Praise for the Redclaw Origins Series!

I’m a pretty happy camper this morning!

Earlier this week, I got a delightful 5 star review for Bishop’s Gambit from N.N. Light’s Book Heaven!

Last night, Bishop Takes Knight won a Bronze Medal for Best Blended Fiction in the 2020 Royal Palm Literary Awards!

The award was announced at FWA’s recent remote four-day annual conference. This annual competition, which received 549 submissions, was RPLA’s nineteenth.

“This is the most competitive RPLA we’ve ever had,” said Chris Coward, RPLA chairperson. “The RPLA administrative team, judges, and entrants did an amazing job.”

In all, the competition covered 28 adult genres and 5 Youth genres, with published and unpublished entries considered separately.

“A win at any level can help any writer market their manuscript or published book, and the detailed feedback from the judges is invaluable for all entrants,” Ms. Coward said.

The Florida Writers Association, 1,800 members strong and growing, is a nonprofit 501(c)(6) organization that supports the state’s established and emerging writers. Membership is open to the public.

The Royal Palm Literary Awards competition is a service of the Florida Writers Association established to recognize excellence in its members’ published and unpublished works while providing objective and constructive written assessments for all entrants.

All in all a very good week! I guess I need to get cracking on that next installment of the Redclaw Origins series, eh? Maybe after I take the dogs for a walk on this lovely October morning. Especially this little dinosaur shifter. 🙂

The Kindness of Friends and Strangers

Photo by Sharon Snider from Pexels

I have to preface this post with the following disclaimer: the information in here anecdotal and based on one case only. If you have a sick pet, seek immediate veterinary care. Do not ask your friends on Facebook for treatment recommendations. Do not rely on posts such as this one. Google can be a great source of information if the information comes from a reliable source. Otherwise Google is merely a source of opinions, not facts. I am not a veterinarian, nor do I play one on TV.

I don’t know about you right now, but I needed a win.

The past few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions: terrifying world and local news, the anticipated release of a new book, the growing reports of people I know developing Covid, the excitement of a planned virtual gathering of long-time friends. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. And not just a little pessimistic about our future.

Which is why I really needed a win about now.

Remember the hamster I bought for a friend of mine? I was under a lot of pressure to pick the perfect pet for someone who knows a lot more about hammies than I do. She was delighted with my choice, and christened the new hamster “Elizabeth Bennett.”

But then a week after Lizzie went to her new home, my friend called me with upsetting news: she had signs of wet tail.

For those who don’t know, wet tail is the common term for a collective of conditions that give young hamsters profound diarrhea. The term is primarily used to refer to proliferative ileitis and has a high mortality rate–most die within 24-48 hours. Wet tail can also be triggered by stress, diet change, or antibiotics.

Well, take a young hamster recently shipped to a pet store, then adopted into a new home, and you have the definition of a stressful situation. We could rule out diet change and there was no history of antibiotics, so we were looking at either the classic PI of hamsters under six months of age or stress-induced bacterial overgrowth. Either way, the news wasn’t good.

We couldn’t let Elizabeth Bennett die. At least, not before the usual short life span of the average hamster.

My friend weighed the risks of exposing herself (and potentially her elderly father) to Covid-19 by driving to the nearest city large enough to support an exotics veterinarian and decided against it. On Saturday afternoon most of the local small animal clinics were closed for the weekend. Taking Lizzie to the emergency clinic was unlikely to result in getting a veterinarian who knew how to treat hammies for wet tail beyond the basics of what you could look up online. She wondered if the clinic that cares for my livestock carried the kinds of antibiotics she needed to treat Lizzie.

The answer turned out to be yes and no.

A Google search indicated the typical treatments available were either an over-the-counter chlortetracycline or neomycin sulfate. I made arrangements to pick some medication from the pet store as soon as I got off work that day. In the meantime, I tagged a vet friend of mine who lived on the other side of the country and asked if she knew of anything better. My friend went to VIN, the Veterinary Information Network, and searched the forums on pocket pets. She texted me back with a list of antibiotics used to treat wet tail–none of which were the OTC products available from the pet store. The large animal clinic had some of the antibiotics, but because they were meant to be given to something like a 1200 pound bull, which weighs 544.3 kilograms, which converts to 544,300 grams… and we were talking about something that weighed somewhere between 30-40 grams… well, you could see the issue with diluting the meds to a workable amount.

I went to the pet store to buy the OTC treatment–it had to be better than nothing, right? But while I was there, I asked to speak with the manager and I explained what was going on. Did she know a better way to treat the hammie?

The manager was very kind and helpful. First, she offered to take the hamster back, as Lizzie was still under warranty. (We weighed that choice and decided against it) I asked her about the OTC products, and without condemning the product, she said they’d had the most success treating wet tail with one of the antibiotics we hadn’t been able to find and supporting the hammie with the kind of paste used to handfeed baby birds.

