Toys In the Attic

One of my earliest memories is of my mom reading to me from Little House in the Big Woods.    If I close my eyes, I can still see the Garth Williams artwork that was on the page when I told Mom to hurry up and turn the page.

“I’m not done reading it yet,”  she told me.

“But I am,”  I said.

I was four years old, and I realized two things that day:  that I knew how to read, and that I wanted to be a writer.  Just like Laura Ingalls Wilder.


I got my first typewriter not long after that.  It was a toy, but it worked like a real typewriter.  It was made out of hard blue plastic and it came with its own sturdy carrying case.  I took it with me everywhere I went, and I pounded out stories and poems that probably gave any readers a severe case of bleeding eyeballs.

By third grade, I had worn it out, but that was okay because I learned about quotation marks and discovered that my little typewriter didn’t have a key for those.  I figured out how to type two apostrophes together to make my own, and I expanded my vocabulary as other keys began to wear out.  I learned to find words that didn’t include the letters “g” and “r” but finally had to admit defeat when I lost the letter “e”.

It took less than a year to blow out the next toy typewriter.   Aunt Marian referred to my method of typing as “Hunt and Peck”, but Mom said I was using “The Bible Method”, otherwise known as the“Seek-and-ye-shall-find” method.

Am I the only one who sees the Star Wars influence here?
Am I the only one who sees the Star Wars influence here?

By the time I went away to college, my “toy” had been upgraded to an IBM Selectric.  That thing must have weighed fifty pounds, and it came with a corrector cartridge that was supposed to simplify the process of using Liquid Paper or White-Out.  I had taken an actual typing class by then with the oddest teacher my school ever employed (“My name is Frakes and it rhymes with brakes, and I won’t put the brakes on your typing speed!”).

I used that IBM Selectric to get through some pretty tough college classes, and even used it to hammer out my first query letter to Amazing Heroes magazine.  I knew that no one ever sells an article on the first try, so I wrote the letter as a practice exercise with no thoughts of actually writing the article. I nearly passed out when I got a letter from editor Kim Thompson a few weeks later calling me a “copacetic young lady” and giving me the go-ahead with a very tight deadline.

Oh, the horror that was the 1980's!
Oh, the horror that was the 1980’s!

I looked up “copacetic” and gave up eating, drinking or sleeping for a few days as I wrote “The Forgotten Reader” about what it was like to be one of the few female fans of comic books in those days.  I scrambled for a pen name—for the record, I was writing as “A.J. Lee” before the wrestler by that name was born—and thought my writing career was really taking off when I got my check for $35.20.

We’re often mistaken for twins.

The magazine ceased publication not long after that.

There have been a lot of detours since then.  A few articles here and there, some really egregious poetry, and a lot of self-indulgent attempts at “literary” fiction.   The Selectric eventually went the way of the two toy typewriters, and I now go back and forth between a tiny Asus Netbook and a “real” computer at a desk with my ergonomic chair to support my neck and shoulders.  I have access to things like spell-check and beta-readers and will most likely never again have to breathe the scent of Liquid Paper at two a.m. while chugging cans of tepid Tab and wondering why in the hell I ever wanted to be a writer in the first place.

In a way, I’ve come full circle from the days of that poor old blue typewriter.  It doesn’t matter if I type on a toy or scribble on the back of an envelope with a two-inch pencil stub with a gnawed-off eraser.   I’m a writer.  Always have been, always will be.

And I owe it all to Laura Ingalls Wilder and a little toy typerwriter.


On September 11, 2001, I didn’t have to be to work until 10:00. I sent my daughter off to pre-school, let my son watch his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine video for a while before taking him to daycare, and then forgot to pop out his Ready Set Learn cassette in the car until I had almost made it to work. In other words, I didn’t hear the news until I was sitting in the left-hand turn lane on M-40.

I remember those tiny details. I remember hearing WBCT’s morning deejay Reese Rickards saying that it had been deliberate, that the planes had been full when they struck the towers.

Towers? What Towers?

I sat there, not hearing the horns honking around me, and I heard Reese say that the Pentagon had been hit. I didn’t realize I was crying until after I had finally parked.

I remember every detail of that day. I can tell you the names of each client I worked on, what size perm rods I used, how many haircuts I did, how hard I worked because I didn’t know what else to do. My boss debated turning off the radio so as not to upset the clients, but everyone was upset already. We all had to listen. And we listened all day long.

They were plenty of reasons to cry in the days after that. As a firefighter’s wife, I attended memorial services and candlelight vigils. I held my husband close when he told me he wanted to volunteer to go to New York and help with the clean-up; I thanked God when he couldn’t go because our area was sending only those with EMT certification and above. The Big Guy had his MFR (Medical First Responder), one level below EMT.

