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 simply of growing older?

Markers of time for me: the seasonal flowerings. The frost flowers “bloomed” through our crippling January ice storm. The daffodils began blooming in early February and are with us until late March. The mountain laurel comes in mid-March and stays until early April. Then the bluebonnets and paintbrush and coreopsis.

And birds. Robins and juncos and towhees arrive in late December and are gone by the time the hummingbirds appear in mid-March. The wild tom turkeys begin their dancing displays in January and flaunt themselves through April, when the hens have started setting. (And then the toms display to other toms, just for the heck of it). And by May, the turkey hens, always so discreet and modest, begin bringing their poults and the does begin bringing their shy fawns for us to see. And then it is summer and everything quiets to a simmer.

Meanwhile, the current cross stitch work-in-progress grows. This is the adaptation of Wysockie’s “Quilts for Sale” that I started last July. (You can see what it will look like, finished, here.) It’s been a challenge, especially because the chart is too fussy (too many unnecessary color changes and some odd detailing). But I persist. And enjoy seeing the images emerge under the needle. Time. Everything good takes time, doesn’t it?

And work, for me, is also a marker of time. Someone Always Nearby–my Maria Chabot/Georgia O’Keeffe project–is finished and its webpage has been posted. Please take a look–I love the cover and am very pleased with the book itself, which will be out in early November. The story arc follows both women from 1940, when they met, through the end of their lives–years of enormous change for each of them. I’m just as delighted with an ancillary project: a Reader’s Guide, which documents the fiction with the fact base from which the story grows. Paula Yost, who helped with the archive research, is coauthoring it with me. There are discussion questions for book clubs, plot summaries and time lines and hyperlinks to online resources. We plan to publish it as a free download on the book’s website, so that readers who like to dig deeper can easily do that. That’s the current plan, anyway.

I’ve also been working on another China Bayles mystery: Forget Me Never. The signature herb is the forget-me-not, which is (unforgettably) the symbol of the Alzheimer’s Association. Lots to discover here! Hoping to get back to that project as soon as Paula and I have wrapped up the Guide. 

And here’s a bit of especially good news: the first six books in China’s series will soon be appearing in audio! They were written between 1991 and 1997, long before the current audiobook revolution. I couldn’t be happier, especially because the first three books have been stuck in print, with no ebook edition (a quirk of the original long-ago publication). So happy to have them in audio! More Robin Paige books are on their way, too. I’ll let you know as they’re released.

That brings us up to date. Wherever you are, I hope you’re enjoying the markers of the spring that is, inevitably, on its way in your neighborhood. Leave a note below and let me know what that’s like for you. I can’t always reply, but I always read and appreciate.

Reading note. To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.–Mary Oliver


60 comments on “Work in Progress: March 2023

  1. Just reread all the Dahlia books and love them all! Hoping for another this year!

  2. Texas mountain laurel is a different plant than the mountain laurel of the northeast. I was entranced by a beautiful and fragrant plant when I moved to Texas from Pennsylvania (state flower is also mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia). When I was told it was mountain laurel, I laughed. Texas mountain laurel is Dermatophyllum secundiforum. It has clusters of purple flowers that smell wonderful. They are often described as smelling like grape koolaid but that is not what I smell (thankfully!).

  3. I’m delighted to know that you have mountain laurel! It’s the state flower of my home, Connecticut, and has always been one of my favorite shrubs. When I lived in Urbana, Illinois, I tried to find it for my garden (fantastically rich deep topsoil), but when in frustration I bugged a nurseryman, he said (with equal frustration), “Lady, it doesn’t grow out here!”

  4. As a grandmother, I’ve made a concerted effort with my 3 grandsons. So first off it’s on the do list, with teaching them other skills school doesn’t do ( yesterday, wall anchors in plaster). But now that you posted that question, I do it like my grandparents did. With pictures, stories, and conversation, and comparisons. You don’t forget when someone says, ” you look like your great grandmother, she had similar talents like you, she used to be able to… At that time there was no indoor plumbing, she probably had to haul water from the outdoor pump. , They all bathed in the kitchen by the wood stove. She was next to youngest, so she was next to last, they all used the same water. Her little brother was last, one time she…
    One grandson is grown, two are older teenagers. If you relate it to them, they are interested, especially while doing similar chores, or riding in the car. No cell phones at the dinner table also helps

  5. Our ruby-throats are here March through October, Patricia. But in the winter of 2022, we had one foolishly lingering bird who was with us through December. (Hope he had the sense to fly south before our big freeze-up!) I love them but get a little tired of refilling/cleaning the bottles.

