Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zimbabwe

A view of Victoria Falls from a helicopter.

Z is for Zimbabwe

The guy read my paperwork. I filled it out on the plane like all the other passengers before we landed in Victoria Falls.

"What do you do?" he asked.

"I'm a journalist," I said.

He left his desk and consulted with his co-worker, who had waved through the last of the plane's passengers. I was the only person left.

"What do you do?" the second man asked.

I sensed this was a problem, but repeated my answer.

"You need special permission to come into the country," the first man said. "We're not supposed to let journalists in without a permit."

All the "no one told me this" cries bubbled into my head. "I'm here to see Victoria Falls," I said. "My whole trip revolves around this."

The two men whispered for a moment. The first said, "She clearly looks like a tourist."

I could see the safari company's guide lurking through the open doorway.

"I'm sure the guide would tell you. I'm here on holiday," I said pointing to the woman.

They looked back, read my paperwork once more and allowed me through.

I should have known about the political issues in Zimbabwe. I mean our bags were limited on one the plane due to fuel issues. Robert Mugabe liked tourists in his country, but didn't want journalists to snoop around.

While missionaries and workers in Zimbabwe shared stories of the problems, others — market vendors, van drivers, hotel clerks and waiters — begged us to say it was a safe place to visit. They needed tourists to return, so they could keep their jobs.

During my years as a journalist — from high school to adulthood — I've seen and experienced plenty of adventure, triumph and tragedy. My ability to ask questions has helped me in a million and one ways.

My advice to journalists on holiday in Zimbabwe? Just say your occupation is a writer.

Thanks for following along during my A to Z Challenge this month. I've shared some silly and sad stories. I appreciate your friendship and look forward to returning to a normal schedule in May. I've felt a tiny bit "challenged" this month. — Stacy 

On another note: 
Don't forget the Wish You Were Here Giveaway.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for youth

I had some funky boots in high school.

Y is for youth

I have a notebook of poems and essays I wrote as a teen. While many are the standard angst filled pieces, I found this one to share with the characters Dude and Babe.  

One Minute Play 
Dude:  What's the fuss about?

Babe: The toilet seat.

Dude: Looks fine to me

Babe: It's up.

Dude: So.

Babe: It was made to be down. You always put the seat down. 

Dude: Couldn't it just stay up.

Babe: But I'd have to always put it down.

Dude: Well, I always have to put it up.

Babe: Who cares?

The End

This was written on Aug. 14, 1988. I also wrote some young adult novels in my spare time. I'm guessing my parents properly destroyed all the papers I left under my bed. 

Oh, I cringe at the thought of these stories, but had so much fun writing them. Did anyone else do that?

My 80s, high school style.
On another note: 
Don't forget the Wish You Were Here Giveaway.

Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for X-ray

Thanks for following along my A to Z Challenge memoir posts. We're almost to the end. — Stacy 
As close as I could get to an X.  Photo by Tracy S. Williams

X is for X-ray

I never saw the film. I didn't have to. I could tell. 

Breathing labored. Mucus discolored, dark. They added up to pneumonia before the X-ray machine ever clicked.

The hospital ordered an X-ray almost once a week to see whether Jimmy's lungs fell victim to another infection. Pneumonia was like a bully always there to harass him after his brainstem stroke. 

"You need to step outside," the tech told me after I helped him pull Jimmy's body forward to drop the X-ray plate behind his back. 

They always asked me to leave, so I didn't soak up the harmful X-rays that Jimmy did.

"If it's bad for me,"I asked one day, "what happens to him." 

The tech shook his head. "Well, you don't want to do it all the time."  

Several times a month and sometimes several times a week, Jimmy had an X-ray taken. The portable machine always followed Jimmy's reports of "trouble breathing" and heavy mucus being sucked from his lung, since he couldn't do this for himself. 

His X-rays became so frequent during one month, I decided to quit my job. I grieved that decision, but knew I had to make it. We often learn we can't have everything. I wish we could, but sometimes there is an X in the equation we just can't fill.

On another note: 
Don't forget the Wish You Were Here Giveaway.

Perfect Picture Books: A to Z

Enzo likes the simple wors and the funny Boynton artwork.
With the A to Z Challenge almost over, I decided to feature A to Z by Sandra Boynton for Perfect Picture Book Fridays. I may have to utlize this style for the A to Z Challenge in 2013. I'm feeling a bit "challenged" this month.

A to Z
Written and Illustrated by Sandra Boynton 
Little Simon Books, 1995, newly revised edition

Suitable for: Ages one and up

Theme/Topic: Alphabet

Aardvard Admiring
Beavers Ballooning
Cats Cleaning

Brief Synopsis: A simple alphabet books featuring animals and a funny action. Like "Hippos Hiding."

Link to Resources: Back in February when I was all bold about participating in the A to Z. I offered the book Alphabet for Perfect Picture Book Fridays. It features a lot of animals too. Here's an alphabet printable. We discuss ways (sometimes it's a one-way discussion) the animals in Boynton's book are doing unusual things. Here are alphabet worksheets.

