Saturday, September 29, 2012

Facebook makes me angry and ashamed today

One of my morning habits is to read Facebook and catch up on friends, gossip, inuendo, and occasionally, some solid opinions. This morning two things disturbed me. The first was the obvious international interest in exposing (literally!) the British Royal family. I'm not condoning Prince Harry's wild escapade in Vegas, and I don't want to know if my sons were guilty of such in their salad days. And, yes, he is a Royal, so he should be held to a higher standard--sorry, Harry, but that's the way the world goes. Privilege hath its drawbacks. But did we have to see those pictures plastered all over? And what kind of journalism is it to print them? Granted You-Tube isn't journalism--it's too often just prurient. I think the Royal Family did a good job of holding their heads high and trying their best to ignore it.
Then came pictures of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, topless. Okay, topless is pretty benign these days, but cheers to the French for banning reproduction of the photos and a big raspberry to the Irish press that printed them. And three cheers for Kate who went on with the world tour and showed great grace. Now comes bottomless pictures of the Duchess, and all  I can wonder is how low we've sunk. Generational difference: just as I don't want to know if my sons pranked about like Harry, I doubt I would ever change bottoms outside a bedroom or bathroom, even if I thought I was on quite private land. And especially if I were a highly public figure. But Kate thought she had privacy, and the papparazzi invaded that.
My strong view: let's leave the Royals alone and show them respect. I'm not a fan of the principle of monarchy, but I love the British Royals and all they represent, and I don't think I'm alone.
And then, believe it or not, I think Ann Romney deserves a little respect. To me, she comes off as whiney, privileged, and self-centered every time she opens her mouth, and her husband would do well to say, "Stifle!" to her. But now she's said she'd be concerned about her husband's mental health, and liberal folks are all over making mockery of that. Hey, it's a legitimate concern for someone about the person they love. The liberal reaction is like looking for the tiniest mistake. Yes, laugh at her when she says, "This is hard"--sorry you had to eat tuna fish and live in a basment apartment, Ann, but I slept in a converted chicken coop and ate tuna fish and loved it. I don't think it's fair, though, to look for fault with every single word the woman utters. She's concerned about her man. So was Hillary. Leave it alone.
I think we go too far a lot of the time.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Michael Jacson afternoon

I am weary tonight. Yesterday I got up with my piddling shoe on--I wanted to read, fiddle on the internet, run errands, do anything but work. Today I got up with my work shoe on, determined to get lots done. It didn't quite work out that way. I spent a large chunk of the afternoon watching Michael Jackson clips on my computer
It goes back to this morning when Jacob arrived in the driveway and proudly showed me the small journal his mommy had left for him while she's out of town. He was so proud and so excited, and he gave it to me with strict instructions to take good care of it. Thinking that the coffee table is where he drops his backpack in the afternoon, I put the book there. Forgot to take Sophie into that equation.
Right. She chewed it badly and ate the sparkly pencil that went with it. I worried all day about how to tell him, knowing he'd be heartbroken. I was ready to run him to Barnes and Noble to pick out a new one.
When I told him I had bad news and mentioned the journal, he said simply, "Sophie." And I confirmed. We had tears, we had anger, we had a deep pout. No, he did not want another one--his mommy got that one from the treasure chest (not sure if that is at home or at school) and wrote a note about how much she loved him. Sophie was never ever getting a treat again. I tried to explain that Sophie by this time had no idea what she'd done, and he was not to kick, scold, any of those things. I told him I was so sorry, it was largely my fault, and I'd do anything I could to make him happier. Eyes lit up. "Anything?" "Well, within reason." "Will you pull up Michael Jackson on your computer?" So began my marathon session of watching hip-hop or whatever it is.
He finally agreed to break for homework, ice cream and sparkling cider, and TV. Then his Aunt Betty and I took him for Mexican food, and he seemed to enjoy the evening. But once home, he wouldn't be parted from his pillow and his animals, and whenever he saw Sophie he said, "You're mean."
Before he went to bed he got the mangled book and had me spell so he could write, "Sophie is mean." Wonder how long it will take him to get over this? Meantime I haven't gotten a lick of work done today except the two hours between yoga and the retirees lunch.
Tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This dog is not a poodle

Let me be very clear about this: I have nothing against poodles, but Sophie is not a poodle. She's a cross between a border collie and a miniature poodle. Her black coat, lightly tipped with silver, is rough but not as curly as a boodle. It is the typical doodle non-shed coat, and I keep it trimmed at about a half inch, longer on the face, tail, and ears.
But tonight she looks like a poodle again, and I'm frustrating. I've spoken to the groomers, and today I took them specific instructions: hair on the head to be twice as long as the coat and not shorter any place. They shaved part of her face, leaving her that shelf across the top of her head. I know, I know, it will grow out, but I'm frustrated. I've used the same grooming parlor for years and will now be making a change. In the interest of making easy for me, I'll use the groomers who come to your house. (Sophie gets so enthusiastic and excited on trips that I'm truly afraid of being draged to the ground--or losing control on a busy street.
At home, with me, Sophie is playful but calm. She spends a lot of time sleeping at my feet, as she is now--tuckered by her day away. She knows sit, stay, drop it, leave it. She ignores "Come" when she's outside until I close the door and walk away, which causes her to bolt for the door. She is also bad about jumping when she wants attention. But hey, she's just a teenager--sixteen months.
But she is not a poodle.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A reviewer and my bruised ego

