Bring It!

Last time I visited my doctor, we looked over a batch of labs and I saw my C-reactive protein score was up. This is a measure of general inflammation, and it’s a test where the lower the score, the better. My PA, though, pointed out that my score ALWAYS goes up in the summer, and comes back down in the winter. The number swings from, “This is flirting with rheumatoid arthritis territory,” down to, “What’s inflammation?”

This comports with my sense of the seasons generally. I detest the heat, humidity, and bugs of summer, and I made things harder on myself this summer by trying to minimize my use of AC. By July I am wrung out, August is a white-knuckle slog, and September is one long prayer for a hard frost.

It’s October, and we still haven’t had a hard frost, but we’ve had a few nights in the forties, and the end of this week should see a dip into the thirties. I say, Bring It. Bring on the days when hot tea is wonderful, bring on the nights when it’s dark early enough that evening feels like evening, not like perpetual, overheated afternoon. Bring on the days that start when days should, not at 5 am with the neighbor-cows bawling their greeting to the sun.

I am just not made for summer, no matter how light my clothing, no matter how many fans I use, no matter anything. I am made for soft layers of comfy clothing, thick socks, hot tea, and cats snuggled in a heap on my living room counter. I thrive on weather that means riding a horse warms me up rather than wrings me out. I delight in starry, starry nights, when I can see my breath and the Milky Way.

I know winter is coming. One indication is the number of readers ordering A Rogue in Winter from the web store. Another indication is that the horses at the barn are getting fuzzy. Yet another is that I’m sleeping better. I love this time of year, when I no longer feel I have to defend myself from excessive heat and humidity, and I can move around in peace again.

My seasonal preference has grown more pronounced as I’ve aged, and as climate change has made summers more unbearable. My dad, by contrast, grew to hate winter, to the extent that at age 55, he retired from Pennsylvania to San Diego, and never looked back. For me, we’re finally moving toward good writing weather, good sleeping weather, good everything weather.

How does this time of year find you? Losing energy? Gaining energy? Looking forward? Backward? Crafting? Reading? Or–one of my faves–hibernating? I’ll put three commenters on the ARC list for my first Lady Violet mystery–Lady Violet Investigates, which is due to release in the web store on Dec. 14.

A Little Better

Somebody changed the radio channel playing at my horse barn.

Instead of country music, we got a mix of show tunes and standards–you know, La Vie En Rose, Unforgettable, Disney ballads. As I began tacking Santiago up, Randy Neuman’s version of You’ve Got a Friend in Me came on. I defy ANYBODY to be either a) still, or b) miserable while that song is playing. Yes, I sang along. You should too. Santa was not too impressed with my barn-aisle boogie, but he got a hug out of it because that is exactly the way I feel about him.

The next tune was A Dream Is a Wish That Your Heart Makes, from the old Disney version of Cinderella. I haven’t heard this piece in years and years… I just leaned on that horse and cried. I don’t know why. It’s a mushy little number, about needing a sanctuary where it’s safe enough to dream, about hope, about fluffy bunnies and twittering birdies… Fortunately, it’s short. I got on rode, and we did pretty well for us, but for a few sniffles (on my part).

This teary trend actually started earlier in the week, with a Zoom concert presented by my friends Jim and Susie Malcolm, a pair of spectacularly talented traditional Scottish singers. Their program focused on Highland tunes, and in the middle of the hour, they sang Wild Mountain Thyme. As Scottish traditional songs go, this one’s actually happy. It’s in a major key, nobody dies, nobody leaves home forever, and if our hero can’t talk his lassie into going thyme-picking with him, he’ll “surely find another.”

Pretty upbeat, for the genre, but the last time I sang this song, I was in Scotland. It’s one of Jim and Susie’s touring anthems, along with Auld Lang Syne. (My favorite version EVER.)

I associate Wild Mountain Thyme with going off on adventures in good company, seeing beautiful scenery, and making new friends far from home. Jim and Susie did the introduction, and I was wrecked. Boo-hoo crying, getting dirty looks from the cats, and missing the hell out of Scotland and my friends.

