Foxes – Carolyn

This morning I drove down to the road to pick up my morning newspaper and the mail from yesterday. I know, I know, I should walk, but it’s a long way and generally I don’t, especially when it’s cold and foggy, as it was this morning.

As I was sitting in the car going through the mail before driving back to the house, the biggest dog fox I have ever seen in my life burst out of the long grass in the small uncut paddock just north of me, glanced at me and tore across the road to the tract of undeveloped woods—fifty acres or so of it—on the other side.

I have not seen him nor any of his family for a couple of years. I felt certain they were gone. I missed them, although I saw them seldom. Usually together.

I’m fairly certain this was the dog fox and not the vixen. I think dog foxes are generally bigger, and this guy must weigh forty pounds. Red foxes can apparently either be red or gray or occasionally black, although they are still called red foxes. This guy had a gray brush (tail) with a big white pompon on the end of it, but his body was flame-colored. Now, of course, I have to worry about his safety when he crosses the road. I wish he’d stay on my side. I wouldn’t mind his coming into my barn at night. Heaven knows I have enough field mice in my feed room to sate his entire family’s hunger.

I had been kind of hoping the foxes were still around. A couple of months ago when my friend Beverly and I were driving my big Zoe on the edge of the copse in my pasture, Zoe stopped dead, came up off her front feet, and backed up precipitously. Not a good thing when driving a four-wheel cart. A two-wheel cart backs fairly straight. Four wheels—not so much. I got her stopped, let her stand and huff a minute at what she obviously considered a safe distance from whatever she smelled, then turned her and went the other way. Later after we’d turned her out after driving, Beverly and I went hunting for the area that upset her. We found a lovely fallen tree that had created a natural den. Either the foxes and their kits were out for the day, or long gone. We never actually saw them, and the next time we drove that way, Zoe did not react, but trotted right by what we supposed had been a den.

So, spotting Brer Fox was a rare and happy event this morning. To the best of my knowledge nobody around here raises chickens or guinea hens, so poultry is not in danger from their predations. I prefer them to the coyotes, who are a danger to the pet dogs in the area. So, I will listen for their yips and worry about their road crossings and hope that they will let me enjoy seeing them in the mornings.

On another subject, my new romance, which is about skunks, is coming along. Somehow all my books seem to involve animals. Maybe that’s because I have a tendency to prefer them to human beings. Whoops! I never said that!

 

Nuts! It’s spring – Carolyn

My big forsythia is blooming. So is my big baby’s breath. Tulip trees are flowering and everywhere I look jonquils are flowing over the pastures like liquid butter.

Well, drat!

I realize it is ridiculous to hate spring. If I lived where I used to in St. Paul, first, I would still be battling blizzards and sub-zero temperatures. Second, I would not be dreading summer. We have had barely two days of real winter this year. In those two days my bathroom pipes froze and had to be replaced (expensively). Today on the twelfth of February it is raining and seventy degrees. There has not been near enough cold weather to kill the bugs from last year. That means I’ll be battling everything from fleas and red wasps to those little greenhead flies that bite like rabid Rottweilers. And we will probably top ninety-degrees sometime in early May, to be followed by a hundred plus in July, August, and yes, boys and girls, September.

Of course, we may still have an ice storm or two—enough to kill the peach blossoms—but for all intents and purposes, winter is past. And boy, do I hate summer. Several years ago my horse trainer and I flew to Maine to check out a horse (which I bought and still own) in August. The water in Casco Bay was still too cold to swim in. I needed a sweater over my polo shirt after dark. People actually ate outside in the evenings and picnicked at noon. I tried out the horse (my big 17.2. hand Sailor) without breaking any kind of sweat but the terrified kind. There was invariably a breeze coming off the water. The way summer ought to be.

And is not down here.

Of course, Maine has to contend with winter. Worse than winter is springtime/mudtime when the bears wake up ravenous to eat anything and anybody they can catch. Moose wander into people’s kitchens. Black flies swarm into eyes and mouths. But it is actually feasible to sit on the front porch in the evenings. I don’t even sit on mine at six in the morning. By the time I finish feeding the horses at eight I am dripping wet—and so are they. And with global warming, it’s getting worse. But I intend to try enjoying the short little springtime that we DO have down here. Who knows, I may actually try to grow something… Nah, let’s not go overboard.

My other news is that I have received an offer for a three book contract. Yea! Now all I have to do is write the three books. That means that no matter how hot summer is, I will probably be hunkered down beside the air conditioner. Actually, that’s where I would be in any case, but now I have the perfect excuse to stay indoors. Wish me luck and put me on your prayer lists if you have them. Thank heaven I have the world’s most supportive critique group as well as the world’s finest editor. Between them, I can’t get away with anything!

