Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Excerpt from "Heart Search: Lost" Debut Novel

If you been reading my blog posts over the last few weeks, you know I've been publicizing the fab new paranormal romance novel of my friend, Carlie Cullen.  Before I return to my normal subject matter, I thought I'd leave you with a tasty morsel, aka "excerpt" from "Heart Search: Lost".  Just remember that Carlie is from the U.K. and their spelling as well as expressions often vary from U.S. authors.  Enjoy!

"Further down the street I came across a storefront which drew my attention immediately. On layered glass shelves was an exhibit of exquisite china fairies, their faces almost lifelike, their colours a range of pastels and earth tones. I gazed at each of them in turn, admiring the delicacy and skill which created them.

Once my eyes had feasted upon each fairy, my attention was drawn to the other half of the window; on this side were a range of glorious dragons – some with wings extended, some prone, some seated with fierce eyes that appeared to be searching for their next victim.

A strange sense of déjà vu came upon me. I didn’t remember seeing this shop when Josh and I had stopped here before yet I couldn’t escape the notion that this was all very . . . familiar. I also failed to shake the feeling that something was about to distract me. I continued to scrutinise the dragons, but when I reached one entitled ‘Freyedar the Fearsome’ a reflection in the glass caught my eye.
I looked up to see the reflection of a hooded man on the other side of the road. He moved as gracefully as a dancer as he slowly glided along. A sudden bluster of wind dislodged his hood and I was able to see the profile of his face. The skin was albino with prominent cheekbones, a strong jaw line and lips that were ruby in colour. He was beautiful, even angelic. In fact, he looked a great deal like Josh. Then with a gasp of recognition I realised it was him, but he had changed . . . subtly. I whispered his name and saw his head incline slightly towards me. An excited sparkle gleamed in his eye, but his face was agonised."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Heart Search: Lost" Book Review

Like many readers, the “Twilight” series was the first modern-day vampire romance I’d ever read…and I was a big fan.  But as more books flooded the market, hoping to capitalize on its success, I lost my enthusiasm for the genre.  So when Carlie Cullen’s debut novel, “Heart Search: Lost” hit the digital shelves, I wasn’t sure I’d like it.  But knowing Carlie’s style, I decided to give it a chance…and I can honestly say that I’m very glad I did. 

Without spoiling the plot, the story revolves around Remy and Joshua, an attractive, happily engaged  British couple who are excitedly waiting out the last few days before their wedding.   Everything seems to be going along swimmingly until Joshua suddenly disappears.  Unbeknownst to heartbroken Remy, Joshua has a very good reason for his unexpected departure.  He has been bitten by a vampire and, to his horror, finds that he himself is being transformed into one of these dreaded creatures of legend.  Steadfast in his love for Remy, he knows he cannot remain with her without endangering her life.

Of course, Remy is devastated by his disappearance.  She initially spends time wallowing in desperate confusion before deciding to embark on a perilous journey to find him.  Author Cullen artfully weaves her story by alternating between the two main characters’ viewpoints, drawing lush verbal portraits of their worlds.  Even minor characters come alive in her descriptive passages.  The plot twists, especially in Joshua’s new life, made me impatient for the second book in the series, which I hope won’t be long coming.
You can find "Heart Search: Lost" to get your copy on Amazon.com.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thirty-One Days of Classic Frights

The month of October is filled with pleasure:  nature's panorama of fiery leaf displays, the satisfying crunch as we wade through them, the relief of cooler temperatures and lower electric bills to name a few.  And as the losers among the new television shows begin to fall by the wayside, the increasingly popular variants of "31 Days of Halloween" churn out every Sci Fi and horror movie ever made.

Really good, scary movies are difficult to find.  The slash-and-gore films follow a formula that is numbingly boring or just plain offensive.  Body parts and serial killers abound, but films that produce delicious breath-holding shivers are rare indeed. 

My own  introduction to the genre came courtesy of my dad.  I have vivid memories of hanging onto him for dear life when he took me to the Waverly theater on Greenmount Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland to see "Godzilla" in the mid-1950's.  Of course, today's state-of-the-art special effects make the venerable monster look ridiculous - a man in a rubbery latex 200 pound suit who lumbered over minature cities and shot streams of faux fire from his mouth - but I'd never seen anything like it.  The first suit was so inflexible and heavy that the performer could only move about thirty feet before it became necessary to escape the heat and weight of the costume.  The story was inspired by a real-life nuclear accident in which a Japanese fishing boat floated too close to an American nuclear test and was contaminated....and the monster was originally meant to be an giant octopus.

The "B" (supposedly referring to "budget") movies florished under Hammer Films, Roger Corman's American International Pictures and then Universal International as the studios churned out the Frankenstein, Mummy and Dracula film series.

