Thursday, December 31, 2009

Farewell to the Uh Ohs

That is, farewell to the last decade, which seems full of uh-ohs. And most of all, farewell to 2009. About the best we can say is that we survived.

I'm looking forward to 2010. While I don't make New Year resolutions, there are some things I think about.

I think about writing. And that is not good, because if I am thinking about writing, I am NOT writing. I will do more in 2010. I must resolve the last known issues with Mad Max 1 before I send it out again to agents. I must be more productive with my semimonthly column. I will send out selective poems, short stories and essays to a limited number of contests. I will write at least three NPR radio essays.

I think I will write more in the blog, but only when I think I have something to say.

I think I will keep the calico-with-an-attitude happy and away from my desk ball.

I think about retiring. One of these days, I will bite the bullet and retire. I still like my golden handcuffs, however, so I am not quite ready to leave my gainful employment.

I think about my husband and how wonderful he is. He's my best friend and I am the luckiest woman in the world to have him.

And I think about how I can do my small part to control global warming, pollute less, recycle more, and drive less. I think I will educate myself on global issues so that I can see through the spin to the truth (if we can ever decide what is true).

And I think I will wish everyone a happy new year. On to 2010 and happy scribbling to my writer followers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Let It Snow

We had snow over the weekend. It comes as no surprise to folks who live east of the Blue Ridge Mountains that the weather forecast of between 2" and 12" was still wrong. Try over 16". The snow started on Friday, when I was running my last pre-Christmas errands. It was light but slippery as I drove back roads home. I counted seven cars already in distress. Five minivans skidded off the road into ditches or into pastures. From the skid marks, I deduced that speed and lack of experience in driving in snowy condition were the culprits. One truck in a pasture -- think this was speed. One sports car on its side in a ditch. The driver was all right -- I stopped and asked. He was waiting for a tow truck. Good luck. He knew he shouldn't be out in that weather, but he was on his way home when he got caught. Oh yes, he admitted he was driving faster than the road conditions allowed.

We were snowed in all day Saturday. By Sunday, our private contractor plowed the roads in our community, but the county road leading to our community hadn't been touched. Good news is we didn't lose power. We lost Internet and part of our cable service (all CNN/ESPN stations vanished for two days from Comcast). Not all that bad being off the grid for a couple of days.

So what do you do when you can't get out. Roast a chicken for my husband's birthday dinner. Snuggle. Light the fire. Snuggle down with a stack of books and DVDs. Pet the cat. Did I say snuggle?

We are back on the grid as they say and ready for our holiday trip to Hyde Park, NY. I'll be offline until next week. Have a terrific, politically incorrect Christmas. No "Happy Holidays" for me. See you next week.

Monday, December 21, 2009

With Apologies, But I Couldn't Stop Her

Dear friends, family, cousin cats, and not a single (or married) dog,

Another wonderful year, nearly completely lacking in drama, at least from a pussycat’s perspective, is winding to a close. My humans, Terry and Betsy say otherwise – their cruise, Betsy’s company’s bankruptcy, and decisions on Betsy’s retirement – provided drama enough. They’re still news junkies and get all riled up over silliness. Like Sarah Palin’s book. Or Lou Dobbs leaving CNN. Or Glenn Beck on everything.

The year started with my humans abandoning me for nearly two weeks. They went on a cruise, whatever that is. All I know is that involves water and a boat. We live on a lake. They have a boat. Why did they have to leave me?? At any rate, they cruised in the Caribbean, got suntanned, and loved it. I, on the other hand, was jailed. They call it camp, but it is jail. They better not take a cruise this coming year.

Terry and his ski buddies went to Vermont for their week of falls, sliding downhill on butts, beer, and no wives. It was the 15th annual Men to Pigs ski trip and another is planned for 2010. Sigh. I don’t like snow. I can prove it. Why would anyone want to go where it’s cold? I don’t get it.

After the ski trip, when it began to warm up, Terry’s motorcycle friends, the Wild Hogs (do you see a pattern here? I do.) began their summer touring season. They took a couple of longer trips to races and day trips all over the area.

My other human, Betsy, worried about her company’s bankruptcy. While it was supposed to be short, and while they had funding lined up – they thought – turned out that they didn’t have the money, couldn’t get more money, and ended up being pecked into small pieces by a flock of ducks. Betsy was really planning to retire, until one of the acquiring ducks, Deloitte, made her the same offer she already had. She took it and remains paying into social security. And keeping me in nice cat food, thank you very much.

Betsy continues to write. She won a regional “best unpublished novel contest” for Unintended Consequences, made the transformation from “free”lance to freelance, and is now paid for her bi-monthly column in the local paper.

Both of my humans remain involved volunteering for not-for-profits. It keeps them busy, but at least neither travels for work. I get to have both of them around all day every day.

Once again, my humans left me for several weekends this year. They went to see Cousin Aleta, Cousin Neal and Dickens in New York, and Navy football in Annapolis for five weekends.

My humans are healthy, but I have “the Arthur,” as locals call it. I’m getting creaky at 15.

And speaking of age, my male human, Terry, turns 70 this year. My female human through him a surprise birthday party early in December, well before the actual date. My cousins Aleta, Rachael, Chris and Laura came down from New York. Auntie Betty and Uncle Arthur came over from Indiana, and Uncle Chan drove up from North Carolina. Terry said he had no idea that she was planning the party. I thought she’d be in the dog house – ROTF LOL – but he loved his party.

