Friday, August 1, 2014

When the Shoe Fits... is LIVE!

 When the Shoe Fits...Essays of Love, Life and Second Chances  is now LIVE in the Amazon store, with some lovely reviews and a Discussion Guide for book clubs in the back of the book.
So CLICK HERE  to take a look, read a preview, post a review if you've already read an advance copy, and generally just check out this "best of" collection essays, which pulls essays from my earlier three books and adds some new ones, including "The Limoncello Diaries" and "A Hoarder's Revenge."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Resting Places

I have become utterly enchanted with the art, and the silence, and the poignance of old graves in cemeteries. Whether ornate and well-traveled, or plain and forgotten, off the beaten path on two-lane country roads and beside steepled churches in small towns, these stone markers stand as testaments to the fact that we want to be remembered, and that we mattered, and that we were, above all, loved...


Monday, April 14, 2014

When the Shoe Fits...

Coming soon!! (okay, in late summer...)

Available on AMAZON in Kindle and paperback format on AUGUST 1, 2014!

This "best of" collection of my favorite essays includes the award-winning "Wildflower Seeds and Beer," "May it Please the Court," "Love in the Time of Cupcakes," and "Mink Recycling." And it wouldn't possibly be complete without reader favorites "Turbo Dating--A Year in Review," "Home Fires Burning" and "The Devil on Horseback"!

Perfect for gift-giving, AND the book also includes a back-of-the-book DISCUSSION GUIDE for book clubs. $18.95 U.S. paperback, $7.95 U.S. Kindle.

***Contact the author at runwstilettos (at) yahoo (dot) com for an electronic Advance Review Copy.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Villa Louis Carriage Classic

I was looking for a break from routine, and decided on a weekend getaway to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin and the 2013 Villa Louis Carriage Classic. Ah bliss! Of course, I could stare at horses parading past all day long and never get tired. The weather was perfect, and with the Mississippi River rolling by on a warm summer day, you couldn't ask for anything more.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Interview with The Meatball

This post will signal a short break from writing essays, as I focus my writing time and attention on a series of cat-centered children’s books.  And so for a change of pace to mark this occasion, we step away from the usual existential rants, paeans to gardening, and cris de couer, and turn the editorial wheel over to noted celebrity animal interviewer Tabitha O’Doul (“Tabby” for short) as she goes nose to nose with The Meatball.

Tabby:   Meatball, let’s cut right to the chase, as it were. How do you explain those videos of you on the Web that show you running full speed through the woods? Accompanied by a DOG! For one thing, you are running, which I always understood to be against a cat’s essential nature. And for another, it makes you look like you are actually running toward your human! What’s up with that?
Meatball:  That is a complex question, my dear. I run because, at whatever moment, I wish to.
Tabby:  Really? The popular perception of cats is that they are indolent, lethargic, spoiled and lazy…or at the very least, extraordinarily relaxed.
Meatball:  You don’t make friends very easily, do you? (Sigh…)  Yes, those are the cardinal feline virtues, I admit. But I believe my mother’s great uncle was a cheetah. At any rate, I find that it is very good exercise. I visited the veterinarian recently with my human, and I heard her say that she wished all the cats who came to her clinic had my fabulous muscle tone
Tabby:  I don’t wish to drive a wedge between you and your human, but she has been quoted as saying that when you reach her, she picks you up as a reward. Is there any truth to that?
Meatball:  Bah. I let her pick me up once in a while, to make her feel validated. Sometimes she tries to imitate purring noises or even (he shudders) a “meow.”
Tabby:  Can you understand her?
Meatball:  Ha ha ha ha!  It makes no sense at all. It’s a bit like watching Sigourney Weaver try to fake her way through singing a song in Russian in the movie “Heartbreakers.” Very annoying.
Tabby:  You have all your claws, why don’t you use them?
Meatball:  She is otherwise a nice lady, and it’s important in a relationship to forgive the little things. I read that in a book once.
Tabby:  Tell us about your early years. You are what, now twelve years old? That must be more than sixty in human years.
Meatball: I see you are not only friendless but tactless as well.  (Sigh…) I do not remember my early years, it was as if I was “born yesterday” at the age of eight. I recall that one day I was jailed in a place called a “Humane Society.” As if captivity could ever be humane.  And then this young male human took me out of the cage and brought me home with him. It was better than the cage, but he was away for long stretches and I became bored. Then he brought me to another, larger house with a woman who would become my current human . There is a family relationship I think. The young man may be one of her kittens.
Tabby:  How could he tell that you were bored?
Meatball:  Oh, I believe I left my mark of displeasure in a way that he could understand.
Tabby:  You also live with a large dog, I understand, and he has been seen going on these forest  walks with you and your human.  What is this dog like?
Meatball: The dog is an imbecile, but he has his uses.
Tabby:  Like what?
Meatball:  Hmmm.  I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Tabby:  I have heard that you are quite the “mouser.” For food or fun?
Meatball:  Ah yes. It is a little bit of theater for the humans. They are so easily impressed.  I much prefer the taste of tuna. Those little mouse bones get stuck in my back teeth. I have an arrangement with one of the mouse lodgers in the garage. We play "catch the vermin" a couple of times a week when the human is out working in the garden. She always screams and then she  makes me release him in the grass. Then she brings me inside and rewards me with a bowl of cream.
Tabby: Nice work if you can get it! What does the mouse get out of the bargain? 
Meatball: I promise not to eat the rest of his family.
Tabby:  What do you think your human would say if she knew what you were thinking?

