Boondock Ramblings

Comfort reading with The Cat Who . . . book series

I’m a stickler for books set in smaller towns with a large cast of fun and quirky characters, if you couldn’t tell by the stories I share on here for Fiction Friday.

I mention The Cat Who books by Lilian Jackson Braun from time to time and when I do I write that I am reading one as “comfort reading.” I consider them comfort reading because I used to read them when I was a teenager. For me, reading about James Mackintosh Qwilleran and his Siamese cats, Koko and Yum-Yum, and the cast of characters around them, feels oddly like coming home.

I call them The Cat Who . . . books because all of the book titles start with The Cat Who . . . followed by something the cat did.

Examples include The Cat Who Played Brahms, The Cat Who Sang for the Birds, The Cat Who Lived High, and The Cat Who Sniffed Glue. There were 29 books written between 1966 and 2007. There were 18 years between the third and fourth book and after reading that in an article while researching for this post, I started to wonder what the delay was all about. What did Braun do in between and what made her pick up the series again? I did some digging and learned there were a few reasons for the break, including the death of her husband and the fact that she was working at The Detroit Free Press as the “Good Living” editor during that time, and for 30-years, retiring in the late 70s. The other, bigger, reason for the break, though, was that when she turned in the manuscript for the fourth book, the publisher said they were interested in books with more sex and violence.

Luckily Braun was able to find a publisher in the future who recognized that not every reader wants books full of sex and violence.

As a writer who has started writing fiction fairly “late in life,” I found it interesting that Braun published her first fiction book at the age of 53. She was 97 when she passed away and her husband told a newspaper that her biggest regret was dying before she could finish her 30th book, The Cat Who Smelled Smoke.

When she did release a new book in 1986, after that 18 year break, it was called The Cat Who Saw Red. It was published under a new publisher and nominated for an Anthony Award and an Edgar Award in the best original paperback category. The new publisher also re-released her other three books.

The original cover of the first The Cat Who book.
The second book with the original cover.
The third book with the original cover.

The books always offer a mystery, of course, usually in the form of a murder or two, but woven within the mystery are hilarious anecdotes about the people of Pixax, the town James Qwilleran, a retired crime beat journalist and columnist, has settled into.

The series started out with Qwilleran working “Down Below”, as the country folk call the city of Chicago. After inheriting some money from an eccentric distant relative (who, if I remember correctly he wasn’t even biologically related to), he ends up moving to the tiny town where many of his mysteries occur, which makes me ask, “how many criminals live in this one tiny town?” That thought always makes me a bit paranoid, since I also live in a small town. After reading one of these books (or watching an episode of Murder She Wrote) I start looking at my neighbors in a different light.

“Do you think Mrs. Smith down the road is capable of murder?” I might ask my husband, but I don’t actually since there isn’t a Mrs. Smith down the road.
Or sometimes I think, “What does Mr. So-and-So have in those containers in his back yard? Compost or . . . bodies?!”

Anyhow, back to the books. Not all of them aren’t all winners, a couple of them are stinkers, only saved by the cats and quirky characters. Still, I keep reading them, enjoying the feeling of coming home, in a way, much like I do when I read and re-read the Mitford books.

It isn’t only the quirky characters and pets that captures my interest in the books. Being a veteran of the journalism world, I also find myself drawn to the parts of the stories that involve reporting and the newspaper office. The characters of the small town newspaper are about as odd as some of the people I used to work with, but not quite.

When the subject of reporters and journalists come up in a conversation, I often comment that a newspaper’s newsroom is full of people who are two clicks away from being certifiably crazy. Then I remember I was once one of those people and wonder what that means about me. I guess it means I was the only sane person in the four newsrooms I worked in over my 15-year career.

Braun’s own career in journalism helped her to become a prolific novelist, releasing one or two books a year. She said she was used to continously writing after doing it for 50 years. I can relate to the idea of being used to writing often and a lot, since that’s what I did when I worked at newspapers, but of course I only did it for 15 years, not 50!

When I picture Qwill in my mind he’s a cross between Sam Elliott and a former boss of mine (who incidentally no longer has the mustache he used to have). Qwill is an old school newshound with a passion for digging up the answers to mysteries, even after he stops working as an investigative reporter and knows it isn’t his place.

How I picture Qwill but without the long hair.

Getting to the bottom of something was my favorite part of being a reporter. I loved to dig for the news, but I was nowhere near as good at is as my husband is. He’s like a dog with a bone. When he gets a tip, he’ll dig that thing out of the ground and bring it in the light no matter who tries to stop him.

He isn’t as obsessed with it as I am, though. I remember laying awake at night wondering what the local school board or district attorney was hiding from me while he comes home, drops the mystery at the door, picks up a book and doesn’t pick up work things again until the next morning. Usually anyhow. Some nights he does lay there worrying about work things, but not necessarily a story he is working on.

Throughout the books, Qwill ages from his late 40s to his mid-50s. He is a divorced, slightly overweight, former alocholic who now declines offers to drink any alcohol when the books first start. He loses the extra pounds as the series progresses.

Women find him irrestible, Braun writes, and one reason they do is because of his “luxurious mustache.” He also has salt-and-pepper hair, but it is the mustache that is the most intriguing, not only because of it’s appearance.

An excerpt from an article on Wikipedia describes the role of the mustache perfectly.

Whenever Qwilleran gets a suspicion that something is wrong or his instincts are right, he will get “a tingling sensation on his upper lip.” Depending upon the strength of the sensation, he may be seen “stroking it with his fingertips” to “pounding [his mustache] with his knuckles”.

Characters in the books (especially women) are also drawn to Qwill because of his willingness to listen, a skill he picked up in his job as a reporter. It’s a skill I picked up as well. I found that the more I let a person talk, the more they would tell me, without even realizing they were telling me it. Idle chitchat also helped relax the subject of a story or the person I was interviewing. I never felt like I was manipulating the person. I was simply reminding them that I was human too and helping them to feel comfortable with talking to me.

