Category Archives: June 2012

Victorian Tea

On Saturday, a dear friend’s coven hosted their annual Victorian Tea. The coven members all dressed up in traditional Victorian garb (handmade by one of the members) and served food reminiscent of, but not strictly Victorian fare. (homemade by the members as well).

My best friend, Lisa, and I made the trip out to their covenstead which is situated on an enormous tract of land in what’s pretty much the middle of nowhere on the side of a mountain. Upon arrival, guests were encouraged to mingle and chat with one another under a giant tent set up on one of the only clear areas large enough to hold the tent. The rest of the space is taken up by gardens and flower beds. A large pitcher of citrus rose water stood by to refresh any parched throats.

This year’s victuals included a simple yet stunning summer salad concocted by the High Priestess’s daughter, a choice of several cold summery soups – I chose the gazpacho picante which was OhMyGodYummy! – and several different sandwich choices (with the crusts cut off). To top off the meal, guests were invited to choose between lemon parfait or a vanilla cake with a rum cherry icing. Everyone at my table chose the lemon parfait except for Lisa who chose the cake.

Once people had finished eating it was time for the real fun of the day to start – the psychic readings. Guests could choose between either having their Tarot cards read or a tea leaf reading. I chose the tea leaf reading just to be a bit different since I usually choose the Tarot. Lisa, as she always does chose Tarot because she doesn’t know how to read tea leaves and she “likes to read over the reader’s shoulder”.

I told her that reading tea leaves is easy, you just point to a large blob and shout “It’s the Grimm!” Everybody there broke out laughing at that.

Unfortunately, just as the readings were about to start, a massive thunderstorm broke out with thunder, lightning, and torrential rains. We all tried to tough it out as long as we could, but as the storm moved closer, it was decided that it was just too dangerous to remain outside under metal structures with lightning striking so close.

For those of us who left that day without a reading, there will be a make-up sitting at some point in the next few weeks. A real hardship, I know, having to go through that genteel civility and delicious food once again.


Bare Essentials

Photo from the midway point of the Waldo Canyon Trail, taken 3/17/12

As I write up this post on Monday morning the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs has consumed 3,600 acres, is at 0% containment, and has displaced more than 6,000 residents from their homes.

My family and I, thankfully, are still at home. It was a close call though, as we missed the mandatory evacuation zone by a half-mile. This was both good and bad news. The good being – obviously – that we didn’t have to pick up and move myself, my husband, my step-son, my roommate, and five cats as well as whatever worldly possessions we deemed essential. The bad news was, we were still really close to a fire that had the potential to change direction and come our way at a moment’s notice.

The fire started on Pyramid Mountain in Waldo Canyon (the site of one of my favorite hiking/running trails – a challenging mile and a half hike to a 3.5 mile loop and then back to the parking lot for close to seven miles of gorgeous scenery) about noonish on Saturday. Less than an hour later the evacuations began as the fire spread at an alarming rate thanks to the high temps, the dry forest, and the difficult terrain.

My roomie and I cut our errands short and headed back to the house just in case we ended up having to bug out. Then we spent the rest of the weekend keeping track of the fire on the internet and waiting. By nightfall you could see the glow of the flames behind the mountain.

Standing in the path of a forest fire is one of those things that makes you feel very small and insignificant. It also makes you evaluate the important things in life. In those early hours our focus was on getting ourselves and our animals out of danger as quickly and safely as possible if it became necessary. We are so lucky to have such good friends. My phone was going off constantly with messages/calls checking on us and offering us places to stay should it become necessary.

As the weekend wore on and the “essentials” had already been packed up, I caught myself wandering through the house and looking at things thinking: I should put that in the bag. Most of the time it was for stuff that was easily replaceable, and on the rare occasion it wasn’t I did actually put it into a bag or move it to a place where it was easily accessible. (The inevitable consequence of this is that our house is a total mess now.) The reality is though, because of the way we’ve chosen to live, there’s really not a lot of material things we can’t do without. All our photos are either digital to begin with or have been scanned into the computer so it’s as simple as grabbing the external hard drive and going.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t things I would cry over or that we’d make every effort to save what we could if we had the time. I’d just scored a patio set on clearance on Friday *laughs* and was pretty upset over the idea that I’d never get to use it.

