Sunday, August 30, 2009

I'm in Patricia McLinn's Reader Hall of Fame!

I've been a fan of Patricia McLinn's for many years. We met at the Lori Foster Reader and Writer Get Together in Cincinnati this year -- she now lives in my area and is in the Ohio Valley romance writers chapter, too. She's just updated her website, and I'm honored to be in her Reader Hall of Fame! Here's the link:

It came as no surprise to me that Patricia is a dog lover, too. My dog died two years ago, and I still miss her. With my son in Chicago and my daughter in Orlando, I'm traveling a lot right now. My husband and I both want a dog, but we don't think it would be fair when we're gone so much. But I love reading stories like this:

Here's Patricia's book list. I've read them all, and I love them (as you've figured out by now):

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Eloisa James' Fun Paper Doll Contest

Monday, August 24, 2009

Nature, Nurture and the Power of No

My name is Becke and I am a pleaser. I can't help it -- I try to avoid it, and since I hit 50 some years back, I've really been working on releasing my inner bitch. But it's darn hard to teach this old dog new tricks.

There's a Jim Carrey movie called "Yes Man" about a guy who changes his life by saying "yes" to everything. "Yes" has always been my default response, along with "Sure, why not?" and "Well, okay . . . if no one else will do it." Now, don't get me wrong, sometimes I really enjoy these things. I strongly believe in the volunteer ethic, and I've spent a good part of my life volunteering at church, at work, at school, in the neighborhood and anywhere else it's possible to volunteer.

But sometimes, I just have to say "no." I don't like conflict, and have been known to get physically ill when I've been caught in the middle of unavoidable family nasties. I will lose sleep if I think I might have inadvertently offended someone. If you look up "wimp" in the dictionary, you'll probably find a picture of me.

This is not to say I don't stand up for what I believe in, and if anything threatened my kids when they were little (or now, for that matter) I would morph into a force of nature. But normally, in my day-to-day life, I don't just bend with the wind, I let it toss me around like a puff of dandelion seeds.

Like I said, I'm trying to change this, but it's an uphill battle. "No" doesn't come easy, even though all years of trying to please everyone has only brought trouble. Every disfunctional relationship I've ever been stuck in came from my inability to say a simple two-letter word, the first word most babies learn: No.

So how did I come to have two kids who are most excellent at standing up for themselves, and have been for most of their lives? My son took a little longer to find the confidence at his core, but my daughter was a firecracker from day one. The other day, I found a journal I'd kept when my kids were little. I laughed so hard at some scenes that my mascara was running down my cheeks.

I have a feeling only a mother would find those things as funny as I did, though -- I discerned a pained expression on my husband's face as his eyes darted around the room, looking for an escape route, when I started reading those selections to him. Even my daughter sighed a few times, AND THE SCENES WERE ABOUT HER.

Still, this one really made me think. It took place when she was about three years old:

Jessica was so funny in the store today. She was standing in front of the shopping cart while we were in line, and the lady in front of us bumped into her. "Excuse me, sweetheart," the lady said. Jessica stood up real straight and replied, "I'm not your sweetheart. I'm only Mommy and Daddy's sweetheart."

The lady said, "You're right -- my grandson is really my sweetheart, but you're so cute I could eat you up!" A most offended Jessica announced loudly, "I'm not
food -- you can't eat me up!"

I added a note: "My goodness! She certainly stands up for herself!"

When I read this to my daughter, who is now an adult, she didn't see anything unusual about it. But then, she never has had trouble standing up for herself. My son was a little shy when he was young -- something that will come as a shock to anyone who only knew him in high school and college. My husband certainly has no problem saying "no" -- in no uncertain terms -- in any situation, so maybe they learned this from him.

I remember reading that parents should be careful what they say, because their children will be listening, and taking notes. In this family, I'm the one taking notes, learning from them how to stand up for myself. You'd think by my age, saying "no" would come easier, but . . . no.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tales of the Tooth Fairy

The tooth fairy doesn't cast a long shadow at most houses. Her saga was a little different at our place.

