Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Guest Blog

I am guest blogging this week with Kathleen Kaska, talking about how we were inspired to write mysteries and about our protagonist, Agapé Jones. Read about it here:
Answer the questions and win a book!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Moving Adjustment

My ‘favorite niece’ Carrie recently asked me to share some advice I had given her when she made her first big move across the country. Her friend is anticipating relocation soon and is anxious about it. So here are some suggestions gleaned from a number of moving experiences:


Moving is hard enough without being unable to locate the toilet paper or light bulbs the first night in your new home. So I created a system for managing all our stuff. (And we’ve ALWAYS had a LOT of it!)

Label each box as you pack it. Get some colored stickers and designate a different color for each room. (For several of our moves we have actually had floor plans of the new places. We made copies and put the designated sticker on each room. When the movers arrived at the new place, we’d posted a copy of the identification on the front door. It made the move go much smoother. Especially in our move to Japan where we didn’t speak Japanese and the movers didn’t speak English!)
Number each box. Once you’ve decided on the color designations, add a number. The first kitchen box would be K-1. The first Master Bedroom box might be MB-1. The first box for the next  bedroom might be B2-1. Etc.

Make a list for each box. As you pack each box, make a list of exactly what you put in it. Put a colored sticker on the list and write the box number on it. Copy the list. Then put the copy in the box before you seal it and keep the original in a folder or on a clip board for reference once you arrive.

Place the furniture. If you have a dimensioned floor plan, you can do what Larry did when we moved to Japan. The consummate engineer measured each piece of furniture, then made cutouts so we could place each piece on the floor plan. (Today he would probably do the same thing in Visio.) We taped the layout to the door, and the movers knew exactly where everything went.

For the first six weeks or so, you’ll be busy with settling in and getting to know your new location. This is the honeymoon phase. It will feel a bit like a working vacation.

The Japanese have a great tradition I’d suggest. Don’t wait for your neighbors to greet you. As soon as you can, take them a little gift (cookies, a little plant, something from your home area—whatever reflects your interests). Introduce yourself and your family. (In Japan, the gift to your established neighbors was usually a roll of paper towels or bathroom tissue. Not personal, but it broke the ice!)

If you have children, you’ll have less trouble making friends. Generally, your kids will do so for you!

You will have planned for the big changes, but the little ones drive you nuts. You need something in a hurry and have no idea where to find it. In your old town, you’d know exactly where to go. Now you don’t.

Join a church or other religious institution. “Shop” for one until you find the perfect fit. Join a civic group or other organization where you can make friends. (Our church in Kobe was our lifeline during our stay there. Shortly after we arrived, a cap came off my tooth. The folks at the church told me exactly where to go. Otherwise, I’d have had no idea. Of course, I got lost finding the place the first time, but that’s a story in the book.)


Around six weeks following the move, you will wake up one day and realize it’s for real and it isn’t just a vacation. Be prepared! You may experience a bit of depression or anxiety.

If you’re prepared for it, you’ll manage much easier. Unfortunately, we were the first ones to relocate to Japan, and I thought I was ready for the funny farm. Seriously. I thought I was going crazy.

I finally read a book on the expat experience and realized what I went through was in fact, normal. Subsequent conversations with others who had lived abroad confirmed it. This is the most important part of your adjustment, and you’ll manage much better if you know it’s coming.

It is the time to do something you really enjoy. Treat yourself to a day at the movies, long walks in the park, etc. But don’t berate yourself. Be gentle. Talk about your feelings with others. Take care of yourself.

With email, IM, Facebook, Skype, etc. you will be more in contact with those you left behind. So reach out to them. Just hearing a familiar voice and seeing a missed face can remind you that you’re not completely alone.


Somewhere around six months, however, comes the big crash. In Japan, mine came about four and a half months after our arrival, but we had been out of our house in California for nearly six months. I had a complete meltdown. I cried. I moaned. I said I just couldn’t do it for one more day. I was frantic. I felt cut off from everyone and everything in an alien world where I couldn’t even communicate.

Email and telephone didn’t help. (No Skype then.) I just wanted my old life back!

If I had known it was coming, I might have dealt with it better. But I didn’t. (We were the first ones there, remember.)

Fortunately, we were scheduled for a holiday trip home. After we returned, I realized that it wasn’t really so difficult.

The next arrivals began to experience the same anxiety, frustration, anger, etc. shortly after we returned. That’s when the light bulb went on. I started to see a pattern. And I informed all the rest to watch for it. A number of times, team members would slam into my office saying , “You know that six month ‘thing’? Well, I’m there. I’m going crazy!”

