Wednesday, December 26, 2012

And there it goes.....

One problem with holidays like Christmas and New Years, aside from the exhausting shopping, cooking, running around, (and that would be enough) is that we think we have an idea of what Christmas ought to be. Unfortunately, this seldom coincides with others' ideas. No wonder Dickens wrote about Christmas past, present and future. Some people yearn for Christmases that have gone forever, others are concerned about what is going to happen now and still others are already planning the next one! Some people are so busy the days pass in a blur of activity, while others sit alone while the merriment passes them by. There is no one way that Christmas is celebrated, although we think we know how it should be! Christmas and other major holidays bring our emotions to the fore. Emotions that at other times we manage to control. Do we think that there will really be peace on earth and goodwill toward men? It's a prayer of hope, but on Christmas we want it to be real.
Sometimes the activity descends to farce, when someone throws a turkey leg across the room, another storms out and slams the door, several people get into a nonsensical drunken argument, and gift givers are disappointed by the reaction. Relatives appear whom we have seldom seen and now we know why.
I think there is no holiday that we look forward to so much and then feel such relief when it's over. So, today, it's over again. In Great Britain, today was known as Boxing Day, whose origin is unclear A common explanation is that boxes of leftover food was given to the servants and/or to the poor. It is a national holiday. When I was small I thought it must be a holiday when men went to boxing matches. Children, they are the ones Christmas is for because they know nothing more than that they will receive presents and therein lies happiness.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas is coming

Christmas is just about  two weeks away, plus a couple of days. What do I hope Santa Claus will bring me? How about four intriguing plots, five fabulous characters, a box of scintillating dialogue and a partridge in a pear tree?  We still have a pear tree here, actually, an old one but I don't think I've ever seen a partridge in it. The poor things, if they ever lived here, have probably been hunted to extinction. I have seen them on Cape Cod, a fairly long time ago.

I have a mystery which I wrote during Nano but haven't got a chance to edit it yet. It's funny, but during Nano we can cast aside all other distractions to keep up our word count. Yet, later, everything seems to take priorty to getting back to it. You would think I have more time than most, but then, my house has just the same dishes to be washed, clothes to go into the washer and dryer, groceries to be lugged home, errands to be run, and on and on, as anyone else.  So I am giving Christmas as the excuse this time. The hunt through the stores for toys takes time.

In this Nano story, I had the interesting experience of having a character decide what was going to happen. She was supposed to be a minor character, but she apparently decided to take a more active part whether I liked it or not. I guess she didn't like the direction that the story was taking!

I wish everyone a blessed Christmas season.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Post Nano

Well, Nano is over and people are either breathing a huge sigh of relief or are so energized they're still writing. I'm not a prolific writer, so I fall into the first category. At least, both Kelly and I made it as "Winners,"  Kelly with words to spare and me with only a few. Check out her blog, www.stuckintheslowlaneoflife.com for more details. There's a link on this page. Actually, Kelly lives more in the fast lane, in my opinion.

We have our 50,000 plus or minus words. Now we have to get to work on them and see what the heck we wrote. Or at least, that's the way I look at it. My writing will need revision, but I hope to get to work on that soon and have something finished and hopefully, I will put it on Smashwords and Amazon. I chose to write using the title as inspiration, 30 Days to Death. The characters are Zach Harris, a young man who works for a University doing research and the Belleau family, who seem to have a killer stalking them. Laura Adams, a beautiful blonde, whose mother was a Belleau, begs Zach to help her after her Uncle Arnold is killed after receiving a strange note.

So that's how we begin. More to follow. Muse, don't fail me now!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Halfway Through

Halfway through Nano. Now it seems like I will never reach the finish line. How will it be possible to get that far? Like most things that are a long and possibly tedious job, the only way to do that is to not think much about the end and just keep on going. And so it is. Another thing I have to do this month (!) is to walk the Turkey Trot and make Thanksgiving Dinner. The Turkey Trot is just a two mile stroll with a few thousand other people and dinner will be made easier since I am only cooking part of it. So that is all theoretically under control. But the writing! Nobody is going to help me with that one. Where is inspiration when it is needed, where is my muse, who always seems to be painting her toenails or something just when I need her to do some brilliant job of jabbing me in the right places. Oh, well, I'm used to going it alone for better or worse. A lot of people have helped me in the past by commenting and advising on fragments of writing I have done. I can't expect them to write it FOR me, can I? No, that's my job. And now I'd better get to it.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

On to Nano

Well, at our house we have power (thanks, JCP&L,) TV/Internet (thanks Comcast) and we are back in business. Our hearts of course go out to those who were pummeled
by Hurricane Sandy and lost just about everything. There are many with houses at the shore areas for whom the houses are simply summer getaways. They have other places to live and eventually they will be compensated, I assume. But for those who have lost their primary homes or what is maybe worse, their means of living, this storm is their worst nightmare come true. I hope that things will improve for them. I don't recall a worse storm and I've been around for a while.  I was vacationing on Cape Cod,  Massachusetts when Hurricane Carol hit but the only thing we lost was a full refrigerator of food and our vacation. It was an experience. Cape Cod rebounded, minus a few boats.

