Everyone Should Have a Fun Aunt

Everyone should have a fun aunt. The kind of aunt who lets you eat ice cream for breakfast because, hey, hasn’t everyone wanted to eat ice cream for breakfast at some point? The kind of aunt who lives on the beach and zips around town in a cool car and knows exactly what to say to soothe your adolescent angst. The kind of aunt who knew it was cool to work out before Jane Fonda made it fashionable. The kind of aunt who never forgets your birthday and teaches you that fitting in is highly overrated.

Everyone should have a cool aunt. The kind of aunt who has Sippie Wallace and Katy Perry on their playlist. The kind of aunt who lets you sneak a swear word into the conversation from time to time. The kind of aunt who says, “I’ve been where you are” but waits to be asked for advice. The aunt that picks you up at the bus stop and scares off the eighth grade bully just by pulling down her sunglasses and saying, “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

Everyone should have a crazy aunt. Your crazy aunt may show up to your school play wearing a tutu and aviator goggles, but she’ll always show up. Your crazy aunt should tell you elaborate bed time stories that are entirely up  but which she insists are true. Your crazy aunt will tell you it’s okay to ditch class to go the movies once in a while and she also believes in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus because she’s met them. Your crazy aunt always has bubblegum in her purse and sometimes turns a corner a wee bit fast just in case she’s being followed.

I’ve been lucky enough to have all three of these aunts. They have all since passed away, but I try to pick up the mantle when I can for my own extended family. Whether you are the fun aunt, the cool aunt, or the crazy aunt, remember that your influence will be felt and remembered decades after you are gone. And I still totally believe in Santa Claus.


Monday Musings

Kayla2016 has been an eventful year thus far. I was so honored that A Home for Kayla won best picture book at the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Hurray for mutts! This little labor of love has yet to reap great financial success, but what it does earn is going straight to one of my local animal shelters. The illustrator, Yis Vang, and I are also collaborating on a new animal-themed picture called Rolly and Mac, which we will be releasing later this year. As with Kayla, Rolly and Mac focuses on friendship. In it, a puppy and a kitten deal with the disapproval of the other farm animals, who think that a dog and a cat are too different to be friends. Fortunately, owl is the wisest animal on the farm and comes to the rescue.

Speaking of Kayla, the real Kayla is doing remarkably well despite her age and health issues and is longing to chase the new goats around. These newest fur buddies, Wyatt and Virgil, are simply too cute for words. I never thought it was possible to have a lap goat, but I’m here to tell you, it is. These little guys snuggle like a cat and play like a dog.  I see a goat-themed picture book on the horizon.

In other news, my adult thriller is on submission with my fabulous agent, Gina Panettieri, who is also looking for a new home for the Coriander Jones series. The second installment of CJ  is polished and ready to go and I can’t wait to have it out in the world. I learned so much since writing the first book in 2012 and I hope it shows. Whoever coined the term “submission hell” hit the nail on the head. Querying is nothing next to waiting for submission news. Next on the writing agenda is either another Florida-based thriller, my long-neglected steampunk manuscript, or finally finishing my offbeat YA zombie novel. Decisions, decisions…

On my entertainment agenda, Finding Dory is a must-see and the last installment in Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes series is a must-read. If anyone has suggestions for a good, long-plane-ride type book, let me know.

To start off your week on a happy note, I’ve included a picture of Kayla with her #indiebookawards medal.


My Week in Entertainment

At long last, I finally saw “Captain America, Civil War” yesterday. Definitely one of my favorite Marvel movies so far. It ran a bit long, but with such a huge cast, it isn’t a story that can be tidied up ninety minutes. One of the best features of the comics was the occasional superhero vs. superhero issue. This movie did those stories justice and so much more. One scene in particular between Iron Man and Captain America was framed in such a  way that you could almost see an iconic comic panel. And when Captain was trying to hold a helicopter down with one arm… well, let’s just say I was entertained and more. I also  enjoyed a spirited nerd fight with my daughter on the way home when she challenged my belief that Captain America ALWAYS beats Iron Man (unless Iron Man cheats or has help). In case you’re wondering, as far as the plot goes, I’m Team Captain all the way (sorry Tony, imposing a political process on the Avengers just because you’ve got the feels is just as self centered and narcissistic as creating Ultron without bothering to tell anyone).

