Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mr. Lucky Saves a Dog

Every morning Mr. Lucky takes the beagles walking around the subdivision. Sometimes, if he leashes up after Baby Bear leaves on the school bus, I go with him.

About a dozen doors down the street is a two-story house with double front doors of frosted glass, one of the nicer homes on our block. As we strolled by, we could make out the blur of a barking little dog who would jump up and down on the other side of the frosted glass. Sometimes Mr. Lucky would take the beagles all the way up to the front door “to say hello” to the little dog. The front yard was ragged and weedy, but we assumed since there were curtains in the windows and a dog barking inside, that there must be people living there, but they were at work all day.

But on Sunday morning, Mr. Lucky discovered those ornate front doors were unlocked. As it turned out, the house had been abandoned by its owners some time ago. Most of the furniture was gone, but whoever had lived there had left the dog behind. Someone across the street said the people who’d lived there were going through a divorce, and the house was in foreclosure.

That explained the sadly neglected yard, BUT WHY DID THEY LEAVE THAT POOR LITTLE DOG TO FEND FOR HERSELF?

It’s one thing to leave a few pieces of furniture behind, but a helpless pet? Mr. Lucky surmised that was why the door had been left unlocked—perhaps the owners had hoped that someone would venture inside and either take the dog, or even set it free to roam the neighborhood and ultimately get hit by a car. I guess they didn’t want that much on their consciences. But why didn’t they try to find a new home for the dog, or at least take her to a shelter? I wonder how much their divorce plays a part in this; if one spouse who didn’t really want the dog kept it anyway, only to abandon it out of sheer spite to the other spouse who may have wanted it. I witnessed similar quibbling when my own parents were divorced more than three decades ago, but theirs was over inanimate dust collectors.

Mr. Lucky brought the dog back to our house, and tried to clean her up. She was a little Shih Tzu, and as shaggy as a dust mop. I’m no expert on this breed—or any dog, for that matter—but Mr. Lucky said when properly groomed, she should look like me (see photo at right)—with long, straight tresses hanging all over. Oddly enough, instead of being offended by the comparison, I was actually amused. He likes my hair long.

The poor little thing was infested with fleas and her fur was matted in places, with a few pink patches. Her teeth were blackened. She had a collar but no tag. We didn’t know her name. I went through the whole gamut of names commonly given to female dogs—Lucy, Abby, Molly, Polly, Sophie, Betsy, Suzy, Katie, even Fifi (which we sometimes called our daughter Fiona), but “the little furball” as Mr. Lucky took to calling her, answered to none of them. She must have had a very unusual, exotic name.

But we had to remember what Mike Wazowski said to fellow monster Sully in the Disney/Pixar cartoon, Monsters Inc., when Sully found himself befriending a fearless little girl he should have been scaring instead: That once you name it, you become attached to it.

The little furball was adorable, and so loving and trusting. She wasn’t the least bit afraid of us, and was eager to be cuddled and loved. She fit very nicely on my lap. We were tempted, oh, so tempted, to keep her and make her a member of the family. But she needed more rehabilitation and maintenance than we had the means to provide, so we concluded we’d have to take her some place where she could get the care she needed, before finding a new home.

Because she was going to the bathroom all over the house, that night Mr. Lucky took some old towels and made a bed for her in the laundry room, which serves as a passage between the kitchen and garage.

From 11 pm to 2 am, she did nothing but bark in that laundry room, and it echoed all over the house. I dozed off and on, but always with high pitched yapping in the background. Finally Mr. Lucky moved her to the garage, where we keep an old futon. Things quieted down after that, but I tossed and turned till about 4 am. I got very little sleep that night, and I had to be up at 7:30 to get Baby Bear ready for school.

Research revealed that all the local animal rescue places were closed on Monday, save for the county animal shelter, so that’s where we took Ms. Shih Tzu, and told them how and where she was found.

The county animal shelter is the same place where we adopted our beagles last year. When we started visiting there in search of a dog or two, the smaller breeds were always spoken for already. They seem to be more popular than big dogs. The staff is optimistic that Ms. Shih Tzu will find a good home very quickly.

