Saturday, December 13, 2008

William: a reason to celebrate

At Fuego Vivo, celebrating award for 100+ volunteer service hours in a 12-month period. Inspired by a talk given by Mark Sloan, William set his sights on the gold - and earned it.

Mobile post sent by HollyJahangiri using Utterli. reply-count Replies.

Jean Henry Mead: A Village Shattered

Jean Henry Mead's novel is the first of her Logan & Cafferty senior sleuth series, A Village Shattered. Second in the series, Diary of Murder, will be released next spring. Her historical novel, Escape, was published during July of this year and she has nine previous books in print, seven of them nonfiction. The former news reporter/editor and award-winning photojournalist is currently at work on her third Logan & Cafferty mystery, Died Laughing, as well as a children's book, Mystery of Spider Mountain and an historical novel about the hanging of "Cattle Kate."

Read an interview with Pat Wilson, a suspect in the Village Shattered murders. Have you been following the tour?Be sure to visit Jean's book tour blog for all the details; you won't want to miss out on the fun.

Everyone who leaves a comment at any of the host blog sites will be eligible for the drawing for three signed copies of A Village Shattered, a senior sleuth novel featuring Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty, who set out to solve the serial killings of their friends. Dana's beautiful daughter is nearly killed in the process.

Do YOU know who the culprit is? Buy your copy today and find out.

Interview with Pat Wilson, a suspect in the Village Shattered murders

Pat, you seem to have a fondness for women. Why is that and aren’t you afraid the sheriff will think you murdered the other women to cover up your own wife’s death?

Why do you people always harass me about Betty’s murder? I had nothing to do with it, ya know. Just because I’ve had a few lady friends on the side doesn’t make me a killer. If a man doesn’t have a dozen notches on his bed post, he’s not really a man.

What about Nola Champlin? You had a brief affair with her and we both know what happened.

I can’t help it if the dumb broad thought I was in love with her. I was only practicing. It’s not my fault she doesn’t know the rules of the game. And have you seen her? That bright red hair all knotted up on top of her head. She looks like an aging Chihuahua costumed for a pet parade.

You’re not the greatest looking person, yourself.

That ain’t fair. I’m not a young man anymore. Mother Nature takes your hair and gravity does the rest. Besides, my friend Sugar likes me just the way I am.

Sugar’s only after your money, Pat. When the bank account’s empty, she’ll be long gone.

That’s a lie. Sugar loves me. She told me so herself. I’ve been wondering if she killed Betty just so I’d marry her. She’s a real looker, don’t you think?

Why did you box up your wife’s clothing an hour after her body had been found? I know you only kept her jewelry and heirloom silverware.

Well, actually, I gave the jewelry to Sugar. I didn’t have any use for it. And she liked the silverware so I gave her that too. She likes nice things. And we’re going on a cruise as soon as this murder investigation is over.

Everyone said your wife’s coffin is a disgrace. Why did you buy the cheapest one you could find?

Well, the cruise is expensive, you see, and Sugar wants an outside cabin so I figured that Betty wouldn’t care what kind of box they put her in. I mean when you’re dead, you’re dead, right?

That woman took care of you for over forty years. Don’t you think that she deserves some respect?

Well, she was a real nag. She wouldn’t let me eat anything sweet. Said it wasn’t good for me. No candy bars, no chocolate, no beer. What kinda life is that? Now I can eat éclairs for breakfast and pizza with suds for lunch, if I want. It’s kinda nice not having a woman around to nag me out of bed in the morning.

So you don’t miss Betty at all?

Sometimes, like after the wake at my house. You shoulda seen the mess the next morning. I couldn’t even find the phone. Beer cans and whiskey bottles everywhere, and empty pizza cartons. Looks like the city dump. I kinda wish that Betty was still around.

So which woman are you hanging around with now?

Uh—my brother Bub is here from Texas to keep me company. He invited Nola to be our housekeeper, but I don’t want her around. She tried to burn my house the night of the big fire in the retirement village. She poured gasoline on the back bedroom wall and set fire to it.