Meatball: I am still recovering from the indignity of being the centerpiece of her self-indulgent essay
"Walking the Meatball". As Henri Le Chat Noir must bear his personal cross of his own "thieving filmmaker," so I must endure the literary flights of fancy of my own human as well.
Tabby:  I hope you won’t consider this too personal, but it’s in the vein of “boxers or briefs” for human celebrities.  “Scoopable” or “non”?
Meatball: Friendless, tactless and now tasteless…have you thought of another line of work? (Sigh…) Non-scoopable, of course.  Though I vastly prefer the great outdoors, with dappled sunlight, fragrant pines and grass, and the wind in my fur.  Having a bathroom indoors is so barbaric unless there is snow on the ground. I do not know how humans put up with this year-round indoor arrangement for themselves.
Tabby:  This interview could very well raise your profile a notch or two in the entertainment world. Tell me, what do you think of other celebrities such as Henri Le Chat Noir and Grumpy Cat?
Meatball: I confess to being a bit like a Reagan Republican in that I do not wish to speak ill of fellow felines. Henri conducts himself with incredible dignity and ennui, and so I wish him well. He is a grand embodiment of the feline virtues. As for Grumpy Cat, well, he is a buffoon.
Tabby:  Do I detect a note of envy?
Meatball:  Don’t be ridiculous. Let Grumpy Cat have his fun with his mugs and calendars. True Machiavellians prefer to fly below the radar and plot in the shadows. In fact, I suspect I will have to change my name as a result of this interview.
Tabby:  Change your name? To what?
Meatball:  If I told you, I’d have to eat you.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Printers Row Lit Fest 2013

I'm fond of saying that my one-day-a-year visit to sell books at the Printers Row Lit Fest is the most fun I can have as an author and not get arrested, and this year was no exception.
Photo by Rachel Madorsky
Once again, as I have since 2008, I had booked a slot for a day in the tent provided by the
Illinois Woman's Press Association for their author members.  The Lit Fest tent sales officially run from ten in the morning until six at night, but over the years I've learned that (1) people actually start cruising through looking at books from about eight thirty in the morning onward, and (2) competition can be pretty intense to get one of the tables that line up facing the sidewalks rather than the other tents.
So this year's adventure found me on the road from Wisconsin at a quarter to six in the morning, hoping to beat the rush. I got there so early, I think the "rush" was still home, asleep!  No crowds, no sitting in a long line to unload books at the tent, I was actually the first person at the IWPA tent, period. Even the tablecloths were still sitting there, all folded up, waiting to be spread out.  I took my pick of the tables, and let the morning unfold.

