This past weekend, I traveled to my hometown of Harlan, Ky, to spend some time with my family. My parents have lived in the same house for nearly 50 years, and they have finally decided that it’s too much house. They spend winters in Florida, anyway, so why not make the move?

They have put the old house on the market, and my brother and I were collecting what stuff we may want to take to our own homes. After having not lived there since my high school years, and returning only yearly as of late, it was really a trip down memory lane.

We took a drive out to the Harlan country club, to view the remains of the clubhouse that recently burned to the ground. As we walked around the grounds of the charred remains and the long-neglected swimming pool, memories washed through my head.

Many, many days of my childhood were spent here, learning to swim, then to dive, usually belly-first, off the diving board. Laying on the hot concrete swathed in baby oil and iodine, prematurely aging my skin while wishing for larger breasts and a boyfriend. Our mothers were golfers, so the best babysitter in town was the lifeguard.

Charging lunches consisting of Mrs. Williams’ ‘minnow cheese, sweet tea and a Hershey bar, my friends and I were left to our own devices for most of the day, no worries about any more harm coming to us than a skinned knee or bad sunburn.

Thursday night was family night at the club, and the lot of us would band together and ride the golf carts around the famously mountainous golf course, scarring each other on the rickety old swinging bridges. After- dark card games kept us occupied while our parents put away copious amounts of liquor, illegal in Harlan County until 2011.

Most of those people have long-since left the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, and my only association of long-ago friends is now through Facebook. I doubt that I will return to Harlan when mom and dad leave for the last time this Fall. Seeing the country club in it’s state of ruin seemed to close a door for me. Saying goodbye isn’t easy. I’ll keep the memories burned in my brain of a carefree childhood and far away friends.




Erma Bombeck

I just spent a fabulous 3 days in Dayton, Ohio (yes, it’s possible to have a fabulous time there.)  I attended my first ever Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop, a bi-annual coming-together of humor writers.

Attendees run the gamut of published authors, screen-writers, bloggers, social media fanatics and those who were just dipping their toe in the stream of writing.  There was a fantastic line up of presenters and speakers, including, but certainly not limited to:

W. Bruce Cameron-author of my favoritest-ever (yes, that’s my word) book, “A Dog’s Purpose.” (Which, by the way, will be made into a movie soon.)

Craig Wilson-USA Today feature writer and author of “It’s the Little Things: An Appreciation of Life’s Simple Pleasures.”

Adriana Trigiani-writer for The Cosby Show and A Different World, and author of “Lucia, Lucia” and “Big Stone Gap” which was where Adriana and I both began our lives.

Irene Beckerman– whose writing career began at the age of 60 (Oh, thank you, Irene- there is STILL hope for me!)

Alan Zweibel, one of the original writer’s for “Saturday Night Live.” He also wrote  for “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and the movie “North”, among others.

Dave Fox-author of Globejotting and Getting Lost, and who I consider responsible for my enthusiasm about writing humor. I’ve taken 2 of Dave’s online humor-writing classes, and he encouraged me to go to the EBWW conference.

There were many more inspirational presenters at the conference, and, perhaps most inspirational of all was Erma’s family. Each family member read one of their favorite columns written by Erma, and gave us a piece of their own life with the woman we all consider “Mom.”

The presenters were unique, but the message was the same. Keep writing. Do what you love. Persevere.  “Overnight success is a myth, so don’t give up!”  That is exactly what I needed to hear. Muchas Gracias!

My roommate, Angela, was a former classmate in Dave’s online humor classes, and, although we were virtual strangers, we at least had a clue that we would get along.  She knew my penchant for wine and dropping the “F” bomb, and still agreed to let me room with her.

One problem.

Angela is a “low talker.”  (Remember Seinfield’s Puffy-Shirt episode?)

I am deaf.

No, not totally deaf, but I struggle to hear, much less understand, anything quieter than a passing fire truck or dynamite blast.  I have no idea what I nodded and smiled about for the first hour in our room, but after showing her my hearing aids and asking her to please yell at me, we hit it off. We’re even talking about taking a trip to Asia next year.

Polly arrived 8 ½ months pregnant, but other than that she seemed normal.

Then the truth came out.

Polly is a Mormon.

I’m from rural Appalachia. I’ve never met a real Mormon in person. My exposure lies in the endless TV ads that have ambushed us every 5 minutes, ever since Mitt Romney began his bid for president. You’ve probably seen them: Drug addicts, ex-convicts, Walmart greeters…  Each commercial ends in “I am a Mormon.

