Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Harlequin Calendar and Harking Back

Harlequin sent me a very colorful, high-quality 2009 calendar in celebration of their many years of publishing romance novels. Each month has a vintage Harlequin cover, and this particular one is the one that caught my eye. Why, you may ask? Because the nurse's cap looks like my nurse's cap. Back in the day, when nurses still wore caps, every school of nursing had its own distinctive headgear, whereby those in the know could immediately identify from what school a nurse had graduated -- and some caps had a lot more prestige than others.

I was always partial to the (Charlotte) Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing caps. They looked like tiny pleated birds. This calendar one looks like a Rowan Memorial Hospital School of Nursing cap. The student nurse uniform (if that's what it is) is similar, too, except ours were short-sleeved and blue and white striped. And, unlike the Harlequin heroine's, they were one-piece, i.e., the apron didn't detach. They were so heavily starched you could actually stand them on the floor. The collars and the edges of the cuffs on the sleeves made your skin raw. We used to rub them with Ivory soap to blunt the scraping. Even so, I had calluses on the backs of both my arms and a streak on my neck for at least a year after I graduated because the constant rubbing.

We also had the same kind of navy blue and red cape. (I say "we," but I don't mean me. They were "extra" and so expensive I couldn't afford to buy one.)

I scrounged around and found an old, back-in-the-day photo of either my or my roommate's cap. It's hanging on the mirror. The cap holder thing was made out of a strategically bent coat hanger that had been wrapped in wool yarn. I remember that, but I don't remember who made it. The cap hangers were very handy, though. See how similar the caps are?

Now I'm going to give you a glimpse of what the dorm rooms looked like. None of them were air-conditioned, and they were all the same except for the wall color. My first year, the walls of my room were the color of very weak chocolate milk. Clean bedspreads were provided once a month, and as often as not, the ones my roommate and I were issued were a lovely shade of battleship gray. It was...depressing, but since neither of us had much of a cash flow, we were stuck with it. After my probie year, I got to move to the second floor, and I was assigned a room that was robin's egg blue instead of...whatever that color was. Gray bedspreads didn't look nearly as bad in that room -- when we got them. In the blue room, we usually got beige with brown stripes.

Here are the photographs. You'll have to use your imagination: Robin's egg blue walls. Bedspread, beige with brown stripes. In the second picture, you can almost see the framed photo of the dh, then boyfriend, who was in the army. He was out of basic training by that time and learning to build bridges so he could blow them up:

I'm surprised by how fuzzy the nursing school memories have become. What do I remember clearly about the student nurse time in my life? Anybody could hit you who wanted to.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Update Time

In case you're wondering:

- My mom is back safely from Cleveland. She had a wonderful time -- except for the very cold, cold.

- Our World Traveler is safely back at school. He, too, is likely undergoing a climate readjustment. You should see the silk scarf and the Fes porcelain he brought me. Beautiful and beautiful.

- If you have my email address because I have your email address, it's very likely I no longer have your email address. Most of the address book was lost in the recent and unfortunate iMac crash and burn, despite the back up hard drive. So. If you want me to have your email address again, I'll need you to send it to me, using whichever of my email addresses you have, otherwise I can't tell you anything I need/want to tell you. (You are following this, right?)

- Five months or so and counting for the release date of The First Boy I Loved and The Marine. Hopefully, I'll see the covers ere long -- which I'll post here and on my website the moment I get my hands on them. And hopefully, both sets of galleys aren't going to show up at the same time with a three-day turnaround. "I" think these two books are some of my better efforts, ergo the anxiety regarding their release is beginning to rise...

That's all for the moment, I think. I'm planning on going to see my granddaughter do the cheerleading thing tomorrow. I know I'm going to love this -- 5-year-old cheerleaders are so adorable.

All of you take care...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

It's Pinto Bean Pie Recipe Day

This isn't a recipe from the Methodist Church Lady cook book, though it very well could be. (I've said before that the Methodist church ladies of my childhood could make something edible out of just about anything.)

This recipe comes from "The Grange Range -- Favorite Recipes from the St. John's Community." It was a Christmas gift from a patient's family a couple of decades ago, and it's a wonderful collection of recipes, including ones for unusual pies like "oatmeal" or "mashed potato" and of course, "pinto bean."

What with the beans and the eggs, I would call this pie a high protein dessert. And no, I don't know if you'll need "Beano."

