Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Destiny of the Republic


The Devil in the White City is one of my all-time favorite books, and I’m delighted to announce I’ve found another story equally as enthralling.

Destiny of the Republic A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, by Candice Millard opens in the summer of 1876, at the United States’ Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia where the first piece of the Statue of Liberty, the sixteen foot hand holding aloft a twenty-nine-foot torch was on display.

Alexander Graham Bell, a dedicated teacher of the deaf, had acquired a patent for the telephone, an invention he’d inherited from his father, three months prior to the opening of the fair. He was hesitant about participating and decided only at the last minute to seek a booth which lead to his assignment in the remote Massachusetts education section rather than the centrally located, more appropriate electrical exhibit. But thanks to his prior friendship with Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil, chairman of the judges, Bell was granted permission to demonstrate his “iron box receiver,” and his reputation grew from their resounding response.

A British surgeon, Joseph Lister, presented his theory on antisepsis during the exposition. He reasoned the same microorganisms that caused wine to ferment might also be the cause of infection in wounds and recommended an elaborate system of sterilization based on the use of carbolic acid. Representatives of the American medical community listened politely but dismissed his presentation as being ridiculous and too much trouble.

James Garfield attended the exposition with his wife and family. The author does a commendable job of introducing a lesser known president who by any standards was equal in intelligence, leadership ability and nobility of character to Lincoln.

The Republication Convention of 1880 was held in Chicago, a city in the process of re-building after the great fire of 1871. Although Garfield attended as a senator from Ohio, at no time did he seek the nomination. The leading choices were General Grant who had already served two terms as President, John Sherman, brother of General William Tecumseh Sherman, and James Blaine, a senator from Maine.

Day after stifling hot day drug by with the assemblage unable to settle on one of the leading contenders. One delegate persisted in voting for Garfield. In the ensuing ballots, favor gradually shifted until Garfield was nominated.

Although he would rather have stayed home to farm and raise his family, Garfield accepted the nomination because he felt it was the will of the people. It was not the custom then for the candidates to campaign in person, but Garfield did speak to those who made the effort to visit him at home where he addressed them from his front porch. Some days there were only a few; others, there were thousands. His greatest talent was public speaking.

Destiny of the Republic is the story of Garfield’s all too short term in office. The lives of Bell and Lister are intertwined in the struggle to save the president’s life from the bullet wound he sustained in an assassination attempt.

The story is enthralling on its own, but even more interesting and thought provoking in contrast to today’s politics.

Give yourself a treat. Read Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard.  

 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Memphis-Style Christmas Pageant


Last week I was invited to attend our youngest grandchild’s Christmas pageant. I made room for it in my over-booked holiday schedule and left for the event with a dutiful attitude.

Grandmothers have changed completely since we were children. My granny wore high heeled oxfords and A-line dresses. Her skin and figure and attitude were elderly by 60.

Today’s grandmothers have been taking muti-vitamins all their lives resulting in healthier skin with fewer wrinkles. Thanks to better foundation garments and in some cases, discrete plastic surgery, our bosoms may sag but they don’t bang off our knees like our foremothers.

We dress fashionably. Those of us who were a bit tardy to the event comfortably jogged from our cars to the building.

The nursery school hosting the pageant is housed in a local Lutheran Church. The children were mostly Caucasian with a sprinkling of Black and Indian children reflective of the neighborhood.

I was delighted to see little girls still wear ankle-length smocked dresses with great fluffy bows in their hair. One accessorized her ensemble with white tights and brown cowboy boots. That’s my kind of girl.

With slicked down, carefully parted hair, the little boys were dressed in holiday colors. Some wore holiday sweaters and all had been threatened within an inch of their lives to stay clean and behave.

Our eldest daughter is the mother of our youngest grandson. He stood on the front row wearing a monogrammed shirt and didn’t sing but kept prompting his mother to take his picture. He also maintained careful surveillance of the audience as though counting the house and making sure everyone clapped.

The head of the two-year old class in this facility is our second daughter. She loves working with small children and claims she’s saving the world one bottom at a time.

The two year olds marched in after the older children had performed wearing headbands with antlers. It took the full attention of three teachers to keep all the headbands in place during their brief recital. Only one little girl on the very end of the second row cried and had to be carried off by her mother.

The music teacher conducted the event with great gusto. It was obvious from the first piano chord that she was equally comfortable playing blues and gospel. After the first number, she stood before the assembled toddlers and admonished them to crank it up with arm gestures to demonstrate, and they did to the delight of all. 

Memories came rushing back to me as I sat in the assembly of all the work involved in the production of this event: budgeting for the clothes, carpooling, practicing, and making time in two work schedules for both parents to attend. It made me tired thinking about it.

I was delighted with our grandson, but the best part was watching our grown daughters nurturing little ones with easy confidence. I remembered their nursery school days. At three, one had considered panties optional attire.  The other pinched her fingers in a door during class one day, and on the way home said, “I got hurt at school today and called for you and you didn’t come.” All the work and lack of sleep and anxiety were so worth it.

It was the best Christmas present any grandmother could receive; one that doesn’t require polishing or dusting and will always hold a warm corner in my heart.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sisyphus Was a Sissy


The legendary king of Corinth, that’s Greece not Mississippi, Sisyphus was the epitome of self-serving underhandedness and renowned for his deceitfulness. As a result, the gods condemned him to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a mountain all day every day only to find it back down at the bottom the next morning.

I’ve been thinking about Sisyphus lately; not because of his regrettable reputation but because of his assignment. I believe the gods were slightly off target. They should have assigned Sisyphus to more useful tasks like laundry or cooking for a growing family.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Waist Not

I've approached this Christmas with a new attitude. There will be no major baking session to produce boxes of goodies for twenty of our nearest and dearest relatives. Most of the recipients from the past have died. The ones remaining don't need the calories.

In a moment of pure insanity or perhaps habit, I bought a large container of assorted chopped candied fruit suitable for one large fruitcake. It haunted me from a prominent position in the pantry for a couple of weeks until I moved it to a spot on the kitchen counter by the sink where it gathered dust while I considered recipes.

My immediate family doesn't like fruitcake. If I baked a fruit cake, I'd wind up eating it out of guilt to keep it from going to waste. So I threw the fruit away with only minor twinges of guilt.





Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Brilliant Disaster


The only time I get to listen to NPR is in the car with my better than standard poodle, George on our way to the off-leash dog park, and true to form, it was where I heard that Fidel Castro died. My first reaction was totally irreverent. I was a little surprised that his brother and the other leaders of the dictatorship he established were open enough to announce he was gone. I wouldn't have been surprised if they'd called in a taxidermist and kept the news to themselves for a few more years.

