Monday, December 24, 2007

Mo' Better Blues

We sent out invitations to our Christmas party right after Thanksgiving, so even though I wasn't really in the mood for a celebration this year, there was no getting out of having one. When I got serious about planning the party, my first reaction was negative – I don't feel like it; I don't want to do it; WHY am I doing this? – I was determined to either wallow in misery or just sulk.

Somewhere along the line, though, I began to think about how being sad affects the way I view the world, and it occurred to me that happiness and sadness are not mutually exclusive emotions, and that, in fact, each of them magnifies the other in ways that aren't always obvious on the surface. Walking down the street, peering into shop windows, in itself, has no meaning; but spying a little china cat in a shop window, one like my great-grandmother used to collect , well, that changes things entirely. A little tug on the heartstrings or a remembrance of past happiness has the power to change things altogether -- if you let it. So, as I planned my party, I let it.

We had two tables of food: one for appetizers and one for desserts.



When I set up the dessert table, I thought about the meaning in each thing I placed on it. The flowers, the china, and the table runner were given to me by Auntie. I've had the china the longest; Auntie bought it on one of her overseas sojourns and Mama and Papa Barber brought it to me when they visited us in West Virginia in our first year of marriage. It is one of my prized possessions and I never miss an opportunity to show it off. Auntie gave me the table runner much later, along with a chest that has a scratched top. The chest is in the other room and the runner usually stays on top of it, but I put a different runner on the chest, so Auntie's runner could add a little meaning to the dessert table for the party. Auntie also gave me the gorgeous pink poinsettias for Christmas this year. The sterling, which I spent hours polishing to mirror-perfection, originally belonged to my grandmother's sister El. It was given to me a couple of years ago by her other sister Mackie, and it is also one of my prized possessions. In addition to assorted cookies, petit fours from Neiman Marcus, and a fondant cake from a New York bakery, the table contains some culinary treasures baked by DH: his famous biscotti, the yummy lemon cake that he bakes for my birthday, and the chess cake that my other grandmother, Bonnie, used to make for Christmas each year.



The appetizer table, which I didn't have time to photograph, contained all sorts of wonderful tidbits, including some that also had meaning. There, we used the rice china given to us by Auntie, and we had more of DH's delectables, including his amazing meatballs and corn muffins made from Mama Barber's buttermilk recipe.



The party was wonderful and it was also meaningful – I made a point of mentioning the origins of the dishes, silver, and recipes whenever anyone commented on them. Each time I did so, I felt a little tug on my heartstrings and each little tug added a layer of meaning to my life. Each time someone asked about the roll-top desk that belonged to my great-grandfather, where we'd set up the bar, I thought about the history of the desk and I added a layer. Each time someone commented on the china and the silver (and nearly everyone did), I talked about their history and I added a layer. The corn muffins were popular and I explained how my grandmother made them for years and years, but she only wrote down the recipe so my grandfather could make them when she was visiting Auntie in England. And I added another layer.



After everyone had gone, I looked around in amazement. Our house had turned into a vision of light. It was almost as if each layer of meaning had also added a bit of extra glow to the room!



May your holiday season have layers of meaning too.



Have a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Thanks and Thoughts

Thanks to everyone, particularly Gillian, for the condolences and kind words about my grandmother.

DH and I were talking about her yesterday and he said something to the effect that the thing he found fascinating about her is that she was the most influential person he'd ever met and yet, she wasn't rich or famous and she never gave unsolicited advice or instructions. She was, he said, a person for whom people wanted to care without any prompting, and that was down to nothing more than who she was: a model of the best sort of person anyone could hope to be. (I knew there was a reason I love this guy!)

I was thinking about DH's words in the shower this morning and it occurred to me that while I agree with him absolutely, there was a lot more to my grandmother than merely being a "good" person. I mean … of course she was good, but there are a number of simplistic stereotypes about what constitutes "goodness" – e.g., words like vapid, inane, and judgmental come to mind – yet nothing could be further from her essence than words like those. The fact is, my grandmother wasn't cast in the mold of anyone's sweet little old granny.

I relate this not because it will be important to anyone else, but because as a writer, creating realistic characters is important to me, and I feel my grandmother's personality gave me significant insight into complex characters. For instance, she told me once that when she was young, she really had a temper and that she'd worked hard to overcome it. I don't recall exactly why she mentioned this, but I suspect it was because I'd told her something I'd done in a fit of my own horrible temper – like the time I stove a hole in the wall by hurling an iron at it. She said not a word of censure about me behaving like a giant's horse's arse (although I did), she just casually mentioned her own temper. She wasn't being facile though; in 44 years of knowing her, I saw her get truly angry exactly one time and I can only thank Christ it wasn't me she was mad at me cos I'm pretty sure that incident gave me a better understanding of the phrase "scorched earth." That was 30 years ago, and though I spent a lot of time with her in the intervening years, she never did it again. She won the battle to conquer her temper completely.

The funny thing is, I don't think she was trying to live up to idealistic notions of being "good;" I think she just didn't want to be a person who acted like a horse's arse. And she wasn't; not to mention the importance of showing me that it could be done (I still haven't attained it, but I live in hope!).

The reason this is relevant is because if I were to try to write about a character like my grandmother, it would be difficult to avoid the pitfall of assigning her behaviour to the influence of cultural stereotypes of womanhood in the patriarchal South. Of course we are all going to be affected by cultural influences somewhat, but there is a big difference between wanting to be a perfect lady and not wanting to be an equine posterior.

To me, this is important because even though I, too, am a daughter of the South and I'm well aware that there's more to it, I also see how easy it is to fall into defining complex behaviour as either conforming or subversive. However, this is not only simplistic; it's just plain wrong. All I need to do to convince myself of this is to look at the other women in my family. I suppose one might define them as "ladies," but I doubt very seriously that one could make a case for any of them fitting the cultural stereotype of Southern women (otherwise known as "doormat"). For example, Auntie, who has recently started her own blog, left Arkansas for Washington DC when she was a young woman and forged a brilliant career in the US Foreign Service. She may have defied cultural stereotypes of the 1950s, but she didn't defy her parents – they were proud of her, always. One of my female cousins is a rising star at a major corporation and the other is a Math teacher. I can't speak for them, but I can't relate to that stereotype because I've always done what I wanted with the encouragement of my dad, my grandfather, and my husband. That specific patriarchy was never anything but beneficial to me.

My grandmother vanquished her temper because she wanted to be a better person, illustrating a multifaceted character, and inspiring me to work on my own temper in the process. She also showed me that curbing one's temper does not a doormat make. Useful stuff!

Beware scorched earth.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Vale Mama Barber

My grandparents, Mama and Papa Barber, were there for me from the moment I was born. I adored them, and when they moved to Florida when I was seven, I was heartbroken at the thought of not seeing them anymore. But the outcome of that move made me theirs in a way that might not otherwise have happened. I begged to visit them so often that the next summer, my parents and my grandparents arranged to drive to Mobile, Alabama (a halfway point), and I accompanied Mama and Papa back to Tampa so I could spend some time with them. That time turned into a whole summer, and the next seven summers as well. I loved my parents, but every year, I counted the days until I could go back to Mama and Papa's house. In all my life, that never changed -- wherever Mama and Papa lived felt like home to me too.

Mama died yesterday, while I was on the plane, on the way to see her. Her death was not unexpected, and it was not terribly sad in the sense of her having an unfinished life, but it is painful because her passing leaves a hole in the world. It most definitely leaves a hole in the world.

This is for her.

My grandmother, Mildred Beasley Barber, was born in 1914 in Warren, Arkansas. She was the third of five children born to Benjamin Beasley and Mai Smith Beasley. Her father was a lawyer who was also elected to two terms as Clerk of the Circuit Court for Bradley County. She went to college during the Great Depression, and hated it - it was a hardship for her family. She finally decided to leave school and she returned home to Warren and a while later, married my grandfather, Graham Nathaniel Barber.

When I was here two weeks ago, on Thanksgiving, my grandmother and I talked for hours. She told me that she knew my grandfather from the time she was eleven or twelve, but although they were friends in high school -- they shared books and notes -- he dated her friend Lucille. When she came home from college, though, all grown up, their friendship took a new course.

