We live down a quiet little private lane along with two other residents
My long-suffering wife and I enjoy watching British murder mysteries. In fact, we reserve Sunday evening specifically for their viewing. Netflix, Hulu, and other sources provide a smorgasbord of great stories. However, I must admit a couple of things. One is that we watch for different reasons while agreeing that the story's the thing. But my wife likes to point out the gardens while I'm saying, "Look, there's a body over there!"
We have also come to the conclusion that there are only 47 actors in the UK. We'll be watching an exciting episode and simultaneously say, "Oh, she was also in The Midsomer Murders," or "That guy was the killer in Broadchurch!"
"Whack" means "to prune."
The fires in California are terrible, but they remind me of the time when I saved two states through my fire-fighting skills. It was a few years ago in Morganton, North Carolina when a raging forest fire was threatening civilization, a few moonshine operations, and marijuana fields back up in the hollers.
The state was begging for volunteers, so I set aside my duties as an English instructor at Western Piedmont Community College, and joined the fray under the direction of professional fire fighters. I worked from dawn to dusk and discovered what hard physical labor was like. When we paused briefly for lunch, lounging on the mountain top, Hardee's brought us free food, which we inhaled. Then we went back to work.
The men I helped were enormous employees of a tree company, and most of them were built like trees: Men with no necks and a coarse sense of humor, joking about the time they drove off the mountain in the bulldozer, or stepped up to their neck in a hole in the ground that held a still-burning tree stump.
When I got home that night, I told my LSW that I was going straight to bed. She suggested I look in the mirror first, and there I saw a guy whose appearance was totally covered with black ash. My eyes and teeth were visible, and that was it. I took a shower.
I did recover, eventually, and was pleased to learn my actions saved the states of North Carolina and Virginia from being burned into oblivion. So, if you're from either of those states, let me just say, "You're welcome!" I am now waiting for a call to save California.
Our rescue dog, nearly three years old now and weighing sixty pounds, is mostly pit bull with some terrier thrown in. She is sweet-natured, intelligent, playful. She is also willful, having learned all basic commands that she follows. When it suits her.
Sometime people acquire pit bulls for the wrong reasons. You know what they are. We acquired Lily to give her a good home and to provide us with company. Every day, she makes us laugh at least once. Yet, despite the fact that is the most passive dog who has ever owned us, her breed carries that reputation.
Last night during a storm my long-suffering wife heard a banging just outside our bedroom window. "It's something alive," she said.
So I got dressed, picked up a flashlight, and went forth to confront the source of the banging. Since we live at the edge of the woods and at the base of a small mountain, a wide range of "alive" things could have been the source of the banging. Raccoon, fox, bear, and yeti all came to mind. So I asked Lily to join me as backup as we went out the back door and around the house in the wind and the rain and the dark.
I turned around once to see if Lily had my back in case I needed protection. She was not there. I called and she appeared, or least, her head appeared at the corner of the house, so I proceeded and found the source of the thumping. A small access door under the crawlspace was loose. I secured it and turned around. Lily was not to be seen.
But she was nearby. On the back porch, wagging her tail. Lily now has a middle name. It is "Liver."
I offer a free service to friends and acquaintances. It is this: I offer to name their babies for them. So far, no takers, even though some of my offerings were as follows:For girls: Chalice Hulga, Blanche Tiffany, and Maude Ivy. For boys: Oscar Dudley, Zeno Horace, and Manly Francis. I've always been fascinated by names, whether it be people, book titles, countries, or anything else with a name. Even medicines, like FloNaze.
So when my long-suffering wife and I were out early on our big road trip in September, I was impressed by two towns in Mississippi through which we passed. One was named Bovina and the other was Chunky. I am not making this up. Being one who enjoys sports, I ruminated over what the schools' teams might be called. I thought about the Bovina Bulldogs, but a former colleague of mine said that would be cross-species and wouldn't work. I thought and thought about it. Finally, I came up with the Bovina Buttercups which, I think, honored the bovine in all of us. The town named Chunky provided a little more room and, thus, required less thought, which always appeals to me. "Chunky Chubbies?" Nope on that one. I would hate to hurt the feelings of any snowflakes in that school. "Chunky Chickens" was a nonstarter. I finally turned to the "Chunky Cherubs" which would not strike fear in the hearts of their opponents on the football field, but would certainly lull them into a false sense of superiority.
We finally crossed the Mississippi River at Vicksburg and made our way to a lunch date with friends in the Natchitoches, Louisiana. Their public high school calls itself the "Chiefs" in honor of the Natchitoches Indians indigenous to the area. I'd prefer they call themselves the "Natchitoches Neanderthals," or "Natchitoches Knuckledraggers." Much more intimidating than "Chiefs." Maybe if they called themselves the Neanderthals, they'd be having a better year, but nobody asked me.
