Missed Steps

Missed Steps

It started with a band around his waist which was joined by a tingling sensation in his feet. First it became a numbness, then shortness of breath and then a fatigue so profound that standing upright became an issue. I tried to brush it off, gave him vitamins, told him to work out more, sleep more, eat more greens, but the symptoms escalated and then we were at the doctor’s office, listening to the doctor say, after so many tests and x-rays and MRIs and CT scans, this is it, this is your problem, you have MS, and we looked at each other in disbelief because he was young, and healthy, and oh so athletic and never in a million years would that have been our guess.

We cried and I, in the way I do, tried to find the way to fix it, that if we just try this and do this and purchase this we can manage it all, make it go away, call the universe out on the great cosmic joke, but nothing worked, not a single thing, and it just kept coming and coming and coming and it wouldn’t be stopped, like the sun over the horizon.

There are days when I want to pound my chest because it wouldn’t be lady-like to pound someone else’s and depending on the degree of severity of the pounding, could also be a felony, or at least a misdemeanor, and we had enough problems already. I kept holding out hope for the day someone would tell me it had all been a terrible mistake and all you have to do is “Drink This” like Alice and you’d be up and out of that rabbit hole faster than stink. Oh God, how I hate this disease and myself for trying to bargain my way out of it when I know that I have no leverage, nothing to trade, just a hope that I can somehow work it all out right. Our lives, once vibrant and full of hikes in the woods, and biking on trails and swimming and all those things that make you feel alive have been reduced to a meal at a restaurant or a night at the movies. My husband’s walker has become his lifeline, and the interminable march between the kitchen and the bedroom with an occasional foray out into the world for treatment his daily route. Some days are bad, others worse. There were never any of the reversals touted by the neurologist, and his health has been on one continuously long decline for the six years since he was diagnosed, a well-lived, active life now routinized and lonely. Not just for him. For all of us.

We dance around the issue most days, try to pretend it doesn’t exist when it’s pulling the fabric out of the stuffing of our lives. We are selling the boat because the alternative, remembering how much side-splitting fun we had when we were all out on the river, is too much to bear under the daily remembrance of seeing it parked in the driveway. Why such a punishment? To whom might I appeal clemency?

The kids go on with their lives and truthfully, so do I, to work, to meetings, to my volunteer events, my writing, because what else would I do at this juncture? Someone has to pay the bills and shop for groceries and feed the animals and stay on the kids’ school stuff and if I stopped even for a second, I might collapse under the weight of what life has become so instead I balance seven things on my head which engages all my focus and I don’t have to look at the horrid, greedy beast that stole my husband, don’t have to look in its two beady eyes although it would help if I could punch it right in its smug little face.

But this is where we are now. It’s taken me six years, six years to write a word about it, me, the writer. Privacy, my husband’s, my family’s, mine, too, was and is an issue, but everyone sees the healing effects talking about it can bring so if you’re reading this, that means I have their blessing.

Missed Steps. MS. Multiple Sclerosis is a condition wherein the myelin sheath that protects the spine like a casing on a sausage is eaten away one lesion at a time. My husband has over a half-dozen, no new ones for years, but the one on his brain stem has burrowed deeper and deeper, determined to dig all the way to China as the saying goes, and it’s left him with terrible balance and stiffness and fatigue and on many days a lousy attitude all for which he takes drugs to combat the symptoms, but ingesting that amount of drugs and vitamin supplements and elixirs alone is exhausting. The medical bills are depleting – thank God for insurance – but even with it we pay so many thousands of dollars a year on top of our premiums that you wonder how people without insurance do it. One drug alone costs over $7,000/month, not for a cure, just a stopgap measure.

It’s all broken – the health care system, my husband’s body, our trust in modern medicine, maybe even my faith in God although most days I do believe that someday all will be revealed. It’s just that someday is not today and all I can do is brace for tomorrow.

