Wednesday, February 29, 2012

B is for Betsy

From the moment I learned to string syllables into words I have been an insatiable reader, and one of the authors that my elementary school librarian introduced me to was Carolyn Haywood, who wrote a large number of children's books about two suburban children, Betsy and Eddie, and their many adventures. The first book of this series, "B" is for Betsy, was published in 1939; as a young child, I read it and every subsequent book I could get my hands on. Born in 1898 and studying with the likes of Elizabeth Shippen Green and Jessie Wilcox Smith, Ms. Haywood was a wonderful children's author who also did her own illustrations until the 1970's. Most of her books are long out of print, but I collected quite a few, library discards and such, so that my own children could enjoy them as they learned to read. I have purged many titles from my children's library but I will never part with my Carolyn Haywood books. Betsy and Eddie are my personal childhood friends, after all.

So it made perfect sense for me to revisit "B" is for Betsy as part of Emlyn Chand's 2012 Books That Made Me Love Reading Challenge. The story starts on six-year old Betsy's first day of first grade. She is afraid to go, as Old Ned who cuts the grass on her grandfather's farm has described school as a terrifying place, with switches and a dunce corner. But with her mother's gentle encouragement and the comfort provided by the stuffed koala bar hidden in her book bag by her doting father, she survives. Over the course of the book, Betsy meets her best friend, Ellen; gets lost on her first day walking to school by herself and is rescued by the friendly police crossing guard, Mr. Kilpatrick; watches tadpoles turn into frogs; acquires a puppy; hosts a birthday party; gets into trouble for picking violets but manages to make it right; and participates in a class circus. These sweet stories remind me so much of my own childhood; like Betsy, I had to walk several city blocks and cross a busy street to get to school, bought ice cream at a little shop on the way home, and spent happy summer days with a grandparent who lived "in the country."

I am grateful I have a 1967 edition of this story; not only do I love Ms. Haywood's artwork, but I am also guessing that some of the original details have been changed for the current paperback version of the book. For example, when Betsy takes a bouquet of pansies by way of apology to the home of the person whose violets, she walks right into a home she has never been in before to meet a person she has never even seen. Also, Billy wore a toy revolver in his belt on circus day. I am not suggesting that children should be encouraged to mingle with strangers or allowed to carry weapons of any kind to school, but these are narratives of a simpler time and I find their old-fashioned innocence charming.

I am grateful that Emlyn Chand gave me an excuse to reread this book that was so important to me when I was a little girl. Now I am looking forward to reading others in the series, and have even been entertaining the idea of about writing about what happened to Betsy and Eddie AFTER they finished elementary school. Romance, anyone?

Who was your favorite author of chapter books when you were an emerging reader?

Monday, February 27, 2012

48 Questions

Channeling Margaret Mitchell.
Click HERE to read about my visit to her house in Atlanta.
After a long, dry spell, I finally went out on a real date last night. It was pleasant but anticlimactic; I will be surprised if the gentleman calls me again. But that's okay, because every time I share an experience - positive or negative - with another human being, I collect information that I can only hope will help me make good decisions as I attempt to navigate the murky, rough waters of dating and relationships. At the very least, I gather material to use in my fiction writing.

But more about that later. Today's post is just for fun. I don't remember where I first saw them, but these 48 questions have been making their rounds of the blogosphere for a while now. Here are my responses.

