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Fall Preveiw

People have been a bit sad over the ending of summer, but we’re forgetting the glorious colors of autumn.  Already some of the trees, vines, and bushes are shifting into hues of scarlet, maroon, gold, orange, brilliant yellow.  And don’t forget the breathtaking contrast with the pellucid blue skies of the season.  So, I thought you might like a little preview of the beauties in store for us, courtesy of the reservoir in West Boylston and the hills around my home.

 

 

Right across the street from the stone church in West Boylston are some wonderful trails through the woods and around the reservoir.  You can enjoy the calming umbers of fallen leaves in this flowing brook, with just a highlight of pine and hemlock green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or maybe you’re looking for something to make your eyes pop!  Like the scarlet magnificence of this beauty, exquisitely contrasting with the greens shading into yellow, blending with the fiery oranges bursting from yellow – all against the compliment of that pure October sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 Here is a more individualized look at one of those green-morphing-yellow tress. A maple, maybe?  First the long shot.

 

 

 

 

Now, she’s ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille!

 

 

Perhaps most beautiful of all is this panorama of the brilliant hues on the opposite shore, across an arm of the reservoir.  Breathtaking, right?
And of course it’s no fun to take a walk through all this gorgeous scenery without someone to share it!  Here’s my special companion.  I’ll bet you can guess who.And look at that warm coat!  Do you still remember how it feels to have a little nip in the air?
I don’t even have to go far from home to enjoy the fall finery.  Look at some of the trees surrounding where I live.

 

 

Finally, there’s that wonderful October sky, pure blue with the graceful swirl of silver, grey, and white clouds.  So, the coming autumn isn’t that bad, after all, is it?

 

Talking about Writing

I was fortunate to be on two panels last week to talk about writing.  The first was sponsored by the Worcester Women’s History Project, a wonderful group that provides great programs to teach us about the history of women in and around Worcester in all facets of life.  Check out their web site for some of the intriguing lectures, films, gatherings, etc. that they hold.  My panel was called Women in Print, and I was on the bill with Thea Aschkenase, and Stacy Amaral.  Thea spoke on her memoir as a survivor of Nazi persecutions and life in a concentration camp, while Stacy shared with us  on the rich blend voices singing from various immigrant ethnic communities in her  book of interviews with Worcester citizens.  I’m afraid, I was a bit humbled by their inspiring topics, but I think I could speak to the inspiration of earlier generations, on film and in real life, for people to open their minds and hearts. I was happy to pay special tribute to my parents, who taught me not only responsibility and respect for others, but to follow my dreams.  And, yes, Yang did make the dress I’m wearing!

On Sunday, we took a lovely drive up to Arlington Vermont for me to join the Sisters in Crime New England panel, “The Modern Heroine.”  The Martha Canfield Library is a lovely, cozy place, nestled in a valley and surrounded by beautiful Vermont mountains struggling toward green as the weather warms. As you can see, we still had some snow! The people at the library welcomed us and even provided a lovely cake to celebrate 30 years of Sisters in Crime.  I joined forces with Ellen Berkeley Perry and Coralie Jensen.  We had a wonderful group of people, of almost twenty, I think.  They asked intelligent questions about writing and developing characters.  Though my novel, set in the 1940s, might not have a, technically, modern heroine, I couldn’t help pointing out that the modern qualities of intelligence, wit, independence, determination, courage, and responsibility were strong, not only in the films of Joan Bennett, Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, and others but in the real, rather than reel, lives of women who worked in factories and offices, raised children, nursed on the battlefield, or ferried planes. It was a fun experience – and I even sold some books!

Halloween Reading Treats!

Every October, I like to have some bedtime reading that suits the season.  I just finished two new books:  Midnight Fires and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.  The first is a mystery by Nancy Means Wright that features Mary Wollstonecraft as its intrepid detective.  marywollstonecraftaWollstonecraft is a great choice for the role, as anyone who has read her Vindications would agree that she has all the nerve, smarts, and wit to boldly ask the questions and dig the dirt necessary for an investigator.  Her being cast in this role makes perfect sense. The novel is set during Wollstonecraft’s tenure as governess to the aristocratic Kingsborough family in Ireland and does a neat job of characterizing “the troubles.”  We also get good views of the workings of the Kingsborough family, as well as how contemporary views of women have stunted and warped them – right in line with MW’s own writings.  The descriptions of the landscapes are a pleasure to read as well.  Not least of all, the mystery has some neat twists and turns.

