Friday, May 30, 2014

Remembrance and Inspiration

Thought for the day:  Freedom Is Not Free. [Korean War Memorial, Washington, D.C.]

It's that time again. (Cue the pounding of the gavel coffee mug. Careful, now... don't spill!) It's time for the monthly meeting of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, hosted by the Armchair Squid, and all book-lovers are cordially invited to belly up to the table to share reviews and info about the best book(s) they've read over the past month. If you'd like to read more reviews, or maybe join the gathering and add your own musings to the mix, pop on over to his blog.

In the meantime, in deference to those of you who don't give a good diddle about my reading habits, I'll save my review for the end of the post. But sorry, no silly billboards this month, because today is Memorial Day, and I take that pretty seriously. Yes, I know it was officially celebrated last Monday, but today... the 30th... was our traditional day of remembrance long before the date got changed to turn it into part of a convenient three-day weekend. So some part of me will always think of the 30th as Memorial Day. Just like it will always be my brother's birthday. Happy birthday, Ron! Semper fi.

Vietnam memorial
As an amateur radio operator, I had the privilege of serving as a member of  Army MARS. (Military Affiliate Radio Service) For Memorial Day one year, the Chief shared a story with us about a Captain who was stuck in traffic at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. It was pouring rain, and this captain was growing increasingly more agitated because he was running late, and knew he'd never make it to PT on time. Just as traffic was finally starting to move, the vehicle in front of him stopped, and a private jumped out into the pouring rain and ran into the Memorial Grove beside them.

What a bonehead! the captain thought.

Horns were honking, and the captain, as well as everyone else behind him, were fuming. Still, the private kept going, with his BDUs soaked and plastered to his skin. He ran up to one of the memorial plaques, picked up the small American flag that had fallen to the ground, and set it back up again. Then he came to attention and saluted, before running back to his car and driving off.

The captain later said, "That soldier, whose name I'll never know, taught me more about duty, honor, and respect than a hundred books or a thousand lectures. That simple salute - that simple act of honoring his fallen brother and his flag - encapsulated all the Army values in one gesture for me. It said I will never forget. I will keep the faith. I will keep the mission. I am an American soldier."

We may not be soldiers, but the least we can do is remember them, a very small effort for those who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

To those who died, honor and eternal rest; to those still in bondage, remembrance and hope; to those who returned, gratitude and peace.  [Illinois Vietnam Veterans Memorial]


Okay... let's talk books, shall we?

I've read a mess of them over the past couple months. At least twenty-five since I last participated in this bookish gathering, but I'll only review one... (You're welcome!) my top pick. However, here are some other top-notch books I highly recommend, as well:

*  Green Eggs and Weezie, by Cathy Oliffe-Webster. Funny, heartwarming, lovable, and quirky. Guaranteed to please.
*  Leverage, by Nancy Thompson. WOW! What a heart-stopping thriller, and a fabulous follow-up to her debut novel The Mistaken. 
*  The Eighth Day, by Dianne Salerni. Very cool tale about a secret eighth day of the week, only accessible to certain descendants from the days of King Arthur. Technically a YA book, but enjoyable for all ages.
* West of Paradise, by Marcy Hatch. An interesting mixture of history, adventure, romance, and fun. Oh, yeah, and time travel... to the Old West.
* Fiance by Fate, by Jennifer Shirk. Another winning sweet romance from this lovely lady, sprinkled with just the right amount of humor. Her stories never, ever disappoint.
* The Promise of Rain, by Rula Sinara. While reading this one, I could practically hear Baby Elephant Walk (from the movie Hatari) playing in my head, because the heroine runs an elephant research and rescue camp in Kenya. Magnificent setting... and a satisfying tale of friendship and love to go along with it.

Okay, I'd better stop now, or I'll be listing all twenty-five books, so let's move on to the top pick:

Of all the books I've read in recent months, this relatively short non-fiction book made the most indelible impression on me.

What did I think? Turn to the word "wonderful" in your thesaurus. See all those words there? THAT'S what I think of this book. And then some.

