December 19, 2015

A Joyous Holiday to All

I've been trying to get into the holiday spirit and having a bit of a time. I make the mistake of reading the paper each morning which is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Between the stories of hateful political rhetoric, the sheer violence we seem to enjoy inflicting upon one another, and which new toy will kill your kid this season, it's hard to be jolly.

But I'm giving it a try. Watching my granddaughter kneel in front of my Dickens village the other night and quietly whisper imagined conversations as she moved the little figures around so delicately helps.

As does taking a moment or two to remember Christmases' past. My parents were both raised by widows. There was little money, but perhaps that's what made Christmas so special, especially for my Dad. He was a stickler for the surprise of it all. In all my childhood years not one of us ever thought of searching for our presents before Christmas morning. It would have broken Daddy's heart.

Christmas morning we went to Mass. Dad stood in front of the living room door and made us close our eyes as we darted past on our way out. We didn't get much, usually one gift each and one to share, but I don't remember ever being disappointed. It was the anticipation, the warmth, the fact that Dad thought it was all so special that made it so.

I remember picking out the tree, visiting aunts and uncles, the smell of the incense at midnight Mass and of Mom's Christmas Night perfume, driving down Nebraska Avenue and watching lights twinkle magically in the dark, singing carols in the car; then in later years, ham and Mom's potato salad on the table, Dad's Bloody Marys made with bourbon (a tasty mistake), and flowers from my best boyfriend (he still is). Finally the wonderful thrill of becoming Santa for our own beautiful children. I remember watching our little Rachel take out each ornament for the tree so carefully and telling us its history every year and Matt just being so excited when he was six that he didn't notice Santa had mixed up the stockings and was apparently thrilled to be getting nail polish and barrettes. I hope their memories will be as special for them as my own are for me.

Whatever you celebrate - Hanukkah, Kwanza, the Winter Solstice, or Christmas Day - may your memories and the love of the season keep you warm and bring you a joyous holiday and a peaceful New Year.

November 13, 2015

Where did I put glasses?

My mother knew how to grow old gracefully. She never tried to look ‘young’, but she was always youthful. She laughed a lot, played silly games with her grandchildren, and seemed to have great stores of energy.

Of course, she was also of a generation who didn’t share all of the anxiety they might be feeling or complain about aches and pains, so being fairly myopic as all children are regardless of age, I always just assumed that everything was hunky-dory.

Well, now that I am moving past middle age I have the distinct feeling that Mother just hid a lot of things well. I do not. I have questions and I have complaints and I don't feel particularly graceful.

I want to know why a hair can sprout on my chin and grow to an impressive length overnight when it takes four months for a bad haircut to grow out.

I want to know exactly why no one ever told me that pulling on a pair of sweatpants would one day become an Olympic sport of sorts, a task best achieved while sitting down because balance is one of the first things to go, even if you don’t keep catching a toe on the waistband and trip.

I want to know why sleep has become such a hit or miss project. There was a time that a sleepless night was an occasional occurrence. Now it’s the reverse. I have mastered many of the sleep-inducing little games. I can list all fifty states in my head, count backward from 100 and get to 0, name a country, a famous person born before 1900, or a car for each letter of the alphabet and still find myself making soup and coffee cake at three in the morning.

Of course, the whole memory thing is something else again. I used the word ‘myopic’ a few sentences ago. It took me ten minutes searching my ever shrinking brain trying to come up with it and finally had to ask my husband who got it right away. Quelle surprise! How about that - French I can remember.

And that joke about glasses being on someone’s head while they look for them? Not so very funny anymore. If you see an older person patting themselves down don’t assume that he or she has lost his or her mind. He or she is probably just looking for a pair of specs.
Getting old isn't all bad. It's just so surprising!





November 6, 2015

A Butterfly Adventure

This week I have the honor of presenting my granddaughter's first foray into the world of writing. Sophia is all of seven years old, but already has a vivid imagination and a way with words. I hope you will enjoy this story of the origin of Butterfly Girl.

