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31 posts from October 2011

October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween, Stingy Jack!

by Heather

Halloween! It’s always been a big holiday in my family, when I was a child, and again, when I had children of my own. Hey, those kids are grown, but it’s still 1027472-2-samhain-goddess-the-crone a big holiday. Coming through childhood with the Scottish and Irish, my home was filled with legends and fun, and my grandmother was convinced that the Irish alone were responsible for Halloween. She was just a little bit off.

Wheel samhain word tag med smallSamhain, an old pagan festival, was a night during which people gathered to light massive bonfires to ward off ghosts. It was the one night a year when the dead might rise. But Christianity came to the British Isles, and while many a good Christian scratched his head over the pagan rituals, Pope Gregory III knew how to win without fighting a battle; he made Portrait_of_pope November 1st All Saints Day, and therefore the night before was an eve . . . you know, all hallow’s eve. And so, in time the pagan ways died down and Christianity flourished, but the old ways never fell from favor. All Hallow’s Eve remains a spooky night—one in which we wonder if indeed the spirits of the dead might rise!

Now, to add to this, there was a fellow named Jack.


Rumor had it that Jack was a saucy fellow. (Arrogant, maybe?) He was known as Stingy Jack, because he wasn’t about to share. He found himself drinking with the Devil one night, and he didn’t want to pay up. He tricked the Devil Jack-o-lantern_jpginto climbing up an apple tree, and then he put crosses all around the trunk of the tree. Not only would he avoid paying his bill, but he made the devil promise not to take his soul if he let him down. Stingy Jack lived many years—continuing to be a stingy trickster—and then he died. He went to heaven, where St. Peter took one look at his record and said that there was no way he was getting into heaven. Jack decided to go see his old friend the Devil, but the Devil said that he’d vowed not to take his soul—and he would not.

Jack was forced to roam the earth forever with no real place to go. He set a candle in a turnip and traveled the world, forever doomed to find a place where his soul might reside.

 Now, because Jack might be out there running around, people started putting lights in their turnips or whatever they had available so that they could ward off Jack! Naturally, they became known as Jack-O-Lanterns. The custom traveled to America where there was an abundance of pumpkins (bigger and more convenient than turnips,) and so, carving out a pumpkin—and often giving it a nice scary face to ward off Jack and other lost or risen souls—became popular in America.

Stingy-jack-with-headline1God knows, we do love a good holiday. It’s the American tradition! So, what else could we do besides Jack-O-Lanterns?

The earliest costumes for the holiday go back to the late nineteenth century in Scotland where people began to dress up as “guisers.” The first costumes were usually those of ghosts or spirits—a way to fool the real ghosts and spirits and keep them at bay. As you know, when customs get to America, we like to broaden them. This Halloween you’ll see gorgeous costumes as well as witches, warlocks, vampires, ghosts and more. You’ll see “sexy” costumes popular with teens and young adults, and you’ll see fun costumes—like the whole gamut of the Fruit of the Loom . . . fruit. You might even see a mustard bottle Mustard or two. We like dress up here.

Candy? Oh, yeah, you got it! Trick or treat? Give to the spirits, lest they find you as nasty as old Stingy Jack!

However you look at it, Halloween is now fun. Not to weigh in too heavily on food, but there are always bad eggs out there trying to make something bad out of something good. Go forth and be merry—and be careful of course!

PethalloweencostumesHolidays are good for the American economy. Hallmark needs those holidays, and they do a darned good job with them, as do other companies--haunted houses abound to scare and delight.

 So, it’s all good—or as good as we make it. I love Halloween. I’ll be out there. For me? It’s dress up and head to a wonderful Asian restaurant, Mr. Chu’s. Mr. Chu is Chinese, and his beautiful wife is Japanese. The clientele are Jamaican and Bahamian, American, Cuban-American, and every other kind of American you can imagine. Doesn’t matter where we’re from—the holiday is now universal—or universally American. The food is outstanding. 20111030_223555Oh, and it’s a karaoke party. Should be fun and silly.

Where the holiday originated is intriguing—keeping it going is always what we make of it!  

So what are your plans for the night?



October 30, 2011

Leslie Budewitz Guest Blogs

Leslie Budewitz Guest Blogs  

Nancy Martin sez: When I attend writers' conferences, my primary goal is to meet fun people.  A couple of years ago I bumped into Leslie Budewitz--lawyer, reader, writer and a person who radiates good karma. (I firmly believe that making your own good karma pays off.)  She's also the author of a great desk reference for crime writers--BOOKS, CROOKS AND COUNSELORS--which provides (much needed) legal advice, and I'm not talking about how to make bail after a great party. Please welcome her to TLC.

When I pick up a book, I read the acknowledgments first.

I’ve done this forever, at least since I started writing seriously. Eavesdropping. Peeking into the writer’s private world, before I even read her novel, memoir, poems. Like spying, only not spying, because she’s put it there for all of us to see. More like mining for the secrets to success, hoping they’ll rub off on me.

