Lucy Crowe's Nest: 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I'm Dreaming of a ....Multicolored Christmas?

I’ve been allergic to white Christmas trees for years. They make me itchy, make my nose sting and my eyes tear up.
Maybe it’s the lack of smell. Or the sparkly paint on the stiff dead branches, more glare than glisten.

My fourth grade teacher had a miniature in a pot on her desk, all trimmed out in tinsel and red glass ornaments. I elbowed it to the floor on my way to the pencil sharpener and sometimes, forty years later, I still wake up in a cold sweat, having dreamed of her face in that critical moment.
Fourth grade was brutal.

In 1986 I worked fourteen hour days as slave labor in a greenhouse that specialized in Christmas décor. We sprayed white snow and shiny lacquer on pine branches until we were dizzy with the fumes. I had hives all over my body and fluid in my lungs, and I swore I would never, ever go white at Christmas.

A dear friend had a “life” sized white Christmas tree. Her fiancé had purchased it for her on a post- holiday sale, and he died, very suddenly of a heart attack, before Christmas came around again. I helped her decorate the wretched thing the following December, and amid tears and scattered branches and way too much rum, we finally reached an accord of sorts with the white tree.
“You don’t have to do this,” I said. “It won’t bring him back.”
“He would’ve wanted it,” she sobbed. “He loved white at Christmas.”
“One of these days.” – fanning a branch and sighing - “This sort of thing is going to get easier. For now, we'll just decorate the side facing the living room”

White lights, white pines, white snow, bleh. What about a real tree - big gaudy retro lights, red and green and blue? Candy cane stripes and glitter, homemade ornaments? Or . . .

Ah hell, it’s not about color, is it? It’s not about trees, or cookies or candy canes, and we know this because Linus tells us every year.  “ . . . the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger . . .' "

Probably the baby wasn’t dressed all in white. The swaddling clothes would have been whatever blankets his mother had managed to tuck away for the journey. Maybe the baby himself wasn’t even white.  But we know, don’t we, that He shone with a brilliance, a beauty, a love that He would carry with him throughout his entire life and even after.

There it is. He is our “white” Christmas, people –  brighter than the Macy’s Christmas tree, shinier than the Chicago Bean. Gorgeous and perfect and wrapped all in love.

And love, after all, is a multi-colored beast, no?

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Monday, December 15, 2014

So you want to be an EMT?

So you want a career in EMS? Both of the rural stations where I work have been hiring. You’ll be called for an interview a week or two after you turn in an app, and then set down in our meeting room amidst four very serious faces and asked a host of enlightening questions. Something like this:

Why do you want to do this job?
Tell us about a moment where your training failed you
Do you consider yourself to have good leadership skills?
Etc etc etc.

Good grief, I say to the hubby (also the fire chief) can you not ask a single question that matters?
Such as . . .

1.) Well, can you lift? And I don’t mean a little. The cot alone weighs a hundred and twenty pounds and the majority of your patients will be something more than petite. They’ll be upstairs, all of them.  Or at least those who aren’t in the basement, under the front deck, on the roof, down a well. What they will never be is standing in the front yard waiting for you.

2.) How do you respond to vomit? Projectile. Large quantities. In your hair, on your shoes, down your shirtfront. You’re no help to anyone if the patient causes you to be the second patient.

3.) Can you back up? I know that sounds simple and I’m sure you’ve backed out of your driveway  a gazillion times. But here – can you back an ambulance? Down a narrow twisty farm lane in a blizzard? Up a hill, down a tow path and – most important of all – into the bay at your station?
The chief cries real tears if you ding the rig.

4.) You’re not afraid to go back to school, are you? A lot of us go for the paramedic, but even those of us who don’t are training on a very consistent basis. So – meetings, meetings, meetings. Classrooms, skills tests, recertifications. Even when you’re beat, even when you’re just off shift or it’s supposed to be your free weekend (ha). Even when, God help us, there is no coffee to be had at the station.

5.) Which brings us to – are you a coffee drinker? Please just nod yes. Dunkins, Starbucks, Peets, plain old Folgers. It is the all-important elixir of life. You must brew a pot immediately upon reaching the station and then you must keep it going all day and most of the night. If, Heaven forbid, you should break the pot, you’ll need to get somebody to cover your shift while you run to Walmart. Pick up some Dunkins on the way home so we don’t have to wait for the next pot to brew.

6.) Oddly enough – but you’ll get used to this, trust me – the next question has to do with sleep. Can you sleep any time of the day or night? More or less at the drop of a hat? Oh, and can you rebound from said sleep and be at the rig in seconds flat?

Lift, wipe up the vomit, back the rig, go to meetings, coffee-coffee-coffee, sleep-sleep-sleep. That’s about it! If you’re still with us, welcome aboard.

