Saturday, October 31, 2009

An Australian Saga Continues

Today, I thought it was appropriate to review a novel written by a friend of mine. Why today, you ask? Well, today (November 1, 2009) is the official release of his most recent work, To Touch the Clouds. And the author’s name? Peter Watt.

As much as I would love to write about his latest novel, I can’t. I haven’t read it yet. I intend to…in fact, friend Peter has told me it is winging its way from Australia to me as I write this. And that has me very excited!

I hope you avid readers will keep watch here on GAG, for as soon as I have my grubby little mitts on To Touch the Clouds, I intend to read it from cover to cover. And then… I’ll tell you how much I like it! Or, knowing author Peter Watt… how much I LOVE it.

In the meantime, I’m going to do something that probably seems a little bass-ackwards. But if you’ll bear with me, you’ll see that there’s a method to my madness. (If I tell you that often enough, you’re bound to believe me! Ah, the power of suggestion...) What I’m going to do is tell you a bit about Cry of the Curlew.

Cry of the Curlew is the very first Peter Watt novel I ever read. It is also the first book in the Macintosh/Duffy series, and since To Touch the Clouds is the most recent chapter, I thought it was appropriate to write about the book where-in it all began. What a great way, I thought, to lead in to his new saga!

The backwards part comes from the fact that Cry of the Curlew is not a new novel, but rather, one that has been in publication for several years. I am sure that when it was originally released, COTC was reviewed over and over again by professionals--extraordinary journalists who knew what they are doing as they touted this epic adventure set in 19th century Australia. In contrast, I am NOT a literary commentator or a member of the press. I’m just a humble author of Young Adult fiction and a columnist who writes country tales from Maine.

However, I am a woman who is not afraid of a challenge! Let’s not forget…I have teenagers in the house. Nothing, but nothing, is as intimidating as that! If I can stand in the path of a constant barrage of adolescent hormones and pubescent attitude without flinching, then surely I can attempt to write a review of a book that, while not newly published, is a refreshing read, nonetheless.

A piece of cake!

I was pointed in Peter’s direction by my pal Jack. He knew that I was a fan of Wilbur Smith novels, and he suggested I try a tale by Mr. Watt, whose writing and talent has often been compared to that great author’s. And since I always do what my friend Jack tells me to (unless, of course, he’s WRONG) I went to and ordered Cry of the Curlew.

And boy, am I glad that I did!

Cry of the Curlew is a fictional account of two diverse families who are making their mark on a young country. A country as harsh and unforgiving as any on this planet. A land of great beauty and tremendous danger. Australia, a continent of extremes, was a siren for strong men who wanted a new start, or a chance at fame, or glory, or sometimes—anonymity.

Much like the wild west of American fame, the Australian frontier was a place where white settlers took it upon themselves to impose their own laws and ways of life on a land and a populace that did not need or want them. The natives of Australia were treated as second-class citizens by many of those who came to occupy their tribal lands. Worse, they were sometimes dealt with as if they were less than human. Without value. Even, sometimes… disposable.

Cry of the Curlew opens to just such a scene. Donald Macintosh, a wealthy landowner, has issued orders. The Nerambura tribe is to be ‘dispersed’. To some, that word means scattered or disbanded. But to Lt. Morrison Mort and his Native Mounted Police, it meant annihilated. When Patrick Duffy and his son Tom witness the slaughter, the father is murdered and the son goes on the run, an outcast from his own people. Disillusioned by the brutality of his own race, and accepted by a small band of aboriginals, he makes it his mission to even the score.

The conflict between the two families is not restricted to Donald Macintosh and Tom Duffy, however, as loyalty and devotion are strong sentiments in these immigrant families. Each family takes it upon themselves to see the other brought low. And for some, the depths to which they will go to achieve that end are unimaginable.

Cry of the Curlew is a novel--a fictitious tale--but the reader can glean much about the history of Queensland as Peter Watt weaves events from its past into the daily drama of his central characters. Not only does this saga have an authentic feel, but the individuals themselves are as mortal as can be. One of the qualities that most impressed me about the author’s writing is that he lets the reader see the humanity in each personality showcased between the book’s covers. Not one of them is perfect, not one—completely imperfect. Goodness and evil…all men have a dose of each.

And Peter Watt knows that.

In Cry of the Curlew, he shows us just what happens when individuals not only war with each other, but wage a battle within themselves.

The Pete Watt I know is a family man, a writer and a friend. But to do him justice, below is a bit of additional information pulled from his website. I didn’t ask permission to copy and paste this because I know that today, he’s busy launching To Touch the Clouds. But I’m going to chance it and include this blurb anyway. I’m brave, after all! Remember… I have TEENAGERS in the house!

Peter Watt has spent time as a soldier, articled clerk, prawn trawler deckhand, builder's labourer, pipe layer, real estate salesman, private investigator, police sergeant and advisor to the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary. He speaks, reads and writes Vietnamese and Pidgin. He now lives at Maclean, on the Clarence River in northern New South Wales. Fishing and the vast open spaces of outback Queensland are his main interests in life.

