Friday, February 20, 2009

Future Writer??

Today was a joyous day for me. My son John and his wife Cheryl presented my husband and me with a new grandchild, Christian Frederic Welk. Christian was born at 9:10 a.m. via C-section and weighed in at 9 pounds 11.7 ounces.

Yep. He's a big boy, all right.

And he's already talking!

Okay. I exaggerate. He isn't actually talking -- that would be a miracle of sorts, wouldn't it! But he is babbling away, a soft sort of babble midway between a cooing sound and a murmur. The nurse said he's just complaining, but I know differently. He's checking out this new world of his, one quite removed from the world he knew inside his momma, and he's letting us know what he thinks of it.

"Wow! It sure is bright out here. And cold! Somebody better turn up the heat before my toes freeze! Oh, a nice warm blanket. That feels better. But where'd my swimming pool go? I liked floating around inside Mom. Hey! They're covering my fists with some white things! Rats! I can't chew on my fingers any more. Wait a minute -- I'm feeling a little wet down below. Somebody better change my diaper! And for heaven's sake, give me something to eat. All that work I went through getting born made me hungry!"

Okay. You don't have to believe me, but I think this boy is a born writer. He's telling a story already -- the story of his new life on 'The Outside'. Think what he could do with a pen and some paper! Just wait 'til they take the mitts off his hands. :)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Let Me Tell You a Story About a Man Named Jed

No, not really. Instead, let me tell you a story about a cat named Shadow.

I was at work in the ER one night back in January, 1997 when I received a phone call from home. My daughters Sarah and Jennifer were on the line, flush with excitement after visiting a local pet shop with our youngest offspring, Mary Caroline.

For weeks the two girls had been after me to get a kitten for Mary. Sarah and Jenni were both getting married in '97, Sarah in April and Jenni in October. Sarah was taking her orange tabby cat Woody to her new home while Jen was marrying a man who was owned by a big black and white tomcat named Frank. (Yes, I say 'owned' because any cat lover knows that people don't 'own' cats -- we are simply the servants of our beloved felines.) According to my oldest daughters, Mary was going to be lonely enough without them at home. How in the world would she survive without a cat to keep her company?

I'd been resisting their pleas since before Christmas, but with me out of the way at work, the three girls had worked their charm on their doting father. They'd found the perfect kitten for Mary, and being a cat lover himself, my husband had caved in quite easily. But he ageed to their plan only if I said yes. Thus the phone call.

Given the hectic atmosphere in the ER that evening, I had no time to argue the merits of bringing a new pet into the house. And what could I say anyway now that Fred was behind them? I knew when I was beat, so I surrendered with hardly a whimper.

I returned home that night expecting to find a kitten curled up on Mary's bed. Instead, I found THREE kittens! Two of them were females, striped tabbies from the same litter. The third was a big pawed gray tabby from a different litter, a male who looked up at me with soft eyes that said, "I'm all yours!" I immediately fell in love with him.

My daughters spun me a long involved story as to why we now had three newcomers in the house instead of one. It didn't matter; I was won over by the gray cat and the other two were just bonuses. Shadow (as we named him) grew by leaps and bounds over the next few months. His playmates were on a slower growing curve, always a pound and several inches behind him. The difference in size caused problems. Shadow wanted to play with his adopted sisters, but his roughhousing turned them into shrinking violets. They began hiding behind the couch each time he approached.

Shadow couldn't figure it out. He'd cock his head to one side and look up at me as if to say, "Hey, ma! Why won't they wrestle with me?" Our vet supplied the answer: the girls were afraid of Shadow. They weren't developing as they should and they needed to be separated from the big gray cat -- permanently. Eventually our son Matt took one cat to his apartment and a friend adopted the other. Shadow stayed with us.

Over the years Shadow grew into his paws and became, as my husband put it, "one pound short of a puma". During the day he followed me around the house, sitting on my lap and checking out the computer while I wrote, or helping me in the garden by stalking and destroying any leaf that dared to fall from a tree. Each morning he would circle the yard looking for intruders in the form of mice or rabbits, then trot back to the door and meow as if to say, "You can come out now. It's safe!"

In the evening, Shadow would lie on the patio next to our chairs, guarding us just in case a stray sparrow flitted our way. Then at night he would jump up on the bed, curl up next to my husband, and stare me in the eyes as he placed one paw on Fred's hand. I always felt he was claiming Fred as his own, letting me know Fred was his guy as much as he was mine. When he was sure I'd gotten the message, he'd jump down and go upstairs to sleep with Mary Caroline. Promptly at 5 a.m. he'd be back to wake Fred for work. We never needed an alarm clock; Shadow did the job for us.

I grew up with cats, lived with cats most of my life. But never have I known a cat like Shadow. For love and companionship, he had no equal. I will miss him.

In loving memory, Shadow, November 1996 - February 16, 2009.

Friday, February 13, 2009

All Good Things Must Come To An End

Sunday, Feb. 8 saw the close of Love Is Murder, Chicago’s premier annual mystery conference. After three exciting days of panels, presentations, and partying, 300 people packed their luggage, hugged one another good-bye, and headed for the exits at the Westin NorthShore Hotel.

I was one of the folks lugging my bags through the lobby that day. I’d come to LIM not only as a fan of the mystery genre, but also as one of the organizers of the conference. As registrar for Love Is Murder, I felt a sense of relief that all had gone as planned. I was also pleased that so many of the attendees called this eleventh LIMcon the best one yet.

There was reason to be happy, yet I was leaving the hotel with a sense of melancholy.

Saturday evening an announcement had been made cancelling the 2010 LIMcon. Love Is Murder would be back in 2011, but there was a need to reorganize and recruit new people to fill the committee assignments. What had started as a small con manned by a few dedicated mystery fans had grown into a large conference still manned by the same few fans. Help was definitely needed.

Losing something -- even for only a year -- tends to disrupt the balance in your life. You count on people, places, or events to always be there for you. It's a bit of a shock when you discover the house you grew up in has been torn down to make way for another McMansion, or your favorite little restaurant has sold out to Subway. Worse yet is when your best friend moves half way across the country and you've only got e-mail to keep you connected.

Losing LIM for a year is a small thing in comparison to the more important losses we all go through. Heck, I lost my job a week before LIM, so I know of what I speak. :) But I've learned one thing over the years: while all good things must come to an end, there are always new opportunities waiting right around the corner.

I'm taking my forced retirement both from LIM and my paying job to concentrate more on things that really count. I have a novellla to submit to my publisher in April, and now I have more time to perfect it. I have a short story in the newly released anthology MISSING, and now I have more time to promote it. And best of all, I have a new grandchild due to be born next Thursday, and now I have more time to enjoy him or her (yes, we still don't know if it's a boy or a girl!) and my other seven grandchildren. And I have more time to spend with the one guy who can still make me laugh -- my husband Fred.

So while all good things must come to an end, I'm looking forward to better things starting in 2009. I hope the same can be said for you.