A Butterfly Adventure

Once upon a time there lived a butterfly named Fly. Fly was just flying around when suddenly she was caught in a net by a man! The man took the butterfly to his home and the next day when Fly woke up she was in a box! She looked around and sure enough there were butterflies flying everywhere and there were some on the bottom of the box sleeping.
Fly was unlucky. She hurt her wing. Fly cried and cried. Then another butterfly came over and helped Fly. She said that they were sailing away to New York and she was right. A few hours later they got to New York. Gulp!
The butterflies were taken to a park and released into New York. It was ok, but they wanted to go home. So they flew off and headed back to the dock. But just then they flew into someone! And the person was named Sophia. Sophia was a nice little girl (her mother calls her Phia, her dad calls her Schmoogins). Fly had a secret. She had magical powers. She told Sophia. After that Sophia agreed to help them get home.
Soon they ran into someone. Her name was Arleen. Arleen was on her way to work. She worked at a coal factory. Sophia and Arleen talked a little bit. Then Sophia and the butterflies kept on going. But at the coal factory there was an explosion turning Arleen in to Fireface!!
Meanwhile Sophia and the butterflies were headed for the dock. Fireface chased after them. Soon Sophia noticed that they were being chased and started running. But just then Fireface caught up with them! Sophia realized Fireface was Arleen.
Fireface threw a fireball at them. Sophia dodged it. Then it was a true emergency and Fly gave her powers to Sophia and fell! Sophia flew into the air and used her new powers to get rid of Fireface. Then Sophia and the butterflies looked at Fly on the ground. She was alive, but she did not move. Sophia picked her up and put her in a case. Then they headed for the dock.
Soon they caught a boat home and lived happily ever after.


October 30, 2015

500 Words and Counting

My plan today is to write 500 words. I know, to many of you that sounds just ridiculous. I read all the time about authors who regularly churn out 1000, 3000, even 5000 words a day. Journalists write long articles in the blink of an eye!

If I were a journalist I would have to write for a paper that liked to print three-day old news. I’m lucky if I actually sit down and write anything at all. Case in point. Just as I was going to sit here at this very computer I decided that I should just throw in a load of towels before I start. As I grabbed the towels from the bathroom I decided that I should really give the shower stall a good clean. No, it’s not an emergency. The health department isn’t going to condemn my home any minute now. But cleaning the mildew out of the shower door track just seemed so much simpler that figuring out exactly what Daisy and Rose are going to do with their Friday night.

And now as I have plopped myself onto my computer chair, pulled up a new Word document, am I writing about the Forrest ladies latest exploits? I am not. I am blogging about not writing about the Forrest ladies latest exploits.

It’s been a difficult year writing-wise. But I really want to get back to it on a regular basis. I’ve been trying to figure out just where I lost the impetus to write and how to retrieve it. I don’t think it’s actually writer’s block, as much as it’s writer’s ennui. So when I realized this morning that when I was writing my blog fairly frequently, I was also working on my books at a steady pace. I decided that you will all have to put up with my lunacy once again. I hope to keep this blog going. Please feel free to bug me if I don’t.

But next week - A wonderful little treat. My beautiful granddaughter Sophia will be my guest. I think you’ll enjoy her very first story. (356 words for anyone who’s counting)

July 30, 2015

Happy birthday to me! A few thoughts on aging.

I have a birthday fast approaching - and, no, you may not ask how old I will be. I'm not going for full disclosure here. Let's just say that middle age has passed me by and we'll leave it at that.

At this age ordinary phrases take on new meanings. 'How are you?' is no longer just a passing comment, a conversation starter. Now it's something we really want to know - how is your back, your arthritis, your knee, your blood sugar, and your blood pressure - all daily inquiries that need an answer.
My mother and me

'Where did I put the cupcake pans? (or the keys, or the car, for that matter) becomes quite an upsetting question. After all, if I can’t remember where the hell I put the cupcake pans, do I still remember how to make cupcakes, and do I even like them? Or worse yet, will I know what they are for when I find them?

Of course, this brings us to the granddaddy of innocuous phrases uttered a thousand times over the years. ‘What in the world would I do without you?’ Well, as Tom and I look in the mirror it dawns on us that one day one of us will indeed find this out. Unless we are, of course, the only two people in the history of the human race who will just keep going ad infinitum.

Tom, who really cannot cook, said this the other day as he watched me make my 16,000th dinner. “If you go first, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’d starve.” He quickly amended it saying, “Well, I’d miss you, of course. But I would starve.”

