Writer’s Life

17 06, 2019

The Squirrel War

By |2019-06-16T16:13:41-05:00June 17th, 2019|Writer's Life|3 Comments

There’s a war going on in our backyard.

My husband fills the bird feeders and the birds gathered. We love watching them from our kitchen table. Too often when we look out, the squirrels are on the feeders snarfing down the birdseed.

That wasn’t too bad. We kept refilling the feeders.

Then the critters got greedy and started on our peach tree.

For the first time, we had 20-30 baby peaches on our backyard tree. And, sadly, the furry-tailed rodents leaped from the wires above to the high tree limbs and worked their way down the tree one peach at a time.

When the entire crop of peaches disappeared, that easy-going squirrels-have-to-eat-too attitude changed. It was the last straw.

Hubby studied the ascent of the squirrels on the bird feeder pole for several days. It’s a thin metal pole which unfortunately is also close to the wires running from the electrical pole to the house.

He researched on Google and discovered a slinky-type contraption that could be wrapped around the pole that was supposed to stop the squirrel invasion.

Of course, the proximity to the wires still provided access, and feeders continued to be emptied within hours of being filled.

Determined now to stop the squirrels from stealing the birds’ food, he moved the pole to the center of the yard far away from any trees, shrubs, or wires. For a few days, the feeders fed the birds. Then the evil little rodents figured out how to shimmy up the slinky!

That was too much.

Determined now to stop them, he applied grease to the pole and the slinky.

So far, the squirrels haven’t mastered the slinky and the slick pole. We can look out and see cardinals and jays and sparrows feasting away again.

Score battle one for the human!

10 06, 2019

Summertime is Burger Time

By |2019-06-09T16:09:24-05:00June 10th, 2019|Home Cooking, Writer's Life|1 Comment

Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

I read that Americans gobble an estimated three burgers a week. That comes out to 156 burgers a year. Multiply that times the U.S. population and the number is around 50 billion burgers eaten a year.

That boggles my mind.

I’m not a three times a week burger eater, but I must admit there’s nothing better than the taste of burger straight from the grill or the smell of a burger grilling on a summer day. And, I’ve been known to enjoy a plain ‘ole fried-in-the-iron skillet burger on occasion.

This year I’ve noticed some interesting twists on the standard burger. Toppings like coleslaw, grated zucchini, avocado, mac ‘n cheese instead of regular cheese. Additions like fried onions, fried eggs, shrimp, mushrooms, and Jalapenos.

There are also some interesting recipes for making burgers. Basil burgers, garlic herb salmon burgers, Cajun salsa, bacon burgers with peach mayo, or barley beef.  Lots of recipe options from Taste of Home’s “34 Incredible Burgers to Grill This Summer” here.

I sometimes vary my burger choice with chicken, turkey, salmon, or veggies patties instead of beef, but that’s about as far as my experimentation goes. Some of those add-on options are too wild for me.

I’m a burger purist.

How about you? Is your burger plain-and-simple or piled with whatever you can find in the refrigerator?

20 05, 2019

A Child of the Soaps

By |2019-05-17T16:52:02-05:00May 20th, 2019|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life|5 Comments

Long before epic series like Game of Thrones and Outlander kept us breathlessly awaiting the next episode, serial radio shows kept listeners beside their radios.

Busy taking care of housework in 30s and 40s without the benefit of today’s appliances, housewives tuned to tales of Clara, Lu, and Em, three sorority sisters, or Painted Dreams, a story of a mother and her unmarried daughter. Those stories continued from day to day and one story line led to another or multiple story lines.

Listeners, primarily women, lost themselves in the fictional lives. Networks and advertisers saw the great potential of a daytime market and serialized radio stories became daytime television stories.

The televised programs, dubbed daytime soaps because program sponsors were companies like Proctor and Gamble or soap operas because organ music transitioned from one scene to the next, quickly became popular. By 1970, the three major networks aired eighteen different daytime serials.

That’s where I came in.

My Oma’s favorite “stories” transitioned from radio to television. She followed her characters to the small screen and took me with her. We’d have lunch on TV trays and catch up on As the World Turns then return later in the afternoon for Guiding Light. The shows, originally fifteen minutes in length, expanded to an hour presentations. 

The stories were fascinating and progressive for their time. Women didn’t dress like Aunt Bea of Mayberry. They had flawed marriages, rotten kids, and successful careers. In fact, the police chief and head cardiologist of General Hospital were both females.

There were cheating spouses, secret babies, evil twins, amnesia victims, ghosts, time travel, and vampires. The shows aired daily allowing little time to fully memorize and polish lines like prime time shows. There were no retakes with live TV.

Nowadays only four daytime soaps remain: The Bold and the Beautiful (CBS), Days of Our Lives (NBC), General Hospital (ABC), and The Young and the Restless (CBS). But, viewer numbers are shrinking so the number may shrink more.

