It's that time again....

copyright Paul Lampard


Christmas 2013

Wow…that went quick. Time flies by so fast these days; I must be getting old.

Wait…I am getting old! This year was the big six-five. I’m on Medicare now. Honestly, I hadn’t looked forward to a birthday so much since I first hit double digits. After decades doing battle with health insurance for the self-employed, I’m finally swimming in a big risk pool. I’m grateful—-very grateful—for good health, but it’s a huge relief to know that I’m no longer one crisis away from crushing medical debt.

Back in the Dark Ages when I was on a high-school debate team, the 1964 annual topic was “Resolved: That Social Security benefits should be extended to include complete medical care.” I wouldn’t know in advance if my team would be arguing pro or con at a particular meet, but I got my highest scores when I was on the negative team. I had the kind of passion that you get when you’ve got many facts at your fingertips, but not a whole lot of wisdom to temper them.

An old-self/new-self conversation would be worth the price of admission.

When I wasn’t counting the days until my birthday, I was, once again, immersed in preparations for the Embroiderers’ Guild of America’s national seminar which was held in October, in Louisville, KY. As much as I love embroidery and embroidery classes, it increasingly appears that I enjoy seminar committee work more. That—or I really don’t know how to say No when asked to do something that falls inside my skill set.

Writing-wise, 2013 has been the year to ask myself What tale, if any, would I tell, were I my only audience? It’s not been an easy question to answer and there were more false starts than I’d cared to count throughout the year. A few months ago and, truly, when I’d just about given up on the whole enterprise, I began gathering characters and story threads that didn’t dissolve. It’s too early to say, but I’m excited about what I could be writing in 2014.

Since July, when I wasn’t reading through a barrage of Medicare options, working for the EGA, or burning through story ideas, I’ve been exploring a new hobby: genealogy. I never thought I’d succumb to the ancestry bug; there have always been tales of irregularities in my family tree that I wasn’t comfortable untangling. But my good friend, CJ Cherryh, and a first cousin (once removed), Walt Blenderman are both devoted genealogists, so I suppose it really was only a matter of time.

I joined and got to work on the tangles. Much to my relief, digitized data from the UK censuses have reassured me that I am, indeed, an Abbey. But my great-grandmother Julia was woman who got around quite a bit there in London’s East End at the end of the 19th century; and my great-grandfather, for reasons the census cannot explain, wound up living around the corner with Julia’s mother. Right now, I’m trying craft a definitive connection between us and an Arthur Abbey who, in the mid-18th century, was the huntsman for the Cottesmore Hunt, the oldest hunting club in the United Kingdom!

Things have been easier on my mother’s side of my tree—in no small part because that’s where my first cousin (once removed) has been hard at work for decades. I could have simply imported Walt’s data, but I decided to see what and I could put together on our own.

Much to my surprise, when I got back to the Hamlin/Hamblin/Hamblens of early 18th century Massachusetts my tree and Walt’s began to diverge (due to an abundance of Eleazers). Being clearly out of my depth, I turned my sources over to Walt who examined them with a practiced eye before concluding that I’d stumbled onto a better path through the Eleazers, a path which has led not quite to the Mayflower, but to the Fortune, the next ship to arrive in Massachusetts.

It turns out that through Eleazer Hamblin, my mother (and I) are related to a good many of the families that gave their names to a good many of the landmarks that I’ve visited countless times while vacationing on Cape Cod with my family.

It’s so nice when the path becomes a circle.

At Least It's Never Dull Around Here

I’m a planner. Sometimes it would take an archeologist to find my plans amid the chaos, but they’re there. Every morning I get out of bed with a clear idea of what I want to accomplish before I go horizontal again.

On a very good day, The Plan survives and I go to bed feeling that I’ve accomplished something. On a bad day, The Plan’s fallen apart before I’m fully dressed.

