Friday, January 30, 2015


I almost got paid to tutor a girl from Switzerland. Appears to be a scam. If so, I almost lost a couple of thousand dollars to the scammer.

Three weeks ago, I got an inquiry from my ad that offers my services as a tutor for college and high school math and physics. The writer claimed he wanted me to teach his sixteen-year-old daughter some algebra and geometry during her three-week visit to the USA from Switzerland. We would do twelve one-hour sessions, total cost being $300 plus the books.

While that would be a short time for two big subjects, I could give her the highlights and help answer her questions, presumably satisfying her parents’ desire that she do something educational while here. Her English was said to be good and she herself “bright” and “cooperative.” They hoped I was a “good Christian,” would support moral values, and I assured them the daughter would be safe with me, and their “nanny” could be present throughout. Seemed a little odd, but parents can be paranoids.

I was to be paid in advance. His “agent” in the US was to send me somewhat more than the $300, and I would deposit the check and later, when the daughter arrived, give her or the nanny the excess.

More correspondence ensued, and I arranged to have a public room at the local Chamber of Commerce in which to tutor.

Two days ago, the check arrived, drawn on the Sun National Bank by PCL Repacking Corp of Vineland, NJ. I checked them out cursorily, and they have been in business since 1999. Could not find their phone number, however. The check was for $2330 and signed by Jane Russell, likely not the movie star of bygone years.  This was $2000 more than my fee and costs, the extra to be given to daughter or nanny when they arrived in a few weeks.

The excess money was more than I expected, so I had my bank check with Sun National Bank before depositing the check to my account. They were advised by Sun not to honor the check, no further explanation offered.

I immediately wrote back to the “father,” through the email address, the only one he supplied despite my requests for his personal one, and told him what had happened and that his daughter would have to pay in cash before the tutoring sessions would begin. I assumed it was a scam by this point, but wanted to be courteous, in case I was wrong. No reply has been received in two days.

I presume that the way I was going to be cheated was to have the plans suddenly change and have some or all of the money requested to be “returned” to the scammer, from my account, before it became clear that the original check had been worthless. This could have happened if I had not checked with my own bank before depositing the check. [Adage: "You cannot cheat an honest man."]

Cash is king. A check is not cash. Beware

P.S. It has been a week: silence from the scammer, as you might expect. Today I saw a notice in the bank from the FBI warning of frauds using the Internet, and several features were present: masked email address, large over-payment, check on US entity different from the apparent affiliation of the purchaser, overnight delivery of check.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Early Years, from Memoir KIDNAPPED TWICE


In the summers at the Lake, my job every evening was to pick up all the papers that the swimmers had left behind. Grandpa made me a stick with nails on the bottom for me to use, and I had a bucket to put the trash in. I loved doing this every day. After that, my cousin Linda Mae and I would crawl under the snack bar porch, which had spaces between boards…when people dropped their change, it would sometimes fall under the porch, where we would collect it.

At just the right time in early evening, I would sit on the swing and watch the sunlight sparkle on the Lake. I loved that beautiful time back then, and I still love seeing that sparkle even now. I think the memory of that time is why I love sparkling objects so much. Those were such wonderful years in my life. I often think that the Lord gave me those early years so that I would be able to get through the ones that were to come.

My cousin Linda Mae will be shocked when she reads what happened after my father married Ann. I never told Linda Mae, but I missed her so much, as I didn’t get to see her a lot after our move to the new house. Her mother and Ann would talk every once in a while, so I never told Linda Mae anything, for fear that she would share it with her mother who might in turn tell Ann.


Memorial Day weekend was always a happy time when I was with my grandmother and grandfather. Almost all the people who rented cottages would come up for that weekend. I would get to see all of my friends. When we moved to our cottage for the summer, I got to sleep in a screened-in porch. I loved sleeping in the porch, as there was a big maple tree right in front. There was always a breeze, and the leaves would be rustling, which became one of the favorite things in my life. In fact, almost all of my favorite things were acquired from that time of my life. Only certain of the wildlife came after that.

I often wonder how my grandparents’ children grew up in that wonderful place without loving it. I know my Aunt Jennie loved it, but not the others. Maybe they all needed some tough love. Maybe a kidnapping or a lot of beatings and hurtful words thrown their way in their childhoods would have made a difference. Maybe they needed to know what it is like to live in fear every day. They lost the entire Lake property, which angers me and my cousin. We both miss it.

It is interesting that two of my Aunt Jennie’s daughters built houses by the Lake. They are on the other side of the Lake from us. My father bought a house by the Lake, one road up. Both my cousin and I wish we had.


Then came Ann!

I must have been five or six years old when my father started dating this woman, Ann, who had a son, Norman, who was approximately a year younger than I was. Ann was about 6 feet tall, with a solid build, and fairly attractive. As time went on– considering the unpleasant trio of her son, her mother, and herself– knew I was in big trouble. When my father asked me if I was OK with his marrying her, I said, “Please, no!”

They got married despite my wishes, and they built a house in a small town in New York.

The first thing my stepmother, Ann, did after we moved into our Cornwall house was to get rid of my Boxer dog, Buster, my bodyguard. After my father brought me back to New York State, Buster and I had been together 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I’m sure that Ann knew that she could never do to me the things she had in mind if I had Buster at my side.

The second thing Ann arranged to do was to cut my long blonde hair off. Before this, my grandmother would make spiral curls with my long hair. I cried a long time over Ann’s having cut my hair.

I often wondered where my father had met Ann. I can’t think that it was anywhere but a bar! Looking back, knowing my father’s third wife, Anita, I cannot think of one thing that Ann and Anita had in common. Anita is a very kind, loving person.

One of the most humiliating things Ann made me do was to take baths with her son. Norman was only one year younger than I was. It was very embarrassing, and I also walked around every day worried about whether I could become pregnant just from taking baths with this boy. Finally, I asked the school nurse if that could happen. The nurse told me it could not.

