Castles, Kilts and Cows by Sherrie Hansen

I think by now, anyone who has followed my travels to Europe or read my Wildflowers of Scotland novels has figured out how I feel about castles and kilts. Although it’s a wee bit unusual to see a man in a kilt in the Midwest where I live, I saw an abundance of them at the Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games earlier this month.

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Cows dot the hillsides and valleys all over the countryside in the rural areas of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa that I frequent – castles, not so much.

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While castles and kilts are one of the main reasons I set my most recent novels in Scotland, in Sweet William, I also came home to my Minnesota roots and Midwest connections. And the common denominator is the cow.

My first introduction to the Highlander breed of cows, commonly called Hairy Coo in Scotland, was 9 years ago at a B&B alongside Loch Ness.


The owner hadn’t fed the coos their dinner for the day, so they were all gathered by the fence, waiting patiently, when we arrived to check in. When I started taking photos, she told me to pay close attention to how thick their hides were. She said they’d had heavy snow a few months earlier, during the cold of winter, and that the 7 or 8 inches that had accumulated on the backs of each coo during the storm stayed exactly where it fell for 2 or 3 weeks, until a stiff wind and warming temperatures finally blew and melted off their white winter coats. Their hides are so thick that not even their body heat melted the snow away. That was my first glimpse into why many hardy breeds of cattle come from the highlands of Scotland.

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I started watching for hairy coo wherever we drove from that point on, and included a scene with a toppled coo in Blue Belle. Michael St. Dawndalyn was embarrassed that he didn’t know more about coo even though he was from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, deep in the heart of the dairy state.


That’s only one of the Midwest Connections in the Wildflowers of Scotland novels. Although each of the characters in Wild Rose is native to the UK, beginning with Blue Belle, many of the main characters are from the Midwest.

Wisconsinite Michael and Virginia blue belle Isabelle are hiding out, hoping to escape their troubles by settling in a place far, far away from waging tongues and family dramas in their hometowns. When they discover that the world is a much smaller place than they’d thought, and it’s next to impossible to lose yourself in today’s electronic age, they end up back in the US to own up to the messes they were fleeing from.

215 Scotland - Tobermory 5

Both Violet and Nathan are from America, Nathan on a teacher exchange and Violet, on an ill-fated European Adventure. When they’re both haunted and very nearly destroyed by the past – despite their wish to create a new life for themselves in Scotland – they find that they’re made of stronger stuff than they’d once imagined.

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William, Michael’s cousin from southern Minnesota, appears at the very end of Shy Violet and steals the show with his buttery soft potato rolls and sweet Farm Boy BBQ sauce. The only one who’s not impressed is Rose’s niece, Violet’s friend, Lyndsie, who doesn’t like her meat – or her men – sweet. What happens next is like an episode of Chopped come to life, as sweet William and sassy Lyndsie spar in a charged cook-off.

Calamity strikes just when everything finally seems to come together, and on the other side of the globe, a whole new set of troubles present themselves.


Scenes set in fictional Blue River, Minnesota and at the Minnesota State Fair will make Midwestern readers feel right at home. Fancy castle or farm house comfortable, there are quirky characters that readers can relate to in each of my Wildflowers of Scotland books.

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When I started researching cattle for Sweet William, I not only learned a lot about Highland cows, but French Charolais, and two other breeds that originated in Scotland – Belted Galloway and Aberdeen Angus. Without really intending it, cows became the unifying factor between Scotland and the United States.

Sweet William Black Angus best

My nieces and nephew raise cattle and show heifers at their county fair in southern Minnesota, so I had expert advice to draw on. My niece, Victoria, educated me about the different personality traits of various breeds – which are skittish, gentle, or aggressive and likely to be mean, which have horns, and which are polled (hornless), which are able to withstand poor soil, rocky terrains and wet climates, and which produce lean meat and best care for their calves.

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When it comes right down to it, there are likely more differences in cattle than there are in people. Although living conditions, traditions and perspectives may vary from culture and country, I think human nature is pretty consistent from one part of the world to another. A reader recently wrote to me and said, “Boy, you know people. I have been practicing psychology and social work for 45 years and you must have been sitting in the office next to me. You know your stuff!” Whether I’m traveling in or writing about France, Romania, Germany, Denmark, or Scotland, I love observing interactions between people.

