The Meaning of Words

I had an interesting experience this week and I guess I can check it off my bucket list.  I never really was aware it was on there, but now I realize I’ve always wanted to do it.  I was a juror on a criminal case.  Perry Mason it was not.  CSI in whatever city it was not.  Law and Order it was not.  It was fascinating and very satisfying.

The sister I live with gets a jury summons at least once a year.  I got one once about 30 years ago, and was not chosen.  It was amusing, though, to be sitting beside the one guy who had perhaps the second best excuse in the world for being exempt from jury duty – he was the star witness in the trial we were to be chosen for.  The judge was outraged, but calmed down after being reminded that jury summons were done by the computer on a random basis.  I had another sister who got a jury summons for a trial where the defendant was a guy she personally knew.  That got her out of the pool.  My mom got to be a juror on a murder trial.  She was good.  She never mentioned the trial until it was over and they declared the defendant guilty.

The folks who checked us in were delighted to see so many show up.  Despite the fact that not responding to a jury summons gets you in trouble with the law, many often just do not.  There were about 24 of us this day.  The deputy checking us in said that once only 11 people showed up and they had to reschedule the trial.  Since they only needed six jurors for this trial  (I have no idea how they decide how many they need – have to find out some time) the 24 of us pleased them.  It was about half and half men and women.  One turned out to be a bail bondsman, but the defendant was not a client, so they left him in.  Another was the daughter of the retired district attorney, but they left her in.

The morning was taken up by voir dire – the questioning of the juror pool to see if they understand the charges, and to find out if they have any prejudices that would affect their determination of the defendants’ guilt or innocence.  The prosecutor was new, an assistant District Attorney who did a superb job of explaining reasonable doubt, since the case would really hinge on whether the jury felt there was any. The defense attorney reminded me of a television show character, with a bushy mustache and a big, booming voice.  He also was very professional and explained things well.  Between the two of them, I think they made sure we understood the terms that would be used in the case.

When the jury selection was made, I was delighted to be chosen.  They then sent us off to lunch, with the trial to begin afterwards.  When I got back, I was able to chat with the bailiff, who was a retired chief of police.  It was very interesting to hear about life in a courthouse.  One thing that was very different from the television shows was how friendly everyone was.  Of course, it is a mostly rural south Texas county legal system, and everybody knows everybody, and luckily it was not a tense, emotional trial we had to look forward to.

The judge and district attorney smiled a lot, but not in the “We know we’re going to win” style, more in the “we’re delighted to see people willing to do their civic duty” style.  The defense attorney did not smile as much, but his client probably would not have appreciated it.  I got the feeling the poor man (Hispanic, poor English, and easily confused by questions put to him) thought a jury of six white women were not going to give him a fair deal.  He looked more and more morose as the trial proceeded.

We six did admit to each other we were surprised no men had been chosen, but after some thought, agreed that most of them had not struck us as, well, reasonable as most of the women.  But we were all determined to be fair and thoughtful in our decision, never forgetting that a man’s future was on the line.  We had listened to police and professional expert testimony on the facts of the case, and examined physical evidence.

The decision we had to make came down to: Was there reasonable doubt or not in the situation?  Was the evidence and testimony overwhelmingly on the prosecution’s side?  Was there any reason to doubt the defendant was guilty of the two charges against him?  It really came down to the meaning of the legal terms in the charges and how the law interpreted them.  That’s where I was glad the prosecutor and defense attorney had explained them so well.

I was also very glad I was on a jury with five other intelligent, thoughtful women who were serious about their duty.  We did not discuss it for long, because we all pretty much agreed on our opinions from the beginning, but we did discuss it thoroughly.  We noted what we thought of the testimonies and the evidence, and then delved into how the meanings of the legal terms fit the case.  None of us were concerned about the defendant’s ethnic, economic,  or social background.  The subjects never came up.  All we discussed was how the legal definitions affected the case.  In the end, we agreed that, despite the evidence and testimony presented, we could see that what the defendant swore must have happened was just as likely as what the prosecution was certain had happened.  We found reasonable doubt that the defendant met the legal definition of the charges against him, and judged him not guilty.

