I’ve done a lot of grumbling lately. The weather has been lousy for four months. My work load has been heavy. My mom and I haven’t had the time we had last year to market our newest book, Wretched Fate. My dad can no longer drive which means many hours figuring out how to get my parents back and forth to doctor’s appointments and the grocery store. None of which compares to the real heartache: Mom and I, and the rest of my wonderful family are dealing with: Dad’s Alzheimer’s.
So when a tiny piece of sunshine breaks through, it feels like a miracle. But then, maybe it is.
For about a month and a half, my daddy cheerfully utters the same phrase whenever we get into the car: “You’ll let me know if you see any deer, won’t you?” As long as we are driving where there are trees, he says the phrase several times. There’s a reason he repeats the request: In the largely rural areas of Ohio and Michigan where we grew up and lived many years, we spent hours driving around and trying to spot deer. It was a family tradition that all of us remember from vacations or Sunday drives. And even though none but my oldest sister lives in a rural area, I think we all still search the tree lines when we’re driving in the country.
It’s a bit disconcerting, however, when you live in an urban area like Washington, D.C. and you’re just on your way from point A to point B and happen to be on a tree-lined street. But we always smile at Dad’s “joke,” and we nod and reassure him that we’ll be on the lookout.
Recently, Mom, Dad and I were on our way back from a doctor’s appointment that didn’t take as long as we all expected, so we decided to take a ride through a local park. It was the first pleasant, spring-like day in many weeks, and we were all in a good mood. I cranked up the music, and Dad responded almost immediately. He may not have remembered my name half an hour earlier, but give my Dad a melody, and he will sing along. He usually knows the melody, and he often knows most the words.
We took a winding road that led into the park, and on the way in, Mom and I heard “Let me know if you see any deer, won’t you?” All three of us chuckled. Then we rounded a bend and there before us, was a long stretch of land with seven deer munching happily on grass. I slowed way down, but they barely batted their beautiful eyes. They were young and didn’t know enough to be afraid (park season hasn’t started). Or maybe they just sensed that we were a car of people in awe.
The deer were so close to the road, we were afraid to roll down the window and make any noise that would scare them away. So we glided slowly by, as silently as we could, all of us appreciating the moment. Then we turned around and came back and appreciated their beauty again. They never stirred. Just lifted their heads and stared back as if to say, “Yea, we see you. But we are not about to move.”
In a municipal park that is packed later in spring and summer, to see seven deer out in the open is truly wondrous. It dispersed the drabness that can easily surround everyday life. And it gave my housebound daddy, who is dealing with a horrible disease that keeps him inside his apartment far too much, a few minutes of pure pleasure.
Genilee Swope Parente
Tags: Alzheimer's, deer, dementia, driving, grumbling, long winter, lousy weather, Michigan, miracles, Ohio, old age, park, respite, Robert Swope, spotting wildlife, spring, Twist of Fate, wretched fate, writing
As I get older I realize I don’t have many years left. It is hard to believe that someday you will cease to exist. How can that be, when you’ve existed all these years? Will it be like you are sleeping? Or will it be like a dream that becomes your new reality. I have been asking myself these questions for a long time, and the answers have eluded me (thank goodness for that!). But I’ve also tried to leave something of worth behind me. Over the years, I enjoyed many crafts and part of the reason is that I am attempting to give my children and the world something to remember me by. I painted pictures, quilted, painted ceramics, and conducted genealogy research. Each form of expression gave me some peace―some feeling of leaving something besides my wonderful children behind me on this Earth.
I do not intend for this column to be depressing. But I see no reason not to cope with the reality that someday we will no longer exist—a concept most people who are 86 grapple with. Will you be forgotten as another generation arrives or have you left something behind that will say “I was here”? I feel this way about my writing as well. I am proud to have two books and several stories published; I like thinking that someone might read these works fifty years from now and get pleasure from or entertainment from the words. My writing gives me satisfaction that I have put part of me into the future—I created characters, plots and stories that will allow someone to get lost in my creations for a time.
