Best of Member Monday #1: A Little About Fall by Darbie Andrews

A Note from the Webmaster: It’s summertime, the glorious season of swimming, sunblock and sinking your teeth into a fat stack of books.  Alas, it’s also the sad season when Writers Forum goes dark for two months.  Never fear, dear reader, because for the next eight Mondays, Writers Forum will be featuring the Best of Member Monday.  The top eight Member Monday pieces were determined by the number of views each piece received on our website.  We’ll count them down beginning from #8 and ending with our #1 most viewed piece of the 2013-2014 Writers Forum year.  Congratulations to the top eight!  Capturing the #1 slot is a piece by…drumroll, please… Darbie Andrews!

A Little About Fall

by Darbie Andrews

Oh, the battle between Summer and Fall!
Lingering hot summer days fight Fall’s need to pounce away the heat.
Fall tries with occasional cool winds and puffy white clouds, but summer fights back.
The short cool moment stolen…a tease.
Shorts and sandals fill the streets again, but sweatshirts and socks are nearby.
It’s nature’s menopause, Fall versus Summer.
Hot, cold, hot cold.
It doesn’t end with a wallop.
It’s gradual and fun to watch.
Fall takes over every year and forces Summer to leave and cry for Spring.
We carve happy faces in pumpkins, celebrating freedom from the hot flashes!

Best of Member Monday #2: A Mile in Their Shoes by Alicia McCauley

A Note from the Webmaster: It’s summertime, the glorious season of swimming, sunblock and sinking your teeth into a fat stack of books.  Alas, it’s also the sad season when Writers Forum goes dark for two months.  Never fear, dear reader, because for the next eight Mondays, Writers Forum will be featuring the Best of Member Monday.  The top eight Member Monday pieces were determined by the number of views each piece received on our website.  We’ll count them down beginning from #8 and ending with our #1 most viewed piece of the 2013-2014 Writers Forum year.  Congratulations to the top eight!  Taking the #2 slot is a piece by Writers Forum member Alicia McCauley, who has just returned from another exciting summer of teaching writing and other adventures in Uganda.  You can read more about her most recent trip on Alicia’s blog.

A Mile in Their Shoes

by Alicia McCauley

After church on Sunday, I stayed at the school for the afternoon and hung out with the kids.  Sunday is their only full day off from school and it was great to spend a little time getting to know them.

These kids are so funny.  Laughter is like breathing here, bubbling out of the easy smiles of the students.  It’s the white noise of the campus.

It never ceases to amaze me what kids will share if you just spend time with them sans agenda.  After church I sat in the shade of one of the outdoor classrooms shooting the breeze with the kids, talking about things like rap music and soccer.

Then the conversation took a turn and the kids started talking about their experiences as night travelers during the terror-filled years when Kony rampaged through the north.

Each night they’d travel the dark road from their houses and huts and into Gulu.  You can’t imagine the pitch darkness of this road.  No glow of electricity.  No flashlights.  Only stars pin pricking the sky and the white face of the moon to watch over them.

The boys walked for miles with their cousins and siblings, an ant trail of children hurrying along the edges of the roads in search of shelter and the hope of safety in town.  One particular boy was ten years old at the time.

I think about my nieces and nephews who are around that age and I imagine them walking that dark road together and I use the corner of my skirt to wipe the agony from my eyes.

The boys talked about family members who were taken; uncles whisked away, fathers snatched out of the potato garden in the early morning hours.  They talked about family members who are still missing and about others who were mercifully released.

They also told stories of children forced into servitude for the LRA, walking for days with heavy loads balanced on their heads.  A single utterance hinting at hunger or fatigue meant a sure and swift death.

The boys told horrific stories that I can’t even bring myself to type because the malevolent inhumanity of it burns in my stomach and causes hot vomit to sizzle in my throat.

It’s fitting to me that the school is built in what was once one of the most violent and unstable areas in Northern Uganda.  The heart of the school is their dedication to love and justice and I can’t think of a more fitting place to make such a declaration.

On my way back to town that Sunday, I walked part of the road used by the night traveling children.  Two of the boys escorted me and I couldn’t help but sneak peeks at their faces, imagining younger versions of them making this walk in the dead of night.  We walked about a mile before flagging down bodas that took us the remaining miles back into Gulu.

Sunday night my heart was heavy, weighing me down in my sleep as the boys’ stories came to life in my nightmares.

Every good teacher learns from his or her students.  Here in Uganda, I’m eager to learn how these children walked the darkest road and arrived at this destination, to a time and place where laughing is like breathing, where love and justice prevail over land once red with the blood of their loved ones.

