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)

 

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. 1 Comment

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. 2 Comments

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. 1 Comment

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

Roses Are Dead, My Love

A little snippet from Roses Are Dead, My Love

 

Angela walked in and Rose said, “Mother, what in God’s name are you dressed for?”

“This is how I roll, honey. Ready for a little night-time action.”

She was wearing a black cat suit, black ballet shoes and a black bandana covering her honey-blond curls. And she was carrying her Super-Soaker.

Daisy said, “Mother really, a bit suspicious looking, isn’t it? We all set?”

They put the dogs on their leashes and walked casually down the street and toward the park. As they were crossing the bridge a police cruiser pulled up next to them and Tom Willis rolled down his window.

“Everything okay?” He looked at Angela a little doubtfully.

“Just walking the dogs before bed,” answered Daisy. “Everything quiet around here?”

“Seems to be.” He hesitated a moment and then said, “Angela, you’re not planning an attack on that streaker, are you?”

“Oh, heaven’s no. Just letting Percy and Malcolm get a bit of air. It’s so hot during the day that these poor little guys don’t get enough exercise.”

“Okay, ladies. Please, stay close to home and keep together. Don’t forget there’s a murderer out here somewhere.”

Rose shivered. “How could we? We’ll be careful. Good night.”

Tom drove off slowly turning to go past the park and post office, then continued out toward the highway.

Daisy said, “Okay, we’ve probably got about half an hour before another patrol comes through. Let’s move it!”

Everything seemed to be quiet. Only a couple of lights were on in some of the houses further down the street. They crossed in front of the post office and started up the alley to the back door. Malcolm and Percy stopped suddenly and started snarling and growling.

Rose said, “Okay, let’s go home. The dogs don’t like this.”

But Angela was moving ahead, squirt gun in hand. “Come on girls,” she whispered over her shoulder. As she got near to the corner of the building, they heard a door bang.

“Mother, stop!” Daisy hissed. Angela had reached the corner and stuck her head around when the sisters caught up with her.

Just as Rose whispered, “What do we do now?” a shadow ran from the back of the building toward them. Malcolm and Percy started pulling at their leashes and barking like crazy. The figure turned to his right and veered up the alley running all out toward the old neighborhood.

“What was that?” whispered Daisy.

“Someone else breaking into the post office?” answered Rose.

“Seems to be a popular pastime. Well, he’s gone. We might as well take a look.”

They sidled around the corner, the dogs trotting beside them. Malcolm was calm now, sniffing the area. Angela said, “You’re right. Whoever it was is gone.”

Daisy was inspecting the door. “Look. We don’t even have to break in. The door’s open!”

Rose had her phone out. “Daisy, are you nuts? We don’t know the place is empty. We have to report this. That could have been the killer finishing the job Peggy interrupted.”

“Just give me one minute, Rose. I’ll just pop in and check out the book. And then we’ll call.”

“He’ll be long gone by then.”

“He’s probably long gone now.”

While they were arguing, Angela had slipped into the door and was back. She was holding a red three-ring binder labeled ‘POST OFFICE BOXES’ with her bandana. “Is this what you wanted? I found it lying on the floor. The place is a mess.”

“Mother! Put that back,” cried Rose.

“Wait a second, Rose,” said Daisy. “Just let me take a look.”

She carefully turned the pages of the book by the edges. When she came to Box 768 she pulled out her cell phone and snapped a picture of the page. “One more second. All right, I’ve emailed it to myself.”

Cabin Fever or a Wintry Mix?

Cabin fever? Hah! I am suffering from the much more debilitating ‘wintry mix’. A dash of cabin fever, a soupcon of winter blahs, a modicum of arthritic knee pain, and a hefty dollop of writer’s block. That’s me.

I walk from room to room and gaze hopefully out the windows looking for anything green, any sign of spring. I did see a robin, but he just looked cold, sad and depressed, about like me.

I go from project to project. A line written here, a load of laundry there. I clean out one cupboard, only to find that I’ve dumped all of the stuff I took out into another cupboard. My to-do list is growing, but have-done list is not.

My arms don’t touch my sides for all of the layers I’m wearing. I’ve lost sixteen pounds sticking to my Weight Watchers, but who could tell?

