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Monday, February 28, 2011

Absent From My Mind

I was making my weekly trip to the grocery store and thinking about how I might market Jaguar Sees: The Lacquer Box when I looked up, amazed to see that I was half-way to ballet class. Now I dance (badly) three times a week and try to go to the grocery store only once a week, so this lapse in focus wasn’t really SO bad. I think. I hope. I mean, left turn, right turn, really what’s so much the difference?
I’ve been absent-minded my entire life. As a kid, I’d be walking home from somewhere, playing a make-believe game in my head and realize by the strange look from a passer-by that not only had I been talking out loud, but I was a mile closer to our house then the last time I’d looked. In high school, I developed a rigid system for organizing my notebook because otherwise I couldn’t find my homework when it came time to turn it in.  Or my notes when it was time to study for a test.  Things did not improve as I aged. As a teacher, I’d frantically mark my attendance book as the students filed out of class because I’d forgotten to do it at the beginning. (And when do you have time to take attendance anyway? It’s ridiculous.) Of course I do all the regular absent-minded things: go into a room and forget why, forget my friends’ names, call someone up to tell them . . . hmmm.
But here’s my question. When I spend so much time up in my day-dreamy head, why is it I remember that you serve a guest from the left and remove from the right? I can recall exact lines from the original Start Trek. I’ve got the names of obscure children’s books at my fingertips. (The Moomin series, did you like that one? The Back of the North Wind, another goodie.)
My Dad, who was perfect in every other way, was terribly absent-minded, to the point of which he couldn’t remember how old I was. I’m not quite sure if that gives me heart or is the bonging knell of doom. Most days I’m glad to know that I am like my Dad in any way at all. On the days I’m headed to the grocery store and find myself five miles in the opposite direction, well, on those days, I just remember how much I loved him.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jaguar Sees on Austin's Comacho's Blog

My friend, author Austin Comacho, asked me to guest blog for him, letting people know how it feels to have my thriller with new age/paranormal elements, Jaguar Sees:  The Lacquer Box finally published on the Amazon Kindle site.  (spoiler:  it feels great!)  Go ahead and read my blog today at:  http://ascamacho.blogspot.com/ 

Austin writes great mysteries and thrillers himself, and he's a great guy, too.  You can find out all abuot his books at the above site. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hope, Not a Thing With Feathers

Hope arrives at your door in leggings and a short skirt. She used to wear a beanie showing off big eyes, but time change.  Behind her trails a smiling mother.  Hope carries a manila envelope, an expectant smile and a dull pencil.  She pulls out a long sheet of paper and hands it to you. Her eyebrows go up, and she puts forth the pencil.
“How much are they a box?”
She looks at her Mom who whispers, “Four dollars.”
She nods sincerely.

Girl Scout cookie season.

Since our neighborhood is full of small girls, I end up with four or five boxes of thin mints. One year I tried a couple of other kinds, but, really, what’s the point?  I’ve been scarfing down thin mints in the late winter ever since I was in college and some brilliant child made the rounds of the dorms. Then it was all about the cookies, but now it’s only half about the cookies. The other half, as far as I’m concerned, is fulfilling Hope, who in various guises, goes door to door in leggings and a short skirt.

(Dedicated to Anna, Meghan, Grace, Melanie, Ashley and all Brownies and Girls Scouts, past and present)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ruth's Chris, R Rated

Steve made a reservation at Ruth’s Chris Steak House for us for Valentine’s Day. We are usually seated near the window in front. The window is nice, but one get’s all the through traffic from the door. In the middle of the restaurant, the waiters are crossing back and forth past one’s table. This time, Steve requested a quiet table, and the hostess led us through the labyrinth to the back of the house. I sat, facing a painted “tapestry” of black figures on beige. Just sliding into the chair was relaxing; I felt the reality of the day slide away. Quiet, subdued, the perfect setting to check visual sense and let aroma and taste move to the fore.
It was Valentine’s Day eve at an up-scale restaurant. Most of the tables were set for couples. Stared and stared and stared. Behind me, a table with four young couples was having a wonderful time, laughing and talking; the air around them was lighter and shinier than elsewhere in the restaurant. Throughout the house, pheromones, hormones, suppressed lust were palpable. Next to us a middle-aged, plump couple, finishing their last bite, staredand stared into each other’s eyes until they paid their bill and took off.
At a nice restaurant, we like to begin sipping a Kir Royal, the dry bubbles of the champagne kissing the roof of my mouth while the black current sweetness lingered just a touch longer. The waiter brought a half loaf of bread, warm and crusty, the saltiness on top begging to be mitigated with a slather of whipped butter, a perfect foil for the cocktail.
I ordered the seafood gumbo while Steve got the asparagus and hearts of palm salad with the agreement that we’d switch half-way through. The gumbo was hearty, the scoop of rice in the middle, so pretty as I flattened it and watched the rice scatter into the deep soup. Little bites of spicy chorizo resisted between the jaws. I had a few spoonfuls of the soup, and then we traded plates. The salad – oh, my! The sweet, tangy dressing coated every leaf of mixed greens while the asparagussnapped in one’s teeth, followed by the hearts of palm crunching satisfyingly.
On to the entrees: a cowboy cut rib-eye for Steve, a fillet for me. We shared the family style garlic mashed potatoes and garlic green beans. (Hey, as long as everyone’s eating garlic, it’s okay, right?) Again, the vegetables were done to perfection, the beans crisp but not raw, the potatoes uniform with just a hint of garlic.

