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Posted in Welcome

Welcome

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Welcome to my narrative horizon about our wacky, wondrous world. There’s no pattern to my inspiration, so my pieces range from silly and mundane to serious and heartfelt. Here I share true, slice of light pieces about family, friendship, dogs, womanhood, health and wellness, wine, education, shopping, shoes, spirituality, reading, writing, entertainment, the moon, the sun and anything else under our sky.

I am a high energy, middle-age active woman who is constantly on the move. Filled calendar pages give me pleasure and purpose, but they also stress me out and make me more scattered than your average part-time sunshine. The older, busier, and more disorganized I get, the more I need to recharge in order to relax and refocus.

This blog gives me a chance to take a timeout to savor life, collect scattered memories, highlight sunny moments, and unclog cloudier ones. I seek balance, meaning, hope, and laughter that I’ll spread like PB&J through my stories.

My professional, home, and social fronts keep me hustling while giving me stories. I am a full-time high school English teacher, mother to two adolescent daughters, pet owner to two furry dogs, wife to one witty husband, relative to many loves, and friend to those who embrace my friendship.

I’m also a part-time sunshine who strives to be lively, bright, lighthearted, and comforting. Oh how I wish I could make my sunshine status full-time, but no can do. When the sunshine zest is too exhausting, and warmth becomes a scorcher, I lose the chipper optimism you’d expect from someone with nicknames like Sunshine or Sunny D. It can be a cockadoodle-dodo world, so being constantly happy and smiley while being honest and genuine is a trick I’d like to master.

For now, I’m a part-time sunshine, at best. When frazzled, my daily mission is to dazzle and find some extra beaming reason to smile and share why.  Random rays and small warm shimmers are the best, like double rainbows at a wedding, a greeting card among the bills in my mailbox, or a spotless bedroom cleaned by my daughters (who jest that this blog should be called Full-Time Nut Job, Part-Time Sunshine.)

I invite you to follow me on my horizon.  There’s a chance of sunshine (and a handful of nuttiness) in it for you, yours, and everyone else under the sky.

Posted in Uncategorized

Should I build a website tonight? I’d rather drink cab, pet my puppy, and scrub my toilet…

Here’s all I have for this blog.

I am overwhelmed, friends.  I can’t get my thoughts straight.  Maybe it’s the Hashimotos. Maybe it’s the puppy.  Could be the thought of the wine I will reward myself with after my tasks are done this gorgeous Saturday.

I love cleaning bathrooms when I’m stressed out and when I can’t connect the dots to my thoughts. It’s a dirty job that makes me feel accomplished and proud.  If there were medals given out for clean toilets, I would win, but only when I don’t know what else to do with myself because of all of my TO-DO-LISTS and stomach butterflies.  FYI – I love all butterflies except the ones that bombard my belly and tickle me nerves.  FYI – I think the word “tickle” is weird.

Help me Rhonda. Help, help, me Rhonda.  I can’t get around this brain fog.  I am not going to even post a picture on this blog.  I’m tired and need to scrub the toilet.  Then I want some Goldfish Crackers to mix with my wine, but I don’t have any fish because I’m trying to give them up for Lent. Ha ha!  Actually, I am trying to lay low on the carbs because of the freaking autoimmune crud, the Hashimotos.

I am gonna start with petting my puppy.  Then I will try to build a snowman or website. There’s a chance in hell I will do either on this sunny July eve, so peace out.  Shine on! Forgive my nerves and boring post, but I haven’t finished the one about my car battery dying at the Christmas Tree Shop and buying a new vehicle because of it.

I am not even gonna edit this crap, and I’m gonna publish it with the word “gonna.”  This English teacher is off for the summer and is gonna pet a fur baby named Frankie.

 

Posted in Creativity, Time, Writing

I Need More Time and Space: Part-Time Sunshine’s Summertime Dilemma

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I’m a high school English teacher and love summer break as much as my students do. Summer is for fun. Summer is the time to relax and recharge. Summer is socializing, exercising, and napping. Summer is the time to read more books. Summer is the time to write a book.

Scratch that last one. I need to be realistic. I always mislead myself into thinking I can write the first draft of a book during summer. I have false high hopes of getting large chunks of writing done during my favorite season, but I struggle to make the time and find the right space.  

During the school year, I relish the hour of quiet time at my desk each day before classes start. Morning is when my head is fresh and I’m most energetic to write new material. When time permits, I stay after school to write a little more.

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You’d think that when school’s out, I’d have all these extra hours to write whenever I want, but it doesn’t work that way.  My non-teaching husband works all year, so I’m a stay-at-home summer mom to our two non-driving, active teens, their friends, a dog, and a puppy. The freedom, fun, and firecrackers of the season make it hard for me to stick to schedules, especially one for writing.

Beyond my domestic routine of 70,000 tasks, add swimming pool care, weeding, puppy training, deck painting, and picnic hosting. It’s too hard to ignore the above and prove to anyone (even myself) that I should be writing instead. The household stuff needs to be done, so the writing has to wait.

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Although my daughters are old enough to take care of themselves, they still need me for many things, mostly food and rides. Summer is especially busy for squeezing in their various appointments. Chutes and Ladders!  I just realized I forgot to take Cara to physical therapy for her finger two hours ago!  UGH!  Where can I get a secretary, cleaning lady, dog whisperer, and chauffeur, all wrapped up in one person?  Oh yeah, I’m her…  I need another ME, just a more organized version.

