Hooray for Happy Endings……

I was in a brief, but interesting discussion yesterday about happy endings and “formula” books in fiction. Without drifting too far into literature theory, let us, for the sake of this post use something like the big romance chain as formula – the story varies little more than in what setting, age, and socioeconomic level are used. It’s like any franchise restaurant – you know what the menu and décor will be and that’s what you expect. A series by an author is somewhat of a formula because you expect the main character and the recurring characters to be consistent and the “pace” of the book is often the same. Surprises come in with new characters that may be introduced precisely to stretch the boundaries perhaps, show a different side to the main characters, and plot twists are the other means to keep the reader’s interest. Because the author totally controls what happens in fiction, the author also makes the choices about having a happy ending or not. Again, there are “mega-happy endings” to use the quote from the movie “Wayne’s World”, as well as happy, and bittersweet endings. Any of these can work depending on what the author wants as a conclusion. Deciding on a tragic end is fine, too if that serves the purpose of the author, for whatever reason that may be.

The tendency, however, is for some people to say that happy endings aren’t “realistic”. Of course they are, to include mega-happy ones. Are there tragedies everyday in life? Certainly, just as there are wonderful triumphs over adversity. If I want to read tragedy, there are plenty of well-written non-fiction books that can deliver that. When I am looking to relax and be entertained, I don’t want to wade through loss, and sorrow, and cruelty where the “bad guy” wins. There are times when I am in the mood to deal with that in fiction because I enjoy the particular writing style, setting, or whatever, but I want to be aware that is what I’m getting. I don’t want the main character killed off at the last minute unless there are  redemptive qualities attached to his or her death. (Think the character that dies while saving the life of another.)  So, if the back cover says, “Tragic story of”, “profoundly emotional”, etc., then I know what I’m getting into.

If someone wants to narrow their definition of “good books” to minimize or exclude those with happy endings, that’s fine. I, however, don’t view it in those terms.


Music to My Ears….

 Through a somewhat odd set of circumstances, I have become involved with a local cultural program where we are having very small venue (for now) free performances of different types of music, usually in an outdoor setting where optional dining is available. So far. we’ve done Jazz, Blues, Baroque is coming up (indoors for that one), then Blue Grass in the fall. Let me be the first to say that my musical knowledge is limited – I couldn’t pick out a Delta Blues song from a Chicago Blues except by accident. I can rattle off several composers names, but play me an excerpt and unless it’s one of the really famous pieces, I won’t recognize it. I’m not sure how much of a range I have, although I do enjoy classical in the right setting, rock, blues, country and western, jazz, folk, New Age, Celtic, reggae and whatever category music such as Native-American falls into in short bursts. To me, heavy metal sounds like garbage cans being clashed together and I wouldn’t mind if rap and hip-hop disappeared. If Electronica is actually a type that can go away, too.

My point here though is that people do have vastly different tastes in music, some quite passionately so. A friend of mine continues to astound me with his depth of knowledge of classical considering that he is not in academia. What is it then, that draws us to a certain type of music?

A Jazzy Evening……..

"Rooftop Terrace" , joined by vocalist performing at Jazz in the Garden Jan 2014

“Rooftop Terrace” , joined by vocalist performing at Jazz in the Garden Jan 2014

What a week it has been with back-to-back meetings every day, and I mean every single day. That, of course, will be my flimsy excuse for not having posted and especially for not having posted about this topic. Let me set the stage. Notwithstanding my husband’s belief that I am involved in way too many groups/projects, there are people who do even more than I do. Anyway, as I have posted before, I belong to the Homestead Center for the Arts (HCA), a group that works to promote the artistic and cultural “pockets” in and around Homestead that many people are unaware of. There are multiple affiliates within HCA ranging from artists, choirs, dancers, historians, orchid enthusiasts, and wood turners. One day, and there was wine involved (okay, it might have been beer), three of us were having lunch at the White Lion Café which has a lovely, large terrace area. “Wouldn’t something like a jazz session outside be nice?” was the crux of the conversation. From that, we spun off and within a few days, we had developed the idea for the Music Series (MuSe) that became a new committee within HCA.

