Scaredy L. Marie

This is one of those days when I had to put my Scaredy Squirrel hand puppet on and point the finger at myself. 011

Don’t worry. I don’t do this in public much. But once again, a post at Nancy Hatch’s blog hit me where I live. It’s this one: https://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/calm-self-awareness/

She featured a video that I won’t post here, since you can find it at the end of her post. Feel free to head there and check it out. I won’t mind. Honest. It reminded me of something that has plagued me for years: status anxiety. Can you relate?

In the video the narrator discusses the question most of us ask each other: “What do you do?” Jobs I’ve had with regular paychecks like book or curriculum editor at various publishers, senior project writer at another, or production editor at the American Bar Association made that question a lot easier to answer. But when the regular paychecks stopped, well, I squirmed a lot when people asked me, “What do you do?” Even the answer, “Um freelance writer” seemed lame, especially when it gained me follow-up questions like, “Oh? What are you working on? Do you have a contract? When will the book be published?” I’ve had work-for-hire projects, so the assumptions behind the questions are valid. But when I lack a project, I get rather tongue tied.

I wish I didn’t find a response like, “I’m writing my own books” or “I don’t know when they’ll be published” so difficult to utter. All due to pride I guess, and the status thing that the video points out. After all, both responses fail to point to a tangible source of income. Yet I love the stories I write and the characters I’ve gotten to know. And I betray them every time I keep silent out of fear.

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Status seems a silly thing to stress over. But we do anyway, don’t we?

Another thing I’ve squirmed about is where I live—an apartment. Over the years, I’ve faced the “why rent when you can own” remarks or even disdainful looks because I’m not a homeowner. Really, the fact that I’m here and not homeless is an answer to prayer. I love where I live, though, because I can look out and see this tree.

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For some reason, I think of this tree as Wesley. I’m not sure why. (And it has nothing to do with The Princess Bride.) Wesley reminds me of me. He’s old and has a broken limb due to a bad storm. But he’s still standing and producing leaves. I’ve been broken by life’s storms too. But who hasn’t been? Maybe you have too. But we’re still standing. . . .

So I can’t make a proper pretense at status. Even my car gives me away. It’s as old as Methuselah. But I still zip around in it. I even give dudes revving their engines in the lanes next to me a run for their money. (Never challenge a Honda Civic—especially one driven by me. I didn’t get three speeding tickets in one year for nothin’.)

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Um, this is not my car. But it has the same make and model.

Let’s see what else I’ve been afraid of. Oh yes. In the past, I’ve worried that this blog isn’t “status-y” enough. I don’t have the readership that many bloggers have. I don’t have a plan for it. Don’t want a plan for it. I love the randomness of it, though some readers might run for the hills. I can write nonsense about hand puppets whenever I get ready or post interviews and cover reveals to support authors.

By the way, I’m giving away a number of books in June. The fact that I can do so thrills me to no end.

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So that’s me. I’ve got a load of clothes in the dryer, so I’ve got to skedaddle soon. If I have a takeaway to add to this, I would say that if you and I meet, I won’t ask you, “What do you do?” As if you have to prove your worth by that question. Instead, I’ll just say, “I’m glad to meet you.” Because that’s what it’s all about, really, isn’t it? Who we are, not what we do.

After I take my clothes out of the dryer, I might get all fast and furious on the road in my old Civic. The sun is out and I have a horizon to find. (Yes, that is an allusion to one of Captain Jack Sparrow’s lines in the first Pirates of the Caribbean.) Maybe I’ll see you on the road. But if you rev your engine at me, watch out.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this.

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While the others at the party discussed who was who and what was what, Gandalf took a nap. I can so relate, Gandalf.

Honda Civic from cargurus.com. Book stack from blogs.mtu.edu. Other photos by L. Marie.

Woman to Woman: The Alpha Male

On a day when the sharp scent of peppermint permeated the air (I’m not sure why it did), Kitty came to me with a request while I lounged outside.

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Kitty: Can we talk, woman to woman?
Me: Sure. What’s on your mind?
Kitty: Can we talk about boys for a minute?
Me: I’m pretty sure we’ll fail the Bechdel test if we do.
Kitty (unfazed by my remark): Would either Gandalf or Jordie be considered an alpha male?

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Me: Um, well, maybe Gandalf. Jordie . . . frankly no.
Kitty: Good. Then I will choose him as the companion of my heart.
Me: Huh? Why?
Kitty: I am alpha.
Me: Uh . . .
Kitty: Thank you for helping me clear that up.
Me: Uh . . .

