The time between

I sold two books Friday morning. Not a big deal, but I love delivering a book to someone who really wants to read it. So far the feedback has been very favorable. Of course, no one is going to tell me to my face they hated the story, but you can tell if the response is lukewarm.

After dropping off the books, I went to our local library, which has finally opened. Masks are required, and someone is at the door to write down your name (I’m guessing for tracking purposes), and there is a screen between you and the check-out person. I  was told no new books had been ordered during the shut-down, so I donated a copy each of Morven and Bethann to the library. I figured I could at least help them out with a new book or two.

So, the book is written, published, and available. I mailed copies to my beta readers as a thank-you for their help. I submitted a copy for review. I know better than to keep checking the sales records as that leads to thoughts of “why do I bother!”

Yes, I know the next step is marketing. In fact, marketing should have been on the agenda all along. Alas, although I have read all the articles and books on the subject, I just don’t have the energy it requires. But I will keep on dropping hints on Instagram and Facebook. I should Tweet more often but I have never gotten the hang of it.

Instead of tending to business, I have been working outside. Both the front and back decks received a new coat of paint. I had to throw away the shirt I wore during this project as I am a very sloppy painter. But the job is done, checked off my list of home improvements I mean to do this summer.

Miss Daisy waiting for the early bird breakfast. Luckily for the wrens, I chased her inside.

And, I have been relaxing on said back deck, which I have adorned with flowers and plants. The wrens are raising a family in the birdhouse I tacked on the post where I put my hanging baskets. It was supposed to be decorative, but hey … I watched the male wren try to entice his lady love into taking up housekeeping there, but she inspected the premises and refused. Either he got another mate (but someone said they mate for life) or another pair decided to move in. The cats, naturally, are mesmerized by the activity and I have had the dickens of a time keeping them indoors.

And so it goes until that old devil gets in my mind and tells me I have to write another book. I have no plans at present, and could be content just to market the ones I have written, but once that idea gets in your head, writing it down is the only way to get rid of it. I don’t know when or if this will happen, but meanwhile I am content.

If you are curious about my books, please visit my website http://www.sandrazbruney.com for descriptions and excerpts. And if you’d like a signed copy of any book (except the three paranormals, which are ebooks only) just put it in a comment or message me on Facebook.

There. I’ve done my marketing for today, and I can go back to my reading with a clear conscience.

 

 

 

Silence is violence

I saw those words — Silence is Violence — on a poster carried by a protester as I watched the news. At first, I wondered what the protester meant. It didn’t seem to make sense.

Violence is action, right? And silence is …

Action. Not inaction.

It took me awhile to understand, but when I “got it,” I couldn’t agree more. In fact, it fortified my post of last week, even though at the time I hadn’t realize my silence was a form of violence.

When I saw those three policemen standing silently by as one of their number calmly murdered a man in full view, it brought it home. Their failure to speak up made them full and committed partners to the violence that was being committed.

We all need to understand this. Violence is being perpetrated every single day, both overtly and physically, and by the failure to speak up and condemn  it.

There is a long — too long — list of victims and I know people who can recite every name. Each time we said, oh, how awful, and went on. Until the next time.

Then suddenly, the next time became the time too many. One man’s very brutal and public death was the snapping point. It wasn’t just blacks who protested, as they have so many times before.

This time, they were joined by their white, Asian, and Native American brothers and sisters. By children and octogenarians. WE were joined by people all around the world. Somehow, we realized that what was done to one of us was done to all.

I wasn’t the only one who woke up and knew, with sorrow and guilt, that by our silence we were as much a part of the violence as the rogue police, simply because we had refused to add our voices to the outcry for justice.

I hope and pray that this time, real change will come. Certain practices such as choke holds will be outlawed. Police will receive training in de-escalating a situation, and how to recognize that a person is not a criminal, but mentally ill and  in need of compassion rather than bullets. That being poor shouldn’t mean you languish in a jail cell because you can’t raise the money for your bond.

These are real changes that can and must be made. And if they don’t happen, we will elect new legislators who will listen to the demands that have been unheard for too long.

And that America will finally become the land of freedom and JUSTICE for all.

 

Silent no more

Thirty years ago, a city erupted in flames and chaos after a TV station aired the beating of a black man by white police officers.

This, week, city after city is erupting in flames and chaos after the airing of a video showing the deliberate murder of a black man by a white police officer.

What have we learned in the interval?

I am sickened by comments that condemn the violence while ignoring the source. Yes, violence isn’t the answer. But have you not ever been so frustrated by being unheard, misunderstood, that you finally lost your temper and threw something, or hit something — or someone?

I have.

A few years ago I took a class on poverty. I learned some disturbing things that helped me understand why black people can’t just “pull themselves up” and “get a job.” I learned that white privilege is least understood by white people themselves. After all, we worked to support our families. We struggled to attend college. By gosh, it wasn’t easy! No one handed it to us!

But white privilege goes way back. The Land Rush that gave property to homesteaders gave many people a start because property is wealth, and wealth can be built on.

Blacks were excluded.

The GI Bill gave thousands of returning veterans an opportunity to attend college. Knowledge is wealth, and wealth can be built on.

Blacks were excluded because no white colleges would accept them. And there were very few black colleges.

Without the security of property and education, blacks were excluded from the kinds of jobs that would give them upward mobility.

