December 7, 2016

A Happy Holiday Story, sort of

Well, it's the holiday season once again and, once again, I am trying to find some of the spirit that it should bring. I am having a more difficult time than usual this year. The hate, divisiveness, and ignorance that seems to surround us is just really getting me down.

So I have been wracking my brain, something that has become increasingly hard to do as the little grey cells seem to be dying off at an alarming rate, and I have remembered a Christmas that made me smile. I have no idea why, except that it was so typical for our family.

When our girls were little my sister, Chris, and I would plan a Christmas outing. My mother, trooper that she was, would go with us and pretend to enjoy the chaos.

In the particular Christmas season that I am thinking about we chose to take the girls to lunch and then on to see The Nutcracker at Lisner Auditorium. Rachel, my own little angel, must have been about four, and Erika, Chris's little sweetie, about seven. The girls had their new holiday duds on and I like to think they could pass for extras from Miracle on 34th Street, but probably they looked like a couple of the Herdmans straight out of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. And so, tickets in hand we made our way into the big city for a delightful afternoon.

Well, no one can ever accuse me of over-planning anything. Lunch did not go off well. I did not think to make calls to find out if restaurants in the area were actually open. (Note to the IPhone generation - there was a time when there was no internet, no GPS, no Siri, no cell phone of any kind. My family had to rely on a half-witted event planner (moi) to make actual phone calls on a land line, no less, to various eating establishments to find out hours, menus, etc. It was a cruel, uncaring world!)

Needless to say, on a Sunday afternoon in 1978 very few restaurant options in the GW campus area were to be had. We finally found an eatery in a hotel. The kids menu boasted hot dogs. This sounded like a safe option. Of course, they were foot-long hot dogs. They were also VERY expensive foot-long hot dogs. So did we do the rational thing and get one for them to share? We did not. They each got their own rather lousy, expensive, hot dog. They did not finish their lunch. They did not appreciate the cuisine. This set the tone for the rest of the day.

After leaving our ghastly repast, Rachel, being a card-carrying member of the Clover family klutz club to which we all belong, promptly tripped and fell on the sidewalk ripping her new tights. This took valuable time to sooth, as we were running late due to the search for a restaurant. She was quite upset about the tights. The skinned knee seemed less of a problem.

We finally made it to Lisner just as the orchestra was beginning the overture. Of course, we had seats in the nose-bleed section. We were halfway up the steep steps to our little aerie when all the lights in the theatre went out. All of them. It was dark. Pitch. There were no little safety lights on the end of each row. There were no lights at all. I know this didn't last more than a minute before the curtain came up, but if you had been there I am sure, unless you happen to be a mountain goat, you would have agreed with me that it was a minute of sheer terror. I latched onto my daughter, at least I assumed it was my daughter, and climbed on hands and knees eventually making it to our seats unscathed.

The rest of the afternoon apparently went fairly smoothly, as I don't remember any other hiccups. Yes, The Nutcracker seemed to go on forever. But it was colorful and festive and, best yet, neither girl had to go the restroom during the performance. We made it home in one piece. We had our family outing.

We still try to do something each year - see a play, take a White House tour, or just have a cookie day. It's special time with the people we love and memories of holidays past and hopes for the future.

My wish to all of you - 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 11, 2016

A Veterans Day Message

I would like to take a moment to remember all of our veterans, especially the men of the 3/17th who served with my brother, Tim Clover, in Viet Nam. I lift a glass to you all.

And I am privileged to share with you a letter from my great-niece, Mia Rafield,
to her uncle who is serving overseas. She's a beautiful ten year whose heart is filled with compassion and love. She is also, quite clearly, a budding writer. She beautifully states what I think most of us feel.



August 25, 2016

A nice little vacation

Well, we got back from a family vacation last weekend. I believe a good time was had by all. Tom and I relaxed. We read, played Bananagram, and did crossword puzzles. The kids swam, rode bumper cars, and mini-golfed. My birthday came during the week, so we had cake!

No one got sunburned. No one stepped on a nail. No one had to visit a medical professional for a tooth repair, strep throat, or urinary tract infection - all of which we had done in previous years. In fact, I didn't even open the first aid kit. The only down side was the impressive lack of fish in the Atlantic Ocean willing to play tug of war with a fishing pole. Perhaps they didn't know my son is a fan of catch-and-release. Perhaps they are just sadistic little teases. However, if the worst I can say about this vacation is no fish were caught, I am a happy camper.

