The weird, miscellaneous things we talk about at our house! My daughter and I were enjoying a coconut cookie, and I said to her that coconut would have to be in the top 5 items I’d miss if we could only consume food we grew ourselves or could source locally from farmers, no grocery stores. Then I had to ask myself what else would be on that list? Coffee was the first thing that was obvious to me, but was there anything else? So thinking hard, I came up with my top 5 things I wouldn’t want to live without, without it being shipped from some far off place. These are not things I could not survive without, as much as the things which I would miss the most. Minus salt, salt would be a real issue as preserving food would be a problem.

1. Coffee – I LOVE COFFEE!!! Now technically, I can grow coffee in my house during the winter months, and move outside during the summer, but it takes about 5 years for it to produce fruit, and I couldn’t grow enough to have a steady supply. But for those who want to know, I’m trying it anyway!
2. Coconut – I LOVE COCONUT!!!
3. Chocolate – I LOVE CHOCOLATE!!!
4. Cinnamon – I love all fall desserts – no cinnamon, no bueno. I could include nutmeg, cloves and allspice, but I think if I at least had cinnamon, I’d be okay.
5. Salt – While I’m not a heavy salt user, we need salt to survive and face it, salt-less food would be pretty bland. If I lived near an ocean, or in Utah, this wouldn’t be an issue, but there are no salt mines in Wisconsin, to my knowledge. It’s also necessary for preserving food.

Things I considered, but ruled out:

Baking Soda/Baking Powder/Yeast – There are other ways to add leavening to baked goods, such as fermented dairy, or beaten egg whites. For bread, sourdough starter is delicious and easy to make without anything but flour, water, and the yeast that is naturally occurring in the air, so although convenient, they are not strictly necessary.
Seafood – I have caught and eaten many a crayfish from local lakes that taste like a cross between shrimp and lobster.
Citrus – Unlike coffee, not only can we grow dwarf citrus in our homes, but they produce wonderfully. I had a Meyer lemon that would fruit like crazy. Also, there are herbs, such as lemon balm that can be used for lemon flavor.
Vanilla – It’s on the runner up list, because it’s used so much in baking, but I don’t know if it would make or break all baked goods, so I think I’d adjust to no vanilla.
Curry – I love a good curry, and in researching, realized I can grow all the spices that make up curry powder here! Again, indoors for winter, outdoors during the summer! One stipulation, I would already have to have some ginger root, and tumeric root (which would have to be shipped from somewhere else) in order to grow it, or know someone else who is already growing it locally. But once I have it, I’d never have to purchase it again.
Sugar – I already use honey to sweeten most things, and honey is available locally. In fact, I usually purchase 2 gallons of honey per year from a local bee keeper. Maple syrup is also a great sweetener, and maple trees are also readily available in Wisconsin.
Molasses – It turns out you can grow sorghum in Wisconsin to make your own molasses. Who knew??? I haven’t tried this… yet…

Bananas – I do love bananas, but first of all, it is possible to grow a fruiting banana indoors if you have a large enough space, but in the end, as much as I enjoy them, there are other foods I would miss more.

I’m lucky in that I’ve been an avid gardener my entire life. I already grow most of the produce I use, including a host of herbs, garlic, and peppers that I make spice blends, and tea blends with. Meat and dairy are all readily available locally and we have plenty of fresh fish in our many smaller lakes and rivers, not to mention Lake Michigan. We currently purchase our beef, chicken, turkey and pork from a butcher who gets it from local farmers. We raise our own chickens for eggs.

We also have skills. My daughter and I love history and cooking, and have combined the two. We have learned how to mill grain (we only mill our own flour now), roast coffee beans (I do this weekly for the freshest coffee), cook over an open fire, in a fireplace, and on a wood burning stove. Don’t get me wrong, we generally use modern appliances, but the ability to procure or grow everything you need won’t be helpful if you don’t know what to do with it.

