Thursday, October 29, 2015


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So -- (Don't you hate it when someone starts an explanation with that innocent little single-syllable, two-letter word? It's like "like." Remember when everyone said "like" and "ya know" every time they meant "uh" or "er" to announce that they were trying to think of a real word to say. A second of silence would have given them the same amount of time to think even though it wouldn't have done them any good anyway. And while we're at it, how about everybody doing "up-speak" so they all sound like ditsy Valley Girls? Even guys? Nurses! Financial advisers! The most excellent young man who bags your groceries.) But I digress. Sorry.

So, I was looking for an image to top this blog post and it occurred to me that being edited was, like, ya know, getting busted. And there among all those images were these guys from Myth Busters, the Discovery Channel's show. They enjoy their job way too much. Explosions, high speed car chases, trashing an area. What's not to enjoy? Sometimes I wonder who's gonna clean that mess up. Anyway, they make me smile and once I saw them I couldn't see any of the other options.


See this page? This is what my short story looked like when I got it back from my editor. I'm used to my work looking like an ax murder victim, but come on. All the colors of the rainbow, too? Who's gonna clean up this mess?

My editor learned this in class. May the saints preserve us from exercise instructors who go to workshops and editors who take classes.

She did provide a Legend to go with the colors.

She said good writing is a mix of these categories. The following examples are all from my new short story "Jane's Way."

     Narration (Green):
            action, choreography
                    Gretzky motioned Simon to follow him.

            attributions for dialogue
                    ," she said.

            and often used in lieu of attributions for dialogue. 
                   ?" He jabbed the gun at the dead man.

     Exposition (Orange):  tells backstory or explains something
                    She was there when Rita's dad died. Two years ago from cancer, too.

     Description (Purple):  just like it sounds. It describes something or someone.
                    Blue-grays filtered into the reds eddying around him.

     Dialogue (Yellow):  anything between quotes
                    "You, girl. Don't go in there!"

     Interiority -- I know, it ain't in my dictionary either, but she's the editor and that's what it was
     called in her class and she likes it -- (Pink): This is what's going on inside the Point of View
     character's head.
                    What was the fool going to do? Simon wanted to shout, to rage.

I had one page that only had green and yellow on it. "This is more like a script than prose," my editor said. "You only have dialogue and stage direction on this page."

But I'm really good at dialogue.

Ah, yes. I am good at dialogue, but she was right. Don't you hate it when you pay people to help you and then they do?!

There was plenty of red ink on that edited manuscript, as well. Being a serious writer means cleaning up your messes. So I did. 

"Jane's Way" now passes muster and will soon be submitted -- somewhere. Wish me luck.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Art of Misdirection

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"The cat made a mess on the floor," my husband announces in disgust.

I am half asleep and, truth be told, I don't want to wake up. The bed is warm and I am snuggled into that perfect place where the pillow fits your head just right, the blankets are swaddled close so there are no drafts anywhere. And nothing aches. This early in the morning, any morning, having no aches is a miracle and I don't want to tempt fate by moving.

As you may know, I write murder mysteries -- Murder on Ceres. To begin the mystery, there must be a murder, or at least a dastardly deed. In this case a catastrophe. So I, the reader, am on the hook wondering exactly what has happened. And the misdirection is a simple lack of information. I'm allowed, nay encouraged, to imagine my own misdirections.

A mess? Without moving a muscle, my mind races through the possibilities -- in descending order the worst possibilities first.

Diarrhea. Cat diarrhea would surely be the worst. Kocka has never had diarrhea. (Kocka, pronounced kotch-ka with a long o. It means cat in Czech.) I know he hasn't had access to anything unusual to eat. Though I did see him toying with a small jumping spider. Would that upset his digestive system?

A hairball. The damned cat has long hair. Ooooh, I hate stepping on a fresh hairball, barefooted. No wonder my husband sounded disgusted.

I don't open my eyes. I don't ask what kind of mess. I just hope my dear, sweet, kind husband will clean it up and let me go back to sleep.

I read murder mysteries -- John Lescroart is my favorite. I watch murder mysteries on television -- Midsomer Murders, which my husband refers to as the Gilligan's Island of cop shows. Mysteries use misdirection.

To make a good story, misdirection must be done properly. Like the picture at the top of this post. The misdirections must let the reader imagine several directions, gradually moving through the possibilities.

