Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Laidback Writer

KangaOn the  100 Acre Personality Quiz I discovered I'm a Kanga. It's not far from the truth, except that kids don't know not to misbehave around me. Just the opposite, really. I say, "Everyone gather around me here at the table," and three-fourths of the children ignore me. Where do you get one of those "I mean it" voices that successful teachers and coaches use? 

It was the same with horses. I spent my childhood dreaming of owning a horse someday. Rather than an imaginary friend, I had an imaginary horse, Jerina. White, graceful, with the delicate face of an Arabian, the two of us galloped effortlessly across the farm. My parents finally got me a real horse when I was fourteen, and I discovered I have little talent for riding. I took good care of Lady and she was fond of me, but many of our rides turned out to be long arguments about where and how fast we should be going. She felt her opinion was at least as valid as mine. When my cousin or anyone who knew horses rode her, she was a different animal: obedient, smooth, predictable. Just not with me.

Maybe that's why I enjoy writing so much. The characters in my stories sometimes surprise me, heading off in directions I didn't anticipate, but I have the ultimate power to let them roam or call them back. In the end, everyone behaves, or misbehaves, just as they are supposed to. I've always been a live and let live sort of person. I don't like being bossed around, and I don't try to boss others. I live a lot of my life inside my head, and maybe that's why. In there, I'm (more or less) in control. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Living History and Family Treasures

We just returned from a visit to various relatives, including my husband’s grandmother, an amazing woman.  She thinks she was born in 1917, although there is some doubt because she was born at home and her parents didn’t get a birth certificate until a few years later.  Officially, though, she’s ninety-seven, living in an apartment of her own in a senior facility, and doing her own cooking and housekeeping. She still has sharp hearing, a sharp mind, and judging from her geraniums, a green thumb. I want to be her when I grow up.

We did a little sightseeing on the trip. We saw Cave-in Rock, a notorious hideout for bandits including the James gang, and some beautiful cemeteries, and lots of corn. But mostly, we chatted. My husband’s grandmother is a walking history book. She was there during the depression, WWII, the moon landing, and everything since, working hard and raising a family. She grew up on a farm, married a farmer, and then after her husband died, went to work as a hospital aid. It was never an easy life, but she’s not the type to complain. "We didn't have much, but we grew vegetables and had chickens, so we always had enough to eat." 

The town where she lives celebrates a fall festival called Corn Days, but she mentioned Rooster Day, when someone threw a rooster from the upstairs window of an office building and people tried to catch it. We were able to find a record of Rooster Day on the internet, to her great satisfaction. “See, I didn’t make it up.” It took place in the thirties. Kiwanis promoted the day, encouraging farmers to bring their roosters to sell in town, and she remembers.

She's seen so much, stored up such wisdom, it's a shame that she won't always be there to share her experiences. I love to include characters like her in my books. They've been through all the stages of life and recognize BS and melodrama, although they're usually too polite to say so directly. The curiosity of children, energy of youth, balance of middle-age, and wisdom of elders: all add richness and depth to a story, and to life. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Gourds, Deer, and Expectations

Our Grand Garden Experiment had an unexpected ending. In late May, my husband and I decided to plant a few vegetables in our garden in Arizona even though we were spending the summer in Alaska. We mulched the garden carefully and set automatic irrigation to provide water. The idea was to come back to okra, sunflowers, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, and gourds.

The local deer population had other ideas. They found the tender shoots too yummy to resist. No pumpkin, no sunflowers, no okra, no peppers. They left enough of two Better Boy tomato plants that they regrew and bore fruit, but they’re not ripe yet. It will be a race to see if they ripen before frost.

And they left the gourds. Boy did they leave the gourds. I only planted two hills of three seeds each, but the gourds have taken over the entire garden terrace, crawled up and down the steps to the next levels, and even climbed a tree. We have green and yellow striped gourds, green gourds that look as if they were dipped halfway into yellow paint, and white egg-shaped gourds.

I’ve never grown gourds before, but according to my research, once they’re mature I just have to dry them and then wax or shellac the skins, and I’ll have gourds for decoration and possibly birdhouses. Or maracas. I could start a rhythm band. Too bad gourds aren't edible.

