Writer’s Muscles

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I stared blankly at the screen from my comfortable chair. I couldn’t recall how long I had been staring, been sitting, been conscious. My protruding belly served as a coaster. Cheez-It crumbs decorated my shirt and stuck to the condensation on my glass. I strained to lift the weight of my arms, to brush away the crumbs. Eventually the dog would discover me, and the crumb situation would be handled. I could wait.

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That’s an analogy, by the way, but I can eat half a box of Cheez-Its in one sitting. The atrophy of my physical muscles from inactivity easily parallels those of my writing. Just like re-establishing a workout regimen, it can be an uphill battle to start creating again. It’s a painful process, working those author muscles that want me to ignore them. I hope some time off at Christmas will help me build some real momentum. Not like New Year’s resolution gym membership momentum, but something that will actually last.

There are plenty of things surrounding writing that aren’t really “writing”. Some time spent just sitting and thinking is valuable, but it’s easy to extend that time beyond what’s fruitful. I’ve been fighting through outlining my next novel with little regard for short fiction or blog entries, until one day I was compelled to write a story. It had to be written, before I talked myself out of it and spent the time on outlining or stuff I needed to do around the house. It was like going for a jog after months recovering from an injury. I think I pulled something. I was definitely exhausted after two thousand words or so. Just like after a good workout, I enjoyed the fruits of my efforts.

My new plan, keeping in mind that the outline still needs to get done, is to allow myself writing time every day. Even if I only get ten or 15 minutes, I can’t afford to lapse and atrophy again. I’ll write anything that comes to mind. I’ll start with the three or four other projects I’ve dreamed up. I haven’t given them time to gestate because they don’t seem as fleshed out or commercially viable as the novel I’m outlining, but it certainly won’t hurt to start writing them. I’ll see where my imagination takes them, just to keep limber and toned. I’ll explore short story and blog ideas when they come, and maybe some will take shape. If I don’t start writing them, I’ll never know.

I’ve toyed with the idea of contracting a highly recommended writing coach, someone to help me finish the outline more quickly and start writing the novel. After the years it took me to finish my first novel, I know there must be a better way, a more efficient way, to get my novels written. I’ve long been hesitant to do this, due to the cost and difficulty admitting I need help. Now I think it might be the long-term investment I need to make if I want to seriously pursue a career as a novelist.

Are you struggling to gain momentum with anything important to you? Leave me a comment, and we can help each other get past what’s slowing us down.

 

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Chase It

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Fall has abruptly arrived in my part of North Carolina. From one year to the next, the weather can drastically differ at this time of year. My son has experienced Halloween at summer temperatures one year and in chilly rains the next. This year turned frosty earlier than I expected and hasn’t varied much since.

The leaves have begun to drift into colorful piles in the storm drain grates, and the acorns are dropping in hazardous fusillades along the walking path in my local park. This delights the squirrels. They’ve patiently waited through summer’s muggy heat for these cooler days of harvesting and storage. The varmints race after each other with little regard for human life. But when my dog zeroes in on them, they quickly take notice.

Squirrel

Photo by Jill Rogan

With ear-splitting howls of squirrel-rage, she lunges after them. I’ve become pretty adept at spotting them in time to brace myself for her maniacal charges. I wrap the leash around my wrist and bend my knees to absorb the force. She’s not a big dog, or young, but she springs into the air and flops like a hooked fish. She tries her best to shake off her harness, no doubt savoring the thought of catching those acorn-laden rodents. I’ve learned to slacken the leash when she becomes airborne, so she’s less likely to take a tumble. As soon as her paws hit the dirt, she takes off like a rocket. I do my best to make sure innocent bystanders and joggers don’t get tripped or trampled in her mad dash.

At one time, her canine instincts were an annoyance, even an embarrassment. Now I see her obsession as a sign of good health, youthful vigor even. Many dogs her age couldn’t be bothered to do more than bark, and I know one day she’ll reach the point when she’s no longer capable. It will break my heart, so I started letting her chase them.

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I don’t release my hold on her. I just give in a little bit, and we jog toward the trees when she sees them. I’m sure that’s not good enough for her, but it’s something. She can rest her front paws against a tree trunk and bark up at the branches. She can investigate squirrel scent, snuffing and wagging her tail. I’ve come to appreciate her lust for life and her goal during those moments.

