Monday, May 31, 2010

On Spring, (Or, Have you ever seen an indigo daisy?)

Happy Memorial Day! A few weeks, ago, Terresa at The Chocolate Chip Waffle had a contest to write a poem with Spring as the theme. In that spirit, I wanted to share the following poem, written by my 9-year-old daughter for a school assignment. The instructions were to use the first letters of Spring to come up with words or phrases, and they had to incorporate a rhyming pattern. Here is her contribution to the world of poetry:

Sweet flower scents fill the air,
Pink tulips bloom everywhere,
Roots underground push up flowers,
Indigo daisies sprout in just a few hours,
Nothing can stop spring from coming,
Golden drops of sunshine are falling.

Since only in poetry can daisies be indigo, I find this deliciously vivid. And I love her ever-knowing notion that nothing can stop spring from coming.

If you'd like to share a spring poem, post it in the comments, and I'll put together a compilation for my next post. Of course, with summer looming so close (and I say looming as only a South Floridian can), you may choose that season as your inspiration instead. Happy writing....!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

On Top of New York (Or, My brother moves outta da city, I kill 'em)

Today I am on top of the world for winning the ForeWord Reviews 2009 Book of the Year Award for Looking for Anita, but last weekend I was on top of New York. And it's no Chrysler Building or Empire State Building for sure. No Ma'ams and Sirs. This is the roof of my brother's building, on approximately the 40th floor. The penthouse takes up the top two floors and my brother lives on the 37th, so you get an idea of the spectacular view he wakes up to each day. No, wait. You can't really understand until you see this panorama series I took, which is what he sees out his window. That's right, baby. A three-direction view from the East River to downtown to the Hudson River.

East River View (looking across to Queens)

Downtown View
Hudson River View (looking across to New Jersey)

So you can see why I love my New York trips so much. I've always loved this city, its energy, its life, its history, its possibilities. But notice how I listed energy first.

My husband and I have very different ideas of the ideal vacation. His dream locale includes either a wild river ripe for rafting or a secluded beach with a tree-hung hammock begging his rest. My dream locale, on the other hand, looks something like this...

Greeley Square Park

That's right. Put me in a cafe or a park smack dab in the center of a bustling city - American or European - and I'm in heaven, more relaxed than you'll ever see me at home. My husband once noted that he and I get our rejuvenation from different sources. He said that since he’s an introvert, he gets his energy from calmness. Peaceful or natural places give him the energy he needs to recharge. I, in contrast, am an extrovert, which according to him means that lively or social environments provide me with the energy I need to recharge.

I don’t know how much water his theory holds, but I’ll buy some of it. Still, I think he’s missing something key here. I think it’s the anonymity of big cities that comforts me. I particularly love parks and gardens nestled amidst the hub-bub of chaos. The contrast soothes me. I can escape into the beauty of nature, knowing that at any moment I can walk back out into the everflow of the city and lose myself in the crowd.

Here's another example...

Madison Square Park

Just a stone's throw from Union Square. Can you believe it? My brother lives equidistance between this park and Greeley Square Park, which is why I tell him, "If you ever move out of Manhattan, I'm disowning you. You have no right to take away my apartment in the city. You hear me, baby brother?"

I've said my peace. And so far, he's obeying. I know I am one lucky girl to have a free apartment in Manhattan. And I know I am one even luckier lady to have my brother in my life. Of course, if he ever moves out to the Rocky Mountains, my husband will be the one singing his praises. For now, however, I love feeling on top of New York. On my next visit, I promise to post a tour of Central Park, the tranquil center that keeps the heart of New York beating.

So what say you? Energy or serenity…which feeds your soul?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On Just Rewards (Or, I WON!!!!!!!!!)

Just had to share my excitement. At the BEA today in New York City, ForeWord Reviews announced winners of their 2009 Book of the Year Awards, and................

I WON!!!!!!!

Looking for Anita won Gold in the category of General Fiction.

I am woman. Hear me roar!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, May 24, 2010

On Being Unplugged (Or, She's Come Undone)

This is a transcription from a handwritten post...

