Kittie Howard

Going to Mardi Gras!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Off to Europe!

Our two suitcases are packed (one each) as we finalize last minute stuff before our early morning departure tomorrow for D.C. and Saturday flight to Europe.

I'm not saying exactly where just yet as the Big Plan ***drum roll*** is to post from our various stops. Since my new computer breezes along, it should be a lot easier than struggling as I did with the old one. (What a mess that was, sheesh!)

And, you're right, Alex, I'm loving my iPhone! Have learned to shut the phone part off, go about my way, and catch up later. But we do have international plans for the trip. Life's good!

Hope to check back in soonest!

Happy Summer, Everyone!

Monday, June 22, 2015

"The Princess and the Pea"

The Confederate flag and a pea: What's the segue? Read on . . .

With Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson's book of fairy tales in one hand, I opened the door to the living room. This hot August afternoon I wanted to be in the quietest and coolest room in the house to re-read a fairy tale.

Of the book's many fairy tales, "The Princess and the Pea" had caused a fifth grader to do some serious thinking, but not about the story's handsome prince. I was too young for that.

No, it was this business about sleeping on 20 mattress piled high above a pea and waking up bruised and sore, what happened in the story that proved a rain-drenched maiden was a real princess, not an impostor trying to snare the prince.

Even though none of the book's fairy tales had had a princess with freckled cheeks, I dismissed that as a minor technicality. Hans Christian Anderson was from Denmark (I'd checked the map), a long way from South Louisiana, and couldn't possibly have known about Southern princesses: belles with peach-dripping voices, delicate manners, a certain frailty, and a determined focus that usually won the  day.

Being a Southern princess-in-training was another ignored technicality. To my way of thinking, a princess was a princess, thus opening the way to conduct an experiment: sleeping on a mattress with a pea between the mattress and the box springs.

After re-reading the fairy tale, to make sure I had it right, I closed the book as I stood up and moved toward the piano, where I'd hidden a pea shelled that morning behind the metronome. Seizing the moment -- it wasn't often the house was this quiet -- I slipped into my bedroom, pulled up the bedspread and top sheet, then lifted the mattress with one hand as I reached to position the pea where my back would be while I slept.

Just as I'd positioned the green pea, my mother entered the room. "What are you doing?" she asked, causing me to jump as I jerked my hand out and the mattress and bedding fell down.

"Nothing," I murmured, eyes down, following that princess training rule perfectly. "Just looking for something."

After a long pause that ended with a perfectly executed turning sweep, my mother said, "Make sure you straighten those pillows on your bed."

That done, afternoon eventually turned into evening, then bedtime. Positioning myself just as the fairy tale princess had on the fairy tale's cover page, I was almost too excited about my experiment to fall asleep, but eventually did, with my fingers laced together above the sheets.

When morning's sunlight danced on my face, I stretched, only to cry out as I grabbed my shoulder. The aches and pains worsened when I stood. Tears fell when I reached for my robe on the nearby chair.

At that point, my mother, with her built-in radar for disaster, entered the room. "What's wrong?"

Not knowing what else to do, I dissolved into tears, explaining between sobs I ached because I'd slept on a pea, not exactly a sane thing to say to anyone. But that's what I believed.

In the long morning that followed, my mother stripped the bed to soak the white sheets in Clorox to remove green pea stains prior to washing the sheets. As best that could be determined by my attorney father (who first had to determine if I knew the difference between real life and a fairy tale), during the gymnastics of placing the pea beneath the mattress, my jerked hand and the swoosh of the mattress and bedding falling into place had caused the pea to roll forward,  eventually out of the bedding and onto the floor and hide, as peas do, until I stepped on it before getting into bed.

But even worse than pea-stained sheets, the doctor had to come -- what doctors did Back Then for people who had money to pay them -- and examine my shoulder. Because I'd slept in an unnatural position all night, a muscle had frozen. He gave me a shot near the muscle to relax it. That hurt, really   hurt, almost as much as my siblings teasing me for a week. But I sucked it in. What else could I do? I had been stupid.

