Lest we forget

I just can’t shake that image. It’s something I’ll never forget…

Like everyone else, I’ve witnessed heinous sights online since the vicious attack on Ukraine began, but none so upsetting as that image

It was the anguished screams of a young woman that grabbed my attention and drew me toward my husband’s computer screen, where he sat watching a horrific scene as it unfolded in the Ukraine: a man and woman racing along a hospital corridor and stumbling into an examination room behind a nurse who cradled a small bundle wrapped in a blood-soaked blue blanket. The woman’s voice was frantic as she cried out, “Oh God, why couldn’t you save him?” Gently, the nurse laid the blue-wrapped bundle on a table—the blankets parted to reveal a beautiful 18-month-old baby boy. He was dead. The sobbing young mother bent over to place a gentle kiss on his tiny forehead. 

I promptly dissolved into a mess of tears as I remembered how, just the day before, I too had bent over a baby boy, my precious grandson, to plant a kiss on his forehead, laughing as he squealed with delight—something that this little boy and his mother would never again be able to do. 

This heartbreaking glimpse of just one of the many murders that have taken place since Putin waged his senseless war against the Ukraine is the one that I’ll never stop seeing. How is it even possible to process the loss of so many innocent lives, simply because a madman with a rotted soul happens to walk among us? It’s hard not to wonder Why?

History has provided more than enough proof that the suffering and loss of life that comes with war is never worth the price, but time has a way of making us forget the lessons taught from distant battlefields. 

Bad things happen, we assimilate, we go on with our daily lives, and quite often, we forget. 

Perhaps for that reason, every so often, the universe spawns malevolent souls such as Putin, empty of any real emotion other than their lust for power at any cost, and plunks them here on earth to wreak havoc on the innocent. It’s certainly the only answer I can come up with—it’s the only way to assign any kind of meaning to the horrific images I’ve seen.

I need to believe that such dark souls are sent here for a specific reason—that they are tools meant to teach us lessons of value: that in the end, good will always, always find a way to triumph over evil. 

I need to believe that God, or a higher power, or the universe, or whatever you choose to call the energy source that creates all of the miracles that make life such a blessing—also wants us to learn the importance of keeping our faith in the belief that good will reign

If you look at how quickly a whole world became united in our deep compassion for the people of Ukraine, as well as in our outrage against the abhorrent actions of a monster—that is proof that good reigns. 

The world will not tolerate evil, and the monster’s name will now forever go down in history as nothing more than a bad taste in the mouth of humanity—that is proof that good reigns.

The madman never anticipated the fierce courage and spirit of the Ukrainian people, and that the world would rise to stand behind them—that is proof that good reigns.

The current plight of the Ukrainian people serves to further accentuate how devoid the madman is of basic principles of decency, like honesty or any of the other great virtues demonstrated in the past by the most admired and respected leaders in history. It has never been more clear why he must resort to lies, oppression and punishment to force his people to obey him—that is proof that good reigns.

No matter how Putin’s fruitless war plays out—in the face of so much suffering and loss of life, I have faith that good will win in the end… that we are meant to learn once again that evil has no chance of prevailing when there is still so much good in this world.

        Numb—

I plunge
chest deep
into a rippling pool
of wildflowers.


My shadow stains
what was once vibrant
         with sun
     with birdsong
with the joyful dance
of delicate wings.


        No pain—

as I drown
in this fragrant lake
          of milkweed
      and thistle,
goldenrod and clover.


A ragged, mighty gasp
fills my lungs with
           itchy
      scratchy
squirmy things
that rend and devour
the tattered shreds
of my heart.


          Numb—

Those serrated words
that curled from your lips
in a sinister tangle of shards


         No pain—

as they pierced my skin
to release the last crystal drop
     of my trust,
         my innocence.


         Empty—

I watch the drop as it descends,
its lustre now tarnished.


It vanishes into the soil
to become one
with other scattered, broken bits
of nature’s detritus,
long withered
and brown with decay.

My Girl, Your Boy

I was inspired to write the story below back in 1987. The images that flooded my mind as I pushed my baby daughter on a swing in the park were too vivid not to be developed into a short essay once I got home.

Over the years, my thoughts would return every so often to this story I’d written. I wondered about the very special boy who would someday steal my daughter’s heart. I would think about his mom, as well—and I just knew that she loved him as deeply as I love my girl. 

Yesterday, as I scrolled through my files, I stumbled upon “My Girl, Your Boy” again. And guess what? My story has become reality. That wonderful boy married my beautiful girl, and now, his mom and I are overjoyed to share twin grandbabies—a little boy and a little girl. 

My story has come full circle.

MY GIRL, YOUR BOY

I am pushing my baby girl in a swing at the park when you first enter my mind.

It’s a perfect spring day: watercolor blue sky, warbling Robins, a breeze as soft as a whisper carrying a hint of new blooms, mown grass, clean wash on the line. 

The park unfolds at the foot of our street, just a few steps from our front door. The ancient swing set, anchored between thick iron chains, has wide leather seats that have been worn smooth from use over the years. There is also a tiny basket seat, tailor-made for babies. This park is perfect for us.

My seven-month-old girl is strapped into the basket seat. This is her first time on a swing and her feelings are evident—downy head flung back, mouth gaping open in a grin that bares two tiny white crescents breaking through the top gum. Her dimpled, sausage-roll legs jerk about and she squeals with each gentle push that I give her. The purity of her joy causes my heart rise into my throat. Out of the blue, I think of you.