And well he might. Tom, bless his little pea pickin’ heart, has not yet mastered the complexities of dialing the phone and ordering Chinese. Maneuvering the grocery store seems to be beyond his skill set. And even supposing he manages to get food into the house, he simply does not know how to cook it. 

But he says not too worry. He is quite positive that he will go first. He feels in his heart of hearts that I am destined to be one of those women who outlives everyone. Well, thank you very much. An old age I can really look forward to - alone - with sixteen cats - and a cupcake pan. Happy birthday to me!

June 17, 2015

Writers' Block and a Con Man

I was rolling the other day. I had new ideas. I was writing away with enthusiasm. This hasn't happened much over the past months. As every writer knows, writers' block is an insidious little ailment that attacks unannounced. It can be disastrous for a writer who makes a living writing. Luckily for me (not dependent on a writer's income and with lots of other stuff I am supposed to be doing), it's just incredibly annoying. But the other day, the whole block thing seemed to lift and magically there was Rose was on a date and Daisy and Angela playing with the Ouija board.
I was happily typing along when the phone rang. I have to say that I have just a bit of Attention Deficit Disorder. (Just a sec. I hear mowing. Is someone finally cutting the grass at the vacant house next door? No. Still two feet tall.) Where was I? Happily typing, as I am now, when the phone rang. Well, I answered it.
Yes, I have caller ID, but it was a cell number (301-471-6518) and sometimes they come in without a name. Could be an emergency, you never know.
And it was, indeed, an emergency. There was a bench warrant out for my arrest. According to Sgt. Darren Jacob of the Prince George's County Sheriff's Office, I had missed a summons to Grand Jury duty and Judge Herman C. Dawson had issued an arrest warrant.

Yes, now of course I feel like a total fool. I can hear you laughing at my stupidity. But if someone who sounds official (and this guy had his act down very well) starts a conversation out of the blue with a person who never goes out the IN door, always returns her shopping cart to the corral, and waits for the green light even when there is not a car in sight, with "Mrs. Petersen, I am calling about a bench warrant issued in your name," Mrs. Petersen freaks out!

I am not altogether an idiot. A little piece of my brain was saying, "This isn't right." There were things that weren't making sense. A summons in mid-May for an appearance in June. Not likely. No information on the caller ID. Wrong. But every time I would consider this he would say something about my imminent arrest. And he hadn't brought up money or needing my social security number, just scheduling a court date. So by this time I was almost in tears and handed the phone to Tom (my husband) and told him what this man was saying.

Having a moment to center my self and to reflect while Tom talked to him, I thought to call the actual Sheriff's Department for verification. The woman was very nice as she chuckled and said, "No honey, we don't do things that way. Call 911 and report him."

At this point Sgt. Jacob was telling Tom that he would need $318 that I would get back were I to be found not guilty. I should go to the Safeway and get a PayPal gift card and call him back with the information. Well, even if I hadn't just talked to the Sheriffs Office, I would have caught on. Even I can see through a load of manure in time. Since when won't a government agency take a credit card. He also wanted our cell phone numbers. He didn't get them. He did call back several times that afternoon. I suppose he figured he had a live one and wanted his PayPal information. He didn't get it.

What irked me most about the whole thing was not how idiotic I felt falling for this line for even a minute, but that he had completely put me off course. I never did get back to that Ouija board reading that day. But the good news is the block has been lifted, I haven't been arrested, and I got a blog out of it!

May 31, 2015

Pantyhose are back!

Pantyhose in place 1972
I have a girlfriend who at 65 has just discovered that women's legs look sexier in heels, than flats. How this revelation has escaped her for all these years, I'll never know. Yes I do. We were taught by nuns. We did not aspire to sexy. We never thought about it. We aspired to cute, pretty, beautiful if we thought we could manage it. But never did it occur to me that I might be considered sexy even as I wore mini-skirts up to my unmentionables like any good American girl in 1972.

The sad thing is that for most women of 65 the chance of looking sexy in anything is slim at best. There are women who fight the good fight and diet, exercise, and have 'a little work' done. For these brave souls I say, "Good for you. But you're just putting off the inevitable." The rest of of us prefer to 'age gracefully' - another term for 'a little work' being way out of our price range and/or we're just too afraid we'll end up looking like Mrs. Potato Head. But we like to pretend, so we sometimes wear high heels and pantyhose!

