The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: Honorable Mention

canstockphoto14284461An Honorable Mention goes to Bill over at pinklightsabre. His essay “The Expectations of Joy” reminds us to recognize joy in the moment it happens, because it can so often be fleeting.

He was sent a Green Study Coffee Mug, a goofy Minnesota postcard and I donated $25 to the American Red Cross on his behalf.

 The Expectations of Joy

By Bill at pinklightsabre

Joy is so rare and unexpected, on the opposite side of dread, which by definition seems to last longer. It’s why it’s so hard to find on Christmas morning or your wedding day because you expect it, but joy comes on its own terms. It’s like something you spot outside your window but by the time you go for your camera, it’s gone. And it doesn’t photograph well, you have to be there.

There was my uncle Frank who lived alone, never married, worked the post office, dressed in camo vests and khakis, bright orange hunter’s caps. I saw him maybe once a year growing up and the last time, a couple years ago when he was too old to drive, when Dawn and I had to give him a ride home, a good hour and a half through the folds of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, eastern Pennsylvania.

It was Eastertime and there was a lot of food and drinking, and we decided around 9 it was time to go. My dad and his brother warned me not to listen to Frank give advice about the route. The route was pretty clear, but Frank would try to tell us otherwise.

canstockphoto15356468We got in the car and put Frank in the back, who was maybe early 80s then. Dawn drove, and we started small talk with Frank. It was about the towns and roads and interstate, the past construction projects, what had changed. Frank started deviating from the route as expected, and I went to hush him, to tamp him down, but Dawn agreed to follow his direction. It occurred to us in the front seat that this was about all Frank had left, his memory of how to get home, and could we allow him some bit of control over that.

The family was worried about Frank but not in an actionable sense. They said his plumbing had gone out so he was using a coffee can to pee in and going to the grocery store to do the rest. There was a sinkhole in his front yard they had taped off (all the houses were built on or near mining excavations, it seemed).

When we neared his house it was pushing 10:30 but Frank offered we could stop for a pizza, he’d buy, they were open another half an hour still. But we’d eaten all day and really just wanted to get home, and declined. We waited for Frank to make his way into the house and turn on some lights and off we went back to the interstate, the way we intended to go, that saved us about 15 minutes.

It had gotten so that I saw Frank about once every five years now. He was the same, a bit knobby with big, marbly eyes and whiskers, balding, but a good smile, still the same. I remembered him as a kid around Christmas, he would show up with presents he’d wrapped himself, a lot of Scotch tape, and it seemed strange receiving gifts from him, we were so disjointed, we weren’t really close.

The gifts were always practical things he’d gotten at Sears or Penney’s (tube socks, underwear, sometimes a belt), and I’d catch Frank flushing up and looking away, smiling, when I opened them. I think it was a bit of joy he felt then, though small. I thought about it and wished we had stopped for pizza maybe, but joy is like that too, it can’t be manufactured or revised, it comes and goes.

canstockphoto6034965I was on the beach at the lake near our house with my dog throwing the ball, watching her waggle her tail, stretch, how the digits in her paws extend in the pebbles, how dogs seem to smile. There was the time when I was working my boss asked in a mid-year review what brought me joy in my job (it was a popular word at the time), and the silence became lifelike between us, I filled it with half-truths, and what followed felt like dread but it’s true, once you go down that far it’s like touching the bottom of a pool, and maybe then you can work your way up.

We were in a conference room no bigger than a telephone booth, with just a phone, a clock, a table and two chairs, and it had the feel of whatever vagueness or tension preceded us the meeting before. And we left our own for the next occupants.

My joy comes from writing, payback for all the wonder I see in the world, a way of honoring it. Like joy, it feels best when you expect less, to not put too much on it. And maybe that’s why it feels so good, once it’s revealed, joy turns its back to visit someone else.

Congratulations Bill!