I didn’t jump on the patriotic bandwagon then. I wasn’t ready to climb on board and start waving the flag. During those first shell-shocked, horrified weeks, I didn’t cry as an American. I cried as a human being. As a wife and mother and daughter and sister and friend. My heart broke for what the victims must have felt in their last moments, and for the agony their loved ones were going through.

For me, it wasn’t about being an American.

When I saw the flags going up everywhere, I didn’t feel a swelling of pride. I wondered, “Where was your flag last week? Weren’t you proud to be an American then, too?” And I’ll admit, I felt a little bit irritated when I saw that those flags were left up after sunset, hanging day and night, twenty-four/seven.

I was once a Girl Scout, after all. The flag always comes in at dark.

Respect the Flag.

About three weeks after the attack on the Twin Towers, it was my scheduled day to volunteer in my daughter’s class. We put her things in her cubby, settled her in to her seat and sang “Good morning to you.” And then we stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, just like schoolchildren all over the country do every morning.

I hadn’t said those words in over thirty years, but they came right back. And for the first time in my life, I actually said them instead of just reciting them.

Did I mean it? Do I pledge my allegiance to this country with its poverty, poor healthcare system, and screwed-up political system? Can I really have any allegiance toward a country whose leaders routinely lie to us? In the midst of my losing battle with Social Security to be declared disabled while perfectly healthy people all around me are collecting Disability checks, can I really say I am proud to be an American?

Well, yeah.

We’re not perfect. I’m really afraid of what the future holds for me and my fellow countrymen.

But when you come right down to it, yes, I am patriotic. I was born American and I will die American, and in between I will probably be really ashamed of a lot of the things my country does. But that’s what patriotism means to me: accepting that this country is my home, warts and all, and loving it anyway.

I am American. It’s part of what I am, just like the fact that I am short, overweight, green-eyed. I am a slow driver, a mediocre cook, and a horrible housekeeper. I am the daughter of a meat cutter, granddaughter of a Jack-of-all-trades, great-granddaughter of a foot-washing Baptist minister. I am a Michigander, a cat-owner, and a Diet Coke drinker.

And I am an American. A cynical one, but a patriotic one in my own way.

I pledge allegiance to the flag

of the United States of America

and to the Republic for which it stands,

one nation under God, indivisible,

with Liberty and Justice for all.

Daily Prompt: Dreams and Maple Trees

When I was ten years old, I wanted to be a writer.  I was in the early stages of my addiction to the Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators series, but I already knew that I wanted to someday join the ranks of M.V Carey, William Arden, and the fabulous Robert Arthur. Oh, I read The Hardy boys, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and others as well, but it was the Three Investigators that really grabbed me.

My plan was to write the further adventures of Jupiter, Bob and Pete for a few years before creating my own series of juvenile detective novels.  My series was going to include girls and boys, to appeal to readers of both genders.

Over the years, the dream never really died; it just sort of went on the back burner.  There was college, when I decided to major in Education because I wanted something to “fall back on” if a writing career never took off.  Then there was business school when I couldn’t finish college after Mom died, followed by Cosmetology school when I realized that I was the world’s worst secretary.

I kept writing when I had the time or when a story idea hit me, but I just never seemed to finish anything.  I got married, had kids, saw my beloved Three Investigators series come to a close.  I thought that maybe, someday, when the kids were grown and life slowed down, I might actually write my book.

Apparently I needed something to remind me to pay more attention to my dream, and that reminder came in the form of a maple tree falling on my car on a stormy June night two years ago.  When I came home from the hospital, unsure of just how much mobility I was going to get back, my big sister gave me a Netbook.

“Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling you to sit down and finally write that book,” she told me.

And that’s where I am today.  My focus is more on writing Romance than on mysteries, but I am writing every day.  My novel, “Her House Divided” is nearly finished, and I have an opportunity to send it to an agent when it’s done.

It took forty years, a random maple tree, and a broken neck, but I am finally what I wanted to be:  a Writer.

And the Three Investigators?  Well, the series is long gone, but we fans still have each other, and I get to post my Three Investigators fanfiction on the Three Investigtors U.S. Editions Collectors Site.

That’s closer than some people get to realizing their dreams.

I just wish the universe didn’t have to drop a tree on my head  to get me here.

State of the Year

Today’s Daily Prompt was to write up a mid-year “State of My Year” post, and I have to say that I really liked this one.  I’m not very good at patting myelf on the back for my accomlishments, and I absolutely stink at setting realistic, concrete goals.  So it was nice to have a chance to do both today.

