Friday, August 28, 2009

Wrapping up the summer

Jessie 3-14-06 For the next few days, I'll be dogsitting sweet little Jessie.  She usually goes to Doggy Daycare, but even daycare-givers need a vacation once in a while, so it's up to me to keep Jessie company during the day.

Jessie's owners have the delux cable TV selection.  Here at Casa de Lorna, we have the cheapie package.  (Four locals, (snowy) CNN, and the Weather Channel.)  Can you say HGTV all day long?

I usually only get to see HGTV when we're on vacation, and then my poor husband's eyes glaze over and I wonder if his brainwaves become dangrously inactive.  For some reason he doesn't find househunting, bathroom and kitchen renovation (and on the cheap) or curb appeal to be . . . well, all that appealing.  Not me.  I LOVE it!  Hand me a pair of toothpicks to keep my eyes open, and I'll watch it 24/7.

I've also lined up a bunch of projects that I can do away from my office, although not necessarily away from a computer.  (Jessie's owners have broadband, too!)

This "chore" is beginning to sound more like a vacation, to me.

And how's the end of your summer look?

Monday, August 24, 2009


Well, not quite.

Potato_bin I’m afraid my family sees my efforts to raise potatoes as rather a joke.  After all, you can buy a five pound bag at the grocery store for less than $2.  And I must admit my yearly yield isn’t much more than a couple of pounds.  But that’s not why I grow them.  I grow them for the enjoyment of eating something I have grown.  And, as my husband pointed out, every vegetable we grow is free of pesticides.  What’s wrong with that?

I must admit I don’t go out and buy seed potatoes.  By the end of the winter, I usually end up with half a bag of bulk white potatoes that have eyes in them.  I let them mature in my pantry and by late May, I’m ready to plant.  (Mind you, I have tried seed potatoes that I bought at the Mennonite store.  Maybe it was just a bad year for seed potatoes, but it seems I’ve done better with my grocery store rejects.)

I tried planting potatoes in the ground and not only did I not have a great crop, but it was difficult to find them all.  So, for the past couple of years I’ve been growing them in a big plastic tub.  As they’re confined to a small area, naturally there won’t be hundreds of potatoes, nor are they tremendously big.

Potato_dying Some years my potato plants have flowered, but most years they have not.  I keep thinking that one day I’ll read up on potato husbandry, but there’s usually something more important (like keeping us in clean laundry) that needs to be done.

I harvested my 2009 potato crop last week.  First, I waited until the plants were all shriveled up, and then I pulled them from the soil.  Next, I dumped the entire tub onto a plastic tarp.  This made it easy to keep track of everything. I was delighted that upon dumping, I saw quite a few decent sized potatoes.  I have a little (child’s) bamboo rake, and I used that to rake through the dirt to find even the tiniest potatoes.  (We’re talking the size of your baby fingernail.)

2009_potato_crop That night, I boiled the smallest potatoes until they were tender, drained them, and dumped a big gob of butter into the saucepan, along with a handful (about a third of a cup) of chopped fresh parsley (also from the garden) and mixed it all together.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Dodging the Deadline Bullet

I once thought that I worked well under pressure, but it turns out I was tragically mistaken.  I thought I thrived on deadline pressure--but I was only fooling myself.

For the last three or four months, I have been living under the belief that my writing deadlines were fierce and possibly unattainable.  I've been beating myself up for NOT READING MY CONTRACT closer before I signed.  I've got multiple things going in my life.  The pressure has been building, and Mylanta has become my new best friend.

But then on Thursday I decided ENOUGH--it was time to know exactly what my deadlines were for the next five books.  I hauled out my contracts and made a chart of when things are actually due and was pleasantly surprised.

Misapprehension #1:  I thought I had to have the synopsis written for Booktown #5 by September 1st.   Nope--it's not due until JANUARY first.  First major sigh of relief.

