It’s Historic Cowboy Time Again

Yep, I did it! I wrote another historic book. When I write the word historic to me sounds as though I just did something epic. No! I wrote a book about two people struggling in the west. I’m going to say that their story isn’t that much different from dozens of other people who lived back then on ranches and did what they did.

People haven’t changed much. The things around us change and that creates different circumstances. So I have to go back and discover what those people had or didn’t have. That is going to change attitudes. I read several parts of this particular book to my writer’s group and one women in the mix was almost angry with me because I had written such a thing. Whoa! Back up about 125 years, please! Yes, women today have more options. Don’t be angry with me because we’ve progressed. What we have today wasn’t available back then.

Women had arranged marriages. Women became mail order brides because they were desperate. Women married men they didn’t know. Women did things we’d never do today. And children did things that we wouldn’t dream of having them do today – after all, they are children. Would we teach a six-year-old boy how to use a gun? The odds are slim, very slim. Back then on a remote ranch, it was a necessary skill. It was as important as learning to saddle his own pony, or using a hatchet to cut kindling wood for the kitchen stove.

So maybe if I can make people see how we lived back then, they will realize how far we have come. And maybe they will realize that in spite of every advancement we’ve made, there are still areas where we need to improve. Yes, we get upset when the washer breaks down and we are forced to repair or replace, but back then, washing clothing was a big deal and if they were lucky enough to have a washer it was a far cry from the wonderful automatic ones we have today. What if you had to stand there and step on a treadle to keep it going. Today we put the clothes in and walk away. Not back then! A washer was a luxury item and you stood on the treadle and pushed down that would cause it to slosh a little. So step-step meant slosh-slosh. And since you didn’t want to put those soapy clothes into another bucket of water, you squeezed the soapy water out by putting them through the wringer. Think two rollers that turned when you turned the crank. Now you could rinse the clothing. Most women used a paddle to keep from hurting their fingers between the rollers as they fed the clothes through. They often used that paddle to slosh the clothes in the rinse water. And then you fed the the rinsed clothes through the wringer (those two rollers) to get the water out of them! Now you can hang these washed clothes on the line so they dry. Except what do you do if the wind was blowing dust? Or it was minus 4 degrees? Clothes freeze! And if they freeze, they will break! So you hung them inside over your wooden floors because you’ve have to be living on the city or or very wealthy to have floors that weren’t wood. And we know what happens to wet wooden floors!

Oh let’s add one more fun thing to this lovely chore of doing laundry, even if you were so lucky to have a washer. That little time of the month when we use all sorts of disposable products to keep everything fresh and nice. They used rolled pieces of rags, and old toweling or strips torn from diapers were prized. Then they washed them and had to hang them to dry. But in those days, such womanly things were unspoken and no male what so ever was supposed to know about such happenings, nor was he ever supposed to actually see your undergarments. Plus who wanted to see such stained and horrible looking things?

But deep down inside, we have not changed. We still love. We love our spouse and our children and we will do everything we can for them. The average young couple today wants all sorts of things for their first home together. That will include things like super-sized TV’s and they look at things such as washers and dryers as basic necessities or they take everything to the cleaners. But back then that washer was as prized as a super-sized TV.

Times have changed and I’m glad they have! But I’ll invite you as a contemporary reader to step back in time and read my historical book Loving Ellen. It’s sexy and gritty, but I keep it sweet enough to read with a child hanging over your shoulder.

coverMorgan’s Crossing, Montana

A new mail order bride, Ellen has now been widowed.

Twice.

With two young boys from her first marriage to raise, a newly deceased mail-order-husband, no food and no money, she is forced to accept an offer of shelter from the neighboring rancher who found her latest husband’s body. Ellen is no stranger to sacrifice as a means to achieve a better future for herself and her children, but there is something different about Nick.

Grandparents are Special

Our grandparents were part of the backbone of our country. They worked hard to bring up their families and prepare them for their future.

Children watched their parents, whether they were aware or not, and learned dedication and the love of family and community from them. Yes, your children learn from you…good or bad.

I’m proud my grandparents were loving Christian people. When they found a neighbor in need, they simply didn’t say how sad or isn’t that too bad. They did something about the situation. My mom often told me stories about them. Grandpa gathered food from the garden and Grandma not only packed it up, she cooked it for them before walking or taking the buggy miles and miles to deliver. And…if clothing was needed, that was acquired too. No one in need went without.

There’s something about the Roberts men and women that makes my heart swell. They would give you the shirt off their backs and the last dollar in their pockets.

So, yes. I’m extremely proud of my grandparents. I could share with you dozens of stories, but that would take many hours. So much love and pride involved with them.

My cousin has written a book and used a photo of my grandparents, with several of their children, on the cover.

I’m so proud of Vicki Collins. Here’s the cover of her book. I’ll post when it’s available, which should be soon.

