Midsummer in the Texas Hill Country

We’re used to the midsummer heat here in Texas, but this year has been brutal–the highest temperatures ever recorded (108 in Austin, 111 on our north-facing back deck) and a record-breaking string of 100-degree days that began in June and continues into July. Severe drought here, too–everything is tinder-dry. I usually have a collection of […]

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Works In Progress: June 2022

Almost finished! Another patch of snowy white under the blue door to complete, a little more detailing and a few missed cross-stitches to fill in, and I’ll be done. I could return to the fractal I started earlier this year, but that frustrating project may be forever relegated to the “unfinished” stack. The older I […]

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Works in Progress: May 2022

The painted buntings are here–a cheerful sign that summer has arrived. So far, I’ve seen three males at once on the millet feeders, so our little breeding colony has returned for another year. And I saw a hawk flying low into the woods last night, which suggests that there’s a nest back there. (One year, […]

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Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon Fires

Sunday, April 24, 2022. This is the ridgeline behind our house in Pendaries Village, in New Mexico, two nights ago. The Hermit’s Peak fire started on April 6, when a prescribed burn got away from the Forest Service. The Calf Canyon fire (cause still being investigated) began on April 19, about 4 miles away–upwind, so […]

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Hermit’s Peak Fire & Dragon Drones

It’s been a crazy week here in Texas, watching a forest fire some 600+ miles away in New Mexico, hoping that the winds will die down and allow the firefighting team to bring in helicopters and a few buckets of water. The Hermit’s Peak Fire (#HermitsPeakFire) began 11 days ago, when a prescribed burn got […]

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Libraries and Politics: A Dangerous Mix

I was lucky, growing up, and I know it. We lived in the corn-and-beans country of rural Illinois, but my father was a reader and took me with him to the local Carnegie library every Saturday. Nobody ever told me I couldn’t read something that interested me. I had all the freedom I needed to […]

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Work In Progress: March 2022

The current cross stitch project is a fractal–more colorful in real life than in either of these photos. The pattern is complicated and intriguing and is trying to teach me to become a more disciplined stitcher. I stitch in a combination of techniques: “cross country” (working across the piece with one color at a time) […]

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O’Keeffe and Chabot: Something Always Nearby

As you might know, I’ve been working on another biographical fiction in my “Hidden Women” series–this one, about the friendship of Georgia O’Keeffe (the artist) and Maria Chabot. Their story has been hidden in plain sight in a massive collection of letters published in 2003. The collection itself is expertly compiled and gives us an […]

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Work In Progress: January 2022

For  my 2022 cross-stitch project, I’ve decided to do a fractal.  This is the one I chose. It’s more colorful than the photo, but you get the idea. Lots of interesting blending, precise geometry. It will keep me busy for the full year, I suspect.               I always enjoy […]

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Summing Up: 2021

Finally. Here it is, the middle of December, and we’ve just had our first hard freeze. The last few days, we’ve been in the 80s at Meadow Knoll, and more 80s are predicted for the coming week. But there are signs of winter. The winter birds–goldfinch, woodpeckers, blue jays, multitudinous sparrows–are showing up at the […]

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Passing Through

This is monarch migration time here at Meadow Knoll. We don’t see as many as we did when we first settled here in 1986. When we do see them, we treasure the sight, like these, taking a break from their journey in our woods. Also with us this time of year: queens, fritillaries, giant swallowtails. The […]

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In Bloom This Week: Gayfeather

This week, the Hill Country meadows are punctuated with purple exclamation points. This lavender beauty is gayfeather (Liatris spicata), or blazing star, also called snakeroot and colic root. Mrs. Grieve, in her Modern Herbal (not so modern: 1929) reports that the plant was used as a diuretic, as a topical treatment for sore throat, to treat snakebite, […]

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In Bloom This Week: Eryngo

This bristly beauty (Eryngium leavenworthii) is blooming all across Meadow Knoll this week, turning the fields a brilliant purple. I know what you’re thinking: that it looks a lot like a thistle. But it isn’t, although one of its folk names is Coyote Thistle–which you will understand if you remember that Coyote is a trickster […]

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Elizabeth Blackwell’s Curious Herbal

