Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Very, Very, Very, Very, Very Unproductive Summer By C.P. Stringham

Top: 20th Century's Norma Rae starring Sallly Field
Bottom: My choice for writing solitude. 
Notice the amount of times “very” appears in the title? It isn’t a homage to the 1963 film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Nope. Each “very” represents how many weeks my children have been home for summer vacation. I love having them home. I truly do. We usually keep busy by taking day trips, but they really haven’t happened this year. Financially, we’re grounded from doing them. I had so many ideas about how we were spending our summer and it isn’t happening. For me, personally, I planned on getting my latest work-in-progress, Overcoming Sarah, finished and published by the end of July. Only that hasn’t happened either. I don’t know how other authors with children do it. I just don’t. How do they write while their children are home for summer vacation? It escapes me. Those on Twitter post that they maintain a specific writing time, sit down at their typical work area, and write. Their family knows they are working and have strict orders not to bother them unless the house is on fire or someone is knocked out or leaking great amounts of blood. That doesn’t fly in the Stringham household. My family doesn’t understand how hard it is to enter a productive writing mindset. They think I just sit down, fingers to keys, and write. If only it was that easy. I’ve touched on this in a previous Broads of a Feather blog post, but it’s worth repeating; writing is like having an out of body experience. I have to immerse myself into the character’s head, feel their emotions, and see their environment. I can only be interrupted so many times before creativity slips elusively away from me. I know. My complaint is pretty petty in light of the way things are in the world and the real problems others have. As you read this, you’re probably thinking out loud, “Whiny baby.” And I realize that’s how it sounds. I’m a stay-at-home mom and an indie author. My e-books help supplement our income so it is important I have time to write. Extra income is good for my family. As it is now, I’m so close to telling them, “I can’t work in these conditions!” while doing my best Norma Rae impression. Because of my unproductive summer, I now know why Thoreau slipped off to his cabin in the woods. It wasn’t to be one with nature. He “deliberately” wanted to be left alone. I even have a Pinterest board called My "Thoreau" Spaces. I fantasize about being alone all the time. Solitude. Quiet. Productivity. *sigh*
The worst offender in my family is my youngest. As some of you know, she has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. While she is considered high-functioning and perfectly fine on her own at the age of (almost) fifteen, she likes to pace the house—which includes the master bedroom and where I have my writing area. I can count on her to come in almost every seven minutes. Each time, she talks to me and concentration is lost. No. Not lost. Trampled on. I’ve tried to explain to her how important it is for her to pretend I’m not home. Her older sister’s around to watch her and help out if she needs anything. All I want is two to three measly hours of uninterrupted writing time each morning. That’s it. I hate having to remind her I’m working. Hurting her feelings isn’t worth my productivity. And then there are times of frustration when I almost grind my teeth into dust. For some reason, her normal hobbies aren’t keeping her busy. She works with an in-home, private tutor once a week so she doesn’t lose academic ground while school’s out. Since we live in a rural area, there aren’t any local day camps for special needs kids so she can get out for the day. As for classmates, she really doesn’t have many friends. On the rare occasions we’ve scheduled play dates, she loses interest two hours into it. It’s a sensory thing. She will leave her friend, find me, and say, “Is it time for them to go now? I’m ready for quiet.” Or, “They keep following me and won’t leave me alone.” Nothing like having your child go to their room, shutting the door on their guest, and me having to scramble to entertain them while my daughter isolates herself to decompress.
Alas, it is what it is. School resumes the last week of August. I’ll be able to settle back into my Monday through Friday writing routine. Since my first book, Seventy-Two Hours, came out in August of 2012, I have gotten to experience what it’s like having readers excitedly ask when my next book is coming out—even more so since I entered the world of book sequels. My Ellis Springs book series has been popular among my readers. One customer review likened the characters’ friendships to those in Steel Magnolias. Others talk about how much they like getting to visit with old friends each time a new installment comes out. And I like that. Before, I’d only experienced this type of devotion as a reader and having to wait for the next book in a series. I’ll admit to being impatient while waiting for Patricia Cornwell’s next Scarpetta book or Janet Evanovich’s next Stephanie Plum. I may or may not have even commented on Julia Spencer-Flemings’ readers’ page that I’d gladly go to her house in Maine to clean, cook, and drive her kids to and from activities so she could work on her next Millers Kill mystery. In a role-reversal, I’m getting to hear offers like this from my readers! I love their enthusiasm. And a little frightened by it. I’m in a daunting situation now. What if I take too long writing book four? What if I let them down by writing a hollow story just to get it done? In all honestly, a book series is a little overwhelming. I’d rather err on the side of literary caution; write with quality instead of quantity. I just want to write.
Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser on the Starz TV series Outlander
based on the book series by Diana Gabaldon.
On the bright side of all of this, I have been finding time for reading. It doesn't require the same level of concentration as writing does. Thank God. I'm currently enthralled with Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. Can't wait for the Starz TV series based on her books. I'm a little obsessed at the moment. If you haven't read the books, you really need to. I have a feeling the TV show is going to be "verra fine, Sassenach." If you need further convincing, let me just add: hot men in kilts. Need I say more??? 
How is your summer going? Have you taken any exciting trips? I’d love to hear about it so I can live vicariously through you.   

