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Daring Tales of A Determined Woman: Slow Down!

Road Rage

In my humble opinion, everyone is allowed to have at least a handful of pet peeves. I haven’t been all that shy about writing about some of mine in the past several weeks. The Christmas craze, lottery madness, and confusing beliefs about what makes someone a good person are bound to make my blood pressure rise and my fingers move madly on the keyboard. But if you want to know what really gets me going…well, I’m going to tell you whether you want to know or not! It’s the way people drive. And what better time to expound on the subject that a few days before Black Friday and right after I bash Christmas?

I spend a lot of time behind the wheel not only of my car, but of rental cars and the cars of other people. Though I choose not to drive in foreign countries, since it’s bad enough to maneuver in a familiar environment and on the side of the car and the side road we drive on, I have driven in forty-nine out fifty states. (I wasn’t blessed with the keys to a rental when I visited Hawaii.) The things I’ve seen drivers do to get one car length ahead of someone is flat out embarrassing. Here are a few of my big favorites:

*Crossing over two or more lanes on an interstate or divided highway from the passing lane to exit.

*Passing on either side when a red light is clearly up ahead then throwing brakes on after sliding between me and the car in front of me, so that I have to slam mine on to avoid a rear ending that will be my fault.

*Accelerating and whizzing past me when one lane turns to two, only to end up next to me again at the next stop light. (I fantasize about this one. Expect a toot and a wave from me, perhaps even a thumbs up, because you deserve it. You beat me to the red light. Good for you!)

*Tailgating. Don’t even get me going on this one!

Truth is, perfectly nice people turn into animals when a steering wheel and four tires are involved. Add a cell phone and the ante goes through the roof. Add a child or two and the whole equation gets plain scary.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I’m always questioning the motivation behind someone who will cut me off within inches of my life and theirs, too, when there isn’t another car behind me for half a mile.  Here are my theories: Impatience. Ignorance. Competitive spirit. Lack of control over one’s life. Anger. Unhappiness. Stress. “It won’t happen to me” syndrome. Or simply, boredom. Clue me in, crazy drivers. What makes you slow down only long enough to get a gander at a deadly accident, then put the pedal to the metal? What makes you drive over curbs and fail to stop for your fellow worshipers in a crosswalk five minutes after you leave a holy dwelling? How about the brainiac that runs a red flashing school bus sign? What, may I ask, is the gain?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m no angel when it comes to road rage. But I’m usually reacting to someone getting in my five-miles-over-the-speed-limit comfort zone. Case in point: the poor lady with two kids hanging out the window that decided to tailgate me, then proceeded to swerve and toot and giggle after I touched my brakes to back her off. Did I intentionally switch lanes when she tried to get by me? Check. Did I offer her some sign language lessons? Check. But my crowning achievement was when she pulled up at a fresh stop light behind me, still having herself one hell of a good time at my expense, and I swaggered out of my VW Bug cop-style with pen and paper in my hand, and pretended to write down her license plate number. She wanted to get away from me for a completely different reason after that little event. Score!

Listen folks, I give myself enough time to get places. I break for squirrels. Like the cutie at the top of the page, I’m not above slowing down to piss you off. Because here’s the message: IT AIN’T ALL ABOUT YOU!!

As we head into this holiday season that most people have forgotten the meaning of, do the world and yourself a favor and slow down. That person you’re flipping out on could have just buried a loved one. Or had a session of chemotherapy.  Or was degraded by someone who is supposed to love them. Or just decided not to commit suicide and instead, to face another day. With that thought in mind, is it really that important to beat them to the next red light?

And hey, Happy Thanksgiving, too.

 

Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: Not Everyone Loves Christmas

Christmas Valley of Fire

It’s that time of year again: the Halloween decorations are in the bargain bin and the Christmas trees decorate the front entrances of every store in America. Catalogs you wouldn’t dream of ordering from litter your mailbox, (and later, your trash bin) and department store employees are teetering on ladders, stocking shelves with junk that shoppers will soon tear each other part to get at before the next person through the door. Oh, and my all-time favorite: we’re fighting for that all-important parking space so we don’t have to take too many steps to get to the automatic door. Happy Holidays!

