14095869_1680155375642060_1135903713565421094_nThis is Beethoven and his owner. He was a gentle dog that loved children.


All of my life I have been a law-abiding citizen of this county and state. I’ve passed up opportunities to go to other states make more money, because I wanted to be here, dedicating my time and talents to the children of my home region. In my books, I’ve sought to show the world that Kentucky is a good place with good people, but over the course of the past week, I’ve encountered a mind-set among some here that has brought shame to me.

I still believe that more honorable than dishonorable people live here, that there are open-minded, warm-hearted people all over this county, but too often, their voices go unheard. I read once that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men, good people, to do nothing. Consider this my attempt to “do something.”

I feel are some barbaric incidents happening in our community. My heart is broken, for my own family, for the many families that I’ve spoken to recently. One after one, people are telling me of incidents where their family pets have been shot, poisoned or maimed and nothing was done, where officials brushed complaints aside and did nothing to investigate them, where people are literally afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation against their families.

I want everyone to understand that I love my town, I love my state, but we are sorely lacking in certain areas such as effective measures against animal cruelty, child abuse and other unsavory acts that are justified through political loop-holes, but for now, I’m simply going to address endangering children and animal cruelty.

As I comb through state laws, my mouth just drops open at the unfair, lax laws and nonchalant attitudes some people hold in regards to cases involving children and/or animals. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you upfront that this is a personal issue for me. I’ve made a living most of my adult life by working with children. For the first ten years, I did it practically for free because I wanted to teach so badly that I’d take any job open; I guess it’s because kids are my passion that I also have a soft spot for their pets. Their hurt is just as real as any adult’s, and it’s always purer.

Let me highlight just two incidents. Someone recently told me that a little dog the children of Sparksville’s Antioch Church liked to play with had been shot to death. Who does that? Who kills a friendly dog that an entire congregation of children love? I’m not even sorry to say that I think this is a type of cruelty, not only to the dog, but to those children!

Sunday, a friend told me that her great-granddaughter, (whose father is an old friend of my family, as well), along with nine other children, was walking down the road with their dog in Columbia, Ky. The dog always walked with the children. A man came running out, screaming and cursing at the children. He pulled out a gun and fired eight shots into the dog. Eight red hulls fell to the ground. The children were about fifteen feet from him. He kept firing, even as my friend’s daughter broke into a run toward the dog to try and save it. This man fired a weapon while a child was running toward it, risking her own life to save the dog she loved.  The child, terrified and wailing, fell to the ground and cradled her dead dog in her arms. The man who shot it? He had no compassion, either for the child or the dog, nor the other nine children who were terrified for their lives. The girl’s mother took photographs of the dog and of the evidence, but the police, upon arriving on the scene, refused to do anything because when the dog fell, his head landed on the man’s property. The girl’s parents said they thought it was wanton endangerment of a minor but the police went on to say that because they were only children that their testimony wouldn’t amount to anything in court, that it would simply be the children’s word against the shooters. The officer didn’t have to go home with the little girl that night and hold her when her nightmares started. The shooter didn’t have to go to the hospital with her when she became so hysterical that she needed medical help. Furthermore, when the girl’s father stated that it was against the law to fire a gun in a residential area, the officers told him that it was a “misdemeanor at best.” However, I’m left wondering. How is this NOT child abuse? Would you want your child to witness that? To go through that horrific experience? Besides, officials told the mother that Kentucky laws were on the shooter’s side. The dog had no rights. And apparently, the families of those children have no rights, either. They were brushed off and now, they are afraid to come forward with names for fear of retaliation from a gun-wielding neighborhood bully with anger management problems.

So, why am I writing this article? To raise awareness, to say, “Hey, Kentucky. These laws are backward and ignorant.” In fact, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Kentucky ranks 50th in the nation in regards to animal protection. And, according to the Animal Welfare Alliance, we rank 56th! Even territories like Guam and Puerto Rico have better laws regarding the treatment of animals than we do! Kentucky is a state known for famous horses and award-winning cattle. Why aren’t there better, more humane  laws in place to protect animals?

Who do concerned citizens turn to? My question to the caring people of this community is: Will you help me? Will you show the world that not all Kentuckians are still clinging to this backward, outdated and close-minded ideology?  Please help me put actions behind these words, write your senators, write your representatives. Make it plain that the next time you vote for any public official you want to know where they stand on the treatment of children and animals. I can promise you one thing, if I know a person had a lax stance on the treatment of children or animals, he or she would not get my vote.

Go away, go away, go away,

Don’t ask me what’s wrong

Why my face looks “funny”

Let me be.


Don’t question why I look bored.

Don’t comment that I look hot.

Don’t touch my hair, or my face.

Leave me alone.


Don’t note the tone in my voice

Or tell me that I walk “odd”

Don’t notice that I have on make-up

Or that I don’t.