I’d talk them through it and assure them it would pass. Sometimes it took several conversations.

Others would become hermits. Because I recognized the signs, we made a point to take them a pizza or get them out of the house for a little break.

A short vacation or trip home to see family is the best cure. Just sharing the feelings with others who have been through it can help immeasurably.

I remember greeting a friend at church shortly before we came back for our vacation when I was at my lowest point.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

“I HATE this place,” I answered.

She laughed. “We all feel that way from time to time. You’ll get over it.”

Her reaction was perfect. I didn’t need or want sympathy or to just be told it would get better. She said just what I needed to hear, which was that I wasn’t crazy!

After about a year, some people really start to feel at home in their new surroundings. That didn’t happen to me in Japan, but I know several friends who were reluctant to leave when the time came, including that friend from church.


Even if you have professional movers and lots of support and help, you are being uprooted from your familiar environment. You may be leaving family for the first time. And you will be leaving friends.

But, in hindsight, our moves enriched our lives and exposed us to so many wonderful places and new people we’d never have known otherwise. Heck, our move to Japan even resulted in our first book!

Have you ever made a major move? What advice helped you the most?

Monday, July 16, 2012

I Don’t Believe in Ghosts – Well, Maybe

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
~ Old Cornish Prayer ~

“I don’t believe in ghosts.” That’s how my new book, Ghost Writer begins. My character, Nan Burton, adamantly insisted she didn’t believe. That is, until she was confronted with the noisy one living in her house.

I, on the other hand, do believe in ghosts. We had one living in our first house. Not a person, however. Ours was a cat.

Shortly after we moved in, I woke up on occasion with the sense of something walking across the foot of our bed. It felt like a small animal. I’d never owned a cat, but this didn’t feel like a dog, so I suspected a beastie of the feline persuasion.

After a couple of months, Larry and I both woke at the same time.

“It’s the strangest thing,” I started. “It felt like a cat has been walking across the bed during the night.”

“I’ve felt it, too,” was his matter-of-fact reply.

“Thank God! I thought I was going crazy.”

We speculated for some time about the cat, but he (or she) continued the nightly rounds.

Several months later, the woman who had grown up in the house stopped by. We showed her what we’d done to the house. She was very complimentary and told us stories about growing up there.

Just before she left, she asked, “Have you seen a cat around?” She went on to describe the cat, including what he like to do and where he liked to hide in the house. She mentioned that he’d patrol the house at night, his route taking him across each of their beds. Unfortunately we had to tell her that we hadn’t seen any animals resembling hers in the neighborhood.

“He disappeared the day my folks were moving. We came back and left food and left our contact information with all the neighbors, but we never found him.”

Her parents were the original owners and had lived there for seventeen years. The house had been on the market nearly a year before we bought it. So any chance of locating the cat seemed pretty remote by that time.

We assured her that we’d keep an eye out, and she left.

A few weeks later, we realized that we no longer felt the cat walking across the bed.

“I wonder if it was the former owners’ pet. Maybe he was just waiting for them to come back before he could move on,” I said to Larry.

“Hmm, maybe,” he said.

A couple of years later, we adopted a stray kitten who appeared on our front porch. Like our ghost, our cat was nocturnal and roamed the house at night. We always kept our bedroom door closed, but in the morning when our daughter opened it, he’d take a stroll across the bed. And it felt just like the ghost cat.

How about you? Do you believe in ghosts? Have you seen any? Felt any? Sensed their presence? I’d like to hear your experiences.

Monday, July 9, 2012

World's Most Expensive Flag - continued

Once again, Larry joins me for the update to last week's blog on the World's Most expensive Flag.

Previously my wife, Lorna, blogged about my owning the world’s most expensive flag.
It’s true. Some forty years ago, just after we moved into our first house, a person came to the front door selling American flags for some worthy cause. I don’t remember what the cause was, but I’m sure it must have been worthy.
A twenty-five dollar donation and I became the owner of the flag, complete with mounting bracket, and two-piece aluminum pole topped with a nifty genuine plastic eagle. I reasoned, we didn’t have a flag and needed one for the house. It was a weak moment, I must admit.
On our next trip to the local drug store, Lorna pointed out the identical boxed flag sets on sale for $2.95. And for the past forty years, she has reminded me of my extravagance on every holiday: every Presidents Day, Fourth of July, Memorial, Labor, Veterans Day, etc.
Because of the expense, I have endeavored to take very good care of my prized flag, carefully storing it at night and bringing it inside in inclement weather. And it’s lasted for more than forty years, far longer than just any old $2.95 flag deserved. Still, over the years it had become somewhat faded and thin in places.
Now, I have sad news to report. Yesterday evening, July third, I was shocked to see that the extended wing of the genuine plastic eagle had caught and ripped a one-foot gash parallel to, and between the twelfth and thirteenth stripes. Unfortunately, the material has become too thin and worn to accept sewing back together. I must conclude its time has come. It will need to be replaced.
I put it out on July 4, 2012 for the last time. I figured it deserved one last day in the sun before being officially retired.

