England from the POV of a Former Resident

by Beppie Harrison

I lived in England—in London, to be precise—for 10 years. Have lived on this side of the Atlantic for the 40 after that, but now that the kids no longer need to be brought with us (expensively) we go back nearly every year, to spend time with old friends and family. They are, regrettably, also getting older. But we were all young together, the ones who were old then now being the stuff of memory, and we do enjoy many of the things we enjoyed then, plus getting more amusement out of simple things like kippers on toast with tea in front of the fire. Although we usually go in the summer or early fall, this being England, the weather is often optimal for a fire even then.

But I am endlessly amused by the differences between my experience of London as an ex-resident compared to what it was when I lived there. Take the Tower of London as an example.  When living there, I got so tired of taking visiting relatives and friends to the Tower that in the end (the last couple of years) I would take anybody so inclined to the Tower, smile cheerfully, point at the entrance, and pick them up an hour or two later. I found the charm of the Beefeaters, the ravens, and even the execution site of Anne Boleyn paled after the first ten exposures. However, when we took our granddaughter to the Tower a summer or two ago, I was of course charmed to escort her. AND we had the added benefit of the fire brigade showing up with sirens and smoke! It seems one of the guards at the Tower (or his wife) who live in one of the cottages overestimated the amount of time it takes to produce toast and instead of whipping it out of the toaster at the correct moment to be allowed to grow cold (but crisp, which is what the English require) the guard or his wife left it to eventually burst into flame, and . . . . Although I think it’s unlikely that any toaster could set a stone cottage afire in a row of stone cottages, the Tower is something special, and obviously they had to make sure it was safely extinguished.

Then there is the matter of the Underground. In Central London the Underground is the only way to get about, unless it amuses you to watch the fee for the taxi ratchet up and up into infinity, presumably, as you and the taxi sit in virtually unmovable traffic. But guess what they’ve done!  When I was there, there was the sensible Circle Line that chugged around the middle of London and the other lines intersected it here and there and occasionally crossed with lines that extended into the suburbs. Even the extreme suburbs. They did add a line while I was there, with great publicity: the Victoria Line. I rode on it proudly at least once. Well, while I’ve been gone they’ve gone nuts and added a whole new bunch of lines. Two or three at least—probably more. But the Circle Line no longer circles. It’s interrupted by one of the new ones, and at some point to continue your circular tour of the bowels of London you have to get off and change to another train. And then again to get back on the Circle Line. Are they trying to confuse me?

Then there’s the price of things! My goodness. Now I imagine that prices have gone up a trifle here in the USA and since I’ve been around to notice it, it hasn’t struck me as suddenly, but in England it’s ridiculous! When I took my oldest daughter in her pram (pram=perambulator=baby buggy) to Kew Gardens it cost thruppence—3 pennies. That covered carriage (the pram), occupant (my daughter), and attendant (me). I just checked online and the present fee for entrance for an adult is 13 pounds, plus 75 p. A child under 4, as she was then, is still free. But from 3 pennies to 13.75 is shocking! Other prices seem to have risen commensurately. Our house in the village of Kew, which had 3 floors but was only 14 feet wide, is presently worth uncomfortably close to a million pounds, because it’s so close to London. I guess we can’t really move back.

But the really odd part is that I’d still want to. Of course having a fat bankroll to take with me would be comforting. And I’d have to learn about the money all over again: the pound notes I remember (and still possess a souvenir to keep) are no longer legal tender. They are now a coin. I remember that when I first moved there the 10 shilling note—half a pound—was roughly equivalent to a dollar: it helped with knowing what I could afford. So is the five pound note I remember no longer in circulation: they have smart new ones. But the money changed while I was living there. In fact they went to decimalized (sorry. decimalised) currency when I was in hospital producing our first daughter. Most unfair. I came out of hospital with a firm grasp of pounds, shillings, and pence and had only pounds and new pence in my purse. I remember at the counter in the bakery the next day pulling out a handful of miscellaneous coins and asking the kindly woman with my loaf of bread in her hands to pick out whatever it cost. And she did.

But at least those kindly women—and some wonderful cab drivers and bus conductors and passersby on the street and even the occasional shop assistant—are all still there, as I remember them when I first came all those years ago. And our friends, who have had the tact to become white-haired and wrinkled in places as we are and remember the right things . . . they’re still there, too.

Guess we’ll go on going back.



Time Goes On

by Ruth J. Hartman

This past weekend, my husband and I drove my parents to a family reunion in Tennessee six hours away.  It was a fun time, getting to be with relatives we hadn’t seen for years. Although every time we’re together, we have more wrinkles and ailments, once we start laughing and telling old stories, the years melt away. It’s only when we look at past photos that we see the true mark of the passage of time.