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That’s my mom sitting in Grandma’s lap. The photo of mom looks a lot like one of my sisters!

What memories do you have of your grandparents?

I wish you love, butterflies and music.

Please check out these links to my books, available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo, Apple and Smashwords. http://caroldevaney.weebly.com/my-books.html

New Release Day! BEACHCOMBER HEAT

Today book 6 in the Beachcomber Investigations romantic detective series is out. Beachcomber Heat sizzles with a heat wave hitting Martha’s Vineyard and a crime wave too. Of course it’s more complicated than that as the crime-fighting partners dangerous Dane and sexy Shana work to catch a jewel thief who’s out for more than jewels.

Here’s a snippet:

BeachHeat FBTeaser- NEW RELEASE

AMAZON          B&N          iBOOKS          KOBO

Sit on a Bike and Change Your Life

2016-07-18 14.47.022016-07-18 09.42.11I took my son out to purchase a motorcycle jacket and helmet this week and made the mistake of sitting on the new Indian Scout.

 

 

 

My son wants to ride because he grew up in a family of riders. He’s been on the back of a bike since he was six – a fact that seems hugely irresponsible in hindsight.

 

Then again, when one thinks about motorcycling, the concept of “responsibility” doesn’t immediately come to mind.

Freedom

Open road

Cowboys and Indians…just a bit of rebellion…all those words and everything they entail makes my heart beat a little faster and a bit more lightly.

I do a lot of praying when I ride. My situational awareness- always present for me – heightens.

I become more one with the moment and attuned to everything around me.

I love it! The energy. The openness. It’s as close to actually flying I think I’m going to get until I take up hang gliding.

I think riding makes me a better writer. Weird, I know. I think it’s a “Joy la Vive” thing, and that energy is contagious.

I don’t need another bike, but I do need a swift uptake in remembering to dwell in the blessings of NOW, and then writing them down.

I,I,I……I think I’m getting another bike!

redscout

Hopefully all good things will follow.

 

Happy Mid-Summer,

Leigh

My Boyfriend’s Back

OK, technically he was never my boyfriend. But back in the 1980s, Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran was my one true love. So I couldn’t miss the chance to see the band playing last night at Bluesfest, an outdoor music festival in Ottawa. My current true love was gracious enough to go with me.

Duran (2)

John, Simon and the new guitarist, Dom Brown.

We arrived an hour and a half early to get close to the stage, and spread out a blanket to sit on. Hubby got us a couple of ciders to drink while we waited. I noticed pretty much everyone gathering around us was over forty, but there were some younger people in the mix.

I was psyched when the band finally took the stage. They opened with a song from their new album, then launched into their classic hits – “Wild Boys,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Come Undone,” “Notorious,” “The Reflex,” “Rio” – songs I still know by heart. We were so close, the vibrations from the music pounded through us, and we had a clear view of Simon as well as the bassist, John Taylor (the object of many a teen girl’s fantasies back in the ‘80s). Thirty years later, Simon still looked smokin’ hot, and his vocals were better than ever.

Half an hour into the concert, I regretted the cider I’d drunk before the show. I had to pee and could not hold it. We were packed in, so I had to push my way through the crowd back to the porta potties, and lost track of hubby after that. I ended up watching the rest of the show from somewhat farther back, but still enjoyed myself in a throng of dancing and singing fans. (Thankfully hubby and I had designated a spot to meet if we got separated and were able to reconnect afterwards.)

FullSizeRender

This is just slightly embarrassing.

The concert was a sweet trip back in time. The opening keyboard notes of “Save a Prayer” knocked thirty years away in an instant, and I was fourteen again. (Not that I enjoyed being fourteen the first time; my favourite music on my Walkman was the one thing that made high school tolerable.) I haven’t been to a concert in years (decades?), and it was the first time I’d seen the crowd hold up their cell phones instead of lighters during a slow song!

I realized I wasn’t young anymore when my feet and back ached by the end of the show (plus there was the bladder issue), I worried about damaging my hearing, and I really just wanted to crawl into bed. But it was totally awesome to see Duran Duran again, spend a bit of time with my first love Simon – and of course go home with my smokin’ hot hubby at the end of the night!

A Grendel Update

In dog years, Grendel and I are about the same age. She’s eight. I brought her home shortly after my third child left on a two-year mission to Argentina in an effort to stem the depression caused by my children growing up and moving away. Before Grendel and I had met, I  spent some time researching dogs and had decided I wanted a Welsh Terrier. The closest one I could find was in Las Vegas.

I contacted the breeder and arranged to meet her. She refused to let me come to her home and agreed to meet me in the parking lot of a casino. She had four puppies, but they were all lethargic and seemed unwell. I didn’t buy one, but I regretted it by the time I returned home. I called my son who was traveling through Las Vegas on his way home from college. He agreed to meet the breeder and pick up a dog for me.

