I could eat a horse … but I didn’t

I was raised in a time when children were pretty much ordered to eat everything on their plates. “There are starving children in Africa!” my mother would intone whenever we looked askance at some of her dubious-looking culinary creations.

Being of Irish and German extraction, my mother never met a dish she didn’t feel the need to cook the color and taste out of. I know this because I spent the first six decades of my life hating brussel sprouts, not realizing that the gray mush she shoved onto my plate was nothing like those lovely wee cabbages sautéed by my sweetie pie – browned crisply in butter and sprinkled with a dusting of . . . toffee. (I see you looking skeptical. Try it.)

My mother also insisted that one never turn down an offering of food. Ever. This was a moral imperative. Perhaps this was because she grew up during the Depression when food was scarce, or maybe it was because she took umbrage whenever anyone just nibbled around the edges of her meals. But, whatever the reason, this rule set me on a path of accepting whatever fare was placed before me. Which has worked out pretty well most of my life, though there have been some interesting gastronomic adventures along the way.

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Traveling has always provided the opportunity for a wide array of noteworthy edibles. I learned this when I was offered Vegemite in Australia. Had a paid attention to the grinning Aussies huddled about as I bit into their beloved spread made from spent brewer’s yeast, I might have had an inkling of what was to come. While they compared the substance to peanut butter, it was more like aged, brown sardine paste that had been left too long in the sun. Let’s just say once was enough.

The next day, I attended a barbecue where the main dish was kangaroo burgers. Crocodile sausage came later. Both were OK, though biting into Skippy seemed inherently wrong.

In China, I was offered something called a one-thousand-year-old-egg. The name alone is off-putting. But the visual is even worse. I considered showing a picture here, but on the off chance someone might be enjoying breakfast, I reconsidered. Suffice it to say it’s a gooey black egg preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, and quicklime. Did I eat it? Yes! I know the rules. Was I glad there was a large glass of wine on hand? Indubitably.

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Once, on lovely evening in Fiji, I was seated on the ground with others in a circle when I was handed a coconut shell high-tided with kava. High-tide, in this case, means the shell was full to the brim. (Low-tide is a shell half full.) Kava, for the uninitiated, is a root that gets pulverized into what looks like dirt. And that is exactly what it tastes like. The village chief grinds the kava, mixes it with water, and distributes it to those who wish to imbibe. There’s a clapping ritual, after which one is expected to down the beverage in one gulp. Of course, since my mother trained me well, I complied, not knowing that the kava would just keep coming around. After five hits off the shell, my lips and tongue were quite numb so speech was a bit problematic, though I no longer noticed the beverage tasted like dirt. I will say I had one of the best night’s sleep ever, and not a hint of a hangover.

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Sometimes, there were misconceptions about certain foods. My first TV sports reporting gig was in Columbus, Georgia. I had just moved there from Washington D.C., and, as you might expect, that change of scene was particiularly jarring. Some of my new work friends took me out to dinner and I found myself looking up at a middle-aged waitress.

“You want grits with that, honey?” She stared at me.

I paused, unsure.

“Grits?” She thumped a pen on a pad of paper.

“Um . . . I’ve never had grits,” I replied. “Could you just bring me one so I could taste it?”

Several beats of silence were followed by what I recall as hysterical laughter from those at the table.

And here is where I have to admit that twice in my life, I sort of broke the food rule. One time, I was hanging around with my friend Jill, whose lovely mom was the antithesis of mine in every way, especially in regard to cooking. She would even make her kids something special, if they didn’t like what was being served. By comparison, my mom would stand by the table clucthing a metal pancake turner, ordering us to eat what was on our plates or starve.

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Whenever possible, I would invite myself to Jill’s house for dinner. So, I asked what was on that evening’s menu.

“Tongue,” she said.

“Tongue?” I thought she was kidding.

She got up from her seat at the kitchen table, opened the fridge, and pointed inside. “Tongue.”

Eh gads! There was a giant tongue resting on a plate, the meat covered with little bumps I thought might be taste buds. I took a breath. Suddenly, whatever my mom had planned didn’t seem so bad. I ate at home that night.

