The soldier’s hat

I have been blogging about 12 years, although I don’t have all the posts from all those years. I do have some and I found this post today from around Memorial Day in 2014 while looking for another post. I thought I’d share it here again today and maybe share some of my past posts like Mama’s Empty Nest has been doing recently.

I remember the day Harry gave my son the VFW hat.  We were at a celebration at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars where they were honoring Harry because he was moving from the area to live with family.

I had taken Jonathan with me so I could grab a photograph for the local newspaper, but also so I could say goodbye to Harry, who I had interviewed years ago about his service during World War II. We had visited Harry at a nursing home a few weeks earlier while also visiting my aunt. My son, Jonathan, was 7 at the time.

I told Jonathan that Harry had fought for our country during World War II and to free the Jews during the Holocaust, something we had been talking about one night when he had asked me some historical questions. I remember how horrified he was about Hitler treating the Jews so awful and because of his age, I left out the worst of it, mainly only telling him how much the Nazis had hated the Jewish people and how wrong it was. After I introduced Jonathan to Harry, who was in the hallway sitting in a wheelchair, Jonathan, without prompting, saluted him.

Harry was touched and overwhelmed. As I sat and chatted with Harry, often having to almost shout since he had lost some of his hearing by then (he was almost 93), Jonathan drew a picture of Harry in the war, jumping out of airplanes and fighting in the Phillipines. Again, Harry was touched and impressed with Jonathan.

A week later when we attended Harry’s farewell celebration, we were surprised and emotional when Harry asked to see Jonathan and handed him two of his VFW Commander hats. Harry was thrilled to see Jonathan and smiled and talked to him, thanking him again for the salute and the picture.

We were definitely sad a year later when we heard Harry passed away. He had dedicated more than three decades to the local VFE post, where he served four years as post commander, 20 years as post quartermaster, 10 years as district quartermaster and three years as district commander. During his time at the VFW he had been named an All-American post commander, an All-American quartermaster three times, and also received several awards through the VFW.

DSC_4820DSC_4821-Edit-2When Harry passed away the  new post commander, Dan Polinski, told the local paper about the countless times Harry and others of Harry’s generation had stood in all kinds of weather to honor veterans who had passed away. Dan remembered one specific day where the rain was coming down, cold and stinging, against their faces.

“The younger of us, and I use that term loosely, said to Harry, O.C. Spencer, and some of the other World War II guys, ‘Listen, you guys, don’t stay out in this.’ The wind was whipping and it was brutal,” said Polinski. “Harry, and O.C., and all of the old crew — all of the old World War II guys who had stood with this Color Guard guy at many other funerals — just said, ‘No. He would do this for us.’” (Morning Times, Sayre, Pa. August 1, 2014)

I can attest to Dan’s story because I remember those rainy Memorial Days (in fact, I remember more rainy Memorial Days in Bradford County than sunny ones. It seems it always rains when there is a parade or a ceremony to honor veterans here.) I covered a few of those ceremonies for local newspapers and when I first saw Harry, and fellow World War II veteran O.C. Spencer, standing out in inclement or sweltering hot weather, I wondered why someone didn’t get them a chair or an umbrella, or usher them inside. Looking back I know it was because they stood not only to honor the fallen and those who served but to honor our country. They did what so many of us don’t, or won’t, do. They did what they’d done years ago when called to fight; standing when others turned or walked away.

DSC_5342_1We keep Harry’s hats sealed inside the clear plastic case he handed them to Jonathan in and we keep them in an honored spot next to a sealed American flag given to Warren’s family after his great-grandfather passed away. And when we do pull the hats out we not only remember the man who stood at every Memorial and Veterans day service, no matter the weather, in full uniform, honoring those who served and those who fell, but the man who came home from war, worked with troubled youth with his wife for a decade, worked hard at every job he did, and also showed us how to persevere during the toughest times in life.

It’s hard sometimes to look at the local Color Guard during Memorial Day services and not see Harry standing there, rifle propped against his shoulder, back straight, jaw firm, gaze steady. I find myself choking up at the memory of the dedication he showed and how a new generation is missing out on the lessons of perseverance his mere presence there taught us.

What is important, I remind myself, isn’t that he isn’t here anymore, but that he was there at all and that there are people still around who will work to keep his memory and legacy alive.


Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 30

If you missed it, I posted Chapter 29 of A New Beginning to the blog yesterday.

Thoughts on the story so far? Let me know in the comments!

As always, this is a story in progress so there will be typos, missing words and maybe even plot holes. Feel free to let me know about them in the comments. I’ll be editing and fixing them before the final publication later this spring.

A New Beginning is a sequel to A Story to Tell but you don’t need to read A Story to Tell to understand and follow along with A New Beginning. The link to the chapters of A New Beginning, in order, can be found HERE or at the link at the top of the page.


Chapter 30

“What do you mean she just left the hospital?”

Jimmy’s voice was heavy with anger.

Sandra, standing across from him, her eyes bloodshot, shook her head. “The nurse came back to the room and she was gone. She’d gotten dressed in the night, left the baby and the signed adoption papers in the crib and left.”

Edith held the baby boy against her chest, her hand against his back as she swayed in place.

“So, Lily is alone out there somewhere?” she asked. “After just giving birth to her first baby.”

Sandra nodded, her eyebrows furrowed with worry. “Yes, and with this being her first and her so young, it was a rough delivery too.”

“Why would she do this?” Jimmy asked. “And how did your agency let this happen?”

Sandra sat on a chair next to the empty hospital bed, shaking her head, tears in her eyes. Edith gently laid the sleeping baby in the crib next to the bed.

I had seen myself in Lily that first day I met her. Now I saw myself even more in her actions. I remembered outside the church three months after I’d left Hank, unable to move from the car, terrified to step foot inside the building where I felt God lived. God, who must be as ashamed of me as I was of myself. Shame had kept me away from God for three years and it was shame telling me now I wasn’t worth being loved by Judson or anyone else. Lily most likely felt the same.

“She’s ashamed,” I said softly.

Jimmy looked at me. “What’s that, Blanche?”

I cleared my throat. “Lily is ashamed of who she has become. Or, I think, anyhow. It’s probably why she took off. She’s ashamed of who she became, though she might not even realize it’s shame making her act out the way she is. She’s too young. But I also can’t imagine it would be very easy for her to see her baby being given to another family, even if she knows it is the right thing to do. She feels like she let the baby, and herself, down.”

I felt tears hot in my eyes as I looked at Edith and Jimmy. “I should know. I felt the same way.”

Jimmy reached out and laid his hand over mine as Edith sat next to me and slid her arm around me, kissing my forehead.

“You never let anyone down, Blanche,” she whispered.

“I know but it’s how I felt. And I think it may be how Lily is feeling now. That and sheer terror.”

Sandra pressed a tissue against her eyes, crying softly.

“Just like I feel I let her down,” she whispered through the tears. “Lily came to us for help and now I can’t help her. I should have never left her alone in this hospital. I should have known she would make a run for it.”

