Friday, July 27, 2012

Nosing Around in My HDHP

This has been the month for doctor's appointments for me. Not necessarily because I've needed all of them but because on July 1st the HDHP medical coverage that I have began its new fiscal year and I thought it would be a good idea to get a jump on getting my deductible paid.  For several years now I've participated in the HDHP that my company has offered and I get the sneaky feeling that this will be the year when I may need a few extra things done here or there and I want to make sure I've got a full year to get them all done.

If you're not familiar with the term HDHP, it's a high deductible health plan with lower premiums and higher deductibles than a traditional health plan. When they were going over plans at one of our annual health benefits meetings I decided that an HDHP might be the perfect plan for me as the representative said, "It's a great plan if you never go to the doctor and a pretty good plan if you go all the time." For the most part, I very rarely go to the doctor and take no prescription drugs so for me, a traditional health plan is money sort of wasted. I paid the deductibles every month no matter whether I went to the doctor or not and that was it, the money was gone. Poof!

With the high deductible health plan, I still pay a premium every month but it's a lower premium plus some of it goes into a health savings account along with whatever amount (up to a limit, of course) that I want to designate. The funds contributed to my account are not subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit and unlike a flexible spending account where if you don't use 'em, you lose 'em, the funds in my HSA roll over and accumulate from year to year. So what that means is that if I don't use any of the money in my HSA for any qualified medical expenses from one year to another, when there comes a year when I'm going to have to make the high deductible, I can use the money that has already been put aside and it doesn't cost me anything additional out-of-pocket.

The best part is that once I make that deductible for the year (in my case it's $2,000) everything else for the year is paid 100% so if I know there's going to be a year when I might need to have a lot done (like this year) it behooves me to have my appointments and meet my deductible early which is the long way around explaining why I've had a lot of doctor's appointments this month!

Truth be told, a lot of those appointments won't go towards my deductible as wellness benefits like mammograms, annual physicals, etc. are already covered 100% but the appointment I had last week with my ortho doc to discuss the tingling and numbness I've had going on in my left toes and left arm will go towards the deductible (I suspect my herniated discs are acting up again) and the two appointments that I had at Advanced Dermatology should also.

As I'd never had a skin check, my primary doctor thought it would be a good idea to have one so when I made the appointment to do that,I was a bit surprised to find out that the annoying little spot I've had on the end of my nose for awhile was actually a precancerous thing. Yikes! It probably could have been taken care of that same appointment except for the fact that when I went, I was still a bit sunburned from my whale watch to Newburyport with Barb. Oops!

Fast forward three weeks and today was my return appointment.  As my nose was declared to be nice and healed from the sunburn, the doctor went ahead with freezing the precancerous spots with liquid nitrogen (a mere 200 degrees below 0 I was told!) which he said was going to sting - a lot. Guess what? It stung. A lot. He also said that it was going to make my eyes water and guess what? Yep, they did!

When I got out to the car and took a look in the rear view mirror I thought I bore a a striking resemblance to W.C. Fields so I did what any good blogger/Facebooker would do and snapped a picture of my nice red nose to share with the world.

Fortunately the pain wasn't too bad, just some stinging and throbbing for about an hour or so but a couple of Tylenol seemed to take care of that and I was able to go about my day as normal giving no more thought to my nose than I usually do - which is pretty much never unless my allergies are acting up!

As of this writing, it doesn't hurt at all but it's still pretty red at the tip where they froze it though looking at the picture, I suspect it looks about as it usually does!  Just wait till it scabs over and falls off, though, I suspect that will be a whole different look!  Oh, not my whole nose of course!  Just the spots that were frozen!

So, with those two appointments over, a nerve conduction test looming for my left arm (and if I thought the liquid nitrogen hurt - ha!), and being of the proper age for a colonoscopy also, I suspect that my high deductible will be out of the way quite soon and then I've got the rest of the year to take care of any other problems that might crop up.  Though hopefully none will!  Unless that nerve study shows a return of carpal tunnel which I have a sneaky feeling may be the case. I guess we shall see! 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thursday Thoughts & Things

First and foremost, a very happy 19th birthday to my baby who is up in Ontario and - as best I can tell - planning on staying there as long as she possibly can.  This is the second year in a row that Jamie hasn't been around for her birthday as she was up in Manitoba last year for her 18th and I missed her last year just as I'll miss her again this year. I'm not going to lie - even though I do miss her and wish she were home, I don't miss the constant arguing that she and Amanda seemed to want to engage in.  It would have been great if Jamie had been home for her birthday but she's technically an adult now and can make her own decision on where she wants to live.  Not that I ever thought it would be Canada though!  Anyhow, I'm hoping to take a trip up that way to see her soon and to bring her a few of her things and hopefully we'll be able to celebrate her birthday then - belatedly but better late than never!  In the meantime Jamie - happy birthday!  I hope you do something special for you today and have cake - ya gotta have cake on your birthday!

Secondly, yesterday marked the 6th anniversary of my blog which for some reason, I thought was the 5th anniversary!  Just goes to show how much attention I've been paying to this particular blog lately!  I've been a little swamped (overwhelmed?) with trying to keep up with "Travels With Nathaniel" and occasionally tossing something new up at "The Distracted Wanderer" in between work and everything else so this blog has sort of taken a backseat lately.  That's not to say that I don't think about posting over here - I just never seem to get the time!  Hand-in-hand with that is visiting other blogs as lately there just do not seem to be enough hours in the day!  Trust me, I do miss all of you and try to get around at least once a week but some weeks are gone before I even know it so please forgive me if I am absent more than I'm present.