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The only other time I avoided an offering of food was when I was a student in Luxembourg during my junior year in college. I was driving by a picturesque field where pretty, plump ponies were grazing.

“Oh! Look!” I said, pointing at the animals.

Lennart, whose parents had taken me in for the semester, said, “Those are the ones we eat.”

Later, I was invited to attend a reception where we students would be welcomed as honorary guests. We were to be served the national meal of Luxembourg — cheval and pommes frittes — which I learned, to my horror, was horse with fried potatoes. My brain was assaulted by visions of Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka and National Velvet.

To everyone’s surprise but my own, I developed a case of the flu the evening of the affair and had to miss that dinner. Under the circumstances, I think even my mother would have understood.

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

What should sports be teaching our kids?

 

I’ve spent most of my life in the sports world. I ice skated, skied, and swam as a kid. I was a sports reporter for about 15 years. For the past four decades, I’ve officiated amateur sports: mostly football and baseball, but I’ve called basketball, ice hockey, and soccer games, as well.

So, I feel qualified to take a good hard look at the American sports scene. And what I see isn’t pretty, which is upsetting for someone who’s always believed that participation in sports makes us better people, endowing us with skills needed to be successful in both our personal and professional lives.

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I read a book recently that crystalized some of the issues affecting sports in the U.S.  In Norwich, a story detailing a tiny Vermont town that has produced an inordinate number of well-adjusted Olympic athletes, New York Times reporter Karen Crouse writes, “(T)he parents of Norwich learned through trial and error the best methods of nourishing happy athletes: by valuing participation and sportsmanship, and stressing fun, community, and self-improvement.”

Anyone who has attended a youth-level sports competition over the last two decades must surely know that idyllic communities like Norwich are about as common as unicorns. The “winning is everything” adage is on display in the behavior of parents, coaches, and fans even when children are in elementary school, a time when sports competition should focus on teamwork, building friendships, and learning to win and lose gracefully.

What has changed? Dollar signs. Parents see pro athletes in an 11-year-old Pop Warner football player or a Little League pitcher. The inevitable leap to specialization and year-round club teams all in the hope they will spawn the next major leaguer is both sad and disturbing.

I have spent the last 19 years teaching in an inner-city high school in Phoenix. Way too many of my students say they want to be professional athletes. I explain they should have a Plan B, since statistics clearly show most will never play organized sports after high school, and that, even if they receive that rare college-sports scholarship, the chance of ever getting a professional tryout is like winning the Powerball lottery.

Why do my students want to be pro athletes? They imagine that multimillion-dollar lifestyle. These kids – like the previously mentioned helicopter parents – seem to care only about the fame and financial riches to be gained. When I point out that pro careers are difficult, generally very short, and that the vast majority of athletes are not banking millions and living in mansions, they scoff.

According to Crouse, children in Norwich are not raised to believe that the raison d’être of sports participation is material gain. “(T)he social tapestry of Norwich represents a triumph of nurture over the natural order of the modern world, which has given us a wealth and acquisition model that favors autonomy over relationships and independence over community.”

The point in encouraging children to participate in sports has never been about money and fame. It’s about teaching them to be happy, well-adjusted adults. Competing in sports teaches discipline, respect for authority, persistence, teamwork, dedication, self-esteem, and, perhaps most importantly, how to cope with failure.

However, forcing a child into a single sport, in order to chase dreams of college scholarships and a pro career, ignores the possibility that they might excel in different areas if given the opportunity, and often produces injuries, burnout, and depression. This strategy differs greatly from that of the parents of Norwich who, “When in doubt, erred on the side of giving their children freedom. They were determined not to be like the parents who control their children’s choices for reasons having to do with their own egos or anxieties.”

Young people need to have the opportunity to try new things, which is the first step in determining what they might like to do in the future. While I encourage my students to compete in sports, I would be remiss if I stopped there. I want them to take art and music and drama and woodworking and culinary arts and any other subject that stirs their imagination. These experiences will help guide their decisions for the future, when they must consider what they like, what they’re good at, and what someone will pay them to do.

I am sometimes reminded of a moment I witnessed while refereeing a high school football game. At halftime, the marching band took the field. And there, in the horn section, was a football player — sans helmet and shoulder pads — playing the trumpet. I wanted to applaud him for branching out, and congratulate his coach for granting the player the opportunity to pursue music.