I am hand writing this post from an airplane because I didn't bring my laptop on my New York journey (pleasure trip to visit brother). Yes, that means I am using a pen and pressing it against paper. Does anyone remember this sensation? I'm forming actual letters through this pen-to-paper process though I'm not sure my penmanship is worthy of being called legible. I'm using purple ink because, for me, writing by hand feels like an antiquated art form that deserves all the fanfare of preparing a beautiful painting. So I choose violet, my favorite color, followed closely by lavender and lilac. (See a pattern here?)

Anyway, I'm not sure how long this handwriting thing will last since one of the other charms of this art form includes hand cramps. I had forgotten. It's been so long.

Being unplugged is hard. It's like being deprived of chocolate, to which I am seriously addicted. Oh my, does this man I'm addicted to the Internet? Let's see...restlessness, irritability, headache (could be the cabin pressure), helplessness, anxiety, tension...Yep, the only things missing are the shakes and the sweating, which is only because this plane is so cold inside. I guess it's official. I'm addicted to the Internet. And more notably to blogging.

I mean look. I'm sitting here in the MIDDLE seat of a packed flight, HAND writing my Monday morning post in a travel journal! What other proof do you people need?

I hit 70 followers on Friday and I feel obligated to produce for every one of you all. But that's a good thing. Because I love the blogosphere and all the incredibly dedicated, creative, inventive, passionate, funny-as-hell, kind-hearted, motivating, encouraging, and similar-minded souls I've met here.

So as I hum The Guess Who tune, "She's Come Undone" in an attempt to drown out the deafening whir of the plane's engine and try to ignore the ringing in my ears and the near-arthritic pain in my right hand, I soldier on 'n on 'n on for you, my loyal followers, my blog buddies, my addiction enablers. Because you're worth it!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

On Paying it Forward (Or, I'm gonna win this thing if it kills me)

Gotta admit. I'm not usually one for blogfests and contests, but this one's got me going gaga over trying to earn all the points possible. And there are LOTS of points possible to earn. It's B. Miller's Pay it Forward contest. If you're a writer, this is definitely up your alley. His rules:

The grand prize for this giveaway is the winner's choice. EITHER a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble (or Borders, Amazon, etc - whichever you prefer) sent directly to your preferred mail receptacle, OR...
If you are a writer with published work available for purchase, B. Miller will buy your novel/story collection/chapbook, etc., up to a value of $25. He will also read your work and give a review on your chosen website, as well as a review and a plug on his blog, Twitter, and Facebook fan page. He will go to his local library and booksellers and ask that your work be stocked on their local shelves in Greenville, South Carolina. And, if you're willing, he will do a guest feature on his blog for you, complete with interview and links to your media.

As I said, there are many ways to get points. Best to check out his Pay it Forward post to learn the details. But one of the things I must do, apart from promoting B. Miller's contest, is to post a story about a time I paid it forward.  And I begin...

Last year while in my local supermarket, I was checking out when I heard an older woman complaining about her condo shuttle being delayed. She was upset because all her groceries were bagged and she was worried the perishables would spoil if she had to wait too long.

The manager was trying to console her, but the woman was becoming more agitated by the moment. As soon as my groceries were bagged, I asked her if I could take her home. She must have been well in her 80s and looked at me as if I had magically appeared to save her day. The look alone made me feel I had done the right thing by offering, even if she refused.

But she accepted.

Her name was Ruth, she told me. I loaded her groceries and headed for the general part of town where all the condos are, but guess what? Ruth didn't know exactly where she lived since she didn't drive and relied on the shuttle to take her places. So in the end, it still took her about 20 minutes to get home since I had to shoot up every street and ask her if it looked familiar. Eventually we hit the jackpot, and she recognized her building. I unloaded her groceries and carried them to the first floor unit where Ruth gave me a warm hug and told me I was her angel.

As I drove the ten minutes it would take me to get home, I didn't care what had happened to my own perishables because I knew Ruth would have a nice evening.

So there you have it, may pay-it-forward story. Feeling motivated to make your own pay it forward moment? I hope so.

Monday, May 17, 2010

On Forethought (Or, Morons with Gumption)

I’m eight years old sitting in the back seat of the car trying to hold my breath and coming dangerously close to passing out. We are driving by a cemetery, and childhood superstitions die hard. My biggest fear when passing that cemetery was that traffic would back up, which it inevitably did as the ongoing construction along Miami’s Palmetto Expressway (SR 826) spread like cancer.