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I’ve been told by several readers that when I started writing my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, they missed the local color, familiar places, and quirky Midwestern characters from my first five books, which are all set in Minnesota or Iowa. If you doubt that people are the same everywhere, check out the church ladies in Wild Rose. In the meantime, I hope my local readers are pleased that Sweet William is partially set on a farm in Southern Minnesota. Wherever you’re from in the world, I hope you’ll feel “at home” when you’re reading my books.

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Filed under photographs, Scotland, Sherrie Hansen

People, Identity….. and Mattresses, by Carole Howard

My husband and I once did volunteer work in Thailand with an organization whose mission was to promote sex education, mostly with an eye toward preventing AIDS. Their primary method was to train university students to make presentations to adolescents who would be encouraged to spread the word.

The organization had two principals, May and Jee. We worked primarily with May but saw Jee every day, interacted with her, hung out with her. She was uber-feminine in the way she dressed, spoke, and flirted. “Oh, that Jee,” we thought.

At some point during our two month stay, we figured out that Jee was transgender. Not surgically, but in every other way. “How interesting,” we thought.

What we never thought, not even for a second, was “I wonder which bathroom she goes to.” The question never occurred to us. Who cared? Jee was the same as she always was, but now with a different descriptive label. She was still a woman to us, but now a transgender woman. In other words, a woman.

It occurs to me that if you meet a person and get to know him/her with a “what you see is what you get” attitude, then a change of “label” later on doesn’t really change much at all. It’s when the label precedes the person that problems can arise – even though they shouldn’t.

For example, you meet Tom. He’s warm, funny, and smart. You get along well. Later on, you find out he’s gay. Or you find out he’s Jewish. Or you find out he’s black. Or you find out he’s a loyal member of the political party whose positions you detest.

The person hasn’t changed, though the “label” has. It’s a funny feeling for you. Cognitive dissonance. You like the picture, but maybe not the frame. Whatever your reaction, it’s surely different from what it would have been if you’d heard the label first, and then met the person. Then the person would be the label and nothing more. Then the bathroom issue might bother you. Then things could get much more complicated. “I like Tom, but…..”

If only people were the opposite of mattresses, whose labels you weren’t allowed to remove or else……

*     *     *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, which is set in one of the many countries (more than 50 …… so far) to which she’s travelled.


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The Benefits (and Costs) of Being the Funny One: Chelsea Bolt


Are you or a loved one “the funny one”? If so, take a minute to read about the rewards and consequences.

PRO: Everyone thinks that you’re hilarious

Excellent. You have them eating out of your hand. The joy of the snickering in the desk behind you validates the witty remark you made in class. Laughter is no longer a fear, but a fuel that encourages you to be the funniest person alive. SNL my audition tape is on the way.

CON: Nobody wants to take you seriously

No, I am not ironically talking about film, history, or literature. I want to have an intellectual conversation with you. Please stop staring at me with a weird look on your face. Wait, no. I still don’t want to discuss politics. Never that.

PRO: You lighten the mood wherever you go

Hey! Yeah, it’s Monday. It’s the worst. Let’s go down to the local Walmart and sing Disney karaoke to every person we meet in the frozen food section.

CON: You’re terrible at funerals

I know that Hozier sang, “she’s a giggle at a funeral”, but nobody likes that. No one can put the fun in funeral. This extends to crying as well. My humor cannot reach those who are weeping. Just ask anyone in my family. That’s when I extend a 10 foot pole to comfort them.

PRO: Your wit helps you out of tough situations

Tension is uncomfortable. Luckily, a few quips can grease the wheels. Once the opposition sees how quick you are on your feet, they are bound to back down (still working on a few folks whose faces are permanently angry). Who knows, they might even want to be part of your entourage.

CON: More than once you’ve crossed the line

You know when you’ve really dealt out a zinger, but nobody laughs? Yeah, me too. That kid you were poking fun at for picking his nose in class is standing right behind you. Better yet, the entire audience just stares at you and your joke falls flat. SORRY THAT MY HIGH BROW COMEDY IS TOO MUCH FOR YOU.

