Friday, November 28, 2008
After retiring from thirty years of full-time teaching I decided to write a mystery novel. As my wife and I were returning to campus one day, and just as we rose to the crest of the hill on the bypass that looks down on campus, she said, “It looks peaceful enough, but it’s a wonder that someone hasn’t been murdered.”
What? A murder in the ivory tower? It’s not really far fetched given the bitterness that often pervades relationships in any organization, and a university is no different. What might lead to murder, I asked myself. Denial of tenure? Fear of disclosure of a falsified academic record? Threats to make public plagarism in academic publications? Jealousy? Sex? Money?
I had written several textbooks, edited collections of essays, and published journal articles, but I knew that trade publishing would be a whole different thing. I searched all the usual reference books for agents whose interests reflected those of my book and began to collect rejection slips. After the number of those exceeded twenty, I began to think there must be a better way. A friend, who worked in book retailing, referred me to a press that he thought might be interested in my book, and I received a nice rejection letter stating that the book was not for them but seemed to the editor there to be perfect for the Mysterious Press imprint of St. Martin’s Press. I sent them a query and was told that they only considered submissions from agents. So, back to square one.
After concluding that agents were looking for the next John Grissom or David Baldacci, I looked for options. One was to publish part of the book on line and hope that after reading the free chapters interested persons would buy the rest of the book, download it and print it out. The complexities of that approach soon deterred me. I wanted to do something that would get the book noticed by a trade house and bypass the writer-editor-publisher track, so I turned to self-publishing.
We all have seen the vanity press ads: “Publisher seeks authors; Publication guaranteed,” and the result is a basement full of unsold books. And who wants to have the tarnish of vanity publication? Getting past that was difficult, but I became convinced that self-publication is different, especially when I found out that iUniverse was owned by Barnes & Noble. One can purchase several different publishing packages from iUniverse, even including editing services. All offer a reader’s report; mine, I am happy to report, got an “editor’s choice” award, and after publication I purchased several advertising opportunities, again hoping to get noticed.
Self-publishing as practiced by iUniverse is publishing on demand. Order the books, and they print them up and ship them out. I have a listing for Murder Most Academic on Barnes & Noble.com, and anyone can order a copy there, as several readers did. The thing about self-publishing is that the author has to do the work of promotion and marketing, which iUniverse aids by offering extensive marketing manual, bookmarks and business cards. The iUniverse contract gives the copyright to the owner and encourages its authors to land contracts with trade publishers.
I have no quarrel with iUniverse; they did everything they promised to do, but my book never got noticed by a trade house. It is my own fault, I’m sure, as I never got into the spirit of self-promotion and marketing. However, it was fun to see the book in print. I bought copies for family and friends, and I have never regretted the decision to self-publish.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
I'm from Oklahoma and my family's food of choice is a variety of traditional Southern dishes with some Tex-Mex and barbeque thrown in for good measure. At Thanksgiving we have roasted turkey, baked ham studded with cloves, cornbread and sage dressing, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, green bean casseroles, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry relishes, Jell-O molds, homemade yeast rolls, a variety of pies (at least one being pumpkin) and iced tea.
Iced tea is a staple in the South. No household is without it. I grew up drinking iced "sweet tea." You might have to reach a certain age to drink coffee, but "sweet tea" was deemed suitable for all ages. Babies were given bottles filled with the sweet, cold liquid.
Some time in the late 70s, the custom changed to unsweetened tea or artificially sweetened tea. But I've noticed in the last five years or so, "sweet tea" seems to be making a comeback. If you walk into a restaurant in Oklahoma today, you'll be offered a choice. I sweeten my tea with Equal now, but I remember the sweet tea of my childhood with great fondness.
To fix sweet tea – boil about six or seven cups of water, then add three large Lipton family-sized tea bags. Let the tea seep for 20 minutes, remove the bags. Pour the still hot mixture into a pitcher containing 1 to 1 ½ cups of sugar. (I have heard of people boiling the seeped tea and sugar, but that's not how I learned to make it). Stir well. Add cold water to make one gallon of liquid. We would make one or two gallons of tea a day, sometimes more if we were expecting company.
One of my favorite Thanksgiving side dishes is the following:
1 pound of cranberries
1 orange, peeled
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 cup of drained pineapple
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup chopped apple
1 cup of sugar, or less according to taste
2 packages of cherry, or raspberry gelatin
Put orange and cranberries through food chopper. Mix orange-cranberry mixture with nuts, pineapple, lemon juice, apple and sugar. Dissolve gelatin in 2 cups hot water. When gelatin has cooled slightly, add fruit mixture and combine. Pour into molds and chill until set. Serves 12.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Take one can of pumpkin pie mix.
Add two eggs.
Add one 5-oz can of condensed milk.
Mix together. Throw in a prepared pie shell. Bake until done. Don’t tell anyone that you didn’t make it from complete scratch. Opening the cans DOES count.
And if that doesn’t make you feel better or help with the family dynamics, here’s my favorite cosmopolitan recipe:
4 parts any kind of vodka
2 parts Triple Sec
2 parts cranberry juice (great for urinary tract health!)
1 part fresh lime juice
Eat all of the pumpkin pie. Wash down with a cosmopolitan (or three). Happy Thanksgiving!
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
My Aunt Flossie always made these and brought them to Thanksgiving dinner when we lived in Oxnard and then after we moved to Springville and continued to have Thanksgiving at our house with all of our relatives–my whole family and my sister’s family.
When my sis moved to Las Vegas along with all of her children, Auntie and my cousin and family went there for Thanksgiving. (I guess Las Vegas was a bigger draw than little Springville.) We still had plenty of guests for Thanksgiving dinner right here–but with I had to take over the cooking of the sweet potatoes and green beans along with cooking the turkey, dressing, and gravy. Fortunately, the guests contributed salads and desserts.
I’d like to share these two recipes. I’m a dash of this and a dash of that cook, so you aren’t going to get exact ingredients. I also like to find the easiest ways of doing things–so both these recipes are simple as well as yummy.
