Tuesday, August 23, 2016

My Mother's Many Teaching Moments

Although my mother left school at the age of 16, without a high school diploma, she never stopped teaching the many lessons that life had taught her from losing her father when she was two years old, losing her mother when she was 13 and being a young mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother.

She was an enthusiastic reader of any and all books, from Shakespearean plays to the novels of Elswyth Thane (of which I have recently acquired four that she loaned to me when I was 14). She also read the Readers' Digest and especially "Laughter is the Best Medicine." 

Despite the loss of one of her seven children in a sad accident during World War II and outliving her beloved husband by forty years, she considered her life blessed. In the final ten years of her life, she succumbed to dementia but absolutely never lost her sense of humor and cheerful attitude. 

Although during the short period of transition, when she realized that something was going wrong, she had moments of fear and uncertainty, she came through as the happy, blessed and loving woman she had always strived to be. 

Virginia Verge Verrill was fearless. During the Second World War, she followed my father around the country, with sometimes five children in the car, to be with him at his many postings as a training officer. She recounted those adventures to me throughout my childhood and for her 90th birthday, I published them privately for my family and all her grandchildren. They are now available in an ebook, Following the Troops: Life for an Army Wife, 1941-1945. 

My mother was dyslectic and often had trouble pronouncing words such a "Pacific Ocean" (Specific to her) and "Oahu" (Wahaho to Mom). She could read anything but she couldn't write words such as okra (orke). But that didn't stop her from becoming the President of the Parent-Teachers Association for all the years that my younger sister and I were in elementary school. Neither did that stop her from being a leader in her church and helping to establish the Hamilton Church homeless center.

She also had a mild case of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) - a condition that affects me and my youngest son as well. Although we laughed about her "I planted tomatoes" moments, I finally understood the condition when my son was diagnosed with the more serious ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). I'm inclined to veer from one topic to another as this illustrates: 
And then.... You see how easy it is to wander!

Back on track now: my mother was a great one for repeating the tried and true adages that turn your life around when it needs it most. For instance, one that I hold dear and remind myself often: "To thine own self be true." 

But then...

Enjoy the final days of summer. I'll get back to work once I've finished laughing...at myself!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Primal Fears

By Karen McCullough

A couple of months ago, my daughter and her three small boys visited from Indiana, staying with us for a couple of weeks. After the novelty of a new set of toys wore off, we looked around for things to do. Fortunately we live in a small city that has a lot of entertainment options for children. We took them to the local children’s museum, to the public library for story hour and to the park down the street.

Two daughters and three sons watching the giant turtles.
Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the tiger

One of the most successful trips was to the local science center/zoo. The weather co-operated with a warm, sunny day, and the kids had a blast watching monkeys swing from ropes attached to various parts of their habitat, seeing the meerkats as they scampered up and down logs and sandpiles, and viewing some spectacular and impressive birds.

Only one odd incident seemed out of place in the trip. We were walking along the zoo path, approaching the tiger enclosure. One enormous cat prowled gracefully along the edge of the inner fence. He’s a magnificent beast and unquestionably an alpha predator. Even with the double fence I felt a frisson of unease walking past him.

My three-year-old grandson, holding my hand as we ambled by, felt more than that. He let out a sudden shriek, grabbed both my legs, and yelled, “Don’t let the tiger eat me.”

I picked him up and assured him that we – myself, his mother, and his aunt – would not allow the tiger to get near him. He calmed down after that and never said another thing about it, even when we walked back past the tiger compound to return to the main building.

Later I thought more about his reaction. My daughter’s family doesn’t have a television in their house, though the children do watch a few carefully selected programs and movies online.  They read, or have read to them, a lot of books, probably a dozen or more a day. But those are childrens’ books.  How did he recognize the tiger as a fearsome predator that—had he come across it in the wild—might in fact have eaten him?

Admittedly he’s only three and the tiger is much bigger than he is. Its teeth are impressively huge. But the way he reacted seemed to be from something deeper and probably much more primitive than conscious comparison of his size with the tiger’s or even the tiger’s teeth. I suspect it’s the same instinct that makes most of us afraid of snakes and spiders, something baked in our brains from thousands of years of human experience

As a grandmother, I want to protect my grandkids from all the dangers they face. As a writer, though, I want to be able to tap into some of those primal feelings. If I can make the reader that afraid, or just as deeply sad, intensely relieved, or joyously happy, I’ve done my job. There aren’t many books that have brought me to that level, so I know it’s a hard thing to accomplish. But for a writer, it’s a goal worth striving for.

Friday, August 5, 2016

An (Empty) Place of One's Own

This year, my blogs have been all about “place”. Mom caves, son caves, writer caves, workspaces, etc.