Every year, our clan goes to a different relative’s house for the get together. This year was my brother’s house. Last year, it was mine. Next year, a cousin. It’s never the same group twice. Things come up. Illness. Work. Prior commitments. But it’s always a joy to see whoever can make it. I don’t know about you but being with my family is the only place I ever feel like I truly fit. All my quirks and weirdness finally make sense when I see the shared traits in cousins, aunts and uncles. Like we have a special, shared secret only we can be a part of.

Of course, looking around the room, it was hard not to notice who wasn’t there. A special aunt and uncle, who live too far away to make the trip any more, were sorely missed. The last time I saw my Dad’s sister two years ago, she’d mentioned that she didn’t know how much longer she’d have on this earth. It makes the sweet conversation we’d shared even more special to me. The older I get, the more I appreciate the advice and wisdom of those older than I am.

While my aunts and uncles are now in their seventies and eighties, and cousins are anywhere from fifty-sixty-seventy, there were a couple of new, bright lights this year.

My cousin had brought along her two grandchildren who we’d never met. One boy, two and a half, and his little brother, six weeks. I’m sure it won’t surprise you to know that every single pair of eyes in the room was on those two little boys. The joy they brought to everyone’s face was heartwarming. We went from comparing knee pain and house repair stories to turning our rapt attention to new little relatives who made us laugh at their smiles and giggles.

It’s amazing how God renews not only the earth, with its seasons and changes, but brings to us the hope of new beginnings and the joy of things yet to come within our families. Take time to enjoy those you love. Our time on this earth is only temporary.


Michaelmas and the Beginning of Autumn

By Barbara Bettis


I love Autumn or Fall. Growing up on a small farm in the Midwest, I always had plenty to do come September and early October, when the crops came in from the field and the garden. Our corn bin and silo filled up. Our kitchen still overflowed with late fruits and vegetables, canning jars and freezer containers. At least one hog and calf were culled to butcher. We kids picked up walnuts and pecans to be cracked and picked out during the long winter nights. (Ostensibly, we would. Dad usually did that while he watched his TV shows before an early bedtime). Our high school class made money for our senior trip by picking up corn left in the field after harvesting. And the rural communities had Fall Festivals and other celebrations.

Never once did I think about the history and traditions surrounding the end of growing season and those lovely celebrations featuring apple butter and jams and corn mazes and community cook-outs. When I was young, this time of year was fun…but it led up to the really fun time at the end of October—Halloween.

Not until later history classes in school did I learn about the autumn traditions that flourished in earlier periods. The Middle Ages, for instance.

medieval harvest

The end of the growing season and harvest was celebrated around the autumnal equinox. It was one of four ‘quarter days’ in Medieval England when debts were due, land purchased, servants hired—a settling up day.

It also marked the beginning of Michaelmas Term at Oxford and Cambridge. The Courts had a Michaelmas term, as well.

The medieval autumn celebrations combined many pre-Christian traditions marking the end of growing season and the preparation for the lean and often treacherous days of winter. It was a long time before the next crops would be mature enough to eat, and people didn’t have the luxury of canning their surplus. So whatever could not be cured or dried or kept deep in the cool ground couldn’t be retained for use over the next five months.  Even many domesticated animals would be headed for slaughter later in the season for the simple fact that there would be nothing for them to eat. Only a handful of necessary animals were kept as a beginning herd for next year.

This seasonal celebrations of plenty saw community gatherings with food, drink, bonfires, and other various interesting activities of the season. (Scotland saw horseraces.)

With the coming of Christianity, this autumnal equinox observation was tied to a Christian Feast Day—that of St. Michael. Thus Michaelmas (the Mass of St. Michael).

st. michaelSt. Michael, of course, is the primary warrior angel who is said to have driven Satan from heaven. He protects against the dark. And since autumn ushers in the season of shorter, colder days and longer, darker nights leading to winter, such an association is understandable. Bad things are more likely to happen in the dark, so people needed a strong defender against that darkness and evil.



Unfortunately, myths say, when Satan fell from heaven, he landed in a bramble or blackberry bush. He cursed it, spit on it, stomped on it, and…um…did something else to it that would make the berries inedible. So blackberries are not to be picked after Michaelmas Day.


devil spits(1)

In some traditions, a goose was eaten on that feast day (if one were wealthy enough to have geese—otherwise, chicken would serve.) In places, the day is known as Goose Day. Nottingham, England, celebrated a goose fair on Oct. 3. It still does.

