Monday, February 23, 2015

Wallaby and the Ghost

Sounds like the title of a kids book, doesn't it? But, nope, this is one of those "scientist has a spiritual moment" experiences that defy experimentation and proof, and that you just gotta take on faith. And I'm okay with that.

Now, I grew up in a legit haunted house, and it wasn't a happy haunting. More like cold spots, shaking beds, and bad vibes. In the years since, I mostly avoided places that gave me vibes, whether good or bad … until I met Arizona. Somehow, having him at my back made it more manageable--we stayed the night unmolested at the haunted Hawthorne Hotel in Salem Mass, and when we traveled to visit a friend who had neglected to mention that the lake house she had rented was full-on creepy (you know who you are!), I didn't wimp out to a hotel room or a night in the car--I nutted up and picked a room. 

I didn't even freak when the lights turned themselves on and off at random, or when items disappeared from our luggage and reappeared elsewhere. Okay, so maybe I needed Arizona to walk me down the hall to the bathroom in the wee hours of the morning, and stand outside the cracked-open door to ward off whatever needed warding off while I peed. But I stuck it out, and even got some sleep. And it makes for a heck of a story!

In the years since, losing two pregnancies broke down my anti-spirit defenses even further, as I learned how to grieve for real. And the passing of Arizona's delightful grandmother last spring, while sad because we all miss her, left behind many lifetimes of good memories in their large, tightly knit family. My big regret was that she didn't get to meet her grandson. I imagined her checking in on us from time to time, though, making sure I was taking good care of Arizona, and vice versa.

Anyway, I'm less of a freak these days about things that go bump in the night. Still, though, I'm the sort of person who checks behind the door and the shower curtain before I use the john, and I can't sleep with my feet hanging off the bed. (Heck, I can't sleep without a white noise generator and several blankets piled on my head--those of you who have shared a room with me can attest!) So it probably should have freaked me out the other night when I woke up at o'dark thirty to feed Wallaby, and there was someone standing on the other side of his crib (which is right up against my side of the bed).

It didn't freak me out, though. It pleased me. 

I couldn't see the figure in the darkness, but I knew it was there. Not menacing or protecting, just visiting. I sensed pleasure and approval, and a vibe of just-passing-through. In my half-awake state, I smiled, said, "Hi there." And then I rolled over and dozed for a few more minutes, while Wallaby faced the non-shadow and made happy gabbling baby noises that were so very different from his usual "give me boob or give me death" middle-of-the-night routine. More like he was playing peek-a-boo with his new best friend.

Eventually, those baby noises started escalating to "wait … I think I'm hungry or wet or something", so I got up, walked around the crib, and scooped up Wallaby. I said, "Thank you" to whoever it was--for being there, for talking nicely to the baby, for not scaring me--and then I went into the living room for our usual fresh-diaper-and-Law-and-Order-rerun 2 a.m. feeding routine. Still not freaked out. In fact, I was extra mellow, feeling like, in the midst of all the flesh-and-blood family members visiting to meet the newest member of the clan, someone else had gotten a chance to welcome him to the world.

So who was it? Darned if I know. Arizona and I tried to figure it out the next morning. We both lost maternal grandmothers in the recent past, but the presence had definitely felt more male (or at least not girly) to me. My mother's brother? Maybe, but it didn't feel like Uncle Steve to me, or any of the other possibilities we came up with. (I'll confess that after I put the baby back to bed, I checked both our phones to make sure there weren't any emergency calls regarding our grandfathers, both of whom are in their 90s.) 

The closest I can figure, it might have been Arizona's shotgun-toting, school-teaching Granny, who passed a while back and was a tough enough bird to fit the vibe. Not to mention that just about every family member I've met has said, "It's too bad you didn't get to meet Granny. She would have loved you." (She apparently adored books and authors.) And I've talked to her once or twice out loud, asking her to look after the little ones we lost. 

So could it have been her, stopping in to meet Wallaby? Who knows. But I like to think it was. And it's nice to know he's got himself a guardian angel.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Genetics of the French Toast Effect

Here in the New of England, we're under some serious snow cover at the moment, with more incoming tomorrow (and if the pattern holds, even more a few days after that). Mind you, we've gotten off a whole lot easier in southern CT than our MA neighbors to the north, including my mom, who has just about lost her Subaru beneath 90 or so inches of the white stuff that's been deposited in the past few weeks. Still, Arizona, Wallaby and I have been working around some serious storms, power outages, and an honest desire to stay off the road and leave the slipping-and-sliding room for people who really need to be out there. 

