Friday, March 26, 2021

The Path to Sanity—T.K. Thorne

 


 

Writer, humanist,
          dog-mom, horse servant and cat-slave,
       Lover of solitude
          and the company of good friends,
        New places, new ideas
           and old wisdom.

 




The world fell apart in March 2020. I was at a writers conference in California on the opposite side of the country from home (Alabama). One day after the start of the conference, I flew home. Two people in the airport wore masks. The rest of us tried to follow the advice “don’t touch your face.”  My nose has never itched so much.

Over the year, my grandson was born  . . . without me. Another daughter had to spend months in the hospital with her dying father . . . without me. Many people suffered much worse. So far, I have not lost any family. Actually, I’m am very close to the oldest in what’s left of my family. In the past year, I have been inside exactly one public place. How bizarre.

My mind has done some kind of trick where I can now see the death numbers posted on the side of the T.V. without feeling like I can’t breathe. That’s a good thing, right?  Maybe not. I try to not to watch the tributes to individuals because then I can’t breathe again.

Where lay the path of sanity?  It was a windy one. The muse deserted me.  I could not put pen to paper except to edit and to write this blog. Fortunately, I had a lot of material to edit, but the more days that have turned into weeks and month, the drier the well of creativity seemed. I had finished my police-witch trilogy (book two, House of Stone) and the eight-year nonfiction project (Behindthe Magic Curtain: Secrets, Spies, and Unsung White Allies of Birmingham’sCivil Rights Days. I finished a rewrite of an old manuscript and had no idea where to go next. I felt aimless, adrift.  Everything had a surreal quality.

The first thing I did that gave me a little peace was plucking debris and tiny plants from the green moss on the brick walk from the driveway to the front door.  It took hours; its only purpose was to create a little temporary beauty, but doing it calmed something inside me.

Then I took up the WW, the war on wisteria, a vine that had eaten half my back yard and uprooted several trees. This took months of back-breaking work.  Wisteria sends vines out underground that pop up yards away, making nodes along the way that each grow deep roots straight down. You can pull up one section, but any piece that survives can and will repopulate. I learned to know and love a tool called a mattock. Some days I could only do a tiny amount. But the harder I worked and the more exhausted I was, the better I slept and breathed. But I don’t recommend this as a therapy. Never plant wisteria, at least not the Chinese or Japanese variety.

The Wisteria War lasted through the summer and into fall. I decided to let the back yard become a wildflower garden (except for wisteria) and planted some old seeds that had been sitting out in my garage.  We’ll see if they germinate.

One thing I really missed was my twice-weekly martial arts class. Sometime in November, I decided to learn tai chi, which is practiced solo. You have probably seen old people doing it in a park. I learned it from Youtube videos, and whenever I felt trapped or anxious, I went through the movements. I did it three or four times a day, and it focused me on the present.

Over the winter, I lost my mind and adopted two rescue horses off the track, a Thoroughbred and a Standardbred—Foxy and Nickie Jones. I bought Foxy sight unseen from a Facebook picture at a “kill pen” in Louisiana. Her next step would have been dog food (in Mexico). She is a beautiful bay, although we’ve been working on a skin infection that even affected an eyelid. It’s all getting better. Nickie Jones was an older lady who traveled with her but when she arrived in Alabama, her purchaser backed off because she was injured and malnourished. So, we took her too. Preparation for their arrival took weeks of cleaning out the old barn and working on the overgrown arena and round pen.  Focusing on preparing for them and taking care of them has occupied me and my husband for several weeks now. But I am smitten!

Then a good friend introduced me to a form of art called Zentangle. It is done on little 3x3 inch pieces of stock paper—tiny art. I played with it and decided to add colors. Because it is so small, it is not intimidating like a big canvas would be. I’ve never done any "art thing" beyond doodling, but I’ve always wanted to.  They may not be great masterpieces, but the world fades away when I am working on one.


 

But still fresh words eluded me. No stories pushing to be born.

