Thursday, March 31, 2011

Procrastinate? Who, ME? (Maybe Later...)

Thought for the day: Time's fun when you're having flies.  Kermit the Frog

TICK. TICK. TICK. TICK.                                                                   TICK. TICK. TICK. TICK.

Is it my imagination, or is that clock getting louder by the moment? And the second hand, it's moving faster, isn't it? Yes, yes, look at it! See? It's whirling like a fan! Feel the breeze?

I sat down at the computer a scant few mintues ago, and yet that big fat lying clock says three hours have passed. What nefarious plot is afoot?

Alas, and alack, it is I. I've done it to myself. (again)

The other day, I read something attributed to that prolific writer Anonymous: "Writing is 2% talent, and 98% being able to resist the distraction of the Internet." Well, ain't that the truth?! At least, it is for me. I sure didn't resist today. Been checking out some other blogs. Good ones, too.

But the thing is, I fully intended to whip out a quick posting for this blog so I could get back to editing my book, and now, in the snap of a finger, POOF! three hours, gone forever.

My mother used to warn me about "good intentions." She said they're the paving stones on



(I don't agree with that, but I wish I could hear her say it again, just one more time.)


OK, I had an idea about what I was going to blog about today, but now I'm running out of t-i-m-e to do it justice. So, we'll save that for another time. For now, I'll just hit y'all with some of the funny signs I've come across. 
In the seventies and eighties, this sign used to be posted on the street right in front of our house. We all KNEW what it was supposed to mean, but our three kids still took a lot of ribbing over it. 




Here's some signs that cracked me up. Hope you get a kick out of them, too.

  • On a septic tank:   We're #1 in the #2 business.  
  • Over a gynecologist's office:   Dr. Jones, at your cervix.     
  • At a proctologist's door:   To expedite your vist, please back in.
  • On a plumber's truck:   We repair what your husband fixed.
  • On another plumber's truck:   Don't sleep with a drip. Call your plumber.
  • On an electrician's truck:  Let us remove your shorts.
  • On a dry cleaner's window:   Grime doesn't pay.
  • On a maternity room door:   Push. Push. Push.
  • On a taxidermist's window:  We know our stuff.    
  • On a music shop window:   Gone Chopin. Be Bach in a minuet.
  • Outside a muffler shop:   No appointment necessary. We hear you coming.
  • In front of a funeral parlor:   Drive carefully. We'll wait.
  • At a propane filling station:   Tank heaven for little grills.                                                                                                                                              


OK, enough for now. I'll  


So, how about you? Do you sometimes let that crafy internet (or something else) get between you and your writing? Or you and your housework, or yardwork, whatever? (MUCH more forgiveable!) Is procrastination your middle name? Oh, do tell, and if you've learned how to discipline your time spent online, how'd you do it? What's your big secret?

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other. Might be back tomorrow. Might not. Have to hit the grocery store tomorrow. Should've gone yesterday (senior discount day at Publix) but I (ahem) put it off. (At least, I'm consistent!)


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Under the Looking Glass?

Thought for the day: No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

Ever have one of those great big oopsie moments? You know, where you do something unbelievably stupid and just pray nobody's watching? Or if they are, you hope they have a really crappy memory?

One of my stupid moments was caught under a spotlight. Lucky me, huh?

I was a senior in high school at the time, and was selected by my drama teacher to perform a scene from "Tea and Sympathy" for a big PTSA open house. Now, I was a bit of a nerd, meaning I was all about the academics, and drama was an elective course for me. I enjoyed it, and was okay at it, but Meryl Streep I wasn't. Still, I was pretty excited at the idea of showing my stuff.

Unfortunately, my friend and fellow nerd, who happened to be manning the spotlight, was interested in showing my stuff, too.

In the scene, I was an "older woman" who was about to (ahem) get upclose and personal, shall we say, with a younger man. My closing line was, "Years from now, when you talk about this, and you will, be kind." While delivering the line, I was also unbuttoning my blouse very slowly. That was supposed to be the cue for my smart ass buddy to fade the spotlight to dark.

It would've been quite dramatic.

Was supposed to be dramatic, damn it.

My "buddy" thought it'd be funny to leave the light on. Oh yeah, it was hysterical.

So what did I, the academic nerd, do? I looked straight at the spotlight and snarled, "LIGHTS!"

Kinda spoiled the effect, ya know? (But he DID douse the light.)


OK, you got me. This isn't me, but it's pretty much how I FELT, only with a little more hair ...



Anyhow, what made me think about all this was the incredible train wreck I observed on the internet yesterday. A self-published writer from England committed an enormous oopsie. She had what amounted to an emotional melt-down over a review of her book. The funny thing was, the review wasn't even all that bad. The reviewer said that her story was quite good, actually, but because of the plentiful spelling and grammatical errors, he gave her a two star rating. That should've been the end of it. But it wasn't. Her subsequent postings, which by the way, were chock full of misspellings, grammatical errors, and tortuously convoluted syntax, were laced with profanities. Dropped the f-bomb a couple times. Snarled at anyone and everyone who tried to soothe her anger or offer guidance. Insisted that there was nothing wrong with her writing, although, clearly, there was. All of this, mind you, on a website frequented by other writers, agents, and publishers. More and more people joined the fray, as news of the "happening" spread through Twitter and other websites.

She single-handedly put herself in the spotlight, and then committed professional suicide. It's a shame, really, but I suppose she could always ... change her name.

But the bottom line here is: remember, on the internet, you're more than in a spotlight.



You're under the looking glass. And there's no hope that the people watching you screw up have a crappy memory, either. Once it's on the internet, it STAYS on the internet. (Thank God YouTube wasn't around when I was in high school!)

                                    Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rainy Days and Mondays

Thought for the day: Why didn't Noah swat those damned mosquitos when he had the chance?

Yup, it's still raining.

In fact, it's rained so hard, that gritty yellow-green car that's been sitting in our driveway got a decent cleaning, and whattayaknow? Found my little red car under all that pollen.

