Posted in Life

The Real Grandma Alma

People often ask me if the characters in my stories are based on real people. I can honestly say yes. As the daughter of a Methodist minister, we moved frequently, and every church we served had their own cast of characters.

The characters in Who Killed the Ghost in the Library? are very personal to me. The owners of the coffeehouse, Jim and Charlotte Shaw, are based on my parents, Jim and Charlotte. Mike, the chief of police, is an old friend of mine who is a deputy sheriff in Arizona. And Grandma Alma is my grandmother, Edna (her middle name really is Alma, although she has two middle names, truth be told). Continue reading “The Real Grandma Alma”

Posted in Life, Writing

Summer of Lizzie Tour: What’s Cookin’ at Eat it Or Starve

Detective Any true Lizzie fan knows that her favorite place to grab a bite is at the Eat It or Starve Cafe.  Lizzie secretly loves Maddie’s no nonsense attitude and trusts that Maddie knows exactly what dish Lizzie needs that day.

So, let’s check in with Brookdale’s resident chef to find out what she is cooking up today….

Bowl of nuts

Well, it looks like we just got in a whole mess of pecans. That means it’s time to whip up some fresh pecan pie. Don’t like it? Well too bad…

I always make my pies using my mother’s time-tested recipe. It surely is the best around. I must be feeling extra generous today because I am going to share the recipes for both our 8-inch and 9-inch pie.

Pecan Pie from Eat it or Starve: 

8 inch version:

3 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup Karo syrup

1/3 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup melted butter

1 cup pecans, chopped
Mix together all ingredients and bake at 325 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes. To test doneness, best to cook about 50 to 55 minutes
9 inch version:
The 9 inch version is nearly the same, just a little bit bigger.
4 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 cup Karo syrup

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup melted butter

1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Mix together all ingredients and bake at 325 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes. To test doneness, best to cook about 50 to 55 minutes
Posted in Life

Blessings

I’m not sure why I am writing this particular post today. I suppose the biggest reason is because of all the destruction that I have seen in the last week, not just in my own backyard, but across the state and across the country. I felt the urge to reflect upon this past week and to count my blessings. If it starts to ramble, please accept my apologies in advance. I strained my back over the weekend cleaning up our share of these destructive storms and am currently under the influence of pain medication.

I spent a wonderful week in Missouri at the beginning of the month, visiting my parents and working on the first rewrite of my book. The last night I was there, a thunder and lightning storm woke me up at 3 am. Since I could not go back to sleep, I left for home a bit earlier than I had planned on Saturday, April 9th.

Living in Texas, storms & tornadoes are something you just expect. Like everyone else, I watch the news and see the destruction from such storms happen everywhere else, but never at my own home.  The day after I returned home, I woke up at 1:40 a.m. to strong winds and pouring rain. I heard a metallic scratching sound coming from the back of the house. My first thought was our sliding screen door that refused to stay on track, but it was still in place. I put my hand on the glass door and I swear I could feel it breathing. It was moving under my palm. My husband didn’t seem too worried because he went back to bed. But I knew something wasn’t right because the front bedroom door, which was closed, started rattling. No satellite signal meant we couldn’t check the weather on TV, and my sweet husband, who had so lovingly cleaned the house before I got home, put the weather radio somewhere and couldn’t remember where (I did find it two days later in a cabinet).

The sound a person never wants to hear went off near our house: tornado sirens. I grabbed my wallet, which had all the important things in it, such as insurance cards and money, the car keys, and hustled husband and son into the pantry (I later realized that while this is an interior room with no windows, it does have the washer and dryer plus a lot of canned goods, so not the ideal place to hide). My husband was able to keep an eye on the weather on his iPhone. The sirens stopped and started one more time that night. It was all over by 2:30 a.m.

School was delayed the next morning because several campuses were without power. But at 6:45 a.m., I was outside checking for damage, not truly believing I would find any. We had had other storms before and come through unscathed. But not this time. Our air conditioner was blown off its pad, resting upright on the grass. Unbelievably, it was still working! Our side fence had been pulled forward, then pushed back, barely hanging on, but still intact. One section of fence had been blown down, while the sections on either side of that were leaning precariously into the yard. My first thought was “Wow.” Our family had become a storm statistic.

Driving around the neighborhood and through town, I realized we had gotten off lightly. All over town, beautiful trees, the first signs of spring blooming on their branches, were blown over. Familiar restaurant signs were scattered all over parking lots and into the streets. But this city was lucky: no one was injured or killed.

