Writing Challenge Day 5: A Taste of Childhood

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I remember my childhood being full of good cooking by my mom. Many weeknights the menu contained our favorite tuna casserole. It had white ribbon pasta, tuna and a sauce with shredded cheese lightly sprinkled on top. Crunched up crackers as a topping usually accompanied it and it was usually baked and served in a 9×13 clear glass casserole dish. When the casserole was bubbly and golden, just pulled out of the oven, I knew I was about to experience culinary heaven. There might have been a tad of slurping involved but this meal was one of mom’s many magic tricks. It also helps that she was a home economics major in college.

As I got into high school I might have helped a little by crushing the crackers but the most help I was – was in eating it. I think I yearned for tuna casserole more as an adult. I didn’t make it while away at college. As the years passed, I married and had children I missed it even more especially since my family did not share my same love for it. They even likened its smell to cat food! If I made this dish, I would sit down with mom and dad so we could have it again. In fact, since I see them each month I’ll have to put that on my list!

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Writing Challenge Day 4 – A Piece of My Past

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DAY 4: Once you’ve decided on the piece of your past you want to focus on, tell its story. Take a moment to describe the object, so we can get a picture of it in our minds, and then write about it. What were the circumstances surrounding your receipt of this object? Who gave it to you? Did it belong to someone else before you? What does this item mean to you? Where do you keep it? Is it tucked away in a safe place or on display in your home?

MY REPLY: My piece from the past is young compared to other belongings, but it’s still a priceless possession. It’s an 8×10, black marble looking frame with a golden internal edges. Since I received it as a Christmas gift from my father it has hung on my living room. It makes me happy each time I pause before it. The frame contains hand drawn scenes from my father’s three most important homes – two from boyhood and the first home he and my mom ever purchased. The homes are each drawn on white, horizontal 3×5 index cards.

The first card, located at the top left, features the family farm in Lake Odessa, Michigan. It was his boyhood summer home where he and his three brothers lived with their aunt and uncle. I, too, spent many summer vacations on this same farm. I loved its narrow staircase leading to the second floor, the glassed in coffee table with hinged lid that displayed an intricate collection of my great great aunt’s sewing buttons and the kitchen counters laden with drying homemade pasta cut into perfect fettucine-sized noodles. While the farm ignites good times in my mind, I was deathly afraid of the second floor bedroom where we usually slept when we visited. This is because there was a door from the bedroom to the outside of the house. If I had ever sleep walked or opened that door I would have fallen 10 feet below and probably would have been no more.

“The farm,” as it is affectionately known, was built with a roofed, long, wooden front porch. This roof had been what you would have stepped on if you had opened the second floor door. But unfortunately, as wood deteriorates over time, both parts had to be torn down. The door was “off limits” to us kids. And rightly so. Locked but accessible, I remember realizing it would mean certain death if I had opened it and stepped out into nothingness. I guess the fact that I’m writing about it today shows you I obeyed.

The middle index card features my father’s boyhood home in Battle Creek, Michigan. Its detached one-car garage in back, originally housed my grandfather’s 1936 black Chevrolet and then later his new 1947 red International pickup truck.

Its backyard, unseen, contained a garden and a dog pen. According to dad, it also was home to many dog burial plots as well.

With three brothers and one bathroom you can imagine the line on the first floor! A master bedroom and kitchen were also there. The second floor contained two bedrooms – one shared by the two oldest brothers and another shared by dad and the youngest brother. Each bedroom had a door that accessed the attic at opposite ends of the house. At one point, an older brother used the area for a photography dark room. My dad and his little brother covered their attic area floor with cardboard thereby having a prime play area full of Army men. The areas had electrical lighting as well.

A Coal furnace and small water heater were in the basement and a coal truck made deliveries through a window chute, which led to a coal bin below.

The bottom sketch features the first new home my parents ever bought. After peeking in its windows on a Sunday and discovering an uncarpeted slab, dad called the builder who took care of it the next day so we could move in. It snowed in Tallahassee, FL on that day in 1975, the middle of my 7th grade year. Nixon was president. The interest rate on their mortgage was 4.75%.

