26 04, 2021

Rock Concerts

By |2021-04-24T06:52:50-05:00April 26th, 2021|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life|0 Comments

I recently attended my first ‘rock’ concert recital.

My grandson teaches guitar and drums at School of Rock, which offers lessons, music camps and workshops focused on rock music. Their camps end with a live show performed by the campers. He suggested I should come to their next concert and hear his kids.

All I knew about rock music was it uses amplified instruments and has a strong bass line and driving rhythms. And it’s loud.

Piano recitals, dance, orchestra and band performances are more my forte. I figured why not?

All experiences offer gist for my writer’s mill so Chicken Wrangler Sara, hubby-dear and I went. I’m so glad I did.

I loved watching those kids play their hearts out. The students dressed like and sounded like the famous rock stars I’ve ever seen on television. Clearly, they loved what they were doing. And who knows I might have been listening to the next rock sensation.

So much fun. They even served lunch to benefit the school. Nothing better than music and hot dogs on a sunny day.

Nothing.

Reminded me of another concert I attended many moons ago. Back in the eighties, hubby-dear and I sat on a blanket on a New England hillside and listened to Harry Chapin.

Most people won’t recognize Harry Chapin who was a popular folk/rock singer and songwriter/activist of the seventies and early eighties. His songs are stories set to a blend of rock and folk music. My personal favorites are “Flowers Are Red” and “Cat’s in the Cradle.” You may remember “Taxi” or “30,000 pounds of Bananas.”

I have never forgotten that Harry Chapin concert and still love those songs. This rock concert was totally new music for me, but I won’t forget my grandson’s student rock concert either.

In fact, I can’t wait for the next one.

19 04, 2021

Look Who Came to Visit

By |2021-04-14T15:48:47-05:00April 19th, 2021|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life|4 Comments

Living in a certified habitat for wildlife house means regular interruptions to my writing to check out what’s in the backyard.

Recently Jack and Jill trotted across our backyard and up our fence. No joeys with them, but I suspect they were out prowling for baby food. Of course I had to go see.

Their tails were hairless so not possums with only a p, but opossums. That’s how you tell the difference between the North American marsupial species.

Before you rush to tell me how ugly the critters are, let me say opossums get a bad rap. True, they’re kinda creepy looking, but reality is, opossums are incredibly useful, and greatly misunderstood.

White opossums make great neighbors. They are docile, not likely to threaten pets or carry disease, and, most important, because they help keep pest populations under control. Good reasons to have them around.

Known as Nature’s Little Sanitation Engineers, they eat everything from garbage and dead things to SNAKES and mosquitoes. They can eat up to 5,000 ticks a year. Plus, they aren’t very susceptible to rabies and largely immune to venom from snakes like cottonmouths and rattlesnakes.

They’re fascinating little creatures. Check these opossum facts.

  1. Opossum babies are called joeys. Mom is jill and Poppa is jack. They belong to the same class of animals as kangaroos, wombats, and koalas that raise their young in a pouch. Lifespan is two to four years.
  2. They have sharp claws, opposable thumbs on their hind feet, and a prehensile tail help them scale trunks and hang onto branches. They often nest in tree hollows. Joeys travel on jills’ back or her pouch.
  3. Young opossums make sneezing sounds or a soft choo choo to call their mother, who will respond with clicking noises. Males make those same clicking sounds during mating season. When an opossum is threatened, it may hiss or growl, but Opossums are rarely violent.
  4. “Playing ‘Possum” isn’t pretending. It’s an involuntary reaction that causes the opossum to seize up. Sorta like fainting in humans. In this state, opossums sometimes bare their teeth, foam at the mouth, and produce foul-smelling fluids from anal glands to mimic sickness. An Opossum can remain catatonic for up to four hours.

They demonstrated for me by freezing in “playing possum” mode when I approached.All I wanted was to tell them any animal that eats mosquitoes and snakes is definitely welcome here and please come again.

22 03, 2021

Finding Hope

By |2021-03-21T09:33:09-05:00March 22nd, 2021|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life|1 Comment

The way 2021 began almost made the horrors of 2020 seem like a piece of cake.

Almost.

Last year, about the this time, we were whammed from nowhere and slapped into lock down without much forewarning. The rest of the year focused on sanitizing and hibernating and avoiding people.

This year started much the same way, with the addition of a blizzard in Texas that sent most of the state into darkness for days. No electricity also meant no water. No water meant plants died.

The situation is enough to make me want to stay in bed with the covers over my head in fear of what’s coming next. There seems to be no hope that things are ever going to get better.

Then I forced myself up and out on this cool, crisp first day of Spring to talk to my plants caught between the cold snap and days without water. Last I checked, most were toast, but I keep hoping.

