The Christmas Cat

But first, the paraprosdokian for this season –

Hospitality is the art of making guests feel like they’re at home when you wish they were.

Since we are nearing Christmas, I am reminded of —

The Christmas Cat

It was decided, by whom I have no idea, that the kids would get a cat from Santa. I, who had never had a cat and did not like cats, who was, after all, a “dog” person – who had happily gotten the dog about whom Jamie said, “I think we’ll call him Charlie,” and as far as I knew Jamie had never known anybody named Charlie, and possibly never even heard the name before — was sent to pick up the cat.

The house, no address, turned out to be a clandestine hideout for a member of the FBI or CIA. I was fingerprinted, subjected to search, and interrogated for three hours in a 2×2 room under hot lights, with lie-detector attached, questions being asked over a speaker hidden in the wall above the one-way mirror. No Dr Peppers. Suddenly, the voice stopped, the lights went cold and I sat in darkness. My life, short as it had been at that time, passed before my eyes, though without the lights, I only got a few glimpses of the brighter spots.

Finally, the door opened. I didn’t know what to expect, and was ready for it. Instead, blank sheets attesting to what I had no clue, were thrust under my nose (or perhaps my hand, I am no longer sure) and I was ordered to sign each and initial the back of the first one next to the initials of my interrogator, though his were in invisible ink and I might have actually put mine initials on top of his.

cat-eyeAnd then, the cat was released into my custody.

Little did I know, it was actually a suicide feline, barely out of commando training, who had never been in a car before. With the cat safely inside the car, I had backed up no more than ten feet when Kamikaze Kat was racing around the car, flinging itself against the glass, tearing at the seats and slashing at the driver.

In one of the most incongruous scenes ever video taped by the Agency,cat-2 the cat-unfriendly driver can be seen trying every seducing, soothing, baby-talking line known to mankind in the futile effort to calm down the run-away cat. Finally, by the end of the first block of a 5,000 block trip, the killer kitten settled down, still scared, but feeling somewhat secure by anchoring its claws into the top of the driver’s head. And it remained there for the remainder of the trip

.christmas-kitten

Christmas morning, the terrorist-cat had transmogrified into a small, tame kitten. The kids were thrilled.

 

But the cat was about to get a comeuppance, or a comeapartness. At last, Kristi (after all, the youngest is always last) got her chance to hold the kitten. Being no more experienced than I was, she grabbed it, got the kitten’s neck in the crook of her arm and locked her hands to her chest. The kitten, hanging down, but firmly secured by its head, immediately yelled for help. Older and more experienced sister Kelly came to the aid of the kittencat-3a-in-distress. She tried to take the kitten. Kristi was not about to have her turn commuted to such a short time. She held tightly. Kelly pulled mightily.   The kitten got longer. Only when an adult (who knew a thing or two about kittens and just how long they could be stretched) came to negotiate, did the kitten get off the rack.

Giraffe, Stretch, Longfellow, and The Cat in the Rack were names proposed by the adults. I don’t recall what the kitten was actually named by the kids.

The kids loved the kitten and learned to take special care of it as it grew into a cat. This was definitely a Christmas to remember. And to the day he/she died, I’m sure the kitten remembered it also.

James R. Callan, 2016

The Silver Medallion, A Crystal Moore Suspense
Cover - A Silver Medallion

Unplanned Kindness

But first, a PARAPROSDOKIAN —

Behind every great man is a woman – rolling her eyes.

Unplanned Kindness

Several years ago, we visited Chile. We stayed in Santiago and Vina del Mar for a couple of weeks, then headed south. We wanted to go as far as possible and still have roads back to Santiago.

The flight was in a small plane – one seat on each side of the aisle, maybesmall-plane-1 a sixteen passenger capacity. It delivered newspapers to every small town along the way, so it was up and down continually. Two young girls sat across from my wife and me. They were moving to Puerto Montt. Their father was already there and would meet them at the airport.