Maybe they should get Polly on that ad, saying she’s a Mom and a writer. It would have laid my fears to rest, for sure.

The bottom line is this. Last weekend I was exposed to some of the funniest, funnest, coolest and genuinely warmest people I’ve ever met. Thank you, Erma, for your gift.

“Just wait–one day you’ll wake up, and out of the blue you’ll be fat and foggy-menopause sucks!”

“Not me”, I assured my jaded friends and family. I would never allow that to happen to me. Never.

Fast forward. I woke up this morning. I am fat. And foggy.  Hello MentalPause.

I’ve been denying my weight gain as “water retention” for too long now. Or blaming it on my new-ish mac-daddy, super-powered clothes dryer.  It dries my clothes a little too well. OK, a lot too well. So I’ve finally started hang-drying my jeans, but, damn, this Georgia heat still shrinks them up too much!

And my bathroom scale is old. Really old, and I am sure that the dust accumulation in the whatchamacallit, innards, has added at least a couple of pounds to it’s readings. They do that. It’s a gimmick invented by the scale-makers, I’m sure, to get us middle-agers to upgrade to the fancier, more expensive model. The one that speaks out loud like those fancy-schmancy GPS thingy’s. “Looking good, gorgeous, now go out and buy yourself a new pair of jeans”. Yeah. Right.  But instead of going to the boutique that only sells jeans in European sizes, of which I have never figured out which size I am, I must now go to Chico’s, the store for the cruise-ship traveler/modern woman wannabe. They have devised a way for even the most pleasingly plump to avoid the dreaded XXL of stretch-pants. Chico’s cleverly sizes their wears from 00-4.  Yep, the old size 22 is the new size 4!

The fogginess that comes along with MentalPause (MP) is another “gift” to the middle-aged woman. If  “brainfart” is a word, then I am the gassiest, fartingest one around. I come downstairs in the morning and can’t find my reading glasses to see the newspaper (another gift from the MP gods-failing vision.) I go back upstairs to look for my bedtime reading glasses (I try to keep several pairs stashed around the house) and find them in the bathroom. Back downstairs, HK points out that my morning glasses are on my head. I take a sip of coffee, then go back upstairs to put last night’s washing in the dryer (except the jeans). There are still clothes in the dryer from a few days ago, that I forgot to promptly remove as the labels advise, so I will have extra ironing this week. I come down and go back up when I think I forgot to turn the dryer on. (You’d think I’d actually be losing weight from all the stairs I climb every day.)

Today’s paper has the food section in it. The Shrimp and Grits recipe looks delish. I go to get my shopping list, which I can’t find, so I start a new one. Shrimp. Chicken broth. Grits. Do we have plenty of coffee?  I go to look. Oh, there’s the Tikka Masala sauce I meant to make last month. Add Chicken to the list.  I’m hungry, but we don’t have any cereal, so I have a couple of prunes and a piece of chocolate. Add chocolate to the list. Shoot, I forgot to take Roxie to the groomer this morning. Call to make another appointment.

All of this forgetting/remembering makes me grumpy. Oops- forgot my antidepressant. Oh, it looks like I need a refill on my cholesterol meds. God, these calcium pills are huge. Almost out of Vitamin E-better put it on my list. WHERE’S THE FREAKING LIST????

menopause meds, pills, prescriptions

After starting a third grocery list, it’s time to walk the dogs, work out and get my day started, since it’s nearly noon. By 2:00, I’m at the store. Shit. Forgot my grocery bags. Grabbing a cart, I hit the vegetable aisle. Now, where’s my list? I call HK to see if he can find my lists and tell me what we need. He’s not answering his phone. I wing it from memory, knowing full-well that I’ll be making another trip to the store if not today, then tomorrow. I see a neighbor in the condiments aisle, but I can’t for the life of me remember his name, so I avoid any possible encounter. (I hope we don’t need ketchup.) The cashier asks ifI qualify for the senior discount. If she actually thinks I look even close to 63, then, by god, yes-give me the discount.

By the time I get home, I’m ready for a nap. Did I mention another effect of MP?  Tiredness. Daytime-not nighttime- tiredness. During the night, I find it difficult, at best, to get to sleep without a little help from Ambien. When I do finally get to sleep, I often wake up swimming in a pool of sweat, and have to change into dry pajamas.  After changing, it’s hard to get back to sleep. I am not a daytime napper, though, as I consider it a huge waste of my valuable time, so I sit, finally, at my computer and stare at the screen. What was I going to work on today?  After commenting on friend’s facebook pages, adding a few images to my Pinterest board and forwarding emails, I study the recipe for Tikka Masala. Damn-I forgot to buy chicken. We have soup and sandwiches for dinner.

