Friday, November 29, 2013

Gobble gobble

Heigh ho, heigh ho, and off to Turkey Trot we go.....
The folks at National Novel Writing Month decided that the month of November would be an excellent time to write a novel in 30 days.  November is when we start to gear up for the holidays. We shop for, prepare and serve Thanksgiving Dinner. We're probably looking for Christmas gifts. In case that really isn't enough, why not run a race? And of course, yours truly involved herself in all of it. To be very clear, I did not actually run a race. I walked a race. Over four thousand people registered for our local Turkey Trot and we ran/walked around the streets of Flemington. It was very cold, but a lot of fun. Then three children and four grandchildren came over. Well, isn't it wonderful? That's what life is all about. Doing the things you love and being with the people you love the most.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Can It Really Be 50 years ago?

I was in my middle twenties and working at a large bank in the Wall Street area. My department was on the 30th floor and at the end of the hall, a window looked out to the Hudson River, where I could see passenger ships arriving and departing from the West Side Piers. I was at my desk as usual, that Friday. I sat in the middle of a kind of foyer, with various offices around it where bank officers worked. It was a day when I was probably thinking of going out with friends that night, the beginning of the weekend. None of us expected someone to walk into the office and annouce, "The President  has been shot!" Someone found a radio and we could hear it playing somewhere. We stayed at our desks, wondering what was going on. The President was hugely popular. Who on earth would want to attack him? Of course, he had political foes, but this was something unheard of. Jack and Jackie were people who seemed like a Prince and Princess, with their two beautiful children. She was an elegant woman who wore designer clothing that every woman wanted to copy. He was a dashing figure from a wealthy Boston family. All this came crashing down that day. It was a only a short time before the person with the radio informed us that the President had died. He had been assasinated on a trip to Dallas, Texas. Everyone seemed to be dazed, sitting at their desks, or wandering around. I walked down the hall and looked out. A ship I knew and had travelled on, the Mauretania, was on her way out. For a moment, I wished I was on her, going back to Ireland. I wondered what kind of country this really was. But that was only the beginning. It was only a few years until Martin Luther King was killed and then the President's brother, Robert Kennedy. The country seemed to become dark and violent with rioting in the colleges and in the ghettos. So that day seemed to be the one when life changed forever. Maybe our calm and ordered world of 1963 was only an illusion, after all.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Is that a gun I see in your purse?

Now it is the middle of November. The year 2013 is slipping away. One thing I did this year is sign up for an "Adult Police Academy" being offered by one of our local police departments. It turned out to be a worthwhile activity. The version of this that I have wanted to do for some time is the "Writer's Police Academy" but it is held in North Carolina and there is a cost to stay there and so on. This local one was for a general audience and cost nothing. We had about five two hour sessions, a different topic every week. It was really quite interesting and I tried to memorize the things that stood out to me, such as the importance of solid  evidence in getting a conviction. The rise of the prescription drug as a drug of choice especially with the young. One session on drunk driving convinced me I would never be able to walk a line. Fortunately, I don't plan on drinking and driving. We finished up at a firing range where we watched various scenarios on a large screen and were able to fire (lasers) at whoever we chose. Some of the scenarios made us realize that sometimes there is no good choice.
The instructors were local cops, drill sergeant (the firing range), a DEA agent, and so on. I could recommend this to anyone as an educational experience. This one hasn't been held every year so I took advantage of it when I saw it mentioned in the newspaper. They could only take a maximum of twenty-five people due to space limitations.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Flying into Fall

Fall begins this Sunday. Fortunately, the September weather has been wonderful - as nice as September here can get. Warm days and cool nights.
We took a trip to Cape Cod, Massachusetts and I even went in for a swim, or my version of a swim, which involves bobbing in the waves and trying not to get out of my depth.
As usual, time is rushing by. When I went out to work, I, like many people, thought wistfully of all the things I could do if I could just be home. Well now I'm home and you find out pretty fast that there are more things to do than you can ever get through. Not having a household staff, I, of course, need to take care of the house and many errands.  Forget the garden - barely any time.
The computer can be blamed for stealing a large part of my time. But of course, it also enables me to do the things I want to do. Right now I'm in the middle of a writing course and enjoying it greatly. This is the second course I've taken by the same teacher. Funny how some people can excite and inspire you as they teach, and others just don't have that ability at all.