There’s all variety of acknowledgments. Gooey, sappy, hilarious. Mostly, names. Of agents and editors and critique partners. Of friends who listened to you natter about “the book” for years and never said “shut up.” Not out loud, anyway. Parents and children and husbands and wives who put up with nights alone and too much take-out.  Librarians who combed through archives to confirm a single fact. Translators thanked anonymously because they still live in the war zone, or their mother does.

The barista who remembers your order and never minds when you hold the corner table hostage all morning for the price of a double latte and a scone.


And people long dead who’ll never read the work, but inspired it by what they wrote or said or did.

 Ah, the tribe it takes.

I got to write my own acknowledgments this year, for Books, Crooks and Counselors. Harder than I thought. More fun, too. (And gad, yes, I forgot somebody, and yes, I’ve told her and sent her the book, and no, I’m not going to tell you who because I’d be too embarrassed. )

Earlier this month, at the local writers’ conference, I gave a signed book to a friend. After years in a critique group, countless lunches and phone calls and emails, hours of encouraging and sympathizing and deleting my extraneous commas, she read the final ms., the whole danged thing. Over a weekend. On vacation. Five minutes after she took the book, she found me in the lunch line. “You put me in the acknowledgments.” She positively glowed. Of course, I did, silly. That’s what they’re for. For making friends beam after years of crying with you over rejections and other traumas. For making your book better. For making your life better.

And I’ll admit, when a woman from the same disbanded group published her first novel, an ebook, and told me she’d acknowledged each of us, I went online and looked. Not that I doubted her. I just wanted to see it. To recall for a moment all we gave each other. Because writing can be hard and lonely and full of quavering and doubt, and it felt all warm and buttery to know she persevered and succeeded and maybe I helped.

In the last few months, I’ve learned a lot about the art of being thankful. Mid-summer, my husband and I embarked on what we call the New Attitude Plan. (The acronym, NAP, is more than a little ironic.) We decided we were tired of feeling overwhelmed, like we had too much to do and weren’t doing the things that mattered to us most. That we weren’t feeling truly prosperous–not in the sense of financial security, or at least not just that. But in the sense of truly enjoying the richness of our lives, because the stacks of unread books and the lists of undone projects and the invitations we’d turned down led us to focus on what we lack and not on what we have.

So we changed. Not exactly overnight, but darned close. We put the Law of Attraction into action. You know it: What you think about attracts more of what you think about. Bemoaning what we lack draws more lack, while focusing on good things attracts more good things.

I know, it can sound a little woo-woo. But it’s called a Law because it works.

So I’ve made gratitude practice my nightly ritual. Sometimes I hit on the big things, then go back to fill in the small ones. Thank you, Universe, for a really great Bouchercon panel. Thank you for the offer from Berkley.* Thank you for the agent I wanted wanting me. Thank you for a great cup of coffee. Thank you for the cat leaving the severed mouse head outside.

Sometimes I start with the morning. Thank you for sleep. And if I felt like I was awake half the night with Thoughts and Hot Flashes and Other Annoying Things, I say thanks anyway, because what you think about, you bring about. (Lest that bring about more cliches, give thanks for fresh metaphors while you’re at it.) Sometimes I fall asleep before reaching breakfast. If I get past dinner, I’m in for a long night, unless I start over and look for the details I’ve missed. Thank you for the day job, for the opportunities it gives me. Thank you for eggs and English muffins. Thank you for my sweet hunny, next to me.

And your mother was right: When you send a thank you note, you get more and better presents.

So to all you readers, thanks.

And to all you authors who write the books we read, and express your gratitude on the acknowledgments page–thank you.

Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure

Leslie Budewitz is the author of Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, October 2011). She is a practicing lawyer and a mystery writer living in northwest Montana. Read an excerpt and more articles for writers at www.LawandFiction.com

* That offer? The Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in NW Montana, will debut from Berkley Prime Crime in 2013.

And thank you, Nancy and TLC!  

October 29, 2011

Headlines and Beverly Gray

 Hartlogo2 [Margaret:  Please welcome one of my long time colleagues.  Carolyn Hart and I met at the very first organizational meeting of a then-nameless group of women, a group now known as Sisters in Crime.  She created SinC's fabled data base of libraries and bookstores and became its 5th president.  Best known for her Death on Demand series set on "Broward's Rock" off the coast of South Carolina, she has written everything from gritty stand-alones to charming ghost stories.  New York Times bestseller, Pulitzer nominee, winner of the Agatha and more awards than can be easily listed, Carolyn excels in writing the traditional mystery. For more about her books, visit her website: http://www.carolynhart.com/]

At the St. Louis Bouchercon, I was on a panel with four distinguished journalists and a former working journalist. I was the wren among the macaws because I spent only a year as a reporter and began writing fiction in my mid-twenties.

I didn’t have their professional qualifications but I shared with them an abiding interest in journalism and in the importance of public truth.

