Friday, August 29, 2014

Satisfaction Brought Him Back

Thought for the day:  The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. [Dorothy Parker]

I don't believe curiosity killed the cat, do you? (However, it might possibly have led him into some oopsie situations a time or two.)

How about you? Are you the curious sort? I am. Dorothy Parker was right. I'm rarely bored, and that's probably because I've been afflicted with a raging case of curiosity my entire life. What's more, the condition is still going as strong as ever. (Beats being bored...)

Curiosity was framed. Ignorance killed the cat.

Okay, before I share a current  curiosity with you... it's the last Friday of the month, and time for the monthly gathering of bibliophiles known as the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, hosted by the chief cephalopod himself,  the armchair squid. As usual, I'll post my bookish stuff near the end of this post, so those of you who don't give a good hoot what I've been reading can just read the first part of the post and ignore the rest. Those who wanta see even more of who's been reading what, pop over to the squid's blog and check out the linky link thing-a-ma-bob there.

Now then. Thing-a-ma-bob. That's what it is. Or possibly a doohickey. The truth is, we don't know what the heck it is. Smarticus found this thing... this very interesting thing...  in the bottom of a box of stuff he bought from a pawn shop before it went out of business. We don't know what it is. The other people we've asked don't know what it is, either.

Maybe one of you do. Ready to see it?

Here it is in profile. It's made of brass and has a sturdy feel to it. A fairly simple construction, but well-made.

Here it is, head on. (Or heck, maybe it's the back...) The black bulbous part is made of a rubber compound of some sort.

The other side features a shallow channel, which isn't as smooth as the rest of the... thing-a-ma-bob. 

When the handle is squeezed shut, the ends separate, as though it's intended to stretch something, maybe. Maybe not.

Whether this is part of something larger, or it's the whole deal, we don't know. Do you? Anybody know what this is?

(If not, any fun guesses...?)

Okay, moving on the the book part of this post. First up, my most recent book from
Unlike last month, I can't honestly say this was the best book I read this month, but it might be something y'all would enjoy...

 Before requesting Tantric Coconuts, I read the handful of reviews already written for it, and noted that they differed dramatically, with ratings ranging from one-star to five. Still, I was intrigued with the notion of a Nicholas Sparks-like novel with a spiritual element. Besides, the author has a "New York Times" bestselling track record. It HAD to be good, right?

Now then: reality. Say there are two Ferraris zipping down the road. Now imagine a head-on collision. Both are destroyed, and now neither is worth a plug nickel. That's kinda what I think happened to this book. On the one hand is a semi-sweet story laced with bits of humor, and on the other hand is the author's serious philosophy about life and spiritual growth. Either of these premises could have made a top-notch book, but when they're forced to collide and merge bumpers? Not so much. Then the book looses focus and identity, and in a well-meaning attempt to fulfill both roles, it fails to adequately fulfill either. Manufactured discussions between the characters as a means to teach the path to spiritual fulfillment came across as contrived and awkward. Stiff. The saddest part is that the message the author is trying to send is definitely one worth receiving. Unfortunately, I think most readers will give up on this book without finishing. I wish the author would write a straightforward non-fiction book about his thoughts on spiritual growth, rather than try to incorporate them artificially in a piece of fluff.

For more information about this book, please see here, and for more info about the author, this is the place right here. Just to make it clear, I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. If you're interested in following suit, just check out their website.

Now, then, I thought I'd mention a few books I read this month which I highly recommend:

  • Deadly Lies, by Chris Patchell. Part of my review from Amazon and Goodreads: How well do we really know the people we love? Police detective Alex Shannon thought he knew his wife Jill very well, but now he's not so sure. Something's changed. As a sexually abused teenager, Jill vowed to never be a victim again, so when abuse rears its ugly head again and threatens to destroy everything she holds dear, she has to do something to take control of her life again. The problem is, that "something" is far from legal. When the detective's investigation uncovers clues leading right to his bride, what will he do about it? Uphold the law, let his wife go... or something else?  
I really enjoyed this book, which could be classified as a thriller, I suppose. Much to my surprise, after I posted my review for it, the author sent me a really nice box of chocolates. (Which in no way influenced the five stars I'd already given it...)

