October 6 – When I Heard Bill Had Passed Away

by Lisa Hacker

It never failed.

If I had missed church the previous week, I knew that during greeting time he would sneak up on me. Between handshakes and hugs, he would just suddenly appear. Some might say it was his height that made it easier for him to slip between folks, but I think it was just his sneaky nature.

“Hello, I’m Bill Self. Nice to meet you.”

It was his way of saying, “Where were you? You were missed.”

At work, he often did the same thing. I would look up and he would just be there, in the doorway, with that precocious smirk on his face. Sometimes he would get a cup of coffee. Sometimes he would rant at some thing or another that had gotten under his skin. But more often than thought, he came, in his own words, “Just to harass you.”

If you needed him, he was there without question or complaint. Whether it was a trip to the airport or a malfunctioning electrical outlet, Bill Self was your man. He was as solid as granite and as sure as the sun.

I remember one evening as we chatted in his backyard, getting a tour of the new chicken coup he had built, I spotted a skunk moseying around the side of his garage. Without saying a word, he stealthily slipped into the house and returned with a shotgun. I won’t lie. When he lifted that gun to his shoulder, there was a bit of Elmer Fudd in him. Needless to say, the skunk didn’t bother Bill Self after that.

He was a man who didn’t accept BS and didn’t serve it. You got the truth whether you wanted it or not, and you were always better for it. He had a heart that melted like a Hershey’s Kiss when he spoke of his beloved grandchildren, and he had a love for his wife that inspired every married couple who knew him. They both looked at each other with stars in their eyes.

He told me more times than I could count that Bev was the best thing that ever happened to him, and he didn’t know how she put up with him. But the truth was that ‘putting up’ with Bill was a privilege of the highest honor.

He was, perhaps, the best thing that ever happened to us all.

Lisa is a community college writing center supervisor, an adjunct writing instructor at a local university, and a freelance writer. She lives in Santa Fe, Texas, and enjoys traveling and crochet. She looks forward to the day when she can live in a little house in the woods, in the middle of nowhere. Her website is www.writingthequeensenglish.com.

September 26 – One of Life’s Magic Moments

by Judy Alter

Recently, my four kids and I headed out to tour the Chicago neighborhood where I grew up. We turned off the Outer Drive at 47th Street where a huge sign welcome us to the Kenwood-Hyde Park Neighborhood.

Down Dorchester Avenue, past Farmer’s Field (an open field in my day, now a community park), past St. Paul Episcopal Church where the Judy who lived next door to me met and married her husband fifty-some years ago. And then we turned into Madison Park.

I grew up in a small, three-block enclave between 50th and 51st streets. The park is ringed by houses on the north side and apartments on the south, with a narrow one-way drive all the way around. 1340 is about a block into the park, a skinny tall red brick-and-stone structure. The kids were enchanted and got out to explore. Eventually the next-door neighbor came out to see what was going on–his house sits on my dad’s garden and was designed to match 1340. He obligingly took a picture of the kids on the steps of the house, and that picture is forever emblazoned on my mind. That was the magic moment for me.

As best I could I recalled who lived where. Finally, we drove a few blocks to see the Obama family’s home. I didn’t expect to drive right by it but neither did I expect the whole block to be off-limits to foot or vehicle traffic. Trees around the house have been allowed to grow up to the point you can barely tell there’s a house there.

We drove around the immediate neighborhood, dodging one-way narrow streets. Couldn’t recognize the hospital where Dad worked–it’s now condos but I couldn’t see the structure of the original building. We drove by and photographed friends’ houses, we drove down 53rd, the main drag which took us past the YMCA where I spent much of my teen years and past the church around which my social life revolved. The kids wanted to see Cunag’s, an ice cream parlor that made the best thick, old-fashioned milkshakes–alas it is gone.

Then on to the University of Chicago campus where the Gothic buildings transport you back in time. Particular favorites were the impressive Rockefeller Chapel where I graduated, Robie House, a Frank Lloyd Wright building, and the Unitarian Church where my parents married–my kids are sentimentalists and insisted on pictures.

I had forgotten the grace of Madison Park. Today those wooden front porches everyone had are gone, revealing the beauty of the original houses, and property is landscaped in a way never dreamed of in my day. I was delighted with how beautiful everything was–the kids expected a neighborhood that had seen better days and were surprised. The tour gave them a new view of me, and gave me a whole new appreciation for my parents, the atmosphere in which they raised me, and their taste in neighborhoods and houses.