To Touch the Clouds (Release November 2009)

'They had all forgotten the curse … except one ... until it touched them. I will tell you of those times when the whitefella touched the clouds and lightning came down on the earth for many years.’

In 1914, the storm clouds of war are gathering. Matthew Duffy and his cousin Alexander Macintosh are sent by Colonel Patrick Duffy to conduct reconnaissance in German-controlled New Guinea. At the same time, Alexander's sister, Fenella, is making a name for herself in the burgeoning Australian film industry.

But someone close to them has an agenda of his own - someone who would betray not only his family but his country to satisfy his greed and lust for power. As the world teeters on the brink of conflict, one family is plunged into a nightmare of murder, drugs, treachery and treason.

To Touch the Clouds is a powerful continuation of Peter Watt's much-loved saga of the Duffy and Macintosh clan, begun in The Cry of the Curlew.

The photo above is of three of Peter Watt’s novels, which he generously autographed and donated to my small, hometown library in New Portland, Maine. (No novels were set on fire in the taking of this photograph.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An American Right...An American Responsibility

We are half-way through the autumn season here in Maine. The leaves have--for the most part--fallen to the ground, with only the beech and a few stubborn maple leaves still clinging to their hosts. November is only a few days away. It's a month that is full of activity, here on the 45th parallel. Deer season is in full swing. Veteran's Day comes on the 11th, and Thanksgiving follows on November 26th. Hunting, and the beginning of the holiday season...these American traditions are associated with the eleventh month of the calendar year.

More importantly, in my opinion, is the significance of the Tuesday that follows the first Monday in every November, here in Maine. That day is the day of our yearly regular vote.

I am as patriotic as all get-out, and do my utmost to never miss the opportunity to exercise this--my greatest right and responsibility. How amazing, how have my thoughts and opinions MATTER! To have an actual SAY in how my country, state and town is operated, and how my tax monies are spent. To be able to weigh in on important matters, and choose a person to represent me in the Legislature and Congress. Wow. I'm an American! How lucky, how blessed I am!

I've always been of the mind that if an American does NOT take the time to vote, that individual has no right to complain. About ANYTHING, in regards to our laws, our taxes, our way of life here in the United States. Voting is not just a privilege, it is a responsibility. We owe it to ourselves and to the future generations of Americans to be prudent, to be sensible, to have a bit of far-sightedness. We have the power to make our world a better place. And we have the capacity to royally screw it up.

While I am a staunch advocate of getting out to cast a ballot, I am equally opposed to voting when uninformed about the issues in question. I believe it is every citizen's duty to educate themselves on what is on each ballot we are presented with at the polls. For a vote cast in ignorance is a dangerous and irresponsible weapon, able to do great harm, whether harm was intended or not. In my opinion, citizens of this great country have an obligation to be informed voters.

The vote is important...vital, in fact. We must vote, but we must vote with knowledge of the issues at hand. Laziness and ignorance have no business here. Millions of people the world over would love to trade places with us--to become members of this great country...this land of the free and home of the brave. Let's EARN these benefits and freedoms that were given to us at birth. Let's not take advantage of them, or disabuse them. Not many others on this planet are as lucky as we Americans are. Let's be worthy of the rights we possess.

It does not matter to me what stance you take on the questions to be decided next Tuesday. What matters to me is that you care enough to vote, and that you are concerned enough and GRATEFUL enough to get the facts before casting your ballot.

If you are an American who is visiting and reading Grumbles and Grins, I welcome you, friend. And I hope I'll see you at the ballot box on November 3rd. And if you are one of my friends 'from away', greetings! I invite you to take an interest in that which makes America the incredible country it is. Your opinions matter, too. The world is getting smaller, and our neighbors' input has merit. Open dialogue from people who view the world from a different perspective is an invaluable resource...and can make for some excellent debate. And I'm a gal who LOVES a lively discussion!

Below I am pasting in the seven questions that we Mainers are deciding on, come next Tuesday. I've already determined how I'm going to vote on each issue, and I have given these questions careful thought. I invite each visitor to do the same. I invite each Mainer, each American, to be an active and excited citizen of this nation. We're lucky. We're blessed. We are Americans!


Question 1: People’s Veto
Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?

Question 2: Citizen Initiative
Do you want to cut the rate of the municipal excise tax by an average of 55% on motor vehicles less than six years old and exempt hybrid and other alternative energy and highly fuel-efficient motor vehicles from sales tax and three years of excise tax?

Question 3: Citizen Initiative
Do you want to repeal the 2007 law on school district consolidation and restore the laws previously in effect?

Question 4: Citizen Initiative
Do you want to change the existing formulas that limit state and local government from spending and require voter approval by referendum for spending over those limits and for increases in state taxes?

Question 5: Citizen Initiative
Do you want to change the medical marijuana laws to allow treatment of more medical conditions and to create a regulated system of distribution?

Question 6: Bond Issue
Do you favor a $71,250,000.00 bond issue for improvements to highways and bridges, airports, public transit facilities, ferry and port facilities, including port and harbor structures for the LifeFlight Foundation that will make the state eligible for over $148,000,000.00 in federal and other matching funds?

