Posts tagged with: Cassondra’s blogs

The Magic *Ping*

Last year about this time I told my close friends and the people I work with that I didn’t want to travel in the spring of 2014.

Ping airplane2I have several trips I usually make at this time of year.  Been making those trips for six or seven years now. For y’all who might not know, spring is the start of conference season for writers, and there are all kinds of events for readers–luncheons, teas, weekend events where readers meet writers…you name it. 

I LOVE those events.  I love meeting and getting to know people.  I love readers and I love talking about books.

Beyond that, I get together a couple of times a year with a few of the other Banditas  to talk about our books, throw around ideas, and brainstorm new books and series.

It was hard to say, “I’m not traveling in the spring next year.”  Because tPing bulbs 2014hat meant other people had to bend their schedules for me. 

But it had to be done.  Because each year when I’ve had to leave during March, April or May, I’ve mourned.   I realized last year that each time I’ve been gone in the spring, I’ve missed something really important.   This past year I knew I had to make a change.   I need to be home in the spring for a specific reason.

This is when the creative magic happens for me.  The magic *ping*– that moment when the soul resonates with something so profoundly that you just have to stop in your tracks and soak it in.  It is those moments when you feel the kind of deep peace that reconnects you to who you are.  It is the moments that heal you–the kind of things that awaken your creative soul. 

ping bulbs 2014 5The most powerful *ping* for me is found right here in my own yard. 

It is watching my flowers bloom as soon as the weather turns warm.

Something revives in me as I watch the world come to life in the early part of the year.  With the awakening of the earth after the dearth that is winter, my soul comes alive as well.

Maybe it’s that I love flowering bulbs just about more than any other blooming plants.   There’s something  reminiscent of the eternal about planting bulbs in the fall and having them bloom the following spring.  It sparks some magic inside me. 

Sinking bulbs into the cool earth during the death of autumn, to wait through the long, cold winter, and have those bulbs sprout into a glorious, colorful resurrection in the spring…

That does it for bulbs 2014 2

I’m not the least bit religious any more.  But it’s a little hard for me to not believe in a creator when I see that happen.

This winter was a long, cold one here in the United States.  At least in most parts of it.

I’m really, really glad that I have this season with no travel.  I’ve been able to witness the glory of the resurrection of nature and my garden every day so far this year.   It has awakened the creator in me.

I asked Bandita Donna what does it for her.  She said,  The ocean.
There’s something about the tide coming in and the eternity of it that soothes my soul.  And the sound..
.I love the sound of waves.  Definitely the ocean for me.”

I feel the same way about the ocean, actually. Sometimes I use a recording of ocean waves to lull me to sleep at night.   But I live in landlocked Kentucky, so don’t see much of the real thing.  I have to travel to get it. 

So I asked Bandita Jeanne what did it for her.

“Buildings,” she said.  ” Old ones.  Imagining what to do with them, where they could be utilized.  Renovation, of course.  Adaptive reuse.  :>  Houses. Gardening.  Hanging with the dogs/walking with them. Cemeteries.”

All of those except cemeteries do it for me, too.  No wonder Jeanne and I are evil twins.

Every writer has ping bulbs 10some kind of background story. Some upbringing that made him who he is today, or  life events that have shaped her into the storyteller she is.  For me, it is my childhood on the farm, what I learned from the old folks around me, from working with my dad, and from gardening with my grandmother, the one us grandkids knew as MotherGrant.  

MotherGrant was a creator in her own right.  She had a green thumb.  Shorthand for a gift for growing things.  She had an 8th grade education (that was considered graduating when she was a girl) but she could mix a little sunshine, a little water and a few seeds with a bit of dirt and her own magic, and with that concoction she could create the most beautiful garden you’ve ever bulbs 2014 3

I’m not her.   I’ve got a higher degree in horticulture, but I’m not that good.  

Still, when I put my hands in the dirt, something happens.  I can feel her beside me, urging me on, telling me just how deep to cover the seeds, and just how much water they need. 

Maybe it’s that connection with her that makes me need the spring so much.   I dunno.  But when the winter starts to give way to warmer weather each year, I start watching for the bulbs to emerge from the ground, and when I see the green shoots grow and spring into glorious blooms, the creator in me comes to life.   I feel the *ping.*

I took all these photos (except for the jet) in my yard tonight.  And with every moment I was out there, I felt more whole.  I felt that *ping* of “Yeah, this is who I am.”

ping bulbs 2014 8What about you, Bandits and Buddies?

What do you look forward to in the spring?

Is there some place, like the ocean, or the mountains, or some activity like skiing, painting, knitting, or playing with your grandkids, that connects you to your inner self, lets you hear your muse, and brings you peace?

Maybe it’s a town, hearing certain music, or maybe even a person that brings you back to the core of who you are, and makes you go “yeah, all is right with the world for this one moment.”

What is it for you that makes the magic *ping*?

No use of photos without written permission by owner. All flower photos © Cassondra Murray.  Jet photo–Wikipedia.

A Pet By Any Other Name…

I had all kinds of pets when I was little.

My first dog was Princess. She was a pekingese mix, and she came with that name already installed. I got her when I was three and she was three.  I grew up as she grew old.  She was my best friend.  


Since I grew up on a farm, I also had “my” chicken, Henny Penny, and “my” cow, Rosie.  I had a pony named Peanut (name also pre-installed). 

Kittens were Chocolate and Vanilla. Yeah. Bet you can’t guess the colors.  And more kittens, Salt and Pepper. 

Hey, at least I was consistent.Pets box turtle wiki

I had a box turtle named Tortie for one summer.  Tortie was just a young turtle I found in the woods on our farm.  He enjoyed the fruits of our garden for a few months, then escaped his enclosure and went on his way.  Even then I knew that Tortie was not the best name for a turtle, but I hadn’t figured out how to come up with good pet names at that point. 

Look at that turtle over there on the right.  He could carry a name like Sophocles or Vladimir or Plato.  Any of those fits that face I think.  Regardless, even if he were only a summer guest, he would certainly deserve a far better name than “Tortie.”

I had a hamster and also had many fish in my small aquarium.  All of these had names, but I can’t remember them.  Probably because they were not, in the least, extraordinary names.  

pets parakeet free imagesI had a parakeet.  Can’t remember the parakeet’s name either.  That was too long ago.  I don’t *think* I named it Tweety.  But as you can see, I was not particularly creative when it came to naming animals.

Then I grew up, and I noticed that the cool people had really cool pet names.  And I knew right then that I was lacking.  I determined to repair this breach.

These cool people, I observed, were actually paying attention to their pets—to the personalities—before they gave the animal a name.  Growing up on a farm, where most animals were livestock, this had simply never occurred to me.

As an example, one fun couple I know rescued a baby kitten from a gutter and named him Velcro.  You know how little kittens can’t control their claws—they stick them out and then don’t know how to pull them back in at the appropriate time?  Yeah…Velcro would walk across the back of the couch with his claws out and it sounded like…well…Velcro.

Another couple we know have three awesome cats, Mieko, Oliver and Dexter.  I don’t know where the names came from, but I have to say, each name fits each cat perfectly, and as cat names go, those are awesome.

In every book I’ve written, animals are part of the cast of characters.  They just walk on stage.  And my human characters do a pretty good job naming them.  In the first book I wrote, there is a cat named Emperor, named for his high and mighty attitude.pets white mouse free images

When my husband, Steve, was a little boy, he had a mouse named Cleopatra,which is quite a lofty name, even for a sophisticated, white mouse, but Cleo accidentally got sucked into a vacuum and met an untimely end. 

All the other pets Steve had as a child involved scales or fangs and (often) eight or more legs. *Shudder.*  So quite often they had no names.  Steve had allergies, so no cats or dogs allowed.  

Steve’s brother did have a red-tailed boa named Moses.  I have to admit that Moses was an extraordinarily good name for this snake.  With his forked tongue and deceptively easygoing manner, Moses had the look of someone old and wise. Someone who could part waters or smite anything that pets chinchilla wikineeded to be smitten.

I know a young lady with a cute chinchilla named Chester.  If you ever met Chester, you would realize that his name suits him perfectly.

So when Steve and I got together, I was determined that if we had pets, we would have to up our “naming” game. I wanted us to be “cool pet name” people.

Our first cat was named Bullet (We were both shooters, and she did shoot around the house at high speed). Among our many pets was a huge male rottie named Bismark.  Yes, he was that big.  Another rottie was named CareBear. We also had an escape-artist Border Collie-Sheltie mix named Houdini. ??????????????????????

There was a cat named Max (after Max from Where The Wild Things Are) because as a tiny kitten who weighed only three-quarters of a pound, he started wild rumpuses in the middle of the night. I later learned that Max is the most common cat name of all.  But I didn’t care, because it fit him so perfectly. That’s Max over there on the right.

A lot of pets have crossed the Rainbow Bridge since we’ve been married.  Max is one of those.  They have crossed the bridge accompanied by a lot of our tears, and (I believe) met by their brothers and sisters who’ve gone before.

