Stardust and the Power of Words

This morning I worked the crossword puzzle in the daily paper as I do everyday. One of the clues was “A Hoagy Carmichael Song”. The answer, of course, was Stardust. The word captivated me, so I googled the song and found it on Youtube.

I had heard that song many times in the past, but I never really paid attention to the words until I played that Youtube clip. As I listened to Hoagy croon his creation, I found myself entranced by the beautiful images he painted with words and marveled at his ability to create such beautiful poetry out of heartache.

Just felt I had to share that with you today.  To all my writer/reader friends out there, may the power of words be with you. If you have a moment, take a listen.( I’ve included the lyrics below the video.)

Stardust Lyrics

Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely night dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you
When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
But that was long ago
Now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a songBeside a garden wall
When stars are bright
You are in my arms
The nightingale tells his fairy tale
A paradise where roses bloom
Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
My stardust melody
The memory of love’s refrain

 

Mother Nature — The Good and The Bad

Here in Mauldin, SC and, I think, most of Greenville County, we were spared the wrath of Hurricane Florence.  Thanks to the many friends and family members who contacted me to check on how I was faring during the storm. It felt good to hear from you, and perhaps it was your positive energy and prayers that kept us safe.

The Reedy River Falls in Downtown Greenville — Mother Nature at her glorious best

As I mentioned to some of you, we experienced  wind here, but not nearly as strong as New York City winter winds. Oh, how I remember being held in place by strong gusts that blew down the wind tunnels of those high rise canyons. By comparison, our weather on Sunday was simply breezy.

Unlike what you saw on the Weather Channel closer to the coast,  we didn’t even experience heavy rainfall in my neck of the woods. Just a steady mist all day long. Not even enough to keep my dog inside—Lucky hates heavy rain.

My biggest fear was losing power. After being without heat or electricity for ten days after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New Jersey, I am scarred. I pray I never have to experience that again.

I am so sorry for my fellow Carolinians, both North and South, who did get the worst. Looking at the pictures in the newspaper of flooded neighborhoods and folks waiting in line for water was really painful. As soon as I post this, I will make a donation to one of the organizations providing assistance to flood victims listed in today’s paper, and once again say “Thank you, thank you, thank you” for sparing us a similar fate.

Mother Nature can be very wicked indeed. But yesterday, when I stepped outside and took a look around my patio garden, I actually received an unexpected gift from the old girl. I spotted two eggplant bulbs sprouting on one plant that had borne nothing but flowers all summer long. Just before the storm, I’d actually considered pulling that plant out because, after all, it is September and if a plant hasn’t produced by now, you sort of expect it’s not going to.

I haven’t made eggplant parmesan or eggplant rollatini all summer–one of the things I most look forward to each growing season.  I know you’re probably asking why I didn’t just go buy eggplant at the store or the farmer’s market. I certainly thought about it, but somehow just never did. It’s simply not the same. Imagine how delicious those two dishes will be when I make them from these long awaited vegetables.

So now, my list of things to be grateful for keeps growing.  Let’s hope the eggplant do, too!

If not, no worries. There are all those butternut squash growing on a vine that seeded itself in my garden this Spring. Thank you, Mother Nature.

AMUSING NEWS: On Methamphetamines and Nutella

Sneak peek at the cover of book 3 of the Holly and Ivy Mystery Series due out this November

It’s been a very busy summer and I have shamefully neglected my blogging responsibilities. The worst part is that I have so much to blog about, but have kept putting off writing because I was busy finishing Full Bloom, book 3 of my Holly and Ivy mystery series. ( Very pleased to report that I completed my first full draft and hope to have the book ready for publication this Fall.)

Anyway, a news article this morning motivated me to write. So here’s the headline that greeted me from the Metro section of The Greenville News:

“CAYCE MAN CALLS POLICE ABOUT HIS MISSING METH”.