  6. Mary, I wonder if kids these days will ever feel any connection to the past. When you and I were growing up, the world was slower and the past seemed present for a longer time. Now, yesterday is erased by today lickety-split. How do young people manage to develop a sense of the past and how it creates them before it’s gone?

  7. Always interesting to think just how much difference a few miles can make, Wanda. You’re just about 90 mi south of us, and your laurels are gone while ours (and our bluebonnets) are just starting.

  8. Lucky you, Patty, to have forget-me-nots. I’ve tried with both Texas natives, with no luck. Just too dry here the past half-dozen years. But yes, the mountain laurels are out!

  9. The Darling Dahlia series, which I loved, was an ” a ha” series of moments for me. Always fascinated with history, that time period appeared in my childhood in snippets, conversations, and family routines of my grandparents and parents. I was born in 1951, but the aspects of that time were still very much evident during visits to my grandparents and where my parents grew up. Thank you for opening that window of time and place to details of everyday life. We are all, still very much products of our time, but also the earlier times of our parents and grandparents that we remember. People would be wise to store that knowledge and attitudes as a plan “B” , and acknowledge its possibilities. I love to learn, research, and re-live, Mary Goodwin Powell

  10. Nancy, every day I am amazed by what I can learn with just a little effort from others who share their work and discoveries online. So grateful to be able to access those tools from an out-of-the-way spot in the middle of Texas! (I recently found a photo of the garage apartment where my family lived in the early 1940s–still where it was, as I remember it!)

  11. After your mention of magnolias and where they grow, I had to look them up because I lived in a small town in NJ that was called Magnolia. I remember two large magnolia trees that I saw every day on my way to school. I learned a lot!! I also remembered that my mother had a magnolia bush. I am so glad I have Wikipedia to help me explore subjects. I learned how magnolias are pollinated. I also learned learned they are an ancient species. With the help of Google Maps, I do not believe the house with the two magnolia trees exist any more.

  12. Looking forward to China’s next adventure. Feels like a long time in between. Our Forget-Me-Nots are beginning to come up (slowly) but are my favorite – and they have so much meaning. We, in the beautiful Hill Country) are experiencing blooms everywhere – even our laurels are coming out. Thank you for all you do to brighten our world. Just THANK YOU!

  13. Carolyn, such a good question–thank you. It’s been really the former. I started decades ago working on Rose Wilder Lane and her mother, as a sort of hobby. At the time (2010) I couldn’t interest a major publisher in the project (“worth an article”) was the general view–but the technology for indie publishing was just beginning, so I decided to go ahead and published it as an indie. I’d encountered Eleanor and Hick along the way, and they were next (2014). I saw Kay in a 1974 clip on TV and began working on her–by that time, the idea wasn’t a pairing, but women who had been eclipsed by another figure: in Kay’s case, Ike. I’d long admired O’Keeffe but adjusted that view after a careful reading of her letter exchange with Chabot (published in 2004), but put that off because one of the characters in that story is still alive. But I felt it was too important not to tell, especially after we began living for part of the year in New Mexico and the Abiquiu house became such an attraction. I’m consider myself hugely lucky to have found such fascinating stories.

  14. We in California are getting enough rain to perhaps prevent our next summer drought, but for longer term solutions, the state is trying to affect the ground water levels which have been reduced drastically in the recent years.

    Looking forward to the Maria Chabot/Georgia O’Keeffe book. I’ve noticed that your recent historical fiction explores relationship between two women: Wilder and her daughter, Eleanor and Hick and now your newest pairing. Do you seek out these pairings or do you start with one and the other just appears as you start the research? I’ve just finished listening to the audio version “Berracoon” and, of course, have read “Their Eyes Were Watching God” so would really look forward to a book about Zora Neale Hurston. She was a most interesting person with so many skills. I have several more of her books lined up in my monumental TBR pile(s).

    Thanks also for creating so many interesting characters!

  15. Love the spring flower reports from everyone. Up here in the Pac NW we were sailing into spring when March sent us back into a spell of quite wintery weather. Daffodils are up, so there’s hope they will be in bloom by next week. Lucky enough to have hundreds that have gone wild in the fields nearby. An enchantment all of its own making. The news of the audio versions of the early China books is wonderful! As is all the other news you have given us in this post. Your Wysockie cross stitch is coming right along! Love the way it draws one in. I have no idea how you cover all of the bases but, so glad that you do!

  16. Wanda and Susan, I love the Dahlias as well. Perhaps because of harkening back to days of listening to Tiger baseball outside on the radio, hanging clothes on the line, and strolling the neighborhood unafraid! Mountain laurels here and Carolina jasmine in bloom as well!

  17. We (in Seguin) have Blue Bonnets in full bloom. Also the Redbud is blooming and our Mt. Laurel bloomed about two weeks ago. Still enjoying the blooms and smells all around us. Such pretty needlework. I have done some in the past but haven’t gotten it out for a year or so. I have read all of the China Bayles series and the Dahlias also. I especially love the Darling Dahlias. Takes me be back to a simplier life, one where we made do with what we had, helped our neighbors, worked in our gardens (vegetable and flower), walked everywhere (in my home town) and sat down for a meal frequently with extended family.

  18. Everything in bloom in Virginia and then Saturday freezing snow and ice,, I have read all of the China series and look forward to the new one.Lobe your books and the information you include about herbs

  19. Here in Durham, NC, we woke up to a brief, unexpected snow flurry on Saturday ! The backdrop of flowering Bradford pears made it even more beautiful!

  20. I’m looking forward to all your latest books. As a native Texan I do miss the wildflowers. I’m still getting to know the wildflowers of Illinois (where I moved to live close to two of my children). We still have some snow on the ground; but I’ve seen some flowering around the village, which is encouraging.

  21. Since you are so much further south of me (in Seattle), I somehow expect you to have year-round hummingbirds like we do. At least, our Anna’s hummingbirds live here through the winter as well. Soon we’ll have the ruby-throated hummingbirds returning. The Anna’s hummingbirds used to migrate but when we started growing more flowers year-round, they started sticking. So now we put out feeders (and haul them in on freezing nights and days).

  22. That daffodil is so pretty!! Still pretty much winter here in CO, so no flowers yet…..

  23. Debra, I feel awkward posting here ahead of Susan’s very thoughtful comments. Yet, your post took me back to my time caring for my parents. They had both been doing quite fine in their later years when I became aware that they needed help and before I knew it, I was that person for most of the next 10 years. I knew nothing about aging! Nothing! Not my own aging or anyone else’s. Self-employed, my business was my baby – my life. Yet, I had two fine people for parents, and I did know I had been very lucky in that regard.
    Susan is so right to seek help. It can come in a variety of ways. But let the world know that you are open to advice, as you have in this post. Your local hospital and county can connect you with staff focused on your particular needs. If you can have a friend, family member or paid care giver come in regularly for even 1/2 a day, that can be immensely helpful to your well-being. Even someone to help with shopping or medical appointments can ease your load considerably. I was very fortunate to have an experienced care giver for a while, who taught me so much. I hope you will have such a person come into your life to help you with all that you are carrying now. They really can lighten the load. Part of the exhaustion you are feeling, is that your brain is working overtime learning all of this new material. I can tell by your writing, that you are up to the challenge. Hang in there.

  24. Penny, the old veggie garden is full of them, but there’s another week or two before they bloom. I share your apprehension about the summer to come, though. Another dry, super-hot year would be hard on the trees.

  25. The bluebonnets are especially beautiful this year all over Austin. I’m sure that your fields must also be full. Being this beautiful this soon, though, makes me wonder.

  26. I am thrilled you keep your work going. I’m missing my China B. fix, and I look forward to learning more about Georgia O. and her partner. Oh yes, and the Dahlia gang! You, thankfully, ARE prolific. Cheers.

  27. Sadly, our spring blossoms in Indiana were recently crushed by a light snow. But nature carries on. Susan, I am much enjoying a revisit to Pecan Springs in BLOOD ORANGE. What a joy! Your needlework is inspiring. Thanks for chatting with us. 🌷

  28. What a lovely frame to put around that magnolia’s “gifts,” Beth. That’s a re-storying trick we could all benefit from!

  29. Brenda, how lovely to hear from you! Yes, social media chaos–and what we all need are filters to help us choose what’s significant out of that mass of noise. I’ll think of you enjoying that nor’easter up there!

  30. I think that sometimes, letting things slide is what we have to do.(Or as Mary Oliver says, “when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”) Caregiving (as I know from personal experience) is a hugely difficult job, with no recognition and little thanks. Deciding what we can do adequately, doing just that and letting the rest of it go–that may be the best thing, both for the one we care for and for ourselves. It’s hard, very hard. I hope you can find a local circle of other caregivers who are facing the same issues you are. They can help. Journaling helps, too. I know others who have shared your experience join me in saying, “Please care for yourself first, and then give what you have to your loved others.”

  31. I envy you–we don’t have bloodroot here, too dry. No violets, either! But dogwood soon, and forsythia.

  32. We lost our wild Chickasaw plum in the drought–that surprised me. I thought it was hardier than that. Yes, Georgia’s Pedernal. For the Navajo, it’s Changing Woman.

  33. I have an idea for a visiting character–Zora Neale Hurston. I can’t work on it until China is finished (maybe mid-summer?), but it’s on my mind. (And I understand that the Dahlias are in some sort of situation and want to explain themselves.) Thanks for asking, Charleen.

  34. Magnolias here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon as well. Just a few varieties, and most are deciduous. However, the classic Southern magnolia does perfume the air in late spring/summer. It’s a “raking” tree as the leaves shed continuously although the tree is never entirely bare. What a thoughtful tree to provide muscle work for our arms, yes? ❤️

  35. I feel at times there’s so much happening around us and nothing gets settled. Sometimes I call it “social media chaos” that helps create all the unsureness and negativity these days. Need to stay in the present, enjoy and appreciate what we have and not get caught up in the soap opera nonsense that abounds. Now that I’m older, hopefully wiser, I can even look forward to and enjoy the nor’easter headed my way tonight. Take care Susan.

  36. Here in Sacramento, CA, our winter has been unusually fierce with strong storm cycles that have drenched us with rain and snow.

    Yet our spring harbingers, blooming trees amid the raindrops, have dutifully arisen during the brief lulls between storms, confused by some too-early warm weeks that have now retreated again into an extended cold storm season.

    Sadly the too-early blossoms of the fruit and nut trees have been blasted off in many areas by the force of raging storms, leaving farmers in dread of a blighted crop.

    Your comments on time’s passage and how one marks time’s winding parade were wonderfully written and left me to ruminate on how I experience time and the movement of the seasons.

    During the lengthy years of lockdowns and quarantines and tentative forays back into slightly more normal life, it has seemed that my personal calendar has acquired many micro-tiers of observing the way time ambles down life’s path.

    Recent events seem to have increased my awareness of even the smallest repeating cycles of activities – chores, errands, and the ongoing monitoring of the ups and downs in the health and disability for my aging mother as well as my husband.

    I thought I had mentally prepared myself for the rigors of caregiver duties and imagined I’d be ready, but this was folly, I now realize. Just as our region has been caught short upon the unanticipated severity of this lingering winter storm season, my mind and body are reeling at the intensity of my new and ongoing responsibilities.

    I’m just so tired, feeling weaker than I can remember ever feeling before, and yet the ongoing demands for continued efforts and unrelenting worries leave me gasping for breath.

    Now I see the inferno of summer yawning tragically ahead of us, and the despair I feel in its anticipation is dragging me down.

    So even amid frost warnings and hailstorms, flooding and gale force winds, I can still yearn to distract myself from the unrelenting forces of our changing climate by taking note of the bright sweeps of brief color and grandeur as the blossoms of the Japanese Magnolias and flowering plum trees display their gowns of spring, even knowing that all too soon they will be only memories as our future weeks and months of deeply green and sweltering gold and brown will overtake and overwhelm us again.

    A year passes now like a season once did, and a month is swept away as if it were just a week. My days move over and through my life now like an old carousel projector with a stuck advance button – a constant stutter forward is pushing my attention through moments barely experienced, let alone enjoyed or remembered.

    Joni Mitchell wrote about how our measurements of time change, “I used to count lovers like railroad cars, I’d count them on my side. Now I don’t count on nothin’, I just let things slide.”

  37. I imagine the tea-cup magnolia Linda is referring to is what I’ve always called saucer or tulip magnolia. It grows and blooms in southern Ohio, in my sister’s yard in Cincinnati and where I grew up in southern OH. Most often when early warm it will bloom and then get frost bit. It grows here in eastern NC and still will sometimes get zapped. Not here this year though — dogwoods, redbuds, plums, pears all blooming plus some azaleas that are in the sun. Fingers crossed all survive, especially fruit trees, since we have prediction of below freezing for the next couple of nights.

  38. Vicki, I haven’t seen the announcement but I believe that Julia is narrating these early books. She’s now the “voice” of the series, so I can’t imagine they’ll use anyone else, as long as she’s available.

    I’m happy to say that the books have been blessed with strong narrators. Helen Johns (a Canadian actress) is doing wonderful work with the Robin Paige books. And Virginia Leishman narrates the Cottage Tales–I love her animal voices!

  39. Thank you for the lovely pictures you always include in your posts. Daffodils are blooming in southern Ohio as well! Despite the fact that it seems like every other year we get a teaser of warm weather that encourages all the Spring flowers to burst forth, followed by a cold snap or snowfall as soon as they do. Yeah for the first 6 China’s on audio! Dare I hope Julia Gibson is narrating? She does such a terrific job. I enjoy all your books, but the China Bayles series is very close to my heart and listening to them is a joy. Especially since I can combine my love of listening with needlework (although in my case it’s knitting).

  40. The early narcissus came mid-January. Things which have been rather lackluster the past few years are exploding everywhere. After a prolonged stay, jonquils of all hues and shades are nearly done, as are the forsythia and bloodroot [hi there, Susan!]. Redbuds, violets, and wisteria are rioting in the streets. Azaleas and dogwoods are getting revved up, and bluebells are here, just below Atlanta. Colors everywhere, the best psychedelic trip ever!

  41. At the time, I had no idea the series would go beyond the first 3 books–China was a new kind of character, in a new setting. It’s hard to believe how long ago that was (1991-1994) and how dramatically the genre and the entire publishing universe have changed. The first books were with a wonderful editor but a less hospitable publisher. There was more support when the series went to Berkley with book 4. (Thanks for the word “foundational,” Melissa. I think I know what you mean, and I agree.)

  42. I am so happy your first 6 China books are coming to audio! They were so foundational to me.

  43. The weather here in Southwest Louisiana is surprisingly cool and windy. We’re at our camp on the Calcasieu River. Our woods were badly damaged by the hurricanes, but they are slowly growing back. For months it was nothing but dog fennel! Now we’re seeing (I think) miterwort, woodland phlox, Virginia bluebells, smilacina? Things are definitely looking up!

  44. Toms displaying for Toms made me laugh. Poor males just want to reproduce. I don’t mind snow in March because I know the end of winter is near.

  45. I had no idea that magnolias bloomed that far north, Linda! Thanks for that bit of new information. I loved the magnolia trees in New Orleans when I lived there–one of the real pleasures of April.

  46. Pamela, I realize that I wasn’t clear about that turkey display. It’s the toms (not the hens) that continue to show off their tails to the other toms, after the hens have retired to their nests. (I’ve corrected that sentence above to make it clearer.) It’s funny to watch a tom put up his tail to another tom–we often wonder if we’re not seeing a little same-sex sex going on.:)

  47. I always look forward to your posts! And China’s next visit . I learn something new with each. Thank you. I live in Southwest Va. And we have experienced a very mild winter. My tea cup magnolia has covered our street with blooms, most of the early spring flowers are putting on a show.

  48. The snow still lies heavy here and spring flowers are still months away. Some hardy birds have returned but it will be weeks and weeks before the robins come back. Even the geese are still not ready to come here!

  49. Your needlework is gorgeous. The cover of SOMEONE ALWAYS NEARBY is so beautiful and transport me right to NM. I didn’t realize female turkeys display for the males, just for the heck of it. That made me chuckle. Snowdrops are out in upstate NY and I hear some bird song. The big thing here is more light, even with all of the snow we’re getting in March. I was just looking for your next China book this past weekend. Thank you for the update. And great news on the first six China books going to audio. Congratulations!

  50. Love the daffodils! Reminded me of my NM bulb garden-I am in AZ now and the first white blooms are on the wild plum trees. Great cover of the Pedernal Georgia’s favorite mesa! Can’t wait to read the book!
    Your cross stitch is also lovely-such patience!

Comments are closed.