1. What time did you get up this morning? 8:00. Don't hate me. I went to bed at midnight.
2. How do you like your steak? I am more of a salmon kind of girl. But every now and then I crave a juicy filet - medium well - and I have one. Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. (Emerson)
3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? One for the Money. I enjoyed it. But the book was better.
4. What is your favorite TV show? I really don't watch much TV. But I never miss Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, or House. And I am currently smitten with Once Upon A Time. 
5. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? I don't think I have traveled enough to answer that question definitively. I do love me a sunny island in the Caribbean. But all my friends are in Atlanta. Hm.
6. What did you have for breakfast? Half a whole wheat bagel smeared with homemade honey pecan cream cheese. And coffee. Always coffee.
7. What is your favorite food? I rarely meet food I don't like. Except canned spinach. Please don't ask me to eat spinach out of a can. Thank you. But to answer the question, if I were on death row and it was time to choose my last meal, I might ask for salmon, garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus, and key lime pie. Or eggplant parmesan, crusty bread and olive oil, and tiramisu. Or a blue cheese burger, steak fries, and a brownie with ice cream. See what I mean?
8. Foods you dislike? See question 7.
9. Favorite place to eat? The home of a friend.
10. Favorite dressing? Blue cheese. With a side of celery and hot wings. And a handcrafted beer. Please add this to #7. It's a wonder I don't weigh 500 pounds.
11. What kind of vehicle do you drive? 2005 Honda Accord. 110,000 trouble free miles.
12. What are your favorite clothes? Summer: tank top, denim skirt, flip flops. Winter: fleece pants, flannel nightgown, fuzzy socks--in the privacy of my home, of course.
13. Where would you visit if you had the chance? There are SO MANY PLACES I want to go. France. Ireland. Canada. Alaska. Hawaii. Australia. Bali. Savannah. Charleston. Sigh.
14. Cup 1/2 empty or 1/2 full? Half full. Definitely.
15. Where do you want to retire? I am much too young to be thinking about that.
16. Favorite time of day? Early afternoon, when the chores are done and the sun is shining. Preferably sitting on a warm patio with an ice cold adult beverage in front of me and a steel drum band playing in the background.
17. Where were you born? Ironton, Missouri. Show me.
18. What is your favorite sport to watch? Professional tennis. Does that make me a geek?
19. What is your favorite fragrance? Juicy Couture.
20. What is your favorite face cream? BeautiControl.
21. Favorite baby/kid products? I haven't thought about that in years. Thank goodness.
22. People watcher? All the time.
23. Are you a morning person or a night person? I'm more of an afternoon person.
24. Do you have any pets? A golden retriever mix named Karma. The best dog ever.
25. Any new and exciting news you'd like to share? I am going to the Silken Sands Conference in Pensacola in a couple of weeks. I can hardly wait!
26. What did you want to be when you were little? A piano teacher. And once I make up my mind about something, there is no stopping me.
27. What is your favorite memory? I have many. But I will always treasure memories of curling up on the sofa sharing books with my boys.
28. Are you a cat or a dog person? Ironically, I am a cat person. But my 20yo is allergic to cats. So I have a dog instead.
29. Are you married? Heavens, no. Been there, done that.
30. Always wear your seat belt? YES.
31. Been in a car accident? Yes. Several. I don't think it's possible to live in this area and avoid it.
32. Any pet peeves? Rude, aggressive drivers. People who talk on their cell phones in public places. And people who toss their cigarette butts on the ground. The world is not your ash tray, folks.
33. Favorite pizza toppings? Veggies. Lots of 'em.
34. Favorite flower? Pink roses.
35. Favorite ice cream? Chocolate chip cookie dough or cookies and cream.
36. Favorite fast food restaurant? Burger King, home of the BK Veggie. I love their fries, too.
37. How many times did you fail your driver's test? Zero.
38. From whom did you get your last email? Pat.
39. Which store would you choose to max out your credit card? Piano Works. On a grand piano.
40. Do anything spontaneous lately? 
41. Like your job? Yes.
42. Broccoli? Yes. Raw, steamed, or stir fried. I love it.
43. What was your favorite vacation? Cruising on the Carnival Legend. Every day was perfect.
44. Last person you went out to dinner with? A date from Plenty Of Fish. I don't want to talk about it.
45. What are you listening to right now? Karma snoring.
46. What is your favorite color? Pink!
47. How many tattoos do you have? None yet. I'm still thinking...
48. Coffee drinker? Definitely.

Now, are there any questions YOU would like to ask?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I Write Because I Am

Pam Asberry and Jana Oliver
Saturday I attended the monthly meeting of George Romance Writers. Jana Oliver was our featured speaker. She provided the kick in the pants I needed. Since mid-November, when I dropped the ball on NaNoWriMo, I have been in a real writing slump.