A quick side note on this blog, I have decided to start doing the occasional paid post again as an offer was made and it was quite reasonable and a little extra money for wandering never hurts. Please feel free to ignore those posts, it will probably be quite easy to see which ones are the paid ones as they are going to be for travel destinations that I've probably never even heard of - never mind been to!  Unless of course I post about someplace you've been to - in that case, feel free to chime in!

Finally, in spite of all that's been going on lately - and it's been a lot it seems - Cyndi has been uppermost in my mind quite a bit.  I seem to be having more times when I get the urge to call her than before and every time I realize that she's no longer there, it still comes back and hits me upside the heart a little bit.  I was having coffee at work the other day out of my beloved Cancun coffee cup that she got me and out of nowhere I found I had a big ol' lump in my throat. Then today, while driving back from dropping Amanda at a friend's house in Quincy, Massachusetts yesterday evening I had lots of time to think and sure enough, Cyndi was there in the forefront of those thoughts.

I'd like to think that maybe she's up there watching over me a little bit though if I know her and the Mama Bear that she always was, she's up there watching over Daniel like a hawk (after all, that was her last name!) and making sure that they're treating him right at the home he's in.  I suspect she takes the occasional side glance to see how Angela is doing but as Angela received her Doctorate in History before Cyndi died, I'm pretty sure she's not too worried about her daughter who has always had a really good head on her shoulders. She most definitely took after her Mom!

Anyhow, with all of that thinking about my old friend and missing the heck out of her, it really came as no surprise that when I went back to look at my very first post on this blog, there was a comment from her.  Cyndi didn't comment often but when she did, it was always a gift and I'm so glad that I've got those little gifts scattered here and there throughout the last six years of writing.  I just so wish I had been able to talk her into her own blog but alas, she always felt like she never had anything all that important to say.  Well heck, it never stopped me!  

A happy Thursday to all! 

Expanding My Knowledge of Geography and Cool Places to Visit

Yesterday at work I was chatting with a couple of co-workers about the fact that I had no idea about Turkey not being a landlocked country and how apparently ignorant I am of geography outside of North America.  I mean, I know where the major continents are and where some of the major countries are - like Great Britain and Germany and France and Spain - but when it comes to other parts of the world, I'm downright clueless and I find that to be a bit dismaying as I like to consider myself to be a fairly well-educated person even though I don't hold a college degree. Granted, that's not to say that everyone who holds a college degree is good at geography either but you know what I mean!

So then we got to talking about land formations and the different types like atolls and archipelagos and barrier islands and things like that and it was a bit comforting to know that my co-workers were just as stumped as I was about their differences or really even what they were to begin with!  For example, I was checking out holidays in Lanzarote on-line the other day and the place looked pretty interesting but first I had to find out where Lanzarote even is because honestly, I had no clue!  A little research and ah-ha! Lanzarote is part of the Canary Islands which is off the coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean.  But what exactly are the Canary Islands? More research and now I know that they are a Spanish archipelago located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa. Ok, but what's an archipelago? More research and I'm now armed with the knowledge that they are a chain or cluster of islands which are often volcanic but not always so.

Of course all of this just makes me have even more questions like - if the Canary Islands are off the coast of Africa, why do they belong to Spain when geographically, they're part of Africa?  And if they're volcanic islands, why would anyone want to go visit them?  Then it dawned on me that ... duh, idiot, the Hawaiian Islands are volcanic islands, they're an archipelago (along with an atoll or two!), and they're nowhere near America and yet we laid claim to them and thousands and thousands of tourists flock there every year because of the climate and the natural beauty.  Obviously I haven't been one of those tourists or I'm sure that I would have known all this beforehand and I could have easily compared the Canary Islands with the Hawaiian Islands - they're just in the Atlantic Ocean and not the Pacific.

After looking at a few more maps, it turns out from where I live that I'd be better off visiting the Canary Islands should I wish to visit an archipelago as with a distance between Connecticut and Honolulu of about 5,108 miles and a distance of 3,318 miles to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands - Las Palmas is a lot closer!  Who knew?  Well obviously not me until the other day!

I really need to expand my knowledge of geography - and cool places to visit for when I win the lottery and can leave dispatching behind and travel the world!  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Boulevard of Broken Machines


While this past week saw New England suffering from some pretty sultry summer weather (which has thankfully passed for now!), it also saw Amanda up to her eyeballs in a few sewing projects that had her stressed to the max while she spent hour after hour sitting at her trusty Singer sewing machine that had been given to her by a family friend. With Otakon, the annual fan convention in Baltimore that celebrates pretty much every type of pop culture you can imagine from comics to movies to television shows, fast approaching and costumes to get finished in time for the big event, Amanda was really starting to feel the pressure of deadlines combined with the full effects of Murphy's Law which had kicked in big time.  If anything could go wrong with the major project that she had to do, it did and it did it in a big way.

As I worked on my own projects writing about my latest travels with mini-Nathaniel to places like Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, several historic homes in Gloucester, and a patriotic museum in Concord, Amanda slaved over her Singer and worked on what I dubbed to be "The Dress From Hell".  One of her friends had asked her if she could create a costume based on a character from the cartoon series "My Little Pony"; her friend wanted a dress looking like the one Pinkie Pie was wearing below and as Amanda owed her friend some money, she figured that was a good way to pay her back.



Even though it didn't look to Amanda like it was going to be that difficult of a project when she first envisioned it, that turned out not to be the case at all. With a row of embroidered candy corn and lollipops, scalloped hems, numerous bows, and three peplums below the vest and above the floor-length skirt along with a slew of other details, she really had her work cut out for her (no sewing pun intended!)  Add on the fact that the gal she was making the dress for made several major changes mid-project and Amanda was darn near ready for a ride to the local mental health facility halfway into the project.

