Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Questions for a literary agent

As you regular readers know, I’ve been sending out query letters to literary agents in an attempt to interest them in my edited, polished, ready-to-sell novel. This is the second time I’ve gone through this exercise, and I find I have many of the same questions as three years ago.

For a host of reasons, publishing fiction is tough today. Many publishers will not accept an unsolicited query or manuscript from an unpublished author. They prefer to let agents do the screening for them. I understand that. But here are a few of my questions:

1. Why do some agents, in their current, updated listings and web sites, state that they are “actively seeking unpublished authors with the following...”, and then state that their response time will be 2-3 months? Somehow that fails to meet my definition of “active.”

2. Why do some agents require email or electronic submissions, while most agents refuse to accept them? Personal preference? Many who refuse e-submissions claim they just don’t have time to respond to the vast number they receive. How long does it take to scan through an emailed letter and make a judgment? It’s either no or maybe. If no, click “reply” and paste in your form “no thanks” letter. If maybe, hit “reply” and paste in your form “send me a synopsis, three chapters and a SASE” letter. If I send them a letter by USPS it’s going to be the very same letter, formatted the very same way as the email one. And it’s much easier to respond to the email.

3. For those who say to allow up to several months to reply, what are they doing for that time? If they’re off at writers’ conferences or meeting with publishers, etc., when they get back they’re going to have a whole pile of those e-queries to go through, and guess how fast they’ll be pasting in the “no thanks” letter then! To me, two to maybe three weeks ought to be plenty of time to browse through the pile of mail or email and get SOME kind of a response back to the sender. Any longer than that and the pile WILL get insurmountable!

4. Do agents not understand about antivirus software? They invariably require “No attachments,” and cite the dangers of viruses. The current versions of Norton and McAfee will protect from viruses in both emails AND attachments. But who needs attachments anyway? If you use Word to format the document and paste it into Outlook to email it, the formatting will be retained. So when I send an email query I append the synopsis to the letter (after a page break), and then append the first 50 pages to the synopsis. No dreaded attachments, and the agent can read as much or as little as he/she likes. Elegant.

I guess that’s enough of a rant for today.

By the way, you ought to check out one particular agency web site and the agent’s blog. This lady sounds like she’s really got her head screwed on straight. She seems to speak “common sense,” which is a language I can understand. I’d sure love to have her represent me!

Here’s the web site: It’s The Nelson Agency in Denver, owned by Kristin Nelson. Check out her Common Sense Speak at her blog while you’re at it.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Life in the Big City

Many of you will remember my POST about my daughter’s experience in downtown Chicago. You know, the one describing the man who jumped from a 20-story building and landed on top of a car right across the street from her?

That was just two weeks ago.

Amy had moved into a high-rise apartment with a gorgeous lakefront view last summer, and has really enjoyed big-city life after being raised in small Victoria, TX. She and husband Tom have adapted well — even the winter hasn’t been bad this year.

Well, yesterday (Sunday) Amy went to a movie that Tom didn’t particularly care to watch. Since the theater is only about a mile from her building, she walked. He stayed home. After the show, about 6:15 p.m., she walked home.

No, she didn’t get mugged. She walked south on Michigan avenue, crossed the Chicago River, turned left on Wacker Drive and looked ahead to see her building surrounded by emergency vehicles!

As she neared the entrance she heard someone say there was a fire!

Amy’s husband is very tall (six feet, 10 inches — and for you Michelle, that is exactly 208.28 centimeters. So there!). One advantage to that height is that his head is nearly always above the crowd. Amy knows to look up, and soon spotted him holding a jacket wadded up in his arms and grinning at her.

She thought that maybe the jacket was for her, but soon learned that wrapped up inside that jacket was their pet tortoise. She was pleased that Tom’s first thought had been to get their “child” out of the building.

As you might expect, they did NOT lose all their worldly possessions. In fact, they didn’t lose anything except about an hour of time while they waited to be allowed back inside.

They rode up in the elevator with a fireman, who told them the fire had occurred in a trash dumpster on the lowest level. The building has trash chutes from all floors down to dumpsters, and evidently someone dropped something smoldering or burning down one of these chutes.


Probably some country bumpkin relative of, or visitor to, a resident, right? Surely no one who had lived very long in Chicago would do anything like that.

At least not after hearing the story about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.

(I’m trusting that all my U.S. readers will understand that reference. Michelle, if you don’t “get it,” let me know.)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Metric Conversion

Gee. Even posting a delicious recipe for Peanut Butter Oatmeal Wheat Germ Cookies gets me into trouble!

Michelle, the South African goddess who graciously reads this humble blog (and, by the way, if you don’t read HER blog regularly you should – along with other blogs from folks NOT in the U.S. – it’ll broaden your perspectives. Perspectives, unlike hips, NEED to be broadened) has asked me to convert 1 C. (cup) into metric.

Okay. I can do that.

She probably thinks that, like most Amuurricans, I don’t do metric. She also knows that I am of an age that when I went to school the metric system hadn’t been invented yet.

But I can be a very surprising person. I am not illiterate (despite what the agents I’ve been querying seem to think of my writing). I know a little about the metric system. It replaced the Dewey Decimal system in libraries, didn’t it?

Okay, a “cup” is a volume measure. It is defined as the volume of 8 ounces of water. You know: “two cups to a pint, two pints to a quart, and four quarts to a gallon.” Also, “a pint’s a pound, the world around.” (Even in Africa, Michelle!) And a pound is sixteen ounces; so one cup, being half a pound, is 8 ounces.

So what’s the metric equivalent to the volume of 8 ounces of water? Let’s see, there are 28.35 grams to the ounce, so 8 ounces = 226.796 grams. But one cup = 236.588 cubic centimeters, and I thought 1 gram of water = 1 cc?

Wait. There are 2.54 centimeters to the inch. I KNOW that one. But that doesn’t help, does it?

(Scratching head).

Hey, Michelle, wherever the recipe says 1 Cup, just toss in a double handful. That’s close enough. Oh, except for the chocolate chips. They’re the best part of the cookie, so toss in TWO double-handfuls of those for each Cup. It’ll work just fine.

See? THAT was easy.

Oh, Michelle also asks (seriously) what wheat germ is. (I didn’t realize that Cape Town was so backwards, but I’m sure there are lots of common items there that I don’t know about.)

Wheat grains are really seeds. Inside the wheat seed is a small kernel called the “germ.” Why? Because when seeds sprout they are said to “germinate.” That small kernel is the part that actually germinates. The rest of the seed is just there to provide food for the newly formed plant that germinated.

You didn’t know that? Well, part of my mission is to educate my readers, so there you are.

Wheat germ is found in the cereal section of our U.S. supermarkets. It has a nutty flavor. If you just can't find wheat germ, you could always substitute finely ground nuts.

What kind of nuts? I don’t know. Probably pecans, cashews or almonds.

Or whatever their metric equivalents are.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Well, NOW I’ve gone and done it!

I enjoyed the “dueling comments” brought on by my post of Thursday. I was a little surprised that Christina didn’t weigh in with her own remarks, but she was probably busy.

Anyway, I told Carol last night (after I had already posted my “rant” about education) about the fun comments, so she read the blog post and the comments.

She was offended.

And it’s my fault.

I was finally able to cajole her into telling me WHAT was offensive about my post. “Didn’t I brag about your beef stew and the black-eyed peas and ham?” I pleaded. “Didn’t I compare your cookies to almost magical elves’ waybread?”

Her nostrils flared, and she accused, “Yes, but you called them chocolate chip cookies!

I was confused. I said, “Uh... yeah. Isn’t that what they are?”