I hope we’ll ready.

pjlazos 4.18.17

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American Gods

American Gods

I just finished American Gods, my 4th Neil Gaiman book, and I have to say that should Neil Gaiman ever need a personal assistant, I’m available. He doesn’t have to pay me much as long as I’m guaranteed some daily tutelage wherein we discuss the electromagnetic nature of the written word. I’ll even sign up to do his laundry if it means I could sit at his feet and take notes. He can wax philosophically about the craft of writing while the tighty-whities whirl about good-naturedly in the spin cycle. I’ll even add fabric softener.

How does Gaiman do it? From where does he conjure these fantastical worlds? Many, perhaps all of Gaiman’s characters have, if not a toe, then an entire body immersed in mythology — Norse, Greek, Roman, Native American, Hindi, more. It’s obvious that the man has done some reading, but beyond the myth and the ability to craft a delicious sentence — not too tart, hot, or sweet with just the right amount of description and dialogue, so plump and full of raw talent it could be sashimi — there is this knowing, as if he alone has solved the puzzle of the human condition.

In America Gods, we meet Shadow, a name apropos of the person Shadow has become. Shadow spent three years in prison for a crime he didn’t want to commit. He learned a few things in there, like the arts of judiciousness and waiting. Prison forced a certain transcendence upon the reluctant hero, stalled as he was, and above all, he learned to adapt. The only thing Shadow wanted from his old life was Laura. Knowing she was waiting on the outside made the inside bearable. So it was unfortunate that a week before Shadow was about to be sprung, he got called down to the warden’s office, an uh-oh in the making. You didn’t think Shadow was going to receive a get out of jail free card, did you? Come on, it’s Neil Gaiman. Apparently, Shadow sensed it, too, so when the warden delivered the unfortunate news, that Laura was dead, Shadow felt the icy fingers of a cosmic stranglehold creeping up on him. Now what?

The warden granted Shadow an early release so he could attend Laura’s funeral. Once the worst happened, it was almost easy to find out the rest: Laura was having an affair with Shadow’s best friend, Robbie — the one who ran a gym, the Muscle Farm, and who was going to give Shadow a job when he got out. The reason they were both dead was because Laura’s mouth was where it shouldn’t have been, especially not while Robbie was driving. Maybe Robbie wouldn’t have lost control of the car and hit the tractor-trailer head on, pardon the pun, if he and Laura had been buckled up for safety. The news of the affair pushed Shadow into the extreme discomfort zone, and then Laura visited him and it got worse.

With nothing much to do, Shadow took the first job he was offered as a bodyguard and a driver for an eccentric yet affable old dude. Before it’s all done, Shadow will face a slew of gods, the living specter of his beloved and decomposing Laura, the many faces of death, and more Gods than are in a comparative religion class.

Read American Gods now before it becomes a series.  You know the book is always better.

pjlazos 4.14.17

American Gods premieres on Starz on April 30th.

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Mrs. Batman

Mrs. Batman

Vick Batman is an award-winning and Amazon bestselling author with three kids, two dogs, and a husband named Handsome.  She’s sold many romantic comedy works to the True magazines, several publishers, and most recently, two romantic comedy mysteries to The Wild Rose Press. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and several writing groups as well as an avid Jazzerciser, Handbag lover, Mahjong player, Yoga practitioner, Movie fan, Book devourer, Cat fancier and Best Mom Ever who adores her Handsome Hubby. Most days begin with her hands set to the keyboard, thinking “What if??”

And yes, Batman is her real name.

Temporarily Insane – “unpredictable combination of humor, romance, and mystery,”
“entertaining from the first page,” “fresh and endearing”

Synopsis for Temporarily Insane:  No man. Bad job. And Murder. Hattie Cooks is still searching for her dream job and one might be available…in the Big Apple, far from friends, family, and Allan Wellborn, the man who still makes her heart race. In the meantime, she finds temporary employment at an accounting firm where two auditor friends turn up dead.  Detective Allan Wellborn dropped Hattie for a Blonde Bimbo who, coincidentally, is employed at NLB where fishy things are taking place. When Allan interviews Hattie, he must determine why all signs point to her as a suspect.  Can Hattie discover why Allan dumped her and who is murdering auditors before death strikes again?