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Power of One by Robin Janney

First, good news for all: my internet was turned back on today.  Yay!

And the cellphones were turned back on yesterday!  Another Yay!

But enough on that already.

Something I've been thinking on this week was sparked by a conversation I had with my husband over last weekend.  We have a habit of picking out one liners from the movies we both like.  One of our most frequent one between the two of us is the "Good job." sequence in the movie Hancock.  In this scene, Jason Bateman's character Ray is trying to counsel Hancock on being a friendlier superhero by reminding Hancock that he needs to tell the regular human police officers at any given situation that they've done a good job .  You can watch it if you'd like. 

Ray's deciding to make an investment into the cranky superhero is pretty much what the movie is about.  Hancock starts out as a belligerent drunken hero who does as much damage as good during his exploits.  He is mocked and ridiculed by pretty much everyone, sought out by women for only one reason, and lives alone.

When Hancock rescues Ray from an oncoming train, nobody cares that he saved Ray.  They focus on the negative: he flipped Ray's car over on top of another vehicle (possibly injuring the woman it in) and then put his fist into the train, stopping it so suddenly that it derailed.  Ray, grateful to be alive, faces the angry crowd and tells them to focus on the good...his own salvation.  He thanks Hancock in front of them all.

From that moment on, Hancock sets himself onto the path that ends with a better understanding of who he is and who he is meant to be.  It wasn't easy for Hancock.  He had spent so many years not knowing who he was and thinking that he was the only one of his kind.  While it turned out that he wasn't the only superhuman in town, his transformation had already begun before that realization.  Hancock allowed himself to be jailed (to show the public and law enforcement what it would be like without him) and while he could have left at any time, he stayed because he trusted Ray.  And because he trusted that ONE PERSON who believed in him, despite direct opposition from others and the love triangle the movie makers put in, it opened up other people's acceptance in him...which led to more people believing that he could be a better superhero.

"Real" life never works out as neatly as fiction, movie or books.  The heroes don't always save the day, the boy doesn't always get the girl, and sometimes nothing good comes of the bad things that happen. Sometimes all of our work comes to mean nothing. Thankfully it's only 'sometimes' and not all the time!

One thing from my ramblings remains true though:  The power of just one person believing in you can make all the difference in the world.  It would be nice to have scores of people believing that we can make a difference in out life.  But not everyone has that many people in their life, not in the kind of way that matters.  Which is why all we really need is just one person to accept us for who we are and to believe that we aren't what everyone else says we are.

