Saturday, May 30, 2009

Inundated by Events

It used to be that the end of the school year brought a pleasant, things-are-winding-down sort of feeling. One had time to sit and say "Ah" and contemplate all that the year had been.

This year, though, nothing is winding down. No one told me that as children get older life gets MORE complicated, not less. They have individual schedules, events, bills that go on well into the summer. My husband and I find ourselves going from work to chauffering duties to wallet-emptying sessions on a regular basis. When we find ourselves alone, we find ourselves exhausted.

Still, I'm glad that it's the end of the school year. I anticipate that someday soon I will, in fact, have my AH moment on my backyard patio. Except that I am such a TYPE A person that I will start to notice the weeds growing through the cracks in the bricks, and then I'll feel compelled to pull them out.

Someone teach me to relax in one easy lesson. :)

Friday, May 29, 2009

What I'm Reading

I just started THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD, the first book I've ever read by Robert Wilson; this mystery, however, is apparently the fourth and last in an acclaimed series. Set in Seville, Spain, the story revolves around Spanish homicide detective Javier Falcon. Since I don't normally read mysteries set outside the U.S. or Britain, I'm finding the Spanish setting particularly delightful (although the storyline is grim). I'll post more after I finish the book, but I'm glad to have discovered Wilson.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Necessary Luxury

Our Dodge Caravan has lasted eleven years, but it was finally showing its age--and some scary on-the-road incidents in the past several months made us realize that it was time to get something new--or almost new. So I did my research (as you may recall) and used the internet to check out all that was available in my price range. The dealer we went to see, Vince, was kind enough not to laugh when he heard that price range, and we are now the proud owners of a pre-owned Sorento.

This car has certain luxuries that I, a 44-year-old woman, have never possessed; so while it was necessary to get it for safety reasons, it feels like quite an indulgence.

What I have never possessed before:

--power windows and locks

--in-car CD player

--lots of neat storage nooks

What I have not possessed for many years:

--working air conditioning

--two working stereo speakers

--good shock absorbers

So imagine how spoiled I felt today, driving home from work with a cd playing in my car while my big new tires made simple work of all the post-winter potholes.

Do I worry about taking on those new payments in this economy? Yes. Do I tend to worry about everything anyway? Yes.

But I absolutely love this car, and there's always that chance that I'll find money under a rock (although I've never looked under a rock to date). I'll just take it one day at a time and be sure to listen to lots of music while I drive. :)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Just and Lasting Peace

In honor of Memorial Day, I invoke the words of Abraham Lincoln:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Power of Leisure

On this Memorial Day weekend, reflection seems to be in order, especially because the weather lends itself to some back yard resting. Lorraine Hansbury said, "Never be afraid to sit awhile and think," and I'm with her. I'm going to dare to sit and daydream and possibly eat some ice cream while I do it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Savoring My Swingline

This might expose the very depths of my nerdliness, but I got myself a special reward today for completing my sixth graduate school English course. It's a red Swingline stapler, gorgeous and heavy as a murder weapon.

What people who don't always use staplers might not realize is that the average stapler today is a cheap piece of crap. It lasts maybe a year and then it jams closed, or loses springs, or simply passes away in the night, never to provide its one function again. (By cheap I mean cheaply made; all staplers are more expensive than they should be).

But while I was out seeking graduation gifts I saw this red beauty and the sign that said "half off" and decided that this would be the trophy I presented myself.

Meanwhile I'm looking for things to staple, so if you have a stack of papers, drop on by. :)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cool Photo of the Day

I took this shot on the way to night school in early evening. The sun was sinking, but here of course it looks as though the moon and the sun are only a couple of feet apart--and the brilliance of the sun is illuminating all the clouds. I love the mystery of those gray clouds.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Coming, Summer!

I am in the final stages of several things. Tonight is my last grad class of the year (and I'm turning in that final giant research paper). Friday my students graduate, and the following week my son graduates, too. And then, suddenly, I will have some free time on my hands.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who sees free time as such a stranger that when it arrives it is both a pleasure and a burden. What should I do with it? How can I be sure not to squander it?