Are they? For some people, maybe. I’m not one of them. For all the above reasons and more. In fact, Christmas is just another reason for me to escape to parts unknown. Been doing it for fourteen years, and I just booked escape number fifteen. It’s the only way I can tolerate said holiday. My contribution to Christmas is packing my Santa hat and taking pictures in some cool place. (Above, the Valley of Fire, north of Las Vegas.) I might even coin some really witty phrase on social media like, “You: Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. Me: Rocking Around the Joshua Tree.” That’s about as good as it gets.

Here’s my disclaimer: Thanksgiving isn’t a challenge to me. Someone else cooks and I eat. What’s to complain about? And New Years is probably my favorite holiday, because I love setting goals that I’m never going to accomplish. But the form Christmas has taken in this day and age is a topic of disgust for me, as is the behavior of people in stores, parking lots, and on the roads of America. If I can leave the country altogether, that’s the best case scenario. My favorite experience was in Fiji, with Santa floating up on a white sand beach in a rickety wooden boat. But if I decide to stay in the country, as I have this year, it has to be somewhere that I know isn’t hardcore Christmas. Like, one year I climbed Mount Lee (of Hollywood sign fame) in L.A. I can always count on people in my old stomping ground to have a totally bored attitude about a holiday that has lost so much of its luster. Christmas: so yesterday!

As a teacher in an urban school setting I see exactly what Christmas isn’t. I see children being bought expensive gifts so their parents don’t have to deal with them. I hear the same kids swear that the primary purpose of the day is so they can get presents. Two years ago I tested my special ed high schoolers to see how many of them knew the actual traditional meaning of Christmas. Out of forty eight of them only one knew it had to do with the birth of Jesus Christ, and they marveled at the fact that the word Christ is the first six letters of the name of the holiday. How about that. Not a coincidence, kiddos!

Part of my lack of interest in Christmas is due to the fact that many of the people who love me most in the world are gone, but not all of it. This year, add in the extra burden that I’ve made yet another poor attempt at finding someone special to share some time with, and that a beloved family member is ailing, and there you have it: a recipe for escape. I’ll be on the road alone through the dreaded day, and by the time I land at my first major destination it’ll just about be over until next year. Cactus and sand, not pine and snow, will be my landscape. To say that I can’t wait is the understatement of 2018.

Until then, I’ll be searching for the perfect gifts for people I love but hardly see, and those I’d like to see a lot less of. Trying to get everything done before the stress-induced road and parking lot rage starts. And dreaming of sliding into my plane seat and buckling my belt, the only sure sign that my work is done for another holiday season.

Call me a scrooge. I call myself a realist. Christmas ain’t what it used to be, and ain’t what it’s supposed to be. I’m out!

Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: First Major Book Review

Live Vicariously Through Me Kindle Cover

I love blogging about traveling, hiking, and my life philosophies. But once in a while I have to share book news, and today is the day!

I’ve written previously that the third book in my Girls of Glam Rock Series, Live Vicariously Through Me, is my favorite story with my favorite characters. A pleasure to write, and dreaming up the plot was so satisfying. That’s why I chose it for promotion when I started working with the ladies over at Chick Lit Cafe, who recently wrote my first major book review. It’s also one of the featured books on their site. Here’s the back cover synopsis:

Before there was sexy rock chick Em’rald there was homeless waif Emily Jane Darlington. Before there was devilishly handsome and brooding heavy metal guitar shredder Nikk Saffire there was battered kid Niko Saffros. And before there was glam hair metal quartet the New York Gems, Cartier rings, and mega stardom there was loss, rejection, and the wild fantasies of two unwanted children.

Emily and Niko meet in a Bronx women’s shelter when they’re four and five years old. Sustained by the strength of their determined mothers, they endure growing up in a stolen car, murder, and drug addiction. Along their long, dark road Emily and Niko secure the skills that will eventually take them to the top of the rock and roll heap. When Emily is discovered in Central Park by a rich photographer who becomes their benefactor, the world as they know it is changed forever. But the heavy metal highway isn’t paved in gold, and even their longstanding love isn’t guaranteed in the decadent world of 80s rock.