I only hope it’s better than the one where Mr. Lucky found her, and that she lives happily ever after.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Unfair Hair

Both my sons are blessed with hair I can only dream of. It’s thick and wavy, and if they go too long without haircuts, they wake up in the mornings looking like Lyle Lovett. I love to run my fingers through Baby Bear’s locks, and he seems to enjoy it. Meanwhile, my own hair remains naturally straight.

I say it’s not fair.

I don’t know whether it’s the result of encroaching middle age (oh, all right, so it's already encroached!) or the humidity in Florida, but my hair no longer holds curls as well as it used to. I can’t remember the last time it was permed, except it was before the photo at right was taken, which was in May 2003. By that time I’d given up on perms because they never lasted more than a few weeks, even when my hair was shorter. Since then I’ve resigned myself to the curling iron—not that I can perform miracles with it.

Daughter Fiona had the same kind of hair as me, long and straight, save for the inevitable tangles. How did the Crown Prince and Baby Bear get so lucky?

What an odd choice of word, because when I asked him, Mr. Lucky said our boys got that thick wavy hair from him. I only have vague memories of that now. When we got married, he did have thick chestnut hair, but it was already receding, and now, twenty-one years later, he’s gone totally bald.

And he wholeheartedly agrees it’s not fair.

His own father went bald, and he has four brothers, all of whom still have all their own hair. This raises the question: Will my sons eventually go bald?

Mr. Lucky is of the opinion that if our oldest was going to lose his hair, we’d see evidence of it already, because Mr. Lucky himself started losing hair as a teenager. He believes the Crown Prince is safe. The fate of Baby Bear’s locks remain to be seen.

I say again: It’s not fair.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rakehell: It's Not Just a Term for Regency Romance Heroes

Fall is here, which doesn’t mean a lot in Florida. I miss the season—the crispness in the air, the changing colors, the anticipation of the holidays and the smell of baking pies instead of barbecue.

One thing I don’t miss is raking leaves, which I had to do every Monday when we were stationed in California, and lived in military housing. On Tuesday, civil servants from the base housing office would inspect everyone’s yards to make sure they were keeping it up to military standards.

We had only one tree in the front yard, yet on a typical fall Monday, after filling half a dozen black garbage bags, there were still leaves carpeting the yard. It seemed for every hundred I raked up, five hundred more dropped out of that tree.

When I awoke the next morning and glanced out the window, I had to wonder if some prankster had emptied every single last one of those garbage bags onto my lawn, because the yard looked as if it hadn’t been raked all year. But the long row of bulging black bags still sat along the curb, waiting for garbage pickup like a group of squat commuters lining up for their city bus connection.

So after breakfast I went back out, rake in hand. An occasional gust rustled the tree branches over my head, blowing another future bagful of leaves to the ground. I felt like Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, only I was battling leaves instead of hordes of walking brooms hauling buckets of water. I’d filled up three more bags when, with sinking heart, I spotted the yard inspector approaching with his clipboard.

“Morning,” he said curtly. “You know you’re supposed to have those leaves raked up in time for inspection?”

“I did. I had them all raked up yesterday afternoon, and more of them blew down during the night.”

The inspector wasn’t buying it. He plucked a pen out of his pocket and began scribbling on his clipboard. “I’ll have to write you up. Base regulations specifically state the yard must be in inspection order by 0730 hours every Tuesday. None of your neighbors have leaves in their yards.”

He was right. All the neighbors had trees in their yards, yet there wasn’t a single leaf in any of them. Certainly there were browning leaves still clinging to the branches of the neighbors’ trees, but with each gust of autumn wind, the dying leaves fluttered frantically across the street before they finally made a forlorn landing amongst the leaves from my own tree.

I’ve heard tales of a mysterious place deep in the sea, where whales go to cock their fins up. If you found the place, you’d see nothing but giant whalebones everywhere. I’ve also heard of a similar, equally remote place for elephants. The front lawn of our house in California must’ve been the officially designated “bone yard” for dying foliage.