 

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was a pleasantly amusing visit with the supernatural – a low key, smile-inducing progress of Lucy/Lucia Muir’s liberation from oppressive Edwardian propriety to become a mischievous, independent woman – with a little help from a frank and fiery sea captain’s ghost – though she was already well on her way to freedom before they met at Gull Cottage.ghost-tierney-really-good  There are some significant changes from book to film, but both work equally well.  I do think that Gene Tierney gives Lucia Muir a bit more power than the character in the book.

 

 

There are four books that I usually return to once I finish any new prizes for the month:  The Uninvited (Dorothy Mcardle), The Sign of the Ram (Margaret Ferguson), The Undying Monster (Jessie Douglas Kerriush), and  Redeeming Time (me, unpublished – yet!).  What I admire in the first three (and try to emulate in the fourth), is the depth of characterization, the creation of a powerful mystical/eerie atmosphere, the vividness of the landscapes, and the intelligence of the storylines. signoftheram What makes them such a pleasure to read is their authors’ deftness with language:  there’s enough detail to savor and shape your imagination but no excess or filler.  Right now, I’m working on The Uninvited.  I review it and The Sign of the Ram on this web site, under Golden Age MysteriesThe Undying Monster is part of the psychic detective genre, with a woman psychic brought in to help a scientist uncover the nature of the beast that has ravaged an ancient British family for centuries and now threatens to destroy his two close friends.  The novel deftly captures the post WWI fascination with psychic phenomenon and leads characters and readers into the dark depths of ancient ruins, crypts, and family history to reach a final, mystical resolution – and it’s a fun ride!

What’s Redeeming Time about?  Think H. P. Lovecraft meets film noir meets Indiana Jones meets Val Lewton.

Image of Gene Tierney from The Ghost and Mrs. Muir copyright 1946, 20th-Century Fox (http://classicbeckybrainfood.blogspot.com/2010/08/just-thought.html)

Late Summer Birds and Flora

 

Summer is almost officially past, so I’m posting some images from my gardens.  We have three kinds of morning glories flowering in our yard.  We’d have four, if the large blue ones would flower,garden1 but they won’t.  So, we have some deep purple, some magenta, and some orchid ones.  I don’t know all the names of the types, but they are lovely.  Every year, I collect the seeds from these flowers to replant them in the spring.  Sometimes, we get some interesting hybrids.  I managed to get pictures of one of my favorites.  Sometimes the orchid morning glories will sport a  broad, deep purple  stripe, as you see here. garden2 The seeds will actually reflect the  combined types.  Orchid seeds are cream colored and purple or magenta ones are black.  These hybrid seeds are usually cream with a black stripe.  Sometimes, the orchid ones will also blend with the magenta to produce a pink flower.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the one pink flower I’ve seen so far, but I did tag the flower so that I can retrieve the seeds.

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The birds have also been having a grand time in our yard.  We’ve seen lots of cardinals, garden5including the Daddy Cardinal taking the kids out for dinner.  We also have Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, scads of Gold Finches and Purple Finches, Chickadees, Titmice, and Nuthatches.  I even saw a hummingbird three times this year!  One time was in early September!  The young gentleman Coopers Hawks have since taken offhawk1 and rarely visit now.  We named them Shawn and Gus – I know you know that I AM telling the truth about that!  In this picture, you can see one hawk in the foreground and if you look carefully, the other is in silhouette in the triangle of railings on the right.
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The drought has certainly left my pumpkins gasping for life.  I’ve seen so many pumpkin and gourd embryos wither and die.  Still, some made it. garden10 Here is an odd shaped pumpkin, which some critter took a chunk out of.  Still, the pumpkin lives and now resides on my sideboard in the dining room.  The pumpkin below isn’t a rogue that needs to be caged to protect the other flora and fauna. The vine climbed over the garden fence and the pumpkin embryo became fertilized hanging over the outside of the garden.  Since we found evidence of some creature trying to dig into the garden,  we developed protective caging from milk cartons. garden7 The ploy worked, for this pumpkin matured and now resides in state on the what-not table in my parlor.  You can also see a crown of thorns embryo ready to flower and be fertilized.  The good news is that this little guy is happily growing away.  Maybe I’ll have some more pictures of it later.  garden9
Here are some of our eggplants and peppers. These guys were delicious!  Yang can cook!  So, I guess the drought didn’t totally blacken my green thumb.garden8

 

What a Character!

TouchPoint Press

By J.L. Salter

 

Let’s talk characters.

As writers, sometimes we’ll see a person or hear a conversation which triggers an entire scene in our manuscript. Join me in this [real life] grocery experience from a few years ago:

——

Selected the slow line, as usual.  The transacting party bought 31 cans of baby formula … had to send someone ‘to the back’ to get a case.  In the meantime, the young clerk waved one can by the scanner 31 times.

