Singer/Songwriter Creative Session


My son’s best friend, Shea Colburn, is working out my lyrics and the melody to my new song, “The Duke Died in June.” I think the best iteration of this song could be with a mood shift from up tempo to melancholy vocals, or vice-versa. What do you think? In any case, please view all of this as a work in progress while we “find the music.”

I love the creative process.

Melancholy Version

Up Tempo version

America, Put Down Your Weapons. Your Words are Lethal.

The black community has been drowning in the noise created by white people for a very long time. But right now, the black community deserves to have the mic and the platform. The black community is entitled to their rage, and we need to be in their audience listening, because white people have stolen their stories from them before. Remember when Colin Kaepernick took his knee? That was a black community story, and it was completely highjacked, ransacked, and looted by white people. The nation took a black story and made it white. We made it American. We made it about the military. We made it about respect. We made it about everything but a black football player who took a stand with his knee to serve his black community. White people stole the Colin Kaepernick story. Just like white people are now stealing the George Floyd story. We are making it about politics. We are making it about who we want in office come November. We are making it about crime. We are making it about rioting and looting. We are making it about Blue Lives Matter. And, All Lives Matter. And, about protestors convening without COVID-19 masks. We are once again turning a black story, white.


America feels like the land of the lost. We’ve become a wayward, hopeless mess of people. We’ve lost our way because we have forgotten our sense of place, and we’ve lost the concept of “home.” Until we put down our weapons of mass destruction, our words, and understand the true weight they carry, we will remain hopelessly and permanently, lost.

Americans have a “It’s my way, or the highway” mentality.

“What is home? My favorite definition is a safe place, a place where one is free from attack, a place where one experiences secure relationships and affirmation. It’s a place where people share and understand each other. Its relationships are nurturing. The people in it do not need to be perfect; instead, they need to be honest, loving, supportive, recognizing a common humanity that makes all of us vulnerable.”

Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life

I think what Ms. Hunt is saying there is “home” is just an imaginary word, and an imaginary place, unless everyone feels safe and supported in it. America, the “land of the free and the home of the brave” feels like fake news. I’m sure I’m not alone here in this sentiment, but America doesn’t feel much like home these days. Our citizens have been stumbling around, wayward, and hopelessly lost. Instead of trying to find answers that live within ourselves, we’ve taken a liking to force-feeding our own ideals down each other’s throats. That concept doesn’t work well at the dinner table, and it certainly doesn’t bode well on Facebook and Twitter. But, we do it anyway, and everyone is left feeling out of place.

One thing is clear though, our black brothers and sisters seem to be feeling much less “at home” than the rest of us. And, that sense of hopelessness has turned to pure, unadulterated rage. But despite our nation being in an elevated crisis surrounding racial injustices, Americans continue yielding words against each other like weapons, because we don’t agree with each other about anything. And, when we all do finally agree on something, like the senseless death of a black man at the hands of a police officer, perhaps our own noise about everything else is drowning out the people who really need to be heard right now.

The black community has been drowning in the noise created by white people for a very long time. But right now, the black community deserves to have the mic and the platform. The black community is entitled to their rage, and we need to be in their audience listening, because white people have stolen their stories from them before. Remember when Colin Kaepernick took his knee? That was a black community story, and it was completely highjacked, ransacked, and looted by white people. The nation took a black story and made it white. We made it American. We made it about the military. We made it about respect. We made it about everything but a black football player who took a stand with his knee to serve his black community. White people stole the Colin Kaepernick story. Just like white people are now stealing the George Floyd story. We are making it about politics. We are making it about who we want in office come November. We are making it about crime. We are making it about rioting and looting. We are making it about Blue Lives Matter. And, All Lives Matter. And, about protestors convening without COVID-19 masks. We are once again turning a black story, white.

Maybe we are not supposed to be enraged for the black community this time? Perhaps the black community doesn’t need white people fighting this, their biggest of battles -highjacking their biggest headline – yet again? Perhaps, the black community doesn’t need anything from us. Or, perhaps they only need us to silently rally alongside them, listen, support their efforts, pay patronage to their businesses, lend a helping hand to clean-up their streets, hear their hopes, and their dreams, and watch as they do the lion’s share of the work that’s in front of them? We wouldn’t know, because likely we aren’t asking our black communities how they want the rest of us to behave, this time or any other time in the past. Our incessant need to jump in, each and every time, is by very definition white supremacy. We are telling our black brothers and sisters that they are incapable of getting their arms wrapped around this thing.

Unless we know for sure, we probably shouldn’t be raising our voices louder. Perhaps the black community’s disappointments and triumphs are getting lost in all the white noise? Perhaps, what the black community really needs us to do is shut up and listen. If you tune out all the white noise, the black community sure seems resolute. If we really listen, we can begin to hear trumpets of hope and resolve coming from the black community’s own leaders.

She stopped me in my tracks with her resolve.

And let’s face it. White people have no place trying to fix what’s wrong until we take a big, long look at ourselves in the mirror. We’ve got our own work to do. How can we be equipped to help stop the spread of hate aimed at our black communities when we can’t stop spreading hate amongst the rest of us?

We fling hateful words at each other, carelessly and callously, and that has become mainstay and socially acceptable, especially on social media. When did it become okay to bully and berate each other because political ideals from one side of politics doesn’t agree with the other?

Our children are listening. If we continue to bully and berate each other, our children are going to learn how to bully and berate. And they take that normality back to their schools. And guess what they grow-up to be? Adults that bully and berate. And, sometimes, those bullies wear police uniforms.

Me

How are white Americans equipped to help take on racial inequities, injustices, and help calm the discord in our streets when we haven’t confronted the hate harboring in our hearts for each other? We are all consumed by our own rage, and we can’t change or fix anything without first coming to that understanding.

Folks, it’s June in a presidential election year. If you haven’t changed anyone’s mind yet by force-feeding others with your political ideals, you probably ain’t gonna.

America, put down your weapons! Your words are lethal.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” -Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird”

Once we climb inside of someone’s skin, whether he or she be black, white, or any color, of any political affiliation, or religion, etc., and walk around in that skin..maybe we can begin to understand this:

“Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

That quote changes this way of thought:

“Another black man was senselessly killed; American black communities enraged.”

To this way of thought:

“Another man was senselessly killed, American communities enraged.”

And then one day we can aspire to have this:

“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird


Men, Move Over, Investing is Not for the Faint of Heart.


Photo by Burak K on Pexels.com

Women Make Better Investors than Men. 

Recently, I read some things that shocked me about women and investing. One article indicated,” Women are more risk averse than men and less likely to invest in the stock market.

Another article reported only “ 26 percent of American women invest in the stock market.”

How could this be the case when, “WOMEN control 51% of the wealth in America?”

To me, this all reads like one, great big challenge; I knew it was high time to learn how to invest in the stock market. As an entrepreneur for twenty-five years, with two businesses under my belt, I already knew how to manage money. So, how hard could it be to hoist my pants like a man, throw caution to the wind, and pick some stocks?

My husband, who works in the financial sector, has always done our investing for us, and he’s done it well. That is, until this past February, when I started investing money from my own SEP-IRA that was just sitting in a cash position with TD Ameritrade. For about four months now, I’ve been investing my own money and I’m now “up” a whopping 40% overall on my stocks.

I was two months into investing, and my husband turned to me and said, “Wow! You know how to pick them! You’re good at this. Maybe you should start investing more of our money.” I’ve been married for 26 years, and in that time the only interest I’ve ever shown in investing has been with real estate. Because women love houses, right?

In any case, it felt good to hear my husband say I was capable of putting our hard-earned money to work for us for the long haul, even if not in real estate. But the reality is, women need to know how to invest even if we don’t want to, because as we age our partners may not be around to keep our hard-earned money working for us. Some 80 percent of married women outlive their husbands, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That information alone fueled me to learn how to invest. And since then, I’ve realized nice gains on my own investments.

I agree that women are more risk averse than men. But I also think that risk aversion is the very thing that could make women better investors than men, once they learn how to invest. I also attribute my own newbie stock market success with making financial decisions with both my heart and my head. Men, from my experience, tend to make financial decisions with just their noggins.

Still, my timing for learning the ropes couldn’t have been worse. I entered the stock market just before the COVID-19 pandemic entered the United States, and I lost (gulp) 30% of the money I invested, almost overnight. But only on paper. Luckily, I held my positions when the stock market plunged and didn’t have to lick my wounds later.

Why did I hold? My head told me to sell before the losses were too big to recoup, but my heart said, “Wait! That is my hard-earned SEP-IRA money we are talking about! I’ve already risked some of it by putting it into the stock market. If I sell…it’s gone forever. If I hold, I should be able to gain at least some of it back, right? Even if it takes me a couple of years?”

And then my head said, “The stock market always comes back. But, what if it doesn’t?” My head kept saying SELL! SELL! SELL!

My risk-aversion to losing my hard-earned money, once I invested it, is what ultimately saved me from being reactionary. In the end, my heart won the debate, and that turned out to be my first real lesson in investing money. Ladies, the real trick is getting past your aversion to risking, at least some of it, in the first place.

Simple Rules to Investing:

Rule #1: Get financial advice if you need it. Invest.

Rule #2: Stick to your guns.

Rule #3: When it’s time to cut your losses or take your gains, do it, and don’t look back.

There’s this thing about women people should know: We don’t like to fail, and we are diehard once we put our hearts and minds to something. If we do fail in the end, you can trust we gave it our best shot.

I started picking stocks with both my head and my heart. Those “feel good” investment decisions were the ones that got me investing in the first place. Sure, I did my research and used my noggin too, but when I started believing in where I was putting my money to work, investing felt like less of a gamble and more like a payday for my research.

I stood back and watched my stock picks rebound, and almost overnight they not only recouped, but I was suddenly watching my investments grow. I was making good decisions along the way. Like, I always kept a significant position of my money in cash. I didn’t invest it all. I also bought DexCom (DXCM), held it for a while, and sold it at its peak. I made out like a bandit on that stock (I gained almost $50 a share), but I had a feeling it was time to sell. Why? There was just too much happening with that company all at once. Sure, I got into the weeds on why I thought the stock was going to fall, but in the end, I followed my heart. I sold my shares just as DexCom earned Fortune 500 status, cashed out on my gains, and watched as my instinct proved to be right; the stock took a sharp decline, and I never looked back. I moved some of my gains into cash and invested in more stocks. (I love DexCom and hope to ride that stock again. It’s a great company.)

But, Moderna, for instance, is a different matter entirely. I bought stock in Moderna (MRNA), early on, from a sea of potential COVID-19 vaccine players. (I’ve talked about this stock before in a past blog post.) I’m die-hard with this stock, and I will be hard-pressed to let it go in the same way I did DexCom. Despite the news surrounding Moderna, which pivots almost daily, I’ve been holding on and acquiring more of it, even though my head has tried to get me to pull back from it more than once.

Moderna is an American biotech company focused on drug discovery and drug development based exclusively on messenger RNA.” And they are a major player in the COVID-19 vaccine game.

What I’ve come to realize is that Investors are like kids in a sandbox. They dump stocks like schoolyard children dump friends in a tantrum. Investors get too emotional and overly reactionary. As a mom, I want to tell them to take a five-minute time-out. Think about things. Cool off. And, I want to pat them on their tushy butts and tell them to get back into the sandbox with the rest of their friends, the other investors who picked the same stocks for the same reasons.