Our most recent losse???????????????????????????????s were Jager—named by Steve because it means hunter in German, apparently, and Jager was a Search dog who hunted for lost people—and Majik, my SAR dog, who we found under a table at a closed-for-the-season store.  He would answer only to that name, so it became his.  Jager is there on the left, with thKali in cratee blue tag.

We still have a lot of pets.  More than we need.   More than we can afford, really, but it’s hard to turn them away when they come to your door needing help.

There is Kali, the German Shepherd.  She’s on the right there, in the crate. She came with a pre-installed name.  And there is Mako, Steve’s SAR dog.  We took him for free from a puppy mill to keep him from ending up as pit bait.  He’s named after an actor.


With the cats, we started a few years ago with good intentions.  There is Amon, which is Egyptian for “faithful and true” (and she is).  She’s there on the left.???????????????????????????????

And there is Umbra—the darkest part of the shadow in an eclipse.

Umbra is there on the right as a baby.


MishraThere is Mishra on the left.  He’s named after a Bengal tiger who won our hearts at a cat sanctuary we visited.  Mishra is a Savannah, which means he’s huge.  His tail is 17” long. Even so, he thinks of himself as a much larger kitty.  


And we have sweetie pie, Holly Grace.  It’s a dumb cat name I think, but no matter.  Holly has earned her place in our home.  If you want to read about how Holly came to be with us, I wrote a blog about her a long time ago. It’s called  The Little Gray Cat. 

Aaaannnd after Mishra, we ran out of steam with the pet names.MommaKatt pregnant but not showing

A wayward kitty came to our door a few years back, needing help because she was in the family way.

Her name?  MommaKatt.

Yeah.  Not too creative.  But in our defense, we were dealing with four baby kittens in our bathroom at the time.   That’s MommaKatt on the right, pregnant at the time, and before she would let us touch her to bring her inside.

Recently we’ve had a new addition.  Another kitty came to our house in the dead cold this winter. It was below zero and he was outside, sitting there, looking in the door. 

We caved like a cheap suitcase.

We have a small house. And WAY too many animals already.  We are becoming the crazy cat people.

Tiger KattAnd we have run out of energy with the pet names.  The well is empty.  This new addition got the laziest name yet.


Yeah, he has some stripes, and his face is wide like a tiger’s.  He’s a tom cat.  Well..he WAS a tom cat.  Ahem.

So tell me, Bandits and Buddies..

I’ve blogged about pets before, but I didn’t ask your pet’s names.

If you grew up with pets, what were their names?  Did you name them?  Or did someone else?

Do you have pets now?Kittens

Where did their names come from?

Are you a “creative” pet namer—one of the “cool people”?  Or are you like we are recently—just giving the animal a name for reference?

Here is a picture of the babies that were born in our bathroom.  Four little beauties.  All of them have good homes and awesome names. Clockwise from left to right is Elphaba (Elfie), Embers, Olive, and at the bottom is our Mishra.

Do you have a “method” for naming pets?

Any favorite pets from books or movies?  If so, what were their names? 

Is there an author you love who does a good job including pets in his/her books?

If you could have any pet you wanted, with no worries about care and feeding, what would you have?  And what would you name him/her?

This Is For The Birds

Have you ever picked up a bird? 

I’m not talking about a chicken or goose.  They’re heavy. 

Birds15 cardinal croppedBut have you ever picked up a fallen cardinal or sparrow?

They.  Weigh.  Nothing.

I know this because every now and then one will hit the window and get knocked out cold.  When that happens, we run outside and search the ground, and if we find the bird, we give it water from a dropper and try hard to get it flying again. 

Honestly they are nothing but pure spirit–pure energy wrapped up in a bunch of brightly colored feathers and a small bit of skin.

They are nothing but bits of  fluff suffused with exuberant life. Little miracles, really.

I think of them as the ornaments on God’s Christmas trees.Birds 16

So when I realize how fragile they are, how almost “not there” they are, it stops me cold to also realize that they manage to survive through a winter. A winter where there is hardly any food, and what food exists, is hidden and must be searched out, and where the cold wind howls like a banshee at ten below zero or colder, and the birds must ride it out clinging to the limbs of trees, with FAR less body weight to generate heat–far less fat on their bodies–than I have. 

I would freeze to death in one night.

But they don’t. 

If y’all have been reading my blogs for a while, you know I believe in a Creator.  I don’t much care what you call said being…God, The Great Creator, The All That Is, The Higher Power, Source…heck, I don’t care if you call it the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  I’m not picky about the name or the philosophy.  But I’ll tell you, that even if I did not believe in God, the fact that those tiny birds can manage to lSnow on November 25th 2013 SMALLERive through hard winters?….Yeah. That would make me believe.

Something has to help them.  Something a lot more powerful than I am.

So I figure if God can put those little creatures here for me to look at, to remind me that if they are provided for, then I will be too….well…then I can do a little something in return. So we feed the birds year-round, but in the winter we try to do more for them, and when it snows, we notice the impact our small effort makes.Birds 6 smaller cropped

We had our first serious snow on Sunday night. The  photo up on the left, above, was from last November, so you’ll have to picture it twice that deep.  Two inches of ice, with two inches of snow on top of that.  Not so much as compared to what many of you have experienced this year.   

I’m in Kentucky, and yeah, I have some southern sensibilities, but honestly we’re not anywhere near the deep south.  Our entire way of life does not come to a grinding halt when someone spies a snowflake.  A lot of businesses close down, but many keep right on going. I can drive on snow and ice and haBirds 13ve been doing so since I was a kid. 

Still, for the past two days, the birds have been practically knocking on our door.  “Excuse us, but could you put out more food RIGHT FREAKING NOW?”

We have six or seven bird feeders.  But they’ve been empty for several years now.  We figured out a while back that the birds can more easily get the food if we just scatter it on every available flat surface.  The deck, the rocks that line the flower bed, theBirds 14 top of the grill, and best of all…the picnic table.

Honestly, our picnic table hasn’t been used for human food for at least ten years.  It’s now a rotting wooden table that I use to pot flowers in the summer, and the rest of the year, it’s a bird feeder.

That photo up on the right is of a woodpecker and a tufted titmouse on our feeder table.  NOT in this snow.  Unfortunately my camera froze (alongBirds 8 smaller cropped with everything else in my world) and would not take pictures.  So I had to dig out old ones.

We also figured out that we don’t need all those fancy “bird seed” packages.  We feed suet from midwinter through spring, but most of the time we buy Chicken Scratch and black oil sunflower seeds in 50-lb bags.  Almost every bird can find something it likes in those two bags.

That pBirds 5 smallerhoto on the right is a mourning dove on the table.  Can you see the dog food in the background?  We put that out for the jays.  They flock to the table in overwhelming numbers, and they’re big.  They like the dog food, so they stay near the edges mostly, and leave the middle open for the little birds.

That’s a closer shot of the woodpecker on the left.

My “office” is really in my dining nook just off the kitchen.  (Not too far from the coffee pot, as it happens.)  I sit at my small dining table and on my left is a window that looks out over the bird feeder tablOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAe.  So when I need a break from the computer screen, or when I’m having trouble with writing, or heck, just every now and then when I’m daydreaming, I catch myself staring out the window, watching the birds on that table.

That photo on the right….that’s what it looks like in the snow.  You can see a bird feeder hanging from a hook behind the table, but there’s nothing in it.  That’s the picnic table there in the foreground, and another small table we put out if the little birds are getting bullied.

Yes, we’re suckers.  And that’s okay with us.

Bandits and Buddies, do you like birds?  (I know a few people who don’t like birds at all.)

If you do like birds, what kind is your favorite?

When I go to big cities, I’m irresistibly drawn to the pigeons, even though I know they’re a nuisance.  I always want to buy food for them. (Told you I was a sucker.)  Anybody else out there who likes pigeons?

Does your city allow you to feed them?

Birds 7 smaller croppedThat’s our cats on the left, by the way.  They’re sitting in the window, watching the feeders.  Obviously, they are also quite concerned with the welfare of the birds in our yard.  This concern for birds must run in the family.  *grin*

What kinds of birds come to the feeders in your area?

Do you have feeders at your house or apartment?

If so, what kind of food do you put out?

Any other bird lovers out there?

Confessions of an Image Junkie

Do you get any magazines?

Magazines Progressive Farmer I’ll admit right here in front of everybody that my relationship with magazines is love-hate.

When I was a kid, the Sears and JC Penny catalogs were known as “wish books” in my house, and that was not meant as a compliment.  But the moniker didn’t stop at the edges of the catalog.  Magazines were also known by that name.

My dad’s Progressive Farmer magazine was not considered a wish book, because it contained information he needed. Nor was my monthly issue of Highlights. 

Do any of y’all remember the Highlights for Children?  MHighlights magazineom ordered that one for me as soon as I learned to read.  It was full of all kinds of stuff for kids. Mom approved of Highlights because it was educational.

As an aside, I am so very grateful that my mother was dedicated to making sure I learned, and to feeding my incessant curiosity by pushing library books and other stuff to read–stacks of it–on a weekly basis.

