Forty-seven years and counting

Forty-seven years and counting. Yes, today marks forty-seven years since Tom and I exchanged vows and rings. We were incredibly young and pretty naïve. But we were in love and ready for our big adventure.

I have to admit that after all these years there are times that I miss that crazy passion of youth when we couldn’t keep our hands off each other and everything was new. Emotions overwhelmed us. It was intoxicating and powerful.

But then I look over at this nutty guy I’ve lived with for forever, belt loosened, gently snoring in his La-Z-Boy, occasionally muttering in his sleep (the other night it was something interesting about 4000 hot dogs) and I realize I wouldn’t go back there for anything.

Because with all the passion of those first years, it’s easy to forget the angst, the hormonal ups and downs, the stupid arguments, and the tears.

Even at its best I think marriage has a fairly sharp learning curve and we’ve certainly had our ups and downs – births, deaths, family upheavals, illness – all the things that most of us deal with at one time or another. What we’ve learned is that simply courtesy, thoughtful timing, and keeping our mouths tightly closed lest we say something that cannot be taken back, seem to be the key to muddling through. That and remembering why we married each other in the first place.

So, as I look over my best friend and my rock, emotion once again overwhelms me. It’s not just comfort and contentment that I feel – though I think that comfort and contentment are often under-rated – it is deep enduring love.

Happy Anniversary, Tommy. With so much love.

PS: Shameless promotion – I will be signing books at Bethany Beach Books on Wednesday, June 20th from 6:30 to 8:30. Hope to see you there.

 

Book Club Doesn’t Disappoint

You know how it is when all you want is to go to a movie, sit back with your popcorn, and get ready to have a really good laugh, only to find that the advertising was specious and those hysterical scenes in the trailer were the only ones in the movie? Well, Book Club is not one of those movies.

My sister and I took the afternoon off yesterday to watch Book Club. Between personal heartbreak, political chaos, and a level of societal animosity that I’ve never seen in my sixty-eight years, she and I needed a good laugh. And we got one!
If you are looking for depth, substance, and an deep discussion afterward, perhaps you should choose another picture. Book Club is a solid B movie with a great cast and nothing to make you think. It’s the story of a book club made up of four old friends, women of a certain age as we say, and their responses to Vivian’s (Jane Fonda) selected book – Fifty Shades of Grey.

The weakest plot line is that of Vivian and Arthur (Don Johnson) who were lovers forty years ago who meet once again. Sadly, there’s just no chemistry between them. One scene where they end up in a fountain together was painful to watch, really. Seventy-year-old people (the average age of the cast) don’t do cutesy very well and Jane Fonda and Don Johnson are too dignified to be asked to do it.

Diane (Diane Keaton), a widow, has a wonderful encounter on a plane where she meets Mitchell (Andy Garcia) and the attraction is immediate. Keaton is funny, but Andy Garcia steals the scene with his charmingly wry reaction to her antics. The relationship proceeds as it should with a bit of a hiccup and nice resolution.

Carol (Mary Steenburgen) and Bruce (Craig Nelson) are a long-married couple facing a difficult time in their relationship. Carol’s efforts to revive a stagnant love life has some hysterical side-effects, and Bruce’s admission of insecurity and purposelessness after retirement is, I thought, the most poignant moment in the movie.

And then there is Sharon (Candace Bergen). I love this woman. Divorced for eighteen years, a highly successful judge, she is quite happy without a man. She never the less agrees to try on-line dating and ends up on a show stealing date with George (Richard Dreyfus). Sharon is self-assured, self-doubting, witty, sardonic, and vulnerable. She is clearly the most interesting character and Bergen plays her beautifully.

As I said Book Club is a good B movie. It is predictable. The end is as it should be, everyone is happy. It was worth every penny of $9.50. I laughed out loud. I left smiling and light-hearted. I had not one minute of existential angst. It was just what my sister and I needed on a Wednesday afternoon.

Losing Another Friend

Well, springtime seems to be, once again, a difficult time for our family. My brother-in-law, Mike Dillon, passed away March 29th. It was somewhat sudden and I think we are all in still in shock.

Mike was quite something – a true gentleman, a loving and supportive father, step-father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and uncle, an avid antiques collector, an ethical businessman, a basketball phenom (I consider anyone over the age of fifty who still plays a phenom), and a bit of a free-spirit. When I met him thirty or so years ago, he was rocking long hair, peace medallions, and designer jeans. And pulling it off with aplomb, as he continued to do.

For my husband, Tom, he was his conversation/discussion guy. Mike always had an interesting viewpoint, strangely interesting in some cases, but always thoughtful and considerate of another’s perspective.

For me, though, he was the man who loved my sister and gave her great joy. I think I will always remember his voice clearly. It was so smooth and melodic, an actor’s voice. And I can hear him clearly now talking about Chris. He was so proud of everything she did from making biscuits from scratch to her beautiful artwork. They had thirty years of happiness together for which I am so thankful.

Mike was truly one-of-a-kind and he will be missed.

 

This entry was posted on April 12, 2018. 2 Comments

Cell phones and the Technologically Infirm

I have been having a rather uneventful time lately. No unfortunate tumbles on public streets, no gluing fingers together, no more dead cats. While this makes for a peaceful life, it does not make for a good story.

I have, however, rocketed into the new century and bought an iPhone. Why, you may ask. Because I found myself looking wistfully at those lucky few – well, many really – who, while at dinner with a friend who is wondering what the GDP of Uganda is, can tell them in a few short taps on a handheld mobile device. This was just so intriguing. All that information at my fingertips anytime, anywhere. I couldn’t resist. And so I went big and got myself an iPhone 5 or it could be an XS.