At our age, we can't do much to help anybody but ourselves so we will contribute what we can to the relief efforts and try to get back to some kind of normal life. Right now I am participating in National Novel Writing Month and trying to get on with it. I have begun but now I'm approaching the middle which I dread. It is a kind of quicksand. Many get in and few get out again. I hope I can find a branch to hold on to and eventually drag myself out. It's funny in a way. When you have the writing bug, you long to write something, but when you actually do it, then you will do anything at all to avoid actually sitting down in front of a piece of (virtual) paper. Nevertheless, it must be done. So on, on, Dancer and Prancer, let's get to the finish line!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sandy's Aftermath

Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Jersey Shore and New York, New England. We, being inland, survived in one piece but the power is out and nobody seems to know when it will come back. In our area, not only power but gasoline is important. It is five miles from our house to a grocery store and you can use up a lot of gas just getting around. Few stations are open and those that are have long lines of both cars and people with cans - looking to refill their generators. After the first night without heat, temperatures dropped and we had to take advantage of our daughter's offer and stay with her. (Without power we have no heat, no water, no light, no internet service). She already has three small children and one teenager, a cat and a dog and now she has two grandparents camping out with her. The gas crisis will pass, so they say, and power will be restored eventually, but it is hard not to know when. We are thinking days and I'm afraid "they" are thinking longer. Usually storm outages last hours, not days or weeks. Of course our problems are nothing when you see that people with homes close to the shore now have no homes at all or severe damage. And New York has terrible problems of transportation. Watching it on TV reminded me of the old subway strikes in the 1960's. I remember having to carpool with a group of people into the Wall Street area. That didn't last too long but it was somewhat traumatic to know that you couldn't get anywhere by the usual mass transit. This is much worse

The hurricane itself sounded to me much like a long freight train passing - for hours it roared in the darkness. But I grew up in the middle of World War II, listening for air raid sirens that told us German planes were on the way to kill us if they could, and eating dried eggs (I even liked them!) People adapt and make the best of things when they get used to the idea of disaster. You go on because that is your only choice and count your blessings. We are seeing that now, ordinary people helping others as best they can. I suppose it will bring out the best and the worst in us because there are always some who will take advantage to get something more for themselves. And the heroes who will forget themselves to help others.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Here We Go Again

Just before an important Presidential election and just before the beginning of National Novel Writing Month (November), here comes Sandy. We don't know just how big a storm he (or she) is going to be. They are calling it a monster, which is oddly appropriate as it is almost Halloween. Gallows humor, I guess they call it.

We've already been to the store and witnessed people stockpiling everything from cases of bottled water to cans of gasoline, presumably for their generators. We unfortunately don't have one, but many people here in the country do. If our power lines go down (with what they predict, this is almost guaranteed,) we won't have well water or light. Fortunately we don't need heat right now. We made what preparations we could and are hoping for the best.
Here in New Jersey we've had some unpleasant storms and I'm not looking forward to another one. It is a helpless feeling to just sit waiting. Even though we are sixty or so miles inland, a deluge of rain and wind could wreak havoc here. I like my trees and don't want to see them destroyed. Also, a bad storm could knock out power for quite a while. No power, no computer which is a horrible thought. I suppose I could hook up my laptop to the car but then my wireless connection will be out. If our main library is open though, later on,  they will have wifi (hopefully.) I know it is useless to just sit here and mope and wail and bemoan the coming maelstrom, but I just hope it will be over as quickly as possible and let us get back to normal without anyone being harmed. Sandy, if you have any Scottish blood in you, pass over our wee house and spare us!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Go Vote

I was a political science major at Hunter College in the early 1960's, just before John F. Kennedy was elected. It was a time of feeling hopeful about politics and excited. That, of course, is natural for young people. They feel, in a way, that the world starts with them, and in a way they are right. For each generation, the world begins again.

I remember the President's call to young people to "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Have we lost this idealism now? I wonder. I think my generation was idealistic, but it was not naive because we had grown up with parents who had experienced the effects of the Depression and we ourselves were small children in the World War II years. I think we knew what evil was and the sorrow of terrible loss and what men and women can do to each other. But we had real hope and the faith of a better world. I recall my middle school class in the late 1940's singing the song "One world, built on a firm foundation, built on a firm foundation of peace..." My school was only a few blocks north of the UN building in NY. Maybe only for a brief time, we had that peace. We were to learn that war never ends, only too soon. It wasn't long until the Korean War escalated.

But when John F. Kennedy was elected, he brought a feeling of newness again to the highest office. He was courageous, a war hero from World War II, and his wife was beautiful and drew the attention of the nation to culture and art. During those  years, the Peace Corps was established, encouraging young Americans to go forth into the world and work to make it a better place, and they did.

I think myself, that is the genius of America, the faith in this nation that it is the best nation in the world, and the generous spirit of its people. May that never change.

Read the Federalist Papers, if you want to know the thinking of the Founding Fathers.

And go vote.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Doing the Nano

The Nano is not a new dance. Nanowrimo, as it is known, is short for National Novel Writing Month. It takes place every year in November when anyone who wants to challenge themselves will sit down and attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days.You don't get a reward other than a pat on the back and the right to put a "Winner"  plaque on your website. For a writer, though, just getting through 50,000 words is really reward enough. That's what we all want, to get those words down somehow. You can imagine those hundreds of people all scribbling and tapping away every day like industrious little mice chewing through the walls. Some meet up and commiserate with each other. Others just suffer in silence. It's not an easy thing to torture your brain into letting loose of those ideas and hammering them into words.

Nano doesn't require you to be good. All it asks is that you write. Then later you can admire your work, toss it, or sit down again and polish it, correct it, change it. Nano challenges all those procrastinators who tell themselves they are going to write something someday. Nano says, well now, just go on and do it. See if you can. You don't know until you try.

