Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Just a Little Bit of Fun

 As the summer winds down and school is starting for kids across the U.S., I thought it would be fun to take one last look at the challenges of summer vacation. This is another excerpt from my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck. Enjoy......

Those fun-packed summer days always made me wonder why we didn’t have year-round school. I personally, thought it was a grand idea, and if a candidate for public office ever wanted to guarantee his election all he'd have to do is run on a platform of year round school. He'd win hands down because I'm sure mothers far outnumber teachers when it comes to the voting public.

On the other hand, I would never vote for anyone like this priest I knew who suggested we close all the schools and give our children the opportunity to learn in a home environment. His reasoning was that it would be good for parents to assume more responsibility for teaching their children, and on one hand that is a grand idea. But in practicality, I considered it a downright rotten idea. 

I decided that the idea was probably an attractive to him, because he wasn't a mother, and he wouldn't be faced with instant insanity at the thought of a five-year continuation of summer vacation. Undoubtedly, the only thing that keeps us mothers from curling up in a fetal position on the floor of our closets by the middle of August, is the knowledge that school starts in two weeks.

Can you imagine no end to the lament:  "There's nothing to do."

"Why don't you playa game with your brother?"

 "With David?"

"Well, why don't you help me clean the house, then I'll playa game with you."

"I guess I'll just watch T.V."

 Or the fights:

"I was watching my program."

"Mommeeee! Anjanette won't let me watch what 1 want to watch."

"Michael, shut up!"

"Mommeee! Michael won't shut up!"

 Or the complaints:

"We never have any fun."

"All we ever do is work. Don't you ever work?"

"I always do my chores and David never does his."

"Why is it always so hot? Why can't we have a pool?"

 "Why do I have to go to bed? I'm not even tired."

If there was never an end to the challenges of five kids and 11 weeks of summer break from school, it would have been the end of me. Nine months of school each year was the only thing between me and an institution.

Well, that and the fact there wouldn’t have been anyone to take care of those five kids while I was gone. Carl always said if I left, he was going, too.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book Review: The Protest Singer: Pete Seeger by Alec Wilkinson

 Thanks to Carl Brookins for offering this review. This is a bit of a serendipitous occurrence considering just last night I revisited my love of the music of this era by performing some old Peter, Paul, and Mary songs at a Cabaret show, with two of my talented kids. I remember well the days of hootenannies, Seeger, Biaz, Dylan et al. What a fun time that was. And it was fun to go back in time last night, except most folks had never heard "Stewball."

The Protest Singer: Pete Seeger
By Alec Wilkinson
Pub by Vintage Books, 2010,
ISBN: 978-0-307-39098-1
Trade Paper, 152 pages, including
credits, acknowledgments and testimony.

The mystery is that Pete Seeger survives and endures.  In his lifetime which spans much of the turmoil of the Twentieth Century, he has been beset by some of the most vicious and evil forces we have experienced in this country and in the world.  Yet, here he is, still pluckin’ and singin’ and taking on injustice and good causes, like cleaning up the Hudson River.

I suppose I’m biased.  I grew up in a time when folk singing in America was in the ascendancy and I have a lot of old records and memories of these folks, including Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, several others. I once had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Seeger through the good offices of my friend, another fine folk singer, Gene Bluestein.  So it was great to read about all those folks, many of whom it’s easy to think of as friends, whether personal or only through their music, through the sensibilities of Seeger and Wilkinson.

It is wonderful, although disturbing, to read this elegantly written, honest look at a man, his friends and companions, his family, his trials and his triumphs; a man who sang his way into the hearts and memories of a lot of people.  Seeger’s influence, not just in the music world; after all, the Weavers recording of  “Goodnight Irene” in 1950 sold over a million copies.

This slender book, written in the kind of engaging style that is somehow the essence of Seeger’s approach to a principled life, is a moving tribute to him and to everything that’s right in these United States.  Readers may disagree with his points of view, but you cannot disagree with the way Mr. Seeger fashioned his protest.  Wilkinson has set down, in a most engaging manner, for readers everywhere, the values and the reality of a true American.

Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday's Odds and Ends

First I want to acknowledge all my new followers. Glad to have you aboard and hope you find your visits worthwhile.

A recent letter to the editor in the Dallas Morning News responded to the lack of civility in public discourse. The person wrote, "As repugnant as it can be sometimes, this country embraces freedom of speech and permits the right to hate for all."