Why would she do that?

Jealousy, plain and simple. She knew that Sugar was here. I can’t understand what my brother Bub sees in that woman. All she does is whine.

You had her arrested, didn’t you?

It wasn’t me. The sheriff hauled her in when he heard her set the gas can down in the garage. Then he sniffed her fingers and he knew she was responsible for the fire. Not the big fire but the one at my house. But she wasn’t in jail long. The sheriff let her out so she’d come running straight to me.

What’s the future hold for you now, Pat Wilson. Now that your wife is gone?

I’m all alone and it gets kinda boring at times. My booze keeps me company, though, but the sheriff keeps threatening to haul me off to jail. I’m afraid to even drive to the liquor store anymore ‘cause he might pick me up. If only Betty was here, I could send her.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Consider the source

There's a little game I refuse to play. It's called, "You can't be friends with me if you're friends with [fill in the blank]!" My stock answer to that is, "Fine, I'm sorry you feel that way. I guess we can't be friends." I don't care if the person saying it is my best friend at the time, and [fill in the blank] is someone I hardly know.

I also learned, back in grade school, not to judge someone based on others' opinions. Oh, granted, others opinions hold some sway; I may be more cautious in getting to know someone if I've been given specific reasons to be, or I may be more open if people I trust and respect speak highly of the person. I can also be persuaded by facts - like rap sheets. But opinions and hearsay have no power.

The Witch

One Halloween, my friends and I dressed up and met on the road to go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. It was a small, close-knit village; my mom had grown up there, too, and many of my friends were children of her school friends. None of us could make a move without it getting back to our parents, so we were all pretty well behaved. And the neighborhood was safe; we were allowed to roam, mostly unsupervised, for several blocks at night, ringing doorbells and begging for candy, provided we only went to houses that had their porch lights on.

Just around the corner from my house, there was an older wooden home set back from the road, almost within reach of the railroad tracks. I'd never been there before, on Halloween, but the light was on so I started up the sidewalk. My best friend, Mary, and her sister, Val, stopped me.

"You can't go there!"

"Why not?"

"Because that woman's a witch. She hates kids. She's got a gun, and she'll shoot you. And she's got a guard dog. He's mean. He'll eat you."

I thought this was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard, but they were quite serious, judging by their wide eyes and pale faces. They tugged at my sleeve and tried to drag me away from the house. "The light's on," I said.


"Well, wouldn't the light be OFF if she didn't want us to come to the door?"

"She'll shoot you with her gun. She'll sic her dog on you."

I pulled free and marched right up to the front door. Val hung back, on the road, ready to run for help. Mary timidly joined me. I rang the bell.

The door opened, and the woman who answered it peered out at us through Coke-bottle glasses that made her eyes seem three times larger than normal. "Hello," she said. She looked like somebody's grandma.

"Trick or treat!" I said.

"Oh, do come in. You're the first trick-or-treaters I've had all night. I was afraid no one was coming!" Her dog, a tiny little bundle of energy and enthusiasm, pressed his nose to the door and wagged his tail. "I'm Mrs. Morgan. And you are…?" She opened the door and we introduced ourselves. We stepped into a well-lighted foyer, where card tables were covered with little cups full of apple cider and plastic bags filled with homemade cookies. There were enough treats, there, for all the neighborhood kids.

Mary and I looked at each other. How could we tell this sweet old lady that the other children wouldn't be coming? That the word on the street was, she was a mean old hag who liked to shoot kids and feed their bones to her dog? I bent down to pet the vicious mutt. He licked my hand.

We couldn't do it. We drank some cider, took a bag or two of cookies, and told Mrs. Morgan we had to go - but that we'd be back.

After knocking some sense into Val and goading her into walking up to Mrs. Morgan's house for cookies, herself, the three of us made the rounds and told everyone that they'd better go to the "witch's house" or be branded chickens and idiots for life. We showed them the cookies they'd be missing if they didn't. We told them all about the nice old lady and her yappy little furball "guard dog." I think we made her night.