Apparently, there’s a supplement designed for hamsters, but they like the baby bird formula better and most thrive on it. Who knew?

I came away with the OTC antibiotics and the bird paste. On the way home, I drove past the clinic where I take my dogs. They were still open–but only for another ten minutes. As they were operating on curbside only, I called the number posted on the door and explained my dilemma. My vet was awesome. She dispensed a tiny amount of liquid antibiotics for Lizzie and suggested we purchase a meat scale in order to weigh her.

Armed with a treatment plan, I took everything to my friend. There we ran into the next problem: Lizzie was sick, but still well enough to be impossible to handle, especially without stressing her further. My friend couldn’t weigh her, let alone administer medication. In the end, we decided to try putting a microdrop of antibiotics in the bird paste and hope she would eat it voluntarily.

The next few days were tense as I waited for updates from my friend. Most hamsters with wet tail die from dehydration and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and though it seemed she was eating the paste, it was difficult to tell if she was getting enough–or too much–of the antibiotics. At one point my friend described Lizzie as “a walking skeleton draped in fur” and frankly, I expected the next update to be the final one.

I can’t explain why I was so invested in Lizzie’s recovery. Maybe it was because I know how few indulgences my friend allows herself, and by God, she should be allowed this one damn thing. Maybe it was because I personally picked out Lizzie for her and felt responsible for bringing her heartache. Or it could have been because she was named after a favorite character and having her die was akin to killing Elizabeth Bennett myself. Or maybe it was because 2020 has been SUCH a suckwad year and I just needed this one win. With all the terrible news coming out of California with the wildfires, the hurricanes in the Gulf, the mounting cases of Covid-19 among friends and acquaintances, the attacks on our democracy and the fears for the coming election and the aftermath of the results… I just needed this little hamster to make it, you know?

And she did.

Maybe it was the bird paste. Maybe it was the combined knowledge of the pet store manager and my vet friend with VIN. Maybe it was the antibiotics and the kindness that dispensed it under the given circumstances without insisting on an exam. Maybe it was the dedication of my friend, who woke Lizzie every couple of hours during the day, which made her seek out something to eat instead of sleeping into death. I don’t know. But for some reason, or maybe all of those reasons, the evidence of wet tail ceased, and she began putting on weight. We stopped the antibiotics and she continued to do well. In fact, she started getting so fat, we had to wean her off the bird paste and back onto hamster food.

Maybe she didn’t have true PI. We’ll never know. But it’s been weeks now since her recovery, and I feel safe calling her out of the woods. At least as much as hamsters are ever out of the woods.

It’s a small win. But I’ll take it. Screw you, 2020.

Bishop’s Gambit #MFRWHooks and Prizes

Yesterday was the big release day for Bishop’s Gambit (Redclaw Origins2)! Bishop and Knight are back and in more hot water than ever!

Redclaw Origins: The year is 1955. Rebel without a Cause and The Seven Year Itch are playing in the  movie theaters. The Chevy Bel Air is the most popular car in America. Gas is 25 cents a gallon and you can get a hotel room for $4 bucks. This flirty, fun series takes us back to the beginning and shows us how Redclaw Security got started.

In the award-winning Bishop Takes Knight, we met Rhett Bishop, a former socialite desperately seeking work. She lands a job at Redclaw Security, a firm that’s not all that it seems. A routine assignment turns deadly when tracking down missing scientist, Dr. Peter Knight, unleashes a pack of wolf-shifters on their trail. Toss in rival shifter gangs all searching for a cache of mysterious artifacts of great power, and Bishop and Knight are lucky to escape with their lives.

In Bishop’s Gambit, still stinging from being sidelined after the debacle of her first mission, Rhett has a lot to prove. Which is why she accepts her newest assignment: pose as a married couple with Peter Knight to investigate strange happenings in an upscale 1950s suburban development. When malice is served with a smile and a slice of apple pie, it’s not hard to see why Rhett might prefer to face down a horde of angry shifters! 

Excerpt:

Wait!”

His footsteps crunched on the gravel path as he hurried to catch up, but I ignored him and continued walking.

He drew abreast, stuffing his empty lunch sack into his pocket as he hurried along. “Does this mean you’re saying no?”

Pulling to an abrupt stop, I forced him to brake as well or risk running into me. I punctuated every word with a poke to his chest. “Still. Haven’t. Been. Asked.”

His eyes flew open wide before a sly grin—one I had a hard time resisting—curved his mouth. “Oh. I can’t exactly go down on one knee here, but Rhett Bishop, would you do me the honor of being my fake wife and partner in an undercover investigation?”

His impish expression said he still didn’t understand why I was mad.

 

Want to be part of my launch team and get in the running for some fabulous deluxe gift baskets? Check out the details here.

This post is part of a hop, so follow the links to read some other tasty bookhooks for this week! 

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Bishop’s Gambit Release Day and Launch Party!

It’s here! Today is the day Bishop’s Gambit, the next installment of the award-winning Redclaw Origins series, is available to download!

I can’t tell you how excited I am about sharing this story with you. It was a long time coming–I’d planned for an earlier release date, but then the pandemic hit and life changed for everyone. You’d think that would mean more time for writing, but like so many people, it upended our household, and forced us to make some tough choices.

I’m pleased as punch to be able to release it now, however!

The old gang is back: Ryker, Mr. J, Miss Climpson, Em, and of course, little Captain, the terrier with a terrible secret. To redeem herself in Redclaw Security’s eyes after the debacle of her first mission, probationary agent Rhett Bishop must undertake a delicate assignment: pose as a married couple with Dr. Peter Knight to investigate a series of paranormal circumstances in an upscale 1950s suburban neighborhood! Here, malice is served with a smile and a slice of apple pie. No wonder Rhett would rather face down a horde of wolf-shifters than deal with the Ladies Association…

It’s the X-Files meets Leave it to Beaver in Redclaw Origins Book 2.

Did I mention there was only one bed?

Bishop’s Gambit is now available from Amazon and these other retailers.

Want to join my launch team for Bishop’s Gambit? I would love your help in spreading the word!

For one week we’ll be sharing about the book release and you will have the chance to win some great prizes!

I have three deluxe reader prize baskets, and I’ll give away 5 more paperback copies of my books! You can win simply by following the directions to help share and spread the word about Bishop’s Gambit.

This is specifically designed to reward my most loyal fans, friends, and dedicated readers, so click HERE to join the private Facebook group so you’ll be in the loop and eligible for prizes. All the details are there!

I’ve already received a delightful review from The Genre Minx Book Reviews, so check it out!

So this is me, tossing a fistful of confetti in the air and running off. Yay!

Introducing the Real-Life Captain: Pets in Books

Some of you may know I modeled the little terrier in the Redclaw Origins series, Captain, after my own Jack Russell. I introduced the dog late in Bishop Takes Knight, where he had a small but important role. In Bishop’s Gambit, releasing Oct 6, 2020, he has a much larger part to play.

What you might not know is how close my representation of the mischievous terrier might be. Aside from Captain’s “special ability” as seen in the books (and I don’t want to say too much about that, as it’s a bit of a spoiler if you haven’t read them), I pretty much cribbed the fictional Captain’s behavior from the real one.

I’d never been a “small dog” person before Captain came into my life. I’d grown up with big dogs, and as soon as I moved out on my own, I got a German Shepherd puppy and have had Shepherds ever since. I like the feeling of security that comes with a big dog, as well as the hardiness that means such dogs will enjoy the same kinds of activities that we do.

But when my mom decided late in life that she absolutely had to have a dog to replace my late father’s spaniel, we tried dissuading her until it became clear she intended to go out and get the first dog she came across, whether it was appropriate for her or not. A friend of mine told me about Captain at the shelter where she worked. He was a great little dog, she said. I should go look at him.

I wasn’t convinced. Still, he had the advantage of being a middle-aged small dog and not the two-year-old pit bull my mother had been eyeing on Craigslist, so I drove out to the foster home to see him. I found out he’d been in the system for almost a year. No one wanted him, it would seem.

The foster mom walked me down to the kennels out back through a large flock of chickens that came running up, obviously expecting to be fed. As she put Captain on a flexi-lead and released him from the kennel, he shot out to the end of the twenty-five foot leash, dashing through the chickens and sending them squawking. I fully expected to see him take down a hen and pop up with a mouthful of feathers, but he just… scattered them. After a gleeful rush through the birds, he came back to the foster mom, his little tail wagging so fast it was a blur. Like in the picture here.

We went up to the house, where I visited with him a bit. He was personable and relatively calm, considering that he’d been kenneled for the past year. I liked him a lot, and realized then there was a very good chance that since I’d inherit whatever dog my mother chose, it might as well be him.

That initial impression proved to be emblematic of the dog himself. An ecstatic burst of joy, followed by relative calm. When two years later, I did indeed inherit him, I worried about introducing him into my already animal-dense household. Terriers frequently did not distinguish between wildlife and cats. We had a LOT of cats. Also, Sampson was still with us then, and I didn’t know how a 20 pound dog would get along with a 100 pound one.

