Happy Birthday, Beloved!

And a lovely time it was this evening on the home front. We celebrated the Beloved's birthday a wee bit early- She's got a packed social schedule and had to work us in. Around here we consider the entire month of one's birthday to be their "Natal Season," so starting early suits us just fine.

No one was left out of the celebration...

And a rousting good time was had by all...

Tomorrow it's back to light-slinging. This time we're heading up to do the little cabin. Although, with all I've set out to take, we're going to need a truck, an SUV and we'll need to leave the dogs at home.

I suppose that attic of mine was a bit more jam-packed than I thought. I could decorate another two or three houses with all I've got still waiting to be uncovered. And we haven't even gotten to the light balls yet! Let alone the glow in the dark, glass globes.

What a wonderful time of year!


Decking the Halls with Orange Sharpies

I'm sick. I have the cold from hell and for some reason this makes me crazy.

It makes me want to show the cold who's boss...by standing outside in the cold night air, slinging yet more lights.

If I can haul reindeer and snowmen down from the attic, I must not be too bad off, I tell myself.

And somehow, when it's all said and done, I do feel better. I stand with my back against a big tree trunk, surveying the evening's progress, feeling the cool air on my cheeks and treasuring the silent night.

Maybe it's the fever.

Nah, just kidding. There's no fever. I'm in my right mind. Hanging around outside with just the snowmen to keep me company was more peaceful than the scene that greeted me when I returned inside. The Youngest Unnamed One was cursing my printer and computer for not printing his "last minute" project in the correct colors and snarling about orange Sharpies. Like somehow it's my fault there are no orange Sharpies in the house?!

The snowmen and the reindeer didn't complain. They weren't upset about spending ten months up in the attic and sweltering through the summer. You don't hear them bitching about orange Sharpies.

But then, they don't come to me and say, "Thanks, Mom. I love you," either.


Let the Lightslinging Begin

Slowly, very slowly...It is beginning. First the office...

Then the attic...Where thousands of boxes wait, surrounded by an army of wire reindeer, icicle lights, multicolored, twinkling trees and garish, larger than life snowmen. It was frightening. They fought me like savages- snaring me with their hooks and tripping me with their wires.

But I prevailed.

The den mantle is done...That only leaves the rest of the house and the cabin. I figure I'll be finished by New Year's.


Tuesdays With Buzz and Millie- Dying With Dignity?

Okay, it's Nursing Home day. You know what that means...I've been to see the old guys and life at the end of the line is not rosy.

Millie wants to die.

Millie is new to me but I get the impression life hasn't been easy for her- not that she'll tell me about it. She doesn't know me. The mere fact that I arrive in her room and announce myself as her new social worker doesn't mean she's going to unzip her heart and share all of her secrets. Millie's going blind. She thinks everyone's out to get her. When the man across the hall screams at night, she thinks he's coming for her.

Two months ago, she could manage. She's on dialysis with end-stage renal disease but that didn't keep her from going to bingo and church in the dining room on Wednesday nights. But when the vision in her only good eye began to go, Millie began to vanish as well. She pulled inside herself and stopped going out of her room. Sometimes her nurse would find her quietly crying, but she wouldn't talk about it.

When I mention Millie's seemingly supportive family, the nurse scoffs. "Yeah, they care about taking her money, that's about all."

Now Millie is saying she won't go back to dialysis. "She says all she sees is black when they do the dialysis," her nurse says.

I find Millie sitting in her wheelchair listening to her new flat-screen TV. "In the Heat of the Night," is on. I'm interrupting but Millie agrees to talk to me for a few minutes.

"The social worker here is worried," I begin. "She says you want to stop dialysis."

Millie nods. "I'm tired," she says softly. "I can't see. I can't do anything anymore. What's the point?"

An aide stops in the doorway and thrusts a plastic-wrapped sandwich at Millie. I know that girl knows as well as I do that Millie can't see the damned sandwich but I wait to see what the girl will do. "Your sandwich. Here," the aide says dumping the two thin slices of bread into Millie's lap. "She doesn't like her lunch," the aide tells me.

Millie fumbles with the plastic wrap, feeling for the end that opens and sighing her impatience with the task.

"I'm just tired," she mumbles. "And I'm not going back."

No damned wonder, I think.

Finally Millie tells me that "they" were talking about sending her for a consult with a specialist a while back but "then they didn't mention it anymore."

Millie doesn't know why and she hasn't asked because she knows it's pointless. If they're not going to pursue it, there's no way she'll get in to see a specialist.

