Friday, March 30, 2018

A Spirited Dispute

Thought for the day:  Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man. [Benjamin Franklin]

[image courtesy of Seniorark]
That ol' Ben Franklin was a smart dude. No doubt, we should all wrestle our vices into submission, and being friends with our neighbors is undoubtedly a good idea, but somehow, I don't think most men would appreciate their ladies looking for a better man each year...

But neighbors... some neighbors make it really hard to get along, don't they? The loud inconsiderate ones who party into the wee hours of the morning, (Without inviting YOU!) the ones who blithely allow (Nay... encourage!) their dogs to evacuate on your lawn every day, the ones who borrow, borrow, borrow and never ever return. You know the kind. Robert Frost told us Good fences make good neighbors, but some people are so belligerent and difficult to get along with, they find a way to try our patience, fence or no fence.

And then... consider some of our world-wide neighbors. In far too many cases, inane disputes between countries have led to wars. And then... there's Canada.

Canadians are extraordinarily tolerant and polite. I can't imagine our neighbors to the north going to war for a frivolous reason. I mean... just look at how they protest:

Q. How do you get a Canadian to apologize?
A. Step on his foot.

Q. How many Canadians does it take to change a light bulb?
A. None. They don't change light bulbs; they accept them just the way they are

So would it surprise you to know that Canada and Denmark have been at odds for decades?

[image courtesy of Toubletap/Wikipedia]
What's their bone of contention, you ask?

Um, a rock.

Yeah, a rock... a BIG rock, but pretty much a rock, nonetheless.

Its name is Hans Island, and it's an uninhabited rock about half a mile in diameter and completely devoid of vegetation. It lies in the middle of Nares Strait, which separates some Canadian islands from Greenland, which, of course, belongs to Denmark.

The problem is, that strait is approximately twenty miles wide at its widest, and according to international law, any country can claim any territories within twelve miles of their shores. So... both Canada and Denmark claim this frigid hunk of Arctic rock as their own.

In 1973, the two countries signed a treaty to create a boundary between their territories, but the folks who drew the imaginary line down the middle of the strait kinda chickened out when they encountered the rock right in the center. They hopped over it without assigning ownership to either country.

So... both countries claim it. How do these two countries fight their battle over this rocky island?

With great spirits and a touch of humor.

[Image courtesy of Royal Danish Navy, 2002]
From time to time, the navies from each of these countries pay a visit to this barren chunk of rock.

When the Danes visit, they hoist their flag and erect a sign saying, Welcome to this Danish island.

And... they bury a fine bottle of Danish schnapps.

[Image courtesy of NY Times/Wikimedia]

And when the Canadians visit, they remove the Danish flag and hoist a Canadian one. They also exchange the sign for one that reads, Welcome to Canada... and they dig up the schnapps and replace it with a nice bottle of Canadian Club whiskey.

It's rather nice to hear about a dispute being handled with firewater instead of firepower, isn't it? These guys exchange shots... but it's the kind that warm a man's heart on a frigid Arctic day.

There's an old Danish proverb that says, No one is rich enough to do without a neighbor. I'd say these two countries take this to heart. These fellow NATO members continue to be good neighbors, in spite of a silly little dispute over a rock. Somehow, if oil should suddenly be found at this location, I have a feeling these countries will work that out amicably, too. After all, that's what friends do.

                                Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Finding Joy in Success

Thought for the day: That some achieve great success is proof to all that others can achieve it, as well. [Abraham Lincoln]

[image courtesy of Morguefile]
Achieving a goal and reaching some level of success is worth celebrating, but not just when it's a personal achievement. I think we should cheer for everybody's successes. If, as John Donne said, No man is an island, and any man's death diminishes me, shouldn't it also be true that appreciation for the achievements of others can elevate us, as well?