Oh sure, there are exceptions. We can name them. But why should there be exceptions?

I am white, and I had three sons. I never had to tell them to be careful when  jogging, riding their bikes, playing in the park, or driving. I never had to worry every time they went out the door that they might not come back.

I cannot imagine what a black mother goes through each and every day.

Why wouldn’t she be frustrated and angry at a system that never seems to learn? A system that almost weekly victimizes a black man or woman, and then rationalizes that they were resisting arrest or had underlying health issues that really caused their death, not the  beating, or the choking or the bullet.

And white America stays silent, not answering the pleas for justice, putting the blame on their black brothers and sisters for resenting the fact that nothing changes, hasn’t changed since the Civil War. I wonder what Martin Luther King would say if he were alive now? Would he feel he had failed? Would he shed a tear?

I admit I am part of the problem. I have stayed silent.

I stayed silent when a white man called a co-worker by the “N” name behind her back.

I stayed silent when someone recited a racist joke.

I stayed silent when people spouted “facts” that proved blacks were just out for the welfare dollar.

I stayed silent when a white candidate for a job was selected over a black with equal or better qualifications.

But now I am determined to speak up, to end the silence.

Recently someone asked me if I wouldn’t be at least a little afraid if I were to be confronted by a black man.

I said I wouldn’t, as my experience with black men has been largely professional and cordial. But, I added, I would be very afraid if confronted by a white man carrying an AK-47, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the American flag, and wearing a MAGA cap.

The enemy is not the black man demanding justice. It is the white man equally determined he will never have it.

It is time we old (or young) white women spoke up. We need to voice our solidarity with our black sisters.

We are mothers together. And no mother should have to fear every day, hour, and minute, for the safety of their child, their husband, their brother.

 

 

 

 

Scatter Joy

My daughter-in-law is a United Methodist minister and sends me a preview of her Sunday sermon.  She delivers it on line now, as so many other pastors are doing.

Her subject was finding joy.  It seems there isn’t much joy around lately to find unless you are looking really, really hard.

Recently, I attended a funeral for a member of our book club. This was the last such gathering before the admonition to avoid large g She was much loved, and the service was well attended. Later on, we wondered what we could do to keep her presence at future meetings.  (You can’t leave our club by moving away, or even dying.)  Another deceased member is remembered at each meeting when we pass around a dish of “Barbara’s chocolates.”

So how to remember Jane?

Another member showed us birthday card Jane had sent her. The message on it was “Scatter Joy.”

That, we decided, would be a fitting tribute to a woman who found joy in simple things, and radiated that joy to all she met. The card will be displayed at all future gatherings.

So here you have two halves of the whole. Find joy, and scatter joy.

Sometimes we are the receivers, and sometimes we are the givers. But if we find joy, shouldn’t we share it? Sharing joy diminishes nothing.

I hope that in these dark times you find a little joy. And that if you do, you find it easy to share.

Stay safe. Stay home.

 

 

 

And now what?

We are living in a situation none of us have seen before and It is hard to know what to do. Should I go to church this morning, even though the Bishop has  mandated no services for two weeks? My church is following his directive, but others are open. I have a little cough, so guess I will stay home out of respect for others.

But there is a funeral this afternoon that I must attend.

And so it goes … decisions based on our welfare vs. the welfare of others in our community.

People seem to be reacting in so many wildly opposite ways. Panic buying for one thing, and then there are those who offer to bring groceries or medicine to those who cannot get to a store. People turning to God and others blaming the government.  Conspiracy theories. Voluntary confinement  and people determined to go abut business as usual.

One thing for sure, the virus has affected everyone I know in tangible and intangible ways. College kids returning home, spring break plans cancelled. People out of work … I have a grandson in the music business and with concerts cancelled, so is his paycheck. I  know people who saw their life savings cut in half when the stock market dropped a gazillion points. People who can work from home are staying there, while health care workers put their own fears and anxiety aside to help the sick.

So what do we do while hunkering down, trying to stay calm, and taking our temperature every five minutes?

If you have children home from school, you don’t need any ideas. You are too busy to worry about the downtime.

But many of us live alone. There is just so much TV you can watch, just so many books you can read, although I admit I have done both. A little cross stitch, some basketry. Talking on the phone or texting to friends and relatives. And yes, making quick, furtive trips to the store for essentials — and why people are stripping the shelves of toilet paper and bottled water is a mystery.  My essentials run to kitty litter and ice cream.

It is hard to look on the bright side. I had no less than five events lined up for this week, including a book talk at the library. They were, like a row of dominoes, cancelled one by one. The calendar that was so full is now empty.

But I also received the edits I have been waiting for, so there is that. I now have time to work my work in progress and push up my deadline, not back.

There is one thing I might suggest, and that is to limit your TV news watching. We need to be informed, but 24-7 is just going to add stress you don’t need. And for heaven’s sake, avoid FaceBook. I have never seen such hatred in my life.  Shouldn’t we be coming together instead of spreading blame and bigotry?

God bless each of you. Stay safe. Stay well.

 

 

 

So much to do, so little time

I  had an entire day before me with no meetings to attend, no errands to run, nothing to do but work on my novel. I planned to design the cover and maybe edit the blurb. I have one, but I always wonder if I am saying too much or not enough. So … I sat down at the computer.

