Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas to all . . .

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay
Next year all our troubles will be miles away

Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us once more

Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now

. . . and to all a good night.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The trouble with books

I can't read. Maybe I should rephrase that. Lately, I can't seem to finish reading an entire book. I'm lucky if I can get halfway through. It makes me feel like I can't read. Right now I have 15 hardcover books checked out of the library. I've read the beginning, some more some less, of nine of them. I'm also partway into reading at least seven paperbacks.

Normally, I'm reading at least three or four books at the same time. I like variety. I do that all the time. But I finish them. And then start others. It is not normal for me to have started reading more than a dozen books, yet not finish ANY OF THEM. As my kids would say, that's just messed up.

I have become very familiar with the library's online renewal system. Sometimes the system tells me I can't renew a book, so I take that one back. And bring home three more. As if I'm stocking up, hoarding what I can against a long dark winter where books will become scarce and dear.

I've run out of bookmarks and started using Kleenex. Quincy the Wonder Dog tears off and eats the bits that stick out along the top and sides. Sometimes he pulls the entire thing out of the book. Doesn't matter if I can't find my place again since lately, once I put a bookmark into a book and set it aside, I'm not likely to go back to it.

There is nothing wrong with these books. I'm sure they're all interesting and well-written and wonderful. Many of the authors are those whose books I've read and thoroughly enjoyed in the past and there is no reason to think any of them, let alone all of them, have suddenly lost the ability to write a compelling and entertaining story. No, the problem is with me and it seems to be getting worse.

I'm sure it's very unfair of me to keep these books stacked all over the place when other people could be reading them. Poor things, sitting there partially read and cast aside like inedible half-baked lumps of dough taken from the oven just as they started to heat and rise. But I keep thinking I'll finish reading them. Soon. Right after I see whether the next one is perhaps more captivating.

I have finished reading exactly one book in the past month. Maybe two months. I checked it out because of the author's name: Per Petterson. You have to be at least curious about the writing of someone named Per. And also because he's from Norway and wrote the book in Norwegian and this was the English translation. I grew up listening to Norwegian men tell stories, I was curious to see how this compared.

The name of the book is OUT STEALING HORSES. It is unlike anything I have ever read. The writing is beautiful and spare. The first person narrative is all over the place but the words flow so smoothly you don't care. You know there won't be a happy ending but you don't care about that either. The writing is pure and wonderful and you just want more so you keep turning pages. The ending comes abruptly like a slap to the heart and you draw a great shaky breath and hold it while you decide whether to cry and somewhere deep inside you know-- you will never forget those words. If any of my Norwegian uncles had given a similar small glimpse of emotional vulnerability in the stories they told, they might have sounded like this book. But they didn't, so I'm not sure about that.

OUT STEALING HORSES is a book you can't not finish reading. Even if you can't read.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

After the Fall

We had beautiful weather here today: 72 degrees and hazy sunshine. This is not usual. Average temps are roughly 20 degrees less than that this time of year. Since I'm fighting off a cold, I decided to take it easy and sit on the deck and bask in the healing warmth of sunshine. Except the deck was covered with leaves. Again. Here is a picture of some of the trees responsible for this surfeit of leaves.

Can you tell I was a wee bit bored? Sitting there taking pictures of the trees with my cell phone? So I decided to sweep the deck. Sounds simple, right? Well, not when Quincy the Wonder Dog morphs into Quincy the Helper Dog.

Quincy seemed to be Very Concerned that I was attempting any activity at all. He stood in the leaves I was trying to sweep. The only way to clear a section of deck was by sweeping around and between his legs as he stood guard. As soon as I finished one leaf-covered section, he'd move to the next one. At one point I yelled at him and made him go sit down.

Good dog. Stay.

I turned to sweep more leaves and there he was. Standing right in the middle of the pile.

When I was done, he pouted. Refused to look at me. So I took this picture of him, mourning the loss of his leaves. Or chagrined he was unable to protect me from all that dangerous physical activity. Not sure which.

Here he is later, inside, sitting with the cat. He's still sad about those leaves -- has his back turned to the windows that look out over the deck. The cat is sitting in a fading ray of sunshine, content to have no opinion whatsoever about leaves. I'm not sure you can tell from this picture, but neither one of them like it when I try to vacuum either.

That's my excuse, anyway.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


My inner slug is trying to kill me. I have evidence.
I'm pretty sure it's a conspiracy.

It has teamed up with my boss:

If you give her more to do and make her work late,
she won't want to exercise when she gets home.

It has talked to the cat:

Climb into her lap and purr loudly. She'll sit
there long after she's watched the news.

And the dog:

Don't jump all over her and slobber in her face at the crack
of dawn. Let her sleep late, she'll be sluggish all day.

It has spoken convincingly to people who have my phone number:

One of you call her every night. Talk for hours at a time.
Don't let her hang up and get on that treadmill.

It has even communicated with those who have my email address:

Send her 50 emails every day. By the time she reads them all
she'll be too tired to exercise. Plus she'll have a headache.

My inner slug does not seem to understand that ours is a symbiotic relationship. I go down, it's going down with me.

Symbi-what? Any of you got a dictionary?

Yeah. It has been a tough week. But I just took my inner slug for a half-mile walk and it is feeling pretty subdued at the moment. That won't last. It tries to contact you with suggestions for thwarting my resolve to exercise, just ignore it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A day of giving thanks . . .

. . . for all the things along the way.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Loss and Losing Weight

Some of you know I have recently lost five pounds and have told me that's great and I must have found a strategy that works for me. Yes and no. Those five pounds were lost due to grief over the death of a dear friend. I simply couldn't eat. This is not a good plan and I do not recommend it. Keep as many of your friends alive as possible.

But I figure as long as the scale is moving in the right direction, I should take advantage of that. At this time last year, I was feeling very pleased with myself for having lost 23 pounds. I maintained that weight loss for a long time. But inner slugs being what they are (and mine is incredibly successful, not to mention sneaky as hell), I have now gained back roughly half that amount.

Inattention + Inactivity + Indulgence = Smug Sedentary Slug

So here's the real plan, in case anyone is interested. I have no credentials whatsoever to give this advice and you should probably disregard all of it and talk to your doctor instead. It's pretty basic stuff, but this is what seems to work for me. When I follow it. And that's the hard part, isn't it?

