Happy B-day to Me & to Our Critique Group

flowers and computer

This is my birthday week, and I’m tempted, of course, to reflect on fond memories and post a few vintage pictures. I’m sure to do that in the future, but I’ve decided to look forward on this anniversary of my birth. Personal goals in the coming year are to form even firmer bonds with those individuals who matter to me AND to pursue further publication of my work with renewed structure and vigor.

I’m happy to say that I belong to several national and regional organizations that help to support writing and publication goals. I took advantage of local offerings and joined a writing critique group at the library soon after my move to Texas. Its members write in various genres and come from many different walks of life. We present our works for group feedback, share pertinent writers’ questions or information, and celebrate our successes.

Sometimes that meeting just once a month wasn’t quite enough to keep me motivated. About a year ago, I pursued the concept of a critique group for writers and illustrators of children’s literature, and “Write 4 Kids” was born! We also meet once a month at the library to present our works-in-progress, including books, stories, illustrations and query letters for potential publishers and agents.

In addition to providing feedback, we also share questions, information, disappointments and successes. Our numbers have grown steadily, and attendance continues to motivate and enlighten a group of local authors and illustrators. The input, friendship and support of both groups have been invaluable to me.

Another personal goal for the upcoming year is for my continued growth as an effective critique group member. Sometimes it’s too easy for one to offer a possible “fix” for a piece. The first order of business should be a focus on the positives and “what works.” I have to admit that my work as a freelance editor sometimes causes me to look for small surface errors instead of focusing on the “broad picture.”  I must remember to practice what I preach!

As always, soon after my birthday comes the first day of spring. I hope that your own season of renewal, wherever you’re located, will bring beauty, hope, and happiness.





Peter Mayle: A Life in Provence



I was recently saddened to learn that one of my favorite authors, Peter Mayle, has died. The first book I ever bought by Mr. Mayle was Where Did I Come From?, which was purchased over 40 years ago in anticipation of telling my children about the facts of life. Decades later, when I was introduced to his travel memoir, A Year in Provence, I had no idea that this was even the same author. During the intervening years, he had published several other books for children and worked in advertising. He and his wife then took the plunge and gave up their lives in England to relocate in France.

The book was serialized for the BBC, and I came across the videos (yes, videos) at the library, while living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Filmed in Provence, the story was mesmerizing. I could relate in some small way to what he and his wife faced, having myself moved to various parts of the U.S. and adjusted to unfamiliar cultures. Those changes never required learning another language, however!

The views and vistas portrayed in the films were like nothing I have ever had access to on a daily basis, even in the most scenic areas of Michigan’s Great Lakes, North Carolina’s shores, Virginia’s mountains, or Texas Hill Country. Beyond the story’s familiar theme of moving to a different type of world, one can also find the more elusive theme of life never being too far along to try something new. This is such an important belief, and I think it resonates for many of us.

The mini-series wasn’t a critical success, evidently, although John Thaw’s portrayal of Peter Mayle was excellent. I loved it, though, and have watched it more times than I care to admit. Thanks to finding the series on the dusty bottom shelf at the library, I was led to the body of works by this wonderful author. I still remember the pleasure of cuddling up by the fireplace with a snowstorm raging outdoors and experiencing the warmth of the French countryside and the scent of lavender.

Peter Mayle wrote several successful sequels to that book, which are presented a bit more like collections of short stories. All the books contain humor, food, wine, weather, friendship, local culture and beautiful locales. How else would I ever have bumped into truffles (the mushroom-like fungi, not the chocolates), boules, the mistral, or pastis? This author wrote other enjoyable non-fiction, in addition, usually centered on various interesting aspects of French culture. To my delight, there were also his novels to devour, which portray many of the same characteristics as his memoirs, along with crimes solved, business deals conducted and wine produced. There’s some romance to be found, as well. A lovely movie with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard is based on Mayle’s book, A Good Year.

With regret, I have to admit that I didn’t bring the entire collection of Mr. Mayle’s books with me when I moved. I did keep A Year in Provence, of course, and I especially value my ARC (advance reading copy/uncorrected proof) of A Good Year, with the plain blue cover. This format seems just that much closer to the author’s keyboard, somehow.

Try his first book, and if you love it, you’ll have a treasure trove to explore beyond that one. I’m extremely sorry that he’s gone, but surely this author knew that his writing had affected the lives of others, as evidenced by the book sales and fans, increased tourism to Provence, and readers who sought him out when visiting the region.