The first part of my year has definitely been productive, both in my personal life and with my writing.  I have accomplished the following:

  • Finished first rough draft of “Her House Divided”
  • Had my blog chosen for Freshly Pressed
  • Faced some fears (swimming, driving the Expedition)
  • Entered Writer’s Digest Contest
  • Joined Twitter
  • Joined RWA
  • Completed three RWA classes
  • Started writing poetry again
  • Lost 16 pounds
  • Acknowledged Depression and sought treatment

Goals for the second half of the year

  • Finish revisions on “Her House Divided”
  • Lose another 20 pounds
  • Complete three or  more RWA classes
  • Blog on a schedule
  • Reach 400 followers on  my blog
  • Get Freshly Pressed again
  • Sell a short story or poem
  • Have more fun


Daily Prompt: Make Up Your Mind


Think of a topic or issue about which you’ve switched your opinion.  Why the change?

I have changed my mind about the George Zimmerman trial more times than I can count.  I still don’t know what I think, and I keep changing my mind because I don’t know which information to believe.

I am a white woman who grew up in a white neighborhood in a white suburb of a predominantly white town.  I have no idea what it is like to be black, and I never will.  It’s impossible for me to fully understand what it’s like to be the victim of racism.  I have no idea if I’m supposed to say “Black” or “African American” or “That lady over there in the green blouse” but I know that whatever I say it’s going to be judged as offensive to someone.

I don’t want to be called a racist.

I want to believe that Trayvon Martin was innocent.  That George Zimmerman was an angry, swaggering wannabe vigilante who shot a helpless child in cold blood.  That Zimmerman was 100% responsible for everything that took place that night, and that Martin was 100% innocent.

To think otherwise makes me a racist, right?  A Bad Person.

But we have been so manipulated by the Media that it is impossible to know what to believe.  Like most Americans, I’ve heard this story and that story and a million tiny “facts” that are actually fabrications, until the only thing I know is that I don’t know.

The photo we all see of Martin is of a much younger, more innocent child, not an accurate depiction of the seventeen year-old man-sized individual who died that night.  Innocent or not, plastering the news outlets with that little-boy picture is a blatant attempt at manipulating public opinion.   At making him seem child-like and guiltless, small and unable to defend himself.

I don’t know the truth about who did what that night, but I know that picture is a lie.  And that makes me angry.   If he was an innocent victim, why try so desperately to mislead the general public?

I’ve heard tales of the 9-1-1 tape being edited for broadcast by news stations intent on making a bigger story.     I’ve heard that Martin’s only injury was the fatal bullet wound, while I’ve seen the pictures of Zimmerman’s bloodied head and face.  And yet I’ve heard claims that there are pictures of an uninjured  Zimmerman walking into the police station, suggesting that he was beaten after the fact in a different altercation.

As a white person, I am afraid to voice my doubts.

I feel like I have to be angry about the Zimmerman verdict or risk being branded a racist.

The truth is, I really believed he would be found guilty.  Not because I believe he is guilty, but because I thought the jury would be afraid of the consequences of a verdict of Not Guilty.  I remember the riots after the Rodney King verdict, and I worried that the same thing would happen in this case.

Was the verdict a result of racism, or was it a result of six jurors who made a decision based on evidence alone?  I don’t even know if such a thing is possible, especially since Zimmerman was basically tried and found guilty on Facebook and in the court of public opinion long before this ever came to trial.

I am disgusted that one of the jurors has already done interviews and signed a book deal.  This strikes me as a terribly opportunistic move.  She should be ashamed, as should the bottom-feeders who have taken advantage of her thirst for fame and attention.

But what about the people on Twitter and Facebook who are calling for the death of the jurors and Zimmerman?  What about the folks fanning the flames of racism and hatred?  If there is more violence as a result of all of the exaggeration, hatespeak and outright lies, who is responsible?  Whose fault is it?

People, it’s not okay to protest racism by advocating more hate.  More violence.

Just because I am white, don’t assume I am a racist.  Just because I am questioning some of the stories circulating about Zimmerman and Martin, don’t assume that I think Martin was in the wrong or that Zimmerman was in the right.  I wasn’t there, and I don’t know.

And neither were you.

Black or white, we are better than this.  We are smarter than this.   We need to stop letting ourselves be spoon-fed by news media whose only agenda is the next big story.   We need to ask questions and not automatically believe every rumor, every bit of gossip, every inflammatory bit of anger-inducing crap that is posted on Facebook or shared on Twitter.

