Wednesday, December 31, 2008
What a year this was! Who said getting older was so bad? As long as you have your health, your ambitions, your goals, your passions, life is great. My kids are healthy, I'm healthy (well I could stand to stay off the sweets for a little while), my business is running great, I live in the most beautiful place in the world....but...
It doesn't mean a thing unless you feel it in your heart to love life for all its worth.
Life hasn't always been like this but I had a goal. Took me well into my forties before I realized what I wanted to be when I grew up. Sometimes it does take that long because a series of events must pass for you to get there. Reminds me of the song..."...it's a long and winding road..." It sure is. But on that long and winding road I left a piece of me behind to remind me to never take anything for granted. Not your business, not your wealth, not your health. I am so thankful I am in the place I want to be.
But...life is not over, you know. The goals and dreams are just getting bigger, that's all. Hard work and a love for life, that's what will keep you alert and living a long, long time.
I'm sitting here a few hours away from that ball dropping at Times Square. I'm looking out my window and the trees are swaying in the fierce northeasterner winds that are ravaging the island right now. Across the street, the waves are rolling towards the house, but I feel safe. And happy. And loved.
My kids are the most important things in my whole life. I don't care if I starve, they shall eat. I don't care if I have to give them my last dollar, I am still happy. I love them so much.
And when you have love in your heart, you have everything.
I hope everyone is having a Happy New Year and are out there celebrating the arrival of a new year of hopes and dreams realized. I'm sitting back watching it unfold around me. I don't need the glitz, the pageantry, the pomp and circumstance.
I just need to be....me.
Happy New Year everyone!
Thursday, December 25, 2008
I had stayed up until three cooking my country ham (btw, I've had better...I think I cooked it too long), but anyway, I stayed up until three cooking my country ham so I think that's why I slept until 9:30. What was really weird about today was that here we are smack in the middle (or I guess it's the beginning, isn't it?) of winter and it was warm outside...so warm, I had all the windows open on the east side of the condo. The sun was pouring in...it was surreal and I couldn't help but to imagine this must be what it's like for people in Florida at Christmastime.
So, the sun is pouring in and it's warm and beautiful and Melissa comes down from upstairs saying she's going to get her brother like they were kids again. We tried the opening presents at night thing last year and it was horrible, so they might be 30 and 25, but the Thompson tradition of opening presents is set in stone no matter how old everyone is.
What really made this a strange Christmas, though, is that we had invited Melissa's dad (my ex) to have Christmas dinner with us.
Oh, I'm over all that baggage and I think he's somewhat over it, so I figured everything would turn out fine and, you know, it turned out better than I expected.
So Melissa went to get Ryan and we opened presents and Ryan took his new hip boots and he and Melissa went out to the dock and found oysters, scallops and one baby mussel. Isn't that the neatest thing? There weren't many but it was so nice out, they really enjoyed it.
They came back in and by that time, the ex rolls in and at first I thought he looked a little uncomfortable (first time eating dinner with the kids and I in about 13 years I think), but once he got in the living room and saw the new pool table, he started playing pool with Ryan and things just went natural after that.
The feast included turkey, country ham, crabcakes, macaroni, corn, baked corn, baked yams with marshmallows on top (ymmm), stuffed mushrooms (which my daughter made...I don't like mushrooms so I have no idea how they turned out but they devoured them), macaroni and cheese and asparagus. De-li-cious.
Dinner conversation was not stiff like I thought it would be and laughter filled the room. I wouldn't go as far as saying it was like old times because it was nothing like old times..it was like...new times. The barrier I think has finally come down.
He thanked me for dinner and I told him we'd do it again.
If I ever could envision the perfect Christmas, I don't know if I would quite envision sitting at the table with my ex, but it was really weird..he was like the person I wanted him to be but he never knew how back then. If that makes any sense at all and it's a long story.
After he and Ryan left and Melissa headed over to a friend's house, I sat down on the couch and if you could just imagine the inner peace I felt. I looked around me and I knew it wasn't so much the material things at all, but a feeling of complete inner peace. If only all the days of the year could be spent just like this one.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and remember to give your kids a special hug tonight. One of my friends lost her son three days before Christmas. Please put her in your prayers and be thankful your family is healthy and could gather around the Christmas tree today.
