The Quotidian Scribe

Ordinary Thoughts, Essays and Short Stories

Mobile Monikers

Buzzfeed.com – Audrey Engvalson

I haven’t been feeling particularly creative of late, but my OCD brain couldn’t allow the month to pass without writing a blog post. I landed on a topic that periodically crosses my mind – only to be promptly forgotten until the next time it pops up – so I thought I’d put it into words before it had a chance to slip away again. 

I’m talking about vanity plates. Yeah, you read that right. I actually do spend precious time pondering those cryptic little blurbs affixed to vehicles I find myself sitting behind at stop lights. Sometimes they’re pretty easy to decipher, like, “BYBYGAS” on a Tesla, but other times they’re little puzzles that seem impossible to solve, like “NDCI4BL.” I’m embarrassed to admit that, for me, that’s pretty much what it stands for …“Indecipherable.”

Either way, I find them entertaining. A deep dive online provided all kinds of nifty examples, so I thought I’d share some below…along with my unsolicited commentary. (If you can’t figure out what they mean, feel free to scroll to the end for the answers):

 

And it’s duct tape for the win!

Ranker.com — Article by Samantha Dillinger

If you weren’t old enough to pay attention to the news in the ‘90s, this may soar right over your head.

Buzzfeed.com — Article by Audrey Engvalson

 

 

Literally.

Buzzfeed.com — Article by Audrey Engvalson

I do hope this is simply a TV fan and not someone continuing to carry the torch.

Buzzfeed.com — Article by Audrey Engvalson

What are the odds that this guy’s an introvert?

Buzzfeed.com — Article by Audrey Engvalson

In your best Meryl Streep Aussie voice, read the whole thing…plate holder and all.

Buzzfeed.com — Article by Audrey Engvalson

The driver’s name is Buzz. His other car is a spaceship.

Buzzfeed.com — Article by Audrey Engvalson

 

Mr. Obvious at his finest.

Buzzfeed.com — Article by Audrey Engvalson

Now this is something I can really sink my teeth into.

Ranker.com — Article by Samantha Dillinger

Anyone who has ever taken a kid on a car ride will need zero help solving this one.

Today.com — Article by Kerry Breen

While most vanity plates make their way onto the streets without issue, there are many that get rejected. I intended to share some of those as well, but the ones I kept coming across were pretty potty-mouthed, and I try to keep this blog G-rated. If you’re curious, just Google “rejected vanity plates.” And if you’re anything like me, you’ll find many of them sound an awful lot like the raunchy musings of a 14-year-old boy. 

Getting back to less risqué ideas, I used to think it might be cool to have a vanity plate myself. I considered “INTRVRT,” “BOOKWRM,” and “WRITER,” but I’m sure they’ve all been taken.

Honestly, though, the only one that would reflect who I truly am inside would be this: “PRDMAMA.”

Odds are, that’s been taken, too. And that’s okay. I don’t think my girls need me to advertise how I feel. If I’ve been doing my job right, they already know. 

ANSWERS

EPIC FAI **: Without that ‘L,’ it’s an epic fail.

NOT OJ ***: The person who owns this vehicle is letting everyone know he is not OJ Simpson. (After being charged with the murder of his ex-wife and her friend in July 1994, Simpson rode as a passenger in a white Bronco that was slowly being chased by police. The low-speed chase was broadcast live on TV and went on for about two hours.)

ASKEW ***: This plate was deliberately installed crooked.

D3XT3R ***: “Dexter” was a TV series about a serial killer. A really bloody serial killer. (This ranks as one of my favorite shows of all time. Don’t judge.)

PPL SUCK ***: People suck. (My personal assessment is that this car owner may have an attitude. And not a good one.)

DINGO 8 ***: Using the words on the plate holder as well as the plate itself, it reads, “A Dingo Ate My Baby” which is a rather macabre paraphrase of Meryl Streep’s character yelling, “A dingo’s got my baby!” It’s from the 1988 movie, A Cry in the Dark.

NBEYOND ***: The car is an Infiniti, and this relates to Buzz Lightyear saying, “To infinity and beyond!” in the Toy Story movies.

IM A CAR ***: I don’t think this needs an explanation.

VLAD THE **: Including the name of the car model, Impala, it represents “Vlad the Impaler,” a 15th-century ruler whose name inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

PB4WEGO *: Pee before we go. (As a parent, this may be my favorite.)

Photo Credits:

*  Today.com – Article by Kerry Breen

 **  Ranker.com – Article by Samantha Dillinger

***  Buzzfeed.com – Article by Audrey Engvalson

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Motivation, Where Art Thou?

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Upon retirement, my bucket list consisted of nothing more than the first drafts of two novels I wanted to finish. Last month, I exceeded that goal by publishing a third book. I had a lot of fun writing it, just as I enjoyed writing the first two. And once all the dreadful editing was done, getting those books released into the world was just as fulfilling as I’d hoped. 

