Weighing in on “The Help”

Against my better judgment, I accompanied my mom to see “The Help” at the theater the other day.

Mom’s a native Mississippian, and I just knew she’d sit there grumbling for the entire two-hour showing — “They didn’t get that right.” “It wasn’t like that at all.” “Everybody wants to make Mississippi out to be worse than it was.”

And so on.

Truth be told, I had some doubts of my own. Let’s face it, the girl who wrote this book isn’t old enough to recall 1960s Mississippi (not that mom could help her — by that time, she and Daddy were living way north of the Mason-Dixon line!)

But everything I’d read and heard said ‘Go, anyway,’ so we went.

And I was pleasantly surprised.

Author Kathryn Stockett grew up in Jackson, MS; her single mother and her African-American housekeeper raised her. Before signing on with Putnam, she endured some 60 rejection letters for this, her first novel.

In fact, before the book was even published, her lifelong friend Tate Taylor (also a Jackson native, also raised by a single mother and an African-American housekeeper) bought the film rights for “The Help.” Taylor, an Ole Miss grad, wrote the script and directed the film that opened to rave reviews earlier this month.

“The Help” is poignant on so many levels. It describes the multi-layered relationship black maids had with their white female employers in the early 1960s in the south; it speaks to the rules then in place for interactions between blacks and whites; it portrays societal mores of the time.

Some of it isn’t pleasant — some of the white women were horrid to their ‘help.’ Some were horrid to each other, too.

But much of it seems realistic — the fear of speaking out, the fear of crossing societal lines, the not knowing how friendly to be without actually being ‘friends.’

It’s funny; it’s sad; it’s a slice of life too long neglected, this tale of friendship and struggle and hope.

Stockett has said she wrote the book while she was away in New York, dearly missing the housekeeper she’d grown up with and wishing she’d had the chance to get inside her head and ask her what it was like to be her.

Tate, too, speaks lovingly of the maid who helped raise him. He says racism and bigotry form merely the backdrop of “The Help.” The real story, he insists, is about courage and integrity and the necessity for change.

Stockett said Mississippi, to her sons and daughters, is like a mother; one can complain all one wants about her, but don’t let anybody else say a bad word about her!

Maybe that’s what sold mom; I know it sold me. Stockett did her research, and it shows.

If you haven’t yet seen the movie or read the book, do so. For those who have, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts!

Mmm, a Sweet Award

My friend Kathy over at Memoir Writer’s Journey has passed on to me the Irresistibly Sweet Blogger’s Award!

Here’s what it looks like:

Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award

A writer and retired family nurse practitioner, Kathy is penning a Christian-themed memoir. Her blog offers writing and publishing tips and links she’s run across in her journey. Hop on over and check her out.

As with any award, there are a few “rules and regulations” one must follow to accept the accolades. These include:

  1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you the award;
  2. List 7 random, little-known facts about yourself; and
  3. Present the award to at least 1 other sweet blogger.

Okay, I’ve checked and re-checked, and these “rules” keep changing, kind of like that game where one person whispers a secret to the person seated next to them, they tell the person on their other side, and so on until you get to the last person, who usually has a hilariously garbled version of the original secret.

Some of the “rules” say you have to pass the award to 7 other bloggers, some say 12 or 15.  Some specify you must notify the recipients you’ve pegged; others don’t mention anything about that. Consequently, I’m picking the rules I want to follow — what can I say, I’m used to being the boss!

I like the first rule. Gratitude is good. So, Thank You, Kathy, for passing the honor to me. You’re sweet to do so, and I’m going to treasure it!

I’m okay with the second rule (she said, taking a huge gulp of courage!). Some random facts about me that you might not know:

  1. I actually like to iron.
  2. I’ve been able to read upside down for a long time — comes in handy when you’re interviewing city officials, judges, etc.
  3. My first pet was a Weenie-dog.
  4. I don’t eat strawberries (can’t stand the way they feel in my mouth).
  5. My eyes were blue until I was two years old.
  6. Music helps me focus and work better.
  7. I’m a lifetime member of my college sorority.