I have always had people here and there who believed in me over the years.  Too many to list here.  Many people are not as fortunate.  Many go through life hearing only the boo's and negative talk that Hancock heard whenever he tried to do something right.  There was a time when I couldn't hear the good about myself because all I could hear was the negatives.  It wasn't until I allowed myself to go through a time of solitude that I was able to filter out those negatives.  I began to believe in myself and accepted myself for who I am.  Which in turn allowed me to see others who believed in me and accepted me as is.

Because in real life, like in the movie Hancock, we have to believe in ourselves for any change to be lasting.  It might not be as dramatic as anything we see in the movies, it might just be seen by a few, but that doesn't matter.  Because even if we touch just one person around us, it will spread.  If we can believe in ourselves and succeed, maybe they can too.

And to be honest, the character Ray needed someone to believe in him just as much.  Which is why at the end of the movie, Hancock plastering Ray's All-Heart symbol on the moon is really kind of touching.  Hancock was trying to give back to Ray the belief and confidence that Ray had shown him.  Hancock even repeated back the line Ray had said to him, "You're going to change the world."

While we might not see our acts as world changing, we can change someone else's world, and they can touch someone else that we may not know.  Kind of like how the butterfly wings flapping in South America can create a hurricane thousands of miles away, one life touching and changing another can reach around the globe.

So, take a chance.  Let someone see you believe in them, believe in yourself...and change the world!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