So, even if what you wrote isn't that great, it is something. And it might become something better someday if you keep at it. Keeping at it is what Nano is all about. And they encourage young writers to get started. To find out more, you can go to www.nanowrimo.org.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Sweetest Place on Earth

We've just returned from a trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania where we spent a couple of days. There are various things to see there, an amusement park and "Chocolate World," and a museum.  We didn't have time to get to the Museum, but we enjoyed the beautiful  Fall weather walking around the tree lined amusement park. Nobody including the youngest wanted to attempt the large roller coasters. We could hear the screaming overhead. But we found enough things to do. Two people made their own chocolate bars. We took a "Chocolate Tour" where we saw the actual machinery which creates the chocolate treats. I'm not sure if this was real or just an exhibit. It looked real and I couldn't help thinking that a mystery writer might envision someone being "bumped off" in a large vat of chocolate. What a way to go!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Whose Granny?

I read a lot of cozy mysteries. And I enjoy them very much. One odd thing I have noticed, from time to time, is how writers are confused about time periods. I'm not sure if it is a failure to research the idea or is the writer just using a stereotype?
First thing is the depiction of older people, specifically older women.  Now I am a genuine card carrying (Medicare) older person, in her seventies. I feel uncomfortable when I read about someone's "Granny" in her out of date clothing, gray bun, ignorance of modern life, and truly horrible decor in her home. Now, there may be people like that my age, but I don't think there are many of them. Women in their seventies are stylish, modern women who have been through a lot, let me tell you! We've probably seen it all, from growing up as teenagers in the 1950's, (Elvis was born the same year I was,) after spending a childhood that was influenced by World War II, then the early sixties as  young adults, the days of James Bond, shaken not stirred sophistication and clothing influenced by Jackie Onassis.  Maybe some of our furniture looks like the seventies (an unfortunate era for decor) but that's just because we were raised not to throw anything out by our depression era parents.

Then the time periods! One author I read (not a published author) seemed to think that someone landing at New York from Ireland in 1947 was to be shown as if they were living in the 1800's. I, myself, got off a ship at the West Side Piers in 1947, as an immigrant, but we took a taxi to Greenwich Village.

I would say,get it right if you are going to talk about it at all.It's more interesting to read about real people, not stereotypes.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Off They Go

It's September, and the grandkids are getting ready to go back to school. As usual, Summer has gone much too fast. One thing that is different this year at one high school (we don't have any kids in high school yet) is that they are going to be using IPads instead of textbooks. Homework can be done online. How I wish I had had this in college in the early 1960's!
The high school teachers had to take a course (for which they were well paid) in how to use the IPads. Can you imagine that the kids know how? Kids today could probably send a rocket to the moon and bring it back again.
I'm happy to see more readers of ebooks even if they will be textbooks. I'm getting into the eboook world myself and it is a great adventure. I remember when the Internet was in its infancy -  as far as the ordinary person using it, anyway. Those were fun days. I even think nostalgically of using a modem to connect by phone. That ringing and waiting for the "connected" reward made you think you were doing something a little exciting and different. Then of course you had to write a lot of text when you got there and even try to handle basic DOS commands. Nowadays to tell the truth, I am bored by the ever-present advertising and pop-ups, the videos I am forced to watch when I could scan a text message in a few seconds. Even if they are trying to make it all "easier", to me it is not. I want my ugly old screens back! Well, not really that. Just to get rid of the advertising would do for a start.
But we can't travel back to the past. We're stuck with what we have now. And ereaders seem to be a bright new horizon. I hope they will continue this way and get even better.There's good and bad in everything., of course. I expect that there will always be actual books, at least, I hope so. But there is room for the ereader. In our electronic world, it's actually a little late in appearing, I think. But here it is in popular form and it will be interesting to follow its progress.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What makes a President?

As the Republican Convention and soon the Democratic Convention play out on the TV set, I find it interesting as a former Political Science major. I majored in this in the 1960's when Kennedy was running and it was an exciting time. I can only imagine what it has been like since to sit in a Poly Sci class!
I was delighted to hear Condoleeza Rice speak. She reminds me so much of my political science professors back at Hunter College. Not that she actually resembles them, but it reminds me of the great discussions and points of view that we had. We sat in class during the Cold War with the Russian Embassy right across the street. I can remember us all rushing to the window to look over when some incident took place. Condoleeza (love her name) is a wonderful speaker and a true intellectual.
 There was some talk also of who was the greatest President. I suppose that will be debated until Judgement Day. But then I realized that all the great ones had characteristics in common. Those I believe to be: courage, integrity, and leadership. With those you could not go far wrong, In fact, I believe you could not fail.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Required reading

It occurred to me that it might not be a bad idea if we paused around the age of forty and made a kind of plot outline of our lives. At that age, we are in Act Two of a Three Act play, so to speak. A lot of action is probably taking place. The events in Act One led up to this moment. So, what will happen in Act Three? Maybe a character outline will help. What characteristics do I have, and what is my "fatal flaw," as they say in mysteries. Hopefully not actually fatal, that is, but something that holds me back. What about the people who influence my life? And what influence do I have on them? All this will have a bearing on Act Three. Hopefully, you have some idea of where you want to be at that point. So write the story the way you want it to turn out. At forty, you still have options. Act Two is full of possibilities. Act Three is the plane landing at the airport. OK, now I'm here. I hope you're where you want to be. Buy the ticket now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