But I get it. This is your hard-earned money we are talking about, and no one wants to lose it. But, it’s my sandbox too, and as a woman, I still want to send the reactionaries into a big time out to save them, and me, from some unnecessary panic and potential heartache.

I bought Moderna before the US government announced they were a major player in COVID-19 vaccine development. Why? Because, with or without a COVID-19 vaccine, this company is working on some pretty awesome breakthrough science with something called Messenger RNA. And, Moderna just very well could be on the brink of success despite COVID-19 vaccine outcomes. Plus, they are working on preventing diseases. What’s not to like about that? I picked this stock with my heart, not my head.

Picking the winner of a vaccine stock is, I’ve read, like picking the winning numbers in a lottery. It’s practically impossible. Did I pick the winner? Time will tell, but I picked Moderna out of all of the other companies, because I liked their story. I liked what they do. I believed in them. And, believers don’t cut and run when things get tough.

Rule #4: You very well could lose your money. Be smart about when you buy and sell. Get more financial advice if you need it.

Not long after I picked Moderna, the government gave the company a huge thumbs up on their Covid-19 vaccine work and, even I couldn’t believe it. I sat back and watched as my stock pick began to soar.

Federal government pledged up to $483m to speed Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine.

And, I watched the stock go up even more as they entered a Phase 1 Clinical Trial on their vaccine. After that, Moderna announced Phase 1 success, and folks, we were up again!

Fauci then announced he was optimistic and “bullish” about Moderna because their vaccine seemed to work. And, the stock takes another walk in the clouds.

Then a vaccine expert screams (and, I extrapolate,) “Whoa! Hold your horses. There’s not enough data yet and too few people were tested to really know if this thing works.” And with that piece of news, the stock moves in the opposite direction. Quickly. People were afraid they would lose their big gains, and an investor sell-off was evident. I was losing my big gains every day. On paper.

Vaccine experts say Moderna didn’t produce data critical to assessing Covid-19 vaccine.

But, I held the stock and my heart reminded my head that if Fauci says he’s “BULLISH,” heck, I could be too, and after all it’s only Phase 1 of a Clinical Trial. It’s new, and we don’t have enough data on the vaccine yet. Plus, I believe in the company, right? Even if they don’t hit the nail on this head this time, they are working on critical vaccines, and at least one of which has the propensity to maybe end a global pandemic. My heart held the stock. And, my head bought more.

Rule #5: Remember why you bought the stock in the first place.

My ride with this stock suddenly felt like 7 seconds on a bucking bronco, but I was learning lots about the stock market, but most importantly, I was learning about my own tolerance with my own investments in the stock market. Someone from the Phase 1 Clinical Trial speaks out and says (and again I extrapolate here), “I got 24-hour flu like symptoms from the trial vaccine, at the highest dosage, but I’d do it all over because the vaccine seems to work. And, vaccines are good for the population.” 

Moderna coronavirus vaccine tester fainted, had high fever during trial.

That piece of news causes another selloff; I watched as the stock took another nosedive and approximately 60% of my paper gains by now have bitten the dust. #SMH

What? There’s a stock sell-off because a trial patient, who received the highest dosage possible, got lightheaded and fainted from a possible global pandemic-ending vaccine, and says he was back to normal after only one day? I’d invest in that news every day!

I held and bought more stock while it was low. It may not be a lot of stock, by most investors’ standards, but by now I’ve acquired 300 shares in the company. And the Phase 2 clinical trial commences just today, and I watched as the stock surges upwards again with this news:

A COVID-19 vaccine has passed its first human trial. But is it the frontrunner?

For this woman, watching investors pivot with every little piece of news feels a bit like watching a kid land a little too hard off the playground slide and then goes off wailing to his Mama, looking to be coddled. Except every Mama I know would dust their kids off, give him a smooch on the head, tap his bottom, and tell him to get back on that slide! What they don’t do is race him right off the playground, the minute he takes a bit of a fall.

Then it occurred to me, since most women do not invest, is it fair to say these reactionary investors were mostly men? Perhaps women do make better investors than men, because we are risk averse to losing. Sure, we may not be so quick to invest in the first place, but we likely won’t be so quick to cut our losses and run when things get tough. We don’t know how to lick our wounds; we do everything in our power to prevent them in the first place. Maybe we make better investors because we know how to lead with both our hearts and our heads.

I can’t explain it, and I certainly could be proven wrong on my instincts in the end, but my heart has a huge crush on Moderna. And, I’m willing to take the gamble that good things comes to those that wait.

Investing is not for the weak of heart.

Rule #6: Start small, learn the ropes, gain confidence, and don’t get cocky. But, consider riding the highs and be prepared to take some hard knocks at the lows if you are a long-term investor.

Rule #7: Revenues in our businesses are down due to lockdowns and a global pandemic. Investing at least some of the money we have managed to save before now may be the only way to fully rebound financially. Put your money to work for you.

Happy Investing!

My stock chart

Tonia Allen Gould

“The Duke” Died in June


The Duke Died in June
 
My parents raised me the best they could
I grew up strong and I did some good
When I was a baby, there was a man on the moon
When I was little, “The Duke” died in June
I learned that people live, and some others die
…and summers meant Rhubarb pie
          in all my fifty years…
 
The war in Nam ended and it was none too soon
“The Last Camel (he) Died at Noon”
The President, he told a lie
He resigned, gave Ford a try
Nixon was pardoned, don’t know why
…and summers meant rhubarb pie,
in all my fifty years…
 
Elvis was dead, and Mother cried
A space shuttle launched, and SHE fell from the sky
NASA gave it another try
Reagan was shot, but he didn’t die
….and summers meant rhubarb pie
in all my fifty years…
 
A volcano erupted and blanketed the Earth
Female workers, finally paid their worth
The Berlin Wall came tumblin’ down
Houston, Jackson and Prince now gone
The stock market rose, and the twin towers fell
The world got sick while the Earth got well
 
Dad and brother, they both died
And, I watched again as Mother cried
Just like she did for Lady Di
….and summers meant rhubarb pie
In all my Fifty Years…
 
When I was a baby, there was a man on the moon
When I was little, “The Duke” died in June
I learned that people live, and some others die
…and summers meant Rhubarb pie
…and summers meant Rhubarb pie
Ya…summers meant Rhubarb pie! 
         In all my Fifty Years…


Copyright Tonia Allen Gould 2020 - All Rights Reserved

“Little Rose,” a song about domestic violence, releases.

“Little Rose” released on Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, YouTube, etc.


Fred's Guitar.
Fred’s Guitar

My song, “Little Rose” by The Pits released on Spotify and various other media outlets. “Little Rose-Demo,” was produced by my ridiculously talented composer/singer/songwriter friend, “Doc” Fred Gortner of @reallythepits. Lyrics are posted below. I just wanted to say I’m sorry (in advance) that I couldn’t write a more uplifting song for all my friends during a global pandemic. But, “Little Rose” is a story I had tell, and one that may resonate with many.

The thing about good stories, is that other people glom onto them and want to tell them too. (Thanks, Doc! I’m forever indebted🙏 ) “Little Rose,” <spoiler alert> is a heart achingly tragic song with a profound bridge on Fred’s slide guitar with some wonderful resolve at the end.

This EXACT same feedback from at least three people resonates with me most: “It’s hauntingly beautiful.” We agree, but clearly we are biased. The bridge music for “Little Rose” was picked on Fred’s 1932 Jessie string guitar (see photo on this post). The rest of the song was produced on his Cedar top Goodall acoustic. All vocals on the demo are Fred’s.

This review kind of floats my boat, too!
This review is pretty cool, too!
Little Rose

I remember the hours of silence, the days that were filled with dread
Little girl hopin’ and prayin’, that her Mama wasn’t layin’ there dead
Summer rains pelting the trailer, storm winds howl in the heat
Little girl layin’ by her Mama, who’s all bloodied up and beat
 
Mama wore her bruises like childbirth, just something she had to get through
Three children came out like clockwork, but nothing there that she’d undo 
She didn’t have no education, no skills to call her own
Just another small town girl, tryin‘ to reap the life that she’d sown
 
She wondered why… her Mama never left him
Wondered why she never left home 
‘til one day her poor Mama told her
Don’t ya know, I stayed here for you… My Little Rose?
 
Papa spent his life on a barstool, always knew he’d never measure up
Took his pleasure from other folk’s women, found solace in the bottom of a cup
His daddy did the same thing before him, grand-daddy carried the brunt of the blame
A long slew of men going nowhere, each bearing the same damned shame
 
Neighbor’s dog starts barking, when Papa stumbles in late at night
Little girl covers her ears, while her Mama puts up another fight
But then the trailer soon goes silent, and Papa walks back out the door
She watches as her daddy steps over, Mama layin’ like trash on the floor
 
She wondered why… her Mama never left him
Wondered how Mama took his blows 
‘til one day her poor Mama told her
Don’t ya know, I stayed here for you… My Little Rose?   My Little Rose                               `                                   
 
She dreamed about… what her life would be like
To leave the trailer and break the mold
She swore her life… was gonna be different
Better than her momma’s…. ten-fold 
 
Many years… took me back to that trailer, my Papa’s been long since gone
My mama don’t have a pot to piss in, but little girl, she had it all wrong
Watchin’ Mama out back with the chickens, pinning laundry to the line
Home was all Mama had to give me, her HOME it ‘stood the test of time
 
She wondered why… her Mama never left him
Wondered how she stayed there at home
Mama knew what my Daddy was doin’
…but her damn pride never left her alone 
 
Always wondered why… Mama never left him
When the storm winds howled in the heat 
‘til one day her poor Mama told her
Don’t ya know, you made this home for me… My Little Rose?

(copyright 2020 by Really The Pits, All Rights Reserved.)

A Cool Swig of Water

Work in progress song lyrics that intentionally objectify hot country men who drink whiskey, wear cowboy hats, drive tractors, own Beagles, and smell like summer and sweat.


I’ve been writing new lyrics to a country song. At this point, it’s just words although I’ve been toying with a melody in my head. The song takes me back to my youth and my Hoosier roots back in Northern Indiana “When…” as Randy Travis once sang in his “Storms of Life” song, “Love was just a country girl, who lived on down the road.” In any case, I’d be delighted to hear what you think!

Disclaimer: The lyrics below are more up-to-date. This song intentionally objectifies hot country men everywhere who drink whiskey, wear cowboy hats, drive tractors, own Beagles, and smell like sweet summer and hay bales. No intentional likeness to anyone’s persona is intended. (But, if you match the description, good on you!)
A Cool Swig of Water
 
He was whiskey on the rocks or a Thermos of iced tea
He was four on the floor to his fishin' hole
He was John Deere, a back forty, and an ATV
He was Salt of the Earth; someone Mama could trust!
He was tractor and trailer, and gravel and dust

            CHORUS
He wore boots and flannel with a farmer’s tan
He was a cool swig of water, and he was my KIND OF MAN 
But he was like a worn-thin tire on a beat-up truck 
Down to his very last leg with luck
Barstools kept him a sitting duck
With Wild Turkey, and WILDER women…

He was summer and hay bales, and sweet and salty sweat
He was a pitchfork to the heart and a night I can’t forget
He was a dash of remorse, mixed with a pound of regret
Drove me crazy with that bandanna tied around his neck

            CHORUS
He wore boots and flannel with his farmer’s tan
He was a cool swig of water, and he was my KIND OF MAN
But he was like a worn-thin tire on a beat-up truck 
Down to his very last leg with luck
Barstools kept him a sitting duck
With Wild Turkey, and WILDER women…

He wore a ten-gallon hat on his tall, broad frame
He was a cool swig of water and MY KIND OF MAN!
He drank whiskey on the rocks or a Thermos of iced tea
He was four on the floor with a Beagle on his knee
He was backhoe and Bobcat, THE RIGHT MAN FOR ME.

