19
Feb

Govt. Restrictions: One lb Coffee Every Six Weeks

Research while writing my WWII humorous mystery/adventure, Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot, and Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier, led to interesting facts about how folks lived during WWII.:

Rationing: American housewives willingly gave up their precious food, clothing, tires, and other goods to aid the war effort. Ration stamp booklets were issued and many items including sugar and fresh fruit could only be purchased with the appropriate ration stamp.

Due to blockades affecting Brazilian ships attempting to bring coffee and sugar to the USA during part of 1942-43, coffee was rationed to one pound every six weeks per adult. (This alone would be reason to go to war, wouldn’t it?)

Beef was in short supply and costly, as well as eggs, resulting in many resident chickens in suburban backyards. (In Hometown Patriot, Agnes obtains six chickens. Because she has no chicken coop immediately available, she puts them in the bathroom. What could possibly go wrong?)

Tires: A citizen only had ration stamps for five tires during the entire war. By today’s standards, that sounds sufficient, but bumpy roads and poor tires led to multiple flat tires even with speed limits of 35 mph.

Doctors and public safety professionals were allowed additional tire and gasoline stamps. Gasoline required ration stamps and folks were limited to only four gallons per week. Folks relied on car pool, buses, bicycles or had to walk. Men who worked out of town often had to board away from home for indefinite periods of time. (I am the result of my father’s weekend only visits while Daddy worked at the Vallejo, CA Mare Island shipyard. Whoops!)

Such shortages of food and other supplies led to black market ration books or ‘arrangements’ between friends willing to sell extra stamps for highly desired items. (Because of weekly trips to the USO to serve cookies, Agnes has to purchase a friend’s tire stamp. She also discovers a ration book conspiracy and sets out to expose the culprits.)

Victory Gardens: Many items in short supply were rationed. Citizens were almost required to plant a victory garden or appear unpatriotic. Suburban front yards were soon converted to rows of cabbages, zucchinis, tomatoes and carrots. Vegetables with a high yield requiring limited space to grow became the main ingredient of Meatless Monday. Even Mrs. Roosevelt planted zucchini in the White House Rose Garden.

Watch Towers: Ever fearful of another Japanese air attack on the West Coast, and the limited availability of newly discovered radar technology, volunteers became the ‘early warning system’ in watch towers every several miles along the California and Oregon coastline. (Agnes has an exciting encounter while serving at the watch tower in Hometown Patriot. You won’t want to miss this! )

Can you share an account of a WWII event or experience? Are you acquainted with a family member with memories of WWII? Wouldn’t they enjoy reading my novels? Only $3.99 at Amazon. Guaranteed to produce a chuckle or your money back!

Mrs. Odboddy–Hometown Patriot -Available in e-book and print at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv Agnes attempts to expose a ration book conspiracy and deals with the return of an old WWI lover.

Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier –Agnes travels across country by train, carrying a package to President Roosevelt. She is sure it contains secret war documents, and NAZI spies will try to steal her package. Amazon – http://tinyurl.com/jn5bzwb

Next time, I’ll talk about another WWII event or experience.

1
Dec

Fighting WWII From the Home Front

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Mrs. Odboddy–Hometown Patriot is available in e-book and print at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv

In my cozy mystery/adventure story,Odboddy–Hometown Patriot, is an elderly, eccentric woman determined to expose every villain and conspiracy threatening the home front during WWII. In addition to a charming story, we delve into life in the United States as citizens 'fought the war from the home front.' Agnes Odboddy was such a patriot.

Rationing:

American housewives willingly gave up their precious food, clothing, tires, and other goods to aid the war effort. Ration stamp booklets were issued and many items including sugar could only be purchased when accompanied with the appropriate stamp.

Just imagine how frustrating to find your coffee rationed to one pound every six weeks per adult. This was due to blockades affecting Brazilian ships attempting to bring coffee to the US (During part of 1942-43). The majority of the available coffee was sent to the troops.

Beef was in short supply and costly, as well as eggs, resulting in many resident chickens in suburban backyards. (Agnes obtains six chickens, but because she has no chicken coop available, she puts them in the bathroom. What could possibly go wrong?)

A limit to purchase only five tires during the entire war was put in place. By today’s standards, that sounds sufficient, but rough roads and poor tires were conducive to multiple flat tires. With a few exceptions for doctors and other public safety professionals, gasoline was rationed to four gallons per week, requiring folks to car pool, ride buses, use bicycles or walk. Speed limits of 35 mph were most common.

