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Lifestyles of the rich and, er, …

Perhaps being married to our county’s Emergency Manager has skewed my perception of things, but I honestly feel like I’m living one of the “lifestyles of the rich and famous.”

It’s not that his salary is fabulous—far from it. If it weren’t for Mike’s military pension, we’d both have to find better jobs. But the fact that I do not actually have to work right now has allowed me to explore my own selfish interests, and what more could a girl want?

“But what do you mean by ‘skewed’ perception?” you ask.

Well, it struck me as comical the other day that I was excited to be cooking my oatmeal on our wood-burning stove in the living room while hanging wet clothes, also in the living room, on the most excellent new drying rack I recently purchased. And that’s where being married to the Emergency Manager comes into play.

You see, even before we married 30 years ago, I knew my husband was a special kind of guy. I joined the Judo team at West Point our senior year so I could get to know him better and it was there I learned that my mate-to-be never did anything half-assed. I fell for him, hard, over and over again, and before the end of our last semester I had a yellow belt, a kajillion multi-colored bruises, and a sparkling engagement ring.

The first seven years of our marriage were wild and childless. We were both in the Army and loved our jobs. Mike’s constant never-quit attitude brushed off on me big-time, and I grew stronger and more confident in myself through each challenging experience we shared. His self-reliance was inspiring, and I learned to push myself to do things that didn’t come naturally. With my predisposition toward life as a couch potato, I thrilled myself each time I finished an “adventure race” or triathlon.

With the arrival of two strapping sons, I was the luckiest girl in the world. Even though our salary would be halved with my resignation from the Army, Mike encouraged me to transition from “Ma’am” to “Mom” (possibly my next book title), and 23 years of new challenges have passed like whispers in a whirlwind. Our sons learned that life is often not easy, and now they laugh at me (good-heartedly, I think!) when I talk about their dad’s preparations for our upcoming “black-out” weekend, which will have nothing to do with alcohol. They have yet to ask to come home that weekend.

After teaching in the public school system for several years, another challenge I honestly hated and loved, Mike once again encouraged me to pursue my dream of becoming an author—which brings me back to feeling like I’m living one of those lives. Although I’m neither rich nor famous yet, I still am able to indulge my inner couch potato while writing, and I still am able to thrill myself each time I’ve climbed a mountain or lived through a frigid Leadville night with the thermostat turned down a few more degrees.

Living with a man who practices what he preaches has kept me from the eventual ennui that creeps, perhaps, into many relationships. Sure, I make fun of his parapet of books with titles like “Fear” and “Not a Good Day to Die” and his latest, “X-Events: The Collapse of Everything,” but I sleep well at night knowing that even if I’m not completely ready for the collapse of everything yet, he is.

And so I truly am a “kept woman.” I will continue to embrace each new opportunity to shirk the easy way of doing things because easy bores me, and because I can. We recently adopted a 3-year-old German Shepard from a rescue shelter because it would have been easier not to. Being married to a man who works so that I can air-dry laundry and take a dog on three long walks each day puts me in a category deserving of my own reality T.V. show.

I’m ready, world!

 

 

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Reviews

I could not be any more delighted than I am right now with the reviews of my novel, “Miss?”

I am particularly proud of one by literary critic Will Lewis from The Northern Star (he is a very funny man and you should follow his blog, too: northernstar-online.com !)

Thanks, Will! http://northernstar-online.com/miss-laurel-mchargue/

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Novel update

I started this novel during my first year of teaching, although I didn’t know it at the time. Because I was amazed every day by what I was encountering in my classroom, I felt the need to keep a journal. No one would believe my stories otherwise.

Many years later, during the month of November in 2012 as a NaNoWriMo challenge, I began my first novel with journal entries in hand. Add one more year and my story is finished and available through Amazon as a paperback and Kindle download!

I am very proud of my novel, and hope that you will share it with others. I will be posting information about how I used Direct Publishing to make my dream come true!