That sure made me pause. You know, I just had to read on. Here are a few of the article’s highlights:

“A 24-year old Cayce man told police his drugs had been stolen and he wanted to press charges…When Cayce public safety officers responded to the home, they found the man in the backyard. He was ‘upset’ and said someone had stolen his two grams of methamphetamine and he wanted the thief prosecuted…”

Okay, here’s where it gets really good:

“Two officers helped him search inside the house…a female in the home gave an officer a small bag of what she said contained meth…she had hidden it because she didn’t want the man to ‘drink it’.”

The conclusion:

“The man said those drugs did not belong to him. Officers were unable to determine who owned the meth and seized it…Police are still investigating.”

Yes, I assure you, this was a news story, not fiction. Now I’m going to just leave you to ponder this bit of amusing news because, really, what can I say, except that you can’t make this stuff up.

And just because pondering this news item too long can take you from amusement to a despair, I’ve got some really sweet news for you, a follow-up to my Nutella blog a few months ago. On August 6th, USA Today reported that The Ferrerro company, maker of the famed Italian chocolate and hazelnut spread, is looking for “60 ‘sensory judges’ who will be paid for tasting its products.”

Can you believe it! Imagine getting paid to taste Nutella. Again, this was a news story — not fiction. Sixty volunteers will be selected for a three-month training course “designed to sharpen the recruits’ senses of taste and smell.” (Sigh!)

There is a catch, however. The jobs are part-time and you have to be willing to relocate to Ferrero’s headquarters in Alba, Italy’s northwest Piedmont region. Mama mia! Does that really sound like a catch? I can think of  far less satisfying part-time jobs and way worse places to retire.

And so I leave you with that bit of amusing and far more enticing news to dwell on. Maybe listening to  Dean Martin croon Volare can actually fly you up to the sky–no meth amphetamines necessary.

#MaliceDomestic = #CozyMysteryHeaven

Linda Lovely and me at Malice Domestic 30

I can still recall the first time I heard about Malice Domestic. A fellow attendee at an International Women’s Writer’s Guild workshop recommended it to me when I revealed I was writing a cozy mystery. She said Malice Domestic was a yearly conference dedicated to cozy mystery writers and their fans.

Sounded ideal to me. So I googled Malice Domestic, registered for the conference and drove myself down to Bethesda, MD the last weekend in April 2014.

I didn’t know a soul, but soon discovered that didn’t matter. I had found “my people”. My fellow attendees and I shared a love of the same books and when you have books in common, you share a kindred spirit.

A few years back I read Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving — not a cozy mystery at all — but a book I love nevertheless. In one scene, the main character, writer Juan Diego Guerrero, reflects on the idea of using books as the criteria for finding mates and lovers. I thought that was a brilliant alternative to dating websites. A shared love of the same books is by far a more sound basis for the start of a relationship than any of the criteria used by Match.com and eHarmony.  But I digress…

Bethesda in bloom!

This year, I once again returned to Bethesda for Malice Domestic 30 the last weekend in April. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you already know that I rated it as “the best Malice Domestic ever.” Louise Penny was the Guest of Honor and Nancy Pickard received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Their interviews were magnificent. I’m always amazed at how open and generous writers are as they answer questions about their personal journeys. They never fail to inspire us to keep writing our own stories.

The first night of the conference we were treated to a viewing of Season nine’s first episode of Vera, a British crime series based on the novels of Ann Cleeves.  Brenda Blethyn was honored with the Poirot Award for her portrayal of the intrepid Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope. The interview with both Ms. Blethyn and Ann Cleaves was marvelous.

Author of the Dandy Gilver mystery series, Catriona MacPherson was the Malice Domestic Toastmaster. And what a delight she was! Her remarks about the award winners at the Agatha Awards Banquet were eloquent and heartfelt. Best of all, she tapped into the sense of kinship Malice attendees share whenever she took to the podium all weekend, her sense of humor making us laugh all the while.

On Saturday afternoon, I attended an event entitled “30 Years of Malice Memories.” One question from the audience was where did the name “Malice Domestic” come from. That was something I’d always wondered, too. Turns out the name comes from who else? My absolute favorite writer of all time–Shakespeare.

“….…………Duncan is in his grave.

After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.

Treason has done his worst; nor steel nor poison,

Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing

Can touch him further.”

Macbeth, Act III, Scene 2

Was there ever a character more embroiled in malice domestic than Macbeth? Could there be a more perfect name for a conference dedicated to mysteries about murders usually committed by family and friends in small towns and home-bound settings?

Finally, one of the things I love best about Malice is coming home with a bag of books and a list of titles to read by authors I either heard speak or met face-to-face at the conference. I even sold a few of my Holly and Ivy mystery books–the cherry on top.

If you like cozy mysteries, whether or not you can attend the conference, you may want to check out malicedomestic.org for the names of authors you might like to read. In the meantime, as the days grow longer and warmer, I wish you a summer free of actual malice domestic and full of cozy mysteries where there are no cold cases, justice is always served, and with a little luck, the spunky female sleuth always gets her man!

 

Amusing News: The Nutella Crisis

Yikes! It’s the last day of February–something to be grateful for. But to my horror, I realized I hadn’t written a blog this month. It seems to be getting harder and harder to do. I actually started out the year thinking I’d try to write at least two blogs a month, but clearly that’s not happening.

I have gotten ideas for blog topics, but they’ve seemed lame or just too mundane to bother writing about. I keep waiting for inspiration that somehow seems to elude me lately. Nevertheless, I decided today I would finally write about a news item that made me laugh when I read it back on January 27th. The headline read “Discount on Nutella Spread Sparks Chaos”.

First of all, you need to know that I love, and I mean LOVE, Nutella. Last year I spent a week at Skyterra Wellness Retreat and I recall a class on nutrition in which I asked if Nutella was good for you. Of course, the instructor politely suggested that I try to make my own. Hey, I’ve made a lot of changes to improve my eating over the years–I bake my own bread, I eat fruit and vegetables everyday, and hardly ever eat red meat. Nutella was something I was unwilling to give up.

Besides, I regard Nutella as sheer perfection and I simply can’t see the point of trying to make my own. How can you improve on perfection? Heck, Nutella on honey-oat bread is one of the first things that attracts Detective Nick Manelli to my heroine Holly Donnelly in Second Bloom.

Okay, so now you know my relationship with Nutella. Imagine my reaction when I read the headline: “Discount on Nutella Spread Sparks Chaos”. If I had read that on-line, I’d have been certain that the article was satire, but since I was reading The Greenville News, and not Mad Magazine, I had to read further.

It turns out that in France the price of 950-gram jars of Nutella was reduced from $5.85 to $1.75. Quite a good discount. Here’s what happened:

“Chaos erupted in supermarkets across France as shoppers brawled to get their hands on discounted Nutella…Police had to intervene in a brawl in the northern town of Ostriccourt, Le Parisien newspaper reported. An employee at one store in Forbach, near the border with Germany, linked the scenes to an orgy, telling Le Monde Newspaper that shoppers had broken items in their rush for the treat.”

In France. Of all place! Can you believe it? I would have thought this was the kind of behavior at which the French would look down their haughty noses. I mean, aren’t the French always dignified, stylish, elegant? At least, that’s the image pervasive in American marketing and advertising.

I had to laugh out loud the other night when I saw one of those commercials for Cindy Crawford’s miracle face cream that was created by a doctor with special melons that come from the somewhere in France. I wondered if she would sell as many jars of face cream if those melons grew in Poland or Guatamala. I also wondered if a discount on her beauty products would create as much havoc as the sale on Nutella.

Well, the long and short of it is I really got a kick out of that news article. If you’ve read any of my past blogs, you may already know that I’ve stopped watching television news because I just can’t bear it most days. I still read the paper, though. Finding amusing news is not easy, but sooner or later, I manage to come across a headline that makes me laugh. Hope it did the same for you. Happy end of February!

Coffee, Clocks and Celestial Occurences

 

Skywatchers, are you ready for next week’s celestial trifecta: a supermoon, a blue moon and a total lunar eclipse?

