On The Blackwater

Musing on retirement, writing, puppies, and whatever else strikes my fancy

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Spending my life in 20-year increments: DC, Calif, Maine, & now in the BlueRidge Mountains of VA, where my YoChon, Sadie Mae, has started to blog...

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sarah's Key is reviewed in today's Roanoke Times

Excellent review of Sarah's Key in today's Roanoke Times. The reviewer said she cried, that she hadn't known about the rounding up of so many Jewish children in Paris. She said she intends to visit some of the sites mentioned in the book when next she goes to France.

Our book club will be reading it shortly. I read the library's copy, then bought my own copy as it is something I want to keep on my bookshelf.

I sent a link for the Times review to Tatiana de Rosnay. She is currently touring France with the book; her blog mentions Book Fairs where teenaged girls flock to meet writers, ask them questions, and, in Tatiana's case, many came back to buy a copy of her book. Apparently, teenagers ARE reading, thank heavens.

From the time I was old enough to have a library card, books have been a daily part of my life. Finding a book I am hardly able to put down is wonderful. These days, I often start a book, read 20 pages or so, then say to myself: Life is too short to read this stuff! Always before, I'd make myself finish a book I'd begun even if I found it dull or trite. No longer; now it must be truly engaging.

Am I finally growing up?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

I know I promised pictures, but...

I refuse to feel guilty about not taking the pictures of our new camper and Sadie Mae as a Halloween angel...yet.

We were struggling to get her into her wings when we discovered that one of the hoses (to the toilet!) in the camper had been left unscrewed. Since Hubby was flushing out all the lines...flushing being the appropriate word, we ended up with soaking bedroom carpet. Fortunately, folks, that was clean water. But mopping up was quite a chore, so the wings and halo are still on the kitchen counter.

Meanwhile, Dick has been off teaching hunter safety classes to kids, and also working with the JAKES, which is a program for kids as well, involving wild turkey hunting. He was gone all day yesterday (Friday) and again today. The DirecTV tech came today to try to resolve problems with our HD set-up. *Groan* He had to install new wiring, new boxes, you name it. Do you have any idea how much dust accumulates behind a wide-panel TV set? He was here from 1:15 until nearly 4. Nice, nice man and very good at fixing what his predecessor had mangled.

OK, those are my excuses for not posting pictures yet. I can TAKE the pictures, but when the doohickey is inserted into the computer to download them, I don't know the magical incantations yet to accomplish that. I watch as it is done, but mumbo-jumbo is not my speciality...or maybe those are techies' swear words...

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Childhood Dreams Realized~

There was a young college professor on GMA the other day, giving what was ironically titled The Last Lecture, intended to be given by someone retiring. But this fellow is dying of cancer in a few months, despite looking very hale and hearty. Part of his lecture was his list of the childhood dreams he came to realize in his lifetime, and he suggested everyone give thought to making such a list, just in case there is something you still need to accomplish.

Here's my list:

1. I began writing at about the age of 10, actually was published in the DC papers when I wrote letters to the editor, then some juvenile magazine printed something I'd written. On I went to write for several magazines, always fortunate enough to be paid for what I was writing, including restaurant reviews (part of the dream!).
I wrote a regular column, every two weeks, for a small-town newspaper in Maine.

Now I've self-published my book of humorous essays AND read one of them on Public Radio (another part of that dream).

2. Wanted to act on the stage. Did, in community theater at the university up in Maine. Was even Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady.

3. Dreamed of being in a chorus line. Well, I did that, too. Again, the university theater when they did
South Pacific...I was one of the dancing nurses and the sailors would grab my ankle as we ran by. (My stepson's best friend was the cutest sailor and HE is now on Broadway in a musical and has acted in several TV shows.)

4. Wanted to be a social worker, but went one better than that, by becoming regional representative for a congresswoman and keeping that position when she was elected to the US Senate, for a total of 18 years. That meant I assisted people with their trials and tribulations with the federal government. Since my husband was a Vietnam vet, that became one area of expertise for me.

5. Dreamed about living in New England, particularly at Christmas time. Lived in northern Maine for 19 years, long enough to realize two feet of snow on top of 6 inches of solid ice was hardly romantic! Note to self: change dream to SW Virginia.

6. Hubby and I together built a part-log home on the side of a mountain, overlooking a beautiful lake. We had help only with the foundation, roof and fieldstone fireplace, built with stones we'd gathered ourselves.

7. Hubby promised we'd go dancing every week (OK, we met during the disco dancing craze in California) but it turned out to be squaredancing up north. Maybe that should count as half a dream!

8. This is a tough one: I wanted to make a difference in this world, and I believe I have in some small way, perhaps by remembering how optimistic and cheerful my Grandmother Booker always was (they called her Toots or Mamie, and the place lit up when she came in the front door) and attempting to follow her example. She'd answer her phone: Good MAWNing! ...and you could hear the big smile in her voice.