The other writing challenge is that I lack a quiet workspace. I wish I could write without interruption at home, but it doesn’t happen.  I can’t expect my girls to take a vow of silence, but it’s like they talk through megaphones. Factor in their heavy footsteps, awful teenage music, singing, fighting, and contagious giggles and you’d think I had ten kids instead of two.  Their laughter is beautiful, but not when I’m trying to concentrate. Headphones help to a degree, but I still hear the kids and dogs.  I feel their movement.  I smell their breath. I sense their presence all around me.  

I had to hide in our basement to edit this piece, but Cara found me anyhow and disturbed my muse’s groove. She just wanted to say hello and check in on me.  We chatted a bit, then I suggested she go have a fresh asiago bagel with the soft pats of butter she took from the restaurant the night before. She thanked me for going to the bakery but asked If I was trying to get rid of her, and I said, “Absolutely. I’m sorry, but please don’t come back unless you or your bagel catch fire.”  I know. I know. I’m lucky my fifteen-year-old even acknowledges me, but sometimes I gotta get away and will use butter bagel bribes to make it happen.  FYI, she came back thrice since breakfast. She was NOT on fire.  

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Louie, our barking sheltie, accompanied Cara to the basement. I told her to take him back up with her, but she said he needed alone time, away from our puppy, Frankie. She had a point, so I let Louie stay.

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He was fine until he went bonkers over hearing a garbageman, neighbor, and UPS truck. Then he became a loud broken record, “Arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf!” Geez, that was annoying to type, let alone listen to.   

Frankie, my 5:19 AM furry alarm clock, beckons to be freed from her crate when she hears the neighbor leaving for his early job. The piercing octaves Frankie woofs out hurt my teeth. For some reason, no one else hears her but me though. image2.jpg

Each morning (weekends included), I get up to let the dogs out, feed them, let them play, go out again, and bring them in when they bark at a butterfly, chipmunk, or moving cloud.  After all that, it’s time for me to choose to:

  1. Write.
  2. Work out.
  3. Clean the house.
  4. Go back to bed.  

Although choice “A” would be the responsible, author-esque selection, it just never works out for me. I have to do some activity before I can fire away at the keyboard.  keyboardIt would be best to exercise, shower, eat, then write, but the non-schedule of summer makes it too easy to go back to bed. 

Why don’t I just take the pressure off myself and give up this writing gig?  I don’t do it for fame or fortune.  Why do I bother? I guess I write because I need to.  If I don’t release the words, I’ll get stuffed, like when overeating at Thanksgiving.

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When I don’t write, I feel like I’m trying to hold back a sneeze during allergy season. I can’t stifle these stories, however silly or insignificant they might seem. I have to carve out more time and find a place outside of home to write or I’ll burst.Placeholder Image

What’s your creative talent?  How do you make time and space to let it flow? Or do you get stuffed?

Posted in Blogging, Writing

I Love my Own Voice: Confessions of a Narcissistic Writer

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I love the sound of my own writing voice. I can listen to my composed words all day long, like a favorite Bruce Springsteen song. I especially enjoy reading aloud to myself. During these private performances, I literally laugh and cry at my own words, pat myself on the back, and swoon over a lovely phrase. What I adore most about my writing voice is how lyrical, poetic, punny, and funny I think it is.

I am not bragging but am complaining. My voice vanity sacrifices substance and meaning. I confess: I am a sinner of word pride, a glutton for longer sentences, greedy for witty and lavish phrases. I kill stories. I am a killer.

I am skilled at murdering plots. I fire guns filled with fluff and random bullet points that scatter irrelevant details like shrapnel. I chop up focus and sink story arcs. Then I abandon entire worlds that I create. I violently shove the underdeveloped pages into a folder that I lock in a box, slam into a drawer, and starve in a basement. I can bury a body of work without anyone ever knowing. I am a sneaky, garrulous monster.

I brainstorm ideas, outline plots, write about 10,000 words then get confused. I lose focus, so I usually give up. Why do I kill so many stories? I think my frilly, rambling writing voice is the main culprit. I call her Fancy Nancy.

I write lyrical, artsy prose that tends to stall the story. I waste too much time on wordplay then lose interest in the piece. Still, Fancy Nancy tempts me and I write: I ceaselessly practice to compose a symphony of melodious sentences filled with scales of ABC’s until the score becomes too lengthy and twangs with discordance. When reciting these musical lines, I can’t help but exclaim, “Bravo!”clap

Then I feel a need to say it another crafty way: I paint stunning phrases better suited for a centerfold than a plot diagram. “Ooh, la la!”

I can’t stop myself: I am a word warrior who blasts the page with exploding metaphors and onomatopoeia. “Bam!”

Here’s another song: I’m a master at choreographing a scene that tap dances the keyboard with personification? “Click, click, click!”

What the hell? It took me two hours to come up with that stuff, a bunch of disconnected images of me being a wordy writer: composer, painter, soldier, and dancer. Before that, I was a sinner and killer. These lines are fun to write, but they make for a recipe that’s hard to follow and swallow. (Add rhyming cook to the list.)

What to say to the amateur who dabbles too much in the italicized, verbose passages? “Dammit, Donna! Just tell the story already.” (Although my mother considered naming me Nancy, my real name is Donna and nickname is Sunshine, and I know this is random, but I thought you would like to know how I refer to myself as “Dammit Donna” when I need a scolding reminder to focus, get it together, and quit screwing up. I call out to “her” daily. Hmm.“Dammit, Donna” would be a good name for a book title.  I write book titles more than books.  I could write a whole book of book titles.)