One of my most favorite things about retirement is not having to rush to get out the door and catch a train in the morning. After more than thirty years of commuting from northern New Jersey into Manhattan, I now luxuriate in lingering over the newspaper, working a crossword puzzle and drinking cup after cup of coffee in the morning. Only when I’m good and ready do I finally commute from my kitchen island to my dining area table and turn on the computer. Ah, life is good!

Of course, a leisurely breakfast is simply a delightful corollary to waking up when your body signals you’re rested, and not because an alarm has blasted you awake. I think I may have set my alarm clock once since I moved to South Carolina. This morning, however, I read an article about a triple lunar event next week that may just get me to do it again.

On January 31st we will witness a supermoon, a blue moon and a total lunar eclipse. I don’t know about you, but I find something very moving about solar and lunar events. Every time I recall this past summer’s solar eclipse, I just stop and smile. Here in the Piedmont we were very fortunate to have had perfectly clear skies to witness that awesome moment.

My friend JoAnne Manse, my sister Mary Ellen and I shared the experience with hundreds of other skygazers at the Roper Mountain Science Center in Greenville. I’ll never forget the hush that fell across the crowd as the sun and moon crossed in totality, followed immediately by spontaneous applause. The moment was magical.

This morning’s paper mentioned that even without the supermoon, the combined blue moon and lunar eclipse that will occur next week hasn’t happened in the USA since March of 1866. The West Coast will have the advantage this time around, however. Central and Eastern USA will only see a partial eclipse because the moon will set before totality. Channel WDBJ7 reports, “On America’s East Coast the eclipse will start coming into view at 5:51 a.m. and will give viewers in cities like New York only a small window to see the reddish moon.”

I definitely plan to set my alarm so I don’t miss whatever view we will have of this extraordinary celestial event. After all, I only need to do it, once in a blue moon.

Thanksgiving

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” J.R.R. Tolkien

The day after Halloween I was a bit dismayed to see a complete and immediate shift in focus to the Christmas holiday season. They were even playing Christmas Carols at my dentist’s office…in October!

Thanksgiving seems to have been skipped right over. I can only suppose that’s due to its continued resistance to commercial viability. No Thanksgiving gifts to be bought. Only modest pumpkins and wreaths decorate our front entryways. And, no matter how retailers try, they just can’t seem to get more than a few of us to send Thanksgiving cards. The only ones who can be sure of an uptick in sales are turkey farmers.

November Tomato Harvest

I agree totally with J.R.R. Tolkien whose quote I stumbled upon in this morning’s newspaper. Now, that’s the spirit of Thanksgiving, isn’t it? It’s all about food and good cheer, even if we don’t sing Thanksgiving carols. I love Thanksgiving and I  want to celebrate it in my heart every day this week. Christmas will be here soon enough.

And I have so much to be thankful for. Just like the first celebrants in 1621, this year I give thanks for a bountiful Fall harvest, especially for my tomato plants. I still have plants that self-seeded mid-summer producing tomatoes–in November! Now, for that I am truly grateful.

A Monarch Butterfly Visit to my Zinnia Patch

Also, every year I grow Zinnias in my flower beds, and for the second year in a row, I have been treated to rather lengthy visits from pairs of Monarch butterflies who seem to delight in the nectar of their colorful blooms. Last year there were two butterflies. This year there were six. Perhaps I’m kidding myself, but I like to think that I’m now an official stop on the Monarch Butterfly migration trail and as the years go by, I’ll be visited by more and more butterflies as they journey southward.

Finally, I’m profoundly grateful to have reached my full retirement age this year in good health. So wonderful to be able to just live, enjoy life and do all the thing there was never enough time for when I worked every day. Hallelujah!

I hope you have time this week to truly enjoy and savor it. I wish every one of you a day of good food and good cheer, surrounded by the people you love. Happy Thanksgiving!

Murder Most Poisonous

If you love mysteries, don’t miss The Wicked Plants exhibit now at the NC Arboretem!

If you’ve been following me on FaceBook, you may know that I’ve been out gallivanting again. Last week my sister, Mary Ellen, and I made our annual trek to Hendersonville to get apples. I just eat them, but I’m looking forward to Mary Ellen’s baking with them. Within the coming weeks, I’ll be treated to apple pies, cakes, turnovers, crumbles, sauce, and who knows what other divine recipes she’ll come up with.