She looked up, her eyes red, then shook her head a little. “No matter. This baby is yours. The paperwork has been signed already. All you need to do is sign it too. He needs someone to take care of him.” She stood and smiled at the baby in the crib. “You’re going to be wonderful parents and as for Lily –” she turned away from the baby and struggled to smile. “I’m going to keep looking for her and be there for her as much as she’ll let me.”

Jimmy stood, reaching for his jacket. “I’m going to help you look. Let’s head out now. How long has she been gone?”

“Mr. Sickler, this isn’t your problem,” Sandra said, wiping her nose.

“I’m not leaving a child out on the street.” A muscle in Jimmy’s jaw jumped as he spoke. “Lily is a child who just gave birth to a child. She should not be out on the street. Where would she go? Someone in your organization has to know. Where does her mother live?”

Sandra shook her head. “Mr. Sickler, I —”

“Then I’ll go on my own.”

I’d rarely seen Jimmy angry. His nostrils flared at each word, his movement were abrupt as he jerked his coat on, and his eyes flashed with anger.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I have a lot of faith in this agency to find her and care for her,” he snapped, pointing at Sandra. “I am really starting to question if she was pushed into this adoption and what will happen to her when it hits her that her baby is gone.”

Sandra’s eyebrows raised and her mouth opened slightly, as if she was about to say something, then thought better of it and closed her mouth again. She sat on the chair next to the hospital bed and covered her face with her hands.

Edith stood and touched Jimmy’s arm. “Jimmy, calm down. You’re not being fair to Sandra. We don’t know what exactly happened. Plus, you don’t know the city. How can you possibly find her?”

Jimmy clenched and unclenched his hands, standing in the doorway. I could tell he was trying to keep his anger under control.

“She may have gone to her mothers,” Sandra said softly, moving her hands from her face. She took a deep breath and stood. “I can get you her address, but I have to warn you, Lily’s mother, Martha, isn’t a nice woman. She’s often drunk and abusive.”

Jimmy snatched up his keys and pulled on his jacket. “All the more reason to make sure Lily isn’t there.”

Sandra left the room to get the address and I reached for my own coat. “I should go with you. Lily might feel more comfortable with a woman there.”

Jimmy nodded in agreement. “I think you’re right. Let’s get going.”

He leaned down and kissed Edith’s forehead. “Pray,” he told her.

He paused to lightly touch the top of the baby’s head before he walked through the door.

“Mr. Sickler, I know you mean well, but I really wish you would let us handle this,” Sandra said as she handed Jimmy a small piece of paper with an address written on it.

Jimmy ignored Sandra’s pleas, walking briskly past her and down the hallway. I did my best to keep up with him. In the car, he clutched the steering wheel, his knuckles white.

“I can’t even believe this. How could they let that young girl out of their sight? She must be terrified.”

“Try to stay calm, Jimmy. We don’t know what happened yet.”

Jimmy shifted the car into gear and pulled out onto the road. We were riding in his bright red Chevy Chevelle, but I had a feeling the car would be traded in before too long for a more family-friendly vehicle. Switching from his usual more sporty cars would be an adjustment for Jimmy, but I knew he wouldn’t mind the sacrifice if it meant a safer and more spacious drive for his growing family.

As I watched him drive, I thought about one of the first times I had met him. I’d been hearing about him for months from Edith before I met him, but the night he finally came to the house to pick up Edith for a date, I had been struck by his calm demeanor, his sweet personality, and his charming smile. He was a far cry from the boys Edith usually dated. Before Jimmy, she had been pursued cocky and aloof boys who paused by the mirror near the front door to drag a comb through their hair before leaving the house.

When Edith eventually decided Jimmy wasn’t exciting enough for her, she went back to the arrogant variety, prompting Daddy to ask about Jimmy one night at dinner.

“Whatever happened to that Sickler kid? I liked him.”

Edith had rolled her eyes as she stabbed a spear of broccoli.

“Oh, Daddy,” she groaned. “You would like the most boring boy I’ve ever gone out with.”

“There’s nothing wrong with boring,” Daddy said, looking at Edith for several seconds to make sure she caught his meaning.

After I’d left with Hank and she’d started going to church more, Edith’s entire view of the world changed and somehow Jimmy Sickler wasn’t boring anymore. She saw him for what he’d always been – someone who had loved her through all her past mistakes and all the ways she’d hurt and rejected him. I remembered the letter she’d sent me, telling me Jimmy had asked her out again after church one Sunday. It wasn’t until I came home, after they were married, that Edith shared with me how Jimmy’s tender love for her, despite the way she’d acted when she was younger, had softened her heart and revealed her true feelings for him.

Jimmy was as sweet now as he’d been when we’d first met and over the years, I’d seen many sides of him — goofy, annoyed, overjoyed, brokenhearted and excited. But on this night, driving through inner-city Philadelphia, looking for Lily, I saw a new side of Jimmy; an angry, determined side that showed he was bent on rescuing the young girl who had claimed a part of his heart.

The city stretched before us, the streets dimly lit, dilapidated buildings rolling past the car window, their outside walls stained with graffiti of various colors.

I bit my lower lip as we crossed a bridge, looking out the windshield at the city looming before us. Apartment and office buildings filled the landscape. I spotted a gas station at the end of the bridge and gestured toward it.

“Jimmy, pull over a minute.”

“Do you see the street we need?”

“No. Just pull over. I think we should pray.”

Jimmy pulled the car into the parking lot and turned off the engine. He let out a long breath as if trying to exhale all the tension he was feeling and turned toward me, bowing his head. I laid my hand over his and bowed my head as well.

“Father,” I prayed. “We are asking for you to help us today. Lily is lost, Lord. She’s scared. She may be in pain. Please, Jesus, help us to find her and bring her back with us to the hospital, but, Lord, if we can’t find her, we ask that you keep her safe in your arms.”

Jimmy let out another long breath and started the car again. “Thanks. I needed that. Okay, which street do we need?”

I could feel a calmness coming off him that I hadn’t felt before and his jaw had relaxed some.

I looked at the paper Sandra had handed Jimmy. “Poplar Street. Twin Rivers Apartments. Sandra wrote here that it’s two miles north of the hospital.”

I followed Sandra’s directions, looking on my right for Poplar Street. When we saw it, Jimmy pulled onto it and the sign for the building appeared immediately, the paint chipped. Jimmy pulled into a space in the parking lot and sat back in his seat looking up at the building, which towered at least eight stories above us. I knew we both felt completely out of place in a city so large after spending almost our whole lives in the country. Jimmy let out a long breath.

“You wait here,” he said. “Keep the doors locked.”

I opened the car door. “I’m going with you.”

“Blanche now is not the time to be stubborn. This doesn’t look like the safest neighborhood.”

“Then I’ll go alone.” I pushed the door closed and buttoned my coat.

Jimmy mumbled something under his breath as he stepped out of the car and followed me. I figured it was a good thing I hadn’t really heard what he said, though I swore I heard the words Robbins, women, and stubborn somewhere in there.

I looked through smudged windows into a dimly lit lobby as we approached the front doors. A crack stretched up from the bottom of one of the panels of glass in the double front doors, spreading up to the top.  The door’s hinges groaned as Jimmy pulled it open to reveal a lobby décor of stained brown and green couches, faded green wallpaper, and orange carpet worn down from years of people walking over it.