All of which sums to one prime directive: go buy bread, eggs and milk (BEM). This is a universal impulse. In fact, I'm pretty sure there's a gene for it (we'll call it the BEM gene), and that there are certain alleles (versions of a genetic sequence) favoring the additional purchase of driveway salt (BEMsalt), toilet paper (BEM-TP), beer (BEMsuds), and/or chocolate (BEMcacao). The base shopping list, though, is invariant. Bread. Eggs. Milk.

Prior to this past weekend's blizzard, my maternal unit emailed to confirm that she had, in fact, purchased these key commodities, and was thus prepared to ride out the storm. She carries at least one copy of the Whole Foods allele (BEMcrunchygranola), and thus I predict that she also laid in some steel cut oatmeal and organic produce alongside the basics. Meanwhile, Arizona, who is a BEMsalt/BEMsuds heterozygote (i.e., he has one copy of each) ducked out to purchase additional driveway salt, as I (a suds/cacao het) had already purchased sufficient beer and chocolate, and my father, who had sneaked up between storms for a visit, had come planning on making French toast for us and had imported the bread, eggs and milk from his more southern climes. 

And, darn it, we had our French toast while the snow fell and the power stayed on, and we had a lovely visit, with Wallaby getting to meet Grandpa. 

Arizona's reports of near-riots at Stop and Shop and Wally-world, though, got me thinking that the local stores must be in a pickle these days, trying to keep the BEM in stock, along with the ancillary commodities, when the trucks and trains are no doubt running behind schedule. And what of the locals, who have been compelled to buy fresh BEM every three days for the past month and have their fridges stuffed full, along with stacks of rock salt, donut dozens, and cases of Corona Lite in their garages?

Okay, maybe the latter sounds like the start of a party to me. But still. 

In the interest of thoroughness, I hied myself off to the interwebz and typed into ye olde Google-Fu "what to make with bread, eggs and milk." And I got in return a veritable treasure trove of recipes. Versions of French toast! Bread pudding! Toad in the hole! Not to mention something called a Strata, which looks just as geological as it sounds, except involving food rather than rocks. And I started envisioning the Chopped blizzard basket: all three rounds must include BEM plus the four mystery ingredients. Ghost peppers, Gummi Bears, octopus and lard, perhaps, or Spaghettios, cream cheese, asparagus and day-old fried clams. 

Annnnd maybe I'm lucky that it's not snowing today, or else Arizona would be looking at something really weird come dinner time. Tomorrow, though, we've got another blast incoming. 

Excuse me while I go check the fridge!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Holy Carp!

And yes, when I say 'carp,' I mean carp. Not like that one scientific journal article I got in for editing a year or so ago, where the authors had studied the genetics of a pathogen that affects Asian carp, but had an extreme typo moment somewhere along the way. 

Now, mind you, I speak English with some flair, but I can barely scramble my way through ordering a burger, asking for the bathroom, and announcing that I can't find my Mommy in French and Spanish. So I try really hard to give credit where it's due when my international clients write a technical article in a language that isn't their native tongue. But an entire article about commercial farming of "crap" as an important food source, and how to protect it from pathogens? Yeah. I got the giggles. Sue me.

And then there was that SNL skit many years ago, making fun of douche commercials--with all the waves-crashing-on-the-beach imagery, a pretty woman in a flowing white sundress, and a ponderous voiceover asking, "You know those days when you smell like a week-dead carp that's been baking out in the sun … ?"

So, yeah, as much as I love koi ponds and good Japanese-inspired tattoos, the word "carp" invariably hits me right in the funnies ... except when it's wrapped up in Latin to form that old cliche: Carpe Diem. Which I've been thinking about recently.

You see, over the past few years I've made a conscious effort to live in the moment and enjoy each day, rather than always looking forward, making plans and setting big, sweeping goals. Not that there's anything wrong with big goals! But the way I do them tends to stress me out and leave me always feeling like I'm running to catch up with the stuffed rabbit up ahead on the racetrack, and the stupid long-eared bugger is always moving on, out of reach. So I make goals, but I try to give myself permission to miss them now and then, and I remind myself to find something to like about even the crappiest (carpiest?) of days. 