I was hooked.  As I became older and was allowed to stay up later, one of my favorite television shows was "Chiller Theater" in the early 60's.  The popular show's opening montage of the wavy word (Chiller) that dripped blood (in black and white) featured classic monster movies starring the likes of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.  It eventually evolved into a show hosted by "Vampira" who was the predecessor of  the late 1980's "Elvira, Mistress of the Night".  Cassandra Peterson's Elvira was a sexy, wise-cracking horror hostess who wore a low-cut gown and spouted trademark one-liners of varying degrees of taste.  As an example, when she arrived in character for the reading of a fictional aunt's last will and testament, she cracked "Hey guys! Sorry I'm late, but then, so is my aunt."  In response to a would-be suitor who asked if she smoked, while offering her a cigarette, she opined "Guess we'll find out soon enough."

Chiller Theater's originating television station, WPIX, has aired one-night-only revivals for the past four years, and there is even a Chiller Theater Convention held annually in New Jersey since 1990, which has become one of the largest horror conventions in the eastern United States. 

What's your favorite scary movie?  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Interview With A Romantic

Last week I introduced you to a new author, Carlie Cullen, whose first book, "Heart Search: Lost" has just debuted.  Many readers responded, wanting to know more about Carlie, so I asked her to sit down with me digitally for a few moments.     
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure. I’ll try not to bore you too much! [Chuckles] I live in a small town in Essex with my lovely daughter and am almost single. I began dancing when I was five and continued on, turning professional nearly fifteen years ago. I taught adults and children and was something I derived a great deal of personal satisfaction from. Regrettably I had to stop dancing in April this year when I developed serious spinal problems and I’m now disabled.

I’ve very interested in spirituality and do Tarot readings. My mother and grandmother both had the gift of ‘second sight’ or clairvoyance if you prefer, and it’s something I’ve inherited. I first realised I had the gift when I was a teenager and it continued into adulthood. However, as I faced various traumas in my life and began to carry psychological baggage around with me, the gift became supressed and I only got occasional flashes of it. In the last year or two, I’ve found a way of getting rid of the excess baggage and put the past firmly where it belongs. As a result, my gift has come back and is getting stronger. I know not everyone believes in it, but it’s a very real part of my life and I’m thankful to have it.

I have quite a wacky sense of humour, love using sarcasm (but not in a nasty way) and my friends think I’m crazy as a loon!


2. What do you do when you are not writing?

My daughter would say I’m never not writing, lol. Unfortunately my disability prevents me from participating in things I used to enjoy, like dancing, going to the movies and eating out.

These days, on the odd occasions my daughter can prise the laptop from my fingers, I enjoy watching DVD’s and am hooked on a few TV series, one of which is True Blood (is that any surprise?). I must admit to being extremely miffed having to wait so long for Season Five to arrive on UK TV. We didn’t get the first episode until 17 September and I knew my American and Aussie friends had seen the entire series before we got it! [Sorry, rant over, lol].

I love spending time with my friends, although it’s now limited to being in each other’s homes – I’m very lucky to have people outside of my family who care for me so much. Good friends really are worth their weight in gold!

At the end of the day I love writing and I’m now a professional editor too so between them both, I’m doing what I love and that, I feel, is what’s important.


3. Do you have a day job as well?

I used to have. I was an administrator for a Hot Tub company in the next town to where I live. They were only a small company and when it became clear my spinal problems meant I wouldn’t be able to return to work for some time, if at all, they had to let me go.


4. When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

I began writing before I hit double digits. I loved the stories of Hans Christian Anderson and The Brothers Grimm and growing up as an only child, there were times when I had to make my own entertainment. When I wasn’t reading, I used to make up my own fairy tales. I had a very vivid imagination as a child!


I finished my first full-length book, which is actually Heart Search: Lost, in the early hours of 26 October 2011. It was after my daughter had gone to bed so I couldn’t exactly whoop and holler to express how I felt. I poured myself a glass of wine and sat revelling in the euphoria which swept me up so I felt I was sitting on a cloud, until it had been overtaken by tiredness. It still took me ages to fall asleep though.


5. How did you choose the genre you write in?

In some ways I think it chose me rather than the other way around. As I mentioned in the previous question, I began writing my own fairy stories at around the age of eight or nine. I was fascinated by the world of magic and fantastical creatures and still am, although I look at them now through different eyes. I’m also fascinated by the paranormal and supernatural. It was the obvious choice for me to write paranormal/fantasy.


6. Where do you get your ideas?

Sometimes ideas just pop into my head out of nowhere, like it did for Heart Search. Other times it can be an image which really resonates with me, or a phrase I see or hear. It can also be my surroundings or places I’ve visited in the past which have remained in my memory for a particular reason.


7. Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

That’s a harder one to answer because I think every book I’ve ever read has influenced me in one way or another. I believe every book you read teaches you something about writing; some teach you how not to do things while others add to your knowledge in more positive ways.


If I had to pick just one, then I guess I would have to choose Hans Christian Anderson, whose wonderful stories sparked my young imagination enough for me to want to start writing in the first place and I’ve done so ever since.


8. Can you tell us about your  book?

Heart Search: Lost is set in present day. It’s about a young couple, Remy and Joshua, who are about to get married. Joshua gets bitten by a vampire and disappears two days before the wedding, leaving just a note.

Obviously Remy is devastated, but her twin sister manages to talk some sense into her, telling her to fight for him instead of wallowing in self-pity. Remy comes up with a plan and leaves on what becomes a long, lonely and emotional journey around the country.

In the meantime, Joshua has found his maker and joined the coven. He feeds from humans and discovers he possesses amazing gifts in addition to the enhanced senses, strength and speed all vampires enjoy. He begins a relationship with another member of the coven, but is still plagued by his love for Remy. Many dramas afflict the coven, each presenting particular challenges.

As Remy’s journey progresses, strange and inexplicable occurrences leave her questioning her sanity and she has to draw on an inner strength to continue. She also discovers strange links to Joshua and his new life, but never manages to work out what these connections really mean.

Joshua unwittingly finds himself embroiled in coven politics which leads to him fighting for survival.

On her way home, Remy makes one final stop and sees Joshua. She chases after him, but he manages to elude her and she then returns home, emotionally and physically exhausted.

The book finishes on a bit of a cliff-hanger.


9. Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

The entire story is purely all from my imagination. However, some of the characters are loosely based on people I know.

Remy is sort of based on my daughter. The only things they have in common looks-wise are they are both pretty and have warm brown eyes. My daughter was one of a twin, but unfortunately I lost her twin during the pregnancy, so Remy’s twin is based on what I think she would have been like. Some of the banter in the novel between the twins has shades of my daughter and me joking around, but I didn’t realise it until my best friend, who was my alpha reader, pointed it out. Remy’s best friend, Jakki, is based on my best friend.

Apart from that, all the other characters are purely from my imagination.

As far as experiences are concerned. I think most authors draw something from their past into their writing, whether it was a painful experience, an argument or something happy. I think I drew from some previous heartbreak in some scenes to make them realistic.


10.  What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

OMG! You couldn’t have picked a harder question for me to answer! They are all my favourites for different reasons.

Ok, the best I can come up with to answer your question is more character based. I really enjoyed writing the scenes with Dayna in yet conversely she’s my least favourite character in a lot of ways.


Dayna is the bitch of the coven, but she’s madly in love with their maker. The only time she’s pleasant is when she’s talking to him directly. She snipes at everyone, can take sarcasm to new levels and takes great delight in bullying the weakest member of the coven. She shows no remorse for any of her actions and blames her victims when she gets caught out.


I enjoyed writing her as she’s everything I’m not. Trying to get into the head of someone like Dayna was a real challenge. Whilst I think everyone has the odd bitchy thought about other people, I included, writing a character that very rarely has a pleasant thought in her head and enjoys inflicting emotional pain on others really kept me on my toes.


11.  How did you come up with the title?

I wanted a title to reflect Remy’s pursuit of Joshua based on my original idea for the book. So putting together her lost love and her quest to find him I came up with Heart Search. It was originally a working title, but it grew on me. When it became clear the story was going to end up spanning three books, I then added the subtitle Lost.


12.  What project are you working on now?

I’m now working on book two of the Heart Search trilogy, Found. I’ve written up to chapter fourteen so far, but have had to put it on the back burner for a little while as I had two copy edits to do and, of course, now I’m writing the guest posts and doing the interviews for the Blog Tour launch of book one.


13.  Will you have a new book coming out soon?

I hope to have book two out around late spring 2013 (if not earlier) and book three is pencilled in for the end of 2013.


14.  What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

The toughest criticism was also the one which made the biggest difference to Heart Search. When I originally wrote the first draft, I had Remy and Joshua sections in the same chapters. My beta reader, Alison DeLuca, gave me the great advice to separate them out as it was confusing to read as it was. This entailed a major restructuring of the book which was quite tough to do as I had to ensure the continuity wasn’t compromised and all the little subtle connections remained in a position where they still made sense.


The best compliment was actually from my alpha reader who doesn’t like books in the paranormal/fantasy genre. Having read Heart Search, she loved it so much, she said it was one of the few books she’d ever read which she would want to read again and again.


15.  Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Yes – I have a few nuggets of gold to pass their way.

First and foremost, read as much as you can. But don’t just read the story, look at things like sentence structure, how the author weaves the tale, building suspense or how the twists are brought in, also look at the characters and analyse whether you can relate to them in any way. Look at how the author describes places – can you picture them at all? Then think about the story as a whole – does it make sense?


