A few years back, you surprised me with a special Christmas gift. Home movies taken over a span of years of two young, carefree sisters converted into a home video. Those home movies were taken well before anyone imagined home videos or youtube and were the only thing available to capture more than still-photos of our childhood.
Converting these movies with the addition of beautiful music was both unexpected and very moving. I remember that Spence and I stopped opening any other Christmas gifts and watched it immediately. Tears streaming, it brought back happy memories. I know I called you that day and thanked you.
Now that you’re gone, I often wish I’d thanked you more for this gift – and for all the things you did throughout my life that made it better. So today, I’m sending this letter out into the universe, hoping it will reach you and remind you that I love you and miss you everyday.
Day Fourteen: To Whom It May Concern
Today’s Prompt: Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What’s the first word that jumps off the page? Use this word as your springboard for inspiration. If you need a boost, Google the word and see what images appear, and then go from there.
Today’s twist: write the post in the form of a letter.
You have a number of options: you can write a letter to the word or an image, or an open letter to the world inspired by the word. You could pen a series of imaginary notes between you and a friend, or between two fictional characters, or between old you and young you.
My word on page 29 of a random book was “home video”. Yes, I realize it’s two words but it is my blog and I’m late with this assignment so there you have it.
As I approach my 59th birthday and inspired by the prompt for Day 20 of Writing 101, I have to write about someone who’s been with me through it all.
Baby Teddy, One Good Bear
Baby Teddy today looks much the way that I remember him since I was old enough to form memories. His appearance is beyond “shabby chic”, he went through a lot in his early years. There are no known pictures of him as a young Teddy so we can’t be sure what he looked like when he first came into my life. Diminutive in stature, about 9 inches tall, I’m guessing his name came from his small size but it could be because I preferred teddy bears to baby dolls. But I digress.
I’m pretty sure we don’t even know who gave him to me; I suppose it doesn’t matter. He claimed my heart and in spite of my parents trying to entice me with a Winnie the Pooh bear (which I loved, don’t get me wrong) and numerous other pretty fluffy stuffed animals, I wouldn’t part with him. I think they were embarrassed by his shoddy exterior. It didn’t matter to me.
Baby Teddy’s Disappearance
This was a tragic day, I was about three years old. Carrying him with me everywhere, I remember awaking from my nap only to realize he wasn’t with me. Where was he? I searched, I sobbed and was completely devastated. This went on for several days and I wasn’t getting over it.
One evening, my Dad came home and called for me. With puffy eyes, I stumbled into the living room, looked up and stopped in my tracks.
“Look who I found walking through the flower garden” he said, holding Baby Teddy by the paw. Not noticing that he was worse for wear, his eyes sewn back into place, the majority of his fur missing, I hugged him with all my might and sure enough, he smelled like flowers. It was a miracle and at age three, you just accept miracles without questioning them.
Baby Teddy never strayed again and was with me through all the highs and lows of my youth, my teens and had his fair share of tears cried onto his tiny shoulders as he gave me comfort.
The Family Secret……..
Many years later, I was at work and fell into a daydream thinking of Baby Teddy, remembering his mysterious disappearance many years before and his trek back to me through that flower garden. Now an adult, it occurred to me that there was clearly another part of that story that had remained a family secret. And I had to know what the truth was, no matter what, no matter how hard it was to hear.
I called my Mom. “Hi” she said in her cheery voice “What’s up?”
“What happened to Baby Teddy, I have to know!”
I’m sure she was caught off guard (what, no hello?) Where was this coming from after so many years? She was quiet for a long minute. (I think she was suppressing a nervous laugh) But I’m sure she knew this day would come.
“Well, you carried him everywhere” she began “Everywhere. Even into the bathroom.”
She went on to say that I’d placed him carefully on the toilet tank and that when she next went in, he’d taken a plunge – into the less than pristine toilet. While I was sleeping, she’d fished him out and taken him to the trash.
