Mouses and chipmunks and floods, oh my!

For the third time in as many years, I’ve had water from the apartment over me invade my space. The first time, a pipe in the bathroom burst while the apartment was unoccupied. About 11:00 p.m. I heard a drip, drip, drip and went to the living room to see water dripping through the ceiling-mounted smoke detector. Within 15 minutes, it was oozing around the electrical plugs and being flung around the room by the ceiling fan. When maintenance arrived and checked upstairs, the apartment had two to three inches of standing water. I had huge blowers belching air under the carpet for a week or more in addition to an industrial-strength dehumidifier that put off more heat than the Sahara Desert. Parts of walls were repainted and some carpet repairs had to be made where a the finish on a small chest bled into it.

Several months later, when the season changed and it turned cold, mice from the fields surrounding the apartment complex decided they liked my nice warm apartment better than the fields. Some mousetraps and steelwool-plugged holes later, the mice were gone.

Back in winter, a new tenant moved in upstairs and I woke one morning to drip, drip, drip. Water was running down the bathroom mirror. Apparently the toilet had overflowed.

Yesterday I was minding my own business, doing laundry and some other housecleaning when I heard what sounded like a toilet overhead flushing. Only it was REALLY loud. And it happened several times and I could hear running water and I flung open the closet where my hot water heater is and saw water gushing from a pipe at the bottom of it. I grabbed the Sham Wows and called maintenance while I sopped water. They arrived quickly and told me some valve on the hot water heater upstairs had malfunctioned. They used a Shop-Vac to get most of the water and said they’d called the carpet people to come suction out the rest. I had to leave for an appointment shortly thereafter, but when I returned, the carpet guy was there finishing up and I had two blowers and the Sahara Desert dehumidifier in place.

An hour or so later, I heard something in my kitchen, stepped from my front bedroom/office to check and saw the blur of something scurry from the kitchen to the living and dining room area. I said an ugly word. I crept toward the living room and the aforementioned critter ran to the front bedroom/office. Only this time I got a good look at him.

It’s a chipmunk!

Apparently he took advantage of the open door when the carpet guy was suctioning all that water from my carpet to his truck. I opened the front door in hopes he really didn’t enjoy being cooped up indoors on such a gorgeous sunny day and called maintenance — again. But it was after hours and they took a report with the promise of getting someone to check into it.

Meanwhile I remembered the leftover mousetraps from the Great Mouse Adventure of 2010, smeared them with peanut butter and set out 2 in the bedroom/office and one in the kitchen. None have been sprung yet and I haven’t heard anything resembling chipmunk sounds, so I’m hoping Alvin (or maybe it was Simon or Theodore) decided to head for the pool and slipped out the open door while my back was turned.

I can’t make this stuff up.

Maybe instead of romance, I should write children’s books about floods, mouse adventures and invading chipmunks.



“Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain.”

I guarantee Rodgers and Hammerstein had no idea just how badly the wind can sweep on that plain.  Yesterday was a frightening example.  Though the death toll has been lowered from 51 to 24, that’s still 24 who are gone too soon.

Two years ago, my home state was battered by one of the worst series of tornadoes in history.  A massive EF5 roared through my area, going about 5 miles north of me.  I still remember monitoring the weather all day and huddling in my bathroom as that storm passed so close.  The entire power grid for this area was destroyed with one tiny exception — an exit off the interstate only 12 miles from where I live.  Once I learned about it, I made daily visits to the Starbucks there to charge my laptop,  phone,  iPod and  Kindle.

I also made changes to my storm preparedness gear.  Now I have a bike helmet (many storm-related injuries are head trauma and they recommend wearing a helmet if you can), an emergency radio with a crank and solar panel, a battery-operated lantern and a flashlight that straps around my head like a miner’s lamp (great way to keep both hands free and still be able to see).

I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to lose everything, or even worse, to have someone close to you die in a storm like that.  I can only pray for these families.  And I can donate money to help with the recovery area.  Organizations like the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army  are helping with donations.  Please consider giving to one of these organizations or to others like it.  I have.  They helped my home state two years ago; it’s the least I can do to return the favor.

Oklahoma, we’re all praying for you.  And like the song says, you’ll be OK.  It’ll just take some time.


Breaking the Belle Curve




I am a born and bred Southerner.  I lived outside the South — waaaaaay outside on another continent entirely — for four years, but despite the temptation of Wiener Schnitzel and apple strudel, my Southern soul still yearned for fried chicken and peach cobbler.  I even gave “fried chicken lessons” to several of my Yankee neighbors and tried to explain to another exactly what black eyed peas were.

Southern women have certain “things” that just are.  Things like courtesy, being able to correctly use the word “y’all,” the ability to tell someone to go to hell and make them look forward to the trip and knowing when to bless someone’s heart.

We call our elders Miss So-and-So, and despite being mumblesixty-ishmumble years old and being called Miss Marilyn myself, I still call my elderly neighbors Miss Vera, Miss Margie and Miss Lois.

I have a deviled egg plate, something NO respectable Southern woman is without. However I do not have a silver pattern.  It’s just too expensive and I’d rather travel than eat with Grand Baroque or Francis I.

Another thing a Southern woman does is make good chicken salad.  Recipes vary but the basic ingredients are the same.  I use cooked chicken, finely chopped pickles (I like the tart bread and butter ones), chopped hard-cooked egg, some salt and pepper and mayo to bind it together.

I made a batch last night and I am ashamed to say that I broke the belle curve.  I did something you simply are not supposed to do and still be able to hold your Southern head high.  I used some dark meat.  *gasp*

I can hear the outrage now.  I didn’t want to break the rules.  I just ran out of white meat.  There’s only a little dark meat in there and unless you look real hard you can’t see it.