*Art by MauserGirl

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween Magic: Behind Our Silly Adult Masks

Art by Julie Jamison-Lewis
I’m pretty sure time stands still on October 31st.
Every Halloween, all of our lives, frozen still in amber. Here we are as little children, grinning behind the old plastic masks – cowboys and Indians, back in the day. Casper and Sylvester the cat.  We lit jack-o-lanterns with tapered candles that our mom had cut into halves, sticky caramel on our fingers, cold wind in our hair. Running, always running, through the crimson blitz of autumn, gold leaves spinning in a smoky twilight sky.
November as far away as tomorrow.
My daughter was a week old on her first Halloween. She wore a teensy black cat costume, and I took her trick-or-treating in her stroller, winding full-speed through our trailer court with maple spinners crunching beneath my tennis shoes. Already smiling, already caught up in the enchantment. The child she was – the child I was – they are still here, suspended in perfect bursts of autumn color.
Three gorgeous kids, years and years of costumes and cookies and scavenger hunts. Bonfires, buckeyes and bob-for-apples. Every year, a year older. Every year, still magic. We did Build-A-Monster, cemetery walks, the town parade - and always, always, the air was crisp as a new apple, the moon a sharp crescent in a broad and purple sky.  Dizzy with laughter, drunk on excitement, we zoomed from house to house and never seemed to touch the ground.
Another year – pumpkins already on the porch, lights strung through the bushes, Jack Skellington climbing the hill again, bony silhouette against the fat yellow moon. Children grown and new steps going up to the cemetery. Endless busy days – work and college and meetings; and nothing has changed at all. Not on Halloween.
On Halloween, the world stops spinning while the moon comes up and the ghouls come out and the jack-o-lanterns leer from the shadows. We hold our breaths while the magic, the never-ever-failing Halloween magic, fills the air and fills us all. For an instant, we are grinning kids again behind our silly adult masks.
And so, my friends, the biggest, the bestest holiday of all is soon upon us. Wishing you all a wonderful, fantastical, beautiful night.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Look Up

“Oh wow, that is magic.”
Just the moon. Set unmoving in a broad and blameless early morning sky; it is perhaps a little red. So we huddle in the parking lot outside our fire station with our chins tipped up like the Peanuts gang on Christmas Eve, and we almost forget to breathe. Such beauty, so undeserved.
I’m not a Doomsday Prepper, but I have to admit to a certain fearfulness lately. Ebola, Isis, D68. Not just the evil that we foist upon each other, but the randomness of catastrophe. It’s a scary world out there, isn’t it? 
We’re hunkered down, frightened, so much of the time.
We have to remind ourselves to look up.
But more than that, we have to look for that same prettiness down here on earth, both boots on the ground.
Well here, it looks a little like this -
“I finally got my student loan money.” Oh yay, she has been waiting for this. Counting pennies, literally. But her voice is hesitant now, so I wait for the other shoe to drop. “I gave five hundred dollars to Operation Smile. It’s a charity that helps kids with cleft palates.”
Ah God, for a moment I am breathless. This girl, my child, isn’t wealthy by any standards; five hundred dollars, to a charity, is a drop in the bucket – to her it is, well, the moon.
I’m made small by this, I really am. I’m humbled by a kid who would give away the moon so another person could have a pretty smile.
And this –
The tones go off at the station, both fire and ambulance needed for a motor vehicle accident. My partner and I jump in the rig, and as we round the corner, here come our new recruits. Three wonderful young men, not a decent vehicle amongst them. They are on foot, running full-out to our station to answer the call. 
They don’t get a paycheck for this.
Wow, right? Are we not better than we give ourselves credit for?
So, here is the awesome news to hang onto today. In the midst of sickness, war, poverty and ignorance, we still exist. And by “we” I mean the cashier who recommended her favorite herbal remedy for your child’s cough. The elderly lady who brought cookies to the kindergarten book fair. The kid who found a twenty dollar bill and tacked it up on the bulletin board at your local convenience store.
Why don’t we look harder at the goodness in each other? And in looking, why don’t we take heart? We’re not small, ignorant, dysfunctional or petty.  We are – or at least we have the capability to be – good, shining and bright.
We just have to look up.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

5 Reasons Firefighter Training is Actually Life Training

Firefighting is rife with hard and fast rules. And even though, at any given episode unpredictability can fast become the norm, these rules remain in place – guiding stars, if you will. Wisdom of our fathers and all that.
 But the really cool thing I’ve discovered about the rules is that they cross over. Into motherhood, into friendships, into other careers. In fact, with very little manipulation, the golden rules of firefighting can become the golden rules of life.  
I think it looks something like this:
         1.)  Prevention. Smoke alarms, CO2 detectors, an escape plan.
Mothers, can we apply this to our children?  Feed the dog before you do your homework, so he isn’t tempted to eat your math paper. Tidy your bedroom daily so that it never arrives at Tornado Alley status. As for teenagers and prevention . . . well, you know the drill.
           2.) “Two In and Two Out” is a perfect life lesson. In the fire service, it applies to the way we enter a burning building – which is to say, never alone and never without back-up on the outside. It’s hot in there, you can get hurt.
 Don’t enter life alone, either. Be social able, make friends. Because it’s lonely out there, and you can get hurt. Hug and hold hands and love each other – we all need somebody, and that is as it should be.
           3.) Bring all you’ve got. If the worst happens and the fire is up and running and bigger than anything you’ve ever seen, throw everything at it. All the water, all the manpower and all the equipment. Be strong and be smart and keep working. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Every department near and far. They want to come, they’re dying to lend a hand.
           So it is in life. In the midst of complete catastrophe, you can’t curl up and die. Stand up and throw everything you’ve got at the problem. All of your brains, your skills, your time and talent.  And it’s okay - it’s good in fact - to ask for help. Call friends and cousins, coworkers, Mom and Father Barron. We’re all here to help each other.
          4.) Remember accountability. When you go into that fire, you’re not only responsible for you, but also for your brother. Be safe, be responsible. Remember that you are valued and very much needed, and always loved.
          5.) Oh, and don’t forget your bunker gear. No sense scraping your knees if you happen to stumble. That Superman costume, real or imagined, can be a total life saver.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Not Quite Enough

Lately it occurs to me that twenty years in fire/EMS might be enough. Because . . .  well, because here she is.