The best misdirections do not seem contrived. They don't flash like neon No Vacancy signs. They just offer a nod toward the husband as the killer. If the misdirection were too obvious, we Americans would be convinced it was a red herring.

(Having been raised on Oklahoma Prairie and now living at the foot of the Rocky Mountain foothills, I don't have a clue what a herring is -- red or otherwise. I do know it's a fish of some kind. Not a trout or a farm-raised catfish, both of which are tasty, tasty.)

Maybe I should write a murder mystery involving a husband who not only is the most obvious killer -- BUT who, in fact, done the dirty deed. Oooooh. Then the misdirections would have to be tasty, tasty. He'd be so aggrieved -- mostly. And solicitous of his poor, dead wife's family -- maybe a little too solicitous of his wife's younger, blonder sister.

"He's shredded paper," my husband declares, merely disapproving.

That's not so bad, I think.

Maybe this is the most devious misdirection of all. A possibility that it's not a crime. Maybe an accident. Suicide. I can relax a bit. Have some sympathy for the poor widower -- errrr, cat.

And then the mystery writer drops the hammer. Our hero is about to be bludgeoned in the dark, dank basement.

Did I leave one of those checks from the insurance company where Kocka could get it? Or is it the latest iteration of  my last short story. Have I backed that up? What changes had I made? God, I hope it's not really my "last" short story. Surely I can write more.

In the end, the solution to the mystery must be congruent with the general direction of the story. Nothing out of the blue.

"It's toilet paper," my husband says.

Toilet paper? But my husband is discussing a mess the cat made at the door into the hall. Our bathroom is all the way across the bedroom. Kocka is famous for unrolling the toilet paper beside the toilet, but how could he get toilet paper from the bathroom unrolled all the way to the hallway door?

I can't lay in bed any longer.

Indeed, my husband is standing over a mostly shredded, one-quarter-full roll of mangled, only slightly damp, toilet paper.

Oh, I see.

A couple of days before I'd discovered that same partial roll of toilet paper in the toilet in the main bathroom. No doubt knocked into the toilet by a certain long haired cat. I'd fished it out (the toilet paper not the cat) and dropped it into a plastic basin on the counter beside the sink, intending to return soon and dispose of it properly. (What is it they say about the road to hell?)

The main bathroom door is a scant two feet down the hall from our bedroom door. Figure maybe four more feet to where the basin in question -- now empty -- rested upside down on the floor. Kocka carries things in his mouth. (Maybe he was a dog in one of his last lives.)

No more misdirection. Mystery solved. In fact, two mysteries. We'd heard a muted crash in the night, my husband and I. We both said, "The cat." Rolled over and went back to sleep.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What Kind of Animals Are We?

                                                                         image from

Once Upon a Time
In a Galaxy far, far away
A Mouse chewed through a Lion's bonds
And a Father prepared a feast for his profligate Son.

Is there one of these stories you do not know?

Like many humans I've thought about what separates us from the other animals on our planet Earth. I always argue with myself and others that humans are simply one among many animals. Yet I continue to look for that which sets us apart. And, truth be told, makes us special. Of course being a human makes me want us to be special.

Many years ago I met Jane Goodall. She was speaking to a group at the University of Oklahoma, home of the Institute for Primate Studies. Dr. William Lemmons and researcher Dr. Roger Fouts were studying primate behavior and communications to better understand the development of human communication.

You may remember that Dr. Fouts worked with the famous chimpanzee Washoe teaching her American Sign Language for the Deaf. And that's an interesting story in itself -- but maybe for a different day.

Back to Dame Goodall.

Being me, I hurried out and bought her book In the Shadow of Man and read it before I went to hear her speak. She documented observations of chimpanzees making and using tools. Most particularly modifying twigs to fish for termites and leaves to absorb water for drinking from a source too difficult to access directly with mouth or tongue.

Before that I had accepted, as had many better educated than I, that the thing that makes humans different is their ability to fashion and use tools. Oh, I was so smug because I am a member of such a superior tribe.

Hah! Have you watched videos of crows doing what crows can do. Click here. Okay, the crow in this video did not make any tools, but he certainly  used tools to get his treat. And, shoot! The crow is not even in our Class -- taxonomically speaking. You know -- Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, etc.

