Thursday, August 30, 2012

For My Birthday: A Lesson in Geography

The mood is reflective today.  I’ve just passed a rather negative milestone in my life, and the words of comfort offered on the occasion have been quite interesting.

One dear friend wrote: “Each age and stage of life has its joys and trials, the challenge is embracing the joys and dealing with the rest. Hang in there!

My sister quipped: “You have now survived 70 glorious years!!! Congratulations!!! You have just added a new dimension to your illustrious life! Savor it!! Don't waste your life being unhappy about your age! Karl (her son, visiting her at the time) and I are having a good time and he wishes you a happy 7th decade. He says there's nothing wrong with not having died. Hear hear!”

And from my daughter: “I honestly don’t think you’ve changed a bit in the last 20 years.”  A very much appreciated lie.

 Then came this classic from my sister-in-law:

 Geography of a Woman

Between 18 and 22, a woman is like Africa. Half discovered, half wild, fertile and naturally Beautiful! 
Between 23 and 30, a woman is like Europe. Well developed and open to trade, especially for someone of real value.
 Between 31 and 35, a woman is like Spain, very hot, relaxed and convinced of her own beauty.
 Between 36 and 40, a woman is like Greece, gently aging but still a warm and desirable place to visit.
Between 41 and 50, a woman is like Great Britain, with a glorious and all-conquering past.
Between 51 and 60, a woman is like Israel, has been through war, doesn't make the same mistakes twice, takes care of business.
   Between 61 and 70, a woman is like Canada, self-preserving, but open to meeting new people.
After 70, she becomes Tibet. Wildly beautiful, with a mysterious past and the wisdom of the ages. An adventurous spirit and a thirst for spiritual knowledge.

 Geography of a Man

Between 1 and 80, a man is like Iran,
ruled by nuts.

But I shall leave you with the wise words of my father-in-law on the occassion of my much more devastating 30th birthday: "Would you really trade everything you've done, everything you've learned and experienced, to be younger again?"

I trust you wouldn't!

Hugs to all,

Friday, August 24, 2012

Connie Reeves Cooke turns it up in Cayman Heat

A new series introducing private investigator Koral Sanders

 A multi-millionaire Houston attorney disappears on a dive along Grand Cayman’s treacherous North Wall. Two years later his skeletal remains are found tied to the coral in a deep underwater cave. So obviously this was no accident.  
The Cayman police chief, Aron Ebanks, reopens the case as a murder and calls on the investigative skills of ex-Houstonian Koral Sanders. Word reaches the lofty offices and River Oaks mansions of Houston’s elite. Almost immediately a strange assortment of millionaires and misfits descend on Grand Cayman and stuff starts happening right and left. The mystery twists and turns until it’s impossible to tell the guilty from the innocent.

 The characters of this searing whodunit are totally involving. I wasn’t even halfway through when it hit me what a terrific weekly TV drama this would be. First you have endless possibilities in the Caymans: the cruise ships, the famously secretive international banks, the über wealthy, the tourist attractions - as well as the seedy, chicken-infested hangouts of the lesser privileged. 
Connie Reeves Cooke
Next you have the appeal of the characters. There’s Koral Sanders, the somewhat jaded Texan who’s opted for the enchantment of the Caymans. Capable, coolly logical, tough-talking, unimpressed by high society, she’s perfect for the job. Aron Ebanks, the Caymanian police chief, is fatherly but thoroughly professional. Koral’s assistant, Sam Roberts, makes a brief appearance at the beginning, then goes off on vacation. Perhaps we’ll see more of him in Cayman Wind. The cast is further enhanced when Koral takes in a chihuahua named Cheetah and a salty parrot called Buzzard, both of whom have crime-fighting potential.

Cayman Heat is a well-woven, fast-paced mystery and the action gets pretty intense. Cooke has definitely done it again. And I wanna see Cayman Wind NOW.

Monday, August 20, 2012

EggArt by GlenGary

The exquisite and unique egg art of Glenis Thomas is the toast of Wellington…

…which came as a bit of a surprise since I knew her only as the author of the definitive blueberry cookbook.  I’ve raved about her blueberry recipes several times in this blog. Finally, as in the case of the “dough ditties” art of my editor, I looked a little deeper. And a whole new world of wonder opened up. Let’s go to scenic New Zealand and start from the beginning.
Paremata and the Pauatahanui Inlet.

GlenGary Cottage & Gardens
The first thing you notice at GlenGary Cottage is the amazing view. The building was craned into place beside the Thomas home in 2001 to accommodate the growing business. Tucked around the cottage are several delightful, color-themed gardens for which Glenis has won a community award.

