July 23, 2016

What is it about Purses?


     The day that my mother had her handbag stolen in the supermarket is a memory that has stayed with me since childhood. She was devastated. All of the grocery money gone. Someone asked her for directions to the peanut butter and she stepped away from her shopping basket to help them while an accomplice took her purse. I remember how angry and violated she was. The money was gone but even as a kid I knew there was more to it than that. They had taken a part of her.

A handbag like my Mom's

As long as I could recall we were never allowed to go into my mother’s purse. It was hers, something personal and sacred, a mysterious container where she kept her cash and her keys and that hush-hush pack of Tareyton cigarettes that she only ever smoked in private. Now I understand what she lost when those thieves took her purse.

The ads claimed that Tareyton smokers would "rather fight than switch".

For me, growing up in a household with five younger siblings meant that little was safe. Later, when I had children of my own, I was reminded that just being kids they get into everything. Without realizing all of the reasons why, I too set a rule that no one was ever allowed in my purse. It was less about preserving my privacy and more about saving my sanity. If my keys and money fell into the hands of the little buggers I might never find them again. And so I developed something of an obsession over my handbags and how they meant privacy and respect. They are personal statements when they are hung over your shoulder or tucked beneath your arm. Even though it may be purely my vivid imagination, there is a part of me that always wonders what mysteries and clues to a woman’s life lurk there within the confines of her handbag.

You can get a few hints from the outside, observinging women going about their day with their bags. I could watch them for hours. I remember seeing a woman carrying a perfectly suited bag at Linvilla Orchards, in the fall. She was a pretty young brunette wearing autumn neutrals with a pumpkin colored leather bag and she was a great example. The bag spoke volumes about how comfortable she was with herself. It wasn't disproportionately small compared to her body which tells me she wasn’t unhappy with her weight. It didn't overpower her either in size or contents and it made the attractive topknot on her head even prettier. Purses women carry always spark my imagination.

Although I am sure that the reason for the passion over purses varies from person to person, there's a lot of us who are fascinated by them. Handbags are a huge market and there are ladies frequently spilling out the contents for those, “What’s in your purse?” videos. Some of the photo sharing sites have entire sections devoted to them.

A special handbag.

This week I received a beauty, a truly stunning handbag. It was sent to me from a devoted reader, who reads not only all of my novels, but my weekly blogs as well. I don’t know her, but she tells me all of the things I share have touched her and in many ways she feels as if she knows me. That, in turn has touched me. Not to mention that she has figured out, purely from my blogs, what a sucker I am for a lovely handbag. So, she’s rather clever too. It's is really wonderful to know that there are people out there who are paying attention. I love that! Her gift is perfect and I really appreciate the trouble she went through to get it to me.

Handmade and a perfect shade of pink!

In turn I have decided to let her, and all my readers inside this lovely bag. I fear that the contents are really not all that thrilling, but in case you're wondering what’s inside my new and incredibly beautiful, perfectly delicious pink, leather purse, here it all is. I am truly enjoying it and you can see me tooling around town with it everywhere. I might even name it. Any suggestions?

A peek inside the bag filled with some of my most prized possessions.

I like to keep my purse organized with little bags and clutches.

I have my wallet and my iPhone, a writing book for notes and a pouch for things like my earbuds and hair clips.

I always carry good pens for book signings and my journal for keeping ideas.

My date book helps me be sure I keep my appointments and makes me smile.

Another pouch holds my lotions, glass nail file, manicure kit, a few make-up essentials and mints.

Now I can grab my lovely new purse, my knitting bag and my notes and travel the world in style!

My husband and I and my lovely bag out in the world.

If you love this bag you can find it here

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July 16, 2016

Seasonal Reasoning

        I grew up in sunny southern California. It rained for a bit in November and even got chilly enough that I owned a coat, of sorts. Not anything like what I need here "back east" but it did the job on a foggy, forty-degree evening. We had a telephone outside. There was a long cord that ran out the back bedroom window to the patio and it seemed as if it was out there most of the year. Sometimes here, in eastern Pennsylvania, it’s not even safe to leave your car outside.
A shot following the June 2010 hail storm

     There’s tons of weather here. I have seen electrical storms that have made every tiny hair on my body stand up straight. Huge bolts of lightning, especially across the New Jersey skyline, that make you marvel and respect the power of nature. I have waded through water over my knees, while saving picnic apple pies, during a summer flash flood, dug passageways through several feet of snow and marveled at an autumn foliage display against vivid blue skies. Weather. It is one of the reasons I love living here.

Some of the first flowers of spring

     That first spring I arrived it was May. The dogwoods were in bloom and the bright azaleas had just begun to emerge. Everything was fresh and green. I had grown up in a place where you had to ask for precious water in restaurants and the lawns were mostly dry. The most prominent trees were the palms with fronds and no leaves. From the moment I stepped off the plane it was as if I had soared to another planet. There were lush, leafy trees everywhere and even the toilets in the airport restroom were flushing constantly. The faucets ran anytime you came near them. There was clearly water everywhere. I loved it.

A little wren who returns every year

     Come June things changed. One morning the heat hit. From the ground large mahogany wasps emerged, dangling disconcerting legs and buzzing aggressively. The humidity began to rise and I felt as if I could barely breathe. I needed to cool off and I got right into the shower. It didn’t help at all. If anything I felt the heat and humidity even more. That first summer season, in southern New Jersey, I thought I would die. It seemed one day all the world became like the inside of an oven. Then, the sky opened up and set everything free. Once again it was fresh and green. Then the following day the heat began to build again. And so it is with summer here. It builds, releases and begins again.
     Now, many years later, I have central air conditioning, and it is not unusual for me to linger in it. I visit my garden early, before the sun rises too high, and then fling open doors and windows for rain-rinsed air after the refreshing downpour comes through. I am not a big fan of the heat, but in order to enjoy weather, I suppose it is part of the experience.

Beautiful autumn leaves

My grandsons

     Our springs and falls are never long enough. I’m not sure that they ever could be, they are so uplifting and longed for. When those dogwoods emerge once again, after a brisk winter, I can barely stay indoors and on an early October morning when the sky is perfectly blue and the day begins anew, surviving the summer heat makes it much more precious. When the geese begin to gather for their winter visits here I want to be nowhere else on this earth.

 Cat prints in the first snowfall.

 A January thaw

Winter in Pennsylvania

     But alas, right now it is July. They predict that today the thermometer will climb into the high nineties. That seems like the perfect day to begin a new novel or venture out onto the porch, beneath the spinning ceiling fan and put away a nice ice-filled glass of lemonade. I will remind myself that in order to love a place with all kinds of weather I have to also know the staggering days of July. I wonder when the rain is coming.

City Hall, Philadelphia in December.

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July 9, 2016

How I came to know of Rov McManus

According to Andy Warhol, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. Rove McManus gets an extra minute from me, although apparently in Australia he has had lots of those minutes.

It is vacation time and this summer we decided to opt for a post-publishing stay-cation. Following the release of my latest novel, Snake Oil, my husband and I were ready to hide away and catch our breath. Rather than hitting the hot summer road, we instead caught a movie, tried a new restaurant, enjoyed dinner at home with friends and, my favorite, took a romantic ride out to Adamstown, Pa, one of the antique capitals of America. I love antiquing and over time we have nearly perfected a system for scanning our favorite shops along a stretch of farmland a convenient hour or so away. There are shops with oodles of vintage jewelry behind glass and sellers with giant antique mermaid fountains that stand twenty feet tall. My favorites are those vendors that have their collectibles tucked into booths a bit willy-nilly, filled with hidden treasures that beg to be brought back to life and loved once again. In one of those places, I found the crab.

I put him on the stove for perspective. If I never cooked he might be living there still.

The delightful critter is a fantastic two feet wide, welded sheet metal, sharp-edged and enchanting, shiny, red crustacean and I had to have him! At home, over my stove, where the boring, white wainscoting awaits adornment, over the gleaming red knobs and handles of my stove, there was simply nothing that fit quite perfectly on the wall to inspire my cooking. That is until I found this captivating big metal crab. My husband smiled when I began to describe my vision of the hardened steel sea creature artfully poised above the stove, creatively displayed and begging guests to gasp and mutter, “Look at that crab!” I explained that the red metal beast gave me vision and inspiration and my darling mate freed him from the tangle of other metal contraptions, roosters and tin flamingos and such, and carried him cautiously to the counter.

My crabby vision realized.

A colorful gentleman greeted us and since I suspect we looked like a couple of rather silly tourists, proceeded to tell us a very far-fetched and barely believable story about how Mexican Indians, who hate to be called Mexicans, built these works of art out of abandoned petroleum drums on the oil fields of Mexico. We listened, somewhat attentively, right up until he told us that some of the works of art have bullet holes in them from oil raiders or some such thing, thanked him for the history lesson and then took the crab and tucked him away in the trunk. We discussed in the car that the salesman was very likely full of bologna, but part of the experience nonetheless and headed home.

Don't tell me I have plenty of stuff in my kitchen already! See how he belongs there?