At night, we watch Babylon Five. I only saw a couple of episodes when it was on TV - in the 90's I think. You really have to watch the whole thing to really "get" it. I'm enjoying the wonderful graphics of the creation of a space station. The plot is a little scary, now having relevance to our own times, as though the writers were a little clairyoyant.

I was thinking of various things, also, and it occurred to me that one of the things that should be taught in schools is critical thinking and decision-making. It's so important to make decisions based on true data, not emotions or hunches, although these definitely have their place. Some people have very good hunches but I suspect that these are based on their ability to gather data. That being said, it is also important to avoid "analysis paralysis.." When we are young, we, of course, are usually emotional and this can cloud our judgment. Being able to add some reason to the decision making might save us from the worst blunders. We all have to make mistakes in order to learn, but no need to go over the cliff!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Capturing the Muse

Sometimes the Muse seems like a firefly - I see the winking lights of inspiration, but try to get hold of it. It flits merrily away. I heard that F2K was starting up again and made sure to grab hold of my firefly this time. F2K is a writing workshop I've taken before, a couple of years ago. It is given free of charge by the online group, Writers Village University.  A word about Writers Village: Writers Village is a unique place. It has many ongoing writing courses which are included in the membership, should you choose to join. Mostly, the courses are intended for people who can work independently and provide feedback to each other. There is no "teacher" unless you sign up for a mentor. F2K is a lot of fun, lasting for several weeks and if you have taken it before, taking it again helps give you a boost in your writing skills and enthusiasm. For some reason, I found myself composing a fantasy. Don't know why - I've never gone in that direction before, but I'm enjoying it.
I also jumped into a course being held simultaneously, about research, and this one is mentored by a writer who has just had a book published and is apparently doing very well with it. I find myself researching things I never even dreamed of before. Such is the writing life, in turns exhilarating and depressing! Which is when things work and when they don't. So far, so good!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

In the Way Back

This is biographical and hopefully not too boring. (Get out the blankies and hot cocoa for a nice nap.)

Well, I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland before World War II. It broke out just before I started elementary school and my childhood memories are of wartime conditions such as strict food rationing and carrying a gas mask to school with me. I recall my mother making banana sandwiches when I was about 4 years old and then didn't see another banana until we hit the United States shores in 1947. But since I didn't know any better, the food I had was sufficient to me. We had little sugar as it was rationed but my aunts went blackberrying in summer and made jam. We always had fish for fish and chips. We picked edible seaweed (dulce, which was pronounced dulles) and chewed it for a snack and gathered what we refered to as "willicks" or winkles. These were tiny sea snails which were boiled and eaten with a pin. All in all, it wasn't a bad diet. My parents had a vegetable garden and my father installed a chicken run in our small back yard. We got along. We burned coal for heat - our house had a fireplace in every room including my bedrooom. I walked to the Belmont Church Road primary school where three grades (we called them forms) were taught. I had just started at the upper school when we left the country. I should note that in Southern Ireland, the Irish Republic, there was no food rationing. The government had declared neutrality and did not support Great Britain and the Allies. We managed to go there on a vacation once and had bacon and all the things we couldn't get up North.

We spent quite a bit of time at Donaghadee, a small seaside town, where some of my father's family had summer bungalows spread out along the Ballyvester Road. When bombing raids were expected in Belfast, most of the family descended on the bungalows to get out of town. My father had 10 brothers and sisters.so there could be quite a crowd. To a child, it was almost like a big party sometimes.  I loved walking the shore and going into town to the Royal Hotel or Grace Neil's Pub with my parents. Grace Neil's is said to be the oldest pub in Ireland and is still there to this day.

