Monday, November 30, 2020

Furniture Follies

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: As many of you know, I’ve spent quite some time this past month clearing out my Dad’s house now he’s moved into a senior living center. I won’t go into the mountains of trash and van loads of donations generated by two neat people who weren’t into “stuff” - we’ve discussed the trials and tribulations of emptying a house someone’s lived in for a quarter century before.

No, what I want to talk about is the furniture. My dad took a one bedroom apartment’s worth with him, of course, and we had items that had long been designated as heading for one or another child (marked with a piece of masking tape underneath, natch.) But there was so much more. The guest bed, and the loveseat, and the little 1930s table my mom kept plants on. The huge bookcase/desk/étagère/storage units my folks had in their den, which were both ugly AND massively heavy. There was the Queen Anne dining set in perfect condition, so out of style now the appraiser said it wasn't worth the effort for him to haul it away. (I’m hoping someone in a Syracuse area Goodwill will see it and be overjoyed at her good luck.)

One of my brothers stepped up and took the enormous cherry breakfront, and fortunately, I have two kids now living in unfurnished rentals, so they’re happy to take the unfashionable 90’s sofa and the double bed. The plant table is now holding a TV in Youngest’s apartment, and the brass lamps will help light up the Sailor’s house.

It made me look at my own furniture, with an eye to what my kids and grandkids might think. I passed beyond the student digs/young married housing stage where most of my stuff was found on the street during Large Item Pick Up Day, or given to me by parents when they upgraded. (I’m doing this now - Youngest got two mismatched wing chairs, which I replaced with my mother’s sleek midcentury arm chairs - back in fashion!) I have The Big Investment Pieces, like the dining table that seats 14 (we have two sets of chairs for it) and the china hutch, which I already know is out of fashion, but I’m not going to the trouble of replacing it. I have the Sensible Buy items, like two Pottery barn sofas, the pine coffee table, and the rugs.

And  have quite a few items that just came to me in various ways. A loveseat from a friend moving to Colorado. (We were going to sell it, but it was just too comfortable.) Bookcases whose provenances I can’t even remember. Bits and pieces from auctions and yard sales and fundraisers. Family pieces from my grandmother, inherited from her grandparents and beyond: an original Morris chair, Victorian beds from the 1850s, a set of hand-caned cherry chairs. 

I tell my kids the stories of the family items, but I realize even that might not be enough to save them once I’ve departed for another home (either nursing or heavenly.) Some things I treasure will wind up in a Goodwill store or on Craigslist, and some things I think are beautiful will cause my grandkids to roll their eyes. Wait until matching dining chairs and tables in brown wood come back! I can hear them wail, “Granny, why didn’t you save that Queen Anne set!?!”

How about you, Reds? Do you have family heirlooms or hand-me-downs? Do you have pieces the kids will fight over, and ones they’ll flip a coin to see who has to take to the dump?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: We have so many wonderful things--gorgeous art, and beautiful heirloom china. Antique clocks. SIlverware, so very elegant. A chair from 1811, incredible. No one will want any of it, I fear. I think about it sometimes, but for now I am happy that it makes us happy, and later, after our wills are read, someone will have to deal with it, and I hope they are happy, too. 

(I’ll never forget when a relative was given the task of organizing the round robin choice of another relative’s heirlooms. She had everything laid out in the living room, and all of us, in order of age, came in one at a time to choose one thing  I was second, and I remember looking around the room, and saying, Oh, I was hoping for the silver candlesticks, or the silver teapot, but I don't see them.

There was a beat of silence.

Oh, the relative said. You like silver? We didn’t think any of you would, so we didn't include it. 


HALLIE EPHRON: I can count on one hand the objects I ‘inherited.’ A coffee table and a silver-plated platter. My parents downsized and downsized and… died. 


The rest of our stuff my husband and I acquired, most of it at yard sales and auctions. Forty years of mismatched tables, chairs, lamps, art work, aging oriental rugs… Like Julia’s Queen Anne dining set, ours is oak Victorian.  Very out of fashion. Too bad I didn’t see the beauty of Mid-Century Modern before it got popular. 


Sometimes I sit in my living room and look around and play What Would I Take With Me. I imagine the two-bedroom apartment I’ll one day move into. No leaves to rake. No roof to leak. No heating system to repair. Hopefully no Covid. I think I can walk away from most everything in my house except for some of the art and some dishes I’m particularly fond of. Our brass double bed. Some cobalt Depression glass. 


