Saturday, December 26, 2015


This really should not be too difficult, but it is.

I once applied for a job, talked on the phone to the department head, whose first name was Ira and who had a deep masculine sounding voice. I thought I was talking to a man. When I went to meet Ira the first time, I met a secretary in the elevator. I said I was looking for Ira ————’s office. “Do you know where his office is?”
 The secretary corrected me. “I’ll show you where Her office is.” I did get the job, but I was embarrassed when I talked to that secretary. If I had written Ira a letter or sent an email and used the wrong pronoun, I would have been even more embarrassed.

Those situations are hard to completely avoid.

Pronouns are tricky little things. We used to always use the masculine pronoun “he" for a singular generic, unidentified judge, doctor, factory worker or teenager. That was simple. Then along came the women’s libbers who said that is sexist. A judge, doctor, factory worker or teenager could be a she.

I always found the “he or she” construction awkward, though many textbooks suggest using it. Some people started using “they,” which is incorrect because it is plural. A singular judge, doctor, factory worker or teenager is one person and not a “they.” But this is a common mistake.

A good rule is to use ‘he” sometimes, and to use “she” other times. Switch back and forth. Be consistent, but fair. If I am writing a paragraph or an essay about how a judge might rule on cases, and I have not identified a specific judge, I might use “she.” I will use this pronoun exclusively for that one unidentified judge throughout the essay.

Tomorrow I will be writing about a doctor, and use “he.”

So long as the pronoun “she” is used as often or almost as often as “he,” no one will complain.

You can make it even easier, by making the nouns plural, judges, doctors, factory workers and teenagers. Then you can use “they.” It is also easy to be talking about one specific person: Judge Mary Jones or Dr.Sandra Smith.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


How do I write a topic sentence?

Think of a main idea as an umbrella. It’s usually one sentence long. It covers everything else in your essay. The main idea itself should be a statement that has to be proved and it is also called a thesis statement. It should invite examples, definitions, and comparisons. Some ideas are broader than others; some are narrower than others.

Decide: How long does you essay have to be? Make sure your main idea is broad enough to fill out X number of words or pages in the assigned essay?

Example: All of our U.S. presidents, with a few exemptions, have had wonderful people skills. That is a main point, but it would take at least a very thick book to cover all our presidents and their people skills or lack there of.

Example: John F. Kennedy possessed a wonderful sense of humor. Better. But if my essay has to be ten pages long, I had better make sure, I have enough examples to fill that many pages.

Beware of main points that degenerate into lists:

Example: Several of our early presidents were deists.You may have to define deists, but after that a list will be all you need. Instead craft a topic sentence that explains why these presidents were deists and how it affected their decisions.

Several high school and college texts have lists of topic sentences. Some are there to provide essay ideas. Some English books have lists of sentences that are really topic sentence tests. Which of these possible topic sentences is indeed a usable topic sentence? Then you have to read the sentences and do as I did above. You have to determine why they would make poor topic sentences. I suggest you look for some of these lists, to help you identify good topic sentences and how to write them when you have an essay assignment.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Here is a letter I wrote to “Psychology Today”magazine yesterday.

In the May/June issue, Kaja Perina writes on page 46, “Even community service, for some the standard metric of character development in the form of ‘giving back’, has been reconfigured as a resume enhancing path to achievement.”

How many community service jobs are resume builders? Can the author or the editors name any? I am a retired college English instructor. I volunteer two days a week at an animal rescue group. I clean litter pans and cat cages. Imagine that on a resume.

When I was in college, I was asked to dress up as a gingerbread cookie for Special Olympics. The girl who recruited me said it would look good on my resume. I started giggling. Did she think I would be applying for any jobs as a gingerbread cookie?

Most of us who clean the litter pans or dress up as cookies, do it to help the community. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had, but this is not giving back or resume building. You oversimplified a complex topic.

And you insulted people who give of their time for unselfish reasons.

David Brooks and Kaja Perina could learn something about character building by talking to people who volunteer to clean litter pans. I am often up at 5:30 a.m. and I stumble through snowbanks in Michigan winters to get to the animals I volunteer to help.

Excuse me. I have to add “Gingerbread Cookie” to my resume.

Excuse me. I have to add “Gingerbread Cookie” to my resume.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Thousands of writers need your help.

These are first time authors who have crafted new novels. These authors need readers. First time book authors face a difficult time getting attention. They are ignored by the publishing industry that is itself flooded with new novels and nonfiction books. I have been told that some agents get a new email from an author looking for representation on average every ten minutes. That is a lot of book proposals to read and evaluate. Even with an army of interns to read some of the manuscripts, most new manuscripts are not read. They are lost in the shuffle.

As an author who just spent over two years on a novel that is finally ready for readers, I understand not wanting this precious baby of mine to get lost in the slush piles.

Reading new (as yet) unsold novels will cost you nothing but time. They are free; imagine the joy if a novel you read, reviewed and championed early in the process becomes a best seller, a classic or both some day.

Here are several ways you can help. Create an online book club. Join with two or three other readers to read and critique one novel a month.

Get school classes to select three new books every semester to read and review. Or you can just start reading. Where do you find these new authors and their novels?

These sites are free to join. While they were set up for new writers to post their work and share, readers are always welcome. Let’s support new authors in our community be they online or sitting across from us at the local coffee shop. Start reading today. Discover some exciting new talent.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Did you write every day in your freshman English journal? I did. I hadn’t kept a journal before, but I leaped into the assignment. The instructor said to buy a ruled notebook, and we would start our journals in class.

I didn’t wait. I had a few extra notebooks at home, and I started writing that very day. All these years later, I am still writing in my journal everyday.

I became a freshman English teacher and assigned journals. I know many students did not take to them as enthusiastically as I did. I would collect journals at the end of the semester and some students had just one of two pages. Few students took a liking to journals as quickly as I did. But there were a few who enjoyed the experience promised to keep writing journals.

Some had kept journals before the class started. One student told me she would keep a separate journal for the class because her personal journal was too private.

A few students made their own journals. One student was a kindergarten teacher’s helper and she used construction paper for covers and she added drawings. While I preferred students keep a cheap notebook, I did enjoy the special efforts. Those students who created their own notebooks seemed to have more fun.

The question I was asked most often was: What do I write in my journal?

I would ask them what made them angry. If you are mad about something, then you have lots to say about it.

Oprah Winfrey tells her audiences to keep gratitude lists. That’s a much better idea, but for many people finding the joy in life is harder than finding the faults. We often concentrate more on things we don’t like that on the blessings life is giving us. I gave the students writing prompts from various books and websites. I suggested unsent letters, altered points of view and descriptions.

One of my favorite assignments from my own freshman English class was to go someplace on campus and make a list of 126 sense sensations. We had to list things we tasted, smelled, felt or heard.

The assignment didn’t work very well when I assigned it. It became a journal suggestion instead.

Now that I am retired I still keep a journal. I consider it practice writing. Sometimes I experiment with chapters and scenes for one of my own writings. Sometimes I write about my pets; sometimes; I just write down memories. There always seems to be something to write about.

If I have a day when few words are coming, I start a silly story. After a few nonsense words, I find the words I was meant to share for the day.

What are your experiences in keeping journals?

Sunday, November 8, 2015


November is Adopt A Senior Pet Month.

I have always had senior pets.

When I was a child my mother had a pet chicken named Henny Penny. She had her own chicken coup and when she wasn’t eating bird seed, she pecked at bugs around the yard.

Troubles seemed like the oldest dog on record, but we couldn’t be sure of her age. Our neighbors Oscar and Eloise moved to Oregon when I was a preschooler. We took their dogs Troubles and Queenie, two sister mongrels. I could not identify the many different breeds that went into them. Queenie was killed on the highway right after the neighbors moved.

I remember that when my dad pulled Queenie’s body off the highway, Troubles followed him and watched as Queenie’s grave was dug.

I was a preschooler then., We still had the dog Troubles when I graduated from high school and she lived for a few years after that.

I adopted a four month old cat in March 1972. Both of his hind legs were broken; he had malnutrition and various other medical problems. The shelter manager said he was too badly injured to live. He was slated for euthanasia at the shelter, but I loved him from the moment I saw him. I named him Thaddeus and he lived until December 1992; He had just turned twenty.

A few years after Thaddeus died, I had a very rough year. My dad died of cancer in August of 1995. As I struggled with that, we knew a stray cat lived in the neighborhood. I told all our neighbors I would take the cat if anyone caught her.

On December 16 of that year, the day before my birthday, my husband noticed the stray, a pretty young calico in our back yard.

He went out and brought her in. We guessed she was seven to nine months old. I named her Felina, after a Mexican dancer in an old Marty Robbins song, “Music would play and Felina would whirl.” Felina is still living with us. She is now twenty years old and will soon celebrate 20 years of living with us.

We did adopt a senior pet when we adopted Lancelot from the Pet Adoption Alternative in Warren. The vet guessed Lancelot was eight years old then.

Tiki our dog adopted from Michigan Animal Rescue is 14 born in 2001 and Senior pets bring a lot of joy. They are easier to cope with than kittens and puppies. There is no potty training.