Hours later, he returned home without a puppy. I was livid. “Mom, those puppies were sick,” he said. I told him I didn’t care. I couldn’t save all of them, but I could save one. “No. You would cry, the girls (his baby sisters) would cry. I couldn’t do it.”

The next day, my son found an advertisement for a Schnauzer puppy. She was just a few minutes from my house. When we got there, we found the Mormon missionaries visiting the home. Because I’m Mormon, I took it as an omen. I met Grendel and fell completely in love.

We’ve lived in happiness for many years. We wanted to breed her, but she never went into heat. On Tuesday, I took her to the groomer but they sent her home saying she was in heat! It seemed overdue, but whatever. On Friday, she vomited twice. I thought that maybe one of my visiting grandchildren had given her something that upset her belly. On Saturday morning, we found her with blood all down her hind legs. Knowing this couldn’t be normal, we took her to the vet.

Grendel had an emergency surgery on Saturday. She stayed at the hospital until Monday morning, but she wasn’t getting rallying. Every time we visited, she wouldn’t even lift her head, although she would cry when we’d leave. We brought her home, expecting her to die. I think if we’d left her at the hospital, she would have. She probably thought we’d abandoned her to a place where she was left in a cage and tortured.

My husband took Monday off of work to help nurse her. We placed her bed by the dining room door so she had access to outside, although that first day she didn’t move very much. By the third day, I came home from my morning run to find she’d made it halfway up the stairs. That must have exhausted her because it took her a few more hours to finish the climb to my room. I had to carry her back down when it was time for her medicine.

It was a milestone when she left her bed to join us in the family room. Another cause for celebration when she ate a piece of bread. More cheering when she ate her dog food.

It’s been a week and she’s not a 100%, but she’s sooo much better! I really think she’s turned a corner and hopefully will be with us for a long time. I’m not sure if she’ll ever be the bouncy, rambunctious creature she was before, but that’s part of aging…for all of us.

Pet Snippets and Why Writers Need Dogs

I have just returned from the pet hospital. Two days ago, my eight-year-old Schnauzer, Grendel, had to have an emergency hysterectomy. According to the doctor, she’s not rallying since the surgery. We brought her home hoping she’ll perk up here. We believe she’ll be happier.

In honor of Grendel, I’m reviving two old blog posts from my personal blog, kristystories.blogspot.com

Every Writer Needs a Dog

As a writer, it’s easy to let myself escape into my head. I consider this a really important part of my job. Some refer to this as being in the flow, in the moment, or in the zone as if it’s a physical place rather than a state of mind. Wikipedia describes “flow” as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. And this immersion is a good thing. Mostly.

According to Wikipedia, when I’m not in the flow I am depressed. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow.

Here’s me when I’m not writing: Carol drops by with a pan of brownies. She looks like a teenager in that halter top. She says, “I brought these for your husband to thank him for helping me fix that broken window.” I say thank you, but inside I’m thinking I really wish she’d wear more clothes. I wonder what she was wearing when Larry was at her house, for how long was that? I can’t compare myself to her—I had six kids and she has a cat. Maybe my abs would look like that if I had countless hours to spend at the gym. Does she work out at the same gym as Larry? Why does she call him all the time? He doesn’t even like brownies. But I love them. I bet she knows that. She knows that I’m going to eat this entire pan of brownies because now I’m so depressed and one or two or five brownies isn’t going to matter because I’m going to be divorced, single and fat. I better call Larry, although I just talked to him, and he’ll be home for lunch in twenty minutes. I need to hear his voice.

Here’s me when I’m writing: the doorbell rings but I don’t hear it because I’m deep into my story. Somehow Mercy has to stop Eloise from going on a drive with horrid Mr. Steele. What can she do—should she confide in Eloise? In the real world, my dog is pawing at me. No. Eloise is a blabber mouth. She can’t be trusted. My dog knows someone has come to the door and she pulls at my sock with her teeth. I shake her off, but she’s so annoying that I have to investigate. Someone has left brownies on my front porch with a thank you note. It’s from Carol, that darling girl from across the street. I consider the brownies and inspiration hits—Mercy will bake Eloise a pie laced with a draught that will make her sleep through her rendezvous with Steele. I put the brownies on the counter and save them for when Larry comes home for lunch. I hurry back to Mercy, Eloise and Mr. Steele, wondering how to make a sleeping draught.

(FYI- Neighbor Carol is fictional, used to make a point about my own lunacy and not a commentary on my highly respectable, modestly clothed and admirable neighbors or my good husband who always lets me eat more than my fair share of brownies.)

Being a writer isn’t an excuse for poor citizenship. Just because you’re thinking about your book and not about the road doesn’t mean you get to run red lights. Once while writing at the Mission Viejo library, I turned off my laptop, stood up, only to suddenly realize that a person on the other side of the glass partition, not more than eight feet away, must have had some sort of collapse. The room was filled with paramedics, a gurney, and a crowd of about forty people. As I left the library, I passed an ambulance pulled up to the curb, lights flashing. I don’t know how I missed all of this, but I’ve since taken it as a life lesson. I never want to be so caught up in my own private world that I can’t recognize and help someone in need.