On final approach, the older girl, probably twelve, got sick. As the wheels touched down, she threw up. In the terminal, my wife took her to the restroom to help her clean up. The younger girl found her father. I went to rent a car.chile-map

Unplanned best describes our mode of travel. We fly into a city, rent a car, then look for a place to stay. No reservations. Though a bit risky, it always works out and quite often provides more interesting adventures than if we had planned things carefully.

I found Earlene talking with the father. I said there was only one car available and they wanted $250 per day. I was hesitant. The girls’ father said, “If you can wait until tomorrow, I can get you a much less expensive car. Where are you going?”

I said we had planned on going to Puerto Varas (about twenty miles away), but we could certainly stay here tonight.

“I’m going to Puerto Varas. I can take you.”

As we drove toward Puerto Varas, he asked, “Where do you have reservations?”

“We don’t have a reservation, but I’m sure we can find something when we get there,” I said.

“I can help you.”

Thirty minutes later, we were at a lovely lakeside B & B.

“Do you have plans for dinner,” he asked.

“No,” I said. “We’ll walk into the village and find a restaurant.”

“We’re going to Llanguihue for dinner. Why don’t you join us? I can pick you up in forty minutes.”

clake-clearAn hour later we’re in a beautiful tourist village on the shore of a crystal clear lake. He invited us to join his extended family for dinner. We didn’t want to intrude, so we found a different table. After dinner, we told him we were in no rush whatsoever but would wait outside near his car.

“Nonsense. There are very interesting shops along the shore. Wander through them. I’ll find you.”

We did find the shops and the surrounding area interesting. About thirty minutes later, he appeared behind us. As we drove back to our B&B, he gave us many interesting facts about Chile. We felt very fortunate to have joined this man and his daughters.

The next morning, during breakfast, the B&B owner entered and handed me a telephone. Who would be calling me in Chile? The caller wanted to bring a car over for us for our inspection. It a very nice car and only $80 USD per day. We took it.car-red

The father of the two girls went out of his way to be very friendly to a couple of foreigners he did not know. He could not have been more helpful if he had been a life-long friend.

Indeed, there are so many nice, kind, friendly people in the world, if only we are open to see them.

James R. Callan, 2016

Why not leave a comment and tell us about an Unplanned Kindness that happened to you.  It will make all of us feel better.  Thanks.

 

A Legacy

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Today’s guest is Jodie Wolfe.  She has been a semi-finalist in various writing contests.  Her second book, Love in the Seams, was released just three weeks ago.  She and her husband live in Pennsylvania.  Today, she asks what kind of … Continue reading

Christmas is Coming…

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Lillian Duncan is a multi-published writer with several Amazon bestsellers, including The Christmas Stalking and Betrayed. Lillian writes the types of books she loves to read—fast-paced suspense with a touch or two of romance that demonstrates God’s love for all … Continue reading

The Texas Chainsaw …

This week’s paraprosdokian —  Take my advice — I’m not using itchainsaw-1

I have to admit it. I was a city boy. I was raised in Dallas, but have over the years worked my way down until I’m no longer living in a town of any size. Here’s one of the situations that moved me away from being a city boy.

Some years ago, my wife and I moved into the middle of a forest in east Texas. We are surrounded by trees – pines, oaks, and hickories mostly. Our driveway is about three-quarters of a mile long. Our nearest neighbor is about half a mile away as the crow flies and about three miles by road.

One night some years ago, we came home from work, settling in for the night, not expecting to leave before morning. But then, Earlene said, “It’s your birthday. Let go out for a fancy dinner.”

tree-downWe traveled to Tyler, had a leisurely dinner and returned home about nine o’clock. But as we were driving in, a large tree had fallen across our driveway. It was too big for me to move by myself, but between the two of us, we were able to push it off enough to get the car by.

About five in the morning, Earlene woke me. She had severe pain in her abdomen. And it only got worse. So, I helped her into the car and raced to the operating-roomemergency room of the nearby hospital. They quickly determined she had a ruptured appendix and wheeled her into the operating room.