In fact, the Nottingham Goose Fair is going on right now. It runs from Oct. 3-Oct. 7 this year. According to the Visit Nottinghamshire website, the “Goose Fairis one of Europe’s largest travelling fairs with a history that dates back more than 700 years.”

These days, Michaelmas is celebrated on Sept. 29. But before the change in calendars from Julian to Gregorian in the late 1500s, it was held around Oct. 10 or 11.

So as I look back on those days spent scalding tomatoes in huge pans on the stove and hand-sieving them for thick, smooth juice,(Mom was very particular—no food processors for her) or salting down pork in the smoke house at my great-grandparents’ farm, I realize I had it good. And history shows just how good that was.

I thought I was working hard. But I was making wonderful memories.

michaelmas daisy









One Last Time

By Jenna Jaxon

I already know the coming year will bring many changes for me because I’ve decided to retire from my full-time job as a university professor of theatre to pursue writing full time.

Last year was a very stressful one for me because basically I was working two full-time jobs at once. In addition to teaching a full load of classes, I also directed three theatrical productions, including a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which seemed to have a cast of thousands (actually 19 but felt like a lot more). change is coming curtainWhile doing all this, I was also writing two full novels and a short story, editing two other novels, and doing promotions for I don’t know how many books.

The upshot of it was I was frazzled beyond belief by the time this past May rolled around. With my writing career beginning to take off in a big way, I made the decision that the 2018-2019 academic year would be my final one. I expect the whole year to be bittersweet, each class I teach being the “last one” of its kind, the final production possibly the last one I will ever direct.

And the lyrics of George Washington’s song “One Last Time” from the musical Hamilton, keep resonating in my mind:

One last time
Relax, have a drink with me
One last time
Let’s take a break tonight
And then we’ll teach them how to say goodbye
To say goodbye
You and I

If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on
It outlives me when I’m gone
Like the scripture says:
“Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid.”
They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made
I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree
A moment alone in the shade
At home in this nation we’ve made
One last time

Next year will be hard in many ways because it’s always hard to say goodbye to something you’ve put a good portion of your life into. I’ve been at the school since 2001, hired five days before the world changed for good on 9/11. I’ve been happy there, hopefully changing the lives of my students for the better.


But now it’s time to move on.

To say goodbye.

One last time.


Dreams Do Come True

By Jenna Jaxon

This past June marked several anniversaries for me. My 27th wedding anniversary, the 22nd anniversary of my daughter’s birthday, what would have been my parent’s 70th wedding anniversary, and the two year anniversary of receiving my first print contract with Kensington Publishing.

The latter anniversary is forever present in my memory because it happened on June 21st, 2016 on my and my husband’s 25th wedding anniversary. We had gone to a lovely French restaurant in Williamsburg to celebrate and were just being seated when I got a text from my agent, the wonderful Kathy Green, who informed me that the Senior Historical Editor at Kensington had made an offer on the first three books of my Widows’ Club series.dct

And as quickly as that one text arrived, my dream of having one of my books release in mass market paperback came true.

I’d been writing for eight years, had self-published five novellas and had published two full-length novels through Kensington’s Lyrical Press ebook line and had just received a contract for two more ebook from them. Even with all those releases under my belt, the dream I’d had since picking up the proverbial pen in 2009 had not been realized until that moment.

It takes hard work and dedication to make your dreams come true. It takes getting up at 6am to write for an hour before heading into your day job. It takes time away from your family writing because you have a deadline. It takes receiving rejection after rejection from agents and editors (my first novel got 47 rejection letters before an editor at Lyrical Press accepted it).

But dreams can come true. I am here to tell you. If you persevere, they will happen. In April of 2016 I finally got the call from Kathy Green, who I’d been subbing to for years, and who wanted to represent The Widows’ Club series. Another dream come true.

Follow your dreams. Follow your heart. And my greatest wish is that they will take you to your happy place as they have taken me to mine.

dreams arrow (2)

Vacations Aren’t Always What They Seem

by Ruth J. Hartman

This summer, my husband and I will be traveling to see my sister. While many people are heading to Florida, South Carolina, or some other warm exotic location, we’re heading in a different direction. Literally.


We’ve been there several times before, always having had a blast. Two years ago, I even got to cross an item off my bucket list when we drove four hours from my sister’s home to visit Mount Rushmore. What an incredible sight!

This visit, we’re doing something different. For part of our time with my sister and her husband, we’re driving an hour from their house to the Big Horn Mountains.