Qwill uses this tactic in his reporting, but also in his sleuthing. It may appear to the reader that the character is simply telling Qwilleran about the new decor in their homes, but Qwilleran might hear something quite different, including the fact that the person who designed the new look for their home new the victim in a recent crime.

Now, I would be very remiss if I did not mention that Q’s cat Koko helps him solve his crimes in unusual and distinct ways. Koko sometimes yowls at the guilty person, flips a book to a page that offers a clue, or leads Q to a clue when they go on their walks, with Koko on a harness and leash.

Koko’s full name is Kao K’o-Kung and he is named after a 13th-century Chinese artist of the same name. He was once owned by an art critic who Qwill used to work with at the Fluxion, a newspaper Down Under. His first owner fed Koko a gourmet diet of lobster, chicken, and other fancy meals, which means he won’t eat normal cat food.

Qwilleran later adopts Yum-Yum, another Siamese, and ends up having to feed both cats expensive food on his sometimes meager salary, which of course expands when he inherhits a fortune and mansion later in the series.

While locals often credit Qwill when he solves a crime, there are some who know Koko is the real brains in the operation, as shown by this exerpt from The Cat Who Played Brahms:

“Qwilleran’s Siamese cat was a celebrity at the Press Club. Koko’s portrait hung in the lobby along with Pulitzer Prize winners, and he was probably the only cat in the history of journalism who had his own press card signed by the chief of police. Although Qwilleran’s suspicious nature and inquisitive mind had brought a few criminals to justice, it was commonly understood at the Press Club that the brains behind his success belonged to a feline of outstanding intelligence and sensory perception. Koko always seemed to sniff or scratch in the right place at the right time.”

In addition to the newspaper angle, I, of course, like the way the books nail the personality of cats, especially Siamese, right on the head. I had a cat that our vet said was part Siamese and he was a very interesting cat, so I relate to the way Braun writes about cats as well as the mysteries.

Being a cat lover, and the owner of two Siamese herself, Braun certainly had first-hand experience about the behavior of cats.

Braun with the Siamese she named after her literary cats.

The good thing about these books is that they are fairly simple and straight forward. They aren’t raunchy, have very little to no swearing, and don’t feature grotesque or detailed descriptions of violence. They are almost completely void of romance, other than a very tame, chaste storyline involving Qwill and town librarian Polly Duncan.

I have been having fun snatching books from the series up at book sales but have also purchased a few through my Kindle. I don’t know why, but I prefer reading The Cat Who books as hard copies, maybe because that’s how I started reading them when I would sign them out at the local library.

So, how about you? Do you have a series of books that are like “comfort reading” to you? I would love to hear about the series.

Sunday Bookends: My birthday ice cream, Addicted to Rembrandt Stone, and I’m not leaving my house this week

What’s Been Occurring 

Today is my birthday and I’m old. 

That’s all I’ll say about that.

Along a similar line of thought, I am a very introverted person. Even when I worked for newspapers, I had to force myself to talk to people and do the interviews necessary to get the story. I essentially became another person for as long as it took me to talk to the person and then I withdrew back into my shell. I have no idea how I did it for 14 years and it is no wonder I almost mentally cracked at the end. Or maybe I actually did crack, which may explain my mental status some days. *wink*

Now, ten years or so after leaving the paper, I am even more introverted than before.

If I am forced to attend something in public, it can take me three days to recover from the mental stimulation. I am not kidding. I am mentally, emotionally, and physically drained after events where I have to speak to or interact in some way with people. Therefore, I only plan one outing a week, if that, any more. We have not been attending a physical church, which has lifted one interaction from my shoulders. All that smiling and saying “I’m fine. I’m great. Things have been so good,” for an hour or more is exhausting.

I had one event planned with my daughter. A science camp 35 minutes away at a local Christian camp. We went, we met up with some of our friends we hadn’t seen in a while, we came home. I breathed a sigh of relief because I had a day in between when my husband wanted to take me out to dinner for my birthday.

I wouldn’t have minded mind if we’d had dinner at home and just hung out and did nothing, but my husband was brought up that when there is a birthday, there is a trip to a restaurant to celebrate, so we went to a restaurant. Once I get to the restaurant, I usually have fun, but leading up to it I’m always stressed the entire time drive, thinking I am going to do something stupid in public like pass out, trip over something, get sick and shaky or have a full-blown panic attack.

That’s normal right? 

I know. 

I didn’t think so either.

So, I’m mentally preparing for the Saturday event with my husband (we also had to go to a wine festival he had to cover for the paper. Wine might have helped relax me, but I don’t drink alcohol. I know. I’m such a weirdo.), when my dad calls and wants me to take my children to an event at a church 45 minutes from our house on Friday night. I’m thinking, “No. Sorry, my human interaction quota has been reached. My tank in that area is full while my emotional and mental tank is drained.”

But how do you say ‘no’ to a very persistent man in his late-70s? You don’t, sadly.

And just for the record, I did have fun at the restaurant, but I am still going to do everything I can to not interact with any humans outside my own house this next week. Okay, I probably will have some interaction, but not on a big scale, because my brain and heart really can’t take it. Give me a cup of tea, a good book, and my computer to write my silly little stories on and I am happy. Thank you very much.

My biggest excitement for my birthday weekend besides my dinner out with my husband wasn’t any gift — it was ice cream. Häagen-Dazs ice cream to be specific. I haven’t been able to find Häagen-Dazs locally for almost 18 months. In a way that has been a good thing. I try not to eat too many high sugar items and Haagen-Dazs is a weakness of mine. The tiny stores in our tiny town don’t carry it and I never think of it when I am in a bigger store.

But this past week, I knew what I wanted for my birthday. A pint of chocolate Haagen-Dazs. This is sad to say but when I took a bite of it, I actually teared up. I’d forgotten how amazing it is. An ice cream with only a handful of ingredients, no high fructose corn syrup, or anything else I can’t eat. Plus, I used to eat Haagen-Dazs when I was pregnant with my son and he’s about to be 14 in another month and a half so . . . my emotions are high right now. 