I know. Once the rain stops, the pollen will be back with a vengeance, but for now, the world is shiny and bright and new again. (On a Claritin day, you can see forever.)

When the cats aren't stomping on the keyboard or posing in front of the monitor, they're curled up nearby. Nothing new. Seems like they're always either taking a nap, looking for a place to take a nap, or just waking up from one. On this dreary rainy day, though, their curled-up contentment reflects and magnifies my own sense of well-being. I swear, they're the perfect poster girls for being tucked safely in the house on a wet chilly day. Looking at them makes me want to purr. Or take a nap.

But I like the rain. Yeah, we're getting close to the full mark now, but still. I like it. The way the air smells, the way it makes nature turn a brighter green, the way it sounds dancing on our metal roof. I like to walk in it, too, but hate umbrellas. Have a couple yellow fisherman's hats, and they suit me just dandy. Love to take long lazy rides in the rain, as long as I'm not the one behind the steering wheel. Love the rhythmic sound of the windshield wipers, and looking at the world refracted through the wet windows.

I even love thunder and lightning, and the fiercer, the better. Don't wanta be out there dodging lightning strikes, but love being the silent observer, watching from the safety of the house. Best storm ever was at a crabhouse in Maryland, right on the water. The wind whipped the patio furniture every which way, and the water was so choppy, it looked like it was boiling. Lightning reflected in the water. Awesome.

Yeah, it's still raining. But if I build an ark, I think I'll go with something a little more stylish. Maybe something like this. Neon's such a nice touch, dontcha think?










Ok, enough yammering about the rain.

There's something much more important to report. I'm lost. Doomed. Doomed, I tell you! I've discovered the attraction of Twitter, damn it. After all the disparaging remarks I've made about it, too. I did not know. I shot off my mouth, but I did not know. There are some really NEAT people out there tweeting. Smart people, funny people, professionals in the news world, in the literary world, in the world of science and technology, and probably in a kazillion other worlds I haven't yet discovered.

And ya know what? It's much easier to be clever in 140 characters or less than it is in a blog post. Go figure.

OK, so I've succumbed to the allure of blogging and tweeting. But I absolutely refuse to get sucked into online game-playing. Then, I'd be a goner for sure.

Ooooh, the sun is shining. Time to go look for a rainbow.

Found mine. Hope your day is filled with them, too. Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.


+++
No trees were killed in the sending of this message. However, a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday Chillin'

Thought for the day: Are the people who jump off Parisian bridges in Seine?

It's a rainy day here today, and not a moment too soon, I might add, because the pollen was getting to be as high as an elephant's eye. It'll be nice to go outside later and breathe without having to chew first.






Know what yesterday was? Procrastination Day. No kidding. It was started by a Frenchman named David d'Equainville, who says that sometimes the best button to press on our high tech gizmos (and our lives) is the pause button. Think about it. For just one day, no frantic fast forwarding, no rewinding, no sweating all the nitty gritty details, no insane clock-watching or rushing to meet a deadline. I would've told you about it yesterday, but you know how it is. In honor of the day, I decided to put it off. (I'm sure Mr. d'Equainville would approve.)

A great big shout out to Linda: thanks to you, I'm no longer just tooting; I've jumped into the tweeting arena. Thanks for the friendly push. Now, it's sink or swim time.

In New Zealand this past week, a bird had the audacity to poop right on top of some poor fellow's head. In Baltimore, where I grew up, sea gulls and pigeons are almost as numerous as people, so being blessed by a bird is a fairly common occurence. (and pee-in-your-pants funny as long as it's happening to somebody else)Anyway, this gentleman's friends told him it was a good luck sign, (probably AFTER they dried their pants...) so with the (ahem) blessing still adorning his head, he bought a lottery ticket. And won. In fact, that lucky man won a hundred thousand dollars! Pretty cool, huh? Remember that old saying, "If the shoe fits, wear it"? Consider this: ya think that luck-bestowing bird might've been a rare never-before-seen foo bird? Think about it ...

           OK, time to do something industrious. Like take a nap. (Never got around to it yesterday ...)

                             Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.


+++++++++
Wackiest news story of the week:  Ft. Wayne, Indiana authorities  ran an online poll to let the people pick the name for the new government building that was about to open, but then the dastards completely ignored the results of that poll. Rather than name the building after a former mayor, as suggested by the wide majority, the authorities chose to name the building Citizen's Square. Rather generic, yes, but not as likely to incur ridicule. You see, the former mayor's name was Harry Baals.









Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Guess I Needed a Reminder

Thought for the day: A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.

If Georgia's Stone Mountain could talk, I'm sure it'd warn us not to take it for granite.

(Sorry 'bout that. I tried, but I couldn't stop myself.)

Anyway, this mountain and its surrounding park is one of the state's biggest tourist attractions, and well it should be. The mountain is one of the largest  pieces of exposed granite in the world, and there's a huge carving on its face that's kinda like the Mt. Rushmore of the deep south, depicting several Confederate heroes of the Civil War. (otherwise known around these parts as the War of Yankee Aggression.)

With a picturesque lake, water park, golf course, skylift,  restored plantation, reproduction town, and much, much more, this park offers beauty and fun all wrapped up in one humongous package. We should never, ever take its beauty for granted, right? Even so, I'll betcha most people do.

They do; they take it for granite.

Do you think the people who drive past the Grand Canyon every day even see it anymore? Do they still marvel at its grandeur? Do the people who regularly see the aurora borealis still gasp at its beauty? Does the allure of a tropical sunset fade after a lifetime of daily viewing?

Young lovers almost always swear that they'll never take each other for granted. Unfortunately, as time goes by, some couples forget all about the day they swore not to take each other for granted, and they end up turning to another kind of swearing altogether. They let gratitude and appreciation simply fall by the wayside in the midst of day-to-day living.