Perhaps you, too, are in a park right at this moment, as your mother pushes you on a swing… or chases behind you as you creep with surprising stealth through the grass. I can feel you. I also know how helplessly, hopelessly, heels-over-head-over-heels in love your mom is with you as her eyes capture these fleeting images and preserve them in her mind: the curve of your elbows, the creases behind your knees, your round eyes sparkling with mischief as you pause, mid-crawl, to glance back at her over your shoulder.

I hope that she will teach you all the things that are truly important: please and thank you, the value of honesty, respect for others, respect for yourself. I hope she will prepare her boy just as I am preparing my girl.

In my mind, I reach out to her and we share a smile. I know that someday, she and I will laugh joyfully together across a kitchen table set for tea, as we bounce the grandchildren we share on our knees. I know that you, baby boy, and my baby girl are destined to share a wonderful life together, pushing park swings of your own.

Alone

Immobile, 
I stand watch 
over my surroundings. 

My eyes never close.
My stance never changes. 
I am always aware. 

I cannot speak, yet I can hear and see. 
I cannot touch, yet I can feel.

I yearn to scream, 
to reach out, 
to be heard. 

I yearn in vain, 
for I will never be free of 
the binds that confine me 
to this fate.

I long to touch, 
to trail a fingertip along 
the surface of a leaf 
on the plant that sits beside me. 
So delicate in appearance, yet 
such strength, 
such tenacity in its growth. 
I have memorized 
the intricate web of veins 
etched into each leaf, 
the curling vines, 
the blend of jade and olive 
stippled with shadows and light. 

I feel the powerful resonance of your music 
as it seeps its way 
into my being. 
I want to move, to sway, to leap 
with the vibrations.

I smell the enticing aromas 
of your kitchen;
they drift and curl around me—
such agonizing wisps 
of temptation. 
I watch you partake. 
My hunger 
is my anguish.

So weary am I of observing, 
of studying, 
of longing. 

How eager I am to live as you do, 
to experience all 
that I watch you take 
for granted.

Yet, remain here I will, 
for as long as you will have me; 
standing still and silent 
until the day you grow tired of me,
and throw me 
to my final death.

Can you see the tears in my eyes? 
Of course not, 
for I cannot cry. 

I am just an ornament—
a decorative figure to
embellish your mantle.

As you pause to study me, 
to admire me, 
I invite you to look a little closer. 

Try to see the invisible tears 
of one who lives 
dormant and lonely.

Here’s a quiz to test your tech intelligence (or lack thereof :))

Before you buy your loved one a tech gift, have them take this quiz so you’ll know whether or not you’re about to waste your hard-earned money.

ARE you a Technology: 
1. Crackerjack  2. Geek  3. Drama Queen or 4. Digi-Dunce?

Take this quiz and find out!

802.11a. A hard drive is:

  1. The road in to my cottage. Too many potholes. 
  2. OMG! My last golf game!
  3. Duhhhh—it’s the guts.
  4. A high-capacity, self-contained data storage device inside a sealed unit.

802.11b. Where do you use your computer most?

  1. I hammered four newel posts into my old laptop and now I have a handy little TV table to eat on while watching “Diff’rent Strokes” reruns. 
  2. Um…It was sitting on the stove and…OMG! I don’t know how it happenedbut somehow…I turned on the wrong burner by mistake! So, now only three burners on my stove are functional!
  3. While I chill inside the stainless-steel privacy pod I ordered from Amazon. 
  4. Anywhere I need it. It goes wherever I go. 

802.11c. Do you know what cache is?

  1. Naturally. It’s what I get out of the ATM. 
  2. I had a lot more of it before my laptop had a meltdown.
  3. Dumb question. It’s where I store all my internet porn.
  4. Basically, it’s storage. Cache stores recently used info where you can quickly access it.

802.11d. At the end of the day, do you shut it down or keep it running?

  1. With gas prices the way they are today, I shut it off. Most definitely. 
  2. Another time…by mistake…I left it running under my bedcovers (whoops!) while I was away for the weekend! The firefighters managed to salvage my garage…where I am now living.
  3. I’m on it 24/7. I can sleep and keyboard at the same time. 
  4. I shut it down and unplug to conserve energy. 

802.11e. Your laptop is really, really warm. You…

  1. Slip on my Speedo and go for a swim. 
  2. I make sure I haven’t turned on the wrong stove burner again!
  3. Where there’s no smoke, there’s no fire. Clearly, I keep on keeping on.
  4. Just run it on a cooling pad and you shouldn’t have that problem. 

802.11f. If you’re using Safe Mode, it means…

  1. Heh heh. Just take a look in my night-table drawer. 
  2. I’m picking up sushi tonight instead of going anywhere near my stove! 
  3. I don’t need Safe Mode. My computer is an extension of me. It is a superpower. 
  4. Your operating system is running in a diagnostic mode with minimal configuration and generic drivers, in order to attempt a correction of system errors.

802.11g. Where do you see the future of Artificial Intelligence?

  1. Back at Mar-a-Lago, where it belongs.
  2. You mean, like, aliensOMG! Have you seen one?!
  3. I could show NASA a thing or two. My entire house has been robotized since 2003.
  4. I believe that technology will continue evolving even faster to make our lives easier.

802.11i. Your keyboard is filled with snack crumbs. What do you do?

  1. I never eat while playing my piano. 
  2. Eat them! Especially if there’s chocolate in there! I LOVE chocolate!  
  3. Never happens. I designed and built a vacuum system into my keyboard.
  4. Use a can of compressed air to blow them out and it will be good as new.

802.11k. Your friend gets a new notebook that’s much cooler than yours. Reaction?

