Monday, April 13, 2020

Making the Most of Staying In

That sounds like I've been productive, which I haven't been at all. Rajan and I spent a whole morning improving our home-made masks, which we finally found viable. Here they are:

Rajan took an engineering approach and came up with a clever pocket where he can insert a new coffee filter every morning for additional protection. I stuck with the original plan but just modified it so that I could fasten it in two places and pull a bottom layer over my chin while keeping two thicknesses. Both are washable.

What else have we been doing?

Rajan has been going over his negatives and printing some with his enlarger. He's also been doing the grocery shopping. And he starts the day reading news.

I've been reading news (signing petitions), perusing social media, checking on friends and loved ones, and doing a lot of reading.

Both of us have been doing experimental cooking, cleaning up the back garden, taking walks (keeping a social distance), and doing a lot of talking. Somehow the time drifts by. I keep thinking I should feel guilty about not writing. When I told Rajan I'm actually enjoying just day to day living, he said, "It's called retirement." And he has a point: When I retired from full time teaching years ago, I still subbed for friends, I volunteer-taught an after- school art class once a week, went to conferences, took writing and art classes and workshops, wrote and sent out stuff, and got five books published as well as several poems and stories. I didn't really retire.

And I know I never really will: Pretty soon, my fingers will be itching, my plot points will clarify, and I'll be writing away with new energy. But for now I really am following that old 60s phrase, go with the flow. I'm going with the flow.

One of the benefits of walking is seeing all the neighborhoods in bloom: I particularly like dogwood. When we lived in Georgia 38 years ago, I was smitten with the abundance of dogwood trees, both pink and white. There is something about those blossoms and the way the branches layer . . ..

The pink one here is my neighbor's tree. It hasn't reached its full bloom yet.

The white one is a couple of streets away. I took this one a few days ago.

Other things are blooming, too: Daffodils, Irises, Tulips, Lilies, all the bulbs, in fact. (I haven't always had my phone.)

                               One of the places I like to walk is around the garden that surrounds Sutter's Fort, which is spread out between K & L Streets and 26th and 28th Streets. On the K Street side, there are two little ponds with fountains on either side of a low bridge, and walking trails that let you walk through the park to the other side. It is so restful to walk through there: The sound of falling water is one of the most peaceful sounds to hear.

         I do have to admit that yesterday, Easter Sunday, we were a little tired of cooking and tired of leftovers. So we decided to order an Easter meal curbside pickup at one of our favorite happy hour places, Piatti's on Fair Oaks Blvd. They had the perfect selection for us, which we went and picked up: Vegetarian Quiche, roasted potatoes, and a bottle of wine, all for a reasonable price. To that, I added a toss salad. (We are not big eaters, which makes for happy restaurant bills). We set the table with roses from our garden and a candle. I don't have pictures of the meal, but here is the table:

I know the purple pattern looks like a rug, but it's actually a tablecloth we've had for years.

And so, today we were back to normal. Or what my godmother used to call, "getting back to not normal." Soon it will probably be hard to be cavalier about staying home.

I am mindful that if I were younger and not retired, I would not have the luxury of being laid back about staying at home and would instead be chafing about rent/home payments, salary loss, unemployment, health coverage. So, while I am making the most of it at this point in my life, it's another reason I stay informed, sign petitions, call my reps and senators, etc., and I truly worry about all the healthcare workers and front line workers that are bearing the brunt of things.

But I hope, in light of all they are doing, everyone will stay home, stay safe, and stay well.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

A School Visit Before the Coronavirus Struck


So much can happen in a month! I had the good fortune to read from Carnival of the Animals at Elder Creek Elementary School, on February 28th, and March 2nd of this year. The              school was celebrating Read Across America. On Friday, I read for two morning assemblies, one primary, and one intermediate. On Monday I read for 4 individual classes, 1 kindergarten and 3 first grade. Then after school I sold some books!

For the assemblies, I read from Carnival, as I did for Monday's 3 first grade classes. For the kindergarteners on Monday, I read from Dragonella. All of the kids were just wonderful. So attentive and involved. I have always loved reading to Elder Creek kids. I've read there several times from my various books through the years. I used to teach at Elder Creek, and I've basically adopted the school,

I don't have pictures from the assemblies. The principal took some and was going to mail them, and then Sacramento schools, like so many schools all across the nation had bigger things to think about — Covid 19. Our schools are closed for the rest of the school year, and the teachers and students are having classes online — a brilliant solution, although I can only imagine how much work for the the teachers and school administrators, not to mention parents. Let me just say, I would definitely find it daunting and I applaud how they are all stepping up to the challenge.

While I don't have assembly pictures, the teachers in the classrooms were kind enough to take pictures with my smartphone. (I just haven't gotten around to downloading them before today.) I hope you enjoy this little sprinkle of the experience. First, the kindergarteners:

It was great fun to read from
Dragonella again! I missed
that little dragon!

You will notice the students have their back to the camera. That's a policy in many schools now, so that kids aren't easily targeted by strangers who troll the internet sites, including blogs. (A policy I totally approve of.)

Then, it was on to first graders and The Carnival of the Animals, and I had a lot of fun acting out the stories that I read.

So today is a little bit of "catching up" with my blog friends. Next, I'll go visiting blogs that I've missed this month. I've meant to post and visit before now, but somehow house and yard projects have kept me busy, as well as spending a lot of time contacting friends and family to make sure they are safe and well from this Coronavirus. Luckily, my husband and I are faring well so far. We take all the precautions, and we do take walks (being careful to maintain social distancing). How about you? How are you using your indoor time, as we wait out the dangerous period? And how is your health and the health of your loved ones? Do take care and stay safe and well.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

February! Where Did Last Month Go?

Well, January went to a lot of literary activity. That's where it went! I had a book signing at Time Tested Books for Deadly Vintage. It was a small crowd (it was the Super Bowl playoff Sunday, and also a lot of worthy programs were going on to celebrate Dr. King's inspiring life), but those who attended were attentive, and after the reading, we had time to interact more personally than usual: One couple said the excerpt and my lead-up convinced them that their next trip has to be to Portugal!

The gentleman with the camera and the woman next to him
are the couple who now want to go to Portugal.
Here are a few pictures:

Me, reading.

Neighbors, writing partners, and a few total strangers!
Writing-group friends.

Also, this morning, Kings River Life Magazine, a California online magazine full of great information about books, writing, events, news, etc., highlighted a nice review of Deadly Vintage. Here is the link to the magazine.   And Here is the link to the review. Check it out. They are also featuring a giveaway for the book for those who live in the U.S.

Then I firmed up an order for copies of my poetry chapbook, Saudade, Thirty Poems of Longing, which is being released February 14th from Finishing Line Press. ("Saudade" is a special sentiment or emotion that is typically Portuguese.) This is the first print run, and you can order a copy directly from them here: You can also read some nice blurbs about the chapbook by other poets. 

At the same time, I firmed up two school visits to read from my story collection, Carnival of the Animals, at a school where I used to teach. I will be speaking to an assembly on February 28th, and then reading excerpts to individual classrooms on March 2nd. (For those who want to know more about Carnival, you can go to my interview with Craig Briggs, here and order the book here.)

Aside that, I've been going to writing groups and poetry workshops, and beta-reading a friend's book. I've also been reading a tone of good books, some mystery, some historical novels, some poetry. Pretty soon more book reviews will be coming.

And last, but not least, last night I went to an even called Stories on Stage, here in Sacramento, where Pam Houston was one of two featured authors. The event is structured so that the author is present, but a person with good stage history and background reads the excerpt and dramatizes it as they read.  Houston's book, Deep Creek, is a memoir. Her other books were for sale, and at the break, I bought Cowboys Are My Weakness, the book that launched her so to speak. I had never read it, and the wonderful writing that showed through the reading made me realize I needed to read more of her terrific writing. So far I've read two of the stories, and, frankly, her writing just grabs me, even if the lifestyle doesn't. 

Speaking of reading good books, what books have you been reading this month? Any good mysteries you want to share? Any poets? Story collections? I mostly read books recommended to me these days, so . . . any recommendations? 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Happy New Year!

Time has been flying, so I'm wishing you a Happy New Year sooner than later, since "later" could turn into "way late," the way life has been rushing by.

I had two exciting pieces of news in 2019 - my poetry book, Saudade, was accepted for publication and will be released in February, and my cosy mystery, Deadly Vintage, set in Portugal was published. The poetry book had a lot of work attached to it, and I have a book signing for the mystery coming up January 19th at Time Tested Books (my favorite independent bookstore in Sacramento). But I expect spring to be a little calmer than recent months.

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas. We did, with our god family in the Bay Area, as we do every year. And three days before that, we celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary. Here are what is left of our flowers (the white mums and the lilies),  supplemented with some dianthus (the red and the red-edged ones) that we inserted last week to prolong the bouquet. (This is in our kitchen nook.)

Before our anniversary, we had a 9-day trip to the east coast to visit my niece and her husband in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and my husband's brother and his wife in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Both places were cold for us poor, wimpy, central Californians. Pittsburgh was the coldest. It even snowed one night while we were there. But the visits were wonderful.

Then two days after Christmas, we and another couple celebrated the 50th anniversary of mutual friends in the home of some of their friends who gave them a  wonderful party that went all afternoon. A really lovely celebration.

And yesterday one of my writing groups met to critique manuscripts and then to exchange gently used books. That, too, was so enjoyable. But . . . see what I mean? Way busy!

 Now I expect to take it easy right up to New Year's Day. Reading is big on the agenda. We don't go out for NY Eve anymore but watch the ball drop from the comfort of our living room. We'll probably watch a good movie.

As for New Year resolutions — I do sort of make them. I have two main ones this year. One is finishing my next book and the other is working on my Spanish. I will keep you posted on how both of those turn out.

How about you? Are you ready for the New Year? How was your Christmas? Do you make resolutions?

Best wishes for all good things to happen for you in 2020.


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Before Spain, Let's Go to Portugal; Here's Why

My new book, a cozy mystery,
set in Braga, Portugal. 
My new book, a cozy mystery, set in Braga, Portugal, was released Thanksgiving Day (while I was busy cooking). If you click on the link, you can go check it out HERE.

This book is near and dear to my heart. I got the idea for it before I ever went to Braga. I just liked the idea of setting a mystery in Portugal, and that was the closest city to our area in Spain (Galicia). I felt I could go to Braga and do first-hand research.

When we actually went to Braga, we met wonderful people who became our friends, and now every time we go to Galicia, we take a few days in Braga for further research — and to see our friends.

What is Deadly Vintage about?

Carla Bass, an interior designer has accompanied her husband, Owen, while he oversees a hotel remodel for his employer's new chain. They rent an apartment in the historical part of Braga, where most of the story takes place. (As you can see from pictures below, it's a picturesque and charming area.) When a wine seller gives Carla a mysterious bottle of Port by mistake (she thinks) she returns to his shop to give it back to him and finds him dead. The last to see him alive, she's now a suspect.

Here are a few scenes from Carla's Braga:
This is Carla's favorite bookstore:
Centésima Página ("Hundredth Page"
in English. See the "100" on the glass?)
Carla and Owen often eat lunch there,
as there is a food bar and small tables
 inside toward the back.
The lobby of the same building.
That's a cardboard cut-out of the
poet Pessoa lurking by the lamp.
And Carla often sees this woman
playing her violin on the streets
near the music college.

This  fountain, a defining landmark
of the historic Praça da República, has
colored lights playing on the jets each
 evening. The arcade is to the left, and
a MacDonald's that you can't see is
to the right. The corner building is the
National Bank. The red building is the
hotel Owen's employer is remodeling. 
Detective Fernandes is
investigating the finances
of someone (can't say who)
at the National Bank, and . . ..

Cafe Vianna has a long literary and
political history in Braga, although
now it is simply a favorite cafe/eatery
and is always busy. Carla and Owen
hang out here a lot, after hours. 
The last scene in the book
takes place here, as a matter
of fact. But first, there's a
mystery to solve . . ..

Carla has to talk to Maria about . . ., well, you'll find out. But Maria chooses the Jardim de Santa Barbara (Garden of Santa Barbara) for their discussion. 

A nice place to relax and talk
honestly, don't you think?
Well . . . it should be
And then there's the matter of Maria's boyfriend. This time Carla chooses the place to talk — the Museu Imagem (the Image Museum). You go right through the Arco da Porta Nova, then the museum is on your right, after a souvenir store. 
The Arco da Porta Nova (Arch
of the New Gate), designed by
André Soares, an architect of
Northern Portugal, famous for
his Baroque design.

The Museu Imagem: the modest-looking red building. It's a 
free museum, specializing in wonderful photography exhibits. 
If you go through the arch and turn left, on a corner a street away (not in the picture) is the house where Carla attends an estate auction and ruffles someone's feathers.
Before the auction, She and Owen dine at their favorite restaurant: Taberna do Félix (sometimes called Félix Taberna), and catch up on their news of the day. 

A romantic place, if your conversation isn't about dead bodies.
The next day, unexpectedly she has coffee with someone at A Brasileira (The Brazilian Woman) and the mystery deepens.

A Brasileira originally started in Lisbon (or
Lisboa), but it has a rich political history in
Braga. Its logo boasts that the best coffee is
that of the Brazilian Woman.

And the logo is printed on cups, napkins, even sugar packets!

I hope you've enjoyed this little taste of Portugal and the teasers that went with it as much as I enjoyed sharing them.  Your comments are always welcome.  Meanwhile, check out the book if you like cozies, HERE and have a great day. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Reading — One of Life's Great Pleasures

Right now I am reading two books — both mysteries, but different kinds of mysteries. The Sherlock Holmes mystery will get reviewed on my Victorian Scribbles blog soon. Stay tuned . . ..

Meanwhile, I am scrabbling through poets and overdue posts re: our Spain trips in 2019 to be posted here. Again, stay tuned . . ..

Everyone have a great Thanksgiving if I don't get back before then.

Friday, November 15, 2019

An Interview with Poet, Gary Kruse

I have attended two weekly poetry workshops this the past year, learning and being exposed to new poetry I like very much. The poetry of one member, Gary Kruse, caught my attention for the mixture of visual imagery combined with deep philosophical thought. He has  been involved in poetry programs, readings, and has been published in online poetry vehicles, and has kindly consented to an interview about his process.

Before the interview begins, you can read some of his poetry at Lit Break Journal  HERE .  And you can contact him at his Facebook Author Page
HERE if you want to respond to his poetry or ask him any questions

                                                               THE INTERVIEW:
Q. When did you first write poetry? Have you written fiction or non-fiction as well?
I wrote half a dozen poems during my last two years of high school. After that it was fifty years before I wrote a poem again.  When I started college, I wanted to write plays more than anything else I could imagine doing in life. But since there weren’t many undergraduate playwriting classes, most of the writing classes I took were for short fiction.  

I eventually had to accept that the short stories and plays I wrote were, frankly, incompetent. But they had just enough glimmers of talent to keep me trying for a few years and enough talent to keep my instructors from writing me off. When I put my creative energy into art and design classes I got a positive reception and a lot of encouragement.  I did make a few more attempts to write plays during my late twenties but after that I stopped doing creative writing altogether. 

Q. What inspired you to start writing poetry again—fifty years later? 
I went through some emotionally difficult circumstances starting in 2012.  Poetry started creeping into some letters I was writing a year later and I found that writing poetry was a good way to process some of the emotional overload of those days.  I had no idea that I might actually have a talent for it—meaning the poetry.

2016 was when I started attending a weekly poetry workshop. After a few weeks at the workshop, all my other interests became what I did when I wasn’t writing. I’ve been at it ten to thirty hours a week since then and I try to have a poem for the workshop most of the time.

Q. Where do you find your inspiration for poetry? What sparks your interest?
During the years that I made a living as a designer, doing mostly retail store design, I spent about half of my free time studying and reading on my own—subjects like psychology, world religions, mythology, and medieval culture—that was my idea of having fun. 

I suspect a lot of what I write now pulls from that—although I’m not remembering a book or author. Instead, I’m prompted, in some way, to remember what I’ve learned about different ways to look at the world, different postures one can take. A memory of something that I studied years ago may be triggered by a line I’ve written and then my memory of the subject might return along with the joy of the initial discovery. 

I’m inspired a great deal by the very process of writing poems—looking at significant experiences in my own past and our culture’s past—then the trial and error of trying to remember what it was I understood the first time around—the initial hunch, the initial shots in the dark, the ones that echoed without the usual ridicule—trying to retrofit various meanings onto an experience from the past in the present time in a way that opens up the experience without suffocating it, subjecting it as well to metaphors, irony, various meters and forms, listening for multiple voices that I can put in tension, then stirring and shaking and editing for several days.
And sometimes, the whole mess starts to sound like a poem. Or it doesn’t. And the resulting poem, if one arrives, is rarely anything like what I imagined writing. Where did it come from? The surprise of it all, when it happens, has me wanting to try it again as soon as I can. There’s nothing else like it. And when the process is working, there’s the matter of feeling connected to something larger than myself—when I can trust in the alchemy of it all. And at other times the trust thing is lost and the alchemy stuff sounds silly, immature, and superstitious. And when I feel that way I don’t write well or I don’t write at all.