I went on the Internet to discover the proper way to dispose of an American flag. Here’s what I found on USA flag site (usa-flag-site.org) and The Flag Keepers (flagkeepers.org).

There are several ways in which you may give your American flag the proper retirement without showing disgrace to this great country. If you would like to dispose of the flag yourself then the most fitting way is to hold your own, private ceremony. The U.S. Flag Code states, "The flag, when it is in such a condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferable by burning." After your flag has been burned, the ashes should be buried. If you cannot burn and bury the flag yourself, Flag Keepers will retire your flag in a proper and respectful ceremony for a price. Or several other organizations that will retire your flag are: VFW, American Legion, Boy or Girl Scouts of America, and Marine Corps League.

Since I’m not personally into burning flags and burying ashes, I will contact the Marine Corps for proper retirement.

Also while I’m on the subject of flags, I have a story told me by my cousin-in-law, Ron Walker. He was Director of National Parks from 1973 to 1975.
During his tenure as director, a park ranger was killed in the line of duty. Ron immediately directed that all National Park flags be lowered to half-staff. About twenty minutes later, his phone rang.
“Ron,” the voice said. “This is President Nixon.”
“Yes Mr. President” Ron quickly responded, all the while thinking. Why is the president calling me personally?
“Ron,” the voice continued. “I was just wondering why the flag on the White House is at half-staff.”
Then Ron remembered. The White House is also a national monument, and therefore subject to park rules. He explained the situation to the President.
“Fine,” Nixon responded, “I just wanted to know. Proceed.”
He hung up, and Ron breathed a sigh of relief.

While I have treated this blog lightly and with humor, there is a seriousness to it. My old flag itself is merely a piece of cloth, and dye, and stitching. It is not my country. It is a symbol of my country. Honored for what it represents, not for some magic or inherent value. The new replacement flag will be just as much a symbol and just as honored as was the old one. However, the old flag has been part of our family for so long, through bi-centennials, 911, births and deaths, and all the other events of our lives, both good and bad, for the past forty years. As I fold it up for the last time, I’m reminded of standing on a hill before my father’s flag-draped coffin and hearing the sweet tones of a lone bugle playing "Taps."

Monday, July 2, 2012

The World’s Most Expensive Flag – With the Genuine Plastic Eagle

Since Independence Day is coming again, we’ll be hanging out our flag once more. Actually, we’ve been doing it since we bought it a couple of months after we moved into our first house in 1970. Someone came to the door selling flags, and Larry bought one for twenty-five dollars. He said it was for a good cause, but he couldn’t remember which one.
The next day I went to the local drugstore and saw the same exact flag on sale for $2.95. Ever since, I’ve called it “The World’s Most Expensive Flag with the Genuine Plastic Eagle.”

Of course, we’ve flown it on every patriotic holiday since then, and often for an entire weekend or longer.

On the old house, it flew from a holder on the porch post. It was really convenient because we could stand on the porch, reach around, and drop it in the slot. However, on this house, Larry mounted the holder between the windows on the second floor. That meant we either had to use a tall ladder to get to it from the outside or open the nearest window and lean out to get the post into the holder.

When we returned from Japan in 2001, we replaced all our windows with vinyl-clad energy-efficient ones because the old ones had aluminum frames, and many would no longer open due to damage from the salty sea air.

The stucco then required repair, so we removed all the termite-ridden wood siding and trim at the same time. After the house was tented and the repairs were made, Larry installed a new flag holder between the upstairs windows. The new holder doesn’t hold quite as firmly as the old one, but it works. And opening the window and hanging out is still required to install the flag. (We took one of the screens off as soon as the window was installed, and it remains on the floor behind the sofa to allow for quicker flag access.)

On September 11, 2001, I was very grateful to have had the world’s most expensive flag in the house. I put it out that day to show our love for our country and the solidarity we all felt. Many of our neighbors also displayed new flags, purchased for the occasion, during the ensuing days, but ours was first.

The old flag may be a bit faded now, but it has been well cared-for over the years. Larry reminds me that we’ve had it for forty-two years, and it’s still going strong. So maybe he didn’t pay too much for it after all when the cost is amortized. And, after all, it does have a genuine plastic eagle!