B is for Brother

I was visiting my mom and sister in Edmonton, Canada, when I got the news. It was the day after Christmas, and the West Edmonton Mall, where my sister and I were spending the afternoon to distract ourselves, was crowded.

Our brother had been taken to the hospital the day before because he was not well. My mom, sister, and I could see this when we Face Timed him Christmas morning. My sister-in-law brought him to the emergency room in Idaho Falls, and he was admitted immediately. His liver was failing.

The news from Idaho got worse and worse as the hours passed, and my mind was shadowed with what if thoughts. But we didn’t really expect him to die. He was only 40 years old! Sure, he wasn’t in the best physical condition, but he had three young sons and a wife who needed him. Things like this don’t happen to us.

But it did.

The call came as I was considering a purchase in a store that doesn’t exist in the states. My sister was the one to get the news from our sister-in-law. She turned to me and said two simple but life-changing words: He’s gone.

I was in shock at first. Then the white-hot pain of irrecoverable loss seared its way into my core. I was gutted.

We abruptly left the store. Our mom, who lived within walking distance of the mall, needed us. Tears now rushed down my face as I dodged shoppers, strangers who knew nothing about my pain, looking at me as if my secret-to-them tragedy might be contagious. I wanted to fall to the ground and cry out that my brother—my baby brother and one of my best friends—was dead.

I tried to call my husband, but my US-based carrier wouldn’t connect until I was outside in the cold. My sister led the way as I followed far behind, trying to tell my husband what had happened. In my distraction, I almost walked into a man who was crossing in front of me.

Canadians are supposed to be nice, but this man’s look said, “Watch where you’re going, idiot!” I stopped, prepared to challenge him, to stone him with four-letter words. It might have felt good to take some of my anger out on this man, but he kept walking. That was a good thing, for both of us.

My hands grew numb during our walk, which was longer than my sister implied. She carries her grief differently than I. I wear my heart on my sleeve; she keeps it inside. My hands grew numb, and I was glad. I welcomed the pain, the distraction.

By the time we reached my mom’s condo, my southern California body felt nearly frozen. But that didn’t stop the nauseating disbelief and emptiness. It didn’t bring back the breath that was knocked out of me at the news. It didn’t stop the tears.

I was broken. I am broken. My brother meant the world to me. He was good. We shared a bond through our love of nature, a similar sense of humor (he was so much funnier than I am!). We worked together as team teachers at the same school for a while, and I never tired of talking to him.

My brother was loved by countless people—former students, school families, friends, co-workers. Again, he was good. He touched lives every day. His wit, combined with his non-judgemental heart made him easy to talk to.

But he struggled. Underneath his humor and his generosity was a man who was filled with anxiety, depression, and self-doubt. The grace he extended so freely to others, he rarely gave to himself. Not many people knew this side of my brother.

He felt he didn’t have much to offer, that he wasn’t able to impact people in a positive way. This bothered him greatly. He passed on with these doubts. One thing that comforts me is that I know he now knows how much his life mattered to everyone who knew him. He now knows how loved he was.

We had a memorial service planned for my brother. It has been postponed because of the pandemic. As is natural, the loss of my brother has taken a back seat at the moment as Covid-19 slithers its way into countries, cities, communities, and families around the world.

Andrew was a father, husband, son, uncle, brother-in-law, cousin, friend, teacher, counselor, mentor. He was my brother. He will always be my brother, and for that I have been eternally blessed.

Interview with a Zombie

51aVfDU7BlL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Okay, so he’s not really a zombie, but he did get cast as a zombie for a yet-to-be-released film. He’s also a new writer, whose first book is one all readers of zombie fiction will enjoy. Even those who don’t read zombie fiction might enjoy this story, as it is about more than flesh-eating creatures. Read on to meet P. Mark DeBryan and to learn more about Family Reunion.

First of all, thanks for taking time from your busy schedule to answer my questions.
You are quite welcome, Sara.

Please tell a little about your book, Family Reunion.
Well, the book began its life as a short story. It was created for John O’Brien and published in his book Untold Stories, which was a companion book to his series A NEW WORLD. He then allowed me to extend the story to a full length novel. It begins with our main character, Ryan, stuck on a ferry boat in the Puget Sound when the zombie apocalypse starts. In all honesty, they are not zombies, as they aren’t undead, but they prey on the living as a food source so they get lumped into the zombie genre. The book follows the entire Brant family as they are headed to a long overdue family reunion. Each group is coming from a different location in the USA and their goal is to survive and see if they can’t locate the others in the family. Some are driving, some are flying, and one is even in a luxury motor-coach.

How did you get into writing? Who are your inspirations?
As stated above, it was a contest of sorts; John O’Brien asked his fans to write short story based in his world. As far as inspirations? I would have to say Stephen King introduced me to the post-apocalypse genre, but John O was the one that got me going.

How is Family Reunion different than other zombie stories?
It is about family and the strength the characters get from each other to go on. The hope of reuniting and the different ways the crisis affects each member of the family. They are not trained soldiers, and most are just average people facing a completely devastating situation.

Can you give your readers a little glimpse into what Ryan and his gang of survivors will face in the next book?
Hmm … that would be cheating, but just between you and me, Sara? Ryan sets out with Maddie and Harry and a few others to go look for the ones they left behind at home. They travel in the Marathon Coach, which is a luxury RV with many prepper amenities. The story will follow them and also keep the reader abreast of what is happening back on Whidbey Island and those that stayed on there to begin clearing the place for use as a new freak-free sanctuary. Look for some major twists right off the bat; it should get interesting very quickly.

I know your family has been very supportive of your writing. I also know many of the characters are based on real-life family members. What do they think of being used as zombie-story material?
Some are mad at me for killing them off in the first story, more are mad that I killed their wives, daughters, husbands and such. Minor spoiler coming … my best friend in real life was the first to die. I did it in self- defense. I mean, who in the family can complain when I took out my best friend first, right? When I say they are mad at me, it is an exaggeration. They all are thrilled to be immortalized in the story, or so I tell myself.

Have you ever been a zombie?
As a matter of fact, yes. I just got home from the set of a new movie called My Uncle John is a Zombie. It was written and co-directed by John Russo, who co-wrote the original The Night of the Living Dead. I am a zombie in the movie, and it was a blast to be involved in the film. Several actors from the original movie are also in this one, with many new faces too. Gary Lee Vincent, who plays Oscar in the movie has become a close friend and was instrumental in getting me cast as an extra. My wife, Jonie, is in it also. We had so much fun that we may decide to run off to Hollywood together soon.

Zombified Zombie Author

The movie is a Zom-Comedy, where John Russo’s character from The Night of the Living Dead escapes alive—or I should say not killed again from the sheriff’s wrath in the original—and is rescued by his niece and hid in her basement. She protects him and teaches him to be more selective in who he eats and the whole movie goes insane when he becomes a modern day celebrity.

I am seen wandering while chewing on an unidentified bit of intestine, and then again when I attack another character and end his career. (I will include a picture of me as the “Dude Zombie” for your pleasure.) If you would like to help the movie get distributed, you can help by donating at http://www.MyUncleJohnisaZombie.com, as it is an independent film just like us independent authors.

In a real-life zombie apocalypse, how long do you think you’d survive? Do you have a plan?
I have a plan, but I need more slow people to join me, as that is my plan. I don’t really think I would last long, as I have been told I am a sweet guy, and what zombie could resist that?

If you could see one non-zombie TV series get thrown into a zompoc scenario, which would you choose and why?
Hmm, let me think. Oh, I know. Survivor! Could you imagine the hilarity that would ensue as the zombies chase the cute blond girl down the beach, or a horde shows up to the immunity challenge. Oh yeah, that would be good TV there. The tribe has spoken/groaned, it’s time for you to go!

List five things about yourself that your readers probably don’t know.
– I went to seminary for two years to become a Baptist Preacher.
– I had a crepe restaurant when I was seventeen called DeBo’s Place.
– My nickname throughout my Coast Guard career was Breezly.
– The Pirate Parrot was a friend of mine.
– I was an honorary member of Jeff Gordon’s pit crew at his last race in NASCAR … Don’t tell Jeff, somebody might get fired!