Merci, Monsieur Mayle!

Cooking with a Twist

1960s Veg-O-Matic

As a kid, I loved the commercials that appeared on television around the holidays featuring people who demonstrated those “slicer and dicer” kitchen tools. Slice-O-Matic, Chop-O-Matic, Veg-O-Matic…you get the idea. Their hands moved more quickly than a magician’s, and I expected a severed finger to surely end up in with the wavy potato slices or the tomato wedges! I remember wondering why my mother didn’t have one of those contraptions, but she always just stuck with her trusty, favorite paring knife.

I’m not really one for kitchen gadgets, myself, and was surprised to find a food spiralizer under the tree this past Christmas morning. Even if you haven’t made any of these spirals, yourself, you’ve probably seen some “ready-made” in the grocery stores, with squash seeming to be one of the most popular. The end results when using this bladed tool are basically vegetables or fruits cut to look like strands of pasta.

The spiralizers evidently come in multiple formats, from various types of rotary incarnations that help the users build arm muscles, to deluxe electric models, with mine being the rotary sort. I’ve experienced mixed outcomes, but still have many fruits and vegetables to try. Eggplant turned out to be too squishy, and the broccoli stems were a challenge, but do-able. My best results, so far, have been with zucchini and summer squash. I won’t resort to calling them “zoodles” or “squoodles,” but they really do resemble noodles and taste great!

The internet is awash with related recipe ideas, but I came up with one based on ingredients that I happened to find in my refrigerator and cupboards, so I’ve included it, below. Feel free to share your favorite spiralizer recipe in comments. In fact, one lucky commenter will be chosen at the end of February to receive a $5 Amazon e-card! Hmmm. Now I’m thinking about a cold spiralized beet salad for Valentines Day…

 Seafood Casserole

2 firm zucchini
2 firm summer squashes
Cooked fish, shrimp, or other seafood of choice (any amount you wish; canned works well, too)
Olive oil
Scallions/green onions (the leafy part, which is easiest to cut with kitchen scissors)
Garlic paste (optional)
Shredded cheese of your favorite type (optional)
Pimento slices, mostly for color
Bread crumbs

Spiralize your vegetables with the peel left on and spread out in an oblong casserole that has a bit of olive oil in the bottom. Add your seafood, onions, and garlic paste, if desired. Drizzle about two more tablespoons of olive oil into the mixture. Mix with a fork. Sprinkle cheese, if wanted, and bread crumbs over the top. Bake at 350-360 for 30-45 minutes until heated through.

Cataloguing a Life


sears 1957


When I was a child, the thick Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog was a staple in most homes. It contained sections for just about everything you could ever want to buy, it seemed, and offered another option for families who lived in more rural areas, like ours, with limited choices for shopping.

The large catalog came in handy for other things, too, like a “booster seat” for the tots who had outgrown their high chairs, but couldn’t quite reach the dinner table on their own. I remember a particular “snow day” from school when my sister and I had fun making “paper dolls” out of the previous season’s catalog. We carefully cut out the main figures and then found clothing on other pages that could be trimmed to fit. The joys of a simple childhood.

Years later, as a young mother with a child of my own, I saved “trading stamps,” which were given out by many of the grocery stores according to how much you spent. I pasted them into small booklets and watched the stack grow. Top Value was the main type I saved, and I spent considerable time perusing their mail order catalog to decide on the wonderful “premiums” that would be my goals. One of my older daughter’s first dolls, a sweet Kewpie in one-piece pajamas, came to live with us, thanks to Top Value stamps.



Around Thanksgiving, the J.C. Penney Christmas catalog was always a welcome sight in the mail. I spent hours poring over the pages to decide which gifts my daughters just couldn’t do without. This was also a great way to get ideas for grandmas and grandpas! Even though we had a few stores in our small town that carried toys, it seemed that the Penney’s catalog offered a much wider selection of brands, such as Playskool and Fisher Price. Playtime was better than ever with the likes of Happy Apple, Milk Wagon, and Chatter Phone. Our small house became a virtual village of Little People homes, schools, and farms. Pleasant memories.

Time marched on, and my children were nearly grown. By then, I’d finally earned my teacher certification and would have the opportunity to help other people’s youngsters learn and develop. I remember the excitement of securing my first teaching position and having the secretary hand me Lakeshore and ReallyGoodStuff catalogs to order materials for my new classroom, since we were located hours away from the nearest teacher supply store. It seemed too good to be true after all those years of study. I did, in fact, order some “really good stuff.”