This year, it seems I’ve had to tweak my work space a dozen times. I’ve worked from the dining room table, from my office, from bed, a cafĂ©, and most recently, I’ve been struggling to carve out an office niche that works for me in our antique shop.

One thing this business of selling “stuff” has done for me is to instill an appreciation of stuff… and an almost greater appreciation for an absence of stuff.

Yes, sometimes I feel a little bit like a character in a Dickens novel, surrounded by the stuff of others, stuff that is transient, just visiting, stuff piled so high, if it toppled it might kill me, but stuff for which I am the temporary steward, the guardian of its history, the caretaker of “stuff” that someone else found to be interesting enough to collect and amass around them.

Don’t get me wrong. I can sure find pleasure in stuff. (More cow bell, anyone?) I have my own clutter, tchotchkes, bric-a-brac, but it sure makes me appreciate wide open spaces.

Owning an antique shop, nay, a 7,500 sq. ft. antique mini-mall, has forced me to confront my love of stuff. If something comes in, something else has to go out. A place for everything and everything in its place, and most recently, I have found the greatest pleasure in empty spaces.

(DH and I spent our 23rd anniversary on the Poropotank River where we saw dolphins! The best things aren't found in a shop... and can't be kept in a drawer.)

Sure, we need some of that stuff, but don’t be afraid to get rid of some of that stuff too. Don't overlook the sheer pleasure of opening a drawer and finding the pair of scissors that you used to have to root for. 

Sofie Couch writes sweet romantic comedy and her upcoming series will definitely feature an antique shop owner.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Cinderella, Sort Of...

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

I went to a ball last month. A real ball. I’ve been to proms, and dances, and parties, but never to a genuine ball. It was an exhilarating experience!

The Husband is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I could be a Daughter of Confederate Veterans (and if there hadn’t been a disastrous courthouse fire in Tennessee in the 1880s I could be a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, too!) but having attended meetings of both organizations decided that the Sons was much more fun. Happily, they welcome wives, so it works out well all the way around.

This year the 121st Reunion of the SCV was right here in our home town, so of course we went. There were all kinds of great lectures and workshops and things dear to an historian’s heart. Not being an official member I couldn’t attend the business meetings, though The Husband was an official delegate, so I spent my time shopping. The vendors’ room had everything from coasters to books to complete costumes. I saw a hoopskirted day dress and bonnet that were beautiful but which sent my VISA into screaming hysterics. I contented myself with buying a Confederate Rose t-shirt and a handful of books.

We had made one mistake. Though we had made our reservations for the Reunion as soon as tickets were available The Husband didn’t get around to buying meal tickets until it was too late and they were all gone. We weren’t happy about this, as some of the best lectures were given at the luncheons.

And of course there was the ball. Then somehow my Fairy Godmother must have worked her magic since a dear friend of ours who had bought tickets had problems with his upcoming move to another state, so he gave us his tickets to the ball.

Okay – a fancy evening party, my ruthlessly modern mind said. I wore a nice cocktail outfit of sparkly blouse and jacket and swirly palazzo pants, with my diamond earrings and hair ornament. The Husband wore a nice suit and tie. Believe me, once we got there we looked like the poor relations.

Most of the men were there in dashing and braid-laden uniforms from various regiments; the rest wore tuxedos, but all of them paled next to the women. There were a few there in full fig modern evening gowns, but the majority wore period-correct ante-bellum ball gowns. The hotel where the Reunion was held is a very nice one, but it is new, which means that the lobby is on the small side. On the other hand, I don’t know of many hotels with a lobby big enough to hold such a plethora of spreading skirts. Most of the hoops were so big that if one woman wanted to shake hands with another they couldn’t get close enough even to touch fingertips! There were curls and flowers and jewels and fans (well, I can’t say anything about fans since I always carry one in my purse for purely practical reasons) and lace mittens and… You get the idea. A lot of the men also wore swords, which sometimes made navigating this crowded lobby most interesting.

Once in the banquet room I was struck that the tables were almost uncomfortably close to one another, yet there was a very wide space between them down the middle of the room and two more against each outer wall. We were served a nice banquet meal (a couple of steps above the traditional rubber chicken, but nothing to rate a high number of stars). We had landed at a table with two very charming couples, all wearing costumes – including a handsome young man who should be gracing romance novel covers (sigh) – and enjoyed talking with them very much.

Then as the tables were being cleared the pageantry began, and I do mean pageantry! Flags. Sword arches. Presentations. Singing of Southern songs. Even debutantes in white escorted down the center aisle - all wearing hoops, of course. It was as exciting a thing as I have ever witnessed. Then, after the last debutante had been presented, they played a beautiful dance tune that would have been played at a real ante-bellum party so the girls could do a turn with their presenters – father, uncle, one grandfather, family friend, etc. One of my most astonishing images of this evening is people in apparently authentic ante-bellum costumes rushing about taking pictures with their phones!