I rarely watch any of them. They aren’t my soap.

Graphic: The Soap Opera Wiki https://soaps.fandom.com/wiki/Guiding_Light

MY soap was Guiding Light. It first aired on radio in 1937, moved to television in 1952, and ended on my birthday in 2009 after a record seventy-two years. I still miss the Spaulding, Cooper, and Lewis families, especially Reva and Josh.

While some consider soap opera watching a waste of time, I credit my hours of watching with sparking my storyteller gene and providing endless ideas for story lines.

13 05, 2019

Mother’s Day Trivia

By |2019-05-12T13:36:56-05:00May 13th, 2019|A Writer's Life, Holidays, Writer's Life|1 Comment

A long time ago in a land far away, we wore roses to church on Mother’s Day.

I can remember as a child going to my grandmother’s house before church to pick a flower to pin on my dress.I also cut blooms for my siblings.

I would carefully choose the prettiest red roses I could find for me and my siblings, cut the chosen buds and we’d take them home. There, my brother and sister and I would pin the rose to our Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and be ready for church on Mother’s Day.

A red rose meant your mother was living and a white one meant she was dead.

When I tell people about the annual chore, I usually get a puzzled look as if they’d never heard of it. Maybe it was only a Texas thing. There are lots of only Texas things that puzzle people.

Still, it was tradition for our family for many years. After I married and left home I continued the tradition. Once my children became teens the whining and complaining won and I kinda let the wearing roses thing fall to the wayside.

Anna Jarvis started the practice when she honored her own deceased mother with a special day of remembrance at a Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia in 1908. By 1914, she had campaigned so successfully that President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the proclamation making Mother’s Day a national holiday.

Interesting fact I uncovered as I researched about the tradition, both Jarvis and the President Wilson insisted that the spelling be singular possessive — Mother’s Day — to encourage a personal rather than generic observance.

The wearing a rose tradition makes the day even more personal. Red to honor. White to remember.

I’m thinking it would be nice to revive the tradition. Next year, maybe my rose bushes will be blooming, and I can pick a white one to wear to honor my Mother in Heaven.

4 03, 2019

Saga of the Long Driveway

By |2019-03-04T09:32:09-06:00March 4th, 2019|Writer's Life|7 Comments

Our driveway is long. Very long. It also has a killer S curve.

We noticed it when we looked at the house. But, there was so much to love about the property with the yard and interior we decided it wouldn’t be a problem.

The length wasn’t an issue for my husband because he’s an expert backer-upper.

Me, backing is not my strongest driving skill. We won’t go into details.

Instead of letting the view when pulling out of the garage paralyze me. I came up with a plan.

I’d back partway out, pull forward to the side yard and turn around with a short backup so I could head out instead of going backwards the killer distance.

That worked well until two things changed.

One, I started driving alone more. When we’re together, hubby drives and backs down the demon path while I sit in awe of his skill.

Second, a wet, wet fall and winter mean the side yard is rarely dry. My solution of turning around to drive out forward doesn’t work so well. I’m executing a tire-twisting maneuver on the soaked, soggy ground. The ruts are growing. I’m making a mess of the side yard.

Not good. Not good at all. I’m being forced to learn to navigate the killer driveway in reverse.

I inch backward. Very slowly. Pulling forward and adjusting for those silly curves.

It takes a good ten or fifteen minutes. I have to allow extra time whenever I’m going out on my own.

My husband assures me with practice I’ll get better. Maybe even someday be as good as he is. I have my doubts.

At least I haven’t hit the big pine tree yet.

18 02, 2019

What to do as Winter gives way to Spring

By |2019-02-08T15:42:28-06:00February 18th, 2019|Make Me Think Monday, Writer's Life|2 Comments

I read in a weather blog recently that “February is not Houston’s prettiest month” and I have to say, how true.

February in Texas is the March of mountain states. Both are the months when Mother Nature is trying to transition to Spring. Skies are gray and the ground is yucky.

In the higher altitudes that means mud and slush as snow melts. You can’t ski, you can’t ATV, you can’t hike without getting dirty. Best thing to do is stay inside and read or do jigsaw puzzles.

Now that we’re back in the Houston area, February is our March. There’s no snow to melt or icy slush on the sidewalks. Nope. We have dreary, overcast days and endless misty, rainy days.

The temperature is like the wildest roller coaster you can imagine. One day will be cold and damp, the next a warm eighty degrees.  Or, that can happen all in one day.

It’s not pretty.

What I do when I can’t be outside is the same thing I did in Colorado. I work puzzles.

And, write, of course.

Working on puzzles actually helps me solve stubborn plot problems and characterization issues. A different part of my brain begins to work in the background.

Then, as the pieces of the puzzle come together, that other part of my brain sorts out the plot and characterization issues until everything comes together. By the time the puzzle’s complete, I usually have a solution for my writing dilemma.

