Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Quote for the Week

I'm posting this quote in honor of my son, who has faced his stroke and its aftermath with courage and who is overcoming obstacles day by day.I dislike this quote                                                                                              

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Olympics: Distraction from a Sad Summer

Welcome, Olympics!

I've always looked forward to the Olympic Games--summer, winter, doesn't matter--but this year in particular I see them as a sort of savior.  As I've written before, this has been one of the most difficult summers of my life, with my son's stroke and my daughter leaving soon for a job in another city.  I have been sad, lost, at sea. 

Watching sports has always been a welcome relief for me, distracting me from anything stressful going on in my life.  When my husband was ill with leukemia I watched college football, basketball, tennis (my favorite) and even, in desperation, the Tour de France.  At the beginning of his illness the Houston Astros played the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League championship and lost; in the weeks before his death the Astros made it to the World Series.  Through that year, whenever there was an important athletic event, I could release some of my tension and pain by watching, cheering whatever sports heroes were on the field or the court.  I'm not sure why this has always been true, because I've never been athletic myself, but the excitement of the contest, the pitting of strength and strategy against another athlete or team has always enthralled me.

So this year I'm immersing myself in the Olympics.  Last night I watched the invincible Michael Phelps  fall to Ryan Lochte and emerge from the pool looking as confused as if he were arriving on a new planet.  I watched Roger Federer, my favorite tennis player, battle back when it looked as if he might fall to a much lower-ranked player.  I watched some gymnasts fall and others perform marvelous feats.  I watched the women's beach volley ball team beat back a tough challenger.  What a day!

I can't help but wonder how some of these superi-athletes feel when they've trained for years , given up their childhoods, foregone many of life's pleasures for their one shot at glory...and then to see it disappear with one misstep, one slip, one hundredth of a second, one inch outside the lines.  What's it like to see that dream die?  Was it worth it?  One of the Olympic commercials says it's not the winning, it's the taking part that matters.  I wonder if, deep inside, the athletes believe this.  Yesterday the cyclist who just missed the bronze said, "Nothing is worse than coming in fourth."

And the winners?  Well, for some in the major sports there are endorsements and lasting fame (and maybe even a reality show for your Kardashian step-daughters) but for others, once that trip to the podium is over and the high has faded, the medal is put away...what new goals are there?  What's real life like "after?"

And for me, the specatator, it's a chance to shut out real life for a while and watch the athletes on their quests.  Succeed or fail, they've made my life a little less stressful and I thank them for it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Remembering the Good(?) Old Days

A friend just sent me a video that reminisced about the good old days when we were young and frisky and expecting our lives to be just one big "happily ever after."  The pace was slower then.  We left our cars and often our houses unlocked.  We watched wrestling on our very first TV sets.  We had dial phones and record players and ice cream sundaes for 20 cents.  We girls planned to get married, stay at home to raise our perfect children with the aid of Dr. Spock, and wear gloves and high heels on occasional airplane trips.  Our lives were filled with trust. 

Know what?  Life wasn't as easy as it appears through the veil of time.  I was in my thirties when my husband and I divorced.  Being a single woman in those days was not the norm, and there were obstacles to surmount that a 21st century divorcee would never imagine.

Our auto insurance agent called to inform me that my rates would go up.  "Divorced women are higher risk," he explained.  I didn't have the guts to ask about divorced men.

When I missed the deadline for day camp reigstration  by twenty-four hours, the director said with a sneer, he couldn't make an exception for a "divorced woman.  Maybe I would if you were a widow...."  Holding back tears, I left his office.

I couldn't get a charge account in my own name, so my father's banker wrote a letter saying that his bank guaranteed that I would be a good credit risk and in case any problems occurred, the bank would take care of them.  Delighted, I applied for a credit card at Battelstein's, my favorite store.  Two weeks later I received a letter rejecting my application.  On it the vice president had scribbled a note saying that I could be taking this letter to a lot of stores and why should Battelstein's trust me?  Furious, I called the office of Battelstein's president.  His secretary asked what I was calling about and I said, "I want to tell him why I will never shop at your store again."  "Oh," she said, "would you tell me what the problem is?"  I explained, and she asked me to send her a copy of the letter.  Within a few days I got my credit card plus a $100 gift certificate.  When I handed the certificate,  signed personally by the president, to a sales clerk, she looked me up and down as if she were wondering how that came about and what my relationship to the president might be.  I managed to keep from laughing, and I continued to shop at Battelstein's until the store closed years later.

