Saturday, December 9, 2023

A Christmas Mystery: Corpus Christmas by Margaret Maron


I enjoy the Christmas novels of my favorite mystery writers, none more than this 1989 one by Margaret Maron who wrote mysteries from the 1980s to her last one in 2017. Do you know her work? This sentence alone from a speech she once gave should tell you why I'm a fan:

"From the beginning, I loved language, I loved words, I loved the tricks that you could play with them." (Margaret Maron)

Maron's mysteries are the proof of that, especially those of one of her two strong women sleuths, Sigrid Harald of the NYPD.

While Louise Penny's mysteries are top shelf in this bookcase, Margaret Maron's take up the entire second shelf, the hardbacks on the left about Maron's other sleuth, Deborah Knott (Judge Knott--get it?) of North Carolina, and the paperbacks on the left that are about Lieutenant Sigrid Harald.

Corpus Christmas is a beautifully written, complex novel of a mystery that weaves together the fascinating story of a family home of the late 1800s to early 1900s that is currently an art museum of works collected in Europe by the family's son, and site of where the murder takes place, along with the story of Sigrid Harald, the investigating officer, and Oscar Nauman, described as "an artist of his own time and one who isn't afraid to leave the loose ends." 

While Sigrid's art appreciation belongs with pictures that look like what they are--as in the oil painting above that sits on my living room floor during the Christmas season (a story there) that my Aunt Teenie painted for us over 50 years ago--the older man Oscar Nauman is of the persuasion that "the high purpose of art is to remind us that something is always left undone."

Just as all the words in my beautiful old Webster Universal two volume dictionary weave together a language, Corpus Christmas uses beautiful words to weave together the story of the art world of the 1800s and the 1980s and the family life of a comfortably situated New York family from the past with the unfolding modern romance of two very different people.

This murder mystery, the ending of which was a complete surprise to me, is as pretty as the old Polish Fantasia Fish Scale ornaments I've collected for years.

Leaving one only to wonder how the relationship between the very confident self-assured Oscar and the very reticent reserved Sigrid will end.

Ah, only the last book in the series will tell.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Peppers, Mainly

I love peppers. Other than the onion family, they may be my favorite vegetable. This year we grew Serrano, JalapeƱo, Cayenne, Super Chili, and Anaheim (my favorite), and Tabasco peppers. 

The day before our first freeze was predicted RH cut all the Tabasco peppers, one pepper I hadn't used all summer, saving them for hot pepper sauce.

I save pretty glass bottles that are perfect for hot vinegars that enhance pots of pinto beans or collard greens all winter.

This is the easy kind of preserving that is all I do anymore. No more chili sauce, corn relish, pepper relish, pickled peaches, and every kind of jam and jelly that I made as a younger homemaker.

Here's a picture of my mother who keeps me company in the kitchen, the expert chili sauce maker. I especially love this picture that was used at her celebration of life service the week before everything shut down in 2020. I was sitting by her when the picture was taken, our arms around each other, and I think about that when I cook.

Dewena was her middle name, as it is mine.

I stepped out on the kitchen porch later that day to cut the rest of peppers and some herbs for Bolognese sauce for supper.

Our little cayenne plant remained small all summer, not producing enough peppers to string and hang in the kitchen.

I'm wondering if I can just store them in a glass jar after they all dry? 

Look what RH brought in from a friend later that day. Wow, the mother lode of peppers! Perfect for stuffed peppers!

It was also a day for bringing in a few houseplants and I asked RH to bring in my favorite outdoor pot with three shade plants that was still so pretty. I picked them out with birthday money early summer, two different tiny ferns and the tall plant I can't remember the name of. Will they survive in the house? 

I also cut a few blooms from the Mandeville vine I bought with my birthday money.

This was our first time to buy this plant and it rewarded us with blooms all summer long in the garden.

I wish I could have brought the whole vine in for winter. Naturally after the hard freeze we were back to beautiful days. 

Perhaps we'll even have a Tender Tennessee Thanksgiving. 

What's it looking like where you live?

P.S. Here's the Bolognese sauce cooking away!

(This little plaque was in my mother's kitchen! Wish I knew it's history. Maybe my sisters remember?)

Thursday, November 2, 2023

"Try November's Love"

 With apologies to Melanie...

Winter's Lover by Joan Story Wright

Come now, forget your April-bitten heart,

And try November's love. He's strong enough

To tear your frail, beribboned dreams apart

And make you scorn the tender for the rough

Sureness of his love-making. Come be wise;

Put springtime's wistful fantasies away

And wipe the blatant rainbows from your eyes.

Rainbows will fade, but never the gusty gray

Of winter's bleak caress. Spring buds deceive;

Not so this bitter lover. Take his hand.

He offers frank commands for weak appeals

And he will trade cold truth for make-believe,

And, for rain's phantom fragrance, the demand

Of a little muttering wind to pluck your heels.

When I read this poem the other night in my November 1951 issue of Ladies' Home Journal, it filled a hole in my heart I didn't realize I had. I can't express how much I needed it.  I needed tough vigor and trust, not sweetness, not this November. 

I needed belief in this month that is my favorite, belief that we will make it through the headwinds that winter might bring. 

When we moved here seven years ago, RH planted two Natchez crape myrtles out front. I dearly love them but it is the old crape myrtle above that steals my heart each summer and now in the fall. 

This scene is what I see outside the bathroom window. I love this tree dressed in its summer beauty but it turns my heart to mush in late October and early November. Somehow the poem seemed to go with the pictures and they both give me strength.

Because it's a long way till summer.

I'm going to try November's love.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Beauty, When You Can

This is a last minute effort to post here at Across the Way before October is gone as it's been almost two months since I've been here. 