Headlines-Pearl-Harbor-560x390 It all began with the stark blackness of headlines in the newspapers when I was young and with Beverly Gray, the girl reporter in the series written by Clair Blank.

I was a child during WWII. The bigger and blacker the headlines, the more important the story. The newspapers - morning and afternoon editions - brought news on the progress of the war, the battles, the fears, the hopes, the casualties, rationing, scrap drives, Victory gardens. 

I decided there could be no more important role in life than to be a newspaper reporter. I believed bringing truth - and that was the objective in those news columns - was perhaps the greatest contribution anyone could make to society.

I began to read the Beverly Gray stories, wonderful adventures that begin when 51-AazTgHHL._AA160_ Beverly arrives at college with the aim of being a reporter. I followed Beverly through her college years and out into the world as a reporter for a New York daily. Beverly was intrepid, eager, and, as characters often do, she became a real figure in my mind. Beverly Gray went to college and became a reporter. I thought, “Maybe I can be a reporter, too.”

I worked on the Chief Justice in junior high, The Classen Life in high school, and the Oklahoma Daily at the University of Oklahoma. I had real life reporters as heroes then, Webb Miller, a foreign correspondent during the war, and Maggie Higgins, who covered the Korean war for the New York Herald Tribune. I had a trench coat. I smoked Chesterfields. (This was  Images-4 before the dangers of cigarettes were revealed, which came about because of investigative reporting and a refusal to be intimidated by the tobacco companies. Happily, I quit smoking more than 40 years ago.)

But a funny thing happened on the way to the newsroom. I met a young law student and my life took a different turn. After we were married and started a family, I didn’t want to go back to work on a newspaper. I loved the writing but the hours are  long and the pay (no change there today) is low.

That is when I first seriously addressed fiction. (I will admit to a long-ago mystery written when I was in high school. The protagonist? A reporter, of course! Happily, I have lost that ms.)  I was in my mid-twenties, my husband Phil was in the JAG Corps and we were stationed at Ft. Leavenworth. I tried some short stories and had no success. I took the Writer Magazine. Every issue had a section in the back that told of contests. I saw a contest for a children’s mystery for girls ages 8 to 12, sponsored by Calling All Girls Magazine and Dodd, Mead. I wrote the book and won the contest. The Secret of the Cellars was my first published book. My 47th mystery will be published next spring.

Among the many books is a series with a retired reporter as the protagonist, a  novel that explores the degradation of today’s 24/7 exploitive news cycle, two books set in journalism schools, four WWII novels, and a series that celebrates mysteries.

And it all began with the big black headlines and Beverly Gray.  

Who inspired you?  


October 28, 2011

Adventures in Farm Shares

By Barbara O'Neal

I have been on a vegetable adventure this summer. I signed up for a weekly share in an organic farm co-op, and the variety is enormous. Now, I consider myself a big vegetable eater. I love vegetables. I eat lots of them. I thought I understood them.

Turns out I wasn’t eating nearly as many as I thought. But that’s the challenge of a farm share, right? Working with what’s seasonal, even if it does get to be a lot of say…oh…cabbage by the end of said season. The whites of our eyes are tinted pale green.

Turns out, too, there are more vegetables in Heaven and Earth than I have dreamed of, Horatio.

5098946462_92e8d505c4_zTake, for instance, the pretty little red bulbs that came in my share a couple of weeks ago. Christopher Robin (being from England where things grow much, MUCH bigger than they do here in Colorado) guessed that they were radishes. Since I’ve been growing all manner of radishes this summer, it seemed a reasonable guess. I sliced off a chunk and tasted it.

The river-bottom silt of beets filled my mouth. It was all I could do not to spit them out on the floor. I do not like beets, Sam-I-am. Do not like them boiled or roasted or sliced in salads. They always look so extraordinarily beautiful, and always taste like catfish. Blech.

Another adventure was kale. (We've been getting a LOT of kale!) I had not worked with it at all, mainly because it’s always used for decoration in lawns and doesn’t look particularly edible. 3163986903_fe799f0470_z But it’s basically a hearty green veg, so I was game to layer it into the lasagna. I put the purple kind in a spinach-tortellini soup, and the result was a much more substantial texture than the spinach usually lends, and plus you get to feel like Super Nutrition Person because kale is, as my son tells me, what all the cool kids eat these days.

One of my great challenges is still eggplant. I love the way they look—that gleaming purple skin and cute little hat. When I’m out, I love eggplant parmiagiana. But before they came in the shares, I had never actually handled a fresh one, and my experiments thus far have been only mediocre. I’ll keep trying, because it seems a valuable addition. (Tips welcome!)

11821My favorite of the year so far, however, came in the share this week. A Yugoslavian finger squash. It looks kinda like a flying saucer, but honestly, if you’ve met one winter squash, you’ve met them all. I’ll let you know how it comes out when I bake it, but I’m not expecting any major surprises.

