A peaceful Christmas for all

The end came early on Christmas Eve morn, around 2:30. The doctor who called said my husband had passed quietly, peacefully. He’d waited, as I hoped he would, for his sister to arrive from out of state. We rushed to visit with him late Friday night, fearing if we waited until Saturday morning, he’d be gone. It was a good thing we didn’t wait.

Only last Sunday, he was lucid and, though fixated on coming home, feeling good enough to swing his legs over the side of the bed and sit up. Determination shined in his eyes, his pursed lips, as he tried to hold himself upright.

“I want to come home.”

I explained I couldn’t care for him home. Not yet. He was still connected to fluids, and antibiotics, and other drugs that now, only a week later, I can no longer name.

Some time between Sunday and Monday morning, his body collapsed. He was unconscious, was having trouble breathing. His organs were shutting down. Doctors said this was the end, gave him morphine to ease his struggle, and announced that death was imminent.

Evidently, science can’t quite quantify imminence, certainly not in a man who was determined not to die, who never sat still in his life, and whose heart was strong.

Released from all medications save the morphine drip that kept him comfortable, he existed in an unconscious twilight for five days, never awakening, until early on Saturday, Christmas Eve. He no longer looked like himself, gaunt to the point of skeletal, a bony nose so unlike his prominent one, sunken eyes even in sleep, cheek and temple bones glaringly evident, all subcutaneous padding gone.

I only feel relief. Part of it is for me, for the stress has been immense. But the vast majority of it is for him, for freedom from his struggles this past year, from his determination to go forward despite the pain, despite the indignities his body heaped upon him. I will forever remember his smile and laughter, and his industry surrounds me in a beautiful kitchen, perfectly detailed book cases, well laid tiles, but this year has given me other snapshots burned into my memory, ones I’ll never forget–of a starving man staring at dinner he wanted so badly but couldn’t bear to eat for the pain he’d feel afterward, of the man’s humiliation at having to defecate in a bucket in the yard because he couldn’t make it inside to the bathroom.

Strong. Yes. Determined, yes. A flawed man, but a good one. A keeper, my mom always said.

As he lay in his bed, comatose, I told him he could go, that his parents were waiting for him, that all of his dogs, his cats, were waiting to play and cuddle with him. I knew he didn’t want to die. He wasn’t ready, but I wanted him to know the others who went before him were there for him, waiting, loving.

And so it’s done.

There’s much to do in the aftermath, but the worst part is over.

Sleep well, my love.

Merry Christmas.

And now I can cry.

Wherefore art thou, Romeo?

I’ll tell you where… at Petco.

I had gone there–sans my own pets–to fill our dogs’ pantry before rushing off to do my regular grocery shopping.

I’d spied some designer biscuits that smelled like lemon cookies and, being a loving and concerned mom, was reading the label when I heard a woman’s voice.

“Romeo! Romeo, stop that! Don’t pull!” came from the next aisle along with the kind of shuffling sounds boys playing at hand-to-hand combat make, and before I knew it, a brindled Italian Mastiff the size of a bumper car charged around the corner and burst into my aisle–his owner in tow as if schussing down a hill on skis–and promptly made me the object of his affection.

His aim was true. He bowled me over–along with the display of gourmet cookies. My lemon scented biscuits went flying, but Romeo managed to gobble up a fair number of them before his owner, a petite brunette, pulled herself closer, like a losing combatant in a game of tug of war.

“Romeo! Oh, Romeo, you bad! Tsk!”  Romeo didn’t care one whit about the reprimand, though. He washed my face and stood on my foot as I struggled to stand, and covered me and my clothing with slobber and biscuit bits while rendering the floor as slippery as a skating rink with the excess.

His mom pulled a towel out of her pocket with all the authority of a bullfighter calling a bull and began to swipe at his jowls. A store employee appeared with a mop while another began to pick up the biscuits and right the display table.

“You’re so bad!” She glanced at me. “I’m sorry. He’s still a puppy,” she said, wincing an embarrassed smile and shaking out her soggy towel. I was glad she didn’t offer it  to me.