  • No alcohol. No brainer, right? But I'm always surprised by people who are trying to lose weight, yet continue to drink alcohol. I pretty much don't drink at all anymore, though I will on occasion have a glass of wine. It just doesn't agree with me. But I am convinced that, in addition to the calories it packs, alcohol somehow changes a person's body chemistry and makes it darn near impossible to lose weight. No facts at all to back that up, just experience.
  • No food after dinner. None. Well, duh. But this is the one that is hard for me. Surely it wouldn't hurt to have just a handful of crackers? Maybe some cheese? And popcorn would taste so good right about now. Stop. Don't do it. You ate dinner, right? You are not hungry, you are bored. Do something else. Drink a big glass of water. Or go to bed early for a change, you probably don't get enough sleep.
  • Drink more water. You already do? Drink more than that. Ice cold water. Your body has to heat up the cold things you ingest and that takes energy. Besides, all that water flushes out the bad things. Yes, that is the highly technical scientific description of the process.
  • Exercise more. For me, right now, any exercise at all is more. For you, it may mean something else. Whatever you're doing, do more. Change the balance. A cardiologist once told me (after saying my heart was in terrific shape and I had simply pulled a muscle and to stop worrying my way to a heart attack) that if you want to maximize weight loss, you should exercise an hour or two before bedtime. He said if you raise your metabolism at a time of day when you are not likely to be eating anything for several hours, your body burns stored fat instead. Makes sense to me. But it's really hard to do. Do it anyway.
  • Eat less, more often. I know, another no brainer. Eat smaller portions, but eat several times a day. It works. But it also requires advance planning and that is where my plan suffers. Make the time to buy, prepare and pack up healthy snacks to bring with you to work. Don't eat chips or sweets. Eat yogurt. Eat fruits and vegetables. Don't ever get stuck with nothing (good) to eat. Because then you will head to the vending machine or the fast food place or be ever so grateful your co-worker brought in a dozen doughnuts to share because you are absolutely starving and your common sense has left the building. You can prevent that, you know. Plan ahead.
  • A word about cravings: If you have a craving for something you know you shouldn't eat -- I'm making a huge assumption here that everyone knows what is and is not fattening -- it might be a good idea to go ahead and indulge. I know, that sounds contrary to losing weight. I disagree. In my experience, what most people do is wait until the craving is so strong they can't resist it any longer and are prepared to commit several felonies if anyone tries to stop them, and then indulge to excess. They eat the entire bag of chips instead of just a few, the entire carton of ice cream instead of three spoonfuls. They order everything off the menu at Taco Bell, when if they had just given in last week, one chicken taco would have satisfied them. Be sensible. Don't kid yourself by making up excuses to indulge (and really, if you keep ice cream in the freezer or cookies in the pantry and tell yourself you are not going to eat them, they're just for company, you are not being honest), but if you absolutely have to satisfy a craving, do it while you still have some control and can be moderate.

And that's it. Pretty much just plain old, long-winded common sense. It may not work for you at all, but I'm going to do my best to follow my own advice. It has worked for me in the past. We'll see what happens this time. I won't be blogging about this on a regular basis, but you can follow my so-called progress by checking out those ticker things over on the side. I tried to set easily (HA!) obtainable goals on those things, but once I've walked 50 miles, I'll re-set it for 50 more. And after I lose the first 20 pounds, I'll start to work on the next 20. Oh, believe me, there are at least 20 more. The weight ticker won't change as often, since I refuse to weigh myself more than twice a week, but the exercise one should change daily.

Well, that's the plan. It's good to have a plan. You want to tell me about yours?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Just Messin' Around

People have been telling me to take it easy, get some rest. So today I decided to mess with my blog and see whether I could break anything. It turned out to be not such a "restful" process -- hey, this borders on craft, far as I'm concerned -- but so far it all seems to still work.

The old blog was sort of blah and boring. I kind of like the new look.

What do you think?

Ok, so I added a little exercise thing over there ----- >
And then I had to mess around and figure out how to change the mileage on it. But just to be completely honest here, I have NOT YET actually walked 1.5 miles. Just wanted to see how it worked.

So I guess now I have to replace the batteries in my treadmill (so the LCD thing works and I know how far I walked) and . . . walk. At least 1.5 miles.

Who knew this was going to be such an ordeal.

Friday, November 16, 2007

One Good Thing -- how hard could it be?

McB has challenged me to come up with One Good Thing about today. But I have to do it before the end of the day. I've been trying all day to think of something and this is just not as easy as you might imagine. For example:

My commutes to and from work today were uneventful; but it only takes four minutes each way so perhaps avoiding disaster for that short a period of time doesn't qualify.

I did not say or do anything at work today to get myself fired; but my boss was not in the office at all today so that doesn't really count either.

But, hey, my boss was not in the office pestering me half to death today so I was very productive and got a lot of work done; but it was mostly stuff he should have done had he been there and not so much my own work and that's not good it's just frustrating.

I didn't have to buy lunch today because I ate the lunch I brought yesterday yet didn't get around to eating; but it was a salad and it was, um, kind of wilty and . . . not so good.

Sigh. You see? This is not an easy task, but I will persevere.

It was bright and sunny today; but I forgot my sunglasses at home and while I didn't have to be out in it for more than four minutes at a time (see above re commute) it was hard to see and my eyes are watering even now just thinking about it.

Last time I checked I had not said anything today, publicly or privately, that would offend or anger anyone; but the day is not yet over and you just never know.

Geez, you'd think McB could wait and issue this challenge on a weekend when there are All Sorts of Good Things to report. I'm telling you, the woman is a tyrant.

Hmmm, what else . . . well, the neighbor's tree that is leaning precariously did not fall on my house today; but the wind is supposed to pick up a bit here tonight and, well, let's just hold off on that thought for now.

When I got home from work the dog was still in the back yard where I left him this morning and the cat was still in the house; but they each seemed to want to be elsewhere so from their perspective maybe that is not such a good thing and it makes me a little nervous that the cat seems to think there is Something of Great Interest in the garage.

It's cold enough tonight for a fire in the fireplace and I have a new book waiting to be read and I'm pretty sure there's some popcorn around here somewhere; but instead I'm sitting upstairs at my computer agonizing over this and having flashbacks to the spaced-out college history professor who gave bizarre writing assignments like the one to Define and Defend Ten Good Things About the Spanish Inquisition -- but maybe I'm remembering wrong and it was Eight Things. Okay, fine, so maybe it wasn't the Spanish Inquisition. It might have been the Industrial Revolution. Or the Ice Age. Hey, it was history, I wasn't paying attention.

I'm getting desperate here. The day is almost over and I still don't have One Good Th-- no wait, I think I've got it: it is entirely possible that one person, just one mind you, will read this blog post and it will make them laugh. Yeah, yeah, I realize it's a very slight possibility, and honestly I'd settle for a smile or even a smirk, because I think that still counts. And that would be One Very Good Thing.

There. My work is done.

You happy now, McB?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Too close to home

I'm up late tonight because I can't sleep.

I don't know whether the story has traveled very far beyond the local news, but some of you may have heard about the beach house in Ocean Isle that burned over the weekend and about the seven college kids who died there. When I heard the news Sunday, the first thing I did was call my son, who often takes off on a moment's notice for a weekend with friends at the beach. Even though Ocean Isle is not one of his regular destinations, you never know. But he was fine.

I have deliberately avoided watching the news for the last couple days, because this just hit so close to home. I can't even tell you how many beach vacations we've taken, staying in houses just like the one that burned. Or how many times my kids have stayed with friends and their families in similar places. From the Outer Banks to Beaufort to Wrightsville, to Sunset and Holden, to Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island, even down to South Ponte Vedre. All those beach houses are different, but they are exactly the same: weathered wood structures meant to stand against wind and waves. Not fire. I did not want to hear the details.

This morning I turned on the TV to watch the weather forecast and the first thing I saw was a video clip of that house completely engulfed in flames. All I could think about was those seven kids trapped inside, burning. It made me feel physically ill. And I cried. For those kids and for their families and for all those who loved them.

The horror of telling that story, of speaking those words, should have been bad enough. Showing that video was inexcusable sensationalism.

Tonight I talked to my daughter for the first time since I heard the news. I knew she was not at the beach, but she told me that a friend of hers was there. He and some other friends were staying at the house right next door to the one that burned. They had met those kids and hung out with them the night before. Needless to say, he is not in a good place right now, emotionally. Along with so many others.

It struck me again how easily that could have been one of my kids, or their friends, going up in flames on the morning news. And I wish I could get that image out of my head so I could sleep.

It's hard to believe the parents of those seven kids will ever sleep again.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What can I say?

I got an email the other day asking why I haven't posted here for a while. The short answer is that, for the first time since I started this blog, I don't have anything to say. No, that's not quite true. I don't have anything to say that I think anyone would be interested in reading.