But now I’m feeling sort of…oh, I don’t know…blah, I guess. It’s not that I don’t want to write. I do. I love writing. When I’m in the throes of it, I get swept away, and it’s like my ADHD goes out the window. Even time ceases to exist. Writing is a wonderful escape, but it’s not something I can do simply by snapping my fingers. The muse shows up at her pleasure…not mine. Currently, she’s nowhere to be found, and the idea of trying to crank out anything creative makes my brain hurt. I do have some thoughts about my next project — and there’s no rush since I make my own schedule — so I don’t know why the fact that I’m not yet banging away at it bothers me so. 

It may have something to do with the fact that I have an abundance of unfettered time to do as I please, and it bugs me when I can’t get myself to put it to good use. And by good use, I don’t mean the laundry list of To-Do’s around the house and property. I mean writing…or more precisely…writing something worth reading. 

Last year, I blogged about the fact that I felt I wasn’t doing as much as I “should” with my free time. In that post, I mentioned a Come-to-Jesus talk that helped me decide to stop worrying about meeting some arbitrary standard. It would seem, though, that I’m having trouble following through. What looked good on paper, and even felt right at the time, is a lot tougher to put into practice than I expected.

I’ve been at this retirement gig for four years, and you’d think I’d have it mastered by now. At what point do I stop feeling guilty for not being busy 24/7? I have no doubt I’ll get going on the aforementioned project at some point, and intellectually, I know it’s okay to take a creativity break. A long one, even. I’ve just got to get over this idea that I’m wasting precious time by doing the mundane things that bring me joy…like reading, playing word games, lazing on the porch swing, and taking the occasional day trip. Truth be told, those sorts of relaxing activities are some of the main attractions of retirement. At least they are for me.

As I write this, I can’t believe I’m literally complaining about the luxury of having free time. I mean…how messed up is that? I’m usually such an optimist, but on occasion, that stupid negativity just grabs hold and refuses to let go. 

I have a feeling it may be time for another Come-to-Jesus talk.

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Smoke

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A year ago today, our hearts were broken. Saying goodbye to our sweet boy, Smoke, was devastating. It’s always that way when you lose a pet.

We adored all the cats we had through the years – as noted in one of my previous posts here – but when it came to Smoke, the loss hit us especially hard. We could never quite put our finger on it, but there was just something different – something special – about Smoke. 

I used to say he must have been a puppy in another life because he was so much more affectionate than the other cats we’d had. He was extremely skittish around other people, but when it came to me and my husband, he absolutely loved being on one of our laps or in bed with us. If we were too busy to accommodate him, he’d often sit and watch what we were doing — frankly, I think he liked to supervise — or he’d curl up and nap nearby so he could still be close to one of us. And when we’d return from being gone for any length of time, he’d unabashedly let us know how much we were missed. 

The amount of joy he brought to our lives was immeasurable, and a year after his passing, we still feel the void. It’s been particularly tough for me the past several months because I decided to take my aunt’s advice and write a book about Smoke. Doing so has kept his life — and our loss — front and center. I’ve cried more during this time than I did right after he died. But no matter how raw I’ve felt, I’m so glad I listened to my aunt. Reliving parts of our life with Smoke has been bittersweet…heart-wrenching and wonderful, all at the same time. 

The book, Smoke – A Cat’s Tale, is finally finished and has been released into the world. While it’s fiction, there’s a lot of truth scattered throughout, and I think it paints a pretty good picture of what Smoke’s life was like. At least that’s the way I heard it when he was whispering in my ear as I pounded away at the keyboard. 

I hope you’ll consider reading the book and spending a little time getting to know Smoke and his friends. The link below will take you to it, and if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free. It’s not a kid’s book; it’s merely a story where most of the people in it aren’t actually people. And even though it’s sad in places, don’t worry…it really does have a happy ending. 

My one wish is that this book will do a proper job of honoring Smoke’s memory. It’s the very least I could do for such a beloved boy. 

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Charge It!

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After recently reading a Facebook post about music, I commented that I like to listen to ‘70s rock while doing stuff around the house. When I do that, I generally use earbuds so I don’t disturb my husband if he’s not in a particularly musical mood. I also mentioned that, at that very moment, I needed to clean the bathrooms, and I hoped my earbuds were charged. 

They were not. 

As I went about the oh-so-fascinating chore of cleaning the bathrooms – sans music because I didn’t want to drown out my husband’s TV program – I got to thinking about all the different wireless devices I own. There are the earbuds, of course (actually, I have two sets), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Besides my phone, I have a face massager, a neck fan, a facial cleaner, a neck/back massager, an iPad keyboard, a cordless bathroom scrubber, a set of heated knee massagers, three iPads (excessive, I know), a hair trimmer, and even a heated eyelash curler. Oh, and don’t forget the portable power units that have to be kept fully charged in order to juice up my devices if the electricity goes out. 

I threw that list together off the top of my head, and when I realized I probably left out a few things, it made my head spin. And not in a fun way. 

I know many of the devices on that list come across as unnecessary luxuries, but as someone who enjoys spending a lot of time at home, it’s nice to have them at my disposal. What’s not so nice is the inevitable disappointment when I go to use something and find it’s dead as a doornail. 

