A life well lived

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I've known only one person in my entire life who never spoke an unkind word to others and who truly lived by the Golden Rule: doing unto others as she wished they would do unto her. She believed devoutly in Jesus Christ and in reincarnation and saw no incongruity in those twin beliefs. I never heard her utter a swear word or act or speak in anger. Not when her husband didn't support her talent or desires. Not when she ended up divorced after more than thirty years of marriage. Not when her divorce settlement wasn't honored. Not when other people, thinking her weak, took advantage of her. No matter what life hurled at her, she never complained. She smiled serenely and lived in a state of grace unknown to most people.

This remarkable woman was Frances Smith Reeves. If she'd been born later in the twentieth century, I think she'd have become a renowned artist of the realist school. As it was, born in the early thirties in a small Texas town where women weren't expected to "become" anything other than wives and mothers, she did as was predictable, marrying while still in her teens and producing three children, my husband being her middle child. Yet, in her soul, she sensed there was something more for which she was fated. Throughout her life, she tried to fulfill her potential and find her destiny.

As a child, her talent was undeniable, but there was little opportunity though her parents always admired her work and encouraged her. There were no other artists in west Texas where she grew up and attended school. She had no chance to develop her talent or to learn how to make art a career. Everything she learned, she learned by reading and experimenting. By the time she was thirteen, she started painting and never stopped until she left this earth.

The two paintings I photographed tonight to share with you are some of her work. I apologize for my paltry photographic skills that don't do the oil paintings justice.

We all hear that you should live each day as if it were your last. Frances Smith Reeves, the beloved mother of my husband, did that every day of her life. In the end, she died with dignity and grace--just as she had lived.

In 2003, Frances suddenly fell ill and was taken to the emergency room. By the end of that horrible day, she'd received the diagnosis that she had pancreatic cancer and had mere weeks to live. My husband and I, three of our children, and my brother-in-law traveled to be with her. We were all devastated and couldn't imagine life without her in it. Frances was calmer than any of her children and their spouses and her grandchildren. She said she'd had a good life and had no regrets. We battled guilt and regret that we couldn't stay with her as we returned to our respective homes.

Daily, we who loved her called and tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to cram a lifetime of love into those phone conversations--without breaking into tears. She was far stronger and more composed than any of us.

August 29, today, would have been her birthday. In 2003, she made it to her birthday, but on September 26, less than two months after diagnosis, she lost her brief, agonizing battle with pancreatic cancer.

If one believes in reincarnation, then it's easy to believe that Frances was an old soul, evolved higher than most mortals. If this is true, then her next life should be filled with happiness from all the good karma she built up. If one believes in Jesus Christ, then it's easy to know that Frances has found her reward in Heaven. Perhaps Frances was right in her belief in both. If so, there is no doubt she has found her soul to be doubly blessed. But we miss her.

Wherever you are, Frances, you live on in our hearts.

Hurricanes I have known

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If you are in New Orleans or the Atchafalaya Basin area and you are reading this, for the love of God, leave!

I grew up in Louisiana so I know a little about hurricanes. The first one I remember was Hurricane Audrey when I was in elementary school. New Iberia was hit hard. We had no electricity for more than a week. Our television antenna was the only one still attached to a roof on Weeks Street, a fact my dad was particularly proud of. I can remember my dad went out to try to find milk and other food but couldn't get through the streets because of all the fallen trees. I don't think Audrey was considered a major storm in the grand scheme of things but it did a number on Louisiana.

Through the years, there were other storms. We usually rode them out. Don't ask me why, but evacuation wasn't even discussed. On two occasions, we did leave, driving to the northern part of the state to stay with relatives. I don't remember the name of the hurricane that hit those two times, but I do remember seeing the photographs in the newspapers. The pictures seemed like war-ravaged battlefields with nothing but rubble strewn across what once was a town.