But as for the brightly-colored magazines on the racks in the grocery stores?  She wasn’t too keen on those particular wish books.  Like many folks who’Magazines Horse & Riderd lived through the difficult, early part of the 20th century, mom didn’t, then, waste time staring at, or wanting, things she believed she could never have.  She still doesn’t, for the most part.

When I was a pre-teen and  could ask for my own magazines, I wanted Horse Of Course.   Throughout my teenage years, I went through pretty much every horse magazine available.Magazines this old house

As a teenager, I subscribed to Seventeen, but I was still more interested in Better Homes & Gardens and its ilk, because those were full of decorating and remodeling ideas, and ohhh yes, beautiful food. 

It’s true. From an early age, I was a Martha Stewart Mini-Me.

Then I got married, and could indulge my lust for magazines with no gatekeeper to say “no, you don’t need that.”  At one time, we had as many as eight or nine magazines coming to the house.  National Geographic, Martha magazines horticultureStewart Living, Horticulture, Food & Wine, Family Handyman, This Old House…you get the dea.

I realize that eight or nine magazines is not much compared to the number that many people get every month, but for me it was a lot.  There was not time to read all of those, though I tried. 

Finally I realized that they were lying there, unread, and I let every one of Magazine martha stewartthem expire.  I just didn’t have time, and there was no point in paying for what you wouldn’t use, right?  After all, in my ongoing quest to declutter, I needed less “stuff.”  Not more.

A couple of years ago I discovered Pinterest, which was wonderful because I got to choose the best of “magazine stuff” that fit me, without the paper copies. 

This past fall, though, something happened.

magazines garden & gunDuchess Jeanne was sending me something in the mail—something I’d forgotten and left at her house.  When the box arrived, she’d included some fun little surprises, as she is wont to do, and among those surprises were some magazines.

There was a copy of Garden & Gun, a Southern Living, and (be still, my heart) a copy of Garden Design from May, 2012.

The front said “Perfect Courtyards” in big blue letters. I fell hard.

And I remembered how much I used to love reading magazines.

Okay confession time.  One of the first romance novels I ever read was a novella printed in a women’s magazine.  I still remember that story, though I don’t remember the author or the title.  The powers that be say people don’t want longer content in their magazines now, but I would argue with that.  I loved getting a taste of a new author as a short novel in a magazine.  However, I can’t argue with the lack of time to read.

Time was, when my This Old House arrived each month, that entire evening was devoted to reading it, cover to cover. magazines old house journal Not any more.

Back then, when I got a free afternoon, I’d go to Barnes & Noble, get a fancy coffee, and spend a couple of hours just flipping through the magazines, letting the gorgeous photos relax me and spark my muse. 

But I now understand that I am an image junkie, and wonder if I should feed that with magazines as I once did.

I still haven’t read all the way through the copies Jeanne sent, because bottom line, I  have almost no time for just plain fun, recreational reading.  But I’m thinking maybe giving up magazines entirely has been a mistake.Magazine Food & Wine

When I pulled those beautiful copies out of Jeanne’s box, I remembered how much I love just turning the pages.  Having the flow of lovely, perfect images skip across my mind. 

I get images from Pinterest now, but it’s not the same.  There are no articles to go with them.  And pondering a computer screen is not the same as having it in my hands.

What I love in magazines has remained constant for many years.  Gardening. Remodeling or restoration.  Food magazines.  Those are my poison.magazines fine homebuilding

At the moment, all I have is a subscription to Fine Homebuilding that a friend sent me as a gift, but I gave in last month and re-subscribed to Food & Wine because the recipes are always so good.

I’m considering taking the plunge and going for the mother of all monthly “wish books,” Southern Living.  I’ve never had a subscription.

The trouble is that when I get a magazine like Southern Living, with all those lovely pictures and ideas, I never want to get rid of it. So they pile up.

 What about you, Bandits and Buddies?

magazines southern living Do you like magazines?

Do you read paper or have you gone the online route?

What magazines were in your house when you were a kid?

What are your favorites now?

Do you subscribe to any?

Are there other Southern Living fans out there?

Anybody else out there an image junkie like me?

Let’s talk magazines.

Name That Rock Band….Literally

Yesterday I was fixin’ dinner and Steve (my husband) was puttering around the house, feeding the fur children and picking up in the living room. 

I pulled a casserole dish out of the lower cabinet.  I was planning to make an Indian-flavored dish that mixes casserolecouscous with a veggie sauté, and I needed the dish to bake it. 

Steve walked through the room and saw me holding the white dish in front of me, staring at it. 

Steve:  What?

Me:  This would make a good name for an indie pop band.

Steve:  *Raises eyebrow*

Me:  *waves dish in front of him* The name of the band would be Casserole Dishes.

I pulled out another dish and held it up.  “Ceramic Pie Plates,” I said.  “That one would be harder rock.”  Steve laughed out loud, and we proceeded to spend the next five minutes naming rock bands.

We’ve done this regularly since we started dating, though I don’t remember another instance when it centered on cookware.

I don’t know when rock bands started naming themselves based on off-the-wall imagery like Crash Test Dummies, Smashing Pumpkins and Black Eyed Peas, but it seems to be a contest for making your band name stranger than any other.

Fine Young Cannibals, for instance.  I love this song.

Some of the band names Steve and I have come up with have required a vow of silence.  We’ve never spoken the names out loud to anyone else, because they’re so good.  I don’t know why we’re saving them, exactly. It’s not like we have a business where we get paid to name rock bands.

Hey!  Maybe I’ll have some fictional bands in my books one day, and I’ll use those names.

Some arbitrary ones we’ve come up with are Barbed Wire Fence,  Pinwheel Fans, The Little Red WagonsTricked-Out Truck (that’s probably a country band though–or maybe Hip-Hop), Fine ChinaRat Rod Wipers, and Rolling Cooler Buddies.  

I love that last one. *grin*

I know a guy who is an awesome, uber-gifted, trim carpenter.  whirled_peas_sticker_oval from cafe pressHe’s a bit of an old hippie, and when we met him, he rode around  in a ratty old van with a bumper sticker on the back.   The sticker was a parody of the “Visualize World Peace” bumper stickers that were everywhere  several years ago.  This one said, “Visualize Whirled Peas.”

We laughed out loud. Then I looked at Steve and he looked at me, and at the same time we both said, “Rock Band!”

When I was a young woman, music was my whole life.  I was a chick singer and a songwriter.  I traveled around playing gigs all over.

Even now, music permeates every part of me, including my fiction writing.   There is almost always music on at the house when both of us are home.  I make a home-cooked meal nearly every night.  When I start to fix dinner in the evenings, I pour a glass of wine, and then I start Pandora as a prerequisite to chopping, peeling, grating and sautéing. 

Are y’all familiar with Pandora?  It’s an internet phenomenon. You create your own radio stations based on the music you like.  Bandita Trish once did a whole blog about that here in the lair, I think.  You can find out about Pandora, and create your own stations free, here

Frank_SinatraI have about ten different stations, and I pick one according to my mood.  A lot of times, if I’m making dinner, it’ll be my Easy Evenings station–oldies–torch songs by Doris Day and Sinatra, or it’ll be one of my Celtic or Bluegrass stations.

That said, I can’t write fiction—or anything else really–with music ON in the background, because I  get so distracted by it. If it has words, you can just flat forget it.  You won’t get anything out of me at all.  I’m too busy focusing on the lyrics.

Hey, there’s a name for a rock band. No Focus

Or what about Dirt Nap Daisies? purple squirrel

Tractor Greese

Ceilin’ Fan Blades.

Ravioli Radishes

Lectric Can Opener

Fo-To Copies

Purple Squirrels

Yeah, when I get going it’s hard to stop me.

Sometimes I like my rock band names so much, I wonder if there are already bands by that name.  With the explosion of indie rock, I wouldn’t necessarily know.

Incidentally, I have a sort of mental “sound track” for each of my books. And each book has a featured song.  It’s the song I hear in my head when I think about that book.  I’ve seen authors actually put their “sound tracks” on their websites, so fans can see what inspired the books.

Seems like the more off-the-wall the name is, the more apt a band is to adopt it.

Dirty ProjectorsDirty Projectors, for instance.  That’s a real band name, and they were recently listed as one of the all-time most influential indie rock bands.  I’d never heard any of their music. *hangs head*  But I looked them up since I found their name, and they’re really good.  You can listen to them here.

So much music. So little time.  And that’s only speaking of rock.

So…I have Pandora stations.  I can also carry thousands of songs on a tiny iPod the size of a matchbook.  Plus, more and more cars come with satellite radio (mine doesn’t have it).  But one thing I refuse to give up  is radio. 

Not that I like commercials.  I don’t.  But I recognize that they pay for a certain kind of programming I can’t get anywhere else.  And my favorite radio show is Nights With Alice Cooper. It  comes on the local classic rock station a few nights each week.  Legendary rock star Alice Cooper plays his favorite music, complete with opinions and his anecdotes about playing big stages with the people on the records.

I have a particular memory of Alice Cooper reading a fan email on one show.  It was from a fifteen-year-old girl who loved Alice’s music, and who’d started a garage band with two or three of her girlfriends.  She asked Alice’s advice about two things.