To make matters worse, last Friday evening she had a bit of a scare when she was trying to bleach a pair of sand-colored shorts white and, following an on-line tutorial, mixed a bit of bleach and white vinegar together.  Double-checking another internet source she found that mixing the two together could result in chlorine gas and fatal poisoning which thankfully didn't happen but which raised her stress levels to near-critical.  Follow that up with our visit from the bat in the wee hours of the morning and I was definitely thinking of putting an ambulance on standby for her!  Not knowing what else to do, I had her take a couple of Tylenol PM and crash in my room as her stress was also causing her not to sleep and the kid really needed to get some sleep!

In the meantime though, "The Dress From Hell" waited and watched as Amanda - after having finally slept for a good solid eight hours - awoke to take on the candy corn and lollipop appliques.  Thankfully that part of it went more or less fairly well but when it got to the point where she had to gather the numerous peplums to sew to the vest, things started to go downhill again as the machine stitches just weren't gathering properly.  Having pity on her, I grabbed needle and thread and hand-sewed in basting stitches that were easier to gather together and soon work was back in progress.  Or I should say it was back in progress until her trusty Singer sewing machine had a fatal accident at 4:00 in the morning.

Having to go to work for my usual 16-hour double on Tuesday, I had gone to bed fairly late on Monday night  leaving Amanda to sew the peplums together after helping out with the whole gathering fiasco.  Around 4:00 I awoke to what I could have sworn was sobbing coming from the dining room where Amanda had been working and when I groggily opened my bedroom door to find out what was going on (please, Lord, not another bat!), I found Amanda in tears holding a metal piece from her sewing machine that had not just bent but had snapped clean in half.  Oh dear ... this wasn't good.  This wasn't good at all.

I finally convinced her to go to bed and try to get some sleep as there was nothing that could be done for it at that time of the morning.  I told her to take a few more Tylenol PM as she had a raging headache on top of everything else so she did and off to bed she sobbingly went while I was apparently up way too early for the long day that was ahead of me as there was no way I was going to be able to sleep as I wracked my brain as to how this particular dilemma was going to be solved. I had a sewing machine myself but it had been broken years ago by my ex-husband when he tried to sew material that was too heavy for it and all it did was spaghetti the bobbin thread so it was of no use and we sure couldn't afford to buy a new machine. I went to work not knowing how this project was ever going to end and hoping that Amanda could get some sleep and try to calm down.

Later in the day when Amanda finally woke up, she called me to tell me that a couple of her friends were coming down from Quincy, Massachusetts and they were bringing sewing machines with them.  The cavalry was on the way!  And they even brought pizza!  Having Kait and Melissa here to help out really, really helped - as did having access to a sewing machine that worked - as when I came home from work at 11:00 p.m. "The Dress From Hell" was almost totally completed. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!


Above was the dreaded dress as I last saw it on the dress form in the living room (not posterized of course!) for when I got up the next morning to go to work it was packed into its shipping box and merely awaited my taking it to the Post Office after work and getting it the heck out of my house.  I'm pretty sure that I have never been so happy to mail a package in my entire life! While there I also mailed out another package to another of Amanda's friends in Alabama - another costume that she had made but that had been a cake-walk compared to "The Dress From Hell".

There were still projects to be done though as Amanda had another commission for a jacket that she felt would be quite easy compared to Pinkie Pie's ballgown.  As her machine was obviously still dead, Kait left her old Kenmore machine behind for Amanda to use when she returned to Quincy.  The Kenmore had had some problems in the past but Cait was confident that her Dad had fixed it but alas, that turned out not to be the case as shortly into the project, the machine started not picking up the bobbin thread.  Oh no, here we go again.

I contacted a work friend of mine that I knew had a machine to ask her if Amanda could borrow it; it was an older Singer that hadn't been out of the attic for a few years but Lori said she was welcome to use it so we hopped in the car and drove across town to pick it up.  Back home it turned out that - like the Kenmore - it was having bobbin problems and wouldn't pick up the thread at all no matter what we tried.  Fail. Again. Once again I went to bed trying to figure out what to do next as Amanda's stress levels started to climb again as she was really running out of time to get the jacket done for Otakon.  I was beginning to think that Otakon really meant "Convention that causes great stress" as that's exactly what was going on in my house!

On Saturday morning I sent out a plea for help on Facebook for anyone nearby with a sewing machine that Amanda might be able to borrow for a bit which was thankfully answered by another of the ladies that I work with.  Amy said she had a new Singer machine that she had only used maybe twice that Amanda was welcome to borrow so I woke her up and we made the short drive across town (again) to pick up what turned out to be one of those fancy-dancy new computerized machines that pretty much does everything at the touch of a button.  As she was heading off on vacation soon, Amy said that Amanda was more than welcome to hang on to the machine for a couple of weeks and sew to her heart's desire (though I'm thinking once she's done doing the costumes for Otakon she isn't going to have any desire to sew anything for awhile!)

When we got home with Amy's machine, Amanda took a look at the gathering of sewing machines that had accumulated in the dining room and said that it looked like a boulevard of broken machines - a take on Green Day's song "Boulevard of Broken Dreams".  I had to agree so snapped a photo because hey, that's what I do!


As of this writing, things are sewing along smoothly, Amanda's stress levels have returned to a manageable level and I think we should be okay until she leaves for Baltimore on Wednesday even though she still needs to make a pill box hat for Pinkie Pie's costume which, compared to everything else, should be a real walk in the park for her.

