Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Almost There...

The countdown clock is ticking...

In less than 12 hours the New Year will be here. (How did it get to be 2009?) Of course, it already is 2009 in Australia, but either way, the time for decision is upon us. (Read: me.)

And I absolutely refuse to make any kind of New Year's Resolutions. I don't need to be a "resolver." I need to be a "decider."


What to do? What to do?

Should I try to figure out a way to recover my disappeared 401K?
(Santa was no help. I think I may have been on that other list.)

Or...should I move from my long held position in the Mac fold over to a PC?
My suggestion re: a rebuttal to the old and stodgy "PC" character vs. the young and hip "Mac" character TV commercials would be to show what happens when you need a young, hip Mac repair. There are only two Mac retail stores with the "Mac Genius Bar" in the whole entire state. TWO. And no independent Mac repair people in my area as far as I know. Of course, some people may like making a 100 mile round trip on a bad interstate highway that is essentially a parking lot traveling 80 miles an hour. Surrounded by 18-wheelers. In the rain and fog. With your hair on fire. Twice. (It shouldn't take six days to replace a hard drive, should it?) I have always been a Mac devotee, but this is the kind of adventure I can do without. The Dell factory is only 48 miles away, and think I can hear it calling my name. Or what about HP? I have HP peripherals -- they have prompt email support and seem to care if the printer won't print because Apple made me upgrade something.

(Yes. It's true. I am still in a South Park Mall Apple Retail Store-slash-iMac computer snit.)

(Maybe I should just retire altogether and not have to worry about computer repairs.)

(And maybe I'm not much of a "decider.")

Even so, and moving right along, here is something I can and will do during this coming new year -- regardless of what the previous paragraphs might suggest.

Whenever I think something is a "good thing," I'll say so. More of that, less criticizing and whining -- unless it has to do with my livelihood.

A few years ago, my editor at Harlequin gave me a souvenir card from Ireland on which was written a number of prayerful guidelines for not becoming an old poop in one's "Golden Years." The guidelines were written by a nun, and I found them very pithy and something to aspire to. In addition to that, my late sister-in-law told me something shortly before she died. She had come to realize, she said, that people "don't know," i.e., they don't know what you like about them if you don't tell them, or even if you like them at all. They need to be told, she said, and she was going to do that.

All of these these notions -- the nun's and my sister-in-law's -- worked for me, so much so that verbally appreciating the "good things" has become more or less automatic. The other day, while I was waiting in the doctor's office, I could see through the sheer drapes a man outside washing their very big, very tall windows. He worked the whole time I was waiting. After I'd seen the doctor, when I came back into the waiting room, the sheer drapes had been opened. The sun was shining. The huge, plate glass windows looked spectacular. So, without really thinking, I noted that the window washer had done a really good job. What I didn't know was that he was sitting a few feet away, waiting to be paid. He was both astounded and grateful to have had the results of his efforts complimented by a total stranger. "It's never happened before," he said. I think it made his day. I know it made mine.

Here's what the 16th Century nun had to say:

Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself, that I am growing older and will someday be old.

Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to straighten out everybody's affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others' pains, but help me to endure them with patience.

I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessing cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a Saint - some of them are so hard to live with - but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.

Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Merry Birthday, Rosie!

I hope you have a wonderful day and all your wishes come true. I know one already has -- we have our World Traveler home. It was clearly harder to get from Albany to Cleveland than from Casablanca to NYC, but he made it after many hours on tarmacs and an unexpected overnight in an airport on Christmas Eve -- his dad finally gave up on air travel and drove to Pittsburgh to get him. I'm not quite sure how he ended up in Pittsburgh -- at this point, he probably isn't, either -- but stuck there he was.

Anyway, celebrate to your hearts content, Little Sis, and eat lots of cake for me. (I'm sure it's chocolate.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Cheryl and Her Christmas Cards

I've always loved Christmas cards, especially the ones with glitter. One cannot have too much glitter, in my opinion -- on anything. I may have said before that I even have a "glitter" lamp. Glitter floats up and down inside it instead of lava. (What can I say? Tacky or not, it's the way I roll.)


I'm also very partial the special handmade ones (see above). And the family photograph ones -- my nurse friend Jo always sends me those. And the ones from other countries. And the personally illustrated ones people make on their own computers (Linda and Deena do that kind). I love the ones from readers, too. I always feel honored that they would want to send me a card -- some of them have been with me from the very beginning of my writing career. (I'm talking about you, Murlene and Maureen B.)

The bottom line here is that have a really hard time getting rid of old Christmas cards. I look at them again and again, long after the holidays have gone. That's how much I like them. And also the way I roll.

I just wanted you to know that...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Nutty Nutcracker Dance Recital and Bad, BAD Continental Airlines

One of the many things I managed to do in the past week or so was to attend my granddaughter's dance recital. She, of course, was adorable and did a wonderful job. I would show you a photo of said granddaughter being adorable (and wonderful), but as I've mentioned before, digital cameras and I are not a good mix. If I were psychic, it would help -- so I could snap the picture BEFORE it happens instead of forever thinking I'm going to end up with what I actually see. I did manage to get a shot of the beautiful and talented adult dance class strutting their stuff. (See above) They did the can-can and essentially brought down the house. Talk about "bustin' a move." These ladies were great.

Most of yesterday I spent either in Charlotte-Douglas International Airport or going to and from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. My mom flew to Cleveland for Christmas on an afternoon Continental Airlines flight. Her luggage, however, flew to Houston, as did the luggage of most of the other passengers on her plane.

I have to say I didn't see much in the way of bad tempers during the long wait for her flight to arrive -- among the passengers, that is. They were a pretty jolly group considering the fact that at least one of the flights was going to be three hours late.