I wish I could say sights like this are common, but sadly they’re not. I only mention it because I think the people of Norwich would have been proud.

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March 2, 2109

Small Towns Big on Sports

Karen Crouse   Norwich

John Branch   The Last Cowboys

University of Arizona Bookstore

1:00-2:00 PM

On March 2, 2019, in Tucson, Arizona, I will have the honor of moderating a discussion between Karen Crouse and John Branch, both New York Times reporters, who have written books about special communities that have organically produced incredibly successful athletes. Crouse’s book, Norwich, details a tiny Vermont town that has supported and nourished young athletes, and produced a stunning number of Olympic competitors over the years.  In The Last Cowboys, Branch writes about a ranching family living in the wilds of Southern Utah that has dominated the rodeo scene for several generations. As the modern world encroaches, both of these communities face change. Come and join us for the discussion and Q&A session. Crouse and Branch will sign copies of their books following the event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Light in the Desert is “gritty and well scripted”

I am delighted to share that the February 2019 issue the book review magazine “Small Press Bookwatch” features a review of  my novel A Light in the Desert.

Small Press Bookwatch is a subsidiary of the Midwest Book Review, an organization that was founded in 1976 and is “committed to promoting literacy, library usage, and small press publishing.”

My thanks to the Midwest Book Review for taking the time to read and review A Light in the Desert.

“A gritty, well scripted novel with elements of Post-Traumatic Stress, sheer survival, and issues associated with child abuse, Anne Montgomery’s ‘A Light in the Desert’ is an intrinsically gripping read from beginning to end by an author with a genuine flair for originality and compelling narrative driven storytelling. While unreservedly recommended for community library Contemporary General Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that ‘A Light in the Desert’ is also available in a digital book format.”

Midwest Book Review  February 2019

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

Celebrating imagination

I was not a horribly bright kid. A low level of dyslexia scrambled my brain just enough to make me hate reading, struggle in math, and earn disapproving looks from my highly-educated parents.

However, what I lacked in classroom smarts, I made up for with imagination. Today, parents are called on to celebrate that creative spark, but I don’t think my mom or dad got that particular message.

How I wish they’d listened to Albert Einstein. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

I know for a fact that lots of kids had imagination when I was growing up. After all, we had no cellphones or video games. Nor did we adhere to rigorous schedules filled with sports and hobbies and playdates, all under the watchful eyes of parents who might swoop in should there be the slightest hint we might get our feelings hurt.

Mostly we played. Outdoors. We made up games and managed to keep ourselves occupied for hours without fancy toys. A ball. A bat. And, everyone’s favorite, a big cardboard box. Remember the day mom and dad unwrapped the new refrigerator and tossed that giant carton in the backyard? We’d play with that box until it drooped from the strain of having to double as a neighborhood fort.

One time, however, my imagination got me into a bit of a pickle. If memory serves, my problem began with a TV show about a discovery in France. The Lascaux Caves were found in 1940 when a teenager was walking his dog and the animal fell down a hole. The boy returned later with three friends to explore the depression, only to find fabulous paintings of creatures – stags and horses, bison and birds – as well as humans and abstract symbols. Two-thousand figures adorned the cave walls, artwork estimated to be up to 20,000-years-old.

I was captivated. My 12-year-old brain whirled with questions about the ancient people who created the art. I then realized we had paintings on our walls at home, as well. Ipso facto, I determined that prehistoric people had probably lived in my house.

Stop laughing. The whole idea seemed quite plausible. But I needed proof. So, I went out to our suburban New Jersey garage and stared intently at those whitish walls. My dad’s fly-fishing waders – which resembled the bottom half of a booted, rubber corpse – hung on a piece of pegboard and lent just the right degree of gravity.

While it’s true there was no artwork decorating those walls, there was an interesting hollow sound when I thumped my hand in certain spots. It was then that I considered the possibility that ancient artifacts might be buried inside the walls.

I located my dad’s hammer and a screwdriver and, without the slightest hesitation, I began my excavation. It was quite thrilling digging into the wall, looking into the dark space inside, my expectations high as I considered the treasures I might find.