And that brings us back to the opening lines of this blog post. Stories. My daughter pointed out to me this morning that humans are story-telling animals. It's how we understand ourselves and the world around us. It's how we teach our children what they need to know to be successful or even just so-so humans.

I know who I am because I know my stories. And I know who you are because of the stories you tell me about you. Sometimes we tell stories about other beings to explain ourselves.

And we find those stories in as many ways as there are us.

We hear stories in music. Think of Sergie Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf," or John Williams' scores for the Indiana Jones movies and the Star Wars movies.

We see them in dance. "The Nutcracker" is the first to come to my mind. And if you've never seen Dubstep, click on it and watch a few minutes. This young man is amazing.

The visual arts tell some of the best stories. In fact, sometimes when we see sculptures or paintings or photos we see our own stories -- my immigrant ancestors arriving in New York Harbor and the average-joe farm families they founded.

                                     image from      image from

We tell scary stories about fictional creatures to safely test how we might deal with terror. We tell scary true stories to learn how our brothers and sisters have dealt with terror. We tell our stories to people we do not know who do not know about our world. We listen to their stories and get to know a little more about them and their world.

And, in the best of both worlds, we discover how much we have in common and how much we are all deserving of respect and admiration.

We are story-telling animals. We humans.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Martian -- a movie review

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My husband and I went to the movies this afternoon. We saw "The Martian." To see it regular would be $5.15 per ticket, 3D $8.15, and 3D XD $15.15. We opted for the plain 3D, 'cause I like 3D but not $10 worth.

There are two kinds of science fiction -- hard science fiction and soft science fiction. Hard science fiction emphasizes scientific and technical possibilities consistent with our current understanding of science and technology. Soft science fiction plays fast and loose with the science. That leaves it free to tell whatever story it wants.

I love science fiction movies where the movie makes no pretense to serious science. The Star Wars and Star Trek franchises come to mind. They're exciting, visually stunning, and explore themes of universal human interest.

I write hard science fiction -- Murder on Ceres. It's available as a paper back and on Kindle. Check it out.

I would love to see science fiction movies that explore real possibilities. Stories that stay within the realm of scientific and technological possibility. We live in an age when we should be able to see movies like that. We really will be sending astronauts to Mars. The science is available. It is not beyond the normal human being's capacity to understand. And it is more amazing and thought provoking than the misrepresentations presented in "The Martian."

I guess that gives away my rating on this movie. I give it a 57 1/2 because you can dance to it.

Let me tell you what I liked about the movie first. Then you can stop reading if you don't want to know what I didn't like about it.

What I did like:
The visuals -- especially the Mars scapes. Broad empty land with dramatic rock formations. Reds and ambers, The deep blackness of space sprinkled with stars. They did distance very well. I liked the vehicles, too. (At least before the modifications which can only be described as dumb. Think visqueen and duct tape. Seriously? Seriously!)

Sorry. I was going to do the positive stuff first.

I loved the spaceship Hermes. Matt Damon does a good job acting. And Benedict Wong represents the JPL well. I always like JPL being mentioned whether in the news or movies. And NASA is my favorite government agency.

You know what? I'm not going to rant about the lights inside their helmets -- you already know how hard it is to see out of a car at night if the dome light is on. And surgical staplers don't sound like staple guns. And jumping up and down on a roof at Earth gravity does not equate to jumping up and down on a vehicle's roof at Mars gravity. (Mars gravity is 0.38 of standard Earth gravity. So a 185 pound Matt Damon on Mars would weigh 70.3 pounds -- not quite as much weight to throw around.) And hydrogen doesn't burn yellow.

But it makes sense that you could grow potatoes the way they do in the movie. And the movie does seem as long as it would actually take to travel to and from Mars.

I restrained my urge to laugh until the last ridiculous stunt. I mean with broken ribs? Come on.

But then when the movie was finally over, my husband took me to Barnes and Noble where I had a lovely cappuccino and chocolate mousse in their Starbucks. 

And I eagerly anticipate the next Star Wars movie.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

9/11 at Red Rocks

My cousins Dennis and Rita visited from Texas in September of this year. Our time for sightseeing was limited to excursions my 90-year-old father could make with us. We ate at my favorite restaurants -- Lucille's Creole Cafe and Tequila's.

And things we could do while Daddy's care-giver was working -- We walked at Kendrick Lake and Stone House Park where Dennis spotted trout in Bear Creek. Leave it to a fisherman. To be honest, I'd never noticed the trout.