The incident (described below) on the school grounds, where Ann punched me several times, had already happened, so the nurse promised me she would never tell anyone about our conversation about my possibly becoming pregnant from taking baths with Ann’s son. The nurse kept her word.

These ugly incidents happened in one form or another day after day, so it would be redundant to tell about all of them.

Daily, Ann would call me terrible names. The problem with being called such names and with being abused in one form or another every day is that it led me to be living my life not thinking well of myself. For example, I had the gift of a fine singing voice, but I was afraid to sing in front of people because I thought I was not good enough, and therefore I did not continue. I never thought I was pretty. Because of this daily abuse, even if I had been Miss America, I still would not have believed that I was pretty.

This is where I want to express my opinion on abuse. When I hear the experts say that an abused child will in most cases then become an abuser, I reject that. Having been abused, I found it quite easy not to abuse my son. Why would I want my child to feel what I had felt? Why would parents want to hurt their own children or any child?

Having had a drinker for a father, I also do not want to become an alcoholic or drink at all! Why would I want to become a drinker and make that my legacy for my son and grandchildren?

We keep the circle of abuse going from each generation to the next. We must stop, rather than continue making excuses. And that’s what they are: excuses, not reasons.

Let’s not leave out the animals. People who abuse animals are toxic and evil people also!


We are serializing KIDNAPPED TWICE by Mary E. Seaman and me. This memoir shows how the abuse of Mary as a child warped the rest of her life. She has only recently made significant progress in overcoming it. The book is available through Amazon and other on-line retailers and from its publisher, Outskirts Press.

My writing-coaching-editing site is

"New Beginnings," Ch. 15, Memoir BUT...AT WHAT COST


Randy graduated from a General Studies program which was heavy in history and business. It prepared him for nothing, career-wise, so upon graduation he lived at home and drove delivery trucks and worked in construction to earn money.

At some point while working in construction, he started complaining about severe pain in his wrists and knees and a litany of other seemingly unrelated symptoms. I knew the pain must be really bad because this kid had played basketball on a sprained ankle the size of a stove-pipe. Thinking his maladies were work-related, he went to an orthopedist first and had water drained from his knee. At this point, I must applaud all the doctors he saw; upon learning he had no health insurance, the doctors did everything they could to keep the expenses down – even to the point of not charging him for visits.

Within two weeks of the initial symptoms he couldn’t drive. In fact, his fingers were so swollen he couldn’t even hold a toothbrush. He was so debilitated and in so much pain, he couldn’t work at all. He couldn’t do anything but lie in bed.

After hearing the extent of Rand’s complaints, the orthopedist recommended he see a rheumatologist. I started calling around but could not get an appointment for weeks. Finally, I freaked out and told the next office I called, “You don’t understand, he’s twenty-four, an athlete, walks like a ninety-year-old, and can’t hold a fork!” We got an appointment for the next day. He was diagnosed with Reiter’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that is usually self-limiting, but can cause permanent damage to joints, eyes, and heart. Randy was very brave, but I was distraught when not in his presence. When word started to get around, we were asked every day how he was doing. Ashley’s answer was usually, “Well, Randy is doing okay, but his mother might not make it.” Ash was right. Randy never complained or gave in to the pain. All he asked for was a puppy to keep him company and for us to split the wood into smaller pieces so he could lift them and feed the stoves while we weren’t home. He insisted I keep working and not worry about his having to fend for himself. I obliged on all counts except the worrying part.

He named the dog “LT” after his favorite N.Y. Giant football player, Lawrence Taylor. LT was very possibly the most destructive dog we ever had – just like his namesake the all-star linebacker. The dog was a menace. I had to replace nearly my entire shoe wardrobe, and my diaphragm which he somehow managed to remove from a suitcase, remove from its case, and eat. He served a good purpose, though. He kept Randy going.

Heavy-duty anti-inflammatories were the only treatment, and they did help reduce the pain and swelling, but he was not himself for almost six months. Reasonably, he sought a less physically demanding job, and got one selling insurance and investment plans. Rand always had been a fast and convincing talker; he would have done well as a lawyer, or perhaps, a used-car salesman. After a few months of doing that, however, he proclaimed it was not for him, “I don’t feel right talking people into buying something they don’t need.” Hooray for him!

Soon he decided – mostly due to his diagnosis – to go back to school to become a teacher. He figured he could probably teach even if he had rheumatic flares.

It was a great decision. What better thing for a natural-born salesman to sell than information? He got his Master’s Degree in Education and was hired to teach social studies and government at his high school alma mater where he still teaches today. I hesitate to deem many jobs a “calling,” but in his case, I think it was.

In 1986, before Randy had settled on teaching, he had started dating Sue, the woman he would marry. They’d known each other from high school, but not well, because she was two years behind him. They seemed an ideal match to me. Sue had her feet firmly on the ground – a good complement to Rand’s wilder side. She had a year left to receive her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. Smart, pretty, funny, and practical – what more could I want in a wife for my son and a mother for my grandchildren? Besides, I’m sure Sue was instrumental in getting Rand back on track and into his “calling” after his illness.

They married in 1990. He was a teacher, she a nurse. They were on their way – Mr. and Mrs. Middle America.


Upon graduation from college in 1988, Beth headed straight for New York City and a job at a medical publications company. A biology major and always a terrific writer, she had formulated her plan fairly early on, and followed it. She left country-life behind and became a full-fledged city girl.

I remember her saying about her house-mates in college, “Mom, these girls don’t know how to do anything.” She was the “go to” person to fix everything that went wrong in the house because, of course, coming whence she came, she was more than capable. I was proud.

The way I saw it: Beth had the world by the tail; she was prepared to face any challenge and excel. I loved watching her become a very stylish metropolitan type… who was still willing to use a screwdriver.