Question 7: Constitutional Amendment
Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to increase the amount of time that local officials have to certify the signatures on direct initiative petitions?

The Maine ballot. Awesome, isn't it?

We have the freedom and the right to determine the outcome of these significant issues. We have the OBLIGATION to vote with intelligence and thoughtfulness.

The above photo was taken by Jocelia Pease in the woods behind our house on Saturday, October 24, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

Country Girl Tries City Driving

A while back I enrolled in an eight week course in Portland, the state’s largest city. It wasn't a requirement for my job, but I felt I needed a refresher in order to handle some new responsibilities in a correct and orderly manner.

I enjoyed the class.

I despised the commute!!

I remember when Franklin County had one stop light--at the corners of Main and Broadway in Farmington. And that was enough. But what has been loosely termed progress has arrived in our state of Maine, and with it has come an impressive increase in vehicular traffic.

I like living on a dirt road. I enjoy inhaling the dust of a parched gravel lane as compared to the exhaust fumes of a steady stream of cars and trucks. I can brag about how many dents are in my oil pan from rocks thrown up by my tires. I am at ease driving on washboards.

But I am scared silly by city driving.

Take driving on a turnpike, for example. To travel to Portland I can get on the pike in Waterville, Auburn or Augusta, and the mileage is about the same from my house to any of these cities. It doesn't matter where I get on I-95. I still have to find an on ramp, and I have to merge. My dictionary compares merging with being "swallowed up" or "losing individuality or identity". I don't like the sound of that, but even so, those definitions are less frightening than the actual act of merging. My knuckles go white just thinking about it. I picture myself on the ramp; cars behind me, two lanes of tractor trailers, SUV's and vans screaming past on the highway to my left. If any of them are driving at 65 m.p.h. or less, it's a miracle. Somehow, I've got to speed up on this short curvy ramp until I'm breaking the sound barrier too, and intimidate enough of them to shove over so that I've got room to get swallowed up. There are impatient drivers behind me urging me on. The ramp and its additional space is almost at an end. With death grip on the steering wheel, foot on the accelerator, I open my mouth and scream a silent scream at the booby driving the little Honda directly to my left. Apparently, the awesome sight of my uvula dangling from the back of my throat intimidates the driver, because at the last second he darts into the passing lane between two semi's and allows me to merge.

My pulse slows a little, and I focus on the task at hand. Keep my pick-up at sixty-five. Stay to the right except to pass. But I hate passing tractor trailers! It takes too long and the wind they create sucks me this way and blows me that. What if the driver of the big rig didn't see me pull out and he decides to pass the car in front of him? I'll be tossed into the median for the rescue personnel to find! Or, there might be a guard rail on my left. Claustrophobia could set in as I'm squeezed between solid metal and solid truck, and my mind would turn to slush. I could stray too far over towards that innovative creation, the rumble strip and have a heart attack wondering where all the noise was coming from!

The turnpike is fraught with peril! Concentration is impossible. Dig out money for toll booths! Don't go too fast, but don't go too slow! Pull over into the passing lane before each new merge! Arrgh!

But finally, at last, I'm free. I roll down the off ramp at a soothing thirty miles per hour....

And end up in the middle of the city. A six lane street greets me. There are cars on my left going in the same direction as I am! Sometimes a little faster, sometimes a little slower, but they are close enough to me to be able to start up a personal relationship. There are arrows on the pavement below and signs strung on cables above directing my every move. Get in this lane to turn left. Stay in that lane to go right. To continue moving straight ahead, get out of the straight ahead lane for a quick thirty seconds, and then try to get back into it before the lane you've moved to comes to a dead end. Traffic lights are blinking. Horns are honking. Fingers are doing more than gripping steering wheels! These city folk can be rude! Forget about blinkers. Ignore speed limits! Don't worry about insurance premiums. Get out of my way!!! The very air seems super-charged with frayed nerves and rage that's about to boil over. But I know that I must be almost to my destination!

Now, what in the world is this? A rotary!? Who thought up that idea? As if I'm not already confused enough about which lane to be in and for how long, now they want to make me dizzy at the same time?!! Will centrifugal force spin me out into the proper exit from this monstrosity of modern engineering? Good grief!

At last, I've arrived at school. I made it! I don't have to go out into that madness for another eight hours, when it will be time to drive back home to the Township again. I'll worry about it when the day is over, but for now I've got another problem.

I can't find a single place to park.

The photo above is NOT of the traffic in Portland, Maine, but rather of the traffic in Times Square, New York City, New York. It was taken by me on my 'night walk' in May of 2009 while I was in NYC as a featured author in my publisher's booth at Book Expo America.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The F-Bomb!

There was a time not so long ago when my children were always saying funny things... mispronouncing words, misunderstanding their meanings, and the like. It was part of learning how to communicate verbally. Now, apparently, the roles are being reversed, and I’m the one who doesn’t always understand what’s being said.

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at the computer proof-reading the chapter of a children’s tale I had written. My thirteen-year-old daughter Josie came into the bedroom and plopped onto my bed behind me, listening half-heartedly to the news that was on CNN. I can usually block out extraneous noise when I’m writing, but something about one particular news story grabbed my attention.

