Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pets are family members, too

We are recovering from the holidays and basking in the fact that we actually got all of our packages sent in time for them to arrive before Christmas day. The UPS man is my new best friend!

From what we've heard so far, we chose the right sizes, the right colors, the right items this year.

We made one last minute purchase. We assumed that we'd give the cats their usual can of catfood wrapped in Christmas paper or a bag of treats. But the treats still sit in the pantry from last year. It seemed like the right time to upgrade their gifts to something they might enjoy every day.

With that in mind, we headed to the Pet Supermarket down the street and surprised the sleepy-eyed clerks by purchasing one of those thingamajigs that are about five foot tall, have sleeping alcoves and shelves for the cats, a scratching post, and all of it covered in carpet.

The clerks came to life, took our money, and crammed the monstrosity into our car. Once home we managed to get it in the house where the cats sniffed it and promptly walked away. After awhile they came back to investigate and I managed to snap a photo before they abandoned it for a nap on our bed. On the way to the bedroom, they all took a turn sharpening their claws on my favorite chair, evidently it is their favorite, too.

Cats! We may resort to reverse psychology and try to shoo them off of the new cat furniture -- if only they'd go near it.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Greatest Gifts

It wasn't shaping up to be a great Christmas. But why should it, the year hadn't produced the miracles I so desperately wanted.

Two thousand and seven had been a tough year. Not just the war and government leadership disasters, and economic worries, but this has been the year when I had to face that my husband who can do anything. ANYTHING! Well, I had to face that he just might not be able to shake off the disease that has him in its clutches.

The clues have been piling up -- shortness of breath, weak muscles from head to toe. But when he suggested that he should get a wheelchair, I knew he had accepted that the doctors were probably right. It was time to give him quality of life, as good as technology and substitutes for his body could provide.

So a deluxe power chair sits in our garage and next year we add the ramps, the custom fit van and whatever else we need to make it possible for him to perambulate wherever he wants or needs to go.

He was a tough linebacker in middle school when I first met him. He played through high school, college and went semi-pro, relishing the challenge and the physical clash as a pigskin warrior. He continued with the game as a referee, running up and down the field in a striped shirt and white knickers, armed with whistle and flag. When the season ended, he exchanged the knickers for black slacks and refereed basketball -- his second love. He was always doing -- helping with sports, mentoring kids in 4-H. He particularly adored the rocket projects. He and the other leaders were as enthusiastic about shooting projectiles in the air as any kid.

He still loves the Three Stoodges and at this time of year, wipes a tear whenever Tiny Tim declares, "God Bless Us Everyone." Now he's beginning to identify with Tiny Tim a bit more than we ever expected and I don't see some redeemed Scrooge coming to save the day. But I haven't totally given up hope.

You see gifts keep appearing in the strangest places. Yesterday was a prime example. I opened my emails to find a YES from an editor in a dream market I'd been hoping to sell to. Yes, yes, yes. And she offered me the most I have ever received in payment for an essay -- it should just about cover Christmas expenses. (Whew! Ordering online is too easy.)

Then, last night, after a delightful Christmas party at work, a day spent among friends and smiles and laughter, I came home to tidy up before Derrol's friend came over to watch, what else, the football game.

When the doorbell rang, I expected to see his smiling face. Instead a gigantic poinsettia greeted me in the voice of our neighbor, John. He peeked his head out from behind the plant and grinned, "Merry Christmas. I'm playing Santa." Then he swallowed and thrust the poinsettia into my arms as he said, "God bless you and Derrol. God bless you."

And I knew he was seeing us on that day a couple of months ago when we first took Derrol's wheelchair out for a walk around the neighborhood. John had been working in his yard and it was his first clue that things were not well with us. It was a shock to him to see his sturdy neighbor sitting in a wheelchair. I could hear his words from that day ringing between the lines of his Christmas wish -- "I'll be right here -- whatever you need. Just let me know." So when I see this huge flower dwarfing my dining room table, I know it is John's way of saying, "I'm still here -- whatever you need."