Merry Christmas everyone and I'll have pictures tomorrow.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
So, tonight I get home and I knew I had to start some type of cooking. Any type. The first thing I thought of was perhaps the easiest.
I haven't made applesauce cake in years - maybe about ten for the simple fact that I had no oven in the last place we lived. It was a rental and the landlord wasn't exactly too keen on keeping up with what went wrong. We ended up replacing the original stove ourselves but when that oven went up, I vowed he was going to fix it or we'd do without.
So without was the outcome.
This year, we have an oven in this wonderful condo we've called home for the last nine months. So what do I do but buy everything you can think of to bake for Christmas. While I had something to bake it in, what I didn't count on was how much time would be involved if I were to have everything done in time for Christmas.
Oh, I bought stuff to make applesauce cake, stuff to make 3 candy cane coffee cakes, cookies, ham, turkey, you name it.
So, tired as I was after working, I knew I had to start as Christmas was day after tomorrow so I started with applesauce cake. Well, when it was done, the recipe called for taking it out of the pan to let it cool. When I took it out of the pan, it fell apart. It looked horrible but smelled dreamy, so I doctored it up with icing and wrapped it up in tin foil and set it aside for sampling when it cooled.
But, while I was doctoring up my applesauce cake, I keep hearing a siren. I threw the door open to see if I could see where it was coming from or at least if I could smell smoke, but nothing. Thinking it was the TV, I went back to cooking.
Remembering the turkey needed thawing by tomorrow night, I pulled it out of the fridge and threw it into a pot of salted water so it would thaw quicker. After I did that, I read the instructions on the ham (read yesterday's post about that) and I figured I'll just go by the instructions because I didn't know what in the hell I was doing as I've never cooked one before.
While I was trying to figure out my plan of attack, I heard that sound again. It couldn't be the TV as there was a different show on by that time.
I threw the door open and could hear it in the distance. It was definitely a fire truck. I didn't smell smoke, thank God, but I couldn't help but to think of the poor family who were perhaps without a house after tonight.
I sighed, went back in the kitchen, fed the dogs, and started cleaning up my mess. I'm really really tired by that time just thinking about having to get up the next day, go to work again when normally I'd have the day off, and try to figure this ham thing out. I knew I wanted to bake cookies and was tossing around the idea of doing that, then the ham tomorrow after I got home from work. Things were just going through my head so fast, I was getting dizzy just thinking about it.
And there it was again. The same piercing sound of a siren obviously coming from a fire truck.
But, this time, it was coming from the front of my house.
I ran out on the deck and could hear it approaching me. Then I could see it approaching me. A humungous firetruck going a little too slow for comfort in front of my house and I started to panic. There are only 2 other families in this whole condo complex and I didn't know if maybe one of their condos maybe caught on fire and we were next to go???
My heart started pounding.
The dogs started barking.
It was getting closer and closer and closer and...
It got right up in front of my place and....
It was freaking Santa Claus waving at me. Freaking Santa Claus on a freaking fire truck riding by me like this was the most normal freaking thing to do in the freaking cold at freaking 7 p.m. at night.
Anyone have a clean pair of underwear to spare?
Monday, December 22, 2008
Take it away, Marta...
A Midlife Dream
© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved
What I would say to someone interested in pursuing their dreams later in life? Go for it! No matter how small, large, or unattainable the dream may seem, it’s always within reach if you want it badly enough. People can find a million and one excuses for why they haven’t accomplished a goal—age shouldn’t be one of them.
Crawl out of that comfort zone, feel the edge of an uncharted path beneath your feet, and push forward. Life is a series of stepping stones, each leading to a new challenge and the next level of development. The jagged edge that trips some people is the fear of the unknown. “Should I stop while I’m ahead, or move on?” Regardless of the decision, in twelve months you’ll be a year older. The question is, will you be a year older and adding to your list of excuses or on your way to living a dream?