Now, here are the bloggers (in no particular order) I’m passing this award on to next (and forgive me if you’ve already been tagged!):

Advice for Parents of Incoming Freshmen

My son (AKA College Guy) and I have now survived three years of moving into and two years of moving out of a dorm. Thus, I feel qualified to offer some tips for parents whose sons or daughters are just beginning their university experience. Without further ado, here goes:

  1. Expect delays. Universities have been holding freshman move-in days forever, yet invariably there are glitches. Go figure. Somebody important doesn’t show up with the keys; the dorm room (or bathroom) isn’t cleaned; paperwork has been delayed. Keep cool; this too shall pass. And why, when they had months of favorable weather before, city and state road crews choose August for their major construction projects, I’ll never know!
  2. Be open to the experience. Maybe you went to college; maybe not. If you did, you don’t need to tell everybody every detail of it; if you didn’t, you don’t need to apologize. You’re there to help your new freshman physically move their “stuff” into the dorm, not to wax eloquent on your past. If the college offers parents’ orientation, go; you’ll learn a lot and meet other parents.
  3. Dust off your sense of humor. It can be quite funny to watch other parents and kids pull mound after mound of things from their vehicles, then try to wrestle it upstairs, down hallways, and into rooms. Don’t get into a snide-remark, snippy-attitude, screaming match with your kid while doing this. You don’t want their first semester away from home clouded by ill feelings.
  4. Leave them a bit of home. Homemade cookies are good. So are a book of stamps and stationery and a prepaid cell phone — you can’t expect them to pay to stay in touch! And if you don’t already know how, learn to text, video chat, and e-mail — at least.
  5. Congratulate yourself — To yourself. Hey, you done good! You’ve succeeded in rearing a son or daughter that a university wants and believes will succeed. This is one of their first steps toward real independence, toward adulthood. All your sacrifices and life lessons and nurturing haven’t been for naught!
  6. Expect to miss them. Even if this isn’t your first time moving an incoming freshman, you’re going to be surprised at how much you miss this child. You’ll remember little things — the way they square their shoulders as you leave, the tears they choke back when they hug you, the catch in your throat. You’ll see the little girl who didn’t want you to leave her at preschool, the little boy who skinned his knee sliding into second base. You’ll compare this to First Day of School. And it will be similar. Only this time, they might not turn to you for help and comfort; they’ll bravely try to handle it alone. Remind them you’re there, but don’t hover.
  7. Repeat — Don’t hover. Your child is no longer a baby. He/she is a young adult. Back off on micromanaging their life. Let them choose their room decor’; let them choose their course of study. If asked, you can certainly offer advice, but remember it’s their choice.
  8. Expect changes. For many young people, Thanksgiving is the first time they’ll be back home for a few days after the semester starts. They’ll have adjusted to a different schedule than the one they had while at home. The boy who refused to eat veggies might have become a vegetarian; the girl who sprang from bed for an early morning jog might not arise until noon. They’ve got to “try on” their new persona and as long as it’s not unhealthy or too disruptive, let them.
  9. Pray. Face it, there are plenty of things you can’t control. Put your youngster in God’s Hands and trust Him to care for them with tenderness and love.
  10. Fill your days with something meaningful. You’ll have more time on your hands, now that your child is in college. You don’t have to play taxi; you won’t have as much laundry or meal-preparation or noise. That can be lonely, unless you fill the hours with things you want to do — take up a new hobby or exercise class, finish college yourself or start a business, volunteer or concentrate on your own career.

Nine Tips for Incoming College Freshmen

I just got back from dropping My Favorite Domer (AKA College Guy) on campus for his third (Junior) year.

Seeing the confusion on the faces of parents of incoming freshmen — and the fake bravado on their youngsters’ faces — I feel obliged to share some tips gleaned from this move-in experience, as well as hints for surviving that first year. Today I’m speaking directly to incoming freshmen (to keep it fair, I’ll be back Tuesday with advice for their parents!)

