Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bright Images

Kara and I have been friends for over thirty years. She and Lisa were the Stewart sisters. Lesley and I were the Boylan sisters.  We were all of an age, and we hung out together in the garret of an old Chester County carriage house. Kara sometimes brought an old Pocket Instamatic with her, and she snapped pictures while we all chatted and laughed.

I lost touch with Kara for many years. When we reconnected on Facebook, I found to my delight that she was just as screamingly funny as always. During that interim, her desire to create images had sharpened, and so had her skill.

Today Kara has her own online photography business at www.kdstewart.net. Her site is called Kara Stewart…Art in Photography. She has been working hard during the two decades when we lost contact, and she has incredible results. Seeing her pictures was just as much of a lovely surprise as her still-present sense of humor.

Constant practice comes from a need. The need to create is foremost, of course, but Kara adds, “I've found with all my cameras (except the Pocket Instamatic!) that you have to use the camera at least once a week or you forget how!  You forget how you got a certain look, you forget the settings, controls, how to do what you need to do.“

When I showed my daughter some of Kara’s images, her reaction was a huge gasp. “Oh, Mommy!” Genna said. “They are so beautiful!” The kid’s right. They are.

I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves. Look at the face of this man, with his one rolled up pant leg and vibrant head scarf, in the piece Waiting:

…or at the audacious sexiness of this lemon in LaLaLaLemon:

Kara says that food photography is more difficult than it looks.  It is “…hard to get the perfect slice of pie, the candy corn with no weird bumps. I end up being forced to simply eat the prop after taking 3 million shots over the course of hours.”

Here is the piece that made my daughter gasp, Snapdragon Caverns:

Regarding this piece, Kara says, “Some people crochet, some garden, some play video games or go antiquing. I am addicted to my image software. “

And what a wonderful addiction it is. Look at this splendid piece called Ember:

Her Black and  White gallery shows that color is not a necessary ingredient for vibrancy, as in Tunnel Vision:

And then there are the dogs. Just look at Beautiful Frenchie.

OH, COME ON! Who can resist that little guy?!

For just one moment, let's tiptoe back up the rickety stairs to that carriage house garret, now lost in the past. During that time, while the Stewart sisters and the Boylan sisters joked and giggled and gossiped and dreamed together, who could sense the bright images that were just waiting to emerge?

Friday, March 25, 2011


We are off to Killington for a long weekend of skiing. According to the nice fellow in the store where I rented equipment for my daughter, conditions are supposed to be "sick." Tons of snow, and sunshine - it's like a skier's dream, apparently.

Here's the thing about skiing. When I'm on the slopes, every bit of stress melts away. I took up the sport in my thirties, and my job at that time was teaching middle school in the inner city. Folks, that career carries with it quite a load of stress.

However, I couldn't think about rowdy students or in-class food fights on skis. While I was struggling over the moguls or trying to avoid the  snowboards who always stop to sit in the snow right at the crest of the big hill (why, snowboarders? why?) I couldn't stress about the parents who were never home, whose numbers were disconnected, who were neglecting their kids. I was too busy trying not to bite snow.

Now my career is writing. It's similar to teaching in some ways; I'm still trying to connect with an audience that doesn't necessarily want that connection. You don't have food fights in my office, though, and for that I am truly grateful. 

It carries its own load of stress. As an Indie author I'm grabbing every opportunity to write and blog and review and edit, and it's overwhelming at times. I love it, though. I sneak down at 5 in the morning to work, I love my job so. If only it paid!

But, if I get up my nerve to ski Superstar this weekend at Killington, then I won't be thinking about you. I'll be struggling to keep my butt intact.

You'll be my number one again on Tuesday, when I get to go back to work, to a job that in its own way is pretty "sick."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Good Morning, Cyyyyyyyyyyyberspace!

I'm working on a complicated column with lots of edits and add ons, so this is a quick piece to muse on the difference between intention and reality.

This week I intended to write reviews for four very talented authors, publish my new blogspot, work on a print edition of The Night Watchman Express, and continue the sequel. Reality:

Have done one review. One.
Still working on blogspot.
Wrote one chapter of sequel. One.
Have not yet started print edition at all.

