Minus 18…

January 25th, 2011

It was minus 18 yesterday morning at our house. And trust me that’s cold, really cold! So cold that when I walked the dog he tried to walk on three feet, alternately shifting his weight to save one foot at a time because the snow burned his little paws.  Our walks have been for necessity only and quite short.  As I write I have a small electric heater under my desk blowing warm air my way.  And I’m a hot flash queen!

I’ve been diligently working on my critiquer’s recommended changes for ”It Happened on Willow Lane”.  I have finished this book several times and with each completion it gets a little better than the time before. But I believe it is very near to it’s final completion. I am thankful for my circle of loyal readers who have offered me honest feedback which I have utilized as I continue to tweak this collection of short stories.

For this book I’ve tapped into my years of experience as a psychosocial RN which allowed me to develop keen insights in emotional survival.  (Why do some people gain strength through adversity and others crumble?) The Willow Lane stories deals with totally different situations, the kind that people face alone and quietly everyday. Willow Lane  characters bring humanity to divorce, deceit, alcoholism, Alzheimer’s disease, domestic abuse, suspicion of terrorism, attempted murder, suicide and the accidental death of a young child.

This collection of short stories is a bit edgier than my previous books but the writers voice still offers a smidgen of wit through the various characters.

I’ve continued to read and have enjoyed some good books and suffered through a couple not so good books that I’ve wondered, how in the world did this writer ever get published?

We’ve seen some good movies and a couple that we felt cheated out of the time we invested in viewing, not to mention the money we paid for the tickets.  We loved “True Grit” so much that we rented the John Wayne version from the video store and watched it the following week. Both were excellent though the original was much more like a Disney film in comparison. We also really liked “The Fighter”.

Till next time…keep reading and stay warm.

Happy Holidays

December 14th, 2010

I finally finished the revisions on my third novel today. Woohoo!!  I will drop it off for the BIG critique tomorrow.  I feel like I can start really feeling like Christmas now… maybe. It’s my first Christmas without Mom. And my first Christmas in 30 years that I haven’t sent a short Christmas letter to family and friends. I just didn’t have the heart for it this year. 

We had a lovely Thanksgiving, all the children, their mates and all the grandchildren were here plus my father, my sister and her husband and some dear friends. It was a houseful and everyone cherished the time together.

Our house is all decked out for Christmas, the cards and packages have all been sent and the shopping is mostly done.  I’ve read a couple wonderful Christmas novels and watched a few good movies. Most notably UNSTOPPABLE with Denzel Washington and THE NEXT THREE DAYS with Russel Crowe. Both were filmed in Western PA and both were riveting adrenaline rushes!

The best Christmas novel I’ve read in a few years is CHRISTMAS WITH TUCKER by Greg Kincaid. It is a prequel to last year’s Hallmark movie hit, A DOG NAMED CHRISTMAS. (That is also a very good movie.)

Our second BIG snow of the year is happening as I type. Outside it’s like a blizzard with lots of snow coming down and blowing every which way and so very cold. Our dog has to be coaxed out to do his necessary business.

I’ve been a Hot Flash Queen for a number of years now. But it is so cold today that I actually have a small electric heater under my desk blowing on my feet to keep them warm!

I hope I will soon have some good news about my next book, till then keep reading but be selective.  If you don’t like a book by page fifty, move on and read one you do like. My mother always said, “Life is to short for bad books!”

Best wishes to you all for a good year in 2011.



November 1st, 2010

I’ve been hustling to catch up since our return on October 28th from a wonderful and much needed vacation to visit friends in California and then a two week cruise to Hawaii. I started each day by working out. I read several books while sitting by the pool in the sun. My favorite two were ‘Ape House’ by Sara Gruen and ‘Night Woman’ by Nancy Price. I highly recommend both of these novels to any one who might be looking for a good book to read.  I also read ‘Half the Sky’, nonfiction by Kristoff and Dunn.  A compelling book about women in developing countries who tried to turn oppression into opportunity.  A very worthwhile book.

And we watched several movies on the ship under the stars, our favorite by far was ‘Secretariat.’ We both cried and and were on the edge of our seats even though we knew he was a triple crown winner! Anyone who loves a good horse movie, this is for you!

