How I Found Love Among Yucatan’s Ancient Maya Ruins

That headline might startle those who know me as a great-granny who hails from  the Oklahoma panhandle, a woman married to her high school sweetheart for more than six decades and somewhat conservative by nature if not politics. But some years ago on a travel writing assignment I became fascinated with how ancient Maya scribes wrote their royals’ history on stone monuments, pots, and in books made of beaten bark. You might call it a love affair with discovery. The result, is my novel, Two Hearts in Time.

Back on the ranch I read volumes on classic Maya culture. I wrote non-fiction articles in various local and nationally circulated publications. But I’d written a couple of novels and began to explore the idea of a story involving a specialist in pre-Columbian hieroglyphics. A week spent among serious epigraphers at a workshop at the University of Texas set my course.

Neither of my previous novels were romances, and I’m not an avid fan of category romance in its purest form but a friend who wrote romances urged me to try the genre. And so Sonrisa, the epigrapher lost in 1898 Yucatan, comes to light in Two Hearts in Time. That era in Mexico finds hacienda owners in their city mansions enriching themselves with native labor in the henequen fields while scorning their indigenous heritage. Those whose blood mingles with that of Spanish conquerors fare no better.

Don Juan Miguel Zamora y Balam is a man caught between the two cultures by his illegitimate birth into an elite family. Like any good story character, Zamora is both good and bad. As a tomb looter, he is no different than many men of his time. But for Sonrisa, a gringa from North America who studies archaeological sites damaged by looters, Zamora’s kind are the scourge of the earth. That only he can guide her from the jungle is disaster; likewise for him to return to the city where his family represents everything he abhors. Those separate needs clash while his and Sonrisa’s pheremones do the dance of love that neither can sit out.

And so rolls out a much spicier story than I had imagined, one wrought with family discord and dark secrets wrapped in cultural battles that divert the focus from the category romance in its purest form. So be it. Two Hearts in Time is published by The Wild Rose Press a traditional publisher that began as a romance house, but thank goodness expanded to other genres like mine. The book’s release came in my eightieth year. My second novel, Bitter Pills and Deadly Potions awaits a release date from the same publisher and should appeal to readers who prefer mystery over romance

Purchase Two Hearts in Time from one of these sites:

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A Day in the Woods

 

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If you caught my recent article on Casi McLean’s Awesome, Bewitching Authors blog you’ll know where I’m coming from with this post. Otherwise,you need only know that when I wrote that piece my sights were set on a getaway among the trees, creeks, wildflowers and historic farm places in NW Arkansas’ Sugar Creek Valley before summer greenery cloaks them from sight.

And a glorious day it was, that brief escape with my husband and our son. Under sunny skies, the valley served up its scenery along with a friendly farmer or two who stopped on the road to chat while we photographed some interesting spot. Checking us out, they were I’d guess, but quite friendly once they learned we were transplanted plains people who know how to appreciate trees and old barns without ripping off wood for some art project. Or at least if we meant to do that we’d be the kind of folks who’d find the owner and ask permission first.

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Our son, Eric spotted this memorable road sign.

Sugar Creek Valley presents some interesting byways. The road sign at the corner of Buzzard Glory Road evokes an image or two. Seemingly out of nowhere, a boy on a bicycle appeared while we took pictures. The lad didn’t seem much impressed by another trio of strangers posing for one another at the road sign. The area is a magnet for gawkers, locals as well as tourists.

Visions of circling buzzards not your cup of sassafras tea? The turn-off at Songbird Road with its view of roofless stone buildings in the adjoining hollow might fit your taste. A century must have passed since anyone found shelter within those walls.

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Roofless old building in Songbird Hollow

 

Farther along the paved road through the valley, iris planted by some long-gone gardener escapes the old house’s yard and down into the ditch. I wondered if the homemaker ordered her rhizomes from the Fields Nursery catalog. Every winter as soon as the catalog arrived my mother pored through the pages, pondering  what new flower or shrub she might plant come spring. Judging by the depth of purple in the buds, I don’t think those we found were the common variety of iris familiar in my childhood.

Nearer Pineville, Missouri big homes and barns appropriate for calendar art nestled in the midst of cleared expanses enclosed by white fences. Were the owners descended from pioneers who hung on through thick and thin? Or were we admiring dreams realized for city folks?

Lunch at Haven55 near Pineville, Missouri capped our morning. Havenhurst was an early resort on Little Sugar Creek and the site remains popular for all kinds of water-related activities. The rustic cafe overlooks the stream, which tumbles over cement remains of a 19th century grain mill. We had to wait a bit for a table because the place is popular, but the hamburger with crisp, freshly-cut fries was a cheap ticket for such a picturesque scene.

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Do you have a favorite retreat close to home when you need a break? I’d love to hear about it.

 

 

 

Waiting for Magnolias Epilogue

Shortly after listing our house on Mayflower Road in Bentonville, Arkansas for sale, I wrote about our magnolia tree that hadn’t bloomed in the nine years we’d lived there.  The wisteria out back had just shown us its glory for the first time that month after giving us the impression we might never see a bloom on it either.

The gist of the post was how the unexpected things can sometimes outdo what we’d hoped for that never happens.

Our plan to buy another house changed. The duplex we chose already feels better than the responsibilities that come with so much square footage and an acre. My husband found room in the double garage here for his rock trim saw and more rocks than I imagined he could keep there. Three weeks after the move we found room for my car as well. Under the kitchen windows is the table he uses for work space to create wire-wrapped pendants.

This is the newest structure we’ve ever lived in. There’s a real utility room and a walk-in closet. One bedroom of three became our office, just enough space for each to work on our computers, and room for me to store the writing paraphernalia I really need.

When tornado season comes around, we’ll have a space to seek shelter that isn’t on an outside wall. All good.

True, many mementos  went for safekeeping to the son who lives close by. Someday he and the rest of the family can deal with the things he has room to store at present. Perfect solution  for us at least.

My husband remarks often about how much he’s enjoying the change. There’s no big yard to keep. No magnolia to anticipate, or wisteria to admire, but easier life for a couple of oldsters. As housekeeper-in-chief I love counting the few steps it takes to get from laundry to both bathrooms, and the open design of our kitchen, dining and living area.

Thorns might appear yet, but among our strengths are the genes to persevere and adapt handed down in each of our bloodlines.

 

 

 

 

How Christmas Deep-sixed Cupid

A Christmas wedding, how romantic. Or so I thought at eighteen. You know the trite literary hook, “Little did she know…”

And so it happened that for many decades Christmas deep-sixed our wedding anniversary. Oh, the holiday ceremony proved as romantic as the idea did upon conception. Holly spread scarlet glory along the reception table and red roses brightened the bridal bouquet. All else was white as the snow that drifted down in early afternoon––enough snow to lend a fairytale atmosphere, not enough to keep away the guests who forfeited part of their family get-together to wish us well. Everything went perfectly. My new mother-in-law sent us off for our wedding night in the big city with turkey sandwiches and pumpkin pie for a midnight snack. She guessed rightly that we’d both have worked up an appetite by then.

What bride wouldn’t dream of a happy-ever-after, ushered in with such a perfect beginning?

What bride with an ounce of brains would not realize that she’d not only stolen time from the mother and great aunt who sewed her satin gown in the midst of making holiday cheer for their families, but burgled herself of wedding anniversary celebrations for years to come?

What wife, mother, or grandmother who celebrates Christmas abandons her duties with the turkey and pumpkin pie for a romantic dinner with her man? Will there be extra money for roses, champagne much less a room at the Inn?

Nothing changed until we began to share our adult children with in-laws, freeing some Christmas Days after early family celebrations in our household. The holiday wasn’t through with us, however. Our anniversary trips found us in strange eateries for Christmas Dinner. Truck stops are famous for offering hearty foods on road trips, but neither the atmosphere nor the recipes are the least bit romantic.

