Sunday, May 25, 2014

Some Gave All - by Robin Janney

No matter how you slice or dice it, war is ugly.

It has not changed over the years, no matter how civilized it has become with smart bombs and satellite images and wars being fought in the media with words and pictures as much as on the front line with bullets and bayonets.

Because in war, people die.  All too often, it is the wrong people who end up paying the highest price.  Innocents.

There have been times when war was a necessary evil.  Men (and women) fighting against oppression and cruelty and for their right to govern themselves.  Many dying for a cause they believed in.  Many dying for a cause they didn't chose for themselves - those drafted against their will to serve.  Brother fighting against brother.

War can unite us and free us just as easily as it can divide us and enslave us.

But on this day, a day set aside to remember and honor our fallen soldiers, let us set aside our personal feelings over war and do exactly that.  Remember and Honor and Appreciate.  For without their sacrifice, especially the early heroes, we would probably not be allowed to have those differing opinions about war.  Because of their sacrifice we can belong to any religion we want, or no religion if that is our choice.

Thank you, whoever you were...
No matter how many of our freedoms we are having taken away in the Unites States, they were there in the first place because someone believed enough in the right to be free not just to fight for it, not just to kill for it, but they believed enough to die for it.

Some people do not have the courage to even stand up for themselves, but in our past wars some of those very same people not only found that courage but also the courage to stand up for others.

Without their sacrifices, willing or not, where would this country be?  We have much to be thankful for here in the United States.  Even this blog is able to exist because of the freedom of speech and press that our First Amendment guarantees us.  A freedom we don't always appreciate.

Today, when we are picnicking with our friends and families, let's not forget to take a moment and just be grateful for freedoms we have that were bought with the blood of too many men and women.

The cliche that freedom isn't free, is all too true.  Just ask anyone who has lost a loved one in a war.

Be safe today peeps!  I'm soon to be on my way to a family picnic, and will likely visit graves afterward.  How do you observe Memorial Day?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Let's Do The College Time Warp By C.P. Stringham

The quaint campus of Alfred University.
Bianca leading us towards the residence halls.
My husband and I went on our first college visit with our daughter. The campus of Alfred University is nestled in the quaint town of Alfred, New York. Main Street consists of a swipe of shops and food establishments and the entrances for both Alfred State and Alfred University—one on the left side and the other on the right. The town reminded Syd and me of Stars Hollow and, yes, that’s a Gilmore Girls reference.  AU was founded in 1836 and has an average of 2,000 students. The school truly appealed to my daughter for many reasons. I saw her eyes light up as soon as we parked in front of the admissions office. Her major will be history education and, out of coincidence, we crossed paths with one of the history professors during our tour. Dr. Ostrower was extremely welcoming and told us to feel free to stop by his office to chat about the program, provided our schedule permitted it. Our student guide told us that Dr. Ostrower is one of the campus favorites among students. Aside from the school’s academic qualities, Syd likes that the average class size is twelve students. She feels she will be able to thrive in a smaller institution and benefit from the more individualized attention from professors versus being lost in the sea of masses at a large university with lecture halls accommodating hundreds of students at a time. Earning big points for Alfred was their equestrian program. All three of us really liked Nancy Kohler the equestrian facility director and English team coach. We have a visit scheduled at Cazenovia College this Wednesday. It’s another small private college with an equestrian team. It will take a truly fantastic visit at Caz to top Alfred.  

While touring Alfred, so many fond memories came to mind from my own college experience. I attended a two-year business school in Syracuse where I studied retail merchandising and marketing. I lived in a suite with six other girls during my first year. Two of my roommates attended high school with me and it was nice having familiar faces in a new setting. Through the normal socializing that goes on, I established friendships with the ladies who would be my second year roommates. One of my first year roommates came with me. The five of us had so much more in common and just meshed well together. We were a sisterhood. Our suite, D-6, comprised of: Millie, the Heavy Metal headbanger, from Chaumont, NY and an accounting/business management major; Darci, the “mom” of our group, from Carthage, NY and an executive secretarial studies major; Donna, the laidback, go-with-the-flow girl, from Medina, NY and a another secretarial major. Last, but not least, my first year roommate, Becky. Becky was the room clown and from Forrestport, NY. She was a legal secretarial studies major and easily the shortest person at school. She was born with a terrible case of scoliosis and had undergone, at least, a dozen back surgeries before college. She told us that Boston Children’s Hospital didn’t simply have a medical file dedicated to her, but an entire filing cabinet. There was a rod fused from hip to hip, a rod fused from shoulder to shoulder, and a rod fused along her spine. She used to joke that she could double as a TV antenna.

Room D-6 mascot, Puke Fart
Lenny's father passed away and Liz-Betty and
  I went to the services. He was truly touched.