This is why I need a dog. Sometimes I need someone, preferably someone furry, someone willing to tug on my socks with their teeth, to drag me out of the flow. And Grendel needs me to feed her, clean up after her, and take her for walks. I also need her for other things, like chasing the bunnies out of my yard and letting me know when the Girl Scouts are at my door to sell cookies.

Is it possible to become so immersed in the flow that I can’t get out? Sure. We all know the very real, gritty stories of the writers who lost their minds. It’s happened to the best of us. A flow so strong can carry us away and before we know it, we’re drowning. Hemmingway had cats, but cats won’t tug on your socks with their teeth. They just won’t.

That’s why every writer needs a dog.

Dog Days of Summer and a Pet Snippet

According to Wikipedia, “the Romans referred to the dog days as diēs caniculārēs and associated the hot weather with the star Sirius. They considered Sirius to be the “Dog Star” because it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog). Sirius is also the brightest star in the night sky. The term “Dog Days” was used earlier by the Greeks (see, e.g., Aristotle’s Physics, 199a2).

The Dog Days originally were the days when Sirius rose just before or at the same time as the sun (heliacal rising), which is no longer true, owing toprecession of the equinoxes. The Romans sacrificed a red dog in April to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather.

Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time “the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.” according to Brady’s Clavis Calendaria, 1813.”

But if you’re a dog owner, everyday, despite the weather or calendar, is a dog day.

Remember the 1981 movie On Golden Pond? Here are some of it’s accolades:

I was in college, studying literature, when Ernest Thompson won the award for best screenplay. Now, more than 30 years later, I don’t really remember the film, except that I liked it, but I do remember Thompson. He shocked the world by using the F word in his acceptance speech at the academy awards.

We talked about his slip the next day in one of my literature classes. According to my professor, a writer can’t ever pretend to be something he/she is not. Their core values and character will shine through their works.

What does this have to do with the dog days of summer? Not much, but I do think it’s interesting that I like dogs, I’m a dog owner, and I include pets in almost all of my stories. That’s not to say that if I ever win an academy award I’ll get on the stage and talk about my dog, but if you like stories and you like dogs, chances are you’ll might like my books.

Here are a few canine excerpts from my books. (I also threw in cat just for fun.) If you’re a writer, please feel free to share your favorite pet passage, Be sure to include your buy link and a link to your website.

Wyeth’s tail began to beat on the oak floorboards when a child peeked around a chair to look at him.

            “Would you like to pet him?” I asked.

            The golden hair six-year old nodded, but she stayed on the far side of the plastic chair. She sucked on her index finger and watched Wyeth. Her wide, blue eyes stared at him then looked at me. She wanted to step from behind the chair, but Wyeth intimidated her. She wore a red, white and blue sailor dress with a large chocolate milk stain down the front. The child removed her finger. “He’s a really, really big dog,” she said.

            Her mother at the next table looked up from her crossword puzzle book and smiled at me, making me her conspirator in child care.

            I ruffled Wyeth’s ears. “Yes, he is, but he’s very friendly.”

            She looked at us with wide blue eyes. “He’s really ugly. Did you want an ugly dog?”

            That was a very good question. Most puppies, like babies, are cute, even the ugly ones, and then you feed it, clean up after it, train it, fall in love with it, then keep on loving it even after it’s grown ugly. “I guess I do now,” I replied. He always looked and smelled better after a bath and trim, but lately I’d been too preoccupied to groom Wyeth. It’d been weeks since he’d had a bath. I realized I’d make a terrible mother.

            “I have a poodle named Princess,” the little girl told me. “She wears a pink coat.”

From Hailey’s Comments

A thick marine layer blew in from the beach and reminded Deirdre of her smoky dream. She couldn’t see, but she knew where the oak trees, solid and massive, stood. Her leg hit warm fur. She fell with a bump, her hands smashing onto the grass. A large, wet snout attacked. Coyotes, she thought, curling into a ball. She opened one eye to see a massive snout approaching. A dog, a giant dog, but not a coyote. He placed a hamburger sized patty paw on her back as if to keep her down so he could clean her with his tongue.

            “Leave me alone!” she yelled. The dog snuffled through her hair as she rolled onto her hands and knees. Shaking the creature off, she stood, but the animal rose on his back feet and placed his front paws on her shoulders. She had a vision of Beauty and the Beast dancing in the moonlight. She shook him off.

            “You’re lucky I like monsters, mammoths, or whatever you are.” She reached for his dog tag, trying, unsuccessfully, to avoid his tongue. Grabbing his collar, she rotated his tags. “You’re the first dancing partner I’ve had in months,” she read the tag, “Pricilla.” She eyed the dog. He panted before her, looking like a friendly bear. “Pricilla, really? Why not Thor or Zeus?”

