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Autumn Colors: “Brightness falls from air.”

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Last week’s wind and rain may  have stripped many local trees of their brilliant foliage, but some golds, rusts, chartreuses, and even scarlets still hang on.  Maybe you would like to enjoy some of that local “color” in its prime?  Yang and I did some traveling around New England, which I will try to document in later blogs.  Still, there were some exciting colors in my own neighborhood.

The colors came a little slowly, at first.  Here, you can see two Mourning Doves enjoying the slow change coming to the distant hills in central Mass.  It was so nice to  be able to look out my bedroom window every morning and enjoy the gradual change form soft to brilliant colors.

I love that you can see not only the varied fall leaves in some photos, but that others let you see the contrast of pure blue October sky with those reds, golds, and rusts.  And note the clouds, white with slate grey outline, racing across the soft blue.  Such a brisk and enlivening day in the weather as well as in the visuals!

Look at this gorgeous blend of colors!  The green firs contrast with the wine of the Japanese Maple, while soft orange segues into a somber rust.

 

 

This Swamp Maple is now almost entirely denuded, having dumped an intimidating load of raking in almost one night.  However, earlier, it was slowly turning this luscious orange gold, so different from what you might usually expect from a Swamp Maple.  When we first moved here, the Swamp Maples all turned a soft lemony yellow, but for some reason their leaves have been morphing  almost as fiery as a Sugar Maple.  Climate change?  Soil changes?  Anyone know?

Speaking of Sugar Maples, every morning, I woke to see ours turn, first, into  flame, then, slowly, into a mellow apricot.  Then with the big storms, I saw it turn nude.  Here’s the tree in its softer hued phase.

Looking down our street, you can see all the most wonderful fall colors come into play. The scarlet of sumac and flame bushes.  The dark rusty red of other trees and the metamorphosis of green into orange glory.  The sky provides a soft azure complement to the color palette.

And here are just some lovely shots for you to enjoy.

Until next year?

Adventures at Tower Hill

Last Sunday, I managed to take a day off from working on novel #4 to join my two buddies MaryLynn Saul and Judy Jeon-Chapman for a lovely nature walk.  Judy suggested that we visit Tower Hill Botanic Garden in  Boylston, Ma – one of my favorite places. We also met Judy’s friend, the bubbly Christina, along the way – who shared a lovely picture of the four of us with me.  In addition to wonderful plants and flowers, the Garden also has intriguing wind sculptures integrated into the greenery (amongst other colors). You can see one example behind MaryLynn and Judy here.
I also couldn’t help photographing some flowers that intrigued me, though there are too many to record.  But I do love the blue color of these lovely blossoms.  Are they large Forget-Me-Nots?  I’d love to have them in my garden.  I think they like shade.  I was also delighted to see these brilliantly scarlet flowers.  I had posted photos I’d seen of similar flowers when on a bike ride once, in hopes of getting an identification.  Several of my friends pronounced them Cardinal Flowers, and the card underneath these confirmed that i.d.  Problem solved!

 

The Gardens also possess a lovely wooded trail, filled with artfully placed sculpture that make you feel as if you had wandered into a Renaissance pastoral play or novel.  Here’s Cupid, ready to fire off his arrows to spark the typical green- world love tangles. The glorius rays of the sun glint through the leaves, but will not burn us
An ancient Greek warrior peers out at us from the lost past, before this return to the Golden Age when honey and acorns dropped from trees.
Enjoy the ruins in which to recline and play your pipes or sigh away the hours in languid otium.

Gracefully sculpted urns are always conducive to pastoral ease – especially if they might hold delectable libation – and I’m not talking Moxie here.
My fellow mystery readers and writers might look at this picture and question, “What’s this?!  What are they looking at?! Trouble in paradise?  A murdered corpse discovered in the woods?”  Sorry, mystery lovers.  It was just a sign about fairies in the woods.  If it makes you feel better, maybe they’re referring to traditional Medieval and Renaissance Fairies.  Like this!
We also found this lovely rotunda with the words “Peace” inscribed on it.  I thought it would be hilariously ironic for MaryLynn and I to stand under the word and pretend to strangle each other – she and Judy decided otherwise.  Not everyone shares the Healy sense of humor. So, here you have a nice picture of MaryLynn and I before the structure, me holding the dahlias that Judy had purchased from the Dahlia Show that day. They actually go with my blouse.