PRO: Anybody can be your adoring audience

That kid behind you in line at the concession stand? Probably listening to your offbeat commentary on how George Clooney’s Batnipples singlehandedly killed Alicia Silverstone’s superhero career. Hey, even that classmate thinks you’re a riot and starts to follow you on Twitter (@theonlybolt).

CON: Sometimes you want to be left alone

I’m sure you’re thinking, “GEE, WHAT AN INCONVENIENCE TO BE LOVED BY SO MANY.” Hey, even Britney Spears needs some down time, okay? It’s okay to take a day and hollow out a canoe so that nobody can bother you. Ron Swanson is an inspiration to us all.

Chelsea Bolt is an Indigo Sea Press author of the young adult novel Moonshine. For more information check out these sites:

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When in Rome…


Twenty-seven years ago, Steve and I did a whirlwind tour of several countries of Europe in a little rented Fiat Uno over a period of 19 days. It was enough to give us a taste of several countries, but not a lot of time to do an in-depth exploration. Now, we’ve celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, and two weeks ago, we decided to do it up in style. We booked a week-long vacation in Rome.

The first day of travel was long, involving three flights from Quebec City to Montreal to Toronto to Rome, touching down at 9:45 a.m. at Leonardo Di Vinci airport. But, it was worth the effort.

We checked into our hotel and immediately set out to explore some of the neighborhood and grab some lunch (pizza and calzone, of course). After a short siesta at the hotel, we decided to go for a little walk. We eventually found ourselves in the heart of Ancient Rome. Putting aside any serious exploration because of a scheduled tour the next morning, we walked to the top of the Museo del Palazzo Venizia. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my camera for our ‘little’ walk. The view was wonderful.

We made our way back, showered, changed, and went in search of a good Italian restaurant – not hard to find. We dined on bruschetta, cheese, pasta, and wine. Oh, my goodness.


Today, we hit the road (or rather, the Metro) early and went to join a tour group for a visit to perhaps one of the best known structures on the planet -The Colosseum. It was a fascinating tour, followed by an equally fascinating visit to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.  It was hard to imagine that we were walking on the same paths as people 2000 years earlier. As we were visiting the ruins of an ancient palace, we were treated to the sound of Bruce Springsteen preparing for a concert tonight at the Circus Maximus, the first and biggest arena created in the 6th century BC. Talk about a mix of the old and the new!


This afternoon, wandering around on our own, we happened upon the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen, containing the remains of people from all corners of the world, including Percy Shelley and John Keats, the famous English poets and writers.

Now, we are once again preparing to go out and indulge in two of the things which Italian have definitely mastered, food and wine. As Carly Simon would say, ‘Nobody does it better’.

In a few days, I plan to be back again with a few more pictures. We have only started. You can check it out at my blog site


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Filed under A.J. McCarthy, Travel

Can’t Believe I Did This

Last evening as Bob and I drove to pick up dinner; we were forced to drive slowly through one of many road construction projects.  As we passed by one flagger, I looked to my left and saw a very muscular man using a wet saw to cut the pavement.  I looked over at Bob, who was sitting on the passenger side and commented, “Wow, that’s the first wet saw I’ve seen for road projects.”  Bob responded with a question, “What’s a wet saw?”

When I turned 30 years old, Bob and I moved from Champaign, Illinois to the Nashville, Tennessee area.  I had just earned my bachelor’s degree and him his doctorate.  My major was communications with a specialty in TV and film production.  I wanted to become a film director.  So, when a graduate student convinced me that Nashville was to become the next Hollywood, he also encouraged me to move there if I could.  Thus, when Vanderbilt University offered Bob an associate professor position, he took it.

We visited Nashville, before moving there.  I had an interview with the Public TV station. A few hours before the interview, we walked into a bank and opened up an account.

When I asked the beefy account manager sitting behind the wooden desk where the downtown was, he leaned back his creaky chair, stuck a large cigar in his mouth and answered, “Why, honey, we don’t have a downtown.  We’re just an overgrown cow town.”  He spoke his words with a thick Southern drawl.  I immediately felt a sickening gnaw in my belly.

The year was 1979.  My thoughts, Did we just make a huge mistake by moving here?