Our kids are already up to their gills in possessions so I hope it doesn’t fall to them to deal with all of it. Julia, I am I awe.






JULIA: And this was after helping two friends clear out their houses before their cross-country moves!

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh my sister and I were discussing a family heirloom today. (LOL) We shared a room for most of our early to teenage lives and slept in matching maple twin beds. One of them is in our son’s room (now mostly for guests) and she found hers in their storage shed. We’d love for someone to appreciate them but I fear it’s mostly sentimental attachment. The kids have pretty much told us what they’re interested in--a rattan porch set, the silver that belonged to my parents, maybe the china. And we do have nice art, mostly watercolors and local artists. I better get busy with my masking tape labels.

RHYS BOWEN: Our kids mantra is ‘don’t you dare die and leave us with all this stuff’ .


We have a house full of antiques from John’s family. Some are really lovely. The Queen Anne desk (real 1700s) is valuable. Also Georgian card table.  We have Chinese plates, some good art and Victorian music box. Pieces of Victorian silver. My collection of National dolls in costume etc etc. lots of stuff!   I’m not sure what the kids will want. Some things can be donated to a museum. And some should sell well at auction. I gather Chinese antiques are desirable. 

I should be decluttering now, I know!

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  We have a couple of things that my daughter has always coveted. One is the chaise longue that belonged to my mom, and is now, reupholstered for the umpteenth time, in my office. The other is a painted Chinese secretary that belonged to a great aunt. But her taste is now so modern and minimalist that I don't know what she'd do with them. 

Our dining room furniture is gorgeous, Stickley-esque Drexel, and we also have a huge custom-built Welsh dresser. And so much china! And my mom's sterling, which I know my daughter will want. Most everything else is a comfortable hodge-podge with a few antiques thrown in. I doubt she'll want my enormous collection of London Transport posters, although she might find a favorite few. I shudder to think about downsizing…

JENN MCKINLAY: My parents were big on stuff. Mom, the librarian, loved books and dad was an artist, so it was a cluttered existence. They were so big on stuff that I am anti-stuff. My house is small, my stuff is minimal and I love it this way. I do have one grandmother’s silver, the other grandmother’s Windsor chair, a lot of art, many books, and my precious wedding china, but otherwise I don’t own much of anything except for plants and pets and utilitarian furniture. My children love this about me — as they should.


JULIA: Jenn, I promise, they will bless you. My sister and I were so grateful our mom had started "Swedish Death Cleaning" before she unexpectedly passed away, and that dad had been cleaning out and giving away so much of her stuff. On the other hand, if I go toes up early, I've told the kids to take what they want and then torch the place. Making an insurance claim will be easier than cleaning out this old house.


How about you, dear readers? What do you have that might be treasures or trials?

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Our Favorite Soups

DEBORAH CROMBIE: A few weeks ago some of our readers suggested that we have a SOUP DAY, to give us all a chance to share our favorite soups. Tis' the season, to be sure!

But, boy, did this take some head scratching on my part. So many soups, so much to love. I'd already posted my most often cooked WHITE BEAN AND SPINACH SOUP.  Hmm, what should come next on my list? BLACK-EYED PEA SOUP WITH ARKANSALSA from Crescent Dragonwagon's beloved DAIRY HOLLOW HOUSE SOUP AND BREAD BOOK? Oops, I've done that one, too.

After much more deliberation (and stomach rumbling) I decided on a classic minestrone. This could alternately be titled Clean Out the Fridge Soup, as it uses lots of stuff and is very adaptable.




4 TBS extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, scrubbed and chopped (I never both to peel, loses vitamins)

2 medium celery ribs, chopped

1/4 cup tomato paste

2 cups chopped seasonal vegetables (potatoes, butternut squash, zucchini, or green beans all work. If using green beans--my fave--I first blanch for a minute, then cut in 1 inch pieces. A combination of any of the above is good!)

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp thyme

1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, with liquid. (I use San Marzano tomatoes and just squish them with my hands.)

6 cups vegetable broth

1 tsp sea salt

2 bay leaves

A pinch of red pepper flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup whole grain small pasta

1 can Great Northern or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

2 cups baby spinach or other tender green

2 tsps fresh squeezed lemon juice

Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese


Warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Once oil is shimmering, add chopped onion, carrot, celery, tomato paste and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until vegetables have softened, 7 to 10 minutes.