Dammit, Donna!

I’m trying to clean up the clever clutter and stick with storylines, but it’s a true challenge. The best approach is to write less and cut more. Oh, how it pains me to weed though. What if I accidentally pluck the best words, my pretty little flowers?

That’s where Dammit Donna needs to swoop in, display the blooms, elsewhere, like in a vase, and move on to more meaningful tasks.

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I really can’t stop the playful metaphoric ramblings, can I? I actually talk this way though. I have writer’s eyes, so I want to share the world with you the way I see it (Okay, now that line just made me cry proud tears.) My habit would be to go on and on about eyes, but I’m going to stop, and trust that you get it.

I don’t need to be a parrot, but I’m a mother and teacher who has to repeat, reiterate, restate, rephrase, echo, echo, echo… I AM wordy! (FYI – my quiet husband can successfully parent with one word, “No!” compared to my breathless arguments with our teenagers.)

I’ve received a lot of professional and constructive criticism about my writer’s voice. College professors told me I was trying too hard to sound like an English teacher, even though I majored in English education. An agent told me the first two pages of a book were too clever. An editor claimed I was too funny with too many punch lines. Ha! At first, this might seem like praise, but they quantified their comments with “too.” I get what they were saying. “Don’t over do it. Stay focused. Dammit, Donna, just tell the story already!”

Bruce Cherry, my Gotham Writers instructor for “Essay and Opinion Writing” offered this feedback concerning my voice:

You have a very exuberant way of using language that helps to convey the passion you feel. It dances right at the edge of becoming perhaps too florid once in awhile, but it’s really a matter of personal taste. Your writing style reminds me of the recordings of the great blues players like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters who went electric at Chess Studios in the 50’s and 60’s. They would play so exuberantly that they would occasionally cause compression in the mics and push the VU meters into the red–technically a big no-no. But they used the sound of that compression as an element of the recording, and it became a signature sound. Technically speaking, they were going too far, but they refused to be constrained by convention. So definitely use it to your advantage.

Second to rock and roll, I treasure the blues, so what an amazing comparison! My take-away from this is to amp up my signature sound when it works to my advantage. Although, I’m retraining to write more concisely, I’m not entirely abandoning my florid voice. I will continue to decorate pages but in moderation. Fancy Nancy needs to focus less on beauty tricks and more on working diligently with Dammit Donna. *The two voices need to be friends so I can author more pieces that an audience bigger than myself craves.

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The author in me needs to help balance Fancy Nancy and Dammit Donna.

I will continue to read my works aloud and praise them. Next time, I’ll set my voice to some background music, the blues. I’ll make a date with me. I’ll have wine and Muddy Waters and cherish the beautiful AND purposeful words resurrecting my stories. It will be delightful. I will be a better writer, not a killer.

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Getting ready for a date with me, Muddy, and my manuscript.

*My first book, The Pencil Sharpener, is being published by The Wild Rose Press.  It’s release date is July 26, 2017, and will be made available through The Wild Rose Press and Amazon.com. The Pencil Sharpener is a novella, a rosette, in which my editor, Melanie Billings, and a team of professionals helped me polish my prose into a piece I’m proud of and looking forward to sharing with you. I’ll blog more details soon.  Shine on!  ThePencilSharpener_w11567_ib (1)

Posted in Shopping, Women

Refund Issues Finally Solved – Chat Transcript from Amazon.com

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Amazon.com failed to refund my account for two items that were recently returned: a Kindle Fire and a white womens shrug.  When I realized this, I started an online customer service chat with an Amazon representative to troubleshoot.  It took four reps to resolve the issue, which is surprising because all of my other Amazon chats have been quick and smooth.  This morning, was a different story, one that I now find comical. There were a lot of workers involved in helping me out, that’s for sure.  

Before I share the transcript, I want to say a few things:  

  • I still LOVE Amazon.com!  It’s my favorite way to shop.  
  • I am not getting paid to write this.  The advertisements on my blog occur because I won’t fork over the three bucks a month to block promotions.  And three bucks can get me a cool prize on Amazon.  My blog is currently a way to improve my writing and share what’s on my mind with anyone who wants a slice-of-life read (thanks for being here, reader).  Maybe someday I will try to monetize.  
  • I color coded this transcript to reflect the different speakers (My words are black).  I changed some line spacing and the order numbers for the blog.  Aside from that, I did not edit the content or grammar.  
  • I did not try to get a refund for sending  back a confused shoulder lift from a Caucasian lady.  I returned a white shrug for women which is a short jacket that ends above the waistline. 

Here is a copy of the chat transcript: 

06:33 AM PDT Milind(Amazon): Hello, my name is Milind. I’m here to help you today.

06:33 AM PDT donna lucas: Hello.  This item was returned, but I did not get my refund: Fire Tablet with Alexa, 7″ Display, 8 GB, Tangerine – with Special Offers. Order # 1234567

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06:33 AM PDT Milind: Please allow me a moment while I look into this for you.

06:34 AM PDT donna lucas: And this item also was not refunded. Red Hanger Women Bolero Long Sleeve Shrug Crop Top, White-M.  Order # 12345678

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Model for the shrug. She looks a lot better in it than I did.

