Book Review: “The Mysterious Painting”

A Book Review: “The Mysterious Painting” by both Author and Illustrator Molly X

I was recently honored by a young neighbor to read/review a book (or three) for her.    I put the books aside in a very special place to read when I was truly ready to give them the important and meaningful attention they deserved.  So, now with all the Holiday hoop-lah over, I’m better able to enjoy them and give my thorough review and recommendation.  *In the interest of child safety, I will not divulge her real name here in such a public forum.

Diamond

“The Mysterious Painting” is a first attempt at serious writing for our very young author.  It is in my opinion, an early example of a great American Literary Talent in the making.   With much insight and an apt ability to tell a story beyond her years, the author is shown to be a driven, good communicator and quite intelligent in her attempt.   The plot twists and emotional roller coaster ride taken by our heroine, Lilly kept me on the edge of my seat.  As Lilly suddenly finds herself thrown into having to navigate her way through a heist from an important art gallery, its most important piece of art and it’s surprise connection back to her – It is a story told in a masterfully woven plot that will leave the reader wanting more.

The “Note From Author” in itself, is inciteful and a very good thing for us all to reflect on as we enter the New Year.  So, I will end my review by giving it to you in its entirety:

“As a beginning writer I feel like I’m not   as talented as I could be when I’m older and I know more things.  I bet that who ever is reading this note will become a great author if they want to be.  I feel like anything or anybody in the world could be amazing at what there good at!  If It’s either Tennis, Football, Soccer, Cheerleading, Gymnastics, Basketball, Skiing, Baseball, Running, Biking, Swimming, or Golf you are still very talented!  No matter what you’re sport is don’t let anybody or anything push you away from it ever!”

Courtroom Hair: The #1 Reason Not to Commit a Crime Ladies!

I was reading the Dallas Morning News today and came across a story about a plea deal reached by Shannon Richardson.  She was a bit part actress tuRicin Letters-Texasrned lunatic.  She sent ricin laced letters to the President and others in an attempt to get back at her estranged husband for filing for divorce.   A case that shows that in-fact it is true — “Health hath no fury like a woman scorned (especially someone who is a bubble off)”…

Now, I’ve heard that capital punishment IS used to deter crime.  But, I have to say that what really caught my moral attention was not the crime and punishment but Richardson’s courtroom hair!  My knee-jerk reaction at seeing her current courtroom picture explaining was: “Oh my GOSH, now that is a good reason for me to not go to jail in its self!  Thank you very much.  And, if I did find myself in such a situation, I’d make a quick plea deal too do get out of the public eye ASAP!”

Before Ricin "Incident"Richardson’s beautiful red tresses at the beginning of the case had grown out maybe about 6 inches.  Apparently, they don’t allow you to color your hair in jail.  I mean, why would they?  But, this is just not a good look for me or anyone.  It got me to thinking about other cases I’ve read about in the past.  A big case that immediately came to mind was the Darla Routier case.  Darlie's Courtroom HAIR, I mean trial...No amount of argument could get me past the root issue going on there.  I’m sure I couldn’t even serve on the jury:

“Your honor.  I have to be completely honest with you.  I just can’t serve on this jury.  I’m sort of into hair.  I’m a girl like that.  I think that seeing the defendant’s roots day in and day out would be too big of a distraction for me to truly be able to listen to either side of the story in this case.  I hope you understand.” 

I wonder what the judge’s reply would be… Not to be sexist, but It may actually depend on if the judge were a man or a woman… The judge may find that she may have to recuse herself, as well…  Or him, if he’s dapper at all…

Our Monkeys…

I’d like to formally introduce Lucky and Nicco – my Christmas Monkeys. monkey

After many years of traveling world wide and performing in their popular Christmas Minstrel Show, they retired in Dallas 10 years ago to live with our family via Z Gallerie. They enjoy scaring children that come to our house (mainly our youngest daughter Maddie …)

During the off season when Christmas is over, they live in an undisclosed metropolitan area where they funnel money through their old world cuisine restaurant…

Thanksgiving Prayer

NormanHeavenly Father,
We gather before you today in Thanksgiving.
We thank you for the many blessings you have bestowed on us… Blessings, we sometimes take for granted:
We thank you for the love of our family and friends,
And remember those who feel alone today.
We thank you for the safe travels of the family and friends here,
And remember those who grieve the recent loss of a loved one.
We thank you for the gifts you have given us,
And remember those who are not able to use their gifts because of illness and injury.
We thank you for the freedom we are able to live in this great country,
And remember those who are serving so that we may live free.
We thank you for the food we are about to eat,
And remember those who will go without food this day.
We pray all this in our Brother Jesus’, name.  Amen.