More upsetting though is the thought of my beloved canyon trail. Waldo has been my training spot through two Tough Mudders, a Spartan race, and probably my absolute favorite choice for hiking. (I was even tempted to go up there Saturday morning, but choose sleep over running. Now part of me wishes I’d gotten one last run in there before it burned.) Now it’s ground zero for a fire that will hopefully be contained by the time you read this. It will recover, of course, the sad fact is these fires are a long time coming and not totally unexpected. It still hurts though, and I’m gearing up to help with whatever trail reconstruction will be necessary when the time comes.

Hopefully by the time you all get to read this, the fire will be contained and we’ll have gotten some rain to help out the firefighters. If you’re interested in donating, you can send contributions to the Red Cross or the Pikes Peak Human Society. Additionally, you can consider contacting Fire Rehab which is a support organization for emergency situations that provides firefighters with essential supplies like water and food.

Dang Labels!

From time to time, I am a disgruntled consumer who needs to vent. Consumer protection laws, like so many others, should do what they were designed to do: among other things, insure we receive accurate information about the products we use. Then again, that assumes the people who write our laws have something between their ears, or care more about their constituents than the corporations who fund their campaigns. I won’t go into that.

I just opened a bottle of sodium chloride tablets to prepare saline solution for washing the chemicals from my contact lenses—far cheaper to make than to buy. The expiration date on the bottle says October 2011. Are you awake when you’re reading this? I said, the expiration date. This is ridiculous. Salt doesn’t expire. In two years or two hundred, two millennia or two geologic epochs, salt will still be salt. It doesn’t decay. It doesn’t change. In fact, this is why salt is used to preserve things. Bacteria or fungi won’t grow in it and it is damn near eternal.

Seeing this, I went to the kitchen cabinet and reached for the table salt. To my relief, the sea salt I use has no such marking. At first blush, it would appear those watching our foods have more between their ears than those watching Big Pharma. No such luck.

One can in my cupboard irks me even more. I don’t want it removed from the stores. I use it somewhat regularly, but I would like it labeled accurately. This product is the spray-on oil you apply to your skillet so food won’t stick. I’m sure you know it. What irks me is how a product that is 100% fat can say it contains 0% fat as its label does. The reason is this: in the United States, any product whose suggested minimum serving contains less than one gram of fat can be labeled fat-free. Under “Nutrition Facts,” it clearly says a 1/3 second spray, the suggested serving, contains .27 grams. Later on it says that a one second spray (.81 g) covers a ten-inch skillet. Now I don’t know about you, but I find one second, let alone one-third, an awfully restrictive criterion, especially when the suggested serving will cover the 3” skillet we all love to use. Further, a quarter of a second longer than what is required for ten inches and you move into full-fat land. Clearly, this song and dance is to woo the low fat market, but give me a break! Salt doesn’t expire and every oil is pure fat.

I know I’m being a kvetch, so you can bag this post and move on to something more compelling. I just wish the powers-that-be weren’t such idiots, or didn’t treat us as if we were.


Plotting – it isn’t easy

A few days ago, I received a review for my newest release, “Whistle Down the Wind”, and one of the things the reviewer mentions is that “Stone builds her plot easily, making the readers truly wish they were part of this fascinating relationship.” As I forwarded this to my various Social Networking links, I commented that I hoped my critique partner, Saralynn Hoyt didn’t see it. She knows how hard it is for me to plot out my books.

Saralynn responded with a post that really made me think about the way I plot. She mentioned that I use maps, photos, notes, images and notebooks. She suggested that I used the “scrapbooking” method of plotting my books.

I think she described it perfectly. I carefully construct a variety of things for my books, beginning with a “mindmap” that is a visual diagram of my characters, their motivations, the time period and any initial details that come to me. I add a “T-shirt” for each character, which is actually their underlying issue, things like “I don’t trust anyone” – “I have Father issues” basically like the thing they did in “Glee” where every character had to create a shirt that told someone a thing they wanted to hide about themselves. It’s an idea I borrowed from a parenting class I took, because the instructor suggested everyone had this t-shirt, but it’s invisible.