On a recent road trip that found us in Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, my long-suffering wife LIsa and I were sitting on benches with hundreds of people from all over the world, waiting for a geyser to erupt. The geyser was "Old Faithful," so named because it goes off regularly, day after day, year after year. The Park Rangers set up a bulletin board that tells you when the next eruption will occur. Typically, Old Faithful spouts off every 90 minutes, more or less. The "more or less" part is ten minutes either side. So there we were, waiting. Patiently waiting. Idly waiting. Waiting in anticipation. Then, as the time drew near, there was a faint rumbling and finally the eruption, which did not draw gasps and shouts from the bystanders. It was, in a word, "Underwhelming." No big deal. A man near me said, "I came all the way from Finland to see that?" It wasn't much, for sure.
Everyone grumbled or laughed and the group split up and drifted off into different directions to be mangled by a bear or trod under by a bull bison, or to buy souvenirs. Lisa and I headed for the nearby Visitors' Center to be educated at various displays telling us we were standing on a volcano that could erupt horrifically any time. While Lisa was learning things at various displays, I noted that the Ranger Station had posted the time for the next eruption, which by that time, was close. The time came and went. The "more or less" ten minutes passed, and then some more. Old Faithful was late. The crowds waiting for the next eruption grew and grew. I watched from the vantage point of the Ranger Station at the Visitors' Center.
Then it happened. A distant rumbling followed by an eruption of the first magnitude as the geyser shot nearly 200 feet into the air and continued to do so for 10 minutes, thrusting thousands of gallons of water into the sky. When Old Faithful stopped, there was applause and satisfied people moving on. I don't know where Old Faithful was hanging out when it should have been performing, and I guess we'll never know. Let's just say it was worth waiting around for the real thing.
Hope the guy from Finland saw it.
Some famous author once said that when a writer finishes writing their novel, a sort of depression sets in, not unlike the postpartum blues women suffer from right after having a baby. I can't relate to postpartum depression, nor can I say rightly that I get down after completing the last chapter of a novel. you see, I just finished the last chapter to my work, a 97,000-word "upmarket commercial" effort. And I did not get depressed. What I wanted to do was immediately start revising, so I did, looking specifically for two of my blind spots - passive voice and "echo," a term we writers use to describe using the same important word twice within close proximity of each other. That proximity blind spot can be annoying, a speed bump interfering with the reader's flow and proximity to a smooth narrative.
So I did that, weeding out my blind spots. What's next, you may ask?
When Stephen King finishes a novel, he sets it aside for a month or more and does something else, such as going for long walks or watching Boston Red Sox games, or reading what other writers are publishing.
My urge was to get back to working on my fourth Thomas O'Shea novel, since the first two are published (Signs of Struggle 2012 and A Far Gone Night 2014) and a third (The Face on the Other Side) is scheduled for an early 2017 release. So I plan to get after number four in the series, Of Mists and Murders.
I am a professional writer, so I have a compulsion to write, and I am itching to produce that next O'Shea novel, and it nags at me. But first, I am going to follow King's example and take some time off, starting with a long road trip with my bride, watching college football on TV (especially my Iowa Hawkeyes), and enjoying the changing of the seasons leading into my favorite month - October.
I will, however, keep a notebook in close proximity at all times, just in case I need to jot down a piece of dialogue that comes to mind, a vivid setting, or a conflict among my characters I had not thought of previously.
So, no more blogs for a while, but please look to hear from me and my writer's journey when the leaves turn to gold and orange and red.
I hate snakes. I don't even like the useful ones, like blacksnakes, who supposedly eat rodents, copperheads (folklore, I believe), and ATF employees because the main purpose for all snakes is this - scare the bejeezus out of me the instant I see one. I don't want to see one, but I am ever vigilant that there is a snake somewhere just waiting to jump out at me and say, "Aha!" at which point, as soon as my heart starts beating again, I go get a shovel, hoe, or gatling gun to KILL IT. But by then it is usually gone, blogging to other snakes about what fun it was to make me wet my pants. I hate snakes. So, when my long-suffering wife, Lisa, came in the house to tell me there was a snake in her little vegetable garden (one of only two manmade creations visible from outer space the other being The Great Wall of China), I asked, "Do you want me to kill it?" she replied, "No, I want you help me to free it."
A simple, non-assuming, modest rat snake, about 3-4 feet long, had gotten itself entangled in a roll of mesh Lisa uses to cover our blueberry bushes to keep the local birds from ripping us off when the berries are ripe. The poor snakey-wakey was twapped and couldn't get fwee! I told Lisa I'd go get a shovel and put it out of its misery. I mean, it was a freaking snake, not a bunny wabbit.
My wife, The Snake Whisperer, prevailed. While I used a long stick to pin the snakes little noggin, Lisa took a pair of clippers and snipped away at the mesh, holding the snake by its tail as she did so. Finished, she let go and I let go and the snake slithered away, no doubt giggling about more opportunities to sneak back and surprise me.
I hate snakes.
