Dropping a Clanger

My work on Tying the Knot has stopped. I have struggled with it, quarreled with it, gotten angry about it, and finally accepted that it is dead in the water. Whether that is permanent I don’t know; I do know that I’m not going to continue the battle. I am going to wait until it resurrects, or I die, and meanwhile stop letting it aggravate me.  I am also currently out of ideas for another mystery.  I hope that my fellow authors will permit me to continue making contributions to this blog, because I’m enjoying that part.

I have two very different books I’ve enjoyed reading recently and so offer them here with happy recommendations.

The first is Tugboat Annie, by Norman Reilly Raine. It’s a collection of eighteen short stories selected from seventy-four published in the Saturday Evening Post beginning in 1931. Two extremely popular movies starring Marie Dressler were made from these stories. Mr. Raine had a delightful and brilliant way with words and an encyclopedic knowledge of shipping and the coastal environment of Puget Sound. My copy of this collection was published in 1977 and bought online. The stories are fun and funny, and Mr. Raine’s writing is an education in wordsmithing.

The second is The Magnolia Story, by Chip and Joanna Gaines, with Mark Dagostino. If you’re a fan of the reality television series “Fixer Upper” on HGTV, you’ll like this book. There is something irresistible about Chip and Jo-Jo, her cool and steady attitude and clever designs and his wild and hilarious hands-on labor to make her ideas a reality. But the book discloses a far deeper lifestyle and background.  They are a hard-working couple who love their home town of Waco, Texas.  What’s great about the book is that it sounds just like them.

There was a story in Monday’s Washington Post about pies, specifically the history and lore of English pies. I love etymology, the study of words, and this article is a fascinating look at how meat pies and fruit pies evolved and influenced English culture and language. Very entertaining! Try it here:

English Pies

Sample: “Take, for example, the Bedfordshire Clanger: a British classic which cleverly combines main course and dessert, with savoury ingredients like pork at one end and sweet ingredients like pear at the other. The name comes from a local slang word, ‘clang’, which means to eat voraciously. However, cramming two courses into a pie makes a clanger rather unwieldy – and all too easy to drop, inspiring the English phrase ‘dropping a clanger’ for a careless mistake.” I’d come across that phrase many a time in English novels without the slightest notion of where it came from.

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A Deadly Flower

Monkshood! A healing flower that is also poisonous. Gail Frazer and I used it in one of our Dame Frevisse medieval mysteries years ago. And it’s still around, of course. In fact, it very recently killed a woman in California and made a man extremely ill when they ingested it in a tea bought from a Chinese herbalist.

I’m beginning to think Tying the Knot is dead. I just can’t write it. I know the writing spark is still there; I’ve started to talk to a woman who served as a police chaplain and who tells inspiring, sometimes hair-raising, stories about her experiences. She could write a book – and I believe I could serve as her ghost.

Last night I was lying in bed with the cat Java draped across my upper legs and tummy and I was lazily tickling her under her chin. She suddenly turned a forepaw over and very gently grasped my finger with pad and claw to still my hand. She held onto the finger for about a minute then put her head on my hand and we both went to sleep.

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It’s Only Money

The coin show was fun. There were some beautiful and valuable coins bought and sold there, including gold ones. Over seven hundred people came just on Saturday. I thought hard about buying the Queen Victoria silver crown coin, but just couldn’t bring myself to spend that much for it. Instead I bought a Victoria half crown – and then a King Edward VII and a King George VI, both crowns, all three for less than half what the Victoria crown would have cost. Mr. Davisson showed me a Queen Victoria pattern crown (a design for a coin that was never minted), a magnificent and very finely detailed piece that really belongs in a museum. Only four thousand dollars!

Quite a few people saw and commented favorably on my display of “1,000 Years of English Money.” A member of Northwest Coin Club wants me to refine it some more and enter it in our State Fair. I’ll think about it – but probably won’t. Each coin in my display is firmly fastened down inside two frames, but what if someone just picks up a frame and walks away with it? Thirty-plus years of patient searching and buying, gone.

On the other hand, what would a thief do with it? These aren’t American dimes and quarters they could spend in a vending machine – which is what happens to many collections a burglar takes, which is why an amazingly valuable coin will turn up in someone’s pocket change. Which is why collectors routinely examine their pocket change.

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Love of Money

This Friday and Saturday I will be at the “Money Show,” put on by the Northwest Coin Club, of which I am a proud member. Coins and paper money of every era and nation will be bought, sold and traded. I am putting together a display called “1000 Years of English Money.” It’s a series of authentic silver coins dating from Cnut (King from 1016) to Elizabeth II (the current Queen), one for each reign – except Henry VII. It was during his reign that English coins went from a full-face portrait to a profile, so I have one of each. I have most of the older coins; I’m looking to fill large gaps in the series after Oliver Cromwell. None of my coins are for sale. The show is at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center, MN, and continues through Sunday. Admission is free, so is parking. Over 100 dealers will be there.

