Friday, October 29, 2010

Just a Moment

When a little girl eats a healthy lunch

Grannie can offer her a cookie.

If Uncle Karl is there at lunch time, he always has a cookie.

And everyone knows you can't eat a cookie in front of a child without offering one. At first she seemed not to believe it was for her.

But then, she tried it.

Most of it crumbled.

She was so grateful that shared some with her mother

and then she kissed her mother with her chocolate all over her face.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mama Said...

Yes it was one of those days. After many late nights working and many full and wonderful days, I hit a wall. I kept yawning, couldn’t focus.

I had 108 pages to print for my copy editor and my printer jammed. It jammed nine times. I cut my finger trying to fix it. “No problem!” I yawned, I’ll give it a break, thinking that rest would help it, “and do something else.

I worked on addressing and stamping postcards. Blessing House Press decided to print some postcards to let people know about my novel, Solomons Puzzle. Because the novel is about a community, it has a wide and uncommon range of appeal. The postcards have different promotional sentences, meant to speak to different interest groups, on the front, beneath the novel’s title. Some are printed for the quilter’s quest at Cottonseed Glory, which will see many quilters visit the store just weeks before the book is in hand. Some are printed to explain that the novel is full of local, Annapolis color.

I got these ready to go to the post office. My son, Karl, who works up the street, stopped by for lunch. I explained that I was having trouble focusing. “Take a nap,” he said between bites. “You’ve been working non-stop.

When he left, I decided not to do as he recommended. “No, I can’t take a nap!” my inner determination refused to admit exhaustion, but my muddled brain kept trying, “But Karl is such a wise and kind ‘kid.' Maybe he’s right.” No, no naps for me. I decided to go to the post office, then make myself do something I was dreading: visit the St. John’s College bookstore.

I got into my car, reviewing the e-mail exchange I’d had with the bookstore manager. I had written to explain that I was an alumna of St. John’s and that I had written a novel, to be released this November. Would they consider offering it there? He replied with a short, nice message saying they would work with me and to stop by the store sometime.

It was a gorgeous fall day. Thinking I’d mail the postcards on my way to St. John’s, I stopped at the post office first. Reaching into the back of my car, I realized I’d left them home on the counter. Sigh.

I drove downtown—a gorgeous drive over my favorite bridge where the water sparkled in the autumn sunshine. Surely this would revive me! I found the most miraculous parking spot right in front of the main walk up to McDowell Hall. Anyone who has been here knows this never happens. I felt encouraged.

The air felt cool, smelled clean, the sky its incomparable October blue, the brick of the campus walks and buildings beautiful in the sun surrounded by trees with leaves just beginning to turn red and gold and orange. Yet, I was apprehensive for reasons I’ve always known were imbedded in my own idealistic, practical soul, St. John’s and I don’t always see eye to eye. Composed of paradoxes, I'm hard to please.

The bookstore was where it always has been, in the basement of Humphrey’s Hall. Exposed brick arches make the low, dark space charming and bookish. There were books piled everywhere with their exciting scent. This made me wonder if now, after all these years, I would feel at home. When I asked if the manager might be in, the sales people told me that he was in the back and kindly motioned in the direction of where the back could be found. I asked if it was okay to just go back there and was told, “Sure. It’s pretty casual here at the bookstore.”
Oh, okay. Good.
That little sentence gave me a bit of courage and hope. Casual was what I needed if casual meant that the manager might be willing to take a break to meet with me in the middle of the day. Casual would be good because it isn’t easy asking people to take a chance on a book by me, a new author with different ideas. Everyone is used to being told what to buy, where to buy it and what is good.

In the back there were two women and one man sitting in chairs staring at a computer beneath the solitary window. The man was gesturing as he talked to the computer. I listened for a minute and then felt uncomfortable eavesdropping so I said, cheerily, “Hello! They said I could find you here.”

The poor trio looked so shocked I felt sorry for them. The man slowly swiveled around in his office chair and stared up at me. “Hi,” I said, growing nervous. “Sorry to interrupt,” I said to the women in the room. “I can come back; I see you are busy.”

“No, no,” he said, still staring at me, looking uncomfortable. 
I said, “I wrote you…” and tried to help him recall our e-mail exchange and the exciting information about my novel. “It’s set in Annapolis and is full of local color,” I said to finish and handed him one of the postcards mentioned above.

“I did tell you to stop in,” he remembered as he took the postcard and flipped it over a few times. “Is the book available in the normal ways? Is it being distributed by the major book distributors?” he asked.

“No,” I said and the silence fell hard. It struck my idealism odd that St. John's, the college of Great Books, would care about something like normal channels and major distributors when a beautiful book was the concern at hand.  As he flipped the postcard over again, then scooted his chair over to the computer, my practical side rose to the rescue and I said,  “But it will be available on November 26 and Blessing House Press is local, so it would be easy to get copies.”

He did some things on the computer. The women in the room waited with serious faces. “No, you’re right,” he said, “I can’t get copies in the usual way. Hmmm.” He seemed honestly puzzled.

