Twelve years ago, Chocoholic and I took a river cruise in China. We traveled on the Yangtze River and to various destinations by Chinese air carrier, covering a lot of fascinating territory in the huge sprawling country. It was a wonderful trip, one that I would recommend. Our last stop was Beijing. The weather was clear but very cold. Chocoholic wore his warmest coat, an old one with sheepskin lining. At the end of the trip, we took a bus to the airport, a vast modern complex of many enticing vendors but seemingly few people. We waited in a short line to go through security. Chocoholic went before me. It’s always a big deal with him as he carries too much in his pockets, has to untie his shoes and remove his belt. When he took off his coat,  I took it, helping him to move a little faster.

I heard a faint click against the floor. I glanced down and saw, to my horror, a 0.22 caliber bullet called a short. It had fallen out of his pocket. I immediately knew that we were in trouble if an official saw it, but no one was looking at it or at me. I calmly put my foot on top of it, checked again to confirm no one was looking, used the act of folding the big coat to obscure any overhead video camera and gently rolled the bullet under the x-ray machine, moving as little and as naturally as possible. I put the coat on the conveyor belt and cleared security in short order.

I didn’t tell Chocoholic about the bullet until we were back in the US. I had visions of his face looking much like Brad Pitt’s ruined face in the 2001 movie SPY GAME starring Robert Redford. Mr. Pitt’s character suffers a terrible beating in a Chinese prison. The movie has long been one of my favorites. Redford’s character is a clever American spy nearing retirement, underestimated by his younger arrogant superiors who are clueless about tradecraft. It was directed by Tony Scott and distributed by Beacon Pictures and Universal Pictures.

Why the bullet in the pocket? When Chocoholic walks at the lake, he carries a little derringer that he inherited from his father. He relies on it mostly as a noisemaker. I assume the bullet had been there for years, trapped in a crevice or fold of the lining. On the China trip, we cleared airport security at least five times before the bullet finally made its untimely appearance.


As difficult as the pandemic lockdown was for us, I counted our blessings every day.

We signed up for the Covid-19 vaccine when it became available. Unlike friends and neighbors, I didn’t take the time to hunt down and make vaccine appointments in nearby towns. I spent too much time filling out online forms that collected way too much private information. We waited in long lines and even had to return the next day when vaccine supplies ran out. It was frustrating but worth it in the end.

Securing the second dose was easier. We waited another restless thirty days. When scientific research assured us we enjoyed 95% immunity, we celebrated with our first curbside pickup of prepared food. YUMMM!

The lockdown could have been so very much worse for us in so many different ways.

We did not get sick with Covid-19.

We enjoyed a steady income.

Adequate infection control supplies were available.

Family members weren’t forced by necessity to go to workplaces rife with viral outbreaks.

We didn’t struggle to hang onto a rapidly-failing business we had spent our lives building up from nothing or run through life savings in a matter of weeks or months.

Unlike many, we weren’t trapped at home without any company at all.

No elderly relatives were stuck 3,000 miles away without an adequate support system.

We had no small children to teach, amuse, discipline or care for day in and day out; no classroom to set up and equip; no complex curricula to develop and textbooks to secure and read. We had no lesson plans to make. There was no need to comfort young children when they were dying to go outside and play with their little friends and couldn’t understand why Mommy or Daddy or Granny or Grandpa was being so cruel and unfair.

And we didn’t have to agonize over what might happen to our babies or who would take care of them if we got sick and died.

Sure, like everyone else, we suffered from cabin fever, but for the most part, we enjoyed or at least tolerated each other’s company and support. Worthwhile work and entertainment were available via various electronic devices and reliable internet service. Personal privacy was available when needed.

Groceries and supplies were delivered. We rode the recumbent bike from Central Texas to Juneau, Alaska and back. Wildlife amused us. (The big squirrel that jumps out of bed and lands heavily on our rooftop every morning, rattling the house, has not yet shed his pandemic ten pounds!) We had nearby hike and bike trails when we needed to be separate or to walk in the woods.

We have an old family lake cabin in Central Texas, another escape when we need a change of pace. It holds lots of precious memories and is quiet, woodsy, teeming with wildlife and great views of the lake. Nature regularly delights us with unexpected wonders. Writing comes easier there. Productivity soars. We can fish, swim, walk in the woods or sit on the porch and contemplate the serenity of the lake. It’s my favorite place in the whole world.

