Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The competition is on again. I call it the Griswald Competition. Just down the street, around the bend in the horse-shoe are the competitors.

Griswald Right is leading right now. He has his three foot high red and white flashing "NOEL" sign up on the roof and most of the roof lined in twinkling lights.

In a weeks time, he and his neighbor across the street (Griswald Left) will have every inch of straight line in the yards, on the houses, along fences and up every tree glowing in lights. There will be Disney characters in a manger scene. There will be blow-up snowmen. There will be icicle lights dripping. There will be a light-up train pulling a car full of presents. Oh yes. Yes there will.

I'm sure it can be seen from outer space.

My next door neighbor isn't quite as bad. He is done. He has a lighted wreath in every window and one on the front door. He has a snowman and a Santa standing at the bottom porch steps, along with some poinsettias.

I've got a 22 bulb snowflake that I hang in my double window. And I'm not quite sure where it is right now. I got it last year out of sheer guilt and shame that I was letting the neighborhood down with my lack of Christmas spirit.

I'm almost afraid to see what the crazy lawn lady across the street will do.

I really want to get a flock of pink flamingos and put little tiny antlers on their heads. That would cool.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

My son recently sent me, via email, some pictures. A couple were of an Irish bar, Kelly's Irish Pub, in Rhodes, Greece.

I wrote him back to ask a few questions, the first of which was how did there come to be an Irish Pub in Greece?

I waited, my writer's imagination eager for just a few details upon which I could spin an entire story. A broken hearted Irishman leaves his homeland forever following the tragic death of his one true love but becomes homesick and recreates the Pub where he and True Love met.

Something like that. But alas, the story I got was that there are a lot of British tourists there and it's a gimmick type thing. So much for true love.

Now, the picture of Eric Clapton's yacht, THAT he knew something about. But he is a musician. My son that is. Well, so is Clapton. I asked if he'd knock, knock, knocked on Eric's door and asked to play one of his guitars.

But I really did love the picture of my son wearing the leprechaun hat and beard. That was funny. I'm thinking of making copies for Christmas presents.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Last night, I'm two hours in to a shift from hell (with ten left to go) when my mom calls. She rarely calls me at work so I figure it's important.

Short and to the point my mother does not do well. I try to follow her meanderings through the din of ringing phones, crying babies, sounding alarms and a couple of four year olds banging on the windows like we are a zoo exhibit that is too boring.

About three/fourths through the conversation I realize just what it is she wants of me. Now, let me insert here that my mom and I get along great. We go shopping, to lunch, to movies. Heck, we even took a six day mother-daughter trip to San Francisco about a year ago.

But this!! A two and a half hour van ride to another city, well known for its unrelenting tackiness, to see the Radio City Rockettes perform. Sound good? Well, it would be the two of us and the other members of her over 65 Sunday school class.

Leaving at 10am, arriving for lunch, then see the show, then have dinner, then two and a half hours home. In a van. With ten old Baptist ladies. At least a ten hour trip.

I'd rather have a Brazilian wax job without a bullet to bite on.

So, I blew her off, claiming that everything was written down on my calendar at home and I didn't know if I would be free. Then I spent the rest of the night trying to come up with decent lies.

But in the end, I couldn't do it. I did the honesty thing and told her that I really just didn't have the time this week to take out an entire day. She wasn't too disappointed. I don't think.

Okay, so she gets two Christmas presents this year.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Say, does anyone remember the eighties? When the Soviet Union was going win their war in Afganistan?

Remember how Reagan funded and trained this dude named Osama Bin Laden? Gave this young Saudi upstart weapons and training so that his little band of merry men could continue to stab at the great Soviet Army?

See, the idea was to get the Soviet Union bogged down in an unwinnable war, to drain their economy and military, to create massive civilian opposition to the war to weaken the entire structure of the Soviet government and bring down the communists.

Worked pretty good.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Ah Thanksgiving Day. Time to eat and watch parades. I hear some people watch football, but as I follow no sports, it remains a reported but unobserved custom in my home.

This year I am most thankful that Jason is cooking The Dinner. So far today I have: stubbed a toe, dropped an open jar of pickle relish, dropped half a salad on the floor and pinched a finger in the handle of a coffee cup. I seem to be having a Super-Klutz day. Could you see me pulling a thirteen pound turkey out of the oven?? Shades of "I Love Lucy".

But I am thankful. I'm thankful for my family who has to put up with me and my friends who choose to put up with me. I'm thankful for my job, which allows me the flexibility to write practically full time while still paying all my bills. I'm thankful my son is on a Navy ship in the Persian Gulf and not on the ground in Iraq or Afganistan. I'm thankful for the furballs who make me laugh every day. And mostly I'm thankful for Jason who really is the best guy in the world.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I was reading through a book I started reading about a year ago. Yes, I am one of those people who read a few chapters then set the book aside. I usually have three or four books going at once.

