it did back in the 60s.


You see, I've always lived with fear although you probably wouldn't guess that from this picture.  Isn't that strange?  I mean, I've really had no reason to be afraid, I just have always been insecure, fearful, feeling alone even when I'm surrounded by people who love me and whom I love.  I told you I had a lot on my mind.  I can remember as a child being terrified every time my parents would argue that our home and family would fall apart.  I had this recurring dream that I was outside alone in a ferocious wind storm clinging to a tree and holding on with all my might as the wind began to carry me away, and just before I let go someone would save me - it was usually my brother, Billy.  Don't ask me why, but he was always the one saving me from the evil storm.  Maybe that had something to do with all the motorcycle wrecks I had while riding on the back of my father's motorcycle when I was a kid.  We were always getting into accidents and I always had my arms around him clinging for dear life with my eyes closed feeling the wind beat against my face and the whoosh whip past my ears and through my helmet just before we'd fall over and dad would end up sitting on my head.


As I got older, I still had that dream, but there was this underlying feeling that I was alone.  I had a desire, at an early age, to be a young mother.  I wanted someone in my life who would never leave, who could never leave.  Wrong.  I was so naive.  I didn't have a clue.  I was afraid of what I couldn't do, and almost equally afraid of what I could - does any of that make sense? I also felt an urgency to find love and to make a home and family of my own, because something inside of me told me that my life was not going to be a long one.

Susan1 I was looking through my high school year book with my daughter yesterday and it rekindled some of those old feelings of inadequacy and fear.  All through high school I felt like I wasn't pretty enough or smart enough.  I was afraid to eat in the lunch room because I didn't have anyone to sit with.  I was afraid of being teased.  I don't know what for, I just was.  Probably middle school disasters coming back to haunt me.  Still, my fears kept getting more complicated, not less.  Talk about having issues.

I wasn't the type to hang out in cliques, so I ended up being a loner.  I had friends, but I didn't hang out with them when they were around their other friends.  Strange, I know.  When my father left home for another, much younger woman after 30+ years of marriage to my mother, I felt my world fall apart, and that was for most of my high school experience.  I couldn't wait to grow up.

Well, a lot of years have gone by since that time, and some of the fears have waned, but I still think about them.  I have this fear that if something happens to Bob, my whole world will collapse.  I fear that when my mother passes that I will surely lose my mind.  I fear that I have not made enough of my life in my own right to support myself or my family if I had to.  I fear I would be a failure not a survivor.  I have not had a fear of riding motorcycles, though.  I know, I'm weird.


It's strange, this getting older experience.  I still don't know who I am, and that even scares me.  Is there medication for this?  No, I'm not depressed.  No, I don't have anxiety.  I'm turning 50 in a week and what the hell do I have to show for myself?  I've turned into this frumpy, pajama wearing, barefoot image of my mother - only worse.  At least she gets dressed every morning.  I don't even do that most days.  I mean, I'm not going anywhere or seeing anyone except my family, so why bother?  Who would I be dressing up for?  And good grief, doesn't that just add to the already mountainous accumulation of laundry?  Why add more work for myself?  Am I pathetic or what?


I am in serious need of a vacation.  I look at celebrities and models in their 40s and 50s and some are even in their 60s and I wonder if they look like those pictures every day, or if that is just an illusion.  Probably the latter, but that image is still there making me feel old and inadequate as a woman who should be starting the second and best half of her life.  Instead I feel like I'm headed to a dead end, not the glorious journey.  Wasn't it Oprah who said that life begins at 50?  Then why the hell do I feel like mine is coming to an end? 

SusanProm Yep, I'm having a bit of an identity crisis at the moment.  But I am sure that this too will pass.  I'm not the thin, shapely, sexy, attractive young woman I used to be.  My life revolves around my children and my family.  I thrill for their successes.  I give them all I've got.  I no longer take care of myself like I once did and swore I would always do.  I no longer see the woman in the mirror that I once was.  I see a mother.  I see a wife.  I see a daughter, a sister, a friend.  I no longer see Susan, though, and in many ways, I miss her. 

I am sure that what I am feeling is not unique to me, and that is why I'm opening up here.  I wish I could say that I was looking forward to my 50th birthday, but I'm not.  I'm afraid. 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How to Protect our Children from High Tech Abuse


It wasn't too long ago that I, as a parent, thought that technology was a good thing - for parents and children alike, but the more involved my own children have become in social networking, chat rooms, myspace, facebook, cell phones, twitter, instant messaging, and God knows what else, I realize we have a whole lot more we need to do to protect our children from predators - those sick bastards out there who think nothing of luring our children into their web of lies and abuse. 

When my children were little, we bought each of them a cell phone (no camera or fancy stuff) just cell phones.  That was after we had purchased a Motorola walkie-talkie so that we could communicate with our children when they were out playing with friends in the community - and after we heard some man trying to get sassy with our daughter after hearing her talk to us over the walkie-talkie.  That was the end of that.


Cell phones were safer and we have discovered ways to protect our children.  For instance, they can only call certain phone numbers and can only receive calls from certain phone numbers.  I also like the tracking feature that parents can attach to their child's phone.  So, yes, there are benefits.  BUT, I have also learned that if a child wants to do things they know are a big no-no with their parents, they will surely find a way around it.  We may be able to protect them from some things, but we can't protect them from life.  And now, life is full of techno gadgets and gizmos, and internet programs and sites that lure in even the most behaved of children.

These same gadgets we enjoy at home - computers, cell phones, digital cameras, and social networking sites, are the same gadgets that criminals have at their disposal too, taking the sexual abuse of children to a whole new level.  Knowing this is the first step we can take, as parents, to protect our children. 

Here are just a few tips that might help you keep a closer eye on your child ...

