Here’s a scary thought

My goal was to upload “Tangled Web” by today. But that’s not going to happen. It’s so, so close but rather than rush through the last round of edits I’m choosing to finish it right because I want the end product to be as good as it can be.

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On October 1, my plan seemed feasible. Then last week, I worked 11-hour days to get ready for a big project at work and I couldn’t even compile a decent grocery list let alone edit a book. So soon, I promise. I’ll post once it goes live on Amazon and Smashwords.

In the meantime, here’s a random thought. I saw a promotion for an event a couple days ago and the big attraction was a chocolate fountain.

Am I the only one completely skeezed out by the thought of a chocolate fountain?

The very thought of them has always made me queasy so I’ve taken a pass when I’ve seen one because the whole concept just seems wrong.

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Now I love chocolate. Like I don’t think I could live without it. But sharing it like this just sounds so gross. You can’t tell me that people (especially little kids) don’t stick their fingers in the chocolate. Or double dip. Or something even worse I haven’t thought of yet. Eww.

Plus, what do they have to do to the chocolate so it is free flowing? Chocolate should not do that unless it’s hot chocolate. That’s it. Even Hershey’s syrup doesn’t flow like that. And how do you properly clean the equipment used for something like that? And do they reuse the chocolate?

No. Just no. Even though I don’t celebrate Halloween, I guess that’s my scary thought for the day. But now, back to work!

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Here’s to New Adventures

My first draft of Book 8, tentatively titled “Tangled Web,” is done.

Whew.

This round of writing included a severe bout of writer’s block about two-thirds of the way through, which surprised me because I knew where the story was going. I just couldn’t figure out how to get there. I got stuck for weeks until I finally worked out the kinks and plowed through to the end. Now starts the editing process, and we’ll see where that takes us.

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May is particularly overwhelming this year, mostly with good things. Among those good things is the fact my oldest son is graduating from college on Saturday.

I don’t tend to be an overly sentimental person, but I’ve been thinking about my son and the changes that are soon to come as he finds a job and moves away. Being my firstborn, C was the one who made me a mom, and unfortunately for him, that meant he bore the brunt of my mistakes and insecurities and fears.

C was a happy baby who loved everyone. He’d go with whoever would play with him without a look back at me. He went through a short phase when he didn’t like men with deep voices but overcame that after a few weeks. He did a complete 180 by the time he was a toddler and thought any man who wore a cowboy hat was a great guy. He would have gladly walked off with a stranger at the store as long as the dude had a Stetson. That fact scared me to the point where I started having a recurring dream about him being kidnapped, and I kept having that dream well into his high school years.

But the flip side of his love for everyone else is that he never clung to me or needed me the way some kids do with their moms. He never had separation anxiety or ran to meet me or cried when I left (I did not realize what a gift that was until my younger son, J, was born, and I had a long stretch of time when I couldn’t even go to the bathroom by myself). As a young, insecure mom, that kind of stung a bit. Maybe I wasn’t a good enough mom if he found everyone else so much more fun to be with.

He’d happily go play at his grandmas’ houses, even overnight, and never decide he wanted to come home. But he did have one peculiar habit. When I dropped him off, he always asked me what I’d be doing while we were apart. Usually it was going to the store since shopping kidless has to be one of life’s great luxuries at that age. Sometimes it was cleaning the house. Or reading a book uninterrupted. Or watching something on TV that wasn’t Veggie Tales. (To this day, I can still recite long passages of Veggie Tales episodes and know all the words to ‘The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.’) He didn’t seem to care what I was doing. He just wanted to know.

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When he was three, my brother got married in Arizona, literally in the middle of nowhere. The plan was for me to go solo since the place we were staying would not accommodate young kids very well. I weaned J in time for my departure. Both he and C would stay with my in-laws on Friday while my husband took me to the airport, then went to work. They’d stay with Dad on Saturday, then pick me up from the airport on Sunday. I was stressed that J would be cranky while I was gone, given his history of mommy attachment and his recent weaning. It never occurred to me to worry about how C would handle my absence.

A few days before I was supposed to leave, C asked me what I’d be doing while I was gone. He couldn’t understand the concept of Arizona so I got out an atlas and showed him where Arizona was compared to Illinois. He seemed interested in the map so I pointed out where some other family members lived, too. All seemed fine. Until Friday when he completely melted down at my in-laws’ house because he wanted his mom. Arizona, I guess, was just too far away. (J, on the other hand, didn’t miss me at all).

I realized, then, that for C I was not the center of his universe, but I was his safety net. I was the person he trusted to be there when he needed me, allowing him the freedom to explore and go off on his own adventures.

