A lesson about flounder puberty

I grew up watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, a TV show that explored the animal world. (And now you know how old I am.) I mention this because I continue to be amazed by the strangeness and beauty of the animal world. Take the peacock flounder for example, one of my all-time favorite creatures to meet when I’m scuba diving.

Peacock flounder are lovely creatures that work very hard at growing up.

As cooks might know, flounders are flat fish with eyes that tend to point in different directions. But did you ever wonder how they became flat? It might surprise you to know that flounders are born just like most other fish, but when they hit fishy puberty, they flop over on one side. This can be rather problematic at first, since that means one of their poor little eyes is now facing down. But no worries. The brilliant flounder can make its bottom eye crawl around its head where it ends up next to the other eye. As I mentioned earlier, the eye positioning is not perfect, which gives the wee guy a bit of an off-kilter look. Still, they adjust and eventually the teenage flounder starts swimming sideways.

Why, you ask? It’s an evolutionary thing. Flounder figured out that it’s easier to hide from predators if they can lie flat on the bottom of the sea. Blending in is important in their watery world, which brings me back to the peacock flounder. These guys have magnificent turquoise spots and purple edges when they’re swimming, but as soon as they alight on something, they change color to blend in, just like their land cousin the chameleon. Isn’t that cool?

Magically, the peacock flounder can turn colors instantly to blend in with its surroundings.

I often thought of the flounder in my high school classroom, where the changes associated with human puberty sometimes popped up in conversation. I realized it was a tough time in the lives of the young people I taught, something we adults understand as we all somehow survived that often tumultuous life change.

Whenever students seemed overwhelmed, I would tell them the story of flounder puberty. I hoped it might make them understand that things could be worse. I mean, imagine if your eye had to crawl to the other side of your head.

Often, the tale elicited a shocked silence, as they tried to wrap their heads around a sideways-swimming fish with a migrating eye. While I thought it was a perfect teachable moment, I sensed the kids just thought me strange.

But we teachers hold on to the hope that maybe, someday, our charges will understand our reasoning, an a-ha moment that will make them remember what we said and why.

In the case of the flounder, said messages would be change is a part of life, we need to monitor and adjust as we go, and that, in regard to puberty, things could have been so much worse.

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

The real meaning of Memorial Day

Visits to cemeteries and parades honoring the war dead have given way to parties and sales at the mall.

Back when I was a newspaper reporter my editor asked me to write a story about Memorial Day.

“Go and find all the fun events people can attend,” he said.

I frowned. “Fun events? That’s not what Memorial Day is all about.”

He looked confused.

“I know it’s a three-day weekend, which tends to give people license to party their brains out, but remembering those who died fighting for our country just doesn’t lend itself to Jello shots, does it?”

Okay, I probably wasn’t that glib, but he got my point.

“Write what you want,” he said before walking away.

And that’s exactly what I did. The story ran on May 24, 2000, in the West Valley View.

Once upon a time on Memorial Day, proud veterans walked in town parades to the beat of high school marching bands. Red, white, and blue floats made of paper carnations rolled by as Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts marched behind honor guards holding high the American flag.

Now, Memorial Day seems to be nothing more than an excuse for a three-day weekend and a blow-out sale at the mall. Some still do visit graveyards where they place tiny flags by the stones marking the war dead, but they are relatively few and their numbers are rapidly dwindling. You see, the ones who truly hold Memorial Day in their hearts are the ones who were there, the ones who fought alongside the soldiers who did not come home.

I interviewed a number of aging veterans for that story, men who despite their advanced years, recalled vividly those who were left behind.

“I was a foot soldier. Fifty-ninth field hospital. My brother was in the Seventh Armored Division. He chased me and I chased him, but he was killed before I got to him.”

“The pilot of the helicopter was going to lower me down into the water and I leaned out and took a look. Here was these huge fishes going around eating pieces of bodies. Sharks. And you know they couldn’t declare that person dead because they didn’t know if it was one person or two. I thought about it ever since.”

My dad served in World War II, and despite dementia near the end of his life, he always vividly remembered his time in the Navy.

“A buddy of mine…we went all the way through the war right to the end. Just outside of Cheb, Czechoslovakia he got captured and they stuck a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He was…22.”

I can still see these veterans as they recalled the horrors they could not forget. And, of course, there’s the memory of my own father—a machinist mate on a destroyer escort who helped push the Japanese back during World War II, and was there in Tokyo Bay when the war ended.

