To all my friends . . .

Dear Readers,

This will be my last blog post for a while.  The complications of everyday life make blogging at this time more of a burden than the pleasant process it ought to be.  I hope you have enjoyed my occasional musings and will “stay tuned” for that time when I decide to resume my blog. Thank you for following me and I hope to see you in the not too distant future.

All the best,


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Mud Pie Therapy

“This is too much,” I moaned, upon checking my inbox.  Six rejections in five days.  All those thanks-but-no-thanks responses were enough to make me wish I’d taken up zoology instead of creative writing.

Years ago, before I started writing books, my humor writing sales weren’t exactly topping the charts.  I wanted to hang a sign around my neck that read, “Will Walk Your Dog for Laughs.”  And it wasn’t as if I didn’t try.  At one point, I had as many as thirty humor items circling various editors’ campfires.  I mean, couldn’t they see the value of my hilarious, laugh-a-minute creations?

I talked it over with my pal, Fran.  Her reaction?  “Come with me to a pottery class.”  She headed up a small group of amateur potters.  “Slap some mud around.  Make some mud pies.”  She eyed me with suspicion.  “Get rid of all that hostility.”

“Frustration,” I corrected her.  “And I’ll bet you’ve never received rejection notices.”

“No, but I have had two men walk out on me.”  Hmm, she had a point.

So, being the curious person I was, I agreed to attend her next pottery class and see what this medium called clay was all about.

Made by Samsung DVCOnce inside the pottery studio, I became immersed in the muddy stuff.  While kneading a slippery, slimy ball of clay, my thoughts wandered to a comedy piece I’d been working on.  The article had stalled out due to a so-called writer’s block the size of Detroit.  But then, a strange thing began to happen.  The act of working with the clay—smoothing it, coaxing it, squishing it through my fingers—somehow helped revitalize my brain waves.  The simple act of holding and stroking the moist ball of clay somehow got those creative juices flowing.  It was as if losing myself in the clay actually helped me tap into my inner resources.

As my humble little mound of clay began taking shape, so did my article.  I felt as if I’d turned a corner.

“Your clay is great therapy,” I chirped later, while out on a power walk with Fran.

“Told you so,” she said, looking smug.

I went home, polished off that article, and sent it out.   From then on, I promised myself I would keep a supply of clay on hand . . . just in case.  As a bonus, I’ve even created a few “masterpieces” of my own.  For example, I once made a vase that someone actually recognized as a vase.  Everything aside, I am pleased to report that an online publication later bought my article.  Yahoo! (And complimentary wine samples all ’round.)

Thinking back, I was happy I took my friend’s advice.  So now, when writing efforts prove defeating, I walk away from my computer and get “muddied up” with my little supply of clay.  And because this bit of therapy helps, I’d say making mud pies isn’t just for kids any more.

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The Super Market That Cares

Recently, when a new supermarket opened right around the corner, I was thrilled. Opening Day, with all its bells and whistles, held the promise of the store being my new favorite. The parking lot has been packed every day, and everyone I’ve talked to feels positive.

The Grand Opening stirred memories of another new supermarket opening, years ago. Back in Detroit, when my old grocery store began feeling and looking like the 1800s, I thought it was time to try a more modern, updated super market that had recently opened. You know the kind—bright lights, automatic veggie sprayers, wide aisles, an upscale café.

Not one to miss out on freebies or great deals, I trotted right over. The ads sounded so appealing, with promises of locally grown produce, organic meats, a “green” environment and, best of all, “clerks who care.” I wasn’t sure about that last part, but I would soon find out.

Pulling into the huge parking lot, I had to fight with another shopper for a parking spot. She drove an SUV, so she won. At that moment, a valet appeared and offered to park my little clunker for me.

Wow, this is awesome! I thought, handing him the car keys.

I waited at the entrance and when the valet returned, he gave me my keys along with a number tag. “That’s for pick-up,” he chirped, “so the baggers will know which car is yours. It’s the way modern stores operate.”

supermarket clerkBeaming, I strolled inside and entered the produce section. From behind the tomato stand, a woman’s voice greeted me. “Nice to have you with us!” she exclaimed, blowing me a kiss.

I didn’t see that coming. Regardless, I smiled and shrugged and wandered over into canned goods.

“Good morning!” another voice called out, as a clerk popped up next to the peas. She took me by surprise when she reached out and wrapped her arms around me. I felt as if I’d just met up with a long-lost cousin at a family reunion.

I couldn’t help noticing how very friendly the clerks were—almost too friendly.

It was getting more difficult to return their smiles, since I was busy comparing their prices against prices at my old-timey store. I began having second thoughts about that “caring staff” thing.

As I turned at the next aisle, another perky clerk headed my way. “How ARE you?” she gushed, arms outstretched.

Thinking fast, I made a sharp left and ducked behind a donut display, losing the clerk in the process. “That was close,” I muttered. But when I stepped back into the main aisle, yet another clerk had already cornered me.

“So nice to have you with us!” the young man sang out before wrapping his arms around me and giving me a big hug. Then he squealed, “I love you!”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, waving him off. I was afraid if I hung around, he might even ask me to marry him. So I got out of his way fast.