This one was a book by a fellow named Nigel Cawthorne, "Witch Hunt A History of Persecution". A nice charming little book that looks at the phenomenom of the witch hunts/trials in the US and in Europe.

The Middle Ages were a nasty time to be a woman. Or a rich dude who had enemies. You could be strung up with your arms tied behind you, placed on the rack, have a board laid over you upon which hot stones were piled higher and higher until you confessed and named names.

They didn't mess around with such foolishness as evidence. Once accused, you could be tortured until you confessed. In fact, not confessing under torture was considered by some a true sign of your guilt.

In Spain, around 1481, a man named Torquemada was made the Inquistor General. In this role, he sent more than two thousand people to be burned at the stake. Of Torquemada, Cawthorne writes, "Torture was largely Torquemada's contribution to the Inquisition. He instructed that torture could be used in any case where heresy was 'half proven' - in other words, an accusation had been made but no confession had been extracted. Simply being brought before the Inquisition was enough."

Then, if the rack and the strappado (the hanging with your arms tied behind you for a couple of hours) wasn't enough, they would bring out the water torture. Or you could be strapped in to a metal chair with your greased feet (so they would burn more slowly) tied over a grate under which a fire burned. Flogging and cutting off fingers and toes were also popular ways to get confessions.

Gosh. I am so glad that we live in enlightened times and an enlightened country where torture is no longer implemented. Because who would be so stupid as to think that it would result in getting the truth?????

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I was looking for a book today. Not just a book, but a particular book. I couldn't find it. I have a sneaky suspicion that Jason has either hidden it or taken it away because it was one of those books that made me say things like: "This should be sent to the White House so some-one can read it to DUHH-bya."

But I couldn't find it.

I looked in the front room, where we have three packed bookcases. I looked in the back room where we have an overflowing little bookcase. I looked in the spare room where Jason has two overflowing bookcases. I looked in the bedroom where there is usually a stack on either bedside table.

I think we have a book problem. Many many years ago, I was moving to a larger apartment. My son got it in his head that he would count my books. He stopped at a thousand. At that time I decided maybe I should thin them out a little. I went through them and came up with a small box full that I was willing to part with. In a short time, I'd replaced those with new books.

When I bought the house, I also bought three six foot tall bookshelves and did another purge (I take my old books to the nursing home where my mom's ex-neighbor lives, the residents there really like getting fresh books). After that, I had room to spare on my bookshelves.

Then Jason moved in, bringing his biblioholic collection with him. I think we could qualify as a library. We've got it all. Literary fiction, detective fiction, women's fiction, general fiction, children's literature, history, social studies, poetry, how-to books, cook books, reference books....

An aquaintance once told me that she reads books from the library. Frankly, it horrified me. Now, I have nothing at all against libraries and have even checked out books from them before, old out of print books that I wanted to read.

But I must own my books. I have to be able to take my time with them, revel in them, let them get splashed with bubbly bath water or have bits of lunch dripped in them. They must endure little kitten scratches from where Loki tries to dislodge my thumb or teeth marks where Thor just flat out gnaws on the paper. I have to be able to go back to them, at a moments notice, to find that perfect sentence or that oh-so truthfully told paragraph, just so I can see it again.

Like a child's blanket or old teddy bear, my books are well worn and well loved. And impossible to part with.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Last summer, Jason brought home the new Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. He was excited about it. An aquaintance from work was practically sitting by the door one night, purse in hand and her I-prepurchased-a-copy wrist band firmly strapped on, heading out to the midnight give away.

I'd never read any of them. Nor had I watched any of the movies. The only real reason I can think of was that I was afraid I'd get addicted to them.

So Jason bought me a gift set of the first five books. And I read them straight through in about two weeks. See? I know myself to well.

The above mentioned work aquaintance and another were already fans. As they discussed the happenings in Half-Blood Prince, I'd stick my fingers in my ears and sing in a such a dramatic fashion that they would stop. Or maybe it was my caterwaulting that passes as singing I don't know. Probably.

The big question everyone was discussing was the death of "a major character". For those who haven't read it, I'd stop here cos I'm gonna spill the beans.

Spoiler Alert....

I must say, I read the book with a certain amount of apprehension, worrying who it might be. But when it turned out to be Dumbledore, it didn't surprise me at all. It made perfect sense. In almost all mythology (and this is mythology), the young hero must face his enemy alone. There can be no hope or possibility of help or rescue. It is his moment to stand alone and become the man he never thought he could be. The one his teacher always knew he would become.

Then, because I'm such an addictive thing (right now it's TicTacs, can't stop eating them, it's insane), after I read all the books, I had to watch all the movies. Then after I watched all the movies, I wanted to read all the books again.
I didn't get much done last week.