The next afternoon, I was sitting in her room as she slept. Suddenly, my eyes popped open wide. If we had not gone out to dinner, I would have first discovered the tree blocking the road at five in the morning. The tree was too big for me to move by myself. What would I have done?   While I had met a couple of neighbors, miles away, I did not have their phone numbers. I had a small hatchet and a machete. It might have taken me over an hour using only a hatchet to cut through the tree enough to move it .

I checked Earlene. She was sleeping soundly, heavily sedated. I told the nurses I was leaving.

I drove to the nearest farm store and bought my first chainsaw. I would not be trapped in our property without a viable means to get out.

chainsaw-2Now, years later, we have several chainsaws. We always have at least two good, heavy duty,chainsaw-3 working gasoline chainsaws. We have an electric chainsaw for light work close to the house or barn. We have a small chainsaw on a pole for trimming limbs on standing trees.

I have pushed my city boy persona out of the way, and the first shove came about five a.m. on a trip to the emergency room.

James R. Callan

Visit Callan’s author page by clicking here.

And leave us your thoughts on chainsaws. Thanks.

 

The Bolero

But first, the Paraprosdokian of the week —

If you can smile when things go wrong, you have someone in mind to blame.

Yesterday, I was about fifteen minutes from home when I turned on Sirius radio and was fortunate to hear the opening bars of Ravel’s Bolero. I immediately slowed down, not wanting to arrive before the dramatic finish of the piece.

Maurice Ravel wrote the piece at the request of the Russian actress and dancer Ida ravelRubinstein. It premiered at the Paris Opera in November 1928—as a musical selection, with no dance—and, to Ravel’s surprise, was an immediate success. It was reported that he said, “I had written a piece lasting seventeen minutes and consisting wholly of ‘orchestral tissue without music’ — of one very long, gradual crescendo. There are no contrasts, and practically no invention except the plan and the manner of execution.”

But in spite of the composer’s downplay of the piece, it became his most famous work. When Conductor Arturo Toscanini conducted the US premier in 1929, it received shouts and cheers from the audience and a standing ovation.

There are some who say it is too repetitious, monotonous, and uninspired. They are missing the true genius of the Bolero. Ravel created two memorable themes, and then used them to create interest and tension. Yes, the main theme is repeated eighteen times, but with many different instruments picking up this theme with diverse orchestration. At one point, the first theme is played in one key while the second theme is being played in a different key. The piece starts out softly pianissimo and rises in a continuous crescendo to fortissimo possible (very loud). Ravel embellished the themes, altered the presentation, added drama, so that the Bolero leads the listener – propels the listener – to the powerful and dramatic conclusion.

The result is a piece that is dramatic, sensual, powerful. Memorable. Exciting.

While it was originally written for a dancer, it is rarely preformed to bolero-3accompany a dance. An exception to this is a group of young dancers in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the Xiutla Folkloric Dance Group. For its one thousandth performance, famous Spanish dancer Luis Montero was asked to choreograph a dance to The Bolero. He produced a dance that captures of drama and excitement of Ravel’s piece. The group has now preformed this dance many times and it never fails to bring the audience to its feet, cheering, clapping, and asking when the group will perform the dance again so they may attend.

I arrived home before the end of the piece, so I just sat in the car to hear the striking finish. I was not disappointed. That’s part of the power of music. You can hear a piece many times, but the repetition doesn’t diminish the pleasure, the excitement.

Ravel understood that.

If you have listened to the Bolero, give us your thoughts on the music.  Thanks.

James R. Callan, 2016

 

Uber Good

But first, today’s paraprosdokian

  • I’m great at multi-tasking–I can waste time, be unproductive, and procrastinate all at once.  

In September, Pittsburgh, PA became the first U.S. city to have driverless cars used to transport people from one place to another – a service provided by Uber.  (Just one month earlier, nuTonomy offered such a service in Singapore.) Uber, is the world’s largest taxi company. Pittsburgh is significant because it is the home of Carnegie Mellon University, the leading university in robotics. Both the head of the Uber’s driverless auto endeavor and the head of Google’s division for driverless cars (considered the leader in the field) came from the CMU robotics department.