Why I chose this book: I have the alphabet on the brain this month with the A to Z Challenge.

To find more picture books and resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill's blog and look for the Perfect Picture Books page.

And, here's what I was doing while typing this post:
Discount Starburst Jelly Beans. Yummy.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Wish You Were Here giveaway

Cover from Amazon

W is for Wish You Were Here giveaway

Giddy. That's how I would describe getting an advance reader copy of Author Beth K. Vogt's Wish You Were Here earlier this month. 

I couldn't wait to begin reading the Christian romance novel, but we had company for Easter weekend. So, I tweeted and Beth responded: 

Then, I remembered something I read from an interview (and/or blog post) from Susanna Hill Leonard. Light bulb moment — Laundry. I will do laundry!

Another round of tweets:

Turns out, I couldn't fold laundry during the visit. We enjoyed the company. Then, there was real laundry. After the machines were spinning, I began reading Wish You Were Here. I loved the book and hated to put it down. 

Here's a blurb about the book from the Howard Books/Simon & Schuster's author page:
Kissing the wrong guy days before her scheduled wedding leads Allison to become a runaway bride. But can it also lead to happily ever after?
Beth's writing had me hooked from the first time I met Allison in her wedding dress to the very last page. 

All this talk about travel during the A to Z challenge this month and reading Wish You Were Here has made me want to pack a bag for adventure. Since I couldn't do that, I put the advance copy I received of Beth's book and mailed it to a friend. The book is traveling. 

Don't fret. If you want to win an ebook or paperback, leave a comment by midnight (Mountain Standard Time) on May 1, when the book releases. I'll select a random winner.  

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received an advance reader copy of Wish You Were Here from Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I wrote about Beth's nonfiction book in December. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Valentine

Me, our little friend and my sister

V is for Valentine


Holding hands. 

Red outfits. 

Girls and one boy. 

That's the way many childhood events were — two against one. The twin factor never bothered me. It certainly didn't bother this little boy, who appears to have everything under control. 

My sister and I shared many things growing up such as friends, toys, birthday parties and several hair pulling fights. 

I'm the good twin after all and my sister Tracy is the evil one. If she's talking, you may hear she's the good twin and I'm the evil one. This memoir stuff is tricky when siblings are involved. Everyone has a different version of the story. 

I don't believe this is a Valentine's Day picture (we'll see if my parents are really reading this blog), but the photo makes me recall a few Valentine's Days. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for UGA

A little fuzzy, but you can see the G for Georgia.
U is for UGA

I grew up in a small town where everyone knew you or knew of you. There was only one school I wanted to attend after high school — the University of Georgia. The fact more students were enrolled there than lived in my hometown appealed to me. I wanted to be a number and a journalism student. 

Many know the University of Georgia for its athletic programs, especially the Georgia Bulldogs football team. I attended one game when I was a student there. With a press pass, I did my best to shoot the game from the sidelines and not become part of a tackle.

Years later, I look for the football logo even though I don't watch the games or follow scores. Recently, I saw a man in the grocery store wearing a Georgia shirt and spoke to him. He was from Alabama, but wore a red and black Dawg shirt. 

I've never been afraid to speak to someone wearing a University of Georgia logo. I stopped a man in a restaurant in Victoria Falls, who wore a red, Bulldog jacket. In Texas, a family I met in a Home Depot lived next to one of the students I tutored every week.

Some people don't like being a number, but through the years I've found it's a small world when you are part of a large pool of students. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Del Rio, Texas

The Eagles on the International Bridge on Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas.

T is for Del Rio, Texas

The voter registration office in North Carolina helped me figure out how to vote in the Presidential Primary in 2008. I explained my predicament. I would be moving to Texas, but their primary had already taken place. Hubby — before he was Hubby — and I visited during their election.

Del Rio,” the clerk said, “my niece was born there. Her father served in the Air Force.”

We weren’t moving to this town that bordered Mexico to join the military. Hubby accepted a civilian job at Laughlin Air Force Base, known for training many of America’s pilots.  Hubby lived in Texas briefly while in the Army.

A former newspaper co-worker laughed when I told her we might move to Del Rio. “I was just there,” she said. While visiting her boyfriend in Houston, they drove west to Big Bend National Park. Del Rio was the last stop — three hours away — from the park.

We visited Del Rio twice before our cars pulled into the driveway of our rental in the Chihuahuan Desert. Our dogs winced at the prickly and thorny plants in the grass. I spied scorpions in the bathroom light fixtures.

This was a different place. While the temperature soared into triple digits over the summer, it was mild in the winter. I frequently used my favorite weather quip: “To me, hell would be a cold place. So, I like it here.”

