Category Archives: Family

Happy Mothers Day

This may clarify a few things about me. What life lessons did your mother teach you?

10 Things Mom

 

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To Keep or not to Keep?

I am a pack rat by nature, and have to force myself to go through closets and drawers and throw out the old, the worn, the unused. I’m honestly not sure why I cling to things. My mom went through her closets and mine regularly as a child, so it sure isn’t her fault.

Part of my problem is that I am strongly visual. The downside to that is literally ‘out of sight, out of mind’. I keep things out if I need to do something with them, because if they are put away, I will forget to do whatever it is I am supposed to. Yes, there are always lists, but if I don’t see something to put it on a list in the first place, it won’t get done. One of the greatest things about my Nook is that I can borrow books from my library without having to leave them in piles by the front door so I’ll remember to return them.

The thing is, some old stuff is meaningful. I won’t throw out books about biographies, cities, or history. All of them are potential references. So is the occasional article I come across online about antique kitchenware or baby farming or some other all-but-forgotten aspect of life in times past. I will print and file them because I can retrieve them faster than by running a search or going through my large list of bookmarked sites. One of the best gifts I ever got was an album from my mother filled with old photos of her family. (A sneaky way of trying to pass her old stuff on to me? LOL!)

On the other hand, with the advent of online radio and digital music storage, I am okay with tossing out older CDs, while my normally ‘toss ‘er out’ husband still has his beloved REO Speedwagon records. My youngest daughter kept one of her old Barbies as a memento of her childhood.

It is said that when you get rid of old things or attitudes, you make room in your life for new ones that suit your life now. What kind of things do you hang onto, and what can you let go of easily?

P.S.: I’m double-blogging today! At www.authorsbymoolight.comI take a quick look at the history of birth control in America. And ABM is giving away a gift certificate to one lucky commenter in March!

Attack of the Ants

Springtime…balmy temperatures, the cry of geese flying north (more accurate than the first robin), the veil of new growth over shrubs…and bugs.

Inevitably some species of creepy-crawlies tries to overrun our house every spring. This year it was earlier than usual, no doubt because of the mild winter we’ve experienced in Nebraska. But when I went upstairs to clean up earlier this week there they were: a few ants exploring the eastern wall of our master bedroom and bathroom. Of course, we all know there is no such thing as ‘a few ants’.

I can’t stand bugs. Cannot. Stand. Them.  So I responded as I normally do: scream loudly and hunt for the bug spray. Needless to say, since it’s early, there was no unexpired can of insecticide in the house. Eventually I realized this was a good thing, or I’d have a room that stank for months, plus it’s probably not a good idea to breathe in the fumes night after night. (It’s a little too cold still to keep the windows open.)

We didn’t have any ant traps either, and besides, the tiny terrors were on the wall, up by the ceiling, not on the floor. I resisted the urge to call my husband. Like Suzanne Sugarbaker on Designing Women, I believe that the man should kill the bugs. Not only does my husband not share this belief, he thinks it’s hysterically funny when I come across the occasional six- or eight-legged creature.

Luckily, while at the store getting new ant traps and bug spray, I came across some adhesive picture hangers. As I type, there have been no further ant sightings, and our walls are festively decorated with a series of ant traps. I’m not counting the ones on the floor.

I can deal with snakes, lizards, worms and rodents. Just keep the bugs away.

What creatures give you the willies? Bugs in general or specific kinds like spiders? Snakes or other reptiles? You can tell me. I promise not to laugh.

Fall: Football and Food

Warning: This will be one of those cheesy ‘Hello Fall’ blog posts.

I can’t help it. This is my favorite time of year. The broiling temperatures of summer are relieved by cooler temps, yet the wicked winds of a Nebraska winter haven’t started blowing. And the violent weather of spring (rains, tornadoes, thunderstorms, hail, etc.) have disappeared for the most part.