The five of us would stay up into the wee hours talking about everything and nothing. We laughed together, cried together, we discussed our dreams and fears and hopes together. Darci, Becky, and I would spend hours each afternoon in the school library. We were on friendly terms with the librarian, Mrs. Hall, and her assistant, Mrs. Shanahan. We’d read newspapers, magazines, and books—really, anything we could find. It was our entertainment. Due to being permanent fixtures in the library, we also had the pleasure of getting to know many of the school’s professors outside of class—even the professor I had a huge crush on! Oh, don’t judge me. Like you’ve never been there before. Anyway, the crush didn’t matter because it turns out he was gay. He introduced me to his life partner. Nice guy. I hated him.
L to R: Nance Pilowa, Lenny Colella with students, and my roommate, Millie. We had a champagne toast in the parking lot after graduation. 
My first foray into “novel writing” came about during my second year of college. I was known as the storyteller. On nights when primetime TV proved boring, we’d switch it off and my roommates would ask me to tell them a story—off the cuff. And so I would. Subject matter varied. They never knew where I was going with the plot during my narrative. Sometimes, the stories would be rather steamy. I know. Shocker. I remember Millie going to bed chanting, “Good dream tonight. Good dream,” as she pounded her pillow and settled in with a smile on her face. The idea of having my roommates involved in setting up the basis for a novel came about. They liked taking part in the planning process. I asked them to think about their dream life at age thirty. I also asked them to come up with new identities and, since it was romance, even to describe their ideal love life. They were overly eager to help and so Manhattan Runways came into fruition. It got to be such a fun talking point with them, other friends asked to be added to the project and we held readings in our room when each new chapter was finished. Good times. Maybe, someday, I’ll take that manuscript out of mothballs and rework it. Set in the late eighties, it would be a fantastic “historical” fiction novel!
L to R and T to B: Meridith, Becky, Darci, and Donna

My roommates and I did more than academics and story writing. In fact, we were downright silly at times. We had a few parties in our room. Again, shocking. Probably not our brightest idea since it was a dry campus and our floor’s resident advisor was also our next door neighbor. Even worse, our school used alumni members and not current students for RA’s. That way, the school was getting a mature RA who took the job more seriously and, in return, the RA received free room and board. Of course, our room was quite friendly with Rogette. I’m fairly certain she was aware of all of our little soirees only she didn’t bust us for them. One night, Millie and I were the only ones to stay for the weekend. We planned a night of drinking; she had her Jack and Pepsi and I had my SoCo and Pepsi. Through poor planning, we ran out of Pepsi early into the festivities. We put our heads together and mixed the Jack and SoCo creating, what we thought, was a brilliant drink—Comfortable Jacks. The hangover the next morning was a killer. As a warning, I’d also suggest not mixing the two bourbons together unless you are completely trashed first.
The girls and I went on long walks along Sedgwick Drive where all the fancy houses were. We each had our favorite house and would make up funny stories about us living in the same community with each other, growing old together. Becky even had a fictional dog. He was a Chihuahua we named Puke Fart. I drew a cartoon of him and he sort of became our room mascot. We’d walk to Schiller Park and “played” tennis. Millie used to kill the ball and I’d always have to go outside of the fence for it. I think she had a lot of pent up rage and tennis was therapeutic for her. I lost more balls that way. The five of us would save up our soda cans and bottles and redeem them all at once so we could order takeout from Jockey Joe’s Pizza or Josh’s Pizzeria—loving it when we didn’t have to eat cafeteria food. On occasion, Mom and Dad would send some cash and we’d walk to Ike’s Superette for forbidden junk food because the stash brought from home was long gone. Items on Ike’s shelves, like Pop-Tarts, used to have a layer of dust on them. Desperate college students looking for a sugar rush never check expiration dates though. C’mon, we were the same people who left the pizza sit out overnight and then eat it for breakfast in the morning. I’m still here so it couldn’t have been too unhealthy, right? Darci and I even had a stint babysitting for my English professor, Mrs. Pilowa. Funny story about her, on my first day of Business English, she came in wearing dark sunglasses just as class was supposed to start. With a deep sigh, she sank into her desk chair and said, “I’m Nance Pilowa. In the classroom, you can call me Nance. In the school common areas, please call me Mrs. Pilowa because that’s how the dean of students wants it. I am the bitch of the English department so, if you feel you can’t handle the expectations of my class, there’s the door. Transfer out now and save me the trouble if you do so later. Any questions?” She looks around. “No? Good. Let’s get started, shall we?” I remember gulping with fear and settling into my seat. I’m glad I persevered because she was an awesome professor with an incredible sense of humor. Turns out she suffered from terrible migraines at times and had to wear her sunglasses to block out bright light.
My closest classmates from the retailing program were Meridith “Marci” and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was okay with being called Libby, but don’t call her Liz or Betty or Beth. She hated those shortened versions. So, naturally, we called her Liz-Betty. The chairperson of our department started it and the name stuck. Speaking of our department chair, Lenny Colella was magnificent. Before entering the world of academia, he was a women's wear buyer for The Addis Company. Class time was spent following along in the book and listening to stories of his days as a buyer. While his lessons in my Marketing I & II were great, he also taught us the skill of well-crafted sarcasm and dark humor. I think he considered me a star pupil on the latter subject. He signed my yearbook with: “Every once in a while we meet people with that unusual sense of humor—an innate understanding of people and a vicious mental process that terrifies me—you are that person. Fortunately we can relate to each other. Alas, that is why we are so compatible. We share the same wavelength. With this in mind—look where your future is going—if I can do it, so can you. Love, Lenny”
So many great memories! Since the invention of Facebook, it has been easier to keep in touch with most of my college friends. I did recently discover that Becky passed away in 2010. Such a tragedy. She was much too young.