No matter which way the wind blew—east, west, north, south—everyone else’s leaves rolled into my yard—and stayed put. I wondered if there was some sort of magnetic field in my yard, a weird geological anomaly that sucked in not only leaves, but other debris, to include everyone else’s litter. Maybe it explained why the neighbors’ kids practically lived in our yard instead of playing in their own.

At one point I watched a plastic bag go billowing and bouncing down the street, occasionally hopping into one yard and then another before returning to the street, until it finally fluttered to a halt in the dead center of our yard. And wouldn’t you know it, that bag refused to budge thereafter. In frustration I picked it up and dropped it into the middle of the neighbor’s yard. It rolled right back, doggedly following me like
The Red Balloon.

In desperation I started beating it with the rake in hopes it would flee in terror down the street to the next county. But instead it only lay there, inert, submissive, a doormat and a glutton for punishment, rather like yours truly used to be.

Every time the yard inspector wrote us up for something, I wanted to see what his yard looked like.

Oh, and right after I finished writing this, I had to get up and go into the living room to stop Baby Bear from using my sofa as a trampoline. As I replaced all the cushions and pillows on the sofa, he went into my office and added the following message to this blog entry:


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Karen Gets a New Workspace!

It all started when Mr. Lucky came home from work after midnight, and woke me up with his exuberant ravings about a desk—a computer work center, to be exact—that he found on the side of the road and brought home to join our happy little family unit.

You'd think he'd found a pot of gold.

This is a habit of his that goes back many years, to when he was an impoverished bachelor who relied on the roadside dumps of other people’s unwanted possessions to furnish his pad. When we decided to wed back in 1987, I brought to our marriage money and refinement, while he came with an elaborate stereo system that cost him several months’ pay, and a second-hand sofa he’d rescued from certain abandonment on the side of a desolate highway.

He knew, with the unerring instinct of one who has spent a lifetime scavenging among other people’s junk, that if he waited until daylight to go back for the computer work center, it would be gone. Indeed, as he loaded it into the back of our minivan at the ghastly hour of midnight, someone popped out of their house down the street with the air of one not looking to see what was going on, but with the intention of grabbing the CWC for themselves. I didn’t ask how he could tell the difference, fearing it might have something to do with the absence vs presentation of a shotgun—or maybe it’s just another instinct peculiar to scavengers.

Mr. Lucky initially thought of letting me have the CWC, as I don’t really have a desk anymore, since he bought me a laptop for Christmas 2005. I really do use it on my lap, usually while sitting in a small leather recliner in my office. The downside is I lack the efficient, disciplined workspace I used to have when using a desktop—when I had a solid flat surface for a notepad, reference books, and the all important, most sacred vessel for my coffee. Sometimes I wonder if this hasn’t had an adverse effect on my recent productivity, or lack of it. I’ve been using rickety folding tray tables, and allowing clutter to pile all around the leather recliner till it now looks as if I’m sitting in a giant bird’s nest.

I agreed with him that an upgrade to my work area might be an excellent idea, before I stood up from that recliner one day to find an egg or two on the seat.

Alas, the CWC was immediately a serious contender for the title of “Biggest and Most Unwieldy Piece of Furniture in the House.” As a corner unit, there was no way it would fit in my office unless we shuffled at least a few of the five fully loaded bookcases in that room.

No. Fricking. Way. Maybe for a million dollars, but until the check clears, no—way! Only two other things could induce me to move those books again: An Act of God, or an Act of Baby Bear.

Mr. Lucky proposed taking it for himself, and letting me have the simple writing table (48” x 30”) that he’s been using for his desktop as well as his own laptop, which is for his business. This was more than agreeable to me, as we could make it fit in my office without disturbing so much as a single bookcase.

We decided to put it under the window, in place of a pair of old, two-drawer nightstands I’d been using as file cabinets (i.e., pack rat storage) since we bought new furniture for the master bedroom. This was a great opportunity to throw out junk which, seriously, I hadn’t looked at since putting it in the drawers. It was a lot of work, but it beat moving books and bookcases.