The woman in front of me was very obviously irritated.  [I’d seen her in the cheese section earlier … and she was equally annoyed with dairy products.]  Her phone rang twice while we waited and she was rather terse with both callers.  The terse woman had a medium sized cucumber among many other items.  I noticed only because it had no sticker and ‘our’ clerk had to ask a…

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All Hail Dusty!

Dusty, the feline star of my novel Bait and Switch, is based on a cat with whom I grew up.Dustyk

Dusty came into my life as a kitten when I was seven years old, and despite my occasional lapses of trying to saddle her with tack from my toy horse, Thunderhead, we were actually great pals. Dustye Especially since I would sit through thunderstorms when she hid behind the couch and try to calm to her.  I’m afraid singing was involved, but unlike Rosalind, she didn’t think my singing suggested I was in pain.

 

Dusty gets credit for inspiring what may actually have been my first venture into literature:  writing her biography, illustrated with pictures from a Purina Cat Chow book on cats.  It was mercifully short.  However, I did learn that Dusty was a silver or grey tabby from my research.

 

Inspiring the wise aleck attitude of her literary incarnation in Bait and Switch, the real Dusty was quite the character. Dustya Not only a top-flight mouser (which will come into greater play in the third Jessica Minton novel), Dusty also taught the neighbor’s dog an important lesson in inter-yard relations.  As my mother related the story, Spot (there’s an original name) had a bad habit of chasing Dusty, until one day her nibs stopped short, turned around, and, as if to embody that she’d had it with being a victim, unleashed her very sharp claws right across her pursuer’s nose.  He never bothered her again –– even though she would occasionally sit on her side of the fence between our yards and do the cat version of “Nyah-yah!”

 

She also was undeniably the boss of us. Dustyi If my brother or I spent too much time late at night sitting, talking in a car with our friends outside the house, Dusty would circle the vehicle growling, until we got out.  Then she would march us to the back door and into the house, before she galloped off to handle the rest of her catlly night duties.  Humans are so hard to take care of!

 

Also like her name sake in Bait and Switch, Dusty was quite the gourmand.  She also delighted in Polish ham, liverwurst, or fresh turkey and chicken.  Dusty additionally had some more unusual tastes for a feline:  peach ice cream; potato chips;  Dustydand, as you see here, corn still on the cob.   Note that her place setting has four bowls:  water, milk, and two types of cat food!

And woe to you if you didn’t feed her fast enough. My sister-in-law Dusty2 Pam got a sound smack on the hand once for not moving that chicken with sufficient alacrity.

 

Dusty may have had a secret scandalous life.  She did give birth to three kittens (Tiger Butterball, Jr; Mitzi Gaynor; and Midnight –– I didn’t name them!). Dustyf We also suspected she might have had a drinking problem.

 

 

 

 

All in all, Dusty was a dear and sympathetic pal, Dustyjgoing for walks with me in the yard, nuzzling me when I was down, playing with me when I needed some exercise.  She lived all the way up to sixteen, one day waiting for my mother to come home before taking her leave and making a final journey to the great beyond.  I have many more stories about her to tell, so mayhap we can have some more Dusty blogs.  I would love it if anyone else who remembers Dusty would share.  I just hope my novels are a fitting tribute to a truly cool cat!

 

 

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October Images Part Two

It’s December today, but we have no glittering snow icing, cool blue in the shade or soft pink in the sunset.  Just dead, crusty leaves and bare, scraggly branches.  So, how about one last lingering look at October’s brilliance?  These shots are from two trips, one afoot and one a-wheel!
Yang and I found a new bicycle ride outside of Boston, The Neponset River Trail, which runs along the river out to the Blue Hills.  Here is a portion that cuts along and across a canal (via a bridge of course!).  Neponset1The trees look striking, reflected in the water, and must provide a lovely view to people living in the mill converted to apartments.

 

 

We started the ride from Pope John Paul Park, Neponset2where the river is almost an estuary.  If you ride away from Milton, the river broadens and becomes tumultuous as it races toward the ocean.  Neponset4

 

 

 

 

 

 That’s not in any of these shots, though.

 

Neponset3Yang had a good time! We both had to pause for a rest on the way back!