Oh, and as for "The Dress From Hell", I am very happy to say that it arrived safely in Pittsburgh and yesterday it's new owner wrote on Facebook, "It's here!!!! and it fits perfectly and looks amazing!!! :D i can't wait to wear it in a few days!" Phew!

Eventually we'll be getting Amanda a new sewing machine, especially if she wants to continue to do costume design and making, but in the meantime I'm a bit behind on my travel blogging and I just want to get through the rest of the week without any more stress or drama or disasters!  Hopefully Murphy and his darned law is off terrorizing someone else! Please! 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Q&A With Gale Martin, Author of "Don Juan in Hankey, PA" and "Grace Unexpected"

Just a few days over five years ago, I wrote a blog post wherein I called for others to help cheer on my blogging friend Gale Martin by joining the The Unofficial Gale Martin Novel Writing Cheering Squad  which was headed up by Frank of Foxxfyree's Honk'n'Holl'r. In order to inspire herself to spend less time blogging and more time diligently working on her novels, Gale told us ""For me blogging is like candy. It's a treat, like the one or two Swedish fish I have when I want to treat myself. In order to make myself finish my book, I'm only posting a blog entry if I've written three pages toward completing one of my two unfinished novels."

Wanting very much to see Gale's novel see the light of a publisher's office, we cheered her on in her endeavours with chants of "Go Gale! Go Gale! Go Gale!" but then it seemed that life got in the way and in spite of our very enthusiastic encouragement and cheering, things slowed down. BUT - and here's the important part - things didn't stop and last year I was overjoyed to learn that Gale's novel "Don Juan in Hankey, PA" was being released.  Granted, we had been cheering on a different novel with a working title of "Savage Grace" but that didn't matter one iota as DJ in HPA (as I've come to call it) was a wonderful read full of characters that came to life, humor, romance, and opera - something I didn't know much about but definitely learned during the course of reading about a small-town opera guild and their efforts to keep their heads above water by staging a production of "Don Giovanni".  DJ in HPA was one of those books that I just hated to see come to an end as I wanted to read more about the characters' adventures and lives and as I closed the book I thought "that couldn't possibly be it, could it??"

Fortunately for me, Gale is now working on a companion book to DJ in HPA but in the meantime, that novel that we were cheering on long ago is finally being published by Booktrope under the title "Grace Unexpected" and I couldn't be happier or more excited if I tried.  Yes, part of it is because there's a very small character in the book named after me (woohoo!) and part of it is because I am listed in the acknowledgments (what a treat!) along with Frank and other members of the unofficial cheering squad but mostly because Grace Savage has been waiting patiently to come to life full of snark and humor and sarcasm (a gal truly after my own heart!) for way too long and I am thrilled to see her finally make her debut.

I am also very, very happy for Gale who I knew was a fantastic writer long before other folks in the publishing world finally figured it out!  I'm so glad that the light finally went on for them and I hope that as more and more people read Gale's novels, they too will see that she was a talent who was undiscovered for way too long!

In the meantime, as part of this week's book launch for "Grace Unexpected", it was my pleasure to ask Gale a few questions about herself and her new novel as well as one about "Don Juan in Hankey, PA".  I hope you'll take the time to read the Q&A but more importantly, I hope you'll take the time to read one of Gale's books.  Afterward feel free to come back and tell me, "You were right, I loved the books and I want more!"

So Gale, let's get to it, shall we?

Which came first? The Shaker Plan or the main character?

The character Grace Savage preceded the Shaker Plan. It’s her essential nature - fun-loving and earthy (okay, too fun-loving) - that drives the conflict, that ramps up the stakes of the story. If there had been no need for Grace to reform - to change her ways - the Shaker Plan would’ve have been unnecessary.

How much like Grace Savage are you?

That’s a fair question. I think there’s a bit of yourself in every character and even more of you when you have a single protagonist through which you filter a tale. In some ways, Grace is my wish fulfillment. I always wanted to travel broadly, so I made Grace a great traveler though I myself am not well traveled. Same thing goes for boobs. Grace has great ones, and I . . . well . . . *author mumbles incoherently into her shirt sleeve.*

Besides grade-A tatas, you also can endow your characters with qualities you wish you exhibited more often. For instance, Grace is braver than me - I never would’ve abandoned someone like Lacy in the Nutshell. Grace is also more quick witted. Let me rephrase. I may think witty things, but I am not often inclined to share them for a myriad of reasons - job, family, decorum, hang-ups. By the way, I’m very funny when I do puppetry, too. Speaking through another persona in literature or through the medium of a hand puppet is liberating for me. These conventions allow me to let my hair down, so to speak.

Compared to most people, I believe I had an unusual reaction when I visited Shaker Village at Canterbury. While I was inspired by the order and the ingenuity of the Shakers, I thought it was a shame that generations of women bought into the myth that they couldn’t be the equal of men without sacrificing intimacy with them. Take that reaction and torque it up a few degrees for someone in her thirties who is in the prime of her mating and baby-making years, and you have a Grace Savage-scale response to the Canterbury settlement tour.

In terms of Grace’s libidinous character, well, I’ve been married for at least two decades—to the same person. So, I was relying on anecdotal information about the sex and mating habits of unattached young people. I am always surprised when women presenters at writing conferences say things like, “Oh, I’m just so glad I didn’t have to put any *looks around nervously* s-e-x in my book for it to be published,” like sex is evil or degrades fiction automatically with its inclusion. Why sex makes for such objectionable content in fiction written by women, other than in bodice rippers, is beyond me. It’s an important part of life. And if I were young and attractive and also unattached like Grace, it would be an important part of my life, too.