Black or white, we need to think for ourselves.

Daily Prompt: Mirror Mirror

When I look in the mirror, I . . .

  • Flinch
  • Wonder where I put the Windex
  • See an old person I don’t recognize
  • Wonder which of my kids got footprints on the mirror
  • See my mother
  • Wonder how the kid got footprints on the mirror
  • Wonder how long I’ve had that big zit on my chin
  • Give thanks my kids will never have a Chicken Pox scar like the one near my nose
  • Realize I need a lip wax
  • Sigh
  • Wonder where my cheekbones went
  • Smile anyway

Seashells and Pinwheels

Describe your first memorable experience exploring and spending time in nature. Were you in awe? Or were you not impressed? Would you rather spend time in the forest or the city?

For me, “nature” doesn’t mean forest or city; it means water. 

My aunts bought The Seashell — as they named their beach house– when I was three years old, but family legend has it that they took my sisters and me to Lake Michigan on vacation even before that.  Aunt Marian used to tell stories about having to drag me, kicking and screaming, out of the water long after everyone else had tired of swimming.

The Lake was a big playground for us.  My aunts tried to teach us to respect it without fearing it, but I didn’t understand what they meant until the first time I went in the water when the Yellow Flag was up.

There were lifeguards on our beach back then, and they used a flag system to tell us how to treat the water every day.  Green Flag meant the water was calm and smooth and safe, Yellow Flag meant there was a certain degree of danger due to strong currents and high waves, and a Red Flag meant no swimming. Stay out.

I was probably about six or seven years old.  There were four aunts and three little girls, so we always had the full attention of at least one adult.  At all times.  In or out of the water.  We had reached the age where the aunts let us go in the water without them, as long as they were watching from the shore, and as long as the flag was green.  As the youngest, I still had to hold an adult’s hand in the water on Yellow Flag days.

On this particular Yellow Flag day, the aunts decided that I was ready to go in with  just my sisters. 

We were all just learning to bodysurf at that time, but hadn’t quite mastered the art of “reading” the water.  We would wait for the biggest wave, fling ourselves facedown into it with arms stretched out above our heads, and ride the current as far toward shore as possible.

We thought the biggest waves were the strongest.  Now I understand that a stong wave can be any size, but a wave that is muddy brown on top is a wave that is strong enough to gouge into the lake bottom and bring sand to the surface.  In other words, strong enough to knock you on your ass.

Which is exactly what happened.  Sort of.

The wave hit so hard that it drove my face into the bottom of the lake.  My legs went up and over like a crazy little-girl-pinwheel.  I came up for air and gulped down a faceful of the next wave as it crashed into me.  Then I went down again, scraping skin off my shoulder as I bounced along the lake bottom once more.

One of my sisters–I don’t remember which one–hauled me up by my hair and snapped, “Don’t cry or they’ll make us all get out!”


I didn’t have time to cry.  I had to catch the next wave.  And the next. 

There is nothing in my life that has ever matched the feeling of being pounded and tossed about by Lake Michigan in her frenzy.  Helpless, disoriented, exhausted, waterlogged and almost afraid.  And starved.  I remember coming out of the water feeling like I could gnaw on some of my own extremities.

And I felt clean.  Inside and out.  Purged of all negativity.  I was recharged, body and soul.

When I battled the waves, I touched God.  And He touched me. 

I’ll never bodysurf again because it’s just too risky with my neck injury.  But I will always need to return to Lake Michigan when my spirit is aching or my soul is weak.  And when the lake is in a frenzy of crashing waves and flying spray, I can almost hear Him speaking to me, telling me to lean on Him.

And then I go home, strong enough to face the world again.

A Mouse Tale


Is there a painting or sculpture you’re drawn to?  What does it say to you?  Describe the experience.

There is a Lladro figurine named “Tuesday’s Child” that has spoken to me for years.  Since eleventh grade, in fact.

My aunts always collected figurines.  Hummels, Precious Moments, Royal Doultons, Andreas, and Norman Rockwells.  Especially Norman Rockwells. I couldn’t help but learn to recognize an artist’s work at a glance, although none of their figurines really struck me as being anything special.

Then I discovered Lladros.  Tall, with long flowing lines and graceful shapes, always in pastels and with a gentle simplicity that exudes a feeling a peace.  They are beautiful and delicate and they touch my soul in a way that no other piece of art has ever done.

The first one I saw, the one that drew me to the collection, was called “Tuesday’s Child”, and I saw it in the display case at a jewelry store at the mall.

As usual with me, there is a story.

