Herbal Lightning Protectors

 A natural meanes to preserve your house in safety from thunder and lightening: If the herb housleek or syngreen do grow on the house top, the same house is never stricken with lightening or thunder. —Didymus Mountain, 1572 Since Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod, most of us feel pretty safe. But before then, people […]

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BookScapes: Review of And Every Word Is True

When In Cold Blood was published in 1965, Truman Capote’s book was a landmark, widely promoted as a factually true account of the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in a small town in Kansas, and of the investigation, the trial and appeals, and the execution of the two convicted killers. Capote (with his longtime friend […]

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My Life in Typewriters: On Becoming a Writer 2

Lives change, as I said in my previous post on this continuing thread. (If you haven’t read this, you might want to skip over there and see where this blog series begins.) Yes. Lives change. I was a stay-at-home mom and a freelance kids’ fiction writer from the late 1950s into the early ’60s, living […]

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Yaupon Holly: Wild Caffeine

Back in Civil War days in the South, coffee was impossible to get. But that didn’t mean that Southerners had to give up caffeine for the duration. All they had to do was go out to the yard or the nearest woods and pick a bucket of yaupon leaves, dry them, and brew. Voilà! A […]

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BookScapes: Review of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

My experience of Shirley Jackson began with her two memoirs, Life Among the Savages (1952) and Raising Demons (1957), both genuinely funny, crisp, and captivating. I discovered them in the early 1960s, when I was a young mom with small children, learning how to write and wanting a career as a writer. In those books, […]

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All Writers Start Somewhere: On Becoming a Writer 1

I get a lot of questions from book collectors and bibliographers about the books I’ve written over the decades. I began thinking about writing a short post to answer some of those specific questions. But—as usual—that thought morphed into something else. As a result, what you’re going to get (in a series of posts) is […]

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Whoo-dunnit?

One of the pleasures of living here at MeadowKnoll is the close company of animals, some domestic, many wild. Over the years, we’ve raised cattle, sheep, geese, ducks, peacocks, guineas, chickens, dogs, and cats. Our 31 Hill Country acres are a permanent home to coyotes, raccoons, possums, nutria, foxes, deer, squirrels, snakes, and (unwelcome!) feral […]

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The Tale of the Priscilla Hollyhock

The Hollyhock [Alcea rosea] was once eaten as a pot-herb, though it is not particularly palatable. Its flowers are employed medicinally for their emollient, demulcent and diuretic properties, which make them useful in chest complaints.—Mrs. Maud Grieve, Modern Herbal, 1929 When I was a girl, I loved the frilly hollyhocks that grew along the garden fence […]

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BookScapes: Review of WHO KILLED THESE GIRLS? by Beverly Lowry

For me, Beverly Lowry’s book about the Austin TX Yogurt Shop murders ranks right up there with Truman Capote’s classic In Cold Blood as among the very best of true crime. But you have to be patient, for the story world Lowry recreates is initially–and deliberately, artfully, confoundingly–as confusing as the real world she must […]

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The Case of the Noisy Parrot

The talkative parrot who shows up near the end of A Plain Vanilla Murder has developed his own personal following, it seems. Maybe  you remember him from the book. His name is Mr. Spock. China Bayles describes him as “a stunning green parrot with an orange beak and splashes of red and blue under his […]

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BookScapes: Review of HEARTLAND, by Sarah Smarsh

Our Story Circle reading circle met yesterday to talk about Heartland, by Sarah Smarsh–a lively discussion that spilled over into a second hour, with lots to say, lots to share. For me, reading Heartland was a heart-breaking, evocative experience that brought back my childhood and young adult years, spent on a farm and in a small rural community […]

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Mystery Unscramble Giveaway

Contest closed–congratulations to the winners! I’ve teamed up with 10 other mystery authors to bring you a Mystery Unscramble Giveaway–both a contest and a word game. (Mystery readers love word games, right?) For each author’s name you correctly unscramble, you’ll get one chance to win that author’s book, plus one chance to win the grand […]