I’ve waited a long time and worked countless hours to become a published writer. This is a tough business, and I’m only just starting out. My partnering with Chick Lit Cafe is a pretty big step toward the success I hope for. Here’s the review:

This rags to riches story truly portrayed the life of a young girl’s struggle and the story of a life behind the scenes before becoming a hip 80s rock star. At times I felt a sadness for Stone’s main character, Emily Darlington, which really connected me with the heroine of this book. In and out of homeless shelters with little to eat and only the clothes on Emily and her mother’s backs, this is a tried and true tale of rising from the ashes and becoming something amazing. Jam packed with danger and drama Live Vicariously Through Me kept me captivated until the very satisfying end.

The fantasy and appeal of drugs, sex and rock n roll fuel Emily and Niko throughout their journey of hardships and catastrophe. A bond is formed between them, and the question if that bond is strong enough to withstand their destitution, constantly hangs over their heads. I really enjoyed this book. It was well written with cool characters and a sexy vibe. Live Vicariously Through Me was enjoyable and entertaining, a great story that really made me want to read the rest of the Glam series!

Brenda K. Stone has a unique way with words that draws the reader in and won’t let go. Her exceptional descriptive writing gave me a keen sense of being on the scene and watching the story unfold. The characters are great and relatable. They are fully developed with personalities that have strengths as well as flaws, making them very real to me.

Live Vicariously Through Me is engaging and fascinating. This is one book that I could definitely read again. Chick Lit Café highly recommends this captivating book to all readers that seek a worthy escape in a book.

Reviewed by Beatrix Bloom for Chick Lit Cafe

Interested? Please visit my Books page to purchase on Amazon or Smashwords. Live Vicariously Through Me and all my books are available on most digital platforms, and in print.

Thanks for your support!

 

Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: I Can’t Win Because I Don’t Play

Lottery

I didn’t intend to write on this subject today, but I had to. Lottery fever reached an all-time high this week, and I’m sorry to say that I just wasn’t interested. The old sales pitch goes, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” Good, because I wouldn’t win the lottery for a million bucks.

Wait a minute. Scratch that. I’d take a million, just to make things a little more comfortable. But these ridiculous jackpots that are out there now? Nope. No thanks. I’ll stay broke. Since I don’t have my choice to win “just” a million, I don’t play at all.

What sends us to the tickets machines is the age-old belief (again) that money is going to make us happy. I shot that thought down in a recent blog. The abuse of money is all over social media and television. Do I look? Yes. It’s like the car accident scenario. And I read Celebrity Net Worth. Because what people do with their big bank accounts is an area of high interest to me. I’m disgusted by some of the things I see and enlightened by others. Boxers, poker players, celebs, reality TV stars, visionaries, and entrepreneurs post their exploits all over Facebook and Instagram. Some of them are, literally, exploits. Why is it that when certain individuals acquire money they think it’s okay to pose with fifteen half naked women, brag about the island they own, or open a strip club? Personally, the things they do to prove their “richness” doesn’t look like all that much fun. In fact, I have to question the self-esteem of anyone who has to screw with others to have a good time. Which means that I have to question the self-esteem of those who aspire to be them.

At the same time, I have a lot more respect for people who make their own fortunes. Is there anything worse than watching a heiress pretending that she actually had something to do with her wealth? Kind of like someone who suddenly has a whole bunch of cash on their hands from buying a ticket. I dare you to look up and read about what the lottery really does to the folks who win. Many of them go broke. All of them have a lot more friends than they started with. Who needs that? Even if you’re in one of those states that you don’t have to publicize your win, someone is going to find out. And when it comes to moola, word carries fast. I’ve never seen people act as crazy as they do when it comes to money. It’s like a magic elixir for bad behavior. Thanks, I like my life of having a few real friends and working hard for what I have. Meaning: the way it is.

One lottery article I read recently stated that the winner of the next Mega Millions jackpot will have a net worth larger than Taylor Swift. Now, I’m not a big fan of her, but I have to say that I’m not wild about this concept, because she has a lot more talent and biz smarts than the average Joe, and way more of that than the average lottery winner. She, and people who make their own fortunes, have the benefit of knowing what it’s like to NOT be rich, and as their bank accounts get bigger they adjust to it accordingly. It’s a lot healthier than that ticket buyer having nothing one minute and the world at their feet the next. Maybe I’m nuts, but I wouldn’t be comfortable having nothing to work for anymore. Struggle makes things interesting. And I’ll say it again, the nicest, most generous human beings I’ve ever met in the world have been the poorest, without fault.