06:34 AM PDT Milind: Okay

06:35 AM PDT Milind: Could you please stay connected for 2 minutes while I look into this for you?

06:37 AM PDT donna lucas: yes

06:39 AM PDT Milind: Famavala Folio Premium PU Leather Case Cover For 7″ Fire 7 Tablet (LuckyTree)

Red Hanger Women Bolero Long Sleeve Shrug Crop Top, White-M

Red Hanger Women Bolero Long Sleeve Shrug Crop Top, Red-M

Above are the items you are reffering too am i correct?

06:40 AM PDT donna lucas: Just the fire tablet and the white shirt.  I was refunded for the case and other shrugs already.  

06:40 AM PDT Milind: Okay

06:42 AM PDT donna lucas: Got it?

06:42 AM PDT Milind: Yes

06:43 AM PDT Milind: Please allow me a moment while i check

06:44 AM PDT Mahesh Prabhu(Amazon): Hello, my name is Mahesh Prabhu. Please give me a moment to review the previous correspondence.

06:45 AM PDT donna lucas: Ok. I have not been refunded for the above two items. I have to teach a class soon.

06:46 AM PDT Mahesh Prabhu: Give me a minute.

Let me connect you to a member of our concern team. It will only take a moment.

06:46 AM PDT Ramanathan(Amazon): Hello, my name is Ramanathan. Please give me a moment to review the previous correspondence.

06:46 AM PDT donna lucas: Oh my my!

06:47 AM PDT donna lucas: Why is this taking such a long time?

06:48 AM PDT Ramanathan: Thanks for waiting. I’m sorry for this.

06:49 AM PDT Ramanathan: No worries, I’ll help you with this.

06:49 AM PDT donna lucas: Ok. Can you please apply the refunds for the above items.

06:51 AM PDT Ramanathan: Thanks for waiting.

06:51 AM PDT donna lucas: You’re welcome.

06:51 AM PDT Ramanathan: Just to confirm, you have returned “Fire Tablet with Alexa, 7″ Display, 8 GB, Tangerine – with Special Offers ” for refund, am I right?

06:52 AM PDT donna lucas: Yes. And the white shrug shirt.

06:54 AM PDT Ramanathan: I’m checking this for you.

06:55 AM PDT donna lucas: Oh my! You are the third person who said this.

Red Hanger Women Bolero Long Sleeve Shrug Crop Top, White-M  Order # 12345678

06:56 AM PDT Ramanathan: Thanks for the order number.

06:58 AM PDT Ramanathan: I’ve checked and see that we have not yet received your Kindle device, no need to worry, once we have received your item the refund will be credited back to your payment method directly without any issues.

And to help you further with Red Hanger Women Bolero Long Sleeve Shrug Crop Top, White-M item refund, a Retail Specialist is the best person to help you with this. Please wait while I transfer this chat.

06:58 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya(Amazon): Hello, my name is Pushkar. Please give me a moment to review the previous correspondence.

06:59 AM PDT donna lucas: My sister returned the case and the kindle. I returned the shrug.  You only credited me for the case. She put both items back in the box it came in.

07:00 AM PDT donna lucas: I put the shrug in a box with other things. i was credited for two shrugs out of the three.

You are now the fourth person I’m speaking with and this is not how Amazon.com works.

07:00 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: I am sorry for the trouble donna

Is this a issue related to kindle?

07:01 AM PDT donna lucas: NO! the issue is the refund that I need.

07:01 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: Alright donna

I’ll help you out with this

07:02 AM PDT donna lucas: My sister returned two items from the order. I was only refunded for the case not the kindle. I have to teach a class soon. Please fix this soon.

07:02 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: Could you please provide me with the order id?

I’ll get this done as quick as I can

07:02 AM PDT donna lucas: Red Hanger Women Bolero Long Sleeve Shrug Crop Top, White-M Order # 12345678

that;s for the shirt

07:03 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: Thank you donna allow me a minute to check this

07:03 AM PDT donna lucas: Fire Tablet with Alexa, 7″ Display, 8 GB, Tangerine – Order # 1234567

That’s for the tablet.

07:04 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: Donna I’ll be able to help you with the other order however fire devices are handled by our fire team.

I’ll check both the issues for you

Please allow me a minute

07:05 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: Red Hanger Women Bolero Long Sleeve Shrug Crop Top, White-M you returned this item and need a refund for the same right donna?

07:05 AM PDT donna lucas: Yes refund please.

07:06 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: Please stay connected donna I’ll check this out

07:06 AM PDT donna lucas: I don’t have a fire device issue. I don’t even have the fire! It’s been returned. Now I need my account to be credited.

Are you kidding me?  are you kidding me

07:06 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: No donna do not worry

07:06 AM PDT donna lucas: I am worried…

07:06 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: Please allow me a minute to help you out

07:07 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: I understand however I am gonna help you so you need not worry after this.

I’ll resolve all your issues just stay connected

07:08 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: Would you like the refund for the red hanger on your amazon gift card or original payment method?

07:08 AM PDT donna lucas: Solve ALL my issues? Who would even know where to begin?

Original payment please.

07:08 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: We’ll get it done one by one do not worry donna

07:08 AM PDT donna lucas: Get ‘er done, Pushkar! You got this, buddy!

07:09 AM PDT donna lucas: We have three minutes. The clock is ticking.

07:09 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: Yes I have issued the refund for you on the first thing donna

07:09 AM PDT donna lucas: Ok. Giddy up. Now the second item, please, Pushkar.