  1. So what? Maybe I prefer loose-leaf in a binder. Who really cares?
  2. Which friend? Is it Marcia? She owes me money! Can I put a lien on her notebook?
  3. Moot point. I have no friends. 
  4. I admire it…then I head over to my tech supplier and pick one up for myself.

ANSWERS:

MOSTLY A’s: You’re a Digi-Dunce
You live for reruns of “That 70s Show” and “All In The Family.” Contrary to what you believe—people are not always laughing with you—they’re often laughing at you. The only belonging that you can’t live without is your ratty La-z-boy chair with potato chip crumbs between the cushions and a pocket organizer filled with TV remotes hanging over one armrest. Your biggest-ever tech purchase was a pair of wired headphones that you use to listen to Neil Sedaka.
Helpful Tip: If you want to learn some basic tech instruction, try offering the second-grader next door a case of Mountain Dew and a family-size pack of Sour Patch Kids in return for his advice. If the kid gets frustrated and ditches you for the ice cream truck, just forget about it and go lose yourself in some more crossword puzzles.

MOSTLY B’s: You’re a Techno Drama Queen
You have watched every reality show ever produced (OMG! Jersey Shore! Big Brother! Laguna Beach! Naked and Afraid!!) People no longer bother emailing you blonde jokes because you just don’t get the punch line. You’re harmless as long as you don’t go within ten feet of a kitchen. You love your many friends as much as they love you, but you will never understand why their eyes cloud with puzzlement every time you tell a story…and then they roar with laughter because they think you’re joking—You’re not. 
Helpful Tip: Meal-delivery services were designed with you in mind, so please sign up for one. Then have someone help you to disconnect your stove and drag it to the curb for garbage pickup. Last, fill the empty space between your…cupboards with a desk unit—don’t even bother attempting to search for one online…you’ll have to visit a local furniture store where a nice salesperson will set you up in a wink. They’re trained to be nice to everybody—even people who watch reality TV.

MOSTLY C’s: You’re a Techno Geek
You own the original film reels for every Star Trek episode ever made; how they came to be in your possession is one of the great mysteries of the universe. You have dreams of arm-wrestling your idols: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, but not one of them have responded to your relentless rounds of email requests. Your long-time live-in girlfriend was built using a Roomba and other electronic odds and ends.
Helpful Tip: It’s time to donate your authentic Spock ears and Vulcan uniform to a Disney park, and go buy yourself a nice golf shirt and jeans. It’s also imperative that you cease and desist using your military-grade drone to spy through the neighbors’ bedroom windows; peeping toms are totally uncool. Most important: dude—get out there and make yourself some human friends! 

MOSTLY D’s: You’re a Techno Crackerjack
You are technically savvy and you’re also really cool and everybody likes you a lot. Although you have the ability to hack into any computer system on earth, your great sense of integrity prevents you from invading anyone’s privacy—unless of course Homeland or Mossad were to offer you a contract for gazillions of dollars. Aside from that, you techno-rock!

A very different kind of fairy tale…

Warning: The following fairy tale is NOT for kids.
No siree. It’s for all of us grownups who are sick and tired of reading about all the nasty shit going on in the world these days and would, for once, like to read a story with a happy ending.

So, go curl up on the couch with your blankie and a cold beer… ’cause it’s story time!

Jack And His Beanstalk

I was not amused when Jack developed a sudden zest for gardening. The last time he’d flexed his green thumb, it had got him thrown in the slammer.

He came home, not with news that he’d finally found employment, but with a ratty leather pouch containing a few seeds he’d won in a poker game. You heard me right. He won seeds in a poker game. When he added that they were magic seeds, I lost it.

“How much beer have you drank today, Jack? Are you into the pot again too? Those are marijuana seeds, aren’t they? How could you go back on your word like this?”

Clutching his silly pouch of seeds as if it were a sack of rare diamonds, he shook his head. “I didn’t smoke nothing. And no more than ten pints touched these here lips. I was a good boy today, Ida. And it’s gonna pay off in spades!”

I glared at the sorry lout that was my lot in life for the past thirty-six years, spun on my heel and stormed down the hall to our room, from where I sent his pillow and beddings sailing smoothly out the door to land magically at his feet. The slamming door was my exclamation point.

After a fitful night’s sleep, I arose early with a thirst for a good, strong cup of coffee. While I ran water at the sink, I caught my reflection in the windowpane.

I couldn’t help but despair at the tired face that stared back at me—old beyond her fifty years. (Yes, you figured the math right. I was just a bit of a girl when I was fool enough to marry Jack. Fourteen, to be exact.) My reflection faded as a movement out the window caught my attention. I nearly dropped the coffee pot at the sight that met my eyes.

There was Jack, crouched over a freshly turned patch of earth by the shed, planting his “magic” seeds. Turning away from the window, I slammed the empty coffee pot on the counter and stomped back to the bedroom to change. I had to get away. It was obvious that Jack had lied to me and was back to growing “the smoke” again, instead of hauling his rump out to look for work. There was a time when those plants had nearly destroyed our lives. I thought he had changed. I was wrong. And I was devastated.

***

After a morning spent rifling through the racks at the new Save-A-Dollar in town, I had cooled off considerably. It’s amazing really how therapeutic it can be to treat yourself to a comfy new pair of elastic-waist jeans. I was ready to go home and confront Jack.

I called out his name as I entered the house, but there was only silence. In the kitchen, I dropped my parcel on the counter… then dropped my jaw at the scene that greeted my eyes through the window.

There was Jack perched at the edge of the half-rotted Adirondack chair he’d “found” on garbage day, peering intently at his dirt patch which had sprouted a leafy green sapling about four feet tall.

“What in the…?” were the first words that came to my mind. How could seeds planted just this morning be producing growth already? Could Jack be playing some kind of mind game with me?

