Finally, my rose-colored glasses have vanished

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Music has a remarkable ability to connect a person to memories and emotions. Hearing tunes probably is good for us. Studies say listening to music engages broad neural networks in the brain. Recently I plugged in a CD (yes, I still listen to those) and popped in a Dylan album. I was immediately plunged into a sentimental voyage back to days when wild parties were fun and people’s politics were more important than the size of their bank accounts.

As the CD rolled on, I first became uneasy, then upset. Instead of a shimmery, warm blanket of nostalgia, anxiety welled up. The words were replete with messages, cautions, insights. The memories they resurrected were of marches, demonstrations, agitated arguments. “The Times They Are A-Changing” was the most poignant to me.

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now

Will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’.

Did Dylan really believe his lyrics? Did I? I certainly claimed I did not; even then I was posing as a cynic. But as I hear the song again, and anguish wells up in me, I realize that I never acknowledged I’d been silently hoping all those years ago the times were changing. Now at the distance of decades, I shake my head at my own naiveté.

If anything, we seem to be regressing to much worse earlier times, in which people felt free to say anything they wanted and threaten anyone who didn’t agree with them. In which leaders bragged for taking advantage of those poorer, weaker, more disadvantaged. A period when evil could be implemented with impunity because it was the law, and no one questioned whether the law was good or bad. Robber baron industrialists were touted as heroes. Native American children were exiled to schools that only taught the white man’s history, and many groups of immigrants or ethnicities could only hope for the lowest, most degrading employment.

I thought about the advances I believed our country was making all that long time ago in the 60s and 70s— reducing discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and income; improving the education and health of the general populace; speaking out loud and clear about malevolent practices as we identified them be those environmental, legal, or social. Many of these were driven by Dylan’s insights and expression.

Nowadays, not only are we not treading water or staying even with social change, we’re sinking swiftly into a morass of inhumanity, ineptitude, and immorality, as children die on our borders, families are ejected from homes and jobs, talented students can’t afford to get advanced education, and the grossest tirades and accusations are leveled irrationally by our leaders.

Dylan may be a musical and literary genius. Makes no difference to the validity of his works. It’s time to return to yesteryear, and strengthen our consciences and wills. It’s past time to crack out these protest songs by Bob Dylan and others once again to inspire, enrage, and toughen our resolve. The least we’re required by good sense and conscience to do is be aware of what we’re losing. Perhaps we can resuscitate our collective integrity, pester ourselves to action. Once we do, I’ll decide if I should hunt down another pair of rose-colored glasses so I finally can convert to a full-fledged optimist.

 

On Being a Redhead or Simply Being With One

I just found out that January 10 is Kiss a Ginger Day. In case you don’t know, a “ginger” is someone with red hair. I have two reasons for being interested: I’m working on a short story about my neighborhood, which has an inordinate percentage of redheaded children, and I have two gorgeous ginger grandsons.

Contrary to the old perception of redheads, which was that they had fiery tempers, bad teeth, and were generally less attractive, I always liked red hair of every shade, from strawberry blonde to deep flaming tresses. My first boyfriend in the sixth grade had red hair, the smartest boy in the class. He also had the traditional less-desirable traits: glasses, lots of freckles, and already a nerd at the age of eleven. I imagine he went on to discover a cure for some dreadful disease or head a space research lab.

The prejudice against redheads is in rapid decline. Where once paintings of shifty, evil Judas Iscariot frequently portrayed him with red hair, now we know redheads have higher pain thresholds (although some websites say the opposite) and can manufacture more of their needed Vitamin D. Where once they were thought to be sneaky, now they’re believed to have stronger sex drives (I guess this wasn’t desirable in days gone by), There used to be a Kick a Ginger Day. No more. If you’re cautious with your kisses, in addition to the January 12 kiss-fest, there’s a separate Hug a Ginger Day on February 22. England, France, Sicily, and Italy have national festivals to celebrate their collections.