When I was in my twenties, I said farewell to hurricanes and headed to the Far East where I was introduced to typhoons. I was a young military wife whose husband flew with the planes they evacuated when typhoons threatened. Since we lived on Okinawa, right in the middle of Typhoon Alley, this happened frequently. Of course, wives and children didn't get evacuated. We stayed behind to ride out the storms as best we could.

On Okinawa where I lived nearly six years, there were wooden and cardboard box shanties on the hillsides and a scattering of traditional Okinawan wooden houses, but most of the buildings, houses and businesses, in the civilian community and on base were made of concrete blocks with solid concrete slab roofs and steel doors. Windows and doors were equipped with shutters, thick slabs of wood or rolling steel shutters on businesses. When typhoons approached, we all knew what to do so eventually we took our safety for granted.

The first typhoon I went through was a horror. Nearly eight solid hours of shrieking wind, pounding rain, and anything left loose flying into the steel doors. The noise was unnerving as less sturdy buildings disintegrated and became shrapnel that pounded our steel door all night long.

Six years later though, after innumerable typhoons, a storm was an occasion for a typhoon party. It was nothing to see people down on the seawall below my house which perched on a cliff above the East China Sea. Partiers leapt from the wall and raced the waves bounding over the huge wall. I too was guilty of venturing out just to see what was going on. Being cooped up for hours on end makes you kind of stir crazy, especially when you're by yourself. So visiting with other wives and walking around and taking pictures during the storm had become commonplace to me. Often, I'd even ventured down to the sea wall, a ribbon of concrete bordered on each side by giant chunks of coral much taller than my five feet one inch height.

After one such storm, I walked down to the sea wall to observe the ocean, one of my favorite activities. A chill came over me as I noticed the huge coral boulders had been tossed about like a child's toys, scattered like rough marbles over the flat plain between the street and the sea wall. That was the last time I took a storm for granted.

Since then, I've lived on the Texas Gulf Coast, and I've never forgotten what wind, rain, and a storm surge can do. I've suffered flooding by tropical storms--lost a breakfast room one year and about ten years later a Chevy Blazer. I've had to drive flooded streets with water up to my wheel wells but made it through. I've boarded up for "small" hurricanes (category 3 and below) that changed direction at the last minute. A false alarm is a reason to say a prayer of thanksgiving.

To this day, I keep hurricane supplies (weather radio, batteries, candles, water, and food) at the ready. And I will never, ever, ignore a call to evacuate my home. Houses and furnishings can be replaced, but people can't. Trite, yes, but some people seem to forget that important fact.

Tonight as evacuees pour into the churches being used as shelters in the town in northeast Louisiana where my mother lives, I pray all of my many relatives, indeed, everyone in the state, will be safe.

God bless and keep you.

Scamming writers

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I understand there's something in a recent Publishers Weekly where a company says they will publish your book for $899.00 and give you 5 copies of the book. There are actually some writers so desperate to get published that they plan on doing this.

Please, please, visit the web site of mystery author Nancy Martin and read what she has to say about schemes like this that target writers.

In the real world of writing and publishing, writers do not pay to get their books published. They GET paid. Remember that.

Sling Words out.

To a writer's good health

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We here at Sling Words do not pretend to be any kind of health professional. Like most writers, sitting in front of a computer is our primary physical activity on any given day. As we all know, this can lead to big bottoms and big cholesterol numbers.

Just read anecdotal evidence about the cholesterol lowering effect of cinnamon in Joe and Teresa Graedon's People's Pharmacy column. It's easy too. Have a bowl of healthy cereal (like soy flakes or oatmeal or something without sugar and tons of artificial stuff) sprinkled with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon for breakfast each day. In some people, the cinnamon may cause heartburn so if you're prone to that condition take care. Otherwise, enjoy the spice with your cereal. It may help your battle for good health.

Sling Words out.