My daughter lost her first tooth at church, walking up some stairs. There was a major panic when she thought it was gone forever, but we did find it and, later that night, the tooth fairy took it from under her pillow and left a dollar. (She left a quarter when I was a kid, but times have changed.)

When my daughter lost her second tooth, we were at a hotel in Orlando, Florida, on our first visit to Disney World. My daughter nearly went into hysterics because her tooth fairy was back home in Illinois. I thought fast and invented a cousin for her tooth fairy -- clearly, I didn't think fast enough or I would have given her tooth fairy a Lear jet or super-powers. But, no, I had to get clever.

Jessica always loved a good story, so she demanded to know all about this mysterious cousin. And that led to questions about her own personal tooth fairy. Thus Tatiana was born, along with her Florida-based cousin, Desiree. Later, Jonathan got his own tooth fairy, too -- I'd forgotten her name was Clea until I recently found my notes. What I should have done was create a freaking spreadsheet.

The thing about teeth is that months -- even years -- can go by before another one falls out. And when two kids are involved, the whole tooth fairy saga can go on for years. When Jessica lost her third tooth, I'd all but forgotten about Tatiana and Desiree. Thank the lord, I'd kept the long letter Jessica wrote to them while we were in Florida, and she'd mentioned them both by name, as well as some details of their history. I kept that letter in her baby book for future reference, until it was dog-eared.

But that's only part of the story. The thing is, the tooth fairy looked an awful lot like Mom, and occasionally Dad. But usually it was night owl Mom who did the honors, since both kids slept with half an eye open, hoping to catch the tooth fairy in the act. This meant that I lived in dread of being caught -- dollar and/or tooth in hand -- by a tearful, disillusioned child. After one memorable night when I couldn't find the damn tooth and had to explain why the tooth fairy left a buck AND the tooth, I insisted they put the tooth in a Baggie before placing it under the pillow.

One night, I was more tired than usual and completely forgot. The tooth fairy was so remorseful, she left two dollar bills the following night. And then there was the night the Dad tooth fairy pulled what he thought was a dollar bill from his wallet, in the darkened bedroom, only to be awakened in the morning by a thrilled child shrieking that the tooth fairy had left twenty bucks under the pillow!

After that, our crafty son starting looking at every tooth as a potential windfall. He tried bargaining with the tooth fairy, suggesting she might leave bags of Skittles in place of money. And then there was the time Jonathan made an extremely realistic tooth out of bits of Dixie cup smooshed up with toothpaste. Luckily, the Dad tooth fairy overheard the commotion in the hall bathroom and left Monopoly money under the pillow in place of the fake tooth.

Every time a tooth came out, it seemed the ante went up -- Jessica wrote long, heartfelt letters and required letters back in response, while Jonathan wrote letters asking what the tooth fairy did with all those teeth, probably with the view of selling his teeth elsewhere and cutting out the middle man. Did I mention he's got an Economics degree now?

And Jessica works at Disney World. If she loses any more teeth, I'm passing the job on to Tinkerbelle.

(My daughter just read this and, in the way of the modern world, posted this to me on Facebook: "TIANA!!!! OMG, Mom, how could you forget her name??? This must be amended pronto! And pssst, it's Tinker Bell."

All I can say is my notes say Tatiana, but I will admit that my memory leaves a lot to be desired. And there were probably other notes. But, seriously? Tinkerbelle is Tinker Bell? That is so unfeminine! What was Disney thinking?)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Raccoon Lodge

I like raccoons. Some people might think of them as roadkill or a source of hats, but at our house, they are our cat's best friends. We used to have a dog, three cats, two gerbils and two kids who lived at home. The animals have all died except Casper, our fat orange cat who is -- I think -- 13 years old now. The kids are grown up and live in different states, and Casper gets lonely. It's just him and us. Well, and a whole lot of raccoons.