But wait, maybe I should check and see if that genealogy website I couldn’t access yesterday had somehow miraculously come back on line. When it had, I couldn’t resist checking a page or two — or 20. It took me most of the morning to figure out how the numbering system worked. I tried too hard to make the names fit my previously established list of ancestors before I realized that just possibly my first line of research had taken me down the proverbial rabbit hole.

By starting with the ancestor I was positive was correct, my great-grandmother, I managed to go back to the earliest entry. It didn’t match what I had found on a not-to-be-named ancestry site, but it did match the photo-copied pages given me  by my mother years ago. Plus, this site was dedicated to just the  one line, the Blues, and they had researched it with all the dedication an enormous family can bring to a task. So I chose two resources out of three.

That done, I decided to work on a craft project for just a few minutes to rest my brain. You guessed it, before I  knew it the cats were mewing for supper and I had yet to fill up the car’s gas tank for a trip the next day.

Where does the time go? You have plenty of it until you don’t.

This weekend we spring forward. Some people complain, but I’ve always been able to adjust rather quickly. The change tells me spring with its warmer weather is coming. I am already anticipating the plants I will buy to fill the deck planters and add to the front of the house. I can’t wait to get some tiny flowers for the fairy garden, having learned my lesson when I planted lavender, not know it was a bush and would overtake the tiny cottage and bench like a tsunami.

And, of course, there is the winter debris to rake up and bag. I have already mowed the front yard twice since January and the back yard once. Before I know it, the shrubs and hedge will need trimming.

I expect I will be busy outside every nice day from now on.  As for rainy days? There are my book, my genealogy, my crafts …. and of course, all those library books stacked up and calling my  name. Some of these things are finite in that they will soon (I hope) be finished. Others are ongoing.

I just need to set priorities, work first and then fun.

But what do you do when work is fun? Be grateful, I suppose, that fun never turns into work.

Happy set your clock forward day!

 

Hello 2020!

I am always curious about a new year will bring. When I was younger than I am now, I anticipated love and adventure, success (whatever that meant), happiness, and, of course, financial security.

Dreams change with age, although I still hope to find some of them this year. Love doesn’t mean romance any more, but love of friends and family. Adventure — maybe. I didn’t think I’d go to England and Scotland or California in 2019, so who knows what opportunities for new adventures will come my way in 2020? I’m open.

I’m happy where I am now, and can’t see my getting happier without becoming positively giddy. Maybe a better word is contentment. As for financial security, that depends more on the government than anything I can do, so let’s agree to let that one go.

Success? That’s debatable. I’ll never hit the New York Times Best Seller list (I’m being realistic, but I wouldn’t mind if it happened). Maybe success isn’t measured in lists or how many books are sold, but by someone telling you they enjoyed your last novel and asking if you plan another. That little conversation can keep my heart warm for weeks.

I think I have successfully raised a family. The “boys” are all happily married, and having launched their own offspring into the world, are looking at empty nests and all that goes with it.

I had a chance to visit at length with my two grandsons over Christmas and am delighted to announce they are both fine young men. And let me tell you, it is a rite of passage when you go to brunch and your oldest grandson picks up the check!

So whatever 2020 brings, it can’t get much better than this. I haven’t made any resolutions, knowing I won’t keep them, but I do plan to keep on keeping on. I will finish the current WIP and start working on that family history I’ve threatened promised my family for far too long. If a chance comes along to travel, I’ll take it, whether to another part of the country or that new winery that opened down the road.

I hope your new year holds all that you wish and hope for.

 

 

O Christmas Tree

I haven’t decorated a Christmas tree in years.  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy decorating it once the lights were strung, except for hanging the tinsel. I hated that part of decorating, but I loved the effect, so I painstakingly strung each shiny foil string on the branches, one by one. I once asked the kids to do it, and found the half the tinsel in lumps on the branches and the rest on the floor. I think they stood across the room from the tree and lobbed fistfulls at it.

But, after the kids married, and especially after the grandkids came along, we usually were away for the holidays. It didn’t seem reasonable to put up a tree no one would see, at least not the floor-to-ceiling one. I still wanted some kind of tree, though, so I bought a three-foot one to put on a table top. It came with lights that changed colors due to a small motor in the base.

Then two years ago, I couldn’t find the base. I searched and searched, but if it is in the house anywhere, it is hidden so well not even Sherlock Holmes could find it. So I tossed the useless top in the trash and bought another tree. Alas, I could not find one that made the transition from green to blue to red, so settled for plain white lights. I added some small ornaments and put it in the window.

Last year, I couldn’t find  the tree and after another fruitless search, I trudged off the the local Walmart and bought yet a third miniature tree. This one has different colored lights on it, although they stay the same color. I don’t know why they stopped making the kind that change, or maybe they do and our local store just doesn’t stock it. Anyway, I added ornaments and put it in the window.  After the holidays, I put the whole thing in a giant trash bag and stuffed it on the top shelf of the closet in the guest bedroom, thinking I wouldn’t have to decorate it again.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the bag, took the tree out, and discovered all the ornaments had fallen off during the year. How had that happened when no one had touched it? My life is filled with mystery.

Then, while searching for a jacket I hadn’t worn since last winter, I found the other tree stuck in the corner, behind the one long coat I own. I suppose next I will be plundering in a closet and will find the long-lost motor to the tree I threw away.