CHORUS
He was boots and leather with a farmer’s tan
He was a cool swig of water and MY KIND OF MAN 
But he was like a worn-thin tire on a beat-up truck
I was looking for love, he was looking for a good (5 second pause) luck
Man oh Man, he was my sitting duck
Slide across the bar, Mister-Part-of-My-Plan
Mister Cool Swig of Water
Mister-MY-KIND-OF-MAN!

 

Copyright ©Tonia Allen Gould 2020, All Rights Reserved.

Pandemic Comfort in a Pot


Instant Pot Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya:
The Recipe

I posted pictures of this delicious Instant Pot Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya, and apparently, I wasn’t the only one needing some comfort food during a pandemic; my friends wanted to make it too!

I usually don’t follow recipes when I cook, because I love to invent or recreate foods from taste, but my Instant Pot is new to me and I’m learning to use it. I followed this recipe, but with these deviations: I added a can of diced chilis, used palm sugar, bourbon vanilla, and chili/lime seasoning instead of Cajun, and used red, yellow, and orange bell peppers. All of those ingredients are at Trader Joe’s. I also use Better than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base in lieu of chicken broth (not at TJ’s), and added a bit of gumbo file into the pot. I used only the chicken sausage, and skipped all that extra chicken the recipe calls for. I’m certain this recipe would do just fine in a slow cooker or rice cooker after you sautéed the vegetables, if you don’t have an Instant Pot. But, seriously, I’m in love with mine! I bought the Instant Pot Duo Plus 9 in 1 from Amazon. The lid on it took me a while to figure out, but I’m not very mechanically inclined.

My Instant Pot is massive, but I’m already envisioning using it to speed cook through Thanksgiving Dinner for a large group of people. It’s a miracle device really, and I’m looking forward to learning how to use all nine of its features. We have peach, plum, apple, and apricot trees here in my backyard in California, and when the fruit ripens, I’m looking forward to trying my hand at canning, something I watched my mother do in my youth without all the sophisticated gadgetry. This pandemic is bringing out the native Hoosier in me.

This jambalaya was great for that first try at using the sauté feature on my Instant Pot before pressure cooking all the ingredients together. So far, I’ve used only two of the nine features. It’s the gift to myself that keeps on giving.

I was hoping for some leftovers today, but my son and husband devoured the whole darn pot! Give the recipe a whirl; you won’t be disappointed! Happy eating! Let me know how it goes!

The Sautés

“REVERIE”


’57 Chevy For Sale at HollywoodWheels.com (no copyright infringement intended)

Reverie

Way out back is a tire swing, hanging low from a pepper tree
Swaying wild with the winds of memory 
A Coker Classic whitewall from a beat-up '57 Chevy
Gamboling in time with my reverie

An old turquoise truck, ambling down a long, dirt lane
Windshield wipers on repeated refrain
A four speed transmission, and a transfer case
Deep-etched lines carved into a seasoned man's face
A cracked vinyl bench seat, and windows rolled down
Gravel dust and Autumn leaves on the back roads to town

Grandpa taught me what mattered long before time took hold
Showed me asparagus grows wild in ditches, alongside the road
Told me home wasn't a place where a person should carry their load
Tomatoes were best heated by summer, eaten fresh off the vine
Never answer someone's greeting with a simple "Hi" or "I'm fine." 

A Pabst Blue Ribbon or a Thermos brimming with iced-tea
Packs of cheese and crackers, but only Pepsi for me
Ruffled hair from rough and calloused, working-man's hands
Wet whistles and hums from the weathered mouth of a strong man
And, chain-smoked Pall Mall's snuffed out in a Planter's Peanut can

Grandpa taught me what mattered long before time took hold
Showed me asparagus grows wild in ditches, alongside the road
Pay your dues, never take more than you're owed
Every day doesn’t have to be something big and grand
Get down off your truck, and lend a helping hand

No one knew what that old tire meant to me
Where my own kids swung out back, wild and free
Grandpa was there rooted as firmly as a pepper tree
Tethered in time, on a Coker Classic whitewall off a '57 Chevy

Grandpa taught me what mattered long before time took hold
Showed me asparagus grows deep and wild, alongside the road
And there was “No sense in talkin' once your temper's been blowed”
When you're with your kind of people, you’re never bored
And there “Ain’t no harm in praisin’ the Lord.” 

No one knew what that old tire meant to me
Way out back where our kids swung wild and free
That old man was tethered in time, and always there with me
Hanging low from an old pepper tree, swaying wild in the winds of memory
A Coker Classic whitewall from a rusted out ‘57 Chevy

It was a Turquois truck, ambling down a long, dirt lane
Grandpa honkin’ his horn, whenever he came
A cracked vinyl seat, windows rolled down
Back roads, and bygones left behind us on the way into town
No one knew what that old tire meant, but me.

TA GOULD 5/19/2020

Into the Fear of the Unknown


The flight home from Indianapolis to L.A. was half empty. Everyone on the plane wore masks, scarves, or respirators. No one spoke. No one dared to cough, much less clear their throats for fear of causing alarm from someone seated next to them. Masked passengers, like nervous bank robbers in their getaway car, dotted the seats in the dimly-lit cabin. Everyone was eager to make their way home. COVID-19 USA version was just getting started.

I was sitting in an upgraded, First Class seat on a mileage award, and unsurprisingly, no one in First wanted food or beverage service. The flight attendant seemed relieved that she didn’t have to spend too much time, up close and personal.

We were flying through a modern version of the Twilight Zone and into the unknown. For me, the experience underscored what surreal really means, by its very definition: “seeming like a dream or fantasy.” A global pandemic, certainly felt like a very bad dream, one seemingly conjure up by a writer’s creative mind in a Hollywood fantasy.

In case you are grappling with the concept of surreality, this should help: Surreal is a tsunami that engulfs parts of Japan and causes a nuclear disaster. Surreal is Mount Saint Helen’s erupting, and blanketing 250 homes in molten hot lava and ash. Surreal is watching a space shuttle, with living/breathing astronauts in it, fly to a place in the sky, and explode. Surreal is the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake leaving a pancaked Bay Bridge in its wake. Surreal is also finding yourself smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic where it’s not only socially acceptable, but mandated, that you wear a mask into a bank, and no one hauls you away, in handcuffs, when you do so.

Two months ago, I got off that plane, drove home from LAX in a daze, and joined my family already on lockdown. The date was March 17, 2020, and I won’t ever forget it. I was 1989 San Francisco Earthquake shook.

Once I arrived home, I discovered my husband was already sick with symptoms that matched COVID-19. We’ve been married 26 years and nothing, in all those years, took him down quite like that. We didn’t quarantine from him, or he from us, and he turned out to be sick for almost three weeks. When I say sick, I mean DOWN for the count and lethargic, check his pulse, and see-if-he’s-breathing-kind-of-sick. I’m pretty sure he had “it,” and he tried to get tested to confirm our suspicions, but he was turned away.

This thing was still too new.

I’m pretty sure I also had “it” back in January after a trip to Vegas when a tele-doctor diagnosed me with the flu. (I later learned that someone traveling into McCarran from Wuhan, on the same day as me, was hospitalized. And, many people in my industry reported a strange “Vegas flu” after returning home. My symptoms began with a sore throat, with some stomach upset in the first couple of days. What followed was lethargy, rolling fevers, and a mad cough. I didn’t have a runny nose, or nausea. But, I was knocked down and rolling in and out of fever for two solid weeks, with THAT wicked cough. Our industry trade show also had legions of attendees flying in from China. Plus, “The Woz” was our industry’s guest speaker, and he claimed he was the first American who brought the virus to the U.S. as patient zero. People laughed at the joke, but it was reported that he was so sick, during his talk at the PPAI Show back in January, he had to sit down on stage to catch his breath. Yah. By then Vegas was crawling with “it.” And, as you know, Vegas is already a cesspool of disease and regret.

I’m pretty sure my son got “it” from me by early February when he was coughing so hard, he was retching blood. His doctor said he had bronchitis. My doctor said I had the flu, just 10 days earlier. By March, my husband became ill, and my son and I were both on lockdown with him, but we both never got sick with whatever my husband had. We assumed that’s because perhaps my son and I already had “it?” Three people were living under the same roof, over a two month timespan, and each of us were diagnosed with separate, although seemingly the same, illnesses. We had the same symptoms, but different responses. My son’s cough was the worst. My husband’s lethargy was the worst. My fevers were the worst.

Have we each already had COVID-19?

So, let’s assume for a minute that all three of us have had it. That’s three people living in the same house on lockdown. Each of us has the propensity to help drive the economy back to where it was in some way. I own a couple of businesses. My husband is a partner in a mutual funds company. And, my son is a student. If all three of us have had COVID-19, and I realize that is a big IF, shouldn’t we be with other’s like us back out in the world, helping to rebound the economy?

That got me thinking about how important the Antibody test is to our nation’s economy. The Antibody test shouldn’t only be about finding the cure to this deadly disease, it should be about putting members of society, maybe even entire households, back into the workforce as soon as we have answers about the likelihood of the possibilities of contracting the disease more than once, or catching a newer, rogue strain.

Since I can’t be sure that I had COVID-19 back in January, I forked over the $129 to Quest Diagnostics to get tested for antibodies. The rest of my family may follow suit. I simply gotta know!

Positive results won’t make me feel impervious from catching it again or resistant from catching a new strain, but it might give me courage to join civilization again, as a front seat driver in this economy, with the proper heath mandates put in place.

Here’s hoping the Antibody test also becomes as readily available as the COVID-19 test has become. Perhaps through it, we can jumpstart the economy again by putting people with antibodies, one-by-one, back out into the workforce and into schools, while we continue to fight the disease.

In any case, I miss my old optimistic self, so I’m going long on my Moderna stock. I incidentally bought in at $39.89 a share, back when they were just one of the numerous potential vaccine players in a sea of possibilities. If I sold today, I’d be a winner, winner chicken dinner. I don’t know about you, but it feels good to invest in hope, even if I lose my shirt. I’m going long! Goooooo Moderna! See us clear through to the finish line and end this pandemic.

A Lesson in Songwriting while Grappling with Grief


Earlier this year, I received a series of calls I hoped would never come. My younger brother, who had just turned 43, had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. To make matters worse, I was also under doctor’s care with an extreme case of Post-concussion syndrome after a freak accident playing with my dog. My brother was in bad shape, and I was prohibited from flying home to be with him. It hurt my brain to process my predicament, but I knew I was no good to anyone with a brain injury. My mind wasn’t clear, but the bandage had been ripped off my deeply rooted grief, and old, stifled emotion resurfaced for the brother I had already lost, long ago, to alcoholism. As the days progressed, the updates continued…

“He is in liver failure.”