And of course I wanted them to see Red Rocks. We were lucky that they were here September 11 and we all got to witness the Annual 9/11 Stair Climb.

On September 11, 2005, five Denver firefighters climbed the equivalent of 110 flights of stairs at the 1999 Broadway building in downtown Denver to commemorate the 343 New York City firefighters killed in the line of duty at the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001.

The memorial stair climb moved to the Qwest Building and by 2008 it had grown to 343 the maximum that facility could accommodate. A fitting number, but there were hundreds from throughout Colorado on the wait list who could not participate.

By 2009 a second and simultaneous memorial stair climb was taking place at Red Rocks Amphitheater. The stair climb is open to all. They make nine counter clockwise laps in the amphitheater.

This year more than 1,000 peopled did the Red Rocks stair climb. From arm-babies to grandparents.

They walked down the steps on the south side

across in front of the stage

and back up the north side to the top.

Red Rocks Amphitheater is an open-air concert venue. Performers first started coming there in 1906. The City of Denver purchased it in 1927, and in 1936 the city enlisted the aid of the Civilian Conservation Corp and the Works Progress Administration, two of President Franklin Roosevelt's programs to help pull the United States out of the Great Depression, to build the amphitheater as it is now. 

The amphitheater seats 9,450 people and has presented a Who's Who among musicians from opera singer Mary Garden in 1911 to Rock and Roll greats like the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix in the 60's. 

An incident occurred during a Jethro Tull performance in 1972 dubbed "Riot at Red Rocks." Gate-crashers and police and tear gas -- oh my. Hard rock was banned for the next five years. 

Pop took over -- like The Carpenters, Carol King, and John Denver (of course.)
A law suit and court order restored Rock and Roll to Red Rocks. This summer's concert series included Joe Bonnamassa and Death Cab for Cuties as well as Country and Western stars like Tim McGraw.

But on September 11 every year, in the midst of the summer concert season, Colorado's people remember those New York City Firefighters who lost their lives in 2001. And all our nation's fallen firefighters.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I Have a New Friend

I am older now than my mother was when I thought she was old. Being old is like being a child again, but with permissions.

"Momma, I have a new friend."

"That's nice, dear," Mother would have said. "What's her name?"


"Lou what?"

"Don't know," I would say with a shrug.

"Where does she live?"

"Over behind King Soopers somewhere."

"What does she do?" Mother would have asked.

"She's retired."

"From what?"

(I remember that mothers ask lots of questions. My mother did. I did.)

"Don't know exactly. Maybe she was like me. Did lots of things."

"You don't know much about her, do you?"

"Guess not. But I like her."

Mother would have laughed. "And what is it you like about your new friend?"

"She likes books."

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Book Signing

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Diane Mott Davidson 

Diane Mott Davidson, writer of culinary mysteries, signed books at Mountain Books in Conifer, Colorado, October 2.

She is gracious, delightful, and entertaining whether you're listening to her speak or reading her stories. And she makes a mean batch of Scout's Brownies from her book, Dying for Chocolate. 

That's the first book of hers that I read. Her main character Goldy is a mother, a good friend, a domestic abuse survivor, an amateur sleuth, and a caterer -- in that order of importance. As the series continues she adds wife to that list -- I would say tying for slot number 1.

In Dying for Chocolate, we meet all the main characters. Goldy, of course. She is happily divorced from The Jerk whose only positive contribution to her life is their son Arch. She has turned her passion for food into a career as a caterer. 

Marla is the Jerk's second ex-wife and Goldy's best friend. Marla has an extraordinary talent for collecting the town gossip which proves invaluable to Goldy's avocation as amateur detective solving local murder mysteries.

You know that info on the back of books? I seldom read that. Or book reviews. I read books because a friend recommends it or I hear an interview with the author on National Public Radio. But Dying for Chocolate I saw in the library and being notoriously addicted to chocolate, I checked it out based solely on its title.

Like all of her mysteries, it's set in the imaginary town of Aspen Meadow, Colorado, which is very like her town of Evergreen.

I was innocently reading along when I turned a page and there, in the middle of the murder mystery, was a recipe. That was on page 75. Then on page 98 there was a recipe for Scout's Brownies. To the kitchen! Murder mystery on hold, I baked them. They were delicious. 