She informed me that they are, “Peanut butter, oatmeal, and chocolate chip cookies!”

Oh... Gee.


To make amends for my (unintended, I swear!) slight of her baking prowess, I will reproduce below the entire recipe for making these wonderful taste treats.

Please take note — this is an historical occasion. It is the first time (and probably the last) when you will find a recipe on ROMANTIC RAMBLINGS.


Cream together:
1 c. butter flavored shortening
1/4 c. creamy peanut butter
2/3 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla

Mix together first then add to creamed mixture:
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2 c. old fashioned Quaker Oats
1/2 c. toasted wheat germ

Add last:
2 c. chocolate chips

Dough may seem crumbly so compress spoonfuls slightly and press lightly on cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Makes 6 dozen cookies. (John’s note: You’ll need more!)

There! Hopefully that will bring peace to the Earle household again, and much joy to your taste buds.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Nothing today about the ski trip

Well, I seem to have stirred up enough jealousy, angst, and other strong feelings by writing about the ski trip. Guess I’d better turn to another topic.

Surely there’s something I can blog about that’s non-controversial and won’t cause a storm of protest among my many and diverse readers. Hmmm. But what fun would that be?

I could always mention that my newly installed dishwasher seems to be leak-free, and does an excellent job of cleaning all the dishes, pans and utensils. But no, that would be tempting the conspiracy to leap to the attack. As long as it leapt at the rest of you, it would be OK, but now that it has attacked my own body (and I’m still not fully recovered) that might not be good if it came back at me again. So I won’t mention that.

There’s lots of comment-worthy stuff on the news, but I just get angry when I go there.

Oh, OK, here’s one for you. A colleague of mine (an HR manager at a Texas location of an Exxon Mobil refinery) reported recently that of all the applicants they get for jobs as plant operators, fully 75% cannot pass a simple test of literacy skills and math fundamentals. Of the 25% who DO pass, 50% of those fail the required drug test.

That leaves her with 12.5% to choose from. Of the ones she hires, half of those are sent off during their first year for remedial classes in reading, math, and basic chemistry. Many do not possess such basic workforce skills as regularly showing up for work on time, dressing properly, or practicing acceptable personal hygiene.

Do I see that as an indictment of both our education system and the way we “raise” our children? Yup. Oh, but our schools will teach our kids all about the environment, and how to save the planet! (Those are just a FEW of the reasons Carol and I decided to home-school our daughters.)

Here are a few more stats for you:

Over the next 15 years, India is expected to graduate twice as many students from college as America.

China is expected to graduate three times as many.

42% of students in China earn undergraduate degrees in science and engineering, compared with 5% in America.

75% of all new jobs will require some post-secondary school education.

68% of those entering high school 4 years ago have graduated; for communities of color, the graduation rate is 50%.

My source is Steve Gunderson’s testimony to members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, presented in April, 2005. There's a lot more in there. You can read his remarks at this link.

The answer to all of this, according to members of the “Education Community” is more money for teachers’ salaries, schools, and so on. The answer according to me is parental concern and involvement in teaching their offspring how to read, write, and live.

End of rant.

(Let’s see how much controversy THAT stirs up!)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Mucho better!

My back, that is. And no nausea today. Just thought you’d want to know.

Preparations for the big ski trip are now in full swing. (Sounds like a large pendulum... I wonder where that expression “In full swing” came from??) Carol and I are in daily contact with our daughters making plans, doing last-minute shopping, and taking care of last minute arrangements.

Heck, we don’t leave THIS weekend, we leave NEXT weekend. It’s not like we’re pressed for time here.

Nevertheless, Carol has already cooked a massive pot of black-eyed peas and ham, and another massive pot of beef stew. Each of those was then divided into individual-serving sized plastic containers and frozen. These will become our choice of entrees for lunch on the mountain each day.

Why, you ask? Good question!

Winter park has a large self-service restaurant and eating area with hot and cold selections at the base of the mountain, another one called the “Snowasis” halfway up/down the mountain (depending on which way you happen to be traveling when you get hungry), and even another one called “Sunspot” on top of the mountain.

The food in those places always smells wonderful! So why don’t we just save ourselves all this time and effort and just eat there?

Because a Coke is $3.50, a hot dog is $9.00, hot chocolate is $4.00, and... you get the idea. We figure we spend less for the entire week of self-prepared lunches that we would spend in one DAY eating at the restaurants.

Our lunch selections include the entrees described above, plus your choice of a cold soft drink or hot chocolate, your choice of an apple of a tangerine, chips or crackers, and then COOKIES!!

Carol will begin early next week baking about 15 dozen of the best chocolate chip cookies in the world. We’ll be eating those cookies until they’re all gone, which MIGHT be the last day of the trip, but it also might be a lot earlier. There are never any left over.

Whenever I read about lembas in the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy (that’s the elves’ “waybread,” in case you’ve forgotten) I always think of Carol’s chocolate chip cookies.

So, next week Carol will be baking cookies, and I will be checking our van for proper antifreeze protection, sufficient oil, tire chains packed in the back, good tire pressure, and so on. One of the traditions of the trip is that usually something breaks or goes wrong on the road.

But with all that prepared food in the van with us, we sure don’t go hungry while we’re waiting to get repairs!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Good News – Bad News

The bad news. I left work early today with severe bouts of nausea that would cause me to go from feeling pretty good to being sure I was going to barf all over my office in about 3 seconds.

That, in turn, caused me to try to leap up out of my chair (to avoid putting a stain on my carpet which would without question smell pretty sour for weeks). And THAT, in turn, caused my back to seize up in such fiery agony that I forgot to barf until the pain subsided.

Then I hobbled quickly to an outside door, figuring that barfing in the parking lot was MUCH preferable to that stinky stain on office or hall carpet.

Once outside, salivating violently and feeling my gorge rising, I would stand in the breeze and sunlight (it was in the mid 60s here today) and eventually I’d feel better. And lunch stayed down.

At that point I would hobble back to my office via the water cooler for a big drink, ease my aching back into my chair, and try to get some work done.

This was repeated every 20 minutes or so for nearly two hours before I gave up, drove home early, and passed out in bed.

Two hours later I awoke, and...

The good news! My back, though I still feel soreness when I put my body in certain positions, is actually much better. The pain is at about 50% lower level (roughly 4.5 on the Richter scale) than it was earlier today.

It is now past our normal supper time, and I still have no appetite... but I can move about with some freedom for a change.

Maybe there’s a chance I’ll be able to ski in a week and a half after all. What in the WORLD is up with all of this?

I assumed the super-drugged codeine pain pills had caused the nausea (which is listed as one of the possible side effects, along with cardiac arrest, cessation of breathing, and death — not necessarily in that order). Now I’m not so sure. The pill’s effects should have worn off by now, but I’m still feeling a little dizzy. (No, I’m NOT a blonde!)

But hey, if the back pain will continue to subside, I’d say it’s worth it. (At least I’d say that now that it’s over. When I was straining to get to the parking lot I might not have felt this way.)

Oh, some additional bad news. The literary agent who dislikes the 60s (which was probably just her “nice” way of saying, “I don’t like what I see of your writing,”) did offer up another agent’s name in her office as a possibility, but half-heartedly, ending with, “I’m not quite sure who this would work for over here…”

Plus another agent at a different agency also said she’d pass.

But don’t worry. I’ll keep plugging away. It’s early yet. Yada yada yada.

Sigh. It’s hard to be sanguine when you’ve had a day like today. But my back doesn't hurt as much! Gotta look at the positive.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Not a Good Day

When I get sudden-onset lower back pain like this, it usually takes me about a week to 10 days of hobbling around like a little old man until it gets better.