Did you know a lot about anthropology before you wrote the book?

Nada. Ah, and this is one of the things I love about writing fiction. I knew nothing about anthropology. Never even took a course in college. Only ever watched Indiana Jones movies. However, I have lots more interest in things like anthropology as I get older than I did when I was younger. Believe it or not, even for writing contemporary fiction, you have to do research. I have two big fat three-ring binders full of articles I used to do research for GRACE U. I even researched hot air ballooning and romantic hot air balloon getaways to write the book. Also things like weirdo freaky car shut downs on highways, and, of course, more Shakespeare. Even English majors can study more Shakespeare.

I probably couldn't write good dialogue if my life depended upon it so how did you get so good at writing dialogue?

Thank you for noticing that. I had a contest judge tell me my dialogue was the best of any entrant’s which was nice to hear since I didn’t win the contest. My first novel had no virtually no dialogue in it - that’s the truth. It was autobiographical fiction, and I was afraid to let my characters talk -- that I wouldn’t reproduce the conversations with enough authenticity. (And now they won’t keep quiet.) Actually, I read Gloria Kempton’s book on how to write dialogue called Dialogue  (from the Writer’s Digest Write Great Fiction series), did all the exercises, and rewrote that first book. Gloria’s handbook made all the difference for me. Then I took a class from her (online) and showed her everything I learned. Now, I like dialogue so much, I think I should write plays or something. I also LISTEN to how people really talk wherever I go. I’m a huge eavesdropper, just trying to catch the authentic flavor of casual conversation.

I also learned to write other stories besides things that have actually happened to me because fictionalizing your own life can be very limiting. Often, you can’t let go of such a limiting perspective in trying (too faithfully) to record what really happened and what was said. I honestly think my best dialogue and my best stories are yet to come.

What was the hardest part about writing your new book?

I wanted Grace to be a sympathetic character but I didn’t want her to be pathetic. Or too perfect. I honestly hate too-perfect women - like all the heroines in Mary Higgins Clark’s books. (Yes, I read them because she has an effortless writing style that I admire. Yes, I hated her protagonists.) Yet, you can’t give a character too hard of an edge or your reader might not like her. Striking that balance is difficult.

While it’s easy to make a 24-year-old guy appealing, how do you make your reader believe that Grace might be attracted to a 60-something man, who is more than 20 years her senior? There is a prototype for True from real-life. When I was 34, I did a benefit with a man in his sixties. Developed a total crush on him. Yes, I was married. It was one of those crushes-from-afar type attractions. But he was so talented and suave and confident that (unbeknownst to him) he became a character in a book I wrote fifteen years later. I attempted to tap into some of the feelings I experienced upon meeting and befriending this older gentleman all those years ago. Some people you never forget.

If you could take one character from “Don Juan in Hankey, PA” and one character from “Savage Grace” and combine the two as subjects for your next novel, which ones would it be and why?

Now there’s a doozy of a question. I think I would have Arnaud meet Goody. Perhaps Arnaud would hire Goody to run the balloon store since he’s so busy with his volunteer work with the guild. It would also be tempting to put Leandro Vasquez together with Lacy McBride. The man might meet his match in that vixen. Surely such a pairing would make for steamy scenes (except that I’m not a great steamy scene writer—more like funny and steamy - with the promise of sex fizzling out by the end of the scene for one reason or another.)

Gale Martin’s humorous backstage novel Don Juan in Hankey, PA was published by Booktrope Editions in 2011. She has a master of arts in creative writing from Wilkes University. She has worked in higher education marketing for ten years and lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a rich source of inspiration for her writing. Her blog “Scrivengale” can be found on her website at http://galemartin.me.

An online book launch for GRACE UNEXPECTED continues through July 20 at Gale Martin’s website: http://galemartin.squarespace.com/grace-unexpected/. Win one of 30 different ebooks from dozens of authors, copies of GRACE UNEXPECTED, or the grand prize - a big bag of paperback books by stopping in during that week and signing the guestbook.

In addition, there are a limited number of print review copies available and numerous ebooks for early readers on a first-come, first-served basis. Simply email galemartin (dot) writer (at) gmail (dot) com to request one.

You can find Gale at:
Website: http://galemartin.me
Twitter: http://twitter.com/Gale_Martin (@Gale_Martin)
Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/GaleMartinAuthor
Email: galemartin (dot) writer (at) gmail (dot) com

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Greetings From the 4-H's! !

For those of you thinking I mean the youth organization administered by the United States Department of Agriculture whose symbol is a four-leaf clover with four white H’s on it to represent the focus of the organization - head, heart, health, and hands - think again! I mean heat, humidity, haze, and horrible which is what describes the weather here in Connecticut for the past several days. To say that it’s been gross would be an understatement – it’s beyond gross!

Thankfully there is an end in sight to the heat and humidity though from what the forecasters have been saying, we’re going to have to go through some major thunderstorms to get there. The area with the greatest threat of severe weather is going to be a bit south of us but the way the weather has been going both this year and last, you just never know which direction Mother Nature is going to turn and who she’s going to slap next.

As much as I love New England – and I do, I do! – I can’t really say that I love the weather when it gets like this; it reminds me of the years that I lived in Florida as a kid and in Mississippi when I was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. Even in the early hours of the morning or the late hours of the evening, you could walk out the door and get smacked in the face with a humidity level so high it would almost knock you over! Even though I lived in both of those places many, many years ago, I still remember how that would feel and how it just sucked the life right out of you – like your blood would get as thick as the air around you and wend its way through your veins in a slow crawl.