                Ninety two years old, a simple ground level fall at the local assisted living facility. Possible broken hip. We’ve got her on a backboard with the injury site padded and suddenly she is vomiting. It happens – pain, fear, any number of reasons. My partner pulls over and dashes back to help me turn the board, and the patient just keeps bringing up lunch for what seems like a very long time.

                But that’s not the story, either, not really. Here is what I want to say about her – tiny little thing all alone, her husband gone, children AWOL. In pain. Sick. When she’s not vomiting, she tries a smile out on me, and asks how I am today, do I like my job, am I from the area?

This just hurts my heart; really, it does.

Since Nine-Eleven, we in the emergency medical field have gotten a lot of hero dust sprinkled on us, but I think most of us would agree with this assessment – usually the hero is the one lying on the cot. And this lady, today, is one of them.

                How am I today?

                That’s where the twenty-year part figures in. Because I used to walk away from the lol (little old lady) falls and forget about them even before the run sheet had printed. Anymore, it feels like I leave a piece of myself on every call. The patient has taken on a level of . . . well, humanness, that leaves me smaller than I like to be and drenched in an empathy that frightens me. At some point it all became real, and the enthusiasm and, yes, even jubilation, with which I used to answer the tones has fallen by the wayside, along with the nine digit emergency number and the headlong ride on the back step of the pumper.             

Laying the call aside when it is over has become a larger task than the call itself, and there are sleepless nights when I think about the twenty years gone with something less than satisfaction or even plain old contentment. The early mornings and late nights. The family events where I was empty place at the table. Again. The meetings.  The trainings. The hours spent in ER after a body fluids exposure. The shuttling the kids to the babysitter and cancelling plans with the spouse. Twenty years chucked, for what?

Ah, but then it happens. I mold the SAM splint around a teensy broken arm, and the child quits crying.  I give the glucagon shot and the patient wakes up. I respond to a house fire and join in the beauty of all of us working together like a well-oiled machine. We not only save the house, we rescue the family cat – and the smile of the little girl holding her singed-but-squalling kitty is, you see, the answer to the question.

                Maybe twenty years isn’t quite enough yet.  

*Art by Tsoi (Coxinha)

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Late August at the Lake

August, don’t leave us yet!
It is true that I normally don’t feel that way about this month, but the weather has been kind to us this year, with beautiful sun-soaked afternoons and crisp evenings where the tip of the moon in a boundless pink sky makes you want to live forever.
And so, August has that bittersweet feel to me right now, that sense of wanting to cling to something as mutable as heat lightning, or the rush of creek water through grasping fingers.
Don’t go, don’t go.

But isn’t most of life this way?

Late afternoon, and my daughter and I drive to the lake for the first time – yes, probably the only time – this summer. So much of our lives, so many of our memories, are caught up in here in the sun-dappled water, and when I jump in it all washes over me in a rush. A thousand days, a million moments, every summer I’ve ever lived - here in the whoosh of water, the cool green depths.
Don’t go, don’t go.
If you’re lucky, raising children gives you a sort of second childhood, so that their “When we were little” meshes almost seamlessly with your own. So much of ours was spent here at the lake. So much made up of sand castles, the raft, sun-brown bodies tumbling in diamond water. Summer air so thick it was like breathing jello through a straw, and a pop machine that never worked.
We loved it here.
My kids are grown up now! My daughter, here with me today, is a brilliant, lovely college student. I remember holding her the first time and having this very same awareness of time hurrying on, rushing forward, pushing us onward. I thought then, and I think now – this moment, this here and now, will never be again.
But I think it is true that the best moments in our lives, the ones that we cling to the hardest, get stored away somewhere. I think of God keeping a careful tally and stashing those days away in a big boxes with names on the lids. And wow, when you get to open it, there it all will be – the first kiss, the tiny baby, the trillions of sweet and breathless life moments that skitter away faster than you can catch them.
This day, here. Late August at the lake.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Summer Slowdown: How to Savor the Season

How is it that the choicest moments in life – the best of the best – are always and inevitably accompanied by the wail, “It’s going so fast!”? Kids shooting up, growing out of dance tutus and baseball cleats. Lilacs blooming sweet and purple, gone in a flash.  Waxing moon turns fat and golden, starts to wane and another month is gone.

July near over already! Frogs in full song and lightning bugs hovering over foxtail tips. Lake water beginning finally to warm, sand hot beneath bare feet. Summer hurrying, hurrying, moving past us almost before we know it is here. 

Impossible to keep it, but there are, I think, ways to slow the forward motion. Rum works. No, don’t laugh, I am completely serious. Malibu and Coke, a wedge of lime, plenty of ice – sip slowly. Ah, the drink of pirates, I can practically see Jack Sparrow dancing on the white sand. Don’t drink this inside, though – get out beneath the stars - lakeside, back porch, next to a bonfire. Perfect, you’ve got summer in an eight ounce glass.

Or this –  sprawl on the porch swing with a good book and and read read read while the lovely lemony sun rays bathe you from head to toe. Read exactly whatever you want to read, gooey romances or outlandish Victorian vampires or Russian spy novels. Plenty of time for literary snobbishness this winter. Summer is a time to indulge.

