October 2012

THINGS MY DAD TAUGHT ME

As most of my Charleston people know, my dad died when he was 49, and I was 14. It was my 9th grade year at Thomas Jefferson Junior High School. I still miss him every day of my life.

I started thinking about his lessons late last week when some high school friends and I started trading stories about learning to drive in Charleston, which is, except for Kanawha Blvd., hills. And hairpin turns. And icy roads. And steep drop offs. It makes for great scenery, but lousy conditions for a kid with a car, no experience driving, and a stick shift on the column. Most of us learned on three-speeds.  The lesson that popped into my mind was that he told me a) if you can drive in West Virginia, you can drive anywhere, and b) if you believe in your car and your driving ability, there’s no situation you can’t get out of. I proved that more than once — getting myself out of over-the-tire-deep snow in Oklahoma.

I think he knew he was going to die early. In retrospect, he shoved a lot of information into my consciousness in those short fourteen years, and his advice still serves me well today. Also in retrospect, he knew that when he was gone, my mother’s influence would take over, and that he’d need to frontload all the positive information he could while he still had time.

So at about 2:30 this morning, when there was absolutely nothing on TV to lull me to sleep, my mind went back to my days with dad. And all he taught me. And how intelligent he was, inspite of not being well-educated. I remember people asking dad where he got his “degrees” — and it was always in the multiple. So we spent the rest of the night together, just going through all my lessons to make sure I remembered.

From the beginning, he taught me that ALL people are equal — regardless of race, religion or sex. And that I was to treat them accordingly. Each individual person would choose whether they deserved to keep that status. That was a tough lesson to stand by in Charleston, WV in the 50’s and 60’s, but much to my mother’s chagrin, he had no problem being friends with his “colored” co-workers at the post office. (I found out the year after he died that he had worked for years with Bill Wood’s dad.)

A lesson reinforced while still at Oakwood Elementary was that there are those who are your friends when it was convenient for them. If they’ll lie for you, they’ll lie about you. And that some people will stab you in the back and come back with a smile on their face.  Once that trust is breached, it’s still OK to be friendly and spend time together, but I was never to give them my heart again.

I was always to demand that a gentleman treat me with respect: open doors for me (and stand there until they did), pay for the date, and never disrespect me in public or private. He taught me to give my order at a restaurant to my date, and that he was to order for me. Do you have any idea how many men I’ve trained on that one?

Walk on the inside (in case a car splashes water in your direction), and always take the gentleman’s arm.

In a relationship, if you’re disrespected, if he goes out on you, if there’s anything that makes that little voice in your head say, “run like the wind,” do so immediately. Close the door. No do-overs. (Unfortunately, my mother’s mantra was “any man is better than no man,”  and “why would anyone like that want anything do to with someone like you,” and that took over dad died. I’ve made some very unfortunate choices in that area, but finally have learned from my mistakes.

As a continuation of the first paragraph, he also taught me that when driving at night, to always watch the white line on the right side of the road so I didn’t get blinded by the oncoming car’s headlights. I was always to watch the car in front of the car in front of me, because that was the one that was going to cause the accident. He let me sit on his lap while he drove, and let me change the gears. My brother informed me (from the back seat where he belonged) that I wasn’t driving because I couldn’t put my foot on the “incinerator.”

If you take care of your car, it will last forever. True story. I drive my cars until they chug to the side of the road and beg for a priest — usually well over 200,000 miles. My last car, yet another Chrysler Sebring convertible had 187,000 miles on it when I got my first California job. My banker refused to let me cross the country in a car with that many miles, and I conceded, buying my newest Chrysler Sebring convertible that now has 105,000 miles on it. The Chrysler is because I’ve owned five of them now, they’re easy to maintain, are roomy enough to seat four people comfortably, have a trunk that holds more than I could ever ask, and all have given me over 30 mpg. The convertible part is because life is too short to drive a hard top. That didn’t come from dad, but I’m sure he’d approve.

When choosing to befriend someone, he told me to be the best friend I could possibly be. If the other person betrayed that trust, that was their problem. My job was to take care of my end of the relationship. “In order to have a friend, you must first be one.”

He taught me to love, crave, embrace learning. “When you stop learning, you start dying.” I’ve never been able to have less than a couple of books going at a time.  Instead of music, there’s always a book on tape going in the car. When I was younger, mom would put us to bed and I’d grab a flashlight and read under the covers. I’m a self-professed history geek. But I still have problems with “who/whom” and can feel Arlene Smith over my shoulder scowling as only she could.

“Don’t lie. You’ll never have to remember what you’ve said.”

When other kids’ parents were helping me with science projects and I told him I couldn’t compete if I did mine alone, he told me to be proud that the effort was mine and mine alone and that, in most cases, the other student hadn’t learned anything. I got a lot of “C’s” on science projects, mine were always in the back room, and I was embarrassed to take him back to see mine. But he gushed over my project just like others were gushing over the ones in the main room that couldn’t have possibly been done by anyone but a structural engineer.