EggArt by GlenGary began in 1999 as a mail order egg art and craft supplies by Glenis and Gary Thomas – hence the name. Though this branch of the enterprise closed in 2008, Glenis continues to teach and promote eggshell artistry. The Wellington Eggcrafters Club,  workshops, craft shows, and exhibitions are the direct result.  Glenis was the national president of the Egg Artistry Club of New Zealand for 5 years. Her Imperial Red Egg made it into the finals of the Forbes Faberge Style Egg competition.
The Imperial Red
And the credits keep piling up: “I have been on TV 4 times, twice featured as an egg artist on the Good Morning Show when I was making them for my fabric biz Heart Stuff in the 80's- 90s, and once when there was a huge fire on the hills opposite my home and we were evacuated. I have also been interviewed on New Zealand’s National Radio about my egg art and recipe book.  Local and national  newspapers have had several articles over the years about my creative adventures.

 “I have until November to get a new egg art design done and a tutorial written up plus my bio (5 pages) - as I am the featured artist for the January International Egg Art Guild quarterly magazine. Quite an honour to be asked.”

The White Rose designed for Yulia
 But what really blew me away was the TV interview from which I learned Glenis had created an heirloom egg to hold the ring for the 2008 wedding of Russian-born singer Yulia and Glyn McLean, a gift that led to several commissions. Glenis and I have been emailing for years, but this was my first opportunity to hear her voice and see her in action.

Glenis Thomas
AND…this celebrity and master of such a stunningly meticulous craft friended me on Facebook!  Her page is a feast for the eyes and every other way, because she also posts her culinary inventions. In fact, if you were to go there right now you’d see the most spectacular display of cakes imaginable. Glenis hastened to admit, however, that these creations actually belonged to Rhonda’s Rose Cottage Designs, which she linked on her site. Whew! I’m actually relieved. But I can certainly see kindred spirits there…
Left: eggs with matching gift boxes. Center: Emerald Surprise. Doors
on all sides open to reveal pictures. Right: classic picture egg.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Larry McMurtry, famed Texas novelist/bookseller decides to downsize

Seeks to reduce stock by 300,000 books

The New York Times reports more than 150 collectors queued up to begin bidding last Friday.  McMurtry’s literary treasure trove sprawls through four buildings in Archer City, Texas – a prairie town of 1,800 souls about 150 miles northwest of Dallas.
“I’ve never seen that many people lined up in Archer City,” McMurtry  said. “And I’m sure I never will again.”

McMurtry opened his store, called Booked Up, in 1988. His goal now is to whittle down his inventory to just one building of 150,000 books to be managed by his heirs.  “One store is manageable,” he said. “Four stores would be a burden.”

But I gotta ask: how the heck do you cull such a vast collection of “fine, rare & scholarly books?” McMurtry must’ve been at it since 1989.

Archer City, by the way, was the setting for “The Last Picture Show,” one of McMurtry’s many best-sellers that made its way to film. Thursday, according to NY Times reported John Williams, it was 110 degrees with not a patch of shade in sight.
Bidders and guests squeezed into narrow rows of chairs, clapping as McMurtry walked slowly toward the auction block and picked up a microphone. Dollar amounts climbed early for a special selection of 101 books, hand-picked by McMurtry himself. The weekend event attracted collectors and book dealers from all over the country. An attendee from Tampa, Fla., spoke for many when he said, “Even if I walked away with nothing, I wanted to be here.”

It prompted Mr. McMurtry to respond, “It’s become an event that’s transcended its literal purpose.”
Larry McMurty is the author of “Lonesome Dove,” “The Last Picture Show,” “Terms of Endearment,” and dozens more. Besides his impressive list of best-sellers, he’s won Pultizers and Academy Awards. About the rise of e-books, McMurtry insists: “All the controversies about the Kindle don’t have much impact on the rare book business. I think a good bookstore will not suffer.”
And so many more!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dough Ditties

In the hands of Mary Sell, common ingredients yield a wide array of unique ornamental art

I know the artist best as my patient, long suffering editor – but that’s just the tip of her talents. Way back when, I knew her only casually at a church outside West Lafayette, Indiana. Later it was her husband, Stan, who stepped up to become the Head of Transportation and All Else for my folks after I moved back to Texas. I can’t even remember how I discovered Mary’s grammatical prowess. I do remember not to send manuscripts around the holidays when orders for dough ditties pile up!
But I digress.
Acorn Baby - designed for
March of Dimes
So…what are dough ditties? Quite literally, they’re objects made out of dough. The recipe is very ancient, dating back to the Aztecs or Incas. It’s published in her blog: How it is then processed into these intriguing figures requires more patience and skill than I can imagine. But if you do happen to be endowed with such enviable qualities, check out her blog. She explains it all. Many more of her pieces are featured on her website: . The variety boggles the mind.

Highland couple cake topper
Is anyone else practicing this obscure craft? Actually, some 30+ years ago, she apprenticed with the now world-renown dollmaker Diana Effner. You’ve probably seen ads for Diana’s work in women’s magazines. And, yes, there are others. Since the styles and subject matter of each artist are so distinctive, there’s no real competition. Searching "salt dough ornaments" or "bread dough ornaments" will show you what others are doing.

