Saturday, December 28, 2013

By the Numbers

Much of our culture revolves around numbers. Social Security. Driver's License. Telephone. Bills. We can't function or apply for anything with the government without the proper numbers.

Our performance at our jobs is tied to numbers. How we're doing as authors, entertainers, artists--all tied to numbers. Every measure of achievement is based on numbers. The higher our numbers, the more successful we're perceived.

Except! Numbers can be manipulated. When we're assessing our personal success, we would do well to analyze exactly what the numbers mean.

For instance, I randomly chose one day to assess the number of hits I received on my blog. Depending on the particular service and report I chose to read, the numbers ranged from 6 to 137. The average was around 30. Now, I could look at that 137 and leap around ecstatically that so many people had read my blog. (Or at least clicked on it.)

I could sink in deep gloom and depression because only SIX people clicked on my blog. And convince myself that's probably the real number because people rarely comment on it wherever it shows up.

Or, I can sensibly use the numbers as a yardstick and get on with life. I always have to chuckle when folks post on social media about their ranking in this list or that list. The uncomfortable truth is this: the only numbers that actually count are those on your royalty check. The rest? They're just someone's manipulations to make things look better.

Numbers? Enjoy them...and then go back to work.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Feng Shui New Year

New Year's resolutions are like Feng Shui for our future. We push bad habits around or even pile them near the door to take out to the dumpster while we ponder how to arrange the remaining bits and pieces of our lives. Maybe we even try bringing in new odds and ends to liven things up a bit.

Part of the problem is we don't notice our surroundings after a very short time. They're no longer fresh and new, blending into the hurry-scurry of our busy schedules. Unless...we shake things up a bit.

Most resolutions and changes last less than a month. Perhaps that proves we collectively have more short term memory than long. How to combat that fading determination?

Rearrange things again. Why do we only assess our lives once a year? Why not on the first day of each month? Oh, it doesn't require a major shakeup and cleaning, but maybe we just move that bit over under the window where it gets more light and we shove something else into that shadowy corner, something that will add a warm glow to the gloom.

If we sparkled up our lives more often, would we have as much to fix up at the end of the year? Consider. Why wait until the darkest, most depressing part of the year to assess our short-comings? That just adds to the depression. If we nudged things around all year, then we could look back with a more positive outlook.

I'm planning a Feng Shui New Year, month by month. We'll talk next year to compare notes.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve Tacos

We have tacos every Christmas Eve. Why? As a remembrance of friendship above and beyond the usual. In this vignette, I tell the story.

Christmas 1981. We lived in Houston, Texas, far from our families. My dad called to tell the hunk he needed to come home. His father was very ill. We could not afford for everyone to go and our daughters were both in bed with the flu. We decided he would take our sons with him (mostly because I knew he would have to make frequent stops if they were along). When they arrived in Chicago, my parents planned to take the boys to Indiana to stay with them.

I was fine until Christmas Eve. Then the loneliness engulfed me. My friends were all busy with their extended family gatherings. My extended family lived far away. My daughters were sleeping the holidays away, too sick to care if they had gifts or not. I was feeling underprivileged and deprived as I stood at my kitchen counter eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The telephone rang. My friend, Linda, inquired about my plans for the evening. I admitted that I didn't have much planned except a shower and bed. She told me to get my purse and coat ready. Lester, her husband, was already on the way over to pick up my girls and me. We were invited to her home for the evening. I protested that the girls were sick. She pointed out they could sleep at her house as well as mine.

When Lester arrived, we wrapped the girls in blankets and carried them out to the car. The trip to their home was only a couple blocks away so the girls slept through the journey and were soon cozily asleep in bed. We spent the evening quietly, playing board games, eating tacos, and singing along with Handel’s Messiah. It was a lovely peaceful evening. Just after midnight, Lester drove us home.

On Christmas Eve our family has tacos as a remembrance of that Christmas Eve spent with loving, compassionate friends. Of all of my friends, they were the ones who saw my need and acted. It was an action made more remarkable because they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not believe in observance of holidays… not even Christmas.

A miracle.


As a footnote... in 2011 I found Linda on Facebook and we've reconnected. Isn't life grand?

