Archive | October, 2015

A Halloween Story

31 Oct

This is based on an old favorite, snazzed up for the occasion, but it should work—particularly if you haven’t heard it…



Bat-o-lantern. Don’t forget to shine your light!

Last year, a young lad who ought to have spent Halloween night studying for the next day’s Chemistry class decided instead to venture out onto the streets and mingle with neighborhood revelers. He would regret that decision.

From the trunk of his Toyota Echo he pulled an enormous blue and white Lugia costume head piece that he’d worn at a recent Anime conference. Its red eyes glowered menacingly. “Perfect,” he thought. He stared ruefully at the rest of the costume, recalling the fumbling clunky-ness of the oversized wing/hands. He settled for the giant blue talon feet and a full-length overcoat

Nobody around here knows who Lugia is anyway.

The lad wasn’t interested in candy, but in terrifying unsuspecting trick-or-treaters, particularly the younger children. He’d pick a tiny tot to stand behind and slowly lean over him, lowering his large red-eyed Lugia head practically up-side down and eye-to-eye with the poor child and saying, “Sqwaaak.”

If a bag of goodies happened to drop in the ensuing mayhem, all the better.

He was having a rather good time until someone’s dad, who happened to be dressed as a cowboy, came out of the shadows and chased him with a cattle prod. Chased him half-way down the road, until the lad ducked into a side street, avoiding the prod but slamming smack-dab into a giant, wood coffin.

“Ow!” He stepped back, eyeing the casket with suspicion.

What’s that doing here?

He shrugged and started to leave, but as soon as he turned, the coffin lid began to open, slowly…creakingly…eerily…  He just had to peek inside. Wouldn’t you?

Two dark, slanted, evil looking eyes glowed out at him, and a bony finger beckoned. He took a step back.

The coffin moved.

The lad turned and raced out of the alley as fast as one can run in giant bird feet. Behind him, he heard a menacing thumping. He chanced a look back and was filled with terror to see the coffin thudding along the sidewalk, steadily gaining on him. He ripped off his head piece and flung it aside, and kicked off the footwear as he ran.

The coffin sped up behind him.

“Thump! Thump! Thump!”

When he reached his house he used his last ounce of energy to charge up the walkway and fling open the door, pulling it shut behind him and closing the bolt.

“Thump! Thump! Thump!”

Through the peephole he saw the coffin coming up his front steps. He turned and ran upstairs just as the front door crashed in, and to his horror, the casket started up the steps.

“Thump! Thump! Thump!”

The lad raced into the bathroom at the end of the hall and closed the door. Trapped! There wasn’t even a window.

Exhausted and near tears, he was ready to give up, when he spied the open medicine cabinet and knew exactly what he had to do. He crossed the room and rummaged hastily through the pill bottles and bandages, coming up at last with a bottle of Vicks-44.

He took a quick breath to steady his nerves, opened the bottle, then yanked the door open and flung the syrupy contents at the approaching menace, soaking it from top to bottom.

And the coffin’ stopped…




You’re welcome. Stay safe out there tonight.



“You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” —1 Thessalonians:5




You’re welcome. Stay safe out there tonight.


You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. –1 Thessalonians 5

Caged Sparrow Launches in Naples!

17 Oct

Who would have thought it possible? Here I am, two hours away from a moment I’ve been dreaming about since I was about 14 – my first official book signing!

And to make life even better, I’m in Naples, Florida, sitting with the no-longer Caged Sparrow himself, Joseph Tuttolomondo, without whom I’d still be sitting in a government cubicle and without whom this day would still only be a dream.

Caged Sparrow and his ghost writer

Caged Sparrow and his ghost writer

So, of course, for today’s blog, I will interview Joe, the former Buffalo undercover narcotics chief who had the decency to get himself framed and tossed into prison so I could write his story nearly 35 years later. We’re in the First Baptist Church Naples, so if you’re in the neighborhood, feel free to drop in. It’s the only way you’re going to get not one, but two signatures on your copy of “Caged Sparrow,” Tonight until 8 p.m. and tomorrow 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Me: Joe, let’s talk about your story, since that’s why where here. How long have you been thinking about making it into a book?

