Sunday, July 29, 2012


I got an e-mail today from a friend, wondering if we have had any luck selling our house.  I guess this means I had better send a letter and update this blog, eh?

We put our house on the market in April.  Sold it in a month.  Spent a frantic month selling, giving away or packing (more of the former than the latter) everything we owned.  We moved into a horrible hotel with our kitty cats and spent another month selling cars, getting cats certified for the move to South America, setting up bank accounts, getting visas, etc.  On June 13 we got on a plane (but kitties were bumped---awful story!  They are still in New York waiting for me to be able to come back and get them!) and flew to Guayaquil, in southern Ecuador.  There, Robert was greeted with open arms.  I was told that my visa was not recognized by the Ecuadorian government (the consulate in New York had made a typo in my passport, making me a "political refugee" rather than a "dependent spouse") and I was told I had to get on the next plane back to the United States.  Not a wonderful experience (being hauled into a windowless room, being denied access to a bathroom, not knowing what had happened to Robert) but I dealt with it as I usually do in similarly trying circumstances, by telling myself, "Someday this will be a funny story!"  Unfortunately, that day has not yet arrived...

Here's Robert in our storage unit.  We are going to be shipping about 6,000 of our books once we get our residency visas...

 I don't want to bore you with the legal stuff. The end result was that we had to hire attorneys here who have done the near-impossible (that is, to get any official to admit they made a mistake) and hopefully, my passport will be cleared on Tuesday, and I will again be able to leave and re-enter the country, and go back and get the kitties out of jail! 

We are here in Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador, and its cultural capital.  Cuenca, in Spanish, means "basin," because the city sits in a depression into which four rivers tumble.  We are two degrees south of the equator, but because we are in the Andes, 8,500 feet above sea level (that's half a mile higher than Denver), it isn't hot here.  The sun rises and sets at the same time every day, and the weather is spring-like.  The lower air pressure doesn't hold heat the way it does at lower elevations, so people say in Cuenca, every day has all four seasons.  It is spring in the morning, summer at noon, fall in the evening and winter at night.  But the winter is a mild one, at about 52 degrees (great sleeping weather!) and the summer tops out at about 72 degrees.  It rains here almost every day for a little while, and the cloud formations are usually amazing.  Here's a picture:

Cuenca is also a World Heritage city.  That means it is one considered by the international community to be of special beauty, history  and culture.  It is like having a historic designation in the United States.  No old building can be torn down or changed without first obtaining an impact report and approval.  The result is that the 100-to-400-year-old buildings have been saved, and the colonial aspect of the city remains.  Cuenca's history goes back much further than that, to a Cañari civilization called Tomebamba, about a thousand years before the Inca invasion.  When the Spanish arrived in around 1535 the Cañari decided to join with them against the Inca.  Never a good idea, siding with the Spanish...

Right in the middle of town there is a huge archaeological park featuring the ruins of Pumapungo ("the puma's door"), a Cañari religious center.  It is a fabulous outdoor museum and arboretum. There are also lots of other great museums and gorgeous churches in town (I keep calling it a town but it is a city about the size of Hartford CT or Grand Rapids, MI.).  There are also ultra-modern shopping malls, indigenous markets, sports arenas, and cows grazing along the banks of the rivers...

Here's Robert at Pumapungo:

I guess that's enough for now--I've got lots more pictures and lots more news!  So stay tuned! 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Her computer is behaving nicely, for once! So she's back!

I will not bore you with all the horrible stuff I have been dealing with.  Let's just say THANK YOU to Genius Simon Verkhovsky, who came to my house at about seven p.m. on a Tuesday to help me figure out what is wrong with my computer.  He left at noon on Wednesday.  Simon managed to fix about half of the things that were wrong with it.  Also, Genius Bryce Shashinka's  mother forced him to drive to Beacon from Connecticut on his day off to see if HE could figure out what phantom program was sending my CPU usage to the limit and slowing everything to molasses.  It took him from 7 pm to 1 am, but HE FIGURED IT OUT!  He fixed my screwy e-mail and Microsoft Outlook problem, and all the things that have kept me from putting up web sites, etc!  I am on the floor, prostrate, in gratitude, to these two excellent men!