It wasn’t until I heard a car pull into the driveway that I thought I might have erred. I watched my mother step out of our wood-paneled station wagon and stare from behind black, cat-eye glasses.

Did I try to explain? No! I dropped those tools and ran.

It’s funny, I don’t recall my punishment for ruining the garage wall, but I do remember my dad spending the weekend immersed in metal mesh and spackle, mumbling under his breath.

Back then, my nascent attempts at archaeology were considered just plain dumb. But today, I’m pretty sure they’d declare me gifted and put me in a class with other remarkable children.

I think Einstein would have been proud.

Einstein

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

https://www.changinghands.com/event/november2018/anne-montgomery-light-desert

What are you afraid of?

The first lesson my freshman students are task with is one that horrifies them. Public speaking, which usually ranks right up there with death and pain and failure as something people fear most.

Even though I explain that, like anything else, they will improve with practice, many just shake their heads, finding the thought of speaking before a group terrifying.

“You will get better and be more at ease, if you just keep trying,” I explain.

A hand goes up. “Hey, Ms. M, what are you afraid of?”

I have promised my students that they can ask me anything and that I will always tell them the truth, no matter how awkward the answer. I stare at my shoes for a moment and then face them.

“Line drives.”

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I umpired baseball for about 25 years: mostly youth and adult leagues and high school games. I also worked a few college scrimmages and a New York Mets inter-squad Spring Training match while attending umpire school. I even had the opportunity to work a televised exhibition game between the San Francisco Giants and the AAA Phoenix Firebirds, where I called balls and strikes and accepted a line-up card from skipper Dusty Baker.

And yet, despite all that time on the diamond, I still fear line drives.

When I mentioned this to an old friend, he seemed a bit disappointed in me. He’d been a pitcher in high school, his wild hair and mustache scaring opponents perhaps more than his fastball. I sensed I’d slipped a notch on the tough-girl scale.

Why am I afraid of line drives? The easy answer is … they hurt. A lot. But it’s more than that, because I’ve been hit by foul balls probably hundreds of times, yet they are much less menacing.

Umpires are usually whacked by foul balls and the occasional pitch when working the plate, a time during which one is mostly encased in protective gear. These hits generally cause no lasting damage, though I did periodically long for a chest protector made with a woman in mind. Balls that ricochet off exposed body parts – arms and thighs for example – can leave one severely bruised. Occasionally, boney parts get thumped – an elbow or collar bone – which for a while feels reminiscent of a root canal. And yet, I did not actively fear these hits.

Me Umpiring 2 300

A line drive is different for two reasons. One is that, unlike my pitcher friend, I had no glove with which to defend myself. Even if I did, an umpire in the field is not permitted to touch a live ball. The other issue is that we can see a line drive coming. I know what you’re thinking. Just get out of the way. But that isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

A case in point: I was working a men’s league game one evening on a field that was already poorly lit when a dust storm came in. I had the bases with runners at first and second, so I was positioned in the infield between second and third. As the pitcher came set, I leaned forward and placed my hands on my thighs. He delivered the pitch and the batter smacked a rocket right at me. Did I lose it in the red haze? I don’t know. But the ball thunked off the inside of my right thigh. I was surprised when two players rushed over to assist me, since there is not often much sympathy for us folks in blue. I waved them away, both hurt and embarrassed, and limped through the rest of the game. I wore that bruise for weeks, and watched it morph through a kaleidoscope of colors: black and purple, green and sickly yellow.

Though I suffered only a few line-drive smacks over the years, those hits permanently etch my brain. Other than the bruises themselves, it was the reactions they sometimes elicited from strangers that I remember most.

Once, a woman watched me limping around off the field. “Oh, honey,” she said, placing her hand on my shoulder. “Let’s get the bastard.”

“Oh, no! You see, I’m an umpire. I got hit with a baseball. A line drive.”

“You don’t have to lie.”

“I’m not! I can show you the seams.”

But she just shook her head and walked away.

Sometimes, I miss umpiring baseball. My gear remains, having survived myriad household attempts at downsizing. Yet, if I’m being honest, I have to admit I still fear line drives.