Remember That Time I Made Daddy An AR-15 Assault Rifle?

Mark had been talking about getting an AR-15 for several years.  Hunters use them to stalk feral hogs at their deer leases, farms, ranches, etc.  Turns out, feral hogs are actually domesticated hogs that were just let go in the wild and boy do they multiply like rabbits and wreak havoc on people’s land.  They root up crops and roads and are a serious problem here in Texas.  Well, Mark didn’t want just any AR-15, he wanted his BFF Don to build one for him as Don had started a hobby of making guns.  (BTW: I have a feeling it is against “man law” for guys to refer to each other as BFFs, especially these two which is why I put that in here.)  🙂CTD

As a surprise for Mark, I emailed Don to ask if he would have the time and possibly be interested in building one for me for a Christmas present for Mark.  He quickly replied, “Sure! All you need to do is go to a gun store near you called Cheaper Than Dirt and purchase a ‘stripped lower’ for it.  Ship it to me and I’ll get started.”   I wrote the part name down on my weekly shopping list: Fall Wreath, New Bed Sheets, Black Platform Peep Toe Shoes,  “Don’t forget to get a S-T-R-I-P-P-E-D  L-O-W-E-R” – Check.

There is a reason for this following part, so work with me here:

I usually like to save my serious shopping days for one particular day of the week.  I’m not talking grocery shopping but the kind of shopping you do for Christmas, party planning, special projects, clothes and the like.  I like to get dressed up and “go to town”.   It feels good to do this because being a housewife now, I will actually go days without even putting on shoes much less make-up, so it is a healthy thing for me to do.  On this particular day, I paired fun grey denim leggings, with a sexy off one shoulder ala Flashdance, pale-geometric print shirt.  I completed the outfit with pretty, high-heeled black ankle boots and my black Prada bag.

CTD3I went about my shopping day from Michaels to Bed, Bath and Beyond, to you name it and ended the day, as planned at Cheaper than Dirt.  It’s a much smaller store than say a Cabelas or a Bass Pro Shop.  It is more the size of a small pawn shop.  Now, I’m sure it wasn’t completely like this… but this is actually how I felt — As I walked in, I did not see any hunting gear, etc. as I’m used to seeing when accompanying Mark to gun stores.  What I found was a bunch of men who looked like they were involved in militia/biker groups and one guy who looked like he was employed in personal security and/or maybe the mafia.  Not one of them was wearing cammo.

The surprise must have shown on my face, because the store manager came up to me with a raised eyebrow and in an are sure you’re in the right place type voice said, “Can I help you?”  I said, “Yes.  Give me a sec.” (as I fished through my Prada bag for my shopping notes finding and reading the note to him) “Yes, I’m here to purchase a stripped lower for an AR-15?”  His eyes immediately shot up in surprise and he said “Oh-kay then, follow me.”  We passed a customer looking at what looked like a SWAT team vest, and another seriously contemplating Bowie knives while carrying a gas mask and turned down a random non-descript aisle.   In the center of this aisle, passed all the pre-packaged doomsday survivor food, we came up to a locked glass case.  I seriously did not recognize anything in it.  When Don said I needed to go get this gun part, I thought, I don’t know – I really didn’t think… but I guess I would have thought it looked like a gun that needed finishing – whatever that means.