07:10 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: Thanks for the motivation by the way

07:10 AM PDT donna lucas: No problem.

07:10 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: I have also issued the refund for the other item donna

07:11 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: Is there anything else I can help you with?

07:11 AM PDT donna lucas: You did it!

07:11 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: It was a pleasure to assist you with this. We hope to see you again.

07:11 AM PDT donna lucas: Thank you! You saved the day.  

07:12 AM PDT Pushkar Ajinkya: Have a great day ahead donna 🙂

Please click “End Chat” to close this window

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I am not sure what caused so much confusion, and I admit to getting Kindle-Fired-Up, but it all worked out in the end.  Twelve minutes after the end of the chat, Amazon sent me an email from customer service apologizing for the dilemma.  

I’m sorry to hear about the problem you’ve had with your Fire Tablet with Alexa, 7″ Display, 8 GB, Tangerine – with Special Offers and Red Hanger Women Bolero Long Sleeve Shrug Crop Top, White-M.  I’ve requested a refund for which includes the cost of the item and its associated shipping costs.

A few hours later my refunds were processed.  Amazon always pulls through and delivers.  

I hope this helps. We look forward to seeing you again soon.

I think this company truly values me and my shopping “habits.” Shine on and have a great weekend!  I think I’ll buy something with my refund.  Time to check out the Gold Box Deals.  

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Posted in America, Holidays, Orthodox, Spirituality

Lost and Found – Memorial Day Reunion

In remembrance, give thanks.  Those are the profound words that stir my heart and soul every Memorial Day.  Over the 2013 Memorial Day Weekend, my family experienced a mini-miracle.  For years I hoped to recover something we lost in 2006.  Here is the tale of lost crosses, faithful reunions, and thankful memories that are eternal.  

***

My husband, two daughters, and I moved into our current Northwestern Pennsylvania home eleven years ago.  After unpacking a houseful of possessions, I was extremely upset over the sentimental loss of our girls’ *Orthodox baptismal cross necklaces.  Cara and Elena’s Godparents, our dear Kumovi Bob and Diane Baron, gave each girl a gold cross on their christening days.  

These very special, spiritual gifts were blessed by V. Rev. Father Stevan Stepanov who performed their baptisms at St. Elijah Serbian Orthodox Church. Father Stevan, the parish priest since 1973, inspired, nurtured, and guided me in my own Orthodox journey, so it was an honor that he baptized my daughters three decades later.

I blamed the loss of those precious crosses on our move.  I know the girls wore them a few weeks before on Easter, the last earthly day they spent with their Pap Frank.

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Easter 2006

My father passed away, June 8th, 2006, shortly after we moved. I wanted my girls to wear them at his funeral, but I couldn’t find them.  I looked in every box, bag, storage bin, and garbage can dozens of times without luck.  

I was doubly grieved when my siblings and I couldn’t find our father’s own gold cross and chain after he died.  He loved that cross that we, his four children, gave him for a Christmas present years before.  When he unwrapped it, his eyes immediately dripped with reverence and gratitude.  He made the sign of the cross, kissed it, and hung it around his neck and never took it off.  Naturally, we wanted him to have this weapon of peace, this invincible trophy, on his next journey, but after combing and searching his house, car, and yard we resolved that we could not bury him with his own cross.     

With this realization, my sister Joanne, our father’s first child, selflessly unhinged her chain’s clasp to give up her cross to be placed on him. Our compassionate funeral director made sure it shined for his last viewing and final departure.

***   

Joanne recounts how, in the fall of 2006, she and her family were going to take my father to visit Matthew, her oldest child, who lived in Williamsburg, Virginia.   They had an autumn vacation planned together but our father left this world the season before.  

My nephew had recently gotten a tattoo of an Orthodox Cross on his right arm, and my father loved it so much he vowed to get his own during his next trip to Virginia.  My father, even after having served years in the army, never got a tattoo, but at the age of seventy-six, he was determined to hire an artist to paint and color the clean canvass of his older, thinner arm.  

He was proud of his Orthodox religion and humbled by the faith of his college-aged grandson who found a permanent way to wear his cross and wave the victory sign of the Resurrection.  My father never got to get his tattoo to match Matthew’s.  I wonder if there are tattoo booths in heaven.

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Matthew’s Cross Tattoo – Surrounded by the Lord’s Prayer – 2017

We never did find my father’s necklace. My sister has yet to replace her own which is eternally placed next to our father’s heart.  She admits that she can’t substitute the original she meaningfully offered up to our father. Although he lost his cross and chain, he gained his daughter’s. I can faithfully imagine my father returning her special gift some eternal day.

Since 2006 I had been searching and praying for my girls’ cross necklaces back, and like my sister, I never felt the right moment to replace the crosses. I yearned for the blessed originals. Aside from my husband who helped me look for them, I never mentioned this loss to anyone else.  I was so embarrassed and regretted losing something so important given to my children.  I also carried a small glimmer of hope that, someday, we would recover their crosses.  

***

It was Memorial Day Weekend, 2013,  and my girls (then ages eleven and nine) and I had an extended four day holiday weekend.  With the extra time off school, we were productive in and around our home. We crafted and transformed bottle caps into magnetic art, decorated t-shirts with puffy paint, cleared out flowerbeds, pulled weeds, spring cleaned closets and dressers, and delivered loads of hopeful “treasures” to the local Salvation Army.

