Life’s Tidbits and the Art of Writing

Florida, 1973, Ocala National Forest…

dark-1936954_1920Our vehicle had broken down, our funds were exhausted, and we had nowhere to go. My husband Jim and I backpacked down a dirt road surrounded by woods and arrived at Four Lake’s primitive campground. The night was dark and frightening with my overactive imagination conjuring up lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) peering through the thicket, ready to have us for dinner.

flash-1455285_1920The heavens opened with a punishing downpour replete with finger lightning and howling wind. Jim grabbed my hand and we dove under a concrete picnic table for shelter. Soaking wet and shivering, we rolled out our sleeping bags in the pitch darkness and eventually fell asleep.

web-574180_1920I greeted the morning with a shrill scream as my eyes opened to the sight of hundreds of spider webs hanging on the underside of the table and benches. Weird-looking beetles and bionic cockroaches scurried as I thrashed about, desperate to get out of my sleeping bag.

Still screaming, I rolled out from under the table. Once on my feet, I ran around in circles, lunatic-style, while swatting real or imagined bugs from every inch of my body. Later, when I regained my composure, we took a closer look at some of the spiders we’d slept in such close proximity with and discovered black-bodied arachnids with the ruby-red hourglass trademarks of the black widow. I was shaken to the core.

camping-309827_1280Later that day, we hitchhiked into town, bought a pup tent, and proceeded to live in the Ocala National Forest for the next ten months. We bathed in the lake, ate lots of peanut butter, hitchhiked everywhere, and picked oranges for a meager living.

Oddly enough, the thought never occurred to me that we could, theoretically, be labeled “homeless.” We had taken the situation we were dealt and did the best we could with it. Life wasn’t always easy in the woods, but the resilience of youth, coupled with hope for a brighter future, kept us going. It was an adventure I’ll never forget. Ever.

****

ookiewookie__christmas_kindleI often draw on personal experiences for inspiration when I’m plotting my next novel or novella. Also, I listen to other people’s stories of triumph, tragedy and adventure, and incorporate tidbits of their lives into my characters. And so it was when I wrote my latest book, Christmas at Dumpster Corral.  The main character, Noel Dupree, finds herself in an unfortunate predicament but does her best to rise to the challenge. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.  

Available on Amazon

 

 

 

Loving Thy Neighbor

My first introduction to the new next-door neighbor wasn’t the typical, “Hi, how are you, my name is…yada, yada, yada.” There were no pleasantries traded. Not even an exchange of names. But for this story, I’ll call her Ann. It went something like this:

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I was on my way back from my mailbox when a Shih Tzu trotted onto my front lawn, squatted, and left me a little present. Ann walked over, picked up the furry little trespooper, and said, “I’m so sorry. Sweetie seems to like doing her business on your lawn,” and took the dog into her house.

In light of the fact that the pooch was caught red-handed, one would think that Ann would have done the considerate thing by coming back to clean up the dookie. But that didn’t happen. That was two years ago, and true to Ann’s observation, Sweetie really does like using my lawn as her personal toilet.

emoji-1971626_1920You’re probably wondering why, after years of being dumped on, I haven’t gone over and politely asked Ann to keep her dog in her own yard. After all, she has a fenced-in back yard, so there’s no reason for Sweetie to run loose. Fair enough, I’ll tell you.

Simply put, Ann scares the mess out of me. Since she and her teens moved in, there have been fist fights in front of her house, police interventions, arrests, and plenty of loud arguments at all hours, all profusely laced with “F” bombs.

So, how do I love my unlovable neighbor? For one thing, I pray for her. With all the chaos in her life, she’s got to be miserable.

Another way of loving her is by not mirroring her bad behavior. Sure, I’d like to throw open a window at 1:00 a.m., shout “Shut up!” at the top of my lungs, and pepper my language with some choice words of my own. The evil, vengeful side of me wants to put Sweetie’s droppings into a paper bag, put it on Ann’s doorstep, set it on fire, then ring the doorbell and run. But those things would be wrong, childish, and wouldn’t solve anything.

In short, it’s sometimes hard to “love thy neighbor.”

But I am trying. Hard.

I Shih Tzu not.dog-1720673_1920

 

 

 

 

My Leg Bone’s Connected to My Ego Bone…

I’m in my sixties, plain and plump, with graying hair that lost its silky luster long ago. Any shred of youthful “cuteness” I ever had seems to have melted away, leaving me in the position of being rather blah and nondescript. I’m okay with aging, except for the “plump” part, but I’m working on that.

Anyone who can relate knows that compliments about our appearance can become more or less extinct as the years pile on. Gravity takes its toll, pulling on parts that were once firm, and making them saggy and gelatinous. The gleam in our eyes becomes the glint of our cataract implant lenses. Nobody, it seems, ever says, “Gee, you’ve got nice…anything…” anymore.