Best revenge is to dance well

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Here's something a little different. I'm vindicated. To me, and apparently a lot others, the Dancing With the Stars finale seemed to be a fixed deal, a blatant planned-in-advance-who-was-to-win. ABC seems to have received a huge volume of protest from viewers and critics thus the dance-off to be broadcast during Premiere Week will now determine the "true" winner.

Previously, cute little Kelly Monaco of soap opera fame and her brooding partner, professional ballroom dancer Alex Mazo, were declared winners by the less than credible judges even though John O'Hurley and his partner Charlotte Jorgensen clearly blew them out of the water with a charming, romantic, skillful display.

I'm sure Monaco will have been practicing in order to keep the tacky trophy she won. (Surely ABC could have found someone to design a better looking trophy! That thing they awarded looks like a composite of thrift shop trophies cobbled together.)

Sling Words cha-cha-ing out.

Joe Konrath and the Fast Print Chronicles

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Oh, this one is a screamer. I first read about this on Lee Goldberg's A Writer's Life. This is a rolling on the floor, laughing a certain part of your anatomy off, side-splitter.

If you're a writer, you know about the controversy of the self-published book situation. For those who aren't writers, suffice it to say that companies, many of them well-known, have sprung up and offer anyone with a computer and a few hundred bucks the opportunity to become a published author. Now, does it mean anything to have your book accepted by one of these companies for publication? Does it make one a "real" author in the traditional sense of the word? Read on and make your own decision.

Mystery author Joe Konrath decided to follow through on an email he received from one of these companies. He proposed a book to them called I Hopi I'll Walk Again, a mystery starring a paraplegic half Native American, half Jewish detective who might also be gay.

Read Fast Print Chronicles. At least, you'll laugh. At most, you may decide to save your money if you'd thought of going this route to see your book in print.

Vote for Quills writing awards

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Voting for The Quills Awards is now open. In case you haven't heard about these awards that honor excellence in writing and publishing, the web site tells all about them. The cool thing is that consumers, meaning readers, are included in the voting process.

The Quills will honor winners in more than fifteen different categories and will be broadcast by NBC in the fall.

It's easy to vote, and the web site has all the instructions.

Vote now.

Dude! A magazine for you

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On my web site newsletter, I included a humor bit that I received some protest emails about from men. The humor was one of those jokes poking fun of the testosterone-half of the population from the standpoint of a woman.

So as a peace offering, here's some news for the sensitive, under-appreciated sex. That's men in case we're not clear on that. *g*

MAKE is a new magazine for those who can answer yes to these questions:
1. Do you think it's cool to make a cannon that can shoot a potato a few hundred yards?
2. Do you think it's cool to put a motor on a shopping cart and clock it?
3. Do you think it's cool to hook up your couch to a device that would make it shake whenever there's an explosion the television show you're watching?

Peter Carlson
(link is to a heart-rending article he wrote about Terry Rodgers, an American serviceman wounded in Iraq) in his Washington Post article on the new magazine asked these questions. I agree with him. If you can answer yes to one or more of these qustions, then you are probably the target audience for whom the publisher is looking.

Actually, this magazine sounds as if it was created for all those who watched MacGyver when they were kids. You know, "take a popsicle stick, a bobby pin, a voided ticket to a Rolling Stones concert, etc. and you have - a seismograph!

Ho hum.

You know, I'm fairly interested in technology and have more than a casual case of do-it-yourself-itis; however, I don't think I'll be a charter subscriber. But don't let me stop you.

Hey, don't point that potato cannon my way!

Writing how-to recommendation

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I'll be getting new carpet and furniture in my office in the fall. So I've decided I need to clean out some of the clutter now rather than have to move all this junk out of the room when the carpet comes.

The first thing I decided to tackle was culling the books in the two tall cases flanking the windows. This is a necessary task though one I don't relish. I hate to get rid of books, but after making three moves in five years, I find it easier. Packing and moving a couple of thousand books will help you learn to "triage" when it comes to giving books away.