As to the war, we had an iron box as a dining table which served as a shelter in case a bomb fell on us. Fortunately, none ever did. The German planes mostly bombed the shipyards area. We lived in the suburbs of Belfast, a few miles out of the town center. We children played near bomb craters so they did get fairly close to our house. When the war ended, my parents booked passage as soon as possible on a converted troop ship going to America, where we joined my mother's sister.

I think in those wartime years, when I was growing up, I saw an Ireland which had reverted somewhat to an earlier age. Since petrol (gasoline) was strictly rationed, my father had to give up his car and take the bus to work. People used bicycles quite a bit - I rode mine several miles to the North
Road school. The delivery people used horse drawn carts if they couldn't get trucks, and farmers ploughed the fields with a team of horses. Normally, you would probably not have seen this in the environs of the industrialized city of Belfast. In spite of rationing and blackout curtains at night which plunged the streets into darkness, life went on and as a child, I took it all in stride, not knowing anything different. The air raid sirens went off mostly at night when I would have been at home. As far as I knew, everything was normal. Events were held, people went on holiday (vacation) my mother took me to auctions to look for furniture and she hired a cleaning woman who told fortunes in the tea leaves. I don't know what she told my mother. If she mentioned it, I have now forgotten. It must have been a good one because she lived happily to the age of ninety two. No one in my family was killed in the war except a cousin in America I had never met. I have gone back once to Ireland, in 1961. Maybe I will go one more time.

Monday, June 3, 2013

It's Electric

 We recently returned from a visit to the Thomas Edison historic site in West Orange, N.J. I was quite worn out afterwards after climbing up and down throughout a factory and then a Victorian mansion, but I enjoyed it. Looking at the old machines reminded me of my father who was a factory foreman. We didn't get into the chemistry lab as there already was a tour going, but did see where designs were drawn up and a museum exhibit of various items. There was a man running small motors to explain the difference between AC and DC power. Outside, strange noises reached us from the men recording sounds on wax cylinders to show how the first records were made. Then we took a shuttle bus to Edison's home, Glenmont, which was built in 1886 in what is known as the Queen Anne revival style and which proved to be very interesting as it was furnished with the original items and looked as though Mr. Edison would be home from the factory down below in the valley any minute. It was situated on the top of a hill and had wonderful breezes in spite of a day in the 90's. An elderly man sat in the garage and told visitors how Edison went on camping trips with a "convoy" of fifty vehicles. Rich people in the 1920's had quite a different lifestyle from today - not that I am well acquainted with lifestyles of the rich in the present day! I hope Zach enjoyed something of it all at 10 years of age. Maybe he will remember the tiger skin rugs in the parlors!
We were told that some actual Edison grand children (adults) might be present as they frequently turned up on Edison Day. Of course we don't know if we were rubbing shoulders with an Edison or not, but it led me to read up on the family a little. I discovered that Samuel Edison, Thomas's father, was born in Nova Scotia, as was Art's grandfather. They also had Loyalist origins, fleeing from New Jersey to Canada after being arrested during the Revolution. The Edison family eventually went back to the United States, where Thomas A. Edison was born in Ohio. He finally ended up back in New Jersey. What a good thing his ancestor didn't get hanged for his Loyalist sympathies! (Which almost happened, I believe.) We might not have had electric lights that worked - at least, as early as we did have them. And would Hollywood have existed? Edison pioneered the movie industry. This site is definitely worth a visit as there is much to explore. The friendly Park Rangers were very helpful. Also interesting to us were the surroundings of Glenmont. It is located in what is probably the first gated community in America, of 450 acres, along with another 173 estates, and contains its own park within a park. As we sat on an iron bench under a tree on the rolling lawns, viewing the house, I thought it would make a wonderful setting for a novel. Jane Austen would have loved it.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Everything changes