What set me to thinking about this whole taking for granted thing is an appointment I had with the doctor yesterday. I had cataract surgery almost ten years ago, but my vision started declining quite rapidly about three months ago.
For many months after the surgery, I was soooo grateful for my restored vision. I marveled at the brilliance of the reds and blues and greens around me. I reveled in the clarity of the written word. But in time, I started to take that gift for granted. In the midst of day-to-day living, I let gratitude and appreciation fall by the wayside

As I went through all the tests at the doctor's office, I considered what it would mean to lose my vision. The horror of never reading again, of never seeing the face of my husband, my kids, my grandkids and friends again. Never seeing a sunset or a yellow rose again. Never achieving my bucket wish to see the aurora borealis.

Scary stuff.

Turns out I have intraocular hypertension and a super kick-ass astigmatism. Glasses should clear up most of the problems, and daily eyedrops should keep the pressure thing in check. I'm lucky. Very very lucky. Again.

I once knew a blind amateur radio operator who used to wait until nighttime to climb his tower. Said he was tired of his neighbors freaking out when he worked on his antennas during the day. He was an amazing man who lived with his blindness with grace and humor. I admired him greatly, but I'm relieved beyond words that if my neighbors see me climbing one of our towers, they'll be freaking out because I'm a world class klutz, and not because I can't see.

Will I end up taking my eyesight for granted again? I hope not, but I know enough not to make any promises. But for now, I am grateful. Very very grateful. And I wanted to share this with you, so maybe, just for today, we can all remember to be grateful. And remember to appreciate the beauty around us.



                      Color me happy. Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Keeping It Real

Thought for the day: Howcum noses run and feet smell?

Years ago,  late-night TV carried commercials that urged viewers to grab their credit cards, pick up their phones, and order their very own genuine faux pearls NOW! NOW! NOW!

Remember those ads? Hysterical, right? But at least nobody could say the advertisers didn't tell the truth. They didn't try to pretend those pearls were anything more than they were. Pretty fakes.

Now there's another new commercial that totally cracks me up. Now you TOO can own a genuine reproduction of the ring Prince William gave his fiancee! Wow! It features a beautiful genuine fake sapphire in the middle, surrounded by beautiful genuine fake diamonds! And get this! It even comes with its very own letter of authenticity! (Ohmigod, how can we possibly pass up a deal like that?)

But, again, at least they're telling the truth about it. Nothing shady here.

                                             They didn't put together a bunch of pretty rocks
                                              And try to pass them off as priceless gems.

As writers, it's up to us to create characters that are so realistic, so genuine, that readers accept them as the true gems we intend them to be. If our characters are predictable and two-dimensional, our product becomes nothing more than those genuine faux pearls they used to hawk on TV.

Based on the kazillions of books I've read, here's my thoughts on what it takes to make a character come alive for me. The two major points are:
  • A believable bad guy is never entirely bad. Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lector was one of the creepiest bad guys of all time, but he was also extremely intelligent and knew how to be quite charming. What magnifies the ick factor about a bad guy for me is when I can identify with him in some way, by either seeing something of myself, or someone I know, in him. Maybe he's a serial killer, but by God, he has to be home on Wednesday night to watch American Idol. He's a rapist, but he takes tender loving care of every stray cat in his neighborhood. He's a love 'em and leave 'em dude, but he visits his mother in the nursing home every Sunday afternoon.
  • By the same token, the good guy has to have some flaws to be believable. It's hard to sympathize with someone who comes across as perfect. Assuming we want the reader to care about the good guy, he needs to have idiosyncracies, or flaws, or simply has to screw up sometimes. It wouldn't hurt for that drop-dead gorgeous heroine with the perfect skin to get a zit every now and then. Or for the hunky guy with the abs of steel to break wind once in a while. Or to have a crooked nose, or heck! Let him pick his nose! One of my favorite heroines is Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum. She certainly isn't perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but she sure is believable. And likeable.
That's just my three cents' worth. (Inflation.) How about you? Who's your favorite villain? Your favorite hero? Are they multi-dimensional? If not, what made them memorable for you?

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lessons From Fish

Thought for the day: Acupuncture is a jab well done.

Some people are pet people; some people aren't. Some people shudder at the thought of sharing their homes with creatures of any kind, but me? I can't imagine NOT sharing our home with a long procession of of furry, scaly, and feathered friends. When I was a kid, we always had at least one dog. We had a cat for a short while, too, but my mother hated cats, and since she was there first, the cat had to go. We had parakeets and canaries and finches, who'd give us bird kisses, eat from our hand, drink from a dripping faucet, and occasionally fly around the house, shedding feathers and dropping poop bombs. Thanks to my brother, we also had black widow spiders, snakes, wild turtles, and various injured wild animals, who'd stay with us until they were well again. So, in my experience, animals were a natural part of life.

On the other hand, my husband wasn't raised with pets. He did have one for a short while, and it was a box turtle, which mostly stayed in a cardboard box in the back yard, until he pulled it out to serve as the tank while he played with his toy soldiers in the grass. So it's understandable that after we were married, our opinions regarding the proper place for pets in our lives were somewhat divergent. He had the foolish idea that a dog's place was in the back yard, with his very own house. My idea was that said dog was a member of the family, and belonged with the family. In our house. On our laps, on our sofa, in our beds.

I won. Over the years, we've had all kinds of pets, and the furry ones were all inside pets, and members of the family. And all of the pets, from the littlest to the biggest, from the scaled to the feathered, taught me lessons. Like the fish. I started out with goldfish in a largish goldfish bowl, then moved to a 5 gallon tank with a variety of fresh water fish, then a 10 gallon tank, and our older son had a salt water tank in his room. What in the world can you learn from having fish in your home? I'm glad you asked.