I went to the interview and found out fast, that Nashville was indeed, still an overgrown cow town since no one seemed to know what to do with a woman with a degree.  The station manager offered me an administrative position.

Needless to say, I wasn’t only angry I had been invited to interview with the station for an admin job; I was insulted.  Looking back, I should have taken the position and worked my way into a production position.  However, when you’re young, you have no point of reference for considering doing that.

Once we finally moved to Nashville, I began looking for work.  I was faced with the same prejudice toward a degreed woman as I was earlier.  I was not at all happy.

After all, I had spent the first eight years of my life after leaving my parent’s home working administrative jobs.  I had then put myself through college only to find myself back at square one.  I was not going to take the defeat lying down!

One day, when Bob returned home from his job in academia, he found me sitting at the kitchen table looking through the yellow pages.  He asked me what I was doing.

My answer.  “Well, if no one will give me a college level job, then, by God, I’m going to find myself a man’s job!”

I was looking in the yellow pages and calling all the labor unions in the Nashville area.

I suppose, out of curiosity and to please the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was putting pressure on the labor unions to hire women, I was interviewed by the Plumbers Union and the Electricians Union.  An apprenticeship with the Plumbers Union was six months away and one year away with the Electricians Union.  So, the next union I called was the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers.  They had an immediate opening.

The local union boss, Frog (yes, that was his name) was shocked when I showed up for my interview.  He could tell I was serious, so the next day we rode around to numerous job sites.  I’m sure he was trying to discourage me.  I wasn’t biting.  I was determined to earn more than minimum wage and learn a trade.  After all, who knew where it would lead?

A week later I showed up at my first job site.  That first day, I was glued to the foreman as he took me around the site.  I even had my brand new work boots christened as he spat a wad of chewing tobacco on my right boot.  I didn’t flinch!

Several days later, I was accepted as part of the scenery as I helped the head laborer build scaffolds, tote 8 and 12-inch blocks around the site and learn how to make mud which is the trade term for mortar.

Over those first few months, I outworked a young man who the foreman fired because I did his job and mine.  At least that’s what the head laborer told me.  He also told me I was the best worker he ever came across.  I never once allowed my being a female to hinder my abilities.  For example, as big, burly male laborers carried one 12-inch block at a time, I’d pick one up with my left arm, slap it against my hip, then pick up a second 12-inch block and slap it up against my right hip.  I was a hard worker.  I never wanted to be accused of being kept on the job because of the EEOC.  Instead, I was determined to earn my apprentice bricklayer’s hourly wage.  In the wake, I also earned a lot of respect from the males on the job.  I also learned a lot.

I learned about how males and females are socialized.  Too bad I wasn’t working toward a Ph.D. in Sociology, because what I learned would have become a hell of a thesis!

During my year as an apprentice bricklayer, I had a lot of strange things happen and was asked a lot of strange questions.  Here are just some of them.

A sheet-metal worker asked this question.  “What’s a nice girl like you doing working a man’s job?

I answered, “Trying to earn a decent living.”

He then asked, “Well, don’t you know that nice girls who work men’s jobs grow hair on their chests?”

“Oh, really?”  I answered.

“Yes, really.  What are you going to do when you grow hair on your chest?”

The unrehearsed answer just fell from my lips.  “Well, I guess I’ll just buy a razor and shave it off?”

He had no answer to that response.

Another time, I was confronted when I was working a rather unpleasant job helping to build smelting tanks for a zinc plant.  It was break time, so I was sitting by myself.  It was my first day on that job.  This young guy came over and introduced himself as Bubba.  I chuckled to myself because that seemed to be a common name in Tennessee.  It was a nickname for a brother, the family version of a brother.

He then asked me, “Are you married?”

I answered, “Yes.”

He then commented, “Well, your husband couldn’t love you very much.”

I mentally scratched my head and asked, “What do you mean?”

He tilted his head to one side, grinning like he thought he was giving a very intelligent answer.  “Well, any man who lets his wife do a man’s job, couldn’t love her very much.”

As I think of my answer, I can’t help but marvel at how it just spilled from my lips, “Well, let me tell you something, Bubba.  No one lets me do anything!

He shut up and walked away.