Then a friend I never met at that writer’s conference in California (we were supposed to be on a Law Enforcement panel together) emailed me and asked if I were interested in submitting a short story to an editor in Australia who is putting together a crime anthology featuring law enforcement authors and wanted some submissions from women. I am both of those things—an author and a cop, a retired one anyway, a short, gray-haired old lady. I agreed to submit a story. The catch is I had to write it. I had to create it. I told myself—this is like the tiny art. It's a short story, not a novel. Even so, I was totally blank. But I promised, so I had to do it. One word at a time.

I was delighted and surprised that the words came. It’s about a short, gray-haired old lady who is an ex-cop, a martial artist, and a horse woman who witnesses a murder. I've sent it off. Maybe I'll do another short story or maybe I have found a character who could support something longer?  

I hope this helps you find your way through.

 



T.K. is a retired police captain who writes books, which, like this blog, go wherever her interest and imagination take her.  More at TKThorne.com

 

 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Sixty-Four by Juliana Aragon Fatula


Sixty-four years ago, my mother was snowed-in, nine months pregnant with me, and was surrounded by family. My cousins shoveled the driveway for my mom twice and drove her to the hospital or I would have been born at home like my ancestors. 

My father worked in Colorado Springs for the Federal Government at Fort Carson as a civilian employee. He carpooled with several men and women from our home town. In 1957 on April 2, my journey began and what a long, strange trip it's been. My father convinced the State Patrol who were turning traffic around to let his vehicle pass the roadblock on Highway 115. He told the trooper his wife was having their first baby. He had three children from his ex-wife, and my mom had three children from her ex-husband. I was my parents first child together. I've always been loved.

Today I'm a mother and wife. My son is 48. My husband is 59 and we've been married almost thirty years. Yes, it's been a long strange trip. I had my son when I was fifteen. I married my husband when I was 34 and he was 31. I'm content to stay home and write and read and study and garden and bake and create herbal remedies. 

In the seventies, I wore the label of hippy. Today in twenty-twenty-one, I'm a hippy again being myself and loving life. Just happy to be alive. But I have struggled all of my life with severe depression, so I'm mentally ill, not insane, well a little insane, not dangerous to others or myself, but I get the blues real bad and the only thing that helps me, beside anti-depressants: music therapy. Oh, and puppy therapy, of course. My puppies and kittens keep me feeling loved unconditionally. Even though my parents have been gone for many years, I still feel their presence in my life. My dad lived to be 76. My mom 86. 

This year is the last year I can say I'm in my early sixties. Next year I'll qualify for Medicare and Social Security and will be officially a vieja. A viejita. Although I don't have any grandchildren, I do have nieces and nephews with children, so I'm technically  what is known as a tia abuela, or tia abuelita. Juliana la tia abuelita. I like that label, it fits me. 

I wear my hair in waist length braids wrapped in otter furs and leather. Often I wear a beaded headband and silver, copper and turquoise jewelry, I wear moccasins because I like them, always have. I make my own shampoo, conditioner, hair rinse, salve for my arthritis, and medical edibles. I admit it, I love the ganja. I've been documenting my journey as an herbalist and a cannabis farmer and it's legal now. 

My father would call me a marijuana. Feminine noun for a woman who likes to smoke, vape, eat cannabis. He wouldn't understand that I grow it for my aches and pains and depression and fatigue. He grew fruit trees and vegetables. Mom grew flowers, houseplants. Their yard was the garden of Eden. Seriously. Today, my backyard is the sanctuary that keeps me sane and peaceful. I mind my own business, garden, sing, dance, cook, and celebrate my ancestors by telling their stories. 

Si se puede. We can do it. We can beat this virus and political nightmare and begin to let the diversity and magic of cultures blend into harmony and healing. I pray for love instead of hate. Wisdom instead of ignorance. Peace instead of war. One world One Love. 