It’s not all weird vegetables, of course. We’ve been feasting on fresh spinach again, and tiny green baby onions, and leeks. On my counter is a bowl piled high with plump baby pumpkins and acorn squashes in their military uniforms and the pale oblongs of butternuts. It’s a treat to dig through the share each week and find out what’s on the menu.

What vegetable will you absolutely not eat under any circumstances? Do you get a farm share like this? And please...give me some tips for making a decent dish with eggplant!

Photo credits: Beets-- 3liz4; kale--Ameetav Nangrani

October 27, 2011

The Road Taken Meets the Road Not Taken

By Nancy Pickard

Have you ever met yourself coming and going?

Have you ever come face to face with the person you might have been?

I saw one of my other selves this week.

She attended a luncheon with former employees of the Western Auto Company that used to be headquartered in Kansas City, Mo.Westernauto

I'd agreed to be their guest speaker, never realizing I'd meet another version of myself there.  Okay, she was only in my imagination, but she felt very real to me.  While I stood at the mic, she sat at a table with the other retirees, looking at me.  It was eerie.  I never found out her last name.  Maybe it's still "Wolfe," as mine was back then.

She--my other self--started working for Western Auto in 1972, which I did, as well. But she stayed there until she retired with full benefits, while I quit after three years.  She earned a nice pension, that other Nancy, and health insurance.  She had paid vacations and holidays; she had weekends off and the other perks employees used to receive.

When the time came to make the choice to stay or go--when she and I grew restless there--she chose to stay for the pension, the salary, the security.  At the time, I called such benefits "golden handcuffs" and I threw those shackles off! 

There have been hard times since then when I've thought she was wise to wear them.

Because she stayed, she never met a cattle rancher and married him and changed her name to Pickard--which she would spend the rest of her life telling people how to pronounce.  ("It's like the captain in Star Trek.")  She never fell in love with the Flint Hills of Kansas, never knew a cowboy, never held a milk bottle for a blind and orphaned calf, never watched lightning silhouete cattle on a hillside in the dark.

The Nancy I saw yesterday never had a son named Nick, or if she did, he isn't my Nick.  She may have her own children--I didn't find out.  I don't know if she married, or how often.

She'd envy me, if she knew the son she doesn't have.  Nickski(See skier photo.) He's taking me to dinner next Monday night, and she won't be there.

She didn't leave Western Auto and become a freelance writer, which led to becoming a poet, and then a short story writer and then a novelist. She never wrote a book.  Never got a good review or a bad one, except performance reviews at Western Auto.  Never got to be part of a revolution in an entire literary genre. Never met incredible writer-women who became her dearest friends. She may have her own fine friends, may have done greater things than I ever dreamed of doing.  I don't know.

I heard that she travels now, for pleasure, a lot more than I do, but she never took off for Europe, back then, with her boyfriend.  She didn't save her money during her last year of work at Western Auto so she could spend months with him in Europe after she quit.  She didn't get her heart broken by him and then feel it healed again by the art and wine and food and beauty all around her.  She didn't feel as if she'd been walloped by something larger than herself the first time she saw The Winged Victory in the Louvre in Paris, and she didn't sit on the steps beside it and bow her head, shield her face, and weep.

She has a nice smile.  But I don't know that we'd pick each other out in a crowd to be friends.  It doesn't sound as if we have a lot in common. 

Maybe it was only my imagination--or maybe I'm justifying the choice I made that she did not--but she seemed to me to have sadness at the back of her eyes as she listened to my speech about the writing life.  She laughed at some of my jokes, but at other times she drummed her fingers restlessly on the tablecloth.

Afterwards, she came up to buy a book.

"I started out as a writer," she told me.  "I have a journalism degree, and I worked as a reporter for a couple of years.  But I don't have any imagination; I could never have written novels, like you."

"You never know," I said, not knowing how to tell her that if she'd made my choice, she'd still have waited seven years for stories to start to come to her.

She didn't reply to my glib answer.

"Shall I sign this book to you?" I asked her.

"Would you?  My name is Nancy, too."

So I signed, "To Nancy, With best wishes, Nancy Pickard."

I handed her the book, and then I watched her walk away, continuing her journey on the path I didn't take.  Autograph



  Arrows When two roads have diverged in your life, which one did you take that made all the difference (as the poet says)? Have you ever met that "other" self?



October 26, 2011

Pinching Pennies

Margaret Maron


“Use it up, wear it out,

Make it do, or do without.”

            — New England Maxim

Growing up, we never had much money, so hand-me-downs were a way of life.  In good years, we got two pairs of shoes:  school shoes in the fall, Sunday shoes at Easter.  And like our clothes, they never really fit well because Mother always made sure “there was room to grow.”  So I would start the school year in shoes and clothes that were too loose and finish the year in clothes that were too tight and shoes that pinched my feet.