 

 

All images,  from author’s collection except:

1.the header from Christine Yen

2) the public domain image of the deamon fairy from:  https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/fantasies-evil-spirits-faeries-medieval-imagination-007445

Partners in Glorious Music: Scherrie and Susaye

Maybe it was because I had the great pleasure of seeing Scherrie and Susaye of the Supremes with Joyce Vincent in Waltham this summer, but when I finally had a chance to work on a post and needed some enjoyable background music, I turned to Partners.  This album is a 1979  joint effort by Scherrie Payne and Susaye Greene after Mary Wilson departed the Supremes in 1978.  The ladies were originally planned to continue  the Supremes with Joyce Vincent, but word is that the kibosh was put on the group continuing without an original member.  As a result, we have this delightful and highly underappreciated production of Scherrie and Susaye (with Joyce in there on backup).  This album should not be missed by anyone who is a fan of the ladies or loves good soulful and bluesy music.  Significantly, Scherrie and Susaye wrote all the songs on the album, providing us with great dance tunes, lovely ballads, dreamy love songs, and playful exercises in vocal pleasure.  You can’t help wondering what would have happened if Scherrie and Susaye had been allowed to write for the Supremes and Mary had stayed.
Anyway, I have some especial favorites.  Susaye’s “Lovebug” is an impish delight with her vocally ranging from kittenish to tigerish,  neatly assisted by Ray Charles as the “Lovebug,” himself.  I find her “When the Day Comes every Evening”  beautifully dreamy.  I also love the exciting bounce of “In the Night,”  “Leaving Me Was the Best Thing You’ve Ever Done” and “I Found Another Love.” Scherrie Payne’s “Another Life from Now” is powered by deep feeling and deft vocalizing that gives me chills, while breaking my heart at the message of lost love with hope for reunion only in another life from now: delicious melancholy.  This is not to say that I don’t love the other songs, but these ones stick in my head the best.  So, if you want your soul to make you bounce or groove or dream, this album is for you.  Unfortunately, although  it is now out on cd, it is exorbitantly expensive on Amazon.  However, there are reasonably priced vinyl versions available on ebay. Click here.
Isn’t it wonderful that Scherrie and Susaye are back together – and touring and recording with Joyce?  Go to their web site for more info.
Album cover:  By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6969828
Photos of Scherrie and Susaye, author’s collection, (c) Motown Records, 1979

Charles Island: Haunting and Serene

The ground may be covered with snow right now, but it wasn’t so long ago that Yang and I had an autumn day at the beach.  Of course, it was kind of a gothic day at the beach because we were visiting one of the famous Five Ruins of Connecticut, The Aquinas Retreat at Charles Island.
We hadn’t planned on starting the grand tour, but our love of ruins has already taken us to two of the locations in the set. I  posted our earlier visit to Hearthstone Castle in Danbury, CT. So, that Sunday afternoon, we trekked down to Milford, CT to finally get the chance to travel the tombolo out across the bay to

the island.  This trip had been on our agenda for years, but getting to the island is no easy feat – not because of  reefs, pirates, or sea monsters, though.  The ocean only subsides from the tombolo  during low tide and this land path  is only dry and clear enough when the moon and sun exert their strongest gravitational pull.  On top of that, colonies of egrets and cranes nest on the island from April until September, so the Wildlife Service has deemed Charles Island off limits during that time.
There’s a legend about the island holding  Captain Kidd’s hidden treasure, but the treasure we found were beautiful ocean scenes and fun walking and exploring the edges of the island that has a circumference of a bout a mile.  The going could be a bit rocky and uneven when you start out counterclockwise, but you get to enjoy the gorgeous ocean bay as much as do the lounging cormorants.

 

Then there are the ruins of the Aquinas Retreat Center.  Not many extensive ruins  to find.  Built in 1929 by the Dominican Fathers as a lay retreat, it was abandoned by 1938.  Perhaps storms or difficult access for supplies undermined its success. At this point, there are barely the scraps of stone and mortar outlines left to some out buildings and small towers.

There was also one lovely archway. I wonder if this structure could be the remains of an entrance to a chapel or shrine.

 

This space must have been a wonderful location for contemplation and communing with God through nature amidst the calls of wild birds, the surge of waves, and the rush of wind.

We also saw some nice smaller birds on the island.  Yang got a great shot of an Eastern Kingbird.

And while I was watching birds, Yang was watching me!

It was such a lovely, warm and sunny fall afternoon.  There were families and young and old couples, also making the circuit of the island, but never so many you’d feel crowded – and the cormorants didn’t seem to mind.

Say, what do you think of this place for setting a mystery novel?  In the 1860s, there was resort here.  Maybe Jessica and James need a vacation, or Liz needs a retreat – Naagh, no shopping!

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.

garden3

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.
hawk3

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Dustyc