Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday's Odds and Ends - Short and Sweet

For the sweet part, why don't we all have a cup of coffee and a piece of this yummy coffee cake?

The cake is really easy to prepare, and I used to make a lot when the kids were young, and it was a family favorite, especially on Christmas and Easter mornings. The recipe used to be on the back of the Bisquick box, but it is no longer there. I found a recipe on if you want to try it.

We need the comfort food as we think about yet another mass shooting that occurred last Friday in California.  Elliot O. Rodger killed six college students and himself near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Apparently there had been warnings from his family and mental health professionals that he was unstable and had the potential for violence, yet he was able to purchase three guns and carry out this terrible act. 

Now California lawmakers are proposing legislation that would allow for restraining orders from a judge to keep people like Elliot from buying or owning a gun. According to the news report in The New York Times, "The process would be similar to the one currently used for restraining orders in cases of domestic violence."

That might be a good step. What do you think?

Totally switching gears now because we need something positive to focus on, I want to mention the Children's Miracle Network in Tyler, TX, just one of many hospitals across the country that serve children with special needs and their families. Today a local radio station, KMOO, hosted a radiothon, and I went over to the live broadcast booth to make a donation. At first that was all I was going to do, but then I got the idea to pledge 50% of my royalties from book sales on Amazon this month to that worthy cause. I will include sales that have already occurred this month, as well as any over the next two days. So if you have been considering one of my books, this is a good time to grab one and help a good cause. This offer is for any of my books in paper or as e-books. I will track sales and make the donation on Monday. On behalf of all the families this might help in East Texas, I thank you. 100 percent of the money raised goes to the kids here in East Texas, so I am thrilled to support the effort. Here is a link to my Author Page on Amazon for easy shopping.- 
You don't have to be a horse lover to appreciate this next offering. A friend sent me a link to this video of the amazing Friesian horses and I just had to share it here. These are such beautiful, majestic horses and would love to ride one some day.

It's been a while since I've posted a Literary Lesson here on the blog, and I just read this in Bone by Bone by Carol O'Connell. It's an interesting commentary by an older man to his grown son, and does make one stop and think:

"The way I see it--it doesn't matter if God invented man or man invented GOd. It's a done deal, and you might as well try to uninvent the isosceles triangel. But a bona fide miracle defires logic in both camps. A man-made god precludes miraculous acts. And a true god wouldn't allow them. Why shake man's faith is sweet reason?"

And now a joke to end our week. This one may not make you laugh out loud, but I thought it was cute.

A young boy is pulling his wagon up a hill when one of the back wheels falls off and rolls down the hill. The young boy says, "I'll be darned." A local pastor heard him and said, "You should not say that. Next time your wheel falls off say, 'Praise the Lord.'" So the next day the young boy is pulling his wagon up the hill and the wheel falls off and rolls down the hill. The young boy says, "Praise the Lord." The wheel stops rolling, turns around, rolls back up the hill and puts itself back on the wagon. The young boy being very surprised by this exclaims, "I'll be darned!" 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Technological Singularity

Please help me welcome Benjamin Dancer as today's Wednesday's guest. I forgot to ask what his beverage of choice might be, but he doesn't seem like a latte or cup of tea kind of guy. Maybe it isn't too early for just a little nip of scotch. He, and the central character in his book, just seem like they would enjoy a glass of the Glenlivet 21 Year Old Archive. I can afford a virtual bottle to share with anyone who is interested.

While Benjamin is taking over the spot here, I am at The Blood Red Pencil today giving tips on how to approach reviewers. 

The technological singularity is an event after which, theory says, everything will change. Everything. It is theorized that the singularity will happen once computers can think for themselves. A concept that is beginning to find it’s place, not only in technological circles, but in the cultural mainstream. Transcendence, a film starring Johnny Depp, takes on this theme.

In a technological singularity the potential for good is unlimited. So is the potential for evil. According to the dark narrative, the rush toward the development of artificial intelligence (AI) will be humanity’s undoing.

That humans are about to destroy themselves has been in the Zeitgeist for some time. It is the premise behind the rise in popularity of post-apocalyptic stories. When I think back to my adolescence, I remember The Terminator. A generation later came The Matrix. Now we have The Hunger Games and Divergent. All of these stories are relating an anxiety most of us share, that humankind is really messing things up.

The technological singularity borrows it’s name from astrophysics. A singularity is another name for a black hole. We know that once you cross the event horizon of a black hole, there is no coming back.

What happens once computers start thinking for themselves? It’s a theme I explore in my literary thriller Patriarch Run:

“There are some hair-raising potentialities. First of all, we’re talking about a software that evolves at an exponential rate. So whatever it can do now, it can do exponentially better tomorrow and better the day after that and so on. A software that will eventually design its own hardware, design the machines to build that hardware.”
“You’re talking about a factory.”
“Eventually, yes. But we are not concerned about a factory in the conventional sense.”
Jack stopped at the gate, waiting for the explanation.
“With access to nanotech manufacturing, a computer like Yan Shi could build anything, do anything. Evolve at a pace never seen before on this planet. In the intelligence community, we call this the Technological Singularity.”
“As in a black hole?”
“Precisely. We are living at the event horizon. They call it the Singularity because, just like with a black hole, nobody knows what happens once you cross this line. Only that everything changes.” The Colonel led him through the gate and across the tarmac to the Cessna’s gangway. “It’s all theory. Theory that is taken very seriously by a heretofore neglected niche of the intelligence community.”
“To be clear,” Jack offered, “we’re talking about Terminator, The Matrix.”
The Colonel stopped at the top of the gangway. “As cautionary tales, yes, we are. But there’s also a best case scenario.”
“Which is?”
“In the right hands, this might be the technology we need to solve the great problems of our age. Unlimited, clean energy. Hunger and disease would be topics of history. We might be talking about the next stage in human evolution.”
They sat facing each other in the cabin.
“You’re saying this computer could usher in a new age?”
“Perhaps. But only the dreamers are looking that far ahead. You and I have a more immediate concern.”
“Which is?”
“How long do you think it would take for a computer brain evolving at an exponential rate to become intelligent enough to make the entire digital security apparatus of the United States obsolete?”
“I don’t know.”
“Neither does anybody else.”
Jack opened the window shade.
“We’ve known that the country has been vulnerable to a cyber attack on its power grid for years. A blackout which would effect everything from tap water to food production. Such an attack wouldn’t require a super-intelligent computer. It could be done from a college dorm.
“Now imagine what a cyber attack planned by Yan Shi might look like. It is the consensus of the heretofore neglected niche of the intelligence community that if an attack with a high enough level of sophistication were executed against the power grid and other critical infrastructure simultaneously, the nation would be unable to recover.”
The Cessna Citation accelerated down the runway, lifted its nose and was airborne.
“That’s a grim prediction.”
“Yes, it is.”