That explains why so many of us get such a thrill out of watching athletes accomplish feats far beyond our own abilities, and why so many of us swell with joy when in the presence of great art. We marvel and maybe even feel a teensy bit of pride at these wondrous achievements of mind and body. There's even a word for it. Buddhists call it Mudita, which essentially means finding joy in the happiness and success of others.

Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible. [Albert Einstein]

Today, we're going to look at the impossible achievements of some amazing men. There's an old Swedish proverb that says, The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm. But... what if there is no arm...?

What some may consider a catastrophe, others consider a challenge.

[photo from Army Medical Museum]
Consider Civil War veteran Samuel Decker. While reloading his gun in 1862, it misfired and took off the lower part of both of his arms.

So what did he do?

By 1865, he'd designed and overseen the building of his own state-of-the-art prosthetic arms. With the help of his invention, he could dress himself, feed himself, write, and even pick up objects as small as a pin.

[photo from Army Medical Museum]

In 1867, he was invited to the Army Medical Museum, where these photographs were taken to document him and his ahead-of-his-time invention.

Think his story is amazing? Wait until you hear about a young man who currently lives in Andorra...

[photo from Mirror Online]

For as long as he can remember, David Aguilar, like many other children around the world, has loved playing with LEGO® blocks. But David is a little different from most of the other children... he was born with a profoundly deformed arm.

So what did he do?

At the age of nine, he made his first LEGO® prosthetic arm.

It wasn't as successful as he would've liked. Not strong enough.

But he didn't give up.

In recent months, this enterprising 19-year old young man, who dubs himself Hand Solo, built another much more sophisticated... and stronger... arm from LEGO® building blocks.

What the mind can conceive and  believe, and the heart desire, you can achieve. [Norman Vincent Peale]

                                                                          Wanta see?

                                                    Doesn't that make you feel... good?

Wait! That's not all! A gentleman named Carlos Arturo Torres invented a LEGO® kit for children to build their own totally cool prosthetic arms! He said the idea was to take away the stigma of being different and make the prosthetic fun for children to wear, and the kits he donated to some children in need of them were resoundingly successful. In 2016, his IKO Creative Prosthetic System won the Grand Prix at Netexpo, an innovation summit held in Paris, and the hope was to release this kit commercially sometime in 2017. Unfortunately, I haven't found any indication that this has happened as of yet. But maybe soon...?

So does this give you a whole new perspective on those annoying little blocks that hurt like Hades when you step on them in the middle of the night in your bare feet? Yep, there's a whole inspirational world of possibilities and millions of things I will never build with LEGO®, but let's rejoice at the things other people have accomplished with them and applaud every other wondrous human accomplishment. Why? Because life isn't a competition. We're all on the same team. It's mudita, baby.

There is strength in numbers. When the bricks stick together, great things can be accomplished. [Steve Klusmeyer]

                    And that's true, whether talking about building blocks... or people.

                           Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Happy Maewyn Succat's Day!

Thought for the day: It's fine to pretend to be Irish on St. Patrick's Day; we pretend to be good on Christmas, don't we?

[image courtesy of Wikipedia]

Faith and begorra, it's St. Patrick's Day tomorrow. He's the patron saint of Ireland, and in celebration of him driving away the snakes and bringing Christianity to the Emerald Isle, people all over the world get poop-faced on green beer and Irish whiskey. I do hope such an honor is never bestowed on me after my passing...

Didja know St. Pat's real name was Maewyn Succat? Patrick is the name he took when he became a priest. Just as well, because Happy Maewyn Succat Day doesn't roll off the tongue quite as easily, especially after consuming copious quantities of the aforementioned beer and whiskey.

Didja also know St. Pat (Shhhh) wasn't even Irish?

Nonetheless, on March 17 every year, the date of this patron saint of Ireland's death, he is celebrated. With parades... with green you-name-it... with corned beef and cabbage or Irish stew. With lots of laughter. Ah yes... the laughter. How about an Irish joke or two?