“Which floor?” Jimmy asked.


Jimmy sighed. “Of course, it is. I’m such a country bumpkin. I’ve never even been in an elevator before. Have you?”

“Once, but never past the third floor.”

Standing in front of the smudged, glossy silver doors before us we looked at each other, sighed and then shrugged. I hesitantly pushed the up button.

The couple groping each other inside the elevator when the doors opened with a grating noise were oblivious to us. Jimmy and I stared, reluctant to step in the elevator during their make-out session.

The man pulled his mouth from the woman’s abruptly with a loud sucking noise and glared at us through narrow slits. “You got a problem?”

I shook my head. “No. Just didn’t want to interrupt.”

The couple parted and the man, wearing a leather jacket and faded blue jeans, slid his hands in his back pockets and leaned against the wall. The fluorescent lights in the elevator glistened off his slicked back hair. A curl in the front flopped over his forehead. He jerked his head to one side.

“What floor?” he asked gruffly.

Jimmy stepped in first and stood between me and the couple. “Seven.”

The woman smirked, her eyes moving down the length of me and back to my face. “You’re not from around, here are you?”

My plain blue skirt, faded red polo shirt, and tan flats screamed country girl next to her black, leather mini skirt, rainbow striped halter top, large hooped earrings, and black high heels. Chewing gum loudly, she twirled bleached blond hair around her index finger and snapped a bubble between her bright red lips. She giggled, swiveling her attention to Jimmy and leaning forward slightly, the move revealing the top of her breasts.

“We’re just visiting,” Jimmy said quickly looking away from her, keeping his focus on the numbers above the elevator door.

The man pushed the number seven on the panel, without looking at it directly, still concentrating his attention on us. I averted my eyes from his steely stare, looking at the stained tiled floor, gasping softly when the elevator dropped slightly then started to rise, my stomach feeling like it had sunk to my feet.

Jimmy slid his arm around me and pulled me close against him as the elevator rose and the couple watched us, the man now leaning against the elevator wall with his arm laying lazily over the woman’s shoulders.

Small bits of paper, dirt and cigarette butts cluttered the elevator floor. A cockroach scurried across a crumpled newspaper and I bit my lip, holding in the scream I desperately wanted to let out. The man slammed the tip of his boot onto the cockroach and twisted his foot, a sick crunch signifying the insect was no longer living. He smirked as he drew the boot back and dragged insect remains in a reddish-brown smear across a tan tile.

Jimmy hooked his hand around my elbow and propelled me from the elevator within seconds after the doors squeaked open.

“This is only the sixth floor,” the girl called after us.

“That’s okay,” Jimmy said over his shoulder. “We need to stretch our legs a little.”

Laughter filtered through the door as it closed, drowned out by the grinding noise of the elevator’s gears as it continued on its’ journey to the seventh floor and beyond.

Faithfully Thinking: The Blessing

So many times we dismiss a pastor or a movement or a singing group because of one thing they did we didn’t like. Maybe we listened to critics who said this pastor or that person presented something against God’s word, but we really don’t know if that’s true or not. Maybe we feel their theology is off in one or two sermons so we completely dismiss every word that comes from their mouth or every song they help to pen.

I hope you can put aside any preconceived ideas you might have about anyone in this following video and just listen to the words behind it and know God can work through people we do not think he can work through. I don’t have any preconceived ideas, any negative views of those here, but maybe someone else does.

God can work through people who we don’t see as blessed by God.

God can work through people who seem to be against us with everything within them.

God can use those who stand on the opposite of our morals, or values, everything we stand for.

He can use world leaders who don’t hold our beliefs.

He can use pastors we don’t think are on point with their theology.

Don’t limit God.

Don’t label God.

Don’t try to put him in a box.

He won’t stay there.

He wants to bless you and that blessing could come from somewhere you never thought it would.

The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace


May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family
And your children
And their children
And their children

May His presence go before you
And behind you
And beside you
All around you
And within you
He is with you
He is with you

In the morning
In the evening
In your coming
And your going
In your weeping
And rejoicing
He is for you
He is for you

He is for you

Written by Steven Furtick, Chris Brown, Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes
©2020 Music by Elevation Worship Publishing, Capitol CMG Paragon / Writers Roof Publishing, Worship Together Music / Kari Jobe Carnes Music
CCLI #: 7147007

Creatively Thinking: Why I blog my novels as I write them

I don’t think a lot of people are worrying about this, but I thought I’d share today why I blog my novels as I write them (or shortly after).

It’s probably not the best marketing move to put my novels on my blog, chapter by chapter, but, well, I’ve never been good at that marketing stuff, for one, but also, I like the interaction I receive when I share my novels on my blog. The interaction is worth more me to than the money, although you might have to remind me of that when we are pinching pennies to get groceries some weeks.

I like that my handful of blog readers interact with each chapter and share with me their impressions or their ideas for how the story should unfold. Based on those impressions, and impressions of friends or family, I adjust and rewrite the story before the final publication. Or sometimes I rewrite it because I like it better. Putting the story up on my blog also forces me to finish it and to edit it chapter by chapter because one, I have “fans” waiting to read the rest of the story (okay, I have maybe 20 people reading and four that comment, but I don’t mind writing it for just those people. I’m not even kidding.) and two, it also forces me to focus on each chapter individually, write before I copy it to the blog to publish it.

I am sure some authors (am I really one of those? I don’t know. . .but it sounds good, right?) wouldn’t want to share their books on their blogs. They’d rather write them, leave them on their computer and then one day get their nerve up and send it to a literary agent, hope the agent picks them up and pitches their book to a publisher and that publisher signs them and their book is marketed to millions and then they become a millionaire. Sharing the book on their blog could mean no one will ever pay them for the book because the readers can simply read the book for free on the blog, right?

Not necessarily.

In my case, I only have about 360 blog subscribers and of those 360, only about 5 interact with me on a regular basis and only about 20 actually follow the stories I share on the blog. Not only that, but of those who might find my blog, how many of them will really want to scroll from chapter to chapter for free, versus buying the book later on Amazon in it’s completed form, or at least “borrowing it” through Kindle Unlimited?

Probably not that many.  In addition, once I’ve shared the chapters on my blog, I take down the page that links to each chapter and replace it with an excerpt and a link to my book on Amazon, or wherever else I might choose to sell them in the future. In the end, sharing the novel on my blog is a motivator for me, but also a nice distraction from other stresses in life (like the news) and from what I’ve heard from those who read it, it’s also a nice distraction from them.

I don’t expect that my novels will ever win awards, but they’re already winning me something else – a little bit of sanity and a whole lot of distraction.

And while I’m on the subject of sharing my novel on here, I have two new chapters scheduled this week: one tomorrow and one Friday.

I am in the midst of writing a new novel called The Farmer’s Daughter, but I haven’t yet decided if I will share it here as part of Fiction Friday or not. I have a feeling, though, it’s a story some of my regulars will really like. I’ve shared a little of it on here before.