“I was standing watch at night,” my dad said. “There were dead pilots lined up on the deck waiting to be buried at sea. They were covered except for their feet, that rocked back and forth as the ship swayed in the waves.”

My dad also told me about the young man who was retrieved from the water badly burned. He asked my father for a cigarette then died in his arms.

My dad was one week shy of his 96th birthday when he died two years ago. He had the beginning stages of dementia and could rarely remember what you told him five minutes ago. And yet, he could talk about his time in the Navy in intricate detail, as if the war was happening now.

“That’s the blood in the red of the flag. The white is peace. The blue was the sky overhead. They gave their blood to have peace under blue skies…that’s the flag.”

I sense that might be the case with most veterans. War indelibly etches their consciousness, visions the rest of us can never quite see.

Go out to the cemetery. Go look at the graves,” one veteran told me. “That’s the blood in the red of the flag. The white is peace. The blue was the sky overhead. They gave their blood to have peace under blue skies…that’s the flag.”

And yet, it was a living veteran who made me think hard about the meaning of Memorial Day.

“There was one darkened room at the end of a long hallway, empty save for a man in a wheelchair. As I moved closer, I realized all his fingers were gone. With difficulty, I glanced at his face. Ears, nose, lips, and hair had all been burned away. His eyes were opaque white marbles. I spoke to him—of what I don’t remember—but he made no response, no movement of any kind. I hoped desperately that his mind had long ago fled to some better place. On Memorial Day we are supposed to remember those who have given their lives for their country. On Memorial Day I think of him.

It makes it kind of hard to go shopping.”

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A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

A name change, a steam room, and a stripper pole

A chance meeting in a locker room had an acquaintance confused about what I did for a living.

I have written before about the time I had to change my name. I was offered a job as a TV sportscaster at a station in Rochester, New York. The problem, I would learn, was that one of my co-anchors was also named Butler and we looked alike.

“You’ll confuse the viewers,” my gruff, no-nonsense news director pointed out. “You have 24-hours to change your name or we won’t hire you.”

Following a bottle of wine or two and a vote by several friends, it was decided that I should choose Montgomery—my maternal grandmother’s last name—as opposed to McCarthy, which was my father’s mother’s maiden name. While I struggled with the change for a bit, eventually I got used to it.

But sometimes there were misconceptions about my new appellation. Take, for example, the day I was reclining in the steam room at my health club Connecticut, a short drive from Bristol where I worked at ESPN anchoring SportsCenter.

At this particular gym, men and women had separate steam and sauna facilities, so clothing was optional. I’d been in enough health clubs to have no qualms about being naked in the locker room, and so I reclined in the buff on one of the wooden benches.

Then, the door opened, and a pretty woman walked in, equally au naturel. We hit it off immediately. She was funny and irreverent. If memory serves, we introduced ourselves by our first names. Her name was Annie. Somewhere along the way, I apparently mentioned that while my real surname was Butler, I was now going by Montgomery.

Annie stared at me for a moment and nodded.

It would not be until almost thirty years later that she confessed her thoughts on that occasion. She arrived in Phoenix on a visit recently and called me. When I picked her up, she mentioned that day long ago in the steam room.

“Do you remember that time when you told me you had two names?” she grinned.

“I do.”

“I thought you were a stripper. They tend to change their names.”

“What?”

She shrugged.

“Really?” For a moment I wasn’t sure what to think, but after a few beats I smiled. The realization hit that she’d met me naked and still assumed I might be able to find my way around a pole, though in reality the idea was ludicrous. (Think Jamie Lee Curtis in her True Lies striptease when she falls off her high heels and hits the floor with a thud, only nowhere near as hot.)

I stared at Annie. She grinned.

All I could think to say was, “Thank you!”

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A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

A lesson learned from bad customers

Those who work in a position of servitude are often not treated with respect, something I know from personal experience.

Once upon a time, I was a waitress. I toiled in that job for about five years at a tony Georgetown restaurant in Washington D.C. As anyone who has worked in a position of servitude knows, sometimes customers can be downright mean.

I mention this because my youngest kid came home the other day rather upset. While Makayla doesn’t work in restaurant—she’s a teller at a bank—her complaints mirrored those I dealt with years ago.

“This woman started screaming at me because I wasn’t getting to her quickly enough,” she explained. “The customer I was dealing with spoke limited English and was confused. I was doing the best I could.”