January and February are always busy months for me professionally. My piano students participate in NFMC Federated Festival mid-February and I am often called upon to judge for other area piano festivals; this year is no exception. Also, I spent a couple of weeks creating a series of Valentine's Day pieces for my Etsy store; now I am working on a line of chain mail bracelets and earrings as well as a line of stamped metal pendants.  Not to mention the housework and laundry and cooking and... well, you get the drift.

But I am a woman with a dream. And if I'm going to call myself a writer, well, I have to WRITE. According to Chris Guillebeau, more than 80% of people claim to want to write a book, but less than 1% actually do. (Click HERE for Chris's article How to Write a Book). The odds of publication after that are small, too, but that's beside the point. And it's a sure thing I won't be published if I don't write books. GREAT books. And you can't edit a blank page.

For the past several weeks, I have been participating in Bob Mayer's online Write-It-Forward Workshop.  In this class, Bob has challenged us to examine our goals and fears as writers in light of our personality styles and character traits; he has asked some hard questions, too. I have tried to be honest with my responses but have discovered that they have changed as the weeks have gone by. As a result, I have a clearer picture of my goals and motivations, the lies I tell myself, and what I must be willing to sacrifice in order to succeed.

I am ready.

I judged for a piano festival last Sunday, and one of the students I heard has Tourette's Syndrome. His teacher had warned me about his condition ahead of time; I was prepared for anything, including the possibility that he might totally wig out and not be able to complete his performance. Well, what happened was completely the opposite.

This little boy marched into the room, extended his hand to me, and said, "Hi, I'm James, and I have Tourette's Syndrome." Then he sat down at the piano and gave the most moving performance I heard all day: impeccably memorized, stylistically accurate and musically sensitive. If I hadn't known he had Tourette's Syndrome, I would never have guessed. Of course, I would like to pat myself on the back and attribute it to my ability to make others feel comfortable. But the truth is it was all I could do to keep myself from bursting into tears at his honesty and sensitivity. I gave him a hands-down Superior. He thanked me politely for it afterwards. But I didn't give him anything he didn't absolutely earn.

If that little boy, not even ten years old, can wake up every morning, face down an evil monster like Tourette's Syndrome, and make his way through another day, how can I not muster the fortitude to meet my daily word count goal? Yeah, I'm not a millionaire and life is hard sometimes. But compared to James, I have absolutely NOTHING to complain about.

Now, back to Jana and her message on Saturday. It was powerful. In the end, she said to trust the gift, the story, the characters, YOURSELF. And that's what I'm learning to do.

Trust. Myself.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Goodbye, Hello

I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they're right, you believe lies so you can eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.
~ Marilyn Monroe

The past couple of weeks have been, well, intense. I won't go into all the particulars; it is enough to say that  between sickness in the family, financial pressure, and an unusually heavy workload, there has been little time to rest and less time to play. For the most part, I've been okay with that; I can get by on very little sleep and often my work feels more like play. In other words, it has been bearable.

But there was a bit of drama in my personal life, too. First, I met a man online; we really seemed to hit it off, and I almost had myself convinced that it was the start of something really good; then, before we even had a chance to meet, he rejected me on the basis of my financial situation. Not that his is any better; in fact, between the two of us, I am probably the more stable and secure. So rather than try to sell myself to him - and I can be very persuasive - I remembered my word for 2012 - RELEASE - and let him go. Considering that he has never been married, never had children, never even been in a relationship that has lasted more than two years, I probably did myself a big favor.

Bolstered by that experience, I mustered the strength to end and on-again, off-again relationship that has been weighing me down for more than two years. And believe me when I tell you I didn't just let go of that balloon; I stabbed it with scissors and watched it skitter through the air helter-skelter for a few moments before landing in a misshapen, wrinkled pile on the ground, then stomped on it until there was nothing but dust left.


Freed from these burdens, I was struck this afternoon by a wondrous sense of anticipation. Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I have the most amazing feeling that something wonderful is waiting just around the corner of me. Is it the love of my life? A financial windfall? A publishing contract? Or all of the above?

I can't wait to find out. In the meantime, I'm living loud, with a heart that's wide open and a spirit as light as a feather.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Table For One

Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
~Veronica A. Shoffstall

When you’re single and female, certain holidays pose specific challenges. There’s New Year’s Eve, when everyone else is kissing their sweetheart at midnight and all you can do is watch Ryan Seacrest in Times Square; Halloween when you want to dress up as Wilma Flintstone but it won't make sense unless Fred is at your side; and your birthday which, depending on your age, serves as only a reminder either that your biological clock is ticking or confirmation that you’re destined to be old and alone.

It’s taken me ten years of single hood to make peace with all of this. Last year, for example, I threw myself a fabulous birthday party. I invited all my besties and their significant others, where applicable, to join me for dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant and to my house for cake and ice cream afterwards. It was a happy birthday, indeed. On Halloween, I turned off the front porch lights, poured myself a bowl of candy corn, and watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I felt like I was seven again. And I brought in 2012 with my brother and his wife and my kids. We listened to 80’s music and played board games and drank champagne. I hugged my dog at midnight and went to bed feeling nothing but joy and optimism.

But now it’s Valentine’s Day, and I can’t even go grocery shopping in peace. I am forced to swim through an ocean of beribboned balloons just to find a loaf of bread. The gargantuan assortment of floral displays makes it difficult to find the chicken noodle soup. And as I approach the checkout line, it is impossible to avoid the cheerful displays of stuffed animals and heart shaped candy boxes, none of which have my name on them.

Finally, though, I understand that being single is not a punishment for evil doing in a past life, a consequence of any shortcoming of mine, or even a state of lacking something. It simply is what it is. I am complete whether or not I am in a relationship.

So this year, I am going to be my own valentine. The last time I went to Kroger, I tossed a perfect pink rose into my shopping cart to enjoy all weekend. And at the end of the day, I’m going to light a candle and say a prayer for each of the men I have ever loved as well as for the man I still believe is out there for me.

Whether you’re happily married, unabashedly single, or somewhere in between, I wish you and yours the happiest Valentine’s Day ever!

Note: This post first appeared at Petit Fours and Hot Tamales on February 10, 2012

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Online Dating 101

Dear HotStuff69,

Thank you so much for your response to my profile here on SharksAreEverywhereDotCom. For the record, though, my name is "Pam." Not "Sexy" or "Hottie" or even "Sweetheart" or "Beautiful." I'm not a MILF or a cougar and I don't date guys younger than my firstborn son. And those two boys who still live with me? They're non-negotiable.

Of course I will be happy to tell you a little bit more about myself - just not my weight, or my bra size, or what style panties I prefer. Nor am I ready to discuss my favorite sexual positions, what turns me on in bed, or my wildest fantasies. In case you're wondering, I'm not interested in a threesome. And if I eventually share my cell phone number with you, please don't send me a picture of Wee Willie Winkie, okay? Because if you do, I will delete it and block your phone number.

What would I like to know about you? Your hopes. Your dreams. Your proudest moments. Your fears and failures. Yes, I would be lying if I said I don't care what you look like; I understand there has to be physical attraction. But I have loved men of many sizes and physical descriptions; my only requirements are that you practice good dental hygiene and have a reasonable commitment to health and overall fitness. No, French fries and ketchup are not vegetables and running to the bathroom in between innings doesn't count as exercise.

And I don't date smokers. Sorry.

I guess that's it for now. I have learned the hard way that "Long-Term Relationship" and "Intimate Encounter" mean two diametrically opposed things, at least on this website. Which means, I guess, that what I am really looking for is an intimate encounter that will last me the rest of my life. If you can wrap your brain around that, I would love to hear from you again.



Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Burning Questions

Monday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. I already talked about it at Between Birthdays so I won't dwell further on the details here. If there's anything to The Secret and its premise that thoughts become things, well, I guess I'd better be thinking happy thoughts.

Ironically, I just had a conversation with my two younger children a couple of days ago, in which they asked, "Mom, if you were to win the lottery, what would you change about your life? Would you stop teaching piano lessons? Would you buy a different house? Would you drive a different car? Would you see the world?"