They had four children, including my dad, all of them exceptionally successful, and a life filled with joy and pain and fishing and books and travel -- and through it all, for those who loved them, my grandparents were the moorings, the port in the storm, the balm for what ailed us -- they were quiety, utterly dependable.

When I was in Florida, they took me fishing. Papa taught me to bait a hook and Mama taught me about love and loyalty. Mama loved to read, and rather than doing much fishing, she'd take a grocery bag full of books to read while Papa fished. I once asked her why she went at all if she wasn't going to fish -- she said it was because Papa loved to fish and she didn't want him to go out in his boat alone.

Mama took me to the library twice a week. She would help me cart home my 14 books (the most you could check out), and she would run interference with the well-meaning librarians who wanted to restrict me to the cihldren's section of the library. Mama's sister El was a librarian and she asked El for advice on what she ought to let me read. El said, "Turn her loose and you'll make a reader for life." El was right. When Mama and I talked on Thanksgiving, she laughed about how strange it was to see her ten-year-old granddaughter plowing through the Warren Commission, The Exorcist, and Shakespeare!

And what a wonderful role model she was. Mama read at least one book every day, and before she lost her eyesight, she did crosswords. She could zoom through the Sunday NYT crossword in record time. She always kept a dictionary nearby and if I ever asked her about a word she couldn't easily explain, she would immediately look it up. When I was in my Shakespeare phase, I would take a part and she would take another, and we would read it aloud as a play. Sometimes, when I begged her, she would even sing "Clementine" for me -- a song I remembered from my early childhood. No matter how difficult I was (and there is NO doubt I was difficult!), Mama was incredibly patient with me.

When I was twelve, I played clarinet in the varsity band. I wasn't really talented, but I was competitive and I challenged my way up to second chair. Rosie, the first chair, was better than me, but she wasn't old enough to play in the state finals, so I took the gold medal -- and was promoted to the Concert band, which was mostly made up of older students. I went from being arguably the best clarinetist in Varsity band to unarguably the worst in the Concert band, and I went with the band to the national championship in Orlando, Florida. The Concert band had won 20 consecutive championships and I was petrified that one of my mistakes would cost them a 21st. Looking out at the audience, I was on the verge of pretending to play, thinking that a missed part wouldn't be as bad as an audible mistake, and then I saw them. Mama and Papa Barber had driven all the way from Tampa to Orlando on a work-night, just to hear me play. Seeing them out there reminded me that I had a part to play and the right thing to do was to play it to the best of my ability, regardless of the outcome. So I did it for them, and I did it well -- and we won.

Mama and Papa were at my high school graduation. They helped my dad move me into the dorm at University of Arkansas. They held my hand and shared my grief when my dad died. Papa walked me down the aise at my wedding in my dad's place, and Mama was beaufiful in pink in the front row. They welcomed my friends into their home; they welcomed my husband; they welcomed my dogs, and they always always welcomed me.

I always felt my dad lived on in them, and now I feel that they, Mama and Papa and Daddy, live on in me.

Vale Mama Barber -- Requiescat in Pace

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Art of Effective Dreaming

by Gillian Polack -- coming soon -- to a bookseller near you (or at least near your computer).

Mysteries

Mayhem

Murdered Morris Dancers

You heard it here first.

Kindle or Kindling

Kindle or Kindling

The topic of the week last week was the release of the new Amazon Kindle. Newsweek devoted their entire cover to it as well as a major article.

Though the Kindle is at heart a reading machine made by a bookseller—and works most impressively when you are buying a book or reading it—it is also something more: a perpetually connected Internet device. A few twitches of the fingers and that zoned-in connection between your mind and an author's machinations can be interrupted—or enhanced—by an avalanche of data. Therein lies the disruptive nature of the Amazon Kindle. It's the first "always-on" book.

I have to admit that the idea of being able to download a new supply of reading materials instantly, and for a significantly lower price, is pretty enticing to this reader. If they hadn't sold out within 5 hours, the Kindle might have been on my list to Santa this year. But funnily enough, despite what all the "death of printed books" pundits are predicting, I can't see it having a huge impact on printed books -- at least not in the near future.

Why? There are several reasons, and I've considered all of them pretty seriously. I have, for example, tried ebooks in the past, and though I found them useful for nonfiction because of being able to search, they're a pain in the kazoo in other ways. Like, say, when my house was struck by lightning and we were without electricity for several days. Once the battery of the reader runs out, then you're out of luck. We had another long power outage last winter, and having a decent supply of real books was critical to my survival!

Another thing is that I often read for pure enjoyment -- and that can mean while I'm eating; or sitting out on the porch sweating; or at the beach. I doubt very much that the Kindle can offer much protection against greasy fingers, sand, or sweat! Another thing I do is read on planes -- obsessively -- because I'm afraid of flying. I cannot get on a plane without a minimum of two books, and it's usually more. The Kindle would be fabulous for reducing weight in my tote bag, except you have to turn it off while taking off and landing -- the times at which my flying fears are most likely to rear their heads -- so I'd have to take at least one book too, which utterly defeats the purpose.

There was one other feature that would have made the Kindle a slam-dunk for me had it been included, but it wasn't: a backlit screen. That would have allowed me to read in bed with the overhead lights off, sparing DH some frequent misery.

I'll probably get a Kindle someday, or one of its competitors, when it has a backlit screen and a battery that can last at least 60 hours and it costs $99. When that day comes, bring it on. Till then, I'll stick with my expensive, heavy, dog-eared pages. They're reliable and they look nice on the bookshelf.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Accounting for Myself

I love NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated). That might seem odd since I'm not participating, but I love the idea of all that writerly angst spilling out into the world. I know it's warped, but I feel a sense of camaraderie with all those fingers clicking on the keyboard -- because it means others are doing the same thing I am, although it's to a different purpose. It also means that for one month of the year, my dirty little secret -- writing lots and lots and lots of words -- is not a vice.

I can trace my initiation into the guilty pleasure of verbosity to a book with blank pages that my parents gave me for Christmas when I was nine years old. Bound in pale pink leather, it had metallic swirls on the front and a brass lock. It was larger than the typical little-girl diary and it didn't feature the word 'diary' anywhere; the title page was headed with the words, ' An Accounting.'

I'm not sure why, but rather than using the book as a diary to record what happened each day, I took my 'accounting' to heart and felt I should use it to account for myself -- to write about whys instead of whats -- and that's what I did, and still do. Instead of writing about winning the tether-ball championship in the fifth grade, I wrote about the carpet of violets that grew by the creek in the springtime -- because that accounted for the reason I was partial to the color violet. Instead of writing about what happened in school, I wrote about a teacher who answered students' nosy questions about her age by telling them she was '21 plus' -- because I thought it was a good example of the mysterious demarcation between being a child and being an adult. My entries nearly always took the form of an essay and they became longer and longer, filling the pink journal and dozens of others as the years went by.

When I was fourteen, my mother gave me a battered Brother typewriter, and my essays grew even longer. Since I didn't always have the typewriter to hand, I started carrying around notebooks as well. I squeaked through Algebra class, writing about the way dust motes and the remembered scent of my grandfather's pipe smoke seemed to hang in the air in my grandmother's house. In Sociology, I wrote about the agony of getting snow into my boots. I rarely wrote about anything in the present, unless there was a crisis at hand, and then, I wrote reams of impressions and descriptions -- of everything.

And I still do it. Every day. Sometimes I write with my computer; sometimes I use one of my ubiquitous notebooks. Sometimes, the spill-over even makes it into this blog, the entries of which tend to be a little on the long side. :-) There are times when I wish I could stop the flow, or at least turn it into something useful, like one of the countless novels that will be produced during NaNoWriMo, but long years of trying to subvert it have taught me that I simply cannot do it. I write things with purpose nearly every day; sometimes I even plumb my journals for help in adding color to my purposeful writing, as I did with the story I wrote about Hurricane Rita, but those are apart from the daily word-vomit I call life.