Tonight, we are meeting a work friend to see the new movie, The Goblet of Fire. I'm excited. It'll be the first one I've seen on the big screen. And now, I must go dig out my huge going to the movies purse, the one that will hold a bag of microwave popcorn, some candy and a couple of sodas.

Kidding! Kidding! Calm down, I know it's against the rules, Hermione.

Friday, November 18, 2005

It's true, you know. No good deed goes unpunished.

Once upon a time, my clan would gather for Thanksgiving dinner at a local restaurant. Only people who've never done it think it's a terrible thing. Just imagine: Thanksgiving day, you lounge around in your robe and slippers, sipping coffee and watching the parades on TV. Maybe take a mid-morning nap. At some pre-determined time, you put on some mildly dressy clothes and meet everybody at the designated site.

Nothing to cook, nothing to haul over to some-one's house. No dishes to wash. Just all you can eat in public without embarassing yourself. Go home, take a nap. Wonderful Thanksgiving.

The only drawback is no left over turkey, dressing and cranberry sandwiches, but that can be remedied with a little nerve and a purse full of plastic baggies.

But this year, the clan is scattered (the farthest being my son who is floating around the Persian Gulf somewhere on a government owned ship). No deal on the restaurant thing. So, I offer to have a small dinner here for myself, Jason and my mom.

Then my mom suggests that maybe my brother who is recently separated might need a place to go. Okay four.

Then my recently separated brother tells me that his soon-to-be-ex-wife's new place isn't in the shape the landlord said it was and well......

Sure, I say, bring the girls. Six. Gulp.

Well, he wants everyone to come. They are on good terms, it would be mean to take the girls and leave their mom alone since her family lives in another state.

Okay! Seven!!

Here's the problem. I have exactly one 36 inch round dining room table with two chairs. It can accomodate four if we use the director's chair from the back room and the computer desk chair. And we all like each other. A lot.

I have one section of counter that is about four feet in length. I have one frying pan, two big pots, one medium pot and one small pot. I have two big bowls and two small bowls. And since I broke two dinner plates a few months ago, I'm going to have to count them to see if I even have seven of them.

I don't entertain much.

Luckily my family is far removed from the hoity-toity downtown elite as we can be. We don't need a perfectly decorated table set for twelve with perfect, matching china and crystal goblets. We wouldn't know which fork to use, well my mom probably would, she's a Southern Belle trained in the old school.

Mix matched dinner plates, three different styles of drinking glasses, plastic serving bowls, sitting on the floor around the coffee table, swatting curious kittens out of our plates, that we can handle.

That's who we are. A little rough around the edges maybe, but there for each other no matter what. And that is something to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I went shopping with my mother today. I hate shopping. Really. I do. I hate clothes, I hate shoes. I think pajama's should be fine for everyday wear. Sneakers in the winter, barefoot in the summer.

I'm spoiled because I get to wear what are essentially pj's to work and comfy shoes are a requirement. So I never HAVE to wear stupid things like panty hose and toe-pinching shoes with ankle breaking heels.

But I need some new clothes. I'm getting a little old for the tee-shirt and jeans routine. So I was in a mood to shop, which is rare.

First off, shopping with my mom is a love/hate thing. One, she can shop circles around me. Two, she's still a perfect size six and can wear short skirts because she didn't get her mother's varicose veins, I did. Three, she keeps her glasses in her purse until she needs to look at a price tag. It's annoying and when I tell her what the price is, she still gets out her glasses to check.

Because I am such a natural born slob, I can't go into stores like Bloomingdales or Nordstrom (YES! We have those down here in hickville, thank you very much!). I can't do it because no matter how much I like something, if it is more than say, $60, I'm not buying it. No piece of cloth is worth that much. I don't care how cute it is. I dont' care how darling it would look with that black suede skirt.

But I did alright. I found a really cute dusty rose pink jacket (that DOES, in fact look darling with my black suede skirt). And two sweaters, one red with black beaded flowers and the other a rich ruby red.

Anyone in the Charleston area who hasn't been to Consigning Women in the Avondale area (near Gerald's Tires), I highly recommend it. The clothing is in excellent shape and the prices are awesome. I got the two sweaters in mint condition for $17.

So good it may make a shopper out of me yet. Or maybe not. If I buy clothes, I have to buy shoes. Shudder.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I feel a little bad. I go on and on about my kittens and Sutu the Amazing 'Fraidy Cat, but we do have another pet.

Well...."pet" is a strong word. As is "we". Can I say there is another non-human animal co-existing in the house with us who belongs to Jason?

Now don't get me wrong. I don't dislike Mick Jagger. It's just that a "pet" that pisses and shits whereever it happens to feel the urge, including his own food bowl and MY LAP, doesn't exactly fall under the category pet. In my personal opinion.