Driving down the same parkway a couple of days later, I heard a discussion of The Brilliant Disaster, JFK, Castro and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs by Jim Rasenberger.

The author said that the day after the failure of the Bay of Pigs, JFK started the bureaucratic wheels turning to investigate ways to stop the spread of Communism in Vietnam which lead to the US intervention there.

Isn't it interesting how one event in one hemisphere of the world can have a domino effect bringing about another crisis on the other side of the world?

Monday, November 21, 2016

November 22, 1963


Del Valle (pronounced Del Valley) High School was across the highway from Bergstrom Air Force Base on the outskirts of Austin. Half the student body was made up of farm and ranch kids who’d never lived out of the state while the rest were air force brats who’d never lived in the same place longer than a year or so.

It was only later when we would gather as adults for reunions that we came to realize the air force families were headed up by men who’d grown up on farms and ranches outside of Texas and had chosen the military for the steady income not offered at home; to give their children a better life away from agriculture.

On this sunny fall day, President John Kennedy was scheduled to land at Bergstrom in the afternoon, and everyone was going to be there to applaud him. There had been fiercely competitive speeches in the history classes before the mock presidential election which Kennedy handily won. It was emphasized to all of us after the election, that whomever we supported in the campaign, it was our responsibility as citizens to throw our support behind the winner.

Most of our fathers from both groups had seen military service in World War II. Everyone was fiercely patriotic.

The announcement over the intercom that the President had been assassinated in Dallas left us all stunned. Classes continued for the rest of the day, but no pretense was made to follow lesson plans.

Mother met our bus at the gate to our property to walk up the hill with us. She’d been alone when she heard the news and needed consolation as much as we did. It was a Friday. All regularly scheduled television programs were cancelled for the weekend.

She and I spent the next two days sitting on the turquoise Naugahyde sofa in our living room crying in front of the television. Jake Ruby shoot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald live before our very eyes.

Our father was in the cattle business and had recently had a cow slaughtered for our family. As we watched the events of the weekend unfold, we ate T-bone steaks almost tender enough to cut with a fork along with thick slices of onions dipped in pancake batter and deep fried; comfort food.

Three years later, I would be working in the graduate library in the tower at the University when Charles Whitman ambushed students walking across the campus at noon. Medgar Evers and Bobby Kennedy were also killed around this time, and then there was Martin Luther King.

What happened to this country between our parents’ generation and ours? Is it the increased speed in news broadcasting? Or the 24/7 news programs?

Jacqueline Kennedy was a chain smoker but was never photographed smoking. The press respected her privacy. What brought about the loss of this respect?

Perhaps we can work to regain a modicum of this reverence for our country and its representatives by accepting Donald Trump as the President elect whether we supported him in the election and give him the respect the office deserves. It’s a small step in the right direction.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Cornbread


The Mid-south had its first frost of the winter last night. Although the high temps had been in the low eighties and high seventies the past few weeks, I have gradually been discarding the annuals from my container garden and was down to the herbs and a couple of bushes by last night. The herbs have been moved to the garage where they will winter under a window in a plant stand.
The rosemary, sage, parsley and thyme will be especially handy this week when I start cooking for Thanksgiving. (Isn’t that Art Garfunkel singing in the background?)  Fresh snippets will be stuffed into the hen as it bakes.

When I was growing up in Texas, Mother made cornbread dressing and baked it separate from the turkey rather than stuffing the bird with it.

Her cornbread was baked in a cast iron skillet. The skillet was set in the hot oven with a generous dollop of bacon grease to warm up while she mixed the batter.  As I described in my memoir, Raiders and Horse Thieves, Memoir of a Central Texas Baby Boomer, most housewives living there in that time-frame kept a container on the back of their kitchen range between the last two burners to hold bacon grease for future use as seasoning or greasing the cornbread skillet.
The finished product always had a crisp bottom with an occasional chip of crisp bacon or sausage. The grease also added a faint suggestion of pork to the dressing.

There is one aspect of cornbread from the south or southwest that cannot be overstated. It is not sweet. There were many advantages and new ideas our family enjoyed and happily accepted during our residence in the north east; however, sweet cornbread was not one of them.

It was a tremendous shock to order a cornbread muffin to accompany a bowl of hot vegetable soup on a bitterly cold winter day and bite into a sugary bread when the taste buds were all set for something with a hint of pork.
Of course, this is all a matter of culture; what you grew up with will more than likely determine your preference, but if you like cornbread and move from one part of the country to another, consider yourself warned.

Included below is our family cornbread recipe.

Cornbread from the kitchen of Virginia Lee McDaniel Ellis

Place cast iron skillet in oven and preheat oven to 350°.
Blend together one cup corn meal (yellow produces a prettier finished product), three tablespoons flour, three teaspoons sugar (I only use half this amount), three teaspoons baking powder, and one teaspoon salt.

Beat an egg and add to one cup milk.
Place approximately three tablespoons shortening in hot skillet and let it melt or use about that same amount bacon fat if you’re lucky enough to have it.

Add liquid to dry ingredients and mix lightly until blended and pour in hot skillet.

Bake for about a half hour until edges pull away from the sides of the skillet and it begins to brown.

 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Latest from Shelby Farms

George, my better than standard poodle, and I have completed our morning walk at the off-leash dog park at Shelby Farms and are resting a bit before tackling our daily tasks. Thanksgiving is bearing down on us with the traditional tasks it entails.

Shelby Farms is a 5,000 acre park on the outskirts of Memphis. I'm not sure how many acres are set aside for the dogs and their owners as well as an occasional horse and rider, but I would guesstimate around 500.

George and I meet the same people and their dogs most every day. We'd been out of town last week and were eager this morning to get back and catch up with all our friends.

We were sorry to hear Jake has hurt his foot and hasn't been to the park in two days. His master suspects he twisted it in a mole hole in the back yard. Jake is a fierce looking Stafforshire mix with the loving personality of a daisy picking child until you try to pull the tennis ball from his mouth which is as strong as a steele trap.

Lalah is still suffering with arthritis and spent most of the morning resting in the back seat of the truck while her master walked Ruby. Their master hesitated about bringing Lalah but she begged so he gave in and took her for a short walk.

We didn't walk very far this morning. I had a great visit with Lalah and Ruby's master while George answered Nature's call. When I headed on out to farther pastures, George stood at the top of the hill and patiently waited for me to notice he wasn't following. He wanted to go home.