So now that I have a purring computer, instead of one that coughs and sputters, you'd think I'd write a nice long letter, wouldn't you?  Well, I will.  But now I've got about two weeks' worth of backed up stuff I have to take care of.  But here are some musings---

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

When I was little my parents had a friend who was a famous photographer.  He wanted to enter a contest about taking photographs of children, so he asked my parents if I could model for him.  This was in about 1959, I think, when color film was a big and exciting (and also very expensive) plaything.

He was very picky about the colors he wanted Mom to dress me in, and she put me in a little jumper apron to make sure I would stay clean for at least the hour or so when he'd be taking pictures of me.  I remember him sitting me in our bay window and adjusting the drapes behind me, and telling me not to wiggle around so much.  He tooks lots and lots of photos.  Here's the picture that not only won the contest, but graced the cover of the photography magazine:

It was my mother's favorite picture of me.

Now you may ask, why did he bother to make such a fuss about the color of her dress, when he took a black and white photo?  Here's a test photo that explains that, and also why artists' models are not to be allowed to play with colored pencils:

And that was my Dad's favorite picture of me!

Spring Has Sprung

I am busy trying to get a garden in, in between downpours.  Of course, when such terrible things are happening to people along the Mississippi and other rivers, it's not polite to complain.  When things dry out a little I'll put in my vegetable beds.  In the meantime, though, I was able to plant my strawberry pot. 

I bought the pot for Robert last year, and tried about three times to get strawberries started in it.  They all fizzled.  I finally transplanted a plant from the neighbor's yard that had grown under our fence.  That took off like crazy, and the pot was certainly pretty last summer, brimming with lots of healthy plants accented with beautiful and completely inedible strawberries.  So this year I tried again, purchasing new, actually edible strawberry plants, but of course, they died.  I repeated this again, but finally I concluded that whatever was going to grow in this pot, it wasn't going to be strawberries. 

Now, I love parsley and use lots of it in the summer to make tabooli salad (cracked wheat; chopped tomato, onions, parsley; fresh mint; lemon; and olive oil).  So I planted the pot full of parsley.  A few days later, when the plants had had time to adjust, wow!  So pretty!  Like a fluffy fountain of green lace, cascading down over my favorite cat sculpture!  It was so gorgeous and lush, I decided to take a picture of it before I harvested any of it, but I found I had to charge the camera battery first.  That took a while.  Here's the photo:

Yes!  Denuded!  Murdered!  Wiped out!  Destroyed!  In only about 45 minutes!  By whom?  

And here's the sneaky culprit, peeking out of his hole under the fence that abuts my neighbor's shed.  Though these creatures are called groundhogs in the midwest and woodchucks in the northeast, Robert and I call them "munchies," with good reason. Notice that I was being NICE to this munchie, trying to entice him away from my flowers and gardens with offerings of carrots.  It turns out he doesn't care much for carrots, but he LOVES him some parsley...

 I wish they weren't so darn cute.  Damn you, munchies!    

These were the pitifully unsuccessful lengths I went to last year to keep the rotten munchies from eating everything.

All I can say is, wish me luck.
Other stuff
There are so many things I haven't written about!  The whole trip to Greece and Turkey, and all the cool things we did there, and my book tour of Michigan.  Then there was that fun week spent in North Carolina and environs, where we stayed in a fancy million-dollar beach house owned by our friend Norma's pals, to celebrate her birthday with her there.  We also visited other friends Marguerite, in Baltimore, and the Smith family and our dear Ken Jones, in Virginia.

I am busy at my computer as an editor for Dark Moon Books.  My second Callie Sadler mystery, Dry As Bones, has an end-of-June proposed publication date.  But we still find time for other new pursuits.  On Saturday, Robert spent the day at a recording studio, narrating a movie about space aliens while I went on an audition at a talent agency, where they hire backgound talent (the fancy name for movie extras).  It was so funny to be in the casting office, where the young, pretty things were told to drop their resumes and headshots in the basket on the desk, but I instantly got four shooting dates, for two movies and a TV show! (Unfortunately, I don't know any more about them than that).