“His organs are shutting down.”

“He is hallucinating.”

“He is terribly jaundiced.”

“They are putting him in a medically-induced coma.

“His situation is dire, you need to come home.”

Five days passed, and I finally flew back home to Indiana, post-concussed brain and all, but only after my doctor gave me a prescription with his nod to travel. By the time I arrived at my brother’s bedside, I first noticed how much he had aged in the year since I last saw him. He no longer looked like an alcoholic in his forties. He looked like a very sick and dying man, in his sixties.

After several long days of serving as my brother’s advocate and medical liaison to a highly trained team of doctors and surgeons in Indianapolis, finality came from one of them in just three swift sentences, “Your brother has been committing suicide for a very long time. If he didn’t want to die, he wouldn’t be in this position. There’s nothing more we can do.”

Grieving the sudden death of someone you already lost long ago isn’t easy because it means grieving again. After dealing with the business side of things at the hospital and with my family, numbness ensued. That welcomed absence of feeling suffocated my grief on my flight back to California, and I felt, if only for a spell, better. But, feeling better is not the point of grief. You have to reckon with grief through its stages or you will never be free from it. Grief is like a book that simply must have a beginning, a middle, and the part that reaches you to “The End.”

Days passed, and I still wanted nothing more than to remain in the place where I thought I had swallowed my grief whole. But, I knew I had to confront it head on; there was a lump at the bottom of my throat and a literal heartache in my chest that was so prevalent, I considered checking myself into the hospital. I knew I had to turn the key to my grief, unlock it, open the door, and let it out. I finally forced myself to do what I always did, back when I was child growing up in rural Indiana…a child in need of services…a ward of the court…an eventual fifteen-year-old foster kid.

I wrote.

I wrote to unlock those feelings rooted inside the core of my being. I wrote to find that creative outlet that once saved me from irreparable damage when I was a child. I wrote to move past the beginning and to search for the middle of my grief.

I wrote. I wrote. I wrote.

Until I broke.

From all that teeth gritting and soul baring composition came, amongst other things, a heart-wrenching story, composed with a tragically beautiful melody, sung and produced by a man whom I am now honored to call a friend. Our friendship is, at the very least, now bound to perpetuity by a singular song titled, “Little Rose.”

Fred “Doc” Gortner is the founder and lead singer/songwriter of a local, Southern California rock/blues band called “The Pits” (Find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @ReallyThePits). Doc and I have been loosely connected for years, and it was only a matter of time before our chance meeting when we’d become friends.

By day, Doc works in private equity. By night, he ditches his suit, dons one of his collectible guitars, bypasses the status-quo garage, and riffs from his backyard guest house with his band from his custom studio built with help from legendary studio designer, Charlie Bolois. “The Pits” aren’t your average run-of-the-mill “Dad Band,” nor is Doc your average dad. But, Doc is humble with his own description of himself along with his not-so-misfit-band-of-melody-makers, “We’re just a bunch of dads with day jobs who love writing, jamming and sharing our music.”

Recently, Doc and his band released a song on Spotify, and he asked me to check it out. I tuned in, and I was impressed. I told him I always wanted to “Try my hand at songwriting, particularly since I fancied myself as a bit of a poet,” and he simply replied, “Would love to see what you’ve written.”

My concussed brain and my heavy-laden heart was in the perfect place to try something new with the written word. And, I was writing.

I dug up an old poem I wrote years ago called, “Little Rose.” Somewhere in the bowels of my prose, I knew there was a path that would lead to the story I ultimately wanted to tell…one that wouldn’t underscore the finality of my brother’s death, only its inevitability. In my original handwriting, on a lined sheet of paper, I had written beneath its title, “A song.” So, I typed it up, poured new, open-wound grief into an old, closed-wound story, and sent the newer interpretation of my poem/song to Doc. And, while his feedback didn’t come swiftly, it came remarkably back in paragraphs that not only commended the lyrics, but with a thorough education in songwriting. (By then, I was beginning to figure out how Fred earned his moniker, “Doc.”)

Turns out, Doc couldn’t put the initial lyrics to “Little Rose” down, and he began composing the melody at first in his head, and then with his voice and his guitars. Over the next few weeks, after our workdays wrapped, Doc taught me everything he knew about songwriting, and I soaked up the education. I wrote some more and added additional stanzas at his prompting, although he educated me earlier about word choice, concise lines, and shorter song length. Somewhere along the way, Doc deviated, and asked me to add stanzas, and “Little Rose” grew bigger and bigger…like almost “American Pie” by Don McLean BIGGER. He asked me to dig deeper, and I did. After all, this wasn’t a short story or a novel that could take you on a journey across multiple pages. We had minutes to tell, through a song, the burning story that would rid myself of the lump in my throat and the pain in my chest that wouldn’t go away.

Through Doc, I learned how single words could impact the “sing-ability” of the song, and how certain words in poetry can be pure magic, but be tragic when they are sung. I learned how to scratch words Doc didn’t like, and to defend the ones I loved. I learned that certain poetic devices may not work in songwriting, and how rhyming can be imperfect and flexible, along with length of lines and stanza. But, ultimately I learned that songwriting is similar to writing poetry because the overall musicality is found within a strong voice. I learned how to accept his single word changes along the way, because another word of his choosing might sound better flowing from his mouth to his fingers strumming on his guitar. Towards the end, when we almost had the final lyrics in front of us, Doc and I were having long discussions about single words. Yes, single, solitary words can impact the direction and gravity of the whole song. I learned how to really listen to each and every word that came out of a singer’s mouth when I got each of his rough cuts by email. And, I was asked to critique the cuts as if I were an actual living and breathing songwriter in real life. 

And while I call myself a creative, this particular creative process was especially cathartic for me, because I was struggling with grief. I was engrossed and learning under Doc’s tutelage, and once I finally got the words out, the healing process began for me. But, Doc absorbed them. He told me he couldn’t get through singing the song without breaking down. If music is meant to evoke feeling then I had, at least to that point, done a pretty good job with writing the lyrics. “Little Rose” could quite possibly be one of the saddest songs you’ve ever heard, and I’m truly sorry about that. 

I simply cannot express enough thanks to Doc for taking me, and this song, under his wing. “Little Rose” went live across various music outlets this week. While all this technically makes me now a bonafide lyricist, I remain a frustrated songwriter that doesn’t know how to read music or play an instrument. But, I do have two brand new Taylor guitars arriving this week. What can I say, I’m now addicted to the process of songwriting, and I hear that learning an instrument is good for my brain as I age.

I still have so much to say on the subject of alcoholism, and its long-term and lasting impact on family and friends, but my brother didn’t die from alcoholism. He died from early childhood trauma at the hands of another alcoholic who likely also suffered through early childhood trauma, and that likely continued “on down the line” as they say in country music. But, I will talk about that more in another blog post. But, first you have to listen to our song because, like with all stories, you’ll need a beginning before the writer gets you to the middle, and then finally moves you on to “The End.”

Introducing, “Little Rose.”

Less Rules


Two Cutie-Pies with my book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore

Adults are imposing too many rules on what constitutes age-appropriate reading levels for young children. The books we serve-up to our children should push them outside their reading level and into an uncomfortable place that challenges them. Authors are taught to talk “at” children, at their level, and to not lean into where a child “could be” in their learning development. As parents, we all want our child to learn beyond their current capabilities without pushing them too hard or too fast. Children learn best when they are challenged. Books can be boring for a child that is ready to push past pre-defined reading levels. When books become boring, we can’t get our older children to read.

We need to stop imposing so many rules on reading and, instead, put books in front of children that challenge their young minds and how they think in this digital age that has parents scrambling to catch-up to our where our children are. For years, we couldn’t figure out why our son wasn’t reading books, but was still doing exceptionally well in his English classes. By the ninth grade, we finally figured out he was using his online time consuming math and physics articles and watching similar YouTube videos. His vocabulary and reading comprehension wasn’t based on reading books at all; he was literally consuming online material in the written and spoken form from content presented by scholars online.

As a parent, I used big words with my kids when they were little and both of my children spoke in complete sentences by the time they were two. And, that’s why I used bigger words than I was advised to use when I wrote Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore. An agent once told me, “Seagulls soaring above mocking in flocks,” is too vague and broad a concept for a young child to understand. As it turns out, kids love that line for its alliteration, musicality, and the imagery it conjures up in their minds, and the illustrations clearly depict what all that looks like. Plus, that’s what moms and dads are for. We snuggle in bed and explain concepts to our kids that teach them the world as the author intended them to see, while imposing our own ideals along the way. Mocking is also another word for bullying, and if we want to build a strong vocabulary in our youth, authors need to stretch our word choices beyond a child’s current level of reading comprehension.

And, all that brings me to word count. As an author, we are told to limit word count to keep a young reader interested and engaged. But, as an adult we sit down again to books that we didn’t finish the day before. Why would we teach a child that a book has to be short and has to be finished immediately?  Kids always say, “read me the part where…” What they are telling us is they are quite capable of picking up again in the middle, but we don’t listen to them. Rather, authors are instructed to cut down word count to address both exorbitant publishing costs and our assumption that a child needs to be immediately rewarded by a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Interestingly enough, my picture book is loved by children small enough to speak and memorize rhyme, all the way up to middle schoolers who like it read to them in a big, epic voice. Still, I was told by the publishing community to age grade it.

And that brings me to my final thought:

Big words and vivid illustrations lead to concept learning. Through children’s books, hate can be squelched. Cycles can be broken. And, it all starts with education. Early. Our educators have a real opportunity to seek out books that point out social injustices, give them a name, and work to squelch them. Books should be used to talk openly about our nation’s current affairs to readers, even at an early age. Maybe it’s time we broaden the scope of regularly scheduled school and library literacy programming, and add bigger words and broader thematic content into the mix. I know it’s a problem these days getting kids to read. Using real life scenarios may help parents come up with ways to encourage our students to dig into books, and online reading content, voraciously.

Compelling Reasons Why This Book Should Be in Your School Library


Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore Book Cover

Put Me In, Coach!

Children’s rhyming picture book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, tells the adventurous story of Sam, a tenacious land and sea fiddler crab who finds himself on the sandy shores of an idyllic island named Corte Magore. He wants to stay there and live there forever, but he’ll have to overcome obstacles to accomplish his dream. This book teaches children about courage and tenacity – to stand up to bullying and to fight for what they believe in, while also teaching them the importance of dreaming. Sam’s story is told in one big epic poem. This book is geared towards children ages 4-7, although all young children seem to enjoy it. Here’s why: 

The book is written in rhyme. Rhyming verse aids in early-development learning and recall. The British Council writes about teaching children English:

“…playing with the short texts of rhymes, children explore the mechanics of the English language. They find out how language works and become familiar with the relationship between the 44 sounds of English and the 26 alphabet letters – information which helps them when they begin reading to decode the sounds that make up words. The value of this type of language-play with rhymes in early learning is both underestimated and undervalued.”

The book utilizes many different poetic devices – typically difficult to teach children –such as alliteration, point-of-view, stanza, meter, repetition, assonance, personification, and my personal favorite, onomatopoeia. Poetic devices are used to take the reader to a different time or place and helps with imagery. Education Portal says:

“Poetry can follow a strict structure, or none at all, but many different types of poems use poetic devices. Poetic devices are tools that a poet can use to create rhythm, enhance a poem’s meaning, or intensify a mood or feeling. These devices help piece the poem together, much like a hammer and nails join planks of wood together.” 