To all my friends – Dickens, Amber and Ashley, Rosie and O’Grady, Anubis and Slinky, Midnight and Queenie, Jasmine and Gracie, Biscuit and Waffle, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Chloe and Jim-Bob, and Blackie and Spats – I wish you a Meowy Christmas and a Happy 2010.

Anyway, that’s all the news from Smith Mountain Lake. We love our life down here. Y’all come and see us, you hear.

Note from the blog owner: I really tried to stop Nikki, but she demanded to have her way. And now, I'm going to wrap up my scratches and bites. Never mess with a calico who is armed and dangerous. Happy holidays to one and all.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Week Where Writing Took a Back Seat

Last week, three things dominated my gray cells and not one of them was writing or anything related to writing.

First, we had a bit of rain. It began on Tuesday with a forecast of two inches from the defunct tropical depression Ida. Now my cat Nikki is not a fool, but when she camped under an umbrella indoors I thought it was a bit of the belt-and-suspenders approach to life that she is embracing in her later years.

The rain stopped three days later. My rain gauge topped out at 5" before overflowing. The second round read another 1/5 inches. I don't now how much more fell, but it was enough to swamp our stationary dock -- which, by the way, had been two feet above the level of the lake. The Blackwater River, one of two main rivers which feed Smith Mountain Lake, was running at 6,900 cubic feet per second, up from its normal flow of 80 cps. Yup, the rivers were roiling and the lake, creeks and everything else did rise.

Okay, so we had rain. Lots of it. But what happened on Wednesday was even better. After waiting for three years, my dear friend Glenn finally underwent his kidney transplant. His stepdaughter Jen was his donor and everything went very well. After three days, both were out of the hospital and home. As you can guess. Glenn's wife Michelle might have wished for another day in the hospital, because suddenly she had two whiney, high-maintenance patients and three Scotties on her hands. Glenn's prognosis remains excellent and for the first time in three decades, he feels well!!!

Lsstly, the week ended with our final Navy home game, a thorough drubbing of Delaware. Our junior QB has rushed for 22 TDs already this season with two games to go. Why won't the Heiseman committee take a look at this kid? He's frankly outstanding but because he plays for Navy, he gets little outside respect. Sigh. Time for a letter to the committee.

All is well here. Back to writing, querying and sending out poems in search of a journal to publsh them.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Musicians of the Sun

On Saturday, Nov 1, my husband and I attended the world premiere of Steve Margoshes' Musicians of the Sun. Based on a chidren's picture book written by Gerald McDermott, which in turn is based on an Aztec tale, the work was a piece written for chorus and orchestra. The music evoked the vivid colors of the picture book and the chorus brought the audience directly into those colors.

The work was narrated by Samuel E. Wright who starred on Broadway as Mufasa in The Lion King, was thr voice of Sebastian the Crab in The Little Mermaid, and was Grapes in the old Fruit of the Loom commercial. Sam read the text of the children's book in a voice that recalls the richness of James Earl Jones and Dennis Haysbert.

I loved two things about this performance. One, the convergence of chorus, orchestra and spoken narration from a children's book. Two, my daughter Aleta Eriksen was in the chorus.

If anyone has a chance to see a performance of this work (with or without my daughter!!), see it. It's uplifting and you will leave the event happier than you went in.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Catching Up

Sorry about being MIA for a couple of weeks. Nothing bad happened. Just too much work and too little time to do everything.

So, what's happened in the last three weeks?

  • I recorded a radio essay for WVTF two weeks ago. It's called You're Never Too Old with a main theme of it's never too late to behave like a little kid. It has a smooshed cake in it.
  • My novel, Unintended Consequences, was selected as a finalist in the Smith Mountain Arts Council Unpublished Novel contest.
  • I sucked in my breath and sent a poem (!) called Three Weeks to a MAJOR national magazine. Three months wait to see if the editor is interested. Fingers are crossed, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing sprained.
  • I sent out six more query letters and collected three rejections (two form, one personalized and quite nice -- must be a new agent!!!) from the first batch. It's a dead heat between my short and long query letter.

  • I went back to Jeff Herman's Guide and was surprised at how many agents still want snail-mail. Some agencies have gone totally green, but many agents clearly said they gave more credence to snail-mail.

    I got to thinking about this and saw the rationale behind using USPS. Why? Because when you physically sign a letter, put it in an envelope, remember to put stamps on the SASE and march it out to the post box at the end of the drive, you give more thought to what you are doing.

    Even though we all know that an e-query must be as professional as a hard-copy query, and even though we know we have to check and double-check whether we are querying the right agent, it is somehow easier to pick an agent, tweak a letter slightly, cut and paste a chapter into the e-mail message (if requested) and hit the Send Key.

    Yes, I'm keeping track of snail- versus e-queries. More to report later.

    Tuesday, July 28, 2009

    Willie and Bob and John

    No, it's not a variation of the old lament, Abraham, Martin and John. It's a concert I went to in Virginia Beach Saturday. Three signature performers, each doing a full one-hour set.

    We started with 76-year-old Willie Nelson. Still sounds like he always has, but with a voice that is somewhat lower. Looks much the same as he always has. Of course, Willie's looked dried up for decades. Willie sang many of his old favorites and the crowd got into it, singing along and rocking in the stands.