And so, although there is no plot in my words, my fingers are happily clicking on the keyboard this month, along with all the NaNoWriMo participants.

Word Count: 608

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Frockless

Since we're not going anywhere interesting for Christmas this year, we decided to have a Christmas party on December 22nd. This isn't something we commonly do; in fact, we haven't had a real party in years. I expected that most people would have other plans, but to my surprise, lots of people have already agreed to come -- before the invitations have even gone out. Uh oh. This is going to take major planning.

We live in the middle of nowhere, so to give people time to arrive and get home at a reasonable hour, it seemed logical to invite people to come at 3:00 pm. Except that presents a dilemma -- it's not early enough to be a luncheon, but it's too early to be a cocktail party -- so what the heck should I wear? I expect most everyone will be casual, and I want to be too, but my normal version of casual is ancient blue jeans and a twinset or a button-down, and that's not going to work. My closet is worse than useless because it's full of blue jeans and party dresses that are too formal. I don't live near many stores, so I have to deal with the what-to-wear issue now. Sigh.

What I want doesn't seem that complicated -- not too short, not too tight, not too low cut, not too sheer. Just a nice comfy dress with a fitted top that I can wear with tights and flats. My first thought was to order something from that bastion of middle-class dowd: Nordstrom. They have dresses separated into the seemingly helpful categories of 'occasion' and 'day'. The day dresses are further separated into 'casual' and 'wear to work' categories. Easy as pie, right? What I need should be in the casual day section. They have a lot of dresses, but I seem to have a teensy difference of opinion to what constitutes casual (not to mention 'day')! Like this, for example:



I might wear that dress; it's cute. But casual? And what about this one?



You could wear this to a barbecue? Really? My horizons are way too limited!

I proceeded on to the 'occasion' dresses in hopes of finding something on the plainer side of festive. Maybe something in a dark velvet, but with no sequins or whatnot. My choices there ranged from Yikes! to Mother-of-the Bride.



I don't think so!

I suppose this means I have to cast a wider net. My best hope is probably at a shop called Elle in Little Rock, where I'm going next week. Cousin Socialite introduced me to it a few years ago, and it generally stocks everything from Oscar-dress knock-offs to Jolly Hockey Sticks dresses (description courtesy of Gillian as I can't think of a better way of describing the type).

I wonder why the common choices seem to be involve dressing like a pole-dancing stripper, a prom queen, or an ancient cow.

Cocktails anyone?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Winds of Change

It's the time of year when I start obsessing over things like whether I need a pair of cowboy boots and how to avoid looking like a reject from 'What Not to Wear' at holiday parties, and when -- no surprise there -- the book world begins to issue prophecies of doom. 'O woe is us,' say they.

But what do they do about it -- outside of moaning and groaning about discounts and returns, about distribution or lack of it, about the commoditization of books?

"Books aren't like cans of soup you buy in the grocery! They're DIFFERENT. It's all So Unfair!"

Yeah, but what are they (we) doing about it? If the answer is "business as usual," then I think they (we) ought to shut up -- everyone is tired of hearing about it. I mean, really, if you don't like the way something is, then why wouldn't you try to CHANGE it? If you don't try, then somebody else will, and maybe they'll roll right over your tired old bones in the process. Can you blame them?

I've been thinking about this for a long time, and I've come to the conclusion that the book world needs to change or get out of the way. I happen to like publishing, so for me, the choice is easy: CHANGE.

One important aspect of change is to get a grip on the bottom line. I've met a surprising number of small publishers who haven't the faintest clue about how they're doing financially. I suppose that's understandable; most accounting software doesn't handle returns well, and it sure as heck isn't good for calculating royalties, so the result seems to be a wing, a prayer, and an Excel spreadsheet. Unless you're a pro at Excel, you might as well bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.

I was at that point myself when I got a chance to work on a project to develop software for small publishers. The resulting product, DashBook, is now in beta, as of yesterday. The DashBook beta is just the first step in a larger project to help small and self publishers band together to sell books and (Wahoo!), it is going to be fantastic. Present company excepted, of course, but the other developers of this software (and the larger project), Gregory Carrier and Steve Bezner, are the smartest people I've met anywhere.

If you are a small (or self) publisher, and you are interested in change, you're welcome to try our Windows beta (free, for now).

www.dashbook/sales

Because DashBook is still in beta, we can possibly incorporate suggestions and feedback in the version we release.

More to come!

Monday, November 12, 2007

It was a dark and stormy ... day

My giant battery is hanging in, but if I owe you an email, it may be a while before I can reply. I'm truly sorry.

I just love winter.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Life is but a ... what?

When I came back from Maui last week, all was smooth sailing. Other than the usual small screaming occupants of nearby seats, the flight was fine. DH was rather miserable, as he'd begun to show signs of coming down with a cold on our last day, but I was only sunburnt and tired -- or so I thought. It was nearly midnight when we rolled off the plane, so we spent the night at a tacky no-tell-motel before making the 3-hour drive home from the airport. We picked up our doggies from the kennel en route, and went home to collapse until the next morning, when DH, looking more than a little worse for the wear, left for Houston.

It was early, still, and I was really tired, so I decided to go back to bed for a few minutes before starting the tedious job of plowing through my stacked-up inbox. I woke up hours later, with my throat on fire, and a whole bunch of new bones that had grown in broken. I thought, "Damn; I'm getting a cold too." That was my last clear thought for 5 or 6 days.

At first, I couldn't get out of bed. Later, I probably shouldn't have got out of bed. After several hours of alternating between sweating and shivering, I took my temperature – 103 F. It may have gone higher, but I mislaid the thermometer (I don't remember going into the guest room, but that's where I found the thermometer last night...).

One day – it may have been Wednesday – I woke up thinking I was still in Maui. I spotted Pippin, my furry white gremlin-dog, curled up next to me on the pillow. "Pippin!" I asked, "How did you get here?" Unfortunately, Pippin doesn't quite speak English, so all he could do was nuzzle my ear relentlessly until I put on my glasses and saw the grey skies weeping rain outside the window. Argghhh!

It's just as well DH was out of town because I would have driven him crazy with my whingeing. I was utterly flummoxed by the appearance of new and painful body parts that hitherto hadn't existed. (The outside edges of your hands can hurt? WTF?)

I had a previously scheduled doctor's appointment near the end of the week. It was meant to be for getting the results of the various tests my doctor has run on me since my thyroid went extra-haywire back in June. I considered canceling because I felt too ill to drive, but I have to admit that even half-delirious, I wanted to know whether he still suspected I had a brain tumour (well, a pituitary tumour, but as far as I'm concerned, if it's inside your skull it counts as brain!), so I went.

I do not have a brain tumour.

I have, as originally suspected, Hashimoto's thyroiditis. I also have the flu.

I have shiny new prescriptions for thyroid medication and cough syrup.

I have both immense relief and great joy.

I do not have a brain tumour!

DH says my flu is the karmic price I paid for being in paradise for a week and telling everyone about it. I suppose he could be right, but being delirious in exchange for a few extra days of sunshine without the prices of the Four Seasons (or a brain tumour) seems like a pretty nice deal.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Road Not Taken

There is a famous road in Maui -- the Road to Hana -- that has inspired raptures over its natural beauty and a variety of t-shirts ("I survived the road to Hana"). The road is, apparently, the most popular tourist attraction in Maui.

We rented a car so that DH could go surfing (bet he wishes he'd reapplied sunscreen -- 2nd degree burns on the backs of his legs are not going to make for a pleasant flight home) -- and we decided to spend yesterday, our last full day here, doing a bit of the sightseeing we've otherwise avoided.

We could have driven the road to Hana, and joined the legions of tourists who "survived" the hairpin turns and won the right to view magical waterfalls and secluded beaches, and to buy the all-important t-shirt proclaiming our victory. We didn't do that, though. We took the road to Lahaina instead.

I don't really know why I wanted to see Lahaina, but I suspect it had something to do with distant memories of James Michener's "Hawaii" which I read in high school. Whatever the reason, Lahaina seemed far more "magical" than anything on the road to Hana could have -- because Lahaina is nearly a double of the place I live now, Coupeville. Seriously.

