Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What now, my Brain?

Rule #23 - So FOCUS, already!

     Here we are at the end of October - already. Where has this year gone? What have you done this year? Better yet, what have you done today? Self, you are a writer, right? When did you last "write"?
     I'll tell you what I've been doing, tonight anyway. I've spent the evening reliving a recent trip to Ireland. I'm manning the blog for Chesapeake Harmony Chorus (a Sweet Adelines Group that I sing with) called "Beer, Harmony and Shamrocks, Too". We saw so much in eight short days that I'm still mentally processing the whole trip. And - in true writer's style - I'm a bit blocked. Wine hasn't worked. Diversion therapy hasn't worked Now it's time for some serious self-talk.
     Ok, Self - here goes:
     You have a lot you want to do. You've got PiBoIdMo coming up starting November 1 - like, next weekend. Your work space looks like a travel agent barfed all over it. You have maps of Ireland, souvenirs, a toy bus, theater tickets, a CD "tutorial" of Irish drinking songs, notes, notes and more notes all over your desk. You need to move stuff to get to the key board. It doesn't help that your TV is in the same room. Or that you are a devout Candy Crush addict. Or that you spent the last two hours going through chorus members' Facebook albums downloading pictures (note to self: cite when using the pictures). All that paper... and electronics cords... and chargers... and stuff...
     Oh, and you should probably do some cleaning too... And it would help to decorate for Halloween. 
     Self, how did you let things get away from you? Was it because you wanted to stay in Ireland? Hmmmmm....
     Well, Self, you're back to reality now. Time to move some of the paper elsewhere... but wait... not too far... you are doing the Picture Book Idea Month... one idea per day for thirty days of November...
     Where does your five-year-old character need to go next? I mean, can he resist this scenery?
Blarney Castle - home of the Blarney Stone
Beautiful Killarney
Pat Cohan's Pub - Cong, Ir. where they shot "The Quiet Man" in 1950's
      And all this fun?

Blarney Bear helping Professors Lupin and Snape with Wolfsbain

Dog hitching a ride along the Ring of Kerry
How to train a border collie - at Kissane Sheep Farm
Sheep gets naked at Kissane Sheep Farm
Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin shows off his personal Coat of Arms

Minstrels serenading before dinner at Bunratty Castle
Welcome to Bunratty Castle
The pipes are calling!
Guess what this is... and it works, too!
     Ok, Self. You have your colored note cards. Focus now... blue cards are characters, major and minor. Pink cards are story line ideas and titles. Yellow cards are story arcs. You can do this in 2015, Self.
     Clear off the desk of travel items - and write a picture book idea for each one you clear off.
      And get focused! You can do this challenge...

Challenge Accepted 

Photos by Marge McGugan. No reuse without permission.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

In Baltimore...on the hottest day of the summer...so far...