Well, nothing is easy, is it? Other people don’t seem to have these problems. I was so excited. I was going to use this new technology to call someone, maybe even text! But my beautiful new iPhone with the pink butterflies on the cover wouldn’t shut up. It kept talking to me. Telling me to do things. I didn’t know why. It demanded that I ‘Tap twice.’ I would do just that, but it didn’t help. It just kept telling to tap until I thought, perhaps, it actually meant I should throw it into the garbage disposal.

I don’t think I’m alone, although I am probably only joined by people over sixty, in that I like paper manuals. Everything used to come with directions on paper. You went to the index, looked up troubleshooting, found the problem, and voila! But new technology does not come with paper. God forbid they stick a little user guide in there with the stupid phone.

After a few hours of having the damned thing yak at me, I calmed down and thought, “What would my daughter do?” She would sit down at the computer, log onto the world wide web and type, “How do you get the damned cell phone to stop telling you to tap twice?” Which I did. And it did. I can’t remember now what it told me to do, but whatever it was worked. My phone became a source of endless amusement. I became a texting fool. I looked up inane information about the cast of Leverage and how to make Eggs Benedict. All was well right up until New Year’s day when the phone just sort of froze.

I did not freak out this time. Inconvenient, yes. A little annoying, yes. But I already knew the GDP of Uganda and nobody calls me anyway. So I waited a couple of days and took it to my local AT&T store after dire predictions of needing a new battery from my beloved and that I should not pay more that $25 for it. It was not the battery at all. A very nice man fixed it in just a minute. Apparently, I had somehow gone into settings and told the phone that I was blind. I don’t know how I managed this. I do not recall going into settings, but then I am, apparently, getting a little doolally.

The best part is how the nice man fixed this little problem. He tapped it three times, just like Dorothy and her ruby slippers. So now we know, tapping your iPhone can do all sorts of things, but I still wish they would write it down on paper.

(In case you’re wondering the GDP of Uganda is $27.53 billion USD. If you want to know what a GDP is, get your own iPhone.)

This entry was posted on January 24, 2018. 1 Comment

A Feline Tragedy

I spent the weekend trying to come up with something to write about on my blog. And then my week got off to a rather rocky start. And now I have something to write about. Fair warning, it isn’t pretty.

Monday morning I lost one of my little furry friends in a really horrific way. For those who are unaware of my feline situation, I was the owner of three semi-feral cats. They were born under our garden shed over fourteen years ago and I knew them from kittenhood. I had them spayed and neutered. My husband built them a cat house and they become my outdoor friends. Mrs. Bigglesworth or Mrs. B for short, Buster, and Flufster.

Well, about two months ago, I noticed that Buster had lost a lot of weight. He was still a sweet, gentle, purring kitty, but not an eating one. Then one day he wandered off and didn’t return. It was sad, but expected. And he was happy until the end.

But last Monday was a different story. Two large dogs, Huskies, I believe, got loose in the neighborhood. I think you may guess where this is going. And I’m afraid you’re right. They attacked little Flufster. She was losing her hearing and so, she was slow off the mark.

It was a brutal attack. Tom and I ran outside and tried to chase them off. Even as we were doing this I was thinking, “What the hell am I doing? What if they turn on us?” But they didn’t. The dogs were after our cat. It took Tom turning the hose on them to finally get them gone.

Our poor little cat was terrorized and dying. My heart was breaking and I very stupidly tried to pick her up. At which point the little thing attacked my hand. Well, after the burial in the backyard she knew so well, there was the trip to the doctor.

For those of you who are not right on top of the latest medical news about feline bites, they are much more prone to infection than the canine type. By the time I got into the office Tuesday morning, my hand was red and swollen. I got through the visit with a minimum of tears as I related my sad story and managed not to pass out on the floor (as all my sisters are prone to do) when I got a tetanus shot. Then home with an antibiotic to nurse my very sore hand and to take a much needed valium.

I’m still sad, as is Mrs. B. who will now probably die of obesity because I keep feeding her to make up for our loss. I know Fluff was only a cat, but she was my cat and it was a terrible way to go.

Mrs. B.                                       Buster                                 Flufster

 

 

 

 

 

Reunions and other happy events

As some of you may know the past year has been less than stellar for our family. In fact, it was a very difficult time. I could go into detail, but I prefer not. Because in August I had a birthday marking the beginning of a new year for me. I turned sixty-eight. I know. It’s hard to believe. I don’t look a day over sixty-seven. But I am and since then things are looking up. I’ve had a reunion and I’m looking forward to a book launch, and my son’s wedding in March!

Just last weekend I attended the 50th reunion of Regina High School Class of 1967. Regina was a small all-girls Catholic school in Hyattsville, Maryland, now defunct. But back in the day it was a good place to be. It was our extended family. And I am so lucky that I’m still close to my best friends from that time.

And that time was a bit different from today. We wore saddle shoes and brown woolen uniforms causing the school to smell like a large wet dog on rainy days. Slacks were forbidden and skirts were supposed to touch the floor when kneeling. There was actually a smoking lounge for seniors. But the basics were the same. We went to class, complained about our uniforms, cried over boys, and worried about exams.

The reunion was a lovely event. An excellent turn out of thirty-one attendees out of a class of one hundred and three. We all looked fabulous! And, magically, we were all still friends. It was a warm and intimate weekend and, sadly, it was probably the last time we’ll have such a party. After all, we are in our 69th year. And we have already lost quite a few. So, I will treasure the memory for as long as my memory holds out.

Now for a little shameless promotion – Upcoming Events. November 4th, 1 p.m. join me for a Mystery Author Extravaganza at the Howard County Library in Ellicott City or for a Sisters in Crime author panel on November 12th at 2 p.m. at the Crofton Library in Crofton.