 

Good guys – Carolyn

The new anthology of short stories by members of Malice in Memphis, our mystery writers’ group, made it to the publisher on January 31st, the deadline we were given. Boy, does that feel good. Our president, Kristi Bradley, did yeoman service in collecting and organizing. All I did was edit the stories. This collection is tangentially about the hoopla surrounding Memphis in May, the month long festival including among other things, the Beale Street Music Fest and the Barbecue cookoff. I have no idea what this one will be called, so I can’t beg, plead, or threaten to get you to buy it when it comes out. We will be available on Amazon again, so keep us in mind.

The worst thing about getting everything together and the final edits completed is that I came down with my annual January cold just when I was finishing up. Nobody wants to do anything productive with a fever, all-over aches, and the nasty stuff that comes with a cold. Some things have to be done sick or well, however. Feeding the horses every morning comes at the top of my list, followed by feeding the cats and usually feeding me. Horses have an incredible inner sense of time. I feed at eight in the morning. If I am fifteen minutes late, they whiffle at me and stamp their hooves. Or, if the weather is nice, they hang over the fence like vultures. The cats are easier going, but I suspect that’s because they always have a supply of dry kibble available. The horses have big bales of hay in the pasture, so they won’t starve either, but they still guilt me whenever possible.

My hay man showed up last Monday to bring me two round bales of hay. I had not called him, but he drives by my house every morning on his way to tend his cows and always checks the level of my hay. He is a really good guy. As a matter of fact, I have a cadre of really good guys who keep an eye on me. I have a farrier who calls me when it is time to trim the horses. I have someone who cuts my grass and looks after the plants that I would probably kill otherwise. I have someone who mows my pastures when he thinks they need it, and a handyman who lives across the street and checks on me regularly. Kind people, all of them. And then there’s my son-in-law, but he goes above and beyond. He is not generally handy, but last week he installed two new fluorescent light fixtures—one in my feed room, one in my kitchen. I can actually see to cook, and with luck I can avoid any snakes that might set up housekeeping in my feed room where they can feast on mice. I still need a new door on my feed room, but he and I decided that was a job well above either of our pay grades.

Some of my friends resent talking to their children every day. They ought to be grateful. Mine call every day to make sure I’m still in one piece. It’s simple good manners to avoid giving your kin agita. I’m grateful they give a darn.

 

The new anthology is finished – maybe. Carolyn

Finally, (which means for the last time—well, maybe) the Malice in Memphis third anthology of short stories is going to our publisher at Dark Oak Press for the final tweeking before it is published. As usual, everything hits the fan at the last possible moment. I should be used to it by now. During the years I worked as a program coordinator in adult education for the university of Memphis, I learned that it doesn’t really matter what gets screwed up at the last minute, so long as we don’t get caught at it. In other words, we can fix it before it affects our audience and our students.

Stuff invariably happens. This time was no exception. Stories that I know I sent back to the authors for their final proofreading for some reason they did not get. Problems that I thought had been corrected had not. The next-to-last version instead of the last version were sent to the final collecting point. Possible sponsors asked for backup information that they had never mentioned previously. And on and on and on. Of course this won’t be the last of it either. Kristi, our president and the final liaison with the publisher, has never last her cool, nor screamed at me. I would probably have screamed at me, but then she’s nicer than I am.

In the final analysis, I think the stories are good. The all have something to do with Memphis in May, even if tangentially. Memphis in May is the annual month-long party that grew out of the Cotton Carnival and blossomed into Music Fest and the barbecue contest among other do’s.

I have an occasional argument with other writers about whether someone can be taught to write. Within the limits of actual raw talent, I think the answer is yes. I watch the stories that come in to me improve. What we all call ‘baby mistakes’ disappear. I can’t say that grammar necessarily is suddenly perfect, but mostly it gets better. Plot structure and characterization are stronger. Dialogue isn’t as stilted. Situations and reactions seem more real. Since we started doing these anthologies to learn to write better, I’d say we’re succeeding.

We are always being asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” Lord only knows. A sign by the side of the road. The newspapers. A casual conversation overheard in the grocery store. All that needs to happen is a tiny trigger to our “What if?” response. Every idea filters through our own personalities and our experience. Give five writers the same situation, and you’ll get five different stories.

There are several stories in our new anthology that scare me half to death. One is about a terminally plausible psychopathic teenaged girl. One is about a monster from the river. Another is about a man who wants a new appendage. There are twenty different stories. And twenty different minds came up with them.