Although I believe in God and in Heaven, it is very difficult to grasp what it will be like. How will we recognize loved ones who have gone before us? How is there space up there for all of us? Some might say these are useless questions: We will find the answers when it’s our time to go. Still, the thought of no longer existing as a person in this reality is a hard one to grasp.
My daughter Genilee may have a fit with my writing a column that seems so glum. I remember well when my own mother talked about death, and I told her the same thing my children would say to me: “Don’t talk about it. I don’t want to hear it.”
I understand where they are coming from, and yet―here I am talking about it on the Internet. I used to hate the subject as well. But as I approach my 90th year, I can’t help but be curious. And I’d like to hear from my fellow writers, readers and friends. How do you feel about the subject―deathDo any of you have trouble coming to grips with the fact someday you will no longer exist on Earth?
Regardless of whether I hear from anyone, I promise to write my next column on a more cheerful topic. And to my friends: don’t worry. I am actually not depressed and I apologize if I’ve made you think about something you don’t want to face right now. Please know that I am quite content with my life. I hope you are, too.
F. Sharon Swope
Tags: art, crafts, creative, death, dying, Heaven, heavenly, leaving a legacy, leaving something behind, legacy, life after death, Twist of Fate, wretched fate, writing
Both Mark Swope, Genilee’s brother and Sharon’s son and Spectacle Publishing Media Group have posted links to the video of the television show Conversations with Rich. The show aired last week in the Northern Virginia area.
Here’s Mark’s version. It’s a shorter version:
And thanks to Eric Staggs, president of Spectacle for posting this longer version:
Tags: books, channel 10, conversations with rich, fame, mystery, reading, Rich Massabny, romance, television interview, Twist of Fate, wretched fate, writing
This week Genilee and I had a book signing at an assistant living facility—the Emeritus in Manassas, Virginia. It was quite an eye-opening experience that really showed the difference a good activity director can make in the lives of the elderly residents. When we got there, everything was already set up for us―table, chairs and about a dozen members ready for us.
For the current signing, we gave our usual background speech about how we got started and a little about the book itself. We were delighted that, with that little bit of background and some enthusiasm from attendees, the director purchased a book for each member and proceeded to set up a book review event. The group decided to divide the reading of the 300-plus pages of Twist of Fate into four sections of 75 pages each—a session for each of four weeks going forward. On the fourth week, Genilee and I are invited to come back and hear the group’s critique of our work and their opinion of the book in general – good or bad! Then they may purchase our second book, Wretched Fate, and do the same with that book.
It was a wonderful plan not only for their club but also for Genilee and me. We need people who have read our books to tell us not only what they like, but where the plot/character/sequences of events might falter so we can strengthen our books going forward.
The experience also was just an uplifting day for two authors who love to hear from readers, and we hope we inspired this particular group of readers as much as they inspired us. One of the reasons we believe there has been so much enthusiasm for us as speakers is that it’s good for older people to hear that life doesn’t have to stop because of advanced years or the reality that they can’t do the things they used to. Old age can be a time of pursuing a dream or a different hobby; and I firmly believe everyone needs hobbies. The one thing none of us needs is to sit in front of the boob tube, living someone else’s life.
I’ve always had hobbies – and they changed as I grew older yet became just as important as the ones before them. For thirty years, I wrote a recipe column for our hometown weekly newspaper as I was raising my family. After the kids were in school, I went back and took a few education classes and then served as a substitute teacher. When I found the 75-mile trip to school got in the way of completing my education degree, I took a course in accounting and then found a job doing books, which I enjoyed. From there, I went into knitting, oil painting, ceramic painting and then genealogy. Each venture lasted about three years – until I could no longer think of anyone to gift with my handiwork. After I retired, I perfected my Bridge game and taught that game to over 150 men and women. I have continued my bridge playing and tried to go back to knitting and ceramic painting, but my macular degeneration means my eyes are too bad for any close-up detail work. Yet, despite that sad fact, I could see well enough that I decided if I was ever going to write books―a desire I’ve always had―I had better get started. I was 82 by this time (I’m 86 now).
