Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Chuck's New Year's Resolution - No Eating of Raw Antiguan Salamanders

A view of the lovely beach at Blue Waters, Antigua

It’s a tradition in our family that we make New Year’s Resolutions, and we take that tradition very seriously.  Life will be better, we believe, if we strive to be better ourselves.

Chuck, our rascal cat, is not excluded from this tradition.

Usually we begin this thought-provoking endeavor well in advance of New Year’s Day.  We know we need time to think about how we want our life to change.

What we didn’t anticipate was how our visit to Antigua, a small island in the Caribbean, would influence us, but it did.

The magnificent flight of the pelican of the waters

Our patio, infinity pool, and view of the ocean in Antigua

Imagine a beautiful tropical island where pelicans fly overhead and  form large circles, then swoop over blue blue water in search of their prey, and dive head first, straight and true.  Refreshing Caribbean breezes blow in from the sea to offset the warm temperatures.  The sun shines brightly.  Blooming red roses surround you.  You lay on your chaise lounge and gaze out over your infinity pool to the ocean.  And do nothing.  At home you would never do nothing.  But here, enjoying the beauty of nature is a worthwhile endeavor.

The lovely all inclusive resort we stayed at while in Antigua

The main dining area is outside, overlooking the ocean

We stayed at an all inclusive resort called Blue Waters.

As we rode in from the airport, we noticed that the houses were smaller than most houses in the states.  Many of the people collect their own drinking water on their roofs because the environment is cleaner. Most have gardens where they grow their own fruits and vegetables.  They raise chickens.  We were told life is simpler here, and that the people were more self-sufficient.

Typical colorful, quaint Antiguan house on the island

We passed a lot of churches.  The people of Antigua have a strong faith.

We passed a lot of fruit and vegetable stands.  Many of the people are enterprising and open up small stands to sell the excess from their gardens to their neighbors.  On the weekends, many people will also do barbecue.  The meat is put on the barbecue early Friday morning, cooked all day so that it is ready to be sold and/or eaten Friday night and into the weekend.

Chuck loved Antigua.  From the  moment we arrived, he loved the sun, the chaise lounges, and the “do nothing,” enjoy nature aspect of the place.

Two days into our visit, when Sally the Salamander appeared, you could say Chuck was in his glory.  He spotted her immediately, and in a flash leaped off the chaise.

“Chuck.  Stop.  Now.”

But my words made no difference.  Chuck saw her and he wanted her.

Chuck's first sight of Sally the Salamander

Now let me make all the positions of all the parties perfectly clear.

Sally the Salamander didn’t trust Chuck.  When Chuck jumped down from the chaise, Sally sincerely believed Chuck was coming after her for dinner.

Chuck’s position was he only jumped down to investigate.  After all, he doesn’t see a lot of salamanders in New Jersey.  He saw Sally and wanted to sniff around and find out everything he could about her.

I believed Sally more than I believed Chuck.

Especially when Chuck extended his paw and tried to snatch Sally by the tail.

I reached down to grab Chuck just as Sally slithered off.

Chuck's last sight of Sally, as she slithered away--up a wall--to freedom

Sally was safe.  Chuck was exasperated.

I plopped him down on the chaise.  “New Year’s Resolution time.  What will it be, Chuck?  What will your New Year’s Resolution be?”

Chuck, of course, said nothing.

I offered him a model.  “I’ve been really impressed by Antigua.  I’m going to change my eating habits.  More fresh fruits and veggies from now on.  I’m going to eat like the Antiguans.  That’s my number one New Year’s Resolution.  What about you?”

Chuck said nothing.

“Here’s my suggestion,” I said, my mouth close to his ear, “No eating of raw Antiguan salamander.”

Chuck shrugged.

He’s a rascal cat and will always be a rascal cat.


       My paranormal romance, Wild Point Island, is now available in ebook and mass market paperback
from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Home for the Holidays - A Brief Respite from Sadness

My house, all decorated and lit up--home for the holidays
        My heart is broken.

When President Obama uttered those words, I thought he could not have better described how I felt when I heard about the massacre at Newtown, Connecticut.  

I was stunned and horrified.  I cried and even now well up everytime I  hear someone from the town being interviewed or see an image of a funeral for one of the children or hear about the heroism of one of the staff who so selflessly gave their life to help stop what they clearly knew was about to occur. 

Our Christmas--our holiday season--is tainted this year by the act of one man, and I am struggling to return to some sense of calm, some sense of joy. 

Hot Blogging with Chuck is usually about Chuck and his antics.  

So I will briefly push aside my grief and my anger and tell a little story . . .

This year we are home for the holidays.  And even though Chuck is a cat, a rascal cat, he takes the time every year to draw up his list of what he wants from Santa Claus, hoping against hope that Santa will grant his wish.

