NaNoWriMo and SIWC

Tonight is NaNoWriMo Eve. Tomorrow begins the frenzy of averaging 1667 words written per day, every day for the month of November. I am quasi-ready. I have a bare outline, character sketches, and some research done. I am currently reading a biography on Calamity Jane and enjoying it. I have another on Annie Oakley waiting on standby.

I am nervous, to tell you the truth. I want this book to be a success and not something hack or derivative. I am still searching for that golden key that will turn this story on its head. I can feel it, just out of reach. Perhaps if I just dive in I will stumble across it. I find that’s how my writing process usually works.

And this weekend is the Sanibel Island Writers’ Conference, for which I once again will be volunteering. I am excited to attend a particular workshop on Characterization taught by Steve Almond, among others. Perhaps something this weekend will spark my imagination and solve this problem of my story.

So here is to all of you out there who are participating in NaNoWriMo this month. I wish you great inspiration, and joy in the writing process.

Shady and Fingers

The boys in their usual, rambunctious state.

Things are getting back to normal. The boil water notice was lifted yesterday and the sewage system is stable so we can do laundry, shower luxuriantly, and flush the toilets with abandon again. The library only has half-power air conditioning, but the public parts of the building are cool. Part of the a/c is running on a generator and it sounds like an airplane taking off, but if that’s all, I can deal with it.

But our kitties, Shady and Fingers, are sick. They haven’t been eating and drinking very little. We were able to get them an appointment at the vet tomorrow morning, but I’m worried about them. They are so lethargic, snuffling and sneezing. Fingers has rubbed his nose raw, poor baby.

We are borrowing a second cat carrier from a friend and coworker. We only have one, and while they can both fit reasonably well, trying to get them both in is impossible. When we left before the storm we only got one inside of it. The other we had to wrap tightly in a towel to carry out to the car. I got scratched pretty bad on the arm from one of them.

I am hoping that they are lethargic enough that they don’t resist much to the cat carriers this time.

If you pray, send one up for the kitties, and for us that we can get them to the vet without incident.  Otherwise, good wishes, vibes, or energy are also appreciated.


Summer Swelter

Here is how we coped with the heat for the next few days:

  1. We moved as little as possible. (After taking down the storm shutters on the patio and office window we sat outside, trying to catch an elusive curl of breeze. There was none to be had–the world was still as death. )
  2. Drank as much water as possible. (We couldn’t get still water before the storm so we stocked up on bubbly water. Bubbly water is not fun to drink when it’s warm. But you do because it is 2 in the afternoon and you haven’t peed all day.)
  3. Went to bed when the sun set. (It got dark about 8:30 and the heat from even tealights was too great to stand. And that bed we were dying for when lying on the floor of the shelter? It was now akin to lying in an oven like a roast chicken.)

Then one night we were sleeping and I rolled over and opened my eyes a crack. I nearly shit myself when I saw the light coming from the living room. My first thought was, “There’s someone in the house.” But then it dawned on me that it was the little lamp we had purposely left on so we would know then the power was back on. It was about 10 pm and we both bolted from bed and ran for the air conditioner. Sweet relief!

We got our power back earlier than most, and we were really lucky we only had to live a few days in that exhausting heat. Some people today, eleven days after the storm, are still living in the stifling and oppressive darkness. The power company says they will have all power restored by the 22nd, which is still two days away and I feel for the folks who are last on the list.

But even though we had the power back on things were far from normal. There was a boil water notice in effect which meant you could take a shower, but good grief don’t open your mouth. No washing dishes, rinsing food, or disinfecting hands.

And then the sewers started to back up.

Florida is FLAT. And when water goes into the sewage system it is sent along to the treatment plants by a series of pump stations. But if the pump stations have no power then all the water (and the STUFF in the water) sits there and builds up until it’s exploding out of manhole covers and backing up into people’s drains.


Gas was scarce. There were only a few stations with generators that had fuel and the lines were hours long. We waited in line for 2 hours one night to get filled up and missed curfew by 20 minutes. I have vague recollections of the gas shortages in the 70’s and the lines where people would shut off their engines to wait. This was no different.

The world, for a few days, was a scary place. But the thing is, this is how life is like for many people on this earth. I am thinking about the folks in Mexico City today digging out from a far worse disaster than we could imagine here. What’s a little heat compared to being trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building?

Things are getting back to normal. More than 80% of the power in my county has been restored. Gas and water are readily available again. The curfew and boil water notices have been lifted. But this whole experience shows me just how thin the veneer of civilization is. The power goes out and you’re left in miserable conditions. People get angry, hot, tired, and thirsty. Fist fights break out over gas. You can’t flush your toilet every time you use it.