One can feel when things aren’t going well, whether it is an interview, a visit or something like this. Tension, though invisible, is perceivable. Finally, he scooted his chair toward the women waiting and said to us all, “It’s my job to support alumni, so…hmm I’ll look at this and see…” he looked at the postcard.
the precise contents of my mind 

So did I, too. And I saw that I’d brought the cards meant for the quilt shop.

Inside, silently, I sighed again. Here I was in the very halls of intellectual accomplishment and scholarship and elitism and I had brought the card that emphasized the other things about the book—not the turns of phrase or the carefully knitted symbolism, not the hard-hitting characterization and social commentary—but the homey-ist, most practical images. 

“You have my email and now you have the postcard with more information about the website,” I said, “so if you can work with me on this, let me know.” I apologized again for interrupting and left with a realization remembered: St. John’s is neither casual nor free-spirited.
Instead, they are an institution well-respected and probably don't often carry books where quilts are a literary motif. ( my defense, Madame Defarge did knit).

I was disappointed not to have figured something out, because their bookstore is a book lover's dream.
Nothing to do but let my practical side take over. It was a beautiful day.

I hurried out into the sunshine. I hurried to my car. Wait. No. A ticket, tucked beneath the wipers, flapped in the cool autumn breeze. That lovely, open parking spot I’d found was smack in the middle of the fire lane.

I think I should have taken a nap.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Recipe for a Happy Birthday

recipe for the birthday cake is written below

This year it seemed like I celebrated my birthday for an entire week!

One of the happiest ways happened during the party that Joe and Andrea held at their home.
My birthday always comes at a terribly busy time of year so that it would be easy to just skip it. And though I did suggest that, Andrea said, "no." Our family has always listened to Andrea, from the time that she got us to put down our books and fill up an entire box full of outdoor trash bags with fall leaves and I'm happy to say that hasn't changed...
I was touched that they would want to take time out of their very busy lives to organize a party! It was a joy and a blessing.

I used to celebrate my birthday with my younger sister; we are the same age for one week and we celebrated our birthdays together. We had a combined party, shared a cake and got mirror presents: I got the blue sweater, she got the same one in red -- or was it the other way around? Anyway, I missed my sisters and brothers as I always do around my birthday, but I got to read to three of my grandchildren at once. (One grandchild is too young for group book reading).

For me, observing people is the most fun of any event. This is a bit harder to do when you are the guest of honor, but I did get in some moments.
I loved watching Clare's admiration for her cousins. She thinks they are the greatest things around. (I do, too).
She tried to get their attention...
by being her cute self.

not much actual reading going on here
She couldn't resist kissing Jack.

Joe and Andrea are wonderful hosts; their home is warm and welcoming and the food was delicious.

It's hectic trying to talk and take care of little children, too, but we managed and had a lot of fun.

It's true the birthday cake fell apart, but it was absolutely delicious! I love homemade food and nothing is better than this wonderful apple cake for dessert. Thanks to Valerie for taking time to make it and drive it over to Andrea's.

Birthday Apple Cake:

4 apples - peel and slice lengthwise (don't chop)
put them in a bowl and sprinkle sugar (1/4 cup) and cinnamon (2 T) on them. Let them stand for about a half an hour. 
Grease and flour a tube pan or a 9" x 13" pan or two loaf pans

Beat until lemony colored:
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
4 fresh eggs

Sift together:
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt

3/4 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1T boiled cider (see below for where to get this)

Once the egg mixture is beaten, add the dry ingredients alternately with the juice/vanilla. Don't over mix.

Pour half the batter into the baking pan. Layer on half the apples. Repeat ending with apples on top.
Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees or until a knife inserted in the center comes out nearly clean. It's a moist cake so it won't be completely, scrupulously clean. 

Reserve the "juice" left from the apples. Mix in 1 tablespoon boiled cider (available from King Arthur Flour and worth it). Add confectioner's sugar to make a glaze.

When the cake is done, let it cool a bit. After you take it from the tube pan and if you can hold your family off, let it stand for 12-24 hours before cutting. This helps the cake develop a delicious, sweet crunchy crust. Use the glaze you made and drizzle that on top. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's Sort of Like Nesting...

Just getting ready
for when
Solomon's Puzzle is delivered!

I made a mock book

for the pictures for my interview with Diane Rey of the Capital and also for display at Cottonseed Glory during the Quilt Quest which will be held November 10 - 14.

I recycled the cardboard panel used inside the bolts of fabric.  Perfect size.

I knew I needed a way to organize mailing out the books, so I prepared a corner of one of the guest rooms to be a mailing station.

I put all the unused stuff away, cleaned and found a table in the basement. It fit perfectly.

The shelves were in the basement, too. Now they're being used to hold boxes waiting to be filled. How exciting! Everything's ready for mailing with a few favorite postcards to cheer me on.

But I needed some little cards to help me say "thank you" to all those who ordered.