And so, now that the stage of my life is set for you…

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We were at the airport waiting to say goodbye to my daughter and her family who live overseas. My four-year-old grandson tagged me and shouted gleefully, “Chase me, Grandma!”

Two quick steps into the chase my knee popped, and I was in excruciating pain. I hobbled to where I could sit and tried not to cry like a kid. Working hard at it, I put on the happiest face I could, told everyone I was okay—just had a little twinge—and later kissed everyone goodbye.

 

 

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Three days later I limped into an orthopedic doctor’s office using a cane leftover from my hubby’s knee replacement surgery. The doctor sent me down the hall for x-rays, and when I came back to his office he pulled up the images on his computer and took a good, long look.

 

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“You’ve got very nice bones,” Dr. Suddenly-Wonderful said.


Sure, I would have liked it better if the young, deliciously blue-eyed doctor had said I had nice legs, but at my age a compliment is a compliment, and I was glad to hear it. It infused a little air into my long-forgotten, deflated ego.

I limped out of the doctor’s office with a diagnosis of a bad sprain, my pain no less than when I’d arrived. But I walked with a hint of a smile plastered on my face. After all, somewhere under this old, rusty body was a chassis made of smokin’-hot babe bones. And that just made my day

 

If you’ve enjoyed this short, satirical piece on aging and would like to read more from an author with very nice bones, visit my Amazon page at https://amazon.com/author/ireneonorato

The Value of Stuff

How valuable is all of your STUFF?

luxury-home-2412133_960_720Many years ago, my husband and I attended a large church that also had small, weekly “home-group” meetings that made it easier to actually get to know others in the congregation. On one particular occasion our group met at the home of a couple with an absolutely gorgeous house that was tastefully decorated with nice furnishings and an abundance of beautiful things.

We opened our meeting as usual with an icebreaker to kick-start conversation and make everyone feel at ease. The icebreaker was: If your house caught fire and you were able to grab only two things on the way out, what would they be? (We didn’t count people or pets as “things,” as it was a given that they would hold precedence over tangible objects.)


2017-10-23_11-06-38We went around the room of 10-12 people, and each gave an answer. Most hemmed and hawed, shrugged, and blurted something off the top of their head. Some answers were funny, some absurd, and others said they owned so many important things they wouldn’t know what was of most value.

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When the question was posed to the lady of the house, she answered without hesitation, “I would grab my boobs and my bible.”

 

Some reading this account might roll their eyes and bristle at such a response, believing the woman to be somewhat irreverent. But that would be an unkind assessment.

breast-cancer-2846233_960_720

 

Several weeks later, despite having had a double mastectomy, this lovely lady passed away from cancer. The contents of her much-loved bible had given comfort and assurance throughout her ravaging illness, and the fake “boobs,” as she’d called them, lent a bit of confidence and normality in a world that, for her, was quickly fading.

My boobs and my bible. A strange arrangement of words. But they resonate in me as a reminder to hold on to the things of this world very loosely.

When put into perspective, stuff has very little value.

And I find that very liberating.

 

*October is breast cancer awareness month.*

My condolences to all who have lost a loved one to this terrible disease, prayers and well-wishes for those fighting the battle, and cheers for the women who have conquered and rang the bell of triumph.

Ballerina Dreams

Santavuori-balettia-kaikille-grandplie.pngQuaking in my tights and ballet slippers, I considered making a run for the door and forgetting about my dream of making it into New York City’s High School of Performing Art. But my sweaty hand was already in a death grip on the dance barre with other hopeful applicants, and the audition was underway. I was trapped.

An instructor clapped a rhythm and barked out orders, “First position…second position…demi plié…relevé.” She walked up and down the line of students, stopping now and then to reposition a girl’s hips, or tell someone to keep their chin up or ribcage lifted.

walnuts-649721_960_720.jpgMy knee made a rather loud cracking sound like that of a walnut fracturing in the grips of Thanksgiving pliers at my first grand plié, or deep knee bend, then did it again on the second…and third dips. The girl behind me let out a muffled giggle, but if anyone else noticed, which I’m sure they did, they had the good graces to remain silent.

ballerina-307584_960_720.pngballerina-308925_960_720Two girls with contortionist-like flexibility at the far end of the barre garnered the lion’s share of the instructor’s attention. They were able to lift their legs sideways and press their calves to their ears, a feat that seemed almost magical to me. I was sure they had exquisite stage-worthy names like Katarina, or Angelique, and without a doubt, the pair would find acceptance letters in their mailboxes as soon as they arrived home.