You know what I found…

The dead twigs of my azaleas are beginning to have sprouts.

And, the Jasmine is blooming!

All is not lost as I thought. There is still hope.

The plants have survived and so will we.

 

8 03, 2021

And Then There Was This Slow Blue Norther

By |2021-03-04T11:36:53-06:00March 8th, 2021|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life|0 Comments

 

A Blue Norther is a fast-moving cold front that causes temperatures to drop dramatically 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit and quickly, like a few minutes. There are usually a dark blue-black sky and strong winds.

Checking the temperature by flashlight

The cold front aka norther that hit Texas recently was not technically a Blue Norther. It was neither fast nor unexpected. But it dropped temperatures to unheard of lows…for days.

The whole wide world knew colder temperatures than we’d seen in years were coming.

We all scurried around covering citrus trees and shrubs. We brought plants inside are covered. We stocked extra batteries and water in case ice caused us to lose power. We were ready.

Unfortunately, those in charge of our Texas power grid weren’t.

Our home was one of the four million households in Texas that lost power, water, and cell service when the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) made the deadly decision to cut power off to certain counties.

That meant no power during the longest stretch of freezing temperatures in thirty years: 44 consecutive hours from 6:53 p.m. Sunday to 1:53 p.m. Tuesday. You can find other staggering statistics here.

Our gas fireplace logs burned at full throttle and kept indoor temps around 38 degrees. We put on layers of clothes, wrapped ourselves in heavy blankets, and huddled in the living room.

We were fortunate we had warm clothes from living places where winter lasts six months of the year. Most native Texans don’t own super warm clothes. Why would you when normal is two to three days of cold per year?

Our power was out for fifty-eight hours. We were cold but we didn’t freeze. Sadly, others did.

Naturally, the prolonged cold inside the house caused pipes to freeze.When power came back and we turned on the well, a pipe in our kitchen burst. No water again. Nine days total without water!

But we were blessed. We only had one pipe burst and our neighbor has a plumbing company. Our repairs were done in five days. Too many are still dealing with fallout from multiple pipe breaks and major water damage in their homes.

Eating was a challenge too. Fast food places and restaurants couldn’t open. Texas can’t keep roads passable in a situation like this. A normal blue norther blows in and out quickly, roads are okay. But there’s very little winter weather equipment to handle prolonged icy roads. Roads closed completely.

Again, we were fortunate. Our home came with a gas stove, and we had a supply of matches. We had emergency provisions in our pantry. We could cook. I became the queen of one pan meals. We ate from paper plates and bowls because dipping water from our landscape pool then boiling to sterilize for cleanup was too tedious.

Moral to this tale of woe: Be prepared but don’t trust Mother Nature or the Texas power grid.

And, most important, don’t lose hope. Spring is coming. I’ve seen robins in the yard now that Texas temperatures are moving back to the normal winter sixty-degree ranges.

8 02, 2021

Why I Love Being a Writer

By |2021-02-04T14:07:51-06:00February 8th, 2021|A Writer's Life, writer, Writer's Life|2 Comments

February is the month where we think a lot about love—who we love and what we love.

Today I’m thinking about all the things I love about my job as a writer.

  1. I can daydream and it counts as working. I spend lots of time staring off into space and thinking about stories or how to present an idea in a unique way. That counts as work.
  1. I get to research all kinds of fun and weird stuff. The flip side of that is I’m probably on the FBI watch list for some of the things I’ve researched.
  1. I can buy books and call the purchase a business expense. Lovely perfect perk for a voracious reader like me.
  1. I can take revenge when something or someone irritates me. Cleverly disguised, of course, with names and locations changed to protect the guilty. It’s called plotting.
  1. I get to work in my pajamas.Not so much a perk anymore since so many of us are working from home and don’t have to worry about how we dress.
  1. I’m my own boss. I lean toward being a control freak. Setting my own schedule and getting to tell my characters what to do fits my personality perfectly.
  1. I get to buy pens and paper and cool office stuff. A new pen and a blank notebook always inspire.
  1. I get paid to make things up.When I write fiction, that’s true. With non-fiction, not so much. Editors prefer factual non-fiction.
  1. People accept all my little idiosyncrasies. Writers are viewed as a different breed. Once I tell people I’m a writer, I don’t have to pretend I’m normal.
  1. Fan mail. I love to hear from my readers. I enjoy getting glimpses of how my stories or my words have touched someone. Click on the contact link to email me.

It’s always nice to love what you do. It makes the work not seem like work.

What do you love about what you do?

