August 13 – Summer Punch

by Sara Etgen-Baker

The home I grew up in was a two-bedroom, one-bath cracker box house. Minus the garage, it was only about 950 square feet. Like most post-war homes, ours didn’t have any air-conditioning. During the summer, Mother opened the windows for circulation and summertime heat relief.

Most summers, our neighborhood wilted under a hard Texas sky, sweltering in temperatures that stayed fixed in the mid-to-upper nineties. The cloudless sky was painfully bright whether I looked up at the burning sun or down at its reflection on the concrete pavement. The birds were silent; the grass stood still as if it was too hot to move. Cold water ran hot from the taps, and the roads turned to tar. At night there was very little relief from the heat; our pajamas and nighties stuck clammily to our damp skin.

Most summer days, Mother sat inside in her easy chair sipping on fruit punch and dabbing at her brow with a wet hand towel she kept in the fridge for that purpose. My brothers and I escaped the oppressive heat inside the house and played outside on our shaded front porch. My brothers played war games with their green, plastic Army men; and I played jacks. One particular summer day while playing jacks, my ball bounced out of control striking down my brothers’ Army men who were in the midst of a critical battle.

“Look what you did, you stupid girl!” my older brother shouted, throwing my ball and striking me in the face.

“I’m not stupid! Take it back!” I sprang from my sitting position, knocking over all the green Army men.

“Look what you’ve done!” he yelled as he stood up and glared at me.

“I hate you!” I said, punching his shoulder.

“I hate you MORE!” he said, returning my punch. My younger brother joined in the ruckus. The three of us slapped at each other, striking one another’s arms and legs. Words were exchanged. Within a few short minutes, Mother flung open the screen door and marched onto the front porch.

“Stop it right now!” she hollered. “I’ve had enough of your bickerin’ and fightin’.” Mother raised her arms and lightly clenched her hands into fists. “On the count of three, I’ll start punching. May the best man win! Ready? One…two…three!”

She threw her fists in our direction, packing quite a punch as she struck our shoulders and arms. We froze in place, unable to defend ourselves against our otherwise mild-mannered Mother; the same mother who rarely raised her voice and who never even spanked her children. We ran off the porch, convinced Mother had gone stark-raving mad! Mother wasn’t crazy, of course. The ever-present heat inside the walls of the tiny house had closed in around her, short-wiring her temperament.

Although my home is air-conditioned and bigger than Mother’s, like her, my temperament short-wires during August as summer’s relentless heat bears down on me. Walls close in; my patience runs thin, and I’m more easily agitated. So, I pour myself a glass of summer punch; sit down in an easy chair, and wipe my brow with a cooling rag, resisting the urge to snap or pick a fight with those around me.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

Advertisements

August 7 – GLOW

by Carol Ziel

The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling – GLOW – showing now on NETFLIX

I want to be a Gorgeous Lady of Wrestling, to show up for work in a spangly sequined leotard, full of feathers, glitter, and bangles. I want to have a name like Spanish Red, Mathilda the Hun, Thunderbolt, Beastie, or Lightning. I want to be part of the drama between good and evil played out each night in the ring. I want to belong to a group of women who use the full strength of their bodies to enact that struggle—- to know the complete abandon of leaping and tumbling, flipping, bouncing, and to feel the trust each woman has in the other.

I grew up Catholic. Female wrestling was not an option. Getting married or becoming a nun was. I joined the convent. But what if the bishop, instead of requesting vocations had said: “Be strong, be wild and adventurous for the spirit. Test your physical and creative muscles to the limit because that is your true vocation.”

Of course, now that I’m 70, it’s a little late to change professions. I’m seriously overweight, have had 3 knee surgeries, and am getting ready to retire. I became a social worker instead of a wrestler, frequently fighting for justice and healing from a cubicle. For many years I was wired to a headset. My uniform was frequently navy blue, instead of feathers and glitter. The evil I most frequently battled was the bureaucracy that hired me, but then created obstacles to actually doing the job. Still, I think I did some good.

How I would have loved to tussle with a corporate figurehead in the ring: suit and tie against myself in that sequined, spangled unitard. I’d start with a Leg Drop, followed with a Knee Shot to the Ring Post. I’d use the Arm Wringer, Gorilla Press, and Glam Slam. Then the Keister Bounce, Spike Pile Driver, and Monkey Flip. I’d flip him from rope to rope and toss him like a pizza until he begged for mercy. But he’d get no mercy until I’d get his pledge, a pledge to give us the time, space and staff to be truly compassionate and effective. The grace to be more focused on the soul of our work, and not the financial gain, the imperative to put the client first, the clarity that corporate rules were to serve the well-being of the client, and not primarily the company.