[image courtesy of Morguefile]

One fine St. Patrick's Day, two men were sitting side-by-side at an Irish pub in Boston. After a while, one looks at the other, and says, "I can't help but think from listening to you that you're from Ireland."

Rather proudly, the other man says, "Why, yes, that I am!"

The first said, "So am I! Whereabouts from Ireland might ye be?"

The other says, "From Dublin, I am."

The first says, "Sure and begorra, so am I! And what street was it you lived on in Dublin?"

The other says, "Oh, a lovely little area it was. I lived on McCleary Street in the old central part of town."

The first says, "Faith, and it's a small world, so did I! And to what school might ye have been going?"

The other says, "I went to St. Mary's, of course."

The first guy gets really excited. "So did I! And what year did ye graduate, then?"

The other says, "In 1964, I did."

The first guy is so excited at this news, he nearly topples from his bar stool. "As I live and breathe, the Good Lord must be smiling down upon us this fine St. Patrick's Day! I can hardly believe the good luck that brings us together in the same bar. I graduated from St. Mary's in 1964 my own self!"

About this time, another man enters the pub and orders a beer. The bartender shakes his head as he hands the beer to him, and says, "It's going to be a long night."

"What makes you say that?" the patron asks.

"The Murphy twins are drunk again."


That joke reminds me of a true story that happened to me. Not at a bar, but at my doctor's office.

A temp was filling in for the receptionist that day, and in the course of chatting, she discovered I was from Maryland. She got very excited at this news and said, "Me, too! Whereabouts?"

I told her, "Dundalk." (Which, by the way, is a sister city to Dundalk, Ireland.)

Even more excited, she said, "ME, TOO!" Then she asked which high school I attended.

I said, "Dundalk High School."

"ME, TOO!!!" she screamed, practically jumping out of her chair. "What year did you graduate?"

When I told her the year, she stared at me, wide-eyed, with a blank expression on her face. Finally, in a much more subdued voice, she said, "Maybe you knew my mother...?"


A word to the wise: Never borrow money from a leprechaun. (They're always a little short...)

Know why you should never iron a four-leaf clover? It's never a good idea to press your luck.

Know how to tell if an Irishman is having a good time? Easy. He's Dublin over with laughter.

                                                     How about a wee bit o' Irish cheer?

May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head always be strong. And may you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows you're dead.

                                 Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other.
                                  Bless your little Irish heart, and every other Irish part.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Writer's Work is Never Done

Hi-ya. Welcome to this month's edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group meeting... er, virtual meeting, that is. This, the first Wednesday of the month, is the time when writers all over the world post about the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the ins and outs... of writing. We celebrate... we complain... we commiserate. Whatever we need, this is the place to find it. Humble thanks and a jolly tip of the hat go to Alex Cavanaugh, our fearless ninja leader and the originator of this fine group. If you'd like to join (It's FREE!) or would like to read some of the other posts, please go HERE

If any of you writers are unsure about the value of pre-publication feedback from other writers and readers, let me tell ya right now... beta readers are worth their weight in gold. In chocolate, even! I'm beyond grateful to a fantastic group of ladies, most of whom are IWSG members, who read my manuscript and offered some extremely helpful insights and suggestions. Without a doubt, their ideas and support are making Explosive Beginnings much better than I could have ever managed on my own. So, writers? Sure, you can probably do it on your own... but I guarantee you, you can do it even better with a little help from your IWSG friends.

Okay, before I answer this month's question, I'm gonna share a small portion of an oldie-but-goodie post from August, 2013. Back then, it was quite common for bloggers to bestow various awards and questionnaires on other bloggers, who would then annoy bug the crap out of  pass the meme on to other bloggers and on and on and on. This whole thing has mostly become obsolete, but I thought the questions in the following one were rather appropriate for an IWSG post. Feel free to answer any or all of the questions on your blog or to provide an answer within your comment. If ya wanta. No biggie.


