Compact Library

Decades ago — when I was a student — we moved into a new high school.

It was a middle of the winter/school year move. And the students were encouraged to bring pick-up trucks to town that day. Every student and teacher participated. And a few parents also.

Assigned groups packed a room. Carried box after box to a vehicle which transported it the quarter mile to the new building for unloading and organization in the new room.

The science teacher requested her chemistry students to move the lab. It was both interesting and a challenge to pack the glass equipment to avoid breakage and the chemicals to prevent…well… an unexpected reaction????

The room which took the longest was the library. They had a good crew. Lots of boxes. And lots and lots of books to remove from old shelves and organize (or at least semi-organize) in the new room. Libraries require lots of work when they move. This applies to schools, public libraries, or your personal (or at least among my relatives) when changing houses.

But technology now enables me to take a library with me when I will be spending time in a waiting room. It fits in my purse. I’ve only had mine a year. Budget concerns limit the purchases. But with forty books at present I’d rather tote this around than the same volumes in paperback.

Portable Library
Portable Library

Did Santa bring an ereader into your house? Check out Starr Tree Farm and Hiding Places for two quick, sweet romantic suspense reads.


It’s a Wrap

Final Friday of 2014!

We’ve made it.

Actually, today is a holiday of sorts. Boxing Day. If you are English and either the employer of domestic help or their employee you know much more about the traditions that I do. I suppose our farming community celebrated at version of it when giving tokens of appreciation to milk haulers and mailmen. Local merchants gave gifts – calendars, yardsticks, or gadgets – to loyal customers. What’s the most memorable of these you’ve received or given?

Another task for today — if not completed amid confusion yesterday — is to separate the wrapping paper from the gifts. Careful now — we lost at least one, perhaps more, new tiny toys while doing this in haste.


Go ahead and use your own experience to form an image of “after”. And then pour your favorite beverage.

Fifty-two shiny, unblemished Fridays loom in front of us. Do you have a goal or resolution concerning them? Survival? Improvement? More reading?



Completing the Circle

Books, books, books.

Final months of the year found me with book in hand. Love my library card. Do you have one? Check the rules but for most library systems you only need to show proof of address. Don’t want to read an entire book? Try out their magazine section. Or the music CD’s. Or the movie DVD’s. Audio book for a long commute?

My personal pattern of lots of fiction continued. A true crime and a memoir interrupted the possible make believe overload. Then again — some fiction books contain more facts than the non-fiction.

Places I traveled included England under Victoria and present day. Heroes worked in law enforcement (one canine), in hospitals, as athletes and lodge developers. The heroines were beautiful, smart, and attracted trouble faster than a magnet finds steel.

One of my favorite historical authors released a new spy story. And it was refreshing to learn a volume I enjoyed early in the year won recognition from peers in the writing community. (Check out “Into the Whirlwind” for a Chicago fire tale.)

Now I’ll draw a deep breath. Pour a glass of wine. And toast all the books of 2014. May they only be exceeded in quality by the class of 2015!


Modern Myth

It must be true. I read it on the web. It gives meaning to Christmas, ties a common object to Christ.

Sorry folks. Sometimes a good story is a good story — an articulation of what might have been. If you start with a finished product and begin looking for symbols you’ll likely find them.

Take this sweet treat, for example. Peppermint candies have been prized by children and adults for generations. Along the way — from one candymaker to another — in an effort to stand out and increase sales. Candy sticks went from plain to wearing red stripes. Then a clever man curved one end.

Candy Canes!!!

This handy shape, combined with red and white seasonal colors made them easy to use as Christmas ornaments. Can they remind a person of shepherds’ crooks? Certainly. Are the colors consistent with Christmas symbolism? Yes. Did a candymaker a century or two ago set out to create a treat to teach the Christmas story? Nope — I suspect the motive behind each step was profit, the ability to stay in business.

So what to do about the story flying through cyberspace and getting printed on paper in cards and letters? Nothing. It’s your choice to pass along or not. I’d just give a reminder. Sometimes a candy cane is a sweet treat, nothing more — nothing less.

Pretty & Sweet
Pretty & Sweet



The Great Big Middle…

They (you know, self-proclaimed experts unwilling to be named) claim that variety is the spice of life. If that is true…then the middle of my literary year was spicy.

Grab your drink of choice and come on a time, place, and topic tour of the great middle portion — from the time the snow should melt until gardens yield fruit.

Tang Dynasty China — ninth century AD to most of us — proved to be the earliest time period I encountered. I visited the British Isles several times – Regency era, Victoria’s reign, and the first half of the twentieth century. Some visits were fiction, but others factual. (Some days I feel the line is blurred.) Brief visits to Okinawa, a Caribbean Island, Bostwana, Bankok, and Iraq added a dash of spice to the rich assortment of United States locations – Florida, California, Idaho, New York, Texas, and Missouri to name several. And a visit or two to the future or a fantasy world allowed questions of dragons and next century Chicago to dance with the real world.