With more than half our population in major unrest, it was good to be back outside in the fresh air and sunshine and enjoy the small things in our daily life that bring quiet joy. I resolve to spend this day preparing for a family holiday and to exercise. I'm going to do the best I can for my immediate family and community and have faith in our political system.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fall Back

Two weeks ago, give or take a day or so, we observed Day Light Savings Time by moving our clocks back an hour on Saturday night. What followed is traditionally the longest Sunday of the year. The day seems to drag on forever.

I left the mid-south for north central New Jersey the following Wednesday. The north east is an hour ahead of us which required that I turn my watch back an hour resulting in the longest days I've ever lived. I don't have any trouble keeping up with the day of the week, but the days do seem to drag on forever.

Dear Worthless Bastard

A high school friend of my husband's swears he's on some national watch list (and is pretty proud of it) for writing the President and members of Congress with the opening salutation, "Dear Worthless Bastard." Considering our quirky population, that's probably pretty tame but it does insure that whatever message he has to share will not be heard. The person opening the mail will take one glance at the opening and the letter will be discarded.

It isn't acceptable to start with the opening query, "Have you lost your mind?" It isn't respectful and puts the reader on the defensive when what you're trying to do is influence the reader, change their mind.

The next four years under the incoming President are going to be a challenge for everyone. It's an opportunity for the private citizen to step up and participate. Write letters or place phone calls or use any of the new fangled computer-related communication systems to the President and your Congressmen. Speak up. Be heard. And don't forget to be polite about it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Morning After the Night Before


Tuesday is one of my favorite days of the week because I spend the morning in a short story discussion group with some of my favorite women. This particular Tuesday was the day after Halloween. One of our group needed a lift home after our discussion. As I backed out of her drive, a young woman walked passed her house. Her face was decorated like a cat's, but the makeup was smudged. She was barefoot and dressed in a rumpled slinky top and skirt that could have been construed as a cat costume.

From all appearances, she’d spent the night away from home unexpectedly and was on the way back to her place for a bath and a change of clothes and some aspirin; not necessarily in that order.

I hope she had as great a time as I imagined.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Who Am I Kidding?


I spent precious writing time yesterday afternoon on a piece about The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens. And if you haven’t read that piece, please put the book on your “To Read” list. You won’t be sorry.

I heard about this novel and bought a copy on the recommendation of a friend with a reputation as a discerning reader. At the close of a recent book club session, she mentioned three or four titles without any further description, and I assumed solely from the title that it was a novel of manners.

As a senior citizen with so many books left to read in rapidly diminishing time, I try to be picky about my selections. I only read good fluff; the book doesn’t have to be a serious tome, but it must have something unique to offer the audience.

I don’t see myself as a mystery reader; or I didn’t until I started going through the list of all the books I’ve read since 1990. The dog-eared spiral containing the list provided an entirely different view of my reading taste. Between a credible selection of fairly well regarded books, I’ve also enjoyed my fair share of murder mysteries.  

The ones I most particularly enjoy are light on the crime and heavy on the development of the various characters and their interaction with each other. Elizabeth George was particularly good at that.

The hero in a mystery must have admirable qualities; not like Gone Girl in which everyone is a schnook. It’s even better if they’re comical or period pieces or set in a unique place.

Charlotte Macleod, a British author, has written a double handful of mysteries with a dry sense of humor. Alisa Craig is another I enjoy. John Greenwood and Joan Hess have written series that are perfect for the beach or airplane. Janet Evanovich’s earlier books are also delightful.

Of course there’s an exception to every rule. I adore James Lee Burke who is scary and incredibly violent but has a fantastic command of the language; sort of a cross between Shakespeare and Al Capp.

Jasper Fforde presents mysteries from a science fiction approach. His Eyre Affair is a must read but don’t rush through it. You might miss the puns. Oh, and for those of you who’ve given birth, the villain is Braxton Hicks. Does the name ring a bell?

Every genre has its place. It’s always good to read something light and entertaining after completing a serious book.

I had an enlightening afternoon writing this piece; learned something about myself. If you decide to read any of the titles or authors I’ve suggested in this piece or if you have a particular mystery writer you’d like to recommend, please don’t hesitate to write a commentary in reply.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Life We Bury


 
The extra added bonus to participation in a book discussion group is swapping titles with the other members which is how I came to hear about The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens. It was included in a short list of “good reads” without any plot summary by a discriminating reader among my circle of reading friends. Several weeks later, the title rang a bell when I came across a stack of paper back editions at our local independent book store, and I bought a copy. It was a fortunate selection.

Joe Talbert is not a typical college student. Torn between yearning for freedom from an alcoholic mother and autistic brother to pursue an education and a strong sense of responsibility for this brother, he’s working his way through school as a bouncer in a bar and balances the demands of classwork with a frantic scramble to earn enough to fund his schooling.

I won’t share much of the story for fear of ruining it for any potential readers, but I will say it’s a credible plot. The characters have redeemable qualities.  While the plot is unique, it isn’t psychologically disturbing.

Had I known it was a crime novel, I’m not sure I would have bothered, but I’m glad I did.  The good guys prevail over the villains for a satisfying conclusion. There’s enough depth to the main characters that I hope to meet them again in another book. I’d like to see how they develop and where they wind up after college.

 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Small Room


Last night I attended an open house for a local art museum in a newly renovated mansion. The neighborhood in which the house is located is built around a public golf course. Some of the residences may be circa 1930's but most are of more modern vintage, and all have been renovated numerous times.

This area is one of my husband's favorites. Since his health leaves much to be desired, we take drives now and again to get him out of the house. We study changes in the various neighborhoods as a hobby and followed the renovation of this particular residence from the street with interest.

The interior of the house was an open floor plan with the kitchen and den combined into one big open area. Between the dining room and kitchen there was a butler's pantry as well as a pantry bigger than half my kitchen. Every bedroom had a bathroom.

It was an exquisite house. Each and every detail had been covered with no regard to expense. My architect friend practically drooled as we toured the second level.

While everything in the house along with the outdoor kitchen was the latest gadget, the landscaping in the back yard was timeless and will only increase in beauty with maturity.

It was good to get out on a Friday night, to visit with people I rarely see and to enjoy new and beautiful surroundings, but I was equally glad to go home and take off my shoes.

One of my favorite rooms in our house is the study. Located on the front of the house, it was the smallest bedroom until we had book shelves built on one entire wall and converted it into a cozy space to sit and read. As I sat nestled in the corner of this undersized room with needlepoint in my lap and dog napping across my feet, I reflected on the difference in the way the children who live in that house utilize their space in comparison to how my four lived in ours.

