Monday, June 30, 2014

Some Fun For Monday

I know I was going to take time off from blogging, but we had such a good time at the Nite of Comedy on Saturday at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts, and I wanted to share some of the pictures and videos. I love working with this talented group of Young Players, and we had help from a few selected adults doing some music. First up is a video of The Peckerwood Junction Band  with Doc Davis.


Here are some of the kids doing Improv


More Improv


First we had to have the rules for improv. Somebody had to be the boss, so Nona took charge. (I do love taking charge and also absolutely love being Nona. She is such a great character to play.)


"Do bee stings make people cranky?"
"YES!! Now please just get the stinger out."


The improv grande finale.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Book Review - The Fourth Season by Dorothy Johnston

The Fourth Season
Dorothy Johnston
File Size: 759 KB
Print Length: 229 pages
Publisher: Wakefield Press (November 20, 2013)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B00GTDEYD6

This is a beautifully written mystery with a strong literary feel to the style. There were many places where I highlighted the text so I could go back and savor the use of words to paint a picture. It is such a joy to discover those well-crafted sections of a novel:
 I could see that the woman had made an effort, put on a certain kind of armour, but her lipstick was smudged and some had transferred itself to her teeth. Her eyes looked like two muddy puddles that some small child or dog had run through, making shapeless footprints. Though Laila's mother had painted her face bravely, now she didn't care if two strange women, who might, for all she knew, have been close to her daughter, saw the ruin.
Laila's murder is one of two that may be tied together, and this is what private investigator Sandra Mahoney gets pulled into, even though it might be better for her to leave it all alone. Her partner, Ivan, is one of the suspects and his odd behavior does nothing to ease the interest by the police.

Sandra and Ivan are partners at home, too, and he is the father of her second child, though they have never married. Their relationship is anything but normal to begin with, and it is complicated further by the fact that Ivan knew Laila and was probably in love with her.

I loved many things about the book. The descriptions put the reader right into the setting. The characters are diverse and well-presented. I dare anyone not to relate to Sandra on some level, and her 16-year-old son, Peter, was one of the best teen characters in an adult book that I have read in a long time. The narrative was never tedious, even though it does not have that quick, sharp pace that many commercial mysteries do, and the dialogue was smooth and real.

That said, I must agree with one reviewer on Amazon who stated that there was not enough information in the earliest part of the story about Sandra or her profession. I didn't realize she was a private detective until well into the story, and that bothered me. Of course, if one reads the book blurb, that information is there, but what if the reader doesn't bother with all that front material and goes right to the first chapter? Many readers have told me they don't even read a prologue, let alone all the introductory information about a book.

Still, that is not enough of a problem for me to hold back on a recommendation to read the book. In fact, I highly recommend it. The mystery is quite a tangled web that Sandra slowly figures out, while dealing with the challenges of a personal relationship so fragile it teeters on the breaking point.

This is the fourth book in the Sandra Mahoney Series, which started with The Trojan Dog, The White Tower and Eden.  The author will be my Wednesday's Guest this week, so do try to come back to meet her and find out some of the interesting research she did for Eden.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Dorothy Johnston is an award-winning Australian author of literary and crime novels, as well as short stories. She is known for her interest in the subject of prostitution. Her first novel, Tunnel Vision is set in a Melbourne massage parlour and she has returned to the subject in recent years, notably in her novels, The House at Number 10 and Eden - the third book in her Sandra Mahoney mystery series - and in her short story collection, 'Eight Pieces On Prostitution'. She lived in Canberra, Australia's national capital for thirty years, and she has written widely about that experience as well.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Before I close for today, I do need to wish my twins a Happy Birthday. Wasn't it just a year or so ago that you were born? LOL

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday's Odds and Ends

There was an interesting pro and con debate on the death penalty in The Dallas Morning News last Sunday. Leon Neyfakh, a staff writer for the Boston Globe wrote, "People who share a deep worry about government overreach, who believe in the sanctity of life and who place great importance on fiscal responsibility should not support a policy that empowers the state to spend large sums of money killing people."

I thought that was a great point. Most people don't stop to think about how much more it costs the government - and ultimately us via our taxes - to execute someone than to keep that same someone in prison for the rest of his or her life. This study of the costs of the death penalty shows that the difference can be significant, up to six times more in some states.

It's never been a secret that I am against the death penalty. To me it is more about revenge than justice. "Something horrible happened and this despicable person was responsible so let's kill the bastard."


Moving on to something more pleasant, the other day I read an excellent blog piece in  The Blood Red Pencil blog by Kathryn Craft. She offered this advice about editing, and editing again, before putting a book out. "Learn your lessons ahead of time, folks, and apply them pre-publication—not on your reader’s dime."

That is most appropriate at this time when anyone can be an author and get a book published via the many online opportunities. What has been happening in the e-book industry is interesting. As more and more books are published, sales are bouncing all over the place. Some writers have noticed a significant drop in sales - myself included - and we have come to the conclusion that the market is saturated. And not just saturated, but saturated with too many books of poor quality, so readers are going elsewhere.

Who can blame them? I hate to spend even $2.99 for a book that is poorly crafted and poorly edited. Maybe not edited at all. What Kathryn pointed out in her article is a problem with careful editing, even in books coming from traditional publishers. One of the issues she pointed out was the use of common phrases that are almost cliches in their overuse, as well as needless repetition of the same gestures and certain words.

We all tend to write the common, the ordinary, the first thing that comes to mind in our first drafts, but that is not good enough. When working with a client, I try to encourage them to rise above the ordinary in what they are writing. It is their choice to do that or not. But they will gain and keep more readers by giving them something fresh and different.

Okay, here's your Friday Joke from The Laugh Factory:

A man buys a lie detector robot that slaps people who lie. He decides to test it at dinner. He asks his son, "Son, where were you today during school hours?"

 "At school." The robot slaps the son. "Okay, I went to the movies!"

The father asks, "Which one?"

"Harry Potter." The robot slaps the son again. "Okay, I was watching porn!"

The father replies, "What? When I was your age I didn't even know what porn was!" The robot slaps the father.

The mom chimes in, "Haha! After all, he is your son!" The robot slaps the mother.

And let's finish with a pleasant picture. These are some roses blooming in one part of my flower bed.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Let's Go Fishing

Humor writer Slim Randles is back as today's Wednesday's Guest. This piece reminds me of all the great times I had fishing over the years. I can almost taste the perch we caught on the lake in Michigan and cleaned and fried right there on the beach. Yum. Then there were all the wall-eyes in South Dakota. Still my favorite fish. I caught quite a few trout in Nebraska, but they are my least favorite to eat. My garden sure loved them though. If you have a favorite fishing story, do share it if you'd like. Meanwhile, let's have a cool glass of lemonade this hot Texas day and enjoy....


Image Courtesty of KitchenTalks.com where you can read about the history of lemonade

“What do you figure he’ll weigh now, Doc?” said Steve. Mavis topped off their cups at the philosophy counter of the Mule Barn coffee shop.

“A good three pounds, if my guessing is any good,” Doc said, shaking his head.

“Your dog?” asked Mavis.

“No, Hon,” Doc said with a smile, “Ol’ Lunker, that big trout down in Lewis Creek.”

The best fly tying and fly fishing had failed to bring O.L. to the net for a long time now. Oh, sometimes he’d investigate a fly closely and start a near panic attack in the angler, but then he’d turn back into his hole and let the fly drift on by. It was maddening.

“Maybe he’s just smart,” Dud said.

“Instinct, I think,” said Doc. “I just don’t think any trout is all that smart. But instinct could account for it. He knows what he wants to eat, and somehow, the flies we send him just don’t quite look right, or smell right, or float properly, or sink fast enough. Who knows?”

“I’ve tied my best for him,” Marvin Pincus said, looking semi-depressed. “I swear I don’t know what that fish wants.”

“You’re the best fly tier in the valley, Marvin,” Steve added. “If your flies can’t do it, I’m wondering if anything can.”

“Have you tried using bait?” Mavis asked. “My brother does okay with worms and salmon eggs.”

Every member of the world dilemma think tank gave hostile stares at their friendly waitress until she remembered something in the kitchen and left in a hurry.

“Bait? Use BAIT?” Doc moaned.

Marvin nodded. “Might just as well shoot the dang fish.”

Life, after all, would mean nothing without standards and values. 
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Brought to you by Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing. Learn more at www.lpdpress.com

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday Morning Musings - Save the Earth

The other day I had a conversation with a friend about environmental issues. We were both outraged that gas prices at the pump jumped the minute there was a whisper of unrest in Iraq. Even before the U.S. supply of oil is affected by any kind of disaster or political uprising in a mid-east country, the large oil companies hike the price of gas overnight. Shame on the big gas giants.

Our conversation segued into the short-sightedness of so many when it comes to the desperate search for more fossil fuels. We are both opposed to the XL Pipeline, as well as the tar-sands oil itself. Not only is the pipeline an ecological disaster waiting to happen, the process of mining the oil is detremental to the environment. Open pit mining, in which the tar sand is scooped up and put on trucks to be taken for processing, ravages thousands of acres of land. And what is really sad is that it takes about two tons of tar sands to produce one barrel of oil.


The other techniques used for getting to tar sands deep in the earth are steam injection, solvent injection, and firefloods, in which oxygen is injected and part of the resource burned to provide heat. Of those three, steam injection is the most commonly used method requiring large amounts of water.

That short-sightedness is not limited to the fuel industry. We are stripping our world bare for timber and carbon emissions are destroying plant life, water systems, and the air we breathe.

Are you aware that the Tongass National Forest in Alaska is scheduled to be cut for timber? The Tongass contains some of the most intact expanses of old-growth temperate rainforest remaining on the planet. We all know the importance of rainforests, so why would we want to destroy one of the last remaining on this earth? The Tongass rainforest serves as a critical habitat for species that are threatened or endangered in the lower 48 states—including wolves, bears, salmon, and other wildlife.


In addition, it contributes more than $2 billion to local economies through non-timber uses, such as recreation and tourism, commercial salmon fishing, subsistence and scientific research.

Gabe Scott writing in Cascadia Wildlands contends that it is foolish to think that "cutting more trees in the most effective carbon sequestration systems in the world—northwest temperate rainforests—represents sound and forward thinking solutions.  Not on this planet and not at this time."

I would say not on this planet and not ever.

My friend and I wondered if the people in power at the oil companies and in governments ever stop and think about what this world is going to be like for the children of our grandchildren. Do we want them to be able to turn on a tap and get a glass of water? Do we want them to have a tree to climb? Do we want them to have clean air to breathe? And most importantly, do we want them to have a planet on which to live?

There are no easy answers to all this, but one thing we could do is start making decisions based on long-term goals as opposed to this quarter's profit margin.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Book Review - Friday Afternoon by T. D. Johnston

Friday Afternoon
T.D. Johnston
File Size: 192 KB
Print Length: 38 pages
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B008B1021M


One thing I always love about a short story, in addition to being able to finish in one sitting, is the fact that the theme is always present and foremost in a reader's mind. This is so true of Johnston's wonderful short story that points out so vividly the consequences of poor choices.

Brent Stanford, a very important businessman, is on his way to his father-in-law's birthday party. Stanford's father-in-law is also the owner of the company where Stanford is the CEO, and said father-in-law has a very low opinion of Stanford. On a country road in North Carolina, Stanford gets stuck behind a farmer who is going way too slow, and his anxiety builds the longer he drives, unable to pass on the winding narrow road.

Thinking of all the ways his father-in-law can make his life more miserable if Stanford is late - something that is never tolerated in his wife's family - he finally attempts to pass the pickup. Certainly that chicken truck coming the other way is driving as slowly as this bumpkin.

Does he make it?

The rest of the story answers that question, and I don't want to give anything away by revealing what happens. In a cross between an O. Henry story and an episode of The Twilight Zone, Stanford meets that farmer he tried to pass, and what happens will keep you guessing until the very end.

Well done, Mr. Johnston

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday's Odds and Ends

Nothing to rant about today. OMG, somebody take my temperature. (smile) Seriously, I think I have been so busy with productions at the local art center, I have not paid attention to the national news. I hardly pay attention to the local news, either. I never have the television on during the day, and only watch the late evening news to see if the weather forecast matches what I can see outside my windows. The old joke about the weather - if you want to know what the weather is like step outside - does hold true.

I've had a lot of fun working with the Young Players at the Winnsboro Center For the Arts on our Nite of Comedy. The kids - most of whom have come through the Summer Drama Camp - put on skits and funny music and then we do improv.  The performance will be June 28, and shortly after that the drama camp starts. I always forget from year to year how much work is involved in organizing and preparing for these events. But I do so enjoy working with the kids.

Today in my inbox I found a neat message from my sister with pictures of kids and dogs. They were all so cute, I was tempted to share them all here, but settled for just a couple. I think you'll agree that they have a great "aw" factor.



Do you have a favorite memory of a special dog that might tug a heart string or two? If so, please share in the comments. One of my favorites is of our dog, Ruffy. He was a mix between a wolf and a German shepard, but he was very loveable and hugable. Ruffy was always good for a romp or a walk, and it was undeniable that he wormed his way into all our hearts. Never was that more evident than the day the kids did a survey at the dinner table and decided they all liked the dog better than me.

Since I have a jillion things to do today, I'm going to keep this short and end with a joke. I found this one on The Laugh Factory.

Ralph is driving home one evening, when he suddenly realizes that it's his daughter's birthday and he hasn't bought her a present. He drives to the mall, runs to the toy store, and says to the shop assistant, "How much is that Barbie in the window?" In a condescending manner, she says, "Which Barbie?" She continues, "We have Barbie Goes to the Gym for $19.95, Barbie Goes to the Ball for $19.95, Barbie Goes Shopping for $19.95, Barbie Goes to the Beach for $19.95, Barbie Goes Nightclubbing for $19.95, and Divorced Barbie for $265.00." Ralph asks, "Why is the Divorced Barbie $265.00 when all the others are only $19.95?" "That's obvious," the saleslady says. "Divorced Barbie comes with Ken's house, Ken's car, Ken's boat, Ken's furniture..." 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ponderations From the Back Porch

I am really excited to have a new Wednesday's Guest here to share with us a bit of homespun philosophy. Roy Faubion is a retired radio broadcaster, and he has written a number of columns for newspapers throughout his professional career. Roy has agreed to share, from time to time, some of his "ponderings" as he refers to his writing, and I am very grateful for that. So, without further ado, let's welcome Roy as he tells us the story of his Uncle Ed. Since Father's Day was this past Sunday, I thought the topic quite fitting.

Out on the back porch on a summer morning in Texas, we still have our cup of "joe" to start the day, so here is a cup for you. and a little something sweet to go with it. Enjoy.....



I think my image of tough men did not include tiny little flowers, lady bugs and raindrops, but Uncle Ed forever changed my thoughts on that summer day so long ago. Just the two of us - Uncle Ed and me, sitting on the grassy slope of the ranch near a tiny rivulet.

A main reason for my image of a real he-man type person was formed by my admiration for Uncle Ed. He was a cowboy. Tall, hands made of calluses from dark early to dark late physical work required just to keep the ranch going day to day. I knew him to be a loving man, a God-fearing man, a true man’s man.

There we were, nine year old me and Uncle Ed, taking time out from repair work on barbed wire fencing just to breathe in the air and watch for little animals that may be scampering about. A time of bonding, that special moment all boys seek. Truly, it was a slice of my life destined forever to remain in my memory. My uncle reached slowly out to a grass stem an arm’s stretch away and allowed a ladybug to crawl on his finger. Showing me the pretty little bug he cautioned me to never harm a ladybug. They are very important little creatures, he told me.

Gently he pointed to a little flower so tiny I had not noticed its existence.  It was so very small, yet to Uncle Ed it was a work of art. He explained to me how beauty is everywhere, if we only take time to look for it, from mighty oak trees to the tiniest whisper of a flower, all contributing to our world.

About that time a raindrop fell on my face. Uncle Ed explained to me how the heaviest rainfall is really a team effort of little water drops, combining to bring life to every living being, both animal and vegetable, on the ranch.

That day I grasped the real meaning of having a purpose. Uncle Ed, tough as a boot and gentle as a breeze, gave me understanding of what life is about. Alone we may not seem to be much. But together we can make a difference, just as the little flowers, the little bugs and the little raindrops quietly go about their business making our world a better place.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
MORE ABOUT ROY
Roy has written columns for small-town newspapers for most of  his adult life. The first column was entitled Around The Sagebrush. Second was The Clodkicker. Finally, he arrived at a title and concept with which he is most comfortable, Ponderations from the Back Porch. Through the years of being a radio announcer (preceding the term Disc Jockey) and years of news reporting, and doing all the other jobs in the industry, he racked up enough experiences to shape a column of thoughts, remembrances, and often, true stories. He is married to Dr. A. Janet McGill, retired educator, and both are active members of their church. They are also members of the North East Texas Choral Society, a 100 plus member performance choir in Sulphur Springs, Texas.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday Morning Surprise


Since I spent the morning taking care of gardening chores and laundry, I was really late getting into my office and now it is way past noon and I'm just now trying to come up with an idea for the blog. Since none have come to me in the last ten minutes of staring at the blank screen, I decided this would be a good time to let humorist, Slim Randles, entertain you with one of his Home Country columns. It's been a while since he has been a guest here, and do come back Wednesday to meet another new guest blogger, who will show up now and then with some Ponderations from the Back Porch.
 
One of my chores was feeding all my blooming plants on the front deck.
“You seem kinda low this morning, Sweetie,” Marjorie said.

“Business has been kinda slow for a while now, and it’s wedding season,” he said.

Marvin Pincus’s “business” of course, is free love counseling combined with free fly tying, in hopes of bringing connubial jocularity to anyone who might need it. Hey, a retired guy has to do something.

But just at that moment there was a knock on the door, and standing there was Three-Chord Cortez. T.C. looked anxiously up and down the street. It wouldn’t look good for the fabled bunkhouse balladeer to be seen applying for love counseling.

Marvin took T.C. into his den and Marjorie brought the embarrassed cowhand some coffee. When the door had been safely closed, Cortez looked at Marvin.

“Mr. Pincus,” he said, “you may not know it, but I kinda have a reputation for being a ladies’ man.” Marvin nodded. “But … I guess I do okay … but sometimes I just feel … used … you know?”  Marvin nodded again. “These women today just seem to have …” he looked around and whispered  “one thing on their minds. I’d like to find a woman who likes me for who I am … inside, you know?” Marvin nodded. “I mean, I can serenade their socks off and have plenty of dates, but it’s just a hot Saturday night kinda life.”

Marvin smiled. “T.C., I know what you mean. I’ve heard about your success serenading the girls, but I can see you may be ready to … shall we say … settle down?”

Three-Chord (named for his semi-skill at guitar picking) nodded.

“OK, so let’s get to work.”

Marvin put a big number-two salmon streamer hook in the fly vise, and Cortez stood and watched him. Marvin’s skilled hands soon tied a weighted solid-black stonefly nymph and handed it to T.C..

“Substantial and solid,” Marvin said, “without all the gaudiness of a salmon streamer. It will bring out the real you, T.C..”

“Thank you, sir,” Cortez said.

“And T.C.?  I want you to not even kiss a girl until after the third date. Let her get to know you.”

The long-riding lothario’s mouth dropped open, showing the pearly white teeth that had melted so many hearts.

“Is that even possible, Mr. Pincus?”

“Work on it, my boy. Work on it.”
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Brought to you by the brand-new internet radio program “The Home Country Hour.” Listen in at www.slimrandles.com.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Book Review -- The Hardest Thing in This World by Nicole Eva Fraser

The Hardest Thing in This World
Nicole Eva Fraser
Second Wind Publishing 
ISBN: 978-1938101595 (paperback)
ASIN: B00G5LFLAC  (for Kindle)
Publication date: October 11, 2013
248 pages

BOOK BLURB: Sexy, smart-mouthed Melody Sawyer is an underachiever, a home health care nurse with good intentions and a chip on her shoulder. Her troubled daughter Renee recently dropped dead at age 24, but Renee's ghost keeps popping in on the family. And Melody has no clue about her married daughter, Kayla—who since age 16 has been deep in a clandestine affair with pro baseball player Baron Lee Presley.  The novel follows the Sawyer women’s offbeat, darkly funny, and sometimes tragic journey as they try to conquer the hardest thing in this world.

Fraser certainly knows how to grab a reader's interest in the opening of a story. We meet Melody Sawyer after the funeral of her daughter, Renee, when Melody has stolen the urn with Renee's ashes, eaten some of the ashes, then poured the rest down the drain. I don't know about you, but I sure wanted to know what motivated Melody's bizarre actions.

And that's what the rest of this book is about. We go back in time and meet Melody as a young woman. Then we meet Winch, her husband, and then the rest of her family that includes her parents, his parents, his brother, Jamie, and her brother Michael. How all of their lives and personalities intertwine and impact each other is the meat of the story, as they deal with the joys and tragedies that touch any family.

What happens to the characters in this book could happen to anyone, and that is one of the most engaging elements. None of us are above the petty jealousies, the resentments, the human frailty, the fears and the pains that these people experience. And there are things that have happened to our families that we would rather not talk about. Fraser does that for us with this interesting study of character and human behavior.

While I am not normally a fan of paranormal, I couldn't help but like Renee and Jamie as ghosts, and I especially liked Renee's description of the other world. "Renee doesn't know how to explain it. In the ghost world, time is a strand. It's fluid like a river and elastic like a rubber band."

This is a book best read in one or two or three long reading sessions as opposed to reading a chapter or two at a time. It is not a linear story, so one must stay with it for several chapters to follow the back and forth in time. If you can do that, you will be pulled along on a journey that is not always pleasant, but it always a good read. Fraser balances the good and the bad quite well, and offers touches of humor just at the right time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nicole Eva Fraser received her MFA in creative writing from the NEOMFA consortium in northeast Ohio and graduated summa cum laude from Baldwin-Wallace College with a double major in English and communications. She is an adult-literacy advocate in Cleveland, Tanzania and Malawi. She runs 10ks (slowly), used to speak French, and often can be found putting her foot in her mouth. You can find Nicole on Pinterest and Goodreads

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Remembering Dad

First I want to wish all the fathers a Happy Father's Day. I know it is not until tomorrow, but I am doing posts early for the weekend, then I won't be online much. This is an especially difficult Father's Day for me and my kids as it is the first without my husband being here. People say that he will be with us in spirit, but right now that doesn't make me feel any better. It's just hard. All of these "firsts" are incredibly hard, as anyone who has gone through this knows.





This is a sketch my daughter, Dany, did of Carl one year when we were out at the nearby lake.  I didn't even remember she'd done this until she asked if she could post it on Facebook the other day.

My father is also in heaven. Maybe he and Carl found two more folks and are playing some euchre. Both of them loved that game, and I have so many fond memories of the New Year's Eve euchre tournaments with Daddy and our whole family. 

Memories are such an important part of family, and I hope you are making wonderful memories this year.

Our memories are bittersweet. But one thing is true, family was the most important thing in Carl's life.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday's Odds and Ends

This picture has nothing to do with the blog, other than the fact that I thought you might like something pleasant to look at before my rant for the day. Black cat is Harry, other one is Lily. They were watching a bunny that was having breakfast in my yard. I'm sure they thought the bunny would make a tasty treat.

This furor over George Will's June 6 column in The Washington Post is another example of how far to the extreme we have taken this sensitivity to something someone says or writes. The column was about the federal government's efforts to curb campus sexual assault, and this is what he wrote referring to the potential response from colleges:
They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate. And academia’s progressivism has rendered it intellectually defenseless now that progressivism’s achievement, the regulatory state, has decided it is academia’s turn to be broken to government’s saddle.
Many individuals, as well as the National Organization of Women (NOW), are petitiioning the Post to drop Will's column, citing the "extraordinary harm" to victims: http://mm4a.org/TGR3ga   

I'm not a fan of George Will, but not because of this. I just find his columns ponderous to read at times, more suited to an academic lecture than a column to be read by many. However, I do support his freedom to say what he thinks without having a bunch of angry people take him to task over a column. The Internet is abuzz with Tweets and messages and Facebook postings calling him names and insinuating that he thinks campus rapes don't matter.

That is not what his column was about. I'm sure he takes the incidents of campus rapes very seriously. Reading and re-reading his column to cull through the million-dollar words and phrases, my sense is that he was pointing out the problems with the Education Department's response to what has been called a rise in campus rapes. Here is another excerpt from his column:
Meanwhile, the newest campus idea for preventing victimizations — an idea certain to multiply claims of them — is “trigger warnings.” They would be placed on assigned readings or announced before lectures. Otherwise, traumas could be triggered in students whose tender sensibilities would be lacerated by unexpected encounters with racism, sexism, violence (dammit, Hamlet, put down that sword!) or any other facet of reality that might violate a student’s entitlement to serenity. This entitlement has already bred campus speech codes that punish unpopular speech. Now the codes are begetting the soft censorship of trigger warnings to swaddle students in a “safe,” “supportive,” “unthreatening” environment, intellectual comfort for the intellectually dormant. 
See what I mean about the million-dollar words? Geesh! But the point he makes is that regulating what people read or hear on campus, or in the general public, has reached a level of extremism. Concern over some potential offense has impacted us is so many negative ways. Yes, we should be thoughtful and compassionate in how we speak to and about people, but sometimes we aren't. Sometimes we just blurt things out without stopping to think. Does that make us a monster? Does that mean that if we have some celebrity status, we should lose everything and be branded for the rest of our lives? Does that mean we should ban every classic novel that has a word that might be found offensive?

Well, I'm glad I got that off my chest. Now here's your Friday jokes and then I'm out of here. Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

What did one hat say to the other?
"You stay here, I'll go on ahead."

What happens to a frog's car when it breaks down?
It gets toad away. 

I know, groaners more than laughers. You're welcome to try to make me laugh. Go ahead. I double-dare you.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Danny's Sacrifice

Grab a donut to go with your morning coffee, or tea, and settle back to find out how Carole Bellacera came to write Incense & Peppermints, her novel about a combat nurse in Vietnam. She has graciously accepted the invite to be today's Wednesday's Guest, so let's make her feel welcome. While Carole is here, I'm over at The Blood Red Pencil blog having some fun with words.


Thanks so much for having me post on your blog today, Maryann. I'm grateful for the opportunity to talk about what it was like as I started this story. I don’t think I’ve ever been so terrified and intimidated in my life as I was while I was researching the book. For two years, I read every book I could find about women in Vietnam—and about the Vietnam War itself (The Vietnam War for Dummies was one of my favorites.)  I watched a documentary about the combat nurses who served so bravely there—Vietnam Nurses with Dana Delany, and I watched every movie I could find about the Vietnam War, including the entire series of Tour of Duty.

The more I read and watched, the more terrified and inadequate I felt.  How could I…a former medical technician in the Air Force, who served during the Vietnam War…but who didn’t know the slightest thing about serving during combat…how could I write this book?  What gave me the right to write this book?  Could I do justice to it, and be able to honor all the women who served there? 

I just knew I had to try. I felt directed to write this novel… by God, the Universal Spirit, Mother Goddess…whatever, I knew I had to do it. 

The inspiration first came from a photograph—the one of the marine on the lower left corner of the
cover. This boy had been my pen-pal in high school.  I came across this torn photo of him one day while I was reorganizing my photo albums. Honestly, I didn’t remember much about him. I knew his name was Danny and he was from Indiana. My best friend, Susie, had given me his address and told me he was going to Vietnam and would I write him? (I seem to recall he was a cousin or related to her family somehow.)

I was a flighty sixteen-year-old, and madly in love with a senior named Gary Baldauf. And perhaps the only reason I even agreed to write Danny was because he bore a remarkable resemblance to Gary. Of course, I knew there was a war going on somewhere in southeast Asia. (I’m not even sure, though, I knew Vietnam was in southeast Asia.) But the war hadn’t affected me. Oh, in the back of my mind, I guess I worried that Gary might be drafted and get sent there, but the chance was small. After all, he was heading off to college at Purdue. 

So that’s how I began writing chatty, scatter-brained letters to this “older man” who looked like my high school crush. I’m sure my letters were filled with all kinds of gems like how much I loved Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders, and how cute my new white go-go boots were, and how groovy I looked after drawing Twiggy eyelashes around my eyes and dotting freckles on my cheeks with eyeliner—following the how-to instructions in Teen Magazine. 

Danny replied to my letters, and even sent me the photo of himself taken in Vietnam, but I can’t tell you what he said. I have absolutely no memory of anything he wrote. When I think back on it, I believe I received only one or two letters. When they stopped coming, I didn’t think about it; I doubt if I even noticed or wondered. After all, I was 16…going to basketball games, and dances, and pep rallies. It didn’t even occur to me to worry about Danny and what may have happened to him. It was only after I found his photo a few years ago that it hit me. What had  happened to him? And how could I find out?  I didn’t even remember his last name. 

I turned the photo over and saw that half of it had been torn away. I knew he’d sent it to me like that because there hadn’t been another person in the picture. Only half of the inscription on the back was visible.

ny Bruce
Nam ‘69

Danny Bruce. That had to be his name. So I got online and did a web search. When a page popped up on my screen, my stomach dipped, and I could feel the blood draining from my face.  It was a website about the Vietnam Memorial Wall, and his name was on it. 

While participating in combat on March 1, 1969, Danny was killed in saving the lives of three fellow Marines, and was awarded the Medal of Honor post-humously. He had been in Vietnam for a little over a month before he was killed. And me? I was busy partying, having sleepovers, eating burgers at the Dog ‘N Suds, and just going about my happy teenage life. I know…I was just doing what any teenager would be doing. But Danny had been a teenager, too. He was 18 when he died. 

This is why I was driven to write this book—to honor Danny, and the courageous nurses who saved thousands of “Dannys.”  I hope I’ve done them the honor they so deserve.
 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Carole Bellacera is the author of eight novels of women’s fiction.  Her first novel, Border Crossings, a hardcover published by Forge Books in May of 1999, was a 2000 RITA Award nominee for Best Romantic Suspense and Best First Book, a nominee for the 2000 Virginia Literary Award in Fiction. It was also a 2000 finalist in the Golden Quill award and in the Aspen Gold Award and won 1st Place in the Volusia County 2000 Laurel Wreath Award. Her short fiction and non-fiction has appeared in magazines such as Woman's World, The Star, Endless Vacation and The Washington Post. In addition, her work has appeared in various anthologies such as Kay Allenbaugh's Chocolate for a Woman's Heart, Chocolate for a Couples' Heart and Chicken Soup for Coupleswww.carolebellacera.com

Monday, June 09, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

The adage, "Damned if you do and damned if you don't" is most appropriate when thinking about the controversy over the recent prisoner swap in Afghanistan for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. In an article in The Atlantic, David Rhode gave his perspective, having been a prisoner in Afghanistan at one point, too. The bottom line is that the choices are hard to make. Do you pay a ransom? Or, as in the case of Bergdahl, make an unbalanced trade that gives too much to the enemy.

I liked what President Obama had to say in response to the criticism he's received on this issue. "American people understand that this is somebody's child and that we don't condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back."

Did you watch the Tony Awards Show last night? I thought Hugh Jackman did a great job as host, and I loved the ending where he invited everyone onstage to sing the theatre classics "The Lullaby of Broadway" and "New York, New York". It was also a thrill to see Audra McDonald win her 6th Tony for her role as Billie Holiday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill".


A little while ago I took a break from writing the blog to eat breakfast, and I always read while I am eating. This morning, I found an interesting line in Laura Lippman's novel Life Sentences. Cassandra, the central character is thinking about all the hurtful things that people say to and about each other and this thought crosses her mind, "Say the worst things about yourself first, and no one can ever hurt you."

That brought to mind people that I have known who seem compelled to say self-deprecating things about themselves. That works well in comedy, but I think it is a little sad in real life. What do you think?

I have a busy week ahead with rehearsals for our Nite of Comedy two nights, and two nights of speaking engagements. One is tonight, so I need to finish preparing the handouts. What is on your agenda for the week?

Finally, I'll close with a joke from The Laugh Factory
Little Billy came home from school to see the family's pet rooster dead in the front yard. Rigor mortis had set in, and it was flat on its back with its legs in the air. When his Dad came home, Billy told him, "Dad, our rooster is dead and his legs are sticking in the air. Why are his legs like that?"

His father, thinking quickly, said, "Son, that's so God can reach down from the clouds and lift the rooster straight up to heaven."

"Gee Dad, that's great," said little Billy. A few days later, when Dad came home from work, Billy rushed out to meet him yelling, "Dad! Dad, we almost lost Mom today!"

"What do you mean?" asked his father.

"Well Dad, I got home from school early today and went up to your bedroom and there was Mom, flat on her back with her legs in the air, screaming, 'Jesus, I'm coming! I'm coming!' If it hadn't of been for Uncle George holding her down, we'd have lost her for sure!"

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Book Review - Incense & Peppermints by Carole Bellacera

Incense & Peppermints
Carole Bellacera
File Size: 656 KB
Print Length: 456 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 149735563X
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B00K1MSANG


BOOK BLURB:  On a snowy February day in 2011, 62-year-old Cindy Sweet receives a Facebook message from a dead man—Warrant Officer Ryan Quinlan who supposedly died in Vietnam forty years earlier.  He’d been Cindy’s fiancé before an RPG took out his “dust-off” chopper, killing all aboard.  Cindy, a young combat nurse at the 24th Evacuation Hospital at Long Binh, had been devastated by her loss, but with no other choice, had served out her year in Vietnam—and even found love again.

After Cindy reads that surprising Facebook message, the story goes back in time to 1970, when Cindy arrived in Vietnam, fresh out of nursing school and ill-prepared for what she was about to encounter in a combat hospital. When she meets Ryan Quinlan "Quinn", it is the thought of spending the rest of her life with him that gives her hope that they can both survive the unspeakable horrors of war.

When Quinn does not return from one of his runs, that hope is shattered, and the rest of the story is about how Cindy learns to hope again. This is a character and a story that will stay with the reader for a long time. No matter what your thoughts were about the justification of this war, the atrocities that people suffered in the line of duty were devastating, and the medics and doctors and nurses who tended the wounded and the dying were some of the heroes. The story evokes that sense of honoring those people and touches every patriotic string in a readers heart.

There was a fine ensemble cast, and at times the story reminded me of the China Beach series that was popular on television from 1988 to 1991. Like China Beach, Incense & Peppermints does not shy away from the gritty reality of the war, and presents women who were strong and capable and so worthy of our respect and honor.

The letters from home from Cindy's sister, Joanie, that were scattered throughout the story were a nice touch, and much of what Joanie shares in her letters firmly sets the stage in the 70s. This will bring back pleasant memories to those who grew up in that era, and those memories are a nice contrast to the images of that war that caused so much anguish and controversy.

Book Trailer
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Carole Bellacera is a novelist, journalist and screenwriter and her work has appeared in Woman's World, The Star, Endless Vacation, and The Washington Post. Her romantic suspense novels have been published by Forge, Tor, and Belgrave House.  She is going to be my Wednesday's Guest this week, do do try to come back to meet her and find out who was the inspiration for the book.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Friday's Odds and Ends

When my sister told me she had to pay $4,000 for a pill to help her body deal with the effects of chemo she was receiving for breast cancer, I thought we had a bad phone connection. Surely it didn't cost $4,000 for one little pill. To my dismay, I found out it really does. Not only that, a lot of cancer treatments are costing much more than they were even a few years ago.


According to a recent article by Donald W. Light, a network fellow at Harvard University's E. J. Safra Center for Ethics and a professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, and Hagop Kantarjian, chair of the Department of Leukemia at MD Anderson Cancer Center, drug companies believe the higher prices are necessary. Pharmaceutical companies say that the new drugs are improved, but oncologists disagree. The doctors say there are few clinical advantages of the new medicine over existing drugs.

The other justification for higher prices of all kinds of medicine is the cost of research and development. In the article Light and Kantarjian wrote for the AARP Bulletin, they dispelled this justification as well.
Overall, investment in basic research by pharmaceutical companies to discover new drugs is quite small - about one-sixth of overall company research costs and about 1.3 percent of revenues after deducting for taxpayer subsidies.
Research for cancer drugs specifically is paid for by the National Cancer Institute and various foundations, yet the price of cancer drugs has doubled in the past decade. 
The authors conclude the article with a call to congress to hold hearings on the rising costs of specialty drugs and allow Medicare to negotiate discount drug prices. They believe bringing down the cost of drugs and treatments could cut health care costs.

Now for some funny papers fun from Mallard Fillmore. A news news anchor says, "Good evening… The F.C.C. will be observing, but in no way interfering with tonights newscast….


An officious guy with a huge smile next to him says, "He actually meant to say, "The friendly, helpful F.C.C., didn't you, Roger?"

This next one is from One Big Happy. Grandma and grandpa are out for a walk and meet a neighbor who says, "I'm looking to lower my taxes. Do you all give money to charities?"

Grandma says, "Yes, Roy. We donate to our church."

"Aw, I can't do that, I'm an atheist."

Grandpa says, "No problem, Roy. Atheism is a non-prophet group."

Roy scratches his chin. "It is?"

As grandma and grandma walk off she says to him "You're so bad."


Closing With a Literary Lesson: This is from Laura Lippman's novel, Life Sentences when a character is reflecting on how a white friend thought about the weekend that Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, "She hadn't known, couldn't know what had gone on in the living rooms and kitchens of black folks' homes that horrible weekend, the fear and grief and terror of it all. As Donna said, she meant no harm. But Tisha knew that people who meant no harm were often the most dangerous people of all, the real tar babies from which one might never disentangle."

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Three Things I Learned About Writing From My Day Jobs

Today's Wednesday's Guest is Louis Greenstein who has stopped by to share the three things he learned about writing from his day jobs. All of us who pursue creative endeavors of any kind have probably worked at other jobs to supplement a sometimes meager income from the job we love most. Sometimes it is good to look back and reflect on what those experiences have taught us. For refreshments today, I thought a soft pretzel would be perfect since it was these hand-made pretzels that sent Jason on his Atlantic City odyssey in Greenstein's book, Mr. Boardwalk that I reviewed here on Sunday. Grab one and your beverage of choice - mine is ginger-lemon sun tea - and enjoy....

Image Courtesy of the Baltimore Sun and Aunt Anne's Hand Rolled Pretzels
I'm fortunate to earn a living exclusively from writing and editing. While most of my income is derived
through commercial work such as ghostwriting books about management and working for business publishers as a freelance "manuscript doctor," I also get to work on my fiction without having to squeeze in "creative writing time." Creative writing is part of my workday—and I work at it every day.

Like most full-time writers, I haven't always earned a living from my craft. I had a string of "day jobs" ranging from monotonous and low paying to exciting and lucrative. I've been a house painter, groundskeeper, antiques dealer, street performer, youth counselor, business executive, short order cook and more. All that, except being a street performer, may seem irrelevant to Mr. Boardwalk, my novel about a boy juggler in Atlantic City. Actually, though, I learned something valuable about writing from every job I ever had.

With that in mind, here are the top three lessons I learned about writing from my day jobs:

1.  Use words sparingly. I am a recovering mime. If you're a young person, please understand that back in the 1970s, for about twenty minutes, mime was popular in America. As a trained mime who performed on street corners, at theaters and in schools, I apply today what I learned 30+ years ago in mime school: the value of silence and the economy of words. "Less is more" is key whether you are communicating with words or without.

When I was training under Samuel Avital at the legendary Le Centre du Silence in Boulder, Colorado, I had to choose one day a week to "fast from words." I happened to meet the poet Allen Ginsberg on one of my "Silent Days." He was doing a book signing at the Boulder Bookstore. I handed him my copy of Howl, but I didn't speak. "What kind of idiot is this?" you might suppose he thought, but in fact he was impressed by my silence. When we bumped into each other a few times over the next year or two, he remembered me. Nothing I could have said would have made an impression on the man. It was what I didn't say that made me memorable.

2.  Probe for details. As a market researcher, I learned how to conduct interviews that began like this: "This is Mr. Greenstein calling from Chilton Research Services in Radnor, Pennsylvania. We're speaking with a cross section of homeowners across the country about roofing services."

Sounds pretty dull, right? But after the scripted parts, I got a chance to probe, asking people to tell me more about their thoughts or give me examples. That turned out to be important training. Knowing how to probe deep down for information is essential for my work as a fiction writer. If you are creating a character, you had better be able to answer plenty of questions about him or her. You'd better know more about a character’s motivations than you reveal in the story. I don't know any other way to create a character than to ask a lot of questions, probing for hidden truths.

3.  Know your characters. For several years in the 1990s, I owned and operated a career counseling and résumé writing service in Philadelphia. Résumé writing further reinforced the importance of knowing each and every character—major or minor—inside out, so that their actions make sense in the universe that is the novel, story or play. As a fiction writer, you should be able to construct each of your characters’ résumés—employment, education, interests and professional associations—regardless of whether their job histories are mentioned in the story.

Some people say that good writing can't be taught. Maybe, but I know from my own experiences that it can be learned.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Louis Greenstein’s writing has crossed multiple genres, from scripts for the Emmy Award-winning Nickelodeon series RUGRATS to stage plays performed by theaters around the country. Several of his plays are available in print, and his playwriting has been honored with a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His musical show ONECHILD BORN: THE MUSIC OF LAURA NYRO, co-written with performer Kate Ferber, travels to multiple venues in New York City and elsewhere. MR. BOARDWALK is his first novel.

Louis welcomes readers to visit him at his website, his Facebook page, and his Twitter feed.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

A recent discussion on FaceBook about factory farming was quite interesting and author/artist  Zinta Aistars shared a link to a blog - The Animal Lovers Dilemma - that offers a reasoned look at both sides of the issue. The blog piece was written by Elizabeth Vandeventer of Davis Creek Farm, Nelson County, Virginia.  She holds a PhD in Anthropology from Univ. of North Carolina. When I read the article, this paragraph really made sense:

I was a vegetarian myself for ten years. During that time, I traveled a lot and saw many different aspects of food production that constantly forced me to reassess my assumptions about eating. I learned that my food choices as a vegetarian were not as ethically superior as I had assumed, and ultimately I relearned a lesson from my childhood: in nature, everything becomes food. Roaming the woods and pastures on a dairy farm, I saw baby birds become snakes, snakes become hawks, calves become vultures, cows become people, and all life eventually becomes dirt. Surrounded by nature, I saw life fold into death and death fold back into life and I learned not to fear it.
So goes the natural progression that farmers have been so aware of since the beginning of time, and animals have given humans sustenance since the beginning of time. What has changed is humanity's attitudes toward the animals that feed us. For centuries, many cultures honored and blessed the animals before slaughter, and prior to slaughter the animals were raised in comfort. Today there are too many cases of inhumane practices at slaughterhouses, as well as the deplorable conditions in which animals live on factory farms.

Okay, end of rant and on to something a lot more uplifting. If you read the review of Mr. Boardwalk on my blog yesterday, you've probably guessed that I've become quite a fan of the work of Louis Greenstein, and I am so glad I clicked over to check out the play he wrote with Kate Ferber, celebrating the music of Laura Nyro

Here is a brief introduction to this terrific one-woman show performed by Ms. Ferber



More information about the show can be found on the ONE CHILD BORN: The Music of Laura Nyro website. I would love to bring this to East Texas and our Bowery Stage at the Winnsboro Center For the Arts, but I haven't been brave enough to click to get pricing for staging the show.

Speaking of the art center - see how nicely I segued into this? I am working with the Young Players on the Nite of Comedy, our annual comedy revue and inprov show, and we are having a blast. It is so much fun to work with kids and help them dig deep into their creativity.

And finally, this from the comic strip, Pickles:

Earl walks into the living room where Opal is sitting on the couch sewing. She looks up at him and asks, "Earl, how many days in a row have you been wearing those pants?"

"I don't know. Who's counting?"

Opal says, "Isn't it about time to put them in the laundry basket?"

"The way I see it, shirts, socks and underwear need washing." Earl checks his pants. "Pants don't unless you spill something on them."

Opel stands, "Stay there. I'll get the ketchup."

Be honest, that made you chuckle, right?

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Book Review - Mr. Boardwalk by Louis Greenstein

Mr. Boardwalk
Louis Greenstein
Print Length: 294 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: New Door Books (March 12, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B00IZJ0QZC


"At the age of seven, Jason Benson first experiences the wonders of Atlantic City—carnival rides, fortune-tellers, fudge shops, arcades and Miss America. Smitten, he decides to live there forever. But when we meet him as an adult in New York, he's been keeping his youth a secret from his wife and daughter. Why? This dual coming-of-age tale traces the excitement and perils of the young Jason and the moral growth of the adult who must come to terms with the past he tried to forget."

In this wonderful novel, the reader is introduced to Atlantic City through the eyes of the adult Jason as he begins to share his history with his wife and his daughter. The scene is set so vividly, we can feel the chill, salty spray from the ocean, see boys tossing a football, and sense Jason's trepidation. Then we go back to his childhood and see the magic that first had him fall in love with The Boardwalk.

Jason's father decides to quit the job that he hates and start making and selling pretzels on the Boardwalk. Every summer Atlantic City becomes a playground for many people and street magicians, fortune tellers, and food venders set up shop. Jason works for his father, but soon learns how to juggle. When he starts doing shows, he is successful enough that he can finance his dream of moving from Philadelphia to live and work full-time in this place he has come to love.

This is a story with a lot of layers and the author does not back down from the hard stuff of life, but it also celebrates the themes of loyalty and devotion. Not that the relationships in the story are all perfect. People and relationships are never  perfect. They are human, and that is how Jason is played out in the story. He is a wonderful, human character to whom we can all relate.

There were so many things I loved about the story and the writing, there is not room here on my blog to include them all. The relationship between Jason and his father was poignant and often humorous, and it was the author's deft use of humor to lighten some scenes that I especially liked. The cast of supporting characters, especially all of the other folks who worked the Boardwalk before the casinos were built, were terrific.

According to the author bio, this is Louis Greenstein's first novel, and I certainly hope it is not his last. He will be my Wednesday's Guest this week, so I do hope you will come back to meet him. He is sharing three main things he learned about writing from his day jobs, and he has had many. You might be surprised at some of the things he has done, and equally surprised at what he learned from those jobs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

LOUIS GREENSTEIN's writing has crossed multiple genres, from scripts for the Emmy Award-winning Nickelodeon series Rugrats to stage plays performed by theaters around the country. Several of his plays are available in print, and his playwriting has been honored with a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His musical show One Child Born: The Music of Laura Nyro, co-written with performer Kate Ferber, travels to multiple venues in New York City and elsewhere.