She also doesn't understand why she should go to the meeting "they" are holding on Thursday to decide whether she can stop dialysis or not. "I don't want to go."

And I find out later- "they" haven't even planned to include her!!!

The doctor and the dialysis staff haven't consulted with the nursing home staff either, or me. They will just sit down and, I don't know, pull straws?

I tell the social worker and the nurse we need to get Millie to a specialist, find out about antidepressants, find out about getting someone in to help Millie learn to negotiate her world as a blind person. "We're not talking about Helen Keller here," I say. "We have come a long way. We can help Millie."

We can, I think, but will we? The social worker will fight, I know that much but will anyone listen? Millie is "of sound mind." She has a right to make her decision about whether or not she stops dialysis- but have we done our part by trying to find alternatives to her hopelessness?

I leave her room and go to meet my next new patient.

At first Buzz is reluctant to talk to me. He answers my questions in short, brusque snaps...until I somehow begin to win him over by discussing my lame knowledge of football, Carolina football in particular. I told him my son was pals with the third runner up quarterback and this seemed to do the trick.

I know I'm in when I start to leave and Buzz asks if he can sing me a song before I go. He proceeds to sing me a tune about "Preacher Nancy," who goes out hunting on Sunday and eventually gets treed by a bear. "Lord, if you won't help me," Pastor Nancy wails, "Please don't help that bear!"

Buzz grins at me with a devilish twinkle in his bright blue eyes, delighted when I clap and grin in response.

Buzz isn't even 70 years old and his doctor says he will be dead of bone cancer within the next three to six months.

Sometimes I feel like a tiny ant in a very large universe, or one of the billion angels who dance on the head of that proverbial pin. But I am not alone.


Doing My Best for the Greater Good...

I have done my best, as a citizen of this great country, to support its economic turnaround. I have jumped into the fray and battled my way through Cyber Monday. I have laid down my credit card for the greater good and I am, in a word, poor.

It's the shopping season. Let the games begin!

I also braved another front today. I ventured up the steps to the attic, took one look at the humongous mountain of Christmas decorations and...walked right back downstairs.

Ah, well, tomorrow's another day.


Turkey Day Hangover...

Oh, that wonderful Thanksgiving hangover. You know the one- The Turkey Day hangover that means your house looks like a hurricane hit it. You find yourself recoiling every time you open the refrigerator door because after 3 days everything smells and tastes like dead turkey. You stopped being on your best behavior sometime around 9:17 Saturday morning and by Saturday afternoon you were seriously contemplating knocking off a few family members. And this morning, I woke up with a cold and a dying laptop.

Don't complicate this by going to Costco. There is no "Goodwill Toward Men" at Costco the Sunday after Turkey Day. It's more like someone released fire-breathing dragons into a roman coliseum for a no-holds-barred battle to the death.

In an attempt to recoup- I ordered pizza for dinner. We ate in the kitchen where, despite the clean-out, things still smelled off. Even with a cold they smelled off to me. Know why? Somebody, God help us, pooped under the kitchen table!

I just hope it was one of the dogs.

Maybe they've had it with Turkeys too.

I really do love the togetherness of the holidays. Really. I do. Did I mention the fabulous dinner the Eldest Unnamed One made for us last night? Or the Margaritas Marti and I downed while playing Apples to Apples with the kids? Or the funny things they say when they're all together, home for the holidays?

It's just the clean up I can't stand. The clean-up, the chaos, the cold...and the dead laptop.

But oh, did we have fun!

It may have been a mess and I may feel a bit crabby now- but damn, we had fun!

So yeah, a month from now, I'll be right back here, crabby, exhausted and still smiling from the good times I had doing the Holiday thing all over again.

Now, where did I put those Chicken Wire Light Balls? And has anybody seen the twinkle light reindeer?


Writing- Where Does It Come From Anyway?

My friend, Random Blogger, has written asking the following, very good questions:

"Ok, so how do you get to the point where you can write enough of anything to write book? I can never write more than a few pages on anything. How many irrelevant details do you add to build on the character and situation? Mentor me Nancy. If nothing else I want to tell the story behind my photos."

And just when I was wondering what to write today... ;-)

Sometimes I wonder myself where the ideas come from but I've learned to stop focusing on how the characters appear and let my mind roam along with them.

There are lots of "what ifs" in my head but few of them become novels. It seems to work like this- A thought occurs to me, or a character pops into my head. With my Sierra Lavotini books, Sierra herself appeared, fully formed and ready to tell her story. Sometimes it's an idea or a situation.