Add seasonal vegetables, garlic, oregano, and thyme. Cook until fragrant, stirring, about 2 minutes.

Pour in diced or smushed tomatoes with their juices and broth. Add salt, bay leaves, and red pepper. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper.

Raise heat to medium high and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer for about 20 minutes.

Add pasta, beans, and less tender greens, if using, like kale or chard. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until pasta is tender. If using spinach, add when pasta is done, stir just enough to wilt.

Remove pot from heat and remove the bay leaves. Add lemon juice and extra olive oil. Taste and season with more salt, until the flavors really pop. Serve with extra lemon and a drizzle of top-notch olive oil. Garnish with grated cheese. (The soup will be vegan without the cheese.)

Serve with a green salad and crusty bread. Delish!! I can't tell you how good this soup smells!

REDS AND READERS, now it's your turn!

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Naughty or Nice?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: So Thanksgiving is over and all of a sudden it's almost December and time to Christmas shop and--EEEK--I have not found a single gift!  The only thing I bought yesterday on Black Friday was some socks that I needed. How incredibly sad is that?

 I have to admit I've never been one of those super organized people who shop all year and have everything tagged and wrapped by Thanksgiving (I do really, honestly have a good friend who does this) but most years by almost December I usually at least have a LIST.

But this year I am absolutely CLUELESS. I cannot even wrap my mind around it. And since I'm probably doing all my shopping online, there's really no excuse.

Not to mention that today is Small Business Saturday, and if we ever needed to support small businesses, it's this year. 

And of course we all want to support our indy bookstores! Two of my faves are Murder by the Book in Houston, and The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale. They both have BOOKS, obviously, but Murder by the Book has all sorts of other gift-y goodies, like puzzles and mugs, t-shirts and socks, and both stores ship nation-wide.

Just thinking about this has inspired me enough that I may actually tackle a list today...

REDS and readers, have you started/finished holiday shopping? What super-duper gift ideas do you have for those of us who are struggling?

And please share with us your favorite independent bookstore, so that we can spread the love!

Friday, November 27, 2020

What To Do With That Leftover Turkey!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We all hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! But now it's time for THE RECKONING! What to do with the leftover turkey and the turkey carcass? Especially if you had to buy more turkey than you needed. But never fear, Jungle Red is here to help.

As promised, we have Hank's Turkey Tetrazzini recipe, and as a bonus, my friend Franny's Turkey Carcass Soup. That doesn't sound very appealing, but I have made this and I promise you it's delicious. It's almost worth cooking a turkey just to make it!



HANK: This is so delicious and decadent, we look forward to this just as much as our holiday turkey! Read the recipe all the way through before you start because its success depends on doing several things at the same time--and having the ingredients prepped and the utensils ready to go.

 And it’s perfect for post-Thanksgiving, because the main ingredient is leftover turkey!

 It sounds a little more complicated than it actually is, and the first time I made it I burst out laughing--it looked like I had used every pan I owned. Now I've made it so often I don't even need the recipe anymore!

 You can use more or less pasta and mushrooms and turkey--it doesn't really matter. An added bonus--your kitchen will smell fantastic while this is cooking.

This serves about 6-8 people-- and reheats beautifully.


*1 pound mushrooms

*1/4 to ½ pound spaghetti or macaroni

*two or three cups shredded cooked turkey (leftover from your holiday turkey!)

*3 Tablespoons butter

*3 Tablespoons flour

*2 cups chicken broth

*1 cup heated whipping cream (fat-free half and half will also work)

*3 Tablespoons dry white wine

*salt and pepper
* grated Parmesan cheese.


Preheat the oven to 375.

 Slice and saute' mushrooms in  butter and chopped garlic...keep warm, while at the same time you



*1/4 to ½ pound spaghetti or macaroni


While this is cooking,

Take the leftover meat from your holiday turkey--shred it so you have

*two or three cups shredded turkey

(I like just using white meat--but it works with dark too)


Set aside in a bowl large enough to allow you to add to it.


Okay, I know this sounds complicated, but at the same time you're going to make a sauce:



*3 Tablespoons butter

Sprinkle with

*3 Tablespoons flour

Stir to make a paste, then add

*2 cups chicken broth


 Stir and allow to thicken...this will take about 15 minutes. Be patient.


