Monday, January 31, 2011

Are You A Writer?

One of the interesting things about going to a mystery conference is that you actually get to meet and talk to people who are famous mystery writers.

JoAnn and I got to the pre-conference dinner and chose a place right in front of the podium where the guest of honor, New York Times Best Selling author Erica Spindler, was going to speak. To my surprise, she sat down right across the table from us, introduced herself and asked if we were mystery writers.
I never know exactly what to say when somebody asks this question.

Technically, I am a writer and have been for several years. However, there seems to be an expectation that if you are a writer, you must have a book in print. No, that's an author.

It took a long time before I could call myself a writer. I didn't want people to think I was putting on airs or being a poser. When I actually finished a novel I realized how much work I'd put into it I decided it was okay to call myself a writer.

The next thing I want to be able to call myself is an author.

One of the most valuable presentations on Saturday was by literary agent Janet Reid who writes a blog called Query Shark for those brave enough to submit a query letter for her to critique. Just a warning: It ain't called Query Shark for nothing. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Murder Goes South

One of the other things I want to do now that I have an empty nest is write a novel. Sounds trite. Everyone wants to write a novel.

When my daughter turned fourteen and started that separation thing adolescent girls go through it was painful, for me anyway. That's when I started writing. I tried journaling first, but you never know who's going to find it and start reading. It was easier to express myself using fictional characters. The genre I read most is mystery, mostly cozy, traditional and ametuer sleuth varieties. It was great fun killing off people I didn't like!

The first few I started on will never see the light of day and it was so long ago they are stored on floppy discs. They were first steps, small and somewhat ugly. None of them were ever actually finished either.

I did finally finish one only to learn that writing the book is the easy part. Actually getting the thing published is the hard part. You know those game machines with the crane that you dip into a vat of stuffed animals. Getting published is kind of like that.

However, I remain (mostly) undeterred and when my romance writing friend, JoAnn, asked if I wanted to go to Murder Goes South Writing conference in Atlanta, I said, "Don't throw me in that briar patch!"

Here's a link to their site: 

You never know. I might just end up under that crane after all.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Burns Blog

No, I didn't set anything on fire or have an accident in the kitchen. Today is the date of Robert Burns birth (plus 252 years). If you don't know who he is, he's considered the Bard of Scotland. My great grandparents came from Scotland in the 1920s and I've always been fascinated with Scottish culture, except for haggis, they can keep that. Anyway, every year in January, the local Caledonian Society has a Burns Night potluck supper.

Nothing says Scottish like magnolia leaves and Guinness!

I used to take the kids when they were little, but when they got to the pre teen years, wild elephants could not have dragged them to that event and I quit going as well. This year, the Music Man and I were invited to come and play along with some other local Celtic musicians during the "Social Hour". Since there were no teenagers to roll their eyes and make faces at us, we went.

Having a few Irish tunes at a Scottish event and the roof didn't blow off or anything!

My, have things changed! First of all, the Caledonians didn't mind listening to Irish tunes, they were drinking Guinness, and most surprising of all, guess who was tending the bar? 

My son, Ian, in a kilt, no less!

It's not really that surprising. He plays in a rowdy Irish/Scottish band called Jasper Coal who are partially sponsored by Guinness, I think. He's twenty-three now, supports himself and goes to school. I don't get all up in his business.

One of the ceremonies at our Burns Night supper is The Address to the Haggis.  You can read about it here:

It's best to have somebody with a Scottish accent do this, but there aren't many of those around here. My guess is whoever draws the short straw at the planning meeting has to make the address.

After dinner the pipe band plays. When I went in years past, it was The Heritage Pipes and Drums. That group has morphed into the Ian Sturrock Memorial Pipe Band, ISMPB for short. Their current pipe major is Ryan Morrison. I've known Ryan since he was about sixteen, which is about the time he started playing pipes. Here's a very short clip of him playing solo. I know some people think bagpipes sound like a cat being strangled but I think Ryan is just smokin' hot on them.


Many years ago, I taught Irish dance. There were two girls who started a little late in the year and I'd take them over into one of the corners to get them caught up with the rest of the class. Their names were Kate and Molly. Now, Molly runs an Irish dance school, Alabama Academy of Irish Dance. Kate has just finished up with a degree in Irish dance from the University of Limerick. They were twelve when we met. Now they're all grown up. Just like my own kids. My girls are the ones on the ends with the hard shoes. In the middle is Molly's student, Kim.

This dance was a little out of the ordinary. The tune is a Breton An Dro. The steps are Irish. I'm proud of them for kind of pushing the envelope and not being afraid to mix the two traditions. My apologies to anyone who feels differently.

It's kind of weird being old enough to remember somebody when they were a kid and now they're all grown up. I wonder where the time went. When did my son get old enough to work behind a bar? When did Ryan become such a good piper? When did Kate and Molly become such lovely dancers? 