Many of us have an unyielding leash that keeps us from pursuing our passions. We bark and strain in our own ways against the forces harnessing us. How many of us learn to be content with growling from the sidewalk and never bolt into the trees after what we want? We won’t catch our squirrels if we relent. We have to keep surging toward our creative aspirations, our curiosities, our lost loves. We have to doggedly chase our dreams every chance we get, until one day the leash snaps.

Sports Cinema

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I’m not a sports fan. I will occasionally attend a minor league baseball game or a football game at my son’s school. I enjoy playing tennis and softball with my son, and I’ve taken part in a pick-up games of softball or volleyball over the years. It’s extremely rare for me to watch sports on TV, aside from some Olympics coverage. I hardly ever know which teams will be competing in the Superbowl each year, even if I’m invited to a Superbowl party. I go for the food and the company. With this level of disinterest, is it surprising I like sports movies?

First, a small disclaimer. I’m sure I’ve left out some great sports movies in this list of my favorites. I encourage you to help me rectify this by naming yours in the comments at the end of this blog entry. These are by no means my favorite kinds of movies, but they are some I’ll watch over and over again when I discover them while channel surfing. For me, a great story is a great story, even if it’s interrupted by some sportsball here and there. In choosing a few to recommend, I’ve selected those I’ve seen multiple times or will often recollect with a smile. None of these is new or hard to find. If you have Comedy Central, you’ll find them by accident.

WaterboyThe Waterboy is probably my favorite of Adam Sandler’s sports-themed movies. It’s not a football preference that makes this my favorite so much as an excellent supporting cast. (Though I loved Carl Weathers in Happy Gilmore.) Kathy Bates is brilliant as Bobby’s overprotective mother. Henry Winkler’s character experiences a parallel underdog story that rivals Sandler’s Bobby. Even Fairuza Balk’s Vicky Vallencourt seemed inspired compared to other roles she’s played, though also derivative of them. Combined, the cast are a complimentary ensemble that work wonders to elevate the movie beyond Sandler’s overused “anger issues” character trope. That’s some high-quality sports-comedy movie making.

Goon: Last of the Enforcers was a movie I found on Netflix that may be the role SeanGoon William Scott was destined to play even more than American Pie’s Stiffler. It combines a comically naive protagonist, a genuinely funny, wise-cracking sidekick (Jay Baruchel, of How to Train Your Dragon fame), and all the feelz of a classic underdog story. Add the always excellent Liev Schreiber as the likable antagonist, and you have a hat-trick combination. The sequel wasn’t as amusing, but it still scored some goals with me for the excellent returning cast. It might also set some records for the most violent sports movie I’ve ever seen, and that includes Rollerball and The Blood of Heroes.

MajorLeagueMy favorite of those mentioned here is the easily undisputed champion, Major League. I watch at least half of it every time I find it playing on TV. The cast is outstanding, the characters unforgettable, and the comic writing a home run. Tom Berenger is a charming leading man in the role of Jake Taylor. The supporting cast is just as memorable: Charlie Sheen before he had tiger blood, Wesley Snipes before he had vampire blood and tax problems, and Dennis Haysbert before he became President Palmer and the Allstate insurance spokesman. As someone who can’t stay awake through most baseball games, I cannot say enough good things about the humor and heart of this baseball movie.

Maybe the reasons I like sports movies better than sports are because I know which team to support, and they usually win inside of three hours. I love the larger-than-life characters that I would probably find ridiculous in real life. (I certainly feel that way about the real lives of some of the actors I’ve mentioned from these movies.) Unlike real sports, I can confidently have a conversation with someone about these movies without fear of an uncomfortable lull or coming off like a complete idiot. Also a plus.

I guess instead of a Superbowl party, I should attend a sports-comedy movie party.  We won’t have to worry about a disappointing half time show or a repeat of Deflategate. We can all root for the same team because we know who will win, so there won’t be any gloating or hard feelings afterward. The real enemy won’t be our team’s rivals. It will be our bathroom scales after we eat our weights in chicken wings and seven-layer dip. Who’s with me?