Do you consider yourself a seeker? I mean, have you consciously sought a better understanding of yourself, of life, spirituality, and ... death? Yes, death. I know; it isn't a topic many people feel comfortable discussing around the dinner table... or anywhere else, for that matter... but don't you sometimes wonder about it? After all, death is life's ultimate mystery and final challenge, and each of us is eventually gonna have to face it, so why not talk about it? Gee, wouldn't it be fantastic if someone older and wiser were willing to discuss old age and death with us? Maybe he could let us in on some of the spiritual wisdom and insights he's gained through a long life of both traditional, and non-traditional, seeking... and finding.

Guess what? Someone IS willing, and an amazing somebody he is. When in his mid-eighties, Reb Zalman, a beloved rabbi, reformer, innovator, and life-long seeker, teamed up with writer Sara Davidson with the intention of creating a book that could gently guide readers through the labyrinth of old age, and away from the usual "freak out" factor regarding death. Once a week for two years, they met and talked. This book... this wonderful book... is the product of those intimate interviews.

It doesn't matter what your religious background is. You will love this rabbi, and savor his honesty and down-to-earth humanity. I found his sense of humor, his joyful approach to life, and his genuine love of God and his fellow man irresistible. Thanks to Davidson's skillful writing, Reb Zalman now feels like a beloved friend, and one I will never forget. My bet is you'd feel exactly the same way.

It's been a long time since a book affected me so deeply. The rabbi is an extraordinary man who has lived an extraordinary life, and as he now approaches his ninetieth birthday, I'm deeply grateful that he cared so much about the rest of us to join forces with Davidson to create this book. For us. For you. For me. Extraordinary.


One last word about books... actually about my book. A very wonderful lady and fellow blogger recently read Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade, and much to my humbled amazement, she's going out of her way now to promote it through a review and giveaway on her blog. (If you don't already follow Rosey's blog, check it out... among other things, she offers a LOT of valuable product reviews and frequent giveaways.) She... and a bunch of her other terrific followers... have been tweeting about the giveaway every day. Honest, it's enough to make an old gal like me blush. I'm blown away by her kindness. If you're interested in taking part in her giveaway for a copy... either paperback or e-version... you can go here. Even if you don't want to participate in this giveaway, check out her blog, anyway. You won't be sorry. As for you, Rosey? Thank you. Thank you so very much.

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

Friday, May 23, 2014

Carry Me Back...

Thought for the day:  Virginia is for lovers. (state motto)

Queen Elizabeth I 
It strikes me as a teensy bit ironic that Virginia touts itself as a mecca for lovers. I mean, come ON!  It was named in honor of Queen Elizabeth I... AKA the Virgin Queen.

Be that as it may, it's time for another virtual tour, and it's rather appropriate that we're heading to the lover-ly state of Virginia this month. Why, you ask? Because forty-five years ago tomorrow, Smarticus and I tied the knot, (Why, yes, yes, I was but a mere zygote when we got hitched...) and we meandered through the (ta-DA!) lover-ly state of Virginia on our honeymoon. Pretty cool, huh? The Skyline Drive winds through some gorgeous picturesque countryside in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and this time of year, wildflowers are in bloom all over the place, so we saw lots of beautiful scenery. Plus, there's a ton of historical places and other neat stuff to see along the way. We moved to Georgia a couple years after we got married, and made many more trips through Virginia over the years while going to and from Maryland, so a lot of stuff we didn't see on our honeymoon, we saw later with our kids.

                                                         Ready to take a peek at some of it?

Blue Ridge Mountains

See? I told you it's gorgeous. Now, imagine a host of wild azaleas and mountain laurel in bloom all over the place...

Natural Bridge

There are a lot of neat rock formations to see in Virginia, like the Natural Bridge, Natural Chimney, and a bunch of different caverns. We visited both Luray and Skyline Caverns on our honeymoon, and each had a distinctive personality. One featured multi-colored lighting to enhance the features, while the other used more simple white lighting, but there were unique and fascinating structures to see in each. At the bridge, we (and by we, I mean I...) had a good laugh. The old fella helping people into the skylift car to ride down the mountain said to Smarticus, "You and your youngun come on." HA!