Hawaii was very beautiful with friendly happy people. We loved the music and culture but it is so different and so far away from the main land that we didn’t feel like we were really in the USA.

Cruising is a fun way to travel first class and feel pampered everyday. There are lots of great bargains available if anyone has a hankering to give it a try. There are wonderful live entertainers onboard and there are no additional charges for shows and food.

One thing I didn’t do for the entire vacation was use my cell phone or a computer. Now I’m home again, rested and ready to buckle down and get back to my writing routine. I have made a pledge to myself to write … every day. Even though the holidays will soon be here, I will write! This year for the first time in my adult life, I’m not going to bake any Christmas cookies.  If I need a few, I’ll buy them for the ocassion. A disadvantage to cruising is that most people gain weight and I was not an exception. I am now on a strict diet, so cookies and extra goodies are not on this year’s agenda.  

We were impressed with the ship’s international crew and their level of professionalism as well as their genuine comradeship. We met passengers as well as crew from all over the world. If only politicians from all those countries could find a way to respect each other and get along like the cruise ship staff.

We left the ship’s emergency phone number with the family. Everyone was okay and proved to us they really don’t need us for much more than cheerleading services, i.e. unconditional love. And isn’t that every parent’s goal?

The weekend before we left was my high school class reunion. Everyone had a great time. It was a four day event, I attended two. An advantage at this point is that no one bothers trying to impress anyone. We all know we have a lot more class reunions behind us than we have ahead of us. Yikes, that’s a sobering thought!

Till next time…

The Writing Conference was Great!

September 17th, 2010

I’ve been home for five days and am still reeling from the wonderful conference I attended last week end in Cincinnatti. I met many new writing friends and the workshop presenters were awesome. The city itself is very impressive and easy to navigate, thanks to my friendly little Garmen, (GPS).

I had time after dinner on Saturday evening to finish writing my presentation for the local Christian Womens Connection, scheduled for Tuesday morning, Sept 14. Public speaking is outside the comfort zone of most writers, though the more I do, the easier it gets. Tuesday mornings’ was well received and that’s always a relief.

The editor who read the first fifty pages of my next novel gave me invaluable feedback and strong encouragement. He liked my writing as well as my plots, pacing and characters. He told me I write suspense.  I said , “Oh, I don’t think so, I write slice of life stories.” He said “Yes, you do but there’s also plenty of suspense…”

While driving home last Sunday afternoon I stopped at a McDonalds in Columbus, Ohio to eat lunch and use the lavatory.  A young man in crumbled poorly fit clothing approached me as I got out of my car, he was clean and nonthreatening. He asked if I would give him money for a hamburger. My standard answer in situations like that is always, “No, but I’ll buy you one if you come on inside with me.” He did.  All he wanted was a $1.00 hamburger. I told him, “Nope, can’t do that, I’ll buy you a meal deal, do you want a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder?” His eyes became like saucers, “I haven’t had a Big Mac for months.” He decided on Coca Cola for his drink. I went to the lavatory, then ordered my own food and walked over to his table. “Mind if I join you?” He was shocked and nodded his head. So I sat down and asked, “So, what’s your story?”

I felt sad for the young man who seemed to be adrift without much direction in his life. He was 27 and said he had trouble waking up in the mornings. That very day, he’d planned to attend church but had slept late and missed the church van that usually picks him up. He talked about his work background that seemed to be quite sketchy. I know there were many chapters to his life that we didn’t touch upon… 

I asked him, ”Do you know the secret to getting up early in the morning for work or church?” He stared at me and shook his head as if bewildered. I smiled and said, “Go to bed earlier the night before.” He grinned as if I’d given him a gold coin and thanked me again for lunch and talking to him.

I stopped to see my dad since he was leaving the next morning for Texas for several weeks. I told him about my lunch in Columbus and he shook his head sadly, “Nobody ever taught that boy work ethics.” 

In families where no one ever learned the value of work, there was no one to teach the next generation. My dad was always big on work ethics and my siblings and I learned early on that a good days work was something to be proud of.

This week proved to have its own sets of adventures and misadventures and all my plans to get back to writiing full time were thwarted. But it looks like next week will finally be the opportunity I’ve been waiting for to really start writing again. I can hardly wait!