Thought for the day: The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.  [Mark Twain]

[image courtesy of Wikipedia]
Well, if you want to be technical, nobody actually said I was dead... but the lovely Mary Pax did tag my toe. So to speak. If you don't know Mary, you should. Not only is she a very sweet gal, she's also a very talented writer. Science fiction kinda stuff. Stuff I didn't think I liked... until I read her books. Really. Good stuff. You should check it out.

So anyhow, this meme she tagged me with is fairly simple. She said I didn't have to participate, but then bless her sneaky little heart, she said she hoped I was...  groovy. 

Can you beat that? Me? Groovy? Hell yesThat's me... one of the grooviest little ol' ladies in the whole state of Georgia, so what can I say? I had no choice but to participate, right? I'm no square, dude.

I'd be happy to tell you where this pic came from... if I remembered.

So what's this tag all about, anyway? Well, Mary provided nine questions related to writing, and said I only had to answer four. Actually, that's quite considerate, if you think about it. Less chance that I'll bore you so badly that you need a toe tag.

Anyhow, here's the full gamut of questions:

1. What are you working on right now?
2. How does it differ from other works in its genre? 
3. What experiences have influenced you? 
4. Why do you write what you do?
5. How does your writing process work?
6. What is the hardest part about writing?
7. What would you like to try as a writer that you haven't yet?
8. Who are the authors you most admire?
9. What scares you? 


So, ya ready for my groovy answers?

1. What am I working on right now? 

This blogpost. (Sheesh.) Oh, you mean other than blogging, huh? My current WIP, on which I've done very little work and made very little progress, will be more mainstream than my recent release, and will have some delicious twists at the end. The tentative title is Blast Rites. So far, the research process has taught me how to make my own explosives and what it was like to live in a girls' reform school in the early '60s. Fun stuff! [NOTE: That WIP, which was in the thinking-about-it stage when this post was written five years ago, has since morphed into a trilogy, part one of which will be published in the very near future.]

3.  What experiences have influenced me?

All of 'em. Really, I'm not trying to be a smart ass here. (No trying needed... it comes naturally.) I think each of us is the sum product of all our experiences, good, bad, or indifferent. You a one-big-experience kinda person, or would you rather graze leisurely at life's all-you-can-eat buffet? I'm old. I get more bang for my buck at the buffet. Especially if I carry a suitcase-sized purse.

4. Why do I write what I do?

Because I'm the only one who can. Again, not trying to be a smart ass. Each of us is unique, with a unique set of life experiences, and a unique outlook, so that unique voice and outlook is gonna be reflected in our writing. Universal slice-of-life stories about how families and friends interact intrigue me. Quirky characters that can make a reader laugh, cringe, and nod with self-recognition delight me. Unexpected twists make me want to stand up and cheer. In essence, I try to write the kind of story I want to read. I make myself laugh, and make myself cry, and hope readers will have the same reactions when they read it. Heck, who am I kidding? I'm not proud. I hope they read it, period.

7. What would I like to try as a writer that I haven't tried yet?

A Pulitzer would be nice. But I'll settle for overhearing two strangers talking about how much they loved my book.

What's that? You're not a writer? Okay, then, here's a question for you non-writer types to consider: Are you turned off by repetitive posts on blog after blog after blog regarding cover reveals, book launches, and the like? Or are you a book slut like me, who's forever being persuaded by those posts to buy yet another book...?

[image courtesy of Morguefile]

 So now on to this month's question: How do you celebrate when you achieve a writing goal/finish a story? 

When I finished writing the first draft of Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade, I had a glass of bubbly with my hubby to celebrate. Man, talk about jumping the gun! There was still a LOT more work to do before I was actually finished with that book

When I received my first big check in the mail for a published short story, I celebrated by blowing it on a new laptop.