This is the year twenty-twenty-one and it's speeding by like a rocket on its way to Mars. I watch the days zip  past and I wonder where all the time has gone. I was once young and vibrant and sexy and silly and scary. I'm still those things only now I can add wise to that list. I've learned a few things about life. I'm a survivor and I have a new goal. My goal is to finish The Colorado Sisters and the Atlanta Butcher and then I can feel I've accomplished something spectacular. I write poetry. I'm a confessional poet. But my mystery/love story is something different. It tells a story about women fighting for equality in a world dominated by some men who sometimes don't see women as their equals. But as RGB said, "All I ask is that you take your foot from my neck."

Wish me luck with my first mystery. I'm determined to write a great story, not a good story, but a great one. Otherwise, why bother, que no?


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

From Broadway to the Grand Old Opry?

By Lois Winston

Two years ago my younger son, his wife, and their two little boys moved to Nashville when my daughter-in-law’s company decided to transfer their corporate headquarters from Manhattan to Nashville. When that happened, my husband and I no longer had any family we could rely on in the NY Metro area. What would we do if one of us became ill or infirmed? That was a sobering thought.

 

When I was in my thirties, I helped care for a good friend who had developed Lou Gehrig’s disease. I know all too well what it’s like to single-handedly maneuver a six-foot man from a wheelchair into a car. I could barely manage the feat back then. I’m quite a bit older now, and I know there’s no way I could do what I did back then at this stage in my life.

 

When we moved to our current downsized house twenty-three years ago, we thought we’d live out the remainder of our days here, but we were now confronted with the prospect of moving out of state. We have two sons—the one in Nashville and his older brother, who lives with his family in the San Francisco Bay area. Real estate dollars go much further in Tennessee than they do in California.

 

We had decided we’d put our home up for sale once we both had secured vaccinations and the pandemic was behind us. The universe laughs at me at lot, though, and this was one of those times. The first week in March saw multiple news stories about the booming real estate market in towns with good schools and an easy commute into Manhattan. We live in such a town. Demand is high, especially for smaller homes like ours, and inventory is extremely low. Multiple offers and bidding wars are now the norm. The next thing I knew, we were getting our home ready to put on the market.

 

I’m a Jersey Girl, born and bred. Other than a stint in Philadelphia and its suburbs, I’ve lived my entire life in the Garden State. I love Broadway theater and spending hours wandering through Manhattan’s many museums. I much prefer the Metropolitan Opera House to the Grand Old Opry. Don’t get me wrong, Nashville is very nice. We’ve visited quite often the last two years. But it’s just not where I’d prefer living if I had my druthers.

 

And then there’s Anastasia. What am I going to do about her? She’s also a Jersey girl. All of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries are set in New Jersey and Manhattan. Will she and her family make the move to Nashville? Personally, I think she’s going to dig in her heels and demand to stay put. However, I have time to figure that out. I’m not quite halfway through writing the tenth book in the series. For now, unlike her author, Anastasia doesn’t have to worry about becoming a southern transplant.

~*~

USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

 

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Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Reading with Your Ears--Hooray for Audiobooks!

 By Lynn McPherson

I have to talk--gush--about audiobooks because I've been obsessed with them since the beginning of the pandemic. Many of you may be familiar and well-versed on the many wondrous things about them, but for those of you who haven't yet indulged, I'm here to encourage you to give them a try.

The books in my Izzy Walsh series aren't available as audiobooks (at least not yet) but some of my Stiletto Gang sisters are, like Debra H. Goldstein. Her Sarah Blair Mystery series is a whole lot of fun and I highly recommend it! 

Today, I'm going to share my top three reasons why audiobooks are fabulous.

1. They are a great reason for a walk! I'm always ready to head outside when I'm deep into a fun new mystery. My dog is a fan too because whenever she sees me pull out an earphone it's guaranteed to be an extra long outing. As soon as I get back inside I inevitably get busy with something else, but walks are my time to dig in. If I had to rely on traditional reading, I'd get through way fewer books!

2. It's a great way to travel around the world. I've devoured all the Carlene O'Connor mystery books I could get my paws on and have been delighted to listen to the lyrical Irish accent in her Irish Village Mystery Series. So much fun!

3. You can listen anywhere, anytime. I mentioned walking but that's just the beginning. I listen to audiobooks when I'm driving, cooking, and even in the pool! 