    Next was the kid, John Mellencamp, formerly known as John Cougar and John Cougar Mellencamp. At least we can pronounce his various names, unlike Prince. Melloncamp at 58 was the youngest and still hasn't decided if he's a balladeer or a rocker. He was best at hitting his rock groove, but disappointed the crowd by not singing his signature ballad, Jack and Diane.

    Last was the 68-year-old voice of a generation, Bob Dylan, heavily amped, huge sound, garbled words. Oh wait, Dylan always garbled his words. Voice is much lower. He didn't do anything acoustic, which is what I liked best about his early work. Only two signature songs. He was pushing a new CD. Can't decide if it's good or not. He growled and chewed his words to the point where his voice became a percussive instrument. Oh yes, he still plays harmonica better than he sings.

    I saw Dylan 40 years ago. Now I can cross Willie off my bucket list. John was never on it.

    All in all, the tied-died and support hose group enjoyed a wild evening, even if it wasn't completely what it wanted.

    Saturday, July 18, 2009

    Uncle Walter

    I miss Walter Cronkite. When the first warning that he was seriously ill came across the Associated Press wire a couple of weeks ago, I thought his time on earth was short enough to touch. It was. And I wish I had been wrong.

    I grew up with Walter Cronkite on the evening news. The day wasn't complete without him telling us what had happened. He reported THE NEWS. With two outstanding exceptions, he was never part of the story. An old wire service reporter, he knew how to "write tight," edit to get to the heart of the story, and present the story because it was important in and of itself.

    We know of the two moments when he was part of the story: wiping tears away when he reported President Kennedy's assassination on November 22 and when he was so proud when John Glenn took his "one giant step for mankind."

    I was ambused last night in Market Square in Roanoke by a young TV reporter from Channel 7 who couldn't possibly have seen him live. What she missed! She asked a couple of questions - needed a gray-haired woman's point of view. I told her.

    I had the pleasure of meeting him several times when I worked in NYC. A funny man who told the bluest of jokes, but only if he asked if you would be uncomfortable first. I wasn't and I heard plenty of those jokes.

    Uncle Walter, now you have joined your lovely Betsy. Sail away, dear man. We miss you more than you can imagine.

    Saturday, May 23, 2009


    {begin whine

    My humans went away last weekend. Instead of quietly leaving me behind in my lovely house with my own food in a timed dish, they sent me to jail! They call it camp. It's jail, meow-it! I mean, it has bars and I can't run around outside or sleep on the floor or sneak a nap on the loveseat or drink from my own dish or anything. Why would anyone send me, such a cool cat, to jail?

    My humans went to visit cousin Rosie. I admit she's cute and tiny and is allowed on any upholstered furniture. I will remind my humans that I am NOT allowed on upholstered furniture, so I have to sneak my naps.... Anyway, cousin Rosie is petite. She weighs less than ten pounds. If she came to see me, I'd squash her. I weigh a svelte fourteen. She says she has a sister O'Grady but my humans have only seen her once and doubt that she's real.

    Leave it to say, I got even when my humans got home. My female human was working at her desk and my male human hadn't gotten up yet. (My female human gets up really early. I help. I meow her awake when I get hungry.) I went upstairs to wake up my male human. One warning meow didn't work. So I tossed my kibbies all over the carpet. Served him right!

    They'll never leave me in jail again.

    {end whine

    Thursday, April 30, 2009

    Can We Be Correct When We Open Our Mouths?

    Occassionally I will be grabbing egregious errors in print or over the air -- even overheard, but there usually are too many overheard -- and ranting a bit about them here. Today's entry comes courtesy of the flu pandemic. Actually, there are two entries. The first is trying to change the media from saying "swine flu" rather than "H1N1." So not going to happen. Lots of poor pigs will suffer. . . .

    Next comes to us from none other than Janet Napolitano herself. She was asked why the US doesn't use thermal imaging devices at our borders or airports to identify people who are sick. She spoke correctly about people being contageous before symptoms appear, thereby rendering the thermal imaging devices less than perfect. She then went on to say that these devices don't always register "people who have temperatures."

    Um, if we have a pulse, we have a temperature. Or, do we have a previously unreported problem of dead people crossing our borders? What she meant to say was
    fever, I think.


    Monday, April 13, 2009

    On the Ball

    I'm on the ball today. Literally.

    I spent the entire, really the entire, day at my desk working on my own materials. Most of my friends don't believe me when I tell them I work on a balance ball. Ij've set up my office with my desk, two computers, two printers and a work space at right angles on the left. There is a bookcase out of view on the right loaded with reference material. So, today I was productive.

    First, I worked on a personal essay that I plan to submit to a couple of contests. It needs a bit more tweaking, but overall I'm satisfied I'm on the right track.

    Next, I finally couldn't put off writing the one-page synopsis for my first Mad Max novel. When someone tells you it's harder to write the synopsis than the entire novel, do not RPTFLOL! Believe them. Yes, there is a format to follow, but when every word counts, it's difficult to find le mot juste.

    I wrapped up a short story for another contest, after sending it to my cousin for her approval. After all, her older brother was my model, although I took many liberties with the plot.

    Lastly, I reviewed my query letter and all but trashed it. I now have four versions left on my laptop. I can't count how many I've already trashed. Then, I read entries for the query letter contest Nathan Barnsford is running. Some were better than mine, some were worse. Oops, I should have entered the contest, although my fellow writers were brutal in their rejections. Sigh. Where has the civility gone? One would-be-agent-for-a-day, the title of the contest had a terrific quote: "Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

    I have been revising the first chapter of Mad Max 2 and just pulled it up to work on it, when I was interrupted. Nikki, my CWA, who is NOT allowed to climb on the ball -- remember, she is armed and dangerous -- decided I needed to quit working and feed her.