No matter how much I wrack my brain (which granted is not what it used to be as I’ve probably forgotten more than I’ll ever remember), I just don’t recall it being that bad here in Connecticut when I was younger though it has certainly become that way now. Even just looking out the window at the haze hanging in the air or watching a forecast where they have the guts to tell you how hot it really is out there and then wish you a nice day, you can feel the life just being sucked out of your body along with any motivation or ambition or desire to do anything except sit in front of the air-conditioner with a tall glass of iced tea in your hand as you try not to melt.

We were talking about the weather at work the other day, how none of us remember it being as hot and humid during the summer months as it has been lately, so at least there’s some comfort in knowing I’m not the only one who doesn’t remember this kind of weather but maybe that’s just that whole “misery loves company” adage at play or maybe our brains are just fried as when the temperatures go up, so do the number of 911 calls and other emergencies. It’s kind of like when there’s a full moon … things get nuts.

And that’s when I start thinking that a nice vacation to somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere where in July it’s winter and not a hot, nasty, gross summer like we’re having now would be a really nice thing. Maybe somewhere in Australia or New Zealand or the Fiji Islands or perhaps somewhere off the coast of Africa like Mauritius where at this time of year it’s a lovely 22° Celsius - or for those of us who don’t speak metric - a lovely 71.6° Fahrenheit. Sounds like the perfect temperature to me and when you pair that up with white sandy beaches and blue, blue water I think it’s about time to start looking at flights! Why I bet there are even some tropical drinks to go with those sandy beaches and blue waters. So what do you say? Anyone want to go with me?!? I'll buy the first round!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Going Batty in the Wee Hours of the Morning

Having a bit of an issue with my allergies as well as with the sciatica in my left leg acting up last night, I decided to pop a couple pills before I went to bed in the hopes of attaining a good night's sleep.  One Tylenol PM and one Benadryl tablet sounded like it would do the trick nicely so I took both and toddled off to bed around 11:00 anticipating a night of uninterrupted slumber.

That uninterrupted slumber was interrupted around 2:30 when I heard a knock on my bedroom door.  "Mom?"  I groggily recognized Amanda's voice but didn't feel like fighting through the lovely mists of sleep that I was wrapped in to acknowledge her; I figured if the house was on fire I'd be hearing more than "Mom?"  Soon the knock came again and was followed this time by the door opening and the light from the dining room spilling across my bed.  "Mom, I think there's a bat in the living room!"

What?  Batman was in the house?  Christian Bale had come to pay a visit?  Good Lord, why hadn't I worn my nice pajamas?!?


"Grrhmneshin", I mumbled.

"Mom, Tesla is in the living room and he keeps trying to get at something and I think it's either a really big moth or a bat!"

At that point I finally started to wake up a little bit and come to my senses, "How on earth would a bat have gotten into the house? Are you sure that's what it is?" I asked groggily. Dang, that Tylenol PM and Benadryl combination was really doing a good job of making me sleepy!

"I don't know but I think that's what it is and EEEEKKK! It just flew past my head and it's definitely a bat!"  This last was said as Amanda moved about as quickly as I've ever seen her move as she jumped into my room and slammed the door behind her.

It was beginning to sound more and more like I was going to have to try to get up out of bed and hunt down the intruder as Amanda reached back out into the dining room just long enough to grab her MacBook so that she could Google what to do when there's a bat in your house and then stuffed towels at the bottom of my door so that the bat couldn't come in.

"We just need to swat it with a broom and then toss it outside while it's stunned,"  I told her.

"We can't do that, we need to capture it so that it can be tested for rabies just in case it bit Tesla."

"Did it bite Tesla?"

"I don't think so but what if it does?  Tesla is trying to catch it in the kitchen!"

"If it's flying how on earth is Tesla going to catch it?"

"He can jump pretty high you know!"  Oy vay.

In the midst of all this, Amanda's friend Kait from Quincy, Massachusetts had been joining in via Skype and calmly offered that they've had bats in their house before and they've just thrown a towel on it and then tossed it outside.  Amanda wasn't really paying Kait's common sense any attention at all though as no doubt she was Googling images like this:


I finally managed to wake up sufficiently to throw my legs over the side of the bed and prepare to go do battle with the creature that had somehow managed to find its way into the house while Amanda was asking, "Can't we call Andrew to come over?"  Uhm, no, it's now almost 3:00 a.m. and Andrew lives miles away with his own family who probably wouldn't appreciate me calling him in the middle of the night with a bat emergency.

"Well what about someone from work?"  I thought about which crew was working and decided that wasn't really an option either plus ambulance crews are usually pretty busy on Friday overnights so I doubt there was anyone hanging around the bay who would want to come over and assume the role of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

"How about the police?"  I immediately flashed back to my days as a dispatcher at Norwich PD and fielding calls from hysterical homeowners about a bat in their house.  No way was I becoming one of those!  Plus I knew the Animal Control Officer wouldn't be on until the morning and what was a cop going to do?  Shoot the thing?

Sigh ... sometimes being single sucks as there was no "Man of the House" I could send out to take care of the task while I went back to sleep.

Opening the bedroom door carefully I looked around but didn't see Béla Lugosi standing in a corner waiting to find a good spot on my neck to sink his teeth into ...


or even Edward sparkling under the dining room light ...


... or anything else for that matter so I knew the bat had to be elsewhere. Peeking into the kitchen I saw Tesla lying on the rug in front of the refrigerator looking up over the kitchen sink while he slowly swished his tail back and forth.  Following his gaze I noticed that there was something odd about the picture frame up there and sure enough, there was a bat hanging on the corner doing that upside-down thing that they do.