I found this conversation timely, since I’d just finished reading Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart, which has an alpha male secondary character. While reading it, I wondered whether or not the concept of the alpha male has changed since the 1950s when the book was written. With Sigourney Weaver’s awesome performance as Ellen Ripley in the 1986 film Aliens, an increasing desire for strong female heroines ensued (hence Charlize Theron as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road; some men complained about her role, however, according to the Chicago Tribune). Has the fictional alpha male evolved consequently?

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Under Gandalf’s disapproving gaze; Sigourney Weaver as Ripley

First, I wondered about the universal characteristics of an alpha male. When I picked up another Mary Stewart book, also from the 50s—Madam, Will You Talk?—I found a description of a dude who is “singularly good-looking” and who “had that look of intense virility and yet sophistication—that sort of powerful, careless charm which can be quite devastating” (Stewart 11). Though he was not the alpha, this description seemed apt for alpha males on one level.

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I decided to compare that description with one found at this post at Romance Novels for Feminists, which mentions romance author Jill Shalvis’s view on the subject:

Rather than describe a male character’s characteristics in detail, Shalvis uses the shorthand “alpha” to signal to readers that the character possesses a certain type of über-desirable masculinity, a masculinity characterized by toughness, strength, and the need to protect those around him, particularly his girlfriend/spouse/mate.

So far, only women have given an opinion. What do men think? I found out at AskMen.com:

An alpha male has certain unmistakable characteristics. A natural leader, he is a pack-builder. He leads, provides for and protects his pack (his significant other, his buddies, his teammates, and so on).

the-alpha-male-gray-wolf-canis-lupus-jim-and-jamie-dutcherInteresting. In the young adult novel I finished writing months ago, my 17-year-old main character views himself as alpha, but meets a female (the other main character) who disagrees. He has to learn how an alpha really behaves. The AskMen article, “Signs You’re Not An Alpha Male,” vividly discusses this behavior. You can find that article here.

We’re used to fictional alpha males like James Bond; Dirk Pitt (Clive Cussler’s books); James T. Kirk; Batman; Aragorn; Odysseus; Beowulf; Green Arrow; Daredevil; Gaston; Jack Ryan (Tom Clancy’s books); characters Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Humphrey Bogart, Samuel L. Jackson, or Jet Li played; anyone from the Fast and Furious movies; Duke Nukem; Wolverine; Superman; Robin in Teen Titans; the Man with No Name Clint Eastwood played in westerns; Russell Crowe as Maximus or Jack Aubrey; Tony Stark; Captain America (Steve Rogers); Hal Jordan (Green Lantern); John Stewart (also Green Lantern), Thor; Black Panther; Frank Woods (Call of Duty); Nathan Drake (Uncharted); and many, many others. While some might be viewed as relics of a bygone era, others reflect the changing face of the alpha male.

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Cap, Bruce Banner, Tony Stark; Black Panther

In a Slate.com article, “Omega Males and the Women Who Hate Them” (click here for that), I learned about an omega man:

While the alpha male wants to dominate and the beta male just wants to get by, the omega male has either opted out or, if he used to try, given up.

Yikes! But I don’t want to get off on an omega man tangent here. Yet it shows an interesting backlash of sorts against those viewed as “domineering” (see the Romance Novels for Feminists post) alpha males.

Maybe that’s why James Bond received a reboot. According to this article by Paul Whitington at Independent.ie., “[Daniel] Craig’s Bond [in the film, Casino Royale (2006)] was young, confused and even vulnerable.”

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So today’s alpha male is strong, but tries to keep it real by admitting to foibles (i.e., Tony Stark admitting he’s a “piping hot mess” in Iron Man 3). Yet audiences are divided on the evolution of the alpha male.

But let’s get back to Mary Stewart. When I opened Nine Coaches, I expected to find an archaic viewpoint. Stewart, however, showcased an alpha male and a strong heroine, neither of whom is threatened by the strength of the other. I love that!

What do you think of the alpha male? Got a favorite or a strong opinion on the subject?

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Can their love survive?

AskMen Editors. “Signs You’re Not An Alpha Male.” AskMen.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.
Grose. Jessica. “Omega Males and the Women Who Hate Them.” Slate.com. N.p., 18 Mar. 2010. Web. 24 May 2015.
Horn, Jackie C. “Evolution and the Alpha Male.” Romance Novels for Feminists. N.p., 26 Sept. 2014. Web. 25 May 2015.
Stewart, Mary. Madam, Will You Talk? New York: William Morrow, 1956. First published in Great Britain in 1955. Print.
—. Nine Coaches Waiting. New York: William Morrow, 1958. Print.
Whitington, Paul. “Film… From Craig to Connery: The Many Faces of James Bond.” Independent.ie. N.p., 12 Apr. 2015. Web. 24 May 2015.

Black Panther from Marvel.com. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Chris Evans as Captain America, and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner from news.doddleme.com. Daniel Craig as James Bond from fanpop.com. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley from oblikon.net. Book cover from Goodreads. Alpha male gray wolf from fineartamerica.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Remarkable Trees

I often head outside to write and relax under the welcoming arms of this tree on the grounds of my apartment building.

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Hullo.

Don’t let this picture fool you. The lowest branch is at least ten feet off the ground. (I gauged the distance based on my height—about five four and a half inches—and the fact that I was only halfway to the branch.) So a ladder is a necessary tool if you want to climb this tree.

I don’t know what kind of tree this is. If you are a tree aficionado, can you tell, based on the leaves in the photo below, what kind it is? (Yes, I know the photo is not the greatest.) Some kind of locust tree maybe? I’m far more used to maple trees. We had those outside of our house when I was growing up.

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With the temperature at 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), and the wind on the chilly side, I was not inclined to sit outside. (It rained anyway.) But I wanted to snap a few photos of this friendly tree.

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This is my good side.

Lately, I’ve been in need of a soul expansion. Ever have a season when you experienced too many battles and too few victories? Like the Grinch who stole Christmas (look here if you’re not sure who the Grinch is or look below), lately my heart has felt two sizes too small. But one quick way for me to regain good cheer involves placing myself near trees and other beautiful plants.

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I’m not a gardener, but I appreciate the efforts of others to beautify the grounds. I love the fact that I can look out of my window and see lilacs, vivid green grass, and trees.

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Tulips and lilacs at the front door

One look at a tree or flowers causes my blood pressure to drop and my hands to unclench. I love seeing birds flitting in and out of the tree the photo of which appears above. Robins are frequent visitors, though I’ve heard a sparrow or two in the vicinity each morning. I’ve also seen a blackbird perched on a high branch, singing a spring song.

As I type this post, suddenly I’m reminded of a book on my Amazon Wish List:

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Click here for more on this book. I’ll pick up a copy of my own at some point. I first learned of it at the library, where I borrowed a copy. I’m fascinated by books that discuss trees, especially ancient or huge trees like the cedars of Lebanon or redwoods. They remind me of how big the world is and how small I am.

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Cedars of Lebanon

Since the remarkable tree book came to mind, I thought about trees I find remarkable and would love to see in person someday. I’m not alone in my assessment. These trees appear on many lists of remarkable or beautiful trees.

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Banyan

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Japanese Maple

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Jacaranda

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California Redwood

Just looking at those trees makes me feel better. And this great post at Nancy Hatch’s blog, Spirit Lights The Way, has the same effect: https://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/relax-youre-on-island-time/

Which tree not currently listed which you add to the remarkable trees list? Why?

Book cover from Goodreads. Jacaranda from exploreaustralia.net.au. Japanese maple from boredpanda.com/falcor88. Banyan tree from en.wikipedia.org. Redwood tree from bigsurcalifornia.org. Lebanon cedars from habeeb.com. Grinch’s heart from adventuresforlife.wordpress.com.

Viewer Fatigue

During fall quarter of my freshman year in college, I watched the soap opera, All My Children, with my friends at my dorm. Yeah, I really did. In a later quarter, I grew to resent the intrusion of an econ class that kept me from watching TV at noon. How dare the school schedule classes that cut into my soap opera viewing!

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Many years later, I find myself resenting TV for cutting into my life. How ironic for a person who usually spent her downtime in front of the tube.

Though I watched and enjoyed the two-hour season finale of Agents of Shield last week, I felt relieved that I wouldn’t have to watch it this week. I had spent the season having to play catch-up when a friend and I got together other every Tuesday—the night Agents appeared on TV. With that relief came another realization: I’m a bit weary of the continuing storylines of many TV dramas.