And my newest Daisy&Rose mystery, Pushing Up Daisies, is being released December 15th. It’s available for pre-order and just to whet your appetite, I’m including a little glimpse into the Forrest ladies’ new adventure. I hope you will enjoy.

 

An excerpt from Pushing Up Daisies

Rose handed her a large martini glass filled with a dark purple mixture.

Daisy grabbed the glass and downed half of it. She threw herself into a chair, decorating her sweater with a good bit of the drink, and gulped what was left. “Do you have any more of this stuff?”

“That good, hmm?” As she refilled Daisy’s glass, Rose took a good look at her sister. “Daisy, what’s the matter? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Daisy squeezed her eyes shut and grabbed her short blond curls with both hands.

“Daisy, what in God’s name is wrong? Did you have an accident?”

“I saw one.”

“You saw an accident? Was someone hurt?”

Daisy opened her eyes. “A ghost.”

“A ghost was hurt? What are you talking about?”

“I saw a ghost.”

“You did not see a ghost.”

“I did too. So did Malcolm and Percy.”

“There are no such things as ghosts.”

“Yes, there are. And we have just seen one.” She took a sip out of her newly filled glass. Her voice sank to a whisper. “It was so weird. We’d dropped Mother off at the airport and I decided to take the back roads home. We were on Laurel Road coming up to Holly Hill Mansion. It looked so beautiful in the distance, glowing in the moonlight. I was thinking how much I liked being a docent there and of how much we still had to do to get ready for our Gothic Evening when a huge ball of fog rolled right across the road. Kind of like a bale of hay, only it was fog.”

“Daisy, there’s no fog tonight. It’s crystal clear outside.”

“Well, there was fog on Laurel Road. The dogs started howling when an even bigger bale of the stuff rolled out of the woods. I couldn’t see the road. It was freaky. I had to pull over onto the grass. Then the dogs shut up in mid-howl and started climbing onto my head.

“We sat there in this eerie muffled silence until the fog rolled away.” Daisy thought a moment. “Well, it might have been muffled because the dogs were covering my ears. Anyway, it was so spooky I just wanted to get out of there. When the fog cleared a little I got the mutts back in their seat, gripped the wheel, and edged the car back onto the road. And there she was. I almost hit her!”

“Hit who?”

“Sophia Amelia Meade Long. She was all wreathed in mist, standing right in front of the car looking at me.”

A deep voice asked, “Who?”

Daisy jumped about six inches, completing the sweater decoration. “What the …? Peter, I didn’t see you there.”

Peter Fleming, Rose’s handsome friend, had been sitting quietly in the corner of the room. “Sorry I startled you, but who is this Sophia Amelia whatever?”

“Peter, don’t encourage her.” Rose got a napkin and mopped up a bit of Spooky Juice from the floor.

“Well, she clearly saw something that frightened her. Why not a ghost? Who is this woman, or I guess I should say, was this woman?”

Rose snapped, “There was no woman. She probably saw a tree.”

“I think even Daisy can tell the difference between a woman and a tree.”

Daisy pointed at herself and shouted, “Hey! Right here. And I did not see a tree.” She puffed out a sigh. “Just what the heck did you mean ‘even Daisy’?”

“Sorry. Bad choice of words. I meant, of course Daisy can tell the difference.”

Daisy gave him a look. “Hmm, mmm. I’ll bet. Well, Sophia Long is the woman who bought Holly Hill Mansion in 1790 and I saw her standing in front of my car not an hour ago. So either it was her ghost or she’s looking incredibly good for being two hundred-some years old!”

 

This entry was posted on October 13, 2017. 2 Comments

Losing a Friend

I lost a good friend last week. My sister-in-law, Jane Petersen Mongelli, finally surrendered to cancer after a two year battle she always knew she would lose. But fight it she did because that was Jane. She left us peacefully with her beloved daughters at her side on Wednesday May 17th.

Penny, Matt, Jane, Terry, Tom, Courtnay

When I met my husband, Tom, I was a bit of a mess. I was all of eighteen, shy and insecure, lacking quite a bit in the way of social skills.

And so as much as I love Tom’s family now, I have to say that at the time we were first introduced I found them all incredibly intimidating. But Jane reached out and took me by the hand and made my entry into the Petersen clan a little less daunting.

Looking back, I think part of this may have been Jane making sure that her brother wasn’t dating some lunatic who would break his heart. She was always protective of those she loved.

I am so fortunate that we became close friends and have remained so for almost fifty years. Jane could on occasion a bit of a handful. She could be stubborn and hard-headed one minute, laughing and helpful the next. But she was always Jane. There was never pretense, no dissembling. With Jane what you saw was what you got. And what you got was a woman fiercely loyal to her family and friends, who loved a good party, good food, music, political discussions, and a bit of catty gossip.

And of course, Jane loved her girls, Courtnay and Terry, and her grandkids, Ben, Nick, Abby and Grace. They made her life complete. She was so very proud of them all.

Well, I firmly believe that Jane has now been reunited with her husband, John. He is singing a little Willie Nelson as he brings her a cup of coffee. She’s smiling. And she’s keeping a close eye on us all.

How I learned the Infield Fly Rule

I know it’s only the beginning of February, but what better time to start thinking about baseball? The political climate is dismal, the sky is grey, it’s chilly outside, but not cold enough for a good snow, warm fire and hot buttered rum. I am not a football or a basketball fan. But I do love springtime and the boys of summer.

