Friday, May 22, 2015

Victoria Square Returns!

MOVING FROM THE BACK BURNER TO THE

Like the picture says, Victoria Square is moving from the back burner to the front.

The series has been languishing while I've turned my attention to other things ... like writing The Booktown Mysteries, the Jeff Resnick Mysteries, the Lotus Bay Mysteries, and the Tales of Telenia adventure-fantasy series ... but readers have been begging for more Victoria Square and I'm happy to finally be able to oblige.

Cozy mystery author Laurie Cass and I will be collaborating on the series.  The next book is already in the works, and should be finished by year-end. Now we're waiting to hear when the series will be put back on the publishing schedule.  We're anticipating 2017 -- but have no fear, we'll let you know if it will be any sooner.

Laurie and I have been friends for years and we're excited to begin this journey together. Check out Laurie's website and if you haven't already read her wonderful Bookmobile Cat Mysteries, I hope you'll give them a try.

Claw_foot_bathtub5BTW, this is my inspiration picture for the next book, which I've tentatively called Dead, Bath, and Beyond or maybe Dead In The Water.  (But don't count on that being the actual title. Marketing always has their own ideas, which don't always coincide with mine.)


 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thriller, filler, spiller






One of the great joys of spring is planting annuals. I love hanging baskets and window boxes and planters. All those magic containers with their bright blooms help dim the recent memories of snow drifts and minus thirty.  I like to make them up myself. 




Our property – as I may have mentioned – is a work in progress. The former owners' gardens were pretty much destroyed.  We are rebuilding, but it will be at least five more years until it suits us. So baskets and boxes will make us happy until the perennials mature and fill in the bald spots and we think of something creative to do with ‘the back forty’.

Time is short this week: something to do with writing books so that people who enjoy the book collector mysteries will have a new one in the works. But I found enough time to go hunting for plants at the garden center of our grocery store in the village. The rule of thumb for baskets is: thriller, filler, spiller.  Was I the last person in the world to learn this?

I needed an attractive eye-catching plant in the center, something on the taller side.  That needed to be surrounding by bright, shorter flowers, to ‘fill in’ the pot.  Finally, some vines or trailing blooms, spillers, to balance out the whole deal.  Here's a pretty bit of lobelia for my first basket.



It’s an easy concept, but I’d never done it that way. I’m all about the fillers and the spillers.  This time I thought to try the thriller.  I started with what I hope is going to be the right soil.  That’s a work in progress too.  We’re always looking for the right mix that won’t drown them or dry out when we have our annual August heat wave.

Here are the first two baskets:  For the first, I picked out a coleus with a lot of spicy red and dark dramatic borders 


 


 I filled in with some sweet dianthus (do pink carnations take any of you back to the day?) 






Next, I tucked the lobelia around.  Fingers crossed that it will like a sunny spot. If not, we'll switch it out.
 
  Finally, I just need to find the right spot for it. It won't stay on this chair!






Next, a project with a lovely fescue grass. 




It’s the first time I’ve seen this variation in the local shop.  I decided to surround the fescue with small red begonias. I love them and they’re tough little devils.  I also love the lime-color of the sweet potato vine.

My efforts cost about half the price of the pre-made baskets. Once they have a chance to fill out the basket, I know they’ll look great.  In the meantime, I tucked them into our old wicker hanging basket (garage sale!) sat down to admire, just as the temperature dropped to about forty and the wind caused the trees and the baskets to whip around. Canada. What can I say?
I’ll post pictures later when they reach their peak.  Right now, they're alive and planning to bring me joy this summer.

Next week, please join me for a trip to the market for begonias! 

And now, what about you? Do you have favorite annuals?  Any spring planting rituals you’d like to share?  Baskets or beds? 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Friends and family plan

Nothing better than friends and families and there are no families or friends closer than Southern families and friends. That’s especially true in Demise in Denim.

Mamma and KiKi were sisters. At birth the muses tangoed over auntie’s crib turning her into Savannah’s dance diva and they wrapped mamma in a blanket with little elephants resulting in this campaign and me getting the name Reagan.

Friendship means being there for each other when the chips are down, like when Walker Boone is wanted for murder.

            I looked at my ’57 red Chevy convertible parked at the curb. “Might as well put a target on my back trying to get away from the cops in this thing.”
           Reagan shoved her helmet at me. “Take Princess.”
          “A scooter? You want me to ride a pink scooter named Princess?”
            “Better than that being your nickname in the big house.”