Yes, the good news is pantyhose are back! The fashion gurus of the world, thanks to the impeccable Kate Middleton Windsor, have finally admitted that pantyhose (or as they now call them 'leg concealers', no doubt in order to charge exorbitant amounts of money for a yard of nylon) are make-up for the legs. Get a grip people. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that bare legs on anyone over ten are just not that great looking. Veins, scars, general knobbiness, and cellulite are simply unattractive. Let's cover up those veins and compress those thighs!

And I don't want to hear about the comfort factor. I do not want to hear, "Pantyhose are hot. Pantyhose are tight." If you go there I will have to go back into the joys of garter belts and girdles (and, no, Spanx do not compare), but they are better left back in the day with teased hair and house dresses. Pantyhose, I still contend, were the best invention since sliced bread. 

May 12, 2015

Finding Forrester and asking the soup question

A few weeks ago I watched the movie Finding Forrester once again. It's a lovely movie about a man named William Forrester,an author who published one great novel then became a recluse living in New York, and Jamal Wallace, an unlikely teenage savant who becomes Forrester's friend.

Early in their relationship Forrester asks Jamal to stir his soup, so a skin won't form. Jamal asks him why this is needed and Forrester explains.

Moments later Jamal asks Forrester a question about his personal life. To which Forrester answers, "That is not a soup question."

So exactly what is a soup question? It's a question with an answer that will benefit the person asking. In the first instance, Jamal learns something about various ways to make soup. This is to his benefit. It increases his knowledge. But as to the second question, Forrester points out that knowing intimate details of his life is not a benefit to Jamal's.

As writers we know the importance of moving the story forward. Much as we would like to add interesting comments, side stories, silly anecdotes, and the like, editors, at least my editor, take a dim view of it. My editor is happy to cut paragraphs and whole pages that she feels don't move the story forward. And this can be hard for a writer, especially when you have an incredibly clever little bit of prose that you really feel needs to be shared.

And as a new writer, I was fairly intimidated by the editing process. I first had to get over the agonizing realization that my 'baby' might need some repair work done. After the initial hysteria, a strong drink, and my husband's gentle, but constructive "Do whatever the hell you want!', I realized that what I wanted was a better book. But because I was such a novice I just assumed that the editor knew best. This I had to rethink just a bit when my she deleted about one hundred or so words that "didn't move the story forward" without realizing that I had planted a clue in those very words.

Holy Redeemer School 1959
After time to digest so many things about editing and the whole writing process, I came to the conclusion that editors are not always right and that not everything has to move the plot forward. I think that adding another dimension is not only possible, but good for the story - as long as it's a 'soup question'!

So now when I'm writing I ask myself two questions. Does what I'm writing move the story forward and, if not, does it benefit the reader? With this in mind I'm free to add a day of useless sailing on the Chesapeake Bay because it sets the stage. I'm free to include silly mishaps that do nothing to move the plot forward, but do a lot to help the reader bond with the characters.

This all may sound elementary to a seasoned writer, but for a woman who was taught by some rather rigid nuns to follow strict rules at all times (rulers on knuckles, not an uncommon occurrence), it's a truly liberating idea. So for any writers out there who care to take advice from me, I would say have some fun, move that plot right along, but answer couple of decent soup questions along the way.