What is or was your oldest pet?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Mary Ann's Page: HALLOWEEN IN A SPOOKY SUNKEN SHIP: When I was a child, two ocean liners, the Andrea Doria and the Stockholm collided in the Atlantic Ocean. What followed was one of the mos...

Monday, November 2, 2015


When I was a child, two ocean liners, the Andrea Doria and the Stockholm collided in the Atlantic Ocean. What followed was one of the most dramatic and successful sea rescues in history.

The Andrea Doria was mortally wounded in the collision. It immediately sent an SOS. It needed assistance because minutes after the collision she lay on her side taking on water. Many of her lifeboats were difficult to reach because of the tilt of the decks.

According to several books on the subject the Stockholm’s first reaction: “Was it really the Andrea Doria we hit?”

The Andrea Doria was a famous ship. Hollywood movie stars and European royalty sailed on the Andrea Doria. When the boat was in New York, people came just to gawk at it. In fact, my dad’s brother and his wife saw the great ship, rumored to be the most beautiful ship in the world, when they were in New York.

Though her bow was seriously damaged, the Stockholm was able to return to New York and she remained on the seas until recently. She was at one time the oldest passenger ship still in service.

The Andrea Doria sank.

Maybe I was a stupid child, but before hearing about the two ships and their accident. I didn’t know ships sank. I didn’t think there was anything under the world’s oceans except fish. The Andrea Doria’s death opened up a whole new world of nightmares for me.

Television news coverage was much different in 1956 than it is today. While photographers were on the scene taking pictures of both the dramatically injured Swedish ship the Stockholm and the sinking Andrea Doria,I didn’t see most of those pictures until “Life” magazine came out about a week later.

We always had the latest issue of “Life” in our living room. I today question my mother’s wisdom of letting me see some of the published pictures. I remember the picture of badly burned child from a school fire. That picture gave me nightmares for a long time. After the first time I saw the picture of the burned, dying child, I wouldn’t look at it again.

The magazine often had graphic pictures that disturbed me.

When the issue about the Andrea Doria came out, it contained pictures not only of the ship as it lay in the water during it’s last moments, but also pictures of it under the waves. I couldn’t put the magazine down. I read every word; I glared at every picture.

The Andrea Doria settled into a dark, deep part of the ocean, where only the most experienced divers dared to go. Over the years, I read many books about the Andrea Doria. Then I slept with the night light on for several days. The story of the ship and it’s grave terrified me. Still I read everything I could about the ship and its last voyage.

Occasionally a television documentary would show divers down in the Andrea Doria. The bravest divers admitted it was a spooky place. Several divers died exploring the ship.

Of course, there was another similar story of an even more famous ship. The Titanic hit an ice berg, not another ship. Both ships, the Titanic and the Andrea Doria claimed to be designed to stay afloat. The Titanic claimed to be unsinkable. They were designed to stay afloat with two water tight compartments flooded.

According to “Titanic the History and legacy of the Most Famous Ship from 1912 until Today,” the book I read on Halloween night, The Titanic had five watertight compartments flooded.

The Stockholm ripped open three water tight compartments when she collided with the Andrea Doria. We all have our nightmares. It would have been wise of me to never read a book about the Andrea Doria or the Titanic, but their stories still fascinate me. They scare me too.

I could have looked away from the ship wrecks as I looked away and refused to look at the severely burned child long ago. But I chose to look. Every time a new book about the Andrea Doria was published, I bought that book, I read it. The story didn’t change much.

Over the years it became more about the divers, but the ship itself was always central to the story. Several Divers, most of them probably not superstitious, claimed they had an eerie feeling as they floated through the first class dining room on the Andrea Doria. They said it was haunted. A chill went through me.

I spent this Halloween reading about the Titanic. Remember the story is so much like the one about the Andrea Doria. It is the same story of human hubris.

The Titanic’s story is in many ways much spookier. The loss of life was much greater on this ship than on the Andrea Doria, where most passengers were rescued. The casualties occurred in the collision itself.

Divers began exploring the Andrea Doria hours after she went under the waves. The Titanic was lost for decades, and today lies in even deeper water than the Andrea Doria.

Still I find sunken ships and downed airplanes the spookiest things on earth. I shivered as I read about the Titanic on Halloween night.

But I have obtained some maturity since 1956. I didn’t have to sleep with the light on.

Monday, October 26, 2015



A day will come when robots will have taken over all or most of our jobs. Robots will build new robots, and in the unlikely event they need supervision, robots will supervise other robots.

What will people do?

In my last blog I talked about writing novels,. painting landscapes, or playing golf. I even suggested leisure. What’s wrong with lying in the sun and getting a tan. of course, the possibilities are endless. This morning I thought about some of everyone’s favorite Americans, the cowboys. A song about a rodeo came up in my music mix as I was exercising. Cowboys made a great discovery. Thye could make big money showing off what they did everyday.

Cowboy chores like roping cattle and breaking wild horses became a sport when the occupation was no longer needed. Sports stars make more money than day laborers. Cowboys who once rode the range with pennies in their pockets became wealthy men.

Loggers also knew how to turn their skills into fun. They had holidays. Instead of taking the day off, they had competitions and worked harder than ever.

Recently our home had a make over. We put on a metal roof and new siding. Watching the men work was like watching a ballet. Every movement was choreographed. One man cut metal strips or siding to precise measurements; another man nailed the pieces in place. They walked on platforms, as sure footed as Michelangelo must have been when he painted the Cistern chapel.

There is something beautiful about work.Even grunt work can be beautiful I like washing dishes and folding clean clothing. These are daydream times for me when I work out sticky points in a novel or memorize a new list.

So work can be introspective as well as entertaining and beautiful.

When robots take all our jobs, we will create new chores. We might do it for the entertainment of ourselves and others or we might do it for private introspection and pleasure.

I named this blog “Work out.” I find the term interesting.People go to the gym to imitate movements their ancestors did every day and called work.

People used to walk or bike to the store or to work. Today we get in a car and drive around the block to shop. Then we go to the gym and walk on a treadmill. So many chores used to be more difficult.

I remember my mother getting down on her hands and knees to scrub floors. Today I walk behind a mop that is so sophisticatedI barely have to push it.

My mother had to apply real muscle to pound bread dough into place. I buy my bread at Whole Foods. Then I come home and work out with bar bells. When we don’t have work, we ralize that we need it to stay in shape and to satisfy a certain longing. Perhaps that longing is just for time to daydream

The future of work might be competitions where humans, not robots pound in nails and roof or side a house. No robots allowed. We might wash dishes make pretty loaves of bread. other humans will watch us and marvel at our skills at such wonderful old fashioned tasks.

Perhaps real human workers will work in a museum showing visitors how 20th and early 21st century humans performed their chores.

For those of us who don’t want to imitate cowboys and loggers by turning old skills into entertainment and competition, there will always be poetry to write, philosophies to learn, and dances to perform.

And sometimes we might just want to lay in the shade while a robot serves us fresh squeezed lemonade. This is the life. I can’t wait.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Margaret Truman and Elliot Roosevelt both wrote best selling mystery fiction. Both authors are children of U.S. presidents and both are talented writers. They were double blessed. Of course not all authors are born to famous, or wealthy parents. But the wealthy clearly have more opportunities to obtain good educations and they have the more leisure to write novels.

Life classifies them as winners before they take their first steps.

I wonder how many talented authors, inventors and scientists, we lose because life circumstances rob them of opportunities and doom them to work in factories, garbage trucks or grocery stores.

What if everyone had the opportunity to learn as much as they wanted and the freedom to indulge in leisure? Would we see more great novels, works of art and inventions? We would. We would also see healthier people across all of America.

Work can be a joy; it can also be a drudge. Historically poor people did the grudge work even if their IQ was 190.

Rich people reaped the benefits. Is that fair? Of course, not.

Will it change? The answer lies in how we solve or attempt to solve two of America’s most serious problems. The cost of higher education and the shrinking job market.

Not surprising, all of the presidential candidates have ideas on education.

Jeb Bush who grew up in a wealthy family and who most likely did not have to work his way through college says there is no such thing as a free lunch. Work and work some more and get ahead by work, work, work.

This advice is from a man who never had to dig ditches, collect garbage or clean sewers. If he has never done those things, he can’t imagine how tired a person is at the end of eight hours.

Mr. Bush may not realize that many Americans now work two and even three jobs just to pay for necessities.

When I shop for groceries or pet supplies, I am interacting with people who have part-time jobs. Retail jobs are usually, part-time and minimum wage with no benefits.

Full time jobs are hard to find for many of us even those of us with advanced degrees. College professors, for instance, are now more likely to be part-time adjuncts than full professors. They are forced to work longer hours at more than one job. And they make a fraction of what professors once made.

So if education is too expensive and if the jobs aren’t there, what are we to do? We in working America already work as hard as we can; stop telling us to work harder, Mr. Bush.

What about other candidates? Aren’t Democrats the party that teachers turn to? Aren’t they the education party?

Hillary Clinton says students need to work at least ten hours a week. That sounds like the work study programs already in place. Hillary is not suggesting any changes.