One year’s anniversary dinner of waffles at a counter put us among a number of characters who would be great in a novel. None appear in Two Hearts in Time, my new release from the Wild rose Press, but experiences of all kinds crop up in my writing. A week among Yucatán’s Maya pyramids led to my heroine’s career and the incident that tossed her through a time portal into the arms of a 19th century tomb looter. Not a fortuitous match for romance in an archaeologist’s eyes, but one with infinite possibilities for adventure, action, and yes, sexual tension.

OPENING CHAPTER OF TWO HEARTS IN TIME

Chapter 1

Something wasn’t right. Isolated, dozing beneath Yucatán’s midday sun, such an unimposing ruin couldn’t possibly hold the treasure Sonrisa Lyons sought. She needed headlines that would knock the arrogance out of the thief who had derailed her life. The adrenaline that had fueled her trek through early wet–season heat fizzled out on a sigh.

“This can’t be the place,” she told the Maya guide who stood with her at the open end of a time–worn trench into the pyramid’s heart.

Juan Cepeda’s black eyes took offense under a brow pouring sweat as rank as that Sonrisa smelled rising from her armpits. “I have fifty years in this jungle, Señora Evans, and mi amigo give very good directions.”

“I’m sorry.” Her smile begged forgiveness. “I’d expect a pyramid important enough to hold fine artwork to be larger and have others around it.” She reminded herself that she’d also doubted this structure’s existence. It wasn’t on the site map

“I do not know about fine artwork, Señora, but my friend say the little pieces of stone came from inside this ruin.”

He referred to stucco fragments he’d shown her in camp. They held portions of hieroglyphic text in the flowing, brush style usually seen in codices and on ceramics. “I hope your friend told you right,” she said. “If enough inscriptions remain on the wall to bring me back with a good camera, I can take photos detailed enough to decipher and replace material I did for my doctoral dissertation.”

Curiosity sharpened the man’s eyes, but circumstances around the plagiarism of her work remained too painful for her to reveal outside her immediate circle of friends and relatives.

“Your friend didn’t bring anything else out of the chamber, did he?”

Fanning himself with his sombrero, the guide shook his head. “Ernesto find only the little stones on the floor.”

Thunder rumbled, uncommon in the region. The sound added worry lines to the man’s forehead. “Mud will be thick on the trail, Señora Evans. Slow going back to your friends. We must hurry or the night will catch us.”

Nodding, Sonrisa retrieved her cell phone from her backpack. There’d be no signal in this remote corner of the archaeological park, but she could shoot preliminary photos. Cicadas ratcheted up their love songs, their excitement echoing in Sonrisa’s veins. Lifting her voice above the clatter, she told the guide to start clearing a path through the trench.

Thunder broke again, followed by a wind gust that cooled Sonrisa through the chambray plastered to her breasts. Fan palmettos applauded the breeze. The guide slung his machete with renewed vigor.

Croton scattered red and yellow confetti; young saplings flew into bits.

Sonrisa hung her hat on a tree branch and ran her fingers under her sweaty topknot before starting to record the site. She worked quickly and then hurried after Cepeda.

“Whoever broke in here had ambition,” she said. “You could drive a Volkswagen beetle into this ditch. And it looks like they carted away most of the rubble.”

Señora, if I owned such a fine automobile as a Volkswagen beetle, I would not drive it into such a place.” The old man had reached the terminus. To his right on the trench’s wall, liana partially obscured a dark void. He slashed the vines away.

The opening yawned larger than most she’d entered. At five feet, two inches, she could have walked right in, but paused, bathed in the dark chamber’s basement breath. Human nature’s wariness of the unknown shuddered through her light frame.

“Your friend was brave to venture in by himself,” she said.

“Ernesto a brave man.” The guide stepped aside for her to go first.

Holding back a smile, she inspected the entrance for loose stones—cave–ins weren’t unheard of in her profession. “Looks sound enough,” she declared.

