Blog

God’s Gift at the End of the Storm

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 11.42.02 AM.pngMy husband, Jim, and I wept bitter tears when cancer took Brinkley, our fourteen-year-old lab/German shepherd mix on October 29, 2015. We agreed that we would live the rest of our retirement years without getting another dog. But as the months went by, Jim’s resolve began to waver. His desire for a dog became a point of contention between us.

By the time summer rolled around, Jim was circling ads in the pet section of the local newspaper. I wanted no part of it and hoped he’d find something else to divert his attention—another hobby, or maybe a part-time job. But I never wished for the diversion to come in the form of a catastrophic event.

August 11, 2016. Jim and I stood at our living room window in Baton Rouge watching as lightening struck and thunder boomed with the ferocity of unrelenting incoming artillery. Rain fell in sheets, cloaking our neighbors’ houses behind a veil of gray. The storm drain on the street in front of our home quickly backed up and began belching and bubbling as if choking to swallow the deluge that poured down its throat. Instead of passing within hours, the weather system hovered over us for several days.

On August 12, flooding became a reality many people were forced to face. The next day, a flash-flood emergency was issued for areas along the Amite and Comite Rivers, several miles from our house. Newscasters pleaded for people to evacuate.

We were riveted to the local news on TV and watched with saddened hearts as backwaters filled neighborhoods, inundating large swaths of homes up to the rafters. For some, the water rose so swiftly, they barely had time to escape with their lives. Those who lived beyond the borders of designated flood plains were taken by surprise when their houses flooded.

Even before the National Guard could scramble into action, the Cajun Navy—a flotilla of motorboats owned by caring individuals—put to sea, so to speak, and set to the task of rescuing those in distress. Man or beast, it didn’t matter. If it lived and breathed, these brave men and women did their utmost to save them.

People who were trapped in attics or on rooftops took to social media to cry for help. The Cajun Navy was quick to respond.

We survived the storm unscathed, our home unaffected by the flood. In the days that followed, we went on a quest to find where and how we could help those who had suffered the devastating loss of their homes. The local news put out a plea for donations of various kinds to be brought to Celtic Studios, a movie production facility here in Baton Rouge that had opened its doors to those in need.

Armed with boxes of diapers, wipes, and bags of dog and cat food, we joined the droves of citizens who answered the call. One building at the facility housed not only people, but their pets as well. By the time we’d delivered our bags of kibble, they’d already had a veritable mountain of donated dog and cat chow stacked against the wall.

We responded to a call for help at another facility in Gonzales where hundreds of rescued animals were sheltered. Spending the day there, we walked dogs, cleaned their pens, fed and watered them.

In the end, we decided to pick one family and concentrate our efforts on helping them. Our youngest son’s friend had been flooded with several feet of water. Jim helped gut their house while I washed, dried, and folded at least twenty loads of clothes that reeked of river silt. I sent a few lunches with Jim to feed the homeowner and his buddy, and made a big pan of lasagna to send to the family.

My contribution to the recovery effort was miniscule and felt insignificant when compared to the depth of suffering going on around me. My heart hurt for the family we were helping as well as for all those who had lost so much. I wept every day for weeks.

When a semblance of normality returned to our lives, Jim once again broached the subject of getting another dog. Once again, I balked at the idea.

On a sunny afternoon that October, we went out to lunch at Jason’s Deli, one of our favorite places to have a nice meal, sit, and talk. As I sat across the table from this incredible man whom I’d adored for over forty years, it suddenly occurred to me how selfish I’d been to deny him the simple pleasure in life of having a dog. I surprised him, and myself, by suggesting we go to PetSmart to see if any of the pet adoption agencies had any puppies he’d be interested in.

I meandered the aisles of PetSmart, not really wanting to peruse the perimeter of the store where pets were displayed. As I turned the corner, I saw Jim walking a black puppy on a leash. For several minutes, I followed them. Finally, I approached, squatted, and petted the pup. Admittedly, he was adorable and rather cuddly.

Deacon .JPG
Deacon in October, 2016

“He’s about eleven weeks old, and his name is Deacon,” my husband said. “Best they can tell, he’s a lab/border collie mix.”

Looking up, I could see in Jim’s eyes that he’d already formed a bond with the little guy. We agreed to adopt Deacon.