Jeff Gordon’s honorary pit crew member.

Visit Mark’s website. He’s got a fun blog going there. Author P. Mark DeBryan

Name Change

So, I changed the name of my blog. I got tired of the old one, so to add a little excitement to my life, I spent the better part of a day thinking of the perfect name.

Good bye “Whims & Wanderings.” You’ve been replaced.

Why “Life Within the Words”?

Words are a big part of my life, especially written words. I am surrounded by them. Mostly I read them; sometimes I write them. I’m paid to evaluate them. I love words.

I also have a life. I’m a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister.

The new name represents what this blog is about. I write words about people who write words. I write words of my own. I write about the words I write. But filling the spaces between the words in my world is my world—my life. I use this blog to write about my life.

I began this blog years ago. I think it was originally called “Life in Bits & Pieces.” I liked that one, but it sort of made me think of a life that had been shattered. Mine’s fine. Thank God, my life is not broken. It was about my life and all the parts of it.

Then it was called something else. Must have been boring because I don’t remember what. I don’t think I wrote much during that time. ((yawn))

I changed it to “Whims & Wanderings” because I figured I’d use it to write about whatever I wanted, unbound by a theme. It was a decent name, but like I said above, I got tired of it.

“Life Within the Words” better suits what this blog has evolved into. It’s a stopping ground for all my blog posts. When I write a post on my author blog, it will end up here. My editing blog posts will be copied here as well. Posts about my real life—where my family, my faith, and my musings reside—will continue to be posted here.

Life … within the words.

My husband suggested the name “The Junk Drawer” since everything ends up here. I like that one, but … junk … maybe not.

Anyway, if you’ve read this far, thanks! I hope you visit again.

Yep. I made this.



K is for Kish

K is for Kish

In my last post, the one for the letter J, I wrote about the pros and cons of having the surname “Jones.” Jones is my married name. My maiden surname is Kish.

Simple, right? Four letters… rhymes with fish, dish, wish… it’s probably a good name for a Dr. Seuss book.

Look, oh look! Oh look, little fish.
I think I see a Sara Kish!
Why is she bathing in a dish?
Hear the water go swish, swish, swish?
Put some clothes on, Sara Kish!

I didn’t really like growing up with this name. First of all, no one could pronounce it right. For some reason, people often think it’s pronounced the same way as quiche. As far as how to spell it? I’ve seen all sorts of crazy interpretations. Kirsh, Kisch, Kiss (yep, I’ll talk about “kiss” in a moment), Kush

Then there were the kids at school who thought it was funny to call me “Sara Kiss.”

Or they’d say things like, “Can I kish you?”

Fortunately, the teasing was mostly harmless, but I was a little self conscious about it.

Now, before anyone judges me for not liking my family name—the name that my beloved father bestowed on me and my siblings—know that Kish wasn’t even supposed to be my last name. My dad’s mom married five times. Her first husband, and my dad’s birth father, had the last name Beitlich (pronounced Bite-lick). Honestly, I prefer Kish.

“First I’ll bite you then I’ll lick you…”

Yeah, that would have been a fun one at school.

When my dad joined the Navy as a young man, he decided he didn’t want to use his birth father’s last name, so he chose the last name of his favorite stepfather. The story is that he scratched out his real last name on his birth certificate and wrote in “Kish.” I’m not so sure about the truth of that story, but maybe back then you could do things like that to official documents and get away with it.

However it was accomplished, my dad officially became Dale Kish. An English, German, Scandinavian man with a Hungarian-Jewish surname.

Since the name is not common, anyone who knew my family placed me right away.

“Oh, you’re Dale Kish’s daughter, aren’t you?” 

or, “Ohhh… you’re _________ Kish’s little sister…”

or, “I didn’t know you’re ____________ Kish’s big sister!”

Some sibling associations were positive and some weren’t, depending on the sibling.K

I always wished I could have a cool Irish name like O’Something or McAnother, but in the long run, it didn’t matter; I lived with Kish for 24 years, and I survived, so it must not have been too bad.

