Tea and Me

My name is Lea Wait, and I drink tea. That’s right. No coffee. No soda (although the protagonist in my Shadows mystery series is devoted to her Diet Pepsi). And since a hot drink seems an appropriate topic for a cold winter’s day, it seemed a good topic for today’s blog.

I probably inherited my love of tea from my grandmother. A Scot from Edinburgh through and through, despite the fact that she’d been born in Boston in 1890, her life had taken her back and forth to “the auld country” often as a child. For her, no afternoon was complete without tea. It didn’t necessarily have to include shortbread or scones … but sometimes it did. And since my grandparents lived with my parents and sisters and I for most of my childhood, I have warm memories of coming home from school and enjoying a cup of hot tea (with milk and a teaspoonful of sugar) with my grandmother.

Lea Wait

Lea Wait

And we had wonderful tea.  As a young child I knew that every Christmas we would get an unmarked carton of tea (in bags) from one of my grandmother’s brothers. I was a teenager before I understood that this was, indeed, “special tea.”  I have no idea what kind of black tea it was. It was a private blend, and it wasn’t marked.  You see, that great-uncle who sent us the tea each year had (yes, I’m telling the truth) invented the tea bag. Somewhere in my family files I have a copy of the patent, which I believe was dated in the 1930s. His name was William Patterson, should you want to check it out. And Uncle Bill had sold his patent to Lipton, who, as part of the deal, agreed to send him select tea each year for the rest of his life.

That annual tea supply in my house ended when my grandmother died … but her brother lived to be 98. That’s a lot of tea bags. And I’ll admit I was spoiled. I never got used to most brands (including Lipton) of “supermarket tea.”

In high school, sitting on the floor in candle-lit darkness and listening to Bob Dylan with my friends, we all drank coffee. Me included. But I sipped it slowly and suffered shortly after from stomach pains.  It was hard to be a rebel when you didn’t drink coffee, though, so I kept trying.

By the time I got to college I was a bit smarter, and had officially given up coffee experimentation. My drink was tea, although the water in Pittsburgh, where I went to school, tasted awful, so I added Diet Pepsi to my list of approved drinks for those four years.

When I started working at a corporation, coffee, again, was the politically acceptable drink. Water (hot or cold) or tea had not yet appeared in conference rooms. It was coffee. I was already obvious enough — I was usually the only woman in the room, and one of the few nonsmokers — so I filled my cup with plain water or milk, if it was available, and at meeting breaks (“coffee breaks,” of course) if there was time, I’d head  to the company cafeteria where they did have tea.

By the time I left the corporation, 30 years later, tea was always available at conferences and meetings, and, although there still weren’t too many of us drinking it, the biggest danger was putting a tea bag in a cup and then pouring hot coffee on top of it. Usually the carafe of hot water was unmarked. When I was at Bouchercon a few years back I did that again. A fellow tea drinker watched, sympathized … and offered to share his tea bag with me. (They were running low.) A truly generous soul!  But I carry my own now. Just in case.

Today, sitting in my study in Maine, I’ve expanded my tea preferences.  I begin my day with a cup of Red Rose. (For a couple of years I only drank green tea. Perhaps virtuous, but, especially in winter, I missed black tea.) Now my noon cup may either be green or black. Perhaps Earl Gray. Mid-afternoon calls for caffeine, so that cup is definitely black tea. But any caffeine after 4 p.m. ensures that I won’t sleep well that night, so after then I move to herb teas. “Sleepy time” or chamomile when I’m trying to relax.  Red or Lemon zinger if I’m still working. Or maybe another cup of green tea.  In the summer, of course, I brew my own iced tea:  a mixture of black and herb teas. And on a very cold winter’s afternoon, I’ve been known to add a touch of brandy to my mid-afternoon black tea.