Most frightening were the manuscripts of books written before True Pretenses—and the earliest drafts of the latter, boasting the header, “Untitled Regency WIP.” It was like looking at my sixth grade school pictures--ewww! No, I didn’t throw them out (like I did with the sixth grade school pictures), but transferred them to one of those heavy duty plastic storage bins.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lucky spent most of yesterday kicking up a lot of dust and rearranging his own office to make his newly acquired CWC fit. I don’t know how he did it, but he made it work, and we had everything in place by the time Baby Bear came home from school.

I now have a desk, with space for my children’s photos and even the recently acquired boom box.

We’re only missing one thing now: A suitable chair! I can’t very well use the leather recliner; I need a real desk chair.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you one,” Mr. Lucky reassured me. “Next time I go out, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for any desk chairs abandoned at the side of the road.”

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Baby Bear Gives a Hug

This is a very big deal for me, because not only did he surprise me by doing it on his own initiative, but it was a genuine hug, with none of Baby Bear’s trademark booby traps.

Usually I’m the one who makes the first move by holding out my arms and saying, “Huggy huggy!” Then he’ll grab me and with all his strength—and he has a great deal of it—he’ll dig his chin into my shoulder, until I howl with agony and he’s happy. (Both Mr. Lucky and I are wary of what we call Baby Bear’s “killer chin.”)

More often than not, Baby Bear follows up his hugs by doing one or more of the following: The aforementioned chinning; stepping on the most tender part of my foot; knocking me backward onto the nearest piece of furniture, banging his head into mine—it’s a wonder he’s never broken my nose or knocked out my teeth—or pulling me forward and putting me into a headlock until I tumble onto the floor, whereupon he climbs on top of me and chins me in the back.

He could be a wrestler. Sometimes I think I should don a face mask and mouth guard, and arm myself with lots of padding before inviting injury with the wild call of, “Huggy huggy!” Only I never think of that until afterward.

This morning, however, Baby Bear came up to me out of nowhere, smiling as he took my arms and put them over his shoulders. Then he pulled me against him and put his arms around me, holding me snugly as he rested his head on my shoulder.

It was very nice. No kicks, no jabs, no over-the-shoulder back flips, no kung fu grip. And no chin. Just a cozily affectionate hug, and for no reason at all.

That’s my favorite kind of hug.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I Will Not Be Called a Braggy Pants This Week

At TARA, we started the 100 x 100 challenge on September 3rd. The object is to write at least 100 words each day for 100 days, with the ultimate goal of completing That Damned Manuscript in time for our annual holiday party in December. As noted in my previous blog entry, I have to write at least 1,000 words every day if I hope to complete TDM by that time.

One hundred words is really nothing. I rarely write fewer words than that when posting on the various forums and message boards where I’ve been known to goof off when I should be writing a book. I’ve written more than a hundred words here already.

Here is my progress for the first week:

Day 1- 2,444 words. YAY!

Day 2 - 1,629 words. I am the Word Goddess!

Day 3 – 1,741 words. It’s true what Mr. Lucky once told me many years ago, when he first fell in love with me. Yes, I am hot stuff.

Day 4 – 418 words. What can I say? It was Saturday, and obviously I get more done when Baby Bear is in school.

Day 5 – 100 words. And that’s an estimate. I went back over what I’d written so far, and started tinkering, and before I knew it, I was cutting stuff and completely lost track of the initial word count. I know I wrote at least 100 new words, possibly as many as two hundred, but I can’t swear to it. It didn’t help that my eleven year old and forty-three year old were fighting over the TV most of the day.

Day 6 – 282 words. By now I was officially in full-fledged “this story isn’t going to work” mode—the same mode that’s led to so many previous false starts this year. Having just e-mailed the first chapter to my critique partner, Jean, I felt I was now committed to writing this book all the way through—but I didn’t know where to go from here. At this point, the story could be easily resolved in Chapter 2. Not to mention there was zero chemistry between the hero and heroine. And I got no sympathy at all from Drill Sergeant Phyllis, who said, “If you had an amazing word count EVERY day, we’d just call you a braggy pants.”

Alas, the Word Goddess is but a mere mortal, who has to pick up other people’s stinky socks and unwad them before tossing them into the washer.

I was so frustrated and panicked by this morning—Day 7—that I actually resorted to the unthinkable: I cleaned the house!

