Reference Questions* I Have Known

 

  1. Is cabbage juice good for you?
  2. What is cystic ovary syndrome?
  3. Do you have any more picture books about fire trucks? He won’t read about anything but firetrucks.
  4. Is chemotherapy an effective treatment for multiple sclerosis?
  5. Do you have a book about condoms? I need to know who invented them.**
  6. How do I know what size bra to buy?
  7. How do you cure hams?
  8. Was Rachel Carson married to Kit Carson?
  9. How do you get to Gatesville, Texas?
  10. How do you make cherry pie?
  11. What did people eat in Victorian England?
  12. What do you call the 125th anniversary of the founding of a city?
  13. Is there a town called San Simon in Texas?
  14. Do you have any stories with voices?
  15. I need to know the names of some saints.
  16. Do I have to wear a hat to a Catholic christening?
  17. I need a list of scientists who’ve won the Nobel Prize.
  18. What does the Federal Reserve do?
  19. How many teeth does a giraffe have?
  20. How do you make a Sally Lunn cake?
  21. Where’s the book that was on that table the other day? It’s white.

***

*Some of the above might be outside the official realm of the reference question. But they’re close.

*No, dear freshman boy, in this little school library in this conservative little town in this conservative big state, I do not have a book about who invented the condom, and I’m trying very hard not to guffaw while I tell you this. (And when the little school library became a little public library, I didn’t have a book about it then, either. But I had books that came close.)

***

Images licensed under CC0, via pixabay

 

 

Queen Elizabeth II on the Republican Presidential Kerfuffle of 2016

I am thinking about Queen Elizabeth.

She’s bound to be sitting over there in Buckingham Palace, thinking about the United States, and the Republican debates, and the upcoming presidential election, and all the things that might happen between now and the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. And what might happen on and after January 20, 2017.

I think about the Queen’s weekly audience with her Prime Minister at which, according to The official website of The British Monarchy, she has the right and the duty to express her views on Government matters. The views she expresses might go something like this:

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle...
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are greeted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace in London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) By White House (Pete Souza) / Maison Blanche (Pete Souza) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It is our duty to say we are shocked, simply shocked, at the goings-on across the Pond. And it is our right to say that, no matter what the Government wishes, we shall not–nay, will not–invite any of those heathens to tea. Nor will Kate allow them to kiss the babies. They behave abominably. One does not hear the Prince of Wales use such vulgarities unless his telephone has been illegally tapped. Prince Harry did prove a bit of an embarrassment during his stay in Las Vegas, but he’s promised not to do it again, and, anyway, he is not angling to become Leader of the Free World.

Why is it the United States does not fix things so that nice Mr. Obama can stay indefinitely? We quite like him. He speaks in complete sentences that always parse, and he has never made the slightest effort to massage our neck. And we rather admired his wife’s dressing down when she visited the Palace. We get tired of people always putting on the dog. In fact, we have been thinking of acquiring a twinset of our own.

The fact that Mr. Obama is said be a gay communist fascist pot-smoking Muslim terrorist doesn’t bother us one little bit.  

Now, here is the thing: Magna Charta allows us to reign for life. Surely their Constitution could be amended to extend President Obama’s time in office, at least until the churls have crawled back under the rocks from whence they emerged.

It is our duty to advise that you call the President immediately and broach the subject. Promise him our full support. 

And tell him we will send some of our Redcoats to back him up. Prince Harry has been just itching to get back into action.

 

Bedtime at the Davis Home

I swear I did not plan this, because where cats are involved, no one can plan anything, but–

I had just published the preceding post and turned off my laptop when William walked over and looked at the chair and then looked at me.

I spread out his blanket. He jumped up and settled in for the night.

My blanket spreading isn’t as neat as David’s, but no one has complained.

My new chair
My new chair

 

At Home with the Davis Family

David has a new recliner.

DSCN1528
David’s new chair

I have a new recliner, too, but I am a mean, contemptible battleaxe and I do not share.

(I do put a blanket on my chair and tuck William in at night. Ernest won’t share David’s chair, either.)

Burnt Toast: A Christmas Story

Christmas Day 2015 is the 65th, approximately, anniversary of the day my grandmother burned toast. I wasn’t there, but I heard about it after I arrived.

