Saturday, March 31, 2012

I Didn't Win? Craptastic!

No, I did NOT win the Mega Millions jackpot. I will not be able to buy special military equipment to rid the neighborhood of the nuisance neighbors--it was a delightful fantasy while it lasted, though.

And I had such a good system...Collin and I had lunch at the Magic Wok yesterday. My fortune cookie had an interesting message accompanied by six numbers:

I thought, "Why not?" Normally, I would play a set of "significant" numbers or just go with a Quick Pick. This could be interesting. Could a fortune cookie pick winning lottery numbers?

The answer is no. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the word "inherit."

Truthfully, I didn't expect to win. I rarely play the lottery, and when I do, it's just for fun, a Pick 3 now and then, a Powerball or Mega Millions when the jackpots are indecently huge, but most often I just get a few scratchers. I've had some wins, nothing larger than $50. Collin's luck has been better: his biggest win to date was $600. Horses are my game. I don't play fanatically, but I can pick a winner.

Collin took five chances this time. Not a winner in the lot. I guess the newscaster who said odds were better of being hit by an asteroid wasn't kidding. (They used to say the odds were better of being struck by lightning, but these days an awful lot of people have been struck by lightning.)

So...the three winning tickets were sold in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland. That means somewhere in those three states, someone is waking up to an unimaginable army of relatives he/she never knew they had...scam artists lining up at their door...and the IRS backing an armored truck up to their bank accounts.

If past experiences are any indicator, by the time the dust settles, these winners will be right back where they started. If they're lucky.

(A special thank you to my partner in crime, William Kendall, for giving me most of the photos used here. He always finds the good ones!)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Too Good To Be True....

Didn't I tell you all it wouldn't last? The courtyard soccer game has resumed! This was taken twenty minutes ago...

The photo's not large enough here to see the ball, but it ended up on the sidewalk right in front of our apartment. I knew the games had resumed because I could hear the ball hitting the pavement--probably out on the parking lot, which no doubt thrills the people who have vehicles parked out there!

We saw it outside this morning, along with all the other toys thrown around the courtyard, so I was fairly certain it wouldn't be long before they'd be kicking it around outside our door again. I guess it's time to do what I should have done last week....

But...I also have good news!  Fueled by the spectacular reviews given Immoral Support, Something Old and Miracle Dad on Amazon, I've decided to bring my "Toni Collins" pseudonym out of retirement and write a new romantic comedy--that is, if my contract allows me to use my pen name outside of Silhouette while they still have some of my books on their roster.

The new one will be titled Superhero in Training. I couldn't write it without the expertise of my good friend and fellow author, William Kendall. I suggested we could do it as a joint project under our Scarlett Martin and James Morgan pseudonyms, but since he never responded to that, I think he may be a bit overwhelmed!

The plot? No, I'm  not revealing anything about it--not yet. You'll just have to wonder for now!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Simple Life? Almost!

I announced some time ago that I was out to simplify my life as much as possible. The goal was to be able to put all of my worldly possessions in a backpack. That turned out to be an impossible dream, but I'm close! Take a look:

Here's my closet. It's not a big closet, but all of my clothing is in there, along with all of my shoes, scarves, belts and jewelry (the winter coats have already been washed and taken back to the storeroom, and there was no place to hang the hats in there). I don't buy expensive jewelry, so I can just hang most of the stuff on a hook....

My "home gym"--my parents bought me the stationary bike after a visit to their cardiologist over twenty years ago. Heart disease runs in our family like the Grimaldi curse--they also got themselves a bike and a treadmill. I've had this bike a long time, and I broke the speedometer, but it's still a good ride. (At least I won't have an accident on this one!) Not shown: the dumbbells which are on the floor near the bike....

My library. Almost all of my books are here, along with every other kind of media I use--movies, TV, games, music (unlike most of my neighbors, I don't make everyone in a five-mile radius listen to my music--I use earphones!). My photo albums are here. And my work, via cloud storage.

My computer--a netbook, actually....