When buying something, don’t spend more than you can afford. HOWEVER, buy the very best you can afford because it will last longer and is less likely to go out of style. I think I’ve already talked about him walking me down to introduce me to Maxie Oberlin  — who owned Oberlin’s, and asked her to show me what to look for in construction, material, etc. The dress we bought that day, the year before he died  lasted me through college and then got passed down to my sister-in-law. God only knows how long she wore it. It cost — big money for those days — $14.00.  Consequently, I taught Abbi the same thing. Yes, we buy designer purses and watches. Because they last. The Gucci watch I bought the year Abbi was born, 32 years ago, still works like a champ.

Most important, he taught me that my mind and my name were the only things no one could take away from me. As a result, I didn’t get into drugs. I’ve only been drunk one time in my life — and that was the night I celebrated all divorces past, present, and future. I’ve never smoked. To his “mind,” and “name,” I added “voice.”  And one of the things that hurt the most due to my assault was the damage it did to my thinking ability, mental acuity, and ability to retain information. I take a lot of notes and work every day at honing those skills and bringing them back.

Those lessons were also passed on to my Princess, the Love of my Life. Do everything with integrity. With every ounce of ethics and morals possible. For that reason, her rep in Los Angeles — a tough nut to crack in the entertainment business — is spreading. She has a reputation for always being present for her events, she protects her girls, she’s easily accessible by the people running the event, she exceeds their expectations, and usually brings them in under budget.

She never got to meet her Grandfather, but they would have liked each other. I got his (as Bill called it),  “sourcastic” sense of humor. Abbi ended up with it. She’s smart — not in a memorize-books kinda way, but is wise way beyond her years. He would have liked that.

I’ve tried to make him proud of me, and know there are times I haven’t pulled that off. But I’ve never stopped trying.

Life beat up on dad. Big time. His mother kept him from leaving town with Rudy Vally and his vaudeville troop to be a hoofer. He was blind in one eye because of a snowball with a rock in it, and it broke his heart he wasn’t able to serve in World War II. He endured over 20 years with my mother.  I’ll never understand how the two of them even landed on the same planet. 

And he died way too young.

But you never would have known it. He had laugh wrinkles from smiling so much. He saw the best in everything and found joy in each day. His friends were real friends. Because he was a real friend to them. He was transparent — what you saw in Bill Hyman was what you got. I hope the same can be said for me.

His funeral, at Fidler & Frame (Dale Fidler was my mom’s cousin), was standing room only…..big-time business owners, professionals, the chief of police — Dallas…..can’t remember his last name….people whose lives he’d touched over his very short life. And I am still very proud to be his daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

THE TABLE

The beginning was pretty innocuous.  Salvation Army was having a half-price sale last Saturday, and Peggy wanted to go. She has a knack of finding Ann Taylor, Lands Inn, and lots of other brand names. If I were a size 4, maybe I could, too. I hoped to find a couple of warm tops, and my mission was accomplished. Scored a suede jacket that had never been worn, a Kauai zippie, and an Alaska sweatshirt. Warm is warm. And all of it was $15.00.

Peggy had a stack of clothes bigger than she was — couple pair of jeans, Land’s Inn tops, a cute designer dress, I can’t remember everything.

But once we were finished with the clothes shopping, I spotted a pine table.

There’s nothing Peggy loves more than power tools….and wood.....and putting the two together. Twenty-some years ago, she gave me an electric screwdriver as a divorce present. Over the years, I added a power sander, electric stapler, nail gun, etc. There’s nothing more beautiful than a woman with power tools who knows how to use them.

The pine table came home with us. After all, at half-price, it was only $7.50.

We hadn’t been home half an hour before I heard the whirring of the sander taking off years of varnish from the table. It’s what happened next that threw me for a loop.

She brought it inside, plopped it in front of the couch and told me, “You’re the creative one. Paint it!” She was way too gleeful. I hadn’t painted anything for over six years. Oh, I painted a pillow for a new member educator at my first house with the Greek letters on the front and all her pledges names painted in script on it, but that hardly counts.

But living in sorority houses, there was no room to paint canvas’, no freezers to store the oils (pretty sure that’s a health code violation), and stained glass was out of the question. That takes a garage wall worth of storage space and a ton of equipment. And it leaves tiny glass shards everywhere. When it was just Abbi and me, we were used to walking on glass, but, this wasn’t home.

Peggy pulled out a crate full of acrylic paints, many of which were dead dry and unusable, and told me how excited she was to see it finished. I couldn’t even think. She wanted it finished that night, and there was a time I could have whipped the table top up in a couple of hours and varnished it the next morning…..but that was years ago.

So, here we are a week later. During the last week, I realized I’d even forgotten how to double-load a brush. I winged it. By the time I figured out some of the basics, the top was painted. I wanted to go back over the whole thing and redo it, but Peggy liked it the way it was, so I proceeded to finish it the way it was started, almost crying at the process. Painting is like many other things….”What you don’t use, you lose.” I’ve officially lost it.

It’s fine. It blends with the room and looks like it belongs, but I don’t like it. It’s not perfect. It’s not the calibre I’m used to. It’s not something I could/would be proud to sell. Or display in my own home.