We'd go out to lunch and she'd ask the maitre d' to assign the best looking waiter to her table, because "I tip GOOD!" Sometimes she'd get TWO cute waiters, and she'd invite them to come swim in her pool. I don't think anyone ever took her up on that, but I wasn't there all the time. When I called to tell her I was bringing Dick from California to meet her in Florida, and that we were getting married ...she was 80 at the time...she said: Oh, you're so lucky, all I can find are old men!

Some in our family found her to be difficult, but she was always my example, the person I most wanted to emulate. With a twinkle in her eye (my grandfather having passed on years before) she'd say she couldn't wait until she was old enough to pinch young men in elevators and they'd just laugh rather than get offended.

9. I love to sing, although my alto works best surrounded by other alto singers in the choir and the praise choir. I made my debut singing "When I Grow Up" in my best Shirley Temple imitation...singing to the BACK of the school stage, MY back to the audience as I was scared to death! My poor Mom was mortified. I must have been 5 or 6 years old.

10. Fortunately, I lost my fear of speaking to audiences when I first signed up with Toastmasters (as an adult) for exactly that reason and went on to speak at the same podium as governors, senators, etc. My Mom used to tell us we needed to practice good table manners because we might be invited to the White House for dinner some day. Never made it to the White House, but DID have several opportunities to dine at the Governor's Mansion in Augusta, Maine, after my boss, Olympia Snowe, married the Governor. Christmas there was glorious; the garden club decorated incredible trees for every single room. I took my grandkids and stepkids whenever possible, to give them that experience. Jock McKernan (the Governor) was very attentive to them and always posed for a picture with them, once with a group of us sitting on the front of his desk very casually in the Capitol Building.

Hope this hasn't come off as bragging, but as I look back, it's wonderful to focus on how many dreams I did realize, this inner-city child of DC with a presumably bleak future.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Calendar tells me it is fall~

I wore fall clothes to church this morning, and then sweltered as the heat outdoors cranked up again! Looking at the forecast for the week ahead, it's summer clothes still. I stopped at WalMart for a few things and found a satiny set of white angel wings with a halo for Sadie Mae!

I couldn't get her to sit still for me to try them on her, but when Dick finishes up his camper cleaning (he's cleaning the interior now, corner to corner, edge to edge...his Mom did some fine training early on) I'll get him to hold Sadie while I dress her up & take some pictures.

They had a pink princess outfit there, too, but I couldn't see her with a high peaked pink hat and a flowing veil...she'd have had that in shreds in true terrier fashion!

Our church has a trunk or treat night for Halloween, where we park our cars in the big parking lot, open our trunks & share candy with the kids...neighborhood kids are invited too. Moms walk the little ones around from car to car, and we have flashlights and wear costumes, so it's a lovely party that continues inside the church. The kids love Sadie Mae, so I figure she'll have a chance to wear her wings and halo, sitting in the trunk of my PT Cruiser.

Like she'll sit still around all those excited kids...sure!

I'm not sure what I will wear this year...one year, I wore fairy wings myself, but I gave them away to a little girl who fell right in love with them. I think she thought my magic wand was real. I saw a huge wide-brimmed black hat with purple ostrich feathers around the edge at WalMart....hmmmm, that might work!

We usually hand out Tootsie Pops, so our car is one of the favorites...

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cottage Curios in Salem

Each e-mail from Becky boosted the time up that we would meet at Wallie World this morning so I could leave my PT there & we'd take her PT over to Salem. First it was 9:15, then 9, then 8:30, 8:15, finally: 8 am!

Since we're both morning people, this was no problem but it seems Peggy Shifflett, owner of Cottage Curios, had a group of 40...honest, 40!...wives of pediatric surgeons coming to her shop around 9-9:30 & she wanted to get three of us writers set up in her Red Room, where she displays books by local writers on shelves surrounding Christmas displays. Peggy's shop is a consignment shop; i.e., weavers, knitters, painters, writers, and other creative people she knows display their works for sale, with 15% going to Peggy.

Her taste is exquisite...I wanted to buy things as soon as my books started selling. I DID find a very old gold-trimmed covered casserole dish identical to one my grandmother used to have. I also found a beautiful antique-looking bracelet, but someone else bought it before I could make my mind up.

When the doctors' wives arrived, it was great. Each wore a name tag complete with city they were from: Nashville, TN; Georgia, Kentucky, everywhere imaginable. They were delighted with Peggy's shop and laughed a lot when Becky read from her 2nd Peevish Advice book and as I read from my When Men Move to the Basement. Apparently, even doctors move to the basement...one woman laughed & said her husband takes up space all over the house & SHE is the one who needs to find her own space! Dick Raymond was there from Roanoke, reading some of his poetry and promoting his military book. The women had just come from touring the Bedford War Memorial and were very impressed with that site. Dick also played his ukulele & sang a bit.