Work was sporadic for me, as I didn’t speak Spanish — all my Italian study didn’t count and had long been forgotten. Days were spent with part-time job titles like freelance writer, substitute teacher, test administrator and my personal favorite — RV park clerk. I studied how to write and began my memoir. I joined the Creative Writers of Del Rio group and helped publish two anthologies. 

Hubby and I explored our corner of Texas. And, I enjoyed finding everything from cookie cutters to garden stones in the shape of the state.

Today, when I hear people talking about my former town, I say, “My son was born in Del Rio.”

P.S. If you ever drive through Del Rio, stop by Broke Mill RV Park. They'll treat you right.

Cheese and crackers in the shape of Texas.
Or you can find garden stones in the state's shape.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Sicily

The Teatro Greco in Taormina
S is for Sicily

Before our train arrived in Palermo, the men in our car were quickly telling us it would be OK. 

"Don't worry. They don't hurt women and children," a young man said in English. He warned us about the mafia.

My roommate Betsy and I decided to travel to Sicily on our break from classes in Florence. Others in our program planned to visit other parts of Europe, but we decided to work our way down the boot and visit Sicily. 

It was the best travel decision I made throughout my study abroad program. Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterrean Sea and has a long history — I couldn't name all the rulers back then and had to look at Wikipedia for a reminder — Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans to name a few.

I enjoyed visiting the ruins from the various periods in Sicily's history. It all added up to a diverse culture. 

I took pictures at ruins and in cities, but didn't take many in Palermo. The men on the train were not the only ones to warn us about the dangers of the city. Police officers also stopped me a couple of times and told me not to take pictures. They warned me of the dangers of being in the city.

Despite the fear-filled warnings, we had the most fun in Palermo thanks to a couple of guys, who decided to make sure we enjoyed our stay. I returned to Florence with a variety of new experiences.

One adventure left my friend Giuseppe feeing a bit behind. Before Sicily, I told him I'd never been on a motorcycle. 

When he arrived to pick me up in Florence with his motorcycle, he seemed confused when I said, "Oh, I've been on motorcycles." 

Thinking it somehow explained everything, I said, "I was in Sicily for a week." 

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Rockingham

This is a community painting of Richmond County, North Carolina. *

R is for Rockingham

"Where is that?" A bewildered friend, relative or stranger would ask as I told them my plans to move to another state. Some NASCAR fans knew about it from its racetrack.

While I'm a blip in the city's history — just another reporter or editor, who came into town to work at the newspaper, the city means a lot to me. I continue to love the city's brand: A city looking forward

I opened a new chapter of my life in Rockingham. It turned out so well (met Hubby and got engaged), I only stayed there for two years and moved onto another chapter (Texas). 

R could stand for Rick. Without his invitation, I would have never known about Rockingham.

*I shared the background behind the photo in this post

Perfect Picture Books: Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin

Here's an easy read for Perfect Picture Books. I'm at the Pikes Peak Writer's Conference throughout the weekend, so I'll be a bit MIA or about as "off the grid" as I can be. Enjoy your weekend. — Stacy 

For Perfect Picture Book Fridays, I've chosen Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin
Our copy is a little worn.
Scholastic Inc., 2009, board book

Suitable for: Ages one and up

Theme/Topic: Search, Friendship, Adventure

Opening: Nice Pumpkin, Thistle. 
Yes it is.

Brief Synopsis:  When Duck and Goose see Thistle's pumpkin they decide to search for one of their own. But, where do they get one? 

Link to Resources: I found a lesson plan with duck and goose activities and crafts and coloring sheets. Parents could also discuss where pumpkins can be found? Duck & Goose have been on many adventures. Catherine Johnson posted the Duck & Goose Here Comes the Easter Bunny book on Perfect Picture Book Fridays earlier this month.

Why I chose this book: It's one of the first books Enzo and I read together (in all types of voices too). While I'm at conference this weekend, I'll be missing bed time reading.

To find more picture books and resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill's blog and look for the Perfect Picture Books page.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for quote

Q is for quote
One of my favorite quotes. 

A little rough maybe, but I think passion every time I see this quote. 

Crockett, born in Tennessee, died at the Battle of the Alamo as he fought for Texas independence. 

What's your favorite quote?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for pencil box

P is for pencil box

I wrote this in January while taking the Writing the Heartache Class offered by author Alice Wisler.

Pencil boxes for you

Your pencil boxes no longer hold your stuff.
They served you well for several years.
With Velcro, they kept your TV remote in place.
With a label, they gave a clue to their contents.

When you no longer needed them, I packed them up.
I traveled to another state alone with the stacked boxes.
They contained tiny mementos I wanted with me.
One held pens, you laughed at how I collected them.

A few years later, I moved again with boxes in tow.
This time, I was not alone. I met someone new.
As our households merged, I shared the boxes.
I thought you would understand. The boxes were useful. 