First, she told him she was having trouble writing songs, and she realized it was important for any good band to write its own songs. 

Alice told this young lady to write about what she knows.  High school. Boys.  Broken hearts. Fun with friends.  (Funny, that “write what you know” thing is exactly what we authors are told when we’re first honing our writing craft.  Isn’t that interesting?)  He told her not to try too hard to write about adult stuff–stuff she had no experience with.  That way her songs would be honest and have the ring of truth.

Second, this young lady said they were having trouble coming up with a good banalicecooper2009d name, and she asked if he had any suggestions.

Alice gave her a name that was absolutely perfect.  Granted, he may have had that email earlier in the day, and had time to think about that, but even so, he pondered for a moment right there on the air, and he said, “I think a good name for a rock band of young high school girls would be the Toasted Pop Tarts.”

I had to pull over to the side of the road and just sit there for a minute.  Alice Cooper had just raised the bar for naming rock bands.

So, Bandits and Buddies…

Do you like music?

If so, what’s your favorite kind?

Do you have any favorite bands?

 What’s the weirdest name for a real band that you’ve heard.  (Even Country music has some strange ones.  When I worked in Nashville, a well-known club band played around town for years. They were called the Lounge Lizards.)

If an author you love puts a sound track on her website–something that relates to her books–does that interest you?  Do you like to hear the music that inspired that book or those characters?

Now let’s play a game.

I’m sitting at my kitchen table and can look around me right here and come up with a few band names easily.

Canned Tomatoes

Hi-Arc Faucet

The Flower Pots

The Dirty Floors (yeah, it’s the truth. My floor is disgusting.)

Big Hairy Dogs

The Space Heaters

Okay it’s your turn.  Help me come up with more cool names for rock bands.

Close your eyes and turn around.  What’s the first thing you see?  Make it into a band name.  You can do one, or a bunch.   Let’s have em!

Whirled Peas sticker from this store at Cafe Press.

What lurks in your subconscious mind? Ask Kelly L. Stone

I first met Kelly Stone via Dianna Love. 

Then I got to know her when we met at conferences, and found out that  Kelly wears a lot of hats.  Among her “jobs” she’s a licensed therapist and a fiction writer, but she also has a series of books about how to break through blocks, use the subconscious mind to find answers to life questions, and tune into the inner self. 

I was hooked.

Whether you’re a writer in a knock-down-drag-out fight with a character or plot, or a teacher trying to figure out whether this is the right  time for that big job move–the one that will take you from Boston to AKelly Stone photolbuquerque–Kelly’s techniques work, and they’re fascinating.

Sven is behind the bar, and the regular lair staff is on hand to serve goodies.  Bandits and Buddies, Find out about the creative struggles and  inner workings of your favorite authors as we welcome Kelly L Stone to the lair.

Cassondra:  Kelly, our Buddies love to get to know our guests.  Will you tell us where you grew up, and  how you came to your love of books and writing?  Was creativity encouraged in your family?

Kelly: I grew up in a one-traffic-light town in the panhandle of Florida. Creativity wasn’t necessarily traffic light 2encouraged in my family, but I’m fortunate that many of my relatives are talented and practiced their various crafts on a regular basis- in my immediate family there’s an accomplished oil/water color painter, two musicians (piano and flute), and a published author-all this creativity rubbed off on me. I saw discipline and artistic struggle first-hand.  Probably the greatest influence on me  was my late father, who was the most prolific reader I’ve ever known. He regularly encouraged and praised me for reading books.

 Cassondra:  *takes a glass of Cabernet from one of the Hockey Hunks*  What’s your first memory of books?

Kelly:  *accepts her glass of club soda*  Going to the public library with my father when I was four and being literally in awe of the place; the world seemed vast and full of infinite possibility.

 Cassondra:  I can relate to that.  If it weren’t for the library, I’d probably be a different person…or a different kind of person.  Do you remember the moment you first wanted to write?  What was that like? 

booksKelly:  I don’t recall it being a conscious decision necessarily–as a kid, penmanship and literature were always my favorite classes at school. Going to the library was my favorite activity and that’s where I usually spent my summers.

Making the shift from reading to writing seemed natural to me, and I gravitated to it without much conscious thought. In my interviews with other authors, that’s seemed to be the pattern- most writers are drawn to books and reading at an early age, and then naturally move to writing out of a love for all things books.

 Cassondra:  In your About Kelly section of your website, you mention that as you grew older and  went to college, then moved to work, life began to intrude on the creative process for you.  I think this happens to an awful lot of creative people, whether they want to paint, sculpt, play music, design and build furniture, or write novels. 

Will you talk about that time in your life, and what was happening?

 Kelly: It was what I call my *Burning Desire to Write* stirring to life; I was in my early thirties and devoted very little time to my creative process. I did some journaling here and there but didn’t see my way clear to how a person could write for a living. I had no sense of how to publish a book or even get started with writing; I just knew I was frustrated and needed a creative outlet.  Looking back, I think I recognized on some level that I needed a plan for getting started and the discipline to make the plan happen.

 Cassondra: How did you get yourself going again?Stone Time To Write

Kelly: I started researching how to get published (this was before the days of the Internet, so this research was the old-fashioned kind- in the library with the card catalogue).

I decided to try my hand at magazine articles first because articles didn’t take as long to write as a book.

It just so happened that I was also at this time volunteering with an animal welfare group that was working to strengthen animal protection laws. I had this idea that the work this group was doing would make a great women’s magazine article. As I mention in TIME TO WRITE, all you need in one good idea. So I took that idea and ran with it.  I wrote a query letter to Family Circle magazine; it was accepted and resulted in my first published piece in January 2005. 

Shortly after that an essay I wrote got published in Chicken Soup for the Sister’s Soul. These two events gave me a lot of encouragement.

 Cassondra:  I just don’t see people with “accounting block.”  And I have no doubt that accountants use just as much of their creative brains to solve problems as do writers, painters or landscape designers.  Why do you think writers and artists—those in “creative pursuits” are more commonly affected? 

Kelly:  It’s because you’re creating from scratch-you’re making something out of nothing, and that’s hard to do. It stirs up all your fears and self-doubts.

Cassondra:  Interesting.   There must be an awful lot of us trying to write and getting stuck, because you have  three titles centered on helping writers move forward with their projects.  Tell us about those?

Kelly:  Yes.  TIME TO WRITE: No Excuses, No Distractions, No More Blank Pages was written after I published my novel, GRAVE SECRET, and I got tons of questions about how I found the time to write a novel while working full-time with a family, etc.

Stone Living WriteTHINKING WRITE: The Secret to Freeing Your Creative Mind is about how to access the power of your subconscious mind for creativity purposes. 

And  LIVING WRITE: The Secret to Inviting Your Craft Into Your Daily Life is also about the power of the subconscious mind and how to use it for success and writing.

 Cassondra:  How did you make the decision to write books to help other creative people break through the blocks that keep them from working?  Did your own struggles with creative work play a role in that decision?

Kelly:  Sure. As I said, I wrote TIME TO WRITE because after I started getting published, so many people asked me how I found time to write. THINKING WRITE and LIVING WRITE are based on my work as a licensed counselor and helping others to recognize and use their own innate strengths and abilities.

Cassondra: You live in one of my favorite places on the planet–the Gulf Coast in the Florida Panhandle.  It’s gorgeous there.  Do the beach and ocean play roles in your creative process? 

Kelly: I grew up on the Gulf Coast and love it here, but like most writers, I can write anywhere-that’s a matter of discipline instead of location. But having a great view doesn’t hurt!Kelly stone pensacola-beach

Cassondra:  I know our Bandit Buddies love to get glimpses into the writing life and how their favorite authors work.     What common issues have you seen that keep fiction writers like us from getting their work on the page to make it available to our beloved readers?

 Kelly: I think it’s two-fold:  the main problem is that, for whatever reason, we don’t treat writing like it’s important. Just the other day I had some unexpected time to write, but instead of getting into my WIP I started making a list of everything that needed to be done- laundry, house cleaning, getting the oil changed in my car. Finally I said to myself, “You’ll do anything to avoid writing, won’t you?” and made myself go sit down at my desk and write.

The other problem goes back to the fact that good writing is hard, and writers tend to be their own worst critics.  It takes courage to write-and to keep writing.

 Cassondra:  One of the most interesting and unusual aspects of your book,  THINKING WRITE, is that it’s chock full of exercises and techniques for tapping into the subconscious. Are those exercises derived from your work as a counselor?

Kelly: Yes. The techniques are a variation of things I’ve taught people over the years in terms of learning to work with the power of the subconscious mind.

Cassondra:  *sips her wine as she formulates a question* In all the shelves of writing books I own and have read, I’ve never seen these ideas taught as a method to help creative people.  Why do you think writers and other creative people need these techniques?

Kelly: People generally don’t make use of the tremendous power of the subconscious mind. The techniques in THINKING WRITE and LIVING WRITE are geared toward helping people tap into their own innate resources. The techniques are easy to learn and easy to use.

kelly stone stuck in a rutCassondra:   I know I’ve been “stuck” before, not only in my writing, but also in life. 

