Meanwhile Back at the Ranch…

The weirdness of 2015 continues. We’re still driving at least once a week to Danville to “follow-up” and take yet another form for a doctor to sign so the hub’s company will believe he’s recovered. The VA, like every other medical organization, has bureaucracy all over the place. And the funding cuts, personnel cuts, etc. that seem to be flowing from the government like a runaway river just make getting things done more problematic. However, the VA does its best, at least our branch does, and we have had good people helping us navigate the potholes. Still, it takes time and mileage and infinite patience.

And speaking of rivers, there’s been more rain here in the past month than we normally see in six. We haven’t gotten the worst of it by any means, but my little part of the prairie has given birth to ponds in the bean fields and muggy weather. However, today is July 1st and the sun is out, temps are mild, and I actually have the day off.  And the Star of Bethlehem was brighter than bright in the night sky—thanks Venus and Jupiter!


We had an extra second to squander yesterday as well as the leap seconds accumulate on their way to giving us an extra day next year. I simply took a deep breath and continued doing the dishes.  Extra time is extra time after all. I’d like to make the most of it, so I’ve made a few Last Half of the Year resolutions: simple ones really. Doable.  More walking (the park district has an indoor track as well as walking trails—watch out for the geese), less snacking (do NOT keep pretzels in the house), and more salads.  Trips to the Farmers’ Market when I can are also on the agenda.

One more thing. Write. Every day. No matter what. Not that this is a new resolution of course. I try to live it, even if it’s only a few minutes a day or jotting down ideas to flesh out later. Between work and home, even on busy days, an hour is possible. In the fashion of one of today’s latest catch phrases (courtesy I believe of the UK and Mr. Churchill), Keep Calm and Write.

I’ve been talking with Mae lately. She’s teamed up with Sylvain again to try and find Drummond; this time with some additional help in the person of Raimundo (Ray) Olivier, one of Sylvain’s mysterious friends. Trouble ahead?

Mae & the Medics

To my surprise, the nurse (whose name it seemed was Renata or so said her tag) welcomed us back with a big smile.

“Mr. Lionel,” she crooned. “Whatever in the world brings you here?” She caught sight of me attached to Sylvain’s arm and frowned. “This…this vagrant giving you trouble, sir? She and her brother, so she says, were here not an hour ago. Quite insistent for charity cases I must say. I can certainly…”

“This concerned woman is not a vagrant, Miss Renata,” Sylvain’s voice could have chilled the hottest gumbo. “She and her brother have done me good service in the past and I hold her in the highest respect.” I tried not to smirk at her sudden discomfort but applauded silently. Bless Sylvain. Taking the wind out of her sails.

“Ah, certainly, sir. Any friend of yours is….”

“Indeed. Now, I have some questions for you.” To his credit, my friend wasted no time getting to the details. “According to Miss Mae here, she and her brother Drummond were in here earlier to seek treatment for his illness and…”

“Oh yes sir. They came in and it was determined that her brother had a bronchial infection. The doctor prescribed amoxicillin and pred…”

“I know. Mae told me the details of their visit. What I need to know is if you watched them leave or if you might know where her brother currently is.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Lionel.  We were really quite engaged with other patients this morning and I only saw them through the doorway. After that….”

“And ye didn’t see me brother standin’ right out in front of your clinic while I went to fetch his medications?” I’d caught her slantwise glance toward me and knew she wasn’t telling Sylvain everything. “Ye didn’t step to the door after we left just to make sure we were gone?”

“Mae….” Sylvain cautioned me, knowing my tendency for blunt speaking.

“I felt someone’s eyes on our backs,” I said. “And she treated us shabbily.” I glared at Renata, watching her turn red at my words. “Ask her again.”


“Well, I might have stepped to the door, but not for that reason at all. I was simply…”

“So you did see her brother? Show me.” Sylvain watched as Renata indicated the small area where Drummond had sat to wait for me while I filled the scripts.

“I was watching him because he didn’t look at all like she should have left him. You know, weak and all.” The nurse glared at me in accusation. “But he seemed to perk up when these two friends of his showed up and offered him a ride in their car.”

“Drummond doesn’t have any friends with cars,” I said. “What color? The friends. And the cars.”

“Well it wasn’t a car really, more like one of those SUV vehicles. Yellow I think. And I only saw one. White, with long hair. There must have been a driver though because as soon at your brother got in, the car took off.  Turned onto Decatur last I saw. Now if I can get back to my work…”

“Of course, Miss Renata.” Sylvain flashed his charming smile at her and was rewarded by a blush. “Thank you so much for talking with us.”

“Any time, Mr. Lionel. And you know, you might check the bar across the street. They were setting out tables for the lunch crowd and….”

“What a good idea, ma’am.” Sylvain bowed and took my elbow, steering me away from the clinic before I could say one word more.

“Bollocks,” I fumed. “She was going to lie through her teeth. If I hadn’t…” I flinched as his grip on my arm tightened. “I’m not goin’ back, so no fear….Mr. Lionel. No need to leave me bruised either.”

“Well, Miss Mae, I figured we would get more with honey than with vinegar, and you are feisty when you get yourself all worked up.” He released my arm as we stepped under an ornate iron framework and stood at the entry to Cordelia’s, a dimly lit bar/café.