In conclusion, may I also point out some very sad facts. Billions of dollars didn’t save neither Steve Jobs nor Paul Allen from passing away from cancer. Houses and cars don’t make people happy in the long run. Just because the outside has the trimmings of perceived happiness doesn’t mean the inside is feeling it. And that’s where it really matters. Not some colorful little balls floating around in a box and causing the citizens of America to have sweaty palms.

Peace be with the unfortunate individual in South Carolina who holds the winning ticket this morning. Better you than me.

 

Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: Autumn Hues and Blues

Foliage

It’s that time of year again, the season when leaf peepers with cameras and iPhones flock to the roads of New England to marvel at our foliage. A lot of locals turn their noses up at the barrage of cars and motorcycles seeking the perfect trees, and the spectacle of  foliage in general. I’m not one of those people. I have a major appreciation for the wonders of Mother Nature and I say, come to New England! See our trees! It’s a very busy time for me as a hiker, because peak foliage is such a short and unpredictable span of days, and I want to get all the pictures I can. The foliage has peaked in the past several years around October 20 where I am in Massachusetts. You’ll see fancy maps and articles to the contrary, but take my word for it, in a normal year peak foliage weekend is the weekend closest to the 20th. This year it’s going to be later, probably next weekend, so I have to adjust my hiking schedule.

What follows the high of foliage season tends to be pretty tragic for me: bare, dead trees, the death of the earth. Yeah, as great as fall colors are, this juncture in the four season schedule ushers in other feelings. I’m a summer girl, no questions asked, so seeing the last vestiges of warmth dissipate is very emotional for me. There’s nothing much worse than putting away my shorts and taking out my sweaters. Or, bringing my plants in from the porch and finding places for them in the house. Sure, I could go live someplace that has two seasons. But the interesting truth is that, on the flip side, there’s nothing much better than opening the same storage receptacle of clothing in the spring and rejoicing when I take my shorts back out! In the not so distant future I plan on chasing summer right down to the Mexican border, but until then I’m going to continue with the ritual of the death and life of the landscape, and mourning my shorts.

My hello autumn, good-bye summer depression starts in August. Being a teacher cruelly plays with the concept of what exactly summer is. We head back to school in the later part of August, so when the calendar summer is still in full swing the stirrings of having to be serious again start to hit. When those feelings are conquered by reality the even stronger emotions push in. My beloved mother passed away in the fall. Another coveted summer of my life is in the past. I’m not getting any younger. Time is running out, in the big picture and the smaller one. I wonder if the same thing will still happen, even when I’m free of the restraints of the four seasons? I’m itching to find out.

I’m not a super fan of winter, so I always get a jolt of realization when one of my friends professes love for the coming snow and cold. Some people actually look forward to this stuff! Truth is, I’ll take the white stuff over the crumbling brown landscape of post-foliage autumn. At least it’s pretty, but for me there are conditions to its glamour, the top one being that I don’t have to drive in it. Though I revel in thoughts of my next road trip, you can’t talk me into doing unnecessary traveling in snowy conditions. Nevertheless, I’m not so anti-winter that I can’t find the love for a bright, sunny day with an unbroken blanket of white and temperatures in the mid-thirties.

Thankfully, all these crashing thoughts are temporary. Because then I remember all I have to do and everything I have to look forward to. Writing books. Taking cool trips. Cuddling my bunny. Spending time with people I care about. Planning for a bright future. And, oh yeah, spring. The great thing about the four season calendar is that no matter what winter pulls, life always returns to the earth, it always wins. Warmth always conquers ice and snow, even if winter wins out late in the year. Right now, I’m bracing myself for winter to take over. But first, foliage.

Let’s go, trees! Let’s see some magic!

Foliage 2

 

Daring Tales of A Determined Woman: What is Happiness?

IMG_2991

In my last post I talked about what it means to be a good person. Now, I want to give my thoughts on what it means to be happy.