A few years back I was stuck in a job that I liked on some levels–I loved the people I served– but I knew it was sucking the life out of me.  Try as I might, it felt like I couldn’t make the shift I needed to move myself out of that rut. I just Could. Not. Move.  It took a major life event for me to be willing to leap when I couldn’t see the net.  It would’ve been nice if I’d been able to make that shift without the drama—or the trauma.

Are the techniques you teach useful for everyone—let’s say someone who either feels stuck the way I did, or is having trouble making an important decision and just feels stumped?

Kelly:  Absolutely. The techniques help you access your subconscious mind’s guidance, and once you do that you can use them for any problem, any issue, not just creativity.

 Cassondra:  Can you give us an example of a short exercise anybody could do to help make that shift? 

Stone Thinking WriteKelly:  Sure. Dreaming is the most common way the subconscious mind tries to get information to the conscious mind. Everyone dreams, whether you remember your dreams or not.

I have a technique I call “Dream Solution.”  You can use it for any problem, but here I’ll focus on when you’re having a plot problem. For a few minutes before bedtime, focus on your problem and formulate a question.

For instance, “Subconscious, what is the next scene in my novel?” Ask your subconscious mind to give you a dream with the scene, then be prepared over the next few days to receive the answer.

Depending on how your subconscious communicates with you, it might be a dream or it might be a hunch or a flash of insight when you’re driving your kid to school the next day.

 Cassondra: And for non-writers, how does that translate into the everyday?

Kelly:  This technique can be used for any life problem; anything you need help from your subconscious on, ask it directly. For instance, “Subconscious mind, tell me if I should accept this new job or stay at my old one.”  Sometimes it helps to write the question down in advance, and then be prepared to receive your answer in the next few days.”

Cassondra:  Speaking of that subconscious influence, will you tell us about yoStone--Gave Secretur first full-length novel, GRAVE SECRET?  How did that story happen?

Kelly:  GRAVE SECRET came about when I had characters show up in my head and start talking to me. They told me their stories and the only way to make them shut-up was to write it down.

This happened around that time I was writing for magazines and I was constantly seeking new ideas for articles, so my creative mode was full-on. It was only after I wrote TIME TO WRITE and interviewed 130 authors that I realized that having characters show up like that and start talking wasn’t all that unusual (thank heavens!)

 Cassondra:  This is a women’s fiction novel, not a romance, but the blurb is so compelling!

Twenty-one-year-old Claire Bannister has just been released from a Florida mental hospital, where she spent over three years on the forensics unit for arson and murder-crimes to which she pled “not guilty by reason of insanity.” The trouble is, Claire’s innocent.

She knows who really set the house fire that killed her siblings on that balmy night in Pensacola, but she can’t tell. And she knows that her stepmother and lifelong nemesis, Sisley, will be watching her every move. Sisley never believed that Claire set the fire that killed her children, and now Sisley will stop at nothing to get to the truth. Claire flees to Tampa, unaware that Sisley is having her followed.

Claire is on a mission to find her boyfriend, Billy Powers, who disappeared the night of the fire with a briefcase full of cash extorted from Claire’s powerful father, Judge Oren Bannister. Will Billy still have in his possession the one item that Claire must get back from him?

Confronted by one dead end after another, Claire finally marries Richard Quenell, a handsome and wealthy attorney with a few secrets of his own. Claire conceals her past from her new husband, a decision that has disastrous results. When Claire, Sisley, Billy and Richard finally square off, the consequences will be devastating, and Claire will be faced with a decision that could change her life-again.

 Cassondra:  What’s next for Kelly?  Are you working on a book at the moment? 

Kelly:  Yes! You know that situation I mentioned with GRAVE SECRET where the characters showed up and talked to me? That happened again and I’m in the process of writing another novel, this one set in the time of Atlantis. I also have a proposal in the works for another non-fiction book.

Cassondra:  *lifts glass in a toast* Excellent!  I love the whole Atlantis mythology. 

Okay time for fun!  Kelly has questions for all of you, and she’s offering a giveaway. She’ll be online throughout the day, so post your answers for Kelly’s feedback on you and your subconscious mind.   

Kelly:  Here’s a quiz I call “Meet Your Subconscious” that you can take to learn how your subconscious mind communicates with you.

1) Do you ever get hunches? Think of a time you had a hunch that was correct and what happened.

2) Have you ever had a dream that resolved a problem for you?

3) Do you ever hear or see things, like flashes of light or hear your name called, right before you fall asleep at night?

Cassondra:  OOOO…I love it!  I get hunches all the time!

Bandits and Buddies, post your answers to be in the drawing.  Are you thinking about making a change in your life?  Or do you feel stuck in a rut?   Kelly is offering your choice of a 5 page critique or a 20 minute phone coaching session.   Do you know an aspiring writer who could use the coaching or critique?

Read Kelly’s official bio, and find out more about her on her website

The Stuffing Wars: A Cassondra and Jeanne Food Fight

Cassondra: I make these really awesome dressing balls. 

Jeanne Did you say balls?

Cassondra: Dressing balls.  Like made out of stuffing.  Stuffing that isn’t stuffed.Professional portrait - JPA 2012

Jeanne: Snork!  Dressing balls.  Seriously?  And I hate stuffing.  Stuffing is wrong.  Just…wrong.

Cassondra: Hey!  I’m telling a story here.

Ahem…When I was a little girl, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, we always had turkey.  Never ham.  And along with the turkey, we had dressing balls.

It’s  basically light bread stuffing, but you roll it into balls—they’re about the size of large meatballs, and line them up on a baking sheet, bake them in the oven for almost an hour. 

They’re crunchy and crispy on the outside, hot and soft and steamy inside.  Yummm! 

Jeanne: *distracted by the thought of this potential goodness* Okay…so those sound good, but…having a hard time imagining them.

Cassondra: I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of my balls, but– 

Jeanne:  SNORK! Well, one doesn’t usually photograph one’s balls.  BWAHAHAHAHAH!

Stuffing_BallsCassondra:  Ahem.  As I was about to say…That picture over on the left?  That looks similar to my dressing balls, but it’s not exactly right. Mine are…fluffier.  Less like candy and more like bread.

 I learned from my mom, and I carry on the tradition now, and make this every time I roast a turkey.

And here’s the thing.  If it’s not my ball dressing, it has to be stuffing.  NO other dressing is any good.

Jeanne:  You’ve got to be kidding me.  You won’t eat dressing?   Just stuffing?  You are SO my Twin in so many ways, but…anything that is stuffed in a turkey’s nether regions isn’t fit for eatin’.  I’m just sayin’.

Cassondra:  Will you quit makin’ me picture turkey nether regions and stay on topic?  I’ve had a lot of dressing baked in pans.  I don’t like it.

Jeanne: Bwahahah!  Now c’mon.  You mean to tell me you’d rather have balls ‘o dressing, or something that’s been stuffed stuffingin a turkey’s bum—

Cassondra:  WHAT?  How can you not like stuffing?

What’s wrong with stuffing?

Jeanne: Nothing if you don’t object to sloppy, gloopy nether-region breadcrumbs.  Grins. 

I can’t believe you, of all people, would rather have THAT than a good, yummy cornbread dressing all crumbled up and onion-y and sage-y.   Or oyster dressing?  Or cranberry and orange dressing with pecans?  SERIOUSLY???

Cassondra:  OMG!  Oyster dressing?  Blech! BLEHHHHH. RETCH!

Jeanne Hahah!  You sound like Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes when faced with eggplant casserole.  You don’t like oysters?  How did I miss this?  I thought you liked oysters??

Cassondra:  I love oysters!  Fresh ones.  Raw even.  But canned oysters?  And it’s always canned, by the way, if you’re putting them IN anything.  I live in a landlocked state.  Canned ones mixed in with…well…anything…and cooked…well..any way….GROOOOOOOSSSSSSSS!

Jeanne: Hahahah!  Okay, I concede that they aren’t pretty.  My former (as in first husband’s) Mother-in-Law and family ALWAYS made dressing with oysters.  Much as I like oysters, I must confess, I didn’t love the oysters in dressing either. 

Cornbread dressing Cassondra:  Okay, I feel better.  So…my sweetheart Mother-In-Law used to make the holiday meal.  She made amazing cornbread dressing.  Pans of it.  Everybody loved it.

*hangs head* I didn’t like it.

I ate some, always.  But not much. 

Jeanne:  Yep, you gotta eat it – at least a little.  You are not country if you don’t like cornbread.

Cassondra:  I LOVE cornbread.  But not made into some kind of mush to be spooned out and dumped alongside the turkey!

Jeanne:  Okay, I agree with you there.  No mush.  Bleeech.  Ixnay on the ush-may.  My dressing isn’t mushy and it isn’t balled or burlapped or spooned out of a turkey gullet.

Cassondra: (ignoring Jeanne) Here’s the thing.  The stuffing I make is really simple. It’s basically just a foil to absorb all the yummy turkey juices.  All steamy hot, it’s fantastic. 