Within three months of graduating, she had a good job in her chosen career, was taking Master‘s-level courses in medical journalism and was sharing an apartment with other young professionals in NYC. No grass grew under this girl’s feet.

In 1989, Beth met Mr. Right. Andrew was from Belize, lived in Brooklyn with his family, and worked for IBM in the Wall Street district. I’m tempted to say it was love at first sight. The first sighting came from across a crowded bar-room, but apparently, that sighting was enough. They clicked immediately. Only weeks later, I was invited to meet him and his father for drinks at the South Street Seaport.

I was excited because Beth was clearly smitten. From everything I’d heard, I thought Andrew was probably the one! Though Beth was relatively inexperienced with men, I trusted her instincts, and I was right to trust them. Andrew is a gem.

Race, of course, had to come up in our first conversation. None of us was na├»ve enough to think “race doesn’t matter.” It didn’t matter to any of us, but we didn’t think we were typical of the masses either. Beth had told Andrew about “my drummer,” Rod – who, coincidentally, has the same last name they have. That was a good ice-breaker. Their knowing about him removed any elephant that might have been in the room, because they knew I had ventured into the world of interracial dating before.

When Andrew’s father left, I climbed the first molehill. At the time, the argument in politically-correct circles was about what to call people of color (another contrived term I hate to use, by the way), so I asked Andrew which he preferred being called, “black” or “African-American?” He said, “I prefer being called Andrew.” I was in love too! He went on to say he was from Belize and grew up here, so Africa didn’t really have anything to do with who he was.

We made it through the problem of Nana (94 at the time) perhaps using the “N-word” with no intended malice. “Well, that’s when she grew up,” he said. Could this man be any better? Not from my perspective. We didn’t talk politics, but his attitudes seemed to be very similar to mine when it came to matters of race.

Both my chicks had flown the coop. They were coupled and on their own with their life-partners. I had never had a mother-in-law to deal with, but the age-old tales of trouble convinced me it was best to butt-out under any and all circumstances, so I did. If I wasn’t asked, and sometimes even when I was, I kept my mouth shut, or at least, tried to.

We are serializing Judy Axtell's memoir, BUT...AT WHAT COST, available from on-line retailers like Amazon and from its publisher Outskirts Press. It is the story of her transition from young liberal to mature conservative. I am proud to have edited it.
My writing-coaching-editing site is

Sunday, January 18, 2015

From Introduction to Sharon Lane's Memoir, THE TEARS FROM MY SOUL

….In telling my story, I pray I leave you with hope, faith, and belief. I want you to learn from my experiences. It would have been easy for me to blame my parents and my teachers for how I turned out. I followed the wrong friends and got into trouble, but as you will see in my story, I was able to turn my life around with the right help for many people. Otherwise I would have been dead by now.

After being betrayed by those who I trusted as a child, it took many years for me to understand people. I struggled with serious anxiety, depression, fear, anger, resentment, distrust, low self-esteem – not to mention mental, physical, and sexual abuse; the inability to hold down a job, lack of comprehension, and lack of confidence. I began seeking out doctors and other professionals to help me deal with my issues, which involved taking medications. However, finding the Lord provided me the opportunity to be a winner. After I began loving the Lord and crying out to him, I finally made up my mind to no longer allow my past to have a strong hold over me. I realized there is only one doctor, and He lives in all of us. As of today, I do not take any medications.

Despite it all, I overcame my challenges and circumstances and declared not to allow my circumstances to define me. God turned my life around from being a stripper for so many years to becoming a responsible member in my church and community….

So, when you're going through some of what I went through, know that there is help for you. Begin by seeking the goodness of God. If you knock, the door shall be opened. If you ask, and I mean truly ask in His name, your prayer shall be rewarded….

Sharon Lane's inspiring memoir is available in paperback and ebook formats from, among others, Amazon.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Part 1, Childhood, from Memoir KIDNAPPED TWICE


I had been thinking about trying to make a record of my life for my son, as he has no idea what his mother’s life was like. Then, I thought, “No. It is done. Maybe it is best left untold.” But here I am, decades later, writing down as much as I can remember.

My first memory of life was of standing in my crib, waiting for my paternal grandmother to get me. Her name was Mary Jane, but to me she was “Grandma.” My grandfather, Fred; my father, Maynard; Grandma; and I lived in what was called “the big house.” It was a wonderful place.

There was a dairy barn with milking cows, and a lake with approximately 50 cottages that were rented out every summer, mostly to families from New York City.

There was a beach for swimming, with boats for fishing, a snack stand, and a restaurant.

Everyone worked hard. I was a little girl, with people who gave me the love we all seek in our lives.

My Aunt Jennie went to live at the Lake every summer to help Grandma. I thank God that I had a few idyllic years before hell broke loose.


I remember this blonde woman coming to the big house and sitting with Grandma and me, then asking Grandma if she could take me shopping to buy me a dress.

The woman put me in the back seat of a car, and a man was driving. We just kept driving for what seemed like a very long time. I finally asked them when we would get there and where my daddy was.

The blonde woman pointed to the man who was driving and said, “He is your daddy now.” I was approximately 3½ to 4 years old at this time. I don’t remember anything more about this trip, which ended in Virginia. For the next year, I can only remember eating Rice Krispies and playing with the blonde woman’s makeup.

I’m sure that my grandmother suffered for many years after this for letting me go with the woman that I would later understand was my mother.


Back in New York, my family was hiring a well-known lawyer to set up a bond for my father to enable him to kidnap me back, the bond needed in case he got caught.

By this time, I had become comfortable with my mother and her new husband.

