Tuesday, April 28, 2009

And Now...A Word From My Character



Greetings to all from little Rhineburg, Illinois! Spring has arrived here in the northwest section of the state. The farmland surrounding our small college town will soon be dotted with the stalks of newly planted corn. Gardens already glow with vibrant stands of tulips and daffodils, and the massive oaks bordering City Hall are leafing out once more in soft shades of yellow-green.

While the locals are busy with spring cleaning, over at Bruck University the students are spiffing up the campus in preparation for May’s Renaissance Faire. It’s an annual event dating back to the 60’s, and it usually goes off without a hitch. Last year was different. VERY different! The trouble started a few days before the Faire when a rune stone was found buried on Bruck Green. Professor Littlewort, who’s known by the locals to be "squirrelly in the head", insisted it was a genuine Viking relic. Before he could prove his hypothesis, the stone was stolen and several people lost their lives. It was not the best of times for the university, nor for me since I was partially responsible for what happened.

But here I am rattling on about murder and mayhem and it occurs to me that some of you may not know who I am. Forgive me for not introducing myself earlier. My name is Caroline Rhodes. I'm an ER nurse, a widow with three grown children who moved from Chicago to Rhineburg at the behest of my son Martin, a student at Bruck University. Martin and his wife Nikki blackmailed me into coming here when I was battling depression after the death of my husband.

Now I'm grateful that I made the move. Rhineburg is a great place to live, although my good friend Carl Atwater, a professor of history at Bruck, claims it was a more peaceful place before I came to town. Since my arrival, a Christmas tree has exploded on the psych ward at St. Anne's Hospital, a gambling ring's been exposed in town, and a herd of Brahma bulls has gotten loose on the campus of Bruck. We've also had a few murders, but I won't bother you with the gory details of those crimes.

Luckily, Mary Welk has chronicled all of my adventures. She gives me a bit more credit for solving these mysteries than I'm probably due, but who am I to protest? She's the writer; I'm just a middle-aged ER nurse trying to stay out of harm's way.

Having said all that, the real purpose of this blog is to introduce you to some of my friends and family members who appear in Mary Welk’s books. The best way I know to do this is by listing their favorite quotes, lines that describe their views on life.

To get the ball rolling, I'll start with one of my own favorite quotes, the one pinned up on my refrigerator!

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, for they are sticking to their diets.

Professor Carl Atwater, a man who believes in six square meals a day: STRESSED spelled backwards is DESSERTS.

Alexsa Stromberg Morgan, the 90-year-old matriarch of the Morgan family who knows something about everyone in Rhineburg: Age doesn't matter, except in wine and cheese. I intend to live forever. So far, so good.

Teddy Schoen, Mayor of Rhineburg: To succeed in politics, it is often necessary to rise above your principles.

Chief of Police Jake Moeller: Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

Martin, my firstborn: Is it dinner yet?

Nikki, Martin’s wife: Man does not live by bread alone. If he did, God wouldn’t have created peanut butter and jelly.

Kerry, my youngest daughter and a theater major: You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Of course, how you spend your leisure time is your business.

Krista, my oldest daughter and a teacher: Letting the cat out of the bag is a whole lot easier than putting it back in again.

Professor Andrew Littlewort, English Department, Bruck University: To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.

The Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, and Rafael Bruck say this about their wives, Faith, Hope, and Charity: They're always late. Their ancestors came over on the June Flower.

Agatha Hagendorf, proprietor of the Rhineburg Boarding House and Home for Gentle Women: Seen it all, done it all, can't remember most of it.

Garrison Hurst, President of Bruck University: Caesar did not create a great empire by holding meetings. He did it by killing off all those who opposed him.

Madeline Moeller, owner of Mad Moeller's Antiques and Collectibles: Life is an endless struggle, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like.

Dr. Chan Daley, an ER doc and old friend from Chicago: Man who stands beneath elephant's tail must prepare for much dung to drop on head.