So, a customers in Pittsburgh can call Uber and order a driverless car to come to wherever they are and take them to any other place in the area. For the present, there will be a qualified, human driver sitting in the driver’s seat, ready to take control at any moment should the need arise. For the early part of this experiment, there will also be a second person in the front seat who will have a computer and will take notes on every aspect of the trip.

There is also a computer tablet in the back seat where the customer can offer any comments on the experience.

Initially, Uber will use modified Volvo XC90 sport-utilities outfitted with dozens of sensors, including cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. And while GPS is generally accurate to within ten feet, Uber systems strive for accuracy down to an inch.

Many experts in the autonomous car arena claim that self-driving cars uber-car-copywill ultimately save lives. For now, the efforts in this area are under close scrutiny. Last July, a driver using Tesla’s Autopilot service (not driverless, but driver assisted) was killed when the car collided with a tractor-trailer. The crash is still under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Google has seen a few minor accidents. At present, Google limits its cars to a maximum of 25 miles per hour. Uber has not sustained any accidents since road testing in Pittsburg began in May.

Uber is so committed to this endeavor it  is acquiring Otto, a company working on driverless trucks And it has plans to open two additional R&D centers.

Ford is also working right now to produce cars that would meet Uber’s demands. In a talk several months ago, the head of General Motors predicted they would have completely autonomous cars in production by 2021.

Before too many years, you will be able to order a car to pick you up and drive you to your agent’s office while you put the finishing touches on your manuscript. The car will drop you at the door and go away. When you have signed the contract and are ready to leave, another call will bring a car to the building and take you home.

Last week, I wrote about our robotic vacuum – that actually works. Now, if they would only make a robot that will make the bed and clean the bathroom, we’d be set.

Life just gets better.

James Callan, October 2016

Artificial (not so) Intelligence

Artificial (not so) Intelligence

But first, today’s paraprosdokian seems appropriate.

Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

I haven’t written much in the last couple of days. Why? I’ve been watching a vacuum cleaner. Now this may sound strange to you. Well … it is.

We bought a new robot vacuum. It has a laser to scan the room, memory to keep track of what part it has cleaned already, and the ability to go back and plug itself in when its battery need charging. Not only that, if it cannot clean the entire house on one charge of the battery, after it recharges its battery, it will go back and pick up where it left off and finish the job. You can schedule it to vacuum the floors every Tuesday, or twice a week, or every day if you are a clean freak, or room with Oscar of The Odd Couple..

How’s that sound?robovac

However, …

How do we know if it really cleans every square foot? Our floor is not that dirty. We thought about sprinkling sand all over and then we could tell what got cleaned and what got missed. A sure-fire test. As it began, you could actually see the paths it made through the sand. On the practical side, we would have to stop it and empty its dirt bin pretty often. Yes, it tells us when its dirt bin need emptying. But, what if it didn’t do a good job? We would have all this sand on the floor. Cancel that method.

We have a house a little larger than average. And it takes the little robot five hours to complete the job. That means three trips out the gate with a full charge.

random-walkIt’s not quite as methodical or orderly as a person might be, although this model is not just a random go, bump, try a different direction approach.   So say the ads and directions.   At times, it looks like an organized random method.   So, I am drawn to watch it and see what it is doing. Is it more methodical or more random? Does it cover all areas. (Remember, we decided not to put down the sand.)

At the end of its first battery life, it found its way back to the charge base, got there, turned around and snuggled its behind up to the charge contacts and settle down to be charged. This took about two hours – the charge, not the snuggling bit.

Once charged, it took off again to try to finish the job. I had spent some time having lunch and answering a few e-mails and was just starting to write when I heard it power up, ready to clean. I jumped up to see what it would do.

It had found its way back to where it had left off, and it started to clean. Shortly, it decided to clean under the bed. Now, I know we don’t do that very often. Okay, never. But the little robot decided to do a good job and once it finished, it stopped and displayed a message: “Please clean my dirt bin.” Well, it did say please.