Last summer I had no time to enjoy my yard because I had to take a stringent summer course. It was fascinating, but it was hard work. By the time I was finished it was almost time to return to work.

This summer I am teaching summer school and my son, for the first time, is taking it. We're both, ironically, in classes called "Creative Writing."

But beyond that, I have a bit of time: time to reflect, time to enjoy the sun, time to sit on my own modest patio and read a book. (That's my dog hiding in the shrubbery of last year's patio flowers).

I'm so enjoying the prospect of enjoying the summer this way that I fear summer itself will not be able to live up to my expectations of rest and relaxation. Perhaps our dreams of events are always better and more splendid than the events themselves (I am encouraged in this belief by my students' stories of the long-awaited prom, now over). :)

In any case, I'm almost ready, Summer!

Does anyone out there have fun summer plans--or fun summer ideas?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Destroying Angels

I am happily reading my Patricia Moyes at bedtime; people keep dying at the Blue Moon Inn, the victims of Destroying Angels (poisonous mushrooms) that someone has cut up small and mixed in with the real mushroom dishes. There seems to be no motive and none of the current suspects seem very likely, so I am stumped.

This is the most fun part of the mystery, though--when you're blessedly in the dark, but you can tell your detective (in this case, Inspector Henry Tibbett), is gathering clues and figuring it out way ahead of you. Right now Henry just listens and smiles, and that's always a sign that his ultra-perceptive brain is picking up little details that the reader won't notice.

That's the special gift of Patricia Moyes--an Agatha-Christie like ability to bury her clues.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

How He Met My Mother

The very cool story of how my parents met (against all odds) is at PDD today. I am a baby who could just as soon not have existed. That's a mighty weird thought . . ..

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Then Everything Happens

Fay Weldon once wrote, "Nothing happens, and nothing happens, and then everything happens." I am feeling the truth of that these days, in that "nothing" has been happening for a while except for the daily rituals that I take for granted (and shouldn't).

But I feel that imminent everything. I don't anticipate it in a bad way, but a good (despite the ambiguity of the quotation). Graduation looms, as does the completion of a long-time writing project (while I still wait to hear about another).

So I'm waiting for everything, and feeling those little sparklers of anticipation in my midsection.

Pictured: my cat Mulliner, who waits, too.

New Bedtime Reading

I started this Patricia Moyes novel last night; it's delightfully old-fashioned. The young woman protagonist (single, orphaned, independently wealthy) is notified that an elderly eccentric uncle has died and left her one of his properties: a mysterious inn called THE BLUE MOON. The young woman's distant cousin (single, orphaned, independently wealthy) has been left a bequest of property, as well.

The story has a classical British sensibility, and the heroine is plucky but also sensible--an important combination. I'm looking forward to reading more tonight and seeing where Patricia Moyes intends to take me.

I miss Moyes books; I met the late Ms. Moyes in 1994 at a book signing in my town. She was a fine example of the term "ladylike," and she was also quite humorous. She was traveling with Joan Hess and Dorothy Cannell--a humorous mystery power trio. What a fun event that was!

It's a good thing that books are always there for the re-reading.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Even His Worst Is The Best

I've been reading Ross MacDonald at bedtime as a little treat to myself while work continues to squat relentlessly on my life. This book, however, isn't the best of MacDonald's work. It's long and convoluted and I keep mixing up characters. It's taking me longer to finish it than it should because I keep falling asleep.

I hate to say this about MacDonald, who really is the best of this genre, at least in terms of literary quality. And I must say that even if this book's plot has something lacking, MacDonald's way of spinning a phrase is still intact in this novel. His metaphors are so effective they actually make me stop reading for a moment just to savor the image. Still, I might have to re-read one of his best to make up for his least.


Any other good bedtime book suggestions?

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Universal Thoughtlessness?

Here's a thought for those people who won't let me off the elevator (or the El, or out of the store) because they're so hell-bent on getting in: I have to leave before you can enter, so why not scoot aside for five seconds?

Just a thought, as I was once again trapped against the wall by the lemmings who chanted "Inward!"