Okay, Mrs. Clinton, let’s make the students work ten hours a week for their tuition. They have to find another job for room and board and textbooks and for cable television. When do they study?

Students need that study time. Jeb Bush had study time. HIs classes and necessities were paid for by his wealthy parents.

Mrs. Clinton says she worked her way through college. So did I. I had a factory job where I worked at least forty hours a week. Overtime was sometimes mandatory. I graduated Magna Cum Laude, so my grades were very good. I spent all my spare time studying and, in fact, had no social life. It took me over ten years because I took one or two classes at a time.

Not many people will sacrifice the way I did, nor should they be expected to do so. So what can we do for students?

Bernie Sanders wants to give all Americans a free college education at public schools. Is this an outlandish idea? Sanders says no and I agree with him. While students are taking these free classes, they will still need to work part time for their rent, groceries and their textbooks.

I would love to have government provide these for them. That way they could concentrate on their educations. If they have free time maybe they can write books like Margaret Truman and Elliot Roosevelt did. Maybe they can have a few carefree years like Jeb Bush did.

Taking students out of the workforce makes more jobs available for those with families to support and house payments to make.

What about the kind of jobs that pay a decent living wage and provide benefits? Those jobs may be a thing of the past. We know that many of the best jobs have gone overseas. We know that factory workers in third world countries will work for low wages and American companies in their greed lost no time in shipping our jobs to those counties.

In the future, robots are set to take over jobs like plumbing and performing surgery that we thought were safe. What do we do when all our jobs disappear?

We can enjoy learning and leisure. Pleasures once available to only the very wealthiest amongst us can be available to all. We can write novels like Margaret Truman and Elliot Roosevelt did. We can take up portrait painting or gardening. We can study history or astrology.

Leisure has never been a dirty word, at least not when applied to the wealthy. The rich man can play golf all day or lay on a deck chair on his yacht. But working class people are expected to slave every day even when jobs are not available.

We can all contribute more to the wealth of the mind and the spirit even if it is just our own individual spirit. We should have the luxury of less drudgery.

Haven’t we been doing the rich man’s dirty chores for too long?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


In some schools, students are now required to make covers for their books. Students often use plastic wrap. It clings. Tape isn’t even necessary.

There are book socks that one can purchase to cover textbooks. These are made from stretchy material, and they fit most hard cover books. Book socks don’t work well on paperbacks.

When I worked in a label factory, we had huge sheets of paper with beer or ketchup labels printed on them. Those co-workers who had kids in school would would take several sheets home, cut them up and make wrappers for school books. The kids loved them, and wanted more of them for friends.

I read over a hundred books a year, but I don’t wrap my books. In fact, I unwrap some of them. If I have to carry a book around in my purse to read in restaurants, I take the sleeve off the book and tuck the sleeve in a safe place at home until I finish the book.

I like paperbacks. They take up less room on the shelf and they don’t have sleeves. I could never understand why wrapping a book up was so popular. How do you know which textbook is which if you cover the book with paper? In college I never saw a book wrapped up, and college students do make use of their books. At least they do if they want to stay in college and graduate.

I do think see-through plastic wraps are an improvement. If you have to wrap up a book, at least wrap it up in see-through plastic, so you can still see the title.

Place the book in a plastic grocery store store bag if you think it will rain.

I looked up book socks on Amazon and eBay. They are not called book socks, but book covers. I like calling them socks better. The book covers that I saw don’t come in see-through. I guess if you want see-through covers buy a box of plastic wrap, the kind used for putting leftovers away in the refrigerator.

One could get creative. Have a soccer ball or football cover for the book in a health class. A Shakespeare cover for an English class textbook.

Which ones would I buy if I bought a book sock? I wouldn’t buy one. I like to be more intimate with my books. I like them bare. After all we are having a meeting of the minds. You can’t put a sock on that.

Friday, September 11, 2015


LIKED IT. The old “What’s My Line” television program in the 1950’s had an episode in which the celebrity panel ate soy meat. They were not told their hot dogs were really made from soy. The panelists agreed the ‘meat” was delicious and none of them guessed they were not eating real meat.

Soy meat products are indeed delicious. If they tasted good enough to fool television panelists back then, think how great they taste now, after over 60 years of improvements.

My grandfather was visiting our house that day, and I remember that he said one day only the rich people will be able to afford meat. I was a little kid, so I didn’t openly disagree with him. But silently I thought just the opposite. I didn’t like eating meat even back then. I knew where it came from and I didn’t want to eat cows, pigs and chickens.

Today nutritionists tell us that a plant based diet is healthier. Many better educated people, also have higher incomes and they are choosing plant based diets.

My grandfather was wrong. Meat actually is more popular with the lower economic classes, than with the educated elites. It is in economically depressed areas that one finds the McDonald’s and Burger Kings.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Here’s a vegan’s confession. I didn’t become a vegetarian for health or ethical issues. I just didn’t want to eat cows, pigs or chickens.

When I was a preschooler, the neighbors had cows. My family had pet rabbits and chickens as well as the usual assortment of pet dogs and cats. As soon as I found out that beef was really cow; bacon was really pig; and chicken was chicken, I didn’t want to eat it.

I wasn’t eating dead animals. I also didn’t want to eat eggs. They came from a chicken’s butt, and in those days I didn’t understand the difference between a fertilized egg and an unfertilized egg, so I thought there was a baby chicken in there.

My mother was okay with my choices. She thought I would grow out of it. She always cooked potatoes with every meal and there was always a vegetable too. I ate pancakes and lots of breads and desserts that had egg in them. Just so long as I didn’t have to eat anything eggy or meaty. I was all right.

I did get into trouble at school. The school lunch program served what was then described by teachers and cooks as “nutritional” meals. I wouldn’t eat the meats, and sometimes if the vegetables looked runny or the potatoes were mixed with the meat in a kind of hash, I wouldn’t eat that either. I would eat peanut butter sandwiches and milk and I usually ate the desserts. It was enough to get me through the day.

The teachers considered my eating habits rebellion. Sometimes I was forced to sit in the lunch room after everyone else had left. I was told I couldn’t leave until I ate something. When no one was looking, I would cut a piece out of the meat with a knife, hide it in a napkin and then claim I ate something.

Then I could go.

I was a liar, I know, but I was not going to eat a cow, a chicken or a pig. I knew the animals were murdered for their meat; I felt that was wrong, but I was not protesting the horrors of the slaughterhouse in those days. Factory farming did not exist then.Despite living in the country and visiting farms, I knew nothing about farming. I certainly never witnessed a slaughter.

On television I saw commercials for Carnation condensed milk. It supposedly came from contented cows.

I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. In one book she writes that cheese is made from a calves’ brains. I gave up cheese for awhile. But kept going back to it.

My elementary school classes got more their share of lectures about how important it was to eat meat for good health. I am sure I was the student those lectures were aimed at. The teachers were bound and determined to change my eating habits.

While I loved my pets, the birds and turtles, rabbits, and chickens as well as the dogs and cats, empathy was something I learned. I was not born with it. We who have Asperger’s are often accused of not having empathy. But like good nutrition, empathy can come from a variety of sources. I am grateful I always had pets. They made great teachers, and taught me empathy despite the Asperger’s.

As I got older, I became interested in the humane movement. I volunteered at an animal shelter in Iron Mountain, Michigan and I even wrote an article way back in June 1973 for “Dog Fancy” (Now “Dogster” Magazine) on how to start a humane society.

I became a conscientious vegetarian.

I learned about the health benefits of vegetarian and vegan living. I consider that a wonderful plus. I also feel superior to all those teachers who tried to force me to eat meat, and who lectured on its benefits.

I eat vegan cheese now, not the dairy kind. I avoid dairy like its the plague.

It’s good to be healthy and kind.

Sunday, September 6, 2015


When I was growing up, I was afraid of everything. The dark. Spooky places like ship wrecks and airplane crashes,Haunted Houses. Dead bodies and snakes. I had to experience the dark every night. Snakes were a possibility, but the others were highly unlikely.

Where did all those fears come from?

We lived near a small airport, and the boys who lived near by told me the airplanes came alive at night and ate people. I was afraid those airplanes would come and get me in my sleep.

Those were the days of scary television dramas like “Twilight Zone.” I would watch an episode about a lost airplane, and I’d have nightmares for days afterward.

My mother used to get “Life” magazine. The pages were filled with graphic pictures of plane crashes, burned children and disaster aftermath. I tried to avoid looking at the pages of that magazine, but it was always there. Sometimes the magazine sitting on the coffee table would be open to the most horrible picture in the book.

When I was about eight years old, the Andrea Doria, a luxury ocean liner collided with another ship, the Stockholm. I watched the Andrea Doria sink. I had nightmares, not only then, but every time I thought about the ship. It’s in the deepest, spookiest part of the ocean, and many experienced divers have died exploring the Andrea Doria as it lies in its grave.

If there was a fear out there, it seemed ready to attach itself to me.

I remember the first time I saw a snake.

I was a preschooler sitting in the house with my parents, when the dogs outside started barking. They were making quite a ruckus. My dad was going to get up and see what it was about, but I jumped up and said, “I’ll see. I’ll see.”

I went out and saw the dogs barking at what I thought was this really pretty colorful striped cord. It looked like a jump rope. I was going to pick it up and start jumping rope. I started to approach it, but the dogs got in my way. They gently pushed me away and barked more fiercely than ever.

“What’s going on?” My parents came outside.

“See,” I pointed. I still thought it was a jump rope, but it startled me by moving.

My dad killed the snake, and then my mother said I should touch it so I wouldn’t be afraid of snakes.

The dogs went wild when I started toward the dead snake. They wouldn’t let me touch it. Thank heavens.

I am afraid of snakes. I don’t think touching it would have made a difference.

TRY THIS: Write about something you are afraid of. Why do you think you are afraid of this something? What experiences have you had real or imaginary?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Family Secrets

By M.A. De Neve (Mary Ann Slavcheff)

Chapter One

Lisa Brianka’s arrest came as a shock to all of us. Even me. I’m the Mountain Ridge snoop, so usually I’m way ahead of the gossip, and I can even sometimes predict things like this. What I felt that morning was closer to fear than to surprise.

When I stopped by the Yorkie cafe less than twelve hours after Lisa’s arrest, customers were discussing the latest Lisa gossip.

“Do you think she did it?”

“Of course, she done it.”

“She’s crazy.”

“Everyone knows that.”
 “Don’t mean she killed anyone.”

I glanced around at the dirty floor, the wooden tables, and the toy-sized juke boxes on the counter. Tony Orlando sang,“Tie A Yellow Ribbon.” Everyone in this town knows what a snoop I am, so no one ties a yellow ribbon for me. They started to quiet down. That was all right. I’d heard enough.

I glanced at a copy of today’s newspaper lying on the counter. The Beatles had broken up. Darn. Richard Nixon defended his decision to invade Cambodia. The war in Viet Nam was as unpopular as ever.

I know a lot about unpopularity. I’m not even a war, just a girl trying to escape boredom.

Bev the waitress poured me a cup of coffee just the way I like it, strong and black. “Hi, Penny. What’ll it be this morning?” she asked.

“A grilled cheese with a thick slice of tomato. Hash browns. Keep the coffee coming.”

“You got it.” Before she turned to put my order in, she asked, “You know anything?”

“The alphabet, the state capitals and my multiplication tables right up to 13 times 13.”

“Don’t be a smart ass,” she told me.”Were you there when they made the arrest?” “No.”

“Did you hear anything?”

“What they said on the radio.”

“But you’ll tell me when you find out anything?”

“Depends on what I find out.”

“You know I could spit in your hash browns,” she said.

“You won’t though.”

“Don’t be so sure.” Bev took off with her order pad.

I smiled and waved at Elaine, the elderly cook, who was moving slowly about the kitchen; her arthritis was probably acting up. She ignored me. She’s got some kind of grudge. She says I stole some papers she threw out years ago.

What can I tell you? They were at the curb, and I noticed them. She could have burned them. She could have read them herself before she put them on the curb for anyone to take.

I took a deep breath and sipped my coffee. I didn’t look around. I knew the other customers were looking at me. The only voice I heard was Tony Orlando’s voice. So much for yellow ribbons. At least the waitress talks to me.

I was just finishing my sandwich when Leo Olson came in. He used to be sheriff here in Mountain Ridge. Olson arrested me back when I was eleven or twelve on a shop lifting charge.

It was a fifty cent tube of lipstick. I could have bought it, but how much fun would that have been?

Leo was 70 years old or more than that, but still tall and thin like teen age basketball player. His grey hair was cut short; his steely gray eyes looked at everyone like they were murder suspects or drunken drivers. His skin was weathered like a fisherman’s skin. Yet he wore his years well. I would see him walking and even jogging around town, fit as a man in his thirties.

I started walking toward the door. Then I couldn’t help myself. I had to ask. “Is Lisa Brianka all right?”

The stillness in the room was complete. Every other customer was wondering the same thing, but no one else was brave enough to ask.

Leo sipped his coffee really slow, and then took a deep breath. Cops know that silence makes the rest of us feel uncomfortable and even guilty. Finally he said, “I ain’t a cop anymore.”

“Your son’s the sheriff,” I reminded him. “Is Lisa being treated okay?”

“Far as I know. Miles ain’t here. He’s getting ready to fly down to Louisiana.” Surprise. I was getting information from a cop, but then the sheriff’s comings and goings wouldn’t be secret. Or would they? At least Sheriff Miles Olson had something to occupy him other than poor Lisa.

Norman Cain, a serial killer awaiting execution in Louisiana was spilling his guts, delaying his execution for crimes committed down south by telling authorities where more bodies were buried in the tunnels under and around Mountain Ridge.

Dozens of state cops, crime scene investigators and reporters were in town covering the excavations. I supposed Miles’ presence was now and then called for down south.

“Our sheriff’s a busy boy,” I said. He arrested Lisa last night, and then what? Today he gets on an airplane and flies south.”

“He’s busy,” Leo agreed. I wasn’t going to get anymore out of him.

“Tell Lisa I’m thinking of her, will you?” I said after a pause.

“I ain’t goin’ near that crazy,” Leo said.

Saturday, August 29, 2015


The ground is a spider web of twigs and leaves.

Wild rhubarb stalks stretch out their arms like crucified bandits.

Monday, August 10, 2015


Meet the characters in my novel.

Yvonne Brianka was orphaned at age seven and shipped off to a Catholic orphanage, where she is treated as a third rate citizen because of her Jewish father. Her dad has disappeared. Her younger sister Lisa insists he was lynched.

Somewhere along the way Yvonne picks up the nickname of Vonnie. When she left the orphanage at age 16, she went to work for the Rinaldis, the wealthiest family in town. One night she is gang raped by two violent young men, and soon she discovers she is pregnant. Knowing her predicament, Ezekiel Cheney offers to marry her. He is a Civil War veteran seventy years her senior, who expects nothing but housekeeping from her. He fulfills the father role for her and her son.

Vonnie eventually takes over as manager of Almasy House, a historic old hotel. But her problems are far from over. Her son’s death was ruled accidental, but she knows he was murdered. And whoever killed her baby is still out there.

When her sister is accused of murdering her son. Vonnie gets the town snoop, a hippy girl named Penny Payton, involved in proving her sister’s innocence.

Lisa Brianka talks about hanged men and drowned babies. People say she’s crazy. She’s witnessed violent death, and now a serial killer targets her.

Jack Brianka spent a year in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Now people say he’s mobbed up. It could be true.

Dylan Mynter’s first wife cheated on him; his second wife, Lisa Brianka, is crazy and his daughter is a freak.

Lucinda Rinaldi takes in strays. She’ll help anyone in need. But then the Klan discovers she’s a black woman passing as white.

Penny Payton is the town snoop. She’s discovered several of the town’s secrets. But a serial killer needs to shut her up.

Monday, August 3, 2015


If I were a hippy, what would my hippy name be?

I think it would be leaf. Long ago a friend named me Leaf because when he met me I had a leaf in my hair. One of the few half way decent poems I ever wrote was about leaves, and I think of myself as a person changing and light hearted like a leaf.

But I would need two names. For some reason hippies have two names.

I will stick with just the one for now.

Sunday, August 2, 2015


As I was doing my exercises this morning, I noticed “El Paso” by Marty Robbins in the mix. That was a big hit around 1960, but most people have probably forgotten the tune.

I named one of my cats Felina, after the girl the cowboy falls in love with in the song. He sings, “Nighttime would find me in Rosa’s Cantina. Music would play and Felina would whirl… My love was deep for the Mexican maiden.”

I love story songs, and I thought about the cowboy, Felina, the handsome young stranger, and Rosa.

Writing prompt: Take a story song, and write a short story about one of the characters?

For instance: What was Felina like as a girl? After the cowboy died, who did she marry? Did she tell her husband about these men? Did she have children? How many?

Get crazy. What if my calico cat Felina, is the Felina from the song reincarnated. Perhaps two of my other cats, Lancelot and Dodger were the cowboys who in another lifetime loved her. Now they all live together as a spayed and two neutered cats in a household.

How would each of these cats tell their “El Paso” story?

 Too silly? That is okay because when we are writing we can get silly. Make up incredible stories. Have fun.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


As I drove home from my morning volunteer cleaning shift, I saw the trucks on our lawn, and knew our new roof was being laid. The new copper penny roof looked like a second sunrise in the morning as the sun reflected on its bright surface.

“Good morning,” I called to the roofers. “It’s beautiful, and redder than I thought it would be.”

The foreman said the color would change at different times of the day, and in different seasons.

I imagine our roof shining up at the heavens, imitating the sun.

A new roof will keep the attic cool even when the temperature outside blazes. I wonder what it will look like under street lights at night.

I never thought much about roofs before. I can’t tell you much about the old roof except that it was grey asphalt. I don’t remember roofs of houses from when I was growing up.

But I like this roof. It has a 200 plus watt smile. I smile back at it.