 

Moon-Eyed

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MoonGlowEarth’s moon has always held a special place in my imagination. The full moon especially entrances me and brings to my mind all manner of romanticized and scientifically ludicrous imagery. But I’ve never been one to let science impede my heart’s yearnings or mind’s fantastical frolicking.

I know Earth’s satellite is virtually without an atmosphere, at least compared to Earth. The surface is utterly at the mercy of the sun’s rays on one side and unfathomably cold on the other. There are mountains, but no snow capping them. There are seas, actually plains of dark rock, mistakenly named by early astronomers. There is no cheese. Not a bit. Facts have their place, but my mind rejects what my brain knows.

As I close my eyes in the light of the full moon, I see vast white deserts dotted by lush oases. Pale stone spires reach heavenward, while robed men and women fly graceful ray-like creatures, their winged shadows chased by laughing children. Springs feed clear pools and trickling streams that quench the the sun-kissed vineyards and gardens. One might travel there at the speed of thought to marvel at their beauty, to lounge in a tree’s shade or share a meal with the denizens of the idyllic environs.oasis

My brain remembers trivia about Earth’s tides and the monumental efforts undertaken to leave flags and footprints on the moon’s surface. It appreciates the dangers astronauts faced. Yet my heart declares the celestial body nothing short of magical, seeking to ride a moon beam to the oasis my imagination asserts is real. My face drinks in its reflected light as though thirsting for those springs. Its gravity pulls at my soul as surely as it draws upon our oceans.

Perhaps the moon triggers some ancient instinct within me, some primal or genetic memory, and exerts the same force that inspired legends of lycanthropy. Though on the hirsute side, I’ve yet to transform when the moon waxes full. I have dreamed of it and awakened somewhat disappointed. If I can’t travel to that oasis of my dreams, could I not at least grow some fangs and pursue deer through moonlit corn fields?

I’ll have to be content with writing tales of magic, of psychics who commune with the moon’s people across the gulf of space. I’ll spin yarns of moonbeam riders and heroes whose powers wax and wane with the monthly cycle. I’ll bask in the light, maybe occasionally howl, and sojourn through fictional deserts in my dreams, waking in my bed with an unquenchable thirst.

Memories of the Gong Show

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Watching the Gong Show with my dad was one of the silliest things we shared when I was young. It wasn’t something we did often, since it aired during the day when he had to work. This was back before VCR’s let us watch programs whenever it was convenient for us, something we take for granted these days. Sorry, I fell into “lecturing old man” mode for a second there.

I spent a treasured bit of childhood in the care of two priceless individuals, Francis and Arvilla. They started as childcare providers to me while my parents both worked, but the relationship grew past my need for babysitters. Francis and Lala were family to me, an extra set of doting and beloved grandparents. Occasionally my dad would drop by to eat during his lunch break. What better way to have some lunchtime laughs than with the Gongunknowncomic Show?

My memories are a little fuzzy, as I have to reach back to the 1970’s, back before remote controls eliminated the last bit of exercise a lot of us regularly undertook. I didn’t know the panel of guest judges, but the bell-bottoms, sideburns, and wide collars have stuck in my memory. Most of the acts are a blur. I remember the Unknown Comic. I recall the manic energy of the host, Chuck Barris. Most vividly, I recollect the music and unflappable resolve of one frequent performer, Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.

Maybe it wasn’t the show’s sketchy acts and hilarity that earned it a permanent place in my aging memory. Instead I think sharing unbridled silliness with my dad at that age acted like glue to hold it there when other memories fade and depart.

barrishatChuck Barris would attempt to appear relaxed, low-key, even bored in his introduction. His ceaseless fidgeting gave him away, and some outlandish hat made it impossible to take him seriously. Slowly his speech accelerated until the telling music began, and he screamed his welcome to Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.