    Guess that's my cue to stop for the night, think about the changes I made to the four projects above, and begin again just after dawn tomorrow.

    See ya!

    Friday, April 10, 2009

    Plots and Schemes

    I love it when people ask writers where they get their ideas. Here's how I came up with my latest.

    Over the past week, I developed the idea for the fourth Mad Max mystery. It all started with a story in the Roanoke Times about a woman who died alone and no one found her body for 18 months. And that's where my plot began.

    What if Max lives near a recluse who dies and no one notices? I began fleshing out the plot in my head, wondering where it would lead. It led to thoughts of murder. Two murders. With Max, Alex, Emily and Manny trying to solve them.

    All of this was against two wonderful golf courses in Pinehurst, where my husband Terry and I play two rounds on the weekend. Perfect weather. Warm, sunny, green air. Green air??? Yup, pines were in full pollen release. It isn't called Pinehurst for nothing. Great, irritating green clouds of pollen blowing across fairways, coating cars, making noses sneeze. And in my brain stem, I kept thinking about killing people.

    Next, Terry and I drove down to Augusta to watch a practice round of the Masters. Don't we look like we are having fun?? We had checked the weather map before we left. It was supposed to be 60 degrees, so we rigged for 60. We did not rig for 40! It was so bloody cold that most of the top players stayed indoors and didn't practice. We'll see how they do.

    We sat at Amen Corner, a place which has probably heard as many prayers as the Sistine Chapel. It's also the Kodak hole at Augusta National. I looked out at the perfect azaeleas, dogwood, greens, white sand traps. And plots and schemes continuing to build in my head about murder. We fell into a conversation with two couples behind us. They turned out to be from Kentucky and as luck would have it, they arrived with a camera and a dead battery. (No, that's not the death I had in mind.)

    I agreed to take a couple of snaps of them and send the photos along. I wonder what they would have thought if they knew I was planning to murder a recluse by suffocation and a second man in a faked accident. You really can't believe what some people are thinking.

    At any rate, from the single article to a complete blueprint for a novel -- all in one week. And that's where I got the idea for Echoes of Silence. At least, that's the working title.

    Thursday, April 2, 2009

    Drama Queen

    We all know that cats are drama queens. My calico takes the cake. This morning, she was plinking her way down the stairs, which are covered with berber carpet, when hark! she caught a claw on the fourth stair from the bottom. And because she was trotting down for breakfast, said caught claw caused an end-over-end tumble. She landed on the bottom step on her bottom. Immediately, she did the most cat thing possible -- she sat and licked a paw. She meant to trip and fall. No harm to the cat other than to her pride.

    To that end, a friend sent along a joke. Normally, I wouldn't publish jokes here, but this one fits perfectly. This represents just how far we've come in the economic downturn. This would be my cat if she lived life on the street. And yes, stretched out, she looks just like this one.

    Wednesday, March 25, 2009


    Have you ever heard someone talk about the next shoe falling? My grandmother used to describe the phrase as lying in bed at night, hearing a shoe drop on the floor in the apartment overhead, and waiting and waiting and waiting for the second shoe to hit the floor.

    That works well as an example of anticipation or anxiety. That is, unless you live under . . . .

    a centipede.

    Working for my company has been like living under that heavily-shod centipede. Last year our stock tanked, well in advance of the general financial collapse. No, it wasn't a harbinger of the collapse. It was, however, a harbinger of what was to happen to my company. Our stock hit $.19. That's right, nineteen cents. We were delisted from NYSE.

    Delisting triggered a call on our debt. We were told we had to pay off the interest and the principle by mid April. Something around a billion, more or less.

    Then came our Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in February. We thought we had a white knight all lined up to buy the company. The white knight led us to believe he (it?) would keep the company in tact. White knight vanished along with the white rabbit, down a hole and into darkness.

    Enter several companies to pick over my company's still-warm, still-twitching carcass. One company offered to buy the arms. Another wants the legs. Still others want units in Europe and Asia. And all at fire-sale prices.

    On Tuesday we were told that the company will be broken up -- if the bankruptcy court approves and the companies don't disappear like the white knight did -- and that those of us in corporate IT will be out on the streets.

    Now, I'm all for walking the streets, but this is the kick in the pants I need. No more worrying about the centipede and his multiple shoes. More like multiple kicks from said centipede to get me focused on writing, free-lancing, and pursuing that elusive agent for my books. Seriously pursuing the agent gig. That's opportunity kicking me.

    Stay tuned. I may still be in the corporate fold until the deals close, or I may be out by Friday -- but I'm not going to look for another corporate gig. Three strikes and I'm out!

    Wednesday, March 11, 2009

    Reoor! The Ultimate Insult

    I thought going to the vet last week was the ultimate insult, but my female human outdid herself last night.

    It was warm and I was bored inside. I'd had two lap naps, one on each human's lap, all the head noogies and ear scratches any cat could handle, and napping on the floor held no attraction. I sat patiently at the door until my female human opened it to let me out.

    I stopped on the sill. My female human "helped" me out with a gentle nudge under my tail. Of all the nerve! She shut the glass door behind me. I meowed pitifully to be let back in, but she ignored me. Eventually I tried to climb inside. That's when she saw me.

