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Month: April 2013

No! No! No! (well…maybe)

No! No! No! (well…maybe)

orchid
Orchid in clay pot, original watercolor by J.L. Hotes, 2013

Ask me to do something. Go ahead. Invite me to coffee. Coax me to housesit this weekend. Inquire if I will illustrate your novel. Request my company at lunch. Beg me to head a committee. Anything. I promise I will say no, at least at first.

The trait I despise most about myself is this infuriating No-ness.  As far back as I can remember, I have been like this, saying no when I know in my heart of hearts I want to say yes. I want to go to coffee with you. Yes! I would love to illustrate your book. Definitely, I can run that committee. Absolutely, I can and will watch your house while you are away.

It’s embarrassing this trait of mine, and often leaves me feeling as though I have burped in a fancy restaurant. Before I can stop myself, the word “no” flies out of my mouth and I’m left looking over my shoulder to see who heard.

Last spring I endeavored to change. Unbeknownst to my loved ones, I vowed to say yes to everything asked of me for seven straight days. Looking back, it was awful timing. Girl Scout cookies had just gone on sale, but I pushed forward anyhow.

Day One was eye-opening. At school drop off I found myself avoiding people, because if I kept folks at an arm’s length, they couldn’t ask me for anything. It was shocking, all this fuss over a silly secret vow to break an irritating habit. I rolled my shoulders, walked into the circle of mothers and found myself accepting an invitation to coffee. It barely hurt. Actually, it didn’t hurt at all. Somehow knowing I would say yes to whatever came my way clarified things in my silly little mind.

I survived the week and the worst casualty was the tornado I had to construct three times for the school musical. I wanted to say no. I cussed, glue gunned, duct taped, painted and fastened, but I never said no.  I learned so much about myself over the course of that week.  The most important thing I learned is that it is not my natural inclination to say no. It was merely a habit I formed to buy myself time to think about the request from every angle before saying yes. Normal people say, “Let me think about it.” That’s what I try to say now.

My new outlook was put to the test last February. My daughter bounced out of school chanting something about a hamster, and she was picked to take care of it, and she would do a good job, she promised! Sure enough, I opened email and found a request to take care of our friends’ dwarf hamster over the break. My fingers itched to type ‘n-o’ but I resisted. Instead I looked into the twinkling eyes of my daughter. I typed ‘yes’ and hit send.

This story doesn’t end with Winter the dwarf hamster changing the course of my daughter’s life. In truth, she lost interest after the first three days. Though, she was absolutely steadfast about keeping her door shut to keep Winter from the clutches of the cats. In the end, we handed back Winter and they in turn gave us a beautifully crafted piece of pottery from an Arizona artist. I’ve painted it as it looks in our home for you. Let the fickle, pretty orchid tucked inside remind you to question your ugliest trait and challenge yourself to make a change even if it is just for a day.

It’s a Small World Indeed!

It’s a Small World Indeed!

smallworldMy resistance to join the social media revolution defies logic. And the reasons I’ve come up with to stay away are downright crazy! When my 70-year old father urged me to join Facebook, I riled saying, “If you’re doing it, Dad, it’s not cool anymore!” But the truth was, I was terrified to dip my toe into the world of social media.

If you were to open the top drawer of my desk, you would find stacks of notecards, envelopes and a sheet of stamps. I like snail mail. I love receiving hand-written notes and cling obstinately to the hope that others like them, too! You like my notes, right? They are what? Sweet? Personal? Touching? Time consuming? Old-fashioned? Out-dated? Never! Well, maybe a little.

My main concern (I refuse to say paranoid fixation) with the internet is that I grew up knowing privacy and because of that I am still keenly aware of those times when my privacy is compromised. I lived in a time when phones were still connected to the wall with a cord. We sent real mail. We shopped for groceries without a “Club Card” tracking our purchases. We drove cars and got lost. No one watched us on the road from a remote satellite system and guided us back to safety. Our neighbors only knew things about us from what they read in the local paper. Our business was our own. Flibberty, flibberty! And we liked it!