“Just you wait until daddy gets here,” she said in that tone all mothers use to imply that dad’s going to do the dirty work of disciplining, but Romeo just wagged, his brown eyes wide, mouth panting, his licking tongue reaching well past his nose, tossing more slobber and crumbs everywhere.

And just when I thought It couldn’t get any worse, daddy appeared… with Juliet.

I jumped out of the way of the two Colossuses… or is it Colossi? Anyway, the table went flying again as Juliet swung a paw the size of a catcher’s mitt at her brother. I assume Romeo was her brother. I didn’t hang around to ask.

Instead, I went home to change my sodden duds, noting my husband’s astonished expression at my disarray, while muttering about how Romeo and Juliet had used me as a stage prop for their play.

Recent Reads: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

I have mentioned that I am not a lover of literary fiction, so it should come as no surprise that I did not appreciate Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Goldfinch. I bought and read it, no doubt enticed–as I am by most literary novels–by the wonderful writing style and the novel’s length. I love the intricacies of plot and characterization that lengthy fiction works promise to deliver. But here–while some who have praised the novel call its extensive narrative passages symbolic echoes–I see only protracted examples of navel gazing, clichés, and mind-numbing repetition.

In 784 pages, The Goldfinch is the story of 13 year old Theo Decker, his formative years to adulthood and his descent into a spiritual morass of loss and drug use as a result of the inciting event: a bomb explosion in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that kills Theo’s beloved mother, among others. One of few to escape the area of the explosion, Theo takes with him the small 17th century Carel Fabritius masterpiece entitled The Goldfinch. He’s not a thief. He’d been comforting a badly wounded man at the explosion site, and promises to save the painting the old man presses on him before he dies.

We follow Theo for the next 14 years—through his short-lived residence with a school chum and his wealthy, dysfunctional family, to live with his alcohol and drug dependent father in Las Vegas, where Theo meets a Russian teen who becomes his drinking buddy and partner in drug experimentation.

When his father dies, Theo goes back to New York, taking the painting, which he never surrenders to either the authorities or the person the dying man in the museum told him to. But he does take up residence with that man, whose name is Hobie, a furniture restorer and friend of the old man who’d died in the museum blast. Hobie pretty much becomes Theo’s surrogate father. They care for each other deeply, though due to the boy’s secretive nature (about both the painting and his drug use) and Hobie’s naivety and deep interest in his work, a bond of truth–the soul-baring kind offered up in Confession–is never established.

The story is populated by a host of eccentric characters, from Boris, the Russian teen who grows to become an international player who lives by his wits, mostly just under the radar of the international police; to Theo’s dad (and his girlfriend); to Pippa, Theo’s lifelong crush, who’s just as emotionally damaged and drug dependent as he is. There are a myriad other lowlifes, preppy losers, recluses, and con men, and many of them want the painting for their own nefarious reasons.

When I first thought about reviewing The Goldfinch, I doubted myself and my opinion. After all, no Pulitzer Prize winner am I. But I’m not alone. There are some doubtful reviewers out there, easily searchable, including Evgenia Peretz in a July 2014 article in Vanity Fair, where she explores the novel’s reviews as a preamble to her main topic: What makes a work literature and who gets to decide.

Read Ms. Peretz’s article for her thoughtful and sometimes humorous view of the literature scene. I enjoyed it greatly, much more, I’m sorry to say, than The Goldfinch.

And then there were two

I have not blogged regularly for some months. I have a good reason though. I’ve been working on a new story.

It began as relief from researching, living and breathing in The Luck of Two Magpie‘s 14th century. Contemporary life, and the story that grew from retreat to it, offered me fewer constraints. After all, I live in this era. Our time gave me the opportunity to play with modern idioms, and travel–by car and plane–was fun to write… no researching how many miles a horse could do in a day or week, or what wagons were like in 1399.

There was a problem though. While I knew HOW this new story would end, I couldn’t find the mechanism that would allow the story to build to its climax. And so I set the story aside.

Then, last spring, someone I knew fell ill with pneumonia, and in hospital, complications created a very serious situation. Thankfully, he pulled through and is in fine form again. But his complications were just what the doctor ordered–or rather, just what the writer needed. In a matter of weeks I’d finished the manuscript.