I like dark meat turkey too. Just sayin’.

Jeanne:  Whew!  I’m so glad you confirmed that we ARE Twins, I was beginning to wonder.  (I love dark meat cornbread dressing2too!)

Cassondra: Bottom line?  I like stuffing.   And I’ve never had dressing cooked in a pan that I like.  My dressing balls are crunchy and crispy and sage-ey and..yummm..

 And I only have to make one kind.  The same thing that goes in the turkey for stuffing, gets rolled into balls for the dressing balls. *grin*  Easy.

Jeanne:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Balls-schmalls.  Whether you get the bread out of a bag, toast it yourself, make it with cornbread or not (or dress it up with oyyyyyyysters), dressing is just…saner.  Slap that bread in a pan, stir up some onions, celery, oysters, add some turkey juice or chicken boullion, and so on.  Yummy.  Cut it into squares and plunk it on the plate…SLURP!!!  Yes, it DOES soak up the yummy juices, but hey…so do the mashed potatoes.  (Now I’m really hungry)

What about you, Bandits and buddies?

Which side of the Stuffing War will you join?Stuffing mix

Do you have a special stuffing/dressing recipe that’s always in demand for the holidays.

Is it stuffing—as in stuffed inside the turkey to roast with the bird?

Or is it “dressing”—cooked in a pan as a side dish?

And what kind? Cornbread? Regular bread?  Apple, raisin or rice?

Cassondra: What stuffs your turkey?

Jeanne:  *smack* What GOES with your turkey?

And if you don’t serve turkey for Christmas or Thanksgiving, what’s your “can’t-do-without side dish?

What about oysters? Are they “the thing” for your dressing or are they anathema?

Cassondra:  Anathema? Don’t you mean afishema?  Blech.

Changing the subject, Have y’all ever had dressing balls?

Jeanne: You said balls…bwaahahahaha!!

Seriously Bandits and Buddies…where do you fall in The Stuffing Wars?

 OH!  Yeah.  The Bandit 12 Days of Christmas is still happening. This is THE LAST DAY for the regular cool ornament!  Comment to be in the drawing.

You’ve Come A Long Way, Santa

When I was a little girl, Santa was a fat guy in a screaming red and white suit, with a white beard and a list.

Santa flipped

  That’s how he always looked.  

Sometimes his face looked mean—a little on the evil side depending on the depiction– but most of the “Santa” images were of a jolly, happy, kind-looking Santa, much like this one on the left. 

Doesn’t he look like a nice guy, laying his finger aside of his nose, about to nod his head and ascend through the narrow chimneSanta evily?

Back then, Santa’s  face was pretty much the only thing that varied.   Some of them looked absolutely evil.  This guy on the right isn’t too bad, but doesn’t he look like he has some mischief afoot? 

As a child, even into my teens, I didn’t realize that the “fat guy in a bright red suit” imagery was fairly new, or that it had evolved over a long, long time, and that Santa did not always look exactly like this.

But I nesanta traditionalver did much like that suit.

I suppose, even as a little girl, the beginnings of the Martha Stewart Mini-Me that I would eventually become…well…they were already in place.  I swear I don’t know where I got these tendencies.

I loved Santa back then.  But even as a little girl, when I looked at Christmas decorations in the stores, I just wasn’t into that red suit.  

Yes, I was an odd child.  I won’t deny it.

As I grew older,  I’d see those Santa dolls –you know the ones that are two or three feet tall, with fabric outfits–meant to be put out  as decorations either inside or outside, but I never wanted one for my house.  They just didn’t appeal.  santa 19-old-world-father-christmas-santa-claus-figure-with-burgundy-robe-and-gifts linens and things

Then it happened.

A few years after I was married, I was walking by the window of an upscale department store when I saw a Santa that made me stop and stare. 

He was not in a bright red suit.  He was in a robe.  Not screaming red.  It was deep dark burgundy.  The fur trim was off white and looked old. 

Now I know he’d be called an “Old World Santa,” but those weren’t around back then–or at least I hadn’t seen one.   This one on the right is not him, but he has the same look.   This is an Old World Santa from Linens ‘n Things.

After that, I started noticing more and more versions of Santa that were not the clownish guy I grew up with, but were based more on Father Christmas—the old world version of Santa. 

Santa woodland 3Not long after that, I was in another store and I saw “Woodland Santa” with leaves and pine cones in a wreath around his head, and a long robe of what looked like fur-trimmed burlap.  He had on snowshoes and there was a deer standing at his side.  In one hand was a staff made of a tree branch, and in the other, a lantern.  He had a rough knapsack over his shoulder.  His cheeks were still rosy and his beard long and white. 

It was just my style.  I love primitive antiques, log cabins, barns and woods. I had found my Santa.

I was in school at the time, and we were flat broke, so I couldn’t afford him.  Unfortunately,  I’ve never seen one  like him since, but I’d had my “Santa Awakening.”   This one on the left is similar.  It’s another version of “Woodland Santa”

Back then, all of these were “designer” Santas and were WAY too spendy for my budget, but I could still stare at them and imagine how they’d look in my future house, standinSanta woodland costcog on my future hearth beside the future fireplace.

Flash forward a few years.  Really cool Santas have come down in price, and now they’re available everywhere,  as common as Bright-red-suit Santa. 

Here’s another version of “Woodland Santa” on the right.  This one is available at Costco.  Doesn’t he look rugged and ready for some serious outdoor trekking?  Even if his sleigh breaks down, ala the movie “Elf,”  this Santa could still get where he needed to go.

FAther Christmas close up Now, thanks to the internet and shops like Etsy, there are doll makers who specialize in a zillion different versions of Santa Claus, like this Father Christmas in a fur cloak on the left. You can see the rest of him if you click on the link. He’s amazing.

Looking around the web, I found one particular doll maker whose work I absolutely love, and she was kind enough to give me permission to share her Santas with you here on the blog. 

Her name is Bona Lowery, and her Santas are stunning, one-of-a kind pieces of art, but many of them  cost far less than you’d think for such beautiful work.

If you click on the links, you can see the detail in these Santas in the bigger pictures.

Santa Cabin Bona LoweryThis is her  Cabin Santa on the left.   Cabin Santa is holding a little log cabin, and I love his fur-trimmed robe. 

On her site,  Santa Creations by Bona, she has a snippet about the history of Santa Claus. 

Pre-modern representations of the gift-giver from church history and folklore, notably St Nicholas and Sinterklaas, merged with the British character Father Christmas to create the character known to Britons and Americans as Santa Claus.

Father Christmas dates back at least as far as the 17th century in Britain, and pictures of him survive from that era, portraying him as a jolly, well-nourished bearded man dressed in a long, green, fur-lined robe.Santa fishing Bona Lowery

Okay so Santa was fat back then, and Santa is still fat.  Even  most old-world Santas and Father Christmas figures have a belly.  Every one of us feels the pressures of current fashion, but not Santa.   Santa is, thus far, immune.  

Thank goodness. 

I understand from my friends who write historical romance that centuries ago, having a little fat on you was a sign that you were well-off.  You could afford to eat all you wanted, regularly,  and you could eat yummy stuff that most people couldn’t get.   The common folk were lucky to eat at all, and worked off what they did eat.  So, not only was Santa doing okay for himself, he was also generous, especially toward kids.

Here are more Santas by Ms. Lowery.   That’s Fishing Santa on the right, complete with his tackle. 

Santa silver wreath bona lowery

  On the left is Silver Wreath Santa–less rustic, and more in keeping with the sparkle of the season.

Nowadays there are Santas with sheep, Santas with donkeys, and Santas with kittens.

  I’ve seen Santas in sleighs and Santas wearing snowshoes pulling their own sleds, Santas with huskies instead of reindeer pulling the sleigh, and one Santa I saw was riding a polar bear. 

None of them were wearing the bright red suit. I’ve even seen a “Green Man Santa”–the pagan version of Santa– with long gray beard, still carrying the traditional gifts, but wearing a wreath of leaves and sporting antlers on his head. 

Bandita Kate is like me–she’s a wine lover, and she’ll love this next Santa.  It’s a wine rack, anSanta Karen-Didion-Originals-Crakewood-Santa-Claus-5-Bottle-Tabletop-Wine-Rackd Santa is enjoying a glass of his favorite.

 The photo on the right  is of the Karen Didion Originals Crakewood Santa Claus 5-bottle Tabletop Wine Rack. 

I had not heard of Karen Didion, but she was all over the internet when I went looking for Santas, and I absolutely loved everything I saw of hers.  I think she’s brilliant.   I found her Santas at 

If you click on the link and  look at the photos, you see the Santa wine rack from all directions. Plus, the wire barrel holds wine corks.    Did I already say this Santa designer is brilliant? 

Santa Karen Didion originalsYes, she is.


Here’s another of her Santas on the left. Victorian Santa Claus.

Father Christmas dolls qvc

 Awesome Santas are not just from fancy designers.  They’re everywhere.  The Father Christmas Dolls on the right were from QVC.  