Of course, I didn’t have my phone – it wouldn’t fit in my favorite evening bag – so since The Husband was taking his I didn’t worry. At least not until I saw his pictures, which were all of uniforms and the military devices thereon. He hadn’t gotten one picture of the dresses or any of the non-military pageantry. Humph!

The last ‘official’ exercise of the evening before it turned into a simple social gathering was the Grand March. To the rousing strains of “Dixie” a line of individual couples walked down the broad center aisle, going in alternate directions at the head of the room, then back around down the outside aisles to rejoin and promenade the main aisle again, this time four people across. The last circuit was eight people across, which was about two people too many for the space, but by then everyone was having so much fun and laughing so hard it didn’t make any difference. Then the ball was over and this Cinderella had to morph back into a plain old writer. For now.

We’ve already made our reservations – hotel and Reunion – for next year in Memphis, meal and ball tickets most definitely included. The Husband is looking into having a Confederate Navy Officer’s uniform made and, yes, I have been sneaking surreptitious glances at hoopskirts. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What My Dad Taught Me

In a few weeks, I will be celebrating my father’s 106th birthday. I bake a cake because he always wanted cake for desert and was heard often to ask, “What, no cake?” at the end of a family dinner.

One of my first memories is of waking from a nightmare and crawling into my parents’ bed, regaling my father with a detailed description of the house I wanted. Although he had to rise at dawn to drive to the next town to work as a carpenter until after sundown, he listened, questioned and made suggestions for my dream house until I fell back to sleep and woke in my own bed in the morning, 
certain and secure the nightmare would not scare me again.

My father’s love of cake was especially intense for Strawberry Shortcake. The year I turned five, I was allowed the honor of presenting my mother’s famous strawberry, whipped cream and Bisquick biscuit layered cake, carrying it from the kitchen to the dining room. My proud entry, the smile and pride on my father’s face was heart-swelling and … I tripped.

Falling face first into his birthday cake, already crying my heart out, are all I clearly remember of my shameful moment.  Though there was undoubtedly chaos for a moment after the disaster, laughter and a clean-up of me and the floor, I can only imagine mother served another, different cake and my dad ate it with pleasure.

In the following year, my father left our home to find better work to feed his family. When he had a good job with a small construction firm and a place for us to live, my mother drove across the country with me, my younger sister and older brother—newly licensed to drive. When we arrived in San Francisco, I was shocked to be told I’d been enrolled in school and that would start two weeks after my father’s birthday.

But I couldn’t read!

Explaining to my father I was determined not to go to school, not until I learned reading, he sat me down with a book—title forgotten—to teach me how to do this marvelous thing.

My dad never let a teaching opportunity go by without taking advantage. Road trips were chances to have spelling Bees and I could always, by the time we reached our destination, spell the longest word in the English language or the medical term for a recently discovered cure for a condition. We always stopped at roadside attractions such as dinosaur exhibits or local museums and trading posts.

When my younger sister had trouble learning the alphabet, my father spent his very few leisure hours teaching her the letters on a standing chalkboard and magnetic easel we had received as a Christmas present. She thought of it as a punishment but I always saw his efforts as a gift and made an effort to do the same for my children.

My father worked every weekend and evening to repair properties my parents had bought to build a rental property business. They eventually owned several properties and were able to buy their own house.

At this same time, my father discovered square dancing as a favorite leisure activity. My sister and I were too young to be left at home at night or over their weekend Hoedowns so we learned “do-si-do (dosado)” and “Allemande left” with the adult dancers. From square dancing, he moved on to round dancing. He and I practiced, when my mom as presiding over her PTA meetings, in our living room. 

Between them, my parents ran a successful home rental business, while my dad still worked as a carpenter and my mom ran the household and made cakes.

At the age of 53, cancer fatally struck my father. He survived for only six months. My mother had to practice giving him morphine by repeatedly stabbing a syringe into an orange. He was in so much pain, he begged to die but he still had enough energy and commitment to my well-being to tell me to stand up straight.

This year, my dad has been gone for as many years as he lived. I have honored his birthday with my husband and sons—who are all so much like him—with cake and ice cream. And this year, I will make a Strawberry Shortcake but I will give my daughter-in-law the honor of carrying it to the table.

ClipArtCredit: freeclipartstore.com

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Confessions of a Carboholic

I love sugar! I know that does not exactly distinguish me from other red-blooded American women, but one thing does set me somewhat apart. I can't do the usual "chocoholic" binging--at least, not since the allergy developed.