When my husband, Tom, and I met we differed in one major respect, our choice of recreational pursuits. Tom has always loved sports. He played sports in grade school. He was Gonzaga’s shortstop in high school. His playing career may have ended with high school, but certainly not his love for most things sporting. He watches baseball, college basketball and football. He likes throwing balls around. The man has been know to golf, play tennis, racquetball, swim and water-ski – and enjoy it. He fishes, for crying out loud. Being smelly and sweaty, standing in the hot sun, appears to be his idea of a good time.

Whereas, I have always been the kid in left field praying that the ball will in go any direction, but toward me. I can’t swim. I have no depth perception. I am a klutz. I can trip over my own feet anytime, on any surface. If you mention water and fish to me, I think hot shower and canned tuna. I have always believed that sweating is to be avoided. The great outdoors is for picnics under trees and slow walks around lakes sporting the intoxicating scent of Eau d’Backwoods OFF. I had no interest in sports and, to a great extent, still don’t. But I now have to admit a strong liking for baseball. And it’s due to having a kid.

Tom and I have two wonderful children. Rachel Anne, our first, is a lady after my own heart. We love dancing, singing, theatre, fantasy, and movies. All the things my dear Thomas will never really comprehend. But he was always immensely proud of Rachel knowing her to be the best at whatever performance he was watching – plays, dance recitals, speech contests – which (and this is a completely unbiased opinion) she often was. But Tom was as much at sea about the finer points of stage presence, leg extension, and speaking from the diaphragm as I was about tackles, punts, and traveling.

When Matthew, our second little bundle of joy arrived, he was (I really hate this term, but…) All Boy. He dug in the dirt, fought off bad guys, ran, jumped, kicked, climbed. He was an active, happy kid. But nothing prepared me for the look of pure joy on Tom’s face when Matt, at three years old, let loose a cannon in the back yard. Tom walked into the house and said, “He can throw! And he’s left-handed!”

Matt played soccer, basketball and baseball. I cheered him on the soccer field, but never did understand the off-sides thing. Basketball was a bit better, but the smell of the gym and the squeaky noise their shoes made were off putting. 

Matt was pretty good at all three, but he loved baseball best. And so did I. Baseball is a wonderful game that teaches kids structure, patience, strategy, leadership, and teamwork. All the practices and games also meant that he was dog tired at the end of the day, always a good thing.

In time I came to appreciate the elegance of the game.  Not understanding much of what was going on myself, I marveled at the fact that the kids seemed to have absorbed the rules and the etiquette of baseball as if by osmosis. They learned the art of pitching, hitting, fielding, stealing, bunting, sliding into base without damaging themselves. They tipped their hats, ran home run bases with straight ‘just doing my job’ faces, and were gracious in victory or defeat (mostly). We saw the Orioles play during the Ripken era. It was exciting and just plain fun. 

Matt isn’t playing any more, he’s coaching. We root for the Nationals and I fully expect to see them make it to the Series this year. What I am most proud of personally is that, while I still don’t get a lot of the intricacies of the game, I do know the Infield Fly Rule. For a girl who has never swung a bat or caught a fly ball, I think that’s pretty good.

Happy Holiday, sort of

Well, it’s the holiday season once again and, once again, I am trying to find some of the spirit that it should bring. I am having a more difficult time than usual this year. The hate, divisiveness, and ignorance that seems to surround us is just really getting me down.

To top it all, in August I had requested tickets for a White House Christmas tour and just received word that our request was denied. Lots and lots of people want to go to the Obama White House. They couldn’t fit us in.

So I have been wracking my brain, something that has become increasingly hard to do as the little grey cells seem to be dying off at an alarming rate, and I have remembered a Christmas that made me smile. I have no idea why, except that it was so typical for our family.

When our girls were little my sister, Chris, and I would plan a Christmas outing. My mother, trooper that she was, would go with us and pretend to enjoy the chaos.

In the particular Christmas season that I am thinking about we chose to take the girls to lunch and then on to see The Nutcracker at Lisner Auditorium. Rachel, my own little angel, must have been about four, and Erika, Chris’s little sweetie, about seven. The girls had their new holiday duds on and I like to think they could pass for extras from Miracle on 34th Street, but probably they looked like a couple of the Herdmans straight out of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. And so, tickets in hand we made our way into the big city for a delightful afternoon.

Well, no one can ever accuse me of over-planning anything. Lunch did not go off well. I did not think to make calls to find out if restaurants in the area were actually open. (Note to the IPhone generation – there was a time when there was no internet, no GPS, no Siri, no cell phone of any kind. My family had to rely on a half-witted event planner (moi) to make actual phone calls on a land line, no less, to various eating establishments to find out hours, menus, etc. It was a cruel, uncaring world!)

Needless to say, on a Sunday afternoon in 1978 very few restaurant options in the GW campus area were to be had. We finally found an eatery in a hotel. The kids menu boasted hot dogs. This sounded like a safe option. Of course, they were foot-long hot dogs. They were also VERY expensive foot-long hot dogs. So did we do the rational thing and get one for them to share? We did not. They each got their own rather lousy, expensive, hot dog. They did not finish their lunch. They did not appreciate the cuisine. This set the tone for the rest of the day.

After leaving our ghastly repast, Rachel, being a card-carrying member of the Clover family klutz club to which we all belong, promptly tripped and fell on the sidewalk ripping her new tights. This took valuable time to sooth, as we were running late due to the search for a restaurant. She was quite upset about the tights. The skinned knee seemed less of a problem.

