Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Second-Chance Wedding


“In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” Albert Camus

The day after Thanksgiving, Hubs and I awoke at four to catch an early morning flight. Our destination: A small city in Virginia's wine country. Our purpose: To attend a friend's wedding. 

I travelled light, luggage-wise, but that's not to say I didn't tote baggage. The ceremony in Virginia would mark our friend's second marriage, and, much as I admired his willingness to risk his heart again, I worried.

He and his new wife would have six children between them. The kids were adults, true, but do kids stop requiring time and attention when they hit twenty-one? To further complicate matters, the happy couple had recently bought a house and were juggling wedding planning with box unpacking. At work, he'd opted for a slower track after many hard-charging years, but his new wife couldn't cut back her hours. How would their work schedules mesh?

Did I tell you I like our friend's first wife? True, she'd initiated their divorce and had moved on without a backward look, but I'm the queen of looking back, retroactively applying relationship bandages, and asking, "What if?" Small wonder the airline didn't flag my baggage for exceeding weight limits.

First-time brides and grooms are filled with such optimism, it verges on hubris. Guests admire the bride and groom's fearless willingness to merge their dreams, futures, and fortunes. We hope they'll weather the storms to come and emerge stronger for them, but if asked for advice, we're likely to demur because who can tell anything to wide-eyed young people who are certain theirs is the great love of the century? If pressed, we might say something innocuous like, "Never go to bed angry," or "Laugh at yourself."

Guests at second marriages tend to be older and, thanks to lessons at the School of Hard Knocks, wiser. We arrive with optimism that's been dented but hasn't been stripped away.  (If it had been, we'd have RSVP'd with regrets.) We've gone to bed angry once, twice, or ten times because only a saint could avoid it, and we've learned to laugh at ourselves because if we didn't, we'd have spent days curled into balls, our fingers in our ears, singing "La, la, la, I can't hear you."

We've also learned that long, happy marriages are blessed by luck. "Hard work" and "putting each other first" ratchet up the odds of success, sure, but luck's a biggie, and it skips over some marriages.

I traveled to Virginia weighed down with memories of our friend's first wife and worries for him and his new love. However, as he spoke the vows he'd written, my fears melted away.

The marriage of two people who've survived painful uncouplings is sweeter for its poignancy. It's humbling to bear witness to a bride and groom who have the courage to make promises although they'd learned the hard way that vows can be broken. They've weathered storms but haven't shut off their emotions or sequestered themselves in emotional storm shelters. They know it takes two to make a marriage work or fail and have ditched their "injured party" labels to accept that they could have done things differently the first-time around. They know they'll have to pay closer attention and adjust their behavior on the second go.

This wedding was marked by gratitude, not hubris. The bride and groom were gladgladglad to have found each other and grateful for the friends and family who supported them. The happy couple laughed a lot. 

Will luck bless this new marriage? I don't know for sure, but it's clear the bride and groom are prepared to make their own. 

On the trip home, my luggage felt weightless. I'd swapped my worries for joy, and it turns out optimism is the lightest element of all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

DEYROLLE 2012


Director Wes Anderson at Deyrolle before the fire
On a cold and rainy January day seven years ago, my husband and I were wandering around Paris when a curious little garden shop caught our attention. Inside we found an assortment of tools, books and clothes but nothing remarkable enough to carry home to Texas.

As we were about to leave, the clerk told us there was a premier ├ętage and pointed to a stairway at the back of the shop. Not wanting to be rude, we climbed the steps expecting more of the same and were stunned by what we found—a grand suite of rooms full of hundreds of stuffed animals posed as though they had frozen in mid-action when our feet hit the top stair. Like many before us, we had discovered Deyrolle, the cabinet de curiosit├ęs.

Under normal circumstances, I might have found all the taxidermy somewhat appalling, but there was something so charming and playful about the way the animals were arranged, I fell in love with the place and every creature in the extraordinary menagerie. I couldn’t help thinking, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if whoever owns this place could bring these animals to life when no one was around?”