It's not as weird as it sounds. About two years ago, a litter of raccoons was born under our deck. Our cats used to play with the little ones. Heck, even our dog hung out with them. Although, I admit, the night I followed my dog onto the deck and realized we were not alone, it was a little hard on my nerves: two of our cats, a possum and two raccoons were on the deck with us. Luckily, my dog was too stunned to react, and I got her inside before she could wreak havoc.

Most of those raccoons moved on, but at least one -- possibly two -- stuck around. The female had babies of her own this spring, plus she seems to have adopted a little one recently. Mama raccoon -- my husband has dubbed her "Raquel" -- has a tiny bite out of her ear, which makes her easy to recognize. Casper also has a tiny bite out of one ear. Hmmm. Coincidence? Maybe they called a truce.

Anyway, mama raccoon comes and taps on the patio door when she wants Casper to come out and play. He instantly runs to the door when he hears her, and it's gotten to the point where he's not interested in going out unless the raccoons are there. Sometimes a little possum joins the fun. The deer can't manage the stairs to the deck, or I'm sure they'd be up there, too.

We'd been blaming the raccoons for knocking over some plant containers, until my husband caught a squirrel in the act. It was a logical mistake -- when the four toddler raccoons play on the deck, it's like raccoon bumper cars. They crash into each other, bounce back, run away and come back for more. Casper stands well out of the way when the little ones are around.

The mama raccoon likes us. She will let us take her picture, and when she spots us through the window she goes up on her hind legs. Last night, the young ones were being more rambunctious than usual, and my husband went over and opened the patio door. "Keep it down, you guys," he reprimanded. And then cracked up at the sight of four little raccoons, lined up in a row, standing on their hind legs and watching him solemnly. Yeah, it still makes me smile.

So, while some people may gripe about raccoons in their gardens, they are welcome guests at our house -- part of our extended family. Not that I plan on letting them in the house, at least not intentionally. The other full grown raccoon that we think is from the original litter has a nickname -- Smarty Pants. That guy will hide next to the door and try to sneak in when we open it. He will also jump up and hang from the door handle, trying to open it. I don't think he's smart enough to figure out how to undo the latch.

But I wouldn't count on it.

Photographic Memories

This was first published by my church magazine in about 1988. A few years later, it was published in the now defunct Beautiful Gardens magazine. It has the distinction of being my first published garden-related article. It's out of date both seasonally and every other way, since my son graduated from college this year, so I've updated it a little at the end. I still kind of like this one, even if it lacks some writing skill.


by Becke Davis

Today the yellow forsythia by my gate burst into bloom, and my first impulse was to grab a camera. Spring is transient, as God planned it, but my instincts rebel and I try to freeze the season on film.

I have an unreasonable need to document people and things on film, a kind of insecurity – a need to make time stand still. Even as a child, photographs were special to me: from magazine photos, garish and larger than LIFE, to the wedding album with my mother as a giggling girl, and my dad with hair. Old black-and-whites in awkward sizes, strips of pictures from 50-cent photo machines, and sepia portraits of strangers. The people in those pictures became my extended family.

Photographs are a confirmation of existence, a constant in the face of earthly mortality, the slow stream of age. I try to take mental pictures of my children, fleeting images of their childhood. My parents did the same: posing us for Christmas pictures year after year, youngest to oldest, sitting on the stairs. But memory does not focus and click on demand, and the constant changes in my garden remind me that this is all God’s plan. Photographs collect dust, curl up and fade, frozen in time. In the garden, there is movement, even when it is hidden. Life goes on.

Photographs tend to reflect my life only as I’d like to remember it – a Kodak Christmas card with pretty, dimpled children in their Sunday best. I try to freeze perfection whenever it comes close, whispering in my photographer’s voice, “Work with me; stay with me.”

Reality is unposed and often not photogenic. In my mind, I have mental pictures of periods of my life I would just as soon forget, when hours would stretch into months, and months into years. These were not flashes of time; often, they were a steady, unstoppable clockwork movement that I thought would never end.