It wasn’t long before I was learning my trade, bricklaying.  In fact, it was during the winter months that, because I would show up at jobs men would stay home from due to the cold or snowy weather, I began working an indoor job.  The Ford glass plant needed some new assembly line ovens built for tempering glass.

I was sitting inside one of these ovens stuffing fiberglass in the slots between the bricks.  I wore a surgical mask because I knew how dangerous breathing in the fiberglass was.  Of course, thinking it marked them as weenies, the men refused to wear the mask.

As I was stuffing away, the foreman walked up to the side opening and told me one of the journeymen bricklayers invited me upstairs to help him lay bricks around an arch.  I was flattered, so up I went.  He talked me through the process and when I was finished; he complimented me on my ability to learn fast and do a professional job.

About a half hour later, a second journeyman stopped by where I was once again stuffing fiberglass and said, “That arch looks like a journeyman laid those bricks!”

That job at the glass plant wasn’t without its lessons and a good laugh I’m able to chuckle to myself over.

I was charged with working the wet saw one day.  I was cutting the very heavy, non-porous bricks for the journeymen.  At one point, a tall, John Wayne type male laborer walked up and asked me to cut ten bricks at 8 and 3/8 inches.  To myself, I panicked.

Now, I’m going to share my chuckle with you.

You see, I was raised during the 1950’s-1960’s as a typical girl.  I was taught that girls are good at spelling and English.  They are incompetent at math.  Thus, I spent my entire life scared to death of the ruler.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The ruler, i.e., the straight strip of plastic, wood, metal, or other rigid material, typically marked at regular intervals, to draw straight lines or measure distances.

I knew where the ¼, ½, and the ¾ marks were, but I had no idea what all the other marks on the ruler were, and I was always afraid to ask someone because I didn’t want to look like an idiot.

So, here I was, with John Wayne standing over me smirking at me as I took my time setting up the saw and talking to myself in my head.

I thought, Don’t panic, Maribeth.  You’re smart.  You can figure this out close enough so that the bricks are not sent back.   When you get home tonight, ask Bob to explain all the other marks.

As I took my time, John Wayne asked, “What’s the matter, honey.  Do you need some help?”

Again, my mouth said words I never contemplated saying as I answered him.

“No, I’m just making sure I set the saw up properly.  Besides, I’m not your honey!”

I disarmed him sufficiently that he never uttered another word.  He also never called me honey again; and, the bricks never came back.

That evening, I asked Bob.  “I know this sounds stupid.  But, can you tell me what all these marks are between the numbers, other than the ¼, ½, and ¾ marks?”

Bob gently explained, never making me feel like the idiot I always feared being accused of being.

My answer was, “Are you kidding me?  This is what I’ve been afraid of asking all my life?”  I then began laughing.

That was a big lesson in how the genders were socialized back in the fifties and sixties.

A year later and with a muscular body built like a rock, I was on my last job.  It was summer.

I did much better working out in the frigid cold than in the heat of the summer.  Fair skin doesn’t get along with the sun; and, so, I got physically ill a few times.

I was on the wall all the time at that point, and, the company I currently worked for was rumored to have me in mind for promotion to become a job estimator.  In fact, when I announced my resignation, the company owner did his best to try and convince me to stay.  However, I had had enough of brick laying and the construction industry.

The last straw for me was the day I walked out of a Johnny-on-the-Spot and was cheered and whistled at by a crew of roofers on the roof of a Catholic school.  It was the same day, the female principal, an elderly nun, came out into the heat to meet the female bricklayer.  It was August, and it was as hot as Haddies.  I was done, as later that day I became ill from the blistering heat.

I can’t say I regret having done that for a living.  In fact, I’m rather proud of my genuine chutzpah.  I learned a lot that year.  I learned about myself, about how females are socialized and I learned how to lay bricks.  If I want to build a brick wall, for example, I could build it.  I still have my trowel.   My lessons learned also helped me during my career in the food industry.  I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind and, later, when I worked as a meat field specialist for the Kroger Company, I was able to earn the respect of all the macho meat managers I supervised.  When I ran a large region for McCormick and Company of spice fame, I wasn’t afraid to call up a CEO of a company I called on and give him/her my thoughts on how to improve sales on my brand.  I did indeed learn to express my chutzpah, and, most of all, I learned how to lay bricks!  I could help build a brick house!