All set up before 8:30!!
As a writer, yes, I love to sell books at events like this. But boy, that is just a small part of the fun. There's the people-watching.  And the "dog watching," as occasionally folks strolled by with well-behaved canine companions.  There were a pair of silky, long-haired Dachshunds; and a big yellow lab; and a pair of Cairn terriers.  I even got to pet a beautiful, tiny, perfectly groomed Yorkshire Terrier, who was introduced as the "big brother" to a six-month-old baby in a stroller.

The weather was perfect for a change. It is an annual tradition for me to find myself fleeing from Lit Fest earlier than I'd like as rain starts to pour or tornados threaten the city, wrapping my books in plastic and racing to the car to keep them from getting wet. But there were blue skies the entire time, and no rain anywhere. I stayed nearly two hours longer than usual before I finally packed up and met fellow Wisconsin author Gale Borger for a cup of coffee to keep me awake for the drive home.

With Gale Borger
However, this being my home town of Chicago, "the Windy City," certain weather adjustments had to be made. I'd come equipped with a roll of duct tape...but the wind still proved to be a challenge. Luckily, Art Brauer had brought some bungee cords to keep things in place.

The IWPA tent was set up near a French chanteur softly singing as he strummed his guitar nearby, and my table faced the historic and beautiful Franklin Building on Dearborn Street. It was an altogether charming location!

Above the Franklin Building entrance

What a gorgeous front door!
The view down Dearborn Street
And, best of all, was just the chance to talk about writing and life with the folks who slowed and then stopped to visit. Some were published authors, some wanted to be writers, some were just looking for a good book to read or buy for a friend. Many life stories and tales of marriages and career journeys and setbacks and turning points were swapped on this delightful warm summer afternoon. One young man stopped by to thank me for the advice I'd given him a couple of years ago at a "live lit" event we were both reading at, which was to join the Chicago Writers Association. (I then enthusiastically passed that advice on to every young or "new" writer who stopped to chat for the rest of the day.) A gal closer to my age stopped to visit and to tell me that after listening to me chatter about blogging several years ago in a panel discussion about social media put on by the IWPA, she'd started her own blog. Some readers even dropped by just to tell me they'd enjoyed reading the books they bought from me at last year's Lit Fest.

I learned about an art fair in Michigan; was instructed on the value of providing memorable "giveaways" or trinkets at book fairs; and swapped stories of on-line dating with the author of MatchDotBomb, an entire memoir about her experiences in testing the meet-and-greet waters at mid-life after the death of her husband.
With Francine Pappadis Friedman
And wonderfully and fortuitously, I'd been trying to find some reading-based non-profit organization to donate a box of my earlier-edition books to, and discovered that the path from my parked car to the IWPA tent led right past the display for Open Books Ltd., a literacy promotion group based in Chicago. No need to run to the post office and address and mail the box, I went back to the car for the box of books and handed it off in person!

I'm not quite done with the Lit Fest yet. I got back home so late and exhausted last night that everything I brought with still needs unloading from the car. Books, cards, poster, ribbons, duct tape. (Though I did eat all the M&Ms...) But the memories of this year's Fest are sweet, and cherished, and enervating.  Can't wait until next year!!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fifty Shades of Cold

The weather forecasters were calling for the arrival of the first real blizzard of winter, and I was putting my first batch of Christmas cookies in the oven that morning. The holiday was less than a week away, and I figured that if I really focused, I could spend the next three days doing last-minute shopping, baking and wrapping, and still come up for air on Christmas Eve.

As usual, I had taken it right down to the wire, counting on and parsing out the last few days before Christmas, calculating that with three days “free” from the office before the first of the kids came home, I would have plenty of time for last-minute stuff like shopping for trinkets and chocolates to fill Christmas stockings, wrapping presents, making cookies, making the kitchen presentable.