So what's the point of a childhood story from another era that seems like yesterday?

It's this: Just as my pea belonged in a bowl with the other peas shelled that morning, the Confederate flag belongs in a museum with other Civil War memorabilia.

Yes, my fanciful experiment provided a story to tell on the stoop, but I also disrupted a household and caused unnecessary worry and expense. When conflicted, the greater moral always gives way to the lesser moral. I was wrong. And when I got it through my head -- fully understood -- that I'd been wrong, I apologized to my parents.

It's a step in the right direction -- getting it through some people's heads -- that South Carolina's elected officials will discuss what to do about the Confederate flag's status. It's a discussion that should spread throughout the South.

More importantly, these discussions should lead to positive actions, not only to remove the flag from state buildings and state flags, but that the South's secession and subsequent actions resulted in "A Failed Experiment in Nationalism," what is written above the back steps of Confederate States of America president Jefferson Davis' home in Mississippi. And if one doesn't know what nationalism is, well, the problem deepens. And part of why, at war's end 150 years ago, General Robert E. Lee advised against flying the flag.

But just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, I say to South Carolina's legislature, "Tear down that Confederate flag. It's oppressive. It fosters hatred. It's about race. And you know it."

"We are one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." We are the United States of America.

My condolences to the families and friends of those massacred in Charleston.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"Kermit" Takes a Hop

"Kermit," the tree frog named after the famed Muppet, decided to remain on our back porch and feast upon the insects that neared his perch, the light fixture we'd had installed on the side wall. Although the rosemary, basil, mint, and citronella plants mosquitoes hate had kept the tormentors at bay, Kermit not only decimated those who'd managed to get through the defenses but had added flies and other morsels to his dining pleasure.

Life was good!

Mr. H., whom mosquitoes love, could sit outside in peace, no longer bitten or buzzed by the little drones. As such, many a delightful evening passed as glorious sunsets crowned sun-drenched days.

The evening respite also calmed hectic days filled with gardening in the morning, before temperatures soared, and household projects in the afternoon. Although the interior looked fresh and no longer reflected the mess the renters had made, projects remained.

After completing a kitchen project, I poured a glass of iced tea and headed for the porch, only to stop dead in my tracks.

A black snake had slithered up the far wall and waited, within inches of snacking on Kermit.

As I raced though the kitchen, I plopped the glass of tea on the counter, then slammed the garage door open for the broom, raced back to the porch, opened the door near the light fixture, stepped back and banged the wall with the broom.

In the nano second before the snake lunged, Kermit hopped through the opening, onto the hall floor.

Not sure if the snake had a poisonous colorful marking on its head, I banged the door frame with the long broom, shut the door and stepped back as the snake coiled around the light fixture.

I then called 911. No false bravado here. I don't like snakes!

The patrolman who came uncoiled the snake with a long, somewhat curved metal prong. He said it was a non-poisonous Garter snake and repositioned the reptile in the thicket at the very far side of the house, as removed from Kermit as possible.

In an established, tree-filled, sometimes wooded, residential area that hugged water on one side and wrapped two 18-hole golf courses on the other side, everyone had a snake story, now including Kermit.

Problem was, I couldn't find Kermit to congratulate him on his daring escape. After placing bowls of water in strategic locations, I decided to close off that part of the house and wait until evening, hoping his nocturnal instincts would kick in.

When Mr. H. called from the Chapel Hill area that afternoon, I didn't tell him about the little frog who'd charmed his way into our hearts. Actually, there wasn't time. Well, okay, there was. I thought it wiser to focus on the positive. Kermit would be found.

And there really was much to talk about. Mr. H.'s nephew had graduated, with honors in Economics, from the University of North Carolina, had turned down a job in Durham for a job in Nashville and had been accepted into Vanderbilt's evening program for a combined M.B.A. (Masters of Business Administration) and J. D. (law) degree.

