Not Cool but Definitely Qualify as Quirky


the writing fairyCool is a challenging state to achieve and highly difficult to maintain for more than short snippets of time. Consider the pressure involved. Even if I pulled out all the stops and had advisers on ‘cooldom’, I’d wobble like a kid on stilts and tumble from my perch. But weird–I’ve got that down.  Back in my wanna be hippie days, I was approvingly termed ‘freaky’, the hippie term for quirky. Gnarly was never ever within my reach. Granted, my hippie era was a few decades ago, but I’ve hung in there and expanded weird; lends itself well to being an author. We’re a quirky bunch. Mental also applies. Some of us believe in the writing fairy. We call her ‘the muse’.

teaI don’t know who among us in the author world actually qualifies as cool, but suspect not many. Authors live off of caffeine and chocolate until doctors take it away, and even then…I’m not supposed to have either one, but just try getting me through a day without them. Earl Grey is my favorite tea, hot, with milk and sugar, and dark chocolate, flavored with mint, sea salt, and almonds…the specialty kinds.

mountains in early summer

A writer’s residence of choice is a cave, or secluded cabin, in some remote location with good internet and cell phone connections. Here we dwell, or would, while we labor over our next story, snapping at anyone who intrudes in our imaginary world, unless they bring treats.  I swear with a week of uninterrupted time, I could finish my next book. But there’s no such thing, unless I run away. I’ve contemplated a mountain retreat.

Bilbo: “I want to see mountains again, mountains, Gandalf!  And then find somewhere quiet where I can finish my book.”

DarkChocolateSquaresMost writers fall into two different categories, those on meds and those who should be. I’m talking prescription, doctor monitored, meds. Rare are the writers who function well without them. And yes, drinking counts as a med. So does smoking. So does caffeine, but it’s the mildest of all addictions.

Quill Pen, Diary, Writing, Ink Well, Woman's HandApart from a death in the family, possibly our own, nothing matters quite so much to an author as how our work is faring. If the muse is with us, we’re euphoric; if not, we’re down, down, down. 1 star reviews never cease to annoy us, even if we’ve been in this rough and tumble world for years. And, if we have, 1 stars are not justified, probably not 2 stars either. You may not like the story, but that doesn’t mean it was written by an orangutan. Give us a little credit.

“To write is to be vulnerable.” – Unknown

By and large, authors do not take criticism well. After the gnashing of teeth passes, we may apply any constructive insights offered and grow in our craft. Or not. It’s all about the story. If you don’t ‘get it’ that’s your problem. We’re busy writing. It’s what we do. And what would this world be without the storytellers? What if you were fated to write your own?

Writing is a vulnerable state: you bare your soul.

Oh, and most authors like cats. Or dogs. Or both. We write with our furbabies.

Southern Gothic Mystery by Susan Coryell–Beneath the Stones


beneath the stones coverAs a Virginian who enjoys Southern themes with mystery, romance, and a Gothic flavor, I’m pleased to have fellow Wild Rose Press Author, Susan Coryell, here to share her new release, BENEATH THE STONES, published in April, 2015,. The story is a standalone sequel to A Red, Red Rose. Both are cozy mystery/Southern Gothics.

From Susan: I wrote the sequel to A Red, Red Rose because so many reviewers asked for one. Much research was involved for Beneath the Stones since it is a contemporary setting with a Civil War background as a major theme: Unresolved issues from the past can literally haunt us in the present.

Civil War, American Civil War, War, Ghost, Armed Forces,The Civil War letters included in Beneath the Stones are based on actual letters written from battle fronts by family ancestors, Joseph Franklin Stover and John William Stover. After my mother-in-law’s death, the family found a nondescript box in her file cabinet. Inside we were amazed to find fifteen letters hand-written in beautiful, flowing script. Since this occurred as I was in the midst of writing Beneath the Stones, I immediately seized on the idea of using excerpts from the letters in the novel. Though, for practical reasons, I omitted many details, overall the letters reveal a haunting picture of life for the Confederate soldier. A final note: The flute mentioned in one of the letters is very likely the same flute on display at the Museum of the Confederacy in Appomattox, Virginia.~

Fascinating, Susan! I love the depth this gives your work. Our family also unearthed a treasure trove of letters from my great-great-grandfather George W. Finley who fought and was captured at Gettysburg and became one of the Immortal Six Hundred.. He’s one of the few surviving Confederates who not only lived to tell the tale, but wrote it all down. These connections with the past are so meaningful and moving. My brother, John Churchman, is doing a nonfiction book on Grandpa Finley.

southern-plantation-homeStory Blurb for Beneath the Stones:

Mystery, suspense and romance flourish against a backdrop of Civil War turmoil and ancestral strife–where immortality infiltrates the ancient air breathed by all who inhabit Overhome Estate.