Meanwhile, Peggy had set chairs outside under a big tree, giving a talk about her own books, Mom's Family Pie: Memories of Food, Traditions & Family in Appalachia and her first book, The Red Flannel Rag: Memories of an Appalachian Childhood. That way, about 20 women were inside the house/shop, going from room to room, while another 20 were outside listening to Peggy's presentation.

Oh, and there was food...Baked Apple Dumplings made from a recipe in Peggy's Family Pie book were steaming up the kitchen, along with fresh hot coffee.

Just before we left, about noon, in came Ibby Greer and an old friend of hers, Diane. They had already had lunch, but steered us to a newly opened tea room on West Main Street in Salem Called "Petticoats & Petit Fours Tea Room." Lace-covered tables, cloth napkins, lovely teacups, well...it was certainly elegant. I had a chicken salad sandwich on a croissant with halved grapes flavoring the chicken, a salad of mixed greens, a white chocolate scone with pineapple cream (yes, I really needed that after my 10 am apple dumpling, yes indeedy) and iced tea. Ida B., of course, in keeping with the elegance, had a pot of Earl Gray tea and a slice of spinach quiche with her salad & scone.

I wanted to waddle back to Rocky Mount behind Becky's PT but she talked me out of it ....


Friday, September 21, 2007

Mr. Clean has been shining up the camper

We got her all insured at an amazingly low cost & Hubby has been cleaning and polishing, removing tar streaks from the top where the former owners had secured a porch roof. When we went over to the bank to complete the paperwork, the loan officer said she'd gone to the Web site and realized what an incredible buy it was.

The insurance woman looked at the pictures and said: You paid WHAT? That's just incredible. (She then showed the pictures to the others in the office.)

We also found that there's no problem with the insurance coverage if we move the unit up to Maine to a trailer park to spend summers there; apparently, damage to campers usually occurs when they are being towed on a highway, not when they're firmly set into one spot.

My daughter is really tickled that we'll only be 10 miles away when we're up there.

Amy, as for traveling around, we've been there & done that. I'll have to blog about the time we rented a pop-up camper & took Dick's two kids down to Bar Harbor. Oh my, that was an experience! But now, we're more about visiting family. Our grown kids are all over the US: Montana, Tennessee, Alabama and Maine. Some can easily come visit us; for others, it is more difficult. This will at least give us two locations.

I'll get Dick to take some pictures of the interior; he'll begin cleaning that tomorrow while I'm off to Cottage Curios in Salem for a reading/signing. Becky tells me the owner, Peggy Shifflett, is expecting quite a crowd.

Oh, further note: I posted my throw-together fish chowder recipe a few Blogs ago. I bought some nice catfish today & wondered how that would work in a chowder, so I made one tonight & threw in some really tiny baby carrots & the kernals from an ear of corn leftover from last night. I think I mentioned that you simmer cut-up potatoes, plus the saute'd chopped onion and celery, in chicken broth to cover until softened...well, I added the carrots then. Since the fish was fairly thick, I put the chunks in when the potatoes were almost done, then added the fat-free LandOLakes half & half.

Dick had been cleaning the camper all day, so after he showered (& it was raining a nice soft rain here all afternoon...soup weather!) he ate 2 big bowls of chowder & asked if there'd be enough leftover for his lunch tomorrow. Perfect! And the catfish was luscious.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Camper from Richmond

Sadie Mae had her first adventure with a lengthy drive yesterday, going with us (straight into the rising sun) to Richmond and back (right into the setting sun, of course) as we bought our used camper & hauled it home.

I am so glad Dick knows about hauling loads. He took along some special 'arms' (?) & chain & his drill & other things he'd known we would need, along with a check from our bank for the agreed-upon price provided we liked the camper & the condition it was in. Since it was a bank foreclosure, we could not be sure it would be in mint condition as a 1999 Holiday Rambler, 33 feet long. The pictures online were very clear but we needed to step into the camper, put the slide-out in operation, check the bathroom...some campers have tiny bathrooms...this one was spacious, with sink & vanity on one side, then the flush, then a roomy enclosed shower stall much like a house or apt would have.

Everything looked tip-top. Sofa will need a good cleaning, brown rug looks fine but probably should be steamed. One cupboard door had been broken off but will be easily fixed by my handyman hubby. Long awning hadn't been used; the previous owners had parked it in a trailer park & put some kind of porch onto it. The tires were brand-new. There are some disability bars mounted in the bathroom; my guess is the owners were elderly, kept it at a trailer park for occasional visits...nothing looks like it had been used very much, including the stove, oven, fridge, microwave. It may be that one of the couple died, putting the unit into foreclosure when the survivor could not pay the loan off. Total guess there.