Messed-Up Families Have Trees, Too (Part 1)

This has the potential to turn into a long blog. I’ll do my best to keep it from turning into a long story turned longer… but I do need to include some personal history, so please bear with me.

What I’m Doing
For the past week, I have been trying to research my family ancestry. No, I haven’t converted to Mormonism… although, I do appreciate their excellent family-record keeping skills. There are reasons for doing this and reasons for not having done it before.

Why am I Doing This?
As I was lying in bed last Sunday, unsuccessfully fighting off the onset of a cold, I saw a news report about a group of Cherokee Indians in San Diego County getting together for the day to celebrate their culture. This caught my attention because, supposedly, I have a small amount of Cherokee blood running through my veins. It also occurred to me that I have no proof of this Native American ancestry. So, I figured I might as well try to find it.

What Makes this a Difficult Task?
Here is where the story has the potential to get overly long. I come from a pretty messed-up family. Basically, I don’t know most of my family. I haven’t seen my biological mom in over 30 years… I don’t associate with any of my living grandparents because my two grandmothers are not very nice people.

I have four full-blooded siblings. I have relationships with none of them. I have a half-brother and a half-sister and they are awesome, so we are pretty close. I have some uncles, aunts, and cousins but I don’t really know them because they live in other states.

I pretty much grew up with my Dad and my Stepmom. I know I can get some information about my Dad’s side of the family… but even that will be scarce, due to fact that my Dad didn’t even really know his dad. Heck, the last name I grew up with isn’t even my Dad’s real last name- the story is my Dad took the last name of his favorite step dad (my grandmother was married five times).

Thanks to a kind step-grandfather I never met, my maiden name was Kish. This is apparently a common Hungarian name. I am zero percent Hungarian. I dated a guy who was Hungarian once but that’s as close as I ever came to being one. I’ve never felt any attachment to that name… I felt no remorse when I became a Jones on my wedding day. Besides, nobody could ever pronounce or spell it. It’s just not that hard, people!

Get Out the Violins…
I’m just kidding… leave them in their cases. I really dislike pity and I don’t want it but I’m going to tell you all something sort of sad about me. Growing up, I never really felt like I belonged to a family. There I said it. Now, wipe your eyes and read on. I always felt like I was on the peripheral of someone else’s family… sort of able to be a part but never feeling totally connected.

I’m sure I am totally messed-up now as a result. I mean, this has got to be the reason I can never seem to get the clean laundry put away. Right? Go along with it, folks… I need an excuse.


I’m going to finish this tomorrow. I’m tired and I’m still trying to get over this cold so I’m off to bed. If you are still reading this, thanks for hanging in with me. I still have lots to tell about my search for a familial identity… including a trip to a cemetery, walks down memory lane, and lots and lots of time spent on the computer.

Meanwhile, please enjoy this picture of the bottom of my shoe.

Toxic People

I’m sure I did not coin the term “Toxic People”… I don’t recall hearing it before, but it must have been engraved in my subconscious from somewhere. It’s far too good for me to have come up with it myself.

Toxic People
I bet everyone has at least one of these people in their life. Some of us have an abundance of them. These are the people who thrive on negativity. The people who love to cause rifts between others. Toxic people do not rejoice when good things happen to others. Instead, they wonder, “Why couldn’t that happen to me?” They spoil joyful moments by expressing their own misery. These are the people who talk about others when they aren’t around… including you. Toxic people love to be the victim- that allows them to blame others for their lot in life.

It’s not always easy to identify a toxic person right away. They don’t walk around with the skull and crossbones symbol on their forehead. They don’t come with a warning label. They often look like the rest of us… after all, nobody is happy and perfect all the time!

Toxic people become very apparent over time. They usually leave you feeling drained, stressed, used, and generally unhappy. You might think you’re helping them, but in reality you’re harming yourself and your relationships with those who love you. This is because toxic people suck the joy out of you.

Do you have a toxic person in your life? Perhaps she is an acquaintance. Maybe she is a friend. If you’re like me, your toxic person is a family member. Actually, I have several toxic family members but most of them leave me alone.

