Wednesday, December 31, 2014

FREE Sample of 365 Affirmations for the Writer

January 1
You Determine Where You’ll Go
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go...
― Dr. Seuss, from Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Beyond Paradise, Christmas excerpt, part 4

Christmas 1944
Alice Gundry’s Recipe
For the Best Potato Pancakes Ever

Start with leftover mashed potatoes. Add finely chopped onion, salt and pepper. Knead in flour until no longer sticky. Form a handful of potato mixture into a patty and fry in hot bacon fat until golden on both sides. Delicious!

We fed upon our dreams, bittersweet dreams of food and release. Gift giving for our second Christmas in Los Baños revolved around food, our most precious commodity. Alice and I exchanged recipes. Mother managed to save a can of jam from last year’s Red Cross Christmas package. We each got half a teaspoonful. Freddy surprised us with chicken.
While Mother was preparing our one holiday meal, I took a walk over to see little Maggie Suchey. I had made a doll out of split bamboo for her. As I walked over to the family barracks, I couldn’t avoid passing by the corner room belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Leecher. Mr. Leecher ran a black market operation inside the camp. It was rumored that back in the States he had been a con artist and his wife a madam. With this background Leecher was able to make a profit as a prisoner of war. By trading and taking advantage of sick and starving people, he had amassed an empire of emerald rings, wristwatches, and American dollars. In turn he bartered these for more commodities. As I passed by their room, the aroma of hot waffles and real coffee permeated the air.
“I hope they choke on the food and die,” I muttered aloud. “It would serve them right, the stingy, greedy thieves.”
Beside the barracks I spied the Suchey boys, Jimmy and Robert, digging around looking for salamanders and lizards.
“Hey, Bob, I found one. Mom can fry it up for Christmas dinner. They taste just like bacon!”
I went inside the building with the boys. Mrs. Suchey drifted around the room almost lifeless. The baby was in a corner crying. I picked Maggie up, hoping to quell her screams, but what she wanted I didn’t have. The doll managed to hold her attention only for a minute before she began whining and sucking her fingers.
“Ma’am . . .” I wanted to say something to make it all go away. “Elizabeth—”
“Hush!” Mrs. Suchey cut me off severely. Above the baby’s whimpering I heard the sound of machine guns. At first I thought it was our guards—a drill perhaps. The Japanese had been jumpy lately. The Allies were bearing down hard, fighting their way up from the Leyte Gulf.
We ran outside. Other internees were standing and shading their eyes, looking up to the sky. Up above, banking off a thin, narrow cloud was a Flying Fortress—the Americans were coming! The gunfire was not coming from the ground, but from the sky. A strange, familiar rhythm: da-da-da-dum.
Elizabeth gasped. “It’s Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony!”
We had not been forgotten. After three years in captivity, four Christmases after Pearl Harbor, it was like a Christmas card had been dropped from the sky.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Beyond Paradise, Christmas excerpt, part 3

Read the rest of the story--(available in digital format, eBook from Amazon, Nook, Smashwords.

Christmas at Los Baños

The transfer to Los Baños took place two weeks later. Except for missing Frank, Ann, and the girls, I was glad to leave. Too many memories lingered in the halls and courtyard of STIC. I looked forward to seeing Papa and meeting Freddy Urs. I still had the money for him that his mother had given me before I left Panay.
We traveled by railcar to Los Baños, which was approximately thirty miles south of Manila. Ironically, Los Baños—“the baths”—had been a resort famous for its curative waters. Laguna de Bay, a huge lake, bordered the edge of town, and nearby was the picturesque volcano Mount Makiling. The internment camp had originally been an agricultural college. It felt odd walking along the rows of fruit trees—tangerine, kalamansi, mango, papaya—toward the gates and fences of our prison camp.
We arrived dusty and travel-worn, anxious and excited. I held Mother’s hand as we were asked to line up. It was hard to stand at attention for roll call while at the same time my heart was bursting to see Papa. My eyes strained to see the men in the crowd assembling around us. Please, God, let Papa be here.
“Take your bag, miss?” A tall, very thin boy came up beside me.
Papa emerged from between the rows of men and took Mother in his arms. My family had never been much for public displays of affection, but today was an exception. Their embrace made up for two years of living apart from each other.
“Your father is a good man,” Freddy said, filling in the silence. “We watched out for each other.”
After a few minutes Papa came over and gave me a big hug. “Louise. Louise. I barely recognize you.”
“Have I changed so much, Papa?”
“Only that you are prettier than I last remember. A grown-up girl whom I hardly know.”
I blushed, keeping hold of his arms. All three of us embraced. A million thoughts swam through my heard—was this real, we were actually all together at last? I looked from Papa’s face to Mother’s, and back again. I didn’t realize I was crying until tears reached my lips. They tasted sweet.
“Oh, Freddy!” I suddenly remembered Freddy. “Here’s some money that your mother gave me as we were leaving Panay.”
“Keep it. I don’t want it.”
He was so different from Mrs. Urs. Serious and sensible, with sad black eyes. His dark hair kept falling into his face, and he had to push it away with his hand.
“Freddy was a godsend. I don’t know where I would be if he hadn’t helped me through a bout of dysentery last winter.” Papa drew Freddy into our family circle.
“Maybe we can use the money to buy ourselves a Christmas feast.”