Now there’s something to be said for modern super markets and their state-of-the-art conveniences. But I had begun to feel that my old-fashioned, 1800s grocery store wasn’t so bad after all. Harry, the cranky old manager there, sometimes gripes when his customers help themselves to too many peanuts or grapes. But Harry is a fixture in the community and a hard worker.

Besides, he’d never gush over his customers. Or get in their way. Or tell them how wonderful they are.

And Harry wouldn’t think of hugging me, or asking me to marry him.

In no way does my new, favorite supermarket just around the corner compare to that sappy, clerks-who-care, place. My clerks are pleasant but they leave you alone—unless, of course, you need help.

And yet, come to think of it . . . on my last visit, I did notice one clerk who seemed a bit too giddy. I shied away, just as a precaution.

Oh, wait. It’s okay. He was pouring wine samples.    

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Flatlanders on the Loose

With the spring planting season fast approaching, the mild weather takes me back to our earlier days, some thirty years ago, when my husband and I first relocated to this mountainous area of western North Carolina.weeds

We were prepared for the usual yard work that goes with having a new home built. What really threw us, however, was the overgrown bank at the edge of our front yard that dropped off to the street below. That weed-infested cliff stood out like a gardener’s nightmare.

     “Look at the weeds,” I moaned to my other half.

     “At least they’re green,” he deadpanned.

Nutrients on the wild, rocky slope were nonexistent.  But that didn’t stop the weeds; they were thriving as though someone were sneaking them energy drinks on the side.

In the days ahead, I studied our wall of weeds.  As northern “flatlanders” we weren’t used to dealing with hills and cliffs, not to mention landscaping them.  But flatlanders are thinkers; we knew we needed professional help. We consulted Lester, a local landscaper.                                                                                                      

     “It’ll cost you,” Lester said in a straight-from-the-shoulder response, when he saw the mess.


     dollars“Lots.  But it’ll be worth it.”  Then Lester scrawled a few figures on a notepad and shoved it under our noses. We gasped in unison.

     “I don’t think so,” I said, shaking the dollar signs from my brain.  “We’ll tackle this job on our own.”

Lester shrugged.  “You got a heap o’ weeds, folks.”  He had us there.  “Reckon it could take months, maybe years, to bring this cliff into shape.”  Shaking his head, he jumped into his pickup.  I thought I heard a roar of laughter as he drove off.

     “If only we could get some plants established,” I told my husband later, “they’d gradually overtake this whole bank.”  His smirk told me he wasn’t convinced.

For the next few days, I pored over landscaping books until at last we were ready to get to work.  Carving out an area at the base of the cliff, we planted everything from vincas and violets to phlox and ferns, taking care to water and fertilize faithfully.  Nothing helped.  Each of our little plantings succumbed to that greenhouse in the sky.                                                          

liriopeThen one day a friend brought over several liriope slips taken from plants in her yard.  “These things,” she assured me, “will grow in concrete.”         

So the three of us gathered trowels and began tucking the “miracle” plants into the cliff—wherever we could dig out an opening in the shale, that is.  I thought carving into granite might’ve been easier.   

Although the rocky terrain held us back, several slips made it into the ground. Surrounded by weeds, the little plants seemed lost.  But we carried on for there were still more than fifty cuttings yet to be planted.          

Soon the cliff grew steeper and truly challenged us. But flatlanders always find a way.

     “I’ll get a ladder,” my other half announced, an index finger poked in the air as he headed for the garage.  “We’ll prop the ladder against the cliff, and we can climb up and lean into it, dig a couple of holes and pop in the plants.”  He had a good plan. And it worked. For a while. Until it didn’t.

The cliff was testing us, I was certain.        

Finally, my friend came up with a good solution:  Tackle the cliff from above.  So we hiked up into the yard and sprawled on the ground at the top, where we could stretch out over the edge of the cliff and work from that angle, sort of upside-down.

dandelionsThings went pretty well, until I reached out a little too far.  My body weight suddenly gave way and I somersaulted downhill and landed in a big pile of weeds and brush.  I swatted dandelion fuzzies from my hair, which by then probably looked like Donald Trump’s hair on a bad day.

     “Let’s let this cliff grow wild,” I said. “Au naturel,”                     

Cheers went up. 

We planted the rest of the cuttings up near the house—on level land.  

As I mentioned earlier, flatlanders are thinkers.


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For Better or for Worse

You’ve probably all heard the common complaint: “All I did was reach into a bathroom cabinet when I felt a sudden pain slash through my back.”  Or, “I was just getting up out of my chair when a jolt of pain hit me.”

In my husband’s case, it was a hard sneeze that brought on the surge of pain in his lower back.  He went through numerous drug trials to no avail; the pain only worsened.  Before long we had to contact 911 and have him admitted to the hospital.