There is an old saying that comes up occasionally when people argue:  “You say tomato, I say tomahto”, meaning “we’re using different words but we’re saying the same thing”.  But we don’t always.  We need to be careful what we say, how we say it, and when we say it.  Sometimes feelings can be hurt, and sometimes a life can be changed.  Sometimes we just need to think before we speak.  We need to think before we write.  We need to think, period.

Sit! Stay!

I just saw a terrific post from www.WritingSisters.com  about how to be a writer.  A dog sat before a computer keyboard, and the caption said “First rule of writing: Sit.  Second rule of writing: Stay.”  I have to tell my self that lately.  I’m beginning to think I’ve developed Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.  I’ve been so easily distracted lately it’s driving me crazy.  I wonder if it has to do with the weather.  Or my allergies.  Or my sudden desire to spring clean.  My sister/roommate/mortgage partner would scoff, but I have been doing more cleaning than normal.  I also have health issues in myself and my family to deal with.  I just haven’t been writing as much as I want to, and I need to sit and get words down.  (I can’t say ‘down on paper’ anymore, you know…)

There have been lots of words going through my brain.  Several stories have been writing themselves up there.  Maybe it’s a necessary step before I can get the fingers moving.  I have been talking to several people about writing, as well.  Hopefully they will spread the word and I will make more sales.  I have also been busy learning everything I need to do about setting up this website as a merchant’s page as well so that anybody can buy my books and other items from me easily.  I told my sister I might have to start taking night classes at the local college for business administration.

I have also been working through taxes.  It should be easy for me after thirty years of working there in the trenches, but everything keeps changing and often the most difficult challenge is trying to figure out if the word they use for something means the same thing as the word you’ve always used for it.  This happened at work all the time.  Most of my efforts in writing training materials was spent making sure the students understood the language used in the procedures.

You also have to be super organized if you are trying to reference anything that happened in previous years, and unfortunately, my years of too much work and not enough filing have caught up with me, so I’m trying to do it all now.  I do at least have some decent software to help with that.

Organization is also extremely important when it comes to writing, even if it’s fiction.  I base my Biblical characters’ stories on specific Bible verses, with background details on other research, and it’s vital to be able to look back to the research quickly.  I am so glad I spent the necessary money to get a computer that can handle what I’m asking of it.

Wow, my fingers are cold.  I’ll have to turn the heater back on.  It’s supposed to get warm today, but the sky is still gray and the wind has picked up.  It is Texas, after all, where the weather laughs at weather predictions.  I’ll go get warmer clothes on and try to warm the house up a bit.  I need to get some dishes and floors cleaned, which will help warm me.  But I swear I will be writing in my head, and will get back to the keyboard “toot sweet” ( apparently a phonetic spelling of some French phrase meaning ASAP) and get some more moneymakers done.

No Starving Artists Here

I live for comfort.  I admit it.  I’m not ashamed of it.  I grew up in sometimes grim circumstances and have memories of days when a bowl of beans was something to be extremely grateful for because I had already known times when I didn’t have that much.  I spent a week once without food and it wasn’t by choice.  I’ve lived in drafty shacks with a wood stove and no running water.  Every time I heard or read someone saying they wanted to “go back to the land” or “off the grid” or “live like the pioneers” I knew they had never been there.  I have, and it’s not comfortable, easy, or satisfying.

I’ve had relatives tell me I’m “livin’ above my raisin'”, a quaint southern saying about acting like you’re better than they are.  My sisters and I agree, durn right we’re living above our raising.  I’ve worked since I was five or so and I’m tired.  Most of my jobs in my life involved long, long hours and often very hard work.  I’m retired now with a pension I can live on and time to do what I want, which is be creative.

As the economy gets worse, the expenses go up, but I have the choice of how to deal with them, and so far I’m doing fine.  I have two books published and I’m working on my third.  I have two teeshirts designed and for sale now.  I’m not freaking out about how fast or slow they are selling.  I have enough to live on and be comfortable, and the rest is just gravy.

It took me a long time to get here.  I worked and worked and worked, trying to reach that point that is so difficult for the poor, that feeling that I finally had enough money.  I never did.  What I reached was the point of exhaustion.  When the breast cancer forced me to take almost five months off, I did almost nothing but sleep.  I went back to work and did sixty hours the first week back, still not heeding my body.  If the chemo had not messed with my brain making it difficult to do my job, I would probably be working still and would probably be working till they dragged me out, still trying to reach that point of feeling I had enough money.