My father came to visit in Virginia about a year after the initial kidnapping. He grabbed me and ran out to a waiting taxicab and threw me onto the back seat. My mother was screaming, and her husband had gotten to the taxi just as my father was yelling to the taxi driver to drive away. I was trying to get out of the cab, and my father was holding me back by the seat of my pants. My mother’s husband tried to open the door, and my father punched him, making him fall back into a muddy puddle. The taxi driver took off, and we were on the run.

The trip back to New York was very scary, as my father was afraid he would get caught. I did not understand what was happening, but I remember being confused and very scared.

Gradually life became good again. I got up with Grandpa to milk the cows, then went to the rowboats to scrape and paint them in the spring, and then we moved down to the lake-side bungalow for the summer. I was a happy little girl.

My father gave me a handsome Boxer soon after my return. Buster became my companion and protector, as he had been trained to be. He was a wonderful dog.


Another thing that I keep remembering was that every Saturday morning my grandmother would roll her wringer washing machine into the dining room by the front door of our big house. I would be sleeping upstairs. From where Grandmother would wash the clothes, she could see the front door, the back door, and the stairs. When I think about how inconvenient that was for her, I realize that she must have been making sure that no one ever took me away again! My poor grandmother must have gone through much, much fear for me after my mother, Elaine, had taken me.

Every time I was asked to sing for an event, my father would tell me that I was going to turn out to be just like my mother. He told me that my mother had left me to become a singer. When I think about that, I wonder why he didn’t say she left us, not just me.

I find that some days while writing this down, I can do so in a matter-of-fact fashion, but on other days I have to stop, to keep from crying.

We are serializing our memoir Kidnapped Twice: Then Betrayed and Abused, by Mary E. Seaman and Douglas Winslow Cooper. It is available through on-line booksellers like Amazon, as well as from its publisher, Outskirts Press.
My writing-editing-coaching site is

"Trials of an Empty Nest," Ch. 14, BUT...AT WHAT COST

Beth graduated from high school in 1984, so the autumn of that year was the beginning of my life as an empty-nester. Randy was a senior in one of New York State’s best-known party schools (Oneonta) and Beth was a freshman at SUNY Albany. Thank goodness Small World Decorating was still doing well.

We were busy, but not so busy I didn’t miss Beth every day. After a lifetime of hanging out on the fields and in the gyms of Orange County, I was pretty desperate to watch some games. I even missed being a chauffeur. One might think less laundry would be a welcome change, but it just reminded me she wasn’t home. I had somewhat adjusted to Rand’s not being home, but Beth’s being gone intensified that feeling of loss.

The kids and I had always been the primary wood-movers and fire-tenders. After Randy left, Beth and I had to do it. Ash did the heavy work: the sawing, hauling and splitting. Beth and I stacked the wood in the shed, brought the wood inside and kept the home fires burning. I doubt she has any fond memories of those times, but I do. She was my right arm for the wood chores and most projects I attempted. There’s a lot to be said for sharing misery… and we shared a lot of it! We also did fun things, though. At least I thought they were fun; maybe they weren’t for her. Moms, after all, aren’t as much fun as peers are.

Beth was overweight as a teen, so wasn’t Miss Popularity. She had some “brainiac” friends and friends from sports, but she was shy and often sad. She didn’t flit from event to event, nor date much, nor talk on the phone all the time like most teenagers, but I think she wished she did.

I didn’t know how to help. She’s since said she wished I’d have made her lose weight, but at the time, I was more focused on making her feel good about who she was and what she could do, than how she should look. I had bought into the emphasis on building and preserving a child’s self-esteem. My bad, I guess.

Anyway, Beth didn’t enjoy high school or her home-life. I was very worried. I knew she would succeed academically in college, but I also knew the social adjustment would be hard for her. It was – but only for the first year.

Beth found her first good friend near the end of her first year away, and things started to look up. Linnea took Beth under her wing and built her confidence – something I was never able to do. Beth always could be assertive, but was never socially confident. She was sort of the opposite from me; I was usually confident, but not assertive. Ashley was both – in spades. Randy was both, but not in spades. Interesting.

Linnea and Beth went on a diet together, and that did it. A confident Beth emerged from the chrysalis… and her assertiveness grew to rival her father’s. They locked horns at nearly every meeting – and still do.

Time made my empty-nest syndrome more manageable. I really, really missed having them around, but Intellectually, I knew they were ready to fly. I would not have to worry about these kids. They were successful, highly competent, productive and generally happy adults. BUT, I found it to be very tough not to be needed anymore, and I still do.

Randy still valued my opinion, but Linnea had replaced me as a confidant and advisor to Beth. My little girl, under Linnea’s tutelage, became her own person and (I think) sought to release her inner child from its past. Linnea was a counselor and was present the first time Beth confronted me with hostility. In fact, Linnea initiated the conversation. It is only now, in hindsight, that I have connected Linnea’s counsel with Beth’s behavior changes. I could be completely wrong, but that was the time frame when I started to feel Beth’s hostility. Before that, I hadn’t felt it at all. She was still my “roll with the punches” little girl.

It wasn’t all the time or even most of the time, but there was a definite change in Beth’s demeanor with just about everyone in the family starting somewhere in her junior year of college (I think). As I’ve said many times in many chapters, there are a myriad of influences that can determine any choice one makes, but I think whom one wants to please at any given moment usually influences the choice the most. In Beth’s case, at that moment in time, she wanted to please Linnea.

It is natural and expected for kids to grow up and change their priorities. Moms must be left behind, but damn it’s difficult when you are!

We are serializing Judy Axtell's memoir, But...At What Cost. It is available through on-line booksellers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and its publisher, Outskirts Press. 

I am proud to have coached Judy and edited her book. You are invited to see my writing-coaching-editing site,

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Duke and Duchess," A Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Tess, is this notebook yours or Eddie’s?”

“Mine, Mom.”

“But his name is written across the front. Unless you’ve changed yours to Eduardo.”

“Oh, Mom. I just like the way his name looks.”