Top 9 Things Every Parent Needs to Know:

1. Every child who has access to the internet is at risk.

Predators are experts at luring children—even smart, good-natured children can become victims. Young children are lured by love and are very trusting. Men who are predators know this and take advantage of our children.  A grown man who is a predator knows exactly what to "say" and ultimately "do" to entice an emotionally vulnerable child.

2. Understand technology and its potential dangers.

Purchase software that will restrict your child from potentially dangerous areas of the Internet, and only let your child access sites that you know are safe.  Keep the computer that the children use in a main part of the house, somewhere where you can see what they are doing, look over their shoulder if necessary, and monitor the time spent online.  Do Not put a computer in your child's bedroom. 

Screenshot_253. Don't keep your children in the dark.

Talk to your children!  Tell them stories that will alert them to the dangers of the internet.  Be open with your children so that they don't think that you are punishing them, but rather, protecting them.

4. Keep your personal computer locked down.

Do you have a laptop or personal computer in a home office?  Keep it locked down, so that when you are not at your computer, your child cannot access the internet.  My personal computer and laptop is password protected, so if I am inactive for a few minutes, my screensaver pops up and if I move the mouse, it requires a password to access.  This will keep the sneaky little boogers from getting on the internet where they don't belong.

5. Monitor your child's activity regularly.

If you purchase cyber safe software to monitor your child, it isn't going to do you or your child any good if you don't check to see what they've been up to.  Cyber software can only do so much and it isn't the internet babysitter.  It is ultimately your responsibility as a parent to protect your children on the internet at home.  Remember, it isn't enough just to monitor their computer activity.  As parents, you need to monitor their cell phone activity as well.  This isn't snooping - it is protecting your child.

6. Talk to the parents of your child's friends.

Do your children have a best friend that they visit regularly?  Do they have sleepovers?  It's time to talk to the parents.  How safe are their kids on the internet?  How much access do the friends have to the online social network?  Do your child's friend(s) have a cell phone (with a camera?) and do they have a computer in their bedroom?  Not to be nosy, but hey!  As a parent, it is our responsibility to know these things and ask the important questions.  Don't trust that your child is safe just because you think the friend is a nice kid or their parents are nice people.  They may not be as computer safety savvy as you'd like and it's time you enlighten them.  Bottom line - if you feel uncomfortable or sense a red flag - forget the sleepover, or better yet, bring the sleepover to your house where there are no computers or cell phones in bedrooms and every other computer is chained and locked down.

Screenshot_27 7. Communication is key.

All of your child's friends may be taking pictures with their cell phones, talking in chat rooms, and setting up profiles in Facebook, but that doesn't mean yours has to.  Talk to your children.  Educate them of the dangers of the internet and of taking pictures with their cell phone or digital camera.  Most of all, do your research and get to know your child's friends and the parents of those friends.  Communicate with your child.  Communicate with your child's friends, and communicate with their parents.  Asking too much is better than not asking at all.

8. Talk to your children about what is inappropriate.

Children are trusting and don't think that pictures that they take of themselves and each other even in a bathing suit could be considered pornography.  Set them straight.  Explain to them the dangers of taking such pictures and how they can get in the wrong hands.

9.  No Texting.  No Camera Phones.  No Problems.

Bottom line, if you don't want your kid to shoot his foot off, don't put a loaded gun in his pocket.  Giving your child a cell phone is one thing, but having a camera in hand and texting and internet privileges on that phone is an entirely different animal.  Don't give it to them and they won't miss it.  Well, they may want it because their friends have it, but that doesn't mean you have to give in to the pull of society's evils.  Your kids will thank you some day for keeping them on a short leash.

Now that I've got all of that off my chest, here are some links to software that can help you to take the first step in protecting your child online:

Go McGruff
Kid Innovation
Net Nanny
Spector Software

Intervening in your child's activities, on the computer, with friends, at school, especially when you feel your child may be in danger is not invading their privacy, it is being a responsible parent. Any time you feel a sense that your child may be in danger or that there may be a risk to your child's physical safety, character, or morals, it is time to step in.  We've had to do that several times to protect our children and we don't regret it.  So they get angry with you and have a temper-tantrum - so what.  Let them burn off their energy getting angry, but at least you did the responsible thing as a parent to protect them.  If you feel that your pre-teen or teenage child is being exposed to anything that's bad for them—a friend who is a bad influence, dangerous or inappropriate e-mails, unusual phone calls, or inappropriate instant messages or chats—you should be vigilant about helping your child.  Start with communication. Eliminate the source of the problem if you can and do your best to protect your child going forward.


Beautiful Days - in Bed



I almost didn't post anything today, but then I thought "What the goober" I'm going to write something.  That's because I am sitting in my bed looking out the window at an absolutely gorgeous day that I can't seem to enjoy.  Why, you ask?  Because I've been laid up sick as a dog all week with the flu.  It's been nasty.  Kathleen and I seem to be having the hardest time shaking this illness and we both look like walking, moaning, miserable, sniffling, coughing, droopy, disgusting creatures.  Kathleen really needs to find some other activity than Twitter.  Every few seconds, I get a twitterific pop up.  Her latest tweet ...

"Ok, I've buried myself in tissues, time to come up for air and clean up a little."  Ya think she'll come to my room and clean up my mountain of tissues while she's at it?  Probably not.  Her's are gross enough.

Every time I blow my nose I get this horrible stinging and burning all the way up my nasal passages to my brain.  It hurts like hell.  Like brain freeze when you eat ice cream too fast only worse.  I'm afraid I'm going to blow a blood vessel in my brain if I keep this up.

So that's it folks.  I know this is a lame post, but I'm feelin' pretty lame right at the moment.  And I do wish that Kathleen would stop twittering so much because I keep getting those stinkin' pop ups on my computer screen. 