However, I've recently discovered that this, too, has its pitfalls, because I've been so good about appreciating each day of the past few years, that I find myself comparing the now to the then, and getting stressed about how different our new reality suddenly looks. Lazy morning cuddles didn't used to involve a small person wanting to latch onto a boob with the gusto of a piranha; fooling around didn't used to require NATO-level strategic planning; and sleeping in used to be an actual option. And while these are all small things in the grand scheme, especially when compared to the awesomeness of having Wallaby in our lives, when you combine those small things with hormone poisoning and lack of sleep … well, let's just say that as much as I know that whining is neither attractive nor productive, the other night it seemed like the only way to go.

For a while, anyway. 

A very short while. 

Because even stressed and hormonal, I know darn well that I wouldn't change a thing about where I've been, where I am, or where I'm going. I love my big man (working downstairs now in his warm little cave), my little man (who just spit up on me, missing three burp cloths to nail my shirt with unerring accuracy, because he rocks), and the world I've built for myself. Maybe today doesn't look like this same date a year ago, but this time next year won't look the same, either. And that's a Very Good Thing.

So carpe the diem, ReaderFriends, even if it's Monday, the weather sucks (at least here in New England), and the cat barfed in your shoe and you didn't notice until you were halfway out the door. Today is a good day. And come nap time, there's a new book to write, a little at a time--ten minutes here, a hundred words there, until they all add up into the next story I want to tell!



Monday, February 2, 2015

Pleeeeease release me …!

Have you ever heard the Def Leppard version of that song? It was done as a joke, released as the B side of a cassette single (and yes, I just totes dated myself), and sung in a nasal whine reminiscent of the result should a giant mosquito have mated with that woman from the Nanny. You haven't heard it? Well, you're not missing much. However, you WILL be missing out if you don't grab a copy of my latest release, FIRELIGHT AT MUSTANG RIDGE, which is hitting the stores/kindles/other devices tomorrow, Feb 3!

Amazon link

Excerpt (If this link isn't live yet, check back in an hour, I'm working on it! And no, Autocorrect, I didn't mean 'I'm whoring on it.' Sigh.)

Here's the blurb:

In the latest Mustang Ridge novel, sometimes a little change is exactly what a person needs....

Ever since striking it big on a gemstone claim in the Wyoming mountains, Sam Babcock has known luck is on his side—except when it comes to the people he loves. When he forms a surprising connection with an alluring newcomer staying at his friend Wyatt’s ranch, Sam starts to question everything he thought he knew....

Needing time and space to heal, former daredevil Danny Traveler is camping out in a valley beyond Mustang Ridge Dude Ranch. She wants to take care of herself for once—and a sexy cowboy might be just the distraction she needs. But when Danny discovers there’s much more to Sam than meets the eye, she begins to long for more than a casual fling. Can she convince the confirmed bachelor that it’s worth changing his ways for a chance at long-term happiness?

And the author's note in the front of the book, which I wanted to share with you all:

Dear ReaderFriend,

We all know what they saythings change, people change, live in the moment because you never know what tomorrow might bring. But even if we keep up with our fortune-cookie fortunes and do our best with our deep breathing, we’re never quite ready for that moment where life goes BOOM and everything takes a left-hand turn, are we? I sure wasn’t, five or so years ago when I woke up one morning (or so it seemed at the time) to find myself with no partner, a house I couldn’t afford, and no idea what came next.

Well, what came next was more life—those cookies tell us that life is what happens while we’re making plans, right? Tomorrow comes whether we’re ready for it or not. For me, a bunch of doors closed but a whole lot of windows opened, and suddenly that too-big house was humming with activity as my mom (who rocks) and a dear friend (shout out, Liana!) helped me paint and pack and get the heck out of Dodge.

Maybe I didn’t go as far as Danny Traveler doesall the way to Mustang Ridge, Wyomingand maybe the healing I needed to do was very different from hers. But like her, I made a new home someplace I never expected to be. And, like her, one day I met a big, broad-shouldered man from out Westone who knows how to ride and shoot and fend for himself, and who I absolutely wouldn’t have been ready for, had I met him any sooner in my journey.

So welcome back to Mustang Ridge, dear ReaderFriend. Please join me in a story that is near and dear to my heart, about left-hand turns, moments that go BOOM, and how a former adrenaline junkie-turned-nervous Nellie puts the pieces back together with the help of a slow-talking cowboy who is far more than he seems. And if you’re in the process of putting a few pieces back together yourself, please know that you’re not alone.



And, finally, a picture of Arizona and Wallaby comparing tootsies, just because :)