Now, if I could just whittle down this group....

 I rattle when I walk. Seriously.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Passing the Hat

A while back, our pastor started something new: Pass the Hat. Most, but not all, Sundays, he passes a hat throughout the congregation during the sermon. We're to put whatever amount we choose into it: a day's lunch money, what we'd normally spend for coffee, a dollar or five or ten. Nothing is set in stone, if you'll pardon the expression. Then, Pastor John gives the cash collected to whoever God puts upon his heart to choose. The person selected is to then take the cash and wait for God to put it upon their heart to give it to someone in need with this message: "Jesus loves you."

It's been a deeply rewarding experience for our church as a whole. The experiences of those chosen have deeply affected them...though initially, most find the responsibility for the task more than a bit daunting. Some of their experiences have been tender and moving, others incredibly funny. Hearing each story as they were related in church gave me an idea: a book of Pass the Hat stories. Most, if not all of us are familiar with the Chicken Soup series...and a good friend of mine, fellow author Eve Gaal, recently contributed to God Makes I know there's a market for Pass the Hat.

Yes, this could work as an inspiring book...maybe even a series of books. I proposed the idea to Pastor John and Carole, and they were receptive to it. I began thinking, planning, figuring out the best format for the book. Collin started thinking about cover ideas. I got excited about it. The book--or books--would of course be the property of the church. The royalties would be paid to the church. I would finally be using my talents in the way I believe God wants me to use them.

And then, just when I thought I had it all figured out...after services yesterday, Pastor John gave me the Pass the Hat first thought was, "Uh-oh. God's tested me before. He's going to make me give this to someone I don't like...."   

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why Am I NOT Surprised?

For those of you who have read my previous posts regarding my troublesome neighbors, an update: as Collin and I were leaving for church this morning, I saw the kids' parents gathered outside their apartments, watching us get into the SUV. I figured that meant one of two things: one, we'd come home and find our apartment ransacked and anything of value gone (if that sounds unreasonable of me, consider: anyone who will break one rule will have no problem breaking others), or two, there would be a soccer game in progress in the courtyard. From the start, I've never expected this peace and quiet to last. It hasn't so far...never more than a few days pass before the kicking resumes.

I told Collin we should go home through the back of the complex so they wouldn't see us coming, in the event I was right on either count. We cut through the next street over, and what did we encounter? Yep...all the usual suspects, plus soccer ball.'s not my problem. That courtyard is at least ten times as big as the one by our place. I don't even know if the signs are posted over there. I didn't look. At least they could play over there without much likelihood of doing any damage. As long as they're not hitting my door or windows, I will say nothing.

Of course, there is a parking lot near that courtyard....

No, that didn't happen. At least not yet. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012



I was on my laptop, ordering equipment for the lab, when Lynne came in with a small cardboard box with holes poked in the lid. “What have you there?” I asked, nodding toward the box, hoping it was not a snake. I'd always had a bit of a fear of them, though I was not quick to admit to that.

She sat down next to me. “My patient.” She lifted the lid so that I could see what was inside. Huddled in one corner of the box was a tiny bird with one wing askew. “He’s injured his wing,” she explained.

I looked up at her. “What are you going to do, put a splint on it?” I asked, amused.

“Hardly. I just have to keep him quiet and make sure he gets enough nourishment until he heals. Then I send him on his way.”

“And how will you know when he’s well enough to be set free?” I asked.

“I won’t. But he will.” She placed the box on the table in front of me.

I studied the tiny creature for a long moment. It brought back a sudden rush of memories from the distant past, of all the injured creatures my mum and I tended when I was a wee lad. “They’re God’s creatures, just as we are,” she would tell me. “We are responsible for them. We must take care of them. We have been given stewardship over all the creatures of the earth.”

“Then why do we eat them, Mummy?” I asked. It didn’t make sense.

She smiled patiently. “We’re allowed to kill only for food,” she explained. “One day you will understand. But you—you have a gift, and a responsibility to use that gift to make this world a better place.”