Maybe it was the fumes from the Tidy Bowl cleaner, or maybe it was when I hit my head on the chandelier and had ghastly visions of chucking the whole writing thing and applying for one of those career opportunities at Wal-Mart, but somehow the solution came to me, and by this afternoon I was rewriting Chapter 2 and feeling as if this story might be crazy enough to work.

Day 7 – 1,314 words. Not bad.

Only 79,000 words to go.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I Have 100 Days to Write a Book

This last Sunday night, my critique partner Jean sent me an e-mail with Chapter 20 of her current work-in-progress (WIP) attached. She asked to see Chapter 1 of my newest WIP. (She just finished critiquing my previous manuscript.)

My heart sank like an anchor into the pit of my stomach. For one thing, my critique partner is also a math teacher, and as math was my worst subject in school, I have a highly irrational fear of math teachers. And for another thing, Jean is like Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction, in that she will not be ignored. She is an accountability fiend, one of the reasons I like working with her.

Alas, I don’t have the chapter. Well, I do—in fact, I have several Chapter 1’s—or would that be Chapters 1?— but none that I would let my dog read, let alone my critique partner. Heck, I don’t know if I’d even let my dog eat them.

I’ve started one manuscript after another this year—I count five false starts off the top of my head—yet after the first few chapters, everything goes pfft!—and the story stops dead in the water, like the Titanic after it struck the iceberg.

After much mulling and hair pulling, I conclude the problem is part change in work environment, and part confusion about what’s the right writing process for me, though I tend to think the two go hand in hand.

In the case of the former, I now have a spouse recently retired from the military, who hangs around the house all day, and likes to play the radio full blast on a station that’s not the same one I prefer when I’m writing. He won’t close his office door because, he says, it gets too hot in there otherwise. His radio sounds as if it’s piped in all over the house.

Once upon a time, I used to work in my office with the door open, while the stereo played my favorite station out in the family room. Lately I’ve had to close the door and forgo music, because of barking dogs, a husband who likes to switch off the stereo so he can change channels on the TV once he tires of his radio, and a sliding glass door right outside my office door. A lot of traffic goes in and out that door all day. And even the closed door doesn’t help. Just this morning, Mr. Lucky opened the door to say, “Did you know that no one else in the world has my name? I found this out on one of those online searches just now. I’m the only person on this planet with my name.”

“Yes, dear, I know.”
I even blogged about it recently.

I told him I needed a boom box for my office. Nothing fancy, just something that came with a radio and a CD player, so I could close my door and still have the music I needed to write. So we went out and bought the boom box, and I added about two thousand words to two thousand words already written on a new Chapter 1—for a total of approximately 4,000 words on my latest do-over.

I have never written a book without music playing in the background. I’ve learned to write without smoking—I quit when I married, but when I was single, I smoked a cigarette for every page I wrote. But I refuse to give up the music.

The other thing dragging me down is my determination to write a synopsis first. This springs from the once in a lifetime fluke event two years ago, when I had to produce a five page synopsis for a
TARA workshop. All the synopses I had on hand were at least 10 pages, and I couldn’t shorten any of them. So I wrote a five page synopsis for a book I’d never written, and except for a confusing resolution—which resolved itself once I wrote the actual book—it turned out better than I expected, and the book I went on to write followed it quite closely.

How did I do it? I don’t know. I only know I haven’t been able to duplicate that achievement since—meaning it wasn’t settled science for me—but a bloody miracle. On the positive side, I’ve since figured out how to halve my ten page synopses.

So I’ve started this new book my old-fashioned way, what I call the Indiana Jones School of Plotting, based on something he said in Raiders of the Lost Ark: “I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go.”

That, and fellow writer and TARA member Phyllis threw down her keyboard like a gauntlet that same Sunday night, and multiple-dog-dared me to write a complete book between now and the TARA holiday party in December.

We’re talking between 90-95,000 words. Can I do it? Will I do it?

It means at least a thousand words a day. I’ve written over a thousand words a day many times. But can I do it every day, for a hundred days, on the same manuscript?

I told Phyllis, “You’re on!”

I have four thousand down already. At least 86,000 more to go.