We make our own pasta, bake our own bread, grind pork to make sausage, smoke our own meats, brine meats (we just made our own corned beef, none of that red gel stuff), make homemade ice cream, and make our own broth. We dehydrate, ferment, and preserve a host of produce. Right now my pantry is stocked with chicken broth, beef broth, spaghetti sauce, applesauce, apple butter, jams, sauerkraut, salsa, tomatoes, carrots and beans. I have fermented hot pepper sauce, pickles and pickled garlic scapes in my fridge. My freezer is chock full of zucchini, tomatoes, celery, green peppers, red peppers, and pesto, all from my garden. I also have onions, garlic, shallots, squash and potatoes in storage and shelves of dehydrated herbs, tomatoes, peppers, both regular and smoked (my dried smoked ancho chilis make a vastly more flavorful chili than using store bought chili powder), flowers (for tea), mushrooms, celery leaves, apple slices, and sweet potato slices (for dog treats) and home fermented apple cider vinegar. I’m fortunate that I live in a state that has a wide variety of herbs, grains, vegetables, nuts, and fruits that can be grown, so other than strictly tropical items, there isn’t much I can’t get.

And for the record, we all work outside the home and we don’t live on a farm. We live in the downtown area of a suburb of Milwaukee. We do have a very good sized yard, which is why we can have a few hens, and a large garden. Yes, we do use some store bought convenience items. My desire to make my own vs. just buying came about years ago because as soon as we fell in love with some seasoning mix, or product, it would get discontinued. I hated that my favorite recipes weren’t consistent because I could no longer get the same ingredients or products. More recently, I’ve become acutely aware of all the fillers, sugar, and undecipherable ingredients that can be in convenience products. The solution was to take it all the way back to the basics, and cook completely from scratch. The unplanned upside is that it has provided us a base, where the grocery store is only optional, if need be, or if I have an intense craving for coconut cookies!

So what are your top 5 food items you wouldn’t want to live without if you could not procure it locally?

Inserting the Key

It’s been forever. Seems like longer than forever. I often get asked if I’m still writing. My answer is yes, and no. I’m always writing, even if only in my head. I’m not, however, currently working on a book. Not that I don’t have books currently in the works, I have several, but they’ve laid dormant for quite a while. Even this blog is sad. I couldn’t remember my password to get in, and now I’m fumbling with how to format, and add pictures. On top of that, the site I used to use to link pictures to my blog, has long since gone away. I will need to figure out what pictures I used, and learn how to put them back.

I have tons of excuses, but that’s what they are, just excuses. I work long days but, in truth, that didn’t stop me before. I went through a health crisis, which stole my energy, and my ability to recall names, and words. But that was six plus years ago, and although I have some lingering effects, they are nothing that prevents me from writing now. My support, in the past, have been writing groups. I’ve been a part of more than one. My local group meets on Tuesdays which used to be my day off. I now work on Tuesdays, but really, these gals would help me out even if the only way would be by email, so in truth, that excuse isn’t valid either. I’ve got other projects on my plate. That’s not anything different. I am, and always have been, a bit of a busybody. I don’t have a good space where I can concentrate on my writing. Souljourner was written in a combination of a coffee shop, my dining room, and my bedroom, and Christmas Carole was written mostly in a basement rec room. The few times I’ve actually had a private office, I didn’t write books in them. So in truth, I have no real excuse.

Sometimes, when you’ve stopped doing something for long enough, and think about restarting, it feels almost insurmountable. It’s like climbing a really big hill, falling and rolling back down, and trying to climb that hill all over again. I have books that are far enough along, that it will take a fair amount of work to figure out where I was going with them. But can I? Yes, difficult as it may seem. They may take a different tack than I had originally planned, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be finished, and who knows, they may even be better for it.

So after running out of poor excuses, what I need to do, is just do it. I have found in the past, that as soon as I start writing something, anything, it’s like riding a bike, to be totally cliché. My brain just starts to click and words come out. I’ve made a few false starts, but I figure if I just keep trying, eventually the engine will sputter to life.

So here I am, putting the key in the ignition. That’s what this blog post represents. The first words on the page, shared with all of you, in hopes that the words keep coming. I can’t promise the engine will roar to life, but I can hope. And if it doesn’t on this try, I’ll just try again. Sooner or later it will.

I Triple Dog Dare You!