To camp.

When I was a kid, we camped every year in tents, and then my husband and I did the first few years after we got married, mostly because we didn’t have enough money for hotels. Honestly, I never thought I’d camp again. But my sister, who is an avid hunter and fisherman, loves it, and thinks we’ll love it too! I’m willing to give it a try. From pictures she’s sent, their campsite is in a gorgeous wooded area right next to a stream where they fly fish for rainbow trout. My husband is very excited about that part!

However, this camping trip will be a little different than others I’ve taken. There’ll be an outhouse, which I was used to, since our grandpa used one and that’s all he had when we visited. But, apparently, there aren’t any shower facilities.

At all.

Guess I was expecting the usual communal shower house that all the campers shared. Not that I ever loved that, but I was surprised when she told me this didn’t even have one of those.

Then, I realized that the parts of the trip that might be difficult for me (can you say, OCD?) will be small compared to what we’ll experience. Time in the quiet mountains, next to a stream. Wildlife. Cooler temperatures.  Making new memories. But most of all, time spent with my wonderful sister who I love more than I can say.

And that, is priceless.


Hurdles Are a Part of Life

by Cathy MacRae


Hubby and I are anticipating a move out of state in the next 8 to 12 months. That’s rather bittersweet, for we love the house we’ve lived in the past 3 years, he loves his job (of course, I do, too, but I can write anywhere, right?), and we’ve made good friends here. But life changes.

It was exciting for a while. We had a great time looking at houses online, wondering what (and where) we’d move into. Mountains? Desert? High Plains? Coastal views?

And then reality struck.

18_05_26_Rezso Freki Gunnar

We have a house to sell. What if his new job started before the house sold? Would I stay here until it did? We have 3 dogs. It isn’t likely he could care for them—he’d probably be living in an apartment until I could join him. So, just me and the dogs, then. (And the cat, but he’s an easy keeper).

18_05_04_Flowers moving


And I’d be giving up the gardens I’d nurtured for the past 3 years. Roses, iris, day lilies, a wispy shrub I love that enjoys the heat called Russian Sage. Tomatoes, grapes, blackberries, strawberries. Fresh herbs. I potted what I could and prepared to move them.

15_05_05_Front flowerbed W

After talking to a realtor, I realized being available for a house showing at a moment’s notice (or an hour or so, perhaps) was out of the question. Keeping the house sparkling clean for days or weeks on end was not going to happen. I’m a decent enough housekeeper, but it would destroy my sanity trying to polish and dust and sweep and mop ….. We’re a household of muddy paws, nose prints on the windows, and dog hair dust bunnies that appear when you’d swear you just vacuumed. Clearly not the best way to show a house to potential buyers.


So, we decided to take a year while hubby completes his job-hunting and rent. That seemed a relatively stress-free way to go. But it wasn’t.

Again with the dogs. Big dogs. Rambunctious, dig up flowerbeds, chew on the porch rail dogs. Realtors shook their heads.

Then, against the odds, we were offered a house. They even installed new flooring only days before we moved in. (Thank goodness! The carpet was terrible). The house has no flower beds to speak of (which made me sad) but that means the back yard is free from worry that the pup will dig up expensive plantings. And the dogs were shrugged off without comment. It’s only three blocks from hubby’s office, which beats the 40 minute drive he used to make daily. And though it’s much smaller than our other house, we’re learning the benefits of down-sizing.

18_05_03_Rezso new house on rug

We’re now waiting for our ‘old’ house to sell. But there’s a peace to know that when it’s time for us to move, we’ll be able to pull up stakes and head out. What will we find on the other end? We’re excited to find out!


by Beppie Harrison

Do-overs. What an ambiguous concept.

There are, of course, those things (there’s an ambiguous word!) that can be done over and those that can’t. For example, my sister was married at home. She fancied her procession to the living room would be down the staircase on our father’s arm. This would have worked better had she not missed her step and fallen down the last third. Fortunately she was not damaged, but she and our father had to retire to the dining room for her to get her hysterical laughter under control. By the time they came into the living room everybody else was laughing as well. No do-over possible there.

As it happened, the second the service was over (I think before the groom had a chance to kiss her) she turned to face us all and said, “I’ve never been to a funny wedding before!”

But as any writer knows, given a manuscript lying haplessly before you, that do-overs are not only common but practically inescapable. Sometimes it’s just a sentence or two that needs deleting and replacing with more splendidly crafted words, but all too often there is an entire section that turns out to have deviated from the plot into wild wilderness from which there is no way of returning.