Ashby Overton has everything to look forward to, including a promising writing career and her wedding at summer’s end. But, Overhome, her beloved historic family estate in Southern Virginia, is in financial peril and it is up to Ashby to find a solution.

Interfering with Ashby’s plans is a dark paranormal force that thwarts her every effort to save Overhome. Supernatural attacks emanate from an old stone cottage on the property rumored to be a slave overseer’s abode, prior to the Civil War. As the violence escalates, Ashby begins to fear for her life. Who is this angry spirit and why is his fury focused on her?

small pro photo of SusanLinks for Susan

Her Website: www.susancoryellauthor.com

Facebook page:

Amazon Buy links for Beneath the Stones: Paperback and Kindle 

Wham! It’s Spring!


shirley poppies, larkspur, coreopsis tinctoria

(Larkspur, Shirley poppies, Coreopsis tinctoria, in bed along road by Elise)

We flashed from cold nights with the threat of frost and chill winds blowing when we worked in the garden, to full-blown, everything needs to be done NOW–spring. The valley is like that. Whimsical, enchanting, maddening May. I’m torn between admiration for the wondrous beauty bursting out all over, to how the heck are we gonna get everything weeded, planted, mulched, etc. The annual gardening challenge. Even with vital help from daughter, Elise, keeping up with our many gardens is getting beyond us. She has art projects and a job. I’m supposed to be writing stories, and then there’s all the things to do to keep a household afloat and maintain contact with friends and family. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, ball games, recitals…all that stuff called life.

dill and poppies

The fact that certain body parts are complaining about the sudden rush, also has to be taken into account. Mine, not Elise’s. She’s young and in better shape. That’s why we go with the carefree wildflower meadow look as much as we do, and just beat back the worst of the weeds; those declared pretty stay.

Our flower beds are a mix of reseeding heirloom annuals, wildflowers, and perennials that come back from the root, bulbs, some rose, and of course, a lot of herbs. We love herbs, and always want more.

The vegetable garden is a beast in itself to keep up and requires much diligence. although, it doesn’t always get it. We still seem to harvest an abundance of edibles, though. And yes, it’s all organic. We use composted manure, hay, and whatever else we can get our hands on that’s lying about the farm breaking down and no longer of use for feeding cows. The beds that reseed heavily get no mulch, just tending to keep plants in some kind of bounds. I spray an occasional herbal brew on them to feed and fight fungus and some bugs, but only with stuff that doesn’t hurt the bees and butterflies.. If anyone is interested in the particulars, I’m glad to share.

(Dill and heirloom poppies above by Elise)

fuzzy sage with blue larkspur

(Sage and larkspur by Elise)

Sometimes I also receive assistance from the ten and under crowed, but there’s a limit to how much you can count on from a four and six-year-old, or even those who’ve achieved the great age of seven. By the time the grandbabies are of old enough to really enter in, will they still be interested in gardening? That remains to be seen.

The cats are not much help in the garden, but the outside ones look on while I labor. My dogs want to be with me every second, which isn’t possible for tiny Sadie Sue when it gets too hot or cold or much of anything. She peters out pretty fast, so she sits by the kitchen door or looks out the windows and protests loudly. Jilly also wants to be by my side, but will head for the hills, I fear, if not on her lead. Good old Luca can come along. And that’s the gang. I need gardening elves.

wildflowers and reseeding annuals

***Larkspur and coreopsis tinctoria by Elise

I’ve written a book about herbs, Plants For A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles. available in print and kindle at Amazon. Many of these herbs are also used today. It’s also in print at Barnes & Noble.

‘An illustrated collection of plants that could have been grown in a Medieval Herb or Physic Garden in the British Isles. The major focus of this work is England and Scotland, but also touches on Ireland and Wales. Information is given as to the historic medicinal uses of these plants and the rich lore surrounding them. Journey back to the days when herbs figured into every facet of life, offering relief from the ills of this realm and protection from evil in all its guises.’

(Images are from late last May and soon to be repeating here, more or less,)

Cats and Springtime Go Together


Owl Cat in the garden

(Owl Cat in the garden)

Kitties love our garden(s). We have a lot of cats on our farm, both the outside kitties who found us, or their mama’s did, or were dumped, and the five rescues I’ve taken into the house. Thanks to our local cat rescue organization, Cat’s Cradle, in the Shenandoah Valley, all our outside barn cats and strays, except one or two that avoided the cage, were humane trapped, neutered or spayed, medicated if needed, given shots, and returned to us in late April. Big sigh of relief here. Nineteen cats and older kittens were fixed and tended to thanks to these fine folks. I couldn’t have afforded to do all of this on my own, and I don’t have the traps or their trapping skill. I made a donation and entourage everyone to support them and other no kill rescue organizations for cats and dogs. Note: Our local SPCA has the highest kill rate in Virginia.

