Friday, October 30, 2009

Hallopalooza Is Here!

Yeah, But Houdini Didn't Have These Hips – post #8

According to legend, it only took Harry Houdini 2 minutes and 27 seconds to escape a straightjacket while being suspended from a crane being used to build the New York City Subway. Mattie, Milla's brother, had tried to copy the renowned magician's feats when they were kids. He had Milla tie him up in their Dad's old bathrobe, but it still took Mattie more than 10 minutes to escape. He finally had just wriggled out of the contraption. But Mattie's fighting weight was 97 pounds and he had the hips of a snake.

The Amazing Harry, topping 240 pounds and hired by G. Winston Howard to entertain his guests, couldn't have wriggled his way out of a paper bag.

In fact, the most amazing part of Harry was the size of the ketchup stain on his starched white shirt. Milla assumed it was ketchup because the Amazing Harry hadn't missed a bite during the entire interview, sloppily dipping handfuls of French Fries into the condiment bowl on the table.

"Is that what you wore to the party?" Milla still needed to find someone in a warlock costume – even if it was just to eliminate him/her as a suspect.

He nodded. "Black tux. My normal costume."

Milla noticed that the color of the ketchup and the color of the shirt stain weren't the same red, and she didn't think the difference was made by Heinz. She'd have to ask Fletcher to collect the shirt and have the stain analyzed. Whoever stabbed Carla Jordan probably got a splattering of the assistant's blood.

Milla looked at her barely-touched plate. The hamburger was going cold, the French Fries limp. G. Winston Howard was providing lunch for all of his guests that were still detained on the estate awaiting interviews. Even though it had been more than twelve hours since she'd had any food, she couldn't eat. Sitting at a table with Amazing Harry had killed her appetite.

Next Clue Location -


Welcome to Yeah, But Houdini Didn't Have These Hips! I'm a member of the St. Louis chapter of Sisters in Crime. Leave a comment on this post to be entered into a drawing to win a recent book from one of our members! In your comment, be sure to mention whether you prefer noir, craft cozies, thrillers, or paranormal romances. Thanks for stopping by, and good luck on The Stiletto Gang's Hallopalooza Scavenger Hunt!

It's Hallopalooza!

Welcome to Hallopalooza, the fabulous Halloween scavenger hunt from The Stiletto Gang!

The clues will be posted early Friday morning, so pop over to The Stiletto Gang for the first clue and find your way back here as soon as possible!

Join the Hunt!
Follow the Clues!
Solve the Mystery!
Win Great Prizes!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

To Make a Living

In order to finish my freelance project on budget, I need to complete about 2 chapters an hour. No biggie, right? I'm mostly just updating page numbers from one edition to the next. Except - HOLY CRAP - some of the chapters are long. With tons of new information to research. Gulp. I just finished a single chapter that took me 3 HOURS. Not that I'm stressed out or anything.

So that's why I'm not blogging this week. Wait.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Peter Pan Party

"Sarahlynn has really outdone herself this year. What is she going to do to top this next year?" my sister asked my mother after Ellie's 6th birthday party this weekend.

I don't plan to try to top myself next year. After all, I didn't plan to do much this year. Just a simple party, inexpensive, few activities, mostly free play, maybe cupcakes.

Here's how it went down.

Ellie's been into the movie Peter Pan lately, so that became our theme. I typed the invitations and printed them on card stock along with a few images (Tinkerbell, a crocodile, Peter and the Darlings flying over London, a map of Neverland). Then I burned the pages into fun shapes and crisped the invitations in the oven. We hand delivered them. Cost: free! So far, so good.

As Ellie's 8 guests arrived (6 because she's turning 6 plus a couple siblings, ages 1-8, girls and boys, some with Down syndrome and some without) they ran around the house and got acquainted with one another.

The weather was lovely, a perfectly crisp, blue autumn day. So for our first activity we went outside and had a "Fairy Flower Treasure Hunt" in the front yard. I showed each child a silk flower, they ran off to find one like it, then brought it back for the next "clue" and so forth. I bound each child's bouquet with floral tape and attached a nametag. Presto: party favors!