At the bottom of the page, I’ve added links to posts and to entire blogs about burnt toast. One post instructs how not to burn toast. Another describes what to do when you haven’t followed instructions.

~~~~~~~~~~

I burn toast.

It’s hereditary. My mother burned toast. My grandmother burned toast.toast

Once when my grandmother was making cornbread dressing for Christmas dinner, she burned three consecutive baking sheets of toast.

My father, who ambled into the kitchen in time to see the process, drawled, “Mrs. Barrow, you’re a failure.”

While I was thinking about that story this morning, I burned the toast.

David came downstairs to see what the yelling was about. I pointed to the cinders and said, “That was the end of the loaf, so we’ll just have to eat it.”

David is more tactful than my father was. He turned away, but not before I glimpsed the corner of his mouth twitch. He, too, has learned about the family habit.

He’s also learned about some habits that are mine alone.

I lock my car keys inside the car. Sometimes I lock the extra set of keys and the cell phone and my purse in with them.

I use a two-quart saucepan to make four quarts of soup.

I hoard both fat clothes and skinny clothes for the time when they once again, someday, maybe fit.

The list isn’t exhaustive, but today is Christmas Eve and I have to get busy.

Anyway, I used to ask myself, “Why do I do these things?”

Lately, however, I’ve thought, “So what?”

I have a good working relationship with the roadside assistance folks: I send money and they send assistance. I’ve helped people this way. One locksmith, in fact, said I’d just made his day by not acting like it was his fault I’d locked myself out.

Regarding soup, when the fixings reach the brim, I drag out a larger vessel and arrange a transfer.

Some years that gray wool suit fits and some years it doesn’t, but it’s in excellent condition, and there’s always hope.

And it’s not as if I’m completely devoid of talent.

Soup is a challenge, but I can pack the trunk of a car so every suitcase, garment bag, and Christmas present fits without spilling over into the back seat.

I can get pills down cats.

My book talks make sixth-grade boys want to read. And that’s the truth.

I make killer ice cream.

Surely these things count in my favor.

The day of the latest conflagration, I found–serendipitously–the blog Burnt Toast, whose author points out that, while regular toast is boring, burnt toast has “flavor and character.”

I like that. Without burnt toast, I wouldn’t have the story about my father teasing his mother-in-law.

So in 2016, I shall say, “So what?”

I’ll try to keep keys in hand, but when I don’t, I’ll call a locksmith and just make his day.

I’ll take clothes I can’t wear to the Salvation Army, but I’ll keep the gray suit.

I’ll be grateful for soup that expands beyond the bounds of my expectations.

In short, I’ll embrace burnt toast, relishing the flavor and character it brings.

~~~~~~~~~~

“How to Cook Toast in an Oven,” from Livestrong.com

“Move the top shelf in your oven to the highest it can go.”

The instruction is correct, but it’s also the first step toward having to take the batteries out of the smoke alarm. Moving the shelf to the second highest level affords a better chance of getting the bread out unscathed. I don’t care any more, but other people might.

“If you do not have a baking sheet, or need to toast more pieces than will fit on the baking sheet, you may place the bread directly on the oven shelf.” 

This works, too, but only if you don’t care that crumbs will fall to the bottom of the bottom of the oven and turn into tiny flakes of toast, and you’ll have to sweep them out. You don’t have to sweep them out immediately, but if you tarry, they’ll convert to tiny pieces of carbon that will eventually stick in place.

Warning: Always keep your eye on the bread as it toasts. Bread burns easily and quickly and a simple turn of the head can be enough to turn your golden brown toast into a lump of black and burnt bread.

Well, d’oh.

*****

Blogs about burnt toast:

http://burnttoastblog.com/

http://myburnttoast.blogspot.com/

https://burnttoast2010.wordpress.com/

https://toastisburnt.wordpress.com/

And, finally, a post about what to do with burnt toast when it’s ready to eat:

http://food52.com/blog/12442-meet-kate-coffey-who-dared-to-stick-burnt-toast-beer-pretzels-in-caramel-with-very-good-results

*****

I wrote this post for Whiskertips in 2009 and recycled it a year later for this blog. I’ve made some changes, but one thing remains the same–the toast is still burnt.

 

William Bit Me

William bit me at the vet,
Didn’t like the aide’s assistance,
Used his claws and fangs to set
On the path of most resistance.
Say I’m teary, say I’m mad,
Say that pills and needles hit me,
Say my arm’s inflamed, and add,
William bit me.

IMG_2679 (3)

 

***

Jane Carlyle, wife of philosopher Thomas Carlyle, was not a demonstrative woman. But one day when writer Leigh Hunt arrived for a visit, Jane jumped up from her chair, ran across the room, and kissed him. Surprised and delighted, Hunt memorialized the event in a poem: “Jenny Kissed Me.”

Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kissed me.

###

My apologies to Mr. Hunt and Mrs. Carlyle. I mean no disrespect. I couldn’t have written the parody if I didn’t love the poem.

Ella Minnow Pea Redux or, My keys won’ work

Computer keyboard, view from down
Computer keyboard, view from down (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Orange.man (Self-photographed) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Computer problems. They happen. They happened to me last week. Bad ones, very bad.

I acted with my usual grace under pressure, but I don’t want to talk about them.

I will, however, repost a story I first shared in 2010, about the first time my keyboard malfunctioned. I was preparing a post when it went wonky, proving a major inconvenience more to my readers than to me, because I put it online anyway.

To assist today’s readers, I’ll start with an introduction:

While I was writing, laptop keys stopped working–one at a time, in no particular order. No matter how hard or in which direction I tapped, they didn’t depress, and nothing appeared on the screen. After muttering for a few minutes, I decided to keep a-goin’. The next I called technical service, was told I could replace the keyboard myself, visited to Radio Shack for tools, used them and nearly stripped a screw, called tech service,received a visit from a tech, got a quick fix and an offer to do whatever else the laptop needed while he was there. He installed several Gbs of memory I hadn’t known what to do with.

An easily replaceable keyboard isn’t usually much to worry about, but in my keyboard’s case, there were extenuating circumstances, and I didn’t look forward to anyone poking around underneath. The tech might think what was under there caused the malfunction. He might give me a look of reproof, even a mild reprimand.

William Davis & Bookworm
William Davis & Bookworm

I would have to stand there and take it, blushing all the while. Love of truth would prevent me from saying my husband did it.

To learn why I’d have blushed, you’ll have to read to the end.

Here’s a bit of help: A single e might mean tech. But it might not. An a might mean a or something else.

More help: It wasn’t cat hair.

*****

Wa do you do wen your keyboard malfunions?

Wen my spae bar sopped working, I aed online wi Dell e suppor.  e e old me I would reeie a new keyboard in e mail. I was supposed o insall i.

“Me?” I said. “Insall a keyboard?”

e e said i would be a snap. If I needed elp, e would walk me roug i.

