Friday, July 31, 2009

Toning it Down Again

Seems to be a pattern here the last week or so, rant one day, and mellow out a day or so later.

The mellowing is so much better.

Yesterday, my husband noticed this bird standing guard at the nest in the birdhouse. He had seen this bird a number of times fly in and out of the nest and figured there were babies in there.

Sure enough, there are, but even with my telephoto lens -- which I am such a klutz at using I kept losing the birdhouse and would be focusing on our security light pole -- I couldn't get a good shot of the babies. For obvious reasons, I didn't want to get too close.

This morning when I was weeding the flower bed near the birdhouse, I could hear the little peeps. That was so cool. And the guard bird gave me a look that said, "Keep your distance, lady."

The birdhouse is one of several we have around our property, but the only one that is currently occupied. It was a present to my husband, who enjoys the birds a lot, and he has spent quite a bit of time watching this daddy bird tend to his babies.

We're not sure what kind of a bird it is. We think it may be some kind of finch. Do you recognize it?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Another Rant

I hate to go from the fun of talking about pets to another rant, but you know me, I can't help myself.

A proposed bill to ban texting while driving has been all over the news today and reading about it made me stop and wonder why we need a law to tell us not to do something that is so obviously dangerous. Are we all that dense that we can't figure that out for ourselves?

In another part of one of the news stories on CNN, the reporter quoted from a recent study that found that "drivers who text while on the road are much more likely to have an accident than an undistracted driver."

Again, I have to say, "Duh?" Did we have to pay for a study that came to the same conclusion a five-year-old would have for the price of an ice-cream cone?

When I first heard about the study on the national news the other night, I burst out laughing. There was Charles Gibson in all his earnestness giving the story his all, quoting the statistics and issuing the warning. Watching him, I couldn't help but wonder if under the facade of seriousness there wasn't a part of him that found the story as absurd as I did. Of course distracted drivers are going to have more accidents than drivers who are not distracted.

Now I want my ice-cream cone.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Writers and Their Pets

What is it about writers and their pets? I don't know a single author who doesn't have a dog or a cat or some other animal friend who is almost as important in their lives as their people friends. You'll note I said, "almost."

We do keep a distinct line drawn there, although that line sometimes gets a little fuzzy.

While I have not gone to the same extremes as some celebs who carry little dogs in fancy purses and bequeath millions to them in wills, I do love and enjoy my animals.

So do all the authors who are guests on a wonderful blog Pets and Their Authors. The blog is hosted by Amigo, a delightful golden retriever who owns author Mayra Calvani.

My cat, John, is the guest blogger today, so if you are interested he'd love for you to stop by.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Finding Old Friends

I've just recently started re-reading some of William Kent Krueger's books, as well as reading a couple of his newer ones. His books are some that I have enjoyed a lot, but then I'd forget to look for his latest and a few years would go by before I thought of how much I like his work.

In reading Blood Hollow, I realized one of the things I like most about the Cork O'Connor mysteries. They are set in Minnesota, in the land of the Anishinaabe and Ojibwe Indians, and Native American lore and spirituality are an important part of the characters' lives and the stories they are part of.

This morning I read the following passage and found it so fitting for a Sunday -- a day that many people consider holy.

"Whenever Cork entered the deep woods, he knew he was stepping into a sacred place. This was much the same way he'd felt entering the church. It was not just the peace, although it was truly peaceful. It was more than the incense of evergreen all around him and the choir of birds in the branches above and the cushion of the pine needles like a thick carpet under his feet. There was a spirit here so huge it humbled the human heart."

I am not in a deep forest like Cork, but I have felt the same connection to the spirit of the land when I step out into my little "ranch" and see all the beauty around me. It is certainly how I felt when I saw those egrets the other day. What a wonderful gift from God or Mother Earth, or whoever is responsible.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Right or Wrong?

What a tangled mess this whole situation is revolving around the arrest of Harvard Professor, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at his home in Cambridge. In case you have been on a desert island somewhere for the past week and have not heard the news, Professor Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct by Sgt. James Crowley who was responding to a report of a break in at the house on July 16th.

Since then, the incident has been a topic of debate on national news, radio talk show, and on the Internet. People are weighing in on both sides, including President Obama who said he thought the police acted "stupidly." When he was taken to task for that comment, he defended it on ABC's Nightline, " I think it was a pretty straightforward commentary that you probably don’t need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who’s in his own home.”