 

 

Thanks, Vicki!  And now, The Questions:

What’s your writing background?

I blame my friend, Susan, and she takes credit for it, too. She challenged several of us with a silly car game question: write the opening paragraph of a book using the word window. Two days later, I had eight chapters. She read them and said, “Keep going.” So I have.

What are your favorite books?

There are two books that wowed me instantly. I closed the covers and had a cool moment, then reread them. Come to Grief by Dick Francis and A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Devereaux. Then there’s Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

Why mysteries?

Reading mysteries goes back to the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Agatha Christie, the romantic mysteries of Mary Stewart, Emilie Loring. I just like them. I’ve added Dick Francis, Elizabeth George, Janet Evanovich.

Do you see the need for all these sub-genres or do you think we’ve become over-specialized?

I haven’t thought about this before. For a while, I didn’t like getting out of my comfort zone in my reading. I found a book that showed if you like so and so, you might like so and so, which for me, was Dick Francis. I also didn’t want to waste time reading something I might not like. Once I joined a book club, I got over that. Even if I don’t like a book, I’ve learned something.

Why writing and not ceramics, or gourmet cooking, or anything else really? If not writing, then what?

I’ve always been a huge reader, but I was fortunate to have a crafty mom. Every Monday, the women in her family met at my grandmother’s house. They were always making things, crochet, sewing, quilting, tatting. At age nine, my grandmother taught me embroidery and that continues to be a part of my life. A while back, I taught myself needlepoint and enjoy those projects. I truly believe those creative outlets fire my writing.

From where do your ideas come?

Sometimes, people say the craziest things. Sometimes, I say I am going to write a story about xyz. I’m a pantser and [like to] let it flow.  That said, I do know there’s a beginning, middle, black moment, the end, and lots of stuff in the middle.

What’s your routine? Do you work out while writing, take breaks, or simply gut it out?

I’m up at six and go to my workout. Back by 8:15 and shower, followed by eating breakfast and reading the paper. By 9:30 I’m working. Take a break for lunch or errands and back to work until 4:30 or 5. I don’t work on weekends since Handsome underwent cancer treatment eleven years ago.

What is your favorite place to walk?

On Sundays, Handsome and I walk to Starbucks with our malti-poos, Champ and Jones. Otherwise, I just enjoy walking, except when very very cold.

Do you think writing is a form of therapy and, if so, has it helped you work through anything in particular?

Writing has challenged me in a way nothing else has. When I told Handsome I’d started a book, he said, “You’ve changed.” I think he was uncomfortable with the change at that time.

Do you work outside of writing, i.e., do you have day job?

I basically quit the day job after two years of working for Handsome. He started a company and began travelling way too much. Our family life was a wreck. So once he could replace me, I stayed home. We had our moments monetarily, but pulled through.

Your perfect day – go.

I love being with friends and family and sharing laughs.

What has been your greatest writing lesson? How about life lesson?

For my first book, an author critiqued. She said to write tight and suggested a book on the subject. That made a great difference. As for life lesson…like I mentioned, Handsome had cancer. It was rough and still has to undergo treatments to fix what radiation did. Being with loved ones is the most important thing ever.

If you could be a character in any novel, what character would you be?

You’ll laugh. Bridget Jones.

And the last question.  Do you think writing can save the world?

Through all kinds of writing, a reader experiences life events. And it is educational. An educated society will carry the next generation through.

 

Want more?  How about a Book Excerpt from Temporarily Insane:

Trixie had some nerve.

“Stop it, Hattie!”

Her reprimand, the one which had shot a stabbing pain to my right eye, sounded terribly out of character, like she had little patience for me. Ordinarily, she was the nicest person I knew, didn’t have a mean bone in her body. The kind who rescued animals, picked up trash at Somerville Park, and prepared food for the elderly.

Not today. I narrowed my eyes and crossed my arms across my chest in a school girl flaunt.