The intent was/is to have 3 evening functions per year that feature different genres of music in an outdoor setting with the option of dinner. The Jazz in the Garden that we held January 9th was a hit and everyone had a good time. The 9th was a Thursday because we don’t want to compete with the many activities that tend to be held on the weekends and Thursday is one of those nights where people can say, “Sure, I’ll go out – I can get through Friday.” The focus for MuSe will be to concentrate on local musicians and even though we didn’t have time to make it happen for the first event, we want to especially find that young/unknown musician and allow him/her/them to play during the breaks to provide a platform for really new talent. The next event will be “April Blues” and we’re excited about how that will be. Check out Homestead Center for the Arts at http://www.homesteadcenterforthearts.com/

Indie Authors and Small Business Saturday……

Small Business Saturday is a wonderful effort that has taken off, initially thanks to American Express (hardly what one would call a small business), and now because it has gained a momentum of its own. I would like to suggest, however, that supporting a little or lesser known author is another way to share in Small Business Saturday. Those of us in that category don’t have storefronts, but we are most assuredly in the marketplace. There are a number of sources such as the Independent Author Network at http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/ or lesser known authors may also be the subject of pins on Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/) or mentioned on Shelfari (http://www.shelfari.com/). If you have a Kindle, check out the lower priced books because despite the on-going discussions within the author community of whether they should or not, a lot of independents keep the price on their e-books low as a way of introducing themselves. You can skip past the names you recognize and spend some time perusing titles that intrigue you by authors that you aren’t familiar with yet. In all fairness, I am the first to admit that all self-published and small press authors are not created equal and the fact that someone has written a book with a cool title and good “back cover description” doesn’t mean that you will like the book. (On the other hand, haven’t you also been disappointed with best sellers that you didn’t care for?) A feature such as Amazon’s “Look Inside” is nice since you do have a chance to read more than a few lines to see if you at least like the style of writing.

At any rate, even if you don’t necessarily decide to explore more indie authors today – if you’re inspired by doing so on Small Business Saturday – that counts!


The Red Hibiscus…….

Red hibiscus after being dramatically cut back

Red hibiscus after being dramatically cut back

Sentimentality alert! First though, my apologies for not having posted for the past few days. It has been particularly hectic with a number of commitments that required more effort than I had anticipated. Ah well, we all underestimate tasks at times. With that said – I want to talk about the red hibiscus in the photo. If you’ve been following the blog, you know we have had a considerable amount of work done in our back yard. If you are new to the blog – welcome – and we allowed the back yard to get rather out of control and brought in a landscape designer to correct it. One of the mistakes we made was with the red hibiscus that we have. When we first moved into this house, my best friend who lived next door gave us the red hibiscus in the standard three-gallon plastic pot as a house-warming present. Since we intended to put the pool and hot tub in and have our tropical paradise in back, we decided to leave the hibiscus in that container until the pool was finished. Well, that was before we knew of all the delays we were going to encounter. The poor hibiscus lingered, somewhat neglected and became rather scraggly. By the time we transplanted it into a beautiful large ceramic pot, we were concerned that perhaps we’d neglected it too much. However, it took to its new home and flourished.

In fact, what we didn’t know was that when you plant something like a hibiscus in a container, it’s important to move it around periodically because otherwise, the main root will find that hole in the container and grow through it into the ground. Now, we did notice that the magnificently flowering shrub was getting quite large and our second mistake was in not trimming it back. Then, sadly, my dear friend passed away at much too young an age as the cancer she had once beat came back with a vengeance. For me, the now thriving hibiscus was a symbol of the friendship we had enjoyed for too brief a time. I asked our regular lawn care guys to transplant it into the yard and that was when we discovered that the root was so firmly attached that if we attempted to transplant, it would likely destroy the hibiscus as well as the pot.

Okay, so when we brought in the landscape designer, I explained the situation and she said she had a potential solution, although she couldn’t guarantee that it would work. She cut the hibiscus back to practically nothing and said that if it grew back, as she though it would, to just keep it trimmed to a manageable level. The blossom in the photo is the first since “the surgery” and there are some more buds. We shall see if this works, but it does look promising.

Wonderful Lecture on Gardening……..