That evening, much to my delight, Kermit returned. When I neared the sink in the bathroom, I saw a green blob by the faucet. But excitement quickly turned to worry. Kermit had shriveled up, a tiny shadow of his former self.

After covering him with a hand towel (he was too weak to jump), I carried him outside, to the wall opposite where the snake had been. To my relief, he clung to the wall. He also tolerated a few fingertip splashes of water from the bowl of water on the floor before hopping further up the wall.

By morning, Kermit had regained some of his weight and snoozed behind the MiracleGro box in the corner, behind the chair where I always sat.

He refused to venture beyond this wall until after I'd scrubbed down where the snake had been.

No doubt about it, Kermit was a Phi Beta Froga.

But, as Mr. H.'s nephew had transitioned from one phase of life, prepared as possible for the next, so had Kermit.

He left the porch about a week later.

Kermit turned out to be Clementine after all.

When Mr. H. returned from Chapel Hill, he saw another, much smaller frog next to "Kermit" on the porch's pillar. Since we now realized the male frog was smaller, we knew what was coming.

That evening we avoided the porch so Kermit and Clementine could have a peaceful honeymoon.

By morning, Kermit was gone. For a few days Clementine hugged the wall, near a dark goo covering a mass of eggs, then disappeared.

Several days later, the dark mass flattened. Whether tadpoles had dropped into the bowl of water below and survived remains one of those questions Mother Nature will answer later, hopefully when another Kermit appears and the glorious cycle of life renews itself.

* * * * *
Computer updates: I now have a new Apple laptop, loaded with goodies, all discounted nicely as it's last year's model. Apparently the only real difference between last year and this year is that this year's pad doesn't click. Never mind. The WiFi mouse eliminates the need for a port. But I'm seriously careful about the computer's re-charge port. I fried the mouse port on the old computer by yanking it out too hard.

So far, I'm loving my new Apple. It's much lighter, does more stuff and is easier for a computer dinosaur like me to operate. That said, getting to this point was a technological hole that took time and money to get out of.

Another new toy is my first iPhone. But the jury's still out on this one. People really do expect immediate replies to texts. Sheesh! I think one has to be careful technology doesn't turn into a mental heroin.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Introducing "Kermit"

Kermit (Hyla cinema) lives on my back porch. We met while I was hosing down the porch. What's that green blob? I thought, diverting the hose in time.

Two weeks later, I can't decide if Kermit adopted us or we adopted him. He's learned not to perch on the door frame leading into the kitchen; we've learned to rattle the door prior to opening it in case he's forgotten.

With an emerging personality and a dedication to devouring mosquitoes and other insects attracted to porches, Kermit is actually a green tree frog common to much of the coastal United States, from East Texas to southern Delaware. In what has turned out to be an increasingly complicated, but pleasantly addictive sphere of interest simplified by Google, various groups of green tree frogs exist. Seeing a small green frog doesn't necessarily mean the diminutive amphibian is Kermit's sibling.

So, let's ignore extensive Google searches and stick with Kermit, so named in homage to Jim Henson's famous Muppet. Approximately 2.5 inches (6 cm) long, with bulging eyes, skinny legs, large toe pads, and a light yellow stripe along the sides, my Kermit appears to be fully grown.

Except that this morning's Googling raised the distinct possibility Kermit is really Clementine.

Male tree frogs are smaller than females and have wrinkled necks because of the vocal sac to call females. Kermit -- er, Clementine -- possesses a flawless neck a model like Cindy Crawford would envy. After a meeting of the family politburo (Mr. H. and Yours Truly), the decision reached meant Kermit remained Kermit. It wasn't a unanimous decision, even if there was logic to Mr. H's argument: Whoever heard of a frog called Clementine?