Aside from these drawings and their historical nature, index cards are synonymous with my dad. He’s used them for years in his home office. He uses them to write notes and lists. I’ve seen him use them as bookmarks. He reads the Christmas story from the book of Luke in the Bible and then passes around a basket of them with ink pens prior to opening gifts so we can record the gifts we received and who gave them. This paperwork is very important – especially when writing thank you notes.

Dad’s doodles and sketches are pictures into our past. I’m so very thankful these three framed sketches hang in my home today.

Writing Challenge Day 3: An identifying characteristic

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Source: fanpop.com

Source: fanpop.com

PROMPT: Write about a characteristic you have that identifies you. It could be a physical characteristic, a personality trait, a particular behavior or habit, something that makes you uniquely you. What is it? Describe it? How do you feel about having this characteristic? Is it something that has served or hindered you in life? What, if anything, would you change about this?

MY RESPONSE: A characteristic that defines me: fluttering around like a butterfly from one hobby to another. Instead of being predictable and completing each project, I sometimes lose interest, netting myself partially finished projects. A front-wrap blouse. One partially knitted sock. Necklaces and earrings needing repair. But I also have completed projects as well such as drapes for our first home, many fringed-fleece blankets for hospital patients and also making meals for others.

It used to bother me when I didn’t stick with projects and complete them until one day, when my husband, sons and I were in California on a trip, we met up with my great uncle. In conversation, I mentioned my unfinished works and how I tried so many new things. I told him it bothered me and made me think something was wrong. He looked at me and said, “I think you’re smart, like to learn new things then get bored and have to move on.”

From that day, I had a new perspective on the temporary nature of some of my activities. I’ll always be glad Uncle Max enabled me to see how much I truly love to learn and that my efforts in moving to new activities were an example of that desire.

Writing Challenge Day Two: Superstitions

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4 leaf clover

MY ENTRY:

I’m impressed with the pageantry and excitement surrounding Punxsutawney Phil’s annual prediction; let’s note: his job security is beyond compare! I do have to say, though, that while I love the lightheartedness attached to superstitions, they don’t carry much weight in my life or decisions. As a kid,  I remember hearing that four-leaf-clovers were lucky. I recall dutifully scouring patches of clover looking for one. It was fun. It was frustrating and I can’t even remember if I was successful.

I do think, though, that Phil’s prediction WOULD be a VERY valid reason for me to purchase a new piece of clothing since my shopping skills for doing so are so unimpressive. Granola bars? Check. Lunch meat? Check. BOGOs? Of course. They really should have an Olympics for grocery and household shopping because I’d get triple gold. However, shopping for clothing is another matter. I generally rely on going with my sister who lives out of town because she keeps me from wasting lots of money on styles that don’t “accentuate the positive.”

As for black cats, I think they’re a positive addition to my life. We have two and they’re both immensely loving, purring at just the right time I need to rub their bellies or backs. I’d like to think my love is not based on color.

Another superstition I remember from childhood was “step on a [sidewalk] crack, break your mother’s back.” A little extreme and I tried to avoid cracks when it was on my mind, but I don’t believe any missteps then translate into the health of my mother’s back today. If anything, she busted the crack theory and is still cranking at 77!

I’m certainly glad the apple a day thing hasn’t come into play. I’m pretty rotten at eating my fruits and veggies yet pretty happy that my social existence does not revolve around doctors’ appointments and blood tests.

It’s fun listening to future predictions. I love to imagine how today’s capabilities may morph into technologies and inventions not even yet thought of.  

Indicators of future events to which I do pay attention? The weather forecast, but I’m not impulsive. I have a weather app on my phone. I simply forget to use it. I figure any morning I’m resurrected from sound sleep and see the sun shine I’m blessed. Biblical scripture is important to me and that aspect also includes personal faith but I’m not sure we’re addressing that right here.

Writing Challenge Day One: My Most Influential Teacher

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For the next 14 days, I’m participating in a writing challenge by author Patricia Charpentier, author of the book, Eating an Elephant: Writing Your Life One Bite at a Time. Each day Patricia is posting a prompt and encouraging participants to set a timer for 10 minutes and go for it. More than 250 people worldwide are participating from most of the United States and several foreign countries.

Interested? It’s not too late to participate. Visit http://www.writingyourlife.org and search the 14-day writing challenge. Join me!