It’s the story of Molly Tanner, who still lives on her parents farm at the age of 25 and wonders if there is a life for her beyond the farm. At the same time she’s pondering this, she notices that farmhand Alex Stone is paying more attention to her, but she’s not sure why. Five years older than her and her brother’s best friend, Alex is battling some demons of his own, mainly that he’s falling for Molly but he doesn’t feel like he’s good enough for her. He covers his pain from his low self-esteem and his lack of attentative parents growing up by drinking a lot and dating women.

Other characters are Molly’s brother, Jason, her parents Robert and Annie, her grandmother, Franny, and her best friend, Liz. Robert and Annie are facing their own concerns throughout the book as Robert fights to keep the family farm, which he and his brother have now turned into a farming enterprise, running.

This will be the first book in a series, but I’m not going to overwhelm you with the other characters and their backstories. At least not yet!


Escaping negativity. I can do that. Just let me set up this website blocker.

Commenting on one of the chapters of A New Beginning that I shared last week, a blog reader told me she likes to read my stories (and serial stories on other blogs like it) to escape from all the negativity in the world today. I told her that was the very reason I was sharing my book in progress on my blog. Not only do I use the story to escape from the negativity of the world, but I want to give others something a little lighter to focus on too.

Last year I deleted my Facebook. Four months later, I added it back to manage my blog page, which I had been managing from a “ghost account.” Here I am again, around the same time I deleted it last year, and I’m ready to delete it again. I won’t delete it again, however, because it is the only way my son currently communicates with one of his friends since I have a Messenger Kids account for him.

Since I don’t want to cut off their main way of communicating at this time (we live 40 minutes away from his friend so we don’t see him every day and this lets them video chat), I’ve instead set up blocks on my computer to remove the temptation of wasting my life away by scrolling on an inane site that often makes life worse, not better.

And yes, I do have that little willpower that I have to set up blocks to keep me off social media, or at least off Facebook. I don’t actually visit other social media sites. I loathe Twitter even more than I loathe Facebook and Pinterest is completely useless and stupid to me. I infrequently use Instagram. I used to use it two or three times a day but haven’t done that since sometime in the fall, I think it was. I finally got sick of caring about whether people cared about what I cared about.

As for Facebook, I get addicted to that not by being on it hours at a time, but by checking it briefly several times a day when I am avoiding doing other things – like packing to move and facing all the emotions with that and facing the reasons for my continuing lack of friendships. When you have spent the majority of your downtime for almost a decade logging into a stupid social media site to do something other than what you should be doing, it can be a hard habit to break.

It’s pretty much a built-in reflex now to wake up and type “Facebook” into my computer each day, which is sad and pathetic. I don’t know what I’m looking for on there anyhow. I never feel better after logging off Facebook. I almost always feel worse and even lonelier than before.

(Incidentally, I don’t click the app on my phone because I haven’t had the Facebook app installed on my phone in two, maybe even three, years.)

Instead of distracting me from loneliness, like I always think it will, being on Facebook fuels my sadness over my lack of friendships because I can see all of those former friends on Facebook, living life and laughing with each other and not caring at all whether I live or die. Yet, each day I believe the lie social media creators like Mark Zuckerberg have drilled into our heads — if you’re not on social media, you’re missing out. In reality, sadly, I am missing out on social media and off it, but maybe someday I will be in the inner circle once again. Like when I’m in my 70s and sitting in a sewing circle.

In the same way that checking out my former friends on Facebook is unhealthy and needs to stop, checking out the latest news about all kinds of bad things going on in the world today is also unhealthy and desperately needs to stop. That’s why in addition to blocking social media from my browser, I have also blocked news sites. My husband works in news, so if a bomb goes off somewhere or some politician gets shot, he’ll let me know. I don’t need to keep reading all the negativity about viruses and nuclear threats and wars and screaming politicians day after day after day. I can create enough negativity within my own mind without all of that. A person can only take so much of that before their mental health starts to be affected negatively.

Like I have done before, I am replacing social media and news with anything I can escape into. Well, not anything – not illicit sex or drugs – but I mean, entertainment or hobbies. I’m blogging (obviously) and often about stupid things (obviously).

I’m writing (books and blog posts).

I’m taking some photos (sometimes anyhow).

I’m reading books.

I’m watching movies.

The bottom line? I’m escaping as much as I can but I know that I can’t escape the bad of life forever.  (I went to check my weather app today and there were articles about that virus when on there!!) If I could live in my bathtub with bubbles and a cup of hot peppermint tea and book for the rest of my life, I probably would at this point.

So, how about you? How do you escape from the stresses of life? Good books? Good movies? Dumb movies (or is that just me?)? Hobbies? Let me know in the comments. If it’s something illegal or dangerous to your personal being, please don’t share here. Just get some help. 😉

Socially thinking: Phubbing. You may not know what it is, but I bet you’ve done it.


Maybe you’ve never heard the term, but I bet you’ve done it.

And if you haven’t done it, then it’s been done to you.

According to Psychology Today, phubbing is “the practice of snubbing others in favor of our mobile phones.”

We can all do it, without meaning to, but then there are those who do it because they are simply so addicted to their phones they don’t know how not to do it.

I knew someone with an addiction like this at one time. Honestly, I got tired of being shown I was not important by how often the person surfed on their phone while I was sitting in front of them. They could not stop touching it. It became very clear to me I was a complete bore to them and nothing I said mattered when they even started answering phone calls from people in mid-conversation with me and proceeded to start a conversation with that person.


I remember them saying when they picked up the phone, “No. No problem. I’m just at a friend’s house.” And then continued to have a conversation like I wasn’t there for the next five to ten minutes.  They hung up and went back to scrolling Facebook while I sat across from them, bewildered why they had stopped by. The same person couldn’t even handle walking from the soccer field to our cars without scrolling and showing me cat memes as we walked while I tried to ask about their day.

When I brought this up to the person, finally, after a year of being treated this way, their answer was “I’m not going to apologize for trying to escape the stresses of my life.” I said, “Was I the stress? I was sitting across from you when you were doing it” I didn’t get an answer to my question, but this person wasn’t going to apologize and saw nothing wrong with their behavior so we haven’t spoken in about nine months, not that we were “talking” before then either.

So what are we saying when we do this to people? We’re telling them whatever is on our phone is more important. Cat memes, the news, the latest fashions, celebrity gossip, politics, and trite comments on social sites are all more important than the person across from us. In that case, why is the person across from us even there? Why are we even there?

I think there are those of us who would crawl inside our phones and live thereto escape life if we could. I get it. Sometimes life really is stressful and we feel like we have to medicate to handle it. Sometimes we medicate with drugs, sometimes with alcohol, sometimes with food and in this day and age, we medicate with escapism. No matter what we use, we are filling our lives with things that really won’t actually fill the voids in our lives or the holes within us. And while we are medicating ourselves we are pushing away people who really care about us and what to actually communicate with us and we are pushing away God.


All photos by Lisa R. Howeler

I’ve fallen into the trap of burying myself in social media to avoid the stress of life. That may be why I accepted the phubbing that was done to me for so long, but when it hit me how much I was missing by being completely absorbed in my phone – in things that will not matter in the long run — I put the phone down. I looked around me and realized how pervasive technology addiction had become in our society. Sitting at soccer practice one time, I looked down an entire row of parents, all sitting, their necks bent over their phones, their fingers simply scrolling, while their children practiced soccer in front of them.