“Sometimes, people just feel the need to demean others,” I explained. “They’re angry at their boss or their spouse, but they don’t feel right yelling at them, so they pick on the next person they see.”

“I’m lucky my manager witnessed the whole thing. She defended me.”

“That’s what a good manager does,” I said.

Makayla’s story reminded me of a family that used to frequent the restaurant where I worked. A mother, father, and two children who looked to be about 12 and 10. They came in every week and sat at the same table for lunch. Their order was complicated to the extreme.

“I want the spinach salad with no croutons and no tomatoes but with thinly sliced onions on top. Did you hear me say thinly sliced?” The father didn’t wait for an answer.  “I want two servings of ranch dressing on the side. I want sliced cucumbers with no skin, but bring them on a separate plate. I want my coffee very hot with a third of the cup filled with cream.” Then he’d stare at me. “Don’t you want to write that down?”

“No sir. I understand what you want.” I’d smile. He’d squint, wondering why I held neither a pad nor pen to write the order down, intimating that I surely wasn’t smart enough to remember what he wanted.

The wife would then order a similarly convoluted lunch.

The father would then address his son. “Give her your order.”

The 12-year-old would rattle off yet another complicated request. Then the little girl would give me her order, though sometimes she struggled. That’s when the father would jump in.

“You have to explain everything!”  he’d yell. “You have to tell these people what you want!”

I turned around. Since no one was behind me, I figured I was “these people.” He spoke to his children as if I wasn’t present. As if—because I was a server— I must be stupid and uneducated. I sometimes wanted to say, “I do have a bachelor’s degree, sir, and my goal is to become a TV sportscaster, and my manager here works around my schedule so that my dream may one day come true.”

But I never did.

After a while, no one in the restaurant would wait on the family. Instead, they’d come to me and say, “Your friends are here.” I took it as a challenge. No matter how offensive they were, I never stopped smiling.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes I wanted to tell them what I thought of their obnoxious behavior. I wanted to point out that they were turning their children into jerks. But I could tell they felt superior and would never consider any constructive criticism from someone like me.

I found myself feeling sorry for the kids, wondering how they could possibly grow into descent adults with such a sad little man as a father. One who lacked even a smidgen of compassion or empathy, who assumed he was better than me simply because of the job I did.

I waited on the family for over a year. The weird thing was that despite getting their orders right, they would sometimes send them back for no reason. Maybe it made them feel powerful. I don’t know. But one day, my manager had had enough. He walked to the table grasping their bill. “I will be paying for your lunch today,” he said. “Now, you are no longer welcome here. Leave and don’t come back.”

They were stunned and complained loudly as they left. Once the door shut, we workers whooped with joy.

Did they learn anything from being ejected from the restaurant? I have sometimes wondered about that, as well as what became of those children, and how I managed to hold my temper when I had to serve them. Then, Makayla made the latter clear.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Of course,” she said. “You can’t take it personally when strangers treat you badly. I only get upset when people I care about hurt me.”

Exactly!

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A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Ain’t love grand

Ryan and I have been together for almost three decades, a time during which our relationship has changed.

After being with the same partner for decades, one can’t help but reminisce.

If I venture into the Wayback Machine, I’ll see the dating part we carefully maneuvered through, a heady time when my sweetie pie and I were still strangers who worked hard to impress one another, when I’d primp for every visit, and stare at the phone waiting for the call that said he was still interested. We always looked our best and tried to avoid controversial subjects, still we broke up periodically and always reunited in a few days.

It was exhausting.

Later on, after the shiny-new-romance part dulled a bit, we became more comfortable in each other’s company. We’d do battle over our differing opinions on politics and religion and dealing with relatives—yep, it could get loud around here—each of us standing up for what we believed in.

At some point we decided bickering about things was not productive, so we worked hard to soften those discussions, taking time to consider the other’s opinions, while still sticking to our values. (I’ll confess this part is ongoing and not always easy, but we’re trying.)

Ryan and I have been together for almost three decades now. We’re both retired. We have four kids, with the youngest still home facing her senior year in college. His mother has dementia. His father and step-mom struggle with health issues. My mom will soon be 96. So, it’s family members and our responsibilities to them that now populate our discussions.

Every once in a while, if only for an instant, I miss those wacky, romantic, early days. Though Ry contends he would never go back.

“If you died, I’m done,” he’s said more than once, pointing out that dating is grueling.