“It’s Drummond.”

“I know, Mae. We’ll find him.” Sylvain headed for the bar at the rear of the café and the small figure standing behind it, a dish towel in one hand and a tall glass in the other.

“We’ll be open momentarily folks, if y’all would care to sit at one of the tables. Got some fresh oysters if you’re in the mood.” The bartender smiled and waved the towel toward one of the window tables.
“Thank you kindly, ma’am, but we can’t stay. We were hoping you could help us with a bit of a mystery.” I’ll say this for Sylvain. He knows how to charm. It just wells out of his pores like spring water. “We’re lookin’ for my friend’s brother. It seems he went off with…”

“I did happen to see an older gentleman across the way by the clinic,” she said, moving from behind the bar and crossing the floor with a grace that belied her size. “I happen to be April Ann, by the way. Owner of this café and noticer of many things.  Is he is some trouble?”

“We’re not sure.” Sylvain’s phrase overrode my definite “Yes.”

“So it’s that way,” April Ann smiled. “Which is it?”

I jumped in first. “My brother Drummond was at the clinic to get some medicine for his illness.” I held up the brown bag. “He was sitting outside while I went to see the chemist…pharmacist… and when I came out he was gone. The puffed up nurse at the clinic….”

“…the nurse at the clinic mentioned seeing him get into a car. A yellow SUV. Did you see anything that might help us?” Sylvain as usual tempered my words. I glowered at him but he just gave me a concerned look. “We need to find him and get his medicine started so he doesn’t get sicker than he is.”

April Ann studied us for a moment. We are a strange looking pair if you recall my description of Sylvain, and my own smaller physical stature. I was at least wearing my best traveling clothes, having packed my bag lady ensembles for the trip north. I managed a smile in her direction but let my worry stay visible in my eyes.

“Well, I did see a yellow SUV not that long ago although I didn’t pay much attention to whether anyone got in. I’ve seen it before around this time. There’s a logo on the sides.  And a flower….Begonia something….Begonia Health?  Begonia Holistic? Begonia for sure. They were only here for a minute or so, then they drove off. Didn’t see where they went. Does that help? Because that’s all I have, and I need to get my luncheon customers served. Are you sure you’re not hungry?”

“No, thank you Miss April Ann. Maybe another time, but we are short on time. We appreciate your help.”  Sylvain took my elbow again and steered us out.

“I could do with a cuppa, you know,” I protested. “Or even a bit of water.” A quick look at my friend’s face told me I’d get neither. He pulled out his cell and punched in a number. Spoke in that mishmash he calls patois. Except for the word Begonia. Then he put the cell back in his jeans pocket.

“And? Sylvain?”  I let him have my elbow to get his attention. “Are you going to tell me just who you were jabberin’ to just now? And what it has to do with me brother?” Just for good measure I gave him another elbow jab.

“Patience. Assaulting me won’t get you anywhere. I called an associate of mine. Morales knows him. He used to be a cop, now he operates a bit differently. That’s all you need to know. I gave him the information on Drummond and the word Begonia. He’ll call me when he has something.”

“And that will happen when? We don’t have time to waste waiting for the meaning of “begonia”, flower or whatever. Don’t haver w’me, ye scunner. Me patience is about done.” Despite me bein’ angry and all, I couldn’t keep a quiver out of my voice. Damn. I glared at Sylvain and bit my lip.

“Let’s head back to the loft, Mae.” I felt his hand take mine. “It’s a small chance but maybe Drum headed back there. Or had the people in the van take him there. My friend will call. Ray is good at what he does. It just means we need to give him time.”

“What if we don’t have time?” I had to ask because Drum was…well, Drum. He’s never been good in bad situations and my bones told me this was bad. Sylvain gave me a reassuring squeeze as we headed toward his vehicle.

Thirty minutes later, me with a mug of hot Earl Grey curled in me hands and Sylvain pacing like a caged cat, the trill of his cell broke the silence.

Eske ou gen…?” Sylvain stopped short, listened for more time than I wanted, and then said “Ah Bien” and clicked off. “Any more tea, Mae?”

“Tea? You want me to…”

“My friend will be here in a moment. He is fond of tea. A pot of the Earl grey will be nice.”

I fumed a bit but set about getting more water on the steam, warming the pot, and the other little things that make a good cuppa. The tea was steeping nicely when a sharp knock sounded on the door to my home. Sylvain walked quickly to the entrance and knocked back. Code? I almost snickered. Men! And then I remembered my own man, poor Drummond, was missing.

“Miss Mae?” Sylvain’s voice called me out of my thoughts. “Miss Mae, may I present my friend Raimundo Olivier? Ray, this is Miss Mae McEwan. It is her brother who has gone missing. Would you care for some tea?”  I produced a clean mug, canned creamer and some sugar was but satisfied to see my new acquaintance took his tea as God intended, unadorned.

Miss Mae?” Ray’s voice was as smooth as Sylvain’s but an octave deeper. “A pleasure to meet you. Now Sylvain here has told me of your dilemma and I am glad to say I have some information for you.” Damn, the man was good. “It is not all of a positive nature but I will give you what I have and you decide how to proceed. Bien?”

