Remembering When: Mom and Dad, I Love You Forever

Mom 2019

A visit in October 2019, right before COVID stopped us. Mom loves going out to dinner at favorite restaurants.

I am a product of my parents. The writing, the music, performing, stained glass and wood carving, love of all animals—their gift to me and my two brothers. I’ve written about our “charmed childhood” before. 

I know I’m lucky. And I remember…

Growing up, my parents taught me to avoid asking certain questions in polite conversation. Questions like, “How much money do you make?” or “Who did you vote for?” They considered curse words offensive, but also lazy language. To say “shut up!” or call each other names like “stupid” got us sent to our room to contemplate better ways to converse. So we made up curse words. My favorites included icky-poo-gob-gob, gum-floggit, and farfle-snitch.

July 2021, Mary Jane and Phil Monteith, age 93. Dad finally put on the Aloha shirt I got him…and liked it!

Remembering When

Our parents applauded creativity, celebrated thinking outside the box, and insisted we make Christmas presents for each other—store purchases weren’t nearly as “thoughty” according to Dad. My mom, a brilliant seamstress, could sew anything and created gorgeous embroidery hangings, quilts, and clothes. My dad, an equally brilliant woodworker, designed and built floor-to-ceiling walnut bookcases in the living room, among other projects. So I got dolls dressed up with Mom’s stitch-witchery, and wooden cradles from Dad with a baby-size Mom-made quilt inside.

We weren’t wealthy, far from it, and I know now that “making gifts” was encouraged in part because it saved money. On their first anniversary, Mom made my father a dress shirt. And he made Mom a corner cupboard they still use that contains treasures of a lifetime.

Our kid-made offerings weren’t nearly as accomplished, but learning how to sew and cook, how to create artwork (my brother Laird is a brilliant photographer), write stories (my brother Gene is the real writer), play piano and other instruments – all left their positive mark and informs our adult lives. I remember…

A visit in 2017, Mom loved reading mysteries! She still loves books but we don’t know how much she can read anymore.

Rich in Every Important Way

This middle-class lifestyle felt rich in experience. Our parents designed their house, built it on the banks of the St. Joe river, and we kids had summer-long soap-opera “let’s pretend” games in the undeveloped fields nearby. We built forts out of brambles and had favorite climbing trees, and escaped into the pages of novels from the library or cherished “Weekly Reader” book club selections. We spent hours out in the kayak Dad made with my brothers, or the canoe—I had a favorite “reading tree” across the river where I got lost in stories.

But one rule called us home without fail—we ate dinner at 5 pm every evening, as a family, television off and no reading allowed at the table. We conversed. We updated each other on our day, our challenges, our projects, our disappointments, and successes. Oh, sometimes it devolved into pun-sessions with everyone trying to outdo each other. I remember those days and I miss the laughter.

April 2018, at their granddaughter Erin’s wedding.

Legacy of Learning–and Teaching

Our parents were elementary teachers for 40+ years—Dad taught music, and Mom taught math, science, and all kinds of things. Hundreds of kids remember them fondly as favorite teachers who made a difference. They retired at age 59 and traveled the world, taking artist tours in Paris, visiting Italy, Scotland, England, and more.

Dad followed a dream of studying art and became one of the best-known and accomplished woodblock and pastel artists in his neck of the woods. He volunteered to conduct orchestras at the local community theatre. Mom loved teaching so much she continued to coach kids long after she retired, and in her “spare time” continued creating beautiful quilts. Together, they collected priceless mementos and precious memories.

October 2019 visit, selfie at the restaurant.

And they continued to create. When my brothers married and had kids, Mom and Dad created heirloom gifts: cradles, quilts, baby blankets, a wooden rocking horse, and rocking moose, paintings of the toddlers. Dad painted portraits of myself and my brothers, our spouses, and Mom’s quilted pillows, Christmas tree skirts, and more decorate my home.

93 Years Old and Counting

Fast forward over the years—and our parents are 93 years old, and will celebrate their 65th (?) anniversary in a couple of weeks. COVID prevented me from visiting my folks in Indiana. In late July I got to see them for the first time in nearly two years. My brothers Gene and Laird scheduled a visit at the same time, along with my cousin Gretchen.

We had a glorious reunion in the house Mom and Dad built together. Dad remains as sharp and accomplished as ever, and he’s shouldered the burden—and kept private many of his challenges—of caring for Mom. The bittersweet visit reveal changes none of us kids wanted to face, and that Dad continued to deny.