  1. You don’t need to bring everything you own. Yes, your Homecoming tiara is special to you. So’s the game ball from some high school sports competition. So’s your pet cat. Face it, chances are the university you’ve chosen won’t allow Fluffy in your dorm room. And suddenly you’re going to find yourself surrounded by kids just like you, kids who have also won awards and excelled. Unless you want to get into a bragging contest with them (trust me, you don’t), leave that stuff where it belongs, in the past, at home.
  2. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Your mom or your dad can help with your move-in. You don’t need both; nor do you need younger siblings or grandparents. Leaving home for the first time is likely to be enough of an emotional upheaval, without involving hangers-on who won’t be of much help anyway. Most schools have wheeled carts to help, as well as upperclassmen, and you don’t want everybody’s first impression of you to be that of a red-faced kid squabbling with his/her family.
  3. Be appreciative. Your parents are probably sacrificing their cushy retirement (well, hopefully not all of it!) to send you to college. Say “Thank you” once or twice. Maybe more. You are grateful, aren’t you?
  4. Expect to be embarrassed. You’re used to Dad’s comfy sweats and the way Mom shuffles her reading glasses on and off all day. Your peers, however, aren’t, and you might catch them making faces or snickering behind the adults’ backs. You might want to snicker, too. Don’t. You’ve known your parents longer than you’ve known any of these kids, and your loyalty should be to your family. And don’t laugh at their families, either — you might be working for them some day.
  5. Recall that “Sharing is caring and it can be fun.” You’ve probably already “met” your roommate through Facebook or a phone conversation. Try to get along, okay? Maybe you didn’t have to share tight quarters before, but you will now. He might snore or keep odd hours; she might listen to music 24/7, singing off-key to genres you dislike. You probably have equally annoying habits. Sit down like the young adults you are and draw up a set of mutually acceptable guidelines. And be grown up enough to revisit them if you find they’re not working.
  6. Watch your diet. They don’t call those extra pounds the “Freshman Fifteen” for nothing. When Mom’s not around to prepare healthy meals for you, it’s easy to slip into bad habits. Try to eat balanced meals and get some exercise every day (and no, pushing buttons on your video console doesn’t qualify as exercise!)
  7. Expect to be homesick. Even if you’ve been away from home before, you’ll find yourself missing it. Your old friends, your old haunts, your family, your routine. Trust me, it hits all of us, some harder than others and at different times. Don’t try to tough it out alone. That’s what counseling offices are for. Call home more often, at least until you’ve acclimated and made friends.
  8. Classes will be harder than you imagine. Maybe you made straight A’s in high school, but university is a whole new ball game. Expect to put in 2-3 hours outside class for every hour you spend in class. You’ll have papers and projects, presentations and exams. Keep up with the work on a daily basis. Seek help if you need it. Don’t stretch yourself too thin by joining every club imaginable. Start off on the right foot, making a favorable impression with your peers and professors. Oh, and catch some of those profs outside class — they can help you immensely.
  9. Be prudent. Be safe. Just because everybody is drinking doesn’t mean you have to. Don’t hook up with strangers. Stay away from the shady side of town. Don’t spend all your time partying. Remember, to somebody you’re the world, and their world would come crashing down should something horrid happen to you!

Thanks for Reading, Thanks for Commenting

I was watching the finale of Season 7, The Next Food Network Star, last night (Jeff Mauro, the Sandwich King, won, in case you missed it), and something that was announced grabbed my attention.

Premiering on Aug. 27 will be a new show starring The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, who has penned an immensely popular cookbook, memoir, and children’s book. She’s billed as a sassy, spoiled city girl turned rancher’s wife and home-schooling mom of four; her show will spotlight home cooking and life on the ranch.

What’s amazing to me is that Ree is a blogger. But not just any blogger.

She gets more than 20 million page views per month and received the Weblog of the Year award for 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Talk about a following!

Seriously, I can hardly fathom having that many people devouring my words on a regular basis. How does she ever keep up with the comments?!?

When I started this blog (shortly after returning from a Writer’s Digest Editor’s Intensive in October, 2009), I did so with a great deal of trepidation. I’ve written practically all my life, but the idea of putting my thoughts and words “out there” for all the world to see kinda gave me the heebie jeebies (yes, that’s a word — look it up!). The last thing I wanted or needed was having a bunch of strangers creeping on me.

Over time, however, it became apparent that the people reading my blogs were, in many cases, very much like me. As I read their thoughts and words in return, and as we commented on each other’s posts, I began to feel a kinship with them. I prayed for them, looked forward to learning more about them, and began to hope that somewhere along the line, maybe we’d actually meet in person.

That hasn’t happened, yet. But it’s okay. You don’t have to see friends every day to remain connected.

I’m thankful for every single one of my readers — whether they leave comments or not, whether I know them personally or not. They make me smile, or laugh out loud; they give me new ways of looking at things and advice when I ask for it.

Writing can be a lonely task. Knowing there are others traversing a similar path makes the journey more pleasant.

So go ahead and leave a comment. How can we connect if I don’t know who’s reading and what you’re thinking?

What makes a good shopping experience?

Is it just me, or is Macy’s one of the harder department stores to shop in?

Yesterday I went to Macy’s for the first time in a couple of months. I was looking for a pair of casual pants (black, navy, khaki, size 6) to bridge the season-change from summer to fall, something similar to the black crops I’d bought there back in the spring.

Now I’d be the first to admit I have two basic shopping styles:

  • Occasionally, I like to browse. Walk into a store, look over what’s there, pick things up. Touch-and-roll, my sister calls it. I find it relaxing. I get ideas. I rarely spend money. It’s more of a sisterly/girlfriend kind of shopping.
  • More often, I power-shop. Decide beforehand what I want or need, then race from store to store until I find it. At the right price. In the right size and color. Sometimes I spend money; sometimes I don’t. It’s the kind of shopping men generally do.