True, but that doesn't mean that we should all go into some sewer to make a point or join a debate.

We would all like to believe that bigotry is dead, yet people on Grand Isle in Louisiana got nervous when a group of minority workers showed up to keep beaches free from oil during the Gulf oil spill. According to a news story, the people were nervous because they were not used to seeing a "mass of people of color coming onto their isle."

Hmmm. What colors are their maids and gardeners?

Some company is offering bikini waxes for 8-year-old girls.

Not even worth a comment.

And finally, this word from the political arena.  The $600 million border security bill was passed in the senate recently with 98% of the chamber empty.  Senator Charles Schumer from New York and one other senator opened the session for 31 minutes and passed the bill. And Schumer actually nerve to gave a speech thanking "Everyone for their bipartisan support of the bill."

To whom was he speaking?

Any absurdities you might want to add to my list?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Do Politicians Think We're Stupid?

Actually, I think they do. Consider all the mis-steps, lies, shady dealings, and other nefarious activities associated with those in the political arena. How can they keep doing all that and still try to convince the general public that they deserve our trust and respect?

The latest bit of shady-dealing news concerns Texas House of Representatives member  Joe Driver   who is on the hot seat for double billing the state and his campaign fund for travel and other expenses.  The total amounted to a little over $17,000.

Granted, not a lot of money in the overall scheme of things, but it is money he thought he was entitled to. When the double billing was discovered, he said he did not realize there was anything wrong with asking reimbursement from the state for expenses his campaign fund had already paid for. Can he look at himself in the mirror and honestly say there was not a little voice suggesting that perhaps this was wrong?

More recently, he has said an ethics official told him that charging both was okay. So, if he did not think there was anything wrong with it, why did he consult an ethics official?  I would really like to know the name and credentials of that ethics official.  None of the ethics courses I took ever had a loophole for outright fraud. 

Perhaps the biggest irony in this whole mess is that Driver has reimbursed his campaign fund, but not the Texas taxpayers. So he still get's to keep the money. Shame on him.

What do you think? Is there any excuse for this type of thing?

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Great Debate

Unless you have been spending a lot of time on some remote desert island in the middle of the Pacific ocean, you must be aware of the debate that is going on over plans to build a mosque in New York City near Ground Zero.

Those opposed say that it dishonors the memories of those killed on 9/11 to have a building that supports Islam so close to where so many died in the horrendous attacks on the World Trade Center. Some have even gone so far as to imply that there is something nefarious going on with the plans to build the mosque.

In a recent column in the Dallas Morning News, Zulfi Ahmed, an American who practices the Muslim faith of Islam, asked people to stop, take a deep breath, and consider  this issue from another perspective - Freedom of Religion.

Like other people of his faith who have spoken out recently, Zulfi asks that we not appoint "guilt by association." Just because the terrorists who blew up those buildings were of the Islam faith, that does not mean that all people who practice that religion are terrorists waiting for the next time to strike. It is a small group of extremists who support and propagate Jihad against the U.S. and other Western countries. Just like it is a small group of Catholic priests who abuse children, not every one that has a church next to a school playground.

 Zulfi cites the numbers of mosques, temples, churches, and synagogues that are all "within a stone's throw of each other" in the suburban town where he lives, making the point that religious freedom and tolerance is alive and well in some parts of the country.

He concludes by saying that "If as a nation we do not protect the legal rights of one minority, then all minorities will be at risk, eventually. What is being built in Manhattan is a cultural center, with a pool, community services facilities and outreach teams, not training grounds for suicidal al-Qaeda operatives of women-beating Taliban."

To read the full essay by Zulfi, click HERE

So, what do you think? Is it insensitive to build the mosque so close to Ground Zero?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Book Review - The Anteater of Death by Betty Webb

Thanks to Carl Brookins for sharing his reviews....

The Anteater of Death
By Betty Webb
Poisoned Pen Press,
December, 2008, Hard cover,
230 pages, $24.95,
ISBN:  9781590585603

This is the beginning of a new series for this veteran author.  Just look again at the title.  Somewhere in the back of my head there's a Shakespeare quote.  Ms. Webb is an accomplished writer with several excellent novels to her credit. This one is a distinct departure for her, and it seems she is almost unable to restrain herself.  There are a great many asides and some tongue-in-cheek humor that sometimes distracts the reader from a rather thin plot, although the setting is intriguing and Webb uses it well.