Lucky for me because I lived in Oklahoma at the time, Ms. Mott Davidson had amended her high altitude recipe for us low altitude readers. I didn't find that out until the book signing. 

I've read all her books since. She inspired me to write Murder on Ceres. I took her a copy of my book as a gift.

I found out on Monday about her Friday scheduled book signing at Mountain Books in Conifer (from Colorado Public Radio, our local NPR station) and, of course I had to go. I'd never been to Conifer. I knew it was in the mountains and it would likely be dark when it was over, so I set about trying to enlist people to go with me. Daughter had to work. Husband had to work. Friends had other commitments. Well, shoot.

Conifer, Colorado. Google said thirty minutes away from my house. Four-lane highway. How bad could it be?

I left home at 4:00 pm to be sure I'd have plenty of time to find the book store and a parking place. After all, I clearly remembered my experience in February at Neil Gaiman's book signing in Ft. Collins,

There was a bit of rush hour traffic. It always amazes me how many people live up in the mountains and commute into Metro Denver for work. Needless to say, it was all uphill and curvy. Exits marked roads named "Raven Gulch" and "Sourdough Drive" and "Alpine Meadow." Of course they did.

The drive up? No problem at all.

Mountain Books is a wonderful bookstore. It's small and stuffed to the gills with books, new and used. Jesse, the owner, has been in this location for 18 years. His space is divided into categories -- Science Fiction, Mysteries, Religion, etc. and the books are shelved within those categories alphabetically by author. That pleases my library-trained heart.

His dog Sasha welcomes customers and keeps an eye on everything. Of indeterminate ancestry, she's a mature dog, about 30 pounds, mostly white with a lovely black patch over her right eye. Her coat is medium length and her tail is elegantly feathered. Most of the customers are local and they obligingly toss her ball for her to fetch.

Jesse suggested I walk over to the shopping center where there are several eating establishments. Of course he did. Everybody in Colorado walks. I'm getting used to it.

Weather Underground  forecasted possible thunderstorms for Conifer. Clouds were building, but to the east. 

They might drop rain out over the prairie but it wasn't likely I'd see anything from those clouds. And the aspen are responding to our changing fall daylight, their leaves bright as sunshine shimmering in the wind.

I bought Mott Davidson's latest, Goldy's Kitchen Cookbook, a collection of the recipes from her culinary mysteries, and sat down to wait. 

More fans filtered into the bookshop and we visited. One lady told me I was brave to drive in the mountains after dark. I decided to see what other books of interest to me Jesse might have. I found a Stephen Jay Gould I didn't have and one by Neil deGrasse Tyson -- both used for only $5 each.

One of the ladies said she got to hear Tyson speak at Colorado School of Mines a couple of nights before. How cool is that!

Another woman said I should be careful driving after dark because of deer on the highway. And elk are bigger than deer. Another said she'd seen a bear dead on the road the night before. Several agreed they'd heard someone hit a bear. "Do you know who?" they asked each other. "A bear?" I asked. "But they're not as dangerous as hitting a deer," they reassured me. Or an elk "because deer and elk are so tall, they'll come right over the hood into your windshield." 

Which brought on one woman's husband's experience with a deer leaping through his pickup truck's side window and going halfway through the windshield. "It was dead, of course." Of course, I thought. Then someone offered the wisdom that it would have been more dangerous if the deer had not died -- "flailing around in the moving truck."

Deer and elk and bears, Oh my.

To my relief, Diane Mott Davidson arrived bearing freshly baked Scout's Brownies. And signed our books. She talked about who inspired her villains -- which brought to mind Twain's warning that you ought not start a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. She explained that her husband Jim is nothing like the Jerk. And Arch is so believable because she has her three sons to draw on. 

Her husband is an aerospace engineer and has worked for NASA. She thinks he'll enjoy Murder on Ceres. Not only a wonderful writer, but she's kind, too.

And then it was time to drive home. In the dark.

When you see those yellow diamond highway signs showing a downward tipping truck above the percent grade you're coming to, you know you're in the Rocky Mountains and it's going to be steep. And yes, I do know to take those long, steep hills in Low gear, so my brakes don't overheat and fail.

After a half mile of 5% grade, (Doesn't sound like much, does it? But it is very steep.) I encountered an official Department of Transportation sign that read "ALL DRIVERS DON'T BE FOOLED 5% GRADE AND SHARP CURVES NEXT 5 MILES." Scared me, I'll tell you.