Secondly, write as much as you can and don’t be afraid to ask for critique. Joining a good writing group is an excellent way to ease you in to this. It’s important to remember critique is not a personal attack on you or your writing abilities, good constructive criticism serves to help you improve your writing not destroy your confidence. Also never be afraid to ask for help; most authors are only too pleased to offer advice and support.


Finally, follow your dreams. If you want to be a published author, you can be. It’s a long and sometimes rocky road, but if you’re really determined to reach your goal, you will. However, be realistic with your expectations – only one in a million becomes the next J K Rowling!



Thank you for inviting me to do this interview, Kathy – I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions.



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Introducing "Heart Search: Lost" Author, Carlie Cullen

The conflict between spending time writing or reading is a familiar one for most authors, whether they are famous or not.  Most struggle to carve a small pocket of time out of daily responsibilities to follow their Muse.  My love of writing makes it difficult to pull away from the laptop and indulge in the joy of reading.  And if I'm taking time to indulge, I hesitate to spend it on anything I'm uncertain I'll like.  Today I'm taking time to introduce you to an author you may not know now, but you will soon:  CARLIE M. A. CULLEN, author of "HEART SEARCH:  LOST".  Carlie has been kind enough to take time from the launch of her first novel to write a guest post on my Dashboard today and I hope you will enjoy it. 

Here are the links to grab a copy of "Heart Search: Lost":  Amazon US http://amzn.to/OLwU59 Amazon UK http://amzn.to/PhC0Gu

Avoiding the Drama Queens

I’m sure we’ve all been there; we’re engrossed in a book, we get to an emotional scene and the dialogue is so over the top it’s either like eating a whole jar of syrup or drinking a bottle of vinegar. At that point, it leaves you wondering whether it’s worth carrying on to the end or chucking it in the pile to go to the charity shop.

When we’re writing emotional scenes, it’s very easy to get carried away in the moment and swept up in the heartache or declarations of love, especially if you are a romantic at heart. Even some films have dialogue which is over-mushy so you can’t always rely on them to be realistic.

So how do we do it right? How do we keep our dialogue realistic and not over-blown in emotional scenes?

Primarily I would say drawing on your real life experiences. Have you ever had a friend cry on your shoulder over the break-up of a relationship? Have you ever had a friend jilted at the altar? Has a friend ever come to you describing, with excitement over the moment his/her partner first professed their love or proposed? Do you remember a friend coming to you for advice on how to break off a relationship? I’m sure 99% of you can say yes to at least one of those questions.

Think back and try to replay the conversation(s) in your head. Write down what you remember. Even if she was the biggest drama queen going or he was theatrical to the nth degree, it still happened which makes it real. I’m sure some of us can recall more than one discussion, so write down everything you can recall and what the situation was at the time. Now you have something to draw on when writing your own emotional scenes.

Another thing to think about is your own personal experiences. I’m pretty confident when I say the vast majority of us had more than one boyfriend/girlfriend before getting married. So cast your mind back to some of the times when you and your partner parted company or exchanged the ‘I love you’. Think about what you felt, but also what you said to your friends and family about it. Write it down, even if its fragments of dialogue here and there, every little helps.

Put yourself in the minds of your characters (after all, you created them, you know what they’re like and how they think) and write what you think they’d be likely to say. If your character is a toughie who normally rolls with the punches and tells it like it is, they are obviously less likely to be over-emotional and gushy when someone tells them they love them, but then again even the toughest nut can crack. But even if your character is a soft as marshmallow it doesn’t necessarily mean they will pull out an Oscar-winning dramatic performance. This is where knowing your character is key.

When you’ve written an emotional scene, bookmark it and carry on writing. Once you are well past the dramatics, after a couple of days, go back and read the bookmarked section and ask yourself, is this realistic? Would this character talk like this? Refer back to your notes if need be (remembering the age you were when the incident occurred as teens tend to be more melodramatic than adults as a general rule). If it’s over-done, you can scale it back. A good editor will look carefully at these types of sections and will be the first to tell you if there’s not enough or too much emotion and suggest ways to improve it.

In conclusion, if your dialogue isn’t realistic and relatable, your character won’t be either. And if readers can’t connect with your characters, it makes it very difficult for them to enjoy your work.
Carlie M A Cullen was born in London. She grew up in Hertfordshire where she first discovered her love of books and writing. She has been an administrator and marketer all her working life and is also a professional teacher of Ballroom and Latin American dancing.
Carlie has always written in some form or another, but Heart Search: Lost is her first novel. This is being launched 8th October 2012 through Myrddin Publishing Group and work has started on book two: Heart Search: Found. She writes mainly in the Fantasy/Paranormal Romance genres for YA, New Adult and Adult.
Carlie is also a professional editor.
Carlie also holds the reins of a writing group called Writebulb. Their first anthology was published September 2012.
Carlie currently lives in Essex, UK with her daughter.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Recurring Dream Realized . . . Almost

Deep, restorative sleep has become an elusive prize lately.  It's probably just the difficulty of dealing with jet lag as I've made several coast-to-coast trips recently.  The frustrating aspect is that I vividly recall how deeply I slept as a child and young teen.  Now I'm lucky if I make it past two hours without waking. 