Tearing herself from the shoo-in sisters, the dour-faced instructor took a final walk down the line. My heart froze as she stopped next to me and demanded more than asked, “What is your name?”

I took a huge gulp—one that, had I been a man, would have sent my Adam’s apple yo-yoing up and down my neck. A mousey “Irene” squeaked from my vocal cords.

“Irene,” she said, then tapped my backside with a narrow baton of sorts, “Tuck in your derrière.”

I squeezed my cheeks as hard as I could and pushed my hips forward, but it was no use. My rather bulbous derrière was as tucked as it was going to get. The mistress of dance turned, walked away, and never so much as glanced at me again.

people-2587349_960_720.jpgMy ego couldn’t have been more deflated as I rode the subway home. What had I been thinking? Me, a girl who’d started late and studied ballet for a mere year and a half while in junior high school? I’d ventured into territory more fitting for those who’d worn leotards and ballet slippers since they were toddlers. It came as no surprise when I received a rejection letter from the prestigious school.

I’d stepped out, tried my best at something new, and ran headlong into failure.

After striking out at Performing Arts and, later, The Bronx High School of Science, I was accepted into Dodge Vocational High School. For many months, I felt like a loser who got stuck with a consolation prize.

The tide started to turn, though, when I met Mr. May, an English teacher with an infectious enthusiasm for his chosen subject. He spawned in me a desire to once again try something new—creative writing. I remember his excitement as he helped me put together an article for the school newspaper titled, “Smash, Crash, Window Bash,” about a recent spate of window breakages at the school. Who knew a simple story could be so invigorating?

Now, with three novels under my belt, a fourth in the pipeline, and another sixty-percent complete, I can honestly say that taking a chance on a writing career has enriched my life in more ways than I can express.

laptop.jpgMy body may have never fit the mold of that of a prima ballerina, but it’s a perfect fit for my office chair where I pen the stories for my next novels. Who knows, my next heroine may be a ballerina, and I’ll dance vicariously through her.

 

 

TO CHECK OUT MY BOOKS, click on the links on the sidebar of this page, or click HERE to visit my Amazon author’s page.

 

 

 

 

An Army Marches on its Stomach

Soldier and gun croppedWhen my husband, Jim, was in the army, one of his duties was driving the mess truck—a 2½-ton vehicle, commonly called a deuce and a half. I’ve heard it said that the guy who brings the food to feed the troops’ empty stomachs is one of the most appreciated people in the army. I’m sure there’s a lot of truth in that.

Jim described what it was like to drive in a convoy through thick woods in the dead of night without the use of headlights. Small red taillights of the vehicle in front of him guided his way, and were the only thing he could see in the pitch-darkness. Often, hitting potholes, washouts, and rocks was unavoidable and elicited complaints from the men riding with him. But, no matter how rough the road, he couldn’t risk slowing down and losing sight of the red taillights.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe deuce and a half seemed to fascinate the men, and many of them begged Jim to let them drive. Who knows, maybe the novelty of driving a large army vehicle fulfilled a boyhood dream. Whatever the reason, they got a kick out of slipping behind the wheel and bumping down the road in the old beast. 

~***~

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Hank Fleming, the hero of my latest novel More Than a Soldier, is a former Spec Ops demolitions man who had begged to drive his buddy’s deuce and a half while in Afghanistan. Later, while driving in a convoy, the truck was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, leaving Hank the sole survivor in the attack. Now, several years later, latent PTSD sets in and manifests in nightmares that make him relive the explosion that took the lives of several men.

When Hank meets Cindy Giordano, his foster brother’s biological sister, he falls hard and fast for her and sets out to win her heart.

Cindy finds herself drawn to Hank, but she’s instantly wary. With her ex-fiancé’s betrayal still fresh in her mind, friendship is about all she can muster.

When shadows from Cindy’s past threaten, Hank’s protective instincts go into high gear, and he realizes everyone has their own battles to fight. But the road to healing would be much sweeter with the right person by his side.

FUN EXCERPT:

     “It’s nice to be a passenger for a change and be able to kick back and enjoy the ride.” Cindy’s lazy half-smile oozed with serenity.

     “Good, I’m glad. You— Whoa, did you see that?” Hank slowed the Jeep and pulled onto the shoulder.

     Cindy dropped her feet to the floorboards and twisted around in her seat. “See what?”

     He backed up, stopped, and pointed to a smallish sign that barely stuck up over the roadside shrubbery. “That.”

     “All-you-can-eat pancakes, all day long, six ninety-nine,” Cindy read aloud before looking back at Hank. “So?”

     “What do you mean, so? I thought I saw a halo floating over that sign as we passed.”