I was born and raised in Miami, and getting from point A to point B usually involved traveling the Palmetto. I became very familiar with all the landmarks along the way, including the huge cemetery that always forced me to turn blue as I attempted to hold my breath as we passed it by. That construction I mentioned started in the 1970s and continues today. I kid you not.

And that leads me to the real purpose of this post. Lifelong highway construction projects…where’s the forethought?

Back in 1989, a friend from Miami moved north to the next county. She gave me directions to her new apartment, which required me to travel a highway I’d never heard of in South Florida. It was called I-75 and led to another strange highway called the Sawgrass Expressway (SR 879). As I traveled the empty 10-lane highway whose exit and entrance ramps were clover leaves large enough to encircle a European village, I wondered what morons had put so much money into a highway when there were no towns as far as the eye could see. What a frickin waste of money.

Fast forward 20 years. I now travel I-75 more frequently than I traveled the Palmetto as I followed the herd 13 years ago and became a resident of one of the many new towns that sprang to life in the late 1980s, blossomed after 1992’s Hurricane Andrew ravished southern Miami-Dade county, and grew into a 70,000-person city. And still, there has been no construction, apart from some minimally-invasive road resurfacing.


Because those morons I referred to earlier were actually brilliant city planners with enough foresight and gumption to build these new highways THE RIGHT WAY. I mean, there’s no way they could have predicted the exodus that Hurricane Andrew would cause, so these morons were rather visionary when they found the chutzpah to fund this highway. The speed limit is 70mph, faster than anywhere else in the tri-county area, and even during rush hour, traffic moves through wide-enough lanes that seem to cry out, Drive me and be free.

I still drive down to Miami frequently to visit family and friends, as I did yesterday. And every time I do, as I sit idle on the Palmetto Expressway so close to the cars next to me that I can reach over and change their radio stations if I don’t like them (which I’d do if I weren’t afraid of getting shot), I turn to my husband and say for the umpteenth time, “We are never moving back to Miami.”

It is only when my nostalgia for childhood sets in that I miss the days of holding my breath until the verge of almost passing out. Otherwise, I am a fool for wide open spaces when it comes to highways. If I want to be trapped to the point of immobility among a throng of strangers, I go to New York City – my favorite place in this country and definite fodder for a future post as I’ll be visiting the Big Apple very soon.

So drive safely and join me in my cheers of support for those signs that say END CONSTRUCTION. I’m all for it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

On Summer Vacation (Or, The Babysitter Jackpot)

School’s Out for Summer! This mantra became commonplace in the 1970s when rocker Alice Cooper turned it into an anthem. When I was a kid, summer vacation was the coveted fun time of year. As an adolescent, it was the epoch of love or, at the very least, serious crushes. As a parent, however, I hate summer!

As I work hard during the school year to keep the routine and ensure financial security for my family, summer turns out to be the biggest slap in the face. No matter how well I plan ahead, summertime becomes a financial black hole where money is poured in and then sucked out faster than paychecks can be deposited into accounts. Let me explain.

School ends, and the working mother says to herself, Well, at least there’s summer camp. But there isn’t. Most summer camps do not start until a full week after public school has let out. Some wait two weeks. I guess they assume families want time to travel, which would be a beautiful and considerate notion if all of America could afford such a luxury. And let’s not forget that the average price of a summer day camp is $1000 for a four-week session, costing around $2000 per child for the full summer. Then we’re also supposed to pay for a family vacation? I don’t think so.

Anyway, after at least a week of paying babysitters out the wazoo, summer camp commences. Except that it’s so strenuous on the kids, between the heat, the onslaught of junk food, and the sudden physical activity of which they were deprived during the school year, that the children will get sick at least once during the summer camp session. More money lost to babysitters or time away from work.

When the family has finally survived summer camp, the still-working mother says to herself, Well, at least the new school year is starting. But it isn’t. Most summer camps finish two weeks before public schools resume. More time for travel, I suppose. And certainly more money to be made in the babysitting industry.

While I’m on my soap box about family travel and the elitist suppositions of many, I want to mention that a few unnamed private schools in South Florida have a full extra week of vacation during the school year. This occurs around Presidents’ Day weekend, after the recent winter break and Martin Luther King, Jr. four-day weekend and just before the week-long spring break. This February break is called Ski Week. Need I say more?

What I’m trying to say here is that summer vacation is not, for most working mothers, what is was for us as kids. And that saddens me. I don’t like feeling so bogged down by the end of the school year. And I don’t like feeling stressed during a season that is supposed to be filled with the kind of times that memories are made of. (Did I mention that I live in South Florida, where hurricane season only adds to this beautiful array of woes?)

So what’s a working girl to do? I know… stop complaining and start appreciating this brief time in my children’s lives when summer vacation is their respite from the drudgery of schoolwork and the rigidity of routine. I know that the day will come, sooner than I think, when summers will be all mine again, when I won’t have to spend the academic year pinching pennies to save up for summer camp, and when I will listen to my grown kids gripe about their own summertime family expenses.

That’s when I will suddenly sit up from my beach lounger, realizing the financial relief I have to offer, and ask, Do you need a babysitter?

Monday, May 10, 2010

On South Florida Storms (Or, A Blink in Time)

I actually wrote this post last summer as a journal entry to remember a moment I found poetic. I give it to you today, updated for coherence purposes...

Lightening strikes and we’re all suddenly friends. That’s more or less what happens when strangers are thrown together in one of South Florida’s many summertime rainstorms. At least, that’s what happened to me on one sticky July afternoon last summer while trying to leave Bed Bath and Beyond.

The skies had been clear when we all entered the store. None of us carried umbrellas. And when the blue suddenly turned to black, the afternoon sky lit up with blinding flashes of light followed immediately by booming crashes. We all gathered together inside the store, watching the automatic doors open and close as their magnetic sensors overreacted to our nervous pacing.

An Indian woman bowed her head in embarrassment as her three pre-school-aged daughters squealed with each thunder strike. The rest of us looked on with sympathy, relating both with the mother shamed by her daughters’ raucousness and with the little girls fearing for their lives.

To my left, an older woman confessed to an aromatherapy fetish, as we both perused the display of oils and reeds for sale at the exit. “I didn’t come here to buy this stuff today,” she admitted, “but maybe this is God’s way of telling me to treat myself.” She randomly grabbed for one of the twenty-dollar boxes of sandalwood oil and scuttled over to the checkout counter, but not before glancing back at me with a look that begged my confidence.

I held a finger to my lips and whispered loudly, “I won’t tell a soul.”

Standing just beyond arms’ reach was an incredibly handsome young man whose dark Latin eyes remained fixed on the torrential rains outside. How fortunate I was, I realized, to be able to watch him so closely and yet appear to be doing nothing of the sort.

I enjoyed the physical proximity of these strangers, and I felt a kinship with the seven other people trapped with me in the store for what we perceived to be a great disruption of our daily schedules but what was really only a blink in time.

After a few moments of silence, but with the rain still blowing by horizontally, a large golden bolt cut through the sky.

(Photo by Glen Wurden)
Before we could open our mouths in awe, a deafening thunder clap shook the building and brought tears to the eyes of the woman to my right. With a trembling hand, she wiped her eyes. “I felt that in my heart,” she said.

The handsome young man wiped his brow with the back of his hand.

For the first time in minutes, the three little girls were absolutely silent.

The oddest part about the fifteen or so minutes that I spent with these people is that none of us used the cell phone. Usually when people want an easy way out of feeling alone, they open their phones and get to work finding someone to gripe to. But not this day. We all seemed to find an unspoken comfort in knowing that there were already others nearby who understood our frustration, and our fear.

The crying woman said she had never seen a storm so angry (obviously not an experienced Florida resident), and the aromatherapy woman, now having returned with her newest purchase, held her nose in the air and said she could smell the delicious rain. The handsome young man smiled at me and said nothing, which was just fine. I smiled back, enjoying the mystery of the moment and pretending we shared a private story. The three little Indian girls returned to their dancing, a mixture of merriment and terror. Their mother rolled her eyes and stated with an air of wisdom, “Ah, what the rains can do!”

Eventually, the lightening subsided and the rain began to fall vertically. Then it got softer, and we all realized it was time to resume our lives.

In the true romantic form of a writer, I accepted that the end of our moment had come. Determined to document my experience as soon as possible, I boldly took the first step toward the exit doors and announced my departure. “It’s been a little slice of heaven,” I said, saluting my stranger-friends with a quick smile.

Crying Woman smiled back.