Experience has taught me that sharing a bedroom and bath as a child can prove to be an advantage later in life. But which came first? Did the public demand wide open spaces with tall ceilings in contemporary housing or did architects develop the open space concept, and it became popular? What impact, if any, will this have on our children? It will be interesting to hear if social scientist regard this as a significant issue twenty years from now.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Marilyn Watts, Where Are You?


Earlier this week I had the joy of re-connecting with a former college roommate.

We met and lived together in Grace Hall on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. It was an incredible experience. The building was the first women's dorm on campus. Built from huge squares of stone, Grace Hall looked more like a small castle or a large rectory for the Episcopal Church next door than a college dormitory. The ceilings were exceptionally high on the first two floors with radiator heat and ceiling fans in every room. There were oriental rugs through-out the house. Most were worn right through to the backing by sixty years of coed traffic.

The dining hall was irregularly shaped, possibly an octagon, with a dumbwaiter to deliver the food from the kitchen. The tables were round and made of dark wood. The breakfront reached the ceiling and was probably six or eight feet long. The living room was beautifully furnished with a baby grand piano.

Mrs. Purcell was the housemother. My roommate reminded me that Mrs. Purcell took pride in using real butter and the best available ingredients for our meals. I'd forgotten the home-made sweet rolls served on Sunday mornings and the bread pudding that followed on Mondays made from left over sweet rolls, but I clearly remembered the gingerbread with orange butter they served in the fall.

We were assigned to a suite of three rooms at the end of the hall on the third floor. The rooms had lower ceilings than the rest of the house. Our beds fitted under the eaves of the roof. Heat rises which meant we were often forced to open our widows and turn on the ceiling fans during winter cold spells.

It was when we began to reminisce over the other residents that my heart sank. One of our suite mates did not register for school until a week or two after classes had already started. Marilyn Watts was an adorable blonde with the saddest face. It took a while, but once she became acquainted with us, Marilyn explained the source of her grief. She'd been married earlier that summer. The couple was painfully young and naive, it lasted less than a week.

It was good for Marilyn to be away from home in a different environment where she had time to consider past events and weigh her true feelings. She soon realized she still loved her Jimmy. I've forgotten the details, but I'm pretty sure she reached out to him. They were married the next semester.

The roommate visiting me this week and I made the drive to San Antonio to see Marilyn the next year. She had an infant son and was blissfully happy.

What was the cause of my dismay? My roommate and I got busy with our own lives and lost touch with Marilyn. We don't remember Jimmy's last name, but we do recall he was in the service. And now, with mature hearts, we look back at that young couple and wonder what happened to them. We can only hope Jimmy made it back from Vietnam, and they were reasonably happy together for the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Write Your Own

In the past couple of weeks, I've lead two discussion groups at my local library regarding my memoir writing and publishing experiences. Not quite two dozen people attended. Enthusiasm was high, and we've agreed to meet again in two or three months to discuss everyone's progress.

I've also approached the librarian about holding two sessions on the topic of obituary writing. It seems to me that the person most capable of writing an obituary is the deceased. Who is more familiar with your life than you? And besides, it would liven up the obituary page.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Road Rage

There was a stalled car on a major road this afternoon about four, and traffic was moving at a crawl. I turned into it in the appropriate lane and seeing that the next lane had a wide opening, I turned on my blinker and began moving into it.

A light gray KIA was back at least a car's length in that lane and creeping along but sped up to block my entrance. I already had my bumper out and was crossways between lanes and continued to change lanes. The young male driver sat on his horn for several seconds. I ignored it and moved on over to the outside lane.

A couple of blocks on up the road the same car sped up to get in front of me and then slowed to a crawl as the driver put his arm as far out the window and up in the air as he could to display the traditional middle finger rude gesture. I continued to ignore him.

He was still in front of me when the light turned red. The young woman riding with him, got out of the car and came back to me. My door was locked and the windows up. When I refused to look at her, she almost climbed on the hood to get in my face and shout at me. When that got no response, she hit my side window hard with the flat of her hand and returned to her car.

I turned into the parking lot at that light and was hugely relieved they didn't follow me. While it is true that I'm accustomed to driving in large cosmopolitan areas and have learned to change lanes in crowded situations, I did not cut the other driver off. There was plenty of room. He sped up to prevent my entry into his lane.

The youngsters in the gray KIA were young. There didn't seem to be any air conditioning in the car. The girl was missing a front tooth. Life must be really hard for them. I can't imagine how awful it must be to have so much suppressed anger and frustration that such a minor incidence can cause such a major reaction. It was scarey and terribly sad.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

No Rock

Yesterday afternoon, we returned home from our usual Tuesday schedule, bridge game for my husband and short story discussion and lunch for me, to find one side of our glass front storm door hanging from the frame in shards.

Our lawn service had been cutting the grass as we left earlier in the day and were our first suspects. It wouldn't be an unusual chain of events for the mower to hit a rock causing it to fly up and hit the door.

A closer examination of the damage did not produce a stone anywhere within striking distance, but the morning sun does blaze down on it with full force every day.

Including the heat index, the temperature here yesterday was 105 degrees. The wooden front doors are recessed about three feet into the house with the storm doors attached to the opening into the recess leaving a good space of about three feet between the two for either an umbrella stand or potted plant depending upon the weather.

A week or so ago, I had to remove a pot of succulents from the space. They were burning up.

We think the air between the two sets of doors got so hot the glass door exploded. Once the door is repaired, I'll have to leave it ajar to prevent another build-up of hot air. There's never a dull moment in our house.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Grand Dogs

The weather in the Mid-South this summer has been the usual cross to bear. Including the heat index, most days this past couple of weeks have been slightly over a hundred.

This presents a challenge for our better-than-standard poodle, George, who is dark gray and can't sheug off his fur coat and leave it at home. He's been known to walk from shade tree to shade tree and take an extended  respite before moving on to the next shade.

As far as George is concerned, the back yard is available only for sniffing the air while seated on the patio; all elimination is done in the front yard or farther afield.

We did get a break mid-afternoon yesterday when storm clouds gathered, and we had two or three nice thunder showers. It cooled us off, but poor George is terrified of electrical storms, and we weren't able to take our usual four pm constitutional which is why we were out walking last night in front of our subdivision around nine.

We live in the very back corner of our small neighborhood. Both of us are hard of hearing and prone to put our heads in a book and not look up for hours at a time. We never know what's going on around us until we read about it in the paper or one of our bridge playing neighbors tells us about it three days later over the bridge table.

It was merely drizzling around nine last night when George announced it was time to visit the bushes. At the front of the subdivision, we found huge loudly humming trucks parked at the curb with orange cones set out at either end for a block. A man wearing a hard hat and carrying his cell phone happened to walk by, and I inquired about all the activity.