An online reviewer, who shall remain anonymous, wrote a good  review of Skeleton in a Dead Space, a medium one of No Neighborhood for Old Women, and what amounts to a plot summary of Trouble in a Big Box. But he took the time and had the graciousness to explain to me that yes, I had racheted up the suspense in the third book as I promised him, but he still found that Kelly was drawn into crime-solving rather than being an active participant. He politely said my series was just not for him One of the first lesson an author learns on publication is that you never protest a review, so I wrote a short note thanking him for his honesty and his efforts on my behalf and promising not to send him any more books. But yes, my ego was a bit bruised.
And what he said went against everything I heard from the book group last week and have heard continuously from readers--they like Kelly as a person, they like knowing about her personal life and they admire her compassion. They also like envisioning all the characters and their relationship to each other--some said they could see them in their mind's eye. So do I listen to a reviewer or readers?
Of course, as I've mentioned often here before, when I need advice on writing I turn to Fred Erisman--he shepherded me through a Ph.D. in Western American Literature some forty years ago and has remained my friend and advisor ever since. He reads almost everything I write, and he's read all or part of each of my three mysteries. His take on this dilemma was reassuring and echoed what I hoped was true  He pointed out that of course Kelly is drawn into crime-solving--that's the point of any cozy mystery. The heroine/protagonist is an amateur, not a professional detective. She is going her merry way about her life, when she is drawn into solving a crime. And, he wrote, the qualities that make her interesting are the ones that compel her to poke about in a mystery--curiosity, compassion, outrage. The picture I present of her personal life helps the reader understand her in that context--a reader has to know the character to grasp the larger issues of the novel.
The reviewer was not allowing me the general characteristics of the genre in which I am writing.
Fred's parting advice? Pout a bit and then go on about your business. He, by the way, is not a fan of cozies but he accepts the genre for what it is, rather than looking for thriller touches where they would be inappropriate.
How about you? Do you read cozies with just enough mystery in them? Do you listen to other readers or to reviewers?

Monday, September 24, 2012

My surreal day

What an odd day. Mondays are always long and hard for me, because I rarely have anything on my calendar--just a desk full of work. So I stay home, alone except for Sophie, with my face in the computer screen. I'm a person who thrives on other people, so much as I love working I like the break of lunch or dinner with a friend, even errands.
This morning I dallied--email, Facebook, a couple of blogs, anything to put off working. Then I did my yoga routine, made the bed, tidied the kitchen (which doesn't get messy with one person eating cottage cheese--one small dish, one coffee cup) and marched into the office. Don't get me wrong--I get wrapped up in what I'm writing and carried away with it and time passes, in spite of the late-morning grumbling of my stomach which would prefer lunch at, say, ten-thirty. At eleven-thirty I fixed my lunch, did some household stuff, and went back to the desk.
It wasn't as though I was without human companionship all day. By three I had Jacob in hand, and at his insistence we reworked two puzzles we'd already done. He is good with spatial relationships--whizzes through his math homework, and that trait shows in working the puzzles. Granted, we'd already done both of them, but he was off on his own, putting things together. I'm afraid he still doesn't get the straight edge concept--he prefers to work by picture, choosing today to begin with the zebra in the jungle scene. He also doesn't quite understand about looking to see if not only pieces but the picture fits. But he put a lot together and was delighted with himself, crowing, "I am so good!"
As he was leaving with his dad for a baseball game, Elizabeth came in for supper. I'd experimented and made her a gluten-free meat loaf, substituting potato flakes (long in the cupboard, purchased for one recipe, and then left for me to wonder what to do with them) for bread crumbs, threw in an egg plus some tapioca to bind it (a trick my mom taught me) and seasoned it with red wine and thyme. We agreed it was pretty darn good. A bit salty.
But al the time I was doing all this I had the subconsciious feeling that I was dealing with my long day alone--and that's what made my day surreal. It was like there were two of me--one functioning on one level and another struggling to function on a different level.
Sophie however continues to be a joy and a source of amusement, though today I had a fright. I know full well she will bolt out the front door if she gets a chance, and I'm paranoid about someone opening the door when she has the run of the house. Today, after lunch, I brought her in, put the leash on her so I could catch her for our nap, and headed back to my office. Saw the postal carrier coming up the walk and threw open the door in a neighborly gesture forgetting all about the dog--Sophie darted between my legs but fortunately she didn't want to go any farther than to greet the woman, and I was able to step on her leash. The lady was nice about it, even the jumping, and we had a chat about Bordoodles.
Sophie's newest trick: when I open the back door and ask if she wants to come in, she simply stares at me. So I say, "Okay, bye," and close the door--and she bolts for it. At sixteen months, she's still ornery, msichievous puppy.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A day at the lake

Today, with my manuscript crying out to be revised, I went off to spend several hours with friends Pat and Hal Normand at their Lake Worth house. I'm ashamed to say it's been over three  years since they tore down the cabin they'd had there and built a new house. Pat tells me it's built on a plan from Coastal Magazine, and though she described it as modified Craftsman, I'd describe it as modified Cape Cod, maybe because of the partial shingles of the outside and the narrow, tall construction.. Either way, it's lovely but unpretentious. Inside the main living area is all one open space--kitchen, living room, dining to the side, screened-in-porch off the living room, all with a direct and uncluttered view of the lake. To the side, out the dining room windows is a view of a small cove, and behind the house is undeveloped wild land. They have deer and other wild animals--in fact a deer jumped the fence and landed in their yard recently.
Hal tells me he loves to sit and watch the lake because something is always happening. I couldn't see that, but I have always loved a view of water since my childhood days spent at the Indiana Dunes, and I confess to a bit of jealousy. There is one room downstairs, just off the front door, that is used for an office but could be a third bedroom; upstairs there's a spacious landing that Pat has filled with her mom's Victorian furniture and two bedrooms. The master has that magnificent view of the lake again with a small porch which they never use because they love the screened-in-porch (especially important in these summer of West Nile virius). The guest room upstairs looks out on the woods, which once again reminds me of the Dunes where we had water in front and woods in back. A special place: what they call the atrium, a courtyard between the house and the garage that has a table and chairs and is absolutely overflowing with plants. Hal paved it with flagstones himself, one by one. It's spectacular. I want to transport this house--and the lake--to my beloved inner city neighborhood. I guess you can't have everything, but in a big way I envy them. On the other hand, I'm glad they're so happy there. I wish of course that I'd taken pictures, but I didn't--kept thinking about it.
After a big brunch of flat enchiladas and a good catch-up visit, I came home to work on my manuscript and made good progress. Then I had a long, great nap, and got up and cooked vegetables--a cauliflower salad (actually it was broccoflower but I couldn't taste broccoli), beets and greens, and an ear of corn that needed to be used. Elizabeth and I feasted on that and the roast chicken she had brought, though she won't eat my beets! Drat!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Reason #67 that I haven't written the Great American Mystery