Monday, December 23, 2013

No Snow

Christmas 1959. I was ten years old. Our family lived in Globe, Arizona, but we had traveled by automobile to Gary, Indiana. It was before the days of interstate highways and my parents drove many hours, late into the nights, to arrive by Christmas. My younger brothers and I occupied ourselves by discussing and boasting about the snowmen we were going to build when we arrived “up North.”
We arrived safely (our first miracle) in the cold pre-dawn hours. It was a cold, damp, windy morning with nary a snowflake in sight. Dad stopped at a gas station so that we could freshen up. The restrooms were unheated, providing us with an excellent reason to speed through our clean-up. With our faces washed and our hair combed, so that we were presentable, we piled back into the car and traveled the few blocks to my Aunt Betty and Uncle John’s house.
There, as we shivered under a barely lightened sky, my Dad was struck by an inspiration. He gathered us in a tight group on the small front stoop—and at 6:00 AM—we began bellowing out the strains of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Now it stand to reason that SOMEBODY would want to shut us up, but nobody came. Dad led us into a second verse, urging us to sing louder.
Still no reaction.
The wind whipped up, cutting through our light coats. Lips turned blue and strands of hair blew across our eyes as he led us through a third teeth-chattering verse.
Nobody came. Mom rang the doorbell as he launched into the first verse again. Uncle John flung the door open and demanded, “Who is it!” before he recognized us and invited us in.
Later there were a few chuckles when he described his mad dash from room to room searching for the radio that someone had left on. During our visit, my brothers and I waited in vain for snow, knowing we only had a few days to spend there. At last, our hopes for snow dashed, we headed home. Oh, we had a great time milling around with our cousins, roaming in small packs from room to room, but in some small secret place within, a little snow would have been perfect.
After a long boring trip, suffering from holiday letdown, we arrived home safely (another miracle). Dad parked in front of our small house. We sat in the car staring out the foggy windows in amazement at our snow-covered yard. The cactus plants in the corners had spiky snow beards. There wasn’t enough snow to build a snowman, but we had a great snowball fight before we unpacked the car.
A miracle.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Solstice: New Year

Today (in the Northern Hemisphere) is the shortest day of the year. Astronomically, tomorrow we begin a new year. So it seems an appropriate time to assess the past and look to the future.

This last year was...stressful. Multiple levels of stress, physical issues, professional difficulties, and personal epiphanies all rolled into one ball of frustration and...a bit of depression. I freely admit I don't deal well with illness and frustration.

But things are going to change. They say you don't change until you reach that bottom point where you're tired of the current situation. And I've reached that point. Things are a mess. Some things I can't fix. But those I can, I will. It'll take me a few weeks, but my physical surroundings are going to change so I have a positive place to work and think.

My schedule is chaotic. Once January 1st arrives, I'm going to go to bed at a reasonable hour and get up before noon. And have a life. What? Don't you think I can? Yes, I can.

I'm going to tame the Dragon and get back to writing. Not writing depresses me and it's just stupid to fail to deal with it when I can. So, Crispin, you're on notice. You and me--we're going to rumble. And I'm going to win.

Finally, I'm going to put those things I can't change away in the closet or out in the trash heap. Some things are just the way they are--beyond our control, in the past, in the future, or none of our business. I don't have time for them anymore. That includes getting involved with the general idiocy of my fellow man. I can only work on myself. The rest of y'all are going to have to deal with your decisions.

These aren't resolutions or promises or any of that other stuff. They're more like serving notice to myself that life matters and if I want a life, I'm going to have to change.

So, I wish for all of you a Happy Solstice, a productive new year, a Blessed Christmas.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Let There Be Peace on Earth

The first time I heard this song was at my oldest daughter's Christmas pageant the year she was in fourth grade. The elementary school had no place big enough to hold the pageant so it was held in the high school auditorium. The program was creative and joyous and enjoyed by all the parents and families.

Near the end of the evening, teachers dressed as reindeer took the stage with a rolicking skit and song. As I was enjoying it, awareness of a shuffle and hiss crept in and I realized that the children were silently lining the walls around the auditorium.

The lights went out. A deep silence filled the huge room.

And then one young voice soared in the darkness. "Let there be peace on earth..." A tiny light flicked on lighting her face.

A few more voices joined in...just a few from points all around us. "And let it begin with me."