There is nothing unusual or fascinating going on in my life. Nothing particularly funny or meaningful. Nothing weird or wonderful. I have no insight or wisdom or humour to share.

Really, I checked. Nothing. You're going to have to trust me on this.

Lately, life events have been mostly tedious mediocre drudgery. No one wants to hear about that. I sure don't want to write about it.

Mom always told us: If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all. I figure that also applies to when you don't have anything interesting to say.

So I'm not.

Until I do.

Which could be two months. Or tomorrow.

But then I will.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Packing it up, packing it in

Knowing you will soon have to pack up and move everything in your possession, even the stuff that's yours by default rather than choice, really forces you to make some decisions about what has value and to finally deal with all that damn clutter that built up while you weren't paying attention. Translation: No way in hell am I taking all this stuff with me.

Here are some random things I've learned recently, most of which serve to reinforce the conclusion that this house is indeed too big for my current needs and it is way past time to move:

  • I have too much stuff and it has predictably expanded to fill the available space, but some of this stuff is not mine and some of it I've never even seen before, so I suspect at some point I must have agreed to store things for the neighbors, and all their friends.
  • The cat has expressed her digestive displeasure in some places I almost never see, in some rooms I rarely frequent.
  • I had forgotten how very nice my kitchen table looks with nothing on it.
  • My refrigerator looks very nice too, without all those cute magnets and funny notes from the kids (all now stored safely, no need for panic here).
  • My daughter made the Dean's List last year -- which I knew, of course, and I'm very proud of her accomplishment -- but I didn't realize the university had sent me a certificate of recognition.
  • I have managed to accumulate more shoe boxes than I have pairs of shoes.
  • There are definite tactical disadvantages to being the last one to move out of a place, after others have taken only what they really want and then disavowed responsibility for disposition of the remainder.
  • Getting rid of some of this stuff is entirely too satisfying and is no doubt damaging my karma.
  • The fact that a house has a lot of closet space is not always a positive feature, something I do not intend to point out to prospective buyers.
  • Three broken fingernails, a smashed thumb and a bruised shin can be seen as badges of courage (as opposed to sheer stupidity) for doing some things yourself instead of waiting for help -- especially if, once you stop swearing, you squint your eyes and tilt your head just right.
  • Old dust makes me sneeze, violently.
  • Taking pictures of things you are about to throw out, maybe even a few things you plan to keep, then emailing said pictures to the kids with a message saying, "You didn't really want this stuff anymore, did you?" will prompt some rather interesting phone calls and provide an entertaining break from the tedium.
  • There are times, unlikely as it may seem, when a 96-gallon garbage can is Just Not Big Enough for the needs of a one-person, one-cat, one-dog household.
  • Some things do not fit easily into either a packing box or a trash bag; interestingly, they tend to be the same things that were damn near impossible to wrap as gifts.
  • Loud music helps ground me to present day reality when memories threaten the momentum.
  • It has been way too long since my mom came for a visit and, in spite of telling me not to go to any bother on her account, prompted that guilt-induced flurry of "Oh My God I Have To Clean Up This Mess Before The Woman Who Knows She Raised Me Better Than This Gets Here" activity.
  • It's shocking, I know, but it seems possible that procrastination is not always the best course of action.

I'm exhausted and I've barely made a dent in it. I've decided the only way I'm going to get all this done is to give up either sleeping or writing. There's no question as to which would provide more motivation. So today I packed up my ms pages and my research notes and my reference books, though I couldn't make myself seal the boxes. Good thing I have also recently discovered my very impressive talent for stubborn determination. I'm going to need it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Good Advice

I love interesting quotes. I tend to collect the ones that make me laugh or think or feel inspired. I sent one such quote to a friend and recently she sent it back to me (thank you, Mary). Here it is:

Go ahead and make something. Make something really special. Make something amazing that will really blow the mind of anybody who sees it.

If you try to make something just to fit your uninformed view of some hypothetical market, you will fail. If you make something special and powerful and honest and true, you will succeed . . . because your soul somehow depends on it. There's something you haven't said, something you haven't done, some light that needs to be switched on, and it needs to be taken care of. Now.

- Hugh Macleod

And that made me remember something I read a while back on Neil Gaiman's blog, in a post dated May 9, 2007:

As for deadlines...

Like a hanging, I find they concentrate the mind wonderfully.

The best suggestion I can make is to stop doing other things. Turn off the computer, or take a laptop somewhere they don't have wireless. Don't play solitaire or bring a mobile phone. Then write.

It's amazing how much time you can spend not writing, without even trying. Make a rule that you can either write, or not do anything at all. (No TV. No long baths. No reading New Scientist. Staring out of the window is okay.) Pretty soon, you start to write, because it's more interesting than staring vacantly out of the window. (I think I got it from a Daniel Pinkwater essay in Fish Whistle, and it's a wonderful concept.)

It occurs to me that the hardest advice to follow is advice directed specifically at us. Too often it sounds patronizing or judgmental or simply misguided. It is sometimes easier to appropriate advice given to others and take its lessons as our own, in our own time, of our own volition.

Right now, these particular words strike a chord that resonates deep within me. I plan to take heed. Just thought I'd share.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I just had an apostrophe!

Or epiphany, for those of you unfamiliar with my daughter's delightfully strange talent for twisting words.

Most of you reading this know I've been preparing a partial manuscript to send to an agent. But I've been putting off sending it because I wasn't happy with it and I wasn't sure why. It just felt wrong. But I couldn't see the problem. Sooo, I signed up to have Bob Mayer do a Submission Critique.

Wow. (< --- biggest understatement ever)

Some of you have heard about Bob's reputation for stark, incisive honesty and I can tell you it is very well deserved. He really does know what he's doing and will not hesitate to tell you if he thinks you do not. So now I know what the problems are. Yes, more than one. Most of them so obvious, in hindsight, it's rather horrifying. He had a lot to say (yes, really) and every single thing he said was right. Damn it.

After I got his critique, I went through a long agonizing period of time -- okay, so it was only about a day, but it felt like forever -- when I decided to stop writing. Just stop. That's it, I'm done, I can't do this. I'm not even qualified to write a grocery list, let alone an entire book. This is for the best, really. Good to know this now before I waste any more time. I need to just stop kidding myself here. I can not write.

Hearing hard truths about your writing is difficult -- another understatement -- but it is also incredibly helpful. So after I'd gone through half a box of Kleenex and exchanged a couple more emails (which were quite encouraging, by the way), I had a stern talk with myself and came to some conclusions.

This process was painful but it was not fatal, to me or my writing career. I am a writer. I'm not going to stop writing. If I stop I can't get better and I am determined to get better.

I knew the work had problems. That was why I asked for help. Good for me. It should not be a big surprise that it came back covered in red ink. Of course, I wasn't expecting quite so much of it . . . Sigh. But the comments didn't say "you can't write," they pointed out some problems. Some really big, difficult, obvious, can't believe I missed that problems, but still. I can fix problems, now that I can see them.

However. Some of the comments and questions really made me stop and think. Hard. And reevaluate what I'm writing and why. And I made a couple of amazing discoveries. We're talking light bulbs flashing and planets colliding and journeys being re-charted here, folks. You ready for this? Because I sure was not.

Apostrophe #1: I do not want to write romance. Not quite sure how I ever decided that I should. I love to read it, will always read it. I do not want to write it. More than that, I'm not good at writing it. And I'm not going to do it anymore. What a HUGE relief.