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Back Home Again

    We’re back home in Texas after a cool couple of weeks in the southern Rockies of New Mexico. We love it there, with wonderful views of the clouds spilling over the mountains and cattle grazing in the valley below. It’s a long drive–almost 12 hours–but we have audio books to listen to and […]

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Appetizers & Snacks

            Stuffed Mushrooms For parties, prepare, stuff, and refrigerate ahead of time. But don’t bake until you’re ready to serve. I bake a batch, serve them, and put another tray in the oven. 1 pound fresh mushrooms 6 tablespoons butter, divided 2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped 1 egg, beaten 1/2 […]

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Breakfast and Brunch

                McQuaid’s Breakfast Burritos There are many variations on this popular recipe, which is a basic breakfast wrapped in your favorite tortilla. We make these for the freezer and microwave for breakfast-on-the-go. Since it’s McQuaid’s favorite breakfast, it appears in many of China’s mysteries. Saves time in the […]

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Drinks

                    Xocolātl (Spicy Hot Chocolate, Aztec Style) Cacao plants were first cultivated in Mesoamerica some three to four thousand years ago. The Olmec people ground cacao’s dried, fermented seeds into a paste and mixed with water to make a chocolate drink known as xocolātl. To make […]

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Breads, Biscuits, Bagels and Such

                  Slow Cooker Herb Loaf I love this recipe. It’s a great alternative for those of us who love home-baked bread in the summer but don’t own a bread machine and hate to light the oven. And when the oven is full (think turkey), the slow cooker […]

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Soups, Stew, and Chili

                  Bill’s Favorite Italian Sausage Stew We like to make this super stew with a spicy Italian or Italian-spiced turkey sausage. Cooking for a crowd? This recipe is infinitely expandable, infinitely variable. Serve with hot herb bread and a salad for a satisfying meal. 1 pound sausage, […]

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Veggies

              Roast Vegetables with Garlic and Herbs If you spread the veggies in a thin layer, they will be crisper. The homemade onion soup mix gives them an extra flavor boost and reduces the need for salt. 5 carrots, scrubbed (peel if necessary) and chopped 5 ribs celery, washed […]

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Main Dishes

                    Pork Tenderloin with Herb Rub The USDA now advises us to cook pork to an internal temperature of 145°F, then allow the meat to rest for 5 minutes. The lower temperature makes for a more juicy, tender meat. I use a cast-iron skillet to brown […]

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Desserts

                  Orange-Rosemary Apple Pie Best served warm, with vanilla ice cream. Pastry for a 9” 2-crust pie 6-7 cups peeled and sliced apples (I like Granny Smith) 2 sprigs rosemary 1/2 cup orange juice 1/2 cup white sugar 1 teaspoon flour 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon […]

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BookScapes: Review of THE FIVE, by Hallie Rubenhold

Exceptional research underpins this riveting study of the five victims of Jack the Ripper. These are well-told stories of women’s lives in mid-to-late 1800s, converging in the Whitechapel slums of London in the summer and early autumn of 1888. Rubenhold’s book is a much-needed corrective, staying away from the murderer and the murders but focusing […]

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New Mexico Sunflowers

It’s late summer here in the New Mexico mountains, almost autumn, and the meadows are filled with the rich gold of sunflowers, accentuated by tall spires of mullein. We’ll be here another week or so, enjoying the warm days and crisp, cool nights–a big change from the uncomfortable heat and humidity back in Texas. The […]

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BookScapes: Briefly 08/29/2019

Briefly, two true crime narratives about the current challenge of keeping libraries safe as the value of their special collections skyrockets and criminal collectors look to them as a source of valuable goodies. Disappearing Ink: The Insider, the FBI, and the Looting of the Kenyon College Library, by Travis McDade, is the  fascinating story of […]

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BookScapes: True Crime Addict