Best of Member Monday #3: Becoming A “Real” Boy by Terry O’Connell

A Note from the Webmaster: It’s summertime, the glorious season of swimming, sunblock and sinking your teeth into a fat stack of books.  Alas, it’s also the sad season when Writers Forum goes dark for two months.  Never fear, dear reader, because for the next eight Mondays, Writers Forum will be featuring the Best of Member Monday.  The top eight Member Monday pieces were determined by the number of views each piece received on our website.  We’ll count them down beginning from #8 and ending with our #1 most viewed piece of the 2013-2014 Writers Forum year.  Congratulations to the top eight!  Taking the #3 slot is a piece by Writers Forum member Terry O’Connell.

Becoming A “Real” Boy

by Terry O’ Connell

I grew up an only child, raised mostly by a single, working mom. I was a quiet, gentle boy who preferred to read and stay home rather than go out and play with other kids on the streets and in the playgrounds. I didn’t like sports, wasn’t very coordinated, and I’d much rather avoid a flying ball than try to catch one. I have horrible memories of musical chairs – the pushing, the aggression, chairs toppling, people falling down. I would usually just remain standing and be eliminated. I was not a “typical” boy, and I fell far short of the playground standards of my working-class neighborhood.

In my fourth grade year, there was a big contest at my school – with prizes! I don’t remember the details, but somehow I managed to win first place. As the grand winner, I could choose one of two prizes. One was a bright red Radio Flyer wagon, and the other was a well-made Raggedy Andy rag doll. The wagon was the clear choice, and I started to imagine having it at home to play with and haul my toys around. Then I looked at the doll and thought to myself, “Everyone wants the wagon. Nobody is going to choose the doll.” And I started to picture the doll being ignored and left behind, and something in me shifted.

When the time came for me to make my selection, I chose the doll.

For the rest of the day, the kids chided me mercilessly. They called me names. They made up little rhymes about me and my doll. Boys and girls, friends and strangers, it made no difference. I had crossed a line and they weren’t going to let it go.

Finally, school let out and I was able to go home and get away from the taunting and disapproval. On the walk home, I kept replaying the day’s events over and over again, trying to bring the whole thing into focus and make sense of how I felt and what had happened.

A block before I reached home, I threw the doll away.

Best of Member Monday #4: Mr. W. by Tim Hemeon

A Note from the Webmaster: It’s summertime, the glorious season of swimming, sunblock and sinking your teeth into a fat stack of books.  Alas, it’s also the sad season when Writers Forum goes dark for two months.  Never fear, dear reader, because for the next eight Mondays, Writers Forum will be featuring the Best of Member Monday.  The top eight Member Monday pieces were determined by the number of views each piece received on our website.  We’ll count them down beginning from #8 and ending with our #1 most viewed piece of the 2013-2014 Writers Forum year.  Congratulations to the top eight!  Taking the #4 slot is a piece by Writers Forum member Tim Hemeon.  Tim is a writer, musician and teacher.  His first novel, Soul Storm can be purchased online and at several local bookstores including All About Books.

Mr. W.

by Tim Hemeon

Here came the question.

“And who are you today?”  Such a strange question, really.  And one he used to ask innocently enough back when he’d been part of the regular staff at his school on the other side of the county.  Three and a half decades of those same words had crossed his own lips, so now he tried to be patient.  Tried.

“Blythe – I’m Mr. Blythe today.”  He stopped any other words from entering reality.  Had to work to stop them.  He had anecdotes and jokes, one-liners and rhyming songs.  Even odd trivia.  But secretaries hoard their time like Dwarves hoard jewels, and she would not take kindly to a non-staffer exceeding his social requirements.

“Let’s see.  Joseph Blythe.  9th grade science.  Room 227.  Adjacent to the library.  Do you need a map?”

Really, he thought.  A map?  He’d been subbing here on and off again for three years and she offered him a map as if it was his first time on campus.  Yes, you over efficient automaton, – give me a damn GPS why don’t you?  But no – that would not do.  Not at all.

“No thank-you.”  More smiles from him.  Academy Award stuff, really.  “I know my way around.”

“Fine, then.  Here’s your key.  Have a nice day.”  And like that she was back at her computer again, his response neither required nor desired.