The sky muttered for attention. Dark clouds scudded in from the Caribbean.

“We come another time?”

“I can’t lose another day at the dig.” The archaeological project had brought her to Yucatán in the first place. “The wet season will shut us down too soon anyway.”

She retrieved her Maglite from a pocket on her cargoes. “Come on. If it rains we’ll at least be dry when we start back to camp.”

He frowned at the sky, then at the dark hole. “My friend say he feel crowded inside. He feel many others there, hear whispers. But his lantern show no one.”

Aware that modern civilization hadn’t taken the superstition out of Maya villagers, Sonrisa gave him a reassuring smile. “Just inside, out of the rain,” she said.

“If the water is too much for my sombrero I can stand between the wall and the liana.” He waved at the remaining vines draped over the trench’s upper lip.

Leaving him to his fears she beamed the light into the chamber, a space some eight feet deep and half again as wide. There were no bats in the vaulted ceiling, or snakes on the stone floor—at least none visible amid stucco broken from the wall opposite her. There, a shelf–like structure extended about three feet into the room. The hieroglyphic text carved above it sent blood surging through Sonrisa’s veins.

“Bingo!” she cried. She motioned. “You gotta see this. It’s exactly what I hoped to find.”

He leaned in, but glanced around nervously before focusing on the wall. “I see only smoke on the wall. And that table . . .”

“It’s an altar,” she said. “The mottled black stuff isn’t smoke, but minerals leached from the limestone over the years. Look closer. You’ll see a man’s figure, and under it little squares that are actually smaller shapes that represent different sounds in the Maya language.” Some of the shapes stood for words on their own, but she didn’t want to confuse him.

“I see those squares on many old places.”

“On outside walls.” And not so artistically rendered. “As for the figure, that’s a priest or a shaman, you can tell by the turban and the feathers that trail from it in back. And he’s wearing jaguar–skin sandals—”

She broke off and swore under her breath. “Sandal,” she amended. “Damned looters knocked off one of his feet and some of the text underneath.”

Not mi amigo.” Frown lines competed for space on the guide’s sun–scoured forehead. “Why do you take pictures of the man and not the little squares?”

“The scene itself is important. The text describes what is happening, and when. See the snake rising up from that flat bowl at the man’s feet?”

The guide squinted. “.”

“That face carved in the serpent’s open mouth represents an ancestor who’s relaying a message from the afterlife.” She glanced at Cepeda, whose attention had wandered to the chamber’s dark corners again. Explaining further, Sonrisa said, “The man pictured is a trance brought on by drugs and spilling some of his own blood.”

Wide-eyed, the guide crossed himself and edged away.

“Where are you going?”

“I do not like this place.”

“But . . .”

He practically leaped out into the trench.

Sonrisa smiled and turned back to the inscriptions. She was photographing the text at the carved figure’s feet when lightning cracked overhead. Thunder shook the ground. Sonrisa yelped and dropped her cell phone; remembered Cepeda out there, and rushed to the exit.

The storm broke before she could lean out and call his name. Rain sheeted from the sky. Lightning flashed. Expecting him to leap inside at any minute, sheltering vines be damned, she backed away.

He didn’t appear, and soon water echoed the thunder, a cascade pouring off the ruin’s higher reaches into the trench beyond. Where was Cepeda? What is that coming down in the water? A small stone bounced into the chamber. Croton leaves swirled down, followed by entire plants.

The exit’s upper edge collapsed, pouring dirt and stones into the chamber.

Driven backward, Sonrisa curled onto the altar and hugged her backpack. Terror ripped from her throat, animal sounds all but lost in the roar of falling debris. Covering her face with her hands, she clamped her mouth shut. A tooth stabbed her lower lip; blood, warm and coppery, bathed her tongue. The stone beneath her vibrated; pebbles pelted her shoulders.

At last, only the pulse hammering in her ears broke the silence. Airless heat pressed down, rekindling fear as a quiver in her stomach. Soon, she trembled so violently she could no longer hold her hands over her face.

