Sheltering in Place – Day 67

I have a lot of time on my hands these days. I was struck by the idea of potty training my cat, Ellie, to use the facilities instead of the litter pan.  I trip over her litter pan every time I go into the laundry room, so this seemed like a good idea. It can’t be so hard, I reasoned. After all, Ellie is the cat and I am the mastress. And Ellie is a very intelligent, obedient cat. Okay, she’s very intelligent. That’s a start. After reading a particularly entrancing ad on the internet, I acted. Several days later, I received a pair of steel, reinforced gloves in the mail, and a set of instructions that went like this: Remember, it’s essential to take the upper hand when laying down the law to your cat. You can achieve your goal if your commands are clear and concise. You will be rewarded by an animal who loves you even more for your discipline. Below are three foolproof steps to employ: 1 – Discuss the overall goal with self. You must be in total agreement with self on objective and how to achieve it. Keep cat out of room during this discussion. There is no sense in alerting cat ahead of time. They have their ways. 2 – Now relay overall goal to cat before you begin the training process. You will find that sitting cat down in a quiet place, void of distractions, and outlining the situation is the way to go. They will usually pay rapt attention to you, especially if you are waving catnip about. They may not remember all you’ve said, but it is a bonding experience.   3 –When you see cat doing business in litter pan, carefully lift animal out of pan while wearing aforementioned,…

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Sheltering in Place – Day 66

I bit the bullet and decided to color my hair today. What, what, you say?? She colors her hair??? I thought she was a nat– Oh, wait a minute. I already did that.  Okay, so yes I do. And I have done so most of my life. And it’s all because of Gregor Mendel. You may remember him from high school No, not personally, but we all had to learn about him in science. Mendel is considered the father of modern genetics. You see, when you combine a mother who had black hair and a father who had platinum blonde hair, Mendel decreed the daughter would come out with hair the color of dried-up peanut butter. Not fresh, creamy peanut butter, but the stuff that fell behind the toaster oven and you didn’t find until a week later. The natural color of my hair is all his fault. But back to today. I bit the bullet, as I say, and after over two months of the sunshine growing out to reveal salt and pepper roots, I knew it was time to do something. Now I used to do my own hair all the time. That was back in my salad days. Now that I’m in my peanut butter behind the toaster oven days, I’ve been having the wonderful Trisha Greenwood, hairdresser supreme, do it.  But we’re all sheltering, my roots are growing, and I had to do something. Even Ellie, the cat, was appalled. I was super careful and did not leave handprints on the wall or drops of dye on the floor or towel like I did the last time. It didn’t’ turn pink or orange or blue, thank gawd, even though those colors are totally acceptable these days. I’m sure I missed some spots in the back, but…

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Sheltering in Place – Day 65

Here’s something I wrote a few years back, but I thought I would visit it again. It’s a wonderful story about my mother and her circus days. Topsy and the Apple Pie Judy Garland used to sing the song, “I Was Born In A Trunk At The Princess Theatre.” I often sing “I Was Born ON A Trunk At Ringling Brothers Circus.” My parents met and married at Ringling Brothers during the early forties. She started out as a First of May, he an elephant handler. Her professional name was Jerull Deane. His was Whitey Haven. Within a couple of years, Mom worked her way up to a specialty act with the elephants. My father worked his way up to being an elephant trainer. They both loved working with these large but sweet-natured animals. My mother used to say one of the reasons she fell in love with my father was because he didn’t use the eye hook, or let any of his men use them, either. He was kind and loving to his charges, and she adored the man all the more for it. Topsy was one of the elephants Mom worked with and she liked to tell stories about her beloved pachyderm. As a married couple, they had a little more privacy than other people, and lived in a small trailer on the backlot next to the animals. One of her favorite stories was about the time she took up baking. She would bake a fruit pie – apple, peach, berry, depending on what you could get right after the war – and put them on the windowsill in front of a partially opened window to cool. But pies kept disappearing, not all the time but most of the time. She couldn’t figure out who was stealing them.…

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Sheltering in Place – Day 64