What about yours? Check before you take animals to these places. Seek the humane no kill rescue centers and groups. We also have good ones for dogs.

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(Owl Cat in the catnip)

Back to the farm, a shy young adult kitty we call Owl Cat, because of her notable head tilt, is apparently fine, according to the vet. The tilt may stem from an earlier injury. We’ve noted she’s gotten better since early spring when she first gained our attention. The angle of her head and intensity of her gaze gives her a deeply contemplative look. She lives in the old red barn or my garden and is one of the regulars who collect outside my kitchen door for meals. She has a lovely climbing tree there and a small cat house she likes. All the kitties are enthralled by the catnip that grows in a nearby flower bed and have favorite nooks among the herbs, flowers, and shrubs. In the summer, they stalk the rows of sweet corn like jungle cats.

Little white kitty drinking his bottle

With spring comes the kitten rescues which get very tiring, and I was hoping to avoid with the many spays and neutering we’ve had done. So far, I’ve taken in three kittens. Cat’s Cradle kindly took the two tiny Siamese babies from me when they became sick and needed more care than I felt up to giving. I was sick myself. These babies will be adopted through them in late May. Their elusive mother is one of the two adults we were unable to catch, and haven’t ever seen. She left the pair squawking in the barn. My son later caught sight of two more Siamese babies and a tabby infant that she (or some other mama) was caring for, then she moved them. She and they are hidden here somewhere,, unless she relocated  to the neighbor’s farm. The humane trapping of the other cats may have upset her. A young adult Siamese male also shunned the traps. We suspect he’s deaf. He’s a frequent visitor outside my kitchen door, and I’d like to get him tamed enough to catch and neuter.

dilute calico kitten

A third calico kitten was dumped on our farm last week, and found by my ten-yr-old-niece Cailin. The poor thing was crying its head off and hiding in a piece of farm machinery in the upper meadow. I snagged a good home for that little cutie. There may have been siblings with it, as it’s unusual for a single kitten to be dumped alone, but we couldn’t find anymore. If there were more, they didn’t make it. People shouldn’t dump kittens on farms assuming someone will find them in time. Not everyone will go to the efforts I do to take care of them, and farmers have plenty of cats already.

Five kitties live strictly inside our house–all rescues–ranging from Minnie Mae, 14, Percy, 12, Pavel, 4, and the latest are the dastardly duo, Peaches and Cream, the itty bitty buddy brothers I rescued last fall. I had bronchitis by the time I got them through those first exhausting weeks. They were had a respiratory infection too, and had to be medicated and bottle fed, plus, plus. They are forever up to some sort of naughtiness, unless it’s nap time. It’s gotten so I don’t even bother to investigate all the crashes in the house unless I hear something shatter. Their antics are the reason I’m not keeping any more kitties inside for quite a while. When I hear them purr-talking and chirruping together, I know they’re up to no good. But I love them dearly. Peaches and Cream, plus Pavel, are especially enamored with the sun porch and love my geraniums. Not that’s it’s done the plants a lot of good. They’re blooming beautifully, though, despite the nibbling.

Percy likes to snooze in a sunbeam out there. Who wouldn’t?’

Apricot tabby in geraniums

(Peaches, an apricot or buff tabby, nosing in the geraniums)

“A dog will flatter you but you have to flatter the cat.”- George Mikes

“After scolding one’s cat one looks into its face and is seized by the ugly suspicion that it understood every word. And has filed it for reference.”- Charlotte Gray

(A Peaches and  Cream are shameless and ignore everything I say. Pictured below in a deceptively innocent pose. Cream is a Siamese orange tabby mix.)

Peaches and Cream snoozing in the Sunspace

'Cream' Siamese orange tabby mix

(Cream a Siamese Orange Tabby Mix. Smart, Curious, and into everything)

“You can’t help that. We’re all mad here.” – The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland (Definitely)

“Actually, cats do this to protect you from gnomes who come and steal your breath while you sleep.” – John Dobbin (This quite was so random I had to include it. Of course.)

Below is the old red barn where the outside cats shelter. Images are by daughter Elise, except the ones of Owl Cat, DH took those.

barn cat and roosters

The sun was warm but the wind was chill. You know how it is with an April day. ~Robert Frost


Oh, yes. I know. April in the Shenandoah Valley is up and down and all around. Some days are heavenly blue and balmy. I ache to capture the beauty, and can’t bear to come inside from the garden.