Derrol's friend showed up and he came bearing gifts. To my surprise one was a gift bag for me. I opened it to find a lovely pressed glass candy dish -- how did he know I love all things glass? And beneath it was a bag of Derrol's favorite candies to put in the dish. But, he gave me one more gift. He turned to me and said, "Merry Christmas," and then he gave me a hug.

As my husband weakens, Tom has been there working in the yard, helping at the office so Derrol can stay employed, being a friend, never saying anything, just doing. That hug told me, he understands that Derrol's not the only one having a tough time.

If anyone doubts that there are angels on earth -- they just need to come to my house. I'll introduce you to two of my favorites: John and Tom. Two of my greatest gifts this holiday season -- and all year long.

Of course if I were to list all of my angels, it would take a much longer blog. You know who you are I hope -- Mary, Deb, Peggy, Linda, my brother and his wife, Lyn, Kathi, Gary, Joyce M., Mona, ... you all prop me up when I need it, keep me balanced and smiling and I couldn't last one day without you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Book series recommendation

Since I began reading the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon I have been searching for something equally entertaining to keep me reading until the next book comes out in 2009. Its been a chore. She's spoiled me for just about anything else!

But thanks to Mystery Scene Magazine I have found a fun new series that I can enjoy. I review books for them and they sent me Steve Hockensmith's latest novel in the Holmes on the Range series: The Black Dove. It will be released in bookstores in February, 2008. But the good news it is the third in the series, so there are two Anthony, Agatha, Dilly and Edgar award nominated books to read before the third is released.

My review will appear in the Mystery Scene Magazine sometime before February, 2008, but let me just say here that I could gush on and on about this well written book. Truly a well written, thought out, constructed, imagined, plotted book. Love, love, love the tone, the one liners -- I laughed out loud in several spots. Just couldn't stop myself; even scared the cat.

The idea of the historic series is that two brothers, down-on-their-luck cowboys, become infatuated with Sherlock Holmes, a serial of his adventures appears in the Harper's Magazine and one of the brothers even tries his hand at writing the brothers' exploits for a magazine. These cowboys decide they want to be detectives. Told in the narration of the younger brother 'Big Red' it is hilarious. Asides and relationship issues between the dower older brother and gregarious younger sibling. Multi faceted story line.

It is as the author admits, a combining of two very different eras -- the restrictive repressive Victorian era of Holmes and the wild, wild west of the 1890s.

The part I really like is that the author does not make light of death or moral issues. He highlights them and his protagonists are moral, upright, honorable, hilarious knights of the open range.

If you get a chance, please try Hockensmith's series, beginning with "Holmes on the Range" and followed by "On the Wrong Track"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Impoverished Princesses

My husband and I took visitors to Disney Downtown for a little excursion. We're cheap, frugal, and unable to justify the ever rising admission costs to the theme parks.

Admission is free to Disney Downtown because it is basically a shopping mall Disney style. But it is quaint, colorful, clean and has free music and entertainment. The Legoland displays are worth the effort alone. Fend off the chocolate perfume eminating from the Ghirardelli chocolate shop and bypass the princess makeover area and the tourist kitch shops. We can't in all honesty recommend the riverboat restaurant -- quite disappointing and has limitations for people with handicaps. But the landscape is luxurious, pastoral, serene and if you get there early enough you can avoid the heat and crowds and truly enjoy the setting.

We made the mistake of venturing into the princess area and watched as delightful little giggling girls were transformed into teased and rouged clones dressed in the cheapest gaudiest, sparkliest Halloween costume-ish dresses. They waved their little magic wands and poof hundreds of their parents' dollars disappeared into Disney's coffers.

They wore plastic shoes that were to represent glass slippers and paste and plastic tiaras and any resemblance to true beauty, innocence and feminine potential were lost beneath those layers of frou-frou fashion. They looked like mini-me prostitutes. And their mothers and grandmothers were so proud.