A mere wraith of light broke the darkness. It came from somewhere high up. A whimper forced itself from between her lips. Feeling around for her Maglite, she found only pebbles. On the floor she crawled over sharp stones, patted debris that rose higher, and higher. Scrambling up, she ignored shards that tore her fingernails to the quick. A blob, prickly with roots, gave way beneath her right hand. Dumped face down she pounded with both fists and then levered herself into a handstand.

“Damned stinking mud. Damned stinking—”

The light that had caught her eye draped a silver chain across the darkness. No more than a crack, it drew her closer. Her mouth against the break, she shouted “Cepeda! Juan Cepeda!”

No response.

She called out a few more times, before giving it up. But he was out there somewhere, sheltered by the jungle he knew so well.

“He’ll come,” she declared. “He will come.”

Back on the altar she reclaimed her backpack with its precious bottled water, snacks, drawing, and first aid supplies. Not so necessary, except to her pride, she’d packed a foil–wrapped condom, not expecting to need it but to defy her ex’s claim she was too ambitious to interest a man, much less keep one. Anger burned in her chest. She squelched it by feeling around on the wall behind her, admiring the scribe’s artistry.

“Well, hell’s bells, what are we thinking here, Sonrisa?” On crossed legs, she sat facing the wall and retrieved her drawing supplies. She’d vowed to report the jerk for stealing her research once she’d found something better. This was it.

She needed no light to make charcoal rubbings. Feeling her way and without thought of translation she filled sheet after sheet from her sketch pad until her fingers distinguished the words lu Bat—“he of the writing.” Excitement skittering through her veins, she paused. Had the shaman portrayed here been a scribe as well, sculpting his ritual in stucco instead of painting it in a bark paper book?

The idea drove her relentlessly. Her fingertips grew sticky with fresh blood. Dizziness swept over her. No longer able to remain upright, she dropped the charcoal stub and curled around her backpack once more. A soft rustle trapped her breath in her lungs and raised gooseflesh along her spine—the Vision Serpent slithering down from millennia of slumber on the wall? Had the priest felt a similar floating sensation in his hallucinatory state? What had she stumbled onto?

Sensing movement, as if the walls closed in, she flung wide her arms; one struck the wall behind her, exactly as it should be, the other arm fell into open space. Light flickered at the edge of her consciousness, and then disappeared. Darkness swirled around her, a vortex that sucked her toward its dwindling base.

Madre de Díos!” The man’s exclamation jerked her to a stop.

Wide—eyed, Sonrisa blinked into a kerosene lantern’s golden glow. A man stood in the exit, two others peered over his shoulder. They vanished a split–second later.

Sonrisa threw aside her backpack and flung herself toward freedom.

Tener cuidado—take care!”

Whether she knocked the lantern from his grasp when she crashed into her rescuer, or he threw it aside, Sonrisa didn’t know. But caught in his arms as he fell backward into the trench, she heard glass shatter, smelled kerosene and glimpsed flames to her right.

He lay flat, she spread–eagled atop him. Boneless with relief, she rested her head on his broad chest.

How real the thunder of his heart against hers; how wonderfully sensate the coarse fabric of his shirt beneath her cheek; how heady the musk of flesh heated by sunshine and physical exertion.

Of all things amazing, the most unexpected came in her rescuer’s next breath—a whiff of summer grasses.

Gracias . . . gracias,” Sonrisa whispered.

De nada.” The Mexican response, “for nothing,” or “you’re welcome” was usually delivered in an off–hand manner. He sounded truly astonished.

Lifting her head, she stared through straggled auburn locks into brown velvet eyes that could undress a woman and make her tingle when she should slap his face. The look worked on her, even before a questioning, half–smile dimpled his right cheek. Sonrisa’s mouth grew slack.

His eyes widened.

“Adrenaline overload,” she explained the inexplicable, and then uttered a shaky laugh. “It feels damned good to be out of that tomb.”