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Beyond Paradise, Christmas in Captivity, part 2

In the cold month of December we could use a little paradise--here is an excerpt from my YA novel (available in digital format, eBook from Amazon, Nook, Smashwords, y'all!).
Christmas in Captivity

Christmas Day arrived—my second in the Philippines, my first in captivity. It came without store-bought presents, without Papa, Julie, or mother. Mother mostly lay in bed except for when I took her by the hand and led her to the shower, the toilet, or to meals. She had hardly spoken a word since her outburst about the wedding album. As I looked into her vacant face, I often wondered what she thought about. Was she thinking of Papa? Without Papa she was missing her other half, the part of her that said she fixed good meals, thanked her for being a good wife, held her hand, and smoothed her hair at the dinner table. It was hard watching her crumble a little bit more each day.
I busied myself making Christmas presents for the girls from materials available inside the camp. I made Daisy and Mae their own little tin cups from condensed-milk cans. First I rounded the rough edges of the tops by heating the tins over our cook fire and pounding the edges with a rock. Next I soldered handles to the cups and with a nail engraved their names.
Mugs were essential to camp life. Into our mugs went caraboa milk or hot soup for the children, thin coffee or hot water for the adults. Everyone’s original cutlery and plates had broken long ago. Internees fashioned their own cups out of coconut husks or tin. The coconut husks tended to be a little uneven, thus tipping the hot soup. Tin rusted after long-term exposure to hot liquids. We were constantly replacing cups and bowls.
I though long and hard about what to give Mother. She didn’t need a new cup or bowl. I knew what she wanted, and I couldn’t get it for her. It was Papa, far away in Manila. How could I get Papa? I wished there was some way to surprise her with the one thing she needed most.
Christmas morning after roll call, before we all dispersed to open presents and prepare a special meal, I approached Mr. Yano. I knew he had the authority to punish me for approaching without permission, but it was a chance I had to take. With his hand he could slap me, spank my bottom in public, or send me away in a truck.
“Mr. Yano, please, sir.”
I fell down flat, prostrate before him. I heard Ann mutter, “Oh, my goodness, what is she doing?”
My extreme act of submission surprised and apparently pleased Mr. Yano. He gave me permission to stand. “What is it you want?”
“I am here with my mother from Ohio.” I wanted him to know we were a friendly people. “My father is at the Santo Tomás internment camp. My mother and I wish to transfer to that camp to be with him.”
Mr. Yano smiled a broad, open grin. His white teeth flashed. “No need for this. War over soon and you will all be together.”
Just like in a game of musical chairs, I was left standing without one. I reproved myself—I had nothing to give.
Before lunch, I took Mother for her shower. “Mother,” I said, squeezing an old rag out on her back. The gray soap film slid down her bony spine. “Won’t it be great when we see Papa again? He’s at Santo Tomás,” I reminded her. She flinched slightly; the nerves in her neck tightened up. I guided her back to our room, where I dressed her and tied her shoes.
Daisy came into the room shouting, “Santa Claus has been here after all.” She waved an old mended sock in the air. Inside her stocking was the tin cup I had made for her and a gift from Mrs. Urs—cardboard stars decorated with green wrapping paper with the words Merry Christmas in cursive gold lettering. Frank had carved the girls darling little rings from caraboa bones.
“Merry Christmas, Louise.” Ann came up behind me to give me a hug.
A lump stuck in my throat. “There us nothing for me. What I want can’t fit into a stocking. It isn’t here.” I broke down crying.
“You’re a very brave girl. You’re doing the best you can taking care of your mama. Louise, I know our heavenly Father will provide for you. He will bring you out of here. There will be an answer, and deliverance will come.”
“Oh, how can you be so sure?” I pulled away and went outside to sit down on the verandah.