Click on the following link to open a window to check out how to purchase my title!

http://www.amazon.com/Miss-Laurel-McHargue/dp/1493647709/ref=sr_1_1?=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1384549620&sr=1-1&keywords=9781493647705

 

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Tribute to our Dad

When I look out to all of you gathered here to honor Dad, I wonder if there is really anything I could say that you wouldn’t already know. My family decided that the favorite daughter should speak today, however, and so I am here . . . speaking on behalf of all five of Dad’s favorite daughters and his most favorite girl of all, our Mom. They didn’t tell me how much time I had to speak, but as Dad is in no hurry today, I hope that you will bear with me.

Time is such a nebulous thing. We spend it, pass it, curse it, measure it, share it, and yet it remains something we can never grasp.

My sisters and I have spent a lifetime hearing how lucky we are to have the kind of family that people wanted to be adopted into, and whenever I hear the word “lucky” now, I remember Dad’s instant response.

“It’s not luck,” he would say, joking about much hard work it took to raise five daughters, however perfect we were. No, not luck. He would call it a blessing . . . and lots of hard work!

From the time we were all very young, Dad was a stern disciplinarian, a trait that would soften as he became confident that each of us would be well cared for by the men who would eventually claim us as their wives. At times he was even feared, not in a frightened way, but in a respectful way. His standards were high and no one wanted to disappoint him. He and Mom taught us how to be acceptable in public, from having us cater the many neighborhood parties they would host to sitting up straight at the dinner table. I know that those lessons made eating my meals at West Point that first year far attention-provoking, and that was a good thing!

I’m pretty sure that although we never wanted to, we all might have done things to disappoint him along the way. But there was never a time that we felt he did not love us.

“Good morning, beautiful,” I remember him saying on many occasions, perhaps because he couldn’t remember our name or even our “daughter number” first thing in the morning. I like to think he only said that to me, but even though I know that wasn’t the case, it always made me feel special.

We daughters know that he loved us and that he loved his bride of 65 years even more. His devotion as a husband, and Mom’s as a wife, made the two of them role models for many and inspired each of us to believe that the same could be possible for us. Michelle, who wishes she could be here this weekend, mentioned how Nana and Grandpa were always inseparable. There was never a Nana without Grandpa, a Mom without Dad, a Pat without Charlie.

Dad was a man of few words, no doubt because he could never get a word in edgewise with his chatty women and all the friends we would bring home, but he sure did love to laugh; and even more, he loved to make others laugh. He had a joke or funny story for every occasion and could time a zinger so flawlessly that his audience might never see it coming!

Dad was a selfless man who sacrificed much for those he loved. He worked for over 42 years at AT&T while sticking with his Army Reserve training which ultimately ensured a comfortable retirement for Mom and allowed them both the time and means to travel the world with friends and family, and to be there for whichever daughter needed them the most. I don’t believe they missed a birth of a grandchild, and were there to help several us more than once with major relocations. I cannot imagine that any of you in the audience haven’t been the beneficiary of Dad’s generosity in one form or another.

In addition to his host of loyal friends, Dad leaves behind a wife and woman stronger than any of us had ever anticipated, five nearly perfect daughters—each of us his favorite—with our husbands and our twelve children, five great-grand-children with a sixth due on what would be Mom and Dad’s 65th anniversary week (that would be why Michelle could not make it here this weekend), two sisters-in-law, six nieces, two nephews, some cousins, and a partridge in a pear tree.

We each will have our own unique “remember whens” to share in years to come, even though many of us have shared the same experiences. Family trips to Florida, to the Cape, to Nantasket . . . 7 of us in a station wagon with no seat belts! Mealtimes with him telling us in what order to eat the items on our plates—I’ll bet every child and grandchild remembers that!

“Eat some peas next, and then some potatoes, and then have some meat!”