Robert and I were extras in a movie last fall and had fun doing it.  It pays better than my doggy-babysitting job does, and you get to meet a lot of interesting people.  How excellent that having gray hair, a dumpy figure and wrinkles is, for once, highly desirable to more people than just my husband!  I will be playing an old lady in a nursing home, a hospital patient, and someone sitting in a cafe.  I'll keep you informed.    
Tonight we are having company--a young man has moved in across the street.  His name is Craig.  He is a graphic artists and a sound engineer, and he has offered to help us get our recording studio set up.  So we're happy about that, and even more happy just to have a cool and fun new neighbor!

Hope you are all well! 

Love, R and F 

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Love Affair With a Bull

I grew up in a house full of books.  As a child I was fascinated by a paperback with a brown and black cover and stylized illustrations, similar to those on Greek pottery.  I don't know what was more interesting to me--the depictions of horrible mosters and flying horses, or the depictions of boys with no clothes on.

The book was Edith Hamilton's classic, "Mythology."  When I learned to read I loved the stories and I became a sort of mini ancient mythology geek.  Of course, I also loved the cool Ray Harryhausen movies that featured mythological stories and creatures, like Jason and the Argonauts, and the Sindbad movies.  At Okemos High School I had the opportunity to write my own independent study classes under the supervision of a teacher, so I expanded World Mythology I and II to World Mythology III through VI!  I have always been excited and interested in these wonderful stories and characters, and I was thrilled when Robert found an affordable trip to Greece for us that included visits to many places that are important in the myths.

We went to Crete, to visit the Palace of Knossos.  This was the center of the bronze-age Minoan culture, one of the oldest in the world, that disappeared shortly after a massive volcanic eruption on nearby Thera, and its subsequent tsunamis.  That happened around 1628 B.C.  For centuries the palace disappeared everywhere but in mythology.  It was reportedly designed by Daedelus, father of Icarus and the inventor of flight.  It was the home of King Minos, who angered the Poseidon. The revengeful Poseidon tricked Minos' wife into having sex with a bull in disguise, and she gave birth to the terrible Minotaur.  The Minotaur lived in a layrinth maze, and ate men.  The Minotaur was killed by the hero Theseus, who escaped the labyrinth with the help of the King's daughter, Ariadne, who had given him a ball of string so he could find his way out.

The Palace ruins were found in about 1875, when the area was controlled by Turkey.  Schliemann planned to excavate it after he finished at Troy, but he died.  When the English took over in 1900, a wealthy Lord named Arthur Evans bought the whole place and started digging up stuff.  The Palace has over 1,000 interconnected rooms, some quite small, and for a long time people thought it might be the remains of the legendary Labyrinth, but now it seems more like that a nearby cave complex/ancient stone stone quarry that includes more than three miles of tunnels and chambers, is the most likely candidate for that designation.  

Anyway, Evans decided to try to reconstruct the Palace as he thought it looked, and used the bits of artwork and stone remains as his guides.  Archaeologists either love him for all the work he did, or despise him for using too much conjecture in his designs.  The Greeks mostly love him, because unlike Lord Elgin, who took the Parthanon Marbles to London, Evans gave all the treasures he unearthed to the Greeks. 

So, even though almost everything at the site is a reconstruction, it was cool to wander around and imagine what it must have looked like. 


Some of the walls that made people think this was the labyrinth.

Reconstructed "throne room" and the famous bull-jumper mural.


This is not supposed to be a story about a palace and a myth and a history lesson!  It's supposed to be about me, and a bull!  

I fell in love with that bull the first time I saw him.  He was in another of my parents' books, about art history.  He is amazing--so powerful and perfect, carved 3,500 years ago.  He is about twenty inches tall and made out of black marble, with a white marble nose and inset eyes so well fitted you can hardly see the joins, and graceful golden horns.  I have always been attracted to depictions of animals and animal totems, but this bull sculpture has always just stunned me.  I had hoped to be able to see it, but we only had twenty minutes after the tour of the archaeological site, and I knew that wasn't enough time even if I had known exactly where the museum was and exactly where the sculpture was inside it.  The fact that the museum was closed for renovations sealed it for me.  Out of luck. 