Books Written in Prose May Be a Dying Art. Authors like Seuss and Silverstein paved the way for poetry in children’s literature, yet it’s hard to find new children’s books today written in prose. Carol Hurst intimates why it’s best to not let this great art die in the following excerpt taken from Hurst’s article on the website:

“…along came Shel Silverstein. He wrote poems about picking your nose and selling your baby sister and adults (some of them) winced and kids guffawed and kids’ poetry was changed forever. Now we’ve got the gamut of emotions and subjects in kid’s poetry. Poetry, of course, be it for child or adult (and the distinction is not always clear) is very much a matter of perception. Poems speak to the individual, even more than stories do, and some are not speaking to you — at least not right now. The rules of poetry selection are the same as for the selection of any kind of literary material that you’re going to use with your kids. It must speak to you as the living breathing adult you are before you can help it speak to kids. If it’s supposed to be funny, it should make you laugh or at least smile. If it’s supposed to be sad, it should choke you up a bit. If it’s a description of a thing or a feeling, it should help you see it or feel it in a new way. So, which of all the books of poetry will you choose for your classroom? Every one you can afford.”

Erin Koehler writes, “The more picture books I read, I start to notice the ones that catch my interest the most, and the ones I end up re-reading several times in a row, are the ones that feel the most poetic. By that I mean that even though the language may appear to be “simple” the language is actually rich in complex diction, syntax, and imagery–not to mention attention to rhythm, sounds, and pacing. Sound familiar? Like a poem maybe?”

Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore is published in more formats than the average book. In addition to hardcover, softcover, an audio version, and a soon published Spanish translation (being published for the Finding Corte Magore project) did you know this literary gem is also available in a picture book app available exclusively for the iPad? The iPad version, for all you tech-based schools, boasts interactivity, professional narration, full animation and an original musical score produced by Nashville singer and songwriter, Robby Armstrong. (Hint: Sam is a “fiddler” crab.)

Finally, have you ever heard of SpongeBob SquarePants? Of course you have! Kids love sea creatures! What we all admire most about the television series are the unique characters, setting and bold use of color. When one of my good friends told me her brother, a Storyboard Director for SpongeBob SquarePants would be interested in working on the book, I knew I had found the right art director. “Mr. Lawrence” -who incidentally is also the voice of Plankton, then brought in his colleague, another SpongeBob storyboard director, Marc Ceccarelli, to produce the original character art and many of the final illustrations.

So, as promised, these are succinct, definitive reasons why this book should be in a school or public library, despite my newbie authorness and utter lack of literary famelessness (I’m a writer, I get to make-up words.)

As always, thanks for the ear!

Tonia Allen Gould, Author

Click here to Order Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore on Amazon.

Politics, #PPEshortage, and Profiteers


On March 19th, the state of California was placed on lockdown after news that the novel and deadly virus, COVID-19, was spreading like wildfire, crippling the nation’s hospitals. Just days later, other states followed suit. While families stocked-up on food and basic necessities, they then raced home to hold their families close, fearing what was to come. Across the nation, business owners were forced to close shop if their services or goods were deemed non-essential by the government, and their employees were quickly shuffled to work-from-home status. While everyone was defining their new normal, something equally sinister was lurking and spreading as quickly as the virus itself.

Modern day conmen, using a tactic known as spear phishing, began targeting both buyers and sellers of in-demand, and lifesaving, Personal Protective Equipment known as PPE, due to a nationwide shortage. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines PPE as “equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses.” Everyone from the U.S. Government, to hospitals, retirement homes, nurses, patients, and everyone else, needed PPE Masks, but there was no stockpile beyond profiteers’ warehouses and garages; it quickly became obvious the nation was in short, accessible supply. On Friday, April 10th, Los Angeles County instituted a WEAR MASK order into law to protect both store clerks and necessity shoppers from the deadly virus.

Respirators, sometimes referred to as face masks, soon became the most widely requested item in America, second to hand sanitizers and toilet paper. And, the Phishermen, as I like to call them, were lurking and ready to phish in a very large pond, with millions of dollars to gain. I happen to know, because I spent the larger part of a week, unraveling the scam.

I am the owner of a twenty-five-year old consumer promotions and marketing company called Tagsource, LLC (AKA TAG!)  I sit on the Board of Directors of the Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC). My company is a long-standing member of the Promotional Products Association International, a member driven organization that services a $23.3 billion-dollar industry with more than 3,500 supplier companies, 30,000 distributor firms, and together we comprise some 50,000 American jobs. Distributor firms have been playing in the field of PPE (like hospital gowns, shoe coverings, FDA approved masks, uniforms, etc.) because we already service the medical community with branded merchandise. Together, with our suppliers, we have well-vetted, consistent, and reliable factory relationships. We understand product and factory compliance, fair practice and pricing, licensing requirements, government regulations, safety testing, and labor standards.

When medical supply companies couldn’t meet the demand to service the current wave of PPE requests, procurement officers came to us, or we went to them. Our industry rose to the challenge as a secondary source to solve the nationwide #PPEshortage. But, like everyone else, we were struggling to keep up with the ever-evolving COVID-19 FDA regulations, CDC guidelines, state and federal rules, and new border restrictions that could prevent our products from getting through to our buyers and their end-users. We were learning as quickly as we could to keep up, but new middlemen began to proliferate the marketplace, and they were learning the ropes. From pop-up brokers, to fly-by-night organizations, small businesses looking to diversify, Amazon profiteers, to millionaire investors:  Everyone wanted to get in on the sale of face masks due to increasing demand, and they began to inundate call centers nationwide.

Read:

Special Report: The Mask Middlemen – How pop-up brokers seek big paydays in a frenzied market

Enter Trump vs. 3M, creating a perfect storm for spear phishing.

Trump, 3M clash over order to produce more face masks for US

President Donald Trump said Friday his administration will try to stop “profiteers” from exporting medical protective gear, shortly after picking a fight with manufacturing giant 3M, a major producer and exporter of face masks used to protect health care workers from the coronavirus.”

3M argued that blocking exports will raise “significant humanitarian implications” abroad and lead other countries to retaliate by withholding much-needed medical supplies from the U.S.

Middlemen, in most cases, were trying to help solve one of the greatest potential humanitarian crises of modern times, while justifying making some money along the way. 

And, the “Phishermen” pounced.

PURPORTED SPEAR PHISHING SCAM UNPACKED:

In the wholesale world, a company needs a buyer and a seller of goods to do business. For me, this all started with an email from an importer whom we’ve worked with in the past. The Phishermen work the supply chain until they get to the buyer. (As far as I can tell, my importer is just another spoke in the wheel on the bike ride to get to me, and through me, hopefully get to any one of my buyers.)

We have a failed order available for 3 million n95 masks, see pics and license attached, goods are available fob china at $2.50/pc for immediate pickup? Thanks!

My interest has peaked. I open the email and inspect the documents, and they look off. I ask standard questions, and for more documentation, because remember, I’m working with someone I should trust here, and so I engage.  (As far as I can tell, my importer is innocent in the scam.) And, I respond to the email:

The documentation provided is for “child masks.” Please confirm that they are adult masks and please supply accompanied documentation for those. Also, why aren’t they marked KN95? The documentation as supplied won’t work.  Also, we’re learning PPE products are being seized at the ports. There are also US mandates against price-gouging. These normally sell for $2.00 domestically?? Please advise any/all information you can supply. 

My importer emails his contact, tells him I’m questioning docs, and probably discloses I have a big potential buyer on the hook waiting for details.  At this point, I don’t know who he’s feeding my info to, only that normally he’d be working factory-direct. I have, by now, given him the CDC list of respirators approved under standards used in other countries that are similar to NIOSH-approved N95 respirators. At this point, I’ve questioned docs on products that have been offered for sale, and I’ve stated what I’ve seen from him doesn’t conform to CDC guidelines, let alone my own scruples. Then the importer offers me the product repackaged and relabeled to get them through the border and gets a thorough reprimand from me for even suggesting it.

The purported Phishermen now know the deal they offered me through my importer has to change because none of it passes my cursory inspection to this point. The deal does change, and it gets even bigger and BETTER!

150 million 3M N95 8210 for $4.35 each, landed anywhere in the free world. Coming from China with 50 million shipments.  1 now, 1 in a week, and 1 in 2 weeks. 35% with the PO for each tranche in the escrow account, balance with bill of lading. All instructions in the Purchase order.

Holy flippin’ cow! I’ve hit the mother load! I found those 3M N95 8210’s that 3M vs. Trump prevented from getting into the country! So, I donned my Superwoman cape and declared, “Don’t worry world! I’m here to save you!” Just kidding. I know something’s up. And, drop ship promo business was slow; I had extra time on my hands. I simply had to follow this through. 

Meanwhile, in addition to our normal clients on the mad dash hunt for PPE, I’ve got a pop-up broker now in my ear because I tweeted about the purported stockpile leaving China, just in case a miracle was about to unfold, but also to see what turned up. Someone tweets me back, and asks me to take the convo to WhatsApp, where I learn he has a 40 million unit order on the hook for a major healthcare company in dire need, as well as a solid book of other million unit buyer leads. We have an hour long Zoom meeting, and he seems legit, if not overtly opportunistic, and it’s all too promising not to follow through. And, since his purported buyer is in the news about their own PPE shortage, I now have no other choice but to follow all this through. Me and my big tweeting mouth. Still, I’m proceeding with extreme caution with both the buyer and the seller.

I’ve been in business a long time. These high volume numbers are surreal, but “the population of the United States of America is 330,594,690 as of Wednesday, April 15, 2020, based on Worldometer’s elaboration of the latest United Nations data.” My family needs at least three masks to get us through a month of necessity shopping and that’s with continuous reuse. I can do the math.

I wait for the preliminary documentation I requested from my importer.  I get something, which in my mind, is the most important thing. It’s an SGS DOCUMENT on the products being sold. SGS offers “world-leading certification services enabling you to demonstrate that your products, processes, systems or services are compliant with national and international regulations and standards.”  I’ve been given documentation, purportedly on the production contract on actual goods being offered for sale. So, before I go any further, I upload the doc to SGS to verify its authenticity, but it’s Good Friday, and I know I won’t hear anything back until the following week, and I am on the race to the finish line to potentially land the deal of the century or figuring out the scam and getting back to my old sequestered workday life. I have to keep the bicycle in perpetual motion.

My purported buyer and I work together on a list of docs he wants to see. He seems very familiar with the doc list, which is surprising from someone who is a pop-up broker with potentially big buyer leads. But, his doc list is extensive. And, that’s what’s weird to me.  He’s operating like a seasoned and savvy procurement officer would at Walt Disney Company. Or, maybe he’s FBI? Or, maybe he’s already been around the block with distributors like me. I don’t know, but our hour long conversation on Zoom was enjoyable. He sends me his requests:

  1. Background story
    • How did you get the goods and what is your relationship with the seller and/or 3M?
    • Have you sold any deals yet?
    • Are all 150M units available in about a week at the seller’s airport in the US? What state are they arriving?
  2. POL
    • Past References of buyers (Bob, do you have references, as well as the seller? We’ve already supplied ours.)
    • Past Bill of Landing (redacted fine)
    • 3M Contract (redacted fine) 
    • Past SGS inspections
    • Is there a SGS Certificate of approval on the goods?
  3. LOI/PO – addressed to who? 
    • Business name
    • Address
    • Telephone
    • Email
  4. Escrow terms and bank information
  5. Payment terms
  6. Location of goods and the date of arrival
  7. Lead time
  8. Price quoted was landed US and includes delivery to buyer, correct?