What about an ice cream cone every time the Tastee Freeze changes their special? If you skip lunch you don’t have to worry about your swimsuit.  (Which you should be living in – it is summer, after all, why aren’t you swimming?)

Crank the windows on your way home from work and drive barefooted with your sunglasses perched on your nose. Black Crowes playing on the radio at a teeth-rattling volume.

Hit the beer gardens, the county fairs, the farmer’s markets. Take your fishing pole to the canal in the evening, when the sun is just pinking over the water.

Most of all, take it all in – the lady bugs, the freshly-mown hay, scent of coconut lotion and cucumbers, taste of watermelon and sweet tea. Gorgeous, glorious, perfect time of year – we won’t gripe about the heat until at least August. 

~ Comment below and share how you savor summertime. :) ~

*Art by Paul Meijering 

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Cookie Days

Start with butter. Real butter if we’ve got it – otherwise, Country Crock works, twelve tablespoons for a monster batch. Each child gets to scoop the butter, so pull up chairs to stand on.

Sugar and brown sugar and . . .oh wow, no eggs.

Add a trip to the grocery. All of us in the station wagon - muffler is shot, and the front window stuck open; backseat smells like sour milk. And we love, love this old car. It’s like family.

Get your shoes on or you can’t go in!
Small town grocery. We can pay with piggy bank change, or even charge if we have to. Add four orange sodas to the bill. And a catnip mouse for the kitty, why not?

Home again, and the cat has his face in the mixing bowl, whiskers sticky. Add laughter here, lots of it. No sense getting mad on cookie day.

Okay, start over. Butter, sugars and everyone here crack an egg, we can put in enough flour to make it right.

Wait, we need music!
Add Jimmy Buffet, it’s summertime.
Vanilla – no don’t drink it! Just drop some in. Yep, that was plenty, don’t worry, it tastes good.

 Looking for my last shaker of salt. Dancing? Oldest child with the youngest on her hip. Middle child balances GI Joe on the edge of the bowl and then lets him flop in.

Add salt, baking soda. Rescue Joe and douse him under the faucet.

Nestles chips, the best part! Stir the dough and pretend not to notice the little fingers pinching at it, chocolate at the corners of Cheshire grins; we’ll all have belly aches and we don’t care.

Plop the dough on the cookie sheet by the spoonful and fill the whole house with wondrous scent of baking chocolate.

Sweet tooths and healthy appetites, and friends stopping by for a sleep-over.

Cookies gone by tomorrow, memories ours for a lifetime.

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Nicola Writes: "Dark Anniversaries"

Most EMS personnel have been on that call. The call that becomes, over time, a sort of dark anniversary, a still moment in time when we are forced to acknowledge the certain inevitability of death and our own inability to stave it off. My main character, Nicola Thomas, stepped forward this week to blog about one such call. I almost put the kibosh to it, given that it is pretty . . . well, dark. But then she pulled off a beautiful save in the last couple of paragraphs and I decided that maybe the viewpoint of one who had stood so close to death might actually be valuable as far as helping the rest of us to better live. Let me know what you think. I can always fire her.

The last curve ­­­on Kittideere Road is a broad hook, shaded by the arthritic arms of oaks and elms and scented, in the summertime, with the heady stink of joe pye weed. By July, the undergrowth at the roadside will be impassable, tangled with morning glory and maypop, and latticing over the little white cross - finally covering it in vines and blossoms and making it far more palatable.

Are roadside memorials unnerving only to EMS and fire personnel, or do they inspire a universal sort of flinching?

The Kittideere cross commemorates a truck vs tree, victim twenty years old and breathing his last on my nephew’s birthday. I arrived on the scene with the dazzle of three candles still in my eyes and had to blink against the white-hot glare of August sun before pushing my sunglasses into place.  Our patient was part way down a ravine, still in his truck and wearing a tree – the branches encroaching through the shattered windshield to pin him hopelessly, resolutely, against the seat, the cab squashed and flattened all around him.

He was alive, but he had plenty of fluid in his airway, and the irregular gurgling sounds were harsh against an innocuous backdrop of honey bee drone and bird chatter. Cantwell had already wormed his way into the cab and the final remnants of the birthday song faded from my mind as he began suction and Burwell started the Jaws.

Cutters and Spreaders and Rams – huge hydraulic tools that tear through metal like a toddler’s finger trenching frosting. Almost too heavy for me, but the adrenaline rush is an incredible thing - roars through the brain, steadies the hands – and we went to work.

Our patient’s legs were hopeless – splintered bone showing through torn jeans, blood already pouring from beneath the door and pooling on my boot. The dash was hard against his chest.
“Hurry as you can.” Cantwell’s voice was deceptively calm, encouraging in the way of a man pitching a ball to a child, and I was aware again, for only the fleetest of seconds, of the glorious summer all around us. The simple beauty of emerald leaves against boundless sky.

Then someone said “We’re losing him,” and we abandoned caution, finally snapping the door hinge and ripping our patient free from the glut and snarl of metal and elm tree.
He fell gracelessly to the woodland carpet – ugly tangle of gristle, tissue and bone – and we flopped him on a backboard and ran with him.

Of course he died. He had brown skin and a sunburst tattoo on his biceps. A picture of a little girl in his wallet.