Where did the time go? 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hand Surgery Shoots Me Down

It's been going on for years. Numbness in the morning, throbbing pain at night, dropping things, left and right, in spite of splints, B-complex vitamins, massage therapy and chiropractic care. Sometimes you just have to say, "Enough is enough". That's what I did on Monday, finally bowing to the fact that this part of my body needed a surgical intervention. I've never had surgery before and tried to remain calm. My doctor uses a scope and the whole thing is over in thirty minutes. I was home on the couch by 2:30, I think.

Neither one of the kids bothered to call until I posted something catty on my son's facebook wall. Oops! The Girl called soon after. That's the difficult part of the empty nest for me. I don't really know what's going on in their lives and they don't know what's going on in mine. It's not that they don't care, it's just that I'm out of sight/out of mind. I raised them to be responsible and independent so I have no one else to blame.

In twenty or thirty years, I could be that old lady you see at the grocery store. You know the one. She's shrunken, has blue hair, smeared red lipstick  and sneakers on her flat feet. She totters around and gets in your way everytime you turn up an different aisle. You wonder why anyone would let her out by herself. Oh my god, did she drive herself here? You hurry with your groceries so you can get out of the parking lot well in advance of her departure.

Or, I could be like my friend, Grace. She's eighty-two, tall, still ramrod straight, red-headed and sharp as a tack. She's more likely to run over YOU in the aisle of the grocery store. She's also childless and is perfectly okay with that.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Hunting We Will Go

Another part of this empty nest thing is that I can go deer hunting with the Hunter on occasion. He belongs to a club a little over an hour south of where we live. I usually don't go until late December or early January. There are several reasons for this.
  1. I hate mosquitos and they buzz around until the end of November.
  2. There is too much to do getting ready for Christmas to go in early December for me to spend a whole day in the woods doing nothing but sitting my butt in a tree stand.
  3. The rut here doesn't start until after the first of January. Bucks get kind of stupid chasing the does around and don't really notice that there is a human in the vicinity. His mind is on one thing only. So, you tend to see more deer then anyway.
The first time we went this year was the day after Christmas. It was snowing!

The Hunter watched one sand bar.

And I watched the other.

Neither one of us saw a deer that day. We went back a couple of days after New Year's Eve. 

Some of the other hunters were looking for signs of a wounded deer along the creek. The tall one eventually had to wade across and look for a blood trail on the other side. It's a good thing he brought some waders.

I mainly just took video and got in everyone's way.

Stacy and Clinton from TLC's What Not To Wear would have a field day with me. Haha, they'd have to come into the field to get me!

Off to the woods for the afternoon. Hidden deep inside that backpack is a Kindle. Not every woman can say she spends the afternoon reading with a loaded .308 rifle across her lap.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dino Dixie Chicks

The chicks were cute and they were messy. We converted a big plastic bin into a brooder and set them up in the garage.

They didn't stay little for long though. Before we were ready with the ark, they were in the dinosaur stage. This roughly corresponds with early adolescence so dinosaur is an appropriate description. Like T Rex.
Hey, can I eat that camera?

See what I mean about the dinosaur stage?

We did have some concerns about our dog, Daisy, sharing the backyard with them. She has been seen catching and eating live baby birds (gag) whenever she can. Other than that, she's a lovely dog. Really.

I'm a big fan of Cesar Milan so I used some of the Dog Whisperer mojo on her.

By July, the ark was ready.

Empty nest no more, sort of.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

More About Chickens

The last court of appeal for the Music Man was city hall.
"Before you order those chickens, call the city and make sure it's legal for us to have them."

I called that very day. When I explained what I wanted, the call was shunted off to the building code department.
The lady who answered there had put the call on speaker phone and I could hear people snickering in the background.

Me: I want to know if it's legal for me to have chickens in my backyard if I live in town.
Her (giggling): Your neighborhood doesn't have any covenants against it?
Me: No.
Her: I'd talk to my neighbors first if I were you.
Me: Already done that. They only object if I have a rooster.
Her: You can have as many chickens as you want in your own yard, even a rooster (loud guffaws could be heard from a man who was obviously listening in).

The Music Man sighed heavily when I related the conversation. "Okay, go ahead and get them."

I ordered them from Meyers Hatchery:

They arrived on the fifth of May.

When we told my parents that we had the chicks, my dad noted that I no longer had an empty nest.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Nest Empty No More, Sort Of

In an earlier post I mentioned that my chickens didn't like the ice much either. You may have said, "She has chickens? That's weird." Yeah, I guess it is. We don't live on a farm or ranch or even out in the country, but in an older neighborhood of one of the most densely populated areas of the state, just to the south of Birmingham.

About a year and a half ago, the Music Man jokingly asked if I wanted to get some chickens. Little did he know that I had been secretly planning this very thing but was waiting for the right time to spring it on him. He had lots of questions and a few objections, to which I had answers. Before I knew it I was browsing through poultry catalogs trying to decide what kind of chickens I wanted. He promised to help me build a tractor for them and set about looking at chicken coop plans online. Here's where we found them:

Tractor? Do you have images of chickens sitting on the seat of a red tractor, steering with their wings and using their toes on the clutch?