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Remember the days when TV episodes were more self-contained—a different problem or villain each week? You could elect to skip a show one week and not feel that you had to catch up on the episode you missed. Nowadays, with continuing storylines or multiple-episode arcs featuring a slow reveal of key information, if you miss a show, you’re lost the next week. You have to keep watching to get the whole picture. I watched shows like Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5 with strong arcs that meant you had to watch the episodes in order.

For those in charge of television programming, this is a good strategy for keeping viewers engaged. Obviously, this strategy of linking episodes worked for soap operas for so many decades.

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Over the years and even recently, friends and family highly recommended shows like Daredevil, Game of Thrones, Arrow, The Walking Dead, The Flash, Downton Abbey, Scandal, and many other critically acclaimed, entertaining shows that I have yet to watch though they have huge fan bases. Believe me, I’m not doubting the quality of these shows or anyone’s right to watch them. It’s just that now I’m tired of tuning in.

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I need a viewer vacation this summer. If I watch anything, it has to be a one-shot deal—something that begins, then ends with no messy arcs to follow.

I might binge on Downton Abbey, Flash, and Arrow at some point in life. (Thank you, Netflix!) But for now, I’m reluctant to invest more weekly time in someone else’s televised world, especially if I neglect my own fictional world.

In the coming days, I’ll work on my book. When I take a break from that, I’ll seek inspiration from reading or hanging out with people or walking in nature. I desperately need to fill my senses with the sights of the great outdoors.

Today (Monday), I’m having lunch with a friend and dinner with another group of friends. On Tuesday, I’ll probably hang out with another friend. I’m not sure what the rest of the week will look like. But I plan to take this advice.

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What about you? How do you feel about shows with continuing storylines? Love them? Deplore them? Feel comforted by them?

Television from sewarental.wordpress.com. All My Children logo from blog.chron.com. The Flash logo from lyricis.fr. Scandal logo from abcallaccess.com. Agents of Shield logo hihimag.com. Daredevil logo flickeringmyth.com. Think logo from irregulartimes.com.

Cover Reveal: Ichabod Brooks and the City of Beasts

Coming on June 1st for 99 cents!

Ichabod Brooks & the City of Beasts (Cover by Nio Mendoza)

Ichabod Brooks & the City of Beasts (Cover by Nio Mendoza)

In a time of heroes, a man will take any job to provide for his family.

Ichabod Brooks has earned a reputation for taking the jobs most men and women fear to challenge. This reputation has brought him to the charred remains of a small village nestled within the hills and forest of Ralian. The ruins are a source of strange monsters that terrorize the countryside and repeatedly elude the local guards and hunters. The few brave souls who have entered the creatures’ lair have yet to come out alive or dead.

The chances of survival are slim, but that generous payment is too much for Ichabod to resist. After all, a man and his family have to eat.

Author PhotoAuthor Biography

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn’t working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. ‘Legends of Windemere’ is his first series, but it certainly won’t be his last.

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Fantasy, I’m with You Still

Perhaps by now you’ve seen Avengers: Age of Ultron (loved it; would like to see it again) and, like me, are looking forward to the next Marvel movie—Ant Man.

Right after watching Ultron, I finally got around to watching a movie I’d wanted to see for some time now: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (DreamWorks 2014). Like Age of Ultron, it made a deep impression on me.

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Though I loved both films, I’m going to confine my comments to How to Train Your Dragon 2 for reasons that will become clear. The trailer for it follows. While seeing the first movie before tackling this one is ideal, this film provides enough back story to help you get by without seeing the first one.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 debuted last year; however, this week was the perfect time for me to see it. Having heard a number of times the opinion that fantasy stories are a hard sell these days, I needed to a visual reminder of the joy and wonder of stories within the fantasy genre. This film provided that.

What I love about How to Train Your Dragon 2, besides the fact that it involves dragons, is the fact that people take a stand despite overwhelming odds. And I mean overwhelming. There. That’s my spoiler-free take on the movie.

If you watched the trailer above or saw How to Train Your Dragon (2010; based on the book by Cressida Cowell), you know that Hiccup, the main character, is an extremely unlikely hero. In the current story, though five years have passed, he’s still unsure of himself. But ready or not, Hiccup has to face an enemy who has every reason to feel totally confident of winning any battle. Consequently, the stakes are indeed high.

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Hiccup and his friend Toothless, a night fury dragon

What I also love about Hiccup’s story is that despite the darkness of the times, there is hope. Yes, there are setbacks and pain. But a rich vein of hope shines through. However, when hope arises, there’s also a dissenting voice: that of the antagonist.