Keeping the devices plugged in all the time would solve this issue, but having a lot of clutter around makes me anxious. Considering how many of these doodads I’ve got, they’d be scattered all through the house, and the very sight of them would eventually make my head implode. Still, I want to find some logical way to keep them charged. 

I think I’ve finally come up with a simple solution, and it was as obvious as the nose on my face. I already keep a daily planner for tasks and appointments, so I’ve entered “device charging” as an ongoing task. I’m staggering two or three per day throughout the week, and they can be done using only one or two outlets. That way, they’ll all get charged – and stay that way – and I won’t be faced with the bitter angst of not being able to use my earbuds. Or worse…not being able to curl my lashes. 

Am I aware that what I’ve got here is a First World problem not worthy of this level of concern? Why, yes. Yes, I am. But there are times when even trivial molehills turn into mental mountains. At least they do in my brain. So…First World problem or not…if I can come up with a doable solution, I consider it a successful day.

And can’t nobody take that away from me.

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Birthdays

I will turn 69 next month, effectively putting an end to that same number of years on this planet. As I get ready to embark on my 70th trip around the sun, I can’t help but think back to previous birthdays and what they meant to me. 

While my sense of recall is flawed at best, a few birthdays over the years have left their marks. The first one I remember was when I turned nine. I was in the third grade, and my mom had agreed to let me have my first-ever birthday party. Nothing extravagant, of course…we didn’t have the money for that…but I was excited by the prospect of inviting a few friends over for cake and ice cream. Before we had a chance to even start planning, though, another girl invited all of our classmates to her birthday party. That might not have been a problem, but ironically, we shared the same birthday. Since she’d already invited everybody, Mom decided it would be in poor taste for me to have a party at or around the same time, so mine was canceled before it even got off the ground. And to add insult to injury, Mom said it would be impolite not to accept the other girl’s invitation. So not only did I not get to have a party of my own, I had to go celebrate someone else on what should have been my special day. Not gonna lie…that was a tough pill for this former nine-year-old to swallow. 

The next birthday of note was my 18th. My first husband and I, along with our infant daughter – yes, I was quite the young mama – had just moved from Indiana to Rhode Island. I don’t know if it was morbid curiosity or just my way of letting off steam, but since the legal drinking age there was 18, I decided to celebrate that birthday by getting plastered for the very first time. My husband started me off with sloe gin and Coke. At some point, I foolishly switched to straight gin, and the last thing I remember from that night was reading the TV Guide out loud to my husband. The next day was one of the sickest, most wretched days of my life. And deservedly so. I can say without reservation that I reaped what I sowed. To this day, I can’t even entertain the thought of drinking sloe gin.

The next twenty or so birthdays weren’t particularly memorable. Don’t get me wrong…my family has always made me feel special…but we don’t tend to throw big birthday bashes.

My 40th, though, kicked off a personal annual tradition. I took off work that day, had the house to myself, and did whatever I wanted…slept in, read, watched TV, and basically just chilled out. A lot of people seem to dread turning 40, but it didn’t bother me at all. 

Birthday 45 came a week before my mom passed away. Her final year had been filled with excruciating pain, and my dad, brother, and I pretty much lost ourselves in our efforts to keep her as comfortable as possible. She was our only concern. The last thing on my mind that year was my birthday, but it got celebrated anyway because that’s just the sort of loving family I have. One of my daughters even gave me a gift that held a unique meaning for me…a tambourine. Surprisingly, a birthday I didn’t think I cared about turned out to be extremely special. 

As I mentioned earlier, turning 40 was no big deal. But 46? That was a whole other story. I still remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror muttering to myself when my husband came in and asked what I was doing. I swung around and said, in a rather unfriendly tone, “I’m 50!”

“No,” he said. “You’re not. You’re only 46.”

“Everybody knows that 46 starts the downward spiral to 50,” I countered. “So that’s what I might as well say I am now. I’m 50.”

There was clearly no point in trying to convince me otherwise, so he wisely walked away and let me stew in my own grumpy juices. 

Funny thing is, when I finally did turn 50, it was totally anticlimactic. I’d already mourned my youth at 46, so when 50 officially showed up, it was a non-event. I didn’t feel “old.” I just felt like me. I do remember wondering how I might feel when 60 rolled around, but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t consider myself old then, either. I had a feeling, though, that 70 might be another matter. 

And now, nearly two decades later, I’m almost there. Yes, technically that birthday is still thirteen months away, but my 70th year will launch when I hit 69 in a few weeks. 

As I revisit the thoughts I had back when I turned 50, I wonder how I’ll feel in a year. Physically, I have to confess I’m noticing the ravages of time. My joints started betraying me years ago, and they don’t seem to have any intentions of reverting to their glory days. And intellectually, I think I’ve been left in the dust when it comes to technology…something that’s pretty important to stay on top of these days.

Mentally, though, I don’t feel much different than I did in my 30’s and 40’s. The biggest change is that I finally feel emotionally settled. I worry less about things I can’t control, I try to notice and appreciate the little wonders in any given day, and I’m fully aware that I’m blessed beyond measure.

So, physical and intellectual issues aside, I’m feeling pretty good about approaching 70. The looming question now is…how will I feel when 80 is right around the corner?