And there are all kinds of friendships…friendships between guys…

                      Dawg,” Big Joey said to me as I slip onto a stool next to his, everyone in the place giving Joey space. “Know you’d show.”
          Big Joey was built like a Mac truck, muscles buffed to jet black, gold tooth, ponytail and main man of the Seventeenth Street gang...my former home and forever family. He was my brother in every sense of the word except parental commonality.

Friendships between girls…

                        Footsteps skittered across the floor over our heads and I tore up the steps, with Auntie KiKi right behind me. We turned the corner at the top and faced a big guy with alcohol-infused breath and wild-looking bloodshot eyes that I could make out even in the dark. The guy took a swing at me and missed. KiKi threw the rest of her martini in his face and I added an added a cocktail shaker uppercut to his jaw.
                       “I give up! I give up!” The guy stumbled back against the wall and slithered down to the floor as I switched on the hall lights.

So who’s always there for you? Who always has your back come hell or high water? 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Message For All of Us

by Maggie Sefton


My mother in 1965, when she was 45


My mother just turned 95 years old on Mother's Day this year, May 10th.  That's quite a milestone.  There was no birthday cake.  The nurses, nurses' aides, and all the other caregivers at the wonderful Skilled Care facility offered her whatever she wanted.  And they were delighted when Mom took a bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  She went another few days before she ate anything else.  Then on Sunday, the nurses asked her what she wanted, and she once again asked for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and delighted them when she took two little bites.  Then, later, she had a bite of ice cream.

Hooray for PBJ!  And ice cream.  As you've probably guessed by now, my mother is slowly exercising her right to choose how she wants to pass.  On her own terms, and in no pain.  We should all be so lucky.  I'm visiting every day and sit and talk with her.  She's still reading the daily newspaper that's   delivered to her own room.  And she watches television.  Over the weekend, once again, she chose the channels that show golf tournaments.  It makes me smile.  She likes to talk with me and appreciates my visits, but she always reminds me to turn that TV back on when I'm about to leave.  The woman never played golf in her life, but she loves watching professional golfers on TV.

She regularly asks me "How come I'm still alive?"  To which I reply:  "Because you have none of the Big Three Killer Diseases, Mom.  No heart disease.  No emphysema.  And no diabetes."  The Big 3 take most people's lives earlier than 95 years old.  She doesn't have them.  So, she's still here.  :)  Bless her heart.

My mother is also fortunate in that she can afford to live in a marvelous skilled care facility (they don't call them nursing homes anymore).  And, believe me, it's not cheap.  Back East where I grew up, I'm sure the cost is way higher than here in Fort Collins, Colorado---an hour north of Denver.  Since I was a CPA out there in the working world, I am quite comfortable with numbers.  So, I'll share some of these with you, folks.  I'm sure a lot of you out there have aging parents, so believe me, you WILL face this situation in the future---just as our children will be facing it years from now.

The monthly charge for the Columbine West Skilled Care facility is approximately $7500 each month.  To that charge are added the separate charges for Nurse Practitioner's regular visits plus visits by the  dentist and any other visiting physician and physician's assistant.  Add to that a visit by a specialist, X-rays, other tests, and monthly pharmacy bills.  Easily rounding up to $8000 a month for her own private room.  You can do the math.  That amounts to $96,000.  So,  we can easily say it costs my mother $100,000/year.  

That's a lot of money.  And I think it's safe to say that the majority of Americans could not afford to pay  those bills.  How can my mother afford it?   Well, she has something that most Americans no longer have---and some never will have.  I don't have one.  And that's a pension.  My mother was a single, divorced Working Mom in an Ozzie and Harriet world.  She was smart and industrious and had great secretarial skills which enabled her to take the exam required to apply for a secretarial position with the Federal Government in Washington, DC, years and years ago.

She worked 30 years and retired with a pension.  A year later, she married my stepfather, Stetson, who also worked 30 years for the Federal Government.  Stetson was Chief Historian for the U.S. Army and was the editor of the official history of World War II for the U.S. Army.  Stetson was also a neighbor in Arlington where I grew up.  Stetson's wife, Mary Alice, had died two years earlier from lung disease caused by her smoking for most of her life.  Stetson was older than my mom and died in 1985.  They had eleven wonderful years together.

So----those two pensions plus money from some small investments that my mom and Stetson had accumulated and which I've had to sell off piece by piece have provided the funds to pay all those monthly charges.  As a former CPA, Fiduciary Responsibility runs deep in my bones.  I'm just thankful the money has been there these last few years.  That has enabled my mother to spend these last years of her life in comfortable surroundings with skilled nurses and loving nurses' aides who regularly come in to get hugs and kisses from my mom, Benny.  She deserves it.