I had lunch today with my beta reader, mentor, whatever you want to call him--the wonderful man who reads and critiques everything I write. I'd gotten his comments earlier by email--too many balls in the air was the basic one--but I wanted to talk to him and get the manuscript back. Besides we always have fun at lunch and the talk ranges widely about his projects, mine, and other unrelated subjects--even politics on which we agree. I came home from lunch determined to start revisions right way, but by the time I dealt with emails and some other business details, I just had time for a much-needed nap before I got Jacob.
Then I realized I had to get the neighborhood newsletter to the designer, so there went the one last calm hour of the day. Jacob watched TV and I worked on the newsletter and sent it. After that, chaos reigned--but a wonderful kind of chaos.
Jordan arrived and then my former neighbor, Meredith, with four-year-old Abby and Grayson, who is not quite two. Jordan had planned and prepared elaborate snacks for the kids, some of which they ate. She put out popcorn which they ate by the handfuls, and I put out some small oatmeal cookies that fascinated Grayson. He wanted to carry more and more in his hands. It's amazing how quickly you forget how much watching a two-year-old requires. Grayson is adorable but typically boy-busy. The girls and I tried to visit but spent a lot of time kid-monitoring, although Jacob is good about watching the younger children, and he did, at Meredith's request, do his Michael Jackson routine. This was a long overdue visit, and we all enjoyed it. As they left, Meredith met Sue, who had lived in the house next door before her and was now coming for a happy hour visit. When Christian heard that Sue ws here, he said, "Pour me a glass of wine. I'll be right there." So the four of us sat in the living room (mosquitos really bother Sue on the porch) and had a high old time, full of laughter (maybe the wine helped). Sue left, but Jordan and Jacob had to play with Sophie, and they were so cute we all had to take pictures It was seven before they all left and almost seven-thirty by the time the kitchen was tidied and I could re-heat that leftover lasagne from lunch. Finally I settled down to dinner at my desk, red pen in one hand, the manuscript in front of me, and Fred's notes beside it. I've actually rewritten one chapter--pretty good accomplishment, I'd say. But the first chapter didn't need much--it will get a lot harder as I get into it. May get one more done tonight.
Long story short: the reason I haven't written the Great American Mystery is that I have a life, one filled with family and friends, and I feel so blessed.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Village Gaarden--a free short story

No, that's not a typo. "Gaarden" is how Norwegians would spell "garden," and my short story features Kelly O'Connell in what may be the closest thing to a fantasy tale that I'll ever write, fantasy not being my natural bent. Short stories are hard for me--either a crystal clear idea suddenly strikes or I stare at a blank computer screen. But when I realized a lot of mystery authors write short stories I decided to try my hand at it. This one that feature Kelly from my Kelly O'Connell Mysteries, still in her Fairmont neighborhood, just sort of came to me. I'm not sure I can even tell you where the idea came from, but I shaped and worked it until it was became a story that incorporated a family story and recipe. So, sit with Kelly in The Village Gaarden, leave the real world behind for a moment, and enjoy kjottkaker or, as we call them, Norwegian hamburgers. So good. You can download the story and the recipe here free: If you haven't met Kelly yet, I hope this will give you a slight idea and make you want to know her better; if you have met her, enjoy this different glimpse of her.
I have written fewer than twenty short stories in what has been a relatively long writing career. Fourteen of them, previously published, are in my collection Sue Ellen Learns to Dance and Other Stories (available on Kindle and Smashwords for ninety-nine cents). But this is not a plug for that book. It's about mysteries and short stories and The Village Gaarden," which is special to me. I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wild Women

Today I went to a meeting of the WILD Women Book Group at my church. I always thought that was a strange name for a church book group, but I found out just recently that WILD is an acronym that stands for Women in Livestock Development. Wait a minute! These are women in an inner city church. I can almost guarantee that no one has livestock. Turns out they take collection every month to support one of my favorite causes: Heifer International. What that group does is a whole different story, but if you don't know, it's definitely worth finding them through Google or another search engine.
This year the wild women have chosen not the spiritual titles you might expect but mysteries, and today, for their first meeting, they read my Skeleton in a Dead Space. When I asked if my presence would inhibit them, minister Cyndy Twedell who spearheads the group laughed aloud and said, "Not likely." She was right--it didn't.
Cyndy is terrific at leading book discussions--I doubt she'll ever want to leave the ministry, but she could always teach literature and do it well. She focused on asking the ladies to talk about character--in the allotted hour she never got past character to plot because everyone had so much to say. Authors have long said that readers--especially critics and reviewers--find symbolism that the authors never intended. Today it wasn't so much symbolism as qualities in the characters. Kelly was praised for compassion, especially her determination to identify the skeleton and give her the burial and recognition she deserved as a person rather than just let a pile of bones go to an unmarked grave. What I didn't say was that I had to give Kelly a reason for being so determined to solve the mystery of the identity of the skeleton. But maybe authors write symbolism and qualities into works naturally without realizing it. Others said they could picture some of the characters--Keisha, the office manager (one person wanted to know who would play her in the movie) or Anthony, the carpenter whose all bluff but has a soft heart or even Joe, the young wannabe gansta. It was all fun, and I didn't talk much.
My friend Jean was there and was silent the whole hour--she said later it was because it was her first meeting with the group. But when she spoke up, she blew me away. She said, in effect, she was nervous about reading it because when you know someone so well, you want them to do well--and she thought I had. She enjoyed the book. I know she's not a mystery reader, so that was double praise.
There were a lot of references to the second book, No Neighborhood for Old Women, which several had read. Someone would say "Well, Keisha has a bigger role in the second book" or "There's more about  the Guthries in the second book." I bet I sold quite a few of that one today too. What fun!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rumors are flying ....