All I can say is … you pick your monsters, I’ll pick mine.

What are you afraid of?

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

https://www.changinghands.com/event/november2018/anne-montgomery-light-desert

 

 

 

Falling out of love … with stuff

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Is our obsession for ever-bigger houses connected to our constant need for more possessions?

Recently, I was waiting to get a haircut when I reached toward a glossy stack of magazines. Some were pretty-people publications chock full of what I assumed were famous younger folks. Had anyone nearby inquired, I would have had to admit that I didn’t recognize any of them and had no idea from their pouty expressions just what they might be famous for.

I thumbed my way through the periodicals and discovered that the vast majority were not about pretty people but pretty houses. I used to love home and garden-type magazines. I even had a few of them delivered over the years. Excitement stirred when looking at the gorgeous residences with their incredible landscaping often situated in exotic locales.

fancy home

Lovely yes, but could one not find happiness with less?

I did not purchase a home until I was 50, having spent a few decades bouncing around the country chasing job opportunities. So, gazing at those spectacular edifices fueled a fantasy.

But somewhere along the way, something happened to that dream. A case in point: When the magazine I was holding opened to a long shot of a featured domicile, I laughed. True, it was fabulous. But at 15,000 square feet it more resembled a resort than a home. A dozen shiny pages showcased the indoor pool, vaulted wine cellar, eight bedrooms, eight-and-a-half baths, perfect plantings, and spectacular wrap-around views. The writer described the abode breathlessly – stunning, superb, magnificent, striking, exquisite. Tasteful seemed a bit of an afterthought.

It wasn’t that I disagreed with all those superlatives, it’s just that they had me thinking about who would need such abundance. The fact that the owners spent only six months each year at the home had me wondering what their other residence might be like. Perhaps this was their summer “cottage.”

I glanced at the art-like photographs, rooms filled with perfectly-positioned treasures, every pillow in place, and not a lamp cord in sight. I flashed on my brown couch where, no doubt, a large cattle dog now splayed, shedding black and white fur, scrunching worn pillows beneath her. I looked closely at the furniture and floors in those pictures. No pets. No kids. Not possible.

You are correct in thinking that people have a right to spend their earnings any way they see fit. I will not argue with that. But how have we come to believe that these massive houses are desirable? Statistics show that the average home in the U.S. has nearly tripled in size over the last 50 years, yet the average family has shrunk considerably.

Perhaps we need the space because, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times, there are 300,000 items in the average American home. So, clearly, we love our stuff and need a big place to keep it. And yet, when on a whim, I typed downsizing into my search engine, over 91 million results popped up. Maybe we don’t want so many things after all.

I have written before about the fact that humans perhaps survived early extinction because of their ability to hunt and gather objects of value, whether for consumption or trade. And that, today, we might all carry a gene bequeathed to us from those ancient forbearers, one that compels us to find and hold on to items that might get us through lean times. But I don’t think that completely explains our unending desire for stuff.

closet clutter

My closet calls for help.

I admit, it’s hard to get off this particular train. But I know I’m not alone. That’s why Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is all the rage. Maybe I’ll get her book.

But first I’ll tackle the closet.

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

 

Mystery/Suspense

Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sign here

sign here 2

I recently had surgery.

In fact, I’m recovering at this very moment from a procedure to remove a few girl bits, parts I was initially assured were no longer of use to me, but which I still miss. I mean … we’d been together a long time.

I’ve had a number of operations over the years, and this latest one had me thinking about what is surely the strangest of the pre-operative protocols. It generally goes like this: An overly-cheerful medical professional appears and supplies the patient with myriad papers and a writing utensil.

“These are your consent forms. Let’s go over them.”

At that point, the patient is informed of each and every horrendous thing that might happen during surgery and asked to sign a waiver saying they understand what could occur and that, well, no worries: caveat emptor.

A while back I had some weird anaerobic creatures growing in my sinus cavity – rather icky and dangerous – and so I faced said cheerful medical professional who proffered three forms.

“This one says you might suffer brain damage.”

I signed.

“This one says you might lose your left eye.”

I signed.

“This one says your voice might change.”

“What?”

“Your voice might change.”

“How?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know.”