And please don’t tell me to be thankful I’m not in Massachusetts or Rhode Island. If I were I wouldn’t have to worry about my wintry mix because I’d be in the state home for people WHO HAVE HAD ENOUGH AND FINALLY LOST IT!

To add insult to injury, or perhaps the other way around, I watched the news the other night and found that I, along with my sister and sister-in-law, might be featured players on a video made by a local pervert who runs a very nice restaurant near here.

Yes, I’m talking about cameras in the ladies room. I have been a patron of that very ladies room several times in the last few years and I have two questions about this. Who in this world gets his jollies, as my mother used to say, watching women use these facilities? And when am I getting paid for my performance?

Since there seem to be no answers to these questions, I will go now and feed the robin outside my window. He’s been looking in, probably hoping to see something green.

I just don’t understand!

My father used to say quite often that he was just too old. He didn’t understand this world any more. Well, I’m beginning to know how he felt.

When we’re young I think not understanding things is a good thing. We question and dissect and search for meaningful answers. And we are sure that at some point we will figure out all that life has to offer.

But as we age and those answers aren’t forthcoming and more and more things go on that seem to us ‘odd’, we start shaking our heads and saying, “I don’t get it!” with an alarming amount of regularity.

Of course, there are a myriad number of things that I have never understood and never thought that I would; i.e.: the theory of relativity, why avocados have such large pits, why nature in its infinite wisdom made mosquitoes, and who first looked at a blue crab and said, “Boy, I’ll bet that’s tasty!”  These don’t bother me.

And I am not speaking of the overwhelming questions that have plagued us since time began. Terrorism, child abuse, plagues, man’s inhumanity to man, slavery and the like. If man ever finds the answer to these maybe they’ll stop, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.

No. I’m referring to the little things that seem to have changed in my lifetime, which don’t really make a difference in my life and, in many cases, may be a change for the better for all I know, but they are like little pebbles in my shoe anyway.

Here are just few things off the top of my head that have become commonplace that I simply do not get, for your enjoyment and in no particular order.

Tattoos. This is in no way a moral judgment. I know some very lovely people who are well-tattooed. I just don’t understand why.

Using ‘I’ when you should use ‘me’.

Why so many people find wrestling fun to watch.

Beautiful women who have extreme plastic surgery.

People who live together with no intention of marrying calling referring to each other as ‘my fiancé’.  Again, not a judgment of any moral kind. Just a question of proper word usage.

People wearing shorts when it’s 30 degrees out.

Waiters who ask, “Are you still working on that?”, as if the food they serve is so bad that it requires work to eat it.

Saying jewlery, instead of jewelry.

Playing electronic games for hours and hours. Also, surfing the web (if it’s still called that) for hours and hours.

Not teaching cursive writing and the times tables in grade school.

I could go on, but I’m old and crotchety and my computer-time tolerance has worn out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in a Name?

Happy New Year

It’s January again and I feel I must make a few resolutions – well, maybe one. I’m not sure why. It would seem that the first day of spring is a more apt time to be thinking of renewal and change. But January first is the tradition, so I’ll stick to it.

My resolution is to finish my book by May first and to write at least one blog post a month. Since ideas are scarce, I gave up on weekly. So to begin 2015 –

What’s in a name?

A lot is written about plot development, character development, where ideas come from, etc. But lately I’ve been pondering character names. Where do they come from? Do most authors sit down and deliberately decide character names? Do they start with a name that they’ve always loved? Are they paying homage to someone or making puns on purpose?

I hadn’t given this much thought before. I just sat down a picked names at random that seemed to work. Then my son, and, when asked, my sister, both thought that my policeman – tall, handsome, Bill Greene – was loosely based on my ex-brother-in-law. This never occurred to me. But when they brought this up I realized that my sister’s ex is very tall, very handsome, and is named Bill. Go figure!

My main characters are Daisy, Rose and Angela. It seems that these names just came to me. But I lately have remembered that my confirmation name is Rose. Not that I had forgotten my confirmation name. I just didn’t realize that I named a character after myself.