We checked everything out, hubby even climbing a ladder to check the top of the unit, the AC, etc. Then we closed the deal, hooked it up to the Tundra and hauled it West to Rocky Mount. It was a smooth trip; couldn't even feel the camper behind us according to the driver. Backing it in next to our garage was a bit of a struggle...I suspect our neighbors down in the hollow heard me holler "STOP!" in a bit of a panic when the camper tore a foot-long piece of gutter off the garage, but they must not have called 911 'cause we did finally get it straightened out. Notice I say "we"? Well, I was the person guiding it into place. If I'd been driving Dick's truck, we'd probably be building a new garage right now.

It will stay here in Rocky Mount as a guest cottage, when family and friends come to visit us, maybe on their way to NASCAR?

As for Sadie Mae, she was delighted to get home last night. She's a good traveler; drank water several times but like Muffie, the Lhasa we had for 16 years, she wouldn't eat while traveling, saving her appetite for home. She also made up to every male who came over to see her, the little hussy. Especially the fellow at the RV place, who had owned a Yorkie for years. Sadie practically wagged her tail off whenever he'd come near her. I guess she'll never be a good watch dog, unless the person is on the other side of our front door. It's a good thing we have two chocolate Labs...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dream Realization Time

When we retired here to SW Virginia, my mother's home state (if Fairfax can be considered as being in the same state!) we talked about splitting our time between VA and northern Maine by either building a small camp up there or putting a camper in place. The older we both get, the more a camper sounds like the best solution, and this last long, hot summer was the convincer. Campers have AC, for one thing.

Tomorrow, we drive at the crack of dawn to Richmond to check out a used camper that a bank has put up for sale after their foreclosure action. It's sad to take advantage of someone else's loss, but the nearly half-price bid having been accepted contingent upon our actually viewing the camper makes it a great bargain.

It looks beautiful; we'll see if it is, and haul it home; it'll make a nice 'guest cottage.' Dick's good high school buddy runs a very nice camper park with hot showers, washers and dryers, internet and cable access, with a ridiculously low annual fee. The camper we're looking at does have a nice shower, but the park's showers are roomy.

Dick would be able to stay in the camper during hunting season, or to guide hunters. Best laid plans...who knows? The camper may turn out to be less than promised; we could be driving back to Rocky Mount disappointed and disillusioned.

But no! Let's think positive! Will blog about what happens, you betcha.


Monday, September 17, 2007

E-mail from Alyson Hagy

I e-mailed Alyson Hagy, author of Snow, Ashes with my lingering question regarding her very graphic descriptions of bodily fluids in her book. Some of us were actually unable to finish the book. I hadn't wanted to bring that up during the conference call, but then I discovered others had the same question.

Here's her reply:


Another great question!

I think the answer has two parts to it. First, I grew up on a farm...around lots of animals and a father who hunted. We saw a lot of "bodily fluids." I don't think it's a surprise that both my brothers are surgeons. Nothing fazes them. Second, I think ranching/ farming people...and soldiers...maintain a very high sense of physical awareness. Outdoor work is work that depends upon--and sometimes hurts--the body. I was struck by how much the Korean memoirs I read mentioned the cold, the ruined bowel function, the stink, the blood, the everything...not to mention the lice, fleas, and rats. I guess I was trying to be true to how Adams would experience the world. But that may well mean that the book is too yucky...maybe even to intense or profane...for many readers. Writing fiction always raises this question for me: What is true for a character v. what can a reader bear? Since readers come in all shapes and sizes, I just try to draw the line in the best place and hope I don't drive away too many people.

I really enjoyed my time with the book club. You all are a strong group.


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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Soup Recipes~

Mind you, I don't measure much, so proceed with caution.

salt pork or thick bacon, chopped
2 leeks, cleaned & sliced (or sweet onion)
haddock or cod fillet chunks
(any seafood you have: shrimp, scallops, crab meat)
chopped celery with inside leaves
chicken or veggie broth
2-4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
fat-free LandOLakes Half & Half
parsley (fresh is best)
Using a large stock pot, saute' salt pork or bacon until crisp, remove from pan leaving drippings. Add leeks & celery & saute', then pour in about 2 cups broth. Add potato cubes, and simmer until potatoes are soft. Add
cream. At this point, add salt & pepper & adjust any of the liquid to your taste. Then add the haddock or cod, which can still be partly frozen. Once the fish is done, it should break apart some into the chowder. This is when you can add any other fish you have handy or just stay with the fish chowder, adding parsley, the crisp bacon, and butter at the end.
1 chopped sweet onion
several sliced carrots (I like the tiny ones sliced in half length-wise)
sliced celery hearts, including small leaves
olive oil
sliced cabbage
2 cans kidney beans, drained
2 can garbanzo beans (if desired), drained
2 large cans chopped tomatoes with juice
one box veggie or chicken broth
macaroni or other pasta, uncooked
Italian herb mix, parsley & extra oregano (if desired)
salt & pepper
Using a large stock pot, saute' the onion, carrots and celery in olive oil until the carrots are sweet-tasting,
then add the sliced cabbage, stir until somewhat wilted. Add the beans and chopped tomatoes, then the broth. Bring mix to a boil, then add the pasta. Add herbs. When the pasta is done, the soup is done. Perfect for a cool rainy day.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ah...Cool morning after the rain