You’ve read stories, haven’t you, where an enemy taunts a hero, telling him or her to give up, that he/she won’t win? A bit of that happens in How to Train Your Dragon 2. In the hero’s journey, the taunting is sometimes part of the dark night of the soul, where the hero is at his/her lowest ebb. The taunts of the enemy are all a mind game, really—an attempt to put the hero at a psychological disadvantage so that he/she will feel too defeated to fight.

That’s how I’ve felt lately—taunted by the enemy known as Despair, which constantly whispered, “Your stories won’t sell. Only genres you’re currently not writing will sell. You might as well give up.”

Nice try, Despair. But I can’t let you win. The stakes are too high.

Sometimes you have to take a stand, even if the odds are overwhelmingly against you. That’s what being a hero is all about. I’m not your typical hero—the sword-wielding kind. I’m a genre hero. Being a genre hero means sticking with your genre of choice even if others tell you to do otherwise or abandon the field themselves. That’s what I learned from Hiccup. And if you’re battling the same enemy I faced, stay strong, Hero. This dark night will pass.

How to Train Your Dragon poster from ramascreen.com. Avengers: Age of Ultron  poster from teaser-trailerz.blogspot.com

Thanks, Mom

Happy_Mothers_Day_wishes_greetings_wallpapers_celebration_love(www.picturespool.blogspot.com)_02Hope you had a lovely Mother’s Day. If you’re not from the U.S., here in the States we celebrated mothers everywhere on May 10. I don’t have children of my own. Can’t have any. Nieces, nephews, and other people’s kids have become mine over the years. So when someone tells me, “Happy Mother’s Day,” I say, “Thanks,” and keep on swimming.

I’m grateful that I have a wonderful mother, one who even goes the extra mile by reading my blog posts! I gave Mom a hard time growing up. She wanted the best for me. I didn’t always see it that way—like when she would tell me that the guy I dated was not right for me. Grrr. She was always right. Also, she never stopped pushing me to do my best. I called it nagging; she called it “helping me succeed.”

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Mom has an uncanny sense of knowing when I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing. Like in my freshman year of college when I took codeine pills for pain that unfortunately gave me insomnia for three days. Mom called me at 7:30 one morning to ask, “Okay, what did you take?” This is the same woman who once told me she had eyes at the back of her head. When I was a kid, I believed her. But that day, she told me she’d had a dream about me, which prompted her to call.

She has prayed for me every day of my life. Judging by some of the stupid situations that I survived (like running out into the street without looking and getting hit by a car), I needed the help. Remember Natalee Holloway? What a sad story. A friend and I faced a slightly similar situation during a vacation we took in Montego Bay, Jamaica, right after we graduated from college. (Natalee was a high school student who traveled to Aruba.) While at a party, we each met a guy and wound up separated from each other on different sides of the city. That’s a long story that I won’t fully tell here. (Sorry.) Obviously, this story ended differently than Natalee’s. When I heard what happened to Natalee back in 2005, I felt chilled to the bone, knowing that the same thing could have happened to me. (This is not a story any mom likes to hear.)

Mother’s Day reminds me to say thanks to all of the women who were surrogate moms to me—women who cared enough to reprimand me whenever I behaved in an idiotic fashion (which, growing up, happened a lot). In a day when some parents yell at you for reprimanding their kids—“Yeah, he broke that window. But you can’t tell my kid what to do”—I’m grateful that someone cared enough to tell me when I was wrong. Teachers, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers, advisors, and authors through their wonderful books—fabulous surrogates all. It really does take a village to raise a child.

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On Mother’s Day, after we ate a meal that my brother and his father-in-law helped prepare, two of my sisters-in-law, their mom, and I sat two teenage nieces down and asked them what they would do if they found themselves in difficult situations. For example, “If you’re at a party and your friend has been drinking and wants to drive, what will you do?” Perhaps our questions might have prompted some eye rolling (like I used to do when I was a teen and my mom, grandmother, and aunts talked to me about life). But maybe, just maybe, we might save them from a bad situation (like some of the ones I went through). That’s all a mom can hope to do.

Thanks, again, Mom. I’m grateful to God for you.

Mother’s Day image from fun-gall.blogspot.com. Flowers from sprout-flowers.com. Village sign from jeannie-ology.com.