  1. Pillow-fighting can break fish tanks. At least, they can when father and sons are so busy whopping each other with pillows, they don't happen to notice the big heavy vase sitting next to the tank. And wouldn't you know it? Aquarium glass doesn't seem to stand a chance against a heavy vase.
  2. Ten gallons may not sound like very much, but believe me, when the glass in a ten gallon aquarium breaks, that's a LOT of water flooding the floor. Not to mention glass, fish, and in our case,  flowers.
  3. Fish end up doing the dead man's float when children experiment with the thermostat.
  4. Salt water spray abso-freaking-lutely destroys drywall.
  5. The most expensive salt-water fish are usually the first to die. Or to get eaten by one of the cheapies.
  6. I don't like feeding live minnows to an eel, which, by the way, also has an inordinate tendency to eat the most expensive fish in the tank.
Okay, that's enough pontifications for a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Time to feed the cats. But first, how about you? Are you a pet person? They're the sweetest icing on the cake, aren't they?

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Weirdest news story of the week: Sheridan Simove, a British writer, finally found marketing success with his latest book. On Amazon.com this week, his book outsold both the Harry Potter books and The DaVinci Code. Impressive, huh? His book, entitled What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex, has a fine cover ... and  200 blank pages. (Now, why didn't I think of that?)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Luck O' the Irish

Thought for the day: Depend on the rabbit's foot if you will, but remember it didn't work for the rabbit.  R.E. Shay

Seems like everybody wants to be Irish on St. Patrick's Day, doesn't it? Doesn't matter a shamrock what their actual lineage is, either; why, 'tis a fine day indeed for wearing that favorite green shirt, and for pinning on a "Kiss Me; I'm Irish" button. For many, today's the day for gobbling corned beef, swilling green beer, and acting the happy fool, while toasting the luck of the Irish.

Ahhh, luck. There's an old proverb that says, Luck is the idol of the idle. Interesting thought. It's nice to pretend that we can just sit on our posteriors and simply wait for all things wonderful to fall into our laps, as though success were a bus, and all we have to do is climb on board when it finally appears. Or maybe it's a ship loaded with riches, and all we have to do is wait at the right dock when it sails into harbor?

Earl Wilson said, "Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure." 

Ah, HA!

And there we have it, another kind of wearing the green altogether. It's envy, that insidious feeling that evokes resentment when a fellow writer finds success, and even worse, that shamelessly insults and diminishes that writer's success by chalking it up to "luck", without regard to the sweat equity that writer put into it. And boy, watch out if we decide that other writer didn't put in as much effort as WE have.

But I suppose that kind of reaction is somewhat understandable. A Bible story I always had trouble with is the one about the workers who come in at the eleventh hour, and receive the same wages as the workers who'd been slaving in the hot sun for the entire day. Even as a young child, I wanted to know why the workers weren't paid according to the number of hours they worked. How could it be fair to the ones who'd worked all day if the newcomers made the same wages?

So, how is a writer who's worked at it for years and years to feel when someone writes a book purely on a lark, and ends up at the top of the best seller list? Without putting in the anything like the same amount of work, seemingly without putting in any work at all? He makes it look so easy. (At least those workers in the Bible story worked for an hour!)

OK, granted, it does happen that way sometimes. (Especially if you happen to be a celebrity.)

But MOST of the time, when a writer finds success, it didn't just fall into his lap. Like Ray Kroc said, "Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get." Those writers MAKE their own luck. They write, and they write, and they write some more, and they NEVER ever give up. It takes talent, yes, but it also takes a ton of determination.

"I'm a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it." That's what Thomas Jefferson had to say about the matter. And I think he's right. And I also think that any time one of our fellow writers finds success, whether that be in finding an agent, selling a book, or making it to the Oprah Winfrey show, we should all rejoice. We should toast their success, and share in their joy, and then, we should get back to work.

For this day, though, I'll grant ye the luck of the Irish. (As Susan O'Swiderksi, I can do that!)


Are you planning to have corned beef and cabbage to celebrate the day? It's too late for you to try your hand at this recipe this year, but you might want to give it a whirl next year. It isn't that much work, and I guarantee you, it'll be the best corned beef you ever ate. There are no nitrites in this, so the meat won't turn that unnatural red color, but it is gooooooooood.


For the salt and spice mix, you'll need 1 1/3 cups of Kosher (or coarse) salt, 3 T sugar, 1 T cracked peppercorns, 2 t allspice, 2 t thyme, 1 t sage, 1 t paprika, 1 large bay leaf, and 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
Cut of meat - brisket, chuck, eye round roast, or bottom round, about 4-5 pounds

To Cure- Trim excess fat. Blend salt and spices, and rub the mixture into the meat. Liberally. Place meat into a large plastic bag and toss in the remaining salt/spice mixture. If you'd like, you can add a sliced onion and sliced carrot, too. Squeeze out as much air as you can, and then seal the bag. Put it into a a large bowl, cover it with a plate or pan, and weigh it down. (Put something on top of it that's heavy enough to keep the plate firmly pressed against the meat.) Place in the bottom of your fridge. Turn and knead the bag at least once a day until the curing process is completed. You should cure for at least two weeks, and up to a full month.

After curing: Wash the meat in cold water, and then soak it in a large bowl of cold water for about 24 hours to get rid of excess salt. If you'd like, you can tie it with butcher's twine, but it isn't necessary.

To Cook: Put meat in a large pot, and cover with water. Add an onion stuck with four cloves, a large carrot, and two celery stalks. Bring to a simmer, and skim off the scum for several minutes. (And I mean "scum" in the nicest way ...) Cover, leaving lid askew to allow for circulation, and simmer for 3- 3 1/2 hours, or until the meat is deliciously fork tender. Enjoy!


 Until next time, bless your little Irish heart, and every other Irish part.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

To Pre or Not to Pre

Thought for the day: Forget the health food; I need all the preservatives I can get.


I'm confused. Maybe you can help.

To "pre" or not to "pre"; that really is the question here. I mean, to be pre-pared is always good, not to mention smart. Pre-natal care is vital, and if you have a boatload of money, I suppose a pre-nuptial agreement is probably a good idea, too.

But I'm talking about the "pre" in writing, AKA a prologue. Some books have 'em; some don't. When you're reading a book with a prologue, do you actually READ that prologue?  Do you have an opinion about them? Do you consider them a good idea, a bad idea, or are they maybe just symptomatic of writers being too darned lazy to write a better first chapter?