I know I shouldn’t say this, but I think it’s a good group. I hope you buy it and enjoy it, so our publisher will continue to want to publish us. The book should be out to coincide with this year’s Memphis in May. Since I haven’t a clue as to the title, look us up on Amazon under Malice in Memphis.

 

We did it – Carolyn

Well, folks, we did it. And people smiled and hugged, and acted politely to one another. Yes, there were marches and protests, but the star of the show on inauguration day was not the new president, but the American people. George III of England is supposed to have said that if George Washington turned down the kingship of the new country—whatever the heck we were going to call it—he was the greatest man in history. (Probably not an accurate quote, but you get the idea.) I’m not talking politics here. You don’t know who I voted for. I have no idea who you voted for. The point is, when push came to shove, as my mother would say to me important occasions—behave yourself.

Like the day after Christmas, we will probably be back to squabbling on Monday. I hope not.

As for me, I rode my horse Sailor yesterday for the first time in about four months. We didn’t do much except walk, but I think we both enjoyed it. The world has gotten in the way of my seeing Sailor for way too long. I was afraid he’d forgotten me, because one of my trainer’s assistants has been taking him out to walk a couple of times a week.

Not so. He started wuffling at me before he could see me. Granted, he knows I carry carrots and other goodies, but he stuck his nose in my hand without even looking for a treat. First. Then he went searching for the carrot pieces. We are both old guys, he and I, and with the infirmities that come with age. I look up at his 17.2 hand height and think about how far down it would be to fall and how it would hurt to land. He probably looks up at me and wishes I actually had lost that fifty pounds I should have lost last year. But in general, we tolerate one another very well.

I was afraid that I had totally lost my nerve when I had my last birthday. It’s not that easy for me to get my leg up over the cantle of my saddle. I do not want to catapult myself to land on my head on the other side. Therefore my trainer stands on the other side to poke me back if I start to slide. Think of the white knight in Alice Through the Looking Glass who toppled every dozen steps or so. Of course, he was wearing body armor, but actually I think all that steel and chain mail must have complicated things even further.

We didn’t ride long. Both of us need to organize our muscles. I tried to explain to one of my instructors at my dance class that the way to stop my horse is not to pull on the reins—God forbid—but simply to sit a little deeper in my saddle. He stops as though I have pulled the plug on the light socket. At least I have broken the taboo I had forced on myself. I hope I can keep going. And so can he. In the meantime I will continue to drive my Zoe horse to my carriage. I’m just looking at the butt end rather than between the ears that way.

 

In Praise of Deadlines (sort of) Caroline

Deadlines… Writers live and die by them. Usually we cuss them. I always tell my editor to give me a date a week to ten days before she actually needs whatever it is I am writing. Lie to me. That way if I slip a couple of days, I will still make the REAL deadline and will not screw my editor’s life up. I also realize that most of us actually would never accomplish a darned thing without the pressure of a deadline. I have always envied writers who get their term papers done a week ahead of the due date. I tell myself that I work better under pressure, but since I’m never NOT under pressure, I have no idea whether that’s true or not.

I think the worst deadline case I ever personally experienced was for a paper in a graduate seminar on Bertrand Russell’s theories of divorce. Oh, for pity’s sake! Who cares? Who remembers? I certainly wasn’t able to work up any great enthusiasm either for him or his theories. This was in the days before computers when papers had to be typed carefully and corrected with White Out and ink erasers. And somehow the correction never lined up perfectly with what was excised.

I am a very fast typist, although not necessarily a clean one. I used to buy White-Out in a six pack. I finished the paper at one-thirty in the afternoon. The seminar started across campus at two. I made it, read the paper, got an A on the thing (which I did not deserve, but hey…) and vowed to be better disciplined the next time.

How did that work for me? Guess.

At any rate, I had to get the new anthology of short stories for our Malice in Memphis writers’ group edited and returned to the authors by yesterday’s meeting, so that their final proofreading and editing could be done before next Friday. The stories will be tied in to the Memphis in May festival. The publisher needs them by the first of February, so I’m already cutting it close.

How is it that when times are tight problems previously unseen surface and snarl at you? I discovered I had the wrong version of one story. The author had sent me a later one, but it hadn’t showed up on my computer. Oh, lovely. Then I received a very late story that has some problems that must be dealt with before it is publishable. Then there were the corrections the writers had not fixed. For those of you who have ever judged contests, you know that there is nothing more frustrating than to get a manuscript to judge THIS year that has not been corrected from LAST year.