That can only happen in my dreams, and now it’s time to retire. I am grateful for the trust that clients had in me when they revealed their pain, confusion, and loss. It was a privilege to be part of their lives, and I frequently believe that they have gifted me more than I have gifted them.

I will never know how I would have made it as a gorgeous lady of wrestling, but I do know that I had a splendid career as a social worker!

Carol has been an SCN member for six years and is grateful to be nurtured by such wonderful women writers. She is also a gardener, grandmother, social worker, Quaker and Goddess-centered woman who primarily writes poetry but is branching out into more essay types of writing. More to be revealed.

August 1 – Why I Love Story Circle Network

by Len Leatherwood

Story Circle Network Founder and President Susan Wittig Albert leads an award ceremony

I have just returned from the “Stories from the Heart IX” writing conference in Austin, where I had the honor of spending time in the company of the most open, honest, loving and wise women I’ve had the occasion to meet in a very long time. I don’t even know quite how to put these feelings I have into words because they are so visceral.  Let me see if I can share a few glimpses of my time there, just to give you a sense of what I mean.

I arrived at a dinner for the Story Circle Network board the night before the first day of the conference and there I was seeing these women I only “talk” to mainly on the Internet. I felt shy for just an instant, then spotted my beloved Pat Bean, who has been in my e-circle writing group since I joined SCN ten years ago.  (The e-circles are small groups where we share our writing online.) Pat was wearing her usual tie-dye tee-shirt and the minute she saw me, she stood up and held her arms wide open.

The Author and her friends at dinner.

The next day, I presented my pre-conference workshop on Flash Fiction/Flash Memoir and found myself surrounded with women who were all there for the exact same reason I was there: to figure out how to be a better writer. In my presentation, I read them one of my student’s nationally award-winning essays, and as I read, I watched as every woman in that room was moved, some to tears. I was so pleased to see that my student’s writing had touched them; I was just sorry she wasn’t there to witness that reaction for herself.

Luncheon Keynote Speaker Bird Mejia shares the power of wild women!

Linda Joy Myers, our opening keynote speaker spoke about the power of women breaking their silence and telling their personal truths. She was humble, self-disclosing, real. Bird Mejia, our Sunday lunch keynote speaker, emphasized the importance of embracing who we are and sharing that pride with women of all ages. She brushed out her beautiful curled hair to show us the power of the “wild” woman when her locks extended full and wide into a glorious fan that framed her entire head. Jeanne Guy, the incoming SCN president, made us all laugh with her ever-present sense of humor and perfectly timed quips. The Sarton winners and finalists awed us with their beautiful words when they did a noon-time reading of excerpts of their books in historical, contemporary, and young adult fiction; memoir as well as biography.

Incoming President Jeanne Guy is supported with a friend on each side!

The workshop presenters offered insight and advice on a whole host of topics, ranging from writing about your mother without guilt to using the Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment for character development to creating space for writing to publishing through CreateSpace to developing and facilitating a writing-from-life workshop and more and more and more. On Saturday night, there was an open mic where conference attendees could read their work. In between, there were countless conversations about writing, life and each other. The entire weekend could be summed up with these words: love, kindness, generosity, openness, connection, sisterhood, learning, and hugs.

Dear women friends, please join Story Circle Network!  This is an organization that can use YOU and your unique gifts, whatever they are. I believe you will find this group exemplifies women helping women at its best. You will not be sorry. You might even find – as I have – your life changed forever through this experience.

Len Leatherwood: Program Coordinator for SCN’s Online Classes, has been teaching writing privately to students in Beverly Hills for the past 17 years. She has received numerous state and national teaching awards from the Scholastic Artists and Writers Contest. She is a published writer of ‘flash’ fiction/memoir. A longer version of this post appears on Len’s daily blog: 20 Minutes a Day.

July 27 – My Novel and the Polish Trolls

by Fran Hawthorne

How could anyone object to my Twitter post on March 29, after my sister and I visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan to see an exhibit of long-hidden photos from the Lodz ghetto in Poland? I wrote:

Henryk Ross’s chilling photos from inside the Lodz ghetto in Nazi #Poland at @MJHnews: It’s like seeing what my great-grandmother saw when she was walled in there. (Oops is it now illegal in Poland to say that?)