If you’re a redhead, or you like redheads, you’re in good company. Julianna Moore, Prince Harry, Jessica Chastain, Michael Fassbender, Reba McEntire, Sean White, Christina Hendricks, Damian Lewis. My very favorite is actor Colin Firth, who once was rejected for a major role because he was “too ginger.” Since that time he usually has dark hair in his films, edging toward gray nowadays. Speaking of gray, redheads tend to skip that stage, retain their red coloring until they turn white. If you wish you were redheaded, a dye job is easy to come by.

When people see my two redheads, I’ve been congratulated, then told stories about their positive traits—individualism, intelligence. So let’s hear it for the gingers. As a tiny percentage of the world’s population they’ve fascinated and frustrated us, tempted and taunted us. As for me, I’ll give my two gingers a big smacking kiss and hug for being the bright, wonderful people they are.

 

ORDERING FROM THE CHILDREN’S MENU: the brain-body connection

Everyone knows this country has an obesity problem. You don’t need statistics like the survey revealing that rates have increased significantly since 1999–2000, when 13.9% of children and 30.5% of adults were obese. In 2015-16, the survey found 18.5% of children hit the target while 39.6 of adults were obese. Rates differed by ethnicity, too, with whites less susceptible, and the higher-income and better-educated folks also less likely to over-indulge. A friend of mine used to chuckle over the stereotypes running rife at “natural foods” stores like Wild Oats and Sprouts, where skinny white women seemed to hold sway.

Fast food comes in for a hefty amount of criticism for its supposedly unhealthy ingredients and large portions. Servings in these establishments have grown parallel with the average body weight of a person from the 70s to now. People tend to eat the complete meal or serving regardless of feeling full or not. We’ve gotten used to larger portions, and we expect them. Common opinions include “I want my money’s worth,” and “We love coming here because the portion sizes are huge.” Most restaurants serve two to three times more than the healthy portion sizes recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

There’s a simple solution, but one not generally supported by the food service industry. Order from the children’s menu. Most menus have a warning that diners must be under ten or twelve to order from the kids’. A few also allow senior citizens to indulge from the list, but many simply prohibit the practice.

Why? Rather than passing laws to ban “unhealthy” snacks in schools, why not insist that restaurants and places where people buy large helpings of food also offer smaller servings and approve ordering food by size rather than age?

Take a look at the average calorie content for McDonald’s children’s meals. A Hamburger Happy Meal clocks in at 475 calories, a 4 piece Chicken McNuggets® Happy Meal at 405 calories, and a 6 piece Chicken McNuggets® Happy Meal at 495 calories. Over at Olive Garden, eaters can easily keep their caloric intake at about 500 to 750 by selecting from the kids’ choices. These are reasonable amounts for many adults to eat, too.

The restaurant industry is generally not supportive of this move. I’ve landed in several major brouhahas with my determined requests to act childish. Well, if the businesses don’t favor this approach, why not cut the average size of a portion by 50% and reduce the price by only one-third?

I remember a Weight Watchers’ leader years ago telling the audience, “You’re the customer. Ask for what you want or take your business elsewhere.” Sounds like good advice to me.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: When to End a Book Series

By guest blogger Kim McMahill

I love reading books in a series. A series gives the reader the opportunity to really get to know the characters on a personal level. We get to see the recurring protagonists and antagonists progress emotionally, evolve into better or worse people, and sometimes we see them age. No matter if the story is far outside our real lives, we still often connect to the characters as we share some of the same experiences—a challenge at work, a bully, a crisis of faith, a health issue, or relationship woes or wows.

So, when is it time to let go? It depends on the series. I don’t think there is an easy answer, but there are a number of triggers. Has the storyline fizzled out, has the objective been achieved, or has the protagonist aged to the point that his or her heroics are no longer believable?