Christmas Jubilee

Ann followed me outdoors and sat on the steps beside me. “Let me tell you a little story. A Christmas story.
“My people were poor; I didn’t expect much at Christmas. My father was a preacher. He liked to tell people about the year of Jubilee. You know what that is, Louise?”
“I think so. Isn’t that in the Old Testament? When slaves were freed and their debts forgiven?”
“That’s right. A time when the poor would have plenty. My daddy rarely ever got paid in money. Always with a sack of something. A sack of pecans, a bushel of apples. People brought these things when they could. It’d make me so mad. I always wished they’d bring us something really good.”
I understood her there.
Ann was lost, telling her story. When talking about home, her Southern accent came out with every word.
“I remember one night. Seems I was your age and always starving. You can only get so far on bread, pecans, apples, and other people’s handouts. One night a man came with a lantern, telling Daddy to come down to the Gulf. We didn’t live too far from the Gulf, where the warm waters come up from Mexico. Daddy took me with him, since I was the oldest. By the time we got to the shore, we couldn’t see the water, there were so many people. Dead of night and a hundred people standing at the water’s edge holding lanterns, like fireflies up and down the coast. I came closer and saw folks were scooping up fish. Something about the moon and warm waters had messed up the fishes’ sense of direction. A freak of nature. They were actually swimming into our nets! You could put your hand down and they’d come up just like a stray dog to be petted.
“My pa called it a Jubilee. Folks around us were almost spent—no jobs, no work, no food. Nothing to hope for. Then this harvest came in. All night long folks were cooking the fish over open fires or salting them and laying them out on logs to dry. Some took them home and pickled them. It was one night and then no more. We lived off those fish for six months, and I suppose other families did the same. It sustained us through the hard times.
“I always remember how God gave to us at just the right time. In the year of Jubilee he will provide. Keep this in mind. Be strong for your mama. She isn’t like you. She can’t remember a time of harvest right now.”
I thanked Ann for her story. I wasn’t sure about the Jubilee, but one thing I knew: If by some miracle or luck the tide actually ever came in, I’d have the misfortune to be drowned.
American children and other civilians held at Santo Tomas Internment Camp by Japanese forces for over three years are photographed having a meal

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Beyond Paradise, Christmas excerpt 1

In the cold month of December we could use a little paradise--here is an excerpt from my YA novel (available in digital format, eBook from Amazon, Nook, Smashwords, y'all!).

It is Christmas 1941--after the attack on Pearl Harbor the Philippines were targeted and the Japanese invaded the islands, slowly working their way down from Manila which capitulated (not the case at the end of the war where Filipinos and Americans  fought corner to corner against the Japanese. The city was heavily damaged. and the civilian population paid in many casualties). Anyway Louise's father was in the capital city when it fell and there are questions of when, if ever, he might be able to reunite with the family on the island of Panay.