The day I brought him home, a couple of feral cats were hanging out on the porch as I approached with Captain on leash. I wound the lead around my hand, prepared to pull him back should he show any sign of aggression, but Captain merely glanced at the wary cats and sat down to look up at me as if to say, “Oh look. Cats. Can we go into the house now?”

I needn’t have worried. He meshed into our household as though he’d always been there.

But I was determined to rehome him. We already had too many animals. We didn’t need a second dog. I tried four times to place Captain in another home, and each time, the arrangement fell through. After the last failure, I stalked down to the pet store and put his name on a tag with our contact information. He was our dog now.

And what an adventure that proved to be. I’ll never forget the day I left a sandwich on the kitchen table to get something to drink, and in a flash, Captain bounced from the floor to the chair to the tabletop, snatched up the sandwich, and leapt off the table to run down the hall with it. Sampson, the Shepherd, looked at me with a bug-eyed expression as if to say, “That’s allowed??”

We discovered the long stretch of being kenneled made it nearly impossible to board him, but the first time we left him with a pet-sitter (an experienced dog owner and horse trainer), she called in a panic because he’d stolen an entire plate of sausages when her back was turned. Far too much fat for a little dog to consume, as it could have triggered a life-threatening case of pancreatitis, so I had to walk her through inducing him to vomit. Had she not been successful in this act, she would have had to take him to the emergency clinic. She refers to him as “Sausage Plate” to this day. 

I did warn her about the food-snatching behavior…

He proved to be so chill with the cats, I jokingly said he couldn’t be a real terrier, only one day when I had the dogs loose in the fields, they plunged in the bushes after something. Moments later, the foul stench of skunk filled the air. I shrieked at the dogs, who came charging out of the bushes wiping their faces on the ground. Sampson clearly had enough. He came back to me on the run.

Captain, however, gritted his teeth and barreled back in for the kill.

Just now, when I took the dogs out for the final elimination break of the evening, something scrabbled away from the door as we came out of the house. The motion-sensitive light came on, catching the undulating movement of something about the size of a possum. It moved like a ground hog, and yet it was much slimmer and with a narrower head. I thought it was a groundhog, only they aren’t supposed to be active at night, and there was something about it that made the hair on the back of my neck rise. Both dogs alerted on it, but it was Captain who nearly pulled me off the porch to go after it. It’s astonishing how strong a 20 pound dog can be.

Just then, one of the feral cats saw us and came trotting up. Now you’d think a terrier in full-blown attack mode might redirect onto the cat (and I made sure the cat stayed back until I was sure it was safe) but nope. Captain knew the difference between “our family” and “vermin.”

It’s this dichotomy between sweet, loving little dog and “show me the vermin!” killer terrier that made me immortalize Captain in the Redclaw series. Okay, it might have something to do with the fact that I am besotted with this little dog, and wanted part of him to be with me forever. But seriously, the night and day change in behavior when he spots a rabbit or a squirrel versus how he behaves the rest of the time is like watching someone flip a switch. Small wonder I couldn’t resist putting him into my stories. He’s just so darn stinking cute, and then there’s this vicious little killer lurking within. He steals food, digs holes in the yard, rolls in stuff so smelly it requires an IMMEDIATE bath, and is a little escape artist, too. He weasels his way into bed with us and has to be persuaded to share space with the humans. Every morning he turns over on his back and wriggles in place, grinding little white dog hairs into the comforter.

And I think he’s pretty darn near perfect.

 

 

 

 

Bath Bombs from Hell

I really hope my sister in Milan isn’t reading this right now.

See, I love scented body lotions, oils, and bath bombs. I work with animals, and at the end of the day, I’m often pretty rank. There’s nothing I like better than a long soak in the tub with some frothy, fragrant, flowery bath oils. Give me a book and a glass of wine, and I can stay in the tub until the water is cold and my skin is pruney.

My sister knows this, and this past Christmas she sent me a box of deluxe bath bombs and soap.

But before we did the big remodel on the farmhouse, getting enough hot water for a delicious bubble bath was problematic. The water pressure was anemic, and the hot water ran out fairly quickly. I got out of the habit of taking baths in favor of the more efficient (but equally frustrating) shower. My bath oils collected dust. My scented soaps and bath bombs sat in a drawer.

One of the unexpected perks of the remodel was finding out the county had run the water line far enough out that–for a hefty fee–we could hook up to county water and do away with the well. I know some people rave about well water, but ours was foul. You couldn’t drink it out of the tap without filtering, and the water itself was so hard it left deposits around the faucets and in the coffee maker. The last time the elements burned out in the water heater, we decided to clean out the tank since we had it opened, and we removed five pounds of mineral deposit. The first time I took a shower with the new water system, I could have wept at both the increased water pressure and the seemingly unlimited hot water.

But it took me a while to start thinking about taking long soaks again. Only recently, since we’ve had unexpected dips in temperatures and have woken to frost limning the grass, have I started taking baths again.

I love fall. It’s my absolute favorite time of year. I love the scritch of dry leaves along the sidewalk, and the damp, earthy smell of muddy paths. I love the changing spectrum of light, how great golden sunbeams slant through the trees in the afternoons, and the way the mountains come alive with color. I love boots and sweaters and that first mug of steaming hot chocolate. Though I can no longer have a real fire in the hearth, I turn on youtube videos of fireplaces and watch them from the couch as I read. I love mornings when the air is so crisp, it’s like biting into a fresh apple, and the delicate etchings of frost on the blades of grass. I love pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread and will eat both until I can’t stand it anymore until the next year rolls around. All hail October, the best month of the entire year!

It’s also bath season. Because frankly, the idea of sitting in a tub of hot water when it’s a bazillion degrees outside holds little appeal. The first time I decided to take a bath after the remodel was post-exercise when I used mineral salts to ease muscle soreness. In no time flat, I recalled how much I enjoyed soaking in a hot bath, and I decided it was a nice way to give myself a little treat that did not involve food–something I’ve been struggling with as a means of coping with the pandemic and other anxieties.

Only belatedly did I remember my sister’s Christmas gift.

One evening I’d been feeling particularly anxious about, well, everything. I decided to take a long bath with the book I’d been reading, and started poking around for something that smelled nice to add to the water. I was bummed when I came up empty. Wait a second–didn’t my sister give me that deluxe bath kit? Surely there was something in there!

I took me some time to track it down, but I felt like Indiana Jones on discovering the Ark of the Covenant when I located the package. When I opened it, I had a split-second of guilt and regret. See what looks like white chocolate in the photo above? I thought my gift box contained CANDY that I hadn’t eaten in almost ten months, and it probably wasn’t good anymore. I can’t say whether I was more disappointed or relieved when I realized the “chocolate” was actually soap. Oh well. At least it wasn’t wasted.

The box contained some lovely scented soaps, a “relaxing” candle, and yes, bath bombs. Both in the shape of cupcakes and in some heart-shaped bombs as well. They had a nice, light, floral scent–probably lavender. The first one I selected also appeared to have some sort of growth on it as well (see picture above). I thought it was mold at first, but on closer examination, all the bombs had something similar. I figured it was sort of stemmy herb, like thyme. I shrugged and carried the little cupcake with me into the bath room.

Deciding to forgo the candle (I’m not a complete lunatic–lighting a candle in a house full of curious animals is asking to have an accidental fire), I cranked the water as hot as I could get it, settled in with my book, and dropped the bomb. Moments later, I smiled as I leaned back in the steaming, scented water.

The first five minutes or so passed uneventfully, but then I began to notice particulate matter floating in the water. The herbs decorating the bath bombs weren’t confined to the surface–the entire product was filled with the beastly things. What looked like seed heads began decorating the surface of the water, and sticking to the sides of the tub and any part of my limbs that broke the surface. Seriously, who thought releasing bits of plant matter like errant weeds into your bath water was a good idea? How could that possibly be considering soothing?

Grumbling a bit to myself about the mess I’d have to clean up later, I continued to read until the water cooled and I decided it was time to get out. As the water drained, I noticed how slippery the sides of the tub seemed. The surface of my skin felt oily as well. I expected my skin to feel smooth and moisturized, but I could have passed for a greased pig at the county fair. Still, I wasn’t too concerned until I tried to get out of the tub and I slipped around like a pat of butter on a hot grill. The first time I tried to get up and floundered around, it was funny. By the third time, I grew alarmed. I was home alone. What if I hit my head? What if I never managed to get out of the tub? If I didn’t  show up for work in the morning, would my boss send someone to my house, to find me cold and shivering, trapped in my tub?

Finally, with great care, I managed to get out. I wiped the remnants of the bath bomb off my skin as best I could, leaving my towels with the same somewhat oily residue. Rinsing out the tub failed to remove the slick. I wound up having to scrub the entire thing with gritty cleanser to remove the last of the bath bomb. Not the relaxing bath I had planned!

I have to say, I’ve taken a lot of baths over the years, with a lot of different products. I’ve never experienced anything like these bombs, and I never want to again.

Which is why I hope my sister isn’t reading this post. Sorry, sis!

 

Cover Reveal and Pre-Order Links for Bishop’s Gambit!

I don’t know about you, but I never have the patience to do a true “cover reveal” the way some people do. When I get my gorgeous new cover, I want to shout about it from the rooftops! I was pretty good this time–I let my newsletter list have the image and links almost three whole days before everyone else–but I can’t wait any longer! Without further ado, I present to you Bishop’s Gambit (Redclaw Origins Book Two)

Doesn’t Reese Dante do amazing work? I just adore this cover!

Poor Rhett. Evicted from her apartment for hiding a dog from her landlady, and still on probation for the way things turned out in Bishop Takes Knight, she opts to take on an undercover assignment where she and Knight must pose as a married couple to investigate inexplicable events in an upscale suburban community. Instead of fending off wolf-shifters and her father’s former mob contacts, she’s joining the country club, playing bridge, and baking cakes for the Ladies Association meetings. Okay, she’s buying bakery store cakes and passing them off as her own, but still.

Give her a bad guy to shoot any day.

At least she still has her trusty ray gun. And if Redclaw’s main competitor, Rian Stirling, is hanging about, there must be something to these unusual activities, right?

She’ll just have to put her budding relationship with Knight on hold until they solve this mystery. After all, they’re professionals here. Even if there is only one bed.

Pre-order Bishop’s Gambit from  Amazon and these other retailers.

 

The Kind of List You Want to Be On

I had a kind of crappy day today.

The odd thing is, nothing truly bad happened. Certainly not by 2020’s standards. I had a minor disappointment with the upcoming launch of Bishop’s Gambit. Very minor. On the scale of pain and suffering, it was right up there with a stubbed toe–the kind that makes you curse and hop around on one foot but then moments later, you’ve forgotten all about it. Or at least I should have. Instead, I let my disappointment escalate into a mini-meltdown. It wasn’t until later that I realized the writing setback was a safe thing for me to get upset about. There are a lot of upsetting and distressing things going on right now and yet I focused on the toe-stub instead of the car crash, if you catch my drift.

So it was with great pleasure that I received a message from author Beth Linton with a link to a blog post she’d written listing “10 Best Romance Novels.” I was delighted to find Bishop Takes Knight there! I definitely needed that boost today! It reminded me that I’d recently run across another such list from Barbara Strickland in her Chilling Corner in August, that also counted Bishop Takes Knight among her recommended reads.

I have to tell you, these posts pulled me right out of my pity party. Especially because they also recommended such delicious reads I couldn’t wait to add them to my TBR stack!

And speaking of adding to the TBR stack, I’m going to be doing a cover reveal for Bishop’s Gambit as soon as I have a pre-order link! Yay! So stay tuned. It won’t be long now!

The Great Fish and Hamster Caper

Photo by Juris Freidenfelds from Pexels

I have to preface this post by saying in the last three years, the mosquito problem at my house has become vicious. It was always a bit annoying in the summer. The owners of the lot next to our property dug the foundation for a house, only to be told by the county they couldn’t build on the narrow strip of land they owned, and they walked away, leaving a huge open pit in the middle of the lot. Over the years, the thicket has taken over again, but every March the hole fills with water and the sound of spring peepers is almost deafening.

Then developers put in a subdivision behind us, with two retaining ponds for run-off and a large ditch that runs alongside the far end of the property. This ditch regularly floods during heavy rains–so much so our trees along that side of the field are showing signs of root rot.

Our mosquitoes have gone from being annoying to swarming as soon as you leave the building. I can’t even take the dogs out for a quick walk to eliminate in the mornings without putting on bug spray. Even with bug repellent, the “deep woods” kind, the mosquitoes still bite. Heck, they bite through clothing, too.This year I had to buy a mosquito tent so my husband and I could sit outside when the weather was nice.

Let me pause here to remind you how many diseases mosquitoes carry: ones we now have to worry about here in the US. Dengue fever, West Nile, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Zika are just a few of concern in our area, and that doesn’t count things like heartworm disease, which affects primarily our pets but in rare cases can affect humans as well.

I looked into spraying the property for mosquitoes, but wasn’t happy with the potential environmental and safety issues. (Look, they told us RoundUp was safe too, and it’s NOT.) And really, the problem isn’t on our property itself: it’s all the surrounding ponds and sources of standing water.

I bought some “dunks” which claim to be environmentally friendly and safe for wildlife and the environment, until you read the fine print. Then it’s a little worrisome. I decided I’d reserve the dunks for a last resort.

Enter the fish.

See, fish eat mosquito larvae. I had this brilliant plan. I’d purchase some “feeder” fish and release them in the various areas of standing water. I did some calculations and decided that 25 little goldfish would suit my needs perfectly. Feeder fish means these little fishes were doomed to be fed to something else, and so I shouldn’t feel bad about giving them a few months of freedom before the ponds either dried up or froze over. The fish would have a nice autumn and I would have fewer mosquitoes. Right?

Enter the hamster.

A friend of mine serves as her elderly father’s caretaker. As such, she’s been particularly careful about where she goes and how she shops because of the pandemic. She orders everything online. She only goes out when she has to. She wears a mask and gloves everywhere she goes. When I brought up the subject of the fish, she asked me for an unusual favor. She’d recently lost her hamster (they don’t live very long) and was interested in a replacement, primarily because her father enjoyed watching it and his world had become very, very narrow since Covid-19 kept him largely housebound. But the pet store wouldn’t let her purchase one online, nor would they bring one out to the car for her. Since I was going to buy some fish, would I pick out a nice, young (see note above how they don’t live very long), friendly hamster for her? A Syrian. Preferably male, but she’d take whatever she could get.

Sure. Why not. I’m no expert on hamsters (I prefer rats or gerbils) but I was willing to give it a shot. Pre-pandemic, I’d been hamster shopping with my friend before so I sort  of had an idea what she was looking for. I should point out she’s some kind of Hamster Whisperer and seems to have an odd power over these wee (sometimes vicious) beasties. In the past, I’d seen her temperament-test and turn down dozens of hammies before selecting the one she wanted, but she assured me NO PRESSURE. She’d take the best I could get.

Only then I discovered that releasing goldfish into the wild is a Very Bad Idea. It turns out those tiny little fish–no bigger than my pinkie finger–can grow to be the size of a football and weigh up to four pounds in the right environment–and apparently they are an incredibly invasive species, eating up all the local resources and out-competing the native fish. So while I couldn’t find any regulations forbidding the release of goldfish into the wild, there were lots of articles saying PLEASE DON’T.

I thought long and hard about it. The ponds are designed to catch run-off. They overflow into another collecting basin and then into a large drainage ditch. The ditch funnels the water into the woods at the far end of our property–not into a creek or river where the fish could continue their journey. It would be a dead-end trip if they managed to leave the pond, as the standing water in the ditch would eventually dry up. But now that I knew better, releasing goldfish was off the table.

But I’d promised to go hamster shopping.

No problem. I found out that Rosy-Red minnows–a native North American species–were also sold as feeder fish. I’d just buy some of them instead. Only the pet store didn’t have any Rosy-Reds–they had another variant from China. And let me tell you, releasing a non-native competitive minnow into the wild seemed like an even worse idea than goldfish. So I left the fish department empty-handed and went to look at hamsters.

It’s a good thing my friend was so specific about her needs. There were so many different species of hamsters it wasn’t funny. Winter dwarves, Chinese dwarves, species I’d never heard of. They were all cute as could be, but I was on a mission for a Syrian, so there you are.

There were only two to choose from. Both female. That should have made it easier, right? I had a 50-50 chance of picking the right hamster. But not really. See, that assumes that either one of these hamsters could have met her mysterious qualifications… what if neither one did? What if they were both old? Hamsters live 2-3 years at best–I could easily pick one already halfway through its lifespan. Or what if it was mean? One of the reasons I’m not fond of hamsters is they seem more bitey to me than other pocket pets.

I asked the staff member to open the first cage and let me see the hamster. He lifted the lid and removed the little house where the hamster was sleeping. She popped up out of her bedding and ran beneath the water bottle–someone had disturbed her nest! What was happening? Despite being the middle of the night for her, she hid beneath the water bottle a bit and then began exploring the cage.

“Let me see the other one.”

The employee shrugged and repeated the process with the second hamster. When she lifted the tiny house off this hamster, it rolled onto its back with one foot raised and you could just hear the curse words coming out of its little hamster mouth. The staffer attempted to stroke it, and the hammie was having none of it.

“I’ll take the first one.”

Which is how I came to leave the pet store with a hamster and no fish. My friend was delighted with my choice, by the way, declaring her to be perfect. As is her habit, she names her hamsters after the characters in whatever book she happens to be reading at the time, so I hope Elizabeth Bennet the Hamster leads a long and interesting life. The second hamster was definitely a Catherine de Bourgh.

But I still needed fish.

Hang on. People use minnows for bait, right? I began calling all the outdoor places that sold live bait. Just like my consternation when I recently discovered there is no longer a single office supply store anywhere in my area, I went through the entire Google listings before I found a outdoor supply store still in business that also sold live fish as bait. I finally found a place over 40 minutes away–a tiny back-of-the-beyond outfitter that had a few minnows. On back roads it turned out to be an hour and a half round trip, but it was a success!

And so I got my fish.

Near dusk, I cut through the woods into the development with my container of fish, hoping I wouldn’t run into any of the residents in the process. What would I say if asked what I was doing with a gallon of minnows? That I was taking my fish for a walk?

Fortunately no one was around to question my clandestine activities. Several large frogs plopped into the first pond as I approached it, and I wondered just how many minnows would survive. Reminding myself these little fishes were intended to be BAIT, I set the container in the pond and waited 15 minutes for the water to acclimate to the pond temperature, and then I released them. They swam out in a big knot, hung around for a moment in some confusion, and then darted away into the rushes.

Will I see any of them again? Probably not, though I suspect I will sneak back to the ponds from time to time to check. But hopefully, I won’t see any mosquitoes, either.

But if I do, I’ll try the dunks next time.

At least I did a good job picking out the hamster.

 

Appalling 1950s Desserts and Why I Make Them

It’s Labor Day here in the US and for most of us, that means kicking back with the family outside around the grill: hot dogs, hamburgers, baked beans, potato salad, ice cream and apple pie or some variant of the above.

That’s what we’re doing later this afternoon.

Recently while researching appetizers and desserts of the 1950s for a book I’m writing, I fell into a strange rabbit hole, however. The bizarre and inexplicably terrible desserts of the 1950s.

I have theories as to why and how these monstrous creations came into being. After WW2, many young wives moved out of the cities with their families into the new suburbs. Gone was the ready access to older generations of women who could explain why your cookies didn’t turn out the way Grandma used to make them. Betty Crocker came into her own during this time period. Previously created as a means of answering customer support questions for what was to become General Mills, Betty Crocker as a cultural icon rose to prominence in the 40s and 50s, first with a series of cookbooks and then radio and television shows. I myself grew up with the “church ladies” cookbooks created by the women of my grandmother’s church and sold as fundraisers. Make sausage balls with Bisquik and cheddar cheese? Sour cream cake? Green bean casserole? Pecan pie? The recipes were in that cookbook. I was devastated when my mother loaned our only copy to someone and couldn’t remember who had it.

Deprived of my granny’s best old-time recipes, I turned to era-authentic cookbooks to see what I might find.

I am no cook. Not by a long shot. But these cookbooks consisted of recipes that even the most hopeless chef could follow, relying largely on staples such as Campbell’s Soup and other pre-packaged goodies. I think therein lay their appeal to the young housewives of the fifties, looking to serve decent yet elegant meals on a shoestring that reflected well on their household management.

That’s the other factor I believe is behind some of the strange dessert combinations I found: thrift.

Coming off a World War where economy and rationing was paramount, and supplies for many things in short demand, cooks got creative in making recipes that relied on whatever they had on hand. Flourless and eggless cakes being prime examples. So when I started my search for the typical desserts and appetizers that might be served at a 1955 cocktail party, I ran across some old favorites such as 7 Up Pound Cake and  Flourless Chocolate Cake.

But then I ran into the outright bizarre…

The Fifties were frequently about comfort foods, such as meatloaf and ways to extend leftovers. Casseroles were extremely popular. But leftovers as dessert? To me, desserts are delectable sweets to finish off a fine meal. The best part of the meal. Sometimes, the only part of the meal. 🙂 But these desserts I found posted on Pinterest and vintage cooking sites just boggled the mind. Meats and fruit in strange combinations. Everything you could think of in gelatin molds. I mean, seriously, tuna fish and jello? What were they thinking?

One recipe I ran across (but failed to save the link) was for making beanie weenie Popsicles to serve as a frozen treat at those hot summer gatherings! Delight your friends! Show off your inventiveness to your neighbors! Open a can of Beanie Weenies and pour them into a Popsicle mold–or take it another level by slicing your own Vienna Sausages and add them to pork and beans! When I went searching for the link, all I could find was a site recommending this as a “gross” Halloween party appetizer.

But I found myself compelled to make it. It couldn’t be that bad, right?

Um. Yeah. It is. I don’t recommend offering this to your friends. Not only did it taste nasty, but I couldn’t get it to come out of the Popsicle molds in one piece, so they are messy, too.

One of the recipes that didn’t make the cut because the cookbook came out in 1967 was a recipe for beef fudge. Yes, you read that correctly. Beef. Fudge. Two words that should never go together. But somehow they did. You MUST read this post about one woman’s attempt at making it. Utterly delightful. The best part is she says the beef fudge turned out better than her regular fudge!

One thing the author said that stuck with me was how the cookbook was filled with little details from the creators along the lines of “I came up with this recipe when the power went out and we had a freezer full of beef…”

In RetroRuth’s own words: After reading through the book twice, I can kind of see where this recipe came from. I mean, I would have never, ever, ever thought of this on my own, but maybe if you are the wife of a rancher and you have beef coming out of your ears, you think up ways to use it. Any way to use it. The book is crammed with recipes like this, with beef in everything from bread, to fudge, to cake and brownies.

Who knew?

And in an era where we used to think nothing of tossing out leftovers and dashing off to the store to buy whatever we want or need, perhaps in this time of the pandemic, we need to be a little more creative with our food. Waste not, want not, and all that.

Beef Fudge, anyone?