But then, when we had returned to our bus to go back to the ship, the guide said, "Around that corner, there's a room, if you want to see something . . . . "   

The museum had moved most of its most popular pieces to one room during the renovations.  There were so many gorgeous and amazing things to see!  And I got to see my beautiful bos, so I can die happy!  

Friday, February 18, 2011

This is a picture of the little log cabin that my brother built for his daughters in their back yard in Mason, Michigan.  The scale is a little hard to determine, because that's a little kid chair lying next to it.  I think it's about four feet by six feet.  All of Andy's family lives in Chicago now, but Amanda was visiting the place she grew up and she posted this picture of it.

This is a replica of one built by my Great-Uncle Ernst, in Oneida, Kansas.  He was from Switzerland, and was an amazing woodcrafter.  He made a doll bed for me that I still have and a dollhouse for Andy that I recently restored and sent off to the youngest of his relations, to keep it in the family.  We loved to visit Uncle Ernst and Aunt Clara because of the cool things around their farmhouse.  There was a little lighthouse made out of stones, wire and concrete, that had a light in it that really worked.  COOLEST OF ALL, he made a tiny log cabin that kids could play in.

That cabin was the inspiration for Andy to build this one for his kids, and also for this story:

by Frances Augusta Hogg

I must have been short enough once to walk through that little door without stooping, but now I can hardly imagine being that small. I have a vague memory of being fascinated by the door latches, of opening and closing them. It must have been one time when my family had come back from Michigan to visit Uncle Ernst and Aunt Clara Gerber. I look up at their decrepit farmhouse, twenty yards away. It has been empty for years, and only used by the family for furniture storage. The house looks sad. It’s too bad I don’t have enough time before the auction to give it a coat of paint.

The front porch swing hangs from one chain. I suppose I could try to fix that. I remember when Kirby and Johnnie were pushing it. Their backs against the clapboards, they hit the back of the pine swing with the heels of their hands as hard as they could every time it came back toward them. I could hear their laughter. I could hear the squeaking of the chains in the eyebolts and the shuddering jerk of the swing every time the boys hit it. I remember my sister Julie squealing. Julie scared out of her wits on the swing as it flew out again and again over the rosebushes and sunflowers.

But there is a flash of something like white light. It’s something that happens to me sometimes. I focus on the feeling of the rake in my hands and it helps me pull myself from my reverie. The auction is tomorrow. I’ve come all the way from New York to help my Kansas cousins get Uncle Ernst’s house cleaned up and ready for the crowds that will come in the morning.

I look back down at the little log cabin that my great-uncle Ernst Gerber built. It’s about four feet tall and six feet long, with roof shingles made of split cedar shakes. I rake leaves away from it and marvel at this perfect child’s toy. There are panes of glass in the tiny windows, and the door is a double one. A Dutch door, they called it. But the Gerbers weren’t Dutch. They were members of the Swiss Apostolic Church, and people called them Swiss Amish, or Dutch, because they spoke a kind of German. I think Dutch was probably a mispronunciation of “Deutsch.”

Childless, our great uncle built what he called “Das Kinderhaus” for his nieces and nephews to play in. I think it must be at least sixty years old. But did Mom and her sisters also play in it when they were children? If so, it might be eighty years old. Maybe older. Mom will know. For a moment I think about asking her, but then I remember that I can’t. Both she and Dad have been dead for a decade. I am no longer anyone’s child. I wonder when my subconscious will ever accept that. I am not anyone’s child anymore.

I rest my rake against the peak of the roof and lean down to pull away a curtain of withered morning glory vines from the side window. A spider races across my knuckles, and I’m glad I’m wearing work gloves.

The glass pane is covered with a pattern made by raindrops hitting dust. I rub off the dirt and try to peer into the inkiness within. I try to remember, was there any furniture? I think there was a little footstool, painted red. There used to be a doll bed, too. Uncle Ernst made doll beds for all the girls. Cousin Barb uses hers to store magazines next to her sofa. I wonder what happened to the one he made for my sister, Julie? I wonder if Uncle Ernst made anything special for us boys? I can’t remember.