I don’t think there is “happy crying,” but I do think there’s comfort to be had in feeling safe enough to cry. When my oldest brother went off soldiering in Vietnam, I was about ten years old. I did not cry. I cried when he came home safely a few years later. So too do I think my recent fits of the weeps are an indication that I’m more hopeful and sanguine than I was six months ago. I have the emotional bandwidth to notice the music, Zoom in for the concert, and feel what I’m hearing. For me, that’s progress.

Any progress for you? Setbacks? Wishes or dreams for 2022? I’m donating to the Maryland Food Bank this week. If you’d like to send some meals to the hungry, this site can help you find a food bank near you.

Like the Plague

One of my joys in life is an occasional lunch with my buddy Graham, and last week was one of those occasions when we got together.

I forget what set me off, but I lapsed into Opposing Counsel mode, rag-chewing on everything from gerrymandering to book piracy to for-greed healthcare to the universal abomination and invasion of privacy known as facial recognition software (am I supposed to get a new face if my file is hacked?) to, to, to… I  wish I could say I was in rare form, but I’m just naturally capable of contentious discourse on any variety of topics. I got that gene. Both alleles.

Graham put up with far more of my bloviations than he should have, but as we were getting ready to repair to separate vehicles, he asked, “So, Ms. Happily Ever After, what’s the positive note we’re going to end on? Give me something upbeat to take home with me.”

That guy. I eyed him up. I eyed him down. I grumbled and I muttered, but I also stopped and thought: What have I come across lately that’s positive? Think, Grace Ann…  and I recalled a couple of articles I’d read.

“Solar power is contagious,” I said. “One house getting the panels results in more houses in that immediate neighborhood getting panels, across income levels, across demographics, like a green flu.” I think I surprised him, but more to the point, I surprised myself. Focusing on this one fact got me out of Ranty MacRant-Pants mode, and back to a place of reason and hope.

All the way home I was pondering the extent to which I’ve internalized the contentious, entitled, one-way foghorn dynamic of social media and news media, rather than the listening, constructive, humanistic outlook I purport to value.

I know other good stuff. Compassion is contagious, and also hard-wired into us. Darwin himself stated that compassionate communities will FAR out-perform competitive communities when it comes to thriving and adapting. (Take that, boardroom capitalism.) Laughter is contagious, and good for us. Exercise is contagious, at least among runners.

What I take away from Graham’s seemingly casual question is that I have to be more vigilant about my emotional hygiene. I want to work against the evils of the world without becoming depressed, close-minded, righteous, and loud. That will take paying attention to all the  sources of contagion around me, and allowing close only those that are constructive. It’s a plan, anyway.

What have you come across lately that’s positive? I’ll add the names of three commenters to my ARC list for Miss Dignified (ahem), Mischief in Mayfair book three, which comes out right after New Years. (Yikes!)

 

 

 

Old Dog, Clever Tricks

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Whoever came up with that must have been a complete failure as an animal trainer. As I’m sure the pup-lovers among us would report, old dogs, who have learned many tricks, are often much quicker to pick up on a new one than the younger specimens with smaller training vocabularies and tons more energy.

In humans, faster learning among the more experienced is often because we learn by analogy. After a phase of memorizing nomenclature or being shown some basic structure, we grab on to new material by linking it to something familiar. Sitting on a trotting horse, for example, has a certain “washing machine agitator” quality to the movement.

If you’ve ever watched a top-loading washing machine go swisheroo-and-swisheroo you already have a rhythm in your head that will sync your seat up with the horse’s back… even if you’ve never been on a horse before. If you’ve run a marathon (or even a hilly 10k), you have a grasp of boredom and endurance that will stand you in good stead when you start a college degree program, and so forth. The more we learn, the better we get at learning. Learn the violin, and the French horn’s learning curve is shorter and shallower.

And this is fortunate, because a taste for education–formal, informal, any sort of learning at all–is one of the factors linked to later and lighter mental decline in old age. If we want healthy brains, it becomes imperative to keep learning new tricks. I’ve learned to wear my mask out in public, for example, and that was pretty easy because by the age of three, I was having to keep track of my eyeglasses. I have yet to be caught without a mask when I needed one (knock wood).