Oh crap ... there was a bat in the house.

I grabbed a towel from the bathroom and the broom from the entryway then closed all the other doors while opening the back door so that our nocturnal visitor wouldn't be able to take refuge elsewhere should my plan to smack it with the broom to stun it, throw a towel over it, and then toss it out into the night didn't work.  Amanda stayed hidden in my bedroom on the verge of a panic attack as she left me alone to do battle with the bat while Tesla looked on curiously.

Taking a swing, I smacked the bat where it was hanging on my "Dull Women Keep Immaculate Houses" print but obviously I didn't hit it hard enough as instead of it falling into the sink below or onto the floor, the darned thing took to the air and started flying back and forth in the kitchen narrowly missing the blades of the ceiling fan.  I took another couple of swipes at it before it disappeared behind the refrigerator.  Tesla immediately ran over, prepared to catch the thing himself, but it must have flown into the dark space behind the refrigerator and decided it had found a good place to hang out as it didn't come out again.

Not exactly feeling brave and wanting to continue the chase, I decided to simply open the kitchen window screens and go back to bed after telling Amanda to take Tesla and go into her own room and stay there for the rest of the night.  It was my hope that once things settled down and the house was dark and quiet that the bat would use its radar or sonar or whatever it is that bats use to find the open windows and fly out into the night.  If not, I'd deal with it during daylight hours when I could call Animal Control to come over and capture the thing.

When I got back up this morning - much later than I had originally anticipated - I looked around at every corner and behind every curtain with no sign of the bat anywhere that I could see. From what I could tell it hadn't relocated to another part of the house from behind the refrigerator so it was either still back there or had found the open windows.  Amanda poked her head out of her room and told me she'd barely slept for an hour she was so totally stressed out and asked if she could lie down in my room for a couple of hours (apparently my bed is a lot more comfortable than hers) as she wasn't feeling very well.  I figured she wasn't going to be much help if I found the bat still hiding behind the refrigerator so told her to go ahead and get some sleep.

Tesla had immediately run over to the refrigerator once he was let out of Amanda's room where he sniffed around but he didn't seem too particularly interested or sit down to do that patient cat waiting thing that cats do so I had a feeling that the bat was no longer back there.  Still, I was very careful as I removed all the accumulated crap from the top of the refrigerator and then slowly pulled it out from the wall where I found nothing except a herd of dust bunnies that definitely needed corralling!  Good thing I had the broom handy!

So ... as of this writing, I have no idea whether or not the bat is still anywhere in the house or any idea as to how it got in here in the first place as it wasn't exactly a small bat from what I could tell and there were no open windows without screens prior to my opening the ones in the kitchen.  The fireplace flume is closed and being the bottom floor apartment, we don't have an attic directly accessible so how it got in, I don't know. I guess it's going to forever be one of those mysteries but however it got in, it's my hope that it took the hint and exited out of the building through the open kitchen windows after I went back to bed but who knows?  I guess we'll see what happens tonight though I'm hoping for that nice, long uninterrupted slumber I didn't get last night - minus the Tylenol PM and Benadryl just in case!   

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fifty Shades of No Thank You!

Every once in awhile a book comes out that I hear everyone making a big fuss about and I wonder whether I should read it or not. This feeling doesn't come over me very often as - to be honest - I'm a bit of a book snob and I really don't like to read something just because it's popular or trending. I'm not a big fan of jumping on band wagons if you will as I've got plenty of things to fill my time with so if I'm going to take the time to read a book, it's going to be a good one.

I much prefer classics like those books written by Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, the Brontë sisters, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but that's not to say that I don't enjoy more modern authors like Janet Evanovich, Tom Patterson, Nicholas Sparks and/or Evans, Patricia Cornwell, Stephen King, and Mitch Albom.  Of course, one of my favorite up-and-coming authors is my friend Gale Martin whose first book Don Juan in Hankey, PA was a wonderful read and whose second book is coming out soon but more on her later this month when I review that book - for now I want to talk about a book that's become quite popular and which I attempted to read this weekend.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic novel by British author E. L. James which is set largely in Seattle and explores the dominate/submissive relationship between the young virgin Anatasia Steele and the drop-dead-gorgeous, really young business magnate and title character Christian Grey. It's the first book in a trilogy which according to the website hype is:
"Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever."
That may be true for some people but I'm going to have to take their word for it as I simply cannot see me finishing even the first book as - just a shade over five chapters into the book - I've decided that I've had it with the poor writing, the characters that I really don't like, and the overwhelming feeling that I'm reading a story about Bella Swan's identical twin who, instead of falling for a sparkly vampire, falls for a rich guy whose past has made him a big fan of bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism.

I honestly didn't even know that the book started out as a piece ofTwilight  fan fiction which was originally titled Master of the Universe and published episodically on fan-fiction websites under the pen name "Snowqueens Icedragon" before it was rewritten as an original piece but it's quite easy to see that the main female character is very Bella Swanesque - she's uncoordinated, self-deprecating, innocent, and annoying. No doubt when they make the movie they'll cast Kristen Stewart to play her as the role is right up her awful-acting alley.


A mere 68 pages into the book with nary a sex scene to be read (so you can't call me a prude!), I've decided that I've read far enough and the book is going back to the friend that I borrowed it from so that she can lend it to the others who have asked her for it.  After all, I see no sense in holding up someone else's chance to read a book they might enjoy when I'm pretty certain that even if I were to read another 68 pages or the entire 514, I'm not going to like the characters any better.  Heck, I'm not even interested enough to get to the first sex scene (and I certainly don't mind reading steamy sex scenes if I'm being perfectly honest) but I've just go NO interest in either of the book's characters.