However, part of going through my library requires me to look at each book, flip through the pages, recall when I last read it or used it for research. As can be imagined, I often find myself taking the book to a comfy chair and doing a more thorough examination of its contents. Thus, I often end up re-reading the book.

One such book that caught my attention again is The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham. My copy was signed by Mr. Bickham when I met him in the spring of 1992 at a writer's conference at the University of Houston.

Jack Bickham wrote many novels, some were turned into movies, and several books on the craft of writing. I have all his how-to write books and recommend them all, but this book is a good one to start with because it's a slim volume packed with solid information in an easily understood format. Actually, I've read this book several times because it's a sharp reminder of the mistakes we writers make when we get lazy. There's nothing worse, or more fatal to a career, than becoming a lazy writer.

So I'm reading Jack's book again before placing it back on the shelf. It's a keeper. Always will be.

Never Gets Easier

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Written Wisdom Quote of the Week

From John Steinbeck: "I have written a great many stories, and I still don't know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances."

I wish I could say this was false, but, sadly, it seems to be true. I've talked with authors who have published dozens of books, and they say pretty much the same thing. Apparently, it never gets any easier.

At least in my experience it doesn't. As an author, I always seem to be imitating Michaelangelo, chipping away at a block of stone to reveal the angel within.

Today's music...Les Nubiens

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Very mellow music. Kind of jazzy and cool--reminiscent of Sade. Great background music for writing because it's in French so my brain doesn't start singing along.

Be cool

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Hey, be cool. We are. We're so cool here at Sling Words that we've taken the whole week off. Why? Because we're lazy. No. Seriously, because house guests have arrived--the kind that are a mixture of self-sufficient adults and those sentient beings below the age of five who require massive amounts of time and energy and home made chocolate cake.

Sling Words will reopen next Monday, August 15. In the meantime, be kind, be gentle.

Be cool. As cool as Frosta the Wonder Dog.

Sling Words out.

My heart is heavy with sorrow

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Today has been a difficult day. What an understatement. Today seemed to begin last night with an emotional outburst and hurtful comments from someone I thought I knew well, but that paled into insignificance with the news learned this day.

An old friend called to tell us his wife lost her battle with breast cancer. She is at peace now, but leaves a family and friends who miss her deeply.

An author I respect tremendously for her honesty and generosity of spirit revealed the tragedy that has rocked her family. Her young adult son has confessed to a double murder. She told of the years of struggle to help him as he entered the criminal justice system. I could easily imagine tears falling from her eyes as she wrote of the unsuccessful rehab, therapists, and court appearances because I too was moved to tears--for her and her family and for the victims and their families.

The dawn of this day brought devastation to people who did nothing to deserve it. So, when you hear of this, and you probably will, have some compassion for all the innocent victims. Sometimes, you can do all that is humanly possible to save someone, but in the end, you can't save someone who doesn't want to be saved. At some point, we all become responsible for our choices and our decisions.

As mothers, we can only pray that our children take to heart all we've tried to instill in them and choose wisely. Ultimately, that's all we can do. Pray for those we love. Even when we know they are lost.

Today is important

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I never knew my father. Oh, I lived under his roof for twenty years, and I saw him more or less daily, but I never knew him. He wasn't an easy man to know. He'd been horribly, physically abused as a child by his mother's boyfriend. In today's world where you can drop a dime on such a monster, Child Protective Services would have taken him and his siblings out of that household. But it wasn't that way in Mississippi in the early 1920's.

I don't think anyone, even my mother who was married to him for fifty-one years, ever really knew him. I don't think he ever confided in anyone: "I'm lonely." Or, I'm scared. I'm depressed. Perhaps, if he had, his life might have been different. Though I didn't really know him, I know things about him and about the difficult journey life had been for him.

He was forced to work in the fields rather than allowed to attend school. Apparently, he seldom had kindness much less love shown to him. As soon as he was able, he left home to make his own way in the world though he never abandoned his mother and siblings and tried for most of his life to "buy" the love which by rights should have been his from birth.