I remember my father knocking on my bedroom door at noon on a Saturday and calling "Time to get up!"  In hindsight he must have been ticked that he too had lost both the ability and luxury of logging 12 straight hours in bed.  When I did have a restless night back then, it was often the result of recurring dreams.

Surely you've experienced at least one of the common recurring dream themes:  the Chase dream, the Falling dream, the Flying dream, the Teeth dream and worst of all, the Naked dream.  There are as many methods of interpreting these as there are dreams themselves, but the difficulty can lie in fully remembering the details.  Supposedly, at least 90% of a dream is lost as soon as we wake.  In fact, most of the things we dream are lost forever.

My weird recurring Chase dream was a Tyrannosaurus Rex stalking me, ever-closer, in the alley behind my childhood Ednor Gardens home.  My legs weighed a hundred pounds each as I struggled to lift them and escape.  He never got me, but I always woke with a pounding heart just before his teeth closed on my flesh.  My Falling Dream involved plummeting from a cliff into the mouth of a tiger in a bar-less cage at a zoo.  The Teeth dream had to have been a stress dream.  I would dream that I had awakened and that all my teeth had broken and crumbled into my hands.  My jaw always hurt afterward. 

The Flying dream was my favorite.  I was a Supergirl of sorts, and found that if I flapped my arms fast and hard enough, I would levitate and soar around the old neighborhood.  The Naked dream was the worst, finding myself in the halls of Blessed Sacrament Elementary School without a stitch of clothing as the bell rang to signal the end of classes. 

Although the dreams recurred for years on an infrequent basis, they stopped by the time I was about sixteen.  Probably because by then, I'd worked out my most irrational fears that had evoked the dreams. 

But now, I'm excited to have the chance to relive my treasured Flying dream in HD when NBC airs its "Winged Planet" documentary which shows the world from a bird's point of view.  Every minute of this film reflects ten hours of footage and will air this Saturday, October 6th, on the Discovery Channel. 

What's your recurring dream? 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Going Back to Cali ...

In 1981, I ended a four-year stint in California and moved back to the East Coast.  The Golden State was a remarkably diverse area as long as you had a car to get to the scattered pockets of beauty.  As a young mom of three, I was mostly home-bound except when I escaped to play racquetball at a nearby club or visit the neighborhood park with the kids.  We did make occasional treks to the beach and traveled to several national forests for inexpensive camping trips.  Mostly, they were years spent setting up the collapsible swimming pool in the yard and ferrying the herd to preschool and kindergarten. My one celebrity sighting in four years was "Wrath of Khan" and "Fantasy Island" star, Ricardo Montalban.  So weak.

A couple of weeks ago I redeemed some air miles to purchase a ticket to Los Angeles to help my daughter move into a house not far from where her husband had secured a job.  Moving from Boston to L.A. with two dogs and a 15-month-old is not for the faint of heart.  I arrived the day before the movers pulled up with a few pieces of furniture and a lot of boxes.  When you move that far, it's often cheaper to buy furniture than bring it on the truck.  Most of the first week was spent keeping the little one out of the way and enjoying her calling "Nannniieeee" over and over.  While her parents shopped for inexpensive furniture, I toted my granddaughter in a back carrier and entertained her with repeated rides up and down the store's escalator.  "Up-whee" and "down-whee" she cried, delighted with the new activity.  Rooms began to take shape slowly as we tossed ideas back and forth on how to make improvements without sinking money into a rental property.

By the end of the first week, we were ready to take a break from unpacking and do a bit of exploring.  The pooches hopped into the car with us and we headed to dog-friendly Huntington Beach.  After we lucked out and found a parking space that required a short term loan, I was stunned to see the number of dogs racing around on the beach, bounding into the surf, chasing toys and balls.  Yes, there were some "Marley moments", but for the most part, owners were conscientious about cleaning up after their pets.  We set up a beach tent-shelter because the toddler has decided that she doesn't care for sand.  After a few forays to stick her toes into the water, she settled happily onto the shelter floor, consuming bottles of cold milk interspersed with bing cherries and cheese puffs. 