So now I have one tree in the den and and the other in the living room.  And best of all, l don’t have to buy one this year.

I still miss the big tree, though. Maybe next year…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What rules do you follow?

Here are four things writers should do:

  • Read outside your genre
  • Study your craft
  • Write every day
  • Set goals

There are many more you can add, but these are what popped into my head. Do I do them?

Surely, you jest (makes frowny face).

But I do read every day, and I enjoy many different genres: historical, biography, science fiction, fantasy (no, they are not the same), thrillers , and mystery.  I read books from the library and books on my Kindle app. I read magazines and newspapers and cereal boxes and directions on detergent bottles. I am one of those people who panic when there isn’t a book in the house I haven’t read and the library is closed.

I subscribe to Writer’s Digest and study the articles, even if they don’t apply to me. Last weekend, I attended a workshop on writing narrative poetry with former NC Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti. I don’t intend to write a narrative poem, but there was so much more I learned that I can use.

Do I write every day? I know this is the rule that sets professionals apart from wannabes, but truthfully, it just isn’t possible. Life gets in the way. This week, I had meetings six of seven days. But I did manage to write most of those days. I believe setting up a goal to write every single day without fail is  setting yourself up to fail. Sometimes we need a breather.

Conversely, writing every day is like going to church. You miss one Sunday, then another, and pretty soon you aren’t going at all.

You see where I am heading with this.

Goals are good, though. I made my goal of writing 30 pages before our next writers’ club meeting. Then, since we don’t meet in December, I vowed I would finish my first draft before the January 26 meeting.

I think I will make it. I am near enough the end that I am eager to get it all put together. Today I wrote a crucial scene. It needs tweaking, but the bones are there.

I also did something I have never done before. I am a straight-line writer. I start at point A and end at point Z. But the ending of the story was so strong in my head that I went bravely forward and wrote it down before the impetus and excitement faded. Yes, excitement. I feel exhilarated when I can literally feel the story come alive.

So I guess thing number five would be, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.

Happy Thanksgiving all, and don’t forget to skip that second helping of candied yams to leave room for the pumpkin pie.

 

 

 

 

 

No NaNoWriMo — this year

So it is here: National Novel Writing Month. And for the upteenth time in as many years, I am not joining in.

I have the same, well-worn excuse: I am already in the middle of writing a novel and refuse to drop it to start another, no matter how tempting the challenge. Maybe some year I will be in between novels and will welcome the chance to jump-start a new one. But not this year.

Still, writers often need such a challenge to keep them on course. I admit I have been goofing off this past week. The weather has been too beautiful to ignore, and it is pruning season.

Image result for drawing a name from a hat

At our writers’ club, we also have a little challenge going on. Nothing as ambitious as churning out an entire novel in a month. We set a monthly goal and at the next meeting are forced to admit, not unlike Weight Watchers, if we have met our goal or not. It could be completing a poem you have worked on for weeks (or years), a page count on that ongoing short story, bravely submitting a piece to a magazine or contest, or whatever.

Winners occasionally net the lump sum of $7 or $8, because we only put a quarter in the pot. But as you have surmised, it isn’t the monetary goal that is — well, the goal — but the satisfaction of knowing you accomplished something you set out to do.

That, and the applause and congratulations from fellow members.

So at the last meeting I set a goal to move on with my manuscript. I tried to pick a number of pages that would be doable, but not too easy. It’s not a challenge if you set a goal you know you can reach without much effort. On the other hand, setting a goal too high results in burnout and giving up, with the subsequent feelings of failure and inadequacy.

Achieving my goal doesn’t mean I will win. My name will be put in a pot along with all the other members, whether they reached their goal or not, and someone will draw out a slip of paper and read a name. If that person didn’t make their goal, or is absent, the pot is moved on to another month, with the addition of several more quarters. Exciting times! We may never get to Las Vegas, but we do know how to gamble … on ourselves.

I guess we could call our challenge JuWriMoMo.*

So I need to get busy, ignore the enticing outdoors or the dusty furniture or the laundry piled up and start writing.

*Just Write More Month

 

 

 

A Little Side Trip

Me at Churchill Downs

Like the rest of you, I can’t believe summer is flying by so quickly. I had so many plans!

Three weeks ago, my sister came down from Pennsylvania for a visit. Sister time is so special, and we made the most of it, including a “side trip” to Kentucky.

We both had complete sets of china that needed a new home, so we  asked our grown children if they wanted the dishes before taking them to a thrift store or trying to sell them  on eBay. Nancy had Mom’s good company china, and I had my kids’ great-grandma’s set. (My ex-husband’s grandmother, not mine.) One of my sons asked for both sets. He and his wife run an air B&B in California, so they would be used and not stuck in a closet. None of our other offspring showed any interest, so he got them.

So, how do we get all those dishes to California from Pennsylvania and North Carolina?

Nancy brought hers with her, and we loaded her boxes and mine into the trunk of my car and set out for Louisville, where my ex-sister-in-law lives.  We often joke that I divorced her brother, but not her, and we have remained good friends. Meanwhile, my son flew into Louisville to meet us. Obviously, he  could not fly back with various-sized boxes of two sets of antique china, but his plan was to take them to his mother-in-law’s house until she and her husband drove to California some time this fall.