My long-suffering wife has a wonderful garden that keeps us supplied with fresh veggies for months and months, not to mention blueberries and figs. She does the raised beds thing, and thoroughly enjoys getting dirt under her fingernails and bringing baby plants along and into production. Recently we made a trip to Home Depot with the plan to buy a hose to be used when watering the garden. But one does not go with my LSW to a garden store to buy one thing. It can't be done. It's like me in a used book store - can't buy just one book. So I tagged along and watched as my bride picked out one of these and a couple of those and, oh!, need that as well. It was fun. I like to look at pretty flowers and she likes to acquire purchases that make gardening more productive. So, that "one thing" grew almost as fast as the federal government. When we checked out, we had picked up a heavy duty hose, a cone sprayer for the hose, a heavy duty nozzle, a bag of natural plant mix, two bags of pine nuggets mulch, a 175' capacity hose reel cart, a lavender plant, a calypso plant, and another plant I can't identify. It was bright yellow. She was thrilled with her purchases. I was thrilled with mine - a large Diet Coke.
This morning, I dropped in, alone, at a used book store, landing to purchase just one book. I have no further comment.
Yesterday, dawn began with Dawn. Dawn is my hygienist and I had an early appointment with her at my dentist's practice. She gave me a good report and said she'd see me in September. This did not surprise me, but still, it was a relief that nothing needed to be scraped, filled, bridged, removed, or reconfigured. Then I headed to the mall with my computer, which, for some reason, had basically quit on me. I did not have an appointment at the Apple store, so I was resigned to waiting there all day to be helped. The Apple store in the Mall (I hate going to the Mall) didn't open until 10, so I waited, dreading spending the rest of the daylight hours waiting for a helper to minister to my techno-frustration.
But a helper-person came out of the Apple store with a little device in her hand and began scheduling appointments for those of us waiting for the store to open. I couldn't believe it. She took down my information and said, "We'll send you a text when your appointment is ready." I said, "I don't text." She said, "Oh, well, just come on in about fifteen minutes from now." I did. Another young woman, named "Sunny," ran a bunch of tests and we figured out the problem was me. I'm not going into that. Suffice it to say that my morning appointments' timing corresponded with the names of the people with whom I would be dealing. I'm just glad I didn't have a lunch reservation somewhere only to find out the waitstaff's name was "Nooner."
The rest of the day was fine and dandy. I met my long-suffering wife at a local soccer match because some of her 9th graders were playing another group of 9th graders nearby. After watching a flotilla of teenage boys kicking each other in the shins, wandering around aimlessly, and bonking the ball with their heads, I remain unpersuaded about the efficacy of soccer as a sport. Waiting for something exciting to happen in a soccer match is like waiting for a politician to tell the truth. So, after the game, I went from the ridiculous to the sublime; that is, a dinner date with my long-suffering wife.
A fine and glorious day, all in all. A blessing every which way.
Today I emailed back and with a friend from high school days who currently lives in Dubuque, Iowa. He mentioned that he was supposed to be in Des Moines today for a presentation (he works for the ACT people) and a second presentation tomorrow. He said it looked like both would be cancelled due to the winter storm warning that was declared. The weather nerds are saying 18-24 inches for a good part of the state, including Des Moines and Dubuque. This information brought to mind our local (Upstate South Carolina) winter storm a few days ago and how my long-suffering wife and I survived being 30 hours without electricity. At first, it was an adventure. Fortunately, we had plenty of propane for our gas logs, so the front of our cozy cottage stayed comfortable. We shut off the gas logs that first night and retreated to our bedroom. We woke up the next morning raid to extend ourselves from the warmth of the bed. No wonder. When I checked the thermostat, it read 49 degrees. Indoors. I nearly sprained my ankle running for the remote control thingy that fires up the gas logs.
During the day, we entertained ourselves reading by the light of the sun. When it grew dark, I broke out the Coleman lanterns I had wanted for Christmas. Also, I unpackaged the Coleman stop and fuel that were part of my Christmas gifts. So we had hot food. If we were to have a son, I would name him Coleman. I am not kidding.
I was thinking how fun this was, you know, camping and enjoying "roughing it," yet staying indoors protected from any snakes and bugs that weren't frozen. We had plenty of wine, cheese, bread, and several other goodies, and so the romance maintained. When it got dark, we scooted for bed and flipped on the Coleman lanterns to read by for a while as we snuggled.
All this time, our young pit bull/terrier rescue canine was loving it, running out in the snow and leaping and biting the white stuff, then turning on the afterburners to race back to the front porch and inside to hang out in front of the fireplace. She thought it was romantic, too.
The electricity returned just before dark on Saturday night, but we still weren't able to get out due to the snow on the ice on our upward-inclined driveway. Not to mention all the trees down in our neighborhood, blocking roads. So we just settled in some more, but with the delights of electricity.
And hot water. Without it, romance can fade quickly. Trust me on that one.