Apostrophe #2: I am writing a political thriller. I've always been afraid to say that because women, with very few exceptions, do not write in that genre. Who was I to think I could do it? So I was dressing it up as a romance or a romantic suspense or a romance thriller or whatever because I had it stuck in my tiny little mind that turning this story into some kind of romance would make it more "acceptable" for me to be writing it. Bob's critique made me realize that by doing so I was taking a perfectly good idea and ruining it. No more. I'm writing a political thriller. That scares the hell out of me because I'm not sure I have what it takes to do that. But it also makes me unbelievably happy. I'm so excited about this I can't even describe it.

So it's back to the drawing, er, writing board for me. I've got a lot of work cut out for me and a lot of problems to fix and pages upon pages of bad writing to delete. I can't wait.

Thank you, Bob.

Note to all of you writers out there: I strongly recommend you sign up to have Bob Mayer make you cry and cast you into the pit of despair. If you are willing to pay attention and want to learn something, your writing will be better for it. And isn't that the point?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Wet t-shirts and other hot topics

My upstairs air conditioning unit stopped cooling Friday night. Today is Thursday and it still isn't cooling. I heard on the news last night that yesterday marked the 69th day this summer the temperature has reached 90 degrees or higher. Second hottest summer on record in these parts.

But we have progress, folks. The A/C repair person finally showed up yesterday and I learned that the problem is a burned out condenser. Or compressor. Whatever. Some long "C" word that means "cooling is no longer taking place." Upstairs. Where all the bedrooms are located. Where my computer is located. Where I usually spend a good deal of time.

Yes, I am sweating as I write this.

I was hoping for a quick fix -- a generous hit of Freon and it'd be good to go. But I began to think there was a more serious problem when the repairman spent almost an hour outside and in the basement, checking things out. My suspicions were confirmed when I let him back into the house and he avoided looking at me and instead made friends with Quincy the Wonder Dog.

I asked, "So, what's the prognosis?"

He harrumphed and delayed answering by scratching QTWD behind the ears and redirecting the nose aimed at his crotch. "Boy, he sure is a friendly one, ain't he?"

"Yeah, everyone is his best friend. About the air conditioner . . ."

"I love dogs. Cain't have one where I stay at now, but I purely do love dogs."

I briefly considered tucking a Kleenex in the man's shirt pocket, figuring the resultant impact when QTWD retrieved it would get his attention. Or maybe stop his heart.

I tried again, more loudly. "Were you able to fix the problem?"

"No, ma'am, I sure weren't. The [insert C word] is shot and needs to be replaced."

"Oh. That's bad."

"Well now, good news is, we can prob'ly get a replacement right quick."

"Great. That's wonderful." I'm reconsidering the whole death-by-Kleenex thing.

"Bad news is, our installation crew is running 'bout a week, week and a half behind. Hot weather, you know."

Yeah, I know.

He continued with the bad news. "It'll be middle of next week 'fore we can get to it."

I know from past experience that "middle of next week" could come as early as Monday but usually ends up being Friday. I considered asking whether he could just give me a restorative intravenous shot of Freon in the meantime, but decided he probably didn't have an abundance of appreciation for sarcasm. No need to antagonize him. For all I know, he IS the installation crew. Plus, you know, he really was a nice guy, all things considered. "All things" being that my A/C is STILL NOT COOLING.

So I'll wait. But I'm hot. And I'll stay hot for the foreseeable future. I'll be especially hot at night, when I go to bed. Because I really hate sleeping on the couch. Even though it's downstairs, where the air is nice and cool. Silly me, I want to sleep in my bed and not wake up with a stiff neck and sore back.

I started thinking of ways I could cool off and get some sleep. I tried remembering times in my life I had felt truly chilled and what had caused it. Problem is, I grew up in Minnesota and half my life was spent feeling chilled. I figured a snowball down the back was not a viable option, nor was walking barefoot on frost-rimed linoleum. The coldest non-winter memory I could come up with was putting on a sopping wet t-shirt over a swimsuit after a day at the lake.

So last night I dug around in various dresser drawers and found an old worn t-shirt my DS22 left behind when he went off to college. Men's XL soft white cotton. Very good. It had a few holes. Even better. I got out a plastic spray bottle and filled it with cold water. And stripped down to nothing and put the t-shirt on. And sprayed. And shivered. And sprayed some more. And lay down in bed, covers kicked aside, with the ceiling fan going full speed. Oh yes. And slept.

My own impromptu wet t-shirt contest. And nary a judge in sight.

Well, you can't have everything.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Excuses, excuses . . .

This seems to be my summer for Putting Things Off. I have a list of Things I'm Supposed to Be Doing that you just would not believe. And it's not getting any shorter because I keep finding reasons -- okay, excuses -- not to do stuff.

Why am I not doing it, you ask? Simple: I don't want to.

This behaviour really makes no sense, because I'd feel so much better if I just DID some of this stuff already, got it over with, and moved on. I'm going to have to do it all eventually anyway. I know that. Putting it off is making it that much harder to accomplish. I know that, too.

Certain people are becoming a bit irritated with me for not doing some of this stuff. Certain other people are beginning to wonder just what exactly my problem is since I haven't done some of this stuff. So far, I'm doing a pretty good job of ignoring them.

Maybe I can blame the planets; that usually works, you rarely hear a planet disavowing responsibility for anything. I think mine have stopped orbiting. Or they've left the solar system entirely.

Because even now, as I'm writing this and thinking, Okay, I really should DO some of this stuff, because this is getting ridiculous . . .

Nope. I just don't want to.

I had no idea I was so stubborn.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Book Review: LOST GIRLS

There are books that will shake your confidence as a writer. Especially if those books are in the same genre as the one you're writing. Books that are so good, they rip your arrogance to shreds and leave you humbled because you know you will never be able to write even half as well. LOST GIRLS, by Robert Doherty (aka Bob Mayer) is one of those books. It is that good.

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of this book, a follow up to Doherty's excellent BODYGUARD OF LIES, for so long that I was beginning to worry it would never live up to my expectations. This book goes so far above and beyond what I was hoping for, I am almost speechless. Almost.

This book could as easily have been titled "Lost Men," as it is a story of men who were lost, betrayed and abandoned by their government to endure the physical torture and mental anguish of captivity, and who lost themselves and a part of their humanity as a result. The plot is complicated, with some twists that even I didn't see coming -- and I almost always see them coming. Yet it is not so complex as to be nearly incomprehensible -- a common flaw of other, less brilliantly conceived offerings in this genre -- because there is such logic and clarity in the writing.

The characters are at once incredible and believable. They are portrayed with an understated confident authority that comes from first-hand knowledge, something that is evident throughout this book. Doherty conveys a deep understanding of the complexities of human nature and the psychology of both perpetrator and victim.

From plot to character to everything else that goes into a book -- dialog, pacing, conflict, escalation of tension -- Doherty gets all of it right while telling a fascinating story that is as entertaining and compelling as it is thought-provoking, a story that will stay with you long after you've read it.

Quite simply, LOST GIRLS is one of the best damn books, of any genre, that I have ever read. I've read a lot of books.

There is a group of elite soldiers in the military, the Special Forces, who are the best of the best, who can accomplish the impossible and make it look easy. There is a group of elite writers writing fiction today who are so good, so incredibly talented, that readers buy their books without looking at anything other than the name on the cover. We knew Doherty/Mayer was a member of the first group. With the publication of LOST GIRLS, he has proven himself to be a member of the second as well.

Of course, it would be a big help, for those of us who have trouble remembering such things, if he would stick to just one name.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Because the memory makes me happy

Sometimes that's enough.

And sometimes, that's everything.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hot Dog Etiquette in Singapore

One of my daughter's friends was in Singapore for a month this summer on a study abroad scholarship. This is one of the pictures she took while there. It's a food tray at a fast food place in Singapore.