And as usual, the best laid plans…

The snow started falling heavily by mid-day while the cookies baked and I finished decorating the balsam fir in the living room. My little Honda only clears the ground by four and a half inches, so I’m always cautious about driving over large snowballs, much less piles and drifts of the stuff. Early into the storm, I figured on staying put until the driveway was plowed. I blithely calculated that that I had plenty of food in the house and plenty of stuff to keep me busy in case I was snowed in…but an actual emergency still seemed like an exercise in abstract thinking.

But…living out in the country, one gets used to the idea that the power could go out when the weather gets bad, and by mid-afternoon I started the drill I had become familiar with after years of tornado warnings and high winds and ice storms. Really, the kids had grown up knowing that any time there was a hint of bad weather, I would insist on filling the bathtub “just in case.” And these always turned out to be false alarms.

Old habits die hard, though, and after the cookies had cooled and been put away, I began to methodically prep for hypothetical disaster. I ran the bathtub tap first, filling the tub more than half full. As the water gurgled out, I set to hauling in several bags of firewood, stacking them in the wrought iron rack beside the fireplace. I even detached one of the garage doors from its automatic electric opener “just in case.” I scrubbed and polished the glass fireplace doors until they squeaked, and then got the fire ready to start, with pine “fatwood” sticks balanced on strips of cardboard, then covered by small pieces of firewood that would catch a flame easily. What the heck, it would still be there to light on Christmas Eve when the kids came home!

I made sure that most of the candles were on the fireplace mantlepiece, away from where the cats could tip them over or set their tails on fire (don’t get me started on that story or how I could even think it a possibility…). I even dug out a tall glass and metal pillar candle arrangement I’d bought at a hostess party and never used, placing it in the middle of the kitchen table. There was no way the cats could get close to that flame, I reasoned. I put fresh batteries in flashlights, and made sure that my favorite “boat flashlight” was also on the kitchen table where I could find it in a hurry. I don’t own a boat, but for under five bucks at Walmart you can buy one of these huge plastic lamps that can light up half the yard, and the battery is included. And it’s so big it’s impossible to misplace.

Prepped for disaster, I relaxed and took another look outside. The floodlights cast circles of light into the darkness, and the snow blew in swirls and sheets from the rooftop down past the bay window. Without looking at the reflective fiberglass stakes stuck in the grass to guide the guy who plows my driveway, it was impossible to tell where concrete ended and lawn began. Judging by the white swells and drifts, there was no way I was driving anywhere until the plow came through.

The cookies packed away and the tree finished, it was finally time to relax! I turned off the lights in the kitchen, and turned on the lights of the Christmas tree. They glittered off the pretty iridescent plastic icicles that had been a holiday fixture for years, and softly illuminated the ceramic birds and other woodland creatures jockeying for space with familiar blown glass fruits and the assortment of antique glass ornaments I’d recently scored at a garage sale. I settled into my “couch groove” on the left side of the recliner sofa, as deep as anything Homer Simpson could brag about. Then I pulled a fluffy blanket across my lap, and reached for the TV remote on a nearby table. As I began to channel surf, both cats jumped into my lap and settled in contentedly for a nap. And then, with no sound or flicker or warning, the power went out and the house and the world went utterly dark.

“Crap!” was my first thought. Though, I then thought smugly, I was ready for it, wasn’t I? I tipped the cats out of my lap, and found my way around to the candles and books of matches on the mantle nearby. I lit the candles one by one, and the room once more came into view. I even lit the pillar candle in the kitchen, and it proved to be a charming sight. It was nothing you could read by, but the silhouettes of moose and pine trees that surrounded the tall candle gave off a rustic, woodsy air. Then I lit the fire, tossed in a few more logs, and settled back on the sofa until rescue could come in one form or another.

That was at six o’clock. The fire needed feeding about every hour. By eight, it was rip-roaring blazing, and I was starting to get bored. I hadn’t planned far enough ahead to charge up my Kindle and the little book-light that went with it, and I didn’t want to waste flashlight batteries on reading a book with actual pages. The cats were pleased as could be and purring loudly, with a warm fire and a warm lap. The dog, Lucky, stretched out under the recliner footrest where he could keep a watchful eye on us all. I, on the other hand, felt more and more irritated and restless and cranky by the minute.