Doesn’t matter if I go to the chiropractor or not, or if I go to the MD or not. I get a little relief from the pain from both, but only short-term. With the chiropractor it’s based on heat, massage, and “adjustment.” With the MD it’s based on painkillers and muscle relaxants. But in either case the pain doesn’t “go away” until my 10 days or so are accomplished.

This current spell hit me Saturday morning. I was able to get comfortable enough to sleep well on Saturday night and Sunday night. Last night I slept just enough to have gotten some rest, but every time I moved I was jolted awake and had to search for a comfortable position for a while before I could relax and drift off again.

Today has been BAD. I can be completely comfortable and pain-free in a certain position (sitting at my desk at work, for example), but then I’ll just shift my weight slightly and SSSSSSS (that was a “sharp intake of breath," in case you weren’t sure).

Okay, I’m ready for some symptomatic relief. I called the Chiropractor’s office. He only works a half-day on Tuesday and was booked up. So I called my Family Practice doc, and he’d see me at 2:30.

I came away with some Industrial Strength pain pills (Wheeeeee!). No “muscle relaxants,” because the doc is convinced it’s a bone-on-bone problem where the sacrum meets the pelvic bone on the left side. Well, okay. Hopefully there’s enough narcotic in the pain pills that they’ll knock me out and I’ll sleep tonight.

I can’t even think about getting ready for the ski trip at this point. Much less about writing an entertaining blog post. Sorry.

Maybe tomorrow if I’m under the influence of my legal drugs I’ll have a happy topic for you. We’ll see.

Oh, quick update on the agent querying front. I’ve had three rejections now. The last two were polite, thoughtful responses, not form letters. That was nice. The second one I thought interesting enough to share with you.

She wrote, “I'm sorry, I just don't particularly like novels set in this time period, and I took a look at the first chapter and I'm afraid my suspicions were confirmed about my reaction. I do very much appreciate the chance and the time you took with your very thoughtful query, and I'm sorry this just wasn't right for me.”

Gee. She doesn’t like the 60s. But, a lot of people DO read books about the 60s, and those books sell well and make money, so...

I replied, asking her if there might be another agent at her office who did not share her negative feeling towards that time period. I don’t have a lot of hope that she’ll offer up anyone, but we’ll see.

Oooo, I think I feel the narcotics kicking in! Good ni-iight!

Monday, January 23, 2006

As Promised, Ski plans!

One of our family traditions, begun when our two daughters were in their early teens, is an annual one-week ski vacation in Winter Park, CO.

The first year we flew out to Denver, rented a car, drove up to the resort and stayed in a condo. It was a hoot! Carol and the girls took beginner ski lessons and soon the girls were zipping down the slopes trying to “catch some air” (get off the surface, briefly).

Carol (and we still laugh about this) spent the entire week trying to get OFF of a ski lift... ANY ski lift... without losing her balance and falling. This usually required the lift operators to stop the lift while Carol was helped back upright. Then, red-faced from embarrassment, she would ski away.

She is very coordinated and a fine athlete in most sports (she kicks my butt in golf every weekend!), but getting off that lift just took her longer than most physical challenges do.

We had so much fun we decided on the seconf day that we would return the next year.

As the years passed, we became smarter about the trip. We learned that we could drive all the way in about 20-22 hours, and we now routinely make the trip in one long day of about 15-16 hours (taking us to Trinidad, CO) followed by a very short 5-6 hour trip the second day. That allows us the rest of the second day to get unpacked and established in our quarters, rent our ski equipment, buy groceries and supplies as needed, and be totally ready to rock and roll on the mountain the next day.

We learned that discounted lift tickets were available if purchased either in quantity or in advance. We learned of a place called Beaver Village Lodge and Condos that has a central dining room serving buffet style breakfast and supper every day for their residents who pay for the “meal plan.”

At that point the trip became a REAL vacation for Carol, who no longer had to buy groceries, plan and prepare meals after an exhausting day of skiing, clean up afterwards, and so on. We’ve stayed there for the past 10 years in a row! The food quality is so-so, but the fact that it is all prepared FOR you and there’s no clean-up afterward makes it taste like a gourmet feast!

The ski area at Winter Park is huge, with lots of terrain for every level of skiing skill. It is the closest ski area to Denver, so on weekends it is crowded with long lift lines. No so during the week, so we always schedule our actual skiing Monday through Friday to avoid the crowds.

The resort runs free shuttle busses back and forth from all over the town and local area to the mountain base, so there’s no need to drive in the snow (a challenge to us flat-land, warm climate folks) and pay for parking.

For years we went as a family of four. But for a number of years we have included our sons-in-law as the girls grew up and married, so now we are three couples. This year we will be four couples (plus my new grandson!) because we’ve invited a young woman (and her husband) who was my daughters’ best friend when they were girls, and who for years we treated as our own daughter. We tease that she is our adopted daughter, but not really. This will be their first time snow skiing, so we ought to have a LOT of fun with them.

Part of the tradition is the matching ski sweaters, but you already know about those from earlier posts. Another part is game playing. Each evening we will sit around the fire and play party-style games, like Pictionary. Last year we all learned and spent an evening playing Texas Hold-’Em poker. If teams are appropriate, we usually play the men against the ladies. Yes, as you might suspect, the ladies usually kick our butts.

If a quieter evening is decided upon, we’ll rent a movie.

There are other traditions, and I may go into those later. But as you can already see, the annual Earle Family ski trip is something that will probably continue for at least another generation or two. Great times!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

No Golf for the Weary

Today is cold and drizzly in my part of Texas. Thus I would not be playing golf even if my back WASN’T sending me into spasms and contortions every time I bend over at the waist even slightly. And that’s in SPITE of the prescription-level dose of ibuprofen I keep taking every 4 hours.

We still haven’t tried to run the new dishwasher. Carol is slowly loading it as we create dirty dishes. It just doesn’t DO in the Earle household to run a partially-loaded dishwasher. And since there are only two of us living here, it takes a few days to fill the thing up.

I feel pretty good about the supply line plumbing. Even though we haven’t run the machine, the water’s been turned on long enough that if it was going to leak it would have dripped by now. My concern at this point lies with the drain hoses and their connection to the adjacent sink drain.

So today I sit in front of my computer preparing queries for literary agents.

This love story novel is so dang good, somebody just HAS to publish it so all of you can read it and cry at the end. Authors who know have assured me that it has a “three hanky” ending. But that’s supposed to be good. Surely at least ONE agent out there will see the potential and fall in love with this thing. Then all he or she will have to do is get some publisher to fall in love with it, and bingo!

Ouch! I leaned forward when I typed, “bingo.” My back is still sore, and it’s not time for my next dose of anti-inflammatory pills yet. Oh well. I will suffer in silence.

Next week I will begin to regale you all with stories of our preparations for the annual Earle Family Ski Trip. I know you’re all dying to read about it. We should have lots of pictures to share and lots of good blog tales to tell.

For your OWN planning purposes, I’ll be gone from Feb. 4 until the 12th. We actually ski on the 6th through the 10th. Driving takes a day and a half each way.

Oh, don’t snivel. I’ll take the laptop, and maybe you’ll get some blog posts here while I’m gone.

In fact, if my back doesn’t heal in time, I’ll be sitting in the lodge typing blog posts every day while the rest of the family skis.

That sounds like it would suck Big Time. So excuse me while I go soak in a hot bath and then use the vibrator on my back.

We can golf here all year round, but skiing is just one week out of 52!

Saturday, January 21, 2006


This will be a fast-moving post, so stay with me. You ready? Okay, here goes.