How about you? Care to share a blast from the past memory?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Untold Stories: by Robin Janney

What do you do when you have a story you can't tell?

I wish I knew.  Maybe that's why writing under pen names came about?

Let's face it, some stories are just embarrassing.  If you're married, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  Those little moments that are hilarious and make you laugh for years afterwards with the one you shared the moment with, but you can never share with anyone else because of one thing or another.  Like being naked.  A momentary oopsie getting out of the shower and a random comment that brought you to tears with laughter.  Or the moment that you were kissing your spouse and he exhaled through his nose at the same moment you inhaled and so you got a nostril full of his snot - oh wait, he had no problem sharing that story so I guess I can too...(insert maniacal laughter here).  Gross beyond words, but I laughed so hard I cried.

Life's crossing paths, as intricate as any spiderweb...
More years ago than I care to count, I found myself standing in the Montoursville, PA Walmart.  The friend I was with had to run back to grab something she'd forgotten and I just stood there near the front entrance watching people as I waited for her to return.  So many people, going different directions and doing different things.  I was entranced as I wondered how many of their 'stories' intersected without them even knowing. When my friend returned and I shared my musings with her, she reminded me that Montoursville had lost a group of people, mostly high school students, in the TWA 800 crash a few years earlier.  I didn't make the connection until she said something.

That moment has stuck with me for all these years. I'm not 100% certain why.  Something about the thought of all those separate lives crossing paths, sharing joys and grief as old as time, lingers with me.  It is far from a new story idea, I've watched movies and read books with such a  theme.  But it's one I haven't tried for myself yet.

To write a story of people who don't know each other, yet their lives are undeniably intertwined like that, is beyond me at the moment.  I'd love to, but I think I lack the skill. That doesn't mean I won't give it a try someday.  But for now, it sits in the back of my head with all my other stories in waiting:
  • The triplet royalty whose mother commits suicide on the day of the ball celebrating their eighteenth birthday which triggers a tale of epic fantasy involving prophets, witches and demons.  And of course loooove!  I don't think it will ever matter what genre I try to write, Romance will always have its place.
  • Noah and the Archive of Atlantis - what if the accepted story of Noah and the Ark falls far short from the real story?  No doubt, I will cause as much controversy as the new Noah movie that released not that long ago.  Even if I am upfront and honest about not making any attempt to follow the biblical outline.
  • The story of the woman who allowed herself to be reprogrammed in order to become an assassin with the promise to be programmed back, only to find out that her "original" personality was a lie as well...what would it be like to suddenly discover that you had NO idea who you were?  How could you love anyone, or believe that someone loves you for 'who you are'?
  • The woman kidnapped by an alien humanoid race because they thought she was their prophesied ruler.  A case of mistaken identity?  A chance to make a difference?

Imagination: a door worth walking through
Some stories will just take time for me to write and get to.  I'm so focused on my romance series that every other story thought has to take a backseat. Some ideas I have though, come from real life events that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt would make greats stories...but because they're too close and too real, I know that it will be many years before I can begin to tell them.  And then under a pen name so that no one can sue me!  Although I am sure that the passage of time would dull much of the reality of the situation and turn into more fiction.

In so many ways, truth is much stranger than fiction. I'll listen to a tale from my mother about one event of family drama or another and think: I can't dream up stuff this bizarre/dramatic/funny.  And I can dream some pretty wild and wacky dreams!  The first and last story idea that I listed above were born in dreams I had.

A writer will never really want for story ideas.  Even in high school I had notebooks full of ideas.  Of course, back then I was stuck on Star Wars and my dream to write the next chapter but Timothy Zahn beat me to that one!  All I have to do at any given time is talk to people, observe them as they walk in and out of a store, even read their antics in the newspaper, and an idea is there ripe for the taking.

There will never be enough time in the world, enough paper, or enough computer memory, to tell them all.  Some stories will remain untold.