    My female human had put me out, but not noticed the screen door was closed. So, I was trapped like peanut butter in a sandwich between the glass door and the sliding screen. She finally opened the glass door; I immediately fell on my nose.


    Monday, March 9, 2009

    Thinking and Speaking

    Over the past several days, I have had very stimulating discussions with several friends about the current state of our economy. And I've been reading an interesting book on thinking without thinking. (More on that later.)

    I talked with one girlfriend whose mortgage is seriously under water. She bought high, improved higher, and now couldn't short-sell if she tried. And she's in a fast growing county that doesn't have much unemployment. Yet, her condo isn't worth nearly what she paid for it. Moreover, the builder isn't finished with the complex. In her purchase contract, it was spelled out clearly that the builder couldn't turn the property into rentals, yet there are more renters than owners in the buildings. There is a limit on pets, particularly in the size of dogs. Rottweilers do not make the cut!

    She wasn't complaining. She was paying her bills, working, buying what she needed if not what she wanted, using her employer-supplied healthcare plan, and generally living within her means. It's too bad she doesn't qualify for any help under any of the current government plans, but she doesn't. So, she marches on, not looking for anything but a chance to break even in the future.

    Then there was my friend who makes well over $160,000 a year. Her house isn't under water. She has a good (!) job. She drives a newish car. She takes trips. And what did she say on the phone? "What about me? Why don't I get anything in the bailout?"

    I wanted to shout, "it's because you don't need it, jerk." But she's a friend so I bit my tongue. I did send her Michelle Singletary's column, "Hey, Bailout Snivelers: Hush. You Don't Need It." I hope she takes the hint, but I have my doubts so.

    One friend was thinking and then speaking. The other was speaking without thinking.

    And that brings me to the book I'm reading. It's Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. Yes, it's a best seller and after digging into it, I can see why. He talks about instant impressions, what he calls thin-slicing, as an accurate way of understanding a situation. I highly recommend it. I have Outliers and The Tipping Point on my book table as well. Once again, it's nice to know that there are people who think deeply, yet write in a way that the rest of us can understand. Thank you, Malcoml Gladwell. Keep on thinking!

    Sunday, March 8, 2009

    Meow Post from a Three-toed Bitch Kitty

    I actually have the normal compliment of toes, but that's what my female human calls me when I'm behaving like a typical CWA (calico with an attitude).

    Yesterday, I woke up on the wrong side of the catbox. Maybe it had to do with the cat carrier suddenly appearing in the living room. Maybe it had to do with the fridge calendar with "Nikki to Vet" on it.

    I CAN read, ya know!

    And then there were the obvious tricks to keep me contained. Doors to the bedrooms where I take my morning nap - closed. Doors to the outdoors - not opened on demand. My human didn't get it. I know when the day is going to get worse. And I DON'T LIKE IT!

    I allowed myself to be loaded into the carrier - had no choice really. Maybe it would only be a check up. I hoped it wasn't going to what my humans call "camp" and I call "jail." Turned out to be a check up, shots and BLOOD WORK.

    I didn't mind the nice girl taking my temperature. Well, not as much as what would come later. The vet was running late, so I took a nap on the cold metal table, my head resting on my human's stomach. Then HE came in, all smiles and laughter. I knew it was all a sham.

    He peered into my eyes, mouth and ears. Even places where no one but me looks - and licks. By now, I had about had it. I started hissing. Like, hey, that's a warning. I'm getting pissed off! He didn't take the warning. He touched my tummy. So, I scratched him. I'm still armed after all and he had it coming.

    He didn't get it. Shots. They weren't so bad, but blood work! That was the last straw. I bit him through the towel that was supposed to protect him from me. NOTHING protects anyone from me when I'm really pissed off.

    Finally, after about a year, my human took me home, released me from the carrier and tried to pat my head. Reorrr, pfsst, pfsst. She backed off. I took a nap outside in the sun and ignored all her attempts to make nice.

    It was a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad day. I think I'll take another nap.

    -- Nikki

    Monday, March 2, 2009

    Final Island - Barbados and Return

    I don't know if I loved Barbados the best or if what we did on Barbados was the most fun we had. Either way, our group of 11 hardy vactioneers chartered the Heat Wave, a catamaran that offered plenty of snorkling, lunch, and all the drinks we wanted. (If you are getting the idea that our new friend Suzanne liked to drink, you'd be right. She hit a homerun on this excursion.)

    We boarded the catamaran, settled down to sail along a gorgeous coast to a beach setting where we snorkled and looked at beautiful tropical fish. Yes, the creatures from the black lagoon jumped in the water, emerging later looking foolish but happy.

    We moved to a different site for more snorkling. This time, the men who ran the Heat Wave threw out fish pieces to attract green turtles. We romped in the water and had to be dragged back onto the boat. We enjoyed a wonderful meal, had some local beer, and eventually made our way back to the Boatyard beach. There, our party bade farewell to the Heat Wave and broke into two groups -- those who hadn't had either enough sun or enough to drink, and those of us who looked like lobsters in spite of 85 SPF sun block. I was in the latter group.

    Reluctantly, the group reassembled on the cruise ship, relaxed and dressed for dinner. We had a day at sea ahead of us, before returning to San Juan and one last day together.