In another life, I worked in retail management for Wilson’s Leather. I survived such leather fashion trends as the Top Gun/Raiders of the Lost Ark bomber jackets and the “Bon Jovi 80’s” fringe jackets craze. Adding up to eighteen years in customer service bliss. Even now, after being retired for almost nine years, I still have a nervous tic when I hear the phrase, “The customer is always right.” Most likely, if you’ve worked in retail, you HATE this phrase as well. While many customers are gracious and kind and understanding, a fare share are, quite frankly, assholes. Sorry. It’s the truth. And I’ve had my share of doozies! Experiences that range from funny to infuriating to scary. The scary ones are the worst.
L - R: Berman's Oakdale Mall 1988, Berman's King of Prussia Mall1992, Wilson's Outlet Fairgrounds Square Mall 1994.
 Negative aspects aside, retail also has its positive experiences. Thanks to Facebook, I keep in touch with most of my former employees. Many were high school and college students when they worked with me so now I get to see them all grown up and with families of their own. Working with the youngsters kept me young at heart. I was up on trends and spoke the lingo. Word. Now, I’m outdated and still say “word” only to get my seventeen year-old going about how out of touch I am.
L - R: Me and Andrea Christmas 1994, my outlet store staff at the Christmas party I hosted 1994 - Shawn, Kim, Trish, Theresa, and John.
While I was assistant manager of the King of Prussia Berman’s – The Leather Experts store in 1991, a young nursing school student came on as a part-time employee. She was gorgeous, outgoing, and had a wonderful sense of humor that often had us in tears from laughter when she acted out her alter ego characters. Especially her Chain-Smoker Marge character who was in her sixties and married to Harvey the Louse. She was so good at it, she would have customers rolling right along with us. The stuff she would come up with, off the cuff, was amazing! She was Robin Williams in a nursing student uniform. Andrea and I became close friends. After graduating nursing school and starting her first real job, she followed me to the Wilson’s Leather Outlet store in Reading when I took over as manager, helping out part-time during the busy holiday season. She brought Marge and her other personalities along with her allowing an entirely new staff to enjoy her material while we dealt with the public and sold leather.
 When my husband’s job transferred him back to our hometown, we’d also discovered my store would be closing at the end of its current lease—the following year. In light of the job market up home, my husband and I decided I'd see my store through to the end. I’d have my severance package and unemployment benefits as a safety net while job hunting. My entire store staff stayed with me. Every boss should have the same dedicated, hardworking, and loyal employees I had! I was extremely fortunate. For six months, I kept my costly apartment. One day, Andrea, who had recently purchased her first house, suggested I move in with her for my final six months and pay her a reduced rent, thus saving me money. From March 1995 to November 1995, I became part of the LaSota family. Her mother, Inge, her older sister, Sandy, and her nieces, Shiloh and Erin, welcomed me as if I was one of them. Some of my fondest memories date back to those six months. That November, with my Honda Civic Coupe loaded up with my last batch of belongings and Andrea’s cat (Gidget loved me more anyway), I moved back to my hometown. During the first twenty miles, tears streaked my face and a huge lump was lodged in my throat. It was hard leaving behind my Pottstown “family.” I never had a biological sister. Andrea came pretty close. Maybe even better than a sister since you can’t pick your family.
L - R: Me and Andrea during my labor, Aunt Andy with my oldest, Inge with my oldest, and Aunt Andy with my youngest.
A year after relocating, my husband and I had our first child. Andrea, already in her second year as a labor and delivery nurse, made the trip to Bradford County to coach me and see her goddaughter born. Inge joined her for the trip as well—like a proud grandma. Three years later, our second daughter was born and “Aunt Andy” was there for her delivery, too, with Inge in tow. Across the years and miles, we’ve kept in touch. I love when she goes on vacation and I get to see her photos and hear all about those destinations. She’s even called from Inge’s hometown in Wetzlar, Germany, on Christmas Eve (German Time), so I could hear the church bells ringing. She’s indulged my children with numerous trips to Philadelphia to see King Tut’s treasures, the Titanic - The Artifacts Exhibition, and Colonial Philadelphia. Knowing that my girls come from a small rural area, she does everything she can to expose them to metropolitan culture. Adventures are the perfect learning experience and Aunt Andy is always fun. During my earlier June Cleaver/PTA mom phase, Andrea, the career girl, went through an online dating phase. I lived for her “day after” phone calls in which she told me about her latest dude or dud—mostly duds. Hysterical stories I had to share with my local friends. One story in particular is known in my circle of friends as “Ta-da Man.” When in the company of new people, My Gal Friday will always say to me, “Tell them the 'Ta-da Man' story!” And I do. It always gets the same initial jaw-dropping reaction followed by raucous laughter.
Four years ago, Andrea met Lou, a high school teacher and they clicked. A year later they were engaged. They married this past July 5th. My husband and I traveled to Center City Philly for this most auspicious occasion. We expected horrible traffic. Big holiday weekend. Jersey Shore motorists on the "Shore-Kill Expressway." Fourth of July fireworks in the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed. You get the picture. Only it wasn’t bad at all. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency at Penn’s Landing. It sits smack-dab in the middle of Penn’s Landing and was a short five-minute walk to where both the wedding and reception were taking place. Andrea and Lou wanted a non-traditional venue. Something extraordinary. They pulled it off. I’m forty-four years old. I’ve been to lots of weddings. Great weddings. But this one, like I said, was extraordinary. The Moshulu is an early 20th Century sailing ship that is now permanently docked at Penn’s Landing and was resurrected as a gourmet restaurant with a AAA Four Diamond rating.
We left our room promptly at 6:00pm and, as the elevator doors deposited us in the lobby, we found the bride and her family assembling for their stroll along the boardwalk. Let me just say Andrea looked absolutely stunning in her antique white beaded gown. Stunning!! We had a short reunion on our way to the ship.  At a little after 6:30pm, I watched one of my oldest friends come down the aisle. I snapped photos and loved seeing the look on Lou’s face when he first saw Andrea in her gown. He tried his best to keep his composure, but some tears fell. It was a beautifully touching moment. They’d both written their own vows. While they said their most heartfelt words in front of their closest family and friends, a cool breeze drifted off the Delaware River. The overall mood was sentimental and happy.
L to R: Lou's all choked up, Inge and Bob giving their daughter away, The Blushing Bride.
Cocktail hour was held on the top deck and servers brought trays of delicious hors d’oeuvres and glasses of wine around. The old wheelhouse was converted into an open bar for those preferring other spirits to assist in the merry-making. Dinner was served in a private dining room. We were seated at a table with a few of Andrea’s co-workers. Names I knew from stories. It was nice being able to put faces with names. All the ladies and their spouses were friendly and fun. I’m always a little shy when folks ask me what I do for a living. Reactions are always varied. The title Romance Writer seems to make some chuckle. Others find it interesting. And a few wave it off as if it’s something tawdry. The folks seated with us fell into the interested category—thank GAWD. So we talked books and authors. My favorite subjects. Sue’s husband, Anthony, even said he’s always felt he could write a book. He said he had stories to tell. I encouraged him to go after it. Who knows? Maybe he will. We returned to the top deck in anticipation of a special treat. Penn’s Landing was hosting its Independence Day fireworks show right on the Delaware River that night. My husband and I found a viewing spot and watched as oohs and ahhs rang out from all around us. It was truly magical. An Independence Day celebration in the same city where our founding fathers started it all! I’m a history nerd. I loved every minute of it. When the fireworks ended, we returned to the seating area and had wedding cake along with a dessert buffet. I was in heaven. Heaven.  And a little tipsy. While saying goodbye and hugging the bride, I almost resorted to the shameful “I love you, man!” act. Too posh a setting for that act! Oh boy. My husband and I walked back to our hotel, hand in hand, while talking about our fabulous evening. Not bad for our first trip away without our children since 1997. (<----That's not a typo, folks!)
L to R: The Moshulu, kilts during the processional, and fireworks over the Delaware River!
On Sunday morning, we rose early, had breakfast in the hotel, and then set off on foot for the Colonial section of Philly. My husband had never been there before and, even though he doesn't share my love of history, I felt he needed to see Independence Hall in person. All Americans should. I adore it there! 
L to R: Houses in Society Hill, Independence Hall, and my favorite statue - The Signer.
 Andrea, thank you for a truly lovely experience. I wish you and your husband a long and happy life together. I know I haven't been the greatest friend over the past five years. Too much time goes between phone calls and visits. I suck. I hate how out of the loop I feel from your life. Just know, I haven't forgotten about you. I mean, really, how could I ever forget about Marge?!?     