There is an answer

It's funny the things that come back, the memories that seem to come from nowhere. When you grow older, you are haunted sometimes by certain memories. They don't always make sense. Why do I remember this? Why did I forget that? Wouldn't it be great if we really understood how our brains work? It sounds as though there's a story there.
I have a memory of a school. I can see the hallway, polished linoleum floors, wooden walls, tall ceilings, and I go into the classroom. Inside is a math class and I am failing it. The male instructor probably doesn't know that I missed something vital in a transfer of school to school and I seem unable to tell him. It's like a dream but it is not a dream. It happened. I repeated the class. If I had been able to tell the teacher that we never covered square root in my last school, I would probably have got the help I needed and passed the class. But I remained mute and had to repeat it. He never asked and I seemed frozen in place, unable to call for help. Maybe that's why I remember it.I suppose there's a reason why things happen. At least, that's what we tell ourselves. It helps to make sense of chaos. And maybe there is total order in the universe. We just don't always know that.  Maybe that's why I like mysteries. At the end, there is an answer.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Your Political Opinion? Puhlease!

It's a crime, yes it is. What? To post your political opinions on social media sites. If everyone on the site is of the same opinion as yourself, why bother, unless you want to get into a discussion.  If their opinions differ, you are going to irritate them. You are certainly not going to change their opinions by coyly introducing a little quote of your own. If they have any sense they will not lash back at you with their own quotes. If they do, you have started a "flame war" as they used to say. So, please keep your opinions to yourself, or at least, use them in a more appropriate place, such as a site where such opinions are solicited. Social sites are like dinner parties in a way, where it is said that religion and politics are NOT dinner table conversation.
So, no matter how strong your burning convictions are, please keep them to yourself if they are politically charged. If you don't know if you are touting a political agenda, please stop and think. As we run up to a presidential election, opinions are going to be more heated, no doubt. Each person is entitled to vote their own conscience and that's the way it should be.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Here, little kitty.....

Anyone who has ever lived with a cat knows this. They come in as helpless little adorable pieces of fluff and then metamorphose into feline bullies. They want their own way and they know how to get it. Living with a cat isn't all cookies and cream. The cat will have the cream, that's for sure. I am wondering now if cats and writers have an affinity because if ever there was an opportunity to study stalking and killing, having a cat around is quite handy. Especially if there is a cat door in the house.

Our male cat loves hunting in the backyard and brings us live mice sometimes, no doubt in the hope we will learn to catch them ourselves and possibly then serve them to him so he doesn't have to work so hard. Don't think that cats think? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. He also likes to stalk our other cat who is a mild mannered female and doesn't like nasty boys jumping on her when she's not looking.

So studying the feline species can lead to thoughts of mayhem and murder. Our bathtub has become a killing ground. I suppose I could be grateful that the cat does his slaughtering in such a hygenic place where it can be sluiced down afterwards. However, if time is pressing, he will just do the deed on the dining room floor and crunch the bones. This he doesn't clean up. I am left to look at the leavings on the floor, and get up in the morning to see a bathtub full of blood.

It is fortunate that the cat is such a beautiful creature and so cunning when making up to its living partner - how can I say owner? The stare from gorgeous emerald or golden eyes, the soft paw on the arm, the purring and rubbing against the body. All says, I am giving you my full attention, aren't you impressed with me? Now, what can  you give me in return? Some nice kitty treats? Don't tell me I have to kill again.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fruit of the Family Tree

I have been using Ancestry to try to make a family tree and it has been quite interesting. You see, there are many others who are also doing the same thing and these people, when they construct their tree on Ancestry, put in information that you may find useful in YOUR tree. You can find these by searching names in Ancestry. Very interesting to see the links with other families. I hadn't found out much about my own relatives, other than what I already knew but recently I found my aunt's picture on a family tree that was mostly about her husband's family. I had only met her once, I think, but I recognized her when I saw her. She was my mother's half sister. Then I went to another aunt, also my mother's half sister, and found information about her son, who was my first cousin. Sadly, I never got a chance to meet him. For a few months we lived with this aunt, but her son had already died in World War II. I knew he died in the Pacific but that's all I knew about it. He was about ten years older than I am. On Ancestry, I found a picture of his grave marker. It is in the Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. He died in the Battle of Saipan, I believe, in 1944. If I am ever so lucky as to visit Hawaii, I plan to go to the cemetery and put flowers on his grave.  I don't know if his mother was ever able to visit there. When I knew her, she was a single lady, a widow, I think, living as housekeeper to a single man. We were able to stay with them when we first arrived in America. My cousin was her only child. Ancestry has illuminated many dark areas of our past for me, and I must say, I enjoy it. Many people, I know, have no interest in the past, but for some reason, I always would like to know. As they say, if we don't know our history, we may relive it. And that could be either good or bad. I come from a rather large extended family but for one reason or another, our own family lost touch with most of them. We all started out in Northern Ireland and in typical British and Irish fashion spread out around the world, mostly to North America. Some of my father's relatives went to Australia and New Zealand. I also have a first cousin in South Africa. My sister used to write to her as they were the same age. But I have relatives in the United States I have never met as they arrived at different times. Maybe that is why I am curious about our history. It is a little mystery in itself and you know, I do love mysteries!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Where's the Coffee?