And it’s hard to disagree. Listening to our kids—25, 24, 23, and 20—talk about the trials of courting is enough to make me swear off dating forever.

At this point, we both eschew gifts on the supposedly important holidays, as there is nothing we really want or need. He finds joy in cooking. I find joy in writing. We both love scuba diving, traveling, history, British mystery TV shows, and the four-footed furry friends who live with us. What we look like is no longer important. And still the romance remains. It’s just different now.

Here’s an example. We were just in St. Croix on a trip where we could think of nothing we’d rather do than leap into the Caribbean Sea to go diving. But I was still recovering from rotator cuff surgery and was under doctor’s orders to stay out of the water. Still, I told him to go and enjoy himself. When he returned from the dive, he excitedly told me about the tiny peacock flounder he swam with, one of my favorite ocean creatures that has beautiful turquoise spots when swimming but, like a chameleon, changes color instantly to blend in with whatever it alights upon.

Then, he creased his brow and looked down.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“It wasn’t any fun without you.”

Ain’t love grand.

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A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Fight back against the Spandex revolution!

As a Covid prisoner, I hadn’t been out in a long time. Then, after being a good girl and taking my shots, my sweetie pie and I booked that trip to St. Croix we’d been pining for. Now, you wouldn’t think that much could change after a year in seclusion, but as soon as we got to the airport, I realized a revolution had occurred.

A recent vacation made me realize that Spandex is taking over.

The entire place had been overrun with Spandex.

Don’t get me wrong. I too have donned the synthetic fiber favored for its elasticity. I’ve worn under garments made of Spandex and I’ve pulled on stretchy leggings and shorts and bathing suits for a workout. But the visual assault of multi-colored and patterned elastic in a public place like an airport was quite overwhelming.

First, ladies—since we are by far the biggest Spandex offenders—let me point out that all that flexible fabric doesn’t really look good on anyone. Not even super models, which sadly most of us are not. And there’s only so much supporting Spandex can do. I saw more practically naked body parts at the airport than I do when I’m in the health club locker room. And it’s the nature of Spandex that even when we’re covered there’s little left to the imagination.

You might be interested to know that the product behind the Spandex brand was invented in 1958. The post-World War II era had DuPont searching for a market for their textiles and they settled on women’s bras and girdles, which apparently needed an upgrade from rubber. (Rubber underwear? Don’t make me shudder.) They hired famous stars like the lovely and lithe Audrey Hepburn to wear their new products, though what that wee woman would have needed with a girdle is beyond me.

The lovely Audrey Hepburn donned Spandex-type products in the 1960s to encourage other women to do the same.

In any case, somewhere along the line Spandex became the “it” fabric. I suppose we can blame being stuck at home for our desire for comfort and I do understand the allure of sweat pants and baggie Ts and other comfy wear when there’s no need to head to work. I’ll also admit that I’m not one to dress up to go shopping. I’ve only worn makeup a handful of times over the last year, and the holes in my pierced ears are threatening to close since there seemed to be no reason to wear jewelry.

However, it used to be that people took a little more care with their clothes while traveling. When I was younger and unattached airports were rather fun places for meeting new and interesting people. But no one seems to care about that now.

Some of you may think I’m just an old prude. Not so! I hemmed my Girl Scout uniform to within an inch of my butt back in the good old 1970s. I wore halter tops and low, hip-hugger jeans, all of which had my mother rolling her eyes. I fully understand baring body parts in a formal gown or on a Saturday night out, but now said skin is on view everywhere all the time. (Just head to the grocery store, if you don’t believe me.) I’m not sure of the message we’re sending. Seems a bit desperate, a cry for attention, maybe.

You’re probably thinking that I’m picking on my fellow women here, and perhaps I am a little. As a high school teacher of 20 years, I was called on daily to deal with dress code issues of just this type, so maybe that’s why I noticed. Note here that traveling men look no better than women. Most wore sloppy old T-shirts, raggedy shorts, athletic shoes, and ball caps. Had I been young and single, I wouldn’t have found any of them appealing enough to chat up.

After noting that the U.S. has become a nation of slobs, I found myself mesmerized by Burt Lancaster in a cream-colored suit.

Recently, I watched a snippet of a movie, an old black-and-white film that had been digitized. A stunning Burt Lancaster appeared in a fabulous cream-colored suit. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I tried to remember the last time I saw a man in a suit. Nothing came to mind.