Don’t ask me why I wear it

Or what’s wrong when I choose not to

Don’t tell me to change my top

Or my pants


Don’t call me

When I’m fifteen minutes late

To see if I went to stopped

For gas…


Just go away,

go away,

go away.


Bubble People


Imagine with me for a moment that there is a world where people go about, each in a little bubble that bends and distorts reality without the inhabitant realizing that his or her view of existence is distorted by the dimensions of the bubble. Each person sees the world, the universe as it is reflected through his or her bubble and not one of them sees it for what it really is and if a cosmic being, that existed outside all of their bubbles, told them how it was, they wouldn’t believe the being, because said being’s report did not match their concepts of reality, their bubble experiences.

Now each person goes about trying to make everyone else conform to the imagines of his or her own bubble which causes a problem, because no two people have the same bubble and no two people have the same vision. Billions of them shout all at once but rarely is any of them really heard. Some of them want to be noticed so badly that they criticize others who are very different than themselves, those with bubbles that are “foreign” to them.

All the bubble people have opinions and ideas but everyone is so desperate to be heard that they just end up making a lot of noise. Inevitably, most of them end up feeling lonely and isolated. Others end up angry and bitter. Others decide that they’re not going to let anyone else “in their bubbles” so they act tough, but sadly, nobody really wants in their bubbles, anyway, because everyone is busy trying to make sure that the world understands what it’s like in their own bubbles. However, they, too, end up lonely and disconnected. Others decide they will MAKE people notice them and conform to the imagines in their bubbles, so they act out. They do ridiculous things. Some try to take over other people’s bubbles and even pop them, leading to the end of the bubble dweller’s mortal existence.

But what if someone believed the cosmic being who said, “Your bubble is a distortion of what is real.” What if they invited the cosmic being into their bubble and asked it to “fix” their bubble’s reflection of reality? I imagine they would seem very strange to all the other people in all the other bubbles with all the other distortions of reality. What if people stopped shouting to be heard and started listening to what cannot be shouted?

Maybe all their bubbles would come together and be one giant one or maybe they would each float about in their bubbles, realizing they were different but being okay with the differences, because they recognized them and understood that the bubbles were only temporary anyway, that sooner or later, every bubble would wear out and pop and all the bubble dwellers would come to know whether or not the cosmic being was telling the truth.





October Again

Pears lie yellow on the ground.
Hornets move slowly over them,
cool and drunk on their nectar.

The sun is low in the western sky
painting every tree, every bush
every blade of grass amber.

Long afternoon shadows fall
from the golden rain tree
onto the barn, gloriously rugged.

Morning glories, white and pink
climb the nearby antique chair
as leaves faintly move

on fragrant air currents
bringing to me a longing
familiar, cyclic and un-named.

Today I went to a memorial service for my dear friend, Pam. I won’t say that I said good-bye to her, because I didn’t. And I won’t. I don’t believe in good-byes.

I can only say, “I’ll see you later, Pam. I will. I promise.” I wish I had said the things to Pam that I’m about to tell you and if I’ve learned anything over the past two weeks it’s this: tell those you love that you love them while you have time. Pam’s brother delivered the message today and these are the very points he drove home as if he knew my thoughts. Never pass up the opportunity to tell someone that you appreciate them and more importantly, never pass up the opportunity to SHOW someone that you appreciate them. My mother used to say, “Give me my flowers while I’m still living.” I keep asking myself if I gave Pam her flowers while she was in her earthly form. It seems like that no matter how much time we have with a person, it is never enough.

The following is my tribute to Pam, one of the most authentic and unselfish people I have ever known. It has taken a week for the reality of her leaving this mortal realm to actually hit me. I suppose it all seemed like some sort of twisted dream up until this point, but I will not be hearing Jimmy Buffet on my cell phone and looking down to see Pam’s name anymore in this life. It’s the little things like that which make it all too real. I somehow believe that my sentiments are shared by many others, and that my thoughts will ring true with you.

I first met Pam when I was interviewed for a job in our school district, about 12 years ago. From the moment I met her, she was my friend. She believed in me and backed me, (along with another precious friend, Kim, whom I love dearly, even if I haven’t told her yet), before the site-base council that hired me. From day one of my internship, Pam made sure that I was a success. She was located right across the hall from me and we were both there until, 5, 6, 7 or 8 o’clock several nights a week that year. She mentored me and invited me to be a part of her world. We went places together. We did things together. She took me to KEA meetings and introduced me to people to help me in my career. It seemed to give her joy to see her interns become successful. For the next four years, she, Debbie and Gayle (the other wonderful members of our primary school “family”) really were my new family. I went to them with questions and probably drove them all insane in one way or another. I certainly came to love all of them.

