Monday, May 30, 2016

On Writing Better, Based on ELEMENTS OF STYLE, II

      Bold-faced material is from Strunk and White's classic text, The Elements of Style. I've added some comments of my own [from my Write Your Book with Me.]. 


1. Place yourself in the background.
Unless, of course, you are writing a memoir or autobiography. Even then, try not to brag nor whine.
2. Write in a way that comes naturally.
Write pretty much as you talk.
3. Work from a suitable design.
An outline will help greatly. In a formal piece, your first paragraph should outline the presentation such that each sentence could be a suitable topic sentence for a paragraph in the body of the work that follows.
4. Write with nouns and verbs.
Use specific nouns and descriptive verbs.
5. Revise and rewrite.
You will always find something worth improving; however, don’t let perfectionism cripple you.
6. Do not overwrite.
Avoid grandiosity, flowery words, highly complicated and “literary” sentences.
7. Do not overstate.
Understate, rather than overstate. Suggest, unless you can justly claim. Occasionally, be subtle. Shakespeare wrote, “by indirections find directions out.” Don’t sacrifice clarity, however.
8. Avoid the use of qualifiers.
Specific nouns rarely need adjectives. Apt verbs don’t need adverbs.
9. Do not affect a breezy manner.
10. Use orthodox spelling.
11. Do not explain too much.
While good advice for fiction, much nonfiction does need careful elucidation. Others have advised writers to “show not tell.” My writing partner, Kathleen Blake Shields, does not write that her aunt Lila is a prickly curmudgeon; rather, Kathy gives two anecdotes about Aunt Lila:
Aunt Lila was taken out to a fancy restaurant in our neighborhood. She was served the usual courses: salad, entrée, soup, dessert. She was not wholly pleased, however. She called the waiter over and said to him, "Tell the chef that I make my soup at home just like he made this, but I add only one can of water."
Not-so-lovable Aunt Lila watched the firemen attack with hoses and axes a fire that had started in her house. She was unhappy with their methods. She told the Chief, "You can stop what you're doing now, and I'll save the foundation."
12. Do not construct awkward adverbs.
Don’t be adverbially challenged.
13. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking.
In fiction, the dialogue and attribution (“Jill said“) should make this clear. In nonfiction, your facts and opinions need to be distinguished from those of others.
14. Avoid fancy words.
Eschew sesquipedalianism. Keep your words simple, usually.
15. Do not use dialect unless your ear is good.
16. Be clear.
If “brevity is the soul of wit,” clarity should be the goal of wit.
17. Do not inject opinion.
Editorials and persuasive pieces of various types are allowed to violate this recommendation.
18. Use figures of speech sparingly.
Occasional similes and metaphors spice your prose, but they should not comprise the main course.
19. Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity.
U no wat ths means, prbbly.
20. Avoid foreign languages.
Having to look up a foreign term is my bete noire.
21. Prefer the standard to the offbeat.
This is the same advice I’d give my nieces about dating!

To repeat, get The Elements of Style.



Title of My Amazon Review: Inspiring and Level-Headed Advice

         The author, JaneNK Nwanne, is a success coach, a wife, a mother of four young girls, a busy woman, one who writes clearly, cogently and from her heart. She gently nudges her readers with her religion, but is not over-bearing about it, and she gives practical advice that is ethical as well.

         Her book’s subtitle, Discover Your Extraordinary True Self, is pitch-perfect for the audience that this book seems best suited for, high school or college students trying to decide how to order their futures and prepare for them.

         The following are the section titles of this short, informative book:

·      The Significance of Your Birthday
·      The Power and Significance of Your Name
·      What Are Your Talents?
·      What Do You Love?
·      Apply Your Talent
·      How to Pursue Your Passion
·      Live a Successful Life
·      The Spiritual Approach
·      Help Others Utilize Their Talent
·      Conclusion

As a retired scientist, I almost stopped after the first section, as I give no credence to the significance of our birthdays, except to the extent that we are born in a certain place at a certain era, where certain conditions and values obtain. The hint of mystical/astrological significance to our birthdates was a bit off-putting. UNICEF estimates that 360,000 babies are born daily…it is not likely that their lives are nearly identical from that point on.   

