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Look for a Launch at our Neighborhood Grill

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Mom and I at Applebee’s working out the details of one of our mysteries.

In our first book, Twist of Fate, mom and I acknowledged the wait staff of our local Applebee’s restaurant. We did so because of the many times we met for lunch there and worked out the details of the plot. We received more than a few odd looks as we talked about the best poison for not leaving a trace, the proper police procedures following a murder attempt, what expired drugs might be sought on the black market, how to let our villain escape discovery. But after we explained what we were doing, we also got enthusiasm and encouragement and have continued to collect praise for having received our dream of being published authors. Many of the people that work there recognize us now when we walk in. They know mom likes to get the closest booth possible because of her physical limitations; they know that she needs the blinds pulled half-way shut for her vision impairment; some even know to bring an extra plate because we love to split an entrée and a house salad.

So what more appropriate place to launch book three, Violet Fate, than our local neighborhood restaurant? I got in touch with the corporate offices of the restaurant and proceeded to get the same kind of enthusiastic response as the local restaurant. The young man I talked to congratulated us immediately on our success, then talked to his boss in communications as well as the local franchise owner, and they’ve all been supportive.

The event is still very much in the planning stages, but I have found this whole exercise invigorating and rewarding. Mom and I now know after three years that publishing a book is very hard work that pays pretty terrible wages in terms of monetary value, but a pretty fantastic salary if you like being paid by gratification. As my little sister Allyn Stotz, a children’s book in Baton Rouge, LA, (who is our No. 1 cheerleader) has said many times: it’s those voices that praise you for having the courage to pursue your dream that make this a worthwhile pursuit.

As mom and I found at this past weekend’s art and craft’s fair, one person’s comment or action can make an entire day’s efforts worthwhile. We sold just enough books to deem the fair a success. But about half an hour before the fair’s end, mom turned to me and kiddingly said: we need to sell one more set of Twist of Fate/Wretched Fate to make it a true accomplishment. Fifteen minutes later, a quarter hour before the fair closed its doors, a young man wandered by, found out we were local authors, then proceeded to pump us for information on what we’d been through. He was fascinated. Then, even though he readily admitted he didn’t read many books these days, he bought a set. I patted myself on the back for having convinced him they make great Christmas gifts. But when we went to address the signed copies to a gift recipient, he grinned sheepishly and gave his own name.

Thanks to Applebee’s and to Daniel for this week’s needed “salary”.

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The computer ate my homework

Ironically, I am writing this for the second time. A few minutes ago, I lost my thoughts to this new computer system, which seems to be a regular occurrence with me these days. I really thought masharkybe I had conquered this computer, but it keeps letting me know who is in charge. At 85, I don’t seem to take to change too well, and I don’t really like being beaten by the computer. But I’m learning it’s part of today’s world. And it all sort of fits with the blog column I wrote because I was addressing the great changes in the world people my age have seen. Life at 85 can be a constant adventure.

For example, today my husband and I decided to venture out to find the local Dairy Queen.  If the two of us weren’t old and didn’t live in such a traffic-mess-of-a-city, I wouldn’t label this effort “adventure.” However, since my husband can no longer remember where he is going, and I am blind and can’t read road signs … you get the picture. We usually only go where I can give him instructions these days—go right at that corner, turn left here, keep on going straight.  But I’m afraid the places I am certain of in this area, which we’ve been residents of, for only half this decade, are few and far between. Also, I spent 74 years letting my husband drive while I basically daydreamed and didn’t pay attention; thus, we are now usually limited on where we can go. That’s why these outings are “adventures.”

Surprisingly, though, we had no trouble—we made only one wrong turn. However, the adventure this time occurred after we arrived. There we were standing in line to order a meal, and neither of us could read the menu on the board.  Bob insisted I tell him what he wanted to eat (something that happens a lot these days), and neither of us could understand the clerk who had a strong foreign accent.  We felt like idiots holding up the people waiting behind us.  Finally, we got that ordeal over, and I returned to our seat to wait while Bob got the order.