I began to write fiction in 2003 at the age of 49, and although my degree in journalism/public relations gave me the foundation and discipline I would need to succeed as a writer, fiction is an entirely different process. However, it has been invaluable as I plan my marketing/promotional strategies.
The first three books in the Sam Harper Crime Mystery Series began life as a set of three novellas. I joined online author groups, followed discussions on plot, pace, characterization, etc., and participated in writing workshops. I also read every how-to book I could get my hands on and applied all I had learned to my writing. The turning point came in 2006 when I joined an online critique group and decided to expand each of the novellas into novels. Participation in this group was not for the thin-skinned individual. Comments were often harsh, but the honest, constructive critiques forced me to push my writing to the next level.
The challenge for me was to learn the intricacies of the craft, find my voice, develop a complex plot, create believable characters, polish the prose, and turn SILENCED CRY into a marketable piece. Seven months after joining the group, BeWrite Books (UK), who I had queried a year before about my series of novellas, requested the expanded manuscript. SILENCED CRY was released in April 2007, and went on to receive honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book Festival. The second book in the series, “The Devil Can Wait” was released on November 3, 2008.
But how does one get from the solitude act of writing to getting published? Networking and dedication to the craft. In this day and age of global marketing, Internet sales, online reviews, interviews, and e-zines, blogging is a writer’s lifeline. I've been blogging for several years through my website, a personal blog, and my authors’ group blog, Murder by 4. At last count, I belong to about 26 online writers’ forums/groups.
Keeping up with some of the blogs is time consuming and I’m often asked how I manage to find time to continue to work outside the home, care for my family, home, write novels and network as much as I do. Unlike a hobby, writing isn’t something I do when I have time—I make time. Call it prioritizing or time management, what it means is that I haven’t cut out all my television viewing, I simply don’t watch it every night. I may not be able to work out in the yard all weekend long like I used to do either, but that’s okay, because when it comes right down to it, I’ve always made time for the things I wanted to do and right now, my focus is on writing. I can’t say that I’ve cut anything out of my life. I simply take things one day at a time and focus on what needs immediate attention.
All the work aside, the best part of this business is meeting people. Being published has opened doors and has given me a chance to get to know people from all walks of life and nationalities that I would have never met otherwise. My publisher is based in the UK and has an international reach, a global author pool, and full-time professional editorial and technical staff in Germany, France, Canada, USA, and Australia. This has given my books world-wide exposure and readership. The proof is that in the year and a half since I launched my website, over 21,000 unique visitors from 110 countries have visited the site. That's not only amazing; it’s what makes the experience fun.
So what’s the most exciting part about getting published in my 50’s? What I leave my children; proof that learning is a life-long process and the understanding that dreams can come true, regardless of age, if you put your mind to it.
Marta Stephens is a native of Argentina who has made Indiana her home since the age of four. This mild-manner lady turned to crime with the publication of the first in her Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, SILENCED CRY (2007) which went on to receive honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book Festival and top ten in the 2007 Preditors & Editors Reader Poll. The second book in the Harper series, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, will be released by BeWrite Books (UK) on November 3, 2008.
Stephens holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism/Public Relations from Ball State University (IN) where she is employed in human resources. She is a member of Sisters in Crime International, Sisters in Crime Speed City Indiana Chapter, and the Midwest Writer’s Workshop.
Stephens believes learning is a life-long adventure. Aside from her writing, she is trained in graphic and web design. She co-designed the award-winning book cover of her debut novel, SILENCED CRY with friend Scott Parkison (IN), created the book trailer, and designed/administers her website, www.martastephens-author.com, her personal blog, http://mstephens-musings.blogspot.com, and the authors’ blog, MURDER BY 4 http://murderby4.blogspot.com.
Stephens lives with her husband, daughter (22), and son (20). She enjoys oil paintings, gardening, the family’s pet Boston Bulls and mini Daschunds, and shared moments with family and friends.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Actually, I think the odds are quite lower than that.