Today others have discovered the joys of tea, and any supermarket has diverse and wonderful selections. Happily, studies have also shown that teas of all kinds have varying amounts of antioxidants, and might even help in weight loss.  I haven’t noticed any major differences … but, then, tea has always been a part of my life.

I suspect it always will be.


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Which would you pick??

John Clark wintering as well as one can when ice threatens to undo what physical therapy has rebuilt, and climbing snowbanks to restore visibility when backing out becomes a regular event. Today, I’m going to see how readers respond to a question I heard batted around on the Big Jab Morning Show a couple months ago.

Here goes: If you had to explain rock and roll to an alien visitor (that’s as in space, not a foreign country) by playing five songs, which ones would you pick? If you’re like me and grew up in the late 1950s-1960s, Rock probably had a strong influence on you. It certainly did for me. I remember my first ever concert during homecoming week at Arizona State University in the fall of 1966. It was the Fifth Dimension and I was mesmerized by the venue (Grady Gammage Auditorium) and the performance. That was followed over the next four years by many more, highlighted by Sweetwater stealing the show as opening act at a Doors concert, underground psychedelic shows in Phoenix and San Francisco, Santana, Crosby Stills & Nash, Jesse Colin Young, Led Zepplin, Creedence Chicago, Judy Collins, The Turtles, and the granddaddy of them all-Woodstock. In addition, I bought at least two LPs each week when I got paid, often by groups I’d never heard of, but was attracted by the album art.

All of that spoiled me and I probably changed favorite tunes and artists as frequently as I did t-shirts. For this exercise, I’m defining rock very loosely, so you can too. Out of my five, only the top two are forever cast in stone and I think that’s the nature of the beast.

Welcome aliens. I’d like to introduce you to one of the redeeming qualities of the human race, music, or more specifically rock music. I hope after hearing these (You can hear, I hope), you’ll have a decent understanding of why these are so great. Herewith are my five.

1-Light My Fire (long version) by the Doors. Every time I hear it come on the radio, I remember them playing it at the Phoenix Colosseum. Not long after seeing them, we had a fraternity party with a live band and the girl who played keyboards absolutely killed the long version.

2-Satisfaction by the Stones. I flash back to high school and enjoy the sensual energy that drove everyone onto the dance floor whenever this is played.

3-Wouldn’t It Be Nice by the Beach Boys. Has any song ever come close to the teen angst and emotion dripping from the lyrics? There are other Beach Boys greats (heck the whole Pet Sounds album is close to perfect), but this is their shining star.

4-Cherish by the Association. We got to see them in concert a few months ago in Orono and they were still damn good. Windy is also classic, but this one moves me more.

5-Amy by Pure Prairie League. It’s simple, happy and easy to sing along to, so I do whenever it comes on.

Those are my five, Please share yours.

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Where Do You Find Inspiration?

Kate Flora: I am just back from a vacation in Patagonia, where my fellow travelers, IMG_0620having learned that I’m a crime writer, kept asking if there was a plot emerging from the personalities and adventures on our trip. After years of toting my laptop along because of deadlines (and evil editors who sent manuscripts for revision just as I was about to leave), in the past year, I’ve vacationed without it. It’s part of an effort to be more present, or, in the words of Baba Ram Das, to “be here now.”

After twenty-five disciplined years in the writer’s chair, I sometimes have to heed the advice of Julia Cameron and go on an artist’s date. She says two hours. I say sometimes it helps to spend two weeks refilling the well of creativity.

Julia Cameron in her book “The Artist’s Way” describes an Artist’s Date as a key tool in recovering our creativity. Simply put an Artist’s Date “is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend again all interlopers.” Artist’s Dates feed our creative well of images.

Although I didn’t take my computer, or take copious notes, being in different countries, among different people speaking different languages, and seeing different scenery serves as an important reminder to be observant. What is familiar to places in the U.S. in these dry, rolling hills? And what is very different? What’s it like to scan the roadsides and hillsides not for deer but for that first sighting of a guanaco or a rhea? To watch a pair of gray foxes playing outside the window during dinner. To go to a barbecue where the centerpiece is an entire roast lamb?

What are the different birds of prey that inhabit Argentina and Chile? What is it like to drive past a drab pond and then find the next pond has a hundred flamingoes? It is so exciting, and slightly jarring, find huge lakes the tempting color of the sea in the Caribbean, but so cold they contain giant, floating icebergs. How unlike everyday January to be standing near an enormous glacier that suddenly calves and dumps tons of ice into the lake with a roar or to crane my neck when someone on the bus shouts, “Condor!”

Even when things are familiar–a field of grass stirred by the wind or a mass of wild flowers–being on vacation supplies the leisure to actually stop and watch them, to feel the temperature of the wind, watch the grass wave, listen to the slap of wind-drive waves on the shore. (Patagonia, it turns out, it a very windy place.) There is time to watch the gaucho and his five dogs herding cattle across the road, or dozens of sheep running. Time to enjoy roadsides thick with the lupine we will enjoy in June.

From the vast windows of our amazing hotel, the peaks of Torres del Piney play hide and seek in the clouds, the snow, the fog, until we wonder if I will ever see them. Then, quite suddenly, everything lifts and there they are. Rugged. Massive. Towering over us. From the warm indoor pool, I can watch Rhea wandering past, their feathers perfectly blending the surrounding shrubbery.

Group tours are also useful for people-watching. How does the group interact? Who becomes friends? Who travels a lot and who is on a rare adventure? What parts of the country are these people drawn from and why have they chosen Patagonia? Where else have they been and was it great? What is it like for the sole young person on the trip to find himself with eighteen parents? As with police interviews, where it often takes more than one to get the story, people are revealed on hikes, at meals, in the bar, on the bus. Through good times and adversity, as the entire trip has to be rejiggered because the boat that will carry us through the Beagle Channel breaks down.

When I come home, and sit back down at the keyboard, I am reminded that I should be writing a narrative that locates you, that lets you see the people and places I am describing. That makes you wonder, as Thea is wondering, what all that commotion across the street is about. Makes you remember how much fun a trip to the hardware store can be. Makes you hungry for Rosie Florio’s cooking.

And of course, I can’t neglect to share this picture of my husband Ken’s tango lesson. I took one, too, but no photographs of the event exist.




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Hold My Mail!

I do wish the bhastids wouldn’t start sending them out in January. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

We’ve had a slow month post-holidays chez Cass. I’ve been rehabbing from a hip injury and working my way through yet another draft of the fourth Elder Darrow book (due out sometime in the Fall). And doing my best to keep my head clear of the political fog, though I have three nephews in various branches of government service and I have spent time steaming on their behalf. The only comment I can make on the shutdown situation—beyond the obvious fact of its cruelty on people with no responsibility for it—is how much the political machinations illustrate the abyss between the people who ostensibly represent us and the actual lives we lead. Have I mentioned how my taxable income went down 10% last year and my taxes went up 94%? Many thanks, Donny, Mitch, et al.

On the plus side, I started teaching a writing course for MWPA, which introduced me to half a dozen very good writers eager to do the necessary work to improve and respectful of each other’s efforts, too. Which certainly brightens up my Tuesday nights.

The bhastids—a term I use, of course, lovingly. The seed companies. Why, in the bleak midwinter, do the catalogs all show up at once?

It was a gray, slushy, cold Monday at the end of last month when I got Johnny’s, White Flower Farm, and some off-brand catalog from the Midwest in the mail, full of glorious color pictures of fruit-heavy blueberry bushes, blossomed-out hydrangeas and lilies, pages of tomato varieties, and the various greens of, well, green vegetables. The profusion of color and juice was almost more than I could stand, look-look-look-looking out at the gray and brown of my dead back yard.