The Prime Time anchor read from the tele-prompter.

Earlier today, a woman in a shopping center dropped the “F-bomb” in the midst of fellow shoppers. An off-duty fire inspector was nearby, and asked her to refrain from doing it again, as there were children nearby. Enraged at the inspector, the woman began letting more “F-bombs” fly until finally, the officer arrested her and escorted her from the building.

I turned from my computer in amazement.

“You’ve got to be kidding me! You mean you can get arrested for farting in public, now?”

Josie looked at me incredulously, and then collapsed onto the pillows, giggling hysterically.

“Mum,” she gasped, “The F-bomb means she said the F-word!”

Well, THAT wasn’t what I’d been picturing, let me tell you! The mental image I’d had was one of a young mother who was out for an afternoon of shopping, which had been preceded by a lunch at a nice little restaurant. A restaurant where she’d probably consumed a cup of chili with beans followed by a broccoli quiche. At the shopping center, well, nature took its course like nature so often does--despite our wishes to the contrary--and the woman broke wind.

Admit it, it’s happened to the best of us. Muscles that control such things simply have a mind of their own at times, right? Most of us quickly walk from the spot of detonation, hoping that someone else will get the blame. If you’re really quick-witted, you might even scowl contemptuously at another passer-by or give them a reproachful glance, thereby fully depositing any guilt squarely upon another’s shoulders.

But not the star of my misunderstood news item! No, SHE stayed in place and bravely suffered the fallout from her bomb. And then, when this stranger, this FIRE INSPECTOR, called her to the carpet on it, did she blush in embarrassment and apologize, as most of us would do? No way! I’d been convinced that this woman possessed remarkable, incredible powers! I’d heard of being “mad enough to chew nails” and “mad enough to spit” but this woman, I thought, could flatulate on command! After all, she was “letting F-bombs fly!” That was something to almost—but not quite—be envious of.

And the fire inspector’s involvement? Well, in my scenario, he was concerning himself with the public welfare! A build-up of methane gas can be combustible and thereby dangerous to those humble citizens who pay his salary. Perhaps a woman who haphazardly threw around MY kind of F-bombs SHOULD be removed from public areas! But not arrested, no. I thought that was taking things a bit too far. Give her some Bean-o or Gas-X, but don’t give her a criminal record for loosing her pucker string in a crowd.

My brief vision of “The F-bomb That Could Have Leveled a Shopping Center” went up in a puff of smoke. (Sweet, nice-smelling smoke, like you’d get from incense or something…)

It was clear to me that I wasn’t “up” on the latest slang.

It could be argued that someone saying the F-word in public SHOULD be reprimanded. I acknowledge that there is a distressful increase in distasteful--and sometimes downright foul--language that is casually uttered these days in public, in print, and on TV. But arrested for it? I’m not sure. I guess without witnessing the whole scenario, I can’t give a firm opinion on it--although getting thrown in jail for it doesn’t seem very American to me. And arrested by a fire marshal? I don’t get that. An off duty fire marshal? Nuh, uh. It seems to me like he wanted some attention or notoriety from the incident because chances are it wouldn’t have escalated into a “letting F-bombs fly” scene if he’d chosen to handle the situation in a manner that wasn’t so antagonistic.

The bottom line is, I don’t know.

What I DO know is that my mother never would have dropped an F-bomb—not my kind nor Josie’s, not in public nor in the privacy of her own home! She was and is a lady, and in the house where I grew up, to say “break wind” in the vernacular was to utter a four-letter word. You didn’t say it. You didn’t drop it. And you didn’t let it fly. And you NEVER misunderstood what she was talking about, the way I misunderstood the CNN reporter.

I only hope that I can be half as good an example to my daughter as Mum was to me. But I despair. Josie’s already perfected the art of blaming the dog.

This 'Observations from The F.A.R.M. (Fresh Air and Room to Move)' column was one of two I wrote which won 3rd place in the Maine Press Association's Better Newspapers contest. The photo was taken in Trantens Family Grocers' parking lot this afternoon. I have no idea what this lovely lady's name is, but she looked to be perfectly capable of dropping a F-bomb.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Capon Capers

The chickens have flown the coop, here at The F.A.R.M. And it’s about time!

We’ve had a flock of Buff Orpington laying hens for a couple of years, along with two roosters named Bert and Fred. Too late, we discovered that Orps rate low on the scale of good egg producers, despite having done homework prior to purchasing the little chicks. I guess I’d paid more attention to their cold-weather hardiness than their egg producing abilities when I made my decision to purchase the young flock. Lately, we’d been lucky to get three eggs a day. And so…it was time for the darlings to enter the next phase of our farming operation. They were headed for the freezer this coming Saturday.

Now, I like to think of myself as a sound businesswoman and a practical farmer. But that’s just how I like to THINK of myself! In reality, when push comes to shove... I’m the pushover.

Instead of slaughtering them, instead of selling them…I gave the biddies away.

The whys and where-fors of the situation are moot, at this point. Suffice it to say that it involved a kindly, big-hearted, elderly lady…and a tough, bone-headed, middle-aged woman who had a meeting of the minds and souls. Who needs Fred fricassee, anyway, when rice all by itself is perfectly palatable?