I’m now wondering what fashion changes will be next. Perhaps ladies will go back to Victorian Era coverups, since there’s not much more we can take off. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, consider this: clothing containing Spandex ends up as non-recyclable waste, so these garments contribute to polluting our world and take anywhere from 20 to 200 years to decompose.

Here’s hoping the trend ends soon.

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

A woman in blue

I was a baseball umpire for almost 25 years, a difficult avocation that took a while getting used to.

In 1979, I became a baseball umpire. My goal was to learn more about the game so that one day I could competently take my place as a television sportscaster, a position almost no women held back then.

I called the local umpire group—which in this case was the Northern Virginia Umpires Association—and explained that I would like to take part in their training program. There was a long pause. Did I detect a smirk on the other end of the line? Still, the man who answered didn’t say I couldn’t attend, so I soon found myself in a small classroom with a band of other wannabe umpires.

The man who taught the baseball rules class was named Jim and in a previous life he was a no-nonsense Washington D.C. policeman. It was clear from the beginning that this was a boys club—shouldn’t have been surprised, in retrospect—and Jim did his best to make sure he used every known swear word as loudly and often as possible in our lessons, always glancing my way to see if I was disturbed by his profanity. Had he asked, I would have explained that I’d lived in a girls college dorm for four years and nothing he said could have made me blush.

Despite that inauspicious start, Jim and I hit it off. I think, after he realized he couldn’t run me off with foul verbiage, he started to respect my desire to be an umpire.

Sometimes, I felt like I was playing dress-up in my gear.

The first time I approached a field in umpire gear, Jim was there to cheer me on. Granted it was Little League, but don’t scoff when I tell you it was frightening. First of all, baseball’s rules are the most complicated and confusing of all sports. I would go on to officiate football, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball, so trust that I know what I’m talking about. For example, there’s the infield fly rule that does not require a fielder to actually catch the ball in the infield, and the fact that a foul ball and a foul tip are two drastically different things, and there are a dozen ways a pitcher might balk. Add to that the fact that one must understand and remember all these rules while calling balls and strikes and fair and foul balls and safes and outs and interference and obstruction, all the while fans and coaches are screaming on every play.

It was exhausting.

Then there was the fact that underneath all that gear—uniform, mask, chest protector, shin guards, and steel-toed shoes—I often felt like a kid playing dress-up. I found myself observing other umpires. The way they stood and walked and talked and gestured. I have never been called a girly girl, still my actions looked different from the other umpires and Jim was adamant that drawing extra attention to myself by these differences could be problematic. As most sports fans know, officials should, for the most part, blend into the background. But how was I to do that?

The answer was simple: Acting! I’d been in a lot of theater productions in my youth where I’d played all sorts of characters, so I wondered if I could perhaps play an umpire. With this in mind, I started chewing gum. Truly, I hated the stuff, but it was a far better choice than the wads of tobacco many of the other umps stuck in their cheeks before that sort of thing was banned. I mirrored the way my officiating brethren moved and spoke. I stopped letting coaches push me around and learned to use my thumb to ejected those who tried to intimidate me.

Eventually, I became more sure of myself and felt I belonged with the other men in blue.

Eventually, I felt like an umpire. I would call balls and strikes for almost 25 years, a time during which I umpired games in youth leagues, high school, mens leagues, a women’s professional league, and–my favorite game–a televised exhibition between the San Francisco Giants and the Triple A Phoenix Firebirds where I got to work the plate and meet with skipper Dusty Baker.

It’s funny, I still have my equipment and the uniforms I wore over the years. Every time I find my gear and decide to get rid of it, I don’t. I’m not sure why I’m holding on to it. I only became an umpire so that I could convince some forward-thinking news director to give me a job as a sportscaster. And while that did happen— eventually, I worked for five TV stations—I continued officiating for 40 years.

Though others might think it strange, whenever I walk past a baseball field today, I don’t, as most people do, watch the players. Instead, I focus on the men in blue. Then I smile and remember I’m one of them too.

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A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

It’s the kiddy pool for me

Since my shoulder surgery, I have become best friends with my brace. It seems our relationship will continue for a few more months.

“No.” My surgeon’s physician’s assistant shook her pretty head. (Not only was she smart, she looked like a fairy princess in her cute scrubs, so clearly, she’d won the gene-pool lottery.)