Hot tip: libraries are an excellent place to discover new authors and/or new series to discover!


Have you been a longtime listener, are you a new fan, or have you yet to try? 

Lynn McPherson has worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, ran a small business, and taught English across the globe. She has travelled the world solo where her daring spirit has led her to jump out of airplanes, dive with sharks, and learn she would never master a surfboard. She now channels her lifelong love of adventure and history into her writing, where she is free to go anywhere, anytime. Her cozy series has three books out: The Girls' Weekend Murder and The Girls Whispered Murder, and The Girls Dressed For Murder.  


Monday, March 22, 2021

Short Story Anthologies and Markets

by Paula Gail Benson

First, for short story readers, here are two new anthologies:

The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffet (released February 22, 2021, by Down & Out Books, edited by Josh Pachter) featuring sixteen stories by

Leigh Lundlin, Josh Pachter, Rick Ollerman, Michael Bracken, Don Bruns, Alison McMahan, Bruce Robert Coffin, Lissa Marie, Redmond, Elaine Viets, Robert J. Randisi, Laura Oles, Isabella Maldonado, Jeffrey Hess, Neil Plakcy, John M. Floyd, and M.E. Browning.

Masthead: Best New England Crime Stories (released December 18, 2020, by Level Best Books, edited by Verena Rose, Harriette Sackler, and Shawn Reilly Simmons) is the 18th anthology containing stories set in the New England states and including the Al Blanchard Award Winner, Mary Dutta’s “The Wonderworker”. Other featured authors are: Shannon Brady, Marlin Bressi, Chris Chan, R.M. Chastleton, John Clark, Bruce Robert Coffin, Sharon Love Cook, Tina deBellegarde, Brendan DuBois, Patricia Dusenbury, Gerald Elias, John M. Floyd, Debrah H. Goldstein, Judith Green, Maurissa Guibord, Margaret S. Hamilton, Steve Liskow, Michael Allan Mallory, Jason Marchi, Ruth McCarty, Adam Meyer, Jen Collins Moore, Lorraine Sharma Nelson, Erica Obey, Alan Orloff, Olive Pollak, Tonya Price, Michele Bazan Reed, Pat Remick, Harriette Sackler, Lida Sideris, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Clea Simon, M.J. Soni, Cathi Stoler, Anne Marie Sutton, Larry Tyler, Bev Vincent, and Cathy Wiley.


Second, for short story writers, here’s a new publishing source:

Red Penguin Books offers a number of services for authors: publication, editing, website construction, and marketing. In addition, Red Penguin Books has a series of anthologies, for mysteries, non-fiction, fantasies, histories, children’s books, poetry, plays, and paranormals.

Here’s the link to check out deadlines for upcoming publications:

https://redpenguinbooks.com/upcoming-publications/




Thursday, March 18, 2021

Twins and Other Things That Are Born

 I woke this morning with no clue it was Thursday, much less the third Thursday of the month. 

Oops. 

Covid-brain, you ask? 


Well, the days have certainly run together this year/decade/eternity of a pandemic. But it's simpler--and tougher--than that. Backing up a moment, my daughter and her husband had twins in December. Talk about a Christmas surprise! Twins don't "run" in either family, so R & E were a (delightful) shock and were quickly labeled Double Trouble. 

(Not my grandchildren, but aren't they cute? =>) 


For the past three months, writing has been especially sporadic, since we're spending our days tending babies. At first, it was simply they needed more hands. (How on earth did moms do this in the 50s when they were expected to handle all domestic chores alone???) Now, they have to work and even after a year on the waiting list, their day care doesn't start until July. Yikes!

While I'm the first to say, you have kids when you're young for a reason, it's been interesting (the only all encompassing word I can come up with on one cup of coffee) to see all the ways things have changed. Part of me laughs about it, the rest says, seriously, I'm not that old a dinosaur. Of course, snuggling babies and the eternal maternal rock are the same, but now there's probably an app for everything else. Seriously, there are lactation coaches, sleep assistants on call (but not at 2 AM when you need them), heated cleansing cloths, and an app to track every soiled diaper - including the relevant degree and color of the poop. 