What swayed me resulted from Googling the name Kermit. Thanks to Wikipedia, this is what I learned: Kermit is a male name found mainly in the U. S. It's a variant spelling of Kermonde, a surname on the Isle of Man, a self-governing British dependency located in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. Kermonde is a Manx language variant of MacDiarmata, an an Irish language variation of MacDermond. U. S. President Teddy Roosevelt named a son Kermit for a Manx ancestor.

The last native Manx speaker died in 1974. Thanks to significant recordings and attention paid to grammatical structure and other linguistic necessities prior to 1974, a language once considered extinct enjoys a slow recovery. Seventy-one students now attend a school where instructors conduct classes in the Manx language. Through this on-going process since the 1980s, two Isle of Man residents are now considered native speakers, as they grew up speaking Manx in the home.

So, in homage to Jim Henson's Kermit and to those who work to save an endangered language, Kermit remains Kermit.

* * * * *

After struggling with computer issues far too long, Mr. H. and I are going to the Apple store in Durham on Tuesday. It's a two and a half hour drive. The port where my mouse connects is the main culprit. I damaged one of the prongs inside, probably by yanking the cord. (No, not switching to a pad!) The secondary problem is this laptop is almost six years old, definitely a dinosaur with other issues in today's fast-moving technological culture. The other problem, of course, resulted from an unhinged schedule while this computer was in and out of local geeks' care. Simply put, one gardening project led to another and I, umm, played hooky.

The photo of the flowers in the above header is of my garden in Virginia last year. (The white spot is a rock from the quarry to restrain erosion.) My North Carolina garden is seriously bigger and on the edge of looking like the garden I'd imagined. (Oh, I hope so!) However, the garden also attracted Kermit and other critters I'll introduce as time passes. I'm learning so much on this porch, sitting here, watching the world go by.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

An Amazing Edit!

Prior to our North Carolina move, I smoothed out the draft for the next book in the Remy Broussard series. A week later, I returned to the manuscript and wasn't happy with it. The excitement I'd felt at having gotten it right disappeared into furrowed brows. Something was wrong, but I couldn't put my finger on it. The elusive it, that all-inclusive, third person, singular pronoun, had reared its squishy head.

Time passed.

Like a shimmering bowl of Jello that turns into a gooey mess when one attempts to hold the gelatin, it eluded me.

More time passed. But that was okay because the up-coming move meant I had better things to do than worry about it, which I continued to do, of course, deep-down, where I thought the now-personified it wouldn't dare to go.


Fortunately, life intervened.

I ran into Lynn at the mall, seriously. My forty-something, somewhat recently divorced friend was on her lunch break and had to get back to work. I was headed downstairs to catch the Metro when we rounded the same corner. After laughing about how we'd bumped into each other, we decided to have lunch the following week and get caught up.

As much as I tried to leave it at home, the interloper tagged along. "Send me a copy of your manuscript, and I'll have a look," Lynn offered.

I demurred. Even though she was "fresh eyes," Lynn was an in-house (salaried) attorney for a major corporation, not an editor, which is what the manuscript needed.

She persisted.

Two days later, I e-mailed Karen with my thanks and the manuscript attached.

She replied two days later from the coast of Spain, where she and Current Boyfriend had impulsively decided to go for a long weekend.

I shrugged both of them off and returned to packing boxes, unable to stuff it into one.

Two weeks later, I opened Lynn's e-mail with a jaundiced eye, rolled my eyes when I read her rushed note about the edited manuscript attached, only to have my eyes pop when I saw what she'd sent: a detailed line-by-line edit, along with comprehensive summaries of story elements, overviews and suggestions.

Lynn had compartmentalized her flighty love life and zeroed in on my manuscript with her considerable legal skills as if she were preparing a brief.

True to what I'd requested, she'd by-passed faint praise -- addictive "love this" comments or exaggerated praise writers love but which can enable insecurities -- for comments about what worked and what didn't work and why. Hallelujah!