A few years after remarrying I opened a private practice in speech pathology with a friend.  To our shock, the bank asked for our husbands' signatures before they would open a business account.

Can you imagine that happening today?  No, these aren't the good old days, but it's certainly much easier for a single woman to make her way in the world.  When my second husband died, I was lonely and grief-stricken, but I no longer had to face the stigma of "singlehood," and for that I'm grateful.

Friday, July 20, 2012

This Week's Weird News Stories

1. We've been having a lot of rain here in Houston.  Some of our bayous are up to the banks.  So one day this week a lady opened her garage and found....a six foot alligator.  Imagine the shock when their eyes met.  I hope she slammed the door before she called Animal Protection. 

2. A man whose beloved red Austin Healy was stolen 40 years ago finally found it.  An amazingly optimistic guy, he never gave up searching for it.  And his determination paid off.  It turned up in a showroom in California, and he and the car, which is apparently still in good shape and now worth a bundle, were reunited.

3. My favorite weird story.  In a small town in Alaska, population 900, the citizens weren't happy with either of the two candidates for mayor so on a write-in  ballot they elected a cat. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Quote for the Week: Ithaka

As you set out for Ithaka

hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery.

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

angry Poseidon-don't be afraid of them:

you'll never find things like that on your way

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,

as long as a rare excitement

stirs your spirit and your body.

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

wild Poseidon-you won't encounter them

unless you bring them along inside your soul,

unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.

May there be many summer mornings when,

with what pleasure, what joy,

you enter harbors you're seeing for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

sensual perfume of every kind-

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you're destined for.

But don't hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

so you're old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you've gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her you wouldn't have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Constantine P. Cavafy

Sunday, July 15, 2012

MyTake on Fifty Shades of Grey

I confess. I’ve joined the club. I read Fifty Shades of Grey this week.

The first I knew of it was when I overheard two ladies discussing it in the beauty shop. I couldn’t help but wonder why the gushing. Given the context, I assumed it was a guide to hair coloring.

It wasn’t long before I realized my mistake. Really, how can one be alive and remain unaware of The Book of the Century? Still, I resisted. I’m a former romance writer and my books were pretty hot, but I never wrote or read erotica.

Then last week I heard a woman say Fifty Shades transformed her life. As Ana, the heroine, would say, “Wow!” I figured if it was that powerful, I’d better get a copy. But how? Should I buy a paperback so I could show the world I’m cool or an e-book so I could avoid the smirks of other people? (Smirking is very common in Fifty Shades; it may become a fad in the real world) I settled on the e-book. As soon as it appeared on the screen, my Kindle started to sizzle.

And so I began. Mousy girl with low self-esteem views herself in the mirror. Oh, no. I’m nodding off already. But wait. She’s going to take her roommate’s place and interview a business tycoon for the student newspaper of Washington State University, which seems, by some quirk, to be located in Portland.

Here she is at the business tycoon’s office. Oh, no. She stumbles as she enters and he has to grab her before she lands on the floor. Despite her clumsiness, mousiness and low self-esteem, the businessman, who is not only the Richest, Most Successful Man in the World but also the Sexiest Man in the World is intrigued. Perhaps he’s having an off day?

As readers, we know (because we’ve read the umpteen million reviews) that Sexy Christian Grey is into BDSM, which stands for Bondage and Discipline; Sadism and Masochism—I know because I looked it up on Wikipedia. And just in case we missed the synopses, Christian shows up at the hardware store where Ana works and buys (hint, hint) masking tape, cable ties and rope.

Ana, our heroine, who is given to exclaiming, “Wow!” or “Holy crap!” a lot, is twenty-one years old but she’s never been kissed, never even held hands. Is it her innocence that attracts Christian Grey? The fact that she’s an English lit major? Or is it that during a drunken bar scene, she vomits all over him? No worries, he’ll soon (wink, wink) whip her into shape. And yes, they get together and suddenly Ana is beautiful, feisty and willing to try anything. Wow! Holy crap!

Here is Ana, visiting Christian’s penthouse for the first time. (He flew her up to Seattle in Charlie Tango, his very own helicopter). And here’s an example of their scintillating dialogue:

Ana: “You have a big place here.”

