What We’re Looking At In July

Image003Nicola here! It's time for our monthly What We're Reading column, but this month the Wenches have been out and about, travelling, attending conferences, moving house or in some cases disappearing under a huge mound of work and/or laundry! So instead of our monthly round up of books, we thought we would share What We Are Looking At instead. What better way to start than with Sparky, the Wench Godkitten, who provides us with the perfect image for this post.

On the subject of Sparky, Sherrie writes:

As far as “what I’m looking at,” it’s hard to see anything but the kitten. Until today, his crate rested on my desk. He’s moved to the next size crate—large dog size—and I’ve set it up beside my desk, so he’s still in my sightline where he keeps me entertained with his antics. Several times a day he’s let out of the crate and has free run of my desk and kitchen.

Mary Jo is also looking at her gorgeous animal companions:

I'm looking at CATS!  Go away for almost a week, and when you return, they're everywhere.  I have Grady and awards four cats, all adoptees, and I'll wake up in the morning with all three of the toms on the bed, assuring I don't slip away without feeding them breakfast.  (The tabby girl will be in the powder room, yowling to be fed first, away from all those big bossy toms.)  Here's the senior tom, Grady, looking like a space alien on top of a bookcase in my office.

From fur to feathers! Joanna writes:

When Nicola suggested we give everybody a glimpse of what we're doing … of what we're looking at … I said to myself something like —

  Hummingbird 9'What I'm doing is staring out the window and not writing and sorta, y'know, panicking because of the aforementioned.  Oh.  And watching hummingbirds.'

So Andrea said — 'That's your message right there, Joanna. Just snap a pic and you're done!''

Have you ever tried to photograph hummingbirds?  It makes capturing that word that's just on the tip of your tongue, (and it sounds like serendipity but it's not,) Hummingbird 12 seem easy.

Here are my poor attempts.  Did you know that hummingbirds fight?  They're fierce.  They dive bomb each other and chase each other away from the feeder.  Like jewels quarrelling.  Beautiful.

Joanna, we’re glad you were able to capture such beautiful pictures!

Brothers, 10, 6, 2Susan is doing that thing I love – poring over family photos. It always brings with it some lovely feelings of nostalgia:

Today I'm looking at some family photos and rearranging some of them in a new location. It's back to work tomorrow! Here are my three guys when they were young Jeremy_meets_Sean — and a photo of the middle brother meeting the youngest for the first time. 

Cara/Andrea is looking at the great outdoors:

I’m looking at the wild raspberries in my backyard and smiling. It’s been a tough summer for them. Andrea's berries They usually ripen around Fourth of July, but heavy rains, then searing heat delayed the process until this week. For a number of years, I’ve had an annual ritual of picking them at the height of flavor and making a homemade “Framboise” with sugar and vodka to serve throughout the winter as an after dinner cordial at parties—it’s always a huge hit with friends. (Trust me, it’s delicious, and the rich color looks very festive in tiny crystal glasses!) I admit that I also eat handfuls right off the prickly vines, their sun-warmed sweetness the very epitome of summer for me.

This year, the sight is more special than usual because Hurricane Sandy really hammered my property last November. I lost lots of towering 100 ft. pines, which crushed much of the smaller plantings when they came crashing down. Cleaning up the debris—lumberjacks with chainsaws and tractors dragging logs and branches out to be carted away—pretty much destroyed the rest. I had a huge thicket of wild blackberry bushes that right now is a patch of bare dirt since the stump grinder and excavator finished their work earlier this summer. It makes me a little sad to look at it  . . . but raspberry canes grow quickly, and it did my heart good to see them suddenly sprout up this spring in their old location. Rebirth, regeneration—the handful of berries I had this morning tasted extra sweet. 

BeansJo is also looking at the view outside and in particular the results of her hard work in the garden:

I'm looking with satisfaction at our runner beans. They're already producing delicious beans and I'll be stocking my freezer for the winter!

A crop of the runner beans. No, they didn't fight back and leave me bloody. The red Beans2 is from picking raspberries!

Nicola here, and I have been out and about too. July has been unusually warm and sunny in the UK, which has made it perfect for butterflies. I’ve been looking out for them on my walks with the dog. Last weekend we visited the ancient hunting ground of Savernake Forest. I love walking in Savernake. It has such an air of timeless history about it. I stand in awe, looking at oak trees that were saplings when King Henry VIII came hunting here.

At Savernake we were looking for the Purple Emperor butterfly. One thing I love about butterflies apart Purple Emperor 1 from their delicacy and jewel bright colours is that so many of them have unusual names and a rich and fascinating history. James Petiver named the Purple Emperor "Mr Dale's Purple Eye" in 1704 in honour of a fellow collector. By the middle of the 18th century it was known as the purple high flyer because of its penchant for living in treetops. It became the Purple Emperor in 1766, but in Germany it is" the large shimmer butterfly" and to the French "the greater flashing Mars" after the Roman God of War. Such impressive names for such a fragile creature! We found this one feeding on the ground.

Patpic1Pat has been moving in and getting sorted out in her new home.  This is what she is up against:

What I'm looking at–unpacked boxes and an empty living room! Can't decide Patpic2 what will fit into my cottage living area or where to hang all those photos!

 Finally Anne has been beachcombing and finding the most delicious things:

I went down to the beach the other day. I was having lunch with two other historical romance authors in Brighton — the Melbourne version, not any of the many other namesakes of the original Brighton Beach. I took my camera, thinking that I'd pop down to the beach afterward and take a photo of the Victorian-era beach huts there. http://bit.ly/13NuYOd They're historically protected, though their exterior colors aren't  exactly historic, and these days they're highly desirable properties.  Recently one sold for half a million dollars.

SaeGlass1However, it was easing into peak hour by the time I got there, and I overshot the car park turn off and ended up much further along from the beach huts. Thinking I'd walk off some of my very nice lunch, I took my camera and hit the beach to walk back. I walked on the sand, along the tide mark. Mistake. I'm a beachcomber to the core — I don't think I've ever come away from the beach without having picked something up. The moment I spotted the first little piece of sea-glass, my pace slowed to a crawl. I love sea-glass, and I use it to make jewellery. I didn't end up making it to the beach huts — I had to get to the city for a book launch — but I did end up with a lovely  collection of sea-glass.

We hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into what the Wenches have been looking at this month. SeaGlass Now it’s over to youwhat have you been looking at during July? Whether you have been travelling, visiting places, reading or just looking at the view from your window, we’d love to hear about it!


Wenches Rock!

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

Often our monthly Ask A Wench post is a reader question that all the Wenches answer in our different ways.  But today’s compilation is rooted in Christmas pictures.  Anne sent us a photo of some of her holiday decorations, another wench noticed the beautiful gemstone bonsai tree and other polished stones—and we were off the races! Or perhaps the quarries. <G> 

It turns out that all of the Wenches love stones and minerals, and we love taking about them.  We could have easily generated a multi-part series on Stones We Love, but I restrained myself. We'll start our rock stories with Anne and her bonsai tree:

Bonsai1--AnneAnne Gracie: 
I love stones, too, and compulsively bring them home from my travels because they're pretty or I like their shape or they evoke a place I loved in my memory. I have round white stones from a beach in Brittany, rugged mountain-shaped rocks from Montana, smooth wave-washed pieces of colored tiles from the south of France, shards of slate from a sliding mountain of slate in North Wales — and much more.

I've had Aussie customs officers heave up my backpack to check it and say, "Gawd, this is heavy.  You got rocks in here or something?"  
    And I say, "Yes, and books."

I also have a couple of friends who are fossickers —— they dig for gold and BoulderOpal3--Annegemstones as a hobby, albeit a fairly serious one. They go bush (to remote locations) several times a year and camp and fossick and dig.  They also dig for opals and I've bought a few beautiful stones from them. I also have these stones (in the picture) that they were going to toss into the garden. They're not valuable, but they're beautiful stones with tiny gleams and glitters of blue, aqua and red opal in them (more visible in the sun than in this photo) and I love them, not just because they're beautiful, but because my friends found  them and polished them and gave them to me.

Amethystgeode_susanSusan King:
Stones, gemstones and rocks can bring very good energy — light and color and beauty — to the home and for writers. I've collected some lovely rocks and stones over the years that I've stashed around the house and in my office, where they catch the light and help to inspire (and distract!) me while I'm working. I find them very soothing and fascinating.

And because most of them were gifts from friends, they have additional meaning and Lapis_susanpersonal connections. My son's girlfriend is an amateur gemologist and rock collector, and I've learned a lot from watching her identify, categorize and rank the stones she collects; she also displays them at gem shows. Several of her discoveries in the wilds of Virginia and Maryland have found their way onto our bookshelves and into our garden, and into my office, where I like to think they're happy clustered on windowsills or on the desk. 

Among the stones in my office are several amethyst geodes of various sizes, including one that's a gorgeous purple cavern big enough for a fairy or a dragon figure (and they've been in there, believe me!); a beautiful polished phantom crystal with curls and whorls and tiny scenarios within the stone; and a big fist-sized chunk of raw lapis lazuli that a friend brought from Brazil. Lapis has very good energy for writers, so I keep it near my computer. That saturated blue is chalky in its raw form, veined with other stone material, and just gorgeous. Medieval artists coveted lapis lazuli, and carefully chipped and ground the stones into a powder to mix with egg (and later oil) to create the heavenly blue that was considered rare and costly in the medieval era.

Madagascarcrystal_susanI also have a crystal point a friend brought from Madagascar — a split terminus quartz crystal about ten inches long, heavy, full of depth and beautiful cloud like veining. You can just feel the powerful energy in it. I clear my crystals now and then with running water and sunlight, as crystals can pick up dust and get a bit dull — and they can absorb energies around them just like little radio transmitters; it's good to keep those energies clear so the stones won't refract the stale energies right back at ya. So they say! 

Rocks15Joanna Bourne:
I've travelled around a good bit, so the rocks I keep are small rocks.  Me, being practical, you know. 

Every one of my rocks has a story.  Some are presents — that carved bird perched on top of the pile so protectively is a present from a friend who carves rock.  Some of my rocks I've found.  The jasper — that's the irregular big brown-red chunk on the right — is from the Southwest of the United States.  The carnelian, a bit above it, is the same color, but translucent.  That's from Iran.  It rated a special professional polishing. 

To the right, the dirty-looking, complicated quartz crystal is what they call a 'desert diamond'.  You find those out in the middle of the sands.  This one is from the Nejd in Saudi Arabia.  You'll be all shook up from driving in the dark, off-road.  There's, oh, just desolation all around
and some scrub brush and big stone cliffs a mile or two off, still black.  It's dawn behind you because you're looking west.  The sun comes up.  You see a glint way off.  That's your crystal.  You go racing off to get there before it's lost again. 

And there's that egg-shaped sort of pink rock in the center.  That's from the north Rocks23part of the coast of Maine, from the beach.  There's a layer of granite that underlies the coast that's about pure pink.  They made buildings of this 'Red Beach granite' or 'Pembroke granite' up and down the Northeast a hundred years ago. 

The egg shaping comes from the washing of the sea.  I picked it up when I was twelve or so and thought of the years it took and the accidents of time that made a neat hen's egg out of some boulder.  So cool, thought I.  And I still do.

I keep my rocks in a basket where the first sunlight hits them. 
They just light up.

Nicola'srockNicola Cornick:
We collect stones on our Scottish holidays, usually round ones that have been washed down by the burn that runs past our holiday cottage. They sit in our garden at home so that we have a ittle bit of Scotland with us all the time. They make great paperweights if we actually get the chance to sit reading in the garden!

My most prized poseession, though, is a piece of chalk that was cut to restore Ashdown House. They opened up the original 17th century quarry to do this and my husband begged a piece from the restoration guys and had it engraved for me. Most people don't get it and wonder why I have a chunk of rock on my desk!

I also have some sarsen stones (mine are a bit smaller than the ones in the photo!) Sarsenwhich are the local sandstone rocks washed into extraordinary shapes during the Ice Age. There are may legends around them. They are the stones that made Stonehenge and Avebury stone circle. The holes in them were made by the roots of palm trees

ROCKS!!! I love rocks! My friends give me such a bad time about my passion for rocks. I'm always finding pretty rocks in my driveway gravel, in the pasture, on day trips to various places like Mount St. Helen's (I have a lava rock from there), and many other rocks, geodes, ammonites, agates, crystals and petrified wood collected over the years. Below are some of my water washed stones from Prince Edward Island.








Our webmistress Sherrie Holmes has some amazing stones, too.

Sherrie Holmes:
A former co-worker's mother was an artist who hiked the rugged Hell's Canyon trails along the Snake River that borders Oregon and Idaho. When she found out that the Hell's Canyon dam would flood a section of the canyon rich in historic pictographs, she made it her mission to preserve as many of them as she could for posterity. She did it in a RockBullseyeStarChainunique way: first photographing them, then painting their exact replicas on rocks from the area. She donated her painted rocks to a local museum, which sold them to tourists. Her generosity helped keep that small museum afloat.