And so, it seems to me that memorials can be a messy proposition, little white crosses maybe representing hopelessness and defeat, blood and loss.

Maybe not.

Because if simple thoughts are prayers – and I believe they sometimes are – then I pray for him each time I see the little cross set catawampus against the roots of the broken elm. This soul - the soul of a man I never knew in life - whispers to me whenever I traverse that familiar road; and it no longer seems like bad thing, this holding hands with that other world. Maybe my prayers for him are answered with his prayers for me, and so it goes, life and death and afterlife all in a continuous whirl. All of us related, all of us hoping and praying for each other, sending encouragement, hope and love across the virtual miles.

That would be a good thing, wouldn’t it? That would make it all worthwhile.   

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Top Ten Silliest Calls for Help

“Fire station,” my partner answers the phone while I groan in my sleep. “No ma’am, we don’t do that. No, the chief’s not here. I’ll pass that on, sorry.”

“Who?” I manage. 

“Lady on the East end. We didn’t pick up her garbage this morning. It’s garbage day and she wants to know why we skipped her.”

“But we don’t . . .oh hell, never mind.” 

Who calls a fire station and why? 

The answer might surprise you, and, to that end – with the help of my wonderful coworkers – I have compiled a Top Ten list of Silliest Calls for Help:

1) Garbage Collecting. It’s not in our scope of practice; it’s odd to us that so many residents believe it to be. In fact, we ourselves often forget to put our own garbage out, and have been known to come flying out the door with a Hefty bag while the truck meanders on past.

2) Pool Maintenance. We can’t fill your new pool with water from our tanker. That water is reserved for fires, and besides it came from the canal and, trust me, you would never, ever want to swim in it. No, we don’t know how to make it clean.

3) If you are the Captain and you want to offer us a cruise . . . We do want to go, we do! But no matter how long we “hold” you never come back.

4) Utilities. Beyond our control! And if you’re ComCast, we can’t add the fancy movie channels. Some of those might be inappropriate anyway. Our trustees are religious and they pay the bills.

5) We’re not always sure what time the post office is closed for lunch.

6) Or what the supper special at the local tavern is.

7) Or why there’s no school today.

8) We’ll be glad to set up the meeting room for the Cub Scouts, but we can’t help you with how many snacks you’ll need to bring.

9) The Chief will get mad at us if we let your children and Dalmatian puppy pose on the truck for a family portrait. You call him.

10) We would love to come and kill the bat fluttering around your kitchen but you’re not even in our district and if somebody here has a heart attack while we’re out there swinging a tennis racket . . . well, that could get ugly.

Which of course brings us to all the millions of good, good reasons to call us! Don’t wait if you have pain or sickness or fire! If your carbon monoxide detector goes off, your life alert beeps or your car door slams on your fingers! We’ve come for dogs in the canal and even cats in trees. We love you! We just can’t do anything about the garbage pick-up.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Dandelions: The Flower of Life

Today’s Facebook question involves choosing a favorite flower. 
 “White roses,” it states, “represent purity and innocence, and are traditionally associated with weddings and new beginnings.”  
Carnations for divine love, Daffodils - unrequited love, larkspurs - fickleness.

Not a fan. 

Why are dandelions not an option?

I mean, here they are already, marching across yards and ditches, alleys and junkyards, shoulder to shoulder, yellow heads tucked against the blustery early May wind. Nature’s fiercest warriors, they know no boundaries, respect no lines, do not discriminate. They are plentiful and free to everyone. 

Has ever a mother accepted a handful of these lovelies from her little one with anything but the utmost exuberance? “Oh my!” we say. “Aren’t they gorgeous?” And then we inhale that sharp fragrance until our noses are yellow with it. 

They are beautiful! I don’t own a single warm weather memory that isn’t dotted with bright yellow, as essential as the blue of the sky itself. Childhood summers were spent weaving their stems into chains, staining our fingertips green. We studied the rudiments of  dandelion wine making, made a wish while scattering the feather seed balls, and chanted “mama had a baby and its head popped off” until the ground was littered with the beheaded beauties. 

Dandelions are forgiving – they come back.

My own children gathered them up by the fistful and set them on the counter in water glasses; and even though the bloom’s demise was immediate, we would keep the wilted stem for days. I have to admit (and I think most women would) that I have received roses with less enthusiasm.

At my aunt’s funeral, my cousin’s final act was to offer a dandelion – she stood for a time with her head bent, sunlight brightening her hair, and then she lay the little flower on the coffin, creating a memory so sharp, so poignant it will be forever linked in my mind with the first green of spring.

Weed, you say? Dandelions are the flowers of life, brave and resilient and absolutely glorious. They represent all that is good - round of face, bright complected. Shouldn’t we all be more like them, planting our feet firmly, squaring our shoulders against the opposition and raising our heads to the sun?

Perhaps a bit overboard, you say? Yes, maybe, but I will make my husband read this before he reaches for the Round Up.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Thing About Easter

Here is the thing about Easter. It’s never been my favorite. Part of me wants to blame the color scheme. It’s so hard to get behind a holiday that is all about pastel fluff – marshmallows and jellies and pink pink pink.

What if we were to color the day in crimson hues? I mean, bright and glorious – that shiny warrior color, blood-red like the sun coming up in a stormy sky?

 Well, that’s better.

The thing about Easter is, I think, that nobody shouts enough. It’s hard to get excited about bunnies and peeps and little rosy colored eggs. Shiny shoes and broad brimmed hats and long, long church services.