I wouldn't miss this time with my grandchildren. R is a charmer who already knows how to use her engaging smile and bright eyes to entice you to pick her up and play. E - aka Little Man - is more serious, loves jazz as much as I do, and puts much more effort into capturing fingers and toys with his lovely long fingers. (Yes, I'm getting him a keyboard as soon as he can sit up.) 

I promised both my daughters I'd never post pictures of their children on social media, a decision I whole-heartedly support. But the coos from the other room says it's time to load up the stroller and head out. 


An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories.  When not writing, she battles with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.  Visit her at http://cperkinswrites.com or on Facebook 

Sign up for her new release announcement newsletter in either place.

She's hard at work on Peril in the Pony Ring, the sequel to The Body in the Beaver Pond, releasing May 2021!) which was recently presented with the Killer Nashville's Claymore Award. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Superstitions: The Nutty Ties that Bind Writers and Actors

by Barbara Kyle

 


Shakespeare was an actor. So was Dickens.

 

In a way every writer is, because when we create stories we play all the roles inside our heads. It’s part of the joy of writing.

 

Before becoming an author I enjoyed a twenty-year acting career (here I'm with Bruce Gray when we starred in the TV series High Hopes) and I’ve found many commonalities between the two arts. 

 

 

One of the most interesting commonalities is superstitions. 

 

Actors are obsessively superstitious about many things, and one in particular: the name of a certain play by Shakespeare, the one in which a certain Highland lady can’t get blood off her hands. 

 


Actors won’t say the name of this play inside a theater. Instead, they call it “The Scottish Play.” Why? Because it carries a curse.

 

- At its first performance in 1606 the actor who was going to portray Lady Macbeth (a boy in those days) died suddenly and Shakespeare was forced to replace him.

 

- In 1957 actor Harold Norman, playing the lead role, died after his stage battle with swords became a little too realistic.

 

- During a performance starring the famous Sir Laurence Olivier a stage weight crashed down from above, missing him by inches.

 

And what if an unsuspecting soul makes the error of uttering the name of this play inside a theater? Is there a spell to remove the curse?

 

Yes, there is. You leave the theater, spin around three times, spit over your left shoulder, and either recite a line from Shakespeare or spout a profanity. Got it?

 

Writers have superstitions too and they’re just as weird. Here are three that many writers hold:

 

- No chapter can be 13 pages long because that number brings bad luck. Any chapter that ends on page 13 must be revised to make it 12 or 14. (By the way, there’s a name for the fear of the number 13: triskaidekaphobia. Try saying that three times fast!)

 

- Many writers can’t write unless they’re wearing a particular “lucky” piece of clothing, like a certain sweater or a pair of slippers or a hat.

 

- Some writers won’t give characters the same initials as friends — otherwise, the person might suddenly have bad luck.

 

 

Some famous writers had their own pet superstitions:

 

- Alexander Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, had to write all of his fiction on blue paper, his poetry on yellow paper, and his articles on pink paper. No exceptions.

 

- Charles Dickens had to place the ornaments on his desk in a specific order before beginning to write.

 

- Truman Capote refused to begin or end a piece of writing on a Friday.

 

- J.K. Rowling’s superstition is to hold off titling a piece until it is complete. She said on Twitter: “I only type the title page of a novel once the book is finished.”

 

If you’re thinking actors and writers are a bit nuts, you’re not far wrong. After all, we spend our days with imaginary people. As John Gardner said, “One must be a little crazy to write a good novel.” 

 

But it’s a happy madness. One meets such interesting (imaginary) people!

 

So now I’ll cross my fingers, touch wood, toss grains of salt over my left shoulder, and get back to work on my new book.

 

Wish me luck.