A disaster like a hurricane puts things in perspective. I know exactly how lucky I am to have a roof over my head, food on my table, and running water and electricity. I hope I never take them for granted again.

Unexpected Events

Things have been great on vacation. We met up with our friends in Munich, and spent several days visiting Nuremberg, Würzburg, Bamberg, and Rothenberg ob der Tauber. We were treated to such views as this:

Nuremberg. Totally hideous, isn't it?

Nuremberg. Totally hideous, isn’t it?

We have had a wonderful time reconnecting with our friends Danielle and Sylvain, and we have discovered a few things about German culture.

  1. They like cash. I think I only used my credit card to pay for the hotel and the rental car. Cash everywhere else.
  2. Sparkling water is called Sprudelwasser.
  3. The Germans are crazy for pork and cabbage:

    That's a lot of sauerkraut.

    That’s a lot of sauerkraut.

Seriously. I ate so much pork I thought I was going to sprout a curly tail. Pork at every meal. Cabbage hiding under the lettuce of your salad and of course the ubiquitous sauerkraut. We went to the grocery store and they had an entire Wall O’ Pork. They are totally serious about their pig food products.

We are now comfortably ensconced in our friends’ old stone farmhouse in Western France. And it was good to be surrounded by friends because the totally unexpected happened.

The other day I got a text from my Mom saying Dad had been having chest pains. They went to the ER, ran some tests, and the upshot was Dad had to have triple bypass surgery. It happened today and went extremely well. He is in recovery and all signs point to a good recovery. But the fact that I wasn’t with my mother to sit there and hold her hand while her husband of 46 years had open heart surgery left me a quivering mess.

But my wonderful friend Danielle helped me through with Reiki. If you don’t know what Reiki is, I invite you to read about it here. Basically, it is healing energy from the Divine that a practitioner can channel into another being: human, animal or plant. I’ve been a practitioner for several years now and Danielle is the Reiki Master who has taught me. Together we created a flow of Reiki that was sent directly to my father, thousands of miles away. It was proactive and left me feeling more in control of my emotions and hopeful of a positive outcome. I held it together.

Dad will probably be in the hospital for five or six days. Kosta and I debated over what to do. In the end, (mostly because we can’t afford to change our plane tickets) we are going to continue with our vacation. Trust me when I say it was not an easy decision to make. Most of me is longing to be home with my family. Everyone seems to be coping reasonably well. Mom has been so brave and capable and I am proud of her for surviving an extremely difficult situation.

The last couple of days have been rough, for sure. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much on a vacation before. But Dad has survived his ordeal, Mom is coping with hers, and Kosta and I will deal with ours.

Perplexed and a little frightened...

Perplexed and a little frightened…



Guest post: Anstrengend

Written by Konstantine-George Athanasios Karras.

On the whole, European vacations tend to be relaxing affairs, and ones taken in Austria are no exception. True, the small country abounds in rugged mountain ranges, but if one is clever, their magnificent peaks are conquered with the eye only and not by the exhaustive expedient of actually ascending them. Preferably this is done from the cozy and comfortable outdoor seating of one of the many cafes or bier halls that proliferate their foothills.

Heavenly views... hellish price.

Heavenly views… hellish price.

Anna & I made the mistake of deciding to ascend one of these lithic giants not only admire the views but to specifically visit a natural site that I had known about for some time. It was the famous Eisriesenwelt ice cave perched high on the side of the Hochkogel mountain just south of Salzburg.

Nothing in the numerous brochures or advertisements I read prior to visiting the place mentioned anything about the strenuous physical activity that would sinisterly accompany such a rash decision. Most did mention the two 20-minute “walks” up the face of the mountain on either side of a short but vertiginous cable car ride. But I figured my wife and I are in reasonably good shape. How bad can this possibly be?
The initial part of the journey (via our rented Peugeot motorcar along comfortable roadways) was a delight. The views from the car windows were of the Salzach Valley, with its picture-postcard villages nestled below, the magnificent wall of towering mountains reaching to the clouds above and occasional views of the dramatic Hohenwerfen castle perched on a steep and pine-covered spur jutting out into the river. Had we only known what was in store, we’d have sensibly stayed in the car.

Only when one is actually struggling to place one leg in front of the other along a steep, rocky path is one made truly aware of the effort involved. I am from Florida where the steepest incline I must navigate is my front driveway sloping down to the street. But at least amid the exhaustive effort we were constantly rewarded with views out over the alpine valley and we could delight in whooping in bucketfuls of the fresh mountain air.