I go e keyboard and looked up e insruions, wi said I ad o unsrew e bak. I jus knew I would be eleroued.

Bu I boug a se of srewdriers a RadioSak and flipped e lapop oer, remoed e baery, and aaked e srews.

e srews wouldn’ budge. I exanged a srewdrier for anoer srewdrier. I used all six. None of em worked.

I wen online again o a wi Dell. e e lisened, en old me o ry again.

I oug abou e definiion aribued o Einsein: Insaniy is doing e same ing oer and oer and expeing a differen resul.

“I wouldn’ urn,” I old e e.

He said e would send a e ou o e ouse o insall e keyboard for me. (I’m no dummy. Wen I boug e lapop, I boug a e o go wi i.)

Anyway, e nex day a e ame. He go ou is se of 3500 srewdriers, remoed e srews, ook off e old keyboard, and insalled e new one. He said I didn’ ave e rig size srewdrier. en e asked wa else I needed.

“I know you don’ ae an order for is, bu ould you wa me insall is exra memory a Dell e said I’m ompenen o insall myself?” He said e’d o i for me. I oug a was ery swee.

Anyway, i’s appened again, exep is ime i’s more an e spaebar. I’s e , , , and  keys.

I’e used anned air. So far all i’s done is make ings worse. Wen I began, only e  key was ou.

How an I wrie wiou a keyboard?

So tomorrow I’ll chat with my Dell tech and–

Well, mercy me. I took a half-hour break and now all the keys are working again. I wonder what that was all about.

Nevertheless, I shall report the anomaly. Call me an alarmist, but I don’t want this to happen a third time when I’m preparing a manuscript for submission. If the keyboard should be replaced, I want it replaced now.

But still–I’m torn. If I do need a new keyboard, I want a tech to make a house call. I don’t have the proper screwdriver, I don’t know the size screwdriver to buy, and I don’t want to tamper with something that is still under warranty.

On the other hand, I have to consider the worst-case scenario: He takes out his screwdriver, loosens the screws, turns the laptop over, removes the keyboard, and sees lurking there beneath the metal and plastic plate the reason for my current technical distress: rumbs.

e same, e earae, e disgrae a being found guily of su a soleism. e prospe is oo illing o spell ou.

Bu for the sake of ar, I sall submi myself o e proud man’s onumely. omorrow I sall a wi Dell.

“Hell on Wheels”: The Story of a Lethal Librarian

Excerpt from “Hell on Wheels” by Kathy Waller appears in MURDER ON WHEELS: 11 TALES OF CRIME ON THE MOVE, published by Wildside Press, 2015

Join Austin Mystery Writers for the launch of MURDER ON WHEELS at 7:00 p.m. on August 11, 2015, at BookPeople Bookstore, 6th and Lamar, Austin. Authors will read and sign. Refreshments will be served.

***

The day I found Mama stirring ground glass into the filling for a lemon meringue pie, I took the bowl away from her and called a family conference. We had to do something before she dispatched some poor, unsuspecting soul to his heavenly rest and got herself thrown so far back into prison she couldn’t see daylight.

The next day, while Mama was down at Essie’s Salon de Beauté, my brothers and sister and I crowded into a booth at the old Dairy Queen, just across the corner from the library where I worked. The DQ was practically empty. The only customers—besides Frank and Lonnie and Bonita and me—were senior citizens, and most of them had their hearing aids turned off.

When the waitress had delivered our orders and retreated behind the counter to her copy of People magazine, I explained why I had called the meeting.

“It hurts me to say it, but the time has come to put Mama out of her misery.”

Lonnie stabbed his straw through the plastic lid on his frosted Coke. “Mama don’t have no misery. I never seen nobody so contented with her lot.”

Bonita poked her pointy elbow into my side and reached across the table to pat Lonnie’s hand. “I think Marva Lu’s talking about a different kind of misery, baby brother. I’ll explain later.”

That was a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Bonita’s explaining was why it took Lonnie till he was twenty-nine to get his GED.

Frank, sitting across the table from me, grabbed a napkin and wriggled his way out of the booth. “Now look what you made me do. Scared me half to death, making such a mean joke about Mama.”

He dabbed at his tie with a napkin. “This necktie is a souvenir from when we took the kids to Disney World. That gravy landed right on Donald Duck’s tail feathers.”

I glanced over my shoulder at the other diners, several of whom were looking our way. “Frank Dewayne Urquhart, stop carrying on and sit back down,” I hissed. “You’re attracting attention.”

Frank unclipped his tie and laid it across the back of the booth. By the time he settled down to finish his steak fingers, the senior citizens had turned back to their burgers.

“Now, quit worrying about that duck’s derriere and look me in the eye,” I said, in the steely tone of voice I used on seventh-grade boys I found hiding in the how-to books, giggling over The Joy of Sex. “I am not joking. This is serious.”

Frank stuffed a couple of napkins into his collar and dunked another steak finger. “Serious?” He leaned toward me, his eyes wide and his voice just a whisper. “You want to … put Mama down … just because you saw her add something to the pie? I bet you didn’t have your contacts in. Might’ve been powdered sugar. She’s probably practicing something new for the Methodist ladies’ fundraiser cook-off.”

“The new bishop’s going to judge the cook-off.” I took a sip of my Diet Dr. Pepper and gave Frank time to think. “I can see the headlines now: ‘Murderous Methodist Does in Bishop with Omelet’. And every penny of our inheritance will go to pay a lawyer to try to keep Mama out of prison. Squeaky Vardaman says defense attorneys charge more when the client’s guilty. And Squeaky’s the district attorney, so he ought to know.”