Sunday, May 10, 2009

All Things Fitzgerald

Monday I'm blogging at PDD about the great F. Scott Fitzgerald and his master work, THE GREAT GATSBY.

Happy Mother's Day To All

Abe Lincoln famously wrote "All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother." How generous of Lincoln to acknowledge the woman who raised him, and what a beautiful tribute this quote is, really, to all mothers.

Today I spent a lovely Mother's Day at my brother's house, where two of my siblings and I (and our children) got to see our mother and shower her with gifts. Her favorite gift of all was the fact that we sat down and sang with her for an hour or so; my mother's favorite thing is music, and we grew up singing and harmonizing. We had a regular old hootenanny in my brother's sun porch, and my mother said it was the best Mother's Day she could remember.

Like Abe, I feel I owe a lot to my mother, so I was glad that her day was so happy and the weather was so lovely.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Some Thoughts on Motherhood

In honor of Mother's Day this Sunday, I've created a little page of mother-related whimsy. And if my children are reading this, yes, Sunday is Mother's Day; may I recommend the gifts of dark buttercreams, flowers or jewelry? :)

What do funny women think of motherhood?

"When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen. When they're finished, I climb out."

--Erma Bombeck

"My children love me. I'm like the mother they never had."

--Roseanne Barr

"Have children while your parents are still young enough to take care of them."

--Rita Rudner

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Musings on Cleopatra

I'm posting at INKSPOT today about the great Cleopatra and the mystery of her long-hidden tomb. For those who love a historical mystery or some fun archeological news, it might be fun to read.

Monday, May 04, 2009

No Cure For Writing or Reading

"The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no limit to this fever for writing."

--Martin Luther

"Writing books is certainly a most unpleasant occupation. It is lonesome, unsanitary, and maddening. Many authors go crazy."

--H. L. Mencken

Sunday, May 03, 2009

State of Play Works on Many Levels

I saw STATE OF PLAY today and thought it was a great film: a fascinating combination of ideas and a wonderful homage to the great ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN--evident in everything from Russell Crowe's 70s hairstyle to the scenes shot in a parking garage and outside the Watergate Hotel.

The film takes on the worlds of old and new journalism: Crowe represents the old guard, print journalism, and wears in his face all the dignity implied by that tradition--while young, fresh-faced Rachel McAdams represents the new technology; she is the online side of the newspaper and writes a daily blog, while Crowe does things the old-fashioned way and drives around in a 1990 Saab.

These two pair up on a story (similar to the pairing of Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as Woodward and Bernstein in ATPM) and find that the layers of political intrigue go deeper and deeper.

For all fans of the Redford/Hoffman film, this is a lovely echo of that sort of newsroom excitement. It's more, though. It takes on not only the new journalism, but the idea that corporations can own newspapers, and that even tough broad editors like Helen Mirren aren't totally in control of what is considered news. Everyone seems to have a piece of the newspaper, which itself is presented as functioning on a sort of life support while old-fashioned reporters labor to maintain its importance, its relevance, in a world that cares about computers and minute-by-minute updates.

Ben Affleck looks much older in his role as a square-jawed, cleft-chinned Congressman who finds himself in the center of a scandal (that was the least-fictional seeming part of the film).

STATE OF PLAY starts with a suspenseful visual and remains suspenseful to the last, thanks to some great performances and a really interesting story.

Friday, May 01, 2009

An Interview with Sid Chance

Sid Chance is Chester Campbell's detective in his new work, The Surest Poison. Sid was kind enough to answer some of my questions about his life and work.

Sid, you have a long and varied career, including stints as a cop and a National Parks Ranger. So how did you end up as a P.I.?

I had a great job as a small town police chief. I had planned to retire there. But I made the sheriff mad because I wouldn’t go easy on his cronies. So when he got the chance, he accused me of bribing a drug dealer. I was exonerated, but I was so angry I quit. I was too disgusted to be around anybody. I built a cabin in the backwoods and lived off the land for three years. Then I got lured back to the city to do a private investigation and wound up a Private Eye.