Which took me back years.

When Bill & I were in Hawaii and Abbi was a baby, I was frustrated that I no longer had the time to keep my spices arranged alphabetically by cooking and baking and would realize after a couple of days that I hadn’t made the beds or taken a shower. A friend from the base chapel came up to me and said, “I teach an art lesson every Thursday morning. It’s $7.00. I supply the brushes and the paints. Bring Abbi, my kids will babysit with her.” And I showed up the next Thursday.

I’d always been “artsy-fartsy,” and that started in high school. Several of us were notorious for making a skirt one night and knitting a sweater to go with it within the next couple of days. But painting? That was for those like Carol Zika, who majored in art in college. Her work was creative and exciting, and I loved looking through her work. I was a lowely sewer of clothing, even if that meant trying on clothes, drawing pictures of them, and going home to copy them for myself. I also picked up needlework and crewel for awhile. When I went back to West Virginia to visit, I’d load up the trunk of the car and relatives would pick from my finished pieces of yarn work.

But Rae  Copeland and her art classes brought me to life. She never told us anything was difficult. I learned to paint on silk, glass, and anything else that would stand still long enough to apply paint with brush. It took no time for me to be picking up furniture to refinish, paint and sell. Folk art figures and projects came next. I sold out my first showing at an Officers’ Wives Club craft fair.  And if that worked, why not canvas’? They sold well, too. People started bringing me pictures taken on vacations for me to copy on canvas. Faces were tough for me, but I could do them….they just took a little longer. My favorite was a leathery, weather-beaten portrait of an old fisherman…..long grey beard, tired eyes, strong but tough hands…..I hated to see it leave.

During my first Hellishly hot summer in Oklahoma, all I wanted to paint was winter scenes — a house from Durango, snow-topped mountains, ice-covered lakes…..and during the Arctic cold winters, I painted cheerful summer scenes.

Next came stained glass. Abbi had started competing with a cheerleading gym in Moore, OK, and I would drive around during their practices. On one of my straffing runs, I discovered Zee’s Stained Glass. And a sign on the window that said, “Classes starting soon.” I signed up.  New passion.

In no time I was making window-sized pieces to add a little privacy to the living room, and stepping stones. I loved creating angels, birds, all manner of lovely creature and seeing them immortalized in concrete to be displayed in gardens and across yards.  One year, I ended up making presents for all of Abbi’s friends to give their parents. And of course, there were the OU & OSU stones I made for friends.

When I closed up housekeeping, I packed up a car full (front and back seats and trunk) of glass I’d purchased over the years and took it to Zee’s. She had to put it in her storage barn because there wasn’t enough room in the store. I also took my grinder and all my tools. Her students could use them.

So, since June of ’06, I’ve been artless. The closest I’ve gotten to creating anything was making cosmetic bags, dop kits, and pillows for cheer squads and knitting afghans for the girls to snuggle up with during “Boy Meets World” marathons or “Shark Week.” (Fins UP!) They were appreciated, but once one was finished…….I’d just start another one. Eventually, the patterns were memorized and I no longer needed books.

So, here’s my challenge. Painting the damned table made me realize how much I miss being creative. Writing isn’t the same as getting paint all over my clothes and legs, or realizing too late that a speck of Cobalt blue was spreading and there was no way to get it off gracefully. I miss the smell of paint thinner. I miss seeing a square of glass meld with others to create a beautiful mosaic, or dolphin, or mountain scene.

My reality is that regardless of where I live from now on, whether it be another sorority house, that houseboat I’ve been lusting after, or an apartment, there won’t be much wall space (and I have my favorites that will fill up all that’s available). And there probably won’t be much work space.

As soon as I figure out where that’s going to be, I’ll have to find a way other than writing to be creative…..photography? Painting sorority gifts? I don’t know. I just know that I long for the smell of oil paints, paint thinner and cleaning brushes. A piece of me has returned.

So until next time…..and I know, they’re less frequent now….be safe out there. And find something to make the world more beautiful. Even if it’s just smiling at a stranger.

 

THINGS THAT CONFUSE ME…..

Where to start —

It confuses me when a website has a blank for a check mark with “remember me?” underneath it, I put a check mark to say, “Yes, thank you very much,” and the next time I pull up the site, the same empty box is there and it didn’t remember me. I don’t appreciate the rejection.

It confuses me when Facebook picks the same few people as important to me, and I miss half the messages people send. Then, they get upset that I did’t answer — because no one uses e-mail or phones anymore, and I don’t do the text/twitter thing yet. My relic phone wouldn’t know Facebook if it was hit on the screen with a happy face.

It confuses me when I’m so exhausted I can’t hold up my head, but the minute said head hits the pillow, I’m wide awake.

It confuses me when I lose 10 pounds, and all my clothes fit the same. Actually, that one just ticks me off.

It confuses me when someone gives me an exact date by which a task will be done, and nothing happens. This is my life, dingbat. Get with the program.