Enjoy a little pinklightsabre sampler:

That Last Christmas in Cork

Closure, cynosure

How the Rock Bands Formed the Alps 


Filed under Contest, Uncategorized

Getting Lost on Purpose

Yesterday I got lost driving in St. Paul. My husband swears we should never cross the river that divides the Twin Cities. He’s gotten lost as well. Jesse Ventura, the former infamous governor of Minnesota, once insulted the city on national television by suggesting it was designed by Irish drunks (I imagine the Irish were insulted as well!).

canstockphoto9422901Getting lost has never caused me undue anxiety, especially since we bought a car with navigation – except it will fritz out at critical junctures in the journey. I have learned to just work on getting back to where I came from, doing u-turns in cul-de-sacs and slowing down to squint at street signs. It’s how I learn to find my way around.

When we traveled the west coast this year, I realized that having access to internet reviews, maps, pictures, and descriptions of every locale and hotel changed the nature of travel. I was rarely lost, surprised or delighted by the planned stops. I had to look for those moments.

In everyday life, the thrum-thrum of routine and picayune worries means that I have to look for those moments daily. Sometimes I think it will be this way until I’m found lifeless, slumped in my wheelchair at a nursing home. Sometimes I think any tragedy and ten years down the road, I’d be living a completely different life – that thinking awful thoughts will prick my appreciation for the sameness of this moment.

Moments are found in the knocking of a woodpecker, who is grocery shopping in the wood of our grayed deck railing. Or in an autumn memory flash of crunching through the leaves, while walking my chatty, happy 4-year-old to preschool years ago. Or hearing a piece of music that reminds me of new love and mix tapes.

canstockphoto4603487Sometimes though, we have to deliberately create those moments. We have to snatch up the defribrillator paddles and apply them in earnest. Wake up. Do something. Bring on the discomfort. I’ve done this over the years – trying improv comedy in my 30s, taking up martial arts in my 40s, public speaking, swimsuits and often saying no. I’ve been getting lost, been foolish, tried things not recommended at home, gone without a net, safety glasses, an umbrella or warm socks.

There is something I have not done. I have not dared to do anything beyond blogging with my writing.  I have a novel that I wrote the first draft of 4 years ago, that I’ve rewritten twice, renamed thrice and shredded in fits of pique. Then I decided to sign up canstockphoto14879538for a writers’ pitch conference taking place next spring. At this conference, I am supposed to pitch a polished novel manuscript to agents from three literary agencies.

Five months. I have five months to finish the cursed manuscript, fly it past beta-readers, get it to an editor and then hand over what remains to complete strangers. I want to throw up just a bit. But there it is – I’m awake and can no longer hit the snooze button.


It hung precariously to the tile. Only I didn’t see it until I was washing my hair. With no glasses on, it was something that didn’t match the pattern on the wall. And it moved. I shifted the shower head so I could stand facing the spider, further away. We eyed each other with dismay.

canstockphoto6967523There is always a moment, facing the creepy crawlies that invade our house, of decision. Their benign attempts to coexist are met with shrieks by the large, destructive predatory inhabitants. We are the elephants and they are the mice, and we shrink away.

I remembered many years ago, reading about Buddhist monks who tread paths carefully, lest they step on an ant. I began to walk more carefully.

When my daughter was younger, we’d pantomime saving the spider. We’d use an index card and a cup, removing the arachnid from its ancestral home, depositing it gently outside to roam free. The reality is that most house spiders die shortly after being deposited into the elements.

Then came the shrieking phase and all she wanted was the monster dead, which had always been my gut instinct anyway. It seemed more humane, casting a dark human shadow, a quick crushing end to its life. I am the monster.


I went to a poetry reading by Billy Collins a week ago and left feeling that I could write poetry. Until I tried to and was reminded that I was wrong. Over the years, I’ve read more poetry. I keep imagining that my ever-shrinking attention span would be a benefit, but it’s not. Poetry is an economy of language and done well, requires one’s full attention.

canstockphoto15817518Serving as US Poet Laureate for several years, Billy Collins writes what is often called “accessible poetry”. He describes it as unashamedly suburban, middle class,  and domestic. One of my fears is that I, and by extension my writing, am suburban, middle class and domestic. My childhood working class prejudices make me shrink from that description. Who we are now, though, informs our writing as much as who we were. It’s a good lesson to remember – creativity on a continuum.