I held Mom’s hand and listened to her tell the same stories of her love of teaching over and over (without understanding but a few of her words). Once in a while, I caught a glimpse of the articulate, brilliant, passionate Mom who raised me, taught hundreds of students, and who my Dad still adores.

Mom and Dad

Laird made a portrait of our parents a couple of years ago and each of us received one for Christmas. Again…making gifts means the world!

Time Isn’t Always Kind

Last week, after a sudden bout of pneumonia and nearly a week of hospitalization, Dad finally agreed to move Mom to memory care. The doctor gave him no choice and frankly, did all of us a favor. The transition hasn’t been easy for any of us, but especially for Dad. He’s slowly accepting the changes and what needs to happen. We kids struggle to know how to support him and Mom. My brothers, both saints, took time off from work to be with Dad during these tough days. And I support long-distance as best I can and fight the guilt and sadness being far from them engenders.

It breaks my heart when Dad says, “I’ve lived too long…” It’s his turn to have us care for him, but he doesn’t know how. He’s finally open to learning this new thing, though.

I have projects to finish, but I’ve not been able to write. So I sit and stare out windows, call and text pestering my brothers for updates, talk to Dad as often as I can, and… feel so damn sad. And the ugliness I see reported in the news and read on social media between one-time friends makes my throat ache even more.

So I hang on to some of my Mom’s pointed remarks often repeated during my growing up years—rarely welcome at the time. They seem appropriate now more than ever, even if she can no longer articulate them.

Lessons from Mom

“If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all,” and “You wouldn’t have said it if you hadn’t meant it.”

So I scroll past or hide ugly comments, and turn off the television. Words spoken in anger rarely effect change and only hurt all involved. I can’t change anything by spouting ugliness in response—and exposure to such things diminishes me, and suffocates joy.

“You’ll do that when you have time? If it’s important to you, you’ll MAKE time.”

I’m listening, Mom. Today, I’m writing again.

And the last thing Mom said to me on my visit in July, words I actually could understand:

“I love you.”

I Love You Forever!

Mommy, I love you and Dad so much! I pray that you both know that, and how grateful I am that I got to be your daughter. I can’t wait to see you both again.

To my family and my friends, may “I love you” always be on my lips, and among the last words between us.

My family — L to R: Amy, M, Sherrie, Gene, Dad, Mom, Jodi, Laird. Incidentally, Laird took this brilliant picture at the family gathering celebrating our parents’ anniversary several years ago.

 

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Dream Big, Be You: What Do You Want To Be?

I didn’t start out to be a writer, so how the @#$%^&*! did I end up here? I just heard from the Cat Writers’ Association that my fiction book HIT AND RUN just won a Certificate of Excellence Award, with consideration for a Muse Medallion. I always wanted to write fiction, but it only happened when forced to reinvent myself and dream big. What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to be remembered for? What will your legacy be?

what do you want to beThe Accidental Writer

I’ve written about my journey several times and have blogged off and on for 20+ years. But the blog only gained traction about ten years ago when I took an Email course on branding and social media from Kristen Lamb (read her blog!). She asked lots of “thoughty” questions:

What do you (want to) write? What are your interests, besides the writing topics—because we are so much more than (fill-in-the-blank). Who do people “see” when they look at you? Is that the BRAND you desire to create? It must be the real you—pretend won’t cut it. People see through the phony-isity of such things. As an actor, someone able to put on a persona for different people or events, that struck a chord with me.

Taking Off the Mask, Being YOU

Okay, she didn’t use those words, but you get my drift. I had an acting coach tell me the same thing, and I wrote about it in another blog, that you are enough. Bring YOU to the table—that’s enough.

And that’s scary! Dang. And it leads me to another question–what did YOU want to be when you grew up? Kids seem to know and show even in the games they play what path they’ll take through life. Me? I wanted to be an actor because they were glamorous, people liked them, and they never laughed too loud or were at a loss for words. I could be whoever I wanted, and if folks rolled their eyes, it wasn’t about me, but the persona. Being real, though–EEEK! Then if they don’t like you (or your work), what then?

writing advice what do you want to be

“I own this content!”

What Do You Want to Be…?

As a kid, my brothers and I put on plays in the basement, and directed marathon “let’s pretend” soap operas. The recurring kid, horses, dogs, and cat characters and stories were so real, they had us in tears—and made my folks roll their eyes.