I’ve been intrigued by true crime since the publication of In Cold Blood in 1966. I’ve watched the genre evolve from its beginnings in books about the crimes (sensational, usually gory), the criminal (usually gruesome), and the cops that investigate the crimes and catch (or don’t) the criminals. True Crime Addict, by James Renner, belongs in the latest […]

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BookScapes: The Gown

Jennifer Robson has chosen a winning subject for her fifth novel, a story about the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown and the transformative role it plays in the lives of three women: Ann Hughes, an embroiderer in the London workroom of designer Norman Hartnell; Ann’s co-worker, Miriam Dassin, a French emigre and Holocaust survivor; […]

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Mesquite Season in the Hill Country

It’s mesquite bean season here at Meadow Knoll, and as usual, our honey mesquite trees are loaded. These were a prized native food, rich in plant protein, calcium. potassium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. The beans were usually ground into flour and baked as a flat cake or mixed with venison and smoked or dried as […]

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BookScapes: Briefly 08/07/19

Every now and then, I happen on a book I really like, but which bothers me. Recently, I’ve happened on two books, both excellent, that bother me in the same interesting way. Here they are, briefly. Once Upon a Time: A True Tale of Memory, Murder and the Law  by Harry N. MacLean This book […]

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BookScapes: The Last Stone

I write crime fiction, so I read a lot of true crime. I often find the genre difficult, but it’s fascinating at the same time, especially as it has evolved over the last couple of decades. Recently, one of my author colleagues (Leia Francisco) made a distinction between “liking” a book and “appreciating” it. We […]

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LifeScapes: Button Bush and a Major Chicken Event

The button bushes (Cephalanthus occidentalis) that grow along our little creek are in full bloom just now, their round, highly symmetrical blossoms delighting the bees, hummingbirds and butterflies–especially the giant swallowtails, no doubt graduated from the larvae that completely stripped my dill this spring. No problem, though.  I plant much more dill than I need. […]

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Bookscapes: The Pink Suit

The Pink Suit, by Nicole Mary Kelby. “What a strange power there is in clothing.”–Isaac Bashevis Singer The Pink Suit (Little, Brown, 2014) is the story of Kate, a talented Irish seamstress who works in Chez Ninon, a New York fashion house that has been commissioned to copy a Chanel suit, in raspberry pink, for […]

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BookScapes: The Real Lolita

The Real Lolita, by Sarah Weinman I’m not a fan of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, although I’ve taught it when it was on a college course book list. If I had to teach it again, I would make The Real Lolita required reading. It puts Nabokov’s book into a newly relevant and important context and raises interesting questions […]

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Mustard

It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it. —Luke 13:9 Most commentators agree that the mustard Jesus refers to in these passages is the ordinary black […]

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Wormwood

But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. —Proverbs 5:4 He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood… —Lamentations 3:15 Bitter-tasting wormwood appears frequently in Scripture as a symbol of repentance, punishment, and suffering. The general term “wormwood” refers to a number of plants belonging to […]

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Thistles, Thorns, and Nettles

And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof; and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls. —Isaiah 34:13 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? —Matthew 7:16 Thistles—thorny weeds that thrive in uncultivated […]

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Saffron

Spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense… —Song of Solomon 4:14 Today, we recognize Solomon’s saffron as our own familiar fall-blooming crocus (Crocus sativus). In spring, much of the Holy Land is bright with the white, pink, purple, blue, or orange-yellow flowers of over a dozen different kinds of crocus, several […]

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Rue

Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.. —Luke 11:42 Ordinary garden rue (Ruta graveolens) is the plant referred to in Luke. This shrubby, multi-stemmed perennial […]

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Sunflowers: In Bloom This Week

                Every year, the sunflowers bloom along our lane, as dependable as the sun itself. This native sunflower is Helianthus annuus–native, that is, to the Americas, although it has now traveled around the planet. The Americans who were here before us used every part of the sunflower. They […]

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Nigella

Doth he not cast abroad the fitches and scatter the cumin?…For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cumin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cumin with a rod. —Isaiah 28:25 & 27 There has been a great deal […]

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