    Terry and I spent our last three days in San Juan walking around forts and the old city. It was so beautiful that we couldn't get our fill. We took a night kayaking trip to a bioluminescent pool, traveled through a mangrove forest, and returned to our car minutes before a tropical storm wiped out the later paddle tours. We even had another tourist take our picture at the top of a fort with the Caribbean in the background.

    All good things have to end. So does my recap of our cruise. I hope you enjoyed your journey with me.

    Grenada -- Or Just Another Perfect Day in Paradise

    Suzanne redeemed herself. For Grenada, she recommended a trip to a series of waterfalls. I've seen Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite, and the smaller falls on Dominica, so Terry and I passed. Our friends loved the tour, though, so Suzanne is safe.

    Terry and I toured St. George's, the capital. Once again, the city was bathed in sunlight and pastel colors. By our third island, they all began to look alike from our stateroom. However, we walked into town and turned toward the forts located to the right of the port area. Within walking distance, especially if you're both urban hikers (we are) and/or mountain climbers (we aren't), the forts overlook the harbor.

    From the fort we had a perfect view of the deep-water harbor; however, the juxtaposition of the cannon and the tour ships offers a significant message: spend lots of money or else!!!

    Grenada is the spice island of the Grenadines. We prowled the spice markets and came back with several gifts for our friends who love to cook. My favorite was two ounces of ground saffron for $2.00. Try buying saffron for that price at Trader Joe's or Kroger.

    We spent the afternoon near the pool onboard ship, resting and reading. I took some time to look at what others were reading. By and large, the men were reading Baldacci, Grisham, Dale Brown, and history. Women were deep into Janet Evanovich, Debbie Macomber, Jodi Picoult and Jane Austen. And then there was the very serious woman reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. I don't know I'd pick that for a vacation, although it remains one of my favorites.

    As we got ready to sail, a local tanker entered the harbor. Even the boats were brightly painted.

    Next, Barbados!

    Monday, February 16, 2009

    Dominica - Or Can Suzanne Regain Our Trust

    When I last left off in the journal of our trip to the Caribbean, I planned to be back in a day to continue the saga. I had a minor diversion in handling employee questions after the corporation from which I derive my income filed Chapter 11.

    But, I'm back and ready to resume. If you remember, Suzanne, the "guide" we met at Bacardi and who gave us a long list of things to do at each stop, wasn't exactly in our good graces after St. Martin's. Not a great recommendation of things to do, but
    we decided to try again in Dominica. Suzanne recommended we call a certain guide
    service and ask for Dave. He would give us a tour of Dominica, taking us wherever we wanted in his taxi-van for a flat fee. Sounded all right, so one of my fellow travelers called. Three men were going off on a zip-line adventure under the rain forest canopy, while the wives decided to trust our day to Dave.

    Dominica looked gorgeous from shipboard. Gorgeous town tucked under towering volcanic peaks. I couldn't wait to explore. After breakfast, we went ashore to find Dave. We found his scheduler, Jou Paul, instead. I was ready to scrap Dave and go with Jou Paul.

    Eventually, Dave arrived and we bid fond farewell to Jou Paul and to the pirate ship in the harbor. (At first I thought it was a prop leftover from filming Pirates of the Caribbean, but it sailed off into the sunrise. Silly me.)
    We wound our way up the volcano to Titou Gorge, where we were able to swim though a cave to a waterfall. Mountain water is cold! After Titou gorge, we went back down

    the road, picked up a hitchhiker Dave knew (more about him in a minute) and went to Papa and Mama Falls for photo ops and lunch.

    We talked with our hitchhiker for nearly half an hour. I learned so much. Turned out Elvis (yup, real name) was a biologist with a grant from Clemson U mapping biospheres on Dominica. He was a fountain of knowledge about the flora and fauna and we picked his brain mercilessly.

    Sadly, we had to say farewell to Elvis, dropped him off, visited the falls, and found a small restaurant for lunch. The three mouseketeers, Tara, yours truly, and Michelle, posed for a windy picture while waiting for some of the best curry I've ever eaten to be put on our tables.

    Our last stop of the day was at a sulphur spa. Heated by dormant volcanoes, the pools were so relaxing. We had been told the name of the spa, but didn't believe it. Would you? Yes, it is called Screw Spa. And this is Mr. Screw. It's really his name. My friend Michelle wasn't quite sure of Mr. Screw, but a second cup of rum punch helped change her mind!

    We did have to leave, but it was hard. I could have stayed for many hours, but the ship had to sail. We did stop for a picture along the road. Even Dominica had a large poster of hope. With that image fixed firmly in our minds, we bid a sorrowful farewell to Jou Paul, Dave, Mr. Screw and Dominica in general. Suzanne was redeemed. We loved her recommendations, both Dave and Mr. Screw.

    Next port of call: Grenada.

    St. Martin - or Our First Day Ashore

    You should all know one thing: when we went on the Bacardi tour, we met two couples who had just gotten off our sister ship and had visited the four islands we were heading for. (Yeah, I know, ended a sentence with a preposition -- sue me!)

    Anyway, Suzanne and Teresa were a wealth of information about what to see and how to see it -- and mostly without booking through the ship. That would save us lots of money. Suzanne kindly wrote everything down, island by island. So, after our first night at sea, we pulled out our "guide" and prepared to board a water taxi for a wonderful beach.

    Wrong! The water taxis did not go to the beaches we wanted, but a taxi did. We piled into two cabs, crossed from the Dutch to the French side of the island, and stopped at a water taxi that would take us across a small bay. Suzanne promised excellent snorkling, and she was right.