Rule #44 - Avoid acting your age
     Baltimore is one funky town. It’s smaller than New York or Los Angeles, but has the same neighborhood character. And characters…
    Whatever you are looking for, you can find it in B-more.
     Back in April, the city experienced a lot of trouble, thanks to a well-publicized arrest. Buildings burned and the riotous actions of a few knuckleheads brought back memories of the 1960’s. It was the stuff that the 24-hour news channels – of both persuasions – just chomp on and regurgitate it every 15 minutes, stuffing it down the throats of viewers who can’t turn away – the train wreck phenomenon.
     Citizens kept claim on the city through the variety of street festivals in the different neighborhoods. One of the biggest ones each year is Artscape. For a long weekend, the area around the Baltimore College of Art and a number of downtown performance venues come alive with art of all kinds – visual, physical, musical, culinary, and dance. This is a festival always set for the middle of July, which is always the hottest time of the year.
     Of course, I had to be in the middle of it. Please do not tell me you’re surprised. 
     Seriously, a good chorus friend told me about an opportunity to dance in the streets. The group, Dance Baltimore, teaches normal people with lead feet how to dance, with the idea of doing flash mob dancing around the area. They have done a variety of flash mobs in the past at Artscape and other areas. This year the tune chosen was “Uptown Funk”. The choreography took 100% of the body in movement.
     I’m the type of person who has problems walking and chewing gum. You want me to think, anticipate, AND move my feet, butt, head, arms and shoulders all at the same time? I used to be able to do this. Nothing like dusting off major skills out of my cranial RAM!
     There were several of us who made it down to the African American History Museum in Baltimore for a rehearsal/lesson on one 90-degree-plus Sunday. It was so humid we worked up a sweat walking across the street from the parking garage. Inside, we joined Baltimoreans of all ages, races, and sizes – and skill levels – to get funky and learn the steps. It took one hour for us to learn all the step combinations. We signed up to receive the review video by e-mail. Then we were on our own to practice.
     For the next few weeks, we practiced on our own. I don’t have much room in my office to move easily for dancing. There was no way I could practice in front of a mirror either, which was probably a blessing in disguise. If I saw how I looked while dancing, I might have chickened out and not shown up for the mob dances.
     So, at my age, what have I got to lose? Become the butt of cocktail party jokes? Look ridiculous? Been there, done that. And besides, who really cares? I am determined to do things and have fun. That’s why you live long… and prosper. So, I signed up. Those running the program got to know my face. And I made a commitment to dance at least three times through the weekend.
     Artscape weekend came around with its usual heat and humidity. After all, it is mid-July in Baltimore. That weekend the sun was blazing all three days. Our flash mobs were scheduled for mid-to-late afternoon. The location was partially in the shade, but there was no breeze on that city street.
     On day one, I drove myself into the city and used a parking garage. I ended up close to the dance site and in charge of when I left. If I had used the Light Rail, I may have been standing at the station for a good half hour. Oh no…not in the heat…and especially after dancing up a good sweat. I located the area where the dancers were to meet and found myself in the general area of all the ruckus from April. Not to sweat about that, Self.
     Wow… there’s a Philadelphia-based Italian water ice stand… I know where I’m hanging out between dances!
     The music started right on time. It was easy to get caught up in the fun. Now, I don’t know if you could day that I did a good job or not. I don’t care if I did. But I did get out there and shake what Mom gave me twice on Saturday and again twice on Sunday afternoon. There were only two of us with any grey hair showing (maybe more friends of Lady Clairol?) but we both made it through dancing in the heat. And we all had a blast.
     Next year, I’ll try to see more of Artscape. With any luck, the weather won’t be much of a deterrent to my experiencing the concerts. This year I missed George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic. I’m going to try not to miss out on the headliner next year. From the classic cars, to the street painting, to the roller skating demos, to…everything, I’m going to participate more in 2016.
     The group is also doing flash mob dancing on Halloween to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. I want to head downtown and learn that dance too, so Halloween will again be a fun day. It hasn’t been all that fun for about three years now.
     Another goal set. I’ll meet this one too. Just love the street festivals in the city, don’t you? The next one I’m taking in is the Greek Festival in November. I’m getting hungry just thinking of it.  