I was watching a Christmas movie the other day. It was quite flaky, but a husband and wife - excuse me - wife and husband was stranded in the middle of the mountains just days before Christmas. They were like four or five days there and except for blistered lips, you'd never know they'd been out in the elements (oh, there was a blizzard going on, too) for days. They played and frolicked in the snow as they tried to find their way back home. I mean, think about it, you've been without food and water (except for snow of course of which there was a lot of) and you barely look parched? Hell with playing...let's find some way to unthaw the toes, you know?
Well anyway, it might have been a little flaky but I love Christmas movies.
Speaking of Christmas, how close are you to being ready? Let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've gone out among the masses of last minute Christmas shoppers the weekend before Christmas. Trolls everywhere. That's what my daughter calls people who never get to the mall except Christmas.
They just act weird. And you can pick'em out in the crowd every time.
It was cold. No snow on the ground, but it was cold. We started by going in Boscov's so my daughter could buy her father a sweatsuit. Of course, nothing looked right. After fifteen minutes of weighing the odds, she decided on a sweatshirt and sweatpants that in her words "just had to do."
So her father tells her he wants this computer game. We look all over Walmart, Best Buy and the game store in the mall. Nothing. As it turns out, this game is years old and the only way we could get it would be over the Internet.
Keep in mind there are trolls everywhere. They're bumping into you and zapping your energy. You want out. The only way out is the exit door which means no more shopping for the night. We chose the exit door after stopping off at one the vendors to buy my daughter a calendar.
Back out in the cold, my son is complaining of backache so he sits in the truck while we run in Pier 1. As it turned out, Pier 1 had less trolls than anywhere and our energy level returned. My daughter found a candle thing and a candle for her father, then when I oohed and ahhed over it, she bought one for me, too. It was so neat...I'll have to take a picture.
Then, my daughter wants me to buy her...well, the only way I can describe it is wire art. I'm walking out the door with my purchase muttering, "I just bought a thing of wire for $35." According to my daughter (don't ask me because I thought it was ridiculous no matter if is is art or not), it's something to hang on the wall. A wired-up monstrosity that substitutes as wall art.
Anyway, we head back home, stopping at Dunkin' Donuts.
Five days until Christmas and unless the trolls follow my scent, I'll be safe at home away from the hustle and bustle of last minute holiday shopping that would wear on anyone's nerves.
How about you? Are you finished?
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
As you know, John Walsh launched the television show, "America's Most Wanted" after the tragic death of his son, in his hopes that he could help other families who are searching for their own missing children.
Watch this heart-breaking video...
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
"While the future of social security may be uncertain, some (baby boomers) who are retiring now are forgoing southern beaches in favor of western mountains. Reports in recent days have noted a new trend in baby boomer retirement: they're choosing to settle in the West..."
While this baby boomer isn't anywhere near retirement age (in mind at least), I found that to be interesting.
I live in an ocean paradise. It's an island completely surrounded by water and the only way off? One bridge that connects us to the rest of the world.
And there are a lot of retirees here.
The reason? The slow pace, maybe. The fact that it's a world off to itself, maybe.
Honestly, I never thought I'd want to live on the water. The fact I can't swim might have had something to do with it, but my main dreams and desires were to live in a cabin in the middle of the mountains. Any mountains, it didn't matter.
I have visited the mountains many times and each time I leave them, I swear that's where I want my ashes scattered. The air is different, the scenery is grandeur beyond grandeur and it's, well, just paradise.
And, then, I moved to this island completely surrounded by lapping waves, crying gulls, the strangest birds and wildlife I've ever seen, and I never realized just how beautiful it is living so close to the ocean.
If you step out my back door and the wind is just right, you can actually hear the waves crashing upon the shore. I can stand on my deck and watch how high up and how low it comes to my dock and I can judge if it's high tide and low tide without listening to any radio report. I can watch egrits walking in my front yard and geese flying in a V-shape in my back yard. And I can watch the most beautiful sunsets that were ever put on this earth. You haven't lived until you've seen a winter sunset. You think summer sunsets are beautiful? Wait until a cold front has passed through and look at the sunset then. You'll marvel at colors - purple being the main color.
So for this baby boomer, and I never thought I'd say this, I choose the ocean, but don't tell that to my beloved mountains because I still hold a special place in my heart for them, too.