You never know when someone might have decided to dispose of someone who needed killing down a drainpipe, but ours was a more mundane problem: flash flooding.

We stood there in the dark with no umbrella and had a great conversation in the drizzle about adopting dogs and where we'd seen dogs dumped. At that point, my new best acquaintance scrolled through his phone files to show me pictures of his son's dog, Oreo, a lab/pitbull mix; darling dog who looks like the dog in Our Gang.

It was a most satisfying intercourse for all concerned. Well familiar with such behavior, George sat calmly in the middle of the street while we humans took a break from our usual routine to pass the time of day or night. It's the little things that make life worth living.

My Crock Pot and I

There's been a death in our extended family. One of our daughters has lost her dear father-in-law. He had a good, long life of service to his family, country and God and been in poor health for quite a while, but there's never a good time to lose a loved one.

As at any other momentous occasion, I found myself in the kitchen this morning preparing for the mournful week ahead. This particular daughter and her husband have two sons who are in that stage in life in which they cannot get enough to eat. With a wake and funeral in Mississippi and a memoiral service here in Memphis, there will be no time for her to cook proper meals which is where I can make myself useful as well as ornamental.

Early this morning I made stops at the local farmers' market as well as the grocery. The local deli sold me a huge ham bone. Dried pinto beans soaked all day here while a roast from our freezer thawed.

The browned roast along with the beans and ham bone are now in the crock pot where they will simmer slowly all night with chili flavoring, Rotel, canned tomatoes, garlic and onions. Tomorrow I'll make two cast iron skillets of corn bread. It will be enough for both of our married daughters to feed their families one or two meals. At least they'll be able to grieve on a full tummy.







Thursday, July 21, 2016

How Short Am I?

There's been a recent edict from the Powers That Be in our family: from now on in all group snapshots, I'm to stand in front of the grandchildren. Yesterday I stood behind them for an informal picture, and all that showed was the brim of my strawhat and the top rim of my glasses.

I was taking pictues with my phone yesterday at the World War II memorial on the Mall in Washington D.C. I finished and turned round to find a man standing right behind me and holding his camera directly over my head.

It could give a girl a complex.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Texas Flip


Friday nights are my favorite time of the week. After dinner, I curl up on the sofa in the sitting room with my needlepoint and watch the DIY (Do It Yourself) channel.

I'm a huge fan of the Texas Flip show featuring the Snow family who make their living by buying derelict houses. At a site specially set aside for this purpose, the houses are completely rebuilt (usually from the studs out), decorated and auctioned off.  

At the beginning, the houses are always hopeless wrecks. Asbestos and mold are just two of the potential problems contractors can expect in the course of remodeling. The finished product is always great and sells well at auction.

What I don't understand is why anyone would be willing to go to so much trouble to buy one of these houses. They are not inexpensive; it's costly to move one to its permanent location not to mention the additional cost of a new foundation, connecting the utilities, and repairing the unavoidable damage incurred in the relocation.

The elder statesman Mr. Snow and his son jack the buildings onto a huge truck and do the actual moving while Donna and Toni, the Snow sisters, are in charge of renovation. These two are hugely talented; can do anything and aren't timid about hard work.

I watched three episodes of their program last night. In the first, they bought a house built by their Grandfather Snow in the 1920's. Donna and Toni were excited to have the opportunity to restore their father’s childhood home and cried the first time they toured it.  Toni didn't have a hanky and tried to wipe her nose on the sleeve of her sister's t-shirt. I can only hope someone behind the camera suggested she do it to add drama or humor to the program. 

They also bought an old passenger train car in another episode and turned it into a bungalow that was purchased for a lakeside cottage.

It’s a unique show set in the Fort Worth area of Texas. I enjoy hearing the accents as well as watching creative people give new life to an old house. If only the walls could talk.

 


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

July in the Mid-South

Something came up this morning, and I didn't water the potted plants on the patio. By noon, they were beginning to droop a bit. My conscience forced me to brave the mid-day blast furnace heat and water them before they drooped all the way to the soil.

The water hose is long, and for convenience sake, I leave it stretched out across the yard and doubled back with the nozzle at the faucet. I walked out barefoot to water and held the nozzle over my dusty feet as I turned on the faucet.  The tops of my feet were blistered with the boiling water that had spent the morning heating up in the hose.

This is a statement of fact and not a whine: it's too hot for words here. One step outside, and you feel as though you've been enveloped by a moist, heating blanket turned on high.

A T & T laid cable here a couple of weeks ago in our zero-lot line subdivision. (That's the regional term for normal sized houses on postage sized lots.) One of our irrigation pipes in the front yard was punctured in the process. It came on one morning and washed half the mailboxes in the subdivision to the Wolf River.

Repairing the puncture required the irrigation maintenance men to dig yet another six or eight foot hole in our front flower bed. This is a major deal when the flower bed is only about three feet wide in a five feet wide front yard.

I returned home at high noon to find two muddy, red-faced men digging in my front yard. Including the heat index, the temp was close to a hundred with humidity around 75%.  I emptied our ice maker into a clean plastic bucket, dropped two tea towels on the ice and filled the bucket half full of water. A cold, wet towel draped across the back of the neck is a great antidote for the heat.

"We have rules in this household," I announced as I carried the bucket out to the workmen. "There will be no heat strokes or fainting from the heat in our yard."

As they cooled off a bit, we discussed the severity of the required repair, and I noticed their accents. One darling young man with a dry sense of humor was from Long Island and bemoaned the availability  of good Italian food here; the other, from Boston.

Why are they in the mid-South? To avoid the bad weather.







Thursday, July 7, 2016

Sometimes Crazy Is Just Right


 

Late last month at the annual Writers' Conference of Texas gathering of editors and agents, I heard Jenny Lawson speak. She's the author of Let's Pretend This Never Happened, which is number one on the New York Times Best Sellers List. Her latest book is Furiously Happy, A Funny Book About Horrible Things.

Ms. Lawson has a drop dead hysterical approach to dealing with mental illness and arthritis. Suffering from awful, unavoidable physical and mental pain, she's come to learn what it takes to make her truly happy: banana popscicles dipped in rum.

Jenny takes everyday situations and relates what went wrong and how when combined with her conditions. (I almost wrote "simple" everyday situations, but we all know nothing is "simple".) Picture Erma Bombeck as a blogger rather than a columnist with a hip, R rated vocabulary, and you're close to Jenny Lawson; close but not quite because this gal is totally unique.