Of course, then came revisions.

But I’ve finished it, and have contacted editors and agents who kindly offered to read pages.

And in a few days, I’ll have a new page here on my website that will give readers a taste of the story. How about that? Two novels on the site.

What’s that you say? The title? Ah, yes. It’s A Spectre of Miracles. Love a good ghost story.

Holiday Parody — Jingle Bells



Continuing with the holiday theme, here’s a fun poem set to the tune of Jingle Bells. Sorry, but I couldn’t find an instrumental version to play in the background, so please feel free to hum along.



Jingle bells, snowfall’s swell,
Gingerbread tastes great,
Specially at grandma’s house on a big red Christmas plate.
Jingle bells, snowfall’s swell,
Gingerbread tastes great,
Specially at grandma’s house on a big red Christmas plate.

Sophie Elf

Sophie Elf

Sliding through the snow, dogs pulling on their leads,
Yes, with me in tow, my feet frozen indeed.
Eager, yes they are–
To get to grandma’s place,
It is almost as if they know
She’s making them a steak!
Jingle bells, snowfall’s swell,
Gingerbread smells great,
Specially at grandma’s house on a big red Christmas plate.
Jingle bells, snowfall’s swell,
Dogs’ smelling’s so acute,
While I do wish that just for once I could punch them in the snoot.

Dashie deer


Down a hill we slide, a boulder coming fast,
With no place to hide, I fear that we might crash.
Dash pulls to the left, Sophie to the right,
Before I know it, there I am, beginning to take flight!
Jingle bells, snowfall’s swell,
Gingerbread tastes great,
I dearly wish I could grow wings but I fear that it’s too late.
Jingle bells, snowfall’s hell,
Grandma’s seems so far,
With no wings, snow shoes or skis, I wish I had the car.

Down crash I at last, with a great thud and a bounce,
The boulder we have passed, but my head is mighty jounced.
And though my back it aches, and likewise does my bum,
I smell my grandma’s Christmas cakes, laced heavily with rum.
Jingle bells, splints are swell,
Iodine smells great,
Crutches work especially well, and it seems that they’re my fate.
Jingle bells, splints are swell,
I feel pretty dumb,
But I would feel much better if I had my grandma’s rum.

The dogs they race for home, leaving me right quick,
Stiff as a garden gnome, stranded like Moby Dick.
I’d like to get home fast, and crawl into my bed,
But all I see are sugarplums, they’re spinning in my head!
Jingle bells, snowfall’s swell,
Gingerbread tastes great,
Specially at grandma’s house on a big red Christmas plate.
Jingle bells, snowfall’s hell.
Ginger tea would do,
I wish I’d stayed indoors this morn for I’ve come this day to rue.
Jingle bells, snowfall’s swell,
I’m stuck in pine and yew,
No matter what becomes of me, Merry Christmas all of you.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Holiday countdown

The energy that surrounds the holidays makes me think that my normal posts won’t do. To honor the season–mostly lightheartedly–I’m posting some holiday tune parodies. This first one, however, invokes the heart of the giving season.


A child's wonder

A child’s wonder

Have a holly, jolly Christmas;
And enjoy this time of year
Tell Santa Claus what gifts you want
Like scarves of soft cashmere.

Have a holly, jolly Christmas;
But remember those in need,
Santa does the best he can
We’ll  help with our good deeds.


Oh ho, The crowds, you know     Father Christmas
Bustling round the mall,
Choose just one charity
And share good will for all.

Have a holly, jolly Christmas,
Look, there’s Santa in the store
Lend a hand to the dear old man
Recall good works of yore.

Have a holly jolly Christmas,
And you will if only you
Will play a part
And donate from the heart
At Christmas, this year.

Trail of apple pips, er-r… parts

Last week I vented my frustration with my iphone 5s. I wanted to fix it but…was the problem hardware? Software?

Prepared for the worse, hoping for the best, I ventured to a local Apple Store to solve the mystery and get my phone up and running properly. Of course, I did go on a Saturday… long lines of browsers, I assumed. But no, the majority of folks were there patiently waiting for a seat at the Genius Bar–Apple’s techies.