Barbara Ehrenreich has written a blog about the Disney princesses. It reinforces thoughts I had the other day. For some reason I too was thinking about what we teach our daughters about being female, about what it is to be a woman. And right now it seems that mothers and daughters are caught up in the need to be sex objects. Not all mothers and daughters, but even those seeking science careers seem to be interested in making themselves over into something that fits a stereotype of what the perfect woman is.

We're all born perfect. We have our own individual spirits. Why would we want to be someone else? Someone not nearly as interesting and unique?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Book Review: The Pirate's Daughter

Due to a contract that I couldn't bring myself to sign and a market that would not alter the contract wording to a kinder-gentler, less in your face, buy-all attitude, this review never saw the light of day.

Today I saw several reviews of Pirate's Daughter at Amazon and other online venues and think that this offers a bit more detail and information than those, so I'm posting it here. It wasn't the best book I've ever read, but it has stayed with me, so maybe that makes it better than I first thought.

I'm a sucker for titles that have the word 'daughter' in the title. And there seem to be a lot of them. I also stop to peruse books with 'wife' in the title and have several to be read. Too often the title is the best part of the book.

Another aspect that draws me to this book is Errol Flynn -- my husband is named after this swashbuckler -- but turned out to be a much better man than Errol Flynn, based upon Flynn's biographical information and my 35 years of marriage -- I could be a bit biased on this point.

The Pirate’s Daughter
Margaret Cezair-Thompson
Unbridled Books, Denver, CO
392 Pages
Hardcover, $24.95
ISBN: 978-1-952961409

Two generations of women lose their innocence, face violence, rejection, and betrayals, while finding love and friendship in this coming-of-age story that reflects Jamaica’s own bid for independence. The family lineage follows Jamaica’s history from the Maroons, escaped slaves who set up communities in the mountains; to an influx of expatriates, British rule, and wealthy celebrities seeking a playground; to a discovery of balance and harmony and new birth.

The prologue, best understood after reading the book, introduces readers to May, a 26-year old young woman whose name reflects her questions – when May I, where May I, with whom May I find a place where I belong? Her I-centric mother, beautiful Ida, serves as the lynch pin on which this novel revolves. Men enter and leave the mother and daughter’s lives. Each character is allowed to be human, with flaws, strengths and mistakes to correct.

Ida, a child blossoming into womanhood and adored by her Syrian father and Maroon/Chinese mother, falls for the charming and aging Errol Flynn. The American swashbuckling movie star in real life did run aground during a storm in 1946, fall in love with Jamaica and build a home on a nearby island – a kind of Jamaican Tara. There the facts end, and fiction proceeds.

Ida gives birth to their daughter, May. Flynn flees and Ida heads to America to find work and a way to support her child. She leaves May behind to dream of pirates, hidden treasure and her movie star father. While at the mercy of caretakers who by turns ignore and abuse her, May endures the taunts of Jamaican peers “White witch! You white like duppy [ghost]!” Only her childhood friend and playmate, Derek, stands by and protects her, showing up when needed most.

Lies, drugs, and a violent tug-of-war for control of Jamaica’s government destroy the paradise. Each generation of women gains strength as the country also finds the power to rebuild. Ida and May share many of the same attributes as Scarlett O’Hara of the classic “Gone With The Wind” as they fight for home and family and men they love, but shouldn’t.

Cezair-Thompson, who teaches literature and creative writing at Wellesley College, weaves pirates and hidden treasure throughout the novel, adding another exotic element to an already rich setting. This, the author’s second novel, is told in a quiet, simple style, and sprinkled with Jamaican speech, beliefs, and details that the author learned during her childhood in Jamaica. It follows her first novel “The True History of Paradise,” a finalist for the Dublin International IMPAC Award.

The intertwining of Jamaica history and the characters’ lives elevates this novel from simply entertaining to truly memorable.###

(October 2006) Dawn Goldsmith

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Christmas with a bah humbug twist

It’s all good.