I guess only time will tell.

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Happy Christmas!

Countless years ago, I was listening to a tape by motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, and one of the things he said that really hit home was that the average person goes to his grave with his music still inside his head. I realize he meant that in the broadest of terms – as in, all of our creative gifts, not just music – but I took it rather literally because most of my writing at that time was in the form of song lyrics. I didn’t know how to write music or play an instrument (and I wasn’t about to sing them to someone who did), so I knew those songs would eventually be buried with me. It was a rather sad acknowledgment, but one I came to accept…until now.

When I created this blog a couple of years back, I let my guard down and began sharing my writing with anyone willing to read it. Those posts have always been in the form of essays or short stories. This month – with Christmas hanging in the air – I decided to let my guard down even more and share one of my songs.

I penned the following back in the ‘90s, and it continues to creep into my head every Christmas season. I’m only posting the lyrics because no one deserves to be put through the torment of hearing me sing. It may read like a badly formatted poem, but hopefully, its spirit still comes through.

Jesus is Born

 

Joseph and Mary rode into the town

To find no room at the inn

Calmly, patiently they bedded down

Among the cattle, and then

As the bright star glowed

Overhead it showed

Where the babe lay safe on the hay

Praise Him!

Praise Him!

Angels proclaimed

Jesus is born today

 

Shepherds who watched o’er their flocks in the fields

Saw the heavenly light

Hearing the news of the birth of their King

They took off in the night

And they found the baby

In swaddled clothing

Asleep and warm where he lay

Praise Him!

Praise Him!

Angels proclaimed

Jesus is born today

 

Bearing their gifts for the new baby King

Wise men came from afar

Frankincense, gold, and myrrh did they bring

As they followed the star

And they found the child 

In a rugged stable

And knelt before Him to pray

Praise Him!

Praise Him!

Angels proclaimed

Jesus is born today

So, there you have it…my one and only attempt at a Christmas carol. 

If tuneless lyrics aren’t your thing, perhaps you’d prefer a story instead. And not just any story, but a Christmas story. Well, it so happens, I can give you that. It’s a rerun from last year, so you may have already read it. If that’s the case, feel free to log off and find something a bit less stale and a lot more entertaining. I promise I won’t be offended. 

But if you haven’t read the above-mentioned story and think you might like to check it out, simply click the button below. Christmas with Frank is one of those sappy, feel-good tales that just might revive your belief in love and hope. Even if it doesn’t, it still provides something wonderful because one of the characters is a sweet little dog. 

And let’s be honest here…who doesn’t love a sweet little dog?

Wishing you a Very Merry Christmas

and a Fabulous 2024!

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Appreciating It All

I devoted November to NaNoWrimo – that nifty online challenge to write a novel in 30 days – so I had no plans to post an essay this month. But my thimbleful of followers will be delighted to know I finished the challenge a couple of days early, giving me time to throw something together for this blog. 

Of course, I’m embellishing my number of followers. Pretty sure they’d all fit on the head of a pin…with room to square dance. 

Anyway, my subject this month is far from original. Since November is best known for Thanksgiving, it’s only logical that gratitude would be at the forefront of most people’s minds. I’ve no idea why we tend to narrow that emotion down to a single month, though. Honestly, we ought to be grateful for every day we wake up breathing. But I’m not going to hop up on that particular soapbox today. I’m just here to share a sample of some things I’ve been thankful for this month:

  1.  Every day…I woke up breathing. (I figured it was best to get the obvious out of the way first.)
  2.  I successfully gave up sugar. Again. 
  3.  I remembered to pay the property taxes. 
  4.  Our casino trip didn’t involve taking out a second mortgage. 
  5.  My writing challenge was successful, and it produced a first-draft novel in a genre I’ve never attempted before. 
  6.  The lights on the garlands and Christmas tree all worked when I plugged them in. 
  7.  We didn’t get any snow.
  8.  I lost three whole pounds.
  9.  I found a new home for the unused sewing machine that mocked me every time I walked past it. 
  10.  I got to spend a pre-Thanksgiving dinner with – and I say this with zero bias – the most fabulous family in the entire world. 

While I may not always succeed, I do try to live with an attitude of gratitude. And not just in November, but all year long. Some days it may be hard to find much to be thankful for, but there’s always something…even if it’s just the fact that, as mentioned previously, I woke up breathing.

On a more serious note, when I take into account the amount of unrest in other parts of the world, I’m immensely thankful to live where I do. 

As we go into the Christmas season, my wish is that we all learn to hold onto that which makes us grateful. Regardless of whether it’s grand or insignificant, it all matters.

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Pop on That Writer’s Cap

Courtesy of NaNoWriMo

In a few days, I plan to open the proverbial vein and try to create something intelligible out of whatever spills out. November 1st kicks off NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month — and the objective is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. There’s no time for research or editing. You just pound out the words until there aren’t any more words to pound…or until the end of the month…whichever comes first. 

You might fall significantly short of that 50,000-word goal — like I did the first time I participated — or you may end the month with a full first draft of your very own book. It’ll likely be rough, sophomoric, and downright cringe-worthy, but it’ll be something of your own creation. A part of you.