He started smoking cigarettes at age twelve. Also at that age, he worked as a manual laborer building the bridge that spanned the Mississippi River between Natchez and Louisiana. Hard work and a day's wage were his badges of independence and manhood.

When he was twenty-three, he joined the Army and was shipped from Louisiana to Washington state where he was trained in construction. He and his fellow soldiers were the ones who would build the roads and bridges when the Allied Forces invaded Europe. The Army became the home he'd never known. He was taught hygiene and the importance of toothbrushes, clean, pressed clothes, and shined shoes. For the first time, he had friends, and fierce loyalty, already part of his makeup, became ingrained in his character.

When D-Day came, he was on the beach with death all around him. The next few years in Europe offered experiences he never forgot though he tried so hard to forget that eventually he forgot everything.

Europe was like a new world to him. He seems to have had an affinity for languages and easily picked up French and German. He had girlfriends which was no surprise because he was a handsome young man. His pictures from that time always remind me of the young John Wayne.

One of his best friend's was shot by a sniper. He carried his buddy all the way back to headquarters and ruined a disc in his back. As a result, he suffered back problems his entire life.

In London, he had a deja vu experience that puzzled and unnerved him. I have a faded framed print my mother bought in a dime store when I was a kid. He told me when he saw the picture about walking down a cobbled street in London. Before he turned the corner, he knew what lay around that curve. He described it in detail to his buddy who was him. When they continued following the lane, the street scene was just as he'd related it. The picture was that street.

When he was older and Alzheimer's already had sunk its tentacles into him, he told me of how they cleared mined airfields in Europe. He told me of things he'd tried so hard to forget. For all that he was a big, burly man, he had the sensitive soul of a poet. Childhood abuse and the horrors of war changed him, and he could never be rid of those nightmares.

He worked in road and commercial building construction using what he'd learned in the Army. He was a perfectionist when it came to his work. He helped build airbases and interstate roads in Louisiana. One of his last jobs was building high-rise dormitories at Northeast Louisiana State University, now called LSU at Monroe.

He loved sweets probably because he'd never had any as a child. He liked good jokes, Jackie Gleason, funny movies, westerns, and music. Music was his true love. He could pick out any tune he heard either on our piano or on his guitar. Playing his guitar and singing the songs of the depression popularized by Jimmy Rodgers and Hank Williams were his way of dealing with the mean blues when they overtook him.

His lifelong cigarette habit resulted in emphysema and two heart bypass surgeries, and still he couldn't quit.

He was not easy to live with because he didn't know how to show the deep love he felt. He had that stiff southern male pride and a hair-trigger temper. He emulated the way he'd been treated when he was a child. I firmly believe a man deserves to be remembered for his best acts. I saw him give the best of himself to my daughter when she came along. I forgave him for his failures where I and my brothers were concerned long ago.

As Alzheimer's overtook him, he finally was able to forget. I looked into his faded china-blue eyes, and saw...nothing. It was like looking in the windows of an empty house. I had a dream shortly after he was diagnosed in which he came to me. He was young and handsome and carried one of those old-fashioned suitcases. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he came to say goodbye. That he had to go and was happy to be able to do so. I think in his heart, in his mind, he left. I hope he found peace. Years later, his body surrendered.

So, wherever you are, Daddy, happy birthday. Be at peace.

Saturday fun

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Today is supposed to be a day to relax, right? DH's idea of relaxing is shopping for a new vehicle. Actually, I think the activity can more specifically be called a hobby. He loves studying the ads, visiting the various dealerships, looking at new vehicles, test driving, and haggling over prices. Me? I'd rather watch bass fishing on television or watch paint dry--both activities much more entertaining.