The Continental personnel were another matter, however, specifically the young man at the main desk whose life I ruined by asking for a gate pass so I could wait with my 88-year-old mother until her plane arrived. Given the delayed flights from the snowy Northeast and the uproar that caused, I had hoped it would be a good thing to want something he could actually do. I was wrong. He took me off at the knees -- something about how I didn't "need" anything and not doing something or other during Christmas travel. (Let me say here that the line was not that long.)

I like to think that I don't actually look like a hard-core trouble-maker. I had all the credentials and IDs (hers and mine) and the ticket paperwork (don't for one minute think that Continental's "Elite Access" status with the little gold stripes thing means anything in the real world) -- plus my sweet little tiny mother was standing right there in evidence. I asked for pass so I could get through security -- that's all I wanted. I don't know what he thought I meant or why the request was such a problem for him. But then he suddenly gave me the pass, so it all worked out. Except for my being annoyed enough to blog about him here. And the disappeared luggage, of course. Actually, these days I've come to expect disappeared luggage. What I don't expect is blatant and undeserved rudeness.

Okay, I am now getting down off the soap box. Really.

The bottom line here is that my mom arrived safely, and she's going to have a great, if under-wardrobed, Christmas with my sister and her family in Cleveland -- with our World Traveler. He'll be getting home from Morocco on the 23rd. (Yay!)

(I think he's flying Continental.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Steady, Cheryl

I need to focus on this:

Softly lit, Christmas-y room.  Bubble lights bubbling.  Fireplace burning.   Christmas albums playing (some of the free LPs from the Library Book Sale).  Feel the Season, Cheryl.  And the Reason for the Season.  **deep breath** 

Merry Christmas.

(Okay, that's better.  Later, I'll whine about the South Park Mall Apple Store.  I want to whine now, but I'm not going to.  Santa's got that pesky list of his, and Gene Autrey says he's a double-checker.  Gene is not exactly Roy Rogers, but in this case I'll cut him some slack and believe him.) 

(You did know I was madly in love with Roy Rogers when I was four, right?)

Monday, December 15, 2008


THE computer is down. I'm using the emergency back-up IBM one (read: "Very, very old"). 

More blogging after the iMac is out of the South Park Mall Apple Store intensive care. I hope.

(The Apple guys may wear shirts that declare them to be "geniuses," but I'm not at all sure they understand that a writer and her computer CANNOT be parted.) **sigh**

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Girls

I thought I'd show you a favorite American Greetings Christmas card done by artist K. Odenweller. "Merry Christmas," it says inside. "With all the trimmings!"

I've always liked these cards because they reminded me of "The Girls," my longtime and now "crossed over" writer cats. I'm glad I saved the last one in the box because I've never been able to find any more. (I even emailed the company -- to no avail.) The card very much captures their personalities -- always curious, never destructive. At Christmastime they would do what they did best -- supervise and inspect. And walk around with tinsel hanging off their fur from tracking too close to the tree. I don't remember either of them ever bothering an ornament, even in the kitten stage.

They never let me see them jump on the kitchen table or the counter tops, either. They might do it, but they knew it was in their best interest if I wasn't anywhere around to catch them at it. (In this particular instance, I'm not sure who trained whom.)

Anyway. I just thought I'd share...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas Newsletter Redux

Today -- since it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here -- I thought I'd post an excerpt from a past newsletter about a long ago, sort of Christmas Stranger incident and the person my mother and I always make a point to remember this time of year. I'm also going to re-share my late sister-in-law's recipe for lemon fruit cake. She made one every Christmas, and like all of her holiday baking, it was wonderful. (Don't let the words "fruit" and "cake" scare you.)

But first, the excerpt:

"...She was my family's slightly early Christmas Stranger. She arrived on our doorstep on Christmas Eve eve many years ago, and my mother and I can no longer remember her name. It was cold and dark. My mother was sewing my angel robe for the Christmas pageant, and my little sister was a baby. The pounding on our front door was so abrupt and urgent that I was afraid for my father to open it, and even more afraid of the young girl who ducked under his arm and rushed inside when he did. She was barefoot -- and clearly in distress.

She lived in Charlotte, she was eventually able to say, and she was on her way to a party her father had forbidden her to attend, something she regretted even before the party-goers had become too drunk to drive and had lost control of the car they were in and ended up in a ditch. They managed to get the car out, but they had driven off and left her there in the dark.

She had no money. No way home. No shoes.
My mother searched her closet to find some shoes for her -- gray suede penny loafers that were a couple of sizes too big. Getting her home was a little more difficult. We all piled into the car and took her to the bus station in nearby Salisbury. I remember how strange I felt, wearing my winter coat over my flannel, nursery-rhyme print nightgown. I didn't get to go to town at night very often, and at that time of year it was dazzling with Christmas lights, the kind you don't see anymore. Everything was so beautiful -- a real treat despite the strange young girl in the car who was still trying not to cry.

My father bought her a bus ticket to Charlotte -- which literally took all the money he had -- and he insisted that we would wait with her and make sure she got onto the bus all right. It seemed to take forever for the bus to arrive, but eventually it came. She got on it, and that was that. We never saw her again, never heard from her. But I always think of her this time of year and wonder what happened to her and whether she ever thinks of us in return...."



1 pound butter

6 eggs at room temperature

2 and 1/3 cups of sugar

3 ounces of pure lemon extract ("pure" is underlined twice so I'm guessing it matters)

4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1 and 1/2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

1/2 pound candied cherries (red)
1/4 pound candied cherries (green)
1/4 pound candied pineapple, diced
1/4 pound white raisins

4 cups of chopped nuts

Lightly flour fruit and nuts with a couple of tablespoons of additional flour.

Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar.

Add eggs one at a time and beat well.

Add lemon extract and beat well.

Mix dry ingredients together.

Beat it into creamed mix a little at a time.

Fold in candied fruit and nuts.

Pour into 10" greased and floured tube pan.

Bake at 300 degrees for 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours or until cake tests done.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Clowning Around

The dh and I went out to eat at one of my favorite places Wednesday evening -- Wink's, that would be for any local folk reading the blog. This was immediate post-Christmas parade so the place was very crowded and a significant number of the crowd happened to be clowns. There were two big tables of them -- eight or ten I was certain were clowns (the fright wigs and grease paint kind of gave them away) and rest were mostly non-clown people. I think.

I mentioned their presence to the dh early on, which of course, he didn't pay any attention to. He was sitting with his back to them, but still. A bit later I said I wished I had my camera.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because we're surrounded by clowns," I said. "When was the last time you ate out with a big bunch of clowns?"

"Not as long as you might think," he said.

Anyway. I love dinner and a floor show.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

We're planning a gathering of the clan tomorrow -- all except our world traveler who is still abroad. But we'll be thinking of him and sending good thoughts his way. Speaking for myself and despite a number of things I confess are not to my liking, this is truly a year to be grateful.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mitz (Another Quiet Goodbye)

This is my favorite photograph of her -- my first cousin, once removed. It was taken in the 1940s just before World War II, on the Yadkin River bridge between Rowan and Davidson County. One had to primp when one got out of the car during these Sunday afternoon excursions, you see. (Summertime. No air conditioning. Car windows down.) And the traffic, you may notice, was...nonexistent. I -- who can't just look at a photograph and let it go -- always wondered what she was thinking about at this moment. Was she pleased with what she saw in her compact mirror? Was she thinking of the "younger man" who wanted to marry her?

I've been trying to decide if I actually remember her or if I only remember the family stories. From those, I know she was funny and kind, and she loved her brothers and loved to laugh. I think I remember her. There is one old photograph of the both of us together. I am very tiny and look as if I may have learned to walk only moments before the picture was snapped. I'm standing in a front yard; she is exiting the frame to the left.

But that particular photograph isn't the memory I have. I have a vague, shadowy mental image of her in someone's living room. Some special occasion, or perhaps no occasion at all other than her coming home to visit all the way from Washington DC. She moved there with her husband after the War, raised her family there, grew old there.

My favorite story about her is my mother's and my aunt's story as well. When they were still in their teens, influenced no doubt by Hollywood, they all three opted -- not to change their real names exactly -- but to be called "something else," something sassy and unique and all their own. Not only did they pick out new names for themselves, they also somehow persuaded everybody else in the family to abide by their decision. Everybody. The fact that my stern, no nonsense grandfather agreed to this still amazes me.

So. Mary Estelle became "Mitz," Norma Catherine became "Kitty," and Ruby Jeanette became "Jeanne." (Two syllables, if you please.) I personally never heard any of them called by their real names inside the family. Not ever. As I said. Amazing.

Sadly, our Mitz died last Friday, and I'm wondering about this as well. Can you miss someone you're not quite sure you ever knew?

Yes. I think you can.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Weather Report

View from the back doorstep. Winter is coming...

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Library Book Sale (Read: Heaven)

I made it with two and a half minutes to spare, just in time for one of the library volunteers to ask me if I had a record player. And she used those actual words. Record. Player. Which, to me, indicated that we were definitely of the same generation.

I told her I did. Two, actually.

"Do you want this box of record albums?" she asked, showing me a banker's box full of LPs.

"Free," she added before I could say anything. "But you have to take all of them. And you have to leave now. We're locking the door."

Oh. Free records -- but I couldn't browse any of the tables of very cheap books. (Clearly, she'd been a volunteer long enough to understand that rabid book lovers have to be "handled.")

Well, okay.

So the very heavy box of mystery tunes came home with me, and what a deal. There was a collection of American music -- church, folk, classical, etc. -- complete with a booklet showing how to do the Virginia Reel and square dance and an album of fairy tales.

And Bach. And Beethoven. And the music from Godspell. And the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, vintage 1960s Loretta Lynn and her contemporaries, Eddy Arnold, Hank Locklin, etc. -- you know, before country singers started looking and sounding alike. (I love Kellie Pickler -- she's a fellow Carolina Girl -- but I'm not sure I could pick her out of a Country Female Vocalist Lineup.)

There was a Brother Dave Gardner, and The Mooseheart Children's Choir (no, that's not a typo), and many Christmas albums, not the least of which was Handel's Messiah. And then there was The Mikado, something I always wanted to experience but never got around to beyond reading it in senior English Literature -- which I always suspected just wasn't the same. The whole set was there -- likewise with a booklet, one with notes in the margins.


So. I've been listening to Gilbert and Sullivan this evening -- with the dh rolling his eyes, of course -- his musical tastes run more toward ZZ Top. I've been trying to decide if I can persuade the grandsons to listen to it, too.

Maybe if I tell them it's Victorian Rap. And let them play with the record player.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Veteran's Day (Armistice Day, What Was)

I've been mucking out my office by bits and pieces for months, and I came across this handwritten interview transcript. It was done in 1979 as part of a local writer's club project, a kind of living history we set out to do for posterity. We would talk to as many elderly county residents as were willing to put up with us and compile their recollections -- memory keeping, as it were.

I don't know what happened to the original cassette tape. I don't know what happened to the project itself, except that it must have died on the vine. The Rowan Writer's Club is long gone, but not the need for memory keeping. The transcript is important to me personally because the person I interviewed was my grandfather.