The first time I tried to engage with the internet didn’t go well.  I had to get the family online in order for my daughter to complete her schoolwork. After reading the hand-written note from her teacher, I cancelled my order of Encyclopedia Brittanica and logged onto AOL. Creating an account was easy, and as I waited for the computer to generate my new user name I daydreamed about the life I would live behind the screen. I might join a chat room and banter with strangers…or email my senator…or post a picture of my family… And then the blue box popped up that read, “Your new user name is: JenniferHot3.”

Elated,I typed a quick email to my tech-savvy brother. He responded with a screen of cyber-laughter and a handful of crass jokes. “Good luck in the chat rooms,” he jibed. My cheeks burned: I didn’t want people to think I was trashy, so I withdrew inside my shell for another year hiding underneath newspapers and stationary. Finally, after signing up for a fresh online service, I got a respectable, church-going user name.

Fast-forward a decade. With the publication of my manuscript at hand, I knew it was high time I dove into the world of social media for real. My children are older, I use my Club Card, I text. In the name of selling my book, I could do it. I started with a webpage and blog, which felt more like joining a one-sided writer’s group. It felt comfortable. But, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and others awaited.

With my 15-year old at my elbow, I set up my Facebook account and cringed when the computer invited people to be my friends. I bit my nails as the imaginary invites were delivered, picturing the recipients’ faces filled with shock and revulsion. “Who would want to be friends with her?” But, a few people accepted my friend request. Thanks for accepting.

And now? I have friends. Out of thin air, the old Jennifer, the petulant five-year old that once danced atop a table at a Mexican restaurant for laughs, reared her head. Except now I know more appropriate ways to entertain people.

I still harbor a mild case of paranoia about posting pictures of my kids, and the other night I lost sleep as I imagined Facebook stealing my images to create ads for puppy-killers and such, but mostly I’m adjusting to this new world. Sort of.

Why I Read Books S-L-O-W-L-Y

Why I Read Books S-L-O-W-L-Y

Angus
Angus as painted by J.L. Hotes

It all started with a virus, not on my computer, in me. I don’t remember the phlemy details, but it must have been a doozy to knock me down for a full week.

My big brother, a self-professed germaphobe, felt terrible for my plight. He knew I was bored, not because of my repeated whiny calls.  He’s psychic. He thoughtfully left a stack of books on my porch to get me through the dull days of recovery.

He’d brought over the first five books of the Harry Potter series. I’d heard of them, after all I wasn’t dead, but had never taken the time to try J.K. Rowling’s works. That morning, a Monday, I cracked the spine on The Sorcerer’s Stone. By nightfall I plunked the completed book back by the front door to return to my brother. Over the following four days I would do the same thing; crack a fresh book and retire it to the stack by the door.

Then, Saturday came. I suppose I was feeling better. I wasn’t hacking and wheezing anymore. My head didn’t pound. But something under my ribcage hurt.  I felt empty, sad, lonely, and more bored than ever. I didn’t have book six, at the time no one did. Like the rest of the reading world, I had to wait for its release.  Oh, it was a horrible feeling.

Fix this! I demanded of my fellow book lovers. They suggested other series to tide me over. At one point, I had a sum total of five different series stacked across the house. And I read, fast and with passion until I ran into that brick wall I call “the next book in the series.” It was the brightest, then darkest time of my reading life, darker even than my freshman year of college.

Now, five years after the series virus infected me, I take precautions. Like an annual flu shot, I do research on my Kindle before downloading book one in any series. I confirm that I have another nine books (at the very least) to look forward to, and as I near the end of the series I switch my reading speed to ‘turtle.’ Finally, I keep a handful of books I am dying to get into close, so I will never feel that sad, empty pang as I finish the last of a series. It sort of works.

Bottom of the ocean
Bottom of the ocean, pen and ink, JL Hotes

The one exception has been the new Inventor-in-Training series written by my dear friend, D.M. Darroch. The Pirate’s Booty, the first book in the series is an exhilarating romp across time and space.  The protagonist is Angus, a busy, crafty, smart middle-schooler. Angus journeys to another world thanks to his malfunctioning Insectivore Incinerator where he finds his frenemy, Ivy, a girl he finds irksome in his old world but comes to like in the land of the pirates.