The hustle and bustle of the holidays is through and the new year has begun, full of resolutions for the future. I’m not sure why this is the time we stop to think about what we want to change about how we live our lives. Is it because we see a new year as a good place for a new beginning? Or is it because in the deafening silence that follows in the wake of the holiday season, we actually have time to sit and think about what we want for ourselves? Maybe it’s a little of both.

What I do know is that New Year’s Resolutions rarely stick. Life gets busy and any plans we had to: eat better, exercise more, call our family, etcetera, etcetera, get derailed. I decided that first, anything I promise I will do differently this year, can’t be so radically different from my normal routine that it becomes impossible to uphold. Secondly, the best way to stay on track is to take someone along with me on the ride.

So when I saw a 2015 reading challenge on Popsugar.com, I thought this was just the thing!



I already read, but I used to read much, much more. Not only do I miss escaping into a good book but according to Stephen King, and I have to agree with him, reading is fundamental to my writing. In his book “On Writing,” which I would highly recommend all writers read, he says,

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

So part of my plan to work the day job less, and write more, must include the goal to read more. As much as I enjoy reading, I know that life will get busy. The dishes need to be done, the dog needs to be walked, the chicken coop needs cleaning… If all I tell myself is I want to read more, then I know I will fall into the trap of saying to myself – I will! Just as soon as I have the time.

I came up with a plan. I printed three copies of the challenge, and went to my two adult children and dared them to take it with me. We’ll all work on our own lists. Whoever completes their list first, wins. The two losers each cough up $25 to buy the winner a $50 gift card of their choice. And the race is on!

It was fun to watch them search for books that would fit the categories. The only rules are that we cannot use a book we’ve read before (unless the challenge category requires it), and one book cannot count more than once. So my first book I finished was “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. It could count as: a Pulitzer Prize winner, a book that was turned into a movie, or a book that made me cry. I must choose which category it will be used for, it cannot count for all three.



Not only is this a good thing for me, it’s a good thing for my kids. Can I count that as being a better parent for the new year? Why don’t you try this with your kids? If this list isn’t appropriate for their age range, make one up. How about categories such as: read a Caldecott Award winner, read a book about an animal, read a book in which a girl is the hero…I’m sure you can come up with some great ideas of your own!

In conjunction with this, I plan on reviewing the books I read. I will post each review here, as well as on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, Booklikes, and Librarything. I’ll post it on Facebook, Twitter, and Google +, as well. I encourage everyone to do that. Reviews are essential to authors. Do you want to take the challenge? If you do let me know. If not, but you just love reading, or happen to read a book you just love (or hate), tell me about it. Word of mouth is also essential to authors! I can’t wait to hear what you’re reading. Go on – pick up a book, READ – I triple dog dare ya!


Here We Go a Wassailing…

The Monches Artisans Holiday Open House is going great, and I’ve met so many nice people interested in what I have to say about Charles Dickens and in my books!

They are loving the Dickensian treats, so even though I’ve posted some of them before, I thought I’d post the recipes again so they’d be easy to find.



Shrewsbury Cakes

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. grated orange peel
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
extra sugar
Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg, orange peel and vanilla.
Stir in flour and salt to make a stiff dough.
Wrap dough in wax paper. Chill for several hours or overnight.
Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls. Roll balls in sugar.
Arrange balls 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
Flatten the balls gently with bottom of a small glass.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

4 oz (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup molasses
2 1/2 cup flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp powdered ginger

Preheat oven to 350.
Butter & flour loaf pan or 9″ square baking pan.

Cream butter, add sugar, and beat until light.
Add eggs and beat well.
Add boiling water and molasses and blend.
In a seperate bowl mix flour, baking soda, salt, and ginger.  Add to the first mixture, and combine thoroughly.
Pour into the pan and bake 35-45 min until toothpick comes out clean.
Cool in pan 5-10 min before turning onto a plate.




Mince Pies


Okay, this one was a total cheat on my part. I’d love to try and make my mincemeat by scratch, but haven’t had the chance to try that yet. So instead I used a jar mix. The brand I used was None Such. I used their Brandy and Rum Mincemeat.