I’ve learned to Zoom. The writer job keeps me online a fair amount, so click this/open that/turn on the other wasn’t much of a leap, (and what an absolute JOY to see my daughter’s face and hear her voice). I think my next exciting adventure will be to Duo-lingo French, in part because that’s the language I’ve studied that I’ve heard the least in real life (Scottish Gaelic doesn’t count), and in part because Xavier Fournier is giving me fits. (And French is beautiful.)

I’m thinking of ditching the piano in the living room that has been decimated by wild temperature and humidity fluctuations, and getting an electronic keyboard, because I never did learn the Chopin Ballades, and they are sumptuous. Also, most musical instruments require “cross body” physical functioning–you just can’t just use your dominate hand–and that is also good for keeping the neurology happy.

How are you doing in the new tricks department? Have you had an opportunity–or been forced–to pick up any new skills or knowledge lately? Is there a learning project you’d like to tackle on the bucket list?

To three commenters, I’ll send ebook files for A Rogue in Winter. This title has already gone on sale in the web store (and in print and libraries), but the retail launch won’t be until Nov. 2, and that just seems so far away…

Oldies But Goodies

One of many lovely places I’ve visited in Scotland is Stirling Castle, which has been a royal something-or-other (chapel, burgh, castle, residence) for going on a thousand years. Before that, because it overlooked the most southerly ford for the Forth River, it was a busy commercial center. One of the messages pounded home when you tour the kitchens there is, “Here, they ate better 500 years ago than we do now.”

Almost everything was locally produced (and organic of course). The diet was plant-based, bodaciously fresh, and included surprising variety given seasonal limitations. Fresh water oysters by the bushel, all the fresh-caught salmon you could want, game, eggs most days, a dash of dairy, fruits, greens, honey… picked fresh daily was the norm.

I forget what workshop I was at when somebody pointed that of course all those grand folks in the Regency and Georgian portraits looked lovely. EVERYTHING they wore was bespoke, chosen for the colors, fabrics, and specific fit that made the wearer look and feel great, from handmade shoes to specifically fitted eyeglasses. Even a poor child was dressed in handmade clothes that his family altered to suit his specific size. In a sense, those old guys and gals dressed better than we do.

My eye was recently caught by Salvatore Basile’s new book, Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything. Basile chronicles how an invention that we take for granted now was actually slow to catch on, in part because we had so many other measures for dealing with excessive heat–sleeping porches, siestas, parasols, swimming holes, hand fans, sunken basements, cold meals, iced drinks…. we were pretty savvy about keeping our cool. Not like now.

In a recent Facebook post, I asked readers what they might enjoy about a Regency lifestyle, and the answers included a darker night sky, greater abundance of all natural life, birdsong, scent and spice gardens, peat fires, sun-dried laundry, letter writing and exquisite penmanship, personal libraries of real books, live music everywhere from street corners to pubs to concert halls to family drawing rooms, farm-to-table menus by default… the list was long and varied.

In a time when we are faced with some tough problems–climate change, a pandemic, social media toxicity, an unregulated internet, global wealth concentration–it can be tempting think tech which is part of the problem) will solve all of our problems, and we just need to science our collective behonkis off, and we can make this all come right. I value science (see dad, two brothers, a sister-in-law who ran a Nobel-prize winning lab…), and I hope tech can become more of a blessing than a curse.

But I’m also struck by how often the solutions we had–eating locally and fresh, napping through the heat of the day, making music together instead of creating posts for privacy-mining social media platforms–were arguably better for us and for our planet than the ones we’ve adopted today.

Do I want to live without vaccines, TP, or my bedroom window unit? Nope, but neither do I want species extinction to continue at its present rate while the planet cooks, and social media suffers no consequences for engaging in purposeful, profitable, evil.

Is there any aspect of past lifestyles that might suit you better than modern alternatives? Any old-fashioned habits you keep close or would like to take up? To one commenter, I’ll send–irony alert!–a $50 Amazon e-gift card.