Three days later, on Thursday night, a tornado hit the town of Tushka, Oklahoma. I was shocked. I had just driven through there the previous Saturday on my way home, and now it was in ruins. Friday night, we had another windstorm: the side fence fell down, and we lost another section of the back yard fence. We watched the news as the storms that hit Oklahoma move across the country, shaking our heads at the devastation left in its wake.

There are wildfires moving closer to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, which is to the north of where we live. Am I worried it could shift to the south? Yes. Am I concerned that we could lose our home? Yes. But this house is just a materialistic thing. My family is the most important thing I have. All the wind and all the fire in the world could take everything I own, but as long as I have my husband, my son, my parents and my many friends, I have all the blessings I need in my life. I guess I am basically saying ‘count your blessings’. Do it now. Don’t wait for 80 mph straight line winds to blow down your fence and rearrange your air conditioner. Realize that your greatest treasures are the people who are in your life, not the roof over your head, the car you drive, or the fancy phones/TVs/gadgets you have.

Posted in Life

Mittens the Wonder Dog

Don’t let the name “Mittens” fool you: when we named her, I was thinking she was white with black paws or black with white paws. Nope, she was a round, fluffy ball of white fur. We got her in the spring of 1977 while we were living in Artesia, New Mexico, and she was a wonderful addition to our family of four. Poor Dad – outnumbered by women! (You should have heard the yelling over the phone when I told him he was having a grandson! Oy! But that is a story for another day.) What kind of dog was she, you ask? After all these years, I don’t think we have ever decided what she was. She was a little bit of this, a little bit of that, wrapped in a medium size bundle of energy, sloppy kisses and lots of love.

She spent her nights in the bathroom; so did Mother. Mittens whimpered and whined because she was all alone in there, so Mother would go in and hold her to calm her down. She fell asleep several times in the bathroom with Mittens in her arms, so naturally Mittens was Mother’s dog from the beginning. I wish I could find the picture Dad took of Mittens in the backyard: he put her inside this little red bucket and stepped across the yard to take a picture. All you see is this little white head peeking over the top of the bucket.

Everyone always says that their dogs are unique, and I am no different. The most unique thing about Mittens was her tail. She didn’t wag it from side to side; it went round and round like a helicopter blade. I often wondered, when I watched that tail spin, what would happen if she took flight. Wouldn’t that have been a sight to see!

One mistake Mother and Dad made was putting her doghouse on the other side of their bedroom window. They often said there was nothing like waking up to see a furry face staring at you in the window from the roof of her doghouse. But she didn’t always sleep outside. In fact, I think she only slept outside that first year. Most of my memories are of her sleeping on their bed every night. Sunday afternoons after church was (and still is) nap time. All you had to say was “nap”, and Mittens was on the bed before they were even in the bedroom. I should clarify something: she didn’t just sleep “on” the bed. Nine times out of ten, she was UNDER the covers, not on top of them. No, she wasn’t spoiled at ALL.

That first winter, she disappeared one day from the backyard. Now, the fence looked like the in and out weaving of a straw basket, and she wasn’t full grown at that time. We looked everywhere for her until we got a call from our minister and good friend who lived down the alley from us. “Are you missing your dog?” he asked us. We said yes, and he told us that Mittens was at their house visiting their cocker spaniel, Angel.  But we could not figure out how she got out. One day, Dad happened to look out back and saw her climbing the basket-weaved fence. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing, but it was true. She was a sneaky one.

Since Dad is a minister, we moved a lot, but these moves never phased Mittens. She loved to ride in the car, usually in Dad’s lap, with one paw on the driver’s door. She always sat up front with them, rarely in the back with my sister and I. She preferred the view from the front.

Did I mention she was sneaky? Once Dad finished seminary, we moved back to New Mexico, to a little town called Jal. Our house was located right next to the church. There was a chain link fence with a nice sized yard for Mittens to run around. But she had the tendency to dig under the fence and get out. Apparently she couldn’t climb chain link. One Sunday, Dad was leading the evening service when he got a funny look on his face. I looked up the aisle, and there was Mittens, crawling on her belly, covered in mud from the rain we had earlier. Guess who got elected to carry her home? Guess who was wearing white pants at the time?

We moved forty miles up the road to Hobbs two years later. She was spoiled rotten by the people at Grandy’s restaurant. Whenever we went there, they always sent home chicken livers for her. She loved popcorn and grapes. But giving her jello was a funny sight to see. She would pick it up, flop it around inside her mouth, spit it out and look at us as if to say: “Are you kidding me? This stuff is gross!” The funniest memory I have of her involving food was the day of my high school graduation. Mother was making my favorite dessert, which has a pecan crust. She put it on the floor by the back door, hoping it would cool faster. A few minutes later, we heard “clink clink clink”, and discovered that Mittens had eaten half of the crust, had two paws in the dish and was polishing off the other half. We still laugh about that one.