Hope you enjoyed meeting my friends and family. If you’d like to know more about us, you’ll find our adventures chronicled in Mary Welk’s "Rhodes to Murder" mystery series. You can read the first chapter of A MERRY LITTLE MURDER, the book that introduces me to the public, at Mary’s website, myspace.com/marywelk. If you’re more in a ‘Spring Fling’ mood, read THE RUNE STONE MURDERS, the book that introduces my friends from the Rhineburg Boarding House and Home for Gentle Women. These ladies will keep you laughing despite all the mayhem surrounding them. Later this year you may want to read THE SCARECROW MURDERS, a book that proves that children give you gray hairs no matter how old they are!

Bye for now!

Caroline Rhodes

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

S.H.O.R.T. People

I was deleting old pictures from my computer today when I came across the one shown here. This photo was taken at my son John’s wedding almost three years ago. That’s my husband Fred on the left and my daughter-in-law Cheryl’s parents, Chris and John, on the right. The short one in the middle is me.

Now I know I’m height challenged, but gee whiz! Why didn’t I think to stand on a box when the photographer took this picture? I look like an elf surrounded by giants!

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against tall people, especially the three in this photo. I don’t mind craning my neck to look up at them. (Considering my husband is 6’ 2", I’ve been doing exactly that for forty years.) And I don’t mind that they talk over my head – physically, not mentally – when we’re conversing. I don’t even mind being shaded like a weed by a stand of pine trees, me standing in their tall shadows while they get to enjoy the nice summer sun on their backs. Years of being patted on the head by my taller sons has taught me to overlook such minor drawbacks.

But being short does have its disadvantages. Take slow dancing for example. When I dance with my husband, I get a wonderful view of his shirt buttons, and that’s about it. Oh, sure. Cuddling up against his solar plexus is fun for a while, but hey! It gets warm down there! Breathing isn’t too easy either when he’s holding you tight and your face is squished up against his suit jacket. Every once in a while you’re forced to back off just to grab a bit of air. And try stealing a quick kiss from the guy. You’re liable to throw your neck out of joint before your lips even meet his.

So all right, short folks like me don’t spend every evening slow dancing with their SOs. But there are other handicaps we endure. Try shopping in any food store. Everything on your list just happens to be on the top shelf at least three inches out of your reach. Have you ever balanced one foot on a shopping cart and the other on a row of canned peas while stretching for a bottle of cooking wine? I have, and I can tell you, contorting yourself in that manner isn’t pretty. I felt like a rejected acrobat from Cirque du Soleil as I lunged for the wine while my cart slithered sideways across the aisle. There I was, doing the splits just so my husband could have Beef Stroganoff for dinner.

Ah, yes. We shorties do face some unique challenges in life. In order to help my compadres face those challenges with grace and dignity, I’ve decided to form a support group for folks 5’4" and under. The name of the group will be S.H.O.R.T. People, which stands for "Stout Hearted Order of Relatively Tiny People". We will meet annually in February, the shortest month of the year, in Florida, the state reputed to have the highest population of short people. Only people wearing short shorts will be allowed to attend the meeting, which will end shortly after it begins. By a vote of 1-0 (mine being the only vote since there's no one else in the group yet) Danny DiVito will be honored at the meeting as Short Celebrity of the Present and Napolean as Short Celebrity of the Past.

If you’d like to join the S.H.O.R.T. People support group, just add a short comment below. I'll get back to you shortly.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

SEALS 3, Pirates O. No Apologies!



Sunday brought the good news that Richard Phillips, captain of the U.S.-flagged cargo ship Maersk Alabama, had been rescued by the U.S. Navy after several perilous days spent as a captive of Somali pirates. Phillips is pictured above on the right shaking hands with Cmdr. Frank Castellano of the Navy destroyer Bainbridge. Phillips was brought aboard the Bainbridge after three Navy SEAL snipers did exactly what they'd been trained to do: they picked off the pirates with three amazing shots from specially equipped rifles. It was a mission accomplished, in the best sense of the term.