 

 

September Song

I was coming home from my big day out–a sortie to the horse barn, followed by a grocery run, a bank stop, and a swing through the emissions inspection station, when I got stuck behind a school bus. I was on the windy mountain road that runs past my house, a glorified logging trail flanked on either side with big trees, and only an occasional homestead.

I had the thought that the leaves would soon be gone, and that I had best wallow in the greenery while I may. September sunlight is among my favorite, all golden and mellow, and as I tooled along enjoying the sense of autumn just around the corner, the school bus creaked to a stop.

Two kids got out, and in the fenced front yard, a golden retriever started barking and wagging his tail. Grandma hopped off the porch and the little girl ran right up to her and hugged her.

I had groceries in the back seat, and my house is a good forty-five minutes from the store. My frozen goods were thawing, the school bus makes bad time over the back roads, and I was tired from what, for me, is an ambitious day–to say nothing of the joys of the annual trek to the emissions station.

But that moment–the kids, the dog (a golden, of course), granny, the spontaneous hug, beautiful fall weather–was so powerfully sweet, that my groceries and fatigue, and the frustrations of why won’t a state employee wear a mask (why wont’ so many people in public places wear masks?) all fell away. The joy found me. The delight in a small scene of everyday love and wonder hit home and sank in.

I’m pretty sure I did not notice the beautiful sunlight last fall. I did not notice the silence resulting from a lack of school buses creaking along my windy back road this past year. I hid from the anxiety, but I also hid from many joys, and from much beauty and goodness. I am profoundly grateful for that moment behind the school bus, for that little girl running up to granny with her arms held wide and granny enfolding her in that special hug only grandparents can bestow.

I am profoundly grateful for all the folks who are doggedly masking up, all the folks who in the midst of this protracted stress and upheaval have sent me a little note–love the books, please keep writing. It helps. Thanks, from the bottom of my soul, to each of you who has read those books. It hasn’t just helped that my readers are still picking up the happily ever afters, it has saved my sanity.

As we put the long, hot summer behind us (or the long, cold winter for the southern contingent), I wish each of you a return of moments of love and wonder. If you had the fortitude to never lose sight of those moments, then I wish you more of them, and more ways to share those moments.

Tuesday marks the retail release of Miss Delightful, book two in the Mischief in Mayfair series, and that means I can give away signed copies to three commenters. Have any golden moments graced your life lately, or in the past months? Small, luminous times when the joy and wonder found you  and sank in?

 

Just Checking In

I have a writin’ buddy living in Louisiana, and when the deep freeze hit, she ended up without power for TWO WEEKS in a part of the world that is a stranger to insulation. When I saw Ida bearing down, I shot off  a quick email, “Writin’ buddy, CHECK IN SAFE as soon as you can!” (She did, she’s fine.)

Another writing buddy living in the mountains of Virginia also ended up without power for a couple weeks one recent winter, and big storms would see me pinging her too. (She’s back from the wilderness now, safely biding where storms mean stocking up that e-reader and waiting for the plows to come through.)

My nephew has been living in Lake Tahoe for the past few years, a very special place that’s gone through some very special wild fire hell. Same thing, “Nephoo, CHECK IN SAFE!” Though he beat me to it, and he’s fine… If you can call heartsore and exhausted fine.

I’m fine too, but I’m also noticing a pattern. First, my family needs better disaster preparedness, in the sense that all we have is a text thread among my siblings. How to get in touch with adult nieces and nephews, their spouses, my sibling’s spouses… pretty patchwork. My mother’s old, falling apart address book used to be the bible for points of contact. Mom has been gone for four years and we have not found a means of replacing that central node of connectivity.

Second, why “check in” mostly when my loved ones face a disaster? My daughter and I are pretty good about keeping a casual line of communication open, and my sisters and I have gotten better at Zooming, but there are a zillion authors I could email with a quick, “Hope the words are treating you well. Been thinking of you…” Or, I could Zoom with them for the heck of it…

If I’m only going to send up a flare when hurricanes and wildfires inspire me to appreciate my friends and family, it’s no wonder my middle-distance relationships tend to languish. I think some of this tendency is because the wildfires and hurricanes are getting so much worse, and some of it is social media sucking away our impulse to initiate communication with people we know casually.