Remember the appliance conspiracy? AKA the “Duke of Earle Electronic Domino theory?” (That last was Kenju’s name for it which, as I predicted, has now cause ME to suffer mightily of its many and far-flung consequences!)

What happened, you ask? Well, my 14 year old Kitchen Aid dishwasher cratered. A major part was broken, and given the machine’s age Carol and I decided to replace it.

We shopped. We compared. We checked online retailers for free shipping (found it!) and low prices with no state sales tax (found all that, too!). We ordered. We waited for a shipping notice with a tracking number. Time passed.

I called the place and asked about my order (after, of course, listening to Mozart while I held for at least 30 minutes waiting for a Customer Service rep). He, sounding blithe, told us that we had cancelled that order by email. I, sounding very UN-blithe, informed him that no, we had not!

He said, in a somewhat superior tone, “I have your email on my screen, sir.”

I asked, “What is the email address it came from?” He read off some weird address I’ve never heard of. “That’s NOT my email, and I did NOT cancel that order. Someone made a mistake!”

Mr. Customer Service Rep then became a bit less superior, and asked if I would like to re-order. Yes, I would. But for the same discounted price and free shipping that had been in effect at the time of the ORIGINAL order!

“I’ll have to check with my supervisor,” he claimed.

“Please do,” I replied. Then I listened to the same Mozart melodies for another 30 minutes until he came back on the line. He said he would be happy to extend the same offer as before.

But do you see what happened here? The curse conspiracy was already working against me! The computers of cyberspace obviously sent that retailer a spurious email cancelling my order! But the forces of evil arrayed against me seemed to let down their guard a bit, because not only did I re-instate the order (I think it’s because I did so via the telephone, and the computers couldn’t interfere between the two humans in the transaction), but the new dishwasher actually arrived this past Thursday undamaged! (The freight company is NOT part of the conspiracy! Hallelujah!)

So, on Friday night I unhooked the old, broken dishwasher and dragged it out to the curb for the garbage pick-up folks to either haul away or salvage for parts. Today I installed the shiny new appliance.

And it fought me every step of the way! Oh, I followed the written instructions to the letter, but that helped me not in the least.

First, the hot water connection would not thread into place properly. I had the dishwasher in and out of its space under the kitchen counter 3 times, fighting the supply line problem. Then came the drain connections. Then the wiring.

WHY do they design these things with only about two inches of space underneath them, and then expect humans to reach way back into that space with wrenches or other tools and actually connect and tighten things? And just for your information, cursing may make the installer FEEL better, but it does not actually help with the installation. That’s from personal experience!

But I was overcoming these problems, and doing quite well, thank you, until I bent down to adjust something and ZING!!! My lower back! I wasn’t even touching anything, let alone straining. I just bent over and twisted slightly.

The air in the kitchen still has a hint of the blue streak that I then created, and that was hours ago.

Well, we had a golf tee time today but I wasn’t able to play. Couldn’t bend at the waist to address the ball. But walking usually helps when I have back pain, so I walked the 18 holes while Carol and our good friend Ruth played. They played pretty well, too.

Once we got home this afternoon I finished up the installation and turned on the electricity. Thus far the water supply fittings have not leaked, but we haven’t actually run a load of dishes through it to see if the drain hoses leak or not. In my experience, SOMETHING’S got to leak.

Or maybe it will wait until 2 a.m. and flood the whole house while we sleep.

That’s IF I can sleep, with my back hurting.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Seen this one yet?

This is making the rounds. I thought it was cute and that you might enjoy it:


1. You accidentally enter your password on the microwave.

2. You haven't played solitaire with real cards in years.

3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of 3.

4. You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.

5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don't have e-mail addresses.

6. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries.

7. Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the screen.

8. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn't have the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it.

10. You get up in the morning and go on line before getting your coffee.

11. You start tilting your head sideways to smile. : )

12. You're reading this and nodding and laughing.

13. Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to forward this message.

14. You are too busy to notice there was no #9 on this list.

15. You actually scrolled back up to check that there wasn't a #9 on this list.

AND NOW U R LAUGHING at yourself.

On a different note, a short-sighted agent to whom I sent my first email query responded very quickly as follows:

"John, I appreciate you getting in touch, but I'm afraid this isn't
striking magic with me. I'll stand aside."

Yo've got to give him points for brevity and concise writing. But a low score on perceiving magic, which is IN there!

Oh, well, few of us are perfect, right?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Thanks, readers!

You guys and gals are SO supportive. And I appreciate it.

Over the past year or so (my entire blogging life) I come to feel that I’m a part of your extended family. Well, of most of you, anyway.

You’ve shared your high moments and low moments with me. I’ve participated with you emotionally in both. We’ve laughed together and lamented (if not outright cried) together. I’ve offered some support here and there, and so have every one of the rest of you — not just to me, but to each other.

I used to think, before I tried it for a while, that blogging was pretty lame and a great waste of time. And a waste of time it CAN be. But it doesn’t have to be. It can also be a learning experience. It can be a way to practice a writing style, a method of venting, a catharsis.

It can also be a lot of fun, especially when several commenters get into the spirit of a humorous post and add their unique perspectives to the subject.

What got me started on this vein? All the comments to my post of yesterday. I just wanted to say thank you.

So I did.

And yeah, I’ll be delighted to send an autographed copy of my bestseller novel to all you who have requested it! The only condition is: you have to agree to read it and tell everyone you know if you like it. Well, that plus if they get really expensive to me you might have to help me cover my costs. We’ll see.

(Ha! First it has to get published! And before that I have to find a good agent. And then the whole process, IF it even happens, will probably take well over a year!)

Meanwhile, stick around. It’s been fun so far, and I imagine it will continue to be.

With extended family like YOU, it HAS to be!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Querying again

Not that this is of any particular interest to my readers, but I’m interested, so I’m posting about it. I have begun the process of querying agents to represent my New and Improved novel, CHERISH IS THE WORD.

Last week I posted about Katie, the personification of my muse. And in the preceding months I’ve updated you from time to time about my excitement concerning her critiques and suggestions.

To give you an idea of the extensive nature of my changes, the manuscript has gone from 70,000 words to over 85,000, has a new beginning, a new ending, and some strengthening in the middle. The current product is so much better than the original one that I’m embarrassed that the original was presented to several publishers. It came close, but none thought it met the needs of their perception of “the market” at that time.

Will this new version? Who knows? I’m just happier that it’s better!

For most of 2005 I was signed by Lantz Powell’s Literary Agency for Southern Authors. Lantz worked with me extensively to get the book as close as it was to being good. And then I’m convinced he did his best to pitch it to publishers. After the fifth rejection he wrote me that he had done all he could, and that I was free to query other agents if I wanted to.

At that point I didn’t want to. But then Katie and her friend Pat found me, and the book has been transformed.

So now I’m looking for a new agent. And I’m being selective, rather than just “shotgunning” the industry and hoping to get lucky.

Lantz signed me with a little (maybe a lot of) reluctance. I don’t think he ever had much enthusiasm for the book, and that lukewarm-ness may have communicated itself to the publishers.

Or maybe I’m selling Lantz short.

Regardless, I now have a book I’m very happy with and proud of, and I’d like to find an agent who falls in love with it and will thus be better able to convince a publisher that this is good! As we all know, enthusiasm is contagious!

So, here I go again. I’m starting with agencies whose materials (web site, etc.) indicate they are interested in working with new clients and handle the Romance genre. (To be nit-picky, my book is more of an adventure/love story, but it’ll compete in the “Romance” market.) I’m also starting with agencies that are established and mainstream, as opposed to new start-ups or “boutiques.”