Then I woke up from nap time and all hell broke loose. I began the search and was in such a state that she and Dad made the decision to discreetly rescue him and put him through the washing machine. That explained the eye mishaps and the nearly total loss of fur. Apparently, they next placed him somewhere to air dry, high enough that I wouldn’t discover him. (I imagine after they saw what the washer did, the dryer might have been the end for him.) Dismayed by his appearance but seeing that I was still distraught after several days, they came up with the “walk through the flower garden” story, first spritzing him with perfume and reunited us.
“You threw him in the garbage???” was the first thing that I said thinking, “arghhh the humanity!” (I’ve always been a bit dramatic)
Sometimes you just can’t handle the truth.
Here is a picture of my Baby Teddy today – still with me and holding a million memories and secrets, one good bear.
Day Twenty: The Things We Treasure
Today’s Prompt: Tell us the story of your most-prized possession.
It’s the final day of the challenge already?! Let’s make sure we end it with a bang — or, in our case, with some furious collective tapping on our keyboards. For this final assignment, lead us through the history of an object that bears a special meaning to you.
A family heirloom, a flea market find, a childhood memento — all are fair game. What matters is that, through your writing, you breathe life into that object, moving your readers enough to understand its value.
Today’s twist: We extolled the virtues of brevity back on day five, but now, let’s jump to the other side of the spectrum and turn to longform writing. Let’s celebrate the drawn-out, slowly cooked, wide-shot narrative.
If you enjoyed this, check out: https://spencesgirl.com/2015/06/17/like-my-dad/
As days become ever warmer in Michigan, my dormant garden is waking up.
Slowly at first, the small amount of grass snaking between the flower beds “greens up”. Too early to do much, I spend a day doing clean up of stray leaves, pruning and picking up remains of last years annuals.
Soon after, the first flower appears – a miniature iris.
Following that pale pink snow glories planted in an old fire pit burst into bloom.
Pink and purple hyacinth and multi-colored daffodils emerge, seemingly overnight. Winter creeper and violets, reliable thick ground cover are bringing forth green with their tiny purple flowers.
Walking around, I observe beginnings of hostas and lily of the valley sprouting, my peony tree, iris and bachelor buttons are showing their greens, blooms are weeks away.
Tulips are above ground though tightly closed, holding back blooms until temperatures are more favorable. A sign of spring is my small patch of bluebells which are just blooming, returning briefly but faithfully each year.
I spy the first tiny buds on my clematis and lift the sprouts up to the trellis that they will climb spring through fall. Several bleeding hearts (white and fuchsia when they bloom) are out of the ground and double in size each day. My poppies are making their presence known as their prickly greens fill in the flowerbeds.
In my herb garden, only chives are showing themselves however if past years are an indicator, cilantro and thyme will follow. Flat leaf parsley, rosemary, basil and sage will be planted as soon as there’s no danger of frost.
The last few days I’ve been spreading pine bark nuggets and mulch to cover areas that will fill in with perennials. I fill the bird bath and bring out my “garden art”. I’ve added eight new solar lights along the little pebbled path that borders the largest flower bed.
At this time of year, my palms get itchy in anticipation of gardening. I can’t wait to feel the soil as I dig bare-handed into the dirt, without concern of bugs, worms and toads. With warm days (and soon warm evenings) our home seems to double in size as we spend more time on the deck, enjoying the beauty of nature. Lilies, sweet peas, columbine, sedum, hydrangeas, roses and other perennials will join this bloom fest. The palette is ever-changing.
It is my haven, my sanctuary.
Writing 101 Assignment: Day Nineteen: Don’t Stop the Rockin’. Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go.
I did 400 words – on the nose – but had to add pictures as I don’t see how I could talk about this beauty and not share it. I hope you enjoy it!
As a child, I was painfully shy. No one who meets me now or has known me as an adult believes this statement. I was the tallest girl from kindergarten through graduation. Add glasses in the third grade for my near-sighted eyes, I was gangly – ridiculously long skinny legs, klutzy, insecure, not wanting to draw attention to myself.
Once an adult I challenged myself, pushing out of my comfort zones. I made career choices and changes which kept me from complacency and forced me to develop new skills and knowledge. I got comfortable with public speaking and presenting to large groups of people. I could walk into a room of strangers and not feel that paralyzing gut-clench. I still had to work on self-esteem and that universal desire to have everyone like me. But the desire to be fearless grew stronger.