A round-about answer to the problem …

We had a lovely time in Kentucky, including a tour of downtown Louisville and Churchill Downs. I was amazed at the display of Derby hats, including one worn by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

We also toured a couple wineries. I tried Java Vino, a coffee-flavored wine. It was so good I bought a bottle. I may wish I had bought more.

Meanwhile, I plan to fly to California some time this fall. I have never been, so I am excited. It will be a way to celebrate the release of my latest historical novel, “Morven.”

 

 

 

A little push called a deadline

I know I slipped up last week by missing my post. This is what happened.

I was at the arts council returning the books I had “borrowed” to take to a meet-and-greet in another county. Yes, our local arts council sells my books in their gallery along with paintings, jewelry, baskets, pottery and other works by local artists. Well, the meet-and-greet was a bust in that no one came, which was a big disappointment to the organizers.

So the director at our gallery said, “We really need to have a book signing for you.”

I told her the arts council had hosted a signing for my first book, “Angels Unaware” when it came out and I’d love to do it again.

”Have you got a new book?”

”Yes,” I said, fingers crossed behind my back.

Prior to this, I had been asked to do a reading as a program for a women’s club, and I had agreed. I could read from my work in progress, that was fine. But at a book signing, I’d have to have real, actual books in hand to sign.

So, I have been busy trying to get the manuscript in publishable form. After cutting scenes and characters, I needed to make certain stray names or references to the cut material didn’t surface. I also had to create the cover, and that wasn’t easy. I’ve done it before, but this time I couldn’t get everything aligned in the template, creating many frustrating attempts before it looked right.

(Before you wonder why I didn’t hire a professional, let me say I have a BFA and feel competent to do this.)

I have ordered a proof copy and if I remember correctly from”Riverbend,” I will no doubt find errors on every page. Things look different in print than on a computer screen.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. There is nothing like  a deadline to get you moving on a stalled project

 

Backyard bullies

We all know what little bullies hummingbirds are. When I sit on the deck evenings, it is like the Royal Air Force meeting the Luftwaffe over the channel in WWII. I have even heard them body-slamming each other.

I didn’t know that wrens were also bullies. Yes, the wren couple is back, building another nest for a second family. I didn’t know that about wrens, either.

Father wren sits on the deck and warns every other bird away. I have a finch feeder and a suet feeder on the deck along with the bird house and humming bird feeders. I tried putting the feeders elsewhere, but the squirrels always found them. So far they are afraid to come on the deck.

Now the male wren in defending his territory has managed to frighten off the finches as well as the cardinals, mockingbirds, and woodpeckers that used to come to eat. He has not frightened the hummingbirds away. They just ignore him.

One last evidence of bullying: While watching the bird feeders in the yard (squirrel-proof) I saw a male cardinal take a sunflower seed from the beak of a sparrow! This was not a father feeding his young, this cardinal was definitely the boldest thief I’ve ever seen.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with writing. Nothing. It’s what I do when not writing.

I took this picture in the Tower of London.

As for not writing, I’ve been busy with that also. I decided to go ahead and publish the second book, Morven, in the series so that I can then finish the third one. Because it will be part of a trilogy, I needed to make the word count somewhat equal  in all three books. Riverbend, published last year, is 245 pages and 73,256 words (don’t you love the word count feature in Word?)

Morven came in at a hefty 355 pages and 103,680 words. No wonder no agent would touch it. Unless you are already established like Ken Follett or Edward Rutherford, you can’t get away with it.

I told a friend about my dilemma and she said she thought Riverbend was just the right length. Sigh. I love big, fat books with long, intricate stories, but I realize I am part of a limited fan club. If I want to sell my books, they had better be a reasonable length for today’s readers.

So I have been cutting. Long, descriptive scenes? Gone. Philosophical conversation? Deleted. Loving details of a room, a gown, a dinner? Off with their heads!

When someone said “Kill your darlings” I didn’t know what he meant. Now I do. Pardon me while I weep.

I am down down to 328 pages and 95,000 words. I still have a way to go.

The result may be a tighter, more easily read book. Readers will never know what they missed.

But I will.

 

Travelin’ shoes

You’d think after the trip to England and Scotland I took  last April, I’d put up my suitcase for awhile. But no, I went to Wilmington NC to see my granddaughter graduate  from community college. Then I drove to Pennsylvania for a week to see my sister. After one day at home to mow the front yard and wash some clothes, I headed out for Decatur, GA, to see my youngest grandson graduate from high school. Proud to say he made honor roll all four years and is now headed for Georgia Tech.

Going away for a weekend is one thing, but a week or more is another. Luckily I have friends willing to check on the cats to make sure they have food and water, (and clean the litter boxes) while I am gone. And, with this heat wave and no rain, to water the shrubs and flowers I have added to the front yard.

I have one more trip planned for this summer to Louisville KY and maybe a jaunt to the beach. My motto is: Go while you have the chance and the stamina!

And need I mention the friends who make it possible? Of course I return the favor or show my appreciation in some way. We support each other.

That’s why I like to write books about women and their circle of friends. “Angels

For the past three years I have planted the Easter lily I got from church … look how they have multiplied!

Unaware” and “The Lunch Club” are my favorites in this genre. My work in progress is also about friends…the ones you don’t recognize until almost too late.

So in between travels and visits, I am slowly getting the pages written. It’s another way to travel, back in time and entering a world long gone, meeting people who become real to me as I learn their hopes and dreams and share their disappointments.

