Sunday, December 29, 2013

De-cluttering, and Recycling...Jeans

I've always been back and forth on this one. Sometimes I save old jeans to cut into squares and make patchwork. And yes, I do, sometimes, actually make things from them. I once made an apron for my young son from old denim patches, and, another time, I made a light throw, a little blanket you can drape over your lap while reading or watching TV. 

I often look at recycling ideas in books and blogs. For example, this website,Going Green with Jeans, has lots of different ideas for using old jeans to make new purses, pillows, aprons, and more. 

However, I get busy with my other hobbies: reading and writing, as well as with school and caring for my family. So I usually spend more time exploring ideas than actually pursuing projects. And - as one son pointed out - finding a good home for each item slows down my de-cluttering process. Actually, he said I'm a packrat. Who me?  But I just hate to see things go to waste.

So, I was excited to discover that there's another way to recycle worn jeans, too. There's an organization that takes old jeans and recycles them into cotton insulation for homes. A portion of the insulation they make is donated to community organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity. You can watch a video about a recent recycling effort of Blue Jeans Go Green at National Geographic for Kids, here. Yes, I know it says "for kids", but it's fascinating, all the same. 

And if you don't mind paying the postage, you can mail your old jeans to this company. You can find a shipping label here

Or, if you don't want to pay postage they say that, seasonally, various retailers collect jeans for recycling, and you can find a list of retailers through their FAQ page and check with the retailers that are in your area. 

In the interest of disclosure, from what I can see, it's my understanding that this organization makes insulation for sale, and donates a portion. In other words, it's not purely a charitable donation. But, this is the case with other recycled items, as well. The idea is to keep from filling our landfills and to reuse our resources. 

Just wanted to share this with you, in case any of it is helpful to anyone or as interesting to you as it was to me.  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What I Learned from Taking my College Math Final

"What if my car breaks down on the way?" I asked my son - not that I was looking for an answer, just that I wanted to share my anxiety with someone - as I headed out the door to take my final exam for my math class. I had studied hard for over a week; but it seemed there was always an interruption in study, or something more important to attend to, just as there had been all semester. Too many of those pesky algebra concepts seemed to remain shrouded in mystery.

Walking down the stairs from our apartment, I stepped on something, turned my ankle, and with relief, regained my balance. A drink bottle had fallen from the outside pocket of my backpack, something that had never happened before.

On the road, I got sick. I pulled off the beltway at the first opportunity and found a Burger King. After a break and getting a strawberry milkshake (seemed to be just the ticket), I went back on my way, grateful I had allowed extra time. 

Finally, I got to the familiar classroom, where we all exchanged notes about our concerns; how many correct answers we would need to pass the exam; and what kinds of problems were on the test (one of the students had a friend who had taken it that morning).

As it got close to test time, our teacher had still not shown up, which was not like him; he was usually in the classroom before I arrived. Finally, another young man walked in, whom we had never seen before. He told us in a no-nonsense manner that our teacher had a scheduling conflict and here are the rules. 

Just then, I recognized someone walking down the hallway. She glanced in, recognized me, and her face lighted up with a big smile. My very positive, encouraging math teacher from last semester just "happened" to come by just when I needed her. She always believed I could do it (and I did, in her class), and she also had a way of making me feel calm. So here I was now, a little more confident, a little calmer, as I began the test.

I wish I could tell you I passed the test. But I won't know that until the middle of next week. 


What I do know is that I've had a personal glimpse into the lives of some of our young people as they try to balance everything. Many of those who are traditional students (meaning right out of high school) might not have as many responsibilities as some of their non-traditional-student counterparts, but they still have "life" happening all around them and to them; sometimes transportation issues; sometimes part-time jobs; and often four or five classes to juggle. 

I know the great variety of challenges not only from observing my own six kids but also - now - from my fellow students. There is the young woman who has to take a taxi to get to a bus stop to get to school, and the lady who is one math class away from getting her associate's degree in hospitality, taking the math class I was taking for her third time...not knowing what provision, if any, there is, if she doesn't pass the third time around.

So am I suggesting we feel sorry for our college students? No, just that we respect them, and appreciate what they are going through. And if they start but don't finish, that we respect them for getting as far as they did and making the choices they think they must for their lives.

And there is one more thing all this brings to mind. When someone says college isn't for everyone, we might want to be sure we aren't thinking that some aren't smart enough. We all have different intelligences (Howard Gardner), and some of those various intelligences may have less to do with college than others.  Or someone may be academically intellectual in some areas but not in other areas. 

With so many recent college graduates today looking in vain for work in their field, I think it's time to applaud their efforts and also those of all our young people, whether they pursue university, community college, technical schools, or alternative plans. May we recognize both the efforts of our students and the value of each of our young people, whatever way they choose to pursue their lives.

And, like my teacher, whose stopping by to smile at me calmed me and gave me the confidence to give that exam my best shot, may we offer our young people the encouragement of our respectful, loving presence.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Tale of Two Coats

After my sister Chris died, two years ago, I found a coat hanging over her dining room chair, a coat I remembered her wearing. Seeing it and touching it made me feel close to her, so I asked her husband if I could have it, even though I could see that one of the heavy-duty snaps was missing from one of the cuffs.

"Maybe I can repair it," I thought. When I got home, I took it to a tailor, but they said there was nothing they could do. I still thought I could somehow repair it but - between the emotional and time-consuming process of taking over the guardianship of my father and then dealing with the death of my son six weeks after my sister passed - I forgot about fixing the coat, until my sister's October birthday this year when I brought it out and thought about it again.  

Back to the tailor I went with a different request.

"Would you please remove all the snaps from the cuffs?" I asked. I quickly reassured them that I realized this would leave holes and I was prepared to deal with that. Hesitantly they agreed.