He's listed in the genealogical society's huge reference book of local family histories as "Gene," which is what his contemporaries called him. My grandmother, on the other hand, called him "Bill." Neither of these nicknames, as far as I can tell, has anything to do with his actual name -- Norman Brown Wagner. Unfortunately, there's no one left to ask where the nicknames came from or why, the lesson here being if you wonder about something, follow through.

He was a very complex man, and this is what he looked like. The round disk at the bottom of the photo is his "dog tag." The card is a ticket for the SS Walmer Castle, the troop ship that took him to France. "KEEP THIS CARD" it says. And he did. For all of his life.

Since the memory keeping project itself has been abandoned, I thought I'd post the transcript of the interview here. For posterity. For World War I researchers. For Veteran's Day. For me.

May 1, 1979

CR: How old were you when you went to France.

NBW: Twenty-three -- I was twenty-three years old. Seven hundred of us left from here. There was a man -- Kruger (?), I think it was. He lived in a big house where St. John's Church is now. He was a businessman -- wholesale business. He fed all seven hundred of us the day we left. And...Red Cross women handed out little sacks -- bags with sewing needles and thread. Some of them had sweaters in them -- you know, without sleeves.

Took ninety days to get from here to the trenches. I was in the Argonne when the armistice was signed. We went over the top that morning about daylight. It was so foggy and misty, rainy, you couldn't see nobody or nothing. You couldn't hear for the artillery. Anybody three feet in front of you, you had to holler at them. You had to go from one shell hole to another -- big shell holes about two could get in.

And barbed wire. We had a devil of a time. The bunch in front of us -- the Germans reenforced on them, and they started running, so we had to go in -- and we got in that barbed wire.

CR: Tell me about "going over the top."

NBW: That was when -- when you "go over the top," they give you orders to take their trenches. And you do it. Everybody crawls out and most of the time it's hand-to-hand fighting. Bayonets -- but we were lucky enough that morning not to have to do that.

And there was the gas. Sneezing gas. Vomiting gas. And mustard. If you got a whiff of that vomiting gas, you couldn't keep your gas mask on. Wasn't nothing to do but swallow it back -- or die from the mustard gas.

Oh, I was in it for hours -- lay in it. It was scattered all around, but it didn't affect me any -- at least not yet. (Laughs) If you got one whiff of it without your mask, you were about through.

And I tell you one of the hardest things that you ever went through with was hearing those boys lay out there -- way out there -- that the medics couldn't get to. And they lay out there and hollered all night. One or two would start up -- then there'd be another and another -- then they'd quieten down for a half hour, a hour, then..."Oh, lordy, come and get me." But you couldn't. You couldn't get them.

CR: Did you ever get a leave?

NBW: Two weeks in Paris! And then a week in Monte Carlo. Except I didn't have the money to go there. I didn't draw but...$6.50 a month, and that won't do you in Monte Carlo. Boy! That was one place I'd have loved to go. Paris? I stayed right where that big tower is, bunked for half a franc about every night I was there. Slept under the tower one night.

CR: You were twenty-three years old when you went to war. Tell me something you learned from it.

NBW: Well, you might not believe this thing, but every boy I knew of -- and I knew of about four in one company -- even here in the States, they had given up. They said, "If I ever get in a battle, I'll get killed." One of them was my corporal -- Doolan. And they did. Every one of them got killed. The ones that doubted themselves.

And Floyd (family member killed in World War II, NBW's nephew, my first cousin, once removed). You know about him. He told me right downtown when he was home on furlough -- in that old building where the dry cleaners used to be. He said, "If I ever get in any action, I'll get killed." And I said, "Why! Whatever gives you that idea!" It worried me, you know? He said, "I will." And...he did. He...never came back.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

World Traveler Update

I talked to our world traveler a little while ago. He's very happy about the presidential election results -- he stayed up until 5 AM (his time) in order to find out who had won. And he's physically well, I'm relieved to say, though a lot of people around him are catching colds. The weather there has been a bit of a challenge. It's been raining for days -- which is unusual. I don't believe the place where he's living was constructed with cold, continuous rain in mind. At one point he found himself stranded on a train that couldn't continue because the tracks had been flooded. The trip turned out to be much, much longer than expected, but fortunately, some of his fellow travelers graciously shared their food with him despite his being a foreigner.

It was a very satisfying conversation -- politics, food, anthropology (customs and cultures comparisons), his travel adventures, and family, especially the one he's acquired since he's been there. They take good care of him.

He sounded great -- and what a wonderful thing it is to be young and enthusiastic and in a place where you have the opportunity to learn all about the things you find absolutely fascinating. I'm so glad he found the time to call.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

There, There, Cheryl (again)

I've heard from my editor regarding the new book proposal.

And I'm taking it very well.



(Happy Halloween anyway) (I guess) (sigh)

I think I need whatever that magic mood-enhancer is that's in a Mickey-D's Happy Meal. I got to witness the effects of said magic just few days ago. The THUNDERS (the grandboys' soccer team, for those of you who don't already know) (bless their little "Charlie Brown Team" hearts) lost their final game, and as you might expect, their faces were long and their spirits were low. Immediately after the game, the team was directed to a nearby picnic shelter for "refreshments." The THUNDERS were tired, sad, dragging, wanting to go home. And the weather pretty much fit the overall blue funk.

Enter from out of nowhere, the Official Soccer Mom bearing a big cardboard box full of McDonald's Happy Meals. The effect was immediate and amazing. Believe me, they don't call those things "Happy Meals" for nothing. It was if someone had thrown a "Cheer Up Now" switch, because cheer up they did. And best of all, it was contagious. A good time was had by all -- despite the loss -- all thanks to Mickey-D's.