Friday, July 31, 2015

All Lives Matter, The Legacy of Sandra Bland

Sandra Bland was an eloquent spokesperson for Black Lives Matter. She knew that all lives matter. Her tragic death reminded us of that. Her arrest video was painful to watch because it was a classic example of bullying. I have known too many bullies in my life.

Everyone dislikes bullies, but we all bully sometimes. Some people are easy victims. We can yell at the store clerk for mixing up our order; we can yell at the waitress when the kitchen burned our steak. We justify our bullying. He did something stupid. She should have known better. Bullying is often misdirected anger.

We are frustrated when things go wrong. We need to take it out on somebody. Kick the dog; scream at the kids; pull a trembling woman from her automobile and label it resisting arrest.

We all have power over someone, and when we misuse that power, the technical term is bullying.

Let’s find find other ways to deal with our frustrations.

Otherwise we might end up on candid camera like that policeman and the beautiful and eloquent Sandra Bland.

Sandy, we need you back to stand up for what is right. We need you to be our spokesperson again. You stood up for what was wrong. You died showing us what was wrong.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


Students, do you want to practice taking tests and understanding tests strategies? Go to Try to answer the daily dog trivia question there and then click on Freekibble Kat and answer the daily cat trivia question. Most questions have clues to the answers. If you can work out the answer from the clues, this is great practice for looking for clues in school tests.

And those clicks earn free food for animal shelters.

Then click on Free Kat Litter. No question here, but it only takes a second, and that click earns free litter for animal shelters and rescue groups.

Monday, July 20, 2015


I have a new office chair, but I am hiding it under colorful beach towels. The towels add color and fun to my office. More important they protect the chair from the cats.

Lancelot, a huge grey cat about ten year old, hurries over to the chair and climbs up to the back where he hangs on like the chair is a bucking bronco about to throw him. The old chair was a rocker, and I used to sometimes forget he was there. Lancelot learned that he has to hang on, but I don’t want him hanging on. I hope he will cling to the beach towels and not to the new chair.

Kira, a younger cat is a climber too. The chair is in front of the book case, and it is part of her daily climb. I didn’t mind the climbing or the clinging with the old chair. It had some of its stuffing pulled out by cat paws, and I used the beach towels to hide the damage to the chair.

I hesitated to get a new office chair. I thought the cats would quickly destroy it. They’re working on it.

I have cats. so fancy furniture is not on my want list. Even the floor and walls get some mistreatment. We need to paint, but this year we are putting on a new steel roof and solar panels.

We have all indoor cats so the roof should be safe. My new office chair, however, is in danger from cat claws.

But this chair is new. I want it to last for awhile. I scold Kira. I pull Lancelot off when his claws are sunk deep into the chair.

I have taken Lancelot off the chair several times, and he seems to be okay on the desk. For now.

Cats seem to think new furniture needs to be clawed up, so it looks more cat friendly.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Our grandmothers had a system for getting things done. Each day had a chore. Monday was washday. Today we should have Tuesday and Wednesday off. There’s little or no ironing or mending that needs doing. Thursday was cleaning day in those olden times, and unfortunately there’s lots of that that still needs doing.

Friday was shopping day. I live within walking distance of stores, and order many items on Amazon or eBay so I don’t need a shopping day.

Saturday was a cooking day. The little cooking I do is usually making a pasta salad or heating up a veggie burger.

Then comes Sunday, and don’t we all need a day of rest. Except there are always chores that need doing even on a Sunday.

Nowadays most women have workdays. Several days out of each week, we must be busy doing someone else’s work. I admit that when I worked outside the home, lots of housework didn’t get done.

I would leave my classroom with piles of essays to correct, and wishes that I had become a math instructor instead of a writing teacher. Math tests can be corrected in minutes using a Scantron. I had to read each essay, sometimes more than once and make comments. I had to get grades in. I ignored the dirty floor, messy litter pans and the dirty dishes. Housework got done eventually, but it had little priority.

I retired at the end of 2013, and cleaned house. I went through all the rooms, sweeping, mopping, dusting and rearranging. It left me so exhausted, I didn’t do anymore housework for awhile unless it was necessary like cleaning litter pans.

Things quickly got dirty again.

I wanted to learn American Sign language, write a blog about learning better, and write a novel. I began writing the novel, and volunteering at an animal rescue group. Occasionally I would go to Youtube for an ASL lesson. I decided I would not be a slave to the household.

Now that I was home more, housework seemed to nag me. The dirty floors stared at me. Even my computer screen had smudges I hadn’t noticed before.

The months went by. The house didn’t look any cleaner, and I hadn’t learned much ASL. My novel was coming together, but the blog was a drain of my energy. I volunteered sometimes as many as five days a week for the animal rescue group, but that was just two hours in the morning.

It was also an excuse. Why wasn’t housework getting done. I was too busy.

This is really about time management, not chores.

The old Monday is washday schedule doesn’t work any more and not because I don’t iron, mend or cook. So many things like litter pans need to be done everyday need. Daily shores take up chunks of time, that I want to invest elsewhere.

I read everyday, write everyday, eat and sleep everyday. These are core activities for me. Eating and sleeping already had times carved out for them. Litter pans, another core activity, were done first thing every morning. I read in the evenings, after I am too tired to clean or even write.

Over the first year of my retirement a schedule evolved.

I put in time everyday for writing. I finished the novel, and now I can’t stop revising it. I started a second novel and a memoir. Occasionally I have a day where the best I can do is squeeze in fifteen minutes writing time, but it is an important fifteen minutes.

Housework is like that. I plan a chore, but something else comes up. My husband and I and Cinco, one of the cats have all had emergency room visits this year. We just contracted to have a steel roof put on our house. Solar panels will follow. These will mean interruptions, and I can’t always plan the day or time when the interruption will occur.

I have divided cleaning chores up. I clean the kitchen on Monday; utility room on Tuesday, office/living room on Wednesday. I have a room for each day. Sometimes I double up and do two rooms in one day.

What I need is reading time. I get depressed if I don’t read 70-100 pages a day. I am a reading addict. And the reading feeds the writing. I learn from good writers. So around five each evening I curl up with a book. This is my reward for cleaning, writing, shopping and volunteering.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


I wasn’t always a crazy cat lady, but I always had cats. I loved dogs more when I was growing up. But cats lived in the household too.

My parents loved animals, but they were not at first good pet owners. They let their dogs and cats outside. Even though we lived in the country, these animals soon died. Usually they were hit on the US-2 Highway that ran right in front of our house, or sometimes they just wandered off and didn’t come back. Life was usually short for an outdoor pet.

It was because of the neighbors that we started keeping our pets in. My mother fought ferociously with the neighbors. Even though everyone’s dog ran loose in the neighborhood, the family across the street called the police and complained about our dogs. Their teenage neighbor son actually drove off the highway to kill one of our cats.

I didn’t like these neighbors anymore than my mother did. Not after the son killed my cat, Maverick.

My mother was at fault for the fighting. While I think I am crazy in a good way, she was crazy in a bad way. She would stand out on the lawn, call the neighbors ugly names, and thumb her nose and butt at them. She never forgave anyone, not even for the slightest wrong or perceived wrong.

We had a pet chicken named Henny Penny who was not penned. When Henny Penny went pecking in Mr. Corona’s yard to the south of us, my mother ran out of the house shaking her fist at him and screaming, “Leave that chicken alone.”

After that she wouldn’t leave Mr. Corona alone. She yelled at him so much that he eventually built a tall wood fence around his yard, so he did not have to look at her or listen to her anymore.

The good that came out of the encounter was that she had to start penning Henny Penny who lived to be a very old chicken.

My mother’s craziness and her battles with the neighbors, are another story. The neighbors, especially the teenagers across the street had murderous thoughts about my mother, and unfortunately took it out on a few of the animals. We had to start keeping them inside, or as in the case of our one chicken and one rabbit, we had to start penning them in.

The dogs were tied outside most of the day and let loose when we walked with them down the tracks behind our house. They came in at night. The cats were kept in all the time.

I learned to keep pets safe by keeping them in.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Hairballs Happen

When I pulled my refrigerator out to clean behind it, I found a fresh hairball. I live with cats, so finding hairballs is not unusual. I took out the spray bottle of Lysol and quickly mopped it up.

Usually hair balls are left in places easier to find. The back of the refrigerator was a surprise even though Lancelot, one of my older cats, does go back there sometimes to sleep, and all the cats climb on top the refrigerator. They like high places.

It reminded me of an embarrassing hairball moment from a few years back. When I went to a faculty meeting. I sat at a table with half a dozen other college instructors. I reached in my purse to pull out a pen. Instead I pulled out a hairball.

Hairballs happen. Nowadays I make sure my purse is zipped shut when I am at home, and I glance at the insides before I leave

Friday, June 26, 2015


I gave all my pets their monthly flea treatments. We piled the Advantage tablets on the counter. I had a list of pets; my husband and I checked off their names as we found an animal and applied the solution to their necks.

Afterward I washed all pet bedding and sprayed areas where the pets congregate and sleep.

I happen to be reading “The Magical Household” by Scott Cunningham and David Harrington, so, of course, I was interested in magical ways to eliminate fleas. Some readers will say they aren’t superstitious. Neither am I. Magic has been a part of human lives since the days of the cavemen. We are still magical people.