[sample Mindmap, it’s not pretty but it gets me thinking]

Then I create a list that I call, “20 Things That Could Happen In This Book” which is a brainstorming exercise to come up with major plot points and action. Some of these plot points won’t make sense as I write the book and I won’t use all of them. New ones will develop as I write the first draft, but I will have a skeleton to hang the pieces of the story on as I begin to write it.

But I won’t be writing yet. I’ll go through my collection of character photos, clipped from magazines or printed out from the internet. This is to give me physical descriptions of my characters so I can “see” what they look like. I’ll add the maps of the area, timeline, character notes, and sort it all neatly into a 3-ring binder.

I stock up on binders, organizers and notebooks in September, when all the school supplies go on sale. I’ve even blogged here about how much I love loading up on writing supplies so I’m ready for the “new school” year. Each notebook sits waiting for the idea to hit, the characters to grow, the story to develop.

When I launched this latest book with a blog tour, I was grateful for my lovely notebooks. I wrote 15 blog articles about the research, the characters, the setting and the story, and all I needed to find the ideas were my notebooks. In the case of this book, there are two notebooks, because it will be a four book series. I needed a series research bible and a notebook for each of the individual books in the series.

My critique partner shudders when she sees my process, because she’s much more of a “pantster” who can sit down and write with just her research notes. It would terrify me to do that, because it would be like the dream where you’re walking down the hall in High School, heading for a test you haven’t studied for– and you’re naked!

The most frequently asked question at author events is: “What is your process when you’re writing?” I think all writers are looking for the magic: the method that will make it easy, help the words flow and keep the muse hovering as the pages fill with words that thrill and amaze the reader.

But, for most of us, writing is hard. Writing well is even harder, as we struggle to transfer the amazing story that is in our heads to the page. We develop systems, create methods and search for inspiration. For me – this is what works.

I wish you well in finding your own writing path.


Manners, anyone?

I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m getting old and crotchety – although just the use of that word may indicate that I am – or whether the world is really becoming extremely ill mannered. Some days, I feel as if the world needs Judith Martin aka Miss Manners to take charge and make it possible for us to live in cities without constantly being bombarded with people who obviously have no manners at all.

Several, okay, more than several, many years ago, Miss Manners published her first book, Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. The book was (as I’m sure the “Freshly Updated” version is) both funny and smart. Everyone was reading it at the time, although now that I think about it, I’m not sure that the manners I experienced on the streets of Toronto were any better than they had been before the book became so popular. I wonder now if there’s a way to try an experiment with the Freshly Updated version? Give it to three thousand people in some city somewhere, ask them to read it, base their behavior on the book, and see if there’s a ripple effect on the city in which they live.

However, to get back to the point of this blog, good manners now seem to be something to be worried about rather than celebrated. People look at you oddly if you open the door for them, if you offer to help carry their bags, if you smile at them on the street. In fact, thanks to the ubiquitousness of the cellphone, aka the method by which we text our friends and acquaintances so we no longer need to speak to them or – God forbid – interact with them in person, there is no longer any need for good manners at all.

Here are a couple of things I’ve noticed in the past few months.

For many people, they no longer feel the need to keep their eyes on the sidewalk or the road. They seem to believe that the gadgets in their hands or their cars take the place of paying attention. Their gadgets, they believe, will save them from any collision when, in fact, they’re saved from those collisions by those few people who believe that gadgets are tools for living and not life itself and are willing to put them away and pay attention to the world around them.

Almost every day as I walk to work, I run into someone who is typing on the phone in their hand and I have to step aside to avoid being run over. They don’t say “I’m sorry” nor do they stop texting as they cross the street against the light. Pretty soon, there will be a section in the Obituaries titled “People who died with a phone in their hands”. Not quite as memorable as “He died with his boots on” but it does have a certain ring. And, of course, they will be buried with their cellphone because their hand has locked tight on it at the moment they are hit by a car driven by someone who is texting on their phone – even though that’s illegal in most states of the U.S. and almost all of the provinces in Canada.

Miss Manners, I’m sure, has some suggestions for these people – but wouldn’t it be nice if each city or town or neighborhood declares one day a week a cellphone free day? Now, I realize that’s impossible, and maybe it could just be a single hour that’s cellphone free. Obviously, we’d only be able to enforce the ban in public – but honestly? That’s all that needs to be done. Because then we’d see people’s faces rather than just the tops of their heads as they lean over their cellphones, and they would see us when we’re passing on the street. They’d notice when a car was coming. They might even smile at the person who holds the door open for them. Now that might change the world.