We finally made it to Lisner just as the orchestra was beginning the overture. Of course, we had seats in the nose-bleed section. We were halfway up the steep steps to our little aerie when all the lights in the theatre went out. All of them. It was dark. Pitch. There were no little safety lights on the end of each row. There were no lights at all. I know this didn’t last more than a minute before the curtain came up, but if you had been there I am sure, unless you happen to be a mountain goat, you would have agreed with me that it was a minute of sheer terror. I latched onto my daughter, at least I assumed it was my daughter, and climbed on hands and knees eventually making it to our seats unscathed.

The rest of the afternoon apparently went fairly smoothly, as I don’t remember any other hiccups. Yes, The Nutcracker seemed to go on forever. But it was colorful and festive and, best yet, neither girl had to go the restroom during the performance. We made it home in one piece. We had our family outing.

We still try to do something each year – see a play, take a White House tour, or just have a cookie day. It’s special time with the people we love and memories of holidays past and hopes for the future.

My wish to all of you – whatever you celebrate – Hanukkah, Kwanza, the Winter Solstice, or Christmas Day – may your memories and the love of the season keep you warm and bring you a joyous holiday and a peaceful New Year.

A Veterans Day Message

I would like to take a moment to remember all of our veterans, especially the men of the 3/17th who served with my brother, Tim Clover, in Viet Nam. I lift a glass to you all. And I am privileged to share with you a letter from my great-niece, Mia Rafield,

to her uncle who is serving overseas. She’s a beautiful ten year whose heart is filled with compassion and love. She is also, quite clearly, a budding writer. She beautifully states what I think most of us feel.

 

A nice little vacation

Well, we got back from a family vacation last weekend. I believe a good time was had by all. Tom and I relaxed. We read, played Bananagram, and did crossword puzzles. The kids swam, rode bumper cars, and mini-golfed. My birthday came during the week, so we had cake!

No one got sunburned. No one stepped on a nail. No one had to visit a medical professional for a tooth repair, strep throat, or urinary tract infection – all of which we had done in previous years. In fact, I didn’t even open the first aid kit. The only down side was the impressive lack of fish in the Atlantic Ocean willing to play tug of war with a fishing pole. Perhaps they didn’t know my son is a fan of catch-and-release. Perhaps they are just sadistic little teases. However, if the worst I can say about this vacation is no fish were caught, I am a happy camper.

Having time on my hands these days, sort of, I spent the week before we left planning a treasure hunt for our granddaughter, Sophie. She is eight now and loves to play pirate. She is constantly digging up our yard searching for treasure or insisting that I be her first mate and stand under the wooden play house. Ideally she would like me to climb up and be a look-out, but we first mates are getting too old for that.

So, I drew a map depicting the beach at Nagshead. It included a pirate ship sailing the bounding main, three rather obvious clues, and a large X marking the spot. I then aged the paper in tea and singed its edges. I also aged a little wooden casket, filled it with silver and gold dollars and an old locket that belonged to my aunt in which I put pictures of Sophie’s parents. I locked it with an old suitcase lock and tied the key to the string around the map.

On our last full day, Matt and Theresa buried the treasure on the beach while I hid the map in the laundry room. I asked Sophie to help me with something and we ‘found’ it. I have to say this for my granddaughter. She is smart as a whip and you really cannot fool her most of the time. Unfortunately, Sophie had seen the key in my office. But she is a sweet girl and a dead game sport, as my mother used to say (if anyone knows the etymology of this phrase, I’d appreciate hearing from you), so she played right along.

First, she said the map must be meant for someone else. I reminded her that Pirate maps are fair game, so we kept the map. She told me that the key was the same as the one at my house. She posited that the pirates must have broken in, made a copy of the key, and tied it to the map. Then she laughed and said, “No. That’s too farfetched!” You gotta love this kid.

Sophie showed her parents and excitedly pointed out that it must be a map of the beach and the trail must be the one in front of our house. As we walked to the beach she looked for clues along the way. When we got there, we found the bucket of blood, the peculiar foot garb, and the orb of the sea, but couldn’t locate the X. It was not in the exact location of the map. We decided that sands shift, so we looked further and, lo and behold, a large seaweed X marked the spot indeed.

She dug up the treasure, opened the casket and threw the coins in the air – just like in a movie. She loved the locket and couldn’t get over the fact that the pirates had her parents pictures in it. We decided that these were magical pirates who could see into the future.

Now here is the best part of my week. Later that day Sophia told her mother not to tell me, but that she knew all along that I set up the map and the treasure so she would have some fun on her last day. Life does not get any better.

Proud to be Irish

Top of the morning to you all! Last week we celebrated St. Patrick’s day, a day when we are all Irish. Well, not all. I do know a few friends who refuse to be Irish even for a day, but I forgive them. Everyone is entitled to a quirk or two.

Growing up I can’t remember my mother, who was the child of first and second generation parents, really admitting to being Irish except on March 17th. On March 17th, however, for a day the radio was tuned to Irish music. We sometimes went to Mass downtown at St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, D.C. We wore the green. But just for one day. I once was asking about my heritage and my mother told me we were American. Which, of course, we were and proudly so.

As I ponder the current political rhetoric spewing from the mouth of some of our presidential hopefuls of hatred, divisiveness, unfounded fear of other nationalities and religions, I consider why my mother didn’t discuss being Irish.

She was old enough to remember the time when the Irish were discriminated against. They were unfairly labeled as lazy, criminal, violent, and alcoholic – what ever came to mind. Who knows why. Prejudice and bigotry have no basis in fact. It certainly couldn’t have been color because, Lord knows, you really can’t get much paler than the Irish.

The prejudice that lives within us is to my mind simply stunning. I am at a loss as to how we, as a country founded by immigrants are so quick to condemn others for what – looking different, praying differently, not assimilating as quickly as we think they should. Quite honestly, exactly how did the English assimilate? I don’t notice any of us speaking a Native American tongue. What are these people afraid of – a different language, religion, skin color – what is the fear?