I made a couple, but they looked... I don't know, higgledy-piggledy and not quite right.

A friend came over and we tried a few more.

We decided that we needed one for the Thanksgiving season...

and one for Christmas.

Which do you think is the best?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Buy Local at Your Farmer's Market

I went to an amazing farmer's market last week. You have to get up early but it's worth it!

The weather was perfect and we found a parking spot right away.

It's held beneath the highway!
love the painting on the highway support

Crowded, fragrant with food cooking all around...

ginormous fresh apples and the sweetest, flavorful apple cider you can imagine...

fresh vegetables...
everything for the current season is available...

including quirky stuff you'll want to see for yourself.

Meat, fish and poultry were available; there was a creamery with milk and cheese.

You could buy all your groceries and flowers for your table.

Another section had beautiful, handcrafted useful items. I'm going to have a table there in December to offer Solomon's Puzzle and handcrafted items made by me and my friends.

I bought crisp, fresh swiss chard,  the most flavorful carrots I've ever eaten, sweet potatoes and cider. That's all I could carry. Got to go back!

Readers' Comments and Reviews for Solomon's Puzzle

Check out the readers' comments and reviews on the press page:

Thursday, October 21, 2010


So…when you’re writing a book, you have moments of great despair. But you also have giddy moments when you imagine yourself and your husband and family and sisters and brother and friends and students all being on Oprah to talk about the book.

There they all are in the audience, smiling. Oprah says how much she loved the book, even that it reminded her of Beloved. You explain which of your characters you love and why, talk about late nights writing, and your husband’s patience. Your older sister starts to cry and then Oprah gives everyone a brand new car, armfuls of Origins cosmetics and a copy of your book. Sigh

That’s not exactly what happened to me yesterday, but it felt just as thrilling!

I met with a reporter named Diane Rey; she writes for the Capital and several online publications. She came to Cottonseed Glory and as I showed her that lovely shop, she took pictures of me and a mock of Solomon’s Puzzle I’d made for such occasions until the finished book is in my hands.

I was happy that she was able to meet my friends at the shop and see how great it is. Next we walked down the street to Regina’s Deli, another Annapolis shop that has been there for years and which is called “Gisela’s” in my book! There’s a scene set there!

Ms. Rey asked the most interesting questions and I have to admit that I loved talking about the book. The writing of fiction is interesting because it is so mysterious. Where do the ideas come from? Why do you stick with it? How do you know how to shape the characters? What surprised you about the process?

For me, writing fiction is like watching a dream unfold. It usually starts with a line of dialog or the words of a description and an image. For one scene in my book, I simply “saw” or imagined a hand held out, palm up, with a crumpled cigarette but on it. Hmmm. What’s that about? I wondered only to peer in my mind and watch the drama unfold.

Diane asked if there were any surprises in writing. There were! The one that delighted me most was the development of the character Joe. Now, don’t jump to conclusions. I have a son and grandson both named Joe (and this was also my father-in-law’s name), but this Joe is not really any of them. He’s drawn from a combination of people I know and love. I’d love for my readers to guess who I mean!

When I began to write about him, he came alive, a distinct character, with a presence that was irresistible. His charming, mischievous, sympathetic personality caught my attention. He’s fun-loving, competitive, courageous—even reckless and he’s loyal. I know this about Joe MacBride from peering at the imagined dream of emerging fiction, but the key to creating fiction is making all those endearing things about Joe come alive through dialog and dramatic action. Joe has to be seen through the words on the page.

So I told Diane Rey how I came to see and love this character, but also how, when I began to write, I didn’t expect him to grow and change the way that he did. It’s as if, once brought to life in the narrative, Joe MacBride was determined to go make his mark, to go deep and get the good stuff out of his unusual, fictional life. It was a great joy to talk about him and about the wonderful, meaningful experience of writing Solomon’s Puzzle.

I have no idea what else I said or I’d write it down. Maybe it will come back to me when I calm down!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Upcycle Party

For a recent family party
 my daughter made decorations from trash!
She's creative and she didn't want to spend a lot of money on decorations.
I admire that!
Everything looked fantastic!

Val took a plastic bottle with a shape she liked and painted the bottle and cap, glued the cap upright on the top of the bottle then attached wings made from discarded tights.

And voila! She'd made a dragon fly. He looked friendly and
watched while people visited,

children played

and cousins talked.

Each child could take a hand-made recycled toy home.
The pig was so cute.

The owl looked serious.

I loved the lilies of the valley made from egg cartons and set in a beautiful red vase.

These flowers made from magazine pages are irresistible!

The trees on the mantle were also made from old magazines. I love them.

They are better than Pottery Barn with the same cool, sleek beauty.

Valerie made a bow from a discarded net bag that used to hold onions. She tied this on the party favor basket.

One of the guests brought an alligator made entirely from recyclable materials.  Everyone played with it because it was so cute.

I just love the way the young mothers I know are so creative and energetic, so "green" and frugal. Hurray for imagination!