Now, knowing Chuck the way you do--if you are a faithful reader of this blog--his wants usually include food -- SNACKS -- and last Christmas he was over the moon with happiness when Santa slid down the chimney and brought a box filled with bags of Temptations, which are Chuck’s favorite SNACK.

But since then, Chuck has put on the pounds, and Bob and I have tried (a bit in vain I have to admit) to put Chuck on a diet.  We’ve tried to limit the SNACKS on a daily basis.  Portion them out, so to speak.  

It’s not been easy for Chuckie has a bit of a homing device imbedded inside his system. He seems to be able to detect a SNACK anywhere in the house being given out to any cat.  
So, for example, if his sister Ella wants a SNACK or Jack or Molly or Stanley (his older cat brother) and Chuck is in another part of the house, somehow Chuck, with the help if his extra sensory sonar, is there across the house in a flash.  And how can I deny my rascal cat??

Anyway, this Christmas we told Chuck that SNACKS were off the list of possibilities from Santa.  He had to come up with another idea.  

Oh yeah, he pouted for a bit but then . . . his eyes kind of glowed . . . and he found a picture in a magazine of what he wanted.

Besides eating SNACKS and playing, Chuck loves to nap.  Usually he naps on the rug at the top of the stairs.  All sprawled out.  On his back, his paws positioned in a weird kind of yoga pose.  Actually he looks like he’s meditating. 

Chuck decided he wanted his own comfy bed.

When he's not on the rug, Chuck shares a chaise lounge with his older cat brother Stanley.
And not only did he pick out his bed, but he pointed where he wanted the bed placed . . . right near one of our heaters in the room where I do most of my writing.  

Chuck's Christmas present

This kid is so SPOILED.

Well, as you can see by the photo above, Chuck got his wish.  No, we didn’t wrap the bed in wrapping paper and put it under the tree.  Bob and I aren’t that crazy, but we did find a big basket and fill it with a comfy pillow-like substance that cats love and then--just as Chuck desired--we placed the basket underneath my Colonial desk, near a heater.  

Well, the kid jumped in and snuggled and purred because he got his heart’s desire.

This is Chuck's initial look of "What do we have here?"
But then he settled in and got nice and comfy.
Everything was fine until Chuck left his bed to get a snack.  Immediately, Ella popped over and began sniffing around.  

Home for the holidays and everything seemed okay again for the moment.

For the moment I forgot my sadness.

From our house to your house, I wish you small moments of joy such as these as you move through this holiday season.

Happy Holidays!

        My paranormal romance, Wild Point Island, is now available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.  It is part romance, part mystery, and part adventure.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Newtown Massacre - As the Terror Unfolds

Flags are being flown at half mast to honor the victims of the Newtown Massacre

      I write an exotic travel blog and usually relate the somewhat humorous adventures of my rascal cat, Chuck.

But this week I feel compelled to break with tradition.

We are home for the holidays--safe and warm--snug--our entire family together--all the humans and all the kitties (Chuck and his siblings: Stanley, Jack, Molly and Ella).

And, today, more than ever I appreciate and cherish that fact.  

Because this week something terrible happened in this great country of ours.  A young man used force to enter Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and then used a semi-automatic rifle to shoot in cold blood the students--the children--in a kindergarten class. Two other students-children--in the school were also shot and later died at the local hospital.  His mother was also found shot in their home.  Six adults--the principal, teachers and a counselor were also murdered during what most are calling a massacre.  

Images of school

At this point in the investigation--no one knows why this young man, who has been identified as Adam Lanza, did it.  But the reality is that with less than two weeks before Christmas, parents sent their sons and daughters to school that morning, and these children will not be coming home.  

I’m a writer now, but I was an elementary school principal for eight years in New Jersey. What happened today would describe my worst fear when I was principal.  To lose even one child on your watch is inconceivable.  The parents of the children in your building send the people they love most in the world to you and expect that you will be able to protect them.  In the eyes of the law, the principal and teachers are “in locus parentis” or the “replacement parents”.  

But in the society that we now live, can we really protect them?
Most of the people reporting the news seemed surprised to learn that even in the elementary school, the students practice what is called “lock down drills” on a regular basis.  They practice how to react if an intruder with a weapon enters the school and threatens harm.  The teachers know to lock their classroom doors, shut out the lights, and do everything they can to keep the children quiet so that if someone is in the school, they will pass by the classroom.  

     This is the reality of the world we live in. 

When I was principal, I can clearly remember the day we instituted “lock down drills” in our school.  It required planning and training of the staff.  We needed to notify the parents and explain why we were taking such steps.  We worked in concert with the police. This action followed the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.   