            “Because she’s my partner—not yours.” A deep voice spoke in the fog.

From A Light in the Christmas Cafe

 Blair jumped and landed hard on the grass, her hands breaking her fall. She stood in time to see the kitten tear into the library through the wide open door.

               At least it’s a smart cat, Blair thought as she went after it. She tried to brush the mud and leaves off her skirt, then slipped off her filthy shoes and soaking sweater and left them on the front porch.                Standing in the doorway, searching, she called, “Here kitty, kitty.” A tail, gray and rat-like stuck out from under a rack of books. Blair lunged toward the bookcase, and her stocking feet went out from under her.               Finding herself on the wooden floor, she turned to see the kitten watching her with one blue and one brown eye. Blair placed one hand in front for the cat to plainly see, and snaked her other hand behind the creature. The cat tried to dart away, but Blair grabbed it.             Rolling onto her back she held the squirming, skinny kitten in an outstretched hand in the air above her face. She considered the small, gray, rodent-like animal. “I’ll call you either Mouchard or Rat-Fink after my friend, Drake,” she told the cat.

From The Rhyme’s Library

How to freak out an introvert?

Tell them it is time for the RWA (Romance Writers of America) National Conference. 🙂

Most writers are introverts. Which means we are most comfortable in our comfy clothes sitting at the keyboard living in an imaginary world. But once a year RWA puts on an amazing conference; over 2,000 writers, days of workshops, and caps it off with a gala award show (think Oscars for books and authors).

I most look forward to seeing all my writer friends that I haven’t seen in years and learning new stuff in the workshops and for my first time, being able to attend the PAN (Published Author Network) workshops and events.

I’m what is known as an extroverted introvert. That means my favorite place is home alone but put me with a crowd and energy and I blossom. Sometimes too much, but that is a story for another time.

If you get a chance on Saturday, July 16th, 8-10 pm PST the RITA and Golden Heart Awards are streamed online.

http://www.rwa.org


Jill James, romance author (see you in San Diego for the conference)

Writing as Fast as I Can

I’ve had one deadline slamming against the other, and I’ve been slightly nuts with all of them. My stories have permeated my dreams and half the time I can’t remember which characters have done what! To make it worse, I’m a slow typist and a perfectionist. Quality means everything to me! My readers deserve it. I’m asking them to take hours from their lives and spend them with my characters. If I break that confidence, they might not be back for the next one! So I will not put out a book that is rushed or hasn’t been through strong edits.

I put out Loving Matilda through Kindle World’s Montana Sky Series, which is part of Amazon but not the same as the EA smregular Kindle books, but goes right to your Kindle, and for most of the world looks like a normal Kindle book.  And I knew another KW opportunity was coming for this summer also for Debra Holland’s Montana Sky Series, so I started it.  But few things got in my way and I had another story to write. I put that Montana Sky western to one side and wrote the next historic Wyoming book, A Rancher’s Wish which is almost ready to release. And with luck, it is going to the newspaper before it will be released to the general public. There’s one more hurdle to jump through with the newspaper before the publication deal is finalized.

Unfinished cover for A Rancher’s Wish

Don’t worry, readers. You will have it! It’s just slightly delayed as the newspaper will have it exclusively while it is running through their presses. Then it will be available on Kindle and in print. To say I’m excited about this fabulous opportunity with the newspaper is an understatement. This is not a big city newspaper but rather one that covers a good chunk of farmland in this part of Virginia. These are the brunt of my readers, they love their men/farmers/cowboys. Those natural muscles of men who work for a living, the men who know dirt, wear roper boots on a daily basis and think getting dressed up is wearing a sports jacket and fancy boots with their good jeans. Yeah, those guys!

And for some strange reason, that’s scaring me to death. Maybe because it will make me a more public figure. I won’t say I’m shy, but I tend to be rather reserved and quiet. But I have have a friend at the one local paper, and he knows my writing, knows I’m good, and not putting out junk. So he came to me with this idea, but everyone has a boss including him.

Then since I loved the characters so much in that story, I did a modern day version of the ranch. What happens when people leave the ranch to find other work? What if when the dust bowl hit, this family left but never sold the land? And what would happen if a family member today goes back thinking they want to get that ranch going again, yet they have no experience? Okay, that left me wide open for some funny scenes and some heart-breaking ones. I only have to write the ending and that one will be released this fall. But for now it’s sitting to one side.

Oops, that other book for KW! How fast can I write when I’m in edits for the one going to the newspaper? I went back to find the one I had started. I could not find it! I have a tridillion-mega-byte hard disk! (I don’t remember what the disk size is – it’s just got a number in front of it and it starts with a T. And I was told the odds of me running out of room on that thing is next to nothing.) And no matter where I looked I couldn’t find that story. Almost 20K words lost on my big disk. I looked on my flash drive. I looked on my laptop. GONE! I must start from scratch. I told myself if I find it someday, I’ll use it. (I found it last week by sheer accident.)