He headed across the campus toward the 200 Building.  Glancing down, he examined his briefcase.  Old, cracked leather.  Functional.  Comfortable, but long out of style.  Ancient model – like him, he supposed.  Rita’d given it to him his first week of teaching, forty-five years ago.  A boy, really – in his mid-twenties – full of testosterone and pluck, possessing myriad dreams of changing the world.  And he supposed he had changed the world a bit.  One student at a time, inspiring and leading, parenting and correcting, but mostly, when it came down to it,   loving.  Sometimes when he’d almost forgotten all of it, he’d go through the old box once more.  Pictures and letter from students.  People he’d inspired to believe in themselves; who, with his mentorship, learned to unlock the wondrous beauty and talent they didn’t yet realize existed in their own hearts and minds.

Inside now, where today he would call them to muster and direct them to work.  Maybe even learn something.  That in spite of sarcasm, rolling eyes, and raging hormones set off by short skirts and blouses worn slut-style.

He read THE LESSON PLAN.  After giving it a quick once-over, he glanced up at the clock, greeted by a pair of malevolent, blinking red eyes, a colon separating digital hours from digital minutes.  The tempo was fixed and all he could think of was the rhythm of IT from Madeline de Ingle’s book, “A Wrinkle in Time.”

He missed a simpler time.  That of the sweep hand – which was also red – but moved gracefully around the clock face once per minute.  A time when he’d come home with chalk-stained fingers and more often or not one or two sticks of the stuff in his trousers pocket.

A video.  He had a masters in physics and he was getting paid $100 today to press a play button six times.  He looked up again at the evil, pulsating LED eyes.  Two minutes left.

Motion drew his gaze to the window in the exterior door.  He saw them and heard them simultaneously – delirious and ravenous adolescents.  Their chanting drifted through the metal door: “A sub!  We got a sub!  WE got a SUB!  WE GOT A SUB!!”  They were piranhas ready to devour a helpless cow that had entered their Amazonian ecosystem.

He unlocked the door and the freshmen sauntered in, taking their seats with giddy anticipation.  He nodded at them, knowing that he’d have a good fifteen minutes of class time left after the movie.  He’d use that small window of time to captivate and inspire them.  And perhaps they’d learn more in that short quarter hour than they would for the rest of their day.

As he took roll, one by one the students noticed the board.  In big letters, it said:

I AM NOT A SUB.

A SUB IS A NAVAL VESSEL.

I AM A TEACHER.

MY NAME IS MR. WOJCIECHOWSKI.

YOU MAY CALL ME “MR. W.”

 

Best of Member Monday #5: The Wonders of the Lost Coast by Jen Higley

A Note from the Webmaster: It’s summertime, the glorious season of swimming, sunblock and sinking your teeth into a fat stack of books.  Alas, it’s also the sad season when Writers Forum goes dark for two months.  Never fear, dear reader, because for the next eight Mondays, Writers Forum will be featuring the Best of Member Monday.  The top eight Member Monday pieces were determined by the number of views each piece received on our website.  We’ll count them down beginning from #8 and ending with our #1 most viewed piece of the 2013-2014 Writers Forum year.  Congratulations to the top eight!  Taking the #5 slot is a piece by Writers Forum Membership Director Jen Higley.

The Wonders of the Lost Coast

by Jen Higley

View from Kinsey Ridge TrailSummer in northern California marks the beginning of travel season for many, and few places are more refreshing than the coast.  Cool breezes, frequent moisture and lush green growth are just a few of the things that make the coast the opposite of the rest of California in summertime.  But for those craving adventure this summer, you needn’t look further than the Lost Coast in the King Range Wilderness.

The Lost Coast is a beach-loving camper’s paradise, with campsites for those in motor vehicles, on horse-back, or those adventure lovers who strap all their supplies on their backs and set out for those patches of coastline accessible only on foot.  Hike along the beach, watch seals play in the surf, set up your tent with a view of the ocean and listen to its tales all through the night.

Idyllic as it is, the importance of having a travel plan must not be understated.  There are a few things to keep in mind when on the trail to coastal camping bliss.

The Lost Coast Trail moves to and away from the beach at appropriate intervals, for the safety of hikers.  Enjoy the soothing sound of the powerful Pacific when hiking on the beach as you push through deep, silky soft sand with only everything you need to survive four days in the wilderness to weigh you down.  You’ll have plenty of time to absorb that marvelous maritime air when traversing miles of sand moving a foot and a half per step.  Plenty of time.

Moving inland, you get the beautiful ocean view from a shore bird’s perspective, as parts of the trail climb quite high with no obstacles such as railings, stout shrubs or anything else you could hold on to blocking your view.  And while you’re up there, with those magnificent shore breezes, take care to lean in to the hillside being traversed, as only the ocean and its accompanying sharp rocks and rip-tide would be there to stop a stumble.

