Sunday, September 8, 2019

Some background for a topic in Hope's Daughter

It was an unusual choice for me. It’s a sensitive subject and I know it used to be something to hide, or about which to feel shame. In the time period of my book, it was known as Mongoloidism, or Mongolism, or a whole host of various other, often degrading, names.

In my experience people don’t (and shouldn’t) hide it. Children who would have been institutionalized in the past are now reared to contribute to society and lead happy and productive lives.

I realize I am oversimplifying what is a major issue in many families. I do not mean to hurt anyone’s feelings. But I wanted to look on the bright side, to the families who made the bold decision to raise their children with Down Syndrome (not commonly called that until the sixties) right in front of everyone.

Maybe it’s a lesson I learned from my daughter, who to our surprise won a friendship award in elementary school because she chose to play with the ‘special’ kids during gym. Or maybe it’s because my mother-in-law used to tell me about the beautiful and well-loved baby with the syndrome born to a neighbor in the fifties.

Many in the public weren’t at all accepting back in the forties, when my book starts, which added unnecessary pain to my characters’ lives. I wanted to explore and write about the additional stress public disapproval would have caused on top of the myriad medical problems that can exist.

My book has sad moments. It also has joy and people with strong convictions and determination. Writing about Down Syndrome is a relatively small part of the narrative, but to me, it had to be done.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Cleaning House

Recently I wrote about cleaning out a few closets in our house. I was surprised at how much stuff we don’t need that we have accumulated over the years. I swept the floors of the empty closets and called it a job well done. However, considering that nature abhors a vacuum, I didn’t expect the little hidden areas known as our closets to be empty for long. I was just glad the chore was done.

But now it seems there are others cleaning our house, although they are doing it on the outside. I’m quite sure they view it as their own house, or houses, depending on your viewpoint.

I am talking about birds.  Since the first nest we noticed many years ago in our wind chimes, we have had birds nesting in the nooks and crannies of our home. They seem not to need much space, a tiny sheltered area created by a window air conditioner is plenty of room for a nest. Even the upper corners of the capitals on the pillars that hold up the ceiling of our porch provide enough area for a nest that has now existed for quite a few years.

And just like when I was throwing out all kinds of things I didn’t need when I was cleaning, the birds like to have a tidy nest. They cleaned out all the detritus from last year’s nest onto our front porch. Soon the birds will be refilling their nests with soft bedding for their upcoming families.

But I will be the one sweeping the porch.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Letting Go

It seemed to be a touch ironic that when my son was helping me to clean out the attic, due to some upcoming work that needs to be done on the house, he was the one who took his 38-year-old crib mattress down to the street. For a moment I saw the little boy who once slept on that mattress, the same one who stood wearing only socks and sneakers looking out the front window of our house while his diaper was being changed. 

I no longer had the crib that his sister used after he did. It was adorable, with a Lucite headboard that had primary colored balloons on it. She always put her leg in between the slats and bent her knee, claiming to be stuck and in need of being taken out. I eventually gave the crib to my niece when she had her first child, but I learned later that she threw the crib out because the slats were too far apart for the safety standards of the time. I was somewhat miffed that she didn’t offer to return it. If she had, I would have taken it back. No doubt I would now be asking my son to take it downstairs so I could get rid of it.
After the mattress, my son pulled out the wicker-sided pram he once rode around in, in high style. The years were not kind to it.

When we cleaned out the other closets on the third floor, the ones I thought I’d been really good about not overstuffing, I rediscovered clothing I’d worn as I was entering my 20’s. I also found some fancy gowns my mother had worn. When asked about why I kept it all, I did have a reason: I thought my daughter would play a lot more dress-up than she did. Now, she’s been an adult for quite some time and there isn’t any possibility that she’s going to want to wear the bold, geometric, long, polyester double-knit dresses, even though maxi dresses still come in and out of fashion. I wouldn’t wear any of the dresses in the closet either, which also includes my wedding dress. Although that one time I wore it was totally worth it. 

My son’s way of looking at the situation was to pick up a white belt I dropped and say, “The seventies called and they want this belt back.”

We also found all the textbooks I used in college, with the exception of my calculus text which my father liked so much I gave it to him. I really didn’t miss it—I failed calculus. My husband and I saved everything else, all his books, his law books, and some other books that were popular 45 years ago. 

Why did this sad condition come about? I’m not a hoarder, but I am a Saver—in serious need of reform.
There is plenty of other junk upstairs and I’m thinking of getting rid of some of it. I know in my head as well as in my heart that I won’t lose memories just because I’m throwing out the stuff I accumulated while making those memories. How? We still have all those pictures. Carousels of slides that belonged to my parents, our own collection of slides, negatives and prints of the kids growing up and albums of them as well as our trips; boxes and boxes of it all.

My son and I did a pretty good job on the first day of our junk removal. The necessary spaces are mostly clean. But we discovered a suspicious looking nest in the corner of the crawl space. 
I’m saving that for my husband to remove.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


When my son was quite young, we had to take him for a neurological evaluation.  The intern who was asked to help with the testing reported that he thought something was very wrong.

Already alarmed about the whole situation, we asked what he meant.  As an example he said that our son’s response to one of the questions was bizarre.  When asked, “What is the opposite of dog?” he told the intern there was no such thing.  The intern said that most children will answer that question by saying cat.