Isn't there a song by that title? I'm s sure it's about love but the rumors I'm hearing are about terror--or, more specifically, terrorists. Seems they have come across the border from Mexico by the hundreds of thousands--well, I'm sure there were indeed a lot of them--and they are planning coordinated, simultaneous attacks across the nation. Federal trooops are training the the wilds of the American West  (hmmm, wonder if they are militia?), and we are all advised to stay out of malls and churches. One person wrote on a recent listserv that the country is going to hell in a handbasket and all any of us can do is try to survive. I surely don't want to live with that philosophy, nor do I want to stay out of malls and churches--I can avoid huge public gatherings. Hey, good excuse for not going to football games.
Actually I can avoid malls without a second's hesitation, but last Sunday as I sat in church I thought about how comfortable and safe I felt in the sanctuary where I've worshipped for many years. Yes, we had a church tragedy in our city--a deranged man entered with a gun, killed and injured several before taking his own life.  But we thought it was an aberration. I think we always feel safe in our own little corner of the world. Sometimes I feel almost sad, guilty--what's the word I want?--that I am so blessed and safe while so many in the world live with horror and terror--there's that word again. George McGovern once said he was tired of wars that old men start so they can send young men to die. I would add the elderly, women, and children, for they seem to be the ones most often caught in the crossfire.
But back to those rumors. I'd like to dismiss them. I'd like to believe that our government has better intelligence in place than to allow that to happen. Nor do I believe the government knows all about this extensive plot and is keeping it secret. Have you noticed that nothing much seems to stay secret in Washington? Then again, after 9/11, we began to hear of warning signs, even outright warnings from aircraft schools and the like, that should have alerted the government and didn't. Are we better prepared today? Somewhere I've read statistics on how many terrorists plots have been foiled in this country--pretty impressive. Still those rumors, while no doubt exaggerated, are troubling. After all I have seven grandchildren, and I fervently pray that they grow up in as safe a world as I have lived in all these years. Right now, they are so well loved, so protected, so confident that the world is a good place, I don't want them to turn fearful (except, of course, of strangers offering candy or puppies).
Meantime Mr. Romney seems to step in it every time he opens his mouth, one gaffe after another. I cannot believe that anyone would believe him qualified to lead this country in this perilous times of terrorism (notice how often that word comes up), let alone vote for him. But I talked with a young woman the other day who is from Mexico and will vote for him because she doesn't believe in welfare. In Mexico they don't have welfare, and she says that makes people work. I didn't argue with her, though I could think of several arguments, primarily about the Mexican economy, because I like her a lot and because she happened to be cutting my hair at the time--didn't want to upset her. But it reminded me of the days when women were advised to vote a single issue ballot--on the right to abortion, a subject which seems to have gotten lost in recent campaign rhetoric, though it was hot for a while. Mr. Romney would like to make this election a single-issue one--about welfare and the economy, but I believe there is so much more to consider. Like international diplomacy, a front on which he has not distinguished himself. And like terrorism--there it is again--on which he spoke in haste without forethought, not a presidential quality.
I hope someone in the debates asks our two candidates what they believe about domestic terrorism and how to combat it. I'd really like to hear both sides.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday night and no TV

Well, not quite. But what do you do with a six-year-old when the TV in his playroom is out and the one in my kitchen is also out--I really like to watch the news or the food channel while I cook. A fruitless 45 minutes with someone-- in where? Pakistan? India?--who I couldn't undertand; he reached the conclusion (I think) that the problem was with AT&T U-Verse and a service person will be out between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. tomorrow night. Till then, the only TV working is that in my office, so Jacob and I had a cozy supper at my desk--I threatened him with death and destruction if he spilled his sparkling cider on my desk and still brought in an extra towel for mopping, just in case. Now we're cozily sharing the rest of the evening.
The phone consultant asked if my internet was working, and I ran to check--that would be the final insult. I'm afraid to turn any of the working things off for fear they won't work again in the morning--but this week, of all weeks, I was looking forward to Sunday morning news programs. Wonder if I can win that battle before we go to church?
I also have a sinking feeling that without the TV to go to sleep by, Jacob will want to sleep with me again. Not a restful night for me at all.
I had hoped we could work on the half-done jigsaw puzzle tonight but with TV so rare he seems glued to it. I'm reading Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David, so I can lose myself in that. It's interesting to me, because after telling audiences several times that cozies feature female amateur sleuths, here's one that features a retired police officer who's opening a PI office. Then again, it's probably not a cozy, although it's got a lot of the characteristics such as wacky characters. But the opening scene is definitely not murder off-stage.  And the basic mystery has me puzzled. I can lower the volume on Jacob's TV program and read in content--if I can get him to get off the desk top and go sit in the chair again. Togetherness is nice, but I'm getting a tad claustrophobic.
Remind me again about the days before TV, the internet, iPads and all those things. Being without makes me feel suspicious of everything--is the electricity going to go out? The air conditioning (which we really don't need tonight anyway)? Trying to be flexible about adjusting to this change in things--and all the Jacob closeness I'm enjoying.
Sophie is sleeping through the whole thing.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

