Kittie Howard

Going to Mardi Gras!

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.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Who's Naughty and Nice on Your Holiday List?


A roller-coaster year ends in a lovely home in a beautiful coastal North Carolina neighborhood. I'm grateful for our lifestyle. True, hard work got us here. But not without help. I'm grateful for parents who paid for my university education, bought my first car and otherwise helped a newly-married couple get established.

I'm grateful for Mr. H's university education, the cornerstone of his success. True, he worked hard. But not without help from his family.

 Actually, no one in either family accomplished anything without help. My father had his university degree when World War II ended. But with thousands of returning sailers, soldiers, and Marines entering the job market, his degree meant little. The G. I. Bill saved the day. Once my father obtained his law degree, the sky became the limit. Reasonably so! We didn't live in a mansion. We kids had our chores (for which I'm grateful, as I learned how to manage my time and do useful stuff.)

The G. I. Bill also provided Mr. H's brother the opportunity to obtain his Masters Degree in physics.

Increased education led to increased incomes -- taxed incomes that had to help offset initial financial investments. One has to pay one's way in life. (Except corporations like Gulf Oil. They had so many loophole exemptions the company didn't pay any corporate income tax last year.)

When I began working, only 10% of women had a university degree. I was set. That wouldn't be the case today. When I was a kid in Louisiana, a woman couldn't be a real estate agent because "that would take a job away from a man." That wouldn't be the case today. I'm grateful there are increased opportunities and more people can succeed on their own merits, without prejudice or bias. However, more progress is needed. You know what I mean.

As the fire in the fireplace flickers, I feel warm and secure . . . and wishful. Twenty miles from where I live are poverty grids beyond words. I wish I had a magic wand to put heat in homes, food on tables, and toys under Charlie Brown Christmas trees.

I wish I could bring in a properly run factory so more people would have work, not that a factory would be popularly received in this semi-rural area. Very commonly in the South, what was is how it should be.

With a limited education, there's scant opportunity for work, unless one gets lucky and lands a non-military job on the Air Force base in Goldsboro or the Marine Corps base in Jacksonville or with the county government or if the Federal government builds more roads or if one works for a mom-and-pop business, like shrimp or fishing boat.

I wish I could replete the oceans, rivers and streams. When shrimp here are in season, they're delicious. But they're small. What's called a "large-sized" shrimp in the market is actually an "average-sized" shrimp. Actually, I type this with a tinge of sadness. Not that long ago wild-caught shrimp labeled "large" were huge.

But what about those here who graduate high school and go on to get a college diploma?

Most don't return. They work in Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte and beyond. The sky's the limit. In today's different era, they dream of living in mansions. And many will. Some will buy a condo on the beach to return here on weekends.

Having said all of that, there are numerous pockets of enormous wealth here, where our home would be a guest cottage near a monster home. It's tucked away wealth. Massive homes sprawl along shorelines. On islands. The county built an air strip for homeowners, even abolished the tax on the sale of airplanes delivered here.

When the county imposed a water view tax, the rich didn't care. Nor did they care about the 2% food tax. Rich here means really rich. (Vermont has a food tax; Louisiana has a food tax. New Hampshire has a water view tax.)

I wish I had a magic wand so a woman I know can sell her house in Morehead City. About 1200 square feet, the white-sided house sits on a tree-lined street in a pleasant area, but from another era. If you stood on the roof of her house on a cloudless day and squinted hard, you might be able to see the ocean. The water view tax is killing her.

It's like there's an ocean between the haves and the have-nots.

For all of the incredibly nice people I've met here and elsewhere, I wish you the happiest of holidays.

For all of you in Blogville who've been so forgiving about my erratic posts and have stuck with me, I thank you from the heart and wish you the happiest of holidays.

For those on my naughty list, the ones who don't understand that no one climbs life's ladder without help, I wish you a holiday moment when you see, really see, that the holiday season is not about you.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Hub and I are hitting the road soon, Asheville for Christmas and Virginia for New Years, both with family and friends. Happy New Year, everyone! I hope all of life's blessings are yours in 2015 and beyond!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Welcome to North Carolina: Hello, Gorgeous; Link to Conquering Your Fears

Although we made numerous trips between Northern Virginia and Coastal North Carolina to get possessions in place, our North Carolina home was operational in June. No glitz or glam -- air mattresses, a coffee pot, kitchen and bath basics -- but life was good, made even better by the excitement of it all. There's a lot of truth to the refrain "Nothing could be finer than Carolina in the morning."

