Old Kitchen Nostalgia

imagesGTMBP5VTI enjoy home improvement shows. I particularly like those where renovations happen to bring a “bargain” purchase up to modern speed…but my “weirdness” comes in during the first look at the “before” aspects of the homes.

renovation101216dIt almost always makes me feel a little twinge of poignancy. A pang. A bittersweet sense, of nostalgia for those times and places gone by.52ebec5f697ab040980006d1__w_540_s_fit_

renovation1950s-kitchen

Beautiful 1950s kitchen

I can’t help envisioning, sometimes – especially with the kitchens – the happy times, the meals cooked and eaten by countless people, the gatherings enjoyed, and holidays and birthday celebrated. It can be places from times long before I was born; it doesn’t matter.

renovationkitchen-3-1966-xlg-95999344

Kitchen from around the time I was born in the 1960s

The room(s) that hosted those events is being cleared out, emptied, stripped down. That wallpaper or those cabinets and countertops so lovingly selected in 1957 or 1963, or 1990 are nothing more, now, then a mark of a bygone era, and the people who chose them and lived there have moved on, literally or figuratively, to greener pastures.

It makes me kind of…sad.

7-lodge-gothics-snow-cozy

peeking into a lit window at a cozy scene

Perhaps my feeling is connected to the game my mother and I would play (and that I still do sometimes even now, I confess) when we’d be driving somewhere, especially at night, and I could glimpse through some open shades or curtains a lit room or two in a home as we passed by. I was always fascinated by that, imagining the people who lived there by having that quick look. What were they like? What were their hopes, dreams? Were they happy or in the grip of a tragic or challenging circumstance? That “What if?” game led to me writing novels, I’m sure – but it’s also part and parcel of what niggles at me during those home improvement shows.

I’m pretty sure that makes me weird (so if you’re akin to this, or even understand what I’m talking about here, please chime in through the comments, so I know I’m not alone, LOL)!

Do YOU ever get a bittersweet sense of poignancy about something that doesn’t have personal meaning to you?

“Writerly” Perks

signing twoedited

First Moose Tracks book signing, 2/21/15, with a few of my older titles off to the side

One of the perks of being a published author – for me at least – has always been book signings.

I know it’s kind of a dying form; large, multi-author signings are still popular at annual writing/readers conferences and the like, but there are less and less bookstores to host individual signings. Also, I know many authors who dislike them (and I must admit I’ve had a few “interesting” experiences as well –  I remember one notable occasion at a Barnes & Noble many years ago, where the only person to stop at the table and chat was someone who wanted directions to the rest room!)  🙂

But I generally enjoy them because it gives me a chance to meet people and talk about books – and not always my books, either, but books in general. Sometimes people who stop by want to know about writing itself, or how to do it, or they want tips for how to get published. I try my best to address all questions and inquiries to the best of my ability – and I’ve met some really interesting people along the way.

Because Moose Tracks isn’t put out by a traditional publisher, the opportunities for book signings this time around will likely be limited. Chain bookstores won’t carry print copies of it, and only independent book stores who have a reason to carry it would likely go through the process to order (if they have an account with Baker and Taylor, I understand they can get copies through the print publisher, Create Space).

mysteries on main streetI was happy to have a signing last weekend, therefore, in nearby bookstore: a great little shop called Mysteries on Main Street.  It was a lot of fun and I met some new readers, in addition to getting to chat and visit with some I already knew. A photographer from the local paper even stopped by and snapped a few pics.

booksigning oneedited

Signing a book for a friend who stopped by while the news photographer sets up shot

I think if I hadn’t been an English teacher and writer, I would have/should have been a bookstore owner, employee, or a librarian. I love books! I love being around them. And the two hours I spent at this signing flew by, not only because of the activity of people coming in to buy and have me sign a book, but also because the atmosphere of the bookstore just soothes and delights me.

If you’re an author, how do you feel about book signings?  If you’re a reader, have you ever been to one – or would you ever attend one?  Why or why not?

About Fishing With Pa…and Surprises

I’ve come to understand a few things in the almost half century I’ve lived, and one of those is the realization that sometimes, people can surprise you.

Sometimes those surprises can be unpleasant, but since I try to focus on the positive, I’d like to share a moment from nearly 20 years ago that surprised me in the best of ways. I remember it so clearly, and it has stuck with me so well, that I even wrote one of the “past” scenes in Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven around it.

trout

Adirondacks Rainbow Trout Fisherman Wall Art by Paul A Lanquist

It involves a fishing trip I took with my father on a beautiful, sunny summer day when I was in my early 30’s, and Pa was nearing 70.