I know it shouldn't be surprising -- although Lahaina is larger, and sunnier, and Hawaiian (duh) -- both towns were built around the same time, by the same types of whaling-sailing-settlers, and strolling down Front street in either of these towns gives you a remarkably similar view ... during the summer. And now I have another place to dream of when I'm stuck in the bleak tableau of a Washington winter. That's the best souvenir (along with the Hawaiian Hello Kitty, of course) -- and I'm glad to have it since we're flying home to a winter storm this afternoon.

I'm not sure we'll ever come back here, but this time, I am sure we've taken the right road.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

De Rerum Natura - On the Nature of Things

Another day; another cabana -- this one facing the deep blue sea. I've been watching an outrigger, manned by a group of inept oarsmen, as it tracks in random patterns along the shore. DH is down there somewhere with flippers and a snorkel, but I'm too far from the crest of the hill to see the beach. In addition to my laptop, I have a cup of tea, a copy of the Wall Street Journal, and "The Whole World Over" by Julia Glass. In the last 15 minutes, someone has brought me a drinks menu, a lunch menu, and a spa menu -- a Pacific Mango foot massage is sounding pretty enticing just now. The sun is behind me, and I can feel my back turning lobster in spite of the 50 SPF I put on when I came out this morning, so I am all set to ponder one of the great questions of life: how in the hell did I get to be this old without a proper appreciation of the joys of a holiday in paradise?

Seriously.

It's not as if I've never been to a beach or to a nice hotel -- au contraire -- I've been to many and I've enjoyed the experiences. The difference between those trips and this one appears to be that the others were sort of ... incidental. DH had a conference in Orlando, so we went to Disney World; he had a conference in Point Clear, Alabama, so we went to Destin; he had a business meeting in Paris, so we sampled the pleasures of the Champs d'Elyssee and the Georges V. When we lived in Seattle before, Cannon Beach and Santa Barbara were easy trips down the coast. My cousin got married in Annapolis, and we stopped off in Washington DC for a few days. In fact, the only trips we took that were truly intentional were two trips to England, both of which were on my initiative, and one weekend in Breckenridge so DH could ski on his 40th birthday.

Most everyone we know takes vacations like the one we're having now, but we never did. And the reason why? Me. I am the reason why we never made a point of having fun. Oh wait -- we did have fun; we just didn't make a point of it -- because ... because ... because ... oh hell; I don't know why, but now that I know it, it bears considering. Mai tais are very helpful when consideration is required, so I am fortunate to have one right here when I need it.

It is an odd thing to suddenly realise that you've been going along in your life, doing things you've wanted to do, or you've thought needed doing, but taking a pass on other things that would have enriched the rest. And for no obvious reason! I love the beach -- always have done -- I grew up spending summers on the beach in Florida and the sea and sand hold nothing but positive memories for me. But although DH always wanted to plan beach vacations, I would hold out for English castles or places like The Greenbrier or the Biltmore. Our friends went to Mexico, the Carribean, Hawaii, and on cruises, but we stuck to our incidental trips or stayed home because I was too picky about where we would go. I nearly even derailed this holiday by fixating on the Jamaica Inn. Only God knows why because the flights would have been three times as long and this is the height of the hurricane season in the Carribean. And I have never been to either Jamaica or Hawaii, so why on earth would I be so convinced that the Jamaica Inn would be better than the Four Seasons Maui? DUH!

I suspect the underlying reason for my idiocy (aside from just being an idiot, which I don't deny) is an unconscious echo of the attitudes I frequently hear about popular fiction. i.e., that it's trashy, a guilty pleasure, dumbed down, not real literature, the literary equivalent of McDonald's -- junk for the masses. But how utterly stupid. I *am* the masses! I love to read ... everything. And really, how do you tell the difference? I was in Borders the other day and I noticed a lot of books with pink covers and titles like "This is Not Chick Lit" and "The Starter Wife" were shelved in the "Literature" section along with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Philippa Gregory and Sharon K. Penman's books were in the Romance section.

Well screw that. My new resolution is that from now on, I'm going to go to the beach; I'm going to read whatever the hell I want (no matter what section it's shelved in); and I'm going to work very hard to overcome the limitations of a closed mind. I may even go to McDonald's once in a while. And I'm going to enjoy it, dammit.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Better Late Than Never

When we were little girls, my cousin Christy told me that if we went to heaven, we'd get to wear Christian Dior nighties and eat birthday cake every day. I was willing to concede that Christy was prettier than me and better at ballet, but back then, I wasn't willing to concede that she was smarter than me too. So I adopted the superior attitude of almost-thirteen-year-old girls every where and scoffed at her.

"How ridiculous," I sniffed. "One day maybe, but every day? That would be stultifying."

So...

It was still dark this morning when I awakened, miraculously hangover-free in spite of last night's champagne. DH was sleeping, so I went out to the terrace off the sitting room with the dessert I didn't finish last night. I ate chocolate cake, listened to the waves, and looked out at the dark water below. In a little while, DH joined me, bringing a cup of strong tea and the rest of the baguette we bought at Pike Place Market. The breeze was cool, but my frilly little robe was just the right weight.

The water turned gold first, and then the sky, and then the cabanas around the pool. And I realised there was something I needed to do.

Mea Culpa, Christy.

You are prettier than me, and better at ballet, and you are -- yes -- a lot smarter than me too. It only took me thirty
years to see it.

I suppose one of these days I'm going to have to try on a Christian Dior nightie. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to
make do with Juicy Couture and a mai tai.


Friday, October 5, 2007

Bookworld: Another One Bites the Dust

Publishers' Weekly reports on the latest distributor to go belly up:

“If I can avoid it, I won’t declare bankruptcy,” Ronald Ted Smith, founder of the now defunct BookWorld Companies, told PW yesterday afternoon, noting that a filing would likely tie up publishers’ inventory for years and possibly force some out of business.

To prevent that from happening to BookWorld’s 100-plus clients, Smith enabled AtlasBooks, a division of BookMasters, to gain entry to BookWorld’s former warehouse in LaVergne, Tenn. But even with returned inventory, publishers are still at risk of being forced to close. They will likely lose all their receivables, which are currently being funneled to the Florida bank that supplied a $1 million line of credit to BookWorld. The bank hired former BookWorld CFO and president Wilfrid Niquette to facilitate collection of those monies.

Read the rest...

Distributors are important for getting books into stores, but dealings with them are definitely a double-edged sword for small publishers.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Book Review: A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick

I will probably do an in-depth review of this at some point in the future, but for now, I need to say only one thing:

This is the best book I've ever read.



All hail Elizabeth Chadwick, Master of the Historical Fiction Universe.

Product details (available from amazon.co.uk)
  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere (28 Sep 2007)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1847440517
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847440518

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Lemonade

I've been remiss in posting lately, mainly because I've been sick as a dog since I got back from Houston two weeks ago. At first, the problem was a relatively minor cold, but this last week has been due to my thyroid, which has gone so far off the chart with weirdness that I'm having to entirely forgo the thyroid medication I've depended on for the last 18 years -- until my doctor can figure out what is wrong. There is no other way to say it: this sucks. When your thyroid is trying to die as mine has been for lo these many years, thyroid medication is pretty much the only thing that stands between you and a coma. It takes, however, a LONG time to get to the point of the Big Sleep (Nanci and Tammy; if you're reading this, I left off gratuitous quote marks just for you.), so I am not in any danger without my thyroid medication; I'm just miserable. It feels rather like the worst hangover EVER, but with no relief in sight -- at least none promised until I get the results from my next blood test (a week from tomorrow).

My tale of woe is compounded by the never-ending gloom of icy freezing rain sluicing down my windows for days now. The newspaper says this is because the first storm of the winter has arrived more than a month early. Thank you Mother Nature. Oh, and my DH is in Chicago, visiting his family without me. (That's probably a good thing because in my current state of mind, staying away from my outlaws is also probably preventing me from a murder rap.)