So, if you're feeling rather daring today, here it is:

Pinto Bean Pie

2 cups cooked pinto beans
2 cups sugar
3 Tbs. chocolate*
2 Tbs. self-rising flour
1/2 cup margarine
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla

2 unbaked pie shells.

Place beans in a large mixing bowl. Mash until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into unbaked pie shells.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

(*I'm pretty sure "chocolate" means "cocoa.")


(I should use this recipe in a book.)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

THE PRISONER -- and Visual Writing

I'm a visual writer, that is, it helps me to actually see the place I want to write about, whether it's literally or through photographs or drawings. What I have learned is that if it's real to me, it's going to be real on the page -- and "seeing" makes it real.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the writing process -- my writing process -- is going on a quest for settings. If I can, I go to the actual place and take photographs myself. If not, I use other sources. VICTORIA magazine in its heyday was a wonderful source for "mood" photographs of houses, interiors and gardens. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC is, too. Basically, I look for an image that will convey whatever it is I need to "feel" about the story I want to tell, and I keep that image where I can see it throughout the writing of the book. I never really know what that unnamed "something" is going to be, but I always know it when I see it.

I used a particular Salisbury historical landmark, known locally as the Hall House, in my first book (my first book, not my first published book -- it took a while to get THE PRISONER on the shelves). In it, the house is always referred to as "the Doctor's house." General George Stoneman and his officers really did billet there when he and his cavalry raided the town in April of 1865. My fictional "Amanda" stayed there, too -- but only inside my head.

The following photographs I took over a decade ago -- maybe even longer than that.

Here's the actual Hall House:

This was taken during an annual October Tour of Salisbury's historic homes, but it's open to the public all during the year.

I think of this next shot of the house as my "ghost" photograph. It's strangely eerie-looking -- as if the house were melting away, but the trees look fine. It had nothing to do with camera settings. I took all of these with a 35mm Canon Snappy. There was nothing to set. Also, there were a many, many people around, but somehow I only managed to get one in the frame.

Here is one of the interior shots -- the bedroom where I imagined "John Howe" was taken after he was wounded:

And this is the dining room. It had a more important role in the second half of THE PRISONER. Only the first half of the book was published. The original manuscript continued the story of "Amanda Douglas" and Captain "John Howe" until he was in his forties, but that part didn't make the cut. I still get reader email about the book -- halved or not.

During this particular October Tour, there was an Civil War reenactment group on hand. I'm going to show you photographs of them, too.

In this one, the Yankee invaders come pouring in...

And they were very scary. I can't begin to imagine the number of hours these men (and women) put into "getting it right" and making history live again.

The thing I liked about this particular group was that they stayed in character between events. If you encountered one of them on the way to his car to get something, he still spoke to you as if he were a 19th century entity, or if you happened to come near to a pair of them in conversation, they wouldn't be talking about the Dallas Cowboys. Like as not, it would be about rumors of when the war would end or where the fighting was at that moment.

Part of the reenactment took place in the National Cemetery, which was the location of the Confederate prison during the Civil War and where a large number of unknown Union soldiers who died there are buried. The stone monument behind these two ladies is a memorial erected by the state of Pennsylvania to honor their dead. A coworker of mine, who was a nurse during the Vietnam War, is buried directly across from it. My late father and two great uncles are also buried here, as are a number of World War II nurses I knew and worked alongside when I was a "probie."

Which brings us to the drummer boy. I asked him if I could take his photograph. He very shyly, very politely gave his permission. I think he's very much like "Tobin" from THE PRISONER, except "Tobin" was a bugler.

And this is a photo of the "enemy camp." (That would be "Them," not "Us.")

One of the reasons I wanted to show you these is that Salisbury is having a big "tourism" push. If you're ever in the area, I thought this blog post might entice you to come see history -- and several of my book settings. The NC Transportation Museum is also nearby -- in case you need some kind of authentic transportation for your next movie. (This is where, it just so happens, George Clooney got his railroad car for LEATHERHEADS.) The museum is a nice place to come and look at vintage trains and automobiles. Some days you can take a short train ride around the yard with former railroad men volunteers, who help keep their particular corner of history alive.

So go to the Visitor's Center and tell them Cheryl sent you. At which point they will frown, look at you blankly and say, "WHO?" (These people, bless their hearts, are very difficult to impress.)