The Mourning Coffee

Titus and the Toilet Paper Trouble

I love my cats, I really do. But sometimes…

Back in late June, I adopted an adorable 10-week-old gray tabby, whom I named Titus. I mean seriously, look at this little bundle of fluffy cuteness!


He was such a sweet, calm kitten. He didn’t scratch anything, he didn’t bite, he wasn’t greedy for food, and he played well with others.

But Titus has recently discovered toilet paper rolls. And by “discovered,” I mean that he is on a mission to destroy the world’s supply of them. I have had the habit of leaving toilet seats up, just because the cats seem so fascinated with putting their paws up and looking inside. How could it hurt for me to do that?
Silly me! Titus has figured out that destroying toilet paper is fun, but taking it off the roller and dumping it into the toilet is much more entertaining.

Here is some of his handiwork.

One day I was able to catch him in the act of going after a roll of toilet paper. He didn’t even bother looking up at me with guilt, so busy was he with his latest creation. At least the toilet seat lid was closed that time.

Titus is also fond of knocking everything off the counter that he can possibly manage. I can no longer leave a filled glass on the counter, because if he can tip it over, over it will go. My AirPods were sitting on the kitchen counter one day and he knocked them into the sink and pushed them into the garbage disposal. I just happened to notice them, or else I might have ground up a very expensive set of ear buds. He has also dropped in kitty toys, along with pens, mail, and whatever else he can manage to drag to the sink.

Or toilet. I’ve also caught him dragging drink coasters, charging cords, and my coin purse to the toilet. Thank goodness I caught him before he soaked these items.

Here he is, contemplating what he might be able to do with ice cubes melting in the sink.


But is Titus repentant for his bad ways? No, he is not. Here he is, a confident, self-satisfied little boy.


Lesson #1 learned: Keep the toilet seat closed!
Lesson #2 learned: My cats walk all over me and I doubt it’s going to change.

I hope you are enjoying an emerging spring in your part of the country. I know I look forward to COVID being over, as well as to just being active again. Thank you for all of your readership support.

Christmas Games

I would normally use this space and time to talk about Victorian Christmas traditions, or American ones, or even my own personal ones from the past. This year, though, has been unlike any other Christmas holiday ever, has it not?

I’m sure that, like me, you are finding your own ways of having fun and enjoying the restricted holiday season.

Something I have (re)discovered is the joy of playing board games with a small group of friends and/or family. I’m enjoying learning new games, teaching my favorites to others, and just generally being immersed in something that isn’t the Internet.

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy games that are fun to play but don’t require a tremendous amount of strategic thinking. My goal is fun and fellowship, not necessarily winning.


Several games I’ve discovered over the past few months include:

Sequence

This game is dirt simple to play so it doesn’t require a lot of concentration. It is meant for 4 players, so it’s perfect for a small gathering. With a game board printed with images of playing cards as well as a stack of playing cards dealt to players six at a time, the goal is to “secure” five cards in a row on the board without being bumped off. You can carry on lots of conversation during this game.

Farkle

I laughed when I heard the name of this game, which refers to a player getting “farkled” if he/she is unable to score during a turn. Farkle is a dice game and reminds me a little of Yahtzee, although it is certainly very different. It is essentially a scoring game, with options to keep (bank) your accumulated score or continue to throw the dice for a higher score. There’s a little bit of strategy to be employed here, but it’s still fast-paced and easy to learn.

Phase 10

A 12-year-old taught me this game, so it must be simple, right? Then why did I lose so badly??? Phase 10 is a rummy-type card game where individual players compete with each other to come up with various color/number combinations in a specific order. These are referred to as “phases.” The first player to finish all 10 phases wins. Much fun!

Other favorites for me include Uno, Yahtzee, Clue, and Monopoly…although Monopoly can be very time-consuming.

What about you? Do you have any favorite board games that you bring out when you have company?
My plan for the holidays is to relax with just a few friends and family members with yummy treats and some game playing. What about you? Are your plans going to be different this year than in the past? Do you have a special way that you will build new memories and traditions?

For the Love of Etsy

Well, the weather is turning cool here in the Mid-Atlantic. Combined with the recent time change and a few trees hesitantly displaying bits of red and orange, I feel like fall is finally arriving, don’t you?
Thoughts of autumn make me start thinking about our two big upcoming holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Each year I complain about how quickly the holidays seem to roll around, even while I get excited about making meals, buying that special present for someone I care about, and enjoying the general festive atmosphere everywhere.

This year, though, feels different, doesn’t it?

I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but in my state, the governor just went back to more restrictions on restaurants and indoor gatherings.

So depressing, right?

