Friday, August 31, 2018

On the Road Again

Thought for the day:  They say the universe is expanding. That should help with the traffic. [Steven Wright]

Don't worry. It doesn't matter a flip what the traffic is like out there, because we're gonna take a virtual road trip. No need to pack a bag or even put clothes on. Just relax in the comfort of your own home and enjoy a few chuckles over some of the billboards we're gonna see along the way. Fake billboards, that is. As fake as this alleged trip we're gonna take.

It's been a loooooong time since I've shared any of these, so I figured I was about due. As always, sincere thanks to the awesome folks at Dribble Glass for so kindly granting me permission to share them with you.

Ready? Seat belts on? Oh yeah. Never mind... Let's go!

Nah, I haven't seen any billboards quite like that, but there were some eye-catchers on the interstate years ago that always caught my eye. They were very stark, with an all-black background and white lettering. My favorite said, Don't make me come down there. God

Then there were the ol' Burma Shave signs. Remember them? There'd be a bunch along the road, each one providing another line for a verse. Like:












Have you seen any eye-catching billboards? Hmmm, maybe eye-catchers along the highway aren't such a hot idea, after all.  Might be better if drivers kept their attention on the the road and traffic...

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

P.S. If you're interested, both of my novels will be on sale today and tomorrow for the paltry sum of ninety-nine cents. (in US and UK)

Friday, August 24, 2018

What Are You Waiting For?

Thought for the day: Two blondes were waiting for a bus, and when it finally came, the first one asked the driver if the bus would take her to Peachtree Street. When the driver said no, the second one stuck out her bottom lip and told her, 'Oh, that's too bad!' Then she asked the driver, 'How about me...?'

[image courtesy of unsplash]
Public transportation is readily available in Baltimore, so years  ago, my friends and I usually depended on buses to get us where we wanted to go. Like the blondes in the thought for the day, a bus always stopped to pick us up sooner or later, but unlike them, we were familiar with the bus routes.

But... what if a bus never came? What if the so-called bus stop were nothing more than a replica of a bus stop... a perfectly designed prop?
[image courtesy of unsplash]
I read an article recently about just such a thing. Fake bus stops. They look like regular bus stops... and some of them even look like bus stops from many decades ago... but they're not located near a street, and no bus is ever going to pick up any passengers from them.

They're located next to some nursing homes in Germany. The first was built outside a Dusseldorf nursing home in 2008, and since then, many more have been built at other nursing homes around the country.

Why, you might ask? Alzheimer's patients, as well as those with other forms of dementia, sometimes have a propensity for wandering off, and in many cases, it's because they want to go home... usually to a home from the distant past that no longer exists. Like people who spent the last of their money, only to get on the wrong bus, they're trapped on a ride none of them wanted to take, and they can't get off. Addled, confused, and often lonely, memories of the past are much more real to them than what they had for breakfast on any given day. Since the advent of these bus stops, these patients, filled with a temporary sense of freedom, happily chat with each other while they wait for their bus. Then after a while, they can safely be brought back inside. These nursing home bus stops fill a need and serve a purpose.

I visited nursing homes as a volunteer, and again when my father was a patient in one, and now that I'm getting to be an old bag, the thought of being dumped in a nursing home gives me the shivers. But if I ever DO have to go into one of those places, I think I want it to be in Germany.

No, not because of the fake bus stops. Because of a 2014 calendar. A very cool 2014 calendar created by some very cool residents of the Contilia Nursing Home in Essen, Germany. I read about it some years ago, and the bus stop story reminded me of it. So I looked it up... and found the pics that were made into the limited edition calendar. Wanta see?

JANUARY: Wilhelm Buiting, 89

FEBRUARY: Marianne Brunsbach, 86

MARCH: Erna Rutt, 86 & Alfred Kelbch, 81

APRIL: Erwin J. von der Heiden, 80

MAY: Erna Schenk, 78

JUNE: Ingeborg Giobass, 84 & Erich Endlein, 88

JULY: Lothar Wischnewski, 76 & Margarete Schmidt, 77

AUGUST: Martha Bajohr, 77

SEPTEMBER: Joanna Trachenberg, 81 & Horst Krischat, 78

OCTOBER: Irmgard Alt, 79 & Siegfried Gallasch, 87

NOVEMBER: Johann Liedtke, 92 & Marianne Pape, 79

DECEMBER: Walter Loeser, 98 & Kurt Neuhaus, 90
Dontcha LOVE 'em? Did you recognize all of the characters and/or movie scenes they recreated for their calendar? All of these folks... all the way up to age 98!... had a grand time getting into costume and making the scenes come alive for their calendar, and I love that the home they were in made it possible for them to do it. They showed great compassion and allowed the patients to express themselves in a most unusual way, and they even provided the props, staging and photographers. That's certainly above and beyond anything I've ever heard of any other nursing home doing.