At the NC Arboretum, backed up by–you guessed it–a gorgeous Holly bush.

As much as I enjoyed that trip, I experienced triple the enjoyment on Wednesday when we took a bus tour with Mauldin’s Ray Hopkins Senior Center to the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, NC. The trip was originally announced months ago, and we signed up, not knowing exactly what to expect.  You can bet, I didn’t expect something particularly beneficial to my cozy mystery writing.

Imagine my excitement when I checked on line just a few days before departure and learned that one of the exhibits at the arboretum was entitled Wicked Plants.  Based on a book with the same name and sub-titled The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities, the exhibit description intrigued me.  When I read,

Entrance to the deceptively cozy Wicked Plants exhibit.

Thought-provoking, entertaining and educational interactive displays are set inside a Victorian-era ramshackle home, where visitors travel from room to room and learn about various poisonous plants that may be lurking in their homes and backyards. History, medicine, science, legend and lore are brought together to present a compendium of bloodcurdling botany that will entertain, alarm and enlighten,”

I nearly swooned! Talk about serendipity. This exhibit could have been tailor-made for a mystery writer whose sleuths are gardeners. In one room, a murder victim lies face down on the table and clues are scattered about the room. Your job is to figure out the cause of death. In the dining room, each place setting has a written description of a food item on the table. Each item can, in certain instances, cause death. Using a shaded magnifying glass, you can find the name of the toxic food item embedded in the place mats. What a lot of fun!

I was dismayed, however, when I arrived at the gift shop only to find they were all out of copies of Wicked Plants, which I’d decided was going to become an essential part of my mystery writer library. Disappointed, I returned to the lobby to meet up with my tour group. More serendipity! As I passed the receptionist’s desk, I saw a lone copy of the book on the counter. Not being shy, I ran over and asked if it was for sale. After some checking, they told me, that yes, I could buy this display copy. What good fortune!

The Quilt Garden

 

The Wicked Plants Exhibit aside, I highly recommend visiting the NC Arboretum in the coming weeks. Especially since the temperature has dropped and it’s finally Fall, y’all. The Arboretum was developed on land the state of NC bought from the Biltmore estate that is now Pisgah National Forest.

We only had time to tour the area from the Baker Exhibit Center to the Education Center, but it was wonderful. The Quilt Garden made of yellow chrysanthemums used to form butterflies is not to be missed. And if you are a fan of bonsai, hurry. The bonsai specimens are amazing, but they’ll only be outside for a little while longer, before they get taken indoors for the winter.

So happy to be blogging again and sharing my serendipitous experiences with you. Please write and tell me about yours.

Holly and Ivy–oops!–Sally and Mary Ellen searching for clues.

The Writers Block

August 14th — How did that happen? It seems like just yesterday I was planning my trip to New Jersey to attend a family wedding and heading up to the Catskills for a reunion with my book club of 30+ years. I missed my July blog completely and now I’m wondering how to get in all the summer delights like baseball games and pool time in the few remaining weeks of summer.

Yesterday I stopped mid-chapter 41 of Book 2 in my Holly and Ivy mystery series and was eager to get back to it this morning, but in addition to planning summer pleasures, I’ve got this growing list of things to do, and at the top of the list for days has been a note to post an announcement about the wonderfully inspiring speakers, Anna Katherine Freeland and Carole Gallagher, who presented at our Sisters in Crime local chapter on August 3rd. Then I remembered I’d previously written a blog about The Writers Block, a workshop these two women facilitate at Perry Correctional Institute, a maximum security detention facility here in South Carolina. I decided I had to sit right down and get this blog out to the world.

Every Tuesday Anna Katherine Freeland and Carole Gallagher drive to Perry and work with a group of men who are part of the prisoners Character Based Unit, a program initiated by prisoners and “composed of men who have indicated a desire to make changes in their lives, even if they will spend the rest of their lives there.” The two women co-facilitate a weekly writing workshop where the men write in response to writing prompts, and the entire group participates in reading and discussing each piece, offering constructive critiques, starting with the strengths of the pieces they share.