Having time on my hands these days, sort of, I spent the week before we left planning a treasure hunt for our granddaughter, Sophie. She is eight now and loves to play pirate. She is constantly digging up our yard searching for treasure or insisting that I be her first mate and stand under the wooden play house. Ideally she would like me to climb up and be a look-out, but we first mates are getting too old for that.

So, I drew a map depicting the beach at Nagshead. It included a pirate ship sailing the bounding main, three rather obvious clues, and a large X marking the spot. I then aged the paper in tea and singed its edges. I also aged a little wooden casket, filled it with silver and gold dollars and an old locket that belonged to my aunt in which I put pictures of Sophie's parents. I locked it with an old suitcase lock and tied the key to the string around the map.

On our last full day, Matt and Theresa buried the treasure on the beach while I hid the map in the laundry room. I asked Sophie to help me with something and we 'found' it. I have to say this for my granddaughter. She is smart as a whip and you really cannot fool her most of the time. Unfortunately, Sophie had seen the key in my office. But she is a sweet girl and a dead game sport, as my mother used to say (if anyone knows the etymology of this phrase, I'd appreciate hearing from you), so she played right along.

First, she said the map must be meant for someone else. I reminded her that Pirate maps are fair game, so we kept the map. She told me that the key was the same as the one at my house. She posited that the pirates must have broken in, made a copy of the key, and tied it to the map. Then she laughed and said, "No. That's too farfetched!" You gotta love this kid.

Sophie showed her parents and excitedly pointed out that it must be a map of the beach and the trail must be the one in front of our house. As we walked to the beach she looked for clues along the way. When we got there, we found the bucket of blood, the peculiar foot garb, and the orb of the sea, but couldn't locate the X. It was not in the exact location of the map. We decided that sands shift, so we looked further and, lo and behold, a large seaweed X marked the spot indeed.

She dug up the treasure, opened the casket and threw the coins in the air - just like in a movie. She loved the locket and couldn't get over the fact that the pirates had put her parents pictures in it. We decided that these were magical pirates who could see into the future.

Now here is the best part of my week. Later that day Sophia told her mother not to tell me, but that she knew all along that I set up the map and the treasure so she would have some fun on her last day. Life does not get any better.

August 24, 2016

Performance Art is not for sissies

This little experience happened quite a while ago, but someone brought it up recently and I decided that I might as well share it again.

I try to be a good hostess. I like to go the extra mile and make sure my guests have a memorable experience. So when Lynda and Paillen, family from Minnesota, came to stay this week I wanted to do something special.

Tuesday morning we met my sister, Chris, and had an uneventful Metro ride downtown, got off at the Archives, made a Starbucks stop, and walked to the Mall for some museum visiting. While walking on 7th Street right outside the National Gallery of Art I thought I might try a little Performance Art to add some spice to the morning.

I was pondering what I might perform - maybe becoming one of those living statues, perhaps 'Tourist walking with Starbucks cup on corner of 7th and Constitution' - when my right foot decided for me. It caught on an uneven piece of sidewalk and I proceeded to fly forward. When I tried to correct, this not being the particular piece I wanted to perform, my left foot got into the swing of things and it, too, caught on the same uneven piece of sidewalk. So I just went with it. Uttering an impressive string of barnyard invective, I soared through the air like Dustin Pedroia diving into first base.

This performance was a bit more physical than I had anticipated, so I lay there a few moments before sitting up to an outstanding reaction. Chris, Lynda and Paillen were awed. Tourists on the street were riveted. And the Museum staff! What can I say? They came in droves to see what the heck was going on.

Luckily, I had used my chin to keep my knees and elbows from harm. I sat there surrounded by loved ones and strangers and proceeded to give my head the once over. Things seemed okay until I took my hand away and found that it was covered in a rather impressive amount of blood. At this point, I wasn't so much about the art anymore as about keeping the blood off my suede jacket (which I did) and not throwing up.

A really sweet young man from the Museum called an ambulance and brought me a new cup of tea. In no time at all an ambulance pulled up and two nice EMTs made sure I was in one piece more or less and that the cut on my chin, while having bled like Victoria Falls, was really quite small and seemed to be closing nicely. They recommended a stitch or two at the mention of which I promptly got rather faint. Medical professionals take fainting VERY seriously. My family does not. Luckily my sister was there to back me up that this was just a normal family trait and a little fresh air would fix me up in no time. Bleeding under control, Band-Aid in place, I breathed in the cool D.C. air and felt marginally better.