Tonight, I finished the project, after several weeks of repairing the holes, sewing on new buttons, and securely sewing Velcro where the inside snaps had been. I had to switch from regular thread to carpet thread and I bent my heavy-duty needle, but it's done! (The picture, above, was taken before I started on the Velcro.)  

While I worked on this project, I fondly recalled a long-forgotten memory from my young teen years.  My "big sister" replaced her reversible ski jacket. She had always worn it showing the white with red flowers and that side had now faded. I loved that side because it was "her", but I also loved the red side that she always kept on the inside. And now that she didn't want the coat anymore, I was free to take it if I wanted to. 

There was just one problem. While the red side was not faded, the seams on that side were completely unraveled. How could I sew them up, without a major overhaul, since - being a reversible coat - the inside and outside were completely sewn together at the bottom?

"Aha!" I had an idea. I carefully ripped open the pockets with a seam ripper tool. Then I slowly, gently pulled the fabric from one side through that pocket in order to sew the seam back up, first one side, and then the other. Then I whip-stitched the pockets back up so they would be usable. 

Since I was wearing the reverse side, I felt like I had a brand-new jacket, and yet I felt like I was wearing my sister's coat, too. I wore that jacket for many more years, even into my young adulthood. 

I expect I will wear this coat for many years also, as it warms me on the coldest days, and brings back memories of my sister, too. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Parents, Phones, and Shopping

"Mom, can I have some candy?" I would sometimes ask my mom, when I was a kid and she was on the phone. I knew she was apt to say yes, absent-mindedly, not really thinking about what I was asking her. But other than my taking advantage of a golden opportunity, she knew I was basically safe and occupied in our home, with my toys and books.

Cell phones have made it easier for us moms to stay connected to hubby, girlfriends, or whomever we want to talk to, wherever we may be.  It can be extremely helpful at times. But my heart always drops when I see a child shopping with his or her mom, while the mom is talking away on her cell phone, all the way through the store.  Perhaps the mom (or dad) can keep an eye on the child and talk to someone else on the phone at the same time, but the child is a captive, usually taken to a busy place without his or her toys or books.  It makes me feel sad for the child who usually looks either bored or lonely...and sometimes both.

But when I stop and think about it, it's not only the child who is missing out. The parent is missing an opportunity to connect with the child, to build a stronger bond, and even to have fun together. Our time of life when we can spend time with our children often passes all too quickly. Let's take full advantage of those moments - those opportunities - both for own sake and for the sake of the children. 

What do you think? Do you agree with me on this?

(And I don't mean to be critical of any one person at any one time. Sometimes it's just really important for someone to resolve something, right now, on their cell phone, & the casual observer can't know when that time is. So I'm not meaning to suggest we judge others, but just something to think about.)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Giving, With Boundaries, Not Strings

Times are tough. The problems with the economy touch most of us at one time or another, in one way or another. In today's economy, it's a rare family where someone doesn't have financial fears, or even needs. And if we're the one at the moment with "enough", we often want to help. Sometimes, even if we have to stretch to do it, we still want to help. Helping is good. But strings are not necessarily so good.

What are strings? Strings are saying "I will help you," and then later (whether stated explicitly or implied), "(I'm helping you, so now)"... "....I want you to do this for me, and this for me, and this for me." Or another one is, "I will you loan you money, but be sure you pay it right back." 

Strings often cause misunderstandings and hard feelings on both sides, and can sometimes put a strain on the peace of mind of both people involved. 

Boundaries, on the other hand, sound like they will cause conflict, and perhaps sometimes they do. Yet, they often prevent the strains that strings bring.  

What are boundaries? Setting boundaries might be saying, "I will help you. You say you need $100? I am able to give you $10."  (or $20 or $50, whatever you feel you are able to, or want to, give). You might think: "But he told me he needed $100"; however, maybe he just wanted to vent. Maybe another person will give him $10, too, and another; or maybe he will find some money under the mattress, or a way to borrow, or something to sell; and maybe soon he will have the $100, and be grateful to you that you wanted to contribute something.  

Setting a boundary might be saying, "I will loan you this money. Pay me back when you are able. I will really appreciate it. But no hurry."  And then, telling yourself that if you don't get the money back, you will just let it go. If you're not sure whether or not you can afford to loan someone money, ask yourself how you will feel if that person dies. Will you just be sorry that you lost this dear friend? Or will you be anxiously seeking out the nearest survivors to tell them they need to repay your loan? (There's those strings again.). Not only does this put a strain on relationships and on people's peace of mind, but unless you had a documented business contract, the law says you are out of luck. If you insist, you are at the mercy of someone else's generosity...someone who may now feel torn by shame if they don't give the money to you and, at the same time, hurt that you seem to care more about your money than about the person who passed away. In addition, the survivor, if they decide to give you the money you 'claim', is now faced with fitting you in along with funeral expenses and, if there is money to be had, perhaps a very long wait. So they may continue to think about you and your request, and be upset on account of your request, for a year or two, until the estate has been processed. Not that you want to think about death whenever someone asks you for money, but just know that these things do sometimes happen in real life. 

I'm not trying to discourage anyone from helping people in need! Nor am I saying you should give someone your last jacket, for "keeps". What we give, and how much we give, is very personal.  I have no comment on how much anyone should give to others. But when we do give, let's think about what our boundaries are. How much can we afford to give without resentment? If it's a loan, will we be okay if we don't get the money back?  If we are satisfied with our answers to our questions, then let's give, and give freely, without strings. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Myers Family Cookbook: Frugal Foods

Whew! I got this book finished just as school started...and then I got super busy!  I'm sorry that I hadn't announced it here at my blog before now; but finally, here it is.