The name fits him. Let his food bowl or his water thing get empty and he'll throw a tantrum to match any rock star's finest hissy fit.

And he is cute. From the shoulders forward. When he doesn't have a mushed up turd hanging off his butt or between his toes.


Photograph by Jason Zwiker

People have asked me about having a guinea pig and cats. It's okay. Sort of. Sutu ignores him. Loki is mildly interested in a some-day-if-I-feel-like-it-I'll-kill-and-eat-you sort of way.

Thor. Sheesh. Mick and Thor are buds. Best buds. Open Mick's cage and Thor is in there in a flash, hanging out and squishing Mick turds between his own paws. The problem is that Mick is a randy little thing (whether due to his guinea pig-ness or just taking after his name sake, I don't know). And Thor is just a little innocent kitten who doesn't know any better.

How do I put this? We have to supervise their visits because Mick sexually molests my kitten. I don't hold it against him personally (very much) because he is an animal with a brain size that allows for only five life functions: eating, sleeping, pissing, pooping and having sex. But it is highly disturbing to find your kitten rolled over on his back with a guinea pig fast at his private parts.

Animals are weird.
Yesterday I decided I needed a filing system. Tossing all bills and paperwork in a huge pile inside a cabinent may have worked when I was younger, but I'm a grown up professional homeowner now. For Pete's sake.

Mostly, my joints are failing at an alarming rate (a gift from my father's side of the family: we are tall, but arthritic) and sitting on the floor sifting through a small mountain of paper to find the one thing I'm looking for is getting not only too time consuming but painful.

I waited until the kittens were taking a nap, helped along by a pile of catnip, then I tossed all the paper on the floor and began sorting.

Everything important separated out in individual piles and one big ole "to be shredded" pile.

Holy actuary tables, Batman!! Do you know how much freakin' insurance you gotta have these days? I got your basic homeowners insurance, I got flood insurance, I should but don't have earthquake insurance, I have auto insurance, health insurance, dental, life, disability insurance, long and short term, nursing home insurance, and if I wanted it, I can now get cancer insurance. I have malpratice insurance. I've got one of those home warranty things that is essentially insurance for my appliances. I've got everything except the fridge and the cats insured!

By the time I realized I didn't remember to get file folders to put all these papers in, I'm tired, I'm sneezing out five year old dust mites and I'm in no mood for Highway 61 afternoon traffic. I call Jason and beg him to steal some folders from work, which he does not do, he stops like a good person and buys some on his way home.

So now, I have a nice, neat and tidy file box where my mountain o'paper used to be. It's like a grown up lives here or something.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I have minor hissy fits frequently. I think it's good for the psyche to just rant for a moment or two. A few days ago, however, I had a major melt down fit. Yelling and cussing and kick-a-kitten mad.

I'm over it now. And no, I did not kick a kitten.

See, most people don't understand what it means to be poor. The working poor. That undercurrent of worry and fear that threads through every waking moment and often even appears in your dreams.

I don't mean the kind of poor that most people think they are when they can't afford to eat dinner at Charleston Place.

I'm talking the kind of poor where you find yourself selling your blood plasma a couple times of year so you can buy vitamins for your child because you can't afford the good food you know he/she needs to grow up healthy.

The kind of poor where a flat tire means you have to turn off the air conditioning or the heat for a month or so to save money to pay for it.

The kind of poor where going to the phone company or the electric company to beg for a little more time or to set up a payment schedule is something you have to do regardless of the shamed, less-than feeling it gives you.

The kind of poor where you live in substandard housing and if you are lucky, you drive a piece of shit car held together with hope and desparation.

I've been there. I've done that.

So when I got an unexpected bill for a huge gob of money that was either going to wipe out my savings account or send my mortgage payment soaring, I had a little post traumatic flash back.

Luckily, I now have resources. I have savings. I paid the bill. I'll start saving again. I'm not going without because of one unexpected event.

This makes me, in contrast to many in American and most in the world, rich.

I try to be grateful.

Monday, November 14, 2005

I would like to start a grass-roots movement to ban the cruel and unusual punishment of American consumers.

I'm talking about Christmas, people.

There is a local radio station that began playing Christmas music on November first. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Upper management should be arrested, tried, and sentenced to wrap gifts at department stores those last two weeks before the big day. Those days when we consumers are beginning to hate everyone and everything about Christmas because it has been shoved down our throats ever since the very instant Halloween was over.

The music is everywhere. The mall, the grocery store, anywhere you could possibly spend a penny.

It's insane. You're handing out Halloween candy one evening and then the next morning on your trip to the grocery store to buy Pepto for either yourself or the kids because some-one had to sample all the candy, you find yourself standing in the check out line humming along to "Jingle Bell Rock".