And of course, I immediately sat down with the order blank and started filling out my desires for the spring: spinach, lettuce, beans, peas, four kinds of tomatoes, zucchini. Summer squash, cucumbers, peppers (hot and sweet, three kinds). And this year, to fill in some corners of the back forty: a cherry tree, a half dozen marionberry bushes, strawberries (wait—delete that; my town has two commercial strawberry farms), maybe some elderberries or gooseberries for that odd pie in the winter. And on. And on. And on.

If you keep a garden, or have ever grown anything more challenging than a philodendron, you understand this urge. In the dead cold frozen-ground of the garden season, hope and energy springs eternal. I will, by gosh, add those six more raised beds this spring, rotate my crops so I have a continuous supply of greens into the hot weather, tomatoes and peppers after that, and the plans go on and on.

But I’ve done this before, you bhastids. Before I write out the check, before I seal the envelope, I set the whole mess aside for a minimum of forty-eight hours. All important decisions require a cooling-off period and sending in the seed order is not a bit different than picking the right time to call the fuel oil man.

On Wednesday, I sit down and look at the chaos my pen and my optimism hath wrought and find it easy to cull the list, remembering that I took down one of the raised beds last year and of the four left, two are already full, of asparagus and garlic. Slash, erase. Then I remember how poorly my tomato seedlings did last year, when we went to Florida for a week in March and the house sitter neglected to water them. Erase.

Hmm. Didn’t I have better results with the seedlings I purchased from Norm Jordan’s roadside stand in Cape Elizabeth than I did with anything I grew from seed last year? Crumple and toss. And so the final plan gets made—not the plan Johnny’s or White Flower Farm wanted me to make, but for once, I feel the triumph of experience over hope. Snuck one past the bhastids this time . . . Now for another go at those taxes.

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Weekend Update: February 2-3, 2019

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by Dick Cass (Monday), Kate Flora (Tuesday) John Clark (Wednesday) Lea Wait (Thursday), and Bruce Coffin (Friday).

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:



An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora

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Truth is Stranger than Fiction

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett here. There’s something that happens quite often to fiction writers, especially writers of historical fiction—they come across a real incident that seems to fit into their story and decide to include a fictionalized version in a novel. Nine times out of ten (or so it seems) that is the one scene that will be singled out as “unrealistic,” if not by an editor, then by a reviewer or by readers.

I had this happen with my second published novel, a story for middle-grade readers called Julia’s Mending. My grandfather’s memoirs were a primary source for details in this tale set in Sullivan County, New York in 1887. No one doubted the part about Julia falling through the hay hole in her cousins’ barn and breaking her leg, or what was done to set the leg—something that really did happen to my grandfather—but when I had Julia’s cousin Simon ride for the doctor, and had something else in my grandfather’s past happen to him, nobody would believe it. According to Grampa, when his horse stopped short, he was flipped forward over its head, did a complete turn, and landed, unhurt, on his feet.

Similarly, using accurate language in historical novels rarely strikes modern readers as authentic. One of my favorite examples of both problems is a true story that appeared in the New York Times in January of 1888. I used a very small portion of this tale in my Deadlier than the Pen, but here, for your reading enjoyment, in its entirety, is the newspaper account of “A Circus on Broadway, in which the camel was performer and ringmaster.”

A camel, an elephant, and a donkey figure conspicuously in the Kirafly Brothers new spectacular piece at the Academy of Music and are stabled at Prince and Webster Street. Nightly, after the performance, the animals are taken in charge by keepers and driven to the stable. Last evening the camel led the procession, which went through Fourteenth Street to Broadway and turned down toward Prince Street. At Twelfth Street the camel got a double hump in his back, and, whisking his tail in fright, suddenly broke away and started on a wild rampage along the thoroughfare. The keeper started in pursuit but was distanced from the breakaway. The camel took a zigzag course instead of the straight road and monopolized Broadway with amazing rapidity.