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Alone or just Lonely

Rule #4 – Write from your experiences
     I’m considering adding another rule to my collection. This one says “It’s all about perspective”. When you think about it, perspective is the key to everything in life, not just a term used by artists.
     The past few years have changed my perspective on a great many things. I’ve been forced to rethink many of the tenets that guided me as I grew up. Society was different in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Life was pre-scripted, roles were defined clearly, and raising children looked very similar to programming a computer. You told it what to do and it did it. Those were the days…
     Now, after the gut-kicking I got from life a few years ago, nothing is the same. I’ve analyzed myself and my personality traits. I’ve looked at my life as a wife and mother… and as a teacher…and as a woman of a certain age. I now have the blessings to feel loved, liberated, crazy, eccentric, childlike, alone, fearless, lonely, sad, emotional… and I can go on and on. I’m beginning to finally understand what these terms mean. Especially the alone and lonely terms – I thought they were the same thing. Now I know they are not.
     The dictionary defines “alone” as:
            -separate, apart or isolated,
            -to the exclusion of all others and all else
            -unique, unequalled, unexcelled
            -solitary, solely
            -only, exclusively
            -without aid or help
    It defines “lonely” as:
            -affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone, lonesome
            -destitute of sympathetic or friendly companionship, intercourse, support, etc.
            -lone, solitary, without company, companionless
            -remote from places of human habitation, desolate, unfrequented, bleak
            -standing apart, isolated         
                        (Source: Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 16Jul2015, 11:00)
     What the two words have in common is the concept of “solitary” or “one”. The word “alone” – at least to me – has a positive vibe to it. No, not kidding. There is something about being alone that is empowering. Think of what might go through the mind of a baby as they let go and stand alone for the first few times. When you get past the “what the…?” look on the child’s face, you can see the little brain formulating plans of attack and possible destruction as curiosity takes over and they see all the things they can now get into. The child is free! They can move about! Look out world; here they come!
     I’ve been alone now for quite a while. There is a feeling of empowerment and liberation with my status. Yes, now I can do what I want, go where I want, eat what I want when I want (or not at all) without checking someone else’s schedule. Life is all mine right now. And the accountability is all mine now too. When I make a mistake, I have no one to blame but me. Success is all mine, but so is failure. If I choose not to work on a project, I can no longer complain that nothing gets done. It’s my own damn fault.
     I’ve stretched myself as a single person. My bucket list is getting items ticked off it slowly but surely… just to add more items to the list. I tried to reenter the dating scene only to revisit the emotional discomfort of puberty.
     I’ve even done “master-dating”. Now don’t freak – this is a real term defined in the Urban Dictionary. It means doing normally communal things like going to the movies, plays, concerts, and restaurants, and sitting by yourself. The dictionary says the term applies mostly to men, because when they are seen alone, others in the crowd look at them sympathetically, like the guys are pathetic losers.  Solo restaurant trips are common for me. I go to the movies solo also, with no problem. I recently attended a concert on my own, even though I met up with my cousin when I arrived. I’ve even gone to baseball games by myself – you can eavesdrop better when you are by yourself. The rest of the crowd becomes your entertainment.
     Finally in life, I’ve met myself… and I like me and we get along. It’s only taken me… how long?
     Many a day is spent by myself at home or in my “office” (a whopping 10-second commute from my bedroom). I spend my alone time writing, researching, gardening, imagining (goes with the writing), dreaming (ditto, writing), occasionally cleaning (yuk!), praying, cooking for myself, reading and more reading. Since I’ve learned that I am a functional introvert, this alone time is necessary to recharge my energy level. The recharge is needed, because when I’m out in society, I participate in a number of group activities. I sing with the chorus and church choir, am a member of our garden club, work with the bereavement ministry at church catering funeral receptions, go to group therapy sessions, and more. I am with other people most of the time, working on projects, performing, discussing, collaborating… using a lot of energy to keep myself busy. This isn’t the busyness that comes from avoiding the empty house or of feeling lonely; it’s productive busyness. And I withdraw to recharge. I don’t feel the need to be in touch or available at all times. (Take that, Verizon Wireless!)
     But, am I lonely? You can look at my schedule and think, “No way! She’s too involved with things to be lonely.” I must confess that I still get lonely some times. Right after Hub died, I felt the depressive loneliness, like a fish out of water not sure where to turn for my next breath. Now I feel the loneliness when I realize what he’s missing by not being here. It’s more a sadness than a depression. So, maybe I’m not lonely – not a question – a statement of fact. And you can feel lonely in a happy marriage, when you are in a crowd and ignored, or when you are in the work place and reminded that what you do really doesn’t matter in the great scheme of the corporation. 
    And do I still miss Hub? Sure, I do, no doubt.
    Lonely is a state of mind and alone is a state of being. I live daily in Alone, but am working to keep away from Lonely. Fear is a good buddy to Lonely, and I refuse to live anywhere near Fear. I can choose to be alone. And I can choose to allow Lonely to take possession of me. I choose to be alone for now, and there’s nothing for me to fear.
     No Fear. Choice. And it’s all about perspective.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Majors or Minors?

