Tuesday, April 10, 2018


Our dog Abby suffered from Astraphobia, an abnormal fear of thunder and lightning--although she never called it that, at least not out loud. With the heightened sensory perception all dogs have, Abby knew when a storm was brewing and would start pacing the house hours in advance, searching for a safe place to hide that didn't exist. Fearless when it came to strange dogs or mailmen who dared approach our mailbox, Abby was terrified of thunder, shaking and quaking under the desk as she pressed herself against the wall. Even the warm presence of her sister Phoebe hiding beside her offered no comfort. Holding Abby close, soothing her in a calm voice, had no effect. The fact that thunder had never caused her a single injury didn't matter. This pattern persisted for eleven years until Abby succumbed to cancer one Halloween night.  

Abby was as smart as a dog could be, at least in my limited experience (I hope Phoebe isn't reading this. Sorry, old girl), but she didn't understand that thunder couldn't hurt her. She also didn't understand that cancer could hurt her, but that would have been asking too much. I can't say her fear was irrational as I'm not a dog, but I can say that it was a lot of wasted energy and unnecessary anguish. It made me think-- what was my thunder? Don't we each have our own thunder, some irrational fear holding us back, keeping us from our best possible life?  

My mother was afraid of lightning, planes, and evil people--but not in that order. Knowing that statistically her fears didn't warrant the time she spent on them didn't stop her, no, she was determined, a professional worrier with a reputation to uphold. Nobody was going to out-worry her, dammit. Getting her on a plane was always an ordeal. She would tell us how she was nervous, or she wouldn't tell us, but then remind us over and over how much she loved us, as if we were parting company forever. When I pointed out how silly this was, how she didn't flip out every time she rode in a car, she would shake her head at my ignorance. At least you can survive a car accident she would reply, Needless to say, she didn't die from lightning, planes, or evil people. It was cancer.

Of course, I could walk around afraid of cancer; that would be logical, but not productive. Day-to-day though, what was I afraid of?  Failure--that was a big one. Running out of time was becoming a theme when I realized my mother died when she was nine years older than I am now. Losing my memory terrifies me too. But fear of not living up to my own expectations may just be the winner.

What if I could let go of the fear and seize the joy I know is in there? The joy that elbows her way out when a baby laughs, a Blue Jay chases a squirrel away, or someone tells a funny joke. That joy I feel wading in the ocean, sand squishing between my toes, walking beside my husband and children. It takes practice, finding joy. It's not like you can wrestle her to the ground and pin her there like a WWE champ, you have to be gentle, coax her to walk with you. But don't forget to smile. She scares easy. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Cuddlywumps Cat Chronicles :-)

Miss Cuddlywumps (a.k.a. Miss C) is a completely fictional cat who has the great benefit of being both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. This rather large and fluffy calico is inordinately proud of two things: her piercing intellect and her white-tipped tail.

She also pens the blog The Cuddlywumps Chronicles, in which she explores cat history, cats in mythology and folklore, cats in mysteries, and cats in general. Occasionally she strays into a non-cat topic, if she feels that topic is worthy of her time and attention.

She was also kind enough to write a lovely review of Jamie Quinn Mystery #4, Engaged in Danger", which features Jamie's cat Mr. Paws, a/k/a Mr. Pain in the Ass.

Read the review here and check out this fun blog!


Friday, April 6, 2018


Can a brief encounter with a stranger change your life forever? Of course it can. You're rolling your eyes, I can see you. Well, let me tell you about Howard Parks…

This isn't the tale of an unsung hero--although, for all I know, Howard Parks has rescued people from burning buildings, performed the Heimlich maneuver on dozens of choking victims, and saved countless texters from oncoming traffic. Anything is possible. I'm not saying Howard Parks isn't heroic and inspiring, he is. If he weren't, my husband and I wouldn't speak of him so reverently; we wouldn't use his name in times of crisis; we wouldn't ask each other in hushed voices, "What would Howard Parks do?"

Twenty-four years ago, long before Equifax spewed your personal data into the world, including the name of your first pet, Hammy the Hamster, and long before Facebook gave away all of your secrets, right before they gave away all of your friends' secrets, Howard Parks was vigilant. I imagine he slept with one eye open as his brain conjured the many ways that things could go terribly, terribly wrong. He was British, which gave him an air of credibility. He was calm, which made him seem reasonable. And he was insistent, a quality many people found annoying, but which we found endearing in the extreme. It's why we love him.

It started when Howard Parks sold us a car over two decades ago, amicably agreeing to a price and shaking hands on it. We arranged to meet at the bank to seal the deal. As we completed the paperwork, Howard Parks asked the bank manager many pointed questions and requested copies of everything. The manager refused, stating that it was against policy to provide the seller with a copy of the check and that he would have to wait for it to arrive in the mail. Howard Parks explained politely but firmly that he wasn't leaving without it. Our eyes widened to see this challenge of authority, this rejection of societal norms, this refusal to budge. And it worked! Howard Parks won the face-off and entered our mythology, the first in our pantheon.

Now, when we encounter difficult people or situations where we might become lazy and careless, we utter the two words that always save the day--Howard Parks. His name also serves as an admonishment. When my husband didn't document a conversation he had with an airline and almost lost our ticket vouchers, I shook my head. "That's not how Howard would have done it."  His shoulders sagged with embarrassment, "I know." And when my husband drove two hours to go canoeing on his day off and surrendered his driver's license to the rental facility, he came home with the wrong license.