For the past few weeks, I've been thinking about the cabin and what it would be like to live there full time. Then I wonder how my boys would like me living there full-time. Would they come visit? What if it was Christmas time? Would they ever come for Christmas? I'm not so sure they would.

Then I started thinking about the characters I've met up there and how the locals say they don't like folks who "ask too many questions." I live in the heart of Moonshine country. What would I do if I met the Moonshiner? What would he be like?

I let my imagination noodle around with these thoughts. I throw in my fears, my wildest hopes and see what happens. If the idea sticks with me longer than a few days, I begin to think about how I would tell the story. Where would it start? Who would be the best one to tell the tale? What would keep the reader interested? What would keep me interested.

But I don't begin to write until I hear the main character give me the first line. So for a week I lay awake at night, waiting to hear the first line. I call it getting "creatively constipated." You can't tell the story until you're fairly bursting with it. You can't write until you absolutely have to or die. I wait until I see the opening scene as clearly as a movie and then I'm off and running.

Sometimes, like Random Blogger, despite my best intentions, I lose interest and walk away from the project. Sometimes I get excited and tell the story to a friend. That is the kiss of death for me. If I've already told the story, I see no reason to write it. It's just one of my quirks. I can't write something I've told out loud.

So, Random, if you're wanting to tell the story of your photographs- step inside them. Feel them with all of your senses. If you keep coming back to one particular picture, maybe sit down and promise yourself you'll only write about that picture for ten minutes, then you're free to let it go. If at the end of that time, you feel like continuing, go right ahead. But if not, ask yourself why. Then ask yourself what you really want to say and write that down.

Pretend you're describing your photo to someone you love with all your heart, only they're blind. Give them the gift of your words. Bring your picture to life. No detail that brings the picture to life for the reader can be called "irrelevant." To paraphrase Elmore Leonard, try not to write the parts you and your reader usually skip over in your search for the good stuff.

Or look at the picture and free associate...

"It was so cold that day, the frost clung to the pond behind my house, too shy to rise up into the gray, winter morning. It was the day after you left me and all the world was as still as death."


"The morning after the first night we made love, she baked cinnamon buns. I heard her downstairs in my kitchen, rattling pots and humming an old Allman Brothers song. The warm scent of yeast and coffee slipped inside the bedroom, crawled beneath my covers and reminded me of the way she'd looked in the summer moonlight. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend she wasn't leaving. But in my heart, I knew she was already gone."

I don't know the best or right way to do it other than to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and have at it.

Maybe one of my readers has some words of wisdom to offer here, Random. Maybe they'll send in a comment or two. Please....


Turkey Day Recovery

This was a day for retreat and recovery...so it was back up to the cabin, even if it was only for a few hours. Even more leaves have fallen making it easy to see the steep hills on either side of the drive up to the cabin.

I heard a gun go off as I drove in on the main road and wondered how many crazy people are out there shooting without proper gun safety education and knowledge...Of course, I was driving past an ammo shop when I heard the shotgun blast...Maybe it was an educational seminar. Yep, I'll just keep thinking positively about it...Even if it is a full moon.

The boys and the Beloved came home just in time tonight to keep me from scrubbing the kitchen floor by hand. "Woman, that's too crazy!" the Beloved exclaimed.

I agree. Thanksgiving Weekend is for relaxing, not doing penance on my knees!


Thanksgiving Egg Rolls

And a lovely Turkey Day it was.

The table decorations, some like the above turkey, have been with me for 30 years now and never fail to evoke a walk down memory lane. I guess all of us got a little nostalgic. We talked about Dad and the meals we ate and made with him.

The Youngest Unnamed One made his eggrolls.

And we all enjoyed them...well, almost all of us enjoyed them...

A great time was had by all...

Happy Thanksgiving!


Happy Pre-Turkey Day

Pre-Turkey Day...

The pies are all baked.

And I've been up in the attic pawing through the Thanksgiving decorations that had yet to be brought down and put on display.

Somehow it will all come together into a meal. It always does. The decorations will make a perfect "memory" table full of boys' old decorations and the leaves gathered from the back yard.

So there was only one thing left to do...

Play Phase 10 and debate Man Vs Woman

Beloved took on the two of them and emerged unscathed.

But we were all too absorbed in watching "Kitchen Nightmares" and reading Gordon Ramsey's recipe book to pay adequate attention to the game. The Unnamed Ones are looking forward to their first Turkey Day as chefs.

It should be wonderful.