The King is Dead! Long Live the King!

Elvis was 42 when he died in 1977 at his Graceland home. Quite possibly some of you can recall precisely where you were at the moment you heard. His career had been waning; he was bleary and bloated, sometimes incoherent; his voice wasn’t always up to the songs he sang for his still-adoring fans. Much of his later erratic and odd behaviour is well documented: the TV-shooting incident for example, and his request of Richard Nixon to be granted status of Federal Agent-at-Large in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

But this is not about Elvis per se, but about his status as an icon, and our collective inability to let him die. More than Marilyn or James Dean, more than Judy Garland or even Curt Cobain, Elvis lives on in myth, memory and…Tribute Artists!

If I hadn’t accepted my brother’s invitation to Harrison Hot Springs a few weeks ago where he was attending a convention of public speakers I wouldn’t have this story to tell you. But I did, and here it is.

This public speaking organization is well known and has, in the same way AA has led millions from intoxication to sobriety, transported many of its grateful members from shy, inarticulate, mumbling isolation to confident and polished speechifying free of ums, ahs and other verbal tics. An admirable accomplishment indeed. My brother is deeply involved. I, on the other hand, find this organization’s structure too – structured. I joke that he’s in a cult and I am not particularly drawn to cults, no matter how well-established or apparently benign. We are good-natured about this difference of perspective, although I know he would love it if I signed on to one of the many clubs he’s occupied with. But I digress.

The convention lasted a full weekend and participants were encouraged to let off steam on Saturday night with the live entertainment – their reward for working so hard. The entertainment turned out to be an Elvis impersonator, or, as they prefer to be called, an Elvis Tribute Artist. Who could resist?

This is an important cultural phenomenon, I told my brother, and I just HAD to go. Happily, he was able to wangle an invite from the organizers and I soon found myself among a group of True Elvis Fans, people who, until now, seemed to be nothing less than serious professional pontificators, dressed conservatively and observing all the protocol required of attendees at the convention.

There are all sorts of Tribute Artists. Some just walk around looking Elvis-like; some sing like him but look unlike him; some lip synch; others play guitar and sing. There are Elvises young and old; Elvises fat and thin. There are Asian and Black Elvises. There are female Elvises. This night, at Harrison Hot Springs, there was a “young” Elvis – meaning he probably wasn’t born when Elvis died, although he sang songs from every era of Elvis’ career. And he had The Voice.

And The Moves. Although he didn’t play guitar, the sound system provided everything he needed except lead vocals. This young man had entered an Elvis Tribute contest some years earlier as a joke; his friends had dared him. He won third place and the rest is history.

“Elvis” was charming and engaging and soon the audience, most of whom were women, was screaming and giggling and swooning and begging to have photos taken with him. Most of these women either hadn’t been born or had been very young girls during the real Elvis’ reign but they were swept up, crazy as if in the presence of the real thing and it was 1955 and nothing had happened since.

Until now I wondered why a person would want to go around in someone else’s skin, “being” someone else. Even if that someone else was Elvis Presley. What could possibly motivate someone to dress up and act out someone else’s fantasy life? And what did that person do the rest of the time? Who did they think they were the rest of the time? It had always been a bit of a mystery to me.

But watching this person, aka Elvis, create a mood, I kind of got swept up too. What he made happen in that hall was more than nostalgia. In the skin of Elvis, this young man fashioned an atmosphere of possibility, of hot summer nights, romance, sensuousness, innocence, palpable sexuality, unabashed pleasure and hope all rolled into notes and moves and moments. It felt free and wild and suddenly I got it, the Elvis thing.

The Tribute Artist makes it happen; the audience gets swept along, and for a brief time we all believe. Maybe it’s magic, who knows? I know I got “gifted” in a way I could never have imagined. Long live the King (and his imitators).


A Cautionary Tale

I would like to share with all of you, what I think is a funny story, and what my wife assures me, was her most embarrassing moment.

As you all know, Belva, my wife, best friend, and the light of my life, and I own and operate a web site, Belva’s List; which is a recreation guide to Seattle, Puget Sound, and Western Washington. One thing we do is list all kinds of yearly events, car rallies, neighborhood extravaganzas, summer water events and festivals of every size and description. We attempt to attend as many of these events as we can.