The lesson to other seniors is that, though I don’t do anything perfectly, I have kept the creative juices flowing, which I believe keeps the blood flowing and the mind active. I may not be gifted enough to win awards for any of my ventures, including writing. Our books are not literary masterpieces. They are meant to entertain and to keep people reading. But what an inspiration it is to bring enjoyment to others! And hopefully, through visits like the one to Emeritus, Genilee and I are also spreading the word that life doesn’t have to stop at 80 … or even 90.
–F. Sharon Swope
Tags: active living, assisted living activities, book readings, book reviews, book signings, creative writing, creativity in seniors, elderly, hobbies, hobbies for seniors, keeping active, life after 80, old age, senior activities, senior living, seniors, writing
Okay. Okay. I know you’ve seen that word: Christmas, and already you are shuddering. I’ll make a commitment here and now not to lambaste you with yet more Christmas crazy. After all, it’s not even Thanksgiving.
But then … whom am I kidding! I’ve been trying not to say “awwwwwww” at Christmas commercials since Columbus Day; I have half my shopping done; and this past weekend, my husband decided that to save time at Thanksgiving for visiting with relatives, he’d put up the outside lights.
“In that case, honey, bring down some of the inside decorations, and I’ll unpack just one box,” I said.
The box was empty, its contents in place in ten minutes and what was I to do? I knew it would take my hubby at least two hours to put up lights. So I picked and I picked at the decorations boxes, not able to stop the “awwwwww”ing as I pulled each memory out, dusted it off and found the perfect spot to show it off. Two hours later, most boxes were empty, and I stopped out of pure guilt. My college daughter had already texted twice and threatened ex-communication from the Church of Parente Christmas Nuts if I did it all myself without her expert eye.
So I stopped.
However, when this blank computer screen in need of a blog stared me straight in the face this morning, well … what was I to do? Christmas is on my mind, and the lull that occurs after shopping and before the big day gets here is weeks away yet.
Besides not lambasting my readers (uh, don’t count on that), my commitment to this holiday is to look for simple ways to celebrate that have nothing to do with December 25 and everything to do with making someone feel good. Here’s my ideas so far:
- Keep a few dollars in my pocket. This is so that when I’m loaded down with groceries or packages, and I hear the tinkling of the bell that so many of us recognize as the start of this season, I’ll always have ready access to the cash. I’m not doing this for the Salvation Army or its many recipients. I think it’s wonderful what the organization does. The cash, however, is for that soul who stands in the chilly weather ringing the bell. The gloved, smiling volunteers are terrific and need a pat on the back.
- Do my online Amazon shopping at http://www.nyumbani.org. I am not supporting Amazon.com by doing this. But I end up on the Amazon sight a lot during the holiday season. This giant of a retailer has created a program whereby charitable organizations can get up to 4% of the proceeds of a sale from people who link to its shopping through the organizations’ websites. There’s a big brown button on my favorite nonprofit’s site that will see a lot of click throughs from me this season!
- Do some of my charitable giving at home. I’m not talking about buying my poor rundown dining room windows the new drapes on their Christmas list. I’m talking about looking around at what some of my neighbors, friends and family need. Most of that doesn’t involve money, but rather time. I can spend some time helping my elderly parents put up their decorations (I know. I know. Such a sacrifice). I can ask a neighbor I know is laid up with illness what they need at the store. I can make a few extra calls to a friend who needs my ear to get through a personal crisis.
The list is started and hopefully will grow. Got some ideas to help out? Send them my way and we’ll get the Christmas cheer going. It will help me pass the time as we anxiously await … the printed version of Wretched Fate. That should happen any day now and I’ll let you know as soon as it does.
In the meantime, send me your ideas!
Parente Christmas Nut Mom Genilee Swope Parente
Tags: blog subject, charity, christmas crazy, christmas decorations, Christmas nuts, creative writing, donations, early chri stmas gift, early christmas, giving at Christmas, Nyumbani, simple giving, Twist of Fate, wretched fate, writing, writing ideas
Walking into the kitchen intent on … now what was I going to do?
A large glass of water, a computer, and me, all within close proximity. I am bound to reach for the glass, knock it over and watch the water sizzle the electronics.
The large bag of chocolate candy hiding on the top shelf of my closet … and no trick or treaters showing up at the front door. Hello five pounds.