It confuses me when I vow to quit cursing, but the only word I have trouble eliminating is the one word that can be used as any part of speech and can be conjugated with ease. You know. I don’t have to tell you. The rest are gone, but that one pops up at the most inappropriate times…..as usual.

Though when Bill and I first arrived in Denver in ’83, I called my best friend in Hawaii and told her, “Beth Ann, we hit Hawaii’s all time high and all time low today,” It confuses me when I wake up in the morning, put on the clothes the weatherman told me I’d need today, open the door, and have to go change before leaving the house.

It confuses me that I remembered Estes Park, Georgetown and Breckenridge as being about an hour from where I lived in Aurora, or even when I lived off Colorado Blvd. in Denver. Now, no matter how many times I mapquest or GPS them, they’re two hours away.

It confuses me when consignment shops advertise, “high-end designers,” and they consider those designers Guess and Coach. The good news is that there was a pamphlet at one of them and I made some phone calls. I had found two pair of jeans in the suitcase in the trunk of my car, so I was able to pick up a good pair of warm, multi-weather shoes and a comfy navy sweater. That should get me through until I figure out what I’m doing.

It confuses me when I look at SororityMom.com every morning, see a job, and don’t know whether to apply. I don’t know whether I’m supposed to be working now, or waiting for the settlement, get some time off that’s stress free and I can go visit friends and places farther than three days away from California…. or just sublet one of Abbi’s dancer friend’s apartments until fall hiring season and walk on the beach every day…..but miss living with girls so much I’m conflicted. Miss TV room laughter, girls dressing for parties that require costumes, clumps of girls studying in random corners, and miss baking pies for the multitudes. Heck. I even miss trying to meet the needs of the vegetarian,vegan, semi-Kosher, gluten free, lactose-intolerant, blueberry/avocado/walnut/any nut/allergic all at the same time while keeping the vegetarians/vegans from dying of malnutrition and the power blowing every Thursday night from too many hair dryers going at the same time.

It confuses me when I want to write, but all my research and notes are in boxes in California.

It confuses me when I’m trying to get acquainted with Denver again.  Of all the places I’ve lived….and there have been more than a few…..the only places that have really felt like home were Denver and Berkeley. Unfortunately, it seems that every town I’ve ever lived in has an Alameda Street. A Pennsylvania Avenue. A Fairfax Street…..the list goes on and on. I leave the house so proud I know where places are, then forget what city I’m in. Shop names are the same in different cities. The Junior League Thrift Shop that was my “go to” place now doesn’t do consignments and has slipped in quality so much I probably won’t go back. Tattered Cover Book Store that was in Cherry Creek when I left is now on Colfax.

I’m even dreaming about it.

My car breaks down, and I know exactly where to take it…..only to find a used car dealership that wants me to trade in my car for another convertible, but the only two on the lot are VW Bugs, and that’s not what I want and then I see the repair shop I was looking for behind it…..two Alameda streets from two separate cities screwing with my head.

I’m back in the office where I got my first position after finishing my degree at Columbia’s branch here in Denver, but there are hundreds of people there and the idiot who was my boss is still in the driver’s seat. I had already been promoted and for some reason was back there and he refused to train me in the new stuff that came up so I couldn’t make a living before my next management assignment where I’d be expected to teach the same stuff I wasn’t learning.

There are dreams of people I’ve known in one place, but are in another, being yet another person from another city, and I’m trying to figure out where I fit into the picture. Only to find I, too, am someone else I’ve known in the dream. No wonder I can’t sleep. It’s too confusing.

It confuses me that I wake up in the morning planning for making dinner that evening, and all the things I was sure we had in the house are gone….but somewhere in the middle of the night, I saw those potatoes right where they were supposed to be. There was chicken in the freezer. Oh, wait.  That was at Jenny & Jason’s.

It still confuses me that everywhere I go, TV shows are on at different times. On the west coast and some places in the middle section of the country, “prime time” starts at 7pm. In others, it starts at 8pm. I turn the tv on to watch a favorite show and either find that it doesn’t start for another hour or it just ended.

It confuses me that Beckett and Castle are finally, at last, in a relationship but are trying to hide it from their co-workers. If it’s obvious to me, shouldn’t a room full of detectives be able to figure it out?

It confuses me that the country has two so diametrically opposed candidates for president; one of them could hold an entire debate against himself,  yet there’s a virtual tie. For the longest time, it confused me whether I should vote as a California absentee and hope the ballot gets there, or vote in Colorado. I finally opted for Colorado, because it’s a swing state and my one vote will mean more here. And as soon as my voter’s registration card arrives, I’ll vote early and know I’ve done everything I can do. Then, it’s up to the rest of the masses.

And staying on elections, it confuses me that the voter’s commission hasn’t figured out that people vote in Utah in the morning and again in California that afternoon.

I’m confused when I see someone I know, and realize they’re not who I thought they were…..sometimes, after I’ve spoken to them. Almost hugged a guy in King’s Soopers yesterday. He didn’t have a ring on, so it could have worked out, but I erred on the side of caution.

I’m confused at why I’ve had a crush on Mark Harmon for the last 10 years or so — we hardly know each other.