One of the things I love most about living in a metropolitan area is the ability to attend a wide range of authors’ lectures. I enjoy hearing about their writing processes and experiences. Sometimes, though, they mostly let their work stand on its own. Mr. Collins read his poetry with only slight interjections in between each work. This seems novel in an age where self profession has become a genre all its own.


canstockphoto14284461Thank you to Kiri, Ross, and Cezanne for your winning entries in The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest. Nothing like some positive vibes to stave off this depressing political season! Stay tuned next week for the Honorable Mention entries from Catherine, Bill, and Alison.


Filed under Contest, Creativity, Personal

The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: 3rd Place

canstockphoto142844613rd Prize goes to Cezanne at Pugaddinilgab for “The Love of a Grandfather”. Her essay made me think about the nature of sacrifice and service on behalf of others. Who paved the road for us? And how will we pave the road for others?

She was sent one Green Study Coffee Mug and a scenic Minnesota postcard. I also made a $50 donation to the Philippine Red Cross.

The Love of a Grandfather

By Cezanne at Pugaddinilgab

My grandfather used to tease me of being called “pugad de nilgab” or a granddaughter pulled out from the ashes of burned pine tree. Among his granddaughters, I have the darkest complexion. Nevertheless, I am my grandfather’s favourite granddaughter, that is according to my cousins. I did not know, he never mentioned but I do remember that he always try his best to give my small request. During fiestas, my aunts and elder cousins beg me to ask money for cotton candy and I do not fail them.

canstockphoto35886275My grandfather is a strong man and loves his family. He always tells me the story of his experience as a soldier during the dark ages of the Second World War. I even memorized the marching songs they sung. I also memorized their love story with my grandmother which he always tells me before bedtime. Most of the time, I slept with them with grandma because I want more of his stories. He has 20 “carabaos”* and I was always with him in feeding them and looking when 1 or 2 are astray. When we go home from the mountain after feeding the carabaos, he would carry me on his shoulders. I did not have the best friends aside from my school friends, but I had my grandpa.

One time, he was trying to memorize the colours of the American Flag including the president and I sat beside him and help him memorize. I never knew that he would leave us to the US, having the privilege as a veteran. I cried when he went away. His parting words were as always, it’s for you and your cousins’ schooling.

I went to college and he goes home every other year, and I was happy, but never again did I ask for money. I hoped that he would just go home and he could stay with us and never again, to see my grandmother cry at night when I sleep with her because she is alone in their room. I graduated college and asked him to come home. He told me he has to stay so that he could support my dream of becoming a lawyer.

He always dreamed when we were walking on the mountains looking for carabaos that I would be a lawyer. But, I did continue because I love the degree I finished and wanted to have job and show him that I can support my siblings and cousins so that he could come home. I had my first job in 2006 as a Social Worker in a Temporary home for abused children, and was happy to tell him how I love my job and how his stories has inspired the children. I waited and he came home lifeless August of 2006. My cousins and I finished our studies a cousin is a practicing doctor in the US, the other is a psychologist at the same time a teacher while my others are nurses and pharmacist.

canstockphoto2692257My grandfather’s dream was for us to finish our education and according to him “I must do everything that my grandchildren will not taste the hardship that my children (our parents) has experience due to lack of education”. I cannot forget my grandfather because of his love and devotion. His love to support us was not ended with my cousins rebellion, not ended with my non continuing of becoming a lawyer but pressed on to support every grandchildren who has a dream and inspire those whom he think needs inspiration.

“Every minute is an opportunity for me to help my grandchildren to realize their dreams, if I have to plant trees and sell as many as I can, I will! If I have to dig and look for a pot of gold, I will! If I have to sell my carabao, I will! Lived away from them, I will! I never want them to taste the pain of being uneducated and to bear the scourging heat of the sun from dust to dawn working ground yet with no progress. I love them.”   Eusebio Banggalat

* Water Buffalo in the Philippines

Congratulations Cezanne!