You can too fight City Hall

For years, friends, even my friendly plumber, shook their heads and said, "You never win with the water department." Well, I'm here to tell a different story. My water bill is always high, but this month it was double what my neighbor's was--and his lot is a tad bigger than mine. I called the plumber, and he came out, put a pressure gauge on the system, checking the house, garage apartment, and watering system. No leaks. I called the water department and suggested they check the meter and change it out just to be sure. They checked--and no surprise, it was working just fine. I got a form letter from the water department informing me all was well.
Meantime I had contacted a reporter at the newspaper who does a column titled "The Watchdog," investigating consumer advocacy problems. Pretty soon I got a call from the nicest, most helpful woman at the water department--no, I"m not going to give her name because I don't want her inundated with calls. She explained that they would change the meter just to be sure and said that my water bill is erratic. If someone uses about the same amount for months and then has a sudden increase, the problem is clear. Mine is high some months, low a few--though it has never gone as low as one neighbor, even in mid-winter. She has arranged for an expert to do a "water audit" next week. I did explain I knew one high bill was due to a commode that had taken on a life of its own before I discovered it and had it fixed.
The next day another woman called to tell me that I was getting a "leak adjustment"--nice enough that it would pay the water bill some months. Next time you have a leak repaired, contact the water department and send them a copy of the plumber's work order. Magic!
How to make your way through bureaucracy and find these helpful people is all explained in the book, Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, by Dave Lieber. It has a chapter titled "Your Meter is Accurate: Sure, Right." I'm rushing out to buy a copy, with a deep thanks to Mr. Lieber for steering me in the right direction. Find his book on Amazon at
The woman I first talked to said most sincerely, "We really do want to help." I believe her. What a nice surprise this has all been. And it was all done without anger and antagonism. Love it! The water department may be my new best friend--or maybe Dave Lieber is!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What is happening to our country?

No lighthearted blog tonight about my grandson, my dog, my peaceful and happy life, not even a subtle bit of marketing for my books. I am too deeply saddened and troubled by the attack on our embassy at Benghazi, the death of an apparently sterling young diplomat and three of his colleagues, and by the bitterness it has brought out in our nation. It's no secret to those who know me that I admire President Obama as a person--I think he is thoughtful, caring, and no more ambitious than anyone would have to be to be in public office. I saw him, today, stepping forward with dignity and courage to reaffirm the defense of our nation and the importance of its values. Yet I also have seen him misquoted, bitterly attacked, with quotes from several years ago taken out of context and made to seem that he made them today. What has happened to our nation in eleven years?
The tragedy of 9/11 brought us together, albeit under a leader I did not particularly admire. But we united. We recognized that what happens to even one of our people--or several thousand--happens to us, touches us. Today, we have lost that. Politicians have used the embassy tragedy for  political advantage; individuals have used it to buttress their hatred and--let's be honest--prejudice. I am saddened.  I think of civilizations that collapsed and disappeared. Is that what's happening to America? Have we had our run and grown so big in our hubris that we've lost sight of who we are, who we started out to be--one people, united.
Strangely, the country of Libya comforts me. I don't think this was an act by the Libyan people. It was an act by a small terrorist group, and I am heartened to see Libyans holding signs of sympathy and rallying in support of America. And I am comforted that, contrary to rumors about dragging Ambassador Stevens body through the streets, Libyans were actually rushing him to a hospital in an attempt to save him. I applaud President Obama's heightened security for embassies in questionable countries, but I cannot applaud any condemnation of the Libyan people. I suspect most of them are as devastated as we are--or should be.
Pray for our country and our people.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chronicle of Sophie

Youd be tuckered too if you had all of Sophie's responsibilities.This morning she had to clean out my closet--shred one cork heel lift, scatter various tissue paper bits around the bedroom, destroy one unidentifiable plastic object, and flatten an empty small jewelry box that had fallen on the floor. Then she had to go outside for a while and patrol for those pesky squirrels that have the nerve to invade her domain. This afternoon Jordan and Jacob took her for a long walk at a fairly rapid pace. She thinks she wore them out.
A friend is staying temporarily in my guest house, which only adds to Sophie's responsilities. She's taken to lying in the corner of the yard by the apt., but periodically she jumps up to peer in the window and check on things.She went inside once but seemed pretty uncertain about those strange surroundings. Her guarding is best done outside.
Pretty much she's adjusting to being an only dog. It does have its upside--she gets a lot more inside time, a lot more love and attention, and a lot more snacks and treats. She doesn't seem to mope around as much, although she still sometimes lies on  Scooby's bed--that's where she went to shred the heel lift. I'm sure Scooby would have disapproved, and he never would have helped her.
I suppose, someday, if a rescue dog's picture jumps out at me and says "I was meant for you," I'll get a second dog. But for the time being I too am comfortable with our arrangement. At sixteen months, Sophie has calmed down a lot, but she still has a way to go.
When strangers come in, she manages to sit and contain her excitement if someone reminds her in a stern voice but you can see her little body quiver with excitement. When Jordan comes in, she has long, howling conversations with her, and when she and I play tug over a toy, or toss and fetch (usually late at night), she growls at me fiercely. Sometimes in the house, she likes to play "Catch me if you can"--I can't, so she still wears a leash around. There was that embarrassing time I couldn't open the door to discuss a disputed water meter reading because I couldn't catch the dog. The meter reader and I had to yell at each other through the thick beveled glass of the door.
Sophie sleeps in her crate at night without a peep, and in the morning when I open the door she immediately comes for a long loving session, looking soulfully at me with those little brown eyes that almost get lost in her fuzzy face. Definitely a lover not a fighter.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A luncheon talk and some spiffy bling