As he grew up, that relationship never changed. And I hope he knows that it never will, even if his new adventures take him much farther away than Arizona.

Let’s (not) talk about sex

A friend at work suggested a book to me a few months ago by an author I’d heard of but never read. This person reads a lot of the same mystery authors that I enjoy so when I saw this book on the shelf in the library, I picked it up without reading the jacket. Prologue was good, but when I moved onto Chapter One, I started getting the feeling that there was more to this book than a whodunit. I read the jacket, then flipped through the pages to confirm what I’d feared. Impossibly beautiful heroine, aggressive alpha male love interest/protector, way too much graphic sex in this novel. So back to the library it went.

I’m sure there are lots of people who find these kinds of books entertaining or romantic or whatever. Personally, they just reinforce my frustration with the entertainment industry at the lack of understanding that sex does not equal romance.

I’m not opposed to a dose of romance with my mysteries. Heck, my own heroine has a love life. I just don’t like books where the end game is going to bed together and the male lead treats the heroine in a rapey/stalkerish manner, hitting every mark on the checklist for potential abusers, all in the name of love. It used to be romantic comedies were romantic. Now, it’s pretty darn hard to find anything like that on bookshelves or on the big or small screen. Now romance is 50 Shades and I just don’t get it.

There are exceptions, of course. Luke Danes from TV’s “Gilmore Girls” can make me swoon not because he’s rich or handsome or tough, but because he’s just a regular guy who’s committed to his gal. Committed to the point where he fixes things around Lorelai’s house, rushes her to the hospital when her dad is sick, offers a shoulder to cry on and throws a huge going away party for her daughter, all while they are not even dating. So what if he wears flannel all the time and is perpetually grumpy? He’s a solid, caring guy.

And let’s look at the love triangle in “The Hunger Games.” Not the movies, which kind of messed up the casting of Gale and Peeta. Gale in the books is a hot head who sometimes pressures Katniss about his feelings for her. He’s been her best friend, which is great, but sometimes he’s kind of a jerk. (Liam Hemsworth made him 100 times more likable in the movies, IMO.) Peeta, on the other hand, is always putting Katniss first, even at the cost of his own life. The flashback to him taking a beating as an 11-year-old to give a starving Katniss some bread is hauntingly beautiful in the books. When she is completely cast out and depressed at the end of Book 3, he joins her in District 12 to plant flowers in her sister’s memory. Sorry Josh Hutcherson, you weren’t a great choice in this role, but in the books, Peeta is the guy who’d I’d want to have my back.

Now I know my opinion isn’t universal here, hence the Team Gale versus Team Peeta thing, but I stand by my thoughts that Peeta is the better guy. Are either Luke or Peeta perfect? Of course not. That would be supremely boring if they were perfect love interests, but their commitment and kindness make them good characters for a little romance.

And when I say romance, I mean just that. Romance is not the same as sex. Nothing ruins a romantic movie or book for me more than an over-the-top sex scene. I get that sometimes sex is part of the story. That’s even true in the Bible – hello, David and Bathsheba. But I don’t want to know the blow-by-blow details. Just a fade to black is fine with me. It doesn’t add anything to the story; I feel like a voyeur watching someone through a hole in the wall. Seriously, I don’t get it.

Can any discussion of romance be complete without a “Pride and Prejudice” reference?

Works like “Pride and Prejudice” have stood the test of time because the romantic writing is just that good. But putting Jane Austen aside, one of the best love scenes I’ve ever seen came in a movie where I wouldn’t have expected it, “The Last Samurai.” I’m not a big Tom Cruise fan and the move is kind of clichéd, but the scene were Taka dresses Nathan Algren before battle is just amazingly intimate without anything really happening. I was so stunned by the level of feeling between the two characters. No words are spoken. They share nothing more than just a light kiss. It definitely helped that the score during this scene was so beautiful, but really the eyes tell the whole story. It was so powerful that after the guys in my house went to bed, I re-watched the scene just to be sure I hadn’t imagined it.

So there’s my rant for the day. Am I crazy to think this? I must be based on the romance novels I see on the shelves, and the movies that continue to get made. But I’d just rather see something that makes me swoon instead of feeling like I need a shower.

 

Sticks and stones…yeah, that’s a lie. Name calling hurts

Last week, I was on a popular news site and noticed an article about a woman being shamed online for being too thin. Right next to an article about a woman being shamed online for being too fat.

Really?  I’m not sure why people think it’s OK to pass judgment on another person’s body. Most people know what they look like and have features they like and dislike about themselves. No one is saying “I had no idea that I had a muffin top! Thanks so much for telling me!” It’s not the same thing as nicely pointing out someone has spinach between their teeth.