Hibiscus in full bloom

Hibiscus in full bloom

As you may can tell, my schedule has not yet stabilized, but I really am hoping to get back on track by the end of this week. The Bea Peskoe Lunchtime Lecture Series that is an integral part of the Homestead Center for the Arts organization, always lines up interesting lectures and the one on Monday was no exception. (http://www.homesteadcenterforthearts.com)

It was a great presentation by one of the County Extension Agents held at their facility in the Redland. The topics were vegetable gardening in raised beds and containers and pests – all specific to our unique environment. The raised bed and container aspects are because trying to dig in this soil is incredibly difficult unless one does it commercially with industrial-strength equipment. Now, as I have mentioned before, plants are not particularly safe around me, however, getting better with them has been a goal of mine for some time. Since we are making changes in our backyard – another update on that soon – the time has come for me to get serious about plants. Well, not nearly as serious as some people, but able to at least maintain the yard after having brought in a professional landscaper to recover it. Anyway, the vegetable part of the yard is limited and mostly my husband’s domain, but much of what the lecturer said was applicable to other plants as well – especially when discussing pests. Thanks to a great lecture, I am really inspired and focused on increasing my ability to manage plants.

A Drive I Love……

I’m doing a back-to-back post because I suspect that tomorrow will be a total loss with the drive up to Branson (about 8 hours) and questionable connectivity on that end. Last night was with my girlfriends and having now entered our 60th year and knowing each other for much of that, we discussed a lot of topics. The warmth that comes from friendships of that duration (notwithstanding that I’m the one who was away for nearly twenty years) hovered around us as we enjoyed fajitas, homemade guacamole, and so forth. While I usually do beer with such, wine was fine. Now, the roads that I take to get from my daddy and stepmother’s house to Natchitoches is one of my favorite drives. Not that it is scenic in the traditional sense – nostalgic is much more accurate. It is mostly two lane driving with a fair stretch of it in no-passing lanes with slight hills and curves. There is a mix of agricultural, (and they were harvesting cotton yesterday), gas and oil sites, the pulpwood mill is still going, small towns, and someday I really am going to stop at the Red River Cowboy Church (complete with small corral outside) to see what it is about.

I find a Country and Western station to listen to as I make this drive and think of what I didn’t know back in the days when we drove that road, and what I dreamed of was getting away to see what else was out in the world. Having now been out in that world, I am glad that I have been, and would always urge anyone to do the same. Go, and see, because only then can you make a genuine choice as to what it is that you want. You don’t have to go do everything, but at least enough to understand why you might want to come back to the familiar if that is what you choose.

Let Me Tell You About Sete……

The scuba world is a fun place for a lot of reasons. Setting aside the wonder of the underwater world for the moment, there are the great people that you meet while diving. Yesterday, my husband had a guy on the boat who is currently from Boston, but originally from a small town near Nice, France. Nice is an incredible city which is why I included a chapter about it in Irises to Ashes, but that also is not the point to this post. Hubby and the guy were talking about the Azure Coast and hubby mentioned us spending one night in Sete, and the guy was excited that we even knew where it was, much less had been there.

When hubby recounted the story, memories flood back. Sete is a small fishing village that we went to en route to Normandy, en route to Frankfurt the last summer we were in Italy. I found it in the guidebook almost by happenstance and it was a logical stopping point for our first day of travel. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/the-perfect-break/8342532/Sete-France-the-perfect-break.html) As it says in the article you can click to, a large part of Sete’s charm is because it isn’t a tourist destination. The seafood is plentiful and literally comes to the restaurants steps away from the docks. We stayed near the center of town, close to the water and strolled the streets for a couple of hours before it grew dark, then picked from several restaurants, any of which I’m sure would have been just as good. Canals run through the village to make it a “small Venice” and we lingered in another waterfront café to enjoy coffee and a cognac – or perhaps it was another glass of wine – I don’t completely recall. I awakened early the next morning as I so often do and meandered back onto the streets watching the village come into day. I found the place for us to have breakfast and went back to fetch Hubby. We had six-plus hours driving ahead of us and didn’t linger, yet it was a pleasant interlude – croissants and café au lait at an outdoor table along a canal as gulls shrieked and swooped. If you are ever in the South of France and want an off-the-mainstream village, then Sete is the place.