"Kathleen - Twitter is not meant for blogging." 

By the way, I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you all about Kathleen's new blog - Charlo |Trunk.  She never thought she'd be a blogger, but she is such a great writer I convinced her otherwise.  I'm glad I did.  She is funny and very articulate.  I hope you will stop by her blog and leave her a comment.  She will be happy as a peach to read them.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sick and Blessed


Yep, I'm blessed.  Blessed to have a husband who waits on me hand and foot when I am sick.  He brings me juice, he brings me Advil, he rubs my feet.  I may feel like crap, but I sure am lucky to have such a great guy in my life.

We've all been sick in our house - well, almost all.  Sarah and Matthew seem to be holding out, but the rest of us have been down for the count. 

Sore, scratchy throat, congestion, sweating, dragging, horrible cough, achy, miserable.  My head feels like it is going to explode, and it is so congested I could probably use the congestion to patch the drywall.  I know - ewwww.  Can't help it.  It's true.  I feel green. bleck.

So, forgive me while I sleep, and sweat, and cough, and swallow and whine.  It's the best I can do at the moment.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Jesus of Nazareth

Every Christmas and Easter we, as a family, watch the 1977 epic movie "Jesus of Nazareth" with Robert Powell as "Jesus," Olivia Hussey as "Mary," Anne Bancroft, Ian McShane, and Laurence Olivier, just to name a few of the incredible cast.  The movie is extremely powerful, and every year it is as though I am watching it again for the first time.  The production, cast, and story, bring to life the life of Jesus beginning before the Nativity and extending through the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Below is an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount:

All the majesty and sweeping drama of the life of Jesus as told in the Gospels is played out in such dramatic detail that I promise you will learn something and be changed by the movie.  The film provides the setting and background for the birth, childhood, baptism, teaching, and many miracles of the Messiah, culminating in the Divine Resurrection.  If you have never seen this movie, I highly recommend you make this a "must" for your Easter viewing.  It will delight you with the Word of our Lord and inspire you from beginning to end.  We have made this movie a family tradition for 17 years and we continue to learn from the Biblical message as it is portrayed in this movie.

What amazes me the most is that it reflects what I envision the experience would have been, almost as if the images in my mind from reading the stories in the New Testament are being played out in living detail in this film.  It is truly amazing. 

The movie has 2 discs.  We watch most of the 1st disc during Christmas which is the birth of Christ and his childhood.  Then we stop.  Over the Easter weekend, we watch the remainder of disc 1 beginning with scene 31 which begins with Jesus baptism from John the Baptist , and then move on to disc 2 continuing thru all 91 scenes up to Jesus' Resurrection. 

The movie is the quintessential biography of Christ. Spanning the entire life of Jesus, as documented in the Gospels.  It features a commanding and dynamic performance by Robert Powell as Jesus.  It was originally created in 1977 as a mini-series, accurately and passionately exploring the life and death of Jesus Christ in a way that remains timeless and undeniably significant. 


10 of the Best Quotes from "Jesus of Nazareth":

1. Love Your Enemies!

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?" - (Matthew 5:43-47 )

2. Don’t Worry About The Future

Sometimes insightful sayings seem obvious once you hear them - I think that is the case here. Live in the moment you’re in!

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today." - (Matthew 6:34)

3. How To Treat Others

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets." - (Matthew 7:12)

4. The Most Important Commandment

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” - (Matthew 22:36-40)

5. Spiritual Greatness

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many.” - (Mark 10:42-45)

6. Gaining The World, Losing Your Soul

Here, Jesus highlights that the eternal and spiritual dimension is more important than the temporal physical one. Those who choose to follow His teaching will make physical sacrifices for spiritual rewards.

Then, calling the crowd to join His disciples, He said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And ,what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when He returns in the Glory of His Father with the Holy Angels.” - (Mark 8:34-38)

7. The Kingdom Of God Is Not Physical

Christian faith should not be militant, things like the crusades were not in line with what Jesus taught, or even the concept of Christendom. He also taught that the Kingdom of God was in the hearts of men.

The statement below was said in response to questioning in His trial before the Roman Govenor.

“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”  - (John 18:36)

8. God Loves Everyone

This well known passage is actually a quote from Jesus.

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him."  - (John 3:16-17)

9. Ask, Seek, Knock

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened."  - (Luke 11:9-10)

10. His Claim To Be God

While it seems Jesus didn’t make a point of telling everyone that He was God, He did make it clear on a few documented occasions. This quote is taken from Jesus’ court trial, from which the resulting conviction of ‘blasphemy’ led to His crucifixion.

I include this quote, not because it’s a great teaching, but because it affects how one perceives His teaching. It’s hard to think of Jesus as [just] a good moral teacher when you know that He thought himself to be God. (And I know him to be God)

Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God - tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  - (Matthew 26:63-64)


Truly the best movie ever made about the life and teachings of Jesus.  I've added this image link above so that you can add this movie to your DVD collection and begin a tradition with your own family that will be as meaningful and inspirational to your own family as it is to mine. 

Happy Easter!  And Many Blessings!

I hope that all of my readers have a blessed Easter, remembering Christ's sacrifice for all.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sarah Vaughn - Pianist, Composer ... and full of Giggles


Sarah has come a long way with her piano, thanks to her dedication and her teacher, Claire Ritter, who is a renowned Jazz composer and pianist.  In the last couple of years, Sarah has been composing music that reflects her inspiration from nature and the seasons.  It has been wonderful listening to Sarah play daily, especially when we know that she is creating something altogether new for our listening pleasure.  We couldn't be more proud.

The other evening, Sarah participated in her high school talent show.  She was one of 14 acts.  Of course, we thought Sarah's was the best - but then again, we're biased. 