At least there is time to fix everything (one hopes) that has to be fixed and still meet the publisher’s deadline.

I truly believe that with each anthology, the stories get better. Thus the writers are getting better. Hooray! That’s why we started this in the first place.

Incidentally the Malice in Memphis Ghost Stories anthology (available on Amazon) is doing really well. The first anthology of crime stories is still selling as well.

Check out our Malice in Memphis web site to find out more.

Celebration dates – Carolyn

Remind me again how much I like winter in the south. At this point it is 20 with a wind chill of about 14. That’s Fahrenheit, not the Celsius stuff. The hose is frozen in the barn, which means that I have to fill buckets with water and trot them the entire length of the barn so that the horses will have water to drink. Warmed water. I have a tank heater in the trough that keeps the water at least liquid. I also have three inches of snow in the pasture and on the road, which will make driving to church problematic. It is Elvis Presley’s birthday and the anniversary of the battle of New Orleans. Elvis is older than I am, but it’s also my birthday.

In my family birthdays have always been celebrated either not at all, or with jokes. The best one I can remember from my youth was the time we presented my mother (who abominated birthdays) with an elaborate multi-layer cake with a gigantic icing cigar complete with icing smoke and embers. I don’t recall that she was thrilled.

Neither George nor I could ever remember for sure the date of our marriage. We were married by the mayor in a tiny little Mairie (town hall) in Olivet, France. They presented us with a bright red Livret de Famille slightly larger than a passport with pages for the births and deaths of twelve children. I explained to the mayor that I had intention of filling it up. It lives in our lock box. Each year in the fall I would make a trek down to the bank to check the date we should celebrate.

The mayor was a small, plump gentleman who was wearing with his tweed jacket the sash of the Legion D’Honeur. From his age I would assume he earned it during his boyhood in the Second World War. Lord knows what he did, but it must have been extraordinary. I knew a number of people who ran messages to and from the Maquis (the partisans) when they were barely out of nursery school. Their ages would not have protected them nor their families had they been captured.

The entire wedding thing was a chaotic disaster from start to finish. I wrecked my VW bug on the way to Orly airport to pick George up on the Monday before the wedding. Then we had to drive to Paris—putting a quart of oil in the bug every twenty miles or so—to get a single stamp on a single piece of paper. We had to enlist the services of the diplomatic group of the US army to intercede with the Mairie so that they would marry us without a six-week waiting period. We had the paper giving us that privilege, but the French bureaucracy decided to be as obstructive as possible.

There was not a wedding band in Orleans big enough to fit me. We found one in the PX at 5:00 pm on Friday evening.

And I got the flu. My recollection of the wedding is hazy. I had a hundred and three fever.

I gets worse. But more of that at another time. Incidentally, we were happy together for 47 years, so we did something right.

 

Hog Jowl and Black-eyed peas – Carolyn

I have to run to Kroger to pick up some canned black-eyed peas and country ham for biscuits. I draw the line at hog jowl. I’m sure it’s fine for seasoning the pot, but something about the whole idea of those bristles just turns me off. When I was a child, my uncle Jim, the only farmer in my close kin, would drive to town to bring us a packet of hog backbone for Christmas. It can’t have been as good as I remember. Nothing could be. It was a great delicacy. He only gave it to us once a year at New Year’s. I have lady peas in my freezer, but they won’t substitute for black-eyed peas. I just found out that the number of eyes in the peas confirms the number of good days in the coming year. I, personally, could use 365.

Christmas in Memphis frequently is hot. This year went overboard. The temperature was over seventy degrees. I had to run the air conditioner for an hour or so just to get the ambient temperature down inside the house for Christmas breakfast.

We never did get the tree up and decorated. My daughter’s surgery kept her from shopping for presents. She couldn’t drive. Thank God I had enough stuff for them to open. My mother used to say that everybody needed three presents—one funny one, one good one, and one sentimental one that made you cry. I managed, but just by the skin of my teeth.

I truly have reached the age where I don’t need anything—except big things like a new computer and a couple of new barn doors. I had plenty of carrots and apples for the horses and enough gifts for my children to open to mess up the den. Good enough. They offered to decorate the tree on Christmas morning, but all I could see was having to take it down two days later all by myself. Since we decorate with miles of ribbon, I would have had to sit and wind it up spool by spool. I may actually be forced to get a fake tree, although I am dragging my feet.

Today is the start of 2017. My birthday (never you mind which one) is a week from today. When I look at all I have not accomplished this year, I wonder if I will ever catch up. Like the Red Queen in Alice (or was it the white queen? The ditzy one, at any rate), I have to run as hard as I can just to stay in one place.