 

 

 

 

Our other recorded trip was to the wilds of the forested hills of Leicester.Spidergate1 It was a lovely Friday afternoon, shortly after Yang got out of classes.  The colors here were a blend of yellow and toasted orange. Spidergate2

 

 

 

 

 

Spidergate4The red golds of autumn were not yet lying in the gutter dead (tip o’ the hat to Graeme Edge).
The hat in this shot would be my marine blue beret, which I bought in France last spring.  Spidergate3As long as we’re on international wardrobe, my in-laws from China gave me the coat when I visited them last autumn.

 

 

Delving into the woods, we came across the backwash from a pond.  Spidergate6The autumn sky’s pellucid blue is such a striking complement to green pines and the fall colors.

 

 

 

Hiking back to our car along the road, the evening began to close in, so that the last flare of the sun created a vibrant flame of color in the  trees.Spidergate7

 

 

 

 

 

All that tramping and beauty makes a body hungry.  So Yang and I repaired to Le Mirage for sustenance. As you can see, Mr. Piranha made short work of his meal.
Spidergate8 Sadly, this was the last night of this wonderful restaurant.  Le Mirage is now closed, and so  lovely meals, good times, and good friends are now relegated to memories. Much thanks to Diane, her family, and her staff.

October Images

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This past week has given us a great deal of ugliness – and beauty, too, in the responses of support for those who have been attacked but not necessarily bowed.  Here is a little bit of beauty from New England sent out to all the world in hopes of giving some comfort, distraction, happiness.  Please enjoy.

 

First, I have images from our bicycle ride in Cheshire, Connecticut.  I saw plenty of remarkable birds. Cheshire6 Here is a neat shot of a Great Blue Heron.  He blends in with the leaves, doesn’t he? We were so fortunate  to get this close a shot.

 

 

 

We also saw this neat flock of mallards enjoying a swim together in the canal next to the trail. Cheshire2
This was one of the several pairs.  Clearly honeys.  The foregrounded leaves of salmon to yellow emerging from green captures fall elegance.Cheshire1
The same couple swim toward some delicate red berries.  The lady duck seems to have an itchy tootsie.Cheshire4
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a shot of the most exciting bird of the day.  A Piliated Woodpecker!  Those guys are gigantic! PileatedWoodpeckerOnLog1 Like pteranodons!  I don’t have a picture of my own, so I am borrowing a photo (with proper accreditation).  This guy was bigger than the large crows with whom he/she was tussling.  I would that I could have gotten close enough with my camera.  So, thank you Andrew Brown at Wikipedia.
Our October holiday weekend took us on plenty of day trips.  Columbus1On our drive home from a rail trail ride, Yang brought us through Stafford, Ct. where we stopped at sunset for these gorgeous colors.

 

 

The reflections of the fiery maples and oaks on the pond at sunset were magnificent!Columbus2

 

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HereColumbus6 are Yang and I in some pictures, so you know we were really here to take the photos.

 

 

 

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What a lovely bouquet of all the lushest fall colors.Columbus7
I have some more pix, but I don’t want anyone to pass out from foliage overdose – so I’ll save them for a Part 2.

Sharon and Yang Improve the Breed

Suffolk Downs was one of the premier race tracks of New England for the twentieth century.  For something like sixty or seventy years, some of the finest thoroughbreds competed there:  War Admiral, Seabiscuit, Stymie, Top Row, Menow, War Relic, Crimson Satan, Riva Ridge, Lost Code, Mom’s Command, Waquiot, and Cigar.  Sadly, it was the last of the New England tracks to close, in 2014.  Happily, though, the track has been re-opened this fall for three racing dates.  My husband and I had the pleasure of going to the track on the second date, October 3.

Here you see me checking out the odds Suffolk1before inspecting the horses.  As an aside, the beret came from my trip to France last spring.

 

 

 

 

My pick for the first race we watched, the 6th, was this gorgeous dark bay filly, Blessed at Mass.  Suffolk2She looked so much like one of my favorites, Damascus, that I had to put two dollars on her nose.

 

 

 

Unfortunately, she didn’t run like Damascus.  She may have been blessed at mass, but not so much in the race.  Suffolk10Cosmo Storm stormed through to win.

 

 

 

 

Oh, well . . .  DSCN2287

 

She looked so good in the post parade!Suffolka

As did her competitors

Suffolk4  Flashy Ross

 

Campion Lane  Suffolk3

 

 

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Pistol Smoke

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In 8th, I was taken by a beautiful bay mare named Zabeta.  Gorgeous, isn’t she? Suffolk14

As a Renaissance scholar, how could I go wrong playing a horse with the nick name of Queen Elizabeth I?  Here I am; the bet has been placed!Suffolk11

 

 

 

 

 

They’re Off!Suffolk13And so was Zabeta.  She came in fourth.