I’m confused when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t find the bathroom.

Mostly, I’m confused at how I got here in the first place.

But, for some reason this is where I’m supposed to be at this point in time, so I’m embracing it and making the most of each passing day.

So, wherever you are in your life, you owe it to yourself to do the same. Live every day as if this is exactly where you’re supposed to be at this place in time. Enjoy it, even if things don’t seem very comfortable at the moment. Figure out what you’re supposed to learn from the experience. This is the most important day of your life. Without today, there would be no tomorrow. So, until then…..

Oh — I know I promised to introduce you to new authors every week, but most of them were at a very long weekend in Cleveland at Bouchercon, a conference for mystery/thriller writers. Not only is this the most supportive community in the world, it’s also the most fun. At this point in time, they’re recouperating from several days with fun people, friends they only get to see once a year, laughing, and perhaps having a few drinks. And they’re catching up on a week’s worth of writing.  So, we’ll start up again next week.

My posts won’t be every day for awhile, because frankly, unless you want me to talk about Sophie, Indiana Jones and Josie, the clock that loses a minute a day, so at ll:54 am, the clock just chimed 11:30, or deciding what to fix for dinner and when to wash clothes, my life just isn’t that interesting.

But please vote. Our Country depends on the outcome. And until next time, be careful out there.

 

 

 

 

SNOW!!!!

Woke up at 7:15 this morning, looked out the window, jumped out of bed and yelled, “SNOW!!!” First time I’ve seen it in anything but pictures since 2006. I was jumping up and down like a little kid. I immediately jumped back under my stack of comforters to watch it from warmer space. I’d forgotten how much I love reading and watching the rain or snow outside.

It was like last summer in Myrtle Beach when I hooked up with a bunch of other Charleston High School grads and woke up the first morning thinking someone was watering the plants. Then it hit me. RAIN!! Real rain. It’s true that it very seldom rains in Southern California. Now, Berkeley, that was different. We got official winter which meant rain all the time. I liked it. Even went for long walks during rain storms. It wasn’t appreciated as much by the college kids, and there were more than a few mornings I drove them to and from classes.

But I hadn’t been in an official East Coast Rain Storm complete with Thunder and Lightening for way too long. Every one else was put out that our first day of vacation at the beach was rained out, but I stood on the porch and let the rain blow on me. Even threatened to sleep out there until I realized the whole floor was getting flooded and that probably wouldn’t be a good idea — so I slept on the couch in the living room so I could hear the rain. There’s a lot to be said for the East Coast. Myrtle Beach. Dancing the Shag, Thunder storms. Water spouts on the ocean in a storm, four official seasons…….if only it were on the West Coast. If I pulled a beach chair to the edge of the surf line to let the water wash over me in California, I’d be an iceburg within five minutes.

But more than rain, I love snow. I’d even put the top down, turn up the heater, and drive in it. Remember when we had Greeks Bearing Gifts and had to pick up about 6 orders of tee shirts from the south side of town (far, far away from our shop in Edmond) and it was blasting snow. The only way I could get them all in the car was to tie the trunk closed and keep the top down. Got plenty of looks, but I loved every minute of it.  For the record, I learned a long time ago that if you can maintain a speed of 40 mph, the snow — or rain — will divert over the windshield and totally miss the cabin of the car. Life’s too short to drive a hard top. Even in the winter.

Then, my thought went back to growing up in West Virginia. We lived on a little dirt road just south of Sherwood and off Oakwood. Sue Jacobs was my neighbor, and our other neighbors, the Fry’s, had a steep slope down to their house. As soon as we realized there was enough for adventure, our sleds were flying down the hill, up what seemed to be a couple of hundred stairs, and right back down again. Then, when those round “flyers” came out, that made it even better because we didn’t have to share to get our speed up.

Of course, in those days our parents bundled us up so much we barely could see out of the scarves and wraps and were lucky to be able to move. I believe the mantra was, “You’ll catch your death of cold.” The characters you see in Peanuts? That was us. Multiple layers of pants and shirts, a couple of sweaters, heavy jacket with hood, scarf after scarf after scarf, every sock we owned and those horrible rubber boots. Luckily, we all looked the same, so no one could make fun of anyone else.

And I remembered a time in college when I was dating a Delta Tau Delta from West Virginia. Don’t remember whether it was in the Charleston area or nearer to Morgantown, but a bunch of us went sledding out in the middle of nowhere — huddled around a fire until it was our turn, then down the slope in hopes of not hitting a barbed wire fence. It didn’t matter. Just a bunch of college kids, bundeled up, sharing stories, laughing, and sliding down slopes. If I remember correctly, Anne Patrice Miller was there, too. It didn’t take much to entertain us in those days.

And there were the trips to WVU from Concord to spend the weekend. That’s a whole state away, there were no freeways, it took — forever — but it didn’t matter. At that point in time, the Playboy College Party Poll had an ( * )at the top. At the bottom was a footnote:  “We cannot include West Virginia University  or of Miami of Florida in this list because we can’t compare seasoned pros to rank amateurs.”