Jamestown church

Jamestown was the first English settlement in the New World. (1607) Located on a large peninsula forty miles from the ocean, the English thought it was an ideal location, primarily because it was isolated and no Indians were living there. Turned out, the Indians weren't living there for good reason. They considered the swampy area to be too remote, too cramped for space, and unsuitable for agriculture. What's more, the brackish water there was not only unfit for drinking... it provided an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. More than two thirds of the settlers died from malaria before a supply ship arrived the following year. Founded originally as a place to cultivate silk for trade with the court of King James, a blight fungus killed off the mulberry trees, and put the kibbosh to that plan. On to plan B: tobacco, which ended up being a big cash crop for the state for many years to come.

Jamestown is a fascinating place to visit. It's like stepping into the pages of a history book, or walking on sacred ground. The ruins of the old fort... the church... homes...  the old cemetery... the Indian village. Well worth a trip.

Visiting Williamsburg is like taking a step back into history, too, but in a different way. While Jamestown is only populated with ghosts from the past, Historic Williamsburg is set up as a place of living history. 

Some ladies of Williamsburg

In Williamsburg, you'll encounter people dressed in the garb of colonial America, and an entire thriving town based on those historical days. Walking through the town, and visiting ye olde shoppes feels like an immersion in the past. Covering 301 acres, the area contains both original and recreated buildings from the colonial and American Revolutionary period.

Mount Vernon

Another place worth visiting is George Washington's plantation, Mount Vernon, located in Alexandria on the shores of the Potomac. I haven't visited since I was about eight years old, but I still remember it as a beautiful and exciting look at history. (Yeah, I was a nerdy kid.)

This beautiful old church, built in 1741, is another historic site of note. It is St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond, the site of Patrick Henry's impassioned speech, which included the memorable words  " AS FOR ME, GIVE ME LIBERTY, OR GIVE ME DEATH!"  His fiery words in an otherwise sleepy meeting surely swayed the opinion of many people who listened to him that day.


Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's 5000-acre plantation, is located just outside Charlottesville. Jefferson designed his home, and is buried on the plantation grounds.

Union soldiers at Fredericksburg
Virginia contains many Civil War sites. How eerie and heart-wrenching it is to stand beside and walk upon those battlefields where so many soldiers lived, fought, and died so long ago. Eerier yet to see their faces in old photographs.

Virginia Capitol, Richmond

Virginia's Capitol building in Richmond was also designed by Jefferson. Its cornerstone was laid in 1792, and the General Assembly held its first meeting there in 1792. This same building was also used as the Capitol of the Confederacy during the Civil War, too. After the war ended, Virginia was under military rule for the next five years.

McClean House Parlor

Talking about the end of the war... this is where the surrender papers were signed. There, in the McClean House parlor, located in Appomattox Courthouse, Grant sat at that wooden desk on the right, while Lee sat at the marble-topped desk on the left.

Oyster Museum
You know I can't do one of these state tours without highlighting at least one museum. We visited an antique car museum on our honeymoon, but this museum, the Oyster Museum of Chincoteague, features all kinds of information about oysters, of course, and also about the people and culture of the island.

 Swimming into Chincoteague (2007)

The museum also pays tribute to Misty and Stormy, the real-life wild ponies who were immortalized in Marguerite Henry's book Misty of Chincoteague.  The annual swimming of the ponies across the Assateague Channel into Chincoteague is still a popular tourist draw today. I was there as a young teenager, but unfortunately, the ponies weren't. C'est la vie. (la vie)

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is an amazing feat of engineering. At twenty-three miles, this series of bridges, tunnels, and artificial islands is the largest bridge-tunnel complex in the world. We only took that route back home to Georgia once, just for the experience. WOW! Really neat. However, when the toll taker told us how much it cost, Smarticus said, "I didn't want to BUY it; we only wanted to drive over it!"

Yeah, a little pricey. But it's a much more efficient (and fun!) way to cross the bay than the old ferry system used to be.

It's easy enough to identify this building, purely by its shape. The Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, is the largest office building in the world. Believe it or not, it covers six and a half million square feet, and contains 68,000 miles of internal phone lines.

Arlington National Cemetery is directly across the Potomac from the Lincoln Memorial, and these 624 acres have served as military burial grounds since the Civil War. Two presidents are buried here: William Taft, and John F. Kennedy, whose grave also bears an eternal flame. Robert Kennedy is also buried there, and as far as I know, his is the only grave there that bears a simple wooden cross, in lieu of the standard marker as seen in the photograph.