I kneel, shield my eyes with my hands and look through the glass. Could that dark shape in the corner be the footstool? I seem to remember that Aunt Clara had painted white flowers on it. An eighty year-old painted footstool might be considered folk art that somebody in New York would pay a lot for. Maybe I should get it out, and put it in the barn with the rest of the stuff for the auction.

The rusty latches complain against budging, but I manage to open them. I kneel before the open door. I can see the red stool standing in the corner on its four stubby legs. If I go sideways, I think. If I slant my shoulders, I can get through there. It’s a tight fit. I have to crawl and drag my legs behind me, my head down. The dirt floor smells damp and pill bugs run crazily in all directions. I sit up and wipe spider webs from my face. Dull light comes in from the unwashed north window that faces the house.

I dust the stool with the sleeve of my corduroy jacket. Yes. Here are the flowers I remember. White peonies. They look pretty good after all these years! The paint is remarkably bright, having been protected inside the kinderhaus.

I look around inside the tiny room, and wonder how long it has been since any child has been in here. Aunt Clara died in the ‘60s. Uncle Ernst died when I was in high school. None of us cousins were married then. None of us had little kids. I suppose the last person ever to be in here after me had to be one of the youngest cousins. Maybe Caroline.

I lean forward to clean the window, but the grime is mostly on the outside. The view of the old farmhouse through the little window is a dreamy one, viewed through a filter of dust of years upon years. The picture changes in my mind and I see window boxes spilling flowers, and Aunt Clara in her dark Amish clothes, hanging laundry at the side of the house. Bright white sheets are flapping in the wind. Bees tend to royal-looking sunflowers by the porch. I can almost hear the laughter of some little cousin, as he chases after one of Aunt Clara’s banty chickens that freely roam the yards.

I can almost hear laughter. I can almost hear screaming.

That flash again. I’m back. I’m a balding 58-year old man, crouched uncomfortably inside an ancient play fort.

I see myself in the reflection of a little mirrored cupboard on the wall. It is an old wooden medicine cabinet. We used to put things in it when we were little. I remember Cousin Janet pretending it was a refrigerator, and Cousin Kirby and I pretending it was a bank vault. What treasures had we stashed in there? I stretch my hand forward to open it.

It is empty now, but once it held the imaginations of dozens of little kids.

I hear a surprising sound outside. It is the “buck-buck-buck” of a chicken. How odd! I suppose some neighbor around here might still have chickens, though there’s no farmhouse near. I close the cabinet and look into the dusty cracked mirror. The magic of the dirty glass seems to linger. The lines of my face seem somehow softer. I reach up to run my fingers through my tousled hair.

Then I stare at my hand. Where is my work glove? I don’t remember taking it off. I stare at myself in the mirror again. At my reddish-brown hair that hasn’t been that color since I turned forty.

There are more noises outside. A dog barking. A child laughing. I hear the slapping of damp laundry on the line. I reach for the little Dutch door and push it open.

I walk through the door.

Aunt Clara is at the side of the house, hanging out the laundry. This time it’s overalls and towels. A hen is scratching the dust near the pump. I can hear Uncle Ernest in his woodshop, sawing something. On the porch, Kirby and Johnnie push Julie on the swing. They are pushing her hard. The swing flies out and Julie’s braids fly up in the air. She looks terrified. She is screaming at them to stop.

I run at them, waving my arms in the air. “STOP!” I yell. The fringes on the sleeves of my genuine Davy Crockett jacket wave like little brown fingers. “STOP, GODDAMN IT!”

Then I’m knocked to the ground by a wall of white light.

* * *

“Paul?” It’s Cousin Janet. She’s been in the barn, helping set up the long tables they’ll use for the auction items.

“What are you yelling about? Are you OK?” she asks. “What are you doing in there, anyway?”

I hand the little footstool out to her.

She says, “Oh! Our chair! I remember playing with this, don’t you? What else is in there, Paul? Is my refrigerator still in there?”

“Yeah,” I say. I squirm my way back out into the sunshine. “But there’s nothing in it.”

She touches the worn shingles on the roof of the little house. “Uncle Ernst made us such neat toys, and we always had fun. I always felt sad that the Gerbers never had their own kids? They were so nuts about us. I was so upset when our parents wouldn’t let us come here to play anymore.”