What had been eluding me now jumped out at me when I re-read the manuscript: One of my adolescent characters was a bit too young.

Yes, of course, duh!

But a deeper problem lurked. Lynn, from Pennsylvania, had had difficulties believing a Southern woman (a character's mother) could be strong and decisive. "Shouldn't a Southern woman be more submissive to her husband?" she'd commented.

Huh? Not the women I'd grown up with and known in South Louisiana. Or anyone else's mother, for that mater.

Whoa! What the reader believed -- whether perceived or not -- had to be taken into account.

So I asked three women who'd spent little or no time in the South to read my manuscript. One of the three caught the age problem. All three commented that a Southern woman should be more submissive.

When I asked the three to elaborate on their images of Southern women, replies included "downtrodden" and "uneducated." Wow, heavy stuff.

But characters are creations who come to life in an imagined environment in a plausible setting. One of my challenges is to return to my character and develop her more fully. She needs to interact with historical accuracy for the times but in a believable manner so that her actions don't break the reader's esthetic distance.

For the most part, I'm going to grapple with this and other manuscript issues on Facebook.

While this blog will occasionally have posts about writing milestones, the blog's main focus will be on Louisiana stories and points of interest -- what got me into blogging in the first place.

In other words, it's time for a bit of tinkering. If you'd like to join be on FB and share my manuscript's journey -- with in-put greatly appreciated -- I'm here.

My next blog post will be about Pikeville, North Carolina. There's no set date. I'm as erratic and incorrigible as ever. :)

About the A-Z Challenge: I've revealed "Q is for Quebec." Since no one guessed where in the world we're going that begins with "Z", the location will remain a secret (unless someone guesses it correctly later).

In the meantime, let's move on to "X". Can you guess where we're going that begins with "X?"

Postscript: About that exciting Super Bowl game: One second, Mr. H., a serious Patriots fan (and member of the Red Sox Nation), sat slumped in his chair, as sad as sad could be; the next moment, his arms shot up as he shouted "YES," as happy as happy could be. For me, his reaction was a priceless, forever memory.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A-Z Challenge: Traveling with Kittie!

The A-Z Challenge is right around winter's corner. That's a good thing. Actually, two good things: spring's coming -- yay! -- and an idea popped for a Challenge theme: travels.

Specifically, you and I hitting the friendly skies for places around the world that match the alphabet that I've visited. Thanks to a great trip to Quebec, the alphabet opens up for a magic carpet ride.

Yep, I'm excited!

In spite of the awful news that steals headlines, there really is more good in the world than bad. It's time to feel the goodness and hear the laughter that fill most people's hearts. I've met so many along the way, in large cities and small towns and villages, who've brought a smile.

 But, um, can you guess where we're going for Z?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Humanity Strong!

Those with sane minds and peaceful hearts reacted as one to the murders in Paris last week, mindful as well of the massacre in northeastern Nigeria, earlier massacres in Kenya, still reeling from from beheadings of innocents and other acts of horror that have filled the news for far too long and, millions strong, raised theirs voices in unison: "Je suis Charlie."

The French love satire. It goes to the heart of who they are, the products of a deep history that gave a newly independent United States the Statue of Liberty, that gave the world Voltaire.

Francois-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), known by his nom de plume Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher famous for his wit and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and separation of church and state. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and over 2,000 books and pamphlets. As a satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize intolerance and religious dogma. (Wikipedia)

Some of Voltaire's philosophical sayings include:

Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.

Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.

The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reason.

To the wicked, everything serves as a pretext.

Woe to the makers of literal translations, who by rendering every word weaken the meaning! It is indeed by so doing that we can say the letter kills and the spirit gives life.

It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.

Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do!

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

I might disagree with your opinion, but I am willing to give my life for your right to express it.

Voltaire: "Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.." (Photo source: Wikipedia. For more of Voltaire's sayings go here.