I'm actually baking a loaf of gluten-free bread for hubby, since it is cool and breezy today. Yes, I know I can crank the AC up & bake any time, but somehow when we had Mod-U-Kraf put this house together for us, we didn't put a ceiling fan in the dining area or kitchen. We DO have cross-ventilation when we open the window or the big glass door out onto the sunporch, but maybe someday hubby will install a screened door on the front door. (Which will ruin the look of the frosted glass window, but hey! we're down in the woods, so this is not a problem).

Gosh, if it stays cool as predicted, I'll even fix a nice big pot of soup. I'll clean out the crisper (AKA the slime-er) & fix a nice veggie/bean soup. Hubby has already voted for corn pancakes tonight, as he knows I put together a GF pancake mix. When the doctors tell you all the things you cannot eat, like pizza & pancakes & bread & rolls & cakes & cookies...when you have Celiac, it creates a craving for just those foods. He forever wants to stop at IHOP on the way home from Roanoke, then he can only eat something like the meatcraver's breakfast. Did you know IHOP even puts flour into their omeletts?

Guess this is a food blog today...last Thursday, the Roanoke Times ran a big piece on Captain Tim's Galley, a seafood restaurant in Buena Vista about an hour and ahalf from us here in Rocky Mount. That's exactly what Westlake needs; an actual real seafood restaurant. The fellow who started it is a former tugboat captain, so he comes by the Captain Tim title legitimately. Now I just have to talk Hubby into driving an hour and ahalf for a meal; he is the original "let's not leave town" restaurant person, which gives us very few choices.

Has he forgotten that I reviewed restaurants when he met me in Calif0rnia? That I took him with me to some very high-quality places where the managers/owners were delighted to see us come in the door? (These were not surrepticious reviews; the restaurants had contracted with a magazine I wrote for, and a year's advertising contract entitled them to a big spread in the mag once a year. So I tried to find something on the menu that I could genuinely recommend. The magazine was distributed to motels & hotels, coffeeshops and cafe's in the Sacramento area. Since they also carried a weekly TV guide section, they got into each room at a motel for instance.)

So BF, then fiance', then hubby loved all the attention and even learned to enjoy escargot...in the shell, in garlic butter please.

Have to admit, much of the enjoyment of visiting new restaurants disappears when you have to determine whether there is wheat in anything...sauces, gravies, breading, even corn taco shells sometimes have wheat.

Forget crab cakes (except those I make at home). Also any cream soups.

Well, just took that beautiful loaf of bread out of the oven. For anyone needing to know this: after three years of searching for a decent GF bread, I discovered "Gluten-Free Pantry" from Canada, distributed through Connecticut to health food stores. Their White Sandwich Loaf mix, which I bake in a regular bread pan, is excellent. It's about $4.50 a package, but cooking and baking for a Celiac-diagnosed person IS expensive.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Wonderful Rain!!

When I got out of my car at the Moneta Library for today's Lake Writers meeting just before 10 am, the rain was starting up. Hooray! It was definitely coming down. Predictions were we'd get about one to two hours of steady rain...well, at noon, lunch at Red, Wine & Blues, then getting my hair cut at Eric's at Westlake, then filling up the gas tank at Kroger's AND a bit of shopping there, of course...all accompanied by rain, rain, rain.

No, I am NOT complaining! I felt like a new little bird, opening her beak to the skies like Mama Bird, feeling the rain on my face.

My few plants out on the deck responded immediately...the hanging fuchscia sent out blooms right away, the orange and yellow Million Bells, which has suffered terribly through this drought, soaked up the rain ...(listen, hear those tiny bells?).

We'll have a few sunny-but-not-hot days, then it looks as if we'll have some more rain. Thank you, thank you!

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pavarotti is gone & a light vanishes from the world

Yes, I know his voice lives on through recordings, through videos, soaring with the three tenors...but his larger-than-life joy, his delight, that smile. Gone. Stories about his travels, with food in his suitcases, his frequent need to nap so he could awake...and eat...and drink some red wine...and SING!...his genuine love of people (how else could three competing tenors agree to travel and sing together and survive, if not for his ebulience, his charm?).

We knew, and of course he knew, that his huge frame was damaging his health. We will so miss him, and miss that presence, that love, that voice.