Once I turned 50, I found my fearless, extroverted self after accepting two profound truths.
#1: Shocker – other people don’t spend their precious time thinking about everything you say or do. They have their own lives.
#2: Age is irrelevant. Regardless of my actual age, I feel like a goofball a great deal of the time, hurtling myself into situations with abandon and don’t care if anyone approves. I’m not afraid of making a fool of myself.
For instance, karaoke.
I’ve always harbored a secret wish to be a rock singer and karaoke is a gift to a wannabe chanteuse. But other than endlessly singing on my road trips while Spence drives (to every song ever written, impressive, right?) my fear of what others would think kept me in my seat for years. Then I turned 50 and went for it. Though he missed my first time singing “Mercy” by Duffy, serenading Spence to Lady Gaga’s “You and I” at the bank’s Christmas party may have been more than he’d expected but I found it exhilarating. I also rocked out to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll”. (I have a few friends who’re still talking about how brilliant I was).
Having been quite the comedienne for years, I tend to be increasingly witty with the addition of alcohol. I love to tell a story and watch my friends erupt in laughter (and I have some pretty good true stories).
Then there’s the dancing. I literally can’t stop myself from dancing full throttle when I hear a favorite song or three….my kitchen frequently converts to a dance party when I entertain.
A few weeks ago I attended a friend’s wedding dancing like a woman possessed the whole night. Several replays of Bruno Mars Uptown Funk, Cupid Shuffle, Love Shack and Boot Scoot Boogie (to name a few) nearly landed me in traction the following week. Knowing the pain of recovery that was to follow wouldn’t have deterred me. When I’m inspired, my heart, body and soul are 21 again and I’m a dancing queen.
Even this blog was a leap of faith for my formerly shy self. I decided to do it because I love writing and felt compelled to add my voice to the blogosphere. I didn’t know how it would be received but I jumped in without fear of criticism. And the reception from those of you who are following me has been gratifying. You inspire me every day and though I may never meet you face to face, I send you a virtual hug and my heartfelt thanks.
Writing 101 – Day Thirteen: Serially Found
On day four, you wrote a post about losing something – I wrote “Losing the Ability to Sleep”.
Today’s Prompt: write about finding something.
Today’s twist: if you wrote day four’s post as the first in a series, use this one as the second installment — loosely defined.
I chose to make this a loosely defined series about my own struggles – with insomnia and shyness.
“Come shopping with me” she said. “I’d like to get your opinion” He mumbled his “yes” only half-listening as husbands often do and went back to his paper. A good man to be sure but a man who would soon come to wish he’d listened more closely.
The department store was teeming with people. This occurred to him when he was trying to find a parking place. He hated crowds, frankly hated shopping.
“I’ll drop you off” he offered sweetly “and meet you inside, where will you be?”
“In Bathing Suits” she replied, rolling her eyes. “Remember, I told you I want your opinion?” She hopped out and disappeared into the throngs of eager shoppers. His stomach clenched. Bathing suits. “Dear God” he thought, casting his eyes towards heaven, wishing he’d been paying attention. “Should’ve told her I needed to organize my sock drawer…”
He finally chose a parking place some distance away, in part because there was shade, in part because it allowed him to slowly meander towards the store, buying time I suppose.
“TUESDAY IS SENIOR’S DAY” proclaimed signs in a profusion of color. That explained the crowds. Like a deer in the headlights he scanned signs above each department, finally asking a salesclerk where he’d find ladies swimsuits. She pointed and he swore she smirked.
In part due to the congestion of shoppers but also with impending dread, he dragged his heels as he made his way towards her. “Finally” she huffed, handing him an armload of bathing apparel “hang onto these, I’m still looking”. Feeling as uncomfortable as if he were handling her lingerie, he stood there laden down with floral prints, stripes and polka dots. He tried to envision her choices, shuddering at the thought of what was coming next. “Go get in line for me” He looked at her, clearly puzzled. “For the dressing rooms!” He followed her eyes and saw the line, he sighed. He saw another man in the same predicament. A pained look passed between them. As he got closer, he could hear conversations emanating from the dressing rooms. He could hear someone crying. “I feel you” he thought.