My favorite sport resumes in the fall. Around here, Husker football approaches the status of a state religion. Our home games have sold out for the last forty-nine years. (The 50th anniversary will be in early November 2012.) We do have four seasons, but they have different names: Post-Season, Spring Practice, Pre-Season and FOOTBALL! I not only remember where I was for the Game of the Century, I can describe the outfit I wore.

This year, we’re pretty excited about joining the Big Ten. For one thing, the Cornhuskers will be going up against new (to us) opponents, which is exciting both because we hope the team will do well, and because the competition will be tough. But you have to love a conference that has its own TV network. Yes, that’s right: the Big Ten Network. Yeah, baby! Candy bar!!

Both cooler weather and football games means I start to enjoy cooking again. When it’s over 95 F outside, my goal for dinner is ‘do not heat up the house’. Come autumn, we can go back to stews, oven-braised meats and what may be my kids’ all-time favorite dish: Roasted Rosemary Potato Slices. And then there’s baking — muffins, cookies, brownies, cakes. Life is good!

Now if only we could get Oklahoma back on the schedule.

Here are a couple of my go-to recipes: One is a great year-round appetizer and the other is the aforementioned potatoes.

Cucumber and Cream Cheese Appetizers

1 loaf of party rye or party bread

1 8 oz. package of cream cheese

1 envelope of dry Italian salad dressing mix

1 cucumber

Combine the cream cheese and dressing mix until well blended. Let it sit while you cut the  cucumber into 1/8 inch slices, or a bit thinner if you prefer. Spread the cream cheese onto slices of the party rye bread and top with a cucumber slice. Easy peasy!

Roasted Rosemary Potato Slices (serves 4)

4 Russet potatoes, scrubbed

4 T melted butter or olive oil, as you prefer

1 t salt (Sea salt or Kosher salt are also yummy)

1 t dried rosemary, crumbled

Cut the potatoes into 1/4 inch slices. Pour half the butter or olive into an 8-inch baking pan and swirl it to coat the bottom. Layer the potatoes in the pan, in separate rows, arranging them so that they overlap slightly. Pour the remaining butter over them, then sprinkle them with the salt and rosemary. Add pepper to taste.

Bake in the middle of a 425 F oven for 22 minutes. Turn the potatoes over. Supposedly you can do this with a long, thin spatula. I’ve tried to and failed, so any more I use a regular spatula and don’t worry about keeping them in rows so much. They’re not as pretty, but they’re still delicious. Aaanyhoo, after you turn the taters, put them back in the oven for another 20-25 minutes, until they’re golden brown.

Lunch and a Ghost Story

Last week, my husband and I drove with our youngest daughter to Louisiana for a college visit.  It meant a lot of driving, but after years of taking our older daughter to out-of-state skating competitions, road trips are nothing new to us. While it’s nice to leave our daily routines behind and see new parts of the country (or revisit fun destinations), there are downsides to car travel. One of which is road food.

I love burgers and fries more than is good for me, but eating in fast food joints, or even nice chain restaurants, palls after the first few days away from home. After a frustrating morning that included two wrong exits and a stretch of road without even a burger place, we decided to stop at Isabella, in Port Gibson, Mississippi. Located in a house dating from 1880, the bed and breakfast also serves lunches at its Porch Restaurant. Lucky us!

Owners Bobbye and Phil Pinnix are only the third family to own the historic house, and their renovations include Victorian furnishings in the parlors and bedrooms.  Even our lunch was served on a collection of vintage glassware and red toile plates.  My husband enjoyed a huge roast beef sandwich with fresh fruit, while my daughter tucked into sliders and I tried a burger with a side of Bobbye’s potato salad. Yum! Did I mention they grow their own tomatoes?

Fortunately for us, we arrived at the tail end of lunch, so we were able to chat with the Pinnixes. Bobbye told me that while she is not fanciful, she is convinced that the house is haunted by some of the former owners.  She and Phil, along with some of their guests, have heard the sounds of glass shattering in the butler’s pantry and  furniture dragged over the wooden floors.  The ghostly activity seems to be limited to making noise, as there is never any broken glass or rearranged furniture to be found.  Bobbye even told of receiving a comforting squeeze on the shoulder while she was completely alone in the kitchen area. According to her, spirits in the house don’t mean any harm.  “After all, it was their house before it was ours,” she said.

I am skeptical of most reports of paranormal activity myself, because I think much can be explained by scientific fact. However, I would love to risk a haunting if it means I can return to Isabella!

Isabella Bed & Breakfast

1009 Church Street

Port Gibson, MS 39150

601-437-5097 or pinnixdesignsinc@gmail.com

My Thorn Among the Lilies

“I’d rather be the thorn. They’re sharp and pointy.” — my youngest

The first time I stepped out of the car wearing the Darth Vader-esque boot that has made up half my footwear for the last month, my youngest daughter took one look at it and deadpanned, “You’re never going to be able to accessorize that.”

That is only one of many reasons I love the kid.  While both of my children are phenomenal young women and I’m thankful to be their mother, I have a soft spot for my wise-cracking, moody, impatient youngest.  This summer especially, she has demonstrated remarkable fortitude in the face of disappointments.

Originally, my mother-in-law planned to take her to France for three weeks. However, my MIL’s doctor found a malignant skin tumor shortly after our daughter’s passport arrived. Thankfully, the doctor appears to have removed the entire tumor and my MIL is sailing through chemotherapy. While my daughter is as relieved as the rest of us that her granny is doing so well, it’s only human to feel disappointment at the change in plans. Who could blame her?

Then I injured my leg severely enough to warrant a cast and crutches. So instead of visiting Paris and the Ardennes, my youngest spent three weeks serving as my hands and feet. My oldest helped where she could, but she had a lousy summer last year when her college closed.  To make up for credits lost when she transferred into the state university system, she’s been taking day classes, night classes and summer school for nearly 12 months.

My younger daughter managed housework, cooking, grocery shopping and driving me to and/or from work. Granted, she already knew what she was doing for all those things, but she was spending a lot more of her time doing them. And according to my family I am not a very good patient.  (I have no idea why they’d say that.) Yes, there was a certain amount of muttering, but I can’t complain. There were also a lot of times when she’d poke her head in the door and ask I wanted a drink or something brought to me.

Not only that, she had to say good-bye to her best friend Sarah because Sarah’s dad accepted a job on the East Coast. Sarah is everything my daughter is not: perky, optimistic, mild-mannered and soft-spoken. She and my moody, outspoken, assertive offspring have been inseparable since seventh grade. My daughter would use her sharp tongue to scare off people like the obnoxious boy in math class that creeped Sarah out, in return getting a daily dose of cheer. My daughter has other friends she loves dearly (she may be moody but she’s no loner!), and they all form a Lack of Sarah Support Group for each other. But the day Sarah moved away required Mom hugs and medicinal Ben & Jerry’s.

Our tastes aren’t the same, but she’s got a sound critical eye, particularly for film, and she’s smart enough to be able to back up her opinions with good arguments. We’ve had some great conversations about dance, books, and movies.

As a late bloomer myself (really really really late), I watch this daughter make her plans for college and beyond, knowing that like most of us, she may very well change directions mid-course. I’m thrilled that she’s looking at the future with as much optimism as a moody sarcastic person can. Changes and obstacles are the nature of life. But even if her plans fail, she won’t.

Advice to New Mothers: Victorian Style

With Mother’s Day coming up in many countries around the world, this historical romance writer thinks it might be interesting to take a look at motherhood during the Victorian era.  Strip away the sentimental gauze which covers the 19th century and you’ll find some alarming advice given to new moms.

A young bride could go from complete ignorance about sex to motherhood within the first year of her marriage. And in an age where widespread knowledge of contraception did not exist (and providing it was often a crime), the average middle class Englishwoman would give birth four more times over the course of her life. (Provided she did not die of puerperal fever or the effects of a complicated birth.) Then, as now, advice books to help her through the process of raising a family abounded.

However, attitudes differed from our day. For one thing, women were not encouraged to follow their own mothers’ advice or their own common sense. The (mostly male) writers of books on ‘the management of children’ urged their readers to defer to “the superior wisdom of medical experts.”  While the possession of a functional uterus does not automatically make a woman a good mother, some of the ‘wisdom’ offered is astounding. In a bad way.

New mothers who wanted to breastfeed were discouraged.  Even where the occasional doctor might acknowledge some advantage to the practice, nursing for longer than three months interfered with a woman’s perceived duty to her husband and household.  Also, advice books opined that breast milk was not nearly as nutritious as ‘pap’ — a concoction of bread soaked in water and sweetened with sugar. (And they wondered why so many infants didn’t survive to their first birthday!)

In the ideal painted by experts of that time, mothers did not spend excessive amounts of time with their babies and young children.  Instead a nurse, nursemaid, or nanny provided most of the care, with the mother in a supervisory role.  The old maxim is “Children should be seen and not heard.” While that is still an excellent piece of advice, especially when we take our kids out in public, in some families in the 19th century, children were barely even seen. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were considered model parents for visiting their two oldest children once a day.  Their younger children got much shorter shrift, as the Queen noted in a letter that she scarcely saw them more than once every three months.  While I believe that children are small wild animals that need to be trained in at least the appearance of civilized behavior before we let them loose on the rest of the world, this is extreme even for me.

So is the Victorian concept of proper food for growing children.  Meals were to be plain. Highly flavored food might arouse passions (especially dangerous in girls)! Fruits and vegetables were suspect, and even fresh bread and butter might lead young people astray. Mrs. Beeton suggests day old bread is good enough for the schoolroom. Jam was considered inappropriate for children.  One young woman only tasted marmalade for the first time after her marriage!

What about you? Would you have enjoyed raising children or growing up in this era?

Unplugged

I’ve had computer issues lately. Not the kind where you push the ‘on’ button and nothing happens, which is one of the worst sensations a writer can experience. (That happened to me last summer. I about had a seizure.) This is the kind where, for some reason, I have to force myself to the screen and keyboard. I don’t want to check emails, update my Facebook status or tweet. Dust settles on my last post here.

Maybe it’s a reaction to spending a lot of time online in February and March guest blogging or sending in posts related to the release of Her Scottish Groom. Don’t think for a moment that I didn’t enjoy the attention and contact with romance readers! This is not something that I get to do that often, and I am thankful for every single opportunity to write a post and respond to comments. I appreciate the kindness of other blog owners and their readers, and it seems to have generated interest in my latest release. The Kindle edition of Her Scottish Groom is selling steadily enough to range from 99 up to 65 on Amazon’s Kindle Store Historical Romance Top 100 list for the last 10 days or so.

(I know, it changes hourly and it’s not selling thousands of copies or downloads. But it’s the first list I’ve ever made, darn it!)

Anyway, Life is Good and there’s no real excuse for disappearing from my online haunts. Still, I’ve resisted logging into anything but my Pandora stations for the last two weeks. I outlined two presentations for a couple of unexpected speaking engagements. I worked on my WIP, but in longhand on notebook paper. The page count is shaky, because I’ve also free-associated two potential series into very rough descriptions on paper. (If I carried smelling salts, I’d take a deep whiff at this point — do I really want to get involved with an entire series?? Never mind two!) It’s too early to tell if they’ll come to fruition, but the chance to let my mind wander felt sort of like a vacation.

Writing is a huge part of my life, but not its entirety. Time spent away from the computer means that my house is a lot cleaner. This is good because clutter seems to block me mentally. (In view of how much I dislike housework, this realization disconcerts me greatly.) My family got muffins for breakfast and  I’ve had lunch with my dad, chatted with my mom more often and helped my youngest host her friends for their pre-prom hair/makeup/dressing ritual.