Sucking in oxygen like a pair of Hoovers, we arrived at the lower cable car station. With a perverted sense of delight we noted other intrepid visitors were arriving as winded and as sweaty as us. They jammed groups of us into the small car and sent us up the almost vertical mountain slope for the three-minute ride. Once there, another twenty minute “jaunt” awaited us, a third of this under the protective cover of a man-made concrete awning that protected the hikers from falling rocks and debris. And above it all loomed the cave mouth, always looking impossibly far away.

Little cable cars, climb halfway to hell...

Little cable cars, climb halfway to hell…


We finally made it to the cave entrance where hordes of visitors were awaiting. Anna was handed an oil lamp by our guide and a group of about thirty of us entered. Once inside, the horrible realization took hold as the sight of our physically-fit guide, Johannes, should have warned us. It was a continuous flight of wooden steps with accompanied aluminum handrail all the way to the top. And it was only now, when one was inside and deep into the adventure that the guide in his thick Austrian accent informed us that we were about to embark on a 700-step climb up into the cave system. It was the equivalent effort of ascending a 40-story building! And this was to be accomplished at an altitude of more than 1,600 meters above sea-level. Lit only by the feeble oil lamps a few of us carried, I’m certain in the darkness, Johannes stated this with a malevolent gleam in his eye.

We weren't the only suckers...

We weren’t the only suckers…


And so it began… the ascent. Never in my life had I experienced pain like this. I wasn’t aware that the human body could produce such agony much less endure it for the time I had to. The initial hundred steps or so were bad enough; but then there was the creeping sense of having made a huge mistake as those steps doubled, then trebled and still they ascended before me. But I couldn’t stop. I dared not. My wife—ahead of me—God bless her, was soldiering on. How could I ever face her again if I quit? Shame and shame alone forced me to fight through the pain and continue.

And then I noticed something else. The people behind me had fallen silent as well. The chattering and light laughter that had accompanied us to that point ceased to be. It was replaced with a dogged silence broken only by occasional grunts of effort. I know now what slave rowers on the bottom deck of an ancient Roman galley must have sounded like as the swift trireme full of murderous Cilician pirates was bearing down on them and they were forced to pull at their oars for their very lives.

Indeed, I wanted to scream out in my own rage at having gotten myself into this misery, but I could muster nothing more than a continuous and pathetic wheeze as the altitude and the exertion combined to turn my lungs into something resembling a pair of pink deflated birthday-party balloons. I couldn’t even whimper which was all I felt like doing. And still those evil steps continued.

By this time, midway through the ordeal, my legs had long since become absolute rubber—pasta cooked well beyond the al dente stage. I knew, or I guessed the Austrians must have had a word for it… anstrengend: strenuous, exhaustive, demanding. Why had they not used that word in their brochures about this place? Surely that would have deferred my decision to take this on. But I never read it anywhere in the literature and so we paid the price for my folly.

Suffice to say we completed the journey for there was a leveling off at the top of the cave system and that alone saved us. The ice formations were impressive and it was something I was glad to have seen. I think though I will simply remove my legs and stick them in a box in the back of the closet as I will have no further use for them.

A bit of Heaven and the lowest circle of Hell

We left Vienna yesterday morning. We went back to the airport picked up a rental car and zoomed off towards Salzburg. We are no different from other tourists who have done this because we stopped in the village of Melk where there is an impressively large monastery.

Monstery at Melk

Monstery at Melk

We toured the monastery and grounds. We were impressed with the library with its musty smell of old books. We also came into the church as a noon service was in progress and we were properly blasted by the pipe organ. It rumbled right through your chest and had a marvelous sound.

Garden and pavilion at Melk Monastery

Garden and pavilion at Melk Monastery

After our tour we went in to the gardens, had a drink in the pavilion, walked through the dappled shade and viewed the Danube’s lazy progression down stream. Afterwards we walked down to the town of Melk and looked around a little bit.  We tasted schnapps – hazelnut and bought a bottle. We’ll see if it makes it back to Florida.

After climbing the big hill back to the car we continued on towards Salzburg. We arrived in the late afternoon, and thanks to the GPS, found our hotel easily. After checking in we laid down for a bit (we were tired) and awoke with surprise around 7 p.m. Even though we were still tired we needed to eat and decided to drive into town (we are staying on the outskirts) and find someplace for our supper.

We found an ideal little place: Zum Wilden Mann. It was decidedly cute, had good hearty food and of course, beer. We properly filled our gullets and then took an evening constitutional around the city streets. We saw Mozart’s birthplace and the fanciest McDonald’s sign I’ve ever seen. The sun was setting, the light on the Salzach River was lovely, and the air was cool. It was a bit of heaven.