Is that a good plan? Shoot, I don’t have a clue. But it sounds good to me, based on personal experience plus what I’ve read.

Oh, don’t worry. Readers of this blog will be kept current on all aspects of the process.

But you knew that. Right?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A phone call

Have you ever had a phone call from a family member who says, “Want to hear what happened to me today?” Sure you have. Let me tell you about mine.

Our daughter Amy called us this weekend with a question like that. Naturally we said, “Sure.” We were not prepared for what came afterward.

On Saturday she and her husband Tom were outdoors in downtown Chicago, showing a first-time visiting friend (Kim) some of the sights. They were walking down a street with one of Chicago’s elevated trains overhead, when from directly across the street they heard a loud CRASH!

The looked, expecting to see a fender-bender. They noticed a parked vehicle with the top crushed in, and glass scattered around. Then they saw the body on the crushed-in top!

Kim, having had first aid training, immediately ran to see if she could help. Tom grabbed his cell phone and dialed 911. Amy’s first thought was that the person had jumped or fallen from the El platform (there was a stop at that point in the El.) Then she realized that the car was much too damaged for the fall to have been from only 20 feet or so.

When Kim got to the man on the car, she was amazed that he was conscious. He was bleeding heavily from one wrist, so she grabbed a sweatshirt from inside the smashed car (all the windows were broken out) and tried to stop the flow of blood. The man started to move, but movement caused great pain and Kim convinced him to be still.

Moments later, with the EMS on the way, a girl ran from the front of the building entrance just beside the incident and tried to fight through the crowd towards the man. Amy overheard her tell a policeman who had come to the scene and was waiting for the paramedics that she and the man had been on the roof of the building talking when he had jumped.

Amy looked up.

The building is twenty stories tall!

I don’t know if the man lived or died. Kim was able to ascertain that his name was Luke, and the next day’s paper had a brief article saying that a 25 year old man was taken to a local hospital in critical condition after falling onto a parked car from a 20-story building in downtown. If he lives, it will be miraculous.

Amy, Tom and Kim went back to Amy’s apartment where they cleaned the blood from Kim’s leather jacket.

Welcome to Chicago, Kim.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Weirdness meme tags

I am selective in the memes that I participate in and pass along to others. This particular one, into which I delved to a considerable depth in yesterday’s post, ended up being a lot of fun. Thus enlivened, I will no pass it along to others on my blogroll.

I was tagged for this meme by Viki over at VikiBabbles. She reported the rules to be:

“List five weird things about yourself. Then tag five others and tell them they’ve been tagged by a comment on their blog.”

Pretty simple sounding, but it was something that required a good bit of effort on both my part and that of my daughter. My selection of tagees may require some thought. I don’t want to tag just anybody.

I mean, some of my readers have a much higher weirdness quotient than others. Would they be the ones I should tag? Or would their responses be too obvious?

Maybe I should tag folks who don’t appear to be weird at all, so that they’ll surprise us all with their revelations. Yeah, that may be the way to go.

So, now that I’ve thought that through I shall name five folks who MAY or MAY NOT be obviously weird, and invite them to play for our amusement. As always, this is a voluntary tag (like, how could I force you, right?) But please give it a try. You might actually have some fun with it.

My tagees, in no particular order, are: (drum roll please. Thank you!)

1. T of Virginia, who last regaled us with a blog post several MONTHS ago, and thus is SERIOUSLY overdue for some amusement.

2. Schnoodlepooh, who seemed to take a great deal of delight in my daughter’s opinion of her father’s weird ways.

3. Michelle, the Goddess, who ALSO seemed delighted by Christina’s revelations, and may have some interesting South African weirdness to pass along.

4. Karyn, one of my favorite blog reads, who just can’t seem to get that house sold. There may be some question about whether or not she HAS any weirdness. Or, there may NOT be any question. Take your pick.

5. Finally, I tag Kenju over at “Just Ask Judy.” She shares my concern about the conspiracy of appliances and other inanimate objects, and since apparently SOME people think that is weird, she may have more to offer on those lines.

There! I’ve completed all the requirements of Viki’s tag. And it only took me four days of blog posts to do it.

She should be proud!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

My daughter the overachiever

What are ya gonna do? I asked Christina for 4-5 things about her father (me) that people might think are weird. You know, to satisfy this meme that VikiBabbles tagged me with?

Well, not only does she immediately respond with SIX (not the 4-5 I asked for), she then thinks a bit and comes up with MORE!!

Okay, Viki. You asked for it. Here’s the list of my weirdness according to my daughter. She says:

1. You can whistle and smile at the same time.

Well, OK. That’s somewhat unique. I’m the only person I know who can do that. No, I don’t mean just let out a loud “TWEEEET” while I’m smiling. I mean whistle an actual tune. Many tunes. While I’m showing a lot of teeth in a big grin. (I use my tongue to make the whistle sound, not my lips.) Frankly I don’t think that’s exactly weird, just a little unusual. But I guess that’s one good one.

2. You have those weird little bone growths or whatever they are in your mouth that you didn't realize were weird until the dentist told you that nobody else has them.

Yeah. Those are definitely weird, no question. My dentist once asked if they bothered me, but then thought a second and added, “No, I guess if they’ve been in your mouth all your life they’re just normal to you.” He was right.

3. You actually enjoy puns to a degree that is somewhat sick.

Now wait just a minute! That’s not weird. A LOT of people enjoy puns. Reading them, hearing them, and yes, MAKING them. That’s not sick. Nor is it weird. It’s NORMAL! I reject that!

4. You have been happily married to the same woman for almost 40 years and are still madly in love with her. That's not so much weird as just not that common these days.

Here again, that is NOT weird! That may NOT be common, but it’s definitely NOT weird. I admit that it’s totally true, but again I reject the weirdness angle.

5. You are delusional and paranoid and fear your appliances.

Christina! I have offered abundant proof of my allegations about the conspiracy! You may choose to believe the evidence or not – that’s your prerogative – but delusional?? I don’t THINK so. Many of my readers have confirmed this theory. That is DEFINITELY not weird.

6. You understand the way my crazy brain works! (Mom thinks that's weird anyway)

Well, that’s your MOTHER’s opinion. Your crazy brain works much in the same fashion as MY crazy brain. After all, where do you think the genes CAME from? I think our brains (yours and mine) are pretty normal. Maybe it’s your mother and sister (who think alike, but differently from you and me) who are weird. I reject THAT as weirdness also.

7. You are unusually modest.

Well, yes. I admit that. For someone as smart, good-looking, talented and resourceful as me, I am unusually modest. But that, although again perhaps unusual, is NOT WEIRD. You’ve only got TWO so far!

8. You can't take a photograph without cutting off someone's head, or part of the main subject of said photograph.

Christina, Christina! We artists focus on different things from the rest of the population. YOU may focus on the person’s head, but sometimes I might focus on (and thus take a picture centered on) some aspect OTHER THAN the head. The head is not always appropriate for the photo I’m taking. But for the narrow-minded out there, okay. I’ll accept that as weird from the perspective of the unenlightened masses. That’s THREE.

9. You taught your daughter to identify the state of Kentucky on the map because the shape is similar to that of a chicken leg, as in KFC.

No! No, no, no. NOT WEIRD! It obviously worked, as proven by the FACT that you now, at age 33, can STILL identify that state from its outline based on that MEMORY aid! I think I taught you that little trick when you were in what? Third grade!? That is LEGITIMATE, and, if in all MODESTY I can say this: it was brilliant!

10. You were quoted in Newsweek Magazine for setting the unrolling-a-toilet-paper-roll-the-fastest world record.

Yeah, well, that is definitely something that nobody else in the whole world can claim. Or back up with physical evidence. So I’ll acknowledge that as weird. That’s FOUR!