Refreshing the Backyard …….

New look for the Pygmy Date Palm

New look for the Pygmy Date Palm

I am not a visual person although that is not the central point of this post. We non-visual people therefore have difficulty in accurately portraying what we want if we do not have a relatively close photo/sketch to follow. Ergo, when we had the pool and hot tub put in, the covered terrace extended, extra hardscape added around the pool, put in river rock to stretch from the edge of the hardscape to the fence, had some tropical and citrus trees planted, and other plants done in containers, we used our regular landscaping guy. Now, he is a good guy, does good work and we’ve used him for years. However, he is not a landscape designer and so in discussion, he did exactly what we asked him to. Recently, I said, “Enough, the yard is out of control and not what I actually wanted.” My husband always experiences trepidation when I get the idea to re-do things (and not without reason). He was particularly concerned with the potential fate of the traveler (fan) palms that I thought might need to be removed.

Okay, so I called in a longtime Redland landscaper who first assured me that she could tame the traveler palms, then she promised a sketch that she felt would match what I was looking for. Actually, by the time she and her hardworking crew had finished, what we had was closer to an eighty-percent solution, but definitely a great improvement. Now, the reality of this area is that the same conditions that produce beautiful tropical plants also means “super weeds” and fairly constant maintenance to keep things in a trimmed state. That, in turn, means either hiring someone to keep after it or doing it yourself. Since we now have most of the plantings looking the way we want them, our next task is to determine if we can keep them up ourselves or if we need to talk to our regular landscape guy about adding that service to what he regularly does. The jury is still out on that one. We’re giving a shot at managing it ourselves and will see if it goes better this time.

I’ll use the above photo as an example. It’s a 3-cone (head) pygmy date palm. If allowed to, as we did with the original planting, the fronds will descend downward until you have essentially a palm “tent” that reaches to the ground. That’s an okay look, but the designer suggested exactly the opposite and to cut it back severely, create an “island” around it with mulch, blooming ground cover plants and attach bromeliads. The ground cover and bromeliads require essentially no maintenance and in order to keep the current design all we really have to do is whack the fronds early when they grow beyond the look we want. One would think that I can pull this off and I will keep you posted as to the outcome.

Why I Love Reading……

Baby Boomers will understand that entertainment used to be called books. Not that we didn’t have television, radio, movies, etc., but unless you lived in a city, the choices were often very limited. Our small town didn’t have access to public television, so it was the basic three channels, and of course, only part of the programming was for kids. We actually did not have a radio because my mother didn’t care for it and as for movies – well, it required a car to get to one and it just wasn’t a priority in our house. The library and books though – now that was a winning combination. Yes, that also required a car, but because it was not fixed to a specific time, a drop off and pick-up at the library could be incorporated with other trips into town. The school library was good and we did have a Book-Mobile that came, so for the entire school year, we had quite a selection.

I don’t recall reading time as a big thing when I was very young, although I’m sure I had children’s books and was read to. Once I was able to read on my own, the world was opened to me. All the usual (that was also when they taught the classics) and when I was in junior high school, the school librarian put me on a special reading list that was heavily American literature with some English thrown in. I made my way through Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour as well as the basic science fiction of Asimov and Bradbury, and didn’t stick with either genre. I admit that romances were never big after Victoria Holt and Norah Lofts and I didn’t really do a lot of non-fiction until I was an adult. I’ve already written about Ayn Rand’s influence and yes, through all of it, I dreamed of the day when my name would be on the cover of a book. That, however, isn’t the main point of this post.

I am always searching through the independent authors to find new ones rather than look at the best sellers because in knowing how the mainstream publishing world works now, I realize how many writers never make that cut. Don’t get me wrong – just like with movies, there is a lot of “B” and worse stuff out there and for sure a number of genres that I don’t care for. On the other hand, the beauty of Kindle under $3.99 books, just as with discount bins in a bookstore, is that you can try authors you aren’t familiar with for a low cost. Even though I resisted a Kindle for quite some time, I have to admit that I’m really glad to have one now. Nothing against Nook, mind you – we went the Kindle route instead. And if you want to, you can go right into the Independent Author Network and roam around. There are others you can check out, but they have a pretty big selection.(http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/)