This past Sunday The Plan lasted until about 11AM when I got a call from the condominium president (CP) telling me that we were having a bit of a crisis out at the swimming pool—to whit, we had an alligator. It had arrived during the night and though it appeared capable of leaving the pool, it didn’t seem inclined to do so on its own.

[caption id="attachment_510" align="aligncenter" width="630"]Gator In the Pool You’re on Candid Camera[/caption]

Given the general weirdness of Florida, one might think that having an alligator in the pool is a fairly common occurrence around here, but as far as I can determine, this is the first time in the 40-odd years of our existence that we’ve had a gator. We’re about as far from a lake, pond, stream, or river as you can be in Lake County and we’re in the part of town that was built up when people were still paying attention to where they were building. Google Maps puts the nearest body of non-cholorinated water at more than a mile from our pool.

Either it had help getting here or it had a dangerously acute case of wanderlust.

As alligators go, it wasn’t a great big one — about three-and-a-half feet. But getting it out of the pool posed a problem. It’s not like a dog; you can’t call out “Here, boy!” and expect it to join you on the pool deck…and, really, you wouldn’t want it to do that anyway, even at 3.5′.  And you certainly wouldn’t want to get into the pool with it.

So, we did what right-thinking people are supposed to do: We called the police.

I don’t think they believed us. At least the first officer to arrive seemed surprised when he saw the gator. He called for assistance and we wound up with two more officers, their cars, and two long-handled pool scoops: one for herding, the other for, well, scooping.

[caption id="attachment_513" align="aligncenter" width="630"]Nearly Got Him Nearly Got Him[/caption] [caption id="attachment_516" align="aligncenter" width="630"]All Taped Up and Ready To Go Home All Taped Up and Ready To Go Home[/caption]

The story could have–and maybe should have–ended there. And you can see from the time stamp that I would have still had plenty of opportunity to recover The Plan. Except… Except the general consensus (including the police) was that there was no way the gator could have gotten into the pool without help and since we have a surveillance system, the general consensus (including the police) became that we should study the files in hope of identifying the culprit, who — since alligators are still a somewhat protected species around here — would be due for a spot of trouble from the authorities.

Of course, when it comes to studying the surveillance files, “we” devolves instantly into “me.” Everybody else has successfully managed not to learn how to operate the system which is, admittedly, slow and balky.

I started collecting the camera/hour files from the recorder and playing them back in the relative comfort of my living room: 12 viewing minutes per hour, per camera. It’s about as interesting as watching paint dry, with no multi-tasking allowed because at Keystone Kops speed, it’s easy to miss what you’re trying to see. I can scan surveillance files for about two hours before my eyes de-rezz completely.

I started with the pool camera — the one that caught the pictures above — but at night, they revert to a black-and-white capture mode that incorporates some infrared wavelengths…meaning that in Florida they’re just about worthless: We’re so humid after dark that everything’s under a fog bank. Worse, we’d had a thunderstorm move through about 11PM on the 10th, the camera got wet, and the world was covered with sloppy, white polka dots.

I switched to a different camera, figuring I’d be able to spot someone carrying an alligator through the parking lot. Of course, I picked the wrong camera and watched 10 hours of nothing happen at 6X speed. (Scratch Sunday’s Plan and a good deal of Monday’s). But I got lucky when I settled in to watch the third camera’s files…

That bright oval on the right…

[caption id="attachment_518" align="aligncenter" width="630"]Gotcha! Gotcha![/caption]

That’s him (or her), all by his lonesome, marching up to the pool from (I suspect) the Main Street storm sewer.

As I understand the alligator life-cycle, the smaller ones try to stay out of the way of the larger ones, at least until they’re too big to be swallowed whole. So, this guy might have been hiding out in the storm sewers– which drain directly into one or more of the nearby lakes. That 11PM storm, which had been a true gully-washer, could have flushed him out (literally, perhaps) and he followed our pool’s overflow back to its source.

Mystery solved: Alligator 1 / Daily Plan 0.

I can’t wait to see happens this weekend!

Turns out that you *can* go home again

And that’s what I did over the Memorial Day weekend.

(A brief pause while I take a look outside…. No, everything seems intact; an unexpected outbreak of blogging here has not caused a rupture in the space/time continuum.)

Since I had such a wonderful time in Boston over the 2012 Memorial Day weekend visiting my non-biological twin, I decided that I should consider starting a new tradition. So last when AnnieR, my best friend from college, asked me when I was going to visit her in Brooklyn, I realized it was time to revisit my roots.

My roots are New York. I grew up in the Hudson Valley–Peekskill, NY, to be precise. The mix of trees (especially the sugar maples), the old rock of the Appalachians, and a river that’s really an estuary form the landscape of my dreams and the default setting for most of my fiction. The last time I’d visited was 1991 when we broke down my grandmother’s apartment. It wasn’t a cheerful time; I left with a sense that I wouldn’t be coming back.

I never thought I’d go a decade between visits to NYC, though, but except for a funeral in 2008 (in the midst of the financial-crash), the planets hadn’t aligned. To my dismay, I was a bit uneasy as I planned my Memorial Day visit — maybe I’d been gone too long and the city’s rhythms would no longer awaken in my blood.

Fortunately, everything was quickly familiar when I stepped off the plane. AnnieR took the scenic route from Queens to Brooklyn (that’s the one that goes through Manhattan). I’d have say that unlike everywhere else I’ve been in the past five years, the Great Recession hasn’t seemed to slow NYC down…if anything, there was more flashy construction going on than I ever remember seeing. And there’s a lot more green. Central Park has always been a treasure, but now there are parks and “parklets” in places that, frankly, used to be distinctly off-limits.

The first evening, we walked down to one of the new parks–the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which has completely erased a forbidding tangle of docks and warehouses. We were dodging rain and mist, but I got a good, long look at the new Freedom Tower. It’s a much more elegant building than the Twin Towers were. When all’s said and done, aesthetics had never been part of the Towers’ equation; they were meant to be strident…kind of like the rest of NYC, which is perhaps why the new building didn’t quite fill the hole in my memory.

The next day, we went up to the Cloisters where I reacquainted myself with the Unicorn Tapestries and their collection of Opus Anglicanum embroidery. It was rainy and surprisingly cool — at least for someone who’s been living in Florida for the past sixteen years — so I didn’t spend much time in the cloisters themselves (Except to take a few pictures…which are probably identical to the pictures I’ve taken every other time I visit…some things never change.)

Sunday, with the weather improving, we took our trip up the Hudson. I tried to find point of land where my grandparents had lived in the 60s but nothing (or everything) looked quite the same as I remembered, so that wish went unfulfilled. I did better in Peekskill where not only did I find all the places I’d hoped to revisit, I found that they were remarkably unchanged…that is, most of the houses were at least forty years old when I left in 1965 and most of them are about fifty years older now…and they seemed, overall, to have been well cared for. It wasn’t that things had been frozen in time, just that there hasn’t been a wholesale effort to McMansion-ize.

AnnieR braved the Bear Mountain Parkway for me (they’ve replace the dragon-teeth boulders with actual guardrails!) so we could have a late lunch at the Bear Mountain Inn before driving up to the Perkins Memorial.  I’ve been fortunate enough visit places with more spectacular views…places where the scale and grandeur are larger-than-life. The Hudson Valley, to me anyway, is human-scaled; it’s beautiful, but also safe and inviting.

On the last day of my visit, since my plane wasn’t leaving until late, we went back to Manhattan for a walk along the High Line which confirmed beyond all doubt that NYC has embraced open, liveable environments in a way that was scarcely imaginable when I lived there. It has almost completely gentrified itself. We walked north to south so we could finish our journey at the Chelsea Market, which in my day was the “Old Nabisco Building” located in a rusty, near-derelict neighborhood that nobody in their right mind visited after sundown.

On the plus side, it’s great to be able to walk the old elevated railbed, surrounded by art and grass or grab some truly fantastic Italian food for a gourmet lunch, but there’s a hidden price — there’s no baking going on, no meat-packing, no sewing or tailoring left in the Lower West Side. It’s a great place to visit (or to live, if you can afford it), but it’s no longer a place where things are made…and I can’t begin to imagine what that means for the future.

My own future is, I hope, a little clearer. AnnieR had retired (!) the day before I arrived. Freed from the need to work around workdays and weekends, I foresee us exchanging visits on a regular schedule.

(I’ve loaded my pictures into a fancy NextGen Gallery, in case anyone wants to see a bit of what I saw…)



The season between summer and autumn

Okay…one could argue that we don’t really have seasons around here.  One could argue—and I frequently have—that we have three flavors of summer: Summer’s Coming, Summer’s HERE, and OMG, it’s STILL Summer!  Then, in January, the outside temperature drops into the sixties, I open the windows, and pretend that I’m back in Michigan with the furnace struggling to keep the living room comfortable.

But, after fifteen years and despite my best efforts otherwise, I’ve acclimated. When I go outside, I know that it’s not STILL Summer, it’s July, August will feel different, and there’s an extra season in the middle of September: the season of the Love Bugs. Technically, it’s the second coming of the Love Bugs, since they also appear in May, but the May swarm always seems smaller and only last about two weeks. The September swarm is epic

They don’t bite or sting. They don’t even make that high-pitched gnat/mosquito whine. All they do is mate with each other…for days. According to the University of Florida, the 1/4″ males fly low in search of the 1/3″ females and when they find them, they latch on — butt to butt. Then they’re off, in the air…on the move, for two, maybe three days: a bit over 1/2″ worth of insect with two heads, two sets of wings and absolutely no sense of direction!.

Other bugs get out of the way, but not love bugs. If there’s a  pair of love bugs hovering in the air in front of you (it’s almost always a pair and theyhover well…I think it has something to do with the two sets of wings pointed in opposite directions) the only way it’s going to get out of your way is if you swing wide and give it a shove. If you don’t give it a shove, you wind up with it staggering around on your face, your hair, your clothes, etc.

If it were just one pair of love bugs, but it’s swarms of them: hundred of them, thousands…hundreds of thousands of them, drifting together, drifting toward your CAR–because for reasons no one can explain to me, the only things love bugs love more than each other is pavement and cars. For three weeks in September, when I head for my car, I head into a swarm of love bugs and when I drive down a road it’s like driving a steady drizzle, except the windshield wipers only make matters worse, turning splotches into streaks.

The whole front end winds up looking like it’s got a particularly unpleasant, fuzzy, fungal infection. The headlights are no longer as bright as they were. And if you’re really unlucky, they’ll clog your radiator grill and overheat your engine!

Needless to say, the carwash emporiums do land-office business during love bug season.

But I think maybe love-bug season is coming to an end. When I went out today, there were only a handful hovering over the windshield. The season of It’s STILL Summer is at hand!

I'm sharing a birthday

Once I got past the “how many kids can I invite to my birthday party” stage of life, my birthday turned into a customized New Year’s Day: a when I look back and when I, sometimes, make resolutions (like I really should resurrect my blog). This year’s birthday feels special because it has a theme song: When I’m Sixty-Four. Of course, back in 1967, the idea of actually being sixty-four was the other side of the universe. Now that I’m here…well, it beats the alternatives.

This year’s birthday started off with a phone call from Ted, my non-biological twin. Really…our mothers met in the so-called Labor Room at the Peekskill Hospital. They were both women from someplace-else who’d married Peekskill natives and were having their firstborns without the benefit of having their own family nearby, so they became each other’s family that long night and remained lifelong friends. My earliest birthday-party memories are joint parties at Ted’s home–because by then he had two younger brothers. (The emotional temperature of those early memories is Overwhelmed…not only was I an only child, I was a quiet-to-the-point-of-noncommunicative only child. Put me in a room full of three brothers and I became a statue.)

But Ted’s father moved his family away when Ted and I were six or seven (things are a bit blurry at this distance) and although our mothers stayed in touch, we did not, at least not directly: once the Annual Christmas Letter Tradition became a national pastime, we got the obligatory one-paragraph summary in the family-update section. So, I knew that he had married, had children, and found his vocation in the Episcopal Church. In time, though, I was in Michigan or Oklahoma while my parents were in Florida and I didn’t read the ACLs again until I moved to Florida in 1997 by which time Ted was getting a whole page in the ACL because he was a Canon with an AIDS/HIV ministry in South Africa.

With our mothers’ help, Ted and I managed to exchange email addresses about ten years ago and, after about a half century, we were communicating directly (for the first time, because I really wasn’t communicating directly at those birthday parties). Needless to say, we never missed a birthday exchange or had to ask, How old are you, anyway?

Ted left South Africa a number of years ago, but he didn’t return to the US until 2010. I think we both had the idea that we should try to make actual eye contact with each other, but we hadn’t gotten around to it until this past February when Ted let me know that his job was bringing him to Florida to do an oral-history interview with the oldest living alumni of the Boston University School of Theology (I hope I got that right). He said he’d be doing the interview in someplace called Leesburg and wondered how far that would be from where I lived. (Another joy of the Internet–one can be in fairly regular communication with someone and have very little idea of where they really are.)

I said that it was unlikely that I lived more than five miles wherever the interview was happening. As it turned out, it was closer to a mile-and-a-half.

His schedule allowed only one night in Leesburg and we spent most of that talking because there truly was that sense of instant connection that long-separated family members talk about and although the surface biographies read quite differently, we are remarkably alike at the core. And we’d comethisclose to bumping into each other more than once. We have friends in common, too.

It’s almost enough to make me wonder about astrology: it’s not nature, it’s not nurture, but we were born under the same stars.

So…Happy Birthday, Ted. As we start another circle around the sun, it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

Orion’s Children have arrived at Closed Circle!

I swore that there’d be no blogging until I a) got my Orion’s Children series ready for publication at Closed Circle and B) Finished the next (seemingly endless) section of Seeking North.  I’m halfway there…

It’s taken far longer than I thought it would (The surprise isn’t that every ebook has display problems, no matter the format, platform or device; the surprise is that any ebook display anything at all!) but at long last, not only have my Orion’s Childrenbooks been freed from their original publisher, they’re available here at Closed-Circle.

The words are, anyway.

Jane and CJ are graphic artists in addition to being damn-fine writers.  I’m pretty good with needle and thread, but, somehow, a counted-thread cover, even one embellished with goldwork, didn’t seem appropriate (Though Jillian Temaki has done some excellent embroidered covers for Penguin Classics.) So, I had this brilliant idea that I would commission covers from an experienced cover artist, because all this dead-tree to digital paradigm shifting is affecting cover artists as much or more than it’s affecting writers.  I approached Don Maitz, whose work I’ve loved since first I saw it.  He was interested in improving his digital skills…and, trust me, the sketches (are they still called sketches when they’re done digitally?) are fantastic.  But we agreed from the beginning that he’d work on my covers only in the “slow times” and, fortunately for him, if not for me, he’s having less slow time now than when we started the project.

I thought about keeping the Children under wraps until Don’s covers were ready, but there’s no guessing when that will happen.  So…the fool rushed in and made herself some covers.  Jane stepped in and made them better (much better) but anyone who knows her art will realize that they’re fundamentally not her style.

When Don’s covers are ready, I’ll send new (and much better looking) files to everyone who’s already bought the titles, because it’s the stories that matter and I hope you’ll enjoy them.  They’re available on the Orion’s Children page.  If you scroll down to the bottom, you can purchase the whole series at a 25% discount!