I’d never heard this story before. “Really? When did that happen?” I’m still feeling woozy, so I sit on the ground with my arms resting on my knees. My jacket is filthy with dust and cobwebs.

Janet looks at me, surprised. “Of all people, I never thought you’d forget!” She crouches down to look into the little room. “They say you always remember the first time you see a dead person.”

She doesn’t seem to notice my shocked silence, and swings the two portions of the little door closed, allowing the latches to drop with a “click” sound. “You want to know something odd, Paul? The thing I remember most about when Julie fell off the porch swing and broke her neck, wasn’t how she looked, lying there in the grass.” Janet stands up and brushes off her knees “The thing I remember the most was the look on your face when you saw her.”

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It's STILL snowing, so make some bean and sausage soup!

When it looks like Antarctica outside, you need to make yourself a big pot of bean soup.

Get out your big soup pot and throw about two cups of dried beans in there and cover them with water.  You can use navy beans, lentils, split peas or any legumes you can think of except peanuts.  And peanuts might work, too.  For purposes of this recipe, I'm using a nice combination of beans. 

See?  A nice combination of beans...

Cover them with water, put a lid on the pot and let them sit there over night.  In the morning, pour off the water and rinse the beans, put more water in the pot along with two bay laurel leaves and a great big onion, chopped up.  Bring that to a boil, then turn the heat way down.  You can let this simmer all day if you want to, just check it from time to time to make sure it isn't burning and add more water when necessary.

Chop up about three celery stalks and a little of the green leaves.  Dump that in.  I like to be able to see the vegetables I'm eating so I chop my veggies in pieces about 3/4 inch long.  I also like different textures in soup, so I wait until later in the day to add three big carrots and a big parsnip.  A parsnip is a sweet-flavored vegetable.  If you put them in too early they turn into mush.  Mushy bean soup is also delicious. 

Take out the bay leaves after a few hours.  Now add a big tablespoon of ham base.  In my opinion, "Better Than Boullion" is the best soup base on the market but a close second is a Spanish brand called Goya.  That comes in little envelopes.  You can use two envelopes of the Sabor a Jamon.  Third best choice are the little soup packets that come with roasted pork flavor ramen noodles.  Using a soup base like this, you should not need to add any salt, but lots of cracked black pepper is always good! 

About an hour before you're ready to eat the soup, put in half a package of those little smoked sausages, cut in thirds.  If you put them in too early it's fine, because the flavor gets into the soup but it leeches out of the sausage.

Other good things to put in bean soup:

A chiffonade of fresh spinach.  This is a fancy chef word for taking a fistful of leaves, rolling them up in a bunch and then cutting them into thin, spaghetti-like strands.  Spinach provides more color and vitamins, and tastes good with beans.  Cinnamon adds an interesting undertone to bean soup, as does fresh fennel (also called anise, or fennuccio)n but I wouldn't use both in the same pot of soup.

You can eat this stuff thick or thin it down to feed the multitudes.  Like most soups, it tastes even better the next day!  You can dollop it into single servings and freeze it, or do what I do and just put it in your Great Big Refrigerator.

My Great Big Refrigerator.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Some ups and downs. But mostly, ups.

There is a saying that whenever God closes a door, He opens a window.  This is supposed to make you feel better when you get fired or your husband leaves you or the manuscript you've been working on for ten years gets burned up in a house fire.  As trite as it is, I believe there is truth in this platitude.  But I can tell you from experience, it's a damned lot harder to crawl through a window than it is to walk through a door.

Oh, don't worry!  I haven't lost my life's work in a fire, nor has Robert left me.  But I did lose my job--again.  As little money as it brought me, my daily dog-walking job has been important to me, as it is good to have some kind of daily schedule and responsibilities.  I was bummed when my puppies' daddy told me he won't be needing me now because he'll be working from home instead of traveling into NYC everyday.  But actually, the news is not so dismal.  His new job sends him off to different cities and he'll be on the road ten days a month.  I'll still be taking care of Casper and Annabelle, but not as often, and not on a regular schedule.  What to do?  I immediately set out to find other things to do with my time, and specifically, other things to do with my time that might be sources of income.