Benjamin is an Advisor at Jefferson County Open School where he has made a career out of mentoring young people as they come of age. He wrote the novels PATRIARCH RUNIN SIGHT OF THE SUN and FIDELITY. He also writes about parenting and education.

PATRIARCH RUN is a thoughtful and character-driven, coming-of-age story. Think of it as Jason Bourne meets Good Will Hunting. Against a backdrop of suspense, the novel explores the archetypal themes of fatherhood, rites of passage and self-acceptance through a set of characters that feel alive on the page.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Monday Morning Musings - Memorial Day

Here in the U.S. we are celebrating Memorial Day, a day that we honor those who died in service to our country.

I thought it would be nice to meet veterans who are remembering their comrades who died in battle. We are quickly approaching the time when there will be no more WWII veterans, so I wanted to link to this story by Wes Venteicher in the Chicago Tribune about Bill Howland. He was a medic, even though he had no previous medical experience, which was common back then. He said he sometimes talks with local high school students during history units on World War II and 1940s Europe.

"I try to prevail upon them to implore our government to stay out of wars … we have more important things to do than shoot people up all over the world," he said.

When I read that quote, I couldn't help but think of this wonderful song by Pete Seeger. It's one of my favorites, and we sang it a lot at hootenannies in the late 60s.

Here is another interesting article from Samantha Grossman in Time Magazine, where she shares seven things we might not know about Memorial Day.

And with that I am signing off for the day. I hurt my back yesterday, so my computer time is limited.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Book Preview - Patriarch Run by Benjamin Dancer

Patriarch Run
Benjamin Dancer
Print Length: 314 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Old Man Press (March 19, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B00J49L77S

After reading the sample on Amazon, I regret not taking the author up on the offer of a review copy, but when he first contacted me I was so overwhelmed with, well, life, that I just couldn't take on another review request. I did, however, like the premise of his story and wanted to help him spread the word about this new release.

The first few pages of Patriarch Run introduce a story that is intriguing and a character that the reader will immediately care deeply about. At least this reader did. The book description reads:

“There will be a collapse. I think we all know this...”

PATRIARCH RUN is a thoughtful and character-driven, coming-of-age story. Think of it as Jason Bourne meets Good Will Hunting.

Billy discovers that his father might be a traitor, that he was deployed to safeguard the United States from a cyberattack on its military networks. After that mission, his father disappeared along with the Chinese technology he was ordered to steal–a weapon powerful enough to sabotage the digital infrastructure of the modern age and force the human population into collapse. 
Against a backdrop of suspense, the novel explores the archetypal themes of fatherhood, rites of passage and self-acceptance through a set of characters that feel alive on the page.

That is considerably different from the typical book blurb, but it is attention getting. I really want to know who has that line of dialogue and what is going to happen.

In checking the book information on Amazon, I noted that many reviewers have had good things to say about the story and the writing:
What starts off as a typical "hero crawling out of a burning wreckage with no memory" opening turns into a rich, complex narrative about relationships, values, and sacrifice. The plot of Patriarch Run touches on the tangible, everyday subjects of loss, parenthood, coming-of-age, and self-acceptance against a backdrop of special ops forces, drug cartels, and exotic destinations, with a healthy dose of moral-dilemmas-upon-which-humanity's-fate-hinges thrown in.
Other readers have referred to it as a "masterful work" and "A book of truly excellent quality." If the rest of the book lives up to the standard set in the sample, I would have to agree, and I will definitely add this title to my list of books I want to read when things settle down for me.

Benjamin will be my Wednesday's Guest this week, so I do hope you will stop by and make him feel welcome. He has quite an interesting background, and I do admire folks who take a special interest in  young people. He is an adviser at Jefferson County Open School where he has made a career out of mentoring young people as they come of age. He wrote the novels Patriarch Run, In Sight of the Sun and Fidelity. He also writes about parenting and education. Learn more at

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday's Odds and Ends

Its a beautiful spring day here in East Texas and I was out early picking berries and then I took my dog for a walk. We have to enjoy these spring days before the blast of summer heat hits. Here is a picture of one of my favorite wildflowers. They grow abundantly in my front pasture and I have been known to drive around them when mowing.

 We're headed into run-off elections across the country and some of them could carry pretty hefty price tags. I like what one small town in Reeves County Texas did. The two candidates for city council, Bruce MacNair and Bryan Studer,  agreed to a coin toss to select the winner. All that cost was a quarter. A run-off election would have cost the small town of Wolfforth, which is near Lubbock, $10,000.

According to Texas election laws, a coin toss is a legal method to break a tie between two candidates, and it appears it may be legal in other states as well. In doing some research I found that a coin toss has been used in Illinois, New Mexico and even in the Philippines.

I have an idea. Why not make it law to have a coin toss to settle every election tie? Obviously those are the two candidates that most people wanted, and it could save so much money. And another plus is we would not have to suffer through all those horrid campaign ads that sling so much mud you want to put on your wading boots.

Here's a quarter to use.
 A Truthout article by Mike Ludwig shed new light on the controversial fracking method of extracting oil. Fracking is used in many states, Texas included, and right now there is an effort to halt the proposed fracking in areas surrounding New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park. If you would like to urge the Bureau of Land Management to deny this proposal, you can sign a petition HERE

After reading Ludwig's article that opened with, "Energy Information Administration officials told reporters on Wednesday that they are cutting their estimate of how much oil can be drawn out of California's massive Monterey Shale formation by a whopping 96 percent."

Fracking involves forcing gallons of water, containing chemicals, deep into the earth to break up rock formations.

Ummm... do we really want to keep doing that?

Now lets close with some fun. I got these jokes from The Laugh Factory in the Family Jokes category.

A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The bus driver says, "That's the ugliest baby that I've ever seen. Ugh!" The woman goes to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming. She says to a man next to her, "The driver just insulted me!" The man says, "You go right up there and tell him off – go ahead, I'll hold your monkey for you."

An elderly couple are in church. The wife leans over and whispers to her husband, "I just let out a long, silent fart. What should I do?" The husband replies, "First off, replace the batteries in your hearing aid!"

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Meet Marjorie Brody

Please welcome Marjorie Brody as my Wednesday's Guest today. I asked her for a quick introduction and she wrote: "I love scuba diving, the theatre, escaping into books, creating characters and stories from a blank page, my husband, our four children, and our five grandchildren—and not necessarily in that order. I met Maryann and her son at an Author and Artist event in Killeen, Texas, rapidly devoured her novel, One Small Victory, and hope our paths cross more often."

I second that motion, and since we both live in Texas, further meetings in person could happen. In the meantime, grab a glass of lemonade, sit back and enjoy the visit as we chat about... well, stuff.

Marjorie: Thank you for inviting me to It’s Not All Gravy, Maryann. I appreciate you reviewing my psychological suspense, Twisted, and especially admire your restraint in not giving away the ending. No apology needed for missing clues. While they begin on page one, they do remain subtle until Sarah needs them not to be. Thanks for reading her story. I hope it touched your heart. Now, you wanted to ask me some questions. I’m ready whenever you are.

Q.  If you could go back in time, what one thing would you change about yourself?
A. Ah, to have that kind of magic. I’d give myself more confidence earlier on, especially around academics. I think I’ve had an undiagnosed dyslexia and reading was always a challenge for me. I remember a teacher berating me because I reversed words in a sentence when I had to read in front of the class. “If the author wanted those words reversed, Margie, he would have written them that way.”

I can still feel my cheeks heat. I would try to figure out what section I’d be called on to read and would jump ahead to practice that section while my classmates read. Naturally, I heard nothing of what they read in class and would have to reread their sections at home. My first grade teacher told my parents never to expect too much of me academically, that I’d always be an average student. I wonder if that teacher’s definition of average included being on the Dean’s list, earning a doctoral degree, having three plays produced for the stage, publishing short stories and an award-winning novel. Wish I could speak with that first grade teacher now.

Q.  Before I ask the next question, isn't it great fun to be able to prove the nay-sayers wrong? I had a similar experience, but without all the degrees to follow. (smile) I know your background is in psychology, but I wonder if you have always wanted to be a writer?
A.  I’ve always written. In elementary school, it was poetry and what is now called flash fiction, in high school I wrote a novella. I continued to write poetry and short stories off and on, but didn’t know I would enter the field of fiction until 2001. My parents wanted me to become a teacher because, “God forbid something should happen to your husband (I wasn’t even married at the time), I would need a way to support myself and my children.”

I bet those beliefs must seem ancient to modern women.

I did teach for a brief time, but when my husband went on for a second Master’s degree and then a Doctoral degree, the competitive part of me wanted to keep up with him. Psychology and marriage and family therapy courses excited me and led me into a career as a psychotherapist. I developed a reputation for helping severely dysfunctional clients turn their lives around. I loved the challenge. It’s a sacred privilege when someone shares his/her journey with you. And when that person changes an unhealthy intergeneration behavior and makes things better for the next generation, wow, how awesome is that? But after decades in the field, my professional growth had peaked—and I always want to be growing and learning. Around the same time, my desire to write pushed to the surface and prompted me to attend the Santa Barbara’s Writing Conference (2001). I left that experience determined to write a novel. In 2007, I gave my clinical practice to a colleague and stepped into a full-time writing career.

Q.  It's wonderful that you were able to accomplish so much in another career and have now found your way to writing. On another note, I wonder what is your fondest childhood memory?
A.   Not only my fondest, but one of my earliest: I am 3 ½ - 4 years old. My parents, younger brother and I were visiting my grandparents in Florida. We were probably showing them my newest baby brother. My grandfather had a boat he’d take us out on (we kids would be tied by a cord so we didn’t fall over). He also had a mariner best friend we called Captain. One day during our visit—maybe because the new baby was getting so much attention—Captain took my brother and me to a toy store and told us we could buy anything we wanted. “Anything?” my brother asked, his eyes wide with excitement.

“Anything,” Captain said. The store seemed gigantic from my young eyes. I remember bicycles and tables and chair sets hanging from the ceiling. Captain waited at the register in the front of the store while I walked up and down aisles picking up and examining items of interest: tiny china dishes, games, doll houses, stuffed animals. I sat in cars that could really drive, walked in princess high heels, sat on a rocking horse twice my size. I finally decided on a four-foot high doll dressed in a long wedding gown, a veil and heels. She held a bouquet of cloth flowers in her hand. The box declared her Betsy the Beautiful Bride. I cherished that doll for years. What struck me so vividly about that experience was the vast freedom the Captain had given us. We could have anything we wanted. The power to choose. Hmm, I hadn’t consciously associated this memory with Sarah’s, my protagonist in Twisted, until this very minute, but for those of you who read it, you’ll understand the connection.

Q.  Ah, I do see the connection. It is so interesting when one of our childhood memories slips into a story. I know you like books and theatre, but I'm curious if you have a favorite movie?
A.  I’m not sure I have a favorite movie, but I do have a  favorite scene. In Camelot, King Arthur (Richard Harris) and Guinevere (Vanessa Redgrave) dance to the song “What Do The Little Folk Do”. I have never been fond of that song, but there is a moment when they are dancing and the viewer knows that King Arthur knows that Guinevere is having an affair and Guinevere knows that he knows, and he knows that she knows he knows—you get the idea—and not one word is said directly about their painful awareness. Wow, what powerful subtext. That’s one of the things I like in novels too, when the reader can tell that something else is going on under the surface but it’s not overtly written on the page.

Q.  That is a good point about things not being overly written on the page or shown in a scene. I love an actor's ability to say so much without one word. Now the final question, just for fun,  do you have a pet?
A.  Oh, I’m so glad you asked that, Maryann. I do. in the past I’ve had cats, as well as medium-sized dogs—often at the same time. Now, I have the sweetest nine-pound Yorkiepoo, named Cuddles, who lives up to her name. Like a proud Momma, I’ll share this picture with you.

 Thanks for the picture of Cuddles. As my friend LD Masterson would say, "Aw!" Also, thanks so much for the fun interview and the great read.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Marjorie Brody is an award-winning author and Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her short stories appear in literary magazines and the Short Story America Anthology, Vols. I, II and III. Her debut psychological suspense novel, TWISTED, delves into the secrets that emerge following a sexual assault at a high school dance and features a remarkable teen who risks everything to expose the truth. Twisted was awarded the 2014 Best Young Adult Fiction Book Award from the Texas Association of Authors and an Honorable Mention at the 2013 Great Midwest Book Festival. Twisted is available in print and ebook at

The second Tuesday of each month you will find her blog at the Stiletto Gang (a group of female mystery writers) Marjorie invites you to visit her website or on Twitter  @MarjorieEBrody1 or on her Facebook page She can be reached via email at

BOOK BLURB: Timid fourteen-year-old Sarah wants her controlling mother to stop prying into what happened the night of the freshman dance. Confide in the woman? No way. Her mother will say Sarah is totally to blame for what the boys did—which Sarah believes is true. Confess to the police? Get real. She just needs to hide the truth. From Momma. From the police. From everyone.

A mysterious connection pulls her toward Judith, a beautiful, confident, eighteen-year-old with the seemingly perfect life. Acting as Sarah’s sole confidante, Judith gains the power to expose Sarah’s secret. Will the truth be worth the sacrifice? Or will Sarah stop at nothing to keep Judith quiet?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

Actually, its almost Monday afternoon musings. The morning almost got away from me before I started this post. As I shared on Friday, I was out of town over the weekend to celebrate my daughter's graduation and got home late in the afternoon yesterday. That meant that this morning I had to finish unpacking, put my bedroom back in order after the cats had wrecked havoc for two days pulling things out of dresser drawers, play with the dog for a while and visit my horse to let him know I still love him. There are priorities in life, you know. (smile)

While I was in the Dallas area, we went to the Klyde Warren Park that was built near the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Dallas Museum of Art. The park was built as part of the revitalization of the arts district in Dallas, and it is a lovely spot to visit and eat lunch. I was with my daughter and her family and we all really enjoyed the visit, the good food, and the tour through the Nasher. Overall, it was very impressive, except, however, for the use of water.

All of the grounds at the park and the Nasher were covered with lush green grass and a variety of plants and bushes that all need gallons and gallons of water to maintain. In one section of the park, more sod was being laid because the first installment of grass burned up in last summer's heat, then froze in the bitter winter we had in Texas this year. There was only a sprinkling of native grasses that can thrive on less water and less chemicals.

If the drought in Texas continues, and there is every indication that it will, we need to start focusing on using lots and lots less water. It is past time that we tried to force green lawns and landscaping to survive by dumping precious water on it. Otherwise there may not be water for our grandchildren to drink. Or if there is, a month's supply of water might cost more than a month of electricity, or even a house payment.

On a more positive note, I read a story in the Dallas Morning News about a wonderful event to be held at the Meyerson Symphony Center this coming Wednesday. It is called "Mr Parker's Opus" and will honor Michael Parker, an innovative music teacher who started a show chorus long before the television series Glee was even thought of. He taught in a number of schools in Louisiana and Texas before settling at W.T. White in 1999. After forty-plus years as a music teacher, Parker is retiring, but he is leaving quite a legacy. Students who have been in his choirs have said they learned so much more than just songs, and parents praise him for bringing out so much confidence and poise in their children.

Last year, Dallas School Superintendent Mike Miles attended a W.T. White concert, and Miles had already stated that he could only stay about 30 minutes because of another commitment. Miles was so impressed with the polish of the students and the professionalism of the show, he stayed for the entire concert.

This is just another example of the importance of the arts in education.

Lastly, here is a direct link to the television interview I did last Friday before going out of town. The program is East Texas Live, and they have a number of short segments throughout the hour-long show. I was just one of the Friday features.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Book Review - Twisted by Marjorie Brody

Marjorie Brody
Paperback: 252 pages
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books (March 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 161194256X
ISBN-13: 978-1611942569
Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches

In this thoughtful story we meet Sarah Hausman, a teen who has been traumatized by a rape and thinks she must pretend it didn't happen, and she absolutely can not tell her parents. Then we meet Judith, who is struggling to hang on to a relationship when the man she loves has gone to take care of family business.

As the story progresses, we find that Sarah has much more to hide, and the novel really lives up to the title by twisting the story every which way. Some of the people aren't who we thought they were, and incidents certainly aren't what they first appeared to be. Be ready for some surprises.

I really liked the ending, but to say what I liked would give away too many of those surprises, so I will refrain. On the other hand, I did have a bit of a hard time hanging in to read the whole story. Some of the characters were so unlikeable, and did things that didn't seem to fit, that I almost stopped reading when I was about half-way through the book. I'm glad I didn't put it down, though, because from the middle on, the story picked up, the twists were revealed and I was saying, "Ah, so that's what was going on."

That was also when I really started to enjoy how Marjorie uses craft, and I could see how she won a Pushcart nomination. This is not a novel for light reading and don't expect something that would fit in a genre. That said, I do wish there had been some early hints of what was really going on in the story. I felt like the story took me in one direction, then changed course with no turn signal. That did not bother other readers and reviewers, as comments on Amazon attest, but I found it a bit disconcerting. If hints were there and I missed them, I apologize to Marjorie. 

Marjorie is an award-winning writer and a retired psychotherapist. She will be my Wednesday's Guest this week, so I do hope you will come back and meet her. I met her at an author event a few months ago, and enjoyed getting to know her.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Not What You Expected

I'm traveling again this weekend - right after my five minutes of fame on television - so I am preparing this in advance. It's always nice to have something posted on the days I say I am going to post. (smile)

Today I want to honor my daughter, Anjanette, who now likes to be called Anj even though as a child she never wanted her name shortened. I find that mildly amusing, but I digress.

The reason I want to writer about her is because she is such an amazing woman and the epitome of what a strong woman can accomplish. She is graduating from UTD today with a Master's in Humanities, earned over several years while running her own business. Years ago, when she walked across the stage to get her first degree in psychology, I thought my heart would burst with pride and joy. Not just because she got the degree, but for how she surmounted so many challenges to get that degree.

She was a single mother of three who got little support from her first husband. She worked at a day-care, accepted what government assistance and financial aid she was eligible for, and had no financial support from us as my husband was out of work during much of that time. With the help of a couple of close friends, one that later became her current husband, she managed to work and get to classes and write her papers and take the exams and graduate with a high 3 point average.

We talked shortly after that first graduation, and I told her how proud I was that she had been able to persevere. There'd been so many times she would call me to say she didn't think she could finish. She didn't think she could make herself do one more thing. "But you did it," I told her that graduation day. "Look what you accomplished. Virtually all by yourself."

Anj and her husband, George
Now Anj is considering what the future will be. Her three children are grown - she was a very young mother and I was a very, very, young grandmother LOL. She loves books and stories, so maybe she will do more writing. But she is also thinking about teaching literature at a university.

Whatever she decides, I know she will do well, She is standing on the strongest foundation I know of; self confidence and strength of character.

So again, I want to tell her how proud I am of her. "Look at what you have accomplished."

Oh, and it just happens to be her birthday, too. Let's all sing along, "Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Anj, happy birthday to you."

My five minutes of fame is going to be on KETK TV - the East Texas NBC affiliate. They have a feature from 11 to noon - East Texas Live and I will be on the show to talk about my Seasons Mystery Series. It may take a day or so for my feature to be online. It will be taped Friday morning, but I don't know if it gets uploaded right away.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Pigtails? Curls? Perms?

Please welcome Becky Lewellen Povich as today's Wednesday's Guest. She is the author of the memoir, From Pigtails to Chin Hairs, that I reviewed on Sunday. Today, Becky has quite a hairstyle dilemma, so maybe we can help her out.

Grab a donut and a cup of coffee and read on....

When I was a little girl I had two distinct hair styles: pigtails/braids or short, curly hair, due to Tonette Home Perms my mother bestowed upon me. I hated getting those stinky perms! No wonder these days I have such fine, thin hair. I can’t blame her entirely, though. When I was in my 30s and 40s I continued to get perms once in a while but only at hair salons. Everyone on the maternal side of my family had fine hair and even though it doesn’t seem possible, mine was probably the “thickest.”

This is not Becky, but I had to find a picture when I remembered that awful smell.
Now, my hair is at that state where I have what I would call “bald spots.” I was with a group of women recently and the conversation somehow turned to our thinning hair. One was delicately trying to persuade me that all I needed was lots of freezing hair spray to get my short hair to stay in place. I explained to her that I already did that, and yet my hair would just fall flat after only an hour or so.

She then suggested I try something that would be today’s version of Dippity-do; something like Bed Head gel. (I’ve never tried that brand because with a name like that, all I can think is that my hair would look even worse than usual.)

What I really need is a product like Ron Popeil’s hair spray. Yes, that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do: Spray hair onto your head! I remember seeing it on a TV commercial years ago and thought “Yeah, right!” But, hey, who am I to say if it really works or not. I haven’t even tried it. The next time I look in the mirror and see more bare spots on my noggin, I think I’ll order a can or two. What could happen? It says it will easily shampoo out…..

In From Pigtails to Chin Hairs: A Memoir & More, Becky Lewellen Povich takes us from her young Midwest childhood in the 1950s to present day St. Peters, Missouri. Each chapter is a scene from everyday life and/or unexpected events written in the way only Povich can, with humor and poignancy woven into them. She relates tales of Christmases, summertime fun, selling homemade potholders and putting on parades, the kids next door, classmates, her fear of the dentist and her parents' scheme to help, plus long car rides visiting grandparents in small town Iowa.

She willingly shares the bittersweet times, too, which include her parents' divorce, major disappointments, preteen and teenage angst, a whack on her head from a falling crowbar, and her ill-fated first marriage, spent mostly in Germany. She also comically writes about her happy second marriage, cell phones, dishwashers, and how she was born with a klutz gene.

"Becky Povich has a light and whimsical way with words, and a knack for making the everyday seem a bit more special." - Philip Gulley, bestselling author of Porch Talk Series, Harmony Series, Hometown Tales, I Love You Miss Huddleston, and more.

Becky Lewellen Povich has numerous publications, including stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul books and other anthologies. Becky is currently working on her sequel due out in 2015, which contains more memories and anecdotes. For more information, Becky’s blog: and website:

I'm over at The Blood Red Pencil blog today with some memories of my own and some commentary about how important it is to have these memories written down, if for no other reason than to share them with future generations. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fun at McDonald's

Since I missed my usual Monday offering - I was out of town - I thought I would share a bit of fun from the humor column I used to write. It, too, was called It's Not All Gravy, and I wrote that column for seven years for a Dallas suburban newspaper. Enjoy....

When the kids were young and only the three older ones were in school, very often the high point of my week was taking the twins to McDonald's Funland for lunch. It was one of the few places I could safely take them and still relax. Plus it offered a nice break from our usual fare of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It also provided an opportunity to be in a social setting, while not fully entering into it.

I could sit at my table with my cheeseburger and fries and observe the variety of folks who frequented this outdoor eating/play area.

There was the Super-Mom. You know the one I’m talking about. The mother who takes exceptionally good care of her own kids and anyone else's that happens to be nearby. I could always count on her to console Danielle when she fell off the slide and would just smile when she would shoot me a withering look for ignoring my poor child.

There was the Super-Athlete, who flexed muscles I'd never even heard of as she pushed her child on the merry-go-round. And I still wish I knew how these women could be so active and not sweat.

There was the Super-Sophisticate, who handled any situation that arose calmly and with finesse, from her kid's scraped knee to squashed French fries on the seat of her pants. She was the one who intervened in squabbles over whose turn it was to go down the slide next as if she were addressing the UN Security Council. I was more inclined to let the kids settle it themselves.

There was the Super-Protector who hovered around her child at all times, keeping him out of potentially dangerous situations. She would rush him off to the hospital to have his stomach pumped if he ate something off the ground. She could shoot the most disdaining looks if your child’s grubby hand touched her Bradley’s bag of Animal Crackers.

Then there was the Super-Intellect who dazzled anyone within earshot with her command of world affairs, while the rest of us discussed daytime television and the price of Pampers.

Our trip to McDonald's could also be a very good opportunity for the twins to pick up some of the fine points of social behavior. They learned quickly that the best way to win friends and influence people was definitely not by pushing some kid off the merry-go-round and smugly watching him cry. Nor was it by smashing French fries in another kid's hair, or by beating someone else with the blunt end of a hamburger. And it most certainly was not by stealing some kid's box of McDonald's cookies and hiding under the table with them. 
So, for a mere $6.35 *I got lunch for three (including dessert) with a hint of Emily Post, a chance to be in touch with the outside world and a unique atmosphere rivaling only the monkey cage at the zoo.

* For a price check, keep in mind this was a long, long, long time ago.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Book Review -From Pigtails to Chin Hairs by Becky Lewellen Povich

From Pigtails to Chin Hairs
Becky Lewellen Povich
File Size: 967 KB
Print Length: 205 pages
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English

This memoir begins with a fond look back at the 50's and then brings the readers to the present time as Ms. Povich recalls the moments in her life that shaped her as the person she is today. Sometimes funny and sometimes poignant, it is a book that will stir memories in readers who grew up in the same time period. For younger readers, it is a look back at a way of life that didn't include cell phones, home computers, the Internet and many of the social problems that plague modern society.

Some memoirs are written to impart some great truth learned through a particularly difficult struggle - Angela's Ashes for example - but this one is not centered on that kind of profound truth. It is an accumulation of little truths learned through those good and those bad times that happen to ordinary people; marriage, family, divorce, children, jobs and more. Povich writes with a mix of humor and thoughtfulness and the reader can't help but smile and nod. She is also honest about the things in her life that were not as pleasant as others, such as her parent's divorce and her first marriage that ended badly.

We can all relate to much of what she shares. We have fond memories of special family gatherings, and we have not-so-fond memories of the things that challenged us and challenged our relationships. That's life, and life is what this book embraces.

While I enjoyed the trip down memory lane and for the most part found the writing engaging, the editor in me did want to get out her red pencil and make some suggestions. Some sections of the book seemed rushed, as if the author wanted to hurry to the next anecdote and didn't spend enough time with the present one to make a good story better. However, that did not take away from the overall enjoyment of the book, and there were plenty of scenes that were crafted with lovely prose.


Becky is going to be my guest on Wednesday, so I do hope you will come back and meet her. She has written a funny piece about those awful home permanents that some of us suffered through as kids. If you have a fond (LOL) memory of the Toni Home Permanents, do come back on Wednesday and share it. Maybe you even remember the commercial?


Before I go, I do want to wish all the mothers who might happen by today a Happy Mother's Day. I hope you are all having a wonderful day being spoiled by your families. A few years ago I wrote a blog piece about Mother's Day that you might enjoy reading.

    Friday, May 09, 2014

    Dreams Never Die

    Since you are smarter than the average bear, you have already figured out this will not be my usual Friday Odds and Ends post. I am heading out of town for an Art & Author Faire at the Georgetown, Texas library, and will spend the rest of the weekend with my son and his family who live in Austin. Great way to start Mother's Day weekend, which is especially hard for me this year. So today I have a guest piece from humorist, Slim Randles who writes the popular syndicated column Home Country. His story resonated with me as "continuing a dream" is the theme of one of my stories in my collection, The Wisdom of Ages.  

    When old Ben died recently, the town was saddened, but probably not for the usual reasons. Ben had been widowed for nearly 20 years and had lived alone in the house where he and Judith had raised their boy, John.

    He’d had a lot of health problems, there at the last, too. Things weren’t easy for him.

    Sometimes when a guy is in that shape, people nod and smile slightly at his passing and say, “Well, in a way it’s a blessing, isn’t it.

     But not with old Ben. There’s the sailboat, you see.

    After Judith died – and Judith was the most practical woman in town – Ben started buying and reading magazines about sailboats. Then he cut the front off the barn/garage out in back, and began building one. He drew crowds with his work for a while. Everyone stopped by from time to time, and we all know it is to be 32 feet long and a gaff-rigged – not Marconi-rigged – sloop. Said they look more like real sailboats.

    Eccentric? Well, maybe. Eccentricities last a year or two, but a 20-year project is a lot closer to being an obsession.

    When Ben could afford more of the special wood he was using, he bought it. Sometimes all he’d get were some of those little brass whatchits to put along the side. But each time something came, there was work going on out in that garage. Ben took pride in the project being pay-as-you-go, so he wouldn’t owe anybody when he finally put it in the ocean.

    Ben died before that happened, and that saddened us greatly. We might chuckle a bit behind his back, but we also secretly envied him and admired him for building that boat.

    After Ben passed, his son John brought his wife and children to live in the little house. After a few weeks, we heard activity out in the garage, and we found John working on his dad’s boat.  It would, he said, eventually sail.

    There is no statute of limitations on dreams.                            

    Brought to you by the new CD “Having Fun in New Mexico,” Fifteen stories by Slim Randles.   Slim's books have some of the same thoughtful and humorous commentary and are well worth the read. One of my favorites is Sun Dog Days.

    Wednesday, May 07, 2014

    Best Lines From The Dr Pepper Prophecies

    Today I'm pleased to have Jennifer Gilby Roberts as Wednesday's Guest. She is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the release of her novel, The Dr Pepper Prophecies, and there are all kinds of fun and prizes to be had. I reviewed the book last October, and I am happy to help her celebrate the anniversary. I thought it was a novel idea - pardon the pun - to celebrate the release date of a book, so I was glad to be invited to the party. No party would be complete without refreshments, so let's all grab a Dr. Pepper and visit with Jennifer.

    If you don't want to drink a Dr Pepper, you can have a piece of Dr Pepper cake instead. Or both. (smile)
    Image Courtesy of Amy Johnson at her blog She Wears Many Hats where you can find a recipe for the cake.
    Hi, Maryann, and thanks for the lovely review you did for my book, and how nice of you to serve us all some Dr Pepper and that amazing cake. 

    When I wrote The Dr Pepper Prophecies, what I wanted most was to make people laugh. You can’t always manage that, because everyone has a slightly different sense of humour.  But many reviewers have commented that particularly scenes and lines in the book made them smile and sometimes howl with laughter. So, I think I achieved my goal. 

    When Maryann reviewed it, she said, “I wanted to highlight the many funny moments and cute phrasing that made me smile.  Had I done so, I would have highlighted half of the book.”  Even in the more serious bits, some lines have managed to strike a chord with readers.  I’d like to share some of the best lines from the book:

    The one most highlighted by readers:
    “Chocolate is God’s way of saying sorry to women for giving them men.”
    The one that captures the essence of the quarter-life crisis:
    “I don’t know what I want,' I say despondently.  'I only know that I don’t have it.”

    The one that reveals the problem with the chick flick fantasy:
    “Sometimes I think how much nicer it would be if my life were a movie.  Although, I’d prefer it to last longer than two hours.”
    The one about the difficulties of explaining where babies come from:
    “A thought occurs to me. ‘I don’t suppose your mother went in for safe sex lectures, did she?’ I ask. I remember my mother trying to explain it to me.  The memory continues to surface no matter how hard I try to suppress it.  She began by explaining that babies start as seeds and every woman had a special place inside her to plant them in – sort of like a grow bag.  It went downhill from there.”

    The one that one reviewer felt was deeply philosophical:
    “There are too many hills in my life.”

    The one Maryann liked the best:
    “I've slipped into denial now.  I've always liked denial.  The sky is always blue and there's never a queue at the post office.”

    If you’ve already read The Dr Pepper Prophecies, do you have a favourite line?  If you haven’t, read on for a giveaway!
    To celebrate The Dr Pepper Prophecies’ one-year anniversary since publication, Jennifer Gilby Roberts is giving away one paperback and five ebook copies!  Enter on Rafflecopter.  You can also find out about her other great celebration offers, giveaways, and extras on her blog.
    About the Book

    25-year-old Mel Parker has a few tiny problems:
    ·    Her job is terrible
    ·    She's been dumped yet again
    ·    Her ex is now her boss
    ·    Her parents think she's a loser compared to her perfect younger sister
    ·    All her efforts to improve her life seem doomed to failure
    ·    Her best friend, Will, is in grave danger of being stolen away by his evil girlfriend
    ·    There just isn’t enough chocolate in the world to make up for the above.
    So what do you do when you've pretty much given up on your own life? Help others, of course!

    After all, what's the worst that can happen?
    Buy for Kindle or in paperback on, and other Amazon sites.  The paperback is also available from Barnes & Noble.

    Monday, May 05, 2014

    Monday Morning Musings

    Heading into a busy week for me. Later today I will be visiting with some writers who want me to share my series "bible." That term is most often used for television series, and a bible for screenwriters is a reference document that is used for information on a series' characters, settings, and other elements.  I have developed my own version of the bible for my Seasons Mystery Series, using 5-subject notebooks, in which I keep track of character names and other information that is important for me to reference from book to book.

    Folks much more computer savvy than I am, do remind me that there is great software available for doing the same thing, and some day I might consider trying that out. For now, however, I do like the process of picking up a pen and making notes. Maybe because I started out eons ago writing longhand in notebooks. I love notebooks and have way too many of them. (smile)

    This coming weekend, I will be near Austin at the Georgetown Public Library. There is an Art and Author Fair on Saturday, May 10 from 1 to 4 in the afternoon, sponsored by the Central Texas Authors organization. If you live in or close to Austin, come on by. It would be so much fun to meet some of you in person. I love what they are calling the event, "Look in the Book." Clever, don't you think?

    My daughter made this new banner for me to use for my flyers that I hand out at events. She does such a terrific job, and most of those book covers are her designs.

    See the larger images on my Amazon Author Page
    Yesterday I met with my troupe of Young Players at the Winnsboro Center For the Arts to plan the Nite of Comedy. This is an annual event we started a few years ago, and many of the kids who have come through the Summer Drama Camp are part of the troupe. They are a talented group of kids, and we have so much fun putting this all together. Here is a picture from a rehearsal last year,

    The Nite of Comedy kicks off the year of theatrical productions at the Art Center, so I will be busy from now until December, with only a week or two in between closing a show and holding auditions for another.

    Now to start your week off with a chuckle, here is a joke:

    How much deeper would the ocean be, if SPONGES didn't grow in it?

    Now it's your turn. How is your week shaping up?

    Sunday, May 04, 2014

    Book Review - Actually Two Reviews

    Some time ago, before life threw me another curve, I was sent two books by Hollady House Publishing for possible review. Since then, other requests have come in, and I want to get as many reviews in as I can, especially if I like the books.

    First up is Tidal Pools by Lawrence Thackston. The mystery features Tyler Miles, a newly recruited patrolman with the Galeegi Police Department who investigates the questionable suicide of Jaja, the prime suspect in a 40-year-old murder case. Jaja has just returned to the coast of South Carolina, where he had grown up, and is found dead in the lighthouse.

    The old murder case was never solved, and it looks like this latest might not be either. Powerful and rich families will do anything to keep the truth from coming out, and as the book jacket description says, Tyler is soon "swept up in a tidal wave of violence and deceit that threatens to impact the entire Lowcountry."

    For the most part, the writing is excellent and the story is well-paced. There is also a strong sense of place, and there has always been something so alluring about that part of the East Coast that draws people. Tyler was a likeable character, as was Chief Tate, but Hank Johnson, the senior officer at the department, was a bit too stereotypical, bumbling and inept and treating Tyler like an incoming freshman being hazed by an upperclassman.

    The publishing company is based in South Carolina, so it was not a huge surprise to get a second book set in that part of the country, The Handyman by Christopher Watson is billed as a mystery, and there is a bit of a mystery in the story, but the main focus is on John Wright who is trying to find a reason not to kill himself. A year ago, he was a successful construction contractor in Charleston, SC with a wife and a young daughter. Life was good, and looking better when he was about to get a big contract, but then the unthinkable happened. His wife and daughter were killed in an automobile accident.

    Now, John is barely holding himself together as he struggles with PTS and drinks too much. He is seeing a therapist, but can't bring himself to tell the therapist the awful thing that drives his terrible feeling of guilt.

    When the story opens, John has decided to kill himself the following weekend, but first he has a job to do for a nice old lady, Mrs. Halford. He has been working as a handyman and has to take care of this one last thing. What he doesn't count on is being pulled into her grief over her daughter's apparent suicide, that she believes was actually murder.

    While working in Mrs. Halford's house, John starts seeing weird things and wonders if that is the result of too much bourbon. Then he hears voices; like the daughter is talking to him. But how can she? She's lying in a hospital bed hooked to a ventilator - brain dead.

    How John sorts this out and the people he meets along the way all make for a good story, but don't expect the typical murder mystery. The real mystery is whether John will survive and will he ever be whole again.

    Friday, May 02, 2014

    Friday's Odds and Ends

    In writing this blog post today I experimented with using Dragon Naturally Speaking. I have arthritis in my hands so sometimes that makes typing a challenge, and I thought I would see how this dictating program works. I think once I get more used to using my voice instead of my fingers, the process will go faster and won't feel so awkward. For someone who has used their fingers to transfer what is in their head to a page for so long this new way is going to take some getting used to, but then I adjusted to writing directly with a keyboard to a computer some years ago when I started my writing career the real old-fashioned way - pen and paper. No, not an inkwell and a quill. That was Shakespeare.

    Anyway, on with the news.

    If anyone thought racism was dead, the asinine remarks from Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling that got him banned from the NBA, shows bigotry is alive and well.

    Then there was Nevada cattle rancher, Cliven Bundy and his comment about African-Americans, "I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?" A totally insensitive remark, but then he is not known for sensitivity. Bundy has been battling the federal government over grazing rights on federal land, and early in April, the government confiscated 900 head of his cattle and demanded that he pay $1 million in grazing fees. I think that segued into his making the comment about "negroes" because he also lost his federal ranching subsidy, while Welfare still supports so many African American families.

    Some people need a verbal self-edit button.

    On a much more pleasant note: Last Friday during the annual Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day at the White house, Charlotte Bell, a 10-year-old girl, spoke to Michelle Obama, "My dad's been out of a job for three years, and I wanted to give you his resume." That led to this touching picture.

    Image Courtesy of Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
    According to the news story, Michelle took the resume with her when she left the forum. It would be nice to know if she helps the girl's father get a job.

    Today's fun from the comic strips comes from Doonesbury. In the first frame we see a receptionist at a doctor's office and she says, "Mr. Andrews? The doctor will see you now."

    From offstage Mr. Andrews says, "No he won't."  Andrews then walks up to the receptionist and continues. "I've been waiting since 2:30. Here." He hands her piece of paper.

    She asks, "What's this?"

    He responds, "My bill for two wasted hours. When I miss an appointment you send me a bill right? Why is the doctor's time valuable but the patient's is worth nothing? I reject that model!"

    The receptionist looks at the paper, "$16,000?"

    Mr. Andrews is walking away and he says, "I'm having a good year."

    This next one is from Baldo. Gracie and her father are sitting at the kitchen table and Gracie asks, "Papi, do you think I could run for political office?"

    To which he replies, "Well Gracie you're very young. Your view of life is simple and narrow. Your vocabulary is limited and you don't understand big complicated issues."

    Listening to him say all that, Gracie looks sadder and sadder, but then he finally says, "I say go for it."

    Now, for no other reason than they are so lovely, here is a picture of my Azaleas that are in full bloom. I do love the spring flowers.