  • The Graveyard Shift, by Brandon Meyers & Bryan Pedas. These talented guys, who blog at A Beer for the Shower,  have already proven themselves to be off-the-chart funny and witty. In this collection of short stories, they also prove themselves to be a little... creepy. (Of course, I mean that in the nicest way...) One of the best things about reading a collection of short stories is the reader can read one story now, set the book down, do something else, and come back to read another one later, right? Kinda like having a lovely box of mixed chocolates next to your easy chair to select from at leisure. HA! I dare ya! TRY to read just one. Me? I read every single story in one sitting. (Which comes pretty close to my approach to eating boxes of chocolates, too, now that I think of it...) Anyhow, these stories are worthy of raising a couple goose bumps, and verrrry well-written. Imagination out the wazoo. Loved 'em! (Brandon also recently published a novel called Lovely Death, which I just purchased, but haven't yet read. Looking forward to it, though.)

  • Bombs and Butterflies, by Jo Carroll. Anyone who's ever daydreamed about visiting exotic places around the world would love this author's books. This lovely blogging grandma from London doesn't just daydream about traveling... she DOES it. To wonderful places, where this intrepid traveler experiences wondrous (and sometimes scary) things, and meets wonderful (and sometimes scary) people. Then, she goes back home and writes about it, so we lucky readers can benefit from her insights and experiences. This book is about her trip to Laos, but all of her books are terrific. Seeing the world through her eyes may not be the same as seeing them first-hand, but it's the next best thing.
And there ya have it. Now... I want you to put on your thinking caps. I'd like you to think about your favorite old broad... could be someone in your family, a friend, celebrity, whatever. But don't tell me now. Next Friday, I'm gonna be writing about MY favorite old broad, and I'll be asking you then about yours. So think about it, so you're prepared to give an answer...

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Fun Approach to History

Thought for the day:  It is well that war is so terrible, or we would grow too fond of it. [Robert E. Lee]

Because this year marks the 150th anniversary of  Atlanta's invasion and occupation by Union troops during the Civil War, as well as Sherman's subsequent incendiary march through Georgia, this has been a summer of numerous living history-type re-enactments, one of which Smarticus and I visited last month.

The encampment of Union soldiers on the lawn of Barrington Hall  in Roswell provided a fascinating glimpse into the past, and taught us something about the local happenings of those days, too. A re-enactment showed the notorious capture of some 400-500 cotton mill workers... mostly women and children... who were arrested, charged with treason, and deported to prison. On Sherman's orders, the mill was burnt to the ground.

This tent was furnished more elegantly than the others. See the dresses hanging in the rear? It seems this was the abode of one of the (ahem) camp followers. Oh, and in spite of what you may have heard, the term hooker wasn't derived from General Joe Hooker's well-known appreciation of... camp followers. The term actually preceded the Civil War. 

Here we have a display of a typical Union soldier's possessions.

A  makeshift table.

Healthcare left a lot to be desired 150 years ago.

More stomach-turning medical implements. Those jars on the bottom were for holding leeches, but that doesn't bother me nearly as much as those surgical tools on top.

A large building held many Civil War era items, including numerous photographs of the day. Although the required time of subject immobility had decreased dramatically since the days of the daguerreotype, it was still quite long by today's instant standards. This young lady apparently possessed a wealth of patience and poise.

This little girl, on the other hand, doesn't look at all pleased with the process.

Post-mortem photographs were quite common during the mid-1800s, especially following the death of a young child.

Most fashion-conscious ladies of the day had at least one set of hair combs, but fans weren't just a fashion statement. In the South, they helped ladies tolerate the brutal summer heat, and in the hands of some women, they also became effective instruments of flirtation.

Corsets created an hourglass figure. Women may not have been able to take a deep breath, but they looked terrific while they were swooning from lack of oxygen.

And one final picture... just because I like it. It reminds me of what a schoolmarm might wear to church.