Bonita stabbed me again with her elbow. “Uh-oh, look who’s coming.” We all followed her gaze.

A bright red Corvette was racing up the street. Ignoring the stop sign, the driver shot through the intersection, just missing a pedestrian, who scrambled onto the high curb and wrapped his arms around a light pole for support.

“There she is, on her way to Essie’s to get her hair screwed up.” Lonnie grinned. “Man, Mama can drive that car, can’t she?”

Frank cleared his throat and wiped his fingers on a napkin. “Yeah, Marva Lu, I see your point.”

Bonita wrinkled her nose and wound a blonde curl around her finger, a habit she’d gotten into when she was five years old and people told her it was cute. “Why don’t we keep a real close watch on Mama and make sure she doesn’t have a chance to put anything bad in the food? I mean, killing her seems a little extreme.”

“Are you volunteering to babysit around the clock?” I said.

Bonita wrinkled her nose again. “Well, what about putting her in the Silver Seniors Retirement home? We could have her committed. Then she couldn’t cook at all.”

“No way,” said Frank. “Old Dr. Briggs is as loony as Mama. He isn’t about to certify her. Hell, there’s not a man, woman, or child in the county, including us, who’d dare to cross her. After all, she owns the bank.” He wadded his napkin into a ball and dropped it into the empty basket. “You going to convince her to move to the home, Bonita?”

Before Bonita could get her nose back in gear, Lonnie finally caught up with the conversation. He sat up straight. “Killing her? What do you mean, killing her? You saying you want to kill Mama?”

“Shhh. Use your library voice, Lonnie.” Bonita patted his hand again. “Kill is just a figure of speech. Like one of those smilies we talked about before your test.”

I rolled my eyes. “No, it’s not a smilie. We’d better make sure right now that everybody understands what we’re doing.”

“I’m not doing anything,” whispered Lonnie. “If you’re going to kill Mama, I’m heading for the sheriff right now. Move, Frank, and let me out of this booth.”

I glared at Frank. He stayed put. I smacked Bonita’s hand off Lonnie’s and closed my hand around his. Poor Lonnie, he’d always been Mama’s favorite, and so softhearted. I should have known our talk would upset him.

I assumed the sympathetic tone I used when citizens called to complain about the library having dirty books. “Lonnie, sweetheart, you heard what I said about Mama’s new recipe. And you remember how Uncle Percy died last month, just hours after Mama cooked him a special birthday lunch.”

“Dr. Briggs said that was Uncle Percy’s ulcer.” Lonnie jerked his hand back. “Frank, let me out.”

I grabbed his hand again and hung on. “Jasper Alonzo, calm down. I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to think about it carefully and then give me an honest answer. After that, Frank will let you out, and you can go to the sheriff or anywhere else you want.

“Now, here’s the question: How would it make you feel if they put Mama on trial for killing Uncle Percy? Or somebody else she fed bad food to? And what if she had to spend the rest of her natural life locked up in the prison at Huntsville?”

Lonnie’s brow wrinkled like it always did when he was turning something over in his mind. One thing about my baby brother, he never made snap decisions. I usually admired him for that. In this case, however, even with the answer so obvious, I threw in some details.

“Think about what prison’s like, Lonnie. There wouldn’t be a soul Mama knows. And most of those inmates are so common, not our kind of people at all. Mama would have to share a room, and you know how she values her privacy. There’d be no more trips up to Neiman Marcus, and she’d have to dress just like everybody else, in horizontal stripes. She’s always been dead-set against horizontal stripes. Essie wouldn’t be there to keep up her weekly White Mink rinse, and without that, her gray hair would get that ugly yellow tinge to it. And how would she survive without her Friday bridge club? Think about it, Lonnie. What kind of life would Mama have?”

By the time I got to “yellow tinge,” all the fight had gone out of Lonnie. His brow unwrinkled. Tears welled up in his soft brown eyes. It was just the saddest expression I’d ever seen on that sweet face. He looked so miserable I was tempted to toss the rest of my chocolate sundae into the big red waste bin and tell my siblings to forget the whole thing.

But I didn’t get to be Director of the Kilburn County Public Library and Archives by caving in to every pathetic face that stared at me across the circulation desk.

“All right, Lonnie,” I said. “What’s your answer?”

He pulled on his straw but got only a gurgle, so he quit stalling. “Mama wouldn’t like prison at all. So I guess I’d feel pretty bad.” He shook his cup and managed to suck up one more taste of frosted Coke. “But I still don’t feel good about planning to kill her.”

I looked out the window. Old Judge Vardaman was shuffling down the sidewalk from the courthouse, heading for the library, where he would spend his usual hour dozing over the Wall Street Journal. On his way out, he would tiptoe into my office and sit down for what he called “a little visit with my sweetie-pie.”

Bonita saw me watching him and smirked. “Well, here comes Big Sister’s gentleman caller. Honestly, Marva Lu, I don’t know how you can stand to have that old goat around. He’s older than God.”

“You should talk,” I said. “The way you drool over the old goat’s son since he got elected D. A. is a disgrace.” I passed the remainder of my sundae across the table to Lonnie and smiled. “Anyway, Bonita, he’s not so bad. Goats can be very useful animals.” I shouldered my purse and stood up to leave. “Don’t worry, Lonnie,” I said. “You won’t have to do a thing. I’ll take care of all the planning myself.”

***

Our anthology!