Filed under Contest

The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: 2nd Place

canstockphoto142844612nd Prize goes to Ross at Drinking Tips for Teens for “The Secret Side-Effect of Kindness”. His essay is a gentle reminder of how we impact each other with even the simplest of acts.

He was sent one Green Study Coffee Mug and an extraneous Minnesota postcard. I also made a $75 donation to the Canadian Red Cross.

The Secret Side-Effect of Kindness

By Ross Murray at Drinking Tips for Teens

I’m a big believer in balance: work-life balance, balanced diet, balance beams. There’s no cause without effect and no effect without a cause.

Consequently, I don’t expect people to be especially kind to me, because I generally feel I’ve done little to deserve it.

It’s not that I’m so filled with self-loathing and covert kitten-kicking that I think I’m unworthy of basic human decency. It’s that most of the time I feel I haven’t done anything exceptional to warrant anything exceptional being done for me.

It’s about that balance, karma if you will. In the balance of my life, I shouldn’t expect kindness. I should expect impatient tolerance, exasperated benevolence, begrudging kindness at best.

I suspect a lot of (neurotic, insecure) people feel this way about themselves, this sort of reverse entitlement. One of my favourite literary characters is Frank Bascombe, who has grown middle-aged and old in four novels by Richard Ford. Frank is always questing, but I think his quest can be summed up like this: be a decent man and try not to be an asshole. There are worse quests. I’m a bit of a Frank.

Yet despite my inner asshole, people are kind to me, considerably kind, and it always takes me by surprise.

canstockphoto6410730Earlier this summer, I hired my neighbour Clint to replace some rotting wood on our front porch, a job that required the tools, know-how and patience for measuring that I lacked. Clint came over, dug out the rot, replaced it, smoothed the join, tacked on some molding, job well done. “How much?” I asked. He waved me off. Ten bucks for the wood and glad to help.

“No, really,” I said. “I asked you because I was going to pay you, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, so I paid him the $10, plus, at my wife’s suggestion, beer, because sometimes beer is even better than money.

There’s more. This summer, friends and strangers answered my Kickstarter appeal to finance the printing of yet another self-published book the world absolutely does not need. They did so without any evidence that I can write fiction, other than my word for it, which could have been a fiction in itself.

The publisher of the newspaper that runs my weekly column recently served as my unofficial agent in setting up two events for me, one a workshop for high school English students, the other a reading and fundraiser at a local library. The impetus for her involvement is a little convoluted, but ultimately she set these gigs up for me out of kindness. “We’re proud of you,” she wrote. Publisher pride is even better than Mom pride.

I could go on and on, the kindness that people have shown me over the last few months and years and life.

I’m taken aback by this kindness. What have I done to deserve it?

Must be something.

And that’s the secret side effect of kindness.

Everyone knows that being kind to others makes you feel good. A selfless act is never entirely selfless because you feel the warmth of connecting with a fellow human. Bringing joy into another person’s life is hugely satisfying.

But the secret side effect is that the recipient of the kindness feels worthy, feels decent, feels that their quest not to be an asshole is somehow succeeding, despite all the dark thoughts, misdeeds and deeds not done, all those sarcastic comments and passive-aggressive emails, not to mention the shameless self-promotion in the guise of a thoughtful blog post. If life is about balance, and I receive kindness, then I must deserve it.

To realize that you must have lived your life in such a way as to have earned kindness is gratifying and healthy. It turns out that how others see you can help you see yourself more generously.

canstockphoto15724173This past weekend, a neighbour down the street saw me up the ladder, painting, painting, always painting. She asked how tall the ladder was. I said I didn’t know. (I bet Clint would know.) She went on to tell me she was having trouble reaching a point over a stairway on the side of her own house, which she too was in the process of painting.

I don’t know this neighbour well, don’t even know her name, honestly, but I carried my ladder down the street, maneuvered it against her house and then offered to paint the patch for her. I thought of all those people who’d been kind to me, and I offered this small kindness.

I felt good about it. I bet she did too.

Congratulations Ross!

Rrossmurrayaholeinthegroundoss Murray is the author of two books: You’re Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, a collection of his news columns over the years and just recently published A Hole in the Ground, a work of fiction, which is available for purchase right at this very moment. I was one of the proud sponsors during his Kickstarter campaign and I’m in the middle of reading it – worth every penny.

