Yesterday, I Ate Too Much…

Thanksgiving is over. The turkey is a pile of bones and sandwich makings. Wickeds, what’s your favorite part of the meal? What did you eat too much of?

dessertsafterBarb: Oh my gosh, do I have to pick? Yesterday, I ate too much of everything. I think my true affection goes to the stars of the meal, the turkey and gravy. Every Thanksgiving we say, “We should make this more often,” but then we never do, so it’s always a treat. Then there’s my great-grandmother’s recipe for yellow turnips, my mother-in-law’s amazing homemade cranberry sauce and my husband’s incredible cornbread and sausage stuffing. And the desserts…But my absolute favorite things happen today and tomorrow. Today, a fantastic turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce, and tomorrow, my father’s mother’s Depression-era recipe for corn and turkey chowder. (Note: The recipe for Corn and Turkey Chowder is here on the Maine Crime Writer’s blog.)

Jessie: I loved the turkey and the sweet potatoes cooked in cider. And the glazed onions. And there was just enough room for too much cranberry sauce, homemade and canned since I love them both!

Edith: We’re actually doing Thanksgiving today, so I’m not stuffed yet, but I will be! The pies (see Wednesday’s post) will do me in, because I have to sample each, on top of already being stuffed with stuffing and turkey and blue mashed potatoes and garlic-roasted local organic Brussels sprouts (which my son grew!) and all the other parts of the meal. But it’s all good. We can diet tomorrow.

Julie: Sweet potatoes cooked in cider, Jessie? I have to try those. I roast mine, and put them in a bourbon caramel sauce. Love them. The day was a little crazy, with only one oven and lots of food that needed to be heated up. But my favorite thing this year was the pear and horseradish sauce I tried. Every year I try something new, and hope it works. This year it did! Whew!

Liz: Vegan apple pie and raw pumpkin pie (a new recipe I found this year) and both were AMAZING! Oh, yeah, I ate real food too. But the pies were way better.

IMG_1966IMG_1967Sherry: This year we went to the Officers Club at Fort Belvoir for their buffet. It’s the feast that keeps on giving and has things we would never have at home — shrimp, a lovely spread of fruits and vegetables along with all the traditional dishes plus breakfast too. No clean up but no leftovers. Julie I want the pear and horseradish sauce recipe!

Readers: What was your favorite dish this year?

Crazy Thankful

It’s Thanksgiving, and we’re all out eating and drinking somewhere. We hope each of you, dear readers, is also warm and happy and indulging in the feast of your choice with the companions of your choice.

We wanted to share something with you we are each thankful for. Not the usual: family, friends, book contract. But something unexpected. An invention that makes our life easier. Or maybe a person who ISN”T in our life. Something out of the ordinary. Take it away, Wickeds!IMG_2926

Edith: I am thankful for my balance-ball chair, which saves my butt and my back from all these hours of sitting and writing! (And I’m thankful not to have to spend Thanksgiving with a certain unpleasant person any longer…)

Julie: I am thankful for my Galaxy Note 3. Honestly. It is a mini computer when I am on the road, it tracks so much of my life, is a GPS, and helps me when I forget a recipe and am on the road. Plus, I can read from it, so it is a portable library.

Liz: LOL, Edith! I know this will come as a surprise, but I am thankful for Starbucks bold coffee to help with those deadlines. And my iPad. Which is also all of what Julie mentions above.

Sherry: I told my husband one of my favorite things is those rubber things that help you open jars. He told me that was boring. So my newest love is being able to open my phone using my fingerprint instead of typing in a password — passwords so last year. (But I still RubberHusbandlike the rubber-opener thing best.)

Edith: Sherry, that rubber thing is called a Husband!

Sherry: My husband is more carbon based, Edith.