Print and Kindle editions available at Amazon.com
Print edition available at Barnes and Noble.com and at Wildside Press.com

My Gratitude List: 12 Items, Girdles Not Included

Make no mistake:

I am grateful. For my husband, my family, parents who gave me a good start and kept on giving, my home, teachers, education, friends, time to use as I wish, the rights guaranteed to me by the Constitution, the freedom to pursue happiness, good health, and a host of other blessings.

But when I write about blessings, the resulting essay is maudlin, insipid, schmaltzy, and trite.* I just can’t do sincere.*******

So this post is about things not usually seen on Grateful-For lists.To wit:

Coffee shops with enough electrical outlets, appropriately placed, to serve nearly all the people who want to plug in. (There’s no way they could serve all of them.) And that say your car will be towed if it’s parked in their lot for more than three hours but don’t really mean it. (BookPeople. They probably do mean it, but I’ve never been towed. I think it depends on how full the parking lot is.)

Everywhere that provides free Wi-Fi.

   amw logo - roundCoffee shops that allow a critique group to sit around a table and discuss manuscripts, and moan about how hard writing is, and what their kids and their cats are up to, and what their dysfunctional families are up to, and that don’t mind when one member reads aloud a scene involving torture and murder** because both staff and other customers are entranced, listening and wondering whether they’re hearing part of a memoir. And that don’t tow their cars.*****

 Blogs. Mine allows me to write to write to an audience, real or imagined. I need that audience. So do most other writers, including students of all ages.

Books. I like them. I like to read them. I like to buy them. Unfortunately, I like buying more than reading, which is why I have so much to-be-read nonfiction on my bookshelves and elsewhere.***

Bookstore going-out-of business sales. Closing a bookstore is a terrible thing, but if they’re going to close anyway, I don’t mind helping reduce inventory. That’s how I acquired most of that unread nonfiction.

 

English: Borders in West Quay Retail Park, Sou...
English: Borders in West Quay Retail Park, Southampton (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Public domain.

Printers that work.****** Most of them work now, but years ago most didn’t. That’s why my students at the university turned in so many papers with text starting at the middle of the page and running diagonally to the bottom right corner. I told them they really couldn’t do that, and that they needed to do the work earlier and start printing days rather than minutes before leaving for class. But I knew if I used a printer, my papers would look like theirs. I was still using a typewriter. When I put the paper in straight, my pages looked okay.

Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, William Dean Howells, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Clyde Edgerton, Kathie Pelletier, T. R. Pearson, Olive Ann Burns, Fannie Flagg, Elizabeth Berg, Josephine Tey, Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, and the list runs on. If there are any questions about why I’m grateful, pick up some of their books. For Elizabeth Berg, begin with Durable Goods (her first novel, and yes, I despise her). For Clyde Edgerton get Raney, Walking Across Egypt, Killer Diller (WAE’s sequel), or Lunch at the Picadilly; the man is a genius. For Olive Ann Burns, read Cold Sassy Tree, her first and only complete novel; I feel about her like I feel about Elizabeth Berg, see above. I’d like to feel that way about Clyde Edgerton, but I can’t, because I want to be Clyde Edgerton.

Karleen Koen,**** writer and instructor, who said, “I can’t teach you to write, but I can teach you to play.” And she can. And she did. And I had the time of my life writing and writing and writing. Anyone who wants to write and has the opportunity to take one of her classes should sign up asap. See her blog, Karleen Koen – Writing Life, and her webpage, Karleen Koen. Find information about the courses she teaches at Karleen Koen – Courses. Karleen has published four impeccably researched historical novels, set in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the latest, Before Versailles, takes place in the court of Louis XIV, in the early years of his reign.

Karleen Koen
Karleen Koen

 

Three of Karleen Koen's novels on classroom floor at WLT retreat, Alpine, TX, 2014
Three of Karleen Koen’s novels displayed on classroom floor at WLT retreat, Alpine, TX, 2014. The little orange things in the lower right corner might be peanut butter cups.

 Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com, which I keep running in the background when I work. Dictionary.com gives me exact definitions of words. Thesaurus.com answers the question, What’s that word that means something like XXXXXXXXXX but not exactly, and it’s standing at the beginning of my hypoglossal nerve but refuses to sprint on down to my tongue, and I cannot finish this sentence without it? These sites are a godsend for people who hyperventilate at the thought of leaving a blank space and moving on.

 Bookworm. Yes, that one. The vile, disgusting, devilish online game that is a thousand times worse than solitaire, because if the Bookworm player is good enough, the game never ends. The player can sit mindlessly clicking on letters to make words, and if the letters he clicks don’t make a word, he just tries again, and he can play while he’s watching-listening to television, or petting the cat, or carrying on a conversation, or trying to think what his Main Character should do next because he’s painted her into a corner . . . Obviously, I know whereof I write.

 I’m grateful for Bookworm, however, because sometimes I need the comfort of a mindless, repetitive task. Playing Bookworm can be a method of avoidance, but it can also be a way of putting the mind on autopilot, giving it the freedom to figure out how to get the Main Character out of the corner she’s stuck in.

 Caveat: Playing Bookworm for too long at one sitting, day after day, month after month, can result in repetitive stress injuries. For example, the mouse hand and all that’s attached to it, right on up to the shoulder, can be rendered painful and practically useless until the light dawns and the victim realizes why she can’t raise her right arm.

 Readers. I’m grateful for everyone who reads my posts, especially the posts that are two or three times as long as blog posts should be. This one is four times as long. Contrary to my expectations, everything on the list relates to writing. I had intended to include Relaxed Fit Slacks and The Demise of the Girdle. But tomorrow is another day.