The one below, on the left, is from Lowe’s.  I *think* those are snowshoes strapped on his back, though I’m not certain.

Santa from Lowe'sBottom line? 

Santa is stylin’.

He’s no longer just a guy in a red suit.

I had a bit of an epiphany while I was writing this post and searching for awesome Santas.  If I fall in love with a Santa decoration, it’s probably because it looks nothing like the traditional guy in a red suit,  and everything like a Wizard. 

It seems the more Wizard-like the Santa is, the more I love it.  

I never thought of Santa as a Wizard before, but he does have the pointy, floppy hat.  And how else does he get up and down the chimney–and fly all over the world in one night?

Just sayin’.

What about you, Bandits and Buddies? 

What sort of Santa appeals to you?

Did you grow up with the “Bright red-and-white suit” Santa?

If you celebrate another holiday, what are your decorations like?  Do you like bright and sparkly?  Or do you prefer colors and designs that are more subdued for a holiday?

If you decorate for Christmas, do you choose Screaming-red-suit Santa?

Or do you like the old-world Santas better?

Do you have any Santa figurines or dolls like the ones in the photos?

What says “Santa” to you?  

It’s ALMOST HERE! Tomorrow is Day 1 of our annual 12 Bandita Days of Christmas!  Prizes every day, plus extra goodies for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.   Be sure to stop by the blog each day between now and Christmas and leave a comment to be in the drawings. 

O Plastic Tree, O Plastic Tree

I need help here. 

I’m going to say it.  Shameful as it may be, yes, I’ll say it, right here in front of God and everybody else.

Christmas treeI have a fake Christmas tree.

My house is 164 years old.  It’s partially restored but a long way from finished.  I’ll never forget the moment when I walked into the front foyer for the first time.  I looked up at the ten-foot ceiling, then I looked at the glass sidelights and transom that wrap around the glass-paneled front door, all original 1800s wavy glass panes, loose enough to rattle in the muntins, uninsulated, and leaky as hell, and I said,  “Think of the Christmas tree I could put in here!”

That’s half the reason I bought this ongoing-project-of-a house.

I love Christmas trees.

I love all of them, from the uber-chic designer trees to the tacky trees with ugly garland piled on a foot thick.

And falling somewhere on the upper middle of the Christmas tree scale, is mine.  I have a really gchristmas tree 6reat tree. 

Of course I can say that, because it’s always the same.  It’s a fake tree.

And okay, yeah.   I know.  That’s not nearly as good as a real tree. I know this because everybody around me has real trees and when I’m talking with somebody and I say I have an artificial tree, there’s a very brief, subtle pause, with just a slight lifting of both eyebrows.  You might not even notice it if you’re not paying attention.

Then they smile and nod, trying to hide the fact that they’ve just judged me.

“Oh,” they’re thinking.  “I thought she had better taste!  Bet she bought it at K-Mart.”

I could have bougchristmas tree7ht it at K-Mart.  Just two days ago I walked through their Christmas department and drooled over their awesome selection of really awesome artificial trees.

But I didn’t buy it there.  I bought it at an upscale Christmas shoppe. 

See?  There’s an extra p and an e on the end of “shop” which proves it’s upscale. 

Snork!  Ahem….

I don’t get a real tree for two reasons. 

First, I have an unusual attachment to trees. I feel a kinship with them.  I have such a deep love for trees that it’s almost painful for me to see one cut.  It’s a sad weakness.   I can’t enjoy having a cut tree in my house without wondering at what beautiful thing it might have become if I hadn’t cut it.  I just can’t do it.

Second, I like to put my tree up at the winter solstice, December 20th or 21st, and leave it up until  February 2nd, Groundhog Day.  Some of y’all remember a blog I did last January called Waiting For The Light To Come.  I confessed that I get clinical depression in the winter, and February 2nd is the point at which I can feel the season turning, spring coming, and hope renewed. So that’s when I’m ready to take down my tree and unplug its cheerful lights.

No real tree will last that long.

When I was a little girl, Daddy would take me out to the woods and we’d cut down a little cedar tree.  It was christmas tree redusually about six feet tall, and it smelled heavenly. 

Then a few years later we got a fake tree, and it was full and fluffy and perfect.  Every needle was stick-straight and the same shade of fake green.  I hated it.  From about a mile away you could look at it and say, “that’s a plastic tree.”  When I was little, fake trees were awful.

Things have changed.

Artificial trees come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and they’re beautiful.

Now my tree is nine feet tall, slender, and looks like a real evergreen, even up close. 

I wrap several strands of white lights in piles around the center “trunk” then wind many more lights through the branches.  I learned this technique from a book with a title I can’t remember, but it was probably something like “Martha Stewart rocks Christmas” or some such.  When I plug it in, with all those lights in the center, it glows like something from another realm.

But no matter how excellent my tree is, it’s still a plastic tree.

If y’all read the newsletter, you know that Marco, Paulo and some of the other guys on staff had some issues recently when they went out hunting for trees to decorate the various rooms here in the lair.   Christmas tree3

No fake trees here. 

So I did a survey in the lair about what kind of trees the Bandits get for their own homes.

Bandita Suz said, “We’ve always gotten a real tree since we got married. The Jazzman (aka, my hubby) loved them when he was small. Hated helping his mom put up the fake one.”

Bandita Nancy said, “We have a real tree.  We like the smell of it and the texture.

Yeah.  No love for the plastic tree.

Bandita Jo said,  “We generally like a live tree.  There’s something very satisfying and comforting about the smell of pine in the house.”

Yes. Yes, there is. *Heavy sigh*

Bandita Tawny said, “I love real trees, but both of my girls have really bad allergies. After a few sniffly, watery holidays I gave in and got an artificial tree.  Ours is about 8 foot, green and lit with whichristmas tree branchte lights.”

Finally, another artificial tree!

Small consolation though.  Tawny has a plastic tree, but she doesn’t like it.  “I miss having a live tree,” she said.  “The scent and feel of it is always wonderful.  But I do bring in a few boughs to decorate with, and we have a live wreath on the door.  Those don’t seem to send my kids into misery.” 

Okay she’s only doing this for the sake of her children’s health.  Hmmm..

I asked Bandita Trish what she had, and she said, “Fake. I actually have two, the smallish one I’ve had since college and a big one that I got when we bought our house because the front living room has a vaulted ceiling. I don’t like cleaning up after live ones, and knowing my allergies they would make me sneeze anyway.”

Hmmm…once again, allergies are the determining factor.

I’m still feeling like the odd woman out.

Joanie said, “Replica tree…yeah…that’s what I’ll call it…replica.  Don’t recall a real tree growing up as my brother suffered from allergies.”

Once again, it would be a real tree if not for the children’s health—or for the sake of the cats…“The artificial ones HAVE improved over the years, especially in assembly,” Joan said.  “I have a pre-lit one now about 6 feet tall that comes in 3 pieces. And I can tie it to the wall so certain kitty elves don’t topple it.”

Yes, the kitties do love to climb the Christmas tree.  Real or fake. 

Hey, at least Joanie tried to be diplomatic about it.

Christmas tree with white tipsBandita Caren said, “Our tree is fake. It’s a 6-foot Douglas Fir and is, naturally, pine green…We stick with fake because pine is the thing I am most allergic to in the world!”

Okay I’m getting a complex here.

Even my evil twin, Duchesse Jeanne, stands against me in this question.. “We always get a fresh tree, usually on my birthday,” she said.  “We’ve bought the kind you can plant before, but I’m running out of places in the yard to put them, so fresh cut it is.” 


Bandita Christina said, “We do a fake tree. Not many people have real ones where I live. It’s getting on in years now, probably needs replacing, It’s plastic, with dark green needles and it’s decorated with all the loChristmas tree2ve and tackiness we can manage.”

Yes, yes, YES!  Finally!  Apparently I would fit in better if I moved to Australia.  Ahem.

Bandita Anna Sugden, who lives in England now, said, “These days, a real tree – we always get a special “non-drop” tree (A Nordmann or a Norwegian Spruce, she says, which I’m assuming will not drop its needles) so that it’s safe for the cats…Have always preferred a real tree, but when we lived in NJ we couldn’t get non-drop trees, so bought a fab fake tree (which we still have in the loft), which looked very realistic!”

Yeah.  You can tell she’s just trying to make me feel better, can’t you? That’s the thing about the Bandits.  We always have each others’ backs, even if one of us is off in left field with regard to Christmas trees.  *heavy sigh*

Bandita Susan Sey said, “I Christmas tree fiber opticprefer real…In our on-the-road-for-Christmas years, we sometimes will buy a really small real tree (think Charlie Brown’s Christmas).”

I found a ray of hope, though.  She went on to say, “Sometimes, we just decorate my extremely tacky fake tree from Target.  It’s about two feet tall and comes complete with LED color-shifting lights built into the end of each needle.  It’s wicked awesome.  Like a disco ball/Christmas tree mashup.”

That’s the kind of tree that both my mom and my father-in-law have now.  Very space efficient.  And I’ve gotta say, they do rock. 