One last thing, before we move on to see what kinda cockamamie laws are still languishing on the books in the fine state of Virginia. And that is a short video taken at Arlington's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier:

                                                Okay, ready? Ready to check out those laws?

  • It's against the law for unmarried people to have sex. (So much for that Virginia is for lovers stuff...)
  • Citizens must honk their horns while passing other vehicles.
  • Forget about trick-or-treating. It's against the law for kids to do so on Halloween. (OK to do it on Labor Day?)
  • It's illegal to tickle women. (But men? I guess they're fair game.)
  • It's against the law to have sex with the lights on or in any position other than missionary. (And the state motto takes yet another hit.)
  • When it comes to the campaign trail, state law forbids the use of bribery by anyone other than the candidates. (When it comes to the politicos, I guess anything goes.)
  • It's illegal to hunt any animal on Sunday. Oh, except for raccoons. Them, you can kill. 
  • In Culpepper, it's against the law to wash a mule on the sidewalk. (So keep yer ass offa there.) 
  • In Norfolk, it's illegal to spit on a seagull. (But have you seen the size of those bombs those birds drop on us?)
  • A man can also go to jail there for patting a woman's bottom. (Butt officer, she's my wife...)
  • After sundown, women must wear a corset, and be in the company of a male chaperon. 
  • In Lebanon, it's illegal to kick your wife out of bed. 
  • In Prince William County, you can't keep a skunk as a pet. (That stinks.)
  • It's also against the law there to cuss about another person or to park your car on the railroad tracks. (If someone's foolish enough to block the train tracks, he might be the recipient of a little more than a naughty word or two.)
  • In Richmond, it's illegal to flip a coin in a restaurant to see who pays. (Guess you'll have to stick to a rousing round of paper-rock-scissors...)
  • Get this. In Stafford County, it's legal for a man to beat his wife on the courthouse steps, but only if he does it before 8 PM. 
  • In Victoria, it's against the law to skate down the sidewalk of Main Street. (Get out in the road, dude!)
  • In Virginia Beach, if you're inebriated, but not driving your car... but the person who is driving your car is also inebriated, you're both gonna get a DUI.
  • It's illegal there to ride on a handlebars of a bicycle, too. (Especially when inebriated, which is the only way you'd get my derriere up there in the first place.)
  • It's also against the law to use profanity on Atlantic Avenue or the boardwalk... or to drive by the same place within thirty minutes on Atlanta Avenue. (How about all us directionally-challenged people out here?)
  • And finally, in Waynesboro, it's illegal for a woman to drive on Main Street unless her husband walks in front of the car waving a red flag. 

And there ya have it... a wee taste of Virginny. It's a pretty spiffy state.

Needless to say, this post was written a couple weeks ago. We're not off in Virginia to celebrate our anniversary as you read this, but we're probably off somewhere... still celebrating, after all these years. I should be around to respond to your comments by early next week. Y'all have a terrific weekend.

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

[Images courtesy of Wikipedia... except for that antique one of Smarticus and me.]

Friday, May 16, 2014

Am I Missing Something?

Thought for the day:  Everything is funny as long as it's happening to somebody else. [Will Rogers]

Now, let me be the first to say I don't have anything against class clowns. (I mean, heck... I married one!) But the pranks we used to pull in school back in the Dark Ages were... funny. By definition, a prank is a practical joke or mischievous act, and in my opinion, that should translate to something that's creative, humorous, harmless, and legal.

I dunno. Maybe I'm just an old fuddy duddy. But I don't think so; I don't think it's just because I'm growing older.

Heck, I don't even remember much in the way of senior pranks when Smarticus and I graduated from good ol' Dundalk High School. (Which has since been demolished...) Certainly nothing organized on a large-scale, anyhow. Closest thing to that was in junior high, when all the boys in our class would roll up their neckties and unfurl them simultaneously. (Yeah, we were bad asses back then.) Or the whole class would drop and then bend to retrieve a pencil at the same time. It was silly, and mildly amusing, and we only did that sort of thing with teachers who had a sense of humor.