Whether you travel in “real time” or through the pages of a book you re reading (or writing), I wish you a happy journey.

 

 

Home again, tired and happy

I was off social media during my trip last week. First, I carried only my phone, and that just to take pictures. Second, while in London I could not access my mail, Facebook, or Instagram. The clerk at the hotel said, when I complained that I could not get on their WiFi, that I needed a new SIMS card. So I went to an electronic store and a very nice young man inserted a new card and then told me I would have a new phone number and lose all my contacts. I said, “No, thank you,” and he put back my old card, no charge. Did I say he was nice?

Then in York, my phone “woke up” with a chirp the minute we entered the hotel. Instant access to their WiFi! I post some pictures and wrote a couple of emails to assure my family I was fine and having a good time.

Understatement — I was having a wonderful time, a fantastic time, a superlative time. Our guide was as informed as he was unflappable. No matter the emergency, he coped with humor and grace. Thank you, Stefan!

I saw so many historical buildings and cathedrals that my head is still spinning. I can’t

When asked what the E R stood for, the guide replied, “Elderly and Rude.”

tell  you the highlights as they were all highlights: St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, York Minster … The replica of the Globe Theater (built by American Sam Wanamaker when he discovered there was no site in London honoring Shakespeare) … the London Eye. And yes, I did ride it, fear of heights and all. The views were awe-inspiring.

The Tower with all its bloody history (I did not go down into the dungeon. It was, frankly, intimidating) … Christ Church in Oxford and Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-Upon-Avon with friendly and knowledgeable guides … the play that night: “The Taming of the Shrew.” The roles were reversed with women playing the men’s parts and vice versa. Our hotel dated back to 1637! Creaky floors and winding corridors. No ghosts, though, I’m happy to report.

Edinburgh was everything I had expected. Our hotel was smack in the middle of the Royal Mile. I could have spent hours at the castle, but there was shopping to do! And yes, I did try the haggis. I sorta-kinda-liked it, but some of my traveling companions wouldn’t even try it.

Now I face the daunting task of sorting through my  pictures and trying to remember what everything was. It helps to have the itinerary at hand and check the date stamp on the phone camera to know which stained-glass window belongs to which cathedral!

I meant to write last week, but pulled into my driveway at 9:30 p.m. completely worn out. It took me two days to get back to speed. Jet lag is a real  thing, folks!

And I must also get back to my work in progress. I have missed my characters and I think, judging by the nagging in my head, that they missed me, too.

 

 

 

 

Four and counting

While other people are decorating the halls, I am on my knees cleaning up cat barf under the desk. Oh, and some got on the AC vent, too. They never barf where it is convenient to clean up.

Sadistic monsters.

We have added to our household. My neighbor passed away and her cat showed up on my deck looking for a handout. She’s a sweet little black cat with white paws and bib. I think she must be under a year old, but unfortunately, she is also very pregnant.

I couldn’t just ignore her when she pressed her little face to the deck door and meowed pitifully. When the weather was nice, I fed her outside as my inside cats watched. They got used to each other that way, so when it got cold and I let her in, they weren’t too upset.

Except Spooky, who gets  upset at anything new. She used to be an only cat and she never adjusted to the sudden appearance of Jack, and then Frenchy. Spooky spends her life looking for a place to hide.

Jack is okay with Poppy (the new cat) but just so far. She can come into the kitchen and breakfast room, but the living room is out of bounds. If she goes there, he lets her know right quick she isn’t allowed. He’s bossy that way.

Poppy doesn’t mind. The toys are all in the breakfast room and she has been having the time of her life dragging them out of the basket and playing. She even plays with the mouse in a ball toy my cats are terrified of.

As for Frenchy, she gets along with everybody.

Spooky spends most of her time in self-imposed exile in her cube.

The problem with the pregnancy is that she looks as if she is about to pop out those kittens any minute now. And I am going to be gone for a week over the holidays. My cat sitter is great, but I can’t ask her to watch over new-born kittens. Also, I don’t trust my cats with them. Jack is very territorial (see above) and he may consider them invaders.

So we are off to the shelter next week where she will stay until the kittens are born and weaned. I will see her every Wednesday when I volunteer.

If someone wants to adopt her, I’m okay with that. If not, when she’s ready I will bring her home with a detour to the vet to be spayed.

I wish my neighbor had done it sooner, but … she didn’t.

I wish everyone would SPAY and NEUTER their pets. It isn’t cruel. They don’t really need to have a first litter before being de-sexed. They could care less. And, it’s hard to find homes for kittens and puppies, especially after they leave the “cute” stage, which is rather quick. Thank goodness for rescue organizations, but they can’t  take them all.

Sorry, I get on a soapbox sometimes. But as I said, I volunteer at the shelter, and it breaks my heart. The kittens find homes quickly, but the older cats wait and wait for a forever home.

So–we’ll see what happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Tis the season

About now many of us are saying “Bah, humbug” to Christmas.

I don’t mean the spiritual Christmas, which leaves us with  feeling of awe, grateful hearts, and inner peace. That Christmas is still two weeks and two days away.

I mean the days leading up to what Christians believe is one of the holiest days of the year. If you are reading this and are of another faith, please don’t be offended. I’m sure you are as aware of the Christmas frenzy as the rest of us. Unless you never shop. Or turn on the radio or television. Or drive down a street decorated with floating angels and trumpets.