I wonder if they work on disgruntled writers?

Monday, October 27, 2008

More Mystery Movie Stars Memory Keeping and Major Digressing.

So far, the first mystery movie star remains unidentified. So here's another one.

The pose seems somewhat unusual to me -- a bit like the wedding photos appearing in the local newspaper of late, with the brides all wearing approximately the same strapless wedding dress and sometimes standing in front of closed doors as if they've been locked out or in front of a stone wall as if they've been detained and are about to be frisked. Now and then, they're standing in open doorways, arms raised -- something on the order of Mae West's "Come up sometime..."

Then there are some who are actually sitting outside on the ground, or on cement-looking steps with very utilitarian iron railing behind them, or on what looks for the world like a dirty dungeon floor strewn with dead leaves. In. A. Wedding. Dress. Being a dedicated cheapskate and knowing at least the ballpark figure for a bridal gown nowadays -- not to mention the cost of dry-cleaning -- photographs like these are enough to give me palpitations.

Oh, and some of the brides, bless their hearts, are clearly in love with their automobiles.

At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, no, I do not understand any part of this trend -- (sigh) -- and fortunately, I don't have to fund any of them. I'll just mind my own beeswax and get to the point, how about that?

Except now I don't remember what it was.

No, wait. It's coming to me. Please look at the movie star, and if you know who he is, a post here would be very nice. And very appreciated.

I'm just going to go now...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Update on the World Traveler

He's been sick again, but he reports to his mother that he's seen a doctor and he's "feeling better." He's also going to school and teaching an English class. And he's acquired a permanent place on my Official Worry List. (sigh)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Movie Star Mysteries (More Memory Keeping)

I've been looking through my late sister-in-law's collection of old movie star photographs. Many of them are easily recognizable even though they aren't autographed. Like this one -- the World War II pinup of Betty Grable and her famous "gams." (I've read that this over-the-shoulder pose was a necessity because they didn't want her "baby bump" to show.) And, just in case you're wondering, Betty is not, I repeat -- NOT -- nude. She's wearing a one piece bathing suit. The photograph is very faded.

Most of the pictures are autographed, some generically, some specifically to my sister-in-law. (And what a thrill that must have been even if the "autograph" was done by somebody in the mail room.) She had quite a collection. Besides the Betty Grable, there's one of the actress I was named for -- Cheryl Walker -- and ones of the tragic Carol Landis and Gail Russell. The "Cheryl Walker" was a real find for me because I'd never seen any of her movies and I had no idea what she looked like.

But there are some photos I can't identify. My sister-in-law sometimes wrote notes on the backs -- like how many children they had -- but that doesn't help. So I thought I'd put a few of them in the blog just in case a movie buff wanders through and recognizes them, one who will hopefully tell me who they are.

Here's the first one (I can remember when my mom wore her hair like this):

Does anyone know who this is?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More What's Happening...

First, we have the Fire Ant Wars. My mother's yard is infested -- which she learned when she inadvertently stepped on a mound as she was about to bring in the mail. She received a number of painful (and ultimately infected) bites before she was able to escape the swarm. Those are better now, but she'll carry the scars. She's very fortunate not to have been allergic.

We discovered that there were dozens of mounds on the property, and we've done the recommended bait treatments. Not that it will help. The yard across the street is infested as well and thus far untreated. Even under the best of circumstances, the information on fire ant control isn't reassuring. As far as I can tell, the best you can do is make their lives miserable. I can remember hearing on the news when I was a little girl that "the fire ants were coming." I, of course, expected them to arrive any minute and spent a lot of time on high alert. I'm sorry to say they finally made it. And my mother is wearing boots.

I "did lunch" Monday at the Farmhouse Restaurant with my longtime nurse-friend, Diane. (Apparently I have assorted "friend labels" -- "nurse," "writer," "childhood," "school," "co-worker," "Critique Group At Fred's," etc.) Diane and I met when my son was small. She was working pediatrics, and he was a wee patient with another serious episode of croup and in a "croup tent." For those of you familiar with the contraption, yes, he did. He put his breakfast toast into the mist hole. I was supposed to do three things during this hospitalization ordeal -- keep him inside the tent, keep him from pulling out his IV antibiotic drip, and keep him away from the mist hole. But apparently I blinked, and into the mist hole the toast went. You see, croup tent mist holes beg to be plugged up with the nearest thing handy, usually some kind of food off the meal tray, though crayons and Matchbox cars work nicely, too, as do napkins, salt packets, and socks. It's a clear sign that a child is feeling better, but soggy, spewing, oxygenated bread crumbs make quite a mess. (I took a lot of heat for having blinked.)

Diane and I later worked together -- at a urology clinic and then as public health nurses until she moved away. We manage to get together once or twice a year now. She, like Jo, is someone I'm lucky to have had in my life -- a friend with whom I can just be me. I suppose it's a tribute to our particular friendship that her famous cousin (Tori Amos) never once came up in the conversation. Too much else to talk about -- like our blood sugar levels.

Tomorrow is soccer game day. I think. It's supposed to be warm and not raining. Hopefully, it will also be bat free. Please send the Thunders all the positive "winner" vibes you can spare.

I'm still waiting to hear regarding the proposal. It's clearly time to make a decision. Go ahead and work on an unsold book or put together some more proposals? (sigh) I think I want to ride up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and look at the autumn leaves while I'm deciding. A writer-friend who lives near Grandfather Mountain tells me they are absolutely beautiful this year. (What can I say? If there's a rose that looks like it might have an actual scent, I'm going to stop and smell it. I believe this is why I'm not rich and world famous.)

That's it for the moment...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

It Was A Dark and Rainy... (Another Soccer Update)

The Thunders didn't lose!