 

Barbara Kyle

 

Barbara Kyle is the author of the bestselling Thornleigh Saga series of historical novels (“Riveting Tudor drama” – USA Today) and of acclaimed thrillers. Over half a million copies of her books have been sold. Her latest is The Man from Spirit Creek, a novel of suspense. Barbara has taught hundreds of writers in her online classes and many have become award-winning authors. Page-Turner, her popular how-to book for writers, is available in print, e-book, and audiobook. Visit Barbara at www.BarbaraKyle.com 

   

 

The Man from Spirit Creek
 
When Liv Gardner arrives in the rural town of Spirit Creek, Alberta, she has nothing but her old car and a temporary job as paralegal with the local attorney. But Liv’s down-market persona is a ruse. She is actually in-house counsel of Falcon Oil, a small oil and gas company she co-owns with her fianc√©, CEO Mickey Havelock – and they are facing financial ruin.

Farmer Tom Wainwright, convinced that lethal “sour” gas killed his wife, is sabotaging Falcon’s rigs. But Wainwright is clever at hiding his tracks and the police have no evidence to charge him. With the sabotage forcing Falcon toward bankruptcy, Liv has come undercover to befriend Wainwright – and entrap him.

But Liv never dreamed she’d become torn between saving the company she and Mickey built and her feelings for the very man whose sabotage is ruining them.

On a rain-swept night, Spirit Creek is stunned when one of their own is murdered. The evidence does more than point to Tom Wainwright . . . it shatters Liv’s world.
 

The Man from Spirit Creek is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook. 

 

__________________________________________________________________________

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

 

Marching On!

by Saralyn Richard

 



March is such a brave month! It begins with winds, sometimes with the harshness of winter, and it ends with the first signs of spring. This week, in particular, offers opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate cultural traditions. Sunday was “Pi Day,” Monday was “The Ides of March,” and tomorrow is “St. Patrick’s Day.”

March, for me, is the green month, so today I want to talk about how the green of nature speaks to me as a writer.

A couple of weeks ago, my world was shaken by an unusual natural phenomenon, the Texas Freeze. Many were the hardships from a week of frozen temperatures, lack of power, lack of water, broken pipes, caved-in ceilings, and more. I lived in Chicago for many brutal winters, but Chicago is prepared—homes are better insulated, vegetation is not as delicate—and I never experienced a disaster like this one.

I’d wrapped plants and tree trunks in sheets, towels, and prayers. After everything thawed, and the temperatures returned to normal, between 60 and 70 degrees, it was time to assess the damage. Here are a few sad horticultural photos. There are many of these beloved plants and trees in my yard, some I planted from seeds and have nurtured for years. I’ve fed and watered them, pruned them, enjoyed their fruits.

 





As a writer, I can’t help finding the metaphor. Sometimes, after careful creativity, production, revision, and planning, we put a new novel out into the world. It flourishes and stands as a thing of beauty for all to enjoy. It provides delicious fruit to please and sustain. And, without warning, something unexpected comes along to knock it down. A biting review, a competition lost, canceled launch events, a pandemic. Any of these can and do discourage us, as authors.



 

But the month of March teaches us patience and resilience. It teaches us hopefulness. The green buds of March, and the saucy flowers of the azalea remind me that nature destroys, but nature also heals. That same ebb and flow exists in the life of a book. A book club meeting can spark new interest in a backlisted book. A sterling review from a respected source can make an author’s heart sing. And there are always more contests and online activities galore.

This year, St. Patrick’s Day will give me more reason to celebrate the green. I’m more resolved than ever to March on!

How will you celebrate the green this year?

 

 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Lessons from a Year in Isolation

by Paula Gail Benson

A year ago, so much of the life we were used to changed as we learned that Covid 19 not only was deadly, but spreading rapidly. I have a vivid memory of meeting with church council members and making the decision to “postpone” our bi-annual presentation of the Living Last Supper. At the time, we hoped this would be for a few weeks or months. We have not yet rescheduled.

During this past year, I found myself retreating into more solitary pursuits. I rediscovered the joys of reading books in series, which I had not had time for in the last few years. In addition, I learned about television programing and movies available on Apple and Prime.