My local store was putting up decorations and putting out Christmas junk (cookie scented candles, ho-ho-ho boxer shorts) on November third. I know this because I was there.

"Did I miss Thanksgiving?" I asked.

They laughed at me!

Thanksgiving, pish-posh. The retailers can't make any money off of Thanksgiving. Okay, maybe a few restaurants and the grocery stores. But Thanksgiving doesn't cause guilt trip shopping unto the point of bankrupcty. The retailers of American like that, they count on it.

If we'd start giving Thanksgiving presents maybe we'd be allowed stave off Christmas a few weeks.

I know I'm not the only Grinch in the country. Everyone else I know hates it, along with the few strangers being interviewed on the local news moaning about how Christmas is over-hyped too soon (and now a word from our sponsors: cut to Christmas commercial).

So why is it done?

Because the retailers do not care about what their consumers think. If you don't believe me, try to return something to any store and really notice the hostility and distain with which you are treated. You're probably so used to it, you don't really notice anymore.

All they care about is that they might make a few more bucks off of you.

And they won't stop. Even if every person in American complains, they won't stop. Why should they? We throw ourselves in to a frenzy of spending every year.

Decorating the house inside and out.

Gifts for everyone who even wanders around the peripherary of our lives.

The biggest, brightest, bestest of everything for each child in our lives because "it's only once a year".

Parties that require a new dress and shoes and accessories because the same old people are going to be there and God forbid you been seen in something from last year.

Designer wrapping paper and ribbons because the outside of a gift is just as important as what's inside.

On and on. We have been trained like Pavlov's dogs to drag out a credit card at the sound of a Christmas song.

There is no escaping it either because every retailer does it.

What can we do?

Well, there is plenty we can do.

Like make homemade gifts. Like teaching our children that the number of presents under the tree is meaningless. Like the good old days of one main present per child and the rest being socks and shirts and fruit. Like staying home with your family.

The number one thing we can do is spend less money. Not a little less money, but a whole heck of a lot less money. Because then all those retail executives will look at that holiday bottom line and realize they aren't getting that big fat cushy bonus to pay off all their holiday extravaganzas.

Then we'll see some action. Then there will be reports and investigations and a silly interest what we consumers want.

Then perhaps we won't hear Christmas carols until the day after Thanksgiving. Wouldn't that be nice?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Yesterday, Thor waded through ankle deep (on him) water to stare as the bath water swirled down the drain. I called it a maelstrom once and I think he thinks it is his Viking duty to challenge it.

When he got tired of watching, he sat down. In the water.

I told him that the Cat Licensing Board was on the way to revoke his cat license. He'd have to call himself a dog from now on.

Then, before I left for work last evening, I found him sitting quietly in the window of the spare room. He seemed to be contemplating the world outside. Upon closer inspection, he was found to be trying to figure out how to get the six inches of venetian blind cord he'd swallowed back out of his throat. Thank God I'd cut the cord or he'd have hung himself.

Then bright and early this morning as I returned from work, the front window blinds were open and both Thor and Loki were perched on the window sill. As I pulled in, Loki had a keen look of interest about him.

Thor looked like he might be drooling.

Now, I adore Thor. He is very sweet. He is lovable and loving and funny.

I'm beginning to fear that he really is dumb as a box of toe nail clippings.

But I love him anyway.

Friday, November 11, 2005

I took our older cat, Sutu (it means tiger in Vietnamese), to the vet yesterday. Twenty miles down Highway 61 to Summerville. It's okay. I like my vet. And the leaves are turning and falling and parts of 61 are still green tunnels with sunlight beaming through the gaps like lasers.

It would be a pleasant ride if not for the constant stream of big rig dump trucks and flatbeds carrying loads of freshly slaughtered trees away. Making way for the vanilla slums to be built over land that until now was disturbed only the ghosts of long ago Indians and a few modern day deer hunters.

In other words, I try to enjoy my drives through there. Every time might well be the last time.

And it is enjoyable (unless I get behind an out-of-state license plate, a car full 'o tourists heading up to Middleton or Magnolia Gardens). It's a scary road sometimes. The massive oaks sit literally inches off the asphalt and although the posted speed limit on its winding two lanes is 55, most familiar with it drive much faster.

But taking the cat is torture of another sort. Twenty miles of a pained, fade away, woe is me meow.

Good news though. Kidney fuction tests were normal. In the high end of normal, but normal. Bad news, he has lost a bit more weight. One more month on the special diet food and if no improvement or change, we'll retest the thyroid functions, which were normal last time.

Strange thing, the vet tech, Petra, who is awesome, showed me my chart there. I am client number 12. My old cat, Miss Kitty, was their first feline patient. Kind of cool.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

My mom is shrinking.