I continued editing manuscripts for The Pig Parts Series.

I routinely said little prayers for others not so fortunate, especially single mothers and fathers worn down with childcare, unfamiliar educational responsibilities, lack of income and family resources, eviction, homelessness, loneliness and ill health. We stepped up charitable contributions and tips for services, hoping to help, knowing it was way too little.

Of course we suffered stresses and strains, but dreadful statistics show that for too many tragic souls, they proved to be unbearable.


I grew up in a small town in a state full of hunters, but no one in my family hunted. Chocoholic grew up in the big city hunting duck, geese. squirrel and birds with his father. Go figure. His family ate what they killed. Shortly after we were first married, Chocoholic went hunting with a friend and brought home a dead squirrel. I cooked it, unbeknownst to me, with the shotgun pellets still in it. We had to throw it away. Who knew?

With the exception of a single goose hunt near Katy, Texas with some co-workers, he never went hunting again. Worked for me!

I have been present at only one hunt. When I was a junior in high school, my boyfriend took me to a fox hunt late one Friday night after a football game. I didn’t know what to expect, but I trusted the young man. He was a good guy.

He drove out of town on a State Highway, turned off onto a Farm to Market Road and subsequently turned off onto two winding white sand ruts leading into dense post oak woods. The only light came from headlights raking the trail and trees. After about a mile, we came to the campsite. There were at least a dozen men there. Most were young with perhaps three older men. I recognized a couple of recent high school graduates, one of whom was my boyfriend’s best friend. I think there was only one other female present, the wife of one of the men. It appeared to me that she was there to hunt, as she was getting her gear ready. She was not there to cook for the men. It was quite dark and chilly, and most of the men were warming themselves around a big campfire in a small clearing. Some of the guys had already begun drinking. One was feeling no pain. The young man I was with turned down a proffered bottle of bourbon but promised to return after he took me home. They planned to make a night of it. Hard liquor and guns sounded like a dangerous combination to me, but I held my tongue.

Someone had brought hunting dogs, hounds. They were excited and loud, eager to get going. I don’t remember horses being present. We left after a few minutes as I had curfew.

Years later Chocoholic, our Black Lab Jack and I spent a weekend at the lake cabin, located perhaps two miles or so from the fox hunt campsite. We arrived midmorning on a bright sunshiny Saturday. While we were still unloading, a neighbor made it a point to drive over and warn us that a big cat had been on the property for a couple of days. While he didn’t say so, we assumed that livestock had been killed. My dog and I gave up plans for a hike and stayed close to the cabin. Jack loved our walks in the woods, but he put up no resistance, and I assumed his nose had made him aware of the predator as soon as we had crossed the cattle guard. My mother, sister and her husband and perhaps a cousin from a nearby town joined us later that afternoon.

About an hour before sunset, a caravan of pickup trucks carrying horses and dogs arrived. They rattled across the dam and gunned their engines up the deep sandy road behind our cabin and on into the deep woods. All of the pickups carried at least one passenger, and all sported long guns secured in racks behind bench seats. Most of the men wore snap shirts and western cowboy straw hats or gimme caps. We watched the parade go by with big eyes, assuming they had come to kill the predator. It was oddly exciting.

We returned to the porch after dark to enjoy the night sounds on the lake. We turned the exterior lights off and talked in the dark. We occasionally heard the hunting dogs barking and baying excitedly and an occasional shout from one of the hunters. We heard a single short scream, I assume from the big cat. As soon as the sun came up the next morning, the caravan of hunters returned the way they had come. We never learned for sure that they had killed the cat, but we assumed so.

Perhaps eight years ago, I was walking up the road on an overcast morning and turned to look back at the lake. At that moment, maybe thirty yards behind me, I saw a strange cat calmly cross the road, a short trip of thirty yards from wooded section to wooded section. The cat was bigger than a house cat but not as big as a bobcat (which I have also seen on the property.) Its tail was long with maybe a bit of curl at the end. It was a dark mottled nondescript brownish grey with small widely spaced somewhat rounded ears. The word “jaguarundi” popped into my head, and when I finished my walk, I googled it and concluded that the animal was indeed a jaguarundi, a rarity this far north.