I flung open the kitchen door and stalked across the lawn, fists planted firmly on my hips to keep myself from punching him.

“Jack O’Toole. What the hell kind of game do you think you’re playing with me?”

Jack’s head snapped around, his eyebrows meeting his hairline as he gawked at me.

“What do you mean, Ida? What game?”

I took a deep breath to keep myself from exploding, and growled.

“I saw you planting those seeds this morning, Jack. Do you really think I’m stupid enough to believe that they could’ve grown this much already?”

Jack’s shoulders relaxed as he waved a hand and chuckled. “Oh. Of course. You didn’t believe me when I told you they’re magic seeds.”

He sighed, leaning forward in his chair to grasp both my hands in his.

“I know how crazy it sounds, Ida, but I’m telling you the truth. I swear on Stinker’s grave,” he said, motioning with his chin toward the small mound of earth under the kitchen window. The patch was marked with a cross I’d made from twine-trussed branches, a laminated photo of our beloved old mutt—bless his little I-love-to-roll-in-crap heart—duct-taped to it.

“I’m not growing illegal contraband. I’m not playing games. These seeds are one of a kind. Old Callaghan brought ‘em back from Ireland. He told me he bought ‘em from a wee odd man who appeared outta nowhere after he’d stopped to take a whiz at the side of a dirt road outside the village of Ballybeg. Paid three-hundred pounds for ‘em! Callaghan’s eyes were like a pair’a beer taps, he was cryin’ so hard when he had to hand ‘em over to me. In all our years, I’ve not seen him so distraught.”

Jack nodded toward his plant, which had sprouted another foot as I’d stood there listening to him.

“The wee odd man told Callaghan that these seeds are guaranteed to bring good fortune to and fulfill the wildest dreams of he who possesses ‘em.”

He released my hands and leaned back in his chair to resume watching over his magic plant.

“Trust me. You’ll see proof soon enough.”

I leaned forward to take a closer look. It definitely wasn’t a marijuana plant. I knew what they looked like, thanks to years spent watching “Farmer Jack” tend his precious crops in our back yard until the day Morris Dwick from next door—pissed off after Stinker’d chased his cat over to the next county—tipped off the cops. The day Jack returned home after serving his sentence, he swore up and down to me that he was turning over a new leaf. Excuse the pun.

And he had. Until now. Was it any wonder that little soldiers of suspicion were marching up and down my spine?

As he talked, the plant grew some more, right there before my own eyes. It looked just like a beanstalk, with identical leaves and lush, orange blossoms. It was now the same height as the shed and sprouting more vines as I watched it, dumbfounded.

Could Jack actually be telling the truth? It was certainly beginning to appear that way. I continued to stare at the plant.

“So, Jack, just how will this plant be bringing us good fortune? If it gets you a job that pays in tax-free gold bricks, I just may fall over with a heart attack.”

Jack shrugged. “I don’t know exactly how, Ida. I just know that our luck is about to take a turn for the best. Callaghan said the wee man promised that he who plants the seeds shall find paradise at the top of the world. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”

I sighed. “All right then. I’d best go in and start supper. I don’t imagine that the plant will be taking over my chores anytime soon.”

I went back inside the house, now feeling a tingle of excitement as I busied myself preparing a big pot of my famous Canada goose stew. While I chopped and diced, thoughts of “happy dances” bloomed in my mind, and a good half-hour passed before it dawned on me to take another look outside at Jack and his beanstalk.

I gasped and the knife slipped from my fingers and fell to the floor, missing my big toe by a hair. The beanstalk was now the circumference of a thirty-year-old oak tree. I craned my neck in an attempt to see the top of the monster plant, but it had vanished into the low cloud ceiling. I was either in the process of completely losing my mind or this truly was magic.

I turned the burner down under the stew and hurried back outside to check things out. Jack’s Adirondack chair was vacant. I glanced around the yard. “Jack?”

I peeked into the shed. “Jack? Are you in here?”

I scratched my head and chewed my lip. “Where the heck did he go?”

I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled, “JACK! Where are you?”

A distant voice on the breeze—Jack’s—responded from somewhere far above me.

“I’m just checking things out up here, Ida. Don’t you come up though. You might slip and fall. Just yell when supper’s ready and I’ll come right back down!”

Frowning, I reached out and touched a finger to the stalk. It was soft as velvet, but solid as granite. I looked up, hoping to see Jack, but my eyesight wasn’t sharp enough to locate the precise spot where the stalk had pierced the clouds. I backed up a step, frightened suddenly at the magnitude of the strange events that had taken place over the past twenty-four hours. Perhaps Jack really would find our fortune up there.

My curiosity finally won out over Jack’s orders to stay on the ground. I wiped my damp hands on my apron, took a deep breath and raised my foot to the first vine. The creepers that wound around the trunk were thick and sturdy—spaced as closely as the rungs of a ladder. I wasn’t as nimble as I used to be, but for some reason, I found myself climbing the plant with the buoyancy of my youth. Before long, I was ascending that baby as swiftly as a mountain goat in the Rockies. I even began to whistle a tune as I climbed.

As I made my way through the clouds, I wanted to shout, “Pinch me—am I dreaming?”

They may look like fluffy cotton balls from the ground, but they certainly aren’t so soft and cuddly when you’re climbing through them. I cursed as the heavy mist drenched my new pants.

At last, my head broke through the clouds to behold blue skies and lemony sunshine that drenched the emerald grounds of a palatial, breathtakingly beautiful mansion. And…

There was my Jack, his big belly propped atop his crossed bird legs as he lounged like a king on a mound of royal blue velvet cushions beside an Olympic-sized pool. The pool was filled with what appeared to be beer, a solid gold fountain in the middle spouting a sudsy amber geyser. In one fist, he clutched a crystal mug of ale, in the other, a fat Cuban cigar.