First of all, if I am ever in Singapore and feel a compelling need to order a hot dog-- well, I hope someone will go ahead and put me out of my misery. That is Just Wrong. But if, for some reason, you ever find yourself in Singapore and are unavoidably faced with having to eat a hot dog, be aware that they have discovered there are Rules.

I know it's hard to read, so I've typed it out:

Hotdog Etiquette

Dos and Don'ts: Everyday guidance for eating America's sacred food

  • Do. . . eat hotdogs on buns with your hands. Utensils should not touch hotdogs on buns.
  • Don't. . . use a cloth napkin to wipe your mouth when eating a hotdog. Paper is always preferable.
  • Don't. . . leave bits of bun on your plate. Eat it all. Fresh herbs on the same plate with hotdogs are a major "Don't. . ." Mustard, relish, onions, cheese and chili are acceptable.
  • Don't. . . take more than five bites to finish a hotdog. For foot-long wiener, seven bites are acceptable.
  • Do. . . Condiments remaining on the fingers after eating a hotdog should be licked away, not washed.
  • Don't. . . use ketchup on your hotdog after the age of 18.
  • Don't. . . think there is a wrong time to serve hotdogs.

Who knew? And way down at the bottom (I had to enlarge it to see this) it says: Source: National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, USA. So I did an internet search and, yes, there is such a thing and they have a website. They do indeed have these guidelines listed there, among others.

[Please note that in Spain, it is considered an appalling breach of etiquette to lick one's fingers. No matter what food is being consumed.]

It might seem unimaginable, what with this surfeit of information, but I am left with two unanswered questions: Does the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council realize the effect they're having on international relations? And what kind of fresh herbs, exactly, might one be tempted to serve with a hot dog?

Okay, three questions: Hot dogs are sacred?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday the 13th, or why today was lucky

Some of you may remember way back last fall I wrote a blog post about a co-worker whose then 18-year-old son had been diagnosed with lymphoma. That diagnosis came almost exactly one year ago -- I remember returning from RWA National to an office in mourning.

It has been a year of ups and downs, of progress and setbacks, an emotional roller coaster of bad news followed by good and back to bad. Earlier this spring, the son was given an all-clear by his doctors. As far as they could tell, the treatments had been successful and the cancer was gone. But.

Just to be extra sure, they wanted to do one last chemo treatment, followed by a bone marrow transplant. Their reasoning? Patients with this particular type of cancer who had this treatment were pretty much cancer-free for life. Those who didn't, well, their cancer usually came back.

But it's an awful thing, this treatment. There is a month of preparation, with many doctor visits, leading up to it. One of the things they do is harvest bone marrow stem cells and save them. They can do this because the cancer has not spread to his bone marrow. The chemo they planned to give him kills all fast-growing cells. This of course includes the cancer cells. But it also kills bone marrow and blood cells and God knows what else.

Once the treatment began, he'd have to stay in the hospital, in isolation, for 30 days. His body would be incredibly vulnerable to infection, unable to fight off germs. A head cold could kill him. Once the chemo kills off all the cells, they said, he will feel like he is dying. Literally. Because at that point, he is.

They wait until his white blood count and his red blood count are at zero. I'm not sure what is left of a person's blood once all those cells are dead, but by all reports it is not a pleasant experience. I'll spare you the details. Then they give him a transfusion of the bone marrow stem cells and wait for things to start to grow again. It takes a while. There is a chance it won't happen.

Some of those specifics might be a bit off, but this is my best understanding of it after several conversations with my co-worker. Scary stuff. But the alternative was so much worse.

So a while back, they began the treatment. Everything went according to plan and for three days, his blood levels were at absolute zero. My co-worker was worried, though the doctors assured him everything was right on schedule. What if the cells didn't grow? What was Plan B? No one had mentioned a Plan B. His son was so sick, getting worse every day, he couldn't believe Plan A had a snowball's chance. It has been a tough time.

Well, he came in to work yesterday, guardedly optimistic. The blood levels were at 0.1. Hard to let yourself get hopeful over such a small number, especially when your child is still suffering so horribly. But it was better than 0.0 and it was a beginning. So, we hoped.

Today he came in to work and it looked like he'd turned back the calendar 10 years and someone had lifted 20 pounds off each shoulder. The blood levels were at 0.8. The doctors say the treatment is now considered to be a confirmed success. They say recovery is very fast once it starts and think the son may be able to go home in a matter of days. The parents are ecstatic. The son is happy, too, because he wants to play in a qualifying round for the US Amateur Golf Tournament later this month. Yeah, he's that good. He might even make the cut. Plus, he's missed his girlfriends. Yes, plural. Hey, the kid has priorities.

We've all suffered through this with our friend during the past year, trying our best to be optimistic and supportive while struggling at times not to shed tears at work. Believe me, there were days it was damn near impossible. This news had us all a bit misty-eyed today, and not one of us tried to hide it.

Just wanted to share that, today, on a day not known for good luck.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Good Old, Bad Old Days

Just for laughs, not to mention a big dose of humility, I've decided to share with you the first "book" I ever wrote. Warning: IT'S BAD. Amazingly awful. It breaks every rule of writing I have since learned and probably a few that no one has thought up yet. I don't care. For some odd reason, I'm not ashamed of it.

I wrote it back in the late-80s, mostly while the kids took their naps. At some point I realized that in order to continue I was going to have to do some research. I was too busy for that. So I only wrote two chapters before life intervened and I set it aside. Be grateful. Be very grateful. It's about pirates and privateers and set back around 1810 or so. I think. I will never finish this story. It is not a work in progress. There will never be any more to it than there is. Really.

Anyway, I'm very busy and pull-my-hair-out distracted with other things right now, so I'm only going to post a bit of it (I have to re-type the thing, it's not on computer). I can't even tell you how tempted I am to "fix" it, but I'm not going to. This is it in original form, formatting and everything. Try not to run screaming into the night after you read it, okay?

Chapter One

She struggled up as if through deep layers of sleep, fighting the unconsciousness that held her captive. She felt the rocking and swaying, the dip of the waves. I must be on Papa's ship, she thought. Yes, that was it. Memories came to her of laying on the deck at night, looking up through the rigging at the stars, the warm breeze soothing her sun-baked skin. Papa sitting next to her, naming the constellations, teaching her how to navigate. Sharing their love of the sea.

She smiled at the happy memory, then frowned as another memory intruded. That was before the accident that took his leg, took away her childhood. Before the blood. She could smell it even now, after all the years that had passed since that awful day. The sweet, sickening smell of blood. Her papa's blood. Sticky, wet and warm. Dear God, the smell. She stifled a groan and rolled over onto her stomach, hoping to recapture the earlier dream. But now her fingers could feel the stickiness; the smell made her gag and come more fully awake. Confused and disoriented, she lifted her head and it exploded with pain and stars; stars that mocked her dream, fast becoming nightmarish reality as memory tried to return.

It was dark as pitch, but she was suddenly very certain she was not on her papa's ship, knew she was no longer a child. She stretched out her hands from her prone position, a morbid quest for the truth, and felt it again. The unmistakable stickiness of blood. And something else. Soft, yet hard, and cold. An arm. A matted clump of hair. A leg. Oh, dear God. No! She rose to all fours, retching from a combination of the pain in her head and the horror of her discovery. Crawling backwards across the splintered deck as the contents of her stomach left her, a blind flight away from the nightmare of her awakening. Away from the smell, real and remembered. She collapsed against an opposite rail and escaped to unconsciousness once again.