So I applied for and got a part-time freelance copywriting job for an advertising company.  My first task there was to write catalog entries about cheese.  Here's an example of my artistry:

Scamorza means “beheaded,” and refers to the shape of this classic cheese, the result of it being hung “by its neck” to ripen.  Naturally creamy white, the cheese takes on a delicate almond color when smoked.  Made of cow’s milk, it is a chewy-textured pasta filate, or stretched curd cheese, delicious paired with smoked meats and mushrooms.     

Doesn't that just make you want to run out and get yourself a pizza?  It pays fifteen bucks an hour.  I'm also writing copy for a friend who is starting a company to cater to people who need help moving around in their homes.  He'll do things like widen doors to make them wheelchair friendly, and install non-slip floors and walk-in-showers.  All I have to do is describe what he does.  Although copy writing sounds easy and I can certainly do it, it is daunting because I'm always second-guessing myself and thinking I'm not doing a good enough job.  I could write a whole short story in the time it takes me to eke out one silly paragraph about sturdy titanium grab bars, or olive oil infused with the essence of the rare tuber magnatus truffle!  I'm waiting for my next assignment from the ad company.    

Another thing I have been doing is selling stuff on eBay.  I think my experience of emptying the homes of two elderly mothers in a short period of time has me looking at almost everything in my house and thinking, "Do I really need that?"  I have collected all sorts of things, like antique glass bottles and dolls, because I know they're valuable to somebody, though I'm not interested in collecting them myself.  I was shocked when I sold a little paper booklet of Halloween decorations from the 1920s for $65.00, and even more shocked when I sold my cheapie ceramic coin banks shaped like the Beatles in their Yellow Submarine outfits!  Mom bought them for me from the close-out shelf at the Felspauch grocery store in Williamston, in 1972.  They cost her $2.75 each, and had originally been twice that much.  But the movie had come out in 1969 so they were already vintage by the time I received them.  I didn't care.  I cherished them, particularly because 1972 was the worst year in my parent's financial life.  By that Christmas, nobody in my family had owned a single new article of clothing for about two years, so I knew they were a dear splurge. 

In any event, I really didn't want to let go of my Beatle banks but I had no place to display them and they had ended up in my attic.  I contacted a memorabilia broker to find out how much they might be worth, thinking I'd put them on eBay.  He offered to sell them for me and two days later they sold for three thousand dollars.  Yeah.  THREE-THOUSAND DOLLARS.  That's what I've been living on for the past four months.

In any event, my experiences selling things on line caught the attention of my friend, Ralph.  He was a very successful antiques dealer until illness and a divorce knocked the stuffing out of him.  He has tons of things to sell (mostly music and books) and he asked me if I will go into business with him, selling his stuff for a little commission.  So I'll give it a try! 

My other means of making money is to sell more of my own books.  I have recently spent days and days and days getting the final polishing done on THESE WEE BONES.  It's the first in a series of novels I wrote that are based in the Cass Corridor and Woodbridge districts of Detroit.  I've written three of them (including DRY AS BONES and BREAK SOME BONES), but dratted perfectionism (or insecurity) always hangs me up.  I even acquired a literary agent at one point, but I never sent the entire manuscript to her because I thought it needed more polishing!  ARGH!  It's hard enough to get a manuscript published through the traditional process, and even MORE difficult if you never actually submit it to anybody.

So I finally started my own press (Pen-in-Hand Press) last year and published NEVER LOOK A GIFT HEARSE IN THE GRILLE.  It has done very well, inspite of the fact that I never arranged to have it sold on  Because of the European Union, if you can believe it, in order for me to sell books on Amazon they have to be trade-book size (6 by 9 inches) and on a certain grade of paper.  No matter what they tell you about penises (and people are ALWAYS telling you things about penises, aren't they?) bigger and thicker is not always better when you're talking about a book.  They are more expensive to produce.  Also, selling on Amazon and in major bookstores there is a required percentage mark-up over production costs.  The cheapest I can sell THESE WEE BONES is $22.00 (they suggested $26.00).  But I found I could also publish it in a smaller format that I like better (about 8.5 by 5.4 inches).  It's less expensive, but only available to me through Pen-in-Hand Press, and you have to pay me for it by check (until I get my stupid web site set up).