Available at: www.thewritersblockproject.org.

The Writers Block has published Didn’t See It Coming, an anthology of their work. Reading their words, I find it just a little heart-crushing on this cloudy morning thinking that perhaps if these men had such inspiring teachers as Anna Katherine and Carole when they were in school to help them articulate in writing their universal feelings of anger, frustration and despair, they might not have committed the crimes they did.

The fact that these men now write to express their deepest feelings is quite moving. The fact that they do it so well is downright awesome. Learning that the men in The Writers Block write with a limited library, no internet access, no computers, with pen and paper, I am ashamed of my all-too-often, self-indulgent complaints and excuses for procrastinating when I know I should be writing.

In a blog I wrote last October, I was voicing the lamentations of a writer riddled with self-doubts, “wringing my hands, feeling like a fraud and a failure, wondering what in the world makes me think I can write.” That’s when I read the poem below written by Arimatia Buggs, a member of The Writers Block, in response to the writing prompt: “I write because”.

I write because I must
I write to release
To bring inner peace
To make sense of confusion
To focus life’s kaleidoscopic illusion
To mend the souls of those broken kindred spirits
Who feel what I feel and see what I see
But never penned the words so it was left up to me
I write because I must
I write because of peace, love, joy and pain
Stress, hurt and strain
I write to appreciate
I write to innovate
I write to reveal
What I see, know and feel
To cry and to vent
To forgive and relent
To reminisce of time spent
I write because I must
I write to breathe
I write because I believe
You can achieve everlasting life when you write
Living forever on a page
Then reincarnated–through reading–through windows of
The soul to stand again upon life’s stage
I write because I realize I am who I am because of words.
Words that moved me, taught me, grew me
Made me into the man that I am
I write because I must.

Inspiring words, indeed. To get a copy of Didn’t See it Coming (only $15), to donate to the project, or to learn more about The Writers Block, visit www.thewritersblockproject.org.

Paul Simon — He Blew That Room Away

On Saturday, June 4th, my sister, brother-in-law and I attended a Paul Simon concert at Heritage Park in Simpsonville, SC. Fantastic!. His mix of new and old songs did not disappoint. Some songs left me exhilarated–some caused a nostalgic ache for a past long gone. Through it all, I marveled at the connection I felt to this man whom I know only through the words of his songs.

And what words he wrote! Words that painted pictures so vibrant that to hear them brings back vivid memories, real and imagined. I was fairly mesmerized when Paul sang America. As he crooned the words, “Kathy, I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh”, describing their bus ride and “counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,” I could see the scene so clearly, I felt certain I’d been on that bus trip with them in 1968. I guess, in a way, I was…we all were.

Me and Julio Down by the School Yard makes me laugh out loud whenever I hear this line–“Mama looked down and spit on the ground every time his name was mentioned.” Can’t you just see her? With words, Paul creates an indelible picture of a woman who demonstrates her contempt for someone wordlessly.

I still remember first hearing The Dangling Conversation when I was in high school. The sound was so new, the words so thought-provoking. I followed Paul as he made the transition from Simon and Garfunkel to his solo journey. I crossed with him the Bridge over Troubled Water, and more than 20 years after I first heard his words, I was again blown away by Graceland, one of my all-time favorite albums.

Paul Simon has written so many words and phrases that have become part of our lexicon. If I say “Mrs. Robinson” in describing a woman, need I say more? Who doesn’t know about the “50 Ways…”? And as we age, don’t we have to smile when we hear the refrain, “Still Crazy After All These Years”?

When I came home after the concert, I couldn’t just go to bed. I pulled out my Essential Paul Simon CD’s and sat listening, amazed at the memories they stirred in me and how much a part of my life those songs are. The best is that Paul Simon continues to write and sing his songs. Thank you, Paul, for a lifetime of unforgettable music and poetry. Rock on!

Try not dancing or at least wiggling as you listen to Paul sing Late In the Evening.