I will remember him kicking my butt on the tennis courts in my high school days, offering his retirement savings so I could attend an exclusive school, visiting me wherever I happened to be in the world—be it Korea or Leadville, rocking my children to sleep, driving us to exotic places, dancing with mom on the cruise to Bermuda, feeding the men at the shelter, reading the names of his fallen peers at Memorial Day services, bowling with his candlepin buddies—and occasionally even winning $2, waiting to win the Lotto—probably with the goal of being even more generous to those in need, breakfasting with his friends at Easter’s, completing crossword puzzles with his Dewar’s close by, almost never missing his other favorite girls on “The Five,” and belly-chuckling over Mom’s dance routine story, even though he’d probably heard it a dozen times.

Dad wasn’t perfect—none of us is—yet his intentions always were, and certainly his love for his God, his family and his friends. He was a man of unshakable faith, unquestionable integrity, unbounded love, and in his own words, he wanted people to remember him as “serious, but humorous.”

A couple of years ago when I asked him how he felt about dying someday—I’m the reporter in the family—he smiled and told me that he would be happy to see his Mom, Dad, and little sister again, not knowing that he would also outlive his younger brother. He said he wasn’t afraid of death, but that he hoped it wasn’t time yet because he wasn’t quite ready to go. Recently he added that he’ll be happy to meet the son he never had and the older brother who spent only two days on this earth.

Ever the good soldier, Dad did what his doctors recommended, probably wanting more time—to attend the next wedding, to hold the next great-grandchild, to learn just one more word, and to share one more dance with Mom.

When Dad found out that the cancer had returned, though, and there was nothing more to be done, he stopped winding his favorite clock.

Although each of us may interpret his act in different ways (I, of course, want to think he was giving me a theme for tying together this tribute), I would like to believe that Dad finally decided it was time to live entirely in the present and to stop measuring what was passing. I even witnessed—and this may shock some of you—when he tuned out “The Five” on Fox News to spend time with a visitor!

I believe that we were all blessed with time to prepare for Dad’s next journey. Yes, we will still mourn—when we’re spending time together and waiting for his next joke, when our phone rings and we see “Mom and Dad” on the screen, when we attend the next Memorial Day service—but we will also share time rejoicing that each of us was influenced in some great way by our relationships with this generous man.

And how could any of us be sad for very long having experienced the gift of a transition time in Carol and Michael’s beautiful home where visitors and family could gaze upon the setting sun while Dad, not as interested in the scenery, could gaze upon each of us in the light of those setting rays?

Dave Sargent, Dad’s Aide-de-Camp and our adopted brother, observed that Dad was doing as much for us in his last days as we were for him, acting as if nothing were wrong, greeting everyone with a “Good Morning” whenever he woke up, regardless of the time of day, and thanking everyone for even the slightest kindness . . . a pillow fluff, a cup of tea, a gentle foot massage. He did his best to help the wonderful nurses and Hospice folks who came to help him during his last weeks.

I wonder why it is that we want to cling to the last words uttered by those we love, as if they will somehow be more significant than the lifetime of words leading up to them? In any case, I remember some of Dad’s last words when I asked him how we should celebrate his upcoming 90th birthday. A bit confused at first, remembering the joyful combined celebration we shared with family and friends just this last June at Carol and Michael’s, he said that if he makes it to his actual 90th birthday, he would like to have angel cake and dance to WJIB.

Now that Dad has left us, the time has come for those he left behind to sit up straight, to celebrate his life, to treasure his memory and to continue creating more of our own memories. Thank you all for the time and the love you have shared with our Dad.

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Boom Days Dodger

I’m awake at 05:45 without my alarm after having gone to bed a mere four hours earlier—having enjoyed a long evening of side-splitting laughter with the family and friends who are sharing beds and couches while visiting us this Boom Days weekend. The laughter helped me escape my somber mood from earlier yesterday when my sister called to tell me that our Dad was in the hospital.