Filed under Maribeth Shanley, writing

Secret Lives by John E. Stack

Children always seem excited when they see their teachers in a different environment outside of school.  They often wonder if teachers do anything other than teach and grade papers.  They always ask teachers what they do in their off-time, because in the student’s mind the teacher lives at the school.  Even though it really seems that some do, most of us lead exciting lives, married, raise kids, and work other jobs (is writing another job?). 

What if teachers did do more than teach?  What if the middle schoolers we worked with were actually alien rather than just acting as if they were from another planet? What if….?

The above is the proposed forward to my latest submission, Secret Lives (of Middle School Teachers).  Secret Lives is my first attempt at something like a novel or rather a story other than a picture book.  We are always told to write about something you know or you are interested in.  So I did.

Let’s see, I have spent ten months a year for the last eighteen years teaching in the same middle school.  With that, I have worked around a lot of the same teachers and many new teachers that rotate through our school.  Some of the personalities are unique.  Sometimes the faces change, but the personalities stay the same.

I’ve taught close to two thousand students.  I would try to describe the normal student, but who is to say what is normal.  I have had parents ask “What happened to the sweet, little girl I used to have?  It’s like some alien sucked her brains out and didn’t give them all back.”  Or, they wonder why their sons stopped taking showers and why hygiene now means nothing.

So, I took a handful of experience (eight four-day trips to Washington, DC with four bus loads of eighth graders gives some experience), several teacher personalities, and a fascination with astronomy mixed them all together with a little humor and came out with something like a story.

God gave me a little leeway and allowed me to create a planet system around a known star.  In that system is a planet named after an Englishman named Nigel that I go to church with.  I got to determine what the people looked like and the environment in which they lived.  I also got to develop worm-hole technology.

My aliens are called Nigelians (Nigel) and they are very humanoid.  The only differences are their lack of noses and ears.  While on Earth they wear assimilation suits to disguise their differences.  They also have tufts of hair rather than a full covering.  There are other differences, but maybe you can read about them later this summer.

If you have ever been to Washington, DC, you may have passed by the Old Post Office.  I have been to the building once and even took a group of students up into the clock tower.  Most of the story takes place in DC, but the Old Post Office became the home for our school and was the center for a lot of the action in the book.

I also tried something that I haven’t really attempted since I was a boy (and that was a long time ago) — free-hand drawing.  In the military, I was trained as a architectural draftsman.  I learned straight lines and right angles.  This was something different.  I did sketches, perspectives and some doodling.  Eventually, I completed all the drawings except for one, which was submitted by a student.  I did make some changes, but gave her the credit.

I have to admit that completing this book was a lot more fun than the picture books I’ve been doing.  There was more freedom in writing, in the ideas, and my thought process felt more alive.  I also got to learn a lot about DC.

When we continue to try something new we continue to grow in our art.  And, as long as we enjoy what we do it is not a job. Keep an eye out for my new adventure.  Read, write and enjoy.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.  He is also the author of the upcoming books Cody and the Great Zoo Escape and  Secret Lives (of Middle School Teachers).



Filed under Art, books, fiction, fun, John Stack, writing

When A Car Ran Into Mum’s Kitchen… by Sheila Deeth

My mum is 88 years old. She lives on her own in a very nice apartment, in a community of over-55s. Just now though, she lives with my brother because … a car ran into her kitchen. Luckily Mum wasn’t in the apartment at the time. I dread to think what could have happened. But she and we were spared. It’s just the apartment walls and windows, not Mum, awaiting repairs. Meanwhile Mum longs for the day she can go back to her regular life – coffee and conversation with friends, a quick trip to the shops, a walk by the sea. Poor Mum.

But our own Mike Simpson, of Indigo Sea Press, has produced something to cheer Mum up immensely. When he heard of her plight, and her desire to see my second novel in print, he most generously obliged. So now I’m heading to England to visit her, carrying with me a real, solid, physical, paperback copy of Infinite Sum – I hope the reading of it will cheer her infinite sum of woes. And I hope her apartment will be fixed soon. Meanwhile, thank you, thank you Mike!