No, a chicken tractor is a portable coop/run that rolls across the ground so that you can give the chickens fresh pasture on a regular basis. However, by the time we finished the thing it morphed into an ark rather than a tractor because we couldn't figure out how to put wheels on the thing without raising it up off the ground, leaving space for chickens to get out and varmits to get in. Ours ended up looking like this:

Of course, this was before we put the chickens in. It hasn't looked this nice since then, but it keeps them warm and dry, mostly.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Auburn Wins the National Championship!

I didn't go to school at Auburn University, but my father did. In this state, that makes me an Auburn fan. Luckily, I'm not in a mixed marriage since the Music Man is also an Auburn fan and DID actually attend Auburn. If he were an Alabama fan...well, I just don't want to go there. 

In October, the Music Man (it wasn't hunting season yet) and I went to the Auburn vs Arkansas game. We finally found a parking place and had to walk through about a half mile of tail-gaters to get to the stadium. 

Soooooeeee, Pig!

Our seats were in the nosebleed section (about 8 rows from the top of the north side of the stadium). One of the Music Man's high school/college friends had season tickets and wasn't using them that weekend. I don't much like crowds and was not really that keen on going, but he hasn't been to a game in decades (yeah, he's old too) so I tried to make the most of it.


However, once the game started, I was just as into it as the other 50,000 of my new closest friends. There was a chemistry between the team members and it overflowed and circulated through the family, as the fans are called in Auburn.

The FamilyIs All In!

That game is now history. I try not to get too over the top about it, since I didn't attend school there, but it is exciting, especially since this was a winning year! Last night Auburn beat the Oregon Ducks for the National Championship. I'm so proud of what the Tigers accomplished this year, against heavy odds. Bama fans kept saying the Tigers couldn't make it all the way, that they didn't deserve it (sour grapes?). Cam Newton took heavy blows in the media but exhibited extreme grace under pressure. I congratulate the team and the coaches for a season well played. It was fun being a small part of it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snow (Ice) Day!

We did finally get some winter weather! Instead of snow, we got sleet and ice. Nice. The only people I saw driving around today were in Jeeps and four wheel drive pick up trucks. The Hunter was going to try and make it into work but since our street is a sheet of ice, punctuated with frozen tire tracks he decided not to.

Our furry child, Daisy was not amused at being left outside for longer than it took to, well, you know. The Hunter got this baleful glare from her through the kitchen window.

We also have some feathered children. They didn't like the ice too much either.

I was supposed to be at a dance class tonight but instead I'll sit home, eat chili dogs and watch the Auburn Tigers play the Oregon Ducks (pfft) for the National Championship!
War Eagle!
If you don't live in Alabama, you don't understand and that's okay.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Winter Weather? Where?

We are supposed to be getting ice and snow. It was supposed to start after noon. The radar on The Weather Channel shows that we are getting freezing rain. I look out my window. Nope, nothing. Since I drive a school bus, I'm hoping to have a snow day tomorrow. Right now, it's not looking too promising, but that could change.

I've already called both of my kids to check on them and make sure they have a plan in case it does snow or ice over. They do. Guess I taught them well.

My husband suggested that we go to our favorite breakfast place today. Call it staving off cabin fever in advance. I also put on at least an inch of fat while we were there, just in case we are snowed in for days and run out of food. After that, we went to our favorite outdoor shop.

Most of the time I can call my husband the Music Man. He's just wired for it, plays several instruments and sings as well. Except for the time period between the middle of November and the end of January, when he becomes the Hunter and I become the Huntin' Widow.  

Actually, sometimes, especially in the month of January, I go with him. Last week was one of those. We helped one of the club members look for a deer he thought he'd hit. To be honest, I didn't help since it involved wading across an icy creek. But I did take video.

Hey, it's sleeting now.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Nest Is Empty Now

My name is Karen Cunningham and I'm an empty nester. Sounds like I'm standing up at an AA meeting, doesn't it. In a way it is. My children have been out of the house for over two years now and I'm finally coming to terms with it. I still backslide everyonce in awhile. Holidays are the worst. Both of my children live in town. I see and talk to them occasionally but have to make myself not hug them too much. I'm afraid if I start, I won't be able to let them go. And go they must, out the door to live their own lives.

For the last two years, I've struggled with the question, "Now what?" It was easy to figure out what my purpose was when the kids were at home. After they left, not so much. But with the start of this new year, I've decided that it's time for me to do some of the things I want to do and reclaim myself. So, today, I went hiking and took some pictures to share.

Camcorder, water bottle, sandwich, gloves and walking stick. What else does a girl need for hiking?


Self portrait

High Falls at Moss Rock Preserve

I spent over two hours hiking and taking pictures. I don't remember the last time I let myself do something like this. It was fun. I could get used to it.