Having a bad day? Treat yourself to a copy of Furiously Happy, a Funny book About Horrible Things. It will make you feel all better.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sad Occasion


We've had another mass shooting, and while all the state and national agencies are rushing to determine if there were any accessories to the crime, if anyone knew what he was planning and didn't speak out, while the majority of the rest of us wring our hands in grief over the loss of so many promising young lives, no one speaks up about one of the obvious solutions to prevent any further such massacres.

The first wife of this young man reported he was violent and bi-polar. In retrospect, many of the people who commit these mass slaughters are mentally deranged.

Yes, this latest was a terrorist but not for Isis. Any man who hangs out in a bar and drinks alcohol is not a good Muslim. He was in the manic stage of his illness.

This country has no mental health care. Shame on us.

The majority of the homeless have some form of mental illness. The best mental health care money could provide would be hugely inexpensive in comparison to the cost of crime and damage to public and private property not to mention the pain and heartache. Long-term mental hospitals would also provide a place for agencies to send possibly violent suspects and thereby avoid most of these violent outbursts.

Why can't we do this?

 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

An Imperfect World

I was forced to "take to my bed" earlier this week. The dramatic diagnosis would be a mild case of food poisoning. Most of my children will be with us next week to celebrate family birthdays. We'll all don our white shirts and blue jeans for family pictures followed by a visit to one of the biggest donut shops in town.

The minor illness threw me off schedule in my preparations for the upcoming week. As I lay in bed praying to die, the dog resting on top of the covers beside me slept peacefully on his back with all four paws thrown carelessly in a differenct direction. His relaxed attitude helped change my goals for the event to come.

The family silver candlesticks will probably not be cleaned in time for the event and will remain right where they are black with tarnish on top of the china cabinet. All the plants on the patio waiting to be potted may not reach their final destination until my granddaughter arrives to give me a hand.

The New Jersey branch of the family will arrive to a Mid-South in full bloom. All the azaleas and dogwoods are almost at their peak. We won't even think about the pollen count. Although we had a mild winter, spring here has also been exceptionally cool for which we are grateful. The full blast of summer will arrive all to soon as far as I'm concerned.

I'm looking forward to showing off our new hiking and biking trails as well as the off-leash dog park to our family.

Take out pizza will be among the fare served our first evening together. I consulted one of my daughters about the menu and was told since it's a school night, there might not be time for a more formal dinner. Pizza with a green salad and a bowl of cut fruit will make the meal.

In other words, this old person is trying to learn to sit back and relax and smell the roses. All I have to do is maintain my resolve and try to figure out how to use the camera I bought three years ago and never used. Wish me luck.   

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Hitch Hiker


Doobee Willingham appeared yesterday. The main character of A Normal Kind of Girl, the working title of my first novel, was driving down the road and passed him hitch hiking.
 
Doobee, a third year freshman at UT, is a leading organizer of the Students for Democratic Society and high-volume pot dealer. Due to his position with SDS as well as his increasing entrepreneurship, it’s important he dress the part; i.e., threadbare jeans almost rotten with dirt, leather sandals too big for his feet, tie dyed t-shirt, and a leather vest trimmed in fringe. His shoulder-length hair is held in place by a hairband circling his forehead. A peace symbol hangs from his neck on a leather braid. Pink-shaded granny glasses hide his crossed eyes as well as protect them from the sun.
 
Although he may appear in another story, Doobee’s role in this one will be limited to a brief appearance in the second chapter.
 
Please stay tuned for further developments. I never know who may show up or what may happen as I sit pounding the keys of my computer. It’s great fun creating characters and situations, and I enjoy sharing the adventure with my readers.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

An Employee of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department

I have a bright Barbie pink Townie bicycle that I pedal around our delta-flat subdivision for exercise. I always wear a helmet even though it’s singularly unbecoming. My beloved husband took one look at me in it and advised, “Leave that thing at home and just go to the hospital if you must.”

Four or five years ago, I sustained a minor injury when out riding two or three streets over from our subdivision.  I was startled by a car turning onto the street and managed to stop but still skinned one knee through my jeans.

I’m a fainter. It was a hot day, and the car speeding close to me on the bike gave me a scare. Black spots started interfering with my vision. I knew exactly what to do. I pushed the bike to the corner, leaned it up against the stop sign, sat down on the curb, and laid back on the grass. Experience had taught me that the spots would disappear in a few moments, and I could make my way home without any further difficulty.
In the meantime, I was pleased to note that the back of my helmet kept my head off the ground.

I had just stretched out and was beginning to feel better when a young, firm voice from just above me said, “May I help you, ma’am? I’m an employee of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department.”

I opened one eye and was confronted by a younger version of myself. I knew she wouldn't go away until I either got up on my own or let her help me.
So I let her help me. She and her teen age daughter were taking the girl’s boyfriend home. When we couldn’t get the bike in her vehicle, the boy pedaled it the two blocks to my house.

As she helped me out of the car, the young mother confessed she was a crossing guard for nearby Houston High School.

 

 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Billy Joel


Friday night I attended the Billy Joel concert at the FedEx Forum here in Memphis. There was a record breaking crowd of 18,000 people.
18,000 people with only two screamers. Of course they were seated in the nose bleed section a row or two back of me.

I'm not complaining about my seat; in fact, I rather liked it. There was a rail right in front of me where I could prop my feet. No one could stand in front of me.

The very front row is not always a great place to sit. I sat front row for The Producers on Broadway and watched the sweat fly as Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane danced. The view from the middle of the first level or the balcony is best. You get a better overall view without seeing all the strain that goes into the production.
I hadn't been to a pop concert since some time in the late 70's when a neighbor grabbed me out of a flower bed where I'd been pulling weeds all day to use her free ticket to see the Village People. With three children, I was too busy at the time to give the Village People much thought and was somewhat taken aback by the unusual mix of people in attendance. There were pre-adolescent children with their parents in tow and men dressed in leather accessorized with chains. After a moment, an exceedingly dim bulb went off somewhere in the depths between my ears, and I enjoyed watching the people as much as the singers.

That's about all I remember from that evening except that there were 29 speakers stacked on each end of the stage, and my ears range for a week. I don't recall any hog callers among the leather-clad macho men or the pre-teens.

The sound was just as huge Friday night without any boxy speakers to be seen. There was also a magnificent light show. The baby grand piano rotated through-out the evening. Two huge screens hung above and in front of the stage where enlarged shots of the performers were interspersed with candid shots of the audience.

Billy Joel is the consummate entertainer. He worked hard to make sure everyone got their money's worth and went home satisfied. He and his group mixed Memphis and Stax music in with his own and spoke fondly of the times earlier in his career when he'd played Memphis. His affection for Memphis was obvious.
Once a month or so for the past year, he has taken a helicopter from his house in the Hamptons to Madison Square Garden and performed to a packed house. I couldn't help but wonder how he would compare the audience there to the one in Memphis.