“And you like the way he looks, too.”


“I’ve often seen him walking his German Shepherd past our house lately. I don’t remember his doing that a lot before.”

“He likes to take her to the park. In fact, I see him coming up the hill with Duchess right now.”


“That’s his dog’s name. It’s funny. Our German Shepherd was called ‘Duke.’ If he were still alive, they would be Duke and Duchess.”

“I miss Duke, dear.”

“So do I, Mom. Will we get another soon?”

“I’m not quite ready, but I do want another dog, either a German Shepherd or a Golden Retriever.”

Mrs. Williams went back to doing some dusting, thinking about her little girl, who was not so little any more, and who clearly had a crush on Eddie Gomez; he seemed like a good kid.

Outside, Tess yelled, “Hi, Eddie. What’s up?”

“Walking Duchess to the park. Want to come?”

“Yes, I do. I wish our Duke hadn’t died last year. Maybe the two dogs would have been friends.”

“Duke and Duchess.”


“I felt very safe with Duke around,” said Tess, “and so did the rest of the family. He never bit anybody, but he looked like he might if they gave us trouble.”

“Duchess hasn’t bit any people, either, but she has beaten up a few other dogs. She wants to be the boss dog. Some guy let his Pit Bull Terrier loose, and it came after Duchess. They went for each other’s necks, and then Duchess had a better idea: she reached down and grabbed the other dog’s front leg in her mouth, picked it up and wouldn’t let go. The Pit Bull was stuck, couldn’t do anything to her.”

“What happened then?”

“The other owner came and very carefully got his dog back on the leash. His dog‘s leg was bleeding. I haven‘t seen them since.”

“Served them right,” Tess affirmed.

As they walked, Eddie continued to praise his dog. “She’s smart, too. She sleeps in my room most nights, and last week I was just getting to sleep when she banged her water dish with her paw to tell me she wanted more water. I didn’t want to get up, so I just lay there. She used her mouth to pick up her dish– it’s some kind of light metal– and she placed it on my pillow, then licked it to show me it was empty.”

“Wow! That was smart. What did you do?”

“I got up and filled her dish with water. She had earned it.”

Not to be too outdone, Tess said, “Our Duke was smart, too. He would stand close to the front door and bark if he wanted to go on the porch. He would stand about a yard back from the front door and bark if he wanted to go for a walk. If you tried to put him on the porch when he wanted a walk, he wouldn’t go, knowing that once he was on the porch, he couldn’t easily tell us he wanted a walk.”

“Smart dogs!” Eddie agreed. “Good protection, too. Nobody who comes to the door will get past Duchess if she doesn’t know them. Even though my dad’s a cop, my mother doesn’t want guns in the house when he’s not home, so a tough dog, a tough-looking dog anyway, is really good.”

“We feel safer with a dog, too, so we will get another. Duke was a sweetheart, and we miss him. We are almost ready to get a puppy.”

Three months later, the Williams family bought another German Shepherd, a puppy. They named him “King,” outranking a Duke or a Duchess. Eddie laughed when he heard the name applied to that small ball of fur, but he was careful not to laugh about it in front of Tess.


Another of our series of 50 upbeat short stories for young readers.

You are invited to see my writing-editing-coaching site,

"Never Underestimate the Power of the Media," Ch. 13 of BUT...AT WHAT COST

I was often angry at Ashley for his treatment of our kids; not when they were young, but as they grew into their teen years. Then, I had to throw a lot of oil on troubled waters. It seemed I was always trying to explain his absence from important events, and these were successful kids whose lives were full of them. I was the middle-man, forever translating for him or them. They didn’t speak the same language.

I have no idea why he can’t praise them or even say “thank you” to them, but he can’t, or never does. He is the same with me. The closest he can come to giving a compliment to anyone is, “That wasn’t too bad.” I understood this, and when I received a “not too bad,” I accepted it as a raving “fantastic.” They, rightly, expected more, but never got it. He NEVER said “good job” or praised them for anything, but woe to them if they didn’t meet his expectations. Most of the attention they received from him was perceived as negative.

This is not an excuse, but that’s exactly how Ashley was treated by his father. SB didn’t get involved until there was a problem. That was fairly typical back then, and kids accepted it as normal. Ash and his brothers never disrespected their father; in many ways, they admired him. Only through the lens of the new cultural expectations would anyone find fault with SB’s manner of child-rearing, because it was the accepted strategy of the time. Men simply were not involved very much in day-to-day child-rearing responsibilities. Recently, Ash’s eldest brother, Si, recounted some of SB’s traits that caused problems, but many of them, he blamed on his age and circumstances. SB was old enough to be his kids’ grandfather when they were born.

Ashley didn’t watch Donahue or Oprah or read Cosmo. Neither did he give a damn about what other dads were doing. To him, men who changed diapers (unless no one else was going to be around for eight hours) were not real men. I’m not saying he was right; I’m saying he was not at all influenced by the changing child-rearing expectations. I’m not sure he even noticed the changing roles; if he did, he sure didn’t care. The rules he followed were set back in the forties and fifties when he grew up. In that respect, he was SB. If those old rules were good enough for SB, they were good enough for Ashley and his kids.

However, it was not good enough for Ashley’s kids. Their expectations were entirely different. They grew up in a time when men were expected to praise their kids’ every move – whether they deserved the praise or not. What is considered right and wrong during each generation is prescribed largely by the culture. So, I believe, the majority of their clashes were instigated by their wholly different generationally imposed expectations. It was a culture-clash of huge proportions.

Did I recognize this for what it was at the time? Of course not. I had joined the new generation – at least to some degree, so I agreed with the “experts” and my kids. In their minds, and often in mine, Ashley was not a nice guy.