    We waited for the water taxi, which turned out to be little more than a large Boston whaler. I watched children play as children do everywhere -- on docks, on the beach, in the water. Eventually we arrived at the beach, secured chairs and umbrellas (for a fee of course), and proceded to look like the creatures from the black lagoon as we became intimate with our snorkling gear.

    Our two young men were in for a surprise -- the beach was top-optional. Gorgeous bronzed bodies romped in string bikini bottoms. Others showed off the ravages of gravity. None of our group had the guts to go topless, not from modesty, but because we didn't trust our sun block. None of us wanted to spend our vacation sunburnt in places that weren't normally (or ever) exposed to the sun and unable to scratch when we began to peel.

    At the end of a long day, and a bit disappointed in Suzanne's recommendation, we returned to the ship. We had seen beautiful waters, gorgeous fish, warm smiles, and blue skies. And there was this: the ugly American. You got it: ET, phone home.

    But the day ended spectacularly and wiped out any visions of ugliness. As we made ready to sail for Dominica, we were blessed with one of nature's great sunsets.

    And tomorrow, Dominica and a chance for Suzanne to redeem herself.

    Cruisin' - day one

    Okay, so I had terrific plans to blog nearly daily while on vacation. Like New Year's resolutions, I didn't succeed. I managed to get one entry from San Juan, but once we boarded the ship, two things happened.

    1. I realized that the ship had a hand in my pocket every time I turned around. I know from experience that drinks, shopping, and spa treatments cost extra. But Internet access???? $.65 a minute!!!!

    2. I remembered that I'm cheap. I decided to wait until I had photos to share before updating my blog.

    I took nearly 500 photos. I love my new Nikon camera. I shot everything that moved -- or didn't move, depending on my mood. Don't worry. I have no plans to share each photo! But, check out these flowers on the "peony" tree.

    Eleven of us gathered on board ship and settled down to have a good time. I watched body language as we boarded. Many of us were closed off and up tight. However, my husband Terry (aka Kenny Rogers) and our friend Don (from snowy Salt Lake City) showed no sign of stress.

    We dressed up and joined as a group for a late dinner in the dining room. Two from Nashville, five from Salt Lake City, two from Haymarket and us. Before you ask, the food was excellent, the drinks plentiful. In fact the drinks were so plentiful that the younger son of Don (see above) ran up a bar tab the first night of nearly $135.
    Dad was less than amused.

    And so we sailed. First port of call, St. Martin.

    Saturday, January 31, 2009

    The Journey Finally Began

    One day late, the weather gods cooperated, the fog lifted and we were able to board our Delta flight for Atlanta and San Juan. On time, we left, transferred, left and arrived to glorious sunny skies and 83 degree-temps. We caught up with friends and took a bus into Old San Juan to roam and dine. With one day cut out of our trip on the head end, we postponed our kayak tour until the tail end of the trip, where we will have more time.

    Our first full day saw the boys heading out for deep sea fishing, while the girls went to the Bacardi factory tour. It was fantastic -- another perfect day, with brilliant blue skies and light airs. The boys caught some mahi mahi, and the girls caught some rays with our mojitos.

    Today, our group is splitting up, some to Old San Juan for touring and shopping, others to the pool or beach to bake. I'm taking my camera to Old San Juan, with full intention of holding off any shopping until after the cruise. We board the ship late this afternoon and cruise all night to our first island, St. Martaan. Who knows what will happen there, but we plan to head over to a clothing-optional beach. We've been warned about heavy use of sun block and avoiding the ravenges of gravity. I think I'll stay clothed, since I don't private parts peeling!

    Hopefully, I'll have funny stories to report from on board ship.

    Ahoy y'all. We're off on our big adventure. More later.

    Wednesday, January 28, 2009

    A Journey Begins with the First Step

    Or with the first flight cancellation.

    Eight friends have planned a trip to the Caribbean for a year. We live in Northern VA, Nashville, Salt Lake City and at Smith Mountain lake. We booked a cruise leaving San Juan on Saturday and gave ourselves three days to get there.

    Day Zero (the day before Day One): An ice storm is forecast for most of the traveling area, except Salt Lake City. My husband Terry and I decided to head to Roanoke early and stay there overnight. "Just in case." No sooner than we had we arrived than Delta called with the anticipated news: Our flights the next morning were canceled and we had been rebooked for the next day. Figures.

    Day One: We are supposed to be flying through Atlanta today, Wednesday, Jan 28. Instead we are "vacationing" in Roanoke. We decided to stay, go to the Taubman, go to a movie and hassle Delta about our return flights. Our Northern VA friends got out early this morning from Dulles and are in Miami. Brats! Others begin their travel tomorrow. We'll see what Day Two holds.

    We always knew the weakest link in this whole trip was air travel. Alas, we were once again proven right. We have the weather gods on one shoulder and the Delta devil on the other. We still don't know who will win. Stay tuned.

    As Bilbo Baggins said (paraphrased, of course): the road goes ever on and on, out from the door where it began. We thought we'd get farther than 25 miles from home the first day, but. . . .