In time, Pam and I were no longer across the hall from each other as she moved into the gifted and talented position and I was sent to teach music, then writing, then first grade, yet we continued to attend conferences together, were on site-base together, went to Mighty Dollar together and attended weekly yoga classes together. Pam brought me lemons from Florida and when I said I was going to write a book and I was sure that people would laugh at me, Pam and Debbie both encouraged me to “do it,” so I did. Pam read my works and recommended me to her friends. We had long talks in her car. A couple of times, I went on trips with her for the gifted and talented program. When my dad had a heart attack, Pam called a sub for me. I never even had to ask. She just did it. She was like that. She anticipated a person’s need and was there before the person even realized they had a need.

Pam believed in adventure and whenever I had a crazy idea, she encouraged me to go for it. She had a strong set of values and she never cared about impressing the “big wigs.” She cared about the kids in her classes and she cared about the young teachers under her charge. I was one of those. She cared about doing what was right and being fair. She cared about what was best for all and was a strong advocate of “best educational practice.”

I wish I could turn back the hands of time and tell Pam how much she meant to me, more importantly, I wish I could show her, but I can’t. All I can do is move from this moment forward and live a life that honors the things she deposited into my life. I can tell people that they matter to me. I can touch the lives of the children who come through my door, and like Pam, encourage them to work toward their dreams, to believe in them and never give up on them. I can encourage them to try new things, to explore, create and imagine. I can tell my co-workers that I value them, love them and consider them my friends. I can tell my Green River Arts family that I thank God for them coming into my life and that I consider them to really be “family.” I can tell my church family how much I love them and look forward to seeing them every Sunday morning, how much I LOVE singing praise and worship and that it brings me pleasure to see them happy and blessed, and most of all, I can tell my flesh and blood, family, the one I was born into, that they are the most precious people in the world to me.

The last time I saw Pam was in the hospital, but I’m not sure it was really her. The last words I spoke to her were “I love you and I’m sorry I didn’t eat lunch with you last week,” but I’m not sure she heard them, but then again, yes, I am, because I know the spirit hears even when the ears no longer can.

Pam saw the potential in others, the good in others and she worked tirelessly to help others see those things, too, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

No dream comes true and thrives unless someone is willing to support it. My friend, Jeanne Lane​ [kinship to the poet, Robert Penn Warren] and her daughter, Dawn Osborne, have had a dream for many years, to keep the oldest country store in America operational. Located in Gravel Switch, Kentucky, in the heart of Kentucky’s Knobs region, at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, is Penn’s Store. It’s a tiny building that sits on the corners of three counties with history dating back to before the 1850s.

101_6754Jeanne Penn Lane, speaking with a guest author.


Dawn Osborne, Performing.

Jeanne and Dawn haven’t tried to keep the store open to make a profit. No, their desire was to keep something of heritage and tradition and family alive. Jeanne Penn Lane is a true historian, a curator of what made central Kentucky special and unique, a preserver of culture. But she is so much more. Jeanne and Dawn have always had a passion for the arts and for Kentucky. As a part of that, they initiated the Kentucky Writers Day held there each spring, in hopes of giving Kentucky writers, artists and musicians a place to share their voices, to make connections and to remember.

Jeanne’s one desire has been to give something of beauty and value to her community. Kentucky has long been the birth place of world renown artists, novelists, poets, musicians and actors. Jeanne and Dawn want the world to know this, to understand the caliber of people that come out of these hills, hollers, swamps, tobacco patches, saw mills, corn fields, hayfields, coal mines and creek beds. Throughout the years, celebrities have trekked from all over the world to sit around the pot-bellied stove in Penn’s Store and share their music with a receptive audience, even before they shared it with record labels. Prize-winning authors have sat on her porch and eaten a famous “balony sandwich” while bouncing story ideas off each other. Even modern day celebrities have graced the aged porch of Penn’s Store. In 2009, Turtle Man answered the Call of the Wildman and showed up with his Team Turtle to enter the annual Great Outhouse Blowout, a fun event that Jeanne has hosted for years in order to bring in much needed funds in order to keep the store operational. It’s a time when vendors can come and set up and people of all ages from all over the world can watch the outhouses race for the Golden Throne Award.

308719_2170075930448_722707637_n Animal Planet’s Turtle Man and Yours Truly, goofing around.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Call_of_the_Wildman

If you don’t live in the state of Kentucky and you are passing through, unless you check out Penn’s Store, you’ve missed a part of what makes Kentucky culture unique. It’s not the kind of thing with buttons, bells, whistles and all kinds of hoop-la, no, it’s real Kentucky, both the way it was and the way it is. It’s a piece of American history that has survived into the New Millennium and it’s a good piece, a piece worth keeping.