Here’s the thing: I have learned the hard way to keep toxic people- even family members out of my life. Life is too short and precious to spend it griping, complaining, and comparing misery. This may seem harsh… especially when it’s family. If it’s harsh, I don’t care. My own little family is my priority. Anyone who tries to steal my joy, causes friction and stress in my life, or brings me down will not be part of my world.

This post came about because I heard from one of my toxic family members today, who called for the sole purpose of telling me off. I’m just using this blog to vent, I guess. Thanks for letting me get it out.

Mommy, the Black Widow Spider Slayer

I am going to hate writing this blog but I feel like it needs to be done… regardless of how heevie-jeevie it makes me feel.

Let me start by declaring that I really dislike black widow spiders. When I say “dislike”, I mean hate, despise, abhor, loathe, and detest black widows. I’ve never liked them but it seems like my hatred and fear of them has grown over the past few years. Actually, it’s no coincidence that my black widow hatred has grown since we moved into our current house.

I’m pretty sure our house was built on the Mecca for black widows. Each spring, they make their pilgrimage to our backyard and set up permanent homes. They party, have spider sex, kill their partners, and lay eggs. Lots and lots of eggs. In egg sacs. Lots of disgusting eggs in lots of disgusting egg sacs.

We rarely see the egg sacs but we know they’re there because a few weeks later, those eggs hatch and out come the baby black widows. Fortunately, many of them don’t survive the hatching process because they eat each other. I guess the ones that survive are the ones that a) float away in the breeze to another part of our yard; or b) do the eating.

When Matt and I first moved into our house, we kept noticing these little spiders in the backyard. They seemed to be everywhere in the back. They did not look like black widows… because they weren’t black. Their bodies were usually shaped like black widows, though, so we took a closer look. We noticed these little grayish spiders had whiteish hour glasses on their abdomens.

We did some research and found out that the little spiders we kept seeing were baby and/or juvenile black widows. The information isn’t clear regarding whether or not juvenile black widows are poisonous. Some sources say yes, and some say no. I don’t intend to find out for sure the hard way so I kill any and all black widows.

In case you’re wondering what newly hatched black widows look like, check out this disturbing picture.

I took the following picture yesterday. I was on a black widow spider killing spree in our backyard. This one is not a newly hatched baby. In my unscientific backyard observations, I label these the “preteen” widows.

The widow is in the center of the picture… it’s that roundish grayish thing with the legs.
Sorry for the poor quality of the picture- I was high on bug spray fumes when I took it.

I am pretty sure this is an immature female black widow. The males don’t usually have such round butts. Notice that she is not black. You may also notice that I found this little devil on the underside of the boys’ Little Tykes Picnic Table.

Here is another one I found on the same table:

Based on its shape, this one is probably a female, too. The white stripes indicate that it is an immature spider. My label for this stage of widowhood is “Late Teen”. She’s almost grown up, she just needs to get rid of those stripes and she’s a full-fledged black widow.

Both of the spiders are dead now… along with about 11 of their friends. I mostly find juvenile black widows in our yard but when I do find the full-fledged black widow, I am always happy to kill them with a little extra “umph”. My weapons of choice are bug spray and a croquet mallet.

Here are some black widow spider facts:

  • The males are not poisonous
  • The males are smaller than the females
  • The females don’t always eat the males after they mate- it depends on how hungry they are.
  • Females can live up to three years
  • Egg sacs can hold between 250-700 eggs

If I seem obsessed with black widows, it’s probably because I am. They both horrify and intrigue me. They mostly horrify me. I’ve always believed that in order to appreciate something, you need to learn about it. This may be true in many cases, but I’ve learned more about black widows than I ever wanted to and I only hate them more.

I dream of one day living in a place where there are no black widows. A place where my boys can go out back to play without me having to do a spider check first. A place where we can have spider-free outside toys and play structures. A place where I don’t need to shake, stomp on, and turn inside-out my garden gloves before I put them on.

I know there are dangerous creatures in every place. But believe me when I say I would take rattlesnakes, coyotes, bats, chiggers (whatever those are), ticks, scorpions, and rabid bunnies over black widows, any day!

By the way… I know some of you are thinking, “Why don’t you hire a pest control person to spray the backyard?” My answer to that is, “That’s probably a good idea.” A good idea, assuming it works better than the ant control we used to have done… until we realized we were still getting ants.