As I sat filling out the adoption papers with the pup on my lap, the APAWS volunteer told us that the Cajun Navy had rescued Deacon and three littermates from the August floodwaters.

I resisted the urge to weep as God touched my heart with the sudden realization that Deacon was a gift to me—a token of love, and a living reminder, that even through the storms of life, kindness prevails.

Here’s what Deacon looks like today:IMG_3691.jpg

~****~

Note: The experience of helping out at the animal shelter after the 2016 flood was the inspiration for my latest novella,

Thanksgiving at Canine Corral

ookiewookie__thanksgiving_kindle

 

buy-on-amazon

Writer’s Block and the Unfaithful Muse

drawing-269870_1920

Muse: a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.

My thoughts are stagnant. My imagination, stilted. And, I’m quickly falling into the dreaded state of literary malaise. I wonder if I was ever good at the craft of writing, and I’m starting to lose hope that I’ll once again be inspired enough to pick up my quill and write again.

What’s causing the awful state I find myself in, you ask?

I blame that darn muse of mine. I’m pretty sure she ditched me and is now sitting beside some other writer, tickling his or her ear with stellar prose and intricate plot lines. I strongly suspect that, like a wayward, no-good, cheating spouse, she divides her loyalties and affections on a whim.

paradise-598201_1920

Of course, it could be that I’ve simply worn  my poor muse to a frazzle. Squeezed her too hard for ideas. Asked too much of her. Maybe she needed a sabbatical to refresh herself. 

Could be that she’s vacationing on some remote island paradise, sipping margaritas on the sand. Or snorkeling in azure water, enjoying a little time off.underwater-2347255_1920

But I’m in too much of a snit to be forgiving, and either way, I’m not sure I want her back.

I know what I’ll do. I’ll just get another one. From Amazon. They sell muses, don’t they? On Prime? If I have to pay for shipping, I’ll have to choose an extremely lean model. Naked, too, to save even further on shipping costs. I’ll feed and clothe her upon delivery. And then…

No!

I must stop this awful behavior!

This silly rant. 

What I really want.

What I really, really, really want, is for my muse to come home. We have a  cavernous vault of happy memories and an untapped sea of ideas we’ve yet to dive into. Together.

Dear Muse,

I miss you. Please come home and play with me again.

Your faithful friend,

Irene

dog-2618021_1920.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flowers and Heroines

 

gardening-1117865_960_720Many years ago, when I was in grammar school, fund raisers consisted of sending kids home with order forms for different kinds of flower seeds. My dutiful mother always bought a few packs to save me the embarrassment of turning in blank forms with zero sales. When orders arrived, Mom and I covered the kitchen table with newspapers and jumped into the task of planting seeds. Problem was, city slickers like us—both being born and bred in the Bronx—knew nothing about the proper way to plant anything.

the-motif-2341061_960_720We brought in the flower pots that had sat on the fire escape of our top-floor apartment through the winter, broke up the ball of last-year’s roots, shook off the dirt, and planted our seeds. Spindly shoots fought a good fight, grew a few inches, and died a hard, neglected death.

flowers-1203699_960_720My uncle owned a florist in Staten Island, New York. Though we didn’t see him often, I thoroughly enjoyed traipsing through his shop, smelling the fresh scent, and seeing the wonderful array of colors. Even though he didn’t grow the flowers himself, he’d evidently been born with a gene my mother and I seemed to be missing.

I’ve always loved flowers. When it came time to pick an occupation for the heroine in my book, Christmas at Dumpster Corral, I chose her to be a florist.

ookiewookie__christmas_kindleHere’s where I get to sneak in a little plug for my book. Tee-hee. The kindle version is on sale for 99¢ through July. You can buy it HERE.

 

lily-561074_960_720

 

Oh, by the way. My favorite flower is the stargazer lily. What’s yours?

 

 

 

 

Be Careful, Little Ears…


not-hear-2230770_1920
Be careful, little ears, what you hear, eyes what you see, and tongue, what you say. Our brains are like sponges, taking it all in. It’s easy to be disheartened by the hate and discontentment all around us.

Bad news sells. Or so I’ve always heard. Seems the stories of stellar behavior, excellent character, and goodwill toward men are always tucked away in an obscure corner of the newspaper or given twenty-seconds’ air time on the evening broadcasts.

And so, precious readers, I propose to reminisce for you a few random acts I’ve witnessed over the years that have restored my faith in mankind. These memories are like refreshing wells that bring me joy.