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009

    And Now We Must

    After an interminable wait, the inauguration has come and gone with the right balance of spectacle, ceremony, and solemnity. I never thought I'd see an African-American sworn in as President of the U.S. I thought Dr. King's dream would be realized in my children's lifetime, but I was happily proven wrong. Once again, the combined wisdom of the American people elected a leader we hope will bring positive change to life in the United States, an improved economy (although the stock market dropped 4% yesterday -- so much for the Obama bounce!), two wars must be brought to conclusion, and we need to work to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We can make the dream of change a reality if we all pitch in and work together. We can differ, but we must stop undermining each other. Doesn't work. Never has. Never will.

    The Cheney-Bush regime is now history. I watched the smooth changing of power as Bush left office and Obama came in. I hope our enemies got the message: you don't need revolution, invasion, bloodshed, and wars to change power. The people will vote for what's important. If you trust in them, you can move any country forward. One of my friends, Glenn Cruickshank, was on the mall yesterday. He captured an image I had to share with you. No boos. No jeering. Just a wave off to life as a private citizen.

    And the present is upon us and it's our turn to help out. I spent half a day on Monday in service to our community picking up trash along our highways. I filled no fewer than eight garbage bags in two miles, carefully separating recyclables from regular trash. Given the number of empty beer cans and fast food containers, I bet most of the trash blew out of the backs of pick up trucks. I wish people would secure their garbage, but I will never want for community service as long as I am the garbage lady.

    What can we do to help turn things around? One is not to become part of the problem. Live within our means. Pay our bills on time. Don't buy more than you can afford. Live within the law. Don't speed, drink and drive, sell or use drugs, injure others. If we live like the good citizens we know we should be, we can do a lot to turn around the economy and our image in the world.

    To our armed forces everywhere: I am so proud of you for serving our country. You are our eyeball to eyeball ambassadors. Please keep up the good work and come home safely.

    We can do it. We must do it. Please join me in living within your means and helping out others who are less fortunate -- or who litter our streets and highways. There's plenty of work to do. Let's get started.

    Saturday, January 17, 2009

    Social Security

    Once upon a time, I sat around with my friends in our dorm and bemoaned the fact that the government took money from every skimpy pay check to feed social security. I knew there would be nothing left when I was ready to draw on the fund. But I rationalized the deductions in two ways: there was a damned thing I could do about it (without breaking the law and going to jail) and it would help my mother when she was ready to draw social security.

    Well, yesterday I turned 62 and officially am eligible to begin withdrawing from the "account" Uncle Sam set up for me when I was 18. Not that I am going to do it, since today I am gainfully employed, but I am happy to say I was wrong back in college. Social security is still around -- nominally at least. And boomers like me are beginning to tap into the fund.

    Yes, I know the fund is a myth and that there really isn't a pile of money bags lying around in Fort Knox waiting for me to hold out my hand. And I know Uncle Sam and his elected representatives have been syphoning from that mythical fund for decades. Still, for the nonce, it is nice to know that it is there and that I can actually begin drawing on it any time now.

    So, happy birthday to me. Onward to the next part of my life.

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009

    New Year's Resolutions

    I do not believe in making New Year's resolutions. I don't make them. But. . . if I did, they would look something like this for 2009:

    1. Remain healthy. I can rationalize this by saying I already eat an extremely healthy diet, take my supplements, exercise (except when injured), don't smoke, follow the red wine diet daily, do yoga, and get an adequate amount of sleep. But then, I've been doing all of these things for the past thirty years, so. . .
    2. Lose weight. Like most of the rest of the population, I need to lose about 15 pounds. If I continue with #1 above, then what I would change is to eat less, exercise more. Sigh.
    3. Be a good friend. That means staying in touch with friends and family, promise what I can deliver, and deliver. I can do that.
    4. Go digital. I'm on my way. Televisions are ready for digital reception, thanks to Comcast. My camera is digital. I have a slide and negative convertor for translating them into digital format. A good rainy day project. And what about all those audio tapes and vinyl? (Some of us remember vinyl as an album.) I have software and tools to convert both to CDs. I'm about 30% through tape conversion. Vinyl is next.
    5. Declutter life and mind. See #4 above. Quarterly I go through closets and donate anything I haven't worn in the past year. I swap books on Paperback Swap. I send out more books than I order, but use my credits for books I really want to read but might not want to keep. I try and banish thoughts that stress me, but the economy keeps creeping in.
    6. Reduce carbon footprint. Easy one. I recycle everything. I switched to curly lightbulbs. I work ina home office. And I cluster my trips so that I don't return to the same place an hour later because I forgot something. If I don't need what I forgot, it waits until the next clustered trip.
    7. Write. This is like breathing. If I don't write, I go nuts. I could break this down into smaller units. Finish Mad Max book 1. I locked it over the holidays. All I am waiting for is the last proofreader to return her manuscript. I have to complete the "business" of getting ready for more submissions: query letter, short synopsis, longer synopsis. Finish draft of Mad Max book 2. I should reach the end of the initial draft within a month. I'm about 55,000 words into it, but haven't started any rewriting or tuning of the manuscript. Begin research for Mad Max book 3. I have the first books on my table and am working through them. Blog. My friend and colleague Becky Mushko would like me to blog daily. I don't have enough to say that anyone would want to read, so I don't. Sorry, Becky. I'll try and do better.
    8. Solve global homelessness and hunger. I'd suggest feeding the homeless to the hungry, but too many people don't understand satire. Besides, something like that was already proposed by Jonathan Swift a few centuries back.
    So, I don't make resolutions. I'd break them all in the first month.
    Must go. Mad Max 2 calls. Bye.