So take a mini muffin pan. Use any pie pastry recipe or use those refrigerated roll out pie crusts. Find a smaller circle cookie or biscuit cutter, or you can try a glass that will make circles to fit your mini muffin pan. Grease pans, place a circle of dough in bottom of each cup. Drop in a small spoonful of mincemeat, then cover top with another circle of dough. Here’s the trick. Don’t over fill with the mincemeat! It should look like you don’t really have enough in each cup. The mincemeat will expand when it cooks and it’s super sticky, so if you overfill, they will overflow and all your mince pies will be stuck to the pan when they are done. Also just press the center of the top crust down onto the filling. These are really too small to successfully crimp the edges, although I did give it a bit of try. Cut slits in top crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 min. Sprinkle the tops with a little sugar once out. I used baker’s super fine sugar, but you can use regular sugar as well. Let cool for just a bit in pan, remove carefully to cool on rack the rest of the way.




Candied Orange Peel


Take 4 large, thick skinned Navel Oranges. With a knife, score the skin into quarters. Peel the skin quarters from the orange. Place the skins in a pot full of water, and boil for 20 min.

Let cool slightly. While still warm, pull one skin at a time from the pot, and scrape all of the white pith of with a knife or spoon. I found a knife worked better, and you have to do so very carefully or the skins will tear. Cut the cleaned skins into strips.

Put 2 cups of sugar, and 1 cup of water in a pot and heat until sugar is completely dissolved, stirring occasionally. Pour orange strips into pot, and stir until coated. Cover pot and simmer for 45 min.

Once done, take orange strips out of sugar water and spread out on a small grid cooling rack that is set over a cookie sheet to catch the drips. Cool for one hour. then toss strips, a few at a time, in a bowl of additional sugar to coat. Place on wax paper and let sit out overnight to dry.





1 gallon apple cider – I prefer fresh.

4 cups orange juice

1 cup lemon juice

24 whole cloves

8 cinnamon sticks

½ tsp. Ground ginger

½ tsp. Ground nutmeg

Put all ingredients into a large pot, heat up to a boil, then turn down and simmer. The longer it simmers, the better it tastes. You can also leave it in a crock pot overnight. Strain out spices. Can be stored in refrigerator. Serve warm.

Monches Artisans Holiday Open House




The holiday season is upon us and it’s time to deal with the hassle of Christmas shopping. But finding the perfect gift shouldn’t be a hassle. The best way to  to check off the people on your Christmas list, while enjoying some holiday cheer, is to visit local shops, holiday fairs, and open houses.


Not only do you avoid the crowds and chaos of the large department stores, and malls, but you help to make the holidays a little brighter for local business owners and artisans.


And face it, isn’t a beautiful, hand crafted gift more special than a mass manufactured item?


Here’s a wonderful opportunity for you to do just that this weekend!



31st Annual
Monches Artisans
Holiday Open House

December 5-7, 2014 (at most locations)

Join in and celebrate! With map in hand you’ll be guided on a driving tour through the historic Monches and Holy Hill area to visit artist studios, quaint shops, farms and inns.


Friday, December 5th through Sunday December 7th will mark the 31st year that artists in the tiny artist community of Monches, 30 miles northwest of Milwaukee, will open their doors and welcome visitors for a weekend of holiday cheer.


The 2014 tour will include a pottery studio, an art glass studio, an outdoor metal sculpture gallery and a rural inn and vineyard featuring seasonal wines. Monches Farm will be offering fresh handmade wreaths, holiday greens and a shop brimming with antiques, unique gifts and seasonal décor.  A local church will also be hosting a craft fair on Saturday.


The drive-it-yourself tour will take visitors along rustic roads through the scenic area surrounding the renowned Holy Hill Basilica. Refreshments, seasonal music and outdoor bonfires will welcome visitors at several of the stops along the way.  The tour runs from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Maps will be available at each of the tour stops and HERE.



I will be at Paul Bobrowitz Spectacular Sculpture talking about Charles Dickens, his book “The Christmas Carol,” and his influence on the Christmas we celebrate today. Signed copies of my books, including “Christmas Carole,” will be available for purchase.

What better stocking stuffer, or teacher’s gift than a Christmas book signed by the author?

I will have several yummy treats that you may have found in Dickens time for you to taste, along with wassail to warm you up.