The Myers Family Cookbook: Frugal Foods is now published and available in three formats:

Print book available from Amazon.

Kindle book available from Amazon.

Nook book available from Barnes and Noble.

I want to thank all those who helped and inspired me in getting this book published. I also want to thank my husband who sometimes heard, "I didn't make dinner because I was working on the cookbook," which I thought was kind of humorous in an ironic sort of way. 

Here are the chapters:
Meatless Main Dishes and Soups
Main Dishes and Soups Made with Beef
Main Dishes and Soups Made with Chicken
Special Occasion Dinners
A Few Basics
Sweets and Treats 
Menus and Shopping Lists
Easy Eating

And here is one of the recipes which is in the book. Although I may have tweaked the recipe for the book, since the time when I posted the recipe online a few years ago, it's basically the same recipe, and one of my favorites. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Little Saint Therese Book

I've moved the Little Saint Therese book to Amazon for your convenience. 

Although the move forced me to raise the price, yet that seems to be offset by the fact that shipping is cheaper...or free, if you have Amazon prime, and also shipping is now much faster and traceable. 

Also, now you can find the book, by going to Amazon and putting the title into a search (or putting my name into a search, whichever you wish). 

You can read a review by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur here

If you would like to read Cay Gibson's review, please remember that she wrote it last year before I moved the book to Amazon, so the price and publisher have changed. However, the content of the book has not changed since she wrote her review.  

Thank you again, Cay and Patrice! 

You can read a sample chapter here...or buy the book here


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why Don't the Unemployed "Just Get a Job?"

"You shouldn't have dropped out of school!" a man yelled from his car at the young man who was walking. Why did the driver make the assumption that the young man had dropped out of school? Was it because the pedestrian had long hair? Was it because the driver often saw the pedestrian walking? Little did the presumptuous older man know that the younger man was on his two mile walk home from the train…the train that took him to college each day where he was earning a 4.0, while working a part-time job on the side.

"Try not to get caught in a rainstorm when you go for an interview," said the career adviser to the young woman who had taken public transportation through a thunderstorm in order to make it to the appointment for which she was paying the older woman $75 of precious borrowed money to help with her resume.

Were these young people "poor people" who were raised in poor families?  Not at all. They were middle class people who didn't currently have a car, middle class people who had seen better times.

"Middle class people who have seen better times" are all around us. We rub elbows with them all the time. Many of us "have seen better times" one time or another in our lives.

I remember when I worked part time at J C Penney some years back. Many of the customers treated us salespeople as if we were their lower class servants, as if we have a caste system here, which of course we do not. (I hope.) Perhaps some of the customers who thought they were "better" would have been surprised to learn that one of my co-workers was supplementing her job as an accountant and another was supplementing her job as an elementary school teacher. Who knows why they needed additional money. Perhaps it was just getting hard to make ends meet. Or maybe the other breadwinner in the family had lost his job, or perhaps there were medical needs.

Of course, working at a department store is not a guaranteed income either. The hours are usually "all over the place"…sometimes leaving at 10 at night and returning again at 6 in the morning; sometimes working 30 hours a week; other times working only 8 hours a week. One person I know took a job at a mall anchor store with "guaranteed five hours a week". Sometimes they would want him to come in for two or three hours at a time, which was barely worth the cost of the gasoline to get there, and certainly not enough to eke out even a meager living.

I have left the names out of my stories to 'protect the innocent', as they say, but all the stories are true. I have spoken with many people about today's economy, and these are just a few of the stories I have heard.

One woman I know was happy to obtain a work-at-home job. For less than ten dollars an hour, she was expected to provide and maintain her own computer and wired internet access. But when the company's connection went down - many times each day - it caused outages for all of the employees, keeping them from doing their jobs. The employees were paid for the time they actually worked, not for the time in between which was spent on outages, which were entirely beyond their control.

And then there are the drug testing stories. One woman I know spent two hours on public transportation, followed by a mile's walk, to reach an agency which had offered her a temp job (the job itself was in a location which would be easier for her to access).  She arrived at the agency at the specified time, but after she passed the typing test, the agent told her she would need to go two miles down the road to get a drug test.  By the time she would be able to get back, going on foot, they would be closed. They offered no suggestions or encouragement.

And that story reminds me of another story. One young man applied to work at a Walmart store.  They sent him over 20 miles (each way) for the drug test.  Although he had never used drugs in his life, they never got around to calling him back for a job or an interview.

Then there is the ubiquitous 'job' that sounds legitimate, but turns out to be a networking plan, not an income for someone who is out of work…or worse, it turns out to be a complete scam.  In the meantime, the prospect has spent money going to a bogus 'interview'. And no, it is not "ignorant" people who waste their time on these scam interviews. Sometimes it is a college graduate with years of work in a professional career.

Why am I sharing all these stories? It's so easy for our automobile-driven society to think – without really thinking about it – that those people who are walking down the street, those people who stand at bus stops, somehow made the choice to be there rather than to be driving a car, or that those who are unemployed need to "just get a job". For any readers who are unemployed, I want to tell you that there is always hope. I know a lot of people who have been laid off who have gotten a job. But for those of us observing, let's just realize that it is neither easy nor instant. 

May we remember that those who are unemployed, or underemployed, and those who do not drive a car for whatever reason, whether they were brought up rich, poor, or middle class, are usually not in this situation through their own "fault". Sometimes they need to exercise incredible perseverance and resourcefulness. Sometimes they need a little help, or a little encouragement. But certainly they need and deserve our complete respect and quite often our admiration.  

Friday, August 09, 2013

A Beggar at the Door of My Car

As I loaded my groceries into the car, a man approached me. 