It's very strange how these things sneak up on you. I met her today at O'Charley's for lunch. I got there first and was perusing the Charleston City Paper for Jason articles when she arrived. I stood up to hug her and that's when I noticed that the top of her head just barely cleared my shoulder.

I was wearing sneakers. No sky high stiletto heels for me. For one thing, I'd kill my klutzy-ass self.

I've been taller than her since I turned fourteen and grew six inches in one summer. When did this happen? When did she shrink?

My mother is seventy years old. Put aside your gray-haired knitting granny in the rocking chair image.

My mom works full time. She travels. She just got back from a week long trip to New York City with her sister. They saw three Broadway plays: Lion King, Wicked and Spamalot, which my mom absolutely loved.

She has less gray hair than me, can shop me in to the ground and has a better memory than me.

She has no significant health problems other than slightly high cholesterol and some osteoporosis.

I know, I'm a nurse. Osteoporosis can make you shrink.

But that's scientific knowledge talk. That has no business being dragged in to my mom's life.

She's shrinking. And some how I'm becoming the parent.

I'm the one checking up on her. I go to her doctor's appointments with her or she calls me and fills me in on what happened with the doctor. She won't ask the doctor questions, she waits until she gets home and calls me.

I find myself admonishing her for things like running along a wet slope to tell me that a one foot long alligator was following me as I tried reunite a baby duck with its family. "You could have broken a hip running on wet grass!" I hear the words tumbling out in the same tone I would have used to scold my son.

As a child, the only girl, I worshipped my mother and looked up to her. I still do.

But there is something about laying my cheek on the top of her head when we embrace that both breaks my heart and fills it with love.
I'm reading Jimmy Carter's new book, "Our Endangered Values".

I love Jimmy Carter. I think he is the best ex-president this country has ever had or ever will have.

I'm not a Christian. I'm not any other major religion either. I don't know what I am. But that doesn't matter.

I love Jimmy Carter.

I have always believed that the teachings of the various religions in the world are good things. They are good guidebooks on how to live your life and how to interact with the world.

Somewhere along the line in the last ten years or so (perhaps longer, behind the scenes), religion, mainly fundamentalist Christians in this country, have stopped applying religious teachings inwardly to themselves and begun applying them outwardly, telling everyone else what and how they should be.

In this book Mr. Carter says of the fundamentalist trends in all major religions, "Increasingly true believers are inclined to begin a process of deciding: 'Since I am aligned with God, I am superior and my beliefs should prevail, and anyone who disagrees with me is inherently wrong,' and the next step is 'inherently inferior.' The ultimate step is 'subhuman,' and then their lives are not significant."

It's a scary world out there. When a prominent religious leader can blithely call for the murder of another human being and people just shrug, we are rapidly approaching "inherently inferior".

Every person over the age of fifteen in America, regardless of religious affliation, should be required to read this book.

We desperately need to hear Mr. Carter's message.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Don't fall for that sweet goofy innocent face.

While eating lunch, I heard a crash from the back of the house. I found Thor head first down the A/C vent after he managed to pull the cover grill off. Do they give Ritalin to cats?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Last week we went to Washington, DC. Jason did some photography for the Heart Gallery (it's a charity-type thing that recruits photographers to do portraits of hard to adopt foster children). One of his photographs was selected to be on display in the Russell Senate Building on Capital Hill. And there was a reception at Union Station and some of the photographs from around the country were on display there also.

It was on a Tuesday.

I've worked night shift, Friday, Saturday and Sunday for years. I am used to not being able to do anything with anyone because the entire world is set around a M-F work week.

I said, "We are going."

Jason said, "DC is expensive."

I said, "I don't care."

It was a quick trip. From the time we left the house for the airport until we walked back in to find three very pissed off cats waiting for us was just a hair over thirty hours. Not near enough time to do anything.

Luck followed us the entire trip. Our planes were on time. We had great weather. The shuttle bus put us in different rows of seats. This was a good thing. In the end.

Small airport shuttle. Foreign type driver, from the accent, I thought Greek, maybe. In first row, Jason, strange 60-something-ish lady with the back of her head crew-cut cropped up to her ears. Spiky purple-red hair in front. A five inch rat tail with beads growing out of the middle of the back of her head. There was another lady next to her, but I swear to God, I don't think I was ever able to drag my eyes away from that rat tail long enough to register what she looked like.

In second row, me, a sweet, round, perfectly bleached blond, 40-ish, Georgian from the accent, could have been Alabama, that Jaw-jah peach accent does tend to blur near the borders. Jaw-jah Peach's slightly older friend next to her.

Heading up Consitution Avenue, the traffic bogs down. I can see up ahead, the DC police have a dump truck pulled over. There is a heavily armed policeman walking along the sidewalk beside us, heading towards the dumptruck. He's got a gun on just about every extremity and is carrying one big ass (I don't know nothing about this) automatic type looking rifle.