Some of what I discovered took me to historical paths, I previously had not explored. I had seen several movies and series about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, but I knew little about Henry VII and the War of the Roses. Watching The White Princess, about Elizabeth of York, and The Spanish Princess, about Catharine of Aragon, both based on books by Phillippa Gregory, gave me a different perspective about English history and the Tudors. In addition, going further back in time with the Brother Cadfael stories, based on books by Ellis Peters and played by Derek Jacobi, made me appreciate modern conveniences and customs in comparison with the medieval lifestyle.

Recently, my viewing had shifted to American history. I discovered April Morning, based on a book by Howard Fast, that told the story of a young man’s experience when the British troops marched from Boston to Concord and exchanged fire with a group of colonists in Lexington, known as the “shot heard round the world.” I tried without luck to discover where the movie had been filmed.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Boston for a conference. I went early and stayed late to do some sightseeing in the area. The movie featured so many locations that were familiar to me from that trip. In particular, I had taken photos of the stone walls along the road from Lexington to Concord. After the colonists had so many casualties in Lexington, they stationed themselves behind the stone walls to fire on the British troops as they returned to Boston. Following the movie, I looked back at the photos I had taken of those walls, having a new regard for the history that had taken place around them.

Previously, I wrote here about watching What the Constitution Means to Me, a filmed version of Heidi Schreck’s Broadway play based on her teenaged experiences of competing in the American Legion Oratorical contests for scholarship money. Having judged a local American Legion Oratorical, I appreciated very much seeing the perspective from a competitor.

Over the weekend, South Carolina held its statewide American Legion Oratorical competition. Unfortunately, due to Covid 19 continuing restrictions, the national one will not take place this year.

I was pleased to be asked to participate as a judge for South Carolina. My church hosted the competition and I found myself back in the room where so many decisions had been made to cancel activities a year ago.


During the competition, in explaining how the Constitution is a living document, one of the students spoke about the events that took place around Lexington and Concord. It was wonderful to hear that a young person had spent a year in isolation as I had, learning from the past and appreciating its impact on the present and future.

In spite of our year in isolation, we go on—still learning and applying the lessons of history to our current time. Hopefully, next year will bring the opportunity to return to travels and gatherings.

Friday, March 12, 2021

F8, F2, and no, they aren't football commands by Debra H. Goldstein


F8, F2, and no, they aren’t football commands by Debra H. Goldstein

I bet I know something you don’t know! It’s something I’m not even sure the protagonist of the Sarah Blair series I write for Kensington knows. For those of you who don’t recall, Sarah, as she demonstrated in One Taste Too Many, the first book in the series, is more frightened of the kitchen than she is of murder. Although her amateur sleuth skills improve in Two Bites Too Many, Three Treats Too Many and the upcoming Four Cuts Too Many, the reality is that she still doesn’t really know the difference between a walk-in freezer and a regular one or between a butcher’s knife and one used for de-boning. That’s why I’m certain she doesn’t know what it means when an oven stove combination flashes F8 or F2.

Sadly, I do.

I say sadly because I learned about each of these flashes the hard way. My story, and I’m sticking to it, is that a few years ago, I decided to clean my oven. I locked the door, turned the buttons accordingly, and waited. Nothing seemed to engage properly, so I flipped the knob to off and tried to start again. Suddenly, there was a sizzling sound, a slight flash and everything was silent. The only thing out of


place was the F8 where the time on the clock had been. I’d blown the brain of my oven. That one took about three weeks from diagnosis to receipt and installation of the parts.

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot more cooking. Because my usual fare was getting boring, I decided to try a service that my daughter uses. For the past five weeks, I’ve ordered 2-4 dinners that come complete…and luckily the ingredients are labeled because I don’t recognize half of them. My husband and I have been pleased with the results and actually amazed that most of the dinners look exactly like the pictures they send as a model for plating.

This is where the F2 comes in. One of the meals was small steaks, a vegetable, and an au gratin type potato. The instructions called for slicing the potatoes into thin slices, putting them in a tablespoon of oil on the stovetop, coating them a bit, and then putting the cast iron frying pan or whatever one used into the oven to finish them off while the steaks cooked – all at 350 degrees. Well, I don’t have a frying pan that I wanted to put in the oven, so I took a cookie sheet – put the steaks on one side and the coated potatoes now topped with some butter on the left and put everything in to bake. There was no question that the potatoes got done like they should, but the steaks weren’t the way we were going to want to eat them. They needed more time to cook.