I remember a couple of years when my mom had a retro silver aluminum tree.  I hated those when I was little (when they were NOT retro) but now I think they’re kind of cool.  They reflect any colors around them and are Christmas tree vintage silver foiljust straight up fun.

Disco trees notwithstanding, artificial trees of all kinds  have come a long way.  I have to get up close to some of them–even touch them–to know whether they’re real or not.  

Still, it’s obvious that I’m outnumbered.  I’m thinking of applying for minority status.

My squeamishness about cutting down a live tree (or buying one that’s been cut down) is definitely in the minority.   With a fake tree, there’s no magical smell of evergreen that says “Christmas” any time you breathe it in.  There’s no “real tree in the house” energy about it.

But you don’t have to water an artificial tree.  And it doesn’t drop needles or turn brown. 

Just sayin.

Christmas tree purpleBandit Buddies, what do you do?

Is your tree real?  Or fake?

If it’s fake, what color is it?  How tall?  And do you miss the touch and scent of the real thing?

If it’s a real tree, where do you get it?  Do you cut your own?  If not, where do you buy it?

When do you put it up? Is there a special day each year?  Or is it whenever you manage to get to it?

If you don’t celebrate Christmas, do you participate in another festival or holiday this time of year? 


Watch for our annual 12 Bandita Days of Christmas, with fun and so many prizes Santa can’t carry them, coming in just a few days!

He Threw Up His Hand

 My friend Rene moved here from Michigan.  We met for lunch one day and I drove us both to a little diner a few miles down the road.  As we rode along on the country lane, I met a car coming from the opposite direction.  I slowed down, easewave hands 1d over to the edge of the too-narrow strip of asphalt, and as we passed, I waved.  The driver waved back. 

Rene looked over at me. “Who was that?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  Rene’s face scrunched up into a confused frown.  A few minutes later, I met another car.  The driver waved.  I waved back. 

“Who was that?”  Rene asked.

“I have no idea,” I said. 

Rene raised her left eyebrow.  “If you don’t know who it is, why do you wave?”

I raised my own eyebrow.  “Because this is rural Kentucky.  That’s what you do.”

When I was a little girl, everybody waved at everybody.  I remember my grandfather, DaddyMike, coming back from an outing to the store in town.  He climbed out of his battleship-size blue Impala, came into the kitchen and set the box of soap powders (this was laundry soap) on the kitchen counter.  MotherGrant (my grandmother) said, “Did ya see anybody out?”

DaddyMike:  John C. Coomer was in the garden, hoein’ out sweet corn.

MotherGrant:  Did he speak?waving country road

DaddyMike:  He threw up his hand.

I mentioned this exchange to Bandita Jeanne, and she immediately burst out laughing.  She said, “Hahah! I could quote that exactly about dozens of times from my childhood!”

I could too.  This conversation happened over and over—each time about a different person–when I was a kid. 

Now let me explain something so you get a feel for the place. John C. Coomer was known as John C. Coomer, (or perhaps the shortened version, John C, or the ever popular “Little John Coomer”) most likely because his dad, or his cousin, or his uncle, was John W. Coomer, and there was every possibility that these two—or three–John Coomers lived less than a half mile apart on the same country road.  

Now then. For you who don’t understand the exchange between DaddyMike and Mothergrant, what this meant was that as DaddyMike drove past, John C. Coomer was outside in plain view, and he was busy digging weeds out of his corn patch.

waving dogJohn C. may—or may not—have actually looked up from his destruction of the vile corn-infesting weeds.  But whether he did or not, he heard the car driving by on the road and he made the effort to take one of his hands off of the hoe handle, and lift it into the air. 

Quite likely he did not actually wave—as in move his hand back and forth in a waving motion.  Almost certainly he just lifted his hand into the air.  How high he lifted his hand would be determined by how far he was from the road and his energy level. 

If he was right by the road, his hand might not even clear his shoulder.  If he was “a ways off” he might even lift his arm all the way up so it could be seen.  If he was in a good mood, he might add a jaunty little flick of the hand.  Then he would’ve dropped his hand back to the hoe handle and proceeded to rid the corn patch of another weed.

I didn’t do anything fancy when I met that car on the way to lunch with Rene.  There was no actual waving motion.

I just threw up my hand.  

And that was enough.

It was one human noticing the presence of another human.  One soul acknowledging another in passing, and waving hadn shirthonoring that meeting.  I have no idea where or when the tradition began, but where I grew up, it was important. It was expected. No matter who you were, if your path crossed another’s, that meeting was worthy of acknowledgement. 

Now let me digress.  Had John C. been unable to actually remove one hand from the hoe—perhaps because DaddyMike was moving along at a good clip, and John C. was caught in mid stroke, attacking a particularly noxious weed–John C. could have simply thrown his head back a little.  It’s kind of the opposite of a nod.  This motion would have been greatly exaggerated by the wide straw brim of his hat, and this would have been clearly visible from the road if you knew what to look for.

If that had happened, instead of “he threw up his hand,”  DaddyMike would have reported that “he threw his head back.”

And that, too, would be proper acknowledgement.

A lot of people do not understand this advanced waving repertoire, but it’s a required skillset for anyone living long in the rural American South.

My friend Sandra moved here from another state.  She accepted that waving was necessary, but still, she said, “all these people keep lifting one or two fingers at me as we meet on the road.  I feel slighted. I want the whole hand.”

Sandra is from a southern state, but she grew up in the city.  What she didn’t get was that this is a farming community.  That means farm vehicles on the road.  These are not compact cars with power steering and automatic transmissions.  They’re pickup trucks. Trucks with trailers.  Tractors. Combines.   Or in the case of the Amish, a particularly ornery horse.

I have a hunch that maybe, all this “hands occupied” stuff–including ornery horses– is how we ended up with so many acceptable variations on the wave.

waving Four on the floorWhen I was a little girl, almost everybody drove a stick shift.  The gear shift lever might have been on the floor or on the steering column, but either way, it required both hands to operate. 

But none of this was an excuse not to wave.

What do you do when you need to wave and your hands are full of steering wheel and gearshift lever?  You adapt.

You keep your hand on the steering wheel, with your thumb firmly wrapped around it, and you lift one, two, three, or (if you’re very confident in your driving skills and the road is straight) four fingers.

If all else fails, even while driving, you throw your head back. It’s fortunate that so many people in the south wear baseball caps, since the bills of those caps do an exceptional job of exaggerating the “throw-your-head-back” motion.  But even without a cap, if the other driver is paying close enough attention to know whether you wave or not, that person will almost certainly see you throw your head back.

It’s subtle, but once you know what to watch for, it’s obvious, and one waving style is as good as another.    

When I tried to explain this, Sandra frowned at me, just as Rene frowned at me over the whole waving-in-general thing. 

It’s the same way in Tennessee, best I can tell, and I’ve seen this happen in North Carolina, at least in some parts, so I know that the “must-wave” rule applies in rural areas there..

If you pass somebody on the road, you wave.waving kitten

Duchesse Jeanne’s mother instilled this into her children.  Jeanne said, “It was a point of fact that you never passed anyone on the street or sidewalk without nodding and waving or saying hello.  Mama always told me that it was only polite to acknowledge the other person’s existence on the planet.”

She went further to say, “My auntie used to say that it was allowing that everyone was a child of God, and you acknowledged that when you spoke or waved.”


The first time I visited New York City, I understood why folks up there don’t wave at everyone.  It would be logistically impossible.  Most people didn’t make eye contact or nod.  That would be considered rude in my country town. 

But in big cities, if they waved at me–or even made eye contact much– I would be a little freaked out.  There are too many people all around you, all at once, all the time.  I simply could not connect with all those people I didn’t know. 

wave hands 2And I can imagine the correlation.  If I grew up in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago and came to live in the South, when everyone started waving at me, I’d be like, “what are they doing?”  I’m guessing it would make me nervous.

But around here, once you get off the four-lane road, people still wave.

Perhaps the best lessons I got from MotherGrant and DaddyMike were about the times when somebody did NOT wave.  Those were the lessons about not taking things too personally.  And about always giving another person the benefit of the doubt. 


MotherGrant:  Who’d you see on the way to town?

DaddyMike:  Big John Coomer was on the corner, comin’ out of the feed mill.

MotherGrant:  Did he speak?

DaddyMike:  Nah.  I think he didn’t see me.


waving queen 1What about you, Bandits and Buddies?

Do you live in a place where people always wave?

Queen Elizabeth, there on the right, has spent a good part of her life waving at people, and has become famous for her certain particular, stately and understated wave. 

Are there various forms of “waves” for different circumstances where you live?

I’ve been in some cities—mostly outside the US—where friendliness or eye contact would mark you as a target for crime.  Have you ever been to a place like that?

If you live in a big—or a medium-size–city, is it okay to smile or nod when you pass on the street?  Or is that a reason to look over your shoulder and watch your back? 

What’s the etiquette for connecting with someone on the train, the escalator, or the elevator?  Is it a quick glance and a nod, then move on? 

If you’ve lived in more than one place, did you have trouble adjusting to the culture and rules for “friendliness”  and connecting there?

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