Trixie tilted forward in her desk chair, her bosom almost resting on her desk. “This non-sense has to end. Your moan sounded like an obscure breed of a bizarre…untamed…wounded animal.” She returned to an upright and seated position and in tiny increments, rotated her chair from side-to-side, waiting for me to say something not stupid.

In truth, Trixie had pounded the nail on the head. I had nothing to add. My whole life had turned into an obscure, bizarre, bad reflection of itself, thus wounding me to my core. I sighed and pouted an if only.

Don’t go there.

My fun sister friend owned the employment agency Jobs Inc., and on occasion, she’d happily assisted me in finding temporary work since my dream job had been flushed down the proverbial toilet a few months back, thus soiling my picture perfect life. For this newest assign-ment she’d located, I’d be employed as an administrative assistant for the managing partner at Northside, Lancaster, and Brookside, Certified Public Accountants, headquartered in my hometown of Sommerville.

At first, she’d sounded oh-so pleasant when we began our yak about the opportunity. “Think accounting,” she’d teased, followed by a small chuckle.

Her laugh had spoken volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica proportions.

pjlazos 4.10.17

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I Am Not a Soprano

I Am Not a Soprano

I went to a Catholic grade school where the nuns ruled. When I was in 4th grade, I wanted to join the choir. At that time, I had no clue about my abilities as a singer or otherwise and was totally dependent on the nuns for guidance because that’s how we’d been taught. Tryouts for choir were right after school and when I walked into the classroom Sister told me to stand next to her desk — a heart-pounding experience in itself — and to sing, “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” a tough song for anyone who is not a soprano. It’s taken decades to figure out that while I’m a terrible soprano, I’m also a halfway decent tenor, but at that time my musical experience and vernacular were extremely limited — I had no idea what soprano and tenor even meant — so I did what I’d been taught to do and that was listen to the nuns.

I’m standing next to Sister, squeaking out a verse of My Country ’Tis of Thee, warbling and cracking the whole time, and when I finished she said, “Fine, you’re in.”

Wait, what?

Did she even hear how I’d botched the song as I strained to reach those notes? Might she have suggested something more in keeping with my limited range? Or was it because church dirges, I mean hymns, were written one way and there was no messing with that way? Shouldn’t she have realized that I was not a soprano? She was the music teacher after all. Or was she, like everyone else, just doing her job and looking to get the day over with as soon as possible so she could have gone home and watched TV.

In 4th grade, I was very much in the mindset of a lemming, playing follow the leader. Decades later, I know better, but I can’t help but wonder, “What if anyone had been paying attention to my desires instead of their own? What would my life have looked like? How might it have changed if someone would have seen my gifts instead of trying to fit me inside their gift bag along with everyone else? Would I be New York Times bestselling author by now? A rocket scientist? A musician?

We’re a species that thinks linearly and in duality. Perhaps it’s the nature of the planet — black and white, night and day, summer and winter, minute follows minute, year follows year. Or maybe our brains are the cause, the Corpus Callosum which separates the right and left hemispheres of the brain, much like Pangea, the supercontinent that the world might have been before the receding flood waters, or earthquakes, or meteors, or God himself split Her apart. Is it possible that our two hemispheres were in the past one whole unit, that somewhere along the way we were severed into two mirror images? Could this explain why our very nature is divisive?

We strive to overcome our differences with an ever-present hope of reconciling the two sides of everything, wanting to bring ourselves back into harmony and alignment, but why? What if we just made ourselves happy and left everyone else alone? What then? When you’re happy you tend to let the little things go, tend to overlook someone else’s negative or selfish behavior, tend to accentuate the positive. When you’re happy, that happiness spreads exponentially to your friends, your neighbors, the people with whom you come into contact. Could our overall happiness make room for more peace in the world? More harmony? More joy, without any of the hard work of trying to make it so? What if, instead of following everyone else’s guidance we followed our own? What if we allowed everyone to be exactly who and what they intended themselves to be?

