Monday, July 2, 2018

I love living in the South where blackberries and muscadines grow wild. I have fond memories (and some not so fond) of going blackberry picking when I was growing up in rural North Carolina and the wonderful jams and jellies my mama made with them. My nephew (who is about my same age) and I were each given a gallon bucket with instructions not to come back until the buckets were full.
Fresh picked blackberries

The first half of the bucket was pretty easy to fill with all the blackberries on the perimeter of the bushes. But the second half involved maneuvering your hands through the thick thorns without losing too much blood. The tangled briar patches of berries were often overgrown with weeds and were a natural habitat for snakes to hide out. Couple the prickly thorns and the threat of snakes and you can just picture the two of us dipping in and out of those blackberry bushes like we thought they were going to devour us.
Common Garter snake (ick!)

Trying to fill a blackberry bucket in those conditions brings out the worst in you. You start eyeing the other person's bucket with envy, even sneaking a berry or two into your own when they're not looking. Then there was the arguing and the spills and trying to get that elusive fat blackberry just inches away from your reach, a delicate balancing act that sometimes sent you teetering head first into the brambly bush.
Finally, with buckets filled, we were fast friends again, tromping down the path and across the creek, through the pasture with cows that we knew were going to charge us at any moment. What a dangerous mission we had been on! Then we would march into the kitchen holding our buckets up for Mama to see and beam with pride when she pretended surprise that we had picked so many. But the best part was eating leftover breakfast biscuits with the hot jam that came from the jar that was not quite full enough to put a lid on and seal. Mama would shoo us outside along with the flies we attracted with our sweaty bodies and our sticky jam-coated fingers. We would sit under the shade trees reliving our adventures and the stories would become bigger with the telling. The cows in the pasture became bulls, the garter snakes became poisonous vipers.
But the lingering taste of fresh blackberry jam was almost enough to drown out the misery of what naturally came next - chigger bites. Those pesky little creatures also love to hang out in the blackberry bushes and you don't realize you've been bitten by the bug until the incessant itching starts. But when you're ten years old and chasing lightning bugs, June bugs and dragonflies, you hardly notice.
Fresh blackberry jam

Thursday, June 28, 2018

It'll Be Okay

I sometimes take the challenge when I'm given a poetry or short story prompt from one of my favorite writing magazines, The Writer's Digest. I did so today when my brain screamed that it needed a break from editing. The prompt was to write a poem with EX in the title. It could be an EX-husband, an EXtra special occasion or even EXtracting juice from a coconut, haha. Once upon a time before my days of short stories and full-length novels, I wrote poetry, but it's been a long time. Back in the day capitalization and punctuation rules for poetry and prose were pretty much the same. I love poetry that rhymes and there are so many different rhyming schemes. The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost (see link)  is in the ABAAB scheme. That and the ABAB traditional rhyme scheme are the ones most of you will remember from basic high school English. I also love the unconventional rhyming schemes that poets like Odgen Nash used. I still find his light and humorous poetry delightful!  But sometimes punctuation, capitalization, and rhyming get in the way of our thought expressions so these days almost anything goes. With that in mind, I'm claiming poetic license on my scrambled thoughts in this poem. The challenge, an EX word. I immediately thought of those EXamination rooms where many of us have waited to get good or bad news. It can be a stressful experience. After you've read my poem, I challenge you to write one of your own using EX in the title. It's good mental exercise!

Examination Room

Another scan, another probe
the caller said--just routine
Routine for who my thoughts replied
It’s me, not you

We’ll fit you in Thursday next,
six days from now okay?
My thoughts screamed, no not okay
but answered, yes that’s fine

It’s nothing, I heard from friends,
we’ve been through this before
But that was you, not me my thoughts replied
No worries, I said instead

A mammogram an ultrasound
and then a curtain pulled
to wait with my own thoughts
those wretched thoughts of doom

A knock, a smile, a chart in hand
She lingered by the door
Good news, a false alarm
We’ll see you in a year

For some, the news is not so good
so I’ve learned to never say
It’s nothing, you’ll be okay
I’ll give a hug instead

By: Glenda Manus

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Social Media - How do we use it wisely?