I rarely treat myself to anything so decadent. I always feel guilty but yesterday I managed to feel guilty for only a few minutes before devouring half a carton on the 40-minute drive home by taking tiny little bites and savoring every single bite.

It had been so long since I’ve had it, they had actually changed the design of the cartons. I also almost panicked because when we were looking for it, all I could find were a bunch of weird concoctions. I just wanted plain chocolate, not cookie dough, caramel and chocolate, etc. I was afraid I’d have to go home with plain vanilla, which is okay, but not chocolate. 

Anyhow, enough about my favorite ice cream . . .                                                       

What I’m Reading

I am ripping through the fifth book in the Rembrandt Stone series by David James Warren, Blood From A Stone. I’m sure I’ll finish it this week and probably cry a lot while I wait for book six, the final book in the series.

I wrote a review of the fourth book in the series last month. To give you a little background, the books are from a time traveler series and focus on detective Rembrand Stone who goes back in time to solve a series of cold cases and in the process messes up his life. I find myself chewing my nails and yelling at the book often. “No, Rem! Stop!” The book includes some romance with Rem’s wife as he fights to keep his life with her, but also keeps messing it up with the changes he makes in the past. Mixed in it all is an unsolved mystery by a serial killer.

I will probably continue and finish The Weather Girls, Book 1: Sunny, as well as it seems an easy read.

I would love to finish Craig Johnson’s Another Man’s Moccasins as well because I want to know what happens! I am reading the other books for a book tour so I need to finish them first.

Little Miss and I are reading Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder at night and during the week we are reading Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin by Marguerite Henry.

 What I’m Watching

This weekend we watched a couple more episodes of Season 1 of Yellowstone (which we can’t watch when the kids are around) and earlier in the week I watched more of The House of Eliot.

What I’m Writing

 I didn’t share much on the blog this week because I either had events with the kids, had homeschool to do, or was working on The Next Chapter (the third book in the Spencer Valley Chronicles). 

I did share Chapter 3 of The Next Chapter on Friday.

 What I’m Listening To

I’m discovering music by accident these days when I leave Youtube on while writing and it skips to a new artist like Jimmy Allen singing with Abby Anderson.

Book Review: 12 Weeks to Midnight Blue. Book Tour with Celebrate Lit

Book: Twelve Weeks to Midnight Blue

Author: Steve Searfoss

Genre: Fiction

Release date: January 26, 2020

Chance Sterling launches a pool cleaning business over the summer. Join Chance as he looks for new customers, discovers how much to charge them, recruits an employee, deals with difficult clients, and figures out how to make a profit. Oh, and his sister Addie wants in on the action too. Will they learn how to be business partners?  He has twelve weeks to reach his goal. Will he make it? Only if he takes some chances.

KidVenture stories are business adventures where kids figure out how to market their company, understand risk, and negotiate. Each chapter ends with a challenge, including business decisions, ethical dilemmas and interpersonal conflict for young readers to wrestle with. As the story progresses, the characters track revenue, costs, profit margin, and other key metrics which are explained in simple, fun ways that tie into the story.

I am a Christian and a parent. My wife and I pay close attention to the books and media our four children consume, and try to make sure the content is edifying, just as Paul exhorts us in Philippians 4:8. I wanted to write a book that met that standard, and was also fun and engaging. KidVenture teaches kids the importance of hard work, of keeping your word and being trustworthy, and telling the truth, even when it means delivering bad news. As the story progresses, the protagonist understands that business is about more than making money as he appreciates  the responsibility he has to his customers, his employee and his partner. How you treat people matters in tangible ways.

At the center of the story is a strong family. The two main characters are a brother and sister, who engage in their share of sibling rivalry, but also learn how to work together and forgive each other. At key junctures when they face big dilemmas, they turn to their parents for advice. The kids learn a healthy mix of independence, risk taking and learning through trial and error — balanced with knowing when to ask for help. All of this is presented in a way that is not preachy or hokey, but wrapped inside a story full of unexpected plot twists, witty banter and memorable characters.

My Review

12 Weeks to Midnight is the perfect book for parents to give to their children to help them learn in a fun way about what all goes into running a business.

The story is entertaining and educational at the same time, which is exactly what a young person would like. The book is simply written but with a good, complex story. I would say this book is for children between the ages of 8 and 13.

The reader is shown how to start, run, and keep a business going through Chance Sterling’s journey to earn money enough to buy a new bike. The scenarios and hurdles Chance has to work through and climb over are lessons that even adults should keep in mind when trying to launch their own business.

“Why can’t I just keep all the money at the top?” Chance asks his dad one day when he realizes he will have to purchase some of the equipment he needs to keep his business running from the profit he’s already made.

“Because money doesn’t grow on trees,” his dad tells him.

Chance suggests that it grows in his dad’s wallet and that’s when his dad has to inform him that even parents have to work for what they have and purchase what they need from that money.

It’s a difficult lesson for young Chance, but one he, along with his younger sister Addie, has to learn to understand how to earn the money to buy what he wants. This book presents a stripped down lesson on economics at the basic level, including investments, earnings, expenses, and overall profit.

What I really liked about the book is that at the end of each chapter the author asks the reader what they would do if they were in the shoes of the character. It’s a great way to really help a young person think through not only Chance’s journey, but their own.

As a parent, I absolutely love books for children and pre-teens that has a message that can be delivered in a fun and non-preaching way, which is why I really enjoyed 12 Weeks to Midnight Blue and highly recommend it for children and even for parents. Even parents could use a reminder about what it takes to run a business.

My rating 5 out of 5

I was given a complimentary copy of this book but all opinions are my own and I was not asked to give a positive review.

Click here to get your copy!

About the Author

I wrote my first KidVenture book after years of making up stories to teach my kids about business and economics. Whenever they’d ask how something works or why things were a certain way, I would say, “Let’s pretend you have a business that sells…” and off we’d go. What would start as a simple hypothetical to explain a concept would become an adventure spanning several days as my kids would come back with new questions which would spawn more plot twists. Rather than give them quick answers, I tried to create cliffhangers to get them to really think through an idea and make the experience as interactive as possible.