The Woman in the Wheelchair

wheel-3025969_1920The customer in line in front of me at Walmart was confined to a motorized wheelchair. Apparently, whatever injury or illness had taken away her ability to walk had also limited the usage of her arms. The cashier rang up her purchase and leaned way over the counter to accept the payment. Seeing the woman’s difficulties, she came around the counter and asked if she should stow the bag in a cargo pouch attached to the chair. The lady said, “Yes, please.” After that, the cashier took an extra minute to adjust a blanket that had partially slid off the woman’s lap, then tucked it around her so that it wouldn’t easily fall off again. It was a small thing yet done with a heart of compassion and the utmost respect. It touched my heart in a huge way.

Breakdown in the Rain

dinosaur-1564323_1920Everything seemed to be going wrong that day. My Honda Civic sputtered and died on the hill of an overpass. I had my three kids with me –one just a few months old—and a hatch full of groceries. All I could do was put it in neutral and steer onto the shoulder as the car went backwards. In those pre-cellphone days, I was stuck with no choice but to walk to the nearest pay phone in the drizzling rain with my kids in tow. I already knew my husband, Jim, who worked nights and was sleeping in the basement bedroom, would never hear the phone ringing upstairs. After calling multiple times, we all trudged back to the car.

A motorist stopped and asked if we were all right. Normally, I wouldn’t dream of getting in a car with a stranger, but I felt an overwhelming sense of peace when the man offered to drive me and the kids home. His kindness didn’t stop at safely delivering us (and the groceries) to the house. No, he then drove Jim to the car, then to the parts’ store for a fuel pump, and waited until the car started before leaving. This nice fellow wouldn’t accept any payment but a handshake of thanks. I will never forget his generous heart.

Benefit of the Doubt

purse-34371_1280While sitting in church listening to the sermon, my mouth dry as a bone, I decided a stick of gum would give some relief. I turned slightly and started digging through my purse like a squirrel looking for a nut. The woman sitting on the other side of the purse smiled sweetly at me. It was then I realized this wasn’t my purse, but hers. I apologized profusely and even showed her the similarities between our bags. She leaned and told me not to worry, and that she knew I’d made an honest mistake. She’d chosen to give me the benefit of the doubt regardless of the fact that she’d caught me red-handed.

 

I’m sure you have similar experiences, memories small and large that water the seeds of joy, peace, and hope in your heart. Leave a comment if you’d like and share a short story that made a difference in your life. I’d love to hear from you.

~***~

…Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there beany praise, think on these things. Phil 4:8

 

Welcome Home

I was bummed when my daughter, Fawn, and her husband announced they were moving from Louisiana to Texas. Okay, more than bummed. My heart was broken, and I began missing her before she even left.

But as months went by, I got used to her being gone. If I really gunned it, I could be at her house in Arlington in seven or eight hours. Not bad. And staying with her felt like a vacation from the mundane. The arrangement didn’t seem so awful.

Fawn had her first baby in Texas, and I was able to be there to watch my granddaughter, Destiny, enter the world. I can vividly remember the baby coming out, making a quarter turn, opening her eyes, and looking straight at me. The moment is etched in my mind as one of the most beautiful in all my life. My love for this child was instant, strong, and would last a lifetime.

Destiny babyNot long after that, Fawn made another announcement. This time, she and her hubby, along with their new baby, were moving to Malaysia. My first thought, after “OH, NO!” was, “Where on earth is Malaysia?” Turns out, it was on the opposite side of the earth from the United States.

Once again, I grieved losing my daughter, granddaughter, and son-in-law to the many miles (this time, with oceans) that separated us. I hate flying. Do you hear me? I HATE it. Scares me witless. But I pushed aside my fears and boarded a plane. Several planes, as a matter of fact.

I visited my daughter in Malaysia four or five times through the years. The flights were long and grueling, but it was worth it. I was able to stay three months when their twin boys were born. Later, I went over shortly after the youngest (another boy) made a surprise arrival by deciding to pop out in my daughter’s bedroom instead of waiting for a hospital delivery.

Thirteen-plus years from when she had announced their departure from the U.S. to Malaysia, Fawn made another announcement. This time, they were moving back to the States. I was elated, yet deeply concerned.