Here's why. I should be writing right now, and what am I doing? Waiting for the man to pick me up, so I can fetch my truck and pay lots of dollars. Then I have to go and buy groceries. Not to mention, the toilet overflowed this morning. Swish!

Here's hoping that you all have a very pleasant day, and that your realities come much closer to your intentions.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The e-books "revolution"

You already know what I'm going to say, don't you? Print books aren't going away any time soon. They're just too beloved, in a mashed-potatoes kind of way. What's more comforting than an old book, a crackling fire, rain on the windowpane, and a Fresh Pot of Tea? Makes you relax just thinking about it, doesn't it?

But those copies of Heidi, of Jane Eyre, of Alice Through the Looking Glass, of The Black Arrow and of Mistress Masham's Repose do need to slide over on the shelf and make room for the new kid in school. Go into any coffee shop and people at the neighboring tables will be reading all right - but they'll be reading Kindles, Nooks, and laptops as well as print.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about Amanda Hocking, a very succesful Indie author: http://alisondeluca.blogspot.com/2011/03/amanda-hocking-and-e-publishing.html

Now, my dear friend Kara informs me that there is another author we should watch out for: Elisa Lorello. She is selling loads of ebooks on Amazon, in the manner of musicians who are selling music right from iTunes, and are getting discovered on YouTube. (Hi, Justin!)

You can read about Elisa here:

No, those print books don't need to worry. They are too beloved. But the traditional publishers and agents might want to start changing their business models a tad.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fuller's Walnut Cake

When I was eight or nine, my great-aunt Ada used to have a tradition. If her friend Sophie Gill came to tea, then she would go into town and buy Fuller's Walnut Cake and serve it, along with the requisite Fresh Pot of Tea.

I still remember that cake - it had TWO icings: one soft, inner icing, and one crunchy outer layer that was the color of café au lait. The cake itself was incredibly moist and filled with crushed walnuts, and the entire thing was crowned with walnut halves in a circle.

I'm not the only one who remembers that cake. A few years ago I researched it, hoping to find a source or at least a recipe. Horrors, Fullers had gone out of business, taking their cakes with them (there was also a wonderful chocolate version, crowned with chocolate "buttons.")

My research brought me to blogs mourning the lack of Fuller's Walnut Cake and yearning for a bite or a recipe. I searched again and again, on different search engines and all types of social media, but "not a sausage," to quote another disappointed blogger.

A few months ago, my virtual expedition discovered buried treasure. It is with great pride that I present to you the recipe for Fuller's Walnut Cake. And if anyone has the recipe for the chocolate version, please let me know posthaste.

Fuller's Walnut Cake

• 200g (7 oz) plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 200g (7 oz) unsalted butter
• 200g (7 oz) caster sugar
• 3 large eggs
• 55g (2oz) chopped walnuts

Butter cream
• 85g (3oz) unsalted butter
• 110g (4oz) icing sugar
• Vanilla extract to taste

Boiled icing
• 225g (8 oz) caster sugar
• Pinch of cream of tartar
• 1 egg white
• Vanilla extract to taste

• 7 walnut halves

3 6” cake tins 2” deep

Line Pans with buttered greaseproof paper

Sift the flour and baking powder. Cream butter and sugar until light and beat in eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour and baking powder mixture followed by the chopped walnuts.

Divide the mixture between the three tins and bake at 160° C/ 325 F, Gas Mark 3 for 30-40 minutes. Rest for 5-10 minutes and turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
Beat butter until light and then beat in the icing sugar. Add vanilla essence to taste.
Trim the tops of the cakes and sandwich together with the butter icing. Smooth the remainder over the outside of the cake.

Prepare the boiled icing, dissolve the sugar and 4 tbps of water over a low heat. Dissolve the cream of tartar in a teaspoon of water and add to the sugar mixture. Boil until soft ball stage is reached (240° F).
While the syrup is boiling whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Once the syrup has reached softball pour the syrup into the egg whites in a thin stream while continue to whisk. Continue whisking until the meringue is thick, opaque and stiff.. Add vanilla essence and pour the icing over the cake. Smooth with a wet knife and decorate with 7 walnut halves (six on the outside and one in the middle).
Leave for a couple of hours for the icing to form a crust.

(This recipe was originally published in The London Times by Shona Crawford Poole as a different version: The Times,Wednesday, Oct 05, 1983; pg. 13; Issue 61655; col C . However, it was tweaked by a forum writer known as 'broadway', found here. That recipe was the closest to the Walnut cake I knew and loved as a girl, so I used it.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Louie and St. Patrick's Day

I never knew this was such an important holiday. In years past I spent March 17th in an overcrowded pub, drinking lots of beer and howling the words to "Finnegan's Wake." I thought it was just an excuse to wear silly clothes and get sloppy.

But no. All the kids in my daughter's class for the past month have been preparing for this day by building leprechaun traps, getting green outfits together, writing letters to the leprechaun...

That's right - I said letters. My kid went on a gold hunt all over the house and put it all in a baggie for Louie, along with a letter written in green crayon. Louie is the wee man's name, apparently. I bet that Louie is really bumming about his missing Chuck E Cheese coins; no worries , Louie - you're getting it all back today!

Of course, Louie has to leave something in return. Fine. Louie prepared a card and a tiny gift. Louie was READY.

Last night, at seven PM, my daughter announced that what she really, really wanted from the leprechaun was a real shamrock plant. Trying not to let my consternation show, I mused that Louie probably wouldn't be able to find a shamrock plant at this late hour.

"Oh, no, Mommy," Genna said confidently. "He's the leprechaun, and he lives in Ireland. He's going to get that shamrock plant for me; I just know he will."

I settled her down in front of a movie and rushed off to call Louie. Louie was on his way home from work, so I asked him if he could stop at Walmart and pick up a shamrock plant. Louie sounded disgruntled, but he said he would try.

Genna went to sleep, and Louie arrived with the plant - a small cactus. Shamrocks don't grow at this time of year, it seems. Thanks a lot for that joke, Mother Nature!

I rushed to the note that Louie had written to Genna and added one last line: "No shamrocks, but this is an Irish cactus."

She was none too pleased at first this morning, but after reading the note she accepted it pretty well. Because you did know that Ireland has its own special breed of cactus, right? Of course it does!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"The Change"

I heard about it all my life, and here it is now - The Change. It came right on time, too - at fifty, when I had confidence issues anyway just by virtue of that number alone. My rebellious hormones decided to kick in a little extra action of their own, I now find.

And it's so cliché. I wake up at night, heart pounding as I rush to throw off the covers / turn on the fan / gulp cold water - anything to banish the night sweats. And can I go right back to sleep? Noooooo. Apparently that luxury is now denied to me; thank goodness for natural sleep aids.

I notice that I am a lot crankier these days too. And I hate it. I want to be the pleasant wife, the nice mother - the one that kids run to and hug. Instead, I find myself yelling like a banshee because my daughter insists on twisting her head from side to side as I try to put her hair up in a ponytail. What will it matter in ten years if she wen to school for one day with her pony askew? I ask you? That makes sense right now, but it didn't at 8:13 this morning. The Daylight Savings Time Change didn't help either.

Let's see. What else? I knew there was something....something to do with memory....

Not to mention the whole unexplained weight gain, which of course is coming out of nowhere. Because of course I exercise just as much and eat vegan. Of course I do!

However, I must say that The Change and that whole fifties thing has lit a fire under my ass. I'm realizing that if I want to accomplish anything, it had better be now. I can't tell myself, oh, I'll write that novel next decade, because the next decade is the sixties. Not the cool Beatles sixties, either.

Age is just a number, and people do amazing things in their fifties, sixties and seventies. Women are beautiful with wrinkles. I prefer men with a touch of gray.

But that night sweat thing is real.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

{simple starfish}

In my New Hersey hometown, a lot of women wear necklaces with silver circles hanging form a chain. The circles bear the names of kids or ideas, in letters that look like they were typed on an old Smith Corona typewriter.

The thing that struck me when I first saw one of the necklaces was how distinct it was. The necklace just somehow stood out, even though it was ultimately very simple. There was no "blinge-y" feel to it at all, but there was a definite quality that made it memorable.

Then I saw another piece pop up on a friend's Facebook wall, with a link to the local company that made the jewelry. The company's name was {simple starfish}

I went and clicked the Like button on the page. A few days later I got a message from another friend, in another part of the country, demanding to know about the cute jewelry on my wall.

The jewerly started to pop up everywhere. I saw one at a Daisies meeting, at a Superbowl party, at Shop Rite.

A couple of months went by. I was at a MOMS club lunch, and I met Christine, a very nice, attractive mom with good hair. (Random thought - I wish I had good hair.)

I realized who she was from the FB posts. "You're the {simple starfish} lady!" I blurted. She smiled and admitted that yes, she was.

Christine started her business in the simplest way - by making a necklace (her {little starfish}piece) and wearing it. Soon, women were asking her where she got her necklace and how, please, could they get one for themselves?

The next day, I was picking up my daughter from track, and fChristine appeared again. She handed a cute little round box to my friend Heather, and said, "Here you are!"

Heather opened the box and took out the now ubiquitous silveer circle on a chain, engraved with the names of her three daughters. "Oh, I love it!" Heather said.

If you'd like to see a picture of the {love circle} that we are all wearing, take a look at that picture above this blog. It's this piece:

You can find more at


Friday, March 4, 2011

Being an author

Writing is a funny thing. It's done in isolation, for the most part. As I write, I see stories happening and I type them into my little file as quickly as I can. From time to time I'll check in to see what my online author friends are doing, and have a quick giggle with them as I check, but the rest of the working day is silence, punctuated by the sound of the keyboard clicking away.

After I published my book, The Night Watchman Express http://www.amazon.com/The-Night-Watchman-Express-ebook/dp/B004Q3RT7E/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1 (and, yes, this is more shameless self-promotion) I suddenly was bombarded by this weird fact - PEOPLE ARE READING MY BOOK.

It's a fantastic thing, and I thank my publisher, Fantasy Island Book Publishing for it, but it is very odd. Here is this little world that I created, and all of a sudden readers are sharing that world, changing it - and me - for ever.

More shameless promotion: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fantasyislandbookpublishingcom/132979516770776?sk=info

If you are one of those readers, then thank you, thank you so much for allowing me to take you on this strange journey with me.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

New projects

Do you read several books at once? I have one by my bed, one downstairs for "free time" (never happens) and one on my desktop.

My parents used to function that way. In fact, if you left any reading material anywhere near my mother or my father, you would find them an hour later, reading a Nancy Drew novel, the Mnemo - Neur volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica, or the newspaper lining the inside of a drawer.

Naturally, reading came very naturally to me, and I was called a good reader in school. But I'm not a good reader. I'm a bad reader; this means that if I start in on something, like my parents, you'll find me frozen to the spot an hour later. And if you say my name while I"m in the throes of a good book, I won't hear you, probably. Reading, for me, is a vice.

Writing is the same way. Today I'm working on a sequel to The Night Watchman express http://www.amazon.com/The-Night-Watchman-Express-ebook/dp/B004Q3RT7E/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1 as well as continuing a Christmas story for kids, editing my first novel over for possible publication, reading / editing a wonderful book by my friend Trin Denise...

It's a schizoid way to live. But that's just me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Amanda Hocking and the e-publishing revolution

We are watching something new unfold. This morning there was an article in the HuffPo about author Amanda Hocking, who sold 900,000 eBooks. That's fantastic, but what is even more amazing is that she did it ALL ON HER OWN - without any help from a major publishing house.

Kudos to Ms Hocking. And kudos to Amazon for making this possible for my novel, THE NIGHT WATCHMAN EXPRESS.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Down to the basement

My daughter had a friend over last night for a playdate. After the little girl left, Genna turned her sad, scared eyes up to mine and said, "Mommy, we sort of made a bit of a mess in the basement." I said, in a breezy, nonchalant way, "Oh, honey, don't worry about. Go and get ready for bed, and I'll clean it up."

I went downstairs, and - Holy Toledo! The two girls managed to find a box of packing peanuts and strewed them all over the place. They also apparently did the cha cha and the twist on the peanuts, because most of the little white suckers have been smushed right into the flooring.

Needless to say, I backed away and closed the door. But now I have to go back down there and deal with the Styrofoam Situation. I know it's coming. I just don't want to face the fact that I have to clean it up, since it involves three mortal enemies of mine: a broom, a vacuum, and a mop.