Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ain't Life Grand?

My neighbor is an energetic woman, a nurse, an avid walker, a gardener.  She is trim and attractive as well as active. She is often seen playing Pickle Ball with kids in the yard. 

Her garden, though, is her hallmark.  Packed with perennials that start with crocus and daffodils before the snows have melted away, she has a pallet of ever-changing colors blooming through October.  Trees, flowers, and grasses explode like summer fireworks expanding in the sky before they slowly die out to make room for the next show of color.  Sitting in my sunroom, I mark the changing seasons by the state of her garden. 

I think my next door neighbor has a boyfriend.  I first noticed something going on a few weeks ago.  A silver pick-up would drive slowly by several times a day.  Up the street, down the street, moving at a snail's pace, the pick-up once slowed to a stop in front of her house before driving away.  

Spring has been slow to arrive this year.  Snow, heavy rain, cold temperatures and winds have forced the intrepid crocus and bold daffodils to hide out a bit longer.  Last week, a break in the weather brought her out to the garden.  She assessed its state, trudged to her shed and pulled out the tools of her passion.  She only worked for a few minutes before she disappeared into the house.  Perhaps an hour later, she reappeared, a man following behind.  She led him to the shed and I watched as he pulled out the heavier gardening equipment and together, they worked the garden.  He followed her cues and instructions and slowly the garden was cleaned up and ready for spring.  They laughed together, worked quietly together and then she led him to the memorial stone the neighbors bought to remember her deceased husband.  He stood in respect.  He put his arm around her and gave her a hug and then they walked back to the house where he started the grill while she retired to the kitchen to prep burgers.
They ate out on the deck.  In her driveway, a silver pick-up.

My neighbor is in her mid 70s.  Ain't life grand?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Sacrificial Dinner(s)

My 31st wedding anniversary is fast approaching.  I married Moondoggy, my high school sweetheart thirty-one years ago and I have never regretted that decisions ever.  He has never done anything so heinous, stupid or thoughtless that I can't overlook.  Except maybe this; last week he called me "Gran".  Not because we are grandparents (we aren't. . .yet) but because I shared information with him that he apparently decided was reminiscent of his own grandmother whom they called Gran.

Gran lived with Moondoggy, his mom and his brothers - his mom was her caretaker.  Gran was wheelchair bound but got around the house by walking her feet along the floor as her body, in the chair, followed.  Gran liked being self sufficient and therefore could be found in the kitchen often frying various foods for meal.  She would put whatever food in a frying pan with a little Crisco and fry it up.  Food like peas; frozen peas, that when they hit the hot pan actually spit flames and burned the kitchen.  But that isn't why he called me Gran.

Once a week, I would have dinner at Moondoggy's house.  A sit down family affair with all four boys and meat, potatoes, vegetables and milk.  During my first meal there, Gran wheeled in, took her spot and looked at me, "Who's this?" she asked in a her gravely, loud 90 year old voice and Moondoggy answered, "It's Judi, Gran.  My girlfriend."

Looking me directly in the eye, she asked, "Ever been to South Dakota?"  I politely replied, "no," and she goes on to tell me she was raised there, lived in a sod house as a little girl, hard work, snakes, outhouses.  I sat and listened without eating as she spoke to me - because my parents taught me to be polite. No one else said a word, apparently enjoying their food.

The next week, I was back.  Gran wheels in as we take out seats and asks, "Who's this?"  Dave answers as he did the week previous.  Then she asks, "Ever been to South Dakota?" And we repeat the same scene again, no one saying a word as she spoke.  This time, I snuck in a few bites of dinner as everyone else enjoyed their full meal.

The next week was like someone had hit "Rewind" and then "Play."  This time as Gran asked the opening question and Moondoggy identified me and she began to ask if I had ever been to South Dakota, I looked around the table seeking asylum from Moondoggy, any one of his three brothers - even his mom.  I looked at them with pleading eyes, "Help me, here."  And this is what happened:

I looked at Moondoggy and he dropped his head as if studying his plate before starting to eat.  Then I looked at both of his older brothers who both dropped their heads, fully "occupied" with the meal. I looked at his little brother, well schooled apparently as he pushed corn around his plate.  I looked at their mother, the daughter of Gran, the one I thought I could count on to understand.  She, too, dropped her head and began to eat.  Again, Gran posed the question, "Ever been to South Dakota?"  and I am stuck answering and listening like a scene from Ground Hogs Day while everyone enjoys their meal fully aware that I, alone, am making it possible.  They've heard the story, they tell me with their actions, you're on your own.