“What gift, Mummy?” I wanted to know.

“You’re a healer,” she told me, extending her hand to me. She was holding a bird that had crashed into our kitchen window. It looked to be near death.

“He’s dying,” I remembered saying. The pitiful creature was barely breathing. My heart broke for it.

She shook her head. “He’s hurt, but he’s still alive. You can heal him.”

“But how?” I didn’t understand. “What can I do?”

“Touch him. Stroke him,” she instructed.

I did as she said. I always obeyed my mum without question. I stroked the bird’s tiny body with my fingers, and almost immediately, its wings started to flutter. Mum released her hold on it, and it flew away as if it had never been injured.

“If I can heal animals and birds, Mummy, why can I not heal you?” I asked.

She looked surprised. “Why would I need healing?” she asked.

“You’re hurting,” I observed solemnly. “I can see it in your eyes.”

She hesitated. “There are different kinds of hurting,” she tried to explain. “Some hurts only God himself can heal.”

“Why doesn’t he, then?” I challenged.

“In his time, he will,” she assured me. “There are things we must accept without question.” She hugged me tightly.

But there were things I had never been able to accept….


I was up early the next morning, working on my laptop again. Almost as an afterthought, I decided to check on the bird. I lifted the lid on the box slowly, trying not to startle it or allow it to escape. Not that it could, weak as it was.

It wasn’t moving. It lay on one side, its tiny legs stiff. It was dead, or so I thought. I decided to dispose of it, but when I reached down to pick it up, it jerked as if startled and hopped to its feet, its feathers ruffled. It looked up at me, as surprised as I was.

“Little bugger,” I growled. “You sure as hell looked dead.”

“That’s odd,” Lynne said, coming up behind me.

“What?” I asked, still baffled by what had just happened.

“The bird,” she said. “Last night, he wasn’t doing very well. I was starting to think he might not make it.”

“They may look fragile, but the little bastards are actually quite resilient,” I said with an offhanded shrug.

“I think he wants to go home,” Lynne said, observing the bird for a long moment. It looked up at her expectantly. She took the box and went over to the door. I followed, watching as she opened the door, then lifted the lid from the box. The bird didn’t move. It seemed to be waiting for instructions.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” I asked. “You’ve worn out your welcome. Go!”

The bird took off, flying confidently westward until they could no longer see it. I put an arm around Lynne. She didn’t push me away.

She turned to look at me. “Did you ever have a pet as a child?” she asked.

I thought about it. “When I was very young, I had many pets. All of them temporary,” I said. "Hungry strays, injured creatures. Mum had a soft heart."

"I think I would have liked her," Lynne said.

“My mum used to say animals had the ability to see evil. She said they could predict the weather, foresee disasters and see demon spirits.”

“They can,” Lynne said quietly.

“Any stray that came to our door was fed what crumbs we could manage, no matter how little we had,” I remembered. “The lost tend to stick together, it would seem.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Frontier Landlord

Okay...not quite, but close.

All this talk of dealing with troublesome tenants brings back memories. My parents owned rental property for many years, and it was quite profitable for them...but it didn't get off to a great start. Because Dad worked all day, Mom was dealing with the tenants. Mom wasn't mean enough to be a landlord. She was friendly and easygoing and far too trusting. She'd fall for even the lamest of sob stories. As a result, people tried to take advantage of her. They soon learned that was a mistake. If they gave Mom a bad time, they'd have to deal with Dad...and nobody wanted to be in that position.

Dad didn't take crap off anyone, and he had bullshit radar. They quickly learned not to call his bluff. If he told them, for example, he'd make them move if they were late with their rent one more time, they knew better than to even ask for an extention. One night, he watched a tenant who'd been warned try to leave in the middle of the night--with their headlights turned off.