I try to bring that same spirit of fun, curiosity and challenge to each KidVenture book. That’s why every chapter ends with a dilemma and a set of questions. KidVenture books are fun for kids to read alone, and even more fun to read together and discuss. There are plenty of books where kids learn about being doctors and astronauts and firefighters. There are hardly any where they learn what it’s like to run small business. KidVenture is different. The companies the kids start are modest and simple, but the themes are serious and important.

I’m an entrepreneur who has started a half dozen or so businesses and have had my share of failures. My dad was an entrepreneur and as a kid I used to love asking him about his business and learning the ins and outs of what to do and not do. Mistakes make the best stories — and the best lessons. I wanted to write a business book that was realistic, where you get to see the characters stumble and wander and reset, the way entrepreneurs do in real life. Unlike most books and movies where business is portrayed as easy, where all you need is one good idea and the desire to be successful, the characters in KidVenture find that every day brings new problems to solve.

More from Steve

I am a Christian and a parent. My wife and I pay close attention to the books and
media our four children consume, and try to make sure the content is edifying,
just as Paul exhorts us in Philippians 4:8. I wanted to write a book that met that
standard, and was also fun and engaging. KidVenture teaches kids the importance
of hard work, of keeping your word and being trustworthy, and telling the truth,
even when it means delivering bad news. As the story progresses, the protagonist
understands that business is about more than making money as he appreciates
the responsibility he has to his customers, his employee and his partner. How you
treat people matters in tangible ways.

At the center of the story is a strong family. The two main characters are a
brother and sister, who engage in their share of sibling rivalry, but also learn how
to work together and forgive each other. At key junctures when they face big
dilemmas, they turn to their parents for advice. The kids learn a healthy mix of
independence, risk taking and learning through trial and error — balanced with
knowing when to ask for help. All of this is presented in a way that is not preachy
or hokey, but wrapped inside a story full of unexpected plot twists, witty banter
and memorable characters.

Blog Stops

Lots of Helpers, September 8

Cats in the Cradle Blog, September 8

Texas Book-aholic, September 9

For Him and My Family, September 10

Boondock Ramblings, September 10

Library Lady’s Kid Lit, September 11

Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations, September 12

Mary Hake, September 12

Because I said so — and other adventures in Parenting, September 13

Inklings and notions, September 14

Blogging With Carol, September 14

deb’s Book Review, September 15

Musings of a Sassy Bookish Mama, September 16

Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, September 16

Little Homeschool on the Prairie, September 17

Ashley’s Clean Book Reviews, September 18

Splashes of Joy, September 18

Locks, Hooks and Books, September 19

A Modern Day Fairy Tale, September 20

Lights in a Dark World, September 20

The Meanderings of a Bookworm, September 21

Giveaway

To celebrate his tour, Steve is giving away the grand prize of a $25 Amazon gift card!!

Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.

https://promosimple.com/ps/11817/twelve-weeks-to-midnight-blue-celebration-tour-giveaway

When a scare reminds you what matters most

It could have been worse. It could have ended differently. Still, I can’t seem to stop my head from playing the what-if game. I laid awake much of Labor Day night watching Little Miss Sleep, making sure her chest was rising and falling.

 We still aren’t sure what happened. Little Miss and my dad saw a snake in his yard Labor Day afternoon. It was small, Dad could tell it wasn’t a venomous snake (little tip here: there are 22 species of snakes in our state, and only three are venomous), so he showed her how to pick it up and let her. Somehow the snake managed to bite her, but she didn’t drop it. Instead, it bit her again in the finger, and then she dropped it. She was calm about it all, but Dad told her to go wash her hands. She announced she’d been bit when she came in and I didn’t see anything but a blur as she ran past me and went into the bathroom. I was alarmed but assumed the snake was a Garter snake because those are the most common in our area.

What happened next was a blur of chaos. Little Miss came out of the bathroom, I think because I didn’t see her. Next thing I remember my mom said, “Oh!” and then my daughter crumpled to the kitchen floor by the table. Mom said Little Miss had smacked her chin off the table before she crumpled. My mind immediately went to her reacting to the snake bite.

My husband picked her up and held her. I cried, “Call an ambulance!” because I thought she’d been knocked out.

My mom and dad said I should calm down, that she’d hit her head, “let us look at her first, it wasn’t a venomous snake,” but then in the next second she slumped backward, almost out of my husband’s arms and it was him screaming to call the ambulance instead of me.  He told me later her eyes were closed, and she wasn’t responding to him and he’d never felt so helpless.

It was like a crazy nightmare I couldn’t get out of. I literally thought, “this is happening. I’m going to lose my daughter. Tragedy has finally come to our family this time.” She was limp in his arms, and he was running outside. Then she woke for a moment, crying, and said, “I feel weird.”

A call to 911 brought an ambulance in about ten minutes but it felt like a lifetime to us. She was talking but out of it. Lethargic, saying how tired she was. Her finger where the snake bit her had a small spot but it wasn’t swollen. She said it didn’t really hurt.

Her eyes didn’t look right the entire time and the 911 dispatcher told me not to let her stand on her own and to keep the hand that had been bit below heart level.

When the EMTs arrived they examined her, checked her heart rate and oxygen and they were good, but she still didn’t look right and none of us were sure if she’d started to pass out before she hit the table or if the hit on the table had knocked her out. There were no marks on her head, but a small scratch showed up there yesterday.

She was trembling on the gurney so the one EMT suggested we sit her on the bank in front of my parents’ house next to her brother and see if that would help her calm down. I sat next to her but she couldn’t hold herself upright and her head kept rolling a bit. Her eyes looked weird, and she kept saying she was tired. Less than five minutes of sitting there the EMT came out of the ambulance where he was filling out paperwork with my husband and said, “I think we need to take her. Her eyes don’t look right, and I would feel better if we took her.”