Over the years, it seemed that I always ended up back in a remote area with very limited shopping. Fall typically brought the new catalogs from L.L. Bean and Lands’ End. Buying that new winter jacket at the END of the season when it was on sale was a much better plan, of course, but it was still great fun to look. The most welcomed catalogs in our part of Upper Michigan were the early spring arrivals from plant and flower companies like Gurney’s, Burpee, and Michigan Bulb. Those indicated that we WOULD, indeed, make it through another winter! I spent a great deal of time sketching ideas for our flower beds based on choices made for the local growing zone. Sometimes we bought through mail order, and other times we visited our local nursery. Either way, having those catalogs for handy visuals and information was priceless.

Life has a strange way of leading where we don’t expect. A few years ago, I found myself living on my own in a more populated area with every type of store you can imagine in close range. One rainy afternoon I was retrieving my umbrella from the floor on the passenger side of the car and noticed some papers under the seat. Pulling them out, I saw a grocery store flyer from my previous life, along with a Plow & Hearth catalog sporting my former husband’s name. I then remembered leaving for what ended up being our last road trip together. We had stopped for the mail on our way out, and I just shoved it under the seat to be forgotten. My only “hearth” nowadays is artificial, and I have no garden to dig in, much less “plow.” Quite the reminder about the changes in the fabric of my days.

The holidays have now passed for another year. Several weeks ago, I was surprised when I visited the bank of mailboxes in my apartment building lobby to find a Burpee spring catalog mixed in with the rest of my mail. It was actually addressed to me and not just to “current resident.” They found me! Guess the nice folks at Burpee don’t know, or care, that I currently have no need for plants and seeds, or any of the related supplies. I’m hanging onto it, though, and won’t admit just how many times I’ve peeked at its pages. Who knows what the future may bring.

chipmunk garden flowers


Love Trumps Hate – Your Help Please – Repost by Anne Lee Wissinger at Nerdy Book Club

Just my small way of trying to counteract intolerance and racism. Please read this wonderful repost by Anne Lee Wissinger at Nerdy Book Club!

Nerdy Book Club

January 12, 2018

Dear Nerdy Book Club Friends,

Over the past week I have read some important books: The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor, re-read Love by Matt de la Peña and Loren Long, re-read Martin Rising by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney, and Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz.

The themes of these books wash over me and taunt me. Will you be as brave and courageous as these characters and the writers and artists who created them?

This morning it seems like some kind of cosmic call to action that such racist comments were made by the President on the eve of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.   It is also my daughter’s golden birthday today, turning 12 on the 12th. She goes to her middle school 40 minutes early each day because she is afraid of the bullies who congregate at the…

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Cook Your Way to Luck in the New Year!


Pickled Herring

With a few small changes to the previous year’s soup recipe, this is a repost from the end of last December…

I grew up in Michigan, with German heritage on each side of the family. Both of my grandmothers were good cooks and seemed to enjoy the process. I remember the wonderful aromas of “bread-baking day” at the home of my maternal grandma. My paternal grandmother occasionally offered foods that might not appeal to some children. Oyster stew, beef tongue and pickled herring come to mind. I liked two of those dishes, with the chewy beef tongue (no pun intended) being a definite “no.”

Although I enjoyed the stew with curly-edged oysters, I looked forward to herring the most. I remember a heavy crock so large that it barely fit into the refrigerator, where Grandma pickled her magic on those small, silvery fish. If memory serves me right, the end result was a light, creamy sauce, filled with thin rings of sliced onions and luscious, thick chunks of herring. Although I still have a few of her recipe cards tucked away in their hinged, wooden box, unfortunately, I don’t have that one. We ate it cold, on crackers, small rounds of pumpernickel bread, or on full-sized sandwiches.

My grandmother passed away just before Christmas when I was about ten. Every year after, my parents would buy a container of pickled herring at the market and we’d share it on New Year’s Eve. For years, I thought we just did that in memory of Grandma. Eventually, I learned that many people in Germany, along with other countries, often eat this delicacy at midnight as the year turns over, to help ensure a year of good luck and prosperity.

Another food for the holiday, black-eyed peas are displayed prominently on grocery store shelves these days. Although I’ve lived in North Carolina and now Texas, I had never tried this Southern staple that some people believe brings good fortune when eaten as the first meal of the New Year. The peas can be used in many different dishes, research showed, and I devised a recipe that works for me. The Texan variety is often seasoned with chili powder and hot sauce, but I came up with the following milder version in the form of a hearty soup:

Luck in a Soup Pot

soup-potOnion, shallot, scallion, leek, garlic, and celery (in any combination), sliced and sautéed in a deep pan.