Windham Family Duet by Grace BurrowesBut some of it is just me, being oblivious, because it’s Xavier’s Fournier’s turn to fall in love, and I will walk into walls and lose my glasses until I get him figured out. That is no excuse, though, for my lax attention to friends and family. (Though if anybody knows what’s going ON with that guy, please do let me know… I’m thinking of titling his book, Monsieur Disaster.)

How are you managing lately with the keeping-in-touch challenge? Does your family have a central address book? Are there friends you only hear from during hurricane/snowstorm/wildfire season?

This week, I’m sending some love to Baldwin and Co. a New Orleans bookstore and coffee shop, and to Tubby and Coos, another New Orleans independently owned bookstore. If there’s a charity you are particularly attached too, feel free to leave the link with your comment.

(And PS–finally got the last of the previously published  Windham novellas back into circulation. That only took me a year…)

 

Pandemic Punctuation

By now, we’ve all seen the grammar parable wherein a college English class is asked to punctuate the following: a woman without her man is nothing. The options vary, but men tend to come up with this result: A woman with her man is nothing. While women come up with: A woman–without her, man is nothing.

Punctuation is intricately tied up with meaning. I was reminded of this when last I Zoomed with my two sisters, one of whom is a few months away from retiring. Darling Sister has worked at the same medical institution for the past fourteen years, and she is absolutely ready to pass the baton to others. I asked how she planned to celebrate, and she… didn’t. Her big celebration would be to get up, not get in the car, and not drive to the office. Wheee!

Darling Other Sister and I both insisted there be more to remark the occasion than that. When I left the law office, there was no lunch with the bar association buddies, no farewell speech from the bench. I just passed over my files after 25 years and that was that.

BUT I did go to New Zealand shortly thereafter and I came home by way of Australia. The wonderful thing about crossing the equator is that not only did I move through a lot of time zones, but I also changed seasons. I went from summer to winter in a day. I changed cultures, I changed accents. I attended back-to-back romance writers’ conferences, put hugs with faces, made new connections, and talked book-shop on and off for three weeks. I got a surprising amount of writing done, and by the time I came home…

Law office? What law office? Oh, that. Well, I did the law office thing then. NOW I’m down to one full-time job–writing–and life is much lovelier. Traveling, attending annual conferences, making new associations, shifting my focus to my writer job, changing seasons and scenery, ALL helped me punctuate the inflection point between a not so pleasant professional then, and a better, more enjoyable professional now.

And this stupid pandemic has stolen so many of our means of punctuating our lives. Family reunions, annual conferences, vacations as opposed to stay-cations, retirement dinners, graduations–these are not simply rituals, they are a means of boxing up and making sense of our days and years. Of lightening the load of “now” by commending some parts of our experience to “then.”

When I consider how long it has been since I’ve attended a writers’ get-together of any kind, it’s no wonder I’m feeling some days that life has become a treadmill. No wonder some families are simply desperate to put school children on the bus. I may not agree with them in that particular, but I am very sympathetic to the need to punctuate life so now can progress into then, and someday soon can become now.

What major punctuation mark have you missed or been able to reinstate? To one commenter, I will send a $50 Amazon gift card, because until we can schedule those vacations and reunions and moves, we still have books!

And PS–In case you missed it, Miss Delightful is on sale on the web store and in print!

 

 

Blessed Are the Bored

I’ve come through the pandemic (not that we are through it) feeling a lack of creative momentum relative to what I enjoyed five years ago. I’m having great fun with the Mischief in Mayfair series, and the side  project is pair of novellas I’ll publish with Erica Ridley next spring–novellas are always a frolic–but the queue behind those two projects is not full of characters clamoring for their HEAs.