Order now  By links below: on some you have to search the title: Two Hearts in Time

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AH, THE BEAUTY OF A MEAL IN THE FIELD

2481479-yellow-corn-crop-on-a-field-in-late-summer[1] Taking dinner to the harvest field isn’t my idea of a relaxing experience. Yet there it is in bold print––an article in a farm magazine suggesting that I, (the farm wife) might like to get some nice fresh air and a few minutes of relaxation by serving an occasional meal in the field.

“It would be a wonderful opportunity to check on the progress of your husband’s work,” the article states.

It is three o’clock on a  mid-summer afternoon when I pick up the magazine and, thumbing through the women’s section spy the article. The temperature outside hovers near 100 degrees. I have just finished cleaning the kitchen after taking a meal to the harvest field for the eighth time in four days. Along with my sister-in–law, with whom I share cooking chores, I was in the field for two hours from the time the first man filled his plate until the seventh had swallowed the last crumb.

In roughly one and one-half hours, I will start to prepare my share of the evening meal. It, too, will be served in the field. I take a closer look at the photo accompanying the article. The setting is a lush, green field. Clean, handsome men are hazily out of focus in the background. A colorful bandana tablecloth is spread over a station wagon’s tailgate. Arrayed on it are a china platter heaped with crispy fried chicken, bowls of green beans, corn on the cob, fresh cantaloupe slices, a plate of artfully arranged tomato wedges, half a watermelon, a pyramid of cornbread (piping hot I’m sure), sparkling glasses of iced tea, and a delicious-looking cake.

Apparently, all these goodies have just been taken from a charming wicker basket which stands nearby. Casually draped from one corner is a sunny yellow cloth napkin that matches those on the ‘table.’ I reread the part of the article about getting some fresh air and a few minutes relaxation. And although I doubt that the writer intended the article to be humorous, I haven’t had such a good laugh in four days.

I’m still chuckling when my sister-in-law arrives a couple of hours later. I show her the article, she joins me in a quick chortle, and we’re off. It’s 6 p.m. Outside the temperature still nudges the 100-degree mark. Already loaded in the old jeep are a granite roaster filled with fried chicken, half a chocolate cake, and a large plastic container of iced tea.

We load my corn, creamed peas, sliced tomatoes, the slightly battered remnants of a banana cake, a second large container of iced tea, and a plastic laundry basket filled with serving utensils. Over all we throw a threadbare, puce–colored chenille bedspread to keep out the dust.

Five miles to the field. Dust fogs from beneath the wheels and fills the open-sided jeep.

“My, how nice it is to be out in the fresh country air,” my sister-in-law says. I agree.

We enjoy another chuckle.

Upon arriving in the field, we see one of the combines is broken down––again. Finding our husbands beneath it, wrenches in hand, we express our interest in the progress of the cutting. Our guys seem unimpressed.

My sister-in-law pulls into the shade of a grain truck. Down with  the jeep’s tailgate, on with the threadbare, puce-colored tablecloth. We brush off two lumps of dried-on baked beans left from noon, then set out the kettles to await the hungry hoard.

It’s a short wait. Pulling opposite the truck first one, then the other combine unloads. Dust and chaff drift over our dining area, ourselves, and the food. Never mind a few shredded grain husks and beards. Five hungry boys fill their plates and hunker in the shade of the truck to eat. Now is the cooks’ opportunity for relaxation while enjoying our own meal in the fresh country air.

Eating downwind of five teenage boys whose anti–perspirant stopped working three hours ago is not a relaxing experience. But at last, all seven crew members have eaten. We load up and hit the dusty trail. Eight field meals down, some 16 yet to go this season. We plan tomorrow’s menu.

It is 8 p.m., and I am alone in my cluttered kitchen. The air conditioner has quit working. I now notice my own anti–perspirant has quit working as well. Even the air freshener I mistakenly applied as hair spray earlier in the day has quit working. My attention falls again on the magazine lying open on the kitchen table. Looking first at the attractive meal in the field layout, then at my own stack of greasy, dust-begrimed kettles and table appointments, I sigh.