Perhaps three years ago, I heard that one of my neighbors reported seeing a black panther from across the lake. Black panthers look a great deal like jaguarundis but weigh at least three times as much. Of course, I think she saw a jaguarundi, and if she knew about my sighting, she would probably think that I saw a panther. I’m not afraid of a jaguarundi, but I am afraid of a panther. I have learned to be more careful on my walks.


Unprovoked invasion of the Ukraine democracy by Russia continues to grind on. Unjustified death and destruction rain down on Ukrainians every day. It is horrible, grotesque, difficult to watch on TV. It’s hard to believe that any one person has the power to cause so much misery to so many innocent people, the aged and infirm, women and little children and the brave men both young and old. I can’t understand why any reasonable human would deliberately choose to do so. And daily, this man overtly threatens each and every citizen of the world, including those in Russia, with his nuclear arsenal. Meanwhile, the majority of Russian citizens deny the horror that vast numbers of TV pictures beamed to the rest of the world show in graphic detail. Russians get to see little of the truth. State media propaganda deliberately dupes their own citizens. While this man holds power, it’s safer (at least in the short term,) for the populace to go along.

I have never been to Ukraine. I have visited Russia twice, the first time while it was still part of the Soviet Union. I went with a small tour group sponsored by a U.S. education association on a twenty-two day trip. We toured St. Petersburg and flew to Moscow. We spent a day or two there and boarded the Great Siberian (aka the “Siberian Express”) for the train trip across most of the Soviet Union.

Moscow was particularly grim, the weather cold, overcast and often rainy in early September. Outdoor lighting was poor. What few ugly automobiles we saw sported very dim headlights. Muscovites were visibly fearful and subdued, cowed. It was obvious that we were Americans. Russians watched us, but only when other Russians could not see that they did. I assume they were curious about fashion, attitudes and demeanor. We were advised before the trip to tone down wardrobes, to dress plainly, but still the contrast was marked. We wore bright colors while all but a very few Russians dressed in dark colors. If nothing else, our dental work and shoes proclaimed us as American. Some Russians sported steel teeth. Most wore dreadful shoes.

Poorly-dressed commuters packed municipal buses. Those located near grimy, mud-spattered windows frankly stared at us, but not in any malevolent sense. They were curious, and if an official happened to see them watching us, the transport was usually gone before the offender could be pulled off the bus and disciplined.

We made stops along the way: Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, Khabarovsk, stopping short of Vladivostok, a closed military city. The further we travelled away from Moscow, the center of government, the more relaxed the populace appeared. A few bold citizens even dared ask us about America. Black market traders routinely infiltrated our group and urged us to trade dollars for rubles. They wanted to bargain. “I give you two for one.” We reminded them that it was illegal for us to trade dollars for rubles, but they persisted. “I give you three for one.” They wanted to buy our clothing, especially jeans, that they could resell at a profit. I gave ballpoint pens and makeup items as tips: eye shadow, lipstick, nail polish, etc. My roommate had previously visited the Soviet Union, and she generously gave articles of clothing as tips after wearing them. Recipients were exceedingly grateful. If the item didn’t work for them, they could sell it.

We traveled “first class” on the train along with Russian military officers and a few others. Most Russians travelled in a lesser class, “steerage” as we unkindly referred to it. Before I left home, I had set rules of behavior for myself, wanting to make it safely out of the country at tour’s end. My single defiant act against Communism was to take colorful American magazines with me and leave them on the train where Russians could snag them and read them: TIME MAGAZINE and BON APPETIT and BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS.

We were fed well: dark hearty bread, kasha, pierogi, fried steak, squid and octopus salad, beet and cabbage borscht, caviar and vanilla ice cream. However, what little food shopping we saw was bleak at best. At the massive department store GUM, the only food for sale seemed to be canned fish and dried pasta. Tiny street corner kiosks offered cabbages and small green apples. We toured one open air market somewhere deep in Siberia that offered a variety of foods. Vodka was always available on the train or at the hotels. The beriozkas (state run retail stores) sold flavored vodkas, Russian Champagne, chocolates and tinned Iranian caviar. We referred to them as “dollar stores” since their purpose was to secure desired American dollars… hard currency to be used in trade with foreign countries. Most Russians were not allowed to shop at beriozkas, only foreigners and high-ranking party members, only those with access to dollars.