Finally she arrived back with more selections and a dressing room opened. “Wait right there and I’ll call you” she said. Nervously, he did as asked. “Ready!” she said as the door opened, “what do you think?” She was a sight in fuchsia flowers. “Umm hmm” was all he could think of. “Fine, let me try another”. “How about this?” she pirouetted in a jungle print. He didn’t know how to respond and could tell she was exasperated. Several more came and went, he was feeling light-headed, wanting to be kind but honest. “Ready!” she signaled again and he dutifully went back into the fray.
“Do you think this makes my butt look big?”
Not always a clever man, he clutched his chest and dropped to the floor. Paramedics were summoned.
“You okay Sam?” asked the paramedic who’s name badge said “Chuck”.
“Not sure what happened there Chuck”.
Then, discreetly he looked Chuck in the eye… and winked.
Writing 101 assignment Day Twelve: Dark Clouds on the (Virtual) Horizon
Today’s Prompt: Write a post inspired by a real-world conversation.
We don’t write in a bubble — we write in the world, and what we say is influenced by our experiences. Today, take a cue from something you’ve overheard and write a post inspired by a real-life conversation. Revisit a time when you wish you’d spoken up, reminisce about an important conversation that will always stick with you, or tune in to a conversation happening around you right now and write your reaction. Take time to listen — to what you hear around you, or what your memories stir up.
Today’s twist: include an element of foreshadowing in the beginning of your post.
My twist: I’m currently in Florida and was shopping for a bathing suit on Tuesday. I may or may not be the one who was crying in the dressing room in this story, you decide. But I did see such a man who appeared to be in pain in this very scenario and paramedics were called to the store while I was there…..
At age twelve, I lived with my parents and my sister. Mom and Dad designed and built our home seven years earlier. I recall a visit there while it was under construction.
“This is your bedroom” Dad announced “and Lisa, this is yours”. We squealed with delight as we ran into the empty rooms, straight to the windows. With nothing but the frames, we leaned out and waved. “What fun” we thought “we’re neighbors!” A novelty to be sure, we’d always shared a room.
The home was on a quiet, tree-lined side street, walking distance from the family business. At it’s end was a park. My aunt, her family and my grandparents lived on the corner and across the street respectively. It shared mix of homes. Some modest, ours was one of the largest.
My lifelong BFF lived around the corner. I’d walk to school with my her, my sister, cousins and neighbor kids. It was so close that often I’d run home from school and eat lunch with Mom.
We had a deep back yard with rolling hills. Dad hung a tree swing in the willow tree, my favorite to climb. By the time I was twelve, he’d had an a-frame treehouse constructed. Incredibly unique, it was “the place” to hangout or have sleep-overs. It also was “home-base” for hide-and-seek. Ours was the best yard in the neighborhood for hiding places you see.
A brick, ranch-style house, it was modern with many striking features. A fieldstone, wrap-around fireplace visible from both the living and family rooms. A sauna Dad installed, inspired following our trip to the Montreal 67 Expo where we’d experienced our first sauna. The finished walk-out basement with thick cream-colored shag carpet, a fire-engine red, free-standing gas fireplace and a bar. That bar top took 3 men to carry in and featured river rocks set in lucite. I’ve never seen another like it.
At age twelve, I got to update my pale pink bedroom. It was the late 60’s. I chose black carpet, black and silver beads for my windows, adding a lime-green Tiffany lamp and matching crushed-velvet chair. A creamy white faux-fur bedspread was the crowning touch. Add a black light and psychedelic posters pinned onto a cork board that Mom covered with black burlap. A seriously cool room for an almost-teen.
I loved that home, the neighborhood, the town. I felt safe there, knew all the neighbors. There were tons of kids the same age. Kickball, softball, sledding, bike riding and the like filled those years. We played outside till dark or later, summoned home when we heard our parents call our names.