What’s not to love about this boy? Angus has a messy work table. He hordes scraps of old things for future inventions. He leaves his backpack behind when he heads to school. He sports safety goggles on his head and always carries his trusty screwdriver in one pocket or another. Oh, and he wears flip flops all year long. Does Angus remind you of anyone?

 

Darroch captures the spirit of everyone’s favorite nephew in Angus Clark. He dares to dream, then duct tapes the parts together until something sizzles and pops. He’s the boy we love having over to our house to play with our children, but then need a long pull on the wine bottle after the door shuts behind him.  I am thrilled to post that Darroch is hard at work on the second book in the series and I will get to illustrate this new world as well.  Nope! I’m not giving anything away, but readers can expect to laugh through another Angus adventure sometime in the future.

Happy reading!

 

Up on a Perch

Up on a Perch

Quincy growling at a squirrel
Quincy growling at a squirrel

My art loft, according to the nieces and nephews, is the happiest place in our home. A floor to ceiling window insures I have an unobstructed view of the neighborhood at all times. The lake shimmers beyond the rooftops if the sun is in the mood to shine. Planes fly past. Inspiration beckons.

An easel stands in the prime corner of the loft and holds a blank canvas, a canvas that waits continually for his BFFs; brush and paint. The trio holds its breath for that moment when free time and whimsy collide. That is when I drop the tarp and create.

Two chairs rest a few feet back from the expansive windows. Both sport a thin coat of pet fur. This is the spot where I observe the world, reflect, write, cuss, edit and rework. I’ve seen many things out the windows.

I’ve gotten to know neighbors from my perch, at least the ones that take their dogs on regular walks. We wave. One time a neighbor delivered a package to me. It came to her house by mistake. She’s a Jennifer, too.

When my aging golden retriever, Quincy, was too sick to go on walks, he stretched in front of the windows and watched the world pass by. Mostly he scanned the streets for squirrels. And crows. And the mailman. Though his body couldn’t travel, his mind could from his special spot.

The art loft has no door, which is both good and bad. I have frequent, spontaneous visitors. If you’ve ever written before you know how disruptive that can be. But, when the words won’t come I silently pray in the loft for someone, anyone to stop by and chat. I need to invest in a “Closed/Open for Business” sign to hang from the ceiling. It would swivel back and forth between the two commands, not because I hung it wrong, but because of my fluid mood swings.

Like James Stewart in Rear Window, I’ve witnessed crimes from the window. Not murder. But, I’ve seen truancy. Loitering. And (brace yourself) soliciting, as in a person ignores the “No Soliciting” sign and knocks. The horror.

After the days I’ve spent gawking, I’ve come to know too much about my neighbors. I know where their extra house keys are hidden. I’ve noted which husbands leer at women. I could tell you what house the UPS man always stops at, for a long visit. Today, I saw someone leave in a taxi with no suitcase. Don’t worry. I won’t use my knowledge to hurt anyone.

Oh, the animals I’ve seen out the window. Just yesterday an odd black, red and white bird sat on a tree and stared into the window, at me! How rude. Blue herons fly awkwardly past. Eagles. I’ve counted five different cats, a multitude of dogs and hummingbirds. One time I witnessed a group of crows as they swooped and swirled around an eagle in the sky. The noise they made hurt my ears, squawks and screeches as they pursued the eagle. They dove and jabbed at the eagle’s talons. They came so close to the glass that I cringed. That’s when I noticed the long, bushy tail that stuck out from inside the mighty talons. Twitch, circle, twitch! I realized at once it was the squirrel that was making the terrible high-pitched noises.

You see, I’d heard that noise before when I’d begged my brother to bring over one of the squirrels he trapped in his backyard. His dream was to live on a block that was free of squirrels. He never killed the squirrels he trapped. He opted instead to relocate them far away from his thriving grapes and struggling hazelnuts. So when he brought a squirrel in a cage for me to see we laughed and laughed at the funny noises he made. And when my brother lifted the door and the squirrel ran free, he scurried up a tall tree across the street, a tree owned by the only other person in the world that hates squirrels as much as my brother.