Anyway, the manager opens the case and gets out the part and says, “This, is it.”  It looked like a random extra part you’d find yourself left with after taking apart stripped loweryour own car engine and putting it back together again.  He does not hand me the part but says, “You know, you will need a background check for this?”  I laughed a silly Ha-ha laugh as if I knew he was surely joking.  He replied without smiling, “I’m being totally serious.”  I couldn’t believe it!  I told him, the guy looking at Bowie knives looked like he’d need a background check sooner than I would for this little random God knows what part for a friend to build my husband a surprise present.  His reply, “Well, you see – this actually is the firing chamber of the gun.”  Okay – learning something new today…

Well, I thought it would be an in-and-out type store purchase and was not planning to spend an hour or so filling out paperwork, so I looked at my over-sized Men’s sparkle watch with the faux diamond ring around it and asked him how long it would take.  He said, “Well it shouldn’t take very long or be a problem (pause) unless – you have a record?” I told him “Of course not!”  He then paused and said “I don’t know how to ask this but do you know if your gun-building-friend has a felony record?  Because, it would be a felony for you, yourself to supply him this part if he does.”

Jail“What?!”  Now, I’ve known Don for 30 years.  He is the salt of the earth, church goin’, God fearing, great guy and I was pretty sure he had no record, but for a minute or so I got to dialoging the following to myself.  “Hm.  Why didn’t Don just get the part himself?  What if h…… Naaaaaw, he’s fine…… Well, he is into building guns now for fun and most certainly part of some government watch lis……. Naaawh, he just likes to hunt big time – Don’t be crazy, D’Ann….…”  So, after this hesitation, I told the guy I’m pretty sure he’s fine, let’s fill out that application.  As he took the signed application from me, he said, “You can just walk around and shop while I call into the State.”  I looked around the store and then at him and said, “What do you seriously think I’d shop for?!” – He laughed at me and told me I could just stand by him – it would be okay.

Well of course, I was cleared and went to grab the part off the desk.  He stopped me short and said he actually had to walk me up to the front to the cashier.  Now, the guy working the cashier’s desk was this HUGE, tall black guy.  I’m not saying huge as in fat, but the don’t mess with me; I’m a bodyguard type guy build.  The manager placed the stripped lower on the counter and said, “This lady would like to buy this, please.”  The cashier looks at the part, looks up at me and without a smile and a raised eyebrows asks, “You? Building a gun today?”  I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Why yes, I am.  I was at Michael’s and I bought a few things to make a Fall wreath for my front door and just thought I’d go ahead and purchase some faux beads, jewels and a hot glue gun.  I want to surprise my husband and not only make, but also bedazzle an AR-15 for him for Christmas.”   He/we all laughed our butts off at this point.   I’m sure when I left that store; all the guys in there were all rolling their eyes and thinking “’em G-Damn yuppie women…”

I could not wait to get in my car and on my cell phone, so I could read Don the riot act for not warning me about any of this and laugh about it… I also couldn’t wait to give Mark the gun, so I could tell him the crazy story of what I had to go through to get this gun made for him.  I might just hot glue a little pink jewel on it someday when he’s not looking just to finish it off and put my own unique mark on it…

The funny thing in hindsight is that I’m now probably on some list as owning an assault rifle and I haven’t shot a gun in years!

AR-15

Skunk Drama Leads to Hiring a Hitman

This last year, we put in lush perennial flower gardens in our backyard and added them to our front yard beds, as well.  They’ve become a haven for hummingbirds, butterflies, bumblebees, dragonflies and rabbits.  We have a lot of rabbits here where we live.  I don’t mind them because they seem to only eat our weeds, thankfully.  I like to think of them as our very own full-time gardeners.  Late spring, we noticed a burrow hole under one of the AC units on the west side of our house.  This area has 3 units and is covered by a large hedge to hide the equipment.  We were pretty sure it was the rabbits moving in because we see a lot of them.

One late night a few weeks later, Rylie (our female Yorkie) had to go the bathroom at 3:00 a.m., so I took her out.  (This rarely happens.)  Out of the cPepe Le Pew times 6!orner of my sleepy eye, I saw a faint shadow with a bushy black tail.  I thought I was seeing things, so I dismissed it.   But, a few nights later, Mark had to do the same again with Rylie and sure enough, he did see in his words, a Cute Little Baby Skunk in our backyard.  This worried me, because I didn’t want Rylie to get bitten, but even more so – SPRAYED.  I can’t imagine how to begin to get that smell out of a Yorkie’s lush coif.   I had hoped that the skunk we saw was the lone ranger and just passing through.