Now I have been retired for two years and would rather cut back on expenses than get another job.  I am finally doing what I want to do and am loving it.  My creativity is brimming over and it is very comfortable, especially when I can sit at my computer in my pajamas with a big cup of coffee as I write this.  My sister that I share a mortgage with is at work this morning, trying to earn more overtime.  She hopes to be back in time to watch the Superbowl.

Me, I’m going to meander around the house, fix some breakfast, sip some more coffee, and slowly get ready for church.  Life is good.

I Wonder…

My life has always been full of “I wonder…” moments.  “I wonder what’s down that road?”  “I wonder what happens if I push that button?”  “I wonder what would happen if…?”  “I wonder how the story would go if…?”  and my sister’s favorite, “I wonder how it would taste if I put this in it?”  Lucky for her, my instincts for cooking are pretty good.  Recipes are just sort of a suggestion as far as I’m concerned.  I am also basically lazy, and I never had much time for involved cooking methods with my work hours, so I came up with a lot of dishes I could leave in a slow cooker all day or cook a huge bunch to last for several meals or just throw together in less than half an hour.  I’ve read cookbooks and watched cooking shows, but no, still too much work.  I just came up with my own, that Julie could eat with her limited range of foods that didn’t upset her stomach.

I have no idea what sets her stomach off.  She has no problem eating bowl after bowl of my “Cheesy Chicken Enchilada Soup”.  It’s pretty spicy and really opens the sinuses.  We always have a big pot during cold times, like now.  The dish is a prime example of how I cook.

Start with a bag of raw chicken tenders, or whatever.  I usually have at least a five pound bag of chicken.  If you don’t have time to cook raw chicken, use leftovers, or canned chicken.  Throw the chicken in enough water to cover and season.  My cupboard usually has chicken fajita seasoning, because we put it on everything.  We don’t use much salt, and no MSG, and this works for us.  Sometimes if I remember, I throw in some garlic powder and bay leaf.  How much of each?  I have no idea.  I just shake the containers until my brain says, “That ought to do it.”  If you’re OCD about measurements, don’t try my recipes.  Cook till the chicken is done, or if it’s already cooked, until it’s heated.  An hour over medium heat at a boil gets mine done.  Then I cut the chicken into about inch sized cubes with a pair of tongs and kitchen shears.  I haven’t used knives on meat in years.  Pull out the bay leaves if you threw some in. I usually make sure I have enough liquid to throw in a couple of bags of instant rice, minus the bags.  Like I said, I try to make big batches  If you don’t want to risk so much, just put in enough rice to thicken the soup to the texture you prefer.  Then when the rice is done, I stir in a couple of jars of salsa con queso (that’s spicy cheese sauce from the chip aisle for you non-Texan furriners), a couple small cans of green salsa, a couple cans condensed cream of chicken soup, and a couple cans of tomatoes with chilis.  Like I said, this stuff will open your sinuses.  Shrink the amount of ingredients if you’re not using five pounds of chicken. Stir together, let it simmer together for a bit (at least until you can’t stand the wait) and dish it up.  If we have it handy, we throw a dollop of sour cream on top. My sister likes her soup with corn chips on the side for texture.  She can put away a half gallon in one sitting.

If I didn’t have to worry about her stomach and had the time, I’d dice up some onions, carrots, and celery (at least a cup of each), saute them in some coconut oil (or whatever’s handy – like bacon grease!) and throw them in with the rest.  If I think the soup is a little thin because I overestimated the water, I might empty a bag of mashed potato flakes in.  Hot buttered cornbread or your favorite crackers would go nicely, or anything crunchy you enjoy.  This is pure comfort food time, and screw the calories and fat content.  If you manage any leftovers, throw in the fridge and enjoy again.  Don’t cook with open windows, or you may have strangers and/or neighbors showing up giving you a sob story about empty stomachs.

This weather also calls for my ever popular oatmeal bread recipe, which is the only way my sister can get oatmeal past her taste buds.  I posted this on a workplace blog that asked for favorite recipes once, and got rave reviews from all over the nation.  I’ll dig it out and post it here.  It has actual measurements, because baking stuff is a little trickier.  But the recipe is nowhere near what it was when I found it.

