Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Thousand Words

Some images and reflections from my recent road trip.  Good thing I am a truck driver's daughter and driving is in my bones.  To Melbourne, the Sarasota and back in three days.  Not a record, but not bad, either!

A mother truck and her baby in the wild.  When you drive more than 1000 miles in two days, you can get a bit punchy...

I had forgotten how hard Florida rains are.  There is a special place in my heart--not a nice one--for people in white cars who drive in blinding rains with no lights on....

The beach.  I don't miss it but felt compelled to take this photo for my husband, who does.

Total mistake, but interesting.  Taken by accident at the book signing at Our Lady of Lourdes.  I happen to like this particular image of me.

The best ice cream shop in the entire world, gelaterias in Italy included.  Siesta Key.  Go if you ever have the chance!

Monday, August 22, 2016


I think one of the qualities of a writer is the ability to step outside his own skin and see things from a different perspective--to turn events into stories.

Many years ago, I remember reading a story about a woman who remembered her father every time she saw a penny on the ground.  The reason is a little more shrouded in mystery; I think he probably gave her pennies for candy or some such thing.  Whatever it was, making that connection turned a mundane and easily overlooked event into a connection with memory.  Ever since then, when I encounter a stray penny, I think of my own dad, not because of pennies but because of a storyteller.  it warms my heart and there are a lot of stray pennies out there.

By way of contrast, I once tried to read The Red Dragon and gave it up early on (but not early enough) because it was so graphic and connected too closely with the ME world I worked in.  Sometimes, unbidden, those images surface even now and I shudder--a story once told cannot be un-told and the images it raises are forever in the mind.

The power of story teller is to shape the world, one heart and one relationship at a time, for better or for worse.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Making Jelly

The entire cohort of Harty sibs (my family) were fortunate enough to grow up with parents whose life on the farm imparted to us certain rapidly disappearing skills, among them making jelly.  On his last visit here, my brother raided a neighbor's blueberry patch and left us two jars of his best jam (pictured)

The side of Little Cone, outside of Telluride, is covered with wild rose bushes that, in the fall, yield a bumper crop of rose hips.  Unlike their robust cousins from the East, these hips are small and hard to pick, buried as they are amidst thorns that have not been tamed for commercial purposes.  It takes hours to pick enough hips to make jelly and because I never remember gloved, my hands are left scratched an bleeding.

But what a joy to spend an autumn morning picking and the afternoon, especially if the mountains grace me with the gift of a storm, cooking up rose colored jelly to pass on to family and friends.    Here's a recipe if you want to give it a try:

4 quarts rose hips
5 quarts water (add more if needed to fully cover the fruit)

Wash and stem the rose hips, then boil until soft.  Mash (or process) the rose hips and strain through cloth to produce rose hip water.

1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored and finely diced
1 cup golden raisins

Add the apples and raisins to the water and cook on reduced heat until the apples are tender and the raisins are plump

6 cups (or thereabouts) of sugar)
1/2 c chopped walnuts
Pectin according to box directions (1-2 pouches, depending on the acidity of the fruit.  Too little pectin will result in loose jelly)

Add sugar to the mixture and bring to a rolling boil and continue to cook for several minutes until mixture thickens a bit.  Add nuts and pectin and continue on heat for another minute.  Put into clean, sterile jars, close with lids and process in a hot water bath.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


Among my nick-nacs are several storyteller dolls.  These are traditional Pueblo motifs, open-mouthed adults with children gathered around to listen.  It's an image of passing on the wisdom of the elders, cultural literacy in clay.
It strikes me that, as a culture, we've lost control of our storytellers.  

All of us have stories to tell and those stories either build up or they tear down.  Either they bring community or they tear it apart.  There's very little middle ground.

What stories do you listen to?  What stories do you read? What stories do you tell?  

It makes a difference in where you are going.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

In the Company of Friends

I've just returned from Catholic Writers' Conference Live!--the Catholic Writers' Guild meeting in Schaumburg, IL.  Great fun!  I had the chance to give a couple of interviews and schedule another. High cotton indeed for a first time novelist.