During my ambulance stay, a little police lady from the Museum was taking information from Lynda. I did not get her name, so I will call her Mabel. Mabel did not say it in so many words, but she was all in favor of lawsuits against the Museum and the City. She had Lynda take pictures of everything. She took down my information. And when I said I thought I was all right to continue our day, she almost insisted I see the Museum nurse. "You want to document this. You never know!" So I did.

By means of golf cart, then wheelchair, I was taken into the bowels of the National Gallery of Art to visit the nurse. My comrades were escorted by a Sergeant through the gallery and met me downstairs. After documenting my little project and hearing exactly the same thing from the nurse that I heard from the EMTs and having the same reaction, I was wheeled out of the Museum and put in a taxi.

I did not go home. I was attempting to be a trooper. And besides, I was a bit low on sugar and needed a coke. So we taxied around the corner to the beautiful American Indian Museum and had a bite to eat and some Advil. After which we proceeded to go about our day and very much enjoyed the wonderful displays.

Alas, the story does not end here. At about quarter to five we were milling around the gift shop and discussing our dinner plans with my son and his girlfriend when Chris said, "You're dripping." And sure enough the bandage on my chin was leaking. This was enough to make me woozy again. There are no chairs on the second floor of the American Indian Museum. Nor are there any bandages of any sort. But there is a ladies room with a very long counter on which I ended up laying while my caretakers searched out Band-Aids and paper towels. Lynda remembered that she had some very pretty polka dot and striped bandages in her bag. As Paillen was the only one who could look at the cut, she was in charge of applying direct pressure and finally covering to my little wound. My sister was in charge of walking around the ladies room repeating, "I can't look".

I finally felt like I could get up without keeling over. I had just swung my legs over the counter and eased to the floor when Chris changed her mantra to, "I'm going to faint." And she wasn't kidding. She was absolutely white as a sheet. We laid her down on the marble bed and I called my son and told him that, perhaps, this was not the best night to dine downtown.

We limped to the subway, a bedraggled troop of overwrought women, one holding brown paper towels under her chin while continuing to apply direct pressure. We caught the Metro home. When I walked in my husband looked at me and said, "You tripped and fell, didn't you." I got no sympathy. He added that I'm a klutz, the implication being that I should be more careful. The cut closed up quite nicely. I didn't need stitches. My chin is an impressive purple and black, just right for Halloween.

But I am giving up Performance Art. It's a young woman's job. Next time company comes they will have to make do with homemade Manicotti and a nice Chianti.

April 29, 2016

Fun at the DMV

Not too long ago I renewed my driver's license. It was a fairly painless process that was completed without any particular angst, outrage, or marathon running, unlike the time in 2005 that I ventured into the Department of Motor Vehicles to have my eyesight tested and fork over a substantial fee for the privilege of driving in the great state of Maryland. All because of my name.

Names are funny things, aren't they? I should know having been saddled with Regina Penelope Clover for my first twenty-one years and adding Petersen (spelled with 3 'e's, mind you) for the duration.

I shouldn't say saddled. It's a lovely name. I was named Regina after my mother, but because my mother was adamant that there be no Big Regina and Little Regina in the family, I was called Penny. This was easy enough until I ran into a really nasty third grade teacher who refused to call me Penny. And so from grade three to eight, I was Regina at school and Penny at home. It's a tad confusing for a little kid, but I survived.

And on the plus side there were few competing Pennys or Reginas during my formative years. I just finished an Evan Evans mystery by Rhys Bowen set in a little village in Wales. Since there are apparently few surnames in Wales people are known by their occupations; Evans the Milk, Evans the Meat, and so on.

This was a charming reminder of my youth. When I was sixteen my best friend who was the first of us to drive was (and still is) named Linda. My brother was dating his soon to be wife who was named Lynda. And my younger sister's BFF who had just turned 13 was also named Linda. So something Welsh came out in us and Linda the Driver and Linda the Teenager were christened. For whatever reason, we didn't latch onto Lynda the Girlfriend. We used her middle name instead. So Lynda became Lynda Alice which we still call her today. 

When I married Tom, I pretty much dropped the Regina Penelope and used Penelope Clover, instead. Fair warning to anyone who wants to do this - government agencies don't like it. They whine and
complain and make rather tedious demands. At the time I actually toyed with the revolutionary idea of keeping my own name for a minute or so, but the State of Maryland would not let me do this! Remember, this was 1971 and I still wasn't allowed to wear slacks to work! But they did go along with R. Penelope Clover Petersen on my license.