Joe: Since I was released from prison in 1979. Considering the circumstances and all the surprising things that did and didn’t happen, I just thought there were things that should be told.

Me: Why did it take you so long to write it?

Joe: I couldn’t find a Christian writer who would take it on. I tried a bit right after I got out of prison, but didn’t know how to go about it. One publisher who was referred to me listened to my story and said, “There’s already a lot of that Serpico kind of stuff.” I was discouraged, and over time, although I always wanted and prayed that it be written down, I figured if God wanted it, it would happen.


Me: With hindsight, is there anything you would change if you could re-live the whole trial and prison scene?

Joe: None what-so-ever. The results were the best thing that ever happened to me and I’m grateful to all involved.Even those who kicked it off.

Me: What went through your mind when your friend Linda told you someone you never met wanted to write your book?

Joe: I was overwhelmed with joy. It affirmed the fact that the Lord answers prayer. He may take His time, but He answers.

Me: What’s the best part of seeing your book in print?

Joe: First and foremost, I’m thrilled because it glorifies the Lord for who he is and what he did in my life and my children’s lives and for so many I met in prison. Secondly, I’m excited for what this book can accomplish, particularly for those who don’t know Jesus. You can’t stuff Jesus down someone’s throat. He’s a gift you have to offer and the recipient has to accept it voluntarily. This book is a gift to those who are wondering.

Me: What’s your favorite recipe from your Mom’s cookbook?

Joe: That’s easy. Pasta Fazola (macaroni and white kidney beans). You make a roux of caramelized onions and garlic (use chicken stock instead of water), then you marry the roux with some kidney beans and let it simmer. Then you par cook ditalini – a short stubby Italian macaroni. Add the pasta to the beans and cover it with grated parmesan cheese. The first time I fed it to the guys in prison, they turned their noses up at it, but once they tried it, I had them hooked. Even the guards liked it, and you know if the guards don’t like something it doesn’t get served. Pasta Fazola became a regular favorite.

Me: Do you still keep a live turkey tied up in your bathroom as Thanksgiving nears?

Joe: No, only because we no longer have a radiator to tie one to.


So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:31

Left-brain, Right-brain Activity: Woes of an ADD writer

9 Oct

My husband can work on one task at a time. When he’s finished, he can sleep.

If I’ve ever coveted anything, it’s mastery of those two skills. Okay, forget mastery. I’ll take novice level. Apprentice, even.

I don’t think I’ve had a good, non-Nyquil-induced sleep in years. My brain simply cannot SHUT UP. At the end of every day, after we settle into the big comfy bed and turn out the lights, my husband sighs and whispers a sleepy, “Good ni—” and he’s down for the count.

At which time, my brain goes into hyper drive.

Hey, we gotta check on the kids.

We checked on them last night. They’re fine.

(NOTE: as far as you know, this wasn’t my attitude toward my real kids. As far as you know, they’re both well-adjusted, perfectly functional young men.)

On cue, we embark on the nightly tour. You might ask who “we” are, but to explain that, I’d have to take you with me, into the writer’s brain. Sure, it can be scary, but fun—like riding a roller coaster through a dark cave. I can promise you there’s a way out, but I cannot promise you’ll be able to un-see anything in there. This is your chance to click that red X in the top right corner…

And in we go…

So, like normal people, I have right and left brain hemispheres, analytics on the left and creativity on the right. Unlike normal people, the split here is not 50/50, but more like 90/10.

Do Not Enter

Not safe for man nor beast

That’s why, if you were to walk into my brain, the first area you’d encounter would be the hall closet of analytics. Open that door only if you enjoy being bored to tears, because it is stuffed to overflowing with everything not creative—shopping lists, driving tips, logical eating patterns, awareness of gravity, friends, siblings, birthdays, toothpaste, time, and laundry. At the bottom of the pile, beneath boxes and bags of forgotten skills like dusting and parent/teacher communication, lies a crumpled page of moldy pulp that used to be math, which will never be retrieved, and even if it were, could never be restored.