The pretty pumpkin placemats that I only use in October, and only for non-messy meals were perfect to illustrate a point that's dear to my heart from one of my favorite books, No Trumpet Before Him by Nelia Gardner White. 

I have ten other posts here with White's label and I even posted about this book here in 2019 when we discussed reading depressing books. I pulled out this book once again this month when I needed a book to comfort me. 

Every time I read one of her books I get something different from it and this time it meant even more to me than before. This time I needed the Methodist bishop's wife, needed her positive but not Pollyanna personality. 

Maisie Fellowes, an author as well as Bishop Fellowes' wife, puts her husband's apple on a pretty blue dish before taking it to him. It's important to her. Beauty is important to her, in her garden and her home. This one little detail about Maisie has stuck in my mind for a decade or more since I first read it. 

I had a post planned for this with pictures of my table set prettily for a plebeian supper of Tuna Fish Casserole and spinach. I took the first picture above but then put my phone on to charge and used RH's phone for pictures of the meal on the table. Little did I realize that RH's iCloud was full and when I went to send them to my phone later there were no pictures. 

So without Maisie's touch of beauty, here is my meal, in the kitchen, on the stove, not on a pretty autumn table.

There, how inspiring is that?

But I did manage to change my current post from Back To School clothes, so there's that. 

Maybe, just maybe, the plainer the meal, the more important beauty is. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Back to School Clothes, 1965


From this picture can you guess which movie influenced back to school clothes in 1965?

Another clue...

And this darling third clue?

Naturally, it is the movie that for five years made more money at the box office than even Gone with the Wind.......

The Sound of Music!

I remember seeing the movie when it premiered at Nashville's nicest movie theater in 1965. How I loved it! RH and I had only been married a few years and didn't have any children yet but if I'd had school age children I most likely would have been wanting to dress them this way for the first day of school.

And that first day of school back then was always the day after Labor Day, not some barbarous day in August when we would have still been at Pleasant Green swimming pool or Myrtle Beach.

I loved the songs from the movie, still do. You still hear These are a few of my favorite things on Instagram, don't you? I think one of the most memorable scenes from the movie was So Long, Farewell when the von Trapp children bid adieu to their house guests one evening and disappeared one by one up the staircase, cute little Greti  going last. And then of course when the song is repeated at their performance at the Salzburg Festival when they bid adieu to the audience and escape  through the Alps to Switzerland. 

But back to fashion! Here are two more fall fashion pictures from my August 1965 issue of Ladies' Home Journal.



 I see a slight influence of the movie in the second woman's dress, do you? 

Would school children today be caught dead in these clothes?

Do you think the style will ever come back?

Did you ever wear a dress similar to these, as a child or as an adult?  


Friday, September 1, 2023



Back once again, practically the whole summer season gone. While it's not officially Autumn, it is September and that seems wonderful in itself. 

I began Louis MacNeice's Autumn Journal recently in its August pages and now have arrived at MacNeice's lines I first read in Rosamunde Pilcher's The Shell Seekers back in the late 1980's--how could it have been that long?

September has come, it is hers

     Whose vitality leaps in the autumn,

Whose nature prefers

     Trees without leaves and a fire in the fireplace...

When I read those lines of Louis MacNeice that Richard Lomax was reading to Penelope Keeling, and the lines...

And all of London littered with remembered kisses

I just knew in my heart that Richard would die in the Invasion of Normandy and that Penelope, at war's end, would end up returning to Ambrose, poor woman.

It took me until this summer thirty something years later to order MacNeice's  Autumn Journal but perhaps it suits my mood at this age better. 

I feel a little differently about autumn this year. At my age I no longer wish July and August away in a pell-mell rush toward the season that is my favorite, but I am ready for it. 


I'm ready to put a few autumn touches around the house, even the browning hydrangea blossoms that I waited too long to harvest.

Should I be concerned that these brown blooms seem beautiful to me?

Or that MacNeice's foreboding poetry of 1938 both makes me quietly happy and particularly sad?

That's okay, I reassure myself.

It is September and I will savor every day, maybe even sparkle a little bit the way the chandelier does on the Karen Adams calendar that my daughter Christy gives me each Christmas. 


I hope you sparkle this September too!

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The Sunday Egg



We look forward to something all week, like The Sunday Egg.


It comes without fail and we gulp it down.


 Sometimes we even share.


And then it's gone and we have to wait until The Sunday Egg comes again. 


BreeBree: "I gobble it down!"

James Mason: "I savor it. I even share it."

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Doggy Tales


I love this picture of our BreeBree even though it doesn't show much of her beautiful brown eyes. For months we've had her on a prescription for her allergies causing sneezing and wheezing.

It turned out that all of that really wasn't allergies. We had put off her dental for two years and when she went for it the other day they found more teeth that needed to come out. Even some of the bone in the gum had disintegrated.

Guess what? She no longer wheezes and sneezes! 


James Mason was so forlorn while she was gone that day, much more than I would've ever thought he would be as she is the one who acts the most loving. He's always too cool for Sunday school.

He whimpered for an hour after we came home without her.

To top it off, his birthday was that day and he was 13! Next month she'll be 11.


He was perfectly happy to snuggle with her when we brought her home even though what he really wanted to do was play. He was so excited and tried his best to get her to run circles like they usually do but after her meds that we managed to get down with some peanut butter, and a spoonful for him of course, all she wanted was a deep nap.

Then it was out to potty in the garden where he never left her side. She was pretty pitiful for a few days and he was very patient with her, adjusting himself to her pace.

But this morning when she gobbled her breakfast down and then tried to eat his, RH and I looked at each other and said, BreeBree's back to normal! 

And a big sigh of relief from both of us.