Today, a little boy stuffs Goldfish snacks into a blue one.  
He giggles as he closes a red, hinged lid on his crayons.
Each box cost a quarter at a back-to-school sale.
I marvel how something so small stays in my life.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Oregon

That's me on the left, my Grandpa and my sister Tracy.
O is for Oregon

My grandparents lived in Oregon. We picked them up at the airport every other year. The trip to the airport was a treat to watch people coming and going.

Grandma and Grandpa were different than our Ma and Pa, who lived in Georgia in a small holler. We could see them anytime.

Our Oregon grandparents stayed a week or more and left. They randomly called and talked to our parents.

One year, I got chicken pox during my grandparent's visit. I spent an entire week at home with them while my sister and brother went to school. I don't recall a single thing we did during their visit, but I remember being with them.

The phone rang one night and we were told that Grandpa died. There was no funeral like we attended when our Ma died. Instead, the next summer we went to the airport and took our first family plane trip to Oregon.

Our Grandma was happy to see us. Dad treated us to maple iced treats from a local bakery. We dipped our toes in the cold, cold ocean. We picked up pieces of drift wood from the beach. We met some of our dad's relatives.

Every time I smell a maple iced donut or cinnamon bun, I think of our trip to Oregon when we visited Grandma and didn't get to see Grandpa.

My sister, brother and me in Oregon

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for no

N is for no

No is an important word. I wrote the following 122 words for a contest last year and decided to repurpose it for the challenge.

Men Know Your Wedding Anniversary 

Communication moved slow post-stoke for my late husband Jimmy and me. A stroke left him mute and paralyzed.

Doctors suggested he blink twice for yes and once for no.

While still in the ICU hooked up to a ventilator and other equipment, I asked him questions to see if he was there.

"Is our wedding anniversary May 20?" Jimmy blinked once for no.

"Is it June 12?" He answered yes.

"Is your birthday June 24?" I asked.

He blinked twice.

He correctly answered each one. His answers changed my outlook on his medical condition. 

Months later we discussed those questions. By that time, letters were mixed with blinks, so Jimmy could spell out a message.

He spelled:  “Yes. Lucky to answer right.”


Looking back, it was na├»ve to have hinged my thoughts, feelings and his medical direction on the answer to those questions. The stroke made Jimmy appear to be in a vegetative state. It was unclear for weeks, if he had brain damage. 

The nurses told me he communicated with them, but my attempts prior to this day failed. Plus, the nurses always told me "Jimmy wanted to watch football" to explain the TV showing a college game. I thought the nurses were making stuff up, because Jimmy did not watch football. 

Of course, the hum, beeps and hisses in an ICU might drive any non-football fan to watch the game. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for mustard

The map of the Grey Poupon adventures.
M is for mustard

I wanted to change my name to mustard in the second grade. It's the perfect condiment. I don't like ketchup.

On the eve of my wedding to Hubby, our rehearsal dinner turned into a family fun fest as Uncle Lois and Aunt Carl shared the story of how the Jensen family got hooked on Grey Poupon.  The mixed up uncle and aunt titles involves cross dressing and gets complicated — not because of the cross dressing in my opinion.

The condensed Grey Poupon story is that two carloads of family members were lost. I married into the family, so I won't sugarcoat it and call it exploring.

One car pulls up alongside another and a wisecracking kid says, "Pardon me. Do you have any Grey Poupon?"

Laughter ensues. A family legend is born.

Since that day, jars of Grey Poupon have traveled around the United States.

I was punked with the Grey Poupon joke when I received a Christmas tree. A map of the Grey Poupon adventures appeared at my in-law's 50th wedding anniversary along with a restaurant sized jar. Enzo received his first mystery jar last year.

The jars are always welcome at my house as I enjoy eating it as a dip or in a dish.

I ate Grey Poupon on the honeymoon. Why waste a great treat?

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for London

Ducky on the London Eye.
L is for London

A doctor on the plane gave me the best advice about London. "Take a double decker tour," he said. "My wife did that on her first trip and never got lost."

I followed his advice, but still got lost once or twice.

London was my first solo trip. I decided after months and months of near death situations following my late husband Jimmy's stroke, I would take a vacation. London was cheaper and more direct than some vacations in the United States.

With him settled into a new routine at a nursing home close to where I lived and with the purchase of travel insurance, I thought it safe to go. One of my many "think again" moments. He developed pneumonia and on his second hospitalization had to return to a ventilator to help him breathe. Ventilators are life-saving, but most nursing homes won't accept patients using them.

Jimmy had to be shipped off to another hospital to wean him from the ventilator. Once he accomplished this, the nursing home refused to readmit him as a patient. Jimmy lingered in a hospital for months. I juggled traveling to see him — about an hour and a half each way a couple times a week — and work. I wrecked my car and damaged a rental car a week or so later. London held a new appeal — I would not have to drive a car there, so I rebooked the trip.

While concerned about my wrecks, Jimmy didn't approve of London.

"For me to stay, I have to go," I told him.