As a writer, I use social media to promote my books, but I'm finding that I use it far more than I should. I get distracted by pop-ups telling me my daughter has posted a new photo or my friend has updated her profile and then I soon find that I've wasted an hour of precious time that I'll never get back. Here's my take on it:
Social Media - Definition
Webster’s Definition: forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content

Added by me: and when used sparingly, it can renew old friendships, keep families in touch and provide quick event notifications.

When used impulsively, it can cause us to say things we wish we could take back, share things that should be kept private, and do irreparable harm to our relationships. There are some things best left unsaid.

When used excessively, it can keep our creative juices from flowing, it can cause artists to quit drawing, writers to quit writing and students to do mediocre work. It can keep us from thinking for ourselves, making it easy to be brainwashed into another’s way of thinking. It can create laziness by sharing someone else’s post rather than thoughtfully considering our own opinions and carefully choosing our own words to express it.
It can cause us to live our lives through a world of electronics rather than experiencing the real world around us. It promotes viewing photos of faraway places rather than to visit those places ourselves. It encourages us to play games with online people we’ve never met rather than play games outside creating memories with our siblings, our children, and our grandchildren.
It causes mental and physical inactivity creating an overweight and under-performing nation.
It can cause stress, depression, and hopelessness from constant news streams telling us how humanity is dead and how the world is going to hell in a handbasket.
It can create a need to be different in order to be cool because average and normal is not good enough. 
Challenge to me and to you: Go out into the world and live your own life. Set limits for your time on social media. Go sit on your neighbor’s front porch and chat or make a phone call to that far-away friend or family member. Get outside. We need natural light and fresh air for our mental and physical health.

And this is one I have to remind myself of often: don’t be dictated by someone else’s drama. Life hands you enough of your own.

Written by: Glenda Manus, author of Sweet Tea and Southern Grace

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Gen Z'ers and Selective Memory of Baby Boomers

While some people with an agenda may portray them as Tide Pod detergent kids to demean them and try to dim their voices, the majority of this generation of Gen Z’ers that I have had the pleasure to be around (including my grandchildren) are intelligent, articulate and eager to make positive changes in the world. Generation Z are the kids born starting in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. From their earliest recollection, they were brought into a world haunted by terrorism.

 These kids remind me a little of us baby boomers who were brought up in the Cold War era. We reminisce now that we had happy childhoods, but there was also that ever-present fear brought about by a Russian threat of nuclear war. Every child of my generation knew the locations of every bomb shelter within a 50-mile range of where we lived, and we prayed that we would have time to get there before we died of radiation poisoning or worse, burning to death. It was scary stuff for a child; I know, I was there.

Yet it is this very same group who are criticizing our youth of today and making them feel like their voices don’t matter. Are our memories fading so fast that we don’t remember that fear? Our threats were far away; the enemy on the other side of the world, and the threat was just a threat, a possibility. We didn’t experience it personally. The threats our children are facing are up close and right here on their own turf. How much scarier is that? 

Have we forgotten that as we became teenagers in the 1960’s, how frustrated we were with our own government for throwing us into a war in Vietnam with no purpose? A war that would kill or maim the very kids we went to school with? We all knew of someone who had died, lost a limb, or whose mental stability would never be the same. But these young men valiantly fought, seeking to make the world a safer place.

These kids are fighting a battle too. To them it's a war zone battle, but with nothing to fight back with but words.  And solidarity. It's an unpopular war and they've been treated with humiliation. They're kids, in danger of losing their lives, and they're facing more than one enemy. Enemies with guns and enemies who refuse to do anything about those guns; enemies in leadership positions that could. 

Tide pods; just something tried by a select few. Our GenZ'ers make up for 26% of the 325.7 million people population of the entire United States. That’s 84.7 million Gen Z’ers. According to the American Association for Poison Control Centers, 12,299 laundry detergent exposures were reported in 2017, and more than half of those reported were children 5 years old and younger (accidental exposures). That means approximately 6000 intentional cases of kids over 5 years old and if even 75% of those were high school age, the percentage is only .0059%. That doesn’t sound like a rampant problem among high school students to me. Throughout the ages, there have been those select few who thrive on danger. We had them in our day too. Drag racing was one, or the game of “chicken” where two teenage boys would hop in their cars and barrel towards each other seeing which one would swerve first. But those select few who were stupid enough to try these things didn’t define our generation. Neither should Tide Pods define theirs.