None of them talked to each other or looked at their children. They were like robots working for the tech companies, lining their pockets with their views and their purchases and their “hits.” It made me sick to my stomach and it made me sick to my stomach that that had been me at one point, though for a more brief time than some.

The sad thing is that eventually the person who you chose your phone over stops trying to interact with you and also stops caring if you interact with them.

That’s what happened with the person in my life. I realized they could care less that I cared about them. They were more interested in their phone, in what they could pin on Pinterest, and what photo of their latest diet they could post on Instagram. I stopped wondering how they were, what they thought, or what was going on in their life.

Honestly, I do still wonder about the person from time to time, even pray for them, but the idea of trying to engage them in friendship again gives me a sick feeling in my stomach. The human part of me doesn’t want to be rejected again but  I also realize now that if that person had cared about me, they would have listened when I told them I felt their phone was more important than our friendship, instead of saying “I’m not going to apologize.”

Hopefully, the person has since resolved this issue and now shows family and other friends they do care about them, by putting the phone down when talking to them.  I know where my place was in their life, thought, and wouldn’t step back into that place again for anything.


photo by Lisa R. Howeler available on

The one good thing that came from that situation is it showed me how addicted I had also become to social media and how it was causing me to ignore people and activities in my life that were not only more important but more edifying to my overall life.  After the repeated phubbing done to me, I worked harder not to do it others and I also cut back on social media, even deleting my Facebook account for four months. I realized that social media-based relationships were completely unfulfilling to me.

Since then I’ve decided to try to implement some changes to my life to help reduce technology addiction, as well as phubbing. Some of them I had already implemented two years ago.

Changes I plan to implement or have already started to (some of these were suggested from an article about phubbing on Healthline, others simply from various sites, and others simply from my own ideas):

  • Making meals a place where no phones are allowed (we already do this at my parents when we have Sunday dinners, only allowing my dad to take a photo of dinner before we start, if it is a particularly lovely looking dinner that is);
  • Leave my phone behind for some trips, though this always makes me nervous because I worry someone will need to reach me in an emergency;
  • Institute a no-technology hour which has become even more important for me to do now that my son has his own phone and is showing signs of addiction. We’ve done this before and have really enjoyed the quiet, the increase opportunity for creativity and the way we can connect on a deeper level as a family;
  • Make people charge their phones or devices in a central area of the house, which will encourage them to engage with others when they come to hook up their devices. I have not tried this yet, but since reading about it earlier today I absolutely want to try it.


Changes I made two years ago (maybe more), include:

  • No Facebook app on my cellphone, so the temptation to look at it while talking to someone in person is gone. I’ve also stepped this up and removed Instagram and YouTube as well. Sometimes I even shut the sounds off to keep the dinging notification sound of texting from triggering dopamine and causing me to want to see who has sent me a message. There are actually only two people who message me regularly: my brother or my husband. Any other messages I receive are people who want something from me and then ignore me all other times of the year.
  • No looking at social media at least two hours before bed (somedays I do better at this than others, especially if there is a breaking news story unfolding.)
  • No devices or computer at all, other than my Kindle, up to an hour before trying to sleep (this works only when I’m not working on a book because I tend to write a little before bed since it is one of the only times during the day I have to write.) I really like this one when I stick to it because it helps me slow down my thoughts and relax more.

We can implement all the changes to our technology habits we want, but until we look at how our choosing our devices over people we love affects the psyche of those people, we probably won’t implement any changes.

We have to ask ourselves, in the long run, will what we read on Facebook matter when we are looking back on our life at the end of it? Will the latest cat meme, the latest celebrity gossip, or the latest political rant by your dad matter at the end of your life if it caused you to lose your connection with someone in your life who wanted to connect with you in person?

I think for most of us, the answer to those questions will be ‘no.’



Creatively Thinking: Too much social media kills creativity

I’ve decided the more I’m off social media, the more creative I can be, which is why it looks like another social media detox is coming up in the next week or so and it may last 30-days like I did earlier this year.

Actually, saving my creativity isn’t the only reason for dropping off social media – saving my sanity is more important at this point. In May I actually deleted my Facebook account, except for a ghost account to keep my blog page on there. Ignoring my better judgment, I went back on at the end of the summer and I can’t see that it has improved my life much at all.

When I slip into a depression slump I find myself scrolling through social media too much and when I scroll through social media too much I don’t do things I need to do or really want to do, like write my book or write a blog post or take photographs or – blah – clean the house. I just end up a depressed, moody slug sitting in front of my computer. I also end up angry, bitter and frightened for my childrens’ future.

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This past spring I did a social media detox and that’s when I started writing ‘A Story to Tell’ and decided to publish it as a weekly serial on here and then as a Kindle book. The success for me was simply how writing the story, and sharing it on my blog, was a distraction from social media, “news”, and from some challenging relationships in my life.

When I go on social media, I end up so wrapped up in the nonsense I read that I neglect the parts of my life that actually bring me joy — especially the more creative parts.


Social media is an addiction for many people. If you think it isn’t for you, do what I did last December and focus on how often you reach for your phone or computer to log into social media each day. Notice how many times you log into social media when you’re bored, lonely, procrastinating or avoiding real life (or certain people). I bet it’s more than you think because I know it was for me.

Another important aspect of learning how social media affects you is to notice how you feel after you sign off social media, or a news site.  Do you feel happier? I’m going to guess the majority of us can’t say that we feel anymore enlightened, elated, or hopeful about life after we’ve scrolled through a social media site. On the contrary, we probably feel like the world is on fire.

For creatives, it’s important to ask yourself if social media supports or hinders your creative flow. I’ve personally found that excessive social media use rarely supports creativity. In fact, for me, the constant digital noise I once engaged in silenced creativity altogether.

How can you think of new ideas, or use your imagination, when someone, or something, is constantly in your ear telling you what you think and who you are? More than once in the last two years, I have read about the need for all of us to seek more solitude and shut out the noise of the world around us.

Silence can facilitate daydreaming and daydreaming supports and strengthens our imagination. Imagination leads to creativity and then creativity leads to joy for even the most left-brained person out there. Creativity isn’t always about the arts . Creativity is also important for technical thinkers out there who need time create plans for projects or lists for completing whatever it is that helps them feel more organized. For many of us, organization helps us feel more grounded. Not having the time to create that organization because we are distracted by social media can leave us feeling discombobulated. 


I have asked myself why there were so many great writers hundreds of years ago and less of them today? I have a feeling it is because hundreds of years ago the only thing people had time to do when the sun went down was think and daydream.

It’s not that social media is all evil. It connects us with new people, new ideas, and different worlds. It helps us reach people in a way we never could before. The evil part of social media is that we have allowed it, and what is shared on it, to distract us to the point that we have pushed aside activities that could actually further our society. Social media has no power over us that we don’t give it and many of us (me included) have given it awhole lot of power, let me tell you.