Yesterday it was my great privilage to speak to the opening luncheon of the Women's Ministries at my church--about 80 women. They are embarking on a mystery reading program this fall and thought it would be fun to begin with one of their own. I felt honored. Given free rein to talk about anything I wanted, with books as the theme, I talked about my writing from the age of ten on. As all writers can imagine there were lots of trials and tribulations and a lot of funny things that happened along the way--like the time I won the best juvenile novel of the year award from the Texas Institute of Letters and the woman presenting said, "Good old so-and-so (I have no idea of his name) who usually wins this award didn't enter this year, so it  goes to Judy Alter." There was laughter at that and a lot of other stories I worked in along the way.
Speaking doesn't come easily to me, though everyone says I do it well. They just don't know the agony I go through beforehand. I made my friend Betty listen to this one in the car Friday on the way to Granbury, and she pronounced it interesting and funny, so I was somewhat reassured. She said she'd listen on Sunday to see if I forgot anything I'd said on Friday--guess not since she didn't complain.
Afterward several women said they thought they knew me before, but now they knew a lot more about me. Hmmm--didn't think I revealed any secrets. What Betty said was, "I never knew you went through all that." I think readers don't recognize how much rejection and discourgement writers face on the way to a career. I hope I was able to present it with humor and optimism.
My daughter Jordan was there as moral support and a help when I was signing books. I know most of these ladies, but the best of us can have memory lapses while signing--I was grateful the church plastered big name tags on everyone.
About a week before this a close friend called to say I needed to look spiffy for the luncheon. "Spiffy?" I asked. She explained she didn't exactly know what she meant. Maybe Jordan would know. Jordan decided the only seasonal spiffy in my closet was the bright purple I'd worn to church the week before, so I bought spiffy in Granbury. If  you read the previous blog, you know about my buying an aubergine (okay, eggplant) top with a ruffle and a bit of bling--a lilac and silver long but skinny kind of thing you can fling around your neck in various ways. I'm never good at that flinging stuff nor am I really the ruffle kind--my retirement wardrobe consists mostly of jeans, capris, and big shirts. Spiffy with bling were the subject of much discussion at the luncheon...and even at a lunch table today where one of the ladies had read the earlier blog.
The chuch has a WILD Women book club. That name always threw me--I don't quite associate Wild Women with a church--but it turns out that's an acronym. The group raises money for the Heifer Interntional project, so WILD stands forWomen in Livestock Development. They'll discuss Skeleton in a Dead Space on the 18th, and I'll go back for that discussion.Then they'll move on to Julia Spencer-Fleming so I'm in good company.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Wild Kingdom

When was the last time you did a jigsaw puzzle? I haven't done them in years, though I remember a time when friends used to come for Christmas dinner and stay until two in the morning putting together intricate jigsaw puzzles. We especially prized those mystery puzzles where the picture on the box didn't give a clue to what the finished puzzle should look like.
I'm into much simpler puzzles these days, because I'm doing them with six-year-old Jacob. I've discovered that 100-piece XXL puzzles are what we need. In a flurry of economy I bought a 500-piece puzzle at the Dollar Store--the pieces were so small that I was totally discouraged and Jacob was uninterested. Then I bought a puzzle that changed in various lights, like a holograph or something. It was Darth Vader, and I thought Jacob would love it--but all the pieces were so dark neither of us knew where to begin. Besides, Sophie chewed two of the pieces.
Tonight we did our second 100-piece puzzle. The first was a majestic lion and it took us three afternoons after school, but tonight he would not quit until we finished and this was a more complicated one. I've taught him about straight edge pieces, but then he tries to put them together without matching the edges. It's also hard to get him to look at the picture on the box to see where the pieces go, but he's getting better. He's fitting more pieces together himself, and he's so delighted when he does that he high fives me. He learned tonight to look for the blue butterfly and then the baby cheetah and then the stripes of the zebra and the different size spots of the two cheetahs, and he kept saying two things: "This is so much fun" and "This is really hard, but we're good at it." Be still, my heart--what better way is there to spend a Saturday evening than doing a jigsaw puzzle with your grandson! Above is our masterpiece. He kept wanting to hold it up--I told him it would fall apart. Then he wanted to tear it apart, but I said after we'd worked so hard on it, we had to leave it for a day or two. And I will admit the evening, in which I had planned to get some work done, flew by. Yes, Jacob, this is so fun!

Friday, September 07, 2012

A Granbury Day

I am not by nature one of those women who can spend a day shopping. I don't browse or linger gracefully. Pausing over this thing or that bores me, and I get cranky. When I go to the grocery store I have a list and I stick to it. So, today, when I went shopping on the square in Granbury, I had a plan. My longtime good friend Linda and her husband Rodger own a classy store called Almost Heaven, but after 33  years Linda's ready to give it up. They're having a "going out of business sale," so Betty and I went, Christmas gift list in hand. And I got lots of little things that I hope friends and family will appreciate. If small, they were gifts chosen with love and care.
One problem about this is that last year about this time Linda had a sale--not a going-out-of-business one (she doesn't pull that kind of trick)--and I bought several presents, mostly for family, forgot I had them, and bought other things for the people they were intended for. So this year, I have much of my shopping already done. And now I've added these finishing touches. It's fun to wander the store and talk to Linda about the various items.
I had another thing on my shopping list. My friend Jean said I need to wear something "spiffy" to talk to the Women's Ministries luncheon Sunday, but she couldn't define spiffy. We decided Jordan would know. Jordan's verdict was I don't have much spiffy in my closet, except the colorful top I wore to church last week--people would remember. (Come on, do you think people pay that much attention to what I wear to church?). So while in Granbury I browsed in some rather high-priced stores. Found a top (to be worn over tights) that I liked a lot but it was one price and the ruffle that went with it was the same price. I couldn't see paying $58 for a ruffle, so Betty found me a piece of "bling" that went perfectly. I bought it, and then the store owner (I presume she was) said, "But you didn't take the ruffle." I explained I didn't want to pay that much for a ruffle, and she said, "Oh, no it goes with it. It's part of the purchase." So now I have a top, a ruffle, and some bling. I'll be a spiffy knockout  on Sunday.
We had lunch at a quiet, classy place called 1890 upstairs over some of the shops, quiet enough that we could visit. I had a filet sandwich--superb; Betty had salmon fettucine (her husband doesn't like her to cook salmon in the house); Linda had the grilled chicken spinach salad, and we all raved. Another friend joined us who had just been to Scotland, so she and I had a high old time talking about places we'd been and the like.
All in all, a good day, the kind of shopping I tolerate (actually we got there at 10:30, left a little after one and at least an hour of that was lunch). Maybe one hour shopping. Home in time to pick up Jacob.
Tuckered. After Jacob's mom came for him, I had a cozy nap.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