Still, I couldn’t help but argue my point. “But I’ll only dive off the shore, so I won’t have to go on a boat where I might encounter currents or rough water.” I smiled hoping to persuade her. “And it’s the Caribbean, which is calm, like glass.”

Okay. My conscience niggled at me, since I’d certainly been scuba diving in that beautiful sea when a storm popped up out of nowhere and wild water made maneuvering tough, but mostly those things didn’t happen.

She stared me down.

Sensing a need to negotiate, I said, “How about snorkeling?” Now, I really don’t like that sport, since once you’ve had the freedom of tanks, anything else seems rather bland. But I was ten days out from heading to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and I hadn’t been diving in almost two years, a gift from the pandemic.

“And what if you felt the need to use your arm?” she said, eyebrows raised.

“I’ll wear my brace. How about that?” I sounded like I was begging, which of course I was.

A life spent participating in sports has left me with a lot of broken parts.

“Twelve more weeks,” she said. “And this is usually the time when patients re-tear their rotator cuffs,” she added for emphasis.

I froze. Six weeks earlier, I’d undergone my second rotator cuff surgery, a miserable operation with a seemingly endless number of restrictions and long, painful rehab. I really believed I had a lifetime warranty after the first one, but I’d learned—to my despair— that Mother Nature has graced us with three rotator-cuff parts, any one of which can fail, especially for someone like me, since I spent 60 years participating in sports: ice skating, skiing, lap swimming, scuba diving, and officiating amateur sports—football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball.

When my sweetie pie picked me up from the doctor’s office—no driving allowed—I told him I was restricted from diving. “That’s too bad,” he said.

“Maybe I could just bring my mask and fins,” I said hopefully. “I’ll just paddle around near the shore. How could I possibly get into any trouble?”

I hovered in shallow water above a rocky field of sea urchins and, for a time, was unable to escape.

He glanced at me. “Remember the sea urchins?”

I sucked in a breath. On that day, Ryan and I were snorkeling near the Fredrikstad Pier on St. Croix’s west end. The sea was completely calm, but suddenly a whoosh of water dropped me down, where I hovered a few inches above a rocky bed of sea urchins, their needle-like spines poised to impale me…well…in the boobs. I would have gasped had I not had a snorkel in my mouth. I tried to back out, to get into deeper water, but the surge kept me pinned in place, bobbing dangerously above thousands of pointed spikes. Note here that while sea urchins are rarely poisonous, I guarantee you will never forget should you be unfortunate enough to be stabbed by one of them.

“What would you have done to get out of there?” Ryan asked.

“Point taken.”

As I prepare to head off on my Caribbean vacation, I realize this is as close to the water as I’ll probably get.

“You would have used your arms, right?”

“Of course.” In fact, that is exactly how I scuttled to safety that day, gently moving my arms backwards, easing myself away from the prickly creatures, all the while hoping another surge wouldn’t impale me on those lethally-sharp spines.

“Do you really want to bring your mask and fins?” He asked, keeping his eyes on the road.

“I guess not.” I hung my head, dejected. For no apparent reason, I pictured myself in a kiddy pool wearing my brace and mask and snorkel, which is probably as close to the water as I’ll get this time around.

“We’ll be going again soon,” Ryan said, trying to cheer me up.

And they’ll be good food and wine and pretty sunsets and beachcombing, I reminded myself. And that will have to do.

For now.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wild-horses-on-the-salt-cover-2.jpg

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Perception: Don’t jump to conclusions

Perception is a funny thing.

Take the day I walked into my living room and gasped at the sight of my carpet, for example. A bright white splotch glowed from the floor which sent me into a bit of a tizzy.

“No, no, no!” I yelled , though no one was home to hear. “There’s a reason we don’t use bleach!” (Mostly, my long and sorted past of ruining things with the stuff.)

I rushed to the kitchen, wetted a rag, and hurried back to the living room in the hope I could erase the glaring spot. I mentally cursed the kids, wondering who had spilled the bleach that I knew no amount of elbow grease could fade. Still, I worked at the stain, while simultaneously calculating the cost of replacing the rug.

Finally, realizing there was no way to remove the mark, I rose and considered my options. I thought perhaps I could move a piece of furniture to cover the blotch, but of course it was right in the middle of the carpet. I thought of flipping the rug over, but was sure the bleach had soaked through.

I sighed, then started hauling off the furniture so I could roll the carpet up. I would have to throw it away.