It’s hard to remember now that my son, Jonathan, has grown, but when he was an infant and toddler, his colic defined my life for nearly two years. For hours, night after day after night, my baby would cry, seemingly without pause – his body tense and tormented, his stomach hard as a rock. I was told it would pass at three months, at six. At a year.

Every moment was another nightmare, frozen in time. I felt that I was a terrible mother, that I was missing something important, doing something wrong. As I look back, those mental pictures are either in black-and-white, cloudy with depression, or colored in the bright, swirling reds of panic and fear.

There is the picture of me sitting on the floor, zombie-like, desperate for sleep, while my four-year-old daughter runs around me, shrieking for attention, jealous of the baby screaming and writhing in my lap.

There is the picture of me in the emergency room at midnight – not for the first time – certain that they could show me a way to fix this, some undiscovered medical problem that would prove this isn’t my fault, that he isn’t crying because I’m a miserable excuse for a mother. The emergency room is starting to feel like a second home as I, the person who prides herself on never needing to ask for help, plead in vain. At night, everything is always worse.

“It’s just colic,” I’m told again by a bored, reproachful nurse, who asks if I have ever considered going to the doctor during normal office hours.

“But that’s not when he screams like he’s in agony!” I want to say it, but I don’t.

There is the picture of me at Jonathan’s six-week check-up, trying to laugh, but closer to tears.

“I’m not kidding,” I say to his pediatrician. “Make him stop crying, give him something to make him sleep. Or give me something so I can sleep. I can’t do this anymore; you said it would have stopped by now.”

And her gentle reply: “Don’t worry, some babies just take longer. He’ll be fine in a few months, you’ll see.” In a few months, he was the same.

Mostly it is just a blur: a montage of images, one on top of another. Not knowing if it was night or day, if I’d gotten dressed, or cooked dinner. Only in touch with his screams. Wrestling with the guilt that mothers are supposed to know how to make things better. Trying to find my husband and daughter, who were out there somewhere, beyond the endless crying and the dead buzz of sleeplessness. Feeling that my life, like the cycles of the tides are tied to the moon, was defined by the waking or sleeping, crying or silence of the child in my arms. Wanting to live again. Praying, and hearing no response.

There is one picture, however, that sticks in my mind. It is winter, edged in frost. My baby – my nemesis – is older now and, in fact, a little better. Sometimes, he smiles. Mostly, he still cries and does not sleep. He is crying again, and his screams echo off the winter walls; we go for a walk. The snow piled on the sidewalks prevents me from taking a stroller. In his snowsuit, my son is zipped inside my parka, and we walk and walk. He is heavy and the day is cold, and we struggle through the snow. But he sleeps. On the way home, I notice my garden. It is also sleeping; dormant, a black-and-white negative with no hint of the colors to come.

That is how the deep winter days passed. Walking and waiting, longing for hope that I could not see.

Spring developed like a Polaroid that year; a season of rebirth and wonder. Every bud on every tree was a message to me that seasons change, that life goes on. I planted a cherry tree, flush with bloom, and rushed to capture it on film. The photograph sits in an album, while the tree grows and changes, as does my child. If I were to die today, the tree would remain, tended by God’s hand. The garden will continue to unfold, season upon season, some plants thriving and others dying in their turn.

Before my birth and after my death, and in every year of my life, the change of seasons will be an eternal constant. The changes are meant to be. I look at the wild exuberance of springtime and wonder how this could ever be allowed to pass with nonchalance. Jonathan emerged like a new shoot, bright and full of life, and we entered the next season of our lives.

This year, looking for a photograph to enclose with the Christmas cards, I studied a picture of my two grown children and thought of my dormant garden. Jonathan is about to graduate from college, and is speaking of marriage. One day, he may come to me for advice about dealing with a colicky baby. What will I tell him – this, too, will pass? They do, of course. Things change. There are times we want our lives to fast-forward, and times we want to freeze the moment forever. I’ve learned not to worry so much about making time stand still.

I still take mental photographs, but now I see my life and the people I love more in terms of a garden. Some are hardy, and thrive where they are planted; others are tender and require special care. Some continue to grow and thrive, while others die in their turn.