Anyway, as I was meandering from department to department in Macy’s, I became more and more confused. And frustrated.

Nothing made sense in their “organization” of merchandise. It was like somebody had scooped everything up into a hot air balloon, then opened the bottom and dumped it all out, leaving stuff exactly where it landed.

I found a pair of black dress slacks, size 18, by Style&co. right next to a lime green, size petite, scooter skirt by Karen Scott, for instance.

Okay, that’s just a fluke, I told myself.

But it quickly became obvious the store didn’t arrange things by color, or size, or style, or designer — things most stores do to help out their customers.

Nope, it was like a yard sale. Or an Easter egg hunt.

Even the signage along the walls didn’t help.

Maybe I should just give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe things were haphazardly placed because they were trying to move the summer lines out in preparation for back-to-school and fall. Maybe a bunch of lazy customers had come in, tried stuff on, then failed to put it back in the right place. Maybe disorganization is the new style in merchandising. Maybe it’s Macy’s way of forcing customers to consult the salespeople rather than helping themselves.

Ya think??

Somehow, I’m not convinced. It all comes across as a mess to me. It doesn’t make me want to linger in their store. Or buy anything.

And Sales is really the bottom line, isn’t it?

Mercury is Retrograde again

It took a comment from one of my online friends (Hippie Cahier) on another friend’s blog before I realized what was happening here.

Have you noticed a snarl in communications of late? Is your e-mail, like mine, suddenly depositing itself in the Bulk Mail folder rather than your customary Inbox? Are you finding people more quarrelsome, equipment more likely to malfunction, and your own ability to focus out-of-whack?

Me, too!

Blame Mercury going Retrograde.


While I refuse to organize my day around the astrology column in the newspaper, I kind of enjoy reading it. Astrology, after all, is one of those ancient arts, and people since the beginning of time have turned to the stars for explanations of why things happen when and how they do.

Remember it was Astrologers from the East who were among the first visitors to the newborn Christ Child and His Family!

But as a  Catholic Christian, I realize astrology isn’t exactly “up there” with the kind of Biblical study we should be doing. Nor is it an “exact” science.

Deciding to learn more about this Mercury Retrograde thing, I did some online research.

Mercury, as we all know, is the planet closest to the Sun. It orbits the Sun once every 88 or so days and is said to rule the constellations of Gemini and Virgo (as well as the folks, like yours truly, who were born under one of those astrological signs).

“Retrograde” is a term astrologers use to describe a planet’s apparent backward motion through the zodiac. Planets don’t actually travel backwards; it’s only that they appear to be doing so.

Mercury rules communication, commerce, thinking, education, and transportation. People who must use their minds (writers, consultants, teachers, salespeople, orators) also come under Mercury’s rule.

So when Mercury goes Retrograde, we see a rise in misunderstandings between people, a disruption in negotiations, breakdowns of phones and computers, and other snags — all because some key component has gone missing (Mercury being the little trickster he is!). Astrologers are quick to advise us not to make important decisions or do anything requiring clear, logical thinking during this period (which runs from Aug. 3 through Sept. 9).

So, to all my writer friends, maybe it’s not Writer’s Block. Let’s just blame it on Mercury Retrograde!


My Favorite Domer (AKA College Guy) has decided to unpack — just a week before he re-packs for his return to South Bend.

What’s up with that?

When he came home nearly three months ago, he’d hoped to find a job, particularly in his major OR doing anything at a “name” business (things that would look good on his budding resume and give him some valuable experience).

It wasn’t to be.

Try as he might, there was nothing available.

So he toyed with the idea of going back and taking summer classes — not a particularly desirable option, as he’d spent last summer doing just that.

Eventually, he decided to stay home — “independent study,” he called it. He ordered a stack of books recommended by his professors and proceeded to read through them, soaking up a wealth of information that will help him along the way (without having to worry about time or grades!).

You’d have thought that somewhere along the line, he’d want to unpack. I thought he would. But no.

Whenever he needed something that was still in a suitcase or box or container, he dug in, fished it out, and left the rest of the stuff neatly packed.

I asked him about it, and he told me he didn’t want to inadvertently leave something important behind when he headed off for Fall Term.

Sounds logical.

It also hastened the time it took to go through his stuff and make a list of what he needed to replenish.

Still, the mom in me can’t help but wonder — despite how much he loves being on campus — if maybe, just maybe, a part of him will miss being at home.

Yeah, that’s gotta be it.

Even then, he won’t miss home as much as we’ll miss him!