A twittering harem of diaphanously garbed floozies were clustered around him, some feeding him nachos and cheese, others fanning him with peacock feathers and palm fronds.

Across the way, a hockey game (with the Toronto Maple Leafs winning by a landslide) blared on a widescreen TV as big as a Boeing 747, while nearby, in a gem-encrusted gazebo, Jack’s poker cronies were hunched around a marble table that overflowed with gold coins. They were playing cards, draining suds, and basking in the attention of another flock of “I Dream Of Jeannie” wannabes.

I was SO stupefied… SO stunned… SO flabbergasted… I wouldn’t have been surprised had a clap of thunder and a lightning bolt erupted from my mouth once I was able to open it. Instead, it was my voice that burst forth, “Jack?! You slimy, bottom-feeding son of a…”

“Oh crap! Ida! What the hell are you doing up here? Oh crap!” Jack leapt up from the cushions, guilty as a politician defending his expense account. I couldn’t hold back an incredulous guffaw as I took in the tight white suit he was wearing—straight from the seventies—the jacket unbuttoned to display that his once beast-like chest had been shaved clean and adorned with ropes of gold chains.

“What the hell is this at the top of your stupid magic plant, Jack? A new sequel to Saturday Night Fever?”

I turned to glare at his cronies. They looked like a shoal of fish—eyes popping, mouths gaping open. The tarts hovering around them had become a frozen tableau, all eyeballing me curiously.

“And you! You gang of…” Oh, they weren’t worth my breath. I spun around to redirect my glare at the genies that huddled around Jack.

“You know what? You can have him! He’s all yours!”

I lowered a foot back onto a vine to begin my descent. Jack’s mouth was working but no sound was forthcoming.

“And you know what, girls? Jack-and-his-beanstalk, my ass! It’s more like a sprout!”

I descended as swiftly as I’d climbed until my feet hit the solid ground of our backyard. The anger boiling under my skin was the force that propelled me to the shed, where I dug out an axe and proceeded to chop down that blasted beanstalk… and Jack out of my life, once and for all. I have to admit—I was none too upset when it finally crashed down on top of Morris Dwick’s double-wide.

Once I was done, I pitched the axe back into the shed, slapped the dirt off my hands and felt some of my fury begin to dissipate. Stepping out of the shed, I paused a moment to rub my eyes. The fallen beanstalk had completely vanished (although it had left behind a huge crater in Dwick’s roof—heh heh).

I peered skyward for a few calming moments. Then I did a sprightly little two-step before heading back to my house for a heaping bowl of stew.

***

This being a fairy tale—Ida proceeded to live happily ever after, of course!

THE END.

 

ALTERNATE ENDING #2:

Once I was done, I stomped to the shed, pitched the axe back inside, slapped the dirt off my hands and felt my fury begin to dissipate.

Turning back toward my work, I halted and rubbed my eyes. The fallen beanstalk had completely vanished (although it had left a huge crater in Dwick’s roof—heh heh).

I crouched to get a closer look at the patch of earth where a massive beanstalk had existed only moments ago. It was now nothing more than a freshly turned patch of earth. Astonishing? Not really.

I straightened up and stretched languidly, raising my eyes skyward. The thick cloud cover had dissipated to reveal a limitless stretch of sun-washed, robin’s-egg blue.

I stood for a moment, my smile a radiant tribute to this picture of transcendence.

Prompted by the grumble of my appetite, I blew a kiss to the wind and turned toward the house, ready for a yummy bowl of stew on this, my first day of Happily Ever After.

THE END.

 

ALTERNATE ENDING #3:

Once I was done, I stomped to the shed, pitched the axe back inside, slapped the dirt off my hands and felt my fury begin to dissipate.

Turning back toward my work, I halted and rubbed my eyes. The fallen beanstalk had completely vanished (although it had left a huge crater in Dwick’s roof—heh heh).

I crouched to get a closer look at the patch of earth where a massive beanstalk had existed only moments ago. It was now nothing more than a freshly turned patch of earth. I peered a little closer… Perhaps there wassomething there.

Kneeling, I brushed at the earth then clawed at it with my fingernails. I scrambled into the shed, grabbed a spade and began to dig.

I struck it at the exact moment the sun sank beneath the horizon and the first evening star appeared.

***

Fast-forward one year…

I’m sipping the world’s finest champagne as I gaze out over the sparkling Mediterranean Sea from the yacht that serves as one of my vacation homes. Stinker II is curled up on my lap, dolled up in the most precious little custom-made cummerbund and bow tie. A team will soon arrive by shuttle to do my hair, nails and makeup for the dinner party I am hosting tonight in honor of my new best friend, His Royal Highness. Donatella is also arriving shortly with a gown she designed just for me. A nip here, a tuck there—I’m a whole new woman.

Good fortune and my wildest dreams fulfilled… I’m on top of the world thanks to the endless fountain of black gold I struck right in my own backyard. And thanks to a few magic seeds that provided me with the means to chop away a bad chapter of my life.

***

Of course, this being a fairy tale, Ida—or rather Princess Ida (as is her new destiny)—lives happily ever after with a real prince.

THE END

 

Your Purpose

I’ve long wondered about the force that drives my passion to write. I can’t recall a time in my life when I haven’t had the concept of a story brewing in my mind. Am I destined someday to write a narrative that will touch others? …that might inspire one soul to take a different path? Could my words help influence a decision? …offer a bit of cheer in a life that needs brightening?