Another Day at the Nursing Home

Gladys has about had it with aides who talk to her like she's a baby. I don't know what it is about old people that makes young aides talk to them as if they were toddlers. We were in the dining room at the nursing home, sitting at one of the tables with Gladys's nurse, Alice, when an aide called out from another table. "Hey, Gladys, what's my name?"

She said it like she was springing a pop quiz on Gladys and Gladys was supposed to perform like a trained circus dog or a precocious child.

Gladys gave her a hard stare, taking her time, knowing you have to play politics in the rest home or your aide won't help you when you really need it.

"Come on," the aide coaxed. "You know it..."

Gladys knew it all right. She's no dummy.

"Puddintain," she said. "Ask me again and I'll tell you the same!"

Everyone laughed, including Gladys who beamed at the aide as if she, not Gladys, was the dumb child.

In the nursing home, it's all about finesse.

Across the hall, little Sarah started off telling me about her glasses and wound up crying over her husband's death 50 years ago. He died having open heart surgery at a time when it was too new to be safe. "He wanted me to tell him to do it and I wouldn't," she sobbed. "He begged me. He said 'I'm too miserable to live, honey. Tell me I should have the surgery.'" But she wouldn't.

"I just had a bad feel about it," she said, sighing. Tears were running down her withered cheeks, her pain as fresh as yesterday. "He made it out of the operating room but he died before we could get back to see him."

She sniffles into her tissue. "They asked if they could have his heart, to find out what gone wrong." Sarah looked up at me, silently pleading for my approval and understanding. I nodded encouragingly. "That was before my grandsons came along and had the exact same problem and they're alive now."

"You were so brave," I tell her.

Sarah nods. "It was hard, you know. When we buried him, we felt so strange, you know, without his heart being there."

I nod, patting her hand. "But you did it to help and look, those grandsons of yours are alive now."

Sarah nods. "I know." She sighs again.

Then somehow we are off, talking about how she grew up in the mountains where there were no doctors. She giggles. "I didn't know nothin'. We thought babies really came from the cabbage patch. When Mama had a baby, they just sent us off into the woods to play and told us not to come back! Then Daddy come and told us we could come inside if we wanted to see the new baby." Sarah laughs gaily. "I said, 'Baby? What do you mean? Where did the baby come from? I didn't know a thing!"

I think about how brave Sarah had to be to leave home at 14 to move to the Piedmont to help out in her aunt's boarding house, never to return home again. To marry a young soldier, bear his children and lose him before he was even 50 years old, to live on as the matriarch of her family and finally, to brave the world of the nursing home with such grace and good humor.


Just Another Manic Monday...

Every time someone drops me a note to tell me how much they've enjoyed my books, it's like opening an unexpected present. It's a little boost of affirmation and sometimes it arrives just as I'm despairing of ever writing another interesting word. So, thank you, Denise, Kim, Rachel, Marsha and Claire...and everyone else. I really needed that!

Oh, joy! There's a story on the news saying the robbery rate in Greensboro has doubled from last year. Yeah. Tell me about it! I suppose I'll have to wait for Karma to catch up with Slime-O
That's okay. What goes around comes around...

Tomorrow the Eldest Unnamed One returns home for Thanksgiving break and the festivities begin. Egg rolls, Turkey, Ham, Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes and Bacon, Sweet Potato Casserole, Fruit Salad, Apple pie, Roasted Potatoes...a carb lovers version of Heaven. We're brining the Turkey in an apple cider concoction and baking it with an apple cider glaze. I spent the morning shopping for all the ingredients while also trying to use my coupons to spend the least amount of money. So, I spent $100 (not just on Thanksgiving but on the week's groceries) and "saved" $68 with coupons and specials. Not bad.

It's the little victories that keep me going...Until I can get back here that is...


Sunday Afternoon, Return to Reality

Such a cozy weekend- It would've been hard to leave the cabin behind and return home if not for the Unnamed Ones and Beloved waiting back at home.

I drove down the lane, snapping away as I attempted to preserve the last full vestiges of fall on the mountainside.

But once I was actually on my way, I soon noticed some of the other important landmarks of my trip.

For instance- the ghostly manger scene has been replaced by the more traditional Jesus and Mary...and Frosty the Coke Bear sitting to the far right of the picture. I hope you can see them. I was trying to be surreptitious.

I'm not sure exactly what took place at the house in my absence. The Unnamed Ones were in charge, but I do know a lot of Gordon Ramsey recipes got made and/or discussed. The Youngest got away with as much as possible, I'm sure. As they're both responsible, good guys, I trust no illegal activity took place and no one's life was actually in danger at any point in time. I'm the mom, so I suppose it'll be years before I truly know everything my children do these days.