Well, the date is now May 19th and the weather is still cooler than normal - whatever normal is now. I used to think, when I was young, that Winter was cold and snowy, Spring fresh and wonderful, Summer warm and wonderful, Fall crisp and exhilarating and that was the way it was. Actually, at that time, it pretty much was that way. But of course, I was too young to have experienced change in all its forms, or to know that nothing ever stays the same. That's why it is so nice to be young and just accept your world as it is. No regrets for lost days of yore, and sadness for what will never be. What a waste of time that is! Anyway, getting older should make you realize that you'd better make the most of all you have. The train is speeding up but there's still a few stations to go. How did I get into a train metaphor? Must have slipped back into that past for a tick. When I think of trains I remember the one we used to take from Belfast to Donaghadee and I can smell the coke smoke which drifted back into the open windows from the puffing engine. Coke, in case you don't know, is a form of coal.
Anyway, the grass is very green from the cool weather and occasional rain. The flowers seem to be doing OK so far. The flowering trees also liked this weather. The magnolia managed to bloom without getting hit with a killing frost and therefore looked very good. Magnolia trees are living around here but would be better just a little farther South. Speaking of the South, we are watching John Jakes "North and South" on DVD. It is a marvellous epic spectacle and a great way to brush up on history. If I had a student who was supposed to read about the Civil War I would certainly tell him or her to watch this. Of course, it is a romantic story also, but it gives insight into how Americans were pitted against each other, often families who were related. I never had any instruction on the Civil War in school that I can remember,  and of course, arriving in the United States in 1947, I had no ancestors involved in it. All I can recall is the cotton gin, which I never really understood totally. My American schooling started pretty much in middle school. Before that I was supposed to remember which countries were pink on the World Map, and were part of the British Empire. As I say, everything changes.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Spring

Spring has once again arrived in New Jersey, more or less. It has been a cold Spring and it is now April 15th and the daffodils are really just out in force. Although nothing much seems to stop the daffodils - they come up through the snow if they have to. Such a beautiful flower with a wonderful scent, and with such strength, like some people. I read about the tribulations that some individuals have sometimes, and they would be enough to stop or slow down the average person, but these people are NOT average - they go above and beyond their own infirmities and obstacles - they rise above. I just read about a young man like this who co-founded an organization in New Brunswick called R.I.S.E.N. They want to help and mentor youth who are at risk and it comes from their own challenges in life. We should be thankful for them.
I always marvel at the daffodils when they appear. They seem more like wildflowers than true garden flowers, something very special and beautiful, a gift after the darkness of winter.I'm thankful for them, too.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Diners and such

We just visited the Flemington Diner. The opening was a momentous occasion in the community as our last diner burned down close to thirty years ago. We watched the burned out site for the reappearance or rejuvenation of the original diner but this never happened. Apparently, there was insurance fraud involved, so the site just deteriorated and eventually, years later, the land was sold and redeveloped into stores. The original diner was large and had a banquet room where various functions were held. It had a very popular feature: a large salad bar that had more than salad. It also offered hot dishes, and senior citizens would come in just for the "salad bar" at lunchtime and make it their main meal. I worked for a company which had weekly meetings there and when the diner burned, we ended up down the street at what my boss called "the greasy spoon." At that time, there were few restaurants that had the room for a company meeting. Over the years, there were other restaurants, but none was the classic diner with which we are familiar in New Jersey. Diners have evolved over the years from the original railroad dining car but usually the diner is a free standing building on a highway, which is open early and late and offers counter service and tables with basic types of American food such as burgers, hot dogs, soups, salads, entrees such as possibly pot roast and lunches with sandwiches and of course, desserts such as pies, cakes and rice puddings. Actually, there is much more, including breakfast, pancakes, sausages and eggs.

When we visited the new diner, there were a lot of senior citizens happily enjoying lunch. The diner is probably less expensive than than the other chain restaurants we have  here.  Actually, there is another restaurant not far away but it is in another town. It calls itself a diner but although it actually has a real railroad car attached (!) it is closer to a restaurant in ambiance with a wood burning fireplace and it also is a very popular place because the food is good and plain with early bird offerings.