Plus you will have the opportunity to purchase many beautiful items and gifts made by talented local artisans!

I truly hope you can make it to this wonderful holiday event!



Surviving Life's Surprises




No matter how much we try to plan our lives, life often has surprises for us. Some are happy surprises, some of them would never show up on anyone’s wish list. The trick is learning from each one so that when the next one comes along we have to tools necessary to deal with it.

As most of you know, over 15 years ago, I had lunch at a little B&B in Monches, Wisconsin. I fell in love with the place. I had no idea at the time that my life would include living in, and renovating the 172 year old homestead. Even the good surprises come with down sides. Living in a old house has meant, sharing my living room with chipmunks, my porch with bats, and my basement with mice. It’s meant having long dead animals drop out from ceilings as we tear them apart. It’s meant having a sink hole open up in the middle of the sun room. It’s been a lot of cuts, bruises, tendinitis, sore muscles, and an endless horizon of work.

Despite all of that, I wouldn’t have wanted to give it up. Unfortunately, it seems I’ll have to. I don’t need to get into all the details, but it has to do with the building company my husband runs, his business partner, and the stock market.

The upside? Financially, we’re secure. We’ll get back the money we put into the house immediately, which gives us a decent down payment on another home. We may, in the end, get additional money for the labor we put into it, but it’s not something we will count on. Since we still don’t hold the mortgage on the home (it was being held by the building company until a good portion of the work was completed) we don’t even have to worry about selling it. We just take our money, and walk away. The rest of the work will be completed by contractors, and the property will be sold, the proceeds going back to the company. We also can take our time to find something that suits us. Until the Mill House is complete and ready to sell, we can stay here.

And, while I’m still tired and sore from all the work, I must admit, it’s a bit of a relief to set the hammer down, and look for a home that doesn’t have an unending to-do list. Thanks to the projects I’ve done for this home, I’ve learned I can do a lot more than I thought I could. I can make any house be our home. Don’t like the cabinets? No problem, just give me an ice pick and a hammer! There’s a hole in the wall? I can patch it in no time! There’s a sinkhole in the floor … never mind … no more sink holes!

Someday, when the wound isn’t quite so tender, we’ll look back on this as an adventure, and hopefully we’ll come away with some new friends we can keep, even if we aren’t neighbors anymore.

Besides, frankly, things have been worse. We’ve lost a home before. That too, was a dream home that we worked endlessly for a year to complete. That time, we lost the house along with my husband’s business; our livelihood. We had children, still in school, that we had to support and no idea how we were going to do that. We had no savings, not a penny to put towards another home. We had no clue as to how we were going to survive, but we knew we would survive because that loss came on the heels of an even greater loss, the loss of our youngest son. If there is anything that can put life’s ups and downs into perspective, burying a child is a sure bet. If we could survive that, we could and can survive anything.

So while we’re still heartbroken at this loss, this time the only thing we lose is the dream of this particular house. Additionally, as much as we love this house, it was taking other things away from us: the freedom and funds to travel, the time to just relax and play, my time to write. There are other dreams we can fulfill and other adventures to discover.

As the old saying goes, it’s better to have loved than not loved at all. I have no regrets. I’m glad I’ve spent the better part of a year doing something I’ve always wanted to do, rehab a historic home. Even though I’d have liked to stay a little longer, okay – a lot longer, I’m glad that I’m now a part of this grand home’s history.

Life’s never been boring for our family, we’ve been through a lot, some say more than most. Life’s taught us an important lesson that we haven’t forgotten. It’s taught us that no matter what road blocks we meet, there’s always an alternate route. It may not be the road we planned on taking, but then maybe we’ll discover something we wouldn’t have had we stuck to the map.

So yes, we’ll shed a few tears, and then a few more, but then we’ll brush ourselves off and move on. We’ll be okay. I know we can do it, because we’ve done it before. Surviving this surprise, is no surprise at all.


No Moment Wasted


This post was actually written on 5/13/14 – I just wasn’t in the frame of mind to post it.


Today’s been emotional.