While we always had lots to talk about when I visited, I noticed by Sunday afternoon I had less to say. I had been as one nurse noted in his chart during my visits: Wife at bedside.

After many spelling matches through his communication system about the trip, he decided to change his medical status to Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) in the days before I left. If he had a heart attack or was found not breathing, no action would be taken to revive him.

Daily visitors distracted Jimmy during my London adventure. I checked in daily too as I avoided smashed peas.

When I returned, Jimmy removed the DNR from his medical chart and from his mind as he was happy to see me. I never convinced him why I needed to take the trip to refresh, to not drive a car and to return to him with something new to share.

The attendants on my flight explained it better than I ever could. Most passengers don't pay attention to their safety speeches, but caregivers must. When the oxygen masks fall from the overhead panel, you need to put your own mask on first before helping those in your care. You have to get your oxygen first or you can't help the ones you love.

Perfect Picture Books: Nasreen's Secret School

We're at the halfway point for the A to Z Challenge. It's been interesting. My mini-memoirs continue to show up daily (except for Sundays). You'll know too much about me by the end of the month. Thanks for reading, blogging and visiting. Have a great weekend — Stacy

For Perfect Picture Book Fridays, I've chosen Nasreen's Secret School A True Story from Afghanistan.

Nasreen's Secret School A True Story from Afghanistan
Written and Illustrated By Jeanette Winter
Beach Lane Books, 2009

Suitable for: Ages 6-9

Theme/Topic: Girls, Education, Loss

Opening: My granddaughter, Nasreen, lives with me in Herat, an ancient city in Afghanistan.
Art and music and learning once flourished here.

Brief Synopsis:
Young Nasreen has not spoken a word to anyone since her parents disappeared.
In despair, her grandmother risks everything to enroll Nasreen in a secret school for girls. Will a devoted teacher, a new friend, and the worlds she discovers in books be enough to draw Nasreen out of her shell of sadness?
Based on a true story from Afghanistan, this inspiring book will touch readers deeply as it affirms both the life-changing power of education and the healing power of love. — book description.

Link to resources: Nasreen's Secret School Reinforcing Activity and Schools for Girls. Author and Illustrator Jeanette Winter shares statistics in her author's note about how women and girls lived before and after Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Her note along with the story offern many discussion points about how women and girls are treated in different cultures as well as the availability of education in different nations.

Why I chose this book: I wanted to read The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq after reading Patricia's review on Children's Books Heal. My library didn't have The Librarian of Basra, but had Nasreen's Secret School and a few others by Jeanette Winter. So, I loaded up my digital hold list and waited. I wasn't disappointed with the story. Stories like this make me ask myself: Would I have the courage to do this? I hope the answer would be yes, but I also hope I never have to find out.

To find more picture books and resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill's blog and look for the Perfect Picture Books page.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Kit Kat

Dad used to surprise us with a KitKat.
K is for KitKat

Random. That's how I remember KitKat candy bars. The family would take a trip to Atlanta or to visit a relative. Dad would emerge from the gas station with a candy bar for us to share. 

It didn't happen every time and that's what made it a fun treat. There are four chocolate coated bars in a regular sized KitKat. With three kids and two adults, someone got shortchanged. I don't recall it ever being me.

If there were fights over the candy bar, I've blocked those out. This simple gesture of sharing left a great impression on me. I think of Dad every time I see a KitKat bar. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for Janet

Janet uses a break to eat a snack.

J is for Janet

The trip sounded like an episode of the reality television show Survivor. I walked around Victoria Falls, rode an elephant, flew in a helicopter, danced, ate a worm and gave a guy a five million dollar tip.

I understand now that some people are opposed to people riding elephants. I didn't think about this in 2006. Janet and her guide took us around the Elephant Camp outside Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

The guide answered all my questions — not an easy task to have a journalist on a slow elephant safari. At the end of our trip, I purchased a copy of Janet's foot print. A true tourist thing to do, but we were told the proceeds funded efforts to protect the elephants. Her footprint hangs on a wall in my house.

I was touched by my guide's dedication to live and work with Janet. All my safari companions were. I traveled by myself that's why I'm with some unknown lady in the picture. She never seemed very happy on the ride. I sometimes fail to remember unhappy people.

We sent tips to our elephant guides at the end of the trip. I found my supply of U.S. dollars running low and sent a $5 bill to my guide.

"That's too much," my safari guide said. "With inflation, that's five million dollars." I doubt the exchange rate is much better today.

By any standards, the tip was probably too small to show my gratitude for getting so close to a lovely animal.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for Italy

A quick trip to Venice.
I is for Italy

My father suggested I study Spanish in college.

The view from my room in Florence.
I wanted to learn something different. I studied Spanish in high school. After a few classes, I thought I needed to study Italian in Florence, Italy. Italy made perfect sense to me.

While some of the art and culture were wasted on my youth, the experience of meeting new people, learning how to live in a larger city and negotiating one's way around another country was not.