I try not to get political. It’s not a great way to sell books, but sometimes I just have to say what I feel. I love my Irish and English heritage as much as, I would assume, people love being Hispanic, Iranian, French, Kenyan, or Japanese. We are, after all, just people with families we love, heritages we’re proud of, looking for a better tomorrow.

Why I like to write

Wednesday evening I took part in an authors’ panel sponsored by Sisters in Crime, a wonderful organizations for mystery writers and fans. It was held at the Beatley Library in Alexandria.

This is a bit of a trek for me, especially at night. But my sister, Chris, went with me. She’s a dead game sport, as my mother used to say, and always willing to accompany me wherever I might be headed from Rehoboth Beach to Alexandria.

We made the trip over without mishap. It was daylight and Chris could read the written directions I had printed. We had only one small hitch going the wrong way on Duke Street, easily corrected.

At any rate, we got there early as planned and had a leisurely dinner at a very nice Mexican restaurant. Then onto the library for the panel. I was nervous, as I always am when doing just about anything. Truth is, I get nervous writing this blog. But the other panel members – Art Taylor, Sherry Harris, Maya Corrigan, Claudia Lefevre – were warm and welcoming and very easy to talk to.

Art led the discussion and we had a lovely audience. The discussion was interesting, the other panelists knowledgeable, and I even sold a few books, which is always nice.

The trip home didn’t go quite as smoothly as the trip over. I don’t know Virginia roads at all. I am not comfortable driving at night really and my GPS had some serious issues about what constitutes ‘keeping left’. We got rather lost.

Alone I would not have been a happy camper. But with my trusty sidekick in the passenger seat, we managed to find it all quite amusing as we wended our way through unchartered territory. And somehow we made it back, unscathed, no thanks to my Global Positioning System. I came home in a good mood.

The morning after I began to think about the discussion. I rather think I must have sounded like a scatty old lady. I’m pretty sure my thoughts weren’t clear. My mind tends to drift from topic to topic, so my answers probably made no sense. I began feeling that I made an ass of myself. This may or may not be the case. Chris says I sounded fine, but what is she going to say? She’s my sister. This is what I always do after speaking somewhere.

And this is why I love writing. My characters always say exactly what I want them to say because I get do-overs! Just like writing this blog. I get to edit, cut and prune. Choose the right word. Take out the wrong word. Clarify when necessary. Add the witty riposte. It’s not that writing is easy. It’s not. But it can be just so much fun, at times. And when I’m typing, not talking, I usually don’t feel like an idiot.

A Joyous Holiday to All

I’ve been trying to get into the holiday spirit and having a bit of a time. I make the mistake of reading the paper each morning which is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Between the stories of hateful political rhetoric, the sheer violence we seem to enjoy inflicting upon one another, and which new toy will kill your kid this season, it’s hard to be jolly.

But I’m giving it a try. Watching my granddaughter kneel in front of my Dickens village the other night and quietly whisper imagined conversations as she moved the little figures around so delicately helps.

As does taking a moment or two to remember Christmases’ past. My parents were both raised by widows. There was little money, but perhaps that’s what made Christmas so special, especially for my Dad. He was a stickler for the surprise of it all. In all my childhood years not one of us ever thought of searching for our presents before Christmas morning. It would have broken Daddy’s heart.

Christmas morning we went to Mass. Dad stood in front of the living room door and made us close our eyes as we darted past on our way out. We didn’t get much, usually one gift each and one to share, but I don’t remember ever being disappointed. It was the anticipation, the warmth, the fact that Dad thought it was all so special that made it so.

I remember picking out the tree, visiting aunts and uncles, the smell of the incense at midnight Mass and of Mom’s Christmas Night perfume, driving down Nebraska Avenue and watching lights twinkle magically in the dark, singing carols in the car; then in later years, ham and Mom’s potato salad on the table, Dad’s Bloody Marys made with bourbon (a tasty mistake), and flowers from my best boyfriend (he still is). Finally the wonderful thrill of becoming Santa for our own beautiful children. I remember watching our little Rachel take out each ornament for the tree so carefully and telling us its history every year and Matt just being so excited when he was six that he didn’t notice Santa had mixed up the stockings and was apparently thrilled to be getting nail polish and barrettes. I hope their memories will be as special for them as my own are for me.

Whatever you celebrate – Hanukkah, Kwanza, the Winter Solstice, or Christmas Day – may your memories and the love of the season keep you warm and bring you a joyous holiday and a peaceful New Year.

Where did I put my glasses?

My mother knew how to grow old gracefully. She never tried to look ‘young’, but she was always youthful. She laughed a lot, played silly games with her grandchildren, and seemed to have great stores of energy.

Of course, she was also of a generation who didn’t share all of the anxiety they might be feeling or complain about aches and pains, so being fairly myopic as all children are regardless of age, I always just assumed that everything was hunky-dory.

Well, now that I am moving past middle age I have the distinct feeling that Mother just hid a lot of things well. I do not. I have questions and I have complaints and I don’t feel particularly graceful.

I want to know why a hair can sprout on my chin and grow to an impressive length overnight when it takes four months for a bad haircut to grow out.

I want to know exactly why no one ever told me that pulling on a pair of sweatpants would one day become an Olympic sport of sorts, a task best achieved while sitting down because balance is one of the first things to go, even if you don’t keep catching a toe on the waistband and trip.

I want to know why sleep has become such a hit or miss project. There was a time that a sleepless night was an occasional occurrence. Now it’s the reverse. I have mastered many of the sleep-inducing little games. I can list all fifty states in my head, count backward from 100 and get to 0, name a country, a famous person born before 1900, or a car for each letter of the alphabet and still find myself making soup and coffee cake at three in the morning.