My auntie always used fresh green beans but I made life simpler by using frozen green beans. How many bags depends upon how many people you’re going to serve and whether you want left-overs or not. I cooked the green beans sort of by the package directions but I added cut-up pieces of bacon–so they really are over-cooked to make sure the bacon got done and really flavor the beans. Again, how many fresh mushrooms you want to use depends upon how many people–and how well you like mushrooms. Slice the mushrooms and stir into the beans–you can cook on low for awhile. Actually, this dish gets better the longer it is cooked. (Probably there aren’t many vitamins left–but it’s really good.) You could make this the day before and reheat on Thanksgiving.
For the sweet potatoes–I buy the yellow sweet potatoes, not the orange yams. Put them in a big pan with water and cook until you can pierce them easily with a fork. (Be careful though, you don’t want to cook them into mush.) Allow them to cool, then peel off the skins. Slice in half.
Put in a pan along with lots of butter and about a cup of brown sugar. Cook slowly to melt the butter, stir gently. Or...you can do this the day before and put the sliced sweet potatoes, chunks of butter and the brown sugar into a casserole to cook on Thanksgiving. Yummy! I like these so much better than the yam recipes. (But I also like baked sweet potatoes with butter.)
And for the dessert, these cookies are a pain to make, but oh are they good. My mom made them during WWII when sugar was rationed, and we only got one small bar to eat each evening.
Congo Cookies (This is a bar cookie)
Sift 2 3/4 flour with 2 ½ tsp. baking power and ½ tsp salt. Mix in 2/3 C shortening with 2 1/4 C brown sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla with 3 beaten eggs, mix altogether with 1 C of chopped nuts and a 7 or 8 oz. package of chocolate chips. Pour it all into a greased oblong baking pan, bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35 minutes or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the middle of the cookies comes out clean. When they’re done you can cut them into whatever size chunks you please.
And that’s my contribution to our Thanksgiving favorites.
Monday, November 24, 2008
All this week The Stiletto Gang is sharing Thanksgiving memories and recipes. We hope you’ll share with us your favorite holiday story and dish.
Six years ago my mother-in-law, a lovely, generous woman, had a severe heart attack that left her wheelchair-bound. It was hard for her – for all of us – to adjust to this new reality. But despite her physical frailities, what never changed was her commitment to family, especially her grandchildren.
Holiday traditions, those that we often think are etched in stone, had to be tossed aside that November. She couldn’t travel to our home, as she had for years, to help make the turkey and all the fixings. Instead, we drove to Baltimore, stayed in an over-priced, undersized hotel room, and ate at a nearby restaurant. Instead of turkey, I had filet of flounder. Instead of sweet potato casserole, I had Caesar salad. Instead of apple pie a la mode, I had an éclair.
I wasn't sure what to think. But then I stopped focusing on what we didn't have and looked around the table. I saw my children and their grandmother laughing and enjoying one another with such love and devotion. The Thanksgiving menu was from an alternate universe – but the Thanksgiving emotions were the same. We were indeed blessed and thankful.
Best wishes for a joyous holiday!
Sweet Potato Casserole
6 sweet potatoes
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter
Boil sweet potatoes until tender. Drain and mash.
Mix in brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter.
Pour into ovenproof casserole.
Can be made ahead and frozen at this point. The night before serving, defrost in the refrigerator. Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, top with marshmallows and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Maybe it was the appearance of roses still on one of the bushes that got me thinking about buds. More likely it was my subconscious working overtime, always trying to figure out ways to improve myself. When it comes to my brain and the things it conjures up, I have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy; but I’m glad it tossed out the “nip it” idea regardless.
I’m already thinking of the ways nipping it can alleviate a lot of the stress I cause myself. Like when it comes to small injustices that inspire me to fight instead of back down. My grandfather was of the mind that “if it’s only money, it’s not worth it.” My husband feels the same. But I’m dogged when it comes to unfair situations, like companies that have been incompetent or unethical. I’ve cried writing three-page letters detailing work gone wrong or unfounded overcharges. I spent countless hours on the phone dealing with my medical insurance and bills not covered when I went through breast cancer treatment. Have you dealt with the health care industry these days? It’s a lot like running in circles, and it made me exhausted and upset during a time when I needed to heal. Wish I’d been smart enough then to just to nip it in the bud by settling things quickly.
Another stress-inducer: my looooong memory. My husband remarked the other morning, “You don’t forget anything, do you?” Okay, not much, which is one of my problems and a big reason I need to practice more nipping. I can recall conversations verbatim from decades before. I remember the good and the bad, people I’ve loved and who’ve done me wrong, those who’ve lent me a hand and those who’ve torn me up with lies. I’d like to blame my hyper-retentiveness on being a writer. We’re a sensitive lot with skin not near as thick as we’d like. We seem to want to swim through our emotions instead of taking the bridge across them.
That’s why this whole “nip it in the bud” idea rocks and I’m applying it as we speak to a friendship that’s recently gone in the crapper. It’s sad, because I’ve known this pal for years, but we’ve been drifting apart for awhile now. I kept thinking I could build some kind of tunnel to re-connect us, but it just ain’t happening. Some people appear in our lives when we need them most and eventually they travel on their merry way. That’s actually a wonderful thing when you think about it. So I’m nipping this one in the bud, too. I’m not dwelling on it any longer. I’m accepting the situation for what it is, and I’m packing away my fond memories so I can proceed with a peaceful heart and a smile. Ah, it’s like breathing in that chilly fall air again: liberating and refreshing.
I truly admire folks who don’t wallow in emotion, who don’t rehash ill-fated relationships or frustrating conversations nightly in their dreams. My husband has a very healthy “live and let live” attitude. He doesn’t hold grudges. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff. I wish I could be more like that, but I probably never will, not entirely.
I tend to let more people into my circle than he does, and I give folks a chance, even when I’ve heard whispers, like, “don’t trust him” or “she’s a self-absorbed twit.” I’m inclined to form my own opinions. The trouble ends up being that the warning whispers were right on target. It’s then that I usually step in a mess trying to back my way out; but, Lord, how those messes can linger, like dog poop on a shoe tracked all over a houseful of wall-to-wall carpet.
