Glory Morning

CC BY 2.0 by MarilynJane on Flickr

Stirring first, I eased back the light covers and slowly swung my feet to the warm, wooden floor. A light breeze from the open window above the bed brushed across my bare back, the last vestiges of night air mixed with the warm promise of a perfect August day.

Two salt and pepper shadows trailed me through the living room, past the darkened pane of glass that would only later be allowed to connect me with the fire and brimstone of the outside world. The coffee pot had awakened to its task as I was finishing with my sleep, and the steamy aroma of the rich, black liquid silently drifted across the kitchen. The boys even ate their kibble quietly. No one seemed to want to interrupt the stillness.

Hot cup in hand, I slid the heavy glass door open and stepped down to the terracotta patio that runs across the back of the house. To my bare feet, the irregular tiles were rough and cool, having given up the previous day’s heat to the night air. Barely lit from the left, I could just see shaggy outlines, as the boys trotted to the far edge and hopped down to the narrow strip of recently mowed grass that separates the patio from the garden. Shoulder to shoulder, they disappeared down one of the vegetable-lined paths. Beyond the garden, morning light glinted off the upper windows of the outbuilding, where the end of Dillon’s story waited to be written, vying for my attention with the half-finished harvest table in the workshop below.

I sat at the round, mahogany table and gingerly set my cup down, still trying not to make a sound. My eyes drifted closed, and other senses took in the gifts of a peaceful country morning. Sunlight filtered through the trees across the field to the east and bathed the side of my face with a hint of warmth. My fingers traced the smooth edge of the table, softly rounded with my router years before. The air moved and brought cut grass, coffee, and green smells from the garden, pleasant reminders of so many summers now past.

In the stillness, my good ear strained to hear the first faint sound of the day. As it grew to a familiar whisper, only my eyelids moved, rising ever so slowly. An arm’s length away, a beautiful hummingbird hovered in the air, studying my careful smile. Her ruby head and green body were iridescent in the magical morning light, her beating wings almost invisible. My tiny visitor stopped time for an all-too-brief moment, and then she was gone.

As if on cue, the boys raced out of the garden and bounded onto the patio, demanding their morning treats in a chorus of barks and whines. With the silence duly shattered, a perfect August day was fully at hand.

 

Now that I’ve shared what my Glory Morning would look like, I’d love to hear from you. In your heart of hearts, how would you choose to start each day?

 

We Love Our Animals

Have you ever wondered why we humans form such strong bonds with our animal companions? Here’s a simple thought-experiment to illustrate one possible reason:

Put your spouse / significant other and your dog in the trunk
of your car. When you let them out several hours later, which
one will be happy to see you? (Seriously, this is only a
thought-experiment. Do not try this at home, or anywhere else,
for that matter!)

The unconditional love of companion animals, coupled with their unique ability to listen to everything from our superficial complaints to our darkest fears–without uttering a single judgmental word–is a beautiful thing. Here’s a brief look at just a few of the many animals that have touched the hearts of my family over the years.

Jocko the Spider Monkey

My dad grew up in rural Ohio, the youngest of several siblings. Along with the regular farm animals, horses, and hunting dogs, he and his brothers had a few more “exotic” pets. About once a month, a traveling salesman Pop described as a self-important little bald guy in a sweat-stained suit would come around to take orders for feed and grain. One particularly hot summer afternoon, the salesman walked, uninvited, into the barn to get out of the sun. From the hayloft, Jocko silently dropped onto the little man’s back and wrapped his long tail around the man’s pudgy neck. I’m sure my dad and his brothers were hooting with laughter as the salesman ran from the barn, screaming about the huge snake that was around his neck, about to strangle him.

Rumor had it that there was also a six-foot-long alligator living behind the warm stove in the kitchen of that farmhouse, too. Someone had brought it back from Florida as a baby. Family legend? Maybe. Maybe not.

The Old Farmer and His Pigs

I heard this story from my grandma, a wise and illiterate woman who emigrated from Romania to America in the early 1900s, babushka and all. The old farmer that lived across the road raised pigs to supplement the family income during the Great Depression. Every year, the farmer would sell two pigs to the local butcher, and every year, he would cry his eyes out for three days afterwards. Grandma thought he was a silly man, but I think those pigs must have listened to the old farmer’s darkest fears. If you’re interested, The Dictionary is a short story about my mother growing up in Grandma and Grandpa’s house with only two books, and you’ll know why the house I grew up in looked a lot like a library.

