Blessings in disguise?

In retrospect, driving to Wyoming at the end of November probably wasn’t the smartest of ideas.

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The trip started off innocuous enough. We hadn’t gone anywhere for vacation over the summer, so we thought we’d get out of town for Thanksgiving week. Our school district gives the kids the full week off for Fall break so that’s an entire week plus both weekends. (Score!)

We decided to visit family because that’s what you do at Thanksgiving. Since we hadn’t seen my husband’s older brother in the longest time, we thought “Why not drive to Wyoming?” (We live in Houston.)

We could stop in Santa Fe and see my brother for a couple of days on the way. Which we did.

Day 1: Driving to Santa Fe. Would have made it to our destination by 11:30 pm after driving all day but a major accident on I-40 had the freeway closed down near Tucumcari for 2 hours. Two hours of sitting and wanting so badly to go to bed.

Looking on the bright side: (1) Thank goodness no one needed to use the bathroom. (2) Thank goodness we weren’t in the accident. (3) We made it safely.

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Cottonwood on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. See my little bitty family members next to it?

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I love sculpture gardens. Here is a chain dragon at a store on Canyon Road.

Day 5: First night in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Did you know it gets really cold in Cheyenne? So cold that you have heat up the car and scrape the windows before you can drive anywhere. New to us: if you own a Toyota 4Runner and you turn your rear window defrost on when it’s really cold, it shatters your back window. Who knew? Design flaw? I would say so.

Fortunately, we were at my brother-in-law’s house so we were able to park our SUV in his garage and he lent us one of his to get back to the hotel. Can you imagine if it had broken once we got to the hotel? It snowed 3 inches during the night. That’s a lot of snow for the inside of your vehicle, don’t you think?

When the air is dry, snow looks like glitter when it falls.

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This is NOT Houston.

Day 7: Trying to get the rear window fixed. Day 6 was Thanksgiving, so we started calling first thing on Black Friday to find a rear window. My husband read on the Toyota forum that the rear window debacle is a fairly common thing and costs around $650 to replace. According to the Toyota dealer, the closest rear window for our vehicle was in Chatanooga Tennessee. They couldn’t have it replaced on Wednesday. (That would be Day 12, and we needed to be home by Day 9!)

Happily, a local auto glass place was able to get the window in and replaced the same day for $234. So we saved $400 and 4 days. Thank you, Safelite Autoglass!

Added bonus, an extra day with family we don’t see often.

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Great opportunity to trampoline.

Day 8: Traveling home in an ice storm.

First day traveling home was snowy. Once it got dark, the overpasses started turning a bit icy. Despite warnings in Amarillo to not travel, we continued on for another hundred miles. (No overpasses). The roads were fine. The problem was that we were getting low on gas. We planned to stop at a little town called Memphis, TX to refill but when we got there, the whole town was dark. At first we thought everything had closed early, but then we realized the whole town had no power. No power = no gas. We had 34 miles left and were 36 miles away from the next town. Yikes!

For the next 36 miles, everything we passed was dark. The power in the Texas panhandle had been obliterated by an ice storm. Thankfully, we rolled into the next town with 3 miles left on the gas gauge and the town had power.

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Truck in the hotel parking lot. No wonder the power was down.

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Trees in the Panhandle were heavy with ice. If we had seen this, we probably would have stayed in Amarillo!

The moral: Visit Wyoming in the summer. 🙂

True moral: Inconvenient and/or bad things happen to us all the time. The fact these things happen isn’t the blessing. When we realize we were spared worse circumstances, we see God’s grace and provision. THAT is the blessing in disguise.

NOW YOU: Any interesting Thanksgiving travel stories? Where did you go for Thanksgiving?

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How Do You Define the Horror Genre?

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

 

I’ve been “bear baiting” a bit in my last posts on horror. Yes, I have tried to be evocative, but I want to alter the tone for this blog. There are people that actually enjoy horror and probably don’t know it. Recognizing and defining horror fiction has become difficult in the new millennium, and not because it’s really hard. The true reality of horror as a genre has been eclipsed by the successful marketing of  the modern horror slasher and spatter films. Talk about horror as a genre and no one brings up Universal Studios “B” monster movies anymore. What everyone thinks of are films that are wall-to-wall blood and gore. Movies and movie franchises like the Saw films, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead, and others have done a lot to obscure modern horror stories of the 18th and 19th, and 20th centuries. Maybe that’s because we have a hard time defining what “horror” as a literary or film genre is.