The power and significance of your name made somewhat more sense to me. Your parents can give you a silly name or a name that conflicts with your endowments or one that seems grandiose, and any of these choices will impede your progress. Certain family names might well open doors that others would not.

The next two sections rang true: determine what your talents, your gifts, are and then look at what you care about and love to do. Merge these to shape the choice you make about what occupation/field to enter. The author gives a thorough categorization of typical talents and potential careers/businesses/occupations that might be suitable.

I liked that she tempered “follow your passion” with the ethical requirements of considering family and friends and moral limits on pursuing success.

Wealth, fame, travel…these can be empty acquisitions, she notes, if you have not developed the spiritual side of your nature and have not maintained warm relations with family, friends and associates.

This is a well-written book, fine for someone much younger than I, though it seems priced a tad high for its 70 pages of material. It does serve as a clear, concise introduction to the thinking of this career coach, and it suggests that working with her would benefit many who are unsure of their goals and the methods to achieve them.

She comes across as a woman you would be pleased to know and to have instruct those you care about. 


[4 stars, I liked it]

Saturday, May 21, 2016

How Things Turned Out, from HOME IS WHERE THE STORY BEGINS


         I want to tell you just how life turned out for the people who played the most important parts in my life.

         I'll start with Grandma Blake. She raised us to become the people we are, and we even learned some things. She lived to see us all get married, but only knew of Doreen's baby. She was 94 years old when she died and has been greatly missed by all. It was strange to go into the house and not see her rocking by the kitchen window and humming "Rock of Ages."

         Daddy retired from the railroad and wanted to travel. Mom and he went to Florida two times, and then he got sick. He lived to see all five grandchildren---two girls and three boys---before he died in 1973. He was only 67. He would have loved and greatly enjoyed the grandchildren, and they would have enjoyed him, with all his stories and tricks. As I said, we had the best dad.

         Mom stayed in the big house for 10 more years before selling it in 1983. She also worked all that time. In 1978, Tom and I and our kids moved in, so she had help, but that didn't work out; perhaps two women cannot share the same space. After three years, we moved. Mom sold the house in 1983 and moved to senior housing. She loved it and had many friends and trips. We talked every day and went on many shopping trips. Mom died suddenly in 1990, and it was very sad not to see or talk to her daily.

         The house is now a business office and apartment house but is empty. It is sad to see the house and yard empty, when they were always so full of love, happiness, and activity.

         Doreen married her high school sweetheart and had two children – a boy, Greg, and a girl, Vickie. They built a home in Walden, where they live today. They have three grandchildren, and Doreen runs a day care center and takes care of husband Bucky, who has a muscle disease. We speak every day, and when I visit, we all get together.

         Nancy married Bucky's best friend, Bobby, and had one son, Kevin, born three months premature, weighing only 1 lb. 12 oz. He stayed in the hospital for two months, but now is fine. They have one granddaughter. Nancy worked full-time and was the Walden Village Clerk until she retired. In 2004, Bob found out he had colon cancer, and Nancy cared for him for a year at home. He never wanted to be in the hospital, and she made that wish come true for him. Bob died way too young. He was always healthy until that point. In the 10 years since, Nancy has become a runner, hiker, skier, bike-ridervery active. She has a new companion and is very happy, a great friend, sister, mother, grandmother, and aunt. My two grandsons live close to her and adore her. We also talk every day.

         As for me, I was the first to get married, at the age of 16, after meeting Tom on a blind date. We went to the drive-in to see Love with the Proper Stranger. How great was that! We married four months later, and we just had our 50th wedding anniversary. We have a daughter and a son and three grandsons. One grandson will graduate from high school in June 2015.