It must be the economy. Our local coffee shops seem to be disappearing. We are now down to one or two. It seems here in West Central New Jersey, people don't seem to be much in need of a place to sit down in the morning, say anywhere from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., and have a nice cup of coffee and a nice accompaniment such as a muffin, bagel, danish or related item. The places that style themselves "coffee shops" such as Starbucks (which we don't have) serve a kind of coffee we really don't like. It seems strong and bitter. No amount of milk will lighten it and since we don't take any kind of sugar, nothing will sweeten the taste. I, myself, like a good restaurant or diner cup of coffee. Unfortunately, our last diner burned down over twenty years ago. Someone is building a place they call a diner but it is still under construction. Our Borders closed its doors, folded its tents, and left. The coffee was terrible but at least we could look at books. There is a Barnes and Noble about 12 miles away but that is a little far to go just for a cup of coffee. We have been roaming the neighborhood now looking for substitutes for the recent closings. One place wasn't bad but we had to eat peach pie in place of a danish. A little odd in the morning although the pie was good. I must add that none of the places have any "ambiance." Yes, coffee shops can have ambiance. This is a very scenic county, all green rolling hills, lakes and streams. Is there a little coffee shop overlooking the views? No. If they overlook anything, it is a highway. We are somewhat particular about where we go. Not that crazy about Dunkin Donuts or any kind of fast food place. We miss the beachside little "holes in the wall" of Florida and Cape Cod which serve delicious drinks and treats, sometimes served along with a sea breeze and a peek at the ocean.  Of course, those places are designed for tourists. I guess we local residents, not being tourists, can just lump it and go home to put our own kettles on. Many times we do just that and sit looking at all the work that has to be done in the garden. Sometimes we really miss New York City. The coffee wasn't always good there either, but New York has other things.

Monday, May 28, 2012

We Remember

Anyone in my generation (the so-called Silent Generation) will never forget the sacrifices of our service men and women. We grew up during WWII, remembering the wild ranting speeches of Herr Hitler and the food rationing that affected our daily lives. I actually was going to school in Northern Ireland at the time and had to carry a gas mask. Thankfully, I never had to use it. We sometimes played in the bomb craters where the German planes had dropped stray bombs on their way home. Belfast was full of American soldiers who were stationed there or passing through. My aunt took me to a hospital to visit the troops, where I saw a wounded soldier - I'll never forget how ill he looked. I sometimes wonder if he survived. I was a child under ten  years at the time. Of course, we had blackouts at night and strict food rationing. But all that was nothing to the fact that our soldiers were over in Europe being killed every day and in London, ordinary people were killed by bombing raids. My mother's cousin Sgt. James Quinn, was one of the pilots who participated in the Battle of Britain and his name is on a plaque in Westminster Cathedral. Fortunately, he survived. I never met him, partly because we left for America after the war. It was a wonderful feeling when the war ended - euphoria! But sadly, the wars did not end and there were many more to come. Each time, our armed forces step up and go where they are called to. Thank you to all those who served. I think I might not be here on this Earth if you had not.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mother, May I

Now it is May, maybe the lovliest month of the year in New Jersey. This year we are at least a week ahead of everything with the warm winter. I saw a sign for "Pick Your Own Strawberries". I associate this more with June. The grass is green and thick and the air is mild and warm but not humid. Later we will get a Jersey summer, which is hot, humid and airless for the most part, especially here in the Delaware valley. But now it is perfect weather so we enjoy it.

Today the girls and I went to Teaberrys tearoom for a slightly belated celebration of Mother's Day. Teaberrys is a restaurant done well and tries to present the idea of an English tea. They have very nice sandwiches, meals and desserts and a very wide selection of teas. The location is a beautiful Victorian which has been well preserved inside with tall ceilings, huge windows and everywhere there are cabinets of china, teapots and cups. Today we had tea in what must have been either a parlor or dining room - it had two or maybe three crystal chandeliers. I really like their consideration of details like tea cozies, dishes of sugar cubes with tongs, and the helpful young (and older) waitresses with white aprons. Young girls can get a booster seat for their dolls if they wish who are welcome to have tea also. Stephanie did have her baby doll who mostly stared into space and Allison brought her lamb which seemed to look very interestedly at the lunches.

Walking back to Kelly's house I got to admire the houses across the street which I had never got a good look at before in spite of having lived a block away for eight  years. Riding by in a car gives you only a brief glance.

The "men" batched it at the house with pizza and then put in an air-conditioner. Kelly got a slightly frantic text about a diaper but it was apparently not as horrific as it seemed and the day ended with all the kids on the porch and grandparents taking themselves home.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Give me an M, Give me an R, Give me an I - M-R-I

I'm cheering because it's over. I spent a week with my stomach in turmoil anticipating going to get an MRI on my neck - to see what has been causing pain over the years. I had previously had an X-Ray, at least I think that's what it was, and found that I could be claustrophobic when a large box camera is over my head, for a fairly long time, about 3" from my nose. I had never suffered from claustrophobia before then. But something about the feeling of a kind of wall almost pressing against me, while I was not able to escape it, caused feelings of panic and shortness of breath. I manged to get through it, but just barely. Therefore I was afraid that I would not be able to complete the MRI and I really did want to find out what was bothering my neck. I couldn't help thinking of those mysteries in film and print where somebody is accidentally trapped in a coffin-like box and buried alive, to be rescued at the last moment. The horror of that idea struck me. I'm not sure I could ever write that into a story - my poor protagonist might go insane, or maybe I would.