Christmas excerpt Beyond Paradise

Mother volunteered to make a Christmas Eve dinner for the Fletchers. By combining pantries on the compound everyone got a little bit of everything. We received a canned ham plus several cans of green beans, creamed corn, peas, yams, and baked beans. The compound would have to do without this year’s Christmas barrel from the States.
To keep the girls busy, I improvised a Christmas tree using a potted lemon tree the Fletchers kept in their living room. “I wish we had garlands and lights,” said Daisy.
“Now, Daisy, you know we can’t have extra lights this Christmas,” I told her. “Maybe we can make a garland, though. Let’s see . . . what would make a perfect garland?” A month’s ration of canned goods was lined up on the kitchen table. I had a brilliant idea. “Let’s take the labels off and make a chain. They’ll stay naturally curled without glue?” The girls worked busily while I told the story of the three wise men, and how they gave everything they had to buy precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We wrapped the spindly lemon tree with our homemade label chain. “It’s beautiful,” whispered Mae, “just like the baby Jesus.” She began to sing, very high and out of tune, “Away in a Manger.”
We were still singing when Ann and Mother walked in. a smile spread across Ann’s face as she gazed upon our Christmas tree. It was Mother who discovered the nude, unmarked cans.
“Louise, what have you done? You silly girl.” She flew at me. “You’ve ruined these cans. How can I fix a proper dinner?” She began to crying, her hands shaking in anger in front of me.
Ann took Mother by the shoulders. “There, there, Kate. Nothing is ruined. A little confusion, perhaps. Tonight we might have pork’n’beans and other surprises for our Christmas Eve dinner, but we’ll be okay.”
I felt humiliated. There was nothing I could do to please Mother.
In the midst of this scene Mr. Urs burst into the Fletcher’s living room. “Come quickly,” he shouted breathlessly, “It’s Freddy and Reverend Keller on the telephone.”
We ran over to the Urse’s house. I made sure that Mother got to the telephone before me.
“Hello, hello, darling.” Mother broke down crying. I pressed my ear to the receiver, listening as Papa kept trying to reassure her that everything was going to be all right. His voice through the line sounded father away than I wanted it to be.
“I got your telegram. It strengthened me to know you girls were all right.” I was grateful to Papa for saying that.
“Tell Mrs. Urs that Freddy is okay. He’s staying here with me. I was able to get”—the line was crackling—“off the boat. She’s with a missionary family here in Manila. The air-raid sirens wail day and night.” More static. “I love you girls; be brave for me, will you. Poet, take care of Mom until I get—” The connection went dead; there was no more.
I helped Mother get back to the Fletchers’, where instead of looking at Christmas lights we sat in a blackout watching the lighted dial of the radio. Our only link to Manila and Papa was the wireless, but at midnight KZRH and KZRM, both Manila stations, announced they were going off the air. Don Bell of Manila’s KZRM, who always signed off with “Keep ’em flying,” wept as he ended his broadcast. Our last connection to Papa was cut.
The sun rose bright on Christmas day, but I felt no sense of joy. Manila was nearly occupied; Japanese soldiers held most of the city.

                                                        Red world dawning.
                    Fire in the sky.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Thanks for these gray hairs
Thanks for these weird discolored spots
(liver marks?)
Thanks for my thunder thighs—
They help me to climb the stairs
Thanks for wind in my pipes
(to climb the stairs)
Thanks that I can sing
Thanks that I sing badly
Thanks for stretch marks
Thanks for a great big ass
Thanks for the gaps in my teeth
because without these teeth I would never be able to
Eat Little Debbie Nutty Bars, Hot Tamale candy, and
those addictive restaurant-style tortilla chips.
Thanks for the flab under my arms—
they’re like little bat wings!
Thanks that I’m not dead.
Thanks for one more day
to dance naked.

Friday, December 12, 2014

You Know Summer Is Over

You know summer is over when
—snow piles up on window ACs.
You know summer is over when
—all the swimming pools are empty hulls.
You know summer is over when
—the streets glisten from icy rain.
You know summer is over when
—you shiver stepping out of the shower.
You know summer is over when
—even the dogs put on jackets.
You know summer is over when
—the marigolds die.
You know summer is over when
—they bring the patio umbrella inside.
You know summer is over when
—the mice run into the house.
You know summer is over when
—Starbucks begins to advertise their Pumpkin Chai Latte.
You know summer is over when
—the lake turns green beneath a slate gray sky.

Can you think of a few of your own?
--send them to me in the Comments!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Seasonal Poems from My Boy, James Schuyler

This past weekend I went down to Columbia College (here in Chicago!) for the annual Chicago Book Expo. I'm fairly modest when it comes to purchasing books and journals. I simply don't have the income to buy as much as I want. My priority first and foremost is to support my friends--thus I bought Pig Park while at The Book Cellar. Anyway, I just HAD to buy a journal called the Court Green when I saw that they had a section in a particular volume dedicated to James Schuyler. Fans of this blog know that that's my boy.