Jessie: I am so grateful for the fun I have on I’m an avid knitter and for those of you who don’t know about it, Ravelry is basically like a Facebook site for fiber enthusiasts. People share patterns and photos. They offer opinions about yarns and tools. You can list your stash of yarn and the site will suggest patterns to use it. For knitters it is a cyber-playground extraordinaire!

Barb: Ravelry was founded by two UNH grads. My sister-in-law who manages a yarn shop is also a big proponent. I am grateful to UPS. Not only do they run the store where two little mailboxes allow me to run two little businesses (my writing business and Level Best), at this time of year they also bring me lovely, lovely boxes filled with gifts for family and friends.

How about you readers? What off-beat, non-traditional things are you thankful for?

Wicked Wednesday: Thanksgiving Traditions

IMG_3104On Wicked Wednesday today, we’re all writing about our most cherished Thanksgiving traditions.

Barb: This year we’re having Thanksgiving at my husband’s sister’s house. She’s our most frequent hostess and experience shows in the beautiful day she always makes for us. There will be 20+ of us, most of my husband’s five siblings and in-laws, ex-in-laws, outlaws and friends. I love the way the meal reflects the way this large clan has come together. Everyone contributes something, frequently from their own traditions. It’s a long, crazy day, but somehow it always works.

Liz: That sounds lovely, Barb! Our Thanksgiving traditions have become simple over the roastturkeyyears – stay home and celebrate. The animals are getting their own turkey this year, which I’m sure they’re hoping will become a tradition. The humans will stick with something vegetarian.

Jessie: My family has different traditions highlighted depending on which household is hosting the event. For the last several years one of my sisters has generously provided a vegetarian spread which has included things like twice baked potatoes and root vegetable pot pie. They may not be traditional for most families but they have become beloved by ours. This year we are holding the meal at my house where the menu includes an old tradition from my father’s empadaoside of the family. His grandmother always made a chicken pie for Thanksgiving using Pilot Crackers, chicken and a lot of cream. My husband added to the chicken pie tradition with a recipe for a Brazilian variety called Empadao which features onions, olives, tomatoes and a buttery crust.

Edith: Emapdao sounds fabulous – save me a piece, Jessie? On this, my favorite holiday, I always make pies. Two pumpkins, an apple, and a ApplePiepecan. This tradition goes straight back to childhood, when my mother and then my older sister would make all the pie dough, and each of us girls was responsible for one kind of pie. I also brine and roast a local turkey, and the stuffing for that goes straight back to childhood too: sauteed onions and celery in lots of butter, then add a mountain of shredded stale bread, turkey seasoning like sage and rosemary, and chopped walnuts. I’m getting hungry! The best tradition is having both my sons home, of course.

Julie: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Usually by now I am well into prep mode, but I have been/am in book jail (edits due very soon!), so every spare moment is spent writing. Nonetheless, traditions are a must. Making pie has always been a tradition that I learned from my grandmother. Now I share it with my nieces, and am teaching them her recipes. We also make cranberry relish together. Another favorite tradition is leftover day with IMG_3107friends. Trying to figure that out this year, but it will happen, even if it ends up being a second mini holiday.

Sherry: Since we were a military family and in different places every few years we don’t have a lot of traditions. From year to year there would be different faces at our table. One year many of our friends’ husbands were deployed and Bob was the only male in a sea of females. IMG_1938When we were station at Naval Post Graduate school in Monterey we had many international friends and invited them for Thanksgiving along with American friends — families from Romania, Hungary, South Africa, Brazil and Botswana. After dinner we sat outside around a fire pit a neighbor brought over. Someone asked us to sing an American song. Pretty soon all of the adults are standing and doing the Hokey-Pokey. It was so much fun.

Readers — Friends: What are your traditions?

All the Barbara Rosses

by Barb, baking pies and getting excited about Thanksgiving

Ross coat of armsBarbara Ross is my real name, though I often think if I’d known then what I know now, I would have published under a pseudonym. No, the problem isn’t shelf placement. Ross does put me on one of those very bottom shelves you can hardly peer into at Porter Square, my local bookstore in Massachusetts. But it pops me onto an excellent eye-level shelf at Shermans, my local bookstore when I’m in Maine.