For as long as I can remember, lurking inside me was the heart of a comedy writer. I wanted nothing more than to be writing funny quips for people, like Woody Allen did for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows, back in the fifties. I couldn’t imagine a greater existence. I was hardly more than a kid when I got my very first job as a writer in New York City writing funny ads and commercials for No Soap Radio. There were four of us and every day we sat around a table coming up with funny scenarios, gags, and punchlines. Not only was I in heaven, but I got paid a weekly salary! Of course, the salary was so low I had to work in the theater at night just to make ends meet. No Soap Radio was a short-lived chapter in my career, but the things I learned sitting at that roundtable with those talented writers held fast for the rest of my writing life. The art of comedy is serious business and you’d better know your business. You’d better know timing, delivery, and what the funny words are. By funny words – and most people don’t think about this – these are words that automatically cause people to smile or chortle. For instance: Orange? Not so funny. Kumquat. Funny. Move? Not so funny. Jiggle. Funny. Glasses? Not so funny. Spectacles. Funny. Or maybe more funny. Wait a minute. Maybe not so funny. Testicles? Whoops! Never mind. But in comedy, write toward the unexpected. It often gets a laugh. Back to words. If you don’t have the words in the right order, with the right rhythm and cadence, it’s probably not going to work, no matter what the thought behind it is. This is why comics will…

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Sheltering in Place – Day 63

I have come to the conclusion that I hermit well. Especially as I like cats. I may have trouble with the beard, though. I think most writers hermit well. That may be an overgeneralization. But I am the queen of that, so I will continue. Writers spend so much time living in the mind, traveling in the mind, creating in the mind, feeling in the mind, that the outside world becomes a secondary place for us. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the world. Really, I do. But what I am is a person who can live very well in a teeny-tiny world of my own making. Essentially, this self-quarantining hasn’t made much of a difference to me. Other than the fact I am hysterical every waking moment about catching COVID 19 and tend to decontaminate anything that doesn’t move, nothing has changed much for me. I get up in the morning and stagger to my computer. Hubby makes me a cup of coffee. The heart starts beating again. I begin putting words into the computer while looking at a screen. And I continue doing that until my back screams out for mercy. Or until Ellie wakes up and decides it’s time for her breakfast. You can set your clock by a cat wanting her breakfast. Hubby is very good at making his own breakfast. This morning he made some for me, as well. Scrambled eggs and turkey bacon on toast. He’s a keeper. So then I go back to the computer for more writing. Lunch rolls around. I make something easy. Often I feed my man, too, but only if it’s easy. Then once more to the computer. I continue to write. I answer a bajillion emails. I interact with…

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Sheltering in Place – Day 62

As a writer, I have made some observations regarding sentences. They can be short. They can be long, stretching out into eternity. One of the longest sentences in literature is contained in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! The sentence is composed of 1,288 words. Some people say that James Joyce has the longest sentence with over 13,000 words in Ulysses. Others claim he merely left out the punctuation. When you’re James Joyce, you can do what you want. For the rest of us, we often need to pay attention to our sentences. There is a certain tedium for the reader when every sentence has a similar structure and length. They can get bored. They can start skipping. They can put the book down. Like forever. Yikes! To prevent the unspeakable from happening, when I am at the final draft, and lo those many drafts that came before, I check my sentences, not just for grammar and punctuation but for length. Like the preceding sentence. I mean, really, Heather? That is one long run-on sentence. However, if I really wanted to keep it, I might surround it with shorter, more clipped sentences. To break it up. Or get away with it. Take your pick. As writers, we like our words. Stringing a long line of gorgeous, evocative words together is yummier to us than any dessert in the world. Well, almost. There are no hard and fast rules, but usually lush, flowing sentences work well for descriptive or languid passages. Usually brief, shorter sentences work well for high tension scenes. They also serve to break up the monotony. They often get the job done. “For sale. Baby shoes. Never used.” Ernest Hemingway supposedly wrote that 6-word story. Maybe, maybe not. But whoever it was, there was a writer who knew the long and short…

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Sheltering in Place – Day 61

You never know what you’re going to come across when you are doing research for a book. Case in point: today an idea came to me about how to fix something that wasn’t working in my latest manuscript. And if I don’t get this sucker done soon I am going to kill myself, figuratively speaking. Literally, I will probably put on another five pounds from frustration and sitting at my computer trying to get this stupid book done while consoling myself with chocolates. Because we all know that next to diamonds, chocolates are a girl’s best friend. And much cheaper. But much more fattening. Of course, you’re not going to get many diamonds if you eat too many chocolates. I think Aesop said that. Or maybe it was Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Where was I? Oh, yes. Research. For reasons too boring to go into (unlike those above) I needed to find out the history of the Chinaman’s Queue. Here’s what I discovered from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. So take it for what it’s worth. The Manchu hairstyle signified Han submission to Qing rule, and also aided the Manchu identification of those Han who refused to accept Qing dynasty domination. The hairstyle was compulsory for all males and the penalty for non-compliance was execution for treason. In the early 1910s, after the fall of the Qing dynasty, the Chinese no longer had to wear the Manchu queue. While some, such as Zhang Xun, still did so as a tradition, most of them abandoned it after the last Emperor of China, Puyi, cut his queue in 1922. But I just love that picture of the elderly man with a queue running almost down to his feet. If it were me, I would get it caught in all sorts of stuff. Or have it covered in…