If you’ve read China Bayles’ latest mystery, Hemlock, you may be curious about Elizabeth Blackwell, the author of The Curious Herbal andthe main character in my historical novel-within-a-novel. So was I. Curious, that is–because I love using true stories as the basis of fiction. And this part of my story is true—as true as historians […]

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Herbs to Keep Your Bird Healthy

Here are three herbs that parrot lovers should know: Ginger—planning an auto trip with your bird? If your parrot suffers from motion sickness, offer fresh thinly sliced ginger root or steep fresh ginger slices in a cup of hot water for tea and use it (cooled) to replace the water in the cage cup. Ginger […]

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Personal Herbal Rituals

In many cultures, herbal baths are an important ritual. The bathers believe that when certain herbs are added to the bath water, they release not only their scent but their special energies. A bath using the protective herb rosemary, for instance, was thought to make the bather safe from the forces of negativity and evil. […]

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Work in Progress: August 2021

August and September are butterfly months here in the Texas Hill Country. The blue mistflower (wild ageratum, Conoclinium coelestinum) is blooming, and the blooms seduce whole flocks of queen butterflies. When I walk past the mistflower bed dozens of queens flutter up, disturbed–the minute I’m gone, they settle back again. There are painted ladies, viceroys, […]

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Two Artists and Their Houses: Beatrix Potter, Georgia O’Keeffe

As a writer, I’ve always been deeply interested in the relationship between women and their houses–especially when the house becomes something more than just a roof over a woman’s head. “The house” has been a feature in the lives of many of the women I’ve written about. Beatrix Potter, for instance, the British children’s book […]

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Work In Progress July 2021: Maria and Georgia

Some of you may remember back to 2015, when I first considered writing a biographical novel about Georgia O’Keeffe’s later life. I spent a year or so reading and visiting the O’Keeffe sites at Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, which aren’t far from our cabin in New Mexico. However, although I deeply admire O’Keeffe’s work, the […]

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Work In Progress: June 2021

My current cross stitch work-in-progress is from a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe, one of my favorite artists. I admire the way she looks deeply into a flower. She finds so much to be seen and reveals it so intimately. This one is “Red Canna.” As you can see from the imprint on the fabric, at […]

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In Bloom This Week: Texas Bluebells

My favorite Texas wildflower is blooming in the little scrap of wetland we call Meadow Marsh. We’re lucky to have the native Texas bluebells, Eustoma exaltatum, aka blue gentian, prairie gentian, and blue marsh lily. They truly are exalted, and for me, the loveliest of all our Hill Country wildflowers. The medicinal use of these […]

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Work In Progress: May 2021

One of the many happy privileges I’ve enjoyed in nearly four decades as a full-time writer is the ability to choose my own work. Nobody has ever tried to tell me what to write. Well, maybe some, like those who don’t like China Bayles’ liberal opinions and want to tell her what to think. But […]

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A Family Mystery

Nearly 40 years ago, an older family member confided to me that, according to secret family lore, my father–born in 1903, the youngest of four children–was not the son of Granny Amy’s husband, Granddad Fred. Neither my brother nor I found this to be very surprising; it explained our father’s estrangement from his brothers and […]

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In Bloom This Week: Evening Primroses

The pink blooms cascading down our creek bank this week belong to the evening primrose (Oenothera biennis). It’s not just pretty, though. It’s an all-around useful plant. I’ve read that primrose leaves can be cooked like greens–maybe I’ll add a few to the next batch of kale. The roots can be boiled like potatoes and […]

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Work In Progress: March 2021

The current cross stitch project (“Canal Home,” by Artecy in Aida 18 ct, 72 colors) is going to take a while. It’s larger and more challenging, with a lot of what cross stitchers call “confetti”–many different colors in a 10×10 square of fabric. But what is life but a whole series of confetti challenges? Managing […]

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Look Down: Henbit and Chickweed

If you look down at your feet, you might just see a new green world. For me, that’s what happens every spring here at Meadow Knoll. Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) flourishes in the early spring, and if I allowed it, this little eager beaver would monopolize my garden beds. A member of the mint family (but […]

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Life Out of Left Field

For a full year now, we’ve been learning to live life out of the ordinary. Life unpredictable, unforeseeable, unexpected. Life iffy, unlooked for, out of left field, not in the cards, subject to change, can’t-count-on-it life. At all levels of life–personal, familial, local, national, global–we no longer know what’s normal. COVID-19 (with its many and […]