Because we don’t fully understand the ways of this generation doesn’t make it right to demean and demoralize them. Their shaved heads, their piercings, their ripped-up jeans. It’s foreign stuff to me just as it is to you. But our parents didn’t like the boy with the Beatles’ haircut that we brought home. They didn’t understand the music, the peace symbols nor the protest marches. We grew up with prejudices handed down by parents. Some of us overcame them; some did not. But for the most part, we turned out okay. These kids will too. They’re fed up with fear-mongering; they’re fed up with adults who don’t seem to care; they’re fed up with lawmakers too afraid to make decisions for fear of losing campaign funds. I’m fed up too. I may not understand these kids, but I like them. They’re strong. They harbor hope, not hate. We could all learn from them. But we need to pull from our memory banks those hopes and dreams we had of changing the future and pass the torch on, even when we have reservations, to the ones who will live the future. We’re in the declining years of ours. If we try to guide them with our wisdom instead of berating them, we will have a much greater influence on what they choose to do.

For those who still don’t understand, maybe you don’t have grandchildren. Maybe you don’t have a granddaughter like mine who has a buzzed haircut, but who has a college grade point average most people could only ever dream of having; one whose biggest vice is studying her way through school to the point of exhaustion, but needs a slightly rebellious way of expressing herself through dress and appearance. Maybe you don’t have one who dresses a little bit weird, but has a kind and giving heart, thinking of other people’s feelings more than she thinks of her own. Maybe your children or grands look and act perfectly in ways that you approve of. I have one of those too; he's in seminary. But not all kids are like that. Does that mean we should love them less? I'm extremely proud of my granddaughters, as well as my grandson.

I’m happy to give them a chance to make right what we’ve done wrong. Maybe they won’t succeed, but instead of sitting on their duffs complaining and doing nothing like a lot of us are doing, they’re trying to make the world a safer place for kids. We should be doing that too instead of being so caught up in our love for guns that we can’t see the fear that is consuming them.

Hug a kid today. Tell them you understand their frustrations; you've lived through frustrations of your own. Tell them that even if you don't agree with their agenda, you're willing to listen and that you're proud that they're standing up for their rights. All they want is a future free of fear.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Seven Wings to Glory

I don't normally review books in my blog posts, but every now and then, a book will come along whose characters are so richly-developed that they capture you from the beginning, so this time I felt I needed to share it. 

In Kathleen Rodgers’ first book, Johnnie Come Lately, Johnnie Kitchen’s life unfolds on the pages, flaws and all. But Mrs. Rodgers weaves the story so well, that instead of judging her, I found Johnnie’s openness and honesty so endearing, it made me love her just as she was.

 In Seven Wings to Glory, I once again found myself under the spell of Mrs. Rodgers’ excellent writing skills. This story deals with the topic of racial issues in the past and present of the little town of Portion, Texas. Johnnie’s troubled mother is back in town. Will Johnnie get past the feelings of abandonment and deceit from her childhood and learn to love her mother again, or will she let those feelings simmer and come to a boil like the crockpot of pinto beans on her kitchen counter?

And how will she handle the racial hatred that threatens her own family’s safety?

I think my favorite part of Seven Wings to Glory is the way Mrs. Rodgers portrays Johnnie as a military mom. Her love for her children is intrinsic and unwavering, and as her son goes off to a war zone, she lives in constant fear of a black car appearing in her driveway bearing bad news.

The characters were so real; the story line so authentic, I found myself frantically worried that, (1) Victoria, Johnnie’s mother was going to try yet another suicide attempt, (2) that her friend Whit was going to be targeted for her skin color,  and (3) that her kitchen window would be bearing the load of a gold star rather than the blue one presented to her upon her son Cade’s deployment.