 

The Last Dance Stakes featured a horse named Victor Lazlo, who had won this stakes race the past two years.

Suffolk15 A consecutive winner and named for Paul Henreid’s character in Casablanca?  How could we miss?

A horse named Im Kwik lived up to his name, that’s how.Suffolk17

 

 

 

 

I think Victor took off in the opposite direction with Rick.

Ah well, after an exciting day at the track, the Yangs have to replenish their energies with dinner at Caffe Bella Vita in Boston.  DSCN2331The cappuccino was as yummy as the huge chicken salad sandwich, which I couldn’t finish.

But Yang finished it for me AFTER scarfing up his beloved linguini and meatballs. DSCN2332 It’s like being married to a pirahna!

Beijing Arboretum

One of my favorite places on our trip to China in November ’14 was the Beijing DSCN1267Arboretum next to Xiang Shan (Fragrant Hill, 香山).  We arrived there after a long, traffic-packed drive from the city and got a second dose of autumn colors.

There were plenty of paths to hike amongst the trees and plenty of critters and birds about, including the ever-present magpies and azure winged magpies.  There were also many Great Tits (like our Chickadees) and sparrows – is there ANY place that isn’t over-run with sparrows?  Unfortunately, they were all too quick to allow any Dscn1270picture taking.  However, here’s a picture of Yang, who as just as charming to behold as any of our feathered friends.

The trails wended through wonderful pine and willow forests and up slopes of jagged rocks, at times past pavilions and monuments to students who had camped out and trained here to prepare to fight the Japanese during WWII. Dscn1277 Yang and I weren’t quite so tough.  Here, I’m giving my knee a rest (gardening injury), well-pleased with the scenery and the hiking. Aren’t the seats made from old red wood trees interesting?

There was also some unexpected forms of “wild life” in the park.  We came acrossDscn1273 well-fed dogs and cats, just chilling in the forest, part of the families of people who worked and lived at the park.  Here is a cat with a surprising resemblance to Winston Churchill.  He even miaowed gruffly!  Dig that expression.  Could it be a reincarnation?

A young Chinese girl and I had a laugh over how unique he appeared, and how nonchalant, in a gruff way, he was with humans.  When she said in English to me, “It’s a cat!” I meant to say “Dui” In Chinese, but my default mode slipped and I concurred, “Oui!”  We both had a chuckle.  Dscn1275I actually managed to converse a little with her in Chinese, saying that I liked cats and we had two at home.  That was as far as I could go in Chinese at that point, so we switched to English.  She and her boyfriend were a cute couple, so we took a picture of them with their camera and they took a picture of us with ours!

 

 

Dscn1278 When we came down the hill, we enjoyed the beautiful fall colors around us.

 

 

 

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Surprisingly, though there was lots of traffic coming out here, most people were visiting the nearby Xiang Shan parks.

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This little guy is called a Little Grebe (if you click on the picture, you can see him much better).

 

 

 

Here’s one more neat shot of the wonderful fall colors.  I understand that when there hasn’t been a drought, the colors are really gorgeous.

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Finally, I have to insert a picture of a creature we saw which really knocked Yang and I for a loop.  Like dopes, we didn’t take the camera out until he had scampered away.  So, this creature climbed out of the tangle of a twisted pine.  At first, I thought I was seeing a big black crow.  Then he settled on the ground and sat up.  I was flabbergasted!  It took a moment to figure out we were seeing a squirrel.  He poked around, looking for food, then sat eating for a bit, and finally scampered away by the time I realized we had a camera.  When we got back to the hotel, we checked him out on line.  I knew I’d seen pictures of this critttree squirel1er before, and discovered he was a Eurasian Red Squirrel – except he’s black.  Go figure.  Interestingly enough, I read that the black variety of squirrel thrives in pine forests better than its red brethren.   There’s plenty of pine in this place! tree squirrel4 Also, in China, the name for this type of guy is “Satan’s Squirrel.”  He is rather demonic looking, isn’t he?  Apparently, they are also bred commercially and sold as pets.

Getting home was almost as much of an adventure as the hike, what with overpacked buses – when they finally came.  What the heck!  When you have great company and beautiful weather and everyone’s in the same boat, er, bus, who cares!Dscn1272

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No copyright infringement intended, noncommercial use of photosTree Squirrel Photo 1: http://cutterlight.com/tag/hiking-near-ulaanbaatar/
Tree Squirrel Photo 2  Squirrel, Photo © Tim Edelsten on http://www.birdskorea.org/Birds/Birdnews/BK-BN-birdnews-2009-02.shtml