The books I published earlier this year were the results of two different NaNoWriMo challenges I completed well over a decade ago. Once those challenges were over, I set the manuscripts aside with vague promises not to forget about them. And while I didn’t forget entirely, I did let them sit untouched for many, many years. Work, family, and life in general had a tendency to take priority. There always seemed to be something else vying for my attention, and let’s face it…I’m nothing if not a skilled procrastinator.

When I finally did drag those manuscripts out for proper rewrites and editing, it was like getting reacquainted with old friends. Editing isn’t a particularly enjoyable task, but revisiting the stories and characters made it almost fun. Bringing both books to fruition and releasing them out into the world has been just as fulfilling as I’d hoped, and neither of them would even exist if not for NaNoWriMo. I think that’s sort of cool. 

It’s said that everyone has a story to tell, and November could be the perfect opportunity to get it told. While novels are works of fiction — which is the intended goal for NaNoWriMo — I see no reason why a person couldn’t use those 30 days to put their life story into words. When participating in this challenge, we’re really only in competition with ourselves. If someone would rather write a memoir instead of fiction, I say go for it. The bottom line is that you don’t need anyone’s permission to write whatever you want, so there’s no danger of being hauled away by the NaNoWriMo Police.

So, what do you say? Feel like joining me for a month of insane, unfettered creativity? It can be daunting, but it can also be a lot of fun. Sure, there’s a fair chance you might throw in the towel by the third day — and there’s no shame in that — but there’s also a chance that, if you stick with it, something wonderful and uniquely you will present itself on November 30th

Unleashing your inner storyteller may not be your cup of tea, but hey…you’ll never know unless you try. 

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The Potential Down-Fall to Autumn

Autumn is, hands down, my favorite season. The spring rains are over, the blistering heat of summer is past, and winter’s frozen fingers haven’t yet snared me in their grasp. 

I love watching the foliage change from green to orange to yellow. I love the smell of burning leaves. And I love the anticipation of our family getting loud and boisterous around the Thanksgiving table. 

As a woman who’s endured hot flashes for three decades, I live for the cool days of “sweater weather.” My idea of a perfect afternoon is wrapping myself in a cardigan and watching squirrels chase each other through the trees while I sway back and forth on the porch swing. I don’t even mind listening to my husband grouse about the never-ending chore of raking and mulching because it’s all part of this magical season. 

There are those, though, who do not share my enthusiasm for this time of year. A long time ago, I was going on and on about the beauty of fall, and a friend of mine made it abundantly clear that she absolutely hated everything about it. In her words, autumn was the gateway to “death, dying, and destruction.” When I asked what on earth she was talking about, she explained that it was because fall led to winter. And for her, winter was nothing short of abysmal. While I thought her assessment seemed a bit harsh, there was no doubt she was dead serious.

That was my first real experience with the depth and severity of seasonal affective disorder. Up to that point, I didn’t realize the changing of the seasons could have such a negative impact on a person’s emotional well-being. For those folks, it’s a real struggle to make it through to the other side where they can once again feel the hope and promise of springtime. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it isn’t uncommon for a lot of people to experience short-term mood changes when the daylight hours start getting shorter. Fall may very well lead them into what can be described as the “winter blues.” Luckily, their symptoms are rather low-level and abate naturally with the onset of spring when flowers begin to bloom, trees start to bud, and daylight hours gradually increase.

There are others, though, who don’t merely have the blues. Their unwelcome emotions significantly impair their ability to handle day-to-day life. What they’re likely dealing with in those instances is seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression. When it comes to SAD, mood changes are more serious than simply feeling down, and they can have a severe effect on how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities.

Symptoms of SAD follow those of other major depressive disorders. Changes in appetite, sleeping excessively, low energy, feelings of hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating are just a few of these symptoms.

Without getting too science-y – which I couldn’t if I tried – it appears that SAD is induced by low levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates mood. Also, while serotonin may be too low, melatonin – a brain hormone that causes our bodies to become sleepy – may be too high. And from what I’ve read, SAD sufferers are generally people who experience other types of mental disorders as well, such as major depression or bipolar disorder. Whether that’s always the case, I don’t know. I just know SAD is a tough row to hoe.

If you notice a negative change in your emotions at this time of year, and you suspect it’s more than just the winter blues, please seek the advice of your doctor with regard to diagnosis and treatment. Light therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, antidepressants, and/or Vitamin D may help alleviate some, if not all, of SAD’s symptoms.

Until my friend so bluntly laid it all out for me, I had no idea what a downer autumn and winter could be for some people. I’ve never dreaded the onset of falling leaves, snow-covered roofs, and icicle-draped branches. That means I’m extremely fortunate to be able to add “I don’t suffer from SAD” to my long, long list of blessings.

Sadly – no pun intended – I’ve learned that not everyone is that lucky.

For more information, click here to visit the National Institute of Mental Health website .