But when it was winter? At WVU, maneuvering ourselves from fraternity house to fraternity house on glare ice sidewalks, in the snow, in heels was an adventure. It meant pulling ourselves up the hill branch by branch on the shrubs and trees that lined the street. Getting down was even funnier…..but the TKE’s had a “Gotcha” board game that made looking hysterical worthwhile.

“Gotcha” was a monopoly sort of game permanently affixed to the bottom of a ping-pong table. Inverted, it was converted into a drinking game. Unfortunately, there was only one “Go to the bathroom free” card. The Delta Tau Deltas were known for their parties — except if a Delt asked an unsuspecting girl if she wanted to go to the TV room, upon entering she’d be surprised to find a totally blacked-out room filled with mattresses specifically designed for making out. I was dating one of each at the time, so attendance at both was mandatory. I stayed with a girlfriend at her sorority house — I think it was Diana Ferguson who had gone to junior high school with me at Thomas Jefferson. Her mom married Bob Boaz (a newscaster) and they moved to DC. I know. You don’t care.

Back to Denver.  The bad news is that for the first time, I realized I was turned around and we’re on the north side of the street. In Denver, the snow very seldom attaches itself to the streets, so driving isn’t a problem. The rest of the houses on the street are already snowless. The snow always melts by afternoon.  And I don’t know about the outside of Peggy’s house, but the north side of my car is still covered in snow. For the first time since 2006. And then, it had a garage.

The really bad news is that I have NO, absolutely NO winter clothes with me. My worker’s comp suit was supposed to go into negotiations in August and be over by the end of September, so I didn’t need any for my world tour.  In my trunk are one pair of jeans and one long-sleeved shirt. I picked up another long-sleeved shirt at a consignment shop yesterday. And I have the UGG house slippers/driving shoes that Abbi informed me I can wear anywhere. My only closed-toed shoes.

I was supposed to be back in Cali by now.

Other than that, all my winter clothes; all my sweatshirts, my UGGs, my jackets (except for a flannel Myrtle Beach zippie) are in Abbi’s storage unit, and it would cost more — and be more aggravating for Abbi — for her to have to go to the facility, rummage through my clothes, pull out what I want and ship them to me, than it will be for me to hit consignment shops to fill in the blanks. But it’s cold out there, and once again, I have no winter clothes. Maybe I’ll buy a new purse. Or another pair of UGGs. I can always use another pair of UGGs.

And then, there’s the other problem. According to the guy at Social Security, my Medicare set-aside should be in our hands sometime next week. That means a couple of weeks of negotiation on our part and a couple on theirs, and then, it will finally, at last be over. Then, I can head back to California and decide what to do until hiring season for sorority house moms starts again in March or April. So, do I want to buy winter clothes not knowing if I’ll ever need them again? It’s already been decided that I won’t be visiting Oklahoma in August or anytime between January and March, and trips to the east coast are out of the question until warmer weather….maybe Destin? I could always use a trip to the Gulf Coast. We’ll see.

So, from Peggy’s couch in Denver, Sophie at my side, wearing capri jeans, an Alpha Xi short-sleeve tee shirt and my UGGs houseslippers, I’ll leave you until tomorrow (when hopefully, the temperature will hit somewhere over 47 degrees).  Until then, stay safe out there, and bundle up. You’ll catch your death of cold.

 

 

 

HAPPY WEDNESDAY. As promised yesterday, today will start a tradition of introducing you to a different author each week. Today’s is the very unique mystery/thriller writer, SIMON WOOD.

Have you ever gone to sleep at the wheel? Seen someone on the street who looked familiar? Most of us have, but we went on with our lives and didn’t think about the event again.
Not Simon Wood. Simon’s mind would start whirling. By the time he was finished, that everyday event would be turned into a thriller that would make you think before leaving the house again. His novels are fun, scary, and hard to put down.
I discovered Simon while attending Mystery Writers’ Conference at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California when he sat on a panel. He seemed so interesting, one of his books was in my tote within minutes of the seminar’s end, and I haven’t stopped reading his work since. Until recently, his books have all been stand-alones. My favorites were “Accidents Waiting to Happen,” and “Paying the Piper,” but once again, I’ve read them all. And bought them for friends. 
A little background — Simon is a transplant from England and has that wonderful British sense of humor. He’s also had an interesting past — though afraid of heights, he has a pilot’s license. On occasion, he’s been a private detective. But, I believe, his happiest times must have been when he was a professional race car driver.
Simon’s new series is about Aidy Westlake, a race car driver who finds trouble at every bend in the road.  The first in the series was “Did Not Finish,” that I finished in about two days, and the second just came out in July. You can now find “Hot Seat” in bookstores and online.
Simon is an Anthony Award Winner, and if you’re a fan of good mystery/thrillers with a touch of humor, he deserves a spot on your favorite author list.
Following is one of his blogs from www.simonwoodwriter.blogspot.com, and his website is www.simonwood.net. (As soon as I figure out how — you know how technically challenged I am —  I’ll add a link on my page.)
 To help you catch up while reading his blog post, “Royston” is his long-haired dachshund and “Sidecar” is one of his cats. Now, you’re ready to discover Simon Wood.