If YOU could recreate any scene from any movie, what would it be? I'm thinking the iconic beach scene in From Here to Eternity... or, ooooh, wouldn't it be cool to be done up like Scarlett O'Hara in that gorgeous gown she made from her green velvet drapes? (Natch, the scene would have to include a very dapper-looking Rhett.)

You know, sometimes without meaning to, we act like we're waiting at a fake bus stop for a bus that will never come. Content to wait for someone or something to come along and take us to the destination of our dreams, we sit passively and waste precious time procrastinating, when we have the capability to get up and climb into the driver's seat ourselves.

Now, I'm not telling you to steal a bus. If you're already on the right bus, and it's heading down the road in exactly the direction you want to go, that's great. Hold on tightly... with whatever you've got... and enjoy the ride.

If you want to go to Peachtree Street, and the bus you're on doesn't go there... how long will you sit there passively and continue to ride in the wrong direction?

And if the bus still hasn't shown up to spirit you away, how long are you willing to wait for something to happen? You are capable. Don't just think about calling that old friend... do it. Don't just wish you could write a book or learn to play the piano... do it. The recipe you've been wanting to try, or the book you wanted to read? Why not do it this week? The good china you've been saving for a special occasion? Why not make that special occasion today?

The bad news is time really does fly. But the good news is... we're the pilots. Stop waiting for something to happen, because that bus you're waiting for may never come. The keys are already right there in your hand. Why not use them?

[image courtesy of unsplash]

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

Friday, August 17, 2018

Canine Heroes

Thought for the day:  No matter how little money and how few possessions you own, having a dog makes you rich.  [Louis Sabin]

Dogs have almost always been a part of my life.

We may not have had the smartest dogs in the world, or the prettiest, but we always managed to share our home with the sweetest and most loving. And yes, being welcomed home by an excited dog can make you feel rich. And important.

Nothing against our cats... we love 'em to pieces... but they aren't exactly over-the-top "Welcome home; I've missed you soooo much!" kinda critters like dogs are. Their attitudes are more like, (yawn) "What? You were gone...?"

It isn't that our dogs didn't know ANY tricks. Not at all. They did. Our Springer spaniel could catch Frisbees. Really well, too. Most of our dogs were pretty good about conducting their, um,  business outside, too. (Most of the time.) And my grandmother had a beautiful boxer whose awe-inspiring farts spurred people to set personal best speed records in their mad dashes to the exit.

But none of our dogs were ever trained to be performers... like these dogs.


 There are Frisbee-catchers, rope-jumper, and break-dancers (Who knew?)... and then there are Military Working Dogs. Those amazing dogs are in a class all by themselves.

Even though dogs worked alongside soldiers during the Civil War and WWI, they weren't officially inducted into the U.S. Army until 1942. Currently, there are an estimated 2800 active-duty dogs, and about 600 of them are serving  in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the years, these dogs have served honorably and saved many lives, doing everything from sniffing out enemy combatants and hidden explosive devices to ... jumping out of airplanes.

This pic from K9 Storm shows military dog handler Mike Forsythe and his dog Cara jumping from an airplane from a record-breaking height of 30,100 feet. Both of them had to wear oxygen masks to tackle this mind-boggling feat. Military dogs usually jump in tandem with their trainers, but with flotation devices, they can make short jumps into the water on their own.

This picture, from Manual J. Martinez, of the USAF  shows a jump from a Chinook CH-47 during a training exercise over the Gulf of Mexico. This dog is wearing a special flotation device.

MWDs and their handlers are a tightly-knit unit.

Equipped with cameras, these dogs lead the way into danger zones and allow their handlers to see what's ahead before the humans venture forward. Like their human counterparts, these dogs are not only highly trained, but are also highly skilled, and highly motivated.

And just like two-legged soldiers, they also get wounded... and killed... in the line of duty.

[image: Wikimedia Commons]
In 1943, the PDSA, a UK animal welfare group founded in 1917 by Maria Dickin, created the Dickin Award for animals that showed conspicuous bravery in the war. As the medal so aptly says, We also serve. This medal has been awarded to pigeons, horses, one cat, and many dogs, including a couple U.S. Military Working Dogs. (I wonder what the cat did...?)

A couple years ago, the American Humane Society came up with a similar award: the Lois Pope K-9 Medal of Courage.

Named in honor of Lois Pope, a philanthropist and avid veterans' advocate, the first four of these awards were presented to dogs in May of this year.

Nice... but where's the government been all these years? If these valiant and loyal dogs have officially been considered part of the military since 1942, where has the official recognition for their service been?