I understand you’ve been working with another private investigator?

She just got her PI license so she can work with me when I need help. She’s a former cop, and she’s good. But her main job is keeping tabs on the sizeable company she inherited from her father. It was an investigation for her company that lured me off my wooded hillside.

Your mother was a high school English teacher; why did she name you after the poet Sidney Lanier?

Mom was an American lit major and Lanier was her favorite poet. He was also a musician, played for the Peabody Symphony Orchestra in Baltimore. She loved music, too. Her favorite of his poems was “The Symphony.” Its last line was “Music is Love in search of a word.”

You seem like a romantic soul; who is the love of your life?

I’m too busy getting my life back in order now to think about love. There’s a young woman I very much admire, though. We’ll just have to see where it leads.

What’s the case you’re currently working on?

I just finished a case involving a toxic chemical dump behind a small plant near Nashville. When the state came after the owner to clean up the pollution, which would cost hundreds of thousands, he said it happened before he bought the place. The former company went out of business a dozen years ago. Nobody knew anything about it. The guy’s lawyer hired me to find who was responsible. There were lots of health problems in the area. It was a tough case. I found people willing to kill to keep the truth secret. I’d tell you how it wound up, but there’s a writer who’s been pestering me for an exclusive.

Could you give us his name?

It was Campbell something. Oh, yeah, Chester Campbell.

Ah, yes. Chester's a great guy. :)

Given your pursuit of this most recent crime and your career as a Ranger, I’m guessing you’re someone who cares deeply about the earth.

I grew up on my grandpa’s small farm just outside the city. I trained with Special Forces during Vietnam and learned to live close to the land. Then 19 years protecting the parks left me with a deep sense of responsibility for preserving the gifts of nature that God gave us.

Are people going to be able to save the environment, Sid?

I’m an optimist. There’s an old saying, “It’s a foul bird that defiles its own nest.” People have got to be smarter than birds. Surely we can find ways to clean up the mess we’ve made of the earth and get it back to some semblance of the way we found it.

Those are deep questions, so here’s a lighthearted one: what’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you?

Lewisville, the little town where I was police chief, doesn’t have many bank robberies, but we had one I’ll never forget. A young guy was getting married and didn’t have money for a honeymoon. He’d read about bank robberies and thought it sounded simple. He borrowed an air pistol and parked outside the bank. Then he remembered that robbers handed notes to tellers saying “Give me you money.” He found an envelope on the seat, scrawled a note on the back, and went inside. As soon as he scampered outside with the cash, the teller turned over the envelope, opened it, and saw a bank notice for his overdrawn account. I went to his house, found the money, and arrested him.

Recent gossip has linked you with the lovely (and wealthy) Jaz LeMieux. Any truth to those rumors?

Let’s just say she could be the young woman I mentioned earlier. One thing I’ve learned in my years of living close to nature, though, is everything has its season.

Jaz and you have some pretty expensive home security systems. Do these really keep people safer, or is it an illusion? As a private eye, how would you suggest people stay safe if they CAN’T afford state of the art computers?

Monitored alarm systems aren’t that expensive, about 30 dollars a month. Just the sign out front is a deterrent. If a burglar has a choice of a house with an alarm and one without, he’ll take the safer option. Put lights on a simple timer when you’re away. Have newspapers and mail picked up regularly. Keep doors locked and your car in the garage if possible. Just elemental cautions will go a long way.

What’s next for you, Sid?

Right now it’s back to chasing down missing persons, doing background checks, a fraud case, whatever comes through the door. Thanks to Jaz, I’m making some good business contacts. I don’t look for cases involving nasty guys who’d like to put my lights out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something exciting turns up soon.

Thanks for talking with me!

Today marks the end of Chester's blog tour for The Surest Poison. As of 8:00 p.m. CDT, he will gather names from everyone who has left comments during the tour and do two drawings. The first will be for an autographed copy of The Surest Poison. The second will be for the Grand Prize, signed copies of all five of Chester's books, including four in the Greg McKenzie series. Leave a comment here and get your name in the hat.