But after 9/11 things got even stranger. In 2005 I once again needed to renew my driver's license. After spending a thoroughly entertaining couple of hours at the DMV, meeting so many friendly people in various lines and relaxing in the easy chairs provided while waiting, I made it to the top of the queue - only to find that, after years of renewing my license unimpeded and no one ever questioning my name, this year, I was told, my DMV name must match my SSN name exactly or I could just start walking. "Just run over to Social Security and they'll fix it for you." So, a marathon race around Annapolis, an entertaining sojourn at the Social Security office, then back to the warm inviting atmosphere of the DMV, one hysterical fit and five hours later, and Bob's your uncle! License renewed. I was go to go for another couple of years if I could just get my breathing back to normal.

My advice for anyone who cares to hear it, sometimes it's just easier to call Uber!

April 20, 2016

Hot Fire

This week I am delighted to feature another budding author, a dear friend’s granddaughter, Jocelyn Fullenkamp.

Jocelyn is 7 years old and in first grade.
She has two younger sisters and a baby brother. 

She loves reading, writing and math.
She also enjoys soccer, basketball and lacrosse.
Jocelyn is a member of Girl Scouts Daisies. 

In her free time, she loves to read, create plays, draw and play with her sisters and brother and friends. 

Her class has been working on poetry - writing, editing and revision. As a class assignment, they were asked to write about feeling angry. Jocelyn did a wonderful job. In Hot Fire she paints a powerful picture of her feelings of anger and frustration and the coping mechanisms that she uses to deal with that anger.

Hot Fire
by Jocelyn

I see red hot fire.

I see a volcano in front of my eyes.

I yell.

I scream and I punch pillows.

I chase my sister.

I feel like a thunderstorm chasing her.

I grab my pillow and knock my head

against it.

I calm down.

March 16, 2016

Proud to be Irish

Top of the morning to you all! Last week we celebrated St. Patrick's day, a day when we are all Irish. Well, not all. I do know a few friends who refuse to be Irish even for a day, but I forgive them. Everyone is entitled to a quirk or two.

Growing up I can't remember my mother, who was the child of first and second generation parents, really admitting to being Irish except on March 17th. On March 17th, however, for a day the radio was tuned to Irish music. We sometimes went to Mass downtown at St. Patrick's Church in Washington, D.C. We wore the green. But just for one day. I once was asking about my heritage and my mother told me we were American. Which, of course, we were and proudly so.

As I ponder the current political rhetoric spewing from the mouth of some of our presidential hopefuls of hatred, divisiveness, unfounded fear of other nationalities and religions, I consider why my mother didn't discuss being Irish.

She was old enough to remember the time when the Irish were discriminated against. They were unfairly labeled as lazy, criminal, violent, and alcoholic - what ever came to mind. Who knows why. Prejudice and bigotry have no basis in fact. It certainly couldn't have been color because, Lord knows, you really can't get much paler than the Irish.

The prejudice that lives within us is to my mind simply stunning. I am at a loss as to how we, as a country founded by immigrants are so quick to condemn others for what - looking different, praying differently, not assimilating as quickly as we think they should. Quite honestly, exactly how did the English assimilate? I don't notice any of us speaking a Native American tongue. What are these people afraid of - a different language, religion, skin color - what is the fear?

I try not to get political. It's not a great way to sell books, but sometimes I just have to say what I feel. I love my Irish and English heritage as much as, I would assume, people love being Hispanic, Iranian, French, Kenyan, or Japanese. We are, after all, just people with families we love, heritages we're proud of, looking for a better tomorrow.

January 26, 2016

Garbo, Beatniks and Camille

Thanks to all of you who sent me ideas for this blog.  I now have a lot to think about and, no doubt, will be writing about quite soon. This week I'm writing another reminiscence at the request of my son. Next week while I'm on vacation, my wonderful great-niece, Grace Cheney, has agreed to fill in for me. I'm sure you'll love it! 

I was once a beatnik. For a very short time, perhaps, but a beatnik none the less. Who remembers beatniks? The 1950's non-conformist generation of men and women who wore sunglasses, dressed in black, often topping their ensembles with berets. They played the bongo drums and smoked a lot. The men had little goatees and the women didn't tease their hair and wore it long. They read blank verse and listened to strange music in subterranean coffee houses.

At least that's the picture I remember. The Beat generation was about twelve years before my own teenage angst. I fell somewhere between beatniks and hippies and flower children. But, quite honestly, I was really just preppy - or as preppy as I could afford to be.