At least it was in my eyes and, I believe, in the eyes of millions around the world.

But Monday saw the naysayers crowding in to take their armchair quarterback potshots at what should have been an event to celebrate. Some journalists took umbrage with the way the rescue was carried out. One in particular claimed we didn't understand the pirates and why they take over ships sailing past Somalia. The pirates weren't in the wrong; the rest of the world was. Another writer claimed the press was exaggerating the nastiness of pirates past and present. Instead of being cutthroats who stole and killed at will, they were actually good guys just trying to make a living in a hard world.

Well, I have something to tell you, folks. Johnny Depp was a damn good pirate in the movies, but Capt. Jack Sparrow was a saint compared to the real pirates of his time -- or of this time, if truth be told.

For years now the Somali pirates have been hijacking ships sailing past their coast. They hold the ships and their crews for ransom, and have received millions and millions of dollars from shipping companies as a result. Supposedly they're doing this because two European companies -- the Italian Swiss firm Achair Partners and the Italian waste broker Progresso -- have dumped toxic waste along their coastline. By hijacking cargo ships, the pirates supposedly hope to make those companies go away.

It all sounds very altruistic -- until you consider "the rest of the story". Those companies paid $80 million to Somalia's supposed "President", Ali Mahdi Mohamed, back in the 1980's for the right to dump toxic waste in Somalian waters. It was a terrible deal for the people of Somalia, but old Ali Mahdi Mohamed came out of it a very wealthy man. He betrayed his people out of greed.

Now the pirates are doing the same thing. Using the toxic waste story as a cover, they've been getting rich on other people's misery for years. They currently hold 245 crewmen and their ships hostage for ransom, 245 men whose families worry about them just as much as Capt. Phillips' family worried about him. And that's only the men they now have in captivity.

Where has the money gone that's already been paid to the pirates? The millions spent by shipping companies to rescue their crews and ships? I can tell you one place it hasn't gone: to the poor people of Somalia. No, folks, these pirates are no Robin Hoods. They haven't used one cent of the ransoms to legally fight the companies dumping waste along their shores. They haven't built homes or schools or hospitals with the money, or helped to build a more stable government in their country. The fact is, they haven't done ANYTHING AT ALL to benefit the people of Somalia. What they've done is grown rich, living off the world like the leeches they are. The pirates had a choice to make, and they made the wrong one. They lived by the sword, and they died by the sword. It was SEALS 3, pirates O. No apologies are in order.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Because He is alive,
I can face tomorrow.
Because He is alive,
all fear is gone.
May His Resurrection bring hope into your life
and joy into your heart.
May you live Easter every day.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Ah, Spring! In Chicago, Spring only means one thing – it’s time again to PLAY BALL! My hometown teams – the Cubs and the White Sox – started regular season play this week. The Sox delayed their home opener 24 hours due to snow, but that didn’t faze their fans. Given the extra time to celebrate, they welcomed the return of the Southside Hitmen at every neighborhood bar within driving distance of Cellular Field for two days instead of one. Cubs fans have to wait until April 13 for their team to play at home. That day the Northside crowd will turn out in droves to party in Wrigleyville.

Much as Chicagoans love baseball, it isn’t the only game in which citizens of this fair city shoulder a bat in hopes of whacking a round leather object out of the park. Way back in 1887, George Hancock, a reporter for the Chicago Board of Trade, tied the laces of a boxing glove together, handed a broomstick to his friends at the Farragut Boat Club, and challenged them to "Hit it if you can, boys!" That boxing glove evolved into a 16 inch ball, and the sport Hancock invented became known by names as varied as "Indoor-Outdoor", "Diamond Ball" and "Kitten Ball". Finally in 1926, YMCA official Walter Hakanson suggested the name "Softball" for the game, and the title stuck.

