Look what I won in the Carolina Woman magazine 2023 writing contest for a short story I submitted! Actually, these candles and perfumes are what I picked to redeem my $300 gift card.
I’m not making this up (although I find my winning a writing contest hard to believe myself.) Here’s part of the email I received notifying me that “Good Night, Irene’ was selected as the First Prize winner!
Disclaimer: There is a Grand Prize Winner, so I’m actually second place. However, there were almost 100 entries in this no-fee-to-submit contest, so I’m still plenty proud of myself.
Before you search for the story, let me tell you a little bit about it. No spoilers, but a couple of the characters were inspired by my parents.
The title itself is the name of a folk song recorded by a group called the Weavers. Their version of “Good Night, Irene” was a #1 hit in 1950 and no doubt the one I heard my daddy singing around the house when I was a little girl.
My parents courted in the late 1940s, early 50s, and the descriptions of a young Irene and her husband Henry are based on these pictures I have of a young Inez and Paul (my parents), taken around that time.
Like the character Henry in the story, my father died young, at age 56, from a heart attack. Like Irene, my mother never remarried and lived to a ripe old age. A question posed at the end of “Good Night, Irene” addresses this age-at-death difference.
Or does it? If you read the story, look for a clue that maybe the final scene takes place only in Irene’s mind. Who knows?
“Good Night, Irene” is not, however, and I repeat NOT, a depiction of my parents’ lives. For one thing, my mother wasn’t a smoker. And I hope my sisters and I aren’t like Irene’s self-centered daughters. I simply used my parents’ pictures and when each died as a starting point for the action of the story.
What is your opinion of this cover for a cozy mystery? Does it catch your eye? Would you be tempted to pick up the book and glance inside? Or if you’re on Amazon, would you click on it and read the description?
I hope you’re saying you love the cover and would absolutely be drawn to further explore the book. And, the biggie: you’d buy it! Because–drum roll–this will be the cover of my third book in the Narrow Creek series, to be released this fall.
Now, this cover is quite a departure from the first two in the series. Perhaps you already know this because you own a copy of Ms. DeeAnn Meets Murder and/or Life and Death in Narrow Creek (bless you if you do). These first two books in the series “match” each other but are very different in style from the cover of this third book.
Why, you may ask, will this third cover be so different? Why is it not similar in format to the other two in the series?
It turns out that contrary to the old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” readers do just that. And I’ve been told that the covers of my first two books don’t say “cozy mystery.”
See, there’s a certain style to this type of book. Look at the covers of these popular cozy mysteries.
They’re bright, playful, not fussy. They have a “look” that says to the reader: Behind this cover is a cozy mystery, a gentle story where a minor or not particularly likeable character is knocked off without undue blood or gore and an amateur sleuth finds out “who dun it.” There will be no foul language or steamy sex scenes, only wholesome good fun with a happy ending.
It’s marketing, folks, and it’s taken me a while to figure it out. I’m trying to reach a broad audience of cozy readers, people who don’t know me from any of the other hundreds of cozy mystery writers. It’s brutal out there in the marketplace, especially on Amazon.
What will the revised covers of Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder and Life and Death in Narrow Creek look like? I don’t exactly know yet. I’m in the first stage of changing the cover of the first book, and as with all things in publishing, this will take time. But when finished, both book covers will align with the design of the new book’s cover.
I plan to release the new covers at the same time I release the third book, which I hope will be this fall. I’m targeting October, since the action of this third book begins with a trip to a pumpkin patch in October. Of course, I’ll be sure to let everyone know the exact date Money and Murder in Narrow Creek hits the market!
I’m thinking of the books with new covers as second editions (although other than the cover, nothing else will be changed). So if you happen to own a book with the original cover, then you’ll have yourself a first edition! One day when I’m “discovered,” that may be a collector’s item.
Hmm, like my first American editions of Harry Potter books? Hey, we can all dream…
Although he’s lamented many times selling this 1972 Chevelle Super Sport, he’s still got the girl climbing into the front seat all those years ago. February 28 marked our 46th wedding anniversary.
That classic car has appreciated in value, and I like to think I have too!