How the heck did the early settlers do it, I thought? Needlework by candlelight? Early bedtimes? Math lessons scratched out on the back of shovel with a lump of charcoal by an oil lamp? I’ve always said that I would have made a lousy pioneer and would have been kicked out of the wagon train for whining at the first river crossing…but this totally sealed my conviction.

On the plus side, I discovered that my cell phone still worked. I checked in with the man in my life who happened to be caught in the same storm twenty-five miles away. He gallantly volunteered to drive his small car through the blizzard to keep me company and bring me supplies. I protested, and insisted that he stay put—not only were the highway conditions absolutely treacherous, even if he got to my house in once piece, there would be no way his car could cut through the drifts in my long driveway. I was absolutely sure that I’d be fine.

We hunkered down to wait things out in our respective digs. The decorative ceramic clock on an antique shelf in the living room chimed nine o’clock. I threw some more wood in the fire, and decided to call it a night. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t watch TV, I didn’t have a battery-operated radio to listen to…and with the snow and wind still pounding against the house, odds were that the power wouldn’t be restored very soon.

I set the alarm on my cell phone for an hour and fifteen minutes, stretched the recliner as far back as it would go, and pulled a couple of lap blankets up to my chin. Two cats immediately jostled for space on my mid-section, and I was glad for the warmth. I drifted off to sleep.

When the alarm went off, I saw immediately that the fire had burned down nearly to embers. I stoked it up again, and then repeated the alarm-recliner-blankets-cats cycle. The next time I woke up, I saw again that the fire had burned down to the point that it took a good effort to stoke it back up. This time I tweaked the system, and set the alarm to go off just an hour later. Recliner, blankets, cats, snooze…

By three in the morning, my good humor was starting to wear thin. And despite my best fire-tending efforts, the temperature in the living room was starting to drop a degree or two. After I stoked up the fire yet again, I made my way to the bedroom to find some warmer clothes. I dressed by flashlight in my warmest sweatpants and pulled a fleece high-necked sweater over a couple of shirts. Then, turning to find my shoes, I accidentally knocked the boat flashlight from the bed. I heard glass break as it hit the floor, and the flashlight was dead. I made my way back to the living room by the flickering firelight, and shoved a mini-flashlight into my pocket.

At five in the morning, I finally shoved the last stick of wood into the fireplace and closed the glass doors. There was little use in counting on the power being restored in the next hour, and I suited up for a cold trek to the garage. Hat, parka, mukluks, gloves, carry-bag, flashlight. It felt strange to step out into the night without the familiar floodlights on the house and garage. Where it drifted up against the garage, the snow was up to my knees. And the snow just kept falling.

I pulled up the smaller door (finally, foresight proved right!), and began to search the racks for the driest pieces of wood I could find. I hauled two bags inside through the darkness. Across the street, I couldn’t quite make out whether there were lights at my neighbors’ house…or if my tired eyes were playing tricks on me. On my final trek for more wood, I heard the sound of a powerful truck motor, and turned to see the outlines of a snowplow illuminated by headlights. The driver—another neighbor—exchanged a few “lovely weather we’re having” sentiments through the window of the truck cab, and then I trudged back to the house. Indeed, I found in our brief exchange, the power was out for the entire street. And nobody still had any idea of when it would come back on.

Dawn finally came, and the snow finally quit, and the living room started to warm a little in the sunlight. I let the fire die down so that I didn’t leave the house with a fire blazing in the grate, and then—no longer marooned by drifts—made a short run to a nearby Walmart. For one thing, I could recharge my dwindling cell phone battery in the car as I drove. And for another, I wanted to stock up on flashlight batteries…and get another boat lantern. I bought two when I got there, in fact, one of them a “new and improved” LED version that promised to deliver about 44 hours of light using the same sized battery that the conventional model would run on for only four and a half. There are times that I just love technology.

The entire day proceeded on a feed-the-fire-every-hour rhythm, though now I could at least see what I was doing…and could occasionally just sit and read a book in daylight. I ran into my neighbor by the mailbox, and she offered to let me use her house if I needed to, since she and her husband had a generator that they were running. Well, that would explain the lights during the storm the night before!