What then?

pjlazos 4.2.17

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We Are the World Blogfest

 

We Are The World Blogfest

       The last Friday of the March marks the start of the “We Are the World Blogfest”, a fledgling operation that we all hope will become a blogging extravaganza of peace and positivity.  WATWB seeks to promote positive news instead of the constant stream of negatives that we’ve become so accustomed to, and to showcase stories of love and light that demonstrate the compassion and resilience of the human spirit.  Hearing these stories helps to increase our hope in our ever darkening world, bring a smile to our faces, boost our sagging immune systems, and remind us what the heck we are here for — to love each other and make each other laugh.  Lighting the candle always dispels the darkness.

        My contribution to the first #WATWB is this story of an irate customer at the Starbucks drive through who realized that her state of mind was not helping the state of the world.  She went back the next day to make things right with the barista, proving that Mom was right and it’s never too late to say sorry.  Oh, and that politeness is the bedrock of a civilized nation.  #bepolite

Read the story here:  Starbucks customer surprises barrister.

And because I adore good news of all kinds, particularly when it involves gifts from the Earth, I’m leaving you with this one about a man who has spent a lifetime collecting some of the world’s most unusual and impressive rocks.  One crystal is as big as a car.  As all parents do, he believes his children should stay together, so he’s on a quest to put the entire collection into a museum.  They aren’t just rocks, you know, but “the foundation of a dream he wants so share with the world.”

Know anyone interested? #rockstars

http://http://www.cbsnews.com/news/rock-stars-crystals-mined-masterpieces/

Thanks to these fabulous hosts for this We Are The World Blogfest #WATWB:

Belinda Witzenhausen, Lynn Hallbrooks, Simon Falk, Sylvia McGrath, and Damyanti Biswas

Want to join the #WATWB?  Click here to sign up.

Just want to check in?  Like the WATWB Facebook page.

p.j.lazos 3.30.17

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Loving Lady Lazuli

Loving Lady Lazuli

According to Romance Writers of America, romance books garnered $1.08 billion in sales in 2013 and accounted for 34% of the fiction market. With stats like that, I’m wondering why I didn’t choose the romance genre but then I remembered — I have no talent for it. Ah, but Lady Shey does. Loving Lady Lazuli is the classic storyline of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy meets girl again, but told as a relentless, breathy romantic mystery.

It’s been decades since I read a bodice-ripper if you don’t count the Outlander series by Diana Gabladon which markets itself as romance, but is really a hybrid — the love child of Romance and Historical Fiction — and I may have never read another one if I didn’t chance upon Shehanne Moore’s blog and struck up a friendship with the Lady Shey.

Now, announcing your desire to read a virtual friend’s book and write a review can be a tricky process even if they don’t live across the street from you because, well, the blogosphere has limits, too, writer’s tend to travel in the same circles, and you just don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Thank GOD that I just adored this book because all that worry is now a moot point. After reading a few chapters of Loving Lady Lazuli, I was hooked. Moore writes a self-described brand of romance that she calls “smexy”— a cross between smutty and sexy — a classic pot-boiler of a book with the trademark characteristics of historical fiction adding to its allure.

Loving Lady Lazuli is the story of Sapphire, the renowned London jewel thief who no one has ever seen. Sapphire’s greatest defense has been her invisibility. Her many costumes and identity changes have allowed her to remain elusive and because of that, the most successful jewel thief in England. But one evening Sapphire makes a terrible mistake. Her “mark”, the famous Wentworth emeralds, are in her grasp, but the escape route is not. Her partners have let her down and there is no way out except a long trek across an open field in winter, and in an evening gown, no less.

Complicating matters, there is a witness, the rich, young, handsome Devorlane Hawley who happens upon the bewitching Sapphire while driving by in his coach. The unsuspecting Hawley has no idea what’s happening when he offers Sapphire a ride. It all happened so quickly, that kiss, that hand where hands should not be when strangers are involved, the pawning off of the Wentworth emeralds into Hawley’s pocket without him even knowing, and her alighting from the coach before he could catch his breath and clear his addled brain. Months later, he’s been enlisted into the army, the rich man’s version of punishment for a theft, preferable to hanging from the end of a noose, but still a high price to pay for a crime he didn’t commit. She caught him all right, with a breathy kiss and a swift goodbye and he will use all his resources to exact revenge.