Do you knock on wood. throw salt over your shoulder or pick up pennies because they are lucky. If you have a St Christopher medal or rosary in your car, perhaps you believe it it will protect you. Religion purports to be magical I believe magic is all around us.

Anyway I paid special attention to the parts about how to magically remove fleas. Some magical people write polite letters to the fleas asking that they leave the pets alone. This letter can be placed outdoors on a stump. For some reason, the fleas eat the note, and leave the pets alone. I tried to to write a letter to the fleas. What do you say to a flea?

Please leave my pets’ alone. If they taste good, perhaps this letter will taste better. I will even write it in peanut butter or olive oil for your enjoyment. Thank you, dear little fleas.

Another way to get rid of fleas is to scare them away. Go through the household banging on a pan as if it were a drum. “Yell at the fleas. Tell them them that they must be gone. The book says to shout, “Out with you scorpions, fleas, serpents, roaches, bugs and flies.” Name any critter you ned to rid of. That might scare the neighbors and the pets. I don’t think it will have much affect on the bugs.

Another flea removal method is to burn a dish rag, the first time you hear thunder in March. You could also burn fleabane every day of summer.

I already missed too many days this summer to start on fleabane now.

Anyway we are free of fleas at least until next month. It may have more to do with the Advantage and the coat of diatomaceous earth I spread around the house.

Monday, May 11, 2015


Flivver was a nickname for the Model T; it means ‘worthless headache.”

I went to Kingsford High School in Upper Michigan The nickname of our sports teams was the Flivvers because until the 1950’s, Ford had a plant in Kingsford. I wonder if whoever named the school’s mascot Flivvers knew what it meant.

Support your local butterflies: Place overripe fruit outside; it has nutrients that butterflies need.

Things I wouldn’t know were I not a reader: Julia Child helped the war department in World War II by developing an odd recipe. The ingredients included black dye, copper acetate, and water soluble wax. The purpose was not to eat, but to keep sharks from bumping into mines. This caused the mines to explode before their time. The concoction was used by the Navy for three decades and had the added advantage of keeping sharks away from sailors. From “Mental Floss. November 2014, page 47.

Thomas Jefferson was a smuggler. When he was minister to France, he went to Italy and smuggled out a type of rice that could be grown in dry upland regions. America needed this rice because up until then rice in the United States was planted in swamps where mosquitoes bred and made workers sick. The type of rice we needed in this country was only grown in Italy, and Italian law protected the rice seeds. The penalty for exporting the seeds from the country was death. Yet Jefferson filled his pockets, and then headed for the border. Same page in "Mental Floss"

Monday, May 4, 2015


Fairy Day. These mischievous folks come out of their hiding places on May 4th every year. Leave an offering of bread, tea, raisins or bird seed for the fairy folk. Never leave left-overs. The fairies will feel insulted, and who knows what they might do to exact revenge.

Fairies have been known to steal small children, so keep an eye on your little ones today.

I often think that Persephone was stolen by fairies, and perhaps sold to Hades. Who knows?

If you are traveling, wear your coat, t-shirt,sweatshirt or hoodie inside out. That confuses fairies and protects you from fairy mischief.


Prayer method: Find a piece of string or ribbon about a foot or two long. Run your fingers over the silky material and think, “I am grateful, I am grateful, I am so grateful.” When it holds enough of your gratitude, take it outside to a place where birds will be attracted to it. The birds take your thoughts of gratitude with them to the heavens.

You might have a different gratitude ribbon every week or every month. We want to send our prayers to heaven often

This idea is from the "Witches' Spell-A-Day Almanac."

Thursday, April 30, 2015


By Mary Ann Slavcheff

When I was a preschooler, I got the measles. I had pimples all over my body, but I was not sick. I went outside and played with the neighborhood children. It did not matter to their moms that one of us had the measles. We all played. Chicken pox were more serious and may have kept us in bed. But it was all part of childhood. No one died or went to the hospital.

My younger sister did not get the measles until she was in grade school. She had to stay home from school, but she went outside to swing and watched television. She was not sick.

One day a boy in our class had pimples on his body. The teacher looked at him closely and then sent him home. None of us were concerned that we had been interacting with a child with the measles. Most of us had already had the measles. Those who didn’t hoped they would get the measles, so they could stay home from school.

I did not have children of my own. As an adult measles were a forgotten thing until they entered the news recently. Suddenly measles are a disease as horrible as the bubonic plague. There is talk of compulsory vaccinations for all children. Some unvaccinated children will be ostracized - as if kids don’t already have enough reason for bullying. Parents are pressured to vaccinate their children.

A few years ago I had a deaf student, her affliction, caused by a childhood vaccination. She and her husband shared the same fate. Their children were not vaccinated. Need I explain why?

In November 2013 I lost a cat to a rare disease, eosinophilic granuloma complex. Cats are expected to be vaccinated every year, even though the kitten shot should give them protection. This cat, Sonoma, was accidentally double vaccinated one year. The disease is difficult to treat; my cat suffered horribly and there was nothing I could do to help her. Some research suggests the disease is caused by over vaccination.

I myself am pressured to have a flu shot every year. I refuse it. I don’t get the flu. My doctor’s assistant once said I could be penalized by the insurance company for not getting the shot. I don’t believe this is true, but it shows the pressure’s we are put under to have vaccinations.

My mother and my husband both had flu shots one year and both became very ill with flu like symptoms. I did not get the shot or become sick.

The big drug companies have powerful lobbies and they can buy influence everywhere including in the media.

The media has made gentle pit bull dogs into deadly killers and the measles into a deadly disease. Brian Williams is not the only newsman who lies.

If you are considering a vaccination for yourself or your children, go ahead. it is your right. It is also the right of others to refuse. Parents who don’t have their children vaccinated are not negligent. They are intelligently weighing the pros and cons.

Let’s to get to the real issues. Jobs are disappearing. Globalization is no longer the only thing taking our jobs. Robots are here too. What happens to workers then? I admit it is a tougher question than: Should I have my children vaccinated against the measles?

But we will be unprepared for the future unless we start making better choices.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


This blog returns in mid April. I have been taking time off to deal with winter; I have shared lots of great ideas in the past. Check some of them off. See you in April.

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Dr. Andrei Aleinikov explains an easy way to improve grades in his book “Mega Creativity”.

He has students sit in a circle around him. They get comfortable, ready for a lecture. He then tells them to freeze.Don't move.

Many students have folded or crossed arms, legs or ankles. He says this is a defensive position and it keeps new knowledge from entering their minds. To get better grades uncross arms, fingers, legs ankles. Be open to new information.

I use this technique not only when attending lectures but also when I am reading. It works.


Dr. Aleinikov also addresses listening. He tells his readers how to listen better in conversations. He says to be aware of speech volume, speed and even pronunciation. When speaking to someone try to match their language style.


Dr. Aleinikov says that most people just need to make small changes to enjoy more success. He has worked with many individuals. He might suggest a better handshake or better eye contact. Figure out what small change you most need.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Things I wouldn’t Know if I were not a reader.

1. Elfshot, small stones believed by medieval people to be arrowheads shot from fairies. These are believed to protect humans.

2. Tattoos are often used as protective devises.

3. A Crayola will burn for thirty minutes. They make great cheap candles.

4, Tarragon, the spice, is used in magic spells for courage as tarragon means little dragon.

5. The Greeks believed in two kinds of fate. Ananke -just because you are there.Hurricane katrina, ten years ago wiped out whole towns. Everyone was affected. Heimarmene, stuff that happens because of the choices you made. Cynics were a cult who spent their time figure out the two kinds of fate.

6. Dandelions are for courage, also to keep from being evicted. Collect dandelions and place them around the apartment or home.

7. Ben Franklin published “Pamela,” the first novel published in the colonies that would become the U.S. Written by Samuel Richardson, it was originally published in England and reprinted by Franklin in 1744.

8. The Hall of Fame for Great Americans is at Bronx Community College in New York. Inductees have a bust made by a famous sculptor.Edgar Allan Poe’s sculptor was Daniel Chester French, who also sculpted the Lincoln Memorial This was America’s first Hall of Fame. The only non American appears to be General Lafayette,who was granted honorary U.S. citizenship. 9. When Teddy Roosevelt was police commissioner in New York, he took steps to preserve Edgar Allan Poe’s home in New York. The house Poe rented is still there on a land called Poe Park.

10. Gerardus Mercator, a cartographer born in 1512 coined the word “Atlas” after a mythical Titan whom he idolized? Mercator used the word “Atlas” for his collection of world maps.

11. Who gets heart and kidney transplants? One prison inmate received a heart transplant which will probably end up costing taxpayers a million dollars. A death row inmate gets dialysis and has been recommended for a kidney transplant.

12. There are 193 nation members of the United Nations.

A question for the research minded. Could General Lafayette who was, of course, born in France, have become president of the U.S.?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Wednesday is Poems Prayers, Promises Day for our blog. Let’s start with a poem.

There is no frigate like a book

To take us lands away,

Nor any coursers like a page

Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of toll;

How frugal is the chariot

That bears a human soul!

