Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Surviving a Knife Fight with a Zombie Biker Gang

I don’t often update my blog lately except for book reviews. Most of the time, it’s because I’m spending every free moment writing novels. (Writing blog posts takes longer than you’d think.)
But a lot of other things have been going on, so in the brief moment where I don’t feel like I’ve been beaten by a zombie biker gang and left for dead, I thought I’d write an update.

I’ve been having odd health issues for a while—okay, a year. But doctors haven’t been able to diagnose anything because my symptoms didn’t make sense. To make a frustrating story short, a spinal surgeon finally ordered an x-rayed and said, “Uh, wow…Are you sure you're not in a lot of pain? Your neck is really beaten up. It looks like the neck of an 80-year-old.” Gee, thanks.

So I found myself having surgery on a Saturday morning. I asked about recovery, medications, etc. The surgeon talked about how I might have trouble swallowing and talking, but he’d make sure I’d have this really great looking scar. And since I didn’t have folds in the skin of my neck, it would take extra surgical skill and coolness (my words, not his).

I am recovering and am the owner of two artificial discs, have had my vertebrae roto-rootered because of root nerve compressions, and have a very cool scar. Honestly, I don’t care if the scar looked like a railroad track disaster, but everyone else does. My chemist son oohs and ahs over the deep tissue sutures and especially the skin adhesive, waxing eloquent about plastic coating and hydrogen bonding (dipole-dipole interactions), London dispersion forces, van der Waal interactions, etc. (Yay! So excited about that, except, you know, not.) My husband’s retinal surgeon also took time to check out my scar and wanted to know who’d done the surgery since it was a class-act. (My husband had four emergency eye surgeries during this time. Neither of us was allowed to drive. So we are thankful to our daughter who came up from Atlanta—she and the chemist became the Patient Management Team.)

In the meantime, I try to write, which has been very difficult, especially on high doses of Percocet and Valium. However, the Valium dosages are going down and words are flowing again. I’m so very thankful. As is the rest of my family—there is no creature quite so difficult as a writer who’s not writing.

Yes, they often go in through the front of
the neck to do surgery on the spine.

Here’s a photo of my “very cool” scar. Honestly, right now it still looks a little gross—though I’m assured that won’t last. But I’d kind of like it to look gritty—because then I could make up this great story about how I survived a knife fight with a zombie biker gang using only my wits and a set of car keys. Alas, I had a very skilled surgeon.


Sadly, you can hardly see the scar. :(
Here’s me writing. It takes too much energy to get dressed first thing in the morning—so I write in my leopard pajamas. When I’m tired and my arms are burning, I get dressed for the day. Writers write—and you do whatever it takes.

Friday, September 22, 2017

How to Set a Table, Book Review

As someone who's both entertained and provided hospitality for years (not the same thing), I was curious about How to Set a Tablet. After reading through it several times, I think it’s a great little introduction to having people into your home for meals (though probably not that helpful to those who aren't just starting).

Like any good introduction, this book begins by explaining the “pieces,” detailing each part of tableware from plates, serving ware, linens, and glassware and explaining their roles. For example, the book explains the differences between porcelain, earthenware, and stoneware and does the same for stemware, i.e., why red wine glasses have a different shape than white wine glasses. However, lest you feel intimidated, the book assures you that a much more casual approach is equally valid. And, honestly, most guests are more comfortable with a casual approach where they don’t have to wonder which glass is meant for what.

Finally, the book has suggestions for all types of shared meals. Everything from formal dinner parties, wine and cheese get-togethers, BBQs, picnics, and even how to make take-out meals something guests will relish. Personally, I loved the section where the book gave suggestions about how to plan and care for guests that are early risers. We sometimes have guests from different time zones, and I really, really don’t want to get up at 4am. So I was able to pick some hints about how to provide for guests' comfort and needs without getting up during the middle of the night.

I must mention that the book is full of lovely photos that will inspire you to think outside of traditional table setting and imbuing the meals with warmth and friendliness, which is the goal of having people into your home.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Gatlinburg, Just Another Day in Bearadise

Thursday at 3 am, I woke up to banging. At first, I thought the kids were playing pool, and though 3 am isn’t an appropriate time to play pool, I thought that maybe they couldn’t sleep.
My pool shark

Then, the sounds got louder and louder and followed by thuds, and I thought maybe one of the kids was sleepwalking and fell.

Then, there was a loud boom, and Calvin woke up. He said, “The raccoons are in the garbage.” We did have a raccoon in the garbage the night before.

As Calvin and I walked to the back door (the trash cans were on the second-floor deck), I said, “Sweetheart, that must be a family of raccoons to make that much noise.”

I switched on all the lights. The noises became very loud. I said, “Baby, be careful.”

Calvin unlocked the door and peeked out. “Uh, Connie, the trash can is gone.”

I said, “You’ve got to be kidding. That was a massive rubbish can.”

Calvin: “See for yourself.”

So I did. The trash can lid and the slate rock that we put on top of the can to keep out the raccoons were nicely laid on the deck floor. And the trash can was gone.

