Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cute 'n Spooky

Here are two poems that seem appropriate for Halloween. The first is my own, one of the first I ever sold. The online magazine is now defunct, but the poem is cute. The second one has been around for quite a while and is much more disturbing. The language isn’t what we’d use so much anymore, but the creator tars everyone with the same brush. It’s a cautionary tale and sets a mood. Let me know what you think. 

Halloween Things
By Susan Sundwall

These are the things of Halloween
A ghost, a witch and Frankenstein green

A pumpkin, a bat and a bushy tailed cat
Big brother Tom in his old wizard hat

Knocking at doorsteps all down the street
to fill up our bags with good things to eat

Hey, there’s Billy Taylor dressed like a ghost
Stuffed full of pillows, he’s fatter than most

We’re lucky we didn’t see Sally Ann Green
They say that she’s really a vampire queen

A night full of laughter, thrills, chills and pleasure
‘Til we drag ourselves home and lay out our treasure

It’s spooky and silly and great gobs of fun
Oh how I hate to see Halloween done 


A Texas cowboy lay down on a barroom floor,
 Having drunk so much he could drink no more;
 So he fell asleep with a troubled brain
 To dream that he rode on a hell-bound train.
The engine with murderous blood was damp
 And was brilliantly lit with a brimstone lamp;
 An imp, for fuel, was shoveling bones,
 While the furnace rang with a thousand groans.

The boiler was filled with lager beer
 And the devil himself was the engineer;
 The passengers were a most motley crew-
 Church member, atheist, Gentile, and Jew,
Rich men in broad cloth, beggars in rags,
 Handsome young ladies, and withered old hags,
 Yellow and black men, red, brown, and white,
 All chained together-O God, what a sight!
While the train rushed on at an awful pace-
 The sulphurous fumes scorched their hands and face;
 Wider and wider the country grew,
 As faster and faster the engine flew.
 Louder and louder the thunder crashed
 And brighter and brighter the lightning flashed;
Hotter and hotter the air became
 Till the clothes were burned from each quivering frame.

 And out of the distance there arose a yell,
 "Ha, ha," said the devil, "we're nearing hell"
Then oh, how the passengers all shrieked with pain
 And begged the devil to stop the train.
 But he capered about and danced for glee,
 And laughed and joked at their misery.
 "My faithful friends, you have done the work
 And the devil never can a payday shirk.
 "You've bullied the weak, you've robbed the poor,
 The starving brother you've turned from the door;
 You've laid up gold where the canker rust,
 And have given free vent to your beastly lust.
 "You've justice scorned, and corruption sown,
 And trampled the laws of nature down.
 You have drunk, rioted, cheated, plundered, and lied,
And mocked at God in your hell-born pride.
 "You have paid full fare, so I'll carry you through,
 For it's only right you should have your due.
 Why, the laborer always expects his hire,
So I'll land you safe in the lake of fire,
"Where your flesh will waste in the flames that roar,
 And my imps torment you forevermore."
 Then the cowboy awoke with an anguished cry,
 His clothes wet with sweat and his hair standing high.
 Then he prayed as he never had prayed till that hour
 To be saved from his sin and the demon's power;
 And his prayers and his vows were not in vain,
For he never rode the hell-bound train.


Image: Salvatore Vuono                                              Free Digital Photos

Friday, October 25, 2013

Halloween Trivia Quiz

I’m not a huge fan of Halloween, now that I’m a grownup. But when I was a kid I loved it. Coming from a very poor family, the idea of knocking on doors and having strangers give me candy was beyond exciting. Never mind that my usual costume was a “bum” cobbled together from Dad’s old clothes. Mom did make me an angel costume once with coat hanger wings. Remember those? Anyway, let’s see how you do on this little trivia thingy I whipped up.

1.    Jack O’Lanterns originated in what country?
2.    The original spelling of the word, Hallowe’en, means what?
3.    Halloween was once considered a romantic holiday similar to Valentine’s Day. True or false?
4.    What day follows Halloween?
5.    “Trick or treat,” is a shortened version of what longer demand?
6.    What is the “witching hour?”
7.    What manner of soldier was the Headless Horseman?
8.    In 1974 the most popular politician mask was of what former president?
9.    Apples filled with razor blades and straight pins was a hoax. True or false?
10. October 31 is remembered by what Christian denomination as Reformation Day?

So, here are your answers and if I’ve blundered somewhere, don’t tell me. Like Charlie Brown when considering whether The Great Pumpkin is real – I don’t want to know (using my Eeyore voice).

1.    Ireland – Find out more here
2.    All Hallows Eve. Hallow means to make holy or sanctify.
3.    True. Take a look at some vintage postcards from the early 20th century. Many a young girl hoped to find her true love revealed on Halloween.
4.    All Saints (Hallows) Day, a day for remembering those who have died in the Christian faith.
5.    “Trick or treat, money or eats.” When we were very little we also added “give me something good to eat.” That was back in ancient times for some of you.
6.    Midnight, when witches, ghosts, and goblins are said to be most powerful.
7.    Hessian.
8.    Richard Nixon
9.    True. Mostly. Read this
10. Lutherans (of which I am one so I know these things.) The Protestant Reformation began on October 31, 1517, back when I was saying, “trick or treat, money or eats.”


Hope this was fun for you!



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Trouble With Vinyl

Years ago, when hubby and I were all excited about taking our almost 200 year old house and turning it into the showplace of the county, this thing I’m about to relate – happened. I still remember it with chagrin, but at the time I felt quite superior to – ahem – said hubby. I had a will and a friend who was a better all round handy person than anyone I ever knew. As a result, when she told me how to do this, I went in with a vengeance. Ready?

My husband had installed our new vinyl bathroom floor (see photo) and it looked great except for a couple of places where the lines in the pattern didn’t quite match up. If he had listened to me they would have. If only. My friend, Pam, had given me precise instructions for cutting patterned vinyl by overlapping two pieces slightly and using a utility knife to cut through both pieces making for an exact line match. I decided to show the man up and followed Pam’s instructions for the piece going down on the closet floor.

I hummed along. I went down on my knees. I had a sharp knife and, at the time, strong hands and an even stronger sense of righteousness. Okay, that sounds a little bit like I’m about to murder the floor, but you know what I mean. When we’re on the verge of showing someone up there’s a heightened sense of “I’ll show you!” and we can’t wait to do the deed. I lined up those two pieces, held them flat with a heavy wooden level, and with a few deft strokes of my utility knife had my two pieces cut. It was ridiculously easy.  

I pulled the pieces apart, stood up and gazed at perfection – kind of an Olympic downhill ski champion moment. Ya know? That is, until I went to lay the pieces down. My moment of glory swiftly faded when I realized I’d completely neglected to consider the small fleur de lei in alternate corners of the squares. When I pulled the pieces apart the lines were perfect but the fleurs were exactly one square off. I now had a half a fleur in every corner. Gaaa! I’d covered them up when I overlapped the pieces. Curse those fandangle, floozy, fleurs! (Channeling Yosemite Sam). I stood and stared at my careless blunder.

The tough, really tough, part was – that was the last of the vinyl. There would be no throwing away or hiding this mistake. I flailed around the room unable to come to grips with my own dunderheaded – ness. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I knew I had to confess.

After huffing and puffing for about a half an hour, I went all hang dog to the man and told him what I’d done. And take a wild guess what he said.

“I know just how you feel.”

So just pile it on. Rage or laughter would have been better. But empathy? Ugh. 

Every once in a while God grabs a hank of your hair, brings you nose to nose, and says, “What WERE you thinking?”

And every once in a while, you listen. So now I don’t do floors anymore, just windows. But if you can think of a way for me to screw those up, I’d be happy to stop doing those, too.

Anybody? Just give a shout. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Some Recipes for You

Okay, I haven’t done a recipe blog in a while. Yesterday, on Facebook, I mentioned we were having hamburger soup and homemade bread for supper. A friend saw it and asked me for the soup recipe. So I thought I’d post it here in case any of you are feeling “soupy” today or tomorrow or sometime this winter. I got the recipe from a lovely older woman at church – many years ago.

Hamburger Soup

1 lb. ground beef
5 cups water
1 16oz. can tomatoes
1 cup chopped onion - about two medium
2 medium carrots sliced
2 stalks celery chopped
1/3 cup barley
1/4 cup ketchup
1 t. instant beef granules (or bouillon cube)
2 t. seasoned salt
1 t. dried basil
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown meat and drain. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer until vegetables are tender (I usually let it go for at least an hour). Leftover vegetables are a nice addition to this soup. When ready to eat, remove bay leaf and enjoy.

Serving suggestion: This recipe begs for crusty bread slathered with butter.

And – as a Bonus! – I’m giving you my recipe for Ugly Beans. Yeah, you read it right. It’s one my friend, Carol, gave me about the same time as I got the soup recipe from Kitty.  It’s one of Carol's own devising and has only three ingredients. But so good.

Ugly Beans

One pound of fresh green beans (not canned or frozen)
Soy sauce

Clean the beans, snap the ends. Melt a lump of butter in your fry pan and add the beans. Cook until they begin to soften and then add some soy sauce – a good splash. Continue to cook until the beans are wrinkled and ugly. Add more soy sauce if you’d like. Go ahead – taste one if you need to. Excellent side dish.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Thing or Two About Scarves

I know they're just a hunks of hemmed fabric, of a certain length, depending on how they will be worn, but I love them. Any time I see someone wearing a scarf, even a simple one, it draws my eye. It’s known as “the allure of scarving.” I just made that up.  

In the photo are some of my faves. Each one comes with a story. A short story. Real short. Like that green one with the lacy edges. I bought it locally last year shopping with my sisters right after my first book signing. I couldn’t just go home, had to go somewhere, and I’d heard of Great Finds; a relatively new store right in Valatie. When Wendy held it up, noting how pretty it was, I had to have it. Perfect for Christmas Eve. She bought the nutty brown one.

Friends and family give me scarves. The one with the silver bling belonged to my Mom as did the black and gold one right next to the green. Someone may have given them to her. Traveling scarves! Yeah, that’s what they are. Boy, I’ll bet they have some humdinger bottom of the drawer stories. And when my granddaughters pull them over their shiny hair to play dress up – Senorita Rita, anyone? – it makes me giggle. So darn cute.

Scarves, it seems, belong exclusively to the cooler / colder months. That could be why I love them, too. Autumn is upon us and I have several “hunks of hemmed fabric” all in the bright array of autumn. Sometimes I just hold them up to the light loving the play of colors as I swoosh them around. They add a touch of elegance to any ensemble (say it with a French accent to get the full affect). Oh, and I can’t leave out the good wool scarves that get tucked inside the winter jackets and coats to ward off cruel winter. Even occasionally to wipe a drippy nose. Okay! Not too often does that happen. But it could save you some embarrassment should you run into Johnny Depp on the ski slopes, know what I’m sayin’? On the other hand, he might take off his pirate scarf and offer it to you. And you wouldn't be too much in awe to use it, right? Right?

Someone who reads this blog sports a BOS (bright orange scarf) on her own home page. I. Love. It. My red one over at the far end of the spectrum there, is similar. It’s so long you could whip it off your neck and set a picnic on it at noon. Or wrap it around your waist when you feel like jumping on the table for an impromptu Flamenco Dance. It could easily be stretched into a whole, though skimpy, dress should the outfit you wore to work catch fire when you tell the boss you’ll have your report in by noon. That liar, liar, pants on fire thing can catch you unawares. Thank God you wore a scarf today!

I could go on and on about scarves, but maybe you'd like to offer your two cents. How about it? 

Happy Scarving!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Brief Encounters Make My Day

We have a local store called Ocean State Job Lots. Yesterday morning I mentioned to hubby that I was going to pay them a visit and he volunteered to go along. A sweet guy. We were wanting to do a pre-shop for the upcoming Veteran’s Day event. For three days they’re honoring vets with a 30% discount and I’m all about discounts. My guy is a vet. As we meandered through the store we met an older (yeah, even older than us) woman of our acquaintance. She had a container of ginger in her hand. “I use it in my soups,” she said. “Takes the gas out.”

My eyes popped wide. “Really?”

“Yup, I put about a tablespoon in my batches of soup.”

“Thanks for the tip,” I said. I didn’t even mention that certain soups – split pea, bean and bacon – do a number on my aging digestive system. I’m sure glad we ran into Ida.

Later that day we got a call from eldest son – could we get Anna off the bus? Sure. Hubby went and got her and brought her back to the house. I had fresh cookies. I keep them in an ancient Tupperware pie taker and if that thing is sitting on the kitchen table it’s a siren call for the grandkids. Okay, the husband and big kids, too. They all know I’ve been baking when they see it. This time it was chocolate chip, oatmeal, raisin and walnut cookies. Anna grabbed a few and went to watch television.

I came in and suggested we build a fire as the room was chilly. When we that got going and were all warmed up she asked if we could do something besides watch TV. I immediately felt like a lousy grandmother for viewing three episodes of Fairly Odd Parents with her.

“Sure,” I said, quickly uncurling from my comfy recliner. “What should we do?”

“Dance class,” she said with a mile wide grin.

Oh, great. She actually takes dance classes and whereas, once upon a time I could dance like Tinkerbell of late it’s more like a crippled hippopotamus. Please don’t let that mental image haunt you all day.

But Anna was persistent. She went slowly and gave able demonstrations. And soon, right there in front of the roaring fire, we were putting on a pretty good show. I mastered “jazz hands” in no time and even got in some decent hip action. She’s a good teacher and I felt I’d earned my supper. Spontaneous dancing will do that, even if you’re a hippopotamus.

Then this morning we were called on again. Anna needed someone to stay with her until the school bus came. Her dad had an early appointment. So I went – no makeup, hair all ratty, but I went. Between bites of her bagel and cream cheese she told me they were off school on Monday.

“Yup,” I said, “Columbus Day. Do you know who Columbus was?”

Anna gave me an arched eyebrow. “Yeah, he’s some guy who sailed across the ocean or something.”

I guess she doesn’t know the poem and song I learned when I was her age. So I enlightened her to the best of my ability. I mentioned King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella of Spain. The Pinta, the Nina, and the Santa Maria also figured into my lesson but by the time we’d gotten to Florida she was all worried about the Indians (who were already here – I KNOW that) and we let the matter drop because the bus was only five minutes away.

Brief encounters like these are the bright spots in our days. I love them, look for them and I sincerely hope you have them, too. Oh - and if you want to know more about jazz hands, gas-less soups, or the reasons why kids get days off school, let me know. 

Image: Free Digital Photos

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Those Brits Again!

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know how much I love the BBC. So let me tell you of a few series I’ve watched of late. You can’t wait, right?  Here goes.

Doc Martin – For the longest time I was put off by the picture of the doc that stares out at you from the Netflix screen. Not exactly a romantic icon is Martin Clunes. His facial features are somewhat alarming at first (second and third) glance. But I had nowhere to go one evening and decided to give it a shot. Oh. Wow. After two episodes I was completely hooked. So much so that I want to go live in Port Wenn where the doctor, Louisa, the father / son duo of Bert and Al Large, the wacky practice secretaries and so many more, live. Doctor Martin Ellingham, the curmudgeon that Clunes plays, encounters in his daily rounds what so many of us face in our daily rounds – idiocy. And humor. And love. And life in a small village in Cornwall (okay, you can only encounter that if you live there or watch the series) Anyway, if any of that appeals to you – you’ve got a treat waiting for you in this one. Go – start watching it now.

Luther – Another bit of brilliance I came to reluctantly.  Judging a show by its cover is a problem I  must have. But Idris Elba is amazing. He’s the lead. He’s the hunk. He’s the way we want all detectives to be. Well, except for the drinking, the temper, his ridiculous clinging to his rotten wife, and the breaking of the rules (my hand is draped over my brow here) to help the lowly. On second thought, that last part is Exactly how we want him. And Luther’s relationship with Alice Morgan, played by Ruth Wilson, is troubling and morbidly fascinating. There weren’t enough seasons for me, but there's talk of a movie. Yay!

Wire in the Blood – Here’s a detective series with two leads I grew to love. Robson Green, as psychologist Tony Hill, is quirky, enigmatic and has incredible eyes. His almost love interest, DCI Carol Jordan, played by Hermione Norris, is tough and needy all at once. Her focus in life is on solving crime, she’s the go gettum gal, but only has a cat to go home to. You want her to go home to Tony, but . . . well, I won’t spoil it for you. Religious themes snarl through several of the plot lines and annoy me at times. But I got hooked.

So that’s what I’ve been watching. I came back to the good old US of A after enjoying all the Brits for a while and am now in the thrall of Twin Peaks, a show I did not view when it was actually sweeping the nation back in the 90’s. I’m that way with shoes, too. Always wearing the latest style – from  six years ago. I’m hopeless.

What shows keep your imagination engaged?  


Monday, October 7, 2013

A Good Sunday

Yesterday was drizzly and cool so when I got home from church I was in a baking mood. I decided fresh bread would be just the thing to go with my legendary hamburger soup so right after lunch I got it going. Then I asked hubby whether he’d like a pumpkin pie or chocolate chip cook . . . and before I could get “cookies” out of my mouth he said “pumpkin pie.” While the pie was baking I sat down with my recipe box to dig out the soup recipe. Boy, what a trip down memory lane that was.

I found this.

It’s on the back of the recipe I usually make and I’d never read the story before. So I did and it’s quite charming. On the other side is a recipe for frozen blueberry cheesecake and it is divine. Maybe I’ll make this Snow Ghost Pie for the kids come Halloween. The recipe is from 1973 and was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls – just kidding – it’s not That old.

As I sorted through more torn out magazine pages, note cards from friends, and two plastic coconut bags all folded up, it got even better. Don’t laugh. I didn't have time to copy the Coconut Dream Squares recipe onto an index card so folding up the bag and tucking it into the box was the next best thing.

I also came across an old envelope. The top half had a prayer list on it and the bottom half had my friend, Carol’s recipe for Cheeseburger Pie. Flaky crust, lots of cheese on top. Yum. Gotta make that one again. Plus, I’m sure those prayers were answered back in the early 80’s.

While I worked through the pile I listened to a CD. It was made up especially for me by a friend’s husband. She’d asked me if I wanted some peaches and when I picked them up her husband and I struck up a conversation about music. I told him how much I love John Rutter. Well – wasn't I surprised when she came over to me in church the next Sunday with a CD full of Rutter songs – 22 of them! I was floored. It must have taken him hours to do it. He’s retired and perhaps it made him feel good to do up a collection for me. It sure made me feel good to get it, I’ll tell you that. People can be wonderful.

As it turns out we got an invite to dinner right after I put the pie in the oven. So then I didn't have to make the soup and the bread and pie were my contribution to the dinner. Sometimes a rainy Sunday turns into an unexpected day of pleasant tasks and charming company.

Ever have a Sunday like that?  

Friday, October 4, 2013

And now, about my book . . .

“Try everything,” she said, this fellow author. We were comparing notes the other day and agreeing how difficult it is to promote our books. I told her that, after the mystery writer’s convention I’d just attended, I was tempted to give up and simply be a fan. I wouldn't stop writing; I’d still compose essays, poems, and short stories. But books? Here are some of the thoughts that go through a writer’s mind when deciding whether or not to keep it up.

1.      There are approximately 15 gazillion books out there. How in the world will anyone find mine?

2.      Even with a royalty contract most authors don’t make much money on their books. Why? Marketing, among other things. Most of us spend more on promotion and getting our names out there than we make, at least in the beginning. I know. It’s part of the game.

3.      Glory. Fleeting – like a chipmunk darting back into her little hole in the ground fleeting.

4.      Where writers live. The really successful ones live in their heads. All. The. Time.

Some have found my book and loved, or at least, liked it. I’m humbled and happy about that. It tells me I can put a story together that others enjoy reading. My mother was a great story teller and it helped make her more dear to me. A wonderful thing.

It’s true, I've made more money with other writing than my mystery, but how much does that matter? It’s the constant “buy my book, buy my book” mentality I have a horrible time with. I don’t talk about it to friends and family much anymore. Kind of counter productive, but at least they don’t run the other way when they see me.

Glory makes me a little nervous. I mean, what does that require of one? It might mean my hair would have to look good every day, that someone may snap my picture while I’m chowing a burger, and that four extra pounds I just gained? It would look like twenty on camera. Nah, not for me, even the fleeting kind. 

I do live in my head a lot and have a vivid imagination. But I want to be out there with my family, shop with my girlfriends, help at the church tag sale, sing in the choir and all that good stuff, too. And I’m not always gathering fodder; about half the time I’m just enjoying life.

So, that leaves “trying everything” as a challenge. But today I’m reminding you, right here on my blog, that I've written a book, The Red Shoelace Killer – A Minnie Markwood Mystery. A story from my head with characters you may like or even love. It’s a comic-cozy. A light read with some really good reviews on Amazon. That’s where you can buy it as well as at Barnes & Noble, Untreed Reads, at Good Buy Books on Route 9 & 20 in Rensselaer, at the Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, at Chatham Flowers in Chatham, from the publisher Mainly Murder Press, or from me. And how about that awesome cover up there on the right?

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat why not put my mystery in your best friend’s  hat?

Okay, it’s beyond lame, but it’s also the end of the commercial. Whew!

PS: Book two is in revision and nearly done!

Image: Free Digital Photos

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Inside My Blogger Brain

A while back a friend came up to me after church to tell me how much she likes my blog. Nice. Then she asked, “Where do you get all your ideas?” She’d just read my post about porches on my old blog here and loved it. I don’t even remember what I said, but basically I have two answers – the long one and the short one. Most people want the short which is, “from life.” Most people nod and chuckle and the conversation goes on to other things like what’s for dinner, the weather, or some spectacular news story, you know, the outrage of the day.

In light of that I wonder if you’d like a peek inside my head – the idea churn. Because I really do get my ideas from simply living yet there are little bits that only hang around for a nano second or two and never see the light of day. For instance . . .

When our small computer shop was housed in an old bank building it was my job, apart from bookkeeping, to keep the place clean. One day the window behind my desk was looking nasty and I decided to give it a good cleaning. The dang thing was nearly floor to ceiling with an outside storm window that popped out. Well when I attempted to pop it out it sure did – right onto the sidewalk outside. Crash! Glass all the heck over the place. I watched it in slow mo and felt like yelling “Oh, no, Mr. Bill!” Loved that show. Anyhow, we’re working out of the house now. I’m real careful with the windows.

I have a perfect scene in my mind of our granddaughter, Lillie, from a few summers ago when we visited her and her sister and dad out in Washington. She loves to run. As I paused on the front porch she began to chase a butterfly and her waist length blond hair billowed out behind her. It shone in the bright sunlight and it was a moment of enchanting beauty like you’d see in a fairy tale. I stood there transfixed as she disappeared behind a huge bush.

Every once in a while, after a particularly heinous event occurs somewhere, I’m tempted to go on a tear about it. I have views. I've expressed some of those views and beliefs in hostile environments. I always felt kind of brave doing it but I don’t want my blog to be about any of that however many more readers it may draw. Or not.

A most beautiful story of forgiveness was shared with me at a women’s retreat this year. We sat together waiting to be let into the lunch room (wonderful food!) and the subject of judging others came up. This woman is in her 80’s and when she was a young wife and mother her husband left her for a neighbor. A tough time in her life. But then her ex left the neighbor. Instead of feeling gleeful at this turn of events my friend forgave the neighbor saying, “You've suffered enough.” She held out empathy and forgiveness for a former rival. Now they’re friends. Awesome!

These are a sampling of what rattles around in my brain on any given day. Little pictures, moments of revelation – good stuff – but not in themselves worthy of a whole blog post. However, lumped together, I hope they made for a nice, light read.

Bless you dear reader!

Image: Stuart Miles                                                                      Free Digital Photos