We decided to attend Seattle’s Fremont Summer Solstice Parade a couple of years ago. What a blow out affair that was. The abundance of floats, performers, and attendees was truly overwhelming. All of the pageantry, both in the parade and on the sidelines, is what has made this parade world famous. And one of the highlights every year is the Nude bicyclists. Believe me when I say, the sight of—there must have been a hundred or more—people, wearing nothing but athletic shoes, a hat, sunglasses and a smile or a coat of paint—Don’t Look Alice!—stream by on bicycles, it stirs a crowd… Lots of “Ooh’s and Ahhs”.

Now, on to Belva’s moment… We had ridden the bus from Greenwood to Fremont. It’s impossible to find a parking place on Parade Day. And though the bus stop is some little way up the hill from the heart of the activity it’s a closer walk than any parking places you might find—if you can find one, chances of winning the lottery are more likely.

After the Parade and much viewing enjoyment, during which, we “porked-down” a bunch of junk food and beverages, we started back up the hill to our bus stop. Just as we were getting close to our destination, Belva began to have a moment of personal panic. She had to go! And there wasn’t any place to go! And a lot of hill left to climb, not to mention a twenty minute bus ride! All of the stores and restaurants were behind us a few blocks down the hill.

The further up the hill we walked the more concerned Belva became, scanning the buildings along the sidewalk, in search of a restaurant, she spied a brick building with a storefront type window. Passing the window, we noticed small groups of people sitting around various small tables, others on couches and easy chairs; beverages and snacks available at various stations through out the room. It shouted, “Neighborhood coffeehouse”, happy, friendly, cozy and full of people and a restroom.

A look of anticipated relief washed over Belva’s face, she had found this place just in the nick of time, for her moment of need was fast approaching the extreme panic stage. As we entered through the open front door, she spotted a slightly open bathroom door in the far corner, meaning the bathroom was not occupied. She left me to my own devices, as she, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, raced to the open bathroom door, nodding to folks as she passed, trying not to slam the door behind her, as she disappeared into the restroom.

A short time later, business done, she opened the bathroom door and reentered the room. Everyone stood up, and
wearing big smiles, began to clap, politely. Confused and thinking, maybe she should have bought something on the way in, Belva got into her purse and left a dollar on the table full of snacks, then joined me to continue our trip to the bus stop.

Just out side the front door, a smiling couple on the sidewalk, cups in hand, obviously customers of the establishment, informed us this was not a neighborhood coffee shop but their apartment. And they were hosting a group of friends celebrating the summer solstice. Everyone, including Belva had a good laugh.

Belva ruminated to me later, that thinking back after the fact, perhaps, the bathrobes hanging on wall hooks in the bathroom should have given her a clue. She later talked about the incident on her blog, making a public apology to the nice couple, for her little faux pax and her sincere thanks to them and their friends for being so gracious to a lady in distress. She assures me that this is one of those moments forever burned into her memory. She will also tell you, “Do not just head off mindlessly following a group of people whom you think know where they are going; if you do you too might find yourself out of the “comfort station zone.” A very good lesson to remember.


I’m Damn Boring!!! Read Me Anyway!!!

Did you feel your heart beat a little faster when you read the title?
The Internet has made communicating so easy there is a tendency to disregard grammar. That goes for emails, blogs, and all social media forums. No one is perfect, least of all me, but I see an irritating pattern—the overuse of exclamation marks.

In emails, there isn’t an easy way to convey emotions, inflection of voice or sarcasm. Messages can be easily misinterpreted since you have little control over how it’s read. The use of smiley faces, acronyms such as ROFL, LOL, LMAO, and bolding words for emphasis all help to express a thought more clearly. When someone uses all uppercase letters, I imagine them screaming their entire message at me.

When a sentence is followed by an exclamation mark, I read it as if the person is cheerfully declaring their message. Two exclamation marks indicate the person is so animated they are falling out of their chair. Three exclamations mean they’re practically having an orgasm. Really? Is that true? Somehow I doubt it.