Hump Day: Wild Kingdom—Part One: Julie, Will This Kill Me?

On occasion, conversations will start like this in our house. “Julie, will this kill me?”
“No, that’s a daddy longlegs.”
“What about this?”
“That’s a twig, Simon.”
The problem is that there aren’t any dangerous animals in England. Obviously, there’s the fabled beast of Bodmin Moor, which hasn’t been bestial in twenty years or so. There are adders but I’ve never seen one. There’s a slow worm, which is technically a snake but is the kind of snake that gets sand kicked in its face at the beach, hence the reason it’s called a worm. Not to say there isn’t a chance you’ll come across a frog with a switchblade or a hedgehog with a hand grenade. As Ian Brown says in his song (but for entirely different reasons) “There are no lions in England.” This is probably why there isn’t much hunting in the UK–although as a side note, last year, the British government authorized the culling of 20,000 hedgehogs. Many a proud hunter went home with a hedgehog strapped to the hood/bonnet of their car that week. Well, it made a difference from going home with them embedded in a tyre.
But America is different. There are plenty of creatures here that can do me harm. Every day is like a David Attenborough documentary. I’ve seen bears rip a car open and discovered they do sh*t in the woods, as do I when faced with a two ton brown bear. Obviously, bears are easy to spot and sport their dismemberment capability credentials like a badge of honor. Also, they don’t tend to hang around my neighborhood too much. But there are plenty of other predators that do. Like spiders. A black widow fell out the ivy I was trimming the other week.
I give these buggers a wide berth after an incident a few years back. One was in the house and Julie showed it to me so that I would know what to be scared of. How comforting. After she was finished showing me this lethal creature, she went to drop of it down the garbage disposal. I said, “No way.” I had visions of the damn thing growing after living off food scraps and bursting out during the night to get me. Julie’s next bright idea was to flush the black widow down the toilet. I wasn’t going for this one either. Spidey might be a good swimmer and I didn’t want it getting me in the end–if you know what I mean. After some discussion, we decided on drowning it. Julie pulled out a Tupperware container, filled it with water and we popped the spider in there and sealed the top. We expected a quick death. Instead we witnessed a desperate fight. The spider thrashed inside the container causing it to bounce across the kitchen counter. The water turned black. What that was about I don’t want to know. Two hours later, the thing went quiet in the Tupperware drowning room and we dumped the whole thing in the trash, too afraid to open it.
I wish black widows were the only spiders to worry about. I find many other brightly colored and scary looking arachnids wandering around the homestead, which usually ends with me saying, “Julie, will this kill me?”
And it’s not just at the house where things can get me. Last year, in the Berkeley hills, Royston and I came across a snake. In unison, we leaned over for a closer look. Before I could ask, “Julie, will this kill me?” The little snake raised his tail and rattled it. Both Royston and I reacted Scooby Doo style, screaming and jumping in the air. This outburst scared the rattler and he bolted just as quickly as us. So, if you come across a rattlesnake in the wild, just a tip that a large display of cowardice shames any self-respecting rattler into retreat.
I’m not free from airborne attack either. There are some fearsome looking birds of prey floating about. Royston once had a hawk dive-bomb him and steal a mouse that was darting around in front of him. I think Tippi Hendren scared me as a child as I won’t venture outside when the barbecue grill is going and the birds are circling.
I’m not anti-nature by any means. But I like the softer side of her. I want it to be very Disney where everyone gets along and everyone sings songs. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Only recently, a lizard bit me I was trying save from Streetcar. I accept that I shall have to remain content with never leaving the house without my pocket edition of Big Book of Things That Kill–California Edition–and calling out, “Julie, will this kill me?”

 

RANDOM STUFF

Spending time with Peggy in Littleton, Colorado has been a joy. Except for the fact that in the evenings when cats tend to get aggressive because that’s when their prey and preditors come out.  Jones and Sophie tend to still work out who is the Alpha. Jones seems to be winning. Sophie ends up cornered under the bed. We’ve started sleeping with the door closed to avoid middle of the night meetings.  For the most part, it’s improved. There have been times when Jones has positioned himself a foot from Sophie and let me pet him (without biting me in the process) and Sophie hasn’t even hissed.

I’ve enjoyed being the one thing every working woman needs — a good wife to come home to. She works so hard — she takes her teaching job very seriously — tends to go in early, stay late, have dinner and sometimes a nap and then back to work until bedtime. Except for the evenings when she has meetings. Then, it’s worse. Her kids are so lucky to have her. And yet, if a bond issue doesn’t pass this November, she could be out of a job.

When she comes home, she’s exhausted. I like to have a hot meal ready for her with enough left over for lunch the next day. It’s the least I can do. She’s giving me access to her lovely home, and with the help of her hand-drawn map of Littleton, I’m getting around really well. Though bigger than Westwood, I’m using less than a quarter of a tank a week, and I leave the house ever day to get fresh food for dinner. And it makes me realize how much I’ve missed cooking for the last six years.