By this time, my dad had eaten his last crumbs and eased his TV tray to the side of his chair. We would share a look that said: “Tighten the laces on your dancing shoes.” Then we were on our feet. Chuck Barris pumped his fists, the hat abandoned, his eyes squeezed shut in the throes of a fit of funk. Gene shuffled, chugged, and dodged props thrown at him from offstage. I gyrated and stomped, while Dad strolled and twisted. His smile shone to match mine. His tie flapped like a sheet in a gale. The guest judges wrestled to control the mallet for the gong. We laughed until the show ended and let us catch our breaths.barris-gene-gene-the-dancing-machine

I tried watching the re-made Gong Show with my son. Maybe he’s too much older than I was back then. Maybe the show’s format isn’t as amusing to a kid used to constant stimulation from his modern entertainment. The magic wasn’t there, though I caught him smiling from time to time at the absurd musicians, nervous ventriloquist, and variety of variety acts.

I’ll always have those memories, and my appreciation for silliness, in its many forms, remains. Thanks, Chuck and Gene. Thanks, Dad.

Mourning Tank

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Tank

On Christmas day, we drove our swiftly deteriorating cat, Tank, to the emergency veterinary clinic. We knew it would be our last hour with him. Our son said his tearful goodbye and stayed behind at home, and I was grateful that he did. Though Tank’s declining health had made our farewell a gradual process, it was no less agonizing to hold him in my arms and watch life slip away from him. The kindness of euthanasia  was our Christmas gift to him, an end to his suffering.

Roughly 11 years ago, we learned Tank was available for adoption from a rescue group.  As we drove to meet him, we discussed his description on the website and figured surely there was a typo. As he was revealed to us, he clearly weighed 20 solid pounds. His initial discomfort, his foster mom explained, was due to getting car sick on the way. His fur was still damp from a hasty cleaning. As mellow as he seemed, he had quickly put the experience behind him. When he warmed to us and we could pet him, we knew he belonged with us. His heart and personality were just as big as his tuxedo-marked coat, and his purr resonated from a chest that reminded me more of a bulldog’s than a tomcat’s.

In all the best ways, Tank resembled a dog. He loved to be around us and would find us when we called him. When he launched himself onto the couch to find a lap, we quickly grabbed the TV remote. He held a fondness for smothering it with his bulk, and moving him required a Herculean effort. Once he made up his mind to plop down, he didn’t much consider the comfort of others, as though everyone loved to cuddle as much as he did. We enjoyed it enough to let our feet fall asleep when he rested on our laps.

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With time, he only gained weight because he would steal dog food out of the bowls while our dogs ate. His zen-like demeanor never encumbered him with fear, though we began to suspect he was just dumb, like a dopey and lovable Labrador retriever. More than once he wandered the house with a shopping bag’s handle looped around his neck, as though it were nothing more than a fashion accessory. The fans we deployed in the summer often trimmed his whiskers and eyebrows because he loved the breeze so much. He would calmly take possession of our dogs’ chew toys. Each time, the dogs were stunned by his boldness and just let him have what he wanted, though he was never aggressive. I think the angriest I ever saw him was during the brief period we dressed him as a bumblebee for Halloween (actually our smaller dog’s costume). I see bumblebees completely differently now and wish I could hug them.

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Time will leave us with just the memories of Tank’s dopey, loving personality. Why his previous family chose to abandon him at the vet’s office, after having all his claws removed, will remain a mystery. He was their loss and our gain, his faults even now fading in my memory, three weeks after his death.

Goodbye, Tank, for now. Please join the others that have passed and meet me at the Rainbow Bridge one day. I’ll try to remember to lift you with bent legs and a straight back. We love you, and our lives are brighter for having shared our home with you.

Halloween Then and Now

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It’s Halloween season, and it’s 70 degrees outside. Kids might pass out from heat exhaustion all around my neighborhood, sweaty  and dehydrated in rubber masks while trick-or-treating. Mosquitoes will get stuck in their make-up, and their costumes will all have salty crusts that will require extra soaking an unceremonious disposals. Some years bring heat during the holiday, while others might be cool and rainy. It’s unpredictable, but at least there’s never any snow. That’s Halloween in eastern North Carolina, very different from where I grew up.

In upstate New York, the hues of the leaves bring tourists this time of year. Soon the foliage will be compost or crunched underfoot. The little goblins, vampires, princesses, and superheroes will be out to score some candy. And they might have to wear coats, thermal underwear, gloves, hats, and scarves. Their costumes may have been crafted to accommodate layers of winter clothing, or they might have to partially disrobe to show off their holiday disguises.