This is sounding more and more like a family counseling session, isn’t it? In a way, it is, I guess. I desperately want my kids to understand the context in which their father and I made our choices. These comments are not to be viewed as excuses; they are merely my take on the myriad of influences that MIGHT have affected our perceptions and theirs.

Had our family not been influenced by the advice-industry and its very judgmental sales pitches, I believe our family would have had a much smoother row to hoe. Left only to their own personally derived perceptions, I think my kids would have developed a much more balanced view of their father, and as a result, would hold many fewer resentments.

When you consider the media input of the late seventies and early eighties, you can begin to see how difficult it was for Randy and Beth to reconcile their feelings about their father. It didn’t matter which era the popular shows represented (Little House on the Prairie, for example), the parents always displayed the modern versions of right and wrong.

If the Pa Ingles character had been written with historical accuracy, I can all but guarantee he would not have been the hands-on dad he appeared to be on the show. Dads just weren’t seriously involved in raising their children back then. They were too busy. In fact, so were most moms. Kids were usually on their own or working the farm. (See “Lending Perspective.”)

Yet, on most television shows, regardless of the era represented, the parents usually followed the then-current cultural expectations for child-rearing and everything else.

Most men by this time had, in fact, learned or were learning, those new rules. They were more involved in their kids’ lives. But not Ashley. He was stuck in the past.

I’ve often thought Ash should have been born in the 1800s – a pioneer at heart, he would have fit in much better then. With his talents and temperament, we would have been the consumers, not the consumed, at Donner Pass.

As I’ve said time and time again, the traits I love and admire most in Ashley are many of the same traits that make him difficult. Our kids didn’t grow up in an era that valued his traits, at all. He was the polar opposite of what was expected in the seventies and eighties – especially by women. In my opinion, that’s what made Beth particularly resentful, and anxious to get away.

Not that Ashley didn’t inspire fear and loathing at times, he did… in all of us. However, those fears and the resulting resentments were exacerbated by the judgments of the “experts” presented by the media. Being exposed to their judgmental gibberish was like being nibbled to death by ducks! They endlessly nit-picked every choice parents and spouses made – and along the way affirmed all of Beth’s fairly ordinary resentments.

Affirmation by an “expert” can be deadly to troubled relationships. Without validation, fear and loathing are responsive to events and usually temporary; with validation, however, these usually grow in importance – especially when the “experts,” needing to validate their own usefulness, continually told us what we should feel and do. In effect, many media advice-givers of that era imposed their values, their opinions of right and wrong, on the public, rather than imparting any real psychological expertise. Via the media, they were the ministers of the new dogma… and most news people, novelists, and screen writers bought into all of it.

Randy and Beth had every reason to be thoroughly angry at Ashley on many occasions. He’s called them and me and a lot of other folks “stupid;” he even called Rand an “asshole” on one occasion.

Do you hear a “but” coming? Yeah, you do. On every occasion that I witnessed, Ashley was correct in his assessment of the situation, but wrong in his delivery of the criticism. One of Ashley’s cognitive deficits is his inability to empathize sufficiently. He’s not a certifiable sociopath or anything; he just doesn’t pay much attention to feelings.

Neither can he correctly judge who is stupid and who is not. If anyone doesn’t know what he knows, he thinks they’re stupid. He has no idea what normal people know and don’t know. That, of course, is why he should edit his speech more, but he doesn’t see it that way. Just as he (might have) refused to truck Connie’s horse, he refuses to collude with his kids or anyone he cares about when he thinks they are making a “stupid” mistake. To him, it is much more important for others to DO the right thing than for him to SAY the right thing. He’ll say anything to make his point, if he thinks his point is important.

I have little doubt that it was largely the cultural beliefs of their era that made our kids judge their father as harshly as they did. It was all about feelings then. “How did that make you feel?”

“Like crap! Like he doesn’t care.” Exactly. Intended or not, that’s how any kid would feel… and then get over it. But the culture didn’t allow them to get over it. The culture validated their belief that he didn’t care, when in fact, he cared a lot. They never got to see that side – the side when he bragged about their achievements or asked me how they were doing. What a shame.

It’s pretty simple, really. The media both help create and maintain the prevalent beliefs of any era, so we, as the consumers, had better be pretty damned certain their opinions are valid and based on ALL the facts in evidence.

The pop psychologists presented by the mainstream media don’t have any facts of any situation in their listeners’ lives, yet they have been prescribing how we should feel for decades. Instead of promoting understanding, their judgments have often promoted misunderstandings which have unnecessarily helped fracture many family relationships. That “inner child” guy was particularly dangerous. I remember a lot of problems he caused in the families of some friends. He was always recommending confrontations between parents and kids, husbands and wives, in-laws… everybody. Granted, some confrontations are desirable to clear the air, but most of them cause more alienation – alienation validated by an expert and everyone else who watched Phil or Oprah. Not helpful.


We are serializing here Judy Axtell's recently published But...At What Cost: A Skeptic's Memoir. It is available through I am proud to have been its editor. You are invited to see also my writing-editing-coaching site,

Monday, January 5, 2015

KIDNAPPED TWICE, Memoir, Back Cover

“The Lovely Shall be Choosers” is the title of a Robert Frost poem that tells of the unhappy life of a woman born beautiful. Kidnapped Twice is a somewhat similar story, a memoir of a woman born both well-off and pretty, whose traumatic early life so shaped what came afterward that only her exceptional strength of character saved her.

Now nearly bankrupt, living on a farm with inadequate heating and shelter, she nonetheless perseveres, doing what needs to be done, enjoying her cats and her wildlife, keeping afloat so far.

If “the unexamined life is not worth living,” then examining where one has been and what one has done can add value even to very disappointing previous years. Such insight gives hope that one’s future can be better than one’s past. Where there is life, there is hope, and where there is hope, there is life.

This memoir is dedicated to those who deeply care about the treatment of the least powerful among us: our children and our pets.