I highly recommend you close that door immediately. I don’t go in there if I can avoid it.

Instead, I invite you to turn around and look at the Great Hall. The giant table in the center is cluttered with delicious looking snips and chunks of my current project, a true story with the working title, “From the Remnants.” (More on that in a later blog.) At every place setting is a minion typing madly, transcribing hours of interview recording. Around the room, professors sit at easels examining order, chapter length, dialogue, setting, and pace. Very exciting stuff here.

Open the first door off the hall carefully, so you don’t send the imps scampering. This is the novel idea room, where characters are being created at a rapid pace. Fourteen, last I checked. Just from the doorway you can see Wilhelm, the depressed store manager; Earl, the blissfully ignorant cart-return dude; Shelly, who has a Master’s in Bioengineering yet works the customer service desk; Angus the Semi driver, and a cast of store customers with…shall we say…issues? I can’t tell you the working title of this book because it’s kinda neat and I’d hate to see it pop up before I finish the story.

The next door opens to the study, where serious work is unfolding. Lots of reading, cataloging, interviewing, and heavy sighing. Here’s my mom’s story, currently called “Withered Rose.” Please keep your voice to a whisper here.

The main bedroom upstairs has been cleared out. Perhaps that’s why I don’t sleep. I’m making room here for an incoming project I want very much to do. I may put a guest up here for a while, because the rest of the house is so crowded.

The two spare rooms are piled high with anticipation. Here’s where I keep the job bids I’ve submitted, which are in the “We’ll get back to you” phase. I’m starting to think they won’t pan out, but I’m ready, just in case. Off to the side is a small powder room, where I’m stashing my commitment to write a memoir in the Feb/March time frame.

At the back of the house are two small, lonely rooms I rarely enter. In one, my teenage runaway sits on the edge of her bed, waiting for me to visit so she can pour out her story. I know her story better than anyone’s, and I know how desperately she needs my company. I feel her slipping through my hands and during my night rounds I press my head lovingly to her door, willing her to stay with me just a bit longer.

The other is my parable parlor, which resembles a dentist waiting area. Magazines and patients strewn everywhere. I know the patients well. They’ve taken me to the edge of a completed manuscript and now they sit, waiting for me to sift, edit, and compile them into a short-story bundle called “Perfect Parent.”

Finally, there’s the sun porch, my favorite place to hang out after I complete my rounds. It’s quiet, dark…serene. I open the French doors and settle on the chaise lounge with a glass of wine to watch the parade. Field mice ideas, raccoon visions, a young doe or two of possibility. I watch them play and wonder what they’ll be when they grow up, or if they’ll grow up. I try to catch every snippet of character and delight in them while I can.

Smiling, relaxed, I finally drift off to sleep.

…Just as my husband wakes and starts getting ready for work. Field mice and minions scamper for the hills. It’s going to take a lot of cheese and hyper focus to coax them back into the house.


Sure, it’s a planter, but wouldn’t that be helpful?

No sense telling him about my night. He can see it under my eyes. Besides, he has a 90% left-brain walk-in closet filled with neatly stacked mathematical formulas and teaspoon-to-gallon conversion charts. He wouldn’t understand.

I begin another day, tired, but happy, trekking to the Great Room with an oversized mug of steaming coffee. Time to get typing.

Can I get an ADD amen?


In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. — John 14:2-3


Christmas Year-round

October’s “Keep Christmas Alive” tip is to go shopping, but for someone else. Someone you don’t know. Sadly, if you envision a person of any age and any size and outfit that person with hat, coat, boots and gloves, when the time comes around to buy for the Angel Tree near you, there will be a person in need who fits that size. Or play it safe and purchase a few toys. The selections are better now than they will be in December, and you won’t have to add that to your “to do” list when the crowds are out in full force.

Storms May be Brewing, but the Sun Ain’t Goin’ Anywhere

1 Oct

Today is a dismal, bleak, rainy day here in Virginia.