Hitting the “new document” button in Word and watching the wall of white arise. Once my fingers start moving, I know that wall will fill up, but its sudden appearance can be intimidating.
Entering the highway at any time on any day of the week with the intent of getting somewhere at a certain time. This does not happen in Washington, D.C.
Being stuck anywhere for two hours with the knowledge that a bathroom is not readily accessible. I am, after all, an old lady.
A sea of faces staring at me, awaiting words of wisdom and truth about what it’s really like to be an author.
The thought that I’ll never again be asked to talk to that sea of faces.
My daughter’s boyfriends.
My daughter without boyfriends.
My smart phone being a lot smarter than I am.
Spiders. And anything else with hairy legs that is smaller than a mouse. I don’t even mind the mouse. But don’t let me see a spider in my house.
Unintentional bad poetry.
An empty mailbox—be it electronic or metal.
A full mailbox.
A Sunday afternoon with nothing on the schedule. That means it’s time to clean the house.
An unexpected visitor to my home on Sunday night. Oh why didn’t I use my afternoon to clean my house!
And finally, Thursday mornings without an idea for a blog. Whatever will I say?
Happy Halloween folks — Genilee Swope Parente
Tags: creative writing, frightening, Halloween, Halloween 2013, reading, scary, spooky, Twist of Fate, wretched fate, writing
Writing is the one thing I do for myself that involves no anxiety, uncertainty or vacillation. I won’t allow it. We all need one aspect of our lives where we’re just free to be ourselves without influence of outside pressure. I’ve decided it will be writing.
What that means on a daily basis is that, no matter what I face that day or how much of a work load I carry, I give myself one hour first thing in the morning with only a cup of coffee between sleep and empty or unfinished pages. I don’t even allow the baleful eyes of my sweet hound dog to tempt me away from my task. She’s learned, after a year or so of this routine, that the leash is next on my list.
What it means on the weekends is that I allow the computer to call with a voice louder than domestic tasks. I
don’t always listen to that voice—if I did, I’d have laundry to the ceiling, and I’d never get a closet or drawer cleaned out. But I give that voice the prominence it deserves, and sometimes it wins out over other sounds. [Oh, okay, being a lousy homemaker helps in this case.]
But even with major book events, I let only the joy of being an author come through the doors with me. I’m shy by nature so speaking before groups or sitting behind a table trying to get passersby to stop and look at our book should not be comfortable for me. And I feel the jitters bubble towards the surface occasionally. Instead of waiting for them to break through, however, I remind myself that I’m there as a writer. Why should I care if someone ignores me or I stumble over my words?
The only experience I have to compare this with is my wedding. I planned, I saved, I fussed before the event. But when the day came, and despite the fact I knew I’d trip walking up the steps in a gown with a train, I honestly felt no nervousness. I asked myself after the ceremony why and came up with this answer: because I knew what I was doing was right. I didn’t doubt for a second that I was marrying the right man so I didn’t care what others thought of the wedding arrangements, how I looked, or whether I fell flat on my face. I was exactly where I needed to be.
When I sit before the computer playing with words; when I sit with mom at my side and a stack of books in front of us; when mom and I find ourselves among a group of strangers looking to be entertained or informed, I know I’m where I’m supposed to be. It took a long time to get here, but who cares. I’ve arrived.
–Genilee Swope Parente
Look for Wretched Fate coming out this month!
Tags: anxiety, authors, book signings, books, certainty, creative writing, getting married, nervousness, new books, public speaking, reading, stress-free, Twist of Fate, worry-free, wretched fate, writing
Ironically, I am writing this for the second time. A few minutes ago, I lost my thoughts to this new computer system, which seems to be a regular occurrence with me these days. I really thought maybe I had conquered this computer, but it keeps letting me know who is in charge. At 85, I don’t seem to take to change too well, and I don’t really like being beaten by the computer. But I’m learning it’s part of today’s world. And it all sort of fits with the blog column I wrote because I was addressing the great changes in the world people my age have seen. Life at 85 can be a constant adventure.