My biggest concern, of course, is that I’m going to get on her very last nerve. Our lives are so different, and though we are, too, there’s something that’s kept a bond between us for almost 25 years. But still…..I fully understand that a little bit of Ann can go a long way.

Jump shift:  Trying to decide whether to drive home (if I’m not there by then) to vote in December, send in an absentee ballot to California or register in Colorado, a swing state, that needs my vote more. Besides, if for some reason my absentee ballot doesn’t come, and I don’t register here by the 8th, I’m screwed. I’ve never missed a vote since my 21st birthday and I especially don’t want to miss this one. Back in the dark ages, we were still considered children until we turned 21. I remember the mayor at Columbus, Ohio calling us the boys and girls at Ohio State. Now, it’s the 18 – 21 year olds who are going to make the difference. This is their election — their futures depend on the outcome.

You’re going to love this, regardless of which side you’re on — There’s an issue on the California ballot this year (32) that ties the ability to vote to income level. So few people look at individual ballot issues or the records of judges who are up for re-election.

Jump Shift #2 : A friend of mine sent me a note yesterday saying he was about to get into trouble in Fisher, Indiana. Told him I was looking forward to hearing how anyone could get in trouble in Fisher, Indiana. That’s like getting in trouble in Poca, West Virginia or Corn, Oklahoma or Ripon, California or Pine, Colorado. There’s not much to do in any of those places except watch grass grow and park in front of the local motel on Fridays to see who checks in.

Now, French Lick, Indiana…..I get how someone could get in trouble there.

Jump Shift #3:  A couple of years ago, Judy Matthews (a friend from Charleston High School) laughed at me when I was going through one of my food phases. All I wanted was Butterfingers and Cokes, and that’s how I lived for about three weeks. I lost about six pounds, but like any diet, gained it back once I went back on the unhealthy food we’re expected to eat.

Now, it’s tacos. Every day. I make my grocery run just before lunch and stop by a Del Taco to get two tacos and a small Coke (the Coke is a part of all my diets). Today, I broke the mold. I only drove through Wendy’s and got a Coke. I’m going to do my best to avoid Wadsworth Blvd. because that’s where the only Del Taco in the area is, but have to go there either tomorrow or Thursday. We’ll see how my will power holds up.

But the bottom line is that I’m never hungry. Nothing tastes, sounds, smells, or crunches right. So, when tacos sound good, at least I know I’m getting veggies, protein and carbs. And, of course, a Coke.

Jump Shift #4 : There are so many writer friends in my life — authors who deserve to be read — and I’ll bet you’ve never heard of most of them. So, we’re going to fix that.

Starting tomorrow, about once a week, I’m going to introduce you to a different author. Most are award-winning, best-selling writers. But we get in a rut and read the same authors over and over again and never even look at regional or national best-sellers to see what we might be missing.  I’ve been guilty of buying so many copies of books to give to friends that I may have made some of my friends regional best sellers all by myself. Letting other people know about these talented writers is that important to me.  This is a much less expensive way of accomplishing the same task, but that won’t stop me from buying books and shipping them around the country.

My friends are varied — mystery, thriller, horror, “Cozy” writers (no overt violence, sex or language) in several genres. In my blog, I’ll tell you what I enjoy about each one of them from a personal standpoint and the things I enjoy about their writing styles. Then, you’ll find a link to their website where you can follow their lives on your own. My bet is that you’ll discover at least a few writers whose books you’ll buy and you won’t be able to put down. There are some I’ve read through in one sitting — others I ration out a chapter at a time because I don’t want them to end. And I’ve kept one in the car for a couple of years because the style is so unusual I want to read it over and over again. (Tim Maleeny’s JUMP.) I also carry a brown paper bag with handles that contains the “I ran it off on the printer so you can read it before anyone else” copy of The Innocent Boy by Cornelia Read. As we ordered drinks and appetizers at Skates in Berkeley, I held it close to me and almost cried. I carried that bag everywhere I went, pulled it out, and turned individual page after individual page until it was finished. Then, I read it again. Then I bought it. Then I bought it for others and shipped it around the country. 

I’m so lucky to have these smart, talented, fun people in my life that you just have to meet them.

Jump Shift #5: I’m expecting the first step in the negotiation process for the Worker’s Comp case to be showing up any minute — or so a gentlemen from Medicare tells me. If that happens, we’re only weeks away from this thing finally being over. Whatever God, Source, Spirit Guide you talk to, please put a good word in for me. Five years is way too long to be controlled by a force over which I have had no control.

And that’s about it for today.  A little marketing, some phone calls about interviews and book signings, a little play time with Sophie and a catnip bag Peggy made, fix dinner, watch NCIS and NCIS LA, then off to my cubby to read, study, and hopefully sleep through the night. Still having problems with that one, even with prescribed meds. Think I’m going to look for something holistic. Really want off these prescriptions.

Until tomorrow — go buy a good book, open the cover to see what other authors say about it, see if there are books in the series so you can start at the beginning to get into the head of the author and characters, and grab a glass of wine. We all need to stop and smell the cabernet from time to time.  Be safe out there.