Mary Seaman (her maiden name) grew up in small towns less than a hundred miles north of New York City. After her parents divorced, her mother returned, kidnapped her, hid her down South. A year later, her father kidnapped her back. After a brief period of a pleasantly resumed childhood, Mary was abused repeatedly by her father’s second wife and, to a lesser extent, by her father himself. This memoir describes the challenges she has faced, some of which she has overcome, and her responses to them.


Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., is a retired scientist, author of Ting and I, co-author of The Shield of Gold and Kidnapped Twice, editor of High Shoes and Bloomers and of But…At What Cost, memoirs all.


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KIDNAPPED TWICE: Then Betrayed and Abused is available from the publisher, Outskirts Press, and from
on-line booksellers such as

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"This Middle-Aged Dog Can Learn New Tricks," Ch. 12 of BUT...AT WHAT COST

My grandmother had died in 1982; I was forty; Randy was in college; Beth was a junior in high school; and my parents were clicking along without needing much help. My friend Alice suggested we start a wallpapering business. We had been papering for our families and friends forever, anyway, so it wasn’t much of a leap to start charging for it. We knew we were good enough. Alice was tired of nursing, and my nest was getting pretty empty. We put an ad in the local paper and waited. “Small World Decorating” was open for business.

Our first tool box was a picnic basket, so we weren’t the most professional looking contractors our clients had opened their doors to. But we were “cute.” I think most men found us amusing; women, on the other hand, thought we were brave to give it a go – and spread the word to their friends. We got busy and were having a great time.

Alice and I were born to work together. We didn’t need time to adjust to each other’s work habits; we already worked the same way. It was rare that we didn’t anticipate the other one’s needs. I’d realize I’d forgotten to bring the level up the ladder with me only seconds before it would appear next to my hand. Now, that’s a good work partner!

Other areas of our partnership were not quite as harmonious, however. Being older (sorry, Alice), she had been out in the big, bad, business world for some time; I had not, and was not nearly as assertive, by nature, as she was. She also thought we could do anything if we set our minds to it! Most of the time, we could; but on occasion, she clearly had delusions of grandeur about our abilities. “How hard can it be?” she’d say.

“Well, we don’t have a big enough table. We’ve never worked with this heavy vinyl before. We don’t have a long enough straight edge to double-cut the seams. The suede will stain, and if we screw up, we’ll owe them a fortune.”

“Oh, chill out; we can do it,” she’d say.

Fred, Alice’s husband, had once said, “The word ‘can’t’ isn’t in your vocabulary, is it, Alice?”

You were right, Fred, it isn’t. The clients settled for not paying us. They didn’t charge us for the wall coverings we’d ruined. Thank you, very much! We had already invested in more equipment just to attempt the job. If we’d had to pay for the wall coverings too, we wouldn’t have had enough company money to pay for the gas to our next job.

Funny thing is we’d never laughed so hard. The deeper the s*** we got ourselves into, the harder we laughed – sometimes during, but certainly after the fact!

Probably ninety-five percent of our jobs were uneventful, but those that were not are indelibly etched in our brains and regularly revisited for a laugh.

I heard a quiet “Juuudy, help” from across the room. I turned and water was gushing from a hose dangling from the huge aquarium on the opposite wall. I dove to the floor looking for a clamp that must have come loose. Alice was trying to get out from the eight-inch space behind the tank while stemming the flow from the hose. Alice is 5’2” and weighs 100 pounds, so when we were estimating the job, she assured me she could fit. But, in her haste to fix the problem, she had turned sideways and gotten stuck. There was no visible clamp or shut-off valve, so I took the hose from Al, so she could get unstuck. It’s hard to believe, but she started giggling – and so did I. We were soaked with aquarium water, and our chances of fixing the problem looked grim.

“Is she home?” I whispered between the giggles.

“Yes, I think so,” came her muffled reply. We couldn’t stop laughing, but we were desperately trying to be quiet.

Fortunately, the client didn’t hear us, and we had time to compose ourselves, reattach the offending hose connection, and clean up the mess before she came downstairs. Not everyone would see the humor in that escapade, but Alice did and showed me how to. All you have to do is picture any ridiculous scene as a bystander might and you’re bound to laugh. Think Lucy and Ethel, if you’re old enough.

Working outside the home, especially with Alice, provided many “teachable” moments. She was a mentor, of sorts, but mostly it was the work experience itself that taught me to be more assertive, both with her and our clients. Before then, I could be steam-rolled by just about anyone, because I trusted everyone’s motives to be as honorable as mine were. Live and learn.

I also came to recognize my talents more. I felt really, really good about myself! I always had been a self-reliant, productive person, I think, but the eighties was a decade filled with feminist mantras. Feminists, it seemed, didn’t value my house-bound talents at all; as a result, I didn’t either.

When I started earning my own money, however, I fit their view of the admirable “independent” woman. Instant self-esteem, which begs the question: If it was my acceptance of the feminist dogma that caused the rise in my self-esteem, why did they blame Ashley for my supposed low self-esteem? Doesn’t it make more sense to “blame” cultural and peer pressure for the down side too? I mean, Ashley didn’t put me down for not working. They did. It was not he who changed; it was the culture, and I, it seemed, was adapting to its new rules.

Ash, by the way, didn’t like my working at first, but he came around and ended up being quite supportive. He doesn’t adapt quickly (if at all) to social rule changes. He demands a practical reason for a change in attitude, not, as so often is the case, a reason that is predicated on the beliefs of a politically motivated entity, like the hard-core feminists. Good for him! We should all be that logical and cynical before we accept the dogma of the day.

While I was and am more influenced by cultural and peer demands, as my hard-wiring dictates, Ash is more influenced by his hard-wired dependence on his logical brain. Fortunately for our relationship, my logical brain is visited frequently too, but the difference – or one difference – between our conclusions about anything stems from the incredible amount of knowledge he has to pull from. The man remembers most everything he’s ever read, ever seen, and ever heard, and can and does apply that knowledge to every opinion he holds and every problem he solves. It’s like living with a freakin’ encyclopedia.