Mary and I became frequent visitors at Mrs. Morgan's house after that, bringing her flowers from our gardens: bright yellow branches of forsythia, fragrant purple lilacs, red and pink tulips, and the occasional sticky, ant-covered peony bouquet. She always seemed delighted to see us, and spent hours telling us about herself, her family, her dog, and the history of the little town we were growing up in. She had an old-fashioned crank telephone and lots of antiques. Her house was one of the original resort homes back around the turn of the century, when the whole village was a resort and amusement park.

I finally confessed to my mom that I had befriended the woman everyone had said was a witch, despite worrying a little that my mom would be mad I'd spent so much time talking to a "stranger." She laughed, and told me she knew Mrs. Morgan - who, Mom said, seemed old back when she was a kid. The kids had called Mrs. Morgan a witch back then, too, and Mom was glad I'd discovered the truth for myself.

The Bitch

Each year, on the last day of school, we were told who our teacher would be the following year. I was delighted to be moving on to Second Grade, but terrified by the news that my teacher would be Mrs. Hansen.

"Oh, she's mean."

"She hates kids."

"You won't like her. She's strict."

I went home in tears and begged my mother to call the school. I just couldn't have the dreaded Mrs. Hansen next year - for a whole year. After all, she was mean. And I had worked myself into a state: my eyes were red and puffy, my cheeks stained with tears, my whole body heaving with sobs at the utter injustice of it all. I knew my mom would come to my aid and save me from a fate worse than death. After all, we had moved so that I wouldn't have my awful Kindergarten teacher in First Grade. (That's another story for another time; suffice it to say that the woman truly did dislike me and actively worked to make me miserable. Furthermore, she "kidnapped" our entire class - okay, not kidnapped, exactly, but she took us on an unauthorized field trip to the donut shop on the city bus, because for some unfathomable reason she decided a class full of Kindergarteners needed to learn how to use public transportation. So yeah, my parents had reason to move when they learned she'd been "promoted" to First Grade at the same time I was.)

This time, though, my mom just smiled. "Have you met this Mrs. Hansen?"

"No. But everyone says she's mean."

"How would you feel if everyone said horrible things about you, called you mean, and people believed them, without getting to know you first?"

This was a trick. I knew it. I just wasn't smart enough to avoid it. "Pretty bad, I guess."

"Would that be fair?"


"Isn't that what you're doing to Mrs. Hansen?"

"I guess." I sniffled.

"Do you think maybe you could just give it a try? Get to know her for yourself, see how it goes?"

"But Mom--"

"If it turns out that she's really as mean as everyone says she is, I'll call the school and insist they move you to a different class, okay?"

"Okay. I guess. You promise you'll get me out of her class if she's really mean?"

"I promise."

I tried not to spend my summer worrying about it. In fact, I pretty much forgot about it until the first day of school. I went to class wary. But the blue-haired old lady known as Mrs. Hansen didn't seem all that scary. She wasn't particularly mean; she simply laid out the rules and expected us to follow them. But she smiled, too. She might be okay.

A few weeks went by, and I don't remember much about them. They were unremarkable. Mrs. Hansen was just a teacher, like all the others, only older than most I'd had. Probably eighty, at least. And she had that funny, blue, curly hair.

One day, she gave us a worksheet. I don't know if I was bored or what, but I didn't bother to fill in any of the blanks. I hadn't been paying close attention, and didn't realize we'd be required to turn it in - or that we'd be getting a real grade on it. I turned it in blank.

And I got my first "F" the next day.

"F"? Oh, my God. My parents would be furious. I was horrified. Little Miss Smartypants got an "F." I grabbed my #2 pencil and proceeded to grind "I hate Hansen" into the margins of my paper, while my classmates corrected their errors. Apparently, I'd missed the part about correcting errors and turning the paper in again.

"Five minutes," called Mrs. Hansen. "You have five more minutes, then I want those papers on my desk."