If a little bland…

I hope Fred realizes how lucky he is, because I really hated that bird. That homely, beady-eyed rooster with the obvious comb-over was constantly riding my ass. And I mean that literally. Every time I turned my back on the fowl creature, he was raking his spurs down the backs of my thighs. But he’d never attack me head-on! Oh, no! He’d wait until my defenses were down and my attention was elsewhere before he’d dare to strike. Chicken!

Still…I’ve got to admit that I’m pleased as punch that the boys and their seventeen much-put-upon ladies are now comfortably ensconced with twenty-one other chickens, a crow, a robin, some geese, a few ducks and seven parakeets. Their lives have been spared, and really…it’s no skin off my back! Or my thighs…

I did have to take a little bit of grief due to my economically unsound decision. One friend had the nerve to say I was going ‘soft’. Naturally, them’s fighting words to a gristly old girl such as myself. There’s nothing soft about me! Except for my stomach, maybe. And my thighs. And perhaps…my butt. Sigh…

All in all, though, I’m tough as old leather!

Mr. Grumbles was also less than enthused by my spontaneous bout of generosity. How could I tell, you ask? Well. It started with a folding of his arms across his chest. From there, his exasperation travelled northward, to his mouth, where the corners skewed themselves downward as his chicken lips pursed. Upwards the irritation moved, until his eyes began rolling in their sockets. He must have been especially annoyed, for I witnessed a rare phenomenon. Mr. Grumbles’ left eyed rolled counter-clockwise, while his right eye revolved in the opposite direction. And like the power of the coriolis effect, there was no changing directions mid-rotation.

I’ve gotta tell you…it was rather creepy.

As I stood there staring, wondering what awesome display of pique his hair would display, my husband spoke. He uttered five short words, but they cut me to the chick.

‘I KNEW you’d do that!’

Well, now… that was just a lie! There’s NO WAY he could have known that I would have had a plucking party planned one moment, and a rooster rescue instigated, the next. No way! And I said so!

He shook his head in exasperation (which made me rather nauseous, what with his eyes doing all those whirls and whorls right in front of me. Ghastly!)

‘Oh,’ he said, as I battled the effects of vertigo, ‘I didn’t know WHO you’d give them to. And I didn’t know WHEN you’d change your mind about slaughtering them. But I KNEW you’d pullet off, somehow. But to GIVE them away??? At least you could have asked for some small, measly, poultry little fee!’ He shook his head again, his expression resigned. ‘Did you give her the mash, the grit, the oyster shells, too?’

What an eggsellent idea! I hadn’t, of course. I’d gone off half-cocked, all in a rush to deliver the flocking things! But I will. Just as soon as Mr. Grumbles’ feathers aren’t ruffled anymore, I’ll run those supplies up the road to the Orps’ new home. But I’ll do it grudgingly, of course.

Because, after all--I’m a tough old bird.

The above photo is of Fred Fricassee and some of his biddies. The pic was taken by Josie-Earl Pease. Because, you see...I was too scared of him to get that close.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Teenage GrrrRumbles


Who invented them, anyway?

It’s true-- I currently have a pair of the little rascals in the house at the moment. Josie-Earl is fourteen, and my baby, Eli, just turned thirteen a few days ago. Two teens. Whew!

I’ve done it before, you know. My oldest son is twenty-six, so the teenage ‘experience’ is not a new one for me. But just as the pain of labor and delivery disappears with a ‘poof’ the moment you hold that precious newborn…so did the agony of adolescence vanish once Guy left the nest. And while I’m an old hand at navigating upstream through a torrent of hormones, it doesn’t seem to be any easier, this time around. In fact, it’s doubly hard! Perhaps even triply!!!

Because, you see… one of them is a GIRL.

I was SURE that raising a girl would be a piece of cake. After all, I’m a girl! I was charming, helpful, respectful of my parents…a joy to raise! Just ask my folks! They’ll confirm it, I’m sure. Why, just recently I overheard Dad telling a friend that he’d always hoped I’d have a daughter that was JUST LIKE ME! What a sweet wish for a father to have for his precious middle child!

Alas, Josie has proven to be stubborn, willful, and much, much smarter than her mother is. I’d never realized just how stoopid I was until I saw myself reflected in a gorgeous pair of blue and rolling eyes. I’d also never realized that a human’s orbital muscles had such range of motion! Sometimes, I’m so exasperating and disgusting, that only a slender crescent of Josie’s iris is visible. Wow. To think I can do THAT!

Don’t get me wrong. My daughter is amazing. She’s beautiful, intelligent (especially in comparison to her pitiful excuse for a mother), and kind-hearted. Jose-Earl has empathy for the poor and downtrodden; whether a plant, an animal, or a human being.

Except for me.

When Jose and I interact, she employs a tone of voice that would be unrecognizable to the rest of the inhabitants of her world. It’s aggressive, and yet, it contains a distinct and melodious whine. It’s loud. Abrasive. Sometimes scornful. And occasionally, it’s even sarcastic.