         Tom worked for IBM for 30 years, and after he retired, in 1993, we moved to South Carolina, where we have many animals that we love.

         Our daughter, Claudine, named after Andy Williams's wife Claudine Longet, one of my husband's favorites, is married and has two sons, Tom, 17, and Kiernan, 15, Irish redheads like their father. Claudine is taking college courses for gardening and landscaping, and is living in Walden, NY.

         Our son, Christian, lives in Greenville, South Carolina, and has one son.

         I go up North often to see everyone, but my husband won't fly, so we drive there once in a while. I talk to both of my sisters every day, and we are there for each other, in good times and in bad. They had been with me through my illness, as I've been with them in their bad times.

         Earlier, I told you about three crushes and one serious boyfriend I had in school. Then, after being unattached for almost four months, I was asked by a girl in my class if I would go on a blind date with her boyfriend’s brother, Tom. After a day of thought, I agreed…for just one date. Well, this turned into a marriage of 50 years to my best friend, companion, and care-giver.

         In February 2011, after being sick with I-didn't-know-what, and having gone to three different doctors, I had a lung biopsy and was told that I had a terminal lung disease, pulmonary fibrosis, a death sentence within three to five years. Dad said (I call my husband "Dad"), “Oh, hell no, you are not going anywhere.” I had been going to this doctor for two and three-quarter years but switched to one closer; on my first visit, she told me I didn't have pulmonary fibrosis, and it doesn't have to be a death sentence, anyway.

         My husband has been my support and cheerleader. Thank you, God, for that blind date!

         As I finish this, I am recovering from triple-bypass heart surgery and doing well. It has only been a few weeks, and I'm stronger. Tom has been a godsend to me, doing everything. I'm hoping this is a new lease on life, which I plan to use to the fullest. It was a dream come true.

         One thing I have wanted to do for a many years was to write this, and I finally did it, with the help of my new friend, Douglas W. Cooper, my writing coach and editor.


This ends our serialization of Kathleen Blake Shields's delightful upbeat memoir about growing up in little Maybrook, NY, in the 1950s and 1960s. It is available from online booksellers like and and from its publisher Outskirts Press. 

It was my pleasure to serve as Kathy's coach and editor. See

From WYBWM, "Elements of Style, I"

Excerpted from my recent WRITE YOUR BOOK WITH ME,
where I illustrate and comment on the rules.


Communication is at the heart of human relationships: reading, writing, speaking, listening.
“Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things --- thoughts, ideas, opinions,” wrote Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho.
Use care: what you write often impacts others much more and lasts far longer than what you say. How well you write influences the opinions of others about you.
I describe here a valuable and inexpensive little book [only 105 pages long] that will help you write better and avoid the most common mistakes. Originally written and published a century ago by Cornell University Professor William Strunk, Jr., and updated decades later by E.B. White, this classic text on writing, The Elements of Style, has guided myriads of writers and editors through the thickets of English usage, grammar, and form. 
Here are excerpts from Strunk and White‘s “little book,” with its original words in boldface, followed by my own examples in italics and by my comments:


1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s.
A dog’s life, Tom’s pen, and Charles’s paper are right. Note that possessives of plurals that themselves end in s take only the apostrophe, so we have: several friends’ birthdays. Plurals not ending in s do take ‘s: the children‘s hour.
2. In a series of three of more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.
This, that, and the other all qualify.
3. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.
It is best, at least most of the time, to avoid parentheses.
4. Place a comma before a conjunction introducing a co-ordinate clause.
This is often done incorrectly, but it is important.
5. Do not join independent clauses by a comma.
This is also often done incorrectly; it is important to use a semicolon instead or start a new sentence.
6. Do not break sentences in two.
Be sure. Not to. Or only rarely!
7. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.
Trying to write well, you should heed this rule.


8. Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic.
This can be tricky, as “topic” is a slippery term. Lately, short paragraphs have become fashionable, and they are effective.
9. As a rule, begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; end it in conformity with the beginning.
“In conformity” does not mean repeating, however. Be more creative as you restate.
10. Use the active voice.
Active: She wrote the poem.  Passive: The poem was written by her.
11. Put statements in positive form.
Do not put statements in this negative form, generally.
12. Use definite, specific, concrete language.
As done in “connecting Asian American women to the world,” the slogan of, where I publish monthly.
13. Omit needless words.
Be pithy, terse, and succinct, avoiding repetition and redundancy, unlike this sentence.
14. Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
Loose sentences are distinguished from periodic ones, where the main idea comes at the end.
15. Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form.
Use parallelism in sentence structure: she wrote the book, and he drew the pictures.
16. Keep related words together.
Make it clear what your modifiers modify.
17. In summaries, keep to one tense.
Generally, use the simple present or simple past tense: it does, it did….
18. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.
Easier said than done.


Here the authors advise the writer on: colloquialisms, exclamations, headings, hyphens, margins, numerals, parentheses, quotations, references, syllabication, and titles.


Strunk and White (1999) dissect over 100 troublesome words and phrases, such as distinguishing “disinterested” versus “uninterested.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Is Irony Dead?

Ten days ago I posted on LinkedIn an excerpt from my recent opus, Write Your Book with Me, giving the excerpt the tongue-in-cheek title “Writing Your Book Is Easy.” I append the piece below as evidence. Evidence? Well, a reader took me to task for writing about myself and giving a bad example. Unless being ironic herself, she seemed to be missing my irony. Here’s what one dictionary tells us about “irony”:

1.  humor based on opposites: humor based on using words to suggest the opposite of their literal meaning 
2.  something humorous based on contradiction: something said or written that uses humor based on words suggesting the opposite of their literal meaning 
3.  incongruity: incongruity between what actually happens and what might be expected to happen, especially when this disparity seems absurd or laughable 
4.  incongruous thing: something that happens that is incongruous with what might be expected to happen, especially when this seems absurd or laughable 
5.  theater Same as dramatic irony
6.  philosophy Same as Socratic irony
Early 16th century. Via Latin ironia < Greek eirōneia "pretended ignorance" < eirōn "dissembler"]
See ironic.

Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Let’s see how I tried to signal my intent.

The picture accompanying my piece shows someone giving blood, “opening a vein,” so to speak, as in my first major heading.

The title is hyperbole; few would agree that writing a book is “easy,” and I certainly don’t think so, though I am trying to make it easier, as an author and a writing coach.

         The first heading is jocularly presenting the task as simple: “Sit. Think. Write. “Open a Vein...,” quoting another writer’s humorous explanation of how to deal with the personal issues that arise.

         A few serious paragraphs follow, then we get into an ironic description of how to be a disciplined writer, Self-Discipline Exemplified: No Email until Noon, in which I describe my rather pitiful attempt to set aside distraction and keep writing until noon, the time I had determined that I would allow myself to open email, always more tempting than the “sit, think, write” regimen. I hoped the title of this section would again suggest humorous over-statement. Note “exemplified.”

         There follows a tale of my wandering off to get copies of an article about myself and my wife, a piece written by a local reporter.
Quickly we return to the main subject. “Enough about Lara Edwards. Let’s talk about me.” Quite baldly stated, for the reader’s amusement.

Is my ending enough to show the reader how I have been fooling myself? Now that I am home from the printer, I have resumed writing, by writing this. It is already eleven, which is almost noon. I’ll sign off here and check my email.

I had meant this piece to be in the tradition of Robert Browning’s classic poem, “My Last Duchess,” where the monologue by the duke about the wife that he had ordered executed shows her excellence and his obtuse narcissism and cruelty, of which he is wholly unaware…but the reader sees clearly. Well, I’m no Browning. Regretfully.

Is irony dead? In a world rife with self-absorbed foolishness, it may be hard to tell.

Why the picture related to ironing that accompanies this? A pictorial play on words, a visual pun, implying that here I am trying to iron out a misunderstanding. Ironing isn’t quite dead, at least.




Gather your stuff and find a place where you won’t be disturbed too often. Put your working title at the top of your page. Jot down some elements of an outline. For your memoir: crisis, background, aftermath, significance. For your novel: who, what, when, where, why, and how…the journalist’s questions. For your “how to” book: problem, significance, solutions, and resources. You are on your way!
Next, start adding details to the outline. Try the mind-map. Do some writing. Build momentum.
Check the clock. Ideally, you would measure your effort by results, such as word count, or sections completed, but at the very least you can mimic our governments and measure the inputs, your time. Determine to sit there for 30 minutes or even an hour.
Have a goal for your output, or your input. Keep it simple. Keep track.
“Open a vein” if personal revelations or strong, emotive language is needed. Tap your inner comic or your inner tragedian.


Finding time is as “easy” as getting up early or turning off the television. The news is repetitious anyway. You’ve seen sports before. The commercials waste your time. [Aversion therapy for the TV-addicted.] Finding space requires closing doors or going elsewhere. These take discipline and practice. I’ll show you next how I handled the need for self-discipline toward the beginning of my writing career:
Self-Discipline Exemplified: No Email until Noon
         “No email until noon.” It is a simple rule, designed to reduce the distractions plaguing this novice freelance writer. A person of stronger character could peruse his email, look only at the most pressing items, and get back to writing. Not me. Better, “Not I.”
I established this email rule yesterday. The allowable exceptions are yet to be determined. After I called our printer this morning, I broke it. They had sent me files I really wanted to look at. The files were from a two-page spread in our local weekly paper, with pages 4 and 5 all about Tina and me and my just-finished book, Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion. I had to read it.
The paper’s editor had given the assignment to a “stringer,” a part-time, freelance writer, who herself is a poet and author, Lara Edwards.
“This one is for you” or words to that effect, the editor had said. He did not assign it to the writer who covers our local “beat,” town meetings, open-air market openings, etc.
Ms. Edwards, daughter of a highly educated Turkish and American couple, a social worker herself, was the right person to do the piece. She did a magnificent job, breaking the first rule of journalism as practiced today: she read the book before interviewing me. She came prepared, adapted well to our conversation, wrote an article too good for the editor to abridge.
Enough about Lara Edwards, let’s talk about me.
Rather than continue writing, I drove down to the printer and arranged to get one hundred copies of the article. Admittedly, I don’t have that many friends and family members, but someday I will be sending the copies to people I hope will review the book. I may also hand them out from a stall at a county fair, to entice the rural visitors to buy our book about an interracial couple who have dealt successfully with the challenges of almost twenty years of separation, followed by Tina’s increasing disability due to multiple sclerosis.  It’s upbeat, inspiring. I swear it is.
Now that I am home from the printer, I have resumed writing, by writing this. It is already eleven, which is almost noon. I’ll sign off here and check my email.


 You can see the LinkedIn version at

Saturday, May 14, 2016


         If you need some more inspiration or some tough love, see Barry and Goldmark (2010), Write That Book Already! After giving a list of reasons NOT to become a writer, including desiring: financial security, limelight, structure in your life, free time, not offending your intimates, serving the world, and “hanging around trendy well-dressed people”…none of which you are likely to achieve…they give some advice on getting started: “Start writing and the muse will come. Not every time, but keep at it….Writing is a discipline, and you have to stay at it,” like getting in shape by exercising regularly, and, like exercising, it gets easier the more you do.

To get the book written, they suggest, and I quote:
·   Concentrate on results.
·   Make a to-do list.
·   Write down goals.
·   Establish a schedule.
·   Reward yourself.
·   Have someone you trust check your progress.
·   Ask for help.
·   For inspiration, go to a literary event….
·   Break the writing into smaller, more manageable sections.
·   Write a chapter outline and then commit yourself to completing each small section.
·   Write the book out of order.
·   Figure out what works for you.
·   If you get stuck, take a walk.