OUCH.

Heaven forbid that anyone should consider me "lazy", but I've been seriously considering the possibility of adding a prologue to my novel. Throughout the bazillion rewrites of the first chapter of  Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade, the starting point has always been nine and a half months after an upsetting event in the main character's life, and that's still where I think it should begin. But recently, a very small part of me piped in, and wants to start with the actual upset itself. (damn that small part!) It's likely that experiencing the event would allow readers to better sympathize with the character from the get-go, so I'm thinking, why not let a prologue do that?  Any opinions?

Me, I always read the prologues. (and epilogs) The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of utilizing a prologue. But, if I'm the only weirdo who actually reads them, why bother?

Crud. Maybe I am lazy.

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Let's Dance!

Thought for the day: It's hard to beat a hard boiled egg in the morning.

"Would you believe I broke it skydiving? Would you believe mountain climbing? How about running from an angry lion while on safari?"

It was a little embarrassing to admit that I'd broken my foot by doing something as mundane, by doing something as stupid, as running into the leg of my son's bed. Hit that sucker with enough speed and force to darned near launch a 50-yard field goal, too. Not the smartest thing I'd ever done, but unfortunately, not the stupidest, either.

That was more than thirty years ago, but each time someone asked how it happened,  I'd go through my silly would you believe routine before admitting what I'd actually done. Now, I could make up some interesting would you believe story about why I didn't post anything on this blog yesterday, too, but the truth is actually pretty interesting.

The truth is, I was gorging myself at a smorgasbord. Really. I was like Oliver Twist, staring wide-eyed down an endless table of delights, holding out my bowl, and begging for more. 

Only it wasn't food. It was blogs.

I sat down at the computer yesterday morning, fully intending to write a little something-something before heading out to run some errands, but I took a teensy little detour, and got hopelessly lost. You know how it goes. I was just going to do a quick check on a couple of my favorite blogs, and maybe leave a comment or two, but what can I say? One thing led to another. Next thing I knew, I was meandering through an amazing maze, going from one link to another to another to another. You know, click on a commenter's icon to read  his profile. Then take a look at his blog, and while I'm there, why not look through the archives? And oooh, look at all of the blogs he recommended! Might as well check out some of them, too.

A waste of time? I dunno; I enjoyed it. One thing I learned is that there are a bazillion fabulous blogs out there. A virtual smorgasbord, and considering the endless variety of choices that are available, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for stopping by here to sample my humble offering of yams. And an even bigger thanks to my followers. You guys definitely put a smile on my face.

Do you remember Shirley Temple?

She was an amazing child star, and the absolute epitome of golly-gee-whiz cuteness, with her bouncy blonde curls, chubby cheeks and deep dimples. In the 50s, after she was already a grown woman, my friends and I were still watching her old movies, still watching her sing and tap dance across our tiny TV sets. Most of my friends hated her, but me? I wanted to BE her.

How I longed for my limp straight-as-a-stick hair to magically turn into those bouncy sausage curls. How I longed to sing those sweet songs as sweetly as she. And, oh! How I longed to tap dance!

In reality, my hair was worn in one of two styles, and I use the term loosely. Either it was straight and looked like Prince Valiant's do, which can be approximated by sticking a mixing bowl on your head and cutting around it, or it was tortured into a Little Orphan Annie frizz by virtue of a smelly home permanent. No sausage curls for me, bouncy or otherwise.

The singing I did okay. Never American Idol quality, but I could carry a tune. But dance? I could make my way around the neighborhood by walking strictly on top of the chain link fences, could climb the tallest trees, and could ride my bicycle down the multi-flights of concrete stairs by the elementary school without quite killing myself, but let's just say that I was never the most graceful kid on the block. I had two over-sized left feet, and my favorite aunt called me Lurch.

But one magical day, during one of our huge extended family gatherings, I made an amazing discovery in the shadows behind my uncle's cellar steps.

It was a bee-yoo-ti-ful  pair of sparkly red shoes. My cousin's long-forgotten tap shoes.

It took me quite a while to squeeze my feet into those tiny shoes. But I did it, and then in the shadows behind the cellar steps, I began to dance. Not sure it would've qualified as anything close to tap dancing, though. It was more like a Snoopy happy dance. If Snoopy had his feet shoved into shoes that were two sizes too small. Then, of course, I had to sing...  "On the Good Ship Lollipop".



I was having a grand ol' pinch-toed time until some of my relatives found me. And laughed. Laughed until they almost wet themselves. (Did I happen to mention that my relatives were terribly rude?) Nah, it was all in fun, and once my mother helped pry my poor feet out of those shoes, the family continued to tease me about that adventure for many years to come.

Now, here I am again. Kinda hiding in the shadows behind the cellar steps, I started writing this blog a couple weeks ago. And little by little, people are starting to wander by. But I gotta tell ya, what's really fun about a blog is when it becomes a participatory thing. When you guys don't just watch, but strap on a pair of tap shoes and join the dance.

All you have to do is set up an account at  http://www.blogger.com/. You can add a profile if you'd like, but it isn't mandatory. Then once you have that account, you can work from there to leave comments on blogs, or even sign up as a follower.

So, come join me. I promise not to make you sing.

How about you? Who did YOU want to be when you were a kid? Besides Shirley Temple, I also wanted to be Dale Evans. That didn't work out so hot, either. I remember going horseback riding one time, and carrying a nice apple to feed my horse. Poor ol' thing didn't have a tooth in her head. Not positive, but I'm pretty sure Dale Evans' Buttercup had teeth.

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

+++
No trees were killed in the sending of this message. However, a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.
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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sweating the Small Stuff

Thought for the day: Know what junk is? It's something you keep for years and years, and throw away a week before you need it.

Do you tend to make mountains



out of molehills?