I started my Risky Research Series with a clear vision of how the series would develop and end, but I’m starting to realize I may not be in total control. When, and if, FBI agent Devyn Nash dismantles a deadly organization obsessed with controlling the multi-billion-dollar diet product industry and brings them to justice, she’s got more to accomplish. Will her next case be strong enough to carry the series past nabbing Coterie? Will she still have a job with the FBI after A Foundation of Fear? Honestly, I’m not sure yet, but in the meantime she has some very dangerous individuals to track down.

It all began in A Dose of Danger (currently free with Kindle Unlimited), when a call from Wyoming sheriff, Gage Harris, confirmed that someone was behind a string of related crimes happening across the country, forcing the FBI to open an investigation. The cases take Devyn and her partner Nick Melonis from the Salt Lake City Field Office to Wyoming in Book 1, A Dose of Danger. Book 2, A Taste of Tragedy, brings them closer to the killers and to Nick’s ex-wife as they follow clues to a deadly sweetener to Arizona. In book 3, A Foundation of Fear (just released), Devyn closes in on one member of Coterie in Washington, D.C., allowing the reader to get inside the head of an assassin.

In book 4…well let’s don’t go there yet. Devyn still has work and she needs to figure out what to do about the handsome sheriff who has stolen her heart. Until the members of Coterie are brought to justice and Devyn seals the deal with the sheriff, the series must go on. So no goodbyes yet.

[To learn more about the Risky Research Series or to download your copy, visit any of these links:

THE AUTHOR:

Kim McMahill grew up in Wyoming which is where she developed her sense of adventure and love of the outdoors. She started out writing non-fiction, but her passion for exotic world travel, outrageous adventures, stories of survival, and happily-ever-after endings soon drew her into a world of romantic suspense and adventure fiction. Along with writing novels Kim has also published over eighty travel and geographic articles, and contributed to a travel story anthology. Kim currently resides in Colorado, and when not writing, she enjoys gardening, traveling, hiking, and spending time with family. To get to know Kim, you can find her at any of the following links:

Blog: http://www.kimmcmahill.blogspot.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kimmcmahill

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/KimMcMahillAuthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kimmcmahill/

Goodreads author page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/849945.Kim_McMahill

Always Time for a Story: Short Story Month Is May

I’ve stumbled across another commemoration of interest to me. I have no idea who names these “official” dates, but they succeed in focusing some public attention on their distinctive topic. This one is Short Story Month, which, in case you don’t know, is May.

A short story is, by definition, fiction. It drives me crazy to hear wanna-be writers describe a work as “a fiction short story.” Don’t need the term “fiction.” Still, better to talk about short stories than not, even with a superfluous word.

Superfluous words are what short stories don’t have. They enable us to read tales about imaginary people, events, locations minus the length of novels or novellas. Why does this appeal? As we become more inundated with electronic media, videos, selfies, instant photos, self-published discourses, and every form of communication ever dreamed of, some of us feel we’re losing control. Our time is not our own.

But short stories abbreviate their length. While writers hate to be limited by rules or even guidelines, short stories are, indeed, shorter than novels. They still have characters, settings, themes, and conflicts. Some have mystery, romance, puzzles. So they have essentially everything a novel can have but in a manageable amount.

I’ve heard of book clubs whose members are so strapped for time, they’ve turned to only reading short stories. The best writers in the world have created short stories. They’re handy to read when you’re traveling and are squeezing in some recreation on a trip. It’s easy to be introduced to a new writer in a short story. Their succinctness has an appeal all its own. Another favorable point: publishers and publications are starting to post free online short stories to encourage readers to sample their wares.

The day when a writer could actually make a living writing short stories is long gone. The market, however, is still strong, if you don’t mind creating for extremely low pay or, even more likely, none. Literary journals are the home for most.

If you’re interested in my short stories, I have links on my website to some you can read.

Take some chunks of time this month to sample new short stories or re-visit old ones. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, the list is fascinating and apparently endless.