It always seems that around this time of year I like to spotlight his poem December ("Katherine going on five" is Katherine Koch who contributed an article about Jimmy in the Court Green) and the Zen-like Advent.

Here is a throwback to an earlier blog: I Just Can't Help Myself, where I have written out part/all of these poems.

--The day looks warmer than it is.
Jimmy and Liz by Fairfield Porter

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

This Year

2014 was a momentous one for my critique group. Myself an another member both came out with books. Check out:
PIG PARK by Claudia Gualalupe Martinez

CLICK HERE to order
Aren't we the BEST! 2015 is bound to be even better.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Die-In

Yesterday, Sunday, instead of services, my church joined with other groups across the city and country to protest the recent grand jury decisions and, in general, the increase in aggressive policing tactics. I attend a multi-generational, multi-ethnic church so there are always lots of opinions—in this instance we were on the same page. 

 I was proud of us and the energy that went into the message. There was art, singing, and performance; we certainly got people’s attention. The most powerful demonstration was when we put “bodies”—clothes stuffed to look like bodies out in the middle of the road with sheets covering them. The sheets had names (representing several recent policing fatalities) painted on them in black lettering.

 Now for a self-revelation: I was really uncomfortable during the protest. I didn’t want to walk in the road, stop traffic, or perform civil disobedience. It wasn’t that I was afraid because in a heart beat I’ll speak up or unwisely intervene in stuff happening right out in public, in my vicinity. But I barely could get the words out of my mouth . . .

This discomfort annoyed me. I wanted to be better than this. I wanted to be bad ass. I had to ask myself—don’t you believe in justice, racial equality. Yes, but do we have to make such a big deal about it? Do I need to be here?

I remember having these kinds of conversations with my mother over civil rights. Actually conversation might be stretching it. She usually shut me down straight away by saying this is just what I think or every time I look at him/her I just get sick to my stomach. This is just how it is. Please don’t try to change me. Or, I don’t want to change.

Yesterday I was confronting my past, my family, just how things are, my fears, my prejudices, my brokenness. It wasn’t supposed to be easy or fun. It was meant to bring attention, raise the consciousness/consciences of every single person.

I was part of the “die-in.”

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Sweet Memory

Do you remember these?

Every Christmas all four of us kids would find a Book of candy Life Savers in our stocking. Right away I’d eat my favorites—what were they?—most likely wintOgreen and cherry. Then I’d move onto secondary ones. Until all that were left in the “book” were butterscotch and rum-flavored rolls. They might stay bookmarked well into February or March.

Sometimes my sister and I would make trades. Swap one of hers for one of mine. The boys most likely gobbled theirs down before New Years.

We came to expect the Book of Life Savers. Even the year Mom was in the hospital, we recognized that familiar oblong box sticking out of the cuff of our knit stockings. Even after we left home for college and one or two of us might return home for the holiday there would be a Book of Life Savers waiting for us.

For my parents it might have been a throw-away gift, an easy pick, something they didn’t have to put much thought or effort into. But, for me, in the rearview mirror of memory, it is the one thing they gave me at Christmas that still sticks out. I’d be hard pressed to remember all the toys, games, books and records under the tree. A couple stand out, but, in the end, they became the throw away gifts. Records traded in for cassettes for CDs for downloads. Books traded in at the used bookstores or sold on-line for new ones or left outside in the free box. It got to the point where you couldn’t even give things away. All the useless crap. Especially after my parents moved after Dad retired. I didn’t have room for the stuff Mom had saved in the basement in case we might want any of our childhood “treasures.”

All that stuff is gone. So also Mom and Dad. Just yesterday at Target I saw a Book of Life Savers in amongst the assorted holiday candy that takes up a whole section of the store. Customers rushing around me must have thought I was crazy, standing there tearing up. 

--Remember to remember to download my NEW BOOK

Monday, December 1, 2014

Cyber Monday! Get Affirmed!

NEW from me--in time for Cyber Monday!
365 days of affirmations, positive thinking, and writer prompts.
Check it out here at Amazon.

Having a bad Monday? Get affirmed.