                                                           Remember this song?

I came across that picture of plastic flamingos on, and it reminded me of a prank the youth group at our church used to pull when our boys were teenagers. They'd cover some poor parishioner's lawn with about forty flamingos for a week at a time... and all it took was a small donation to get the gaudy boogers hauled off PDQ. Okay, so technically, you could call that a form of extortion, but it was all in good fun (and fund), and if anyone wanted to opt out of getting bird-bombed, they could do so. (As best as I remember, no one did.)

I'm not sure when it started, but evidently big-time  senior class pranks are standard procedure nowadays. So much so, I even found some websites offering suggestions on pranks students could pull. Stuff like:

  • Creating a slip-and-slide in the hallway with a sheet of plastic, a bucket of water and lotion. (Oooh, slick!)
  • Lining the walls with post-it notes from floor to ceiling. 
  • Blocking stairways with plastic cups turned upside down. (Gotta admit... I like that one!)
  • Letting ten crickets loose in the hallways. (HA! Another good un.)
  • Turning the cafeteria into a beach scene with tiki torches, beach balls, inflatable palm trees, and a plastic pool filled with sand. 
  • Having every senior hide an alarm clock somewhere around the school, set to go off at a random time. (Alarming!)
  • Putting petroleum jelly on all doorknobs and handrails. (Another slick one!)

Some websites even offer helpful hints as to senior pranks that can be pulled outdoors. My personal favorite involved placing a huge for sale sign out on the school's front lawn. And these others aren't  too bad, either:

  • Writing the graduation year on the front lawn... with cocktail umbrellas, toothpicks, or plastic forks. OR with rock salt, which would kill the grass in the desired pattern. (Which might be frowned upon by the establishment.)
  • Painting the year on a rock or hillside with non-toxic paint.
  • Hanging bras or jock straps from a tree. (HA!)
  • Filling the school fountain with bubble bath, rubber ducks, or food coloring. (School fountain? Must be for wealthy schools.)
  • Having a root beer keg party. 
  • Having a slumber party on the front lawn.
  • Putting something on the flag pole, like tires. (I think it'd be funnier to fly a HUGE pair of panties...)

There was a wee little article in the newspaper recently. In fact, so small, it's a wonder I noticed it at all, but that article is what prompted this blog post. It was about what the paper called a senior class prank, which occurred in New Jersey.

Sixty-two students broke into their high school shortly after 2 AM and proceeded to wreak havoc. (My words, not the paper's.) They did some of the standard balloons and silly string throughout the school, and petroleum jelly on the doorknobs, and they even got a little more creative by taping hot dogs to the lockers. In addition, they overturned and broke furniture, spray-painted grafitti on the walls, and urinated in the hallways. Police responded to the burglar alarm, and all sixty-two students were arrested.

I dunno. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I am an old fuddy-duddy... but how does that behavior qualify as a senior prank? To me, that behavior qualifies as vandalism. Personally, they lost my sympathy with the whole broke into part.

But if you wanta read about pranks... about, in fact, some of the best pranks of all time, check out this old post from April 1. 2011. Now those were some pranks!

So, what do you guys think? Did your senior class pull any pranks? Do tell...

Oh, by the way, an update on an earlier post. Remember the story about affluenza I posted in January? Essentially, it was about a drunk-driving teenager from a privileged background who got away with a virtual slap on the wrist and a stay at a ritzy rehab center for killing four people, and injuring numerous others while driving under the influence. The update? The family of the teenager who was paralyzed for life by that accident sued, as I told you they were planning to do... and they were recently awarded two million dollars. Unfortunately, their son is still paralyzed.

Oh yeah... if you're interested, you'd better hurry: the e-version of Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade is on sale on Amazon for the paltry sum of ninety-nine cents right now... but only for a couple days.

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

[Thanks to Wikipedia, and for the use of their images.]

Friday, May 9, 2014

Sandy Claws

Thought for the day:  In all things of nature there is something marvelous.  [Aristotle]

Earth laughs in flowers.  [Ralph Waldo Emerson]
With Mothers' Day right around the corner, how about a quick salute to Mother Nature? She fills our senses with beauty, lifts our hearts, and has the power to fascinate and delight us with her endless mysteries and marvels. Aristotle was absolutely right.