Since that day, the day I witnessed the eagle as he fought to keep his lunch to himself, I’ve limited my time looking out the window. A little.

An Open Letter to My Friend Ellen

An Open Letter to My Friend Ellen

Our little monster
Our little monster

With puppy ownership on the horizon for your family, I thought you might benefit from our ongoing experience.  Cooper, our German Chocolate pup is nearing his sixth month.  And as his puppyhood draws to a close (please be drawing to a close) I realize how much I wish I’d known upfront.

Supplies the books don’t tell you to purchase, but you’ll be glad you have:

  1. Lots of 409, or any other cleaning spray for the countless spills and splatters in your future.
  2. Costco flat of paper towels: Forget about the environment for a couple months.  Plant a tree once the puppy is potty trained.
  3. Stair gate (or two) to contain puppy on one floor, in one room, or on the only square foot of linoleum in the house.
  4. Small AND next size up puppy crates: They grow fast and getting to any store has become infinitely more complicated.  Be prepared!
  5. Frozen food. Yes! Stock up on all the family’s favorites now, just be prepared to hate them in a matter of months.  Restaurants are out of the question once you have a puppy.  And home cooking isn’t going to happen for awhile.  Think of it as an extended snow day.  Be ready to eat out of the fridge and cupboards for a spell.  Num.
  6. 6) DVDs, books, magazines, craft things.  You guessed it, the stay-cation is about to begin. Your life is about to exist within the four walls of your home and brief trips to the yard.  Make things interesting so you can survive.

Things no one tells you about puppyhood, but are good to know:

  1. The only regular outing you’ll have after getting a puppy is to visit the veterinarian. Put the vet on speed dial and save cash right now for the many exams, shots, and other services your furry friend requires.
  2. The first three nights home with puppy are tough, really tough! Between the frequent visits to the yard and the howling for missing pack-mates, sleep is very hard to come by.  We resorted to putting the puppy crate in the middle of our bed, but that can lead to puppy sleeping on your bed permanently, a subject of an upcoming blog post…
  3. Puppies usually have a few days of diarrhea.  It is vital to take a picture of the bag of food your dog breeder had to make sure you buy the right type.  We also found a dollop of yogurt (Greek vanilla is our pup’s favorite) helps things resolve quickly.  So, put Greek yogurt on your list of things to buy.
  4. Your child, no matter how excited they were to own a puppy, will feel displaced.  Adopting a pup is like bringing home a younger sibling.  Be prepared to comfort and console.  I find this goes better after sipping a glass of wine.
  5. Don’t forget to take loads of pictures.  They grow and change at lightening-speed, so take those pictures!
  6. Have puppysitters at the ready, people who really know how to take care of a pup, and schedule them to give your human family a little break.  A simple dinner out, or drive, or walk by the lake goes a long way to make the puppy days go smoothly.
  7. Puppies don’t innately like the car.  They squirm, whimper, barf, whatever, but you will have to get them used to the car.  Take a drive with puppy everyday and make something good happen at the end of that drive, whether it be a quick walk, a tasty tidbit, whatever and they will begin to associate the car with good things.

Why having a puppy is the best thing ever:

  1. What child can be upset about waking up for school when it is a bouncy, licking puppy that does the waking?  In our house we call it the puppy alarm clock. Yep, I let Cooper do the dirty work now.
  2. “Wow! Taking care of a puppy is hard.  How did you ever do this for me?” One of our kids said that in the first weeks of Cooper’s life under our roof. The child in your life is about to gain an instant and invaluable appreciation for what you and your hubby did to raise them!
  3. What other member of the family misses you after a quick ten-minute absence? That’s right. Puppy is about to show you in so many ways how much she loves and needs you.
  4. Puppyhood is fleeting, so embrace it!

As always, we are here for your family.  Let us know if you need anything during the coming months as you adjust to your newest family member.