I gave my name and waited 45 minutes to ”sign in” with another of the Apple corps , then was seated at the Genius bar to wait another 30 minutes until someone got to me.

Long and short of THIS portion of the tale: it was ascertained that the camera was bad and needed to be replaced. That it happened after downloading the latest iOS was coincidental. Oh, and had I backed everything up to the cloud? Yes.

I left the phone for camera replacement. It would be ready in 2 1/2 hours. Realizing much of the timing issue was that I’d come on a Saturday, I swallowed my impatience and headed out, returning in 3 hours to wait another 30 minutes before being told that the camera replacement didn’t work and I was being given a new phone.The usual process followed–configuring settings, downloading data, photos, etc. from the cloud, and off I went to continue my restore at home.

On Monday, I texted my daughter only to find that she could answer in my thread but couldn’t reach me when initiating a new thread. Later that day, my husband called, but no one was there. I called him back. Again. No one there until I chanced to hit speaker… and there he was.

So… back to the Apple Store I went on Tuesday, hopeful that I’d not be there the majority of the day as it was a weekday. Not so much. A 20 minute wait got me to the Genius Bar, but it was another 35 minutes before a techie could see to my phone. The messaging problem was a settings issue, but the ‘phone’ problem was the earpiece–or earphone speaker. It was broken. I had to leave the phone to have that replaced. Came back 2 hours later to find that the entire screen had to be replaced. Okay, I thought, but when it wouldn’t open with a finger swipe–neither mine nor the techie’s–he took the phone back and gave me ANOTHER new one.

Again, we did whatever settings config, etc. were necessary, and I returned home to finish downloading my stored info from the cloud.

As of today, my phone is working… I assume. I live BY my phone, but not ON it. I have hopes that 3’s the charm and I’ll live happily ever after with this Iphone 5s, but I should note that at least 3 other people on line with me at the Apple Store on Sunday also had 5s problems, and another 2 on Tuesday, so, while I’m hopeful, I’m prepared to be watchful for more problems.

Waking from summer dreams

We’re well into autumn, well past time to have shed summer’s quietude–the season wherein I spent much time in thought, introspection, and observation. The outcome from these quiet pursuits is a recharged battery and a newly awakened focus on writing

I’ve also been channeling a curmudgeonly character whose remarks resonate as a cross paly_g_scrooge01jr_576between Ebenezer Scrooge and Mr. Magoo. His gripes include rants against everything from dirty political ads to robo-calls. I can only offer one of the latter here, as his rant against the dishonesty of political mud-slinging isn’t for polite company.
“I’ve registered my phone number with the Federal Do Not Call registry, so why are these d@mned calls coming through?! Why in tarnation don’t you report them?!”
I tried explaining to him that robo-calls don’t have live people at the other end, just a recorded message triggered by his picking up the phone (or more likely his voice mail answering), dialed by a computer with a pre-generated (and most likely a purchased) list of phone numbers, and that there was no one to report, that it appeared to be a loop-hole overlooked by the FDNC registry rules.
My curmudgeon said, “Well, why the h-e-double-hockey sticks don’t they close it?!”
I could only shrug.

My curmudgeon is difficult to silence. However, he’s unlikely to receive much print time here for, as I’ve already noted, he tends toward ‘not for prime-time’ descriptions and even less polite language.

I did manage to leave him behind when I flew to Vancouver for 4 days of pure heaven at the Surrey International Writers Conference late last month . The sessions were technically instructive and creatively invigorating. Just as importantly, I caught up with old friends, a treasure to be savored in itself.
There is pleasure and satisfaction in learning new skills to use in my writing and to deepen my characters, and even greater pleasure in the traditions that accompany SIWC, like Michael Slade’s Shock Theatre, featuring KC Dyer, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Jack Whyte, Michael himself, and this year, featuring the added talents of Donald Maass, Hallie Ephron, and Susanna Kearsley.

But the most hallowed tradition and the one I treasure most is the singing of Mud, Glorious Mud, led by novelist, bard, and singer, Jack Whyte. Enjoy.