11. You are usually right handed, but you swing a golf club and a baseball bat leftie.

Nope! That doesn’t qualify either. Phil Michelson on the PGA tour is the same – a natural right hander who swings left-handed. And a lot of left-handed people do some things right-handed because there’s a lot more right-handed sports equipment than left-handed, so they buy what’s out there and adapt. Maybe that’s, again, unusual; but not weird!

12. Everytime you hear something with a constant beat, like a ceiling fan, a pulsating engine, hell even a clock ticking, it always gets you thinking of some song on that beat. Sometimes that's pretty cool, but other times it's a little distracting. — Well, there's my dozen that you gave me credit for. I could have come up with more, but I think everybody gets the idea.

That’s true. I do that. Is that weird? I think, again, that it’s NORMAL! You’ve admitted to me that even YOU do that. YOU’RE not weird. Are you?

Well, I give up! I’ll go along with that one as well, so you’ve succeeded in getting me to five weird things.

But I REJECT the other things! Out of hand!

OKAY!! That gets me to the five things required by Viki. I have succeeded!

Now it’s time for me to tag 5 others, but it’s late tonight so I will do that tomorrow. (Yes, Viki, here’s ANOTHER example of me teasing readers to bring them back to my blog).

(Christina, you can stop now. PLEASE!?)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Tagged by the Babbler!

Viki, over at VikiBabbles has tagged me with a weird meme.

No, wait, the MEME’s not weird. The meme is about weirdness. Here are the rules:

List five weird things about yourself. Then tag five others and tell them they’ve been tagged by a comment on their blog.

Hmmm. Sounds simple enough. But wait... who defines what’s weird and what’s just, maybe, a little quirky? I mean, I think a lot of people are kind of weird, but just about everybody thinks I’m a very “normal” guy. And I am. Aren’t I? Well, who’s to say?

This may be harder than it sounded. Let me think. Okay, here goes:

1. I can hear a song just two or three times, and have it memorized cold (if I like it). Including nuances of the singer’s pronunciation (if any) and timing, the beat, the melody, the lyrics. Is that weird? I don’t know. It seems normal to me.

2. Uhhhh. I’m just sitting here wracking my brain. What little there is to wrack. I don’t think there ARE five weird things about me! I just asked Carol to help, but she snorted and went back to playing Sudoku on the laptop. Heck, she thinks it’s weird that I blog every day.

I mean, sure, there are things about me that might be different from a lot of others, but does that make them weird?

Tell you what... I’m going to ask for some help. My older daughter Christina reads this blog daily, and if anybody can figure out 4-5 more weird things about me, she can. In fact, knowing her, she’ll come up with about a dozen things SHE considers weird about her dad. But consider the source, please!

Okay, Christina, do your worst. In a comment, list some things about your old dad that you think others will think are weird.

Go ahead. Take your best shot. You won’t hurt my feelings. Much. I hope.

Oh, go ahead. I’ll get over it.

If you come up with five things, then I’ll tag some others.

The Duke rests.

Friday, January 13, 2006

I’m better now, thanks

Yesterday was pretty rough... until I located my feel-good pills. Today the threat of that “Duke of Earle Domino Effect” seems more remote.

Oh, there’s a lingering fear that something evil is lurking around me. But the sun is shining and I know the evil is weakened by the light, so I’m OK for now.

Tonight I plan to go to bed early, pull the blankets up over my head and try to hide from it. In my experience that doesn’t really work, but it feels good.

And I have a happier topic today!

My daughters both received some very nice financial information this week. I’ve promised that I wouldn’t go into details for fear of embarrassing someone, but whether it had to do with a bonus, a pay increase, more responsibility or more job security isn’t the only issue.

Yeah, I know, “Money talks, and B.S. walks.” I’ve heard it before. But of almost equal importance is the tremendous vote of confidence in each of them this represents. Both of them work in relatively small business with a single owner. These financial decisions were made by that owner, in each case.

They are both, obviously, perceived as very valuable to their companies. Money talks, but what it’s saying to them right now is pretty nice.

And I’m a very proud papa.

So, even though I’m about to be bankrupted by the effect that has now been named for me, maybe my daughters can support me in my soon-to-be homeless, impoverished state.

I’ll keep you informed. At least, until my desktop computer crashes and the laptop shorts out from immersion when the plumbing bursts and the house floods.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Here we go again

I tried to warn you. I did my best. And it seemed to be working for a while.

Oh, YOU know what I’m talking about! If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time — even if only off and on — you ought to be aware of what I used to refer to as the conspiracy.

I can go ahead and name it now, because Kenju has written an entire POST on the subject. What’s worse is, she has named names and cited dates of purchase.

I’m sure that by now the entire blogosphere, the ether, the welkin, and likely even the ozone layer are all positively vibrating with plans among and affecting all of our computers, appliances, plumbing fixtures, telephones and even automobiles.

Oh, yes. It’s coming. And probably soon! One after another the dominoes will fall:

• the plumbing will leak or just come apart
• appliances will fail
• vehicles will start dropping pieces on the roadway or the garage floor
• hard drives will crash
• passwords will become scrambled
• VCRs and DVD players will eat any media inserted
• ATMs and vending machines will steal our money and our identities.

Yeah, the list DOES go on and on, doesn’t it?

And do you know what’s the worst of it?

Kenju named the whole effect after ME!! That means that my house will become the focal point for all the systems and “inanimate objects” that are part of this conspiracy. And as you know (again if you’ve been reading here for a while), the house itself (foundation, walls, ceilings, wiring—hell, even the grounds outside!) is part of this thing.

So I’m expecting a series of “events” that will appear to be random and accidental, but that will, in short order, bankrupt me. And all because I tried to warn everyone, but then managed to minimize the damages by denying everything and keeping quiet about it.

I was going to warn her to take that post down, but the damage is indeed done. Don't believe me? Hey, just go read the comments from HER readers! You'll see!


Oh, well. At least I’m now guaranteed immortality. Now that the whole theory has been again exposed and even named after me, I’m sure I will be cursed forever by its victims.

So dear readers, since the damage has already been done, the proverbial cat is well out of the bag, the lid is off, the bucket has been kicked, the can of worms has been opened and eaten (did I mix any metaphors there?)... you can go ahead and blog about it again.

Now, where DID I put my meds...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

My Muse is named Katie

A blogger who is an excellent writer (Rob Hamel over at Thoureau’s Laughing) has a post about his muse being off on vacation or somewhere. He says he wants to write... No, he needs to write. But without the muse he is unfulfilled.

Well, that’s not exactly what he says. Go read his post, and then come back. I’ll wait right here. I promise.

See? I’m still here waiting.

OK. Here’s my point. As many of my regular readers know, my writing was rejuvenated by an energetic critique partner named Katie. She graciously offered to read my first chapter or two, and then was so complimentary and built up my ego so much that I just HAD to send her more. She, along with her critique partner Pat, made suggestions, and before long I had added 10,000 words, and had a story that was ten times better than the one my agent had been offering to publishers.

The novel is now really good. In all modesty. Well, OK, with no shred of modesty! But it’s still really good. There are three passages in it that make me cry, and I wrote it! If you read it you’d be bawling too.

Now that the holidays are behind us Katie and Pat and I are working on my synopsis and query letter to get this manuscript into the hands of an enthusiastic agent and see if some publisher doesn’t recognized it as serious competition for Nicholas Sparks.

Of course I’ll keep you well informed of all the offers I get. In fact, if I get any rejections (unlikely) I’ll let you know about those as well.