I like my voice. When I was a TV sports reporter my pipes paid my bills. I also enjoy singing. So I gripped that pen and considered the possibilities. Fran Dresher stuck in my head. “I can’t agree to that.”

Of course, after much consternation, I did sign.  And, when I woke up following the roto-rooting of my head, discovering no discernible vocal changes, I celebrated dodging that particular bullet.

Prior to my recent operation, I faced a few more perilous possibilities.

“You might need a blood transfusion,” the surgeon who would soon be probing my interior explained. “Just initial here.” She smiled sweetly.

I complied. As I did when she mentioned internal-organ damage, infection, and an overabundance of scar tissue. Then she pointed at the last box.

“When you sign here, it means you understand that, since we’re removing your ovaries, you might experience hot flashes.”

I squinted. “No! I went through menopause years ago.”

Yes, but we don’t know if your ovaries are still providing you with hormones.” She shrugged. “You might get hot flashes.”

I paused and considered that I hadn’t suffered greatly during menopause, had remained my normal cheery self throughout. Then I recalled a family dinner when my siblings and I were twenty-somethings. Out of nowhere my mother said, “I had no problems at all during menopause.”

Now my family was always rather lacking in any outward displays of humor, so Mom’s pronouncement was met with only stunned silence. However, I sensed that, internally, we were all laughing so hard food was coming out of our noses.

As I held that pen poised over the form, I reexamined my memories of my own life change. I considered contacting my sweetie pie to ask him his thoughts on that time.

But the surgeon was waiting.

I guess we’ll just have to see how it goes.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

 

Mystery/Suspense

Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

Looking for a job when I had one all along

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Anyone who has ever been unhappily unemployed – even for a short time – can testify to the damaging array of emotions that come with that particular package. So much of who we are is wrapped up in what we do.

After I aged out of TV reporting, I often found myself lerry of running into acquaintances: the thought of addressing my lack of a fulltime job enough to make me queasy.

When the Great Recession hit in 2008, a financial meltdown that saw the nation’s unemployment rate rocket to 10%, there were so many unemployed people that support groups were formed. The unemployed could meet and chat and prop one another up amidst their hunt for a paycheck. Being on an extended job search became so common that, I’d like to think, the stigma of unemployment vanished to a certain extent.

When I was without work, there was no one with whom to share my pain. Still married at the time, my now ex was frustrated that I no longer brought home a big paycheck.  I spent my days alone while the world went on without me. I was left wallowing in my own self-pity, which, as anyone who has ever lingered in that neighborhood can tell you, can become an awfully lonely outpost.

One afternoon, I returned home from yet another “thanks, but no thanks” interview, this time with a sports bar manager who had not too subtly appraised my buxomness quotient, multiplied it by my age, and deemed me unworthy, despite my skills with a shaker, my ability to pour a perfect shot every time, and in-depth knowledge of sports that would have kept even sober patrons entertained.

Shortly after that, I found a phone message from a temp agency. They’d gotten me a gig working on the assembly line at a Revlon plant in South Phoenix. I was to report early the next morning.

Now, I had always thought I was a tough girl. But I must be honest here. As I pictured myself Lucy-like – product slipping by on a conveyer belt too fast to handle – I cried. And, unlike that famous red head, I wouldn’t be able to eat my way out of the problem.

Full-time employment would evade me for several years, a time during which the only thing that sustained me was a skill that I had always considered just a means to an end. The fact that officiating amateur sports – an avocation I practiced in order to get my foot in the door in the sports-reporting business – would put food on my table was something I had never considered. And yet, it was the one place that felt normal, that I still had some semblance of control. The one place I felt like me.

Me and Don Baseball

The only place I felt comfortable those years I was without a fulltime job was on the field, especially with my longtime baseball umpiring partner Don Clarkson.

There was a rhythm to my world on the field that, no matter what was happening outside those lines, remained constant. Perhaps it was the need for punctuality, the ritual of donning the uniform, or the customary procedures in regard to game management. Maybe it was the camaraderie: players, coaches, fans, and fellow officials all involved in an endeavor that mattered to them. Or maybe it was that feeling after the game – whether the contest went smoothly or not – that I had done my best and learned from my mistakes.