An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of several fictional biographies of women of the American West and now has turned her attention to the late nineteenth century in her home town, Chicago, to tell the story of the lives of Potter and Cissy Palmer, a high society couple with differing views on philanthropy and workers’ right. She blogs at http://judys-stew.blogspot.ca/

September 19 – Follow Your Dream

by Doris Jean Shaw

Follow your dream. I remember reading a Dear Abby column where some older person wanted to go and get a degree. The family said she was too old. Abby said something to the effect that it didn’t matter because time would pass anyway. If she wanted to go to school she should do it.

I heard about a 98-year-old woman who never missed Bible Study. When asked why she never missed she replied, “I am cramming for finals.”

Sometimes the chance to live your dream gets dropped in your lap. I never dreamed I would have a chance to go to Hawaii until my son was stationed in the Pacific and offered me a room if I could make it there. Ever since then, I have been trying to get back. I will make it someday.

Other dreams you have to work at like graduating from school. I dream of doing retreats. At the moment, I am at a stalemate but soon I hope to begin the process of making my dream come true.

Wonder what you have to have to make a dream come true? Does it take a lot of
planning or do you just go for it? What is your dream? What do you need to do to make it come true?

Doris Shaw is a retired educator, Life Coach, author and member of Beauregard Parish Writers Guild “The Ink Blots.”  She loves to travel and writes romances, children’s stories and devotionals.  She presents a workshop, entitled “Reclaiming Me” that helps others find direction for their futures.

September 16 – August Blog

by Ann McCauley

On this rainy August 31, the temperature is a bit cooler and fall is in the air. And the still-student grandchildren are back in school. We are anticipating hosting my husband’s family, (and after all these years my family, too), for the Labor day weekend. It is an annual thing and we always have a great time. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you know family time is what life is all about for me!

I had the privilege of attending the Wilkes Writers Workshop on August 5- 6th. I was on a panel, Pennsylvania Fiction: What it is and What it Does, with fellow writers Chris Campion, Heather Harlan and Barbara Taylor, moderated by David Poyer. My long-time friend and fellow writer, Susan, went with me. We had a wonderful time, and it was good to reconnect with old writing friends and make new ones at the workshop. The writing community at Wilkes U. is so invigorating!

Books I have enjoyed reading this month are:

Crave, Sojourn of a Hungry Soul, by Laurie Jean Cannady. She’s new to the Wilkes U. faculty. Her memoir is poignantly honest, packed full of details about growing up in the projects and escaping that life through education. I highly recommend this one to increase our understanding of a sub-culture that is an important part of our country.

Hope You Can Guess My Name, by Heather Harlan Debut thriller novel that soars from page one. You can read my review on Story Circle Book Reviews at http://www.storycirclebookreviews.org/reviews/guessmyname.shtml
Six Car Lengths Behind an Elephant, Undercover & Overwhelmed as a CIA Wife and Mother, by Lillian McCloy
The author is a natural story-teller and shares her wonderful memoir, packed with details, poignant honesty and sharp wit. You can read my review on Story Circle Book Reviews at:

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Nonfiction. This was our book club’s book for this month. It dealt with the judicial system in the US, and prompted a long and stimulating discussion. Another book I recommend to promote increased understanding of poverty, race and a side of life in the U.S. that is not familiar to most Americans.

Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading by Maureen Corrigan. Memoir. I met her after she spoke at the Writer’s Workshop. She is down to Earth and witty…as well as, oh so knowledgeable about books! And she never forgot her blue-collar roots.

I mentioned In Robin’s Nest in my July blog, it was posted on Story Circle after I had already posted my blog.You can read it at: http://www.storycirclebookreviews.org/reviews/inrobinsnest.shtml

My review of Tipping Point by David Poyer was on air twice last week WPSU’s BookMark, you can listen to it at: http://radio.wpsu.org/programs/wpsus-bookmark

We have felt a real void this summer for good movies. We did see Jason Bourne, and it was exciting, though unmemorable. the next few months. We also watched God is Not Dead on Netflix, and really loved it. Honestly, I did not expect it to be so good.

Until next month, keep reading and always take time
ann mccauley

Ann McCauley is the author of Runaway Grandma, (2007) and Mother Love, (2012). She’s a contributor to, Women Writing on Family, (2012), and Women Writing After Retirement, (2014). Ann reviews books for regional NPR radio and StoryCircle.org. She’s an RN, with degrees in Nursing, Psychology and Creative Writing. For more info, visit her @ www.annmccauley.com.