JFK assassination

A friend in Fort Worth started a Facebook thread by asking,"Where were you when you learned that JFK had been killed?" In Fort Worth, that question has particular poignancy because Kennedy's last speech, last public appearance was here. The response has amazed me in its sheer numbers but also by the similarity of so many answers. With few exceptions, respondees were in school, from elementary to high school. Some had been to the Hotel Texas with their classes to see Kennedy or stood on the highway to watch the motorcade. Most can remember what teacher's classroom and what subject. A very few seemed out of school, and a similar low number were either infants or not yet born.There are whole generations that didn't respond to this, and I'm curious about why one age group--granted wih a twenty-year span or so, answered in such heavy numbers.
I was twenty-five years old, living and going to school in a small town in Missouri. I was also working for an osteopathic medical school, and one of my jobs was to do a 15-minute radio show once a week at the local station interviewing physicians on problems of interest to the general patient. Sort of, "Tell me, doctor. If I have a pain in my side, is it appendicitis?" The station was, well, casual in its organization. So on November 22 I was driving through town in my old VW with the local station on when the announcers seemed to lose it--there was obviously confusion, an utter inability to know what to do. I heard mumbles and mutters, the shuffling of  papers and incoherent phrases. And I laughed to myself. "Those guys can't ever get it together." Of course in a minute, they did get it togther, and I hard the awful news. I remember going back to the office and saying to my boss--not my favorite of men--that the president had been killed."President?" he said sharply. "What president?" Did he think it was the president of the school?
The friend who originally posted the question was right. Those of us who lived through that day will never forget where we were when we heard the news. Nor will we forget that riveting weekend when we all stared at the TV without break. I remember I had stepped away on Sunday just long enough to miss Jack Ruby shooting Oswald. My brother called and said, "You better turn that TV back on." Of course, we saw re-enactment after re-enactment.
This struck me as strange timing, since the thread appeared during the Democratic National Convention, the first at which the Kennedy legacy wasn't a large presence, principally because of the death of Ted Kennedy. Yes, there were tributes, and we saw Patrick Kennedy and Caroline, but it wasn't the same electric presence we'd come to expect. I missed it, and I feel lucky to have lived through the Kennedy era and on to treasure the legacy, no matter how tarnished. Camelot existed, however briefly.
No I won't ask where you were. I don't want to answer that many memories. But do think about it

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Classy ladies

Michelle Obama's speech last night was a class act--there's simply no other way to describe it. I heard a commentator on TV this morning say one thing that was striking was the contrast with Michelle four years ago when entering the presidential race, let alone the White House, was a new and scary experience for her, when she worried abut the effect on her daughters and, probably, on her relationship with her husband. She was a professional woman, experienced, but not used to being thrust into the national spotlight, and there she was. Last night she demonstrated that she was used to that spotlight,  used to the White House, and comfortable with all of it. Her passion and sincerity were evident not only in her words but in the way in which she carried herself. I thought she had an inner glow that made her truly charming and beautiful.
It reminded me of Laura Bush, whose ascent to the pubic spotlight I watched more than eight years ago. As the governor's wife, she kept a low profile at first; when she made an appearance once at a dinner I attended she seemed just a bit shy. I met her once, for a handshake, in the foyer of the Governor's Mansion and thought her crisply efficient. Her husband, on the other hand, seemed like a bashful teddy bear who had just pulled that wrinkled shirt out of the dryer.
But because I attended the Texas Book Fair, I got to watch her a bit more than usual. By the time she left the Governor's Mansion, she had gained a great deal of self-confidence and poise, and as the First Lady she continued to grow.  I greatly admired the way she handled herself on television  and in public appearances, although her style is far different, more formal and reserved, than Michelle Obama's.
They say what doesn't kill you helps you grow--and maybe that's true of the public spotlight. Presidential wives have not always fared well--Mrs. Lincoln comes to mind. But then, there's Eleanor Roosevelt, perhaps so independent that she alienated her husband but a woman of great compassion, intellect and good deeds. Want to know more? Read Presidential Wives by Paul Boller, an informative, informal and entertaining book.
This isn't a political statement but one on women. I'm ready and willing to admire women who achieve and grow, no matter their political affiliation, but I don't see in Ann Romney the comfort in the spotlight, even the comfort in her own skin, that Michelle Obama has achieved. Mrs. Romney looks pinched, even angry. The most telling Facebook post I saw was that Ann Romney talked to us; Michelle Obama talked for us.
Then again, there was some discussion on TV this morning (the TODAY show) about the relevance of a politician's wife. Does her character (or charisma or lack thereof) have anything to do with governing the nation? Yes, I think it does. As one person said on the show, who you choose to live with says something about you.
Hats off to Michelle and Laura--ladies with class, ladies who took experience and grew with it.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Jacob learns to read