What led her to dough ditties, I had to ask. “When I was in my 20s, I started making dolls. I used papier mâché, corn husks, oven-baked clays - just about everything. Stan and I were exhibiting at a doll show when we met a young doll artist named Diana Effner and her husband Randy.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Mary Sell
Mary Sell grew up in Hammond, Indiana. She graduated from Purdue with a degree in English education, married Stan, and taught high school English until deciding that being a disciplinarian was not for her. For fifteen years she and Stan lived in the woods without electricity, sustained by their crafts and their huge garden. Their son Adam was born during this time. She remembers it as the best years of her life.
Not until 1992 did they enter the more traditional suburban scene (with electricity) where Mary worked as a legal secretary until retirement. Of course, when she’s not laboring letter-by-letter through my manuscripts, she still makes and markets dough ditties.
Rossville Gothic - a custom order
for a client's parents
Now, Mary confesses, she’s winding down her enterprise, though orders from regulars continue to keep her busy. She also continues to be one amazing lady.  More than a grammar girl, her ideas and encouragement have enhanced my stories immeasurably. Her knowledge and memories added a whole chapter and a book cover to my sci-fi, The Hundredth Spring, which is rooted in nearby Medaryville, Indiana. (I do hope that work gets Out There sometime…)

  Text tech, artist, friend - this brief blog entry doesn’t begin to do her justice.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Oops. Chico’s in the dog house

No matter how sweet and gentle an animal has been thus far, TEST HIM before entering a therapy situation.   Yes, I’d attempted to get in touch with a therapy animal program before taking him visiting at a nursing home. I never got a response. Finally I decided to go ahead. The home I’d contacted was anxious to have pets visit, so I brazenly went anyway.

You may recall back when I first posted about the experience, that he had snapped at a couple of people trying to cuddle him. I should never have dismissed it as first day jitters. He did it again last Wednesday, and that even after Husband took him on a long, exhausting walk so he’d be in a cuddlier mood for his visit.
So I tried again to reach the therapy program, this time armed with email addresses and administrators’ names. And this time they responded – most graciously, in fact. 
There are a number of vital steps to entering an animal in the program. There are orientation workshops for interested pet owners, followed by individual evaluations of obedience and temperament. Tests include reactions to sudden noises, ear pulling, etc. They also need to sit, stay, fetch, and come when called. It’s a process that takes about a month to complete.

If said animal passes muster, they go on supervised visitations. If all goes well, they can be licensed and insured. But temperament tests are repeated every year to be sure no nasty habits or ouchy ailments have developed.
So no matter how wonderful Fido has been so far, it’s not proof he’ll be sweet and docile in every situation. If I’d done this properly, I would’ve discovered Chico didn’t take to the elderly.  

It would’ve saved the heartbreak of severing bonds with folks who were becoming dear to me.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Paperback Revolution

 Still not sure about e-books? Well, guess what! Fifty years ago something ELSE nearly destroyed the industry.

Back in 1939, John Steinbeck’s bestseller The Grapes of Wrath sold for $2.75. Obviously, at a time of 20% unemployment, that was an impossible expense.
But in just one day, a man named Robert de Graff changed all that. Paperbacks.  At 25¢ a pop. No, he didn’t originate the idea. The Germans were doing it in 1931, followed by Penguin Books in Britain by 1935. Without the Internet, you see, it takes a while for ideas to cross the pond.

They were called Pocket Books. The test run of 100,000 copies included 10 titles – mostly classics plus a few modern hits – was introduced by an ad in the New York Times. Despite extreme misgivings on the part of de Graff’s partners at Simon & Schuster, it took less than a week for every last paperback to leave the shelf. America’s reading habits were forever transformed.
Quantity was key. Print 100,000 paperbacks, and the cost could plummet to 10¢ per book. But where to send them? There were only 500 bookstores in the entire country. So de Graff came up with a new twist: he used magazine distributers to place Pocket Books in newsstands, subway stations, drugstores and other non-traditional book venues.

He also realized that for mass marketability, one couldn’t just offer the classics. More pedestrian fare with colorful, eye-catching covers could launch a whole new reading demographic. The operative word being “graphic.”

Racy paperback covers peaked in 1948 with John Erskin’s The Private Life of Helen of Troy, the cover of which featured a woman in a sheer toga, nipples plainly visible. The matter reached the House of Representatives committee on porn, but after four years of hearings, none of the censorship proposals had taken effect.  By 1952, you know, politicians had a bigger problem: Communism.
Meanwhile, even in light of the paperback’s smashing success, publishers continued to balk at the idea. “It will undermine the whole structure of publishing,” screamed Doubleday. Oh, dear. Didn’t I just say that about e-books?

Well, obviously hardcovers haven’t died out. Likely never will. And as I gaze from a 2” flashdrive (which holds every novel I’ve ever written) to the wall-to-wall bookcases of my home, I can see that I’ll soon learn to curl up with a Nook as well as a book.