Much of the rest of their book is dedicated to telling would-be authors how to navigate the path to being published by a conventional publisher, although alternatives are discussed. I assume most of my readers are not going this traditional route, as I chose not to.


This brief excerpt is from my new opus, Write Your Book with Me, available at dirt-cheap (sand-cheap?) prices in ebook and paperback formats from online bookseller and in ebook format for free at my site Come on in. The water's fine.

"Strongest Memories," from HOME IS WHERE...

         Running things through my mind, I have something that reminds me of each and every one who danced through my life:

Grandma Blake---she made simple things for us: she took an apple, butter, a little water, some cinnamon, and a frying pan and out came a stewed apple, the best. I still make them today. When we had an upset stomach, we asked for stove toast: bread put right on the burner. I wish I had that kind of stove. I'd make that today. If we had a sore throat, Grandma brought us hot water with sugar and lemon. It seemed to ease the pain, no matter what. I always felt better when Grandma Blake took care of me.

Daddy--- Dad and I one summer went with Claudine and our grandsons to a railroad museum, where the smell took me right back home. This was the smell I got when we met Daddy coming up the path home from work or sniffed his railroad clothes hanging on the hook in the back kitchen. He always smelled like the railroad and Old Spice.

Mom---Mom was White Shoulders cologne.

I remember Mommy’s work shoes by the kitchen sink---she would sit in the rocker, put them on, with the alarm clock going off at 5:30 a.m., followed by the sound of her going upstairs to the bathroom to brush her teeth, wash her face, and get dressed---as she did six, and sometimes seven, days a week for the 11 years before I got married. I was six when she went to work full-time. I remember the way she double-crossed her legs, which she could do because she was so small.

Maybrook School---Another of those familiar smells is the school in Maybrook. At one time all 12 grades were there, then later only the elementary school. When I went back, as my children entered the school, it still had the same smell.

The Catholic Church---still had the same smell, and it seemed so much bigger when we were young. We went every Sunday to church and then to Sunday school. Saturdays were for confession. After church, we would go to Watt’s drugstore for the Sunday paper and then home.

I recall Doreen watching Ed Sullivan February 1964---the Beatles made their first televised appearance, and I remember afternoons watching American Bandstand and I recall most of all our love and eternal friendship and raising our children together.

I remember Nancy---my companion, my roommate, my playmate, forever my friend – walking into the bedroom after a hard day of play, one which started just after daylight and ended when we collapsed, with her stomach down on the bed and two black, bare feet hanging off the bed, and I cannot forget being her comfort when her son was born prematurely and when she cared for and nursed her husband for his year-long battle with cancer and watching her rebound and attack life with both hands to be happy again.

An amusing memory---our family, even way back, had no car, but Grandma said a rich relative did and couldn't wait to show everyone. He stopped by the homestead one day while they were all sitting outside. I guess he got distracted and drove right into the hole that was once the well. He broke the axle on the car and had to be hauled out. It was a Model T Ford.


We are almost finished serializing the delightful book by Kathleen Blake Shields, Home is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood, published last year by Outskirts Press and available from OP in paperback as well as from online booksellers like and 

I am proud to have coached Kathy and edited her book. My web site is, where I am offering a free ecopy of my latest, Write Your Book with Me.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

"Pets," from HOME IS WHERE...

              I told you about the Italian feast every summer in town. We would all go on Saturday and have some food and play some games. Much to Dad's horror, we would win a parakeet, so we always had one in the kitchen. They were all named "Petey." One of the Peteys would come out of his cage and sit on Daddy's shoulder. He would drink beer from Daddy's glass and eat spaghetti from his plate. I think we had at least four Peteys.

              The first dog we had, we had to beg for. We went with Aunt Mickey over to her son’s house; their neighbor’s dog had a litter of puppies. Nancy and I went to see them, and we fell in love. We picked out a boy. He was white and black. We named him "Frisky," and when we first got him, we dressed him in baby clothes and wheeled him in the doll carriage. Unfortunately, Frisky had a bad habit of chasing cars.