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Sheltering in Place – Day 60

“The cheaper the crook the gaudier the patter.” This line was uttered by Humphrey Bogart when he played Sam Spade in the movie Maltese Falcon. This classic was written by my hero, Dashiell Hammett. Even at seventeen years old, when I read that particular line in the book of the same title, I knew Hammett was a brilliant writer. It’s hard to miss something like that. Mr. Hammett was a big influence on me becoming a crime writer, albeit not quite as hard-boiled. I’m more like a two-minute egg. But I recently learned that if there isn’t a dead body, I’m not interested in reading someone else’s book or writing one of my own. My latest novel, Christmas Trifle, which came out a few months ago, started out as pure romance. Good golly, Miss Molly. What was I thinking? Ultimately, I found what the story needed was a good, old-fashioned murder, not more kisses. More foreboding, not more hugs. So it was only natural I turned Christmas Trifle into a romantic suspense novel. And why not? Dashiell Hammett created the iconic Nick and Nora Charles. He put these two lovebirds in a novel called The Thin Man. Also made into a film, it was followed by a succession of sequels, all written by him. Not only were these murder mysteries wildly popular, they were wildly romantic. He may have even invented the modern-day romantic suspense. So I felt him egging me on, no pun intended, to do what I do best. Consequently, Christmas Trifle now contains a corpse or two. Actually, three. The story still has the same charming, but recently divorced chefs, but these two find their way back to each other over a dead body rather than a dead soufflé. My kinda story. Dashiell Hammett once wrote, “If…

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Sheltering in Place – Day 59

I had a lovely day today. So much so, I shall wax poetic and quote Robert Browning: The lark’s on the wing, the snail’s on the thorn…Well, that’s pretty yucko.  What’s this with the snail? I say bring on the snail bait, and let’s end his geranium-eating days. That being stated,  I shall now begin again and use my own words, lofty tho they may not be. I had a lovely day today. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, a breeze was blowing, and I got a new chapter done on my book. All of them excellent reasons to have a good day. But the biggest reason is I called my doctor and got some suggestions about what to do for my allergies. It may all be over the counter stuff, but changing this and adding that seems to be doing the trick. However, that’s the easy part. A little tougher is keeping the Hepa air purifier and the humidifier continually running full tilt in the bedroom. Both are on the noisy side, no matter what the ads say. Many advertisers claim their products are quiet, but maybe ‘quiet’ is a relative thing. Being in a bedroom that sounds like it’s on the runway of an airport and a DC9 is taking off, is not my idea of quiet. The cat is wearing earplugs, hubby is hoarse from shouting, and I can’t hear the danged TV unless I have it blasting. Even then I have to use closed-captioning. But, hey, my nose is clearing up nicely.      

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Sheltering in Place – Day 58

I have decided to keep hubby. Don’t try to talk me out of it, because my decision is final. It’s not every day I feel that way. There are times when he leaves the milk out on the counter instead of putting it back in the fridge. Some days the walls shake when he plays his music at 10 decibels, wailing at the top of his lungs right along with it. Last night he left the lid up on the Clorox Disinfectant Wipes – you know, those things that are worth their weight in gold –  so by the time I found them this morning the wipes were completely dried out. And speaking of lids, he never puts the seat down on the you-know-what in the bathroom. This is a huge source of annoyance to me because I am constantly dropping something in that big hole filled with water in the middle of the bathroom. Retrieving a tube of lipstick from down there is no joy, believe me. But frankly, hubby has his winner days. Many. And today was one of them. For the last three days either the olive trees are pollinating, the moon is in the seventh house, or something something, but my allergies have been at their worst. I have been miserable and unable to cope. My head aches. my nose is stuffed up. I feel like there’s a tight band running across my forehead. My throat is scratchy. If I move fast, I  become dizzy. And when I talk it feels like I’m underwater. Have I mentioned I am miserable? If not, please let me do so now. I am MISERABLE! Anyway, this darling man to whom I am married has been taking care of me. Today he made dinner. Yes, tuna salad and a green…

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