And they do love her and take fantastic care of her.  A friend asked if it was sad to watch this happening----this downward path.  We all know where this is going.  One of these days the nurses will walk into her room and find that she's no longer breathing.  Having peacefully passed----in no pain----when she was ready.   On her own terms.  I've always believed that when Mind and Spirit decide to leave-----Body will follow.   We should all be as fortunate as my mother, Benny.  God Bless her.          

Monday, May 18, 2015

IT’S A JUNGLE IN THERE!

by Kate Collins
 

I haven’t been sick since I can’t remember when -- until this past week, that is, when a stomach virus leveled me. And like any writer with warehouses of curiosity seeking an outlet, I wanted to know the fastest way to get rid of that nasty bug.

As often happens in life, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear, which it did, in the form of an online article by Dr. Mercola (Mercola.com) on astonishing new discoveries about our inner gut biome, and a fascinating webinar on gut bacteria given by a former San Francisco news anchor/investigative reporter.


Some of the important information I learned is:

1. Our genes are controlled mainly by our gut bacteria. The bugs that live within us are changing our genome expression moment to moment.

2. The composition of the gut bacteria has enormous influence on your health, including your brain’s health. determining whether your brain will become diseased or not.

3. Our gut genome had been the same for thousands of years until now because of all the processed foods and toxins we ingest. And because we're changing our gut bacteria, we are also changing the signals that are going to our DNA, producing massive amounts of people with diseases.

4. When your gut lining becomes compromised, you end up with leakiness of the gut. This increases inflammation, which is a cornerstone of virtually all brain disorders, like Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's and autism.

5. There is a direct connection between a leaky gut and autoimmune diseases such as MS, Lou Gehrig's disease, Crohn's, and inflammatory bowel disease.

6. The old notion that doctors should look at you as a collection of individual parts is completely illogical. Every system relates to each other in a way that ultimately causes either health or disease.

7. Two key strategies to nourish and protect your gut genome are to limit your consumption of antibiotics to when they're absolutely necessary, and be smart in the food choices you make. Whenever possible, opt for whole, raw organic, non-genetically modified (GM) foods, along with traditionally fermented and cultured foods.

8. Pesticides have also been shown to alter gut bacteria and foster drug-resist bacteria in the soil and food, so organically-grown and raised foods are your best bet.

9. You can rehabilitate your gut bacteria so that they will do the majority of the work in preventing disease and promoting a healthy functioning body and mind.

And that was just the tip of the iceberg. My plan now to completely recover from this flu is to eat fermented foods to heal my gut, continue taking a probiotic supplement (forget processed yogurts. They’re too weak and sugary to do any good), and eat lots of organically grown greens, onions, garlic, and nuts and seeds.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to rehab your gut, I recommend reading Dr. David Perimutter’s, Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain-for Life, and his previous book, Grain Brain, which topped the New York Times bestseller list for 54 weeks.


Dr. Perlmutter is a board-certified neurologist and a fellow of the American College of Nutrition (ACN).

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hitting the Road (Or The Friendly Skies) With Pets


This is Ellery, posting on behalf of Leann, whose Internet was suddenly and unexpectedly cut off due to some construction work in her development.

Therefore, I thought it would be fun if her readers posted to *her* for a change.

And since summer is around the corner, and lots of us will be traveling with our pets, I wanted to invite you to share some of your funny, challenging, and most memorable pet travel tails. I mean, tales.

After all, we know how much Leann loves animals! So go on, what happened when you brought Fido to Florida? Mittens to Maine?

We'd all love to hear about it!

Coming in August ...


COMING AUGUST 4th!!!


Jillian Hart and Tom are finally tying the knot, but first they need to make sure Tom's stepson, Finn, is as comfortable as possible in the lake house they will all call home. So when it becomes clear that Finn has fallen for a pretty cat from the Mercy Animal Sanctuary, Jillian and Tom readily agree to make room for one more--even though the tortoiseshell kitty is a notorious kleptomaniac.

So far, the cat has sneaked out of the adoption center time after time, bringing back trinkets, shoelaces, and socks. But when she brings back an antique locket, Finn enlists Tom's and Jillian's sleuthing skills. They hope to return the treasured item to its owner, but their search for answers is sidetracked when a body is found. Still, their sneaky cat's find may just lead them to a killer....