I tried fixing a withering stare of disapproval on the hog callers behind me, but the lighting was dim, and they were drinking pints of beer as they stood with linked arms and swayed back and forth in rhythm to the music. I kept hoping they'd have to leave for the ladies' and give us a few moments peace. No such luck. Their male companions had probably been making beer runs all night long to give their ears a rest.
As an encore, Billy Joel sang four more songs. He put his heart and soul into the performance, and it was wonderful. I went home hugely satisfied. The entertainer gave a memorable performance.

The hog callers may have faced the next morning with sore throats and hangovers. If they make a habit of consuming that much beer, it will assuredly impact their bodies as well as their health. But above all, I wonder about 30 or 40 years from now when they are my age. What will the younger generation do that makes them cringe?

 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Respect

I was in high school when Kennedy and Nixon were running for the presidency. Members of the class were invited to speak for their candidates. We followed the race with tremendous interest and discussed it daily in class.

The teacher was fresh out of college and perhaps one of the worst teachers I've ever had. Class opened with a brief discussion of current events which was a good approach and gave some of us the habit of following the national news, but for the rest of the hour, we were required to sit quietly with hands folded while she read the text book to us. Talk about deadly dull.

One major lesson was emphasized after the presidental election was over. We were taught that whether or not we had voted for the winner; whether or not we thought he was competent; the office of the President of the United States deserved our respect. We might think the person currently holding the position stole chickens and sucked eggs, but the office he held deserved our respect.

He was representing our country, and our country was something special to be held in the highest regard.

It's because of that young teacher and the lesson she pounded into my head and heart that I think our current president should have attended the funeral of the Supreme Court Justice and the former First Lady. He might not have agreed with them and may have had no personal respect for them, but he should have gone through the ceremony out of respect for the positions they had held.

I also think we should make it a habit to refer to the current President as Mr. Obama rather than Obama; out of respect for the office. We may or may not like him, but we should all revere the position he holds.

And that's my sermon for the day.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Between My Ears


 

I love people; going places and doing things, but I also must have large chunks of time to quietly sit in a corner with only a book to keep me company. A book is never “only”. It opens countless worlds and times and introduces people and ideas I’d never have the time or energy to visit any other way.

This winter I’ve been part of an Egyptian household in the 1930’s with Naguid Mahfouz in Sugar Street and ridden in a freight train through the forests of Siberia with Dr. Zhivago. Both were hugely dramatic experiences.

Now I’m on the run with Allan in The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.  This Swedish novel is great fun and a welcome change in pace from the drama of the other two splendid books. I’m also studying how the author maintains a rapid pace and dry sense of humor. If you need a good laugh, do get a copy of this book by Jonas Jonasson.

 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Dog Park Wisdom

It was warm here in the mid-south Sunday morning. The parking lot at the off-leash dog park of Shelby Farms indicated a good crowd was out enjoying an almost spring day.

The three most popular forms of entertainment for dogs at the park are swimming, chasing a ball or running with like-minded breeds. Many owners of the ball chasers carry a long flexible piece of plastic with a cup on the end to hold the ball. The ball can be thrown much farther across the field with one of these.

Just inside the park gates, a woman with one of these plastic doohickies was entertaining her two dogs, a lab and a small shaggy dog.  Both were chasing the ball, but the owner worked hard to keep the ball away from the smaller pooch.

"If he gets the ball, he won't give it up. Only has a few teeth, but boy, can he hold on to that ball," she explained.

"We picked him up on the streets in Denver," she went on. "That was 13 years ago. Last week I thought I was going to have to put him down, but look at him now." She threw the ball again. "His body had collected fluid; especially around the heart. There was blood there. Vet says he probably has a hole in  his heart."

The lab brought the ball back and she flung it again. "They said he'd only have a little while, three weeks at the most, before the fluid collected again and to keep him quiet. We stayed home for a couple of days. Both of us sat on the couch and were miserable. But then I realized we have a choice. He's had a long and happy life. It can end sitting on the couch or we can come out here where he loves to be." The larger dog returned the ball again with the scruffy mongrel hot on his heels.

She paused long enough to fit the ball back on the end of the doohickey and flung it again. "It's been over three weeks now. And would you look at him? He's acting like a puppy and having the time of his life."

I left the three of them there to catch up with my own dog who had run on ahead of me. I'd skipped church to spend more time at the park, but I'm not so sure I missed the sermon.









Friday, February 19, 2016

Cats


My better than standard poodle, George has a "thing" about cats. He doesn't dislike them as much as squirrels, but he definitely has a knee-jerk reaction involving vigorous barking, pulling on the leash and running in circles. It's probably territorial.

We walk twice a day. Some of the neighbors in our zero-lot line subdivision have a strong aversion to dogs walking in the neighborhood, and to accommodate them, George and I do most of our walking in the nearby off leash dog park at Shelby Farms. But occasionally, when I'm pressed for time, we will walk our street and head out to the main road for him to perform his daily constitutional.

One of the houses on the way to the main road has a life-size black cat statue on the top step. George tried to run it off the last two times we came across it. I took him up on the steps the second time to thoroughly examine the offending block of rock, sniff it alll over and learn for himself that it isn't real.

That was about a month ago. Last week we were returning from our walk when we came across a real black cat sitting in the same position as the statue but in a different location. I watched George as he caught sight of the offensive feline. You could almost see the wheels turning in the brain between those beautifully coiffed ears. He told himself it wasn't a real cat and kept on walking. We were almost completely beyond the cat when it panicked and ran away.

George went into his usual "I spy a cat" routine, but there was no heart in this performance. He was too busy trying to work out the difference between the real animal and the stone. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Invitation

I was a rough and tumble little girl. Part of my behavior could be attributed to my having been cooped up at home all my life. The opportunity to ride far away from home in a huge school bus full of other children every week day and spend the entire day surrounded by even more children was beyond my wildest imagination. I was beserk with freedom and companionship.

Next month I'm going back to Bastrop to hold a book signing for the general public with the class of '64 as the honored guests. Each will be individually invited with a formal invation through the mail. Those who were in grammar school with me will receive a special invitation.

Their invitation will read in part: "The formal reason for the event is a reading from my book, but that's just an excuse. My main reasons for throwing this party is to see everyone once again, and to apologize to all the boys I beat up and all the girls whose dresses I tore and made cry." If that won't draw them to the party, nothing will.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Oscars


A boycott has been called on this year's Oscar awards because no Blacks were nominated for any of the major awards. The Academy was accused of being an out of touch group of old White men. I do agree that one film with Black actors was neglected, but do not think the Academy of Motion Pictures was entirely responsible.