Of course, the whole memory thing is something else again. I used the word ‘myopic’ a few sentences ago. It took me ten minutes searching my ever shrinking brain trying to come up with it and finally had to ask my husband who got it right away. Quelle surprise! How about that – French I can remember.

And that joke about glasses being on someone’s head while they look for them? Not so very funny anymore. If you see an older person patting themselves down don’t assume that he or she has lost his or her mind. He or she is probably just looking for a pair of specs.

 

Getting old isn’t all bad. It’s just so surprising!

 

 

 

 

 

500 Words and Counting

My plan today is to write 500 words. I know, to many of you that sounds just ridiculous. I read all the time about authors who regularly churn out 1000, 3000, even 5000 words a day. Journalists write long articles in the blink of an eye!

If I were a journalist I would have to write for a paper that liked to print three-day old news. I’m lucky if I actually sit down and write anything at all. Case in point. Just as I was going to sit here at this very computer I decided that I should just throw in a load of towels before I start. As I grabbed the towels from the bathroom I decided that I should really give the shower stall a good clean. No, it’s not an emergency. The health department isn’t going to condemn my home any minute now. But cleaning the mildew out of the shower door track just seemed so much simpler that figuring out exactly what Daisy and Rose are going to do with their Friday night.

And now as I have plopped myself onto my computer chair, pulled up a new Word document, am I writing about the Forrest ladies latest exploits? I am not. I am blogging about not writing about the Forrest ladies latest exploits.

It’s been a difficult year writing-wise. But I really want to get back to it on a regular basis. I’ve been trying to figure out just where I lost the impetus to write and how to retrieve it. I don’t think it’s actually writer’s block, as much as it’s writer’s ennui. So when I realized this morning that when I was writing my blog fairly frequently, I was also working on my books at a steady pace. I decided that you will all have to put up with my lunacy once again. I hope to keep this blog going. Please feel free to bug me if I don’t.

But next week – A wonderful little treat. My beautiful granddaughter Sophia will be my guest. I think you’ll enjoy her very first story. (356 words for anyone who’s counting)

 

This entry was posted on October 30, 2015. 1 Comment

A few thoughts on aging

I have a birthday fast approaching – and, no, you may not ask how old I will be. I’m not going for full disclosure here. Let’s just say that middle age has passed me by and we’ll leave it at that.

At this age ordinary phrases take on new meanings. ‘How are you?’ is no longer just a passing comment, a conversation starter. Now it’s something we really want to know – how is your back, your arthritis, your knee, your blood sugar, and your blood pressure – all daily inquiries that need an answer.

‘Where did I put the cupcake pans? (or the keys, or the car, for that matter) becomes quite an upsetting question. After all, if I can’t remember where the hell I put the cupcake pans, do I still remember how to make cupcakes, and do I even like them? Or worse yet, will I know what they are for when I find them?

Of course, this brings us to the granddaddy of innocuous phrases uttered a thousand times over the years. ‘What in the world would I do without you?’ Well, as Tom and I look in the mirror it dawns on us that one day one of us will indeed find this out. Unless we are, of course, the only two people in the history of the human race who will just keep going ad infinitum. And wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants?

Tom, who really cannot cook, said this the other day as he watched me make my 16,000th dinner. “If you go first, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’d starve.” He quickly amended it saying, “Well, I’d miss you, of course. But I would starve.”

 And well he might. Tom, bless his little pea pickin’ heart, has not yet mastered the complexities of dialing the phone and ordering Chinese. Maneuvering the grocery store seems to be beyond his skill set. And even supposing he manages to get food into the house, he simply does not know how to cook it.

But he says not too worry. He is quite positive that he will go first. He feels in his heart of hearts that I am destined to be one of those women who outlives everyone. Well, thank you very much. An old age I can really look forward to – alone – with sixteen cats – and a cupcake pan. Happy birthday to me!

This entry was posted on July 30, 2015. 2 Comments

Writer’s Block and a Con Man

I was rolling the other day. I had new ideas. I was writing away with enthusiasm. This hasn’t happened much over the past months. As every writer knows, writers’ block is an insidious little ailment that attacks unannounced. It can be disastrous for a writer who makes a living writing. Luckily for me (not dependent on a writer’s income and with lots of other stuff I am supposed to be doing), it’s just incredibly annoying. But the other day, the whole block thing seemed to lift and magically there was Rose was on a date and Daisy and Angela playing with the Ouija board.

I was happily typing along when the phone rang. I have to say that I have just a bit of Attention Deficit Disorder. (Just a sec. I hear mowing. Is someone finally cutting the grass at the vacant house next door? No. Still two feet tall.) Where was I? Happily typing, as I am now, when the phone rang. Well, I answered it.

Yes, I have caller ID, but it was a cell number (301-471-6518) and sometimes they come in without a name. Could be an emergency, you never know.

And it was, indeed, an emergency. There was a bench warrant out for my arrest. According to Sgt. Darren Jacob of the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office, I had missed a summons to Grand Jury duty and Judge Herman C. Dawson had issued an arrest warrant.

Yes, now of course I feel like a total fool. I can hear you laughing at my stupidity. But if someone who sounds official (and this guy had his act down very well) starts a conversation out of the blue with a person who never goes out the IN door, always returns her shopping cart to the corral, and waits for the green light even when there is not a car in sight, with “Mrs. Petersen, I am calling about a bench warrant issued in your name,” Mrs. Petersen freaks out!