     Cindy laughed. “I take it you’re a flapjack fan?”

     “Fan? You have no idea.” Hank put the Jeep in gear and merged back onto the road. “I love pancakes. Can’t get enough of ’em. Let’s go shut that place down for the day.”

Buy now on Amazon!

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***Hank’s “Can’t Get Enough of ’em” Pancakes***

pancakes-951029_960_720 pixabayIngredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ scant teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans (optional)
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

Directions:

  1. Combine dry ingredients, except pecans, in large mixing bowl.
  2. Mix buttermilk, egg, and melted butter together in medium bowl.
  3. Pour buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients and mix until lumps are gone.
  4. Add nuts, if desired, and mix into batter.
  5. Heat a skillet over medium heat and coat with cooking spray.
  6. Pour batter, using a ¼ cup measure, onto the skillet
  7. When bubbles appear on the surface, flip pancakes over and cook until browned on second side.

     More Than a Soldier

    Buy now on Amazon!

    buy-on-amazon

 

 

Liar, liar, pants on fire!

I’ll be honest. I’ve told some whoppers in my time. In fact, one particularly distasteful lie from my past proves that I am not immune to the temptation of the lie.

I was nine, maybe ten, a latchkey kid that sometimes came home to an empty apartment on the fourth floor of a South Bronx, New York tenement building. Dad worked night shift at a cab company, and Mom worked days at a thrift shop and didn’t come home until six-thirty.

My school, PS27, was a block and a half from our apartment. Often I arrived home long before my two brothers did from their respective high schools. They rode buses, and I walked. Sometimes, for whatever reason, my Dad wasn’t home, and I was alone. And scared.

Noises frightened me: the refrigerator compressor coming on, Cindy our dog barking at nothing…or something? the cat staring into space and being frightened by… what?

I was terrified of being alone. But, how could I tell my parents my fears when I knew they both worked to keep us afloat financially?

One day, Cindy barked wildly at the door, hackles up. I looked out the peephole and saw nothing. With a clear view to the apartment across the landing, and a partial view of the stairs to the door that led to the roof, I figured Cindy was mistaken. Still, I was shaken. When my parents and brothers came home, I fabricated the lie of all lies.

Fire escapesI told them that while I was alone, a man appeared at the kitchen fire escape. Describing him with the minutest detail, I explained that he had tried to get in through the window.

Needless to say, my parents were distraught. My father called his friend who worked at the Bronx’s 50th police precinct department. Soon, the policeman friend was at the apartment gleaning information from me. The lie became elaborate. I then described the fictitious man’s clothes: red plaid shirt, jeans, dark hair, etcetera.

The cop made phone calls. My parents paced, and I saw the turmoil in their faces.

In a whirlwind of emotions, I couldn’t take it anymore, went and lay down in my bed, and cried.

Soon, my great Aunt Irene (my mother’s aunt), whom I was named after, came and sat on the side of the bed. “What’s wrong, Renie?” she asked. The love in her voice made me cry all the more.

“I lied. There was no man on the fire escape. I’m just scared to be alone, that’s all.”

With tenderness and understanding, my great Aunt Irene took me in her arms, kissed me, and told me everything would be all right. I doubted it. I’d lied, and caused a great deal of concern and commotion as a result. But, Aunt Irene loved me. She smoothed everything over.

Soon, my father’s policeman friend left. Aunt Irene went home.

Later, my mother came and asked why I didn’t tell her how afraid I was to come home to an empty apartment. I began to cry once more and told her I understood how hard she and Dad worked to take care of the family, and I knew I was safe as long as Cindy was there to protect me, and the door was securely locked. I had no real reason for the lie. Except that I was afraid.

It took a long time to forgive myself for that lie. Afterward, my parents were more in-tuned with my need to feel secure, and made sure I was never left alone.

web-663012_960_720.jpgLies. We all have reasons for them, don’t we? Almost everyone could forgive a not-so-honest, “You look nice in that dress.” But, there are lies we have a hard time forgiving, such the tangled web of deception used to cover well-kept secrets.

 

~***~

 

In my novel, Singapore Secrets, Julia Windsor, a Louisiana Senator’s young-adult daughter, runs off to Singapore to dodge the constant barrage of bodyguards and paparazzi caused by her father’s engagement to Hollywood sweetheart’s Kara Bordeaux.

Her father, who loves her dearly, hires Gabriel (Gabe) Davenport, a former Special Forces soldier to trail her, and make sure she’s safe.

Sparks fly when Julia meets fellow-American “tourist.” But will sparks be enough when Julia discovers Gabe’s true mission for being in Singapore? Find out in…

Singapore Secrets…          Singapore Secrets Cover Concept (Flattened - revised)