The saying, “Less is more” applies in the case of exclamation marks. One will suffice; forming a small army of them to assault your reader is unnecessary. It’d be like the boy who cried exclamation mark. If you use it all the time, people will soon realize you have nothing to exclaim.
Perhaps the advent of electronic communication makes it necessary to insert exclamations – to alleviate the boredom. Emails, direct messages, comments can seem lifeless without them.

All right, I’ll give you that, but can we keep it to a dull roar and just use one exclamation mark per sentence? Thanks!




A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend and described my life as a game of Jenga. Between my hours on the WIP, my kids’ end-of-school activities, projects and exam preparations, jam-packed weekends and my husband’s work schedule, it felt like adding one more thing to the pile might just bring it all crashing down. 

Or bring me crashing down. 

I learned to exercise the power of no some years back, when life took a dark and twisty turn, and I’ve thankfully retained the skill. But there are some things you can’t say no to, like research papers on George Orwell and models of the solar system and family weddings and plumbing disasters and end-of-school parties and…well, you get the picture.

By the last day of school, I was worn down and wiped out. I was brain dead and soul tired, feeling completely depleted and struggling with my writing. Luckily, I’d planned ahead and within 48 hours, we were standing on the sand in Santa Cruz, with a lovely 8 night stay stretching before us.

Usually, we roll into town and I’m immediately there, instantly relaxed and rejuvenated. This time, it took a while longer because I was so tightly wound. In fact, I was writing in my journal early on the second morning when I realized I wasn’t there yet. So I made a concerted effort to let go, to turn off the shoulds, to stop the addiction to doing and surrender to being. Once that happened, once I relaxed and started to breathe again, once I stilled my mind and gave it time to wander, the ending of the WIP started unfurling itself in my head, one precious petal at a time. I suddenly felt that familiar, joyous leaping in my middle as my creative fire reignited and the voices of my characters rushed in to fill the void.

Creativity requires stillness. It requires being as much as doing, and the creative mind needs time to relax, unbend, and pull itself away from the ordinary daily life tasks. It’s in that wandering dream space that inspiration happens, that plot kinks unravel, characters speak and story begins to paint itself in bold, brilliant strokes.

When life feels like a big, bad wave tumbling your hapless butt to shore, sometimes the best thing to do is walk out of the surf for a while, sit on the sand and soak up some sun while you catch your breath and wait for the magic to return. 

My stint on the beach seems to have done the trick for me. But I’m curious. How do you refuel your soul and rekindle your creative spark?




The Fine Art of Saying No

This past weekend I got bonked over the head with a lesson I, apparently, needed to learn. I didn’t just get hit with it once, oh no, the Universe decided it was something I needed to hear repeatedly. And then I got to put the lesson into practice.

The first instance of this lesson was quite innocuous. It was simply a Facebook discussion started by a writer talking about how people responded to him saying no thank you to sweets (he’s diabetic) by continuing to push said sweets on him or demanding to know why. That discussion got me thinking about how seldom people are allowed to simply say no to something. More often than not it turns into a giant production of the other person trying to wheedle or guilt the person saying no into saying yes. The second instance was less subtle. It was a blog post talking about how it’s okay to say no to things and not feel guilty about it. At the time I read this post, I was struggling with whether or not I should attend a start of summer party some friends were hosting on Sunday.

My husband and I had spent the last few weekends running all over Creation doing things with or for other people and we were starting to get burned out. We have several more busy weekends ahead of us and something had to give. We just wanted a weekend to ourselves where we didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything.

It was a tough decision to make because the friends throwing the party live on the other side of the state and we don’t get to see them very often. It was made even harder when my soul sister (soul sister in the sense that we must have been real sisters in past lives because there’s no other way to describe our relationship) messaged me asking if we were going to make it to the party. We haven’t seen each other since her birthday in March and we’ve both been missing each other like crazy. Despite the overwhelming guilt her message stirred up (completely not her intention), I stuck to my guns and told her that, as much as we missed her, we had to take this weekend for ourselves.

On Monday, I was recharged, re-energized, and ready to tackle the million and one little things that needed doing. I also got one last reminder of my lesson – the author who started it all posted a follow-up discussion on his blog about saying no, setting boundaries, and having them respected.

Have you ever had an experience where it was obvious that the Universe had a lesson for you to learn and it was going to make sure you learned it?