I believe that each and every one of us were assigned special gifts—gifts that make us as individual as our fingerprints. Some of us have yet to realize our signature abilities, but they do exist, nestled deep in wait until the time is right for them to surface.

There are those who are verbally gifted. A kind word to someone in need, an inspirational anecdote to raise the spirits, the comfortable chatter that binds a friendship.

Some are blessed with a keen ability to listen. There is no better salve for a troubled heart than the undivided attention of a good listener who truly cares.

Some are gifted jesters. A hearty dose of laughter fertilizes the seeds of lightness and healing to help them take root in the soul and flourish.

Then there are those who, with a swipe of brush across canvas, create wondrous visuals to remind us that beauty exists in the simplest of things…it’s all around us, all the time—there to be seen with open eyes and minds.

And there are those blessed with musical gifts. They have the power to mist our eyes with tears and our souls with joy, simply by unleashing their acoustic ingenuity.

But not every person’s gifts are so clearly defined.

The healing touch a parent uses to soothe a child.

The love that seasons a meal prepared to bring others together.

The smile that lights up a city block.

Every life on earth has meaning. And every living creature has been designed with a master plan.

I believe that our special abilities are tools we’ve been given so we can add a bit of magic to this world and help make it a better place.

So share your gifts and feel your purpose. If you can positively influence even one soul in this lifetime, whether or not you realize it, you will have made a difference.

Bored shitless? Here’s a short story for the current times…

Better Get Betty Some Butter

Betty ran a hand through her silver-white hair as she stared down at the baggie on her counter. That baggie contained a thing most precious to Betty—a single slice of Wonder bread. There was a time when her freezer had been jam-packed with loaves of that good old, plain white bread and pound after pound of Gay Lea butter. But that was before the virus had turned the country into a wasteland of food stores with no food—just aisle after aisle of dust-laden shelves scattered with battered tins bearing no labels and perhaps some packs of cat treats.

Betty glanced between her toaster and the appetizing slice of bread nestled in ziplocked safety. Closing her eyes, she swooned at visions of golden brown toast dripping with real butter. Her last bit of butter had run out long before the loaves of bread, and she’d been forced to switch to the government-issued margarine, which was comparable to eating toast buttered with candle wax. Now, she was down to her last precious slice of Wonder.

Last week, she’d ventured outside and onto the doorsteps of some of her neighbours, yelling through their locked doors in an appeal for a spot of butter that they might like to trade for perhaps a tin of sardines? All she’d heard in response were a few muffled “fuck offs.” She’d never much liked any of the assholes anyway.

Betty was tired through to the marrow of her bones. The world had changed in the most terrible of ways and, after well over a year of social distancing with thousands of deaths reported every day in the news, she didn’t have much hope that she would live to see the world change back to how it once was.

Every Monday, government officials in hazmat gear performed a door-to-door delivery of a few essential dry goods, left in a sterile box on the front doorstep of each house. Stale bread. Pats of margarine. Well screw this, Betty thought to herself, I want a goddam piece of toast with butter.

Betty wrapped a bright fuscia scarf around her neck, then shuffled to her front closet and yanked out her sunny yellow spring trench coat. She shrugged into it, hung her purse on her arm, then out the door she went into the quiet of the new badlands.

The supermarket was only two blocks away. Residents were not permitted to go there unless they needed emergency essentials, which was why she was going. She needed butter.

Betty kept her head down as she marched along the sidewalk. She was in no mood to make eye contact with any of the jerkoffs peeping out their windows at her. Her arthritis had done a number on her hands—she couldn’t even give a proper middle finger any more.

The fresh air had Betty feeling slightly more chipper by the time she began to cross the empty supermarket parking lot. There were two cars parked up near the front door. She remembered the days when she would curse the fact that finding a parking spot was like panning for gold in the Don River. How she longed for those days again.

Betty entered the store. Most shelving had been dismantled, and only about a quarter of the store was now being utilized. It was really more a bodego than a grocery store. The proprietor stood behind the only cash register, glaring at her over his face shield.

“Lady, you should be wearing a mask,” he barked.

“Mask, shmask,” Betty snapped, “I’m 88 years old and more than ready to leave this hell-hole of a planet anyway. But I do need to purchase something first.”

The man shook his head and went back to wiping down the counter.

Betty made her way down the one aisle and around the corner to the dairy cooler, where a small, stooped figure draped in a long rain poncho and what appeared to be a beekeeper’s headgear stood peering through the glass doors. As she approached, the figure started, and turned toward her.

“Why aren’t you wearing a mask?” It was the gruff voice of an elderly man, whose features she could barely see through the thick black mesh covering his face.

“Why are you dressed like an apiarist? I don’t see any bees around here,” Betty replied, tightening her hands on her purse handle in case she needed to swing it at him.

A guffaw burst from behind the mesh hood. “How the hell do you know what an apiarist is—which is what I once was, actually.”

“Because I’m smart,” Betty said. “That’s how I know.”

“More like a smart ass,” he snarled.

Betty glanced at the cooler and gasped. “Butter! There’s a pound of butter in there!”

“Yep. And it’s mine,” the man said. “I was here first.”

Betty scowled. “Oh yeah? Beat it, buster.” She yanked the cooler door open and reached for the foil-wrapped treasure.

The man’s gloved hand swatted Betty’s hand aside, and as he grasped the butter, Betty coughed repeatedly on him. The man shrieked, dropping the butter on the floor as he hurtled his body away from her.

“Thanks! Don’t mind if I do!” Betty said, snatching up the butter and digging a five-dollar bill from her purse as she hurried toward the cash register. “Here,” she said, tossing the bill at the proprietor. “Keep the change.”