The trouble with writers’ do-overs is that they seem to progress in defined stages. First comes the vague dissatisfaction with the way the prose is coming out. Second, re-reading and the sick realization that this will not do at all. Pause there, quite often, for bleak despair. Conviction that the writer is not a writer at all, but a charlatan who should concentrate on writing letters to Mother, all else beyond observable capacity. After suitable pause, which may last hours or years, it becomes apparent that x number of pages must be destroyed to get back to the point when the story had some life. Which is when the do-over begins. Do-overs commonly begin in hopelessness, but when successful lead to rapidly rising spirits followed by sheets of much more satisfactory manuscript being produced. Often these do-overs lead to successful completion but inevitably in some cases there are do-overs of do-overs.

Do not believe writers who claim this happens to them every single time. Nor should you believe anyone telling you that it never happens.

Do-overs or the possibility of a do-over are a gift of time. Sometimes the gift is a gift of gold, sometimes only marginally better than the first time. But do not dismiss the opportunity without thinking about it. Where would we be had Eve been given a do-over of that fatal bite of the apple?






What Flowers?

by Barbara Bettis

We’ve had some wonderful posts here lately about Spring and the inspirational greening of trees and grass and the burgeoning of beautiful blossoms.

I’ve been inspired.

Yep, I recently purchased an azalea plant, two knockout rose bushes, and assorted other plants to be gently nestled into the earth.

My hope blooms….but my flowers likely won’t. Not if I put them in.

little gir with wilted flowers-1

I don’t know why I do this every year. I have no talent for growing flowers–or even the ability to learn, apparently. All those books and magazines and online articles that tell us, step by step, how to nurture fabulous flowers? I follow those instructions and still…I fail.

A few years ago, when I was strapped for time, my son volunteered to plant my annual sacrifice to Spring. Do you know that everything he planted not only grew, but flourished! In the same place I’d planted and failed, he planted and the flowers thrived.

After that, it became his ‘job’ to put out anything new every spring or fall. And he agreed to take care of the wonderful rose bushes that he’d nourished. (Forgot to tell you, when I cut back the rose bushes that I had planted, they died. He did it, same time of the year, they did wonderfully.)


Poor plant-1

So…last night I called my son and asked if he’d set out the new flowers for me. Of course, he said yes. (Don’t sons have to?) Now that I’ve moved into town, I don’t have room for a lot of new ones, but a few of my favorites, here and there, will make me happy.

I’ve finally conceded that there are some things I just can’t do, try as I might. I should have given up on growing green several years ago, when my sons were still in high school. One day, one of them looked at the ivy plant on our coffee table and said, “Mom, have you even considered silk flowers?”


wilting flowers-1

Happy Spring!





Re-inventing Myself

by Jenna Jaxon

Ten years ago I was quite content with my life—or so I thought. I was working in a job that I loved, directing shows in a university setting, watching my daughters grow up, minding my own business so to speak. But an extremely stressful production caused me to become gluten-intolerant, quite out of the blue.

Six months later, to my surprise, I had a rush of energy and creativity. It was January of 2009 and I was frantic for a creative outlet. I was in Barnes & Noble and happened to find a discounted copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s final romance, Everlasting. I had not read a romance in over twenty years, but I loved her book The Wolf and the Dove, set in the medieval period (my favorite) and so I picked this one up because it was also set during that time. I loved this book as well and read it almost non-stop.

I remember clearly finishing it at my desk at school, standing up to put it with my things to take home, and thinking, “I could write something like that.” I sat down, pulled my keyboard to me and started writing the book that would become my first novel, Time Enough to Love. That was January. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote during rehearsals. I wrote at night when I got home. I got up early and wrote in the morning. Chapter after chapter.

Then, on July 28th, 2009 I wrote The End on my magnum opus, all 187,000 words of it. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing as I wrote. I just wrote. And it was god-awful writing, but I didn’t know that at the time, so I kept on writing. I started another novel, and then another set of characters started yelling at me to write their story, so I did, finishing that one in only two months. I sent that one out to agents and got a total of 47 rejections over the course of two years as I revised and revised and revised it, until it was finally accepted by a small publisher, Lyrical Press.

And by the time that happened, though I don’t think I realized it at the time, I’d begun to think of myself as an author rather than a theatre director. Theatre was and is still important to me, however, I have reinvented myself until now I think of myself as an author with a day job, rather than a college professor who writes. I’m about to flip the two jobs—a complete do-over—and become a full time author in about a year. Re-inventing yourself can sound like a scary proposition, but I say go with it—you never know where you may end up!