The problem is there are way, way too many Barbara Rosses. I’ve been aware of this for a long time. It’s been my name all my life. I’ve never used my husband’s surname. When I was a kid, there were five Barbara Rosses registered at the local pediatric practice. In adulthood, for a dozen or more years, the local PBS station has mined some humor, and probably some dollars, but having their fundraising calls to me made by another Barbara Ross. Locally, there’s also a Barbara Ross who’s a nurse, whose class reunions I am regularly invited to, and a Barbara Ross who’s an accompanist, who must arrive at a lot of empty rehearsal halls because the calls cancelling the engagements are sitting, unheeded, in my voice mail.

GoopsAs to the Barbara Ross authors, there’s one who writes for the Daily News and other outlets in New York City who has one or more by-lines every day. And there’s Barbara Ross, the modern-day adapter of the classic children’s books, including Goops and How to Be Them: A Manual of Manners for Polite Children. Then there’s the Barbara Ross who co-wrote Anaesthetic and Sedative Techniques for Aquatic Animals and the one who co-wrote Stony Brook University Off the Record: Students Tell It Like It Is. And the one who wrote Sick And Tired Of Being Sick And Tired.

I am none of these Barbara Rosses.

Ross is the 80th most common surname in the United States and Barbara is the 4th most common given name, so I suppose this is all inevitable. Barbara has never had a resurgence, like some other “a” ending names like Isabella, Anna, Sophia, so all Barbara Rosses are between age 50 and death. I have a Google alert on my name and am regularly sent my own obituary.

One of the things I’ve noticed about Barbara Rosses is that while we are rarely famous, we are more frequently “fame-adjacent.” Here’s a run-down so you’ll see what I mean.

Dr. Ross-Lee

Barbara Ross-Lee

Barbara Ross-Lee: If you Google Barbara Ross, this is the one that will pop up. She is an osteopath and is currently vice president for health sciences and medical affairs and dean of the School of Allied Health and Life Sciences at the New York Institute of Technology. She is one of only six or seven female medical school deans and the first and only African-American woman to lead a medical school in the US. Pretty impressive, right? But even as the best known Barbara Ross, Dr. Ross-Lee is fame-adjacent. Her younger sister is the singer-actress-diva, Diana Ross.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Barbara Ross Rothweiler: Another name you’ll find Googling, Dr. Rothweiler is a licensed psychologist, with board certification in neuropsychology and rehabilitation psychology. Again, not shabby. But she is also the daughter of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross MD, who wrote On Death and Dying, and defined the five stages of grief.

divergentBarbara Ross: Another Barbara Ross is an Illinois-based artist who is best known as the mother of Veronica Roth, the now twenty-six year-old author of the Divergent Trilogy, Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant, which have sold over five million copies and have been made into a major motion picture franchise starring Shailene Woodley.

Sisters, mothers, daughters. I don’t know what to make of all this fame-adjacentness, except to predict that someone close to me is going to become very famous.

I’ve always had a weird, dissociated relationship to my name. When people ask, “Are you called Barb or Barbara?” I answer “both,” but the truth is, I don’t know. I respond when called without consciously processing the word. I’m told that both I and my second cousin Barbara Jean are named for my mother’s, mother’s mother, but she died before my mother was born, and I’ve never actually confirmed that even was her name, since there seems to be some debate about it.

I’ve felt a little closer to Ross, which must be why I’ve kept it. There’s a Ross in MacBeth, and a coat of arms and a tartan. But one of the things I like best about it, is that between the Scottish diaspora, and the many people who’ve simplified German or Jewish or Russian or Polish or Italian or Spanish or even Japanese names to Ross, a Ross can be anyone from anywhere in the world.