Which do you prefer - ocean or mountains?
Come spend one Saturday morning with me in this mountain village, Talpa de Allende. My neighbors are decorating their houses for the coming Christmas holiday. They are planning their posadas and piñata parties.
Today is Dia de Tianguis. Tianguis is like a street market. Local vendors and people from big cities like Guadalajara bring their goods to town every fifteen days and set up stands on a pre-designated street. My shopping list is made; I’m dressed in a warm sweater that I can take off when the sun burns off the fog. In a shopping bag I have packed my watch that stopped running last week, the blender that I dropped yesterday morning and a piece of fabric that I want to take to the dressmaker.
Memo, the watch fixer is close to the front of the line of vendors. He has a shop in town, but always sets up his stand in the street on Tianguis Day. We greet each other and I ask after his children. He tells me to leave my watch while I do the shopping.
We pass the fisherman’s truck, several fruit and vegetable stands that we will visit on our way back up the street. The cassette stand is blaring out mariachi music; the lingerie stand has some mighty sexy underwear on display and the potted plant man has huge poinsettias for the equivalent of $3.00. He has brought in scarlet, pink and white ones this year. I like red in my house at Christmastime. Perhaps you’ll pick the pink.
Further down the street Chela and Raul are dicing mango, papaya and watermelon. You can buy a 15 ounce cup of a mixture of your choice for 1.00. Chela offers to squeeze fresh lime juice over it and sprinkle with hot chili powder and salt if you like.
We stroll on down past the shoes, socks and handbags. The next table is loaded with herbs and spices and next to that is my blender man. He has run an electric cable from a friend’s house behind his stand so he can check out the appliances. He works on blenders, hair dryers, irons and sewing machines. The next table is loaded with brightly colored yarns, threads, stamped cloths ready to be embroidered, needles, zippers and scissors. I pick out a spool of thread to match the fabric in my bag and you spot some funny iron-on patches to cover the hole in your kid’s britches.
Manuel has brought his espresso coffee machine to market today and the smell is enticing, but we’re still munching on fruit.
Time for the heavy stuff. My favorite produce man is Roberto. His helpers are still unloading his truck parked behind his stand. Cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, bean sprouts, tomatoes, onions, peppers and lettuce pile up before him. You pick out snow peas, strawberries, bananas and pineapple. Robert weighs our purchases on an old scale, and he calls out the total as he goes, “Quince, treinta, treinta dos, cuarenta.” We have bought enough fruit and vegetables to last us almost all week for about $9.00.
I pick up the blender. Cost for new jar: $5.00. My watch needed a new battery. Memo tells me, “My price to you is the equivalent of $3.00 and a smile for the work.”
We check out the fisherman’s truck. It all looks and smells fresh. I choose a big red snapper for $3.50 and you offer to fix your favorite shrimp recipe for lunch. One kilo in the shell, a bit on the large size for what he calls medium costs ten dollars. That’s enough to serve four easily.
We continue on our route, stopping at the chicken man’s store buying chicken and fresh country eggs. We stop by the meat market with the red banner flying out front that indicates there was a fresh kill this morning. Pork ribs, chops, ground round and beef for a stew rounds out our shopping.
In total, we have spent under $50.00 for enough food for four people for a week. Throw in a bit of rice, beans and tortillas or bread and you might go to $55.00.
Yes, I believe Baby Boomers can still live well in Mexico.
Jenny McGill is the author of the memoir, DRAMA & DIPLOMACY: IN SULTRY PUERTO VALLARTA. You can visit her website at www.mjmcgill.com.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Puerto Vallerta is a great vacation hotspot, but what can it give retirees in the U.S. who might not want to cross the border?
Jenny is here with us today to explain why Puerto Vallarta happens to be a fantastic place not only for vacationers, but retirees, also.
Baby Boomers in Mexico by Jenny McGill
Before the world economy fell on its nose in late September 2008, Baby Boomers were dreaming of retiring in Mexico. “Why would anybody want to live in Mexico?” you ask.