That man became Adrien Durand, the hero of the paranormal romance novel my agent has out on submission. Since then I’ve returned to Deyrolle many times, and have taken friends and family to visit my favorite place in Paris. Sadly about three years ago a fire destroyed most of the second story and with it hundreds of animals lovingly collected over more than a century.

The fictional place I call La Maison d’Ermonie has taken on a life of its own in my imagination—a fantastical world that is more real to me than the place that inspired it. I shouldn’t have been surprised this week when the somewhat reconstructed Deyrolle no longer held the enchantment of the original, but I was. Surprised and disappointed. The animals were no longer posed playfully and the whimsy has been lost. Change is inevitable but I still mourn the loss of a grand dining room set for dinner with a guest list of zebras, a donkey, a lion, a water buffalo and a goat presided over be a magnificent stuffed horse I named Maurice.

Have you ever revisited an old haunt or a literary shrine only to find time had stolen its magic? 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

Lemons from my tree!

This Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for many people, places, and things. Family's my precious-s-s, and it's a given I appreciate each and every member. With one important exception, though, I'm not writing about family today.

I've cobbled together a list of ten people, places, or things I want to acknowledge. Sure, I've mentioned some of them before, but, hey, gratitude doesn't bubble up only once a year.

1. My cochlear implants. My hearing loss started sneakily and progressed slowly, but I hit profound deafness two years ago, and my coping skills gave out. I received my first implant on July of 2011 and the second in May of this year. Not only did I get hearing back, my confidence returned.

2. The backyard lemon tree. What a kick I'm getting out of this year's unexpected bounty! Today, in celebration of the harvest, I'll serve lemon mojitos.

3. This blog. Lark might be getting tired of me saying how glad I am she invited me to join her here, but I won't stop. You see, I'm a social media dud. I squeak by on Twitter, fail at Facebook, and can't remember my Goodreads ID. Yet I like blogging and reading blogs. 

4. Lucky the Cat. Lucky's the neighborhood stray we took in after he was mauled by another animal. Initially, my plan was to drive the cat to the vet, get him patched up, and release him to his wandering ways. After watching a wounded cat heal, how could I send him back outside? He's a Rosen now, and I'm the lucky one.


Lucky, resting up for his first Thanksgiving

5. The Women's Fiction chapter of Romance Writers of America. This online chapter has given me support, encouragement, and two new critique partners. 

6. The West Houston chapter of RWA.  This is the home of my in-person writer friends. I'm grateful for all of them but have to send an extra thankful shout-out to Lark, Pat Kay, Janice Martin, Jink Willis, Jerre Ferns, Sarah Andre, Kay Hudson, Jo Anne Banker, and Julie Pitzel. 

7. Luanne. I'm a parent, wife, sister, and friend, but the "tribe" I identify with most is the writer clan. That said, I recently met with a woman considering cochlear implants. We talked for hours, and it was energizing to be understood by someone else who's grappled with deafness. Writers get the angst of the blank page, but when the hearing impaired ask someone to repeat himself, we know the response might be a blank stare.

8. France. Oui, I'm grateful for a whole country. My trip to Paris and Uzes last April let me glimpse (and hear) the high school French teacher I was before my hearing went AWOL. My old love affair with France, the French, and the language recommenced, made poignant by the time we'd spent apart.
A street in Uzes. It's lovely, non?


9. Melanie, my sister-in-law. Four days after Hurricane Sandy struck, my parents took refuge at my brother's house. There, they had heat and light but worried they wouldn't be able to cast their November 6 votes at their designated polling place, an hour distant. My parents are Democrats. Melanie, my sister-in-law, is a Republican. Nevertheless, she's the one who promised she'd get them to the polling place. If we honor one another's views at the family level, surely we can accept and accommodate differences of opinion and work together in Congress. 

10. WANA. The acronym stands for We Are Not Alone, a book-turned-movement that focuses on blogging, social media and networking for authors. WANA is the brainchild of Kristen Lamb, and, while I've learned a lot from the book and the course, it's my fellow WANAs who have taught me the most. 

Happy Thanksgiving. I'm grateful to you for reading this post.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It's all in the presentation

I don't think of myself as a turkey purist and have been known to buy Thanksgiving dinner from the local grocery store ready to warm and serve. One year a neighbor presented me with a wild turkey he'd shot on his family's ranch and with the help of a friend, I smoked it.