So reader, what about you? Is your name common or un? Do you love it or hate it? Would you like to see it pop up as a character name in the next Maine Clambake Mystery? Leave a comment and let me know–it just might happen.

On Silence

Edith, on the frigid North Shore

As we head into busy, noisy holidays, my thoughts turn to silence.


Photograph of Amesbury Friends Meeting worship room by Edward Garrish Mair.

I am accustomed to silence. I have been a Quaker for twenty years. We sit joined in silence on Sundays, only occasionally broken by a message someone among us feels moved to share. Not everyone is comfortable with this form of worship. At one time I brought someone to Meeting who fidgeted his way through the hour. He’d been raised a high Episcopalian, and church for him meant somebody else creating an hour full of sound and activity.

At home, we hold hands before meals for a moment of silence, which for me is always filled with blessing and gratitude, and which I usually want to continue for longer than my hungry partner does.

When I walk, I don’t listen to music or news through earbuds and I rarely walk and talk with others. While it’s not exactly silent, I have the birds and rustling leaves to cushion rivewalkfallwhatever thoughts might arise out of the quiet solitude; sometimes those thoughts are plot inspiration, which only happens when I’m out alone. I treasure my long walks up Powow Hill or out along the Powow River on the rail trail.

Silence is perhaps most valuable when I’m writing, though. I live with someone who is fond of playing music from his large and eclectic CD collection pretty much all the time. We also both like to listen to NPR news and talk shows.

But I find that I have to turn it all off (and ask him to turn the music volume down) when I want to write fiction. I need to hear the characters’ voices, to be able to heed their thoughts and intentions. For this, it has to be quiet. Preferably I’m alone in the house, but living with IMG_2925a self-employed person, that doesn’t happen very often. I’m fortunate to have a lovely office of my own with a door that closes tight, though. And I use it!

Oddly, I am able to write in coffee shops. Maybe it’s so much bustle that it turns into white noise.

(A version of this post appeared on my first blog in 2010.)

Readers: What about you? Do you need quiet for your creative endeavors? Do you prefer a bustling noisy surround? Or a mix tape?

Ask the Expert — Kim Fleck, Social Media

Today we welcome Kim Fleck, social media expert! Thanks for joining us, Kim!

1. How did you get your start in social media?

IMG_1832Prior to starting Brand Fearless, my social media business, I was an educator for almost 15 years; most of those years were spent as a Special Ed teacher for students with emotional, behavioral and learning concerns and for a short time as an art teacher. My masters is in Special Education with a focus on behavior. I have a BFA in broad based studios and art education as well as minors in women’s studies, history and grad courses in art therapy. My life journey shifted after a serious medical situation and I decided to take my talents and various interests and reinvent myself. I have been in love with social media platforms for years, Instagram being my favorite. Brand Fearless came about in January of 2014 after working on my own platforms and author Liz Mugavero’s for a long period of time and then taking on all the social media platforms for the Wu Healing Center in CT and MA. I did lots of research into social media trends, latest books on the topic and joined online social media groups to learn more. It is a never-ending learning process but one I thoroughly enjoy. The idea of marketing so many different platforms for change, utilizing digital photography and being creative each day really resonates with me.

2. What are three things we should know about your area of expertise?

IMG_1833There are endless areas to focus on as a social media specialist. There will never be enough calendar days or hours in a day to target them all. In addition to taking the pulse of each platform, there are three areas I think are super important. 

A. Remain true to your brand. Effective content will vary widely but should consistently answer the question “Who are we?’ You must know your message, know your audience and spin the perfect story from your own intimate knowledge of your brand. 

IMG_1838B. Develop a deep understanding of how YOUR audience uses social media, then create content targeted to the platforms you use to tell the “right story” at the “right time” in order to capture their attention and then, most importantly, maintain it. Every time you engage you strengthen your connection to your audience. Stay fresh and relevant.