"Would you give me a couple quarters?" he asked, adding, "I'm hungry!"  

I continued putting my groceries in the car, thinking about what I might have just bought that would be ready-to-eat, wishing I had bought a protein bar. I pulled out a bag of hoagie buns and offered them to him. He made no move to take them, and I said, "I guess they would be awkward."  

"Can't you give me money?" he asked. "I want to buy a sandwich." 

"I will go with  you into the store & buy you a sandwich," I offered. 

"No," he whined, "Can't you give me quarters?" 

"I don't give people money," I said not unkindly, but firmly, shutting the rear passenger door where I was loading the groceries, and turning my back on him, ignoring his continued pleas. For the first time, I realized I was a bit nervous, as I could see out of the corner of my eye that he followed me from the passenger side of the car to the front of my car. But I guess he decided I wasn't going to be any help; so he went to another car. I noticed they listened politely, and politely turned him down before he went on to the next car. 

As I write this, I'm thinking what if a  friend had written this article and I was reading it. I might be saying, "You stood there and talked to a stranger at the door of your car?!"  Well, first of all, I have had sixty years of life experience in a variety of locales and situations, and I have always been one of the most cautious people I know; so if no alarm bells went off in my head, I was probably okay as far as danger goes. (Okay, I know that there are probably numerous things wrong with that last statement.) 

Also, there wasn't a lot I could do except be polite and firm, as he was already there by my open car door. I learned when I lived in Los Angeles to never show fear, although I guess I could have just said no in the first place, which is what I usually say if someone approaches me on the street, asking for change.  But I didn't. 

And maybe that's because I know what it is to have relatives, and friends who have relatives, throughout that spectrum: hungry, or dependent on alcohol, or with a debilitating, but non-violent mental illness that causes them to have difficulties in life. And I have relatives who have none of those problems, yet have been temporarily down on their luck. Those are some of the reasons I'm a little open to helping a little, if I can. Along with the words of Jesus, "I was hungry and you gave me to eat." 

But just as I wasn't sure how to handle that situation while I was there, I also wasn't sure whether or not to report it to the store. I finally did call, and the woman on the phone told me she appreciated me telling them. This is not the kind of store where people beg in the parking lot; but I don't think it was so much that thought  that caused me to call. What tipped the balance for me was his being right at my car door in my personal space. If you approach me on the street, I can walk way, but I can't as easily walk away from my car. If you spend time close to me and my car, and then you follow me halfway around my car after I say no, then I have to assume you could possibly be a danger to myself or others. 

Recalling a different situation, although I said I don't give money, there are exceptions to that. One evening we were walking downtown and passed by a woman playing beautifully on a flute. To me, she looked hungry, and also sad. When I put money in her bowl, she said thank you, and I said, "You're welcome, and thank you."  She looked pleasantly surprised that I said that and wished me a good evening. She had provided a service, she had entertained me, just as they do in San Francisco or New Orleans. I thanked her, just as I do the cashier in the store, because we have each provided one another a service. I felt better for having reminded the flutist of that, with my "thank you", than I did for giving her a little money. When we help people, it's not like we are feeding the squirrels. We are dealing with human beings who are created in the image and likeness of God. Although I will back away from perceived danger or even report it, yet when I do help someone on the street, I like to treat them with the same respect I would my family members or friends, or my friends' family members. After all, aren't we really all part of the same human family? 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Paralyzed by Fear of Failure or is it Really the Need to Make Decisions?

I published my children's book, Little Saint Therese, about a year ago as a self-published, print-on-demand book through The Book Patch. I bought one as a proof copy, uploaded some minor changes, and then bought some more to give away as review copies or gifts.

A year later, I have still bought more books myself than anyone else has bought. I'm sure I shouldn't admit that publicly, but hey, there's a point to my openness.

Yes, the book is geared to a very specific age group and no, I don't promote it very much. But I think there's something more going on here, too. Who's ever heard of the Book Patch? (No offense, Book Patch folks; you do a great job on the publishing and mailing!). 

And where do you go to find out more about a book? Amazon, right? But my book isn't on Amazon. Naturally, it doesn't come up in any Amazon searches for children's saint books or children's Catholic books or what-have-you. 

Six months ago, give or take a few, I was ready to publish my Myers Family Vintage Cookbook (or whatever name I ultimately settle on). But I had a Total Formatting Fail when I tried to upload it at The Book Patch. So I began to think maybe I should publish it somewhere else. I also realized the formatting was a huge learning curve for me, wherever I published it. And my publishing ventures are not all that I have on my plate, so it kept getting shifted down to a lower priority. You know how it is when you feel something is a major project, right? 

This morning I finally sat down, determined to do something about the cookbook. And that's when I realized that it's not so much fear of failure that has been paralyzing me, as I had begun to think. It's actually more the need to make decisions! I started this morning's questions with: How much do I want to charge for Kindle books? Then I realized I needed to decide - for the physical book - between CreateSpace (Amazon for print-on-demand) and Lulu (print-on-demand company which also enables you to offer your book on Amazon). 

So I did some research and found...mixed reviews. I really want spiral binding for the cookbook, which CreateSpace doesn't offer.  But people say Lulu is more expensive. Some people were even concerned about the cost of buying their own copies. I have a lot of copies to buy. But I also want spiral binding.

So then it dawned on me. I don't hope to make money selling print books. I mean, I'm not going to give them away (well, not too many of them); but selling print books is not my main plan. It's the Kindle books that I hope to sell in volume (when I finally get them there). That will be my "book business", so to speak.

I want the print books for the copyright registration, and for me and my family, and for gifts, and for review copies. If someone else wants to buy them, too, that's terrific. But that spiral binding is more important to me right now than a place on Amazon, and my budget is limited. I want my next book, too - my Minute Psalm Retreats - to have spiral binding. And again, once they are in print, I hope to put them all on Kindle, and that's where I hope to make any volume sales. 