Theodora Bentley, the central character in this drama, is a zoo-keeper in a private enterprise somewhere in Southern California in an old seaside town interestingly named Gunn Landing.  This zoo is the private plaything of some very wealthy families who have deep roots in the community.  The situation is made more complex because some of those family roots are deeply entangled in their own history.  Thus there is a darkness to this novel which offers some opportunities for the author to move in directions which would have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago.

One of Teddy Bentley's responsibilities is the giant ant eater of the title, in the wild, a fearsome creature indeed, equipped with razor claws designed to rip logs open in search of ants.  The book opens in the mind of this anteater, improbably named Lucy, in a highly unusual approach which has the potential to cause a number of readers to immediately close the book.  I suggest that such readers persevere.  Pregnant Lucy is disturbed when a male human enters her enclosure and she goes to investigate.  Her investigation leads to an accusation that the animal has killed the man, a director of the zoo.

This accusation against Lucy rouses anger and frustration among the zookeepers especially Teddy.  Gradually Teddy becomes snarled in the murder investigation, complicated by her own roots in the community and her past relationships with the Sheriff and several others.  Eventually the smoothly written and complicated plot gets sorted out and Teddy receives lots of help from a substantial range of off-beat and even strange characters, not all of whom are caged in the zoo. Funny, ironic and sometimes irreverent, the book will give readers an inside look at zoo keeping, animal protectionism and the often distorted lives of wealthy idlers.

Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lasting Relationships

Sorry to disappoint everyone who popped over to read Friday's Odds & Ends, but today is our wedding anniversary. I thought readers might enjoy finding out what has kept us together for 45 years. The following is another excerpt from my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck. While most of that book is humorous, now and then I get serious about families and the ties that bind. Enjoy....

The year we celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary was special to me because that was the year I had spent exactly half of my life married to Carl. Sometimes I had a hard time remembering what my life was before this marriage. Fragments of memory would come back in little flashes, like quick freeze frames, but they seemed to have less to do with who I was then, than what began on our wedding day.

I can vividly remember the fantasy I had about us in those early years. We would be the perfect couple. Have perfect children. A perfect home. I would become a rich and famous author, which would put us in the public spotlight, and people all over the world would marvel about how great we were.

When I fantasize, I don’t fool around.

Obviously, the fantasy was just that, but reality hasn’t been all that disappointing. We have longevity to our relationship and that is noteworthy. We have a great family. 

Who wants perfect, anyway? 

We did more than survive those first 22 years – and the years since. We lived and loved and laughed and cried and grew together.

In light of that accomplishment, I wonder if there is some kind of secret to it all, and after careful consideration, I think the answer is “yes” and “no” and “maybe.”

Yes, because when we married Carl and I made a commitment to each other. A commitment we decided to honor even when things got rough. A commitment that kept us in the same house even when we couldn’t stand being in the same room together. And a commitment that made us dig in and work to make things better when it looked like it was all falling apart.

No, because the secret isn’t really a secret. Every married couple voices the same vow on their wedding day and we are not the only ones who continue to honor it.

Yet, maybe there is some magic to our particular blend of single-mindedness and determination. What used to be his strength and my strength became our strength and kept us from ever considering an alternative. For the most part, it also kept us from evaluating our relationship according to modern standards. We never had “his and her” towels or “his and her” rights and responsibilities. When we’ve found ourselves asking, “What am I getting out of this relationship?” the answer usually becomes “what am I giving?” And we’ve tried to focus on acceptance and understanding instead of expecting and demanding.

Of course, we haven’t always lived out those ideals. But ideals are a lot like virtue. Just because a person has the virtue of patience doesn’t mean she can’t scream now and then. 

One of the articles I wrote for a national magazine, Marriage & Family Living, dealt with staying committed in a marriage. I decided to ask some dear friends who were like foster parents to me, to share the secret of their 50 + years together. He considered my question for a moment then said, “Well, the way I see it. It’s like getting into a boat together to cross the lake. As long as you are both paddling  with the same effort, you will get across to the other side.”

"And if one of those someones can’t row anymore?"

"Then the other person has to row harder."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Driving Lessons

Among the many lessons my father taught me were certain things about driving. First and foremost that driving was a privilege we should never take for granted. That may seem weird in our modern society when having a car is a given once one reaches a certain age, but it wasn't then.

My father also taught me some of the basics of maintaining a car - changing the oil, checking the tires, changing a flat tire, replacing spark plugs, and checking all the other fluids. I wasn't allowed to get my license until I had mastered all that.

However, the most important thing my father taught me was courtesy on the road - also not so common in this modern society.

People seem to have forgotten some of the basic rules and courtesies:
  • On the freeway and interstate, the left lane is for passing only 
  • Allow one car length between you and the car ahead of you for every 10MPH of speed (nothing is worse than looking in your rear-view mirror and not even seeing the grill of the car following) 
  • An orange light means prepare to stop, not speed up
  • A red light means stop, not blast through the intersection
  • Don't pass a car and then slow down (UGH)
  • Don't pull out in front of a car that is passing you (again UGH)
Driving used to be something I really enjoyed, but not so much anymore. People seem to drive without any awareness of the rest of the cars on the road and not only is that frustrating, it is also dangerous.

So what about you? What are some of your pet peeves related to driving?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Book Review: On Deadly Ground by Michael Norman

Thanks to Carl Brookins for sharing his reviews....

On Deadly Ground
by Michael Norman
ISBN 978-59058-692-1
Pub. By Poisoned Pen Press
270 pages, Hard Cover, 2010

Michael Norman writes in a straight-forward kind of abrupt style that can be off-putting.  An almost endless march of short declarative sentences doesn't allow for much rhythm or flexibility in approach.  Nevertheless, the author has constructed a novel with an excellent foundation, logical development, interesting characters and a long-running, intense disagreement at the core of the story.

To the small southern Utah community of Kanab comes a former Denver detective after the destruction of his marriage and his career.  J.D. Books is hurting.  He needs a job and he needs to recover.  Through the probable intervention of his father, Kanab being the town of his youth, Books lands a job with the Bureau of Land management as the local representative of law enforcement.  The town is divided among those who favor environmental concerns for preserving the natural wonders of the area, and others, who see the vast expanses of land as development potential.

David Greenbriar leads an environmental alliance which, in spite of internal disagreements as to strategy, seems to be winning the local fight to protect the millions of acres of relatively unspoiled land against the desires of developers. Books is hardly settled into his doublewide mobile home when Greenbriar is murdered, shot once while camping in the wilderness.  With some reluctance, Books BLM boss agrees to let him run the murder investigation, his experience being far broader than anyone in the small community.  This decision puts Brooks into conflict with his family's friends and his efforts to balance impartiality with finding the killer makes an interesting story.

In the end, Norman's straight ahead style, serves the story well and while twists and turns are not part of the picture, "On Dangerous Ground," is a solid detective story with comfortable characters many readers will want to see again.

Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,Devils Island
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Guest Post - Author Barri Bryan

Please help me welcome Barri Bryan as she shares about... Images and Imagination

I'm often asked where the inspiration came from for books I've written. Most of the time I can pinpoint a specific circumstance or event that inspired me. Occasionally I can't. My inspiration for A Second Splendor is one of those rare occasions. Spontaneous and fanciful thoughts about writing a book with 'true love never dies' as its theme had been running around in my head and images were troubling my imagination for a long time before I began to  put those thoughts and images together in some meaningful combination.

When I did it was more a result of desperation than it was inspiration. To paraphrase Montaigne, I was treating my imagination gently by trying to relieve it of all trouble and conflict. As I sorted through ideas for characters in my little drama, quite suddenly reality collided with my subjective inner world of impressions and feelings. My hero and heroine must be very young at the onset of the story-in high school maybe? I forgot my struggle to put life and substance to my characters as my plot began to unravel inside my head. I would write about a teenage bride. That shouldn't be hard for me to do since I had once been a teenage bride. My imagination took flight and I began to make my outline.  Almost immediately I had second thoughts. I was incorporating into my plot a very controversial subject. After arguing with myself through a long morning, I decided to pursue this plot line anyway.

Later when I tried to write character sketches of my hero and heroine, I ran into a brick wall, leading me to decide that imagination can be both a blessing and a curse. I laid my work aside and forgot it for several weeks. Then one evening, as I read these lines from a poem by John Wilmot:
"If I, by miracle can be
This livelong minute true to thee,
'Tis all that heave allows.

My fickle imagination returned with a vengeance. My heroine must be complex yet straightforward, wise and at the same time foolish. How would I reconcile those disparities? My hero must be strong and at the same time be considerate and kind. It would be challenging to make a man who did some of the things this man did, seem a hero. I had my work cut out for me.

Once more I was writing A Second Splendor. What did any of this have to do with the poem I had been reading? Nothing, except those lines succeeded in kicking my imagination into overdrive. How? I don't know. Who can explain how imagination operates?

From conception to completion, I struggled with this book as I have no other. It defied so many of my unwritten rules for writing. Maybe that's why it holds such a special place in my heart.   


CRR Mini Blog Tour!

  CRR is delighted to host CRR Publishing and author Barri Bryan in a mini-blog tour to celebrate the release of A Second Splendor!

We have a wonderful line-up of blogs to visit, and three arc copies of A Second Splendor will be given to three lucky people drawn from those commenting on the blogs! Click on the blog name below to read and comment and stand a chance to win – make sure you visit on the right day!
A Second Splendor is available HERE


9 August – Lovestruck Novice
13 August – Nicole Zoltack
15 August – Maryann Miller’s It’s Not All Gravy
17 August – Linda Banche
19 August – Maggi Andersen
21 August – Steph Burkhart
25 August – Liana Laverentz

Julie Anderson is not happy that her ex-husband is coming home to attend their daughter’s wedding. Max has broken her heart in the past – not once, but twice. Thank goodness she’s too wise to fall under his spell again, or is she?
Max Anderson has some reservations about his daughter’s coming marriage to the son of his ex wife’s business partner. He shows up early and walks into a situation that begs him to intervene. When he does all hell breaks loose.
Have fun everyone!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Guest Blogger Tomorrow

Romance author, Barri Bryan is on a mini-blog tour for her latest book from Classic Romance Revival, and will be here tomorrow to share a bit about Images and Imagination. Come back and help me welcome Barri to It's Not All Gravy...

CRR Mini Blog Tour!

  CRR is delighted to host CRR Publishing and author Barri Bryan in a mini-blog tour to celebrate the release of A Second Splendor!

We have a wonderful line-up of blogs to visit, and three arc copies of A Second Splendor will be given to three lucky people drawn from those commenting on the blogs! Click on the blog name below to read and comment and stand a chance to win – make sure you visit on the right day!
A Second Splendor is available HERE


9 August – Lovestruck Novice
13 August – Nicole Zoltack
15 August – Maryann Miller’s It’s Not All Gravy
17 August – Linda Banche
19 August – Maggi Andersen
21 August – Steph Burkhart
25 August – Liana Laverentz

Julie Anderson is not happy that her ex-husband is coming home to attend their daughter’s wedding. Max has broken her heart in the past – not once, but twice. Thank goodness she’s too wise to fall under his spell again, or is she?
Max Anderson has some reservations about his daughter’s coming marriage to the son of his ex wife’s business partner. He shows up early and walks into a situation that begs him to intervene. When he does all hell breaks loose.
Have fun everyone!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday's Odds and Ends

The wealthy American mother of three children who were found dead in an Edinburgh town house will face criminal charges in a Scottish court. Authorities issued an arrest warrant against Theresa Riggi, 46, as police completed autopsies on her children — 8-year-old twins Augustino and Gianluca and their sister Cecilia, 5. Riggi is currently going through a bitter divorce with her American oil industry executive husband, Pasquale Riggi, 46, of Colorado. They were contesting the custody of their children. 

Why do the children always have to suffer?

And speaking of suffering children. What about all the children "forgotten" in vehicles who die horrible deaths in the heat? We read about it all the time. A parent forgot to drop a child off at day care. Or a day-care worker forgot a child in the back of the van. How can you forget? It is beyond my comprehension. Some people think it is understandable what with all the distractions in the world today. They also think that Congress should step up and require automakers to install technology that would remind parents to remove kids from the back seat.

If parents are so busy and so stressed out that they can forget their children, then maybe it is time they re-evaluate their lives.

A recent headline: GM Shows Healthy Profit
General Motors shows signs of strength as it posts $1.3 billion profit, but the automaker still owes the government — and American taxpayers — more than $43 billion in federal bailout money it took after it declared bankruptcy last June. Okay, GM execs, are you going to forgo your bonus so we can have our money back?

Christ United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas builds a house every summer for a needy family. Applicants have to be employed  and able to make the mortgage payment of about $550. For that they get a nice 3-bedroom house. Sweet.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Don't be a Victim

The Media in Dallas has all been abuzz over remarks made by Police Chief David Brown to City Council  members.  Those comments were made during a  Public Safety Committee meeting while speaking about a reported 25 percent spike in sexual assaults so far this year compared to the same period last year. He pointed out that a lot of those assaults are connected to alcohol use and date rape.

In putting forth the department's plan to address this increase he said they are considering a public-education campaign urging women to exercise extra caution when going out with someone new, to be careful about drinking too much in those situations or to always have a trusted, sober friend present.

During the meeting a reporter from the Dallas Observer   was doing a live feed to his blog and  reported that the Chief was blaming women for sexual attacks. Later in the week, Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow, came to the Chief's defense saying this idea was no different than public safety campaigns to encourage people to lock their homes and cars and don't leave valuables in cars.

Blow was taken to task by letter writers who said that he was supporting the idea that women are to blame for sexual assaults and rape. Beth Newman, dirctor of Women's and Gender Studies at SMU, wrote, "A public education campaign emphasizing the responsibility of women to protect themselves merely reinforces the idea that a man's taking advantage of an "opportunity" to rape is to be expected."

In response to that letter, another  woman wrote, "No woman drunk or sober ever deserves to be raped, even if she is dancing naked on a tabletop in a room full of convicted serial rapists. However, I would never advise my daughter to allow herself to get drunk while on a date with a man she barely knows."

This controversy has really resonated with me because I was assaulted once. And I was not the least bit offended by Chief Brown's comments. To me, what he was saying was, be careful that you don't make yourself prey. Rapists are looking for every opportunity to take advantage of a vulnerable person. Do what you can to make sure you are not that person. 

That isn't blaming the victim. 

Monday, August 09, 2010

A Little Summertime Fun

Here is another excerpt from my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck. Since most of us are still sweltering in the summertime heat, I thought I'd continue from the chapter Summertime Blues. Enjoy....

Another fun part of summer vacations were the skirmishes. Not a kind word could be heard from the troops as they squared off for another major battle over territorial rights in the bedroom. (Loosely translated, that meant which corner did Michael get to fill up with dirty socks?)

At times, there was so much snarling and growling going on, I was tempted to call in a lion tamer to restore peace and quiet.

 The skirmishes were caused by boredom. At least that’s what they always said, even though they had enough toys and games to outfit a small school. The daily lament was always, “There’s nothing to do.” To remedy that, I whipped out my list of odd jobs, saved for just such an occasion. Then they suddenly remembered a million things they simply had to do.

They had to practice their multiplication tables because their teacher told them to.

They had to sort their rock collection.

They had to help their friend get his shoe off the roof, and it might be an all day job because another kid keeps throwing the shoe back on the roof. (It only cost them a quarter to get the kid to work on his throwing arm.)

They promised the lady down the street they'd stand guard over her flowerbeds and catch the culprits who keep smashing her petunias.

This was when I got hit with a summertime problem much worse than grubs in my lawn, army worms devouring my garden, or the challenge of how we would pay our latest electric bill.

Although the latter did have a direct impact on this problem I called The Summertime Blues, more commonly known as, Would I Ever Make It Through The Next Six Weeks Until The Kids Went Back To School?

Six more weeks of carting them all over town to different activities to ward off the wave of boredom that threatened to overcome us. And with their unerring instinct of gratefulness, they threw a fit when I asked them to take their dirty socks off the kitchen table.

Six more weeks of, "It's too hot to mow the lawn." But they were willing to risk a heat stroke to ride their bikes up to the local supermarket for candy, or go to the park to play a game of baseball.

And somehow I always got elected to serve refreshments to the whole team.

Six more weeks of stupid, senseless, sibling in-fighting:
"Get your stinky foot out of my face!"
"You threw my shorts on the floor so you can just go pick them up."
“You always throw my clothes on the floor so I don t have to pick your stupid shorts up."
"If you turn that channel, I'll break your arm!"
"I want to watch something else."
"You always get to watch what you want to."
"Nuh-uh ... cause you're always watching your stupid shows."
"If you don't leave me alone, I'm going to punch your face in.”
"Mom! He's going to punch my face in."
"Move over, you're bumping me."
"If you touch me again, I'll break your finger."
"You don't scare me."
"Quit looking at me."
"Mom make him quit looking at me!"

Sometimes they covered all that on the first morning, which left them five weeks and six and a half days to think of new things to fight about.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Book Review - The Fourth Sacrifice by Peter May

Thanks to Carl Brookins for sharing his review with us...

The Fourth Sacrifice by Peter May
Thomas Dunne Books
Hardcover, 405 pages,
ISBN: 0312364644
Review by Carl Brookins

Scotsman Peter May is a fine writer and a good journalist. He has experience, a good memory and he knows how to do research. For several months he was afforded unprecedented access to Chinese law enforcement behind the curtains. His books ring with authenticity. Sometimes all this expertise and research gets in the way of a really good story. If readers are fascinated by Chinese history the excavation of the terracotta warriors at X'ian, the capital of the Middle Kingdom, and interested in the rise and fall of the Red Guards during the cultural revolution, here's a novel that opens wide a window on those parts of Chinese history.  For the rest of us, there's a little too much detail.

While the mystery is carefully rooted in those subjects, the principal plot concerns the main characters in May's first novel in this series. American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell is a smart, irascible expert, widely recognized in her field. After a disastrous affair with a Bejing detective who had abruptly disappeared from her life, Margaret is determined to return to the U.S. although she has little to look forward to. Then an American citizen of Chinese descent who worked at the American Embassy in Bejing is murdered-decapitated. It is intriguing to the authorities because this killing is similar to three other recent deaths of native Chinese.

Higher authority assigns top detective Li Yan, Margaret's former lover, to the case. Then the Embassy insists that Margaret be present at the autopsy of the dead American. Once again Margaret and Le Yan are forced together in a conflicted and tempestuous joint effort to find a killer or killers.

The author's high level skills in characterization and his excellent descriptions of exotic and unusual locations are on display. The novel is replete with insider looks at legal procedures and locations most will never experience. The novel is a wonderful excursion into police procedures and the passions of two individuals from very different cultures who find themselves almost inextricably linked.  An excellent novel.

Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Friday, August 06, 2010

Friday's Odds and Ends

As football season gears up the news is full of stories about signing contracts and the high cost of buying an athlete. In perhaps one of the biggest deal this year, Sam Bradford got a $78 million, 4-year contract with the St Louis Rams. Thirty years ago a $30,000 signing bonus was considered a nice deal. Even taking into consideration the value of a dollar then and now, it is still obscene what athletes are getting. And the more they get the more they think need.

There's a syndicated cartoon, Plugger, that leads with "You know you're a Plugger when..." It pokes fun at people of a certain age and a certain economic status that is far, far below the lifestyle Sam Bradford will be enjoying. I came up with one, "You know your a Plugger when your after-dinner mint is a Tums."

Here are a few headlines from this past week:

Right-Wing Pundit Phyllis Schlafly Decries Government Assistance for "Unmarried Moms." Oh, right. Let's do all we can to encourage unwed mothers.

SEC Lets Citi Execs Go Free After $40 Billion Subprime Lie. And the thousands of people who lost their homes paid the ultimate price.

Puerto Rican Man Still Working at Age 104. Emilio Navarro, former professional baseball player for the Negro League, still works at the business he started and likes to go dancing. It is said he prefers to dance with blondes. You go, Emilio.

$3 million for Chelsea's wedding. Talk about a waste. How can people justify paying that much when so many others are struggling just to survive. One columnist wrote that Chelsea deserved it all because she has been such a model daughter. So wouldn't a nice wedding at about $100,000 have worked?

Right is Right, Wrong is Discretionary. No comment.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Guest Post by Tracy Farr

I am doing the Youth Drama Camp again this week, so I am gone from my office most of the time. Thank you Tracy Farr for allowing me to stea... er,  borrow your work when I am desperate for a blog piece. Enjoy....

5 Tips on Surviving Marriage

Sadie and Reese are friends of mine who recently got married. I took their wedding pictures. While at the wedding, I thought about giving them advice on how to sustain a long and happy marriage, but reconsidered, thinking it might be inappropriate to give them my counsel as they exchanged rings or ate wedding cake.

But now that the ceremony is over, Sadie and Reese, I hereby and forthwith give you my Five Tips on Surviving Marriage:

1. Reese: It is YOUR job to mow the yard. Yes, you may be tempted to let her push the lawnmower or ride the tractor around the yard after you’ve come home from a hard day at work, and we (and by we, I mean your man brothers), we may look at you with admiration for conning your wife into doing it for you – but it’s a trap. Let her mow the yard once, and she’ll use it against you until she lays you in your grave. And maybe even longer.

“What do you mean you don’t have time to pick up the milk,” she’ll say. “Don’t you remember how I mowed the yard for you three years ago, without any help? And you don’t have time to pick up a lousy carton of milk? My mother warned me this would happen.”

Sadie: It is your job to mow the yard as often as possible, thus giving you tremendous amounts of leverage against him. If he beats you to the lawnmower, at least bring him a glass of iced tea while he’s mowing. You can use that as leverage, too.

To read the rest of the tips, click over to Tracy's Blog

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

I am not Believing This

I just read this news update and couldn't let it pass without a comment:

"Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston have called off their second engagement after he told her he may have fathered a baby with another girl. The other girl was not identified, but a pregnant ex-girlfriend of Johnston has publicly denied he is the father."

Apparently Bristol learned about this turn of events the same day they announced their engagement - July 14th - but didn't act on it until now. According to the news story, she decided to call off the engagement in part because obviously Levi does not know how to keep his pants zipped. But the primary reason cited was because he lied recently about going on a hunting trip. Instead he went to California to be in a music video that made fun of her family. 

Okay, I can barely suppress a laugh here. Are not all these stories about their on-again off-again relationship and all the reasons why just a tad embarrassing?

I think our society is more than a little skewed when one can become a celebrity by making all the wrong decisions in life and airing the dirty family laundry.

Monday, August 02, 2010


Those of you who have been following my blog know that my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck, is based on the weekly column I used to write for the Plano Star Courier, an upscale Dallas Suburban newspaper. My husband and I raised five children, and one of the things that helped us face the challenges of a large family was having a sense of humor. Being able to laugh can pretty well diffuse any situation, although the humor might not always be apparent right away. Some things have to age somewhat before they take on comic proportions.

Writing the column was actually the beginning of my professional career and the column became quite popular. I was known as the Erma Bombeck of Plano and it was fun to be famous and recognized at the grocery store - unless it was the day I ran to the store in my oldest shorts, my hair in a mess and with no make-up.

I say all that as a prelude to what happened yesterday. My husband and I, and our oldest son who was visiting from Austin, went to a community theatre production here in East Texas yesterday afternoon. The guys elected to sit in the row ahead of me. Don't ask me why.  I did shower. I promise.

Anyway, I sat down next to a lady and gave her a little nod in greeting. "Pardon me," she said to me. "Your name wouldn't happen to be Maryann would it?"

I was thinking maybe she recognized me from one of the plays I had been in at that theatre, so I smiled and said, "Yes."

 Then she said, "I thought that was you. I recognized you from when you used to write for the Plano paper. I loved your column. I looked forward to it every week."

She said some other nice things about my writing, but quite honestly, I was so stunned that she recognized me after all these years, I didn't quite hear it all.  She saw past the wrinkles and gray hair of today and saw that much younger me that used to smile next to my column every week.

Wow. Made my day.

What about you? Has anyone "made your day" lately?

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Book Review: Final Approach by Rachel Brady

Thanks to Carl Brookins for providing another review of an interesting mystery. Enjoy....

Final Approach  By Rachel Brady
Poisoned Pen Press,
HC, 250 pg, October, 2009
ISBN: 9781590586556

A fine debut novel with an unusual plot line.  Emily Locke is recovering from the loss of her husband and infant daughter.  It is clear from the get-go there is something askew in that whole incident.  Now four years later, the detective who was disgraced and dismissed from the local police department as fall-out from that calamity is back in Emily's life.  He wants her help on a case he's working on.

A leap of faith is required of readers here.  Is she the only person in the country the detective can count on to infiltrate a questionable sky-diving club located over a thousand miles away?

And why is Emily so available?  After all she has a full-time job and is still pretty fragile from the loss of her daughter and husband.  Still, the detective, not her favorite person, presses the right buttons and off she goes to Texas.

What follows is a tension-filled emotional novel of exquisite detail about sky-diving in all the right places, introduction of necessary and useful characters and enough action to satisfy the most ardent thriller aficionado. Emily is strong and distressed at all the right places, there are no real down sections of the novel.

This is a fast read and although some of the danger Emily faces doesn't reach my punch level, Emily is an interesting woman and the sky-diving is an unusual platform on which to build a crime novel. 

One of the more interesting aspects of Final Approach is that readers will, from the beginning, feel as though they have been brought into an ongoing story. There is occasionally a feeling of the need to catch up with background as a way to evaluate current happenings.  It's a style that adds to the tension and pace.  A satisfying novel with a fine twist at the end.

Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!