That evening, Betty savoured a large bowl of her favourite split pea soup…

along with a perfectly toasted, golden-brown slice of Wonder bread slathered in real butter.

A change of perspective might help. Try seeing this as an Isolation Vacation

With all social activities shut down, most people working from home, and everyone holed up in their homes 24/7, the words “I’M BORED” are becoming the most-repeated words in the English language (second only to “pandemic”).

BORED is just another word for OPPORTUNITY.

As an introverted type who is quick to choose seclusion over socializing (unless my spouse drags me forcibly out of the house), I have some suggestions to help you bust through your boredom. Even if one of these isn’t typically your thing, give it a try. You might discover a new interest that you would never have believed you’d enjoy so much!

Give your inner child a chance to come out and play.

When you were a kid and there was nobody around to play with, what did you do? Draw pictures? Make paper airplanes? Work on a jigsaw puzzle? Bake cookies? Write a poem?

I remember sitting in my room as a kid with a department store catalogue (remember Eaton’s?) and a pair of scissors, cutting out the pictures of models and turning them into paper dolls with different outfits, also cut out of the catalogue. Nowadays, I’ve seen some awesome projects online where people have used pieces cut from magazine pages to make art collages—there are so many inspirational ideas out there, even if you don’t consider yourself to be creative, some of these ideas may pique your curiosity. We all have some form of creativity buried deep inside, ready to be released with just a bit of encouragement. When you were a child, you did this without even thinking about it. Go online and check out what other people are doing. The ideas there are endless. Try to see self-isolation as an opportunity to meet up with your long-lost inner child and allow yourself to have fun playing again.

It’s never too late to learn something new.

Is there something new you’ve wanted to learn, but never had the time? Well, now’s the time! Thanks to YouTube, there are endless instructional videos online covering just about any topic. Think of a new skill you might like to learn, and look for an online video tutorial. Try learning a new language, a new recipe, tackling a small home repair yourself… the options are infinite.

Get a jump on your spring cleaning.

It’s definitely an ideal time to clean out and organize your closets and cupboards. Or tackle some early window cleaning. Or dismantle and wipe down your light fixtures. My window blinds throughout the entire house had about an inch of dust on them, so I took an afternoon to clean every one, as well as all my light fixtures. I need to wear sunglasses inside my house now! Put your confinement to good use, and by the time this pandemic is over, your house will put Martha Stewart’s to shame.

Here is—hands-down—the BEST way to relax…

Indulge in the extreme pleasure of curling up on the couch with a cup of tea or coffee and a really, really good book. There is no better way to unwind. The public libraries may be closed, but their online resources are not! If you have a library card, go online and check out your public library’s database of ebooks and audio books. You’ll be absolutely amazed by their selection of everything from fiction to memoirs to DIY manuals and so much more. There are no late fees like there are with hard copy books, and best of all, EVERYTHING THERE IS FREE! If you don’t like the book you borrowed, just click on return and borrow another one. As long as you have an electronic device (laptop, tablet, phone), all you have to do is download the borrowing app (you’ll find easy instructions on your library’s website) and start borrowing.

Your public library doesn’t just lend books—you can also borrow online magazines as well as music and videos! They even offer an incredible selection of learning resources and correspondence classes on just about every topic—all electronically. Again—everything is FREE. I’ve always said that most people don’t realize the great value they have at their fingertips in our public libraries; well now is a good time to make that discovery.

I’ve recently developed an addiction to audio books that I listen to while going for long walks outdoors. It’s like being a kid again and having somebody read stories to you—it’s honestly the most zen way to spend a chunk of time.

Get back to nature.

And speaking of being outdoors—you won’t get COVID19 by getting outside. Go for strolls around the neighbourhood (keeping social distancing in mind as you pass by other walkers) and clear your head with some fresh air (one good thing about this pandemic is that it has had a positive effect on the environment, since most cars are now confined to their driveways instead of clogging the roads and the air we breathe). Slip on some boots and go on a trail hike in a regional forest. There’s nothing better for the soul than getting out into the great wide open; it’s the most natural pick-me-up you can treat yourself to.

You can still enjoy lots of social time with friends.

Are you going crazy without face-to-face social interaction? That’s the beauty of Skype and FaceTime. A few times a week, I get a cup of tea and sit down in front of my computer for a FaceTime session with my girlfriends. It honestly feels no different than if we were sitting in the same room together. Sometimes we hang out on-screen for a couple of hours at a time. It’s so much fun… and I don’t have to clean the house before they come over 🙂

P.S.: The phone isn’t just for texting—you can also call people and actually talk to them!

Music is medicine for the soul and body.

To me, music is the ultimate mood lifter. When you’re feeling antsy, put on some of your favourite tunes and dance! Not only will your spirits lift, you’ll get in a great workout too. A friend of mine dug out her old skipping rope and plans to skip every day to burn off some of her restlessness. I have a bunch of old workout DVDs collecting dust in a cupboard. I may just dig them out and try different types of workouts for a change. Getting yourself into the habit of some form of daily exercise is guaranteed to give you more energy, improve your mood and boost your immune system. You will also sleep better than you’ve slept in years.

There are still many reasons to count your blessings.

No matter how bad things get, there will always be something to be thankful for. In the face of all of this doom and gloom, I challenge you to write down at least one thing that you’re grateful for every single day. There will always be something. You are alive and in good health? Be grateful for that. There are still sunsets to watch, and flowers that will bloom, and birds singing their songs, and people who love us, and there’s always hope if you keep the faith. I wish I could remember who wrote this impactful saying—I’ll leave you with it now: “The best often comes after the worst happens. You can either move on, or you can dwell on the things you can’t change. Either way, life will go on.”