My constant companion on the trip was my camera and a supply of film. I snapped away like a crazed tourist whether in Florence, Rome, Venice, Sienna, Pisa or Sicily — that's my S for the A to Z Challenge.

I hope to see Italy again, but I hesitate thinking there are new places to visit and so little time. Of course, Italy would be a different experience two decades later. I doubt today's me could be coaxed into a bikini this time, but who knows travel opens us to new adventures.

Italy whet my appetite for travel as well as Nutella.

My first day trip in Italy was a quick visit to the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Monday, April 9, 2012

H is for hotel

The brown hotel couch is in many of Enzo's early photos.
H is for hotel

When my son was six weeks old, we left Texas for the cooler plains of Colorado. We negotiated the contract details before Enzo left the hospital.

Buying a house wasn't so easy.

Hubby, Enzo, the two dogs and I squeezed into an extended stay hotel. The continental breakfast and the evening snacks got old fast.

I spent my day taking care of Enzo, the dogs and searching for houses with our Realtor.  Hubby began a new job. I watched way too much of the Today Show and HGTV's House Hunters program.

We had a few false starts where we thought we would escape the hotel. Deals evaporated and new searches began.

My father calls the hotel Enzo's boyhood home, because he lived there for four months. It was the first place they met their new grandson. They stayed in a room down the hall from ours.

The hotel loved it when family showed up to visit, especially those with credit cards or cash.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

G is for gun

The construction site across the street temporarily became a police car parking lot.
G is for gun

One Sunday morning, I woke up to care for our son. Then, I wrote a blog post.

Here's the Tweet I wrote hours later:
Woke up w/baby. Blogged. Heard voices outside. Saw cop w/gun drawn. Grabbed & moved baby. Appears guy left w/o cops. Hmm. Now church. #fb
I tweeted that on Jan. 16, 2011.

The week before on Jan. 8 the Tucson shooting seriously injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and took the lives of many innocent people.

When I looked out my window and saw the officer had a gun drawn on a man, I broke mommy rule #2 — never wake a sleeping baby. I did that so I could follow rule #1 — always protect the baby.

I ran down our short hallway with my son in my arms and tried to explain to my sleeping Hubby what was taking place in front of our house. My mind raced with visions of bullets hitting Enzo's room.

After it was all over, Enzo didn't care what took place outside his bedroom window. Hubby suggested I figure out a better way to panic, so he didn't think there was a problem with our son. I fretted about the lack of information about "police incidents" in our neighborhood.

If I had not stayed up to blog that morning, I would have missed the entire event.

Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for Festus

Enzo, who could have been given several different names
F is for Festus 

Names are important.

People may wave you off, when you can’t pronounce their name correctly. "It doesn’t matter,” they shrug. But, it really does.

When Hubby and I found out we were having a baby, we discussed names, searched the Internet and studied a few iPhone apps.

If we had a girl, I asked Hubby about naming her after my grandmother Ada. He agreed and thought he should determine a boy's name. He suggested Festus. I don’t remember Gunsmoke, but Hubby did. He laughed as I cringed.

On our way to the Grand Canyon, we listened to the book The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. The book is told from a dog’s point of view. The four-legged narrator pieces together a wonderful tale of love and heartbreak. 

As we were in tears near the end of the story, Hubby suggested we use Enzo for a boy's name. A couple months later, we found out we were having a healthy boy. 

I wrote a poem about my son’s name called Your Name By That Lady Who's Always With You a few months before he arrived. It doesn't rhyme well, like many of my poetry attempts. Still, I put it in his baby book — still a work in progress —because I wrote it for him. I wanted to share with him all the name options tossed out by friends and family. 

When people ask about the Italian origin of my son's name, I tell them he was named after a very noble dog in a book, who was named after Enzo Ferrari. 

Hubby contends Festus was a joke, but in my mind it will always be his first suggestion.

Hubby's shoes vs. Enzo's first baby shoes.

Perfect Picture Books: Knuffle Bunny Free

Along with participating in the A to Z Challenge, I want to continue my Perfect Picture Book Fridays participation in April. I appreciate everyone staying with me as I post almost daily this month. The challenge has been interesting and well, a bit of a challenge, to keep up with comments here, there and everywhere. I hope everyone has a blessed Easter. — Stacy

For Perfect Picture Book Fridays, I've chosen Knuffle Bunny Free.

The first book Knuffle Bunny was featured on the list in December by Loni Edwards.

Knuffle Bunny Free
An unexpected diversion by Mo Willems
Balzer + Bray/An imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2010

Suitable for: Ages 3-7

Theme/Topic: Separation, Growing Up, Family

Opening: One day not so long ago, Trixie took a big trip with her family.
They were on their way to visit Trixie's "Oma" and "Opa" in Holland.
Holland is far away.

Brief Synopsis: Knuffle Bunny begins the family trip to Holland, but disappears during the travels on planes and trains. Trixie's older in this story and struggles to enjoy her visit with Oma and Opa as she misses Knuffle Bunny.