Emily Dickinson.

What can you do with a poem?

Memorize it.

Take it apart and study the words and lines.

Write a response. What do you think of lines like “Prancing poetry”?

Listen to it. Some online sites have a reader reciting the poem.

Learn more about the life of the author.

Find other poems by this author.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


WHAT ROBOTS MEAN TO WORKERS BY MARY ANN SLAVCHEFF Are workers disposable like outdated machinery? We may soon learn the answer to that question as robots take over more and more of our jobs.

Dead end jobs are a form of slave labor. If robots bagged all groceries, folded all clothing, scrubbed all floors and tended all assembly lines, the workers who now tend these jobs would be freed from repetition and drudgery. They could spend their hours reading books,walking in the park or grooming a pet dog.

But are we willing to grant these workers their freedom? Freedom from work is one thing. Support for unwanted beings is yet another thing. Society uses people and products and then dumps them. Look what happened to horses when motor driven vehicles took their jobs.

What do we do with unwanted human workers? This is an issue that should concern all of us. Unskilled jobs won't be the only jobs lost.

Several medical, and engineering jobs are now done by robots. Robots can teach, and that alone puts millions of people out of work.

What can we do? Retrain? Lower the retirement wage? Some wages are already at starvation levels.

Education may not be the answer when robots can do anything a smart person can do and do it better. Robots don't need breaks or vacations, and they make fewer mistakes. People with leisure will probably crave learning, and the role of robots in education will be to teach people not other robots. Thus education will change. It will no longer be about training for jobs, but about training for leisure and self enlightenment.

Back to the original question. What do we do with unneeded and, therefore, unwanted workers?

Let's look at our history. Perhaps we can find some answers there.

Workers skilled and unskilled were once necessary.

Survival throughout our history depended on working men and women. Great wealth could not have been created without our muscle. We built the bridges, roads and the pathways to outer space. We have been faithful employees to businesses, big and small. How much have we been appreciated? Our wages were kept as low as possible.

Governments had to create minimum wage laws to help us survive. Even skilled musicians and writers are often asked to perform for free. Labor despite its necessity has historically not been valued.

A leisure class developed. Their freedom met with little resistance. The wealthy could spend their days playing tennis, learning French, writing poetry or sleeping in the sun. They could drink themselves to death; gambling was a gentleman's sport.

These “gentlemen” probably seldom gave a thought to the men, women and children who mined their ore or toiled in their factories. Segregation exists that has nothing to do with race. The wealthy do not eat or socialize with their help. Maids take the bus to work; they don't get a ride home from the chauffeur. Air planes have first class accommodations. Those who can afford to spend a little more, don't want to rub elbows with the working class.

For lower or middle class individuals to be jobless, is practically a sin. The unemployed are called bums and freeloaders. These ad hominem attacks have increased recently. Ronald Reagan's fictional Welfare Cadillac was just the beginning. Listen to the rhetoric when Congress plans its budget. Attacks on the unemployed grow as globalization and robotics put more and more people out of work?

The wealthy take our jobs away, give them to unskilled workers in other countries or to robots, and they call us lazy bums. Then they return to their leisure. Is leisure the right of only the very wealthy?

What do we do with workers when we don't have enough jobs for them?

Do we give them forty acres and a mule and expect them to be self supporting?

Those who don't want the farm can perhaps have an eBay store.

Those ideas seem too simplistic. Too 18th and 19th century. (Yet an eBay store is just a small shop, and Thomas Jefferson dreamed of making America a nation of farms and small shops.) Do we do away with money? Greed used to be one of the seven deadly sins. But some people on Wall Street, and in Congress (and in Ayn Rand fan clubs) have turned it into a virtue.

The rich aren't going to want to feed us or clothe us if we aren't working our butts off. And they aren't going to part with their beloved bank accounts. Look at the currant resistance to taxation among the wealthy. They don't want to pay their share.

Is it possible we will give the working classes leisure?

In a world without other people's work, can we be our own masters as Thomas Jefferson and others dreamed we could be? What will workers do, if we don't have shelves to stock, groceries to bag or streets to clean?

We can write novels and poetry.

We can golf or hike or watch sunsets without being so tired from a day in the factory that we can't appreciate the beauty.

We can watch our children grow up and teach them to appreciate things like old cats and dogs, sunflowers, butterflies and dandelions.

We can grow tomatoes or walnut trees.

We can appreciate life before we get so old we are more ready for death than retirement.

Robots can do the work so men, women and children can enjoy the freedom even Thomas Jefferson never dreamed possible. Robots can provide food, clothing and shelter for all of us.

We can be a society where the different classes respect and support each other as equals, not as master and slave, upper and lower class.

What is the alternative? Robots serving their privileged masters while the rest of humanity dies? Let's hope not.

Please read the following.

Monday, March 2, 2015


People in my generation know what year the battle of New Orleans was fought. We simply remember the first line of a Johnny Horton hit song. “In 1814, we took a little trip along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.”

Johnny Horton had an entire album of songs about history, “October 1871, that’s when this great big fie begun.” It was easy to learn history from Johnny Horton.

Many years later Tom Lehrer sang about the “Elements.” Hundreds of kids memorized the lyrics and the elements. Gosh that was fun. And while singing along with Lehner or with their friends, kids didn’t even have to use chaining or pegging.

In my record collection, I have an album that includes campaign songs from each president and another album that includes campaign songs from some of the presidential losers. Google songs about history. A huge list will come up.

There are songs about adverbs, adjectives, nouns and even pronouns. On the old "Mickey Mouse Club" television program, Jiminy Cricket sang about the "ENCYCLOPEDIA." He spelled out the letters.

The days of having to buy these albums are over, thanks to Youtube, where you can find most of the songs I mentioned and more.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Blog Schedule for March:

Sunday: Career and job advice

Monday: Mnemonics

Tuesday: Anything Can Happen Day

Wednesday: Poems, Prayers, Promises

Thursday Things I wouldn’t know If I Were Not A Reader

Friday: Play Day

Saturday: Learning Hacks


Here is a Sound way to get a better nights sleep.

Insomnia was described by the ancient Greeks as one of the tortures of hell. There are many causes of insomnia and the condition causes problems not only for students, but individuals of all ages all classes and in in all walks of life.

An easy solution to insomnia is “pink noise.” According to a recent article in ”O" magazine pink noise helps shut the mind down and produce sleep. Studies show sleep is deeper and more relaxing with a pink noise background.You tube has several pink noise recordings. I listen to the ten hours of pink noise.

Warning there are commercials. Some people would consider this subliminal advertising. I think the payoff of better sleep is worth a few minutes of commercials that don’t wake me up, and that I don’t remember.

During the day, try “Coffitivity,” coffee shop noises, for increased production.

Go back to You Tube for relaxation music, some of which is designed for study.

It is as easy as it Sounds.

Friday, February 27, 2015



1. In what year were each of the four men with birthdays in February born?

2. Who was the first president born in the 19th century?

3. Who was the first president born in the 20th century?

4. Who was the first president to be born after the American Revolution?

5. What president had the campaign slogan, “I like Ike.”

6. Teddy Roosevelt’s niece Eleanor married a future president while Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House? What was the name of her husband?

7. Who was president when the Berlin Wall was torn down?

8. What president wrote the best selling book, “Profiles In Courage”?

9. How many presidents were assassinated?

10. What president had a popular dog named Fala?


1. Washington 1732, William Henry Harrison 1773, Lincoln 1809, Reagan 1911.

2. Milliard Fillmore 1800.

3. John F. Kennedy, born in 1917,

4. James K Polk was born in 1795.

5. Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower.

6. Eleanor Roosevelt marrie her fifth cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

7. George Herbert Walker Bush

8. John F. Kennedy.

9. Four

10.Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Pick up a biography of one of our presidents or first ladies and read about his or her life.

When historians are asked to rank the presidents, the three top ranked are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Look these men up in an encyclopedia. Why do you think they rank at the top?

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Yesterday I showed you the PAO (Person, Action, Object) method of creating a pegging list. It is a preferred method of memory competition champs and because everybody’s PAO list is different, it is often well suited to the individual student and less boring than the alphabet.

I will be giving you other pegging lists. But practice with this one for awhile.

As a college English instructor , I found an alternative use for PAO lists. I used it to introduce students to the parts of speech.

In class we followed the steps of yesterday’s blog. We created a list of people, and then a list of transitive verbs (They take an object) and finally a list of nouns that named people places or things.

Put the items in the list together in fun ways and you have a PAO list.

Barack Obama (person) sews (action) coats (object).

Lady Gaga buys cats.

Mickey Mouse chases bumblebees.

The sentences can have some nonsense in them because this makes them easier to remember.

Those objects (coats, cats and bumblebees) are all direct objects. They get their action directly from the verb.

I mentioned yesterday there were two other types of objects.

Indirect Object

I bought my brother a car.

Obviously I didn’t buy my brother. I bought the car. So brother is the indirect object.

I plowed my neighbor’s driveway. Surely I didn’t plow my neighbor. He is the indirect object.