Softball is what this blog is all about. Softball, and the over 25 million people in the United States who play it, including the men in my family.

The pictures shown here of are my son Matt, a softball fanatic who plays the game year round. Unlike the baseball team mentioned above that cancelled its game due to an inch of snow, Matt and his teammates braved the ice and cold of a Chicago winter to play in this year’s Tinley Park Snowball Tournament. (That's Matt down on one knee catching a ball during warmups before one of the games.) The other photo above on the right shows Matt taking his cuts with the bat during another chilly softball game. That's a 12" ball he's aiming to hit, and it's yellow so it can be seen even during night games.

Most softball games today are played with a 12" ball, a mitt, and an aluminum rather than wooden bat. Chicago, though, is known for its 16" slow pitch softball played without a glove. People here took to the game because the 16" ball didn’t fly as far as its smaller counterpart. That made it the perfect size for school playgrounds, small neighborhood parks, and the empty lots Chicagoans called "prairies". Even when hit hard, the 16 incher seldom left the area in which you were playing.

The second thing that insured the popularity of the game was the fact that gloves weren’t needed to catch the ball. Oh, sure. Snagging a line drive off a player’s bat could sometimes leave you cradling a broken finger. But during the dark days of the Depression, when the sport really caught on in Chicago, a broken finger was a small price to pay compared to the cost of a glove.

The picture on the right shows my son John, another softball fanatic, with some of his teammates after they won the 2006 Illinois State 16" Softball Championship. The championship trophy is seen on the right, and John is holding the tournament MVP award given to him for his work as the team's pitcher. Like Matt, John lives and breathes softball. My oldest son Joe can hit a mean ball, too. He plays in family games, but he's too busy coaching soccer to join a softball team.

Whether it’s played with a 12" or a 16" ball, softball is as popular in Chicago today as it was in days gone by. My sons grew up playing it at the park with their Dad. Fred was the catcher for a local hospital softball team, and yes, he broke a finger during one game.

But that story will have to wait for another day. :)

Monday, April 6, 2009

And Now...The WINNERS!!

I’ve had a lot of fun reading email from folks who sent me comments and/or pictures regarding the blog "Neat or Cluttered? Show Me YOUR Workspace!" Before I announce the winners of my book giveaway, I want to thank the following people who didn’t get a full day’s worth of space on Cicero’s Children, yet nevertheless had some entertaining things to say about their workspaces.

First there is this note from my good friend Marilyn Meredith.
"My workplace is usually a mess, though like you I clean it up from time to time, but it never stays that way. By the way, love the picture, makes me wish I could visit with you."

For anyone who doesn’t know Marilyn, you’re missing out on a real treat. Marilyn Meredith is not only a fine writer and teacher, but also one of the most generous and down-to-earth women I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. Spending time with Marilyn is a pleasure; spending time with Marilyn and her husband Hap is a riot! To learn more about Marilyn, please visit any or all of the following sites: http://fictionforyou.com or http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/ or http://rockybluffpd.blogspot.com/ or The Stiletto Gang: http://thestilettogang.blogspot.com/

Lois Hirt, another old friend of mine, wrote this:
I share the computer with my husband, but the L-shaped desk with the printer is mine! As I tell him, it is cluttered in an organized way and will stay that way. I have notes, especially about how to do computer things and computer helpers’ phone numbers. I am a gimmick person so I have different holders holding my notes and notebooks with email and other addresses. I do my dental column, so there are notebooks there with information – dental hygienist info-books to write up – etc., and no, I don't use the lamp on the desk. There are pretty magnets on it though, and of course, notes. There is the note book (in which) I keep track of the books I read, dictionaries and thesaurus, and of course the computer and a box of tissues. And I am happy with it – I think!