St. Denis Hotel

A camel running wild was a frightful novelty, even in the streets of New York, and especially on the main thoroughfare. Horses and human beings were affected alike, and everything animated at once manifested a desire to give the strange apparition unlimited space. Portly gentlemen and stout ladies strolling along the sidewalk displayed the agility of acrobats to escape imaginary danger. Their sudden recovery as soon as the queer object had passed was equally surprising to spectators. The rabble scented fun and joined in the chase to the accompaniment of an ear-splitting chorus of yells. The noise and the lights confused the runaway beast until his fury could find vent only in roars and kicks of the most eloquent and vicious description. Horses readred and plunged at the sight and noise, and car drivers were put on their mettle to control the scared animals. An express wagon standing in front of the St. Denis Hotel had just been left by the driver, who had a trunk to deliver. He was startled by the racket up the street, and, dropping the trunk like a hot potato, sprang for his horse’s head. He was none too quick, for the team threatened to make a rapid transit trip through the hotel café. The driver finally succeeded in subduing the temper of the horses by turning their heads in a direction opposite the cavorting camel.

Grace Church

Opposite the St. Denis is Grace Church, and the maddened runaway made a bolt for it like one possessed of the seven imps. A fat lady on the sidewalk screamed and tried to run, but one foot slipped on an icy cake and down she fell plump in the camel’s path. It was a critical moment, and just as everybody expected an awful collision the camel apparently clapped one eye on the prostrate form before him and sprang over it like a hurdle racer. He fetched up against the iron fence of the church with such violence as to take some of the hair off his breast, and the concussion knocked him down in a way that must have made him think of John Lawrence Sullivan. A knock-down blow, however, was not enough to lay low Mr. Camel, and just after the fat lady had scrambled to her feet and galloped panting away, the hunchback terror had started in for another stretch down the street. He seemed to know the stable was somewhere in that direction and he was bent on getting there at a pneumatic clip. 

About this time the elephant, in charge of a colored man, shifted his trunk and his keeper and began to make play for a little circus on his own account. His break was not wholly successful and the promise of increased interest did not pan out, owing to the promptness with which the colored keeper got in his work as master. 

Meanwhile the camel continued down Broadway without being molested, and was approaching the Sinclair House for the entertainment of the guests safely planted behind the windows when a private carriage containing a gentleman, his wife, and baby wheeled into view going up Broadway. The driver had a chill and the horses an attack of St. Vitus dance, when their eyes caught the humped vision. Between the driver and horses it was nip and tuck whether the carriage would remain upright, or capsize, or have a wheel wrenched off by the centre-bearing street rail on Mayor Hewitt. The camel made a bee line for the carriage, apparently with an idea that he could bunt it out of existence. His bowed head was in close proximity to one of the glass doors, and the horses were in the air when two men suddenly sprang to the rescue. They seized the camel by the nostrils, one on each side, kicked him in the forelegs, and in a jiffy the beast was thrown, and they were holding him firmly. 

In a little while a crowd that blocked the street collected and did not disperse until the camel’s keeper arrived and took him away. The men who effected the capture gave their names as George Hicks, athlete and wrestler, and Richard Brown, horse trainer. Both said they had handled camels before.  

What do you think? If you read that scene in a novel, would you believe it? 

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of nearly sixty traditionally published books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (Overkilt) and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime & Punctuation) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. Her most recent collection of short stories is Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at www.TudorWomen.com


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We Want to Protect You, or Surviving Cabin Fever

That’ll teach me to leave the snowshoes home!

Cabin Fevah, Ya say? If you’re a flatlander, ya probably never heard of it. In Maine it’s a fact of life every February, earlier if Old Man Winter gets his longjohns in a twist. Everyone has different ways of determining when it hits. The good folks who post here are sharing theirs below as a public service to help the uninitiated avoid serious mental and physical harm by saying or doing the wrong thing.