To celebrate our 46 years, we went to the beach for a four-day weekend. It was pretty quiet at Emerald Isle during the last days of February, which meant it was easy to get into one of our favorite restaurants for lunch, Rucker Johns.
We split a grilled mahi sandwich with sweet potato fries, but we each ordered a side salad with Ranch dressing. I think we always get the salad just for that delicious sweet roll that comes with it.
After all these years of eating together, it seems we often order the same thing. How long will it be before we start looking alike, something else I’ve heard said about people who’ve been married a long time? I wonder too: Is splitting an entree a geezer thing?
Back home, I took inventory of the yard. The daffodils that bloomed so early and robustly are now spent. Hard to believe since it’s only the first of March.
The pink camellias are still blooming, however, and the red camellia bush that we bought and planted last year on our 45th wedding anniversary has started to put forth blossoms.
The Japanese quince that my middle daughter gave me a few years ago is showing some promise although it was severely “pruned” by hungry rabbits last summer.
Potted pansies have perked up too with the warmer temperatures. Often, my pansies seem to languish during the cold months of winter only to revive during spring before succumbing to the summer heat. Do yours look better now than in December?
This groundcover, alyssum I think it’s called, provides a spot of fairyland white in early spring each year.
The alyssum wasn’t the only magic in my week. Getting out of my car at Planet Fitness, I heard a violin. Someone was playing classical music in the parking lot, much like I’ve heard in the piazzas of Italian cities. But this was Rocky Mount. Across from the Dollar Tree. Oh my word!
I stopped to listen, put five dollars in the kitty, and was treated to a rendition of Ave Maria. Best money I spent all week.
Incidentally, the GIF below was meant to be a video. I guess I was so excited I hit the wrong button on my cell phone. Sorry. You’ll just have to imagine you’re listening to Ave Maria.
I’ll end with an important announcement: Book 3 in the Narrow Creek series will soon be sent to the publisher. Yes, I haven’t posted lately on this blog because I’ve been busy with editing. This cozy mystery is titled Money and Murder in Narrow Creek and picks up the story of Dee Ann Bulluck’s small-town life two years after the conclusion of Life and Death in Narrow Creek . What’s this new book about?
Here’s the first paragraph from the inside cover blurb:
“It’s October in small-town Narrow Creek, North Carolina, and Dee Ann Bulluck is set for a fun morning of picking pumpkins when five-year-old Heather discovers a lady “taking a nap” in Elmer’s Pumpkin Patch. The attractive, well-dressed woman in stiletto heels isn’t asleep—she’s dead—and amateur detective Dee Ann wonders about the identity of this stranger and who strangled her.”
Of course, our feisty heroine feels compelled to investigate–aggravating both husband Joe and Police Chief Roger McSwain–and so the adventure begins. Many of the quirky characters from the first two Narrow Creek books are back to add to the action and humor.
I’ll be doing a cover reveal soon. Hope my readers will be excited about this third book in the series!
How easy is it to see the Aurora Borealis, those fantastical green bolts of light that appear in the winter sky in Iceland? I found out on an after-Christmas, five-day trip to Reykjavik, the country’s capital.
Quite frankly, it’s not a sure thing. It wasn’t as simple as signing up for the mini-bus tour that departed the bright lights of Reykjavik at 8:30 pm to head for the dark countryside. In fact, the trip I scheduled for our party of four–my husband, daughter, granddaughter, and me–was postponed twice due to cloud coverage.
Our last night in Iceland, the “Magical Auroras” trip was finally on. Still, our bus driver/tour director warned us that several conditions had to occur for a sighting. He spouted off lots of science stuff that quite frankly, went over my head, but I felt he was preparing us for a no-show.
We drove for an hour or so, parked, got out of the bus, and stared at the sky. After twenty very cold minutes, we’d given up and reboarded when a young woman in our group announced that she’d caught something on her cell phone camera right before we’d returned to the bus. (The lights are often viewed better through a camera lens.) She showed her picture to the guide, who then hurried us back outside.
Lo and behold, streaks of green light were appearing. The sky didn’t look like the postcards, but we could now say we’d seen the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis. The pictures below were taken by my husband, who’s usually the trip photographer.
We didn’t go to Iceland in the dead of winter just to see the Northern Lights, though. This trip was a graduation present for my granddaughter, who’s a senior in high school. Christmas break suited her busy schedule. We also “owed” her mom a trip abroad, as we once sent her mom’s two sisters to Europe.
So what did we do when we weren’t chasing the elusive Aurora Borealis? Hanging out at a church, the Hallgrimskirkja (the Icelandic language is not easy!). This impressive Lutheran church is a focal point of Reykjavik, and we visited it several times as we wandered the city.
Our morning walking tour met here at a cold 17 degrees at 10 am, close to sunrise. Yes, right now, Iceland has only about five hours of daylight each day.
New Year’s Eve, the church was a main location for fireworks, although we’d just arrived that morning and were so jet-lagged we didn’t make it to midnight when the real ruckus began.
Incidentally, that’s a statue of Leif Erikson in front of the exploding fireworks in the picture below. He’s the Nordic explorer thought to be the first European to discover North America, long before Christopher Columbus.
Our last day in Reykjavik, we went to the top of the church for a photo op of the city.
You can’t go to the southern part of Iceland and not do the Golden Circle tour. Our trip on snowy, icy roads would have had my Eastern North Carolina mother screaming. On second thought, this woman who hunkered down in the house with her milk and bread at the first snowflake wouldn’t have been on this tour in the first place.
But we ventured out with a seasoned Icelandic driver and saw the three geological highlights: the Gullfoss Waterfall, the Strokkur Geyser, and Pingvellir National Park.
On our tour of the Golden Circle, we stopped at a sheep farm for a bathroom break…and to take pictures of these very smelly animals.
We stayed in Reykjavik all four nights of our trip and had time to wander the town. More than sixty percent of the population of Iceland lives in the metropolitan area of this city, but the streets we walked had a small-town feel. A small town with beautiful views and quirky architecture.
One of our favorite excursions was the trip to the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s number one tourist attraction. The Blue Lagoon is a large heated geothermal pool “rich with silica and soothing for your skin.” We slathered up with a complimentary mud mask and an adult beverage (except for the underage granddaughter who had a healthy smoothie of some sort). Relaxing!
We’d been warned that food in Iceland is expensive, but we found an upscale food court and restaurants specializing in “street food,” such as the famous Icelandic hot dogs. “All the way” here came with the following: ketchup, raw onions, fried onions, pylsusinnep (a sweet brown mustard) and remoulade.
The best advice I read about trips involving a chance to see the Northern Lights is this: don’t go just for that reason or you may be disappointed. I heard a woman on one of our buses say she has friends who’d been to Iceland three times without seeing these elusive lights.
Instead, pick a destination you’d want to visit anyway, with other activities and sights. And maybe some special time with a granddaughter who’s suddenly all grown up.
This past week, I turned sixty-nine. 69! I can’t believe I’m this old. But rather than lament my loss of youth, I decided to count my blessings. One such blessing, my college-bound granddaughter, sat beside me while I wore the birthday sombrero at a local Mexican restaurant.
Another blessing is having a husband who asks me each year what I want to do for my birthday and then goes along with whatever I suggest, even when my idea isn’t his cup of tea. For example, he would never sign up himself for the Oakwood Christmas tour of homes in Raleigh that we did a few birthdays ago.
This year, I think he actually enjoyed the activity I chose. We went to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience in Raleigh, a virtual reality show I’d heard about for months but just hadn’t gotten around to booking.
The highlight of the exhibit is a light show with floor-to ceiling mapping and music featuring the artist’s paintings. It’s hard to capture the experience in a photo, but maybe you can get an idea from these depictions of “Almond Blossoms” and my favorite, “Starry Night.”
After this late afternoon visit to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience, we continued my birthday celebration with a trip to the Raleigh restaurant of my choice, the historic 42nd Street Oyster Bar in the Capital District. After my dinner of crab cakes, a decadent dessert, the peanut butter silk pie, served as my birthday cake. I wasn’t disappointed. Since my husband had clicked on “celebrating a special occasion” when he made the reservation online, the dessert was complimentary! Another blessing, right?
I used to think having a December birthday was a bit of a bummer. I felt my special day was lost in the month-long celebration of the season. But as I’ve become older, I realize the festive spirit that is part of the season only adds to my personal holiday. On my birthday morning this year, I made a batch of cherry cream cheese tarts (recipe below) for my upcoming book club Christmas party.
Before leaving for my Raleigh birthday fun, I fetched the day’s Amazon deliveries of Christmas packages off the porch.
And looking outside, I decided to add some red berries from my Nandina to the greenery arrangements on my back porch.
I’ve had quite a few years now of combining my birthday with Christmas preparations, and at sixty-nine, I now have the wisdom to count this as another blessing.
Merry Christmas, and to anyone born in December, Happy Birthday.
PS: In case you’re interested, here’s the recipe for the Cherry Cream Cheese Tarts (from a Cherry Oaks Garden Club of Greenville cookbook).
Who says a Thanksgiving turkey has to be a budget buster? Look at this 18-pound bad boy I got at the Rocky Mount Harris Teeter for only $5.27. I know the tag says Vic Price $17.97, but that was before the final discount. With an additional $40 grocery purchase, not hard to do when shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey was marked down to just 29 cents a pound.
I’m one of these rare souls who still subscribes to the newspaper, so when grocery ads came as the usual Wednesday insert last week, I studied them for the items I needed for the Thanksgiving dinner I’d be fixing for a dozen or so people. I immediately saw the ad for the Harris Teeter brand frozen turkey. It’s the type I thaw out and cook each year.
The missing left corner of the ad was a $10 off coupon I redeemed on my total purchase, another reason I did most of my Thanksgiving shopping at the Teeter.
Here’s my Thanksgiving menu, which I’m not allowed to vary. If you have holiday family traditions, you know what I mean. Adult children can turn on you when you try to mix things up. I’m still hearing about the year I decided we didn’t need deviled eggs. Big mistake. And with all the made-from-scratch stuff I serve, my grandchildren look for Sister Schubert’s yeast rolls first.
Based on this menu, I took inventory of what I already had in my pantry and what was missing. Fortunately, the Harris Teeter had many of the items I needed on sale. For example, my menu may say dressing, but I use Stove Top stuffing, which was $2.00 a box. Sweet potatoes were only 25 cents a pound, and Breyers vanilla ice cream was a buy one, get one free deal, which means if you buy only one, you get it at half price.
Heinz Homestyle turkey gravy, which I add to amend my not so great homemade, was $2.00 a jar, and the Ocean Spray whole berry cranberry sauce I wanted was on sale for $1.66 a can.
A day or two before Thanksgiving, I’ll drop by the Harris Teeter and pick up one of those already baked pumpkin pies for $5.99. Fortunately, a vendor sent my husband an early Christmas present this past week, a gourmet pecan pie, so I can check that item off my list.
Not everything I needed was on sale at Harris Teeter, though. Food Lion advertised Duke’s Mayonnaise for $3.49, and the red grapes for my cranberry salad were a better deal at $1.99 a pound.
I stopped by Aldi looking for cheaper egg prices, which I didn’t find. On the day I went, eggs were over $3.00 a dozen! What has happened to egg prices?
But I did pick up a 3-pound bag of Gala apples for $2.49. I’m set for my easy apple crisp recipe.
I haven’t finished shopping yet for my Thanksgiving meal. I’ll splurge at Smith’s in Dortches on a quart of already cooked collards. That’s also where I’ll buy the shoe peg corn my family likes.
But I’m pretty well set and don’t feel like it’s cost me a fortune. In fact, I saved almost as much as I spent, buying most of what I needed at Harris Teeter. My total bill was $83.00 (rounded up a few cents for the Food Bank, I think it was). My savings–get ready for this–$71.94. I felt like one of those women with the coupon notebooks, but the only coupon I used was the one for $10 off the entire bill.
And I have 428 fuel points, which if I understand the system correctly, means I can now save 40 cents a gallon at the Harris Teeter gas station.
The bill above isn’t totally Thanksgiving stuff. I bought toilet paper, paper towels, a half-gallon of milk, mouthwash, and a few other items. Also, in case you’re wondering why the receipt looks so bad, I wadded it up before thinking I’d need it for a blog post, and then I tried to iron it out. Don’t ever try to iron a grocery receipt. As you can see, it only makes matters worse.