She awoke to sunshine and the cry of birds. She felt the warmth on her face, the sway of the ship beneath her, the pain in her head. Pain. Her eyes flew open as memory returned. Blinded at first by the morning sun, she struggled to sit up and leaned back against the rail. Shading her eyes, she surveyed the carnage around her and remembered.

They had heard the commotion on deck, men shouting, feet running. They were still a week away from port in Virginia, according to the captain, and the two women in the cramped cabin were puzzled by the unusual activity. Martha, whose curiosity had overcome the predictable mid-afternoon lethargy of the voyage, turned from looking out the porthole, her beloved, aged face ashen. "Pirates," she whispered, "coming fast from the south."

Not wanting to believe her, Dani ran to the opening to see for herself. "It’s Black John," she said, after a tense silence. "I recognize his flag from Papa's description."

At the older woman's gasp, she turned, her own golden complexion now ashen as well. For a frozen moment, both women remembered snatches of conversation, the telling of tales over tankards of ale, and prayed what they had heard was not true. Yet both knew, all the same, that it was.

"The man's not human, e's not. The way 'e leaves them poor souls to rot on deck."

"Aye, no captives, no survivors. But afeard to feed the fishes, 'e is."

"Superstitious bastard."

"A meaner man I ne'er met. Ugly as sin, wi' a soul to match." This last from Dani's father, who had met the man and survived the encounter, though he'd always refused to discuss it.

Feared for his vicious brutality and erratic behavior, the notorious pirate Black John was himself fearful and superstitious. Believing that casting dead bodies into the ocean would anger the demons of the deep and bring him bad lack, and as he had no use for the ships he plundered, he left the dead in a great bloody heap on the deck. Left them to rot and molder in the sun, until eventually even the birds would not feast on the remains. Other vessels coming upon such a death ship were left no choice but to fire upon the ship until it sank. No one ever boarded a death ship, fearful of the disease if surely carried.

Jarred into action by the thought of her papa, Dani ran to one of her trunks and began pulling out clothing, throwing dresses and petticoats to land where they may. Finding what she needed, she turned impatiently to Martha.

"Help me wi' this dratted thing. Hurry."

Pulling at the confining material, she turned her back to the woman who, with shaking fingers, helped her unbutton the dress.

"Megan Danielle McClellan, what are ye thinking to do? Surely ye cannot mean what I'm thinking ye are," Martha protested, as she took in the familiar sight of breeches, shirt and leather vest.

Dani rounded on her with fierce determination blazing in her emerald eyes. "Martha, I have ta help them fight. This is'na a fighting ship, tis a bloody merchantman. Ye know I'm able, and God knows they'll need all the help they can get."

As she hastily finished dressing, the young woman silently cursed her father and his grand plans to send her off to America on this plodding hulk of a ship. His dreams of turning her into a fine lady were about to be dashed into the ocean, along with Captain Davis and all his cargo and crew. The words "for your own good" rang in her memory with mocking clarity, as did his insistence that she would be in good hands with his old friend, Tom Davis.

Knowing first-hand the stubborn nature of the girl, Martha bit back further comment. She knew the futility of argument once her young charge had made up her mind. She searched the girl's brilliant green eyes for a sign of uncertainty or hesitation and saw only the determination and courage she had come to expect. She murmured a prayer as she quickly crossed herself, a prayer for Dani's safety as well as her own.

"Yer father will never forgive me if anything happens to ye, Danielle." Close to tears now, Martha whispered, "And I'd never forgive meself."

Pretending not to hear, Dani finished pulling on her well-worn boots and jammed a knit cap over her newly-short auburn tresses, a result of her last desperate act of defiance aimed at changing her papa's insistence that she undertake this ill-fated voyage. She remembered well how her papa's bright blue eyes had darkened in anger, how he had finally shrugged and said, "Twill grow, lass. It changes nothing." Turning back to the trunk, she rummaged through to the bottom and began to arm herself as Martha watched with round, frightened eyes. The slender young woman, who had moments before been exquisitely garbed in London's latest fashions, now resembled a disheveled street ruffian.

In truth, Martha had thought the girl's father had long since confiscated Dani's weapons and more disreputable clothing. Nonetheless, she knew Robbie McClellan would be proud if he could see his daughter now. Aye, she thought with an inward wince, he'd be proud. He'd also be bloody furious and absolutely terrified.

Okay, that's enough of that. Let me know what you think of my fledgling effort. Be nice. Oh, what the hell, be honest. I like to think I've improved a wee bit since then, but maybe I'm kidding myself. If you all think you can stand it, I might post more -- yes, god help me, there is more -- later in the week. Unless I get distracted by something shiny.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Book Review

The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes
a novel by Jennifer Crusie, Eileen Dreyer, Anne Stuart

How did I end up with three copies of this book? Well, I bought two copies as I always do when I'm being supportive, one to keep and one for the local library, and then to my surprise and delight one showed up in the mail. So it seems appropriate that I reacted to this book on three different levels -- as a reader, a writer and a sister -- and that this post consists of three parts. I guess you could say my review is an anthology of sorts: three separate stand-alone opinions written by one person, of a single novel written by three people.

My opinion as a sister (and I have three of those, as well; none of whom arrived by mail):

Let's just get this out of the way right up front, as it is my only complaint about this book. When I heard Jenny Crusie was writing the character Mare, the youngest sister, I was dubious. Crusie's style is more in line with a bossy, know-it-all, pain in the ass oldest sister. Did I mention I have an older sister? I know of what I speak. There have been times when I would have sworn the woman IS my older sister, except that I've met her. She isn't. Nevertheless, and I don't care how talented a writer she is, I figured writing a character who was anything other than the oldest sibling would be a huge stretch of her abilities.

I was right and I was wrong. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Eileen Dreyer out-bossed the hell out of Crusie and that Dreyer's character, Dee, is the perfect oldest sister. Gave me shivers how well she pulled that off. But I maintain that Crusie's Mare is mis-cast as the youngest. Anne Stuart's character Lizzie is such a perfect youngest sister -- the non-confrontational peacemaker, with teeth -- while Mare is clearly the rebellious second child, with her need to be different from her older sister. Ahem. Did I mention that I am a second child?

However, the mixed-up birth order of these siblings is a minor quibble and does nothing to detract from the story. All three writers did a wonderful job of conveying the true nature of sisterhood, from the squabbling amongst themselves, to the united do-not-fuck-with-us front when challenged, to the unhesitating selfless combining of powers to defeat a common enemy.

My opinion as a writer:

When I heard these three writers were collaborating on a novel, I was highly skeptical about how they were going to make that work. But I was also curious. So I attended the workshop the three of them presented last July at the RWA conference where they talked about their collaboration. I learned more than I'll ever need to know about collaborating -- hey, I don't play well with others, I doubt collaboration will ever be an issue for me -- but I also learned a great deal about the craft of writing. And I came away with a huge amount of respect for the talent and experience and wisdom of these three writers.

But I was still skeptical. Why? Well, let me tell you, they acted just like sisters at that workshop. They disagreed and they argued, they sniped and pouted -- they stopped short of hair-pulling, but it was a near thing. Probably too many witnesses. They were entertaining as hell, but I was convinced this book would never make it to publication because they were going to kill each other first.

And how nice it is to be wrong about that. This book is an awesome display of talent and coordination. The three voices are distinct, yet complement each other beautifully. The three unique styles are woven together seamlessly to form a coherent whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. I have a feeling these women could discuss the contents of their refrigerators or their lawn watering schedules and it would be fascinating. Luckily for us, they chose instead to tell a story of magic and transformation and love. With really hot guys. Really.