The toughest chore for the girls (then and now) was cleaning out their rooms and choosing what to keep and to discard. They were sent to their individual clutter, while I worked on editing bits of my memoir of me and my father.  Cara has gotten much better at “weeding” her bedroom and finished with extra time for me to read to her an added scene about Pap who she loved to hear about.  

Elena, on the other hand, was still clearing her chaotic bedroom ground, and I suspected it would take her three garbage bags more.  She’s always had such a vibrant imagination and crafty intuition.  It pained her to get rid of things she saw as future building blocks of fun. She rescued and resurrected recycling bin deposits as supplies for crafting-wars that she, Cara, and their elementary school friends hosted here during sleepovers.  

Elena came out of her Camp-Craft-A-Mess to show us some oldies she dug up during her bedroom excavation; she unearthed many prizes during these room cleanings, her hunting and gathering sessions. She found Cara’s long-lost Cinderella knee high, a pair of Halloween footies, an unopened package of tiny-toddler-tights, and a lacy, ruffled sock all which had been missing for years!  

It was time for me to guide her back to her artifact dig and help her out, when she showed me a slender white cardboard box.  I assumed it held one of her collections of rocks, shells, bottle caps, or crayon bits.  She, stalling to get back to cleaning, explained that she found the box and the socks while emptying her bottom dresser drawer that fell out to the floor.  

That drawer has been a pain ever since we bought it.  Unfortunately, brand new, mass produced furniture can be chintzy, and this dresser was no exception. Harry kept making repairs to the wooden drawer slide, but it’s still off-track; when the drawer is pulled out with quick force, it’s a toe-crusher, but I never knew it was also a sock-robber.  We worked hard to remember to just gently tug on its handles.  Elena had enough hidden “gems” under her bed, in her closet, on her desk, and behind her nightstand, so the last thing she needed was a broken dresser swallowing more stuff.  

She handed me the box of “stuff” with a smile, such a proud girl of her findings.  I set it on my lap and lifted the lid to the best gift ever!  There in their unpolished glory beamed the baptismal cross charms and chains! Despite their lackluster tarnish, they illuminated like renewed spring sunshine after a worn-out winter.  That missing box rested for seven years among stuck socks.

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I was shocked, elated, and confused with a trinity of emotions.  I shook my head, initially doubting these were the girls’ crosses.  It’s been so long How could they have come back?  I held and stared into the cardboard box of buried treasure, entranced by the golden faith resting atop a cotton insert.  I hesitated to touch the crosses, fearing they’d vanish again, like ghosts.  

Elena was just as surprised to find real jewelry instead of something she could craft into a necklace.  “Mom, what are these?” she asked.   

“Oh my my! I can’t believe it!” I sobbed, “I lost these years ago. They are yours and Cara’s.”

“Mine?” Cara asked. “Let me see.”  She sat next to me to get a closer look. “I don’t remember these.”  

Elena gently plucked them from the box, dangling each by its chain.  “Wow!  Are these real gold?”

“Yes, they are gold and are very precious.  Your kumovi gave these to you on your Christening days and they were blessed by Father Stevan.  You only wore them on special occassions.  I kept them in this box in your sock drawer where your coin collection and baby bracelets are.  It just seemed like a safe place.  

Elena handed them to me and they did not disappear like ghosts, but sang like angels.  I made the sign of the cross and kissed each charm.  “Come here girls, lets try these on.”

“We can wear them?” Cara asked.  

“Is it a special occasion?” Elena asked.  

“Yes, it is indeed a special occassion.  It’s a miracle.”  I clasped the short chains that fit perfectly around their necks.  They went to the nearest wall mirror to admire their radiant crosses. I pulled them into my heart and hugged them and cried some more.  

Needless to say, Elena got out of cleaning the rest of her room that weekend.  

To have these back was indeed a miracle.  How special it was to find them over Memorial Day weekend; beyond picnics and parades, this is the national holiday for praying, remembering, and honoring those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice to our country.  I was certainly in the midst of remembrance as I was writing about my father.  Although he did not get taken away during the Korean War, I pray for those who did. I continue to give thanks to all those who left the world early for their service to America, and I know my father did too.

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With the return of the crosses, I wonder if my father tuned into my prayers, approved of what I wrote, and sent us a sign? Or was he just giving his granddaughter a way to get out of cleaning to go climb her favorite tree with her sister?  Whatever the reason, I faithfully felt my Heavenly Father and earthly father’s presence during this blessed reunion.  

Happy Memorial Day!  Memory Eternal to all of our lost loved ones, especially those who served in our American military and perished while doing so.  In remembrance, give thanks, and may their sweet voices continue to echo in our hearts and uplift our souls. Making the sign of the cross over and over, I continue to give thanks.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

***

*One of the most recognized Eastern Orthodox Crosses worn around the neck hosts three horizontal bars; the top bar represents Pilate’s inscription, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” and the slanted lower bar represents the footrest of Christ.  The slant is said to symbolize a balance scale showing that the good thief, on the right, who repented and accepted Christ would ascend to heaven, while the bad thief, on the left, who rejected Christ would descend to hell

This three-bar cross is often surrounded by another cross of gold, silver, wood, or whatever material the cross is composed of and it’s outlined with three bumps on the east, west, north, and south beams. This is representative of the Holy Trinity.