Occasionally I write something just to have fun.  But I can have a great deal of fun writing about an otherwise depressing subject if I can bring imagination to it.

Q. What is your writing process? Do you first start with an image? A recurring line? A theme or idea?
I usually start with three or four words that become part of the first line of the poem. That’s what usually gets something sputtering about on the page. And I can get awfully impatient waiting for those to show up. If I’m hoping to get a new poem started, I’m usually throwing words and phrases around in the back of my head, somewhat unconsciously, at various idle moments and hoping to hear something unexpected, intriguing, or phonetically delicious. 

For me, if I catch a little phrase that’s clever but doesn’t have any emotional meat on it, I’ve learned that I have to throw it back. I’ve also tried to start a poem from an image but it seems my visual art background gets in the way. Most of my poems have a story line and so far, when I find an exciting image I want to work with I haven’t been able to find a story inside it. I find that my poems are not inclined to “be here now;” they’re not inclined to expand the present moment. 

Q. How often do you write? Do you write full time or part time?
I have a simple part time job but other than that I can put about as much time as I want into writing which is currently about fifteen hours each week. If I’m really immersed in a poetry project, it’s wonderful to spend six hours every day of the week writing. That’s my idea of luxury. Once or twice a year I find that I need to stop writing for a few months and build something with my hands. That seems necessary. 

Q. Do you read a lot of poetry? Who are some of your favorite poets and why?
I try to. The poets I enjoy tend to be pretty philosophical. That really limits the range of poets that I read. I’d like to be able to read more broadly but I think I’m just not wired that way. With that in mind, my two favorite poetry books on the nightstand now are one by Louise Glück and one by Tomas Tranströmer. I’m also enjoying the work of Chris Wiman currently and some of Jane Hirschfield, James Richardson, Mahmoud Darwish, Rilke and Neruda. Those are a few of the names that come to mind. The names keep changing.

Q. How important do you think poetry is to society?
Regarding the culture at large, I think it’s currently of marginal value given the way that film, television, popular songs, and novels have taken over much of the role of poetry in the culture. I think that’s just the nature of a technological culture. But there’s an economy or density that’s unique to poetry. Some poets have coupled this aspect of poetry with the capabilities of Instagram, Twitter, and audio files and their poems are being read by a previously unimagined number of readers. While it’s safe to say these poems are not ones appearing in The New Yorker or Poetry, perhaps the internet offers a potential for a poetry renaissance?

For myself and many of my poet friends, regardless of the culture at large, I think we’d defend our right to read and write poetry with our lives or at least with some very sharp words.

Q. Your bio lists an MFA in Stage Design and theater work.  Does your experience in theater affect your poetry? 
While the theater work was short lived, I do like to include a little dialogue in some of my poems. Also, I keep trying to think up ways I could do readings that would be richer and more impactful for listeners, more theatrical in the best sense of that word. I often wonder if public readings could be done in a way that would attract a greater number of non-poets. 

Q. You’ve been published in online magazines, been a featured poet in a poetry program in Placerville and at the Sacramento Poetry Center. What’s next?
I think I should set up a web site. I’ve just now set up a Facebook “writer page” so I’ll see how that works first. I’m getting ready to send out more poems. And I want to see if there’s a way to pull together a chapbook. I’ve been trying out a number of different styles and themes including a number of prose poems. I’m not sure if I can find a common theme or style that will allow a selection of my poems to cohere. 

Q. What is your advice for someone just getting into poetry, either as a reader or a writer?
As a writer, participating in a regular poetry workshop has been the most helpful step for me. 

One might consider these services to discover poets to learn from and be inspired by:
https// (check “Poem of the Day”)

Meeting modern poems for the first time: If you want to read or write poetry in the modern vein but you haven’t had much exposure previously, I’d suggest that newcomers anticipate that some poems are hard to read. I presume if one knows this up front it will be less frustrating if comprehension ever feels like an issue. I’ve found lots of modern poetry very easy to read. Maybe read more challenging poems as you have time and interest? I wish someone had told me how much easier it gets with experience.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts for this interview. It was a pleasure to learn more about your history and process. 

Reminder: You can read some of Gary's poetry at Lit Break Journal . And you can contact Gary at his Facebook Author's Page .

How many of you like to read or write poetry? Which do you like best, and what kind of poetry? Have any of you submitted your poetry to websites or magazines? Any follow-up questions for Gary?