Later the purported buyer asks me for: Business registration, Proof of Authorized 3M Distributor, Current SGS Certificate, Certificate of conformity, ISO Certification, NOAH Certification, Nelson Lab Certification, Production Contract and Escrow Docs. Could the buyers and sellers be somehow interlinked in one big scam? He doesn’t suspect that I may suspect him, and by now he’s admitted he’s aware of scams, and likely could suspect me as a scammer as well. And, I’m thinking maybe he still could be a legitimate broker looking to land a 40 million unit deal, a deal of his lifetime, and frankly, of mine.

Since my purported buyer packaged his list of requested docs for me, I sent it to my importer, as if I wrote it myself, and told him what I needed.

Minutes later, I received this from the importer: 

150 million 3M N95 8210 for $4.35 each landed anywhere in the free world. Coming from China in 50 million pallets shipments  1 now, 1 in a week, and 1 in 2 weeks + R and E. 35% with the PO for each tranche in the escrow account, ours or yours, balance with bill of lading. Put all instructions in your Purchase order. Attached is a SGS report. Two failed PO’s without POF. Make Purchase Order out to:

<Gives name > Wire Instructions: The Seller uses a former Attorney General to set up the Escrow account. <Gives account number, routing number, Chase bank address in San Diego and swift code> Once the Seller receives the PO and POF, they will issue a Video and a current SGS report and an invoice and send you Escrow information. Now the buyer may talk to the seller. Once all the funds for the first shipment are in Escrow, they will ship 50 Million Now; 50 Million in a Week, 50 Million in 2 Weeks. Once the funds are in Escrow, the first 50 million masks will be shipped by air freight to the airport of your choice at the Seller’s expense. Gown/mask/cap combo. Cost is $5.60. Ventilator Model # YH-830Bi pap.  CIF $17,500. Made in the USA. See attachments. 

Now, I’m really perplexed. They won’t supply docs until I show them proof of funds. I create a stir with the importer and say no one would operate under these conditions, and I need to see the docs before the buyer will submit a PO, POF, and certainly before they send a 35% down payment on a multi-million dollar order. The importer has a vested interest in closing a big deal, so he gives me the information of his buying source, and get this, it’s an 84-year-old Vietnam Vet who has spent his last ten years in medical sales here in Southern California. I speak to him, but only after scouring the web to see what dirt I can drag up on him, and I discover at least one scam alert from a purported shady deal, sometime ago. He’s as sweet as can be, and tells me about his past wives, and how he’s tied into a Canadian factory that is an authorized Distributor of 3M products, and that factory has the pulse on all twenty-two, 3M factories worldwide. Although he has a scam alert, I believe he believes this is true. The dude is 84. I cut him some slack for one deal gone wrong. (You’d understand if you were on the receiving end of a phone call with a veteran telling war stories and commiserating about his late wife dying from cancer.) And, in the back of my mind, I think maybe my seemingly nice Veteran, who deals in medical sales, could possibly have the legit pulse on a bonafide 3M production contact. If he does, and I have an authentic healthcare buyer, I can get the 3M masks through the border legally, the only way I would touch any deal. He tells me his supplier has stock and they can get me whatever I need. The Vet then sends me the longest, most carefully drafted, NCNDA I have ever seen in my life. I tell him I’m not signing it because it prevents me from selling anything, like ever again. It’s been drafted by lawyers. Really good ones. Somewhere around this time, I advise both the importer and my Vet that 3M vs. Trump is making me think nothing is getting in without government seizure. They communicate that, I’m guessing, to their Canadian partners. 

What follows is this from the importer: 

Hi Salespeople Reps and Brokers: We are now a sub-distributor of 3M masks. The procedures are relatively simple, we get the purchase order (PO) which must include the buyers name address and phone number along with the product that he wants and any additional instructions. That purchase order goes to the attorney for Interways solution Canada Ltd. the attorney then takes over by calling the buyer arranging for the Deposit to be put into the escrow account. They are sent out at that point the contract and all documents including the invoice. You will receive copies of that. They have a Paymaster to pay the difference of actual cost and the overage which is commissions to us. Currently I have not received the first set of documents as the attorney took Friday off and Sunday, however I’m just giving you an update. I expected Copy that my first transaction within the hour or so. We are extremely comfortable with the process and dealing with a distributor of 3M products. Hold your questions until I send you copies of documents sometime soon. Thank you.

Here is where the PO’s are addressed: <Gives Address> Our new pricing for all Masks. Note we can not ship 3M products into the USA, ordered by Trump. Pricing for 3M anywhere else. N95 1860 $4.15.  N95 8210 $4.55 Minimum is 10 Million CIF. KN95 in stock at LaGuardia NYC, $3.15 landed at the buyers airport. KN95 coming from China $2.45 CIF, any country. 

By now SGS, has gotten back to me to confirm my suspicions and with this, I’ve had enough of all myself and all my sleuthing: 

Dear Tonia, Thank you for submitting the attached documents for authentication. Unfortunately, we are unable to verify this document as part of the format has been removed / hidden.  This document is thus of no value whatsoever and we advise you to not rely on it for any purpose. As you can understand, SGS takes very seriously any attempt to alter the appearance of our documents.  We would appreciate any assistance you can give us in tracking down the source of this altered document by completing the attached form. Best Regards, Corporate Security Team. 

I finally email the importer and let him know he’s potentially involved in a scam of EPIC proportions. I want to copy my Vet, but I don’t have the heart, and I notify the purported pop-up broker/buyer/FBI Agent/procurement officer that the deal is a bust, and that given everything going on with 3M vs. Trump, I’m out. I don’t disclose much further. He responds and says, “So was it a SCAM?” I tell him about the N95’s I can definitely procure from a tried-and-true factory where I can get him three million units of masks, every 3 weeks through my conventional channels. Something still isn’t sitting quite right with my buyer, but I never could connect all the dots. And, I still think he’s a really nice guy.

But, it doesn’t end there:

The importer emails me back with desperate attempts to save the deal that probably had him booking his flight to Aruba. Is he involved in the scam? I really don’t know, but I don’t think so. The Vietnam Vet takes one last crack at documentation, and I let him down as nicely as I could, outlining plain facts that he’s potentially caught up in a spear fishing scam. He asks me to kindly destroy the documents. Is he involved in the scam? I don’t know. I hope not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he woke-up to find his bank account emptied. He said he had a successful transaction in progress.

Enter New Guy, a purported Distributor principal, like me, who claims he’s been out of our industry, but jumped back in to service old clients on some face masks. Says he’s interested in buying masks from my Vietnam Vet, and my importer told him that my Vet has been vetted by me, and I could confirm he’s legit.  I fill New Guy in on what I believe to be was a scam. New Guy’s text came in literally seconds after I announced any deal with me was a bust. New guy definitely seems involved in the scam. He tells me he has two PO’s for 100M KN95’s, and he’s gotten his own attorney involved with his own escrow account, and that I should trust him. He asked me to let him know about legit sources for domestic products to fulfill in 7-10 days. He’s got a buyer on the hook and the deal is about to go bust. But then, in the next sentence, he tells me if I don’t mind waiting 7-10 days, he can get me all the products I need, in the states or from China (as a broker), and through his own network. This totally refutes his first statement that he’s deadlocked and can’t get anything done. He sends me his promotional products distributorship’s website, which is fake. I clicked the link, and it’s a screen capture of a website with nothing linking out. He mentions SAAGNY and how he used to sit on the BOD. I ask him to tell me people in industry he knows, just for fun. He tells me he doesn’t know who I know, so he doesn’t name anyone. He then begs me for legitimate documentation so his deal doesn’t go bust. I tell him to go away. He doesn’t give up, tells me I should believe in him, and he sends me more links to companies he’s an investor in, all with websites built in 2020, and with links to barely built websites. I tell him he’s a crackpot, and he reminds me to be careful. I ignore him forever.

So this is what I know after that long, sordid tale:

  1. The scammers need something from us, and they are desperate to get it.  They need all this legitimate documentation that buyers would ask for, to make their scam work. If we provide it, we are feeding it into the hands of devils with phishing poles. Likely, it’s already been handed to them in some capacity. With documentation, Phisherman can prove legitimacy of production. I literally loathe Phishermen. Get them out of our pond!
  2. The promotional products industry is ripe for the picking because we have buyer/distributor/supplier/importer/factory relationships. We are one industry that has the full supply chain in our back pockets.  
  3. Fake brokers/buyers may also be looking for documentation to make a scam work. I’m not sure, but I think the buyers and sellers may somehow be connected, even if unwittingly. I’m not saying my pop-up broker is a scammer, because he’s so nice and all, but definitely some things are not lining-up. It’s weird how the first message on WhatsApp from the pop-up broker, matches some of the last details from the seller. Either he’s caught up in the same scam, legitimately trying to source product, or he’s connected to the same scam in some devious way. (If he’s reading this, I want to remind him that I want to believe he’s nice.)
  4. Nothing lined up. Altered docs. The wrong docs. Not enough docs. Nothing presented was enough to satisfy my buyers. Be wary of deals where too many middlemen are involved, and demand documentation before disclosing anything. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it could be wolf in sheep’s clothing.
  5. It’s possible these massive buyers and sellers are all a ruse, and the only thing they are trying to do is get is the importer’s, the Vet’s, and my bank accounts which is required to commission us on the back-end of a sale.
  6. Fake brokers could also be creating fake demand and targeting the promotional products industry specifically. Creating fake demand puts us all in a buying and selling frenzy, hoping we forget standard protocol, and that alone could also be perpetuating the fear about the #PPEshortage that may or may not truly exist on such a grand scale. 
  7. Never mess with a sequestered woman who is trying to diversify during a worldwide pandemic, and who just happens to have some extra time on her hands.

This whole write-up needs to be reported to the FBI.

Avail


Shot while living in Ventura, CA on the Pacific Ocean for a Year

A malevolent cloud wrestled the sky, merged with it

Now a looming black denizen over the vast sea.

The cloud challenged the sea’s omnipotence

and asked of it,

“Who is greater, now? You or me?”

The sky knew the answer,

but still wanted to be told.

The sea was strangled, choked with silence.

The sky cast his shadow even wider over her, controlling her,

Mutating her waters, and turning her rolling waves thick, and dark, and dense as ink.

The sun, anchored far above, witnessed the sky’s malice.

She watched as he continued to enshroud the sea

with his prowess, blanketing her with his enormity.

The sun stood idly by no more, she edged, and elbowed her way,

into the sky, and consumed him, swallowing him whole, with her hopeful rays,

And the sea resurrected her spirit within her mighty tidal waves.

T.A. Gould

Compelling Reasons Why This Book Should Be In Your School Library


Put Me In, Coach!