The only truly nice guy in the Daisy&Rose series is named Tom Willis. He’s handsome, intelligent, and plays by the rules. A good guy all around. It happens that my husband is also named Tom. He’s handsome, intelligent and an all-around good guy. I know that no one will believe this, but I did not choose his name intentionally.

I have a restaurant called the Clover Tavern. The family who owns it is named Clover. This was intentional. My Dad built such a tavern in Fredericksburg, Virginia back in the day and ran it with his mother. However, until I saw it in print, I totally blanked on the fact that Penny Clover Petersen is written in big letters on the front of the book.  And then it just seemed a really odd choice.

At this point I feel that some, probably most, of you are now concerned about my mental health. You needn’t worry. I’ve always been somewhat concerned about my mental health, but, as I am not dangerous, I just ignore it. However, I do find it fascinating that my sub-conscious mind is naming my characters without my knowledge or consent. The question now is do I continue to let the recesses of my mind do the work or do I take charge and go to the obits and the phone book?

I’d love to hear from other authors about how they name their characters.

 

 

 

 

 

The trouble with cozies

Writing cozies can be tricky. The rules are pretty well defined, even if you choose to write, as I do, a ‘modern cozy’. There are three. 1)Cozy writers do not depict grizzly murders and autopsies are avoided. We don’t have psychotic killers torturing hapless victims in gruesome detail. 2)Sex is glossed over with only the incidental reference to ‘incredibly tall, slim men with well-cut graying hair and eyes the color of smoky quartz under wire-rimmed glasses’. Perhaps adding ‘kind of bookish and sexy – quite the studly muffin’.  3)And, of course, we don’t use foul language.

 

Of these restrictions I find I have no trouble at all avoiding explicit violence in my books. I am not a fan of this sort of thing. I turn my head when a doctor needs to give an injection on a medical show. I certainly am not going to write about some nut dismembering bodies or the joy he gets as he watches the last life’s blood flow from a beautiful young woman’s body. My victims tend to be obnoxious people that no one much likes who are conked on the head and found by the side of the road.

 

Next there is sex. – always an interesting subject and I’m not averse to the idea. But I was raised in the 50’s and 60’s when we didn’t talk about it. I went to a Catholic girls’ high school and to hear any of the conversations taking place at lunch no one in that entire school so much as kissed a boy. This, of course, was amazingly far from the truth. We were as busy experimenting as any healthy teenager, but we just did not discuss it. So not writing about it is pretty natural to me.

 

Foul language, on the other hand, can be a problem. I actually grew up in a home where I never heard my parents utter anything more profane than damn and hell. When my father needed to fix the plumbing or some other odious task, my mother would shoo us all out of the house for fear something stronger might slip from between his lips.

 

Of course, this did not prevent me from learning this language elsewhere and using it. My everyday speech is not chock full of colorful invective, I do occasionally throw out a word or two my mother would not approve of.

 

So what is acceptable in a cozy written in 2014? Can we use (this is silly I know) the S-word? Can we reference God? Can a leading lady say, “Oh Christ!”? And of course there is the big one – the F-bomb. Now I don’t advocate throwing it around like confetti, but I do feel there are appropriate times that it might be used. As my children could tell you, if they heard me scream f….. out loud, they would most certainly know that I am really, really mad or have gone completely around the bend. And I feel the same holds true in a cozy. A crazed killer saying, “Oh gosh, you are an idiot” does not have the dramatic effect as something much more strongly worded. And so the question is, just how much is too much – and is it still a cozy?

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts. And by the way, I will be a guest on We B Swangin webcast this upcoming Wednesday, November 19th at 4 pm. Tune in at WLVS Radio Live www.listenvisionlive.com for what I’m sure will be an amusing hour.

The real Angela Forrest – Jean, Regina, and Mary

Of the characters I’ve created Angela Delphinium Forrest is my favorite. A woman of a certain age, she is charming, unpredictable, attractive, intelligent and whimsical. She’s a wonderful hostess, be it a planned dinner or a surprise midnight invasion of nosy neighbors. She can whip up cookies for one hundred or a Thanksgiving dinner for twelve at a moment’s notice. She owns the appropriate clothes for any event. On Thanksgiving Day she might be the perfect Pilgrim. In the dead of night, a sleek black cat burglar – with a splash of red at the neck, of course. She may be eccentric, verging on sheer lunacy, but she loves her family, is fiercely protective, and is always up for anything that sounds like trouble.