Cal turned on a flashlight, and we peered over the edge of the railing. Down on the ground was a black bear feasting on our garbage. Cal and I debated the size of the bear. I leaned toward 250 lbs. Cal pointed out that the bear was more than two stories away from us and probably weighed closer to 400 lbs. (According to Wikipedia, black bears can weigh anywhere from 160 to 550 lbs.) Maybe Calvin was correct.

The deck with a similar trash can
and the tree the bear climbed.
This hulking animal had to have climbed a tree and then leapt onto the deck. Happily situated on the deck, he removed the slate rock and the trash can lid. When I turned on the lights, he tossed the trash can over the railing and climbed down to finish dinner.

I called the State of Tennessee Bear Sighting hotline. They took down all my information for the bear tracker/relocation specialist.
Clearly, not the bear that visited our deck,
but photos taken at 3 am don't turn
out well. 

 Apparently, my new friend will be moved to the Cohutta Wilderness, which is where the “naughty” bears are relocated. I'm hoping that the process is anonymous—the Cohutta Wilderness is only 60 miles from our home in Chattanooga, and I’d prefer it if my bear buddy didn’t renew our friendship.

N.B. We ended up seeing 9 different bears (including the cute one on the right) during our trip to Gatlinburg this year. Because of the wildfires in November 2016, there is significantly less food available this year and the bears are becoming bolder to get the necessary body fat to survive the winter. We spoke to a local woman who told us that bears are figuring out how to open doors—her brother found a bear inside his truck because it had opened the door. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Tea Planter's Wife Book Review

The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dina Jefferies is a Rebecca meets Jane Eyre set in Ceylon in early twentieth century.

As a historical novel, Jefferies has done a wonderful job of recreating the Ceylon of the 1920s and ’30s vivid detail, both in terms of the lush physical setting and the cultural milieu. The author does so cleanly by integrating the details into the action and character development, so the reader isn’t tempted to skip paragraphs in order to “get back to the story.”

Another aspect that I appreciated was the raw and honest look at a loving marriage. While there are many secrets and lies in Gwen and Laurence’s marriage, they truly love each other. The readers sees that not only in the sacrifices the characters make, but also in the physical love they have for each other, which I found very refreshing. Often, it seems that the last “taboo” in novels is sexual delight between married people. That said, there are many frank instances of sex between the couple, but the scenes avoid eroticism.

The only difficulty I had with the novel was that the author occasionally lapsed into telling the reader things that could be gleaned from the text. Though that happened less often in the second half of the novel.

All in all, a very enjoyable book. I’d give it 4.5 stars. And I’ll definitely read other novels by this author.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Novel Editing

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This is what life looks like the day after you get an edit letter from your literary agent. But there's nothing that can't be conquered without tea, biscuits, highlighters, and lots of post-it flags.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Somebody's Baby Book Review

Somebody’s Baby by Lurlene McDaniel

Winning a reality TV singing contest changes the course of Sloane Gabriel’s life from her abused childhood to a music career complete with a manager, recording contract, and touring schedule. But it’s never easy to leave your past behind, especially when your new notoriety introduces you to a woman dying of cancer who claims to be your half-sister. Thus, begins Sloane’s journey not only into the sufferings of her past, but through them into a present where she finds forgiveness, peace, and the love she never had.

I enjoyed many aspects of this novel, but especially Sloane, who is an amazing character—a combination of strength and fragility. McDaniel nails the character’s complexity, treating her with compassion and respect, which is especially important with Sloane, a character in a previous McDaniel novel*, who made very difficult choices and now has to deal with the fallout. Over the course of the novel, the reader sees Sloane develop and grow, and you can’t help rooting for Sloane as her suffering and circumstances change her into a person who can love and care for others.

The plotting of the novel was excellent—there was never a section where I was bored or wanted to put the novel down. And all of the action propelled the novel and helped to develop the characters. The writing itself was very clean, the author never intrudes on the story—it’s always about Sloane and the people in her life.

In the end, I have to agree with the Bustle.com review, which says, “Sorry, John Green fans, but McDaniel’s been making us cry . . . for decades.” —Bustle.com

That says it all. Five star YA novel!

*If you haven’t read Losing Gabriel, no worries, this novel stands alone and the author makes sure you know everything you need to know—good thing, because I forgot a lot.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

White Clam Pizza

Lately, I've been writing and editing my new novel (which accounts for the very few blog posts I've written). In spite of the consuming busyness of writing, I got a nostalgic craving for white clam pizza (made with cheese, clams, garlic, oregano, olive oil, etc.). It's been 11 years...

Pepe's white clam pizza was one of the last meals my husband and I had before we moved from Connecticut. So I searched the web and found a recipe. It wasn't as good as Pepe's...but that might be because instead of using Parmesan, I grabbed the wrong cheese from the refrigerator (a Spanish cheese flavored with agave) by accident. But it was delicious anyway.

Click here if you'd like to give white clam pizza a try. YUM!