Aromatherapy Woman held up her package in a parting salutation.

Indian Mother and her girls waved goodbye enthusiastically.

Handsome Young Man tipped his head ever-so-subtly.

Grabbing my own purchase close to my chest, I faced the rain and darted nimbly to my car. As I drove away, I felt a strange sadness. I didn’t even know their names. And I never would. It was just a blink in time.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

On Silence (Or, My perfect Mother's Day morning)

My house is silent. No voices. No television, Wii, or PS3. No running air conditioner. No running dishwasher or washing machine. Nothing. Except for the click click of my fingers typing away on the keyboard. My house is silent. And I like it. Very much.

Soon, the husband and kids will return from the pool. The A/C will kick into gear as the outside temperature rises well above 80 degrees. The TV and PS3 will go on as the kids enjoy their lazy Sunday after a good swim. The lawn mower will buzz in the background as dear hubby mows the overgrown grass. Childish bickering will ensue (between the kids - not hubby and me), and the noise will return. I'll be okay with that because that is the rhythm of my life. And it's all good.

But for now, my house is silent. And I like it. Very much.

Happy Mother's Day to me ;-)

Friday, May 7, 2010

On Being Tagged (Or, 5 things that people apparently want to know about me)

I got tagged.  And though I'm usually not a fan of these games, I don't want to disappoint Jackee at Winded Words. I mean, if she really wants to know this stuff about me...okay. Here we go:

Where were you five years ago?
1. Wondering where the 21 years since high school had gone. (You can see I have no qualms about revealing my age.)
2. Cursing Mother Nature for the 4 hurricanes brought to South Florida after the 4 storms of 2004. It was Hurricane Wilma, the last one of the 2005 season, that took our roof off.
3. Planning our relocation to Atlanta (see #2) also because hubby was very disillusioned with job at that time. (Relocation never happened b/c he got fantastic job offer in Jan, 2006. One month later, we contracted roofer to replace roof.)
4. Pulling my son out of public school as I finally realized he needed more help than they could offer. (He's still at his private school and just now starting to excel.)
5. Welcoming our two new kitties to the family after favorite cat companion died. (My beloved Carina, pictured below; brought back from our time living in Bologna, Italy; she lived to 10 but had to give in to cancer.)
Where would you like to be five years from now?
1. Working solely on writing novels (and maintaining my blog, of course!)
2. Earning enough money to buy my 16-year-old son a used car so he can take his overy-social sister around town (she'll be 14) I can continue with #1.
3. Looking at myself in the mirror and saying, "Not too shabby for 48!"
4. Vacationing at my apartment in Spain, or Italy... and working on #1.
5. Fortunate enough to have my parents and in-laws healthy and sound of mind.

What is on your to-do list today?
1. NOTHING! It's my first day of freedom since the winter semester ended.
2. Actually I had to drop some stuff off at the post office, so I rode my bike there (check!), which leads to #3...
3. Get some exercise (check!)
4. Have coffee with a friend in an hour...because I haven't seen her in a while and because I can!
5. Catch up on all my blog reading (almost check!)

What five snacks do you enjoy? (Oh, this is an easy one.)
1. Chocolate
2. Chocolate
3. Chocolate
4. Chocolate
5. Chocolate
(How cool is this chocolate keyboard? It would be the only thing that could stop me from writing.)

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
1. Fund massive research in autistic spectrum disorders (see #4 from first group)
2. Fund massive research in Ulcerative Colitis and other bowel diseases
(have you figured out what goes on in my family yet?)
3. Fund massive renovations of my local Humane Society so they can keep sick animals separate from those who come in healthy.
4. Pay off all my credit card debt and throw the suckers away.
5. Buy 3 apartments; one in Seville, Spain (for me); one in Tuscany (for my husband); and one in NYC (for me again 'cuz I'm the billionaire, right?)
This corner unit will do with the glass windowfront overlooking Calle Betis in Seville. This steet (in the lower right of image) is flanked by the Guadalquivir River, so this is essentially the view looking out those glass windows...

Am I right, or am I right?