I loved all the supporting cast. When Spidey popped up, I almost burst into spontaneous applause, but managed to redirect my attention into a tub of buttered popcorn. I love that Spidey looks and acts like an actual teenager. And Marisa Tomei as Aunt May? Genius. Loved seeing Ant Man enter the fray. Loved the Black Panther and his character arc.  The Vision wearing a sweater vest and pining for Wanda. Some of my favorite moments:

Black Widow chasing down bad guys at the beginning of the movie and engaging in some nifty hand to hand combat.

Sharon Carter giving Sam a receipt for a “Bird Costume.”

Bucky in the back seat of a VW asking Sam to move the seat up and Sam refusing.

Sam later telling Bucky “I hate you” after Spidey ties them up in his webbing.

Hawkeye saying “Made you look,” to Iron Man before dropping a bunch of cars on him.

Spidey relating to Aunt May that a guy named Steve from Brooklyn had given him a black eye.

Bucky and Steve entering the Hydra lair together,  friends gearing up for one last fight.

During the fight with Iron Man, Captain staggering to his feet, and in a rhyming scene from the first movie says, “I can do this all day.”

There were so many more. Do yourself a favor and see it on the big screen. Seeing this made up for the trainwreck that was my evening trying to watch Trainwreck last week and giving up after thirty minutes. Sorry, but no, just no. Not for me. Luckily there was a re run of “Normal Again,” one of my favorite Buffy episodes.

Any book, tv or movie recommendations from you? I did catch the first two episodes of Preacher last night. I read a few of the comics several years ago but not sure if I can commit to the show.

What did you read/watch last week?



The Newest Additions

Not much to say this week, except for Welcome to the Family, Wyatt and Virgil. My cute new guys came home on Monday and they are so much fun! They love attention and will even sit in your lap as long as you scratch their ears. I see a picture book featuring goats in the near future.


Janis and Me

Back in the days when we had record albums and turntables, when you had to keep the music at a low enough volume so your sister didn’t bang on the wall from the room next door, I would sometimes bring records to school and swap them out for a day or two with friends. For a few days with Heart’s double live album, I might give up Goodbye Yellow Brick Road temporarily. But I never could part with Janis Joplin’s Pearl for fear it might get scratched, or worse, broken.

Music marks eras in our life, whether it be a teeny bopper idol phase  (HELLO Shaun Cassidy) or the moment we conceive of something powerful coming from art (like the first time I heard U2). Janis Joplin’s music was one raw nerve that was so brutally honest, sometimes it hurt to listen to it. I gobbled up every biography I could find, bought all of her albums, then the “remastered” and “lost” editions, and when my album collection had been carelessly lost, I replaced them all with CDs and downloads. And I marveled at how one person could put her bare soul on display. Because I discovered Janis, I discovered Odetta and Otis Redding (it is rumored she modeled her stage act after him). I tried to recruit my friends into the fandom of Janis, but unlike many 1960’s legends like Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, somehow Janis never generated a cult of personality at the same level. This is a shame.  Not only did Janis break through the “just a girl singer” mode of the fifties and early sixties (another exception being Aretha Franklin, who is a whole different fangirl blog topic), but because she revered African American artists who are often overlooked for their influence on early rock and roll (Leadbelly, Big Mama Thornton). Today’s female artists followed trailblazers like Joan Jett and the Wilson sisters; before them, artists like Deborah Harry and Patti Smith (moment of silence for the my lost Horses album). But Janis was first.

PBS recently aired a documentary about her life, which of course, I watched.  I found the special oddly tame for a woman who was a Texas-sized force of nature, and for the most part, a re hash of old clips that glossed over some important parts of her life and death. All in all, it didn’t quite do justice to a woman who was my first real music idol (not counting Shaun Cassidy, of course).

Somewhere in a dusty bin in a secondhand store, I hope my copy of Pearl is waiting to be plucked from obscurity by an unsuspecting fourteen-year old. I hope he or she will take it home and listen to it beginning to end, then re position the needle to play whichever tune really grabbed him. I recommend Cry Baby.