Yes, what if we shouted? What if we claimed the victory that is our birthright and sang about a never-ending life?
Maybe we should throw aside the eggs and the bunnies and (maybe) even the chocolate and just be . . . well, shouldn’t we be really happy?

 If the egg scheme is gone, and we are left with only the victory of life over death, then . . .  we should definitely be singing. Lol! Maybe we just need to pay more attention. To examine more closely the words of the dry little fellow on the alter, and then repeat them to one another. Joyfully.

He lives.

Because if Jesus died and then came back - and this we know to be true - that is huge. That is rock star awesome, and that victory should absolutely be vibrating throughout the whole universe.

So maybe this Easter we should pluck happiness out of the sky and hug it to ourselves just as fiercely as we hold our sorrows, our angers, our prejudices. And we could let those things go, because they cost too much anyway. We could dance instead of cowering, we could lift our faces to the sky and inhale sunshine.

And sing, beautiful people, sing hallelujah.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Facebook Empath

*Artwork by Edward Dyas

“My mother died yesterday,” she writes. “She was eighty-seven years old, and I never told her I loved her. But I did.”

The post rears up from six-hundred twenty others and slaps me full in the face, such a sharp surprise I have to blink back tears. Who wrote this? I don’t know her. Her name is Sadie and she’s from Scotland .
My fingers float over the keys, and finally I type, “She knew it.” I hesitate, and then punch delete.
Facebook is such an odd microorganism of life! I almost feel anger at this woman for hurting me this way, and a large part of me wants to tell her that she should have laid the computer aside, just for a minute or so, long enough to say those three words.

What sort of society bares their souls to total strangers on little-bitty screens all day long every day? Are there studies being done somewhere on the long term effects?  Hang on, I need a cup of coffee while I think about this.
Okay, my Facebook may be unique in that, in addition to actual friends, I have crammed it full with authors, bloggers and firefighters from every corner of the globe. In short, people I don’t know.
Which is to say, they don’t know me either.
“Mmm-mmm, fried chicken and okra tonight. Jimmy should be home by six and this girl just wants to put her arms around him.”  They’re from the south. He drives a truck and she’s got three kids at home, one of whom broke his leg last week.  For a minute I can almost smell supper, hear Bandit scratching at the back door and see the first spring flowers.
“Lil girl didn’t make it but Tierra doing better, and God got his loving arms wrapped around that baby.” Chicago . The daughter lost her preemie, but they’ll be okay because they are so, so religious.
“Lost my freakin gloves in the field fire south of town. FML.” Okay, that was a huge fire, saw that on the news. Gloves should be the least of his worries.
“Day twelve without a cigarette!”      “Christian brought home a science project that is going to cost us forty dollars to build a friggin robot. Hate this school system!”      “Watching Chicago Fire with my hunny.”       “No fat shaming!”      “We’ve been pooping wrong! Asians squat on the toilet with their feet on the seat.”     Aaaaargh! The messages fly off the screen, take on accents and nuances, and, sometimes, lose all meaning. Facebook is no place for empathy or patience. Is it?
“I never told her I loved her.” Ah, Sadie, there you are again. I am so sorry.
Maybe Facebook isn’t so different from anywhere else? Maybe everyone is just clamoring to be heard like bus-trapped kids on a field trip – excited, happy, sick or disconsolate? Hear me! Listen to my story!
“I don’t know you, Sadie,” I type. “But I really hate this for you. I think it will get better in time.”
The knot in my chest loosens just a little. 
And I remember, then, that I’ve got a direct line to the Pope on Twitter. I’ll drop a note to him about Sadie.
Click HERE to follow on Twitter.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Little Girl Writes

“I’m so thrilled you wrote a book!” she says to me. “Do you remember how you used to read me your stories every day on the bus?”
Actually, I had forgotten. But suddenly it seems important.
“You always had a notebook in your hand, and you left spaces in between the lines in case you wanted to add more.”
She’s known me since childhood, and the rush of her enthusiasm has brought the little girl back to me whole, tousle-haired and slumped with her knees against the seat in front of her, a pencil eraser propped between her teeth.
I actually love that version of me; thank God she’s still here.
She is, you see, a writer – and I had almost lost her in the throes of trying to become an author.
Writers write. Much the same as “humans breathe.” It is an instinctual response, vital to existence. They write at kitchen tables, in bedrooms, on buses. During blizzards and heat waves, after house fires, before baptisms, during first dates. They can’t help it – they have to get story onto paper. Capture the emotion, freeze frame life. All of it.
Authors. Well, authors publish. They network, promote, sign books. They hire professional photographers to snap their photo and publishers to place it just so on the back of their novel cover. Authors edit mercilessly the writer’s dream words and then they join critique groups who help them to slice away even more. In a nutshell, authors boil the craft of writing into business, which is all well and good, and absolutely essential.
As long as the author doesn’t bury the writer.
Because the writer is susceptible to crushing injuries, and tends to crack beneath the weight of the author’s demands. Remember, she doesn’t write for money or recognition. She writes because she loves her craft - actually not so far removed from the little girl who cried when an incautious sibling left her notebook in the tree house during a thunderstorm.
To my bus buddy, I write on the inside cover of my very first real published novel. Thanks for helping me to remember. <3 Lucy Crowe