Dying for Revenge actually began its journey at a similar meeting a few years ago.  I went, along with my literary agent, to pitch the book to several publishers who were holding court.  I remember the butterflies--I was as twitchy as a drop of water on a hot skillet.  But the folks I talked to were kind and interested and it was the start of the road to publication.  Interestingly, my publisher was the president of the CWG that year.  (She doesn't remember me from that meeting, but I remember her..particularly when she took the podium and asked whether we could see her behind it.)

Writing is such a solitary occupation, just a person and a computer.  It's really the perfect occupation for an introvert, but even introverts need to get together with like minded folks once in a while.

Like minded we may be, but not at all alike in our work.  At the books signings, everything from children's books to well-researched references were on display.   And the authors, all there to meet and greet:  Here a priest, there a friar, a mother who lost a child, another who's a dynamo and prayer warrior, a teenager, a surfing champion, a successful businessman, a television personality--it would be hard to find a more diverse group, but one drawn together by their love of writing and their faith.  And next year I will remember to bring a rolling cart for the books I bring home.  I have my reading list for some weeks to come.

I'm not well enough recognized for anyone to ask me advice about writing, but just in case someone does, here's my first suggestion:  Find a writer's conference and go! There's something exciting about being among other writers, sharing stories.  It's what writers do, after all.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Going Home?

I am headed back to Sarasota for a book signing this weekend.  I called Sarasota home twenty years before a new job opportunity for my groom took us to cooler, mountain climes.  It will be fun to see old friends, but I confess, I am not looking forward to the midsummer heat.

It's no accident that Jane's story starts in Sarasota.  Like Jane, I raised my children there and made a home that was mostly happy and always chaotic.  Just in case you are considering a trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida, Sarasota is a great place to stop and visit a while.  Stay on Siesta Key (the best, most Bohemian of the various beach communities).  Must sees are the beautiful white sand of Crescent beach and no visit to the village is complete without a trip to Big Olaf's Creamery--my son's favorite for many years was "green" ice-cream (mint chocolate chip).  We used to take the kids across the street from our condo on summer evenings and let them exhaust themselves running n the beach and splashing in the water.  Sometimes we'd head down to Point of Rocks to visit the tide pools, a guaranteed way to wear them out as it was a long walk.  After sunset (watch for the flash of green as the sun dips below the horizon) we would head back with them in the trusty radio flyer, stopping by the pool to toss them in for what passed for a bath in those days.

On the mainland, Marina Jack's is a nice spot to spend the cool of the morning or the evening, watching the bay and the boats.  Mote Marine on City Island is a rite of passage for all kids raised in the area.  Nearby is the little sailing club where my kids learned to sail (one of them VERY reluctantly).    The Old Salty Dog is an old mainstay for beer and local seafood.

St. Armand's Circle is a chi-chi place to shop and worth the trip--but not really Jane's style (or mine).  However, the Columbia Restaurant serves up great Cuban food.  Years ago there was a waiter who used to entertain the diners with his ventriloquism--he could "throw" a bird whistle all around the dining room.  Kids especially loved. it.

Heading north along the bay, you'll see the Van Wezel concert hall--a giant purple building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  If more conventional architecture is your style, head up to the Ringling Museum and John Ringling's home Ca' D'Zan.

But just don't spend any time looking for Jane's Victorian in the vicinity of the local hospital.  It isn't there.   On the other hand, if you find a likely looking candidate for Jane's digs (or Kiki's)--send me an image!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Free Box Give and Take

(Originally Published in the Telluride Times Journal--many, many moons ago)

 Of all the institutions that set Telluride apart, the Free Box is one of the most defining. It sets up a paradox that takes a bit of experience and investigation to unravel.  Why, after all, would a community as wealthy as Telluride have a give-away station in the midst of downtown? It is possible for the casual visitor to miss the Free Box: We did on our initial forays into town.

            I learned about it only after reading of various and sundry Free Box adventures reported in the paper. From my distant vantage, I wondered about the contents of the Telluride Free Box. Slightly used Guccis, perhaps, or chipped Waterford? Could I find an old script with margin notes by Tom Cruise, cast aside? Maybe a pair of presidential long-johns? (No, that’s Jackson Hole.)

            I also wondered about the practicalities of such an undertaking. I imagined the reaction of the city fathers in my own town (Sarasota, Fla.) if the citizenry started leaving castoffs in the middle of town for anyone to take.

            Aside from the fact that items left unattended in the Florida heat and humidity either melt or are overtaken by jungle in a matter of hours, local sensibilities simply could not tolerate a year-round, 24hour flea market, even a small one, on the city streets.

            Not only did Telluride have a Free Box, the mere mention of outlawing it seemed enough to raise an armed insurrection among the populace. I made it my business to seek out this venerable institution on my next trip.  Necessity actually forced me to the Free Box.

            The Family had decided to make a pilgrimage from Fall Creek into town to hide up the Bear Creek Trial to the falls. Unaccustomed to the sudden changes of summer weather, we found ourselves stranded by a violent thunderstorm.

            We hunkered down in our 99cent Wal-Mart emergency plastic rain ponchos, in high-visibility orange, and perched under the rim of a huge boulder just below the falls.  The overhang of the boulder was slightly less than my own, so I spent an hour or so crouched under a few tons of rocks, water dripping onto my head and oozing around my boots. I personally prefer watching nature’s pyrotechnics from the safety of a dry, cozy house.

            We distracted the children from the fact that the trail is surrounded by lightening-rod sized trees by spinning a tale about the origins of the big, flat stones that cover the trail (leftovers from a bear who was carrying them up to build a fire place for his cabin, in case you’re interested.) When we finally unfolded ourselves from our roost, we were tired, cold and soaked to the skin.

            Back at the trailhead, a quick inventory of our rented chariot confirmed the worst - no dry clothes.

            Aside from a premature end to a day we planned to spend moseying about Telluride and enjoying one of its summer festivals, the possibility of pneumonia loomed large. The storm had been the leading edge of a front, and the temperature was dropping even as my groom and I exchanged light hearted invectives about whose fault it was that the sweatshirts were not in the car.

            Never on to be thwarted by circumstance or to ask permission when forgiveness would do, my son disappeared up the street and returned a few minutes later, pulling a clean, dry Telluride Blues Festival T-shirt over his head and clutching a chipped Boy Scout cup that he announced would form the nucleus of a collection of “Boy Scout stuff.”  When queried about its origins, he replied, “The Free Box.” Hypothermia overcame any residual timidity about using a local resource, and the rest of us followed. My daughter found an oversized cotton sweater and a rakish beret, and immediately became or resident beatnik for the remainder of the trip.  
            My own treasure was a fuchsia pullover that has become the staple of my camping clothing. It’s warm, comfortable and makes me easy to spot in a crowd. I also discovered after being repeatedly dive-bombed by tiny, aerobatic birds, which is a great attraction to the local hummers, who think of me as just another giant flower, rather than an aging flower child.

            Thus provided for, we doffed our wet gear, decked out in our Free Box duds, and spent the rest of the day at a magic festival enjoying a Telluride summer day. Since then, the Free Box has provided a swimsuit for a visiting relative who wanted to take a soak in the local hot springs, reading matter for inclement days, and most recently the gravalox recipe I’ve been searching for all my life.  
            In return, we’ve taken to packing with an eye for what we can leave at the box as we depart sort of and offering to insure a good and timely homecoming. I’ve come to appreciate (I think) the integral part the Free Box plays in Telluride culture.

            Everybody seems to take, and everybody seems to donate. I came to understand that it is not just an exercise in largess from the well off to the deserving needy. The Free Box is an expression of neighborliness among friends who share among themselves out of their abundance, inherent thriftiness and community.

            I’ve never left Guccis- or seen them there, for that matter. Free Box donations really seem to be pretty ordinary, but with a Telluride slant. The same well-used baby toys I remember my kids playing with turn up in the Free Box alongside a syllabus for an advanced course in physical anthropology and the latest New Age literature; ski boots with built-in heating units and first children’s hiking boots lie beside cheap sneakers with little wear left in them.

            An enterprising graduate student could do a thesis about Telluride’s economy from Free Box leavings. After all, the dearth of Waterford proves that despite its over-the-top prosperity, Telluride’s strength is in people who wear ordinary clothes and do extraordinary things. Like keep the Free Box working against the odds.