John Clark knows the symptoms. He ain’t native, but is wicked close. He’s gonna start by warning you about Town Meeting as influenced by Cabin Fever. #1-Do not sit in Old Man Perkins’ spot. It’s three seats from the aisle in the front row. The last fool who made that mistake still has to look backwards when he’s walking. #2-When sidling up to the refreshments table hosted by the Ladies Auxiliary (damn near every Maine town meeting has at least one food selling auxiliary), remember the following: The coffee and store bought pastries are safe, but partake of Liddy Fitzwalter’s baked goods at your own peril. Anyone who’s ever peeked in her kitchen will tell you they lost their appetite for weeks afterward. #3-Do NOT miss a chance to play Bullshit Bingo. Not only does half the pot go to the town VFD, but the odds are better than 50/50 that the winner will get to yell ‘Bullshit’ during one of Myra Fiddlewick’s endless laments. Trust me on this as it’s happened three years running.

Other symptoms of Cabin Fever: People start laying blue tarps over snowbanks in a futile effort to shrink them enough so they can back out without becoming intimate with the grill on a logging truck. The clerk at the only store in town no longer bothers to respond when you inquire about ice melt. Gray squirrels hold your dog hostage until you put something other than sunflower seeds in the bird feeders.

Kate Flora: Before I learned the good sense of a trip away in February, I used to img_2086regularly go crazy that month. I love being stuck at my desk and winter is great for writing, but when the ice dam is six inches thick, the heat tape isn’t working, and my husband and I have to keep going out to shovel the roof, it can have an effect on the disposition. I suggest that a few good soup recipes can help. Just don’t keep doing this until you run out of pots.
Helgard‘s Curried Pea Soup 
1 pkg. frozen peas
1 med. onion
1 carrot
1 celery stalk with leaves
1 med. potato
2 c. chicken broth.

Toss onions, carrot, potato and celery in pot with curry & broth. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add peas and cook until tender, then run through blender (I use a hand blender) and add 1 c. light cream. Top with cilantro or chives.

In earlier years, I used to do a newsletter for my Thea Kozak series, featuring what I called Thea’s “Quick and Dirty” recipes. This is one of Thea’s soups:

Power Soup
Pour 1 c. warm water over 1/2 c. dried shiitake mushrooms. Set aside

In saucepan, combine:
1/2 pound chopped lean beef or a chopped chicken breast
1-2 T. sesame oil
1-2 T. Balsamic vinegar.

Simmer 30 minutes. Drain mushrooms, reserving liquid, and chop.
Add liquid and mushrooms to soup. Simmer 20 minutes until mushrooms and meat are tender. Chop 1/2 bunch of kale, add, and simmer 15 minutes longer, or until kale is tender. Taste. Add salt, pepper, and additional vinegar and/or sesame oil to taste.

Why is this called Power Soup? Because Thea knows that the cop on the job often doesn’t eat very well, and so, like many women, works at sneaking healthy food into her guy’s life. This simple soup is an excellent way to use up left-over steak or chicken. Kale has been rated #1 among veggies by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Shiitake mushrooms are considered by the Chinese to be a superior medicine.

For a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable stock and tofu.

And here’s a super-fancy one for New Year’s Eve
Salamander Smoked Fish, Sweet Potato and Corn Chowder

2. T. canola oil
1 Spanish onion, diced
1 T. minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 t. cracked coriander seed
1/2 c. dry white wine
1 4-0z can coconut milk
1 3/4 c. liquid–fish stock, clam juice, chicken stock or water
1 10 oz. pkg. frozen corn
2 c. diced, peeled sweet potatoes
3/4 pound smoked fish, such as haddock, bluefish or mussels
salt and pepper
chopped cilantro and scallions for garnish

Heat oil in a large pot. Add onion, ginger and garlic and sauté about 4 minutes. Stir in IMG_4953coriander, wine, coconut milk, and liquid. Cover and bring to a simmer. Stir in the corn and sweet potatoes, and cook about 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Add fish and cook until it is just heated through. salt and pepper to taste.