From all reports this is Siemens best year -- ever. Profits are up, expenses down, good deals were brokered, riff-raff and dead wood expunged, new geniuses hired, new systems installed to increase the flow and decrease the drag that leads to lower profits. It seems that if all you care about is profits -- Siemens is a blue ribbon winner.

Most recently Siemens, a German conglomerate active in 190 countries, picked up positive headlines for naming female winners in its latest competition in math, science and technology. The girls brought home $100,000 for their efforts.

Siemens wins Russian contract -- worth billions. Siemens sells automotive unit for $16 billion. Siemens received a light sanction from German authorities and a minuscule €201 million ($284 million) fine for alleged bribery at its telecommunications-equipment unit. A small price to pay for boosting profits.

Of course some of those employees who helped the 'company' claw its way to this pinnacle of profitability are feeling the pinch this year. I am not referring to the alleged company managers who prosecutors believe "funneled money through sham consulting contracts to bribe potential clients." No, I’m referring to the honest, law-abiding, honorable men and women who work for this company every day, trusting that the company they work for is as honorable as they are.

One of the things certain sections of the Siemens empire has cast aside is sharing the wealth with its workers. Bonuses? Ha! "They don't need no stinking bonuses!" Let me mention that these very bonuses were originally used to lure employees to work at Siemens. Merit raises that befit the hard work performed. Ha! Give em just enough to quiet any 'no raise' rumors. Of course the bonus snafu isn't without precedent. Ask Chinese workers in Beijing.

In comparison, check out the managing board's remuneration. For the managing board members a delightful formula is set in place so that none of these bad boys will go hungry.

Does Siemens value diligence, hard work, honorable responsible input? It looks doubtful. Do they value efforts and fights, fought to keep the company from adopting ideas that are illegal and would results in millions of dollars in fines? They can't seem to remember anything about that.

How about the necessary minutia that gets done without hassle? How about the well oiled machinery that keeps humming along no matter how many logs middle management throws in to disrupt that productivity?

How about something as simple as a workplace that is neither too hot nor too cold? What about keeping the cockroaches out of the bathrooms? Asking too much? Evidently.

Employees already stressed after relocating away from family and roots, stretching income to cover living expenses and that Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride called housing costs, also face higher medical expenses. Didn’t you hear? Siemens is changing the medical plan AGAIN -- it will cost the employee more money for less coverage.

But these are only human workers -- fellow humans -- who evidently don't deserve to be recognized, rewarded or even paid a competitive wage. No need to concern yourself about employees set adrift without medical benefits when the company has finished with them -- the other benefits far outshine those offered in sweatshops in Bangladesh. Oh and for new employees, don't even think about a pension plan, you can pay for that out of those bonuses they promised you as incentive to work for this company.

Yet, the steady paycheck even without job security, should count for something. Many workers seek jobs and can't find them. At least Siemens continues to provide employment. Should a worker be jerked around, promised something in the bold print, then see it rescinded in the fine print? Maybe that is the cost of having a job.

At least Henry Ford realized the need to pay his workers a good wage so that they could also be consumers and purchase the products they produced. But then Siemens products are not tailored to the average man. So who cares if employees are sharing their wealth. Oh wait, employees might be interested in the electronics, housewares, appliances, or hearing aids. Let's not get too carried away -- there are employee discounts. That should offset any bonus or raise an employee expected to use to pay the mortgage or the kid's dental costs, except it is only useful if you are buy Siemens products.

Have you heard? This is Siemens best year ever. But don't ask for details from the employees. Some of them are still trying to recover from the end of the year 'merit increase' and 'bonus' slap in the face that Siemens just delivered to them. They can't turn the other cheek -- both are pretty raw from this double whammy.

Makes me want to watch the movie (1989) Christmas Vacation starring Chevy Chase. Remember the soliloquy against his boss substituting jelly of the month club for the annual bonus of which the employees had become dependent? I wonder if this movie could be mandatory training for those profit mongering mid-managers?

Have you heard? Siemens profits are up, up, up.