On a recent cloudy day that kept spitting rain, which often makes me colder than those sub-zero days in Colorado, I pulled out one of the dozen or so puzzles I’d packed nineteen months ago.

It’s not a new puzzle. I’d worked it before. It’s a winter scene with snow and snowflakes to help me remember how winter was before.

I didn’t get to spread it out on the large puzzle table by a roaring fire like I did in our mountain home. That puzzle table stayed behind because it wouldn’t fit in the smaller space here.

I used a card table and discovered it works just fine for puzzles with a smaller number of pieces, which I really prefer. Those 1,000 piece puzzles, beside being so large, take forever to complete. I get impatient.

How about you? What do you do when the unpretty months between winter and spring arrive in your locale?

14 01, 2019

Starting 2019 with FOCUS

By |2019-01-12T11:19:36-06:00January 14th, 2019|Monday Motivations, Writer's Life|0 Comments

2018 is history. 2019’s clock is ticking.

A New Year signals

  • a fresh start
  • a new chapter in life with blank pages to fill
  • new questions to be asked
  • new answers to discover

It’s a time to move closer to fulfilling dreams and achieving goals. An opportunity to bring new focus.

Many pick a guide word for each New Year to help them focus. Words like Achieve, Joy, Balance,  Learn. You can find ideas here.

In the past, I’ve chosenHope fuels the creativity engine. That year I published two books and ultimately creativity has led to seven published books.

Last year I chose PROGRESSIt’s from the Elsie Joy Get to Workbook, a fantastic planner for projects. In spite of 2018’s many interruptions (some good, some not so good) I did make progress last year. Not as much as I planned, but forward movement is forward. I’m just saying.

This year my 2019 focus will be CONSISTENCY.2018 was full of spurts and fizzle outs. I’m determined to be more focused on my writing. My 2019 SMART goals are set to accomplished that focus.

In case you’re not familiar, SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, and results-focused – guidelines to achievement. Schoolteachers will recognize the idea from lesson planning. Setting SMART goals help me clarify ideas, focus efforts, and use time and resources productively. More about SMART goals in next week’s blog.

Have you picked a focus word for your new year? What did you choose? If you haven’t, what would it be?

10 12, 2018

Fruitcake Facts, Folly, and An Offer

By |2018-12-09T10:32:12-06:00December 10th, 2018|Holidays, Make Me Think Monday, Writer's Life|1 Comment

Christmas means fruitcake time. It’s the most belittled icon of the season. I’m a fruitcake lover and this is such a sad, sad thing to me.

Johnny Carson began the trend of fruitcake bashing with his comment that there was really only one fruitcake in the world, passed from family to family.

In 1996, Manitou Springs, Colorado started a Fruitcake Toss Day. A group of Boeing engineers, using the “Omega 380” machine they designed (a mock artillery piece fueled by compressed air pumped by an exercise bike) set the all-time toss record of 1,420 feet in January 2007. A total waste of good fruitcake imo.

It’s a shame poor fruitcakes get such a bad rap. Even if you can’t stand the taste, its history is fascinating. Did you know?

  • December is “National Fruitcake Month.”
  • Fruitcakes date back to the Romans who baked fruitcakes with pine nuts, barley mash, pomegranate seeds, raisins, and honeyed wine. When candied fruit was introduced, fruitcake became cheaper and more common.
  • Fruitcakes get better with age. Cooks recommend fruitcakes be stored for at least a month before eating.
  • An alcohol glaze of rum, brandy, or whisky not only enhances the flavor, it also extends the shelf life. Reportedly, a well-stored fruitcake will last 25 years.
  •   Fruitcake has long been a special occasion cake for British royalty.

Queen Victoria served a fruitcake at her wedding to Prince Albert. Prince William and Kate Middleton also choose fruitcake for their wedding, bringing the tradition into the 21st Century. According to this TIME article, slices of royalty wedding fruitcakes are auctioned for large sums.

  • Mademoiselle magazine published Truman Capote’s short story “A Christmas Memory” in December 1956. The story begins with an eccentric woman in her sixties looking out her window one winter morning and announcing, “Oh my, it’s fruitcake weather!” It’s often included in many Christmas story anthologies.You can check it out here

Interesting fact, Capote’s story is autobiographical according to this article.

  • Fruitcakes can tell fortunes and bring good luck.

Single females who sleep with a piece of fruitcake under their pillow after a wedding will dream about their future husband.

Nut growers bake a fruitcake at the end of one growing season then eat at the end of the next season to ensure good luck and a successful harvest.I’m not alone in my fondness for fruitcake.

A bakery mail-order fruitcake began in 1913. My favorite Christmas fruitcake comes from Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas.

If you should receive a fruitcake for Christmas this year, please don’t toss it. Use the contact form here and let me know. I’ll gladly take it off your hands.