Now you have to understand that my father was a dedicated, lifelong trout fisherman. Some of my fondest memories involve Pa helping me learn how to bait my line with an earthworm, cast, “feel” the fish mouthing the bait, and setting the hook to reel in a beauty. We often released the fish we caught back into the river, lake, or stream, but never before admiring their beautiful markings and color.

On this particular day, we hadn’t gone fishing together in more than a year. Real life had intervened for me…I was married, living more than an hour from the Homestead, teaching full time, and had a young child, so opportunities to get away and spend an afternoon together fishing or even just visiting by ourselves didn’t happen too often. My husband had offered to watch our young daughter on this Saturday, and my father and I agreed to meet up at a fishing spot about halfway between each of us. It was a kind of dam with a running stream below it – perfect for active and hungry fish.

Pa and fishing favorite memory 2The bank of the stream was formed by a combination of large rocks and tall flowering weeds. The sun beat down hot and bright on us as we fished, and the sky was a perfect blue with puffy white clouds. Here’s a picture I took of Pa during some of the quiet time…we stood farther apart as we fished, so as not to tangle our lines in the gently moving water.

The surprise came at lunch time. We’d reeled in our lines and were sitting up on the bank; I thought we were going to decide where to head for a quick lunch, but Pa walked up to his vehicle, pulled out a small cooler, and proceeded to take out cups, napkins, two cold orange sodas (one of his favorite flavors of soda back then), some chips…and two submarine sandwiches of mixed cold cuts – salami, turkey, ham – dressed with mayonnaise, cheese, lettuce, tomato – the works.

When I realized that Pa had made the entire lunch himself, I was shocked to the core. My father had always been very self-sufficient (he was a US Marine after all), but my mother was such a good cook that, except for the occasional turn at the grill or undertaking a project like making homemade sauerkraut, my father had never “cooked” or prepared anything to my knowledge.  And this was the best sandwich I’d ever eaten, without a doubt in my mind.

Pa and fishing favorite memory

Another picture I took of Pa, smiling on the banks of the stream, just after our wonderful lunch

Pa got a good chuckle out of my astonishment, and we enjoyed the nicest lunch I’d ever had, not because of fancy food or ambience (though the setting WAS right up my alley and the food, as I mentioned, was delicious), but because of the moment. Because of the beauty of sharing that peaceful time and place together, sprinkled with the magic of learning something new about a man I’d thought (in my youthful arrogance and ignorance) I knew pretty much everything there was to know.

I learned much more about my father in the years to come, all interesting and some amazing, including talents I didn’t discover he’d had until finding some papers after his death.

However that day of fishing on the sunny banks of that little stream provided me with one of the first of those kinds of happy surprises. I guess I needed to be an adult to experience it – to start becoming aware that people often posses depth and complexity far beyond the surface we tend to assume. It’s an experience I’ve never forgotten…another important lesson learned, thanks to Pa, and one that has never left my heart. ❤

Goodbye/Hello

PauloThis thought is courtesy of today’s “Good Earth” tea bag. 🙂

It really struck me, because I’ve had quite a few goodbyes in the past four years…some willing and some very unwilling. I can’t say I’ve always been brave about it. But sometimes I have been.

Nuber family gathering 1967 enhanced cropped 2Pa and Mary before Mary's prom 1984 editedPa and Mary editedWhen my father died almost four years ago and I had to say goodbye to him, I was brave. He had been cheering me on to write Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven for about two years leading up to his death, and afterward, I faced my fears, a new door opened, and I managed to finish it in a way that made me – and I hope would have made him – proud.

mother's heartWhen my then high school-aged daughter was hospitalized with an unexpected and incurable (albeit treatable) illness and I had to say goodbye to the safe and secure understanding of the world that I’d known up until then, I went through a period of shock, disruption and fear. But I ended up being brave. A new door opened over time – one of insight, knowledge, and the discovery of even deeper reserves of love – and it allowed me to be even more the kind of mother and wife I strive to be.

MooseTracks_CoverMost recently, when Moose Tracks ran into some road blocks and things didn’t go exactly as I’d planned, I was forced to say goodbye to the publication path I’d intended for it. And for the briefest of moments, I considered throwing in the towel. It had been a LONG haul…literally years of work and obstacles, tears and laughter, and digging deeper than I’d ever dug before. I was tired. But in the end I found reserves of bravery, and for every door that closed in front of me, I forced myself to face my discomfort, turn a corner, and find a new one to open. The last of these doors led to the publication of this novel that has meant so much to me…and according to early readers and two recent reviews, has been useful and enjoyable to others as well, striking the kind of chord and providing some of the thoughts, insights, and hopefulness that I was aiming to share with the rest of the world all along. I have high hopes that over time, this book will find the readers it’s meant to find, and all will unfold the way it is supposed to.

Life is good.

When we are brave enough to say goodbye…sometimes we are rewarded with a new hello. 🙂

 

Some Bone Deep Memories that led to Writing “Moose Tracks”

Now that Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven is published, I’ve been thinking about some of the “behind the scenes” and inspirational  kinds of things I enjoy reading about/seeing when it comes to novels I’ve read by other authors – and so I decided to do a post of this sort today, for anyone who might be interested.

Mary on threadbare chairWe were pretty materially poor when I was little. So much so that when my father married my mother (it was a second marriage for them both, and she already had my five older sisters) there was a carpet pad instead of a carpet for quite a few years, and some furniture that was extremely threadbare (like in this picture, taken from inside our living room, in our little house near the lake).

Pa took this picture, I’m certain, as he was the camera-expert in the house, and I only found it recently, on a slide he’d given me years ago. I love it, actually, because of the ragged carpet pad and chair. I felt so much love and nurturing in my young life that I have no memory or distress at having so little in a material sense. My parents ensured that we had plentiful, wholesome, homemade food (with one of Ma’s delicious desserts every night!) and plenty of sturdy, warm clothing and shoes; we were living on my father’s salary alone with many mouths to feed, and we didn’t have a lot of frills, but we always had more than enough in that regard. I felt then and still feel I wanted for nothing.

Mary cyI’m sitting in the pic above with my hands uncharacteristically folded and a solemn expression on my face. Here’s another one on the left of my more usual, energetic demeanor, and on the right, from a professional photographer about six months earlier. Mary at 22 monthsI was two years old in the picture on the right and about three in both of the pictures taken at home – a happy, exuberant kid. However, my parents often told me that I was also a child who would sometimes retreat into a profound stillness and deep thoughts. When I had the kind of expression I’m wearing in the pic above – the one with my hands folded – my mother said she always wondered what I was thinking, and people often said I spoke and seemed far older than my years. I wasn’t so still and quiet very often, but I had the makings of a bookworm/thinker even then.

I’ll finish this post with some final, visual examples of the kind of happiness and love I experienced as a young child – the foundation of the life and family atmosphere that would inspire my writings so many years later. These pics are from my first birthday and were taken in the Homestead’s kitchen, next to my father’s chair (empty in these shots, as he was taking the photos), back in the winter of 1967. I am the sixth of seven daughters, but my parents ensured that each daughter was recognized in her own right, with attention, conversations, and of course recognition of us as individuals on our birthdays. Pa was at the ready with his camera, and we always had a cake baked for us lovingly by my mother (who is a wonderful cook, even today, though she is in her 80’s now).

Birthday 17 Birthday 16 Birthday 14 Birthday 13 Birthday 10

Life was good in the purest and best sense…filled with ups and downs, conflict and struggle, but also filled with the kind of warmth and nurturing that helped a little girl understand what’s really important, far above and beyond material goods.

 

Release Day!

Actual Final copy with endorsementIt’s finally here…and after five + years in the writing, another six months in editing and production, and two months in pre-sale mode, it feel very good to say that Moose Tracks on the Road To Heaven is now available for purchase in eBook or print TODAY! 🙂

You can purchase the eBook in these places:

Amazon B&N iBooks Kobo AllRomance GooglePlay

PLEASE NOTE: If you’d prefer a PRINT copy of the book, at this point it can be purchased here, from: Amazon

It will be available in print from Barnes and Noble and other sellers within a few days (there is a lag in terms of publisher availability).

It will also be available from some independent book stores, either in stock or upon request, including Mysteries on Main Street, in Johnstown, NY.

Moose Tracks Sneak Peek #3 – Meet Jen and Zippy

This sneak peek comes from part-way through a chapter during which the novel’s 30-something year old protagonist, Elena, and her whole family (which is comprised of her mother, six other sisters, and some of their husbands and kids) are sitting in the hospital’s waiting room for Pa to come out of aneurysm surgery. Only their seventh sister, movie star Alexandra “Zippy” Wright, is missing, being late to arrive from out of town. Elena is desperate for a distraction from her worried thoughts, so she’s delighted when Jen takes matters into her own hands to liven up the waiting….

Actual Final copy with endorsement“Just as she had since they were little girls together, whispering from the dark confines of their bunk-bed, Jen seemed to possess an uncanny ability to click into Elena’s renegade thoughts, whether or not they were saying anything aloud. Now Elena made a goofy, eye-rolling face at her, and Jen’s half-smile shifted to a full-blown grin.

Her sister was out of uniform for the moment, her shoulder-length, dark hair loose from the usual clipped-up knot that was necessary for police protocol, and both her arms and her jean-clad legs crossed casually as she leaned against the doorjamb. She had long limbs, strong and toned, though Elena knew that even now Jen didn’t consider herself attractive in a physical sense. Too many years of more popular classmates taunting her with names like “Granny Oakley” and “spaghetti legs” had prevented that.

But Jen had grown into those legs eventually. By the time she was out of high school and the eighties were in full swing, braces had straightened her buck teeth and she’d cut her thick hair into a spiky, punk-style, ala Prince and The Revolution. She’d been a force to contend with then, tough as nails (especially to any guy who tried to get a little too cozy with Elena when they’d go out together on college breaks) but still the same funny, irreverent, insecure-on-the-inside Jen that she’d always been.

Elena couldn’t help wondering, sometimes, how Jen might have been different if she’d been gorgeous from birth, the way Zippy had been. Zippy, who’d earned her nickname for Continue reading

Preorder on Google Play!

Actual Final copy with endorsementOnly 26 days to go and Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven is now up and available for preorder at Google Play (just click on the cover or this link to go there).

The special preorder price is still $3.99 – but it looks like Google Play has their own promotion on that has the price knocked down to $3.03!!

Just a friendly PSA for those who might be interested. 🙂

Moose Tracks Sneak Peek #2 – Meet Jesse

Actual Final copy with endorsement

From Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven, available for preorder now for Kindle and Kobo, and for sale in print and all other venues on February 3, 2015.

Diary entry #1: June 30, 1981

This is Elena Elizabeth, and it’s my first time writing even though I got this diary five months ago when I turned twelve. I’ve been feeling a little guilty cuz Ma says I should be using it, so here goes. I met a new kid near Caveman Rock today. He seems like a jerk. . . .

      The first time Elena saw Jesse James Wilder she was up to her elbows in

dirt and a rotting layer of last autumn’s leaves. She was a definite outdoors

girl, tall for her age and in the habit of running free all day each summer—

sometimes playing with Jen (less often Zippy or Patricia) or maybe the

across-the-field-neighbors Lisa and Debbie. But lots of times she just

rummaged around in the woods by herself.

      She could spend hours looking at plants, collecting feathers,

pretending to be a pioneer or an Indian, and finding dead birds and other

animals to bury in the little animal graveyard Pa had helped them lay out

behind the camp’s outhouse. She’d be the first to admit that with only one

bathroom at the homestead, the outhouse could be useful in a pinch, even if

it was stinky and dark.

      She felt safe playing outside by herself all day. Ma had never had

to worry about weirdos trolling the streets and byways for kids to pick up.

Not in rural areas like Moose Junction, and certainly not out in the acres of

woods behind their house.

      On the rare occasions when Elena went with her sisters on the ten minute

bike ride down the highway to the lake (from which the nearby

town of Lake Pines derived its name), they’d all stuck together. The older

girls watched out for the younger ones, and bad drivers were more of a

concern than kidnappers.

      All in all, Elena relished those summer days of freedom, coming

home at dusk and covered in dirt, and, more often than not, with twigs and

even burdocks tangled in her hair.

      As it was already nearing suppertime on that particular day, she

looked quite a sight as she crouched in the dappled light, trying to scoop a

half mummified chipmunk carcass into an improvised Maple bark coffin.

She’d been concentrating so hard that she hadn’t been paying

attention to her surroundings. So when Jesse Wilder surprised her by

stepping into her little clearing with his size thirteen feet, snapping twigs

like a black bear, she’d lurched to a partial stand and nearly clocked him

with the stick she’d been using to dig at the dirt around the dead chipmunk.

In fact, she swung her improvised weapon within a few inches of his head

at the same time that she pretty much growled at him.

      Both of his big hands shot up in front of him in a fist-clenched,

defensive pose as he yelled, “Holy shit!” But the terrified look on his face

immediately made her feel a little better, considering her temporary lapse

of attention to her surroundings.

      “What the hell!” he added as his fists slowly came down, but his

shock was still apparent by the way his voice cracked on the last word.

Elena’s mouth turned down at the double profanities. She gave him

a quick onceover, none too impressed. First of all, he was obviously a city

slicker, and second of all, he was a boy (a.k.a. an alien species). A tall,

wiry boy, sporting a shock of honey-colored hair streaked with blond, and

staring at her through narrowed blue eyes.

      She finally let out her breath, standing up out of her stooped

position. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to use that kind

of language?”

      “My mother died when I was six.”

      That kind of set Elena back on her heels. “Oh . . . sorry.”

She didn’t really know what else to say. The truth was that she

didn’t know anyone on a personal basis who didn’t have a mother. The

thought of what it would be like not to have Ma, with her soft hands, sweet

smile, and gentle voice (except when Trish, Zippy, and Elena had been

squabbling so much that they’d driven her up one wall and down another)

took away some of the sting of indignation she’d been feeling.

      But the temporary peace lasted only as long as it took for the tall,

scrawny blond kid to open his mouth again, right after he returned the

favor Elena had given him with a disdainful onceover, his expression

having shifted by now from his initial shock to a look of cool mocking.

“What are you, some kind of crazy mountain girl?” His sarcasm

was only fair considering the way she looked, she supposed, but she didn’t

much care for logic at that moment. She snorted, taking in his Jordache

jeans, Nike sneakers, and perfectly pressed Ralph Lauren shirt.

      “Yeah. Just like you’re a walking billboard for name brands.”

      He did something Elena didn’t expect then. He laughed.

Christmas at the Homestead…and A Stollen Recipe

ChristmasWell, I suppose the stollen could  be served anytime. But we always had it on Christmas.

It’s a little fussy to make and takes a few hours, between rising, baking and frosting, but the results are worth it and SO good with coffee. The pic above is of a later years Christmas morning at the Homestead…the entire living room used to be filled like this when all of us kids lived at home. My poor mother would be wrapping until 2:00am most Christmases. 🙂

Here’s the stollen recipe; it’s from a 1965 edition of Family Circle Magazine, and my mother has been making this every year for my entire life. Once I got married and started my own family, I began making it as well – though mine never turn out as nice as Ma’s do!

STOLLEN
BREADS — Yeast

Bake at 350° for 35 minutes…makes 2 large loaves

1 cup seedless raisins
1 cup (8-ounce jar) mixed chopped candied fruits
1/4 cup orange juice
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine
2 envelopes active dry yeast
OR: 2 cakes compressed yeast
1/4 cup very warm water
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
5 cups sifted regular flour
1 cup chopped blanched almonds (I use finely chopped walnuts instead)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar (I use a lot more)

imageCombine raisins, candied fruits, and orange juice in a small bowl.

imageScald milk with sugar, salt, and 1/2 cup (1 stick) of the butter or margarine; cool to lukewarm.

Sprinkle or crumble yeast into very warm water in a large bowl. (“Very warm” water should feel comfortably warm when dropped on wrist.) Stir until yeast dissolves, then stir in cooled milk mixture, eggs, and lemon rind.

imageBeat in 2 cups of the flour until smooth; stir in fruit mixture, almonds, and nutmeg, then beat in just enough of remaining 3 cups flour to make a stiff dough.

Knead until smooth and elastic on a lightly floured pastry cloth or board, adding only enough flour to keep dough from sticking (this is the part that’s always tough for me…figuring out how much to knead it, because there are ingredients in the dough that prevent it from being “smooth” and so difficult to tell if it’s “elastic” yet. If the dough springs back a little when you poke it, then it’s good). 🙂

imagePlace in a greased large bowl; cover with a clean towel.

imageLet rise in a warm place, away from draft, 2 hours, or until double in bulk. I use my oven’s “proofing” setting, because it keeps it draft-free and just warm enough.

imageIt should look like this on the left when ready for the next step.

Punch dough down; knead a few times; divide in half. imageRoll each into an oval, 15×9; place on a greased large cookie sheet. Melt remaining 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine in a small saucepan; brush part over each oval; sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar; imagefold in half lengthwise.

Cover; let rise again 1 hour, or until double in bulk. Brush again with part of the remaining melted butter or margarine.

imageBake in moderate oven (350°) 35 minutes, or until golden and loaves give a hollow sound when tapped. While hot, brush with remaining melted butter or margarine; cool on wire racks.

When cool, frost and decorate. imageI use a basic white icing (butter, confectioner’s sugar, a little vanilla and a couple tablespoons of milk), decorated with cut red and green cherries.

It’s really great with coffee…and with just the white frosting, you could serve it anytime!