More lights. More voices until we were ringed in light and earnest small voices singing about peace on earth. I think about that song often. I think about how we still don't understand the underlying truth of the words..."let it begin with me" for peace does not begin with warriors. Peace is protected by warriors when all else has failed. Peace begins with each of us.

Most people believe that peace is an absence of war. That isn't true. Peace is an absence of conflict. And true peace will not arrive until we as humans refuse to countenance abuse, intolerance, genocide, greed, and famine. As long as we turn away from the less fortunate ignoring the needs of the many in favor of the wants of the few, there will be no peace on earth.

"Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me..."

©2006 Anny Cook

Monday, December 16, 2013


The thing about wedding anniversaries is...except for the 'biggies'--one, five, twenty-five, fifty...they're mostly only important to the folks directly involved. For the rest of the world, they're a shrug (and possibly a passing wonder if their fellow men and women marvel at their staying power.)

In the beginning, the bride is usually more enthusiastic about celebrating. And she's also soooo proud of their accomplishment. Look! We've been married three years! Or ten! Or fourteen!

Little do they know the future that awaits them if they stick it out. They don't know there will likely be a year or two they won't even be speaking to each other on the important day because they're arguing over something so stupid they can't remember what it was years later. There will be 'forgotten' anniversaries. And there will be some where the best they can do to celebrate is a snatched peanut butter sandwich in between wearily caring for several puking kids.

Some years they'll be too broke to do more than kiss and smile in commemoration. In a few rare, memorable instances, their kids might fix them a special dinner. And yet--if they stick it out--life together will roll on. Eventually, they'll grow to understand a simple dinner at the local steakhouse is quite all right.

Because that anniversary is really a private day to mark a personal accomplishment. It's when two people acknowledge they're doing just fine. They made the right decision all those years ago. And they'll keep on going.

On that day, they'll look back and maybe marvel they didn't kill each other off in the bad times--and inevitably, there were bad times. They'll smile when they remember the good times. And life will go on, but now they'll know how fragile that life together can be so they'll treasure it a bit more.

Today the hunk and I mark forty-six years. Impossible...we're not that old!


Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Long Road Home

Every year I reprint a few of the Christmas memories I've shared from the past. This is from Christmas 1989. May all those traveling this Christmas be safe...

Christmas 1989. “Please come if you can. Uncle Charles has terminal cancer and probably won’t be with us next Christmas.”

For many years in my family, holidays (Christmas and Thanksgiving) have been alternated with the in-laws. This year was not a our family Christmas, but the family was trying to get together anyway. It wasn’t a great year for us. My husband was on disability because of an accident at work. I was on unemployment because my company, Waldenbooks, had moved their warehouse operation from New York to Tennessee. The boys, recently graduated from high school, were out of work, since they had also been employed there. Jobs were scarce with 700 unemployed warehouse workers suddenly in the job market. I was attending school as a dislocated worker, hoping to obtain the skills for a new job.

“Please come.” Our car was shot. There was barely enough for a gift for each of the kids. Friends had provided Christmas dinner components for us. The trip from New York to Indiana was out of the question. Reluctantly, I called my parents with the news.

The kids asked us if we could talk for a few minutes. “Suppose we give up our present money…would we have enough gas money to get there?” one of them asked.
My younger son offered to change the oil and do a quick check up on the car. The older one pointed out that we could take turns driving. The car had very little heat…but my older daughter suggested that we could take extra blankets.

Slowly, one objection at a time, they showed us that we could make the trip. I called my parents in LaPorte, Indiana and suggested that they make some extra beds.

We traveled to LaPorte, stopping only for restrooms and coffee. Our car was a tight squeeze for five small people. We had six large people. The kids said that was a good thing as we all stayed warmer that way. Meals were sandwiches eaten in the car. In Ohio, we ran into snow. The car heater didn’t work well enough to defrost the windows so they began to freeze over. There were frequent stops to clear them, but we made it. After eighteen hours on the road we arrived in LaPorte. There was close to a foot of snow on the ground.

 It was a great Christmas, rendered more poignant because of Uncle Charles’ illness. There were more family members there than at anytime before or since. Two came from Guam. Others came from all over the United States. Close to 70 people sat down for Christmas dinner. Afterwards there were games, carols, and visiting.