I have to say, I absolutely love the use of the stylized butterflies as harbingers of impending head-hoppin-- um, I mean, to cleverly signal a change in point of view. How Stuart and Dreyer got that past Ms. One Chapter/One POV Crusie, I'll never know, but it works beautifully.

From a craft standpoint, reading this book is like watching a brilliantly choreographed ballet or listening to a richly complex symphony. They make it look easy when I know for a fact it was anything but. This collaboration shines. It is a triumph of three incredibly strong writers who are all obviously at the height of their careers.

Now for part three. If I had posting privileges on three blogs instead of just two, I'd split this up accordingly. But I don't. So if you want to read part three (my opinion as a reader), go to the CB Bar & Grill, which is HERE. Or better yet, just go buy this book.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The one constant

Have you ever had one of those times in your life when everything around you seems to be changing? Some good changes, some bad, some welcomed, some dreaded. Just changing. A time when you know with inexplicable certainty that things are going to be different, when you sense that even those things that remain unchanged won't seem the same. Because you realize you are changing as well, only you're not yet sure in what ways.

That's how I've been feeling today. I'm in a meditative, reflective mood. Sort of sad, but not really. Thinking about the past -- events and people, both recent and distant; and about the future -- what and who it might hold.

And then I received very sad news about the death of a friend's father. On a day when I have been thinking about my own father, who died more than ten years ago. And how at times like this, times of great change, I wish I could just talk to him. Just listen to him. And I am swamped with empathy and sorrow for my friend who, ten years from now, will no doubt have days like this as well. Days when she still feels that same void.

The present is the only place where things happen, the only place you can live. But my thoughts today seem to be wandering between the place where things can't be changed and the place where things can't be predicted, somehow unable to focus on the thin fragile slice that is now.

Probably I'll feel different tomorrow. Because everything changes, eventually.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Baby Steps

Some of you might remember that back in mid-April I announced a hiatus, of sorts. I had good intentions, though it turns out that any effort to keep my mouth shut in blog-land is one destined to fail. Some of you might also remember I mentioned working hard to meet a self-imposed writing deadline as a reason. Well, that deadline was yesterday.

First, let me explain something here. It is considered Bad Manners and a Waste of Time to pitch a manuscript to an agent if said ms is not substantially complete. For instance, you want to avoid a scenario where an agent gets all excited about your ms and asks to see the thing, only to have you tell her it's not done. Agents don't appreciate that. So I've heard.

Oh, you want the short version of this tale? I pitched my book to an agent yesterday.

I think it went fairly well, given it was my first time and I was scared to death. I didn't get sick. Or pass out. Words did not logjam in my mouth and refuse to exit. I was somewhat coherent. The agent asked a lot of questions, mainly about my book but also my career aspirations. I'm pretty sure I answered them. I'm almost positive I didn't give in to the urge to laugh hysterically at the concept of a writing career. Then she said she really liked my idea and asked for a partial (the first 75 pages and a synopsis).

Now, before anyone gets all overly excited, let me tell you that, as far as I know, everyone who pitched yesterday was asked for a partial. So while this is very cool and very exciting, it did not happen because my fabulously wonderful talent for writing impressed the hell out of anyone. It happened because three agents and an editor participated in a Q&A panel discussion at our chapter meeting yesterday and each of them very graciously agreed to listen to pitches beforehand. I guess they figure that every once in a while it's a good idea to scout out new talent.

But this is an opportunity. A huge opportunity to get my work in front of a highly respected agent.

And before anyone gets all impatient, the agent said there is no hurry to send anything. She'll be traveling for a while and then Nationals is coming up. So I figure I'll be sending something to her around mid-July. She said her turn-around time is roughly three to four months. At which point I will receive either a nicely-worded (I hope) rejection or a request to see the whole thing. And then I'll wait some more. Publishing is a very slow business.

Actually, while I'm waiting, I'll be writing the next one. But first I have to finish cleaning up and polishing this one, because I want it to shine. I still have to re-write the beginning. And tighten the middle. And make sure the ending has an emotionally and intellectually satisfying payoff. And try not to think about the infinitesimally small odds of a first book obtaining agent representation, let alone publication, after just one pitch. I've got my work cut out for me.

But I'm making progress. One foot in front of the other, one little step at a time.

And to those of you who have been taking turns holding my hand or giving me a shove in the right direction or standing there cheering me on, please know that if it weren't for you, all of you, I never would have had the guts to do that yesterday. Thank you.

Monday, June 04, 2007


It finally rained here over the weekend. All night Saturday and most of the day Sunday. Cool, steady, drenching rain. Washing away a springtime worth of dust and pollen.

It was the kind of rain that comes sometimes after a long dry spell and makes you want to stand out in it, spreading your arms wide in invitation, letting your head fall back while the soothing drops run over your face and through your hair and down your back.

I love when it rains like that at night, slow and soaking. When I can lie there in bed with a window cracked open, drifting off to sleep, listening to the rhythm of it on the roof and in the street, hear the wind-blown rush of it through the tree branches, the occasional rumble of distant thunder a muted accompaniment to the soft snores of the dog at the end of the bed.

We all need that sometimes, those things that are good for the soul.

What calms and soothes your inner beast?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Two roads diverged in my pantry. . .

Sometimes when I get "stuck" writing, I tackle some other task while things are percolating in my head. So yesterday I cleaned out the kitchen pantry. Sort of.

I could not believe the stuff that was in there. You know how when you buy a can of soup, for instance, and the expiration date is approximately twenty years in the future? Ok fine, at least four years, right? Well, when you find cans of soup in the pantry that expired three years ago, there is a problem.

Oh, I know what the problem is. Hurricanes. Big swirly storms that come in off the ocean? Those. My first experience with hurricanes was named Andrew. We'd been living in south Florida for an entire year and in all that time no one had really mentioned hurricanes. Guess it was a quiet year. So when Andrew roared ashore, I was not ready. Not in any way whatsoever. My supplies of food and water and mental fortitude were all pitifully low. We were lucky and Andrew carved a path of destruction well to the south of us. But it also made a big impression on me.

I became obsessed with hurricane preparedness. You don't believe me? I have a recipe for water. In case the water supply is contaminated by flooding. I think it involves boiling and bleach. I've never used it, but I feel better knowing it's there.

Just like all those canned goods. They represent security. I can't seem to help it -- I buy more security every spring. Never mind that no one in my family even eats half this stuff. Apricots in heavy syrup? I hate apricots. Canned lima beans? What was I thinking? But I know they're there. Just in case.

Never mind that we no longer live in south Florida. The first year we were here -- two hours inland, mind you, in the middle of North Carolina -- there was a little thing called Fran. And then there was Floyd. Believe me, I could live in the Black Hills of South Dakota and I would By God Be Prepared for a hurricane.

I found an unopened box of club crackers that had a price tag sticker from a store named Big Star. The last time I shopped at Big Star was when we lived in Atlanta. Sixteen years ago.

Ok, so maybe hurricanes don't explain all the stuff I found in my pantry. The other problem is that insistent voice in my head that says, "Ooh look, something shiny." Yeah, halfway through sorting and throwing, I figured out how to solve that little plot glitch.

To paraphrase Frost: knowing how word leads on to word, I doubted if I should ever come back.

I'm pretty sure those lima beans are still sitting on the counter. Right next to the jar of artichoke hearts from 1998.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Adventures in Shopping

Um, that was not an excerpt. Well, it was a real life excerpt. I understand it's important to get that first sentence right. I'm sure you all appreciate the extra effort. So, if you must know . . .