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

WHY IT MIGHT BE A BAD IDEA TO FOLLOW YOUR DREAM

By Mary Kennedy                    
                                                        
 
Follow your dream!! Reach for the stars! Only you can make it happen! If you can imagine it, you can achieve it!  Sound familiar? This is the kind of thing you see all the time in "feel-good" advice columns; advice that sadly is not based in reality.
                                                             
 
  When I won an award and $6,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for one of my teen novels, I had the opportunity to speak to middle schools and high schools in the northeast.  Many were inner-city schools and the students faced numerous challenges, both at home and in the classroom.

 As a psychologist and former college professor, I was looking forward to hearing about the students' career plans, their hopes and aspirations. Their teachers had told me privately that they hoped I would stress the importance of a good education, diligence, hard work and setting realistic goals. I promised that I would. After all, those were the same values that I wanted to emphasize! The teachers and I were on the same page.
                                                     
 
Sadly, the students and I were not.  At the risk of sounding like "The Grinch-Who-Stole-Little Kids'-Dreams," I found a disturbing trend.
At one school, the girls (80%) wanted to be models. And not only models, but "Super-Models." Another 8% wanted to be actresses.  It made me think of that Hollywood expression, "She's an MAW." (Which means, model, actress, whatever.). Sad! One girl told me she "wished she could be a Kardashian." (an odd career choice, if ever there was one!) 12% wanted to be "on television," but couldn't identify a specific job.

When I told them I used to be a television news writer for a CBS affiliate, they groaned and said it sounded "boring." When I told them I was a copywriter for a rock radio station, right out of college, they admitted that sounded "sort of cool," but I don't think they really understood what the job entailed.
Over 60% of the boys wanted to be rap artists and roughly 30% planned on being professional athletes. The other 10% wanted to have a "cool career," but couldn't identify what it would be.
                                                      
We talked about the importance of making good choices and I ran down a list of careers. No one wanted to be a doctor or lawyer, a veterinarian, a police officer, a teacher, a computer specialist. Not one! The teacher admitted that on "Career Day," these careers were seen as "too boring," or "too hard." I can see why the teachers wanted me to give these young people a pep talk!

I'd like to think I injected a note of realism into the hour I spent with them. The fact is, only a tiny fraction of people will make a living as a professional athlete, a model, a musician, or a rap artist. Most people will work 9-5 jobs, jobs that they may not "love," but jobs that will pay the mortgage, pay off their student loans and support themselves and their families. This wasn't what they wanted to hear but it was worth saying. On a more positive note, I was invited to come back and speak at Career Day. And this time my message will be the same. Work hard, choose wisely and make sure you can support yourself. You have a long life ahead of you and some day you may have other people depending on you. And please, whatever you do, don't wish you were a Kardashian!

Mary Kennedy

Friday, May 15, 2015

The May 2015 Report


* * * * * * * * * *
Welcome to Dru's Cozy Report: May 2015. This month we have two recently released new series for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!


One Foot in the Grape by Carlene O'Neil
Series: Cypress Cove #1
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
In California wine country, the town of Cypress Cove may seem peaceful. But someone’s about to pop their cork.

After losing her job as a photojournalist, Penny Lively is trying to get her life back in focus. Inheriting the family winery from her late aunt may be the fresh start she needs. Thankfully she’s got her niece Hayley and her handsome winery manager Connor to help. But the person in need of more urgent assistance is Antonia Martinelli, the owner of the neighboring winery, who has her own barrel full of problems. Someone’s spoiling her wine, and with the upcoming Autumn Festival, she needs Penny’s nose for clues to sniff out the culprit.

But Penny’s search for answers sours after the body of a staff member is found in a grape crusher. Since Hayley was the last to see him alive, she’s the prime suspect in the case. Now Penny must hurry to find the real killer before Hayley withers on the vine.
I like it. The author did a great job in presenting this story with an interesting cast of characters and engaging conversations. The tale had a nice pace that was easy to follow from scene to scene. I love the way the author grabbed onto the essence of this drama where the suspects were plenty and the drive to figure it all out had me quickly turning the pages to find out what happens next. With bits and of clues dispersed throughout the drama, my attention was captured when at first I thought I had an idea of who was the killer, and it was one smidgen of a clue that I knew who it was and I enjoyed watching it all played out as the author’s written words drew the ring around the killer. Penny is very likable and a good team that includes Hayley, Connor, Anne, Ross, Thomas and Antonia completes her inner circle that provides a well-rounded mystery that is a welcome addition to the cozy genre. This was a good read and I can’t wait to see what happens next in Cypress Cove.