For ten years Devorlane harbored his enmity, for ten years, he replayed the events of that night, and for ten years he swore that one day he would find and catch Sapphire and make her pay for ruining his life. Ten years of feeding and nourishing that hatred which festered like the wound to his leg when, upon his return, he is met with a sight that makes his heart both soar and shatter — it’s her, Sapphire, sitting in his drawing room. Now who’s caught?

Want to find out? Then read Loving Lady Lazuli, a romantic page-turner of first order. You may want to ditch the tea and crumpets for something stronger!

Want more?  Go here to read an INTERVIEW with Shehanne Moore.

pjlazos 3.25.17

Want more?  Here are the links to all of Lady Shey’s books.

The Unraveling of Lady Fury

The Viking and the Courtesan

The Judas Bride

Loving Lady Lazuli

amazon author page 

wordpress blog

 

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World Water Day 10-Gallon Challenge

[photo depicts waterless urinals]

World Water Day 10-Gallon Challenge

     Today, March 22 is World Water Day.  The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 Global Goals designed to end poverty, provide a quality education, provide affordable and clean energy, and create sustainable cities and communities, to name a few.  My personal favorite is SDG #6 which seeks to ensure access to water and sanitation for all by the year 2030.

Clean water is a basic human right, right?  While the answer to that would be yes in industrialized nations, the practicality is that in developing nations, many go without this basic right.  So to raise awareness for the plight of 1/3 of the people in the world who lack this access, I’d like to play a little game, a challenge if you will.  Why, you ask?  Well, let me tell you.  And while I’m gathering my thoughts, let us remember that humans can only live for four days without water.

 

[In India, woman collecting water

Question 1 — do you have access to clean water?  If you answered yes, do you have access to a shower, a tub, a toilet and running water?  If you answered yes again, you are ahead of about 1.6 million people in the U.S., most of them Native American, or living in Appalachia or in pockets of New England.  Worldwide, 783 million people do not have access to clean water.  That’s 1 in 9.  Are you the unlucky “1”?

[Little Outhouse on the Prairie]

Two, do you have adequate sanitation?  If so, you are better off than about 2.5 billion people who don’t have access to a toilet, who may be forced to defecate in an open field or an alleyway, or who are made physically unsafe because of this lack of access.

22 May 1980, Niagara Falls, New York State, USA — Original caption: Clean up efforts have started in the Love Canal. Signs have been posted all over the area with a special warning to all residents to KEEP OUT. Most of the residents have taken that advice and have moved to Motels following a press statement yesterday in Washington. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Third, do you live in a town where some quasi-governmental agency pumps water from the ground, treats it to assure it’s clean, and delivers it to your faucet where all you have to do is turn on the tap to let it flow?  If so, you are in better shape than 2.2 million people who die annually from diarrhea caused by water-related diseases, the majority of them children.

The average American uses 400 gallons of water a day, about 70% of those gallons in the bathroom. In developing nations, where women walk to gather water, people use about eight gallons of water a day.  So . . .

IF YOU ANSWERED YES to all three questions, I challenge you to use no more than 10 gallons of water in a single day.  That’s 10 gallons for everything:  washing, sanitation, hygiene, cooking, teeth brushing, the whole works.  I gotta tell you, it’s hard!  The only time I’ve been able to do it is when we’re camping. Yet 1/3 of the world’s population does it every single freaking day.

And while you do it, remember these gals walk for miles to gather water, 200 million work hours worth of collecting water, in a single day. #womencollectingwater #worldwaterday #10gallonchallenge

Let me know how you do it and how you found it.  Hard, easy. impossible?  Stop back and tell me, tomorrow, next week, even next year, it doesn’t matter.  The only thing that matters is that you realize how precious water is to you and to us all.

#lovewater

p.j.lazos 3.22.17

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