I immediately agreed and realized that the entire time I thought he was just sitting in the ambulance helping my husband and the other responder fill out paperwork, he was actually watching Little Miss and using his training to tell she wasn’t fine at all, no matter what she’d tried to tell them earlier.

Little Miss cried because she didn’t want to go. She said he wanted her brother to go with her and I offered to go but my husband held her tight and said he was going in the ambulance with her. I think he was afraid to let her go after the way she’d passed out in his arms earlier.

They quickly took off and my mom told my dad to drive me. Dad was worried about finishing the hamburgers we were grilling and also trying to keep me calm so he was moving a little slow for my liking. I finally left without him, my mind racing through all the scenarios of what could be wrong with Little Miss. I think my brain was moving too fast for me to even cry or flip out.

It’s odd. I didn’t feel the overwhelming panic I often do over simple things. This was a “big thing” where I should have been totally cracking up, complete with the trembling hands and weak knees and light head. Instead, I just kept praying, asking the Holy Spirit to take over, and trying to think of anything but what might be happening at the hospital.

“Look, three maroon vehicles in a row, how strange.”

“Look, this man in front of me refuses to move off the road even while I honk my horn at him to indicate that I am obviously in the middle of an emergency.”

“Do water trucks always drive this slow?”

Once in the ER exam room, seeing my daughter sitting up, crying, but much more alert than she had been only a half an hour earlier, I felt calmer, yet still wanted to scoop her up and run as far away as possible from the building and wake up from this nightmare we were all having.

We never did find evidence the snake even broke the skin. Neither did the doctor. Tests were done to see if she had any signs of venom in her and they came back negative. The hospital kept her for several hours to see if there were any changes and then we finally were able to take her home.

My dad looked up the snake and we are all certain it was a milk snake, which is a harmless snake that doesn’t even have fangs. That probably means she either had a lot of adrenaline going in her making her pass out or that the blackout came after she hit the table, not before. We aren’t sure, even though she says she started to feel funny and began to blackout before she hit the table.

One funny story from the day was when the EMT said to me, “Do you have the snake?”

We said we didn’t, and he looked relieved. “Oh, thank God. I hate snakes and I was so afraid I’d have to see it.”

Wondering if you will hold your child in your arms alive again puts a lot in perspective. Things that once mattered really don’t anymore. Things that seemed important no longer are.

It is similar to how I approached life after my aunt passed away at the very end of 2017. I weeded out what didn’t matter and focused on what did. I won’t be online as much, that’s for sure. There is a lot of life to enjoy beyond a screen and digital device and I plan to enjoy it with her, my son, and my husband.

You might be wondering if I watched Little Miss all night that night while she slept. I absolutely did and didn’t let her out of my sight most of the next day. I probably won’t be letting her out of my sight for a long time. I can’t seem to stop worrying that something else will happen to her, that if I don’t watch her all the time she could fall or pass out again. It’s illogical, I know, but I can’t seem to shake the feelings or thoughts.

I see her crumpling to the floor and falling backward out of my husband’s arms over and over again in my mind. I seem to have slight PTSD from it all (though I do not mean to trivialize true cases of PTSD from war or abusive situations).

You might also wonder if my daughter, the snake-loving almost 7-year-old still likes snakes. Last night she told me, “I love snakes. Being bit by one is not going to stop me. I’m still going to search out every snake ever.”

She has agreed, however, to only look at them, not pick them up.

Reading books about how to write novels is making writing novels not fun for me


I wrote this on my Instagram the other day: “Nothing destroys the fun of writing novels for me than reading books about how to write a novel. Now I’m so in my head I can’t hear anything but rules.”

It is true, guys/gals. I sat in my living room last night with two craft books, a notebook, and a pen and thought, “Okay. I am going to outline this sucker and I am going to figure out what my two characters dark moments are and . . .” And I just stared at the page.

Read more of this post at Hope, Hearts, and Heroes where I have joined with other Christian writers to share about our writing journey as well as some of our writings.

Fiction Friday: The Next Chapter Chapter 1

I wasn’t sure about blogging a fiction story again, but, it’s kind of fun so I thought I’d share a little of The Next Chapter, which is the next book in the Spencer Valley Chronicles.

If you haven’t read the other books, you don’t have to to read this, but if you want some background on some of the characters who are mentioned, you can find the first book in the series, The Farmer’s Daughter, and the second book, Harvesting Hope, on Amazon.

If you are new to Fiction Friday, I share stories I am working on and there is always a good chance there will be typos and errors. I edit the story again before I later publish it through Amazon as a book.

Anyhow . . . let us begin The Next Chapter.

Chapter 1

Giving birth to a baby in the front of a pickup truck on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere was not what Liz Cranmer had planned when she told the midwife she wanted a natural birth. Even more mortifying had been whose pickup it had been.

If she hadn’t been in so much pain in the moment when Matt McGee had jumped into position to catch the baby, she would been overwhelmed by mortifying horror.

Even in the midst of humiliation, she couldn’t deny that the calming tone of his voice had helped keep her from completely freaking out. “Don’t worry, El,” he said. “I’m trained for this. It’s going to be fine.”

Fine? No.

Nothing was fine about giving birth to a baby in the front seat of the truck of the man she’d gone on three dates with before — well, before this baby had taken up residence inside her womb.

Her heart had hammered inside her ribcage like a trapped bird throughout the entire ordeal, which gratefully had only taken about 15 minutes. All those warnings her birthing instructor had given her, reminding her that a first baby would lead to a long, drawn-out birth process, had turned out to be completely wrong.

Now, alone in a hospital room, starring at a sleeping baby in a portable hospital crib, her heart was at it again, her breathing racing to keep up with it.

A baby.

They are sending me home with a baby? Me?

Had the doctor and nurses lost their minds?

She was barely able to take care of herself most days, let alone a baby.

Still, she was the one who’d decided she wanted to keep this baby. Who else would the hospital send her home with?

Her.

Wow.

Liz let out a long breath.

The baby, who Liz hadn’t even named yet.