Another harsh reality is that most elementary schools keep their doors locked.  A visitor must buzz the front door, announce themselves and then wait for the front door to be unlocked by the front office staff before they can enter.  Then the visitor is expected to report to the front office.  Of course, all of these attempts to control who enters the building are dependent on the visitor’s cooperation.  There is nothing to stop someone from running down the hallway at break neck speed once they are “buzzed in,” with a concealed weapon.

Or from, as in the case of Adam Lanza, using the weapon they bring with them to break through the glass in the front of the school and force their way into the building.

Assault style rifle -- plastic toy version , but it still looks menacing

A visitor can come to the front door of the school and say they are someone in the bulding’s cousin or neighbor--come to pick them up for an appointment.  Usually they are “buzzed into the building,” before their name is checked on the student’s card which lists the names of people who are approved to take the child home. 

In the winter time, it is all too easy to conceal a gun inside a coat.  Most elementary schools do not have metal detectors at the front doors.  

Children do not remain inside the building all day long.  They go outside for recess during lunch time and often go outside for gym.  School grounds are easily accessible, especially the schools that are located in suburban communities.  Few have walls or fences separating the grounds from the outside world.  Schools were not designed to be prisons.  

There is  another fact that was always glaringly apparent to me as a principal.  Weapons are not permitted on school grounds.  So as a principal or staff member you can not come into the building, even with your legally purchased gun.  So, literally, the school is a “weapon free zone” until a quote “bad person” breaks that code.  Now that bad person is the only one with the weapon.  The only recourse you have in the building once you realize that someone with a weapon has entered your building is to go into “lock down mode” and contact the police.  

That’s what happened in Connecticut.

Unfortunately, a lot of damage can be done with a semi-automatic rifle before the police arrive.  A lot of lives can be taken.  

A handgun - again a toy, but doesn't it look real?

I cried when I heard about the shootings in Newton, Connecticut.  I felt so sorry for the parents of the children whose lives were taken.  I felt so sorry for the children who were part of that horrible nightmare.  Their lives will never be the same.  I cried for the staff who lost their lives.  Dedicated people who, no doubt, felt so helpless in the most horrible of situations.  

I must admit that I faced the possibility that someone would try to enter my building and do that very same thing for eight years.   You try not to think about it, but the possibility is always there.  And what would I have done?  If I were in my office and suddenly an intruder came in with guns and assault like rifles, intent on shooting the children.  And you have no weapon at your disposal.  Nothing.  You are like a sitting duck.  You go into “lock down mode.”  You call the police.   Do you wait or do you try and stop the person?

Which is worse?  To be shot or to survive and then face the parents and tell them that their children have been killed? 

So many innocent children.  And the adults who tried to protect them.  

I know there are no easy answers when we ask--how do we prevent these incidents from occurring in the future?

But I do hope, that we Americans will be willing do something so that all these lives that were taken were not taken in vain. 

Let’s start with a serious conversation about . . .

     Let’s do it for the children and the adults who were in the school that morning, doing what they were supposed to do.

No one had the right to come in and murder them.

We shouldn’t make it so easy for it to happen again, and we all know it will happen again.    

Kate Lutter's debut novel Wild Point Island was just published in June 2012 and is available from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com.  

Two young girls--aged 10--are banished from their hometown and their father is taken and imprisoned.  Now twenty years later, they return on a rescue mission.  Wild Point Island is a tale of romance, mystery, adventure and intrigue.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Chuck Marches in "Italian-Syle" Parade

Sometimes, without even planning a thing, you can end up in the  middle of a unique cultural experience that you would never be able to arrange even if you wanted to:
Case in point.
Chuck and I arrived in Palermo and I mean . . . we literally arrived that day, checked into our hotel, unpacked our bags and decided to go for a walk to really see the city, so to speak.  We stepped out of our hotel in this wonderful city and decided to walk down to the water--a few short blocks away.
And then it happened.  
We were smack in the middle of a parade.  

A very colorful and glorious parade.  Loud and enthusiastic. 
It seemed that no matter where we walked, we intersected with this parade of people who seemed to be marching across the entire city.  At first, I was a bit concerned.  We didn’t want to get in the way.  But then I realized  it didn’t matter. Spectators were more than welcome to join the line and march in the street.  Soon it seemed that there were more people marching than there were people watching.  

Pretty cool.
And Chuck didn’t seem to mind either.  Even though he spotted a rather large dog, marching along.  Or maybe because he saw the dog, he figured he should represent the CAT population.  After all, cats have an open mind, just like DOGS.   