But I don’t want 2020 to end on a depressing note. I think it is important that we find joy wherever we can.

Enter Etsy.

Have you ever shopped on Etsy? I love this place! It’s like the universe of handmade and personalized gifts, available at the click of a mouse. I generally find the sellers to be very creative, responsive to questions, and quick to ship.

Some of my favorite Etsy purchases include:

Granite Marker

I bought this for two beloved cats’ burial sites. The was excellent and the seller did a great job on the personalization. Know someone who lost a cherished pet in 2020? This would be an unexpected and meaningful gift. Even if the animal was cremated, the stone could be placed in a garden with flowers planted around it.

 

 

Business Card Holder

How cute is this? What woman wouldn’t love carrying her business cards in this unique case? It’s a high-quality case and the seller has many designs to choose from.

 

Personalized Map Print

It doesn’t get more personal that a map of your recipient’s zip code, does it? I’m actually still waiting on my order for a map I will give to a friend who just bought a new house, but the reviews on it are great. You can include any custom wording—names, dates, city, state, state, coordinates, and so forth.

And so, dear reader, I think I’m going to have an Etsy Christmas. I will likely limit my gift list to a few loved ones, but they are going to receive some super-awesome personalized gifts!

What about you? Do you have a great Etsy story to share? What has been your best purchase from the site? More importantly, what do you plan to do for joy this holiday season?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Warmly Yours,

Christine

P.S. I receive no compensation from Etsy for recommending them. I’m merely sharing my good experiences from the site with you. 😊

To Treat or Not to Treat, That is the Question

An out-of-state friend of mine just posed a question to me: “What are you going to do with trick-or-treaters this year?”

I was sort of baffled by how to respond. Everything is completely different this year, isn’t it? You can’t assume that it’s easy (or possible) to do anything that you considered perfectly normal last year.

I replied, “Well, I guess I have to find out what is recommended, then decide what makes sense.”

And since Google knows everything, I let my fingers do they walking (those who remember paper phone directories know that phrase!).

I went to the CDC website. Oh my. They consider the following traditional activities to be high risk:

  • Participating in traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door-to-door.
  • Having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots.
  • Attending crowded costume parties held indoors.
  • Going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming.
  • Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household.
  • Using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgement and increase risky behaviors.
  • Traveling to a rural fall festival that is not in your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19.

No trick or treating? Not even “trunk” style? No costume parties, haunted houses, hayrides, or festivals?
So depressing, right?

I also looked at my local county guidelines, which unsurprisingly echoed the CDC web site, but offered two fire department locations providing “safe” trick or treating.

The CDC makes the following suggestions for appropriate Halloween activities:

  • Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household and displaying them.
  • Carving or decorating pumpkins outside, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends.
  • Decorating your house, apartment, or living space.
  • Doing a Halloween scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors from house to house admiring Halloween decorations at a distance.
  • Having a virtual Halloween costume contest.
  • Having a Halloween movie night with people you live with.
  • Having a scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treat search with your household members in or around your home rather than going house to house.

What do you think, dear reader? Are you modifying your Halloween plans? Do you have other suggestions for safe activities? I’d love to hear from you.

Meanwhile, I haven’t purchased any candy yet!

In other news, I want to thank my faithful readers for not only ordering/borrowing THE DEADLY HOURS as part of what is surely your toppling reading list, but for also attending one or more of the “stops” on our virtual tour.

Did you miss the tour? Here’s a link to one of our appearances, the one at the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore. Enjoy!

If you’ve read THE DEADLY HOURS and enjoyed it, I always appreciate reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodReads, and other online sites.

Happy Fall, Ya’ll!

Did You Catch the Author Interviews for THE DEADLY HOURS?

What a whirlwind the past few weeks have been since the release of THE DEADLY HOURS! As of this writing, the book has been in Amazon’s #1 spot for Historical Fiction Anthologies since its release on September 1.

Part of what put it there has been pre-orders from faithful readers like you, for which I am truly grateful.

If you have been unable to catch any of our virtual author interviews live, here are a couple of links for you:

An interview with Barbara Peters from The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ.

The Deadly Hour Kearsley, Huber, Harris and Trent

Posted by The Poisoned Pen Bookstore on Saturday, August 29, 2020

A discussion with Julie Raynor at the High Point, NC, library.

I think you will enjoy both interviews. It is a lot of fun to get together with my fellow authors, even if it is only via technology.

Author fun fact #1: I’ve known Anna Lee Huber and Susanna Kearsley for years. C.S. Harris and I have shared the same agent for a long time so I was aware of her (and loved her Sebastian St. Cyr series), but it was only through this collaboration that I got to know her.

Author fun fact #2: Anna and I have both received Daphne du Maurier award nominations; Anna for A STUDY IN DEATH (A Lady Darby Mystery) and me for LADY OF ASHES. Anna was the 2016 winner in her category and I was very proud of her.

You may recall that I mentioned in last month’s newsletter that all four authors signed bookplates to be sent to various bookstores. Here’s a pic taken after I was done signing all 200+ of them.

Here’s what some readers are saying about THE DEADLY HOURS:

“Brilliantly executed!” P. Priest on Amazon and elsewhere:

“I absolutely loved this book! Each story, though set in a different place and time with different characters, feels connected and seamless.” Bibliolatry

“What a powerhouse group of historical suspense and mystery authors!” Sophia Rose

“This was such an amazing concept, to take an object and follow it through time with four different authors writing four different novellas…I loved it!” lowkey.bookish

If you’ve read the book and enjoyed it, I always appreciate reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, Facebook, and other social media.

Again, thank you for making THE DEADLY HOURS more successful than I could have possibly dreamed. I am so lucky to have the best readers in the world.

Warmly yours,

Christine

Click here to buy the book

An Early Review

A gold watch rumored to be cursed links the plots of the four novellas in this superior anthology. Kearsley starts things off with “Weapon of Choice,” set in 1733 Italy, where Scots travelers Hugh and Mary McPherson get drawn into an effort to foil the assassination of the Duke of Ormonde, who’s been targeted by a loyalist working “for the English Crown.” Meanwhile, the two meet a pirate who possesses a timepiece, La Sirene, made from gold said to have been cursed after it was plundered from a cathedral. A surprising death follows. The watch reappears in 1831 Edinburgh, where Huber’s series sleuth, Lady Darby, is consulted by the head of the city’s largest criminal gang, who believes that it was responsible for a fatal illness that decimated his family. Trent’s entry, “A Pocketful of Death,” set in Edinburgh four decades later, is the standout, as La Sirene stopped working just before three deaths, an impossibility that proves to have a logical explanation. Harris’s contribution, “Siren’s Call,” set in 1944–1945 England, adds the least to the saga. This is a solid introduction to authors who deserve a wider readership.

Water Finds its Way Around a Rock

I know I don’t have to tell you how much has changed during this time of COVID. All of our normal routines have been disrupted and I know many people are now facing unusual starts to the school year for their children.

The publishing world is not without its own changes and challenges, too. Conferences have been outright cancelled or gone virtual. The lunches that agents and editors used to have to discuss author projects are largely on hold. Book signings are cancelled.

Closer to home for me personally is how book launches are being handled.

My anthology with Susanna Kearsley, C.S. Harris, and Anna Lee Huber, THE DEADLY HOURS, will be released on September 1 from Sourcebooks. When initial plans were being made for it last year, I was excited to learn that the publisher was considering a multi-city book tour for us. It would have been my first publisher tour.

Alas, COVID hit and that glorious idea was terminated. The marketing staff was challenged with figuring out how to publicize the book in a virtual manner.

And so they did. “Water finds its way around a rock,” as they say. Some of their new and inspired plan includes:

Mailing bookplates to us for signature. They will ultimately end up with bookstores. One author signs them all, sends them to the next author, etc. The final author (me!) will return them to the publisher, who will distribute them to bookstores. Voila! Books signed by all 4 authors. Here you can see where Susanna Kearsley has been hard at work signing them.

Gift baskets. The publisher plans on gift basket giveaways, to be done online, of course.

Zoom appearances. We will have Zoom appearances with various libraries and bookstores. Check out my website and Facebook page for updates as I have them.

I would so much rather see you in person, dear reader, but we have to play the cards we have been dealt, right?

Meanwhile, if you have not yet ordered THE DEADLY HOURS, I hope you will consider doing so. Violet Harper solves a mystery in it, and I think you will really enjoy all of the stories—as well as discover some new favorite authors.

Warmly yours,

Christine

Click here to buy the book

An Early Review

A gold watch rumored to be cursed links the plots of the four novellas in this superior anthology. Kearsley starts things off with “Weapon of Choice,” set in 1733 Italy, where Scots travelers Hugh and Mary McPherson get drawn into an effort to foil the assassination of the Duke of Ormonde, who’s been targeted by a loyalist working “for the English Crown.” Meanwhile, the two meet a pirate who possesses a timepiece, La Sirene, made from gold said to have been cursed after it was plundered from a cathedral. A surprising death follows. The watch reappears in 1831 Edinburgh, where Huber’s series sleuth, Lady Darby, is consulted by the head of the city’s largest criminal gang, who believes that it was responsible for a fatal illness that decimated his family. Trent’s entry, “A Pocketful of Death,” set in Edinburgh four decades later, is the standout, as La Sirene stopped working just before three deaths, an impossibility that proves to have a logical explanation. Harris’s contribution, “Siren’s Call,” set in 1944–1945 England, adds the least to the saga. This is a solid introduction to authors who deserve a wider readership. Publishers Weekly (reviewed on 7/20/2020)

Who Knew Moths Were So Interesting?

Last month I told you about the Mourning Cloak Butterfly. My best friend, Mary, watches and documents the behavior of a lot of butterflies.

What I have just recently learned, though, is that she is also a moth watcher!

I had always thought of moths as those drab little things that hang around the front porch light, fluttering about and smashing themselves against the bulb. Mary has taught me that moths are actually very fascinating little insects.

For example, you may have already known this, but I didn’t: most moths don’t have mouths and don’t eat! They just live for a few days and die. I was amazed to learn that. I’d never heard of a creature that didn’t take in nutrition.

Mary has also taught me that moths—like butterflies—have some amazing markings and shapes. To me, the most amazing moth is the Hummingbird Moth, which looks like, yes, a hummingbird.

Mary has photographed dozens of moths. Pictured here are the ones I find most fascinating.

Check out the Nessus Sphinx Moth, which appears to have two red eyes on its back. I bet that scares away predators!

The aptly (if maybe yuckily) named Bird Poop Moth has, well, two trails that make you understand how it is so named.

The Rosy Maple Moth is just adorable, with her pink and yellow wings.

The Curled Leaf Moth is distinctive. When I tell you that Mary calls it “Moth Vader,” I’m sure you will understand why!

The Blinded Sphinx Moth seems to have beautiful blue eyes.

The Luna Moth is just a gorgeous green that reminds me of the first blades of spring grass.

And, finally, the Hummingbird Moth, which needs no explanation!

Did you know there were so many types of interesting moths? Are you Team Butterfly or Team Moth? I had no idea the insect world was so fascinating.

Next month I have a special newsletter coming in which I will talk about how my publisher has planned promotional activities for THE DEADLY HOURS while we are all in restricted movement due to COVID.

It’s really quite fascinating and I look forward to sharing it with you.

Have You Met the Mourning Cloak Butterfly?

You may recall that I mentioned my best friend, Mary, back in my March newsletter. We have been friends for many years and it has only been recently that I learned that she is an avid butterfly and moth watcher. I’ve received many photos from her of these sometimes-extraordinary insects clinging to the side of her cabin.

One butterfly that really caught my eye, though, is called the Mourning Cloak Butterfly. I mean, what Victorian-era writer wouldn’t like learning about that?

Mary told me that this unique butterfly is large, with a wingspan of up to 4 inches, and can live up to 12 months—one of the longest lifespans of any butterfly.  It is also the state insect of Montana!  The underside of the wing is coarse, brown, and resembles a chip of bark. But once this butterfly opens it wings, you see why it is also called the Grand Surprise or Camberwell Beauty.

Mourning Cloak butterflies are distributed broadly around the northern hemisphere. They are commonly found throughout all of North America and northern Eurasia, with colder winter climates.

They can usually be found in hardwood forests, although they have been found in virtually all habitats – except for where they were first discovered!

In 1748, the first Mourning Cloak Butterfly was found in London, England, by L. Hugh Newman, a British Entomologist. He likened the butterfly’s pattern to a girl who, disliking having to be in mourning, defiantly let a few inches of a bright dress show below her mourning dress.

Interestingly, although the Mourning Cloak was discovered in London, it is not found in London natively. After their discovery, Newman raised thousands for release at his farm in Bexley, but none were seen the following spring. However, specimens in his freezer did survive. It is thought that mild, wet winters prevented them from surviving there.

In a book Newman authored, he said that the Mourning Cloaks caught in England were suspiciously concentrated around London, Hull and Harwich, all being ports in the timber trade with Scandinavia. He theorized that they had hibernated in stacks of timber, which were then shipped to England. But since the Mourning Cloak had not traveled to London naturally, it could not adapt to the warmer winters, causing its demise. Perhaps its name is even more fitting after learning the story of its discovery!

What I find positively amazing is how closely the butterfly’s wings match the Florence Nightingale gown I had made for myself. If only I had a little peep of yellow peeking out beneath!

Are you a butterfly watcher? How do you think the Mourning Cloak compares to other butterflies you have seen?

Until next month, I remain—
Warmly Yours,

Christine

Let’s Talk about Cats instead of COVID

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found the past few months to be, in a word, exhausting.

Who would have guessed three months ago what our country would look like today? So much distressing news and stressful events in our daily lives as we have all negotiated our way around this pandemic crisis.

I hope you have been faring well and are looking toward a brighter and happier future.

Meanwhile, let’s just have fun with cats, shall we?

As you likely know if you are my Facebook follower, I love cats. My favorite cat of all time has to be little Cicero, whom I adopted in September 2019. I saw his picture on an adoption web site and just fell in love with his sweet face and fluffy tail.

I call him Flurfy because he’s just so darned cute and…flurfy!

The sweet girl who was fostering him promised me on the phone that he was a very affectionate cat. Boy, did that turn out to be true. Another nickname I have for him is Cuddlebug, because he loves cuddles. He will happily lay on his back in my arms and let me snuggle his fuzzy face.

Cicero has just two negative points (and of course I am willing to forgive him anything). First, he likes to jump from the window ledge above my bed onto me. Around 2:30am. Landing squarely on my stomach. There’s no terror quite like waking up to 10 pounds of fur dive-bombing onto you.

Second, he is a bit of a pig about food. You can hardly get the cat food open before he’s pawing at it and trying to take it from you. More than once have I ended up flipping a can upside down. Either Cicero or I end up wearing kitty food gravy.

But other than that, Cicero is adorable and has been great company for me during COVID.

Now, for you dog lovers out there, never fear. The book I’m currently writing features a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Lindbergh. Yes, after the famous pilot. His name is relevant to the plot. And that’s all I’m saying for now!


Do you have a sweet or fun nickname for your pet(s)? I’d love to know what it is. Do you kiss your pet’s forehead? I do so all the time, but I know some people are really against the practice. I guess I can’t help myself.

Hope you enjoyed this dose of overwhelming cuteness and flurfiness.

Of Ducks and Men

You may recall that in a recent newsletter I told you about the passing of my dear sister-in-law, Lori, as a result of breast cancer.

Time has a way of marching on, of course, even in a time of Coronavirus, and so I have continued to work through grief. My brother has especially had to work through his grief, and sometimes grief can bring us to some strange places.

Lori was very much a farm/nature girl at heart. On their two acres, she had all kinds of things going on: raised vegetable beds, hulga kultur beds, aquaponics, chickens, ducks, grape vines, fruit trees…the list goes on!

Over time, she had hatched several groups of ducks and chickens. Eventually she got rid of all the chickens, but she always kept ducks. With a particular group of hatched ducklings, one of them imprinted on Lori and started following her around the property. Naturally, that duck became a bit of a pet, and was named Princess Tiger Lily (from Peter Pan).

Tiger Lily believed herself to be much more than a mere duck. She generally refused to hang around the rest of the flock and instead would perch herself at the back door, waiting for Lori to come and spend time with her. Lori was able to pick Tiger Lily up and pet her.

If you know anything about ducks, you know that they are very nervous, excitable creatures and do not typically welcome being touched by humans.

When Lori got sick and knew she wasn’t going to make it, she asked my brother what he was going to do with the ducks. He promised her that as long as Princess Tiger Lily was alive, he would keep all of them.
After Lori died, though, he found the work of keeping up with the ducks to be too much for him to manage on top of everything else he had to do with his beloved wife gone. Tony had nearby friends who lived on a river with a plethora of their own animals and they were willing to take his ducks. He decided that it was a better environment for the animals, especially since his friends were on a river and he only had a crudely-constructed water feature for them.

Thus, one day I helped my brother crate up all of the ducks to take to their new home. What an operation that was! As I mentioned, ducks don’t like being touched. You can imagine the hysteria that resulted when we gathered them up for the short journey to their new home.

Once they got there, however, the ducks went crazy with joy. Immediately they ran into the river and began diving up and down, shaking their feathers and quacking in delight. My brother was relieved that it was the right decision.

He picked up Tiger Lily—who had since imprinted on Tony and was willing to be held by him—for a final goodbye hug and then she ran to get in the water. Pictured: My brother and Princess Tiger Lily at her new waterfront home.

Tony and Princess Tiger Lily

I wish this story had a totally happy ending. Alas, two days after we took the ducks to their new home, Princess Tiger Lily simply laid down and died. Ducks do that—they don’t always give you warning if they are ill. The new owners were mortified that it had happened. They kept her little feathery body so that my brother could pick her up and take her back to his house for burial. He buried her beneath the window from where Lori used to watch her all the time.

The other ducks continue to be overjoyed with their new home and I tell my brother it was still the right decision to take them there.

It’s hard, though, isn’t it, second-guessing some of your decisions? I like to think that Lori would have whole-heartedly approved of the ducks having a river to paddle on every day.