 (The Demise of the Girdle. Wouldn’t that make a marvelous title for a novel? Should it be mystery, romance, or science fiction?)

 

William Davis & Bookworm
William Davis & Bookworm

* See Thesaurus.com. That’s where I found all these synonyms for bathetic.

** Do I have your attention now? The book is Dance on His Grave; the author is Sylvia Dickey Smith. Sylvia no longer lives here, so Austin Mystery Writers meetings don’t draw as much attention from surrounding tables.

*** Don’t ask where elsewhere is. It’s not relevant.

**** This is not an advertisement, paid or otherwise. Karleen is an excellent teacher–few instructors can keep twenty tired adults happy for a whole week by assigning more homework. (See Morning Pages)

***** See Coffee Shops, above.

****** And printers that don’t drink ink.

******* Last summer, when I wept bitter tears because I couldn’t write what I was trying to write (not my usual practice, but I was having a bad summer), Karleen told me what to do instead, and before anyone says Hahahahahah, I’ll add she was quite nice about it, and said I should aspire to write like David Sedaris. Have you ever known of David Sedaris to do sincere?

 

My Writing Writing Writing Day: Yeah, Right

In the previous post, I announced my intention to get up, go to BookPeople, write for an hour on a project of not-email and not-post (because Ramona DeFelice Long told me to), and get off the laptop by 7:00 p.m.
Here’s how the day went.
IMG_2800
Ernest

At 8:00 a.m., I discovered Ernest experiencing grave digestive problems reminiscent of previous problems caused by eating string. No matter how careful we are, he’s always able to find string.

After practicing every sneaky tactic I know to wrestle him into the carrier, I hauled him to the vet, wrote a check, hauled him home, and spent the next twenty-four hours stalking him up hill and down dale, from litterbox to litterbox, to get an accurate picture of his post-doc activity.
If there wasn’t any, I would have to take him back to the vet today for reconsideration of the diagnosis of UTI to ingestion of string.
In addition to the X-ray, the veterinarian gave him a long-lasting injection of antibiotic so we wouldn’t have to catch him and fight over pills or liquid for a week. I could have chosen to start treatment without the X-ray and see what happened but wasn’t sure I could get him back into the carrier if the antibiotic didn’t work. Some things are not worth the effort.
Because we have two cats and two litterboxes, and because I knew isolation wouldn’t be possible, at least if I valued our doors, I sat up all night watching him. He slept. All night. Didn’t go near a litterbox. I played Bookworm.
David rose at 7:00 a.m. We changed shifts. I went upstairs for four hours of sleep. David stalked.
I woke at 11:00 to the news that Ernest had performed admirably. David had kept samples. I said I didn’t need to see them.
Ernest is in fine fettle. At present he’s lying on my arm, making biscuits where I wish he were not. I will tolerate this until the first claw penetrates my clothing and punctures my flesh. He means well.
In fact, he forgave and forgot as soon as we returned from the veterinary clinic. He swished around as if I had never betrayed him, sat in my lap, pinned down my left arm while I typed, lay on the footstool, gazed at me lovingly.
I’m grateful he doesn’t hold a grudge. In the fight for proper medical attention I nearly dislocated his shoulder. I’m trying to forgive and forget that my back and my right arm will once again have to be put right by the massage therapist. The carrier alone is heavy, and with Ernest inside it gains seventeen pounds.
Concerning the writing life: I did not go to BookPeople; I did not write for an hour; I did not eat breakfast or lunch until nearly 3:00 p.m. I did not do anything except be nurse and mama to a big, hulking guy tabby cat.
But hey–I got another blog post out of it.

The craziest thing is that it’s almost the same post I wrote two or three years ago, about the day I was

William
William

determined to write write write but instead spent the day lying on the floor in William’s bedroom, trying to coax an ailing Ernest out from under the bed and to the doctor.

Now the question: Do these things happen because I’m crazy, or am I crazy because these things happen?
What is the moral? (Must be a moral.)
  • Change in the Davis-Waller house doesn’t seem likely, at least while Ernest and I live here. Might as well accept that and go on.
  • I should never never never publicize my intention of writing writing writing.
  • Writing writing writing equals change. See first moral, above.
And failing to follow through is embarrassing. Especially reporting the failure, as is only fair. Readers deserve to know.
cropped-img_31112.jpgWhen this post is safely online, I shall throw things into a bag and head south to retreat with Austin Mystery Writers. I will have a cabin and a river and some pecan trees. I will not have Internet connection or decent TV reception. Phones will work only outside.
And for the next two days, I promise to sit in a porch swing and Write. Write. Write.

 ***

If paragraphs in this post are incorrectly spaced, please pretend they’re not. Today’s format is like Ernest–not under my control. It’s just one more miracle of modern technology.

The Scottish Referendum a Day Late & Assorted Rambling

It’s one p.m. Texas time. I’m in a coffee shop, procrastinating, and I can’t think of a better way to procrastinate than to google Scottish Referendum and check on how things are proceeding.

I thought the results might have already been announced, since Scotland is several hours ahead of us, but so far they haven’t. Further googling pulled up news that numbers will start trickling in about one a.m. Friday. The final result might be announced much later on Friday.

In Scotland, one a.m. is drawing nigh. I’d like to stay up to watch the exit polls, but getting a full night’s sleep at night is more important than watching coverage of a Scottish election, especially when I avoid most election coverage here in the U. S.

I read–or maybe heard on NPR–that if one votes Yes, he’s supposed to go directly to the Yes lady and report how he voted. It’s expected to be more accurate than exit polls.

If a large number of citizens vote like my father did, however, the Yes ladies could get it wrong. My  father did not discuss his vote, either before or after an election. His political leanings were his business, and he didn’t even engage in political discussions. I know he discussed issues with my mother, but she was about the only one. I’m pretty sure he voted a straight Democratic ticket, but I can’t swear to it.

My mother was more of an Independent, at least in 1960. She preferred Richard Nixon for president, but she liked Lyndon Johnson for vice-president. That required her to vote for men from opposing political parties for the top two positions. She said she was going to split the ticket. At the age of nine, I imagined her taking a pair of scissors into the voting booth and cutting the ballot into two strips.

If enough voters had followed her lead, we could have ended up with Richard Nixon and LBJ governing the country together. How I’d love to have seen that partnership.

I just realized that the phrase split the ticket still conjures up a vision of Mother holding her sewing scissors.

I guess it’s like Bringing in the Sheep and Jesus the Cross-Eyed Bear. And Up on the housetop, reindeer paws. No matter how hard you try to banish them, some things just stick.

###

It’s nearly one a.m. in my area of the United States. I’ve been home for about twelve hours. The writing is slow (a fact that shouldn’t surprise me). That could pose a problem.

This post is time-sensitive–it won’t have much oomph after the results have been announced. And if the world already knows, I’ll have to go back and change all my tenses.

  But for the past twelve hours I’ve neither turned on the television nor googled.  I know nothing about what’s happening outside this room. And if I know nothing, my tenses can stay the same. Where ignorance is bliss, etc. Now back to the referendum.

English: Greybeard Heather Dew Scotch Whisky
English: Greybeard Heather Dew Scotch Whisky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Both sides have concerns about the future of an independent Scotland. CNN Money lists five reasons to worry:  the currency mess; the debt debate; oil rights; the effect on the financial industry (the Royal Bank of Scotland is threatening to move headquarters to England [If it does, will it have to change its name?]); and the country’s relationship to the European Union. Or, to condense things a bit, one reason to worry: money. The Scotch Whisky Association expresses concern about financial repercussions of independence, but so far there’s been no indication whisky makers will move south. (If they move to England, will it still qualify as Scotch?)

My concern is less weighty, but I’ve been obsessing about it anyway. If Scotland leaves the UK, will the Union Jack have to be redesigned? That’s a beautiful flag, “the Cross of St. Andrew counterchanged with the Cross of St. Patrick, over all the Cross of St. George.” Each country is represented. It means something. The designer was a genius.

Back to the referendum. Actor James McAvoy, who, for the good of his career, kept his opinion to himself, expressed the gravity of the choice:

 

“This is the first time in years a developed country has talked about splitting up and it’s a massive thing,” he said. “If you vote for a president or a prime minister based on political or economic issues and they don’t deliver, that’s not so bad – you can protest four years down the line and vote them out. If you vote for continued unification or independence there is no protest vote – that’s it. And that could be it for decades, for centuries.”

 Centuries. That’s what makes this such a grand process. Scotland has been part of the Union for hundreds of years. Today’s decision will affect that it and the countries it separates from far into the future. And the question is settled not by soldiers on a battlefield but peacefully, by individuals at the ballot box.

   I don’t want to descend into the mire of sentiment. I’m best at detachment, standing a safe distance from the subject, letting irony handle things.

   But, putting irony aside, isn’t what happened in Scotland today remarkable?

   Not as remarkable as the 1994 election in South Africa in 1994, the first in which citizens of all races were allowed to take part.

   But remarkable nonetheless.

  And not just Scotland. The other countries behaved remarkably, too.  After all, the English could have dressed up like Birnam Wood and marched right up the hill to Dunsinane and put a stop to the whole troublesome business.

There are probably laws and ordinances in place to prevent the English from doing any such thing, but if you’ll suspend disbelief for the length of the previous paragraph and, for the sake of the post, just imagine Birnam Wood marching up that hill . . . It could happen . . . There’s precedent. It wouldn’t be the first time Scotland was invaded by trees.

  I should have published this well before midnight, but because I set my own deadlines, I’m free to shuffle them around as I please. Blogging should generate pleasure, not stress.

 I’ll end by saying I’ve always been fascinated by the British Isles, and especially Scotland. I’ve said dozens of times, and will continue to say, that if my ancestors had just stayed put, I might be living–and voting–there now. My one visit there was too brief. I love the weather. I was not designed to live in Texas heat and drought. I dream of going back and seeing more of the country, standing in the mist and the rain, eating haggis (I liked it.), and listening to the beautiful, musical brogues.

And when I’m a rich and famous author, I shall pack up the cats and my husband and fly over (all of us first class) and while the cats are in quarantine, I’ll find and purchase a croft with some pigs and chickens and sheep and a pony and some dogs and central heating and A/C, because you never know when the weather will turn, and learn to dance the Highland Fling, and sit amongst the heather and write more best sellers and rake in the dough and get a flat in London and every year go to Bloody Scotland and sit at the bar hobnobbing with other famous writers and drinking Scotch. Unless I discover I don’t like Scotch. I haven’t tried it yet.

  But I’m not going to get rich and famous or anything else but tired, sitting up till five a.m. to indulge myself by composing rambling, stream-of-consciousness blog posts.

  The end.

The Trees, the Birds, and the Patio

Have I mentioned that I can open a locked 1977 Chevy Malibu with a large paperclip in under a minute? And a locked 1977 Buick LeSabre with a metal coat hanger in under thirty seconds? That’s if the metal hanger is coated with plastic and if you discount the time it takes to go into Wal-Mart to buy it.