Our next outing was a death march-hike on the Temescal  Ridge near Santa Monica.  I had foolishly pooh-poohed anything shorter, feeling that it wasn't worth a traffic-choked drive that would be longer than the hike.  My daughter wisely packed the baby's lunch just on the chance we would take longer than we planned. Little people with limited language skills don't understand things like "we'll have lunch soon".  After depositing seven dollars to secure a parking space, the hike began pleasantly among the trees that shaded the canyon's entrance.  It wasn't long before I was sweating profusely, praying that each corner of the winding trail would lead to the downward portion of the looped path.  And I wasn't even the one carrying the 40+ pound baby backpack.  Soon I began stopping every fifty feet to catch my breath on the nearly shadeless, rock-strewn trail.  I was reaching the point where I thought I'd have to be air-lifted out of there.  The only thing holding me back was California's dismal fiscal situation.  I'd surely get a bill for about ten grand for their efforts.  The panoramic vistas of the multimillion dollar estates built into the hillside that fell away to the ocean were gorgeous, and occasional puffs of air sliced through the wilting heat.  The baby rode along comfortably on her daddy's back with her bottle of cold milk, shielded with sunblock and a large floppy hat.    I was at the breaking point of the thousand foot ascent when we asked a young couple how much further the blasted waterfall was...and when the trail would begin its promised descent.  "Just ahead," they replied.  We eventually reached the waterfall, reduced to periodic droplets by the drought and began the downward side, pausing every thirty feet to parcel out handfuls of lunch to the baby.  She timed things perfectly, waiting until we released her onto a shaded grassy area at the end to crouch and release her lunch into her diaper.  Smart baby. 

Much has changed over the decades as California now seems overcrowded by those seeking its moderate weather and natural beauty.  But one thing has remained the same.  The only celebrity I saw was "Saved by the Bell" and "Extra" star, Mario Lopez.  Still weak.    


Saturday, August 11, 2012

To Pee or Not to Pee

I must confess that Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte makes my pulse quicken.  Yes, I’m a Marylander who should think all things aquatic begin and end with our own Michael Phelps.  Phelps is a genuine sports legend, but Lochte is medal-worthy in both swimming and looks IMHO.

If you watched his recent interview with Today show’s Matt Lauer, Lochte isn’t as adept at interviews as media-savy Phelps.  But he IS disarmingly honest.  When he admitted to Ryan Seacrest that he has, in fact, peed in the pool, stating that “sometimes you just gotta go,” it elicited a comment from none other than British Prime Minister David Cameron who was not amused. 

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 “I’m surprised to hear that,” Cameron said.  “It’s not OK to pee in the pool.”  Lochte’s laid-back approach to the art of cryptic interview answers must be inherited.  His mom recently stated that he didn’t really have time for developing relationships with girls due to his packed schedule, and had to make do with ‘one night stands’.  Ryan laughed when he heard what his mother said, knowing that she meant he didn’t have time for more than a date here and there.

So unphased was Lochte that when comedian Will Ferrell contacted him about doing a “Funny or Die” YouTube clip on pool-peeing, Ryan jumped right in.  Tongue firmly in cheek, he remarked that he plans on writing a book called “Fifty Shades of Yellow” and producing a series of podcasts redubbed “peecasts”.

Whether they will publicly admit it or not, most people have peed in the water during recreational swimming.  And until a safe, urine-activated marker is invented for chlorinated pools to embarrass swimmers into compliance, it will continue.  Note here that it is an urban legend that a substance has already been invented.  Despite their parents’ instructions, kids are prone to use the pool rather than disrupt their fun to seek out a restroom.  And, I suspect it isn’t restricted to the under-18 age group either.

If you’ve ever wondered about how safe it is to swim with the bladder-challenged group, just keep your mouth closed while you read the following.

Think chlorine kills everything?  It does kill many germs, but when it mixes with urine, it can cause irritants that produce a skin rash and red eyes.

Remember the once-ubiquitous signs that demanded everyone shower before entering the pool?  Few people shower with soap before entering a pool, but it does help prevent illness by removing germs from the skin.  And the nether regions of our bodies can pack a germ-filled wallop.  Also, cryptosporidium bacteria are chlorine resistant and are the main cause of gastroenteritis from swimming in pools.  While the proper amount of chlorine will kill most bacteria within a minute, it’s worth noting that during public pool inspections, one in eight pools are shut down temporarily for improper chlorine levels, according to the Center for Disease Control.   
So, although I doubt he'd be interested, I'd swim with Ryan Lochte anytime.  I'm just not going to do it with my mouth open. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

I'll Take One PATROLMAN QUAD-RAIL QRP .223 REM, Please.