Reasons to Love Sue Heck

“The Middle” has been a Wednesday night staple in my house for several years. The travails and triumphs of the Heck family, who, as the title implies, live both literally in the middle of America and in the disappearing middle class, are comic gold. Middle child Sue Heck, in particular, is a character that I find both adorkable and worthy of admiration. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Her moral compass points due north. Sue is unfailingly honest and true. She can’t abide committing a transgression and is the first to blurt out the truth when a lie would better suit her needs. Consider the episode where she tried adding “…and so on and so forth and what have you” to the end of a sentence to omit crucial information and in the end, just couldn’t do it. Sue cannot tell a lie. She’d make a lousy politician.
  2. She is relentlessly optimistic. If you watched Sue ask for her special achievement ribbons for her high school graduation, your heart broke a little for her when she found out she had none, not even perfect attendance (“But I’ve been gunning for that one!”).  Even so, she soldiered on. She tries out for everything, even, as her brother points out, she never gets picked. Sue may have had to make up her own version of a cheer squad and didn’t get a single invitation in sorority rush, but she still has an unshakeable faith in herself and in the goodness of the world.
  3. She is fiercely loyal. Sue is a faithful friend to Brad. She loves her family. She worries for them. Of all the Hecks, she is the touchstone, the one who will pull out all the stops to make Mom and Dad’s anniversary special, the one who will drive her little brother to a con and make sure he has a good time. She’ll even let it slide when Mom and Dad forget her birthday.
  4. She reminds us all a little of our younger selves. The mall job. Finally getting your braces off. Having a crush on a professor. Feeling overlooked (looking at you, Frankie, for forgetting your child’s birthday). Sue encapsulates a piece of just about everyone’s adolescence.
  5. She is genuinely excited about life. That patented Sue Heck enthusiasm is contagious. Whether she’s making an elaborate Disney schedule or trying out for a job a Dollywood, you just know Sue Heck isn’t going to walk into a room without a huge smile and a can-do attitude. Leave the brooding posers at the door, Sue is my kind of millennial.

So there you have it. This is why I love Sue Heck. If you’re like me and watch entirely too much television for your own good, who is your favorite character(s)?

Raised on a Dirt Road, Part II

A few months back,  I wrote a post about my country roots.  I was looking through some photos the other day and came across the image above of our camphouse. Looking at it made me a bit nostalgic so I thought it was a good opportunity for a “Part II.”

This structure is probably a hundred years old, give or take. It sits across from a set of cow pens that were also originally built almost a hundred years ago, although they’ve been spruced up and remodeled since then. My great grandfather  bought the property during the open range days when people had gunfights over the prospect of fencing in land. When I was a kid, I used to play in and around the camphouse during the month-long process of gathering cattle on horseback. It was a long, muddy slog in those days and the cowboys ate three meals a day (all home cooked) and some slept in the bunk beds. There was, and still is, a hand pump, which until the 1980’s, was the only source of running water. Along with a proper kitchen sink, we eventually installed actual indoor plumbing and tore down the outhouse. Progress and all.

What I remember most about summer cowhunt, as we called it, are the smells. Muddy cowpens mixed with humidity so thick it made the air seem viscous along with sweat and horses and dogs that had never been on a leash in their lives (and ate table scraps instead of Alpo). When we were older, my sister and I helped out too, mostly opening gates and counting cows, and occasionally getting chased up a fence by an ornery Brahman bull. The noon day meal was usually something like chicken fried steak or fried chicken, fresh peas, corn, squash, biscuits and rice with tomato gravy. Suffice it to say, we did not use summer as a verb in our household. I will never forget one visitor who came out to take pictures and marveled to my dad that it must be so great to be able to ride horses in the middle of the week. My dad nodded politely. I like to say that he was a cow man, not a cowboy.

These days, gathering the cattle takes days, not weeks. We don’t ride horses as much as we used to, and the people who work day labor don’t call themselves cowboys so much and they don’t want to sleep in an un-air conditioned  bunkhouse.  I haven’t ridden a horse in years. My dad has been gone over twenty-five years. But this place is still standing, with a tin roof that makes the rain sound like a dance and walls that, if they could speak, would tell you tall tales of cowhands past, of poker games played with toothpicks, and the stillness that comes from crouching under a metal awning waiting out the rain so you could get back to work.

It was definitely a different way to grow up, as compared to my school friends, but I wouldn’t trade those muddy cowpens for anything.

Have a fond memory of your childhood? Drop a comment below.