This year I have decided to create a white board with all the items around here that need to be repaired and replaced. I will then hang it up somewhere I can’t miss it and try to click off an item a week. I suspect like most resolutions, that one will go by the board quickly, no pun intended.

But at this time the horses have fresh round bails of hay and plenty of food. So do the cats. Me, too, if I could figure out something I actually want to eat—except for black-eyed peas and country ham, that is.

Boy, do I hope we can all get our act together this year! If we can’t manage to agree, let’s at least manage to be polite to one another. What I wish for everyone in the new year is love and peace and health and enough money to hold it all together. Happy New Year, y’all.

Merry Christmas! – Carolyn

Christmas in Memphis is either feast or—depending on your point of view—famine. The kids who get bicycles are delighted because they can ride between the raindrops in 75 temperature. The kids who got sleds—not so much.

Last week the weather was bitter. Cold, sleety and snowy. And will probably be so next week. Actually, I am looking forward to being trapped in the house. I have spent so much time driving that I’ve used up two full tanks of gasoline, and I have to continue my treks today as well. My daughter can still not drive her car. The doctors say two full weeks. So, guess who is in charge of transportation to and from my house for Christmas breakfast—which I am about to start cooking.

I know I should be grateful to have the chance. So many people do not. But I still hate it. It’s largely because breakfast is one of those meals that cannot be cooked ahead of time. You cannot scramble eggs the night before, or they are yckky. I couldn’t find any country ham for the Sister Schubert rolls. I wrapped a couple of extra packages that I had forgotten I had this morning. The others I wrapped at midnight. On top of everything else, I have had that stomach crud that lays everyone flat this time of year. I think it is because those of us who no longer have children in the house have lost our natural immunity. Most of the year I do not shop. But three house in Wal-Mart and Target is almost guaranteed to land me with something grim—well, grimmish.

So, I am not going to church. I have no intention of spreading whatever I have. And this will be extremely short because I don’t have enough energy or good sense at this point to come up with something not Grinchlike.

You wouldn’t know it from this, but I really do love Christmas. This year the tree didn’t get decorated and there isn’t a wreath on the door, but there is very definitely love in my heart and joy in my soul.

Now, excuse me while I go cook the sausage. Merry Christmas. cmc

 

Ho, Ho, Ho. Or not? Carolyn

Saturday afternoon it was 76 degrees on my back porch. This morning it is 20. Spookey! Yesterday it was still and hot. Last night we had perilous thunderstorms with embedded tornadoes and 65 mile an hour winds. Call it climate change or something else, but it is definitely weird.

I went to the Nashoba Carriage Association Christmas party last night, and despite everyone’s telling me that the weather wouldn’t come in until midnight, I left early. Twenty minutes after I drove in my driveway the hurricane hit. I hate driving at night anyway, but driving in high winds, tornadoes and thunderstorms is downright terrifying in the dark. I hope everyone who stayed for the Dirty Santa (and had a few drinks, which I did not) got home safely.

I always say you can’t hurt Christmas, but this year my karma—or whatever—is giving it a shot. I’ve been telling everyone that I am being nibbled to death by ducks. Now I have progressed straight through being nibbled by geese and swans and on to casawaries. That’s the giant Australian bird with the big horn on its beak and the temperament borrowed from a Tasmanian devil. Steve Irwin, who had some in his zoo, said they tried to kill him every time he got near them. Me too.

Sunday night my daughter went in to the emergency room, was admitted and scheduled for laparoscopic surgery. Or more than laparascopy if necessary. The people at the hospital were absolutely fabulous. Megan said her surgeon looked barely twelve, but was not only a genius but super nice. He managed with the laparascope and did not have to cut her from her guggle to her zatch (that’s from James Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks. She is home and doing fine.

However, my Christmas tree still sits tied up in my carport. I may have an undecorated and un-put-up tree this year. The presents are still unwrapped, there is not even a wreath on the front door. The horses are mad at me because I was late feeding them this morning, and it is my fault it’s cold. Obviously.

But I have wonderful friends who stepped in to help me drive Megan’s car home from the hospital. A truly caring staff at the hospital, friends who offered to help with the tree if my son-in-law can’t. Horses that nuzzle and mug me for treats when they are not mugging me for being late, writer friends and driving and riding and just plain friends, and no major damage either to me or the house from the storms. And no more than a dusting of sleet and snow.

Tonight we sing carols at my church.

The Grinch figured out that you can’t hurt Christmas. Who am I to ignore the Grinch? So, down with Bah, Humbug! Up with Christmas. Have a merry one. cmc