I have been the proverbial, over-worrying grandmother, afraid beyond belief that Jacob was not learning to read. To me, an English major, an author, and a reader who never goes anywhere without a book or a book on the iPhone or iPad, reading is the key that opens the whole world. Without it you're forever limited. Jacob's good at spatial and math problems, but reading made him throw up his hands and say, "You know I can't read." No, I refused to accept that, and I probably made it worse by trying to make him sound out words. He'd say, "I'm so tired. Just tell me what it is." Last week, I promised to back off, after his teacher told his parents that a booklet I tried to get him to read was a math exercise and not to worry about reading.So I backed off and worried in private.
Today, he was so excited when he unpacked his backpack--honestly, it's the biggest backpack for a six-year-old! "I'm learning to read," he shouted. And indeed I think this is the beginning of the formal teaching of reading. He had a baggie labeled "Jacob's Book Bag." In it were a letter to his parents outlining the program, a sheet they have to sign that says he read his assignment to an adult at least three times--"we can read it more," he assured us--and a small booklet. Granted, it was pretty simple: "Mom is cooking," "Mom is digging," "Mom is running," and, after all that activity, "Mom is sleeping." But he was so proud he read it to me twice, and then read it again when his dad came to get him.
I am excited by his excitement. Excuse me, now, but I have to go read the mystery novel I'm in the middle of.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Labor Day

Hot and humid, but we celebrated Labor Day with a porch party tonight--my local children and grandchild and neighbors. I created a hot dog bar with little cards detailing the toppings for different kinds of dogs--Mexican, Chicago, German, Franks and Beans, Coney Dogs. Watch Potluck with Judy next week for more details. But hot as it was, it was pleasant to sit on the porch and trade banter. Jacob was bored beause there were no other kids and finally retreated to the TV--he'd had a long day and played hard with his cousins in Coppell. The rest of us were lazy and tired, full and content. Wine was drunk, beer was sipped, and too much food eaten.
But I am struck with the fragility of life tonight. My friend who's in the midst of a life change is staying in my garage apartment. I am so glad I can offer this help and a place of refuge, and I'm grateful for the company, but I grieve for the changes she's going through. No matter how the current crisis comes out, her life will never again be the same. She's strong, and she'll be fine--but I feel like this is happening to one of my own children. My neighbor Jay is just back from Vermont where he went for a family conference about his father's health--apparently all seven children met. His dad knows he has problems, knows therapy and rehab work will prolong his life, but won't do it. He goes home today or tomorrow with full-time medical care--a good situation but one with an inevitable outcome. A neighbor who was supposed to join us tonight couldn't because of health. And Christian's grandmother died last night in a rehab facility, two days shy of her 95th birthday. I hope her family can take comfort in the fact that she was probably just done, just tired. A lifelong friend is close to marking the one-year anniversay of the death of her husband--a true love match if I ever saw one, and he was too young to leave us. So much sadness.
I sense that change and a certain inevitability are all around us. I'm not depressed by it in the way of thinking that my turn is next, but I am saddened by what happens to people. Not sure how to say this, but some people obsess over the smallest changes in their lives. Sort of "Don't park in my parking space" when there are such larger life changes all around us. Seeing those larger changes makes you--or should make you--put life in perspective.
I guess I pray for all of us tonight a sense of life's beauty...and its fragility. My hope, for myself and others, is to learn to treasure the glory of the moment, the day, and give thanks. I always liked the saying, "Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first." Maybe that sums up what I'm thinking.
Awk! I'm no good at philosphizing, but there's a certain blue mood around me tonight, in spite of the pleasant time and good company.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

One of those miscellaneous posts

A good friend of mine is in crisis tonight, and it's hit me hard. In fact, sometimes I think she's calmer about it than I am. But I take life changes in those I care about seriously. Maybe it's the mother hen in me, the natural instinct to nurture. If I ever again take one of those personality profiles, I'm sure it will show that I'm a nurturer--from emotional support to feeding people. So tonight I'm doing both, but the pain of people I care about is weighing heavily on me. Then again, that's what you do for friends.
I frittered the day away--took me three hours this morning to run errands that should not have taken that long. Two grocery stores, the post office--okay, that always takes a while and I had to buy mailers and address them, then wait in line. The Dollar Store where I bought some kind of weird Star Wars puzzle for Jacob--it's called a lenticular puzzle. Close as I can figure it looks like a hologram--if you turn the box one way it's one thing, turn it another and the picture changes. Its virtue is that it's a 12x9 puzzle with 100 pieces which means to me that the pieces are bigger. The bargain $1.00 puzzle I bought had 500 teeniny pieces--both Jacob and I were overwhelemed. I think he'll like this better.
We are inundated with statistics, warnings, and advice about mosquitoes and West Nile viirus. Mosquitoes don't seem to bite me much if at all, but they love Jacob, so I keep spray with Deet on hand, much as I hate it. I also have one bit of standing water--an air conditioner drip line or something--that I can't do away with, so I bought some Bti that was harmless to dogs. Put a little bit in the water and now I can't find the rest of the package. So I went to the hardware to get more; they were out and offered an alternative but it said not for drinking water. Didn't want to take a chance. Sometimes it's hard to be a good citizen!
After all that I spent most if not all of the afternoon reading and napping. Tonight I finished No Way to Kill a Lady by Nancy Martin--latest in a series I thoroughly enjoy. But without that to tempt me, perhaps I'll get back to the chili manuscript tomorrow. Though I do have to make potato salad for Monday night and probably will go to church. And my next reading venture will be a contemporary mystery that spins off Jane Austen's work. I've wondered about the various contemporary adaptations of Austen, so I'm glad for a chance to read and review one.
And that's my day. Lazy, comfortable, with a constant twinge of grief...and my ever-present conscience is telling me it wasn't productive. Oh, I did finish one guest blog and send it off. A small whittle-down in my stack of things I must do.