Interview: Marta McDowell and A Curious Herbal

If you’ve read Hemlock (China Bayles #28, 2021), you’ll remember that China was asked to help find a missing rare book: Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal. This is not a fictional herbal, but a real one, compiled in the 1730s under quite astonishing circumstances by a very real Elizabeth Blackwell. She drew pictures of the […]

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Review: The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece

The critics can’t find much to like.  “Underwhelming,” the Guardian sniffs. “Crying out for an editor.” “Sags under a deluge of detail,” snarks the New York Times. “Has the same flaw as him,” the UK Telegraph observes (ungrammatically), and scorns it as “a mite too insider-ish.” I loved it. Maybe I’ve been reading too much true […]

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From the Homestead: In Bloom This Week

In the Texas Hill Country, May is the loveliest month. This May is one to remember: the blooming, buzzing bounty, I’m sure, of our rainy December. Remember? April showers bring . . . Here, it’s October-November-December showers that bring May flowers, and for the past few weeks, we’ve been surrounded by them. The coreopsis–the cheerful […]

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Work In Progress: May 2023

The current cross stitch work-in-progress–Charles Wysocki’s “Quilts for Sale”–has slowed a bit because the chart isn’t quite accurate and I’ve had to make some fairly major adjustments. This happens, when the pattern maker uses software to convert a painting or photograph. Artificial intelligence (in whatever form) makes mistakes. Takes a human eye to spot them […]

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Review: Horse, by Geraldine Brooks

I enjoy novels that tell a strong story. I especially admire novels that manage to tell more than one story and do it well. In Horse, Geraldine Brooks tells three stories, effectively, carefully, tenderly braiding all three into one compelling narrative. What’s more, two of three are true–and there’s as much sad truth as fiction […]

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Just One Thing After Another

The pyracantha is especially beautiful this spring, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Here’s a bee, gathering pollen from this prolific early bloomer to take back to feed her friends and ensure the continuation of the hive, at the same time that  she helps to ensure that the blossoms will produce those […]

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Update: Libraries & Politics, A Dangerous Mix

A year ago, I posted about the book banning in neighboring Llano County. Since then, a group of Llano library patrons and friends challenged the ban. And now there’s good news to report. District court judge Robert  Pitman ordered that the banned books be immediately restored to the library shelves and card catalog, pending the […]

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In Bloom: First Day of Spring

Well, bluebonnets, of course. And pyracantha, yellow Missouri primrose, daffodils, paintbrush, Texas mountain laurel, redbuds, dogwood, and more. Late March and early April paint the Hill Country with lovely swathes of color, before summer blasts through and turns everything brown. These are among my favorite days of the year here at Meadow Knoll, where the […]

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Work in Progress: March 2023

Here we are, almost the middle of March–how does this happen? Is it a function of being immersed in something so deeply that time telescopes in the doing? Or of keeping busy with too many tasks? Or of too many events in our world, too readily reported to us, too many to keep straight? Or […]

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Someone Always Nearby: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe and Maria Chabot

The true story of the relationship between the celebrated artist Georgia O’Keeffe and Maria Chabot, a young writer who devotes a decade of service to O’Keeffe, becoming not just her companion and household manager but the architect and builder of her famous New Mexico house/studio. An intimate glimpse of an O’Keeffe that only one woman ever fully knew, based on the 700+ letters between the two women, archived documents and historical accounts. FREE Bonus Reader’s Guide, on the website.

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Calling All Girls: The Power of Story

                          This Sunday morning’s email pulled me into one of those magical moments that a benevolent Universe brings us every now and then, and I wanted to share it with you. I opened my email to find that a reader named Janine Seitz […]

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Review: The Mitford Affair

I’m fascinated by biographical/historical fiction. What interests me most about these novels is the complicated challenges they present. They have to meet all the usual requirements for successful historical fiction: an intriguing story peopled with engaging characters and supported by true-to-period details of settings, dress, food, slang, and lifestyle. But biographical/historical fiction has the additional […]

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Sandhill Flyover Day 2022

Bill called me to the porch a few minutes ago to watch a flock of sandhills on their way to their winter home in the Rio Grande Valley. Sandhill Flyover Day is an important personal event for us every year, marking the turn of the season. Their wild, warbling call is always a reminder to […]

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Cochineal Bugs, Cross Stitch, and Books

Weird photo. If you can’t quite make it out, you’re looking at bugs on prickly pear cactus, in a bucket. The white stuff is the cottony shroud that the bugs–rice-size scale insects called cochineal–produce to hide their babies from predators. Bill, who had gone out armed with his mattock to make war on the invasive […]

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Works in Progress September 2022

We’re finally getting a reprieve from the long string of brutal 100-plus degree-days that plagued us this summer. The hummingbirds are migrating south now, this one enjoying the turk’s cap, one of my favorite Texas natives. (Photo: my brother, John Webber). But nectar flowers aren’t plentiful in September, so we keep refilling the bottles of […]

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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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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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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: 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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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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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 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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