You can visit Carlene at www.carleneoneil.com


Fillet of Murder by Linda Reilly
Series: Deep Fried #1
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Talia Marby serves up delectable English deep fried fare in the heart of the Berkshires—but she soon discovers there’s something fishy going on.

Sometimes in this life, you have to fish or cut bait. After walking away from a miserable job and an even worse boyfriend, Talia Marby has no regrets. She’s returned to her hometown and is happy to help her dear friend Bea Lambert by working at Lambert’s Fish & Chips, a cornerstone of a charming shopping plaza designed to resemble an old English village.

But not all the shop owners are charming. Phil Turnbull has been pestering Bea to sign a petition against a new store opening up, and his constant badgering is enough to make her want to boil him in oil. When Talia and Bea stumble upon Turnbull murdered in his shop, the police suspect Bea. Now it’s up to Talia to fish around for clues and hook the real killer before her friend has to trade serving food for serving time.
I enjoyed this evenly paced and light fare drama that was delightfully entertaining. We are introduced to Talia whose return home is marred when her beloved boss becomes a prime suspect. What else is she to do but look for a murderer among the other shopkeepers.

I love the flow of this well-written plot that moved effortlessly towards a conclusion with bits of Talia’s backstory and a slew of suspects that was fun to watch as the clues populated this tale. The author was very adept at pulling it all together with a sizzle of suspense and intrigue into the characters’ life that enable me to keep up with the story as the search for the killer narrowed down as I moved closer to the end. The conversational dialogue was believable and I like that Talia forced herself to get involved when it looked like the police was stalled. Talia is a likable heroine who is surrounded by an eclectic cast of characters and I look forward to the next book in this series that will bring new and exciting opportunities to Talia and her friends.

You can visit Linda at www.lindasreilly.com

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Weed wars: my old enemy returns

WE'RE COMING FOR YOU




Oh sure, they’re cheerful and yellow and kind of cute.  Leave them alone and they’ll turn into adorable puffballs that children like to blow into the air – launching a few thousand baby dandelions to the new homes!   How much fun is that?

Just one little puff is all it takes

Right now an army of dandelions has massed on the lawns in our neighborhood, a result of lots of sun and warm temperatures.

We're almost everywhere - except that one guy down the street.

From the look of them, one more day and they’ll be kicking the door and moving into the house. A quick search on the you know what reveals that the word dandelions comes from the old French: dent de lion or lion’s tooth. I can see that. They have the kind of fierce aggression you might expect from the king of the jungle.  I could be kinder to them if I didn’t know that they destroy our (already pathetic) grass.

Anyone who’s ever done battle with them knows that there’s not much point in just taking off the tops. I’d like to say that the fun ends when you’re bent over digging out dandelions by the roots.
We’re not inclined to want to use a lot of weed killer because we’re on a well, plus our little pooches mooch around on the lawn (or what’s left of it) and, of course, there’s the duck family too.


This snazzy tool is my new best friend. If only I could figure out how it works.  Grrr. 


So dig it is. I filled two giant yard waste bags today. Do I dare add them to the compost or will they use that as a staging ground for the next battle? In fact, I am now wondering if there are even more you-know-whats matching across the lawn than there were when I started.  

I’ve just read that boiling water, corn gluten meal, vinegar and mulch are all good weapons in the fight against the dandelion army. I’ll be trying them all.  
In our last home in the city, we didn’t have a single blade of grass, just flowers and pine mulch. Of course, we had a few dandelions too.  We could manage.
When we bought this house it had a large back yard and a reasonable front yard, both entirely ‘grass’ (meaning mostly weeds), ten rogue hostas and nothing else.



We’ve been busy with perennial beds and paths and trying to maintain the so-called lawn until we come up with a next steps plan. So far our plan here is to eliminate as much of the grass (it’s hard to think of it as a lawn) as possible in the next couple of years, substituting pea gravel, mulched flower beds and ground covers like periwinkle and lily of the valley.  Unfortunately, we'll be mowing until the project moves to the next step.




We’re working towards a low maintenance and drought tolerant environment. Of course, it will be nice to have a small bit of grass (or clover) for children to play on and adults to wiggle their toes in every now and then, something that can be maintained in about fifteen minutes.
You’ve probably figured out that we’re a long way from our dream. Until then, my battle continues.  Hands in the air, Lion’s Tooth. I’m coming for you!
So my friends, let’s hear from you. Are you pro or anti-grass?  What about dandelions? Tips or tales?  Let the conversation begun.