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Our Crosses
Posted in Inspiration, Nature, Spirituality

Ascension Day: Salvation, Memorials, and Butterflies

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Yesterday, May 25th, 2017, was Ascension Day, the fortieth day of this liturgical year’s Easter celebration.  In the following, I attempt to give a brief explanation of this Christian feast day then reveal my spiritual encounter in regards to ascension. I say attempt because it is so hard to describe the indescribable. This is a condensed version of what I witnessed, felt, and believed following the passing of my father, Frank Thomas Snyder, lain to rest on June 8th, 2006.

My father earned seventy-six years of being an earthy man full of passion for all things living, all that moves and grows in humanity and nature.  He swiftly fell back into the earth while mowing his lawn, grooming the ground, the backyard that hosted his frayed yet favorite lawn chair where he read many westerns and dreamt of cowboys.  

Although his outdoor death was so shocking at the time, I believe it was the way his body was meant to return to his own Heavenly Father of whom he placed his utmost faith. Forty days later, his soul soared.  May his Memory be Eternal!  

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***

Symbolically and spiritually, forty days represents many biblical tribulations, reconciliations, transformations, and probations.  The fortieth day of bodily death is highly important to the Christian who believes this to mark the departed’s judgment day. Specifically relevant to the soul is that the fortieth day commemorates Christ’s Ascension after His Resurrection.  Ascension Day is when the recently deceased may ascend to be taken up in the clouds to meet the Judge, our Savior, and Master, and thus be with Him forever (1Thes. 4:17).  

Ascension Day

According to Scripture, over the course of forty days (prior to the Ascension) the Resurrected Christ appeared to his eleven remaining apostles, multitudes of disciples, and followers.  He also stood alongside disbelievers and doubters.  He arrived as proof to try to convince the world that He is indeed the Son of God who trampled death.  He shared tales of His Father’s Heavenly Kingdom and instructed others to spread the word.

After the fortieth day, the one perfect human being, Christ, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.  This concludes His thirty-three year-long earthly plight to save imperfect sinners and raise them to be with their Father.  This is our salvation.  

As a mere mortal, I can only make assumptions about what I deem another mortal’s soul does for forty days prior to judgment.  As many ideas as I have on this span of time, I am no theological expert, so beyond these few words, I will keep quiet on the matter.  I don’t know enough about purgatory, toll houses, soul sleeps, and other theories of how a soul performs when the body first dies. 

I simply have faith that God is good, forgiving, and wants us with Him.  I have faith that Heaven is indescribable beauty, peace, and joy.  Life after death is truly a mystery that I have no authority to attempt to explain.  Only Scripture, tradition, faith, actions, and love can give us a true sense of accepting what is beyond our understanding.  It’s a big, magnificent secret treasure that I humbly pray to discover when it’s my time.  Thy will be done.  

***

I believe one of the most important memorial services for the soul is on the fortieth day, and that’s when we held my father’s first requiem in July of 2006.  In our Serbian Orthodox church this special service is called a parastos (pronounced pah-rah’-stus).

Such a glorious, yet humbling parastos was offered up to my father as our church abundantly crowded with loved ones celebrating his life and death with heartfelt remembrances and meaningful prayers. The multitude of candles lit for his soul dripped with tears of sympathy.  What an emotional mourning that fortieth morning.  

A lovely family luncheon was held after this memorial service.  Following the gathering, my husband, kids, and I drove 100 miles north to return home. Cara was aged four and Elena aged two.  

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When we got back, I didn’t unpack and do laundry like I usually would after a weekend trip. I needed to unwind and be away from checklists and chores.  I joined my family and Italia, our three-month-old golden retriever, at our patio and swimming pool.

The bursting thermometer and cloudless backdrop inspired frothy servings of smoothies and colorful sno-cones.  Cara and Elena, our giggly little loves, splashed and played, drenched and sprayed.  Pup Italia lapped liquid bullets while tempting the girls to squirt-gun her down, mafia style.  

While refreshing my feet poolside, Cara kept squirting Italia’s furry breast as I spied the black butterfly hover then merely skim the water.  This plain, yet somehow extraordinary, silhouette had become a part of our summer patio company, and his presence mysteriously captivated me.  He, whom I perceived as male, seemed as thick as midnight yet lightly fluttered about like butterflies do.   

I averted my gaze to this particularly unremarkable fella flickering around for his brief interludes.  With just a sheen of bluish-green scales outlined in ivory specks, his velvety shadowed wings had little décor. I always expected butterflies to personify rainbows, but I discovered that a less colorful, simpler design can also serve as a spectacular specimen.

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Sailing above and then lightly diving to the earth, he lingered brushing my cheek with a kiss.  As he resumed his winged dance to the sky, I burst out of tranquility and jolted with a stifling thirst:  I needed him.  I had to hold on, or I’d dry out from my tears that could potentially flood the pool.   

I frantically jumped up screaming, “Get the net!  Where’s the butterfly net?  We have to catch that black butterfly.  He belongs here!”  Our puppy nearly rolled into the pool, while my stunned husband and daughters froze.  I chaotically shuffled through a basket of outdoor toys for the prized Dollar Bargain butterfly net.  I grasped it and leaped and stretched like a clumsy majorette trying new baton tricks.  I scooped nothing but the wind. Of course, I couldn’t catch him and had to watch him disappear into the endless sky. I whispered with humble faith, thanks, and love,  “Thy Will be done.”