And ,oh, lord, my fillet. It arrived smiling on its hot plate with a pat of butter melting into the marbled meat. I sliced slowly down through the brown, crisp exterior to a soft, moist, warm red center. I closed my eyes and brought a forkful to my mouth. The flavor covered my tongue, warm and full, side to side. Then a sip of Malbec. (Okay, Steve got the Malbec, and I got the Shiraz, but I liked the Malbec better. He offered to give it to me – as he always does – and I accepted -- as I always do.) The Malbec was like a boat under the waves of the steak: supportive but not overwhelming. A perfect union.
The meal, so satisfying, hadn’t quite reached resolution. It concluded with a small portion of cheesecake with slivers chocolate bark, the final resolution. This was cheesecake just the way I like it. No cloying syrupy sauces, just a simple round of cheese cake topped with a blueberry (refreshing), a raspberry (minimal flavor) and a blackberry (squirting with juicy fullness). We slowly allowed each bite to melt onto our tongues between sips of decaf cappuccino. In the end, I tucked the chocolate bark into the bag; satiation is satiation.
Fortunately, Ruth’s Chris is 15 minutes from our house. It wasn’t that we’d had so much to drink but that the endorphins had so overwhelmed our brains that anything short of a small nuclear explosion wouldn’t have brought us to full consciousness.
At home on the couch, tuning in “House,” I crunched on the bitter chocolate bark, exhausted, wilted, spent.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Too Good To Be True?

This is Ann:  hum de dum.
This is Ann on steroids: whoop de do!
Steroids and me: such a baaaad mix. I prescribed steroids once before for our trip to Peru. Everyone gets altitude meds, yes; the doctor hands them all around, except to, oh, me. Altitude meds are related to sulfa, and I’m allergic to sulfa. When I take sulfa, I get very nasty hallucinations which are not at all skipping-through-the-flowers type things. They have to do with taste and my mouth and, believe me, that’s all you want to know. I stay faaar away from sulfa. Consequently, instead of getting nice, happy altitude medication for climbing the Andies, I got a course of steroids.
I began them in preparation for our arrival in Cuzco, and by our second day there, I was skipping up and down the steep streets like a mountain goat. Naps? Nope. Coca? Not needed. Sleep, practically unnecessary. By our second day, I was appalled that anyone would give this drug to a young, testosterone-laden athlete, and more surprised that the murder rate among them wasn’t higher. Not that I felt bad, of course. On the contrary, I felt good; I felt great! I felt like Wonder Woman! I didn’t even need the invisible plane; I was flying all by myself! But Wonder Woman slept, right? I mean, everyone likes to sleep for a WHILE. It seemed best to began weaning myself off them right away. There’s no going cold turkey from steroids, and I had plenty in my system for gamboling up and down the slope of Machu Picchu which was our next stop.
And that was all I ever wanted to know about steroids. I left for a touch-base visit with the PGs (Perfect Grandchildren) with a tickle and a cough. I rested. I LOST MY APPETITE! In fact, I suffered for a week from what turned out to be a full-blown case of bacterial bronchitis. Did’t go to a doctor in Muncie because most of the time I either (a) felt sure I’d be better in a day or two, or (b) was house-bound under a few inches of ice. We got back to our cozy house midday last Monday, and I was sitting in my doctor’s off ice within two hours.
As I anticipated, I was given a course of antibiotics and, unanticipated, I was also given a course of steroids to reduce the inflammation of and irritation to multiple tissues which, I have to say, were like a gift from hell. I knew, oh, I knew, to down the antibiotic right away but to hold off on the prednisone until Tuesday morning. I was to take two tablets at one time which I did right after breakfast. While it worked its magic, it also worked its happy-strong-indestructible magic. I was so proud that, for the first time in 10 days, I didn’t have to nap. On the other hand, last night at midnight I finally surrendered and took an ambien at midnight so I could get some sleep.
This morning I cut back to one prednisone. (Yes, I know to take a full treatment of antibiotics, but the NP told me I didn’t need to finish the steroids. I’m a good girl.) I can definitely feel the difference. I mean I feel worse, but I feel better about it. I hope you can follow that logic. I also hope this dosage will do me some good but be balance by the good of a good night’s sleep. You see? Goodness all around.