I never played with dolls, much to the dismay of my grandmother. Nope, it was stuffed animals and best-bud pretend pets who could “really talk!” Mom always said, “When Amy grows up she won’t have babies, she’ll have puppy-dogs and kitty-cats.”

Mom knew.

Write Your Passion—Be YOU, Not Someone Else’s Idea

Early in my writing career, people constantly questioned why I didn’t write about more important topics, like starving children or world peace? And was cautioned, “You’ll never make a living writing about just pets!” Thpbpbpbpbpbpbpb! (insert raspberry sound effects!)

I write about pets because that’s me. It’s what and who I am, and I am enough. No, it’s not ALL that I am, but it’s a big part. I’m not on Broadway–yet! But all my stage and tv experience serves the pet writing causes. I listened to my furry muses. And I have the bling ready for when the big moment comes.

publishing tips

Writing about dogs (and cats) is serious business.

Becoming My Best Self

Something unexpected happened along the path to becoming Amy. I’m no longer at a loss for words—and instead I have to work at NOT jumping into every conversation. The animals taught me that. I don’t need to bark, howl, wag my tail (no wise cracks!) or hiss all the time to get ahead. I’ve never found being a “whisperer” to be particularly effective.

I’ve learned to be a pet “listener.” If you listen with your eyes and your heart, animals tell you what they’re thinking and why they’re acting in certain ways. Works with humans, too.

When I was a kid, I wanted to wear sparkles, tell stories with happy endings, and have bestest-bud animal friends who really talk. As an adult, when a career on the stage seemed out of reach, I turned to writing as a creative outlet, and it turned into an extraordinarily rewarding career. What did you want to be when you were a kid? Are you there yet?

what do you want to be remembered forWhen I Grow Up…

I always wanted to write fiction but at first, only made headway with nonfiction. My childhood dream came true only happened when I lost my grownup nonfiction writing career ten years ago and gave up writing to teach high school choir.

For the first time in years, I had nothing to prove and nothing to lose. So I wrote the novel I’d always wanted to READ in twenty-minute increments: before work, on lunch breaks, and after classes.

I don’t have two-legged kids. My legacy will be my written works, and I hope I will be remembered for helping cats and dogs and those who love them. And now and then, helping fellow writers with tips that helped me, like this webinar on beating writer’s block.

And today, my peers have honored my fifth book, HIT AND RUN, (complete with puppy-dog and kitty-cat characters), something I never could have predicted.

What do you want to be? There’s still time!

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

 

You. Are. Enough! How to Deal With Criticism

I’m feeling philosophical today, all about how to deal with criticism.

Everybody needs some strokes. The creative mind of authors, actors, musicians, and artists takes criticism so personally, a single sneer can quash the muse. I’m an author, actor, musician and artist, so maybe I got hit with a quadruple whammy. Dang gene pool . . .

Those who read this blog know that I’ve “Kindle-ized” my backlist. I’m excited that the Aging Cat book has sold very well, and lately, the print version has done even better. But along the way, all of my books get hit with a fair amount of bad reviews. Some of the Kindle books have even been “returned.”

Huh? What happened?! Didn’t they *sniff* like my book? Why not? *whimper* THEY HATE ME!

how to deal with criticismRejection Hurts, But Comes With the Territory

I suspect you’re like me, whether you’ve published, performed, created for years or just recently dipped toes into the creative abyss. Dozens of great reviews leave me with a temporary glow, but it only takes one blistering comment to negate all the positives.

And we LOOK for those negatives, don’t we? The reader who posts a modest review must not have liked the book all that well. The audience that didn’t whistle and guffaw at our jokes, or offer stomp-along standing O’s must have hated the performance. If the artwork failed to sell, gallery attendees hated the artist.

Realistically, book returns could be accidental purchases of the Ebook instead of print. I think. Hope. Hell, maybe they really do HATE ME! I’m gonna go eat worms and die.

Nothing’s Personal—Just Feels That Way

It must be in the definition of “artist” to question our own talent and worthiness, even without help from outsiders. Self sabotage destroys more careers than anyone can measure. Because it’s safest to do nothing—pull all the books from the shelves, never write again. To try and fail feels so painful, we’d rather close ourselves off and stop trying than risk the hurt. Again.

So how many of y’all have shut down the laptop, put away the viola, thrown out paints, or given up thespian aspirations? I’ve made that “decision” dozens of times. But it never stuck. Because this is who I am. It’s what I do.

Learning To Be Vulnerable

Years ago I attended an audition workshop with the brilliant Del Shores, who noted that many people have !!@#$%^! -loads of baggage. Nobody gets out of life without some bumps, bruises, and the scars can be visible, deep inside, or both.