When you’re in a foreign country, you want to get a feel for the place--you want to participate in the day to day activities. Eat at the local restaurants.  Order the local cuisine.  Visit the local supermarket.  Stop in at the department stores.  See a show.  I love to settle into a place for as long as I can.  
Years ago I spent some weeks in Florence studying Italian at a school there with a good friend.  We rented an apartment in the historic district and really got to know the place--the local supermarket, the bus stops, the little trattorias, the department store across town.  We even frequented the dollar store.  And, yeah, we did the touristy things.  After all, we were in Florence and everytime I’m there, I have to go and see the David and visit the Santa Croce Church, but it’s those other things that I enjoy, too.  We got to know the shopkeepers and the deli owners.  
This time Chuck and I had returned to Italy.  To Sicily.  To Palermo.  On the very day when the citizens where marching for Gay Pride.  Chuck joined in.

        After we’d marched for awhile, I turned to Chuck and tried to convince him to leave the parade.  I was tired.  But the kid was enjoying himself.  
        Finally, I got a brainstorm.  "Chuck, what about a gelato?"
        The parade had made it's way down to the water, and along the water's edge were many small eateries and gelaterias.  

          No one can resist gelato, the Italian version of our icecream, but, oh, it's so much better!  Certainly not Chuck.  We left the parade.   No drama.  No running away.  This time.  Yeah.
           So off we went in search of the perfect gelato!
           Log onto www.katelutter.com for more Chuck adventures.
           Wild Point Island, my paranormal romance, is now available in ebook and mass market paperback at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Chuck Has Almost Run-In With Castle Ghosts


            Chuck had had enough.
That is the only way to explain what happened next.
Here we were--in the oldest of places--our bellies filled with the most delicious pastries--and about to embark down a deliciously narrow stone street to see not one, but two ancient castles, when Chuck . . .
Well, let me start from the beginning.
Erice.  When you arrive and spend some time here, you feel like this place has been around forever.  Ancient city.  It looks old.  And you almost begin to believe that you really can walk down a narrow street, slip into a deserted alleyway, or slide under an archway and somehow you’ll be transported to another place and another time.  
If such a thing is possible, it will happen here in Erice.
We left Maria Grammatico’s excellent pasticceria and mosied on down to where the center of the city ends, to where you can gaze over the mountain to the magnificent vistas below--to where still sit--in all their splendor--two castles--two feudal style castles: Pepoli Castle and Venus Castle.  

The Pepoli Castle, with its distinctive medieval characteristics, was built on a foundation dating back to Arab times.  It was a feudal stronghold in its day, and we hold onto that fact even though today it’s an hotel. 
The Venus Castle was built on the ruins of the ancient Temple of Venus and dates from the Norman period.  
Both castles are striking in appearance.  These are not Hollywood reproductions of what castles should look like--they are real castles and they have all the structural and decorative details that make a castle a castle:  You can immediately spot the inner and outer courtyards.  There is a knight’s house and the proverbial guard tower and keep.  There is, of course, the outer wall with the gatehouse that one must pass through to get inside.  The outerwall has a notched battlement.  There is a ramp wall that cuts across the length of the castle and was built to protect the inner courtyard if the gatehouse was ever breached.  

All castles, of course have their coat of arms in plain sight.  These two castles also sport gothic windows and a hoard for authenticity.  

Chuck took one glance at the castles and it was clear by the way he continued to stare, that he wanted to go into the castles.  And why not?  Cats love to sniff around, and as I mentioned before, their keen sense of smell is invaluable in a time like this.  Chuck would be able to sniff, sniff, sniff and learn the entire history of the castle.  
All the stories of all the people who lived in the castle would be his.  
It would be like reading a novel.  
So who could blame him?
That’s when it happened.
Without uttering a MEOW, Chuck took off . . . his oversized belly swaying under him . . . in the direction of Venus Castle, and I followed.
         He disappeared almost immediately into an elongated alley that seemed like a tunnel.

“Chuck,” I called out.
But when the kid sets his mind to something, nothing can dissuade him.
Within minutes I was out of breath, but I continued to run after him.  I could see him up ahead, making a beeline for the castle.  And then he stopped.  
He was just feet away from the gatehouse. There was nothing stopping him from strutting inside. But something had stopped him.
Finally I caught up to him.
“Chuck.”I whisked him into my arms and stared hard into his whiskered face.
His eyes said it all. He’d seen something.
“What? What was it?”
But just as impetuously as it began, his need to see the castle dissipated like so much smoke in the wind.  
A ghost?  Had the rascal cat actually seen a ghost lurking about?
What else could it have been that sent the fear of God in him?
I’d never know.  

         As we slowly made our way down the mountain from Erice, Chuck refused to talk about it, meow about it, give any hint that he’d seen anything out of the ordinary.  
“Why did you change your mind about going into that castle,” I asked him one more time.  
He shook his head.   
“Chuck, did you see something.  A ghost?”
He shook his head.
But I didn’t believe him.  Not for a minute.

        Log onto www.katelutter.com to read more adventures about Chuck.
        My paranormal romance, Wild Point Island, is now available in ebook and mass market paperback from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com.