But, from this point on, I’m gonna nip it in the bud. I will see that untrustworthy self-absorbed twit for who he/she is, realize I cannot change him/her like a misguided Mother Teresa, and I will gracefully walk away. Doesn’t that sound good?
Now if I could just nip this latest deadline in the bud, I’d be in great shape.
Susan McBride's YA series debut with Random House, THE DEBS, features four prep school seniors in Houston clawing their way through their debutante season. A Fall 2008 Kid’s Indie Next Pick, THE DEBS has been called “Gossip Girl on mint juleps.” The second DEBS book, LOVE, LIES, AND TEXAS DIPS, will be out in June of 2009, and Susan's busy writing GLOVES OFF. Susan has also penned five Debutante Dropout Mysteries for Avon, including TOO PRETTY TO DIE and BLUE BLOOD. She’s recently signed with HarperCollins to write a trade paperback women’s beach book called THE COUGAR CLUB, about three forty-something women who date younger men. Visit her web site at http://susanmcbride.com/ for more scoop.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
As I got older I read faster so I could get through more of the story without being interrupted. In college one of my favorites was Stephen King's The Stand. The original hardback had 823 pages. I've read all the Tom Clancy books, lugging them through airports like fat infants straining my arm muscles.
I loved Carl Sagen's Contact and Colleen McCullough's The Thornbirds, but at just over 400 pages they were practically short stories compared to two of my later favorites: Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove weighing in at 864 pages and a book that remains in my top ten - Antarctic Navigation by Elizabeth Arthur.
This 798 page book fascinated me. The heroine, Morgan Lamont, had been obsessed with Robert Scott's 1910 Antarctic Expedition from childhood. The author takes us through Morgan's early days and her quest to visit the South Pole and retrace Scott's footsteps. By the time you finish the book, you feel like you've made that icy journey with Morgan. It's not a book that will appeal to everyone. Elizabeth Arthur has been to the South Pole and she uses her knowledge of that remote locale. She makes the South Pole and its harsh weather a major "character" in the book. The plot is dependent on the place as much as Morgan's need to achieve something Robert Scott did not.
From a recent discussion on the DorothyL internet group, I've read with great interest reader opinions on "long" vs. "short" novels. Many seemed to find places in long novels that "sag" or move forward only sluggishly. I confess that with some of Tom Clancy's descriptions of the inner workings of ships and subs, I only half absorbed the paragraphs the first time through (yes, I'm one of those people who read books over and over.) But Clancy's books have great plots and more often than not, the technical information he conveys lends depth and atmosphere to his thrillers.
I'm a fan of Nelson DeMille's books. I just finished his newest, The Gate House. DeMille is great at creating interesting tough-guy characters and exciting plots based on real events. Sometimes the backstory runs a little longer than suits my taste, but as with Clancy's books, I know the payoff will be well worth the slow bits. My favorite DeMille book remains the first one I ever read, The Charm School – a book I picked up in a hurry in an airport bookstore. A mere 544 pages long, it’s a true page-turner with a Cold-War plot. American MIA pilots from the Vietnam War have been taken to Russia and installed as unwilling teachers in a KGB "Charm School" for Russian agents. Two U.S. diplomats find out about the school and the game is on.
Short books are wonderful and fun – but for books you can literally lose yourself inside, give a longer book a chance.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Nothing gives me greater joy than seeing a brand, spanking-new grocery store opening up in the area. Here in our town, we’ve got two rather old and not so great stores to choose from: one offers great prices but not too much in the way of innovation while the other is a little newer, a little more upscale, but infinitely more expensive. (I have heard about the shopping Mecca referred to as Wegman’s and pray that someday they will move downstate so I can experience the wonder of this store. So far, nothing doing. ) So, as I drove home from a work visit the other day and saw a Stop and Shop with streamers wafting away from its brand new storefront, I nearly drove off the road. I was armed with a new recipe and decided that the time was right—despite the fact that the store had only opened seconds earlier—to give it a try.
I love food, think about food, eat a lot of food. And Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and I and my Stiletto gals have been talking about food in our emails back and forth to each other. (I still have to make Southern Evelyn’s apple cake, but promise I will!) I tend to stay toward healthy things and am constantly trying to amaze my family with my culinary prowess. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that that is a challenge. I’ve got one picky eater, one vegetarian, and one who only likes a few vegetables and nothing really of the root variety, which I love to roast with olive oil, salt, pepper, and some herbs. But while drinking my coffee the other day—and with a great big thank you to Rachael Ray who published this recipe in my hometown newspaper—I seem to have hit on something that everyone loves (with the exception of the vegetarian who I have now turned onto breaded flounder, which can be picked up in the freezer case of the new Stop and Shop just inside the front doors of the building). Let me give you this one roaster, easy-as-pie chicken dinner that will take all of the guess work out of “Mom! What’s for dinner!?”
You will need:
To preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
One (1) whole cut-up chicken in a package. Take out all of the chicken, rinse and dry. I also cut the breasts in half so that they were more of the same size as the other pieces of meat. The chicken I bought cost about $9.00 and fed the family for three nights.
Get a bunch of fingerlings, red potatoes, purple potatoes, or any other kind of small potatoes that you like and wish to use. Cut them in quarters.
Strip the leaves of three stalks of rosemary and coarsely chop.
Crush eight garlic cloves.
Put the chicken on the bottom of the roaster, throw in the potatoes, the rosemary, the garlic, and cover the whole thing with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Oh, and don't forget some sea salt and pepper to taste.
Stick in the oven for about 35-45 minutes or when the juices run clear from the chicken. You will have a one-roaster chicken dinner that everyone (sans the vegetarian) will enjoy. I also picked up one of my new favorite pre-packaged items: microwavable, steamable French beans. Served with the chicken and potatoes, you really have a winner. Tonight, we’re having the exact same dinner because I’ve never served a meal in which every morsel, down to the coarsely-chopped rosemary, was consumed. We may just eat this every night until Thanksgiving when I’ll probably break down and buy a couple of hamburgers so we don’t go on poultry overload.
I’m going to experiment a little tonight and roast some squash alongside the chicken even though I was admonished by the family not to change a thing. I figured I can doctor this up a few hundred ways and everyone will still enjoy.