Funny, it sounds like a job.

I wish I’d thought so at the time.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

 

Mystery/Suspense

Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

Mom’s bra and a football bottle opener

download-2

I followed my 93-year-old mother into a lingerie shop and immediately squared off with mannequins wearing skimpy multi-hued teddies. I squinted at the plastic bodies, mentally evaluating my ability to squeeze into such delicate and reveling apparel, and had to stop myself from laughing out loud.

As my mom approached the counter, I considered the last time I’d ventured into a store of this type, and, quite frankly, could not remember. As a child of the 60’s, I grew up in a time when women were burning their bras, so it didn’t seem strange that, at 16, I decided I could do without that particular piece of apparel.

Of course, I have worn bras over the years, but have always found them horribly uncomfortable, even those that had been “expertly” fit.  And I have certainly donned a few that were no doubt designed by serious architects on those special occasions when one must put one’s best breast … um foot … forward.

Now, I faced the long wall displaying bras of every conceivable color, shape, and size. Pink, purple, black, and white, they dangled from hangers. Satiny bras, ones with buttons and hooks, wee trainer-types and others that could hold a basketball in each cup.

“Here, I brought them with me,” I heard my mother say. I watched her retrieve two crumpled clumps of fabric from a red cloth bag. “I’ve had this one twelve years.”

“Geez, Mom!”

She ignored me.

“They’re not comfortable.” She blinked at the young lady behind the counter.

“Mom, why don’t you try a camisole? That’s what I wear. Just pull it over your head.” I pointed to a nearby rack where several were displayed.

Both my mother and the saleswoman stared as if I’d suggested something quite ridiculous.

“I never wear a bra.”

The sudden silence in the little shop was overwhelming. I thought I should backtrack my statement and inform them that I did wear sports bras when I worked out, but after quick consideration I wasn’t sure that particular revelation would help.

The buzz of women perusing bras started up again and when my mother was led to a dressing room, I was left alone with the dainty attire. Frilly white garters were displayed with thigh high stockings. Countless little bows popped up everywhere, making me wonder who had tied those tiny decorations.

Then, my eyes were drawn to a Kelly-green rectangle tied with a white shoelace. Intrigued, I walked over. I was astonished to find dishtowel displaying three black-and-white-clad figures, football officials signaling an illegal block, time out, and personal foul. A football-shaped bottle opener was attached.

football dishtowel 2

Sometimes, when I’m dreaming, things that don’t belong in a particular setting periodically appear, but I was certainly awake. I wondered at the appearance of these football-themed objects, so out of place in a store awash in delicate female finery, and felt an instant kinship.

Then I heard my name. My mother appeared from the dressing room. Five feet tall, white hair, facing 94 in July.

“What do you think? I’m wearing the camisole.”

“It looks fine, Mom.”

She gazed down at her chest. “I think … it makes me look old.”

Often, in my life, I have blurted out my thoughts without thinking. “You are old, Mom.” Tickled my tongue. “Ancient, in fact. No one is looking at your boobs.” But you’d be proud of me, because I just nodded.

Later, my mother paid for her purchase. Not the camisole.

And, of course, I had to buy the dishtowel and football bottle opener.

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

 

Mystery/Suspense

Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

A chance encounter that changed my life

hockey puck and stripes

It’s strange how life throws seemingly inconsequential little decisions at us that, in retrospect, change everything so momentously it almost takes your breath away.

“I’ve got some tickets to see the Caps play tonight. Do you wanna go?” My crazy aunt, who I lived with in Washington, D.C., waved an envelope at me. She was my mother’s sister, and while she also bore the signature red-hair that coursed through that side of the family, the 14-year difference in their ages might as well have been 50.

“Well?  Judy unwrapped the white towel on her head and began drying her hair. “Come on. You love hockey.”

She was right. I’d grown up in an ice arena: had earned a not-very-impressive-in-the-skating-world bronze medal in ice dancing from the United States Figure Skating Association. The best part of skating was that there were always hockey players hanging around. There was something so endearing about the way they waddled about in their padded shorts and big sweaters, and how that awkward stride disappeared once they streaked onto the ice. Not surprisingly, most of my early beaus were hockey players.