Well, maybe the last sentence was too snarky, referring to Poland’s new law banning any reference to Polish collaboration with the Nazis — but isn’t that Twitter style? Otherwise, I saw the post as a loving tribute to my great-grandmother, who was murdered in the gas chambers, and hardly a controversial reaction, 73 years after the end of World War II. 

Boy, I didn’t know the ultra-nationalist Polish Twitter world.

Within a day, my previously invisible Twitter feed was flooded with people with Polish-sounding names furiously disputing my words, often writing in Polish. They claimed that “the genocide against the Poles [Catholics] began in 1939 but against the Jews not until 1941” and accused me of stomping on “the blood of innocent Poles.” They said that Polish Jews were Socialists in league with the Soviet Union and asserted that “the ones who betrayed Anne Frank were most likely Jewish.”

Naively, I thought: Here’s my chance to open some cross-cultural dialogue. After all, I had done months of research on Polish history and culture for my debut novel, The Heirs, which is about two Polish-American families in New Jersey in 1999, one Jewish and one Catholic.

But for each of my new posts — even when I acknowledged the factual basis of some of my critics’ arguments — came a dozen angrier replies.

Was my novel unfair? I had tried to portray the nuances of historical Jewish-Catholic relations in Poland through many characters’ lives and discussions. Two American Jewish cousins bluntly face the classic question: “If you were a nice Polish Catholic [in 1939], would you have been brave enough to hide a Jewish child in your attic?”

Was my novel inaccurate? Despite all my research, I couldn’t possibly know as many tidbits of Polish history as would someone who went through 12 years of school there.

“Don’t engage!” my friends warned me. “You’re just feeding them.”

Even worse: The next time I Tweeted about Poland — in mid-June, regarding a new law on restitution for stolen Jewish property – my Twitter feed was hacked and temporarily shut down.

That did it.

From now on, I will Tweet all I want about Poland, and as long as what I say is accurate and not nasty, I don’t care how much the trolls hate me. I just won’t read their Tweets.

But it’s upsetting and a bit scary. Who knows in what dark caves my Twitter handle is now bandied about?

Maybe my next novel will be about unicorns.

 
Until now, Fran Hawthorne spent three decades writing award-winning nonfiction, including eight books, mainly about business and consumer activism. Her book Ethical Chic was named one of the best books of 2012 by Library Journal, and she’s written for BusinessWeek, The New York Times, Newsday, and more. THE HEIRS (Stephen F. Austin University Press) is her debut novel. Read more from Fran at http://www.hawthornewriter.com/

July 20 – Bluer Than Robin’s Eggs

by Ariela Zucker

“As I remember your eyes,
Were bluer than robin’s eggs.” Joan Baez – Diamond and Rust.

RobinsEgg-ArielaZuckerI watched them for almost three weeks, a couple of robins building their nest. They flew around the front yard for a while. Checked the grassy lawn for its offering of forage. Perhaps consulted with the hummingbirds who inhabited of the lawn for many years, and finally decided to construct the nest in the bush right next to the deck. The bush that I neglected to prune and is now hovering over the drive.

Every morning with my first cup of coffee I would sit, and watch fascinated how they were flying back and forth each time with a new trophy; a blue thread, a twig, a dead leaf, stopping occasionally to chat, while resting on the arch that holds my Dutch Trumpet’s vine.

I was a bit worried about their choice of location, at the tip of the bush, on a rather low branch. Constructing the nest at the section of the bush that seemed fragile, unstable in the wind and easily seen from the front drive. But I calmed myself thinking that they have generations of instincts guiding them so who am I to judge. It was nice to be able to see, from my seat on the deck how the nest grows and forms with each day and becomes an elaborate creation to hug and protect the eggs and then the newborn birds.

But this morning, on the deck a blue egg, fractured is the first thing that caught my eyes. It laid half-open on the floor with its insides oozing out. I knew right then and there that my worries were justified; this was not a good place, not a safe location at all. For a few minutes, I was consumed by sadness and anger.I was surprised by my reaction. Only a broken robin’s egg, I kept telling myself, not a big deal. Light blue, the kind of blue robin eggs are known for. Blue for happiness and rebirth, in this case, became the death of a hope.

I found myself mourning the loss of one blue robin egg, the death of a future bird. Perhaps in a world full of misery, and anger, it is the simple daily things that in the end get us.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

July 16 – Do Gerbils Go to Heaven?

by Kali´Rourke 

Girl Feeding Gerbil

(c) Can Stock Photo / zsv3207

Our Pastor told a story in his recent sermon, and in it, a little boy’s hamster had died and he asked his father (a fellow Pastor) if “Timmy” had gone to heaven. The boy was told in no uncertain terms by his father that nothing that has not professed faith in Jesus Christ shall enter the gates of heaven. I am paraphrasing, but you get the gist.