I was screwed. I didn't know the word "screwed" back then, but I understood the concept, and knew I was screwed beyond redemption. I frantically tried to erase the hateful words. Not because I didn't mean them, but because now I'd added insult to "F" and that would surely mean a call home to my parents. They would not be amused.

Have you ever tried to erase ground-in pencil marks from manilla paper? Hmm? It can't be done.

I turned the paper in. I don't remember breathing, after that. The phone became a deadly snake, coiled and ready to strike. My adoring parents were going to kill me for this one.

The next day, Mrs. Hansen passed our papers back to us. I still had a big red "F," of course. But beside my horrible, half-erased sentiments, the woman had written - in bright red ink - "I'm sorry."


She was sorry? Oh, God, no one could be sorrier than I was at that very moment. What did Mrs. Hansen have to be sorry for?

Then the worst happened. Those of us who had failed to raise our letter grade would have to come up to her desk for a private chat. I stood in line. My feet were made of lead. I wished God would just strike me dead. And then it was my turn.

Mrs. Hansen stood up. Our eyes met. And she did the strangest thing: she hugged me. "I'm so sorry," she said.

"So am I!" I said. We both cried. The rest of the kids thought we were crazy, but in that fraction of a second, I had found my favorite teacher ever.

Mrs. Hansen never did call my parents. About a year later, my grandparents were throwing a lawn party some twenty miles away, and who should be there but Mrs. Hansen and her husband. I was still afraid she might call - what teacher wouldn't? - but she hadn't. I didn't like her being there at that party at all.

"What is she doing here?" I asked my mom.

"Who? Mrs. Hansen? Oh, she and your grandmother have been friends for years. Didn't I ever tell you? Mrs. Hansen was my Eighth Grade teacher!"

Uh, no, Mom…you omitted that little detail.

Once again, my mother let me discover the truth on my own. And years later, when I 'fessed up to what I'd done back in Second Grade, my mother assured me that Mrs. Hansen had never betrayed me to her. "It was between the two of you. You resolved it, didn't you? That's all that mattered."

I kept in touch with Mrs. Hansen until the day she died, sometime when I was twenty-one. Her son wrote to me and told me how much my friendship and letters had meant to her over the years, but words were inadequate to describe how vitally important her teaching and friendship had been to me over the years.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Antisocial? I Know I Am, But What Are You?

My dad brought me a box of memorabilia that included my grade school “memory book.” Tucked into its pages was an assessment letter from my Kindergarten teacher:

July 1, 1969

Dear Mr. and Mrs. F______:

Holly has been a dignified, rather inflexible, and self-centered kindergartener. It is very difficult for her to project beyond herself. She moves from one close friendship to another but her inability to let herself go makes real sharing impossible. She never really gets involved in doing and other children resent this. She still needs to be reminded about every routine responsibility in the room and she seldom takes one on her own. Practical problems are very difficult for her and she often says,” But I have never done that”. She stands by helplessly while some other child solves a problem as simple as unfolding a newspaper to make it flat. She often uses the term “Ik” or a similar word when asked if she doesn’t want to do papier mache, use clay, paint, etc.Holly is capable of doing good academic work but here again she has difficulty in solving practical problems, in discovering on her own. She waits for adult direction and decisions, and is quick to blame others when things go wrong. She understands math processes, groups and counts easily and memorizes details. She shows much interest in learning to read and is much less mechanical about it than she was at first. She has a good visual memory. Holly performs in dance and general physical activity but she does this studied, mechanical thing and has difficulty losing self-consciousness and relaxing. She has good coordination but is stiff and sometimes fearful. In free outdoor play she is the most relaxed and childlike. She seems to play with a wide variety of friends then and has a good attitude. She seems so afraid she will not “measure up”, or is so dependent upon adult praise in the more specific skills, and she wants to show what she can do rather than to be a part of the whole group experience. She can be a happy, spontaneous contributor with a good sense of humor and an interest in others when she lets down her guard. She is being more free and creative in story writing, in dramatizations, and is trying to do less stereotyped work in art. She needs much contact with children outside of school in order to sense some practical give and take. She needs to get more involved in other children’s interests. She should have no difficulty academically but her success there will be somewhat influenced by her success socially and her attitude toward work.