Maybe I'm too old?  Maybe I just don't like poor writing?  Maybe I just don't have the time for this sort of book when there are so many other really good ones out there to be read?  Ah well, no matter what the case may be, it's fifty shades of no thank you for me and when Hollywood makes the movie you won't see me in the theater either - not unless they somehow manage to cast Robert Downey, Jr. as Christian Grey! 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July From the North Shore!

Just a quick post before Barb and I head out from our comfy room at the Hawthorne Hotel and make the short walk down to the Peabody Essex Museum where we're going to check out their Ansel Adams Photography Exhibit. With a muggy New England day outside, it's the perfect day to go to a museum!

We've been having a lovely couple of days which started out with a whale watch cruise out of Newburyport on Monday.  We couldn't have had a nicer day to go out in search of whales - between the blue sky, puffy white clouds, and the blue ocean it was just gorgeous!


Once we got far enough out from the mainland we first spotted a few Minke whales which are the second smallest whales out there.  Mostly what we saw were their fins so yes, they do look a bit shark-like but at 20-30 feet long they're just a tad  bigger than a shark! 


Upon reaching Jeffrey's Ledge, which is about 26 miles out, we spotted a Finback whale which is the second largest mammal on earth.  Unfortunately she apparently didn't need to use her tail to go deep enough for food so the only thing we saw was her back and fin and an occasional spout.  And let me just say, whales are NOT easy to photograph! 


Returning to Salem in the late afternoon, Barb and I checked into the Hawthorne and then got together with her SisterDear Janice and NieceDear Holly for a lovely meal in the Tavern before taking our sunburned selves back up to our room and calling it a night.  Of course neither one of us remembered to wear sunscreen while out on the ocean.  Epic fail there as we were both looking a bit like boiled lobsters! 


Tuesday was a beautifully sunny day so we drove out to Cape Ann and spent some time in both Rockport and Gloucester.  Barb took some really great pictures while I took pictures of Barb!  After touring Beauport, the historic Sleeper-McCann House in Gloucester, we went to The Gloucester House for seafood and then walked around the wharf a tiny bit where we finally spotted a whale's tail! 


Barb and Salt's tail were color-coordinated! 


Mine - definitely not! 

This morning we listened to the Fifth Annual Reading of the Declaration of Independence which was supposed to be held on Salem Common but due to the not-so-great weather was relocated into the Grand Ballroom of the Hawthorne Hotel.


There will definitely be more Fourth of July activities later including fireworks tonight for which I am keeping my fingers crossed for good weather but in the meantime, we're going to go hit up the PEM and then arrange to meet up with Karen and RJ later being that when we met them for dinner last night do you think even one of us thought to take a picture of something other than our food?  Nope! 

As you celebrate America's birthday today (provided you do celebrate it!) wherever you are and whatever you're doing, I hope that your Fourth is glorious and safe! 

Long may she wave

Monday, July 2, 2012

Meanwhile, Back On the Tip of Cape Ann ...

So ... y'all remember last week when I posted this picture of a place where I said I'd love to live which is located at the very tip of Bearskin Neck in Rockport?


My friend Barb did some research and turns out that it's a three bedroom, two bath place with a tower office that has a 360 degree view; I even found pictures on Craig's List showing that the inside was quite nice, too! Unfortunately though, the price tag to rent this little piece of heaven is $2,600 a month so obviously it's WAY out of my price range no matter how I crunch numbers.

So why am I posting it again?  Well because - believe it or not - I'm back up on the North Shore and on Friday night I went out to dinner with my friends Walt and Juli at a restaurant that turned out to be directly across the street from this very place.  Juli had made the reservations and it just happened to be one of those happy coincidences that I knew exactly where it was when she told me where we were going.


My Place By the Sea is most definitely BY the sea as you can see by the view that we had from our table.


Dinner started out with scrumptious Foccacia bread with an olive oil dip that was absolutely delicious.


For his entrée, Walt ordered the Prosciutto-Wrapped Halibut with Slow-Roasted Summer Vegetables ...


... while Juli and I both ordered the Lobster Club.

Lobster Club at My Place By the Sea

Even though I wasn't head-over-heels in love with lobster when I had it at the Inn Victoria, I thought I should give New England's favorite a second try in a different incarnation which turned out to be very, very tasty though kind of hard to eat without making a huge mess.  It was tricky going but I eventually managed to devour the whole thing before we walked back down Bearskin Neck to the Shalin Liu Performance Center.


Rockport's performance hall is just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside and the acoustics - well, what can I say about the acoustics other than that they were perfect. I believe that you really could hear a pin drop if someone had done so on the stage and the view out of those windows that back the stage - absolutely gorgeous!  The picture below really doesn't do it justice but alas, no photos were allowed during the performance which is when the view and the sound really worked its magic to produce a wonderful, wonderful show.


Juli went downstairs and took this second photo with her iPhone during intermission - 
as you can see, it's just gorgeous there. 


The group that we saw perform was Cantus, a men's A Cappella group from Minnesota that has been called "The premiere men's vocal ensemble in the United States" by Fanfare magazine and rightfully so as they are most definitely good and then some!

Just as a sample, here's a YouTube video of one of the songs they performed when we saw them; it gave me goosebumps as it was just that good, I kid you not but then again, I've always been a sucker for a man with a great voice! 


All in all, it was a really nice Friday evening all the way around - good friends, good food, and good music all in a beautiful location. What more could a gal want?