Last week while driving down the road that hugs a river, I thought I would point out the most recent eagle's nest I discovered on the route.  As we approached, I explained that if you look carefully, you can see the male sitting in the nest, his white head popped above the rim.  I spoke with animation and admiration.  They were on the Endangered Species list, you know.  Moondoggy reached over, grabbed my hand and said in his best gravely voice, "Ever been to South Dakota?"

Point Taken.


Publisher's Weekly reviewed by book, No Such Thing as it was submitted to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA).  A Quarter Finalists, this is what PW said:

ABNA Publishers Weekly Reviewer
Young boys are disappearing in Detroit, boys with no families or homes. Boys like Tim, who skateboards in a store parking lot nearly every day. But one Fall afternoon, this proves to be the wrong choice. The killer is never found, but this novel creates a scenario to explain what might have happened. Sydney, newly divorced, has come home to Detroit to write a book about the Purple Gang, a notorious mob of bootleggers from Detroit’s Prohibition Era. She decides to rent the house where she spent part of her childhood and where her mother went mad; the house where her family stopped being a unit after her mother was committed to a mental institution. Then Sydney begins to hear voices. Are these the very ghosts her mother swore existed? Or is she plagued with her mother’s problem? Part ghost story, part thriller, this book engages from the first paragraph. Set in modern day Detroit, the city becomes a character of the novel. Sydney’s detailed memory provides quite a comparison between the city where she grew up and the Detroit of the present. The plot -- woman goes home to find answers only to find more questions, danger, and murder -- has a fantastic spin with the addition of paranormal activity. The characters Sydney, Tim, Jack -- Sydney’s brother -- and Thor -- Sydney’s dog -- are brilliantly developed with strong individual voices. The points of view of Sydney and Jack reflect the different truths experienced by two children raised under the same roof. The house itself becomes a spirit to be reckoned with. This superb story has many layers and well developed characters and makes for thrilling reading.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Grandma Has a Crush on Steven Tyler

My grandmother died in the early 80s.  She was a not a cuddly woman by any means, she was stoic and proper. She was unusual in that she was the wife of a retired naval captain, well traveled and a professor of music at USC in the mid 1920s.  She was not so unusual in that she tended toward a rounded figure, wore polyester dresses with matching jackets and covered buttons, sensible shoes and had a standing appointment at the hairdresser for bluing, wash, curl and comb out.  She looked like a typical old lady. This picture is necessary to understand something I recently experienced.

Moondoggy and I became the recipients of two tickets to see the Ten Tenors at the McCallum Theater in Palm Desert, CA.  It was a matinee show attracting an abundance of elderly people there to enjoy the remarkable talent these men showcase.  And so, we sat in our seats mid theater and as I waited for the show to begin, I surveyed the crowd.  In the box seat that hovered over stage left, there was a woman, sitting ram rod straight, pocketbook on her lap. hair newly styled with a bluish gray cast.  She was the spitting image of my grandmother.The house lights went down, stage lights up and the Ten Tenors came out singing something from some opera.  I don't know because I was mesmerized by this lady in the box.  Like the Queen of England, she offered her rapt attention as they crooned several songs.

The Ten Tenors are a blend of voices that create incredible sound whether it is an operatic piece or contemporary artists.  As the show continued they moved from pieces like Ave Maria to Elton John, the Beatles and even Aerosmith.  Their rendition of "Yesterday" was compelling and had the audience singing along.  I looked up and yep, even the grandma was moving her lips.  They transitioned to Elton John and I noticed the grandma actually swaying and clapping in time to the music as they sang.  It made me happy to know that she could appreciate the contemporary as well as the classical stuff.  Then, one of the Tenors announced their last song,"Love in an Elevator" by Aerosmith.  Uh oh, I thought, this may be where grandma leaves.

Several colored lights swirled across the stage as the guys regrouped and started to sing.  And when that happened, this crowd of matinee going senior citizens went crazy.  People stood, they danced, they swayed.  I looked at the grandma in the box seat and I swear to all that is true in the world, she was not only singing and playing air guitar as she was draping her pink polyester suited body over the railing, she screamed, "I love Steven Tyler" and then took out her iphone and produced a "flame" from her lighter app.

Well, I was stunned, to say the least.  I was impressed that this older crowd had such an appreciation of "MY" music.  Then I realized, perhaps these older people weren't appreciating my music. . .they were enjoying THEIR music which makes all of us old, I guess.

My book, No Such Thing has been selected as a Quarter Finalist in
The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award!

A Free sample is available here: