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Posts Tagged ‘joy’

Last Saturday began as an exceptional day for me. I normally have to work at least part of every weekend, but last Saturday, in honor of the Memorial Day weekend, I decided to give myself the day off.

I got up early anyway because I wanted to enjoy as many waking hours away from law practice as humanly possible. I fed my two Golden Retrievers, Melody and Rhythm, and headed out for our usual morning walk. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we walk to the nearby duck pond night and morning, to sniff the sniffs, walk up and down the hill, and see what the ducks are up to. Usually it’s relaxing to stand under the eucalyptus trees and watch the mallards paddle around while we look for ducklings. (Well, I look for ducklings. Melody and Rhythm are more interested in finding road kill.)

And for the first fifteen minutes of our Saturday morning walk, all was serene. But then, Controversy struck like lightning in the form of a Thin Blonde in one of those black velour track suits attributable to Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie before Rachel Zoe got hold of them. Thin Blonde came sauntering down the hill with a Starbuck’s cup in one hand and a dog leash in the other. Only the leash was not attached to her dog, a portly little brown and white bulldog. He was toddling along on his too-short-for-his body legs completely unleashed. He looked as if he was fixing to light out for the territory on his own.

Now, the pond is not set aside by the city fathers as a dog park. Dogs are welcome but only when they are on leashes, and there are at least two signs prominently displayed informing all of us of that requirement. Thin Blonde had just sauntered past the one at the top of the hill. Obviously oblivious.

Now as you’ve probably guessed, Melody and Rhythm obey the law. They are leashed at all times at the pond. There are lots of reasons for that decision, not the least of which is their safety. We have rattlesnakes in our area, and I want them close by me whenever we are in off-path, brushy country. But having them leashed is also courteous to everyone else who visits the pond. They can’t bound up to strangers (as they would love to do) and plant two big paws on their shoulders and give them a big dog kiss. They also can’t treat small children like puppies they can play with. Being leashed means they are required to have good manners when they are at the pond, and it also means we aren’t arrogantly occupying more space than we are entitled to. Other people can have their fair share of the pond and its surroundings dog-free when we are there. And off-leash dogs present problems for the rest of us who are obeying the law. Some of them are aggressive and pose a danger to other dogs. Some are just very playful so that Melody and Rhythm pull my arms out of the sockets trying to run after them. No matter what, an off-leash dog at the pond spells discomfort and trouble. And I try to avoid them and their humans whenever I can.

But no such luck on Saturday.

Thin Blonde looked at me and Melody and Rhythm as if we were creatures from Outer Space and drawled sarcastically (ok, Stephen King, it’s an adverb and you hate them BUT she was sarcastic), “Oh, do I need a leash?”

“Yes,” I said. “The ordinance is posted at the top and bottom of the hill.” And I pointed in the direction she had come and in the direction she was going.

“Well, you don’t have to be rude!”

And that’s when the morning was no longer exceptional. I hadn’t been rude; she had been because she’d gotten an answer she didn’t like. I’d been sucked instantly into a vortex of bad feeling where I didn’t want to be. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible and get myself back into my exceptional Saturday mood.

But as I was about to turn and walk away with Melody and Rhythm, leaving her to mutter as she tried to attach the leash to Bulldog who clearly wasn’t having any of it, the situation escalated.

There are several regulars at the pond who make it a point of honor not to leash their dogs. They are quite aggressive about their right to ignore the city’s posted requirements. I avoid them whenever I can, but there are times when their dogs get too close to me or to mine, and I have to suggest politely that they get their pet under control. And of course that is the last thing one of them wants to hear because they are determined not to do that very thing. They usually launch the kind of ad hominum missiles Thin Blonde had just launched.

So just as I was preparing to leave Thin Blonde to her own devices, a large, large woman with perpetually greasy gray hair who lives in one of the houses that backs up to one side of the pond appeared with her Golden Retriever. Her Golden has never, ever visited the pond on the leash, and she is one of the more outspoken advocates of unleashed dogs. She proceeded, predictably, to attack me verbally and to tell Thin Blonde not to leash her dog.

It is silly to get invested in moments like that. I walked home trying to shake it off. None of us had gotten hurt. I’d done the right thing by my dogs who are very precious to me. And eventually the city will be out to enforce its ordinance. I understand they write pretty hefty tickets for off-leash dogs at the pond. Greasy hair lady will reap the karma she’s sown in the form of big fine. And more than likely Thin Blonde will probably never be back. She didn’t look as if she was from these parts. Or if she is, maybe the city will catch her eventually and make her take a crash course in READING. Or the fashion police might find her and sentence her to a reality TV session with Rachel Zoe, who would force her to give up the velour.

Rhythm is thinking about swimming.

Rhythm is thinking about swimming.

Our Goldens, Melody and Rhythm behaving themselves

Our Goldens, Melody and Rhythm behaving themselves

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Last Thursday, the newspaper did not arrive. The newspaper always arrives. At least, until lately.

A few years back, I gave up the San Diego Union Tribune because it was the least informative piece of journalism ever to enter my world. I’m not sure if it actually contained any national news at all. If it did, it was hidden for more than the ten years I subscribed to it.

One of the odd quirks of my job is that I actually receive all of my work from Los Angles and Sacramento. (I just live in San Diego.) The Sacramento Bee screams and yells about everything wrong with California politics. And since I already know all those gory details because I am a California taxpayer, I decided to go for the LA Times.

The LA Times is a mix of national news, LA news which includes the latest police corruption scandal and gang bust (both essential pieces of information in my job), and business and entertainment news. Now, remember, entertainment is a BUSINESS in L.A., so the business page of the L.A. times has all the gossip on the studios such as which movie did well, which went straight to DVD (and why) and which celebrity is unloading his or her mega million dollar mansion. Honestly, under the guise of straight journalism, the L.A. times can be better than Extra! Extra!

So on Thursday morning, mine did not arrive. I called the annoying L.A. Times phone tree which guarantees you cannot speak to a human. The computer voice agreed to bring my replacement paper withing forty-five minutes. But that wasn’t enough for me. For years and years, the paper arrived as regularly as a ticking clock. I used to see the little Vietnamese woman in her battered white Toyota truck throwing them out every morning when I walked my retrievers. Somehow, we had a sort of relationship without knowing each other. Then, THEY FIRED HER! I don’t know why. She didn’t say in the note she sent asking for one last tip.

As soon as she was out of sight, IT BEGAN TO HAPPEN. The worse than useless San Diego paper began showing up in place of my L.A.Times. I would call the humanoid computer. A replacement would appear. A few days later, the L.A. Times and I would dance this dance all over again.

Last Thursday, however, beat all former delivery mistakes. I received a New York Times, a Wall Street Journal, and a San Diego paper. The carrier seemed to think if he just kept tossing them out there, something would make me happy. Or maybe he was going for volume over filling my order correctly. The logic seemed to be, the more newsprint she gets, the less she will care about WHAT she receives.

WRONG.

After a certain amount of effort, I reached a human voice in customer service. I pointed out that, by going digital, I could save a lot of money every month and make sure to get the right paper every day. I know print papers are struggling to stay in business. Was it too much to ask, since I was a loyal print customer, to BRING ME THE RIGHT ONE?

That question remains to be answered. I haven’t cancelled the print subscription yet. The lady who eventually brought me the paper was very apologetic, and I’m always won over by people who don’t tell me their mistake is MY FAULT. She told me the carrier is a college kid who gets paid nearly nothing to do the job.

I have two sons in college. They need the income from the side jobs they can find. And, above all, I am not perfect. I can’t ask anyone else to be. I do miss my little Vietnamese carrier who always got it right. I don’t know why they sacked her. But I am big on multiple chances. For everyone. It’s a matter of your point of view

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A few weeks ago, I came across Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” in Anthropologie. One of my favorite get-away-from-the-computer afternoons involves a wander through Anthro, fingering the nubby jackets, caressing the soft sweaters, and sighing over the silk blouses. And as I wander, I inevitably become endlessly enchanted by the grown-up picture books piled next to the scented candles, the adorable JellyCat stuffed animals, and the rainbow dishes in all shapes and sizes. Like most Anthro merch, I refuse to pay full price for it. Instead I text myself the name of the latest enchanting tome and rush home to buy it on Amazon for half-price.

So a few days after I encountered “The Happiness Project” my copy arrived in the regulation Amazon.com box. I suppose part of my curiosity stemmed from the title. Some posts back, I explained my Smile Project; so, I wanted to see what a Happiness Project was all about.

Enter chapter one where Ms. Rubin is sitting on a cross-town Manhattan bus, realizing she is in her thirties, is a Yale-trained lawyer turned New York Times bestselling author, happily married with two children, and SHE’S NOT HAPPY. So she decides to (1) find out what happiness is and (2) become happy. There are many things I liked about this book, but one of its chief charms is Ms. Rubin’s determination to make small changes in her daily life to capture the elusive bird of happiness. She doesn’t want to throw everything over, run away, and join a monastery or a circus. (Kind of tough for a mother of a seven year old and a one year old.)

So she undertakes a mountain of research to see what “experts” and “researchers” have to say about happiness and then sets herself certain areas to focus on each month. For example, her overall theme for January was “Boost Energy.” Her specific actions were “Go to sleep earlier,” “Exercise better,” “Toss, restore, organize,” “Tackle a nagging task,” and “Act more energetic.”

Another thing I like about this book, is Gretchen Rubin’s honesty. She realizes the only person she can change is herself, and she is scrupulously honest about the behaviors she would like to give up and the ones she would like to cultivate. Her book has inspired a wave of Happiness Projects, which she is quick to point out are personal to everyone who undertakes one.

Gretchen Rubin’s definition of happiness turned out to be “To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right in an atmosphere of growth.” I agree with her about the “atmosphere of growth,” but my own definition of happiness includes “knowing from moment to moment” what I want. That is harder than it sounds, because so much of my life has been about accomplishing tasks that have to be done whether I wanted to do them or not. Self-employment and single motherhood tend to wipe out individual preferences.

But “The Happiness Project” inspired me to set yet another goal: figure out what I want on a daily basis. So now when I get up in the morning with the laundry list of “To do’s” tap dancing across my brain like the Rockettes on stage at Radio City Music Hall, I ask myself which one or ones will make me happy if I accomplish them today. If none of them rings my happiness bell, I ask, “Are there any orphan ‘I wants’ pining for my time?” My project is not as complicated as Ms. Rubin’s. I don’t like charts and gold stars and quantifying results. I just like the good feeling that comes with accomplishing at least one or more things in a day that my real self (not my lawyer self) wants to come true.

I am glad I passed “The Happiness Project” at Anthro that day. I agree with Gretchen Rubin that small, daily changes can bring real happiness.

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project

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I wrote a romance novel. Or so I thought. When I published Dance For a Dead Princess on the last day of March of this year, I began to look for websites frequented by romance readers to tell them about my book. It did not take me long to find one and to sign up for an ad.

The morning my ad began to run, I hurried to the website eager to see it. Yep, there it was as promised. But I didn’t realize that my cover, which features the hero and the heroine symbolically separated by a tiara similar to Princess Diana’s and by Burnham Abbey, the fictional ancestral home of the hero’s family, would look out of place in a row of covers picturing men tearing women’s clothes off. But it did.

From a literary perspective, the romance novel is an interesting genre. One of the earliest ones was Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela or Virtue Rewarded,” which was published in 1740. It is the less than thrilling tale of an eighteenth century maid whose nobleman master has the hots for her. However, rather than grant his every wish (which I think a contemporary maid in a contemporary historical romance would probably do), Miss Pamela holds out (and far too long because this is a big, boring novel) until the Titled One marries her. (Whew! So glad they got that settled.)

In 1748, Richardson followed Pamela’s dry tale of Steadfast Female Virtue with an even drier tale of unending woe, “Clarissa, the Story of a Young Lady.” Whereas Pamela had the good sense to obey the rules of the eighteenth century road and force her suitor to put a ring on it, Clarissa witlessly runs off with a “rake” and is “ruined.” (Although she doesn’t go willingly into “ruindom.” She has to be drugged.) Clothes tearing might have kept me awake during this literary ordeal. I was forced to read both of Richardson’s mind numbing works in my undergraduate Eighteenth Century British Novel class, and I can say without doubt, duller literature was never created. The romance novel could have died right there and then; but fortunately, the nineteenth century brought better news.

In 1813, Jane Austin published “Pride and Prejudice,” which I love along with all the rest of her novels. Rather than the heavy handed commentary on contemporary morality Richardson used to drug his readers into coma-like states of boredom, Jane Austin used wit and irony to create characters and stories no one wants to forget.

Next up are the Bronte sisters. I appreciate Charlotte’s achievement in “Wuthering Heights,” but my own favorite is Emily’s “Jane Eyre,” which was published in 1847. “Jane” was my first experience of a mystery intertwined with a love story. I was riveted by Mr. Rochester’s attraction to “plain” Jane Eyre while fascinated with the sinister question of who or what periodically escaped from the locked room at Thornfield. Who was trying to kill Jane? And why?

Another similar brooding love story about the mystery of the ex-wife is Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” published in 1938. The narrator, who is in her twenties and is always called “the second Mrs. DeWinter,” marries forty-year-old Maxim after a two-week courtship. He takes her back to Manderley, his estate in the English West Country, where she is tormented by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who believes no one can take the place of Rebecca, the first Mrs. DeWinter. As with Jane Eyre, I was hooked on the atmosphere of English country house and the dark, seemingly impenetrable mystery of what happened to Wife One.

Then I discovered Mary Stewart who created the modern romantic suspense novel in the 1950’s and 1960’s before she moved on to become famous for her “Merlin” trilogy. My all-time favorite is her 1958 publication, “Nine Coaches Waiting,” another novel set in a stately house, this time a French chateaux, filled with secrets. Linda Martin, the half-French, half-English governess, is faced with the challenge of keeping her nine-year-old pupil, Philippe de Valmy alive while wondering if the man she loves, dashing Raoul de Valmy is trying to kill him and possibly herself as well.

The definition of romance novel is quite broad, and certainly the books on the site where I first attempted to advertise Dance for a Dead Princess can be called romance novels. But I think of them more as erotica because their emphasis is not as much on plot and circumstances that unite the heroine (think Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice) but upon lust and sex which draw them together. (Think Richardson’s Pamela.) In fact, it really is too bad Richardson wasn’t an erotica novelist because if he had been, Eighteenth Century British Novel would be a far more popular course.

Pamela - Just Looks Boring

Pamela – Just Looks Boring

My Favorite

My Favorite

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Last week, Anne Lamonte posted a blog on Facebook explaining her negative opinion of Mother’s Day. Anne is famous among writers for her book Bird by Bird, which reminds us that writing a book, like so many other things in life, is done one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. I like most of Anne’s posts, even the ones I don’t agree with. And I enjoyed this one. But she got me thinking. Did I agree with her attack on a day that is more or less sacred because it is devoted to mothers?

Now, Anne’s post is not sour grapes. She is a mother, and she was quick to point out she did not raise her son Sam to celebrate the day. In her view, she would rather have a thank you 365 days of the year in place of just one on a day that is more or less sponsored by Hallmark and See’s Candy. (She is also not a fan of Valentine’s day, either.)

In theory, I agree with her point. And, in addition to my Smile Project (which I wrote about some posts ago), I have my own personal Thank You Project, devoted to random acts of thank you. I believe the world is too full of criticism and not full enough of letting people know what they’ve done right. Hence, I strive to use the words “Thank You” as often as possible. And you get what you give. My children are quick to thank me often. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t nice to have one special day to sit down with them at brunch (which has become our traditional celebration) and enjoy their recognition for my role in their lives. I would miss Mother’s Day if it went away.

Anne also finds the day discriminatory. She reads Mother’s Day as a message to women without children that they are second class citizens. I disagree. I had my children later on in life, after years of not wanting any. And I never, ever drew a negative inference about myself on Mother’s Day during my childless years. Of course I will not deny that for a woman who wants a child and who cannot have one, the day can be painful. But so is every other day when she sees a child and longs for one of her own, yet does not become pregnant. (A dear friend went through this and after giving up entirely found herself pregnant at last!) I don’t think Mother’s Day is a message to the childless, either by choice or by chance, they are less than.

Finally, Anne faults the inevitable commercialism that any holiday that involves gift giving creates. But that, I think, is too simplistic a view of the question. While Hallmark and See’s get their share of business, along with florists, why is it wrong to send a gift on a particular day to a special person? And Mother’s Day gifts do not have to be expensive. I was always happy with the handmade artwork, the $1.99 earrings from Walmart, or the “coupons” for dishwashing and laundry folding. (I never cashed them in, by the way. They live forever in my keepsake box.)

After thinking it over, I do see Anne Lamont’s point. Some aspects of Mother’s Day can be viewed as negative. But that is true of every other holiday I can think of. New Year’s means resolutions no one keeps. Easter is only about candy and stuffed rabbits. Halloween will rot your children’s teeth (and yours, too, if you steal their candy.) Thanksgiving in devoted to gluttony. Christmas is too stressful and commercial. And children’s birthdays are too expensive and pretentious, and your birthday is depressing because you’re getting older. So should we stamp out holidays?

No, of course, not. Nothing is perfect. Holidays are bits of magic interspersed into everyday life. They allow us to believe in magic, even if for only twenty-four hours. I would miss all of them, including Mother’s Day, if they went away.

Family Portrait

Family Portrait

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You can always tell when a store is offering a promotion that benefits them, not you. A few years ago, it was Costco. They came up with their “cash back” American Express card. Now, for anyone who wanted another credit card, I’m sure it was a THRILLING DEAL. But for those of us who don’t like plastic and who have enough already, it was not attractive.

The thing is, Costco would not take no for an answer. Their AmEx “specialists” aggressively chased me across the store so many times that I finally left written complaints in BIG LETTERS on feedback cards every time I shopped. Once I went lawyer on one of them and threatened to file a complaint for a PC 422. I hadn’t the slightest intention of course, but I was tired of being chased and harassed. (And it wasn’t a PC 422, it was a PC 245, but 422 sounded more intimidating and came out of my mouth first because I was working on one of those cases.)

Eventually Costco penned up the AmEx Card hustlers (I like to think it was because I complained), and I could just avoid them. For a while.

But then they started a campaign at check out for those of us who were holdouts on the GREAT DEAL. We still had the tell tale white membership cards. Put one of those babies on the checkout conveyor belt, and your fate was sealed. You were going to get a talking to from the cashier with all the fervor of a Southern Baptist street preacher who suspected Jesus Christ was NOT your lord and savior. Finally, I paid Costco an extra $60 bucks a year for a black card that is not a credit card, but that entitles me to a paltry rewards certificate every January. It’s enough to buy a couple of good bottles of wine, and so far it has been a stake in the heart of AmEx vampires.

Having lived through the Costco AmEx campaign, I was not thrilled when some baby B-schooler created JUST 4 U at my local supermarket. I mean, the title was an instant give way. It was definitely NOT 4 ME.

The whole thing began pretty innocuously with tables just inside the entrance doors where pleasant-faced employees gave out little flyers telling us how sign up on our computers at home. Ever obedient, I did just that. But I went no farther. Why, you ask? Because the object of the exercise was to get me to decide what I wanted to buy BEFORE I went to the store, click on a bunch of e-coupons and somehow magically have these on my cell phone to be scanned at check out. Do you see where this is going, Highly Intelligent Reader? Yep. You got it. The store was sneaking up on paper coupons and trying to make them extinct.

Now back in the days when all four of us were home, I did clip coupons like paper dolls from the glossy Sunday inserts. I had one of those cute little coupon organizers with wallpaper patterns on the front that I wagged with me every weekend. In those days, I often did plan my meals for a whole week in advance, created shopping lists, and executed them (in every sense of that word.) Only problem with this activity: it killed the whole weekend, EVERY WEEKEND. (Another form of execution.)

But as my children grew up and left home bit by bit, I had little need for an elaborate food plan every week. And, as a foodie, I love to roam the aisles and Impulse Buy. I may know three things I want before I hit the supermarket, but I don’t know the other ten. It is just not fun to sit at a computer and pretend I’m putting tunes on my iPod when in fact I’m hunting for paperless coupons for the Android for things I don’t even know I want yet.

Being Southern and polite, I just decided to silently drop the whole thing. But not the supermarket. Oh, no. The employees behind the tables now began to shout at us as we entered, DEMANDING we sign up They came armed with laptops to do the deed ON THE SPOT. They pushed free cookies and coffee to waylay unsuspecting victims. (That was an easy one for me to ignore, but no mom can get a kid past a plate of free cookies.) Still even if a shopper managed to run the entrance gauntlet, he or she still had to face to the Sign Up table in back across from the meat counter. (I guess vegetarians escaped this one.) And finally, the fresh-faced cashier would smile and demand the JUST 4 U info at check out like some sort of Free Mason hand shake that if I got right, would allow me to take the food home. Masonry went extinct in my family in my father’s generation. So, faced with leaving the groceries on the counter or finding a new place to shop, I learned to cleverly hand over my store club card and say, “This is all the discount I wanted for today, thank you.” (I mean the whole club card thing is a pain, too. Why can’t they just give you the low price to begin with?)

Lately, like the AmEx herd that got bullpenned, the JUST 4 U pushers are fewer and farther between. (I think the moms complained about the free cookies.) There are still plenty of customers with cute little coupon savers at checkout, handing over wads of rainbow-hued clippings. I actually haven’t seen a single phone scanned. I’m thinking the baby B-school genius who visited this plague upon us is Looking For Another Job right now. B-school genius has learned the hard way no one is going to deprive me of the extemporaneous fun of being an Foodie Impulse Buyer. Absolutely no one.

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My Golden Retrievers, Melody and Rhythm, were also happy to see the last of the painter on Friday. Melody, my eight-year-old female, likes to spend the day sleeping in my bedroom. Rhythm, her seven-year-old brother, likes to sleep downstairs in my office. But the painting repairs disrupted their peaceful canine lives because on the days the downstairs was painted, Rhythm had to stay upstairs. And on the days the upstairs was painted, Melody had to be evacuated downstairs. And worse than that, they had to be child-gated into the kitchen for a few hours on the next to the last day because of all the coming and going. It wasn’t as bad as being whisked off to a strange hotel room for a weekend, but neither liked being denied his or her favorite sleeping spot even for a short time.

My dogs remind me of my children when they were small. They are comfortable within the confines of their routine, but they don’t like disruption. In Melody and Rhythm’s world, the food is supposed to be deposited in the bowl at approximately the same time every morning. Then as soon as Rhythm has finished inhaling his, he expects his daily medication. Immediately after that he is ready to go on his morning walk to see the ducks at the pond. Melody, who is notoriously lazy, has to be bribed to join us. After all the pond smells have been exhausted and after I have told Rhythm repeatedly not to eat pine cones, we come back home where they insist on one last treat before retiring to sleep off their breakfasts. I find the utter predictability of this routine day after day reassuring.

Goldens are amazingly sweet, loving, and patient animals. They make fabulous therapy dogs. During the tragedy at Newtown, I discovered the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs. They are Golden Retrievers trained to provide comfort and support; and they travel to disaster sites as well as to schools, hospitals, and hospices to offer love and comfort. They were the chief reason that some of the children were willing to return to school after the December 14 tragedy. Recently some of the Comfort Dogs headed out to Boston to comfort the Marathon bomb victims. Each Comfort Dog has a Facebook page, and they hand out their business cards to the people they comfort. One of the little Newtown survivors made a special box to keep all the dogs’ cards in and brought it to school to show the dogs her treasures. This morning the dogs and their handlers were given well-deserved special recognition and assistance on Good Morning America.

I adopted my first Golden from rescue after we babysat a friend’s Golden for a few days. Back then, the children and I lived in a house that had a small concrete slab for a back porch. Within an hour of our canine guest’s arrival, I found my then-three old sitting beside her on the slab, his arm around her neck, pouring out his heart to her as if she understood every word. And she sat and listened as if she, did, indeed, understand. Those were in the early black days of the divorce. and we all had heavy hearts and needed comforting. I called Golden Rescue that same afternoon and put us on the list for the first available retriever that needed a home.

A few months later, we adopted six-year-old Sasha, an adorable female Golden who lived to the ripe old age of fifteen. Really old for a retriever. She was so special it too two to fill her shoes: Melody and Rhythm.

Melody is stubborn, but doesn’t do much to get herself into trouble. She’s a small retriever and happy to do her dainty walk to the pond twice daily once she’s received a suitable bribe. Rhythm on the other hand, likes to live on the edge. He once got away from me and jumped into pond leash and all. And woe is me if he comes across a dead bunny. It is spring now, and bunnies are plentiful. They tend to become road kill or coyote kill. And sometimes bits and pieces get left behind. Rhythm has been known to go native on me and consume a whole bunny carcass while I watched in horror. All I can say is, dead bunny does things to a retriever’s digestive system you don’t want to know about.

My children and I have been blessed in many ways, not the least of which is the presence of our beautiful Goldens. Our personal Comfort Dogs.

Some of the LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs in New York on their way to Boston

Some of the LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs in New York on their way to Boston

Our Goldens, Melody and Rhythm

Our Goldens, Melody and Rhythm

The Pond - Our Daily Destination

The Pond – Our Daily Destination

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Faint outlines of Australia and New Zealand remained on the downstairs wall after I wrote the painter his check and sighed with relief as he closed the front door. I called my son in for a second opinion, and he swore he couldn’t see them – at least from where he was standing. I tried to convince myself I could only make them out because I knew they had been there, sort of like the amputee who can still feel the severed limb. But I knew I’d backed the wrong horse and hired a less than competent painter. I supposed he thought I wouldn’t notice that of the three cabinet doors on the upstairs vanity, he painted only two. Didn’t he realize the chipped paint on the third was a dead giveaway?

Misjudgments are interesting. I have, at times, deemed someone incompetent who turned out to be quite an expert. Those are the good mistakes because I would rather think well of someone whenever possible. But, then, there are the days like this one when I’ve had to admit I’ve made the wrong choice. I could send this painter back a hundred times to eliminate the spots, but I would only become increasingly frustrated because if he’s known how to get rid of them in the first place, they wouldn’t still be there. Moral of story: better to cut my losses, tell myself no one else will notice Australia and New Zealand, and remember not to look up very often until I decide to hire a new and better painter. Of course, this is Time Number Three to paint that ceiling, so Time Number Four is entirely likely. Something in my karma attracts water damage to that spot in my house. Sigh.

But for now, I am reveling in having my stuff back in place. I am, without doubt, a “stuff” person. I love little nicknacks and the mini tableaux I can create with them on shelves and in unexpected corners of the house. A visually interesting environment is far more important to me than a Feng Shuied one.

I used to wonder if this were yet another character flaw that I might be duty bound to stamp out. But then I discovered http://www.theselby.com. Todd Selby goes about photographing creative people and creative spaces. And if you check his website, you will see artists are “stuff” people who love to create visual groupings with small objects. According to The Selby, I am not only a “stuff” person, I an an artist! Oh, joy. An excuse to avoid the Spartan environment of Feng Shui!

So I reveled tonight in putting back the fairy village that inhabits the top of my livingroom book shelves. I brought all the magic dragons out of hiding and made them lords of their respective kingdoms once more. I rehung the baskets my grandfather began to weave when he was in his 80’s and made throughout his 90’s (all autographed and signed). I snuggled the Big Bashful Bunny, the Medium Bashful Bunny, and the small Bashful Bunny back into their corner of the sofa. (They were inspired by a sofa in Anthropologie full of a similar bunny family at Easter a couple of year back.) Finally, I brought the mini-Teddies happily back to their house.

To celebrate, I poured myself a big glass of wine and sat down on the sofa to appreciate my world. Either an artist or a big grownup child lives here. Fine by me. And I reveled in the knowledge that I don’t have to be dressed and on my mark at nine o’clock in the morning to let anyone into the house to deal with Australia and New Zealand. I’ve gotten my house and my routine back, and I’m in un-Feng Shuied Stuff Heaven once more. Ordeal by Leaking Sink and Painter is finally over.

Leprechaun in the Fairy Village

Leprechaun in the Fairy Village

More Fairy Village

More Fairy Village

Happy Sheep

Happy Sheep

The Teddies are Home

The Teddies are Home

Magic Dragons Happy to Be  Back

Magic Dragons Happy to Be Back

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I’ve had the uncomfortable feeling all week that I’m fighting the painter for possession of my house. Perhaps I’m reaping the other end of my current karma – although I haven’t squashed anything lately including ants. But since fixing the leaking sink and drying out the downstairs ceiling went so smoothly a couple of weeks ago , perhaps hitting a snag in the fixing process was inevitable.

The first hurdle was finding a painter at all. I called five or six on the first round and got zero callbacks. Hmm, I thought, perhaps I should give up law and fiction and learn painting. Although standing on high ladders is not my forte.

By and by a slick corporate outfit gave me an estimate, and a wiry little self-employed Irishman from Dublin bid on the job. Same price, both of them. Now I should explain I actually have two ceilings to paint. A month before the sink hit an iceberg, a strange, dark H shape appeared on my bedroom ceiling which is upstairs, just above the ceiling the sink would souse a few weeks later. I convinced myself it was a shadow for about two days, and then gave in and called the insurance company. The adjuster (and her rather cute boyfriend) diagnosed a leak in the circa 1978 skylight which sits high atop my roof. My buddy with the cute boyfriend sent me a check for painting the ceiling minus my deductible and left me to fend for myself with the dreaded Homeowners Association, who had jurisdiction over the skylight. Normally the HOA would rather die than move quickly but since it was about to rain, for once they acted promptly and fixed the leak. Whew! I thought I was home free, until the sink did its thing, and I wound up with two damaged ceilings. (Louise Hay has all kinds of wisdom about avoiding the thoughts that attract illness, but she says nothing about what kinds of thoughts attract wet ceilings. If I knew, I’d never have those thoughts again!)

Anyway, now flush with insurance company cash to paint both ceilings (within two dollars of the bids, can you believe it), I set out to hire a painter to do the downstairs ceiling which had two brown spots about the shape and size of Australia and New Zealand and the upstairs ceiling thoughtfully monogrammed with my last initial. (Or the beginnings of Helter Skelter, take your pick.)

You guessed it I picked the Irish painter. Three reasons. First, I am self-employed, and I try to hire other self-employed people. Second, the slick corporate guy also owned a day spa called “Coconuts,” and he kept talking about the “girls” who worked there. Did that make me a “girl lawyer” I wondered but didn’t dare ask. Third, I spent some time in Dublin when I was working on the Ph.D. that became a J.D., and I hadn’t heard anyone say “tink” and “mudder” for years. And, then, the Irish are born storytellers, and I love a good story.

But now it is Thursday night, I’m tired of stories, and my house has been a mess since Monday. Worse than that, the job was supposed to be finished today, and while the H has disappeared (thankfully) upstairs, Australia and New Zealand are still plainly visible downstairs. He’s turned them white, but he hasn’t made them go away. I have a bad feeling he doesn’t know how to. Just in case, I have developed a backup plan. If I’m still looking at albino continents this time tomorrow night, I’ll hire an artist to paint a full color world map on the ceiling. Might as well go with the flow.

Australia and New Zealand ceiling art to be

Australia and New Zealand ceiling art to be

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This week I managed (finally) to figure out how to post the cover of my novel on my blog. See, there it is on the sidebar. Now don’t laugh. Sometimes I think writing and editing it was easier than finding out how to use that pesky little image widget. (Just kidding.) And then there was the problem of how to post links to Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I googled and goolged and googled before I got that right. And I’m not sure those links are all pro, but they work. That’s all that counts.

I decided to publish Dance for a Dead Princess myself for several reasons. One, the whole business of finding a literary agent seems to have changed radically. Back in 1995 when I found the lovely lady who represented Summer’s Child, the whole process of agent rejection was more like a stately dance. I sent my book summary and sample chapters off in discreet navy folders, and they came back in my prepaid envelopes with “No Thanks” scrawled on the cover page. Moral of story: a human opened and at least looked a them. Until by and by, a human liked them and represented them.

Summer’s Child came close but did not sell, and another author appropriated my title (without asking me, but never mind), and my agent retired while I built a law practice and raised my children. (No small feat, by the way.) Then, a year or so ago, when I dove into the Literary Agent Ocean once more because I now had two novels I wanted to publish, I was shocked at how things had changed. Just their websites were hostile and uninviting. “Closed to submissions.” “We do not consider unpublished writers.” “We only accept referrals.” Couldn’t they have just written it out, “We are just TOO GRAND to ever read a WORD you’ve written even if it’s only a Cover Letter”? Or “If you’ve NEVER BEEN PUBLISHED we do not consider you LITERATE no matter how many GRADUATE DEGREES you have.” And then, the ones who had a tiny chink in their website armor allowed email submissions to which they promised NEVER TO REPLY. (But logical question: at some point weren’t all now published authors unpublished and didn’t they turn out to be both LITERATE and ENTERTAINING? Doesn’t that sort of squash the Literary Agent view of the Unpublished? Just a thought.)

Now, I am a lawyer, and law is not a profession known for being touchy feely. But I at least tell people when I am not going to represent them. And I do so in very polite lawyerspeak on ivory twenty-pound bond, personally signed by me, which they can cherish for a lifetime along with my highly impressive letterhead. (Don’t laugh. If you are a lawyer, you are selling your brain, so your letterhead has to be IMPRESSIVE to convince the client your brain is worth the fee.) “Dear Ms. XYZ, having considered the facts of your case, I have concluded I am not the right attorney for your file. Best of luck with your matter. Very truly yours, etc.”

Now, I hasten to add, one or two agents wrote me polite and professional turndown letters; and I respected their sincerity. In particular, they acknowledged what a feat it is even to create a novel even if mine was not right for them. But they were the minority, and I just didn’t see the point of beating my head against the closed Literary Agent Door. It reminded me of trying to get into social clubs in high school. The Cool Kids were never going to let you in no matter your merits because they had deemed you unworthy without ever taking time to even talk to you.

Anyway, Literary Agents were a barrier to entering the world of author. But they were no longer insurmountable. And even more importantly, I had seen what traditionally published authors go through. Back in the day, before I found My Agent, a published friend of mine shared her tribulations as her then-agent tried to turn her into Olivia Goldsmith (who was hot at the time; she died during plastic surgery. No comment.) My friend did not want to write the Big Hollywood genre thrillers the agent wanted. So her next move was to Agent Two, who, so far as I know, let her be herself. But I noticed that when her publisher published her books, she had to do all the work of promoting it. And I don’t mean being flown around first class from New York, to Boston, to London, and Paris with appearances on the Today show and GMA. No, my friend had to call the local bookstores, beg for book signing dates, haul her books there, and hope someone would show up to see her and ask her to sign one. In short, she was doing all the work, and it was not glamorous.

Now, I gave up big law firm practice to work for myself. There are upsides and downsides, of course, to that decision but I am my own boss. (And I’m pretty nice to work for, by the way.) So it made sense that if I was going to be a writer (and I’ve been a storyteller since the day I was born and a writer since age 11), I would light out for the Territory on my own. Hence decision: self-publish.

On March 30, 2013, I uploaded Dance For A Dead Princess to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords, armed only with my favorable Kirkus review and determined to figure out how to tell the world about my book. A great read. Cheaper than a Starbuck’s latte and lasts longer too. In the past month, I have floundered as I learned the ways of promoting a book. Some sites are very straightforward: send us money. Ok, I can handle that. Some sites have RULES that are as complicated as magic spells (and which makes me wonder if it would be easier to order a spell from California Psychics). The RULES go like this: You must have x stars, x reviews no longer than x which were not created under a New or Full Moon. Wow, mind boggling. Worse than the California Rules of Court. (Trust me, those babies are better than sleeping pills!) Of course, my question for those sites – pardon me for being lawyerlike – is how do you get x reviews with x stars under whatever moons your prescribe until you can let the word know your book is out there? Isn’t publicity designed to inform readers you and your book exist so they can create the x reviews, with the x stars under the required moons? Or am I being too logical?

Anyway, my novel and I have emerged into the new world of Novel Promotion where right now I feel as if I’m standing under a dark sky watching all the tiny little stars of all the books in the world shine down at me. But I believe in Dance or I wouldn’t have come this far. So I’ve just got to figure out how to help it shine a little brighter so readers who would love it will find it. This is a new journey, and I’m up for it.

dance-dead-princess-728x90[4] (1)

Kirkus Reviews

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