That I (and nearly everyone else) will usually show deference to this knowledge is not surprising, but I think it’s this deference that has created some of the eccentricities he brandishes. He doesn’t need to “fit in.” Most people (excepting his children) accept him, or at least, tolerate him, as is. He’s a curiosity.

I have handled numerous phone calls from his clients over the years, and some have been rather startling. One guy, a stranger to me, must have questioned me about Ash for fifteen minutes: Does he always leave without saying goodbye? Yes. I’ve been asking for a bill for two weeks. Do you know how much I owe him? No. Does he always look like that (ripped crotch, uncombed, and unkempt)? Yes.

He went on and on relating Ashley stories while apologizing for his interest. Finally he said, “I’m really sorry, but he’s the smartest, strangest son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever met!” Well, yeah.

On the flip side, Ashley is very generous with his time and talents to worthy recipients. His humor is acerbic, funny, and quick, unless you are the target. Then, it’s hurtful. But I’m relating good stuff now. He’s never petty, except about tattoos and nose rings; he never nags, except about my moving his stuff from the kitchen counter; he seldom nit-picks or complains.

He has a very odd combination of traits, many of which are admirable, and many of which make him very hard to live with – especially if the media are intent on making him the bad guy, and you’re his kid!


We are serializing But at What Cost: A Skeptic's Memoir, written by
Judy Axtell and edited by me, published by Outskirts Press, and available from them and from on-line booksellers like

You are invited to visit my writing-editing-coaching site,

New York City Trip, A Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Dear, Tess would like to go to New York City with Eddie Gomez tomorrow,” Mrs. Williams told her husband.

“Don’t they have school? It’s a Wednesday.”

“No, there’s a teachers’ conference, and the kids have it off.”

“How would they go?”

“Rick would drive them to the train station and pick them up from there when they return.”

“Doesn’t Rick want to go with them?”

“No. Not really. He doesn’t mind driving them, though.”

“How about Tim?”

“He’s not interested, and Tess and Eddie would probably enjoy it more without him.”

“It’s OK with me. Make sure Tess has enough money and brings her cell phone, fully charged. There’s a train that gets in at 9 p.m. I want them on it.” Mr. Williams returned to watching a political discussion program on TV.

Wednesday morning, Tess and Eddie went to the train station, driven by Rick. In standard big-brother fashion, he asked them how much money they had, whether they had their cell phones fully charged, where they were going and a few other questions too boring to relate. Getting satisfactory answers, he waved good-bye as they went into the train station.

The ride along the Hudson River was peaceful and pretty. Tess and Eddie planned to see the United Nations building and Times Square for sure and whatever else they came across.

The train arrived in Grand Central Station at 11:20 a.m. They needed to go less than a mile north and east to get to the U.N. building, on the eastern side of Manhattan Island, by the East River. Simple, right?

“How are we going to figure out which way is north?” Tess asked Eddie, as they left the train, and they found themselves among a crowd of rapidly walking people. The signs in the station identified a dozen different train lines and several exits.

“We know the train was headed south. We’ve just gotten out of the left-hand side, so that’s east. Every time we make a turn, we are going to keep track of the new direction. To get out, we are going to keep taking the up escalators or go up the staircases.”

This was easy to say, not too hard to do. As they walked along the halls and tramped up the stairs to get outside, they kept track: “East, north, west, south…“ they muttered as they turned around and around, then one way and another. When they emerged, they knew which way was north. Actually, because the Manhattan street numbers increase to the north, they would not have been “lost” for long. The avenue numbers increase from east to west. Piece of cake.

In an corner under a stairway, they saw an old woman sitting on a blanket with her possessions in a couple of beat-up plastic shopping bags. Once they passed the woman, Tess said, “She looks like a homeless woman. She needs to do something rather than just sit there.”

Eddie replied, “Yes. She looks like she is pretty messed up, but it is hard to know what to tell her she should do. They say you need to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you should decide you know how they should behave.”

“Fair enough. We really don’t know her story.”

They were amused by the New York dogs. None were loose, and some were on leashes with their likely owners. But they saw one on a leash held by a uniformed doorman, some others in twos and threes and, once, in fours---on leashes held by professional dog walkers. Most amusing was the Pug being pushed in a baby carriage by its owner, an elderly lady!

The U.N. building rises dramatically, seemingly all glass, the structure fronted by scores of flags of member nations on a set of high flag poles.

When they entered, they took a tour and enjoyed listening to the discussions through headphones that allowed them to get the speeches in the speaker’s language or in one of the UN official translation languages, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.

“May Lee would get a kick out of this,” Tess said about her school chum, while she listening briefly to the Chinese translation of a speech being given by a French representative.

“I can understand some of the Spanish,” Eddie bragged, which was not too surprising…this was the language of his grandparents.

On their way back to Grand Central, they went to Times Square, and they had a meal at a Chinese restaurant, then had to hurry to catch the train back home.

They called Rick from the train to assure him that they would indeed be back at 9 p.m. He met them without trouble. The world travelers rode home, excitedly telling Rick about their trip.

As was often the case, Tess’s diary got the story behind the story. Besides writing about the UN, she wrote about the “bag lady” they had seen and about Eddie’s comment about needing to walk a mile in another person’s shoes to understand that person better. Having worn shoes for the trip that were both pretty and rather uncomfortable, Tess confessed to her diary, “I wish I had worn shoes other than those I chose.” If Tess had told Eddie about her sore feet, and if he followed his own advice, he might have been sympathetic. If a diary could sympathize, Tess knew hers would have.


One of our series of 50  mildly instructive short stories for young readers.

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