Naming the tiny form next to her wasn’t even on her radar at the moment. Trying to slow her breathing was.

Another panic attack. Great.

She’d had three in the last six hours since her parents, best friend, and — good grief — Matt had gone home to get some sleep, or rather, so she could get some sleep.

Sleep. Yeah right. That would be nice. If she could get it.

She’d slept two hours and been awake ever since, her mind racing and screaming for some sort of normalcy.

She supposed she should notify the nurse she was having panic attacks, but maybe it was normal for a woman to have panic attacks after having a baby on her own, without a father, and after lying to her best friend about how she became pregnant in the first place.

Closing her eyes, she tried to remember the grounding exercise the therapist she’d gone to a couple of years ago had taught her.

What was it again? Three things you can touch, smell, and see? It probably wasn’t that at all but at this moment it was all she had to go on.

Three things to touch. She looked around frantically then ran the palm of her hand across the surface of the sheets on the bed under her, taking a deep breath. Soft, smooth, cool. Cool except under her leg where it had been touching the bed.

The side table where the nurse had placed the lunch she hadn’t been able to eat. Smooth surface, except for — ew. Something sticky on the corner. Probably maple syrup from the pancakes she hadn’t eaten earlier in the day, but her mom had tried to get her to eat.

Teddy bear. She squeezed it between her hands, felt the softness of it and took another breath.

Getting better. Breathing slower, heartrate down.

Okay. Three things she could smell. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The sweet smell of the spilled maple syrup, for one. Two . . . oh no.

She leaned her head toward the crib and sniffed.

The baby obviously needed changing. She hoped the nurse would come in soon and show her how to do that.

Never mind the third thing to smell. Her sense of smell had been destroyed by the dirty diaper.

Her heartrate was practically normal now and her breathing was slowing. Still, three things to see  . . . Um.

The bright sunflowers across the room by the window from her best friend Molly. There was one.

She stopped focusing on her racing heart and the tremor in her hands as she searched for something else to identify.

Her gaze drifted across the room toward the doorway, searching for two more things to see. Sunlight sending patterns of light across the wardrobe where her mom had placed her duffle bag, an extra pillow and some “going home” clothes for the baby.

Her eyes moved again, searching.

A police officer in full uniform, leaning against the doorway, arms folded across his chest, smirking.

Oh no.

Her heartrate increased again. So much for calming her racing heart, but at least the panic attack had subsided some.

The police officer’s smirk faded, and he stepped forward into the room, a much more serious expression on his face now.

“I was going to say I caught you not sleeping, but I don’t think you’re in the mood for teasing.” He stopped a foot from her, his brow furrowed. “You okay? You’re very pale.”

Matt McGee and his infuriating perceptive tendencies.

“Yes. I’m fine.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “You don’t look fine.”

She closed her eyes briefly and took a deep breath. “I’m just a little anxious about everything. I’m sure it’s just a hormone shift.”

When she opened her eyes, she could tell he wasn’t buying it. Luckily, he didn’t have time to tell her he wasn’t buying it.

Nurse Wendy, all 5 feet 1 inches of her, swept into the room with her usual perky demeanor.

“How are we doing in here? Were you able to get any rest? That little precious bundle of joy wasn’t keeping you up, was she?”

Liz shook her head. “She’s been sleeping the whole time. My brain just won’t shut off.”

The nurse sniffed. “Oh. I guess she was doing a little business during her sleeping.”

“Yeah, I hadn’t got over there yet.” Liz’s face flushed warm. She wasn’t about to tell the nurse how terrified she was of changing the baby’s diaper.

The nurse probably knew by how she let out a soft chuckle as she reached for the diaper under the crib.

“It takes a bit to get used to it.” She winked. “I’ll give you a few pointers to help you feel more confident.”

With the baby changed and her hands washed, Wendy turned back to the paperwork she’d carried in with her.

“So have you had time to think of a name for the baby? We’ve got the birth certificate paperwork here.”

Liz had been thinking about a name, had run it by her mom and Molly before they’d left, but she hesitated. Choosing the name for a child was a big responsibility. What if she grew up to hate her own name? Or her nickname? Liz wasn’t necessarily fond of the way her name had been shortened from Elizabeth to Liz, but she also couldn’t imagine herself as an Elizabeth since it sounded so pretentious to her and contrary to her personality.

She took a deep breath. The baby had to have a name. She’d better just go for it.

“Isabella Molly Cranmer.”

The nurse smiled. “That’s a beautiful name.” She filled in the paper then looked up. “Okay, so, now we have the baby and mom’s name. All we need is the father’s name.”

Liz’s hands went numb. She hadn’t thought this far ahead. She looked at her hands in her lap and twisted them together for a few moments before looking back up.

The nurse glanced at Matt and smiled. She seemed to be waiting for him to say something. Liz played with the edge of her blanket, avoiding eye contact, but shifting her gaze to Matt briefly.

Matt stared blankly at the nurse for a few seconds before appearing to register the reason for her pointed expression.

Liz looked between the two, startled realization slamming into her. “Um — oh. No. He’s not —”

“It’s Matt.” He shifted himself between the bed and the nurse, tilting his head to look at the paper in the nurse’s hand. “Or Matthew rather. Matthew McGee. That’s McGee with the G capitalized.”

Liz’s eyes widened and she shook her head ever so slightly. “What are you doing?” she mouthed, only he wasn’t looking at her. His back was to her. He was still looking over the nurses’ shoulder, checking her spelling. “Yep. That’s right.”

“Middle name?” the nurse asked.

Whose middle name? Matt’s? Liz didn’t even know his middle name.

“Matthew Grant McGee.”

Grant. Oh. That was a nice middle name. His grandfather’s last name had been Grant maybe that was —

“After my grandfather,” he told Wendy, as if she had asked.  “He and his siblings didn’t have any sons, so I carry on the Grant name as my middle name.”

Wendy glanced up, smiled. “That’s nice.” She finished writing and picked up the paper, then paused, brow furrowing. “Oh wait. We wrote the baby’s last name down as Cramner. Shouldn’t we have —”

Liz imagined her heartrate must be at a thousand beats per minute at this point.