They may have even won -- it was dark and raining so nobody is exactly sure what happened on that last play.

Still. "Tied" is good. The grandboys are happy. I'm happy. Except when I got buzzed by a bat -- the furry with teeth, flying kind. Oh, yes. Doing the "grandmother" thing is nothing if not exciting. Now I'm ready for some hot tea and my rocking chair...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Soccer Update

It's becoming apparent, even to their most devoted fans, that the Thunders could use a little help. Still, win or lose, I love going to the games. The leaves are turning, the weather is great, only a few snakes on the field -- I'm talking about actual snakes, not the opposing team. I have seen some soccer parents who would qualify on occasion, but that's another story.

Anyway. Both grandboys are Thunders, and they need a win. (I wonder if David Beckham does gratis cross-country, emergency consulting?)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Coronary Bypass Update

Regarding my son's best friend Mikey: I think he may be doing better than his house. Apparently, the hot water heater has been leaking a long time and the damage is significant. He's been advised to leave and recover elsewhere for the time being. He is getting better despite this latest upheaval. On Mikey's behalf, I want to thank you for all the prayers.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I "Heart" Danica McKellar

As long as I'm recommending books, let's talk for a moment about this one.

I have a grandson who last school year hit a serious speed bump on the road to Algebra. We're talking true suffering here, the kind only math non-comprehension can cause, the kind that makes your heart stop when your math teacher suddenly announces, "Get out a sheet of paper."

I happen to hear an interview with Danica McKellar regarding Kiss My Math on the radio (I think it was on NPR). I was very impressed, so much so that I bought this book and her previous one, Math Doesn't Suck. I was even more impressed after I'd read a few pages and realized that they were written in a way even I could understand. A few weeks before school started, my grandson and I did some intensive review -- and let me say here that he looked like I'd shoved him on a tumbrel going to the guillotine and that it didn't hurt that Danica, according to his assessment, is "very hot."

After a few obligatory moments of making sure I understood the degree of his wretchedness, something apparently took hold. This was not your everyday math textbook. He read, he worked the problems, he talked to himself, and by all indications, he finally understood.

He's just recently gotten his progress report for this school year, and so far, so good. He is doing great in math.

As I said. I "Heart" Danica McKellar.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

My agent loaned me The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and I'm very glad she did. It's been a while since I've enjoyed a book this much and on so many levels -- as a reader, a writer, a lover of books and of history. It has a bit of everything -- humor, well-placed historical detail, heart-rending poignancy that evokes, for me, the same kind of feeling that reading The Spoon River Anthology does -- there's even a romance. All of these elements are presented in back and forth letters among exceptionally well-drawn, living and breathing characters, both admirable and unworthy.

Several years ago PBS's Masterpiece Theater aired a series called Island at War, which also dealt with the WW II German occupation of one of the Channel Islands, in this case a fictional one. Having seen that lent a great deal of visual "texture" to the reading of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

I highly recommend that you experience both.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dancing and Dancing

Yay! The favorite house guest is coming again this weekend. What a bright ray of sunshine on this raw and rain-filled day. We pick him up at school at three-ish, and then the GrandKid Spa is open.

Other news? Nothing comes to mind. Oh, I did get my passport renewed. I'm not sure why -- I never go anywhere. Still, if the opportunity arises, I am ready. (It's a public health nurse thing.)

And I saw two elephants last week. This is noteworthy because I've somehow managed to reach the age I am without ever having seen any elephants at all, mostly because this is not a place known for its pachyderms and because I never hang out at circuses. I think I've worked for a few in my time, but they weren't actually called that. Anyway, it was quite a thrill -- the elephants, not my work history. I looked at them from afar and felt sorry for them, of course. (Which may also be a public health nurse thing.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thursday Update

Let's see...

Mikey is at home now. He's dealing with weight loss and post surgical pain, but he's able to stir around some. And, he's looking a lot better.

Also, my nephew is staying well. And studying hard. He's only 400 yards from the ocean, and having grown up in the Midwest, this is a very big compensation for his being so far from home. That, and the kindness of the people there. His mother, his grandmother, and I are most grateful to them -- a thousand thanks.

Preliminary readings of the previously sent proposal are positive, but it needed more pages added. So. I've expanded it to five chapters and re-sent it. (Read: Still in Waiting Heck...)

We're also waiting for an off-shore "nor'easter" to make landfall. We're over 200 miles inland and far more sou' than nor,' but apparently it's going to rain and blow on us anyway. At the moment, it's gloomy and very windy, temps in the 60s (F). The grandboys are supposed to have their first soccer game this afternoon.

I'm "doing lunch" with an old friend -- who happens to be singer Tori Amos's cousin -- in a week or so. Diane always makes me smile. We're old war horse nurses and we manage to get together once or twice a year. I can't wait to see her.

I didn't win the $176 million dollar educational lottery last night. Even so, I'm still on my "birthday high."

That's it for the moment. Bulletins almost as they happen...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Birthday Girl

Birthday Girl? That would be me. I have been marking the occasion of my birth all day. Nothing big, just many little celebratory gems, starting with absolutely perfect weather and ending with spaghetti at Johnny's Restaurant and handmade cards from the grandchildren. It couldn't have been any better. Unless, of course, my birthday lottery ticket happens to win.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What's Happening...

At the top of the list is Mikey. He and my son have been best friends since they were eleven. Someone asked me once if they were my boys. I said one of them was -- but I forget which one.

Mikey had a very serious heart attack last week and subsequent emergency by-pass surgery. He's doing better, i.e., out of intensive care, breathing on his own, and able to sit up for a time.