I can only feel the happiness of our luck in having him on this earth for so long. And I admit: those of us of a certain age have our memories of his glorious voice, while today's younger teens and 20-year-olds will have memories only of....oh, Britney Spears? Paris Hilton? Lindsay Lohan? ... perhaps their memories will be about Madonna? Michael Jackson?? Who am I missing here?

Pavarotti gave us opera for the masses, and I am grateful for his gift to us.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Alyson Hagy Phone Conference

Our Franklin County Library book club, Eclectic Readers, had a 45-minute phone conference with Alyson Hagy, since we had just read her latest book, Snow Ashes. I had difficulty reading her novel, even though she is an incredibly talented writer. For some reason, she often focuses on, for want of a better term, bodily fluids. I've never been a fan of vividly descriptive repugnant things! Perhaps it is her having been raised in a family with a father as a doctor; perhaps she's used to those kinds of descriptions.

Not wishing to bring that up with her, I chose to ask her two things: First, where in the world did she find the time to write? She teaches at the University of Wyoming, is raising a family, and writes continuously...how?

She laughed and told us she also reads, reads, reads. That her ideal set-up would be to write all morning, then snuggle into a chair and read all afternoon and evening, but that is not...yet...to be. She DOES write mornings, usually 9-noon. Since she teaches at a university, that's hardly a 9-5 kind of job. She can teach a few afternoons a week, and/or evening classes, so she finds it easy to write with that kind of schedule.

My second question was: I find it pretty impossible to write fiction, but do write nonfiction and write humorous pieces based on factual happenings. She said she'd just had a discussion with a very successful writer she knows, about that very subject, and they came to the conclusion that Alyson, having had a childhood that was quite comfortable, without trauma or dramatic change, had to "make up stories," i.e., write fiction. Whereas, someone who has had a lot of interesting experiences, in her childhood and/or after that time, has plenty of material to draw on with no need to create a fictional base.

Thinking along those lines, I DO know authors who have said they wished they'd had more to draw from in writing, but Darn! They'd had too happy an upbringing.

Since my childhood was much like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn except that both parents drank, this sounds very plausible to me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11th~

My memories of that awful morning aren't as personal as others, but who can forget where we were and what we saw that day?

Dick had just driven 22 hours home from Maine, stopping only to drink strong coffee, use the restroom, and fill the gas tank. He drove past the Towers off in the distance, he drove by the Pentagon, finally arriving home around 7 am. I was watching GMA in the living room; he crashed onto our bed and was immediately asleep.

Suddenly, the TV screen filled with the unbelievable scene: a plane had flown into one of the towers of the Trade Center! Must have been a small plane gone off track, I thought. I rushed to wake Dick and made him watch with me as the unthinkable tragedy unfolded...as the second plane, leaving an indelible shape behind, crashed into the other tower.

We cried as we saw people falling from the towers, smoke billowing, people screaming down on the streets of New York. Again and again, we thought: This cannot possibly be happening. It's a movie, somehow, it cannot be!

But of course, it was happening. People were dying as we sat, mesmerized, watching all day and nearly all night long, then all week long, tears streaming down as we tried to comprehend that there were people out there, countries full of people, who hated us Americans. Hated us! Hated our stores, our religions, our children, our parents, US! Hated us enough to kill themselves in order to destroy us. Hated us enough that mothers would encourage their sons and daughters to become suicide bombers.

It is still impossible for me to get my head around that concept, that a mother would willingly sacrifice her child because of her hatred of a religion different from her own.

We lost SO much that day, six years ago.


Monday, September 10, 2007

School Bus Cake

OK, I got the pix on here, sorta. The kids loved it, especially when I cut up the schoolbus. The driver cookie was very popular. And you can't tell, but the passengers were little elfin cookie faces.


Saturday, September 08, 2007

One Schoolbus Cake, coming up...

OK, this screams out for a picture, which I will take tomorrow when we get the entire table set up at church. I'm so pleased that the cake turned out, but I surely do have lots of goodies left over, which will be set out for the kids on Sunday.

Four small chocolate donuts for tires: well, of course I had to buy a bagful, right? Cut up red gumdrops for lights on the outside of the yellow bus...so I get a bag of mixed gumdrops of course. No black gel decorating frosting to be found, so an entire bag of black licorice strips must be sacrificed to scissors and pressed onto the yellow bus...well, three or four strips, the others will be set out as well. (Didja ever know that both red and black licorice is made with wheat flour?. Celiac-afflicted hubby can't go near licorice.)

When I was looking for the two poundcakes I needed, I was getting a bit frantic until I checked out the freezers and found good old Sara Lee had come through. So I ate the chunk I cut off the top cake to form the front of the bus...SOMEbody had to do it.