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Fantum & Foster

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My second novel is out! Fantum & Foster sat on the shelf gathering dust almost as long as my first book did – which was well over a decade – and there were times I wondered if I’d ever find my way back to it. I did, though, and I’m so glad. It was an emotional but fulfilling ride.

A weary boy.

A broken mom.

And a very special dog.

Foster grew up seeing, hearing, and feeling things no child should ever have to see, hear, or feel.

Dahlia was thrust into motherhood when she was much too young. She did the best she knew how but in all the wrong ways.

Fantum, a scruffy little terrier, was sometimes the only light in Foster’s often dark and dreary existence.

Together, they navigated the slippery slopes of their shaky life, until inevitably, it all came crashing down.

FANTUM & FOSTER

SAMPLE

PROLOGUE

2004

Foster prayed the baby wouldn’t wake up as he grabbed the phone on its second ring. Shooting a glance at his gently snoring wife, he whispered, “Hello?

A cough on the other end of the line was followed by the voice of a seasoned chain smoker. “I’m calling for Foster Monroe.”

Speaking,” Foster said, still whispering as he slipped out of bed. He padded into the master bathroom and eased the door shut behind him.

“Mr. Monroe, this is Detective Chuck Tennon from the 3rd Precinct. I’m calling about a Dahlia Waters.”

Foster plopped down on the edge of the tub, unconsciously rubbing the back of his neck to assuage a not-yet-there migraine. His fingers tightened around the receiver, and he asked, “What about her? What’s happened?”

Another cough into the phone, and then there was that gravelly voice again. “Mr. Monroe, are you any relation to Dahlia Waters?”

Foster sighed and said, “Yes, Detective, we’re related. She’s my mother.” He leaned his head against the cool tile and asked, “What’s she done this time?”

“I’d rather not go into this over the phone. I know it’s a god-awful hour, but can you meet me at St. Pete’s?”

“The hospital?” Foster’s knuckles grew white as he squeezed the phone tighter. “Has my mother been in an accident? Is she all right?”

“Mr. Foster, if you’d just be kind enough to come on over to the hospital, I’ll meet you in the emergency room and answer all your questions.”

“I’m on my way,” Foster said as he disconnected the call and started back into the bedroom. He softly slipped the phone back on its charger, but not softly enough. He sensed Emily shift in the bed, and when he looked up, she was lying there staring at him, her brow a triple row of faint but uneasy lines.

“What is it, hon? Who was that on the phone?” She sat up and pulled her knees to her chest. “No good ever comes from a call in the wee hours like this.” Emily looked more closely at Foster. “It’s your mom, isn’t it?”

He sat on the edge of the bed and began stroking the back of his wife’s hand. He was vaguely aware of how velvety her skin felt. It always did, and it always gave him a sense of calm. “Yeah, it’s Mom. Again. That was a police detective, but this time she’s in the hospital instead of jail. I’ve got to get over there.”

“Well, what happened?” Emily asked as she got up and reached for the clothes she’d draped over the chair the night before. “Was she in an accident?”

Foster shook his head and said, “He wouldn’t tell me anything over the phone. Just said he wanted me to meet him at St. Pete’s…in the emergency room. That can’t be good.”

“I’ll call Inez to come over and stay with the kids.” Emily was already pulling her jeans on under her night clothes.

“No, no, you need to stay here. Jacob has swim class in the morning, and there’s no reason for him to miss out just because his grandmother has managed to get herself into yet another bind.” He fastened his pants and kissed his wife, pulling his sweater over his head as he walked out into the hall. “I’ll call you as soon as I know something.”

_____

Foster carefully maneuvered his car through what felt like endless darkness. It was one of those pitch-black affairs that challenged your headlights and made you question whether the sky ever truly hosted a moon and stars. To make things more interesting, it was raining, so the lights from the oncoming cars were more blinding than usual. Foster pulled into the hospital parking lot and found a space close to the emergency room entrance. He locked the car, dashed through what was quickly turning to sleet, and then all but skidded through the automatic doors. There was an empty waiting area to his right, restrooms to his left, and an admittance desk directly in front of him. A short, chubby nurse was standing with her back to him.

“Excuse me,” Foster said as he leaned on the edge of the desk. “Can you help me?”

The nurse slowly turned around and eyed him with the weary interest of someone who’d spent about four hours too long on their feet. “What is it you need, son?”

“My name is Foster Monroe. I’m supposed to meet a Detective Tennon here. It’s about a patient who was brought in tonight. Dahlia Waters?”

The nurse’s bored expression was replaced with one of grave concern, and she said, “Oh, of course, of course, Mr. Monroe. Yes, that policeman has been expecting you. He’s waiting right down this corridor.” She shimmied out from behind the desk and started down the hall, motioning for Foster to follow.

“What can you tell me about my mother? Was she in an accident or is she ill?”

Avoiding eye contact, the nurse shook her head and said, “Right now, you just need to talk to the detective. Here we are.” She stopped in front of a room that looked like a small private waiting area, and the sign above the door read Consult Room #2. Foster vaguely recalled hearing someone say it was never a good sign when a doctor asked the family to gather in a consulting room. He wondered if the same held true when the summoner was a cop.