A few days later, I trimmed up the front yard flower beds and this included that hedge by the AC units.  I was on a small 2-step ladder with electric trimmers working away on all sides including the back behind the hedge for 2 hours even on my knees raking out leaves from the bottom and so on.  That same evening at dusk, I received a frantic phone call from my neighbor saying that she had just seen a Momma Skunk with at least 5 baby skunks walking out from that AC unit/hedge in single file along the house as if going on a fun field trip to our front yard!   That was too close a call on my part and I freaked out – Getting rabies, etc. from yard work?  Really?!

The country boy in Mark wanted to take care of the situation himself and asked me to go buy a skunk trap at Tractor City.  I was reluctant on so many levels, wondering the following:

  • How’s Mark going to deal with trapping and not getting sprayed himself?  I had visions of him going to a meeting with a Wall Street Stock Analyst at work the next day reeking and there being a big, white, skunk elephant in the room
  • Where is he going to take them once he traps them?  To the country getting caught for trespassing… He would have probably taken them to the girls locker room if he was still in high school as he seriously did this with a possum when he was a teenager.
  • And, if he brings a gun out, will the neighbors alert the local Police SWAT team that a crazy man is waiving a gun around in the neighborhood?…
  • Also, he had back surgery a few weeks before this and was Vicodined up so much that he wasn’t quite his coherent self to do basic things around the house much less Skunk Extraction.

Reluctantly, I went to Tractor City, bought a cage and got on Facebook knowing surely that my Karnes City friends and family must have experience in this area.  🙂  I did get a lot of good advice.  One of Mark’s classmates said that skunks just love bacon grease and that is what “his own mother uses”.  Hm.  I was also told by my Dad to just quietly sneak up behind the cage with a tarp in front of me and completely cover the cage and I wouldn’t have a problem as “he does it all the time”.  Another – Hm.

So, Mark and I cooked up some bacon – put it in some tin foil in the back of the cage, got an old tarp ready in the garage and set the cage outside the AC units on our driveway.  The next morning, Mark got up at dawn and went out just in time to see torn up foil everywhere – an un-sprung trap and a nocturnal skunk going back into the AC area for his daily rest, but not before stopping to look back and aggressively rearing up his tail as if to say: “Get us more bacon damn it!”

I knew we needed to up our game, so I called our County’s Animal Control division.  They said it was too hot in the summer to deal with this type of thing and they gave me the name of a good Animal Extraction Company that they even use: Trutech.  I called and made an appointment.  An adorable young man came out.  He, as with all technicians in this company hold college degrees in Wildlife Management and he had recently graduated from Texas A&M – a plus on our part. Trutech

We talked Skunks.  I asked him how much right off the bat…  Now, if a person doesn’t just come out and tell you the cost, but says “okay, but first let me tell you what this is going to entail” – you know to just hold on because it is probably going to be pricey.

So, the plan was this: We would sign a contract with him to hire him out as our Skunk Hitman.  He said he couldn’t let them live because the State of Texas would not allow for it – turns out that they can’t be vaccinated for rabies…  He would come out for up to 10 to 14 days…  He’d place traps at the entrance to every burrow – which turned out to be a Plush, 3 Bedroom Condo, as they had made beds under every AC unit.  Once they are were all trapped and “discarded”.  I’m guessing in a river with little cement shoes, he would double check to make sure they were all gone… He would then fill up the holes with Sakrete to ensure  that their friends/extended family don’t follow them as if by time-share to the Williams’ house…

The cost?  $600 or $100 per critter!  Mark said any redneck from our area would love to make $600 doing what he would be doing every Saturday night, anyway.  Spotlightin’ creatures, deer no, really creatures for sport and cash… A dream job!  My hair dresser said, “Pay the man!!!”  He once had a lab get sprayed and before he could catch him, he ruined his master bedroom comforter and a number of area rugs, trying to get the smell off himself.  That certainly put the price tag in better perspective for me.