Or are you more like me, with a Don't sweat the small stuff attitude? I survived childhood by refusing to let anything get to me. My husband was pretty laid back when we first got married, too, but then he was sent to Vietnam, and he survived his combat tour there by sweating everything, by being hypervigilant and paying attention to every single detail around him. He wasn't entirely in disagreement with my idea of not sweating the small stuff; the problem was, when he came back home, he didn't consider anything small enough to be insignificant. As you might imagine, having outlooks that were such polar opposites led to a bit of conflict in the early years of our marriage, but in time, I learned to pay more attention to the details, and he's learned to relax. A little.

In writing, though, I think we should sweat the small stuff, and pay attention to all of the the nitty-gritty details. To capture the imagination of our readers, specifics will trump generalities every time. Why say "bird" when you can say "robin", "crow", or "eagle"? Spelling matters. Grammar matters. Syntax and the proper use of capitalization matters. If you doubt the latter, consider this sentence: I helped my Uncle Jack off his horse. Now remove the capital letters. Big difference, eh?

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

**********************************************************************

Wackiest news story of the week: A New York artist has allegedly been conducting a little Happy Meal experiment for the past six months . Said meal has been sitting unrefrigerated all this time, and so far, she says, there's no signs of decomposition. What's more, she claims to know of a teacher who's been conducting a similar experiment with a Mickey D burger for the past twelve years. The good news? Maybe it's safe to eat those fries you found behind the sofa cusion, after all ...


Friday, March 11, 2011

The Importance of Communications

Thought for the day: Amateur radio is more than a hobby.

Not a funny thought, but true.


We've all seen communications towers like the ones in this picture. We've seen towers for cell phones, for radios, for TV, for various government entities, etc. They're all over the place. In your state, in my state, all over the country, all over the world.

But what happens to those towers in a major earthquake? Or a tsunami? Or a hurricane, tornado, flood, wildfire, or terrorist attack? What happens when the phone service is silenced, and internet connections are lost? When the local 911 service is down, and most of the emergency personnel are trapped in the disaster area themselves?

When all else fails, there is amateur radio.

Yes, it IS a "fun hobby", but licensed amateur radio operators all over the world also provide vital emergency communications when the usual backbone of communications is broken or destroyed by disasters. Amateur radio operators (AKA "hams") study, train and conduct exercises, both among themselves, as well as with the professional emergency management and response groups they support. This hones their communications skills, keeps them up-to-date on the latest  modes of communication, and prepares them to be ready to "grab" their equipment bag and "go", to get safely and sanely to the affected areas, and to establish communications as quickly as possible.

It's happened where I live. We had heavy tornado damage in our area just before Easter of 1998. As soon as the tornados left the area, hams mobilized, established a base of operations at a local school, and for the next two weeks, scores of ham volunteers provided communications for the Red Cross, from the shelters,  the Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) and between the damage assessment teams in the field and the net control back at the school.

It's happened in Florida many times following hurricanes. After hurricane Katrina, amateur radio provided the ONLY means of communications in many areas throughout the gulf coast. It happened in Haiti following their earthquake, in Indonesia after their tsunami, in every part of the world following every disaster imagineable,

It's happening in Japan now.

So, trust me, amateur radio is more than a hobby. It's a service.

If you'd like to find out more about how you can become a ham and become involved in Amateur Radio Emergency Service, (ARES) please visit http://www.arrl.org/.

Or ask me. I'd be happy to provide you with all the encouragement you need.

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other. Really.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Shake it Off, and Shake it Up!

Thought for the day: Cheer up! That mighty oak started out a little nutty, too.

Know what? It's time for me to shake off this silliness and get serious.

I mean, really. I dunno if it's an early case of spring fever,  or what, but I'm definitely having a hard time concentrating here.

I did manage to tear myself out of bed before the butt crack of dawn this morning, just so I could do some writing, but it turned into a write, scratch out, write some more, and scratch out some more kind of session. A teensy bit productive, but just barely.

Have you read the delightful Janet Evanovich's book about how she writes? Like her novels, it's very easy and enjoyable reading, but I swear, she wrote the first chapter of that book just for ME! Honest to goodness, she may not have dropped my name in there, but I'm sure that's only because it slipped her mind. The content was definitely directed at me, I'm sure of it. And what she told me is that it was time for me to stop fooling around with that first chapter, dammit! Made me laugh out loud when I read it, because at that point, I'd already written and rewritten the first chapter of Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade so many times I'd lost count.

And though I've finished the book, and edited (and re-edited) it several times by now, you guessed it ... I'm STILL fussing with that first chapter. In fact, that's what I was working on this morning. But that first chapter, that first page, HAS to be perfect, doesn't it? I mean, it'd turn my poor innards to fish food if someone like the marvelous Janet Reid were to chew up that first chapter,  spit it out, and then (ohmigod!) yawn!

So, how do you KNOW when that first chapter is as good as it's gonna get? How do you KNOW when you've finally got it just right? How do you know when to stop fooling around with it, dammit? You guys who've already gotten an agent, already gotten a publisher, you lucky (hard-working) dogs you, how did YOU know?

For those of you who are still looking for some straight answers about the oomph factor of your book's first page, have I ever got a suggestion for you. Ray Rhamey is a writer and "developmental editor". (I'm not sure EXACTLY what that is, but it sounds quite impressive, doesn't it?) Anyway, he writes a blog entitled Flogging the Quill, and one of the things he does, and does extremely well,  is provide a first-page critique service for writers. Neat, huh? He offers his well-informed opinion as to whether or not that first page is strong enough to compel a reader to keep on reading. You can find his blog here.  And, tell ya what,  if you submit your first page, I'll be sure to read it. I (ahem) haven't gotten up the cojones to do it yet myself ...

OK, enough seriousness for the day. Time to play. No, better yet, it's time to wrap up that first chapter, once and for all. Dammit.

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wednesday afternoon silliness

Thought for the dayHowcum slim chance and fat chance mean the same thing, but wise man and wise guy are opposites?

I guess you heard that the space shuttle returned home today. Its last hurrah, too. But did you hear about the gypsy lady who was waiting for them there at Cape Canaveral when they landed?