It was the first day I’ve had free in longer than I can remember. I started the day with a to-do list, that never got done. The first thing that happened was that I opened my computer to check my facebook page. I was intending to get back on top of my Charles Dickens Project, which has been woefully neglected while we were busy renovation the mill house (not that we will ever be done renovating).

I came upon a link to a blog written by a mother, who right now is sitting next to her little boy, Ben, waiting for his last breath. She’s struggling with how to help her other children (including Ben’s identical twin brother) cope, when she’s not sure how she will cope. The words brought every memory and emotion back like it was only yesterday when I was doing the same thing.

The logical part of me screamed to turn the computer off. I had no delusions that I could read her blog and not bawl my eyes out. I read every post, from his diagnosis until today. Today, when all that was left was pain medications, holding hands, and waiting.

But that wasn’t all. I lost all ambition to do anything I had planned for today and stayed glued to my computer and read more stories.

One was of a 13 year old girl in Illinois, who carried her twin sister on her back for 370 meters after her sibling collapsed during a track meet. Helping her sister to finish the race meant ending any chances of finishing with a medal for herself. More tears for me.

I watched a video in which a sportscaster expressed his disgust for the uproar over Michael Sam. It was nice to see the support for a nice young man, who simply shared his joy of getting drafted into the NFL with the person he loves most. Best of luck to you, Michael. For every negative comment I saw, I read many more positive ones. The video showed a clip of Michael in tears. I joined him.

I watched an episode of Dancing With The Stars in which Paralympian Amy Purdy danced better than I could ever dream of dancing. Amy lost both her legs from the knee down after nearly losing her life to meningitis at the age of 19. She received a standing ovation.Yep, I cried.

I even teared up over Clydesdales. Yes, the horses, the ones made famous by Budweiser. I watched a video in which the Budweiser team was involved in an accident where the harness apparatus broke while the team was moving in a tight circle. It resulted in several of the horses falling down. Being extremely well trained, the rest of the horses stayed calm. The ones on the ground stayed down, keeping still, instead of struggling to get up. All of them were still tethered together. Had any of the horses panicked, the ones that were down would have been trampled. The handlers ran out and carefully untangled the mess. When the last horse stood back up, unharmed, they too received a standing ovation.

I made sure to dry my tears, and clean up a bit before my husband got home. I could hear him in my mind saying “Why read those stories if they make you cry?” and “You’re just wasting your time when you could be getting something done.” What he doesn’t realize is that I was getting something done. I was experiencing a range of emotions that inspired me to do some writing. Nothing big, just a couple of pages. Maybe they will grow into something, and maybe they won’t. Even if they only stay a couple of pages stored on my hard drive, the feelings I went through today: heart break, pride, joy, relief, will all come into play one day. I will draw on those feelings when I need to have a character face a loss, or watch a child do something extraordinary, or overcome a challenge.

All of these stories had happiness and sadness in them. The mother who was losing her son, took joy in her other children and in her faith. The girl who helped her sister may have lost her race, but she won so much more. The young athlete, who is facing bigotry and hate, is also being surrounded by love and support. The woman who has lost both her legs has proven that grace comes from within. What looked to be a horrific accident, showed what even animals can do when they trust the people who have cared for them.

This is how I learn to write better. I take in all I can, even if it’s painful. I let myself laugh, and yes, cry. I learn by living and also by observing other’s lives. And despite what my husband might think, or that long list of jobs that has to wait for another day –  I didn’t waste my time. Without even getting out of my pajamas, I had a very productive day. When you’re a writer, no moment is wasted.

Update: Little Ben passed away only a few days later, at home, surrounded by those who love him. Rest in peace, Ben, and all the best wishes for peace and strength to your family.

Still Writing



As you know, things have been quiet when it comes to my writing. Some days it makes my stomach clench so hard, I feel nauseous. I wish I had time to write, but at the moment renovating our old house has to be the priority. I keep trying to hold on to the image of my soon-to-be office, complete with antique fireplace, where I can finally settle in and get back to the thing that makes me happiest. When people ask me how my writing’s going, it feels like I have to admit to a horrible crime. I don’t even like to admit to myself that I haven’t written anything in months, much less to anyone else. It’s not like I’m not writing because I’ve lost inspiration, I just don’t have the time right now.