Life Goes On…

August 21st, 2010

It’s been more than two months since Mom passed. In some ways it is getting easier. I’ve been extremely busy, busy hands keep the mind focused. We’ve welcomed many house guests this summer. Somehow life goes on.

My writing has defintely been put on a back burner with everything else that’s been going on. But I’ve regitered for an excellent Writers Conference in Cincinnati and I expect to get back into a more productive writing  routine  as summer activities wind down. 

There was a time when I studied and prepared for exams regarding the Grieving Process. I knew the right things to say and what to expect but I never knew what it really felt like to grieve. Well, forty years ago my little brother was killed in an accident and that was very hard… But losing Mom and suddenly becoming the oldest woman in our large family has profoundly impacted me. 

Someone called last week and asked, “So, how are you?”

I responded, “Okay. How are you?”

 She said, “Spectacular.”

I answered, “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt spectacular.”

She asked, “What’s wrong?”

I replied softly, “Well, my mother died only a few weeks ago.” (This was something the caller was well aware of.)

She said, “Well, when you wake up tomorrow, just tell yourself you are going to have a happy day.”

 I hesitated and then answered, “Sure, I’ll try that.”

The caller probably meant well…but grieving takes time. I’m sure we greivers can become an aggravating annoyance but please be patient with us. Losing  a loved one to cancer is a long goodby and we all recover from our grief at our own pace. Yes, life goes on and I’m trying.

Life is too short to…

July 12th, 2010

Mom has been gone for four weeks today. The emotional numbness is somewhat less than it was intially but I still feel like I’m operating on automatic in a thick fog. 

I ocassionally find myself starting to pick up the phone to tell her something or ask her advise. Yes, even grandmothers like to talk to their mothers!

I found a small poster in a gift shop last week:

My mother didn’t

Tell me whow to live…

She showed me.

The writer of those wise words must have known my mom!

We often discussed books together when she was still able to read books. Sometimes I’d  complain to her about a book I was forcing myself to read for a Book Club. Near the end of her long illness she looked at me one day with that mischievious Irish twinkle in her eyes and said, “You know life is too short to waste on bad books!”

I’ve thought about that comment quite often since she’s been gone. I think it can be applied to many aspects of life. Maybe we should prioritize our lives and do only the things we’d want to do if we knew we had a short time to live.

After all our allotted time is relevant and in the whole scheme of things, none of us will be here long enough to waste the precious gift of time.

I Knew it Was Coming…

June 18th, 2010

My mother bravely battled cancer for the last twenty two months. She passed away four days ago. Even though I knew it was coming, I feel numb. Like my world will never be the same. It’s hard to fathom never being able to call my mother again. To never buy her another birthday gift or Mother’s Day card. Is a person ever really ready for the final good bye?

I was fortunate to have had a mother who devoted her life to her family. She was well known for her wit, loyalty and keen intelligence. She had a knack for making everyone of her six surviving children, 21 grandchildren and 26 great grandchildren feel like they were her favorite. Probably  because they all were!

Family dynamics are incredibly interesting.  Mom managed to mend a few family rifts from her sickbed. She had a gift of wisdom that was uncanny. Even though she is gone, she’ll always be with us. I told her a few weeks ago, “You will live as long as any of us who know and love you live.”

She was 84 years young. She always hated tatoos. But when her great granddaughter proudly showed her the new tattoo on her back, “Live, Love and Laugh–Texas Grandma” - inside a heart with red roses around it. (Texas Grandma was the nickname her grandchildren have called her for many years.) Mom beamed and said, “Did you see that beautiful tattoo? It has my name on it!”

I replied, “Mom we don’t need to tattoo your name on our bodies, you’ll be in our hearts forever.”

Spring is Here!

April 11th, 2010

The daffodils are in bloom with their cheerful yellows here and there in nearly every garden we pass. Hallelujah! Sure, we had snow two nights ago but the hearty early spring flowers were not fazed. And it all melted before noon.

Oh gawd, speaking of yellow…as I sit here typing, my dog started to make that gagging heaving sound he sometimes does. It’s never good when that happens. I turned around to find him spitting, (I hate to call it vomit), a bright yellow liquid all over the carpets, etc.

Well, I’m back from that distraction, all is cleaned up again. My new novel is coming along, I’m finally finding blocks of time to work on it. And it’s a fun story to write. I hope when at last it is finished, people will find it an equally enjoyable story to read.