Christian: “Big?”

Ana: “Big.”

Christian: “Yes, it’s big.”


Christian shows her around his sexy abode and then he opens a door and, Holy Crap, here is a room filled with all manner of torture gear. Aha! Now Ana knows that beneath his urbane exterior, Christian is into Dominance and he wants Ana to become his Submissive. But he’s a businessman after all, so he provides her with a contract which we get to read twice in case we overlooked something on our first run-through.

Christian deflowers Ana. It’s his first time with a virgin. And Ana? Here are her thoughts: Wow, that was extraordinary. So that was what all the fuss is about. And later, thinking about her first orgasm (because of course she had one, no, several.) she compares it to the spin cycle on a washing machine. And that’s a first for me, the spin cycle, I mean. I’ve never read a comparison like that and trust me, I’ve read a lot of romance novels. Nor do I have a point of reference in the real world. Being inside a washing machine is so not part of my life experience.

At any rate, afterward Ana discovers Christian playing Bach on the piano (Of course he plays better than anyone in the world, possibly because of his long index fingers, which we hear about many many times). And we realize that in another layer beneath the sadistic inner man is a misunderstood, abused, confused little boy. We’ll learn more about that later.

We also are treated to views of Ana’s inner life, which is extraordinary. While inner monologue is a hallmark of the romance genre, we meet two inner Anas. They aren’t just thoughts either. They are apparently tiny “people” who reside inside her head. There’s her subconscious (We’ll call her the Superego) who frowns on the lifestyle Ana is choosing and there’s the inner goddess (the Id perhaps) who dances about, turns cartwheels, and on one occasion wears a red hula skirt. Where does the inner goddess do her shopping, I wonder.

Do we get to witness scenes of S and M? Fear not; we do. But by the time they come up we’re so overloaded with scenes of sex, thoughts of sex, fears about sex, lust for sex, etc. that the scenes are boring. In fact, on a scale of one to ten, this author gets an eleven in overloading her readers with sex. Another hallmark of the romance novel is not sex itself but sexual tension. Will they make love? When? Where? How? In a standard romance the answer to that last is what Christian terms “vanilla sex,” but it’s still pretty hot. If you want to read about the Richest, Sexiest Man in the World, check out Nora Roberts aka J.D. Robb’s “In Death” books. Roberts is a master of sexual tension as well as memorable love scenes. Warning: She doesn’t write S and M and she also writes books with plots.

At last I come to the final pages of the book. Whew! The ending is a sad one because (Spoiler alert, here!) Even though she loves him, Ana leaves Christian after a particularly painful…I think it’s called a flogging. There are two more Grey books so we can be reasonably certain that Ana and Christian get back together. The second book is called Fifty Shades Darker and we can only wonder what devastating punishments Christian has in store for Ana. Does he bite her neck? Oops, no, that’s another series.

Will I read books two and three? Are you kidding? One was enough. However, in the book’s favor, I’m sure it has heated up a lot of marriages and has doubtless given rise to more experimentation in sex which is probably a good thing, and despite its limitations (and, holy s#@t, there are a lot of them) the book has stimulated some interesting discussions about women’s sexuality and about control and/or equality between partners. Plus it’s contributing to the economic recovery; 20 million copies of the book, more than twice the population of Belgium, have been sold, hotels in the Pacific Northwest are offering Fifty Shades weekends (equipment not furnished), and I understand that the sales of sex toys have increased exponentially. I bet sales of gray silk ties are rocketing, too. If you read the book, you know what I mean.

So, kudos to the author . She may not be much of a writer but she’s one helluva marketer and shse's created a pop culture phenonmenon.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

More Weird News Stories

This week has plenty of oddities to take your mind off the economy, the elections and other more serious matters.

Gambling for Charity:  A gambler in England left his estate to a charity working to stamp out poverty.  Included in the estate was a bet that Roger Federer would win seven Wimbledons.  Payoff $168,000.

Coffee and Coffins.  A funeral home has opened a Starbucks inside the premises.  You can sip a lattee before or after the ceremony...maybe during as well.

The Secret Recipe:  A thief broke into the safe of a Houston hamburger restaurant.  No, he wasn't after money.  He took the company's secret hamburger recipe.  Come to think of it, I wrote a similar story in a book for Harlequin Temptation called The Great Chili Caper by Lorna Michaels.  Still available on Amazon.

There's an App for That:  Date not going well?  eHarmony offers a Bad Date App which will set off your IPhone.  Then you can "answer," plead an emergency and finish the dud date in record time.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Quote for the Week

The bliss even of a moment still is bliss.
Joanna Baillie

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Widowhood for Dummies or Why I Love Petco

This is a story about cat litter. The topic may not be appealing, but I think of it as a metaphor for all the things I haven’t learned to do in the years of my widowhood.

Motor skills—both fine and gross—have never been my forte. In school I might be the one of the last standing in the class spelling bee but also one of the last chosen for the kickball team. In home economics one year we had to sew either a skirt or a blouse. Mistakenly, I chose the harder of the two, the blouse. The finished product had so many holes where stitches had been torn out that I never wore it. Instead, it became a dust cloth. During the early years of my first marriage I took up knitting. What was I thinking? I made my father what I had to explain to him was a pair of argyle socks which looked like two unmatched snakes and which probably followed the blouse into the dust cloth bag as soon as I left the house. Fortunately, both my husbands were handy and I turned to them when I couldn’t unscrew, unstop, or undo something in the house. With no husband now, I have learned to manage a few tasks, but mainly I have learned who to call in emergencies. Fix something myself? The phrase is not in my vocabulary. So, computer frozen? Call the computer guy, appropriately named Angel Eden. Toilet leaking? Mop up, then call ARS (phone number 777-7777). Necklace stuck? Wake my neighbor and ask him to unfasten it.

But back to the cat litter. For many years my cats and I have been customers of Tidy Cats Cat Litter, the red label for multiple cats. My daughter, the vet, has frequently recommended that I change to a clumping litter for ease in cleaning out the litter box, but I resisted. What if the cats didn’t like it? What if they went on strike and refused to use it?

Recently I decided to take the plunge and buy clumping litter. My daughter buys hers at Petco so that’s where I went. The company is going green. In the center of the cat department is a huge tub of cat litter surrounded by full containers. After you’ve used up the litter in your container, you simply bring it back and refill it. You and your cats can now be environmentally correct.

I bought a bucket of litter, and a genial man carried it out to the car. “How much does it weigh?” I asked.

“Thirty pounds.”

Only when I was half way home did I realize I couldn’t carry the container into my house. No problem. I’ve dealt with too-heavy suitcases by partially unpacking them before lifting them into the car. I’d bring the litter boxes into the garage, fill them there and get my housekeeper to help me carry the container inside the next day. No problem.

Yes, problem. I couldn’t open the container. I tried everything—can opener, knife, fingernails. Couldn’t figure it out. “Idiot,” I muttered to myself. “Stupid.”

Finally I came up with a solution. I got in the car and drove back to Petco, reminding myself on the way that I’d never have to see these people again. There are plenty of Petco stores. I’d just refill at another one. I pulled into the parking lot, trudged into the store and shamefacedly admitted that I couldn’t open the damned bucket. The woman at the cash register didn’t bat an eye. “I’ll get someone to help you.”

“Don’t laugh,” I pleaded under my breath as another smiling man followed me out to the car and easily slipped off the plastic ring around the top, just like the one on a milk carton.

“Oh.” I smiled back at him. “I guess I win the prize for dumbest customer.”

“Naww,” he grinned. “It’s okay.” What a nice guy. What a customer-friendly store.

So I solved my problem. Did I feel better? No, I was still embarrassed at my stupidity. However, I now have an idea for a new book: Widowhood for Dummies, Extreme Version.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Newspaper Review: Weird Stories

I don't knnow if it's the summer heat or what, but I found the weirdest stories in yesterday's paper.  Here's a sample:

A woman in Arkansas was cited for leaving the scene of an accident after she rear-ended another car.  Her excuse?  She didn't think she'd done much damage, and she was in a hurry to get home because she didn't want her ice cream to melt.  Yep, maybe this one was due to the heat.

A Tazmanian man was arrested by Customs when he acted strangely at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.  He said he was on his way to a family reunion in Utah, but turns out he was smuggling drugs into Houston and had swallowed 100 capsules of heroin.  At this point, only 78 capsules have been recovered.  Gross!