From my window I can watch dirt and mulch, wrenched away from once-splendid summer gardens, tumble in clumps down the street and become caught up in a swift-flowing rainwater river. The debris bumps along on an aimless journey, careening into a pile of leaves at the end of the road, where it rests briefly before slipping through a gaping sewer opening that leads to who-knows-where?

Wet bird in the rain

Hunker down, or deny it’s raining. You decide.

A nor’easter is heading in from the sea, threatening to raise floodwaters, close roads, fill basements, and sweep cars from under people who refuse to believe they’re vulnerable, despite warnings to hunker down.

South of us, Hurricane Joaquin is gathering steam for a pass up the east coast. Hundreds of tree limbs will break off in its gale-force winds, nearly ripened fruit will never make it to harvest, and puzzling objects from the depths of the ocean will stir, and rise, and wash ashore. People will be hurt, and some may die.

It could be days before we see the sun again.

But still, the sun will remain in the sky, peacefully, gloriously, shining, just above the gray clouds and the calamitous vortex of wind and rain. It shines just as brightly throughout this storm as it does on any other day, whether we can see it or not. Regardless of how cold, how wet, how dark we feel over the next few days, it will continue to blaze with its usual fiery heat, sending down to us the exact amount of energy we need to sustain our planet, sufficient vitamin D to keep each of us healthy, and light enough to see where we ought to step (or paddle) next.

I have faith in the sun’s existence, because I’ve seen it and I paid enough attention during science class to know roughly what’s going on up there. I made the requisite Styrofoam solar system and know the sun is securely stationed at the center, even without the help of a wire coat hanger or a tube of Elmer’s glue. I don’t understand why or how it works, but I don’t need to know. I can trust it’s there. I’ll see it again.

Of course, I can chose to deny the sun’s presence, pointing to the eerie gathering darkness as proof of its ineptitude. And when the clouds clear and the rains subside I can still refuse to see the sun by closing my eyes. But that won’t make it not there.

Still, I will prepare for the dark days ahead by stocking the shelves with canned goods, ensuring we have propane for the grill and the fire starter handy for the candles, digging the flashlights out from under last year’s winter coats, bringing family treasures out of the basement, and probably finishing off the coffee ice cream in the freezer, you know in case the power goes out—wouldn’t want that to go to waste. Then, as the winds howl outside my door, I can remind myself: we’re okay, and this will pass.

light peeking through clouds

We can lose sight for a while, but it’s always there.

That’s how it is with God. We can lose sight of Him sometimes, but He’s always there, despite our fiercest storms. We know this because we’ve done our homework and answered that one question we must all answer for ourselves: Is the Bible true? We’ve made the requisite Styrofoam Gospel scene and know that God burns securely in the center of our hearts, even without our duct tape and glitter. We don’t completely understand how He can do this, but we don’t need to know. We can trust He’s still there.

So we’ve prepared for the storm by studying God’s promises, trusting His Word, and telling Him our concerns. Then, as the wolf howls outside the door, we can remind ourselves: we’re okay, and this will pass.

Yet, for some reason, some of us will huddle there in the dark for days, weeks, even years afterward, denying ourselves the warmth and peace He offers. Why do we do this?

We may be angry at Him for not preventing a limb from breaking during the storm, and deny that he’s filling the fields all around us with new life. But we cannot anger him away or close our eyes to the evidence. Just not looking won’t make him not there.

We may be hiding from Him, cowering in the shadows in shame or worry because we’re sure we’ve somehow let Him down, but His light sees into those darkest places, knows everything we’ve done and failed to do, and loves us anyway. He’s there with you under the basement steps, extending a hand. He wants to bring you out of there.

The storms will end soon enough. I challenge you, even while they still rage, to leave your hiding place, venture out, and look up, into the light. Offer Him your hand, your hurt, your sorrow, your regrets, and He will shine on you, just as brightly as He has been doing all along.

The difference between God and the sun, though, is He can make YOU shine as well, because His light is brighter than the sun, and His presence many times more trustworthy. Trust Him. He’s there.


For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. — 2 Corinthians 4:17-18