We were perplexed and not a little bit surprised that there was an answer to that question, but waited until the neurologist finished reading the report before asking how bad it was that our son did not have an answer for the opposite of dog.  The doctor put our minds to rest when he said he agreed with our child that it was a silly question.

Aside from in the above situation, silly doesn’t bother me. I live in a house where playing with words is a common occurrence and witticisms run rampant.  Double entendres and puns are the order of the day. Once started, the ridiculousness can go on for several long minutes until tears are running down our faces. I’m often left behind, rolling my eyes, pondering how to catch up with my clever family. So it’s no wonder that odd things occur to me.

The latest is this one and it hearkens back to the day of that intern:  Is the opposite of writing wronging?  I know that the spelling of write doesn’t lend itself to being the opposite of wrong, but sometimes when I write it does come out very wrong.  I can go on for pages in the totally wrong direction, down roads best left unplowed (sorry, there’s been so much snow here lately that all I can see is a brilliant white, like the blank pages that taunt me when I’m having trouble figuring out what to write next) and develop minor characters that do not even need to be in a story.  The character I have the most trouble with, invariably, is my heroine, who is often a muddled mess of inconsistency and contradictions throughout the first draft.

My writing group is very good at sending out the scouts to find and encourage removal of erroneous material, but they can’t help me clarify my character’s motivation.  The best they can do is wonder where it is, which of course sends me back to the computer to correct the wrongs I’ve committed and hopefully get the writing right.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Novel Images

Have you ever found yourself going somewhere in your mind that is completely familiar, vividly detailed, and filled with memories only to realize that the place is not one you have actually ever visited?  I quite often do, many times to the lab in the basement of the English home in Daphne du Maurier’s The House on the Strand.  It wasn’t a very exciting place in the book, and in my mind it is dusty, with old fashioned chemistry equipment, little light, and whatever molders in old English houses.

It is obvious that I was never actually there but for some reason, a combination of the story, the character, and emotion, the place is as real to me as some I visited long ago.  It is not a form of déjà vu, at least I don’t think so, but the feeling of having been in that place is as close to real as it can be.

As vivid is the church rising out of nothing in Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth series.  Before I saw the video of it, I had the place firmly in my mind. The same was true with Manderly, in du Maurier’s Rebecca. I could see it ablaze as vividly as if I were standing beside it, listening to the roar of the fire and smelling the smoke.  But, I can also see it intact, with the unnamed character, the poor suffering second wife, trying to keep her head high in the face of what she perceived as inferiority on her part.  It is so dark, with overstuffed sofas and antiques and that horrible housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, undermining her every move.

It was sunnier on the porch where the main character in Lad: A Dog by Alfred Payson Terhune liked to lay his head.  This ability to turn fictional locations into reality has been with me at least as long as I was a child, reading that book, crying my eyes out when I read the ending.  The island where Walter Farley’s The Island Stallion lived is also as vibrant, especially the entrance to it.

Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Sherlock Holmes stories, all stick in my mind, not as vividly, of course, as my special favorites, but easily recalled. The halls and rooms in Harry Potter books were all fully visualized way before the movies were ever made.  I can see and feel the Sorting Hat.  It was the same for me with The Hobbit books, but also for the houses in The Help, Gone with the Wind, and The Red Tent.  The Outlander books and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are now vivid memories of places I have visited, as is the Moon, in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Authors create new worlds for us and allow us to travel there.  But in many ways it is our own imaginations that furnish the details and let them imprint themselves on our brains.  When we get “lost in a book” we can find our own way out, or we can let a piece of ourselves live there forever. Then we can visit anytime.  It lets us keep enjoying the feeling we had at the time we read the books. 

The room in The Mirror Crack’d haunted me for years.  My second book, Vengeance Tastes Sweet, is in a way an homage to Agatha Christie.  So many books over the years have had such an impact on my mind that I feel as if I’ve gone into them myself.

Maybe, instead of saying “I read that,” I should be saying “I’ve been there.”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Coffee with a Canine

There is a wonderful blog entitled Coffee with a Canine on which I was a guest blogger. Please click on the link below to read about my Misty.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


At long last, after some worrying months for we who lack confidence in our puppies, Wilda has been placed with a graduate. It’s not that Wilda was a bad puppy, but she did have at least one unusual habit that made me wonder if she was really a candidate for guide dog work.

Wilda talks. She doesn’t talk to everyone, but she talked to me, and I learned that she did talk to her trainer. Initially I thought it was kind of funny that when I was on the phone, Wilda would try to make words. But it progressed to me being unable to tell her anything, since she was so busy talking back and it was hard talking over her when I was having a conversation. The movements she made with her mouth were funny and exaggerated, and I wondered if I somehow looked like that to her when I was speaking.

She never made the noises when anyone else was in the room, but her voice sure carried. My husband could hear it upstairs, but if he tried to catch her doing it, to see what it looked like (as opposed to my imitation of what it looked like) she always clammed right up. Mum was the word, and she never admitted to him that she could talk.

Now that she is with her graduate, her person who will rely on her to guide her safely, I don’t know if she will talk. As far as I know she only talks to women, which makes it possible that she might have a few things to say. I’ll never know. But Wilda is a working girl, and of that I can be extremely proud.