“Go on, Ray,” Sylvain said before I could.

“Well, first, I have so far not discovered the whereabouts of your brother. However,” he held up a hand as I opened my mouth, “I can give you details on Begonia, which might help you locate him, although it should be done soon. Begonia, as in Begonia Holistic Health and Welfare Center, is not an easy place to leave.”

“Ray?” Sylvain again. “Maybe you need to explain what and where this Begonia Holistic is because I’ve never heard of the damn place.”

Mon ami, you know as well as anyone the folk medicine and holistic cures have a large place in bayou history. Plants we think lovely to look at can be deadly and those we prefer to ignore can treat many things. The begonia, lovely flower in itself, has been used in various forms to treat everything from rheumatism to liver ailments. The Begonia Center has been using formulations based on old recipes with some modern tweaks to offer treatment and well-being to people not helped by traditional means.”

“But my brother…” The information was good but I wanted more.

“They also conduct workshops and offer free treatments to those who cannot pay.” Ray looked at Sylvain. “They have not been here long, but I have heard of other centers where these practices are followed. Patients who take advantage of the free treatments…must end up paying for them by labor or…”

“And if my brother is there?”

“If he is there, he will stay as long as they need him to.”

“This is ludicrous,” Sylvain broke in. “Why haven’t I heard of this before now? What they’re doing is illegal, non? They would need permits, a building…”

“We both know they can be had for the right price, my friend. I have an associate who will see if your brother is there Miss Mae. And where the building is. Then we can…”

“No,” I said. “Then I can do something about it. Sylvain, I need a favor.”


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Easy Is…..Or Is It?

easy way

And therein lies the rub…I’m never quite sure what Will Shakespeare meant by that but it seems to fit the past six weeks of my life. What I can tell you is that the promise of “easy” is something to beware. And research like crazy. And perhaps avoid like the plague.

It’s been a hard year medically; colds that hang on, allergies that show up before they should even exist, and a case of pneumonia—my husband’s— that led to a hospital stay and the discovery of A-Fib. Irregular heartbeat. Caused by the pneumonia. Geez. So the cardiologist put him on warfarin, blood thinner for the masses and subject to regular monitoring. Once a week…80 miles round trip each time (the hubby is a vet and therefore uses the nearest VA facility in Danville). Not a bad drive but time-consuming. So, to make things easier, the blood thinner was changed to one of the new drugs, no weekly checks, no monitoring, etc. No more 40 miles each way for a finger prick. But. And this is where the “rub” enters the picture. The worst side effect you can imagine….internal bleeding. In his lungs. One day after the change. And no “easy” antidote. That 40 mile trip is one of the longest I have ever taken. The VA’s Urgent Care got us in ASAP but had no available beds so we ended up at a Danville hospital, admitted to ICU. Long story short, my other half is recovering, off the oxygen he had to use 24/7 for 2 ½ weeks and thanks to the VA cardiologist and pulmonologist (both more informative and helpful than most of my own doctors have ever been without prodding) is cleared to go back to work. Slowly. And, we’re making bi-weekly trips now. He’s back on warfarin. At least for now. What should have been something to make his life a bit easier ate up six weeks of driving, hospital visits, room changes, doctor appointments and him adjusting to a slower lifestyle for the time being. We are fortunate. And thankful.

To be fair, some things in life are easy and the results pleasant. I can think of quite a few as I type this, and I know you can as well. The trick is knowing how to tell the good from the not so good. “Easy” is tricky and usually seductive. Everything “easy” promises is tempting. And sometimes those promises are true. But. Sometimes they’re as flighty as a kite on a windy day. Trust me when I say this: “easy” and research go hand in hand. Hype and hallelujahs should take a back seat to “what ifs”. With all the resources we have at our disposal, no one needs to take “easy” at face value.
Those of you who follow me know I’m usually a bit less serious. I would rather be irreverent than preachy. This case is different. And one upside is inspiration for a new Mae adventure. She and Drummond are still in NOLA, getting ready to head north. And then Drummond gets sick…