How should we define the horror genre? One of my favorite working definitions of horror comes from Dr. Donna Casella, instructor\scholar of film theory, film studies, and early American Literature at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Casella states that horror is an, “An atmospheric genre — populated by creatures of dread – that plays on human and cultural fears.” Give a story a creepy atmosphere (whatever that is) to give it legs, while making sure the themes play against cultural fears and throw in creatures of dread (monsters, but monsters that can be human, or natural creatures, as well as supernatural).frankenstein-cartoon-character_zJJoosvu

The first recognized modern horror genre is known as Victorian Gothic horror. Reading those books says a lot about what got under the skin of the people of that time, especially women. During the Victorian era, significant amount of horror was written by women for women. That’s pretty progressive, considering society of that time didn’t allow women to vote, hold property, or even have checking accounts. I fell in love with Gothic horror when taking a graduate course on women authors. As tough as the stories from that era could be to read, many that were preserved had rich payoffs and were completely worth the effort.

If you accept Dr. Casella’s definition as a primary definition, and I do until someone comes up with a better one, horror as a genre can be about every day things, as well as the paranormal. Remember Stephen King’s Cujo? An adorable St. Bernard becomes one of the scariest monsters in twentieth century literature.

Horror can also contain the fantastic or mundane, but to be sure, horror isn’t always about ghosts, vampires, zombies, blood and gore, or flesh-eating monsters. Creatures of dread can be rats (Willard 1971), sharks (Jaws 1975), bears (Night of the Grizzly 1966), rabbits (Night of the Lepus 1972), relatives (Uncle Silas by Le Fanu), and even ordinary people turned murderous for one night every year (The Purge 2013).

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

One of my favorite all-time horror movies is Jack the Bear with Danny Devito. Devito’s character is a host for late night horror movies on television. There was no blood or gore, but when a neo-fascist shows up to indoctrinate a vulnerable neighborhood kid in Hitler style Aryanism, the atmosphere amps up and propels the creature of dread theme forward.  And yes, I consider neo-facists creatures of dread. Remember, horror has to play against personal or cultural fears. That doesn’t mean horror is always intended to incite fear, sometimes it’s an incredible tool for evaluating fears.

Lest you think horror can’t be humorous, you should check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahme-Smith. I laughed a lot in spite of the “bone crunching” scenes. The novel can very tongue-in-cheek in parts, at least I thought so. See what I did there? I didn’t say whose tongue in whose cheek as this is a zombie novel, right? Let’s move on.

A very hilarious and clever book is a grammar textbook called The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Elizabeth Gordon. I have used this to successfully tutor college students in English grammar. Yes, infinitives, prepositional phrases, gerunds, passive voice, and everything else English can be truly terrifying, but Gordon successfully mimics the Gothic horror style and uses it to teach English. Pretty useful for a genre blacklisted in the minds of many .

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

 

Douglas Winter, horror author and critic once stated,“Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion.” But if you think the only strong emotion allowed in horror is horror, terror, or dread, you’ve not read very much. Pathos is just as much a part of horror as the emotion of horror itself. Consider a truly iconic horror/monster movie of the twentieth century, King Kong (2005). Personally, I find a lot to dread in this scene as to what it says about humans.

One of the founders of the Horror Writers Association, Robert McCammon, once said, “Horror fiction upsets apple carts, burns old buildings, and stampedes the horses; it questions and yearns for answers, and it takes nothing for granted. It’s not safe….Horror fiction can be a guide through a nightmare world, entered freely and by the reader’s own will. And since horror can be many things and go in many, many, directions, that guided nightmare ride can shock, educate, illuminate, threaten, shriek, and whisper before it lets the readers loose.” (Twilight Zone Magazine, Oct 1986).

Once horror is allowed to grow beyond zombies, vampires, werewolves, and Amish vampires in space (author Kerry Nietz is my hero) in the minds of the audience. The genre of horror becomes a potent agent of confrontation and change. So let’s remember there’s more to horror as a genre than just wall-to-wall gore.

Pay No Attention to the Man, Woman, or Whaterver Behind the Curtain.

What makes for a well-told story? I’m not asking what makes a story good or bad. It is true a well-told story can mean the difference between a story being liked or disliked, but that isn’t always the case.

The most interesting thing about bad storytelling is that it has never stopped an audience from enjoying a story they liked. The stories that interest us as human beings all share some basic elements whether the media\genre is a newspaper article, novel, short story, TV drama, radio drama, true story, current event, biography, memoir, or historical event . Let me give you an example.

I don’t like opera or light opera, but I love a good story. Here is a story I liked:

As a narratives go, there are definite things going on in this clip. There is so much more going on story-wise underneath and behind that is designed to be transparent to the audience. It is this transparency that often means the difference between getting people to view your work or ignore it. When a storyteller learns to master (just knowing them isn’t enough) these transparent elements, it won’t matter what genre or media you use, people will watch, listen, or read your narratives.