Yes, I know what you're thinking: "Allergic to chocolate? How do you live?!" I wondered the same thing in the beginning, especially since it's not strictly speaking an allergy. It's more of a sensitivity, a sort of "Eat Chocolate = Get a Migraine" thing. At first I thought I couldn't live without the chocolate and occasionally indulged anyway. Now a thick slice of chocolate fudge layer cake looks like three days of misery. Suffice to say I'm no longer as tempted as I once was. I can still get away with an occasional chocolate chip cookie--if I don't push it too far, but that's the only chocolate fix I'm allowed these days. Still, avoiding chocolate doesn't save me from the rest of Sugar World.

If it's sweet, it's good to eat. At least that seems to be the way my psyche sees the world. I've sometimes heard people describe a certain dessert as too sweet or too rich for them. I wonder what they're talking about. To me, there's never such a thing as too sweet and too rich only describes certain billionaires.

If it were just the sugar, that would be bad enough, but I also crave almost any kind of baked goods. That includes cookies, cakes, pies--yes, all the super-sweet items you typically find at bake sales--but the not-so-sweet breads, rolls, and pastries too. If it's heavy on the carbs, it's destined to make me heavier as well.

I've discovered I can control the binging, but it takes quitting cold turkey, sometimes literally. Low-carb, high-protein diets work for me, but only after I beat that first two miserable weeks of craving and avoidance. Let's face it: My name is Susan and I'm a carboholic.

I'm coming to terms with the reality and learning just how common this form of addiction can be. It seems there are many closet carboholics among my relatives, friends and neighbors. I suspect some of you who are reading this may be hiding the same guilty pleasures and living in a constant love-hate balance with those delightful heavy-carb temptations and their siren-song aromas.

I know a few folks who've taken the plunge, declared themselves addicts, and sworn off every taste of anything made with sugar or flour. If you're among those brave souls, please accept my humble adoration. For now I'm content to hold that tiger by its tail and tease it until it turns on me. Hmmm... maybe there's a reason so many scenes in my books focus around kitchens and food. I'll think about that this evening ... while I'm baking.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 novels, all available as e-books. She loves her northern California home which she shares with her husband of 46 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. When she can't be with her seven children, seven great kids-in-law, and 25 grandbabies, she loves hanging with her fictional offspring, the children of her mind. She also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at www.susanaylworth.com or find her @SusanAylworth, at .facebook.com/Susan.Aylworth.Author, or on Pinterest. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

I Hate Promoting

I’m terrible at it. 

A big part of the reason is that I don’t like others doing in-your-face promoting to me, so of course I don’t want to do it to others.  Too many of the listserves I’m on have become nothing but promo machines, containing post after post asking me to read a blog post, share this Tweet or that Facebook post, or buy a book.  I haven’t actually tried to count, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I get thirty or more messages a day that are either promo for a post or a book.

I totally understand that in this brave new publishing world, everyone had to do everything they can to spread the word about their books. Promo is the only way to survive in this business.
I’m also an introvert and I hate being the focus of attention. It’s not that I’m shy. In fact, I’m not at all really, but I am reserved and there are psychological costs associated with anything that seems like pushing myself or my works on front of people.

I’m looking for ways to get out the word about a new self-published book that don’t involve a lot of in-your-face sort of trumpeting. I plan to do a few ads.  I’ve done and will do a number of guest blog posts (though I’m not so good about promoting those, either), and I’m sending out galleys as far and wide as I can. On the whole, though, I’d rather let my works stand on their own. I really hope that having read one of my books, a reader will want to read more. But I know that first, you have to convince them to read one.

So I’m going to do a promo spot here, though I promise it will be only this one time. The second book in my Market Center Mysteries series, Wired for Murder, has just released, and I have to at least mention it here.

But I would love to hear other ideas for how to get out the word that I have a book available.  Please comment and give me ideas!  Best comment idea will win a print copy of the first book in my Market Center Mysteries series, A Gift for Murder.

And now for the blatant promo:

Blurb: Heather McNeil, assistant to the director of the Washington DC Market Show Center, handles many of the day-to-day issues that arise during the shows, exhibits, and conferences being held there. The first day of the Business Technology Exposition provides her with plenty of opportunities to demonstrate her skill at settling disputes, refereeing arguments, and even breaking up fights.

When the president of industry-leader MegaComp has a very public argument with a man who accuses the company of stealing an important technical concept, she watches it but doesn’t have to intervene. Later, though, the accuser returns a phone call from Heather, and she becomes an unwilling audience to his murder.

Heather is more than happy to leave the investigation to the police, but she’s the person everyone talks to and she soon learns more than she wanted to know about the victim and all the people who didn’t like him very much, including several who might have motives for murder.

Amazon Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01F81SNDQ
Amazon print: https://www.amazon.com/Wired-Murder-Market-Center-Mysteries/dp/153502027X/