Sacred Souvenir?

We stepped very promptly from Thanksgiving to Advent, which means four Sundays until Christmas (including the one just past), though Christmas itself is on the following Sunday, which gives us an entire last week to finish shopping and putting up the tree and decorating the outside of the house or apartment.  Our church held an Advent Wreath Making party after the ten o’clock service this past Sunday, aimed, probably, mostly at children.  You may have seen one, the evergreen wreath sits flat on a table rather than hanging on a wall or door, and has four candles poking upward, three purple and one pink.  The first Sunday you light a purple one, the second you light another purple one and then, surprisingly, you light the pink one on the third Sunday, and the last purple one on the last Sunday.  Growing up Catholic, we were not allowed to put up the tree or surround a window with lights until Christmas Eve.  Anyway, between July 1966 and July 1968 I was in London.  And some time in that period a friend and I visited Ely Cathedral – we were both fascinated by these ancient historic buildings.  Ely dates to the 600s, but the present building was begun in 1083.  It’s enormous and very beautiful. They were in the process of repairing the Lady Chapel, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and had broken out the carved-stone windows.  The pieces lay in a disordered heap on the ground, and I picked up a piece.  I ended up bringing it home to Milwaukee, and then kept it on my many moves thereafter.  At first I kept it because it’s part of a sacred place and I couldn’t think how to dispose of it, but it became one of my favorite souvenirs of my time in England.  A few years ago, I decided to make an unusual Advent “wreath” of it.  See photo below.


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Reaching Across the Gap

As some of you know, I have a collection of medieval hammered silver English coins. For a long while I just had one for every monarch between William the Conqueror and Elizabeth I. Recently I got ambitious and set myself a new goal: a thousand years of English coins! I have added only a few since then, since some are expensive and others hard to find, but Monday evening I bought what will be the Alpha coin, Cnut (aka Canute). He became King of England, Denmark, Norway and “some of the Swedes” in and after 1016. Tenth and eleventh century records are scant and contradictory, but he apparently was a bold, cruel, ambitious, pious Christian who managed to have two wives at the same time. Here is a picture of the obverse and reverse of the coin, which is less than an inch wide.



I already have my Omega, an Elizabeth II coin, so my collection now reaches across the millennium – with gaps that I hope to fill in the next few years. I spent an hour with the man who sold me the coin, looking at others, and sighing over their cost. I think I’d better work harder on convincing Hallmark or similar television network to buy my Betsy Devonshire series with an eye toward making a series of movies based on them, if I hope to fill some of those gaps.

Thanksgiving is upon us. Ellen, Ann and I are going to a friend’s place to join nine others for a big ham dinner. I am bringing Aunt Velva’s Bean Salad, Ellen is bringing calico beans, and Ann is bringing the mashed potatoes (made with cream cheese, isn’t that curious?). But I am also buying a turkey breast on Wednesday to roast on Friday, as it simply isn’t Thanksgiving without turkey.

The First Sunday in Advent is this Sunday, so Ann and I are spending this afternoon setting up the Fontanini Christmas Creche set at my church (over 200 pieces, if you count every sheep), an annual event we both look forward to very much. This year we are adding the young man mashing grapes in a vat and another young man weaving a basket, and a new, bigger inn. Where will it end? When will we have enough? I have no idea. But I’m starting to think I need an apprentice who is a member of the church, because one of these years I’ll find I’m no longer able to balance on a chair on a table to reach for the hook in the ceiling that suspends the “multitude of the heavenly host” hovering over the shepherds.

On a literary note, I think I’ve finally got a handle on the character of Betsy’s first husband, Boo. My sleuth Betsy didn’t like my first and second try at him, but I think I’ve found a way to make him both disreputable and likable. I’ll take him for a walk at my writers’ group meeting this Saturday.

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A Short Take

I woke up this morning with a mission: Clean my desk. I tend toward messiness in my office, it’s a disorder that is the despair of my husband – and me, after awhile. But it’s reached saturation point, and I sat down at my computer this morning and the scales fell from my eyes: this is too dreadful even for me. So my one job today, apart from a visit to my rheumatologist, is to create some open space on my desk. Right now I can just about put a cup of tea on the front edge of it and that’s all.

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Don’t Forget To Vote


I am an election judge, meaning I am one of those people you see at the polls who greet you at the door, check to see that you’re in the right precinct, check to see that you’re registered (or register you), show you how to mark your ballot, hand you a ballot, and show you how to feed your marked ballot into the machine that counts your vote. It’s not a hard job, but it’s a very long day. I have to be at the polling place by six in the morning and I can’t go home until well after the polls close, when everything is dismantled and put away and the results tabulated and sent downtown. A long, long day.

I hope my candidates win, but I will be careful not to proselytize. Some years, voters are scarce and I bring a stitching project to fill the empty hours, but I don’t think that will be the case this year.

Here’s a mystery I’ve never seen a solution to: They have spent almost the entire summer digging up the street outside our apartment building, finally laid down a layer of blacktop a few weeks ago, but before the second layer went down, they are now spending time digging big square holes in the new blacktop. I’ve seen that happen over and over, even on the freeway. They cut us down to a single lane, or make us share half the other-direction highway, dig and smooth and layer gravel and pour fresh concrete – and it’s barely dry before they send out crews to dig big square holes in it. Why? It’s a mystery to me.