In case you’re wondering why I’ve been absent from this blog for the past couple months, it seemed only right to touch base with you, my faithful readers, and explain. The hospital trip referred to above was only the beginning of a multi-month-long ordeal. During that time, my spouse was kept flat on his back and allowed only a couple of short strolls accompanied by a new friend—a walker.  It was all he could do to stand at a sink and wash his hands or find a comfy spot in the hospital bed.  As a result, that meant a long visit to one of our local therapy “resorts” for assistance.

That also meant more running for yours truly.  I’m one of those people who must be there.  (I think it was implied in the “for better or for worse” portion of our nearly 60-year-old marriage contract.)  But being Johnny—or Mary—on The Spot paid off.  It actually allowed me to see for myself the types of therapy my spouse was receiving and the progress he was making.  In addition, I could stay on top of his medications, as he also has a heart condition and a pacemaker.

By the end of his “tour of duty,” he had gained a hard-shell back brace constructed of rigid plastic to help keep his backbone compressed.  As cumbersome as the brace was, it did ringshelp him walk better.  But then we learned that patients with pacemakers were not to wear such devices, so we switched to another type of brace that’s been more helpful.

Now that my spouse is back home and making a little progress, I can breathe a sigh of relief.  It’s been a long haul, but that’s what we do for someone we care about.  For better or for worse . . .

If you enjoyed this blog post, please feel free to share it or reblog it on your own website. If you’d like to follow my blog, just click on the “follow” button at the lower righthand corner of the page. You’ll be asked to enter your email address, and you’ll receive a confirmation email in return. And remember, I never share email addresses.
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The Trouble with Mattie by Mary A.Berger

Dear Readers,

I just wanted to share this awesome review of The Trouble with Mattie. Please feel free to share it, reblog it, or comment on it.



Val Penny's Book Reviews

the-trouble-with-mattieI first read a novel by Mary A. Berger, The Message, last year and reviewed it here . When the most recent edition of her first novel came out, I was pleased to receive a copy. I enjoy Mary’s style of writing.

The Trouble with Mattie is actually the first book in her series, although each of the novels stands alone perfectly well. Set in the hills of western North Carolina, The Trouble with Mattie is the story of the youthful, dynamic, comical, and recently widowed Mattalie Morgan In this adventure, Mattie finds herself removed into roomimg house, Autumn Leaves, after a spell in hospital. Mattie has already suffered the death of her husband, so it is her step-daughter, Eva, who arranged this move with no concern for Mattie’s happiness.

Mattie has doubts about Autumn Leaves which she finds are shared by another resident, Clare. So Mattie decides to…

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I’m Hot—He’s Cold!

Ever notice how even the smallest irritation can make you crazy?  I’m talking about the differences we share with our significant other.  Often these quirks are minor and barely worth your time . . . except when they rob you of your sleep and make you feel like screaming.  Here’s where I’m going with this:
thermostatIt was the middle of the night, in the midst of an Arctic blast, but I awoke wringing wet. After rolling out of bed, I plodded down the hall to check the thermostat.  Eighty degrees!
“What kind of greenhouse is he turning this place into?” I muttered, referring to my other half’s chilly-itis condition.  Without a second thought, I turned the temperature down to a normal setting of fifty-five, and even considered turning on the air.  Lately, our internal thermostats had grown as far apart as the North Pole and the desert.  I even wondered if one of those NASA space suits would help.  One evening, I was feeling all warm and cozy, curled up with a new book.  Glancing at my other half, I noticed he was sitting wrapped in his winter coat.  I asked a dumb question. “Are you cold?”
“Vrrrrrr,” was his teeth-chattering reply.
“I’ll get the thermostat,” I said.  After jacking it up one degree, I figured that would do it.
Again, I heard another, “Vrrrrr,” from my spouse.
“I’ll turn it up higher,” said I, on my way back to the thermostat.
“Lots higher,” he called after me.
“Does he want me to melt?” I groused, making a detour at our closet and slipping into a tank top and Bermuda shorts.

I’ve even toyed with the idea of running around the house like Lady Godiva.  That would work, until someone unexpectedly dropped by.  Like our pastor. Or my in-laws.  I can see it now: “What’s going on here!” says mother-in-law, properly mortified. “Come along, Gordon, we’re leaving!”
“Not so fast, Helen.  I’m kinda’ liking it here,” says Gordy with a tricky smile directed at yours truly, who has grabbed sofa cushions to cover all the right spots before fleeing from the room.  Well, you get the picture.

A woman I once knew worked all day and hired Hilda, a housekeeper, tpenguino come in now and then. Over the summer, my friend noticed her electric bills had taken an odd surge.  When she came home early one day, she realized the cause: Hilda was ironing a batch of shirts—while standing in front of the refrigerator with the door wide open. My kind of woman.
Do they make a little portable air conditioner, one you could sling over your shoulder like a tote bag?  They should.  When you felt all hot and bothered, you’d push a button and bam—you’re as cool as a wrap-around ice pack. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to adjust.

Do you suppose NASA rents out those space suits?

If you enjoyed this blog post, please feel free to share it or reblog it on your own website.  If you’d like to follow my blog, just click on the “follow” button at the lower righthand corner of the page.  You’ll be asked to enter your email address, and you’ll receive a confirmation email in return. And remember, I never share email addresses.
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