 Sarah aspires to be a renowned composer, and pianist, and hopes that someday she will be entertaining the masses and making her music her career.  I believe that she will get there.  She is dedicated, and her dedication can be heard in everything she plays. 


Sarah takes inspiration for her compositions from some of her favorite composers and pianists - Alicia Keys, Norah Jones, Claire Ritter, and George Winston

Now, I know that you've heard of Keys and Jones, and some of you may even be familiar with Jazz artist, Claire Ritter, but how many of you have heard of George Winston?  Well, that won't be a problem any longer, because I have included a video of George Winston playing one of Sarah's favorites, "Rain." 

After watching the George Winston video, sit back and enjoy the sounds of "Waterfall" by Sarah Vaughn.  Tell me if you see a similarity in their style of music.



Wasn't that wonderful? Now, enjoy Sarah as she plays her most recent composition, "Waterfall." 


I think Sarah's music is outstanding. I enjoy it so much I record it on our player piano and replay it when she is at school. (Neat trick don't you think?)

Great Job Sarah!

NOTE: If you would like to see the video from the high school talent show, click on the Vimeo Video to the right of the Waterfall video at the "bottom" of this page.  It's about 30 minutes, but includes some original, some not so good, some funny, and some interesting (to say the least) acts from the talent show.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers


I recently finished reading a book "The Kindness of Strangers" by Katrina Kittle.  The cover caught my attention initially at Barnes & Noble.  I always judge a book by its cover, don't you?  ha ha.  Anyway, when a book grabs my attention I usually look at the cover first (obviously), then I flip it over to read any reviews or information about the story.  I would have never surmised by the cover or the information on the back that this book was about child sexual abuse.  This book grabbed at my heartstrings and opened my mind to some of the horrors that children may face - even at home. 

It read:

On a quiet street in the suburban Midwest, a popular, seemingly stable family keeps a terrible, dark secret behind closed doors-a secret that will have life-changing consequences for all who know them.

Sarah Laden, a young widow and mother of two, struggles to keep her own family together. After the death of her husband, her high school aged son Nate has developed a rebellious streak, constantly falling in and out of trouble. Her kindhearted younger son Danny, though well-behaved, struggles to pass his remedial classes. All the while, Sarah must make ends meet by running a catering business out of her home. But when a shocking and unbelievable revelation rips apart the family of her closest friend, Sarah finds herself welcoming yet another young boy into her already tumultuous life.

Jordan, a quiet and reclusive elementary school boy and classmate of Danny's, has survived a terrible tragedy, leaving him without a family. When Sarah becomes a foster mother to Jordan, a relationship develops that will force her to question the things of which she thought she was so sure. Yet Sarah is not the only one changed by this young boy. And as the delicate balance that hold her family together begins to crumble, the Ladens will all face truths about themselves and each other-and discover the power to forgive and to heal.

Powerful and poignant, The Kindness of Strangers is a shocking look at how the tragedy of a single family in a small, suburban town can effect so many. Told from varying perspectives, Katrina Kittle, has created a haunting vision of the secret lives of the people we think we know best. With gripping and heartrending storytelling, The Kindness of Strangers shows that even after the most grave injuries, redemption is always possible.



The book took me away (that's a good thing) from the first page I got all caught up in the story; and, by the time I was almost finished, I sat up all night finishing the book.  It was worth it.  A real page turner. 

I'll give you a brief about the story so as not to spoil it for you.  The book has some very interesting characters:

Sarah - A mother of 2 boys, and a widow whose husband, a doctor, passed away from cancer.  She is left raising her 2 boys and supporting her family with a catoring business, creating cakes and exotic dishes to make anyone's mouth water. 

Nate - Sarah's eldest son, a teenager.  He's a bit of a troublemaker at first, but ultimately does a lot of growing up and turns out to be very level headed after all.  I like Nate.  He's a good kid.

Danny - Sarah's youngest son.  He is a pre-teen, maybe 11 or 12.  He stays in the background of the book.  You'll understand what I mean if you read the story.

Jordan - Danny's best friend.  He is also an 11 year old boy.  Jordan is the only son of parents who are well-regarded in the community.  His mother, Courtney, is a doctor.  Sorry Katrina, I can't remember what Mark, Jordan's father does for a living.

Courtney - Jordan's mother, a doctor, and Sarah's best friend.  Courtney used to work with Sarah's husband at the hospital.

Mark - Courtney's husband and Jordan's father.

There are a few other characters in the book, but these are the main characters who are critical to the story.

The first word out of my mouth when I finished the last sentence of the book was "Wow."  It was difficult to read - not from a prose standpoint, but from a subject matter standpoint.  As a mother, I cannot fathom that anyone would ever intentionally hurt their child - any child - like this.  That is all I will say about that.  I want you to read the book.  Still, it left me wondering - what prompted Katrina Kittle to write such a story?  Was it her own personal experience, a story that she created out of the depths of her mind, or inspired by someone that she knew or had met?  I felt as though I had to know and I am glad I asked. 

I contacted Katrina and we began a conversation.  I feel as though I have made a new friend.  She is dynamic and interesting and an extremely talented and gifted writer.  She is the author of 3 books:


Two Truths and a Lie (2001)


Traveling Light (2001), and,


The Kindness of Strangers (2006)


I will be reading the other 2 shortly.  In the meantime, though, I asked Katrina if she would answer a few questions about her book for my readers and she said an enthusiastic "yes."  Here begins our conversation:

Hello Katrina!

How about we have a conversation?

Having just finished reading your book "The Kindness of Strangers" it made me think, sadly, of whether we really know our friends or the people in our lives.  Heck, if you watch enough Oprah you realize that you may not even know the people who are closest to you in your life.