And that's it. Whatever you may think about the sanity of modern-day fellas donning old scratchy woolen uniforms on a hot Georgia day, I'm glad those folks did it. Nothing reinforces the understanding of history quite as well as ... living it... or more accurately, re-enacting it.

In closing, I found an interesting poem online, which was allegedly written by a sentimental young lady from north Georgia to her Confederate soldier admirers:

                                                      'Tis hard for youens to sleep in camp;
                                                      'Tis hard for youens to fight;
                                                      'Tis hard for youens through snow to tramp,
                                                      In snow to sleep at night.
                                                      But harder for weans from youens to part,
                                                      Since youens have stolen weans hearts.

Hmmm... admirers? Reckon she was a... camp follower?

There are places that need no historical marker because they are haunted, haunted by the spirits of men in blue and gray, now a part of the soil they fought over. If you stand quietly and listen, you can sense the clash of arms and see the skirmish, as if the gnarled old trees can't forget and whisper their story to your imagination...  [Barry Etris]

NOTE: The picture in the header shows the front of Barrington Hall, which was built in 1842 in the Greek Revival style. At various times during the day, musicians played Civil War-era music on that porch, and at other times, dancers did their thing.

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

Friday, August 15, 2014

In Praise of Creativity

Thought for the day: Appreciation is the highest form of prayer, for it acknowledges the presence of good wherever you shine the light of your thankful thoughts.  [Alan Cohen]

YAY! I won, I won! It's awesome to be appreciated, isn't it...?

Okay, so technically I didn't win anything. Technically, the talented Chris Fries passed a bloghop kinda virtual tour thingie to me. (Thanks, Chris!) Knowing how talented he is, and how talented the other participants are, I feel pretty doggone honored they even let me into their show. I feel a little like a flea-bitten mutt who's been entered into an AKC dog show. The truth is, I'd do lousy at a dog show competition. With these hips and knees of mine, I don't even roll over very well. But on the plus side, at least I'm housebroken.

(By the way, that dog show picture came from morguefile. Anybody know what in the world a best of opposite sex award means? Does that mean that cute little beagle is a... floozy?)

Anyhow, back to the tour. Its official name is Creative Artist Virtual Tour. Initially, participants were mostly authors of children's books, but over the past couple years, it has grown to include all kinds of creative people. For example, Chris is not only a talented writer, but he's also a kick-ass musician. And now... me. (Tsk-tsk. It's a shame the tour has fallen on such hard times.)

Even so, I'm more than happy to join this illustrious parade. (Especially if I can ride in a red convertible.)

Creativity is a drug I cannot live without. [Cecil B. DeMille]

Okay, here we go... the questions, and my responses:

1. What am I currently working on?

Let's see; there's a load of laundry doing its thing in the washer, and another's flopping around in the dryer. I'm desperately trying to write this post, but our resident felines are determined to thwart my efforts; evidently, they harbor a different opinion as to how I should be spending my time today.

But that's not what you want to know, is it? You want something creative. Well, how about another  (ta DA!) book? A really terrific book, as a matter of fact, and I don't mind saying it's terrific, because it isn't all about me... it's been a collaborative effort. Eight women from the U.S. and Canada, a brilliant Italian photographer, and a former male model turned terrific cover designer have joined forces to create a delightful book of poetry. A really fun book of poetry. Sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes lump-in-your-throat emotional, and sometimes evocative of a simple smile of recognition, but all good to the last syllable. And every cent from its sales will be going to CARE International. Can you tell? I'm pretty psyched about it. And it should be ready for release in a matter of weeks. Ready to hear its title? Ya sure? Okay, it's Old Broads Waxing Poetic. Classy, huh?

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I guess we all want to think of ourselves as unique. Different. Special. Heck, I don't even know what my genre is, so it'd be kinda hard to compare it to other similar works.  My first novel is probably best classified as women's lit, I guess, but men are reading it, too. Some of 'em are even enjoying it, so go figure. My next book might be considered women's lit, too, but I'm not sure. There are some rooting-tooting explosions in it, so maybe it's an action book? Then again, the main character is a young girl, so maybe it's YA. Ooh, but it deals with adult topics. Oh, fuhgeddabout it. I dunno how it's going to be classified, to tell the truth. Guess I'd better finish writing it first, and worry about genre later.