Here’s the answer, thanks to Brother-In-Law Tom Kuhfeld:
In order to properly pave over manholes etc, they take the casting off and pave over everything.  If they didn’t do this, the screed on the paver would catch on them.  Before the last coat of asphalt, they dig up the manhole and replace the castings to the proper finished level and patch around them.  When the last layer is done the mix is laid down a little high to account for compaction when they roll it, so they aren’t then an issue for the screed.

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Magna cum Murder

Magna cum Murder was, as always, great. It’s a friendly convention in a magnificent setting, the Columbia Club of Indianapolis. Kathryn Kennison, with her hard-working staff, keep everything moving and invite great guests.

The Saturday panel Coffee, Cats and Cozies I was on didn’t have many cats, but a lot of good, funny, rich conversation about the value the cozy sub-genre offers. Fellow panelist Elena Hartwell spoke of the difficult transition from script writing to novel writing – they only appear to be similar! Moderator Lynn Cahoon asked deep questions which showed she’d thought hard about the topic.

Guest of honor Maureen Jennings (of “Murdoch” fame) was interviewed during the noon luncheon by Ruth Dudley Edwards, and when two very intelligent and witty women like they collide, it’s a lively conversation.

The International Guest of Honor was Brit Natasha Cooper, none of whose books I have read. She was introduced by legendary author Sara Paretsky, who said Natasha was a major influence on her work and a hero who opened a new door into female protagonists in mystery fiction. Natasha herself gave a wonderful speech but her insights into the fury that women can feel makes me very wary of reading her work. Perhaps it’s my age, but I no longer like fiction that hurts my soul or rips at my spirit, however excellently it is done – any by all accounts Natasha is brilliant. I like fiction that presents a serious problem to its protagonist, a limited time to fix it, and serious consequences for failure, but is all calm and comfort to me by the end, not exhaustion and a soul in tatters. A little humor along the way is helpful. Painful non-fiction I can take, the kind offering attitude adjustment or a moral confrontation. Fiction is where I go to escape real life. But that’s just me and, as always, your mileage may vary.  Natasha is a formidable writer.

I attended a panel on the direction publishing is taking (pretty much speculation that e-books and other self-publishing are the wave of the future). I connected afterwards with one panelist, Patricia McLinn, who is doing very well publishing her own books. I invited her to sit with us at the banquet, where we got some excellent guidance.

The last panel on Sunday, Age is Just a Number, had me (long-time published), Tony Perona (moderator and well published), Elena Hartwell (stage writer and now novel writer), and Kristen Lepionka (very young and newly published). We talked about how we selected the age of our sleuths, how we planned to age them if the series continued, and what we would have done differently early in our writing experience. The fact that I am a senior, Tony is bordering on middle age, Elena is in her thirties and Kristen in her twenties gave an interesting side-element to the question of age.

Here I am at the Convention:


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Happy Days

This weekend Ellen and I will be at the Columbia Club in Indianapolis, attending Magna cum Murder. It’s a great mystery con, and we’ve been to almost every one of them. I’m to be on two (!) panels, one on the cozy mystery (a silly genre or an important one?) and another on ageing your sleuth when the series continues a while (a good idea, a necessary idea, or a bad idea?).

As I already mentioned, there was an art auction at Gaylaxicon a few weeks ago, and I managed to acquire a lovely yarn pot with three holes in it. The knitter drops a ball of yarn in the pot, feeding the end out through a hole. The ball can’t roll away. Better, one can keep another ball in the same pot and feed its end out another hole and knit two yarns together – or even three yarns. I am currently working on a black wool scarf with a thin strand of sequined copper running through it. The pot is making it much easier.


My niece Reggie was here all last week, leaving Sunday for Wisconsin to pick up another aunt and take her to Florida, where Reggie lives. Reggie loved the crisp air (though she wore two sweaters and a heavy scarf most of the time we were outdoors) and the colored leaves, but she loves the heat and sunshine of Naples, Florida, too much to consider moving up here. We had a great time but didn’t get even halfway through the list of places I wanted to take her.  Here we are in the church hall of St. George’s.


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This has been such a screwy week I can’t keep track of the days.  Today is Tuesday and I am supposed to post an entry here.

My brother-in-law is dying in Intensive Care.  He went in for cancer surgery and a series of complications ensued and now he is in a coma and all that’s left is a decision on when to stop the efforts to keep him alive.  Steve was an active sportsman, funny and decisive, and it’s weird to think of him near death.  We’re going to pay him a last visit a little later today.

I went to see my rheumatologist yesterday and complained that my bad knee was still stiff and hurting.  As I had a low-grade fever, he decided to pull some fluid from the joint and the result was about half a cup of cloudy, yellowish liquid which is going for a laboratory analysis.  So it seems that the long haul is not over yet.

My niece Regina (“Reggie”) is on her way up here from Naples, Florida, should arrive late tonight or early tomorrow.  I’ve been making a list of places to take her which is now longer than her visit.  So she’ll get to pick and choose.

My Ford should be finished being repaired later today if a needed part arrives.

See what I mean?  Life is all up in the air and complicated.

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