 Although I didn't see the film, I've been told that "Concussion" was outstanding. It's the story of the physician who discovered the lasting serious effects concussions have on athletes. Will Smith played the lead and had earned the reputation of a fine actor.

 It was suggested to me that the National Football League used its not insignificant political clout to down play the movie. (Yes, that's a terrible pun but is there any other kind?) Recent findings indicate early head injuries sustained playing a sport can have terrible ramifications on the quality of the players' later lives.

 The National Football League has a great deal more to lose in this situation than the Academy of Motion Pictures. In my old age, I've grown suspicious of all large organizations. This scenario makes sense to me. What do you think? Please comment below.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Hernando

Yesterday some long-time friends took me shopping in Hernando, Mississippi, which is a mere 17 miles from Memphis.

On the short drive there, I learned Hernando once enjoyed the reputation of being the place to go if you were "in trouble" and needed a quicky wedding.

That was the twentieth century. Today's Hernando is an up and coming bedroom community to metropolitan Memphis with much to offer its residents and visitors alike.

We ate lunch at the Lady Bug Bakery. My chicken salad was made of long shreds of chicken breast with celery and minimal mayonnaise served on a bed of fresh lettuces lightly tossed in an oil and vineagar dressing. The slice of bread nestled on the side was freshly baked in house.

I bought a loaf of Italian bread and an apple fritter to take home. It wasn't an easy selection. The case was filled with original sounding cookies: Dolly Madison's like Mother used to bake along with Not Hostess Cupcakes and German chocolate macaroons. The Dolly Madisons were cut in more than generous four inch squares.

We parked in the parking of the county law library and strolled by the office of the Secretary of State to the yuppie gift shop. From there, we stopped at the dress shop and hit the sale rack. I resisted the temptation to eavesdrop on a young bride and her mother who were shopping for the special event. They were looking at cowboy boots. Could she be planning to wear them to tip toe down the aisle?

The local antique mall offered homemade items, used children's clothing and old furniture. I bought two bars of soap made from goat's milk and scented with kudzoo. I'll give them as a hostess gift next time I visit New Jersey.

A second antique store displayed a huge collection of metal signs on the outside of the building. One in particular caught my eye:    
                                                  Wanted
                                                   One Good Woman
                                                   to cook and clean and sew for a man and six children
                                                   Must own John Deer tractor
                                                   Send picture of tractor

















Friday, January 22, 2016

It's All in the Name

The rough draft of my first novel is crammed in a loose leaf binder and stuck on the shelf within arm's reach as I sit here at the computer. I haven't touched it in a couple of months, but that doesn't mean I'm not working on it.

A woman in my Tuesday morning short story discussion group grew up in William Faulkner's neighborhood. She said all the children disliked the old man in the white suit who walked through the neighborhood without speaking and took great delight in finding plausible excuses for splashing him  with the water hose.

A relative of Loretta Lynn's said it's taking your life in your hands to ride in the car when Loretta is driving and thinking about a new song. The better the song, the faster she drives.

I'm not in the same league with either of these highly creative people, but I know the feeling. The characters you make up take over your mind. Faulkner was preoccupied with populating an entire Mississippi county of fictional characters. He never saw the children or realized he'd been splashed. 

The challenge is to create believeable people, put them in an environment that rings true to them and put them through a believeable series of events.

My rough draft is populated with characters that have developed depth and maturity in my mind since I stuck the notebook on the shelf. Part of the maturity took place in the course of the writing process while the rest continues to build as I follow my usual daily routine.

In the meantime, results of a recent DNA test has extended my family tree and provided me with a number of great surnames for fictional characters. Names can go a long way towards communicating the personality of the character to the reader. The villan in my novel will carry the surname of either Slaughter or Conn.



Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Hole in My Life

Today would have been my mother's nintieth birthday. She died 37years ago. The sense of loss is no longer as raw as it was when she first died, but I don't think anyone ever gets over losing someone they love. We merely learn to accept the loss, deal with the consequences and take comfort where we can find it.

When faced with a problem not readily solved, I've learned to step back and think what Mother would have said; how she would have reacted. It's comforting, but there's always going to be a hole in my life where she belonged.

The older I get and the more people I lose, the more I feel like I'm living a Swiss cheese kind of life.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Is That You, Lou?

There was some confusion with the phone company when we first moved to New Jersey regarding our phone number. They gave us one already in use by a fella named Lou who sounded like he knew his way around the Garden State Parkway to the Pine Barrens in south Jersey and could easily lay his hand on some fresh cement and a tub.

Our phone rarely rang the first month. After living with three teenage girls, it was downright eerie. Then the phone company contacted us to explain. I put in a call to Lou, got his answering machine and left a detailed message with what was probably way too much information including our correct number.

Our phone started ringing off the hook later the next day. Every caller reported they'd had the nicest conversation with a really nice man named Lou who knew all about us and our situation. My "the glass is always half empty" beloved spouse feared some great huge man was going to rush up to one of us in a crowd and kiss us on both cheeks before blasting us into eternity.

Nothing of the sort did happen of course, but several weeks later, we got a call. Some man wanted to talk to Lou.

There's a wide range of accents in this country; some of them are almost laughable. But experience taught us that people are the same everywhere no matter how they sound.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Knitting

Our son has had two best friends since the third grade. One of them is married and expecting a baby in the next few months. He lives in southern California only a few hours drive from where our son lives in Sacramento. They talk on the phone now and again and visit in person once in a while.

Old friendships are precious; especially this one. This man's grandmother was best friends with the priest who married Jack Stewart and me. He was the pastor at the Catholic Student Union at U T Austin. The grandmother teasingly called him Marrying Sam after the character in Little Abner.

Once the Christmas decorations were put away, I pulled out my baby yarn and pattern collection and started a afghan. A prayer and happy wish for this new life goes in each and every stitch.

The afghan is about four inches long now, and I have the pattern pretty well under control. There's one minor mistake at the very beginning, but as my knitting guru always says, the baby will hang a toe in one of the lacey parts and pull something loose. No one will ever notice the mistake.

It's always comforting to have a long knitting project for the cold weather. It warms the knitter's lap as it grows.

Distribution of Raiders and Horse Thieves is going well for a first book from a total unknown. The publisher printed 515 copies in the first printing, and as of last Monday, 243 had been ordered.

Next week I'll return to my usual irregular blogging schedule. In the meantime, if you hear loud regular clicks in the far distance, it's only me knitting and praying away.