When my co-worker showed me samples of her mother's rocks, I begged her to sell them to me. Despite the fact the museum was the only outlet for those rocks, her mother made an exception and allowed me to buy several pieces, after which she turned the money over to the museum.

This one us irregularly shaped, and each of the four sides has a different pictograph from Hell's Canyon.

RockDeerHunterHere's another stone of a deer hunter:  



The Flower that Survives in the StoneMary Jo again: I have my share of amethyst geodes and pale blue fluorites and pretty pebbles and minerals (of which I don't always remember the names!)  The only one I'll show here is actually a piece made by my sister, Estill Putney, who is a professional stone carver.  It was created as a memorial for the Virginia Tech shooting, which took place in her home town.  The orange flower is made from a rare shade of natural alabaster.  The carving presides over my dining room.


BoulderOpal1Do you also love stones and collect pretty ones from your travels?  Do they all have stories?  I’d love to hear more!


Mary Jo, adding more of Anne's opal boulders 

Putting the “Thanks” into Thanksgiving

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

‘Tis the day before American Thanksgiving, and many of us are going in all directions as we travel, or welcome friends and family, make lists of items we might have forgotten for the feast, and if we’re hosting a gathering, we might be doing a hasty clean up that involves shoving things into closets and hoping they don't explode.

In the midst of busyness, it’s good to pause and take a deep breath now and then.  Thanksgiving is mostly a North American holiday, with Canadian Wild turkeyThanksgiving held earlier, on the second Monday of October.  There are other countries that have their versions of Thanksgiving as well.  The holiday is rooted in harvest celebrations which go back to pagan times..  After all, having grown and preserved enough food supplies to take the community through the harshness of winter is an achievement well worth celebrating!

But thankfulness can be for more than just the harvest.  I’ve asked the various Wenches for a few words each on what they’re thankful for:

Pumpkin piePat Rice:

I love the aromas of Thanksgiving, the roasting turkey, the cooking sage and celery, the baking pumpkin and apple pies, and outside, the scents of autumn leaves and woodfires. This Thanksgiving, as all others, I'm grateful for the never-ending supply of books to curl up with after dinner, and for the ability to shop online so I needn't go out in the cold and stand in line when I'd rather be reading!

After experiencing the terrifying force of Hurricane Sandy, Cara/Andrea is thankful that her family and neighbors, as well as her house and all the irreplaceable memories inside it, survived unscathed. She's also grateful for things like power, electric lights and the fact that she will be enjoying hot food on the morrow (cold cereal and peanut butter sandwiches begin to taste like cardboard after several days.) But most of all, she's grateful for all her wonderful friends, whose warm hugs Catcastingshadowand sense of humor kept her smiling through all the chaos. Now, as romance writers, we Wenches all write about love . . . but as Winnie the Pooh says, "You don't spell love, you feel it."

(Above is a picture of Joanna's beautiful cat, creating beauty in a simple moment.) 

Nicola Cornick: 

I am on holiday (for which I am very thankful <g!>) so I'm sorry I don't have time to contribute to this post but I do wish all Wenches a very Happy Thanksgiving!

LorikeetAnne Gracie:

We don't have Thanksgiving in Australia,  but I do have a journal in which, from time to time, I list seven things I'm grateful for. It's an excellent thing to do, even when you're feeling totally miserable and down — especially then, in fact. And why seven things? I don't really know, I probably read it somewhere. I think the theory behind it is to push yourself to think of more than the obvious things. And I don't just list them, I write about them in a little bit of detail.

Doing this regularly has changed me in small ways. One of the things I once wrote I'm grateful for is that the increased planting of native vegetation in the suburb I live in has resulted in more native birds living around me, so I wake up to the sound of lorikeets chittering and magpies carolling. Now every time I notice them, I smile and it lifts my mood.

I don't write in my journal every day, and I don't do a gratitude list every time — that would be a bit too Pollyanna for me — but I try to do it regularly enough for it to make a difference in how I perceive my life. If you're interested in learning more, here's a link,

I could also add in that right now I'm extremely . . . slurp. . .  thankful for . . . slurp. . . mangoes. The mango season has just started here and. . . pause to lick fingers . . . they're delicious!

Jo Beverley:

Here in England we don't celebrate Thanksgiving, but Canada does, so I'm used to the Jo--garden  flowersconcept. It's not one of my traditions, but I'm always up for appreciating the good stuff in life. So, I'm thankful for good health, my lovely family, and the fact that my writing is going very well, plus my nerine bowdenii, which puts on a lovely display of flowers at this time when nearly all the rest are dead. I hope everyone reading here has as much or more to be thankful for.

Joanna Bourne: 

I've always figured if you're lucky enough to feel happy just because — Hey, look! The sun's come up! — then you're going to have something to be grateful for most mornings.  I am in this felicitous situation.

Lunch1This year, I've pulled up in a safe harbor after a long tumultuous time.  The sun's coming in the window.  Lunch is simmering on the stove.  I'm doing work that I love.  (I'm currently studying a map of London in 1800 which is where my head is at.)  I work in blue jeans and tee shirt and stretchy red slippers with nifty pompoms on them.

With books and music, friends and family, I am rich beyond measure.  Also, this Historicalmapquestmorning I managed to split some kindling without chopping my toes off.
Life is good.

Susan King:

I've kept a gratitude journal for years, jotting down a few thoughts at the end of the day when/if I think of it — and if I'm too tired, I try to tick off a few thankful thoughts on my fingers as I go to sleep. Lazy girl's gratitude air-journal! I figure it works as well as ink and paper. It's the thought that counts, after all.
NotebooksThis year at Thanksgiving–a time when we're reminded to be thankful for all that we have–while the turkey is roasting, the pies baking and the potatoes simmering, I'll look around and be thankful for family and friends, for health and happiness, for being able to do work that has meaning for me. And I'm thankful for the small things too. This will be a quiet Thanksgiving for us, with two of our kids working that day (medical people don't get a break, but we're all grateful for what they do), and I'm looking forward to a quiet, peaceful day of cooking, football, reading, and taking some time to just plain enjoy a simple day off. I'll be thankful for the savory, sweet, a bit rich dinner (why do this just once a year? I love the Thanksgiving menu!) And I'm particularly grateful that I'll be finally over the flu by Thanksgiving day (I am thankful for antlbiotics!)

And I'm thankful just to be aware that gratefulness is truly important on Thanksgiving Day, and every day. Or as one of my sons once summed up Thanksgiving gratitude years ago — "I feel great and I feel full!"

Mary Jo:

I have so much to be grateful for!  I love this holiday, which is a warm, friendly gathering of some family and friends with everyone contributing and no football games on the TV.  I’m very grateful for good health, and glad the election is over, and all those ads that came with it!  I’m grateful DSCN0016that I can write stories, and there are still people who want to read them.  I’m grateful that cats have soft fur and purrs.  (That’s the Elusive Lacey on the left.)  And I’m grateful to a world that has (mostly!) useful technology that enables us to connect with our friends and readers. 

Sherrie Holmes, Word Wench Whipmistress:

Every day is a blessing to me. From my early childhood I was known as a Pollyanna, always managing to see the good in every situation. I never outgrew that. In fact, I have a little booklet where I record 3 things I'm grateful for, every day. (Well, almost every day!) The great Victorian writer, humorist, and editor, Edward Sandford Martin, summed it up for me: "Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow."

Last year, a diagnosis of endometrial cancer changed my life. I made it through surgery with flying colors, and the news was good: they got it all. It hadn't spread. No chemo, no radiation. They say you can judge a person by the company they keep. If that's so, then I must be a very fine person indeed, because I have the best friends and clients in the world. They surrounded me with love and support and prayers during my ordeal. Support came from quarters I could never have imagined. If there's one thing women do well, it's that they know how to support each other!Soulful-sm

This Thanksgiving I will put on my Pollyanna hat and reflect once more on the bounty of my blessings, not the least of which includes two comedian dogs who are a daily inspiration on how to live with a heart of gratitude, and an equally comedic cat with a penchant for stealing pencils off my desk.  

MJP again.  At Anne's suggestion, here's a link to a wonderful little clip that says so much about the spirit of thankfulness.

What are you grateful for this year?  Life tends to cycle through ups and downs, but even in a down cycle, there are usually a few bright spots for which we can give thanks.  Just to add to someone's small pleasures, I'll give away a copy of my most recent historical romance, No Longer a Gentleman, to someone who leaves a comment between now and midnight Thursday. 

Corn dolly--Yorkshire spiralWherever you live, I hope you have much to be thankful for today–

Mary Jo, adding a picture of a harvest corn dolly similar to the one that hangs on the door of her office as a memory of living in England–an experience I am eternally grateful for.

Ask A Wench: Where do we live, and why?

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

Okay, no one actually asked us why we live where we do, but a discussion was triggered by Joanna Bourne’s recent move into an aerie in the Blue Ridge mountains.  It was such a fun discussion that we thought we’d share it with you. 

I'm very lucky.  I don't have to dream about where I want to live.  I can Backyard 5have it.  For me, this means high up in the mountains, in the deep woods. 
I lived for many years in big cities.  Those were good times in a lot of ways.  City life is exciting and rich and varied.  But I never got used to the car exhaust and the dirt — the paper litter — and worse — underfoot.  I get pummeled by the noise.  I'm offended by the endless yammering of advertising.  There are just too many people.

I'm escaping all that.  I'm not Thoreau with his  "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach."  I'm not so philosophical.  I just plan to enjoy the place.

Morning mist 1My little house up here is surrounded by silent air and rocks and the green things making a hard living from rock.  There's nothing meretricious.  Nothing false or mean.  You can put out your hand and under it is meadowsweet, clover, pussytoes, moss and the grey slate that's rested there a million years.  There is no square foot I walk on that isn't subtle and true to its nature.  Nothing has been reduced to the horrible simplicity man imposes on his surroundings. 

This is all just achingly beautiful.

I lived in a small town for the first few years of my life, moved on to cities for the next twenty years and then retreated to country villages when the city bustle became too much. Now that I am getting older I am planning the move back to a small country town, so I am going full circle. Our current cottage is in a hamlet of 25 houses. It's designated a hamlet not a village because there no shop, pub or public transport. It's a drive of about 8 miles to the nearest town. We've been cut off by snow in winter before now and also by floods.

Mompesson_House, SalisburyI enjoy the community feel here, I find the beautiful countryside inspiring but it can also be an isolated place for someone who works alone. I'd prefer to be closer to shops, restaurants and cultural activities. I do like people around me, but on my own terms. Where would I live if I could? I'd divide my time between a house by the sea and Mompesson House in Salisbury, the perfect sized Queen Anne town house with the amenities of the city but tucked away quietly in the historic cathedral close. The only problem is that I doubt the National Trust would be prepared to give it up to me!

I grew up shifting house (and school and sometimes country) every  couple of years because of my dad's job, so I was keen to settle when  I grew up.
     I live in Melbourne, which is ranked as one of the world's most livable cities.   It's the second largest city in Australia (4.1 million) and was founded in 1835. It boomed after the 1850's gold rushes and was for a  short time in the 1880's, one of the world's biggest and wealthiest  cities. That Victorian-era wealth is still visible in the many public buildings and terrace houses in the inner city. 

Anne--Melbourne CreekMy house isn't far from the city centre but it's in a quiet area, close to parks and a creek and nature trail, where I used to walk my dog every night. This is a painting of the Merri creek at dusk — my  local creek— done in 1885 by Tom Roberts. There are more trees now, and just over the horizon there are houses and flats. But it's still  lovely.

I can walk to shops and cafes, it's a quick trip by public transport into the city and there are wonderful restaurants in all directions —  Melbourne is a "foodie" city. I'm close to the university, and the museum and have four public libraries at my disposal. I have a house in a small, tangled garden, and though if I listen carefully, I can hear distant traffic, I usually wake up to the sound of birds singing in the trees outside my window— rainbow lorikeets and magpies, usually, which is magic. This is the sound of lorikeets.

If I moved, I'd probably move to the country near the beach. I used to live next to 800px-A_holiday_at_Mentonethe beach, near here — this is Charles Conder's 1888  painting, "A Holiday at Mentone."  I do miss my nightly walk along the  beach, which is these days populated with joggers. But really the only  thing I want to change about where I live is my house — I need to renovate or rebuild. But it's such a disruption I keep putting it off.

I could write books about dream homes. Probably already have. <G> I'm a house-aholic, as anyone who has followed my career can attest. We're ever in search of our dream home. But after going through so many of them, we have become jaded. Every home has flaws. They're things, just like the furniture in them. It's the ideas populating your head and the people populating your life who are more important.

I hope. Because we'll be dumping 40 years worth of collections and making the final reduction in scale from our peak at about 6k square feet and a quarter of block of land to 1400 sf on a postage stamp.

I think we'd need at least four houses to cover all our desires! minimum.

New Orleans '06 and Porch 046Mary Jo:
Joanna's aerie is gorgeous, but I wouldn't want to live in such isolation.  Like Jo, I prefer to have people around as long as they're not too close and they don't bother me. <G>  In fact, I'm a born suburbanite—I want trees and a country feel, but with lots of upscale conveniences nearby.  I grew up on a farm in homogeneous rural country which was lovely, but—homogeneous.  I certainly didn't hate it, but I couldn't wait to get away (and skipped a year of high school in order to get away sooner.)  I yearned for exciting diversity and crowds to disappear into and a chance to find my own tribe, though I wasn't as articulate about it then.  So I went to a fairly large university and found that broader world and never lived in rural western NY again. 

I lived in California and England before docking in Maryland, and I like it here. There’s great diversity in the terrain, from ocean to mountains.  It’s in the middle of the Eastern Seaboard and has a moderate sort of temperament that appeals to me.  My present house is surrounded by trees and feels rather rural, but everything one can need is within a few miles.  Perfect! 

Growing up in the Adirondacks in a small town near Lake George NY, surrounded byLake_george_susanking_photo spectacular views of mountains and lakes, where the air is sweet, clear and tangy with pine, kind of spoils one later for a great place to live — especially if one has to leave, as I did as a teenager when my father was transferred to a company in Maryland. In some ways the Adirondacks reminds me of parts of Scotland, one reason my heart is in both upstate NY and Scotland.

I still live in Maryland, a great place with some very pretty scenery…but I will never ever, being Northern born and bred, acclimatize to the ghastly humidity or the long, hot summers — and, being Northern, the winters here are dampish and icy rather than snow-globe beautiful (okay, and winter can be treacherous and bitter in the north, but writers can stay indoors and dream instead of venture out on snowy days!). So I wouldn't say I'm living in my dream place. I'm here more or less by default, and my family is here, in a nice suburban home with all the amenities and Abbotsfordconveniences. I go up north (and off to Scotland) whenever I can, which helps balance living with beastly humidity and a low mountain profile in the distance.

What's my dream home? A castle. A manor house. A cabin by a mountain lake. If I could pick one home, any home, that could be mine … I think I'd go for Scott's Abbotsford. To me, that's a little bit of what is surely heaven.      

Image005Whipmistress Sherrie:

I grew up in suburban Tacoma, within walking distance to school, mom and pop grocery stores, the neighborhood park, and streets so safe kids could play in them. But it was definitely “city,” and my sister and I yearned for the rural life since early childhood. Maybe we were influenced by the popular Westerns on TV that glorified the pioneer life.

While a city can be alluring and exciting, it can also be draining. I never feel drained in the country. Instead, I am energized. The country life fills a deep primal need in me.

Where would I live if money were no object? Smack in the middle of a national forest. I’d like about 100 acres of forest and meadow of my own, surrounded by a 10-foot chain link fence. I wouldn’t forsake my social life, because there are very few places left anymore where you are completely isolated. I’d still attend my weekly critique group meetings and do things with my sister, and participate in holidays and go out to dinner and movies. But my deepest desire is to live away from the city’s fast pace, invasive lights, and intrusive security cameras. I want a place where I can shed the city trappings and feel closer to Mother Earth.

I’ll never forget the time I was riding my mare in the woods on one of the old logging roads behind my barn, when she suddenly stopped and looked up. I looked up too, and saw a huge owl glide by, just over our heads, coasting silently with wings outstretched. It landed on a dead tree several yards ahead, then folded its wings and turned to look at us.  It was a magical moment that both my mare and I enjoyed in reverent silence. You don’t get that in the city.

I think I’m the only Wench who is living just a few miles from where I grew up. Andrea--wildraspberriesNow, I  haven’t been here all my life—for a number of years I lived right in Manhattan, and unlike some of the others, I find a lot to like about big cities. One can often feed off the bustle and energy in a positive way. And then there are the wealth of cultural attractions and opportunities, especially in New York, as well as the restaurants, theaters, shops and all the quirky little places tucked away in unexpected places that surprise and delight.

But at heart, I find the simple beauties of nature even more appealing, so I’m up here in the woods now, where I can see deer and foxes and a gaggle of funny crows who often come quork around in my front lawn, just below my writing window, and make me smile. The subtle hues of a sunset over the nearby Long Island Sound, the textures of a country stone wall, the way the sunlight plays on the wild raspberries growing in my backyard—these all make me stop and appreciate what really matters whenever I start to let myself get tied in knots by life’s everyday stresses.

Andrea--stonewallSo, despite having not strayed too far afield from my roots, I feel I have the best of both worlds. I have the country and solitude, which suits my introvert nature. But the city is just an hour away, and I’m often there for the day. A half hour in the other direction and I’m in New Haven, where I can take advantage of all the fascinating lectures, art, music and films that go on at Yale University.

As for where my dream home would be? A villa in Tuscany, where the light and the deep connection to the earth and to history is very powerful, would be wonderful. So would a chalet in the Swiss Alps—I love the majestic sense of space, the quiet and the vistas of mountains.


It's so interesting to think about why we choose places to live. I already knew that I like to be close to things whereas others value solitude, but when Joanna claimed her cabin was fine because "There's a grocery store,  library, and restaurants about ten miles away…" I cyber-shrieked, "Ten 
miles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" We live in a small town within walking
distance of shops, library, doctor etc etc. Our nearest city, Exeter, is 12
miles away, but we need a really good reason for such a Big Trip.

I  grew up in Morecambe, and we walked to nearly everything. Lancaster was
about 4 miles away and going there was an occasion. Mind you, we didn't have a
car. I wonder how many people in North America grew up without a car. That
shapes our patterns.

There's also a cultural pattern in our perception of distances. Apparently most
communities  in England (hamlets, villages and such)  are  less than four miles
from each other, leaving aside  moors and such. To illustrate, as I said, the
Big Smoke is 12 miles away, but between are Starcross, 4 miles away, Kenton, 6
miles, and Exminster, 8.

My other requirement for an ideal location is the sea. I was born in a room
overlooking the sea and grew up on the beach. Everything is different when
we're close to the sea — the air, the light, and perhaps even the earth.
Seismometers can pick up the waves hitting land from hundreds of miles away, so
it's possible we can sense the earth's heartbeat beneath our feet. And miss it
if it's not there.


MJP again. Deer behind MJP's house"Home" is a profound influence on our lives and souls, whether it's a home of the heart or a home of circumstances.  How do you feel about where you live?  And where would you live if you were free to choose?

Home is the sailor, home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hill….

Mary Jo, who lives inside the Baltimore Beltway but can watch deer right outside her living room windows

A Message From Sherrie


Happy New Year!  That's my two dogs above, begging for attention as I write this.  I hope 2010 brings you your heart's desire, and that the next decade brings you miracles and happiness. 


I've been a romance reader for over 40 years, and like many of you I started out with the greats:  Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, and many others.  As the face of romance changed over the years, so did my reading. In time, I discovered the Wenches' books and DrunkSailor devoured them like a shipwrecked sailor with a newfound cache of buried rum.  Never in a million years did I expect to be on a first-name basis with the biggies of romance, let alone work for them.  Managing the Word Wenches blog site is just a small part of what I do for the Wenches.  There's a lot of behind-the-scenes work to keep the blog machine running smoothly.  Yet every day I have to pinch myself just to make sure I'm not dreaming.  I love my job.

I've made many wonderful friends through this blog—both Wenches and blog visitors.  I’ve been exposed to new (to me) authors because of the guests we've interviewed.  I consider this one of the best places to go for just about anything, be it writing advice, research tidbits, book recommendations, history . . . you name it. 


In August of 2009 I bought a notebook and promised myself that each day I would write down at leastWriting5 three things I’m grateful for.  The Word Wenches are listed on page 1.  I’d like to expand that to include the commenters who visit this site regularly.  All of you have enriched my life in more ways than you can ever know.  Thank you!


What are you grateful for this holiday season?  Is there a person in your past who had a positive influence on your life?  Have you come through a recent crisis unscathed?  Or is it something on a less profound (but no less important) level, such as the companionship of a pet or a really comfortable pair of shoes?  How about a surprise that made you smile?  That happened to me last June when I was slicing a green pepper.  I looked at that first slice and burst into laughter, for it looked just like da Vinci's Vitruvian Man (see pictures) What about you–what are you grateful for?  Please feel free to share.  (In the meantime, some of you asked for my Hot Fudge Pudding Cake recipe, and I'll put that in comments, to keep this post from getting unwieldy.) 

VitruvianMan   VitruvianMan2