That's why the title works. It wasn't my original title and at first I resisted it, thinking "but they're not strangers." The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought they really WERE strangers. They had no clue of the real truths in each others' lives.

I read on your site that a child you met inspired your story line for this book.  Can you share with me how this child's story affected you, changed you, and prompted you to write this difficult story?

For several years, I free-lanced in many different schools either doing theatre workshops or working as a writer in residence. I was in a school, working with a group of ten- and eleven-year olds doing theatre improv, which is tough for that age. There was a boy who was immediately my favorite, even though you're not supposed to have favorites—he was smart, funny, quick, cute, clever. Because I was only going to be at his school for one week, I gave everyone an index card at the end of our first session and said, "Write down three interesting things you want me to know about you." I could use the cards as a "cheat sheet" if there was an especially shy child; it would give me a topic that might help draw them out. So, lunch time comes and I'm flipping through the set of cards and I can't wait to see what the smart funny boy has written. I get to his card and I'm stunned. He has written as #1: "I have HIV." Now, mind you, this was in 1995. My first novel was about AIDS, I'd worked for an AIDS service organization, and I knew my AIDS facts. In 1995 there was no way that boy I'd just been talking with had been born with HIV. Fortunately, this is no longer true, but at that time, there's no way he would've been the healthy ten-year I was just joking with. Which leaves us with the traditional means of infection...and he's only ten! First, I go to his teacher, hoping hoping hoping this is a mistake—that maybe he doesn't really understand what he's written or he's trying to get attention. But, no, the teacher tells me that it is true. All she tells me is that he'd been sexually abused, that his biological parents were incarcerated, and he was with a foster family. That blew me away! She must've told the foster mom about the index card because at the end of the day, the foster mother sought me out. She was thrilled he'd written that fact on his card--which was something I didn't understand at the time--and thought it was a huge step for him. She volunteered more of his story: both of his biological parents had been doctors, well-respected in their community. No one knew that they had serious cocaine habits. No one knew that they'd accrued huge debt because of their habits. No one knew that for nearly two years, when they couldn't afford to pay their dealer, they allowed their dealer and his friends to "use" their son. They were essentially prostituting their only child for drug money. This story leveled me. I knew right away I would write about this boy, but not in any graphic, exploitative way. The word that kept occurring to me was RESILIENCE. If someone had told me this boy's story BEFORE I visited the school, I would have guessed I could pick that child out--he'd be the shy, withdrawn one who didn't relate to or trust anyone else, right? Wrong! This kid had not just survived, but thrived. He was happy and typical...and THAT'S what I wanted to capture: that triumph, that spirit, that resilience and strength.  It's not a book ABOUT abuse--it's a book about healing (the abuse is over when the book begins).

Obviously, that boy's story is NOT the story of The Kindness of Strangers. That wasn't my story to tell, but he did inspire the story. I'd already written about both AIDS and about addiction, so I left those elements out of this novel. Removing the cloud of HIV from my fictional character's life allowed for a much more hopeful ending.

Does this child know that his story inspired your book?

Unfortunately, this boy passed away before the book was published. He acquired chicken pox at school which is devastating for someone with HIV. He had, though, been adopted by his foster family. I really only knew him for five hours...but he had a profound effect on me.


Did you find it difficult to write about the feelings and actions of the characters you created in your book?

At times the material was very heavy and depressing as you can imagine. When I began the research, I realized I had many, many misconceptions about child sexual abuse. There were several wonderful experts who helped me (all listed in the acknowledgments)--doctors, social workers, police officers, child psychologists, etc. What kept me going was the knowledge that there were these talented, amazing, brave people in the world working on behalf of very real kids every day. I had the luxury of stepping away from the book if things got too dark. But the real heroes don't have that luxury. Their Jordans aren't fictional.

How did you relate your own life's experiences to your characters?

I think writers "use" everything they see and experience. It's nearly impossible not to do that! We are told from the time we're kids in school to "write what you know," so of course I write about things I've experienced or know well. My characters are always fictional creations, but many aspects of them are composites of people I know. Sarah in The Kindness of Strangers, for example, looks like a friend of mine, is the cook I wish I could be, and keeps family rituals that I have heard about from three other different friends' families. The bat incident actually happened to me, although it was not my idea to get rid of the bat the way Sarah does. Our life experiences have a way of worming themselves into our fiction. I guess I would draw the line at using anything deeply personal that would be recognizable as anyone I knew.

I was surprised that you did not give more of a voice to Danny, Jordan's friend, in the book.  Was there a reason for this?

For every book the writer has to make choices. At one time, there were far more voices in the book--Courtney, Detective Kramble, Ali, Danny, (and a five-year-old daughter who got cut out of the story altogether)! I have to laugh at myself--my problem is never writer's block, but usually the opposite. My book's first drafts are WAY too long and need to be cut and cut and cut. Eventually, though, it's crucial to decide "whose story is this, really?" and which voices are all necessary for the reader. Which voices add to the effect you wish the reader to have, which voices take it in an entirely different direction. It's always a struggle to decide how to coral all the ideas and keep some kind of focus. That is why Danny was given those "book ends" to open and close the book. I found his perspective from a distance more interesting than his confusion while he was in the main events.  Nate and Jordan both have knowledge that Sarah doesn't have, for instance, which makes their voices enlightening to the reader. Danny, in the past, didn't have any information that the reader didn't already know (he actually has less than the reader)...so he was not as interesting a choice as the other two boys. Choices, choices...as I tell my own creative writing students: "Who tells the story controls the story."


Also, the way that Jordan wanted to end his own life in the beginning of the book seemed terribly dramatic for a child so young.  What prompted you to write this scene?