Love,
The Hotes Family

My Buddies

My Buddies

One of my friends, ink drawing by JL Hotes
One of my friends, ink drawing by JL Hotes

Thanks to one too many Hitchcock viewings as a child, I grew up thinking birds were evil things. To the unaffected, birds seem pretty, crafty, and charmingly independent. But, I knew they were devilish little things with wings, able to organize and attack innocents on a whim. While they waited for that perfect moment to tear us to shreds with those hard, sharp beaks they twittered, built nests, teased our cats, and pooped on our windows.

I had a panic attack once in the belly of the Woodland Park Zoo aviary. The finches chirped and whizzed past our faces on that overly-heated summer afternoon. My hands trembled as I struggled to find the exit. It would be my sweetheart that would lead me to fresh air and a bench. And then everything changed.

I became a parent. And somewhere in the days since, I’ve become one of those people that feels compelled to take care of everyone and everything, including the birds. My favorite birds are the crows that visit Sunday mornings. They whistle and caw from the power lines as the machine brews coffee and I scrounge through the cabinets for something delicious to scatter across the lawn. They love hot dog buns. They hate kettle corn.

Two amazing researchers at the University of Washington have been studying crows for decades. They documented a group (because I refuse to call them a murder) of crows that visited a woman regularly. After accepting the lady’s food for years, they began to leave presents in return. A political button. A poker chip. A shiny bauble.

My four buddies have never left a gift, but I love them anyways. They keep me looking up, and not in that wary, I-just-watched-The Birds, kind of way.

 

Here’s the original trailer to The Birds:

 

 

 

The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter

Watercolor of the stone heart fetish, J.L. Hotes
Watercolor of the stone heart fetish, J.L. Hotes

I stood shivering in a thin, white muslin nightdress.  She was muttering something under her breath, but I didn’t dare walk close enough to make out the words.  She would kill me if she knew I was watching.  My feet ignored my brain and inched forward where I cowered behind a bush .  The full moon illuminated her work as she chiseled at the earth beneath the tree.

Pine needles stabbed at my toes as I crept closer, trying not to be silent. Her nightdress, a twin of my own, hung loosely from her bony form.  Something black dripped from the folds across her chest.  What was that smell?  Rotting meat?  Nevermind.

A silver hand trowel flashed in the moonlight as she pounded at the hard ground, carving out a hole between the rocks and roots.  She was digging a hole for something.  I squinted  to see what rested at her feet waiting to be buried.  My first thought was that it might be the cat.  Maybe our family pet had died and she wanted to spare me the trauma, but no.  The thing was smaller, much smaller and square.  A twig dug into my creeping toes and snapped.  I squatted down, clutching my knees to my pounding chest praying she hadn’t spotted me.

When I dared to peek through a curtain of hair I saw her staring at the spot where I crouched.  Her eyes flashed like a wild animal caught in the headlights of a car and I knew I was found out.  She rushed forward, the tool raised above her head and I couldn’t lift my feet from the ground.  I screamed and screamed.

I awoke, safe in my own bed, hair stuck to my sweaty face and a scream lodged halfway up my windpipe.  I scrambled for a pen and paper from the nightstand to write down what I could before it slipped away, evaporating into the air like the moist, salty drops on my face.  Every second it took to write another ghastly detail fell away, gone from memory forever.

For those of you that have ever referred to me, as “Pollyanna” or “Miss Mary Sunshine” the above dream come as a surprise.  But, these nightmares, thanks to an over-active imagination have been a part of my nocturnal self as far back as I can remember.  I just hid it from you.  As I stashed my pen and paper into my nightstand a small object fell to the carpet.  A clay heart loaned to me by a loved one to keep me going as I scratched out my first book.

The object fits easily into the palm of my hand.  Crafted out of clay, wrapped in a strand of tan raffia the heart rattles when it is shaken.  The red and blue beads strung across the front feel like they mark time.  At the end of our stay in Northern California, visiting graveyards and sketching stones, my loved one handed the heart to me.

“You need this more than I do.  Keep it while you write,” my loved one whispered.  She knew that sometimes courage comes in the form of a little, clay heart.

So as of this writing, the unusual little object still rests on the nightstand.  It has seen the completion of my first manuscript and helped the darkest character within come to light.  It serves as my steady reminder that we all have gifts we keep hidden from the world, but if we share them authentically they might lead us down an interesting path.