I don’t have any proof that inventions and innovations have decreased since the Internet and social media took over the world, and the exact opposite may be true in some fields, but I wonder if cures for cancer, or solutions to climate change, would have been found already if half of us weren’t scrolling social media; watching the circuses that are our congresses and parliaments; judging our neighbors; tsk-tsking the family member or acquaintance  in the middle of a divorce who has decided to write about it on social media; comparing ourselves to every other mother, writer, photographer, human being on the planet; and trying to change ourselves to fit some imaginary ‘normal’ in society.

Think about all the positive changes we could have made, not only in our own personal lives but in the world in general, if we weren’t staring at cat memes on our phones all day long. I have a feeling Satan knows that and has enjoyed dangling stupidity in front of us so we wander off the path we should have been taking all along.

All of this to say, I need another social media detox and you probably need it too. During my break last year and earlier this year, I offered some tips how to “survive” (or rather thrive) when you leave social media (even if only for 30-days); what I had time to do once I set social media aside; and how I felt when I logged back into Facebook after such a long break.

I know some of my blog readers aren’t even on social media (God bless you!) and some were on and promptly logged back off again. What’s your experience with social media? Do you find it stifles your creativity or productivity? How do you handle that? Are you better than me at balancing social media with your real life? If so, I’d love some pointers about how you do it. Let me know your thoughts in the comments. The last time I wrote about social media (Facebook for most of us), I had some really fun and insightful comments. 



Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 1

This is a warning: If you haven’t read the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, you might not want to read A New Beginning, which is the second part of her story. You can find the first part of Blanche’s story on Kindle or in Paperback, on Amazon (after December 17 it will be on all ebook readers and on other paperback sellers). However, you don’t have to read the first part to be able to enjoy A New Beginning.

As always, this is the first draft of a story. There will be typos and in the future, there will be changes made, some small, some large and as before I plan to publish the complete story later as an ebook.

You can find links to each chapter HERE, or at the top of the page.


Light, Shadows & Magic (2)Five years later I could still vividly remember the moment I broke Hank Hakes’ nose with my foot after he broke mine with his fist. I still heard the sick crunch of his bones under my heel like it was yesterday and could still clearly see in my mind his glazed eyes before they closed and his face fell into a pool of blood on the carpet.

I knew if I didn’t remember how Hank had beat me and I had fought back, I might let my walls down, and then my son and I would be left vulnerable again. I wasn’t about to let that happen.

Maybe that’s why I was so uncomfortable when my best friend Emmy Lambert said she couldn’t wait for me to meet her cousin from North Carolina. The truth was, I had met J.T. Waignwright years before, when we were both children, and the memory wasn’t one that overwhelmed with me an interest to meet him again. He’d been a scrawny kid with big ears, messy brown hair, and freckles all over his dirt-smudged nose. He had also been loud, obnoxious and downright rude. Imagining that in a 27-year-old man wasn’t making the meeting any more appealing for me.

“This isn’t an attempt to set you up, Blanche, I promise,” Emmy insisted. “J.T. is moving up to work with daddy in his construction business and I just want to introduce him to some people up here. I’ve invited your sister and brother-in-law and your parents too.”

I finally agreed to attend the dinner, hoping Emmy would change the subject.

Emmy tapped her finger against her chin, her eyes focused on the ceiling. “But, if I was setting you up, J.T. would definitely be a good one. He’s handsome, well-built, a former football player, and Southern, which is always a plus. . . .”

I knew Emmy had added the Southern reference because she was originally from North Carolina as well.

“Emmy, you know I’m not interested in dating anyone.”

“Okay. Okay. I was just saying…in case you change your mind.”

“I can assure you, I won’t, Emmy.”

Emmy sighed. “Blanche, you have to get back on the dating horse some day.”

“Do I really? Jackson and I are happy the way things are now. We don’t need anyone messing things up for us.”

“But what if a man simply adds to your happiness? Not every man is like Hank, you know.”

I handed Emmy the papers Daddy had asked me to drop off for Emmy’s father and smiled. “That’s something we can discuss another time. I’m meeting Edith back at the shop for a dress fitting.”

Stepping out onto the street into the sunlight I paused and smiled, shaking my head as I laughed at how Emmy had tried to “sell me” on her cousin. I knew she meant well and wanted to see me happy, but I was among the few in my life who didn’t feel I needed a man to make me happy.

Not long after my conversation with Emmy, I was in my small sewing shop with my older sister while she tried on the dress I had made her.

“Oh, Blanche! I just love the dress!”

Edith twirled in front of me, the bottom of the dress swirling around her in a blur of dark red.

She slid her hands down the front and resting them on her hips, she admired herself in the full-length mirror. “Do you think Jimmy will like it?”

I stuck the pin I had been holding between my lips into the pincushion next to the sewing table and stood, admiring the view of my older sister filling out the dress I’d made for her. I didn’t have to look at how it fit her to know her husband was going to love the dress she was wearing.

“He likes anything you wear, you know that. You could wear a garbage bag and he’d fall all over himself trying to get to you.”

Edith tipped her head back and laughed, dark curls spilling across her bare shoulders. “You think so? Even with all this weight I have on my hips?”

“I know so.”

Edith turned, admired herself in the mirror by looking back over her shoulder, eyes traveling down below her waist.

“It doesn’t make my – “

“Your bottom is fine,” I said with a laugh. “But I can loosen the fabric a little in that area if you like.”

Edith wrinkled her nose and tipped her head to one side as she studied her reflection. “Nah, I think this is going to work fine for our anniversary dinner. More than fine. You’ve done such a beautiful job, Blanche. Thank you so much.”

Edith had always been beautiful, but she never seemed to believe it. As a teen and young adult, she’d always needed some sort of reassurance that she was beautiful and wanted. At one time in our lives that reassurance came from the attention of boys – lots of boys. But six years ago, Edith began to see herself through the eyes of someone more important than the next boy in line – God. When she realized God loved her for who she was – faults and all – her opinion of herself shifted and she began to understand that she was loved – not for what she did or how she looked, but for who she was inside. Even with that realization Edith still had days she worried about her appearance. What was different now was that she worried exclusively about how one specific person saw her – her husband, and one-time high school sweetheart, Jimmy Sickler.

I unfurled a roll of fabric, spreading it across the cutting table. “Allie Davenport wants a summer dress in this fabric, what do you think?”

Edith snorted, tipped her chin up slightly and looked at herself in the mirror, pulling the top of the dress slightly down to reveal her shoulders

“I think Allie should worry more about the fact that everyone in town knows she’s running around behind Larry’s back with Jason Taylor than a summer dress.”

“Edith! That’s awful!”

“I know it’s awful. Larry proposed to her only a month ago – she’s going to break his heart.”

Edith had changed a lot since we were children, especially after she had started attending church more and even more so when she married Jimmy, but she still possessed a tendency to gossip and judge.

“God’s still working on me,” she liked to remind me.

I knew what she meant. God had been working on me as well in the last five years and he still had a lot of work to do. There were many days I looked at myself in the mirror, measuring tape hanging around my neck, pencil tucked behind my ear, and laughed at the irony of someone who had once hated sewing now working as a dressmaker. As a teenager, I couldn’t thread a needle, let alone create an entire fashionable outfit for the women in town or hem pants for the men. While I had once silently cursed the idea of attending sewing classes with my mom and sister, sewing was now supporting me and my 6-year old son Jackson.

