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.

19 10, 2020

Digging Ditches and Writing Novels

By |2020-10-19T08:29:12-05:00October 19th, 2020|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life, Writing Craft|1 Comment

I’m working away — in fits and starts — on the next novella in my Fitzpatrick Family series. But something’s bothering me about the story. The words aren’t flowing.

I attributed my lack of word flow to pandemic brain fog and put the manuscript aside to watch the drainage ditch being dug in our front yard.

Distraction comes easy when you’re stuck.

The ditch work on the main road in our subdivision had finally been completed. We live on a side street and, after three years, it was our turn.

I stood watching like an awe-struck kindergartner listening to his teacher read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel named Mary Ann. Written by Virginia Burton, it was my son’s favorite story book.

steam shovel, Judythe MorganThe shovel bucket started at the top of our rise then went down the slope adjusting the depth with each shovel load.

One scoop after the other. Not one scoop on our side of the street and another scoop across the street.

But one after the other down our side of the road. dump truck, judythe morganScoop – dump, scoop dump. Inching slowly  down the slope.

Scoop – dump, scoop dump. One after the other.

Kinda like a timeline when plotting a story.

As that thought flowed through my head, I realized what was wrong in my Fitzpatrick Family story. My timeline was out of kilter. I’d gone from one side of the street to the other.

Scenes were happening sequentially, but the reader would quickly figure out the passage of time I’d written didn’t allow enough time for what needed to happen.

Like the steam shovel ditch digging, I had to proceed one shovel width at a time to get a properly sloped ditch.ditch Or, in my case, a story timeline that didn’t confuse the reader.

21 09, 2020

Pandemic Fatigue and the 2020 Craziness

By |2020-09-20T07:25:21-05:00September 21st, 2020|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life|0 Comments

September is the height of the hurricane season on the Texas Gulf coast. A month loaded with angst as we watch the weather forecasts. This year in particular it’s a nightmare.

Add the pandemic-induced mess of 2020 and I feel like I’m teetering on the brink of crazy.

Days run together. I lose track of what day it really is. My memory’s totally shot. Argh.

Recently, I inserted my Wii Fit DVD into the player to do my exercise. The disc wouldn’t run, I tried to eject said disk. It wouldn’t jump out.

After several failed attempts to get the disc out, I gave up. A short time later, Hubby-Dear asked me what the Wii Fit DVD was doing on the table with the TV remote.

I’d never actually inserted the disc!

Other times, I load clothes in the dryer. Come back later to fold and find I never pushed start.

Attachments don’t make it to emails I’m sending.

Multi-tasking becomes a multi-mess. Stuff ‘s misplaced constantly. Minor things, I know. But, for me it’s frustrating. It makes me crazy.

Maybe, like me, you feel you’re losing your mind while trying to keep it all together and stay focused at the same time.

Well, we’re not crazy because things aren’t normal right now. We’re coping as best we can. Any way we can.

We’re feeling stressed for very real reasons. Who wouldn’t with all the COVID-19 hype? Newscasts filled with horrid visuals of violence and civil unrest. Tropical storms spinning into hurricanes and reeking unfathomable damage. Fires burning unchecked. An ugly presidential election on the horizon.

Any one of which would be troubling alone. We’re got all of the above pounding us daily.

We have “pandemic fatigue,” which means daily stuff may take a little longer to accomplish or may not go as planned.

That’s okay.

We’re getting through these weird times. One day at a time. The next months will likely be the toughest yet. We’ll struggle more, but, I’m confident, we will come through.

All we have to do is stop and breathe. Slow, even breaths. In for one-1000, two-1000, three-1000. Out again one-1000, two-1000, three-1000. Repeat.

Seriously, STOP. Take deep breaths then proceed.

It’s helped me. So do M&Ms, but breathing is so much healthier.

Next time you’re feeling crazy and want to pull the covers back over your head, try taking a few deep breaths. I think you’ll find those provide calm in this uncalm world.

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