I make my signature cheesy eggs and sausage for friends who will board a plane to Germany tomorrow for the next two years. We never made it to Abu Dhabi to visit them these last two years—for which I feel a twinge of guilt—and I promise that we will visit them in Ülm. I intend to keep this promise. They leave with hugs and full bellies, and I am just a little jealous of their new adventure.

At 9 o’clock there are people and floats and noisy, pooping animals traveling down our road to line up for the 10 o’clock parade to kick off Leadville’s Boom Days celebration. I haven’t missed a parade in nine years, and often I’ve even walked in the parade. Today, however, I can’t seem to muster a bit of enthusiasm for the spectacle.

My head is fuzzy—I haven’t slept well these past several nights—and as the rest of the house awakens, I can think of nothing but sleep. Two lovely girls descend the stairs in Victorian dresses, one son and another friend threaten to attend the parade in pajamas and Snuggies, my husband and other son leave for a mountain bike ride in preparation for the Leadville Trail 100 race next Saturday, and I’m already thinking about another houseful of early morning racers in 7 more days.

At 9:50 I know I will not attend the parade and holler at them all to get out of the house—and to not come back for two hours. I’ve got to take a nap, but I’ve got to use the bathroom first, and all three bathrooms are in use. I suppress a wave of resentment by remembering that I love the crazy days of summer, and even more, I love that we have friends and family who want to be with us. I want to live in the moment and be a part of the wacky Wild West festivities.

But my dad is in the hospital, his lungs filling with pneumonia, his skin cancer—after nearly a year of torturous radiation and chemo—raising its ugly head once more, and I want to get on a plane and be there right now. I want to run away from the fun and laughter here and bring some to my mom who has slept far less than I this past year, and to two of my sisters who have been carrying the load along with her.

Everyone leaves, and at 10 o’clock I’m in bed laughing at the foolishness of thinking I can sleep with the steam calliope warming up outside my bedroom window and the olde thyme prop planes buzzing the growing crowds along the parade path. Nevertheless, after seeing 10:25 on the clock beside my bed I fall into a bottomless sleep and I’m pretty sure it’s wonderful.

I awake for the second time today, but startled this time, hearing the clip-clip of hooves and the braying of mules—not unusual for Leadville—and wondering why I am in bed looking at 11:30 on my alarm clock. I check my pillow for drool.

Time to get up; we’re hosting a barbecue for 30 people in four hours. Perhaps I’ll attend some of the fun down town tomorrow.

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Radishes

The look of astonishment on my 3-year-old neighbor’s face when she pulled her first radish from my garden was beautiful. Her eyes grew wide as her little mouth opened and she looked at me with excitement.

“Lollipop!” she squealed, and then wondered why all the adults around her were laughing.

As a child, you couldn’t get me to eat a radish after my initial taste of the veggie that seemed to bite back. I would, however, delight in learning how to present them fashionably for my mom’s countless parties, their color and form making any dish more festive.

I suppose it wasn’t until I reached adulthood (whenever that was…30? 40? Last year?) that I would actually consider purchasing these Christmas colored bunches voluntarily. My husband claimed to love them, and so I would dutifully add them to salads occasionally, but I never really paid them much attention.

When my first-ever-garden bloomed last summer, though, and I harvested “my own” radishes, lettuce and spinach, I came to the realization that these spectacular roots are–well–spectacular! Maybe it’s because my more mature palate appreciates the juicy crunch and bite of these little decorations in my bowl, or maybe it’s because I tend to enjoy things more when I work for them.

It leaves me wondering if George Dubya Bush might have been more forgiving of broccoli had he nurtured a bunch from seed to bowl. In any case, I still wonder what my little neighbor’s face looked like when she sampled her bright “lollipop” back home!

Hooray for radishes! Let’s eat!

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Seeing old things through new eyes

Living in a race and vacation destination, I have found perfect places to take visitors of every age and fitness level. Sitting at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, Leadville challenges the fittest of the fit, and participation in the yearly Leadville Trail 100 races has grown dramatically over the past several years; completing any of the LT100 races delivers a badge of distinction.