Children’s rhyming picture book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, tells the adventurous story of Sam, a tenacious land and sea fiddler crab who finds himself on the sandy shores of an idyllic island named Corte Magore. He wants to stay there and live there forever, but he’ll have to overcome obstacles to accomplish his dream. This book teaches children about courage and tenacity – to stand up to bullying and to fight for what they believe in, while also teaching them the importance of dreaming. Sam’s story is told in one big epic poem. This book is geared towards children ages 4-7, although all young children seem to enjoy it. Here’s why: 

The book is written in rhyme. Rhyming verse aids in early-development learning and recall. The British Council writes about teaching children English:

“…playing with the short texts of rhymes, children explore the mechanics of the English language. They find out how language works and become familiar with the relationship between the 44 sounds of English and the 26 alphabet letters – information which helps them when they begin reading to decode the sounds that make up words. The value of this type of language-play with rhymes in early learning is both underestimated and undervalued.”

The book utilizes many different poetic devices – typically difficult to teach children –such as alliteration, point-of-view, stanza, meter, repetition, assonance, personification, and my personal favorite, onomatopoeia. Poetic devices are used to take the reader to a different time or place and helps with imagery. Education Portal says:

“Poetry can follow a strict structure, or none at all, but many different types of poems use poetic devices. Poetic devices are tools that a poet can use to create rhythm, enhance a poem’s meaning, or intensify a mood or feeling. These devices help piece the poem together, much like a hammer and nails join planks of wood together.” 

Books Written in Prose May Be a Dying Art. Authors like Seuss and Silverstein paved the way for poetry in children’s literature, yet it’s hard to find new children’s books today written in prose. Carol Hurst intimates why it’s best to not let this great art die in the following excerpt taken from Hurst’s article on the website:

“…along came Shel Silverstein. He wrote poems about picking your nose and selling your baby sister and adults (some of them) winced and kids guffawed and kids’ poetry was changed forever. Now we’ve got the gamut of emotions and subjects in kid’s poetry. Poetry, of course, be it for child or adult (and the distinction is not always clear) is very much a matter of perception. Poems speak to the individual, even more than stories do, and some are not speaking to you — at least not right now. The rules of poetry selection are the same as for the selection of any kind of literary material that you’re going to use with your kids. It must speak to you as the living breathing adult you are before you can help it speak to kids. If it’s supposed to be funny, it should make you laugh or at least smile. If it’s supposed to be sad, it should choke you up a bit. If it’s a description of a thing or a feeling, it should help you see it or feel it in a new way. So, which of all the books of poetry will you choose for your classroom? Every one you can afford.”

Erin Koehler writes, “The more picture books I read, I start to notice the ones that catch my interest the most, and the ones I end up re-reading several times in a row, are the ones that feel the most poetic. By that I mean that even though the language may appear to be “simple” the language is actually rich in complex diction, syntax, and imagery–not to mention attention to rhythm, sounds, and pacing. Sound familiar? Like a poem maybe?”

Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore is published in more formats than the average book. In addition to hardcover, softcover, an audio version, and a soon published Spanish translation (being published for the Finding Corte Magore project) did you know this literary gem is also available in a picture book app available exclusively for the iPad? The iPad version, for all you tech-based schools, boasts interactivity, professional narration, full animation and an original musical score produced by Nashville singer and songwriter, Robby Armstrong. (Hint: Sam is a “fiddler” crab.)

Finally, have you ever heard of SpongeBob SquarePants? Of course you have! Kids love sea creatures! What we all admire most about the television series are the unique characters, setting and bold use of color. When one of my good friends told me her brother, a Storyboard Director for SpongeBob SquarePants would be interested in working on the book, I knew I had found the right art director. “Mr. Lawrence” -who incidentally is also the voice of Plankton, then brought in his colleague, another SpongeBob storyboard director, Marc Ceccarelli, to produce the original character art and many of the final illustrations.

So, as promised, these are succinct, definitive reasons why this book should be in a school or public library, despite my newbie authorness and utter lack of literary famelessness (I’m a writer, I get to make-up words.)

As always, thanks for the ear!

An Ode to a Veteran and Handi-Snacks with Their Little Red Sticks


That handsome feller is my Grandfather. He died when I was ten. He served his family and country well. He ruffled my hair with his calloused hands and carried an ample stock of Handi-Snacks cheese and crackers (packed out with the little red stick), just for me. He’d let me spread my cheese over that cracker and watch me stuff my face – and laugh – whenever I was down. And, that was all I needed. Me and my Grandpa, bumping along the back roads of Indiana in his old jalopy, and laughing, with my cheese and crackers. If that ain’t a God Bless America tribute, I don’t know what is.

Grisham, A Homeless Man, and My Spilled Groceries


For Thanksgiving, I have a story to share. Yesterday, I pulled into the crowded grocery store parking lot, where cars were stopped everywhere, waiting for a place to park. Towards the back of the lot, a homeless man sat under a tree with a book in his hand. The book was covered with a handwritten sign asking for money. Next to him was an empty space – where no one wanted to park. No one wanted to park their car next to the homeless man.
Honestly, I didn’t get it, and I was overjoyed by luck at finding a space. So I pulled into it, and dug through my purse looking for some bills. I got out of my car and said, “Hey! Whatcha reading?” He looked up at me in surprise. “Grisham,” he said with a smile. I handed him the money and smiled back, “I love Grisham,” I said, and walked away. By the time I came back out – he was gone. I was hoping he went to find food with the money I gave. 

After dealing with the long line at the grocery store, I hurriedly put my groceries in the back of my SUV, and unbeknownst to me, the gate didn’t latch. By the time I made it onto the street – three bags of groceries toppled out and into the middle of the left turn lane. I was horrified and worried my groceries were going to cause an accident. So I whipped back around – turned on my hazards – and got out of the car while a young lady had already crossed the street from the gas station to help me get my groceries out of the way. 

Every single one of my food items survived the fall – except for two bottles of sparkling lemonade -but, everything else I picked out for today’s feast was left totally unscathed. And, I couldn’t help but think, as I raced to get those groceries out of the way, that my willing gesture of kindness with the homeless man came right back to me with someone who was willing to help me out in my own time of need. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Weathered Barn Wood, A Rusty Railroad Tie, and A Familiar Book


Is it possible to be reminded of something like home, when you are already there, knelt beside your table that once was a door from an old place on the prairie?

I am Not a Morning Person, but I’ve come to appreciate this time alone with my thoughts coming alive with every sip of coffee. In my solitude, I sit on my knees at my beloved barn wood coffee table and think. Today, it’s the coffee table itself that consumes my thoughts. Mine is comprised of hickory perhaps, but aged barn wood, nevertheless, that used to be an old door complete with a keyhole that long ago lost its metal and key. But the keyhole will never be lost; it will be there until the end of time. For the record, the missing key isn’t hiding in the depths of that hole. I know, because I looked. Only time lives in that hole.

The substantial wood door tabletop is perched upon heavy, cast iron legs that have stubbed more than a few errant toes through the years…if only I had a dollar for every swear word that table conjured. The table is solid and immovable by me without four hands; I sadly only possess two, which makes positioning the table from errant toes especially difficult. But the table, otherwise, is positioned precisely where it’s supposed to be.

The door was once properly fitted by a young farmer on his cabin from a long ago place and time on a prairie, or so I imagine. A picture of Charles Ingalls comes to mind, and I know in my heart, that old door really belonged to someone like him. But, that old toe stubber of a table is mine for a time, or until one hundred years from now when someone else calls my table, which used to be an old door on the prairie, theirs.

My paperweight is a rusty railroad tie given to me by a dear friend from a past birthday. Someone drove that stake into some railroad where trains and people traversed, long ago.

Likely it was from a place in which I’ve never visited. Or maybe I’ve been there after all; I do like that storyline better. If only I knew where the nearest crossing was from which or from where it was extracted, I might dare to go there and drive that stake into its old place again. The aged has a way of losing its place in time, like that old rusty railroad tie, and that is sad to me. But, alas, I could never part with my paperweight, after all it was a special gift from a dear friend for my birthday; it has meaning and it’s mine. But, I hope whomever calls it theirs next imagines its old place at a railroad crossing where people once traversed, and they do not imagine merely me, a woman who called that rusty railroad tie, her paperweight. I hope they imagine my rusty railroad tie properly sitting in its place on top of an old door that once belonged on someone’s prairie cabin from long ago.

Railroad shot by Tonia Allen Gould, Indiana

The familiar scent of coffee seeps from my favorite mug, another gift, but this time from a former client, molded by hand, and fired in a kiln in the South Bay on a Saturday, some twenty-five years ago. He could have given that mug to anyone, but he gave it to me. I’ve never kept anything quite so silly, and fragile, for quite so long. I break things. I don’t mean to, but I’m a klutz and I’m not designed to keep things like this for long. But, this silly, fragile mug has managed to survive me. And, that my friends, is why it has that grateful look look on its face.

I wonder if someone will ever want to make my favorite mug their own one day, long after I’m gone, if in the end it manages to survive me? Will my children one day read this and fight over my silly, fragile mug? And will the winner of that lottery get angry, or maybe even cry, when one of their guests accidentally knocks it onto the floor where it finally shatters into a thousand shards of ceramic? Will they say, tearfully, “That was my mother’s favorite silly, fragile mug! It’s all I had left of her!” And, will they remember it was given to me by one of my clients who molded its face by hand and fired it in a kiln on a Saturday somewhere in the South Bay? Will they remember it could’ve been given to anyone else but me? Or, will that mug wind up eventually shattered, anyway, in a bin at a garage sale was lost on everyone but me?

On that old table, that once was a door from an old house on the prairie, is also a classic book revisited, Pride and Prejudice, which I’ve promised myself I would finally reread. But rereading it may make me finally move it from its place on that old door that is now a table.

Suddenly, people I’ve come to know other than Jane Austen, break the silence from the room adjacent to me, along with the sound of a door (that is actually a door and not a table) opening, a toilet flushing, and water cascading from an outdoor fountain nearby. It all reminds me of home.

But I am home. Those people, breaking the silence and my reverie, are my family, just the same as is the old barn wood table, that once was a door, the rusty railroad tie that lost its place, the smell of coffee wafting from my eventual shattered mug, and the treasured novel that remains unread, still, and yet again.

Is it possible to be reminded of something like home, when you are already there, knelt beside your table that once was a door from an old place on the prairie?

The Percussion of a City from a Hotel Room


The city pulses and throbs outside my seventh floor window. Sleep escapes me – everything from the occasional wail of a siren, or the honk of a horn, to a faint whistle in the far off distance  – keeps me from drifting off. Even the Metro’s rhythmic trundle of wheels on steel tracks that buckle tired railroad ties, tethered beneath – keeps me awake. The old wood suppoerting the train, creaks and moans, protesting the weight of an era of passengers who have relentlessly traversed The City of Magnificent Intentions, the beautiful Capital of the World. And, when my ears become immune and my eyes finally droop, the air conditioner in my room rattles on and hums her own tune. The percussion of a city from a hotel room, reminds me of the musical, STOMP. It is all at once both mesmerizing and environmentally overloading, and I am completely lost in it like writers are when they try to find words that describe what their senses see, hear or feel. 

When I can’t sleep, I write. And, when I write, sleep most certainly never comes. 

Good morning from Washington D.C.

Immigration. What’s the Problem and How Do We Fix It?


Sustainable food production at our border may be the answer.