You see, the gracious people of Malaysia had taken them in as their very own. The children had grown up there. They knew no other home. Friendships—some deep and infused with love—had formed. My daughter’s best friend cried at the news of their pending departure. Of course, my daughter cried too.

Me? I wept over Facebook photos of my daughter’s family farewell-party. More than a hundred people came to bid them goodbye. People they’d grown to love. People who loved them.

My thirteen-year-old granddaughter—the one who’d imprinted on me the moment she’d first opened her eyes to the world—would be saddened to leave the only home she’d known. That fact alone broke my heart.

Destiny's friends - April 2018
Destiny and friends

Shakespeare said, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

I’ve always understood the sorrow part. But sweet? That required some thought. Here is my conclusion:

  • We have loved and have been loved.
  • The pain of separation is great.
  • Despite those two facts, relationships are worth it. And therein lies the “sweet.”

I look forward to their arrival on American Soil.

To Fawn and her beautiful family, I say…

Welcome Home!

Family portrait

The Pot-Bound Adult

It was easy to make friends when my kids were little. Gregarious and full of life and energy, they made friends with kids in the neighborhood and, as a collateral benefit, I made friends with their parents. Minimum effort, maximum benefit. Life was good.

securedownload

When my youngest son was sixteen, I rejoined the outside-the-home workforce. The job provided a pool of people to rub shoulders with, and as a result, friendships were born. Again, minimum effort, maximum benefit.

The changing seasons of life have brought new challenges in the area of personal relationships. My adult children have lives of their own and are no longer a link to people my age with whom to make friends. And as sweet as retirement has been, it also has the downside of having erased the camaraderie of work. No more watercooler chatter, after-work meetups for dinner, or locker room banter with the girls.

In short, making true and lasting friendships has become harder. Much harder. Maximum effort, minimum benefit.

As a result, I found myself withdrawing into my safe place where I could be alone while alone VS being alone in a crowd. For me, there is no greater loneliness than being in a group setting, a church service for example, and feeling overwhelmingly disconnected.

plant-2591576_1920Like a pot-bound plant, the flower of my life was withering and my roots were dying for lack of nourishment. My safe place became a self-imposed prison, and I’d stopped growing as a human being. Something had to change. I had to change.

 

whatsapp-3012138_1920.pngOut of the blue, or so it seemed, (Thank You, God) I got a text from a VERY nice lady I’d met at church months before. She asked if I’d like to meetup with her and two other ladies for dinner. Just a girls’-night-out sort of thing.

As tightly as I’d cocooned myself, it took a bit of effort to say yes, and even more effort to actually show up on the designated night. How utterly happy I am that I went! It was a joyful gathering with lots of laughs, some prayer, and a really good meal to boot. The dinner get-togethers have turned out to be a monthly affair, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

 

The moral of the story?

Take a chance with people.

Don’t be a pot-bound adult.

Other People’s Garbage

movers-24402_1280I have to admit, I was ecstatic when a U-Haul truck backed up the driveway to my next-door neighbor’s house, and they began the process of moving out. I won’t go into detail as to why their leaving brought such joy as I’d already written about it in another blog. It took the neighbors three days to shuttle their things to wherever they were going. By the time they’d pulled out for the last time, they’d created quite a huge heap of discarded stuff at the curb.

lost-places-1998109_1920

The trash pile drew a lot of interest. Pedestrians stopped, pick through it, and some walk off with a few books, a DVD, or a kitchen gadget. Drivers parked their vehicles beside the heap, got out, and loaded odds and ends into their trunks and hatches. One guy put three black kitchen chairs into his truck, examined the fourth matching chair that had an obviously broken leg, then shrugged and threw it in to the truck bed with the others.

Cat peeking through blinds

As I stood peeking through the living room blinds watching people gather like vultures around a fresh kill, my husband walked in and asked what I was doing.

“Just checking out all those garbage pickers,” I said with an added snicker and huff of disdain for good measure. Turning, I said, “You know that box of books I’ve been meaning to donate? They’re old and kind of yellow. I think I’ll just get them out of the closet and toss them on the neighbor’s junk pile.”

Minutes later I heaved the box of books on top of the heap, and…

(here I pause for a sigh of resignation)

…came home with a small, green and white Coleman cooler.

Coleman Cooler.JPG

************************************************************************************

~COMING FEBRUARY 13, 2018~

~AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER NOW~

A SOLDIERS SONG_FINAL.jpg