On the whole, the Soviet populace lived spartan lives… existing on adequate calories, but their diets were nutritionally inadequate and uninspired unless they raised their own produce or livestock.

Chocoholic and I visited St. Petersburg on a cruise a few years ago. I found it changed, at least superficially. Western businesses had finally been allowed to set up shop. Storefronts sported familiar names and logos, but there were still glaring remnants of the old Soviet Union, work habits in particular. In many instances work still moved slowly, if at all, but the port moved much as a western port… all business, the forklifts in constant motion.

Judging by recent TV news from Russia, things appeared to have changed even more drastically. Luxury and high-end cars sported bright headlights. The cities were well-lighted, and shops were teeming with quality goods and Western retailers. The populace was fashionable and colorful. Life appeared to be vibrant.

It makes no sense why anyone would want to return to the so-called “glory” of the grim old Soviet Union, risking isolation and ruination of his country and the hard-earned lifestyle changes his countrymen are finally enjoying so as to take over a small but fierce democracy that thus far refuses to be overtaken and that posed no risk to Russia. It is my understanding that this man and his cronies were enriched by selling off resources and rights formerly belonging to the Soviet Union.  Ordinary Russians appear to have gained some lifestyle benefits from these transactions over the past twenty years, although certainly not in equal measure. Most aging politicians would play it safe, taking credit for the improvements and resting on their “laurels.” But I guess I shouldn’t equate “politician” with “dictator,” especially one who is somehow stuck in a long dead past and eager to sacrifice humanity on a veritable pyre of atrocities and falsehoods in his quest for greater power.


At my urging, my family took the Covid-19 pandemic seriously from the get-go. I have long had an interest in public health, and the fact that this was a novel virus, one never seen before, called for drastic measures.

We took handwashing seriously, so much so that it didn’t take long before my poor hands were cracked and scaly. I started using disposable rubber gloves, but not wanting to waste them, washed my hands while wearing them, dried and reused them, marshalling my patience and taking seemingly forever to coax ornery little fingertips out where they belonged.

I found an olive oil soap on Amazon that came in giant green bars from Greece and a line of gentle hand and body wash products from a vendor in Austin. They worked well.

We canceled most appointments. Each time we left a store or office, we decontaminated in the parking lot before getting into the car, changing shoes and cleaning our things and selves with bleach wipes and hand sanitizer: bags, keys, door handles, steering wheels, gear shifts and armrests.

We drove home with windows open to blow the germs away. We shed outer layers of clothing in the garage, leaving them there along with shoes, hats and masks for three days, allowing viruses time to die. Masks were stored in paper bags. Showers were taken, mouthwash was gargled and hair was washed.

I cancelled a February 2020 cruise to Hawaii and learned I had not purchased travel insurance as intended. Instead I had purchased trip cancellation insurance, so we got almost all our money back. Those funds promptly got passed along to Amazon for Mr. Bezos’ outer space travel. Don’t get me wrong, I was and still am grateful for Amazon.

We stayed home virtually all the time, decreasing risk.

As of March, 2022, Covid-19 has now worked its way through Delta and Omicron variants. Most Americans are vaccinated and many are boosted. Case numbers are dropping rapidly, but deaths are still tragically high. The CDC Community Covid-19 Level for my county has finally slipped into the GREEN/LOW category. We are finally relaxing some infection control measures and social distancing at our house. Chocoholic and I even committed to a social engagement – Book Club of course. Finally.


This morning I woke up to the news that a bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh. So far there are only minor injuries.

The news brought back fond memories. For a number of years, I regularly travelled to Pittsburgh, joining other company reps to update local clients on consulting projects. That meant covering lots of miles over a three or four-day period, meeting with executives at client sites.

It is impossible to drive around the city without crossing a bridge… usually an old picturesque one. Pittsburgh claims to have 446 bridges, more than anyplace else in the world. I believe it. They add charm and beauty to the city already graced by ancient hills, deep dark woods and an enviable location at the confluence of three major rivers sporting non-stop river traffic. I loved it along with working with the people of Pittsburgh, both clients and consultants. Their professionalism, natural hospitality and humor were delightful.