Understading #2:  The first Victoria Square book (A Matter of Murder) is due on December 1st.  All too true.  And, as the book is in good shape, I have plenty of time to polish it.

Misapprehension #2:  Booktown #5 is due March 1st.  Nope--it's not due until June 1st.  Yea!  I have nine months to write it (or six, if I don't start it until January--and that's not my plan at all).

Misapprehension #3:  That I have only three months between deadlines for my books.  Untrue.  I have three months between deadlines of book and synopses.  That is:  synopsis for one book due in March (Victoria Square #2); Booktown #5 manuscript due in June, etc.  Okay, September 2010 is a bit dicey as I have a manuscript due AND a synopsis due the same month (10 days apart), but with this much advance notice, I think I'm okay.

This is a HUGE weight off my mind.  My only hope is that real life doesn't get in the way of these deadlines.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

PET PEEVE THURSDAY--Irresponsible Pet Owners

Behind our house is a farmette, one of the few left in our suburb.  Unfortunately, they have barn cats.

Cats they don't neuter or spay.  Ten years ago, we took one of the cats to our vet to have it spayed, thinking it was a young cat in heat--thinking we would keep it.  Only to find that Mollie was Ollie, who was much older than we thought (by about a year).  We knew we could not have a formerly unneutered male cat introduced with our two male cats because one that sprays its urine to mark its territory will ALWAYS spray to mark its territory--and we couldn't live with that.  So we contacted our local non-kill shelter, paid the cost of all shots and turned Ollie over to them (After spending over $300) and felt terrible and horrible for a very LONG, LONG time.  (Okay, we still feel rotten about it.)

But . . . the farm cats seem to go on and on.  My mom's friend lives about a half mile up the road from us.  She lives on the south end of the farm and she's been feeding (and taking these cats to the vet) for years.

We first saw Orange Kitty with Stumpy Tail last fall. We also saw her many times over the winter, and felt sorry for her.  And then we didn't see her at all until last week.  Farm cats seem to come and go.  The other day, we saw Orange Kitty in our front yard with a mouse in her mouth (at the time, we didn't know she was a she) and said, "Go, Farm Kitty--Keep those mousies from coming into our house."

We've seen her coming and going since then.  But last night we were sitting in our enclosed porch when she came into the backyard, causing all kinds of kitty excitment.  Except that Bonnie saw Orange Cat and got so hot and bothered she attacked the first cat she saw--her ailing sister.  Then Chester and Fred saw Orange Cat on the deck and hot all interested.  You could almost see the thought balloons over their heads:  "Think we can kill this bitch?"

Orange Cat retreated to the rose campion portion of the garden.  Then suddenly we saw not only Orange Cat, but teenaged Black-And-Orange Cat and teenaged Orange Cat.  That's when we knew that Orange Cat was Mama Orange Cat.  And how many other teenaged kittens were lurking in the foiliage on the west end of our yard?  (Well, it turns out at least ONE more Orange teenaged cat.)
My family has a summer cottage in the next county, and I can't tell you how many ads there are in the weekly rag not only for FREE KITTENS but "Moving, please take our (aged) cat" ads there are every week and it breaks my heart.  What is with these people?  Why are pets disposable to so many damned people?

If you aren't willing to take on the responsibility of a pet for its entire life (or heaven for forbid for a HUMAN CHILD) DON'T DO IT!  This isn't rocket science.  Spay and neuter your pet.  I'm not a PETA maniac, whose agenda really seems to be to outlaw pet ownership altogether, but let's face it--not spaying or neutering your pet and turning their offspring loose to fend for themselves is nothing short of animal abuse.

PLEASE, PLEASE support your local no-kill shelters.  Please donate money so that people without means can have their pets neutered and NOT contribute to the booming population of unwanted animals that will either die from traffic accidents, or be eaten by other preditors (coyotes in my area), or die of disease.

If you have an ounce of compassion in you--please help these poor creatures.
And what's bugging YOU today?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The minutiae of my life

When I had a day job, I got stuck with a lot of nit-picky work.  It turns out, I was very good at it and--heavens, even enjoyed it!  I typed in lots of numbers, and updated all kinds of obscure information on various data bases and then got lots of printouts and spreadsheets I could pour over.  It was heaven!  Of course it was the ONLY good part of my job.  (My management sucked, but that's life.)  So is it any wonder that I love to play with my spreadsheets and databases in real life?

I have five separate mailing lists: four e-mail and one snail mail.  Yesterday I sent out one of my periodic newsletters.  Consequently, I spent most of my free time yesterday playing with the mailing lists, and watching my stats rise (and not nearly enough).

One of my lists is new to me and I'd never actually used it, although I've been cleaning it up for the last two months.  (Removing duplicates and bad addresses.)  Despite all those hours pouring over the list, 10% were still bad addresses (bounces) and 9% of the list unsubscribed.  (Did I offend them?)
As part of the newsletter, I offered a contest.  (It's just for the newsletter people--so if you want to get in on the next contest, you have to join the newsletter list.  I'll be giving away more books in October.

There's a sign up box right on the right.  Go ahead--sign up now.  I'll wait for you to get back to this post.)

For this contest, people had to answer three easy questions about the Booktown Mystery series.  I was surprised at how many people got one of the answers wrong.  And one of the answers to one question (the name of Tricia's cat) was hilarious.  Wow--I was amazed at the number of readers who entered.  I wish I had more copies of the book to give away (I've got three).

I'm back to polishing the ms. today, so no playing with my lists and spreadsheets for another month or so when the next newsletter comes out.


Monday, August 17, 2009

How I Eat Green Beans

Since I blogged about my garden the other day, especially about how much I love green beans, I thought I might share how I cook them.

I first ate these beans at a Chinese Buffet.  In those day, they added almonds.  I haven't seen them cooked that way in quite some time, but that doesn't stop me from fixing them that way.
First, I get out a skillet and put in an inch or so of water.  Plop the washed beans in the water (I like them whole, but you can cut them in segments or French style) and bring to a boil.  Cook until tender.  Drain the water and toss in a tablespoon or two of olive oil, and a tablespoon (or more) of either slivered or sliced almonds.  Cook until the almonds are browned.

We also eat the beans boiled with dried onion and rosemary.  I put in a tablespoon or two of dried onion, and a couple of pinches of dried rosemary (fresh is always better) and boil until your preferred level of tenderness.

As you can see, I'm not big about measuring for these recipes.

(Oh, and how do I eat my green beans?  With a fork, of course!)

How do you cook your green beans?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mid-August Crop Report

Heirloomtomato Considering we've had a very yucky summer--weather wise--our gardens have had a wonderful season.  From the perennials to the annuals to our crops.  After the horrific hail storm in late June, we were afraid we'd lose most of our veggies, but Mother Nature is strong, and all of them (even the heirloom tomato seedlings) rebounded magnificently.  (This little guy is the biggest of 11--I'm hoping some of them will ripen before the end of the season (I started them reallllllllly late.))  I can't quite remember what a ripe one looks like.  (I bought one at the farmer's market and saved the seeds.)  It'll either be purple with green stripes, or green with purple stripes.

We've been enjoying home-grown beans for a little over a week now, and there's nothing like it.  I bought some (bush) beans at the farmer's market, but they were nothing like the pole beans I've grown right in my own back yard.  I love going out there every day and finding more to pick.  This was what we had for dinner last night.  (Yeah, I know--it's a lot for two people, but I could make a meal on just these beans.)

Potatodying The potato plants are starting to shrivel up, which means that in a week or two, I can harvest my crop.  Okay, usually my crop is extremely small--in both size and number of potatoes.  Still, I enjoy growing them.  I usually do them in a tub (as pictured), but this year I also planted some in the ground.  Those never came up, so whatever we get--we get to eat.

Wouldn't you know, I got a stomach bug in early July, and since then, anything with acid (think spaghetti sauce, anything with vinegar) has given me heartburn.  So I'm wondering if I'll be able to eat any of our tomatoes, and we're going to have a bumper crop this year.  I lost count in the 40s (don't count your tomatoes until they've ripened?)  There's nothing like the smell of a fresh-picked tomato.  It will break my heart if I don't get to eat these beauties.  (We're picking this one later today.)

Our broccoli didn't do well.  From five plants, we got enough for one meal before it started going to seed.  The Brussels sprouts are just starting to form and the plants are getting huge.  Hard to believe they were plants with only two or three leaves when we planted them.  One of my parsley plants didn't make it, but the other has been fantastic and we've eaten a lot of parsley potatoes this summer.  Of the four pepper plants, only three have one pepper each.  One of them is HUGE, the other two are tiny.  I'm thinking of trying jalapeno peppers next year -- maybe from seed, as the pepper plants I've bought for the last couple of years have not done well.

HappyGlads As I mentioned above, the flowers have done really well.  Back in June, my Dad remembered he had a bag of glad bulbs in his garage he'd forgotten to plant--TWO YEARS AGO.  A very BIG bag of glad bulbs.  We picked through them and I planted at least 60-70 of them.   Not many came up, but the ones that did are magnificent.  Yesterday I picked a red one (which I neglected to photograph) that is scarlet red with white in the center.

NorthGarden8-09 Here's a longer shot of the garden at the end of the pool.

And how does your garden grow?

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Today's Guest Blogger is Janet Koch--who will be published next year under the name Laura Alden

What bugs me most these days is…me. Why don’t I do the things that I  want to do? Why do I think about sitting down to play the piano, but then pick up a book instead? Why do I keep glaring at the small gouges in the wall instead of, you know, fixing them? Why do I look at the bicycle hanging up in the garage, then walk away?

In another category, why don’t my husband and I make an effort to have more fun? There are zillions of things we could do that don’t cost much. At our library last month I picked up a free day pass to a
state park. It’s still sitting on the kitchen counter. Why haven’t we used it, for crying out loud? How dumb are we? More especially, since I’m the entertainment director in the house, how dumb am I?

To fix this sad tendency, I’m giving myself a late birthday present.  Tomorrow night we’re headed north and on Friday we’re taking a train ride to the Agawa Canyon. We’ve talked about doing this for years.  You know, maybe, just maybe, this is the start of Doing Things.

Choo! Choo!

And what's bugging YOU today?--------------------------------------
After 11 years and 6 1/3 unpublished manuscripts, Janet Koch (writing as Laura Alden) recently signed a three-book contract with NAL for a cozy series. The first in the series might, just might, be published in late 2010.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How many is zero?

I'd been looking forward to my library talk in Lyons, NY.  I haven't done much face-to-face promotion this summer, and I had a wonderful time last summer when I did a talk there.

Doing any kind of "event" means lots of prep time.  Assemble bookmarks, books, make sure I have my speech crib cards handy, iron clothes, curl hair, put on make-up.  Jump in car and drive to event.
Monday was hot and humid.  I mean humidity in the 90% range.  It was a miserable day, but I managed to get a LOT of writing done.  I usually average four-five pages a day.  Monday I wrote 12.

 I was ecstatic -- except . . . I wasn't sure about those last 5 pages.  Considering this was the climax of the book, they weren't all that tense or suspenseful.*  But I had to think about the library talk and psych myself up.

We decided to eat at McDonalds rather than try to pull together a dinner before the 7 p.m. "event."  (We usually don't eat supper until 7:30-8 p.m. anyway.)  So as we pull into the Mickey D's parking lot, we notice the sky is going quite dark.  As we're eating our Big Macs, the sky went really, REALLY dark.

As we walked out to the car, the first drops began to fall.  We still had 25 minutes before I was supposed to be at the library, so we sat in the parking lot for about five minutes, then decided maybe we should get to the library and wait there.

We pulled out of the lot and headed toward the library.  Before we got half a mile, the entire sky opened up and dumped millions and millions of gallons of rain on us and everything else.  We could barely see the road (which was flooded).  We could barely see the cars in front of us.  The lighting flashed so fast, it was like there was a giant strobe light above us.  We drove at about 3 miles an hour to the library where we found the parking lot flooded.

The library closes for "the dinner hour" so we sat in the lot and watched the rain, which didn't seem like it would EVER stop.  Of course, my thoughts were not positive, but I put on a smile and grabbed my umbrella when the librarian came and opened the door.  I grabbed my books and dropped ALL MY BOOKMARKS in a HUGE puddle.  (Luckily, they were in a fabric bag, and didn't get ruined.)
I walked into the library and was met by the librarian.  She was not hopeful, but told me I could hang around for five or ten minutes to see if anyone would show up.

No one did.

DIRsmall I was ready to stay another five or ten minutes, but the librarian was pretty sure the rain would keep her patrons away.  But at least the library bought a copy of Dead In Red, and both the Booktown paperbacks for their collection. (They'd meant to buy them before now . . . but hadn't gotten around to it.  These things happen.)

I'm definitely not the only author who has had weather foul up a talk.  It was disappointing.  But we headed home, had a drink, and I dived back into Dick Francis' STRAIGHT.  After all, what's better than sitting in a cozy chair, with a whiskey, and a good book?

* I pitched 5 of those pages and tried again yesterday.  I think I nailed it.

Friday, August 7, 2009


One of the things I love most about summer is FRESH VEGETABLES.  The yard sales have been a huge disappointment this year, so is it any wonder that sometimes the best thing I can find is a vegetable?

Cauliflower Last week, after wasting too much gas and not finding anything fun at the yard sales, we stopped at a farm stand and found the world's most perfect cauliflower.  Even better--it was only a dollar!

I LOVE cauliflower and I have a really easy recipe that uses only three ingredients.

Boil as much cauliflower as your family can eat.  When it's almost done, remove it from the boiling water and place in an oven proof dish.  Sprinkle (or dump on) it with your favorite cheese.  (I've used Parmesan, cheddar and mozzarella), and then sprinkle (or dump on) seasoned (or unseasoned--depending on your preference) breadcrumbs.  Bake at 360 until the cheese melts and the breadcrumbs are golden brown (10-15 minutes).


Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Rose_cup1 There's nothing more soothing than a cup of tea.  At least to me.  I make tea first thing in the morning.  I'm not really awake until I have at least one cup inside me.  There's nothing better with a cookie, slice of cake, or piece of chocolate than a wonderful cup of tea.

And I'm running out of tea.

Not a problem--run to the store, right?

Uh, no.  You see, I drink Typhoo decaf and have been buying it from Canda (or bringing it back from England--last trip was in 2001) for years.  My aunt gave me two boxes for Christmas and boy was I happy to get them.  My brother used to make many trips to Canada, but not so much lately.

A week ago, I opened my last box and now I'm starting to get nervous.  I cannot be without my tea.
I don't see making it to Canada any time soon (even though it's only about 80 miles away).  I do have a passport, so it's not that I can't go to Canada (hey, that's not the problem -- it's getting back into THIS country that's the problem.  And when did Homeland Security start training immigration officers to act like storm troopers?)  So my only option is going to be the Internet.

The cost of tea online isn't the problem.  It's the cost of shipping that irks me.  Why is it that companies advertise decent prices for products, and then crank up the shipping to an indecent level?  I mean, people sell used copies of my first book on Amazon for a penny--and then charge $3.99 for shipping.  I don't mind a reasonable profit, but reasonable seems to be an unreasonable expectation.

But, I am a slave to my tea addiction and I will pay through the nose to get it.

I just don't have to like it.