Link to resources: Knuffle Bunny Free activities. There are 12 pages of activities for this book. I lost track of time doing some of the activities. Be sure to go back and read the first Knuffle Bunny. There is a teaching guide for Knuffle Bunny too. Mo Willems has wonderful resources for his books.

Why I chose this book: I picked up Knuffle Bunny as part of my first lesson in the Just Write For Kids home course. When I added books I needed to my library list, I grabbed this installment of Trixie and Knuffle Bunny's adventures. The illustrations — a combination of photos and drawings — hooked me into the story from the first page.  It feels real, due to the photos. Mo Willems offers families a light and fun story. Plus, we've been there with a lost lovey or traveling puma — my niece Rosa's traveling companion. Anyone who's been on a search and rescue mission for a lost blanket or lovey totally gets this book. Now, I need to read the middle book in the series — Knuffle Bunny Too:  A Case of Mistaken Identity.

To find more picture books and resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill's blog and look for the Perfect Picture Books page.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for elevators

Photo by David Williams

E is for elevators 

It never crossed my mind the first time the doors closed.

I jumped on the elevator, because it would get me to Jimmy. The doctors called the ICU waiting area to say there had been a problem and for me to be ready to get to the Neurological ICU floor. They would call back to let us know.

“That’s weird,” I said to my brother. “Everything was OK when we left.”

My mind didn’t buzz or whirl or anything else, because I had no data to evaluate. The call was meaningless. Then, the ICU waiting room clerk waved and caught my eye. I walked to his desk. In a quiet voice, he said, “You can go upstairs now.” His softness alarmed me.

My brother, Jimmy’s family and I walked into the elevator. Its silver doors shut reflecting our image like a mirror. I had not showered as I'd already spent one night in the hospital waiting room. It struck me that I would not go home again tonight.

The doctor mentioned stroke, infarct and other medical terms. We were shuttled from Jimmy’s bedside, to a waiting room down the hall and then to Jimmy again when he quit breathing.

Later they returned us to the elevator and down to another waiting room. We waited, stared and paced in between brief updates on vital signs, CT scan results and the doctor's departure for the night. 

During the first few weeks, the elevator bothered me with each beep and bump of its doors. I dreaded each call to return to the elevator and to the NICU. As time passed, I knew that another trip might provide me with information I did not want.

I hated to see those silver doors close and show me what I looked like in the corner of a box — trapped with people for one or two floors, who were all destined to get good or bad news about loved ones. 

Over the years, the elevator at nursing homes and other hospitals served me no better. They were quiet before I walked into the unknown of Jimmy's life and his room — was he alive, was his oxygen in place, was he in a comfortable position, was he in a good mood, was he disgruntled waiting for me to arrive or was he dead. 

If I had to label how I feel in an elevator today, it would be PTSD or Post-traumatic stress disorder. I don't use the term lightly. The definition here says: 
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It can occur after you've seen or experienced a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death.
While I see a much different reflection in an elevator's doors today, it remains the one place that reminds me of being a caregiver to my late husband with all its ups and downs and the constant threat of death.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for Dooney & Bourke

A 40th birthday gift from my sister.

D is for Dooney & Bourke

Basic brown. My sister's description sold me. 

"Sure, I'll take it nobody knows me."

Tracy shied away from using the purse, because she didn't want people to think she spent a couple hundred dollars on a purse. She won the bag after sleeping in a limousine all night at an American Cancer Society fundraiser. The bag was one of many prizes given to volunteers. 

I received the bag in a box declaring above my name — Happy 40th birthday! Five months later, I took the purse out for a test drive. After carrying a diaper bag for more than a year, I whittled my personal items down to a wallet, pen, tube of lipstick and an iPhone. The large pink interior had plenty of room for a few toddler essentials too. 

My sister later mentioned the back story behind the purse. The fundraiser organizers were delighted she won the purse, because honestly — they assumed she would donate it back to the cause. Instead, she gave it to me. 

Now, I feel obligated to find different ways to make an unusual use of the purse.

For a play date, I used it to smuggle marshmallow pop treats into a play area that forbid outside treats. Before you think I'm a rebel, I handed them out as people left, so no one ate in the "snack free zone."
The purse filled with marshmallow pop treats.
For a Girls Night Out, I packed all the essentials — a tray of rosemary crackers, cashew nuts, microwave popcorn, a wedge of cheese and a Pride and Prejudice  DVD — in the purse and walked over to my neighbor's house. We watched Bridesmaids, but I had Pride & Prejudice just in case.
Girls Night Out essentials, including a pen.
It's no Mary Poppins bag, but my basic, brown purse serves me well whether on a date with Hubby or on a covert Mom operation.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for cactus

Some cactus flowers found around Del Rio, Texas

C is cactus

Cactus needles pierced my knee through my pants leg as I chased a U.S. Border Patrol agent up a hill. I followed him for a day for a freelance assignment. After it was determined there was no person to catch, I realized I had needles in my  knee.