A new novel has popped into my head with interesting characters and a great storyline. Unlike the last book, I actually know what's going on and who the characters are. I've been spending most of my sleepless or sleep-deprived nights thinking about the book and waiting to hear the main character speak the first line. This morning at four-thirty or thereabouts, she finally spoke.

"Three mailboxes guard the entrance to Gum Creek Lane," she said.

She actually said quite a bit more than that but I've been debating the rest of the first paragraph with her. Usually I wait a few months before I even think about starting the next book, but these guys have such a good story to tell and I'm bad about resisting temptation.


"My Window Faces the South"

"So I'm almost halfway to Heaven..."

It is so beautiful here at the cabin. The woodstove is going. Cheery fires blaze away in both hearths. The dogs have cuddled right up by the fireplace and are happily snoring.

I walked across the lane and climbed the rise to the top of my property and took pictures of the cabin and the trees turning colors behind it.

I put the "new" quilt on the bed. I bought it from a local woman a few months back. She told me her husband's grandmother made it over one-hundred years ago.

Her initials are stitched into one of the squares.

This morning when I woke up, this is what I saw from my bedside window:

And around the property:

It is a lovely time of year for being thankful.


Cabin Life is Good

I have pictures to show you...but the dialup is so slooooow I can't get them in before the connection times out! Arg! On top of that- the computer's barely holding on by a thread. If I move, the computer dies.

Oh well. I'll try again tomorrow.


My Life as an INTJ

Speaking of Introverts, Extroverts and other personality types...

My friend, Teena, found a simple, quick version of the traditional Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory and included it in her blog the other day. I liked the test because not only did it include a bit about your personality type, it also talked about how best to "love" each type and had tips for parenting the different types.

I'm an INFP

(Introvert, Intuitive, Feeler, Perceiver)

People of this type tend to be: quiet, reserved, and kind; deeply passionate, sensitive, and easily hurt; loving and dedicated to those close to them; creative, original, and imaginative; curious and flexible in small matters; nonconforming.

The most important thing to INFPs is their deeply held beliefs and living in harmony with their values.

How to Love an INFP

* Appreciate my uniqueness and sensitivity.

* Be a patient and supportive listener.

* Respect my privacy and my need for emotional intimacy.

* Be reassuring and gentle in your words and actions.

* Try not to force decisions too quickly, or bug me about being messy.

* Above all - respect my feelings and never demand that I compromise my values.

SpeedReading INFPs

The key to success lies in your ability to quickly size others up, and speak their language. Here are just a few clues for SpeedReading (understanding) and SpeedReaching (communicating with) INFPs.

How to Spot INFPs:

* idealistic with deep yet private passions

* creative and imaginative

* initially hesitant and cautious

* original, even funky dressers

Tips for Communicating with INFPs:

* Share genuine beliefs and values to establish rapport

* Respect their slower warm time and need for privacy

* Emphasize the ways ideas will benefit others

Thanks, Teena! That was fun!

The Extrovert's Extrovert or Why Can't There Be Parties Everyday?!

That Marti- attracts men wherever we go.

I didn't think she could find trouble to get into at the police department, but she managed. The ironic part was, before we went in she said "Now, I can't stay too long. I have a lot to do before I leave town."

Two hours later I have to drag her out.

"I just love a party!" She says. "Let's just keep going to parties every day!"

They didn't even serve alcohol. She's stone cold sober and having a total blast because being around people energizes Marti.

Marti is the extrovert's extrovert.

I am the total night and day opposite, content to stay behind the camera lens, taking notes and preserving the day for posterity.


Phases of Life- Boys to Men

The Unnamed Ones have taken up cooking. The Eldest Unnamed One has been at it for a couple of years, but with the arrival of Gordon Ramsey and Kitchen Nightmares, the Youngest Unnamed One has also become enamoured of the culinary arts.

They want to open a restaurant. Together. The two of them. The same two who fought like cats and dogs every day of their childhood. I can't tell you how many times I had the "Friends come and go but family is forever" and the "One day I'll be gone..." talk. I'm not proud of pulling the guilt card but desperate times called for desperate measures.

Anyway, in light of these recent developments, I decided to ask the two if they'd like to each make a dish to go with Thanksgiving dinner.

The Eldest is on it. The last time I checked, he was thinking he'd make Mac and Cheese with Bacon.