E_____ C______

Fair enough; my husband read this and laughed. “Not too far off.” He ducked; after twenty-three years of marriage, the man ducked. He has earned the right to know me that well. But is it any wonder we moved, when this woman got promoted to First Grade and my parents were told she’d be my teacher another year?

This, by the way, is the woman who called my parents to the school to inform them that I was a pathological liar. She had asked each of her students to tell the class what our plans were for Christmas break. Mine happened to be traveling to Africa aboard the S.S. United States. “No one takes a five-year-old child to Africa!” E.C. declared. My parents set her straight, and she proceeded to describe to me – in painful detail – the shots I would have to have in order to visit Africa. My parents were less than thrilled with her when they had to drag me to the doctor, kicking and screaming…

This teacher also decided that a class full of kindergartners needed to learn how to use public transportation. So she took us all out of school, loaded us on a city bus, and took us out for donuts. Not that we didn’t enjoy the treat, mind you – she just forgot about little things like permission slips and letting the school principal know where we were. My parents came to pick me up, after school, and the whole class was missing!

Oh, as for She shows much interest in learning to read and is much less mechanical about it than she was at first… I could read by the time I was three. E.C. wasn’t happy because she couldn’t hold my attention with “See Spot run. See Spot pee on the rug.” She had the nerve to lecture my parents about teaching me to read. “That’s the school’s job!” she supposedly said. Incidentally, I failed my first I.Q. test, and the next year, flunked my "Reading Readiness Test." Take these things with a grain of salt, when it comes to your own kids.

“Well, what were we supposed to do?” my parents asked E.C. “Keep the books under lock and key?”

Just one of the fun things I dug out of a cardboard box my dad left here on his last visit. “Holly An’s School Years.” You should see the dorky picture from Seventh Grade. Or not.

Main Entry: iro·ny
Pronunciation: \ˈī-rə-nē also ˈī(-ə)r-nē\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural iro·nies
Etymology: Latin ironia, from Greek eirōnia, from eirōn dissembler
Date: 1502

1: a pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other’s false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning —called also Socratic irony
2 a: the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning b: a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by irony c: an ironic expression or utterance
3 a (1): incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2): an event or result marked by such incongruity b: incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play —called also dramatic irony tragic irony
4: This article.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Zucchini Bread: A Tastier Way to Eat Your Veggies

In a Holiday Baking Mood: Fondant, Zucchini Bread, and Arnold Palmer

First, the verdict on yesterday's "experiment":



It's every bit as tasty as it looks, and it goes perfectly with ice cold milk or hot coffee.

Next up: Arnold Palmer's Zucchini Bread, from Mrs. Cratchit's Kitchen

Mrs. Cratchit's Kitchen is a cookbook my mom wrote in 1976 to benefit the Women's Board of the Litchfield Rehabilitation Center in Akron, OH. Now and then, it goes "missing," and I've used it so much over the years that its front cover rests alone and lonely on the book shelf, several pages are splattered with petrified batter (petrified because it saw ME coming to beat it senseless with a wooden spoon, of course), and there are a ew small tears and dog-ears. I think I have another copy in a box, somewhere, most likely in pristine condition. I keep thinking I ought to choose my favorites, add some new recipes, and update this thing...

But of course I don't.