As I watched the horrid news of yet another massacre of innocent people, I wasn't surprised to read that the accused gunman found it all too easy to obtain his weapons.  In fact, we all may have subsidized their purchase.  Before he withdrew from the doctoral program he was enrolled in, James Holmes' financial aid included a $26,000 annual stipend for living expenses.  He reportely acquired his guns, ammo and tactical garments legally.  And I can personally attest how easy it is.  I went online and was able to order both weapons and anmunition without any type of background check or permit requirements.  There are even assault rifles for sale or barter on craigslist. 

At the risk of bringing the Second Amendment wingnuts out of the woodwork, I'll just state my opinion.  The right to bear arms, whether for hunting or personal protection, should not include weapons like grenade launchers, assault rifles, or other explosive devises whose only purpose is to wound or kill multiple living targets.  I understand that they can and should be used by the military, but I see no reason for civilians to possess them.

I'll gladly give up that freedom rather than see the periodic slaughters roll across my television screen:  Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech, University of Texas at Austin, Cal State Fullerton, San Ysidro, California McDonald's, Edmond,Oklahoma Post Office, Jacksonville, Florida GMAC, Killeen, Texas Luby's cafeteria, Springfield, Oregon's Thurston High School, Northern Illinois University, Fort Hood, Texas, and more.  And these are just the large-scale mass murders.

I'd be willing to bet that you'd be hard-pressed to find a friend or family member of a victim murdered by gunshot who opposes gun control.  The "controls" we have today are laughable.  How long will it take before we restrict ownership of at least the rapid-fire weapons for which there are no plausible reasons to own?  And, I'm sorry, but the Zombie Apocalypse doesn't qualify as a valid reason.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bullet-proofing a Heart

Losing a much-loved pet is never easy.  I knew this from experience, having lost two other dogs in 2006.  Even though, as a rescue, he'd lived with me for just 5-1/2 years, we managed to bond on a deeper level.  He'd been treated poorly, possibly abused before I found him, trusting no one.  I took about 18 months before he warmed to me, finally climbing onto the sofa to curl up against me while I wrote on my laptop.  The cat learned to live on the second floor to avoid being hunted on the lower level.  Whenever I traveled, he stayed at a local veterinary kennel, much to the staff's delight.  He was a favorite, with his dense, grey-and-white, double-layered  Malamute fur, ice-blue eyes and smiling muzzle. 

While on a trip to Birmingham, Alabama about six months ago, he survived a near-death health crisis which responded to several medications.  I wrote a blog entry, worried that he might not survive.  As the months passed, I grew hopeful that we would be able to manage his illness, despite the expense of the prescriptions.  He began to climb the steps slowly and sleep more until one evening recently when he couldn't keep his dinner down.  Anyone who has a dog knows that they occasionally manage to eat something while on the daily walks that upsets their system, so I wasn't too worried at first.  But by the third day without eating and the frequent potty breaks, I knew it was time to get help.

The young vet was sober after the blood work and x-rays, obviously not wanting to deliver the news:  his liver was enlarged and the mass that we hoped was benign had grown markedly.  He was in distress and surgery wasn't likely to save this 12-year-old pooch.  So I made the decision that I'd dreaded.

His death was by appointment and I didn't want him to spend his last night in the kennel.  I brought him home for his comfort and mine, and so my seven-year-old granddaughter would have a chance to say goodbye.  After sleeping on the floor with him that night to make sure he was reasonably comfortable, I fed him a sirloin steak as his death row meal, which he ate with great relish.  The seven-year-old insisted on being present during the procedure, so with her mom's permission, she accompanied him on his final journey, stroking his fur and murmuring her love as his eyes dimmed.

It's been over a week since that day and she seems to have adjusted after several days of tears and a week of gymnastics camp. She insisted on purchasing several helium-filled balloons to send a laboriously-created love note to doggie heaven.  My own healing progress has been hampered by both physical and mental reminders of my animal friend.  I'd been trained by habit to respond to his needs and it's difficult to switch off.  After locating the toys and bones scattered throughout the house, washing and storing the bowls, leashes, and collars, I have to catch myself.  Whenever I'm gone for a few hours, a mental reminder rings that I need to go home to take him outside.  When I sleep late, I wake up with a start, thinking he needs to be walked.  I keep checking to be sure he has water.  I save the plastic grocery bags for lawn clean-ups that won't happen.  When food is dropped onto the floor, I have to remember that he's not here to automatically scarf it up.  I felt almost disloyal, cleaning his profuse sheddings from the rear car seat and releasing them to the wind.

Although I half-heartedly browse through petfinders.com, it's far too soon to consider adopting another dog.  It would seem like marrying on the rebound after the death of a spouse.  But the house is too quiet.  Bebe, the cat, is still sure that Bullet is around somewhere, waiting to pounce, so she remains in now self-imposed exile upstairs, venturing down to the sofa only at night, when she's sure he's asleep.