One way my work may be different is I don't take it or myself too seriously. I know. Blasphemy. Why bother to write at all if I don't have secret dreams of winning a Pulitzer prize? Any creative endeavor I pursue, including writing, is for sheer enjoyment, and on my own schedule. Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade has been published and is doing fairly well. I'd like to see Blast Rites get published, too, but when Smarticus asks me to go somewhere with him... I drop everything and go, because that's where my priorities lie. I started writing seriously (or about as serious as I get) late in the game, so I have no illusions of having a long and prolific career.  I'm no spring chicken, but that's okay. I'm happy with whatever I do. No naked ambition here. Just sheer delight to be doing what I'm doing. (Whatever that is...)

Creativity is contagious; pass it on. [Albert Einstein]

3. Why do I write/create what I do?

Life's too short not to create something besides carbon dioxide. Whether it's writing, singing, playing the guitar, painting, crocheting, building something with a soldering iron and schematic, or whatever, it's a way to make the most of the moment. It's self-expression; it's ME; and essentially, it's the difference between living and merely existing. And it sure beats the heck out of cleaning the toilet. As for why I create the things I choose to create... why not?

Think left and think right
And think low and think high.
Oh, the thinks you can think
If only you try.  {Dr. Seuss]

4. How does your writing/creating process work?

Not very well, I'm afraid. I'm not disciplined enough to generate an impressive output, because I get easily distracted, and like Alice, I happily plunge into every rabbit hole that spurs my curiosity. For me, a successful day isn't measured by how many pages I write or how much progress I make on any of my other projects, but by how enjoyable it is, no matter how it's spent. But when I do write, I prefer to do the first draft  (with much much scratching out and corrections along the way) with pen and paper. Then, one chapter at a time gets typed into the computer and corrected as I go. Many many rounds of tedious editing follow in pursuit of the illusive ideal of... perfection.

Have no fear of perfection; you'll never reach it.  [Salvadore Dali]

You can't wait for inspiration; you have to go after it with a club.  [Jack London]

From the moment I picked up your book up until the I laid it down, I convulsed with laughter. Someday, I intend on reading it. [Groucho Marx]

Now, Groucho, that wasn't very nice...

Okay, now that I've dutifully answered those questions, I'm supposed to pass this honor on to someone else. I haven't seen any requirements as to how many, but some participants have selected as many as three, while others have chosen one. Or none. I could wimp out and simply throw it out there for grabs like a bouquet at a wedding reception, but I've decided to pick one very wonderful person.

This wonderful person is Tracy Jo. No matter what challenges life may hand her, she always manages to create inspirational blog posts, made even more special by her excellent photography and writing skills. Even if she chooses to pass on joining this virtual parade of talent, I do hope you'll stop by her blog and say hello.

                                         Tracy? Your mission, should you choose to accept it...

isn't the slightest bit impossible. Just answer those four simple questions up there in a post on your blog, and then invite one or more others to join the tour. But, um, better decide quickly. You know, before this post self-destructs...

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

P.S. To celebrate the imminent release of Old Broads Waxing Poetic, the e-version of Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade will be available on Amazon for the next week for the paltry chump change price of ninety-nine cents.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Back Home Again

Thought for the day:  I think what you notice most when you haven't been home in a while is how much the trees have grown around your memories.  [Mitch Albom]

This is an old picture of my mom (far right) and some of her siblings. It tears at my heart a little to look at this picture, because they're all long gone now.

... I wasn't homesick for anything I would find at home when I returned. The longing was for what I wouldn't find. The past and all the people and places there were lost to me.  [Alice Steinbach]

Smarticus and I just returned home from Baltimore. Even though we've called Georgia home since 1971, the ghosts of our childhoods still reside in Baltimore. Never are we more aware of them than when we re-visit some of our old haunts, like we did last weekend. Places that used to teem with crowds of people are now mostly vacant. Sealed off.

Like this place. Loch Raven. Once upon a time, every roadway here was lined with cars. Lots of young people waxing their cars, and striking poses. (You know, in case anyone was looking...) Lots of cruising and schmoozing. Lots of laughter.

There used to be picnic areas, and places to hike, too. And we loved to walk out across the top of the dam to watch the water spilling over it, and marvel at the gargantuan carp swimming down below. Now? No can do. Everything is fenced off. Eerie. There were no signs of other visitors around, unless you count all the Canadian geese. Methinks people-type visitors aren't welcome there anymore.

We experienced the same thing at Rocks State Park, which used to be one of our favorite places to visit. Smarticus and I went there right before he went into the Army in 1969.

We took quite a few pictures that day, but this is my favorite. I'd hoped to recreate it.

No such luck. We couldn't get to that area anymore. You guessed it. Blocked off.

So I took THIS picture, and I like it just as well. (Hmmm, might have something to do with being kinda partial to the subject matter...)

Even though the places we visited had changed so dramatically, our trip to Baltimore wasn't about the places. Not at all.

Home is a people. Not a place. If you go there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there anymore.  [Robin Hobb] was about  people. Some very special people... my cousins, many of whom were also very dear childhood friends. And last weekend, a bunch of us got together in Baltimore for a reunion. That's the really cool thing I was doing. We came together to celebrate... us.  (While some of us are still left.) Believe it or not, I met one cousin for the first time. We found out a couple years ago that Kathy had been given up for adoption by one of my aunts, and though we've communicated via email and telephone, this was our first face-to-face. She and her husband came all the way from California to meet us. My brother came in from Texas, and he hadn't seen some of our cousins since before he went into the Marines in 1959. So as you can imagine, it was an incredible gathering. I'll only share a few pics with you...

Remember this shot of my cousin Phyllis and me? I just shared it on a post last month.

Well, we tried to recreate it last weekend... without the tent, of course. Or the svelte young bodies. But every time I attempted to strike an approximation of the original the-wind-is-blowing pose, she'd say something to make me laugh.

So we settled for this one. Close enough.

Here's some of the crew. That's my brother Ron on the far left, and my "baby" cousin Curt with his arm around Diane and me. Patty, next to my brother, is the "classy" one among us, although she'd probably argue with me about that. Kathy is next to me, and we found we have so much in common, it's as though we were separated at birth. (As she pointed out, in a way... we were.) That's Curt's son Jacob behind us. He'd valiantly been trying to horn into the many pictures taken of this group, and he finally succeeded. (Might I add that the camera added at LEAST twenty pounds to each of us... except for Jacob, of course. Clearly, it's a blatant case of ageism.)

I won't bore you with more pictures of people you don't know. A lot of our cousins weren't able to join us, but for those of us who were there, it was a magical day. For that one day, the extra pounds, wrinkles, and gray hairs magically melted away. For just that one day, we celebrated family and our lifelong friendships, and ya know what? It doesn't get much cooler than that. Dare I say it? We all felt young again.

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter. [Mark Twain]

... I wasn't homesick for anything I would find at home when I returned. The longing was for what I wouldn't find. The past and all the people and places there were lost to me.  [Alice Steinbach]

Sometimes, Alice, if we're very lucky, those lost people can be found again. For one glorious day, we found each other, and the memories we share exploded into full-screen technicolor happiness.

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

Friday, August 1, 2014

When Cats Meow, I Jump

Thought for the day: Dogs have owners; cats have staff.

At one time, Smarticus didn't think he liked cats. But that was before we had cats. Now he spoils them every bit as much as I do.

Which, of course, is exactly what every cat deserves. Just ask 'em. They'll tell you. They were once worshiped as gods, and as far as they're concerned, they should still be worshiped as gods. Makes sense, right? This explains their uncanny ability to maintain such a haughty regal air about them, even when they're caught doing something stupid or clumsy.

Anyhow, much to my surprise, it looks like we have three cats now. Yeah, three.

Remember Dash?  This is what she looked like when we adopted her from the shelter almost five years ago.
And this is what Dot looked like. We figured two cats would be juuuuuust right. That way, they could entertain each other. Besides, we had no choice. They picked us. (Anyone who has ever adopted an animal understands exactly what that means.)