We were usually “chauffeured” around by the local manager. We all got along very well and looked forward to seeing each other. Trips around the city were fun, even raucous at times. When we approached a bridge, the executive from Michigan, would warn the driver to, “Hurry up! Speed up in the case the old bridge collapses!” We all laughed at her antics. Some agreed it was probably a good idea, but we all got a kick out of it.

It’s possible we crossed the bridge that collapsed. Dunno. We routinely drove through that scenic area of town, passing by Kennywood and through Squirrel Hill at least once or twice a quarter.

No doubt my Michigan colleague is feeling quite smug this morning.


In February 2021, Texas shut down due to an unprecedented winter storm that proved to be way more than power companies could handle. The first round of Arctic air arrived on the 10th, plunging temps well below freezing where they stayed for eight days.

We dripped indoor taps and covered outdoor taps with foam faucet covers, opened cabinet doors to circulate warm air next to vulnerable pipes and filled the bathtub in case we needed water for flushing the toilet.

Whenever I looked out the window, it was sleeting, snowing steadily or snowing heavily. Alternate layers of snow and ice built up.

It was hard to comprehend. I’ve been through blizzards in Amarillo and Hastings, Nebraska and dug rental cars out of bumper high drifts in Virginia, Colorado and Oklahoma, but this was Central Texas. It was unprecedented. For eight days, it never stopped. It got worse and worse. The back porch thermometer registered 10 degrees, but the porch is enclosed by warm house on three sides. A neighbor from Connecticut measured ten inches of snow and ice.

Temperatures and snowfall broke records. Many Texans lost power and water for the entire week, living and dying in the dark. Some moved families to cars and ran engines and heaters, barely surviving. Some died from carbon monoxide poisoning. People and livestock froze to death.

By the 16th, we were losing power at our house for four to six hours at a time… rolling blackouts. Authorities warned of impending power failure. We unplugged appliances shutting off ready lights and drastically adjusted the thermostat; postponed laundry and idled the oven, dishwasher and TV. We cooked meals on the gas stovetop and ate them off paper plates and bowls. When the power came on, we charged electronic devices and got caught up with friends, family and utility bulletins.

Someone texted me a funny he saw on Facebook:
“2020 Hell
2021 Hell Froze Over.”

We dressed in woolens and fleece, caps and gloves. I tottered around looking like Ralphie’s little brother Randy in A Christmas Story (1983 MGM/Christmas Tree Films,) all but unable to move due to the bulk of clothing.

Traffic shut down. We stayed inside as it was way too dangerous to venture out – one gigantic multi-surface ice rink. If we’d had the skill and owned ice skates, we could have skated to Houston and back.

Mail and packages went undelivered.

I continued editing my book, doing my best to keep my laptop battery charged, but there were times when I had to shut down.

We prepared for the loss of all power, assembling sleeping bags and locating blankets, quilts and comforters; readied pop-up LED lanterns, candles, lighters, matches and instructions for making a shortening based candle that generated heat. We topped off water in the bathtub. When boil water notices were posted for nearby neighborhoods, I boiled and cooled tap water before running it through the Berkey Filter, afraid I wouldn’t get a utility notice for our neighborhood in time to stave off contamination.

After eight days, the sun came out and the temperature finally crept above freezing. An Amazon truck made a delivery, stopping in the slush in the middle of the road, the mailman right behind him. We were saved!

Officials report 210 storm deaths in Texas. Credible estimates peg that number 4 to 5 times higher.

We were very fortunate, but our power grid is still at risk. Stay tuned.

UPDATE 07/03/2022: My community has suffered the hottest May and June on record. So far, the power grid has held up. Thank Goodness. But the forecast for the next 9 days contains only highs of 100 degrees F. or above and includes 4 days at 102 degrees and 1 day at 103. And no rain forecast. We are in EXTREME DROUGHT and under an area-wide burn ban. Watering lawns is limited to one day a week. At this rate, we will lose our grass and shrubs… hopefully not the trees. The City Utilities Office informs us to conserve water so that there is enough to fight the inevitable grass and home fires.