I had a friend back then whose nickname was Mouse.  Mouse was a ballet dancer.  She was also what my aunts referred to as “a Toughie” because of a very rough start in life.  She looked so tiny and innocent, but she could swear like a sailor and she was certainly no stranger to drugs and alcohol at a young age.  She wore her hair spiked and multi-colored, totally embracing the fashion trends of the eighties.

We drifted apart in high school.  I’m ashamed to admit that I got wrapped up in the almost-almost-popular crowd, and Mouse had just gotten a little too offbeat for me.  She and her best friend talked tough and looked rougher, and she made out with her boyfriend in the hallways with so much gusto that some of us dubbed them “Kinko and Slinko.”

I heard that she gave up dancing, which was a shame, because I remember being moved to tears when she danced to her own choreography to “Anatevka” from Fiddler on the Roof.  She moved on the stage like some kind of mythical creature, something beyond human, something that defied gravity.  She took my breath away.

The last time I saw her, she was with her best friend at a festival in South Haven.  They were dressed like biker chicks, and Mouse regaled me with a tale of a recent fight that had left her with a fat lip.  I couldn’t get away from her fast enough.

She was only fifteen when she died a few weeks later in a fall at a party.  Rumors flew about drugs and alcohol and stupidity of the other partygoers who were too fried to call for help.  I never knew which parts of the stories were true or false, but I knew that Mouse was gone and that I had not been a good friend to her.

It was the first time we had lost a peer, and the reminder of our own mortality hit us all hard.  People who had snubbed her and mocked her suddenly portrayed themselves as her best friend, weeping dramatically in the halls.  Parents and teachers pounced on her death as a cautionary tale against drinking, and some of us were just quietly lost.

Then I saw “Tuesday’s Child” at the mall.  She was a delicate little ballerina, bent gracefully over to lace her pointe shoes.  There was something about the pose, and in the part-serious, part-amused expression on her face that just spoke to me of Mouse.  Looking at the beauty of that tiny figurine, I was reminded of Mouse’s grace and beauty in life, and I stopped focusing on the ugliness of her death; I could finally start forgiving myself for failing our friendship.

“Tuesday’s Child” helped me say goodbye to Mouse.

Of course, I have never been able to afford that specific figurine since it has long since been “retired”.   But I have managed to collect three genuine Lladros and a small handful of knockoffs made by NAO.  Someday . . . someday, I hope to own “Tuesday’s Child” but until then, I have my memories of a girl named Mouse.

Bully For You

If I could ban one word from everyday usage, it would be “bully” and all of its variations.

I agree that bullying is a terrible thing.  I was bullied as a kid, most often by a horrible little troll that we all called Tripper.  He gave me the name “Crybaby of the Year” and made it his goal to make me cry every day of first and second grade. 

Now I understand that it was probably because his real name was Emenefe.  I’d probaby be a bully too if I’d been given a name like that.

I was bullied for other things over the years, as were others in my class.  In my generation, for that matter.  And I wish there had been a place to go for help.  I wish someone, anyone would have told me anything more helpful than “Toughen up!”

But suddenly, in our rush to protect our own children from bullying, we have taught today’s young people that everything counts as bullying.  Every negative word, every disagreement, every expression of dislike.  Every word or action that doesn’t belch sunshine and spew rainbows is automatically branded an act of bullying.

I am afraid that we are raising a generation of young people who are utterly incapable of accepting criticism.  We are trying so hard to cushion their existence that we are failing to teach them the difference between criticism and bullying.

Kids need to understand that not everyone is going to like them.  Not everyone is going to swoon with delight over their every utterance or creation.   “You’re just jelly” is not an appropriate response to criticism.  By teaching our children that anything less than gushing praise is an act of bullying or jealousy, we are also teaching them that they can do nothing wrong.  That they are perfect.  Infallible.  Beyond reproach.  That they are always Number One in everything that they do. 

Kids do need to be taught what to do in the case of true bullying.  But the definition they are learning is much too broad.  It should be just as important to teach them how to identify it as it is to teach them how to fight it.

The Gravity of Things/Daily Prompt

An elderly couple sits down at the breakfast table on the morning of their sixtieth wedding anniversary.

“Just imagine,”  the wife sighs; “Sixty years ago we were newleyweds, eating our breakfast at this very same table.”

“Yes, but we were probably naked,”  the husband agrees.

The wife giggles and blushes and asks, “Do you think we should?”

After much more giggling and blushing, they sit back down at the table, naked as can be.  “Baby,”  the wife purrs, “my nipples are just as hot for you as they ever were!”

“They should be,”  her husband sighs.  “You’ve got one in your oatmeal and one in your coffee.”