After a few hours of catching up on Downton Abbey and Survivor, I’m ready for bed. Where are my glasses?  Good night, MentalPause.  See you in the morning.

Happy 40th Birthday

Travel. It is my passion of passions. (Besides my passion for dogs, but that is a completely different blog). I think my love of exploring the world began when I was “knee-high to a grasshopper”, exploring the wooded wonders of the Appalachian mountains where I grew up. Never content to sit at home, I was out and about by any means possible, whether that meant on foot, my pony, bicycle or dirt bike. As I crossed that threshold into my teens, my world became bigger, with more thrills and dares to take.  Boyfriends with fast cars or, better yet, motorcycles were coveted. (Used? Maybe.) I occasionally even resorted to using my thumb as a way to oppose my parents and meet my transportation needs.

With independence came true wanderlust, and now in my filthy’s (uh, fifties), I’ve had the good fortune to experience many countries around the world. I’ve got album upon album of the trips I’ve taken, the photographs carefully culled and filed within a week upon return. Along with pictures, I have journaled most of these trips, the good, the not-so-good, and even the ugly, and have been pouring through these for inspiration for a travel piece I’m working on.

So I’ve decided that I have enough fuel to fill my blog for awhile, and am going to start posting some of these trips here on JulesRules. I’d love you to comment on my blog, letting me know the places you have enjoyed, your experiences, questions, just whatever comes to mind. So go grab a latte, tea or glass of wine, sit back, and lets hit the road! I hope you enjoy the trip!

This first segment of Hit the Road is a collection of totally random shots that have little connection, they are a basic “introduction” for you.

Hitting the road w/ my BFF- age 12

Rome, age 15

Italy was my first international destination. I was with the Harlan Musettes, an all-girl singing group that won GOLD in the International Choral Festival. We sang for the Pope. I quickly realized that group travel was NOT my bag. Here I’m plotting how the hell to break away and enjoy the boys and some Italian vino.

Ticket to Ride

Remember when passports and driver’s licences looked like mug shots?

 Here I’m thumbing a ride on the Pan American Highway after we had to ditch the horses near Banos, Ecuador.

Galapagos Islands 1995

  This was my first skydive jump, in Wanaka, New Zealand, one of THE most beautiful places on earth!

Machu Picchu, Peru 1996

In honor of No More Excuses Month, I have to say I’ve done myself pretty proud!

Yesterday, in looking over my writing projects, I reviewed some notes I took at the recent SCBWI conference. (Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators).  In the notes were a few random ideas for children’s stories that had popped in to my head at various times, like driving in the car, laying in bed with the pups for “snuggle time” in the morning, and while enjoying a nice long soak in the tub. I realized during the conference that I was investing too much time and energy in this one story that is going to make me a break-out phenomenon.

For one thing, while a story is sitting in an editor or agents slush pile, it is common courtesy not to send it elsewhere. That is called a simultaneous submission, and by most accounts, it is a no-no. So I figured it’s time to get off my ass and start writing another one of my great story lines. Well, I sat down at about 10:00am, and other than a 1 1/2 hour appointment with my physical therapist (shoulder rehab), I had completed my rough draft by 5:00 pm.   And this one is pretty damn good, if I may say so myself.  I’ve read it aloud several times (using my “voices”)  to the dogs, and Chance and Kismet think it’s pretty great.  Chance especially likes it because he is the main character, and Kismet likes it because, well, he just likes me to talk silly to him.  Roxie… not so much. If there is not food or a Frisbee involved, she pretty much hangs out under the bed.

Anyway, sometimes we just need a prod to move us along that path that lies directly in front of us. We often find ourselves just standing there, staring, knowing that that is the ultimate direction that we will need to take to get from point A to point B, but there is often that little something that diverts us. Some little detour in the road. A nice blade of grass? A new facebook message?  The decision to have a cup of tea followed by a glance at your email only to see that one of your favorite bloggers has posted a new entry and you have to comment on it which leads you to reading 7 other comments from bloggers you don’t know and adding them to your RSS feed and then seeing that you have 3 more emails…..

God, it’s no wonder I can’t find the time to write.