All this doesn't really convey what a diner is. Maybe it is a restaurant that doesn't have any aspirations to be something more than it is. Just plain food in variety. Ours also has something that is in short supply around here - the Danish pastry. And a selection of fruit pies. That's enough to entice us in. That's OK.

Monday, March 4, 2013

La Florida

Beautiful Florida. How lucky we are to have a state like this in the USA. Housing is varied, from reasonable to multimillions. But everyone has access to gorgeous free beaches, waterways, lakes by the hundreds, and everywhere there is the beauty of flowers and palms and tropical plants. Leaving Disneyworld out of it, there is plenty to keep anyone busy. And the climate (leaving aside hurricanes and natural things no one can do much about) is very good. Winter is kind down here. Summer, not so much, but many people prefer it to the North anyway. It is a good state for older people and of course that makes it a cliche that is the butt of jokes and sneering comments. I say, let them sneer! I will be sitting on a lanai with my glass of wine, with the swaying palms and pines in view. Right now, just temporarily, but who knows, maybe much longer in future.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mulling

Mulling over what I should write about next. I'd like to make it interesting if possible. Or at least lively enough to keep the reader awake. I'm now reading a book about button collectors. On the face of it, you wouldn't think this would be too exciting, but in the hands of a good writer, almost anything can be. The button collectors book is a mystery of course. Prior to that, I read a book about granite quarrying, also a mystery. A very good book, I might add, in spite of the subject. The author told you just enough about the operation and not too much. Too much about digging granite out of the ground would not be good at all. There was a great description of a boat chase up the North Carolina coast in it, so if I had stopped at the mention of granite, I might have missed that. And I do love boats. The title of this book is "Hiding Gladys " by Lee Mims. The button book is "Hot Button" by Kylie Logan. and I've just started it  so I can't report on it further. I have quite the collection of old buttons myself as I can never bring myself to throw them out. However, I'm sure none of them are the really old and unusual that I will be reading about, the true "collector" buttons. I'm already starting to get interested as someone has just mentioned a "moonglow" button. What a lovely name.  Maybe it is because it brings back the movie "Picnic" and the musical theme, a movie I saw when a teenager.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Winter in the Northeast

Well, I guess we are in the Northeast in New Jersey. We  just miss being in the MidAtlantic and we are not far enough North to be in New England. Our weather is fairly good although we are not immune to storms. Being in the West of the State, we don't usually get any of the coastal storms, unless they veer Westward. So it could be worse.
I was thinking the other day about personality and how that must factor into any work of fiction. I suppose another word for that is character, when it comes to writing, anyway. If a writer can capture that, it makes for a fascinating read. I think that is what makes Britcoms so interesting. They always feature the little quirks that make you laugh and recognize in people you know yourself.
Then there are the fatal flaws. Once you observe that a character has a fatal flaw you are waiting for them to come to a bad end.....or will they? Suspense! It's easy for me to talk about this but actually creating a work of fiction in which people come to life is not easy at all. But we can hope.
Somewhere Inspiration is lurking, ready to strike!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Pain in the.....

When I reached the age of about seven, I think, I made my first acquaintance with the migraine. This then became my (almost) lifelong companion. Those blinding headaches would occur regularly, and I never knew exactly when one would strike.
Different people have different versions of the migraine. Some people have more severe and/or more frequent ones. But most are somewhat similar. A faint throb in the temples which gets worse and more insistent until your whole head is a field of pain. Light hurts your eyes. You lie down somewhere quiet, take aspirin and wait for it to go away. When I was a child, I would get the severe pain of a headache which made me nauseous. After I had thrown up and lain down for a while and slept, the headache had done its worst.
But on into maturity, then the headache became a three day endurance test. Taking aspirins, putting cloths on the head, trying to sleep and waking up worse, on and on the pain would go until when I was exhausted, it would start to fade away. Having headaches like this makes you a different person, one who tries to avoid stressful situations which might trigger a headache. Because once started the headache will run its course. You may as well forget about any profession that is high stress because you will pay for it. A calm lifestyle with good food at regular intervals is what you need. Then, after menopause, one good thing seemed to happen. The migraines faded away, a thing I never thought would occur. By that time the migraine was a part of me, but suddenly I was free of it. I don't know why, but I'm thankful.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther, you were a great man

