Monday, September 29, 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

My agent loaned me The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and I'm very glad she did. It's been a while since I've enjoyed a book this much and on so many levels -- as a reader, a writer, a lover of books and of history. It has a bit of everything -- humor, well-placed historical detail, heart-rending poignancy that evokes, for me, the same kind of feeling that reading The Spoon River Anthology does -- there's even a romance. All of these elements are presented in back and forth letters among exceptionally well-drawn, living and breathing characters, both admirable and unworthy.

Several years ago PBS's Masterpiece Theater aired a series called Island at War, which also dealt with the WW II German occupation of one of the Channel Islands, in this case a fictional one. Having seen that lent a great deal of visual "texture" to the reading of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

I highly recommend that you experience both.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dancing and Dancing

Yay! The favorite house guest is coming again this weekend. What a bright ray of sunshine on this raw and rain-filled day. We pick him up at school at three-ish, and then the GrandKid Spa is open.

Other news? Nothing comes to mind. Oh, I did get my passport renewed. I'm not sure why -- I never go anywhere. Still, if the opportunity arises, I am ready. (It's a public health nurse thing.)

And I saw two elephants last week. This is noteworthy because I've somehow managed to reach the age I am without ever having seen any elephants at all, mostly because this is not a place known for its pachyderms and because I never hang out at circuses. I think I've worked for a few in my time, but they weren't actually called that. Anyway, it was quite a thrill -- the elephants, not my work history. I looked at them from afar and felt sorry for them, of course. (Which may also be a public health nurse thing.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thursday Update

Let's see...

Mikey is at home now. He's dealing with weight loss and post surgical pain, but he's able to stir around some. And, he's looking a lot better.

Also, my nephew is staying well. And studying hard. He's only 400 yards from the ocean, and having grown up in the Midwest, this is a very big compensation for his being so far from home. That, and the kindness of the people there. His mother, his grandmother, and I are most grateful to them -- a thousand thanks.

Preliminary readings of the previously sent proposal are positive, but it needed more pages added. So. I've expanded it to five chapters and re-sent it. (Read: Still in Waiting Heck...)

We're also waiting for an off-shore "nor'easter" to make landfall. We're over 200 miles inland and far more sou' than nor,' but apparently it's going to rain and blow on us anyway. At the moment, it's gloomy and very windy, temps in the 60s (F). The grandboys are supposed to have their first soccer game this afternoon.

I'm "doing lunch" with an old friend -- who happens to be singer Tori Amos's cousin -- in a week or so. Diane always makes me smile. We're old war horse nurses and we manage to get together once or twice a year. I can't wait to see her.

I didn't win the $176 million dollar educational lottery last night. Even so, I'm still on my "birthday high."

That's it for the moment. Bulletins almost as they happen...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Birthday Girl

Birthday Girl? That would be me. I have been marking the occasion of my birth all day. Nothing big, just many little celebratory gems, starting with absolutely perfect weather and ending with spaghetti at Johnny's Restaurant and handmade cards from the grandchildren. It couldn't have been any better. Unless, of course, my birthday lottery ticket happens to win.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What's Happening...

At the top of the list is Mikey. He and my son have been best friends since they were eleven. Someone asked me once if they were my boys. I said one of them was -- but I forget which one.

Mikey had a very serious heart attack last week and subsequent emergency by-pass surgery. He's doing better, i.e., out of intensive care, breathing on his own, and able to sit up for a time.

He's only 38 years old, but he is a very heavy smoker. And very lucky. This time.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Happy Birthday!

It's my mother's birthday today. I'm not allowed to tell you which one it is. Did I say she's still driving? And not just "driving." She's zipping around in a 5-speed, manual transmission 1989 yellow Mustang.

She gets such a kick out of the way her vehicle wows the young teenage boys. She especially gets a kick out of the way their jaws drop when she gets out of it.

Happy Birthday, Mommy!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Writing Life

It's rained all day today. (No, those aren't ghostly "orbs." Those are raindrops.)

We're still in enough of a drought for raindrops to be welcome -- unless it's 10+ inches worth again. Even so, it's been the writer version of a stressful day, i.e., strewn with upsetting events, but I got some pages written, ergo some of the day was salvaged after all.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Lucy and Ethel" and More Clothesline How-To's

(Thunderstorm coming and the wash is only half dry...)


My friend, Jo, who up and retired far, far away, sent me the following after she'd read my earlier "solar drying" and Hanna Report post.