Ah, to dream! (I TOLD you my ego was out of control!)

Back to my point (there IS one hiding around here somewhere...) Oh, yes. I happened to tell Katie that I had written the first few chapters of a sequel to the first novel. She casually asked if she could have a look at the first chapter.

Now I haven’t spent much time on it lately, because I’ve been busy with rewrites on the first book, and now the synopsis. I did pull it up a couple of times and re-read what I had already written. I’d tweak it a bit, and then save it to disk and close it. I haven’t really added any significant pages for a couple of months.

Last week I sent her the first chapter to look at when she had time. Yesterday she sent it back with comments.


She loves it! She had very little to suggest or add, and tells me she’s salivating waiting for more. As Carol said, there goes my ego again!

Suddenly I’m dying to write the next three chapters, and I’ve got some new ideas for plot twists that ought to work really well.

Ahhhhh. My muse. Katie!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Good question

Kenju asked in a comment to yesterday’s post, “A good deed is not lessened by an ulterior motive, is it?”

Well, is it?

Mother Theresa was known for her selflessness. One could argue that she lived her life of poverty and service to others out of the hope and belief that she was accumulating a reward in heaven. Thus even she had an ulterior motive.

I don’t know.

In today’s world we are usually taught to seek out the “win-win” situation where both parties gain in an exchange. That’s what our capitalistic society teaches us.

For example, my company pays me money (something I want) in exchange for my willingness to perform “Human Resources” services. We both give something we’re willing to give in exchange for something we want.

The failure of the communist model has been ascribed to its tenet of “From each according to his ability, and to each according to his need.” What’s wrong with that? Well, if I want something, it doesn’t matter how hard I work for it. I won’t get it until “society” perceives that I have a need for it.

So to get what I want, I have to be needy. And even THAT depends on someone else’s perception of what I need. I may think I need a new central heating system, but someone else may perceive that I just need an extra couple of blankets to wrap up in.

But to get back to Kenju’s question, I think a good deed may be lessened in the eyes of those who view it by their perception of the motive of the deed-doer. Human nature seems to dictate that we do things that provide us with the greatest benefit. Thus some feel that the thief who steals to eat is less despicable that the thief who steals to sell the stolen item.

Motives matter. So I think the answer to her question is, “yes it does.”

What do you think? (A shameless attempt to entice you to make a comment. Is my motive selfish — more hits on my hit counter — or is it selfless in trying to get you to examine your own perceptions and be a better person for it?)

(I’ll never tell!)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Full circle

Today I attended a funeral. The mother of a member of our plant’s management team passed away last Friday after a long illness. She lived in Corpus Christi, a 90-minute drive from Victoria, and a number of us from the plant drove to the church to pay our respects.

On the way home I stopped at Doris’ apartment to deal with her insurance issues.

I ended up spending about 90 minutes there, most of it talking to various insurance administrators and specialists at 1-800 numbers. Her husband was more help than I thought he’d be, and together we figured out what coverage she used to have, and made some decisions about what she needed.

I managed to get her enrolled over the telephone, and arranged for more materials to be sent to her describing her coverage, how to submit claims and all the rest. Husband swears he will watch for the materials and save the stuff. I think I even convinced him I was not meddling in their affairs but just trying to help. We’ll see.

The point? Out of a bad experience (a friend’s mother dying) came an opportunity to solve a potentially sticky problem in one day rather than a week or more of mailing stuff back and forth.

This probably seems like a minor point to most, but to Carol’s mom (Doris’ sister), it had been a Major (capital M) concern all weekend. When Carol’s mom has a major concern, Carol hears about it many times during the day for days on end. Stress builds and sometimes spills over into Carol’s life (loss of sleep, etc.)

I just feel good that this issue was headed off before it escalated into a MORE stressful situation for all of us. So, despite Rob Hamel’s impression that my help was out of total altruism (thank you Rob, for your kind words in the comment!), I definitely had a selfish motive.

The funeral only underscored the truism that dying is a part of life, and brought my thoughts full circle back to my use of the saying, “It’s hell to get old, but it beats the alternative,” as the lead-in to my earlier post about Doris’ problem. Life's like that, too. Cycles.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Global warming, and a mustache.

What’s with the weather? And don’t tell me it’s global warming, because that’s hokey science. (If you don’t believe me, just ask President Bush.)

But I’m really not complaining about the weather. It’s very nice here in Victoria right now, although we could use some rain. We’ve been “suffering” through nights with temps down in the 40s, and days with the high in the 70s.

You couldn’t ask for much better golf weather! Carol and I were out on the course both yesterday and today, working on our tans and our swings at the same time. Well, actually I was working on those things. Carol’s tan and swing are both pretty close to perfect. Just like pretty much everything else about her.

Which brings up the obvious question: Why would anyone so close to perfection want to marry somebody like me?

Well, I may have discovered a partial answer today.

Carol’s mother found some very old slides that I had forgotten about completely. One of them shows me at age 25. I was in the Navy, serving as a pilot on the USS Forrestal. I had decided, since we were at sea on a 7-month cruise, to try growing a mustache. I wasn’t brave enough to try it ashore where people other than my squadron-mates could see me.

That mustache lasted about three weeks. To me it looked scraggly, and almost red in color. But just before I shaved it off forever, I had my roommate and RIO (Radar Intercept Officer – we were flying F-4 Phantoms, and they had two crewmen) take a couple of slides of my face.

At the risk of offending you Tom Cruise fans, just look at this mug and tell me this guy didn’t look just about as sexy as ol’ Tom Cruise in “Top Gun.”

No, on second thought, don’t tell me. Just let me revel in my dreams that once upon a time I had a sexy face.

Carol thinks so, at least. And for me, that’s the only opinion that matters.

And when she says it, things definitely warm up in our household.

So, maybe there’s some truth to the global warming thing after all.

Friday, January 06, 2006

It's Hell to get old...

...but it beats the alternative!

Today, however, I had an experience that makes me want to qualify that saying by adding the word "usually."

Carol's aunt (her mother's twin sister) is almost 83. She has days when she's pretty lucid, and then she has other days when things are very confused. Her name is Doris.

Doris still lives with her husband, who is in better physical and mental condition than she is. He is not, however, without a few peculiarities of his own. One of those is that when he gets their mail in and sorts it, anything of no interest to him (or that he doesn't really understand) is tossed.

They live in a small apartment about an 80-minute drive from Victoria. Fortunately they have a housekeeper (Ninfa) who comes in on weekdays and helps with household cleaning, chores and so on. To the extent she can, Ninfa also helps them with decisions on some matters.

Today she was trying to submit a refill request on one of Doris' prescriptions, and was informed that the insurance coverage had terminated. Doris has retiree medical coverage for prescription drugs and a Medicare supplement, all provided by her former employer of many, many years -- Sears.

Ninfa, unsure of how to proceed, called Doris' sister, Carol's mom. Carol called me.

Why me? Well, I'm a Human Resources manager, familiar with benefits and health insurance coverages and all that, and maybe I could find out what happened to her insurance?

Armed with Doris' social security number, birth date, address and phone number, I began calling at about 11:15 this morning. This quest occupied me the entire rest of the work day!

What did I learn? Well, back in September Sears announced some major upcoming changes in their retiree insurance programs. In October, enrollment kits were sent to all retirees. The enrollment period was November 1 through December 16, 2005.

Did Doris and husband get the notice and enrollment kit? Probably. Did husband not understand them and toss them? Probably. The kit explained that if no election was made coverage would lapse on December 31!