There is no shortage of wildlife on the Lost Coast.  You will be living for a time in that mystical habitat where ocean life meets terrestrial, the sea lions and otters sharing the beach with bobcats, coyotes and bear alike.  While one must take care to watch out for potentially harmful wildlife when camping miles from the nearest town and well out of wireless range, most campers are spared unpleasant animal encounters by taking simple precautions, such as storing their food in bear-safe canisters and not stepping on the rattlesnakes.  The bother of insects is reduced by the exfoliating winds, but you’d be prudent to check your gear and body for ticks at the end of each day.  If you take along a faithful canine companion, check him also, as full-body fur can harbor a few dozen more ticks than you’d think.

Plant life along the Lost Coast is a sight to behold for botanists and common flora enthusiasts alike.  In early summer, you’ll pass wildflowers, century plants, and herbs such as mint, all equally obscured by the vast swatches of poison oak.  Trailhead signs encourage hikers to learn to recognize and avoid poison oak, but if you fail to dodge the fresh, oily growth that narrows the path to four inches wide in places, just rinse any exposed and most certainly contaminated skin at one of the many creeks and streams along the trail—and pray.

Weather on the Lost Coast can be breathtakingly perfect.  However, in a climate known to accumulate 200 or more inches of rain in a year, it is not uncommon for a hiker to experience some moisture.  Take care to pack your sleeping gear in water safe bags, as this will help you avoid a night of obligatory insomnia to stave off hypothermia.  Another reason to protect your gear from moisture is the grand ocean itself.  Some sections of this twenty-five mile trail are impassible at high tides, so one must carry a map and plan the day’s hiking accordingly.  At times, a hiker will neglect to consult a tide chart and be quite surprised when a pristine wave suddenly bashes her against the rocks, which is particularly distressing when there is no possible way to leave the beach for a mile or two in either direction.  Should you find yourself in such a predicament, you can hike to the safety of the nearest creek drainage, or perch on any high rocks in the area while waiting for the tide to recede, as it always does eventually.

As I’m sure I have conveyed, backpacking on the Lost Coast is a unique and amazing experience for the novice and seasoned backpacker alike, and can be enchanting fun for the whole family.  Knowing your route and packing conscientiously are the keys to a safe and grand adventure in this wilderness like no other.  On a personal note, I have never returned from the Lost Coast without longing to return.  It’s true.

Best of Member Monday #6: Babies in the Park by Maggi Milton

A Note from the Webmaster: It’s summertime, the glorious season of swimming, sunblock and sinking your teeth into a fat stack of books.  Alas, it’s also the sad season when Writers Forum goes dark for two months.  Never fear, dear reader, because for the next eight Mondays, Writers Forum will be featuring the Best of Member Monday.  The top eight Member Monday pieces were determined by the number of views each piece received on our website.  We’ll count them down beginning from #8 and ending with our #1 most viewed piece of the 2013-2014 Writers Forum year.  Congratulations to the top eight!  Taking the #6 slot is a piece by Writers Forum member Maggi Milton.

Babies in the Park

by Maggi Milton

That day I took my customary seat on the bench farthest from the fountain but still within the central square.  I don’t know how long I was engrossed in my crossword puzzle – 10, 20 minutes at least, the sandwich I brought from home long gone, the taste of honey mustard but a memory – when I realized I was hearing babies.  At first they just babbled back and forth. I tried to ignore the noise but you know how that goes. Once I noticed the sounds I was not able not to hear them.
Frustrated, I became more and more annoyed at the interruption of my quiet and solitude.  I began to pack up in disgust when I realized the babble was no longer babble but had somehow switched into English. I actually heard one of them say, “…wish she would stop jiggling my seat. It’s enough to make me scream but if I do scream, she gets all upset and picks me up and burps me. I mean, give me a break!  Burping is NOT a cure-all.  It’s okay after I drink a bottle and the milk just kinda sits there, you know what I mean?  A burp is always helpful to spit out the bubble and clear my throat. It’s very satisfying when I can aim beyond the nappy and hit her blouse. But what is it with this jiggling?”
I was incredulous. What I was hearing was unbelievable, and I looked to my left to find the source of this voice. Two prams sat side by side in front of two nannies who had their heads together, conversing in what sounded like Spanish. Inside each pram sat a baby dressed in pink, obviously both girls, both wide awake and looking towards each other. One had blond hair, the other brown. The nannies jiggled the prams with their foot while absorbed with their own exchange.
The brown headed said “I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes my head spins from all the motion. I’ve tried to shove her foot away, but my arms are too short to reach all the way. She just thinks I’ve lost my balance and am falling out of this contraption, so the jiggling only stops long enough for her to push me back upright.”
Blondie nodded knowingly. “What do you think of this idea?” She said. “The next time they put us on the ground we crawl over to the prams and set the brakes so all motion is stopped? Or, better yet, maybe we cou…  Whoa… There’s a woman over to the right eaves-dropping”
Two sets of eyes swiveled my way. I felt like the rabbit caught in the headlights; all I could do was gape at them. The two sets of eyes turned back towards each other. Two mouths opened wide and from them erupted high-pitched screams like I had never heard before.
The startled nannies vaulted from their seats, snatched the screeching babies from the prams, and clutched them to their shoulders.  With quick good-byes, they grabbed the handles of the prams and hustled down the path.
Quiet descended as the screaming stopped. Two sets of eyes gazed over the nannies’ shoulders; two babies’ faces smirked at me as they disappeared around the fountain.