Though if soup doesn’t work, it’s okay to take to drink.

Bruce Robert Coffin: Cabin fever has never been something from which I suffered. Maybe being a dyed in the wool Mainer makes me immune from the seasonal malady. Or perhaps it is because I enjoy spending time outdoors this time of the year.

Mountain hiking in the winter months might sound scary to some, but consider the many benefits. There are literally no tourists crowding the trails. Most every animal capable of killing you will be fast asleep. There are no bugs to contend with. If you dress properly, in layers, you wont be anywhere near as sweaty as during the other seasons. The rocks and roots criss-crossing every trail will be buried far below a soft and smooth cushion of the white stuff. Winter hiking is the best.


I will concede however that as the cold and snowy months continue I do begin to long for spring and summer. Thoughts of warm and sunny months where the days seem to last forever come creeping into my head. Chores and projects that I’d failed to get to last year haunt me. Even the writing which tends to carry me most of the way becomes secondary to staring out the windows at the snow and ice. I mean my house isn’t going to take care of itself, is it? I do have a responsibility after all. And nothing, not even this hellacious winter weather, will keep me from my duties…


Lea Wait: I haven’t got a lot to add – I love the quiet of winter and the time to write without the distractions of company and summer entertainment. I also love this time of year because it allowed me time to catch up on my reading, (including books by other Maine Crime Writers,) and to binge watch movies.  (Two very different ones I’ve enjoyed recently are A Very English Scandal. A Quiet Passion, and The Innocents).

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson
Cabin fever? What’s that? I even love being snowed in. I’m not crazy about power outages, but we have a wood stove for heat and cooking, a big bucket of water in the bathroom to flush with, and a battery big enough to run a reading lamp and recharge the iPads.

For plain old winter doldrums, the best cure is to keep busy. I accomplish an amazing amount of writing during the winter months, at least in part because I don’t even try to schedule any events that would require me to leave the house. There are a couple of conferences in February and March that might be fun to attend, but when weighed against the possibility of having to cancel due to bad weather or, worse yet, getting stuck in an airport halfway across the country, I find it easy to talk myself out of going.

the view from my window in winter

Some might say I’m just an old stick-in-the-mud, but those inclined to become hermits during the winter have an advantage. They’re perfectly happy to hole up, snug and warm. There’s really plenty to do to keep busy: jigsaw puzzles, binge watching favorite TV series and the occasional new one, reading, and, of course, writing. If it’s a particularly long, cold winter, I might even end up writing an extra novel.

Susan Vaughan:

1. Vacation to somewhere warm. But give yourself plenty of time at airports. The government shutdown has led to some TSA flu, so lines may be long. Last year we went to Marco Island, Florida, for some R&R. Luckily it was the warmest February ever in that state, so even the water was warm. This year? Well, see #4. The closest I’ll get is this photo.

2. Read a good book. I have three going at the moment. I’ve nearly finished Sandra Brown’s paperback Lethal , a riveting thriller. On the treadmill or stationary bike at the Y, I read on my Kindle. Again, see #4. My recent e-book is our own Kate Flora’s Be My Little Sugar: Another Girls’ Night Out Novella. Also unputdownable, this story is suspenseful, witty, and humorous. The third book is nonfiction, unusual for me. I read reviews and saw an interview with Jill Lepore, award-winning historian and knew I needed to read her These Truths: a History of the United States. It’s dense, insightful, and beautifully written as well as thoroughly researched. I’m making my way through it a little each day because I need to digest and ponder as I go. I’m learning facts and background I didn’t pay attention to in school.

3. Walk the dog, feed the birds, go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Since I don’t ski and won’t be snowshoeing this winter, or even walking Sasha for a while, I watch the birds at the feeder and look for a bald eagle fishing at the river below our house.