Outside my gate, the forsythia shimmers with its golden light, but I will leave my camera on the shelf. Life goes on, I remind myself, even when the branches are bare.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Mystery of the Candy Thief

This story was written by my son, many moons ago. It's still one of my favorite mystery stories!

It was a slow day at the detective’s office down at the police station. But it wasn’t at the Indian Bluff Detective Club. There was a criminal on the loose that they needed to catch. This crook was stealing pounds of candy from the candy store that the kids made. They would loose $25.00 of candy if they didn’t find out who was stealing their candy. They knew it wasn’t their moms because they were against eating sugar. But it could be the paperboy because he trying to start a candy store, too but he has $100.00 to spend on candy. It also could be the clown girl she was caught snooping around the candy shop but her mom made her go a diet.

They all wanted to be fair so they went out to investigate. This was a serious mystery they could have to pay $50.00 to start there store again. So first they went over to the paperboy’s house to see if he has $150.00 worth of candy. If he does he will be punished by having to go threw there obstacle course. If he makes it through with a 100 points he doesn’t have to take the punishment but he has to be a detective for them and give him back the candy but if he doesn’t he has to give them back the candy and a $10.00 fine on top of it and he still has to be one of their detectives. So they counted the candy and there was only $100.00 worth of candy.

So then they went to clown girl’s house but she didn’t have any candy so for sure it wasn’t her so she was marked off their list. Since they were out of suspects they went back to their office and tried to figure out who could possibly want $50.00 worth of candy. And getting higher by the minute. This time they put down everyone they knows name on the suspect list from most possible to most impossible suspects. Their first person to investigate was Mr. Blueberry he’s the fat guy down the street that owns the biggest candy store in the village.

So they ran over to his house to see how much candy he’s got in two weeks. But he only got $25.00 worth of candy in the last 2 weeks. So he was marked off the list. And then they went to the second person on their list. The Rapid Tigers, a club of kids that are criminals trying to earn themselves money. They did have $100.00 dollars worth of candy but it was the kind of candy they would never sell in their store. Because it tastes terrible. But they probably would have to escape the Rapid Tigers clubhouse somehow without getting shot by one of them. So they saw one of the tigers holding a gun. So they knew it would be hard to escape the tigers. So they just started running as fast as they possibly could so they wouldn’t have to die.

Then after they escaped the tigers they checked to see who was next on their list. It was Mrs. Diamond the richest person in the county. She runs the sugar free club that their moms are in. If you get in her machine you have to pour her 50 glasses of wine so they did but for some reason she wouldn’t let them go to the ice bucket. So she didn’t have any candy but she had gained 5 pounds in 1 week her butler said. So she was not crossed of the list.

After they did her house they went back to their office and played on the obstacle course. But there was a scary note at the bottom of the long slide at the end of their obstacle course. It said, “If you don’t stop doing the detective work you will be murdered.”

They saw smudges in the writing so they knew the person had a left hand. So Mrs. Diamond had left and right hand, Mr. Blueberry had right hand and most the kids in the Rapid Tiger club have left hands. So it can’t be Mr. Blueberry. But it could be the Rapid Tigers or Mrs. Diamond. It’s most likely to be the Rapid Tigers. But they still have to investigate those two because they didn’t know anybody else who had a left hand. So they called the real detective to tell him someone was threatening to kill them. And the detective said he would come over in about five minutes. But they heard the doorbell on their clubhouse ringing after about 30 seconds.

It was a short person with a black mask holding a gun and pointing it at them. They slammed the door as quick as possible. And he started busting out the door and they jumped out their emergency exit. A few seconds after he saw them jump out the emergency exit he started chasing after them. Then he started shooting at them and their only escape was to dive into a deep lake. Then the evil villian, the black masked phantom like person jumped into the water and tried to drown them all. But they kicked him in the stomach and jumped on him and started acting like he was a dolphin. But he dived into the air and ran out of the water as fast as he could. And ran away from them. “You little midgets, I’m going to make sure that next time you’re going to drown in a second -- I’m going to find you and kill you!” So he ran off then they got out of the water too in the opposite direction of him and they ran off.