What I did to get through the MRI was to go to-----the Internet! Of course, there were people writing about it. Needless to say, there were horror stories of people who would never do it again. But there were also good tips from people who became proactive and got through it. So when I arrived at the doctor's office, I informed the attendant that I suffered from claustrophobia to some extent and he gave me a blindfold, one of the Internet tips. I must note that the MRI machine was one of those open on all sides and it didn't actually look all that bad. But I took no chances and placed the blindfold over my eyes and didn't even peek to see how close the machine was to me. The only thing then was to get through the loud noises produced by the MRI. That I could handle. Also, I realized that focusing my mind on something else helped a lot. I didn't let myself even think about being trapped and breathed evenly.

This may all seem silly to some people, but phobias are real to the people they affect. This particular one is dealt with by feeling in control. And trying to compose the next chapter of your book.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Titanic achievement

The sinking of the Titanic occurred a hundred  years ago. For some reason, there seems to be renewed interest in this ship. I suppose a lot of this is due to the recent movie. However, stories about the sinking have been ongoing over the years since the tragedy. The story has all the elements of drama, famous passengers, the huge iceberg and the doomed maiden voyage. My grandfather worked on the Titanic, my mother thought. She was a small girl then and lived near the shipyards. My grandfather was an engine mechanic for Harland and Wolff and other family members were fitters or had other trades.  In fact, I myself was born on Queen Victoria street, not far from the yard and I remember many times passing it on the bus going into downtown Belfast when we moved into a more suburban location. Huge flocks of starlings flew overhead in the evening to roost on the gantrys.  My father worked as a foreman in the Belfast Ropeworks which was near Harland and Wolff. They, of course, made ropes and cables for shipping. My mother's older sisters, going to America, told of seeing bodies in the water as their ship crossed shortly after Titanic's sinking. It is only now though, that I realize how terrible the loss of this ship was to the ship building community in Belfast. It was hardly mentioned there and this was the way it was dealt with. No doubt they felt that somehow they had failed and the loss of life was unimaginable.. Also there was some mention of divine retribution for the boast that the ship was "unsinkable." 
Now I understand that the area where Titanic was built is a tourist spot and there is a museum. At least something positive has come out of the tragedy in the sense that it is bringing people there and what they are concentrating on is what an achievement it was for the everyday workers and craftsmen.  For, after all, it wasn't the fault of the workers that the ship sank. If it hadn't, it could have been one of the wonders of the world, the pride of Harland and Wolff. This was not to be.  The sister ships of the Titanic, the Olympic and the Britannic experienced disasters also. Were they unlucky ships? Sailors in the old days were very superstitious and definitely worried about this kind of thing. Who can say now why these three ships had such a tragic history - when they were supposed to be the very opposite?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Car-less Whispers

It seems to be a rule that our cars develop problems at the same time. This means juggling a little bit with errands as one car after another visits the repair shop. The VW is old in car years but Art uses it every day.  It had some necessary work done to it at the VW dealership. One car back on the road. Then on to the relatively new Toyota van, which had been running fine until suddenly a noise developed. It has now been in and out of the Toyota dealership, with various things being replaced. None of these expensive replacements got rid of the noise. Yesterday we went to pick it up, deciding it should at least come back for a while until somebody had an idea. Art got out of the VW and I took it on to get gas and drive home. I was just listening to 101.5 and laughing at an absurd new law involving fitting school buses with strobe lights, when suddenly, the car began to slow down. At first I naturally thought I hadn't made it to the gas station in time but a glance at the dashboard showed that there was still gas in the tank. Anyway, the VW makes a loud, almost rude noise if its gas level is running low and that hadn't happened. I couldn't believe the car was stopping and just made it over to the breakdown lane. Fortunately, there was room to stop there.

I called Art on my cell phone. He was still at the Toyota dealership. When he arrived, we called the AAA towing service and Art was returned to the VW dealership while the Toyota went home with me. There is the sensation of going in circles because VW is on one side of the highway and Toyota on the other.

At this point, we don't have the VW back yet. But this has been a very expensive month and it's not over yet. Fortunately, Art had the presence of mind of buy a bottle of wine the previous day. We're going to need it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What is Reality?

Sometimes I feel that reality television has gone over the edge. Seems like there is nothing that won't be a subject for a TV program. The more bizarre and tasteless the people, apparently the more popular the program is. In fact, programming in general seems chaotic. Programs seem to appear and disappear without any apparent reason. At least, I myself don't know the reason.
Some programs are excellent, which seems against the trend but then, television operates in a weird kind of way, and I imagine it mirrors society itself. I would hope that those very good programs mean that there is a bright spark of intelligence and common sense that prevails in our society and can't be extinguished. That's the way we roll.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ireland Forever

Well, back in New Jersey from Florida, I find the same weather - 70's. Which has never happened as far back as I can remember and that is quite a while. It's the middle of March and usually it feels like Winter with a possible hint of Spring. Not this year. I guess the St. Patricks Day parades will be held with people in shirt sleeves, instead of marching with snowflakes swirling around. So much for the weather. We have it whether we like it or not.
St. Patrick's Day makes me nostalgic for Ireland, of course. I don't remember it being celebrated much in the North but of course St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland in story and legend anyway. It's a big thing in the US for those who count their ancestors as Irish. Although if you observed the celebrations you would think that beer was one of the most important facets of being Irish!  It was always fun in New York City when St Patrick's day is regarded as one big party. Everybody can be Irish that day. Erin go bragh.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