While my husband has earned a drawerful of those badges, I have opted to stay on the sidelines and participate as support wench, a role much appreciated by those who push themselves beyond what most would consider “normal” limits. Because I am often host to racers and their support crews throughout the summer in addition to the routine friends and family who come here to escape the oppressive heat of everywhere else, I have had frequent opportunities to play tour director, and the one place that unfailingly delivers a memorable experience is the Leadville National Fish Hatchery, established in the late 1800s.

I probably should have cut a notch in a walking stick for every time I’ve taken a lap around the one-mile nature trail before depositing quarters in the fish food machine so visitors can leave with stinky hands from feeding the captive fish. My most recent lap was with my two young nieces, their mom, and Sarah, and what could have been a simple jaunt around the familiar path became a much longer adventure as each girl was pulled to explore something off-path at every turn.

The little-girl excitement at seeing a yellow butterfly, a bigger-than-them boulder, a hopping robin, or a mysterious shadow in a lake were enough to reignite my interest in a place that might otherwise leave me feeling jaded . . .

and who could leave a well-trodden path feeling bored after a swing on a playground where you can touch the treetops with your toes?

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Onions and poetry

At our last Cloud City Writers meeting (held in my home so we can enhance our creative juices with a bit of nectar) we chose a poem from the July issue of Colorado Central Magazine called “Onion Thief” by poet Laurie James. From that poem, one line was selected: “A thief of onions right there.” The challenge was to write for 7 minutes straight, no edits, no pondering, just write what came to mind. Here’s my response:

“Onions. Love them or hate them. Cartoon movie character Shrek tells his love that he has layers, like an onion. Layers of clothing on a poor woman who resorts to stealing something as simple as an onion—it’s enough to make me cry. Why an onion? Was it easier to steal than an apple? Perhaps she already had the apple.

What would I do? Surely I would not report her. Could this be her only meal tonight?

Theft makes everything more expensive for those who pay, so I could be righteously angry, but I’m not. I think of the onions I’ve let rot in my basket, onions I’ve thought nothing of tossing to the compost. What I could feed that poor woman with what I’ve wasted!

It’s enough to make me want to cry.”

If you saw an old lady stealing an onion at an open market, what would you think?

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So Many Babies…

My morning walk-with-a-friend-to-catch-up-on-life took a turn into one of our local cemeteries where the evidence of death is profound. Amongst the rows of those who lived to ripe old ages back in the 1800s were–to my mind–far too many who barely had time to breathe.

Many, like this simple wooden board, are enclosed in crib-sized fences, and others are outlined in stone or brick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some have no marker at all . . .

 

yet the evidence of what lies within is enough to stop me short.

So many lives, so many stories, so much suffering in an age when life was probably not taken for granted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breathe deeply, you who still tread the earth.

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The Glue

“Describe an activity that is a metaphor for your life in 10 minutes. GO!”

At first I thought that “writing” would be the metaphor to define my life; after all, it’s the focus of my current stage of metamorphosis. But that would be too easy to write about, so when I heard “preparing a meal” as a suggestion, that piqued my taste buds.

I don’t like recipes…probably the rebel in me…but I’d like to think that I can throw together a tasty meal by being creative and just a bit adventuresome. I like taking different things, ingredients, people, and finding ways to harmonize.

My husband tells me that I am “the glue” in whatever community I find myself, and there have been many over 20 years of military travel. It may be a weakness I have that i want to be liked, to please others, to act in a way others will call “selfless,” although I know how much benefit and pleasure I derive from having others see me in that light.

I struggle with the paradox of feeling selfish when I am seen as selfless.

There are so many ingredients to a yummy meal, a thriving community, a happy life. There are rule books and recipe books for success, but I prefer “winging it.” I know the basic ingredients of success, and if being “the glue” is m role in my community, my world, then I will continue to do my best to keep it together

I would not, however, recommend using glue in any new dish.