Then all the kids sneaked to the backyard to play on the wooden swings/rockwall/slide playset. Eventually a few children started looking around for something else to do, but no worries! I had a few more tricks up my sleeve.

Paul was in charge of decorating and he did a great job with the house. There was a "Welcome to Neverland!" banner beside the front door and a large hand-drawn map of Neverland Island in the foyer. The family room was "Indian Camp," the dining room was "Tinker's Nook," and the basement playroom was Pirate's Cove/Mermaid Lagoon.

The children filed into the living room, where I sprinkled imaginary pixie dust on their heads and asked them to hold out their arms. "You Can Fly!" played on the computer as the guests swooped around the room, stopping on small maps of Neverland when the music stopped. Each round, one child found him or herself without a map upon which to stand and was "out." They didn't mind, though! Because I sent them straight downstairs to Walk the Plank.

Paul was waiting in the basement with the next activity. Kids bounced on the mini trampoline, walked down a low balance beam, then jumped off onto a blue blanket (the lagoon) where Paul waited for them with fairy glitter and temporary tattoos (fairies or pirates).

After getting their ink, guests came back upstairs to me, where I waited by the tee pee in the family room with a hot glue gun, more colored card stock, and some feathers. "What's your favorite animal? What's your favorite activity?" Each child discovered his or her Indian name and got a fancy nametag. (I particularly enjoyed "Singing Chicken.")

Soon, it was time for cake. My parents were here to help this weekend (bless them!) and my mom thoughtfully baked the cakes so all I had to do on Saturday afternoon was decorate them. We had a strawberry Neverland Island iced green (two small inverted pyrex bowl shapes with cupcakes embracing a blue lagoon) and a chocolate pirate ship.

My second best moment of the day came when one guest's mother said, "Look, the cake is just like a pirate ship!" and her daughter replied, "No, Mom, it IS a pirate ship!"

My first favorite moment of the day was seeing how happy and excited Ellie was the whole time. She doesn't open gifts and is easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation. She didn't want to play the games, though she loves to watch. And she looked forward to the party with such excitement and had SO MUCH FUN having her friends over, playing outside, and walking the plank to jump into the lagoon. Most especially, she loved the whole cake/candles/ice cream/singing part of the party.

How can I top this next year? By showing up. Ellie is a child who is impossible to spoil. She is so generous with her smiles and hugs and praise. She appreciated every aspect of the party, but she would have been thrilled to have just family and a a simple cupcake, too. Her attitude takes the pressure off, though I can never resist trying to design an afternoon that's so perfect for her she didn't even know to wish for it. I'm sure I'll try again next year. (I'm thinking: The Little Mermaid at the swimming pool.)

I'll post the pictures for my Friday Photoblogging this week.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I was just grateful the girls were playing quietly together. (Hint: this is not the normal decor for our dining room table.)

Halloween practice (neither is her costume):

Sorry, Charter

The first team from Charter who responded to our distress call was . . . largely useless. Very polite, though!

As a follow-up, a crew-of-one came out the next week. It was the end of the workday and unscheduled; he just dropped by. And he was professional and thorough as he quickly diagnosed and fixed the true problem.

User Error.


(There was a loose cable behind our television from when we used to have a VCR upstairs. It presented no problem until we stressed the system by adding cable internet.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Pastors

I'm a PK (preacher's kid).

"Pastors are easy to love, but they're hard to get home. From the minds that brought you Before He Speaks comes a new offering of musical satire."

Thanks to Rob for the link!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Limited Access

We're not extravagant people. We like to eat and we like to travel, but we don't own high-end electronics and we drive Hondas.

We do watch our money carefully, and we're trying to pay off ALL of our debt and increase our savings. (Unless it rains - and of course it will rain; we'll need to do home improvements or replace our cars or whatever - we'll be out of debt completely in ten years. That includes our mortgage, cars, student loans, everything.) We've carried debt for too long. Our budget is tight.