For starters, I wish the world would stop thinking that you have to be smiling all the time to be enjoying life. I’m a person who is often in la-la land, lost in my own thoughts, dreaming up the story line to my next book, or planning my next big trip. I’m not thinking about the expression on my face that I’m sending out to the general public when I’m calculating how I’m going to take six trips a year on a teacher’s salary. Don’t expect me to have a supermodel pout when I’m deciding what real human being I’m going to disguise as a character in next year’s book release then kill them off. I can’t count the amount of times that people have come up to me and asked, “Hey, are you okay? You look really unhappy.” Oh good, my next literary victim!

Here are some valid questions:

What exactly is happiness?

Are people born happy or do they get that way over time?

Are there different types of happiness?

How do you get happy if you’re not?

I’m inclined to start with the third question, because the answer I have in mind will help with the other questions, too.

Are there different types of happiness? I think so, and my thought is that there are two kinds. One, is the deep seated type that is inside and can withstand just about anything you throw at it, and the other is the temporary kind that is brought on by an event, or another person, or something else on the outside. I find that this kind of happiness is  fleeting. The first kind is the one that’s really hard to achieve, and with all my heart I believe that there’s only one person who can make it happen: YOU! The second can be achieved from just about anything positive that happens, and is sometimes unexpected.

“He makes me so happy!” “She makes me smile.” We hear these things on a daily basis. And they have some basis in reality. One person can make another person happy very easily. Smiles aren’t that hard to come by, whether they’re genuine or not. But the same person or event can turn that smile to tears. That’s why we have to be careful about counting on others for our happiness. Because once that person, place, or thing is removed we run the risk of being devastated. If you have that first kind of happiness in place you may just be able to bounce back from life-altering events easier.

Which brings me back to the other questions.

What exactly is happiness? Webster’s defines it as “a state of well-being and contentment.” This is a perfect definition. Notice that we aren’t talking about “joy” or “elation.” That’s not what real happiness feels like. That’s the other, temporary kind. The big kahuna of happiness is a lot calmer than elation or joy. It’s a feeling of comfort in your own skin. That no matter how bad things get you can find a rainbow, however tiny. That even if you’re struggling you know it will come back. What it doesn’t mean is a permanent smile or bounce in your step. Frankly, I don’t trust people that smile too much. Is it just me?

To say that people are born happy might be a bit of a stretch. We may like to assume that if someone is born with the proverbial silver spoon in his or her mouth that they must be happy. However, I strongly believe that money does not equal happiness. I read an interesting article years back in which a study was done to try and prove how  much money someone had to have to be happy. The number was surprisingly low, in fact, below six figures, and there was some proof that an individual’s life doesn’t get that much better once the threshold is exceeded. The money factor aside, I believe that real happiness takes work, and it also takes maturity, so my thought is that people are not born happy, but may be more inclined toward happiness based on life experiences.

Finally, how do you get happy if you’re not? The over-simplified answer to this would be to say that you should do things you love as much as you can. That’s definitely part of it, but I believe the best and most important thing you can do is alter the way you THINK. If you spend all your time dwelling on things you cannot change, like the past, or thinking unpleasant thoughts about yourself and/or others, or comparing yourself to Kylie Jenner or The Rock, you’re in for a heck of a lot of unhappiness. Thinking realistically is a big part of lasting contentment, too, as is accepting that some people have what you want and you don’t. You have to be able to live with that, without jealousy or resentment. The green-eyed monster never made anyone happy. Never mind them. Live and let live. Find your own comfort zone and let them have theirs.

Here’s the good news: you can have both kinds of happiness! Imagine being in “a state of contentment” and having those times of temporary happiness, too. It’s the best you can ask for.

Aspire to it.

Top Texas

Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: Being a Good Person

Good Person

My past few blogs have been about traveling and writing, but I’m not just here to blather about that. I want to write about life, too. One question that always comes up in my mind is this: What does it mean to be a good person? I think this is a valid subject to discuss, since so many folks make being an idiot an art form these days. Did you ever notice how many posts there are about animals on social media? Makes me wonder if human beings have turned to our furry friends for comfort because fellow humans are so darn hard to deal with, and getting harder.