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Those that are very thin may want that hourglass figure. Or maybe that person has an eating disorder or is sick and would love to gain some of that weight back. Having someone tell them real women have curves is insulting. What are they? Fake women?

For those of us with excess weight, we know we need to lose it and most of us want to drop a few pounds. Someone telling us we’re lazy and worthless because we don’t wear a size 2 isn’t going to suddenly inspire us to do better.

And just maybe the woman being shamed is happy just the way she is. Maybe she is at what she considers her ideal weight, and she felt great when she posted that picture with her kids at the beach. That snide remark probably ruined her day.

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No matter what our weight issues are, it’s no one’s business. It’s not right for me to comment on a person’s body any more than it is right to tell someone they are a loser if they smoke. Or stereotype someone because of the way they dress. Or make a judgment about them because they have crooked teeth. We all have our issues, some more visible than others. Those issues shouldn’t prevent us from posting our vacation pictures online out of fear that someone will make a derogatory remark.

I’m not sure if it’s the fact that every online retailer courts reviews or if it’s the anonymity of the internet, but more and more, people feel like expressing their every thought and opinion publicly is their right. Even if those words are hurtful. We’re all human and have not-so-nice thoughts. Maybe I see a coworker’s Facebook post and think that the dress she chose for a party isn’t doing her any favors. But there is a huge difference between thinking it and publicly saying that online. All of us with manners know that would hurt her feelings and embarrass her so we’d keep our thoughts to ourselves. But too often, thinking about other people’s feelings goes out the window when commenting online, particularly when the comment is directed at a stranger and there really is no fallout for behaving like an ass.

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I’m often appalled by the viciousness I’ve seen online when it comes to people’s – especially women’s – weight. It’s like carrying extra weight is a deep character flaw on par with kicking puppies and selling drugs to little kids. Or being skinny means you’re a witch. But I wonder, is every woman in the commenter’s life in tip-top physical condition? If the commenter’s mother or daughter was overweight or underweight would he/she want her subjected to that kind of abuse? I’m thinking no.

Can we please start looking at others as human beings and treat them accordingly? Can we agree that a person’s appearance is not the measure of that person’s worth? I’ve met people in all shapes and sizes that are kind and loving. I’ve been treated poorly by people who are drop dead gorgeous as well as by those who aren’t. We all have to learn to live with our exterior flaws or work hard to change what we can; but thankfully, that doesn’t determine how we look on the inside. In that area, we have total control. That’s a choice that we make every day when we decide how to treat one another.

Don’t judge a book … or the person reading the book

The thread started innocently enough.

I was on a popular book site, in a Christian group, following a thread about reading secular authors. The original poster was looking for ideas for secular authors that were readable without being offensive. I bit because while I have a few Christian authors I love, I read a lot of secular fiction, too. And it’s tough finding authors that don’t use the f-word every other sentence or throw in graphic sex scenes. But, it can also be hard to find Christian authors that I can relate to. Some are so saccharine that I can’t handle it. I know that’s not nice, probably a character flaw. But that’s me.

It wasn’t long, however, before the thread degenerated into judging, snarking about what people were reading that wasn’t “Christian” enough. I had initially thrown out my two recommendations – Harlan Coben and John Grisham – but by the time I returned to the thread to look for suggested authors, no one was suggesting. A hostile few had taken over and were judging. One woman proudly detailed that she had flamed a fellow churchgoer on the churchgoer’s personal Facebook page for reading the “50 Shades” series, questioning her salvation. I was appalled — not by the “50 Shades” reader but by the poster.

Sorry…couldn’t resist a little jab.

I personally would never read that series – first, because it’s not my thing but second, because I don’t think God would want me to. But I don’t think it’s up to me to question a person’s faith by what they choose to read, especially not publicly. I can’t imagine how the churchgoer felt being attacked online, in front of her other friends and acquaintances. I doubt she felt convicted. Probably embarrassed. I’m sure she was mostly offended.

One of my favorite Bible passages is in Romans 14 when Paul pretty much tells us to mind our own business when it comes to other Christians and their walks. It was liberating to know that I didn’t have to worry about what others were doing; I just had to focus on what God was teaching me. I’ve started books and been convicted. I’ve shut off TV programs or movies that are disturbing. I know when God is telling me to stay away from a bad situation. Sometimes I don’t listen – behaving like I did when I was 11 and watched “Poltergeist” at my friend’s house when my mom said I couldn’t – but I usually end up with consequences later. Yes, nightmares. Or setting a bad example for my kids. Or just that feeling of disconnect that comes with not obeying God.