I would later become the President of the Chamber of Commerce in this town and chose to live my life here. Thirty years ago I moved into the house that my grandparents built when my Dad was a boy, a home I’d been in as a child. The bonus? It’s walking distance from my childhood home.
Our Writing 101 assignment for today, was to write about where we lived at age twelve. The twist was to mix long, medium and short sentences.
I have so many memories relating to food from childhood to adulthood, from beloved family recipes to exquisite food I’ve enjoyed in my travels. Loving food as I do, it’s no wonder that even as a child, I gravitated towards watching my Grandpa Fox prepare meals with love and joy.
Grandpa Fox was Mom’s father and had retired at a young age after a lengthy illness. After he recovered, he took up cooking. And not just any cooking – the man had a passion and a talent that took his food to gourmet status. I still cherish a number of his recipes, written with his favorite green ink pen, detailing every step of preparation.
Today, I’m focused on his chicken, first off – his fried chicken. If my sister and I knew that Grandpa was making fried chicken, the drive from our home to theirs seemed to take an eternity (or about twenty minutes). As we entered the house, the aroma was tantalizing. Even today I can close my eyes and remember the smell of that chicken sizzling as he fried it to perfection in butter. I was always so grateful that the sight of that chicken frying meant we would be eating soon. Golden, crunchy, tender, each bite was sheer delight. Having discovered that I loved chicken wings, which were also Grandma’s favorite, he’d call me to his side to confide that by a stroke of luck he found a chicken with extra wings. That luck held out for years and I can still remember the twinkle in his eye each time he told me, likely sparked by the sheer happiness on my face as a result of his good fortune.
Then, there was Grandpa’s rotisserie chicken. Fixed on a little old charcoal grill with a small hickory chip smoking tray and a flip top lid, he would load several whole chickens onto the rotisserie, grab a cold beer (or two) and set up his chair so that he was nearby to baste them. Enjoying beautiful Michigan summer days, he would sit back and wait – for us to arrive but also every one of his neighbors who were drawn to his grill. “A nickel a peek” he’d say and then raise that grill top to reveal these gorgeous spinning birds to “oohs and ahhs”. I’m certain those neighbors went home wistful that they could’ve snagged an invite to dinner at Mr. Fox’s house. My sister and I could always count on “free peeks”. Joining him in our little folding chairs as soon as we arrived, we willed him to cook them faster as the smells from that grill had our stomachs growling.
Many years later, Spence bought me one of those “set it and forget it” rotisserie ovens and I have cooked countless whole chickens on them, as recently as last week.
Each time my house fills with the aroma of the rotisserie chicken, I wonder if Grandpa is looking down on me remembering all our chicken dinners together. I figured out the secret ingredient he added to his cooking; it was his love of cooking and the love for those he cooked for.
Our Writing 101 assignment today was to recall a favorite childhood meal, how it made us feel, was always a treat, meant celebration or comforted us, with roots in our memory.
Just after daybreak I could hear him approaching in the distance.
Clip clop, clip clop then the subtle ring of a metal bell. Standing tall, like the mountains behind him, on the bed of a flatbed wagon pulled by a mule. Summoned by that bell, women in the barrio would bring their coins and a vessel – a bowl, a pitcher, to their gate at the roadside. Ramrod straight, the milkman would dip his ladle into a tall metal canister and bring out the desired quantity at each stop. His balance was impeccable, never faltering as he navigated the cart along the main road with traffic speeding by.
Clip clop, clip clop, stop, ring, ladle and repeat.
It was difficult to guess his age, I suspected he appeared older as did most of the men in this country. Skin weathered as brown and terra cotta red as those glorious mountains in the backdrop and the dust kicked up and swirling from vehicles racing by. Muscular, wiry, wizened as this land, his daily routine, starting before dawn and producing a miniscule income. It was clear from his demeanor he was proud in the knowledge he was providing a vital service to the families counting on his delivery.
I made a point of rising earlier than usual each morning and taking my tea on our porch along his route. Clip clop, clip clop, stop, ring, he was near. I would wait and catch his eye as he passed.
“Adios” I would offer, “Adios” he would reply with a gentle smile.