From North Florida

Here in North Florida, the weather is definitely like May in the North but it is early March here. Azaleas are in bloom, and the coffee shop by the beach is playing its "beachy" music while the screen door that doesn't close swings back and forth in the sea breeze. Surfs up on the pinkish coquina sand beach and pelicans and gulls are there in colonies, taking a rest from the 20-30 mph wind by standing at the waters edge facing into the breeze. Not enough people on a Tuesday to mooch for any goodies.The tall palm leaves make a clacking sound as they hit together. Life is good at the beach. Next week a batallion of motorcycles will be roaring up Rte AIA bound for Daytona Beach. By that time we will be gone again.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

From South Florida

The temperature is 88 degrees. I think this is warm for March in North Florida.At Flagler Beach, I see people in the ocean splashing around. I did dip a toe in and it reminded me of Cape Cod in June. My mother would have loved it. I'm not sure I could get into it but I can still walk the beach and enjoy the breezes. Florida does have beautiful beaches, especially here where the beach is on one side and any houses are on the other. I really hate it when houses and high rises are built right on the beach, blocking the sight of the ocean and the access to it. It should not be allowed but I guess the individual towns are who dictate what is allowed to be built. Little Flagler Beach allowed one tall building and said never again! I hope it is always that way.
So we are just chilling out in my sister-in-law's condo, graciously lent to us. Maybe we will visit St. Augustine again and walk around the little shops in the "old quarter." Yesterday we drove up from Palm Beach, about a 3 hour trip. Palm Beach is much more tropical and of course, very nice. It's surprising to me to see how "built up" it looks in some areas. Almost like being in New York. My friend lives in North Palm Beach in a 55 plus coop right on the Intracoastal.
Her friend told me the "Senior Olympics" they held recently were quite hilarious, including the "walker races." We have to get what fun we can, don't we? We are from a generation that has a sense of humor.
Florida is a big state compared to New Jersey and it is necessary to get used to travelling farther to get places if you want to see anything. If I wanted to go back to Miami I would need to drive a lot and stay overnight. Same with the Florida Keys - I've never been there but maybe one day......
Well, back to chilling out. It's good to do nothing, isn't it?


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Peeking into the Past

I've been dabbling in some genealogical "research" - if I can call it that. The problem seems to be that the more I go into it, the less I know, or it seems that way, anyway. Of course, most of what I know comes from online sources. I know that I would probably have to travel to local historical societies to get more - or hire someone. Neither my or my husbands families saved or even had any documentation from their families except for on one side, a copy of a marriage certificate, and on the other, a birth certificate. On one side, traces of the family go back to mid-1700's America and even in one branch, back to Tudor England. On the other, I am stuck in the 1800's.The information I have is simply a few dates and names so I at least know they existed. In a few cases, I know their professions. How I would love to have a picture of them! A letter, an idea of where and how they lived and what they did. I have to face the fact I may never know - maybe just guess from other historical information of the times. When we read historical novels, there is so much description there that we feel we are there, too. It's remarkable that those authors are able to create this kind of world in fiction.
 I would say, if you have any really old people in  your family, ask them about what it was like when they were young, and what they know about your family members. Somebody might want to know, someday. Especially about specific people. My mother talked a lot in general about her relatives in the past but after she was gone I realized that maybe I should have tried more to pin down some of her remarks because when later I tried to research these people, I then found I didn't have anything concrete to start with. One of her most frustrating remarks was that her grandmother "went by the name of Smith" . But apparently she was from a family with a very different name. Why didn't I question that? I suppose I just wasn't interested at the time. She talked a lot about this part of the family - Hugenots - but later I realized it was all in general terms, nothing a researcher could get their teeth into. At least this researcher. I'm sure she knew more, if I had asked the right questions.
But the history of families, in general, makes good fodder for stories. Even if it is not a historical novel, the past still casts long shadows over us. We just don't always know it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Throw in the clutch and let's go

I thought I was done with clutches but not so. I have an automatic car, yes. But recently the washing machine repair man had to be called and when I described the problem he (eventually, but that's another story,) said he would bring a new clutch for it. I had visions of myself driving the washing machine down the road. He said, yes it was just like a car (the clutch, not the washing machine.) For some reason, though the repair people kept writing down on their work orders, "no final rinse." When the repairman showed up the first time, he complained that the problem I had with it was not the one he had been told about and therefore had no part. So on to phase two. I kept saying, about the "no final rinse" description,  "that's not right, I get too much water  in the towels because it doesn't spin it all out of them."Then I guess the work order was changed to, "water remaining in bottom of machine". How can we both speak English and yet fail to communicate? I also explained this concept at length but I think the "man listening to woman" ear problem kicked in, i.e., the ear automatically turns off. So, today, the repairman is back with a clutch, in spite of his workorder which still reads "no final rinse" He is really the nicest man and tries to help. He has replaced the clutch now and says that the problem was really not all that bad to start with. Well, maybe this is a philosophical question, now, as to how bad is bad? He says sometimes people don't call until their washer refuses to spin at all. I'm feeling a little like a wimp, now. I haven't "toughed it out" until my washer sat there sullenly with its belly full of wet clothes swimming in water which has not spun out. The man left saying they would send a bill. I wonder how the problem will be described there? Not that it matters - we'll still have to pay it. Maybe I should write a mystery around it. In the style of Stephen King, repairman is drawn into washer and disappears. In the style of Agatha Christie, neighbor comes in and gives him a cup of tea laced with arsenic. In the style of Tom Clancy, the machine is wired to send a code to the upstairs computer which forwards it to a foreign nation. Well, maybe none of those, we'll see.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How About Those Giants?