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As a church, we need to get out of God’s way and quit judging so much. It’s not helping. Unless you know that you know that you know that God gave you a word to share with someone, keep your mouth shut. And if you do have a word, share it privately. Public flaming does way more harm than good.

The older I’ve become, the more I realize I don’t know all that much, certainly not enough to judge someone else without walking in their shoes. And normally when I falter and fall back to my judgmental nature, I’m usually eating crow not long after. It doesn’t taste good.

All the more reason to order a burger

I’ve read about the bombings in Syria and a passenger dragged off a United Airlines flight, but I think the news story I read most recently that’s going to haunt me is this one about a decomposing bat inside a prepackaged salad.

Generally I like salads, but I have an almost irrational fear of bats so finding one in my salad would pretty much send me screaming like an imbecile to the bathroom to induce vomiting by whatever means necessary. Actually, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t need any help vomiting.

The thing that’s a little weird about the articles I’ve read about the incident seems to be the focus on rabies and not the dead bad. Like it wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the rabies. Ummm….no. It’s bad regardless because there was a freakin’ dead bat in food that people were consuming at the time it was found.

(Shudder). Yeah, no more prepacked salads for me.

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When it comes to kids in restaurants, empathy should go both ways

I’d originally read this article a few months ago, then it popped up again last week in the “recommended stories” feature on another website. This is a first person account of a parent with small children out to eat at a busy restaurant. Another patron made a snarky remark about the children’s behavior and Mom escalated it with a snappy comeback.

While the account itself is not particularly unique, the comments that follow offer a window into a hugely polarizing issue: small children at dining establishments. I’m not talking about kids at fast food joints. No one expects much when dining there. I mean sit-down restaurants. Some higher end places have banned children because of bad behavior and that decision also has supporters and detractors.

I’ve been a food server, a parent and a restaurant patron trying to dine sans kids for a night so I can see points on each side. But these are the two questions I always come back to when I see child meltdowns during the dinner hour: are the parents actually doing anything about it? Are the parents trying to minimize the impact on other patrons while they deal with the situation?

Because I’ve been there. My two-year-old once decided he did not want to leave the ball pit at the play area at Burger King (that was when I was young and dumb and didn’t realize those things are absolute germ pits). He refused to come out and I had to go in after him — while I was pregnant and taking off my shoes was no guarantee I could get them back on. When I caught him, he howled. I had to wade out and get my shoes on. I tried to get his shoes on but gave up and decided to carry him. I was near tears and he certainly wasn’t happy. Another mom made a snarky remark to me and really, had I not been dealing with so much crap at that second I would have been tempted to punch her in the face. I mean kids are kids and I was clearly trying to get him out of this situation. Normally, I could tell him “five more minutes” and he’d leave the play area just fine. Today, well, he tested me. I could have caved and sat there another half hour but I had things to do and me being a pushover sent the wrong message. You’d think another mom would have my back, but sometimes we can be so judgmental about other people’s parenting.

So I get the mom’s defensiveness in the article. Kids aren’t robots who can be programmed to act exactly as we want.  But…

I’ve witnessed abysmal behavior under the guise of “kids will be kids.” I waited tables in college and I’ve seen kids allowed to pour syrup all over the table, play in a fire pit with an actual fire burning, race up and down the aisles while waiters are trying to carry their trays and have a tantrum while the parents ignore them. I’ve had my date night with my husband pretty much ruined when seated next to parents more interested in their smartphones than their kids. So I get the patron’s side, too. Was she rude? Yes, but while Mom didn’t think the kids were that bad, she may not have been the best judge of the situation given she was busy talking to their dinner guests.

Some of the comments targeted Mom for letting her kids play with an iPad as a distraction, but I disagree. As a mom who once carried a pad of paper and box of crayons in her purse at all times, I think having some distractions is a darn good idea. But I get the other side, too. At some point, kids do need to learn to sit and carry on a conversation, wait patiently for their food and generally function in society. That should be every parent’s goal. It’s easy to sanctimoniously judge another parents’ skills. But I’m willing to bet, if we’re honest, all of our kids at one time or another displayed not-so-great behavior. I’m willing to bet we ourselves have displayed some not-so-great behavior. My mom loves to tell those stories about me, by the way. Something involving me and a teddy bear when I was a toddler. So we should have each other’s back.

But don’t expect people to excuse bad behavior if you aren’t doing anything about it. I’m not speaking to this particular article because I wasn’t there — it’s just one side. But really, it’s not fair to expect other people to forgive your kids’ antics while you are playing Candy Crush on your iPhone. Courtesy goes both ways. If you want a little sympathy, you have to have some empathy for your fellow patrons who may have paid a babysitter to get their night of peace and quiet.