The Youngest weighed in last night. We'll be having Turkey, Mac and Cheese and Egg Rolls.

Cool, huh?

After dinner, I'll kick their asses at...er...I mean, I'll introduce them to the card game, Phase-10.

Life is good.


Why I Ride With the Po-lice- Part 4 Overactive Imaginations

One of my patients was talking about the toll her aunt's death had taken on her mother. "It really aged her," she said.

Hmmm. I was wondering why it seems I look in the mirror and find a much older woman staring back at me. Now I know. Dad died and it aged me.

I feel frumpy. I've lost my saucy energy, my spirit of adventure...Well, maybe not so much my spirt of adventure as the actual energy and inventiveness to think up new trouble to get into.

I feel un-interesting and unattractive. And secretly I wonder, is this it? Am I old? Will I never again have a steamy, passionate affair or do anything I consider to be risky? Does life end at 50?


Maybe I just need to ride with the po-lice again- like I used to do. Riding along with them wasn't exactly "risky" but it sure seemed to peel away the Soccer Mom Blues.

Like the night in the cemetery...

I was riding along with an officer I'd never met before. Sam and I had already had one big adventure earlier in the evening and he'd told me quite a bit about himself but I soon realized, I didn't know Sam half as well as I thought I did. (I'll wait while you go read that first blog if you want. It's really Part A of this story so you should read it first.)

Overactive Imaginations-

It is after 2 a.m when Sam finishes the paperwork from his earlier arrest and we leave are free to leave the municipal jail. The rain has stopped. Steamy wisps of evaporating moisture rise eerily from the hot, black asphalt in front of the building and the entire town seems to be asleep.

Sam walks beside me to the squad car. He is tall and imposing in his black on black uniform. He turns suddenly chatty, filling the silence between us with superficial, police trivia. I don't say anything but I know why he's doing this. He's uncomfortable. He's spent six hours telling me about himself, exposing sensitive feelings and old baggage. Now, after two hours of adrenaline and paperwork, he feels vulnerable. He's sealing the door shut, closing me off from any further personal talk.

He drives me through the old section of downtown Greensboro, pointing out old homes and landmarks. "Sometimes, right before dawn, I'll just ride around here looking at the architecture," he says. "I've even researched the history of some of these buildings." He passes a huge, white wooden house. "That used to be a boarding house," he says.

I figure he's praying someone jaywalks in front of us, so he'll have a legitimate reason to get out of the car and divert my attention onto something or someone else. It is one of those few nights where the rain has made the city go quiet and the radio isn't jammed with excess calls.

I refuse to cooperate with idle chatter of my own, making Sam feel even more uncomfortable. This makes him talk more and I'm enjoying it because, after all, he did call me "Ma'am," a reference my mother taught me was reserved for older women.

I think Sam is no more than 5 years younger than I am so what's he doing calling me "Ma'am"? I am a writer. I am envisioning myself tonight as one of my spunky,sexy heroines. So I am not at all my usual soccer mom, "Ma'am" persona.

After awhile, closer to 4 a.m. I too, pray for a little action. I'm fighting to stay awake. I don't pay careful attention to where Sam is driving- until it's too late. We are on a road with very few streetlights. I think near Oka Hester Park. Sam, I suddenly realize, hasn't spoken for the past few minutes. Now he grips the wheel with a steely determination. When I glance over at him, he's frowning, his thick, bushy black eyebrows furrowed into a menacing, focused stare straight ahead.

The road is a dead end.

Sam pulls to the curb, removes the keys from the engine and opens his car door. "Bring the flashlight," he says, not even looking at me. "Don't turn it on." He takes off, disappearing into a stand of woods so thick I can only keep up with him by listening to the sounds of his body moving through the branches.

I look around. There is only one house on the street and it is more a shack than a home. I am not in a good neighborhood. I do not have a cell phone. So, I follow this cop into the woods, all the while berating myself.

"You idiot!" I swear silently. "Now look what you've gone and done! You know how cops are- they're just a hair's breath away from flipping to the other side. The man's obviously got personal problems and issues- which by the way, you've laid bare in your first hour talking with him. What if your stupid curiosity went too far? What if he's really a serial killer?"

Sam turns to look back at me, as if he can read my mind. His face is set and hard, gray in the pale moonlight that struggles to break through the clouds. If I die now, here, at the hands of this stranger, no one will ever find me.

Suddenly a huge wrought iron gate looms up out of the darkness. I swat at the overgrown vines and spider webs as I follow him through the opening. I have an overactive imagination, I tell myself. "This man is a police officer. He hasn't shown you any signs of psychosis. There's a good reason why he's brought you to the middle of this jungle."

