Tuesday, November 20, 2018

How I made my life nice and easier by SW Hubbard

LUCY BURDETTE: I don't have a thing to add to today's blog from Susan Hubbard--I just know you're going to love it!

SW HUBBARD: I feel the woman’s gaze boring into me as I browse the housewares aisle at Target. I glance her way. She quickly averts her eyes. 

A moment later, I feel a tap on my shoulder. I know what comes next.

“I love your hair,” the staring woman says. “I just had to tell you.”

I’ve been getting that a lot lately. Ever since I made the radical decision to stop dyeing my hair.

I started going gray at the age of twenty-five, while I was still a single girl in Manhattan.

Horrified, I used henna to make the gray strands look like tiny red highlights. 

By the time I was thirty, the henna wasn’t doing the trick anymore. I turned to permanent dye: Nice and Easy 118A, Natural Medium Brown, which matched the color I’d been born with. By then I was married, and my husband, complaining that I smelled like a toxic waste dump after the application, begged me not to color my hair.

“Your mother dyes her hair,” I answered. “I’m damned if I’m going to have more gray than she does.”

The next twenty years found me periodically locked in the bathroom, shivering for half an hour in a ratty old bathrobe with a pile of brown 118A glop on my head. To pass the time, I’d read although it was hard to turn pages wearing plastic gloves. Sometimes I’d get absorbed in a novel, and my hair would come out Ronald Reagan black. Sometimes I’d cut the time short to referee squabbling kids, and patches of gray would show through. Inevitably, I’d splash dye on the tile grout, the paint, or my library book.

Despite his reputation for thrift, my husband implored me to go to a salon. Thus began ten years of spending two hours every six weeks at Trendz in the capable hands of my colorist and my stylist. I’d leave evenly colored but $140 + tips poorer. Within two weeks, a white skunk stripe would appear along my part-line. Covering that up before the next dye job required two more products: brown spray-in color and root touch-up solution.

One day I floated an idea to my stylist. “I’m thinking of letting my hair go natural.”

He was horrified. Said I’d look old. Assured me I’d hate it. (Of course, my decision would halve his income.) But over the next weeks I kept studying my silver roots. They were kind of pretty.
 And I was tired, so tired, of the struggle to stay brown. 

More than the money, I really resented the time I had to sacrifice to this Sisyphean battle. So I returned to the salon with my mind made up. “How long do you think it will take? My hair grows so fast.” (I wasn’t willing to cut my hair short.)

“A year.”

“No way! Well, let’s strip the brown dye out of my hair.” 

“That takes six hours and costs $800.”

Stunned, I went home and bought two hats to cover the increasingly visible skunk stripe. And, positive my stylist didn’t know what he was talking about, I applied my mystery author research skills to find a product to rush the process along. Google had plenty of advice about fading the brown dye: a paste of citric acid and Head and Shoulders shampoo was the least toxic; a product called Color Oops, which produced a chemical mushroom cloud that brought me to my knees, was the most. 

The brown never disappeared, but gradually the hard lines of the skunk stripe softened, and I achieved an ombre look: silver on top tipped with brown ends. A young man at REI told me my hair was foxy. I know what I wanted to believe, but I’m pretty sure he meant I resembled a small forest animal.

Finally, after a full year, my stylist snipped away the last of the brown. I was totally silver. We both stared at me in the mirror.

“I gotta say, I like it,” he admitted. 

So did I.

Yesterday I was in CVS when I felt “the look.” This admirer strode right up to me. “I love your hair. What do you use to get it like that?”

I pivot from the hair products aisle empty-handed.

“Absolutely nothing.”


Do you color your hair? Would you ever stop? If you’ve stopped, do you toy with going back?