I do have a daughter who’ll be bringing the butterbeans for Thanksgiving dinner. I have another daughter who’ll do well just to get to Rocky Mount from Charlotte with her husband, two hyperactive young boys, an even more hyperactive dog, and a foreign exchange student teacher. And I have a third daughter who’ll be visiting with her husband’s family but will get leftovers when I see her on Thanksgiving weekend.
I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving with your loved ones, and I hope you find some deals at the grocery store!
The shibumi shades had been replaced by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Those seeking the sun, by those looking to fish. It was October at the coast, Emerald Isle, North Carolina, to be exact.
Walking along this rutted beach was not easy. I missed the smooth sand of summer. And it was a little lonely. Other than the fishermen/women and the flocks of seagulls, I was pretty much by myself.
One place that was crowded, however, was the Crab Shack in Salter Path. “We’re closing for the season at two p.m. today,” a happy waitress told me when I went for Sunday lunch. Evidently, quite a few folks knew this late October Sunday was their last chance to eat the $12.99 fried shrimp or flounder plate until sometime in March. Glad I sneaked in at the last minute myself!
Back home in Rocky Mount, the signs of fall are all around me. This maple tree in my front yard will never be cut down by me for two reasons: grandchildren like to climb it and it has spectacular fall foliage. Every year, I can’t resist shuffling through these fallen leaves.
The cherry tomatoes are long gone in my little garden plot behind the house, but the zinnias have been happy to take over their cages. And yes, in the left corner of the picture, that’s an okra plant that’s still producing.
But for the most part, the summer flowers and vegetables have seen their better days. I’m gradually replacing my begonias with pansies, mums, and ornamental cabbages.
Finally, what would October be without Halloween? I got this door-decorating ghoul dirt cheap in the after-Halloween sale at Target one year. Each October, he (she? it?) enjoys a few days out of a downstairs closet where he (she? it?) normally resides.
It’s a trip I’d talked about taking for several years: touring New England to see the fall foliage. I didn’t quite realize, though, that I’d be touring six states in nine days (October 6-14), and I’d do a lot more than just look at pretty leaves.
The trip started in Boston. From there, the tour bus circled New England, going to Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, back through Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and then back to Boston again. Whew! It was a whirlwind journey, and I have a hundred pictures. My husband probably has a hundred more (he took the one above).
So this post will be photo heavy. I’ve devised some categories in an attempt to organize for both you and me what I saw, ate, and learned.
What I Saw
Fall foliage, of course!
It’s not fall foliage, but I can’t not post this picture. Remember the TV show Cheers? Here’s the bar in Boston which served as the opening shot in every episode.
What I Ate
Be sure to eat some lobster and chowder, I was advised. So I did.
I had chowder three days in a row for lunch: Boston clam chowder, haddock chowder, and New England clam chowder. I may have overdone it a little. I don’t think I want clam chowder of any type for a while now.
I also ate a Boston hot dog, which differed only in that beans were in the chili, and Maine blueberry pie for dessert with that lobster dinner pictured above. Maine is a big blueberry state and the pie was good, but not any better than the blueberry pie I enjoy here in eastern North Carolina.
What I Learned
From history to architecture to art, I picked up some new information in New England.
For example, I learned that Newport, Rhode Island, is home to the oldest synagogue in America as well as the site of the Catholic church where Jackie and John Kennedy were married in 1953.
Newport is also home to the summer “cottages” of the rich and famous of the Gilded Age, a time beginning in the late 1800s before federal income taxes and ending with the stock market crash of 1929. The Vanderbilts, for example, had loads of money to lavish on their summer home, the Breakers.
Did you know whaling was once big business in New England? I toured an old whale ship in a place called Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, a re-created maritime village.
I love this picture taken by my husband of a lighthouse in Maine.
A visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, was a highlight of the trip. Rockwell’s often humorous illustrations of American life graced the covers of 323 Saturday Evening Posts.
There’s so much more I could share about this trip: quaint covered bridges, the many historical sites of Boston, the rocky New England coastline, the small New England towns. But I’ll stop here with a final picture. A good trip is even more fun when shared with friends.