Next week: a treat. We at the Stiletto Gang will be sharing additional recipes and ideas for the holidays and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what the rest of my ladies have up their sleeves. Happy eating!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
My promotion for Kindred Spirits is winding down. I have three more events coming up: a book fair, a day in an antique store, and two days at an art gallery. Of course all this entailed making the arrangements and doing publicity both online and with the local newspapers and sending out flyers.
Once that's over maybe I can concentrate on the holidays and perhaps doing some writing. I have two (yes two) new books I need to be working on. I have some ideas for one--but nothing for the other as yet. Sometimes I wonder why I'm doing all this--certainly isn't to make money because I really haven't. All the story tellers among us will tell you the same thing--we just have to do it.
My daughter invited us (hubby and me and son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter) to come for Thanksgiving in Southern California and we're going! For the first time in ages I won't have to cook. You have no idea how I'm looking forward to that.
For all of you as you head into the holiday season, I wish you all the best--and that you take the time to enjoy your family as I plan to do.
Monday, November 17, 2008
I was at least 18 before I discovered that meat came in any other color than grey. She overcooked everything, probably because she wasn't paying attention. Chicken would bake in the oven for hours, seasoned only with paprika, to give it color. But there was always plenty of fresh fruit in the house, lots of store-bought sweets, and the height of her culinary experimentation was to mix two fruit juices together. My family believed she invented orange-pineapple juice -- and maybe she did.
But despite the lack of any interest in preparing foods, my mother was actually a wonderful host. She was absolutely right when she insisted that it was the company that was important. She was gracious (she was Southern after all), generous, and inclusive. For my birthday parties, every child in my class would be invited, lest anyone feel left out. When I was in college and would come home for Passover, she would encourage me to invite roommates who might otherwise spend the Seders in the dorm. They were joyous occasions full of love and laughter...and she would order in the whole menu, soup to nuts.
My rebellion was, of course, to love to cook. For me, preparing a new recipe is like writing a mystery -- full of the unknown, often some red herrings (figurative ones, though I do occasionally indulge in the fish) -- and if put together correctly, a delight to enjoy.
Cleaning out my mother's apartment after she died, I found no cookbooks or recipes scribbled on cards. I did discover a file of take-out numbers. But of course, she left me with the best recipe for how to entertain. Invite people you want to spend time with; worry less about the food and more about making sure that everyone is comfortable and cared for...and most of all, enjoy the moments when you are together.
It's easy to get caught up in the holiday season hoopla. Have fun these next few weeks with those you love.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
I was surprised to find a whole industry out there that caters to encore brides. There are dozens of websites, as well as a magazine with information on everything from dresses and appropriate invitation wording, to etiquette concerning the size of the ceremony and wedding party.
Some of the “tips” I uncovered for older second-time-around brides were really amusing. For example a segment on The Today Show featured shorter, fuller dresses for older women “who still usually have nice looking legs and should show them off.” I guess the announcer was trying not to say that many of us are not quite as shapely as we were years ago, and need to avoid the strapless, skin tight gowns that are popular among today’s younger first-time brides.
My etiquette education also included the fact that it is acceptable to wear white again, but choosing color is advised as we mature brides are apparently not blushing--and need to brighten up our sagging faces. How about the idea that most of us just feel bolder and more confident over 50, and want to wear something that reflects that?
While surfing the net, I came across a not-so-short, bright red dress that caught my “starting to develop a cataract” eye. I thought, “How cool would that be? A bold red dress for a new beginning!” I printed the picture and showed it to a friend who is my age.
“You can’t wear red when you get married!” she shrieked. “You need a nice ivory or tan suit that comes to just above your ankles.” A dull colored, long suit??? I don’t want to wear something from the Hannah Montana collection, but I don’t want to look dead either.
One of the best things about being over 50 is that you are no longer afraid to do what you really want to do. So who says this encore bride can’t wear a bright red wedding dress? Just watch me! How about some sparkling red stilettos to match? And I might even finish off the ensemble with a big bangle bracelet, dangling earrings, and ruby lipstick.
Melinda Richarz Bailey
WOOFers Club Blog
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Arf arf arf. Wag!!! Bark bark, grrrrr.
No, wait. Reminder to self: Not everyone speaks WOOFer.
It sure seems that way though, since the advanced launch of WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty. At book signings, there’s no lack of ladies who speak the language. And, sometimes, as I’m chatting with a woman, describing the contents of the book (topics such as night sweats, mood swings and hot flashes), she looks at me like, until that moment, she’d been adrift in a wasteland, and at long last an oasis has appeared—another woman who understands exactly what she is feeling and saying.
Sure, plenty can be found online, in magazines, on TV talk shows, you name it, about women’s issues, especially menopause given the massive boomer generation. But there’s something about one middle-aged woman standing face-to-face with another 50+ woman that makes it more relatable.
And maybe it’s easier to talk about certain issues with a stranger, a woman who has stepped into being a book author at this phase of life. Not that I’m any expert, but I’m at least not afraid to talk about it. And perhaps therein lies the bond.
Mary, Melinda and I wrote the humor book for ourselves. Naturally we hoped it would catch on with other women. Still, who knew that even before its official release date, it would take on a life all its own.
But, why not? Women are intuitive—reading between the lines and interpreting the unspoken word. Using language in inventive ways.
For example, you’ll probably never again hear woof! without thinking of women embracing maturity—Women Only Over Fifty!
WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty
WOOFers Club Blog
Diana Black’s Blog
Friday, November 14, 2008
I tuned in out of curiosity since Book Three of my Cynthia’s Attic series, Curse of the Bayou, was partially set in the Louisiana Swamp. But, thoughts turned quickly to the fact that she was asking a very important question to the “over-fifty” set. Not only was I completely hooked by her gentle, descriptive voice, I was transported through photos taken by C. C. Lockwood’s tranquil National Geographic pictures. I swear, my blood pressure dropped 30 points.