The nurse, Adina Oakes according to her name badge, cleared her throat and said, “Detective Tennon? Mr. Monroe is here.”

Nurse Oakes patted Foster’s arm and then shuffled back up the hallway. A tall white-haired man, drowning in a faded overcoat, stood up and approached Foster, right hand extended.

“Mr. Monroe, I’m Detective Tennon. Why don’t you have a seat?”

Foster shook the man’s hand and noticed how cold it was, as though blood circulation and his body had yet to make their acquaintance. “Detective, what’s this all about? The nurse couldn’t seem to give me any information.”

Tennon gestured toward the chairs, and as both men sat down, he said, “Before you can see her, I need to ask you a few questions.”

Foster didn’t like the fact that he still had no answers about his mother’s condition – or why she’d even wound up in the hospital in the first place – but he’d long held a deep respect for authority, so he simply nodded as an indication for the officer to continue.

Tennon leaned forward resting his forearms on his knees, and he looked directly into Foster’s eyes. “Mr. Monroe, your mother was found in an alley over on West Baker Street, back behind the Frisky Inn. A customer had gone out to the alley to take a…,” Tennon dipped his head toward Foster and smiled slightly. “Let’s just say, the bathroom was occupied. Anyway, he found your mother lying behind the dumpster. She’d been severely beaten.”

“Oh, my god,” Foster swiped his hands over his face and peered at Tennon. “How badly is she hurt?”

“We’ll get to that, son. I just need to make some sense out of a few things first.”

“What kinds of things? What are you talking about?” Respect for authority aside, Foster was beginning to lose patience.

The detective reached into one of his jacket pockets and pulled out a plastic bag. Inside was a filthy billfold that looked as though, decades earlier, it might have been made from some type of floral quilt. “Does this look familiar to you?”

Foster took the bag from the officer. He held it up to the light, turned it over a couple of times, and then said, “Yes, it’s my mother’s. She made it when I was little. She used to make a lot of things like this. Sold them at flea markets to make extra money.” Foster handed the bag back to the detective but hesitated a moment before releasing it.

“Okay, we thought this was probably hers, but the picture on her driver’s license is so old…expired, you know…it was hard to be sure she was the same woman in the photo.”

Foster nodded his head. He often found it hard to believe the woman his mother had become was the same one who worked well into the night creating purses and wallets out of recycled clothing and bedspreads just so she could put food on the table when he was a kid. He looked at Tennon and said, “You mentioned some other things you needed to ask me about. What else?”      

The detective nodded his head and pulled another plastic bag from his jacket. This held a small glass vial with a white powdery substance inside. “Have you seen this before?”

This time, Foster did not reach out for the bag. He had no intention of touching it. He didn’t know if he’d ever seen that particular vial before, but he’d seen plenty like it in his mother’s possession over the years. “I can’t say for certain, but my guess is it belonged to her. My mother’s been an addict for about as long as I can remember.” That old familiar knot began to tighten in the pit of his stomach, and he couldn’t help but wonder how many more times he’d have to come face to face with his mother’s ruination.

Tennen offered an understanding nod and said, “Well, the only other thing she had on her when she was found was this.” He held up a larger plastic bag that was filled with something gray and matted. This time, Foster didn’t hesitate when he reached for it.

“Oh, my god. I can’t believe she still has him.” He felt tears burning the corners of his eyes.

Him?” The detective asked, confused.

“Yeah. Fantum. My dog.”

  

Chapter 1

1976

“Kid.”

Foster’s fingers froze mid-tie over his right sneaker as he slowly turned his head to look over his shoulder.

“This yours, kid?” A dirty, overweight man with a gin-blossom nose held a gray ball of fur up over his shoulder.

“Give me my dog, mister.” Foster stood up, stretched to his full five feet, and stared directly into the man’s eyes. “He’s mine. Give him.”

“How’s that, now? This nappy little piece of turd is your little doggy, is it? Well, now, let’s just see if he’ll come when you call him.” The man hefted the little terrier up over his head and lobbed it into a nearby dumpster.

“HEY!” Foster spared just enough time to kick the man in the groin before running to the dumpster and scaling over the side. He was barely aware of the string of profanities and groans coming from the man he’d just ball-busted. His fingers scrambled through takeout containers and wadded newspapers until he caught hold of something furry and pulled it up out of the trash. “Fantum, it’s okay. You’re not hurt. I won’t let him get you again.”

Foster hugged the dog to his chest and stood up, peering over the side of the dumpster to see if the man was still there. All he saw was the backside of the creep as he limped across the street and disappeared inside Bailey’s Tavern. “Come on, fella,” Foster said. “Let’s get outta here.”

After running three or four blocks, Foster finally slowed to a walk until he came to the city park. Spying an empty bench under a huge sycamore, he sauntered over and sat down, carefully placing the dog on the bench beside him.

“Seems like some folks just don’t know what’s good for them, huh, Fantum?” He rubbed the little pooch behind the ears and smiled as he snuggled him against his leg. The dog hadn’t uttered a sound. Not when the man tossed him into the trash and not when they were running down the sidewalk. Fantum was probably the quietest dog anybody would ever come across. Except when he and Foster were alone. Then he’d speak his mind. Now, though, in the public view of anyone who chose to walk through the park, he silently lay there…seemingly happy and secure just to be close to his master.