“So, why do you think Emmy wants you to meet her cousin?” Edith asked, still admiring the dress in the mirror.

“She says she just wants to reintroduce him to us so he knows some people in town now that he’s moved up here to work with her dad,” I said. “But she’s probably like everyone else who thinks Blanche needs a man to fix her life.”

Edith frowned as she turned to look at me, then pursed her lips together in a disapproving expression. “Everyone? I’ve never said you need a man to fix you, so not everyone says that.”

I sighed as I folded the fabric for Allie’s dress and laid it on a shelf behind me. “Well, Mama and Daddy and Emmy then. Not you. Still, I don’t know why they all don’t understand that I like life the way it is right now. I’m content. Jackson is happy. We’re doing well.”

Edith folded her arms and leaned back against the sewing table, a smile tugging at her lips. “And you don’t have to let anyone in and risk being hurt again. Good plan.”

I playfully tossed a rolled-up piece of tissue paper at her. “Hush your mouth, as Emmy always says.”

Edith laughed. ‘Well, it’s true and you know it is.”

The front door to the shop opened and our father stepped inside, briefcase in hand, grinning as he saw Edith trying to reach to unzip the dress from behind.

“Well, you look nice, Edith,” he said. “Special occasion?”

Edith smirked and shook her head, tugging at the zipper. “Daddy…you know it’s Jimmy and my anniversary next week.”

“Oh? Is it? You’ve only mentioned it ten times in the last few days. I must have forgot.”

Edith playfully slapped her hand against Daddy’s shoulder as she walked past him toward the changing room. “Very funny, Daddy.”

“You ready to head home, kid?” he asked me. “Mama’s making fried chicken for dinner and I bet she’d love a break from that crazy kid of yours.”

I laughed, knowing my mama never called my son crazy and loved the days she was able to spend with him, playing with him, cooking him lunch and helping him prepare for Kindergarten, which he would start attending in a few months.

“I’m anxious to see him,” I said, gathering my measuring tape, scissors, and extra thread spools and shoving them in the top drawer of the sewing table. “But I doubt Mama wants a break from him.”

Daddy smiled. “I have to agree. She does love that boy.”

Edith stepped out of the dressing room in a button-up pink shirt and a flared light blue skirt, hooking her long, curly hair into a ponytail. “Speaking of being anxious to see someone, I’ve got a husband to head home to and cook up some dinner for.”

She hugged me quickly and kissed Daddy’s cheek. “Thanks again, Blanche. I’ll swing by next week to pick it up. I don’t want Jimmy to see it until that night.”

Locking the door to the shop, I thought about how I’d spent the first year after my divorce floundering, trying to get my footing as a single mom at the age of 20. I stayed home with Mama, helping her cook and clean and care for Jackson, but rarely left home, even for church, keeping myself emotionally locked up in the solitude of shame. Eventually, I took a part-time job at the library, began attending church again and visiting the sewing circle meetings with Mama on Wednesday nights. I also started writing a column for the local newspaper.

I’d left the library job when Doris Thompson asked me if I’d be interested in helping her in the sewing shop. I agreed and a year later Doris semi-retired, working three days a week at first and then one day. Six months ago, she’d signed the business over to me and remained on as landlord only, collecting a reasonable monthly rent from me.

“I have to stop and drop my column off to Stanley before we head out,” I called to Daddy over my shoulder, walking down the sidewalk and sliding a folded stack of papers out of my handbag.

Daddy grunted and looked disgusted as he opened the driver’s side door. “I’ll wait for you in the car. I can only feign politeness for so long with that man.”

I grinned as I walked, remembering Daddy’s dinner rant a few months ago about editor Stanley Jasper’s editorial about the war in Vietnam.

“What’s that fool even talking about, saying we should get involved in the conflict over there?” Daddy said, fuming as he read the paper. “There is no way we should be sending our boys over there. Who does that man think he is? Moves in here from the city and then acts like he knows it all. I am telling you – I have half a mind to go into that office and tell that editor what an ignoramus he is.”

And Daddy did go into the newspaper office, but he came out even angrier than when he’d gone in. Stanley’s name was off-limits most days and Daddy wasn’t thrilled with me submitting a column to the newspaper but said maybe my lifestyle column would help to offset the drivel Stanley typed out on the opinion page each Sunday.

The newspaper office was buzzing with the noise of reporters on the phone, typewriter keys clicking, the press in the back running, and sports reporters commenting on the latest home run by Mickey Mantel.

“Latest column, Blanche?”

Reporter Jerry Simms looked up from his typewriter, sliding a pencil behind his ear. He jerked his head toward Stanley’s office door on the other side of the office. “You know the drill. Hand it to Stanley so he knows it’s here.”

Stanley wasn’t originally from Dalton. He’d grown up in Philadelphia and was a transplant, referred to by many in the county as a “flatlander,” a term used affectionately when people agreed with him and with a sneer when they disagreed with him.

Stanley’s brown hair was speckled with gray and disheveled, as usual. His jawline was unshaven, circles darkened the skin under his eyes, and his clothes were wrinkled, his shirt untucked.  He was sitting where he usually was when I come in to drop off my column, behind his desk in the middle of a cloud of cigar smoke. Leaning back in a large leather chair, his feet were propped on top of the desk, a sheet of paper in one hand, the cigar in the other. He moved the paper to one side as I stepped inside the door and stuffed the cigar in the corner of his mouth.

“Good column last week, Blanche,” he said around the cigar. “I never thought I’d get so caught up in the story of a pregnant cat.” He shrugged and pulled the cigar from his mouth, holding it between his index finger and thumb. “Small town people eat that stuff up. Who knew?”

I wasn’t sure if the comment about small-town people was meant to be a compliment but I chose to accept it as one since it was as close as Stanley was probably going to get about a column he saw as “soft news.” In journalism lingo, soft news was considered low priority and traditionally thought of as inferior to the harder news. From what I could see, though, it was often the “soft news” that created more of a buzz at the local diner in a small town each morning.

“Well, this week we have an update on the cat and her kittens,” I said. “I’m sure the small-town folk you speak of will love that too.”

The newspaper’s typesetter Minnie Wilkes sashayed her way into the office and snatched the column from the top of Stanley’s desk.

She turned and looked at me with bright green eyes and long, dark eyelashes, made even darker by heavy, black eyeliner and brown eye shadow. “Hey, Blanche. I love typesetting your column. It’s way more interesting than the political stuff Stanley writes.”

Stanley rolled his eyes. “Thank you, Minnie. Your opinion is duly noted, though not asked for.”

Minnie winked at me as she walked out of the office again.

Stanley stuffed the cigar back in his mouth and moved the stack of papers he was holding back in front of his face.

“Keep up the folksy stuff, Blanche. It sells papers. And that’s what we’re in the business of doing, selling papers.”