C. When creating your platform make sure it is attractive, think about design, tone and aesthetics. The beautiful thing about social media is there are so many different platforms to utilize that allow you to highlight different aspects of your brand and tell your story in various formats. 

3. What do people usually get wrong when using social media?

I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is getting something “wrong” but I think people are often under the impression that they can just jump on any given platform for a couple months, throw some content up and get a few likes, retweets and shares and that means they are all set. It is as if they think they will immediately see a huge ROI (return on investment) and everyone will flock to their website or business and purchase whatever it might be their brand is trying to sell. Social media platforms need constant attention. You must listen, spend time looking at trends, insights and learning your demographics. The idea is to use your creativity to showcase your brand and keep it relevant, not just charge out of the gate, IMG_1839bring in a few customers and then close up shop. People will often start off engaged and excited but then they lose interest, or time becomes too tight and then their platforms suffer. You must interact with your audience especially on platforms like Facebook or Twitter otherwise in the case of a platform like FB you will fall out of someone’s feed and your brand’s future visibility will suffer because of it. Remember it is not all about purchases, it is about building a following, a loyal community and later the purchases will come. Tell them stories they want to hear and make it simple, meaningful and relevant. Keep your audience’s best interests in mind and make the connection.

4. Is there a great idea you would love to share?

IMG_1835I think re-blogging, retweeting, sharing, liking, favoriting, pinning and engaging with various platforms similar to yours can be very helpful. For instance in the writer world there are often many cross over audiences. The  same holds true in the animal rescue community and the wellness community. I find this is spot on for almost all brands especially restaurants, breweries and small businesses. It is wise to watch what others with a similar “brand”  are doing and learn from their successes and mistakes. Also platforms that support one another’s efforts and highlight each other are often seen in a positive light by audiences. Share another brands book release, adoption event, community activity. Retweet a tip, giveaway or quote. Like a business Facebook page, follow on Instagram, like a post and comment. Again, it’s all about positive connections. 

“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.”
― Albert Einstein

Readers do you have a question you’d like to ask Kim about social media?

Never Stop Learning

By Julie, freezing in Boston

This week we held a social media workshop at StageSource. My job for the evening was to welcome the attendees, thank the presenter,  lock up afterwards. I mean, I know how to use social media. What could I possibly have left to learn? I sat in the back, and brought my knitting.

I took five pages of notes.

Mary Liz Murray of Streamix Consulting reinforced what I knew. But she also updated me on some new tips and tricks, had an excellent list of best practices, and introduced me to a few new products. (Hello Feedly, I suspect we are going to be great friends.)

51CEI9FeruL._AA160_At Crime Bake, I bought Paula Munier’s new book, Plot Perfect. I plan on reading it after my edits are done on this book. It’s not that I don’t know how to plot, it’s that I can always use some new insights on what to think about.

Just this week I started a series of sessions at AGM’s Nonprofit Learning Institute. I teach the subject at Emerson, but this time I’m a student. I’m already inspired by the conversations, and can’t wait to have more conversations. And I know I’ll learn a ton.

I’ve been thinking about how fortunate I am to have opportunities to learn what I already know, or at least thought I did. I had a professor once who referred to it as adding to your toolbox. She talked about how critical that was, since the same set of tools didn’t always work for every situation, and often they stopped working all together after a while.

So what does that mean? I have three tips to share:

If you are a writer, you have to keep learning. It is part of the job. And not just research learning. Craft learning. So go to that workshop, or stream the lecture.

Be open to learning new things. That may make you uncomfortable, since it may mean you need to unlearn old habits or ideas. But how great is that?

At some point, your knowledge base will be obsolete unless you keep adding to it. This is easy to understand thinking about the computer industry, where programs are outdated all the time. But the same is true for you. For a long time you can live with internal upgrades, but once in a while you have to reboot.

This doesn’t only hold true for writing. No, indeed. What recent workshops or classes have helped you rethink old lessons long ago learned?