I know it's confusing.  If you'd like to have my book, you can buy it from or (I get a lot more money if you get it from Lulu, because Amazon doesn't take a cut) it will cost $22.  If you buy it from me you can get the smaller version for $15 and I'll autograph it, but it will take a little longer for me to get it to you. 

Anyway, here's the cover: 

On the back it says:

"In a vibrant inner-city Detroit environment, it's a struggle for Callie Sadler and her assortment of odd-lot housemates and neighbors to keep their heads above water, let alone solve murders.  Callie's myriad good works--from coordinating the local art fair to caring for her elderly neighbors and her chosen career as a legal aid attorney--keep her busy and help her cope with her history of failed romances and lost opportunities.  But when a neighborhood clean-up project unearths a sad secret, her special eye for human value where others have overlooked it makes Callie an unusual, intuitive detective, in spite of herself. 

A buried garment.  A blind woman's vision.  New flowers on an old grave. 

Clues from unexpected sources pull Callie Sadler back in time to unravel an old mystery, ultimately to discover that she is not the only one living in the past--and that her life is in danger."

Well, enough of this for now.   It is FRICKING FREEZING here.  I went to the bank this morning to deposit a couple of checks.  I had been wearing gloves and my hands had been in my pockets, but when I got there, I couldn't take the paper clip off the checks!  The teller had to help me!  He said I wasn't the first that morning to discover that cold fingers don't work!


Saturday, January 8, 2011

How to Spend a Snowy Saturday when You are not John Backus, and you are not Vacationing at a Ski Resort in Vail, Colorado

1.  Make a pot of coffee. 
2.  While getting the coffee milk, remember that you paid $1.99 for that that celery that has now gone limp, and you really ought to use it up.
3.  Get out your soup pot and a package of bacon.  Cut up a third of the bacon into little pieces and start to brown it.
4. Put on boots, a coat and hat and gloves, then slog through a foot of snow to get to the newspaper that the paperboy threw into the middle of the yard.
5.  Fill up the bird feeder while you're out there.
6.  Sweep off the porch while you're out there.
7.  Give the snow shovel a sideways glance, then dash back into the house before it sees you looking at it!
8.  Decide to put your snowy coat, gloves and hat into the dryer for a few minutes, and realize it is full of laundry that needs to be folded and put away.
9.  Check the bacon and get rid of any grease buy running a paper towel around the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.  Then chop up about two cups of onions, all that expensive celery (about two cups) and half a carrot for color, and throw it all in the pot.
10.  Empty the dryer, fold the laundry, notice that the hamper is full. Throw a load in the washer.
11.  Put four cups of water in the soup pot.  Peel two big potatoes and cut to a 1/2 inch dice.  Throw them in the pot and if you've got some, add a teaspoon of "Better Than Boullion" Clam Base in there, too.  (If you don't have some, put it on your shopping list.)  Let the soup simmer.   It should look like this:

12.  Take the ornaments off the Christmas tree and put them in boxes.  Fuss about whether or not it is worthwhile to even bother to try to find the one damned light that has caused half the tree to be dark
13.  Check the soup again.  Add 1/2 c. powdered milk, two small cans of minced clams, a 7 oz. can of corn, 1/2 T. of cracked black pepper, 1/4 t. white pepper and 1/2 t. dried thyme.  Turn the heat down as low as possible.  
14.  Put in another load of laundry.  Take the tree down.  Wrestle it into its storage bag.
15.  Check the soup again.  Dump in a cup or so of whole milk.  Turn off the heat and cover.
16.  Haul all the Christmas junk up to the attic.  Notice how you haven't put the off-season clothes away properly.  Spend an hour straightening up.  
17.  Finish the laundry.
18.  Warm up the soup, but don't let it boil, because the milk will scald and the clams will get tough. 
19.  Get out the bowls, spoons, and the oyster crackers.  Ladle up a nice bowl of chowder for yourself and your spouse, who has just finished shoveling the driveway, and is grumpy and hungry. 
20.  Sit down, put your feet up and watch "House" re-runs for the rest of the day!