I never quite had Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors, but Mother was handy with a sewing machine.  She could and did take dresses and  coats apart and restyle them.  When clothes were too ragged to wear, she would cut the good parts into squares and triangles and make quilts. 


 On a farm, nothing ever goes to waste.  Our barns and shelters were full of dented buckets, coils of baling wire, scraps of lumber, and odd pieces of ironware because “you never know what will come in handy.”  It became such a way of life that it’s a wonder I haven’t wound up on one of those reality shows about hoarders.


My first impulse is still to see if I can’t make it myself from stuff on hand rather than hiring someone to do it or buying it in a store.  Over the years, I taught myself to build stone walls, lay blocks, frame in a window, and repurpose kitchen cabinets.  I’ve caned chairs, resized doors, reupholstered furniture, wired junked lamps, and reglazed windows. 

100_1947 When we finally added a real office onto the house a few years back, I wanted a big—a REALLY big—bulletin board, but the prices were shocking. A 4 x 6′ cork board cost five times more than I was willing to pay and it wasn’t as big as I wanted anyhow. After rummaging around in a DIY store, I came home with a sheet of brown fiberboard. It was as ugly as homemade sin, but it was half an inch thick, measured 4 x 8′ and cost only $6. It soaked up four coats of white paint before all the brown disappeared. But when I nailed it up over my work counter and edged it out in scrap molding, I finally had the bulletin board I’d always dreamed about.


100_1886Recently we paid several hundred dollars to have a professional take down a 40-year-old sweet gum tree that endangered the foundation of a rental house we've acquired—a case of spending money to save money, I suppose. Actually, I wanted to cut the tree down myself, and twenty years ago, I would have.  I also wanted to try my hand at sculpting a couple of the resulting logs with a chainsaw, but for some reason, my husband objected to that as well; and these days I try not to give him a heart attack. (Hospital stays are $$$$$)




My all-time favorite money saver came when we were very young and nearly broke and still lived in New York.  My husband was getting his master’s and we had just had a baby. An elderly childless friend was going into assisted living and offered to sell us her homeplace:  an 1880s wooden farmhouse with a turret and fifty acres of land only a few miles from the farm I grew up on.  Her price?  $5000.  We didn’t have $500, but I so wanted that dilapidated  house.  It had stained glass windows in the turret, heart pine flooring, and wraparound porches with gingerbread molding. But it had no indoor plumbing, the roof was shot, the wiring was pre-WWII, and there was extensive termite damage. It was only later that I came to realize how lucky we'd been because that house would have been a time and money pit. If we had bought it, I would have done most of the restoration myself and I would have poured every ounce of creativity I possessed into it, not into writing.  Not all bargains are bargains, and sometimes an unanswered prayer can be the most economical thing that every happened.

What's yours?

October 25, 2011

Eat, Pray, Revolt

By Sarah

Pox on the House of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the travelogue Eat, Pray, Love, parts of which I truly enjoyed...aside from its artificial premise. For those of you who haven't read it (or been subjected to the much more nauseating Julia Roberts movie bearing the same name), Elizabeth goes to Italy where she discovers FOOD! And wandering aimlessly.

JuliaSure enough, there in the sunny outdoor restaurants of the romantic Trastevere section where I stayed last week, were my Doppelgangers: middle-aged American women inhaling deeply as they nibbled on fresh bufala mozzarella, their newly purchased pashminas precariously close to dipping into their sparkling Orvieto. I couldn't blame them since I was an Apostle Italia myself. (Florence: 2 pashminas for $10 after some negotiating.  Hey, spiritual enlightenment comes in all forms.)

Granted, the thin, piquant prosciutto, the delicate slices of parmesan topping the tart arugula are unparalleled. The almond gelato, to die for, and the people, exquisite. Friendly, funny, expressive...I've never been among a more enjoyable group. Knowing a little Italian helps - just enough to show you don't know any Italian. Mi dispiace no parlo Italiano and you'll be rewarded with a smile, a joke, perhaps an extra chocolate.

As for the men? Sigh. The day's growth of black beard, the worn leather and vainly wrapped scarves Bova
are enough to make any woman swoon. You never see guys like that in Home Depot.

But let me tell you this: the meme that Italy's got the corner on life, that the only things that matter are good food, great wine, better sex and family? Total bullshit.

And here's why. Italy's a mess and not in a crazy, besotted, Trevi-fountain way. Italy's a mess because it stopped caring  - though the question of whether the Italian people have ever cared about their institutions, government, environment is worth exploring, too. (See Catch-22.)

Being several thousands of years older than our nascent country, I believe Italy is US in the not-too-distant future. Graffiti (an Italian word, no?) covers the first six feet of every wall. Garbage overflows the trash cans. In the distance, factories spew grey, brown smoke and don't even get me started on the other smoke. Smoldering cigarettes in the hands of everyone from young, sexy Italian men (and there are plenty!) to old, fat grandmothers (plenty of those, too!) can turn even the lush Borghese Gardens into a dirty train station.