My husband & I have lived in Mexico thirty-five years. I hate the word ‘ex-pat’, and I’m not one now. Nobody gets more patriotic that I, especially when I hear patriotic music and see Old Glory flying. And I’ve hosted many 4th of July parties in Puerto Vallarta and in Talpa de Allende, where we now live.
For those coming from the harsh cold, Mexico offers the best year-round climate of anywhere in the world. Granted, costal towns can be on the hot side in the summer, but it can get pretty miserable in the U.S and Canada in July and August also. You won’t find snowmobiles on any of our streets. It actually snowed for about thirty minutes in Guadalajara a few years back. It was a great photo-op. I’ve seen frost in December and January here in the mountains. It is a wonderful opportunity to huddle a little longer by the kitchen fireplace.
We’re into the holiday season, but there’s no scurrying back and forth like you might be doing. There is plenty of time for baking and decorating the house. My fruit cakes are already getting their daily dose of liqueur, but we haven’t done our major shopping yet.
Guadalajara and Lake Chapala areas have been popular spots for retirees since shortly after World War II. Disabled or retired veterans could live much better on their pensions than anywhere else. And the Mexicans were friendly and helpful to them.
Times have changed, but some things never change. The number of zeros after the dollar $ign may have changed, but the friendliness, the temperate climate, fresh vegetables, delicious fruit and fish caught this morning are good reason to keep dreaming. You can’t call Mexico primitive or a third-world country anymore.
You would have to go deep into the jungle or to a remote corner of the country not to find electricity, telephone and telegraph service, television and Internet hookups, medical facilities, good transportation, financial institutions and schools from mandatory kindergarten to optional universities.
Very few private homes have central heat or air conditioning. We don’t need them; therefore, our utility bills are low. Property taxes and water bills are low.
I still think Baby Boomers can see their dreams come true.
Jenny McGill is the author of the memoir, DRAMA & DIPLOMACY: IN SULTRY PUERTO VALLARTA. You can visit her website at www.mjmcgill.com.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Mexican beach, where do I retire, retirement in Mexico, retirement hot spots, baby boomers, boomer chick, Jenny McGill, Drama & Diplomacy, virtual book tour, virtual blog tour, book blog tour
Friday, December 05, 2008
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
I wanted to blog today because Morgan Mandel gave me a great idea on what to blog about being as my bronchitis-filled brain is on overload from tours just starting and the other million things I have to do on here that never get done.
Anyway, Morgan's post today is about garbage picking. I guess in the south, it's called garbage pickin'.
Now it depends on who you are, how you've been brought up, what kind of person you are today, but garbage pickin' probably isn't on anyone else's blog today but Morgan's and now mine because if one does partake in garbage pickin', they wouldn't want anyone to know it. And if they're the kind of people that would, then I'd hate to see what their house looks like.
But on Morgan's blog post today, she mainly focuses on the homeless and what they would do to keep fed, but on mine today it's what anyone would do if something was free for the taking and it was something they would love to have.
It's the perfect antidote to shop lifting.
But the crazy part about it is, and this is saying something about mankind in general, if something was on the side of the road for the taking, you would at least give it a moment's thought about taking it.
Leave a used TV on the curb with the word "FREE" attached to it and watch human behavior at its finest. Some will walk by, look, but keep on walking. I figure they're the ones who don't want to be caught in the act. But to me, they're the Johnny Come Lately's and like the saying goes, "The early bird catches the worm;" if you don't take it, someone else will.
When I read Morgan's post this morning, the first thing that came to me was when I was eight years old and living in Burbank, California. A girlfriend and I were walking home from school and we spotted boxes of toys that one of the wealthy homeowners had left out on the curb for trash pick up. Both of us looked briefly, then kept on walking. I don't know if she was thinking what I was thinking, but we were both cool about it . After all, who would want someone else's trash?
I got home and raced back to the boxes and grabbed what I wanted and fled.
This does not sound good for me to say this, but at least I had the moral decency even at eight years old not to want anyone to see me grab someone else's trash and take off with it. Even kids have pride, you know.
So, with all that said, I have a used big screen TV with a bad picture tube I'm going to put out front. Wonder how many people will walk on by and how many will actually wait until dark to come get it?