 

Best of Member Monday #7: Cut the Cake by Deborah Gilson

A Note from the Webmaster: It’s summertime, the glorious season of swimming, sunblock and sinking your teeth into a fat stack of books.  Alas, it’s also the sad season when Writers Forum goes dark for two months.  Never fear, dear reader, because for the next eight Mondays, Writers Forum will be featuring the Best of Member Monday.  The top eight Member Monday pieces were determined by the number of views each piece received on our website.  We’ll count them down beginning from #8 and ending with our #1 most viewed piece of the 2013-2014 Writers Forum year.  Congratulations to the top eight!  Taking the #7 slot is a piece by Writers Forum member Deborah Gilson.

Cut the Cake

by Deborah Gilson

It was my fifth birthday. Mom headed to work in the city after dropping Ross, my four-year-old brother, and me off at nursery school. From the instant I awoke, I waited for the day to end. At nursery school I told Crystal, the most beautiful little girl ever, I had a cake coming that night after dinner.

The magic moment arrived for my mother to pick Ross and me up from nursery school. On the front passenger seat of our red Volvo station wagon, I saw my cake box. I asked Mom if she could drive home a little faster. Looking at me from her rear view mirror, she said she would try.

Ross pulled a funny trick on the way home and began making siren noises while we crouched on the floorboard of the back seat. Ross told her she was speeding and would probably get a ticket. Mom pulled the car over to the side of the road and waited. When no police car appeared, she heard our muffled giggles. Reaching her 12-foot-long arm into the back seat, Mom could not grab either of us. Exhausted from another day’s work as a single mother, she slowly put the pedal to the metal and continued the drive home.

Standing in our tiny kitchen, my mother asked me, the birthday girl, what I wanted for dinner. With tremendous excitement, I declared, “Dinner shot out of a cannon!” This meant breakfast-style food for dinner, the fastest meal in town.

After dinner, Ross and I cleared the dishes from the kitchen table; my grand event finally arrived. Out of the box came an elegant, small lemon cake with cream cheese frosting. The edges were lined in pink and yellow rosettes. My mother intentionally handed me a spatula, instead of a knife, and said I could cut the cake. My mother began washing the dishes; thankfully, her back was turned away from Ross and me.

With Ross standing as close as possible, I held up the spatula as a sword for his big blue eyes to see, translating my deafening non-verbal message, “Don’t you even think about coming near my cake!” Without saying a word, my mother sensed my selfish and greedy demeanor, so she interjected over her shoulder, “And Ross gets to choose the first piece.” With disbelief and even bigger blue eyes, I screamed, “WWWHHHAAATTT???!!!”

Grabbing my cake from the kitchen table, I gingerly placed it on the kitchen floor. So I would be eye-level with it, I laid down flat on the floor to get a bird’s eye view for the precise cut. Ross laid down next to me, resting his chin on his folded hands. I measured where to cut the cake into pieces so Ross would not have even one granule more. Finally, I felt secure knowing I cut the cake into equal portions. Using the spatula as a serving tool as well as a knife, I gently put a piece of cake onto my plate and walked to the kitchen table with my mouth watering. Again, my mother knew inappropriate behavior took place and told me to hand my piece of cake to Ross.  Tears began to well up by now; I was positive I would have no birthday cake.

Being me has never been easy, however, it is the memories of how I treated my younger brother while growing up, which are difficult to swallow. With Ross no longer living, I think about my birthday night and wish I had done things differently. I long to go back to the evening of April 2, 1965. If this were possible, I would hand the spatula to Ross and say, “It’s my birthday and I want you to cut the cake.”

Debbie & Ross, 1965 PDF Photo.pdf