My wild man at Zum Wilder Mann.

My wild man at Zum Wilder Mann.


Sunset on the Salzach.

Sunset on the Salzach.

Today we set out by 8 a.m. towards a town about 40 km south of Salzburg called Werfen. It is home to the largest ice cave in Europe and also boasts a well-kept medieval castle called Burg Hohenwerfen.

But first things first. We needed breakfast because we just hadn’t eaten enough the night before. On our way up the mountain to the ice cave we stopped at a little guesthouse/restaurant. We were the only two folks in there while we dined on fresh baked rolls, cheese and jam with excellent coffee. Our host, a gingham-bedecked man named Casper plunked himself down at our table when we finished eating and we tried to make conversation between his broken English and my broken German. He was a friendly cuss and we laughed at our miserable attempts at conversation.

Me and Casper the friendly Austrian.

Me and Casper the friendly Austrian.

Up, up, up the road we went to the ice cave. Kosta had read about it online and it said that the trail was a little tough: first a twenty minute climb through the woods, a three-minute cable car ride, and then another twenty minute climb to get you to the entrance of the cave. It was a slog, especially for the two of us who haven’t been working out as we should. But we made it, panting, to the mouth of the cave, donned our sweatshirts and waited for the tour to begin.

At the start of the tour our guide told us there were 700 steps inside the cave itself. That sounded like a lot, but we had just hiked a long way and paid a lot of money to see this cave. So we went, despite any foreboding. What our sly tour guide, Johannes, didn’t do was give us a comparison until we were nearly through with our 700 steps. Did you know that climbing 700 steps is the equivalent of climbing a forty story skyscraper? No? Well let my quadriceps tell you about it. It’s agony. And of course, we were at the front of the line and directly behind Johannes, who barely paused while he ascended. I asked him how many times a day he did this and he replied, “Three to seven times.”

The road to the mouth of hell. Dante Alighieri would concur.

The road to the mouth of hell. Dante Alighieri would concur.

Obviously, Johannes is one of the devil’s tour guides.

Kosta says the reason why they don’t let you take pictures in the cave is so there is no photographic evidence of all the people trudging up endless risers, heads down, not speaking, only the soft noise of labored breath and whimpers for the end can be heard.

Did you know that Dante pictured the lowest circle of hell as a frozen lake of ice? The thought was present as I held my gas lantern and ascended through an icy landscape in the dark, not knowing when it was going to end.

The ice cave was beautiful. It was cold, it was impressive. I am glad I saw it but I am never, ever doing that again. When we found ourselves blinking in the sun again we were both surprised to be alive. Then we had to walk back down the hill on gelatinous legs, wait for the cable car, walk down the other set of switchbacks until we got to the entrance. I had to pee but the WC was down another flight of stairs and I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it back up again. I skipped it and we drove away, our innocence of just a few hours before shattered like a falling icicle.

Now, let me tell you about Burg Hohenwerfen. If you know my husband at all, you know his favorite movie is 1968’s Where Eagles Dare starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. It’s a thrilling movie. The plot centers on several WWII special agents sent to raid a castle deep in German territory to liberate a crucial prisoner. There are secret plots, murder, treachery, and a nail-biting fight scene on top of a cable car.

Burg Hohenwerfen, or the Schloss Adler.

Burg Hohenwerfen, or the Schloss Adler.


Inner courtyard of Burg Hohenwerfen

Inner courtyard of Burg Hohenwerfen

The castle in the movie, the Schloss Adler, is none other than Burg Hohenwerfen. It was a dream come to life for my husband. While we were there he pulled out his iPod (yes, he still has an iPod) and listened to the soundtrack while looking around with the ecstasy of a 12 year-old boy. It was pretty adorable.

We did take an interesting tour of the place, though had to skip the falconry show, as it took place on a steep incline and we didn’t think our legs would make it. But we did climb all the way up to the bell tower and down again. Somehow. Through sheer iron will, I believe, because there was no muscle left in my legs.

After our tour we went down to the village of Werfen and had a beer at a cafe, and laughed in the way people in shock do about something traumatic that has just happened to them. We still can’t believe there wasn’t more warning about how strenuous the tour at the ice cave was. If it had been America (and I’m glad it isn’t) there would have been a lawyer at every switchback, handing out his card and pointing to the warning signs.

We are back at the hotel now, barely moving, groaning, and wondering what will become of us tomorrow. Pray for us. We will need it.