And I replied, honestly, "I would keep the majority of my piano students until they were ready to leave me. I have always wanted a gourmet kitchen, and I would love to have room for a grand piano, so I might move into a different house, provided I could find something in this general area. But I would definitely keep my little red Honda, although I might splurge on a little pick-up truck, too. And I would love to travel. The first thing I would do is that southern Caribbean cruise on Carnival."

To which my 20yo replied, "Geez, Mom, you would book an eight-day Carnival cruise when you could afford to spend six months on a cruise ship?"

I thought about it a minute and said, probably a bit defensively, "Well, that particular itinerary really speaks to me. And it's a real bargain, especially off-season."

The boys looked at each other, rolled their eyes and said, "So if you won the lottery you would basically keep your life the way it is except that you would have more money?"

And the answer was, "Yes."

And no. Yes, I am happy with my life. I love teaching and playing music and beading and knitting and writing and blogging. But I hate being at the mercy of my ex's employment situation, worrying about medical bills and home repairs and the kids and I doing without things we need. Monday night I shed real tears, wondering how at the dichotomy between my gifts and talents and my financial situation. So I decided to participate in Danielle LaPorte's exercise and spend a few minutes thinking about how I really want it all to feel, whether or not I hit the jackpot. Here goes.

I want my day to feel like warm sunshine on my back.
I want kissing to feel hot biscuits dripping with butter and honey.
I want my next success to feel like winning an Academy Award.
I want my body to feel like a slinky.
I want smiling to feel like the first daffodils of spring.
I want my friendships to feel like yellow cake with chocolate frosting from my grandmother's kitchen.
I want my nervous system to feel like stars on a summer night.
I want my gigs to feel like Michael Stipe showing up out of nowhere at a Coldplay concert and singing Night Swimming while Chris Martin plays the piano.
I want my neighborhood to feel like a symphony.
I want my integrity to feel like fresh fallen snow.
I want my money-making to feel like falling out of an airplane.
I want my word to feel like the look out of my dog's eyes.
I want my laughter to feel like silver glitter.
I want the end of the day to feel like blue velvet.
I want being of service to feel like painting a room.
I want philanthropy to feel like opening a Christmas present.
I want my challenges to feel like walking out onstage in front of a thousand people.
I want my love to feel like a meteor, like a five-course gourmet meal, like a handmade quilt that wraps around me.
I want my writing to feel like Anne Lamott and Elizabeth Berg with a side of Amy Sedaris.
I want my ideas to feel like the incoming tide.

So there you have it. I'm feeling it. What about you?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

What's it all about?

I don't like to think of Pam Asberry as being self-important. But I guess there's something a little bit inherently narcissistic about being a blogger, about sharing one's thoughts on this and that and the other and assuming that anyone out there wants to hear what you have to say. Truth be told, I like it when I find out that something I have expressed in this forum resonates with one of my readers. And I love it when a follower suggests that I might even have a talent for writing--after all, I dream of earning a living as a wordsmith.

Well, this week I received the ultimate compliment. My friend Denise referenced me in her blog post (click HERE), listing my name right alongside that of Oprah. And Job. It was an honor. And a challenge.

Because, like Denise, I WANT TO BE MORE THAN I AM.

Towards that end, I am resuming my blog Between Birthdays. To be honest, I enjoyed the challenge of trying something new every day. And I have tried many new things since I stopped writing the blog. So I am just going to pick up where I left off. Starting today.

Meanwhile, I am trying to sort out the direction for this blog. When I started it, I thought I would write mostly about my crafts, knitting and beading and such. Then I began working on my first novel, and have shared my journey as a writer. But I don't want this to become a book review site or an advice column for aspiring authors. There are too many of those out there already, as far as I'm concerned.

I want it this to be a place where I can share my real experiences as a real person: a single mom raising three sons while navigating the treacherous waters of parenting, working, and living my dreams. It ain't easy. So if you would, please leave a comment at the end of this post and let me know what YOU want to read about. It would help me tremendously. Thank you very much!