Please have a box of tissues handy when you read this; not that the book is filled with sadness only, but that it is filled with all the trials and joys that go along with our humanness and our ability to laugh and cry over them at the same time. Thank you, Kathleen Rodgers, for bringing about all these emotions in us that verify that we’ve just read an outstanding book!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tender Hearts

Have you ever had one of those "being in the right place at the right time" moments? I experienced one of those today when I met someone who left her footprints indelibly stamped across my heart. She is a soon-to-be sixteen-year-old girl and I saw her at the hair salon while I waited my turn for my hairdresser. She was dressed in a chic black and white sundress with shoes that matched. Her blonde hair was shiny clean and in a mid-length stylish cut. Fingernails and toenails were polished a vibrant pink to go along with her pink-tinted lip gloss, and her pink purse was hiked upon her shoulder. My first thought was that she should be walking down a runway working for a modeling agency; she was that striking. She gave me a big smile when I walked in so I initiated a conversation with her, telling her how pretty she looked. An animated conversation ensued and I was impressed at how easily she talked to an older woman. 

She's a little nervous about starting high school this year because it's a different school and she worries about making new friends. She tells me about her gymnastics classes but laments that she'd rather be taking piano lessons. It's her passion, she says. But it's apparent she has more than one passion; another is theater. In a recent school play, she played Maria, Julie Andrews' role in The Sound of Music. I shared with her that my granddaughter is also involved in school plays but works behind the scenes. She was familiar with that role and said, "Oh yes! A play can't go on without the set designers and lighting crew. I love the behind-the-scenes people." Is there anything she doesn't love, I wondered. Her goal is to be a Broadway actress, she says, and I told her that with her personality, talent, and enthusiasm she could be anything she wanted to be. I asked her name because I want to make sure to watch for it on a Broadway billboard someday. She laughed and said that her name is Brady.

I asked if she was waiting for a haircut and she said, no, she was waiting for her best friend who was getting her hair trimmed. I asked if her best friend was her age and she told me no, it was her teacher; the one who had taught her all three years of middle school. She then shared with me that she'd cried when she graduated from middle school this year and she was really going to miss her teacher and her friends. I was sitting there marveling at what a wonderful teacher she must have that would take time during her summer vacation to spend with one of her students. It takes a special kind of teacher to do that, but most teachers in that field are indeed special people. You see, Brady is a high-functioning Down syndrome child. She is also the most delightful young lady I've ever met. 

I learned a valuable lesson in the twenty minutes I chatted with Brady and I'll share what I learned. Don't ever hide behind your phone in a waiting room texting messages and reading Facebook posts. Don't read a magazine when there are interesting people all around you to talk to. You may miss an opportunity to meet someone like Brady who will make you realize that the world is a better place because of the person you just met! And you may, like me, walk out of that waiting room with a much more tender heart than when you walked in.

Go Brady! I predict that you will have a good and happy life and I hope to see you on Broadway some day!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

New Book Release for September!

Agatha, owner of Park Place’s newest Bed and Breakfast is enjoying a refreshing glass of sweet tea and a plate of cookies with one of her guests this afternoon. It’s hotter than the 4th of July, but a wisp of a breeze is stirring under the shade of the large oak tree where they sit and enjoy each other’s company. Agatha is quite the character in my soon-to-be-released book, Miss Marple’s B & B. Her husband Charlie, dead going on two years now seems to be playing games from the grave. The old adage of “you can’t take it with you” doesn’t seem to hold true in this tale of the missing fortune. Regretfully when Charlie dies, his fortune disappears and Agatha is left nearly penniless with nothing to fall back on except the beautiful Victorian home that’s been in her family for four generations. Turning it into an Inn may be the best decision Agatha has made in her entire life. In fact, it may be the only decision she’s made in her entire life since she’s led a fairytale existence going straight from a controlling family into a marriage with an older man who has made sure she has the best things in life. Join Agatha for tea. She’ll soon reveal her story of how a leap of faith brings about a change so profound it will change her life forever. "The rest of the story" is due to be released in September. Watch for it!

But for now, she wishes all of you a Happy Independence Day weekend!

Glenda Manus, Author