I hear it all the time: “She’s/He’s a good person.” Okay, but why? Because they give money to charity or the homeless? Because they do volunteer work? Because they take care of the disabled and/or elderly? Because they go to church? It’s easy to assume goodness persists in those who partake in the aforementioned activities. And maybe some of these individuals are good people because they do these things. But I’m of the opinion that what people do on the outside isn’t all that makes them good. I’m also of the opinion that we are not inherently good, but that we can go either way, depending on our upbringing and how we choose to conduct our lives. Being a good person, finally, has little to do with money. Some of the kindest people I’ve met in my entire life had absolutely nothing to their names.

Here’s a disclaimer on that last thought: I’m a very big fan of Bill Gates. Yes, I think he’s amazing, and the things he’s done for humanity are equal, if not greater, than the fortune he’s built for himself. Bill and other people like him (Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos,) are in the happy position of being billionaires even if they don’t do another thing for the rest of their lives. Therefore I feel like we really can’t call them greedy or self-centered. I’m not sure the Amazon guy has really found his footing as a humanitarian yet, so I wouldn’t put him in the same category of goodness as Gates, but he’s starting to emerge. Let’s see how he does.

Back to us regular folk, and the examples of presumed “goodness” that I give above. Are you good because you give to charity or the homeless? It depends on the thought behind it. Giving to charity is as easy as writing a check, or maybe pressing a button on a website. Anyone can do that. As for helping street people, let me share a little story that I’ll never forget. As a writer, I feel it’s my job to observe people. I’ve approached homeless individuals that appear willing and able to carry on a conversation. I met one such man, named Ron, on the street in Virginia Beach. I sat on the pavement and talked to him. Afterward I went back to my room, gathered up some food I had, and brought it back to him. While I was on the sidewalk with Ron, a guy came up and dropped a twenty in his lap. I asked him if I could talk to him for a minute, and I requested that he take the money and go buy Ron some food instead, as I knew he would probably spend it on something else. The guy looked at me and sneered, “I don’t have time for that!” and off he went. Was this fellow motivated by goodness…or guilt? Maybe a little of both. Either way, guilt is not a great emotion to lead with, or to prove your goodness by.

As for being a good person because someone takes care of the elderly or the disabled, as a teacher of special education I have had a lot of contact with service providers for people with special needs. I also have an elderly sister who is disabled. I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty that the mere fact that someone chooses to become a teacher, or a nurse, or a caretaker does not mean they are good. There are a lot of stressed out bad eggs in all the above careers. They do it for the money. Or the summers off. Or the insurance. Next time you’re in a nursing home or school observe people a little closer. You’ll see what I mean.

I’ve performed volunteer work in countries like India, Cambodia, and Poland. You would think that if someone is going to travel thousands of miles to teach kids English in the middle of a malarious jungle that they would be pretty good people? Actually, not true. I’ve met spoiled rich brats who spent more time on their cell phones at midnight with their boyfriends back in Salt Lake City, or twentysomethings looking for the nearest whiskey bar. Seriously, a lot of the volunteers I met were just using the programs as a way to get around the world. What a disappointment.

Don’t even get me going on the church thing. Going to church does not make you a good person.

What does? Well, for starters, be nice to people. Whether you’re in your car, or walking in the mall, or dealing with a waitress that makes $3 an hour and counts on tips, be freaking NICE. It isn’t that hard. You don’t know what people are going through. You could make or break someone’s day just with your crappy, or your happy, attitude.

Be honest. There’s nothing worse than being lied to. Do you lie because it’s easier than telling the truth? Don’t. Honesty may hurt in the short run. Lies hurt in the long haul.

Take care of others while you take care of yourself. This one deserves its own post, which it will get in the future. Everyone should take care of themselves. But be sure to spread a little of that love outward.

Think before you speak or act. Who are you hurting to get your way? If you have to step on someone to get what you want, consider another way of doing it.

Learn how to apologize. In the age of “My bad,” learn or relearn “I’m sorry.” They have two different effects.

Accept differences. I spend my days listening to immature adults rank on others, and I’m not just talking about big issues like race, gender, and sexual preference. I’m referring to things like how someone dresses or what someone’s hair or skin or feet look like. In this case, sweat the small stuff. For everything you bash someone else for, you have a problem of your own to deal with. Why not focus on that? Why not turn the magnifying glass inward and fix the only person you have control over?

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where every single person could follow these simple niceties? I’m dreaming of it right now and smiling.

India