September 12 – Being First

by Doris Jean Shaw

I hear the gripe that no one wants to be first. My husband insists that his father told him to never volunteer. Teachers especially deal with the fact that when they ask a question, no one raises their hand to answer.

Guess I am different.

I was the first in my family to graduate from college. I set a new trend; I might even be called a leader. Got me to thinking about others who have been first.

Ever wonder who was the first to cross the Red Sea? Moses was busy holding up the staff to keep the sea parted so someone had to step up and be first to step out on dry land at the bottom of the river.

Other first are more memorable: like the first one in space and the first man on the moon. I wonder who was the first one off the Titanic?

What other first could we celebrate?

How about the first sandwich, or being selected as the first from the writer’s
group to attend a conference at the Billy Graham Center in North Carolina? I am so excited to go to the Christian Communicators Conference. What are you the first to do?

I was also the first to get a Master’s degree. Does that make me a nerd?

Doris Shaw is a retired educator, Life Coach, author and member of Beauregard Parish Writers Guild “The Ink Blots.”  She loves to travel and writes romances, children’s stories and devotionals.  She presents a workshop, entitled “Reclaiming Me” that helps others find direction for their futures.

September 7 – Careless Whispers

by Lisa Hacker

I knew I was in shock because I couldn’t feel any tears on my face.

I read the words again, as if a second, third, and even tenth reading would cause the letters to come to their senses and assemble themselves into another sentence, any sentence. One that did not fracture my heart.

But it didn’t happen, of course. Words just never do listen; they say what they have to say and then just sit there, arrogant, unwavering, refusing to be ignored. And whether calculated or careless, random or refined, they have this power to bring a shift, a break, an absolute demolition to the stability of one’s identity.

Everything I thought I was came into question with that sentence, and I’m trying to go back to the place of me before. But that place does not seem to exist anymore.

You know how it is to go back to the place from which you came? You walk up the steps to the house you lived in years ago, and you recognize the feel of the concrete steps beneath your feet. You place your hand on the rail, which has become a bit wobbly but still is itself. The door, the windows: all are where you last remember them. Your heart stirs because it feels as though it is home again, and with the feeling of home comes the sense of self that feels comfortable and clear.

But then you peek through the window and see that this is not your house anymore. The space belongs to someone else, and they have redefined that space without even asking for your permission. And because it is no longer your house, you aren’t standing, breathing, existing in the space you thought you were in.

Which means that you are not that person anymore, either. And in the end, the words that brought you to this new place of confusion don’t even matter. The only thing that matters is that you no longer know where you are.

edited-lisa-photoLisa Hacker is the coordinator of a community college writing center, as well as a part-time writing instructor at a local university. She loves to travel, and one day hopes to live in the middle of nowhere. Find her online at http://www.writingthequeensenglish.com

September 5 – Let’s Get Physical

by Charlotte Wlodkowski

I’m talking to you! Look me in the eye when we meet, and not down at your Smartphone or your iPad, or your Kindle or whatever device you are using. If I see your eyes, then I know we are really making contact and you are interested in what I am saying.

When we are introduced, shake my hand as though you are glad to see me. A physical handshake identifies me as a real live human being whom you acknowledge.  That’s one of those ‘feel good’ things in life that I look forward to receiving every once in a while.

Oh my gosh, can you not turn up the ends of your mouth and smile? Yes, a smile is very important. It means you are happy to be wherever we are at the time. It means you seem to be happy to see me which is important from a business relationship and also a human relationship.

Speak directly to me. Not to the side of my neck. Not over my shoulder. Not to the ground. Turn your head so it sits in the middle of your neck and speak. Words will come directly to my face and thus, I will hear them. We should then have an interesting conversation no matter how short. Make your words lucid and edifying. Not just a “Hello” and “Goodbye.” Don’t speak to me in shortcut Smartphone or iPad symbols. I need honest to goodness words in order to reply correctly and keep the conversation going. If you consent, I would be happy to instruct you in the art of conversation which is a give and take of audible words.
Once these rituals are established, it will be to your benefit and mine. We will be able to share (as you would say) data and pleasantries in this new way. We may be able to perhaps open a bridge of communication and sometime in the future accomplish something terrific together.

I challenge you to put some effort into our next meeting. It may surprise you to know that I am worth the effort.

Writing family stories was the beginning of recognizing a new form of communication for Charlotte Wlodkowski–writing. A member of the Millvale Library Writer’s Group, it is her hope that her stories opens the hearts and mind of readers.