She and I were friends and colleagues for years -- I may have already said that "accomplice" would be a more accurate term where she is concerned. We found ourselves in more than one "Lucy and Ethel" situation not of our own making during our long history, and being the resourceful and bold nurses that we were, we sometimes had no choice but to take matters into our own hands. (Read: I have been known to say a time or two: "You watch the door.") Using an assessment tool I acquired somewhere in my "careers," i.e., in a life or death, sinking ship kind of situation, would you want this person in your lifeboat, the answer regarding Jo is an unconditional "Yes."

(The lifeboat thing is also how I assess women political candidates, and it's not just whether and how well the woman will row. It's whether or not she has her own agenda and is likely to toss a fellow survivor overboard if she doesn't find him or her particularly useful.)

But once again I digress.

Here's what Jo sent:

(Clothes Line)

The Basic Rules:

1. You had to wash the clothesline before hanging any clothes. Walk the length of each line with a damp cloth around the line.

2. You had to hang the clothes in a certain order and always hang whites with whites and hang them first.

3. You never hung a shirt by the shoulders, always by the tail. What would the neighbors think?

4. Wash day was on a Monday...........never hang clothes on the weekend or Sunday for heaven's sake!

5. Hang the sheets and towels on the outside lines so you could hide your 'unmentionables' in the middle.

6. It didn't matter if it was sub zero weather.....clothes would 'freeze dry.'

7. Always gather the clothes pins when taking down dry clothes. Pins left on the line was 'tacky'.

8. If you were efficient, you would line the clothes up so that each item did not need two clothes pins, but shared one of the clothes pins with the next washed item.

9. Clothes off of the line before dinner time, neatly folded in the clothes basket and ready to be ironed.

10. IRONED?????????? Well, that's a whole other subject.


A clothes line was a news forecast
To neighbors passing by.
There were no secrets you could keep
When clothes were hung to dry.

It also was a friendly link
For neighbors always knew
If company had stopped on by
To spend a night or two.

For then you'd see the 'fancy sheets'
And towels upon the line;
You'd see the 'company table cloths'
With intricate design.

The line announced a baby's birth
To folks who lived inside
As brand new infant clothes were hung
So carefully with pride.

The ages of the children could
So readily be known
By watching how the sizes changed
You'd know how much they'd grown.

It also told when illness struck,
As extra sheets were hung;
Then nightclothes, and a bathrobe, too,
Haphazardly were strung.

It said, 'Gone on vacation now'
When lines hung limp and bare.

It told, 'We're back!' when full lines sagged
With not an inch to spare.

New folks in town were scorned upon
If wash was dingy gray,
As neighbors carefully raised their brows,
And looked the other way...

But clotheslines now are of the past
For dryers make work less.
Now what goes on inside a home
Is anybody's guess.

I really miss that way of life.
It was a friendly sign
When neighbors knew each other best

By what hung on the line!

(Thanks, Jo)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dancing Again

I'm dancing for a different reason this time around. The grandboy is visiting this weekend. He lived with us for five years, so he's quite a bit more than "grandchild." He's wonderful company despite having hit the teenage years, and I'm glad to have him in the house again -- which I shamelessly operate as a GrandKid Spa. I think children today are "over programmed" and they need some time to decompress and just "be."

But don't get me started on that. For the moment, I think I'll just "be." Happy, happy, happy. Because the room's all ready and I've got a very special houseguest coming...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hanna Report

We were brushed by the extreme edges of Hurricane Hanna -- 0.7 inches worth of rain as opposed to the 10.5 inches we ultimately got from Fay. It's sunny and breezy at the moment. A good day to hang the laundry out on the line -- did I say I'd gone "green?" Well, actually, it's a return to "green." I was "green" when it was called "can't afford a dryer." I thought I'd see if I could make a small dent in the ever rising hot summer weather energy bill. That, and I dearly love the way sheets and pillowcases smell when they've been solar dried. As far as I'm concerned, Heaven will smell like that.

I think I'm probably the only one in the neighborhood who actually has a clothesline. We put a deluxe three-liner up when we moved here more than thirty years ago, but as a result of juggling two careers and boy child, it was eventually relegated to drying emergencies and big things that wouldn't fit into the clothes dryer.

I never wanted to get rid of it, though, despite of the questionable esthetics of having two welded-iron T-poles strung with green plastic-coated wires in the back yard. I'm glad I kept it, and so far, so good with the logistics of using it this time around. I've managed to get the wash in ahead of several thunderstorms, and I've only miscalculated whether the humidity was too extreme for the clothes to get completely dry once or twice.