She insisted that she was there to talk to the spirits, and didn't want to leave until she did. The officials, naturally, chased her away, saying, "This ain't rocket seance, lady!"

OK, so maybe that isn't exactly the way it went down. I'm just in one of those weird kind of moods.

It's another rainy day here in the alleged sunny South. Not  pitter-patter rain, either. It's more of a open up the sky and dump out so much water so fast, it chokes the frogs kinda rain. The kind of day I should've stayed inside. Didn't. Couldn't. It's senior discount day at Publix.

Oh, it's not like I'd crawl through broken glass to save a couple bucks, but I don't mind putting off buying bananas for a couple days just so I can hit the grocery store on a Wednesday.

Publix was filled with other (ahem) wonderfully mature people. And in spite of the fact that we all bore a striking resemblence to a bunch of drowned rats, everybody was in remarkably good spirits, even though the whole darned store had been completely rearranged since last Wednesday. I did see one man wandering around like Moses in the wilderness, though. Poor thing.

But, surprise! As it turned out, I actually like the new layout. And tell ya what, as long as the signs at the end of the aisles are correct, we'll eventually find what we're looking for.

It sure would be nice if all the changes in our lives were accompanied with signs that pointed the way, wouldn't it? If our lives came with a table of contents, so we'd have an inkling of what to expect? Oh, and how about this ... how about if babies came with an instruction guide? Man, I really could've used one of those.

Or maybe we'll just have to catch up with that gypsy ...

OK, enough nonsense. This is NOT a day for posting a bunch of silliness. It's a day to curl up with a good book. To take a nap.



Crap. Looking at the clock, I'd say it's actually time to get out in the kitchen and rattle some pots and pans. Where DOES the time go? I've decided that time must be logarithmic. Know how your gas gauge goes down faster once you get below half tank? Same kind of effect. All I know for sure is, they sure don't make a year as long as they used to.

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other. (And if you can, by George, take a nap!)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Grant's Mouth to God's Ear

Thought for the day: That which we persist in doing eventually becomes easier, not because the nature of the thing changes, but our ability to do it increases.  Heber J. Grant

That's a great thought to hang our hats on, isn't it? If we keep working at it long enough, hard enough, it'll get easier. No promise of actual success, but ... easier. To tell the truth, as difficult as it is some days to pick the perfect words out of my brain, I'd be pretty darned happy with easier.

Things don't seem to get any easier for those mules, but they just put their heads down and keep on pulling that cart, no matter how heavy it is, or how far they have to travel. As writers ... no, as human beings... we have to train ourselves to do the same. We have to assume the stubbornness of those mules and keep on plodding. Oh, and have you ever seen how a mule flicks away flies with a flick of his tail? We've gotta do that, too. Don't let rejection bite your ass; just flick it away and try again.


Ah, but suppose we never make it to our hoped-for destination, you ask? Suppose the wheels fall off the cart, suppose we collapse? It's a sad fact, but not all of us who work hard at something will succeed. Let's say I have another twenty-five years left, and suppose I spend those twenty-five years writing books that never make it to publication. I say, so what? If I DON'T spend the next twenty-five years writing, I'll STILL end up twenty-five years older, won't I? That's the same argument as when someone says he's always wanted to be a doctor, but, oh dear me,  if he goes to medical school now, he'll be forty years old when he graduates. Well, if he doesn't go to medical school, he'll still be forty years old, only, more's the pity, his dream will still be unfulfilled. Where's the positive attitude in THAT? I say, as long as we're here, let's do what we love. Let's follow that passion. The very act of doing may be enough of a reward in itself.

Ok, you got me. So, maybe I am a tad full of caca. Sure, I'll admit it. I'd like to find a modicum of success with my writing. I'm no spring chicken, but I'd like to think I can still lay a golden egg or two before I head for that great big deep fryer in the sky. So, I'll keep at it. But the bigger point is, I'm enjoying it. And as long as it's enjoyable, I'll keep on doing it. We may not be sure of the destination, but we should always try to enjoy the journey. After all, we may not pass this way again.

And who knows? If the flowers in this picture are stubborn enough, and hopeful enough, to bloom in the midst of rubble, maybe we can, too, my friends. Maybe we can too. 


.

Monday, March 7, 2011

What's Old is New Again

Thought for the day: No man has ever been shot while doing the laundry.

I just came in from hanging a tablecloth on the clothesline. Perfect day for it, too. Wall to wall sunshine, and a nice breeze blowing, the kind of day that does a lickety-split job of drying, and leaves everything smelling like the great outdoors. As I hung it, I thought about all of the clothes I've clipped onto clotheslines over the years.


We lived in a row home when I was a kid, and had a fold-up umbrella type clothesline. In those days, every back yard in the whole neighborhood held a clothesline of some sort, and hanging clothes outside wasn't just a necessity; it was a time for bona fide over-the-fencetop socializing. It was a time for gossiping, political opining, recipe swapping, and talking about the latest guest on the Ed Sullivan show. I was a latchkey kid, so most of the time, I was the one out there hanging clothes behind our house, and for some unfathomable reason, the neighbor ladies accepted me as their pint-sized equal. Now, not all the memories of those times are rosy. Trying to fold frozen clothes with equally frozen fingers wasn't a whole lot of fun. Wasn't too great when one of our dogs shredded all of the clothes, or when a flock of mulberry-eating birds selected our humble sheets as a primary bombing target, either. But all-in-all, I remember those days fondly.

The first house my husband and I bought boasted a killer clothesline. Big sturdy metal tees with half a dozen long lines stretched between them. (As Tim Allen would say, "R-R-R-R!") The thing was, it was a pretty big yard, so there was never any socializing over the fence while hanging clothes. Then, most everybody got clothes dryers, so it became a rarety to even see anybody outside with a wet basket of laundry anymore.