              Nancy and I were always looking for animals to take care of, especially baby rabbits and baby birds. One time we took baby blue jays out of the nest down by the road. We carried them up toward the back door, and then we realized we were being chased by the mother, diving down at our heads.

              Daddy, seeing this, yelled, “Put them down!"

              We did and then ran to the back door.

              This love of animals has always been with me, and thank God Tom loves them too, and so did the kids when they were small. Christian still does, but Claudine---not so much. In the 50 years we have been married, we have never been without an animal. When we moved to South Carolina, we obtained 2 acres of land and a house 800 feet off the highway.

              We have been here 22 years and have had six dogs that came and stayed and a couple of cats. We loved every one of them. A little puppy followed me from the mailbox at the end of the road. He was part Chow, and my husband named him "Chewy".

              The owners came down two weeks later and said, "You might as well keep him."

              My husband said, "There was no doubt in my mind."

              Chewy died just last May.

              In 1997 the man who lived at the end of the driveway had two dogs at that time, puppies, a boy and a girl. I asked what their names were and he said that he didn't have any names for them. They were chained to a truck, and we would bring them food and water. We called them "Ike and Tina," after Ike and Tina Turner. Tina got loose and came to stay with us shortly after.

              Ike didn't come for two years, but when he got loose, he came right down. It took a while for Ike to come close to us. I think the man had been beating him. Eventually, Ike would land on the lawn next to me and put his head in my hand. Tina and Ike lived here happily for 13 years. We were so happy we could show them love, and they got to know happiness. We sure did love them. We spoiled them often with special treats.

         When we lived up North, Christian found a little kitten, so young its eyes were still closed. It was black and white and soaking wet, hiding under a bush. Christian came in carrying it, and we went to the vet for bottles and formula. I had to put a bigger hole in the nipple, but boy did she eat! I made her a bed in a basket and fed her every two hours, day and night. After a while, Fluff would hear me coming and start to cry. I would have the bottle all ready.

         When she got older, she would pull the bottle to her with her little paws and lie on her back like a baby. When she was about five weeks old, Dad and I had to go to an IBM Century Club dinner. Claudine baby-sat the kitten. I had all the bottles made up for her. We got home around 8 p.m.

         Claudine told us, “She wouldn’t eat anything.”

         I told Dad to get me two bottles and heat them up for me while I got Fluff. When they were heated, she drank both of them in five minutes and then fell asleep.

         Claudine asked, “What the heck was that?”

         “I’m her mom,” I replied, “she knows me.”

         This was in 1991, and Fluff came with us to South Carolina, living until she was 18. She didn’t like many people: only Dad and Christian and me.

         Christian brought a cat home in 1997, and two days later, the cat had five kittens. They stayed in the garden tub in our room. When they were eight weeks old, I called the pet store at the Mall and asked whether they were interested in having them. They asked me whether they were healthy, and I replied that they were super-healthy.

         Three days later we put them in a carrier to go, as Dad had said he did not want to keep any of them. On the way to the pet store, one of them, Frankie, kept putting his paw out and tapping Dad on the arm. We pulled up to the door, and Dad handed me the carrier, but as I turned around, he said, “Wait a minute. I think I am keeping him.” Frankie is seventeen and a real lovey. Everyone loves Frankie, and he loves everyone.

         Now we have eight Chihuahuas and, of course, Frankie and Pee Wee, a dog that showed up a year and a half ago, about ten weeks old.  I tried to find out where he came from, but no one claimed him, so my husband said, “What’s one more?”

         So, when we go shopping, we have a dog and cat food carriage and another one for us people. Folks always say, “How many animals do you have?”

         We wouldn’t have it any other way.


We are serializing Kathleen Blake Shields's Home is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood, published last year by Outskirts Press and available from online booksellers like and

I am proud to have coached Kathy and edited her upbeat book.

Visit my site, for free ebook offer.