We need a minimal hurricane, a fast mover, to drench us and move on without flooding homes and businesses. I’m aware that further west, things are even worse.


I wrote about the Vietnam War in The Pig Parts Series in part because I wanted to better understand it.

The war lasted many long years. Some Americans blamed young recruits for its length and brutality.

Career military believed that politicians hindered their efforts by limiting the weapons they were allowed to use and compared it to being asked “to fight with one arm tied behind their backs.”

Many Americans considered the draft to be unfair as well as unjust. Blacks, Hispanics and the poor fought and died in Vietnam in unfair numbers while some young men of means and position found ways to avoid service: college deferments; National Guard service; real or imagined physical ailments documented by sympathetic physicians; or, as a last resort, escape to Canada or Mexico. Many Americans believed the U.S. had no business intervening in what some considered to be a civil war.

Americans took sides, and families fractured. Patience ran out while protests and counter protests swelled and clashed, sometimes leaving protesters and innocent bystanders dead.

Troop casualties soared, and most Americans personally knew someone who had been killed, wounded or disabled. TV news featured the carnage every day, up close and in color for the first time ever. Many young men serving in country considered themselves “cannon fodder,” and many Americans agreed with them.

As the war dragged on, most Americans wanted to be done with it.


It seemed as if every time I turned around, my writing was interrupted. I expected some but not all the interruptions. Most were brief, from a few days to a few weeks, but one shut me down for much longer. All were frustrating. I feared I would never finish my novels. The words churned in my head, desperate to get out.

Tax preparation took time out of each February and March. Vacations and trips took equally as long, but unlike taxes, they were fun.

The longest interruption was seven months of waiting for surgery, recovery and rehabilitation. It sorely tested my patience. The physical therapist warned me up front that she would cause me pain and that I should not expect any sympathy because she wouldn’t give it. She kept her word in spades, but when she was done, my joint worked well, and we were both pleased, as was my orthopod. And the long break was probably good for The Pig Parts Series, allowing me to return to it with fresh eyes.

And then, of course, the Coronavirus Pandemic and lockdown descended upon all of us. While it caused only minor interruptions to my editing, it disrupted my life. Things changed drastically. Plans and priorities changed. Long established routines changed. Suddenly, acquiring new and different skill sets became a matter of life and death. Like everyone else on the planet, I had to find ways to accept the changes and cope with deadly threats from invisible, ill-defined and unwelcome intruders.


Above all else, I want to involve the reader in the characters’ lives and transport him to their world.

One of my life’s greatest pleasures has been reading, and I want to give back. Life for too many has turned hard in recent years, especially for young people. I hope to provide readers a brief escape.

So why write a story set around such an ugly part of America’s history?

For one thing, I feel that I owe a debt of honor to the young men who died way too young as well as to those who survived grievous wounds. Many of them suffered through the rest of their lives in pain and disability.

Fifty years later, some still blame the young soldiers for the war’s brutality. From my perspective, it was not that those who served in country were callous and brutal to begin with, it was that some ended up that way given what they endured. I believe that happens in every war but was more visible during the Vietnam War.

No other American war has been opened up so thoroughly to the civilian public. News pictures and films from World War II and Korea had been mostly in black and white. Brief film clips shown in movie theaters were accompanied by patriotic music and stirring description. In the Vietnam War, dramatic images appeared on TV every day, at length and in color. For the first time ever, blood and gore became highly visible. Time allotted to news programs increased from 15 to 30 minutes. The entire world tuned in every day to the suffering of young Americans as well as North and South Vietnamese civilian and military populations.

Massive public opposition to the Vietnam War led to tighter military controls levied on reporting subsequent American wars.

Do I really think that anyone today will be interested in reading about the war and its times? I don’t know, but I hope so. However, I have recently read that books about the war are currently out of favor with publishers.

I still intend to keep pushing for publication of The Pig Parts Series. The series of novels offers a unique perspective on the war, that of the wife… a celebrity and business woman. The vast majority of books published on the war are memoirs from the soldier’s perspective. I believe the series is entertaining on so many different levels and deserves to be published.

Now I have to get it done. As Nick, the heroine’s Vietnam bound love would say, “Piece of cake, Baby.”