I think I hit the low point when I decided to have steak and candy for dinner. Yes; I really did. I was actually pleased that I had enough energy to heat up leftover steak -- and the candy was the only side dish that didn't require cooking. :g

Wallowing only makes me feel worse, so I decided it was time to stage a turnaround, and I reviewed the strategies I could use to feel better. There really aren't that many when you're stuck in the house alone except for equally housebound animals, missing your DH, and feeling like crap. Apparently, a few cells are still firing somewhere in my feeble hypothyroid brain, though, because I realised there was one surefire thing I could do to cheer up.

I gave my husband part of his anniversary present early (our anniversary is 16 October). I've been working on this present for close to a year -- it's a huge photo book with highlights of our twenty years together. He knows about it because the artwork has been so labor-intensive, it would have been impossible to keep it a secret. But he hasn't really seen it yet. So, inspired by the gorgeous trailer Elizabeth Chadwick did for her new book, I used the artwork from DH's gift to make my own trailer -- and I emailed him the URL so he could go ahead and look at it.

And now I am happy -- his reaction was beyond my wildest dreams. After he was finished being all choked up, he said such sweet things that it would transform the ugliest frog into Cinderella (Mixed metaphors? Sue me!). And the best thing is that my trailer reminded me of all the times life has handed me lemons and I've made lemonade.

I'm sure no one outside of the few family members who stop by will be interested, but the trailer is online for the next day or two at my website plus "/fun/scrapbooksmall.htm" -- and y'all had better not make fun of all that Big Hair! (Also note, it's a huge file with music -- needs broadband.)

Have a happy day.

T- aka the Doubtful Muse.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Shelfari Fun

I really do like Shelfari. It's fun, but it's also useful for keeping track of books.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

We Get Queries...

For the record, my company is interested in publishing historical fiction. Unless you are writing about some kind of MEDIEVAL "al-Queda" (like ... one that existed more than 50 years ago?), then we are not interested. We will now return to our previously scheduled blog-silence. Thank you.

p.s. The same rules applies to anything to do with "jihads".

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Gotta Love It...

I came to Houston to discuss important things with intelligent people and no sooner do I get here than guess what? A tropical storm forms right off the coast. Clearly, there is only one thing to do now...



Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Traditional Anniversary Gift: A Stuck Pig???

Not really, but my 20th anniversary is fast approaching. About that, I want to note a couple of very important things: 1) one person in the world has managed to stand me for 20 years; and 2) neither of us has murdered the other. Oh, we've been tempted, but murder in your heart is like lust in your heart -- it doesn't count. (Really)

The other thing this impending anniversary means is that I was right all along about being brilliant.

See, for example, Exhibit A: The guy who has stood me for all these years, made reservations for a loooong-delayed honeymoon. (Three nights in the Knickerbocker Hotel in Chicago was a wee bit lacking in romance, ya know?) So, we're going here:


The one thing we're NOT doing, is having any truck with stuck pigs (or grass skirts). No luaus for me!


But I'll take the beach. No problem.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sweet Sweet Tea

My mother had surgery today. It went very well and the doctors think she is going to be OK. Driving back down to her house in the country, I was practically giddy with relief. What a summer this has been. Oh, and it's summer here all right. I've been in the frigid north for so long that I was concerned about how well I'd stand up to triple-digit heat. I needn't have worried though; as soon as I stepped off the plane, all that soft sweet humidity drifted over me like a well-worn cloak -- one I miss when I'm not wearing it. I reckon it suits me; I can take it off, or have a glass of iced tea to forget it, but I can't cast it aside.

This summer has caused me to decide that life is very strange, but sweet tea is a balm for the soul. It's in my mother's refrigerator, and it's also in every refrigerator up and down this road. I know this because it's my road. I was born right here and when I die, I'll come back here for good. The light in the little church tower is still a beacon to call me home.

I haven't spent the night down here in years, but it's as if I never left. Sandy, Uncle Ewell's daughter (Uncle Ewell was my great grandmother's brother) lives across the street; cousin Jean is next door, and Willie's son Don took over the store and carries on the tradition of cooking the best barbecued ribs in the South. Agnes the frog's great-great-great grandchildren live out under the magnolia tree even now, and if you looked at a handful of the dirt outside under a microscope, I suspect it would match the pattern in my DNA.

I have to go now -- the crickets in the fields are calling me ... and the stars ...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

My Book of the Year: The Scarlet Lion by E. Chadwick

I had intended to do another post about the wonders of the HNS Conference once I had got home and unpacked, but I was hijacked by the universe. I returned to learn that my mother is in the intensive care unit of an Arkansas hospital, desperately ill and fighting for her life. That same day, my ISP went down, making it impossible to post the gushing piece I had already written. I have intermittent web access now, but in the interim, my mood has changed too much to feel like reading that piece again, so to distract myself while waiting for my flight to Little Rock, I’ve decided to write about the best book I’ve read this year: The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick.

Earlier in the year, I wrote about how much I was looking forward to reading The Scarlet Lion, but although I read it not long afterwards, I felt it deserved more than the typical bland endorsement I sometimes do for books I enjoy. I’ve always loved her books, and as I’ve noted before, Elizabeth Chadwick is a friend, but that said, I also want to note that, here, I’m not writing about a friend’s book; I’m writing about a FINE book.

I could do a whole post filled with clichés – well drawn characters, terrific story, excellent research, ad nauseum. All those elements are there, and done as well as they’ll ever be done by anyone. However, the reason I wanted this post to transcend a friendly review is because The Scarlet Lion transcends genre fiction by a mile.

Historical fiction purists often focus on research and historical accuracy, and while E. Chadwick can rarely be faulted there, that narrow focus tends to overlook something more important in the wider world of literature: the writing itself. The Scarlet Lion is a terrific book for those looking for a “rousing story” or “historical accuracy” – the characters of William Marshall and his wife Isabelle “come alive” – there is Romance! Danger! Drama!

But, the thing that strikes me as being so much more important about this book is that it is just so beautifully written. For example:

William stood in silence for a while, watching Woodstock come to life. Old King Henry had housed his mistress Rosamund de Clifford here. There were extensive pleasure gardens that in summer drugged the air with the sensuous perfumes of lily, honeysuckle and gillyflower. The three-tiered pond was threaded by a silver cascade of water from the spring, and at the heart of the garden, amid trellises of dog roses, stood an elaborate fountain of pink-flecked marble quarried from the Purbeck hills. A beautiful, tainted paradise, dormant now in the late autumn chill. Those for whose joy it had been built were dead.

On the surface, that is a pretty scene, but it is also highly evocative of the characters’ own haunting sense of fleeting time. And even more haunting are the passages following the death of Alais:

Striguil’s small chapel was ablaze with expensive wax candles, their light clear and hot, redolent with the scent of clover and honey. Incense too filled the spaces and haltered his breath. Before the cross on the altar stood a bier covered in silk cloths of scarlet and gold, fringed with tassels, and upon that bier, in cold state, lay Alais, hands clasped together in prayer, eyes closed as if she slept.

Even in the battle scenes, the imagery is extraordinary:

The fighting bubbled through the streets of Lincoln like yeast frothing on top of new ale, churning up afresh as pockets of English and French met and clashed.

And while Chadwick’s language is often lyrical, she doesn’t pull her punches when harshness is required:

The ground was bloody underfoot. Men fell and were trampled. Horses screamed as they were slashed.

She leaves no illusion that war was a rougher version of a tournament:

… a knight thrust his sword through the eye slit of Perche’s helm, then wrenched it free, blood damascening the steel. Perche’s arm continued in motion for a second blow and then a third. On the downstroke, his fingers lost their grip and the sword fell from his hand. He slumped sideways from the horse and hit the ground with a thud like a sack of wet flour, and didn’t move again.

Much has been written about William Marshall in the 800-odd years since l'Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, and this period being my primary historical interest, I’ve read most of it. For anyone wanting to read about William and his era, The Scarlet Lion is the best of the lot – but really, the book is so well written, it hardly matters who it’s about.

It’s the sort of book that, in a few years, is likely to be classed as “literature” rather than “fiction.”

Funny, how that works…

Friday, June 8, 2007

Wish you were here!