I live in a small town with few retail stores. Not wanting to buy my gifts at the Big Box Store, I resorted to on-line ordering. And yes, I feel secure shopping this way. You can have your credit information stolen just as easily at the check-out counter of a “bricks and mortar” store. I did this early, comfortable in the belief that my gifts would arrive well on time.

Except one order was cancelled. I didn’t panic. Still plenty of time. So I ordered a similar gift.

That order was cancelled as well. Out of stock, just like the first one. I like to think that at least I have good taste.

But now my time-frame has narrowed and I am starting to panic.

And then there is the baking. I used to bake several kinds of cookies and candy. Not as many as my mother used to make. She started after Thanksgiving and baked up until Christmas Eve. The smell of molasses and cinnamon still bring back memories of coming home from school and being greeted with freshly -baked ginger or sugar cookies.

But I try. Alas, for the past few years, most of my efforts have gone awry. Most are stupid mistakes, or not reading the recipe carefully. I dread getting out the tattered recipe book that had served me so well when the boys were young and still lived at home. I secretly believe that my failures in recent years have conditioned me to expect future ones, and so I sabotage myself. But that’s a problem for my analyst. (Joke: I don’t have one.)

I haven’t decorated my house for three years. I didn’t have time or spirit when Jim was in the hospital. Since then, Christmas has been an unkind memory of his death. I visit one of my kids instead and admire their decorations and try not to show how sad I feel.

This year, though, I knew it was time to put aside grieving. I bought a small tree and adorned it with lights and colored balls. And straw angels. I dug out a lighted snowman that was my Mom’s and had been stuck away in a closet for far too long. I bought a poinsettia and put it on the coffee table. I put candles in all the windows.

I think Jim would be pleased.

So we embrace the season in all its variations: stress, good memories, sad memories, anticipation, panic, hope, and wonder.

Because it comes whether we have decorated, baked, and shopped–or not.

 

 

 

Hideous Art and the Horrible Person

IMG_2254This year, I have found great peace and stress relief in sketching. From my first drawings when I was a toddler (crayons on the wall do count!) through high school and art school. Even the painting classes I taught the officer’s wives in the evenings in the Marines, one lesson I’ve always tried to impart is the healing nature of art. I have spent a few years lately not creating art but instead writing. Only to learn, I need both. In our current kick in the gut political climate, sketching has been very effective in lowering my blood pressure and calming my soul. More

Searching for truth and other fallacies

I signed up for a workshop on writing the memoir. I hope it gives me the impetus to put together the little snippets I’ve written into some kind of order.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years, although I’m not sure anyone would want to read it — perhaps my grandkids on some distant day — but there are other reasons to look back and reflect.

For one, there is a need to sort out vague impressions and put them in some sort of perspective. What was important as a child might seem meaningless now.

My Dad, left, and my Uncle Herb. My dad was always a fancy dresser.

The opposite is also true. What seemed unimportant to a childish mind that can’t see beyond nuances looms greatly when you realizes its impact on your life years in the future.

How much of what we remember is absolute fact and how much is distorted? What did we really experience and how much is memory implanted later on and made a part of our own story?

When we had family get-togethers over the holidays, we kids were dismissed after the meal and the grown-ups sat around the table, talking, laughing, remembering. Of course we listened, soaking in the stories. We never dared interrupt to ask about a detail the adults shared with knowing smiles or grimaces, but never put into words. The stories were absorbed in our consciousness to become part of our memories, never experienced in actuality but so real that they merged seamlessly into the tapestry of our lives.

With the passage of time, our memories begin to fade or sharpen. Some details stand out, others are forgotten like the photographs I put away for safekeeping, never to be seen again no matter how long or hard I search. I recall one of my grandmother, dressed up  in a man’s suit and hat and acting the fool. I couldn’t believe that sour, bitter woman ever laughed, but here was proof that she was once young and carefree. Does knowing this alter my memory of her? Of course it does. In this instance, she becomes someone I wish I had known. It changes my perspective. I wonder what happened to change her so drastically, and I begin to sift through things I saw and heard over the years that now make sense.

Other events that I either never questioned or gave up asking about have come to light in the past year or two. I say, “I remember…” and my older sister replies, “No, here’s how it was…” We are talking about the same event, but seeing it through different lenses.

Some things she shared are things I wish I hadn’t known. They alter beliefs I have held to all my life, but also make clear what I didn’t understand. They are sad, heartbreaking, and yet explain so so much. In a sense, after eight decades I have finally lost my innocence.

If I write a memoir, do I write only of what I knew for certain at that time in  my life, or do I write from an older and wiser view, seeing now what I didn’t see then? And does it matter?

I suppose it does. To me.

 

 

 

 

Left, Left, Left, Wri, Left, Left, Wri, Mo…

As a Marine, I learned at 18, that I could do anything –amazing things, accomplish a million things in one day –because a really scary Drill Sergeant was behind me screaming. For a long time, I tried to find that same motivation within myself as a civilian –until my BFF and Marine Corps roommate of 3 years pointed out that my motivation had been external –I needed to find my own inner motivation to kept me going after bootcamp.

