Relax – It’s Not Real

I tell myself that I don’t watch “reality” television shows with their fake drama and concocted conflict. After all, I have avoided all episodes of Honey Boo-boo, The Real Housewives of Fill in the Blank and The Hoarders.

I have, however, watched most episodes of the home improvement shows, or “house porn” as my husband calls them. Like their cousins, these “reality” shows are divorced from true reality. On these shows, paint dries instantly, all carpentry projects are completed perfectly the first time, and building permits are approved without problems.

Of course, they do encounter some setbacks in the course of removing walls and building new additions to the eight hundred square cottage so it will comfortably accommodate a family of twelve. In order to heighten conflict, the problems that do occur are usually unforseen, leading to a budget crisis. After all, how could anyone every suspect that the one hundred year old house had crumbling clay pipes that would necessitate the complete and costly replacement of the entire drainage system?

With the magic of time-lapse photography, the renovation is completed in  forty-five minutes, the time allotted to the program. Of course the boring parts, the real parts, are left out entirely.

In spite of all of this, I find the home improvement “reality” programs relaxing. Why? Probably because the “reality” shows that focus on relationships rarely resolve conflicts and the participants are often injured, emotionally and sometimes physically. If the conflicts were resolved, the series would be cancelled.

In contrast, the end result of the home improvement show is that a couple, or a family, end up with a home that they like. Usually, no one is injured, conflicts have been resolved and the viewer gets some insight into what it takes to product a work of art – the home. Definitely a happy ending.


   The Masters of Relaxation At Home

The Masters of Relaxation At Home



Fred – The Interview

One of my current favorite mystery series is Mary Daheim’s Alpine series. Her major character is Emma Lord, the owner, publisher and editor of a small weekly newspaper, The Alpine Advocate. At the end of one of the books, Mary Daheim ‘interviews’ Emma Lord. It was great. What a wonderful way to explore a character.

Although I write children’s chapter books, not mysteries for adults, with this post, I’m following in Mary Daheim’s footsteps. I am interviewing my major character, Fred. Fred, an unusually talented horse, works at Happy Trails Riding Stable. He speaks Human, and in his off hours, writes a blog designed to help his fellow critters with everyday problems. Fred is the major character in four yet-to-be-published chapter books for six to nine-year olds; The Almost True Story of the Fredblog, The Mysterious Mr. X, New Adventures and The Big Storm.

I interviewed Fred in his stall at Happy Trails Riding Stable. In order to maintain privacy, Happy Trails and Dude Ranch co-owners Mr. Branson and Sandy Rhoads requested that no photos or drawings of Fred or Happy Trails be included in this interview. I agreed. Usually a horse of few words, Fred graciously talked about his life at Happy Trails and his special talents.

J: Fred, thank you for talking with us today.

Fred: My pleasure.

J: This is a remarkable place. Is this where you write the Fredblog?

Fred: Yes it is.

J: Can you tell us how the Fredblog came about?

Fred: After I was fired from my job at the Dude Ranch, I was sent to Happy Trails. I was scared. I just lost my home and my friends. I didn’t know if I could succeed at Happy Trails and I still wanted to help my friends.

J: I understand you were fired because you neglected your job to help your friends.

Fred: Yes, that’s true, but the fact that I spoke Human was also a factor. My boss, Mr. Branson, was concerned that the Dude Ranch guests might find out I could talk. If that happened, it would be really hard to keep the Dude Ranch operating.

J: How to you feel about Mr. Branson now?

Fred: We are good friends. My new boss, Sandy, is Mr. Branson’s business partner. I know I made mistakes at the Dude Ranch and I let Mr. Branson down. I was very young and I just didn’t know how to help my friends and still do my job. I’ve learned a lot since then. If Mr. Branson hadn’t sent me to Happy Trails, I might be stuck working at some carnival by now.

J: Tell us about the Fredblog.

Fred: Happy Trails has some remarkable critters. Sandy, of course, is a very understanding boss. On my first day, Sandy found out I could speak Human. She introduced me to Sam Bordercollie, her dog. He not only spoke Human, he was Sandy’s technology expert. An absolute genius. I was still looking for some way to help my critter friends with their everyday problems. I tried a few things that backfired, then Sam, Sandy and I hit upon the idea of my writing a blog. Sandy’s brother sends Sandy all sorts of computers and technology. Sam and Sandy set up the computer and Sam taught me how to use it. I write once a week, after trail duty. We’ve had a few glitches, but we’ve worked through it.

J: Has your ability to speak Human been a help or a hindrance?

Fred: A little of both, I guess. Early on, Sandy, Sam and I agreed we would keep our special talents a secret from the outside world and that has sometimes been a challenge. None of us wanted the Dude Ranch or Happy Trails to be swamped with people coming to see the talking dog or horse. You can’t run a ranch that way. What we all wanted, and still want, is to keep Happy Trails and the Dude Ranch the quiet, peaceful places they are. It’s our home.

On the other hand, both Sam and I have been able to let Sandy and Mr. Branson know when there is some danger they might not have yet seen or heard. Both dogs and horses have great senses of hearing and sight.

J: Is there anything you have learned from your experiences you want our readers to know?

Fred: When I was little, my dad used to tell me, “You can’t win a race if you don’t run.” That puzzled me for a while, but then dad was a racehorse. I came to understand that what he meant is you have to try things, even if they don’t work out the way you want them to. I think he was right.

My mom always told me you have to own up to your mistakes. I know she was right.

J: Fred, I see you have a trail ride to prepare for. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today.

Fred: You’re welcome, ma’m.



A New Discovery and an Old Favorite

The New Discovery

First the new (to me) discovery. For any pre-published writer, a visit to the blog Writers In The Storm is essential. This blog has been around for a while, so it is well-developed. it features guest bloggers as well as regular contributors and focuses on the writing process. Some recent posts include guest blogger James Preston (5+ Tips to Keep You Writing), Orly Konig-Lopez (What I Learned About Submissions as a Reader For An Agent), guest blogger Susan Spann (What Should An Author Expect From An Agent?) and Laura Drake (Small Edits Can Make a BIG Difference). Lots of useful information from a group of talented writers. You can find them at

The Old Favorite

Seeking refuge from our usual late July valley weather (106+ temperature. low humidity, stagnant air), we went to Santa Cruz for five days. The almost thirty-degree temperature drop, cool foggy mornings and warm, not hot, afternoon sun was a good antidote. We spent time reading, walking and site seeing in and around the Pacific Garden Mall. There are lots of good, small restaurants, several great bookstores and unique coffee shops. A small movie theater about two block off Pacific Street is a favorite of ours. Lulu’s has great coffee, food and a small garden patio at the back. People sit, sip coffee, read and even write there! Book Shop Santa Cruz is wonderful to explore.

In 1989 the Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed several of the older brick buildings on the Pacific Garden Mall. At least one person on Pacific Garden Mall died in the earthquake.

A view of Pacific Street, Pacific Garden Mall Santa Cruz

A view of Pacific Street, Pacific Garden Mall Santa Cruz

One of several sculptures on the Mall, this one shows a musician we often heard on the mall. Not your typical musician, he played the saw.

The front window of the Book Shop Santa Cruz. They feature local authors.

For a couple of years after, parts of the area looked pretty grim. It was good to see an area we have visited many times over the years looking healthy and vibrant.