F.Y.I.: I highly recommend the books below. They are among some of my favourites:
An Embarrassment of Mangoes – Claire Bidwell Smith

Around The World in 60 Seconds – Nas Yassin
The Light Between Us – Laura Lynne Jackson
Behind The Beautiful Forevers – Katharine Boo
Falling in Honey – Jennifer Barclay
From Broken Glass – Steve Ross
The Gratitude Diaries – Janice Kaplan
After This – Claire Bidwell Smith
I Heart My Little A-Holes – Karen Alpert
Humans: A Brief History of How We F—-d It All Up – Tom Phillips
Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
Messages – Bonnie McEneaney
Our Kind of Cruelty – Araminta Hall
Pandemic – Sonia Shah
The Accidental Veterinarian – Philipp Schott
The Afterlife of Billy Fingers – Annie Kagan
The Cow in the Parking Lot – Susan Edmiston
The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom
The Joy Plan – Kaia Roman
The Killer Across the Table – John Douglas
The Noticer – Andy Andrews
The Pull of the Moon – Elizabeth Berg (ALL of Elizabeth Berg’s books are AWESOME)
The Rabbit Effect – Kelli Harding
The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
The Sex Lives of Cannibals – J. Maarten Troost
Getting Stoned With Savages – J. Maarten Troost
Messages From the Masters – Brian Weiss
Many Lives, Many Masters – Brian Weiss
Lessons from the Light – Kenneth Ring
An Invisible Thread – Laura Schroff
Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt
The Geography of Bliss – Eric Weiner
The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls
The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch
Night – Elie Wiesel
Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
Sht My Dad Says – Justin Halpern
The Soul of an Octopus – Sy Montgomery
Until I Say Goodbye – Susan Spencer-Wendel

And there are so many more. I would need thousands of pages to list them all.

 

Pandemics exist thanks to financial greed, corrupt governments and inept leadership. Here’s the proof…

The book, Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond by Sonia Shah, is essential reading for every person on this planet.

It’s one of the most important books for the 21st century and beyond. The prizewinning science journalist, author Sonia Shah, provides a compendium of brilliantly researched information that leads you on a journey through a history of world pandemics (unfortunately, it’s nothing new), along with lots of solid proof of why the human race does not seem to be capable of learning from past mistakes—and I don’t have much hope that we ever will, thanks to our global connection to those corrupt governments who lead first and foremost driven by financial greed and hunger for power, with little or no value placed on human life.

The only thing that we, the little people, have the power to do is to simply continue living our lives and building in habit-forming, common-sense precautions such as lots of hand-washing with soap and water (water alone doesn’t work—the soap binds to the oil in your skin thus causing the germs to slide off as you’re washing), and avoiding large crowds when possible. Most important, we must educate ourselves about why events like this happen and what we must do to keep ourselves as safe as possible. This book will do that for you.

With that said, I thought long and hard about the way the world is evolving these days, and it’s making me feel sad that so many people are living so fearfully. The piece I wrote below is how I feel about it all, and I hope it helps add a little positivity to all the negativity happening in the world right now.

LIVING IN FEAR IS NOT LIVING

The Coronavirus is frightening. No doubt about it.
BUT… wasting even one day of your life in the constraints of fear is not living.

Bottom line: when your number is up, it’s up. I do believe that those of us who haven’t yet completed what we were put here on earth to accomplish, or haven’t yet learned the lessons that we’ve been put here to learn, are not going anywhere, any time soon. But if the ‘powers that be’ have deemed our mission here to be finished, whether we depart by Coronavirus or are hit by a bus is a moot point. So why waste one more precious day living fearfully?

Instead, embrace the choice you have to live your life unafraid.

Naturally, you want to approach each day using the same common sense precautions that you would have whether or not you’d heard about the Coronavirus in the news. Do that.
Then go on and live.

Life is the greatest of gifts—to live it fully is an act of gratitude.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Prizewinning science journalist Sonia Shah presents a startling examination of the history of viral infections that have ravaged humanity―and how that knowledge prepares us to stop the next worldwide outbreak.

Over the past fifty years, more than three hundred infectious diseases have either newly emerged or reemerged, appearing in territories where they’ve never been seen before. Ninety percent of epidemiologists expect that one of them will cause a deadly pandemic sometime in the next two generations. It could be Ebola, avian flu, a drug-resistant superbug, or something completely new. While we can’t know which pathogen will cause the next pandemic, by unraveling the story of how pathogens have caused pandemics in the past, we can make predictions about the future.

In Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, Shah interweaves history, original reportage, and personal narrative to explore the origins of epidemics, drawing parallels between cholera, one of history’s most deadly and disruptive pandemic-causing pathogens, and the new diseases that stalk humankind today.

To reveal how a new pandemic might develop, she tracks each stage of cholera’s dramatic journey, from its emergence in the South Asian hinterlands as a harmless microbe to its rapid dispersal across the nineteenth-century world, all the way to its latest beachhead in Haiti. Along the way she reports on the pathogens now following in cholera’s footsteps, from the MRSA bacterium that besieges her own family to the never-before-seen killers coming out of China’s wet markets, the surgical wards of New Delhi, and the suburban backyards of the East Coast.

By delving into the convoluted science, strange politics, and checkered history of one of the world’s deadliest diseases, Pandemic reveals what the next global contagion might look like―and what we can do to prevent it.

“The power of Shah’s account lies in her ability to track simultaneously the multiple dimensions of the public-health crises we are facing.”―The Chicago Tribune

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