Then it was exactly 30 seconds until the detective was to show up at their detective office so they ran as fast as they could and they got there right when he was arriving. And they told the detective all about their chase. He said he would take it back to the police station and have cops be on guard at their house at 8 o’clock that night. And he says if there is any problems to call Mrs. Diamond and notify her. Then a few minutes after the detective left they saw the black masked guy snooping around their clubhouse again. So they hid in their emergency escape box. As the black masked criminal was snooping around he was checking out their clubhouse to check if they were in it. And right when he checked the emergency escape box they let go of the rope that held it up and they fell to the ground and ran to their mom told their mom all about the masked guy and she said she might know who it is. But she also said it was very unlikely that it was the person she was thinking of. She said it could be her ex-husband because he was arresting for robbing 300 banks and he had about 80 black masks. After they checked his records he was still in prison so he wasn’t for sure a suspect.

But the strange thing was every time the detective wasn’t around the black masked guy would snoop around, so he must be watching them. Their mom said they should take a break from detective work and stay in their room for the day. And it was 7:58 p.m. and they were hoping that the police officers would show up. And they waited till 11 o’clock but they still didn’t show up. So they gave in and fell asleep.

But when they woke up in the morning there was police officers being tied up and whipped. Except when they checked it, it was just a robotic scene that someone must have set up. And right when they started checking to see if there was cords on it, the black masked criminal jumped on top of the whipper and grabbed the whip and started whipping them. Except that called for a fight, they wouldn’t let him whip them without a fight. He was surrounded by air and ground so he couldn’t escape. He didn’t know he was covered by air though so he started climbing the ladder to their clubhouse. But one of the kids jumped on his head and he fell to he ground. The black masked guy was in a coma and they needed to see who he was. But right when they touched his mask their hand got electrocuted. So right at that moment they knew they would never find who the black masked guy was unless they saw him put on his mask. But after three minutes of staring at him to see if he would wake up he kicked and them and tripped them and after they were on the ground he ran miles away.

Then they called Mrs. Diamond because that was what the detective told them to do if there was trouble. She just said don’t worry about it the cops were already sent there and they were on duty. They thought something suspicious was going on with Mrs. Diamond, the detectives and those cops because they all were centered around money and the government and that is exactly what their missing candy case was about. So they were practically positive they knew who the crooks are. So they called the real police and they found out why they got that police detective because his number was 811 and they were dialling that number on accident.

Then when the police arrived at Mrs. Diamond’s house she got all the black masked cops and got on a plane and prepared an escape. The plane driver prepared the engine to fly right when the cops were about to grab the criminals; the plane took off and went hundreds of feet in the air. Then the police officers drove their car to the police station and got a jet to follow that plane. And for sure those detective’s kids were right when they said this was a serious mystery! But then when they found out the jet had track of them, they had to start the search.

The escape helicopter had already flown from Los Angeles, California to New York. And the jet notified that the helicopter was landing and that was very bad news to the police officers. To prevent the criminals from getting into the crowd of New York they called the NYPD to surround them. And then the NYPD bursted into their helicopter and arrested the police officers, Mrs. Diamond and the detective at a 20 year sentence, and they got their candy back and also got a $10,000 reward for catching one of California’s most wanted criminals. And then they started an even bigger candy store with for sure locks on the candy. But they still wondered why Mrs. Diamond and the detectives and the cops wanted the candy. And so they asked them and they said it was because Mr. Blueberry was running low of candy and he was offering them $50 million to get $50 worth of candy. And they also found out that the candy was solid gold.

The End

The family - that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to. ~Dodie Smith

I wanted to title this blog The Family Octopus but, surprisingly, that name was taken. Since I'll be blogging here about my family tree and a lot of you know me as Treethyme, this seemed like a good alternative. Haven't figured out what I'm going to write yet, but this is a start.