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Wait For It

        Rob Thomas’s cover of “Blood and Fire” is nothing short of breathtaking - best listened to on the way to work, when dawn is just the tiniest strip of pink on the horizon. Funny thing about this tune, though – it is not immediately fantastic. It’s live, and the sound quality is poor, the opening measures filled with squawk and back feed. But then, at last, Rob Thomas open his mouth and the notes fall out; I swear to you, the first time I heard this it stopped me in my tracks. That voice flows; it soars. It reaches right into you and snags a piece of your soul, and you know, right then, that you have heard something absolutely lovely.
            You just have to wait for it.
            A birthday, and I’m in the kitchen getting the cake ready. Three candles, or ten, or twenty – doesn’t matter. I light them and carry the cake into the dining room, and watch. There it is, the smile. More spectacular with each passing year, because I can see the little child, first peeking out through the adolescent’s eyes, and then the adult’s - and I realize that essentially nothing changes. This wonderful person is still my child and always will be, and the smile – well, the smile has the power to set my world right.
            I just have to wait for it.   
            There are evenings when I feel as though my soul is bruised. As though nothing I do could ever be good or right; and even though the last patient called us angels I know that her hip is broken and essentially her life is beginning a sharp decline here, today. The best way, of course, to deal with that knowledge is to shove it aside, and by and large, I am successful at that, but sometimes – well, sometimes I feel that it makes me a lesser person to bleed for other people; it costs too much.
So I’m on my way home in this wretched, bad funk, and I just want to choke somebody. But then – wait for it, wait for it – the angle of the setting sun changes and all of this filthy, tiresome March snow is bathed in a perfect lavender light. Norah Jones is singing “The Long Day is Over” on my radio, and a peace – a tranquility so clear and sharp it is nine tenths painful – comes over me and I know that I am going to be okay.
There are moments in our lives of sheer beauty. Quiet moments so quick we can miss them if we’re not looking for them – sweet, evocative notes and birthday candles and twilight shadows on snow.
Wait for it, wait for it.


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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Ah God, You're Killing Me!"

Today’s blog takes us to the fictional location of Mount Bloom Fire Station, where I’m interviewing a handful of my central characters. It occurs to me, belatedly, that these folks often take a backseat to my narcs, Rush and Bobby, so I’m hoping today to rectify that, and to provide my readers with a fuller glimpse of this crew – essentially, who they are and what they do.
            “Most memorable call?” Chief Cotton lounges in the doorway with a coffee mug cradled in his big hand, brown curls on end and a sardonic smile quirking his lips. “Hey guys, c’mere! The nice writer lady wants to know about our most memorable call.”
            “The five kids in the rollover.” Jess Cantwell offers in his unabashed fashion. He is the baby of this bunch, at twenty-two, and the only guy with an earring – big gaudy diamond in his left earlobe. His sandy hair is buzzed short, but he lets a stripe down the middle grow to an inch and a half Mohawk.
            Cotton is frowning at him. “Ugly call,” he says briefly. “Entrapment, sleet, Life Flight couldn’t get to us. We did what we could do.”
            It takes a moment for me to understand there will be no further embellishment, and in that time, Cantwell has moved off to the doorway, where he lights a Marlboro and lets the smoke drift up around his face.
“Downtown fire,” Allen Burwell speaks into the quiet. “Coupla’ kids lit up the old Laundromat. Connected roofs downtown, shared basements, hard wind out of the north.”
“Ten freakin’ degrees below zero,” Cotton elaborates. “Pump froze up, street was a skating rink. Quill broke his ankle.”
“We were frozen in our gear,” Cantwell says. “Like icemen. We couldn’t unbuckle. The newspaper man took pictures of us.”  He holds his arms out stiffly and laughs. “I frostbit two fingers.”
“We lost three buildings.” Burwell runs a hand over the bald dome of his head. “Finally brought a bulldozer in and took out the fourth. Stopped it right there.”
“My ex lived in the upstairs of the building we took out,” Cotton chuckles. “Which pretty much put a cap on the whole mess.”
Nic Thomas wanders in from living quarters with a coffee and a bag of Oreos clutched to her chest. Mount Bloom ’s only female, she is short, and blonde and sturdy in the way of a small athlete. “What about the time me and Jess dropped Albert Logan?”
“Criminy, Thomas, confidentiality.” Cotton pokes her with an index finger, snatches the cookies and scowls at me. “You didn’t hear that name.”
Nic is undaunted. “Grouchiest patient ever,” she says around a mouthful of cream filling. “Frequent flier. He could never talk to us, not one word. Hated the hell out of us. The wife always called, and we’d load him up, not knowing if it was chest pain, stomach, whatever. All the way to Sorrows, we get nothing, not a word.”
“So one day,” Cantwell picks up the thread. “We get a call just like all the others, but when we pull the cot out of the rig at the hospital, it gives. Just freakin’ collapses, and Albert’s on the ground. Thumped the piss out of him.”
“He spoke!” Nic is laughing now. “He said, ‘Ah God, you’re killing me!’ That was it. Never heard him speak again.”
“Dead now anyhow,” Burwell says, and his bright eyes settle on Nic for a moment.