And Marsha Campio said:
I'm afraid I would be considered disorganized by anyone seeing my desk/office space ... but, in my mind, I'm very organized. You see, if I put something away, I may forget to do it and it appears I've become a procrastinator. I do a stab at cleaning up the clutter when I am unable to find something. No picture-- if I see it as other people do I may waste a lot of time trying to clean up :-)

And finally, Cheryl wrote:
"My workspace is very organized, or supposed to be. I tend to get too much stuff for the neat little spaces set up for things. Then it becomes a cluttered mess and it takes forever to find things."

Thanks also to all of you who commented directly at the blog site. Caryn, Mary, Lonnie, Kristen, Shirley, Nicole, Margot, Sandy, Jen, and Kiezerfire – I appreciate ALL your remarks!

And now for the WINNERS! I’ll be sending a copy of my latest book, THE RUNE STONE MURDERS, to JANET BEST, PAT TIERNEY, MORGAN MANDEL, SARAH BEWLEY, SHERRY from the CozyArmchair group, and CARYN, whose description of "organized chaos" so mirrored the state of my own workspace. Congratulations to all!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cluttered Workspace or Quilter's Paradise??

Cluttered workspaces aren't the exclusive domain of writers.

Janet Best of Bowling Green, KY is a quilter, a lover of color and texture and design. Janet had this to say about her workspace:

"My workspace is definitely messy! In fact, I think I sort of leave a "trail of messiness" wherever I go. When my children were small and I stayed at home with them, my husband would call home to check on us from work. I would often reply that "Hurricane Son--one of the 3" has not yet made land-fall. That was my signal to my husband that he should expect a mess when he came home. Now I feel like "Hurricane Janet" will never make land-fall! Maybe it's not that bad.

"My hobby is quilting. Our house is not large enough to accommodate two adults, three boys and three dogs with various possessions. We finally converted our dining room into a study/hobby room/activity and art room since we rarely (never) used it as a dining room. I have a corner with a table piled high with fabric, various sewing and quilting tools, my sewing machine, fabric scraps, patterns, pieced quilt tops awaiting quilting, quilted tops awaiting binding, spools of thread, a tool caddy that sometimes has room to spin so that I can turn it to see what is in it, baseball cards that once were collected by my husband and now belong to my middle son (really don't belong on MY TABLE!!), upholstery fabric and the "guts" of a chair my husband took apart because he "knows he can reupholster it himself (also really doesn't belong on MY TABLE)----and Mary, I honestly am not sure what else might be on that table and am kind of afraid to look!

"The floor around the table, alas, is not much better, but I can see it. It is a lovely hardwood that my husband installed himself, and he did an excellent job on it! I have made an effort to be somewhat neat, though. I have a paper bag taped to the table so that when I cut threads or scraps or have trash, I can efficiently throw those things right in the bag! Isn't that great?!

"As messy as this sounds to many people, this kind of disorganized chaos just works for me. Somehow I just "know" where things are! Every now and then I get a little frustrated, but that's usually when I'm looking at a quilting magazine or book at a picture of some lucky person's "quilt studio" that has the square footage of my entire house. After awhile my skin changes back from an ugly green color to it's natural rosy color, and I return to my messy little corner and sew away. Love your blog and your very neat work area! "

Well, I wouldn't call my workspace "neat", but I'm glad Janet enjoys this blog. And I admire her passion for quilting. I started two quilts years ago -- and I mean, YEARS ago! -- for my two oldest daughters' beds. I sewed many of their clothes when they were little, and I used the left over material scraps for the quilts. Unfortunately, I got so busy with my growing family that I never finished either one of them. Now I wish I had so the girls could have them for their own childrens' beds.

In closing, I have to explain something about the quilts pictured here. They are not Janet's. I found these photos on http://www.clotilde.com/, a great website that offers quilters everything from patterns to thread to backing. If you're a quilter and enjoy salivating over the many choices offered by a site like this, do wander over and take a look at the offerings there.