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Memory Lane by Robin Janney

I'm going to keep this short, because sadly I'm still living without internet. It's very inconvenient in more than one way, but I'm dealing...I have no choice!!  Sadly I don't have pictures to post today. 

Tuesday evening as the thunderstorms raged in my area and the lights couldn't decide whether they were staying on or off, I was going through an old plastic bin. Hubby and I have been trying to clean and reorganize our home. Needless to say, I took a pleasant trip down memory lane while he was at work. 

I found my high school diploma. Which reminded me that twenty years have passed since June 17th of 1994. Not that big of a reminder as the reunion notices have been circulating Facebook for a while now.  My graduation night was highly emotional for me, for reasons I won't delve into.  And they weren't as string as the good memories. 

I enjoyed looking at the year books I found too, mostly reading all the messages fellow students wrote me.  A lot told me not to change and I was to aim high in life.  I might do a blog post about that later.

I found a couple packs of older pics, probably about ten years old. How much younger we all looked!!  There were even pics of some of our furry family members that aren't with us anymore.  Yes I'm one of those people who take pictures of their animals.   I promise I'll do a story about them later and post their pics.

The one part that struck me the most was the old journal I found from 2004.  My oh my life has changed since then!!  My entire thinking process has changed.  My location has changed, as well as my marital status.  I'm a published author.  I'm not in the same church.  What was important then isn't necessarily important now.

I haven't found anything as interesting since that night, but I still have a few spots to dig through.  A few days before this I was going through some old computer disks and found an old story, but not the one I was looking for!  I hope I come across my other disks on this reorganization!!!

What about you?  What's the most interesting thing you've come across while reorganizing and cleaning??