So I spent about five minutes being angry at the deer, and then I saw a doe bedded down in the lot next to our house. Look at that face. Who can stay mad?  It was a privilege to provide a snack to such a beautiful creature. But did she have to eat the grapevine too?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Time Traveling the Pages

My taste in books leans toward contemporary, or at least stories set in my lifetime, but lately I've been living in the past. Three of my favorite reads in the last few months were historical novels. The Yankee Club is set in New York City during the depression. It features Jake, a detective turned writer, and Laura, an actress, who grew up together in Queens. I Am Livia let me into the life of a powerful woman in Rome during the ascention of Caesar August. An Orphan's Tale takes place in Paris in 1834 and introduced me to all levels of society, from a street urchin to nobility. Three stories, all different, and yet each let me into the lives of fascinating people in other times and places. 

For my reviews and links to these and other books I've enjoyed, check out the Book Reviews Tab. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Funny Side of Life

I’ve long ago decided the only way to keep sane is to find the humor in life. I think an individual’s sense of humor is as unique as his fingerprints. My husband likes to play with words, puns, and double meanings. My son’s wit is more biting, especially when he spots pretension or lapses in logic. My daughter has a gentle humor, but with an eye for the ridiculous. Even the dog has a sense of humor.

“Don’t ever let me catch you on that bed.” Roxy must have taken that to heart, because I’ve never caught her. Yet every single day, the covers are ruffled, and sometimes I even find a dog toy hidden under my pillow. Keep in mind that I work from home. She’s obviously slipping into the bedroom while I’m occupied in the study. Apparently, the joke never gets old.

I’m thankful to be surrounded by people (and dogs) that don’t take themselves too seriously. I hope the characters in my books reflect this. Because, if you’re paying attention, you can’t help but notice that life is funny.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Tastes like Summer

I got a lovely surprise today. My neighbor, who has a set of terraced gardens in her front yard, called and said she was going out of town for the weekend. Could I do her a favor? Pick (and eat) all the strawberries growing there so they don’t go to waste.

Yes, she actually made it sound like I was doing her a favor. These aren’t the plum-sized giant berries I’ve been finding in the store lately. These are concentrated, extra-strength berries, each thimble-sized berry containing the flavor equivalent of a large commercial fruit. The fragrance alone is worth the effort.

I picked a big bowl full and now we get to eat them. Strawberries and cream. Berries in our cereal for breakfast. Maybe a fresh strawberry tart with a cream cheese filling. Rhubarb from my backyard with strawberries in a pie. I’m drooling.

Tonight we celebrate summer with dinner on the deck. Barbeque chicken, potato salad, beans, spinach, and fresh strawberries with homemade shortbread and whipped cream. The sun won’t set until 10:30, so there will be plenty of time for a bike ride before dinner. Hurray for good neighbors. Hurray for summer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jets, Mowers, and Summer Days

One of the sounds of summer at my house is a rumbling in the skies. No, not thunder. Thunder is rare around here. I live about a mile from an air force base, and every July means the air show.

I’ve attended a couple of times, but usually I just go outside on my deck to watch the jets tear across the sky  in close formation. They’re moving so fast, I see them before I hear them. By the time the sound arrives, they’re moving out of sight.

As I stand there on the second story deck waiting for the jets to appear, it's interesting to watch the people enjoying a summer Saturday. One neighbor mows her lawn, another unpacks after a fishing trip. A couple walks their dog, and a boy rides by on a bicycle. As the roar of the jets dies away, I can hear the children giggling at the playground in the park.

It reminds me of books I’ve enjoyed. There are the thrillers, like the Da Vinci Code. Just as I’m in awe of the skill of the pilots to fly in formation at almost the speed of sound, I’m amazed at Dan Brown’s ability to keep up the pace, the sense of urgency that keeps the reader turning pages so fast, they almost fly past the story before they hear it.

Then there are the books like Rosamunde Pilcher’s that slow down and live the summer. In her books, I can smell the freshly cut grass, notice the young couple holding hands as they walk in the park, hear the children playing. Her characters are so real, I count them as friends.

I’m glad I don’t have to choose, that I can read whatever suits my mood: fast or leisurely, terrifying or mellow, funny or sad. I love a good story.