A couple of days later the trip home was longer as there was more snow to contend with. In Pennsylvania, the snow was so heavy that it melted on the headlights, creating a sheet of ice that coated them. We stopped frequently to clear them just so we had light. Cars were sliding off the road. It was night. Plows couldn’t keep up with the storm. The rest areas were closed. We had no money to stay anywhere so we kept moving. Twenty-six hours later, we arrived safely home.

Anyone who has traveled with teenagers knows that it’s impossible to travel far without petty squabbles and picking. However, our entire trip, bad weather, extremely uncomfortable conditions, with limited money, there wasn’t a cross word from anyone.

A miracle. Several, in fact.

© 2007 Anny Cook

Friday, December 13, 2013

Taming the Dragon

Well, Crispin (the dragon) and I are slowly coming to terms. I've agreed not to bug him first thing in the morning before coffee (I tend to slur my words) and he agreed to be patient when I lose track of my thoughts.

Today is day three of our Dragon Wars...and I've managed to dictate a page of notes, make corrections, move around, add punctuation, and try out a few commands. All but one actually worked. I've been making frequent use of the cheat card and that works well.

Now...if only I didn't freeze up when dictating. You know those brain pauses you have when you're older? I tend to stop and meditate when I'm physically writing. When you do that verbally, you sound very...disconnected.

Dictating the notes was actually a good thing as I practiced a list of questions, three paragraphs of synopsis/notes, and compiled descriptions for some of the potential characters. Some of those items I would not normally use while actually dictating text for a story.

In the meantime, while I'm waiting for various electronic devices to charge up, I'll go back to the previous stories in this series and re-read them. It's amazing how many details we forget...


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Snowy Day Thoughts

Yep, it's snowing today in Baltimore. The Ravens are slip, sliding around on the football field. Sane folks are all staying inside.

On Friday, my daughter got married! Here's a pic of the new family...

I don't do tagging games, but I DID have to consider the 'ten books' question floating around on Facebook... Which ten books influenced/stuck with me?

1.The Bible. It was the first book I read back when I started reading at five. We lived in tiny, tiny towns in Arizona and books were scarce. But a ministers home had multiple copies of the Bible.

2.Dick and Jane. A few years ago WalMart carried hardbound copies of Dick and Jane and I confess I bought them. My two granddaughters read them when they were around six. There's just something about Dick and Jane...

3.Little Women. This was the first book I read that centered around GIRLS. It was so amazing to me that someone had written a book with girls as the central characters.

4.Little House on the Prairie (and all the others in the series). What a gift Laura Ingalls gave to us! I still re-read them every year.

5.Last of the Breed by Louis L'Amour. I love all of his books but this particular one...just stunned me. And the ending? Whoa...I never expected that!

6.Windflower by Laura London (Tom and Sharon Curtis). After all these years readers of the Windflower still wait in vain for a sequel. It was the absolute quintessential pirate novel. I've read lots of others...but never one to equal this one.

7.Morning Glory by Lavryle Spencer. There are love stories. And then there are LOVE stories. This one, set in the rural south in the 20s-30s is so unexpected and lyrical. Yes!

8.Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer. I own all of her books and there are others that I favor more (These Old Shades, for instance), but Sprig Muslin was the first of her books I ever read. I discovered the book at the library after we moved to Houston. I didn't know a soul, had three small children and my husband worked two fulltime jobs to support us. I was incredibly lonely. I vividly remember sitting on the closed toilet seat in my bathroom with the door closed so I didn't wake anyone up and LAUGHING so hard I slipped down between the toilet and the tub. Georgette Heyer gave me the gift of laughter when I needed it soooo desperately.

9.The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. And of course the rest of them! I've thought a lot about why this book touched me so profoundly. I believe it was because of her scholarship and the way she wove the bits and pieces of the legends into her books to form a wonderful whole. I marvel at the details every time I re-read them.

10.Midnight Man by Lisa Marie Rice. This was the first erotic romance book I read. I was electrified by the possibilities. And then...I read the material in the back of the book about E-BOOKS! Books I could read on the computer! Hey...maybe I could even WRITE books. Yeah, that was the starting point. And look at me now!