“Oh right.” Matt smiled. Liz scowled at him. He sure was quick on his feet today. She planned to knock him off those feet as soon as this nurse left.

He cleared his throat, focusing his gaze on Liz. “Well, it’s just —”

Wendy held up a hand. “You’re not married. No problem at all. I apologize. That’s really none of my business.”

Matt coughed nervously. “Oh, gosh, no. It’s okay, it’s just —”

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, hon’.” Wendy smiled and winked. “Happens all the time these days.” She slid the birth certificate under the clip on her clipboard. “Okay then, mom and dad, I’ll get this paperwork to the records office, they’ll send it on to the state health department and in six weeks or so you will have an official birth certificate for little Isabella here.”

Liz’s chest constricted. An official birth certificate with Matt’s name listed as the father of her child.

As soon as the nurse left the room, Liz looked at Matt, who was clearly refusing to make eye contact. He was bent over the crib smiling at the child he’d just claimed as his own.

 “What was that, Matt?” she hissed.

He looped his finger under Isabella’s tiny fingers, glancing at Liz. “What was what?”

Liz tilted her gaze to the ceiling and huffed out a breath. “Are you serious? You can’t just say you’re her father. I mean that nurse is taking it to the official records office. They’re sending it to the state. Isn’t that like fraud or something? We could get arrested.”

Matt laughed softly, his eyes still on the baby. “Arrested for what? For making sure your crazy ex-boyfriend has no say in the life of this gorgeous little girl?” He looked over at Liz. “Or do you want Gabe in both of your lives?”

Her blood ran cold. Of course, she didn’t want Gabe in her life again. She never should have had him in it the first place. She shook her head slowly, tears stinging her eyes.

“Then it’s done. No one else has to know we put me down as her dad anyhow. I just did it so she didn’t have to have Gabe’s name associated with her. It’s better that way.”

Liz swiped the edge of her finger under her eye. Why was Matt protecting her? They’d gone out on three dates and then — Gabe. That night at Gabe’s apartment when she let him talk her into . . .

Her eyes widened. She gasped.  “They send those to the newspaper. Go catch that nurse. Ask her to keep our names off that list.”

For the first time, Matt looked alarmed at what he’d done. Did he really want everyone at his job and church knowing, or rather believing, he’d fathered a baby out of wedlock? Liz didn’t think so.

“I’ll talk to the nurse on my way out,” he said with a shrug. “It’ll be fine.”

It will be fine? Was that his favorite word? Fine. Was he serious? Nothing about all of this — from having a baby without a husband to Matt claiming Isabella as his own — was fine.

“She’s fussy,” he said as the baby squirmed in the crib. “You want me to bring her to you?”

Why would she want him to bring the baby to him? What was she supposed to do?

Oh, right. She was her mother and early this morning, in a total state of exhaustion, she’d told the nurse she planned to breastfeed.

Her.

Liz Cramner. Royal screw up, actually thought she could breastfeed a baby. What had she been thinking? She had obviously been reading too many baby books or something.

When the lactation consultant had shown her how to help the baby latch on, she’d been terrified her idea of breastfeeding would be a failure. It hadn’t failed, though. Isabella had latched on immediately, her little fingers lightly touching her own cheek as she suckled. The warmth of the newborn’s body against Liz’s bare chest had stilled her racing heart for the first time since her water had broken while she and Matt were walking along the lake.

She watched Matt slide his hands under Isabella’s tiny head and body, scooping her into his arms like he’d held a baby a thousand times before. Had he held a baby a thousand times before? Liz wasn’t sure. She knew he had a brother and sister, a couple nieces and nephews. How did she not know more about them or about Matt in general? Maybe because for the last year and a half she’d been so focused on herself she hadn’t bothered to even ask or notice.

Matt cradled Isabella as he walked. Liz marveled at the way he held her like she was the most precious thing in the world, the smile curving his mouth upward as he looked down at her. “Hey, there, little one. How are you today? Are you ready for Mama to hold you again?”

Mama.

Liz’s breath caught, taking in the word, the scene before her.

A mom? Her?

It was surreal.

As surreal as Officer Matt McGee, the man she knew was way too good for her, bending toward her, laying a baby in her arms. A baby that wasn’t even his but who he had claimed as his own only moments before.

“She’s got your eyes,” he said softly.

Liz swallowed hard, looking into tiny eyes taking in everything around her, then focusing on the face of the woman who gave birth to her.

But she’s got Gabe’s nose and ears, Liz thought, a hard knot forming in her stomach.

Oh, Matt, she should have your nose and ears. How could I have been so stupid?

The fallacy of the current narrative that the unvaccinated deserve to die

I am trying to keep my blog as free of politics as possible these days, but I don’t think what I am going to talk about today is related to politics – it is related to ethics and morality.

I’ve been seeing a lot of comments online recently from celebrities, politicians, clergy and many others that if people choose not to vaccinate then they should not be allowed to be treated at a hospital if they contract a serious case of COVID-19.

Dolly Parton’s sister Stella Parton was one of these people and she was so pissed off that I questioned her reasoning that she blocked me on Instagram earlier today. More power to her.

The problem is people like Stella Parton paint everything with one broad brush stroke and don’t stop to think that not everyone who doesn’t get vaccinated is doing it to prove a political point. We aren’t all screaming or holding protest signs or declaring our rights are being violated (even though they very well are in many ways). We aren’t all belligerent and telling people who got the vaccine they are stupid and “indoctrinated”. Most of us believe those who got the vaccine did what they felt was right for them. They made their own medical decision for their own personal experience and many of us believe we have the right to do the same. Most of us would like to make this decision quietly but sometimes we also think we should stand up for those being bullied and shamed for their medical conditions.