One such morning I awoke as dawn broke, slipped on my robe, and went to the back porch. After expanding one of the collapsable beach chairs we'd brought with us, I sat down, stretched my legs as I looked around -- at the sun-streaked sky, the lazy white clouds -- and inhaled a glorious breath of fresh air tipped with pine and the scent of salty ocean breezes that had wafted my way.

I exhaled as I sank deeper into the chair, then froze. The largest orange cat imaginable had crept out of the azalea bushes at the back of the yard.

No, wait, the mind reasoned. That's not a cat. That's a . . . that's a FOX.

I must have stirred, for he faced me.

"Hello, Gorgeous," I whispered, then smiled as he headed for the nearby thicket of trees. The shy, non-aggressive fox was young, probably returning from a night's hunt in our wooded, river-banked area.

I haven't seen him again. But one can always hope . . .

Vulpes vulpes or Red Fox is common in North Carolina and one of three species common in the U. S., the other two being the Kit Fox and the Swift Fox. The Red Fox's tail is about 70% as long as the head and body length. The shy, non-aggressive fox is thought to be monogamous, mates early January onward, and has pups late February-April. Average litter has five pups. The female, called a 'vixen', stays with the pups while the male hunts for food. When pups are around 10 months old, they're usually out on their own. The Red Fox is not endangered.  (Photo source: Wikipedia; for a YouTube video of five Red Fox in a Raleigh, NC, yard, go here.)

* * * * *

I thought I'd link this post to an article about overcoming one's fears. Shy and primarily nocturnal, the fox hunts mice, woodchuck, squirrels, eats insects, birds, and eggs and has been known to dig into uncovered garbage. (Note: Counter-legend, a fox seen during the day probably isn't diseased if there's a variety of habitat available, as there is here.)

The Red Fox has to be wily, but cautious, to survive. A large, aggressive feline can bring a young fox down. So, where is the line between caution and fear? For each of us, it's in a different place. We all have fears. That's the nature of being human.

A 20-year old adult probably wouldn't assess a situation as a 40-year old adult would, both generations either out of experience, fear or a combination of both. Experience tempers judgment; fear paralyzes judgment. A helpful link to overcoming fear is here.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Welcome to North Carolina!

You have no idea how many times I've longed to resume blogging. But these past months have been such a whirlwind of activity there hasn't been time.

When last at the keyboard, around the end of March, the crud that had invaded my gorgeous body turned out to be a formidable foe that required kick-ass antibiotics and serious rest. (Your kind Get Well wishes also helped. Thank you!)

Back on my feet, Mr. H. and I listed what remained to be done prior to listing our Virginia condo for sale and got busy. Chipped fingernails and sore muscles later, the For Sale sign went up. (Gosh, but that sounds easy. It wasn't!)

By the 10th day on the market, we'd received four offers. We decided to go with the first offer because of the proposed lender's solid reputation. In a nutshell, we received our asking price, and the buyer paid all of the closing costs, a considerable savings to us.

Now that we had a closing date for the condo, the trips between Virginia and North Carolina began. Our house had been rented out. Floors needed to be replaced, walls painted, and so on.

These trips started out as fun, marking off Interstate exits, like Emporia and Pikeville, as Virginia's rolling terrain flattened into Eastern North Carolina's coastal landscape, but ended up being more like "Noooooooo, not another trip." If you've moved before, you know exactly what I mean!

Long story short: More chipped fingernails and sore muscles later, Mr. H. and I looked around our house, decided we were IN and relaxed with morning cup of coffee on the back porch. Have you ever heard pine trees "whispering" when a gentle wind blows? It's nice, very nice and, in that moment, when Nature and soul are one, going through all of That to get to This is worth it.

However, I don't know if we'll remain here. For tax purposes, we have to live in this house for two years. It's a lovely house that's turning into a loving home and is not a problem. The problems lie elsewhere. In the years since we last lived in North Carolina, the state and counties have charted paths that often conflict with the whispering pines. We don't want to move again, heavens, no! But I sometimes think North Carolina is a bit too high and tight for us.

Anyway, as life in North Carolina unfolds, I'm going to share my experiences with you, and we'll see where this takes us.

(It's nice, very nice to be back home in Blogville. Missed ya!)