But then, it's like my husband says, it's not quite so scary when you can't see how far down it is. And in the darkness I couldn't see anything past the edge of the road. That's because the ground fell away to my immediate right and there was nothing there to be caught in my headlights.

At least I didn't have to worry about a deer or an elk or a bear leaping in front of the car from that side of the road. I just had to keep reminding myself that if one of those critters did come out of the darkness to my left, I should probably not swerve right to miss it.

I was relieved when I saw the 65 MPH speed limit signs. I knew I was out of the mountains and almost home.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Violence in America

Memorial in front of the Edmond, Oklahoma, Post Office
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At 7:15 a.m., August 20, 1986, I drove south on Broadway in Edmond, Oklahoma, on my way to work. Just north of the Post Office, firetrucks blocked the street. Police cars blocked eastbound Edwards street. Local television station news helicopters hovered overhead.

I had to get to work. I took Ayers east to Boulevard and turned south. Ambulances sat waiting along Edwards and Campbell toward the Post Office.

I couldn't imagine what was going on. Edmond, my hometown, was a suburb north of Oklahoma City. Population? Maybe thirty or forty thousand. Ten to fifteen thousand souls bigger when the local college was in session.

As I passed the old Edmond Junior High School building, several people accompanied by police officers ran across the school yard  away from the Post Office .

Even now at nearly 90,000 people Edmond has very few murders. By that I mean one or two  annually and some years none. On that day, I knew of no murders in Edmond during my lifetime. Maybe there were some, but they were so long ago that I didn't know about them.

Domestic gun violence was not something with which I was intimately familiar. President Kennedy was murdered on my 16th birthday. That shattered my sense of security in one way. But that was twenty years earlier and 250 miles south in Dallas, Texas. I'd lived through daily television doses of violence out of Vietnam. But by 1986 those were a decade and thousands of miles away.

That day in 1986, I turned on my car radio and heard that someone was shooting people in the Edmond Post Office. Thirteen people died there including the shooter.

And now, almost thirty years, multiple work-place shootings, multiple school shootings, and a theater shooting later, it's happened again. Two days ago a man shot and killed nine people and wounded nine more at his school in Oregon.

Gun-control activists and anti-gun-control activists are back in the news advocating everything from no guns at all to everybody armed.

I think these mass shootings are a symptom of our society's predilection for violence. There are many more domestic violence based killings and gang-related killings in our country than these school shootings. They're symptoms, too. And we all know that treating symptoms while ignoring underlying disease does not cure.

Led by politicians and entertainment personalities, we passionately take uncompromising sides on the "gun issue" to the exclusion of the many other factors contributing to our problem. Mental health issues, people exposed to violent entertainment from a young age, our schools failing the most vulnerable of our children, our society's addiction to easy fixes. (We seem to forget that addictions don't solve problems.)

How about we enlist and listen to recommendations from our mental health care communities, our educators, our law enforcement communities? I know we'll get conflicting answers and it won't be possible to just point to the answer we want to try. (Easy fix again.) But somewhere in there, there will be legions of solutions that will work.

We might even try listening to the people around us -- our own children, our workmates, our playmates, that guy revving his engine at the stoplight -- and respond. Maybe respond by offering to make their lives a little more pleasant, a little easier.

If they need more than a smile and kind word, be willing to step up. Ask how that child got the bruises on her face. Ask that young adult wearing cuffs to hide evidence of self-harm. Recommend professional help. Report them to the appropriate authorities. And if you don't know what kind of professional help to recommend or which are the appropriate authorities, find out.

Afraid that would put you at risk? Aren't we at risk anyway, if we go to work or school or the movies?

You and I, working as individuals, can't stop wars or gang violence or world hunger. But we can offer to do what we do well. Offer a little free time to that over-stressed mom and maybe prevent an instance of child abuse. Volunteer to help that little league coach and show a child that they count. Be the kind of parent that says no to a request for the latest single-shooter video game and explain why. Encourage your son or daughter or the person at work to step away from an escalating personal conflict. Step away yourself.

Try to make a difference from the bottom up. We've been deferring to the folks trying to make a difference from the top down. And it's not working.

Let's wake up in the morning, put on a habit of optimism, and make a difference -- one person at a time, one day at a time.