So, for now, for this 'set' (if you will), why not continue with the print-on-demand publisher that I already know? Now that I've made a decision, I hope I can move forward again! 

Have you ever procrastinated because you were avoiding making decisions? 

Next Day: I think I have tweaked yesterday's decisions. But that doesn't change the concept that the need to decide on the next direction can sometimes hold us back! 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Finger Pointing Doesn't Help

I've diminished my Facebook use and even my email inbox is "bugging me" these days. Here's why:

I wish, before people would pass along this or that "black-on-white crime", thinking they prove a point, that they would check to see if the killer was arrested and charged. In all the "black-on-white" stories that I have seen people post, the killers were definitely arrested and charged and - if it has already gone to trial - convicted.

The only similarity between those stories & the recent case that brought national attention is that someone was killed. The differences in the recent case were that no one was arrested and charged in the weeks after someone died; that evidence had not been properly preserved; and so much information & misinformation was publicized (because otherwise, nothing was being done at all)...and that this affected the ability to even find a jury. 

If someone wants to pass along every "black-on-white" and "black-on-black" crime story that comes their way, thinking that it proves a point, I wish they would ask who bombed the Oklahoma federal building...and who shot up schools and malls and a theater?  My parents taught me when I was a little girl that there is crime in every race. 

If we say, "Why are people making this about race?" and then we turn this into finger-pointing & drag out and publicize every crime we can find, and imply "these people" commit all these crimes, then I believe we answer the question very well as to why this is about race. 

If that sounds harsh, I'm sorry, because I'm sure many people re-post these things without even thinking, or because they simply don't understand the differences between the cases and they are tired of hearing about it. I'm sure some of them don't really mean what they seem to imply. 

But it makes me wonder if maybe we do need to think a little more carefully about this subject!  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Things People Say about the Zimmerman Case

"Why do people bring race into this? There was this black-on-white crime that happened in this other state, and that's not on the national news." When someone tells me that, or posts it on Facebook, I look at the story they refer to. And every time I see that someone was "arrested and charged" for the crime. Therein lies the difference.

I have yet to hear a story of black-on-white in which the person was allowed to simply walk away free, without so much as an arrest or a trial. This is what happened in this case until the national news brought it to our attention. And that delay is why evidence was not properly preserved and why the jury pool was sparse because so many had already heard so much about the case.

"There was equal fault on both sides." No one really knows for sure what happened out there. But whatever happened, can't people conceive that Martin either knew or sensed his life was in danger (as we know that it actually was). Can't we consider that he may have been the first one who acted in self-defense?

"It was decided in a court of law; so it's over. "  It was decided in a court of law, so it's over until the next court, perhaps a civil trial from the family, or perhaps a trial by a higher court. A verdict of 'not guilty' demonstrates that a crime wasn't proven to the satisfaction of a jury, who cannot convict if they have reasonable doubt. But we will never know whether the jury would have decided differently if they had been given the 'initial aggressor instruction' to consider, because the defense objected to it and it was left out of the jury instructions. (One explanation of that is here.). It's also not "over", in that people are allowed to legitimately seek ways to make changes in laws for the future.

"I wish we could stop talking about race."  There was a time in my life when I felt that way, too, so I understand that sentiment. After all, as my late son Paul used to say (although he wasn't denying the existence of problems), "we are all the same race, the human race". Wouldn't it be nice if everyone just respected everyone else equally? Unfortunately it seems that in some parts of our country - and perhaps in some hearts - these conversations are still necessary. We need to have those conversations not only in society but also in our families, where we teach one another to build people up and respect them, whatever our similarities and differences may be.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Storage, A Piano, and Learning to be Kind to Myself

I don't need any more books. I don’t need to get more books simply so that the ones on the bottom shelves of my bookcase don't ruin one another. You know that books get ruined if you don't have enough of them on the shelf, right? Seriously, I need to decide whether to add another crate of loose materials or to stack some of the books atop one another, rather than side by side. 

But I kept thinking of the old Value Tales books that are tucked away, somewhere in our storage unit. Even though they are not in very good condition, I keep them for the content. I needed to know where and how to fit them into the bookcase space and,  besides, I just wanted to get them into our home space and out of our storage space.

I don't recommend off-site storage units, but we came to Baltimore from a five-bedroom house in rural Kentucky with an abundance of storage space in the garage and attic, as well as lots of living space. In addition to having a large house, both of us inherited plenty of "pack-rat" in our upbringing. We eliminated a lot of things for our relocation but we were not able to whittle down enough to transition to an apartment, without renting a little more real estate, ten miles from home. 

So, my son and I went to “storage” yesterday. We never found the Value Tales. But we found something in worse condition than those books: the storage unit itself. We found boxes with water damage, some still damp. Worse, we found what looks like some water damage on the cover for the keys of the piano…the piano that belonged to my father-in-law when he was a boy. The piano my husband has been missing so badly since we came to Baltimore.

My son and I tried to get in touch with management to look at the damage, but they were not answering their calls and although the office was open, we could find no one there. So we went home, and we will need to go back, along with my husband, to assess the damage and to get management to fix the roof.

After we went home yesterday, I kept catching myself using self-talk that was less than charitable. I was getting mad at myself for stupid little things, stupid little nothings, and finally I realized this was the “old me” popping up…that I have learned better than that. But where was it coming from?

I think I was blaming myself for the possible damage to my husband’s precious piano. If I had cleared out more at home, maybe we could have made room for it. Or perhaps I should have found out sooner that we could bring it here, even though we live on an upper floor (it was not allowed at our first apartment in Baltimore, unless you lived on the first floor). Or maybe if I had waited to have us move from one community to another, waited until we could get a first floor apartment here, maybe we would have brought the piano home from storage.