I love it.

See…the world can be a tough place. Stuff can--and often DOES--happen to mow a person down, pummel them to bits, chew them up and spit them out. A person has to be tough to make it in life… or at least, to make it and to also THRIVE. And I want all three of my children to be happy and to flourish. That’s every mother’s utmost dream.

Without testing her boundaries, without pushing her limits and pulling her mother’s strings…without seeing what power lies at her disposal, my daughter would never be able to discover her independence. Never know that she is capable. More than capable! She HAS to try her mother’s patience. She has to stomp out her disagreement up and down the halls. She has to dissolve into tears at the slightest hint of ‘no’. Because perhaps--those tears hold the key. Perhaps that display of weakness is actually the greatest weapon in her arsenal. And she’ll never know unless she tests the (salty) waters!

Sometimes, I back down and give in to her requests--or even, to her demands. I choose my battles, and acquiesce when I feel the potential obstacles to her well-being are least dangerous. I concede, not because that’s the easiest route (for it IS! As God is my witness, it IS!), but because she NEEDS to win once in a while. She needs to know that she can succeed, sometimes, when she puts such a huge amount of passion and effort into something. It is also essential that she feels like I trust in her ability to make wise choices. I DON’T…because she is, after all, only fourteen. Fourteen-year-olds are idiots. It’s a fact of life. For every responsible decision she makes, she’ll make an irresponsible one. A foolish and rash one. The key, I believe, is to ACT like I trust her…while keeping an eagle eye on her at the same time. In case she needs me…to rescue her, to catch her, to haul her home and give her hell. That’s my job. Just like what she’s doing is hers.

As the years go by, I’ll grant her more privileges. I’ll let her get her way more often. She will show me, through the choices she makes, what areas she’s gotten a handle on, and where her weaknesses still lie. As she gains those small freedoms, her attitude will improve. She’ll realize (if I’ve done my job properly) that I don’t say ‘no’ to be mean, or to ruin her life, or to keep her from being as cool as her friends are. Those are all things I’ve been accused of, naturally…but my shoulders are broad. They have to be. I’m the mother of teens.

And I love it.

Yes, Josie’s hype and hyperbole will even out, and she will begin to see the world through adult eyes. She’ll realize that I had good reason to be strict about some things. She’ll understand that I made her life miserable and unbearable because I love her so darned much. She’ll eventually learn to appreciate me.

Some day, I might even be smart, again!

Yes, raising a teenage daughter is a challenge, but I welcome it. And… I hope Josie grows up to have one just like her!

The photo above was taken at The F.A.R.M. by Jocelia Caitlin Pease. "Evening Storm Rolling In".

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Life is full of changes...

Life is full of changes. And really, aren’t we lucky that’s the case? How boring our existence would be if everything was the same, day in and day out. The same weather. Identical food from one meal to the next. Conversations that were similar—or worse—that were constantly in agreement, with no debate and no stretching of the mind or consciousness. What if we were continuously surrounded by the same people who were caught in an eddy of stagnation, with no new ideas or thoughts or dilemmas? Or, how boring would our daily commute be if everything appeared exactly the same, with no variation of sights and sounds and activity?

Yes, life is filled with fluctuations from one day to the next. It keeps us interested and animated. It forces us to tap into a small portion of that vast intellect we each possess. Life keeps us ALIVE.

It is autumn, here in Maine. A season of transformation. Just days ago, it seems, we were reveling in warm days and slightly cooler, refreshing nights. The windows were left open to catch the breeze. Jackets stayed on hooks, and bare legs and feet were not an uncommon sight. And yet, we are just three weeks into the fall and we've already passed ‘peak foliage’ and have had our first snowfall, too. The colorful display of leaves was gorgeous, but short-lived. The snow was also fleeting and (to this woman who is still a girl at heart) was wondrous to behold. Before we know it, that frosty white stuff will be in residence for the winter…insulating our houses against the bite of cold and wind, and providing a playground for skiers, sledders and snowmobilers. It will spur the economy as people buy studded snow tires, fuel to heat their homes, and parkas and boots to warm their bodies. It will bring a bit of magic to the holidays.

And then, just as we get tired of it…just as we begin to feel the frustration of another driveway to plow, another roof to rake, one more set of steps to shovel off…just then, a spring zephyr will whisper its way through the forests and across the fields, softening the crust as it caresses the drifts and gullies. A steady rain will fall…not one that glazes the snow and turns it to perilous ice, but one that permeates and melts and washes away the frozen precipitation that has carpeted the earth during its dormancy.

A robin will appear in a bare patch of ground under an evergreen, and its morning call will awaken us, causing a feeling of renewed hope and revitalization as we begin our day. A crocus will push its way through the snow, its vibrant color bringing a smile to our faces and a lift to our spirits. At dusk, a woodcock will give its distinct mating call from the edge of the meadow…ending our day in the same way it started. With hope and anticipation for life. New life, for some--and a rejuvenation of the existence already in play, for others.

Yes, life is full of changes. And really…aren’t we lucky that’s the case?