1 02, 2021

My Writer’s Procrastination

By |2021-01-27T15:37:00-06:00February 1st, 2021|A Writer's Life, Procrastination|1 Comment

Most of the country is stuck in the throes of winter anxiously awaiting Punxsutawney Phil’s pronouncement about when winter will end. Down on the Texas Gulf coast we know that no matter what Phil says warmer weather is here.

We’ve already had several days in the seventies. Our grass is greening up and it feels a lot like summer will be early. Seventies in January are a harbinger of a long, hot summer.

We recently had the outside of our house painted. Everything looks so new, so fresh. It feels like spring is here. I started to hang the birdhouses my grandfather made many, many moons ago.

Opa had a little casita workshop behind his garage where he built birdhouses from wood scraps in different shapes and sizes. He also made stick horses, rocking horses, and doll beds that could be flipped from cradle to steady bed. All labors of love.

The birdhouses hung along the porch of his workshop. I’d have after school tea with my grandmother and watch the birds fly in and make their picks from the options.

When my grandparents passed, their daughters split the birdhouses and eventually, four of the birdhouses ended up with me. The little houses have hung along our porch and welcomed little birds.

With the warmer days, I knew the birds would soon be looking for homes. I dug the little houses out of the barn to hang this year, but couldn’t do it.

After all these years (well over sixty), the houses looked too shabby. Paint was peeling. Metal roofs were rusting. Years of nesting material was stuff inside, even a wasp nest cone.

I decided to freshen them up.

Yes, I should have been writing on the next Fitzpatrick series book, but the little birdies need fresh homes.

I gathered my supplies, staying as close to the original colors as I could. I sanded and tightened nails then painted for several days, allowing the paint to dry between coats.

 

One by one the refreshed birdhouses took their places on their hooks along our porch.

 

 

 

 

We hung the final birdhouse this morning. I think the birds will love the fresh options. And,  I’m sure, my Opa’s smiling.

25 01, 2021

Pandemic Puzzle Panacea

By |2021-01-24T16:11:51-06:00January 25th, 2021|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life|1 Comment

My love of puzzles began as a child and hasn’t diminished as I’ve grown older. The joy I find in working puzzles has been a blessing with this pandemic isolation.

There’s always been a puzzle on a table around my house. I graduated from working puzzles on the dining room table or a card table set up in the bedroom I shared with my sister to a real puzzle table made especially for puzzles.

I loved that puzzle table. Plenty of room for all the pieces.

Plus, the proximity to the roaring fire was wonderful during those long, cold Colorado winters.

 

Sadly, there was no place to set it up in the new house when we returned to Texas. I’m back to a card table in a corner of the living room.

Covid-19 has fueled a pandemic puzzle pandemonium as an antidote to the boredom it’s brought. Lots of people are working on them, and many are posting their finished products on Instagram with different hashtags like #puzzleaddict.

Solving a puzzle can offer a diversion and take the mind off everything else that’s going on. Creating order out of a pile of chaos gives the solver a sense of triumph over anxiety.

Psychologists say figuring out where each puzzle piece goes, categorizing, sorting, and searching for pieces all serve as “play therapy,” which can mitigate anxiety and other stressors. Puzzling also offers tactile lessons in patience…most of the time.

I looked for a new holiday puzzle last year. Demand for puzzles made the search nearly impossible. Last March, one game maker reported U.S. puzzle sales up 370%.

I was so excited when I finally found one I liked on Amazon, but I goofed when ordering, I didn’t read the fine print.

The puzzle arrived, and I discovered the pieces were not standard cut, but random, weird sizes cut on angles and curves. My pandemic panacea flipped into a tactile lesson in frustration.

Fitting the pieces together is taking forever. Using sorting boxes for pieces hasn’t even helped. I’m starting to wonder if Santa and the deer will be complete by Easter.

4 01, 2021

Discovering My Nativity’s Provenance

By |2020-12-26T10:23:05-06:00January 4th, 2021|A Writer's Life, Holidays|4 Comments

If I had decorated for Christmas this year–which I didn’t–I would now be taking decorations down and storing for next Christmas.

We had a painter working to rejuvenate the outside of our almost forty-year-old home. He did a fabulous job painting and power washing. The house looks clean and fresh. Unfortunately weather delays meant he didn’t finish until December 23. We decided it was too late to put up decorations only to take them down three days later.

Not decorating gave me extra time to read subscription blogs, which had piled up like old newspapers used to do.

Image via Megan Hanlon

Imagine my surprise when one of my favorite blogs, Her View From Home popped up with a picture of my nativity angel and a heart-warming blog.

Turns out Her View from Home blogger, Megan Hanlon had the exact same manger I have when she was growing up. Only the angel she’d named Gloria and loved playing with as a child had gone missing by the time she inherited the set.