She wasn’t my mama and she never gave me money, but Mama Cash gave me something more valuable: the opportunity to learn how to be a journalist.

My infatuation with writing hit a peak in 1975 an 8th grader when I was chosen to write for my middle school newspaper, the Raa Rampage. Prior to this, I had only written the world’s worst emotional adolescent poetry and a rambling 25-page typed short story. But it was the shorter writing of articles for the Rampage that fueled my internal fire. I remember the red ink on my first story. It made me want to give up but I was determined to not do so.

So, the satisfaction I got from interviewing and writing became perpetually stoked each month the Rampage was published. And then as I high school loomed, I discovered and signed on for a 9th grade elective – journalism.

I loved people, being aware of the latest happenings and writing about them. Journalism class wasn’t like work, it was, dare I say it – FUN?

My high school logo. I was in the 3rd graduating class.

My high school logo. I was in the 3rd graduating class.

During my freshman year, Mrs. Cash taught me the basics of interviewing, crafting editorials and developing into a good communicator. Physically, she appeared more grandmotherly than “teacherly” with her white, styled hair curled upward at the shoulders. Her cotton dresses with collars featured tiny floral prints and generally her teacher-type shoes were more functional and fashionable. I regret it now, but I used to make fun of those shoes. Today I find myself standing in my classroom of middleschoolers towing the same shoe comfort on my feet.

Mama Cash was always professional in how she conducted our class. Our room was wide open, without desks and chairs but filled with 6’ long tables, which ended up serving us well for our editorial planning meetings. It probably should have been an art room. Its 5’ high vertical cabinets burst with reams of paper on which to type and other journalistic supplies such as rubber cement.

Under her direction, I understood her red-inked corrections and clarifications were actually hints or little bridges to betterment. I took them, internalized their teaching points, continued writing and incorporated what Mama Cash taught me.

I don’t remember lots of “sit still and take notes” lessons, but I do remember lots of time to practice what I learned and the way she had laser focus when reading one of my pieces. Because of Mama Cash, I had the confidence to interview sources, take what I had learned and translate it through writing so others could know as well. She was big into honesty and ethics, therefore I trusted her insights and comments.

Once our class had learned various concepts about being responsible journalists, she cut us loose to practice the skills and prove it with the assignments we turned in. I knew she trusted me implicitly when one day she gave me the laminated “yellow pass of power.” It was a permanent pass I could use at any time to leave class for interviews or “journalism business.”

Each year I “re-upped” for journalism and each year, Mama Cash made sure I had new challenges, higher expectations and more responsibilities. In 10th grade, she made me co-editor for our award-winning student newspaper, Trojan Talk.

In 11th and 12th grades, she trusted me to not only do my work but to supervise and encourage my fellow teenage journalists as the paper’s editor.

One of my most fond memories of her is her incessant patience with the crazy ways of me and my classmates. It’s a fact that a primal teenager’s joy is to unearth what irritates an adult and then make sure to do it and watch the response. As I mentioned earlier, our room was an open style with 5’ tall vertical storage cabinets in one area. The pet peeve? Open cabinet doors exposing their internal disarray for all to see. Since confession, they say, is good for the soul, I have to say here and now I knew this about her and I willingly participated in “forgetting” to close those cabinet doors.

And without a word, the next time I returned, the cabinet doors were closed and the area looked respectable once again.

My favorite part of being Mrs. Cash’s student was staying after school and not because I was in trouble. It’s because it was “Paste Up.” That meant staying one day each month until the work of laying out the newspaper’s pages was done to her satisfaction, using rubber cement to glue down the columns of type and photos we’d received from out typesetter and generally having a good time until 7 or 8 p.m. Those were the times of pizza and practicing page design.

Once done, I delivered the layouts to the Tallahassee Greyhound bus station where they were sent to a printer in Ocala. Several days later, printed newspaper arrived – the culmination and result of plans, interviews, writing, editing, proofing, pasting and printing. When word was out on campus that a new issue was out I felt indescribable as I watched my peers and teachers alike read and discuss the issue.

Had Mama Cash not been the patient, quality-requiring teacher she was, I would have pursued my piano playing instead of journalism and I’d be a starving musician today instead of a satisfied writer.