I went to the grocery store after work today. Well, it was yesterday. And it was interesting. Want to hear about it? I thought so.

You know how sometimes you accidentally make eye contact with a stranger? You give a half smile and maybe a nod and keep walking. Well, that happened to me. Nice looking guy, seemed pleasantly friendly, the kind that makes you think maybe not everyone in the world is intent on meanness for its own sake.

We crossed paths again in the next aisle. Same brief nod and smile, though this time with the awkward acknowledgment that we'd been here and done this already. At least, that was my take on it.

A couple aisles later as I'm standing there trying to remember which flavor of Pringles DD19 likes, here comes the same guy again. Only this time he plants himself next to me, clearly ready to make some kind of speech. I thought the worst: Oh crap, somehow I've managed to offend this guy and now he's going to tell me about it.

He said, "I hope you don't mind, but I just want to tell you that I think you are a very beautiful person." Huh? "I really think not enough people in this world are willing to say positive things about other people and I just wanted to tell you that. I think you're beautiful."

Ok, so this was not what I was expecting. But it was nice. He was a nice guy. I was very flattered and told him so. Thanked him for brightening my day. Really. Thank you. That was nice. Now go away.

He said his name was Mike and stuck out his hand to shake mine. I'm thinking maybe this guy is taking court ordered anger management classes and this is homework: find someone who looks particularly downtrodden and make them feel good through flattery. So I played along. I said, "I'm BCB, nice to meet you, Mike," and shook his hand. I can be nice. There were a few seconds of polite chit chat and then he went on his way and I decided sour cream and onion sounded right.

I was in the bread aisle when I noticed him again. I tried not to, but it's damn near impossible not to notice someone who walks right up to you and starts talking. This time he managed, pretty much all in the same breath, to tell me his age (ten years younger than mine), his marital status (single, never married), his parental status (no kids), his occupation (bio-pharmaceutical industry), his financial status (all those material things are very nice but don’t make up for that lack of personal connection), that he'd taken the day off work to help a buddy build a deck (explaining the somewhat scruffy appearance) and that I have truly beautiful eyes. Huh?

Who does this guy think he's kidding? This time of year my eyes are a prime candidate for an antihistamine commercial. So I'm a little stunned, but starting to suspect this behavior was not ordered by any court. Then he speculated about my age being close to his, perhaps a couple years younger. So I told him how old I am. I even mentioned that my youngest child was currently attending college at the school featured on his ball cap.

He didn't miss a beat. Said I looked fantastic and much younger than my age. Said he was attracted to more mature women anyway, women you could have a cup of coffee with and actually talk to. I had a brief vision of this guy throwing himself in front of a train in the throes of abject despair, so I refrained from mentioning that I do not drink coffee. You know, just in case.

Between trying to remember what else I was supposed to be shopping for and calculating how much longer I could linger before the tuna steaks in my cart went bad for lack of refrigeration, I started to wonder whether this guy was hitting on me.

Nah. That would be crazy. It's been so long, that isn't even a distant memory. He was just bored and lonely. Looking for a little friendly conversation. I thanked him again for the repeated compliments and edged carefully away toward the deli section, remembering my DD's request to get "something for sandwiches other than peanut butter."

The third time he approached me [sigh], I started to wonder whether the store had security people on staff. This time he handed me a register receipt with his name and phone number written on it, telling me to call him if I wanted to talk.

Uh huh.

Yes, I looked for the hidden cameras. For the reality show host lurking eagerly and not-so-inconspicuously behind the doughnut display. For the banner declaring: "Top Ten Reasons to Trust Your Instincts" or "The Importance of Maintaining a Regimen of Skin Care and Dental Hygiene Once You Reach a Certain Age." For something, anything, to explain this aberration. Nothing. Not even a trace of glitter trailing in my wake.

Of course when I got home, first thing I did was rush inside to look in the mirror. To hell with the tuna mutating in the back of the car. I figured drastic changes must have taken place since the last time I looked. Hey, it could happen. You never know.

So anyway, I looked and, well-- damn. Another hope shattered.

And then I started laughing. Poor Mike. That must have taken a lot of nerve. Good thing I was there so he had someone to practice on. I really hope he's not sitting at home waiting for his phone to ring. 'Cause that just ain't happening, buddy.

Sheesh. And my DD thinks the internet is a dangerous place. Just wait until I tell her about the grocery store.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I went to the grocery store after work today.

After work today, I went to-- no, I shopped at the grocery store.

Today, after work, I shopped at the grocery store.

I shopped after work today, at the grocery store.

This is not as easy as it looks.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hiatus Interuptus

I am thrilled to announce that before the weekend is over, Bryan Weitzel will be posting another excerpt on his blog in his continuing Mallory saga. Yep, that's right folks. After a two month Sabbatical, Bryan has come to his senses and realized that a Sabbatical refers to activity "relating to or suitable for the Sabbath." Or is more commonly defined as "a period of leave from work for research, study, or travel, often with pay and usually granted to college professors every seven years." So now that his ill-considered and poorly defined Sabbatical has come to an end, Bryan will be writing regular posts on his blog for at least the next seven years.

You can access his blog here. Please, feel free to comment early and often. Ask questions. Demand explanations. Beg for lengthier and more frequent excerpts. Really. He loves that kind of stuff.

Challenge me to a duel of semantics, will he? [ref. comments on previous post] Seems he forgot that, as the one challenged, I get to set terms and have my choice of weapons.

Now where was I? I left my H/H in a very delicate situation. They probably continued on without me, unable to restrain themselves. Oh geez, look at that. Give them the simple task of defeating an enemy and they decide to take over the world and Wal-Mart too.

Annie, no, put that down before someone gets-- hurt. Damn.

You all need to stop distracting me. Just look at this mess.

Girl, the police are going to have a tough time extracting information from a man in that condition. Where's Jack?

Oh, hell.

He's doing what?

Saturday, April 21, 2007


I woke up this morning and thought, "I need to think of something to write about on my blog." And immediately remembered what someone told me just yesterday, "You're thinking too much again. I warned you about that." Oddly, the person who told me this is a very thoughtful person, a person who thinks great thoughts. Deep thoughts. A person whose opinion I trust and respect. Of course, this person also seems to credit the notion that aliens have abducted me.

But I'm not sure what I think about this. How is it possible to think less?

After giving it a great deal of thought [grin], I think what this person meant was that I should stop having second thoughts and just trust my instincts. Good advice, whether that was the message or not.

I have focused a significant amount of time and attention this past week or two on thinking and then expressing those thoughts in blog comments and email. And I have not spent nearly enough time and attention on my own writing. I need to listen to my instincts about this.

So I am announcing a self-imposed hiatus. I really like that word. So I looked it up. Online. Yes, I'm too lazy to get up, go downstairs and find the dictionary. Even though I love the dictionary; it's my favorite book.

From an online thesaurus:

Hiatus: pause, break, interruption, gap, space, lull, interval, time away

From the online Encarta Encyclopedia:

Hiatus: 1. unexpected gap: a break in something where there should be continuity

So that's what I'll be doing for the next little while, taking a hiatus from blog-type writings so I can focus on book-type writings.

This is a good thing. How long will it last? I'm very easily distracted, so it's hard to say. A month? A week? Two days? I have a self-imposed writing deadline coming up and I'll need to work hard if I'm to have any hope of meeting it.

In the meantime, if any of you really, really miss reading my words of wisdom -- well, I just can't imagine that being the case. But if you do, there are about seven months' worth of my musings right here on this blog. And there is at least a book's worth of stuff scattered on various other blogs around town.

Go forth and re-read.