Meat eaters, add bacon or ham (brown, or use pre-cooked).

Add approximately 4 cups of water and a bouillon cube (veggie or meat-flavored) to the pan. Adjust water for the amount of vegetables eventually used.

While that heats, chop a selection of greens: collard, mustard or turnip greens are traditionally Southern. I used what I had, which this year included cabbage.

Throw in the greens and any other soup vegetables you like. For color, I thinly sliced in a few carrots, and I also added several diced turnips. I seasoned with ground cumin and fenugreek, for my milder version. Bring it all back to a boil, then turn down to simmer until the veggies are tender.

I cooked my dried black-eyed peas ahead of time and added them into the soup pot near the very end to heat through. These “peas” are actually beans, a legume, and double as a protein and a vegetable, nutritionally. They’re also available fresh, canned and frozen.

If you like eggs, you might want to try a trick I learned a few years back with a clear-brothed spinach soup. Near the end of cooking, turn the heat back up and slide one egg at a time from a cup into the boiling mixture, spacing them out, a bit. They cook in place, much like a poached egg. Lift one out with a slotted spoon to check if they’re done.

Salt to taste. Serve with your favorite bread. Although cornbread may be most typical in the South, I plan to try it with pita, this year!

Wishing all of you a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2018!

A Canine Christmas Carol

house for blog final 001“Are you there?” muttered the man into his pillow.

The sound wakened New Dog, who had been snoozing downstairs in his own resting place. Is he talkin’ to me?

Others had lived there with the man before New Dog’s time, but he didn’t know very much about them. He caught a whiff of First Dog on the carpet, every so often, and was sometimes tempted to chase his elusive shadow that dodged throughout the plants in the garden.

On occasion, New Dog sensed the essence of a woman moving through the house. She was always just beyond his reach when he tried to follow. These Others occasionally came up in conversation when his person talked and the dog’s ears stood at attention. The man referred to them as ‘Mr. Boo’ and ‘Sweetie Pie,’ but didn’t offer much detail. What was their story?

New Dog slept in a large crate that afforded a clear view of the eating and sitting areas. He had a comfy stuffed animal and stayed safe and warm, even as the cold winds dumped frosty white beyond the door.

A tree with little, sparkling lights had recently shown up in the sitting room, and his man had held up a stocking, stuffed almost to popping, that very night. “Tomorrow,” he had promised, with a smile.

Circling several times, New Dog rediscovered just the right spot and soon settled back into a steady pattern of breathing. The line between wakefulness and sleep turned to a blur.

What’s that?  His head jerked up, and he watched another canine pass his crate on furry paws that didn’t seem to quite touch the floor.  New Dog then realized that his own coat was almost the same dark shade as that of his predecessor.

First Dog kept moving, and he joined a hazy figure that appeared in the food room. He let out a quiet little “yip,” and the shadow of a woman threw him a treat. She smelled of flowers, and her smooth, dark hair was flecked with silver that shimmered in the slice of streetlight shining through a window.

Sweetie Pie?  The woman’s voice was soothing and escaped into the air like music that had been silent for too long.

New Dog blinked and swiped at both eyes with his right paw. Are they really here?  The misty figures still remained when his gaze returned.  Maybe they’ll stay if I keep quiet. Dream or reality, he peeked at them, unmoving, from his prone position. The visitors continued their reunion of nuzzles and hugs.

After a while, his man walked down the stairs to join them, as the dancing snowflakes accelerated outside the window. Content, sleepy and cozy, New Dog had a front row seat to the movie of their used-to-be life. The couple loved and laughed. Bulbs twinkled merrily on the tree. First Dog barked and pranced. Lights on the tree became dim. The people began to argue and then cried. Their dog grew weary and still.

No… New Dog blocked out the sounds by covering his ears with front paws. Darkness overtook him.

When morning sunlight appeared, so did the solitary man, with promises of goodies from the stocking.

As soon as his crate door was opened, New Dog ran from one room to the next sniffing the floors. Not there. His man looked on in puzzlement. The dog returned to each room for another pass and searched in every corner. Gone !

He considered his options and strutted past the man holding the stocking. With no concern for lost treat potential, New Dog sidled up to the tree and peed on the trunk.