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The Great Freeze-up: Winter 2021

I’ve started this post several times, only to lose it as the power went off again. This is our fourth day with intermittent, unpredictable power. When I can get email, I can see numerous thoughtful messages–thank you. I won’t be able to answer each one, so please consider this quick post an answer to all, […]

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Works in Progress: Februrary 2021

Here in the Texas Hill Country, it doesn’t usually get very cold–not much below freezing and then for only a couple of hours. This week, though, we’ll join all of you Northerners in the cold that’s pushing down from the Arctic. The weather folks are telling us that we’ll be in the 20s for a […]

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Writing a Woman’s Life: Rose Wilder Lane, Part 3

This completes this three-part series. Go here for Part One and Part Two. For me, biographical fiction—novels built on the lives and times of real people—is the most interesting and challenging of all fictional genres. I read all I can find, from Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck to Melanie Benjamin’s The Aviator’s Wife to the superb Watergate: A Novel, by Thomas […]

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Writing a Woman’s Life: Rose Wilder Lane, Part 2

In the first post in this 3-part series, I wrote about why I chose to begin doing research into the life of Rose Wilder Lane. In this post, I’ll continue the story. When I first learned about Rose, back in the early 1970s, I had no idea that, years later, I would write a novel […]

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Writing a Woman’s Life: Rose Wilder Lane, Part 1

This post was originally published at HerStories, a Story Circle Network blog (June 10, 2013). I’m reprinting it here (slightly revised) at the request of friends and fans who watched the recent American Masters program on Laura Ingalls Wilder and were disappointed (as I was) in its scant depiction of Rose’s life and the role she […]

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Lichens: Celebrating the Small

They may be tiny, but they’re beautiful: a landscape in miniature, a tiny garden, so small that they are usually beneath our notice. Which, given the destructive habits of our species, is probably a good thing. But being tiny doesn’t mean being unsuccessful. Lichens are among the oldest living things on earth. They inhabit every […]

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November: Works in Progress

My early Christmas present arrived last week and I’ve been enjoying it enormously–not just for the pleasure of playing again after decades away from the keyboard, but because of the memories. Lots of them. Like many kids, I started piano lessons when I was eight–not yet old enough, certainly, to appreciate the opportunity. That came […]

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Another Dahlias Giveaway!

We’re having another book giveaway to celebrate the publication of The Darling Dahlias and the Voodoo Lily. You can win these four signed hardcovers for yourself or for gifting. One of the things I enjoy about this series is writing about Southern food–especially (since these are 1930s novels) the foods that were popular in the […]

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Election Cake: A Tasty Slice of History

  I love old recipes. They show us what foods people liked, what ingredients were available, and–sometimes–what traditions and events they celebrated. I was browsing through a late eighteenth-century cookbook not long ago when I came across a  recipe for something called Election Cake. “Old-fashioned election cake,” I read, “is made of 30 quarts of […]

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On the Flyway

We’re lucky enough to live on the Central Flyway, a bird and insect migration route from the northern Great Plains in Canada down to the Gulf and into central Mexico. The continent is home to so many traveling species. In the spring, the flyway brings birds and butterflies north to their breeding grounds; in the […]

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New Darling Dahlias Available for PreOrder!

The Kindle edition of the latest Dahlias mystery is now available for preorder!  The paperback edition will be available next week, the library hardcover edition will be published next spring, and the audio will be announced soon. It’s 1935 in little Darling, Alabama. The town has a new radio station, Voodoo Lil has a little […]

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Dahlias Book Giveaway!

We’re having a Book Giveaway to celebrate the upcoming publication of The Darling Dahlias and the Voodoo Lily–coming later this month. Win these four signed hardcovers for yourself or for gifting. Quick-and-easy entry–simply comment below, telling us what you like best about the Dahlias. Continental U.S. only, please. One entry per person. Comments close on […]

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The New Dawn, Beta, and a Deep Breath

This rose bush doesn’t look like much–only a flurry of unremarkable green leaves. But just two weeks ago, it was a mass of leafless brown sticks. This was a first, for over the 25 years of its life, this resilient New Dawn had never lost its green leaves until after December’s killing frosts. But August’s […]

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