We had a long foyer at the house in Hobbs that was linoleum. Mittens loved to chase tennis balls, and Dad would throw them toward that foyer almost every time. You could hear her toenails clicking on the floor, usually followed by a thud, which meant she had chased the ball to the door and slid right into it. It never phased her. She came running back with that ball, gave it to him, ready to go again. But she also loved to spend time sitting on the couch or in the recliner with us. She was a great snuggler.

I graduated from high school in 1986, and went my own way, so I didn’t get to see her as often as I would have liked. The rest of the family moved to El Paso in 1988, but by this time, Mittens was beginning to show her age. She was content to sit on her favorite blanket in a chair. I got married in the fall of 1990. Two months later, while my parents were on vacation in Colorado, and with my sister home with her, Mittens’ health took a turn for the worse. My sister took her to the vet, where they put Mittens to sleep. We buried her ashes in my grandmother’s home in Artesia, fifteen years after she first came into our hearts and our lives. We look back on those years with her with plenty of laughter. She will always be Mittens the Wonder Dog with the helicopter tail, climbing fences, chasing tennis balls and giving us all the love we could ever want.

Posted in Life

Random Wednesday thoughts

It’s the middle of the week (for those of you that have been doing NaNo and lost track of time and place), so I thought I would just throw out some random thoughts about whatever pops into my head. Just warning you – this could be dangerous. Proceed at your own risk! If you make it to the end, there’s cake!

Now that NaNo is over, it is time to step away from, as my writing friend Jeanne V. Bowerman says, the word vomit you have been spewing for the last month. Get some sleep, eat some food, re-introduce yourself to your family and friends. Make sure you have identification with you so you can verify who you say you are to those who have forgotten what you look like. Work on some other projects that you have neglected during the last month. When you are ready to look at your NaNo novel again, read this very informative article by Chuck Wendig to help you start the editing process.

Why is there never a box of Puffs around when you need it?

The Christmas holidays are upon us now, if you haven’t noticed by the endless Christmas carols playing for the last month and all the displays in Wal-Mart that have been up since Halloween. Time for those yearly family holiday traditions: traveling far and wide for those deep discounts, shoving an elbow into an elderly lady’s kidney because she has grabbed the last available item that is on your list, and standing in those long checkout lines behind the guy who ate refried beans before he went shopping. You lug all of your loot home, shove it into the closet and wait until you have an empty house to begin wrapping them, only to realize you forgot to buy wrapping tape. Whoops. Hate when that happens! Hours of work will pay off on Christmas morning as everyone tears into their gifts and asks for the receipts. You just have to wonder who the genius was that came up with gift cards.

Lest I sound cynical to some, rest assured I am not. I like to look at all things with a sense of humor. One of my favorite sayings is “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Fart, and you stand alone.” Frankly, I’d rather have people laughing all around me at something I might say versus running away because of other things.

Our holiday traditions involve Christmas Eve services, followed by cruising around looking at Christmas lights. The next morning, we get up, select one person to be “Santa” and wait as they wade through the gifts and sort them out. For me, it isn’t what I get, it is the time I get to spend with my parents. I do not get to see them as often as I would like, so my time with them is precious and fun. Remember that. Remember the reason for the season, and trust me, it is not the after-Christmas sales at JcPenney’s, Macy’s, Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Target, etc.

Does anyone REALLY care that LeBron is going back to Cleveland to play? I mean, come on, Miami isn’t playing that great, but then again, neither is Cleveland now that LeBron is gone. Whoops, I probably shouldn’t point that out, should I? Moving on!

If you have kids, please remember to support their teachers! Be active in your child’s education. It may drive them (your kids) nuts, but trust me, if you want to know how your child is doing in class, email their teacher and ask. Bad test grades? Email the teacher and ask when the next one is, then help your child study. A little bit every day leading up to the test WILL help. Granted, the whining, moaning and groaning will make you wish you had settled for a root canal, but it is worth it (whether your kid will admit it or not!).

I told you this was random stuff today. I am all over the place, aren’t I?

Ok, one last thing before I shut this random flow off or we could be here all day. Hug your kids, hug a friend, hug your spouse. Smile at a stranger, grab that shopping cart that someone left in a parking space and put it up, open a door for someone. It will make you feel good and will brighten someone else’s day.

Hopefully, my thoughts will be more organized next time. Until then…laugh! It’s good for your health!

Teresa

PS: About that cake I promised would be here at the end…I ate it.