Thank goodness they tried to refill a prescription this week and not two months from now! Why? Because I was able to speak to a very nice, very empathetic lady from Sears (Kimberly) who understood the problems sometimes associated with aging and assured me that it was not too late for Doris to re-establish coverage effective January 1.

Kimberly put me in touch with Vicki, a rep from the new insurance administrators, who was willing to explain to me the various options available to Doris under the new plans, but for privacy and security reasons could not send any information to my address or discuss anything about Doris' previous levels of coverage.

All I wanted to do was get her enrolled in a plan similar to what she had been used to. But it's not that easy.

Bottom line? A new enrollment package with all the options explained and priced is being sent overnight to Doris' home. I have notified husband to please accept it and keep it until the housekeeper can get there, pick it up, and send it to me. Once I get it I'll try to determine what Doris had, and enroll her in something comparable.

One concern I have is: I don't know her financial situation. Is cost (the premiums) a major concern, or is level of coverage more important? Does she spend a lot (over $2250 per year) on prescriptions? If so, she'd be better off with the "high" level coverage with a higher premium, if not, the cheaper coverage will save her money. Who knows? Neither Doris nor husband. Certainly not I.

Today Doris was pretty confused. I'm not sure she knew who I was, and she sure couldn't answer any questions about details of her former insurance. Husband knew me, and knew I was trying to help, but he is clueless about details like that. Why? Well, because he has his own retiree health coverage from a different former employer. He has never concerned himself with her insurance.

The deterioration of the body as we age somehow seems much less cruel than to see someone's mind just wander away over a period of a year or so. I can only hope that if I get to an age where that begins to affect me, perhaps the alternative to getting older will be the better option. I don't know, and it sounds blasphemous to write that, but...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho...

In case you hadn’t noticed, the holidays are over. Those of us who go off to work in the mornings (or at other times during the day) are now back to doing so.

I was lucky enough to have January 2 off, so I’m nearing the end of my last vestige of the holiday season—a four-day work week.

A lot of people take vacation time off during the holidays. Makes sense for several reasons. You can “spend” only a few vacation days and yet end up with a lengthy time away from work. Plus, little gets done during the week between Christmas and New Years anyway.

But on the flip side, those who DO come to work (as I did) between and among the holidays find things pretty laid back and easy. It’s almost like being on vacation, but at the office. There are fewer phone calls and emails, and few expectations of anything really important happening until after the first of the year.

Oh, but then comes the “dark side.” The first two weeks after the holidays are Hell Weeks. Everybody’s behind from all the time off they took, and from the laid back attitude we all had during the holidays. Now it’s time to play catch up. You gotta pay the price for all that easy time. (Kinda like paying off the Christmas bills after the joy of gift-giving is behind you.)

Attitudes are touchy, and many are in an outright bad mood. They gained weight, they lost sleep from all the “fun” they had, and there’s now the inevitable pile of work waiting for them from all the stuff they put off in December.

Further, (this from a Human Resources perspective) this is the time of the year when many of the benefits renewals take place, changes are required in payroll deductions, enrollment forms have to be completed, and calendar year deductibles start over again. Further exacerbating the stress level at my plant is the fact that this month our annual performance evaluations are due. NOBODY likes doing performance evaluations.

Knowing all this, my role in the office (and out in the plant itself, for that matter) is frequently one of trying to help people keep things in perspective and not succumb to the temptation to snap and snarl and bitch. Although I have a bean-bag puppet on my computer monitor of “Catbert, the evil H.R. Manager” from the Dilbert comic strip, I try to be Mr. Good Guy.

Sometimes I’m successful; sometimes not. People enjoy routines, and right now most of us are a bit outside of our normal routines. But it’ll pass. In another week or so things will settle down to “normal.”

Meanwhile, like Snow White, you might as well “whistle while you work.” Can’t hurt.

(Sorry. I can't resist this. Click HERE for a cute picture!)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Redneck update

My friend Jay called again to give me a report on his New Years Eve celebration. He’s the one with the across-the-street neighbors who recently put a sign by their driveway that said, “Do Not Disturb. Will Shoot.” (If you missed that one, click HERE and then scroll down a bit to see it.)

The same neighbors who occasionally fire off something that sounds like a shotgun blast in the middle of the night.

I was ready for tales of a drunken party, gunshots, local police needing SWAT backup, and more.

Nope. Didn’t happen.

Jay and his family went out just before midnight to pop some small firecrackers and ended up meeting some of the crew from across the street. Turns out they were friendly and almost sober. At least they seemed reasonably coherent.

They (the “Do Not Disturb” folks) treated the neighborhood to a big display of fireworks. In Jay’s words, these weren’t bottle rockets. They were the big kind that went way up in the air and created huge crackling fireballs and sparkling showers. Apparently it was quite a show, and the neighbors enjoyed it.

No complaints, no guns, no police, and no alarming degree of rowdiness. Go figure.

Jay is still thinking about moving by sometime this summer. And no one has yet figured out what really goes on behind that high, thick hedge.

But for now, all is peaceful and serene. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Tom’s “Revenge”

Can you stand one more post about gift-giving among my family members?

Of course you can! You know you love it — reading about other people surprising loved ones with unexpected gifts. And if not, you ought to!

You know how Amy strung Tom along during their Christmas gift opening, whining about how she had tried SO hard to get him the Xbox 360 he’d wanted, but... And then she sprung it on him after he had consoled her.

Well, over a year ago Amy had bought herself an expensive Nikon digital SLR camera with a couple of lenses, a nice camera bag and accessories. She had researched the market thoroughly, settled on exactly what she wanted, spent over $1,000 on it and was very pleased with the pictures she was able to take with it.

And just so you’ll know, Amy is a professional with Adobe Photoshop, literally. She uses that software routinely for her job in graphic design. So although her camera outfit would not be termed a professional one, it was definitely high-end consumer.

Long story short not quite so long, last July during a vacation trip the camera bag disappeared. Camer, bag, lenses, filters, accessories... all gone! In the confusion of waiting for a flight at O’Hare nobody knows if the camera was left behind, lifted by a passerby, left on a plane, or...?? Bottom line, it was GONE.

Amy was distraught. She and Tom would have to save up to manage another purchase like that one. It wasn’t going to happen any time very soon, she knew. She mentally kicked herself all around her apartment for losing track of it.

Well, Amy turned 30 in December. She was out of town (work) for several weeks just before her big day, and two good friends of theirs (Rob and Daryl) were coming to visit just after Christmas, so Tom declared that Amy’s birthday was officially postponed until New Years Eve when and they’d have a small celebration with their friends.


What Amy didn’t know was that two other couples she and Tom are very close to also planned to sneak into Chicago on New Years Eve to be there for the party. They had arranged with Tom to gain access to the apartment while Tom and Rob and Daryl took Amy shopping for her birthday. They were to decorate the place and be ready to yell, “SURPRISE!!” when the shopping crew returned.

What she also didn’t know is that her good friend “T” (half of one of those two other couples I mentioned) had arranged among Amy’s friends and parents to pool resources to replace her beloved camera outfit including the lenses and some accessories! Too much for any one person or couple to afford, it became doable when spread out among Carol and me, the two other couples, Tom, and two singles; all of whom are like extended family to Amy and Tom. Well, except for me and Carol because we ARE family. Oh, you get the picture!

Apparently the surprise part of the plan didn’t quite come off as intended. At some point, over drinks (in vino veritas) Rob and/or Daryl (I don’t have quite all of the details yet) let it slip that the other couples were coming.

But according to T, Amy’s surprise upon opening the gift (the camera) was complete and worth all the effort. The report I have is that although no tears were rolling down Amy’s face, there was some eye-wiping going on.

Wish we could have been there.