"I should have checked," he said. "I didn't know I had to be Howard Parks even on my day off."

I didn't say what we both already knew. You always have to be Howard Parks.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Crazy Hobbies :-)

My dad inspired several of my stories. He loved this essay so much that he asked me to read it at his funeral, which I did, last Saturday. Art was one-of-a-kind and if you were lucky enough to know him, or own one of his masterpieces, then you were lucky indeed.  
                                                       CRAZY HOBBIES
           You think your childhood was normal, even now, when you should know better. The truth is that each family enjoys its own special brand of kookiness, including yours. Of course, I’m not talking about the people who end up on reality TV buried under all the stuff they couldn’t bear to part with. I’m talking about people who keep the “fun” in dysfunctional, the ones whose little idiosyncrasies provide great stories at Thanksgiving.  
In our family, we had a fondness for hobbies.  Actually, we didn’t but my dad did. And it was much more than a fondness, it was more like an all-consuming mind-boggling eye-popping breathtaking overwhelming single-minded focus. But even with all that, he didn’t forget about his children, no sir. We were all pulled into the vortex with him…
The first thing I remember is crouching down on our living room floor, immersed in a sea of coins, looking for rare pennies. In the beginning, my sisters and I had a great time rolling around in those thousands of pennies, throwing them at each other and cascading them from high in the air. But when our dad asked us to sift through them and separate them into groups according to their imprint dates, the fun was over. Now, before you start wondering if child services or the Labor Department had to get involved, let me just say-it wasn’t like that. Far from running his own sweat shop, my dad wanted us to love coin-collecting. He gave each of us a penny collection book with empty slots for every year, including the rare pennies, and then tried to make a game out of it. And it might have worked too, if only we could have paced ourselves, but our dad only has one speed and that’s full-speed ahead.  
From pennies, he went on to nickels, dimes, quarters and JFK half-dollars. He started storing bags of coins in our closets for when we “had time to look through them” (they may still be there). He dragged us to coin shows and coin stores all over town. He bought necklaces made from rare coins and gave them to my mother for special occasions. She would smile and thank him and then put them away. She may have even worn them to humor him because, even though we were all tired of coin-collecting, nobody wanted to squelch my dad’s enthusiasm. His quest for rare coins made him so happy. That is, until he discovered stamp-collecting. 
Rather than bore you with the details, let’s just say it was very much like coin-collecting only a lot easier to lug around. This time, he gave each of us a beginner’s book for collecting stamps and we soon graduated to having our own individual country. For some reason, I chose the Vatican, although I can’t imagine why. Their stamps weren’t pretty, just a bunch of popes. And it’s not even my religion…go figure.
While I don’t remember the rest of the hobbies in chronological order, I do know that they went from small to large, from being contained in our basement to taking over our house and yard. There was jewelry-making, which was kind of fun for us because we didn’t have to participate, and because we could always create a last-minute, unique birthday gift for a friend from the tons of beads, stones and materials my dad kept on hand. Then there was the “miniature” phase during which my dad furnished an entire miniature Victorian mansion from top to bottom (it was much nicer than our house), as well as assembled a miniature greenhouse with real plants in tiny pots. Ironically, it was the miniature greenhouse that led to my dad’s most expansive, most labor-intensive and most annoying hobby of all: cactus.
I can almost hear them groaning as they read this, our friends and family who were dragged into the dangerous and dirty world of cactus. I don’t mean to make it sound exciting, as if it involved espionage or working for the mob; it was literally dangerous and dirty. 
After purchasing one small cactus garden at K-Mart, my dad went on to fill the entire back yard with every kind of cactus and succulent known to man, building two greenhouses to house them all. To this day, I cannot explain it. They were the ugliest plants I ever saw, even when they bloomed. And they were everywhere:  every windowsill, every table and every empty spot in the yard. We could have lived with all of that (and, in fact, we did), if it hadn’t been for the dreaded… plant shows  
Several times a year, plant enthusiasts gather at weekend plant shows, ostensibly to sell their wares but, in reality, to schmooze & steal each other’s ideas. Not only was it  unbearably hot (the shows were outside, in Florida), but each show necessitated renting a truck and recruiting many helpers to gingerly pack up dozens of blood-thirsty cacti, knowing full well they would be packing them up again at the end of the show. This torture went on for years and only ended because my mother insisted they sell the house and move to a condo. I only hope the new owners never walked barefoot in the backyard…
Which brings me to the present and the wacky world of metal chickens. Although he was sad about razing his greenhouses, my dad quickly recovered and started taking art lessons twice a week. After painting dozens of oil and acrylic landscapes, still life pictures, portraits and abstracts, he switched from painting canvas to painting metal art.  Often using whimsical colors, he has painted hundreds of pieces including animals, insects, statutes of people, and some pieces that are so weird they defy description. My dad is quite prolific and generously donates many pieces to my favorite non-profit for their raffles. As a result, everyone I know owns a piece of Art (also my dad’s name).
Now I know that my childhood wasn’t typical, but, really, whose is? Although I often felt like the Karate Kid did when Mr. Miyagi gave him seemingly pointless chores, maybe I too learned something valuable.  And while I don’t have any crazy hobbies, I am enthusiastic about each task I undertake and give it all I’ve got. And for that, I guess I should say: “Thanks Dad!”
***This an excerpt from my book, "Quirky Essays for Quirky People"