We finally made it, after a really unpleasant flight in which an irate woman tried to exit the aircraft after the doors were closed and we were on the runway, ready for take-off. Although I will never fly United Airlines again unless I'm forced, the flight attendant did a magnificent job of handling the situation. I suspect that attendant, alone, averted the issuance of one of those ugly news releases about someone being arrested for air rage. I know I was feeling rage, but against a fellow passenger, rather than the airline itself because I damn well wanted to take off and the captain said that if this person were allowed to deplane, then the air manifest paperwork would have to be redone and we would be delayed until it was redone. When I heard that, I could have strangled the woman myself! Of course, I also feel a bit of rage towards United for "allowing" me to purchase a packet of disgusting trail mix for $5 -- and at myself for being hungry enough after 24 hours with no sustenance to pay for it.

All's well that ends well, though, and we did finally hit the sheets somewhere around 4am. DH managed to make it to one of the site-seeing tours, but it was all I could do to make it down in time for registration, and then to the dinner, where Bernard Cornwell was the keynote speaker. Cornwell did an excellent job of being funny while discouraging would-be authors from thinking they'll ever be able to quit their day jobs. I'm not sure of what to make of that, but I do have to admit that it's true; few will ever achieve his level of success. I suppose my problem with the message is in believing that it isn't worthwhile for those who don't get to his level. Maybe it isn't, but I'm not entirely sure of that.

I have to say -- attendance at the conference is amazing. It is quite literally, packed, and so far, everything is terrific. I doubt she knows what a great job she does, but I put a lot of that down to Sarah Johnson.

Once I had got over my horrific travel woes, I was ready to have a good time and I am. It's wonderful to see so many people I met at the last conference, and people I've wanted to meet. It isn't as much fun without Lady Tess, but it's still fun to tell everyone about how we've signed a brilliant new author named Louise Turner and how Brian Wainwright's book continues to make its way up the charts.

Nancy Atwell and I had a lovely chat about publishing issues, while sipping drinks in the lobby -- the bar here makes a mean margarita (with Cointreau) and after a couple of them I allowed myself to be shanghaied into playing pool with DH, a couple of librarians, and a former AOL exec named Lawrence, who is charming as well as savvy about software. In case you haven't guessed, I suck at pool. I really really suck. Lawrence, whose partner I was, was a good sport about my awfulness -- and the margaritas eased my pain. It's interesting, btw, that you can be married to someone for going on 20 years, and not have had the faintest idea that he plays pool really well! He's smart too; he didn't want me on his team. *g*

Alas, I'm still stuck on west coast time, which means it feels like 11pm to me, but it's really 2am, and I have to get up in 4 hours if I'm going to make it to any of the early panels (doubtful). However, I do need to be up and about at a reasonable hour to make it to the next batch (and lunch!). I have also learned that our panel is up against one of Diana's Gabaldon's -- and, of course, no one will come to ours for me (although they may come to hear Pat Wynn and Nancy Atwell) -- unless I work out how to be charming in the next 24 hours (not likely).

Wish you were here!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Foiled Again!

I wonder why it is that all I ever seem to write about is the misery of travel! Today I'm in Chicago. I love Chicago. I lived here for years and other than the brutal winters, I always thought it was a pretty great place. Today it's a little lacking in its usual gloss because I'm supposed to be in Albany, NY right now.

This is a problem.

I am not happy. Well, let me qualify that; the plane didn't crash. I'm happy about that. The weather here is noxious, however, and I'm not looking forward to the rest of the evening -- however long it may be (probably a long time since they STILL don't have a plane here at the gate). All I can say is -- wish me luck that I've endured the worst of my flight-curse for the day! If so, then I'll still make to Albany in time for the HNS Conference. If not, then hell, we might as well hit Michigan Avenue for some shoe shopping...

Monday, June 4, 2007

Onward!

Since my last cranky rant, I finally managed to get in the groove and get some things done! Not everything, since that's quite impossible, but I got my website updated, completed my notes for my HNS panel, fixed the wireless connection on my laptop, answered about a million emails, watched a cute but stupid Hugh Grant movie with DH, cleaned my house, and had some neighbors over for dinner. I even survived the eye infection that left me looking like a cyclops for a couple of days. It's just as well that my eye isn't swollen any more because my doctor has been tinkering with my thyroid medication, and presently, I'm so hoarse I would probably be easier to understand if I were to just bark like a dog. ARF!

I leave for the HNS Conference in two days, so all of this is a huge relief (well, except for the part about barking like a dog).

Of course, it would have been a bigger relief if only the United States postal service weren't such massive shits. Media mail was the most popular shipping option for our books; it's gone now, and our shopping cart system is totally wrecked. Oh well; as a famous Southern Belle once said, "I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow."

My HNS panel is about finding the right publisher, so that's what I'm going to think about in the near future (like now). It's funny how there are so many venues devoted to instructing would-be authors in "how to get published," but from what I can tell, not very many seem to provide a critical piece of information: how to find the RIGHT publisher. [Hint: It doesn't help an author's case to suggest that the right publisher is anyone willing to publish their book!]

Seriously, I'm mystified by the number of queries I receive for books I would never even consider publishing. It's a waste of my time to deal with them, but it's also a waste of the author's time to send them, sometimes repeatedly. Not to mention that it's a MAJOR irritant to receive the same query more than once, and I do keep a record of the queries I get.

Whenever asked, I've always been clear that we publish historical fiction and alternate history and that's it. The thing I don't understand is why someone would query me about a techno thriller, a spy novel, a Christian romance, a children's story, a nonfiction book about lesbian culture, etc. Do these authors not understand that even were we to suddenly decide to publish other genres, with no experience in a particular market, we wouldn't have a chance in hell of being able to sell their books? Do they not understand that if we were to publish them, we'd be confirming our own stupidity? Do they really want a stupid publisher? Really?

It's utterly maddening -- I'm almost to the point of responding to queries by asking for a detailed description of the author's favorite of our books -- assuming they've read at least one of them, which, of course, they have not. It's obvious they haven't or they wouldn't waste time querying, but why on earth would they think we'd publish them when they haven't even bothered to find out who we are?

Maybe I need to set up an automated form on our web site.

1) Is your book fiction or nonfiction?

Fiction: Sends them forward
Nonfiction: Sends them to a "thanks but no thanks" page

2) Select the period in which your novel is set:

Prior to 1500 CE: Forward
1500 - 1900 CE: Forward
1900 - 1950: Forward to a different set of questions
1950 - Present: Thanks but no thanks

Something to think about...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Enough Already! Rant Alert!

Heaven help me; I am NEVER going to get anything finished at the rate I'm going. I came back from my trip to three HUGE tubs of mail, God knows how many emails, an unfinished web site redesign, and bunches and bunches and bunches of other stuff. Now days and days have gone by, and I not only haven't caught up, I'm even more behind!

Why?

Well, it could be one of two things:

1. I'm an idiot (probable).

2. I've had it with multi-tasking!

Thanks to a post by Slow Leadership, I'm thinking the answer is number 2. See what I mean? (emphasis mine)

Whatever amazing multi-tasking powers you believe you have, the facts are plain and irrefutable. Your brain isn’t able to switch back and forth between even moderately complex or demanding tasks without a major loss in speed, accuracy, and quality of processing. You may think otherwise, but it’s a myth. With complicated tasks, no one is able to overcome the inherent limitations of the human brain for processing large amounts of information simultaneously—i.e. multitasking. It just can’t be done, any more than a human being is ever going to be able to fly by flapping his or her arms. We aren’t built that way.


Oh boy; do I ever relate to that.

When a person continually switches between tasks, the brain wastes a great deal of time and energy clearing out the processing rules for the previous task and orienting itself to the new one—only to go through the whole cycle again when the first task is back in focus. Activating and completing these procedures wastes copious amounts of time. The research indicates continually switching between tasks can make completion take four times longer, due to the time needed to keep switching mental gears.

David E. Meyer, director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan, says:

"The toll in terms of slowdown is extremely large—amazingly so."