Unfortunately, we aren't always as mindful of her marvels as we should be, or as protective of her wonders as we could be, so it's worth mentioning when humans show appreciation for another species by stepping back and allowing them the right-of-way for a change.

In an earlier post from July of 2011, I wrote about how airplane traffic at JFK Airport in New York comes to a halt every year to accommodate the annual running of the turtles. (So to speak.) Called We Can Fly With a Little Help From Our Friends, it's an uplifting look at how people go out of their way to help those pokey critters make it to their rendezvous with l'amour. They even go so far as to load 'em in pick-up truck beds and give 'em a lift. Well, today, we're gonna talk about another animal migration.

This one takes place on the other side of the world from New York, on an island called... Christmas Island.

Okay, so that picture isn't really a picture of Christmas Island. But that little guy in his Santa hat tickled my funny bone. Then again, if you think about it, Christmas Island isn't really Christmas Island, either. That's just the name some explorers gave it when they discovered it on Christmas Day. Kinda like those other explorers did when they discovered Easter Island. (Yep, that's another old post you might enjoy, called Everybody Loves Some Body.)

Here's a map to give you a better idea of where this little island, AKA Kiritimati,  is located. There may, in fact, be some little white dogs living there, but it's probably safe to say few, if any, of them wear Santa hats.

In fact, there are lots of interesting critters on the island. Also presumably without hats. Or galoshes.

Lots of birds, especially. Birds who don't seem to care what kind of name we give them. Like this red-footed booby. He doesn't seem to be at all insulted by that name. Maybe it's because the island is overrun with boobies, so he isn't the only one stuck with that name.

 But I digress. I don't want to talk about boobies, or any other kind of bird; I wanta talk about crabs. This crab... the Christmas Island red crab. Cute little guy, isn't he? And he is little... the shell's only about four and a half inches on a full-grown adult. And believe it or not, these guys don't live in the water; they're land crabs.

But that doesn't mean the ocean doesn't call to them.

Every year, at the beginning of the rainy season, usually in November, but as early as October, these crabs vacate their burrows in the woods, and head for the water. I'm talking a lot of crabs. Like millions of them. The males reach the beach first, where they dutifully dig new burrows. When the ladies arrive, they um, do what comes naturally. A lot of doing what comes naturally. Then the males skedaddle back to the woods, and leave the ladies behind to incubate in their burrows for a couple weeks. When it's time, the females lay their eggs in the water, and then head back to their burrows in the woods. The larvae spend three to four weeks in the water (trying to avoid being fish food, I imagine) before going inland. Words cannot do justice to the sight of millions of red crabs heading for the beach. (Kinda like a Spring Break for the animal kingdom.)

So how about a picture? Better yet, a video...

Isn't that something? As far as I know, islanders don't give crabs a lift to the beach in the back of their pick-up trucks, but park rangers do take steps to help protect the little critters as they make their annual trek. They close some roads altogether, and on others, set up aluminum barriers called crab fences, which funnels crabs off the road and into small underground passes called crab grids. Okay, so maybe some of this protective behavior may be based on the fact that those crabs have shells tough enough to puncture tires, but still...

The only thing more amazing than the sight of millions of adult crabs heading for the beach is the sight of even more of those little itty bitty ones leaving the beach and heading for the woods:

Oops, almost forgot. One more video, simply because it's funny... (and short!)

Before I go, let me ask you one question: what's the difference between a mermaid and a sand crab? Give up? Simple... one's a daughter of the sea, and the other's a son of a beach. (groan) A great big Happy Mother's Days to all you moms out there.

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

P.S. The Goodreads drawing for autographed copies of my book will be taking place on Sunday. (Sorry... for U.S. and Canada only this time.) If you haven't already entered, go for it!

[Photos courtesy of and Wikipedia.]

Friday, May 2, 2014


Thought for the day:  Of all the things you wear, your expression is the most important.  [Janet Lane]

Yep, Ms. Lane was right about the importance of a pleasant expression, but right now, my face is probably looking like, "Whoa! Where the heck did April go...?"

That's okay. I enjoyed my month-long break, even if it was the fastest month in the history of mankind. How about you guys? What's new with you? For those of you who participated in the A-Z challenge, how'd it go? Did you enjoy it?