I have some ideas, though in the past few months story premises have  been slower to emerge, and my response to them has been less enthusiastic. Then I came across this article, about our collective loss of creativity and its fairly obvious causes. (Nod to Austin Kleon’s newsletter, and he IS creative, and the quotes are from his blog.) We are overscheduled and over-screen-timed, such that our minds have no time to breathe, wander, or explore how to connect distant dots. The lack of unstructured time has been getting worse for decades, and technology has accelerated the trend.

My Rogues to Riches series started one day when I was staring off into space, thinking about the glut of “duke books.” (Mind you, I love me a good duke book.) I asked myself: What is the farthest, most distant, different man from a duke? Being a lawyer, the answer that came to me was: A convicted murderer awaiting execution. No power, no hope, his privileges all down the jakes if any there ever were.

So how, I wondered, can I connect those two seemly distant dots? And off I went…

But questions like that can’t occur to me if I’m ALWAYS playing Solitaire, Cribbage, Hearts, Spider, or jigsaw puzzles, all of which I do on my computer much more now than I did eighteen months ago. They can’t occur to me if I’m walking on the tread desk instead of in new surrounds. They can’t occur to me if I’m taking fewer showers because I never leave the house (sorry for the TMI,  but showers are magic for creativity). They can’t occur to me if I’m never in conversation with people who think differently from me.

And the pandemic has checked every one of those boxes in thick, stinky black magic marker. Oh. Oh, really.

I did not get into this low-creative RPMs situation over night, and I probably won’t pull out of it just because I went for a three-mile walk today (saw a deer!), but I can work at reversing the direction of my inertia, and hope some interesting premises sneak up on me in the shower soon (preferably involving lonely dukes or fellows of that ilk).

Has your relationship to screen time changed as a result of the pandemic? Are there ways the road back to normal isn’t following quite the path you’d envisioned? I will add three commenters to my ARC list for A Rogue in Winter!

Sum-sum-summertine!

Welp, I went on hiatus and that was fun, but now I’m back on the blog. Wheee!

I had a few insights while the blog was dark, one of which was an answer to why I’m so stiff and achy in the summertime. In summer, I still get my 10k steps five days a week. I still ride my pony a couple times a week, but friends, for the past eight weeks, I have not been pulling weeds, taking on the house projects, or walking outside nearly as much as I do when the weather is more temperate. It’s just too hot for too much of the day.

Heat does not create a higher activity level in this little molecule. I’m clearly a scientific  marvel. Heat (or humidity) inclines me to keep it low and slow… Part of that is because I try not to use AC. If it’s a truly hot, muggy night, I will crank up the window unit in my bedroom (think successive days 90F+), but other than that… I’m trying to reduce my carbon footprint, except–DUH–my property is powered exclusively by wind and solar energy. Might be time to rethink my sweltering house.

And this reduction in activity level has cascaded to create a more wobbly routine. I have bounced around my riding times to accommodate the oppressive weather. I have bounced around my writing times too, because some days, if I don’t get my steps in by 10 am, it’s not happening, and first thing in the day is my best writing time. The heat-induced jostling of routine has also resulted in a general sense of scatteredness, and that’s before we talk about the never-ending pandemic. Simple things like “I always take my vitamins between my second and third cuppa tea…” have gone widdershins, because my little sequence of habits has not held up to the hot weather.

I was not a complete spud, though. I gobbled up the first three titles in Jennifer Ashley’s Gladiator mystery series. Ancient Rome was a fascinating place, politically, socially, and technologically, and any story Jennifer Ashley/Ashley Gardner writes will be well told. I found some cool titles to pre-order, like Charles Foster’s Being a Human. I noshed my way through Kristine Hughes’ Waterloo Witnesses, which is an amazing book. I am almost done drafting my third Mischief in Mayfair story, Miss Dignified, and I’m making hay with the production effort on my Lady Violet mysteries.

ARC files for Miss Delightful go out this week. Tell me what you’ve been up to this summer and how you’re doing. I’ll add the first ten commenters to the ARC list who aren’t already on there. (And yes, I am looking forward to fall. I ALWAYS look forward to fall.)