The quality of your work is severely diminished when trying to do even two tasks simultaneously. The more the tasks differ from one another in complexity and familiarity, the greater the effect on time and quality.

With as many projects as I'm juggling, it's no wonder I seem to get nothing done. I think I'm spending more time switching between them than I am by actually doing something productive. Ye gods; it has to stop!

Multi-tasking makes you less productive, wastes your time, and lowers the quality of what you do. It increases your likelihood of mistakes, physical or verbal. Used habitually, it gradually prevents you from concentrating effectively even if you want to. It’s a very poor strategy for anyone trying to cope with demanding work.

That about covers it.

SO, to avoid the need for further multi-tasking right now:

  • If I owe you an email, I'm sorry. I swear to God. I promise I'll get to as soon as possible.
  • If you're pissed off at me for not doing/getting/whatevering something, mea culpa.
  • If you think I'm an asshole, well, what can I say? You're probably right.
  • If you want me to do something, for the sweet love of God, please try to find someone else to do it.

OK; my rant is nearly over for now. If you don't hear from me for a while, it's because I've decided to go to bed and stay there!!!!




Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Weather With You

DH is attending a conference in Galveston Texas this week, and I, feeling seriously in need of some sun and sand (and a decent margarita), decided to go with him. We left Seattle on Sunday, and for once, everything went right. We were upgraded to first class; the weather was clear; our luggage arrived with us -- intact.

It was such an auspicious beginning to a trip that I was lulled into smugness. I am not cursed. I can take a quick flight down to Little Rock to visit my aunt and my grandmother, and be back in Houston early on Wednesday, in plenty of time to take care of some important business. That has all been rectified now -- "Thank you very much," says I to the heavens, "for reminding me that everywhere you go; you always take the weather."

I might have guessed, when I stepped onto the airport shuttle in Galveston (where I'd arrived the night before). My reservation was for 10:15 am and it was only 10:10 when I got on the shuttle, but the horse-faced female half of the only couple on board jumped up and began to upbraid me because she and her husband were going to be late for their flight. Seeing as how I was not late -- I was actually feeling self-satisfied for being early (for once) -- I stepped back in surprise and looked over my shoulder, assuming she was talking to someone else. But no. The only one there was my husband who'd come down to wave goodbye. She was talking to me.

I looked at the driver and pointed at my watch, but he shook his head, rolled his eyes, and made a little twirling motion in the direction of his temple. Horse-face and her hubby were the only passengers, so I took a seat at the opposite end of the coach. It was not a large bus -- with seating for 12 to 14 people -- and it was divided into two sections by a luggage rack; Horse-face and hubby sat in the front section and I sat in the back. Horse-face then proceeded to spend the ENTIRE two hour drive to the airport bitching (loudly) about ME!

At first I tried to read, but even though I had a good book -- Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier, which I can highly recommend -- Horse-face was incredibly LOUD. Yes; it's true that I was wearing ancient Levis, a lime green polo shirt, and (God forbid!) loafers with NO socks, but sorry, Mrs. Horse-face, my hair is NOT dyed, I was NOT wearing eye shadow, and my handbag is NOT a Burberry knock-off! Also, for the record, I am NOT, nor have I ever been a prostitute. Just so's you know.

By the time we arrived at the airport, I was entertaining fantasies of sneaking up to the front and shoving horse-face off the bus! I would definitely have pushed in front of her when we exited, but she and her husband were on a different airline and so, got off first. The driver was so apologetic that I ended up giving him a huge tip. She was sitting right behind him for the whole trip, so the poor guy got an even louder earful than I did.

The rest of the trip went fine, however, and I had a lovely time (and some excellent oven-fried chicken) with my aunt and my grandmother. They now live in a neighborhood where I spent a lot of time when I was growing up, and I enjoyed driving around, seeing how much things have changed (and stayed the same). I had planned to take a couple of photos of the Old Mill, where the opening scenes of Gone With the Wind were shot, but the sky was starting to turn tornado-green, so I decided to cut short my trip down memory lane. I made it back to the house just in time to beat the rain, and to listen to a bunch of warnings of imminent doom from the TV weathermen.

Tornadoes are a fact of life in the South, and in spite of all the warnings, the weather didn't seem threatening enough to give me any concern about my flight, which wasn't until the next morning (today). Wrong. My flight, which was supposed to leave around 9:00 am today, was cancelled. So were the two flights after it. There were two flights before mine: one scheduled to depart at 5:15 am, which just took off at 12:40 pm, after sitting on the runway for more than 7 hours; and another scheduled to depart at 6:15 am. That flight managed to take off, but the storm forced the pilot to divert to College Station, Texas. That flight is now sitting on the runway in College Station. My original flight was sold out, and so were the flights immediately preceding and following mine. We all had to be shuffled, and I couldn't get another flight out until 6:15 am tomorrow.

I wish I had made it to Houston as planned, but if I had to be delayed, there's nowhere else I'd rather be than where I am right now -- watching the sun trying to take over its proper position in the still tornado-green sky. My rewards for this brief stranding were 1) my grandmother's gold watch that she doesn't want any more; 2) an antique inlaid box from Syria that Auntie doesn't want any more; 3) my grandmother's story about how much she hated making cakes for school bake sales when her children were small -- her solution was to find out how much money the school wanted to charge for the cake, and to give them the money instead. I said if I'd had children, I'd probably have done the same. She said of course I would; she sees a lot of herself in me. That was reward #4.

My grandmother also shared a bit of her wisdom of the ages: external circumstances aren’t important; it’s what you carry inside that counts (i.e., everywhere you go, you always take the weather).

Thanks Mama!


Friday, April 20, 2007

Cover Art

Cover Cafe's 2006 Cover Art Contest is online. Vote for your favourite covers!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Good News & I Did NOT Make This Up!

From Reuters:


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A fruity cocktail may not only be fun to drink but may count as health food, U.S. and Thai researchers said on Thursday.

Adding ethanol -- the type of alcohol found in rum, vodka, tequila and other spirits -- boosted the antioxidant nutrients in strawberries and blackberries, the researchers found.

Any colored fruit might be made even more healthful with the addition of a splash of alcohol, they report in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Lights! Camera! Action!

Never in a million years would I have thought I'd be doing this, but I'm actually going to blog about a TV show today. This seems weird for a lot of reasons, but the one I'm most conscious of is that a lot of people have told me I'm a TV snob. This is because I'm apparently the only person in the US who has never seen American Idol, America's Top Model, or even Survivor (except for the last 15 minutes of the first season finale and only because I arrived somewhere too early and couldn't avoid it). I did see most of the first season of Apprentice (because I had surgery and spent many weeks stuck in bed), and I've caught a few isolated episodes of Dancing With the Stars, but in general, I avoid these shows like the plague -- because I think they're ... well ... boring (stultifying is probably a better way to put it). That doesn't mean I don't like TV; I just need decent dialogue and a plot -- and no; watching a bunch of semi-talented yahoos compete for (fill-in-contest-here) does not constitute a plot!

I do enjoy watching other types of shows -- like Scrubs and Boston Legal, both of which are a hoot, and Grey's Anatomy because ... I'm not blind. It's a man-anza (like the all-you-can-eat-buffet at Bonanza, but with men *g*). Today's post, however, isn't about any of those; it's about Friday Night Lights.

Today's post is also a (very very rare) acknowledgment to my husband (who will probably save this post to flaunt later):

You were right. I was wrong.

Oh the pain...

I'm making this concession because when DH tried to get me to watch FNL at the beginning of the season, I told him in no uncertain terms how repulsive I found the idea of watching some dumb-ass show about football. (That may be more polite than what I actually said...) In fact, my TV watching hierarchy goes something like this:
  • Rejection: I will not be present in the room when this show is on.

  • Tolerance: I'll remain in the room, but I won't watch (or hold back on disparaging commentary).

  • Grudging Acceptance: I'll hold back on the rude comments and watch occasionally, but I won't pay close attention.

  • Acceptance: I'll watch and sometimes even enjoy it.

  • Enjoyment: I'll make a point of watching, and almost always enjoy it.