In an effort to cut down on drunk drivers, Michigan is trying something new:  talking urinal-deoderizer cakes in men's bathrooms in bars.  Speaking in a woman's voice so men will pay attention, the voice reminds them to call a cab or ask a friend if needed to get them home safely.  How does it work?  Do you really want to know?  Apparently the cakes are motion-activated, and authorities are hoping a voice coming out of a unrinal will get men's attention.  Looking forward to a follow-up on this one.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Quote for the Week

Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance. It is also owed to justice and to humanity. Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong. ~James Bryce

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Books of May and June

Reading is my favorite diversion.  With all the stress this summer, it's what I do to keep my mind occupied.  And as you'll see, I've done a lot of reading in the past two months.

The Duchess of Palms by Nadine Eckhardt

Memoir by a woman who grew up in a small town, became part of the "in" crowd in Austin and Washington.  Her life as part of LBJ's inner circle, a hostess, entrepreneur, mover in fast company, and episodes with two relatively famous husbands.  Wow!

The Witness by Nora Robers.  I confess, she's my favorate romance author.  This book is about a teenage genuis whose life is tightly controlled by her mother.  She sneaks out to go bar hopping with a friend, witnesses a murder and goes into witness protection.  We find her years later living with her dog in a small southern town, where she meets the sheriff, who, like all Roberts' heroes, is strong but gentle, unbelievably sexy, etc.,etc.  Together they confront her past and build their future.  If you like romance, you'll find this one of Roberts' best.

The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy.  Switching genres, I found this look at how former presidents work together intriguing. Did you know that Clinton and Nixon spoke almost every day?  That Clinton became almost a part of the Bush family?  That Truman sought Hoover for some of his most ambitious projects after WWII? 

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.  I didn't see the movie, which I heard was excellent, but I found myself engrossed in the book as told by the mother of a boy incarcerated for a school massacre.  She wasn't sure she wanted this child, never bonded with him, and somehow knew from the beginning there was "something wrong."  The characters of the mother and father are overdrawn but the book is still great summer reading.

As Texas Goes... by Gail Collins.  As a native Texan, I should have despised this book.  Maybe it was because I needed to get my mind off my son's illness, but I thought Collins' view of my state was quite amusing. 

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.  The sequel to her Booker Prize winner Wolf Hall, this continues the story of Thomas Cromwell.  Here we see his role in bringing down Anne Boleyn and freeing Henry VIII to marry Jane Seymour, wife number three.  At the end, Cromwell is at the peak of his power, but that's not gonna last.  I'm looking forward to volume 3.

Calico Joe by John Grisham. I love sports books, but I prefer non-fiction. This is, of course, fiction. It's the story of a boy and his dad a major league pitcher who ends the promising career of a superstar rookie by beaning him. Not as good as some baseball books, but not bad.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman.  This book netted Grossman a cult following among sci-fi / fanatasy aficianodos.  It was a book club pick and one I could have done without.  Not because of the genre, but because it was a really boring book (with lots of grammatic errors that drove me crazy).  The characters weren't interesting, the plot lacked tension, and I kept counting the pages left till the end.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, a young adult recommended by my granddaughter.  If you're tired of take-offs on The Hunger Games, this is as far away as you can get.  The main characters are teenagers with cancer.  If that doesn't sound appealing, read a few pages.  These are kids, cancer or not, you'd probably like to know.

One Hundred Names for Love by Diane Ackerman.  A memoir of her husband's stroke and its aftermath, this book was recommended by a speech pathologist friend soon after my son's stroke.  When I heard it was by Diane Ackerman, I was excited to read it.  Alas, I didn't like it.  Maybe I read it too soon, but it affectedt me very much the way Joan Didion's book The Year of Magical Thinking, about her husband's death didt when I read it a few weeks after my husband died.   Ackerman keeps reminding the reader she's a poet and author by slipping into long descriptions of nature; she's constantly harping on how quirky and clever she and her husband are--they enjoy kicking Kleenex boxes down the hall at each other..  I was encouraged that her husband got better and even wrote several books after he recovered (He, too, is an author) but I think I might do better with My Stroke of Insight.

Whew, I read a lot, didn't I?  If you have opinions, about any of these books or if you have recommendations for others, please share them.


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