This is closer to what they look like now. Most of the time, they get along well, except for occasional bouts of sibling rivalry...

... like over who gets to sit on my lap. I was reading the newspaper... Oh well, what can I say? Their royal highnesses decided it was nap time.

If you'd like to see an earlier post about our girls, including some fun little-known secrets about cats, go here.

Cats work out mathematically the exact place to sit that will cause the most inconvenience. [Pam Brown]

Anybody remember Cowboy? I wrote about him a while back. Lots of you urged me to adopt him. He was forever hanging around our house, looking in the windows and waiting on our front porch to greet me every morning, so we thought he was a stray. I mean, he was the epitome of the poor outsider looking in. So you might think HE would be our new resident feline. But nope. It turns out, he has a home. He still spends a fair amount of time in our yard looking for some cuddles and some food, (not necessarily in that order) but since his owner got him fixed, he doesn't spend nearly as much time mooning at us through the windows. (Hmmm, methinks it may be possible he was mooning at our girls.)

This is the new Swiderski feline. We named her Daisy. Her previous owners moved away, and left her behind to fend for herself. Before they dumped her, we saw her in our yard a few times, often being chased away by Cowboy. But she was extremely skittish, and not very friendly.

Then we noticed she was getting thinner and thinner, so natch, we started providing her with food, too. Her own bowls on the front porch... away from where Cowboy had his bowls out back. (His and every stray cat from miles around, that is. I swear, there must be some sort of underground communication that enables critters to let other critters know where the restaurants are. A very very large raccoon especially seems to enjoy the cuisine...)

Anyhow, the more we fed her, the friendlier she became. The more loving she became. The closer she came to making us fall on our arses because she kept doing figure eights around our feet whenever we walked outside. And the more she tried to follow us into the house.

Uh-oh. It was pretty clear. She'd picked us.

So we had no choice. We took her to the vet. Got her tested, de-wormed, and up-to-date with her shots. She's spayed, clear of fleas, and has a clean bill of health. Okeydoke. Time to bring her inside.

FIREWORKS! [Morguefile]

Not so okeydoke.

Dash and Daisy don't get along very well. What an understatement! They chased each other around the house like a couple crazed bats outta hell. (sigh) Talk about noisy fireworks!

Oh well. Our fault. We should have taken more time to introduce Daisy into the herd. Especially to our princess Dash.

Now, the new little kitty is in our Florida room, where our other girls can see her... but can't get at her. Dash and Daisy still try to attack each other through the glass from time to time, but I think they're becoming a little more used to each other. I'm hopeful they'll eventually learn to live together, and soon. Otherwise, we're gonna have to find Daisy a new home.

[Would anyone like to adopt a cat? Daisy's about eighteen months old, less than ten pounds, and extremely sweet and loving. Isn't picky about what she eats, either. She gobbles up whatever kind of cat food, wet or dry, that we give her. I guess being abandoned on the street has a way of instilling appreciation, huh? Seriously, if any of you local folks are interested, just send me an email or give us a call. We'll even throw in a big bag of food! Pssst... hey, Kyle...!]

And so it goes. At least for now, we have three cats.

And I swear, we're stopping at three.

I think.

I had been told that the training procedure with cats was difficult. It's not. Mine had me trained in two days.  [Bill Dana]

Oh yeah, it's been a while since I posted anything new about the things our pets have taught me. Well, I've learned something else new from our cats, especially Dot. She loves to knead my belly. Vigorously. So what have I learned? It's her fault. I'm not really gaining weight. Thanks to her administrations, my belly is simply... rising.

Cats are the ultimate narcissists. You can tell this because of all the time they spend on personal grooming. A dog's idea of personal grooming is to roll on a dead fish. [James Gorman]

As you read this, I'm not anywhere near my computer. (Dontcha love the pre-scheduling feature on Blogger?) I'm actually doing something really really cool. I'll tell ya about it next Friday, but in the meantime, I won't be online to respond to your comments for a while. But I will get back to you. Assuming our four-legged furry kids let me up, that is...

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