The photo above was taken this morning, October 14, 2009. The view is of snow-capped Abraham Mountain, with the village of Kingfield nestled at its base. A morsel of waning summer, a taste of advancing autumn, and the bite of winter’s promise, all in one. Ah, life.

Copyright Karen Bessey Pease 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Awesome Power of Friendship

I was hanging out my upstairs bedroom window this morning listening to the beat of the cool rain on the tin roof of the porch when I heard a vehicle coming up the road. Rounding the corner down below was an UPS truck. Since I rarely get packages, I expected that its destination was one of the three houses beyond me, so I felt the thrill of Christmas morning when the driver pulled up to my home.

The package was the ‘proof’ copy of the paperback version of Grumble Bluff. As I am anxious for this less-expensive book to become available to the public, I immediately sat down to proofread it. There are editors who’ve already checked the copy several times, both before and after GB hit the printing press, but the final word falls to me. That is, perhaps, not the wisest course, since I have the 208 page story memorized. It’s harder for me to spot mistakes than it would be for a reader who's never laid eyes on my tale. But there you have it…the buck stops here.

Three hours later, I had once again read in its entirety this tale of friendship–this story of real life in the western mountains of Maine. I had completed this same task just weeks before when changes had been made to the back cover, and new reviews were added to the inside. Even so--even though this is my own novel, my own made up story--even so...I was touched by the tale. I giggled as I read it, and I cried.

I know, I know…I’m a bit peculiar.

The themes in Grumble Bluff caused me to reflect on my own authentic, flesh and blood friends. I have been very lucky to have many friends in my lifetime. And I have been blessed to have several whom I consider to be exceptional, trustworthy and faithful people…best friends. The two-word phrase doesn’t do these wonderful men and women justice. They have been life-savers. They have brought me immense pleasure, and shared sanity-sustaining laughter with me. They’ve wiped my tears, and allowed me the honor of drying theirs. They’ve lent me their strength, both physical and emotional, and when the time came and the tables were turned, they’ve placed their burdens upon my shoulders.

Best friends. Two short words to describe one of the most powerful forces in the world.

In this author’s humble opinion, of course.

Grumble Bluff is dedicated to my friend Patty. Many people who’ve read GB have asked if it is a true story. It is not. Katherine Anne Kirby and Greta Rommel are make-believe girls…figments of my imagination. However, their fictional relationship was inspired by my childhood friendship with this wonderful woman, which began in 1972 when we were in fourth grade. Even at nine years old, Patty knew how to be a true friend. That giving, dependable and loyal quality is something that she's never outgrown, a constant that’s never changed. How fortunate I’ve been!

Terri is another friend who has been beside me for years and years. And years, but I won’t say how many, because she’s still telling people she’s thirty-seven. (Her son will be twenty-nine next month, but, of course, you didn’t hear it from me!) Terri helped me through one of the most difficult periods of my life. And then, a few short years later, I returned the compliment. Things like that bond a person for life…and I’m privileged to be tied to such a woman.

Kay and Linda are two women who have encouraged and supported me through the years; women who have always acted like I was a much greater and more capable woman than I really am. Their overwhelming faith in and admiration of me has almost, at times, made me believe that I really am something special. Truth be known, they are the ones who are extraordinary. Wow. To know such great women is a rare honor.

Other women have also made positive, lasting impressions on my life. Pam. Jeanette. Dottie. Real women with diverse backgrounds, faiths, and political ideologies. Each with something valuable to contribute. Each woman kind and loving and opinionated and strong. Perfect.

And then, there are the guys. Every woman should have at least one best friend who is a man. The perspective they bring to a relationship is priceless. Their outlook on life is, at times, completely contrary to that of a female. But–believe it or not–I’ve actually discovered that their counsel can be wise, their viewpoint can be discerning, and their ‘my way or the highway’ outlook can be liberating.

Plus, they are a barrel of laughs!

Bentley, Richard, Clair and Dave. All men who have taught me, helped me...made me feel feminine, but tough. Wow, fellas! Mmm, mmm, mmm!

Jack is someone special. A man of my age. A foreigner, but with many similar life experiences. He’s also a writer, like I am. Jack is man of gentleness, but with a fiery temper. (A gal only needs to experience it once…maybe twice…before she’s figured out what buttons can be pushed, and what ones deliver a two-hundred-and-twenty volt shock. Heh. When I get the feeling back in my left arm, I just might toggle him again…a girl only lives once, right?) My friend Jack is one of those rare guys with true integrity. He is a man who could be my brother, and I love him as if he was.

And Grahame. What did I ever do before Grahame found me and wiggled his way into my heart? He’s older (but not by much!! It’s hardly worth mentioning, in fact!), and he’s wiser. He’s silly, but sane. Grahame flatters me when I need bolstering, but he’s no push-over. If he doesn’t agree with me, I know it. Without a doubt, I know it! But even when we differ, we recognize in each other a desire for peace. A tolerance for diverse people. And we agree that it is okay to disagree. In truth, he has brought this peace-maker a deep and abiding peace of her own.

Grumble Bluff is a celebration of friendship. The story epitomizes the awesome power that is at hand when two open hearts come together without malice or ulterior motive. Katherine Anne and Greta are girls who each needed a friend, but who each gave more of themselves than what they required. And that’s what real friendship is. Giving, and not taking.