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

School's Out For The Summer (and my quiet time is gone.) By C.P. Stringham

     It’s that time of year, folks. School has officially let out for the summer. How long did it take those of you with children to hear, “I’m bored!”? I think my youngest said it on her very first day home--and several times since. Despite that, I love having my children home for summer vacation. I really do. All three of us benefit from taking an academic break.  
First day of the 2013-14 school year. Seems like it was just yesterday.  
My oldest is pretty maintenance-free as far as needing my assistance with schoolwork. While she usually makes honor roll, her grades don't come to her as easily as they do for others. She has to work really hard for them. Like me, she's more of a language arts/history academic. Math and science makes us cringe. Specifically, algebra and chemistry. Don't get me wrong. We have a total appreciation of those subjects and their importance, but lack the critical understanding needed to perform them. No, with her, the most difficult act I'm involved in is getting her out of bed on school mornings. In plain words? She's a pain-in-the-ass to wake up and get moving. Truly. She’ll be a senior next year. The last year I’ll have to fight with her to get up. Time sure flies. I’m sure I’ll look back some day and wish those days hadn't gone by so quickly.
My youngest has an Autism Spectrum Disorder and, along with it, she has a learning disability. Fortunately, we've had incredible teachers who are understanding, helpful, and extremely caring. They've been able to make strong connections with her and have encouraged academic gains. The best part for me personally? They tolerate my "helicopter mom" tendencies! A few teachers have even offered yours truly some good-natured ribbing over my possessive worrying since I openly admit to it. I embrace my idiosyncrasies and poke fun at myself. Unlike her older sister, Mackenzie has no trouble getting up for school. Some days, she’s up before my alarm goes off. Where my early riser gives me fits is with her homework. She hates homework. Hates it and not in the same way typical kids do. She and I go around and around. It takes us an hour to do a fifteen-minute assignment because she drags it out by whining and complaining—even worse is when she shuts down entirely. Her developmental pediatrician says it’s quite common in children with autism to hate homework. Their brains take things and put them into the most concrete, black and white, categories. For her, homework comes from school, therefore, it should be done AT SCHOOL. No gray area for it. Fortunately, her teachers try to accommodate her as much as possible and give her time to do homework at school. Mackenzie has made many gains and works diligently during her school days. She gets off the bus, at the end of the day, and goes to her room to decompress from all of the sensory overload she’s had from being around people all day. Grumpy Gus turns into Miss Mellow from an hour's worth of isolation with her computer or MP3 player.
We’re only into our second week of summer vacation and, while we haven’t had one of our famous family road trips yet, there’s bound to be adventures in our near future. Northeastern Pennsylvania has so many wonderful places to visit and within close enough proximity for a fun-filled day trip. Ithaca, Watkins Glen, Corning, Wellsboro, and Galeton are some of our favorite destinations. Up and out of the house reasonably early for the commute, shop, see the sights, grab a late lunch at a mom and pop joint, see some more sites, and then head home. Those trips have led to our meeting some pretty awesome people and forming new friendships. Most of our trips involve supporting as many small businesses as possible. They are the best places to enjoy the American experience--meeting the local people and learning the history. I take a camera along because you never know who or what you will see. Capture those adventures!
Wellsboro, PA: L to R - My family passing the historic Penn Wells Hotel; Tioga County Court House; Wynken, Blynken and Nod Statue on the Green
 Here’s to fireflies, s’mores, swimming, and cookouts! May each of you get the most out of what summer has to offer. After the winter we’ve had, I’m doing just that!
What are your plans this summer? If you're looking to visit Potter County, stop in and visit Rob and Cindy Pflug at The Brick House Cafe & Deli. It's located along PA's historic Route 6 in Galeton, PA. Have a hearty meal, enjoy the comfortable atmosphere, and make sure to introduce yourself. They're good people! 
The Brick House Cafe & Deli: L to R - The front view overlooking a street in Galeton; Our host, Cindy Pflug, who makes AMAZING cole slaw--among many other scrumptious things; My husband and our oldest with full bellies and happy smiles!