This lovely lady is, of course, an invention, but she has her roots in three wonderful women I have been fortunate to have in my life; Jean Petersen, Regina Clover, Mary Garrison.

Jean Petersen, my dear mother-in-law, is as lovely today as she was when I first met her almost fifty years ago. She is the perfect mother-in-law – never intrusive, always helpful. Family always comes first for Jean and we rely on her wisdom and support. She is a great cook and the ideal hostess. And she is an intelligent lady who isn’t afraid to speak her mind.

Regina Clover, my mother, died 1986. I still miss her. She had a wicked sense of humor and a keen intelligence. She loved to tease people, my father especially. She accepted what life dealt out with patience and faith and there was rarely a situation where she couldn’t find something to laugh about.  And although my father and brother were the writers in the family, my mother is the person who instilled in me my love of books, especially mysteries.

While Angela became a distillation of all these women, Mary Garrison, my best friend’s mother and something of a second mother to me, was the original inspiration for the character. Mary was a complex mixture of naiveté, gullibility, common sense, intelligence and business savvy. She loved life and people and her family most of all. She was a lady who rolled with the punches and usually found something good somewhere in the chaos. And Mary did indeed dress for every occasion – be it a sweater, skirt and knee socks for going back to school at sixty-something or a complete country western ensemble when visiting out New Mexico.

Mary left us in September. She is missed by so many people. And I’ve been feeling like my muse left with her. I have been having a very hard time writing Angela. But I suddenly realized that Angela, like Mary, Jean and Regina, knows that the secret when encountering stumbling blocks in life is simply to do the next right thing. So starting today, Angela is back in business -wearing a black wool sheath by St. John covered in white dog hair and a Red Sox baseball cap.

This entry was posted on October 29, 2014. 2 Comments

My inspiration (September SinC-Up)

I recently became a member of ‘Sisters in Crime’, a service organization dedicated to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers. And wouldn’t you know it, I had no sooner sent in a check, than I got a writing assignment – an invitation to participate in September’s SinC-up for bloggers. (www.sistersincrime.org/bloghop)  So this week’s little missive actually will be about writing!

I would imagine that all writers are inspired by someone or something they have read – be it a childhood story that so stimulated the imagination that they embarked on wild adventures that they would later write about – or, perhaps, reading a gritty page-turner and realizing that that neighbor down the street who peers out the window with wild eyes through a crack in the curtain is a villain who needs a story.

And I am no exception. There are two authors to whom I’m grateful. The first is Harper Lee who wrote with such poetry that every time I read To Kill a Mockingbird I am once again totally immersed in her beautiful words. The sounds, the smells, the ‘feel’ of Maycomb become so real that I can’t put it down, even at the twentieth reading! I will never write such a book. I spent years trying to find a story in my heart that equaled it when I finally dawned on me that I didn’t need to. It’s been done – perfectly.

But, I also realized what was most important to me about To Kill a Mockingbird.  Harper Lee made me want to write. It took a while, but at the ripe old age of fifty-nine, I finally found stories that I can tell in my own voice – cozy little mysteries. They’re not great American novels, but they are fun, little books that can take you out of yourself for a few hours. And with the stressful lives we all live, I think they serve a valuable purpose.

The second author who inspired me greatly was the one who actually gave me a kick start to write Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My. Her name shall remain unrevealed for two reasons. The first reason is that I’ve forgotten it.

The second reason (and the reason I’ve forgotten it) is that the book she had written was so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to finish it. I complained loudly that “apparently anyone could get published and I wonder who she slept with to do so” or words to that effect. My charming husband, Tom, then said, “Well, why don’t you write one yourself?” And a book was born.

So thank you Miss Lee and Miss Unmemorable for the inspiration to craft words and the incentive to begin the process.

Check out mystery writer, Patricia Gligor, at http://pat-writersforum.blosgpot.com.    See www.sistersincrime.org/bloghop