Whew!

Finally.  It’s amazing how long it took to finish three short stories.  It drove me nuts along the way.  First I hoped to get them done by Halloween.  Then by Thanksgiving, so I could ordered some printed books and give them as Christmas gifts.  (Some people give homemade fudge, I give homemade stories…) The last story changed completely and I got so caught up in it I was typing furiously through a major thunderstorm because I just had to see how the story came out.  Loading it to Kindle was a breeze.  Loading the print version was a pain in the rear.  Not sure how it went wrong, but it took a lot of work to make it load properly.

I am quite pleased with the results, though.  The stories are so  much more than I envisioned when I started them.  The characters took over and headed off to places I had not imagined.  I’ve found they are much more interesting when they do that, so I’m always happy to see it happen.  But I have to admit, it’s disconcerting to watch it happen as I type.  Where are these words coming from?

Now I just have to decide what to work on next.  I have a huge amount of story ideas jotted down on notepads, in notebooks, and a file container.  Do I stick with the Christian theme (it would be “Give Me A.I.D.! (Angelic Intervention Department)” about angels who are sent to help people in crisis.  They are not the “Fear not, I bring good tidings” angels.  They are more the “Somebody’s going to get it now!” type.  Your child kidnapped by demons for entertainment in a hellish nightclub? Been cursed by a voodoo queen for spite?  Satanic cult decide you’re needed to open the door to Hell? Somebody decide you need to see how your soul really looks?

I also have a strong love for science fiction and fantasy, especially with a twist of humor.  I have a group of stories called “The Bartenders’ Tales” about odd things in odd places.  There’s the interpreter whose last job drove him to retirement, the bikers who met the wrong trucker in a very strange bar, and a werewolf who just wanted a nice date.

There are also the full length novels I want to write.  They are not very humorous, more serious.  Some are series, like “Lunatic Tales” told by aliens who liked the name for themselves since their world had three moons.  Some are stand alone novels, like “Queen’s Curse” about a queen cursed to return over and over and over when her people needed her, because she was not willing when they first cried out for help.  There is “The King’s Niece” who was sent by her village to ask her uncle for a job.  There is “Monsters’ Walk” where four teenagers who consider themselves soulless monsters discover they are the heroes needed by a desperate people, and must accompany the local priestess on her trip to her death.

I have a wide ranging imagination, and keep coming up with story ideas.  Now I just have to get them in writing and ease my crowded mind.

What? Already?

I seem to be saying that a lot lately.  Time just seems to be flying while I’m not looking.  Today I’ve been scrambling from one chore to the next and I suddenly noticed I was really hungry.  Good grief, I thought, I just finished breakfast.  Then I noticed a clock and realized breakfast had been six hours ago.

Due to back and leg problems I have to do a little on my feet, sit a few minutes, then get up and do a little more.  I thought, well, I’ll make my down time productive and try to set up my blog page on WordPress.  Shouldn’t take long.  Riiiiight.  Oh, the to-do list is running long today.

I was going to try to finish the short story I am presently grinding my way through today, but it’s not been happening.  I was going to have the short story collection this story is in finished and up on Kindle by Halloween, but it didn’t happen.  Now I’m trying to get it done by Thanksgiving.  I have people demanding to know when the next book is coming (don’t all authors wish they could say that…) and I just cringe.

I’m trying.  I’m pretty sure I am.  Maybe I’m taking too long doing other things.  But you have to have a clean house, right?  Uh, at least a neat one?  Maybe one that doesn’t violate health laws? Maybe one that doesn’t make my roommate sister yell at me for the nth time?  Self discipline has always been my greatest lack.  It’s why I’m fat, why I’m diabetic, and why my bedroom is an awful mess.  I spent over thirty years working sixty hours a week sitting at a computer and commuting two hours a day.  I should be able to make myself do a few hours a day of work sitting at a computer at home in my pajamas.  Maybe I should try getting dressed, drive around the block couple of times, and set the phone to ring at odd moments and turn on a recording of my sister yelling, “Aren’t you finished with that yet?” to play randomly.  Maybe I should open the short story and write there instead of here.