We were all a bit appalled to hear that blunt and dismissive statement from a father to a grieving son, and our Pastor said that he took the little boy aside on his way out and told him that Timmy sounded like a great hamster and he was sure that he was now playing in heaven.

Sounds like a platitude, doesn’t it?

I think of it as a large part of my faith. If I choose to believe in a benevolent God that loves all of us and wants the best for us, then I also choose to believe that all creatures, (even the series of gerbils we had for our daughters since there were allergic to nearly everything else) are destined for heaven. No, I am not a theologian and would never claim to be one!

Our daughters have both grown up into animal lovers (Thank you antihistamines!) and they could not imagine a heaven where Minx, Indy, and Cloud and whatever companions they may have over the years will not come running to greet them in doggy and kitty joy someday when they are all together again.

This brings me back to gerbils and heaven.

Yes, they are shorter lived creatures than our canine and feline companions, and yes, the bond is much shallower, but each of our gerbils over the years had names, were petted and cared for and we had small funerals for our little friends when they passed from this life, wishing them well and many chew toys in their heavenly home.

Their passings were somewhat gentle introductions for our little girls to the concept of death and how we must accept and respect it because it comes to everyone in time. They were the opening to important conversations and knowledge that parents pass on to their children.

The gerbil’s names and specifics have escaped me, brushed cloudy by the passing of so many years, but today I take a moment and say a prayer for all of them, sending it along with thanks for being such wonderful little friends to two girls who grew up to be compassionate women who have room in their hearts to love and care for many.

God bless the gerbils.

Kali´Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, philanthropist, and a proud Seedling Mentor. She blogs at Kali’s Musings and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome. This post originally appeared in Kali’s Musings.

July 12 – Ties To The Past

by Sara Etgen-Baker

The author wears her own apron, created in 1965.

My fascination with aprons began when I cooked alongside Mother. “Put on your apron!” she insisted. I tied one of her aprons around my waist and immediately felt a connection, a type of kinship with her and other women, for there was a time, not so long ago when wearing an apron was commonplace and synonymous with femininity and domesticity. My mother and my grandmothers put on their aprons the moment they entered their kitchens and wore them throughout the day while preparing meals and tending to household chores.

Grammy’s Tulip Apron

All three women were also seamstresses often making their own aprons and expressing their personalities and individuality with them. Grandma Stainbrook made colorful, loose-fitting bib-style aprons with deep pockets. Grammy, on the other hand, created dainty, pastel-colored half aprons that complemented her outfits and accentuated her tiny waist. Mother was practical and preferred making a bib-style apron, wearing it to protect the dress underneath. She reserved her fancy half aprons accented with ribbon, lace, and appliques for holidays and entertaining.

Mother used her bib-style apron for almost everything; dusting furniture, drying my tears, picking up hot pans, and wiping the sweat from her brow. Her bottomless apron pockets were always full and housed clothespins, handkerchiefs, bandages, loose change, my jacks, and my brother’s marbles.

At 14, I enrolled in home economics class where I sewed my first garment; a half apron of my own. I bought the apron pattern for 65 cents but didn’t have enough money to purchase fabric. So, I used the remnants of mother’s kitchen curtain material; a white fabric covered in delicate yellow roses. During that first semester, I learned sewing basics; cutting out a pattern; pinning it to the fabric; cutting the fabric, and basting the garment. I learned to thread the sewing machine, maneuver the foot pedal, and guide the material under the advancing presser foot. By semester’s end, I’d sewn my apron to the waistband; attached small, rick-rack covered pockets to it; and hemmed it.

Mother’s Holiday Apron

There was something satisfying about taking a piece of fabric and turning it into a beautiful apron. I felt special, for sewing my own apron was a sort of rite of passage into womanhood; and proudly wore my apron every chance I had. In 1965 aprons were a part of being a woman and a homemaker; however, when the women’s movement took hold, aprons seemingly disappeared from favor and the feminine landscape.

But aprons remain important, for they are historical garments reflecting how women functioned in society; how culture viewed them; and how they saw themselves. I recall the apron-wearing women in my life; the stories behind their aprons gave life and meaning to the fabric itself. Their aprons are statements of what they represented to their families and serve as reminders of recipes, values, events, and traditions from gentler, less complicated times. I remain fascinated with aprons, for each one has a unique story to tell with its own ties to the past.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.