Mae and the Medicos
You can call me Mae. Most everyone does who knows me these days. That or, “there goes ol’ Drum’s sister”. Depends on where I am or what mess I find myself in. Or find Drum in, which was the case this time around, though through no fault of his own. My brother does try to stay away from the bottle, and keeping him busy helps. Seems he gets in more trouble when he has too much time to remember. This time though, he forgot a very important thing.
We were gettin’ ready to say farewell to New Orleans; a city that had for the most part treated us well, introduced us to Sylvain Lionel and his cousin and gave me a chance to bring Sylvain’s sister back to her family. All good things come to an end though, and New Orleans in the summertime was, according to all we’d heard, too hot and too humid for people not accustomed to such things. I had no fears for myself, but Drum’s bouts with alcohol over the years had made him older than his years and more sensitive to heat and extreme cold. Humidity just added to the problem, since his lungs were victims to chronic asthma, made worse by having to sleep in conditions where germs and pollen fought for supremacy. Mostly before I found him and made him take better care. Most of the time he stayed fine. But not this Spring.
It started as a sniffle and a sneeze. Drum didn’t mention it to me until I caught him swiping his sleeve across his face.
“Just got some dust in my nose,” he said. “Might need a hanky though.” And then he coughed just a little. “No worries, Mae. I just hurried to get here too fast and my breath hasn’t caught up to me.” I wanted to believe him. Next day we were due to catch a ride from one of Sylvain’s friends to the train station. Drum wanted to get back North to Charles City, despite what had happened there. I wasn’t too picky about where we went as long as it was north. That night though, his cough was worse and his head was hot and moist. I didn’t need a thermometer to know he had a fever.
Come morning we had our ride take us to the nearest CharityCare, one of those places you go when you have no insurance. Better than nothing, and I figured if there was an infection, we’d need something strong. Drum didn’t even protest, so I knew he was sick. We waited in a large room with plenty of other patients, all sneezing or coughing or crying or complaining, and finally got to see a nurse practitioner. Now I’m a nurse myself if you remember me telling you early on so I watched her close. She was efficient but I had to ask her a time or two before she would give me any answers. She made some notes on a small pad and disappeared down the hallway.
“You think she knows what’s wrong with me, Mae?” Drum wheezed a bit and covered his mouth to stop a cough. “I didn’t mean to…”
“Let’s just see what she says. Most likely she’s gone to talk with a doctor.” I hoped she had anyway. Drum was looking paler by the minute. I was just about to draw the curtain back and go on a search for her when she returned with two pieces of paper.
“Your brother has a bronchial infection,” she informed the wall behind me. “He needs fluids and rest and….” She handed me the papers. “You can get these filled at the pharmacy next door if you can afford them. Otherwise, bed rest and liquid and time are the best things for him.” She parted the curtain and left. I looked at the scripts. Amoxicillin and prednisone. Standard but also generic, which meant my budget could handle them. If I could afford them indeed.
Thankfully I still had the cell Sylvain had given me during our efforts to find his sister, so I called him and left a message that we might need the loft he’d loaned us for a few more days. Maybe a week given that Drum was breathin’ shallow and looking like he could collapse any minute. I left my brother outside the pharmacy while I took in the scripts and got them filled. My mistake. When I finally made it back out to the sidewalk, all I saw was his old slouch hat and one unlaced brogan.
I will tell you this, in case you don’t remember, that Drummond would never just up and stagger off without his favorite hat and only one of his one pair of shoes. So I knew something wrong had happened. I also knew that as kind as New Orleans folk are, they might not take it well if I started badgering them with questions about someone they didn’t even know. So, I called Sylvain back and left the distress signal we’d agreed on but never really used. And then I sat and waited for him to call, staring at the two packets of medication that Drum needed but didn’t have. It wasn’t long before I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder.
“You okay, ma’am?” Not a voice I recognized. “Ma’am? You look like you ain’t feelin’ so good. Kin we take y’all somewhere?” I shook my head.
“I’m waitin’ for a friend. But thank you.” I waved one hand as if to shoo him on his way and found it caught in a firm almost crushing grip. “I’ll have my arm back,” I said.
“I reckon you need to come with us,” a second, deeper voice declared. “Pull her harder, cousin. We ain’t got all day.”
“She don’t wanna budge,” the first said as he tried to dislodge me from my seat. “Whyn’t you get behind her and push, ‘stead of givin’ me grief?” I fixed my gaze on them and planted both feet firm on the walk.
“You might think twice before you….” I felt a shove from behind as my second assailant pushed me toward the first. Without even thinking, I shoved my elbow back and caught a good chunk of stomach. With a surprised “ooof”, my second attacker fell back a bit and I yanked the first one toward me. “Stronger than I look,” I muttered as I pulled him past me to land on his partner.
“Leave you alone for a day or two and you attract the worst kind of people,” a familiar voice said in my ear.
“Sylvain! How did….oh never mind. Just find me a copper so I can…” I stopped as I saw my attackers scramble to their feet and rush off toward the Square. “I need your help.”
“You need some coffee,” he said. “You managed those two just fine. So why the distress signal? And I found you because of the GPS in your cell. When you were undercover in that house I needed to be able to track you. Just in case. Never did deactivate my unit.” We came to a small outdoor café, and Sylvain pulled out a wooden chair. “Sit.”
“You tracked me?” I wasn’t sure whether to be angry or grateful. “I can take care of meself. I suppose ye tracked Drummond too?”
“No need, Mae. He was easy to find at the church. Why?” He grinned. “Did you go losin’ him again?” the look on my face stopped his grin cold. “Where’s Drum? Seriously Mae. I thought you two were on your way back north. In fact I called Morales to let him know that. Then you call me and I get here just in time to see you fight off two of the city’s hooligans, no brother in sight. So what’s going on?”
“Drummond took sick. We went to the CharityCare and got him some medicine, figuring he could take a day or two before we rode back North. He waited here while I went in to get the scripts filled and when I came out…”
“Why didn’t you tell me, Mae? I’d have got Drum to my own medico…not trusted him to a charity clinic. Not that there’s anything wrong with them…” his voice trailed off as I glared at him.
“It was easier than bothering you, that’s why. And medicine is medicine.” I scuffed my shoes back and forth on the cobbled street. Sounded lame even to me.
“And he’s not just around the corner or headed to the church or…?”
“Someone took him.” I held out his hat and brogan. “Somewhere he didn’t want to go.”
“Then someone saw something,” Sylvain said. “And we’re going to find out what.”
“If you say so,” I put in. “But…”
“No buts.” He got up, pulled me up after and headed us across the street and back to the clinic.