Photo Credit: Collins Street Bakery

3 12, 2018

My Texas Green Thumb

By |2018-11-30T07:58:32-06:00December 3rd, 2018|Writer's Life|1 Comment

Gardeners claim green thumbs if their plants do well.

When we lived in Colorado, if you didn’t have a green house, the growing season was only about two months long. Hardly long enough for anything to grow to maturity and bear blooms or fruit. A green thumb didn’t produce much to brag about.

I was so excited to return to Texas and reclaim my green thumb status. Except, I forgot two things:

  1. White tail Deer and other varmints
  2. Texas weather

While wildlife is lovely to watch, the varmints do munch on flowers, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens. Living in a certified Wildlife Habitat, it’s unfair to discourage the critters.

I’ve tried to grow my favorites. Rose bushes lasted hardly a week and that was with something called “Deer Away” sprinkled around. The geraniums and caladiums didn’t make it overnight.

Mostly I’ve been container gardening around the patio and porch. The four-legged creatures rarely venture into the backyard thanks to our Finnegan, see his head in the picture of the nubby spider plant. Deer don’t understand he’s more afraid of them than they are of him.

Who knew deer or squirrels like citronella and spider plants?

 

The bigger issue is Texas winter weather.

We’ve already had several hard freezes, which is very unusual for November in this part of the state. I draped twenty-odd sheets over azaleas, spider plants, hydrangeas, four o’clocks, and cannas. Left them covered for days. Not a problem to do with multiple nights of freezing temperatures or months of cold temperatures.

But these yo-yo temps make it hard. You no sooner pack the sheets away and there’s another freeze warning.

Some like my rosemary do fine covered. The Texas Star Hibiscus turned to sticks anyway. So did some of the canna leaves. Others like the zinnias totally died.

I’ve taken to opening the back door after an evening weather forecast for a frost or freeze and shouting to the plants: “It’s going to be very cold tonight. You’re on your own.”

Don’t think me cruel or uncaring, all the tender potted plants live in the garage from when temps start staying consistently cooler. FYI, that’s around forty degrees in these parts and usually means from December to January.

My poor green thumb is pale, my yard kinda bare now, but there are lots of animals, large and small, to watch.

15 10, 2018

The Tale of a Book Title

By |2018-10-14T20:32:47-05:00October 15th, 2018|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life, Writing Craft|2 Comments

Book titles and covers are important because the old adage — Readers do judge a book by its cover — is true. So, how can an author know beforehand what’s going to resonate?

Wiser people than me have come up with three criteria.

  1. A great title needs to create an image that synthesizes the story and suggest the story’s meaning or theme.
  2. The cover must also grab the attention of a casual book searcher.
  3. A title must describe the contents while being so piercing and articulate that readers will take notice.

Recently, I rebranded three previously published individual titles into a series. I considered coming up with new titles for each book, but each book already had an ISBN and the content was not changing. It wasn’t necessary.

Instead, I used a branding tagline or blurb (below) and a graphic — the ribbon — to link the books.

PROMISES series 

Two men and one woman met at Eighth Army Headquarters, South Korea in the turbulent Vietnam War years and found their lives linked together forever. The PROMISES series tells their stories through the decades that follow.

In making my decision, I examined my titles based on the expert’s criteria.

  • Book 1 is Love in the Morning Calm, Prequel to the Pendant’s Promise.

With love in the title, a reader gets the story will be a love story. The picture of Headquarters, Eighth Army identifies the setting as a military. A knowledgeable reader may also recognize that another name for South Korea is Land of the Morning Calm.

Conclusion: I may have I tried too hard.

  • Book 2 The Pendant’s Promise

The cover design with the Pendant, the Vietnam Wall, and the word promise signal another love story. I love this cover because my very talented daughter designed it. With the rebranding, my current graphic designer, Jim Peto at Petoweb.com, enhanced the graphics.

Conclusion: The title and the cover artwork make a reader notice.

 

  • Book 3 Until He Returns

The old Army green color clues a reader of the setting and time frame. The title suggests whoever needs to return is in the military. (Those who have read the first two books will know the character has been MIA since book 1.) Close examination reveals the character’s name on the dog tags.

Conclusion: Unsure whether this title hits the mark the mark or not. While the dog tags are clearly visible on the paperback cover, the tags are not readable on the eBook thumbprint.

 

  • Book 4 Promises to Keep

This is the final book of the series, which will be out next month. The title ties back to the second book’s title and the series title. The couple clues the reader it’s another love story. The sunset background suggests the end of the day and the last of series.

Conclusion: It synthesizes the story and suggests the story’s theme.

 

Overall, I give myself a generally good grade for my titles. What say you?

Should you want to read any of the books, simply click on the buy links on the sidebar. The buy link for book 4 will be added next month.

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