Wilbur and Molly, Two Shaggy Horses

These two horses put in their time on my other grandparent’s farm, plowing and pulling wagons. My dad grew up with them, and he loved them dearly. A few years after he’d gotten married and moved to his own house, Pop brought my mother and my older brother by the farm for a Sunday family dinner. He parked his pride and joy, a shiny black 1952 Chevrolet, in the yard, under the shade of a big tree near the house. After dinner, my brother and his cousins went outside to play, while the men smoked and drank coffee, and the women chatted in the kitchen and washed the dishes.

It was early evening when Pop walked out to his car, and the low sun highlighted the deep scratches running the length of the Chevrolet’s hood. As the story goes, Pop started yelling for my brother, sure that he was somehow responsible for the damage, and ready to mete out a harsh punishment. Just as my brother came skidding to a halt next to him, unaware that he was in deep trouble, Molly reached her head over the fence next to the car, and continued to scratch her itchy chin along the hood, the rivets in her halter peeling paint off with every stroke, as Wilbur stood beside her. Confused, my brother watched the expression on Pop’s face go from dark to light, as he started to laugh. He was still laughing when he walked over to hug Molly and Wilbur’s necks and scratch Molly’s chin, a safe distance away from the hood of his favorite car.

So now you know that it’s no coincidence that shaggy little horses named Wilbur and Molly play a prominent part in the story of An Irish Miracle. I only said that any resemblances to actual people were purely coincidental. Some of the horses? Well . . . not so much.

Cricket, My Family’s First Schnauzer

There have been a lot of Miniature Schnauzers in our family over three generations, but Cricket was the first. I was a first-grader when we brought her home, supposedly a puppy for me. But it wasn’t long before we all realized that she was my dad’s dog. He would make her wait by the garage when he went to the mailbox, and when he came back, she greeted him like he’d been gone for half her life. Cricket rode everywhere with Pop in his pickup truck, her head poking out the window right below the pipe clamped in his teeth. When he got out, he taught her to wait on the seat. When he clapped his hands, she would launch herself straight into his arms. On the rare occasions it happened, Cricket hated to be left alone. To this day, I still don’t know how she reached those high curtains, but they were shredded and tattered when we got home.

Pop has been gone for over thirty years now, although I still hear his voice with a hello or a word of encouragement from time to time. Cricket has been gone even longer, but I’ll bet she’s still riding on Pop’s lap, with her fuzzy face in the breeze. And I’ll bet that pipe is still clamped in his teeth, too.

Corky and Yankee Joe

Yankee Joe was a sweet, seventy-pound Dalmatian (all ‘a’s, no ‘o’s) and big brother to Corky, my immediate family’s first Schnauzer. At fifteen pounds, Corky was the boss, and Yankee was happy to go along. His joy in life was to run at top speed until something solid got in his way. He took my wife lawn-skiing on several occasions. An unlikely pair, Corky and Yankee got along famously, despite their size difference.

We adopted Yankee Joe from a Dalmatian kennel owned by Karl and Barbara, and in turn, they adopted us. (As a gift, I photographed their daughter’s wedding, even though I was more nervous than the lovely young bride.) Karl and Barbara invited us to bring nine-month-old Yankee Joe and go with them to the Dalmatian Club of America’s national show in Fort Collins, Colorado. Four-hundred-and-fifty spotted dogs in one extremely well-run Holiday Inn was a sight I will never forget.

I won’t ever forget the eager-to-please, sit-in-your-lap Yankee Joe and his little-tough-guy buddy, Corky, either.

Bandit and Murphy, My Writing Companions

Bandit is around thirteen years old now, still very healthy, although going a bit deaf. He’s the sweetest, most gentle Schnauzer I’ve ever seen. Three years ago, the amazing veterinarians and students at the University of Georgia Small Animal Hospital pulled his little behind out of the fire for us, after ten days in intensive care. The clinic was ninety miles from our home, and the vet or the student taking care of him called me twice a day, every day, without fail. They took as good a care of me through that ordeal as they did my sad little Bandit, and for that, I am forever grateful.

Murphy is the eternal puppy. Even though he’s fully grown, at seven years old, he’s about half the size of a “normal” Miniature Schnauzer. I thought his litter mates looked a little odd, and when we brought him home, he fit in the palm of my hand, but by the time we realized we only got half a Schnauzer, he was too entrenched in our hearts to even ask for half of our money back. Everyone still asks if he’s a puppy, and they say he’s really cute. My response to that is always, “He’s cute alright . . . ’til you get to know him!”