I had the pleasure and honor of treating novelist Lenore Hart, (author of Waterwoman, Becky, etc.), to lunch the day after her One Book Bradford event on April 1. She’s an inspiring and delightful person. Before we knew it, 2.5 hours had slipped by! For me it was like an Oasis of joy on what’s been a tumultuous time in my life with my mother’s declining health as well as aunts and uncles who have also become seriously ill.

 I continue to read lots of books and we usually watch movies every week. Nothing jumps out as particularly memorable as I write, just entertaining. And, hey, entertaining is not a bad thing! Last night we went to see Date Night. We laughed till tears trickled down our cheeks. We were thoroughly entertained and I got to eat lots of popcorn. I love popcorn at the movies!

Well, I have a good Lee Smith novel to finish tonight and some leftover popcorn from last night’s movie. Till next time. Keep reading and I hope your dog doesn’t get sick!

Winter Drags on…

February 25th, 2010

Another snow storm is expected this afternoon but we take it in our stride in northwestern Pennsylvania. Besides  it’s not so hard to accept more snow since spring is less than a month away.  And we are definitley ready for spring.

 We were fortunate to go south for ten days earlier this month but the weather at Hilton Head, S.C. was only a little warmer than home. At least we didn’t have any snow to shovel while we were there! And we were able to visit several family members on the way south as well as on the way home.

While there we watched several really good movies: The Hurt Locker, Crazy Heart, Dear John  and the Edge of Darkness.

We enjoyed spending time with friends who live there during the winter.  He’s a retired gynecologist/obstetrician who made this comment during a discussion one evening, ”There are no illegitimate babies, only illegitimate parents.” It was a Wow moment for me.

I’ve been busy preparing gift baskets which include a copy of “Runaway Grandma”, candy, etc. for fund raisers and speaking engagements. Next week I’ll speak to the Current Events Club and the Eastern Star ladies.  I must confess a writers natural tendency is to avoid the spotlight. I’d prefer to stay on the sidelines, watch others and then twist those observations into stories. But that doesn’t help get my books noticed and into the hands of more readers. And speaking does get a bit easier as I continue to do it…

On Feb. 23 I drove to State College and had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with my granddaughter who will graduate this summer. Then I went to WPSU radio to tape a book review of “Still Alice”, (please see last month’s blog for more info on the book), for BookMark which will air on March 3 at 4:30 p.m. and again on March 7 at 9:30 a.m. It was fun. The new WPSU studio is amazing. Patty Satalia and Cynthia Berger stopped by to say hello, I’d worked with both of them in the past on other projects.  Sarah B. Maloney was great to help me record this BookMark review. It will be archived on WPSU’s radio audio archives.

Till next time, happy reading my friends… Ann

Belated Happy New Year

January 22nd, 2010

I’m glad that at least it’s still January, since this is my first entry in 2010. I hope all my readers are well and the new year will bring you and yours peace, prosperity and good health.

I read a lot of books and few shake me up as much as one I read last week, Still Alice by Lisa Genova. I read it in one sitting because I couldn’t stop…it was phenomenal. I highly recommend it to all readers. It’s about a woman who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease at age 50.  A very powerful and wonderfully written book. The research is top notch. As an RN I’ve worked with several Alzheimer patients and most literature does not capture the true essence of the disease. She captured it perfectly.

Presently my mother seems to be in a state of remission. This is a relief to all the family. She refuses any further chemotherapy. She is not in pain and her appetite is a little better. She has maintained her weight for the last three weeks. The oncologist told her the cancer is still there but may be dormant for awhile until something disturbs it… She is a beloved  mother and grandmother, she helped raise a granddaughter who is happily married to her college sweeetheart, who is now a young MD in Texas and they are expecting a their first baby next summer. Twin boys! Mom is very excited about those babies, the first set of twins in our family. We are all hoping she will live to watch those babies celebrate a few birthdays.

I had the pleasure and honor of speaking to a wonderful local group on Jan. 13 over lunch…about writing and Runaway Grandma.  And I’ve been working on my fourth novel and it is so good to get back to doing what a writer likes and must do…write! So I’ll make this short and get back to my writing.

Till next time… be well and happy reading!