I have a family member with Epstein Barr who can’t have the vaccine right now because the virus is currently active in their body. Their doctor has warned that any vaccine – including COVID-19 – could trigger an even worse reaction. This person can barely function each day because of the virus already ravaging their system. Should they be sentenced to death if they get COVID because they contracted a virus they didn’t ask for? Epstein isn’t a virus that can be avoided by wearing a mask, by the way.

Pete Prada is the drummer for the band The Offspring. He has Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare disorder where his immune system attacks his nerves. He was told by his doctors that getting the vaccine could make his condition even worse. He couldn’t imagine it being even worse, so he didn’t get it. His band decided he was a threat to others, and he decided to step down from his band and their tour, giving up his lifelong dream of being a drummer in an internationally successful band. He’s been very gracious to his band, didn’t whine, didn’t condemn them, simply explained his position. Yet he is being mocked, ridiculed, and called a liar online.

According to the BBC News, “The drummer, who is in his late 40s, said he caught Covid over a year ago and only had mild symptoms, “so I am confident I’d be able to handle it again”, he wrote.

“But I’m not so certain I’d survive another post-vaccination round of Guillain-Barré syndrome.”

There are some cancer patients who can get the vaccine and some, because of how weak their systems are, who can’t. It can be a benefit or a detriment depending on the cancer, the stage, the treatment, etc.

We hear over and over again we have to get the vaccine to protect those types of people, but it seems to be “those types of people” who are being marginalized and told they are crappy people for not getting a vaccine.

I’ve even read comments to the effect of “The CDC says anyone can take the vaccine. You’re a liar” to people with legit medical concerns.

I have been battling auto immune issues for over ten years now. I have been told by doctors, family members, former friends and even the wife of a former pastor that I am a hypochondriac, that my symptoms are in my head, that I am a woman, I am depressed, I am fat, I am … whatever they want to say to get me out the door because they don’t want to listen to me anymore. I have stopped going to doctors and mainly treat myself, other than going to get prescriptions for my thyroid medication. You can only be told so many times that you have a mental illness and are a liar before you finally give up. Why go to people who have no interest in helping you anyhow?

Anything I take upsets my system it seems, and I am often times back to square one: getting sick easily, shaking, trembling, vibrating, aching muscles, dizzy, lightheaded, vertigo, weak, exhausted, brain fog, rashes, stomach issues, irritable bowel syndrome, over active bladder, bladder spasms, excruciating menstrual pain, sleep issues, overwhelming anxiety, ocular migraines, hyperventilating, difficulty breathing, hot flashes, crushing fatigue, etc. And this is when I’m ON my thyroid medication. I have even tried to pretend I don’t have symptoms to try to make all those people who told me I let my anxiety and dillusions rule me. Funny enough, pretending I didn’t feel like crap didn’t work.

In the last two years I have been able to manage my symptoms with lifestyle changes or natural supplements to the point I can at least function some days, and on a few days out of the month I can function amazingly well. Someone like me looks at a vaccine like the one put out for COVID and goes – “okay. I can take the risk that this vaccine is going to flare me up to the point I can’t take care of my children, or I can take the risk that I catch a virus that may or may not kill me.”

There are ways I can protect myself from COVID or be treated for it if I do contract it.

Once the vaccine is in my system?

There is nothing I can do. It will run its course and no antibody treatment, natural supplement, or any other intervention, will stop it. It will invade my cells not just for the course of a virus but for the rest of my life. I will never know if the pain I am suffering from is from my condition or is from the effects of the vaccine. I will never be allowed to question it either. I will never be allowed to say to a doctor, “I think the vaccine caused this” because then I will be labeled an evil, hateful, spiteful, anti-science, Trump-supporting, MAGA, anti-vaxx piece of garbage. These are all terms and words I’ve seen thrown at anyone who has expressed concern or asked questions before getting the vaccine.

There is a huge possibility that I will be in even worse shape than I was before because now I’m not only a “hypochondriac woman prone to self-focused and attention-seeking fits of delusion” but also a conspiracy theorist who wants old people and children to die.

This is where we are in our world right now. You either inject yourself with something that could hurt you, or you are TRASH.
I didn’t ask for the autoimmune issues I have going on. I never ate horribly, smoked, did drugs, drank or did anything knowingly that would bring these conditions on. I don’t drink alcohol, don’t eat fast food (other than a few fries from my kid’s meals), limit my sugar (other than a Hershey bar here and there), don’t have sodas (other than a natural one I finally found that doesn’t cause me issues), don’t smoke (never have, even though my local doctor wrote on my paper I had been a smoker for years and refused to stop. Ummm…what?). I eat vegetables and fruit, meats, limited dairy, no gluten, take elderberry every day, don’t exercise the way I should but am working on it, and I’ve been tested for diabetes and heart issues and told repeatedly I’m fine.

Do I deserve to die if I contract COVID 19 and need to go into the hospital?

Does my family member?

Does Pete Prada?

Does someone with cancer?

Does anyone who medically can’t take the vaccine?

Many would say, no, but Stella Parton and those like her? They don’t differentiate. They have lumped us in with people screaming in the streets (which I still believe is their right as an American, even if I don’t approve of some of their behaviors) and have called for our deaths. If they had it their way, as one commenter said to me, they would make a list of us so we can be attacked, ridiculed and shamed, adding all that to the other issues we have to deal with day in and day out.

They know what they are saying.

They know how they really feel and to them the answer is YES. They believe that I, and many others like me, deserve to die, because we chose to protect our health over their comfort.

This is where I’m at but a little extra from my side of things on my concerns about the vaccine. Lisa is right on here with her thoughts and I’m glad she feels she can speak out and share her feelings about it.

The Manitoba Mom Blog

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”

Titus 3:1-2 NIV

The above scriptures came up during my devotions this morning. I place them at the top of this post to help me to choose my words carefully. For only after soaking in their direction, am I able to responsibly pen the following post.

Let me sum it up for you briefly: I’m disappointed, and a little surprised. Maybe we are all tired of hearing and talking about COVID, and vaccines. But I would like to chime in as a quiet voice. A voice that does not often come through in the news.

I feel that I’m being painted as a villain, and excluded from some facets of normal life…

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