Day 8 of Writing 101 – today’s prompt and twist involved adverbs – “Death to Adverbs”
Today’s Prompt: Go to a local café, park, or public place and write a piece inspired by something you see. Get detailed: leave no nuance behind.
Thoughtful writers create meaning by choosing precise words to create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. As you strive to create strong imagery, show your readers what’s going on; avoid telling them.
Today’s twist: write an adverb-free post. If you’d rather not write a new post, revisit and edit a previous one: excise your adverbs and replace them with strong, precise verbs.
I chose to edit a post that came from one of the first pieces I wrote just after retiring (a writing class assignment). It is a favorite of mine, lent itself to the “Death to Adverbs” theme and there was an adverb I could execute – done! Published early on in the blog as “The Milkman and The Mountain” it takes place in Costa Rica and is taken from my personal experiences.
“I’m the best season” claimed The Spring, “Everyone loves those first signs of life after a long winter”.
“I respectfully disagree”, The Fall replied, “People love the fall after the heat of summer, those first cooler days, the way I change the landscape into an array of colors”.
“Humbly, I must deny your claim of being the best season” countered The Spring. “I turn grass from brown to green, make the trees bud then flower, push up tulips, crocus, daffodils and hyacinth. The air smells sweet with apple and cherry blossoms, the soft spring rain, the warming days and cool nights. What say you to that Fall?”
“I can’t argue that you put forth a good show Spring” said The Fall sincerely, “But I bring forth mums, pumpkins and gourds, the smell of apples being harvested and pressed into cider, the telltale smoke of chimneys as people can enjoy their fireplaces.”
At this point, I can no longer hold back (as the author of this imagined dialogue), “You are both equally lovely. Indeed, after a long bitter-cold winter, I’m thrilled to see my garden coming to life in The Spring, the promise of getting my hands in the dirt and planting. To open my windows, enjoy sitting on my deck, sipping a glass of wine on those first warm-enough-to-not wear-a-jacket evenings”
“But then comes The Fall. Those first days when it’s just cool enough to start wearing layers, the smell in the air of leaves wet with dew and the profusion of color that changes them into a vibrant palette of orange, yellow, red, gold and green when the sun lights up the trees. That crispness to the air on a fall mornings and evenings. Wine tasting as our vineyards bring forth the new harvest.”
Having listened thoughtfully, The Spring and The Fall agreed that they each were special in their own way and decided to applaud, each the other.
Meanwhile, The Summer sat back silently knowing that she’s the best season. The Winter just sat sulking, as cold as ever.
Today’s Prompt: “Give and Take”
Write a post based on the contrast between two things — whether people, objects, emotions, places, or something else.
Today’s twist: write your post in the form of a dialogue.
It was Spence who first brought him to my attention, less than a mile from my home, as you round the bend coming into our little downtown. Spence honked and waved.
“Who are you waving at?” I asked.
“My buddy” he answered. But we’d already driven past.
I started paying attention. A young man with Down’s Syndrome, in his twenties if I had to guess, sitting in front of his house and waving to passing drivers. I started waving back whenever I saw him. Always cheerful, consistently enthusiastic, he brightens my day as I imagine he does for others. He’s like our small town’s ambassador. In the bitter cold of winter, his time outside was curtailed but I’d still look.
Just a few days ago, Spence and I were driving into town.
“Oh no” he remarked “He’s in a wheelchair”. Not knowing the nature of his health, we both feared what that meant.
Quite by chance, I saw a post on Facebook a few hours later. It introduced Dustin and talked of his joy in waving to friends, how he loved making people happy. Dustin recently had surgery that confined him to a wheelchair during a three month recovery. And until recently, kept him housebound. That is when some good citizens came forward and built a ramp for him. Just heard there was a need and stepped up in a single weekend to return a kindness. Dustin had impacted them with his unbridled friendliness and in turn, made new friends.
Happy to know that the wheelchair is only temporary we now had a name and a glimpse into this endearing young man’s life.
A smile and a wave can make a difference.
Writing 101 assignment for today was to share a character study of someone we’d met who’d impacted our lives within the last year.