Here’s a Drinking Tips for Teens sampler:

Beach Poets Society

How to talk to humans

My bookstore fantasy


Filed under Contest

The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: 1st Place

canstockphoto142844611st Place goes to Kiri at The Dust Season for the “A Happily-Ever-After Story Involving Break-Ins and Police Action”. It takes a village to raise a child, but those villages often wait to show themselves. At just the right moment…

She was sent one Green Study Coffee Mug, a postcard from Minneapolis and $100 donation was made to the American Red Cross on her behalf.

“A Happily-Ever-After Story Involving Break-Ins and Police Action”

By Kiri at The Dust Season

My son is an escape artist. He revels in finding ways around the protective prison cocoon of his home life. This would be fine, if my son were normal. But he isn’t and this story isn’t. So, before everyone gets up in arms about my use of the word ‘normal’ in relation to my son, let me get one thing straight: something beyond ordinary happened—and that’s okay.

I am coming to terms with the fact my autistic son is getting older, bigger, faster—and let’s be honest—smarter than I am. He recognizes that, by the end of the week, mommy is flat out exhausted and lacking in due diligence. This has led to several problematic incidents involving the police.

Before my mother-in-law left to go back to sunny (drought ridden) California, we were enjoying a last Masterpiece Theater. We were snuggled on the couch waiting for Inspector Lewis to figure out who dunnit when there was a knock at the door.
Argh, fifteen minutes to the end….

canstockphoto17258172As I approach the door, I spy the red and blue lights flashing against the windows. This does not clue me in. I open the door to find an officer standing there.

“Ma’am, don’t you answer your phone?” The officer says.

“Uh, we don’t have a home phone, just a cell phone.” I say, nonplused.
(Note: No alarm bells are ringing yet. I haven’t had this pleasure before.)

His next question sets off alarm bells aplenty.
“Do you have a son?”


I scream my son’s name, whip around to go search the house despite the quite apparent evidence he—like Elvis—has left the building.

“Ma’am. Ma’am. I need you to calm down.”

I’m frantically grabbing shoes, my purse, my phone which has been in my bedroom recharging, but the officer won’t let me leave until I am no longer hyperventilating.

“Your son is fine. A neighbor called it in.”

Turns out my son was visiting a cul-de-sac two blocks east and north of our home. It’s a favorite route of his when we take walks. Someone at that address saw my son and realized how odd it was to see a boy scribbling on paper squatting in someone’s driveway at 10:30 p.m.

I follow the officer in my car, we get to the location where another officer is waiting with my son. He didn’t restrain him, just walked with the boy until mom arrived.

A conversation ensues in which I learn they figured out who my non-verbal child was because of a piece of paper he had in his hand which had his name scrawled on it. They called the local principal who helped to identify my son through process of elimination.

canstockphoto8143483This would be a feel good story, if it ended here. This alone, this interaction in which nothing bad happened despite the unlimited opportunity would be enough. But no, my son discovered his super power and he is now making the most of it.

Two more times, since this one, my son has escaped my hawk-like surveillance.* All of these times coincide with Sundays when I am tired, distracted, and just a little too grateful that he is being ‘quiet’ and ‘good’ when actually he is breaking into the local church and, then, two weeks ago, a neighbor’s home—a neighbor we don’t know.

This is where true serendipity comes in.

My twelve-year-old, who is big enough to no longer have the automatic cute appeal of a child, entered a stranger’s home. The stranger was alone at home with her small child and a dog.

I promise you, I have spent many nerve wracked hours imagining what could have happened. What might have happened. What didn’t happen.

Instead, the woman contacted the police. The police contacted me because they have my son’s information on file and now are getting to know him. The woman even took her dog outside because my son seemed upset. The woman was not mad, did not blame me and even tried to console me. I was never made to feel like I was a bad parent because I couldn’t keep track of my child.