Anyway, everyday, the tech came out and texted me a picture of his catch.  One day he caught 2 for one.  They were so cute, I felt mildly bad – but just mildly.  Skunk

Just so you know, here is what I learned that the experts do:

They place theedging small traps which are wrapped completely in a Black Trash Bag cut up and taped to all sides except the front panel to make them blacked out, for ease of removal and to keep the animals calm and cozy…  They also place little movable everyday used flower bed panels on either side of the cages from the entrance of each burrow to herd them directly into the cage like an airport ramp to an airplane…  He said they don’t really need food, but if he thinks it may help – he uses Cheetos.  I shrieked and asked what their favorite was: “Crunchy or Puffy!?!!!”  As I’m a crunchy Cheetos lover and think puffys are for whimps (Mark likes puffy)… 🙂  The hitman laughed and said it really didn’t matter, however I’ll never think of Cheetos the same way again.

In a week, we were skunk free and I learned the fine art of skunk trapping not that I’d ever do it, but at least I can pass this $600 advice on to you… Let me know how it goes.

Each Year, We Empty Nester Moms Get Our Kids Off to College and Fly the Coop — This year to Central Europe

Several years ago, a long-time friend of mine, Kathleen and I decided to start taking Girls Trips together each September, after we drop our kids off at their cIMG_2451ollege(s).   We’ve been friends for 22+ years.  Our husbands worked together, we both had our last babies at the same time  – would sit on the phone for hours and talk about Oprah’s latest topics – our latest explorations into whatever fad/topic of the day from Andrew Weil’s holistic medicine approach to whatever Psychobabble Guru of the Day was selling and would delve into our wounded inner-child(ren) at length… We have one of those easy friendships that just picks up quite easily no matter how much time has passed.  A real gift and blessing.

2 years ago, another oil field wife and also a long-time friend, Stephanie joined us for a trip to England, as her baby girl went off to Baylor and the trip was a great distraction from her trepidation over the milestone.  We skipped last year for financial reasons on my part.  Mark and I had put in a pool, cabana and backyard flower beds in our blank canvass of a backyard and needless to say it dried up any available  funds for travel.

This year, we went on a Viking River Cruise through Central Europe – the name of the cruise was “Romantic Danube”.   It wouldn’t have been my first pick but my friend Kathleen, a gypsy-free-spirit has travelled the globe, and this area was new to her.

After it was all said and done, I highly suggest going on a Viking River Cruise.  You get spoiled, pampered and spoon-fed your vacation and the history of the places you visit.   It is intimate with 150 or so guests.  The food is great and when you aren’t touring a castle, church or hamlet, you enjoy literally watching the beautiful world go by as the boat putters to your next destination.    Viking plans to expand to even the Mississippi River and when they do, I’m going to book for sure.

Turns out, these river cruisDSC00073es started out just in the 1990s and one can tell that they have been a great boon for the local towns’ economies that they visit.  For example, I would have made plans to visit Vienna maybe, but never to visit small but richly important towns like Melk, Regensburg and the like.  I’m hoping the same for the US towns along the Mississippi if Viking pans out here in the US.  It will be interesting to see what happens…

We went through 42 locks going down the Danube.  According to Wikipedia, A lock is a device for raising and lowering boats between stretches of water of different levels on river and canal waterways.  Most of the locks we went through I slept right through, but passengers spoke of the loud noises they made.   Pretty extrodinary to experience, but I would maybe inquire how many locks you would have to endure for whatever cruise destination you are considering if they are a bother and keep you up.

Trip/Town Notes – I’ll start with this:Business Class Fun!

Our British Airways’ Luck

I was dreading the trip because I don’t like having to fly cooped up in a small space for so long.  I was miserable on our flight to England two years ago and had planned to knock myself out with sleep meds.  Kathleen reminded me that I’m in the car for hours when I drive home, what’s the difference.  She had a good point there, but…  Well, we got to the Houston airport early to see if we could upgrade to Business class at a discounted price.  It was still pricey, but so worth it!   We could get pampered even in the airline’s private Lounge at the airport and on the plane we were able to stretched out and just relax for the 10 hour flight.  In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have upgraded, because I don’t ever want to fly economy again!