He's only 38 years old, but he is a very heavy smoker. And very lucky. This time.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Happy Birthday!

It's my mother's birthday today. I'm not allowed to tell you which one it is. Did I say she's still driving? And not just "driving." She's zipping around in a 5-speed, manual transmission 1989 yellow Mustang.

She gets such a kick out of the way her vehicle wows the young teenage boys. She especially gets a kick out of the way their jaws drop when she gets out of it.

Happy Birthday, Mommy!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Writing Life

It's rained all day today. (No, those aren't ghostly "orbs." Those are raindrops.)

We're still in enough of a drought for raindrops to be welcome -- unless it's 10+ inches worth again. Even so, it's been the writer version of a stressful day, i.e., strewn with upsetting events, but I got some pages written, ergo some of the day was salvaged after all.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Lucy and Ethel" and More Clothesline How-To's

(Thunderstorm coming and the wash is only half dry...)


My friend, Jo, who up and retired far, far away, sent me the following after she'd read my earlier "solar drying" and Hanna Report post.

She and I were friends and colleagues for years -- I may have already said that "accomplice" would be a more accurate term where she is concerned. We found ourselves in more than one "Lucy and Ethel" situation not of our own making during our long history, and being the resourceful and bold nurses that we were, we sometimes had no choice but to take matters into our own hands. (Read: I have been known to say a time or two: "You watch the door.") Using an assessment tool I acquired somewhere in my "careers," i.e., in a life or death, sinking ship kind of situation, would you want this person in your lifeboat, the answer regarding Jo is an unconditional "Yes."

(The lifeboat thing is also how I assess women political candidates, and it's not just whether and how well the woman will row. It's whether or not she has her own agenda and is likely to toss a fellow survivor overboard if she doesn't find him or her particularly useful.)

But once again I digress.

Here's what Jo sent:

(Clothes Line)

The Basic Rules:

1. You had to wash the clothesline before hanging any clothes. Walk the length of each line with a damp cloth around the line.

2. You had to hang the clothes in a certain order and always hang whites with whites and hang them first.

3. You never hung a shirt by the shoulders, always by the tail. What would the neighbors think?

4. Wash day was on a Monday...........never hang clothes on the weekend or Sunday for heaven's sake!

5. Hang the sheets and towels on the outside lines so you could hide your 'unmentionables' in the middle.

6. It didn't matter if it was sub zero weather.....clothes would 'freeze dry.'

7. Always gather the clothes pins when taking down dry clothes. Pins left on the line was 'tacky'.

8. If you were efficient, you would line the clothes up so that each item did not need two clothes pins, but shared one of the clothes pins with the next washed item.

9. Clothes off of the line before dinner time, neatly folded in the clothes basket and ready to be ironed.

10. IRONED?????????? Well, that's a whole other subject.


A clothes line was a news forecast
To neighbors passing by.
There were no secrets you could keep
When clothes were hung to dry.

It also was a friendly link
For neighbors always knew
If company had stopped on by
To spend a night or two.

For then you'd see the 'fancy sheets'
And towels upon the line;
You'd see the 'company table cloths'
With intricate design.

The line announced a baby's birth
To folks who lived inside
As brand new infant clothes were hung
So carefully with pride.

The ages of the children could
So readily be known
By watching how the sizes changed
You'd know how much they'd grown.

It also told when illness struck,
As extra sheets were hung;
Then nightclothes, and a bathrobe, too,
Haphazardly were strung.

It said, 'Gone on vacation now'
When lines hung limp and bare.

It told, 'We're back!' when full lines sagged
With not an inch to spare.

New folks in town were scorned upon
If wash was dingy gray,
As neighbors carefully raised their brows,
And looked the other way...

But clotheslines now are of the past
For dryers make work less.
Now what goes on inside a home
Is anybody's guess.

I really miss that way of life.
It was a friendly sign
When neighbors knew each other best

By what hung on the line!

(Thanks, Jo)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dancing Again

I'm dancing for a different reason this time around. The grandboy is visiting this weekend. He lived with us for five years, so he's quite a bit more than "grandchild." He's wonderful company despite having hit the teenage years, and I'm glad to have him in the house again -- which I shamelessly operate as a GrandKid Spa. I think children today are "over programmed" and they need some time to decompress and just "be."

But don't get me started on that. For the moment, I think I'll just "be." Happy, happy, happy. Because the room's all ready and I've got a very special houseguest coming...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hanna Report

We were brushed by the extreme edges of Hurricane Hanna -- 0.7 inches worth of rain as opposed to the 10.5 inches we ultimately got from Fay. It's sunny and breezy at the moment. A good day to hang the laundry out on the line -- did I say I'd gone "green?" Well, actually, it's a return to "green." I was "green" when it was called "can't afford a dryer." I thought I'd see if I could make a small dent in the ever rising hot summer weather energy bill. That, and I dearly love the way sheets and pillowcases smell when they've been solar dried. As far as I'm concerned, Heaven will smell like that.

I think I'm probably the only one in the neighborhood who actually has a clothesline. We put a deluxe three-liner up when we moved here more than thirty years ago, but as a result of juggling two careers and boy child, it was eventually relegated to drying emergencies and big things that wouldn't fit into the clothes dryer.

I never wanted to get rid of it, though, despite of the questionable esthetics of having two welded-iron T-poles strung with green plastic-coated wires in the back yard. I'm glad I kept it, and so far, so good with the logistics of using it this time around. I've managed to get the wash in ahead of several thunderstorms, and I've only miscalculated whether the humidity was too extreme for the clothes to get completely dry once or twice.