I was musing on cars and paperclips this afternoon during a pause in my drive home from Writers Who Write. I’d arrived at the coffee shop where we meet feeling rather jiggly in both mind and body, possibly because I’d been awake for only thirty minutes, most of which I’d spent en route. The banana and iced mocha I counted as breakfast didn’t help, so three hours later I left feeling just as jiggly as when I’d come in.

On the way home, I pulled into Trader Joe’s. The voice inside my head–the same one that told me to slow down only seconds before I hit the Black Angus cow back in 1996–had already warned me to go straight home. But guilt over ceding grocery shopping to David for most of the past four years overcame intuition, also known as good sense, and I stopped anyway.

There I faced a dilemma: what to do with the laptop lying on the passenger seat. I knew I should take it in with me, so I reached into the back seat, brought forth several large grocery sacks, and piled them on top of it.

That’s one advantage of Austin’s disposable plastic bag ban–I forget mine so often that I have to buy a reusable from the HEB cashier nearly every time I shop. There are enough of those things in my car to hide several laptops and a baby elephant besides.

Now. Here’s where the pause I mentioned earlier started. Satisfied no one could see the laptop, maybe, I shouldered my purse, picked up one of the grocery bags, and headed for Trader Joe’s. No more than a dozen steps later, I did a U-turn, headed back to the car, and peered through the window. Just as I’d expected, the ring of keys still hung from the ignition. Laying my hand on the hood, I felt a vibration. The car was running.

(Said car is ten years old. Because it’s been sitting in the sun, the red paint has begun to oxidize, so the outside looks totally disreputable, but it runs beautifully, knock wood. If the A/C hadn’t been on, I might not have felt a vibration at all.)

Well. My first impulse was to dump my purse onto the hood and follow it with my forehead. So I did. My second impulse was to hide a couple of cars away and wait for a burglar to break in for the laptop. Then I had a better idea. I stood up straight, head up, shoulders back, and asked myself, “What would Nancy Drew do (if she’d left her cell phone at home?)”

I’m certain she would do something more dramatic than finding a real phone and calling Ned Nickerson. But I’m not Nancy. I marched into Trader Joe’s, asked (in the most pitiful voice I could manage) to use the phone, and called David. He said he would run right over. I headed for the produce.

Back at the car, I set my own HEB insulated reusable shopping bag, with groceries, on the trunk. The putative temperature was 68 degrees, but sunshine had warmed the metal to at least 400, and I figured with any luck the salmon I’d bought might be cooked by the time I got home. Later I decided acting on whimsy might not be wise and took both the groceries and myself to a small, sandy promontory in the shade of a live oak tree at the other end of the car. Leaning against the tree’s trunk, I remembered other trees I’ve known:

The first high school I taught in was built around an open patio. Two young live oak trees grew on one side of it, outside the library. They were about the size of the tree I stood under while I waited for David.

The patio was a lovely spot. Students sat on the steps and at picnic tables during lunch, and the honors banquet was held there on spring evenings, and one pep rally that’s best forgotten (and that I’ll write about sometime) took place there. It was, as I said, lovely. Everyone who visited the school commented on its loveliness.

And time passed, and the live oaks flourished.

Then the birds arrived. And things began to go downhill.

The birds took up residence in the trees. Others joined them, and more and more, until the trees were thick with birds.

Birds, like cats, have no idea of the rules. They chattered and shrieked. They flew into glass doors and into windows overlooking the patio, unsettling students and teachers holding class on the insides of the windows. Unlike cats, they displayed no concern for personal hygiene. The patio did not smell nice. People stopped gathering there. They would have stopped walking by it at all if they’d been able to get to class any other way.

The Powers That Were made a number of humane attempts to get the birds to leave. They hung tin pans in the trees. They draped rubber snakes in the trees. They swatted at the birds with tennis rackets. Swatting might strike some as inhumane, but it was nothing compared to the alternative. This was, after all, a community dedicated to guns and hunting. Anyway, the same students who’d been traumatized when birds hit their windows got quite a kick watching the swatters flit about the patio, swiping at thin air.

At this point I must digress. I have admitted elsewhere that I sometimes exaggerate. Hyperbole is my favorite literary device. What I’ve written about the birds, however, is true. If anyone doubts my veracity, I can call on at least a hundred other eyewitnesses to back me up.

But back to my story. I was leaning against that live oak in front of Trader Joe’s, reminiscing, when I spotted my rescuer about three lanes over. I waved. He pulled his car into a space across from me.

“Did you call from a pay phone?” he said. Then he kissed me hello and unlocked the car.

That’s when I remembered, one more time, how lovely it is to have a husband who is as kind as my father was. My father never complained about retrieving my keys from locked cars, either.

Of course, that was before 1977, when I learned to use a paperclip.

 

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A Davis Christmas 2009: Compromise

David & Kathy’s preference

As you know if you saw our last post, our Christmas tree has been the subject of intense, but not unexpected, conflict.

As soon as the tree lit up, so did William and Ernest. William had to be physically restrained from chewing on the lights.

The next morning found the tree lying on its side and the cats out of sight. The tree spent the day en deshabille, as it were.

William & Ernest’s preference

After lengthy trilateral negotiations, a compromise was reached.

Ornaments and tree skirt are, of course, out of the question.

Gifts will appear Christmas morning immediately before they’re to be opened.

Compromise

*****

Featured image by SDRandCo via morguefile.com