If you were in a face to face class with me, after having watched the video, I would ask, “How many of you found the clip interesting and would at least tune in for the next episode?” Of course there’s always some punk in a one hundred level course that thinks showing any interest in a class topic is uncool, but the bulk of students I have shown this clip do found it interesting.

Now comes the fun part,  Did you like this? What makes this something you would follow into the next week to find out what happens or not follow? Please post your answers as replies.

Of course I’m going to share these transparent things, but I want to give you dear audience the opportunity to weigh in. Why? Because learning is always best done together, and I may be the one sharing this, but I never pass up an opportunity to learn something new from others.

The Killilea Family: In Everything Give Thanks

As November arrives and the Thanksgiving/Christmas season of goodwill begins, I will inevitably bump into a grinch who grouses about his or her lack of blessings. The economy is awful, their health is failing, the family is falling apart. Their greatest joy seems to be passing on bad news. I have the feeling I ruin the day further by promising to pray.

Complaints. Credit to robliano.wordpress.com

Complaints. Credit to robliano.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my own seasons of calamity I have learned to be content, and I hope I will honestly be able to say at the end of my earthly life when all seasons come to a close, “I know both how to be abased and how to abound.”
One of those difficult seasons arrived early in life when my sister was born. A victim of the German Measles epidemic in the mid-1960’s, Tricia entered this world with several congenital defects. For her first two years, she was in and out of hospitals as doctors became detectives in discovering what was wrong and what, if anything, medicine could do to help. One of her challenges was cerebral palsy (CP).

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So when I was twelve and Tricia was two, my mom handed me a book. Karen. A true story, Marie Killilea wrote about the hardships of raising a daughter (Karen) with CP. Except the hardships were laced with such joyful episodes of the Killilea family loving and supporting each other, how could I feel sorry for them for long? I identified with them. My family was like theirs.
Karen’s parents treated her like all of their other children. While she had a delightful personality, Karen was no angel, and she paid the consequences just as her brother and sisters did. That’s how my parents treated Tricia. Karen’s siblings helped teach her to walk and eat and play like other children. That’s what my brothers and I did with Tricia! They even had a dog who assigned himself the duty of Karen’s guardian. Well, the similarities ended there. Our dog wasn’t that talented.
The book was not a new publication when I first read it. Karen was born in 1940. Most doctors of the era advised Marie and her husband to place Karen in an institution and forget they ever had a daughter with that name. In response, Marie pioneered the founding of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Westchester County which later joined with other local organizations to form Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State (CP of NYS) . With the help of a few willing doctors, they tried highly experimental exercises to help Karen coordinate her muscles. Their success brought new hope to thousands of other families who were struggling with the sorrows of CP.

 

Marie Killilea also wrote a sequel, With Love From Karen, and a young children’s version of Karen titled Wren.

With Love From karen                                                                   wrenWhile Marie passed away several years ago, Karen, now in her mid-seventies, still lives in New York state.
Do you want to know what it’s like to live day by day with a child who requires constant physical care? Read Karen. Do you want to expose your children to situations where people rise up courageously to face circumstances beyond their control? Have them read Karen. Is your family going through its own rough season? Be encouraged. Read Karen.

Human Wisdom vs. Faith (Are we like ants?)

 

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“John! The ants have found their way into the house!”

It was springtime and all manner of creatures were waking up and going about their business of finding food. Unfortunately the food for these little voracious creatures had been found in our pantry. The ants not only had found their way in, but they boldly chose none other than our front door as their entrance. After foraging around our kitchen, they gathered near the door with crumbs too large to go out their exit.

Determined to defend my pantry, I sprayed an ant deterrent around the front door. For the next few days, I was pleased to see that I had prevented their return. However, undaunted, soon they found another way in near the front door. In a rage, I dashed to our local building supply and purchased a myriad of ways to eradicate these little menaces. I was not going to be dominated by them! I sprayed the whole perimeter of our house, and put many different types of bait out for them. I triumphantly declared a victory after about a month of no recurrence. Either they had found less invasive ways of feeding themselves, or they were history.

When they were denied entrance the first time, they probably thought it a huge misfortune, and set about finding another way to get what they so strongly desired. This was met with their demise, or at the very least, a serious setback.

I was reminded of a wise phrase I’d heard many years ago: trying to explain God’s ways to us is like trying to explain the Internet to ants.

How different from the ants were we, when we have stubbornly pursued a direction that was a huge mistake, even though the short-term gain looked so enticing?

So often our unanswered prayers distress us, and we refuse to look at the possible reason they haven’t been answered. Perhaps the direction was not a mistake, but there were things we needed to learn first. Either way, God is never late in bestowing blessings on us, but the blessings may come in very different forms from what we’d prayed for, and in His time, not ours.

So, have you ever had something seemingly horrible happen in your life, only to have God show you a totally wonderful new direction?