Victory Gardens:

To appear patriotic and reduce reliance on the limited supply of vegetables and fruit available, citizens were almost required to plant a victory garden. Suburban front yards were converted to rows of cabbages, zucchinis, tomatoes and carrots. Any vegetable with a high yield requiring limited space became the main ingredient of Meatless Monday. Even Mrs. Roosevelt planted zucchini in the White House Rose Garden.

Watch Towers:

Ever fearful of another Japanese air attack, watch towers were erected every several miles along the California and Oregon coastline requiring volunteers to be the eyes and ears for the military. Radar was invented during the war but was in limited supply.

As Agnes’s fantasy mystery-adventure progresses, she experiences every phase of rationing, growing a victory garden and manning a watch tower. As a dedicated hometown patriot, she is determined to root out a ration book conspiracy, identify a perceived Nazi spy and prepare for a visit from Mrs. Roosevelt.

With the return of an old lover who wants to re-ignite their romance, things heat up. With chickens in the bathroom and a search for a million dollars in missing Hawaiian money, this hysterical romp through the WWII era is a fascinating novel like you’ve never read before.

25
Aug

Describe the Days of the Week as PEOPLE

Graceportrait

Guest Post today from Grace Freeman. Finding a word prompt to write an essay from the following statement, "How would you DESCRIBE the days of the week if they were PEOPLE?" Grace shares with us her thoughts on the subject.

Sunday was gentle. She smiled with the softest dimples at the corners of her cheeks. Her lashes were light feathers atop deep brown eyes that always seemed to know exactly what you were thinking. She was ivory with a smattering of freckles along her nose, where the sunbeams had left butterfly kisses in the spring. Her hair was golden, flowing long down her back like a gurgling creek . When you saw her, you were content. Maybe even a little shy. Being in her presence made the world seem warmer, the days seem shorter, and the air a little easier to breathe. We took advantage of it. Sunday was a place of rest, and praise, but many found no help in her loving embrace. They feared the days to come, and would not trust her soothing words or easing prayers. They would turn their back on her. On days like this, she would be tired. The kind of tired that sleep cannot cure. For Sunday was only welcome when they took her for granted.

Monday was irritable. He was never satisfied, always searching for something, but nothing would ease his hunger. He was handsome, dangerously so, for his smile was misleading, with small pointed teeth at the corners of his lips. His eyes were so startlingly bright that many groaned when he came around, never wanting to face him. Dark auburn hair spiked messily away from his forehead, as if he were always in too much of a hurry to comb it the right way. He never ate enough, so every bone fought to be free of his skin. Few people welcomed him into their homes, or hearts. They slammed the door on his face, pulled the covers over their heads, or turned the other way to his cries. He was angry, and anger in Monday made his blood turn to ice. All he wanted was to be loved, greeted at the door like a long-lost friend. But he was only a burden, and that was all he would ever seem to be.

Tuesday was quiet. He never talked much and truly liked to keep to himself. Few things made him upset, and many things made him laugh. He was shorter than the others, with sweet topaz eyes and a tender smile. He liked to wear sweaters too big for his wrists, and ties with colorful stripes down the center. Blue was his favorite color, and he left it everywhere he could. On his nails and his glasses, in his spiral notebooks and flyaway hair. He took care to organize anything that needed to be. Pencil shavings were often a trace he left behind, too focused in his work to clean them up. Many people liked him, and others didn’t. They found him boring, tedious, or downright annoying. But some smiled when he walked their way, pausing to give him a timid wave. Tuesday was undoubtedly an introvert, but at least Wednesday was his friend.

Wednesday was a jokester; a bit of a maniac some would say. He was obnoxiously tall, with many studded piercings and mismatched eyes. Startling green on the right and muddy, hazel brown on the left. His right eyebrow, his left nostril, and both his ears in many places, all shone with a hint of metal. The others would tell him he needed to dress better, but everything hung from his lanky frame like spider silk on a branch. He loved black jeans, he loved holey shirts, and anything with spikes made him gleeful like a child in a candy store. He relished in pulling pranks and painting on concrete walls, and the sound of police sirens to him was as thrilling as a game of hide-and-seek. Those who were unlucky enough to hang around him usually took the fall for these gimmicks. Many wondered how he could hang out with geeky little Tuesday so much, for their polarized personalities seemed to set them apart in their eyes. Truly, he was trying to corrupt his prim and respectable friend, but nothing seemed to work. So Wednesday would run with us, kicking up dirt in his wake and leaving us in the dust of his dreams.

Thursday was ever observant. He was eldest, with sun touched skin and broader shoulders. His russet hair was trimmed short, and when he smiled, crow’s feet would appear at the corners of his golden-brown eyes. Just about everyone liked him. He was quite sociable, and was never too busy to help someone in need. He held the door for strangers, he always made his bed, and he would remind you sweetly that you’re capable of anything. He wore his heart on his sleeves. He left sunbeams in his wake. He could tell with just a glance that you were having a rough day. However, in our frustration, we shoved him off, told him to leave us alone. We locked ourselves in dark rooms as the sun shone behind the clouds. We had the audacity to wonder why it always rained the next day.

Friday was mute. He was small cupid bow lips that never made a sound. What he lacked in words he made up in bright oil paintings and watercolor masterpieces. His art was like smoke, so impossible to grasp yet breathtaking to watch. Paint could often be found under his fingernails and behind his ears, for he had a habit of brushing the untamed hair out of his face as he worked. Fourth of July was his favorite holiday, for fireworks took their turn to paint his face in brilliant works of light. His blond hair always had a certain way of falling over those lilac eyes that made anyone smile his way. He took us to concerts, and threw parties almost every week, and left ghostly kisses on the backs of our eyelids. Late nights he would spend running or skateboarding down dimly lit streets under the glow of fireflies and streetlamps. Arrests were made almost as often as love when Friday came around.

Saturday was turbulent. Her dark chocolate hair fell over her back like rolling waves on a stormy night. Her eyes were the color of the sea washing against a rocky shore. She corrected you when you were wrong. Holding her tongue was not in her nature. No filter came to her mouth. And yet, that is what we found most attractive. She enticed you with her words, even if she were talking about something as simple as how terrible the taste of coffee was on her lips. She would come back with scraped up knees or busted knuckles only to kiss you on the cheek before she was gone again. Saturday was whom we waited for at the door, eager to see her stride by. She was always on your mind, a phantom we would never truly understand.

These were the Weak Days. A family divided by periods of the night. But when the stars shone just right, the Weak would glow.

Did I forget to mention? Grace is my granddaughter. She is FIFTEEN years old, a sophomore in high school. She is already working on two novels. Look out, authors. Can a best seller novel be far in the distance? Comments?

30
Jan

WWII Life in the Small Home Town

Mrs_Odboddy_Full_Front (2)

Posted on January 29, 2016
JAMES CALLEN WEBSITE POST

Today’s guest is Elaine Faber, the California writer who generally has a Faber-2scat as the chief sleuth. She departs from that to bring us a story centered around World War II in her latest novel, Mrs. Odboddy – Hometown Patriot. (Of course, there’s a cat in it.) Elaine is a member of Sisters in Crime, Inspire Christian Writers, and Cat Writers Association.

While researching California WWII events, the following events became an integral part of the plotline for Mrs. Odboddy – Hometown Patriot.

Rationing:
The government convinced the Americans public that giving up their precious food, clothing, tires, and other goods was not only necessary to win the war, but was patriotic.

During part of 1942-43, coffee was rationed; one pound every six weeks per adult. This was due to Brazil’s blockade of ships bringing coffee to the United States, as well as the need to send much of the limited supply to the troops.

A citizen could purchase only five tires during the entire war. This sounds like plenty by today’s standards, but neither roads nor tires were as good in 1942 as today. People were strongly encouraged, almost required, to car pool or use bicycles and motorcycles.

Sugar and other food items were extremely expensive and required a ration stamp which limited its purchase. Beef was in short supply and costly, as well as eggs, which induced many a chicken to take up residence in the suburban backyard.

Victory Gardens:
To reduce the reliance on purchasing vegetables and fruit, it was considered patriotic to have your front lawn converted to rows of cabbages, zucchinis, tomatoes and carrots. Even Mrs. Roosevelt planted zucchini in the Rose Garden. Any high producing vegetable in a limited space became the focus of the weekend gardener and the mainstay of many Meatless Meals.

Watch Towers:
Californians and Oregonians lived in fear of Japanese invasion. Volunteers were stationed in watch towers every several miles up and down the coastline with binoculars pointed skyward.

In Mrs. Odboddy–Hometown Patriot, Agnes experiences rationing, volunteering at the Ration Stamp Office, organizing can and paper drives, tending her Victory Garden and cooking meatless meals, fighting the war from the home front. But this eccentric lady also keeps an eye on her nefarious neighbors, some of whom MUST be Nazi spies. She finds herself knee-deep in what is sure to be a black market ration book scam, but when the watch tower burns down on her coast watch shift, she takes the blame to keep a National Security secret.

Toss in the return of an old lover from WWI who wants to re-ignite their romance, chickens in the bathroom and a search for a million dollars in missing Hawaiian money and you have the crux of the story.

When Mrs. Roosevelt comes to Newbury to attend a funeral, and Agnes’s eccentric notions become reality, she must prove she is, indeed, a warrior on the home front.

On Amazon at: http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv

Elaine.Faber@mindcandymysteries.com (e-mail)

21
Jun

He said… She said. Why does it matter?

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Readers love books with lots of dialogue and not so much narrative. Good dialogue should never just be idle chit-chat or casual conversation. Dialogue moves the storyline forward and is written specifically to create a certain mood.

In the following edited conversation between Brett and Kimberlee, from Black Cat’s Legacy, she shares her darkest secret.

Kimberlee took a deep breath and sighed. “I’ve had nightmares all my life. I never thought they had anything to do with my father’s death.”

“Nightmares?” Brett wrinkled his forehead. “Go on.”

“I remember now. In my dream…maybe it wasn’t a dream... My father is lying at the foot of the stairs and there’s someone standing in the shadows!”

Brett leaned across the table and took her hand. “You were there? You saw the killer?” His grip tightened on her hand. “You know who it was?”

She shook her head. “I heard voices. I came down the stairs. I remember something red, maybe a piece of clothing? I heard a shot and then I saw his…his… body. That’s all I remember.” She laid her head on her arms. “I never realized what it meant. I thought it was just a nightmare.”

“I can’t imagine how you must feel. I want to help get to the bottom of this. What can I do?” Brett’s voice shook
.
She lifted her head. Tears ran down her cheeks. “There is one thing, but I hate to ask.”
“Anything. Just name it. How can I help?” A flicker of concern swept across his face. He squeezed her hand.

“Maybe get me a tissue?” Her eyes crinkled in a smile.

What does this dialogue reveal?
In a few short sentences, we learn that Kimberlee never understood the connection between her nightmares and her father’s murder. We feel empathy for her pain. We see Brett’s increasing attraction to her, and suddenly during this tense moment, she delivers a one-liner that hopefully, if I did my job well, makes you smile.

Even more than the narrative in a story, good dialogue can create drama, romance, angst, or humor. If you can put it all in one conversation, go for it!

The reader doesn’t understand the creative effect of what a writer has done or admire their skill of their craft. They just know that as they read, the dialogue makes them feel they are watching the scene unfold, or better yet, they become one with the characters, feeling their joy, their pain, or their sorrow as they are pulled into the story.

The mark of a good book is when the reader reaches “THE END” and wishes there was another 100 pages. The mark of a GREAT book, is when that same reader searches for the sequel or another book by this same author.

Beyond a good plot, a charming setting or appealing characters, writing dialogue that sings is essential to creating this kind of reader’s response. It contributes to the success or failure of a book and to the writer’s career.

25
Jul

Why Are All Mystery Novels So Similar?

Avid mystery readers, whatever version of mystery they prefer, whether Thriller or Cozy mysteries, read multiple books each year. They acquire their reading material through book sales, garage sales, the library, borrowed from a friend and sometimes, though rarely, actually purchased from the author. At least there is a demand, so there is a need for supply.

Let’s pretend for a minute, we’re an author desirous of launching a new mystery series.

After careful analysis of a number of mysteries, we see a tried and true template; apparently we must follow to guarantee success.
Our story needs a female sleuth, preferably blonde and beautiful. She has a German Shepard in order to capture the animal lovers out there. The dog doesn’t have to help solve the crime, but if he can, so much the better. Now she needs an unusual job or hobby so she can encounter the crime which the inept police force can’t solve. Don’t forget the sweetheart somehow connected to the police department, otherwise how could she access the official information generally withheld from the public?

Sadly, most of the best jobs or hobbies have been taken by other mystery series’. We already have book store owners, catering services, coffee houses, writers, and private detectives, to name just a few. We need a career that hasn’t been done to death, but one that will give our sleuth access to plenty of material. It is going to be a series, after all.septic tank px

How about a lady sewer technician who pumps out septic tanks? She’d be in plenty of back yards spotting nefarious going’s-on, or how about the Jehovah’s Witness that goes door to door handing out literature. Plenty of opportunities to look beyond the screen door and see someone bound and gagged…

Maybe not. Let’s stick with the 'sewer-pumper-outer'.

So let’s see…to follow the template formula. The plumber and her quirky sidekick (did I forget the quirky friend?) find a body in the pump house. Proceed to red herrings, a romantic interlude, unrequited love, and suspicious characters, all with alibis. Lots of flavor of plumbing tossed in, stopped up toilets, overflowing bathtubs, (a humorous scene or two), and move right on to the climax where our heroine goes alone to meet the villain in a warehouse, but doesn’t tell anyone where she’s going. She is captured, strung up by her thumbs to the rafters, death being imminent until her detective boyfriend and her dog burst down the door and save her life. The murderer is revealed, every toilet is unstopped, every drain unplugged and the heroine and detective ride off into the sunset in the sewer-truck. The end.

That’s the template. Lots of ways to change up the various topics; hobbies, quirky friend, red herrings, suspects, romantic interludes, murder, theft, kidnapping, contraband, illegal alien housekeeper, secret message or what-have-you that begins the mystery, identity of villain (always the most unexpected member of the cast) and final climax, etc. This is the formulaic template, with assorted variations, that most mysteries novels follow.

When will a brave author be willing to break the mold, or at least one who dares to write a mystery that doesn’t end with the heroine strung up in the barn (figuratively speaking)? Sadly, as long as the public is willing to buy these trite storylines, mystery books will continue to follow the same template.

What are your thoughts about books with similar storylines?

12
Apr

WHAT IS A COZY MYSTERY?

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• Reader is usually a woman who easily identifies with the protagonist.

• Often, protagonist is an outgoing, friendly woman, 30+ years old, with an interesting job or hobby. This provides the opportunity to solve a mystery she never asked for, but is obligated to solve.

• The setting is a community or location providing a sense of camaraderie and frequent contact with the population or patrons. (e.g., small town, college campus, coffee house, gymnasium, cruise ship.)

• Protagonist is an animal lover and often has a dog or cat. She has a sense of humor and a good deal of humor is mixed into the story line.

• She has a friend or boyfriend connected with the police department. This provides access to legal material and information.

• Cozies are frequently a series. Emphasis is on the plot and character development. Readers become emotionally attached to the characters and want to ‘go back’ and spend more time with that character and community. Readers often choose the series or author due to setting which may provide instructions, recipes or household hints. (e.g. knitting shop may give knitting pattern. Bakery or caterer gives recipes.

No graphic sex. Any suggested sex is always behind closed doors. No explicit violence. Any death occurs off screen or in the past. We never harm a child or kill a cat. No profanity. The story is suitable for younger readers or those who prefer a clearer read.

Multiple hints or clues (red herrings) are provided so the reader can play along as she reads and attempt to solve the crime with the protagonist.

Murder with a lighter touch. Never a storyline or situation that lingers to trouble your mind or keep you up at night. Reading a cozy mystery allows you to escape from reality for a while, have fun and forget your troubles.

Black Cat’s Legacy: With the aid or his ancestors’ memories, Thumper, the lodge black cat, must help solve a cold case murder, but someone at the lodge will stop at nothing to hide the Fern Lake mystery. Elaine Faber Author

4
Mar

BLACK CAT'S LEGACY - AVAILABLE NOW

EXCERPT from BLACK CAT’S LEGACY: See BOOKS FOR SALE TO ORDERcover_cat_eyes-realistic-face-3

Kimberlee pulled her suitcases from under the bed and flipped them open.
“What are you doing, Mama?” (Amanda, four year old daughter)
“Let’s go now. We can visit the elephants tomorrow morning.”
“I don’t want to go,” Amanda whined, clasping Thumper to her chest in a death grip. “I don’t want to weave Fumper. He’s my fwiend. He woves me.” Tears puddled in her eyes. Her little mouth quivered.
Kimberlee put her arms around Amanda and the cat. “We were just staying for a little while to visit, Amanda, and now it’s time to leave. When we get settled, I’ll get you another cat, just like Thumper.” Her smile felt forced, but for Amanda’s sake, she’d do anything to make her smile.
“I don’t want anovver cat. I want Fumper.”
She tried to pry Thumper from Amanda’s arms. Amanda clung tighter. “Don’t you want to see the ocean and the wild animals in the park?”
Amanda nodded. “Yeesss.” She pulled away from Kimberlee’s grip. “But I wove Fumper. Can he go wif us, Mama?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. He belongs to Mrs. Herman.” Kimberlee stared at the cat, looking like a furry toy, his black tail swishing across Amanda’s tummy, his long fur spilling over her arms. As she stared, Thumper’s big gold eyes locked on hers. In that instant, he became the symbol of Herman’s Motor Lodge and Brett and the two-faced jealous twit, Dorian. She trembled.
Mrs. Herman’s ugly voice echoed in her ears. ‘There has always been a Black Cat at Herman’s Motor Lodge.’ She’d been so proud, her chest all puffed up like a turkey gobbler. ‘Why, I think we just might go out of business if we didn’t have our very own Black Cat.’ The old bat!
Kimberlee’s hands shook, her chest heaved. Her heart beat so fast, she thought it might burst through her chest. Go out of business? Hell. The place could burn to the ground for all she cared. Here was something she could do to strike a blow for all the pain they’d caused her. It would serve them right if their precious Black Cat disappeared in the night and the lodge went broke because of it.
“Good idea. Let’s go.” She picked up the two suitcases. Amanda clutched Thumper around his middle and waddled to the door. His long body hung loose, his legs reaching almost to her knees.
Kimberlee slammed the cabin door a little harder than needed and propelled her daughter toward the car. She flung the suitcases into the trunk with a thud and slammed the lid.
She snatched Thumper from Amanda and tossed him into the front seat.
She strapped Amanda in her car seat, slid under the steering wheel and slammed the car door. She glanced toward Brett’s cabin.
His cabin door blurred through her tears. Where was he? He might at least come out and say good-bye. Maybe try to stop her. Maybe not. But, could she blame him after the way she spoke to him? She wiped her eyes on the back of her sleeve, turned the key and gunned the engine. Gravel flew, her tires spun as she barreled toward the street.
At the edge of the sidewalk, she brought the car to a stop. What about the motel bill? They had her credit card. They could charge her credit card for the blasted motel room. Her tires peeled rubber on the asphalt. “We’re going to Oregon.”
Kimberlee glanced in the rear view mirror. She caught sight of Amanda waving good-bye to the lodge. Hadn’t Jack told her about a little girl waving from the back of a yellow taxi? And now she understood how her mother could abandon her house, her friends, everything that Fern Lake represented. She, too, wanted to forget. Mother could not leave it behind. Whatever happened that night had followed her day after day until it destroyed her.
Would she ever forget her father’s sins? Probably not. Could she forgive herself for Jack’s tragedy? Not likely. She pressed the gas pedal to the floor and reveled in the roar of her engine, every minute taking her further and further away from Fern Lake, Herman’s Motor Lodge.
Kimberlee clutched the steering wheel, her head thrust forward, her eyes scanning the road, rocketing down the road toward the freeway and Oregon.
Thumper stood on the seat, his front paws on the window ledge. He leaped over the seat and snuggled down beside Amanda. His purr, a throaty purr, rattled through the car in a steady rhythm that sounded content. Perhaps he understood the symbolism he represented and had aligned himself with the Resistance. For, surely, he had gone willingly with his captors into the night.

BLACK CAT’S LEGACY IS AVAILABLE NOW. PRE-ORDER ABOVE AT BOOKS FOR SALE.
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Available at Amazon by April 1, 2014

30
Nov

The Year of the Christmas Stick

Christmas Stick

In the early 1980’s, when my kids were young teenagers, we had to close our business, leaving us in debt. Collection agency calls came almost daily. I paid my house payment with the Visa card. We gave up a 1972 Cadillac convertible to settle a business obligation. The IRS emptied our meager bank account (without notice) to pay the overdue California sales taxes, resulting in bounced checks all over town.

Christmas came and we were in a bad way, financially. No way was there money for a Christmas tree.

My husband brought home a beautiful manzanita branch, mounted it on a base and decorated it with red Christmas balls. Not the traditional Christmas tree, to be sure, but pretty. We set our few presents underneath.

Hubby and I were prepared to deal with the substitute tree, trusting that things would be better next year. The kids hated it, calling it the Christmas Stick. They were embarrassed when their friends came to visit.

We muddled through that financial disaster, took a second mortgage on the house at 14% interest (true) and paid off all the debts. The next Christmas we were back on our feet and had a real Christmas tree.

I was thinking the other day that sometime in our life, we should all have a Year of the Christmas Stick. A year when we can’t afford to buy the children expensive gifts that break before New Year’s Day. A season where we do without the luxuries we’re used to, Christmas trees, lights in the front yard, presents and expensive holiday outings. A year when we become one with folks out there, by virtue of unemployment, natural disaster or illness, who are without a tree, without gifts, for that matter, maybe without a home with a chimney for Santa to slid down.

It’s been over forty years since the Year of the Christmas Stick. On Christmas Day, as our family stumbles from the table loaded down with turkey and all the fixings and we gaze at our ten- foot- tall Christmas tree with gifts piled high, we’ll laugh about the Year of The Christmas Stick. But we remember its message.

We are grateful for the important things. We are blessed with our families, our health, our faith, all gifts from God. We remember to share our bounty with those who are in need. Folks who might think they were blessed to have a Christmas Stick with a few presents underneath even if it was just sweaters and pajamas and sox, like my kids got that year.

I remember how hard things were when we closed the business and struggled to make ends meet, wondering how we could make good on our business debts, keep our home and feed our kids. We struggled and persevered and made do with a manzanita branch for a Christmas tree. Looking back, I remember and thank God for the Year of the Christmas Stick. We all learned lessons I hope we will never forget.

29
Sep

WHAT'S ALL THE FUSS ABOUT STARBUCKS?

coffeecupcoffee-dryingpatio-coffeeresearchorgcoffee-harvesting-cherries-coffeeresearchorgHave you thought about your cup of Starbucks? What’s its story, anyway?
THE COFFEE BEAN: The United States imports more coffee than any other nation. In 2009 the average person in the United States consumed 9 lbs of coffee. Brazil is responsible for approximately 45% of the world's total coffee exports.
The coffee bean is a seed of the coffee plant, the source for coffee. The pit inside the fruit is called a berry or cherry. Even though they are seeds, they are called beans because of their resemblance to true beans.
PICKING/DRYING: When the coffee bean is ripe, it is almost always handpicked. There are two methods of processing the coffee beans. The first method is wet processing. The flesh of the berries is separated from the seeds and then the seeds are fermented–soaked in water for about two days. This dissolves any pulp or sticky residue that may still be attached to the seeds. They are then washed and dried in the sun, or in drying machines.
The dry processing method is used for lower quality seeds. Foreign objects are separated from the berries and the fruit is then spread out in the sun for 2–3 weeks, and raked regularly by hand. The outer shell of the beans turns brown and the beans rattle around inside. Once the beans are dried, all of the layers are removed from the beans (this process is called hulling). Occasionally, beans may be polished in a machine to remove that last little bit of silver skin. Beans are then graded and sorted, first by size, then by density. Beans of unsatisfactory size, color, or otherwise unacceptable, are removed. The green beans are bagged and shipped to buyers around the world−to coffee buyers and then to Starbucks!
ROASTING: The green coffee beans are heated in large, rotating drums using temperatures up to 550 F. The tumbling motion of the drums keeps the beans from burning. Roasting time depends on the desired coffee strength−seven minutes for a light roast to fourteen minutes for espresso.
GRIND: The proper grind brings out the most flavor. Generally, the finer the grind the more quickly the coffee should be prepared. Coffee ground for an espresso machine should be ground finer than coffee brewed in a drip system.
BREWING: Before you brew your coffee, take a moment. Smell their aroma. Think of the many processes these beans have gone through since the day they were hand-picked and sorted in their origin country. Consider the long way they have traveled to your kitchen. Prepare your coffee thoughtfully and enjoy it with pleasure. Many people have been instrumental in bringing it to your cup.
WRITERS CORNER: Like the journey of the coffee bean, as writers we travel a long road from the idea of a novel to its completion. Take time to research for accuracy, fully develop your characters and your plot. Bring it to its fruitful conclusion with care and thoughtfulness.
EVERYONE ELSE: Never undertake a project or a journey without a specific plan, whether it’s baking bread or taking a trip across town. Without consideration of whether you have all the needed ingredients, your bread could be dry and tasteless. If you don’t have a mental GPS of how to get where you’re going, you could end up in Timbuktu. (Metaphorically speaking).

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