I could go on and on about these two, who listen to me, and never judge me, but if you want to, you can read more about them in my post entitled My Writing Companions.

The strong bond between humans and horses is a recurring theme in the story, An Irish Miracle. As you can see, we Mahans love our animals. If you read this entire post, I know you love yours, too. Please feel free to comment and leave a story about a special animal companion in your life.

Good night, Nippy, Cricket, Gabe, Muffin, Bucky, Daisy, Yankee Joe, and Corky. I love you guys.

All the best,
Rob

Resources for Readers – goodreads

This is the first installment in a Resources for Readers series we can build together for those of us, and our friends, who are readers. From the voracious three-novel-a-week book consumer to the casual three-book-a-year reader, the tools and resources we will highlight will help them find great reads, and even share their thoughts on the gems they discover.

When we choose a book to read, cost is becoming less and less a factor in our decision. Many worthwhile e-books are less expensive than a large chai latte, and thanks to advances in printing technology, many impressive paperbacks are about the cost of a fast-food meal for two. Our reading decisions have always been about something much more precious. Our spare time. Choosing a book to read represents committing several hours of our valuable personal time, so the more help we can have in making good choices, the better our downtime will be spent.

So let’s get to the first resource we are going to explore together!

There are no faster or firmer friendships than those formed
between people who love the same books.

Irving Stone
Author of The Agony and the Ecstasy

Plainly put, goodreads is a place where readers can find and share the books they love. goodreads users can also keep track of the books we plan to read, and the ones we’ve already read. If you stop right there, it’s a fun way to keep a diary of your reading life. But to really tap into the power of goodreads, you’ll need to make some friends. With nearly nine-and-a-half million members, we’re all bound to be able to find some reading friends there. Better yet, bring some of your friends along and sign up for free accounts together!

Let’s take a brief look at the major features of the goodreads website. There’s a lot there, and I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t use all the available features—yet. So dabble here and there first. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, and I wouldn’t want you to do that. This is supposed to be fun!


Home – You’ll see recent updates from friends, like what they are currently reading and what they plan to read, and you can even start or participate in book discussions here. There’s a spot that displays what you are currently reading and your can do status updates on your progress. Your profile can also be seen and updated on the Home page.


My Books – Here is where you can build bookshelves to your heart’s content, and organize your books any way you want. goodreads starts everyone off with bookshelves named all, read, currently-reading, and to-read. There are several display settings, and I think it’s fun to see all the great covers of the books I’ve read, or plan to read. Clicking on any single book shows you all the details, including stats and a description, your review and rating (if you reviewed and / or rated it), and reviews from the goodreads community.


Groups – Participate in an existing group that’s discussing a topic you find interesting, or create your own group. Groups are great places to find new friends with similar interests, or who will help you learn everything you ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask. (I think I just dated myself. Oh well, we’re all older than we were yesterday, aren’t we?) And before the embarrassing comments start to flood in, no, I haven’t joined any goodreads groups yet . . . but it’s on my list of things to do!


Recommendations – goodreads has algorithms that kick in after you’ve rated at least twenty books. You’ll find personalized recommendations here, based on the books you’ve rated, your favorite genres, and the categories (bookshelves, like science fiction, or history) you have created.


Explore – This is a jumping-off page to all the rest of the great features goodreads has to offer. You can search for books by title, author or ISBN (as you can from the header of any page on the website), check out the highest ranking titles of the moment, see what book giveaways are happening, and see new releases by genre.


I know I haven’t mentioned lots of other available features, but I hope this gives you a sense of what goodreads has to offer We the Readers. If you sign up for a free member account, or you’re already a goodreads member, please find me and friend me. I’d love to compare bookshelves and swap a few recommendations with you!

Rob’s Resources for Readers Rating for goodreads

goodreads is a great Resource for Readers, although the one caveat I must mention is that it isn’t as intuitive and user friendly as I would like to see it become. It will require some digging on our parts to find and utilize everything this website has to offer, but I believe our efforts will be rewarded with a richer reading life.

I mentioned at the beginning that we can build this Resources for Readers series together. Your comments and input are always wanted, always welcomed, and always appreciated.

  • What goodreads features have you discovered that I missed mentioning?
  • What other Resources for Readers would you like to see featured in this series?
  • What’s the favorite book you’ve read this year so far? How about ever?