Never did I expect that visiting Italy would imbue me with a new appreciation for the anti-smoking laws and the American With Disabilities Act. I believe it would be virtually impossible for someone in a wheelchair to make it through Rome. Or someone with a wheeled suitcase to surmount the steps of the H bus.

But those are minor quibbles compared to the larger underlying message - and I'm not talking the layers of Roman civilization beneath the city. The message I got out of my trip is that history is destined to repeat itself, true. But even the greatest thinkers in the past are no match for the steamrolling effect of a growing apathos.

For example, take the Largo di Torre Argentina, an excavated section of Rome about the size of a city block right downtown. Doric columns of a temple remain, as do the crumbling steps of Pompey's Theater where none other than Caesar himself was fatally stabbed. But you would have to be a Latin student  to know this since that rather significant detail is hidden at the bottom of a weathered Plexiglass marker near the corner. These days, Largo di Torre Argentina is more famous as a shelter for homeless cats. Which means Caesar's last words were uttered in what is now, essentially, a grand litter box. Et tu, Kitty?

Or consider the crucial line from Catholic liturgy, "Quo vadis?" which is what the persecuted Peter asks the resurrected Jesus as Peter's fleeing Rome. Jesus's response is that he's going to Rome to be crucified again, thereby prompting Peter to turn on his heels and face his destiny. (Crucifixion upside down, alllegedly.) Now, Quo Vadis is the name of every other coffee shop/gelateria/tobacconist within the city walls. This in a city that treats Pope John Paul II like the Second Coming.

Democracy might not have been created in Rome, but it was codified here. And, yet, Silvio Berlusconi - a known criminal and despised prime minister - squeaked by with another vote of confidence, thereby turning the peaceful Occupy Rome movement into a crazed night of arson, bottle throwing and arrests. Young people are frustrated. They feel they have no say, no future - or so I was told. The next day, however, it was as if nothing had happened. Aside from a few more armed guards, it was all bufala mozzarella, sunshine and Orvieto.

One of the advantages of traveling is that it opens our eyes not only to other cultures, but to our own. I love that the Romans don't frankly give a damn, but that kind of 'tude sucks if you're interested in maintaining a democracy. It won't work. The Berlusconis will take power. The Lincoln Memorial will be overtaken by cats. Inalienable Rights will be a tourist shop on the Mexican border.

Then again, if history is also any indication, the sex and coffee will be awesome. Ciao!




October 24, 2011

Sugar Rush

by Heather, Hank & Harley

Continuing in our 3H tradition of hard news and raw truth, Harley, Hank and Heather tackle a tough topic: candy.

 1. What's your all-time favorite candy?

1348-zHarley: Godiva White Ganache Bliss, with Lindt Truffles a close second.

Heather: Snickers, no contest!

Hank: HANK: Twizzlers. No, Snickers. Frozen Snickers. Nope--Almond Joy. Payday. Oh, wait, once I had a dark-chocolate-covered caramel with sea salt on the top. YUM. And you know what else? There's a thing called Edible Arrangements, that's fruit--but they have chocolate covered apples that are--amazing. Was this supposed to be a one-word answer?

 2. What was your favorite as a kid? Snickers_0

Harley: Tootsie Rolls and Sweet Tarts.

Heather: Snickers, no contest.

Stpez_pack1HANK: Tootsie Roll POPS!  And PEZ. Chuckles! (I used to swipe my sister's black ones.) Did I mention, above, Jelly Bellies?  And that Bonomo taffy that you whapped to break into little pieces.

  Jelly_Belly_University3. Have you matured?

HANK: About candy, you mean? Shrugging. I would not turn down any of the above items. 

Harley: I’d like to think so.

Heather: No comment.

4. Do you pay attention to calories, saturated fat, price, or do you just say, "to heck with it, life's short?"

Harley: I pay attention 80% of the time, and then go completely berserk the other 20%. 

Heather: I'm not a candy fanatic, and I rarely eat it. When I do . . . Snickers! (Sadly, my love affair is with potatoes. Baked potatoes, scalloped potatoes, hash browns, twice-baked truffle-mashed, garlic mashed . . . etc.)

HANK: About candy, you mean? I am ruthless about real food. I count everything. With candy, though--I mean, if you're gonna have candy, whatever. Anything goes. Did I mention, above, those little Sarotti Schokolinsen? Agilus-Schoko-LinsenThose pastel things that look like M and M's--Oh, did I mention M and M's? Peanut.

Harley: Oh, my God. Those Germans are serious about their sugar. Our former German au pairs still send us candy at Christmas 1512271884_0db3e1586bbecause they feel so bad for us in America, having to make do with substandard chocolate.

5. Is there a candy you hate?

Harley: Hate is a very strong word when it comes to something sweet.

Heather: Licorice.

HANK: I have never, and will never, eat a chocolate covered cherry. Yuck. Cream anything, no way. No Peeps. Peeps_03(Although they're fun to play with.) Nothing with marshmellow inside. (Is it marshmallow?) I'm not fond of Milky Way, unless they're frozen.  