Yes, I'm talking about football. I have to say that I seldom if ever watch football - mostly because I know very little about it and seem to have trouble picking it up. My father watched European football (don't know anything about that either!). Any other males in my family seem to have slim to no interest in explaining anything. The females? Excuse me while I laugh. So, crying and moaning over with, I did watch the Superbowl game this past Sunday, and what a game it was. You didn't need to be a football expert to appreciate the battle between two top of their game quarterbacks. It's a privilege, really, to be able to see a game like this, where play by play, strategy by strategy, each team gave everything they had and in the end, as is usual in such contests, just a small margin decides the winner. The leaders (quarterbacks) were cool and calm and determined. I always feel bad for the loser in this case and feel they should have shared the glory. But then we wouldn't have the glory, would we? We usually in our family, root for the Eagles since we live not far from Philadelphia. Of course, we are really New  Yorkers (in spite of living in New Jersey!) So Giants, you rock!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

By Hook or By Crook

If only people who were good at something, did it, not much would get done. That's my excuse, anyway, when it comes to crochet. I work at it from time to time as the mood strikes me. The problem is, I never really know how it will turn out in the end, much like a novel, actually. The thing seems to take on a life of its own. It gets bigger and smaller in turn, seems to create its own stitches, which I swear I never intended. The end is usually a surprise. Well, once in a while it may turn out OK. Not great, mind you, but all right. The way I have to approach it is just to enjoy the process, the range of colors, textures, design (assuming it works out.) Directions frequently seem to be wrong and I don't have the expertise to figure out what to do so I just go onwards and hope for the best. It's all good.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Old Florida

"Old Florida" is a phrase sometimes used in the state to describe what it was like before it became heavily developed as it is today. Old Florida to me is what it was like in 1957 the first time I went to Miami. It was just a week's vacation but I will never forget it. My mother took my sister and myself there in July because my father couldn't get away for a summer vacation with us and not wanting to spend a lot of money, she chose to go South when it was out of season. It was a good choice. The hotel we stayed in was called the Sans Souci, (literally, carefree) and it was located on Collins Avenue in Hotel Row in Miami Beach. Miami Beach in the season, in Winter, was a fashionable place, and drew major entertainment acts.. At that time, it was not called "South Beach," and it consisted of a string of beautiful hotels set in lush tropical gardens with the beach behind them. I understand that the Sans Souci building still exists under another name but of course it has been changed. I recall the grass cloth wallpaper in our room that seemed so "Florida" to me and the swimming pool that was lit at night to entice guests to stay around for the midnight barbecue under the swaying palm trees. The hotel had a night club and also a lounge where you could get a pre-dinner or post dinner drink and listen to the piano player in his white tuxedo jacket play "Moon over Miami." Lo and behold, through the windows a huge yellow moon appeared and hung in the blue-violet tropical night as though the song had called it up. The hotel served meals on the American plan if desired (meaning included) and we sat through several courses at dinner and also went downstairs to the coffee shop the next day for breakfast with fresh squeezed Florida (of course) orange juice. We rented a convertible and drove around to see the sights. I remember going across a causeway and seeing Coral Gables, a housing development in the Spanish Style with red tile roofs. We also visited Vizcaya, once a private house and now a National Landmark and museum. A trip to the Parrot Jungle where we were photographed with live parrots on our shoulders as though we had become pirates. Their claws were a little sharp but the parrots were good natured. The only flaw was when we walked by the Indian River and for some reason I bent down to peer under the overhanging bank. I leaped back at seeing the enormous insects living there. The humid and sweet scented tropical air was shared by other species that thrived on it. A reminder that this was another world and different from the northern one. Of course I realize that Miami Beach in its heyday is not what is meant by Old Florida. That really refers to the more rural kind of lifestyle of fishing villages and houses built to withstand the heat without benefit of air conditioning with high ceilings, porches and fans. Of farms and tourist stands, the mansions of the rich northerners who wintered there. A lot of it still exists, at least in part. If you look for it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Florida Dreams

We will be heading down to Florida soon to get away from cold weather here in New Jersey for a little while. Our destination as usual is North Florida south of St. Augustine. It is more like Spring at this time of year. South Florida, of course, would be closer to a Summer climate.  Florida is quite an interesting state.  It is a peninsula with the Atlantic on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.  Many, many beautiful stretches of coastline so it is a water lovers paradise.  The southern portion of the state is tropical and you could live in the North and wear a winter coat (although it's not really very cold) and then drive South 3 or 4 hours and be able to walk around in t-shirt and shorts. I really like that idea!
There is a lot to see and do even if you don't go to Disney World. Major sports teams train there, there is the Kennedy Space Center, lots of places to go scuba diving, as much boating as you could want, golfing, a lot of tourist sites such as St. Augustine, plenty of cruise ships and so on and on. The first restaurant I visited in Florida served conch chowder, something I had never had before (it was good.) We will possibly be visiting my husband's relatives in "The Villages" a retirement phenomenon situated a little north of Orlando. Seems like every taste is catered to there, from golf to entertainment. It is well done and very clean and spreads over a large area.  I've heard it called "Disneyworld for Adults." You certainly don't have to be bored if you live in Florida. I don't much like the idea of meeting an alligator (possible), snakes (also possible) or the huge size of bugs but it is such a beautiful state, I think I can make allowances!