So I started on the newest KW book, Loving Ellen, and I have two very emotionally hurt people in this story. The story opens with her standing by the grave of second husband in the middle of Montana. Having been widowed early when her two boys were little, she managed by taking in laundry and doing alterations and mending. She spotted an ad in the newspaper and became a mail-order bride with the hopes of some stability in her life and a father for her rambunctious boys. Hubby #2 didn’t exactly lie when he applied for a bride, he just painted a better picture of the house and ranch. Three weeks into this new marriage, she’s living in a tumble-down shack with virtually no food. And some stranger brings hubby #2’s body to her and offers to dig the grave. Oh, I don’t want to give away the whole story.

I read the start of that book to my writer’s group and a few of the gals flipped. We often don’t realize how far we have come and how many more options there are for women these days. Why would a woman opt to be a mail-order bride and marry a man she didn’t know? And why would that woman… I’m not telling you the story.  😉

But times have changes, attitudes have changed and, in general, we’ve changed as a society. For those who are not familiar with what happened back then, it does come as a bit of a shock. Yes there were women who managed to get a college education and there were women who ran their own ranches and farms or business. But take a city gal and plunk her in the wilds of Montana or Wyoming Territories with no clue as to how to manage a ranch, she might not even know how to ride a horse or handle a gun, and then expect her to survive… She might know how to make bread, knit, and do fancy stitches, but that doesn’t mean she knows how to shear sheep or card her own wool. She might not even know how to milk a cow and I doubt she knows how to castrate a baby bull.

So here I am in edits on two books and driving myself nuts! This newest one for KW needs a cover and I’ll handle that this week, because I obviously have nothing else to do! And to make matters worse, I swear originally this KW release was scheduled for August but apparently not. I believe it will release July 22. I’m running out of time! 😦

I’ve already promised myself that I will take a break before I finish my contemporary book. I’ve been on a marathon writing binge and I need to get back to the real world. Besides I’ve heard the newest Pixar movie, Finding Dory is even better than Finding Nemo. It’s supposed to be twice as funny with a better story line, and if I’m going to go to the movies, please let me laugh and enjoy it! Besides I love Pixar movies! (I’m such a little kid.)

As for the real world, I have a treadmill calling my name! And a doctor screaming at me to gets some exercise before I’m in deep doggie poop! So I will drag myself away from my computer and come up for air! Maybe I’ll even try going to the park in uptown and walking on their track. (I have a friend walking 4-5 miles a day there. You would not believe the amount of weight he has lost. He looks amazing.)

Of course I could be doing housework, which is quite a workout, but if the doctor asks how many minutes of exercise I’m getting in a week, it sounds better if I say I’m walking a mile a day, than for me to say of I’m vacuuming and scrubbing floors, and I cleaned the bathtub and I… Nah, I’d much rather say I’m walking. He didn’t tell me to clean my house, he said for me to walk. Any excuse will do to get me out of housework. 🙂

As for the rest of my life… I’m now on a BiPAP (fancy CPAP) machine while sleep. I should have gone through a sleep study years ago! I can’t remember sleeping this well ever in my life! I actually look forward to sleeping at night. I still can’t say I’m leaping out of bed with tons of energy, but I’m aware of the difference, and I feel much more rested. Why didn’t I do it sooner? Because I didn’t want to be tied to a machine all night? I really don’t know why I didn’t do it. I know I had sleep apnea, but I ignored it. They told me I was averaging not breathing 49 seconds out of every minute and my blood pressure and my oxygen stats fell to lows that shocked me. Why I’ve not died in my sleep is beyond me!

I have another nasty medical test to go through the next month and that will determine if I will need any more surgery anytime soon. But my surgery in March has taken away so much pain that I’m thrilled with that outcome. And I’ve lost 15 pounds in about a month. Yippee. But I have quite a few pounds to shed. I’m keeping my eyes on the horizon because I’m feeling better than I have in ages.

My primary care doctor is a young female and I adore her. She said I’m going to get you healthy and oh does she mean it.  I’ve never had so many doctor appointments in my life. They have probably removed four gallons of blood from my body in the last six months and analyzed it for everything imaginable.  If you had asked me a year ago how was my health, I would have told you that I was healthy as a rock. Okay, I had a few problems, I’m not twenty-five, I’m… never mind, I no longer have birthdays.  But I was fine! Really, I was!

But bit by bit, I’m changing and I like these new changes. And they still don’t have the thyroid going. 😦 But my energy levels are increasing, and I’m feeling better. Getting rid of continuous pain and sleeping better is making a difference. I’m not diabetic, but I’ve been borderline for a long time so I take my blood sugar levels occasionally and lately I’ve noticed they are dropping. Yes!! Happy Camper!! So maybe this is my chrysalis year.