That came directly from the research. In a heartbreaking number of cases, the abuse is discovered through a suicide attempt (this was the case for the boy I met who inspired the story as well). Many of the adult survivors I spoke to told of reaching the point where they decided they "couldn't  do it [take the abuse] anymore" and attempted to end their lives.

I'm interested in knowing how you came to name your characters.  They all seems to have Biblical names.

Names take a long, long time and lots of thought. Sometimes the reasons are practical and logistical--not too many that all start with the same letter, or end with the same syllable, or have the same number of syllables. That sounds silly, but it truly effects a reader's enjoyment and ability to keep all the characters straight. But then, there are more thoughtful, symbolic reasons as well. The Biblical Sarah, of course, gains a son late in her life...and this Sarah does as well (even though she already has children). Her biological sons have Old Testament names fitting a good Jewish family. Jordan is the most obvious in the idea of "reaching" or "crossing" Jordan on the way to a better place, or promised land. It's a long struggle to get there, and the character has a long struggle ahead as well, but the name implies that the struggle will be worth it and will lead to redemption and hope.

Why did you create a character, Sarah, that had lost her husband to cancer?

In an early draft, Roy was alive and well. I belong to a very helpful writers' group where we share and give feedback on each others' work. When I read early chapters, they all suspected Roy of something dark because he worked with Courtney. I went back and revised, writing scenes that showed Roy to be a good dad, a trusted husband, yada yada yada only to have my writer friends suspect him even MORE because I was "giving him so much page time--there has to be some pay off." Sigh...  I'm a runner, and I work on scenes while I run. I was jogging along when the thought occurred to me "What if he were just dead?" I remember stopping in my tracks so abruptly a car slowed to see if I was all right! But...the minute the thought hit me, I knew it was right. It was one story to have this happy, whole, intact family reaching out to help someone in dire need. But it was a richer, denser, more interesting story if the family reaching out was broken and grieving in their own ways and they STILL found it in them to help someone worse off than they were. It is in their reaching out that they begin their own healing! So, killing off a character actually strengthened the entire theme of the story.


How did you research for this book, and did you get to know the child who had been victimized - the one who inspired your story?

All of my books center around social issues I care deeply about and I always begin my immersing myself in research. First I do all I can on my own using libraries and the internet, to build a good base of knowledge before I approach the experts. That way, I don't waste their valuable time asking them questions I could easily find out on my own. I contacted a police officer, who let me accompany him on a shift one night and ask him questions when we weren't otherwise occupied. This same police officer put me in touch with a detective, and another officer who gave me a tour of the jail and showed me where a child would meet with an incarcerated parent. I contacted some pediatricians at Children's Medical Center in Dayton, who were incredibly helpful and they put me in touch with the amazing organization CARE House. The social workers at CARE House were invaluable. They allowed me to go through the Stewards of Children training provided by the organization From Darkness To Light.   I encourage anyone interested in protecting children from the scourge of sexual abuse to check out their site-- www.darkness2light.org   Their mission is "To diminish the incidence and impact of child sexual abuse, so that more children will grow up healthy and whole." Their website is incredibly helpful and offers a free download of "Seven Steps" to begin.   I worked extensively with a child psychologist who specializes in trauma like Jordan's to get therapy and recovery details right. I even paid for this psychologist to have a session with my fictional character!!!

How did this story, the writing of this story, the research, and the experience change your own life?

I think I've always been drawn to the ways human beings "are broken" by the world but come back stronger, and this was an astonishing case of that. I sincerely believe every one of us has a story, and some of these "darker" stories actually help us and inspire us if we don't turn away. Human beings, and their strength, never cease to amaze me!

Could you tell me a little something about the restaurant that Courtney and Sarah frequent in Ohio?

This restaurant is real and one of my very favorites! It's also mentioned in my first novel, Traveling Light. It's Hispanic, with an ever-changing menu featuring a different Spanish-speaking or Latin American country's cuisine. Fun, fabulous, and the best paella I've ever eaten! It's my very favorite restaurant in Dayton! I often just ask Bill or Mark "what should I have tonight?" and let them decide for me. I have never, ever disliked anything they've set before me. They offer cooking classes and dance classes, too. It's just a wonderful place owned by dedicated, talented people.

I am really looking forward to reading your other 2 books.  When you write, do you find that the story just flows from you at times?  Most of the time?  Not often?

It really varies. Each book has been different, and each stage of each book is even different. It's a tough question to answer! There seems to be no pattern to the "flow" but I believe in being at the desk regardless. I work a set number of hours each day, as if it were any other job, so when the inspiration flows I'm there to catch it, and when it doesn't, I'm there plugging along, keeping in shape, anyway!  But thank you so much--it's music to my ears that you want to read my other titles.


Do you struggle with your story, and if so, how do you put your mind back in the zone necessary to continue writing?

Again, I think the discipline is everything. I no longer have a zone necessary to write, just as I didn't have a zone necessary to teach when I was a full-time teacher. I taught on days I didn't feel much like it...and usually ended up forgetting my initial resistance eventually and really getting into it. I am at the desk at the same and for the same time every day whether I "feel inspired" or not. I'm a firm, firm believer in Natalie Goldberg's "writing practice" from her great book WRITING DOWN THE BONES. She compares it to running. We keep at it to stay in shape. You can't set out to run a 5K if you haven't run for days, right? Same with writing. It takes a daily discipline and practice to build up the stamina.

As an artist, I know the "struggle" I face at times when taking on a portrait because I am trying to capture the true essence of the person I am painting.  Do you ever face that "struggle" as a writer?

Yes. I struggle with getting my "vision" to match what I'm actually creating on the page. The "vision" is always so much better! I just keep in mind that my goal is to "serve the story" and I usually plod forward. I imagine every artist struggles with this. I can make peace with the struggle if I truly believe a book represents the best possible work I was capable of at the time. There's a great Lao Tse Tung quote above my computer: "Do your work, then step back. The only serenity."