What stories have you read that you wish had remained untold?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


I’m speeding out of control, in a cart, with no brakes. The road I’m on has hairpin turns, scary cliffs, and oncoming traffic. Okay. Not literally. It was a dream I had on Sunday night—or Monday morning. But that's not important. One doesn’t have to have a chat with Sigmund Freud to interpret what’s happening in my subconscious. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends lately. My upcoming book, Rest in Peace, had a tentative publish date of April 28—I say tentative because I’m an indie author and deadlines are self-imposed. Not only did the 28th pass by without a completed book, I haven’t been able to work on it for over a week. No time in my schedule. I wear many figurative hats which include, but are not exclusive to, mom, wife, author, photographer, cook, maid, and animal wrangler. I’m sure you can relate to the chapeau metaphor.
L-R: Hannibal sporting his dapper tie, Hannibal biting (of course,) Kitten Face getting into trouble, and  looking sweet and innocent. 
           Animal wrangler was a fancy way of saying I clean litter boxes, pet barf, and feed and water our two dogs and three cats. I sometimes give bathes. Our little Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix has found something stinky in the yard to roll in over the past two days that has required an immediate decontamination session with hot water and coconut shampoo. Afterwards, he smells like wet dog and piƱa coladas. Hannibal, yes, as in “Hannibal the Cannibal” because he's slight, sophisticated, and likes to chew on everything, is a scamp with boundless energy. He also likes to stir up trouble. This odiferous activity is his latest way of menacing our house. Hannibal joins in with our other menace, Helena, AKA: Kitten Face. She is capable of the most death-defying feats of skill and committing general acts of mayhem. Nothing is hidden from her. She opens drawers. It's crazy. If she had thumbs, we’re all fairly certain she would have hacked up the entire family by now just so she could have the house to herself. While she is the most adorable long-haired, brown tiger you’ve ever seen, she’s very independent and not very affectionate. If she could talk, her favorite phrase would be, “I hate you all.” And, still, we dote on her.
L-R: My latest photography "gigs". Pre-prom photo shoot and a country-themed wedding.
The author hat is pretty self-explanatory since Broads of a Feather is an indie romance author blog shared by Robin Janney and myself. It’s my official job since I earn a living from it. The photographer hat stems from my favorite hobby. I love recording events one frame at a time and digital cameras make it so much easier. I like the instant gratification of seeing the shot immediately after I click the shutter. Don’t like the shot? *Delete* So easy. There is also a multitude of free online photo editing software out there. My favorite site is just because it is extremely user friendly. I had Photoshop installed at one time, but felt like I needed a degree in software engineering to understand it. I don’t want to split the atom, Photoshop Designers. I just want to remove red eye, cover up blemishes, and add a sepia finish. Sheesh. My latest photography “jobs” were a pre-prom photo shoot and a wedding. I can’t really call photography a true job since I do these projects for free. I love being able to give friends and family a unique keepsake of their special events. My work is well-known within our community. I get asked to do senior photos and weddings all the time. Unfortunately, I have to turn them down due to time constraints and because of my temperamental Kodak Easy Share camera has outlived it's lifetime. Perhaps a fancy new 18 megapixel camera will encourage me to take on a few jobs in the near future. For now, I simply enjoy photography as a hobby.
L-R:Some of my culinary creations; baked brie in puff pastry, clams and spaghetti, lemon/blueberry tart, my "Shroomin'" pizza.

My other hats can be put into one category: housewife. Our family keeps me busy. It’s my most important job. My youngest is special needs and requires more of my attention. We’re entering into IEP meeting time. She transitions from middle school to high school this year. While I know everything will go well, I can’t help but feel a little anxious in anticipation. I think it stems from the fact I’m always second guessing what we do for her. The nagging question of “Could we be doing more for her?” is always at the back of my mind. My oldest just took her SAT’s this past weekend. She was very nervous. So nervous in fact, she said her hand was shaking so badly when she was signing in she was worried her signature wouldn’t match the signature on her ID and the testing officials would boot her out. She’s pretty sure she’ll have to take them again. As for the cook hat, I love to cook for my family. I have them spoiled rotten. They each have their favorite Mom recipes and place requests frequently. Sometimes, they even agree on the same dish.
Back to the runaway cart analogy. I'm feeling a little stressed out right now. So many things need my attention. I can’t be in two places at the same time so I have to prioritize and learn to say no when things can’t be squeezed into my already full schedule. I always feel badly for saying no to someone. Guilt sucks and I truly like helping people. In order to keep my sanity, I have to get over the guilt. With that being said, my dream made me reevaluate my life. While I will manage to juggle everything that has me bogged down at the moment, I need to focus on the gig that helps pay the bills. 

How do the rest of you manage your “hats?” Do you have a hard time saying no to people? C’mon, dish!!