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Merge to the Left, Merge to the Right…

traffic signs
No turn, U-turn, Don’t run that light! Don’t you feel, as I often do, that traffic is hazardous to your health, your car, and your peace of mind? How much easier it would be to have your own private motorway. Or an invisible cushion of air that protects from the vagaries and distraction of others in their own motor vehicles. Even better, a system in your car that automatically takes a picture of someone else doing something stupid and forwards it to the proper authorities…because there never seems to be a cop around when a mini-van speeds past you at 45 miles an hour in a 30 mph one, crosses three lanes of traffic at the last minute with no signal, or chicken-races you in an attempt to beat you to the one-lane road that used to be a two lane road. Aside from the occasional desire to see just who IS the chicken in the Merge 250, especially since the other car seems to be newer and shinier than mine, I usually just mutter under my breath and let them have their way. After all, maybe there’s an emergency, they’re late for something important, or maybe they’re just expecting me to give in. Isn’t that a scary thought? Using your car on a power trip? But if someone needs this meaningless victory to feel good about themselves, who am I to squash their hopes and dreams of one-upmanship?
OK. I came to driving later in life than most, and I tend to still remember those pesky Rules of the Road, but it seems to me that if you’re not sure of where you’re going or when you need to be there planning might be the answer. What you say? Check how long it will take and what streets are the best to use? But where’s the fun? Well, I live in a college town. On most weekends during the fall and winter as well as August and May we are inundated with drivers from other cities and other states. While some of them have been through the C-U tangle of one-way streets and single lanes shared with bike lanes, many of them are here for the first time. The seasoned visitors should know to plan, but some of them don’t. The result can be fender benders, late arrivals. Add locals on their way to the same venue and it’s a circus of frustration and comedy. I stay home. I’ve learned to treasure those weeks when the campus is empty…traffic on Green Street is doable. And you can find a place to park!
My point here, if you’ve managed to wade through the traffic jam of my rationale, is that perhaps we’ve come to think of cars as more than just machines to take us where we want to go…at the proper speed and with consideration for others on the road. Today the car is…and stop me if I’m wrong…. a status symbol, a “chick” magnet (think teenage showoffs), a back seat playground for the kids we haul to school and soccer and dance class, and the one machine we use every day that can kill us if we’re not careful. Think of that the next time you’re on the road. Any road. The whole idea is to get where you’re going, right?

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Doin’ The Bunny Hop Hop Hop

This winter has been a myriad of experiences: some good, some less than agreeable, and some absolutely eye-opening. If you’re a Facebook friend you will have noticed some posts earlier this month regarding the adventures of a bunny named Flynn. I was fortunate enough to have him as a guest in my house for eleven days while his “mom” went to Florida. He brought everything he needed…food, treats, hay, his spacious cage, including his little hut and an alfalfa tunnel. All I had to do was feed and water him, let him hop around for exercise, and reassure him that his mom would be back soon. I even had a bunny book to help me out. Who knew?
Flynn is a Polish Dwarf, small, quick, and very intelligent…too smart for his own good sometimes. Bunnies are curious little guys…and they love dark spaces. Under the bed is a favorite of course. They don’t come out until they’re ready. Or hungry. But Flynn also loved to try and climb the fort we’d built in front of the television (to protect the cords) and sit on the top of the one of the recliners to inspect the art work on the walls. Oh, and he also loved The Big Bang Theory. He sat on his own little chair and watched the entire episode. Seriously. I have a picture!


For my part, I introduced him to carrots. Not the Bugs Bunny big ones, but the petite ones from our local grocery. He loved them too (still does according to my friend), and raspberries. And paper. His pellets had to be precisely placed under the hay or he would upend his bowl. Sometimes he did that anyway just to be funny. He fell into the small trash can and tried to leap a tall table in a single bound (not). And he hopped. And hopped, And hopped.
We survived the eleven days intact: Flynn got some good care, and I got a taste of what it would be like to have an animal in the house again. We lost Rascal almost two years ago and it was odd at first to share a room with a four-legged fireball. I loved it. I hope Flynn did too. That little brown hopper made me want to become a pet parent again. After I declutter the house. 

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Used Books & Elderberry Wine

wine & books

Hello, my name is Maryann and I’m a bibliophile…sounds better than book addict, doesn’t it? Most of you already know this because you are bibliophiles too. I love to read: Mystery, Fiction, History, if it catches my eye I’ll give it a chance to pull me in. Doesn’t have to be a new book or a bestseller either. I’ve discovered new friends in many places, including used book stores (knew that was coming, didn’t you). Our library has one on its lower level. There’s one (across Wright Street in in our next door neighbor, Urbana) with the intriguing name of Priceless Books. Their shelves are filled floor to ceiling with every type of book you can imagine. Carts too with “newer arrivals” and oversized pictorials. It is easy to lose an hour or so craning your neck to scan the upper reaches of the store or bending down (ignoring the creakiness in your knees) in search of a book by Richard Russo (my friend found one of his, autographed) or finding a Tom Clancy previously unread, or coming eye to eye with an older biography of someone important. Theodore Roosevelt, Alan Turing, Helen Keller. Hardcover or paperback, it’s like exploring someone’s library. Priceless also carries used CDs and DVDs; mostly jazz and the classics but with a few surprises as well. And it breaks down the orchestra by instrument; woodwinds, brass, you get the idea.

The library bookstore (Friends of the Library) is not as extensive in quantity but just as much fun to browse. You must know your alphabet and their system of classifying some fiction as mystery and vice versa (or you may never find Kent Krueger) but each section has frequent new additions. I find something I hadn’t seen before every time. And the prices are definitely right. Last week $7.00 bought me two hardcovers in great condition, one trade paperback (self-published by someone whose other books I’ve read and enjoyed) and a paperback mystery that I had somehow missed. Color me a happy shopper.

What does this have to do with elderberry wine you might ask? My last book search occurred after visiting a local winery. Wyldewood specializes in elderberry wine and it’s darn good. Two friends and I went there for a tasting not knowing much about berry wines and were happy to find we enjoyed the semi-dry and semi- sweet versions of elderberry, cherry (tart) and blackberry wines. These are not your grandmother’s cordials, although Mae would insist that…along with a wee dram of single malt…elderberry wine is good for your health. Really. It’s all about the antioxidants these days and evidently both scotch and berries are brimming over with them. Who knew? Did we walk out with wine? Indeed. The winery also has several grape wines made from regional varietals, also quite tasty. And did I mention the cordial and dessert wines suitable for sipping or pouring over ice cream or trifle?

Now, all you need to do is connect the dots. Cold winter evening, a comfy chair (and throw if you need one), a new (used) book to read, and a glass of the wine of your choice. Elderberry anyone?

PS. Next time out, I’m introducing you to one of my favorite characters. The language is a bit rough and the setting a bit gritty but this character is a major part of one of the books I’m working on and I think you’ll find him fascinating. Intrigued? I hope so!

snoopy reading

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Grand New Year, Same Old Me !

happy ny

I may be a bit late welcoming in 2015 but I have a good excuse. I’m still in 2014! I still have presents to mail, and my cards will be New Year’s cards instead of Happy Holiday ones…all because I spent most of the last four weeks in “I don’t know what this is but I’m coughing, sneezing, and simply exhausted” limbo. NOT the dreaded flu….and I’m finally on the mend thanks to my MD and an antibiotic to kick ass on the bacteria. But while I made it to work…more because I knew other people were calling off than any rational decision…I had to parcel out baking and shopping and wrapping and shipping to bursts of energy. I did some shopping online as well (I love bill to—ship to, yes I do) but my tree didn’t go up until Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was quietly spent in my jammies.  So, here I am in January, getting the rest of the goodies ready to go and wondering if I sent in my deposit for the snow removal. It is what it is. And I’ll get caught up before February…then I can make my New Year’s Resolutions (another story altogether).

Despite all the angst above, I did reap one reward. I got to catch up on my reading. Or attempt to, anyway.  Being a bookseller has its advantages but also one drawback. I seem to have a To Be Read pile that never really stops growing. Still, I made a temporary dent in the pile. Steve Berry’s Columbus Affair AND an ARC of his newest, The Patriot Threat (the latest in the Cotton Malone series with an intriguing premise) as well as Julie Hyzy’s latest Manor House Mystery are now read. If you get the chance, check them out….find the first in the series if you like. They’re all worth a read.

I also got the latest Anthony Horowitz. I had enjoyed his first take on Sherlock Holmes, The House of Silk, and the title of his second venture into Sherlock’s world, Moriarty, was too tempting to pass up, especially since it begins approximately one week after the infamous events at Reichenbach Falls. A body has been recovered from the waters below the falls; everything indicates that it is the corpse of James Moriarty. The local constable is unsure of just how to proceed until an American appears. Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton operative, claims the body may hold a clue about the criminal overlord he has been pursuing from New York. A Scotland Yard Inspector Anthelny Jones also arrives, his interest purely in retrieving Moriarty’s remains. Chase tells Jones of his belief that Moriarty may have been planning to meet with Charles Devereux, New York’s king of crime and the two of them search the dead man. Jones, an admirer of Sherlock Holmes and his methods, discovers a secret pocket in which there is a coded message.  And the game is afoot.

Once decoded, the message sends Chase and Jones on a chase through London, discovering key people in Devereux’s scheme only to have them turn up dead. Jones’ office is bombed, causing the Inspector and Chase to become even more certain they are on the right track. Jones refuses to give up, despite his wife’s pleadings, as the two men get closer and closer to their prey.  Who is Devereux and what does he really want with London now that Moriarty is dead?

Anthony Horowitz spins this tale with all the assurance of someone who loves all things Holmesian and builds suspense at every turn. His characters are intriguing in themselves….why is the Pinkerton agency so determined to discover (and possibly dispatch) Devereux? Is Jones truly a student of Holmes or a man who wants to prove he too can solve the unsolvable? And just who can be trusted?  Twists and turns abound. And the reader dare not trust his own eyes. Even if you have not read House of Silk, Moriarty is a glorious way to introduce yourself to the work of Anthony Horowitz.

And how I must go do some errands and bake some cookies before the weather decides to join the party that is January.  Mae is busy with Carnival Season in New Orleans. I’m working on a mystery set in 1942….as well as my Carstairs stories. Who knows what the next week will bring?

Happy 2015!

happy ny

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Promises, Promises

We all make promises, right? To ourselves, to friends, sometimes to people we don’t really know but somehow feel a connection to. And we make them for a variety of reasons. It would be lovely to think that making a promise is altruistic, that our motives are pure, and that we aren’t out for personal gain. That we intend to keep the promises we make is implied. A promise is a solemn vow to do something or act in a certain way in order to accomplish a particular goal.  But what happens when promises are not kept?

Before we go any further, I should explain that this post comes to you courtesy of the off-cycle elections.  In my state the candidates alternate between bashing their opponents and promising to do what they cannot possibly do without the cooperation of an entire corps of others. Governors can’t accomplish much if the legislative branch shoots them down every time. The legislative branch can’t accomplish much if there’s infighting or small groups intent on having their own way no matter what.  It fairly boggles the mind to remember the promises made four years ago and realize that those promises are simply being recycled, not kept. Most of them anyway. It’s downright depressing to think that nothing has been accomplished in this state in the past four years. Of course things have been accomplished. Right?

That said, I voted before I left on my travels. It’s one thing I can do, and although there are those who say one vote doesn’t make a difference, my belief is that at some point they will be wrong. That someone will keep a promise made, no matter how small. That the people we elect will put the people they represent first and foremost when they take their oaths of office. Am I a dreamer? Of course…but it can happen. Think of that when you vote next week and think of your choices as promises in themselves.

And now, I’ll keep my promise regarding Mae. She’s on her way to resolving her latest mess…and then taking a rest as I spend November doing NaNoWriMo. Wish us both luck!


I’d like to tell you that everything went according to plan, and it did after a fashion, but not without some improvising on the part of yours truly and help from an unexpected quarter.  My visit with Celine had not set well with Marie-Therese. On my return to the kitchen, she laid into me with a passion about neglecting my duties to cozy up to the young master, as if it would do me any good once the Mister found out my motives. For a brief moment I feared she’d found me  out, but when she mentioned some mishmash about how her long years of service had made her immune to any “foreign takeover”, I realized she thought I wanted her job. I meekly assured her that was not the case and finished up my chores for the afternoon, hoping I could at least talk with Benard if I couldn’t revisit Celine before I left.That much I did accomplish. Benard  reluctantly agreed to meet me at the cathedral to let me know if Cameron had agreed to Celine’s wish to visit Laura.  Sylvain and I could then set the trap and hope our plan would work

It almost all went wrong from the start. Cam did indeed agree to Celine’s request and decided it should be a picnic as well. He arranged with Lisa to put together a basket of Celine’s favorite .foods and to add a thermos of jasmine tea for me. Celine, he said, had requested me to come in case she felt “weary” again. When Marie-Therese overheard the preparations, she promptly declared her intention to join us. Cameron was in no position to go against her wishes, especially as we had no real proof she intended harm to his wife, so our cozy party of four became one more. And I had no way to tell Sylvain. Benard and I could only hope for a miracle.

We left New Orleans by way of the I-10 but soon exited on to one of the many smaller roads that wind through the bayous. Celine wanted to see the country, not just cement and metal and Benard followed her wishes, despite Marie-Therese protesting that the drive would be shorter if we stayed on the interstate. Marie-Therese had commandeered the front seat next to Benard, leaving Cameron, Celine and me in the spacious rear of the car. While I wasn’t pleased with the idea, it did offer up an option for dealing with the Madame once we got to the meeting place, a small abandoned house just two miles from the plantation. It also meant I would need to stay behind. We were almost there when Benard started frowning, as if he heard something unpleasant.

“What is wrong, Benard?” Marie-Therese saw his expression and moved closer to him.

“Keep your seat belt on, Madame,” he growled. “The engine is skipping. Or so it sounds.” I looked past him to see our true destination just a few hundred feet down the road. “I…there. It’s getting worse. I think we may have…”and with that he hit the gas and then turned the key back to the off position, sending the vehicle rumbling into the high grass and almost ramming the railing on the sagging porch. “…a problem,” he finished.  “You all right back there?”

“We are,” I answered. “Do we stay inside or get out of the car?”

and…” her voice faded as she saw two shabbily clad figures emerge from behind the house itself. “Who are you?”

“We’d best get out of the car, Mister Cameron,” Benard said, ignoring Madame’s question as the figures came closer. “I don’t see any weapons, but I don’t want us trapped inside just in case I’m wrong.” He got out from behind the wheel and motioned to us to leave by the doors farthest from the strangers.

“He’s right, sir, “I said as I slid the short distance to the door. “Just in case.” I nodded to Celine and was rewarded by a smile. She’d recognized her brother, and I was pleased to see Drum as his companion.

“Looks like y’all have a spot of ve-hicle trouble,” the taller of the two (Sylvain) drawled. “Kin we help? Maybe take y’all to the nearest phone?”

“We have a cell phone, thank you,” Marie-Therese scoffed. “Benard?” She held out her hand, only to have it swatted by my brother as Benard tried to pass it to her. The cell fell on the scraggly brush.

“No bars out here,” Sylvain said. He bent to pick it up, dropped it again, and then stepped on it. “My bad, y’all.” He grinned.

“I guess we’ll take you up on that phone,” Benard scowled. “How far?”

“Not very,” Sylvain said. “My cousin here will show you.” He motioned to Drum to lead us toward the house. “I’ll bring up the rear.” He ambled over to Marie-Therese. “Madame? After you.”

“In there?” Marie-Therese exclaimed. “You expect us to go in there?” She took two steps before falling to the ground, knocked out by the iron skillet Sylvain had liberated from his oversized coveralls.

“One down,” Drum announced.

“Explain yourselves,” Cameron said as he moved in front of Celine.

“This is my husband,” Celine said to Sylvain. “ Cameron, this is my brother Sylvain.”

“Which explains nothing,” Cameron said to her. “Including why my car suddenly dies right here on this country road. Someone had better tell me something I can believe, and soon.”

“More than happy to oblige, Mr. Rodrigue,” Sylvain answered, all business and no drawl. “If you and Celine will join me…” He indicated the interior of the house.

“It’s quite all right, Cameron my love. He’s here to save us. Please.” Celine took his arm and led him a few steps.

“I’ll listen, Cherie, for your sake, but this feels like a kidnap try and my father…”

“Hear me out, sir. Mae, perhaps you’d better come as well.”

“Mae? How does she…”

“Cameron, please. I promise you will understand once you hear it all.”


Unfortunately Benard was in no shape to answer, having been coshed by me with frying pan Sylvain had dropped on the grass. Well it was part of the plan.

“Five minutes of your time sir. But my sister leaves with me at the end of it, no matter what you decide. I won’t have her facing any more danger from your family than she has already.”

Cameron did not look convinced but the expression on his wife’s face was enough for him to grant Sylvain those five minutes. I went too, leaving Drummond to guard the unconscious Madame and cousin Benard.

I won’t bore you again with the details, except to add that Sylvain had the results from Marie-Therese’s soup. Old fashioned laudanum. Powerful and addictive but thankfully not given in enough potency to do more than case extreme lethargy. We’d caught it in time. It wasn’t much of a leap to plant the seed that Cameron’s mother might have been jealous enough of Celine’s beauty to enlist Marie-Therese to “solve” the problem.  No proof of course, unless Benard could add that to his list of things to discover. Sadly, he would have to risk getting cozy with either the Missus or Marie-Therese to get any results, but that was for another day.

It took more than five minutes, but in the end, Cameron decided to leave with Celine. He’d been getting more and more unhappy with the turn his father’s business had taken but had hoped, untl this week, that the company was still a legal one. We never mentioned Benard’s role. Just in case. As for me, well I had the honor of being beaned with the frying pan just before Sylvain, Drummond, Celine and Cameron took off into the brush surrounding our meeting place. Like Benard, I had to go back.

We were a sorry sight when the largest of the Rodrigue vans found us. It was the GPS in Cameron’s car that finally led them to our location. By then, we’d all recovered from the frying pan bashing, my head plenty sore even though it was Marie-Therese who had the worst of it and sported two blackened eyes. She and Benard told their story to the Mister…and as a result I got fired. I didn’t fuss too much since the Mister gave me a week’s wages, but I got a few licks in against the Madame before I got myself gone and back to the loft by the river. Benard managed a message to me about Celine and Sylvain, but I didn’t see Sylvain himself. Drummond met me at the loft, his lovely eyes beaming at the adventure, but we agreed to pretend it never happened.

Life in The Big Easy went on, Thanksgiving nearer every day. Drummond and I stayed at the loft, hoping to see our landlord, but mostly just grateful we had a warm place for the winter. Most of my days were spent doing cleaning work by way of the parish.  Drummond worked at keeping the church yard in shape, and getting his health back bit by bit.  We had volunteered to help serve at the Thanksgiving dinner the church threw for those without any other place to give thanks and were busily setting up the trays and utensils when I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“One minute and we’ll be done, Father,” I said as I turned to see Sylvain’s smiling face. “Well, I’ll be blessed, “I finished. “You are a welcome sight to these eyes.”

“As are you, Miss Mae.” He looked at the tables and chairs and baskets of bread and fruit . “I see you’re in the thick of it as usual.”

“Can you stay? How is your sister? I can set you a place at the table.”

“She’s just fine, Mae. So is he. They’re building a new life. Benard is, well…he’s still inside, but getting closer to the truth every day. He says “Hey”.”

“And you?”

“Better than ever. And I’d be glad to stay. Do you have room for two?”


“I brought an old friend.” He motioned to a shadowed figure, a big smile on his face.

“Morales!” My face felt suddenly hot.

“Mae!” He gave me a hug and nodded at Drummond. “I hear you’ve been getting in trouble again.”

“All his fault,” I said, glancing at Sylvain. “But it was fun while it lasted.”

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