Later that night, Judy and I sat with her friend Richard. We watched the woefully pitiful Washington Capitals lose, something they did often and with singularly pathetic style. As we were leaving the Cap Center, he offhandedly mentioned that he was an amateur hockey referee and bemoaned the fact that there just weren’t enough hockey officials to go around.

“Hey, Annie skates!” My aunt grabbed my arm.

“Wanna be a referee?” Richard asked.

“Sure.”

A few weeks later, I dutifully completed the paperwork, wrote out a check, and applied to become a referee with the Southern Hockey Officials Association. And then I waited.

And then a year went by.

If you’re thinking here that I didn’t pursue hockey officiating with any great zeal, you’d be right. While I dreamed of becoming a sportscaster, I’d been supporting myself by working as a waitress at a tony Georgetown restaurant called the Foundry, a place packed with beautiful people, actors, and professional athletes, where sleep generally came somewhere around dawn and copious amounts of alcohol lulled me into the habit of rising by midafternoon. The place was like working in a candy store and it kept me quite entertained.  So much so that my parents practically wept at my lack of interest in acquiring a real job, lamenting that “We put you through college for this?

Then one day I received a phone call.  My application had been found. The man asked if I still wanted to be a hockey referee.

In retrospect – and considering the training I would later receive in other sports – the requirements for becoming a hockey official were ridiculously simple. There was only a short classroom rules clinic and a written test. No one even asked if I could skate. Had they, I would have replied “of course,” without even thinking about the fact that figure skates and hockey skates are rather fundamentally different. I would learn this – to my everlasting embarrassment – when I took the ice for my first game.

I smoothed my long-sleeve black-and-white striped shirt with the freshly sown on patch proclaiming me a member of AHAUS: the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States. My hockey skates felt unnaturally lose. Figure skates, by comparison, reach higher up the ankle and are purchased a size smaller than a skater’s feet, which requires a breaking-in period of extreme discomfort, but which ensures a tight fit.

Gingerly, I stepped onto the ice and a thigh-high child almost knocked me over. The rink was teeming with tiny people – wee boys so small their jerseys almost touched their ankles, and while some zoomed about confident in their skating ability, others leaned heavily on those sawed-off sticks in order to keep their balance.

I grabbed a frozen puck from a bucket near the gate and blew my whistle, feeling a bit embarrassed when the parents on hand turned and gazed at me. If they were surprised I was a woman – a look I would get to know well – they didn’t show it. Perhaps it was because the players were so little. These were kids who would sit on the ice when they were tired and cried when they fell down, so a mom-type skating around with them probably didn’t seem all that strange.

When I’d lined the players up – helmets tilting rakishly on tiny heads – I grasped the puck between my thumb and index finger. The trick was to drop the disc flat on the ice so it wouldn’t roll away.

As it turned out, no one paid any attention to my first attempt at a face-off. That’s because, as I leaned over, I discovered there was something else that made hockey skates vastly different from figure skates: toe picks. As in, there aren’t any on hockey skates. Yes, I knew this. But I had never considered just how much I’d counted on those pointy projections all my life. Intended to help figure skaters take off and land jumps, sloppy skaters like me leaned on them when lazy. So, as I bent over to drop the puck, there were no toe picks to keep me upright.

My next view was of little boys’ quizzical faces staring down at me. And that was not the worst of it. Toe picks had always provided an easy way to get up from a fall. So, I rolled over, got on my knees, and without thinking jammed the front of my blade into the ice.

I went down again.

And again.

I finally did get up and stay up, but I don’t remember much else about that first game. Still, something momentous happened, despite my inauspicious start in officiating.

On the drive home, the idea began to form in my brain. What if I could officiate all those team sports I had never been able to play: football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball? What if I could learn the rules well enough to convince all those naysayers who insisted a woman could never be a competent sportscaster that they were wrong?

I would spend the next five years officiating amateur sports, working games in between my waitress shifts, believing that somewhere there was a TV news director who might take a chance on a woman who understood the games from an officiating perspective.

And that is exactly what happened.

Anne Montgomery Referee copy

 

But what I never expected is that forty years later I’d still be out on the field.

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

 

Mystery/Suspense

Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.