Part of this dress style (the not-a-beatnik part) was due to the fact that my mother disapproved of black and made me wear make-up. Her feeling was that since other people had to look at me it was the least I could do. The other part (not-a-flower-child part) was that I never felt comfortable in long flowing skirts. They are not attractive on ladies with Clover Butt Syndrome which afflicted me and my sisters. I did a few years later have a pair of bell-bottom jeans to which I attached a colorful trim at the hem when they shrunk, but that's about as radical as I got.

So in my dress, if not my politics, I was very conservative. Linda, my best friend, and I must have looked like fraternal twins much of the time. Pageboy haircuts (me, blond; Linda, black), Villager shirt-waist dresses, Bass Weejun loafers. We sometimes mixed things up a bit and wore A-line skirts with matching sweaters and knee socks. In no way could anyone have considered us 'out there' just by catching a glimpse.

This brings us to an afternoon at the Circle Theatre. The Circle was a wonderful movie theater. Located at 21st Street and Pennsylvania Avenue it ran old movies for the unbelievable price of $1 for a matinee and $2 for an evening show. Linda and I were frequent patrons. We loved old movies. They were great and uncensored. I mean to tell you I saw full frontal nudity for the first time when Hedy Lamarr ran through a forest in Ecstasy.

We loved the great Greta Garbo. We saw her in Grand Hotel and Mata Hari. On the afternoon in question (a strange phrase since absolutely no one has questioned me about it) Linda and I went to see Camille.

Now, remember, we were very young and not always the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. The theater was almost empty, a few people down front and one older lady sitting a couple of rows behind us. We watched the entire movie with rapt attention. As it neared the end there was silence in the auditorium except for the sniffles of the lady behind us. Greta lay dying of consumption with Robert Taylor at her side. It was dramatic. It was tragic. Then Robert spoke her name, 'Marguerite'.

Perhaps our attention was not as rapt as we thought because Linda and I were stunned. We looked at each other and said in unison and quite loudly, "Marguerite? I thought her name was Camille!" At which the poor old lady behind us hissed equally loudly, "Shhhh! Beatniks!" So there you have it, my Jack Kerouac moment.

I never did become a Beatnik, but I have become an older lady who loudly shushes chatty people in movie theaters, but I never call them Beatniks.

January 15, 2016

Why I like to write

Wednesday evening I took part in an authors' panel sponsored by Sisters in Crime, a wonderful organizations for mystery writers and fans. It was held at the Beatley Library in Alexandria. 

This is a bit of a trek for me, especially at night. But my sister, Chris, went with me. She's a dead game sport, as my mother used to say, and always willing to accompany me wherever I might be headed from Rehoboth Beach to Alexandria.

We made the trip over without mishap. It was daylight and Chris could read the written directions I had printed. We had only one small hitch going the wrong way on Duke Street, easily corrected.

At any rate, we got there early as planned and had a leisurely dinner at a very nice Mexican restaurant. Then onto the library for the panel. I was nervous, as I always am when doing just about anything. Truth is, I get nervous writing this blog. But the other panel members - Art Taylor, Sherry Harris, Maya Corrigan, Claudia Lefevre - were warm and welcoming and very easy to talk to.

Art led the discussion and we had a lovely audience. The discussion was interesting, the other panelists knowledgeable, and I even sold a few books, which is always nice.

The trip home didn't go quite as smoothly as the trip over. I don't know Virginia roads at all. I am not comfortable driving at night really and my GPS had some serious issues about what constitutes 'keeping left'. We got rather lost.

Alone I would not have been a happy camper. But with my trusty sidekick in the passenger seat, we managed to find it all quite amusing as we wended our way through unchartered territory. And somehow we made it back, unscathed, no thanks to my Global Positioning System. I came home in a good mood.

The morning after I began to think about the discussion. I rather think I must have sounded like a scatty old lady. I'm pretty sure my thoughts weren't clear. My mind tends to drift from topic to topic, so my answers probably made no sense. I began feeling that I made an ass of myself. This may or may not be the case. Chris says I sounded fine, but what is she going to say? She's my sister. This is what I always do after speaking somewhere.

And this is why I love writing. My characters always say exactly what I want them to say because I get do-overs! Just like writing this blog. I get to edit, cut and prune. Choose the right word. Take out the wrong word. Clarify when necessary. Add the witty riposte. It's not that writing is easy. It's not. But it can be just so much fun, at times. And when I'm typing, not talking, I usually don't feel like an idiot.