The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had

My husband has a line he rolls out regularly: “If I’d known how much fun it is to be married, I’d have done it four or five times by now.”

The feeling is mutual.

Look at that face. How can you resist that face?

Look at that face. How can you resist that face?

It’s his birthday today and I want to take a moment to tell you how very much this crazy galoot rocks my world. He makes me laugh every day. He’s whip smart, sweet, kind, and can change a tire faster than I thought possible. We work together, live together, and somehow do not get sick of each other. He’s my best friend and  the number one person I want with me when the zombie apocalypse comes.

We may not agree on everything. We have different political views, he appreciates mostly Classical music, but those things are minor blips. I just know he’s the last person I want to see before I go to sleep, and am excited that he’s the first person I get to see in the morning.

Happy Birthday, Konstantine-George. You may not get 60 more years, but what you are alotted you’re spending with me. I love you. Warts & lice and all.

2015-02-03 18.30.03

Forget the Reuben, Focus on the Ninjas…

forget the reuben copyA few years ago I was lucky enough to attend the Sanibel Island Writers’ Conference. It is put on every year by the wonderful folks at Florida Gulf Coast University.  That year I got to attend seminars with some really great authors, but my favorite was with Benjamin Percy. He has written some really great novels like The Dead Lands (2015) and Red Moon (2013).

The first thing you need to know about Ben Percy is that he has the deepest voice this side of Barry White. There is a You Tube video of him reading Goodnight Moon that will give you the Vincent Price chills. But I digress.

There were two pieces of writing advice that I took away from this seminar. The first is that a beautifully written book does not have to be short on plot. Literary prose can be paired with a ripsnorter of a story. In fact, it totally should. If you read any of his books you will immediately see what I mean.

The second piece of advice relates to the first. Literary fiction often describes in luscious detail, but you need to know when to expend that detail. The example he gave was a scene set in a diner where the protagonist has just ordered lunch. Instead of waxing poetic about the corned beef and sauerkraut it would be better to describe the ninjas that just vaulted through the door and are now fighting across the lunch counter.

In other words, choose wisely.

I want to leave you with some other words of advice he gave me about dealing with rejection:  “Keep hammering! Every time you face rejection — and it will come regularly to every writer — say ten Hail Marys, three fuck yous, slam a shot of whiskey and get back to work!”

I so need to embroider that on a throw pillow.

Breakfast Club

My husband and I are fond of going out for breakfast. We started regularly going to the same place every Friday and began to recognize the same people who also came every Friday morning. There was the nice lady who sat at the counter with her daughter, the two PE teachers, and the mom, daughter and granddaughter trio that sat against the far wall.

One morning we arrived at breakfast on Friday to find our restaurant dark, locked, and completely closed down. There was a sign on the door directing folks to a sister restaurant not too far away. When we arrived we saw all the other regulars there too. And we were so relieved to see friendly faces, we all sat together, which became the start of my non-John-Hughes Breakfast Club.

That was several years ago. Since then, new members have joined us, a few have moved away, but there is a solid core that has always remained. The venue has changed quite a few times but we never fail to get together every Friday. We always have a marvelous time. We laugh, sometimes too loudly, we share our lives. We hang out more than just on Friday mornings, but we can always depend on a happy start to the weekend, regardless of how the rest of the week has gone.

2016-03-04 07.37.59

This morning L to R: Tammy, Susan, Kosta, Diane, Cary, me.

I love my Breakfast Club. They are pretty awesome.

Things Found in Library Books — Part Six

randy copyThis is Randy. Randy is the kind of guy your mother warned you about. The one wearing the pooka shell necklace who will offer you reefer and then take you to a cruddy hotel with a vibrating bed and mix you a pitcher of Vodka Collins. He’s a bad seed, one that will ruin your reputation and make you “that kind of girl.” Beware of Randy. Especially if that top button on his jeans is undone. That’s one button on a slippery slope to certain debauchery. Listen to your mother.

hong kong one cent copy

Apparently a one cent bill was an actual thing in Hong Kong after WWII. They were sorely lacking in the metals needed to make coins so they issued one cent bills.  The most remarkable thing was they were in circulation until 1995. Could you imagine having a bankroll of these? You could buy a gumball with it. Except gumball machines take coins.


Louise copyThis is Louise. She’s the fun grandma — especially after a glass of red wine or two.  But beware, Louise can turn on a dime and curse the bloody hell out of the valet for moving the seat in her Mercedes, or make the caterer weep with her cruel and mocking commentary about the lobster bisque. The woman on Louise’s lap having her ass palmed is unidentified.