That was when I realized the folly of my runaway thoughts! If we had gotten a first floor apartment here - at least in any of the buildings on our street - we could have lost everything a couple of years ago when the creek flooded. We helped a neighbor move out after that flood and it wasn't pretty. 

Stuff just happens. Not everything that happens can be prevented. Wow, it’s amazing that I am still fighting that philosophy that was drilled into me when I was a child, “What could you have done to prevent this?” or, “How could we keep something like this from happening again in the future?”

It’s good to take care of our people and our things, but there is a balance to life. We need to do our duties, and we need to make decisions. But then, we need to let go.  We cannot control life. I don’t think we were ever programmed to control every circumstance.

If we have actually done something intentional that hurt someone, we need to seek forgiveness. But whenever we feel we may have contributed to a problem, whether intentionally or unintentionally, we also need to forgive ourselves.  We need to “let go and let God”.  Let God bring good out of evil. Let God love us.

As for the piano, it may be better off than I first thought. But, whatever the case, life and its lessons play on. 

Follow-up: We went back on Saturday and were delighted to learn that the piano plays as well as ever and only has minimal cosmetic damage. It was already old, with some cosmetic damage, so we are just happy that it is still good, musically. The owner of the storage facility repaired the ceiling, and the only other things damaged were some boxes, mostly empty...and the piano bench pad I made some years ago, which was in a box that got damaged. The piano books in that box were protected by the bench cushion.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Focus by Ingrid Ricks -- A Book Review

A Book Review of Focus by Ingrid Ricks

How might it feel to go to get glasses, pick out your favorite frames on the way in to the ophthalmologists’ office, and then to find out that your field of vision is so small that you are legally blind?  To learn that glasses won’t help? To learn it is a progressive disease?

Find out how Ingrid Ricks felt when she received this devastating news. Find out how she got her positive perspective back. Find out what life is like with Retinitis Pigmentosa…and what she is doing about it.

Ingrid Ricks tells it like it is, making it all so real you feel like you are right there. At times, we might go down to the depths with her but, as always, she brings us back up to the positive, optimistic place that characterizes her writing.

As a mother with two sons who had sudden vision losses, I remember looking for books – any books - on the subject of vision loss, and coming up short. At that time, there was basically nothing I could find. I wasn’t looking for a book that explained the technical details or for a book specific to my sons’ condition. I just wanted something, anything on the subject. Finally, someone wrote one of those books I had been looking for.

But even if you don’t know anyone with vision loss, or maybe even more so in that case, this book can help you to see life through someone else’s eyes. 

You can get the book through Amazon here

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why Does He Carry a White Cane Beside Him?

My youngest son often carries a white cane. I'm glad he can't see that sometimes people stare or turn their heads. I know I'm not supposed to be a mind-reader but my guess, as I watch them, is that they are wondering: Since he gets around so well, why does he carry a white cane?

You know why someone carries a white cane, right? Many people do. But you see, that's just it. A blind person uses a white cane to sweep back and forth in order to know what's in front of him or her. (Or that's our perception.) So why does this man carry it beside him

We tend to want to define everything and everyone. We tend to want to put things - and unfortunately, people, too - into boxes. This person is blind; this other person is sighted. This person is deaf; this other person can hear. This person needs a wheel chair; this other person does not. But real life is not that simple! 

My friend might need a wheelchair for long days out and about, but she doesn't need it for everywhere or for everything. I might not be able to hear you speaking beside me but I might hear you whisper behind me. My son might be able to lead the rest of the family around but...and that brings me back to the story at hand. 

As those who know my family know, my youngest son is "legally blind". Being legally blind doesn't mean he can't see anything or - as he sometimes says to me when I say something too obvious - "I'm not blind." But it does mean that he can't see quite as well as those of us who are fully sighted. 

The disabilities lady at his first college persuaded him to use the cane. You see, there are several different uses for many things in this world. One use for a white cane is identification (otherwise, why would it be white...and why would no one else be allowed to carry a white cane?). If you see someone with a white cane, you automatically know that person is blind...or occasionally, "just" legally blind. When you are driving and you see that person, you know that he might not be able to see you wave him across the road...or, conversely, he might not see that you're going to proceed turning left on your green light, even if he has a green light too, and you expect him to just darn well wait for you (one of my pet peeves, regardless of whether the pedestrian is sighted or not, but if that pedestrian carries a white cane, that driver may be in a heap o' trouble if he makes such an assumption).  

If you're a teacher, you know right away that this person might not see what you're writing on the board. Not that you have to molly-coddle him. You don't. He will tell you what he needs. But it's good to know, right?  If you're a student, you know that he might not see you wave or smile at him across the hallway; you have to speak up. If you're doing business with him, now you know why you might have to show him where the line is to sign on. (Not to worry, if he needs to know what he's signing, he will probably pull out his pocket video magnifier, but if it's something routine, he might ask you where to sign.) 

Wait. Didn't I say he leads the rest of the family around? What did I mean by that, and how can that be, if he's legally blind? Again, we are all different. Not only can he see large objects but he has good peripheral vision, which is what we primarily use for orientation; he hears very well; he has a good memory; and he has good spatial concepts. So if I'm going someplace I haven't been before, or some place that confuses me, I'm always glad when he's with me. 

So, if you ever see someone carrying a white cane, who doesn't seem to be blind, who doesn't sweep the cane in front of him or her, who carries it some of the time and maybe doesn't at other times, now, hopefully, you won't be puzzled. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review of The Catholic Baby Name Book

Whether you are looking for a first name, a middle name, or a confirmation name, you will find the names of many well-known saints in this book, as well as a plethora of saints whose names and stories you have probably never heard.

For example, have you ever heard of 20th-century Spanish St. Ceferino, who was uneducated but became a catechist and city councilman? Did you know there was actually a third century Italian bishop named St. Autonomous? And yes, the name does mean self-governing.

When I used to hear the name “Olympia”, the capital city of my home state, I thought of Greek gods. But it turns out there is a St. Olympia. She was born in the Ukraine. And although I don’t see the book mention some common nicknames such as Peggy for Margaret, I was fascinated to learn that there was a St. Pega, a hermitess, who once cured a blind man while she was attending her brother’s funeral.  

The Catholic Baby Name Book gives you the meanings behind the names of many saints, as well as the countries of origin, brief stories about the saints, and multiple spellings.

You can also find out the top 100 names in the US since 2011; the most popular Catholic names by decade since the sixties; a list of recently canonized saints; and resources for finding more names, stories, and information. 


You can buy the book from  the publisher, Ave Maria Press, or from Amazon, or from Barnes and Noble. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Mother's Day Tribute from My Daughter

My daughter, Mary Ellen Myers, posted the following on Facebook yesterday. I decided to share it with you here in my blog (although I'm blushing a bit to do so!). Perhaps it will encourage some young mother who is tired and feels overworked that there is light at the end of the tunnel or a mother who maybe feels like your kids don't appreciate you. If you are in the latter group, I hope, as they mature, they will. And if you think your adult kids don't appreciate you, it may really just be their frustration, at this moment in time, with their own lives; or perhaps they aren't this articulate about it and you just don't know that they really do appreciate you more than you know. To all mothers, and to all who are like a mother to someone, in any way, Happy Mother's Day! (Oh. And thank you, Mary!  Wow, can you write! )

Why I'm pretty sure my mom is SuperMom:

Okay, so we've never found the cape. I'm convinced it's made of the same material as the Invisibility Cloak in Harry Potter. I'm also convinced that she hides a time machine. Otherwise I cannot explain the number of things she does in just one day, in just one hour, in just one minute. It's kind offense, Margaret Mary, but kind of freaky. I'm not saying you're a freak of course. I'd love it if you'd let me in on some of your magical secrets because even on my most productive days, I feel like a lazy bum in comparison.

With only a high school education and a thirst for knowledge that rivals Einstein, she homeschooled 6 kids, adapting to different learning needs and styles. All of us have degrees or are finishing college, all with good grades. I think her success is largely due to the fact that she never stopped to ask whether or not she could do something. She just did it.

She never had much of a temper but we'd always try to see how far we could push it, see if we could make her blow. It was a jolly good time when we could even though it meant somebody was in trouble. Even when angry, she never punished in anger, but only out of love. Many don't understand this distinction.

She didn't have many rules because frankly, she was more interested in reading and writing than micromanaging her noisy, crazy children. Most cries of "Mom, Mom, so and so is doing ___" were met with a nonchalant "Is anyone bleeding"? Upon discovering that no one was in immediate danger, she would dive back into her world of reading/writing with great fervor. But she does have a few rules about safety. For example, the Mom-mobile does not leave the station unless everyone's seatbelts are securely fastened. Which might be related to her desire to drive like she's in the Indy 500 if she thought she could get away with it. This IS the same woman who aced the test, revving circles around the guys when she got her motorcycle license to cruise the streets of Los Angeles.

She's gotta be the proudest parent on earth. She rejoices at our accomplishments, both big and small, quickly followed by "so what are your next plans"? I'm sure if I went to Mars, she would want to know what planet was next on the list. She always wants to have a plan, know the details of the plan and follow the plan.

She's a great neighbor. By that, I mean, nothing is gonna happen in that neighborhood without her knowing about it. But it's due to her amazing observation skills that she understands people so well. She captures the motivations behind why they do what they do. Where someone else might label someone a "jerk", she holds back judgement and says "well, you know maybe ____ is the reason they acted this way". And yet, even though she might understand the offender's mindset, she won't allow them to treat herself or her family badly. She has stood between police in bulletproof vests and a family member when they tried to arrest the wrong person, all 5 foot 2 inches of her badassery halting them in their tracks.

She's a fountain of wisdom but only because she's always growing and seeing the world in new ways, because she's never lost her childlike love of learning. Happy Mother's Day, Mom aka Aunt Peggy aka Aunt Margaret Mary. Love you.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

My "Just Say No" Diet

Should I really post this when I haven't even begun my "diet"? Well, that's what blogging is all about, right? It's a journal ("weB LOG", right?). it is. I have been a bit overweight for awhile now. And no, I'm not going to define "a bit". Maybe later a few weeks or months...maybe I will.

I also have a family cookbook in the works to share with you some day, and the more I've looked at diets, the more I realize I haven't really changed my mind about the value of most of the foods and recipes in my cookbook. Mostly, it's about balance.

But - I believe -  it's not my own cooking that has caused me to put on weight. It's all the "other stuff" I add or substitute:  the candy or doughnuts I buy at the grocery store; the fast foods or deliciously healthy but sweet semi-fast foods (eg. Starbucks, Panera, etc.); and the vending machines at school - and previously at work - because, after all, it's been a stressful day. At home it might be the handfuls of chocolate chips or raisins because I'm bored or lonely or sad, or the dishes of oyster crackers I crack in half sideways while I'm on the computer you know how much fun that is? (Just to clarify, I don't eat all of those different things in a single day.)  Worst of all, I "need" a soda because I am bored, stressed, sad, nervous, or to celebrate something!