One of the fun things Smarticus and I did last month was visit the Renaissance Festival. First time we went in... ages.  No, that isn't us in that picture, but aren't those costumes neat? There were lots of people there in costume. Lots of fun shows. A joust, even. We got a little bit of sunburn and a lotta tired. But it was fun.

There were all kinds of dragons, gargoyles, and spiffy monsters around, too. This guy was one of my favorites. Except he kinda reminded me of my conscience, bugging me about why I was spending so darned much time having fun, and so little time working on my next book. (Hey! I've got a TITLE... that's gotta count for something...)

But I laugh (HA!HA!HA!) at the notion of that bully conscience trying to intimidate ME...

Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused. 

Life is to be lived as play.  [said that smart dude Plato]

Okay, it's good to be back, but what the heck am I gonna write about today? Let's see, how about if I ease myself back into it by writing about a couple news stories that caught my fancy over the past few weeks? Just a couple...

[Wikipedia Common]
The first story is about a real honest-to-goodness whiz kid. It seems 19-year-old Dallas Delyn had the urge to um... whiz... and well, gee, it wasn't his fault he and his buddies just happened to be walking past the Mt. Tabor Reservoir in Portland, Oregon at the time. And all the signs on the fence around the reservoir said was something along the lines of, This is your drinking water. Don't spit, throw, or toss anything into it.

See? Not a doggone word about peeing.

 Well, his actions may have given him some instant relief, but there's been little relief from the ripples of notoriety he's gained from the e-pee-sode. You see, his um... act... was captured on the security camera. And is now plastered all over Youtube. (His parents must be soooo proud!) I'm certainly not condoning what he did, but I sure am scratching my head over what the city is doing in response. Would you believe they're flushing the whole darned reservoir? Despite the fact that the reservoir was just drained and cleaned a couple weeks earlier, and despite the fact that the water tested perfectly clean after the late-night tinkle, they're still gonna flush... and waste... 38 million gallons of water. Their justification? According to a city spokesman, the city has plenty of water, and they didn't want to serve water that had been deliberately tainted. Even the teen, who likely faces a stiff fine, was taken aback by this questionable logic. Says he's seen dead birds and animals floating in the water before, for crying out loud. Not to mention how many critters deliberately taint the drinking supply every single day. If Dallas were my son, though, I know just what I'd say to him: "Boy, urine trouble!"

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Want to get away from it all? How'd ya like to own your very own 17-acre island in Italy's beautiful Venice lagoon? That's it out there in the picture. Dreamy setting, isn't it? And I'll betcha the price won't be too high, either. Italy is about to auction off a ninety-nine year lease for the diminutive island of Poveglia, and the only way to have a ghost of a chance of getting that lease is by entering a bid. There is a teensy drawback, though. That island is considered the most (Wooo-OOO-ooo) haunted place on earth.

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Its eerie history started in the 18th century, when a couple ships heading to Venice dumped plague-infected passengers there to die. Then, the island became a handy depository for people infected with all sorts of infectious diseases. Later on, it became a dumping ground for homeless oldsters, and from 1922 to 1968, the island was a notorious hospital/asylum for the mentally ill, spawning rampant stories about creepy doctors and botched lobotomies. Rumor has it that one of those doctors was so plagued by ghosts, he jumped from the top of that bell tower in the photo to get away from them.

Although the island, whose soil is allegedly comprised of 50% human ash,  has been uninhabited and virtually off-limits for four decades, some of the buildings remain, including a church, hospital, prison, bell-tower, and some housing and administration buildings. And a couple open-air plague pits. If you're curious, check out this site to see some really terrific... and haunting... photographs. Fascinating stuff. From a respectful distance, that is...
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                    Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

P.S. Another short-time Goodreads giveaway contest for autographed copies of my book kicked off yesterday, and will end with a (ta DA!) drawing on Mothers' Day. Since most of the winners were on the other side of the world last time around, this contest is limited to the United States and Canada. As a follow-up, Amazon will be offering the e-version of my book from May 12th to the 18th for a measly ninety-nine cents. See? Can't lose!

[Thanks to for the use of those first two images.]