"Duct tape," the agent said. "It will get those out."

In addition to the prickly plants — throw in hot, deadly temperatures; difficult terrain; rattlesnakes; and dehydration — and you have an idea of what some undocumented men, women and children face as they cross the border from Mexico into the United States. Add in dangers from coyotes — the human ones who are paid to smuggle people across the border — and it made me wonder why people would risk so much to enter the United States illegally.

Then, I checked to see about the wait for legal entry. This Wikipedia entry seems like a standard answer — I've looked at several sources — there's a backlog of a million-plus green-card applicants and the typical wait is three years.

That little patch of border I followed for an eight-hour shift opened my eyes to the dangers people face to illegally enter this country. Duct tape works well to remove cactus needles, but I never saw any of it near the trails of empty water bottles, canned food, tennis shoes and clothes abandoned at the edge of the Rio Grande River.

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for Birkenstock

I'm in basic brown Birkenstocks on a balcony in Rome.
B is for Birkenstock

The Piazza della Signoria in Florence seemed busy all the time. There seemed to be a healthy population of locals and tourists on any given day. For two months, I called the city home as I studied Italian.

After class each day, I stopped by a small shop for a cheap slice of pizza — nothing like the Little Caesars or Pizza Hut versions I ate at home. I sat, soaked in the sun and the environment. My daily chant included: Remember. You are here to study, to learn and to live.

The intensive language program featured an assortment of twenty-somethings from around Europe and our group from the University of Georgia. The Greek students from Athens and I joked about being from the same city. They were from Athens, Greece. I came from Athens, Georgia.

My Italian was OK. A brunette roommate seemed to think I got by mostly with my blonde hair.


Men shouted "Little blondie" from street corners. One man said it inches from my face as he grabbed me by the shoulders at a train station. Instead of helping me, a police officer laughed as I broke free from this man's grasp.

As my hair lightened and my skin tanned under the Tuscan sun, I learned how to say, "What the fuck are you doing?" to the more aggressive ones. The strong language and a quick hand gesture startled these men enough for me to get away from them, so I could go about exploring Italy by trains, bus or the random ride on a motorcycle.

My hair color didn't make me feel different there, but my shoes did. I wore chunky tennis shoes or Birkenstock sandals most of the time. During a trip to Pompeii, I was shocked to see Italian women walking about the ruins in high heels.

When I travel today, I continue to wear comfortable shoes. You won't find me wearing high heels roaming ruins or an airport escalator. You may hear me explaining in English to the confused flight attendant, ticket agent or customs official that I am an American and not German — "No tedesca."

My passport backs up my story, but their confusion reminds me that it really wasn't that long ago that my ancestors traveled from Europe. It is a small world.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A is for aneurysm

My 2012 A to Z Challenge words — Created by
Welcome Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2012 friends — new and old.

My game plan for the month is to use this challenge to work on my essay and short memoir skills. I've noted my posts get much shorter later in the alphabet.

I wrote my first memoir in the second grade A Book About Me. Years later as a journalist, I shared other people's stories in newspapers and shared some of my own in a weekly column. This month, I'll share an A to Z story including bits and pieces of my life — some light and some a little heavy.

A is for aneurysm

In another life ...

I've used this phrase a lot over the last six years. It's my short-hand to say, "Something happened. Now it's different."

When the neurologist sketched those first black and white lines on a piece of paper to describe the cause of Jimmy's headaches, I didn't understand how a quarter-sized balloon in an artery would change my life and especially his.

The defect — the weakened wall — in the artery caused the blood to swirl around creating headaches and high blood pressure. The balloon and another artery defect created a difficult situation to address, but the doctors were hopeful.

My sister worked as a photographer at a state crime lab. The dead doctors, as she called them, said Jimmy was lucky. "Most people don't know they have an aneurysm at all," a doctor said. "It's discovered in the autopsy."

The doctors successfully added a stent and titanium coils to stabilize Jimmy's aneurysm, but he never returned home. He never spoke another word out loud, ate a Burger King meal or walked another step. The procedure caused a brain stem stroke, which left him mute and completely paralyzed.

Months later, Jimmy moved his right, middle finger. Some people use that finger to shoot birds at people in anger. He couldn't. I barely saw his finger move. A flat, switch Velcroed to a plastic brace strapped to his arm detected his light touch and triggered the nurse's call light in ICUs, hospitals and nursing homes. This slight movement saved his life on multiple occasions.

People prayed for Jimmy's healing — specifically that he would walk and talk again. I hated to see their disappointment as years passed, but tried to explain that his ability to move his finger, blink and smile were the answer to their prayers. Some couldn't see this answer.

Four years later on the anniversary of his stroke, I stood next to Jimmy's flag-draped coffin greeting friends, relatives and strangers.

Jimmy and me before a special event at the nursing home.