I remember when Martin Luther King was leading peace marches in the South. That was in the days when it was hazardous to do this. There was not only prejudice in the South, but actual rules that excluded anyone of color from certain things. It is hard to imagine now that there were separate facilities for whites and "coloreds" such as toilets and places to sit on the bus. Yet Martin Luther was not bitter, violent, sarcastic, snarky, superior or any of the negative things that divide people. No, what I remember about him is the love that he exuded. He had a dream and that dream was of a world where people accepted others no matter what differences they had. In that world, those who were disadvantaged did not want to "get back at" the people who had wronged them. If we are divided in that way, how can we come together? No, Martin Luther King rose above that kind of thinking and that is why I salute him. I wish there were more like him, and actually, I believe there are many out there. We just don't hear about them. The media today would prefer to feature the sensational and so often the sensational is negative. So today is Martin Luther's day, the day we celebrate a truly great man.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

I finally finished "30 Days to Death" and it is available now on Smashwords and Amazon. Doing this is like setting a little paper boat into a gutter after the rain and watching it float away. What will happen to it? Will someone be charmed and watch the little fragile boat on its progress or will a nasty person deliberately step on it? Both can happen. Such is the life of someone who tries to write. You do the best you can at that moment in time. I always seem to struggle with Word 7 when I finally clean up the manuscript and upload it to Smashwords. I think I've finally got it in the format that is required. However, I thought that before and then ended up with all kinds of formatting I didn't want. I hope people who read it will ignore any weird things that happen. Believe me, they weren't intended! As for a Table of Contents, I tried that once and almost had a nervous breakdown with it. I may attempt it again some time but maybe I should make sure there is wine and chocolate in the house first. Now on to an idea I had previously that I want to see if I can develop.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Something old, something new

In keeping with my idea to get something done this year, I have been working on a new mystery, to appear soon on Smashwords. This was started during Nanowrimo. I also keep looking at the closets but I'm aware that I'll have to do more with them than look at them.
I've had a Spanish course on CD which I transferred into the car, and occasionally play. It is a somewhat limited course. So far, I can go to a hotel in some Spanish speaking country  and talk about beer. I can ask someone if it costs six or seven pesos and I can also ask someone else if they want any. This CD was apparently designed for a traveller who wants to have a little drink when they arrive. As long as it is beer. Actually, I studied Spanish in college (very long ago,) but of course, seeing the words in a book and being able to converse in them are two different things. I thought this activity would be something I could do this year. I don't know how much farther this CD will take me, however, but it is interesting.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year 2013

Last night I made it to midnight. That and watching TV was the sum of my achievements. Today, New Year's Day 2013 is gloomy but we are not going anywhere anyway. Art has a cold that won't go away.We watched the Rose Parade this morning, lying on the bed (the bedroom has the largest TV.) I love to see the horses and riders in the parade. They seem to me authentic representations of the Old West. Also there are other horses and riders that you would be unlikely to see anywhere else. At least on TV. I made yogurt muffins from a recipe.  I still haven't found a really great recipe for these. Mine were OK but not exactly what I wanted. It seems all we have done since Hurricane Sandy is eat. We haven't really got back into our exercise groove. But that has to change and change soon. The doctor wasn't happy at my last visit as my AIC number went up, not down. I had gained five pounds. So hard times are a-comin, sweet tooth.
I also worked a little on my next mystery. I need to work on it a lot. Find the time somehow. It was frustrating to find that after I no longer went out at 8:30 to work and returned around 5:00, and had "the whole day to myself" (a fallacy) well, I actually seemed to have less time to work on anything, or at least no more time than I had before. So I've got to overcome that problem this year.
Other resolutions: Clear out closets and other areas where things are stored that are no longer of any use to anyone.  Paint the second bedroom. Do some long-range planning. Think big. That's enough for now.