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Chistmas Bikes

Christmas 1979. That was the year we stretched the budget to get the kids’ bicycles. At our house, Santa always brings a stuffed animal. It was my feeling that Santa bringing tons of presents sets up kids for unrealistic expectations. No matter how the year goes, a stuffed animal is always doable. And after that, whatever Mom and Dad can come up with is great.

My kids had a realistic idea of our money situation from the time we sat them down and let them pay the bills with real money. My house hunk had his check cashed at the bank in $1 bills. Then we sat down with the kids and let them count out the money for each bill. We did that for six weeks. If there was any money left over after the bills we let them do the grocery shopping with a calculator and count out the money for the food.

After that when we said there was no money, they understood that reality. To this day, they’re all very good managers. This particular Christmas was important to us as a family as the previous Christmas had been very, very bad. We didn’t have a lot of money, but there was a bit more than usual so we decided that we could afford to buy bicycles.

Of course when your kids are pre-teen age, hiding bicycles is a pretty tricky proposition. Finally, we simply made the garage off-limits. Late Christmas Eve the house hunk and I were out there trying to assemble three bicycles. The store would have assembled them, but that cost money that we couldn’t afford. One needed training wheels. Things did not go well.

Around 2 AM, the door opened and my second son trotted out there with his hands in his pockets. First of all, I was startled that he was still dressed. And then of course I demanded to know why he was awake.

“Well,” he said, “I thought I would see how long it took you to put them together. But it’s late. I’m tired. And I would like to ride my bike tomorrow. So I gave up. Do you want me to put them together?”

His father handed him the wrenches. “If you think you can do better than we are, go for it.” Thirty minutes later all three bikes were assembled and parked by the tree.

My son was nine years old that Christmas. Until he left for the Navy, it was always his responsibility to assemble all the gifts marked “Some Assembly Required.”

That year Santa brought the kids stuffed Safari animals—lions, tigers, and such. Up until a few years ago, they still had them. And then they decided to donate them to a kid’s program. As I recall, that was the sum total of Christmas gifts that year, except for the perennial favorite… new underwear. To this day, that’s a family in-joke. Every Christmas the kids receive new underwear. Now of course, it’s pretty fancy stuff.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Here Be Dragons

Yesterday I had my second post-op visit with the ortho man regarding my finger. Recovery is on schedule... for an individual who doesn't use their hands more than a normal-living-way. I, on the other hand (hah!) do depend on my hands for numerous occupational/hobby things (writing, typing, calligraphy, crochet/knitting, drawing).

After a brief discussion with the doc about why my hand--not just the finger, but all the knuckles, etc.--is generating considerable pain, he very gently broke the news. Other than normal day-to-day stuff, the hand needs a rest. A loooong rest. He estimates it will be completely healed around the six month mark. In my efforts to compensate for the non-use of the finger, I'm really aggravating my arthritis and delaying the healing process in the finger.

So. Peace.

I actually own a voice-to-text computer program--Dragon. And now it appears I'm going to learn and implement its use. I've heard good and bad and really ugly things about it, but that's all right. I'm persistent and I'm tough. If it will allow me to do ONE of the things I love, that's reason enough to do it.

So a couple people have been gracious enough to share some tips and pitfalls. If anyone else out there has experience with Dragon, speak up!

And for the curious, I'll be reporting back on my experiences. Now I'm off to tickle the dragon. I believe I'll call him Herb.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

At My Feet

Those of us with short stubby legs suffer a particular irritation when sitting, whether it's a chair, the couch, or even the bed. Our feet don't reach the floor.

After a short period of time my legs start to cramp and ache. I get up, walk around, but within minutes once I sit down again, the aches and pain start again. Over the years we've tried all sorts of solutions. None really worked well.

Then one afternoon a few weeks ago the hunk spied a rejected stool in a pile of furniture next to our dumpster. I stopped the car and he fetched the little stool. Except for a frayed corner, it was in excellent shape.

It's exactly the right height. I can watch TV or read in comfort. Problem solved.

But the hunk wasn't happy with that frayed cover. So he crocheted a cheerful new cover for my little stool. Last night he finished it--and wielding his staple gun--recovered the stool. Not all gifts cost hundreds of dollars. The gift of thoughtfulness and love is worth the most.