  • PtRfMCDH: This is a special category in which maybe 5 shows in my entire life have fallen. Grey's Anatomy fits here (Hey! I did say that I'm not blind!). The acronym stands for "pry the remote from my cold dead hands."

DH worked for months to convince me to move FNL out of "Rejection" so he didn't have to watch it downstairs (because it's freezing down there). I gave in out of pity, and nearly every time it was on, FNL moved up my hierarchy to the point that the season finale tomorrow night is going to be -- Gadzooks! -- PtRfMCDH. In a (dumb) contest between FNL and Grey's, I think I would actually vote for -- Double Gadzooks! -- Friday Night Lights.

FNL may not be renewed for next season, but along with Ugly Betty, The Office, and Scrubs, FNL won a Peabody award. And a recent flurry of critical acclaim has given it some hope.

From Seattle Times critic Kate O'Hare:

Critics love it, a small core group of dedicated fans loves it, and reportedly NBC Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly is a supporter, but the larger audience has yet to discover NBC's small-town drama "Friday Night Lights."

Challenging TV conventions has become a hallmark of "Friday Night Lights," under the supervision of executive producers Peter Berg, co-writer and director of the 2004 movie of the same name (based on H.G. Bissinger's best-selling nonfiction book), and Jason Katims ("Roswell," "My So-Called Life"). Shot documentary-style in real homes, schools and businesses instead of on soundstages, the show strives for authenticity in its portrayal of small-town dynamics and personalities.

Seattle Post Intelligencer Critic Melanie McFarland:

There's so much chatter about how trashy TV is these days, along with the tendency to reward the usual suspects like David E. Kelley and Aaron Sorkin with unyielding faith. Here is a series that trumps both shows these auteur producers coughed up this year in terms of content and consistency.

There's not a single element in "Friday Night Lights" that isn't a hard-won effort, from the scratchy, documentary realism of the cinematography to honest dialogue delivered in stumbles and spurts, the way conversations happen in real life.

It could be that people will only really discover this in its afterlife on DVD, where it would join other great series that ended too soon, such as "Freaks and Geeks" and "My So-Called Life" (which, like this series, was written in part by Katims).

But let's reward great TV while it's on for a change. Start watching and catching up with the story on Bravo. And let's all hope these "Lights" come back on in the fall.

WATCH IT

Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune blogged about it (emphasis mine):

AUSTIN, Texas -- A dusty field in Texas. A ramshackle house in a cash-strapped part of town. The cramped, battered office of a high school guidance counselor.

They’re all unlikely places for a creative revolution, but there’s no other way to describe what’s happening on the set of “Friday Night Lights,” NBC’s acclaimed series about life in the small town of Dillon, Texas.

Far from the bright lights of Hollywood, in vibrant yet laid-back Austin, the actors, writers and directors of the show have created one of the most realistic, subtle, enthralling dramas on any screen, large or small. And they’ve done it on this first-year show by breaking many of the rules of television.

All scenes are shot in houses, businesses and stores in and around Austin, which is where you’ll find the gritty high school that doubles as the home of the Dillon Panthers, the tiny house that quarterback Matt Saracen (Evanston’s Zach Gilford) shares with his grandma, and the fast-food joint that doubles as one of the show’s hangouts, the Alamo Freeze.

But the question remains: In the usually risk-averse world of the broadcast networks, how on earth did this show, which has all the depth and uncompromising integrity of a top-notch cable drama, get made? And why hasn’t NBC messed around with “FNL’s” creative process, given that the show has struggled in the ratings?

So yes DH; you were right and I was wrong. It's a great show and I hope it comes back next year. In the meantime:

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Wearisome & Dole-full

I'd like to thank everyone for the good wishes for my kitty. Thus far, other than being extremely irritated with me for trying to get her to eat what, to her, is not food, she is fine. DH, on the other hand, in only just barely fine again after what appears to have been a pretty nasty case of food poisoning. That was more than a small nudge for me to refocus my attention. Especially because in nearly twenty years of marriage, I can count the number of days DH has admitted to being sick on one hand.

Funny thing about that -- i.e., being sick -- I've often heard of men who are babies about being sick, and men who are idiots and won't go to the doctor. DH isn't an idiot (well, not about his health *g*) and he isn't a baby. What he is, God love him, is a nice person who doesn't want everyone around him to feel crummy just because he does. That is a very endearing quality, and one I would like to do a better job of embracing in the future.

To help remind myself to try to do this, I think I may have to break out the big guns and adopt one of the more annoying habits my mother had when I was growing up: quotable quotes. When I was a kid, my mother used to drive me batshit with quotes. I would do a crappy job of making up the bed and she would say, "A job worth doing is worth doing well." While I was remaking the bed, my inner-adult would be screaming, "Argggh! Making the bed is not worth doing at all" while imagining myself violently beating my head against the wall. Once I was on my own, I gave up both quotable quotes and making the bed, with no regrets till yesterday when I worked out that my husband, who'd said nothing, was utterly miserable and he hadn't mentioned it because he didn't want to make me miserable too. That immediately reminded me of one Mother's Maxims (courtesy of Samuel Johnson):
To hear complaints is wearisome alike to the wretched and the happy.

DH didn't pretend not to be sick. He didn't deny it. He just didn't expend a lot of energy lamenting it. Of course that meant I took it very seriously indeed. (If I start whingeing about having a headache, it's probably a garden-variety headache, but if DH does, it's a lot more likely to be a stroke!) It was a good lesson in how to be a better person, not to mention a good reminder of the importance of differentiating between little woes and big ones.

Dang. Mother was right about something after all.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Chow Chow Chow

I am a pet lover and I have three pets. Two of them are dogs; the other is a cat. I have such deep and abiding affection for Kitty that it sometimes surprises me because I always considered myself to be a dog person.

Kitty (her real name is Tabitha, but we mostly call her Kitty) came to live with us nearly eight years ago after we found her as a starving stray on a deserted building site. It was around Christmas and it was cold and she was a pathetic little waif who let me catch her and put her in the car. I originally intended to get her out of the cold and then after Christmas, to take her to a shelter. She is pretty, with blue eyes and almost Siamese markings, so I thought she was likely to find a good home.

Kitty had other ideas, however, and within a few weeks, she was my permanent bedtime foot-warmer. She has moved with us to two houses in Houston, a house in Louisiana, another house in Texas, and now to Washington state. She has also endured a nightmare hurricane evacuation with me -- inside a carrier in a (barely) moving car for 26 hours -- without any stops (for poor Kitty). She was so freaked out, she howled like a banshee the entire time (and so did I, but that's another story). She survived, though, and on the trip back home, she was quiet as a purring mouse. She apparently decided that riding in the car was OK as long as terrifying things weren't happening around her.

But now Kitty has a problem. That means we have a problem too. Kitty's other nickname is PsychoKitty because her early life as a stray made her a bit flaky about some things. She's terrified of strangers, and she's terrified of most food. We think because she was hanging around a construction site when we found her that she must have been living on food dropped by the builders. When they disappeared for Christmas holidays, she began to starve. When we found her, we stopped at the store and bought some generic sort of crunchy cat food since we knew we had nothing at home. It must have been different enough to what she'd been eating out of desperation that it was comforting to her.

So, what's the problem? Well, that crunchy cat chow is literally the only thing Kitty will eat. She will not touch fish, or chicken, or anything else that isn't cat chow, and in fact, she literally runs away when you try to tempt her with it. The problem is that we have this pet food scare and we want to feed our pets home cooked food until we're sure their food is safe. DH whipped up meatloaf and hamburger and rice for the animals and the dogs are in heaven. Kitty, OTH, will only eat this stupid cat chow, so she stalked around the house for two days, wailing at the top of her lungs, until I conceded defeat and gave her what she wanted. So far, the specific food hasn't been recalled, but the list keeps growing and I'm worried that it will be. I really really don't want to give my cat food that is going to kill her and I'm afraid that I am.

Keep your fingers crossed for Kitty.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fun!

This is still not relevant to anything whatsoever, but it's fun!





I pestered DH into doing it too; here's his. It's a miracle we haven't killed each other! -- I said I heart my dog. I heart my sweetie too.