Find the indirect object by rewriting the sentence. If I can put either of the prepositions “for” or “to” in front of the word, that word is an indirect object.

I bought a car for my brother.

I plowed the driveway for my neighbor.

Object of a Preposition

When I was in grade school teachers told us if we could not recognize prepositions, we had to memorize the list in the book. I don’t think any of my classmates memorized the list. We all told ourselves we could recognize a preposition.

As a college instructor I have had students come up to me after class and start reciting the prepositions in alphabetical order. Those were the students who memorized the lists of prepositions. They learned them well, and all these years later were able to rattle off the list of prepositions.

“About, Above, Across, At…” These students could do the entire list.

We had a notetaker in class one day, and I asked her how she recognized prepositions. She shrugged. “I don’t know. I just do,” she said.

I am like that too. I just know a preposition when I see one. Two of my students taught me some easy methods for those who don’t recognize prepositions on sight and who never memorized a list of them.

The dog house rule:

If I can put the word in front of The dog house,” it is a preposition.

A mouse can go under the dog house: the dog can walk to the dog house. I can hang a bird feeder above the dog house.

Other prepositions are into, on in, of, from, for, beneath.

If you try this with a list of prepositions that you find online or in an English book, some may not work. “During” is a preposition, but it does not work with “the dog house.” There are a few others, but the dog house rule limits the prepositions you might have to memorize

Anyplace a Mouse Can Go

Another student told me a preposition is anyplace a mouse can go. Above, over, under, into, on, off, past, onto.

I hope these grammar tips help.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Memory experts have a type of pegging list called PAO. The letters stand for Person Action Object. Memory champions use PAO like any pegging list be it a list of locations or a list inspired by the alphabet or some other recognized order. I sometimes use the names of the forty-four U.S. presidents as a pegging list. Most people would probably prefer PAO. It is more memorable.

Creating a PAO list is fun and easy. First write a list of people’s names. These can be actors, historical figures, cartoon characters, fictional characters or friends and relatives. Let’s start with ten names.


1. Elvis Presley

2. Queen Elizabeth

3. George Washington

4. Eva De Neve (my mother) Substitute the name of your mother, aunt or teacher.

5. Mickey Mouse

6. Snoopy the beagle

7. Barack Obama

8. Justine Bieber

9. Snow White

10. Sleeping Beauty


Now make a list of ten transient verbs. These are verbs that take an object.

Kissed, kicked, swallowed, ate, read played, broke, carried, caught, cleaned, drank. paid, stopped, helped.

That is more than ten, but we don’t have to use them all. Feel free to look up more transitive verbs online.


Now make a list of nouns that name people or things.

fiddlestick, cow, donkey, dog, drums, book, spaghetti, Bugs Bunny, cat, paycheck, lamp, sofa, door, bedroom, bumblebee.

These are just examples. Use them or your own list.

Now let’s make sentences.

Elvis Presley kissed a cow.

Queen Elizabeth swallowed bumblebees.

Greorge Washington kicked Bugs Bunny.

Go on make your own sentences. Comeback when you are finished.


Now memorize the list of PAO’s. Add more than ten if you like. Why? Because we often have more than ten new items to memorize. Memory exercises are great exercises to grow the brain. Also a pegging list can be used to more easily memorize something else.

Say I want to memorize ta few state capitals.

To memorize Montgomery, Alabama I see Elvis Presley kiss a cow while actress Elizabeth Montgomery. I connect the two images in my mind, so I can remember the new material easier.

Also you just got a grammar lesson.

The people in your first list are here being used as sentence subjects. An easy way to determine what the subject of the sentence is, us to ask who or what the sentence is about.

Those action words were all verbs.

The last list is a group of words used here as objects. Nouns usually function in sentences as either subjects or objects. There are three kinds of objects. Object of a preposition, direct object and indirect object.

In the examples given the cow, the bumblebees and Bugs Bunny are direct objects; they get the action right from the verb.

Let’s save the lesson on indirect objects and objects of prepositions for tomorrow or the next day.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Has unschooling ever worked for any student? It did for me.

I fell in love with American history at a young age. I read books about the American Revolution, westward movement and the presidents. Every week I went to the library and selected two of three books to devour. I read all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s and Zane Gray’s books. I loved John Dickson Carr, whose mystery stories included locked room puzzles. They were great lessons in critical thinking, not that I knew that then.

Despite my passion for reading, I was not doing well in school. I was a strange kid with stringy brown hair that would not hold the bouffant hair styles so popular then. I wore thrift shop clothes, had cavities in my teeth and just didn’t make friends very well.

On the bus and on the playground, the bullies tormented me. I was ashamed of not having friends to play with, so I tried to hide in the bathroom with a book. The teachers would make me go outside.

I hated the lunches, so the teachers picked on me about that.

I was bored with the lessons. We studied the same things every year. Apostrophes have to be the most boring thing on earth, not to mention comparative and superlative adjectives.

I did poorly in all my subjects except history and English. I did well in history because it didn’t bore me, though the textbooks were not as good as the books I took from the library.

I did well in English because I was a reader. Maybe I didn’t know the comma rules or the nouns and verbs and other rules, but I had seen enough proper sentences in books that I could recognize the correct version. I was like a musician who plays by ear. I read and wrote by ear.

School did take its toll on me. I stopped even trying to study. I retreated into a world of daydreams. I watched television and read books because the fantasy worlds in both fed my daydreams.

But I did not just learn in books.

I joined a humane society and a writers club. These were adult evening activities, so even though I had no friends my own age, I spent time with intelligent mature people who did not repeat the same boring material over and over.

Unschooling will not work for all students. Most students don’t skip school to go to the library like I did. They have little or no interest in history, animal welfare or writing, but there has to be alternatives to public school for those of us who do not thrive there and cannot learn there.

Homeschooling is a great option, but most parents don’t have the resources for homeschooling. It takes time, effort and money.

What other options are there?

The granny cloud works in India, and I will have more about that and other options in future columns.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Smart schooling often requires tossing out the television. Or at least limiting the hours it is on. There is nothing wrong with television like there is nothing wrong with wine and candy. But a diet rich in any of these items is unhealthy. Television is addictive, and children are easy victims of its lure. We would all do best on a diet of one or two pre-selected programs a week.

When we do watch television,we need to learn from it. That doesn’t mean we select a television diet of documentaries and news programs. If I watch a CSI program, I can take an interest in the science. If I watch the “Tudors” or any historic recreation, I can take an interest in the history.

Are there any old westerns playing this week? The American west is rich in history, science, ecology and geography.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

This article is a must read for all parents. Schools don't just fail our boys.

Saturday, February 21, 2015


Book Review

Home Grown, Adventures in Parenting Off the Beaten Path and Connecting to the Natural World

Author: Ben Hewitt

224 pages

Ben Hewitt and his wife travel the road less taken. They live on a farm where they grow most of their own food, drive a decades old car, wear second hand clothing and un-school their two sons.

The boys, both of them under ten years old, spend their days helping with the farm work, hunting and trapping. The activities were chosen by them. While they are expected to help with chores like any other youngster, the hunting and trapping is their decision.

The children are not illiterate. They read and studied enough about the hunting and trapping to obtain their licenses.

The children pick their own activities and their own learning schedule. The family does not have television, so reading is a popular evening activity. So is fashioning traps and bows and arrows. The hunting and trapping equipment is all homemade.

Reading, “Home Grown,” Hewitt’s collection of essays about un-schooling his children was an adventure for me. The book came to my attention as I was contemplating the future of mankind in a world where workers may soon not be needed. What kind of a world will that be?

It wasn’t Hewitt’s intention to answer that question, but he did give me something to think about. We need people capable of survival. Some people need to know how to produce their own food. There may come a time when we may again have to depend upon such individuals.

Hewitt butchers his own livestock. He says he does it in a way that does not hurt or frighten the animal. I believe him. Still I am a vegetarian, who recently gave up dairy reading about raising animals to kill them is disturbing to me. If I had a cow, I could not kill her. I would not take her calf away from her, so I can drink her milk.

I have long been anti-trapping and have signed several petitions to end the killing. I see no value in hunting or trapping.

But in some ways I understand that some people in our modern world must have these skills.

I debated, not reviewing this book. I am after all almost vegan.

I can’t kill an animal. I can’t ask anyone else to kill or hurt an animal for me. Yet Hewitt and his children can kill animals humanely. They use every part of the animal. They have skinning and cooking skills that start not with a chunk of meat in the grocery store, but with a dead animal. Hewitt’s young sons can not only kill, but can skin and fry a field mouse.

So momentarily I wanted to diss the book. Then I realized these people live close to the animals that are part of their farm. The children have learned real and perhaps useful skills.

But what else are these children learning?

Un-schooling is hard to define. It is a type of home schooling with fewer rules. The child learns, but on his terms. The Hewitt children as I said learned to read and write while studying hunting and trapping techniques. They even make their own bows, arrows and traps. The traps they make according to the book are humane. There are no steel teeth. Some traps kill the animal instantly.

When we’re talking about school, we are talking about ethical issues, and school does not work for thousands of children.

What about un-schooling? It works for this family whether I like what the children are learning or not. They are learning.