 6. Is there a candy you just don't get?

Harley: Yeah, I don't really understand Gummi Bears. Or Pop Rocks.

Heather: I have to agree on the Pop Rocks. Can't dislike Gummi Bears--the name is just too sweet!

Gummy_bears1HANK: I LOVE Gummi Bears. You can fit them together, it's fun. I don't get Skittles, or Sour Patch anything. SweetTarts, not a fan. Pop Rocks, yeah, silly. That stuff that's like sugar--what was it called? That came in thin tubes. It's like pouring sugar on your teeth.

Harley: Yeah, that Sugar in a Straw stuff. My son adores it. It stains everything it touches. Blech.  

 6. What do you give to trick-or-treaters?

Heather: Quarters. Around here, if anyone does trick-or-treat, the parents usually throw the candy away, and give kids candy they buy. They like quarters. It was pennies. Then nickels, and then dimes. Halloween does not go untouched by inflation. (Sadly, the throw-the-candy-away thing came from a period in time when very bad people did very bad things and razor blades wound up in apples and toxins in candy.)

Harley: Large quantities of whatever I find at Costco.

HANK: Tootsie Roll Pops and Twizzlers. Sometimes Lindt balls. LINDT_401_milkwhite_truffle-117x150So Harley, come over!

7. Are you dressing up this year?

Harley: I'm wearing it right now! Black t-shirt with skeletons on it. And skull & crossbones hair barrettes.

Heather: Yes, always. I love dress up. I am going out and about as a Renaissance vampire. Or maybe a flapper. And then again, there's always the two eyeholes in a sheet . . . .I do love dress up. I will probably do so a few times. Are there any psychiatrists out there to explain this to me?

 HANK: Sigh. I don't think so...New England Sisters in Crime has a costume thing at Crimebake--this year you have to come as a detective. I think I'll come as Charlotte McNally. That's about the extent of my current imagination. (A couple of years ago, Jonathan and I were the Mr. and Mrs. Ark--Joan and Noah.)


    And you, friends? Any sugar revelations you care to share with us? 

October 23, 2011

The Middle School Blues

By Elaine Viets     

AMiddle school bluesmy, a TLC regular, needs our help. Her daughter has the middle school blues.

"My daughter is 12, just started at the middle school, and is completely miserable," Amy said. "She isn't having much luck making friends because she's gotten so shy recently. She used to be so outgoing and pretty much everyone wanted to be her friend. Now she cries every day. She is involved in out-of-school activities she enjoys, but her school doesn't offer any activities besides volleyball, basketball and track (yuck, to her mind) so she doesn't have any opportunity to get to know kids other than in class. The kids can't even sit with their friends at lunch. They have to sit with their homerooms.

"What do I do for her? What should she do? I feel like the people here have good heads and I need some advice now."

Amy, you’re a good mom for listening to your daughter. You’d be surprised how many mothers still dismiss adolescent angst with, "Cheer up. These are the happiest years of your life."

That’s what my mom told me. Then I was really depressed.

But Mom had adult problems. She was trapped in a four-room house with four noisy kids, too many bills, one bathroom, and no escape. My pre-teen problems must have seemed simple.

252px-Mary_Institute_and_Saint_Louis_Country_Day_School_Shield_1_svgI can’t advise Amy. I don’t have children or the right training. But I do have friends. I asked Jack, who has a young daughter, what he’d do. Jack sent me to Jan Jacobi, former head of the Middle School at MICDS, a top-notch St. Louis school. Read about the school here: www.micds.org.

Jan said, "First of all, this is not unusual in the first weeks in middle school. Painful as it is to hear, it can last well into the first year.

"My daughter, who sounds much like the girl in this situation, came from a public school system where three elementary schools pooled into one middle school. She had a rough first year. At one point we had a report from the school that she was sitting by herself for lunch. It took the first half of her first year for things to settle down, and when they finally did, she had kept many of her old friends (from her school) and made some good friends from the two other schools.

"With the intensity of what this daughter and her mother are feeling, they will not like to hear this--but the best thing may be to give the situation a little more time.

"In addition to waiting this out a bit," Jan said, "the mother should check in with the school to see if there is someone at the school (a counselor, an advisor, or a teacher whom the child likes) who could talk with her daughter. If she has made and kept friends in the past, and it sounds as if that is true, then she doesn't need outside counseling on peer relationships, at least not yet.

"Having the students sit together by homerooms in the first months of school is also not unusual. The cafeteria is one of the most frightening places in the school for the child who has not made friends quickly in a new school. Those friends all get to sit together and sometimes they actually enjoy excluding others from their lunch cliques.

"She might want to read ‘Best Friends, Worst Enemies’ by Michael Thompson. It's the best book I know on middle school peer relationships.Best frends

"If all else fails, she should meet with the principal to discuss what strategies the school can suggest to help her daughter with her adjustment to her new school."