More importantly, I haven't been stung by marauding yellow jackets or tired bees who find the clothespins a handy perch -- as yet. (Knock on wood.) I know not to leave the clothespin bag on the line while the clothes are drying, lest there be some critter with a stinger inside it when I go back to take the clothes in -- folding each piece and putting it into the clothes basket as I go, of course.

Leaving the basket in the grass for the duration of the drying process also invites trouble, in the form of ticks, ants, and/or spiders hitching a ride and finding their way into the house or on your person. There's also the possibility of a snake, but so far the one I know about has confined itself to the iris bed -- I showed you the iris bed. Mosquitoes are another matter entirely. I'm clearly a main course item on the mosquito menu -- enough so to make me wonder why that crisp, clean, dried outdoors smell can't be duplicated in a spray. Either it can't be done -- the ones called "Clean Laundry" aren't even close -- or the scent-maker person has never smelled cotton fabrics dried in sunshine and wind.

But there are other perks besides that wonderful smell.

I like being outside in the early morning dew hanging out the clothes. It's a time for reflection, problem-solving, appreciation, and "think writing." I can hear the wind chimes in the maple tree, the squirrel chatter, birdsong. Sometimes I can hear the Westminster clock chimes coming from the Lutheran church about a half a mile away or the "Pea Vine" train on its run from Salisbury to Badin. Sometimes I can smell honeysuckle and mimosa and the neighbor's coffee. All in all, as long as I can stay ahead of things that sting and bite, it's a very pleasant experience -- and that's not counting the cloud watching and the fact that sunlight will take tomato-based stains out of knit T-shirts like magic -- if you hang it across two lines so that the sun beats directly down on the stain. Really.

And, I think I may have even saved a dollar or two.

In closing, let me tell you the cardinal rule regarding solar drying: Never, ever leave the clothespins out in the weather. As far as my mother and grandmother were concerned, letting clothespins get rained on carried close to the death penalty. Of late, I think I can understand why. As part of the memory-keeping, I have acquired my late mother-in-law Rose's clothespins. For the women of these two generations, I think taking good care of their pins was more than just being frugal. Compared to the ones you might buy today -- if you could find them -- Rose's clothespins are so finished and of such quality, they're practically furniture.

Until next time...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chicken Pie Suppers and Pastor's Wives

A number of years ago -- I'd go look it up, but I know it's longer than I think it is and I'd just as soon skip that part.


A number of years ago, I wrote a Silhouette Special Edition titled Little Darlin'. In it, there is a church chicken pie supper, which is an important plot device by which "Matt Beltran" would begin to understand that he is becoming more involved with the little daughter he didn't know he had (and the woman who is taking care of her) than he intended. Shortly after the book was out, I got a letter from a pastor's wife, who liked it a lot, she said, but she had a problem with the church chicken pie supper thing. She did not consider chicken pies a very likely menu item at all. Certainly, it wasn't in her experience.

The thing is, you see, it's based on my experience, the lesson here being that, as tempting as it is, one shouldn't necessarily assume that a writer doesn't know whereof she speaks. So. It is with great pleasure that I share the Rockwell Methodist Church chicken pie recipe with you now. It's in the old cookbook, courtesy of my long ago Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Maude Euart. Those chicken pies drove the church's fund raisers for many years. As always with the church lady recipes, this is word for word directly from the cookbook -- with the expectation that one already knows how to cook, and in this case, will understand that when the recipe says "Sprinkle diced eggs on top of chicken," it doesn't mean all the diced eggs. It's also understood that one will know what to do with those two boxes of "pie mix," and how to acquire a "large cooked chicken." (Believe me, it's not easy, especially if it happens to still be walking around.)

Maude Euart's Chicken Pie

1 large cooked chicken
2 boxes pie mix
9 eggs boiled hard and diced

Cook chicken until it falls off the bones, then cut with scissors and put chicken in an unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle diced eggs on top of chicken. Take (mixed in a little cold water):

about 1/2 of broth
1/2 c. flour

Cook mixture until thick and pour over the chicken and eggs in pie shell. Add top Bake in oven at 425 or 450 degrees until brown.

Take the rest of broth, add 1/2 cup flour in a little cold water. Cook until desired thickness, add chicken liver, gizzard, rest of the diced eggs. This sauce is to be used over pie when served.

Enjoy. In Maude's and the rest of the church ladies' hands, this pie was a truly wonderful thing...