Today, I made the realization, that although, on the outside, it seems as though I’m not writing, I am actually writing – everyday.

When I first started writing, I read every book I could find on how to write. Most books on writing are little more than those motivational speakers that corporate CEO’s hire to try to increase productivity in their employees. They say things like “just write,” and “anyone with a pen can write.” And then there’s the practical advice like “show don’t tell.” While all of these statements are true, it’s too abstract to someone who has never written before. I   remember wondering what the heck “show don’t tell” meant. I had no clue how to do that. Aren’t you supposed to “tell” a story? I didn’t need a cheerleader, I needed a tutor.

Every once in a while, I’d find a small nugget of information that would actually help me. One such nugget was the suggestion that the prospective writer, sit in a room and, in their head, describe their surroundings. Of course I started out with green curtains and beige walls, but that was pretty boring. Over time my descriptions became more detailed and creative until I was trying to describe how the sunlight shining through the window was like a stage light on tiny dust dancers as they pirouetted through the air. It was great practice, and I did it every chance I could.

Driving to work on a foggy day, I’d see the fog as a cold dark creature, clawing at the earth, trying to hold on and fend off the approaching sunrise. I saw the rain as tears washing away the sorrow of loss.

At first I would rush to write down my thoughts, but this broke the spell, and everything that had been on the tip of my tongue one moment, would vanish. Now I realize that Allen Ginsberg’s motto “first thought, best thought” is accurate. The thought is good, but not necessarily the exact words. So now I just let the words flow through my mind. When the time comes that I need to describe fog, or rain in a story, I can think back to that moment and the feelings that the event evoked, and come up with even better words. Perhaps my character would see the fog with a sense of security, as a place to hide from terror, instead of a horrible creature.

It was just this morning, when I was reading a story that brought tears to my eyes, that I realized I still do this without even consciously thinking about it. I was fighting the tears, with that familiar burn in my eyes and lump in my throat. But that’s how everyone describes the feeling of struggling not to cry. So in my mind, I wrote. I wrote what I felt. It took a moment for me to recognize what I was doing. It made me smile. It turns out I never stopped writing after all.

Merry Christmas of Olde

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Happy Christmas,  Hanukkah,  Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Saturnaliatreecrop, or whatever it is you celebrate in your heart this holiday season!

At our house – well the one we’re living in – Christmas is a rather quiet affair. With moving boxes in every corner, it didn’t make much sense to pull out all the decorations. That didn’t mean we’re ignoring the holiday all together. We moved a little Arborvitae into our living room and put some lights and small ornaments on it. Add a star on the top, and we have a Christmas tree that can move to the mill house with us come spring.

We have finally closed on both the purchase of the  Monches Mill House, and the sale of our current home. We’re renting from our home’s new owner while working on renovations on the mill house.  That didn’t keep me from doing some decorating though! The day we closed, I ran over to the mill house to put up some outdoor decorations. I think I had a need to mark my territory. Mother nature added her own frosty decorations! Who needs fake icicle lights?  Even unoccupied, the house looks like a Christmas card!


Not only is the work on the mill house, and the packing up of our belongings keeping me occupied, but I also launched a Christmas program that I’m doing at bookstores and libraries. It’s a presentation on the history of Charles Dickens, his book “A Christmas Carol,” and how it affected the Christmas we celebrate today.

Along with my verbal presentation, I put up a display.





I also served Wassail and a variety of Dickensian Christmas treats.  The candied orange peel was the favorite of kids and adults, alike.







As were the Shrewsbury Cakes!





3/4 cup butter, softened

1 1/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 tsp. grated orange peel

2 tsp. vanilla

2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

extra sugar

Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg, orange peel and vanilla.

Stir in flour and salt to make a stiff dough.

Wrap dough in wax paper. Chill for several hours or overnight.

Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls. Roll balls in sugar.

Arrange balls 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Flatten the balls gently with bottom of a small glass.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Our Christmas may be quiet this year – but it’s still filled with traditions of old.  Just wait until next year – I’ll be pulling out all the stops to celebrate our first real Christmas in the mill house!

I hope your holiday is a happy and healthy one, whether large or small, contemporary or traditional, and I hope your new year brings you all the best!