What shall I read for dessert? What’s a good topic to end a year of travel between the pages?

Join me next Tuesday for the wrap-up.

For more detail on selected volumes — click on over to the “Review” page and read about some of my recent favorites.




Trim a Tree

Bring a tree inside the house? Outrageous! Pagan! Messy!

Well, I doubt the head of early Colonial American families pointed out the last of the above trio. But a Christmas tree as decoration in every American and many European home did not arrive with the Christ Child, the Magi, or First-century Christians.

Exact origins are lost in time and blended with pagan customs of special honor to evergreen trees. It may have roots with St. Boniface, a 7th century monk in Thuringia (Germany), using a fir tree as a visual explanation of the Trinity. Or it may have come meaningful later. But when Martin Luther added candles in the 16th century the tree as a Christmas symbol was established.

German immigrants brought the tradition to America. It remained localized in their communities until Queen Victoria allowed sketches of her family around a Christmas tree to be published. Near the end of the 19th century they were popular, large, and highly decorated. Candles were still the only form of lighting and remained so into the 20th century. My mother recalls candles on the tree during her childhood — lit for a short time, adults watching, and a wet sponge within reach.

Will you include a tree in your celebration this year? Artificial or real? Cut or living? Family heirloom decorations? The newest trend? Or a mixture of old and new tradition?


Ready to be Trimmed
Ready to be Trimmed



The Journey Begins…

December often includes some time for reflection. Where have I been? What did I do? Did I keep any of the goals or resolutions which were so bright and shiny a year ago?

As several of you already know — I’m a list maker. (This does not mean I always follow it.) One of several lists I’ve managed to keep current is books which I have read. Let me take you on a sampling, a journey of some of the high (and low) places I’ve visited between the book covers this year.

I started the year in the past. England in 1157 to be precise. A nice debut romance took me far away in distance and time. Other volumes touched on the past also — a non-fiction highlighting prominent American women from 1760-1796, the Chicago fire of Oct 1871, a Colorado mining camp, and Brooklyn during WWII. Present day was represented by romances set in Southern California, Oklahoma, and Chicago. (What do you expect a romance author to read?)

A passport for time and place would wear many stamps — and that’s just the first months. Where did you go in 2014? Did you enter fictional worlds? Or stay with real life people of past and present?

A pair of sweet romance for a trip to the Midwest
A pair of sweet romance for a trip to the Midwest

Light a Candle

Egypt. Rome. China. Japan. India. Do you see something in common?

Today we’re exploring the thread from these ancient civilizations to one of the most prevalent seasonal decorations — candles.

Egypt and Rome began with tallow (animal fat) and flax, hemp or cotton fiber as a wick. China used wax from a local insect and seeds. Japanese extracted wax from tree nuts. In India they boiled the fruit of the cinnamon tree. These candles were smoky and unpleasantly scented by modern standards but they served a purpose in religious ceremonies and interior lighting.

Improvements have occurred since. In Europe during the Middle Ages the church and the rich began to use beeswax. And the women in Colonial American performed the tedious process of extracting wax from bayberry. The years of whaling introduced a new wax, able to hold shape during hot summers. Then in the 19th century a spurt in inventions made candles affordable to nearly all.

We don’t depend on candles for interior lighting these days. Yet they are often used to set the mood, celebrate birthdays, or mark portions of religious ceremonies. And when the electricity fails, a candle or two can enable evening reading. Modern candles are available in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Scented or unscented. In a jar or a slender taper in a holder.

A Modern Trio in Seasonal Color
A Modern Trio in Seasonal Color



An Oral Tale

Come back in time with me. Gather around the evening fire and listen to the elders.  No — further back in time — before automobiles, ships, or written language. As far back as your imagination can go.

Listen up, children. Tonight I tell a story of life in the Garden. Years ago, before you were born, your mother and I lived in a special world. The animals didn’t snap and growl at each other. The foxes didn’t kill mice.

The fruit was perfect, the woman took over the narrative. Three kinds were always in season. Plump. Juicy. No bruises or worm holes.

Dew in the morning, the man resumed. No rain. No storms.

And then, the woman sighed. The talking serpent arrived. Cain — stop pinching your sister.

Is this how Adam and Eve passed history to their children? I doubt the words deserve quotation marks. But telling history, relating oral stories, is as old as humans.

We have stories recorded in print now. Books make great gifts. Check out Starr Tree Farm for a story with a winter setting.

Starr Tree Farm: Ellen Parker: 9781440571589: Books