101_6807Me, posing for a shot with the timeless poet, H.R. Stoneback, who has worked diligently to keep Kentucky Writer’s Day and Penn’s Store operational. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.R._Stoneback

However, keeping a dream alive isn’t free nor is it cheap. Jeanne’s dream is to give others a piece of heritage, a piece of culture, an outlet for the arts but she needs help. I’m posting a link to Penn’s Store’s website where you can find all of their contact information. Most people could donate a few dollars to the store and help Jeanne and Dawn continue to offer events and opportunities for artists, writers, musicians and actors without it ever making a huge dent, but many small gifts could be the difference in whether the dream continues to live or whether it becomes just another forgotten paragraph of American history. I can’t help but reference Audrey Hepburn who said, “People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.” In this case, the people are those who have come before us in our human family. By preserving this piece of the past and the this hub of community in the present, we preserve something for ourselves and our children. And, she did also say…things. But Penn’s Store is more than a thing. It’s a piece of “life.”

101_6799Sarah Elizabeth Burkey, and I, hanging out at Kentucky Writer’s Day. Sarah is the Assistant Director of Music for the Cherokee Historical Association.

Here’s the link:http://www.pennsstore.com/history/history.htm Help in any way you can. No effort is too small. Sponsor an event, send a gift, go visit the store, be a vendor…anything helps.

Jeanne and Dawn have no idea that I’m writing this article. It was my own idea, but I want people to realize that this precious little gem has been buried in the hills of Kentucky all these years, this little unselfish piece of living history and heritage that seeks to help artist, musicians, writers and actors build a foundation for future endeavors. Let’s not throw it out. Country stores have become a thing of the past in most places, but here is one, still operational, that has existed since the 1850s. That’s living history. I hope some of you who read this will contact Jeanne and Dawn today and become a part of it.

You can contact Jeanne or Dawn via the contact info on their website, on their facebook page Penn’s Store.

101_6752When a person visits Penn’s Store, he or she travels back in time and feels a connection, not only with yesteryears but also with the earth itself.

We’ve all heard that old saying, “Kids can be cruel.” And it’s absolutely true.

As a teacher, I’ve seen it all from children; you name it, I’ve probably seen some version of it. There’s not much that kids do that can surprise me. I’ve had to hand out my share of discipline in order to keep the classroom functioning. Now before I go on, let me say discipline is not the same as punishment. Punishment is a grown-up’s way of getting back at a kid. It is often harsh and severe. Discipline, however, is redemptive.  It’s meant to help a child understand that there are consequences for our choices. Discipline builds respect, over time. Punishment breeds fear, resentment and rebellion (I think it was Paul who admonished early Christians, “Provoke not your children to wrath.”) Punishment leads to abuse. Discipline leads to understanding, eventually, hopefully…and sometimes, it takes some ingenuity and often words are the strongest tool at our disposal.

This past week I may have administered the best discipline in my entire teaching career. I was at my wits end on how to handle the bickering of some students. We’ve had trouble with some children saying mean and hurtful things to others. I had already talked and taken away privileges, but none of that worked. So, when one little girl told a little boy that he was weird and that everybody hated him (words that crushed his spirit), I got that teacher look on my face, then I closed my classroom door. I shooshed them and stood there with my head slightly bowed and my hands behind my back. I was secretly praying to get through to the kids about how cruel words, criticism and unkindness take a long time to get over, a lifetime. Then I saw a hammer, board and nail in my mind’s eye. I didn’t have those objects for my demo, but I did look up and see a screw in the wall.

I showed them the screw in the wall and asked them what would happen if I took out that screw. Everyone said, “It will leave a hole.”

“That’s right,” I replied. “In the same way, every time we call another person weird or stupid or ugly…every time we say ‘you can’t do anything right,’ or ‘everybody hates you,’ we are making a hole in that person’s heart. Maybe I could fill this hole in with putty but underneath the putty, the scar is still there. When somebody says something mean to you it feels like they put a hole in your life, in your heart, and it never goes away. And pretty soon people are going around putting holes in people because that’s all they know how to do.”

Then I asked them,  “Who in here has ever had someone put a whole in you?” Every hand in the room went up. Every one. And the oldest one is only eight years old. Wow! Our words have such power.  I told them that if they put holes in people with their words then whenever the person they hurt grew up, they would remember them as the person who hurt them. I went on. I told them the poignant story of how someone had said mean things to me when I was their age and how I never forgot those mean things and how every time I thought of some kids I had known then, I always remember that they made holes in my heart with their words.

They sat, 24 first graders, in stone silence. It was remarkable. Some of them had downcast eyes, others near tears. I think they really understood. We ended up having what may have been the best week out of this year. On the way to the playground yesterday, I overheard one little girl say to another one that a thought had crossed her mind but she didn’t say it, because she didn’t want to make holes in people. It was the same little girl who had spoken so unkindly before. I knew she meant it. And I knew that some of those kids would never forget that unkind words are like screws that bore into our lives, leaving scars, and just maybe a few less kids will be cruel.