Are you a great cook like your character, Sarah?

I'm not nearly as good or trained as Sarah, but I sure do love to do it! I take cooking classes for fun and love nothing more than to make dinners for friends so we can all sit around talking and eating for hours (and so far my friends are all very willing guinea pigs when I'm trying something new). The comfort Sarah finds in chopping and stirring while she mulls over problems in her head is one I share! My friends tease me that when I'm "cooking" figuratively on a book, I'm cooking literally a lot, as well. It's the best way (besides running) to work through problems in scenes or figure out the next step in the plot.

I have to say, Katrina, I was deeply moved by your book.  It was an interesting story and a real page turner.  I found myself absorbed in the story till all hours of the morning, totally messing up my next day, but hey!  That's the jewel of a true author and storyteller is someone who can create the entire situation in the mind of the reader.  You took me there, Katrina.  It was a scary place to go at times, but you took me there.  I will never forget the powerful way you shared this story.  I cannot fathom the devastation that children must experience who are living a life with sexual abuse.  It must be terrifying for them.  I can't imagine that they would ever trust anyone - ever.  It is a sad and tragic reality.  Because of your book, I feel more qualified to discuss sensitive subject matter with my own children now in hopes that maybe, God forbid, if they are ever faced with a difficult or uncomfortable situation, that they know to scream, run away, tell someone that they trust without being embarrassed.  Children are so easily embarrassed.  They are fragile beings.  Hopefully, your book will save at least one child from the horrors of predators - even if that predator is a parent.  I learned something valuable from your story, Katrina.  Thank you for writing this book.  As difficult as the subject was for me to wrap my brain around, I'm glad that you made it a great story from the beginning till the very end.

Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. As you imagine, this book had a tough time finding a publishing home because of the subject matter. I really believed in it and messages like yours are affirmations that I was right to do so.



Be sure to visit Katrina's website at: www.katrinakittle.com!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

SixApart - Wanna Hire Me?



Ever since I started my first TypePad blog, Red Easel, I have had an overwhelming need to learn web design - or maybe that's just blog design.  Whatever it is, I wanted to design and build a site that I was proud of and I hoped would eventually grab the attention of visual artist readers,  I wanted it to grow to be a special place on the internet.  It has grown slowly, but that's my own fault for not dedicating more time to it.  I have over 500+ subscribers to my email newsletters and almost 100 visual artists in the gallery.  That's a good thing.  The bad thing is that I redirected my attention away from Red Easel to start Raisin Toast and this site has become my baby you might say, surpassing my wildest expectations for a personal blog.

More importantly, I have learned a great deal over the course of the last couple of years about blog and web design and I am convinced that TypePad has the best looking and most professional blogs out there.  Wordpress blogs are everywhere and many of them look fabulous too, but you have to find a host if you really want to build a "website" from your Wordpress blog, whereas with TypePad, SixApart is your host.  Everything you need to build a first class blog is at your fingertips and the price is right.  The basic template is very easy to learn and manipulate and just as easy to customize, although if you really want to get down into the nitty gritty of what is possible with TypePad and blog design, you'll need a Pro account and an Advanced Template.  I did just that, but first I created a Testblog so that I didn't trash my own site while I was still learning how to design and build things for my blog behind the scenes.  I've come a long way since those first days as a new blogger.


In the last 6 months or so I've really hit my stride.  Not only have I got my nose into Javascript, CSS, HTML, and all that other "stuff" as I call it, but I actually understand how it all connects - well, I understand some of it.  I'm gettin' there.  I will say this, though, whenever I have had any questions for SixApart regarding my Advanced Template, scripts, codes, CSS, or whatever, I have usually been able to easily find an answer within their knowledge base, and if I can't find it there, then there has always been someone to help who has found the answers and passed them on to me.

I've come to know a few of the customer service representatives over the past several months.  They are first rate.  As I've been learning, though, I find myself wanting to do more and more to push my design within TypePad Advanced Templates, and so I spend some time each day on Get Satisfaction in the Six Apart section seeing what other users are having trouble with and ultimately, I find myself handing out advice and answers to their design questions. 

So, I now have another question for SixApart - you wanna hire me?  I'm a hard worker and I love your product.  I believe in it too.  I promise I'll be worth your investment.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Friday Night - Movie Night

Friday night is movie night at our house.  Every Friday, we all huddle up in the family room and enjoy a movie together.  Last night was no different and we took in the movie Marley & Me.  We loved it, and of course, being the schmucks that we are, we all cried at the end.  The only disappointment is that the last dog that portrayed Marley didn't look anything like the other dogs.  The producers did a fairly good job of creating believability until the last dog.  But it didn't matter all that much - well maybe it did a little - but we all still cried.  Plus, Jennifer Aniston's character never changed her hairstyle, Owen Wilson never changed his hair either, and although Marley was a puppy just before they had their first child, the oldest child in the movie was about 8 I suppose when Marley died.  In other words, it just didn't all fit together that well.  Oh well, the kids enjoyed it.  We all did.  And, we always enjoy "Friday night movie night" no matter what's playin' on our big screen.

I've even got the book "Marley & Me" on my nighttable right now.  I'm a reader if you haven't figured that one out yet. 

Just to keep things interesting around here, I found an interesting quiz that I thought you might enjoy if you're a movie buff like we are.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Smile Blind


Sometimes Kathleen will write something or do something that is so profound I can't quite wrap my brain around it.  Yesterday, when Kathleen got up, I had to ask her if I could publish her story.  She wrote a story that I knew took a lot of guts to write.  After placing her head in my lap and shedding a few tears she agreed to let me publish her story.  I ran my fingers through her hair, kissed her on the forehead and told her she was very brave - and I was proud of her.