Flat small cookies for faces peering from the bus. Hmmmmm. Of course, you can't tell the size of a cookie from the bag it is in, but I discovered gingersnaps to be the perfect size for the bus driver. One cookie needed, entire bag goes...you guessed it...to the table tomorrow. For the passengers, I found some small elfin figures, with faces already (!) in a Keebler package. I whacked off their faces & pressed them onto the windows.

Canned frosting worked fine for the bus itself...I got two cans of white frosting, tinting one yellow for the top and sides of the bus.

Adorable! You can find the complete directions, along with a video, at FamilyFun.com. (Thanks again, Amy!) I put the bus together while the GF mocha chocolate cupcakes were baking. I'll frost them with GF fudge frosting. We'll scatter the table with crayons, rulers, packs of Smarties (thanks again, Amy!) and other school stuff I picked up at the Dollar Store. Our preschool director has promised to help us clean up after the party so she can gather up the school supplies she so desperately needs for her little darlings.

It was a day worth spent. I haven't made a special cake (or cupcakes) for children in ages. I remember a cookbook I had 40 years ago with cut-up cakes for kids. I must have made every cake in that book. So it was fun to go back in time this way.

Tomorrow, pictures I promise.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Please Don't Order Salad at The Hub~

OK, I shoulda known. The Hub in Rocky Mount is famous for their butterscotch pie, their veggie plates, their pancakes in the morning. But salads are just not their thing!

Today, I was meeting a GF for lunch at 1 at Edible Vibe. But EV was closed; they were having some construction done, so we went to The Hub. When hubby and I first moved here, every time we drove somewhere we ended up at The Hub. It became our big joke. "Oh, look, there's the Hub..again!"

So there we were, looking over the menu. Their specials seemed quite heavy, so both of us decided to try a salad plate...me, tuna, and GF had chicken salad. Our waitress was delightful...they're great there, as is the friendly owner. Here came our salads, on Fiesta-ware, so nice.


A small scoop of tuna salad was centered on two, tiny wilted lettuce leaves, decorated with two tiny cherry tomatoes, one on each side of the plate, half a boiled egg, and one slice of cucumber. I could have put it in my left eye and still have seen around it. Oh, and 3 packets of those thin crackers. This lunch, with a tall glass of iced tea, certainly was no threat to any diet! So, yeah, I had to have their last slice of butterscotch pie. Yummy!

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Pen Women of Salem, VA

I drove to W. Main Street, Salem, to read some of my essays from When Men Move to the Basement. Arriving about 12:20 for the 12:30 luncheon meeting, I worried when I saw the rather nondescript storefront building facing the busy street. I'd expected something more like we have in Rocky Mount; a delightfully designed and maintained little coffee shop.

Going inside, I was pleased to see the interior was very attractive. Perhaps they have not yet worked on the front of the shop, although that is where a business would generally start in order to attract customers.

Their meeting rooms are quite roomy, each with a large oval wooden table and very comfortable executive-type chairs. When I went out to the main shop to order an iced coffee, I learned it would be part of my pre-ordered lunch. Not only that, it was "Thirsty Thursday" so they automatically went to the next larger size for me. Delightful young women behind the counter each brought our lunches; mine was a tasty chicken salad on a croissant with chips and a dill pickle slice. Perfect with my iced cinnamon coffee.

There was not a full crew for the meeting--a talented sculptor named Gail sat next to me. Having broken her left foot, she was wearing one of those clunky walking casts with which I have become only too familiar. Her story was that she'd broken her foot while chasing her husband with a can of whipped cream, slipping on a patch of the whipped cream. OK. Works for me, and much more interesting than "I slipped and fell."

Another woman named Gail sat across from me and her table partner, wearing very dark glasses to combat the overhead flourescent lighting that exacerbated an eye condition, looked as if she were incognito, a mysterious movie star perhaps. Ethel, at the end of the table, ran the meeting. Peggy Shiflette, whom I had met at Ibby Greer's home, held down the other end of the table. Becky Mushko kept notes as their regular secretary was with her husband as he was having surgery. Other members were unable to attend, so it was a small, cozy group.

The Pen Women conducted their business meeting in a short period of time, and then Becky introduced me. Giving a bit of information to them regarding my move from northern California to northern Maine, and then to Rocky Mount, I proceeded to read first (by request) the essay that became my book title, When Men Move to the Basement, and then had time enough to read Morning Coffee to much laughter. We discussed the fact that most men DO move to the basement, or another room in the house, and several there (after all, these are writers all) knew exactly what was happening when I threw my nightgown into the washer in Morning Coffee.

I have to admit I do love women as an audience; they identify so readily with the predicaments I've gotten into.

Gratifyingly, everyone bought a copy of my book! Not only that, when I left the Daily Grind, I drove by Peggy Shiflett's shop, Cottage Curios, and stopped in first because I'd signed her copy of my book--but had neglected to actually SIGN it. Secondly, Becky had thought Peggy might want to carry my book on consignment. She did; I placed three copies with her, which went on her local authors' shelf. She told me she plans a monthly event when her artists, knitters, craftspersons all sit in various rooms of her lovely shop, and she asked me if I might be interested in signing books on Saturday, 22 September.