When we moved here to the sunny South, there were no clothesline to be seen in our neighborhood. Zip, zilch, nada. I reckon it was considered "common" or "old-fashioned" to hang clothes on the line in 1971. Anybody who was anybody had the latest, greatest clothes dryer by then. Even me. But I also had a clothesline in the back yard. Something big enough to hang sheets, because, really, is there anything that smells as wonderful as bedclothes filled with the smell of sunshine? Alas, in time, I too, grew weary of hanging clothes. It's too bloody hot here in the summertime. And well, yeah, a dryer really is convenient.

But I still have ONE line strung out back, and always will. And when I was out there hanging that tablecloth this morning, lo and behold, the man who lives behind us was hanging something on a line in his yard, too! He's a new neighbor, and it's a brand new line. And get this: we exchanged greetings. It wasn't exactly heavy-duty socializing like days of yore, but it sure felt good. And I've noticed that some of the young familes moving into our neighborhood are putting up clotheslines, too. Going green, they say. But I say, what's old is new again.

Like lots of other things. My daughter used to tease me unmercifully because of the old out-of-fashion clothes I liked to wear. Like clam diggers. She teased me so much, I finally got rid of them. And wouldn't ya know, they're all the rage now. They call 'em capri pants these days, but as far as I'm concerned, they're just good old clam diggers with a fancy name and attitude.

Hmmmm, maybe I should teach my granddaughters how to play jacks. We could be starting a new trend ...


How about you? Are some of the "old things" from your past becoming new again? (Face lifts don't count!)

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other. Think I'll go pull out my old bag of balls and jacks. My skills could use a little brushing up.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Kitties and Rainy Days

Thought for the day: A balanced diet is a piece of chocolate in each hand.

When I woke up this morning, rain was pitter-pattering oh-so-gently on the roof. What a soothing, snuggle-back-down-and-go-back-to-sleep sound to hear on a Saturday morning, right? But the not-so-gentle pitter-patter-thomp-thomp-CRASH of two cats tearing across my stomach, head, and around the bedroom, convinced me that sleeping in wasn't an option.

That's just one of the lessons our cats have taught me. You see, they don't care if the rain is pitter-pattering or if I had one too many glasses of chianti the night before. No sir, that doesn't faze them a bit. When they want breakfast, by golly, they want breakfast.

This is what Dash looked like when we first brought her home. She's considerably larger now, but still tiny compared to her "sister" inmate from the county shelter's Pen #10. She's our climber. Agile, fast, adventurous, and the most cuddly, loving-est kitty who's ever shared our domicile. She gives the sweetest little nose kisses. This morning, after she and her sister finished raising a ruckus in our bedroom, she played queen of the mountain on top of my hip and waited patiently for me to get up.






And this is what Dot looked like when we brought her home in 2009. (Get it? Dot and Dash? We're amateur radio operators ...) Anyway, she's four weeks younger than Dash, but is actually the larger of the two now. (I sometimes call her "Tankerbell"...) Let's just say that she's a BIG girl. Not nearly as agile or adventurous as Dash, and believe me, when she pounces on your stomach, (OOOOF!) you know you've been pounced upon. When she got tired of running around the bedroom this morning, she parked right next to my head and purred directly into my ear. Don't have any facts to back it up, but I'd say her purr has gotta be in the top 1% for loudness.


It was time to feed the girls, so that was that.

Like I said, that's just one of the lessons our girls have taught me. Early on, they taught me something else quite interesting. You know those mega-sized rolls of toilet paper? Well, I learned that when one of them is unrolled onto the floor, it makes an ENORMOUS pile. It doesn't look terribly neat when you try to re-roll it, either. Especially with all of those shreds in it.

Now, the rain is still falling, and our kitties are curled up in the office with me. Sleeping. Ain't that the way?

So, what wonderful lessons have your pets taught you? Life sure wouldn't be the same without 'em. They fill our houses with hair, and our hearts with love and laughter. Doesn't get much better than that.

Until Monday, take care of yourselves. And each other.

-------

Wacko news story of the week: There was a story on CNN the other day about the move to establish a "technological" sabbath, a day in which everyone would unplug from their computers, cell phone, I-Pods, and all of those other gadgets and gizmos that claim so much of our attention these days. The idea is to encourage everyone to re-connect with their family and friends. Sounds good, right? Here's the kicker, the part that absolutely cracked me up. There's a app to help you do it!

Friday, March 4, 2011

In Search of a Rainbow

Thought for the day: If you want to see a rainbow, you have to put up with some rain.

It seems that managing a website, even one as "simple" as blogger, is not my best bag. For eight years, I supported a wonderful amateur radio website, but all I had to do then, besides pay for the hosting and domain of the thing, was provide input to our three fabulous webmasters and PRESTO! they did some kind of mysterious voodoo with it and BAM!  posted it just like THAT! (And let me tell ya, they really made it look G-O-O-D, too.)

Now, here I am, floundering in a sink-or-swim situation, and to tell the truth, my swimming capabilities never were all that hot, and I still don't know what the heck I'm doing with this blog. Honest, it really wasn't my intention for the header and header picture for this blog to take up a whole darned screen, but shrinking it down to a more reasonable size has eluded my meager capabilities so far. Still haven't figured out how to add more than one picture to a blogpost yet, either. And alas and alack, maybe I DO need to change the title to a more "original" one, after all.

But hey, I'm still a newbie, right? This blog is only a week old, so I'm bound to get better. One can only hope. (On the other hand, I could always learn to love a full-screen header ...!)  In the meantime, I'll just keep on plugging. I don't expect to find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but I WOULD like to make it to the rainbow. For now, though, I reckon I'll just have to put up with the rain. And that's just fine. I have two handy-dandy yellow rain hats.

So, no time to be discouraged, right? Sure, this whole blogging thing is a little outside of my usual comfort zone, but it's time to expand something other than my girth. By George, I WILL get it! I WILL reach the rainbow! But just so ya know, I'm not ready to jump into Facebook or Twitter just yet. I'm not ready to "tweet" yet. However, I may "toot" now and then, especially after I eat some of my husband's sugar-free cookies.

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other. I believe I'll take a nap.