I keep thinking I should "cut out sweets"...or "give up white sugar and white flour".  Maybe that's a good idea but I've never been a "cold turkey" kind of person. And I live in a busy, real world. So, the other day I made up My "Just Say No" Diet. No, I don't plan to market it (hmm?).

In my "diet plan", almost every "just say no" category has exceptions. They say the plan won't work unless you work the plan. So I'm trying to make a plan that I can and will "work". These exceptions should work for me. If you were going to give something up, it might be something different and your exceptions might be different. For example, where I "except" a light spread of jam from my sugar prohibition, you might substitute a little ketchup. Or whatever. Or you might be a "cold turkey" type of person and give up all sugar. But without further ado, here's my plan.

My "Just Say No" Diet  :)

No white sugar except:

A teaspoon or packet of sugar in tea or iced tea (maximum of 2 daily)

A light spread of jam (about a teaspoon) on whole grain toast (maximum of 1 daily)

Occasional hot chocolate, for a treat, when out (maximum of one a month)

Only minimal raisins, chocolate chips (dark or semi-sweet), honey, or other natural sweeteners in:

Small servings of whole grain cereals or whole grain baked goods (maximum of 2 small servings daily)

No artificial sweeteners; no exceptions:

So, with only a teaspoon of table sugar and no artificial sweeteners, sodas are not in the plan, period. (This is the strictest but most important one.)

No white flour, except:

Burritos, quesadillas, pizza, or sub sandwich (maximum of twice a week)

Occasional roll, half-sandwich, waffle or a couple of pancakes, if eating out or serving company (maybe once a month)

Just Say Yes


Eggs, lean beef, chicken, turkey, ham, fresh or frozen fish, canned fish

Dairy products without added sugars. Choose low-fat dairy except for the occasional dollop of sour cream with some of my foods and a teaspoon of half-and-half in my coffee (maximum of 2 coffees a day & no, that's not on top of 2 cups of tea, but more of an either/or kind of thing).


Protein bars

Nut butter


Veggies, lots of veggies; get ones I like, include avocado, and remember, too, that low-sodium V-8 is easy to grab or to take along

Brown or wild rice

Fruits, in moderation

Whole grain cereals, pastas, and breads, in moderation


Butter in moderation on toast

Olive oil for frying

Canola oil for baking

Olives for snacking, in tiny amounts

Avocado (yes, I mentioned avocado twice; yum)

I will check back with you later about how well I stuck with the plan and how successful it was. 

What do you do when you want to lose a little weight? Feel free to share.  

P.S. Well, I can't say I have stuck by the plan religiously but I've certainly tried to "do better". And guess what? In spite of being sick with a virus which turned into a sinus infection (no, being sick doesn't make me stop eating, but it does make me add more sugar, for example, Sierra Mist), and in spite of having company for a week (& eating out nearly every night), I lost a half pound a week for the past month, just by paying attention to the above. And I never felt deprived.  I know I will probably reach a point where I will have to give up more if I want to lose more, but so far, so good.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"42" - A Movie Review

Go see the Movie “42”.

Okay, no, I’m not telling you what to do or anything. I’m just enthusiastic. 

I got mad; I got madder; I got really mad. I laughed. I cheered (quietly). I cried (happily). I all but forgot to breathe for an hour and a half. Well, okay, I really did forget to breathe some of the time. And let me tell you, not breathing can be exhausting. 

So, what is “42”? “42” was Jackie Robinson’s baseball number.  “42” is a movie about Jackie Robinson, which is par excellence!  Bring your teens. It’s PG-13, and you might not want your little ones to hear the language, especially the “n” word, repeated over and over by one man. About that? You picked up that I got mad, right?  No, I wasn’t mad at the producers. I was mad at the attitudes and actions of some of the people. Even though I already knew it was that way in history, it was painful to see it all come to life on the screen. But sometimes we need to see pain, to see how people have pushed through it.  

This movie and all that it stands for is part of American History 101. Living and breathing history. This was life-changing US history!  None of this life-changing history should have ever been necessary. But unfortunately it was. 

Branch Rickie and Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese and others helped bring about change. Many were involved, and many showed courage, but what was most apparent, what was most essential to change the sports climate in America, was the courage of one man who didn't see himself as a hero, one man who just wanted to play baseball: Jackie Robinson. 

I hope you will go see the movie. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Math Rescue Kit - Book Review

I'm a nontraditional college student. I have 60 years of life experience; I'm a writer; and I homeschooled my six children and prepared them all for college. However, past the seventh-grade level, they learned math from their dad and, later, from some excellent computer-based, self-teaching materials. I've never been a "math person".

But to achieve the associate's degree that I am now pursuing, I will need three math classes...that is, after I get through the two "developmental" math classes that I tested into (high school level math for college students). And how am I even going to pass those first two classes? Well, I signed up for my first class, and, first of all, we have a good text; we use the MyMathLab computer program for homework; and I have a great teacher. But still, I needed a little more! So, secondly, I bought the Math Rescue Kit. Okay, you've heard enough about me, and now you want to know something about the book, right?

Dr. Porr divides the book into three parts: Attitude and Perspective, Before Class Begins, and Power Techniques. Each part is equally important, but it's not like you have to master everything in the book before you begin. Each of these three parts has various principles. Each principle or idea is helpful, but you don't have to use all of them to benefit. The tips that help you the most might not be the same as the tips that help me the most. Maybe someone's favorite tip might be "Look for a Metaphor" or someone else's favorite suggestion might be to "Join or Create a Study Group". My personal favorite is this one: "Pursue Mastery, Not Just Completing Assignments". Every single new math lesson that I pursue is a challenge for me (and he addresses that, too); but as I keep pursuing mastery with each new lesson, I finally "get it"...and I'm getting good grades. Most of all, I've learned that: "I can learn math!"