Successful performers (and writers ARE performers!) learn to tap-dance into this wealth of virtual crappiocca, use it to create memorable damaged characters on stage, screen, canvas, music scores—and in our books, essays and other writing. Unblemished, perfect paintings, book characters, photos and music is freakin’ BORING!

how to deal with criticismPerfect People, Perfect Pets = BORING!

In dog and cat behavior (another of my worlds), the perfect pet is a stuffed toy that has no potty accidents, no cost to feed, no need to walk in the rain, and no chewed up shoes or clawed sofas. But real pets also have baggage, seen and unseen—baggage is normal, folks. It’s what makes them special, rather than cookie-cutter boring. On top of that, the old days of “punish the bad” have shifted to “reward the good.”

I counsel clients to ignore the bad, and instead catch their pet in the act…of doing something good, and then rewarding with praise, treat, a ball or whatever floats the pet’s boat. We’ve learned that constant brow-beating or (heaven forbid!) actual beating causes pets to shut down.

It shuts down people, too, and it flat-out murders the creative process. Here are some tips to deal with writer’s block.

What floats your boat? How do you reward yourself? You are worthy, ya know! Lift yourself up, and do the same for others. Helping others feeds your own muse!

You Are Enough

Del Shores is fond of saying, “You are enough,” to his actors. No extra bells and whistles required. It applies to all creative people. Lessons learned—and I hope they’ll help you, too:

  1. We’re all damaged goods. Use it. Mine the gold and let it resonate in your work.
  2. Ignore the bad. Reward the good.
  3. You. Are. Enough.

It’ll take practice for me to believe that. But I’m getting better. How about you?

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

 

The Human Pedigree: Going Home, Moving On

FamilyOctGathering2014

Everyone in my family is an accomplished photographer–but we still couldn’t figure out the “timer” to get us all in the frame!

I wrote this post in October 2014. Today, my parents are on the verge of celebrating their 94th birthdays. After more than a year away from them, due to the pandemic, I feel nostalgic for the last time my siblings and I gathered with them. Stay tuned for an update when I finally get to visit with them again!

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Last week, I drove to the airport 90 minutes away, waited during a 40-minute plane delay, sat on the plane for 2+ hours, boarded a bus for another 3 hour ride and discovered I’d left my laptop behind during the routine airport security check at DFW. I hate travel. But I’d do it all over again, and gladly.

It was my parent’s 60th Anniversary celebration. My two brothers and their wives and I rented a house in Michigan, and we gathered together for a rare but blissful reunion with great food, fine beverages, late night laugh-fests, shared memories, and bitter-sweet farewells.

We grew up in Northern Indiana where my parents still live. My twin brother (and nope, we’re NOT identical, LOL!) and his family live in Ohio where he’s a brilliant speech writer and PR pro, while our younger brother, a professional photographer, lives in far northern Michigan. My SILs are accomplished professional women, too, and my niece and nephews make us all proud. But how did my “little brother” become a grandpa, twice over? Where did the time go?

I live the farthest away in Texas, and traveling that far plus coordinating all of our busy schedules proves the greatest challenge. In fact, my husband wasn’t able to come due to a number of scheduling conflicts with work–and caring for the fur-kids. Sometimes I feel guilty that we moved so far away…

PEDIGREES & GENEALOGY

When together, I’m reminded of what a friend calls our “charmed childhood.” Our home was full of books, art and music–even today Mom and Dad’s house looks like a cross between an art gallery and a library, with musical instruments thrown in. Memories of being read to–story time was important when we were kids–and then arguing which one got to practice on the newer upstairs piano rather than the old-timey one in the basement. And later, when cello, violin, trumpet, voice lessons, track and wrestling, sewing lessons and play practice were added. How did my folks find the time, with their teaching schedules, to give us such wonderful gifts of creativity to explore?

Pets, too, of course–Shelties now gone for years that taught me about dog training and patience, and still prompt tears when stories are fondly shared. My Dad, a long retired elementary music teacher, has become a recognized pastel artist, and one of Mom’s most cherished pictures is the portrait of all the Shelties together: Pickles, Mac, Chad and Skye.

Living on the river, I could sneak away in the canoe to perch in my “reading tree” out of sight for lazy summertime hours. Baby bunnies rescued, turtles and snakes caught and released, river snails the size of your fist–and college fees times three. I am in awe, and a bit weepy thinking back.

