avoid the drama

 

Keeping things positive.21820491_1440203652767010_175824038269026304_n

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book clubs and Coyote Wells

Excerpt from Shadow Canyon

Elnora’s house overflowed with Happy Bookers. The librarian took the time to introduce everyone to her new boyfriend, Ansel Conover, who seemed friendly enough carrying around a tray of rolled chicken tacos and dip.

Overall, the turnout was more than Gemma had expected. Just as club members had hoped, there were lots of new faces in the crowd. 3D SC png

Lianne had dragged her reluctant next-door neighbor, Enid Lloyd, to the meeting by promising her food and drink. On the other hand, Gemma had pushed the novel onto Leia hoping the chef would appreciate the depression-era southern recipes. Leia in turn had sweet-talked Rima and Willow into coming.

Gemma joined the others as they took seats in a circle around the living room, determined to fit in with the klatch no matter what.

While Elnora filled their glasses with a nice merlot that went well with the finger food, Gemma decided to bend Ansel’s ear on his next trip around the room with the hors d’oeuvres. It didn’t take long.

“You have an unusual first name. Anything to do with Ansel Adams, the photographer?”

“My mother was a huge fan. Ansel. Now there’s a name that gets you beat up a lot after school. You’re from San Francisco, right?”

“Actually I’m from Coyote Wells, born and raised. I spent several years in the Bay Area though until I moved back here a few months ago.”

“Weird weather there. Cold in the summer. Is there ever a time when it’s warm?”

“Not many know this but the hottest month in San Francisco is actually September.”

“Good to know. Maybe I’ll surprise Elnora with a trip there in the fall, make the rounds of all the museums. Elnora would love that.”

“Didn’t you used to teach archaeology at UC Davis?”

“Anthropology,” Ansel corrected. “The systematic study of our evolutionary origins. Studying our cultural backgrounds, processing our evolutionary biology, those are some of the most stimulating fields of study. How I do miss the classroom and looking out on the eager faces of my students. They always managed to ask great questions. I had to think on my feet and be prepared for any discussion.”

Gemma didn’t think she’d ever been that ecstatic about evolutionary origins, but then she’d come a long way since her days as a freshman. “I was wondering. Might you know a good forensic anthropologist, someone who could do a facial reconstruction like I’ve seen on the Doe Network?”

“What a fascinating question. I believe I could get you in touch with a former colleague of mine who does that sort of thing. Why do you ask?”

She filled him in on the town’s Jane Doe. “Her family deserves to know what happened to her. She at least deserves a name.”

“That’s a noble gesture. Don’t leave here without getting Candace Stewart’s number. She specializes in facial reconstruction at the Institute of Sciences. She still teaches a class at Cabrillo College.”

“Thanks. How much do you think something like that would cost?”

“Don’t worry about that yet. Besides, depending on the situation, it might fall under the federal grant Candace obtained. Or, she might get her students to do it gratis as a project. But you do realize the process takes months.”

“I just need to get it going. I don’t care how long it takes.”

“How long what takes?” Leia wanted to know as she elbowed her way into the conversation.

“The Jane Doe project.”

“The whole town could take up a collection and pay for it,” Leia suggested.

“Now you’re talking,” Ansel said as he moved on to fulfill his boyfriend duties.

Leia leaned in near Gemma’s ear. “When do I get to tell everyone here that those recipes in the book suck?”

“Shh! Don’t make waves,” Gemma chided. “I don’t want to get kicked out my first time here.”

“Oh, please. Don’t give me that superior attitude. You’d feel differently if it involved chocolate.”

“How many recipes did you try anyway? Maybe it was a fluke.”

“Mom and I picked ten and split them up between us. Of the five I made, it was that awful breakfast casserole that was the worst. I thought poor Zeb might have to make an appointment to see Luke to get his stomach pumped.”

“Oh, come on.”

“I’m not kidding. I should’ve thrown the entire dish down the garbage disposal the first time I sampled it. If the author messed up chocolate truffles the way she screwed up a simple pasta recipe, you’d be livid.”

“Well. Yeah. Goes without saying.” Gemma looked around the room, her eyes landing on Edna. “Did you know she brings fresh flowers every day out of her garden to half the stores along Water Street, including the shop?”

“Sure. Where do you think the restaurant gets all those hydrangeas we put on the tables? Edna’s garden is a showplace.”

Elnora called the meeting to order and everyone took their seats. To Gemma’s surprise, the book discussion lasted a mere forty-five minutes. All the while she had to keep kicking Leia to prevent her from complaining about the recipes. But in the end Lucinda Fenton was the one who brought it up.

“I think maybe the author left out a few key ingredients. That recipe for homemade dumplings turned out just awful.”

That subject had Leia bounding to her feet, thoroughly picking apart each recipe she’d tried and ruined. For the next thirty minutes they discussed flogging the author before the talk turned to more docile gossip. Everyone wandered back over to where the appetizers had been set up to graze and chat about the next book selection.

Getting bored, Rima tapped Gemma on the shoulder. “I thought of something else that happened that summer. It might mean nothing. But then again, it might just help in some way.”

“Come with me, let’s take this outside so we can hear each other,” Gemma said, steering Rima onto a side terrace lined with flowerpots, rows of containers overflowing with every color imaginable of blossoms.

“Geraniums are Elnora’s specialty. She grows them from seeds,” Rima pointed out.

“So I see. What’s up? What did you recall from that summer?”

“Remember how I told you that Lindsay Bishop was the second car accident that summer in August. Well, I forgot one little detail. Lindsay got married that spring, April I believe. She’d only been Aaron Barkley’s wife for four months when she had that car wreck. You should check to see if Aaron collected a fat insurance payout afterward. I remember his spending a lot of cash around town after that.”

“Why Rima, you think like a super sleuth. I’m proud of you.”

“Hey, I watch crime shows. Theo teases me all the time about them. It’s sort of a hobby of mine at the end of the day. It’s time he respected the importance of murder mysteries.”

“I’ll say. Any time a spouse ends up dead four months after the wedding is cause for alarm and a reason to ask questions.”

“That’s just it. I don’t think anyone did…ask questions. Do you think the two accidents might be related?”

“You never know. But it’s a highly suspicious coincidence. And way past time to start digging for answers.”

keep the door open to long distance friends

The holidays are a perfect time to take inventory of those long-distance friendships you’ve cultivated over the years. You may not see them as often as you’d like to sit down for a cup of coffee or go outimages for a long gabfest over lunch, but it doesn’t mean you can’t nurture them along another way. As it turns out I have a whopping high percentage of people in my life who live somewhere else. I attribute this to moving around quite a bit in my early twenties and thirties.

It makes it an art to keeping these long-distance friendships alive and well even though they live hundreds of miles away from me and in some cases in another country. For me, I tend to do a lot of communicating via emails. But let’s face it, sometimes that doesn’t cut it when it comes to sitting down and catching up with friends.  Skype works, as does long Sunday afternoon phone calls. No cutting corners on this one by passing on this part. Think of it this way. If you know someone who’s traveled all over the world you have a built-in conversation. I love beff1ab2bcf0c1ba671cf073d814b48e--long-distance-friends-long-distance-quoteshearing about what life is like somewhere else.  I think we’re all curious about what’s going on where we don’t live and that’s true for people we don’t see in person very often.

So keep the door open to all kinds of communication, making sure you ask what’s happening in their neck of the woods with family and life in general. From Savannah to London or Vancouver, it’s always a pleasure to hear from my faraway friends. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

get in the giving mood with a twist

“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”        Maya Angelou

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If you’re like me, Christmas has become about a huge pile of gifts that no one really needs or wants. Sure, those soft, furry slippers will come in handy on cold, winter nights, same for the new pair of gloves. And I promise to find somewhere to show off that new sweater. But let’s get real. If you want to do something special this year, maybe try giving to people who really need it. I’m not talking about re-gifting the can opener Aunt Mary sent after the fact.  Nope.

There are lots of ways to give—bake something for a sick neighbor, make a donation to a food bank, hand over your saved pennies to the Salvation Army kettle, make a donation to UNICEF. With all the disasters we’ve had this year, it’s a perfect time to write out a check to the Red Cross. Or try my favorite, a donation to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. If you’re stretched too thin to make a financial contribution, volunteer to read to a group of kids at your local hospital. Their little faces will light up in delight as soon as you open up that book and begin to read to them. You might have to wear a mask, depending on the ward, but if you speak up and speak clearly, trust me, they won’t mind at all.

summer lavender

Does anything smell better than a summer stroll through lavender? It’s taken a learning curve for me to grow it—bright sunlight and the right kind of soil. It likes its own space, Lavenderdoesn’t like to be crowded into a pot or a flower bed. I guess you could say it doesn’t like to share. But what I’ve discovered is to prune, prune, prune. Deadhead all the brown stuff and do it quickly, otherwise the part that’s just bloomed and wilted will take over your entire plant(s). As for the soil, I was told to add in limestone or sand to let it drain, drain, drain. So don’t spend years making the same mistakes I made. With a little research you can come up with the right mix to grow lavender. Just remember it doesn’t like to be neglected. But when it blooms, the fragrance is well worth the fuss. And you can’t beat the purple color that invariably brightens up a spot where white daisies and hydrangeas thrive. If you’re hesitant to grow lavender, take the plunge. What used to be a failure in the garden, is now a summer staple for me. I love the aroma. For that alone, I make the extra effort.

#5 Skye Cree: Truth in the Bones

Skye Cree is after a madman like no other. He’s cunning, smart, dangerous, a serial killer who preys on entire families. He’s gone undetected for five years until an analytical nerd stumbles on a pattern of murders across the U.S. with no apparent connections.

Slowly Skye begins to connect the dots. But with lives at stake, will she be able to figure out the link in time to catch this psychopath before he adds more victims to his tally? Or will she get outfoxed and jeopardize everything she loves one last time? Everything hinges on trying to end the reign of a serial killer who has nothing to lose. Will Skye take him down and find justice for the families or has she met her match?

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peace, solitude, the arboretum

“The Arboretum now nurtures people in the same way it once nurtured trees. It feeds their spirits and souls, their minds and bodies. It provides somewhere to put down roots, to be part of and give strength one to another through its collective efforts, its coming together whether to fight that which threatens it or to nurture its young and old, each “tree” supporting and being supported by its neighbours.”

~ The Arboretum Story, 1991

prairies, woodlands, wetlands, and gardens–find it all at the arboretum.

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Morris Arboretum Philadelphia, PA