But, back to my point. Ms. Roland’s question. What would she tell her younger self? One thing was to stop thinking she’s fat. Which is quite funny because the young Gwen and the older Gwen are beautiful, inside and out. She’d also tell her younger self to stop worrying about what other people think. Oh, could I have used that advice as a teenager! And, as a forty-year-old!
That’s a pretty universal feeling with women over fifty, isn’t it? What I’d tell my younger self is to stop worrying about not being the most popular (or prettiest) girl in school. I’d tell my younger self that, no matter how I try, I’ll never please my mother. Don’t take it to heart. She’s doing the best she can. I’d also tell my younger self to be myself. I was, and still am, a pretty darned good person, but it’s only been in the last 10 years that I’ve realized I can’t be something I’m not.
As one WOOFer said at a recent Book Festival, “Being 50 is very freeing.” Can’t argue with that.
So, what would you tell your younger self?
Gwen Roland’s book, Atchafalaya House: My Years in the Louisiana Swamp, available on Amazon, or from your favorite bookstore.
Mary Cunningham Books
Cynthia’s Attic Blog
WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty
WOOFers Club Blog
Some of us are hounded by middle-age. We're dog-tired, Wrinkled as a Sharpei and barking like a bitch. Enter: WOOF: For the over-50 woman itching to howl at The aging process.
From issues of graying hair, expanding waistlines and Wrinkling tattoos, to embracing triumph over personal Tragedy, WOOF raises four paws to our past Accomplishments, present realizations and future dreams.
Are you up to it...dogtrotting alongside this sisterhood Taking the second half of life by the tail? We know you Are. After all, the past 50 years you've gained freedom! You've gained power! You've gained wisdom!
(Don't tell us you think weight is the only thing you've Gained. Oh, you so need WOOF...)
"A howl a day keeps the scowl away!"
d.d. dawg, Milkbone, Mad Dog
(Diana Black, Mary Cunningham, Melinda Richarz Bailey)
[Note from the Stiletto Gang - Join us all weekend for new posts from the WOOF Pack!]
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Life is full of disappointments. I can't abide Thousand Island dressing on anything, much less my Reuben sandwich. By the way, who thought of doing that? Did someone just wake up one day, find their mustard jar empty, and improvise? I ate Reubens for years without a hint of salad dressing. Then seemingly all at once, restaurants started dumping copious amounts of the pink stuff on my corned beef and sauerkraut. Every once in awhile when I'm feeling lucky, I take a chance and order a Reuben asking for no – absolutely no - Thousand Island dressing. My success rating at getting it the way I want it is about 30%.
Little miracles happen every day… I guess. They just usually don't happen to me. Or maybe they do and I don't know it. Is it a miracle if you don't know it? Kind of like if a tree falls in the forest and no one… Well, you get my meaning.
Last night I spent about 3 hours on the floor running my fingers through the carpet in my living room. I'd lost a contact lens. I wear rigid gas permeable lens and no, they are not the disposable kind - they are the "$190 a pair" kind. I looked until I couldn't look any more without giving into the urge to vacuum. Nothing like staring at dust bunnies at eye level to get you in the mood to clean! But I didn't. Pulling out the vacuum would have been abandoning all hope. Instead I did the CSI thing – using my one good eye, found a flashlight, turned out all the lights and searched for a glint – a reflection – something that didn’t' belong on the dark carpet. Nothing. Well, at least no contact lenses. I did find a missing sock under my computer desk and several ink pen caps.
At 11:00 pm I gave up my quest for the missing lens, left a message on my optometrist's voice mail, and began going through my old lenses hoping for one I could still see something through. Reading … Distance… something. Found one that had me able to see general shapes if not faces. It would have to do.
The next morning I went to work and managed to squint my way through eight hours of mining business.
When I came home I took another quick look on the patch of carpet in the target range.
I ate dinner then settled in front of my computer. I need to write a blog for Thursday. It was gong to be on the topic of lousy customer service – see my first two paragraphs above. Then it happened.
I looked down at my feet, pondering the spelling of sauerkraut (just ask my co-author, spelling is not my strong suit.) And there it was.
Right where I'd looked a hundred times.
A little miracle.
I can see again.
Life is good. Tomorrow I might even get a cup of coffee the way I want it.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The memories of seeing the faces of the kids forced to the back of the bus and the people sitting at the lunch counter—looking at my mother and grandmother as if they were crazy even to enter a “colored only” establishment—have stayed with my mother all these years. She remembers segregated restrooms: men, ladies, and “colored-only,”—unisex, obviously; she remembers “colored-only” water fountains; and she remembers other forms of discrimination that were foreign to her. My mother and grandmother were quite sure how to act or behave in this alternate world, this bizarre society. They made it to Florida, encountered their first palmetto bug, and went right back to the Greyhound bus station, where they hopped the first bus that would bring them back to New York.
Despite its problems, their hometown city didn’t seem so bad.
My mother got married a few years later and would have her bridal shower in 1961 at my uncle’s house in Brooklyn. Her pictures from that day show a diverse crowd of women—there was Nasha, a gorgeous opera singer working part-time at Gimbel’s in sales to make a living. She was the daughter of Russian immigrants. There as my beautiful Aunt Dorothy, a Julie Andrews-lookalike who had the most mellifluous speaking voice, touched with an English accent. And there was Birdie, a stunning African-American woman in a black sheath dress and a chignon, who to me—a girl growing up in a lily white town—looked like an exotic queen with her high cheekbones and wide smile. And there was a Blanche, another co-worker of my mother’s from Gimbel’s, who like Birdie, was a fabulously-chic African American woman, dressed to the nines, as women did in the ‘60s, for this festive event. In one picture, Birdie and Blanche are smiling and holding one of the ridiculously-constructed bow hats that many engaged women are forced to wear at their bridal showers. I remember looking at the picture, and not having met any African-American people at this point in my life—it was probably 1970—I was struck by the friendship that existed between all of these women, from disparate backgrounds. This was not a “whites-only” event; it was an event that brought a group of joyous coworkers together to celebrate the special event to take place in my mother’s life. And there is no color—except maybe yellow or gold, the colors of joy—to describe this event and how the radiance of all of the guests jumped off the page and out of that photo.