Infinite Sum by Sheila Deeth

Infinite Sum by Sheila Deeth

Then I close my eyes and ponder … I’ll carry this novel, the story of a women weighed down by childhood abuse; and I’ll confess its origins in the dedication, a story inspired by mine; and I’ll pray … Mum, it’s a tale of recovery; don’t worry about me – I learned from the writing of it – I am more than I was. I am me!

All the same, it’s scary sometimes, sharing snippets of the past. But I’ll share the dedication page of my novel here, because it tells you the truth – it tells you who I am. And I hope it tells you why you’ll want to read what I’ve written – Infinite Sum.

I’ve been telling stories since the day I learned to talk, and writing them down since the day I learned to write. I suspect I’ve been waiting to tell this story since the day a trusted adult first abused me. But Infinite Sum is not my story, and Sylvia is not me, for which reason I really should thank all the wonderful people who rejected my first attempts at this novel; Sylvia’s feelings are just as honest as if they were mine, but I think her tale is much better told because it’s hers. After all, I’ve been telling stories, fiction not fact, since the day I learned to talk. It’s what I do.

I’m also enormously grateful to my mum. She has told me repeatedly, since the day I left home, that I ought to make use of my writing skills. Without Mum’s constant prayers and encouragement, this story would never have been written. Next, I’d like to thank those generous friends who encouraged me with early reviews—in particular authors Catherine Cavendish and Paulette Maturin, and most especially mystery author Aaron Paul Lazar who applied his razor-sharp fine-tooth comb to the final edits of the text. Thank you so much!

I must, of course, thank Indigo Sea Press as well, for trusting me enough to accept a second novel after Divide by Zero. Thank you Pan Morelli for the lovely cover. And I am grateful—I will always be grateful—to God for teaching me forgiveness is not my job.

—Sheila Deeth

What do you think? Will you read it? Will my mum be proud of me?

Sheila Deeth is the author of the Mathemafiction series of novels: Divide by Zero and Infinite Sum, published by Indigo Sea Press. Watch this space for volume 3: Subtraction!


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Nixonius Rex by Chuck Thurston


As the Republic sails merrily along in this presidential campaign, I’ve been thinking about presidents past, and the contributions and liabilities they’ve left us with.

It’s a good thing that Richard Nixon wasn’t our first president. Lord knows how we’d be addressing him. In 1970, Nixon, who was preparing for a visit from British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, was concerned that the White House guards looked “slovenly,” in his words. He’d seen the trappings worn by palace guards in Europe and been impressed. He decided to try his own hand at uniform design.

He signed off on double-breasted white tunics with starred epaulets, gold piping, draped braid, and high black plastic hats decorated with a large White House crest. The result was roundly ridiculed. “They look like old-time movie ushers,” said the Buffalo News. “The Student Prince” said the Chicago Daily News. They disappeared by the mid 70’s.

Gaudy honorifics have been around as long as people have selected other people to lead and guide them, and they are fair game for satire. Author Hesh Kestin, describes the business card appellations of a fictional African potentate:

Mr. Ex-Minister The Honorable Antoine St. Nicholas Msanjende Brocade, Deputy Chief, Nzdwa Sub-Tribe (North), former Cabinet Member [Minister of Mining, Civil Engineering and Potable Water], Bachelor of Science, St. Olaf’s College, Northfield, Minnesota, USA,…

It goes on and on, mentioning Mercedes Benz ownership, National Geographic Society membership, Hotmail accessibility – you get the idea. Putting pomposity in its place is honored in American letters in spoofs such as Kestin’s – and Mark Twain’s before him.

Jim Thorpe – the great Native American athlete, tore up the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm by winning both the decathalon and pentathalon. As King Gustav V of Sweden placed the gold medals around his neck, he told him, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.”

To which Jim modestly replied, “Thanks, King!”

Given Richard Nixon’s mindset, had he been sworn in as our first president, he could have had his say in a lot of things we might be stuck with today. The story goes that in 1789, George Washington was in the middle of a discussion on how the new president should be addressed. Our early leaders were familiar with the monarchies of Europe and titles like “Your Excellency” or “Your Majesty” would have been considered. Washington supposedly quashed all that talk and told those assembled, “How about ‘Mr. President?’” It stuck, thank heavens.