And then there was the hooker. She lied about her, uh, profession on the application, but the traffic going in and out was a dead giveaway. Dad and Robert, the policeman who lived across the street, went up there and cleaned house--Dad with a heavy chain over his shoulder and Robert with his service revolver. The hooker was in the bedroom with a john and two more johns were waiting in the living room. Dad and Robert had them scattering like cockroaches. Mom went up and packed up the not-so-happy hooker's stuff the next day, but she never came back for it.

Robert discovered one of the johns was wanted for a double murder over in Illinois. Leave it to those two to even scare the crap out of a killer.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Check out the latest post at my website: Beishir Books


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

If It's Broke, Fix It!

Warning: I'm on my soapbox again!

A comment made by April to my previous post gave me an idea. In today's economic climate, it's been necessary for many families to move into apartments. Still, it's not fair to expect those of us whose children are grown, those who are childless by choice and those who are retired and deserve to live in peace and quiet to have other people's children forced upon us.

April suggested the children should be provided a specific play area. I'll take that one step further and say that it should be made a law that any apartment buildings that allow children should be required to provide a playground for them.

And I'm going to actively push for such a law.

TV would be the perfect place to start. One of our local stations has a regular segment on the evening news called "I'm Just Sayin'," where viewers can go on the air and present their views on various topics. It would be the perfect forum to address this growing problem. Just as there are laws regarding how many people can occupy an apartment, there needs to be a law regarding children annoying other tenants.

Those of you who read my blog regularly or even saw my last post know I've had some serious problems with kids in my neighborhood playing soccer outside my door. I had a previous situation involving ball playing when we lived on the other side of the complex. A boy, sometimes by himself, sometimes with a rather obnoxious girl, would bounce his ball off the landing next to our apartment--which more often than not ended with it crashing into my door, living room window, or patio chairs. After telling him repeatedly to stop, I got enough. The ball landed on my patio--and I grabbed it.

That kid looked at me as if he might cry. I didn't have the heart to keep it. I gave it back to him and told him I didn't want my windows broken. If he could promise to keep the ball away from them, we'd get along just fine. He did...and it never happened again. 

But that won't work in this situation. These kids started out reasonably polite. Even when I yelled at them, they wouldn't talk back. But after Daddy joined the game, they presumed (incorrectly) that I would be afraid of Big Bad Daddy and wouldn't dare say or do anything. Wrong. It just made me even more determined to put an end to way or another.

I wish I could post the photos here. I got eleven new ones yesterday afternoon for my evidence file. One of particular interest is one boy right in front of my door, kicking the ball. He was brazen--I had the door open and was taking that photo openly. Right behind him is the "No Ball Playing" sign. And in the background, one of our maintenance men. This kid is going on as if he's doing nothing wrong. What's wrong with that picture?

I read that Homeland Security deported over 53,000 illegal immigrants in January alone. I wonder if they'd like a few more? Please?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Teach Your Children...Please!

We can't choose our relatives. Unfortunately, we can't choose our neighbors, either. If we could,  at least three apartments in my section would have new tenants.

I've written about my neighborhood here before. I love living here...for the most part. It's a great location. It's convenient. The newly-rehabbed apartments are wonderful. The guys in maintenance are good-natured about my false the day I called to report an electrical problem (it turned out the bathroom lights were flickering because Collin hadn't tightened the bulbs when he changed them). Our property manager is high on my Best Landlords list. (I've also had some of the worst over the years--at the top of that list would be the self-proclaimed good Catholic who divorced his wife when she fell victim to Alzheimer's. He's a real prince...of darkness.)

I would have expected employees who live on the premises to get special treatment. Not at all, for which I'm grateful--since the one member of the team I don't get along with is the one who, unfortunately, practically lives next door (lucky me!). Almost as soon as I'd moved in, she stuck a note in my door, wanting me to stop feeding the birds and squirrels. Not going to happen without a letter from the office, and somehow I don't see that happening.