Suddenly, I felt like it was lunch hour for school and a lot of kids were skipping class.  The restaurant filled with a dozen young boys – all high school students, all almost six feet in height and none of them weighing more than 130 pounds! I never saw so many thin boys in my life.  They all looked like their pants were about to fall off.

Three high school girls came in next wearing short shorts on their also-slim bodies. They looked cute and quite nice but the fact they could go to school looking like that shocked me.  Now readers, I’m not so old I can remember when it was sinful for a girl to show her ankles, but I am of the generation when girls did not wear long pants in public.  Back in my youth teenage girls wore skirts (poodle skirts if you were cool) or dresses with sweaters and saddle shoes (which were, no matter what, NOT supposed to be clean).  When my daughters were teens, they wore short skirts or short dresses.  My own “modern” mother assured me those skirt lengths were all right, but to this day, I am not convinced. The short shorts those girls in the Dairy Queen were wearing were actually a lot better cover than the miniskirts of the late 1960s, early 1970s.

I know I sound old fashioned, but I don’t really think of myself that way. However, so much has changed in the last forty to fifty years.  In fact, so much has changed in the last ten!  I have enough trouble with my cell phone and have to go to my granddaughter for help with that.  And then you add the many new programs on the computer, the pop up ads I can barely see that the Internet produces, and you can understand how much I’m facing.

I do try hard, but days like today convince me that, despite the dictation program I use and the read-back program that helps, I am fighting a mighty hard battle. I am much more adept at losing copy than producing it.  Is there anyone else out there who feels the same?

Sharon Swope

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Sister Act, Summer 2013

wisconsin_dairy_farmRiding through Wisconsin is a visual journey through luscious greenery. My husband and I recently experienced this delight on our way to a vacation at my sister’s home. In fact, by getting lost listening to two navigation systems try to get us there and taking us out of our way, we got an extra few hours of staring at those tree canopies, rolling hills, barns and fields, charming small towns and numerous snowmobile bars that make up the roadways of Wisconsin.

After fifteen minutes of the kind of tenseness that being a couple pulled off to the side of road to “discuss” a map can create (yes, we graduated to the paper kind), we finally arrived in Rhinelander, glad that if we were going to get misdirected, at least it was in a beautiful state (Maybe Siri and Droid know more than we thought!).

I was on crutches from a foot injury followed by a bad bout of gout; but I was determined not to let that get in the way of enjoying the local flavor. So I limped around a giant flea market with my new friend Carol in the rain (thanks for the great shopping excursion Carol) learning how impolite some people can be while others go out of their way to be accommodating. And I practiced perfecting getting around tables in busy restaurants, but was rewarded with the most mouth wateringly perfect omelet the downtown Rhinelander Pub has to offer, along with cheerful local flavor of Judy’s outside of downtown. By the second day, I had graduated to a cane to help me board my brother-in-law’s awesome pontoon, which zipped and bounced along the waves of the lake-connected-to-lake-connected-to-even more-lakes that the Wisconsin landscape offers water lovers. I have to say that by the time we graduated to small town shopping (the towns surrounding the Rhinelander area of Wisconsin has the most awesome gifts shops, antique shops and art shops I’ve ever experienced in one place), I accepted the pain of gout as fair payment for the experience I was having. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a more relaxing vacation in my life (okay, okay, it probably had something to do with the fact that my sister and her husband are awesome cooks and experienced hosts. Being waited on hand and sore foot does a lot for the reduction of stress!)

When I was in the car on my way home, fondly remembering the week and wondering why I felt it was such a great experience, I realized it had nothing to do with Wisconsin’s beauty, the wonders of sun and water, the treasures I found or even the mouth-watering donuts of Lumberjacks and the perfectly cooked steaks and Asian cabbage salad we were served.

It was being with people who laugh at me, with me, even for me when I’m feeling upset at getting lost or reporting on the complications of my everyday life. I don’t know what my mom and my dad did to create the strings that grew into a family and an extended family tapestry, but it’s a skill beyond anything writing will ever accomplish for me. We’ve had the usual ups and downs that being related and opinionated, strong people creates within a family; but we’ve gotten through those and learned to just enjoy each other. I loved being with you, sisters.
In the tradition of my mom, here is an awesome recipe my hostess served.