At the time of the shower, neither Birdie nor Blanche had probably never voted given the disenfranchisement that was rampant at the time.
I think that experiences like the ones my mother had south of the Mason-Dixon line and in the diner in South Carolina change you forever. Sometimes they change you for the good, sometimes not. I’ve heard people say that Barack Obama is really biracial and perhaps not officially African American. All I can say is that as a child, he would have been forced to the back of the bus once it passed into Confederate territory, and he would have been allowed to sit at the counter at the diner in South Carolina, probably watching my embarrassed grandmother and mother slink out of the establishment, ashamed of their ignorance, but moreso, ashamed by their country.
It has been a momentous week and I’m not sure that the magnitude of what we have experienced has sunk in yet. My children were surprised, horrified, and not at all believing in the story that my mother had to tell. And I’m glad for all three of those reactions. Their disbelief is understandable because the world that my mother and I grew up in is one that was vastly different from the one they are growing up in today. Their horror at hearing how others were treated may lead them never to malign or slight anyone again, I hope. But most importantly, their surprise is best of all. Because in their world, there is no reason that a woman, a Jew, a Muslim, or an African American can become president. Some day, maybe we’ll look beyond sex, religion, and/or race.
And look at that: we already have.
Let us with a fixed, firm, hearty, earnest, and unswerving determination move steadily on and on, fanning the flame of true liberty until the last vestige of oppression has been destroyed, and when that eventful period shall arrive, when, in the selection of rulers, both State and Federal, we shall know no North, no East, no South, no West, no white nor colored, no Democrat nor Republican, but shall choose men because of their moral and intrinsic value, their honesty and integrity, their love of unmixed liberty, and their ability to perform well the duties to be committed to their charge. (From a speech delivered in 1872, by Jonathan J. Wright, Associate Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court.)
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Though my husband was in the Seabees for 21 years and proud of his duty served all over the world, Spain, Cuba, Greenland, Alaska, and three tours in Vietnam during the war, he never goes to Veteran's Days Parades--nor does he talk much about his service except to other vets. No, he doesn't belong to the VFW or other veteran's organizations and hang out. He does belong to the Fleet Reserve but again, goes to no meetings.
Being a wife of a Seabee was difficult at times--mainly when he was gone, and downright scary when he was in Vietnam. By the time his 21 years was up, we had five kids and guess who did most of the raising?
During the war, we lived near enough to the Pt. Hueneme Seabee base to do our shopping on base and use the hospital facilities--great savings for families who hardly made any money at all. Usually I had some kind of job to help out, either full or part-time, and divided whatever pay I got with the babysitter.
The pay then was so poor that we could have received welfare, though we never did. I bet there are places today where service families qualify for welfare.
And of course, the country wasn't nice to the men when they came home from Vietnam. (Thank goodness, that's changed.) No one ever thanked my husband back then--more apt to spit on him--now if he happens to be wearing his Seabee hat, strangers thank him for his service.
It was tough being a service wife--I had to make all the decisions when hubby was gone, then when he came home, he expected to be the boss. Being me, I told him once he might be the Chief in the Seabees, but I was the Admiral at home. Helped a bit.
All the crises happened while he was gone--of course. He wanted to stay in for thirty years, but by that time we had a houseful of teenagers and I said, "Nope, I'm not doing this alone anymore."
In his retirement, things have gotten better. We no longer live near a base so we don't go shopping or to the doctors there. However, we have great medical through hubby's retirement and can go to the doctor of our choice. Something the government finally did right.
I have a granddaughter who is married to a Sergeant in the Army, getting ready to go to Iraq. She has two little kids. She came home to be near her mom in order to have some support. I feel sorry for her. The separation is not good for marriages or for kids.
Make an old vet feel good--thank him or her for his service and while you're at it, thank his or her spouse.
Monday, November 10, 2008
We know that is true for the young men and women who are returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers tell of the horrors they've seen, and the emotional scars of carrying those memories. No one is unscathed from their service. It is their courage, selfless commitment, and determination, in the face of dangers seen and unseen, that we must honor.
In the current economic crisis, the new administration will have to make some brutal budget decisions. Programs will be cut; services will be reduced. But let me add my voice to the call for honoring the debt we owe to our vets. We must invest in our VA system to fulfill our promise “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and his widow and orphan.”
Here are four critical veteran issues that demand immediate attention.
1. Allocate the necessary funds to provide the healthcare that our veterans have earned. More than 5 million vets receive healthcare from the VA -- but the system is stretched beyond capacity and the wait for care is intolerable.
2. Reduce the backlog of VA disability claims. There's more than a six month backlog of claims. Veterans shouldn't have to wage another battle to get the benefits they've earned.
3. Support Advanced Funding for the VA medical budget. Currently, the VA budget is approved annually -- but in 13 of the past 14 years, political bickering has delayed approval. Advanced Funding for the medical budget would mean the VA would know its funding a year in advance and could plan personnel, equipment, and services.
4. Support diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. VA must continue to improve accessibility to mental health care services for all veterans and that takes adequate funding for research and treatment.
Parades are nice; stirring speeches make us proud. But let's make sure that our veterans receive, in a timely fashion, the benefits they've earned.
With love and gratitude to Captain Carol Edelman, Major Melvin Borden, and all the brave men and women who have served our country.
My husband was in the Seabees for 21 years, and served on both coasts and all around the world: Cuba, Spain, Greenland, Alaska, and three tours in Vietnam during the war. (I never went with him out of the US because his tours were to short to take family.)
We lived close to Port Hueneme Seabee base for many years and were able to use the commissary, Navy exchange and base hospital which certainly helped financially. We made so little money that we could have gone on welfare. (I bet it's the same for some of the service families today, depending upon where they live.) Most of the time (when I wasn't having a baby) I had a part-time or full-time job so we could eat--sharing half my pay with a babysitter.
During the Vietnam War, civilians were ugly to service men. No one every thanked my husband for his service--more likely they spit on him. Things have changed--now when hubby wears his Seabee cap, people stop and thank him for his service. The wives ought to be thanked right along with the men.