Whew. Okay. Not going to tag anyone because I'm a believer in treating others as you would like to be treated. Which is why I owe a thank-you to Jackee. If she hadn't treated me the way she likes to be treated, I would never have learned everything about her that I did (in her "5" list), and I have to admit that making my own 5 list was kinda fun. So gracias and grazie to Jackee. (Re-read lists if you need clarification ;-))

Thursday, May 6, 2010

On Writing (Or, My Words Are My Children)

I hesitated to post this because I've often heard that writers shouldn't write about the art of writing for its own sake. But my mind ran off in a strange direction, so I'm going with it...

I’ve heard it said that writers write because we have no other choice. The drive to write is a force that comes from within and compels us to put on paper (or computer monitor) the thoughts, dreams, stories, and whatnot that refuse to stay put inside our heads, where they often belong, no doubt. The intended result is a sense of fulfillment, of having accomplished something.

I have known this to be true for almost as long as I can remember. And I have an impressive memory that can be documented back to when I was nineteen months old, I kid you not. But that’s fodder for another time.

Now, at forty-three years old, I am still writing and feeling rather unfulfilled. Why?

I guess I’ve always believed my writing would save me in some way, release the burdens that weighed me down, set free the longing and nostalgia that bring me more pain than pleasure, make me into the undeniably amazing woman that I so yearn to be…! You get the idea.

Apparently, I am wrong.

So why do I write then?

I have no idea.

No earthly idea.


I’ve got it.

I write because keeping all this junk in my head would make me explode…or implode…I’m not sure which.

Getting it out is like finally being able to see the thing that’s been bothering me so I can analyze it, figure it out, break it down until I’ve gotten…absolutely nowhere.

Okay, let me try again.

It’s like the words that materialize were born in my brain, grew there briefly, and now need to be free, Mom. Ya know, just be free already! I’m a grown-up word who wants to live and see the world. I can’t stay cooped up there inside your head, bumping around in your brains. It’s gross! I need out. So thanks, fingers, for setting me free already. Took ya long enough!

Now what?

Once my precious words leave my head and make it onto the page, I don’t feel much better. Oh, sure. In the short run, I do, because I can see my thoughts and ideas come to fruition in print! But then I feel sort of empty, like those empty nesters that send their kids off to college with a sigh of relief but then come home to find the house frighteningly still. It’s not so much that they miss their kids, in my opinion, but rather that they’re stuck with a more awful dilemma…what to do now.

When I release my words, I feel liberated but, at the same time, mournful of the loss. Inside my head, those words had such potential, but once on paper, they seem to lose their promise. I love them, as I always will, but I have to accept that they are only words, out there with all those other words of the universe. They will have to make their own way and let people decide if they will be accepted as words of wisdom, words of entertainment, or just plain nonsense.

In the end, though, I suppose it really doesn’t matter. Because they’re my words. I put them out there, and I must be proud of them. I did the best I could and then set them free. Maybe they’ll end up doing nothing more than getting deleted into someone’s recycle bin or lining the proverbial birdcage. Or maybe they’ll end up inspiring someone else to love and cherish their own words, nurture them, and then set them free to explore the world. And then I will have done something good. Through my words.

And that is why I write.

Monday, May 3, 2010

On NOT Passing the Buck (Or, You'd think after 19 years I'd have this thing down pat)

I need you, my blogfriends. I need to vent about the "other" career I have - the one they pay me for. I'm an ESL professor, and I'm presently feeling less than professor-like.

A couple of days ago, I gave my grammar students their final exam - a composition meant to demonstrate that they've learned all their grammar and are ready to move onto the next level, Advanced Composition.

But they are not. Most of them are barely squeaking by. And I am ashamed.

Many of my colleagues in this situation would start by blaming the students as being pig-headed and lazy about thinking while they write. Others would remind me that they can't all be successes. After all, many of these people would never have been eligible for a university career in their home country, but ours is a community college with doors open to all.

But I don't buy it. I've always taken responsibility for my actions, and I feel these guys are failing because of me. If I vent about this to my colleagues (the ones whose opinions I respect and who I think are on my side), they'll surely act more as cheerleader than constructive critic. So what's a girl to do?

I know that quite a few of my followers out there are teachers. If any of you teach grammar and/or composition, I'd love to hear some of your teaching tips. I've been doing this since 1991 (a time before many of you could write your own decent paragraphs), yet I know I can still learn so much from others.

To my readers who are not teachers, you may still have good advice since most of you are writers. My eyes and ears are open to you all. And I thank you in advance. Mwah!