We spent time this past weekend looking through a family genealogy, marveling at our ancestors, and how far they’d traveled to meet their future spouses and raise families. And I learned that my Mom, born and raised in Kentucky, had also taken a chance and left her family for a teaching job in Indiana more than 60 years ago–and there she met Dad.

GOOD GENES & LUCK

With cats and dogs, we have the luxury of reviewing pedigrees and choosing ideal pet parent matches–but even then, anything can happen. Humans are more in line with the “lovable mutts” that just happen to get together. What results can be good, bad, or hopefully a happy accident.

I am me because of my parents, and my brothers. How lucky that my ancestors took a chance on coming to a new country, and that my Mom left her family during an era when most young women stayed home and married a neighbor. They still love life, my parents, and it shows in all they do–and I pray they’ll continue to stay healthy for another decade and beyond. Neither looks or acts their age and if I’m sometimes silly or act quirky well–it’s THEIR gene pool! And I’m proud and lucky to be a part of it.

Friends sometimes share with me their sorrow, anger, or indifference that they’ve lost touch or are not close with their families. That makes me sad–and also makes me feel even more lucky to have the parents and brothers that I have.

I see myself in them, in how I was raised, and the decisions I made to arrive at this place in my life. I, too, left home. But I took home with me. It’s who I am. All the things I love most in life–pets, music, art, puns and laughter, theater and bling, books and stories, love and honesty–all comes from them. With a pedigree like that, I am indeed blessed.

Oh, I did get my laptop back. Just lucky, I guess!

When was the last time you had a family reunion? Do tell!

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Jessie Stephens, Mentor & Friend

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L-R (top) Amy, Jessie, Margie, Cherie & Sherrie (bottom) at an outing during one of our Cuchara Writers Group trips.

Last week the pet writing world lost a friend, and left our community deeply saddened. Now I’ve lost another friend, Jessie Stephens, and my heart is broken.

As y’all know, writing is a very lonely profession–perhaps not so much now as when I first started out as a writer. No Internet, no Email, few resources or folks to ask for help and support. I’d started writing a monthly column for the paper at the request of the local VMA, but I really didn’t know other writers in the community.

And then Jessie called and introduced herself. She invited me to attend a small gathering of local writers, a support/critique group. Lordy, was I scared and intimidated! But I went.

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Another group shot: LR-Carol, Sherrie, Cherie, Amy, Margie, Judy, and Jessie in front.

At that meeting more than 20 years ago, I met an incredible group of women. Jessie brought us together first as critique partners, nurtured and mentored us, and soon we became friends. And as we celebrated our successes, shared our frustrations, laughed loud and long, cried and mourned, and supported each other through all that life threw our way, we became more than a writer’s group, more than colleagues. We became family.

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We clean up good! at the Chocolate Indulgence fundraiser for CASA. L-R: Amy, Judy, Jessie, Margie, Cherie, Sherrie. (Additional members not pictured: Carol and Bobbie)

Jessie threw me a launch party in her home when my first book was published in 1992, the beginning of my book-writing career. And 20 years later, Jessie edited my thriller before I submitted for publication, leading to a series and launching my new fiction writing career. In between, we lost one of our members–Bobbi Grant–but she’s still with us as those who make such a positive impression never leave your heart.

Now Jessie has, as her husband eloquently stated, “…gone to that undiscovered country.” And we make room in our hearts for her memory, as well.

A reporter contacted me to ask about Jessie for a front page story in the paper about her–(She’s been a columnist with them for years now as the local expert on all-things-gardens and birds). I didn’t know what to say. She loved birds. She loved her garden. Her dream was to run a small garden shop–and she got to do that for a time. She loved writing, and mentoring others. She traveled the country lecturing about writing, and she taught on the college level. She wrote three books, created her own publishing company (before “indie” was cool!), and published countless short stories. She loved her friends. And she adored her husband Tony.

And we, the Cuchara Writers Group, loved Jessie.

Folks, I’m taking a break from blogging for the rest of the week, but will have a post for you on Saturday that you WON’T want to miss! (It’ll be a happy post, I promise *s*). Until then, please go find the people who matter most to you–and tell them. This isn’t a sad post–this is a celebration of a life well lived. May I be half the person to others that Jessie was, and is.

That is all.

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered–post in the comments. Do you have a new kitten and need answers? I’m a new Brand Ambassador for The Honest Kitchen and you can get FREE samples here, check it out! (Karma loves this!). Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!