And since I’ve had several book signing at some local libraries, I’m feeling better about doing those. Wish me luck because one of my favorite Starbucks is what they call an evenings store. They sell craft beers and wines in the evenings. They are having a book signing and they are featuring me! There will be several of us there on the 14th of this month. And they will be be having a wine tasting at the same time, except I can’t drink on the med they gave me after my neurosurgery. 😦 (Shh-I might taste – just a few drops.) So if you live in Tidewater, Virginia, come visit! Leave a note below and I’ll tell you which Starbucks. I’d love to meet you! 🙂

That’s my news! What is new with you or at your house? Have you done anything that has been a real life altering change for you? A diet change or something? Tell me, I really want to know!

Is the Kitchen a Science Experiment?

YES!! We just don’t think of it as one. We follow recipes and everything looks beautiful. (most of the time) But over the years, I’ve learned that recipes from friends for things they made that we l-o-v-e, may not taste the same when we make it! If Mom made it, you know what brands are in her kitchen. But coming from friends when we try it, it doesn’t taste the same. Why? Our friend used Duke mayonnaise and we always use Hellmann’s. There is a difference! They are not using the same recipe to make mayonnaise. So when I really love something, I will ask what brands they use! If they say Sauer Mayonnaise or MiracleWhip, I will buy that brand when I make that recipe. If they are using margarine instead of butter or some special special imported butter, you need to know.  The difference in cookies is unreal if you use butter instead of margarine. Most bakers know that.

Do you want to know how many times I’ve heard someone say, I can’t bake a cake from scratch to save my life. I bet if I watched them make one, I could tell you why their cakes flop. Cakes from scratch are not forgiving of our sloppy kitchen measurements! And often people don’t know enough so they use the wrong flour or something.

Have I make mistakes? Oh, yeah! I’ve experimented and it’s not worked. But bread can be very forgiving once you know a few things about the differences in flour and the differences between the basic recipes. Plus, you must have an understanding of yeast.

Yeast is a living organism sold to us in a dormant state. Yeast cakes have an expiration date, and because they are moist, they do expire!! Yeast granules also have an expiration date. I have yeast that is years old and well beyond the expiration date! I also haven’t use it in ages but I’m going to assume it is still alive and well in there. How do I know? I will proof it first.

The recipe will say if using dry yeast use two tablespoons. I start with two tablespoons and add it to “X” amount of warm water and stir well. Here’s where things vary. First if your water is too cool, you won’t get it going and if it’s too hot, you’ll kill it.  It has to be between 105 and 115 F. Folks, they make kitchen thermometers! Use one! Put the thermometer in the bowl and add the warm water. Give it a moment. A cold bowl will cool the water! You do it enough and you will know by the feel that you have the right temperature. I know by feel. Then I feed it!

I’ll measure out a cup of flour and put it to one side. That will be the cup I use for that recipe. It doesn’t matter that you if you put a cup in with the yeast or add it later. It’s a cup of flour – it counts in the recipe! I’ll added a few spoonfuls to the water. And I’ll use some sugar. Same deal as the flour. Why am I adding these things to that dissolving yeast? I need to know there’s healthy yeast in there that grows and does what yeast is supposed to do but it needs something to eat and it eats the flour sugar combo. It breathes. And since it breathes it makes bread rise with all the tiny bubbles of its exhales. All living organisms breathe. And because it is alive, it wants food. It has to be fed. Too much sugar will kill it and not enough hurts it!

Sounds gross? Well yeast is all around us! It’s in our air. It’s on our kitchen counters, on the walls, even on the dinner plates! It’s on our skin! It’s that sort of thing. Anyone who loves the San Fransisco’s Sour Dough Bread, the yeast there is different from say the yeast on the east coast. Apparently it’s embedded in the old brick walls. Really into history? Look it up. Fascinating to anyone who loves sourdough bread!

(Actually when you see the microscopic things that are on our foods you probably will never take another bite of food as long as you live. Obviously that wouldn’t take too long! Wanna know what causes bad breath? Probably not. If you did, you’d run in and brush your teeth again! But then you’d have to put that filthy toothbrush in your mouth.)

Anyway, years ago after reading about wagon trains and what it was really like to travel west, they talked about women protecting their yeast. Hey, this was bread baking which interested me as a baker, so I thought I’d try to recreate what they did if they had that crock of brewing yeast spill. I made up a batch from some non-salted potato water which I had used for boiling potatoes for the family meal. I fed it and waited and waited…and waited some more. Finally I had something! I fed it a little more and waited. I think I had two bubbles and I figured it was a flop. I had this big bowl on my counter and virtually nothing for all my hard word work.  I added a wee bit more sugar to the mix and went to bed! This wasn’t the same as playing with commercial yeast. I was trying to make my own yeast, just to prove I could do it!  😦

My girls were old enough to get up by themselves and get to school. (I was working at the time. And I’ve never been a morning person!) So about the time they left, it was time for me to get up. One is like me, just give her a cup of coffee! The other loved cereal! They were teens; they don’t need me to fix a bowl of cereal! Well, my oldest child had no idea what I was doing with that bowl, she merely went down the kitchen where she found a gray slimy mess of yeast! Mom’s failed science experiment!