In a world that is so very eager to tell you the worst case scenario, where autistic children die from wandering, where the police react before recognizing a special needs situation, it felt important to share that sometimes things turn out okay. And that’s simply extraordinary.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*If by hawk-like surveillance you mean geriatric, near-sighted-buzzard-distracted-by-carrion awareness.

canstockphoto34208068The author has now installed a door alarm which shrieks like a demented banshee whenever the rear door is opened so much as a sliver. It is the most beautiful, heart-attack-inducing sound you will ever hear.

Congratulations Kiri (for winning and for your new door alarms)!

Here’s The Dust Season Sampler:

An Unnatural Brunette Gets Political

A Creep in the Nighttime

A Villain After My Own Heart…


Filed under Contest

Dear Trump Apologists: No Apology Required

canstockphoto10369721Dear Trump Apologists,

In the wave of unrelenting Trump antics, you are leaping in chivalrous desperation, demanding apologies for the wives and daughters of the nation. Sit down and shut up.

Please do not do anything on my behalf. Do not feign horror at transgendered people in my bathroom (where they’ve been for years). Do not explain my biology to me. Do not offer transvaginal probes to save my fetal cells. Do not shriek think of the mothers, daughters, sisters when trying to convince rapists not to rape. Do not act dismayed when the vulgarian you nominated continues to be vulgar. Save your indignation.

Here’s the secret about marginalized people – they only get stronger with insult. They organize better, they learn how to have dialogue, and they listen. They understand that progress waits for no one to catch up. They build their own support systems. They take self-defense courses. They teach their sons and daughters well. They learn not to wait to be saved, rescued, protected, apologized to, or even treated with basic human dignity. Best of all, they vote.

If I want an apology, protection or health services from you, I’ll ask for them. Until then, there will be no fainting or lace hanky waving on my behalf. Reorient yourselves and continue your mission – there will be so many other things to apologize for by the time this election is over.


A woman human

Note: I do try to avoid these overdone topics, but I get fed up with the mock outrage and meaningless “defense of women” – it’s hypocrisy and cynicism at its worst. Most women I know can kick ass when needed. So many asses, so little time…


Filed under Humor, In the News, Personal

Winners of The Green Study’s “Positive Happy Nice Story” Contest

canstockphoto14284461Thank you to everyone who submitted entries to The Green Study’s “Positive Happy Nice Story” Contest. What I enjoyed most about reading the entries were the diverse perspectives in what brings joy, not just in the experiencing of something, but in the retelling as well.

In addition to the top three winners, I’ve added 3 honorable mentions and thrown in some prizes for fun. The six essays selected will be published on this blog over the next few weeks.

1st Prize goes to Kiri at The Dust Season for “A Happily-Ever-After Story Involving Break-ins and Police Action”. She will be sent one Green Study Coffee Mug and a cheesy Minnesota postcard. I will also make a $100 donation to her local American Red Cross Chapter.

2nd Prize goes to Ross at Drinking Tips for Teens for “The Secret Side-Effect of Kindness”. He will be sent one Green Study Coffee Mug and an extraneous Minnesota postcard. I will also make a $75 donation to the Canadian Red Cross.

3rd Prize goes to Cezanne at Pugaddinilgab for “The Love of a Grandfather”. She will be sent one Green Study Coffee Mug and a silly Minnesota postcard. I will also make a $50 donation to the Red Cross International Disaster Response fund.

Honorable Mentions: These three entries, listed in no particular order, included a philosophical storyteller, a doctor who cares, and a paean to love. Diverse and expressive, I couldn’t leave them out. I will publish each of these as guest posts to my blog, send them a Green Study Coffee Mug, goofy Minnesota postcard and donate $25 each to the American Red Cross on their behalf of their local Red Cross Chapter or their International Disaster Response fund.

Bill at pinklightsabre with “The Expectations of Joy”.

Catherine at Healing Through Connections with “Don’t Give Up!”.

Alison at Adventures in Wonderland with “Sometimes We Take for Granted Those Who are Most Important to Us”.

Thank you to everyone who participated in my search for a little sunshine during this gloomy political season – enjoy the upcoming posts over the next few weeks!


Filed under Blogging, Contest, Uncategorized