More importantly, I haven't been stung by marauding yellow jackets or tired bees who find the clothespins a handy perch -- as yet. (Knock on wood.) I know not to leave the clothespin bag on the line while the clothes are drying, lest there be some critter with a stinger inside it when I go back to take the clothes in -- folding each piece and putting it into the clothes basket as I go, of course.

Leaving the basket in the grass for the duration of the drying process also invites trouble, in the form of ticks, ants, and/or spiders hitching a ride and finding their way into the house or on your person. There's also the possibility of a snake, but so far the one I know about has confined itself to the iris bed -- I showed you the iris bed. Mosquitoes are another matter entirely. I'm clearly a main course item on the mosquito menu -- enough so to make me wonder why that crisp, clean, dried outdoors smell can't be duplicated in a spray. Either it can't be done -- the ones called "Clean Laundry" aren't even close -- or the scent-maker person has never smelled cotton fabrics dried in sunshine and wind.

But there are other perks besides that wonderful smell.

I like being outside in the early morning dew hanging out the clothes. It's a time for reflection, problem-solving, appreciation, and "think writing." I can hear the wind chimes in the maple tree, the squirrel chatter, birdsong. Sometimes I can hear the Westminster clock chimes coming from the Lutheran church about a half a mile away or the "Pea Vine" train on its run from Salisbury to Badin. Sometimes I can smell honeysuckle and mimosa and the neighbor's coffee. All in all, as long as I can stay ahead of things that sting and bite, it's a very pleasant experience -- and that's not counting the cloud watching and the fact that sunlight will take tomato-based stains out of knit T-shirts like magic -- if you hang it across two lines so that the sun beats directly down on the stain. Really.

And, I think I may have even saved a dollar or two.

In closing, let me tell you the cardinal rule regarding solar drying: Never, ever leave the clothespins out in the weather. As far as my mother and grandmother were concerned, letting clothespins get rained on carried close to the death penalty. Of late, I think I can understand why. As part of the memory-keeping, I have acquired my late mother-in-law Rose's clothespins. For the women of these two generations, I think taking good care of their pins was more than just being frugal. Compared to the ones you might buy today -- if you could find them -- Rose's clothespins are so finished and of such quality, they're practically furniture.

Until next time...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chicken Pie Suppers and Pastor's Wives

A number of years ago -- I'd go look it up, but I know it's longer than I think it is and I'd just as soon skip that part.


A number of years ago, I wrote a Silhouette Special Edition titled Little Darlin'. In it, there is a church chicken pie supper, which is an important plot device by which "Matt Beltran" would begin to understand that he is becoming more involved with the little daughter he didn't know he had (and the woman who is taking care of her) than he intended. Shortly after the book was out, I got a letter from a pastor's wife, who liked it a lot, she said, but she had a problem with the church chicken pie supper thing. She did not consider chicken pies a very likely menu item at all. Certainly, it wasn't in her experience.

The thing is, you see, it's based on my experience, the lesson here being that, as tempting as it is, one shouldn't necessarily assume that a writer doesn't know whereof she speaks. So. It is with great pleasure that I share the Rockwell Methodist Church chicken pie recipe with you now. It's in the old cookbook, courtesy of my long ago Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Maude Euart. Those chicken pies drove the church's fund raisers for many years. As always with the church lady recipes, this is word for word directly from the cookbook -- with the expectation that one already knows how to cook, and in this case, will understand that when the recipe says "Sprinkle diced eggs on top of chicken," it doesn't mean all the diced eggs. It's also understood that one will know what to do with those two boxes of "pie mix," and how to acquire a "large cooked chicken." (Believe me, it's not easy, especially if it happens to still be walking around.)

Maude Euart's Chicken Pie

1 large cooked chicken
2 boxes pie mix
9 eggs boiled hard and diced

Cook chicken until it falls off the bones, then cut with scissors and put chicken in an unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle diced eggs on top of chicken. Take (mixed in a little cold water):

about 1/2 of broth
1/2 c. flour

Cook mixture until thick and pour over the chicken and eggs in pie shell. Add top Bake in oven at 425 or 450 degrees until brown.

Take the rest of broth, add 1/2 cup flour in a little cold water. Cook until desired thickness, add chicken liver, gizzard, rest of the diced eggs. This sauce is to be used over pie when served.

Enjoy. In Maude's and the rest of the church ladies' hands, this pie was a truly wonderful thing...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

MORE Birthdays!

Happy Birthday to the Sweet Boy Father and Son Team! Loved the cake. (I'm not allowed to say how old they are.)

(Four down and one more to go...)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Notes From The Swale

This photo (courtesy of my friend, Deena the Poet) was taken at the Chic-fil-A restaurant here on Wednesday when the remnants of Hurricane Fay came through. We had close to 10 inches of rain in all -- that's six-lane Innes Street behind them, not a lake.

The dh and I had some tense moments because, when the water suddenly began to rise, our grandbaby was visiting her other grandparents at the motel between this Chic-fil-A and the interstate highway you can see in the background -- where the deepest water is.

I'm happy to say the water has receded and all is well -- and my granddaughter now knows a lot more about floods and their precipitous nature than she did on Tuesday.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

World Traveler Update

The nephew is finally feeling well again. Fingers crossed that henceforth he'll by-pass those menu items that are "questionable."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Writing Thing

This is me -- happy to learn today that my orphaned book, The Marine, is an orphan no more. It, along with my other orphan, The First Boy I Loved, are to be released in a 2-in-1 volume trade paperback in August 2009. I am very happy. And so are my creditors. Likewise my non-deductible dependents. (Please start saving your pennies now, okay?)

This is also me -- with a heart and soul book proposal "out there" in the Land of Rejection, Angst, and Bona Fide Waiting Heck.

(What? Surely you didn't think it gets easier?)