Every month I am annoyed by how much it costs to have a land line, but I'm unwilling to get rid of it. Last month we realized that we could save a lot of money if we go with one of the Charter bundles. By getting our basic cable, high speed internet access, and home phone through one package price we'll spend much less each month. Cool!

Except not really.

Because our internet connection SUCKS now. It's not just slow, oh no, we'd love slow. The connection fails every few seconds and takes forever to come back up. So we can write emails offline and just hope they have time to send in the next brief online cycle.

We've been waiting over a week for Charter to fix the problem. (It's your computer settings. No, cables? No, modem? No, it's a problem with our lines outside. And we don't go up on the poles. Another crew will have to come out later sometime within the next week.)

I am a blogger and freelance writer. I NEED MY INTERNET. Until then.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

SinC Into Great Writing

I'm off! Early in the morning I'm heading for Indianapolis for a writing workshop:

SinC into Great Writing!

This event is FULL
Sisters in Crime is pleased to present "SinC Into Great Writing!" on Wednesday, October 14, 2009, at the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, featuring New York literary agent Donald Maass and dinner keynote speaker Nancy Pickard along with seminars by Hallie Ephron and Chris Roerden. The program runs from 1:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Presenters: New York literary agent Donald Maass is the author of Writing the Breakout Novel, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, and The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great.

Hallie Ephron is an author, writing teacher, and award-winning Boston Globe book reviewer. Her latest psychological suspense novel, Never Tell a Lie, received a starred review in PW and was an Indie NEXT pick for 1/09. She is also the author of Edgar-nominated Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock 'Em Dead with Style.

Nancy Pickard, four-time Edgar Nominee and winner of Agatha, Anthony, Shamus, and Macavity awards, is the author of 17 novels and dozens of short stories. She is a founding member and former national president of Sisters In Crime.

Chris Roerden is the Agatha-winning, Macavity- and Anthony-nominated author of Don't Murder Your Mystery and its all-genre version, Don't Sabotage Your Submission. She edits authors published by St. Martin's, Berkley Prime Crime, Midnight Ink, and more.

Risky Behavior

Is it dangerous to post pictures of children on the Internet?

I was in an online conversation with someone who suggested that it is "stupid" to post pictures of children online. So how do I justify the fact that I share pictures of my children?

First: is it really dangerous? I do think there's some risk involved with living a public life, and with sharing any sort of personal information publicly. So, is it dangerous to share pictures of my children online? Possibly. Why do it, then?

I have a daughter with Down syndrome. One of the reasons I blog is to raise awareness about the disability and what it's REALLY like, rather than the stereotypes with which we're all familiar. I can't count the number of people who've written to me that my blogging slices of our family life and sharing of family pictures - including my children interacting with each other - have changed the way they think/feel about people with disabilities. Writing the way I write and sharing the pictures I share makes my family's experiences feel personal for hundreds of people on the web who wouldn't otherwise know us.

Second: is the internet really more dangerous than other public places? Perhaps. I think that people do and say things online they wouldn't do or say in person, and sometimes we tend to forget that there are real live people on the other end of the wireless connection. But does that translate into a significant real world risk? I think this increased risk is relatively small.

It's true that someone could take a picture I post on my blog, save it to his own computer, and look at it with unpleasant thoughts running through his head. Such a guy is sick and probably does the same thing with pictures found in any source (advertisements, newspapers, old yearbooks, others' photos of our family taken in public places). Or he sits behind his window and watches children walk home from school. It's disturbing but doesn't actually touch/hurt/endanger my family in any way.

The fear is that someone could move from thought to action, become fixated on one of my children, and seek her out in person.

If a scary internet criminal was determined to find me physically he could do so. It's possible to guess where we go to church, where my children attend school, where we exercise, etc. from the anecdotes I share. And that does worry me when I'm getting increased traffic and attention due to a controversial position I've taken. The world holds people who get angry and irrational and violent.

