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?

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.

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.

24 08, 2020

Familiar Things in Pandemic Times

By |2020-08-24T10:13:20-05:00August 24th, 2020|A Writer's Life, Finn and Buster, Writer's Life|0 Comments

The limbo of this pandemic keeps just hanging on. Familiar is gone.

It’s hard to adjust to this new normal. At least around our house. Hubby-dear gets out of the car twice when we make our necessary supply runs. Once like normal-happy and carefree. Then again when he returns to put his mask on. I do the same.

We miss the old ways and familiar.Finnegan MacCool, judythemorgan.com

Our Finnegan MacCool does too. How do I know? I found his baby lovey, a blue elephant, beside his bean bag recently.

The little elephant came with him when we picked him up four years ago and it was always the one toy from his basket of toys that he’d carry with him. The breeder’s daughter bought it for him.

We met Finn at eight weeks but, with a long car trip from Colorado to Texas scheduled, asked the breeder to keep him an extra couple of weeks before we took him home. We didn’t think it’d be good idea for a young puppy to be confined in a car for such a long drive.

She agreed and her daughter, Taylor, said she’d watch out for our baby Finn. Taylor was in junior dog handling training for their show Old English sheepdogs. She was thrilled to have Finn to work with.

When we picked him up, she wanted to be sure he had his special lovey to comfort him in case he missed her. At first, he did miss Taylor. Blue elephant was always with him no matter what other toys he had. Other times of stress like the move back to Texas, he’d find his blue elephant to keep close.

Then as he settled into his new surroundings, he kinda forgot about blue elephant. Until this pandemic and blue elephant has reappeared.

judythemorgan.comI don’t blame him. I’m looking for familiar things too. Are you?

17 08, 2020

Walking, walking

By |2020-08-17T07:31:23-05:00August 17th, 2020|A Writer's Life, Exercise, Writer's Life|0 Comments

Walking is my most favorite exercise next to being in the swimming pool. When we lived in the mountains, some days I walked 5+ miles. Lovely weather, lovely views.

My four-legged boys always went with me. Most times, hubby-dear did. We walked no matter the weather.

walking in the snow with an Old English Sheepdog, judythe morganThat’s Toby and Buster walking with me. Toby crossed over the Rainbow Bridge before we moved to Texas.

Old English sheepdog, Judythe Morgan, man walking his dogNow, Finnegan MacCool joins Buster and me.

We don’t have the cool weather walks any more or the mountains. Our view is filled with massive, hundred-year-old oaks that shade our way.

And we go early in the mornings before the sun rises enough to crest the treetops.

Buster’s thirteen so he doesn’t move as fast. Finn turns around and checks on us often. He does not grasp social distancing.

Even though we’re in the dog days of AugOld English sheepdog, judythe morganust with its heat indexes in the triple digits where we live now, I still enjoy getting out of the house for lots of reasons.

Walking’s safe and an easy form of exercise. No added athletic skill needed, no training, or special equipment required. Well, you do need a good pair of walking shoes, but then you need good shoes anyway.

Walking is easy…you might say automatic. No thinking involved with the exception that you do need to make sure you don’t trip or walk into something.

Walking allows our five senses to experience what’s around us. The sound of a bird’s song, the breeze rustling the leaves. The scent of fresh cut grass. The sweet aroma of honeysuckle blooming on a neighborhood fence.

Walking reminds us of the real world around us. One that isn’t from the news or a movie or a tv series. Sequestered inside we sometimes forget the good that’s outside our door.

Walking can help us feel better physically and mentally. When I walk the dogs placing one foot in front of the other and taking in the sights refreshes my brain and my spirit.

Walking can take our minds off these troubling times of this pandemic.

My walking companions and I recommend going for a walk. We always feel better when we do. You might too.

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