The hard to make out photo above is of turkeys hanging in the window of a boucherie on Ile St. Louis in Paris. There were six of them displayed with their heads on, tail feathers spread, and feathered wings tucked at their sides. Unlike the butterballs in the frozen food department of HEB, there was no mistaking what they had once been and in fact their distinctive characteristics had been preserved for a proud hostess to present to her guests. Imagine their delight when she carries the bird to the table in all its glory. I wonder how many of my family and friends would be thrilled about such a dramatic entrance for the Thanksgiving turkey.

Maybe I should give it a try one year. Who wants to come to my house for the holidays?!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Riddle Me This, Google

British scientists appear to have puzzled out the famous head scratcher: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Research points to the chicken, but I've got a more pressing conundrum to consider: Is my memory slipping because I rely on Google fifty times a day, or do I rely on Google because my memory's slipping?

Whether you're twenty or seventy, you've wondered the same thing. Once upon a time, we accepted knowledge limbo: the uneasy minutes, hours, even days before we remembered the right answer or got our hands on an encyclopedia, tracked down a know-it-all friend, or buttonholed a source. Nowadays, we get skittish if our laptop, phone, or tablet doesn't give us a response within seconds.

Yet I fear our reliance on electronics makes us less self-reliant. If we gave ourselves a couple of minutes, the capital of Norway might bubble up from our memory, along with the formula for circumference, and the name of the group that sang The Power of Love in the 80's.

Alas, we don't have the luxury of time. Work deadlines come lightning fast because we're expected to use every digital shortcut at our disposal.

Search engines are more pleasant to work with than some people. They never rear back and demand, "Why do you want to know?" They never say, "Every fifth grader knows that."

My parents had a set of encyclopedias that I, the eldest, used from elementary school until college. My youngest sister, eight years my junior, used the same set and no teacher complained her information was outdated. Today, search engines ferret out the latest updates, developments, and complications.

When power went out in the northeast due Hurricane Sandy, Google, Bing and Yahoo were available, but the tools people use to connect with them may have been out of juice. Who or what settled the disputes that came up during board games by flashlight: Is "ruana" really a word? That play's not legal!

Did people hunt for dictionaries and a dusty copy of rules of bridge, or did the opinion of the loudest person in the room prevail? I'm guessing the game players swore they'd never again take a search engine for granted.

To write this blog post, I asked Google four questions—well, three, really. I forgot one answer and had to Google it again. Wouldn't you know the answer to one question sent my thoughts on a different direction than I originally planned.

I count on search engines—and no one has to remind me to use them. Indeed, my fingers start typing before my brain has formulated most questions.

The quick answers I get give me time to ponder other, weighty matters: Do my eyelashes look sparse because of the mascara I glop onto them, or do I glop on mascara because my eyelashes look sparse?

Your turn: Name one of the last four things you typed into a search engine. Did you get the answer you expected?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

They cast WHO???????


Every time a new James Bond movie is released, the old argument arises: Who was the best James Bond? People weigh in on their favorites and the discussion fades until the next film is  released. For the record, Daniel Craig is my favorite closely followed by Sean Connery. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sean Connery as an actor and larger-than-life personality. The truth is I’ve only seen a couple of his Bond movies and was less than enamored of the Bond persona of that era. Craig’s tortured, ultra-athletic Bond is more to my taste and the newer plots seem to have more substance.

Regardless of individual preferences, in my opinion all the Bonds had a suave Bondness that worked on some level. Unfortunately, not all casting is successful. How many times have you heard a particular actor or actress was going to play a character from a book you loved and you reacted with “WTF??????”

That’s why I was thrilled to read on Vince Flynn’s FB page that Chris Hemsworth had been offered the part of Mitch Rapp in the AMERICAN ASSASIN movie and Bruce Willis was cast as his CIA mentor. Whether or not Chris takes the part, it’s encouraging that the casting is going in the right direction—especially after the epic miscasting of Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher.