So if anyone missed me while I was gone, thank you for the thoughts. I’m back, balanced, and ready to take on the world again. And I have the clean underwear to prove it.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

As the rush of activities for Christmas slows down for our family (and I hope for you), I turn on some Christmas carols and look around at my home and loved ones.  I’m typing in view of our Christmas tree, filled with beloved ornaments.  A cup of tea is steeping that I will enjoy soon.  My oldest is home following her finals and my youngest has only a half-day of school left before her vacation starts.  Ah yes, the joys of hearth and home during the holidays….

My carols are competing with two televisions, the buzz of texts to a boyfriend, and a discussion between a sixteen-year-old and a twenty-one-year old about the likelihood that an American equivalent of Hogwarts exists. Dirty laundry waits for its turn to go into the washer and dryer by the basement door, because its owner is watching one of the aforementioned TVs. The decorations in the entryway are competing for space with a book bag, shoes, and boots while I ponder whether the Christmas dinner I planned will include enough food for the boyfriend and my aunt and uncle, invited to join us by my mother (thankfully, she informed me of this before Christmas Day itself).

The pile of cards needing stamps catches my eye, as does the cat snoozing in a previously cat-hair-free spot on our tree skirt.  There’s some additional baking to do as well. And I just realized that I can’t remember where I put some of our gifts. Wrapping paper and ribbons cover the basement floor because the last person that used them didn’t put it away.

Oh, and I just realized that I need to research the British East India Company for my WIP, possibly resulting in some major rewriting.

The most wonderful time of the year? YEAH, BABY!!!

True Companions

The world can be divided into two categories: Pet People and Non-Pet People.  I am a Pet Person from birth.  My sisters and I grew up with varying numbers of dogs and cats. Yes, at the same time — my mother loves cats and we almost always had at least one, while my dad considered hunting dogs indispensable.  I like both cats and dogs, but I married a man who spent large chunks of his youth as a paperboy being chased by neighborhood dogs.  Ergo, our pets have always been felines.

The current non-human population of our home consists of two cats and a refugee gerbil from my oldest daughter’s dorm room. I have written thousands of words with one or both of our cats curled up beside (or on) me.  Nominally they belong to our children, who selected them as kittens from our local Humane Society.  (Unless you want a specific breed of animal for a particular reason, I strongly encourage adopting from a shelter.  Even if it charges fees for spaying/neutering and micro-chipping your new pet, it’s a bargain compared to pet stores and you are likely saving an animal’s life.)

Star is our Siamese mix (we believe the other part is moose).  She’s sort of like Dory from Finding Nemo, if Dory shed a lot and weighed 20 pounds.  Star suffers from short term memory loss, except when she can see the bottom of her food bowl.  At those times, her determination to get our attention and bring us to the site of the disaster would put Lassie to shame.  Star doesn’t care for laps, but she likes to curl up beside me when I write notes on the couch or when I sit downstairs at my desk.  Her weakness is clean socks, which she steals and hides in her lair under the bed.  We once found a dozen pairs there.

Tiger, our ‘plain ol’ cat’, is just plain rotten.  I knew this the first time I set eyes on him flipping  dried poo outof the litter box in his cubicle at the Humane Society and batting at it.  Unfortunately, when your 7-year-old looks up at you and says “But Mommy, he looked right in my eyes and said he wanted to come home with me,” you know you’re doomed.  Luckily for him, he grew up into a very handsome fellow with the softest fur ever, and he loves having a writer in the house.  When he’s not making himself comfortable on my lap, he’s happy to chase down the Evil Crinkly Balls of Paper after I wad up my notes or other scribblings.

The companionship of pets bring so much into our lives.  Their dependence on us calls forth our best qualities: love, caring and patience.  They love us unconditionally,  listen to us when we need to talk, and sometimes when we need to cry.  Food and a clean litter box are a small price to pay, though I’ll admit I could live without the hairballs.

Are you a dog person or a cat person? Or even a reptile person? (I have always found monitor lizards and smaller members of the constrictor family fascinating.) Tell me your favorite pet story or memory!