I planned and plotted across every mile back home how we might mount the tin beast above the stove and we came to the conclusion that said metal crab needed a name. My husband suggested Poncho Villa, based on the supposed Mexican connection. We spent our ride home trying to recall famous crabbers or even lobstermen, then famed fishermen, then famous crabs in literature. With some help from Siri on my iPhone we discovered that sadly there are not many famous crustaceans to be found. We learned things about Ernest Hemingway and his love of fishing and about some legendary and terrifying Spanish banditos, but the right title did not emerge. That was until Pat asked if the crabs in the film Finding Nemo had names. Those two colorful characters that are guarding the bubbling sewer pipe and yelling, “Hey, hey!” to every fish that swims by, do not appear to have been called anything but crabs. But, behind every cartoon is a voice that makes the character come alive, that man, whose, “Hey, hey”, helps us to know the greedy and protective little crabs that are too busy enjoying their “manna from heaven”, to help Nemo much at all. That sound is the voice of Rov McManus. Apparently, he is a celebrity in Australia and I are sure he works hard to maintain his popularity. But now, Mr. McManus is much more. I’m sure he would be honored, should he stumble across my blog while living his famous life down under, to know of this fame. He ought to be because now he is well-known enough to have an awesome, big, metal crab named after him. And every time I look at the wall in my kitchen, over my stove, I will smile and say, “Hey, hey” to my new friend, Rov McManus, a breathtaking work of art and huge metal crab. 

 Meet Rov McManus!

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July 2, 2016

Keeping the Champagne Tub


     In April 2014 I added my “Champagne Tub” to the garden. After spending the morning at my daughter’s home splashing around in her beautiful pool I was impressed how cool I stayed all day afterwards. With no intention to put in a full swimming pool, I decided a kind of a plunking pond to get into on a hot day might be appealing. And so, the idea of the champagne tub was born. After plenty of research and daydreaming I ordered a tub. Recently, there was a discussion about galvanized tubs for pond use on Facebook with lots of questions and I have decided to share my experience.
     I ordered the tub, a two-hundred-gallon size, from a farm supply company in South Carolina. It was very easy to find several online. It was shipped freight and arrived strapped to a wooden pallet. I set it free and rolled it down into the lower level of my yard. It was a bit awkward but not terribly heavy and I was able to handle it alone. While waiting for it to arrive I had set a section of level square cement stones into the yard and I put it there.

The handy drain

     The tub was washed thoroughly with regular dish soap and rinsed well. It has a nice plug on the side that is easily removed for draining. If I only want to empty part of the tub I have a large siphon from the aquarium/pet shop, but I only used that once. I also ordered a small, really inexpensive, pool net to skim out leaves. Even though the tub is located beneath my beautiful river birch it stays relatively clean and I skim it about once a week. It’s actually a very relaxing and pleasant job.

The bio filter box, weighed down with a big rock.

     For filtration there is a bio filter and two pumps. The bio filter resembles a shoe box and inside are little plastic balls that look like the Death Star from Star Wars and two filtering sheets. Inside is a small pond filter. Filters are rated by GPH, or gallons per hour. The one inside the bio filter is 600 GPH, plenty for a two hundred tub, then there is also another a small pump that runs into the little statue. That is more for the sound of gurgling water and visual effect rather than filtering. The water stays pretty clear most of the summer. I skim the leaves weekly or after a storm and dismantle the filter and rinse the pumps every couple of weeks. A thorough cleaning takes about fifteen minutes. After a rain sometimes the water turns a bit green and I add about a couple of tablespoons of laundry bleach. I have seen no damage from a little bleach to the tub. Very quickly the water turns clear again. Usually in mid-summer, about August, I empty and refill the tub once.

Potted hostas and ferns surround the tub.

     Do I get into it you ask? Yep. But I never get in within 24 hours of adding any bleach and I ALWAYS unplug the filters first. Because my tub is in the shade the better part of the day the water stays very cool so I don’t tend to linger in it until very late in the summer. If it got more sun I might consider the solar heaters I have seen that float on the surface of the pool but I like the water cool. My yard is completely fenced and children do no play out there without supervision. The tub is about three feet deep.

The fairy feature.

     I love my champagne tub. It is quite easy and economical to keep. I have the sound of a gurgling pond in my yard with little work and no mud at all. It was super easy to set up and in the winter I drain it and invert it by myself. On a midsummer night I sometimes float tiny candles in the water and sit amid the fireflies and listen to the soothing sound of my champagne tub. An ice cold lemonade seems even cooler there on a summer evening.

     Here's a little video of the sound of the tub: The Fairy Feature Running

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