Jaw-jah Peach: "Oh mah grashious, ya'll! Did ya'll see his gu-uun? Are awwll the PO-licemen down heyah ahmed like tha-yat?"

(At this point, Jason's head came up out of the map he'd been perusing and I could almost see his writer's ear vibrating.)

Now, I know people like this, heck, sometimes I'm like that. We southern girls are expected to be shocked at the realities and ugliness of life. I was fine with her consternation.

As I was starting to point out the situation ahead, Rat-Tail Granny turns around.

Rat-Tail Granny: "Let's just all pretend like it's one of those, those, oh, those heart-starting machines. So's we can put a positive image on it."

Ever have to not only hold back your laughter but also keep a straight face? It makes your eyeballs hurt.

Good luck. If Jason and I had been sitting where we could have seen each others faces.....we would have been......rude.

We made it to our hotel - The Phoenix Park Hotel - at a few minutes before one in the afternoon. Lovely hotel. Marvelous. I'm something of a hotel snob and will spend money for a good one. This one was worth almost every cent. I thought the desk staff could have been a little friendlier, but hey, I was a one night stay hick from the deep South, I understand. I wasn't worthy of being TOO nice too.

By one fifteen, we'd crossed the street to Union Station (which for some reason, I kept calling Union Square). We wandered about a few minutes, looking at the Heart Gallery pictures there before heading to the Russell Building to see Jason's. Then we did a five hour walking tour.

Past the Capital Bldg, up to the National Mall, down the Mall to the Washington Memorial, to the WWII Memorial, to the Lincoln Memorial (where some clunk-head college boys were taking disgusting pictures), then to the Vietnam Wall, where we found my son's Great-Uncle's name and took some photographs for him. Then to the White House, then ALLLLLLL the way back to the Hotel.

See, my mind says I'm still twenty, but my knees remind me of the truth. Jason made an appearance at the reception while I propped up my poor legs. A quick dinner later at the Dubliner Pub (yummy) and off to bed.

The next morning, I tucked the complimentary copy of the Washington Post into our suitcase and we zoomed off to Union Station for the excitement of taking the subway to the Ronnie Reagan Airport. We managed to do it with only looking a little bit like clueless tourists (trying to figure out the ticket buyinging thing).

At the airport, I settled back with the paper. Oh, look an article on the Heart Gallery. Continued on page B5. I flipped it open. Looked at the picture. Nudged Jason. "These people look familiar?"

It was us. In the five-ten minutes we were there at Union Station, we got our picture in the paper. Pretty cool. I can tell people I was in the Washington Post. Never mind that it's my back to the camera and I look like a complete geek because it was hotter than I expected and I had my sweater tied around my waist.

To heck with it, I was on vacation!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Two and a half years ago, I took to my writer's group a five page opening to what I thought might end up as a short story. Most everyone seemed to like it, including the people whose opinions I held in high esteem. One of them told me, "You're on to something there, stay with it."

So I stayed with it and when the state conference rolled around six months later, I had twenty pages. I bravely sent in the first ten for a manuscript critique. It was my first conference and I wanted to participate in everything.

The lady who did my critique was an agent. She liked it. She asked me if it was complete. I felt like an idiot as I had to tell her that I only had twenty pages. She said I was brave to subject it to a critique so early. I felt like a bigger idiot. Then she said that when it was complete, I should query her.

Now that would have lit a virtual firestorm under most people. Me, not so much. It did motivate me to think more seriously about where I wanted to go with this story, which became known in my group as "The Meg Story". (I've tried several times to get a manuscript naming contest going on, as titles are not my strong point).

Two years later, well, truthfully, two years and four months later, it was a nice 80,000 word manuscript. Well received and wonderfully critiqued throughout the writing process by some pretty sharp cookies.

So a few weeks before the state wide writers conference this October, I sent a friendly little email to the agent, reminding her of who I was, what my manuscript was, and her suggestion that I query her. I offered to bring any amount of said manuscript that she desired to the conference.

Two days before the conference, she emailed me back telling me that I could bring the first five chapters, a synopsis, an author bio and a SASE to give her.

Two days! Okay. Problem number one: I, for whatever reason that I try not to worry about anymore, am incapable of writing in chapters. I just write. Solution: average chapter is 10-12 pages, take the first 50 pages. Problem number two: I have no synopsis. Solution: go in to full-out panic mode.

Really. Fine. I'm an idiot. I know. Every writer's magazine, book, conference and workshop stresses the synopsis until the point of nausea. I just didn't have time to get to it. I'd just fininshed the damn thing and was happy to get a first go-through edit completed.