Here is her story in her own words ...

So I have to fess up… well… I don't actually have to but, as of late, I am motivated to confess in spite of the embarrassment this will surely cause me.  I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.  Anyway, back to my confession...

My entire life has been filled with challenges.  Frankly, that is a serious understatement.  One of many is my smile.  I wish I could say that the smile in my picture was my own … although it is … it isn't.  Ah, the wonders of Photoshop.

(And "no" to those who are thinking it, this isn't a belated April fools)

Once again back to my confession...

I strongly suggest anyone reading this to take a moment and reflect on your own dental hygiene because at this moment, and for the last several months, I have been regretting not taking better care of my teeth. Truthfully, I am scared to post a photo of my smile Un-retouched.  For so many years I have been ignorant of the dangers of poor dental care and recently I am forced to face the realities of my own ignorance and fear.

Yes, thats right.… Fear.

I, like many Americans, (and surely non-Americans too), have grown up afraid of dentists because their procedures have always been uncomfortable and painful.  For this very reason, most people will avoid seeing a dentist for prevention and only go when serious treatment is needed.  Often, they validate this behavior with the cost of procedures and how they are saving money, when in fact they are losing overall for the cost of the damage.

The cost of treatment shall far outweigh the cost of prevention and currently, I have no dental insurance, no job, no money, and just last night I lost one of my teeth.  I am only 30 years old.

"Was I punched in the face?"  you ask.  Although there are some who at some point in knowing me would have liked to, I'm sure… actually "no."  I was drinking grape juice.  But a drink is a liquid and applies no pressure to the tooth so how can this be?  Allow me to explain in not so dramatic detail.

The tooth I lost was a molar. One of the teeth in the back, and I am fortunate it wasn't in the front.  As a kid I developed a cavity in this molar and my parents had it filled.  If I recall correctly, these 'silver' fillings are also known as "amalgams," but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.  Anyway, these fillings, after time, blacken, which can stain the filling and the tooth, and can also come loose or dislodged.  I never had this tooth maintained over the years or the filling replaced.

One day in my mid-twenties I was having dinner with a friend when my molar cracked while I was eating.  I had already known my filling in that tooth had shifted slightly, but in my ignorance it never occurred to me this would ever be an inconvenience.  At the time, the crack was very small, and since I wasn't covered by any dental insurance and it caused me no pain, I ignored it.

That was my first mistake.

Over time this crack in my molar got progressively worse, longer in length, and wrapped around the tooth until eventually the regular stress placed on it from daily eating began to break it off in sections.

Once the first portion was gone, it wasn't long before the rest of the tooth became too weak to hold up. So, the simple act of leaning back to drink, the pressure of my tongue alone was enough to push the tooth off.

"Oh, Boohoo" you say, "Your young and pretty and lost one tooth" actually, my story doesn't end here.

After years of poor dental hygiene for reasons ill save for another post, I have developed periodontal disease, tooth decay, stains, and Halitosis which is a fancy word for bad breathe. Its best to say these are the reasons why I'm speaking to you from behind the computer and not face-to-face.

It is my only wish that I could afford to have my teeth fixed, but the expense is far too great and, unfortunately, I don't have any rich relatives… in fact, they're poor too at the moment, some as poor as I am with no thanks to our current economic crisis. ( Go to hell Wall Street crooks ).  I have estimated it would cost me approximately $30,000USD for the treatments, dental care, and veneers. An expense I will probably never in my lifetime afford to get.

So instead I wish that others will take the time to take care of their teeth.  Although I wont be smiling without the help of Photoshop, maybe someone else will smile in my place.

Sincerely and fearful of your criticism,
Kathleen Elizabeth

Note: Bob and I contacted our dentist (who conveniently lives directly next door to us) and he came over as soon as he got my message.  He looked at Kathleen's missing tooth (the root still in tact) and will be removing it completely or doing something with it on Monday.  My heart breaks for Kathleen and I know that is why she doesn't work outside the home at the moment and has been cooped up living with a friend for years until now - because she is ashamed of her teeth.  No "I told you so" necessary here.  Kathleen has learned a difficult lesson and has humbled herself to her own inequities.  That takes a great deal of inner strength if you ask me.

Bob still has not found a job.  He sends out resumes daily and searches for hours on end every day.  Looking for work that will pay our bills "Is his full time job."  Unfortunately, we are without health insurance, so we are careful not to go skydiving or drag racing, ice skating or mountain climbing (just kidding).  I'm hoping if Kathleen goes back to school that we will be able to put her on our health insurance policy when Bob finds a job.  I'll have to do some research on that. 

If anyone knows of a dentist in or around the Charlotte, NC area that will provide Kathleen with charitable dental care, PLEASE let us know!!! 

Now, go brush your teeth and take care of your smile!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

It's All In the Game of Love and War


Adolf can't get any rest around here.  He tries, but the love of his life keeps upsetting his rest to play.  Hannah has him pegged.  She's got him all figured out.


And no matter where Adolf is, you are sure to find Hannah close by - usually very close.


They play together, they sleep together, but they do not laugh together.  Hannah never seems to get the joke.  Adolf kinda reminds me of that bear in "The Jungle Book" - what was his name?  Balu or something?

Anyway, I just love watching them play.  Hannah thinks she has one over on Adolf until Adolf body slams her into the carpet.  So, for your entertainment, I put together this little video of our dogs - Adolf and Hannah, playing, fighting, nipping, growling, and lovin' every minute of it...


Get 'im Hannah! You can show him who's boss around here!

  • Raisin Toast Blog

  • Subscribe to Raisin Toast

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

  • A Site for You