Then to that mixture, stir in

*1 cup heated whipping cream (fat-free half and half will also work)

*3 Tablespoons dry white wine

*salt and pepper

It can simmer while you:

**Drain the pasta, put it back into the pan and mix in the sauteed mushrooms.

  Add one half of the sauce to this mixture.

 **Add the other half of the sauce to the bowl of shredded turkey.

 **Put the pasta and mushroom mixture in a greased baking dish. Make a hole in the center, and

 **put the turkey/sauce mixture in the middle.

 **Sprinkle the top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake till lightly browned.   


HANK: A salad, white wine, crusty bread. Then the leftover pumpkin pie. YUM.


DEBS: And now for Franny's TURKEY AND WILD RICE SOUP (that sounds better, doesn't it?) 

Turkey carcass- I break mine in half to fit in my soup pot 3/4-1 C leftover dressing - if turkey wasn’t stuffed. This adds fabulous flavor and broth will be strained later 

1 cup Wild rice and/or wild rice brown rice mix. Cook this ahead in broth according to rice instructions. 

Matchstick cut zucchini and carrots - around 1-1and1/2 C ea 

Sliced mushrooms- 1/2 lb 

1-2 bunches sliced green onions on diagonal 

Simmer carcass with stuffing in water and 1 carton chicken or turkey broth to cover for 1 - 1to 1/2 hours. Cool and strain.

Put strained broth back into soup pot. Pick out any meat you want off of carcass leavings to add back into soup. Or add some leftover shreds of turkey . 

Bring to full simmer and add all veggies except green onions. Simmer 20 min or so .. 

Gently add rice. Don’t dump in. I spoon in carefully. No boiling or will cloud! 

Add green onions. Low heat for another 15 min or so. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. I use a good amount of black pepper or to taste.❤️ Voila!

DEBS: Readers, if you have any great suggestions for leftover turkey, please share in the comments!

Thursday, November 26, 2020


DEBORAH CROMBIE: This Thanksgiving is certainly not like any I've ever experienced. When I was growing up, my mother and grandmother hosted Thanksgiving dinner for all my mom's side of the family, and usually an aunt and uncle from my dad's family as well. (Don't you wonder how these traditions get started? Knowing my mom's bossiness, I suspect she just insisted and everyone else fell into line.) Eventually, my Finnish aunt (she married my mom's youngest brother) took over, and she still cooks Thanksgiving dinner for the extended family, although she's well into her eighties now.

But not this year. Rick and I will be on our own for the first Thanksgiving in our marriage. My daughter and her family have taken their camper to their deer lease--you can't get more socially isolated than that!

At first I thought I'd cook the whole shebang, just for the two us. Plenty of turkey leftovers! But there were no small turkeys, and our local La Madeleine (French bistro) was offering a whole traditional Thanksgiving dinner to heat at home. I caved and ordered it, and I have to say I'm pretty excited about not having to do anything but put things in the oven and serve plates. I did make my famous cranberry relish on Tuesday night,  dividing it in half so that the kids could take some in the camper.

So we'll have good food, and the gorgeous roses I picked up at Trader Joe's look very appropriately celebratory. I have the Thanksgiving card Wren drew for me--

And her pumpkins--

And I'm enjoying the fact that our garden still looks like this near the end of November--

And I'm looking forward to some fabulous French desserts this afternoon.

Check in, everyone, and tell us how you are, and how you're spending your day.

All of us here at Jungle Red wish you a happy and safe Thanksgiving, even if it will be different. We are grateful for many things, but high up on the list is the support and community we share with all of our wonderful readers every single day. We love you all!

PS: Be sure to come back tomorrow for suggestions for all that leftover turkey!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020


DEBORAH CROMBIE:  It's always such a treat to have broadcaster, speaker, and award-winning author Libby Fischer Hellman drop in for a visit on Jungle Red! Today she gives us a fascinating look at the stages of her writing life--and a new book A BEND IN THE RIVER. Publisher's Weekly calls it "Gripping...This passionate story of survival has staying power." William Kent Krueger says it's "...a stunning piece of historical fiction." Here's Libby to elaborate on her departure from crime fiction.



LIBBY FISCHER HELLMAN: Hi, Reds and Friends. It’s so nice to be back. Yes, I have a new book, and I’ll get to it in a bit. But first, I want to bring up another book. I think most Jungle Reds— because we are of a certain age—are familiar with Gail Sheehy’s PASSAGES. She died this year, but I will never forget her thesis: that every seven years or so, a woman passes through a new stage of her life. Some are precipitated by crises, some aren’t. I was in my late twenties when I read the book, and I identified so closely with the first two passages that I figured my life was predestined a la Sheehy. Did you as well?

My only beef was that she stopped with the ‘50s, which made me feel that any age higher than fifty-nine just wasn’t worth talking about. Harrumph. Even so,  darned if I didn’t begin to see life as a series of passages, which, might apply to almost anything I did or thought about.

Including my writing life. The years aren’t precisely seven, nor does entering one “passage” require an exit from another, but I can clearly see how I’ve passed through different stages of my writing life.

First was the early mystery stage, where I enthusiastically published four Ellie Foreman mystery novels in three years. That doesn’t count the four years I spent learning the craft of fiction well enough to get published, so figure seven years. So far, right on schedule.

Then came my “second series” Passage. Restless for a new challenge, I gave one of the characters from my first series her own thriller series. Georgia Davis is grittier, more hard-boiled, and action-oriented than Ellie. And I love her stories. They energize me in a way Ellie doesn’t. Although Ellie has the sense of humor I crave.

Three novels later (call it four years because of a year of Presidenting Sisters in Crime) presaged a new Passage: the historical thriller. As a former history major, I love the way history repeats itself, but mutating in a tiny way from what went before. I also love diving into rabbit holes and surfacing with a historical nugget or fact or story that surprises me, and hopefully, will surprise readers as well. I’m sure you Reds who write historicals can relate.

In writing historical thrillers, though, I was still tethered to the structure of crime fiction, which provides a plot template that we all follow in one form or another. I could pretend I wasn’t REALLY writing historicals. They were historical mysteries. Historical thrillers.

Another four years went by. Then I went to Vietnam. I grew up in DC and gazed for years at all the monuments to the Civil War in neighboring Virginia. This time, though, I wanted to see the country and any monuments that took 50,000 of our boys’ lives during a war which many still think was unnecessary. To be honest I didn’t know I was entering a new passage until my travel partner and I were in a Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, art gallery staring at this painting.

 I felt like I’d been hit by lightning, and I immediately knew I was going to write a book set in Vietnam during the war. I also knew it would be about these two sisters. And I implicitly knew it was not going to be either a mystery or a thriller. It was going to be a historical novel, the story of two girls struggle to survive a war that was tearing their country apart. I bought the painting.


  I had started reading about Vietnam before I stepped off the plane, but my research instensified while we were there. Photos and videos speak to me, and I took hundreds of shots. I interviewed a former North Vietnamese colonel, as well as two Boat people who escaped Vietnam for the States. After I got home, research intensified even more, and I found fascinating “nuggets” and began to build possible scenes. I put together a timeline of the war and the book. Then I started to write.


I confess I have never enjoyed writing. I love “having written” and holding a finished book in my hands, but the process of writing has always bedeviled me. Not this time. I loved writing this book. In fact, I had to force myself to end it – there was more I could have said. For the first time, I experienced what I now see was an organic process, not dependent on tropes or plot elements. However, I will admit that intuitively knowing how to build suspense helped the story. So did an inherent sense of pacing we learn as we continue writing. But the bottom line was that I felt free to explore the setting and the characters with no constraints. It was something I had never done before.


A Bend In The River was clearly my Passage into a new way of writing. A new genre. I’m thrilled to be here, but I won’t abandon Ellie or Georgia. I intend to continue with all three “passages.” Which might make it pretty crowded in my brain, but Gail Sheehy should have known that’s what happens after your Fifties. We can juggle multiple passages if we want. It all depends on our story.


When their village is destroyed, two sisters face their futures alone. Will the uncertainties of war keep them apart forever?

In 1968 two young Vietnamese sisters flee to Saigon after their village on the Mekong River is attacked by American forces and burned to the ground. The only survivors of the massacre that killed their family, the sisters struggle to survive but become estranged, separated by sharply different choices and ideologies. Mai ekes out a living as a GI bar girl, but Tam’s anger festers, and she heads into jungle terrain to fight with the Viet Cong. For nearly ten years, neither sister knows if the other is alive. Do they both survive the war? And if they do, can they mend their fractured relationship? Or are the wounds from their journeys too deep to heal? In a stunning departure from her crime thrillers, Hellmann delves into a universal story about survival, family, and the consequences of war. A Bend in the River is a remarkable historical fiction standalone novel. If you enjoy a saga of survival against all odds with unforgettable female characters, you’ll love Libby Fischer Hellmann’s sweeping epic. 

 READERS, did you read PASSAGES? Do you see your life in stages, too?


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Sheila Weller, on her complex portrait of Carrie Fisher

HALLIE EPHRON: It is my great pleasure to welcme New York Times bestselling author and journalist Sheila Weller to Jungle Red. She's here to celebrate the paperback release of her biography CARRIE FISHER: A LIFE ON THE EDGE.

The reviews have been... astonishing. Just for example...

"Engrossing, gracefully written....Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge reads as definitive." - The Washington Post.

"Bestseller author Weller shares a hearteflt tribute to the late Carrie Fisher -- a complex portrait of the actress, her struggles, and her extraordinary singularity... A fitting and beautiful homage." - Newsweek

"Riveting...Mesmerizing...": O, the Oprah Magazine

"A sympathetic and terrifically moving biography.": The Forward

This is not Sheila's first celebrity biography. Her Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation was a New York Times best seller. As well as The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour and the Triumph of Women in TV News.

She's here to talk about how she decides who to write about, and why Carrie Fisher (My all-time favorite smart, cheeky actress/writer) in particular.(This essay was originally published in Graydon Carter's Air Mail)

SHEILA WELLER: I love writing about brilliant, risk-taking, complicated women, and Carrie Fisher had those qualities—plus bracing honesty—in profusion.

Few celebrities have confessed with as much witty, ferocious candor their self-acknowledged imperfections and serious challenges—in her case: the effects of bipolar disorder and inherited drug addiction. (And in the process of writing about them with such honesty, Carrie was a significant force in de-stigmatizing them.)

But it is one thing to be amused by a woman’s proudly overshared rule-breaking (Carrie went off her medications and defied drug sobriety many times, and admitted it in highly amusing writings and interviews); it’s quite another to learn, as I did, how deeply vulnerable she could be.

As one of her longtime friends put it, behind the charisma that lit up every room she entered “Carrie was as fragile as a butterfly.”

In her 20s, before she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, her mania-quelling use of Percoset (a balm typical of those with the disorder) once left her so weak that a male friend accompanying her to a movie had to carry her the whole way to the theater by piggyback. During the 1987 book tour of her highly praised Postcards from the Edge, the flinty wit, then freshly considered the Dorothy Parker of her time, spent many days in hotel rooms, nauseous with stage fright. That deep insecurity would never have been guessed by the fans who watched her speak with wry aplomb each evening.

I knew that Carrie prided herself on being a good friend. Indeed, she probably held a record for having more eminences who considered her one of their best friends than just about anyone else in the entertainment and arts communities did. But I learned that her caring for people extended well beyond elites. She’d deeply nurtured, in her home, some friends’ and exes’ sons and daughters.

With the words “I am mentally ill; I can say that” uttered to Diane Sawyer in a widely watched 2000 television interview, Carrie removed the shame from that self-description; after that, many a similarly diagnosed fan at a Star Wars convention merely had to introduce her or himself that way for Carrie to spend much time absorbing and opining on that fan’s personal issues.

When younger industry people below Carrie’s fame and status level were with her, several told me, they were happily surprised that she dove into their lives. At the height of her fame, she took a meeting with young, on-the-rise show-runner Wendy Kuot, who had hoped to get Carrie to star in her TV pilot. But after Carrie said no (those were the years when—hilariously, in the Netflix present—television was the lesser screen), she initiated an hour-and-a-half conversation about Wendy’s life. “I had expected her wit and lack of sentimentality, but not her attention and wisdom,” Wendy told me. “It’s one thing to have an acerbic tongue, but you don’t encounter too many people who give you deep life advice that stays with you. Carrie did.”

Many people said Carrie was the smartest person they knew (although she seemed vexingly insecure because she hadn’t finished high school or drama school), and they spoke endlessly of her generosity. Some was material generosity—if you admired a piece of art in her house, she might send it to you the next day. Some was deeper: When her friend, former Saturday Night Live music producer Julian Ford, was in the last stages of AIDS, she flew him from New York to Los Angeles and cared for him until his death. All that—and she was the proudly frank bad girl who ditched her meds and practiced drug sobriety very imperfectly.

Toward the end of her life, Carrie Fisher was known for her tough, snarky tweets, whacking back at the men who had age- and weight-shamed her. But on at least one occasion she shed tears over these insults.

“Kindness”—not a typical-seeming Fisher noun—was a word she used during that last month of her life. “Be kind. Don’t hurt other people,” she told an interviewer. She had new appreciation for “all the sort of Christian ethics stuff I thought was bullshit when I was a kid. It turns out it’s not bullshit … ” Again: “Be kind.” For one to whom tart sarcasm seemed her stock-in-trade, that these values were emerging as virtues might be surprising. But in my research on what, over the decades, Carrie had survived (severe mental challenges) and accomplished (becoming a virtual guardian to two very different Hollywood-royalty parents), combining kindness with tough-dame bravado seemed both naturally and weatheredly acquired.

HALLIE: Carrie Fisher was one of those celebrities who, even in her Princess Leia getup or reclining in a gold metal bikini, seemed thoroughly real. Sheila's book is a fascinating read--so many mysteries and insights revealed.

I'd love to know what would Sheila have wanted to ask Carrie Fisher if she'd been researching this biograhy during Carrie Fisher's lifetime? What would you like to know?

Sheila Weller is the author of the beloved New York Times bestseller Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation, and of the acclaimed family memoir Dancing at Ciro's: A Family's Love, Loss and Scandal on the Sunset Strip, as well as The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour and the Triumph of Women in TV News -- and of three policy-affecting feminist accounts of crimes against women in upscale communities: Raging Heart ( the #2 NYT bestseller about the relationship of O.J. and Nicole Brown Simpson, Marrying the Hangman, and Saint of Circumstance. Her in-depth profiles, investigative articles on women's issues and cultural history --for Vanity Fair, Glamour, the New York Times, and many other publications -- have won her nine major magazine awards. She has been a columnist for the Washington Post's "She The People" and had her own column, "Second Opinion," for the New York Observer, has sat on the board of directors of Sanctuary for Families (New York state's largest anti-domestic violence organization) and currently sits on the board of Next Tribe, the digital magazine and community for women over forty, and contributes to Graydon Carter's AirMail. She lives in New York City with her husband, history author John Kelly.

Monday, November 23, 2020


DEBORAH CROMBIE: On November the 12th our household entered what will be our NINTH month of lockdown, with no end in sight anytime soon. While there have been periods that were not as strict as others, life has never gotten back to "normal." Whatever "normal" is. The time has seemed endless, but also like it has gone in a flash. How could it be almost Thanksgiving, when just yesterday it was March?

It has been a tough year, no question. But maybe some of our deprivations have not been quite as hard as we might have imagined in the beginning.

I cannot remember, for instance, when I had ever gone more than six or seven weeks without a haircut. It was unthinkable. But my last proper haircut was Valentine's Day! I have since discovered that with a good pair of scissors, I can cut it myself. (It might look a bit like Beth's in The Queen's Gambit before she got stylish, but, hey, it hasn't made anyone fall over from shock.) 


The Queen's Gambit, Netflix 2020

I've also discovered that doing without professional hair color is not the end of the world. I don't mind the gray at my temples nearly as much as I thought I would. I might even, kinda, sorta, like it, although I do miss my blond highlights. The monthly manicure and pedicure, once essentials, have gone the way of the dodo. And structured under-garments. Shopping? Nah, I don't miss it at all. I had a big online splurge a couple of weeks ago at Old Navy--new winter sweatpants, hoodies, and t-shirts--picked up curbside. That's me done. Movies? I can wait. Dining-in--or even out--at restaurants? I don't miss it nearly as much as I thought I would. 

Of course there are loads of things (people, especially!) I really do miss. But I also think that we humans are more adaptable than we give ourselves credit for, and that given a chance, we can find a few silver linings. 

So, dear REDS, what have you found it EASIEST to do without? And do you think these things will once again feel essential? Or will we view our lives a little differently in the future?

RHYS BOWEN: like Debs I’ve learned to trim my own hair quite successfully. I haven't had a massage or pedicure since March. I really miss a regular massage as shoulders get stiff from sitting at a computer. I really miss friends and family although we have seen some of them outside at distance. I miss hugs!


I also miss freedom— to pop to Macy’s to browse, to stop at Starbucks and most to travel the way I usually do. 


I’ve been delighted with Zoom chats. My whole family now chats every Sunday— something we didn’t do before. 


We’ve become used to ordering everything online. Out of shampoo? Coffee? It arrives the next day. I have a suspicion that might stay. It’s so convenient. 

LUCY BURDETTE: The gray hair made me crazy when we first went into lockdown. By now, it’s very gray/silver but maybe more interesting than I was fearing! I can’t imagine I’ll go back to coloring, though I do miss that old self. I think probably it’s the old life I miss, when I could go wherever I wanted whenever. 

Meetings online I’m mixed about. I’m the president of the Key West Friends of the Library so I run our board meetings. It sure is convenient--especially for the board members who are out of town, but not the same as all of us being around the table in our library conference room.

The mayor and city commission of Key West have declared a mask ordinance, meaning you put one on every time you step out of your house. Which is really so smart, considering the way the virus is spreading. I have found there are times when I have a whole conversation and forget that both of us are wearing masks. (Ok, I’m reaching here Debs LOL)

HALLIE EPHRON: I confess, I hate the mask. Invariably the minute I put one on my nose starts to itch. Then run. I suppose that’s when the mask is doing its job, keeping my germiness contained. So yes, I miss my naked face.

I am surprisingly ok without eating out, though I miss going to stores. I used to reward myself with a quick trip to the TJ Maxx that’s a mile from our house. Not to buy anything, but just for the fun or roaming around and you never know what you’re going to find that you can’t understand how you’ve been able to live without. And I miss going to the supermarket when I run out of something. Now I put it on my twice-a-month delivery list and figure out how to live without.  

The biggest miss is seeing my grandkids. In the best of times, they are little disease vectors. Cute as buttons, delicious and hilarious, but disease vectors nevertheless.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: well, I have been looking for the bright side, I have to say.  I have now made 255 dinners in a row. That’s just insane. As everything else is.

You are so right about what we miss and don’t miss. I do not miss going to Channel 7 every Tuesday and Thursday, in horrific commuter traffic, rushing through the morning, with endless endless stress.  There’s a different kind of stress of being physically late for something, and we don’t really have that anymore, do we?

I have to say the guy who cuts my hair comes to our backyard, but only once a month. I cannot begin to tell you how often I went back in the before times. I have really lowered the bar on all kinds of things like that. And so, whatever.

I figured out how to do my own manicure, and I wonder why I was so frantic about that in the past. Pedicures, once essentials, gone. Whatever.

My closet is so bizarre, all those lonely clothes, but that’s okay, I am now the queen of uniqlo.  Remember all my wonderful shoes? Yeah, well, the other day I was so thrilled when I got new slippers!  

And my joy, honestly, is that I get to have lunch every day with my husband. We used to have dinner all the time, and that’s fine, but now, breakfast and lunch, with real talking, it’s truly truly great.  It’s like being, I don’t know, happily retired. With him working all the time, and me still working all the time, but… So much more relaxed.

So I count my blessings that we can do that, I really do. I know outside our doors, it is insane, constantly insane, and terrifying and horrible and miserable and wretched.

And that’s why I try to take happiness when I can. In answer to your question will we live our lives differently in the future? I will love that it is not terrifying to go to the dentist and the doctor. I will love not being afraid to go outside. The other things – – it’ll be very interesting to see.  
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Already went gray, so that's not a problem. I've never been the type to get my hair cut every six weeks, so I'm not missing the trips to the salon. As Hank said, I really don't miss the commute - for me, forty minutes each way - to teach my community college class. After my first frantic flailing around, I didn't miss book tour this past April - in many ways, I feel I've connected with far more readers over Zoom than  ever would in person!

Also, can I be perfectly honest? I will miss sitting down with family and friends this Thanksgiving. But I'm not going to miss cooking for 20+, scrubbing the house to guest standards, or driving 13 hours to the DC area. It's going to be a simple meal for four this year, which means I'll have time to enjoy the Macy's Parade (yep, it's on, without live spectators) and the National Dog Show (also without live spectators, but with plenty of pooches!) Will I want to spend it like this every year? No. But a low-key Thanksgiving will be a nice break from the usual frantic busyness.
DEBS: Hallie, I do miss being able to run in Homegoods, sometimes just to see what they have. Or get a good price on a new dog bed...
Hank, I'm astounded at your 255 dinners. And, Hallie, I'm equally astounded at your only every two weeks grocery delivery. You must be the mistress of meal planning, and should share your secrets with us mere mortals. I struggle to plan for a week.

And I do think about the fact that we are not getting the normal batch of colds, and, cross fingers, no flu! 

READERS, are there things (even a few!) that you don't miss as much as you would have expected?