So I emailed Heidi, a fellow member of the group who happens to be represented by this agent. What does the agent want? A short two paragraph summary or one of those scene by scene discriptions of the entire book? (Cross fingers, toes, arms, legs and eyes while chanting: short summary, short summary.)


Well shit. I have one full day. Who needs sleep? I settled at the kitchen table with the manuscript, a spiral notebook and a pen. And two kittens who think writing is a game where the goal is to jump up, knock the pen out of my hand and bat it under the refridgerator before I can get it back.

By the time Jason gets home, I'm practically manic with the stress. I've outlined the whole story in short declarative sentences. I've typed it up. He reads it over and declares it acceptable. (I've lost all objectivity by this point, so yield to his opinion, besides to agree means I don't have to work on it anymore.)

He does, however, take pity on me and rewrites the two paragraph summary. I read what he's done. It's perfect. It's beautiful and succinct.

It's also so very obviously the work of a writer other than myself. Jason and I have very different writing styles and voices. He is very literary and lyrical. I am very general fiction and matter of fact. But at this point, I don't care. His summary goes on top of my synopsis and the entire package is shoved in a manila envelope. For better or worse.

I spend the first day at the conference wandering around staring at people's chests, trying to read name tags without squinting. (My eyeglasses are about three years old and I need new ones, but the optometrist told me I needed bifocals and I refuse to accept it just yet.) But I don't find the agent. I can't remember what she looks like.

That evening, at the reception, I found Heidi and she kindly pointed out the agent to me.

The next morning, after the keynote speech, I approached the agent, introduced myself, gave her the package, made a small joke based on something the keynote speaker had said, shook her hand and thanked her.

It wasn't until I sat back down that I started shaking. I sat there for about fifteen minutes before it stopped. Jason patted my hand and told me I'd done just fine.

But it wasn't that. It wasn't the act of giving her my manuscript. It was what it meant.

I'd been calling myself a writer for a long time. But it was mostly just a little fantasy, a game, an amusement that I let myself pretend while tapping away at the keyboard, inventing these people.

But now it was real. I'd declared myself a writer to a professional agent who, if she desired, was going to try to sell my story to a professional editor at a real publishing house. There was no going back. No "this was just a lark".

So now I'm grateful that Jason picks up the mail in the afternoon. I'm developing a real writer's anxiety that everytime I see the mail truck, I am convinced that there is a nice little "thanks, but no thanks" letter tucked into my SASE just waiting for me out there.

In the meantime, the weather is nice and I sit on the deck overlooking the creek, watching the fiddler crabs scurry about while the people who live in my next novel whisper their stories to me.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Okay, this is how it happened. Jason and I got the kittens. I started sending him emails about how they were driving me insane. How I couldn't get a thing done because they were either too cute to stop watching or too bad to be let go unattended.

He thought they were funny. So did other people. Everyone kept telling me that I should expand on the emails and make a sort of "Rasing Kittens" bit out of them.

Then Jason said, "Hey, I now have a blog. It's free."

So I thought, "Hey, I could use a blog to do this kitten thing."

But I was never happy with it. I mean, the kittens are now seven months old. I'm writing about things that happened months ago. Not about how an agent wanted the first fifty pages of my manuscript and how I had to hand it to her in person and nearly died of terror. Not about our all out blitz through Capitol Hill during our 19 hour stay in Washington DC this past Tuesday.

So today I stopped by the wine store to hunt for new wines for under $10. Stopped by my mom's store first and she slipped me a ten dollar bill and asked me to pick up another bottle of Raccoon Ridge's "Rocky's Red Wine" for her. It's bad enough that I've become a wino but I've turned my 70 year old mother in to one too. She won't go herself, she sends me. Just like she wouldn't buy lottery tickets because her church was against gambling. She'd send me. But that's another story.

While at the wine store, I picked up a couple copies of the Charleston City Paper just in case Jason had an article in this week's issue. (He did not) But I skimmed through it, dripping my guacomole dip lunch on most of it. They have this feature, The Free Will Astrology. Which I usually read because like most horoscopes, it's so dead wrong.

But this one kind of wasn't.

It basically said that I and my fellow Tauruses (Taurusi?) were at a three forked path in the road and we needed to stop listening to anyone but ourselves.

The only problem I'm having now (other than Loki wanting to lick my thumb while I'm typing) is what to do with this blog. My three choices were to continue as is, abandon the entire thing, or just write whatever the hell I felt like writing.

There was my three forked path.

At my age, I've learned a thing or two about myself. And one of them is that I tend to flounder around in a new situation for a while before understanding what it is I'd like to accomplish. So pardon me if I thrash around a bit. It may just be the written equivalent to throat clearing.

Or it may be Loki forcibly dragging my hand off the keyboard. It's hard to keep a coherent thought with kitten claws in that tender web of flesh where the thumb attaches to the hand.