Foster let his gaze drift over to the playground area and noticed a couple of classmates on the monkey bars. School had been out a little over a week, and he hadn’t run into many of his friends lately. Funny how he had plenty of people to do stuff with when school was in session, but it was hard to find anyone to hang out with during the summer. Hard for him, anyway. Foster wasn’t the type of kid to just pop over to somebody’s house and ask them to go for a bike ride or shoot some hoops. Whenever he did that, it felt weird…sort of like begging someone to spend time with him. At school, kids had to see each other anyway, so joining a kickball game at recess or right after school didn’t seem to be asking all that much.

Now he was met with that familiar dilemma of whether to stay where he was or go over to where the other kids were playing to see if he could join in. He couldn’t just leave Fantum here on the bench, but he also couldn’t risk the guys making fun of him. No one understood Foster’s connection with his little dog, so for now Foster decided they would just head home. Maybe he’d come back by himself later and see if his friends were still there. They wouldn’t bust his chops over Fantum if the dog wasn’t with him.

_____

“Foster, honey, izzat you?”

Foster blanched at the thick slur drifting out of his mother’s bedroom. Dahlia Waters had been living more in the bottle than out lately. “Yeah, Mom. I’m just going to get something to eat and then go back outside.” He hoped for no response, but instead, he heard her slippers shuffling down the hallway toward the front room.

“Let Mama fix you sumpin,” Dahlia mumbled as she reached out and pulled him into a stinky embrace of Heaven Scent and Jim Beam. She didn’t seem to notice him tense up as she held on. “You need to eat more, baby. You’re all skinny bones.”

“I’m fine, Mom. Look, why don’t you sit down, and I’ll make us both some sandwiches?” Foster guided her to the ratty sofa and held her arm as she plopped down onto a stained cushion. He grabbed a little book up off the floor and put it on her lap. “Here’s the TV Guide. Pick something out and I’ll turn on the TV for you when I get back.” As he turned to go into the kitchen, he heard a sad little laugh.

“Wonder who’s the parent here…” she said as she let her head fall back against the sofa.

By the time Foster had the bread and peanut butter out on the kitchen table, he could hear Dahlia’s soft snores. He tiptoed to the doorway – although stomping his feet wouldn’t have roused her – and looked in at the specter of the mother he loved so deeply. Her hands lay limp at her sides, the TV Guide was on the floor again, and her legs were stretched out in front of her. The dark circles under her eyes had become a permanent reminder of how wrecked she was. He may have been just a kid, but he feared if his mother didn’t change soon, she’d be dead before he finished high school. That was a thought too hurtful to linger over, so he went back to the table and got to the business of making their dinner.

_____

Foster ate his sandwich and walked down the hall to his bedroom. He tucked Fantum away in his own little bed by the chest of drawers, and then he went back to the front room and slipped outside. When he got to the park and saw that his friends were no longer there, he sat on one of the swings and pumped back and forth, getting as high as he could. He quickly got bored with the swings and started searching for bugs or unusual rocks under the hedges along the perimeter of the park. The most interesting thing he found was an empty Trojan package. He had no personal experience with those, but he knew some of the older boys kept them in their wallets. The only reason he even knew that was because, when he was little, he’d asked Billy Abbott what the round lump was in his billfold, and Billy took the package out to show him. He didn’t explain much about it, other than to say he really hoped he’d find a girl pretty soon who would let him try it out on her. Then he winked at Foster and told him that was just their little secret. He said if his mom ever found out he was carrying that around, she’d kick him three weeks from Sunday.

After spending a few more minutes looking under the bushes, Foster walked back home and found his mother splayed on the sofa pretty much as she’d been when he left. He went into his room and picked Fantum up, then climbed onto his bed and laid down with the little dog on his chest. Stroking his fur, Foster looked into Fantum’s eyes and said, “Feels like it’s just you and me tonight. Just like most nights, huh?” Fantum merely stared back.

Eventually, Foster decided it was probably time to rouse his mother, although he wasn’t sure why. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Maybe she’d be feeling better and would want to do something with him. They could play a board game or maybe make some Jiffy Pop and watch TV together. They used to do that a lot before whatever was wrong hit the fan.

Foster wandered back to the front room and saw that Dahlia had shifted to where she was half-sitting, half-lying on the sofa. She let out a soft groan as he lifted her legs onto the seat cushions so she’d be in a more comfortable position. Opening one eye, she gave him a crooked smile and then was out like a light again. Foster took the old torn quilt from the back of the rocker and spread it out over his mother, pulling it up just under her chin. It wasn’t the least bit chilly, but doing that made him feel better.

He didn’t need to check the clock to know Dahlia had been out for a good four hours. Light from the streetlamps filtered in through the living room window and cast a soft glow over her hardened sandwich. Foster started to reach for the plate so he could take it into the kitchen, but reconsidering, he simply sat Indian-style on the floor by his mother and waited for nothing in particular.

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