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Previously Owned by a Gay Man

My injured sister-in-law is talking about selling her big house and moving into a senior condo or co-op.  Most of these places allow two small dogs, or two cats, or a cat and a dog. Not three animals. Since she has two little dogs she is very fond of and a pretty Bombay cat she put into our temporary care, she has a dilemma. And since the Bombay has already wormed her way into our hearts and household, it’s very easy to see the direction this is going to take. It appears that even after we swore off cats when Snaps had to be put down, we are likely the permanent new owners of a Bombay cat named Java. We have learned that Java is about six years old, and came to my sister-in-law’s house as a kitten. Animals have surprisingly long memories and I wonder if Java misses Steve and Margaret.  Steve is beyond recall, but as soon as sister-in-law is able to get out and about, I want to invite her to come visit Java – or would that be cruel? Meanwhile, I went grocery shopping yesterday and went to an upscale pet food store to get a fresh pack of the kind of kitty litter she’s used to – and so long as I was there I took a chance and bought one of those laser lights most cats love to chase. And boy, does she!  This morning I picked it up off my desk and she recognized the sound of the keychain attached to it and is currently sitting behind my chair crying for me to turn it on for her.  Excuse me a minute. . . .

My cough is almost gone – hurrah! A doctor at my clinic said my lungs are clear and prescribed an inhaler and some peculiar little golden capsules to knock down the cough. And sure enough over the weekend it went from major annoyance to small nuisance to hardly coughing at all. So I’m off later this morning for a Remicade infusion to knock my immune system back a couple of notches, the one treatment guaranteed to keep my psoriatic arthritis at bay. Life is good again.

I have not been blogging much about my writing because I haven’t been doing much writing. I leaned hard on myself on Sunday, went to a web site Previously Owned By A Gay Man to look at furniture and furnish Godwin and Rafael’s condo. I found some rather peculiar things and decided Rafael, who was born and raised in Barcelona, had been keeping furniture in storage until last year. His taste is either exquisite or abominable (avant-garde European with Asian accents), not sure which, but I’ve invited Betsy and Connor to an impromptu New Year’s Eve party at the boys’ place to have their eyes startled – and so a blockage that’s been going on for weeks has finally broken apart. I ought not to be surprised at how describing a setting will move a plot forward for me. But I am. A problem is going to be describing the couch and occasional chair. Well, not the couch so much, it’s a backless slab tilted just a little upward at either end. But that chair –  Indonesian rattan and mahogany with brass fittings. A beautiful thing. If I were rich, I’d buy it, though it would clash magnificently with our current furniture. Describing it is going to be difficult fun.  Take a look:

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Six Characters in Search of a Plot

Still coughing. And coughing. I think I’m over the flu, but there’s this darn cough. We bought a whole bag of grapefruit and are working our way through it. God bless grapefruit.

I somehow got onto the committee charged with selecting the final candidates to be the new rector at St. George’s Episcopal Church. I don’t remember volunteering, though I probably murmured something non-committal when asked about it a few months ago – I really have to take more seriously that piece of needlework that sits framed in my office.


I was very daunted by the assignment because it’s such an important job. A bad rector (“rector” is Episcopalian for “pastor”) can totally destroy a parish, and there are really a great many ways for a rector to be bad. But we have been given such great guidance that I think we can do a good job. Still, this would make a fine mystery plot. . . We had our second meeting last night. There are six of us – we’re a very small parish – and about as divergent a group of people as you could wish for that could still be Episcopalians.

As Java the foster cat works her way into the household, her bossiness is coming to the fore. Scratch any cat and you’ll find a tyrant, and Java is no exception. She likes to sleep on top of our legs and when she finds a victim, she’ll take possession. If the sleeper rolls over, she will “try” to sleep on top of one leg, making such a fuss of sliding off and getting back on that the sleeper will wake and roll back on her back to accommodate her. Oh, yes, I see what she’s doing there.

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English Major’s Lament

So now I have flu. Went to Urgent Care where a doctor stuck a very, very long and thin Q-tip up my nose, took the result away and came back with the diagnosis – did you know they can do that? Modern medicine, amazing. But so much for the flu shot I got a while back. Pretty much bedridden for two days, I got up yesterday and by noon actually got dressed, though by nine I was back in bed. Later today I’m going to take a shower, the long, hot kind where after the final rinse you stand for a while with the water beating down on the nape of your neck.

As long as we’re talking recipes using cream cheese, here’s one I really like. Take a room-temperature pack of cream cheese and add a tablespoon of mayonnaise to further soften it. Add at least a tablespoon of curry powder (YMMV, I like a lot of curry in my curry dishes), mix thoroughly, and spread it directly on a dinner plate. Scatter a drained can of broken shrimp (not baby shrimp nor whole shrimp) over the cream cheese mixture, and top that off with chopped green onions. Serve with a fancy butter knife next to a bowl of Ritz crackers. Delicious!

Are you one of those persons people who doesn’t know when it’s there or their or they’re? Or always guesses whether to use its or it’s? Weird Al Yankovic offers this annoyed grammatical ditty on those little structural issues you might have been missing.

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