Has anyone else gotten the newest Covid Bivalent Booster? And did you realize this is a full-dose shot, not the half dose of the previous boosters?
My husband and I hadn’t had a Covid booster since November of last year. We’d been waiting for this shot that is supposed to be more effective against the current strains of Covid. We’d been reading and hearing something like this information from a Moderna website:
“A bivalent is recommended because it’s the only type of vaccine that can protect against the most dominant Omicron strains of COVID-19 in the US. With the rise of more contagious variants, people need more protection, even with prior vaccination or immunity from COVID-19 infection.”
We’re also getting ready for a bus tour of New England, and one health requirement is “full vaccination against COVID-19” with a warning to “Check validity dates of your vaccination as booster shots may be required to keep your vaccination valid.”
To sum up: A. We were due for a booster, and B. We might need to show a recent shot on our vaccination card as a requirement for our trip.
Arriving to get the booster, we had two surprises: the fact that we were getting a full dose (as I mentioned above), and the form below.
Don’t read the whole thing unless you feel compelled to do so. Instead, zero in on the second bulleted item, the one that says, “Enter and report how you feel after first, second, additional, and booster doses.” And the sentence above the bulleted items that ends with “your participation in v-safe helps us monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for everyone.”
I know all these Covid shots have “emergency” approval, but I now feel I’m part of some experimental group.
I thought the drug companies had already vetted how people reacted to these shots. Is the vaccine a little more experimental than what I have been led to believe?
For the record, I felt lousy after my second shot, but okay after all the others, including this one. My husband, tough nut that he is, has been fine after all four of his shots. And to our knowledge, neither of us has had Covid.
We’re old folks, so if there proves to be some long-term negative effect(s) from these shots, I might’ve already clocked out anyway.
For better or worse, my Covid card is now completely full and up-to-date.
The last day of touring in Jordan brought me to the most holy of places: the site on the Jordan River where many believe Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. “Where’s the water?” is of course the question today. Like many rivers, the Jordan River has changed its course over time.
This location is called Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Between the four pillars of stone on the slab of rock is thought to be the spot where Jesus was immersed.
St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church nearby displays what it says is the skull of the beheaded John the Baptist. There are several other locations in places such as Rome and Bulgaria making the same claim. Who knows?
Another wow religious experience was the visit to Mount Nebo, the site where Moses saw the Promised Land. A land, if you remember the scripture, that he never lived to enter. In fact, it is believed that Moses died here on Mount Nebo. There’s lots to see from this spot: the Dead Sea, Jericho, the Jordan River Valley, the mountains from Hebron to Nablus, the surrounding hills of Amman, and on very clear days, Bethlehem.
A sculpture of Moses’ staff, which turned into a snake when he threw it down in front of Pharoah, stands on Mount Nebo.
Much of Jordan is desert, what the Bible often calls the wilderness.
The waters of the Wadi Mujib are a welcome sight in this arid land. Fed by seven tributaries, the river empties into the Dead Sea.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a herd of goats on a highway before, certainly not in eastern North Carolina.
Caught shopping again (I’m buying a camel figurine), but I was trying to spend the rest of my Jordanian money before heading home. I’m pretty sure the Harris Teeter doesn’t accept dinars.
Madaba is a town famous for its mosaics, particularly something called the Madaba Map. This map is part of a larger mosaic floor that dates to the sixth century. The map shows part of the Middle East and focuses on Jerusalem.
How do I know these details? I paid attention when our Jordanian guide explained, using a picture of the map before we saw the actual mosaic one. (I also use Google to help me get my facts straight!)
Of course, I couldn’t spend a couple of days in Jordan without being led to visit some kind of ruin. The Crusader Castle in Kerak, which dates to 1142, allowed me to check that box (again).
The Kerak Crusader Castle was built high on a hill, the better to spot an enemy…and to throw infidels over the side. Yes, a lot of awful stuff was done by the Crusaders. They were not tolerant of those who didn’t share their beliefs.
I don’t look all that tired in this last photo of Al and me from the trip, but believe me, after a fourteen-day bus ride that required staying at six different hotels, I was exhausted. Israel and Wonders of Jordan, the official name of this journey, was a wonderful experience overall, but as usual when I travel, I was happy to go home.