Asian Cabbage Slaw (serves four)
Brown 2 pkgs broken-up Ramen noodles (throw away seasoning pkt) in ½ cup butter, along with 2 TB sesame seeds and 1 cup slivered almonds. Cool. Shred 1 head Napa cabbage and mix together with 4 to 5 slivered green onions. Chill cabbage mix.
Before serving, combine the cabbage mix with the Ramen noodle mixture and add this dressing:
Boil ¼ cup rice vinegar, 2 TB soy sauce, ½ cup sugar and ¾ cup oil. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes until sugar is dissolved. Cool.
Note to all our diabetic friends: the recipe is great with sugar substitute, but eliminate the step of boiling the vinegar. Just combine and let sit.

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Old-fashioned Goodness

cooking 4For more than 70 years I’ve enjoyed cooking, but lately it’s become a chore. I still do it many days and often for an event or family get together. But it doesn’t carry the enjoyment I had when I was younger. This was especially true during the first few years of my marriage. Since this was right after World War II, cooking was something that was a challenge on our limited budgets (not to mention the lack of all of today’s fancy kitchen gadgets.) But it was something to be proud of, and something that gave us a challenge and usually a success every day.

Once the kids were born, it became a challenge for a different reason, mostly because there were so many foods they didn’t really like. It wasn’t fun, believe me, when one of my children refused to eat anything with ground meat of any kind and another one hated meat and potatoes so badly she acted insulted when I chose it for dinner. I think I began enjoying it again when I realized I just couldn’t please everyone so I stopped trying, started looking for new recipes and started experimenting.

I especially like to cook when I can make up something—I have a general dish in mind and certain ingredients, but no specific recipe. The trouble is, when I have a success this way, I’ve generally forgotten to write it down. It doesn’t seem to ever turn out quite as well as that first time, but maybe that has to do with remembering how good the initial success felt.

Like with writing, one of the reasons people enjoy cooking is the audience. For most of my senior years, my husband has been that audience unless we’re going to an event. Now my husband is good about everything and has never complained about anything I ever made and often complimented me. But he wouldn’t cook himself. He was raised in a different era than men today; he never even did much grilling—it just wasn’t his thing. This was fine because he enjoyed what I made and made me feel good about my cooking skills. After almost 65 years of marriage, however, even cooking for this one-man audience has become a chore.

If you’re wondering what my point is, I started writing this column after having a craving for something I used to make a long time ago, one of my personal favorites. It’s a simple recipe given to me by my brother-in-law’s wife. It’s just a frosting, which I usually put on a cake made from a mix. But it really crowns the cake and makes it a showpiece for its flavor. Somehow it’s just as good as eating candy. My son Mark mentioned it to me not too long ago, and it reminded me that there are simple recipes that stand the test of time as well the test of age. When it came to cakes, usually my kids preferred something simpler – white cake with white frosting. This one was the exception.

spry

Museum of American Packaging

Since this recipe is in my brain because I plan to make this frosting for a potluck I’m attending next week, I thought I’d pass it along to you. It reminds me that even with all the ease of canned frosting and boxed mixes, sometimes going back to the old-fashioned way of cooking produces something that reminds you why you like to cook: because you like to eat good food and you like to give that pleasure to others. If you’re wondering what “Spry” is, you have travel back to the 1950s and 1960s. It was a shortening that rivaled Crisco and was actually better tasting at the time, but lost the battle. I’ve left it in this recipe to keep it historically accurate. You’d have to travel to Cyprus today to buy any, so I’d advise substituting shortening!

Brown sugar frosting
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons Spry
1 cup brown sugar

Mix together in medium size saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Add 1/4 cup milk.  Bring to boil again and boil for 3 minutes over low heat.  Take off stove and cool. When cool, add 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar.  When thoroughly blended, frost over prepared baked cake. Very good on spice cake or white cakes.

For our readers, I want to leave you with this thought: when something becomes a chore, even when it’s something you’re as passionate about as your writing, one place to look for inspiration is to your own past. Dust off that old recipe or old creation and visit again how good it was.

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE LOCAL, Sharon and Genilee will be at the Porter Library, 2001 Parkway Blvd, Stafford, VA Thursday night beginning at 7:30 p.m. to sign copies of Twist of Fate.

F. Sharon Swope

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Conquering the Dragon

Conquering the Dragon

My dear 85-year-old mom is caught up with this week in doing battle with Technology.

She bought a new computer and her kids bought her a new, higher resolution, flat screen, big bad monitor that we hope will help her with her failing eyesight.

I have to admire those my mom’s age who are brave enough to tackle technology (and yes, Verna, I’m including you!) It’s scary enough to have to face all the bells and whistles and foreign concepts that go along with cell phones and satellite technology and new operating systems. But to face it when you’re visually impaired like my ma and have no computer geek husband (my personal saving grace) to help you figure it out is beyond brave.

My mom knows the value of today’s technology, just as she knows the miracle of modern medicine (she’d be blind now if born 10 years earlier). Technology helped her reach this dream of becoming a published author. Of course, it’s also been the cause of many an afternoon of frustration such as a recent few hours spent trying to figure out how she’d turned her work upside down. And I mean that literally: her monitor showed a view that was flipped 180 degrees!

But thank goodness now for a free program my brother Mark found called NVDA (http://www.nvda-project.org/). It talks her through the commands on her computer and reads back what she types. And we’ve just discovered that Microsoft Windows has an access center provided with most computers that has a narrative aid (it reads the screen) and a magnifier. My sister in law Cindy also bought me Dragon Speak for Home, which allows you to dictate instead of type and works amazingly well.

However, having these wonderful technology tools available is one small step in the stupendously large task of learning how to use them. I am no great computer whiz myself, and I see just fine. But I can tell you that after playing with all of these in an attempt to set them up so that mom could get started just about drove me completely bonkers.

So we’ll check in with Sharon in a week or two and see if she still has her sanity as she tries to slay the friendly dragon.

Genilee Swope Parente

P.S.  We will be at Potomac Woods Apartments, 2001 Southampton Street, Woodbridge, VA 22191 Wednesday, March 20 at 11, and they have kindly invited the general public. Come see us, buy a book, get a book signed or just chat. We’ll be at Stafford Garden Apartments for a signing tomorrow at 1:30.

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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A Signing Event’s Takeaway

latestIf I had to sum up how book signings and events have gone for mom and me, I’d borrow a fictional line from saucy heroine Blanche Debois of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

Some say apologies to Tennessee Williams may be in order because the line exposes the frailty of the character. Others, however, say the line simply sums up how Blanche has chosen to deal with the harshness of her life.

I use it because it sums up what I choose to take away from these events.
As authors, we work very hard, writing and rewriting and fine-tuning plot points. For many of us, it involves giving up what little free time we can scrape together in order to pursue the joy we get from the written word.

The smiles, encouraging words and excitement we get when someone asks us to sign a book, when someone gushes about how proud we should be to have accomplished the seemingly impossible task of getting published—are the reward.

And occasionally, we DO depend on their kindness, as was the case this past weekend when we held a book signing at River Run apartments. We arrived too early and since it was the weekend, there was no office to let us in. Three very nice ladies sitting in the lounge must have decided my 85-year-old mom with her cane and my 87-year-old dad lugging heavy boxes were probably not an immediate threat to safety so they let us in, out of the cold. They were cautious, but once we explained that we were there for a signing, they offered words of encouragement, tried to locate the newsletter that should have announced the signing, talked to passing residents long enough to find out that a notice DID go out.

And one dear lady just pulled out her phone and called the weekend answering service and explained the situation (I had tried the same thing and gotten nowhere. She must have been more forceful—Ah depend on the kind…niss of strangers!).

As it turned out, the event had been set up, donuts from management arrived from another dear lady on her scooter, who helped to set them up, and the signing went as planned. It wasn’t heavily trafficked but we sold what we considered to be a successful amount. However, it was not that few dollars you make at a signing that made the event a success. It was how very nice the people were, how encouraging and excited to find out that we had written a book. It was the German lady (a teacher) who chatted with us for many minutes and gave me advice to pass along to my daughter, who is pursuing education in college. It was the woman who had pulled out her phone in the first place and her companions from the lobby, who sat through much of the signing and grabbed hold of passing friends. It was one of those passing friends, a gentleman who stood and recited his inspirational poems, and it was the woman there to meet up with her mother but who ended up booking us for her mystery club. It was also everyone who—even if they didn’t buy a book—offered smiles and kind words.

That is the kindness of strangers.

Thanks to River Run residents and their kindness.

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Time to Find the Quiet Place

typing-on-computer

Do your days ever start like this?

Coffee in hand, you open your writing computer and plop it onto the dining room table, excited to have this time to create, full of ideas you want to get down. You sit down and sip your coffee.

Your teenager’s alarm goes off. You tilt your head, glance at the stairway leading up to the bedrooms, type a little more, glare at the stairway, type another sentence, sigh heavily and lift yourself up to go wake up your daughter. Ten minutes later, after light-switch flicking, toe tickling and finally, threats to inflict bodily harm, you’re back at the computer, trying to remember what you were doing before you left. The ideas pop back into place and for five blessed minutes, your fingers fly again. Until you notice someone standing at the edge of your vision.

“Hi, hon. Sorry to bother you. But I can’t find those insurance forms we talked about last night. I need to turn them in today. Do you know where they are?”

Lifting yourself up, you cross the family room, sigh heavily and open the drawer of the end table your husband is standing next to, the one where you ALWAYS keep pending paperwork, and hand him the forms on the top of the stack. He kisses your cheek and turns to go into the kitchen to fill his travel mug with the coffee you made this morning.

You return to your dining room table and computer, realize your own coffee has gone cold, travel to the kitchen for a refill, receive a “bye hon. I’ll be late tonight” and another peck, then watch your teenage daughter fly into the kitchen, smelling like a perfume sample and looking like a make-up model with her pajamas still. She grabs a banana and retreats back upstairs to finish her morning ministrations.

Back at the computer, you sigh heavily and start again. Peck, peck, peck. Your barely notice when your daughter, now fully clothed, runs through the family then dining room with backpack in tow and somehow manages to kiss the top of your head as she whisks out the garage door. You’re going strong now, the rhythm of your fingers matching the pace of your thoughts. Until you notice someone standing at the edge of your vision. Or rather, sitting on her haunches, a look of hunger and desperation in her soulful eyes. She whimpers once and you sigh heavily, lift yourself up to go feed the dog, then let her out into the back yard, knowing she’d rather have a walk. Not until your writing hour is up! Those are your self-imposed rules.

While the dog is relieving herself, you’re working on that second paragraph you started. A hungry cat jumps into your lap, making you regret you didn’t put the cat food out when you fed the dog. A bark at the door interrupts progress on the second paragraph.  You ignore feline meows and canine bow wows while you finish the second paragraph, but a tail in the face does not help productivity.

You sigh heavily, lift yourself up, feed the cat, let the dog in, rinse out the bowl your husband left on the counter, which leads you to rinse out the glasses and bowl from last night’s movie popcorn night, open the dishwasher and realize it’s full of clean dishes, empty the dishwasher and refill it, retrieve your mug and microwave your now cold coffee then turn back towards your computer. At the kitchen door, you gaze into the living area of your home and see that the rug needs vacuuming, something  you meant to do before you went to bed last night. You notice your daughter has left school books and files on the coffee table, deposited from her book bag on her whirlwind trip to the bus. You gaze towards the window wondering how your daughter ever makes the bus and notice the streaks of dirt you’ve been meaning to get to. You turn back to your kitchen and the family calendar, suddenly wondering if today is the day you scheduled a hair appointment. Nope, that’s tomorrow, but you do have a doctor’s appointment in two hours. Better get started on your paying work a little early today. Maybe they’ll be time to work on that next chapter of your book before you make dinner tonight. And if not? There’s always tomorrow morning’s writing hour.

Sighing heavily, you pick up the dog’s leash. May as well get the dog’s walk out of the way.

And maybe it’s time to write somewhere besides the family room …

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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