I'd been shopping for a low terra cotta dish to match the planter at the end of my walk, which would serve as a feeder (doves are ground dwellers, and most of my regular diners are doves). Unfortunately, I had to scrap that idea because the neighborhood kids and their soccer ball would probably trash it in no time. The island pictured below has flowers in it every spring and summer. I doubt they'll survive this year. I just saw one of the neighbors' kids run through it to get his soccer ball. For the same reason, I haven't bothered to clean my patio chairs. We won't be using them. Who wants to sit out on the patio with a soccer ball flying by (or landing in my lap), followed by a bunch of rude, screamng kids?

Last time I posted on the home front, I wrote about the problems with the children living here. Even months after this sign was posted in the courtyard, they continue to take over said courtyard every day with their soccer ball, kicking it into doors, windows, central air conditioning units. I've heard I'm not the only one complaining...but I'm likely the one yelling loudest. I work at home and the constant distraction is an unnecessary nuisance.

This is not exactly a new problem. A bus driver I know lived here before we did. When I told him we'd moved here, he told me he'd had a window broken by kids playing ball when he was here. It was promptly boarded up with a promise that it would be replaced "soon." After asking several times exactly when that would be, with no result, he told the woman who was at that time manager he would move if he didn't get a new window ASAP. She told him to go ahead and move. He did.

Somebody tell me--don't kids still come home from school loaded down with homework? If so, I don't know how these kids ever get theirs done. They're in the courtyard from early afternoon to--often--late at night. I have yet to see any parents with them. Unless the guy who came up the walk to my door Friday afternoon, stopped short and walked away when he saw me through the window is a daddy to one or more of them. I wonder what he was doing there? Looking for the ball that landed there again? Dropping off his trash (half of my neighbors not only can't read signs, they haven't figured out what dumpsters are for). Spoiling for a fight? I waited to see if he tried to open my door uninvited. That would have landed his sorry backside in jail.

Even the pillagers respected the posted rules.
But not the kids in my neighborhood.

Many apartment buildings/complexes don't allow children. I can certainly understand why. If we had to have kids living nearby, why couldn't they be brainy kids who spend their days on computers?

It would have been so nice....

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My Baby Turns 33 Today!

As if I wasn't already feeling old--make that OLD--today is Collin's birthday. 33--it doesn't seem possible it's been 33 years since I screamed like a banshee in the delivery room. I still have some of the stretch marks, for crying out loud!

That was a night I will never forget. I went into labor in the middle of the night. At 2am, Mom had to get out of bed and drive me to the hospital. I didn't even realize I was in labor. And in spite of having had a baby herself, not to mention having delivered countless puppies and pigs, neither did Mom. Dad was the one who roused Mom from a sound sleep to tell her it was time to head for St. Agony's. Okay, the hospital's name is really St. Anthony's, but....

Collin was born on his due date. Does anyone know what the odds are of delivering on the due date without inducing labor? It's much the same as being struck by lightning or winning the lottery, I think.

Dad always said Collin's looks didn't change. He just got bigger....

Here he is at six weeks old--with the Easter Bunny!

It's been said that laughter is healthy. Dad said if that's true
Collin had to be the healthiest baby in the world. He was always

Newport Beach, CA. Age 9 months.

One of my favorite photos of him. Mom and Dad had it 
taken for me as a Christmas gift.

On a Greyhound bus, in Indio, CA. 
We were en route to St. Louis.
A trip I won't soon forget.

Dad thought this was a clever way to let Collin cool off in 
hot weather. The neighborhood kids all came to see him.
"He's cute," they always said. "Is he mean?"
They assumed since he was my son....

He always got to lick the bowl!

Christmas 1984

Being eaten by Pac-Man, 1985

Yep. Travolta's outfit from Saturday Night Fever!

School photo, 1986

One of many bowling trophies!

At Six Flags, age 12...

With pro wrestler Rosey, also known as Super Hero In Training.

And with our pastor, John Morden, who has a birthday next week. Happy Birthday, PJ!

It's still hard to believe that the years have passed so quickly. The tiny baby I brought home from St. Agony's is a man now--though I still refuse to acknowledge it most of the time. I tell him when he's 80, he'll still be my baby. He tells me when he's 80, I'll be dead....