May 5, 2015

Roses Are Dead, My Love

This week just a little snippet from Roses Are Dead, My Love 

Angela walked in and Rose said, “Mother, what in God’s name are you dressed for?”
“This is how I roll, honey. Ready for a little night-time action.”
She was wearing a black cat suit, black ballet shoes and a black bandanna covering her honey-blond curls. And she was carrying her Super-Soaker. 
Daisy said, “Mother really, a bit suspicious looking, isn't it? We all set?”
They put the dogs on their leashes and walked casually down the street and toward the park. As they were crossing the bridge a police cruiser pulled up next to them and Tom Willis rolled down his window.
“Everything okay?” He looked at Angela a little doubtfully.
“Just walking the dogs before bed,” answered Daisy. “Everything quiet around here?”
“Seems to be.” He hesitated a moment and then said, “Angela, you’re not planning an attack on that streaker, are you?”
“Oh, heaven’s no. Just letting Percy and Malcolm get a bit of air. It’s so hot during the day that these poor little guys don’t get enough exercise.”
“Okay, ladies. Please, stay close to home and keep together. Don’t forget there’s a murderer out here somewhere.”
Rose shivered. “How could we? We’ll be careful. Good night.”
Tom drove off slowly turning to go past the park and post office, then continued out toward the highway.
Daisy said, “Okay, we've probably got about half an hour before another patrol comes through. Let’s move it!”
Everything seemed to be quiet. Only a couple of lights were on in some of the houses further down the street. They crossed in front of the post office and started up the alley to the back door. Malcolm and Percy stopped suddenly and started snarling and growling.
Rose said, “Okay, let’s go home. The dogs don’t like this.”
But Angela was moving ahead, squirt gun in hand. “Come on girls,” she whispered over her shoulder. As she got near to the corner of the building, they heard a door bang.
“Mother, stop!” Daisy hissed. Angela had reached the corner and stuck her head around when the sisters caught up with her.
Just as Rose whispered, “What do we do now?” a shadow ran from the back of the building toward them. Malcolm and Percy started pulling at their leashes and barking like crazy. The figure turned to his right and veered up the alley running all out toward the old neighborhood.
“What was that?” whispered Daisy.
“Someone else breaking into the post office?” answered Rose.
“Seems to be a popular pastime. Well, he’s gone. We might as well take a look.”
They sidled around the corner, the dogs trotting beside them. Malcolm was calm now, sniffing the area. Angela said, “You’re right. Whoever it was is gone.”
Daisy was inspecting the door. “Look. We don’t even have to break in. The door’s open!”
Rose had her phone out. “Daisy, are you nuts? We don’t know the place is empty. We have to report this. That could have been the killer finishing the job Peggy interrupted.”
“Just give me one minute, Rose. I’ll just pop in and check out the book. And then we’ll call.”
“He’ll be long gone by then.”
“He’s probably long gone now.”
While they were arguing, Angela had slipped into the door and was back. She was holding a red three-ring binder labeled ‘POST OFFICE BOXES’ with her bandana. “Is this what you wanted? I found it lying on the floor. The place is a mess.”
“Mother! Put that back,” cried Rose.
“Wait a second, Rose,” said Daisy. “Just let me take a look.”

She carefully turned the pages of the book by the edges. When she came to Box 768 she pulled out her cell phone and snapped a picture of the page. “One more second. All right, I’ve emailed it to myself.”

February 25, 2015

Cabin Fever or a Wintry Mix?

Cabin fever? Hah! I am suffering from the much more debilitating 'wintry mix'. A dash of cabin fever, a soupcon of winter blahs, a modicum of arthritic knee pain, and a hefty dollop of writer's block. That's me.
Illustration: Chris Clover
I walk from room to room and gaze hopefully out the windows looking for anything green, any sign of spring. I did see a robin, but he just looked cold, sad and depressed, about like me.

I go from project to project. A line written here, a load of laundry there. I clean out one cupboard, only to find that I've dumped all of the stuff I took out into another cupboard. My to-do list is growing, but have-done list is not.

My arms don't touch my sides for all of the layers I'm wearing. I've lost sixteen pounds sticking to my Weight Watchers, but who could tell?

And please don't tell me to be thankful I'm not in Massachusetts or Rhode Island. If I were I wouldn't have to worry about my wintry mix because I'd be in the state home for people WHO HAVE HAD ENOUGH AND FINALLY LOST IT!

To add insult to injury, or perhaps the other way around, I watched the news the other night and found that I, along with my sister and sister-in-law, might be featured players on a video made by a local pervert who runs a very nice restaurant near here.

Yes, I'm talking about cameras in the ladies room. I have been a patron of that very ladies room several times in the last few years and I have two questions about this. Who in this world gets his jollies, as my mother used to say, watching women use these facilities? And when am I getting paid for my performance?

Since there seem to be no answers to these questions, I will go now and feed the robin outside my window. He's been looking in, probably hoping to see something green.

January 18, 2015

I just don't understand!