Modern drugs are a wonderful thing. I wish I could take more of them. (By which I mean I have a lot of drug sensitivities, not that I wish I did a lot of drugs.  Really.) Steroids, however, I’m not sure how wonderful they are. I guess they’re pretty good. I know they’re life-saving at times and pain-saving often. I’m willing to take ‘em if I have to, but they seem pretty dangerous to me. All that invincibility, is that a normal way to feel? Is it safe? Is it wise? When is something that’s good, too good?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Steel for the Win

First, I must apologize to everyone watching, betting on, spun up about the Super Bowl.  I can't make myself care.  I just can't.  However, my interest was peaked by this front age article staring at me from today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, right next to "Party Chiefs in Egypt Quit, but Regime Holds."  I know which article should gain more in-depth reading and analysis, but I also would bet on it being the other one that does.

That is the article that assures me that it is perfectly all right to pray for the Steelers to win the Super Bowl.  It's all right if you're Catholic or another flavor of Christianity; it's all right if you're Jewish; it's all right if you're Buddhist.  So.  Whew.  That's a relief.

And of all the things people pray for, silly and sinister, violent and self-indulgent, I believe, deep in my soul, that it must be a great relief to God to have people praying for a simple, home-side win.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Jaguar Sees: The Lacquer Box

I was going to call this entry Fly, Be Free, or Light as a Feather, or A Load Off My Chest, but then I decided not to be all coy and oblique. No, this entry is called Jaguar Sees: The Lacquer Box which is the title of MY NOVEL! My lovely novel, my baby, my poochie-coo, which is now a real, honest-to-God, virtual e-book for sale at the Amazon.com Kindle Store. Download it, download it now! You can read it on any e-reader, computer, i-pad, i-phone and now even on your Windows 7 phone! Jaguar Sees is a combo of a nuclear weapons smuggling thriller and paranormal/Shamanic fiction. Yes, it's a Shamanic Thriller. And, yes, there's a reason you've never heard of that genre before. I made it up as I went along. It takes place in Moscow and Siberia and has a vague echo of the two years Steve and I lived there. Here's a short, short synopsis.

Claire Milton has settled into ex-pat life in Moscow, a trailing spouse to her husband, scientist Jack Bowden, who works on nuclear threat reduction. As the story opens, she is on a return flight from the States to Russia, feeling restless and edgy. She decides to calm down with a type of meditative trance: a Shamanic journey, but rather than experiencing a soothing interlude, she and her spirit animal, Jaguar, are set upon by hostile beasts. Claire is jolted awake, shocked to find bloody scratches on her arm.

Back in Moscow, Claire puts the incident out of her mind. She visits the craft market where she buys a present for Jack, an unusual lacquer box with a stylized symbol painted on it. Out of nowhere, dangerous men appear, threatening and pursuing her. Why?!! And why do they remind her so strongly of the creatures in her Journey?

By the time Claire discovers that the box carries the secrets of a tactical nuclear weapons smuggling ring, she is caught in the middle of a nightmarish plot that targets not only her life but Russian democracy. Claire's only hope lies in the aid of her spirit Jaguar. Has Jaguar become real? And real or not, will her help be enough?

I'm excited to have the thing off my plate and published, because – with luck – I can now stop obsessing about it. It grew up and left the nest. May it be as successful, or even half as successful, as my real-life children who have done the same (grown up and left the nest, that is, not suddenly appeared at the Kindle store). Give it a try; give it as a Valentine's Day gift to one you love. ('Cause nothing says love like a Shamanic Thriller.) I think, I hope you'll like it.