But I think there's real danger to always expecting the worst of others, to always living in fear. It makes sense to take precautions. And everyone will draw their own lines in different places. (I feel safe with this, not that. I will blog but not post pictures. I will blog and post pictures but do so anonymously. I will not share any personal information on the internet and will not attend events where cameras are likely to be present.)

I see the internet as a community. There might be scary people lurking in the corners (thieves, terrorists, pedophiles). I'll have my eyes open. But I'm not going to hold back from participating fully in community and building real relationships with people because of a small risk that someone with ill-intent might overhear.

Additional Reading.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


"It's MY birthday today!" At 5:45 this morning, Ellie burst from her room, delighted to be alive. "Happy Birthday to MEEEE!"

Soon, all of us were awake and bundled into the dark, cold car for a special birthday doughnut run. (Doughnuts might be the very best thing about birthdays at our house.)

"How old are you, Ellie?" asked Paul.

"I'm six!"

She told us she wanted spaghetti (p-bsketti) and garlic cheesy bread for dinner. "And milk!" She let us know, periodically, when she wanted us to sing to her. She absolutely gets the whole birthday experience. Of course she loves it! And she's really looking forward to her party.

Kindergarten is hard for Ellie. But it's so good for her, too. Over the last month and a half, Ellie's made huge strides physically (gross motor, fine motor, speech) and emotionally (independence, making cool connections all over the place).

Reasons to celebrate abound.

In addition to my delight with my beloved daughter, I'm also healthier than I've been in a long time. I don't mean physically; I have a terrible cough that refuses to heal. But for a month and a half, Ellie has been going to bed at bedtime. And sleeping all night. It's been SIX YEARS since we've been able to have stress-free bedtimes and parents-only evenings. (I've also lost 20 pounds. Coincidence? Perhaps.)

Have I mentioned that I love Kindergarten?

(Picture legend: Above, Ellie relaxing at the end of a long, wonderful birthday. She's watching The Little Mermaid before bed.)

Friday, October 09, 2009


Operation Homemade Gifts is off to a mixed start.

I began simply, with knit hats for a newborn and a one-year-old, both boys. There's some concern that one of the hats isn't "butch" enough for its recipient. (Not my judgment. I picked the yarn thinking it was fine.) Thoughts?

Many thanks to my pumpkin models. I will soon show my appreciation by making you into tasty bread.

Gift number three, well, wasn't quite as homemade as the others. But someday I'll be giving homemade books!

Currently in progress: a tiny teddy bear. Hopefully it will turn out slightly less creepy than my last attempt:

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Got Wood?

As we near our first ever homemade-gifts-only holiday season, I have a question.

Do you have any idea where I might procure several large tree stumps?

My only idea is to call local tree service companies and ask if I can follow them around for a day. I'd rather not do that.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Medieval Helpdesk

In lieu of a review for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club this month, I have instead a video that made me laugh:


My new neighbor is into Halloween. He built a fence-like structure in their front yard, stacked hay bales in front of it, installed fake gravestones, and hung various spooky things from their trees.

I too am a fan of Halloween and like that my neighborhood does a lot of decorating for fall.

But I don't like the noose hanging from my neighbor's basketball goal with a stuffed figure dressed in combat boots and green ACUs with a black shroud covering its face.

Update: ALL decorations are gone. Even the nifty ones.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Chill in the Air

I wasn't ready to turn on the heat. So I decided to make a big pot of soup Friday night and ask Paul to lay a fire in the grate.

The soup came out a little cheesy, but Ellie loved it nonetheless. (Ada doesn't eat soup but condescended to have a bit of fruit.)

The fire was lovely, but as so often happens when we burn anything in our lovely, giant fireplace, the whole house quickly filled with smoke.

Paul assured me that the flue was open - he even used a flashlight to check, taking a great risk with his hair. And I had chimney sweeps out last season when we were having the same problem. They pronounced our chimney already clean and in great shape.

So what gives?

I like seasonal fires - safely contained behind those dated glass doors, of course - but would prefer that my eyes not water and my furniture not smell like wood smoke for weeks after each burning.

Thursday, October 01, 2009