S.W. Hubbard writes the kinds of mysteries she loves to read: twisty, believable, full of complex characters, and highlighted with sly humor. She is the author of the 5-book Palmyrton Estate Sale Mystery Series and the 5-book Frank Bennett Adirondack Mountain Mystery Series. Tailspinner, the latest Frank Bennett Adirondack mystery, is available for preorder now.  With all the time she’s saving by not coloring her hair, she hopes to release a new estate sale mystery, Treasure Built of Sand, in early 2019. She lives in Morristown, NJ, where she teaches creative writing to enthusiastic teens and adults, and expository writing to reluctant college freshmen. She LOVES book groups and would be happy to visit yours in person (in NJ) or via Skype. 

Read the first chapters of her novels

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Traditions We Can't Do Without? #Thanksgiving

Lucy's mom, Janet, ready for the party
LUCY BURDETTE: When I was growing up, we used to have Thanksgiving with my mother’s sisters and their families. The menus were pretty standard, delicious homemade fare—turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, green been casserole, cranberry sauce from a can and so on. Over the years, I’ve had lots of different kinds of Thanksgivings, sometimes I’ve cooked, sometimes I’ve eaten at other people’s houses, sometimes I’ve even gone out to dinner. I’m less attached to a specific menu these days. The only time I was really disappointed was the year my sister and I had dinner with old friends before either of us were married. These people were very Southern and warm and lovely. We felt very welcome and glad to be sharing their table. Except…rice was served with the turkey and gravy rather than mashed potatoes!  Oh, and speaking of gravy, please don’t add giblets to mine…

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING; Despite being centered around eating, I maintain Thanksgiving isn't really about food. Or rather, about cooking. I've learned over the years that guests and family members will accept one (1) novel recipe per holiday, and after that, you better stick to the pearl onions in cream sauce and whatever dressing is standard for your part of the country (cornbread, sausage, bread, oyster, walnut) I've always actually stuffed the bird with the stuffing (because then you can serve it 'wet' and 'dry', as my family called it) but I'm going to change it up this year because my turkeys have come out on the dry side the past few years. If someone can tell me the definitive way to get a juicy bird - basting? Brining? Rubbing stuff under the skin? - I would be grateful.

RHYS BOWEN: Having not grown up with Thanksgiving I find the holiday doesn't mean as much to me as Christmas does. I enjoy the turkey and stuffing and potatoes. Not a big fan of any of the casseroles that go with it. I find myself making the green bean casserole as my son in law likes it. This year my daughter has ordered a completely organic, free range turkey from Whole Foods. I hope we'll find it tastes better. In the past we have injected the bird with John's secret mixture to make it moist. The secret is not to overcook. it's a fine line between giving your guests salmonella and drying out the breast too much. We don't put stuffing inside the bird but cook it separately. I love all stuffings but John likes sausage meat and I like lots of herbs, mushrooms, veggies in mind. I love chestnut stuffing but chestnuts are hard to find and horribly expensive. Actually it's not the food that matters. It's family sitting around the table and laughing!

HALLIE EPHRON: What I can't do without is my family and pie. Fortunately we all agree on the menu - turkey, stuffing, gravy, green beans, mashed potatoes, turnips. For starters, butternut squash soup. AND PIE! Homemade of course. Pumpkin. Custard. Apple. This year my daughter is hosting in Brooklyn and I am doing whatever she needs me to do. She's in charge. (She'd laugh to hear me say that.... ) I agree with Rhys, it's all about the family and friends.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  SO--this makes me laugh and laugh. I loved the turkey my mother made. Loved. Looked forward to it every year.  And the bed moment of all was when Mom would say--how's the turkey? Nice and dry? And we'd say, yes! delicious!  nice and dry! Seriously, we were taught that dry turkey was a good thing..thereby absolving (we learned later) my mom of the fear of overcooking it. As I grew up, and had other Thanksgiving experiences, I learned dry turkey was not the goal. I still like it better.   So Julia, you are perfection! And can cook a turkey at our house any time. Nice and dry. 
Plus, hot gravy. If I can remember how to make it, a yearly terror, hides any mistakes.