Many people agree with that, and if there were no other factors to consider in the situation, the debate could end there. But on the other side of the coin is a police officer who has a record of being even-tempered, racially sensitive, and one of the highest commended officers on the force.

In Sgt. Crowley's official report, he states that Gates refused to cooperate with him and repeatedly accused him of racism. Allegedly Gates told the officer that he "had no idea who he was messing with" and was so loud that it disrupted Crowley's attempts to give information to dispatch when he was calling in.

So, obviously, this will play out in a case of "he said" "he said" , but what I would like to know is who called in the possible break in? Was it a neighbor who should have recognized Professor Gates as he was entering his own home? What made the neighbor suspicious? Is that where the real problem of racism exists?

This is also an example of how not to respond in a situation like this. It appears that Professor Gates and Sgt. Crowley both let emotions get out of hand. Granted, I'm not sure if I could have kept my cool if a police officer came to my door and started questioning me, especially if that officer brought any kind of attitude with him. But I also know that reason trumps anger every time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What? No More Sears Tower?

Here's another bit of nonsense from my friend Tracy Farr, who when he is not writing or playing banjo or watching Oprah, drives a school bus.

I know that talking about the Sears Tower in Chicago has absolutely nothing to do with driving a school bus, but Chicago is in America, Sears is an American company, my bus was built by an American company probably using Sears tools, so indirectly, it all makes sense (and if it actually makes sense to you, can you explain it to me later?)

The Sears Tower, one of the most iconic buildings in America, was recently renamed The Willis Tower. The London-based Willis Insurance Company bought the naming rights for the next 15 years, painted a new sign, and that's that. But I don't like it. Why couldn't they have renamed Oprah instead?

Willis is a money-grubbing insurance company. Sears invented Craftman tools. They probably used some Craftman tools to actually build the tower. That alone should have been enough for the tower to retain its name. But I guess in the end, money always prevails.

"And now ladies and gentlemen, if you look out the left side of the bus, you can see The Tower Formerly Known as Sears! Some people call it The Big Willy, but...Oh, look -- there's Oprah!"

The Sears Tower has 110 floors. Willis will only occupy three of those floors. The American law firm of Schiff Hardin already occupies nine. If possession is nine tenths of the law, why aren't we calling it the Schiff Hardin Tower? And why doesn't Schiff Hardin know about "nine tenths"?

Finally, I believe that if foreign companies can come to our country, buy our stuff, rename it to what they like, then we should be able to do the same. We could see the changing of the guard at Sears Palace. We could sing, "The Sears Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down..." We could even listen to Big Sears as it chimes the hour.

Okay, this is just one bus driver's opinion, but the next time I'm in Chicago, I'm not going to let some stinkin' tour guide suggest I go see some stinkin' Willis Tower. I'm going to the Sears Tower. And that's that!

Read more of Tracy Farr's stories at or

Monday, July 20, 2009

A change of Pace

After yesterday's rant, I decided to mellow out this morning. Got up early and did some gardening, then took my dog for a walk. There's nothing like a brisk walk in the countryside to give you a whole new perspective on life.

Across the road from us is a large meadow where a neighbor grazes his cattle, and the egrets were swarming. What a beautiful sight to see the birds lifting off en masse and then settling again in another part of the meadow.

Good thing I had my camera with me. Now if I could just figure out how to place the
pictures in blogger in some kind of order. :-)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Socialism Taking Over Democracy

Appearing on the NBC's “Meet the Press,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said a tax surcharge on wealthy Americans is one of several options under discussion in Congress to help pay for overhauling the nation’s ailing health system.

That didn't exactly come as a news flash. The "tax the wealthy" option has been bandied about a lot in this whole debate over health care reform and how to pay for it, but this is not a good move. It is just one more step into the quagmire of socialism.

For some people, that might be okay. Let the government take over running everything in our lives, and we just have to sit back and enjoy the benefits. Nothing for us to worry about, right?


What little control we have over things that are important will be lost, and every facet of our lives will be handled with the same care and concern and efficiency as we now enjoy while dealing with the IRS, Medicare, Social Security, Veterans Affairs, and the good old Postal Service. When was the last time you settled an important issue with any of these agencies is a timely and efficient manner?

Reams and reams of documents are created to administer all these fine agencies -- documents rift with rules that cannot be bent, broken, or ignored even when they don't make sense. That means that we are pretty well stuck with whatever the government says, and if we don't like it, too bad.

According to some polls and public commentary, most Americans are in favor of the current health reform plans, as well as the idea of taxing the biggest earners to pay for it, but I question those results. Nobody I know is in favor of a government controlled health system. Nor are they in favor of imposing an unfair tax on a certain group, even though there are some members of that certain group who deserve having something stuck to them.

What do you think?

Friday, July 17, 2009

More From the Road Trip

Back in June I started posting excerpts from my new book and this latest installment is a continuation of the chapter dealing with one of our our family vacations. To read what precedes this click HERE

Everything was peaceful for an hour or so, then the kids started squabbling, which soon deteriorated into full fledged fighting, and parts of the car bingo game were flying around the back of the van. Danielle refused to take a nap, no matter how hard we tried to get her to lie down, so I went to the back of the van to keep game parts from hitting the back of Carl’s head. The twins took that as an open invitation to use me for a trampoline, so considering the noise, the jumping, and the crushed Cheetos all over the mattress, I quickly retreated to the front seat, leaving the mess with the kids.

By lunch time, we were all more than ready to stop for awhile to see if we could straighten our cramped bodies from the sitting position to a standing one. But somehow the kids weren’t nearly as anxious to run around and make noise as they had been in the van. In fact, meal times were the only real quiet times of the whole trip.

When we pulled into another rest area for supper, it was an instant replay of the lunch break. The kids sat quietly at the picnic table, ignoring all the grass that just called for little feet to scamper all over it.

After we finished eating, we tried to get everyone to get one last drink, and go potty so we wouldn’t have to stop again for awhile. No matter haw hard we tried to avoid frequent stops, nobody had to go potty when we needed gas, but fifteen minutes later one of them simply wouldn’t be able to wait another second.

We made two quick stops between six and ten, and then the kids finally fell asleep. Thank you, God.

Of course, at this point, Carl and I were too tired to have a meaningful conversation, and we avoided the music so we wouldn’t disturb the kids.

About midnight, we decided to do a drive-through for a cup of coffee. We realized we were hungry and wanted something other than stale Cheetos, so we decided to get hamburgers, too. We thought if we didn’t turn off the engine the kids would not wake up, but that was a short-lived dream. The cashier had just handed Carl the coffee and burgers when the kids popped up, one at a time like they were all trying to be a jack-in-the-box.

They also appeared to be quite wide awake.

Since we hadn’t planned to get them hamburgers, we tried to hide ours in the front until the kids went back to sleep. But that wasn’t happening.

“What do you have?” David asked.

“Coffee.” I answered. “We need caffeine to stay awake to drive.”

“What else?”

“Uh,,,” Do I lie so I don’t have to explain why we don’t have burgers for them? Or do I try to figure out how to share two sandwiches among seven people? I’m good, but not that good.

“I smell food.” Michael said.

I glanced at Carl for help.

“um… I don’t think so,” he said, hastily dropping his burger in the center console. “Must be your imagination.”

Keeping my eyes straight ahead, I slid the McDonald’s bag to the floor between my feet and leaned my head against the window. Maybe if it looked like I was going to sleep, the kids would take the hint.

Yeah, that would happen about the same time that cats would do what they’re told.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Uncommon Decency

A teenager wrote a letter to the Dallas Morning News recently defending the crassness of the new movie, "The Hangover". She wrote, "In today's American society, which is anything but conservative, it takes more than a dry innuendo to stir up a laugh. Vulgarity is natural and expected. If people are offended, they can choose to stay home."

Not long afterward, David Brooks wrote a column titled In Search of Dignity. He was referencing the code established by George Washington that was comprised of a list of 110 "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation."

Among the many edicts in Washington's code were commands to "endeavor to put national interests above personal interests, never degrade intimate emotions by parading them in public, and to distrust rashness, zealotry, fury and political enthusiasm."

It's not surprising that the teen who wrote that letter hadn't heard of Washington's code. It is all but forgotten in modern society, and we are much poorer as a result. And I do mean that literally. We are a morally bankrupt society, and that debases us on all levels.

Anyone who doesn't believe that the current global financial problems were caused as much by greed as economic factors, raise your hand.

Anyone who doesn't believe that the increase in teen pregnancies is caused in part by a proliferation of movies and television shows that present sex as just another "game" to be enjoyed, raise your hand.

Anyone who doesn't believe that politicians care more about their party and re-election than the good of the people, raise your hand.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. I lament the fact that we no longer have a general consensus of right and wrong, civil discourse, or a sense of what is proper behavior in public. As David Brooks put it in his recent column, "Americans still admire dignity, but the word has become unmoored from any larger set of rules or ethical system."

Someone get a rope and tie us back up.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Away From My Office

I always wanted to be able to say that, "Maryann Miller is away from her office." Somehow that makes me sound so much more important than the person who leaves the room to clean a toilet or feed the animals.

But I digress. I'm out of my office today because I'm doing a guest blog at Christine Duncan's Blog . It's a piece about rejection -- as in an editor does not want my work, not a personal rejection. In the business of writing, it is important to make that distinction when an editor says, "Thanks, but no thanks."

If you have a minute and are so inclined, stop by Christine's blog and share with us how you deal with the rejection slips.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Connecting to the Past

For years now members of my family have been telling me that I am a great deal like my paternal grandmother. I knew there were similarities, but the real connection didn't hit me until this morning, when I came in from working in the garden and had a biscuit for breakfast.

Let me explain.

My grandmother, Emma, had a great, huge garden sprawling up the hill in back of her house in West Virginia. Every morning during growing season, she would be out on the hill tending to the garden. She'd sit down on her heels and scootch down a row of beans weeding and picking at the same time. When she got to the end of one row, she'd stand up and stretch, then start down the next row.

In addition to beans, Emma grew tomatoes, peppers, corn, beets and all kinds of greens. She could have set up a vegetable stand in front of her house and made a small fortune. Instead, she canned what she didn't give away. Family and friends always knew where to come for fresh produce.

Emma spent endless hours in her garden, and when she broke for breakfast or dinner, her food of choice was always a biscuit. Not just any old biscuit, but a baking powder biscuit that she could make like no other, except for my Aunt Opal, Emma's oldest daughter.

Accompanying the biscuit for breakfast might be an egg or a piece of fruit. I had mine this morning with a peach. Dinner -- lunch to city folk -- was biscuits and beans. Supper, the biscuit might give way to a pan of cornbread with the beans and a sliced tomato.

Like Emma, I am drawn to the outdoors and to gardening. Even in this Texas heat I am out early in the mornings weeding, watering, trimming, or whatever needs to be done. And I have a pasture to maintain. Grandma never had large animals. Just a few chickens, and they don't leave great gobs of stuff that have to be shoveled and carted off.

My garden isn't as big as hers was, but every time I go out to do some weeding, I think of her. Sometimes I even sit on my heels and try the scootching thing. And this morning when I broke the biscuit into my bowl, the connection to her was so strong it stopped me for a moment.

What an amazing thing to know that people are never really gone forever. Some part of them still lives on through us.

I hope you enjoyed the biscuit, Grandma.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Internet Marketing

More and more authors are turning to Internet marketing for their books. They are doing virtual book tours, blogs, maintaining Web sites, and whatever else they can do to increase visibility on the Web.

This is all well and good, but according to Don McCauley at Free Publicity Group, many authors miss a major component of all this which is making sure that they are consistantly positioned high in search engines.

Some key ideas that he covers in his article are:

1. Over 70% of the population now PREFERS to get their buying information from the engines.
2. However, they do not sit around and wait to get hit with a commercial or an ad. When they go to the Internet, they have ALREADY DECIDED what they might be looking for and intend to purchase
3. They will look for that item using search terms
4. They will only purchase what they are made aware of through these engines
5. If you are not there - for a GENERIC SEARCH TERM, you will be invisible

Remember - your buyers will not Google your name. They will not Google your company name. They will not Google your brand. They will, however, Google words like 'book' or 'kids toys' or some other very generic set of terms.

That's why it is important to use the right keywords and labels on all that we post on the Internet. Anyone have any suggestions as to what has worked well in getting good search engine placement?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Party's Over

The last of my company left today, so now I have no more excuses for not working. Darn. I sure was enjoying myself. I guess that is one reason that I like having my birthday on the Fourth of July.

I was playing the "It's my birthday" card all weekend until one of our sons reminded us that it was America's birthday, too. And since he is American, he could play that birthday card. Double Darn. .

In addition to lots of company and lots of good food, I got lots of neat presents. New books to read. An exercise mat so I can work off all this good food. Some lotions to make me all soft and pretty, and a new camera.

This is a Nikon Coolpiix P90, so I can no longer blame the quality of the pictures I take for on the old camera I was using.

One of the neat features this camera has is a setting for taking pictures of fireworks automatically. My daughter has that feature on her camera, too, so Saturday night we shot a whole bunch of pictures as the guys set off the fireworks.

Here are a couple of the better shots I managed.

My husband gave me the camera, and as I was shooting the pictures that night, I realized that he had given me a 35mm camera about 40 years ago, and one of the first things I did with that one was take pictures of fireworks.

I still have those prints in an album, and it was really neat to make that connection from so long ago to the present.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy

Today the United States is celebrating a birthday, and so am I. The country is 233 years old, but I won't tell you my age.

For many years I thought all the parades and fireworks were in my honor, and it was quite a let down when I found out they weren't. To read all about that visit the Blood Red Pencil blog.

I've gotten over that fit of pique, but I still get all misty-eyed and goose-pimply when I hear the Star Spangled Banner and see Old Glory waving in a gentle breeze. And I drive my family nuts by singing "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy" off and on all day long.

Happy Birthday to Us!!!!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Another Excerpt From My New Book

Some of the readers here who have been following my excerpts from my newest book, expressed a desire to know more about our vacation, so here is the next segment of the chapter: ROAD TRIP - Or Are We There Yet, Papa Smurf....

To read the first part of this chapter, click HERE

By the time school was over for the summer, I’d saved up enough for gas – keep in mind that this was a long, long time ago and it didn’t cost a hundred dollars to fill the gas tank of a van. I even had enough to pay for one or two nights in a motel if I couldn’t talk Carl into camping along the way.

Yeah. Like that was going to happen. Carl has never been an outdoors man. His idea of roughing it is to drive a Winnebago from motel to motel, so it didn’t look promising for the camping idea. But I could talk him into picnics instead of restaurant meals, especially on the way to Michigan. We sure didn’t want to run out of money on the way home. Who wants to be stuck in the middle of Missouri with empty wallets? So my fist was tighter than Mr. Potter’s as we finished planning the trip.

The kids were bouncing off the walls with excitement for the entire week before we left. They made all kinds of plans for how much fun they were going to have, not realizing that hours and hours of riding in the car would precede that fun. The way they talked I’m sure they thought it would only take a half hour to get from Texas to Michigan. A thought I’m sure Carl wished was true. Driving with the kids is not his idea of a good time. Sometimes he doesn’t even fare well with a two-mile trip to church on Sunday.

Finally the day arrived. We packed the van, and created a place in the back for the kids to play, and when the time came, to sleep. (This was long before mandatory seat belts or car seats for kids, and lots of families traveled this way.) We had one bench seat across the very back of the van, and the rest of the space up to the captains’ chairs was empty. That’s where we put a small mattress and several sleeping bags, and all the kids.
We counted heads, to make sure we hadn’t left anyone behind, and headed out. I had this idyllic vision of the kids playing quietly in the back, while Carl and I listened to music and had a meaningful conversation.


The kids were wild as Tasmanian devils, and we’d barely gone a mile before I started to wonder if taking five kids on a 1200 mile trip was really such a hot idea. Not to mention the fact that we would have to go another 1200 miles to get home again.

The thought of saying, “Oh, hell, let’s go home and paint the garage” was tempting. But I knew Carl would rag on me forever for changing my mind. Plus, one look at the eager young faces of the kids quelled any thought of abandoning the adventure.

I settled back in my seat, and we went another 30 miles before things got too bad. Then the kids started asking every five minutes if we were going to cross the Mississippi River soon. Then they wanted to know if we were still in Texas. Then they wanted to know if we’d be in Kentucky in time for dinner. We finally told them not to call us, we’d call them.