As the day wore on with still no power, the man in my life made continued pitches for me to bring the animals and myself down to his place for the evening, and avail myself of a hot meal and a warm shower and comfortable bed. It was so utterly deliciously tempting… I finally said that I would…but I still wanted to wait it out until late in the evening, just to keep the place warm and the pipes from freezing. As darkness fell, I took up my familiar spot in the couch groove, but this time I was ready for reading. There was enough battery life left in my Kindle for me to read an entire suspense novel, guilt-free, by the energy-efficient light of my new LED boat lantern. They do say that necessity is the mother of invention.

By nine at night, the house was still dark except for candlelight and the fireplace, and I started to make preparations to leave. And then I stopped short, and called him and refused. If I left the house and the power stayed off, the temps in the house would surely drop, a LOT. I didn’t think I could face walking back into a living room in the mid-forties and shoveling firewood like a train engineer fueling a coal engine until the house warmed up again. Easier to stay put, waking every hour and feeding the fire like a sleep-deprived zombie.

“I’ll be there in forty-five minutes,” he said. And then he was, bearing a warm pizza fresh from his oven, a bottle of wine, and a promise to help tend the fire throughout the night so that I could finally get some sleep. We set up the sleeping bags he’d brought in front of the fireplace, and talked, and finally dozed off, our heads close to the fireplace doors and the wood rack within his arms’ reach.

When I woke up, my face felt cold and it was four hours later. Good intentions had gone awry, and we had both slept through the fire-tending duties. The fire was out, with barely an ember left. I tried to nudge him awake. No luck. I nudged harder. Still no luck again, he was comfortably slumbering and totally out cold. I checked my cell phone. It was three in the morning. I looked at the battery-operated thermometer on the living room wall. It was only eleven degrees outside…and the living room temperature had fallen to a a chilly fifty-eight degrees inside.

I sighed…and then went to work building up the fire again with crumpled newspaper and fatwood sticks and paper towels soaked with alcohol. A half hour later it was roaring, but the wood supply was getting mighty low. And so for the second night in a row, I went trudging through the darkness with a flashlight and a carry-bag, toting in more firewood to keep the critters from freezing and the pipes from bursting. Ah, I thought, there’s just nothin’ like country livin’.

By morning, I had made my third or fourth call to the power company to check on the progress of things. This time, they finally had an estimate, and I was assured that while thousands of people had had their power restored, my forlorn street was one of the last technical holdouts in the area. “By ten o’clock,” the lady on the other end of the line estimated. Though she didn’t know if that actually meant ten in the morning or ten at night.

The man in my life eventually departed for his own house (after hauling in some more wood before he left), and I gritted my teeth in anticipation of yet another day of peanut butter sandwiches and bowls of granola with yogurt and round-the-clock fire tending. We hugged, and made plans for dinner at his house, come hell or high water.

Then, with a wave, he drove off down the driveway, and I shut the door to keep in the precious warmth. He called a minute later to tell me that he’d encountered some linemen working on a transformer up at the end of the road, and that prospects looked good for getting the power back up. Two minutes later, the lights on the Christmas tree suddenly came on, and I could hear the furnace start to hum.

Ah, rescue at last! It had been forty hours since the world suddenly went dark, and my longstanding fill-the-bathtub precautions finally turned out to have some practical value.

I’ve reshelved the pretty pillar candle and stashed the boat lanterns away, and made peace with the fact that I had to throw out just about everything in the fridge. Six months later, roses are starting to bloom where drifts had covered windows, and if the temperatures dip too low, the only thing we worry about these days is frost on tender plants.

You can never predict when something like that is going to happen, you can just hope it won’t, and plan to have enough batteries and candles and firewood to get you through it if does. There is one thing I expect, though, and it doesn’t take a Magic 8 ball or gypsy palm reader to predict it for me. And that is…

I’m pretty sure that I see a portable generator in my future. Forty hours of candlelight is so…1800s!