Rule # 15 – Write your observations

     Decisions… decisions… Do I want Oriole Magic? Or do I want someone to “Knock my ‘Sox off”?
Does it really make a difference? I mean, it’s only baseball, right? Well…you be the judge.
     We live in nirvana for baseball fans. We have two major league teams, Orioles and Nationals. Add to that the many minor league affiliates all over Maryland and Virginia. So, a true baseball fan doesn’t need Comcast or FiOS to get MASN or MASN2 to get their baseball fix. Live games are all over. But at what price? Is this the arena for the rich or occasional fan? Or can anyone play?
Mile post for minor league teams and locations
     The answer is a definite yes…and no. Let’s take a look at this dilemma starting with true numbers and a sample set of teams.
     The Bowie Baysox are the local (like down the street from me local) Class AA team for the Orioles. They play in Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, just off Routes 3 and 50. Drive down to PG Stadium and park for free. Tickets to the games range from $10 to $18, depending on where you sit. The stadium itself is smaller in size, so it doesn’t take many tickets for a sellout.
Prince George’s Stadium – home of the Bowie Baysox
     The venue is geared toward children. There is a carousel in the right field concourse area, along with a playground. The game I was at also had Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird and Sylvester the Cat in attendance. Louie, the Baysox mascot, was all over the crowd, talking to the children, taking pictures with them, and as the centerpiece for many of the between-inning games.
Bugs Bunny greets Baysox fan
Louie leads dancing between innings
     By comparison, Oriole Park at Camden Yards is “the Bigs”. Here is where the players make some big money, and the prices for items show it. Tickets can run from $20 to $75 dollars, depending on your seat – and the team the O’s are playing. Yankees, Red Sox, and any other division winners from the year before command higher ticket prices. Parking isn’t free downtown. Lot prices fluctuate from $35 dollars at the Hilton garage to $9 for distance parking and a nice hike to the ballpark. Some of the garages are hooked into Parking Panda, so you can get a discount by purchasing ahead online.
Oriole Park from the left field seats
     Camden Yards does its best to be totally fan friendly, no matter the age of the fan. The Little Bird playground area has batting cages, pitching practice, picture areas, and more. The Orioles have many kids’ days in their home schedule, where kids can run the bases after the game. Many players sign autographs by the dugout during pre-game warm-ups.
     Food at both stadiums is comparable in price. I bought a cheeseburger, fries and a beer at the Baysox game for $17.50. I didn’t find any crabcakes, or ethnic foods at the Baysox stadium like there is at Camden Yards.
     Basic economic theory says that the more competition in an area, the better it is for the consumer. Well, there’s plenty of competition for consumer’s sports dollars around here. With the Nationals and Orioles at the major league level and a variety of minor league teams within an hour or two from home, this area is saturated – and for our benefit. Oriole Park becomes Yankee Stadium south when the Yankees come to town. It becomes Fenway south when the Red Sox come in. It’s actually less expensive for a Boston or New York fan to take the Amtrak to Baltimore, get a Camden Yards ticket and stay over here than it is to go to a game in their own home park.
     For baseball purists, though, it doesn’t matter where you play the game. The Baysox play exciting baseball, just like the Orioles. The game I saw recently saw the Baysox jump out to a 6-0 lead. They held a big lead until… the 8th and 9th innings when Portland came back and made it close. The Baysox play like their big brother Orioles in that respect. Many Orioles are sent to Bowie as part of Buck Showalter’s revolving door policy for players. On any given evening, you could see Matt Weiters or Jonathan Schoop working their way off the disabled list at Bowie. The Baysox boys are making names for themselves. I recognized many of them from spring training in Sarasota. Here’s a familiar one – Yaztremski. Yes, Mike Yaztremski is the grandson of Red Sox legend Carl Yaztremski. He’s working his way to the bigs at Bowie.
Pregame fanfare at Camden Yards

     So which location has the best deals in baseball? It depends on what you want. Close up and small stadium leads you to a minor league park, like Bowie. Lower prices for a family event takes you to a minor league park, too. If you want the big league party experience, a major league park like Camden Yards is your place. Plan your visit to either type of park through mlb.com. Here you can scroll to your favorite major league team's website. Within your team's site, you can get to their minor league affiliates. From there, just pick your seat, buy your ticket and enjoy your baseball experience.
     I'll see you at the Ball Park!

Pictures are the property of Marge McGugan. No reuse without permission.

Text also appears in “A View from the Passenger’s Seat”, Arden on the Severn Newsbuoy, July 2015