I am not altogether an idiot. A little piece of my brain was saying, “This isn’t right.” There were things that weren’t making sense. A summons in mid-May for an appearance in June. Not likely. No information on the caller ID. Wrong. But every time I would consider this he would say something about my imminent arrest. And he hadn’t brought up money or needing my social security number, just scheduling a court date. So by this time I was almost in tears and handed the phone to Tom (my husband) and told him what this man was saying.

Having a moment to center my self and to reflect while Tom talked to him, I thought to call the actual Sheriff’s Department for verification. The woman was very nice as she chuckled and said, “No honey, we don’t do things that way. Call 911 and report him.”

At this point Sgt. Jacob was telling Tom that he would need $318 that I would get back were I to be found not guilty. I should go to the Safeway and get a PayPal gift card and call him back with the information. Well, even if I hadn’t just talked to the Sheriffs Office, I would have caught on. Even I can see through a load of manure in time. Since when won’t a government agency take a credit card. He also wanted our cell phone numbers. He didn’t get them. He did call back several times that afternoon. I suppose he figured he had a live one and wanted his PayPal information. He didn’t get it.

What irked me most about the whole thing was not how idiotic I felt falling for this line for even a minute, but that he had completely put me off course. I never did get back to that Ouija board reading that day. But the good news is the block has been lifted, I haven’t been arrested, and I got a blog out of it!

 

This entry was posted on June 17, 2015. 1 Comment

Pantyhose are back

Pantyhose in place 1972

I have a girlfriend who at 65 has just discovered that women’s legs look sexier in heels, than flats. How this revelation has escaped her for all these years, I’ll never know. Yes I do. We were taught by nuns. We did not aspire to sexy. We never thought about it. We aspired to cute, pretty, beautiful if we thought we could manage it. But never did it occur to me that I might be considered sexy even as I wore mini-skirts up to my unmentionables like any good American girl in 1972.

The sad thing is that for most women of 65 the chance of looking sexy in anything is slim at best. There are women who fight the good fight and diet, exercise, and have ‘a little work’ done. For these brave souls I say, “Good for you. But you’re just putting off the inevitable.” The rest of of us prefer to ‘age gracefully’ – another term for ‘a little work’ being way out of our price range and/or we’re just too afraid we’ll end up looking like Mrs. Potato Head. But we like to pretend, so we sometimes wear high heels and pantyhose!

Yes, the good news is pantyhose are back! The fashion gurus of the world, thanks to the impeccable Kate Middleton Windsor, have finally admitted that pantyhose (or as they now call them ‘leg concealers’, no doubt in order to charge exorbitant amounts of money for a yard of nylon) are make-up for the legs. Get a grip people. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that bare legs on anyone over ten are just not that great looking. Veins, scars, general knobbiness, and cellulite are simply unattractive. Let’s cover up those veins and compress those thighs!

And I don’t want to hear about the comfort factor. I do not want to hear, “Pantyhose are hot. Pantyhose are tight.” If you go there I will have to go back into the joys of garter belts and girdles (and, no, Spanx do not compare), but they are better left back in the day with teased hair and house dresses. Pantyhose, I still contend, were the best invention since sliced bread.

This entry was posted on May 31, 2015. 2 Comments

Finding Forrester and asking the soup question

A few weeks ago I watched the movie Finding Forrester once again. It’s a lovely movie about a man named William Forrester,an author who published one great novel then became a recluse living in New York, and Jamal Wallace, an unlikely teenage savant who becomes Forrester’s friend.

Early in their relationship Forrester asks Jamal to stir his soup, so a skin won’t form. Jamal asks him why this is needed and Forrester explains.

Moments later Jamal asks Forrester a question about his personal life. To which Forrester answers, “That is not a soup question.”

So exactly what is a soup question? It’s a question with an answer that will benefit the person asking. In the first instance, Jamal learns something about various ways to make soup. This is to his benefit. It increases his knowledge. But as to the second question, Forrester points out that knowing intimate details of his life is not a benefit to Jamal’s.

As writers we know the importance of moving the story forward. Much as we would like to add interesting comments, side stories, silly anecdotes, and the like, editors, at least my editor, take a dim view of it. My editor is happy to cut paragraphs and whole pages that she feels don’t move the story forward. And this can be hard for a writer, especially when you have an incredibly clever little bit of prose that you really feel needs to be shared.

And as a new writer, I was fairly intimidated by the editing process. I first had to get over the agonizing realization that my ‘baby’ might need some repair work done. After the initial hysteria, a strong drink, and my husband’s gentle, but constructive “Do whatever the hell you want!’, I realized that what I wanted to do was improve my book. But because I was such a novice I just assumed that the editor knew best. This I had to rethink just a bit when my she deleted about one hundred or so words that “didn’t move the story forward” without realizing that I had planted a clue in those very words. After time to digest so many things about editing and the whole writing process, I came to the conclusion that editors are not always right and that not everything has to move the plot forward. I think that adding another dimension is not only possible, but good for the story – as long as it’s a ‘soup question’!

So now when I’m writing I ask myself two questions. Does what I’m writing move the story forward and, if not, does it benefit the reader? With this in mind I’m free to add a day of useless sailing on the Chesapeake Bay because it sets the stage. I’m free to include silly mishaps that do nothing to move the plot forward, but do a lot to help the reader bond with the characters.

This all may sound elementary to a seasoned writer, but for a woman who was taught by some rather rigid nuns to follow strict rules at all times (rulers on knuckles, not an uncommon occurrence), it’s a truly liberating idea. So for any writers out there who care to take advice from me, I would say have some fun, move that plot right along, but answer couple of decent soup questions along the way.

Holy Redeemer School 1959

This entry was posted on May 12, 2015. 1 Comment