So this was a very productive day for me indeed. And thanks to Becky Mushko, who is a member of the Pen Women of Salem, for getting the ball rolling so I could meet this friendly group of women writers/artists.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Busy day; tiring too

Our Franklin County Library BookFest committee held a brief meeting today to discuss next year's August event, possible writers to invite as speaker(s), the very successful coffeehouse readings and what and whom to include next time.

It's possible we'll have coffeehouse readings every several months, with all the local authors we have that could participate; we also hope to have our new branch open after the first of the year, at Westlake. So we'll be considering a coffeehouse venue to draw attention to that location.

Lots going on, and some of the names that came up were exciting. Stay tuned...

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Walking in Jefferson's Footsteps

We packed a snack picnic and headed out to Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest retreat near Bedford. Driving about an hour from Rocky Mount, we got there shortly before the next 40-minute guided tour of his famous octagonal second home.

It seems his wife had inherited the acreage when her father passed on, and Jefferson at that time was overwhelmed with drop-in visitors, strangers often, who thought nothing of approaching Monticello at any hour of the day or night, tapping on windows, knocking on doors, expecting to be invited in.

So this acreage, a three-day journey from DC by stagecoach (2 days by horseback) was the answer to his prayers; he could design the retreat HE wanted, and achieve the peace and quiet, the solitude, he so desired.

We had a wonderful time; our guide was extremely knowledgeable and very charming indeed. I'd add more, but I'm planning to write this visit up for Prime Living, so I need to get all my notes together first for that effort.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Church was nearly empty this morning...

Labor Day being the last long weekend before school begins (usually) those of us in the choir looked out on about half a congregation. We do have several in the hospital, but they are doing well and should return home soon.

Our Celebration Sunday (sheet cake, punch, coffee) is usually held the first Sunday of every month, when we celebrate anniversaries and birthdays in the month, but today we'd postponed the event until next Sunday. Sure am glad we did that; we need a full church to eat all the goodies! We'll be decorating to honor teachers as well; we have many teachers at our church, and want to let them know how we feel about the difficult job they have taken on.

Amy, my plan is to make two of those schoolbus cakes, and a batch of gluten-free chocolate cupcakes as well. Then we'll scatter the table with crayons, pencils, rulers, etc. Our preschool director will get to take the decorations downstairs with her, to use as her classes begin.
This morning, on Good Morning America's weekend version, they introduced a new cartoon character after my own heart! It seems Scholastic.com, who publish the magazine used in schools as a teaching aid, have come up with a 9th grade little girl character who, once she puts on her red cape, gains super powers as....Word Girl!

She'll be working with kids on their grammar, punctuation, spelling...you name it. I'm not sure if she'll be on the cartoon channel or at the Scholastic Web site, but I am delighted. Her sponsors said they felt it was time to work with something positive, something that will help youngsters as they progress through school and go on to careers.

I couldn't find the details on the GMA site, but found Word Girl on Scholastic.com after a search on that site.

As someone who shudders everytime she hears: He's got, she's got, you've got (mail, for instance) when it should be: He has, she has, you have....

It seems every advertiser has sunk down to the muddy level of using very poor grammar...let's hope Word Girl gets on their case.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

RAIN! We got a gully-washer last night

Woke up around midnight to a downpour that went on for about two hours. Hubby ran around closing the sunroom windows (we'd long ceased closing them up for 50%, 60% chance of rain that never did show up). Then, of course, the rain began washing out our Not State Maintained gravel road, Grahams Drive, leaving ruts and gaps...

Just now, Dick took his ATV down the gravel road he just put in on our land, that goes to our meadow and then to the Blackwater River. He was NOT a happy camper upon his return, as those two hours of rain managed to un-do a lot of his hard work.

I think I'll fix one of his fave meals tonight, called a goulash by my family, and American Chop Suey by the folks in northern Maine where he was raised. Basically, I take a large nonstick deep frypan, saute' some chopped Vidalia (sweet) onion, add a pound of very lean ground beef, then a large jar of Prego chunky tomato sauce. Meanwhile, I've been boiling up some penne' or macaroni or whatever I have (gluten-free) and I drain that & dump it in. Oh, sometimes I add fresh mushrooms. Hubby doesn't care for them, so tonight I'll leave them out.

After the flavors meld together, oh, maybe 20 minutes, I sprinkle some grated mozzarella cheese and put a top on the pan so it can melt and get all gooey. I make a lot for the two of us, 'cause this is a dish that nukes up nicely.

A nice glass of red wine, a Romaine salad, and he should mellow right out...

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