JENN McKINLAY: Dessert, natch. I am the chief baker for the holidays. This year I'm making a raspberry/white chocolate bundt cake (a copy cat of Nothing Bundt Cake's delicious version for Thanksgiving). I'm not a huge turkey fan, but I do enjoy a good stuffing and I adore cranberry sauce. I don't have a lot of holiday traditions for any of the holidays. We're seat of the pants types and will frequently just up and go to the beach or the mountains and get away for a holiday. I find the expectations of the holidays exhausting. It seems, everyone expects a Norman Rockwellesque holiday, where turkeys are perfect, everyone gets along, and people break out into song for no apparent reason, as if we haven't been members of our own families all our lives and should know better. LOL.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We are always torn about Thanksgiving. It's so much fun to gather round our own table, and to make all the things we really love (my daughter's fabulous sauteed Brussels sprouts with shallots and bacon, cauliflower and cheddar gratin, my yummy sage-y cornbread dressing, and of course my famous cranberry relish) BUT... I have one aunt left on my mom's side of the family, my mother's youngest brother's widow, and my two cousins and their kids, and the kids' kids now. For years we did Thanksgiving and Christmas with them, but because these days we really want to have Christmas at home, and to host Christmas dinner, we just spend Thanksgiving with the auntie. And then usually a second visit to Rick's mom and siblings, etc., etc.,  This year I am just happy to spend time with family and to eat whatever anyone else makes!!!

How about you Reds and red readers, what can’t you do without on Thanksgiving? What do you look forward to most?

And ps, if you developed a hankering for those pimento cheese scones while you were reading, Lucy's recipe is here...

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thanksgiving: It's all about the food!

RHYS BOWEN: When I first came to America people loved to criticize and joke about British food. I agree that during the post-war period when there were still shortages that food in England was pretty grim: overcooked cabbage, gray meat, sausages that were more filler than pork. But recently, (if you exclude the numerous Pizza Huts and KFCs) the food around Britain can be wonderful.  Lots of fresh local ingredients: fish, lamb, veggies and innovative ways of preparing it to bring out the natural flavor.

So if anybody suggests these days that British food is dire, I suggest that perhaps they have not ventured outside their friendly neighborhood Hilton.

And speaking of terrible food: when I first arrived here I found that housewives, one generation older than I, cooked with three basic ingredients:  Campbell's cream soups, Cool Whip and Jello.  Every recipe I was given included at least one of these! IN England we kept our food simple. Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts. We did not disguise it under cream of something soup. And we did not, on the whole, mix sweet and savory. Imagine the horror on my first Thanksgiving to be presented with green bean casserole, sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows AND a jello salad. Bright green with bits of fruit floating in it. Jello did exist in England, but as a dessert, with custard. (My least favorite dessert, I have to confess)

One of these traditions won't go away as my son-in-law always requests the green bean casserole at Thanksgiving. I understand that it reminds him of his childhood and I confess it is actually the most tasty of those recipes. So being a kind person I will make it. But sorry, no sweet potatoes with marshmallows!

 But my family has now introduced our own sliver of British cooking to all celebrations. My mother's apple crumble! An interesting variation on pies as it includes oats and coconut.

I'm sharing the recipe here:

About 6 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into chunks.
one and half cup flour
three quarters cup oats
one cup brown sugar
half cup shredded coconut
stick and half of melted butter.

sprinkle apple with lemon juice, a small amount of water and a sprinkling of brown sugar and cook gently for a few minutes.
Put into bottom of casserole dish
mix dry ingredients then stir in melted butter.
spread on top of apples
bake at 375 twenty five or thirty minutes, until topping is nicely tan.

Other ingredients I add sometimes are cloves to the apple mixture, or some powdered ginger to the dry mix.


AND wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving in advance!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

All I Want for Christmas....

RHYS BOWEN: It's that time of year again when I want to start shopping for Christmas presents. I have time right now and it would be nice not to feeling any pressure. But trying to pin my dear ones down to what they want is impossible. Or else it's so specific that they have to choose it themselves... "I need a pair of waterproof boots, but not too clunky etc etc."

The grandkids are so easy. All they want is a gift card to their favorite store: Urban Outfitters, Sephora, Nordstroms (for my grandson who is obsessed with nice shoes). And these are easy to wrap too.  My husband John is the worst. He always says he wants and needs nothing. But obviously he can't sit there and watch everyone else unwrap gifts, can he? So we all try to find something that might excite him.  Every year he says "Don't buy me clothes." One daughter ignores this, buys him shirts and sweaters, and he always wears them!

I have reached the point in my life when I don't need anything, but I do like small surprises. One year I told John to surprise me AND he bought me Winston Churchill's autobiography. Useful and informative, yes, but not the same thrill as a diamond bracelet. I.'ve found if I want something I have to be quite direct with him. "Go into Macy's second floor, turn left, third rack, blue dress, size 10."
But that sort of takes away the thrill, doesn't it?
I think we've moved on to giving experiences. For our anniversary I bought us tickets to an evening of Malaysian cuisine with TV chef Martin Yan. That was fun. And we have Hamilton tix for next year.

Are your menfolk good at selecting gifts?.

I've just seen this year's Neiman Marcus catalog. The most expensive item is a solar powered 70 foot yacht, complete with helicopter pad, naturally. Yes, I wouldn't mind one of those but they are so darned awkward to gift wrap. And if you can afford that many millions for the yacht, would you worry about affording the fuel for it?

Or for $315,000 there is a secret agent experience including learning to jump out of a helicopter. Since I've been known to twist my ankle when walking down the sidewalk I think perhaps not.

The gift that did sound fun was a tennis experience, all four majors as a guest of Sloane Stevens , staying at player only hotels, lots of chance to interact with players... for a mere $550,000.

At least these selections seem better than the dreadful sofa in the shape of a hippopotamus last year!

I think we'll be settling for slippers and hand cream, unless you have good suggestions for an old cranky husband?

Friday, November 16, 2018

Totally, dude! The Reds on slang.

RHYS BOWEN: One of the challenges of writing historical novels is making sure I get things right. This includes manner of speech and address. Nothing takes a reader out of a period more easily than a character using language that is not right for the period. A Victorian miss saying, "Hey, you guys," for example.  I am just about to start a book set in Victorian England--a challenge for me as until now my books have been set in the Twentieth Century. For each period I write about I have to study the vocabulary of everyday speech, what slang words were used and by which segment of society.

I am quite at home with Lady Georgie in the 1930s, because people actually spoke like that still when I was a child. When I was at school other girls still called one "Old bean". They still said, 'I say, you are a brick."  I've had letters telling me that real people never spoke that way, but the real people I knew actually did. Of course working class people had an entirely different vocabulary. Cockney would say "Whatcher" instead of "hello" for example.

So I've been thinking how certain words are so specific to certain periods. Words to express appreciation, for example. In my early youth everything was "smashing and wizard"... expressions started by the RAF pilots during WWII. I think people still said "spiffing" too.

In the early Sixties a famous comedian coined the words SWINGING and DODGY.  They both really caught on. And admiration for all things American meant that everything as SUPER, or even SUPER DUPER.

Then came the Hippie period and things were GROOVY, COOL, RAD and FAR OUT.  (Point of interest: the expression Far Out was used in the early 1900s. I've never been able to use it in my Molly Murphy books because it would wrench the reader out of the period!)
AWESOME came into use around this time too. And TOTALLY.
Later everything in England was BRILLIANT!
Back in London this summer the catchword was CRACKING.   People had a cracking good time. Sportscasters described it as a "cracking goal."  I'm not sure where that came from.

I won't even attempt to keep up with the expressions my grandkids use. at one moment it was BAD meaning good.  Have you ever said BOO-YAH? What is a BAE?

Some of us cling onto words from our past. I still have been heard to say "brilliant" or even "super".  One friend who was a movie producer still called everything "cool" long after the Sixties were over. It sounded strange coming from a middle-aged mouth.
So what expressions do you cling onto, dear Reds? Do you have any regional ones that define you? Do you move with the times and use your kids' expressions?

JENN MCKINLAY: Dude, I totally hear what you're saying. Slang can really harsh a writer's mellow. You know? LOL. I write all contemporary and mostly 20-30 something characters so I need to know what's what, what's in, and what's out. I don't always get it right. I used "lit" the other day and was told by a hooligan that it's out. Then I said that's "hella bad" and was informed I was using hella wrong, too. *sigh* Perhaps a light touch is best when using slang so that you land somewhere between basic and extra without losing your mind.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, gosh.  See, rats, already wrong. My favorite story about this:   a million years ago I worked at a record store. (okay? And there was a record by some group which was the preamble to the constitution set to music--like a Motown record. I didn't;t like it at all--I don't remember why. So this other high school kid comes in and asks for it--and I found it, and as I handed it to him, he said, "this record is really bad." and I said, "yeah, can you believe it? SO bad." And he smiled happily," yeah, really bad." Of course he didn't mean what I meant.

My latest slang bafflement is when people say "I'll do the latte" or I'll take the kale salad" --what? DO? TAKE?  Isn't it--Have? I'll have a latte. Or--imagine-- I'd like a latte, please? 

RHYS: Oh, Hank... please and thank you seem to have disappeared. And another thing that bugs me. "No Problem' when you ask the waiter for some water. Of course it's no problem, I want to yell. It's your job!

HALLIE EPHRON: Jenn, do you loan out the hooligans? My 2 1/2 year old grandson is smitten with the word buttcheeks. Does that count? Southern California in the 60s: bitchin. (Gidget used it.) It meant wicked awesome.

Rhys it's not an easy thing to get right because so much of slang is regional and class-driven. So one person's experience isn't another's. I'd love to hear what references people use to get it right.

LUCY BURDETTE: Hallie, I've already borrowed Jenn's hooligans! In DEATH ON THE MENU, I needed a bunch of young twenty-somethings to visit the houseboat next to Miss Gloria's place and declare that they loved it. "It's lit!" is one of the comments they made. And we learn that's already passe! I think the light touch idea is the best policy...but also, I've learned over and over that Facebook friends love to give advice. So I use them!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Like Jenn, I'm lucky to have the Smithie, the Sailor and Youngest to keep me au courant. So, Rhys, I can tell you BAE is Before Anyone Else, which you would think would be top spot in anyone's list of friends or romantic partners, but no! There are further divisions: Number 1 BAE, Number 2 BAE, etc. I asked Youngest how number 2 could be BAE when there was, demonstrably, someone else B, only to be told I didn't understand.
Honestly, in my writing, I try to avoid most current slang, because it seems to change much faster than it used to, probably due to the internet repeating everything 1000 times until a phrase is passe after six months. This has been a source of amusement to me as the Smithie, now 26, listens to her eight-years-younger sister and realizes she doesn't understand the majority of the latter's slang terms. Being cool and with it has an EXTREMELY short shelf-life, kid.
And Hallie, you didn't have boys. As I'm sure Jenn can attest, boys find all things associated with the rear end and what happens back there to be the ultimate in wit between the ages of 2 and 12. Maybe longer, but they tend to learn to hide it by then. I once drove a minivan full of 7 year old boys who spent the entire ride cracking themselves up by repeating "Butt", "poop", "Poopbutt," etc., etc. Having experienced them in their larval form, it continues to amaze me men rule the world.

RHYS: So let's hear from you now. Do you have favorite expressions that somehow date you? And those of you who write, how do you research speech and idioms?