A true friend knows they’ll get it back in spades. And then some.

The photo above is of my friend Patty, me, and my husband, Mr. Grumble. We have no idea who took the picture, but we're pretty sure the photographer was drunk, thereby causing rosy cheeks and idiotic expressions to appear when the film was developed.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Grumbles for 'Guides on Hiring Girls'. Grrrr!

One of the first columns I ever wrote for The Irregular back in 2000 was titled The Good Wife. I’d come across a magazine article from 1955 called The Good Wife’s Guide and, well…I took umbrage with the tenets espoused in that commentary.

In other words, it ticked me off.

But I’ve learned to laugh at the negative, poke fun at the ludicrous, and disregard the outrageously absurd.

In other words, I write a column. Or in this case, a GAG posting.

Yesterday, I ran across a similar treatise from 1943. It was a Guide to Hiring Women. To those of you who have only recently begun shaving (and I’m talking to you fellows, too!) the year 1943 probably seems like something from the dark ages. Sixty-six years ago! Wow! It was eons in the past, whole eras removed from your lives!

You should be quiet now. One of my best friends is sixty-six, another is sixty-two, and another very good friend is in his eighties. (I’d ask him his exact age, but I’m afraid he’d return the compliment and I’m not telling, anymore!) My point is, there are millions of people on this planet who can remember the decade of the 1940’s, and long before. That being said, there are women still alive who could have–and probably WERE–hired by an employer who used this guide.

The first thing to catch my eye was the author’s observation that hiring ‘husky’ and ‘overweight’ girls was beneficial to a company because they are ‘more even-tempered’.

Let me state right now that that statement is a blatant lie! I’ve been called ‘husky’ in the past (in the most loving way possible, the idiotic twit…) so I know what I’m talking about! Husky girls aren’t more even-tempered! No way! We’re simply too lazy to exert the effort it takes to get mad, that’s all. We store our anger--save it up--so that when it finally comes to the surface, we set hell-fire to the denizens of three counties, all in one fell swoop! It’s liberating, cathartic…why, it’s almost as good as a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips. The sixteen-ounce size! With chocolate ice cream on the side… Ahhhh.

Another helpful tip for ‘supervising women in the workplace’ is this: administrators should hire newlyweds, because they are ‘less likely to be flirtatious and are more manageable and responsible than their unmarried sisters’.

‘Manageable’, hmm? ‘Less likely to be flirtatious’? How enlightening! How edifying it is to know that once a woman has received that all-important, life-altering conjugal reward bestowed upon her by her husband, she will finally become manageable. She will be tame and docile. Her naturally exuberant personality, which is so disruptive to the workplace, will at long last be squelched. Smothered. Stifled and squashed. Whew! It’s about time she got what she needed! And all it took was a man. Or, more aptly, a legal man and a marriage license. If only someone had figured that out sooner… Imagine how far this country would have progressed if the value of a married woman had been recognized previous to 1943. Why, we could have had hoards of women as major contributors to the workforce. Could have had them as vital elements of our economy and our civic pride. Why…I’ll bet a newlywed could have even built airplanes to support the war effort!

Oh, wait. Women were already doing that. Rosie the Riveter must have been getting some. Legally, of course.

Nah, I’m not ranting. Truly. The world was a different place back in the dark ages. And the article wasn’t prejudiced. Certainly not. For, not only did the piece offer hiring advice, there were also tips and instructions for the employers to help them keep their female workers happy. That was a smart move. For it’s a proven fact…if momma ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy!

Supervisors were encouraged to keep girls contented with regular breaks because ‘a girl has more confidence and is more EFFICIENT if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day’.


Oh, excuse me. Something got caught in my throat. I think it was that blasted lipstick I was trying to apply. That bit I put on for my sister’s wedding in 1998 wasn’t very fresh anymore…and I blame the boss for not allowing me my quota of ‘tidy up’ time. I ought to qualify for Worker’s Comp for that blatant oversight, shouldn’t I?

It's a good thing I'm serene and unflappable, that's all I can say.

Finally (and thank God and time clocks everywhere), the article says that women need to ‘keep busy without bothering the management’, while staff must ‘be tactful’ with the ‘oversensitive sex’.

Heh. I’ll bet it’s all that ‘newlywed’ sex that’s caused them to be oversensitive. But I won’t steam about it. Nope, I won’t let it get me riled. After all, I’m even-tempered. I’ll just sit back, comb my hair, wash my hands, and behave responsibly, as is fitting for us husky gals. For the moment, anyway, that’s what I’ll do.

You’ve come a long way, baby. Now get back out on that excavator and give ‘em hell!

The photo is of me with my Kubota 30HP farm tractor, 'Lena'. And...because I'm one of those primping, 'oversensitive' girls, can I just mention???? I've lost about 20 pounds since that pic was taken. (And I'll never speak to the photographer, again! Losing weight has wreaked havoc with my even-temperedness, and surprisingly, that conjugal bliss really hasn't done much to improve my disposition, either...)