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Daughter Elise brings her camera over, but even her talent cannot totally convey the beauty. A wash of rich green spreads from the yard down across the meadow. Tender new leaves flushed with rose blend in with the many shades of green in the woods on the hills behind our farm. Daffodils, tulips, Virginia bluebells, lilac, pears, bridal veil spirea…beloved blossoms return as old friends to color the trees and flower beds. Wild flowers star the roadside and the creek bank. A wonderland. On those days, we are like ‘The Shire’.

spring flowers in the Shenandoah Valley

Other days are cold, gray, and windy–as if the Norsemen are coming in their dragon-headed ships. Or the furious wind fairies are gathering to attack, as our resident fairy expert, my niece Cailin, would warn. Soft rains are gentle and sooth the earth. Animals, plants, and people hunker down on the chill-you-to-the bone blasting kind of days. Spring is ‘right mixy’ to quote a local country woman.

Beauty of Apeldoorn tulips
The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. ~Henry Van Dyke

The sun has come out… and the air is vivid with spring light. ~Byron Caldwell Smith, letter to Kate Stephens

April hath put a spirit of youth in everything. ~William Shakespeare

The front door to springtime is a photographer’s best friend. ~Terri Guillemets

_MG_8464_1 (1)       (Elise made an arrangement of daffodils)

A little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King.
~Emily Dickinson

A wizard must have passed this way
Since—was it only yesterday?
arrangement of violets in an old lavender bottleThen all was bare, and now, behold,
A hundred cups of living gold!
~Emma C. Dowd, “Daffodil and Crocus,” in Country Life in America: A Magazine for the Home-maker, the Vacation-seeker, the Gardener, the Farmer, the Nature-teacher, the Naturalist, April 1902

(Elise made an arrangement of violets in an old bottle we found on the farm)

It’s spring! Farewell
To chills and colds!
The blushing, girlish
World unfolds
Each flower, leaf
And blade of sod—
Small letters sent
To her from God.
~John Updike, “April,” A Child’s Calendar, 1965

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(An arrangement in our kitchen window by Elise. All images by Elise)

Spring: the music of open windows. ~Terri Guillemets

***Many of our flowers are heirlooms.

Easter spells out beauty, the rare beauty of new life. ~S.D. Gordon


Easter Eggs Hidden in CrocusI’ve always loved Easter, a joyous season when the earth is reborn in a swell of new life washed with vibrant color, a time of spiritual and physical renewal. I can’t imagine Christ’s resurrection taking place at any other time of year. This is most fitting. As a six-year-old recently returned from an early childhood spent in Taiwan, I delighted in my first egg hunt in a neighbor’s yard filled with blooming crocus and daffodils. Tucked in the green grass and among those shining blossoms were the many-colored eggs, like hidden jewels. Magical. And chocolate rabbits. I was in awe of an American Easter.

Nostalgic Easter PhotographOf course, in those days little girls wore hats and gloves and crinolines under their Easter dresses. Yes, I was born in the 1800’s. I also received my first white Bible on Easter, which is still my favorite one. It had this new book smell and books were quite special back then because my father was an underpaid English professor and we were poor. I just liked smelling my new Bible, but did eventually read much of it. The names of my favorite Sunday School teachers are inked in the front under the section entitled Friends at Church. I must have been a real nerd not to have any children listed. Actually, I know I was.

Another early Easter memory is our family returning home from church and me climbing from the car to bury my face in a golden clump of daffodils by the back doorstep, beaded with rain. Their sweet scent said spring to me. And new life. I always imagined the tomb where Christ was buried and rose again surrounded by daffodils and crocus.

“For I remember it is Easter morn,
And life and love and peace are all new born.”  ~Alice Freeman Palmer

“Let the resurrection joy lift us from loneliness and weakness and despair to strength and beauty and happiness.”  ~Floyd W. Tomkins

“It is the hour to rend thy chains,
The blossom time of souls.”  ~Katherine Lee Bates

March has been ‘Right Mixy’


Spring 2015

Years ago, when I asked an Old Order Mennonite woman how her two-year-old daughter was doing, she responded with, ‘Right mixy.’ Which sums up a wee tot and their erratic moods quite well. The term also applies to March in the Shenandoah Valley, and other parts of the country. One day it’s mild and in the 60’s and the next, temps drop to the teens and snow flies. Is it any wonder I’ve been stricken with a respiratory thing, as have many others in the valley. We all long for full-blown spring and more settled weather, and hope to live to see it. Hack, sniffle, honk.

March 6

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” ~Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours.” ~Mark Twain

March 5

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.”
~Robert Frost

(I know, but am hopeful April will be kinder.)

***snowdrop, crocus and pussy willow are blooming. Daffodils have just begun. Images by daughter Elise