In my small town, my parents knew everybody. There was no mad dash from house to house, like candy bandits on a sugar-fueled crime spree. We stopped and talked with everyone, even the woman who would give me a pencil and a shiny nickel in lieu of sweets. Sometimes after stripping off coat, gloves, and hat, the keeper of the candy would want a good long look at my costume’s intricacies. My mom, bless her, put a lot of work and time into some of them. On one occasion, I even remember being asked to play my host’s violin for him, once it was mentioned that I started taking lessons at school. I scratched out “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to the pain of everyone’s ears, including mine. Then, candy earned and elderly couple amused, I bundled back up again to head out into the cold, October night.

When I got to be 12, maybe 13, I was too grown up for that kid stuff. My sweet-tooth protested, but my pride wouldn’t allow me to trick-or-treat with the little kids anymore. At school, I heard tales that some of my friends would be toilet-papering trees, playing pranks, and getting up to small town mischief without me. I didn’t live in town, and there was no way my folks were going to drop me off in town to “run wild through the streets”. Well, not exactly.

My dad loved a good joke. He could engineer a prank and took quite a bit of pride in it. (See this for the story of his masterpiece.) I have a sneaking suspicion, based on some eyewitness accounts and some rumors, that he led a wilder life in his younger days than I will ever know. Unfortunately he passed away before I reached an appropriate age to brag about such things, and I think he was quite a different guy by the time he started dating my mom. But sometimes a twinkle in his eye told me the mischievous part of his brain wanted to come out and play. Then he would snuff it out, and just smile without a word. One Halloween, he let me have just the slightest peek at the prankster of old.

Armed with shaving cream and toilet paper, after the paralyzing shock of what I believed was about to happen, he drove me into town. I was speechless, so we enjoyed the heat in the car on those dark roads with only the sound of air through the vents and tires on the asphalt. He pulled the car off the road and killed the lights. We gathered our instruments of mayhem and crept through the dark to the single-lane bridge into town. There we wrapped toilet paper around the bridge’s frame and concealed ourselves behind some bushes. The wait was interminable, but soon headlights approached. My giddiness threatened to erupt from my mouth, and I shook with excitement, cold forgotten. For a kid that always followed rules and respected authority, I felt like a rebel! The car slowed, but once the driver realized the barrier was made of double-ply, he sped through. We snickered and wrapped more around the structure again, but no more cars came by. Small town. Most probably took a different route, where it was lit better and we didn’t dare try our prank. We got cold and went home, mission accomplished. I don’t even remember what we did with the shaving cream. But I will always remember the Halloween that my dad and I shared in some juvenile delinquency.

 

 

The Brain Squatter

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Photo by Ryan Melaugh

There’s a squatter in my brain. He takes up space. His chain-smoking permeates and pollutes every surface. The ashes and butts get haphazardly scattered across my volatile imagination. I spend my energy frantically tidying up after him, left with no creative juice when I’m done. Then he breaks in and tracks muck everywhere, and I’m back where I started.

This is the first bit of writing I’ve attempted since the Traumatic Event, T.E. for short. It wasn’t something life threatening or the death of a loved one. Those would surely be worse, but the T.E. was still devastating enough to steal my appetite, my sleep, my desire to create imaginary worlds with stories to share.

My imagination, always too large and vivid to be suppressed, shriveled away to hide. It bolted the door on the bunker. Now it trembles in the corner, maintaining radio silence. It’s shell shocked and deafened, even to its own voice. My concentration deserted it, and neither one has dared to resurface. They could care less that they’re needed.

I’ve chosen to distract myself with things that often fuel them: books, movies, quiet drives, conversation with friends. I exhausted myself with exercise. I visited family in the peaceful upstate New York summer and stuffed myself with comfort foods. The final dose may have been Mom’s strawberry-rhubarb pie, exactly what I needed. Now time must pass to see if a full recovery is possible.

There’s a periodic clicking, like Morse Code, from the bunker’s depths. My novel beckons to me. I left off partially through my second edit, only a couple of months from the point where I would release it for criticism from beta readers. (Three months have passed since then.) Complications in other writing projects beg for resolution. Slowly they intrude and exert power over the distracting din in my mind. They are the distant construction tools the squatter increasingly fears, and they are coming, if the contractors’ extended lunch break ever ends.