Oh, you'd better believe the soldiers know about their bravery. All who served with a working dog know how invaluable they are. Some men have pinned their own Purple Hearts to their beloved companions and protectors. One even gave his silver star to a dog for a brief while... until some people started complaining that those awards were for real soldiers... meaning people, of course.

But where was the government? Where was the recognition?

Finally, finally, our dedicated military working dogs may have their own official U.S. Department of Defense commendation.

On August 7, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey announced that his 2016 proposed legislation to create a Guardians of America's Freedom Medal in honor of the dedication and sacrifices of military working dogs had gotten enough votes to pass in Congress. Fittingly, he made the announcement at the War Dogs Memorial in front of a crowd that included four active-duty service dogs and their handlers, and two retired dogs, including Robby, a one-eyed German shepherd with wheels supporting his rear legs.

Four-legged heroes.

Now, all that has to happen is for our president to sign the legislation... and the award to be designed. No telling how long that will take, but ya know? I don't think the dogs mind. They don't do what they do for the medals. They do it for the people... they do it because of their fierce loyalty and sense of protection for the soldiers they serve and love. They're perfectly happy with a pat on the head and a kind word.

                                                And like all dogs,  they know how to wait.

So, how about you? Not that you've ever had a dog who jumped out of airplanes with a parachute, (they can ALL do it WITHOUT one ... but only ONCE) but what nifty tricks could your favorite pooch do?

[Mega thanks you to and for granting me permission to use their pictures.)

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

P.S. Here's the link to an earlier post, if you'd like to read more about military working dogs

Friday, August 10, 2018

Send Out the Clowns

Thought for the day:  Life is a ticket to the greatest show on earth. [Martin H. Fischer]

[image: morguefiles]
The world is full of more beauty and wonders than any circus tent could ever dream of holding, but some days it sure feels like the clowns have escaped and are trying to run the world, doesn't it? Tell ya what, let's not worry about the clowns today. Instead, let's consider some other attractions worthy of attention and capable of making us go ooooh and ahhhh. (Sorry... no lion tamers or tightrope walkers.)

[image: wikipedia]

The first attraction we're gonna visit on our virtual tour is located in Bermuda. See that bridge? It's the Somerset Bridge, and that's what we're here to see. In a world that seems to be becoming more divided by walls, both real and virtual, I thought a remarkable bridge was a good place to start. This bridge, built in 1620, is the smallest drawbridge in the world.

[image: wikimedia commons]

The two sides don't raise like in a traditional drawbridge, but a loose wooden plank covers a 56 cm gap, just wide enough to allow the mast of a sailboat to pass through. An overseer removes the plank, helps guide the sailor through, and then replaces the board. Still treasured by local residents today, this unique bridge, in spite of its diminutive size, is one of the island's biggest tourist attractions and was designated as a historical monument in 2015.

See? Bridges do make a difference... even small ones.

Our next stop is Canada... not to see a place, but to see a person. Why? Because watching octogenarian and champion kite-flyer Ray Bethel simply makes me feel good. I hope he puts a smile on your face, too.

[image: wikipedia]
Let's zip over to Lancashire, England now, shall we? This unusual-looking sculpture, three meters tall and made of galvanized steel pipes, is called the Singing Ringing Tree. Meant to resemble the shape of a tree bent in the wind, the near-constant wind that blows around it atop its perch on Crown Points produces an eerie melodious hum.

Wanta hear it?

Cool, huh? Okay, while we're over in this part of the world, let's head on over to Dublin to see an amazing house that was built in 1798 by a Welsh immigrant with a very keen imagination.

How'd you like to live in a house with a dragon gate?

This 9700 square foot home contains seven bedrooms, and its interior is filled with religious and fairy tale motifs throughout. For me, nothing is more captivating than the gates.

Can't see the dragon very well?

Is this better? Here's a closer shot of his face.

If you'd like to see some more pictures of this house (which is currently for sale, by the way...) please go HERE

Okay, back to the Caribbean. This time, to the Bahamas. Actually, take a deep breath, because we're going underwater...

to see a... statue.

Ocean Atlas is the world's largest underwater sculpture. What? You said you didn't know there were any underwater sculptures? (Me, neither!) But there are, and they're all marvelous! British sculptor Jason Taylor created the world's first underwater sculpture park off the west coast of Grenada in 2006, but his sculptures aren't just works of art. This artist is also a conservationist and scuba instructor, so the talented Mr. Taylor designs his sculptures to serve as artificial reefs to promote coral growth.  His 18-foot Ocean Atlas was set in place in 2014. Ready to see it? (A quick Internet search will reveal images of some of his other undersea sculptures.)