I took the potatoes out, leaving the residue of them on the cookie sheet, and turned the dial from bake to broil. Only problem, I forgot the rack was higher than it usually is for broiling. Sitting in my sunroom, I looked up at the oven and didn’t even need to put on a light to see the flames coming off the part of the cookie sheet where the potatoes had been. Needless to say, I put the fire out. As I did, I noticed that where the time is usually reflected on the stove, it now read F2 – the universal message for the oven is on fire.

Need I say anymore? Sarah Blair comes by her skills naturally. Oh, and the steaks – perfectly seared. My husband thought it was one of the best meals I’d made.  

Thursday, March 11, 2021

A Ghostly Encounter

I am a certified city of Charleston tour guide. Sometimes I give ghost tours. Once one of the tourists told me that what was scary about my ghost stories was that I told them as a matter of fact, not fantasy.

 

Well, it’s because I’ve had a few ghostly encounters. I thought you might like to read about one of them.

 

My best friend and I babysat at a house in Pinopolis, SC, where we lived. (Side note: it was a fantastic place to grow up!) We had never been told specifics about the ghost in the house, but I had lived at the house next door for a few years and had heard there was a ghost at this house, as there was one in the house I lived in as well, but that’s another story.


Pinopolis is a peninsula on Lake Moultrie outside of Moncks Corner, SC.
 

We put the children to bed. We locked the front door with the skeleton key and placed the key on the credenza all the way across from the front door. We checked the side door (near the dining room) and the back door in the kitchen. 


Once we put the children to bed, we did not check on them again as the room on the right at the top of the stairs gave off weird vibes. When I had to walk past it, and you didn’t have a choice as it was on the way to the rest of the upstairs, I would close my eyes and dash across the doorway, whether the door was open or closed, it did not matter.

 

In the past I had heard someone going up and down the stairs while I bathed the children in the tub between the den and the study. I never saw anyone, even though I would take the kids out of the tub and go investigate. 


A view of Lake Moultrie from a home in Pinopolis.

 

Anyway, back to that night ... We had popcorn and a soft drink, probably Mountain Dew as we were big fans of Mountain Dew. We had just finished watching the Love Boat and Fantasy Island’s starting credits had begun. I was on the couch that was parallel to the wall at the bathroom. My friend was sitting in the lounge chair that was to my left and at an angle facing the television. We were both facing the opening to the hall and the television.

 

I got that eerie feeling that someone watched me. I glanced up at the door between the hall and the den. A little old lady peered at me around the door frame. Her hair was in a bun. She was short. She had on a dress. Her gnarled, arthritic-looking, fingers were gently placed on the door frame. She stared at me until I broke contact to look at my friend. She was staring at the same spot in the doorway. She practically levitated to the spot next to me on the couch after she said, "did you see that little old lady looking at you?"

 

We sat with our hands entwined until the parents arrived. They said the front door was wide open and they fussed at us. We asked them if there was a ghost in the house and gave the description. They were in disbelief, not because they didn't believe us but because they said she never showed herself to anyone but family. (My friend is related to them, but she was staring at me, maybe trying to figure out who I was and why I was there so much?) The parents said it was the man’s relative who had been bedridden in later life and the room at the top of the stairs had been her room.

 

After that, whenever I babysat for the children I'd talk to the ghost and tell her what I was doing so she’d be aware, and maybe, hopefully, not appear to me again!


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Robin Hillyer-Miles lives happily in the Lowcountry of South Carolina with her husband, teenaged son, and three dogs. She's supposed to be editing her latest novel to be self-published but she has been lazy. This new novel is based in a fictional town called Marion's Corner, also located in the Lowcountry. It has a witch, many ghosts, and quite a few people of all ages looking for love. She's published in short-story format and is the president of the Lowcountry Romance Writers of America.


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