Today was the local Honda dealership where he drove an Accord and an Element but lusted after the Ridgeline pickup that he'd actually planned to buy until they hit the dealerships with window signs that blared: 16/21 mpg. He won't let himself buy such a flagrant gas hog even though he loved everything about the truck.

Tomorrow is a Chevy dealership that's open on Sundays. Here in Texas, car dealers can operate 6 days a week. If they're open on Saturday, they have to be closed on Sunday and vice versa. At the Chevy house, as they say in west Texas, he's looking for the new HHR 2LT--kind of a retro version of a Suburban, but scaled down in size.

Will keep you posted on the progress of the new vehicle hunt. I have a sinking feeling this will occupy quite a few weekends to come because what he really wants is another big old SUV like the 4WD Tahoe he currently drives. The Tahoe has been a great vehicle and actually has no problems, but it now has over 100,000 miles on it. In Houston traffic, that gives one a certain feeling of anxiety.

I finished off the day by uploading my web site update.

Sling Words out.

What do men want?

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Immediately click over and read the articulate essay at The Lipstick Chronicles by Elaine Viets, author of the Dead End Job Mystery series. Elaine is guest blogger over there today.

It's about time someone explored the myth that male written mysteries and suspense novels are more realistic and grounded in reality than female written books.

Here's to you, Elaine, for boldly stating that the emperor's new clothes is his birthday suit.

Brava!

Miracles

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I'm blown away by the fact that no passenger was killed in the Air France plane that crashed in Toronto. I've flown in thunderstorms and snowstorms. On one flight from Dallas to Shreveport, the lightning was so bad that I became a white-knuckled passenger--and I used to own my own plane!

Once in Denver, the snow was more like a blizzard. There was so much ice on the plane, I saw the ground crew knocking it off with the wood chocks. I had second thoughts about getting on that plane, but I'm still here to tell the tale.

I'm not even Catholic, but I felt like doing the "Pope thing" and kissing the ground when I got off those flights.

Of course I've also heard of plane crashes due to lightning or ice that makes me think my being here is kind of a miracle itself. Actually, when I think of all the things I've experienced first hand--anti-American riots in Japan complete with molotov cocktails, the Rapid City SD flood, a handful of Gulf Coast hurricanes, a couple of Texas tornadoes, a dozen or so typhoons when I lived in Japan, and a few other momentous events--I begin to wonder if maybe there is a reason I'm still hanging around.

In life, we all have a mission. I believe this. The trouble is we're sent here with sealed orders, and we spend a lifetime trying to discover what that mission is.

Sling Words out.

10 best smells in the world

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Recently, I visited my local, friendly Office Depot for toner. Why friendly? Because so many fresh-faced, young people ask me if I need help finding anything that I'm tempted to make a micro cassette recording of, "no, thank you" and punch play when they start stalking me with their good intentions.

Down the center of the store were the back to school specials, and the smell of Crayons washed over me, whisking me back to all the years I'd participated in the annual rite known as shopping for school supplies.

Of the five senses, smell is particularly interesting. I wrote a romance novel Say Yes in which the heroine was a perfumer by trade. I found the research fascinating. I'm sure all of you have smelled something and immediately remembered something linked to that smell. I can catch a whiff of Estee Lauder Youth Dew and my mom's face pops into my brain. That was her signature perfume when I was a kid.

Of all our senses, smell is the most primitive and is hard-wired into our brain which accounts for the smell-memory connection. Pheromones, those "invisible" smells account for probably 99% of love at first sight.

So here's my list of the 10 best smells in the world not in any particular order.

1. A freshly bathed baby
2. Crayola crayons
3. Johnson baby powder
4. New mown grass
5. Old-fashioned roses in the garden
6. My mom's homemade mayhaw jelly cooking on the stove
7. Chanel No. 5 (Love that old movie Seven Year Itch where Marilyn Monroe says: "That's their highest number.")
8. Clean clothes drying on a clothesline in the sun
9. Really old, single malt Scotch
10. Baking bread