But my sense of truth, justice and the American way insists I must confess my transgression.

So… fellow Southern Belles, do you follow the Belle rules?  Tell me your favorite.  Or your most recent transgression is you like.  I promise I won’t drum you out of Belle-dom.

I cry for Boston

Both my sons ran in races from the age of about 5 on. My younger son is a college track coach.   Many’s the time I put them at the starting line and then waited at the finish, trusting they would be okay.  Sadly , our trust was betrayed yesterday by some insidious evil.  I’ve spent the morning reading the sad story of Martin, the little 8 year old boy who was killed.  He was waiting at the finish line for his daddy.  His mother and sister were also there and are seriously injured.

When the blast occurred, many rushed to help.  As upsetting as the bombing is, it’s heartwarming to see such action when the call to help sounded.

After a tragedy like this, it is so easy to put your head in a hole and think the worst.  Sure, the worst is out there — that worst placed those bombs yesterday.  But I think this quote sums up how I should feel instead.

you must not lose faith in humanity

The ocean of humanity is still helping today in the way of monetary donations, blood donations and offers of places to stay since many people have been displaced from their hotels in the crime scene area.

All this has taken me back to a trip to New York City my freshman year in college.  The trip was sponsored by the Interfaith Council on campus and was to be a study of the relationship between religion and the arts.  We visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center and had a representative of NBC meet with us.  Another excursion was a night at a Greenwich Village disco (this was 1970).

We’d been there maybe an hour, dancing and enjoying the music.  I remember a mime had begun to perform on one of the stages around the room and I’d gone over to watch him.  I was standing next to the stage and suddenly there was a loud boom.  I was pressed against the stage by some force.  I turned to look behind me and saw flames devouring the fabric, which hung over the wall.  Someone helped me up onto the stage and we all exited through a back door, hustled down a flight of metal steps and waited outside.  After a while our chaperones got us on the subway and back to our hotel.  We learned a couple of students in our group had been injured, one seriously.  He had been right beside the explosion, which turned out to be a pipe bomb planted by a member of an underground group.  He survived, but not without permanent injury to his leg.

We asked if we should call home about it, but were assured something like this wouldn’t be in the local North Carolina papers.  Oh how wrong they were.  A group of small town college students caught in a bombing in a NYC disco is great news fodder, and the next morning I had a call from my mother wanting to know the details.

I didn’t realize til later that I had caught a small piece of shrapnel in the back of my left thigh.  I didn’t tear my trousers but the small wound was there.  And I still have a sort of scar.  It looks more like a broken vein.  You can see for yourself.


Can’t complain, especially when I read that many in Boston had to have limbs amputated.  So I have a little scar?  I still have my leg.

If you’re a praying person, say a prayer for Boston.  It will take a long time for all involved to get over this.  If you don’t pray, would you at least send up a caring thought?

And let’s all remember Gandhi’s reminder that the bulk of humanity is good and kind.  Perform some random act of kindness today.  Pay something forward.  Let the world know they, like Blanche duBois, can still count on the kindness of strangers.

Mother Nature — she can be a mean gal

Downed power line 1/2 a block from my church where I was hiding out from today’s storms.

It’s springtime in the Tennessee Valley, and unfortunately that usually brings us some bad storms. Today we had a system move through and the photo above is just a fraction of the damage it caused. Because I take the weather seriously, I didn’t head home when my boss let us go an hour early because I would have been driving right into the worst of the storm. Instead I headed to my church, where I usually go on Thursday nights for a study group and dinner. Tonight it was just the pastor and me. He’d already fixed the meal, but when we heard the civil defense siren signaling a tornado warning he called folks and told them to stay home.

Shortly after that the power went out. I’d taken my emergency radio to work so I could monitor things. We’d been warned bad weather was headed out way. We were warned last week. I told you I take it seriously. So the pastor and I got into an interior room with no windows and waited out the storm. We could tell it was raining very heavily but we had no idea the winds were so bad. Then we heard on the radio about a downed power pole causing a power outage and when they gave the location, we knew it was just at the edge of our church property. The Episcopal church next door had downed trees, one of which was driven through their church van.

The National Weather Service will investigate tomorrow to see if it was just wind or maybe a microburst or possibly a small tornado. Regardless, it was too close for comfort and I’m glad no one was hurt. A woman was trapped in her car by that falling pole, but she was able to get out safely. And a home had a large tree fall across it, but the owners were not injured. I feel for them. The same thing happened to a friend of mine two years ago and it took quite a while to get everything repaired.

So next time you think of Mother Nature and all the beautiful flowers she gives us, remember she has a mean streak too. If you live in an area prone to bad weather, be weather aware and take the watches and warnings seriously. Have an emergency radio, flashlights, candles, a helmet to protect your head (yes, my bike helmet was in my tote bag too) and most importantly, have a PLAN.

Photo from WHNT-TV, Huntsville, Alabama

Visually speaking

I am a visual learner as opposed to being audial or kinesthetic. I like pictures and lack of clutter (though you’d never know it to see the top of my desk now).

When I write something that’s more than a short story, I need photos of what my hero and heroine look like so I can focus on that and try to really get inside their heads.

So for Max and Victoria, the hero and heroine of Better as a Memory, I searched and searched until I finally found them. I found Max first. It took me over a year to find Victoria despite her being right under my nose every Monday night at 9:00 p.m. Central time. Now their photos are posted over my monitor so I can see them as I write their story.

Do YOU use photos of your characters? Your locations? Anything else?

Here they are, by the way.

Bradley Cooper as Max Brown and Stana Katic as Victoria Sharpe

Bradley Cooper as Max Brown and Stana Katic as Victoria Sharpe