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From Timid to Confident

For some time now, I’ve wanted to share with you readers just how much of an impact belly dancing has had on my life. As I look back over the more than twenty years of my professional dance career and time spent teaching my students, I can’t help but smile while thinking how changed I am from the timid, insecure person I was in the very beginning. Not just in dance, but in every aspect of my life, and I’d like you to imagine my words as an analogy for most any career.

Those who knew me as a beginning dancer probably wouldn’t say I was timid and insecure from their observations, because I was also enthusiastic and very much taken with the mystique of the dance. I, like most of us, suffered silently. I didn’t know many dance steps or how to transition from one to another. I felt my figure wasn’t ideal. I had no idea how to put a costume together or where to find the resources for costumes.  What about hair and makeup? There were so many things I didn’t know, and I couldn’t help feeling intimidated by all those dancers who were so good at their craft. Does this sound familiar?

Take heart. Perhaps if I tell you what I did, you may have similar results.

First of all, you must learn that it is all right to be timid in the beginning. In fact, that trait is helpful. It makes you try harder, want to learn more. If you live in an area where lessons are taught, take as many lessons as you can. Subscribe to publications, read articles and order catalogs that offer supplies. Attend seminars and conventions that give you the whole picture of what you have learned in the classes, and more.

As in any endeavor, networking helps. When I first started going to seminars, I took the time to write to the teacher or guest of honor, ahead of time, letting her/ him know how excited I was that they were going to be teaching and/or performing. That way, when I got to the seminar, there would be at least one person whom I knew, and it’s so easy these days with e-mail. I was always surprised when they remembered that I had written them, but you see, people love to be appreciated. Many famous dancers, I believe, are friends now, because I took the time to make their acquaintance. And the wonderful thing is that belly dancers are really great people. They are eager to teach you the things they have learned and to share their experiences and ideas. So there is really no reason to feel intimidated. Make friends with other students and with vendors, too. After all, your interests are the same.

The more you learn the more confident you become. The more confident you become, the more relaxed you are and the more you can enjoy this beautiful art form. I’ll always remember taking a seminar with the famous performer and teacher, Bert Balladine when he held his head high and told us that each one of us was a gift of God’s and we needed to dance as though we believed it. In the beginning, you may need to pretend you feel that way, (I certainly did), but as you master each challenge, it becomes easier to feel the beauty of the dance and feel beautiful performing it.

When you feel confident and beautiful in one area of your life, it’s amazing how that bleeds into other aspects of it. Because of my experiences in the world of dance and the wonderful people I have met through the years, I feel I have become more interesting, confident, sharing, and even disciplined than I would have been had I not had the courage to enter in with love, enthusiasm, and a willingness to try. So put on that smile, lift yourself up and start on your journey. You, too, can go from timid to confident.

With that said, see how you can take this “dance lesson” and translate it into advice for writing, or for artwork, or for music or science, or whatever your interests are. And have fun!


Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.





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It Never Even Crossed My Mind (Reflections of the new book, “Not My Time To Go” by Thornton Cline

When I look back on my over 11 close-call brushes with death as I have described in my new Clear Light/Indigo Sea Press book, “Not My Time to Go”, I can’t believe that I didn’t recognize until about the eighth or tenth near-death experience the possibility that something or someone was watching over me and faithfully offering protection each time. Every time, from my first close encounter at the early age of two, I felt as if I was under a curse. I felt as if the curse was following me around and perhaps I was born under a bad sign.

When I finally started paying attention, I started researching other people’s near-death experiences which led me to research the possibility of the existence of guardian angels in our lives. Then I discovered after much research and prayer that I have guardian angels who have known me before I was born. They watched me come into this world and they have been faithfully protecting me 24/7. I discovered in the book of Daniel (chapters 7-12) and Numbers in the Jewish Bible, Rabbahof, the true names of the four guardian angels here on Earth. These guardian angels of the throne are: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael. The book of Revelation (7:1) describes how the four guardian angels protect and watch over the four corners of the Earth.

I became excited and deeply inspired by these scriptures after much prayer and research. As I listened, the Lord revealed to me how I was protected by His guardian angels.

The rest is history, a striking revelation to me. Before that, angelic protection never even crossed my mind.

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