But then, a strange thing happened. The stain…moved.

I stood very still. Perhaps I was dreaming. I thought about that for a moment and decided I was awake. I blinked and lowered myself onto the edge of a chair. Then, after some careful contemplation, the reality of the situation struck. I bent down and held my hand over the blotch and there it was. Why I hadn’t seen it earlier I cannot say.

The “stain” was nothing more than a ray of sunshine gleaming past my backyard trees, through my bay window, and onto the carpet. I suppose I should have realized sooner, but I have a tendency to jump to conclusions.

My sunshine stain made me considered why we humans are so quick to view things a certain way, often without thought. That this was not the first time I was absolutely sure of myself only to discover I was completely wrong made me consider how the world might be a better place if we all stopped and thought, before blindly stumbling into false conclusions.

It’s said that perception is all about using our senses—sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing—to make sense of the world around us. But our perceptions are also affected by our preconceived notions, which in my sunshine-stain case might have been prompted by my lifelong inability to get along with bleach.

The point is that people can look at the same situation and come to different conclusions. However, if we step back and thoughtfully consider what we’re looking at, perhaps we can avoid getting it wrong.

That said, I like my Irish cousin’s take on perception. “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ― William Butler Yeats

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wild-horses-on-the-salt-cover-2.jpg

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

The Tough Guy and the Octopus

A while back, I stared at a restaurant menu that featured octopus. My mind immediately went back to the day my sweetie pie and I were scuba diving when we came upon a small brown octopus. The little guy didn’t sail away in a cloud of black ink, instead he puffed himself up and faced us down. His strange eyes flitted back and forth. Perhaps he wondered what these giant, bubble-blowing creatures might be.

Believe it or not, octopuses are quite cute. They kind of look like benevolent aliens.

Later, I decide the wee animal was quite cute. Not like a kitten or a koala bear perhaps, more like a benevolent-looking, cartoon alien. I didn’t know much about octopuses at the time, aside from their inclusion on menus.

“Want to try the octopus?” Ryan asked.

I creased my brow. While the garlic and herbs and olive oil in which the octopus was prepared sounded lovely, I  struggled. Finally, I shook my head. “It doesn’t bother you to eat octopus after meeting that little guy?”

Ryan stared at me. “I don’t have a problem with it.” Still, he didn’t order the octopus.

Let me interject here that Ryan is generally considered a tough guy. In a former life he did security and worked as a body guard for rock-and-roll bands and sporting events—including eight Super Bowls, NBA and NHL All-Star Games and soccer’s World Cup—and, in my favorite job, he stood backstage at countless performances of Phantom of the Opera, in an effort to keep rabid musical theater crowds—You know how dangerous they can be!—from mobbing Michael Crawford. The point is, you wouldn’t think Ry would be the least bit sentimental.

While watching My Octopus Teacher, Ryan and I learned just how brilliant and friendly an octopus can be.

Recently, I convinced him to watch the documentary My Octopus Teacher, which is up for an Oscar this year. The story is about a filmmaker who is going through a mental health crises. He lives in South Africa and swims in a beautiful kelp forest every day. There he meets an octopus.

Over time, he and the creature become friends, which seems astounding for an animal that is primarily water and is essentially a snail without a shell. We learned that the octopus is quite brilliant. When attacked by a shark it can gather shells and rocks in seconds to create a place to hide, for example. Once the octopus trusted the man, she would often cling to him and let him pet her, which made me stare at the two cats in my lap.

It was fascinating and heartbreaking that even though the man was devoted to the little octopus—he swam with her every day for a year—he did not interfere with nature. It was difficult to watch as the animal was attacked by a shark and lost an arm. She hid for two weeks and the man grieved, but when she finally came out of her den, he could see a new arm growing where the lost one had been.

The octopus and the beauty of the kelp forest healed the man and made my sweetie pie cry.

Of course, there would be no happy ending, because the lifespan of this type of octopus was just one year. After mating and reproducing the creatures generally die of starvation. We watched the moment shortly after she’d laid her eggs when she came out of her den and gave herself up to predators, eventually being taken away by a shark.

As the final beautiful shots of the kelp forest and the fascinating creatures within rolled by, I looked over at Ryan. I watched as he swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand.

“Could you eat an octopus now?” I asked.

He didn’t respond, but I’m pretty sure I know the answer.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wild-horses-on-the-salt-cover-2.jpg

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb