Tuesday, April 28, 2015


In Byron Kerns Survival School, Granddaughter Zoe (age 11) and I (age creaky) learned a thing or two about surviving: collecting water, making fire, constructing shelter and, of course, learning the meaning of STOP.

STOP:  Sit, Think, Observe, and Plan. It’s what you do when you’ve lost your mind in the wilderness or . . . Walmart.

We collected. We made. We constructed. We learned. That was the first day. Then we collapsed in our tent to sleep, surrounded by a cloud of fireflies, the rustling of Mother Nature, and the soft cloak of night.  Zoe needed both pillows. I flip-flopped on my brand new self-inflating air mattress. We said a little pray that should rain fall, it fall straight and gentle.

Click. We turned off our headlamps.

Instantly, I felt the scurry of tiny legs up my arm. Panic threatened to suck the oxygen out of my lungs, and I felt an overwhelming urge to run screaming into the underbrush—in my scanties. But I’m a trained junior survivalist. I knew what to do. I needed to STOP.

I needed to SIT, but I was already lying down, so I had to adapt. I bolted to an upright position.

“Zoe, Zoe, get a flashlight. I THINK there’s a tick on my arm.”

I was way ahead of my training; I was already THINKing.

Zoe flipped on the flashlight. It was time to OBSERVE.

“Shoot! I can’t see a thing. Help me find my glasses.”  The black blot on my arm appeared to jiggle in the wavering light of the flashlight. My heart trip hammered.

Zoe, as steady a trail buddy as anyone can ask for, handed me the glasses, steadied the flashlight, and joined me in OBSERVING.

“Yep. That’s a tick,” she said.

“Okay, here’s the PLAN,” I sputtered. “I’m going to kill this sucker with a knife.”

She handed me her pocketknife.

It wasn’t the best plan, but it was sincere.

I continued to feel creepy-crawly for the rest of our survival course, on the ride home, and later at my in-law’s sixtieth anniversary party. I had lobster ravioli. At the end of dinner I whispered to my husband that I really needed to get home; I was pretty tired and still a little creepy-crawly.

 Sherwood, ever the engineer, cut straight to the heart of the matter and announced, “Well, we need to get going. I need to check Linda for ticks.”

Smiling, I added, “He’ll probably need to use a headlamp.”

And that’s why we’ll be married for sixty years. Who else would have us?

Linda (Ticked Off) Zern


Wednesday, April 22, 2015


The sound of crayons being digested slowly crackled in the background, and the smell of rubber nipples was tangible through the phone.

“You have to come with me,” the voice said. 

“Yeah, okay sure.” I made a wild guess and assumed I was speaking to my oldest daughter, Heather, who needed me to go somewhere with her to do something. “Where, when, and why?”

“The Doctor’s. Monday. Because I took the kids with me to vote and people kept glaring at me and mumbling the word ‘babysitter’ like a voodoo curse.”

“How’d the kids do?”

“Great, I threatened them with death and told them if they were loud they’d get thrown out. They wanted to know if we were going to the library.”

“Okay then, a trip to the doctor’s office on Monday, you and the gang.”

“And Mom, we’re all getting flu shots . . .”


By the time we barreled the double stroller past the elevators and into the doctor’s office, the only kid not suspicious was Zachary (aged three months.) Zachary was busy doing his baby lemur impression.

Conner (aged four) was the first to formulate a theory.

“I hate shots. I will try [cry].”

Zoe (aged six) smelled a rat with a hypodermic. Zoe had dressed herself in an orange ball cap, rainbow knee socks, purple striped skirt and matching shirt, fuzzy boots, and green messenger bag. It’s hard to get one over on Zoe.

“Are we getting a shot today, Mom?”

Heather wrestled Kip (aged two) out of his clothes for his physical and said, “Yep!”

And the plotting began.

Conner talked me into taking him to the potty, which he claimed was not the “right” potty and that he needed another potty, presumably by the elevators or Atlanta.

I stood in the hallway arguing with a four-year old. “Conner I’m pretty sure that is a potty; I recognize a toilet when I see one.”

Conner’s doctor walked by and said, “That’s the restroom, lady. Careful, you may have a runner; I predict he’s going for a high speed escape.”

“What’s escape mean?” Conner asked.

“It means to run away.”

“Let’s try that, YaYa.”

Zoe suggested we turn the lights out and stay really quiet. Conner crawled into the diaper bag compartment of the stroller and started to eat pretzels and babble. Zoe climbed under a chair and attached herself to it like a limpet. Kip spun himself in circles until he fell over. The baby drifted off to sleep in the middle of flu shot hysteria.

“See why you needed to come with us?”


We talked Conner into being brave by telling him that Uncle Aric, who is a soldier, gets shots all the time. In fact, he’s had so many shots he’s going to be the only one in our family who survives the influenza zombie apocalypse. True fact. We did not tell Conner that bit.

Heather tried to pry Zoe out from under the chair, but she’d already started to secrete a hard coral shell. I went in for the capture, but Zoe kicked me with her fuzzy boots and sent me rolling across the floor like a brittle marble. It took two large bodied nurses, one YaYa, and her mom to get her flu free. She screamed her head off and acted like an idiot.

Conner got to play computer games with Poppy for being brave.

When Zoe wanted to know why she didn’t get to go play video games too, her mother said, “Because you screamed your head off, acted like an idiot, and you kicked people with your fuzzy boots.”

Zoe countered with, “I was screaming for my life.”

Man oh man, there’s a lot of that going around. I hope it’s not catching.

Linda (Flu Shot Approved) Zern

Monday, April 20, 2015


Nudity. Wild demonstrations of testosterone fueled rooster crowing. Uncontrolled eating, drinking, and merry making. Occasional incontinence. Unadvised physical feats of leaping about, followed by crying, screaming and a high probability of projectile vomiting. Episodes of naked gyrating.

Spring break?

You’d think so but no. It’s a weekend with the grandkids.

Many in society look on the nude, naked, uncontrolled, incontinent merry making of spring break as a right of passage for college types and a few convicted felons—incognito. They look back on their own nude/naked incontinent merry making with fondness, when they can remember it; sometimes it’s just flashbacks.

Which is confusing to me.

When you’re a twenty-year-old frat boy, it’s cool to poop your pants.

When you’re a two-year-old baby boy, it’s disgusting.

It makes no sense.

I watch the wild, raucous spring breakers on television, and think that if I saw my nearly adult kid swilling alcohol through a tube, I would stop payment on the checks immediately. Let them pay for their own emergency room bill and penicillin.

Then I watch the endless, tireless efforts of my grandchildren learning to walk, and think to myself, “Now that deserves our investment.”  They cling to furniture, fingers, and their own hands. It gives them courage. They teeter on uncertain legs. They totter trying to manage wobbly first steps. Then they fall. And fall. And fall. They are under no influence but their own, dogged persistence.

Over and over and over and again . . . they fall . . . and get back up.

And then they GET BACK UP and try it all over again until they can walk. It’s quite inspiring to watch. They never quit. Never. Over and over and over again . . . until they can walk.

Of course, our society calls having children “a punishment” or a “twenty year life sentence” or says of them that “they ruin a women’s body” or “they keep you from doing stuff” like traveling to Panama City for spring break where you wind up unconscious on someone else’s beach covered in starfish. 

I guess. 

Of course, when those children, who’ve ruined your body and punished you with their presence, are twenty you can send them to poop on someone else’s beach.

Irony.  It’s everywhere.

Linda (Spring Fling) Zern



Friday, April 17, 2015


Author Linda Zern gives a few words on how reading became and why reading is so important to her:

"In the beginning, I read because I had to figure out what those two crazy kids, Dick and Jane, were up to with their dog, named Spot.

Then I read because the words were everywhere: cereal boxes, road signs, billboards, newspapers, and the instructions on the back of the Jiffy Pop popcorn. The words were everywhere. And I could READ them. It may have been the magic of ordinary things, but it was magic.

After that, I realized that the Reader’s Digest people had filled our house with edited, condensed volumes of . . . well, everything else from Michener to Buck. Those books were condensed—like soup—just add reading, so I did.

For a long time, I read to escape. Enough said.

For an even longer time after that, I kept right on reading because 1) it was one of the things I could do when I breastfed 2) it was cheaper than jet skiing 3) and it kept my mind from atrophying into tapioca.

In the time that followed, reading became a habit that enlarged my soul, filled my mind, dazzled my dreams, and acquainted me with the world as it might be, could be, should be, would never be, but wouldn’t it be cool if it was—in a sparkle unicorn kind of way? I kept right on reading, until I ran out of the kind of books that I wanted to read.

Now I read to know what to write, always keeping in mind all the lonely little girls out in the dark places who turn to books for comfort and company and to figure out what Dick and Jane and that silly dog named Spot are up to."

You can visit Linda's website at: http://www.zippityzerns.com

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

In Defense of Sad Endings

I wrote a book with a hard ending.

Mooncalf is a work of historical fiction for middle grades. It is set in the mid-60’s, halfway between the assassination of President Kennedy and the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King. America was racing the Russians to the moon. Skirts were short; hair was long. Schools in Seminole county, Florida, were still segregated.

After reading Mooncalf, one reader told me, “I liked Olympia and Leah so much. I just wanted them to go off in the orange grove and start a babysitter’s club.”

Spoiler alert: That’s not how it ends.

Comments from readers have included:

“I cried.”

“I was so angry.”

“I was crushed. You warned me, and I was still crushed.”


“It didn’t have to end that way.”

One young woman refused to read the book, having heard that it had a sad ending. She doesn’t do sad endings.

As an author, I sometimes wonder if I should have softened the blow, written a happier ending, given the readers a way to dream away the reality, but then I listened again to my readers. Tears. Anger. Shock. 

I knew then that it was exactly as it should be. 

In the world of my childhood, little girls of different colors did not go off and organize inter-racial glee clubs. We learned the hateful lessons our adults taught us and we cried. 

Monday, April 13, 2015


The Democratic strategist exclaimed with confidence, “Politicians lie. Everyone lies.” He was defending the lying lies of a lying politician he was preparing to lie about.

If you follow this guy’s statement to its logical conclusion then this guy is lying about the lying. Right? I mean if everyone lies, and he has to be included in the set of humans we refer to as everyone . . . well . . .

I felt my grey matter start to cramp just thinking about a world without the certainty of truth telling. (That could be a lie. How would you know?)

In our family we tell the story of The Big Fat Liar, a tale of a young man my husband encountered on a Boy Scout camping trip. The boy in the story was told to stop jabbing sticks in the campfire and catching them on fire. 

“Stop catching sticks on fire. Go to bed,” my husband said.

The kid nodded.

Later that evening, on a quick trip to the potty, my husband saw fire stick boy; he was holding a flaming, smoking stick torch over his head like an invading Visigoth about to burn down the village.

“Hey, I thought I told you to quit catching sticks on fire.”

“I’m not catching sticks on fire,” the kid said, while holding a burning stick in his grubby Visigoth hand.

“Then what’s that in your hand?”


“Okay, let’s go slower,” my husband said. “Do you have a hand?”


“Is there something in it?”

“In what?” The kid tried looking confused, a favorite stalling tactic of big, fat liar types.

“Is there something in that thing hanging at the end of your arm?”

The kid looked up at his own hand. “Yes,” the kid said.

“Is it a stick?”


“Okay, let’s try this. Are you holding a recently detached hunk of wood from a tree trunk?”


“Is it on fire?”

“I don’t know.”

The kid is probably a politician by now.

It’s exhausting, trying to sort out the wicked web of half-truths and big, fat whoppers that everyone is telling. At Rollins College, where I occasionally go to make straight A’s—true story, we have an Honor Code. It’s thirteen pages long and includes a section defining fibbing. There are nine bullet points just to define terms. True story.

Nine bullet points and THIRTEEN PAGES! 

The Ten Commandments has ten bullet points and was carved on stone, thus saving paper, trees, ozone, and Mother Earth. Beat that, Honor Code! Beat that!

Linda (True That) Zern

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Easter is a lovely Christian expression of faith and love and hope eternal. Oh Death, where is thy sting?

And then we hunt Easter eggs. 

Let the race begin.

At my house, we don’t give gifts to children for Easter. The gift is that Jesus of Nazareth walked out of a sealed tomb—alive! 

As gifts go, resurrection is pretty stunning.

But then we throw eggs into bushes and candy under the garden bridge and say to the children, “Go. Hunt. Gather!”

Around here, the Easter Bunny YaYa tosses bags of candy under spring flowers for the children to find with the express instruction, “If you find a BAG of candy it’s for everyone—not just for you. We will pour it into a giant communal bowl of Easter happiness and,” I add, holding my breath dramatically, “share.”

They all nod.

But still, a whole, unopened bag of Skittles just for me, me, me. It’s tricky.

The children, who are the parents of the children, accuse me of fomenting rebellion with my one for all and all for all approach. Their solution is to throw empty, plastic Easter eggs about and hope the kids don’t notice the hollow sound when they pick them up. Several of the children, after finding their empty eggs this year, brought them to me and wanted to “cash them in.” 

I pointed to the giant bowl of Easter happiness candy. “Share,” I said.

This year I only had to snatch one bag of M&M’s out of one young man’s hands. Not bad, really. Could have been worse. I could have had to chase that crazy kid around the yard and rip the bag of candy out of his hands.

The older I get the less I enjoy the holidays. I like the regular days where we’re supposed to be grateful, happy, kind, loving, and Christian—because we’re supposed to—not because we’re looking to cash in our golden eggs.

Linda (Back to Work) Zern

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Horses are pretty sure that they are going to be eaten by wolves—every single day. It’s what they are. It’s how they think. Pretending that horses are big dogs or cuddly kittens doesn’t change horses into big dogs or cuddly kittens. Horses are horses are horses.

I know that seems obvious but, these days, you’d be surprised. People have gotten a little muddled when it comes to animals of all species, including their own. Dogs are like easy babies and real babies are a punishment.

Horses, on the other hand, are twelve hundred pound prey animals that worry about wolves and Mickey Mouse balloons—until they learn to surrender to someone “bigger,” “stronger,” and/or more “dominant.”

It’s psychology: horse not human.

Mommy horses discipline rowdy babies by chasing them until they are whipped: sides heaving, sweat slicked, and submissive. When a horse is ready to “submit” to a more dominant horse it will drop its head, turn toward the “boss” and lick its lips. A horse that submits is saying, “You are in charge. I trust you to watch for wolves, get me to fresh water, and protect me from Mickey Mouse balloon goblins.” 

It’s magical: horse not warlock.

In the wild, young horses aren’t allowed to be out of control, selfish fools. Out of control, selfish, fool horses are dangerous to the herd. They distract the grownup horses from watching out for wolves and killer balloons. It isn’t allowed. I like horses. They make sense.

People, who think they know about horses from watching Disney movies, find the concept of round penning mindless and mean. It’s the human equivalent of time-out for teenager horses where humans push a horse around and around in an enclosed circle until he’s paying attention, ready to surrender, ready to join the herd, ready to become a valuable member of society.

It isn’t mean. It works, because horses are sensible—also humble. 

In human society, selfish, fool, twerp, offspring put the entire herd at risk by distracting everyone from the real troubles of the human herd: the work of growing the herd, the necessity of educating the next generation not to be out of control and selfish, and the endless need to watch out for the prowling wolves ready to eat us all—not to mention those crazy balloon goblins.

When we treat animals like animals they can teach us a lot about the right way to live and be happy.

It’s simple: herd not twerp.

Linda (Mount Up) Zern 

Friday, April 3, 2015


Aric married Lauren in March, two years ago. He’s the oldest and the last, and after he got married I knew that I could rest in the shade of the tree from which I cut the laurel wreath of my success as a mother.

Let me rejoice, I thought, and take up oil painting or green bean growing or apply to be on the Osceola county volunteer mounted posse. You don’t have to tell me twice. In my “retirement” from mothering I intended to collect free horses and try to turn them into the sorts of beasts that don’t run away when people fly helicopters at them.

When my first child was married I was given a book, informing me that my duties as the mother-of-the-newly-married-person should include ONLY the sharing of an occasional home remedy and a recipe—if I knew any—anything else constituted meddling. You don’t have to tell me twice. Nagging is exhausting and meddling is nagging’s ugly, warty cousin—also exhausting. 

I would be too busy becoming Grandma Moses anyway.

Then the phone calls started coming.

“Mom, you’ve got to help me,” The newly married Heather said.

“Only if this is for a recipe and/or a remedy,” I said.

“How do you roll crescent rolls?”

“You mean the kind in the can?”

“Are there another kind?” She sounded a little bit miffed.

“Well, find the point on the triangle,” I instructed, wisely.

“The point? There are three points. It’s nothing but points,” she pouted.

“Yes, true. There are three points, but I don’t think that it’s an equilateral triangle.” Finally, a use for my college mathematics; I felt smug.

“What the flip are you talking about? I rolled one up and it looks like poop.”

“That can’t be right,” I reassured.

WHAT I SAID NEXT: “Just roll up the long edge, so that the little apex of the triangle is on top, and then bend it into a little crescent, moon shape.”

WHAT SHE HEARD: “Roll up the quadrihexial axis of doughy junk around a stick and fling it at the moon.”

“Okay Mom, listen I have to go now, because I have a nosebleed,” Heather said, sounding muffled and stuffy from the ensuing nosebleed.

“Okay dear. Just apply pressure to your nose, but don’t tilt your head back. Goodbye and good remedy.”

Regarding the book with tips for mothers of the newly married—my daughter (wise beyond her cooking skill level) finally reassured me, “Forget the book. The book is crap. That’s not our family. It will never be our family. Just be yourself that kind of meddling has always worked before.”

True. I can’t say we always roll our crescent rolls the way everybody else does, but we do have a certain style, and that’s always worked before.

Linda (Leave A Message) Zern 

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