       “I cried when I heard,” she sighs. “I don’t know why. I didn’t like him.” 
      “Her and Quill had a good call last week,” Cotton rallies. “Big guy, full arrest. I’ll never know how they got him into the rig, must’ve weighed four-fifty. He’s still alive. Got him in ICU, but he’s not gone yet.”       
      “It was a nice save,” Burwell acknowledges, and Nic grins.
     “The little boy who fell through the ice,” Cantwell pitches his cigarette outside, and the group grimaces as one.
“Jesus, enough gloom and doom,” Cotton says. “That’s it. We gotta’ do rig checks.”
They are gone – trailing laughter and Folgers scent behind them into the bay - while Cotton’s order is still resonating. 
 I love these guys. 

~Get to know Cotton, Cantwell, Thomas, Burwell and Quill in Lucy's first full length novel, Sugar Man's Daughter.  Available at ~

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Speed of the World

 The circumference of the Earth at the equator is 25,000 miles. The Earth rotates in about 24 hours. Therefore, if you were to hang above the surface of the Earth at the equator without moving, you would see 25,000 miles pass by in 24 hours, at a speed of 25000/24 or just over 1000 miles per hour.
"A Helping Hand" by Juli Cady Ryan
Lol, yes! This is exactly how we feel most days, barely hanging on while the world whizzes around. As though we are on a speed track, moving in ever-increasing fast-forward with each new morning. Never enough time for anything!
Okay, but specifically, where are we going and why so fast?
I think it’s a national problem, but we are so close to it, we fail to see it. Fast food, quick reads, instant messaging. We need it all now - or not at all - and the result is . . .  well, something less than pretty. We are exhausted and obese. We are depressed. And the list of what we don’t have time for is endless. Religion. Family. Aimless chatter. A good book.
And conversely – adding insult to injury - this very deprivation has resulted in the wretched propagation of “me time.”  People, it is everywhere. Our souls are seeped in it. How to make “me time”, what to do with it, how to utilize it, hug it close and keep it keep it keep it to ourselves. We are told continuously that we need to exercise, soul search, beautify ourselves.
Okay, we do, there’s no denying this. But the answer is probably not found in the mirror. The advocacy of “me time” has resulted in an indifferent nation. Coupled with a hurried attitude, it’s disastrous.
Small thought, but, I hope, important. Could we not feed our souls, and indeed, better ourselves, by, first, slowing down, and then, perhaps . . . looking outside ourselves?
What if, somewhere in our sixty to seventy-two hour work week, we made time to shovel the neighbor’s drive? Do homework with our kids instead of telling ourselves that they are better served by learning to do it themselves? What if, at the end of the day, we talked to our spouses? Could we gain more satisfaction than what we find at the bottom of the “me” barrel?  We need more empathy, more humor, more philanthropy.
We need more time, but we also need to recognize the gift in each day.
Ah God, is this preachy? I try to avoid that. But I’m in the same boat as everyone I know. I’m TIRED. I’m dieting. Sometimes at the end of the day I am just angry that I didn’t have time to sit down and read even for half an hour.
So, no wizard here, and I’m afraid, no real answers. But I think when I get off work tonight – whether on time or even into overtime – I’m going to actually look at and  talk to the people I love.
            It’s a start!     

Monday, February 10, 2014

Anatomy of a Bad Man

 “You gonna cut down a tree that size, you better be sure you bring a very big saw.” 

 He tips his head to one side and pins the camera with an emotionless stare, eyes like a cobra's fixed on a bunny. His voice? Pitch perfect, mellow as butterscotch schnapps. He has the smooth inflection of a Baptist preacher, utterly mesmerizing. A cruel mouth and a chilling intensity running just beneath the surface of his cool.
I give you Boyd Crowder. Whether he’s preaching the Good News or elbow deep in his latest massacre, we love him.

Who watches “Justified”? If you don’t, and you have even the teeniest creative bone in your body, I urge you to tune in. Just for Boyd. Here is a bad man the likes of which we haven’t seen since Bruce Dern gunned down John Wayne in front of God and everyone on the Sunday night movies. Except we hated Bruce. It was clear that we should – after all, he was The Bad Man.
            Boyd Crowder smudges those lines, and as a writer I find this feat most intriguing - not to mention well nigh impossible. Boyd came to us, of course, through the impeccable writing skills of the late Elmore Leonard, and has only been enhanced by the talents of Walton Goggins, who brings him to life on the screen - six feet of rangy height and hair-on-end.  Is that insanity in those cold eyes? Most likely.

            What’s to like? It may just be the voice. I am a sucker for a beautiful accent, and Boyd’s lovely southern tenor is to die for. But I think it’s more than that. The writers have taken great care to keep us, the viewers, invested in the life of this character. This is to say that they have gone to a good deal of trouble to make him a full-fledged, three-dimensional human being.
            Nobody did that for Bruce Dern, and I’m sure it makes all the difference.

             We have trailed Boyd now through four seasons, marking his progression from white supremacist to Born Again and finally to all out bad-ass. We’ve watched him gain and lose fortunes, find and discard religion and maybe even fall in love. Through it all, we have come to know him - and yes, even to like him – and I have come to believe that a shared humanity is the best possible feature a writer can bestow upon a bad man. The lesson, I think, is to make The Bad Man a Real Person. And real people suffer all sorts of real woes, from financial ruin to failed love; these tragedies allow us to bond with The Bad Man and even to sympathize with him.

            Not to mention, of course, if you make your Bad Man as cool as Boyd, everybody across the board is going to love him.
Even if he is rotten to the core.


Related Post and Video:  Tips on Character Development (video featuring clips from "To Kill a Mockingbird")

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