But is there? Why would he take off like this without telling me what we're doing? Worse, why would I follow?

But I do, right behind him, almost bumping into his back when he does stop abruptly and drop to his knees.

"Look," he says.

I stoop down beside him, watching as he reaches to brush dead leaves from a gray stone. "It's a baby's tombstone."

He points to a few other gray stones, sitting at odd angles around the clearing. "This cemetery has Civil War era graves and it's just falling apart. I found it a couple of years ago. Kind of neat, huh?"

I am so relieved not to be joining them in a shallow grave, I gush "Wow! This is amazing!"

Which, of course, it really is.

When Sam drops me off at my car in the city lot, the sun is beginning to rise. Pink and purple streaks the early morning sky as I watch Sam pull away.

Much earlier in the evening, when I'd explained that I wasn't doing a ride-along in my capacity as a psychotherapist but rather as a published mystery author, Sam had nodded. "You know," he said. "I think I could write a book."

Maybe I was tired. Maybe the late hour diminished my ability to be tactful, but whatever the reason, I said the first thing that came into my head. "If I had a nickle for every fool who's told me that!" I scoffed. "Tell you what. If you think you're a writer, write something and email it to me, then we'll see who's got a book in them. It's not as easy as you think!"

A month later, when I open my email box, I see Sam's return address. "Let me know what you think, Coach," is typed in the subject heading.


Random Acts of Contrition Amongst the Computer Droppings

I must've stepped in cosmic doo-doo. My computer crashed and it's been 24 hours of struggling to get it back so I can even get online. I think you just don't "get" how dependent you are on a machine until it malfunctions.

Oh, well. One day the printer and all the other hardware will once again recognize me...

It's nice to know, however, that the human beings in my life aren't always as fickle as my computer.

I had lunch with an old friend today. I hadn't seen him in years and wasn't really looking forward to seeing him again but he was so damned persistent about it! Over the years, I'd allowed my view of our friendship to be colored by a jealous boyfriend, until at last I convinced myself Sam hadn't really been a friend of mine at all. I thought I'd been a fool to even think I'd mattered to him at all.

I am ashamed to say, I even suspected his motivation for asking me to have coffee with him.

But then, I once thought I was such a bad judge of character I decided to let my dog pick my next boyfriend. (No joke, I did that.) So when the potential boyfriend arrived for the date, he was carrying a steak for our cookout. Of course the dog loved him. So, I wound up marrying the guy- my now-Ex-husband.

Something tells me I should've trusted my own instincts all along because just like the dog-boyfriend incident, not trusting my instincts about Sam led me astray.

Furthermore, I listened to another man and took his word over my own inner belief.

Two lessons learned.

Sam, it turns out, wanted to tell me how much my friendship had meant to him and that while he'd never told me at the time, he did truly value our relationship more than he let on. (Not THAT way, but as a platonic friendship!) He said it had been on his mind for awhile and when he heard Dad had died, he was even more determined to say how he felt and that he was sorry for not being around more.

Hel-lo? I was the one who dropped the ball, not him.

He told me about a hard time he'd been through and how a piece of advice I'd given him once really helped him get through that patch of rough road. He said when he'd had the opportunity to help others, he'd used my advice and felt it always helped. "So I wanted to let you know, if you never thought you mattered, or helped others, you did and you do."

I don't think Sam will ever know how much those words meant.

Since Dad died I do wonder why we're all here and what, if anything, we mean to others. Are we just like shift-workers, signing in for our time on Earth only to clock out and vanish for all time? Or do our lives have some higher meaning? I have no idea, but I do know Sam's kindness left its mark on my heart.


Slime-O the Car Burglar Misses Out

Well, it seems more memories got made last night than I thought when I wrote last night's blog. It seems, at some point probably while I was blogging about what a great night it had been- someone broke into my car. Yep, the one time I forget to lock it- they hit the car.

Things "Slime-O" Got-

My printer from my private practice office. Ha! Joke's on you, Slime-O! I only paid $20 for it at Big Lots AND, best of all, it was out of ink! Keep it! The ink costs more than the printer did! And he forgot the cord, so he can't plug it in!

My i-Pod. Doggone it, now that smarted a little...It's my lifeline when I'm driving. That's how I get so much "reading" done. Audible.com, downloaded novels. Sigh. And my music collection is unbeatable. Oh well. It's just an i-Pod, not a child or a fortune.