"What this mother and daughter are encountering is not unusual," Jan said again. "The most encouraging piece is that the child was outgoing and made friends easily. If she has these social skills, it's just a matter of time before things get better. She has to keep trying to make friends even though she is discouraged, if not disheartened.

"Middle School is such a tough time, but it can also be a time when children begin to develop confidence. I've always felt that you develop confidence in direct proportion to your struggles. Amy's daughter can get through this---and she'll learn a great deal about herself in the process."


October 22, 2011

Okay, so....

By Cornelia Read


Okay, so... since I last posted here at TLC, I have done a number of things. As follows:

1. Turned in what, Vishnu and all other deities willing, is the final draft of my fourth novel, Valley of Ashes. 


Yes, this is Ganesh. He would be among the other deities I hope are willing.

2. As I was also getting evicted--a month or so early from my temporary rental in Brooklyn, with two days' warning (douchey landlords, long explanation)--I ended up turning in the last 150 pages two days late. Well, okay, technically three days late, since I turned it in three minutes after midnight of the day it was due. Well, okay, ALSO, technically I think the original contractual due date was in January of 1823, so it was actually over a century late in real life, but that's the way I roll and hey, some other stuff that was kind of overwhelming also happened, so I am trying not to swoon with guilt. Which is difficult for me.



3. Got the proposed cover art, which I think is really, really cool:


(Those are like, REAL ashes and stuff. Like they burned things to make them. Which I am touched by.) Also, Tana French is awesome, right?

4. Also, I got the cover art for my first novel in Spanish, which I think is pretty damn awesome, too:


I think the next time I introduce myself, I am going to mention that I am maliciosamente pervertida.

5. After being a homeless orphan for about five days,



which involved Vermont and Rhinebeck--because I am a homeless orphan to whom people are very, very kind--I found a place to crash until I find a real grownup apartment for myself, with my friend Muffin. Muffin is awesome. Here is my favorite coffee mug at her house:


6. I got to go to a descendants' reception at Prospect Cemetery in Jamaica, Queens, that was hosted by my distant cousin Cate Ludlam, at which two portraits of our mutual Ludlam (okay, Ludlum, because they were what Cate refers to as "spawn of Obadiah," who changed the spelling) were being installed. There were really good sandwiches and this wonderful soprano performed music popular during the lifetime of these Ludlums, who built the Chapel of the Sisters in which we were sitting--named in honor of the three daughters they lost to disease in their youth, one of whom was named Cornelia.


Cate and Prospect figure heavily in my third novel, because she is a lovely and generous woman, and also a really great cousin. This is Cate, doing an intro for the evening with light streaming in through the stained glass windows she had restored.


7. After that I got to have drinks with Denise Mina and Laura Lippman and a really wonderful editor named Reagan Arthur, at a groovy bar in mid-town. They are awesome women and I was deeply, deeply happy to get to hang out with them. Also, Denise has amazing hair.


So do Laura and Reagan, but Denise's is really having a most excellent party on her head. Which I think is way cool.

8. I found an apartment yesterday. It is really, really wonderful, especially because it is a two-bedroom in Manhattan with a dishwasher and a view of trees and it is going to cost me under $1700 a month, if I pass the credit check.

Of course, it is almost in the middle of Spuyten Duyvil Creek (meaning way, way north), and it is a five-floor walkup, but hey... my ass is going to look fantastic.

And this is the view from the kitchen at sunset:


Over the rooftops toward Inwood Hill Park, which is the last 200 acres of untouched forest in all of Manhattan, and where Peter Minuit bought the island from the Lenape tribe.

Here is where my great-great uncles built a house in the 1800s, when the neighborhood was still farmland:


This is now about five blocks north of where I'll be living, and filled with apartment buildings I can't quite afford to rent in, but still. I'm a block east of Seaman Avenue, so I feel kind of cool about being there.

The view from the old house was once described as follows:

Looking north can be seen Spuyten Duyvil creek and the rich and fertile acres which it washes; the Harlem river with its torturous course winding like a snake through the tall grass and thick shrubs; a section of the Hudson shining like a lake of molten silver, and tinged with crimson by the setting sun; the misty hills rising from the valley and just perceptible through the haze, the weird glens, the weather beaten crags and torpid mountains. A scene like this is but a portion of what strikes the eye at every point; and this sublime panoramic view has been gazed upon by many eminent Europeans, who declare that nothing equals it in the Old World.

Spuyten Duyvil is "spitting devil" in Dutch.
This is what it looked like when the place was occupied by the British:

These days, the neighborhood looks more like this:

But there is still quite a lot of this:

And this:
And this:
Still, I am really glad I didn't find a rental here, because it would get really tiresome to explain, I think:

Yesterday, I think I rode the subway about 500 blocks. Literally. Today I am back in Vermont.
Life is good. I would like it to slow down a little bit now, though.
How's your week been?