For example, today my husband and I decided to venture out to find the local Dairy Queen. If the two of us weren’t old and didn’t live in such a traffic-mess-of-a-city, I wouldn’t label this effort “adventure.” However, since my husband can no longer remember where he is going, and I am blind and can’t read road signs … you get the picture. We usually only go where I can give him instructions these days—go right at that corner, turn left here, keep on going straight. But I’m afraid the places I am certain of in this area, which we’ve been residents of, for only half this decade, are few and far between. Also, I spent 74 years letting my husband drive while I basically daydreamed and didn’t pay attention; thus, we are now usually limited on where we can go. That’s why these outings are “adventures.”
Surprisingly, though, we had no trouble—we made only one wrong turn. However, the adventure this time occurred after we arrived. There we were standing in line to order a meal, and neither of us could read the menu on the board. Bob insisted I tell him what he wanted to eat (something that happens a lot these days), and neither of us could understand the clerk who had a strong foreign accent. We felt like idiots holding up the people waiting behind us. Finally, we got that ordeal over, and I returned to our seat to wait while Bob got the order.
Suddenly, I felt like it was lunch hour for school and a lot of kids were skipping class. The restaurant filled with a dozen young boys – all high school students, all almost six feet in height and none of them weighing more than 130 pounds! I never saw so many thin boys in my life. They all looked like their pants were about to fall off.
Three high school girls came in next wearing short shorts on their also-slim bodies. They looked cute and quite nice but the fact they could go to school looking like that shocked me. Now readers, I’m not so old I can remember when it was sinful for a girl to show her ankles, but I am of the generation when girls did not wear long pants in public. Back in my youth teenage girls wore skirts (poodle skirts if you were cool) or dresses with sweaters and saddle shoes (which were, no matter what, NOT supposed to be clean). When my daughters were teens, they wore short skirts or short dresses. My own “modern” mother assured me those skirt lengths were all right, but to this day, I am not convinced. The short shorts those girls in the Dairy Queen were wearing were actually a lot better cover than the miniskirts of the late 1960s, early 1970s.
I know I sound old fashioned, but I don’t really think of myself that way. However, so much has changed in the last forty to fifty years. In fact, so much has changed in the last ten! I have enough trouble with my cell phone and have to go to my granddaughter for help with that. And then you add the many new programs on the computer, the pop up ads I can barely see that the Internet produces, and you can understand how much I’m facing.
I do try hard, but days like today convince me that, despite the dictation program I use and the read-back program that helps, I am fighting a mighty hard battle. I am much more adept at losing copy than producing it. Is there anyone else out there who feels the same?
Tags: author, author books creative writing diisability dream editor first book Getting lost in passion getting published getting started writing mystery novels older patience radio silence raising children reading, books, creative writing, getting lost, homework, miniskirts, new fangled technology, old age, publishing, senior living, writing, writing late in life
Mom and I had another book signing this week, and as with most of these events, it was nothing like the previous ones. However, we walked away with smiles on our face, and it was not because of the books we sold. Here’s why:
In July, we spoke at two senior communities in Fredericksburg – The Crossings and the Chancellor–both great meetings because the residents were truly interested in how two older women (a mother/daughter team no less!) finally got around to fulfilling a dream. We didn’t sell many books at those meetings and didn’t expect to—we were there to pump ourselves up and remember how great being an author can be.
This week, however, we tried our first book store event. We’ve been hesitant to jump into that circuit because the store has to take a cut so we’re lucky to break even. I think we also both visualized a situation similar to the library book signings we’ve done: sitting at a table with just a sign and a smile and watching people go by without looking our way. People at the library do not expect or want to see someone trying to sell them a product—even if it’s a book!
Last Saturday, we set up a table at 2nd and Charles, a huge used book (as well as used movies, instruments, albums) store, put on those smiles and put up the sign. But instead of being ignored, people stopped; people talked; some people bought—shoppers of all ages and types kept pouring through that front door and walking by the table.
It was delightful so many people paused to meet the authors and exclaim over our fortune and fortitude in getting our books into print. The staff at 2nd and Charles bent over backwards to make us feel comfortable and appreciated. And we sold more books than we’ve sold at any recent event.