The Mexican “Braceros” worked in agriculture in the US through the Bracero Program during the early phases of World War II and it ended about 20 years later. The Catholic Church in Mexico didn’t like that families were being separated, but the program ended largely due to labor disputes and strikes. This single program paved important politics between the US and Mexico (with Mexico being the underdog) during and after the program unfolded.

The program had problems, but a modern day resurrection seems like a good solution to the displaced Mexican farm workers (for instance) caught-up in matters like NAFTA changes and social problems in Mexico. But, legal immigration, through programs like these, would solve so many problems at our border, and could work again, since we know one program had a life span of over twenty years.

With the idea of growing desert crops – like watermelons, apples, green onions, cucumbers, corn, hot peppers, melons, bell peppers, radishes, carrots, cabbage, soybeans, pears, tomatoes, squash and spinach – using modern-day sustainable food production techniques, I’m wondering if a program like the Bracero could be resurrected AT our vast border? Putting migrants to work at the border, for a fair wage, could solve a lot of problems. Schools and decent abodes could forge new communities, just inside the US border. That food could then be sold back to Mexico or the US, or better yet make a dent in feeding world hunger, in exchange for the wages, housing and education benefits paid to the migrant workers. If there’s a deficit from food sold that doesn’t stack-up to labor and education costs, it seems those could be offset from what we’d save in detaining and incarcerating illegal immigrants. Rather, we put these people, fairly, to work at our border. Unskilled and illegal immigrants could be taught how to farm there too, for that same fair wage, so they are better equipped to take care of their families when they go back to Mexico, if their entrance into the country is only short term. But, when they leave, they take new skills and newly acquired education with them back to their own countries to better IT, not OURS.

If people coming in, truly want to work for an honest pay, that’s a good way to find out quickly. Perhaps the best workers, committed to the program, could earn their ticket fully into the US, with their families, after a period of time through a farm-release program. Given the sheer number of people approaching our borders, that’s a lot of new food production.

These are just some of my thoughts from a social entrepreneurial lens. I know it would be a massive undertaking. Our federal prison is currently comprised, by 14%, of Mexican citizens. Extraditing them back to Mexico, could raise over $800,000,000 per year to fund the program.

Perhaps it’s time for a border within our border, letting good people in and weeding bad people out.

These are just my musings, and one crazy idea on a potential solution to a big problem. I, for one, would like to hear less political banter from both sides, and more mindshare on our problems with potential solutions. The conversation is so much more productive that way.

So what’s the problem and how do we fix it?

(Photographs are my own. I took them while traveling and working extensively throughout Nicaragua through The Finding Corte Magore Project.)

A Step-by-Step Guide on What to Do When You Lose Your iPhone


Here’s what to do when you lose your iPhone. Follow my step-by-step guide to get it back or at least regain your sanity:

Call it immediately from another number. If it rings to voicemail, the Son of a Beast/Daughter of a Beast (SOBDOB) who stole it won’t answer because he/she knew to shut it off.

Log into iCloud and click, “Locate your phone,” which you discover isn’t plausible (and is actually a stupid step) because you already knew the SOBDOB shut it off when he/she pocketed it like an off- Broadway street boy/girl practicing his/her role from Les Misérables.

Click “Report your phone lost or stolen” and mutter “by a SOBDOB” under your breath loudly so an entire convention center of your industry colleagues can hear you.

Click “Erase your phone” so when the SOBDOB begins to feel high-and-mighty, turns it back on and tries to creep into your password-protected life, it immediately gets wiped clean.

Brush off your alter-ego (your alternative personality that would never be so dumb as to put the phone down in a public place), go to the Apple Store and purchase a bigger and better phone (from a young, handsome man that lessons you on iPhone (and anger) management and up-sells you a better phone by preying on your love of photography while also suggesting one that is water resistant because of your previous phone accident history, e.g., murky pond water CIRCA 2013, pedicure water CIRCA 2014, panga/bottom of the boat water CIRCA 2015, et al.) But, the real reason you upgrade is because you should be rewarded for the extra 11,377 physical steps you took on foot the day before trying to hunt down the SOBDOB.

Finally, and this is the most important step, get down on your hands and knees and pray that the SOBDOB who stole your phone gets all the karma he/she deserves.

Tiny Feet


I woke-up early to a the sound of sweet, beautiful, pelting rain; an  utterance that’s become more familiar this fall and early winter. It’s tune, rhythmic; it echoes and reverberates throughout the house. 

No, that’s not it. That’s too trite. Banal. I’ve trivialized the importance of this rain.

Rather,

Tonight, the rain heralds more like a song, or a victory dance upon my rooftop, denouncing the drought we’ve been in for so very long. I can almost hear the melody being tapped out by the rain’s tiny feet.

“Drought be damned! Drought be damned!”

Ominous


 

©ToniaAllenGould
 
A murder of crows flew over hundreds of them, each as dark as night, wings wildly flapping

CAW-CAW-CAW-ing from the painted and falling dusk sky, high-up overhead

There we stood, feet planted, necks stiff from watching the sheer lot of them pass by on their way to another world

Ominous. 

TA Gould

A New Year Blossoms


Post holiday hustle

My Feet are up…taking it all in

On this last day of the year.

Fond memories were made

Tucked inside, heart and mind.

Reflecting on a year of mini triumphs, 

little successes and major defeats

Comprising who I am

Time to let bygones 

BE GONE

I can’t take them with me 

As a year blossoms

I can breathe in the fresh air 

Starting anew

Pointing me 

in a new direction 

Sad, still, to say goodbye to a year that has past

But, grateful to have lived, and loved, another year.

TA GOULD

A Christmas Story


Yesterday, I had to jet to the bakery to grab some bread for Christmas dinner. I had just arrived at the counter where a woman began inquiring about her custom order. The bakers were scurrying around looking for her bread, but to no avail. “We’re so sorry, Ma’am, it looks like your order is not here,” one of the bakers said. 

“What? Are you kidding me?” the lady screamed! “YOU have RUINED Christmas! You have RUINED my whole family’s Christmas! I am feeding 20 people! What will I do?” 

Her tirade went on and on for minutes, as the bakers searched for some sort of resolve, and as the rest of us stood uncomfortably by. The lady was unrelenting. 

Finally, I had to speak up. I had to say something! 

“Ma’am these people are working here on Christmas Day. It’s Christmas Day! And, even if it were not, no one deserves this kind of treatment. No one can ruin your Christmas, but you. I can tell you are a smart and crafty person, and you can make any bread work for your special dinner tonight. Take what the bakers have to offer and be blessed you have food on your table, unlike some who do not.” 

She took the bread they offered, mumbled a lackluster apology to us all and scurried off. I was tough on her, and probably should’ve bitten my tongue, but I remembered this quote while she was going off about not having the right kind of bread at her table:

There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread. -Mahatma Gandi 

The Percussion of a City from a Hotel Room


Andrew d’Entremont -photo credit

The city pulses and throbs,

Outside my seventh floor window.

Sleep escapes me – everything from the occasional wail of a siren, or the honk of a horn, to a faint whistle in the far off distance  – keeps me from drifting off.

Even the Metro’s rhythmic trundle of wheels on steel tracks that buckle tired railroad ties, tethered beneath – keeps me awake.

The old wood supporting the train, creaks and moans, protesting the weight of an era of passengers who have relentlessly traversed The City of Magnificent Intentions, the beautiful Capital of the World.

And, when my ears become immune and my eyes finally droop, the air conditioner in my room rattles on and hums her own tune.

The percussion of a city from a hotel room, reminds me of the musical, STOMP. It is all at once both mesmerizing and environmentally overloading, and I am completely lost in it like writers are when they try to find words that describe what their senses see, hear or feel. 

When I can’t sleep, I write. And, when I write, sleep most certainly never comes. 

Good morning from Washington D.C.

 #amwriting #insomnia 

Fresh Out of Gildan: Tonia’s Practical Advice on How to Deal with Email Scammers


In addition to being a writer/ author, I own a 21-year-old consumer promotions and marketing agency called Tagsource (AKA TAG!). This is how a children’s book author deals with scammers who want to pay for product with a stolen credit card. (Blank goods orders are always the dead giveway.)

Background:

On Jun 3, 2016, at 7:55 AM, Steve Finley <steve.finley433@gmail.com> wrote:

sales

I would like to know if you do sell or can order blank t shirt,Let me know the pricing on them and how soon you can get them when payment is made.

Brand:Gildan 50/50% Cotton

Size : Medium

Color :Daisy

Quantity : 500 Pieces

Size : Adult Small

Color : Marron

Quantity : 500 Pieces

Size : Adult Small

Color : Electric Green

Quantity : 500 Pieces

Size : Adult Small

Color : White

Quantity : 500 Pieces

Total 2000 Pieces

Let me Know the Total Pricing want you to email me back with the price for me to proceed on with payment Phone via Credit card.

Best Regards

  Steve.

 Tonia’s Reply:

Dear Steve, thank you for reaching out! Each of our t-shirts are spun with diamonds and gold, and cost $10,995 each. Unfortunately, that’s all we have in stock right now. We are fresh out of Gildan. Admittedly, our moisture-wicking, and diamond and gold laden t-shirts are heavy and costly to ship, given they weigh twenty pounds a garment, but they will arrive packed and protected in a heavy cushion of gnome fart and fairy dust. 

Should all this meet your approval, please send us your credit card information and we’ll get things shipped right out to you in La La Land.

We look forward to servicing your account for a long time to come. Truth be told, we’ve been saddled with these shirts for some time now. Sorry again about the Gildan!

Sincerely, 

Tonia Allen Gould

Behind the Finding Corte Magore project



Tonia Allen Gould talks to middle schoolers at a Technology Magnet School about all things authoring and dreaming BIG. Here she walks you through her journey to Finding Corte Magore.

Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, in time for the holidays!


Just in time for the Holidays, Autographed hardcover books, are offered at the lowest price of the season, plus FREE SHIPPING to anywhere in the continental U.S.! (Limited time only)

By children’s author, Tonia Allen Gould, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, tells the story of a small land and sea fiddler crab (complete with a fiddle and a bow) that finds himself on the sandy shores of an idyllic island named Corte Magore. When he arrives at Corte Magore, Sam decides he wants to make this place his permanent home, but he realizes he will have to build himself a shelter from the rising tides that could take him and his fiddle and bow back out to sea. He must work diligently and ignore mocking from hermit crabs and seagulls and beat the clock on his arch nemesis, The Great Tidal Wave if he wants to stay.

Sam’s story is art directed by Mr.Lawrence; an original Storyboard Director for SpongeBob SquarePants and mostly illustrated by Marc Ceccarelli, another Storyboard Director for SpongeBob SquarePants. Michelle Fandrey at Skies America Publishing also contributed. The colorful book explores several important themes for young readers, including: – The concept of building a home – Hard work and self-reliance – Daring to dream of a better life – Overcoming adversity – Dealing with bullies and naysayers I want this story to help parents start a conversation about hard work, dedication, and independence. Sam does everything himself in this book, and he doesn’t ask for help. I want children to understand that life isn t always peaches and cream, but if you re willing to put your nose to the grindstone and ignore bullies and naysayers, in the end, everything usually works out okay.

Click here to order. Thanks for supporting my book!

Sam is also available on iTunes as a narrated and animated picture book app with an original musical score.

Book Cover for Instagram