Outside the office, standing in the sunlight I looked out at the town I’d gone to high school in and sighed. In front of me was the town square, a gazebo in the middle of it. Behind it was one of the oldest banks in the state, Community State Bank, and next to the bank was the Dalton Theatre, built-in 1893 and only slightly renovated since then. Down the other end of the street next to me was Bert’s Pharmacy and a few blocks over was Holden’s Supermarket. Across the street from the supermarket was the post office and two blocks away from the post office was the building where I’d spent many of my days after school, waiting for Daddy to finish at the office and drive us home  – The Dalton Public Library.

I’d never felt like I’d fit in at school or in this town and that feeling was even more prominent after I’d left Hank and returned. There were days I was sure I could feel the judging eyes of people on me when I walked into Bert’s Pharmacy or Holden’s Supermarket when really the feeling was probably something I’d conjured up in my own mind. Since coming home I had earned a General Education Diploma, started attending church again, was running my own business, writing for the local paper, and slowly working my way back into the community.

I still struggled with feeling out of place, still kept my eyes downcast most of the time, but more and more I was able to raise my eyes and see kind expressions and nods of greeting. It was beginning to feel like maybe I wasn’t the outcast I’d always thought I was.

“So, Blanche. . .”

Anytime Daddy started a sentence with “So, Blanche. . .” I knew he was about to suggest something I needed to do or should have done.


“I’ve been thinking . . .”

I knew then the conversation was going to be an uncomfortable one. A ‘So, Blanche’ and an ‘I’ve been thinking….’ in less than thirty seconds? This was going to be interesting.


“I think I should teach you how to drive so you can have a little more freedom.”

I let my breath out in a heavy sigh.

“You’re almost 25, Blanche,” Daddy continued. “You’ve been home five years now. I don’t mind driving you where you need to go, but I think it’s time you start, you know, spreading your wings a little bit, gaining some independence. I love having you and Jackson living with us, you know that but someday, well, you will – or you could – you might – meet someone and . . .”

“Daddy . . .”

“Well, you might. I mean there are plenty of eligible, good men in this county and it is possible you will, you know . . . Ah. You might want to drive out and meet him somewhere or – “

I could tell Daddy was nervous by the high number of “you knows” he was uttering. I knew he and Mama were “old school” and felt Jackson needed both a father and a mother, but I wasn’t willing to marry someone just to look good to others or fulfill my parents’ wish that I be a married mother instead of a single one.

It was hard for me to believe it had been five years since I had left Hank and returned home with a one-year-old on my hip and a heart full of hurt.  In the same way, I could remember the night I fought back, I could still hear the gunshot echoing in my parents’ house the night I thought Daddy had killed Hank.

“Y-you could have killed me, you crazy old man!” Hank had sputtered in disbelief, looking at the ground in front of his feet in shock.

“I could have, and I still can,” Daddy told him. “Now go before I have to.”

When the taillights faded into the darkness that night I closed my eyes against the tears and wondered if Hank would try to come back again someday. He never did. His mama told me one day when I took Jackson to see her, like I did every week, that she’d got a letter from Hank a year after I’d left him, saying he was moving out west. That was the last she’d heard from him. I knew it broke her heart that her oldest son never contacted her, but I could tell that seeing Jackson helped relieve the pain. I’d seen Hank once before he left to go out West, but he hadn’t seen me, and I never told my family about it. I didn’t know if I ever would.

“I’ll think about the driving lessons,” I told Daddy, hoping he would change the subject now.

“Well, you know, that’s all I can ask, I guess,” Daddy said, clearing his throat, looking at the road in front of him.

I looked out at the road too, watching as the paved road faded to dirt, dust billowing around the car as Daddy turned down the road that would take us home. I closed my eyes, tired from the long day, but also fighting back thoughts and emotions I had tried to bury for five years.

I was still consumed with an inability to forgive Hank or myself for all that had happened after I’d run away with him at the age of 17. I despised myself for letting him abuse me with his mouth and his hands. The times Hank shouted me down or tightened his hands around my wrist or arm seemed to finally give him the power his abusive father had stripped from him during his childhood.

The night I left him, he’d shoved me against a table, dragged me by my hair and tried to stop me from leaving our apartment with our son by grabbing my leg and yanking me to the floor. When I fought back and broke away, I ran to my friend Miss Mazie’s house and never looked back.

More than fighting to forgive myself for leaving with Hank, I couldn’t seem to find a way to forgive myself for the danger I’d put Jackson in by staying with Hank; how I’d caused Jackson to have a life without a father.

In that first year after I left Hank, life unfolded around me like a movie I was a part of but had no say in. I came home to my parents, a father who had barely spoken to me in three years, and a mother who welcomed me with open arms but somehow blamed herself for my smashed in nose and bruised face. I pushed the emotion of those years with Hank deep inside me and the darkness of it all lingered in the darkest caverns of my heart for two years, eventually leaving me in a state of emotional numbness.

Slowly I began to feel again – laugh again, trust again, hope again, at least when it came to my family and my future. I had no interest in a romantic relationship of any kind, though and still didn’t. I wasn’t about to let anyone break down the walls I had built around my life and heart, walls to protect me, but more importantly Jackson. I had exposed my son to darkness and pain once before. I refused to do it again.

I wouldn’t let my guard down for someone who could shatter the life I’d built for us like Hank almost had. Protecting Jackson, giving him a life free of hurt was my only goal and I made sure I stayed away from anyone who could threaten our security.

Creatively Thinking: My creative brain has the worst timing

My creative brain awakens at the most inopportune times. It’s asleep when I need it to be awake and awake when I need it to be asleep, so I can sleep. It’s like a newborn baby.

Recently it went to sleep for a while and I was struggling with the sequel to ‘A Story to Tell’ but then, this week, it woke up, which would have been more exciting if it had happened during the day, when the children were otherwise occupied, but no, it woke up at midnight and nudged me at 1 a.m. and then again at 9:20 a.m., when the children were actually still asleep, but needed to be awake.Ó’

On Sunday afternoon, my husband was napping, my son and daughter were up in my son’s room and I was alone with time to write. Do you think anything would come to my mind for the new book then? Of course not! Because it wasn’t 1 a.m. and I wasn’t trying to sleep. I don’t know if any of you out there are writers, (well, I know many of you are at least bloggers, so you are) but writers know we can’t hush the Creative Brain at any point it awakens either. Much like the unwritten rule, “Never move a sleeping cat. Even if you can’t feel your legs anymore.” is the rule, “Never hush the muse once she begins to speak or she will NEVER speak to you again!”

I can’t move when the muse is speaking. I must simply write, even if my eyes are falling closed with exhaustion because if I move, the muse will fly away and Blanche won’t tell me the rest of her story and she’ll never return and I’ll never finish the book and I’ll be a failure! A failure, I tell you!

That’s probably not true, but my brain thinks it will happen that way because I have a vivid imagination. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to write fiction, right?

So how about you? Whether you’re writing blog posts, fiction or non-fiction or even technical manuals, when does your Creative Brain wake up? Is it the worst time possible like me? Let me know in the comments!

Lisa R. Howeler is a writer and photographer from the “boondocks” who writes a little bit about a lot of things on her blog Boondock Ramblings. She’s published a fiction novel ‘A Story to Tell’ on Kindle and also provides stock images for bloggers and others at and