In various spiritual circles, butterflies represent the spirit of the departed.  The butterfly dies as a caterpillar, is buried in the cocoon, and enters a new life.   As a majestically changed creature, it takes flight in earth before breezing through heavenly clouds.

On that fortieth afternoon after my father’s death, my grief began.  I finally accepted that he physically left this world forever.  Eternity vs. Nevermore comprise the greatest extreme opposites of time that challenged my clock that somber summer.  I could barely consider these temporal concepts and felt like I was drowning when contemplating a soul lasting forever and a body being used again never.  

***

Nearly eleven years later, I still grieve the loss of my father, but I take comfort that he is with God who opened up the heavens to mankind on Ascension Day, when Christ was taken up to heaven.

I also continue to perceive occasional visits by the black butterfly as something special and granted by God. My personal connection and journey with the black butterfly continues to strengthen my spiritual beliefs. I know there is no doctrine or proof in my experience, but when a beautiful black butterfly shows up precisely when I need an “extra” lift, that to me is a divine gift to encourage or reward my faith.

Many people have their own signs, symbols, and things they believe is contact from a lost loved one. Besides the black butterfly, I have felt other spiritual touches in nature via bunnies, birds, dogs, and flowers. If it leads me to spiritual thanks and praise, I consider that faith. God bless us, everyone.  

What special encounters have you had that cause you to connect, remember, and give thanks?  Memory Eternal to your lost loved ones.

Posted in Friends, Socializing, Women

Bunco Invite

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Bunco is a simple dice game that can be played by people of all ages. I started playing in a Bunco over ten years ago, when I was in my thirties.  I taught my daughters how to play when they were in elementary school.  My golden years mother still plays with a group of  friends at Silver Sneakers.  Although you can roll with two or more players, the game best lends itself to a group of twelve women.  If you are interested in playing Bunco, starting a group, or learning more about this fun dice game, read on.

I played Bunco as a substitute and permanent roller with the same wonderful group for over eight years.  The group eventually broke up, and after a couple years of missing Bunco, I decided to start a new group that would like to play once a month.  The following is an invitation I wrote when I resurrected the game of Bunco in my life: 

Dear Ladies,

I am inviting you to a game of Bunco at my house on INSERT DATE AND TIME.  Most Bunco nights will run for three hours, but the first one requires teaching the game of Bunco (easy but necessary to understand the rules and scoring).

This is a dice game of luck and prizes played by twelve people.  I’m starting a Bunco club that I hope can meet once a month.  You are the fun women I thought might like to join. You can decide after playing if you want to be on a permanent player roster, substitute player list, or an I-can’t-commit-but-keep-me-in-mind list.

Come enjoy an evening filled with drinks, food, conversation, and some light gambling. The object of the night is to have fun while breaking away from the weekly routine. There are over 700 hours in a month; Bingo players know this and love the thrill of getting out of the house and testing their luck among good company and refreshments. Bunco players can do the same in a more intimate and friendly gathering.

 

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Here is how it works:

  1. The hostess provides the space, decor, plates, napkins, and drinks for the night.  
  2. The players bring a dish, side, or dessert with a serving utensil  Take home or share what doesn’t get eaten.  My family loves the plates of goodies brought home from Bunco.  (No time to prep food?  Suggestion: Order a pizza or breadsticks or buy baked goods.)  
  3. The players bring $10 for the Bunco ante to go to the night’s monetary prizes.   
  4. The hostess is exempt from the $10 ante and instead provides a door prize (homemade or bought for 10.00 or under — don’t overdo it).  
  5. The hostess should keep the Bunco playing area free of children and husbands.  Furry friends are welcome (unless allergic Bunco players request otherwise).  
  6. If you say you are going to play, please show up.  If not, try to find someone to take your spot (There should be a sub list to pull from.)  
  7. Help welcome each other.  You will get to sit with every guest at some point during the game.   

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Bunco Eve Agenda:

6:00 – 6:30   Social ½ hour.

     — Eat, drink, meet, and greet old and new friends.  

     — Set out your dish (plug it in, uncover it, heat it, slice it…)

     — Put your 10.00 ante in the basket.

     — Sign up to be a hostess for your favored month if you can (i.e. I love making fall drinks and have good space for a summer Bunco near the pool, so I prefer to host during those seasons.)  

6:25 — Warning bell to get drinks, snacks, and seats at one of the tables.

6:30-7:00 Teach the game and rules.  Answer questions.  Play a round for no credit and fun:  teach scoring and clarify misunderstandings.

7:30-9:15 — Roll those dice, keep score, play the game, wear the crown, get cards punched… Have a Bunco Babe Partay! Take a food and refreshment break after a round of rolling: ones through sixes.

9:15-9:30 — Add scores and Buncos, give out prizes, remind each other of next hostess meeting place, share leftovers.  The next hostess takes Bunco game to her home.

Post Bunco – Friends laugh about the night on their way home and can’t wait to get together to do this again.

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***

Our Bunco Babes have a blast together.  Our group is fun, energetic, and loud.  We have had some creative theme nights such as: 80’s Night, Luau, and Wear-Your-Crazy-Leggings Bunco.  

Feel free to use or tweak my letter for your own Bunco party.  If you have any questions about Bunco ask me or check out the following links for more about the rules, scoring, and supplies needed to play.  

http://www.dicegamedepot.com/bunco-rules/

http://www.easy-party-ideas-and-games.com/bunco-rules.html

http://howdoyouplayit.com/bunco-rules-play-bunco/