I want to publicly thank Arnold Palmer (again) for sending my mom his zucchini bread recipe. There are a lot of great recipes in this book, and a lot of well-known and not-so-well-known contributors, but his is my favorite, for several reasons:

  • It saved me from being overrun by two zucchini plants that took it upon themselves to propagate like bunny rabbits one summer, when my parents left town and said "Keep an eye on the zucchini." I swear, I thought it was some cosmic joke - or a scene out of "Attack of the Killer Zucchini." Holy Mother of Pearl - who knew just two little plants could produce an entire refrigerator full of zucchini the size of eggplants?
  • It's easy. I'm adventurous, but I have no idea what I'm doing in the kitchen. I think I proved that with the tripe videos.
  • It uses up a lot of zucchini very quickly. Did I mention I was overrun by zucchini? I cannot stress this enough - there was no room in the refrigerator for anything ELSE. I could've starved to death but for Arnold Palmer, that summer.
  • It's really, really easy. Except for the grating and stirring. I made the first 92 batches by hand - you know, with a metal grater and a wooden spoon and a big ol' Pyrex bowl. I gave batches to my girlfriends, and they fed all their boyfriends. I was the hit of the dorms at T.U. the year I discovered this recipe. And then, the next day, my arm fell off. I highly recommend using a Cuisinart. A high-speed grater and a really powerful mixing motor will save you from the horror of having to super-glue your limp arm back into your shoulder socket.

I'm noticing, for the first time since I was 12, that my mother had no clue how to compile a proper index. You'd think someone who once thought of majoring in Library Science would know how to alphabetize... She was a shrewd Marketing guru, though: put family, friends', and neighbors' (buyers') recipes right up next to celebrity recipes - let Grandma's Oatmeal Batter Bread rub elbows with Arnold Palmer's Zucchini Bread? Who could resist that, eh?

Anyway, without further ado:


  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup oil

Blend these three ingredients together very well. Add:

  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1 cup nuts
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup raisins (optional)

Fill loaf pan 1/2 full and bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes.

Makes 2 to 3 loaves.

Note: I usually omit the nuts and the raisins. I have also used exactly the same recipe, substituting grated carrots (with a few teaspoons of water added) for the grated zucchini. That works just as well. I was thinking of trying acorn squash, next.

Don't try anything weird like using applesauce instead of oil, or whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose white flour. That's just yucky.

Give it a try - let me know what you think.

MY Answer to "I'm Bored, Mom!"

How did I fall down the rabbit hole, this time? Oh, right...I was killing time in Twitter a few days ago, minding my own (and everybody else's) business, and someone sent out a link. Click here to go down the rabbit hole; take a spot of tea, and I'm sure you'll go made for Bakerella's luscious cakes, too.

I have to admit, I was intrigued by "Classy." While I'd pick the "Messy" cake for eating, without giving it a second thought, and I thought "Sassy" somewhat staid but lovely, "Classy" was...a creative culinary challenge. I have never made rolled fondant, but I have always heard, as @Kamichat said, "It's not for the faint of heart."

Even with the "easy" Marshmallow Fondant recipe I found at Fondant Icing 101 - Marshmallow Fondant, it was a sticky, messy experience that left me wondering if fondant icing was really worth bothering with, given that most people don't like to eat it anyway. Cake should be tasty, above all else. But that "Classy" thing was a pretty little confection... Okay, fine. I'm glad I didn't see this cake before I started.

William was bored this morning. My mom's answer to that kind of nonsense was to enroll me in classes - she had a low tolerance and little sympathy for my boredom. Now, being the cocky little snippet that I am, I figured it would be fun to make a video showing that even a twelve year old can make rolled fondant. And William, ever the good sport, agreed to go on camera and show how it's done.

William also baked two cakes. The first - a "stack of presents" cake baked in a silicone cake mold - did not turn out well. We decided to do traditional 9" rounds for the second cake. It's a two layer, red velvet cake, covered in chocolate frosting, then wrapped in fondant. I did the final rolling of the fondant and decoration of the cake after William went to bed - so I couldn't resist "signing" my name on it:



I didn't have a holly sprig cookie cutter, so I cut those by hand with a semi-sharp steak knife. (Don't look at me like that - I never claimed to know what I was doing in the kitchen, and my mama taught me never to play with knives.) So if you think they look more like Velociraptor tracks in the snow, you're probably right - feel free to consider it either an early Christmas cake or a demented tribute to Michael Crichton and Jurassic Park.