With Explosive Beginnings, even though it's getting verrrrrrry close to publication, I haven't done any celebrating and I probably won't after it's published, either, because NOW I know how much more work lies ahead... especially seeing's as how this is only the first book of a trilogy. Oooh, and maybe a prequel after that? Then a Vietnam-era romance? And I still kinda like the idea of writing a sex & marriage kinda advice book... (under a fake name, of course...) So keep that damned toe tag away from me... I've still got a lot of work to do.

Bottom line? For me, the very best way to celebrate reaching a writing goal is to start reaching for a new one. Because when it comes to writing, we are NEVER truly done.  (But one little glass of bubbly never hurts...)

                         Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

No Blue Feelings Here

Thought for the day: People are like stain-glassed windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed. Only if there is a light from within. [Elisabeth Kubler-Ross]

Our daughter Sunshine is definitely one of those people with a bright shiny inner light. That's her in the photo, being assisted by her cat Mrs. Flinn. It seems the kitty thought it was time to get out of bed and start the day. (i.e. Feed the cats.)

Anyhow, tomorrow is our baby girl's birthday. Somehow or another, and I have NO idea how this could've POSSIBLY happened, our youngest kiddo has the unbelievable audacity to be turning forty. I know! Crazy, right? Seems like Smarticus and I just hit that milestone a few years ago.  (sigh)

She mentioned something a couple weeks ago that I thought would make a pretty nifty blog post, so what better time to share it than in honor of her birthday?  It's about some... blue people. Yeah, really... blue. Not the kind of blue as in Billie Holiday's song Am I Blue, but blue as in the color blue. (Then again, being blue may have made them sad, too...)

In 1820, Frenchman Martin Fugate settled in a remote area of the Appalachians near Hazard, Kentucky called Troublesome Creek, and he married a local gal named Elizabeth Smith. As it turned out, both of them carried a recessive gene for a rare condition known as methemoglobinemia. (Which, understandably, is most often referred to as met-H.) Some members of a nearby clan also carried this recessive gene.

As I already mentioned, this was a verrrry remote area, so as you might imagine, the gene pool was, shall we say... extremely shallow. Familial inbreeding and crossbreeding with that other clan became the accepted norm, which meant that the shy retiring recessive gene became much more bossy and caused an inordinate number of met-H cases... the infamous Blue Fugates of Kentucky.

[image courtesy of Walt Spitzmiller]
Why were they blue, you ask?

When there's too much methemoglobin in the blood, the hemoglobin's ability to carry oxygen gets seriously screwed up, which leads to purple lips, blue skin, and chocolate-colored blood.

In the twentieth century, when transportation out of the area was more readily available, many of the Fugate descendants moved away, and thanks to their access to a more diverse gene pool, the bizarre predominance of blue-skinned people came to an end. The last known member of the family born with this condition was Benjamin Stacy, who was born in 1975 with skin so blue, his nurse feared for his life. Luckily, as he grew older, he lost the blue tint. His current whereabouts is unknown.

Although this unusual Smurf-like condition can be deadly in the extreme, the Fugate clan only had one symptom... they were blue.

While we're talking about Kentucky and the color blue, how about... bluegrass?

[image courtesy of Morguefile]

As you can see in the photo, Kentucky bluegrass looks just as green as every other kinda grass, so how'd it get that name?

[image courtesy of Morguefile]

Because when that grass isn't cut, and its seed heads are left alone to grow unhampered, their bluish-purple color will make a springtime or summer field of Kentucky bluegrass truly look blue from a distance.

Cool, huh?

[image courtesy of Morguefile]
One final thing about bluegrass... and I don't mean the grass. The music!

That wonderful music born in the Appalachians, just like the Fugate clan. With mixed roots in Irish, Scottish, and English traditional music, and later influenced by African Americans and jazz, it's hard to imagine anyone listening to this music without tapping a toe.

So, in honor of Sunshine's birthday, I'm gonna share a fabulous bit of bluegrass... a song she and I both happen to love.

Happy birthday, sweetie.

                                            Y'all keep smiling. No blue feelings allowed.

                                   Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.