4. Don’t have foot surgery. Yes, this is why I won’t be snowshoeing or walking the treadmill or taking a trip to somewhere warm. I’ve had a joint replacement on my big right toe. Yes, you read that correctly, on my big toe. Arthritis had eaten away the cartilage in the large joint, so it was bone on bone. Walking had become quite painful. So I’m sitting here on my sofa with my foot propped up on a stack of pillows. The upside? Hubby is waiting on me hand and “foot.”

Look how happy I am out in the snow snow shoeing!

Maureen Milliken: The only times I’ve ever had cabin fever are when I’ve had to share the cabin. Cooped up with other people for extended periods of time gets on my nerves. I’m sure they’d say the same about me.

Otherwise, I love the winter and here’s a pro tip: you don’t have to stay cooped up in the cabin.

Getting outside unless the weather is really, really awful and living by yourself are the best things to counter cabin fever.

I’ve taken several day trips to parts of the state that are beautiful this time of year, gotten out the snow shoes, walk to the store when it’s too ucky out to drive, and more.

One thing about snow shoeing — you can do it anywhere, you don’t special skills, you don’t need money. It’s a great way to get outdoors. You also get to take in some things that you maybe wouldn’t otherwise.

My town, January, 4:30 p.m., 2 degrees and dropping.

The other day as dusk  was arriving — I won’t say as the sun was setting because I don’t think there was any that day — I was driving home and caught a neat view of my town, our still-lit tree and our one year-round restaurant.

When I got into the house, I put the ice cream in the freezer, fed the cat, got the camera, and despite the 2 degrees and dropping temperature, got the photo.

One of the great things about getting outside — besides the fresh air and exercise — is coming back home to a cozy couch, hot chocolate (or ice cream!) and a night of binge-watching “Disappeared” on ID as the wind howls outside.
Maine is beautiful year-round and I love it.
So, the takeaway is, don’t hate winter in Maine, embrace it!

Sandy Neily here:  The woods and fields are full of tracks  and scat messages. (Kids love scat clues.) How do you snowshoe? I tell folks, wear warm boots, walk a bit wider and use poles for balance.  In March, there will be hooting owls!  Track Finder and Scats and Tracks are my favorite guides: small, easy to carry, and easy to understand. Last week, using my Track Finder, I solved a mystery where large fluffy tracks disappeared at the edge of the woods. Lynx! Jumping up into a tree. How cool is that? 

Skidompha Used Books Store

Indoor treat! Down a back street in Damariscotta, you’ll find an amazing second hand book store. (But most of them are good for cabin fever or no fever at all.) This one is worth hours of browsing or setting up one’s computer for some closeted work. Its large windows hang over the tidal comings and goings of the river. It’s light and airy, has a fabulous carpeted kids’ section, a riverside alcove with bird guides and binoculars, and room to spread out and work. Oh, and a cozy fireplace with well placed chairs.

Brenda Buchanan:  As my colleagues say, the secret is getting outdoors. I agree with Maureen and Sandra that snowshoeing is terrific, but as readers of this blog know, I live near some of Maine’s sandy beaches and they are a particular magnet in the winter. There is something elemental and wonderful about the beach in winter, especially when the wind is howling and the incoming tide is rushing up the beach. Whether it’s 20 degrees or 5 below, whether the air wouldn’t lift a kite or 40 mph gusts make it a slow walk in one direction and an exceedingly quick one in the other, I’m at home on the beach in the winter, especially on Sunday afternoons.  As Bruce says about his winter hikes, there are no tourists, no entry fee and it’s easy-peasy to find a parking space.

I often take Kate’s advice and have a nice, hearty soup or stew simmering when we get home. Like Kathy and Susan I always have a book (or several) at hand to transport me to another place when night falls.

And when it gets really bad, I imagine it’s August and we’re in Brooklin, hiking on a sweltering afternoon, slapping away mosquitoes, pouring sweat. At the end of the trail, we reach the cove and dive into the bracing ocean water. The thought of that sublime sensation cures cabin fever every time.


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