If you noticed my absence, I apologize for the abrupt cessation of my semi-regular posts. I can’t promise the frequency will increase, but I hope you’ll dig through the archives and find a laugh or the results of my writing exercises. I’m proud of a few of them. There will be new entries, but I can’t say when they will appear. Perhaps you’d like to subscribe, if you haven’t already, so anything new will be emailed to you.

I thank you for your patience. Once my mind decides to fully cooperate, I’ll be working it overtime. It owes me for its lengthy vacation.

The Selection on Sale

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For a limited time, grab the thrilling young adult scifi adventure novel “The Selection” from author Jason J. Nugent for only .99!

 

Humans colonized the planet Kepler 186f after Earth’s near total global collapse. Soon after, supply missions ended leaving the colonists to themselves, renaming the planet Anastasia and building a new society far different than Earth’s.

As population imbalance threatened stability in the settlements, a horrific and brutal institution known as The Selection was created.

Centuries later, haunted by the screams of his dead older brother, eighteen year-old Eron fears the unknown terror waiting for him and all boys his age in The Selection. He has thirty days to survive to Victory Point and reunite with his crush Mina. He will have to endure brutal circumstances and forge unlikely alliances if he’s to survive The Selection.

Time is short. Threats are constant. Survival means life. Failure means death—or worse.

 

Between June 9th and June 11th, you can get this action-filled story for only .99! Go to mybook.to/the-selection today before time runs out!

 

JasonJason Nugent was born in Cleveland, OH in 1974. He moved to rural southern Illinois in 1992 and lives there today with his wife, son, and mini-zoo of three cats and two dogs.

Jason is the author of two collections of dark fiction short stories: “(Almost) Average Anthology” and “Moments of Darkness” and the young adult scifi novel “The Selection.”

Jason has written for Sum’n Unique Magazine and game missions for an independently produced video game titled “Status Quo.”

He writes regularly on his blog almostaverageblog.wordpress.com and can be found at jasonjnugent.com.

Thankful for Moms

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Hands

Mommy’s Comfort by Thomas Galvez

Mothers are awesome. As a child, instinctively clinging to the woman who gave you life or has put yours before her own, there is no more important person. She’s the one you call when you wake after a nightmare, run to with your boo-boos. You count on her, not just for the things you need, for the mere comfort of her presence. Until you’re a teenager.

I see this occurring with my son now. He’s approaching the age where he wants less to do with his parents. Hugging him is allowed under the strictest of protocols. Who else might see the hug? Is it accompanied by a kiss? How long will the hug last? Is there the potential that his hair might get messed up?

The first time one of my hugs was rebuffed, a twinge of shock and disappointment seized my breath. How much worse would it have been if I’d labored for hours before his birth and carried him in my body for months before that? The teenage years begin a lapse in our memories. While we try to figure out who we are, we forget that it doesn’t matter to the person who loves us more than anything, unconditionally. I forgot. One day, maybe my son will have kids, and they’ll forget as well.

For moms, there is good news. A day will come when mothers’ importance and the gratitude we owe them collide with deafening impacts in the middle of our hearts. The realization that we are blessed with only one mother, perhaps one we hardly see in our adulthood, will send our fingers frantically dialing our phones. And they will answer, overjoyed to hear from us, because they are our moms.

Those fleeting teenage years, when our mothers seem to cling to us with stifling love, are over before we know it. The years that follow are busy growing, learning, and maturing, sometimes with months between phone calls to dear Mom. Maybe the challenges of new parenthood jolt our memories and make us think about our mothers with new awe and appreciation. If anybody deserves to say “I told you so”, it’s a new grandmother.

Let’s remind our kids how special their bonds are to their mothers. Before their teenage years, let’s plant the seed of gratitude and water if often. It might not bloom for years, but it will take root. One day it will bear fruit. That’s always a welcome gift, on Mother’s Day or any other.

Happy Mother’s Day, to my mother and yours. Let’s help them celebrate the day because they give so many other days to us.

Leave me a comment and tell me something you appreciate about your mom. I’ll wait if you want to call her first.