My father used to say quite often that he was just too old. He didn’t understand this world any more. Well, I’m beginning to know how he felt.           

When we’re young I think not understanding things is a good thing. We question and dissect and search for meaningful answers. And we are sure that at some point we will figure out all that life has to offer.

But as we age and those answers aren’t forthcoming and more and more things go on that seem to us ‘odd’, we start shaking our heads and saying, “I don’t get it!” with an alarming amount of regularity.

Of course, there are a myriad number of things that I have never understood and never thought that I would; i.e.: the theory of relativity, why avocados have such large pits, why nature in its infinite wisdom made mosquitoes, and who first looked at a blue crab and said, “Boy, I’ll bet that’s tasty!”  These don’t bother me.

And I am not speaking of the overwhelming questions that have plagued us since time began. Terrorism, child abuse, plagues, man’s inhumanity to man, slavery and the like. If man ever finds the answer to these maybe they’ll stop, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.

No. I’m referring to the little things that seem to have changed in my lifetime, which don’t really make a difference in my life and, in many cases, may be a change for the better for all I know, but they are like little pebbles in my shoe anyway.

Here are just few things off the top of my head that have become commonplace that I simply do not get, for your enjoyment and in no particular order.

Tattoos. This is in no way a moral judgment. I know some very lovely people who are well-tattooed. I just don’t understand why.

Using ‘I’ when you should use ‘me’.

Why so many people find wrestling fun to watch.

Beautiful women who have extreme plastic surgery.

People who live together with no intention of marrying calling referring to each other as ‘my fiancĂ©’.  Again, not a judgment of any moral kind. Just a question of proper word usage.

People wearing shorts when it’s 30 degrees out.

Waiters who ask, “Are you still working on that?”, as if the food they serve is so bad that it requires work to eat it.

Saying jewlery, instead of jewelry.

Playing electronic games for hours and hours. Also, surfing the web (if it’s still called that) for hours and hours.

Not teaching cursive writing and the times tables in grade school.

I could go on, but I’m old and crotchety and my computer-time tolerance has worn out.

January 3, 2015

Exactly What's in a Name?

It's January again and I feel I must make a few resolutions - well, maybe one. I'm not sure why. It would seem that the first day of spring is a more apt time to be thinking of renewal and change. But January first is the tradition, so I'll stick to it.  

My resolution is to finish my book by May first and to write at least one blog post a month. Since ideas are scarce, I gave up on weekly. So to begin 2015 -

What’s in a name?

A lot is written about plot development, character development, where ideas come from, etc. But lately I've been pondering character names. Where do they come from? Do most authors sit down and deliberately decide character names? Do they start with a name that they've always loved? Are they paying homage to someone or making puns on purpose?

I hadn't given this much thought before. I just sat down a picked names at random that seemed to work. Then my son, and, when asked, my sister, both thought that my policeman - tall, handsome, Bill Greene - was loosely based on my ex-brother-in-law. This never occurred to me. But when they brought this up I realized that my sister’s ex is very tall, very handsome, and is named Bill. Go figure!

My main characters are Daisy, Rose and Angela. It seems that these names just came to me. But I lately have remembered that my confirmation name is Rose. Not that I had forgotten my confirmation name. I just didn't realize that I named a character after myself.

The only truly nice guy in the Daisy&Rose series is named Tom Willis. He’s handsome, intelligent, and plays by the rules. A good guy all around. It happens that my husband is also named Tom. He’s handsome, intelligent and an all-around good guy. I know that no one will believe this, but I did not choose his name intentionally.

I have a restaurant called the Clover Tavern. The family who owns it is named Clover. This was intentional. My Dad built such a tavern in Fredericksburg, Virginia back in the day and ran it with his mother. However, until I saw it in print, I totally blanked on the fact that Penny Clover Petersen is written in big letters on the front of the book.  And then it just seemed a really odd choice.

At this point I feel that some, probably most, of you are now concerned about my mental health. You needn't worry. I've always been somewhat concerned about my mental health, but, as I am not dangerous, I just ignore it. However, I do find it fascinating that my sub-conscious mind is naming my characters without my knowledge or consent. The question now is do I continue to let the recesses of my mind do the work or do I take charge and go to the obits and the phone book?

I’d love to hear from other authors about how they name their characters.