However, what made us smile as we packed our materials away was something entirely different: we realized that the constant stream of traffic meant there are many many readers out there. Despite the 3D Imax glitter of movies, the 100-plus channels most people have on their televisions, the graphic fantasy worlds of computer and Xbox games, those who shop at 2nd and Charles choose to hold a book in their hands and let their minds do the work. Of course it made us smile: they are our audience and this is our curtain call.
Genilee Swope Parente
Tags: 2nd & Charles, audience, authors, book signings, book stores, curtain call, marketing your book, Pea in Peanut Butter, readers, reading, reading audience, selling your book, Twist of Fate, writing
Riding through Wisconsin is a visual journey through luscious greenery. My husband and I recently experienced this delight on our way to a vacation at my sister’s home. In fact, by getting lost listening to two navigation systems try to get us there and taking us out of our way, we got an extra few hours of staring at those tree canopies, rolling hills, barns and fields, charming small towns and numerous snowmobile bars that make up the roadways of Wisconsin.
After fifteen minutes of the kind of tenseness that being a couple pulled off to the side of road to “discuss” a map can create (yes, we graduated to the paper kind), we finally arrived in Rhinelander, glad that if we were going to get misdirected, at least it was in a beautiful state (Maybe Siri and Droid know more than we thought!).
I was on crutches from a foot injury followed by a bad bout of gout; but I was determined not to let that get in the way of enjoying the local flavor. So I limped around a giant flea market with my new friend Carol in the rain (thanks for the great shopping excursion Carol) learning how impolite some people can be while others go out of their way to be accommodating. And I practiced perfecting getting around tables in busy restaurants, but was rewarded with the most mouth wateringly perfect omelet the downtown Rhinelander Pub has to offer, along with cheerful local flavor of Judy’s outside of downtown. By the second day, I had graduated to a cane to help me board my brother-in-law’s awesome pontoon, which zipped and bounced along the waves of the lake-connected-to-lake-connected-to-even more-lakes that the Wisconsin landscape offers water lovers. I have to say that by the time we graduated to small town shopping (the towns surrounding the Rhinelander area of Wisconsin has the most awesome gifts shops, antique shops and art shops I’ve ever experienced in one place), I accepted the pain of gout as fair payment for the experience I was having. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a more relaxing vacation in my life (okay, okay, it probably had something to do with the fact that my sister and her husband are awesome cooks and experienced hosts. Being waited on hand and sore foot does a lot for the reduction of stress!)
When I was in the car on my way home, fondly remembering the week and wondering why I felt it was such a great experience, I realized it had nothing to do with Wisconsin’s beauty, the wonders of sun and water, the treasures I found or even the mouth-watering donuts of Lumberjacks and the perfectly cooked steaks and Asian cabbage salad we were served.
It was being with people who laugh at me, with me, even for me when I’m feeling upset at getting lost or reporting on the complications of my everyday life. I don’t know what my mom and my dad did to create the strings that grew into a family and an extended family tapestry, but it’s a skill beyond anything writing will ever accomplish for me. We’ve had the usual ups and downs that being related and opinionated, strong people creates within a family; but we’ve gotten through those and learned to just enjoy each other. I loved being with you, sisters.
In the tradition of my mom, here is an awesome recipe my hostess served.
Asian Cabbage Slaw (serves four)
Brown 2 pkgs broken-up Ramen noodles (throw away seasoning pkt) in ½ cup butter, along with 2 TB sesame seeds and 1 cup slivered almonds. Cool. Shred 1 head Napa cabbage and mix together with 4 to 5 slivered green onions. Chill cabbage mix.
Before serving, combine the cabbage mix with the Ramen noodle mixture and add this dressing:
Boil ¼ cup rice vinegar, 2 TB soy sauce, ½ cup sugar and ¾ cup oil. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes until sugar is dissolved. Cool.
Note to all our diabetic friends: the recipe is great with sugar substitute, but eliminate the step of boiling the vinegar. Just combine and let sit.
Genilee Swope Parente
Tags: aisan coleslaw, author, Ramen noodles, recipe, Rhinelander restaurants, sisterhood, sisters, Twist of Fate, vacation, Wisconsin, Wisconsin lakes, Wisconsin landscape, Wisconsin scenery, writing