Maybe it wasn’t a failure but a rather an over abundant success. (Remember my ability to function when I first wake up is nil.) I had yeast growing out of the bowl, across the counter over the bull-nosed counter edge, down the front of my lower cabinets onto the floor, and headed for the dining room wall-to-wall carpeting. The bowl is large enough to hold potato salad for 150 people and I had been playing with about a cup to one and a half cups of potato water, flour, and sugar in the bowl.

Part of me decided if I put it down the kitchen sink I would either clog the sink with the flour in the mix or there would be clogging, continuous growing slime in the pipes at my place to the city’s waste treatment plant. (The headlines would read: Woman arrested for kitchen experiment gone wrong. Entire city shut down from yeast slime at waste treatment plant, as city fights with growing problem.) The trash was the better place for it. My hubby helped me scoop up the slime and bag it.

At first, I wanted to salvage what was in the bowl and make bread, but the look my husband gave me told me to be grateful I had proved to myself that yeast could be made from potato water. But I thought about that horrible mess for weeks and finally decided if I had a heavier flour mixture as in soft dough, it would not have overflowed and that extra shot of sugar might have been too much especially when I hadn’t used any salt which retards growth. I also decided I would never leave proofing yeast for any reason.

I did try it again, and that time, I managed to create yeast. Compared to commercially sold yeast, mine wasn’t great.  It made a heavy loaf and I happen to like that fresh yeasty taste, which was lacking with my homegrown yeast.

As for kneading bread? It’s not difficult. You don’t want to tear it apart as you knead. Heavier flours such as bread flours or whole wheat need to be kneaded longer. (Figure about 8 minutes compared to maybe 4 minutes with plain flour. ) You don’t dig your fingers into it. I get into a rhythm when I  knead and I enjoy it. The dough is ready when you have something that feels like a baby’s butt, soft yet firm and smooth.  Watch someone else do it. Or try it with an experienced bread baker at your side. Or learn the way I did. I read everything I could on bread baking and flours, and did it without any help. There was no YouTube to help me. I was on my own. Trial and error.

Over rising will but a big holes in the bread and not enough make it heavy. Start with a simple recipe using an all-purpose flour. Then move on to a bread flour. Using a cake yeast is the easiest for a beginner as is fresh granulated yeast in those small packets. Don’t mess with whole wheat, rye, or  try to create whole grain breads until you are familiar with baking bread. Then go ahead and experiment by adding sun flour seeds, etc. (I often use a rolling pin on some of those nuts to break them down before adding them.)

A few years ago when bread machines came out, my girls thought maybe giving me one for a holiday gift might be something I’d enjoy. Fortunately one of my girls hinted about buying one for me. Horrors! NO! The fun is in the kneading and creating something from what seems like nothing. From plain white, to challah, to multi-grain, I’ve made it all and I enjoy the process. Even my mother-in-law would concede that my breads were delicious.

Biscotti, cakes, cookies, and whatever can be baked, is something that has given my pleasure over the years.  Fruit cakes, Philadelphia sticky buns, Boston brown bread, plum pudding, if it goes into the oven, I’ve made it! Plus for a baker, what’s a few cups of flour and a little time in the kitchen?

Don’t have a lot of time to spend kneading dough and waiting for it to rise? Try a Sally Lunn bread. You’ll impress your family and friends with your homemade tasty bread.

Yes, I’m a baker. I didn’t start off that way. And I never really saw my mom make bread. She was very gourmet and watched over the family nutrition, but I never saw her make bread.  She taught me to bone a chicken and how to wrap it when I was done. I could make chocolate chip cookies. That was a family joke as they all swore that was all I could make when I first married. But it didn’t take me long to figure out I could make bread cheaper than I could buy it and it was healthier with more taste. And I did learn to cook!

If you can read, you can cook! My cookbook collection is unreal, but it’s those few original  baking books that I treasure the most.  The ones that taught me the difference between a water based bread and a milk based bread. The ones that showed me how to knead and punch dough down.

I also learned along the way what was worth making from scratch and what wasn’t. But some things are just too delicious not to take the extra time to make from nothing. And there’s something very fulfilling about making things such as bread from scratch. It’s like putting that perfectly roasted turkey on the table at Thanksgiving. It is given to the family with pride. And the pride in a loaf of bread I swear is like nothing else.

So give it a try. Once you’ve eaten homemade bread, you’ll skip the bread aisle.