A case of bottled water. Why? Are crack addicts extremely thirsty? He left the toilet paper! Now a guy like that has to need t.p. But thanks to my grocery coupon and saving mania- I barely paid $3 for the water. Drink up, Slime-O. Anyway, maybe he needed it more than me.

He left the hand-crafted wooden dough bowl I bought at the Blueridge Folk life Festival. Thank God.

But he took my backpack and all of my nursing home notes. I hope he throws it out in a secure location. I'm glad I don't write their secrets on those notes. But I'll wind up spending a few hours trying to re-write what I can and reprint all the forms.

Things Slime-O Didn't Get-

All the used tissues and soft, King Leo peppermint wrappers. Damn it!

The newly opened can of Planters Cocktail peanuts.

My pictures of the cabin and research into its history.

Best- He overlooked my appointment book and the checks inside! Ha! Now I know what I'm doing for the rest of the month AND I can buy gas!

Even better- Slime-O left the pennies.

Things I Know About Slime-O

Slime-O's a thirsty guy and possibly constipated.

He must've had a vehicle and possibly an accomplice because that water was heavy!

He smokes Marlboro Menthol cigarettes. That was the first thing I noticed when I opened the passenger-side car door- the awful stench of stale cigarettes. But it was Mertis who recovered the butt and nailed down the brand. And just like on CSI, she carefully placed it, untouched, in a baggie...where it will probably stay until hell freezes over.

The last thing I know about Slime-O- He didn't have nearly as much fun as I did last night and I feel sorry for him. He got the i-Pod but he couldn't take the memories that went along with it.


Life and its Many Memories

Consulting in a nursing home has taught me the importance of making and cherishing memories. It seems to me, we spend the first half of our lives accumulating things- possessions, friends, family, homes-And the second half, losing them.

We lose our parents. Our children go off and live their own lives. We retire and lose our work identities. Our friends and contemporaries die. We move from our big homes to retirement condos, then Assisted Living apartments and finally into tiny rooms in nursing homes. There isn't room for our "things" any longer, but there is always room for our memories.

Even my Alzheimer's patients hang on to their most precious memories. As everything else leaves them, my patients give up the memories of their children last. They may seem to have forgotten, they may call them by the wrong name or confuse them with their parents, but each one has in some way let me know how very much those babies matter. Language may fail them but love does not.

Tonight Mertis, Marti, her husband, Gary and I sat around making a new set of memories. They might not be the kind I'll hang on to forever. Hell, with menopause approaching, I may not hang onto them past next week, but tonight they mattered. Tonight we ate good food, learned a new (to me) card game, tried new recipes and in general, had a good time.

We tried to dance a bit of the clogging routine we began choreographing yesterday...but we'd forgotten it already and didn't have our notes. So we laughed and tripped over each other's feet.

Bailey the mo-ron dog, got his head stuck in a chair (and just stood there waiting patiently for us to notice and help him out.)

We talked about Santa Claus traditions and things we did when our kids were young to "help" Santa out.

We talked about how tall Marti's grandson is now and how tall the Youngest Unnamed One is just in the past month.

And we lived in the moment.

Earlier today, Mertis said, "I was thinking about Maggie (the dog) and how you could go months without taking her to New Bern to see your dad, but the minute she got out of the car she knew where she was and she'd run right up to his condo and in to see him as if she'd just been there the day before." Mertis laughed but stopped when she saw I was crying.

"Oh, I knew I shouldn't have said anything!" she cried. "I'm sorry!"

"Don't be," I told her. "I just miss him. It's nice to know you think about him too. Sometimes I think people are forgetting him when they don't talk about him, so it feels really good when you bring him up."

And then we remembered the Night of the Naked Guy and how funny Dad was with it all. We laughed and laughed.

As long as I have my memories of Dad, he lives on in my heart and is never truly gone.

That's the great thing about making memories- No matter how many you cram into your heart, there's always room for one more.


Dancing and Creating in the Kitchen

Such a productive day!

Printed out the revised manuscript, cleaned the house and worked on creating a new clogging routine with Queen Marti.

We're creating a routine to "Two Step Round the Christmas Tree."

That's when I decided the next novel should be a Christmas book.

It's not that I'm in the mood for Christmas already. No way. It's not nearly time...It's just that when I finish a book it feels like Christmas- I'm no longer the cranky woman in the throes of labor...I'm full of Goodwill Toward Men...

I'm just glad to have 368 pages, 95000 words out of my head and on to paper!

Maybe I'll go bake some cookies.