Our last stop will be in Australia, where we're going to meet a very optimistic little fella. A spider, actually. A very beautiful Peacock Spider. He's only about as big as a pencil eraser, but that doesn't stop him from doing his thing. And his thing... is dancing. Dancing for his life, you might say. See, these male spiders, which come in a range of vivid colors, perform a very animated mating dance to attract a lady spider. She watches, too, verrrry closely. Like from a few millimeters away.  Not only does the male dance his little heart out, but he does Ringo Starr-like drum solos, too. On the ground... and on the lady spider's head. If she's adequately impressed with his skills, all is good. If not? She, um, has him for dinner. Want to see one of these Ed Sullivan-worthy performances?

So while we're dancing as fast as we can to forget about the craziness in the world, take heart! At least no one is drumming on your head, and if someone invites you to dinner, chances are pretty good you aren't going to be the main course.

Keep smiling, don't let the clowns get to you, and keep looking for the amazing things in life. There's plenty of them out there. What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare? [W.H. Davies]

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

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Oops! Mistaeks Happen

Thought for the day:    Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself. [Groucho Marx]                                 

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

This month, we're gonna talk about making mistakes. I am the author of my life. Unfortunately, I'm writing in pen, and I can't erase my mistakes. [author unknown]

It's true. I do write in pen, but I don't worry about erasing anything. However, my process involves a lot of scratching out and writing in the margins.

[image: morguefile]

When Smarticus and I were on our way to Alabama to visit our son and his family, an overturned truck on the other side of the highway turned drivers into parkers for miles... and miles... and miles. (And miles!) No telling how long traffic had been stopped, but judging by the number of people mulling around outside their vehicles, it must've been pretty long. When we finally got past the blockage and saw those poor unsuspecting drivers blithely heading for the unexpected misery ahead, I wanted to yell, Go baaaack!

Not that they could've heard me, poor things.

Evi-doggone-dently, some writers feel the same about writing: If you have any young friends who aspire to be writers, the second best favor your can do them is to present them with copies of 'The Elements of Style.' The greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they're happy. [Dorothy Parker]

That's a bit extreme, but she does have a point. Without a doubt, there's plenty of joy to be found in writing, but there are a heckuva lot of unexpected traffic jams, too. The competition to carve out a comfortable spot in the writing world is fierce. It seems like bazillions of writers are scrambling to find an agent and/or publisher, and even more bazillions are self-publishing thousands and thousands of books every day. Sometimes it feels like all the other writers are flying down the superhighway in the other direction at a hundred and ten, while I'm still stuck behind an overturned truck. In all of those miles and miles and miles (And miles!) of aspiring writers stuck on the highway with me... how's a gal to get ahead? I don't want anyone to shoot me, but maybe it would be smart to simply... take the next available exit, sit back, and enjoy a nice strawberry shake. Or at the very least, take a detour. I'm getting too old for this crap.

Nah! A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. [George Bernard Shaw]

Man, I must have honor and usefulness out the wazoo, because I'm a whiz kid when it comes to making mistakes. But like Albert Einstein said, Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.

 As you might have guessed, in a roundabout way, this month's question is about mistakes. It is: What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?

For me personally, my biggest mistake was putting off writing for so many years. I let the busyness of life, the child-raising, all the myriad volunteer activities and club memberships, etc. stand in the way.  I always figured I'd get serious about writing... later... and now, boyohboy, it's later, all right. So my advise would be to just do it, already! Don't fall into the trap of thinking you've got plenty of time. This isn't a dress rehearsal, and as far as we know, this is the only life we have, so if you truly want to write... write, doggone it!

You can't wait for inspiration to strike. You have to go after it with a club. [Jack London]

Other pitfalls, which fall into a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do category:
  • Don't worry about making your first draft perfect. Just get the words down, and worry about editing it later. (I could write OH so much faster if I could make myself follow this.)
  • Once your baby is published, don't obsess over sales and reviews. Let it toddle off into the world on its own... and get to work writing something else. (Not that I, ahem, check them every day... or twice a day... or anything like that...)
  • Don't take it personally when someone doesn't like something you've written. (As Megan Fox so eloquently put it, Hold your head high and your middle finger higher.) Just kidding. But face it: not everyone will like your book, because there's no accounting for taste. Heck, some people don't like steak or lobster...
  • If writing is your dream, never give it up. Philip Roth said, The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress. That could be, but don't let that happen to you. If you love what you're writing, keep on writing! The going may be rough at times, but it's well worth it to finally cross the finish line. 
Don't carry your mistakes around with you. Instead, place them under your feet and use them as stepping stones to rise above them. [author unknown]

Works for me! My stepping stones are currently stacked so high, they look like a Stairway to Heaven...

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