I’d received my nativity set as a thank-you for an estate sale I’d done many years ago. I always said someday I’d research its origin, or provenance. Never did.

Ms. Hanlon wanted a replacement Gloria to share her memories with her children. She searched the web. Finally, on eBay, she located “a white box with an outdated Sears & Roebuck Trim Shop logo and a picture of four figurines: a guitar-playing lad, a bearded man carrying a basket of bread, an angry camel, and a ginger-haired angel in a blue dress draped with a banner that proclaimed “Gloria.” All the pieces were there according to the listing.

She’d found her Angel Gloria replacement and, thanks to her blog, I now know where my set came from and its age.

Figures were missing from mine too—the four additional characters. I only had Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus and a homemade manager structure. No sheep or shepherds, no camel,  no “guitar-playing lad” or “man with a basket of bread,” and no Magi.

Missing Magi didn’t matter to me. Those kings didn’t show up at the manger anyway, but arrived later where Jesus lived as a small child. The sheep and shepherds I substituted from other sets. I’d bought a shepherd playing bagpipes in Ireland that I use. Still no man with a bread basket, but I may search eBay to complete my set with those original pieces.

For sure, next year when I set up my nativity for Christmas, I’ll be smiling and thinking of Ms. Hanlon’s children playing with her Gloria angel.

You can read her touching blog about “Finding Gloria” here.

21 12, 2020

A Much-Needed Holiday Tradition in a Pandemic Christmas

By |2020-12-21T05:56:23-06:00December 21st, 2020|A Writer's Life, Holidays|0 Comments

A long time ago, I began including newsy letters in our Christmas card greetings. In the beginning I wrote out the notes on individual cards.

With the introduction of word processors, I began to mass produce the letter. I know, I know some people loathe mass printed letters in cards, but I love them.

Keeper of things that I am, I have copies of every letter I’ve written, and there are a lot. The youngsters in that first picture card are all now parents and two are grandparents!

Last year for Christmas, we copied and compiled all the letters into notebooks for each of the children.

While it was never my intent to record family history, the letters are a memoir of sorts.

Reading through them sure brought back memories for all of us.

 

We’ve moved a lot between our military years and corporate days. I count Christmas greetings from friends with letters inside a real blessing, especially since our in-person visits are limited these days.

This year more than ever, we need to count blessings. Name them one by one as the old hymn says. If you don’t like the Christmas letter idea, it’s still a good idea to take some time to write down what’s been good this year. Remembering happy, positive things can, in turn, lift our spirits.

After the year we’ve had, I’m all for lifting spirits. How about you?

As 2020 comes to end (at last), it’s time for Chicken Wrangler Sara and me to begin our annual holiday break. See you back here on January 4 with new thoughts and views from the front porch.

Until then, enjoy the archives. We’ve been doing this since February 20, 2012. Hard to believe, isn’t it? There’s lots to browse.

7 12, 2020

Christmas Traditions during a Pandemic

By |2020-12-01T15:07:54-06:00December 7th, 2020|A Writer's Life, Holidays, Writer's Life|0 Comments

Christmas 2020 will be different. That shouldn’t stop us from all our traditions.

One of my familiar things to do is watch A Claymation Christmas Celebration. If you’ve never seen it, you’ve missed a real treat.

The program aired on CBS TV in 1987 and  won a 1988 Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program. We watched the show live and then for years afterward popped our video in the VCR to kick-start the holiday at our house. It’s available on YouTube nowadays.

The animation is something called stop motion clay animation that rivals some of today’s high tech productions.

So what’s the story about?

Two prehistoric dinosaurs one named Rex, an intellectual tyrannosaurus, and the other Herb, a dimwitted, bespectacled styracosaurus with a voracious appetite, are the main characters. The pair guides you along a typical small town’s Christmas choral celebration with various Christmas carols preformed. The California Raisins are special guest stars.

Throughout the story, Rex tries to explain the true pronunciation and meaning of the term wassail. Different groups sing their rendition, all of which are lyrically incorrect.

Finally, a large truck loaded with elfin, cider-swilling townsfolk arrives, singing the correct version. When one of the townies explains wassailing means going around the neighborhood singing Christmas carols and getting treats and cordials, Rex’s theories are validated, much to his delight.

My favorite carol from the show is “We Three Kings.”

The Walrus ice-skating to “Angels We Have Heard on High” is a very close second.

 

If you want, you can watch the full thirty-minute show on YouTube here.

For repeated viewing, you can purchase your own VHS video from Amazon or a DVD with Will Vinton’s Claymation productions for Easter and Halloween.

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