But come back on Monday when I'll anounce the winners of my "Neat or Cluttered?" contest. And next week I'll be sharing my thoughts on "Spring Training -- When Grown Men Act Like Boys Again". Wait until you see my photos for that one! :)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Poetry from a Cluttered Desk

Sherry, a fellow member of the CozyArmchair group over at Yahoo, sent me the following comment re my blog "Neat or Cluttered?".

"I have a cluttered mind, and that clutter falls over onto my desktop. I have to keep my mind free for thinking, so I unclutter it as much as possible with notes and lists and coffee cups and notepads and pens and pencil all around my desk...leaving room in my brain for more THINKING. A cluttered mind is a terrible thing to lose. I can't write my poetry if my brain is a mess, so I allow that clutter to overflow onto my workspace. It is a choice, not an accident."

When I heard that Sherry writes poetry, I asked her to share one of her poems with readers of this blog. Here it is.

We are the dreamers, the weavers and spinners,
Singers in a minor key.
The smoke and the mirrors
Hide in our minds
We twist them and bend what you see.

We give you nightmares and daydreams,
Giggles and fears,
Braided and woven together
Into a crazy old quilt to hide your head under
While we shape the wind and the weather.

And the moon trills its tale
While Arachne spins
Threads invisible and free;
Gossamer strands entwine you and bind you
We control what you think and can see.

We are the dreamers, the weavers and spinners,
And our siren cry beckons
Through the mists of a scheme,
Enrapturing, capturing,
Bewitching, beguiling
Luring you into a dream.

I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. Happy dreams, everyone! And thank you so much, Sherry.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool's Day, 2009

Oh, yes. It’s April Fool’s Day, that once-a-year, sock-it-to-‘em day when, for a few hours at least, we can become again the naughty little children we once were. The jokes we adults play on our friends are sometimes annoying, but more often, just plain funny.

My dad was a great one for April Fool’s Day jokes. I remember the year he called my two aunts early in the morning pretending to be a city worker representing the Water Department. He told them that the city would be working on their sewer lines that day, and therefore, all water service to their homes would be shut off until 6 p.m. He said they should fill pans with water for drinking and fill their bathtubs for other personal use. Under no circumstances were they to flush their toilets.

That evening after dinner we all jumped in the car and my dad drove us to visit my aunts who, fortunately, lived together. By this time it was after six o’clock, so of course they had running water again. But they told us in great detail the discomforts they’d suffered during the day and how they’d had to open the windows to air out the house. Amazingly, they didn’t kill my dad when he broke down and confessed to his April Fool’s joke. They never let him forget it, though, and they never got fooled again.

I thought of my aunts a few days ago when we received a letter from our electric company saying they’d be working in our neighborhood on April 1st. Out of necessity, our power would be temporarily shut off sometime between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. My first thought was this had to be a joke. But the letterhead was real, and the envelope bore the logo and address of the electric company right where it should be in the upper left-hand corner.

Grumbling to my husband, I crumpled up the letter as I envisioned myself hard at work on my computer when suddenly the power went off. Would my writing be lost? Would my emails vanish into some alien world, never to be found again? Would all my clocks have to be re-set, or my refrigerator go on a defrost rampage?

Worst of all, when my computer came back to life again, would it be infected with the dreaded Conficker worm??

And then I came home from the store yesterday to find a message on my answering machine. "This is your power company calling with an important message. Please disregard any notice you might have received regarding a power outage on April 1st. We apologize for the inconvenience."

So was this an honest mistake by the power service, or an insider practical joke by some soon-to-be-fired company employee. Or even better, did one of my clever children engineer all this as revenge on their good old mom? After all, there was that April Fool’s Day when I put gauze in the pancake mix and served the kids an inedible breakfast. And you know how kids are. They NEVER Forget!

Hmmm. Maybe I’ll send them all emails saying I’m pregnant again. That’ll fix their wagons! (Or give them heart attacks!) :)