We had five children, and while hubby was serving the U.S., guess who raised the kids? Guess when all the crises happened? Guess who watched the news about the war and when hubby's base was hit, wondered if she still had a husband?
None of these separations are good for marriages. While hubby was gone, I made all the major decisions, took care of everything--when he came home he wanted to be the boss. Finally I told him he might be the Chief in the Seabees, but I was the Admiral at home.
He wanted to stay in the Seabees for 30 years, but by this time the kids were all in the teens, or nearly there, and I put my foot down. It was time for him to give up his uniform and become an active duty dad.
Because we no longer live near a base, we don't shop or go to the doctor there. Fortunately, the government has come up with a medical plan for vets that works and we can go to any doctor of our choice.
Hubby never attends Veteran Day parades or hangs out with vets. He does like to talk about how wonderful the Seabees are and watch war movies.
Friday, November 7, 2008
At last month’s Bouchercon in Baltimore, I attended a forum on historical mysteries. One of the authors on the panel mentioned that historical mysteries didn’t sell much before 1989. which struck me as odd. Have we only been reading historicals for 20 years?
I checked the index on Stop! You’re Killing Me to establish the entrance dates for some of the long-running historical series: The first of Edward Marston’s many series was published in 1988; Australian flapper Phryne Fisher solved her first case in 1989; William Monk, the Victorian police inspector, made his bow in 1990; Gillian Linscott’s books about a suffragette in England began in 1991; the first adventure of Gordianus the Finder was published in 1991; Dame Frevisse first appeared in 1992; Laura Joh Rowland’s samurai series emerged in 1993; the Pennyfoot Hotel opened its doors in 1993; Sister Fidelma debuted in 1994; Bruce Alexander immortalized Sir John Fielding in 1994, and Daisy Dalrymple joined the journalistic corps in 1994.
Only a half dozen of those I looked up were published prior to 1989: Peter Lovesey’s Victorian detective duo in 1970; Amelia Peabody in 1975; Brother Cadfael in 1977; Thomas and Charlotte Pitt in 1979; and Max Allan Collins’ Depression-era PI in 1983. Oldest by far was Judge Dee, the Chinese magistrate from the 600s, who appeared in print for the first time in 1952.
So I asked myself: what was I reading before the deluge of historical mysteries? I distinctly remember working my way through Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Erle Stanley Gardner, and the stray unread Christie. A librarian in Louisville introduced me to the classic series by Patricia Moyes, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Emma Lathen, Sara Woods, and Gervase Fen. “Merry-Go-Round”, a short story in Fen Country, is one of my all-time favorite stories even now.
I stumbled on Richard Stark’s professional thief Parker in graduate school, when I picked up a paperback of Slayground. The concept of the anti-hero was new to me and I was enthralled. Seldom do I remember how I discovered a series but that one was so utterly unlike anything else I had read that the memory has stayed with me.
I was a huge fan of Elizabeth Linington’s police procedurals. My mother first discovered the Luis Mendoza series through that Halloweenish entry, Coffin Corner, about an indigent family who took a creative approach to avoiding burial expenses and passed it on to me. I was elated to learn that Linington wrote similar procedurals under other names and I carefully acquired every title in each series, which I still have. Sadly, these books did not stand the test of time. Linington recreated the Los Angeles of the 1970s so vividly that it is hard to read past the anachronisms to the sharp plots and careful characterization.
Unlike Linington, Richard Lockridge created an almost timeless character in Merton Heimrich, a New York State police detective whose stories could have taken place any time in last half of the twentieth century. I preferred reading about Lt. Heimrich to Lockridge’s better known characters, Pam and Jerry North. The same is true of John Creasey, who wrote prolifically under many names, but I liked his Commander Gideon of Scotland Yard’s Criminal Investigation Division the most.
Of course Sharon McCone, Kinsey Milhone, Carlotta Carlyle, and their sisters began to appear in the 1980s and my attention was diverted to them. I was delighted by Charlotte MacLeod’s gently ditzy stories with clever plots that materialized about the same time.
I suppose the real question is not what I was reading before the onslaught of historical mysteries, but what happened around 1990 to suddenly make historical mysteries so popular?
Any ideas of why 1990 is the turning point for historical mysteries?
Thursday, November 6, 2008
For years we put together a pot-luck dinner at the office – cleaning, moving tables, and decorating for days. Eventually as all of us got older, the work involved outweighed the fun. We started going to restaurants for our luncheon. There are not that many to choose from in the area where our field office is located, and none that made the occasion special. We briefly went back to the pot-luck dinner.
One day we discovered, by word-of-mouth, an Amish family who prepared meals for groups. You have to make a reservation several weeks in advance and you have to have a large party. We tried it and enjoyed it so much we've done it every year since. Our catered meal at an Amish farm has become a tradition that everyone looks forward to.
For $13 per person, we are served "family-style" roast beef, ham, hot rolls, Tapioca pudding, home canned green beans, corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, slaw, iced tea, coffee, and two kinds of pie. It's all you can eat and the best food I've ever tasted.
We eat in a simple one room building lighted by gas lamps. Hand-made quilts, jams, and food stuffs are displayed for purchase on tables near the open kitchen area. Long tables line the rest of the room. The food is prepared and served by reserved women wearing white muslin bonnets and long aprons. They welcome us with cheerful expressions and a calm manner seldom if ever found in traditional restaurants.
Each year I wonder what our hosts think of our loud, boisterous group comprised of people of many faiths. I wonder if they resent our presence; if they resent the need to feed outsiders in order to supplement their income. They've never indicated by word or deed that they are anything but happy to host our luncheon each year. But still, I wonder and feel a little awkward even after all these years.
Today, we've chosen a date for this year's luncheon – December 2. My office manager will call a business where the Amish family receives messages (they don't have a telephone at their home) and leave a message. In a few days we'll get a call back, confirming the date and we'll continue our tradition.