My Mid-life Crisis??

Midlife? Really? Well, I am **cough, cough** thirty-nine years old, and since I don’t want to live to be 100, I guess that makes me pretty close to halfway through my life. But then, I could die next week. That would mean I hit midlife when I was 19 and a half. I’m not trying to be morbid… just realistic. I’m trying to make the point one never really knows when their midlife is.

So, what is midlife crisis? How do we know we’re having one if we don’t know when we are at the mid-point of our lives? Don’t answer those questions… they’re rhetorical. Everyone knows the true sign of having reached midlife is the sudden urge to buy a shiny, new sports car. That’s a given.

Me? While it’s true I would commit a number of crimes in order to own a restored 1967 Mustang, I don’t think that has anything to do with my own midlife. I’ve wanted one of those since I was 19 and a half. Oh…uh…hmmmm… Note to self: Don’t leave the house next week.

Here’s my crisis, midlife-related or not:

I need something. I don’t know what it is, exactly. I just know I need something different… something adventurous… something challenging… something mentally and physically stimulating. I’m not content staying home, doing the same thing… day in and day out. I’m tired of the same routine everyday.

I’m… I’m… bored!

There. I said it. Let the judging begin. Go ahead, I’m used to it. I judge myself harshly all the time. Every good Christian woman knows we are supposed to be content… some would even say we should be “happy” all the time. It must be my fault that I’m not content. Maybe I don’t pray enough. Maybe I don’t read my Bible enough. Maybe I’m just not “spiritual” enough.

Maybe if I were more like that Proverbs 31 woman, I’d be content. Want to know a little secret? Don’t tell anyone, but I hate that chick.

So, what do I do? I was happy and content while I was training for my marathon. Now it’s done and I’m bored again. So, why not train for another one? Maybe that would take away the boredom. I still love and need running but I’ve had to cut way back since my injuries threw me a curve ball. And, for some reason, it just doesn’t have the same novelty to it anymore.

Maybe I should get a job. Hey! Great idea! Oh wait, what do I do with my young children? I refuse to hand them over to a daycare situation if I can help it… been there and done that. Yes, I could work somewhere where the hours are the same as my kids… but what kind of job is that? Working with kids. I’m tired of kids. I want something different, remember?

I’ve always thrived on change. I love change! If I could have it my way, we’d move every couple years… different houses, different cities, different states. I don’t know if the upheaval and chaos caused by change boosts my adrenaline, or what. I just know I’ve always needed change. In my adult life I’ve changed majors, I’ve changed college jobs, I’ve changed friends, I’ve changed careers, I try to change my hair often (but it always looks the same).

I also love adventure. I want to do something dangerous enough to scare me but not dangerous enough to kill me. I want to see how far I can push my body.

I want challenge. Something that stretches my mental capacity. There are only so many times I can hear about Sponge Bob and Patrick before my brain starts to shrink and get soft. And believe me, I know a lot about Sponge Bob… too much! Scary.

So, what do I do? Climb Mount Everest? Go back to school and study criminal psychology? Train for a triathlon? Race car driving? Throw a rock into a hive of killer bees and run?

I can hear the imaginary “church ladies” telling me to:

  • Enjoy this time, kids grow too quickly. Yes, I know that and I agree. My kids are NOT the source of my discontent… I just want to supplement my life with something besides kids.
  • Find a group of women to meet with, to share your lives and experiences. Nice thought… but there are very few women I really bond with. Being in a group of women for too long makes me want to crawl into a hole and hide. Truth is, I like men. I prefer to hang out with men… but since I’m married, I can’t really do that anymore.
  • Take up a hobby or a craft. I DESPISE crafts of all kinds. In fact, I think I have craft-phobia… I break out in a cold sweat whenever I am forced to do a craft.

I don’t know what I will do about this supposed midlife crisis. I do know that, now that I’ve identified it, I feel better. It’s just a matter of figuring out something new to do… something that challenges me, stretches me, scares me, pushes me, and creates a certain level of havoc in my life.

Stay tuned… I’ll let you know, once I figure it out!