Once the bin was emptied and replaced, the bot was on its way again.Except it didn’t know where to go next. It would turn in a complete circle, then stop and consider thinking-copy(or whatever bots do). Then survey the room again, stop and consider. After several of these, it decided to go left. That was okay, for the bathroom was to the left. It spent ten minutes in the bathroom, then came back to where it had done its contemplating before. And did some more.

You can see why I didn’t get any writing done. I tried talking to it on several (okay, many more than several) occasions. The day was beginning to fade and so was I. So, I paused it, and then instructed it to go back to its charging base. It took off like a shot, perhaps tired of our dirty floors.

It zoomed into the next room and stopped. Again, it displayed that bewilderment it had shown before. Survey 360 degrees, think (or whatever), spin around, cogitate, turn around and consider its options.

In fact, the base was no more than fifteen feet away, in plain view, an easy selection with a laser. Possibly the problem was, not once did I hear it say, “I think I can. I think I can.” And it didn’t.

So, if you’re thinking about buying one, I’d suggest you ask to see its resume or test scores.   I’m going to reset everything and give it another chance tomorrow.

Writing suffers tomorrow.

FREE!  Today, and through Tuesday, the Kindle edition of Cleansed by Fire is free.  Just click here to go to Amazon and download it at zero cost.  It has 63 reviews with an average rating of 4.7 out of 5.0.  You’ll enjoy it, or I’ll give you your money back.

James R. Callan, Oct. 2016

Cover - A Silver Medallion

 

 

 

The Reluctant Heroine

There’s been many pieces written on the amateur sleuth. Quite often, the amateur is pulled into the case and reluctantly takes it on. In my Crystal Moore Suspense Series, Crystal admits the most dangerous thing she ever did was say “no” to a man who never heard the word. And in that incident, she was pulled into the situation against her will. But, she had the will to extract herself, even if at a great cost. However, this is not the main thrust of the book. In fact, this is revealed only when she tells her sidekick about the incident two years later.

As unadventurous as Crystal sees herself, in both of the first two books it is Crystal who pushes herself into harm’s way. a-ton-of-gold-cover-9-1-16

For the main plot line of A Ton of Gold, Crystal jumps into the fray. She gets in the middle of things when she believes someone is trying to kill her grandmother, her only remaining family and the woman who raised her.

My latest book is A Silver Medallion, June 2016. Here, Crystal decides to undertake a dangerous mission to rescue two young girls from a drug lord in the jungles of Mexico. Everyone tries to talk her out of it. Her grandmother, Eula, “who is tough enough to charge hell with a bucket of water”(description of Eula courtesy of a Caleb Pirtle review) tells her it’s a bad idea. Brandi, Crystal’s street-wise sidekick, says she can tell a dumb idea when she smells one. And Crystal’s boss, a former bull rider, tells her it is too dangerous. Lucita, the mother of the two girls is not certain she wants Crystal to go, afraid a mistake might mean harm for the children.

Even Crystal is reluctant. Several times, she convinces herself not to go. But her conscience keeps pulling her back. She is plagues with nightmares about the two young girls and their mother, slaves for the rest of their lives. She tries to think of some other approach. But the circumstances eliminate all of them. Finally, she is convinced if she ever wants to sleep again, or have a normal life, she must go and at least try.

Fortunately, she gets hooked up with mysterious Juan Grande. But if she is successful, she will have two ruthless and powerful men, one in Texas and one in Mexico, who now want her dead.

In A Silver Medallion, as with A Ton of Gold, Crystal enters into the dangerous situations willingly, yet fearfully. She has the unusual combination of reluctance and eagerness. It makes for an interesting and engaging character. She is the kind of character that adds to the joy of writing.

For less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks, or a Blizzard at the Dairy Queen, you can get a digital copy of A Silver Medallion. And as one reviewer on Amazon said, “Once I began reading it, putting it down became the challenge.”

Or from the BookLife Prize in Fiction, Critic’s Report: “reads like a gold-medal thriller from page one.”

A Silver Medallion on Kindle at: http://amzn.to/1WxoEaF

A Silver Medallion in paperback at: http://amzn.to/28LIdWs

Cover - A Silver MedallionETWG Contest Award -ASM