Maybe in some small way our tradition supports our hosts' tradition.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
We wave goodbye to another Halloween, although if you are like me, you’ve still got pounds and pounds of crappy drugstore chocolate in your houses. (Though I would wrestle you to the death for an Almond Joy.) We had a very successful Halloween around these parts: child #1 dressed as Charlie Brown and went trick or treating with a group of similarly-attired Peanuts characters; child #2 had the “best day ever” because his friend, B., despite being close to four years older than child #2, still trick or treats with him because as his mother says “it’s all about the candy for B.” At nearly 13, he doesn’t care about looking cool, or traveling with a pack of boys armed with shaving cream and silly string, or just being an all-around carouser. He wants to go house to house, charming the pants off of whomever is answering the door, and getting his fair share (or more) of candy. B. and my son know every house that gives out a full-sized candy bar, who gives out the bags of pretzels, and who will provide juice boxes to thirsty trick or treaters. They’ve got it down to a science.
If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, or if you know me personally, you’ll know that I’m a little neurotic and crazily over protective. Halloween, in particular, brings out the worst in me. It brings back memories of razor blades in apples (which by the way, I’ve never encountered), roaming bands of zombies (again, never seen), and haunted houses (and…never been to one of those either). B.’s mother suggested that the boys hit the Halloween trail on their own, being as they would be in the general vicinity for most of the night. Although I knew in my heart that child #2 would be okay with B. in charge, I felt better when my husband said he’d “ride along.” And I’m glad he did, because he offered more insight into the trick or treating rituals of these two boys, which B.’s mother and I found hilarious. If only the boys brought this kind of intensity and planning to their schoolwork. The boys had a brainstorming session prior to hitting up the first house and decided on a two-pronged approach. The first approach was called the “traditional”: in the “traditional,” you walk calmly up to the door and ring the bell, plastering on your best and cutest smile. When the door is answered, you say, in unison, “trick or treat.” Charmed by your cuteness and good manners, you are handed more than your fair share of candy by the homeowner. “Bowling,” on the other hand, refers to uninhabited houses whose owners leave bowls of candy on the front porch. In “bowling,” you approach the house as quickly as possible and fill your candy bag with as much candy as you can before Jim, your chaperone, reminds you that you are not the only people trick or treating on that street.
The girls on the other hand, were more of a rag-tag bunch, wandering aimlessly through town with no plan as to where they would go, which houses they would target. Truthfully, I think they spent most of their time talking, a concept that the boys found ludicrous. There’s candy to be had! Suffice it to say that they came back a little lighter in the pillowcase than the boys who sported at least six and seven pound bags of candy, respectively. They looked at the girls’ paltry haul and decided that they needed more guidance next year so that they could maximize their intake.
We didn’t have as many children as we normally do this year, and considering that Halloween was on a Friday, I can only assume that a lot of people had indoor parties. We also have a couple of neighborhoods in town where kids congregate to trick or treat and which were overflowing with costumed ghouls, from what I’ve heard.
How many trick or treaters did you have? Did they seem to have an orchestrated plan of attack? And most importantly, what did you do with your left over candy?
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
It's difficult juggling two series. No Sanctuary will be published by a small independent press, of course. I want to give this book as much promotion time as my other series. I always have some kind of launch party--but not quite sure what to do for this one.
It's about two ministers, and two churches and of course murder. A church might be a logical place, but I don't think my son-in-law who is the pastor of the church I go to, would go along with the idea. I might broach it just to see. By the way, the churches in the book have no realtionship whatsoever to our little church.
I've had launches outside our local coffee shop (too cold in January), the local Inn, a recreation center (long gone), a gift shop (gone), used book store (gone), antique store, my house, art gallery (gone). Nothing lasts long in our little town--people start businesses who don't know anything about running businesses.
Of course I'll do all the usual Internet promotion, but I always like to give my neighbors and fans a chance to purchase my book first.
Any bright ideas about this? Feel free to post them in the comments.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Knowing the vagaries of the New Jersey Turnpike at rush hour, I arrived at the library about an hour early. It gave me time to wander throught the mystery section. I squealed with delight, earning astonished looks from other patrons, when I discovered a copy of Rest You Merry, the first book by Charlotte MacLeod, in her delightful Peter Shandy series. I think this was the first mystery that I ever read that included humor as part of the storyline. Dame Agatha and Arthur Conan Doyle always presented a first-rate whodunnit, but as might be expected, humor was not their strong suit.
In contrast, I was laughing hysterically when I finished the first chapter of Rest You Merry, perfectly envisioning the scene she’d drawn. There was the sweet curmudgeon, Professor Peter Shandy, exacting delightful revenge against his neighbors who insisted he decorate his home for the holidays. So before stealing away in the middle of the night, he pays for an over-the-top Christmas decoration extravaganza, including flashing lights and a taped recording of I Don’t Care Who You Are Fatty, Get Those Reindeer Off My Roof. Too bad – or maybe too good for us readers – but when poor Professor Shandy slinks home, he discovers a dead body in his over-decorated house.
I enjoyed skimming the mystery, but found myself intrigued by the introduction that Charlotte MacLeod had penned for this edition, published by the legendary Otto Penzler fifteen years after the book’s original debut. She described how she originally created the first chapter as a short story which she submitted to Yankee magazine “and waited for my check. What I got was my story, by return post, with a stiffish rejection. Yankee was not amused.”
I had one of those aha moments. Charlotte MacLeod, who at the time of her death had published 30 novels and won countless awards, understood exactly what happens when you send off what you think is prose that would make Willy Shakespeare weep – and get back a rejection that hints that you might instead consider a job in the great outdoors, herding sheep or something.
Ms. Macleod, who died in 2005, is described, in the Wikepedia entry, “as a ‘true lady’and often seen with hat and white gloves.” She had her own rituals for the creative process: She “began writing at 6 a.m., continued through the morning, then used the afternoon for rewrites. She only started new books on Sundays and during writing would stay dressed in a bathrobe to avoid the temptation of leaving the house for an errand.” I too often stay dressed in my bathrobe, but alas, mine is a result of slovenly habits.
In any case, ten years after that original rejection, Ms. MacLeod decided that the short story would make a wonderful first chapter…and Rest You Merry was born.
It made me think that it was time to go through the virtual drawers of my computer and pull out some of those early rejects. I’m not sure I’ll find gold like Ms. MacLeod, but who knows?