If you haven’t read Lee Child’s Reacher books, here’s a heads up—Jack is a 35 year old, 6’5”, 250 lb, stoic, blond wall of muscle. Tom is a 50 year old, 5’7,” 150 lb, brunette, creepy grinner. Granted, I’ve never been a Cruise fan but this casting is so absurd the only way it could have happened was for Tom to buy the part. Needless to say, I’m NOT going to see that movie!

So what movies do you think were perfectly cast? Which were dreadfully miscast?  Is Hugh Jackman the perfect Jean Valjean? What about Russell Crowe as Javert? Johnny Depp as Tonto? Who was your favorite Darcy? Your favorite Bond? Speak up—we want to know!!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Tart Bounty: Sweet!

A lemon from my own tree!

Seven years ago, inspired by an article on citrus growing for black-thumb types, I planted a gallon-sized Meyer lemon tree in a clay pot. When the tree outgrew that pot, I transplanted it into a bigger one. When it outgrew the second, I dug a hole and planted the little tree in the backyard.

Roughly two years after I brought the tree home, it produced two lemons. After that, nothing.

During Houston's rare hard freezes, I covered it with a bed sheet. In early spring, I gave it fish- emulsion. One year, its leaves yellowed, and I sprinkled Epsom salts around it.

Eventually, the tree reached five feet in height, but produced no more fruit.

A gardener friend told me to dig it up and toss it in the compost pile. "It's barren. Get yourself another one. Time to move on."

Doesn't every woman shrink when she hears the word "barren?" That word didn't describe my tree with pretty leaves that ranged in color from spring green to emerald.

I never got around to digging up the tree--and there was no place to toss it anyway, since I'd never established a compost pile and wasn't about to set a pretty tree on the curb for yard-waste collection day.

Another couple of years went by, including the drought of 2011. Last winter, we might have had two nights of below-freezing temperatures, and I forgot to cover the lemon tree.

This past spring, Hubs and I put down many, many cubic feet of mulch because we were going out of town, and I was certain the absence of weeds would convince would-be thieves someone was home. 

In March, the tree blossomed prettily, but it's blossomed before. I didn't get my hopes up.

The blossoms turned into green buds, but I went about my business and pretended not to notice. 

It's now November, and sixteen big-as-baseball lemons hang from the tree. ( Make that fourteen; I picked two.) 

Sunkist has nothing to fear, and Houstonians with lemon trees would consider my harvest paltry, but I'm excited. 

"Our first crop," Hubs said.

Last night, we dined on salmon with smoked paprika and lemon, plus orzo pasta tossed with lemon, olive oil, feta, spinach, and mint. This weekend, I'll make lemonade--and more of that lemony orzo

Once upon a time, pumpkin pie and spiced cider signaled fall. This year, it's lemon mojitos and lemon chicken

What's been your biggest success in the garden? How'd you use your bumper crop?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

MASKS AND MAGIC

Saturday night my husband and I went to a masquerade ball thrown by one of his clients. Everyone wore formal dress--tuxedos for the men and ball gowns for the women--and masks. It was like going back in time to an era out of a historical novel. I've been to my share of black tie charity galas--the Heart Ball, the Winter Ball and even a rodeo ball where the men wore cowboy boots with their tuxes and the women got cowgirl creative with their formal wear--but this was the first time for a masquerade ball and the mystery was intriguing.

I wore a black gown, long black gloves and an ornate black-on-black half mask. My husband's mask was gold and cream with a headdress of black feathers. The host and hostess recognized us immediately as did the people we knew fairly well and vice versa. I couldn't help wondering how the heroines in romances conceal their identities so effectively the men have no idea who they were dancing with and, in some of the steamier stories, making love to. Really? I tried to pass my husband off as Tom Ford--same hair, stubble, general physique--but nobody bought that either.

Still, the evening was magical. Okay, the band played more contemporary music than Jane Austin would have expected, and Regency England didn't have the engineering skill to produce the 5" heels I danced in. Still, the champagne flowed, the food was divine and the guests diverse and amusing.

Around 11:30 the Latin guests began to arrive--the host has spent a lot of time in Mexico and South America and the hostess was originally from Columbia so this was expected. The tempo of the music  and the dancing shifted. We went out into the cool evening to catch our breath and sip our wine. At 1:30 we left a party in full swing, but we were tired and sleepy and ready for bed. Guess we aren't as young as we once were, but it was certainly a lovely evening to remember.

I love this scene from "Phantom of the Opera." All that's missing is Gerard Butler, although he shows up briefly at the end. Our party wasn't nearly so over the top but it was a masquerade....


Have you been to any memorable events lately? If you could throw any kind of a party, soiree, grand fete--what would it be and who would you invite?


Thursday, November 1, 2012

New Jersey on My Mind


Frankenstorm Sandy didn't blow out my windows, uproot my trees, or cut power to my house. Its path didn't veer within a thousand miles of my home in Texas. Why then am I writing about the hurricane-turned-nor'easter?

To tell you it knocked out my ability to focus 

Small loss, you say. 

I can't argue that point. In hard-hit New Jersey, houses toppled, water filled streets, and bridges washed away. Who am I to complain about loss of focus?

Yesterday morning, I edited twenty pages before I turned twitchy and had to flip on The Weather Channel.  Whoa! A reporter is wading through knee-deep water. Hoboken is flooded, Sayreville's a mess, and Atlantic City is on its knees. 

My parents, brother and sisters, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, niece, nephews, and friends live in the Garden State. They're fine, and their houses are undamaged. Lack of power is their only problem, and they're quick to call themselves lucky.

They can call themselves lucky all day long--I'll still worry.

I take a break from editing to gather two, no, three pieces of publishing-industry news for a column before I Google the power company in Bloomfield, my hometown. Has the company listed what repairs it's tackling by area or street? No. 

Shoot.

I write two and a half pages before my youngest sister texts me to say my parents are cold and she's making them soup.

My parents are cold. Shootshootshoot. I return to editing because my brain's no longer capable of original thought. Oh, oh, President Obama is touring the Jersey Shore. I click on a link that takes me to a speech he gave in Brigantine. 

I visualize my parents wearing multiple sweaters and force myself to edit another fifteen pages. Hey! Maybe Amazon sells a mini-generator big enough to power a space heater. I click on Amazon. Uh oh. Everybody in the sixteen states affected by Frankenstorm has had the same idea. Generators big and small, Coleman lanterns, and other survivalist supplies are on backorder.

My brother-in-law, Mr. Preparedness, texts me to say he's fed up. No-o-o-o. If Mr. P is fed up, how will ordinary Jerseyans cope?

My youngest sister texts me again. "We got The Star Ledger today and now know the devastation across the state. Heartbroken."

I remember long-ago summer rentals in Ortley Beach, Point Pleasant, and Lavalette, and my heart hurts, too. Then I reopen the file I'm supposed to be editing.

Gah! I have a blog post due tomorrow and nothing to write about.  I open my file of blog ideas. Everything in it stinks.  

Uh oh, Hubs just walked in the door. Why's he frowning? A friend since high school emailed him to say their home town, Belmar, is under water. Hubs doesn't believe it and fires up his iPad. 

On The Weather Channel, West Virginia residents are shoveling snow. OMG! Thank God New Jersey doesn't have to contend with snow.

I check with a high school friend on Facebook to see how she fared during Sandy. A college friend's husband is on Facebook, so I send him a message, too. 

"Belmar flooded." My husband shakes his head in disbelief. "I knew the boardwalk washed away, but flooding?" 

It's Halloween night, so our evening is punctuated by little Darth Vaders and princesses. Mostly though, it's memories of home that short circuit our concentration. 

My youngest sister texts to say power might not be restored to our parents' house for fourteen days. I read the message aloud to Hubs. 

"Invite them here," he says.

"They won't come."

"You don't know that."

"I know my father."

"Invite them anyway."

I tap out a message to my sister, asking her to convince our parents to fly to Houston. 

"You're funny," she writes back.

Shootshootshoot.

No way will I get any more editing done this evening. I'm about to head for bed when I remember the blog post due today. See what I mean about Sandy taking out my focus?

What to blog about? What to blog about?

Shoot.  I've got nothing.