In the military, cadence in sung by the platoon or drill sergeant to keep a uniform pace to keep everyone in line and motivated. Usually, it’s “left, your left, your left, right, left…” Like a meditation chant, it focuses your mind. There are no wandering thoughts. Even now when I am somewhere I don’t want to be, like a funeral, heading into the dentist or doctor. The voice in my head is quietly saying “left, left, your left, right left…”

Left, ei-doe left, ei-doe left, ei-doe left
I don’t know but I’ve been told
Marine Corps Women are mighty bold!

Writing is a discipline, I work better if I am in the mindset and writing at a certain level for a particular reason. For a rough draft, I do best writing at least four hours a day, which can be anywhere from 1,500 – 3,000 words. For editing, I would guess I remove a thousand words a day but that would be a guess; it’s better to look at pages or chapters.

Writing is only one of my disciplines, art is another. Art is also a place where I can quiet my mind. During times of extreme stress, I can lose myself in a rough draft by literally traveling to that place I am creating but editing gives me no place to hide. But art can build walls and a moat around me, I can easily become engulfed in the present.

The one constant is persistence, to keep going, to trust myself. If that goofy 18 year old from New Hampshire could run 5 miles in the South Carolina swamp heat and humidity of Parris Island in August -this old lady can sit at a computer or at a painting and create, regardless of the rumbling volcano down the road.

This is how NaNoWriMo helps me. In the beginning over ten years ago, NanoWritMo stressed me out, I’d be frantic to get my word count done. It’s not an easy choice of months for women –we are usually stressed out about the holidays so NaNoWriMo can either be an added stress or and escape-stressor. If you are one of the ones who has to plan a meal for in-laws or organize the travel to a place where you’re inserting your family and pets into someone else’s world -NaNo can be extreme.

The first year, I didn’t make the 50K word goal, I was devastated. But now, I just shrug it off. Whatever I managed to write during November is most likely words I would have never written otherwise. The best lessons NanoWriMo can impart to you is inner knowledge of who you are and how you work –and even better –what doesn’t work.

The other valuable lesson the Marine Corps taught me was to persevere in a place where I had a right to be, needed to be, doing what I do when I wasn’t wanted or welcome. The Marines invest so much energy in their big, bad, tough image -the presence of women is conceptually difficult. Originally, women took a man’s job stateside or in administration to allow a man to fight -a placeholder until he gets back during peace. And recent news stories of women in the Corps have shown little has changed. Even now, each Woman Marine has to work twice as hard to be twice as good to be considered the equal of a man. I can’t think of anything that better prepared me for life than that unpleasant fact. But, I accomplished a lot in that mindset. At least with NaNoWriMo, it’s 100% my choice how much I do or don’t accomplish and there is no failure -each word is an accomplishment.

Fool me Once, Shame on You –Fool me Twice, sigh…

IMG_2161.JPG

Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.

I should get this wisdom tattooed on my forehead!

Several weeks ago, I received a free pen in the mail and it was nice. It felt good in my hand and surprise, surprise, it had my business name embossed on the side. I am such a fool for these kinds of marketing ploys. I’d probably buy the Brooklyn Bridge if someone put my name on it as graffiti. At conventions, you’ll find me scooping up swag -like I’ve never even used a bookmark (I am a dog-ear sinner) and really, I already have 1,984,201 pens in drawers, free mugs and buttons linger on the sides of purses. Yet, I never learn.

Like a lemming, I follow the link and personalize a pen – not sure to whom I’ll give one, but it was early in the morning and I was not caffeinated yet.

I order the minimum and immediately a pop up, pops up saying ‘Hey! –get twenty more for virtually nothing!’ I click okay, feeling like I made a great deal on something I don’t need or want. As soon as I hit order, I expect to fill out the payment info but no… the order went through automatically and a notice that they’ll invoice later –and then I see the total… 35 pens for over $70 -they added set up and shipping (could have sworn I saw free shipping & set up somewhere on the site) – Over the next few days, I remember falling for the same scam twenty years ago. I briefly get distracted wondering where those SpiralXdesign, Inc pens are now? I know I hid them from my business partner (now husband).

Well, I admit I have no one to blame but myself and go online to pay the bill. But, no -not so fast, I need my customer number, which is on receipt included with the pens. After hours of sorting through papers I find it and go online -only to find online payment fees bringing the total closer to $100!! So, I spend another hour searching for the paper invoice, that came in the mail a few days earlier.

I write my check for the invoice amount and pop it into the mail.

I feel stupid, humiliated and irritated. I also wonder where I can hide the pens from husband who seems to think I have an impulse control problem.

Then, a few days ago, they call demanding payment. I tell them I mailed the check since I’d only just received it. As a prelude to selling me something else, the guy tells me it takes 3-4 weeks for a check to arrive. He then asks for the check number and I lose it, not the check number but my patience. I refuse to go look for the check number, the pens were a rip off, I am furious that I even fell for their scam -again. I seem to remember a Tennessee address on the envelope -so, if he thinks it takes 3-4 weeks for mail to get from western North Carolina to Tennessee -he’s a fracking moron! (But we all know who the real fracking moron is, right?) Then, as he started to apologize for my unhappiness with their product, I hung up.

Normally, I’d feel bad but honestly? I feel fine. And by fine, I mean… -read Louise Penny for that answer.

IMG_2159.JPGI cynically realize that in twenty years, I’ll be really old and I just hope and pray I don’t order stupid pens again! They probably won’t be using pens in the future but I bet this company will still selling them.

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