Thankfully, I have several trips planned that will help take my mind off of my "Hairy Potter's" absence.  They will take me through to the end of summer.  When the weather cools and I pull a coat out of the closet, I'll think of him again as I reach for the sticky-taped, pet hair roller.  Some things will never change.

Thanks, Bullet, for over five years of love and companionship.  I hope you enjoyed the ride.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Evolution of Beach Life

Returning from five near-perfect days at the beach, I'm always surprised by how different each visit feels.  The visits are stored in my own mental iCloud like reels of celluloid film, quickly becoming more fragile each time I hold a private viewing.

The first trip I can remember was around age eight...the annual family vacation that I know my parents had saved for all year.  Slick-bottomed boogie boards had yet to be invented, so kids either had the inflatable canvas rafts or the cheap vinyl version.  People usually rented the canvas rafts, but the vinyl blow-ups sold for a dollar or two and lasted for about that many days before developing a hole.  My parents spent a lot of time waving their arms for my brother and me to stay in the area directly in front of the family blanket, as the surf constantly moved us down the coastline with each ride.  We would catch waves and ride them in repeatedly until getting caught at the wrong break of a large wave which pounded us down to the sandy bottom.  It was like being churned in a mixer, and unsure which way was up.  Gasping for breath as we finally made our way back to the surface, we would sit out for a few minutes until our courage returned.  There were no skin cancer warnings, and everyone smelled of Coppertone or cheap No-Ad suntan lotion.  There was no such thing as sunblock.  All the kids in our extended family had New Delhi street beggar skin by the time August rolled around. 

Dad took us to dinner at a restaurant twice during vacations.  One night would be at Capt. Bunting's so we could all see the big fish (usually marlin) hanging on the docks while we waited to be seated, and the other night would be Phillips Seafood restaurant.  Every year, without fail, my father would lose it when the waiter took our order at Phillips.  Everyone had steamed crabs except me.  I liked crabs well enough, but for some reason I always ordered fried chicken.  He always groused at having to pay five dollars at a time when fryers sold for nineteen cents a pound.

Vacations changed when I hit fourteen.  My parents bought a lot at Susquehanna Trails and discovered the economies of camping.  I HATED everything about camping: the musty tent, sleeping bags, smelly outhouses and all.  It wasn't confined to only the summer months, but spring and fall as well.  I'd started dating and missed untold parties and events while imprisoned in the woods of Pennsylvania.  Sulking inside the tent, I tried to sleep the weekend away to make the time pass more quickly and avoid the pretense of boring campfires and marshmallows.  Desperate to escape, I landed a full-time summer job and began working part-time the rest of the year.  The extra funds helped to avoid a wardrobe from Epsteins and the dreaded bargain basement clothing of the downtown Big Four retailers.

Eventually the summer between junior and senior year of high school, I managed to convince my mother to let me spend Memorial weekend at Ocean City, Maryland with girlfriends.  Four of us banded together to save on the room rental.  We discovered the heady power of strutting on the boardwalk in bikini-clad, tanned bodies.  Parties and beer flowed, resulting in days spent on beach blankets, tanning while recovering from the previous night's excesses.  After a few hangover sunburns, we resorted to wind-up kitchen timers to "ding" loudly enough to remind us to turn over.  A slice of 9th Street pizza and a cup of Thrasher's fries were our sole sustenance.  These weekends were what we saved and lived for in high school.

Finally, the beach visits of college arrived with no restrictions.  The numbers sharing hotel rooms increased to allow more money for beer and included both sexes.  One memorable weekend included balcony jumping at a popular motel.  Unfortunately, my last jump was an epic fail from the third floor.  As my hands searched frantically for something to grab onto during the swift fall, I hit the ground and regained consciousness to find myself surrounded by people calling for an ambulance.  Luckily, I jumped to my feet and quickly walked to the elevator back to my room.  If my parents had received a call from the local Emergency Room, I knew that would be the last beach trip as long I lived under their roof.  The next day on the beach was brutal, as I'd scraped the skin off of my fingertips, and had lovely bruises blossoming from the fall.  To make matters worse, I was so hard asleep on the blanket that a friend had to wake me to advise that part of my anatomy was hanging out of my bikini top.

After I married and had kids but no money, the death march camping vacations returned.  I never considered packing, unpacking, cooking, cleaning up and swatting mosquitoes while chasing a two-year-old very relaxing.  This past week's trip was less work than those, as I stayed in a hotel with my daughter and grandkids, but the seven year old wraps herself around me like a vine whenever we sleep in a shared bed.  On the drive home, I mused that since I soon will have more free time on the weekends, I might enjoy a date or two.  Despite her selective hearing loss, the seven year old responded, "EWWW...at YOUR age?"

Maybe someday I'll again share a room with someone closer to my own age, toss back a few drinks and stay up past bedtime .  But no more balcony jumping.