I must be doing something wrong.

Originally published in The Daily Oklahoman’s Sunday Magazine, Orbit.)

 

How Ancient Maya Scribes Inspired a Modern Love Story

I sought a travel story among the Maya pyramids of Yucatán and caught an incurable bug. Not a biological affliction, but one of the inquisitive type. The condition demanded lots of reading about the ancient civilization, and finally a workshop in Maya hieroglyphics. That week at the University of Texas in Austin inspired my novel, Two Hearts in Time.

I learned just enough about decipherment to give my heroine a career in that field and get her into trouble in a ruined pyramid. Imagination took flight with a time travel element sure to make real Mayanists roll their eyes.

Sonrisa works with some rare carved glyphs that open a time portal. Thank goodness I didn’t have to get too technical with how this happens–the ancient civilization believed time moved in circles.  An artist’s rendition of one of the culture’s three separate time counting rounds appears below. The longest period they tracked was about 400 years, after which they believed one world ended and a new one began. Now, I didn’t want my heroine exposed to the rigors of life among the Maya in say, the 6th century, so I dropped her into 1898, and into the arms of a tomb looter.

Epigraphers (the ten dollar name for Sonrisa’s profession) dislike those guys a lot because their digging damages inscriptions before they can be studied. You can imagine my heroine’s initial reaction to Miguel’s  looting.

Today’s Maya struck me as friendly and interesting people, and so I gave Miguel some Maya blood along with that of Spanish conquistadors. He also possesses some sterling qualities that cool Sonrisa’s outrage over his thievery and get her involved in all kind of adventures. Then there are those pesky pheromones that complicate matters with romantic attraction. I can hardly wait until readers discover “what happens then.”

Maya Calendar

A Writer’s Journeys and Jottings

This beautiful cover by Kim Mendoza at The Wild Rose Press is everything I imagined for my  novel, Two Hearts in Time. Follow this blog for details about what inspired the book, more photos from Yucatan like those in this blog’s header, and more about the story.

Two Hearts in Time
A search for professional vindication in the 21st century leads to adventure and the heart’s desire in 19th century Yucatán.

 

 

 

Make Mine Southern Fried

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I see lots of cute little chicken coops for sale at hardware and farm stores these days. A friend of mine loves her layers. She houses them in what amounts to a palace in chickendom. Understandably, her feathers ruffled one day when I mentioned how much I dislike chickens once they outgrow babyhood.

The issue took root in my sixth summer.  A carefree moppet in red polka–dotted coveralls a la Shirley Temple, and shiny new black patent sandals, I set out for a birthday party. My destination–a block from home–lay at the end of a familiar path alongside the highway through our small town. The trail bordered a vacant lot where free-range chickens scratched. And from which they sometimes escaped through or over a sagging wire fence.

I skipped along, daydreaming. Would I win a prize at pin the tail on the donkey? Would Mary’s birthday cake be chocolate? Umm—I could almost taste that favorite treat.  Thus preoccupied, I didn’t notice the baby chicks and their mother outside the fence until I blundered into them.

Bedlam erupted. Cheeping, flapping their wings the chicks scattered like raindrops off a rock. Mother Hen, her red feathers ruffled, charged. I exited the scene in the opposite direction, braids thumping my back, sandals slapping gravel. My escape route took me into the path of an oncoming automobile.

I don’t remember the impact, only the struggle to crawl away from the fury at my heels. “Don’t let her get me. Don’t let her get me,” I shrieked at the gathering onlookers.

Old Biddy didn’t get me, but I’d have been better off to have taken a few pecks on the ankle. Instead of eating chocolate cake and ice cream that afternoon, I found myself in the hospital. A plaster cast imprisoned my lower torso down to my thigh on one side, mid-calf on the other. Connecting the two, a round bar provided a lifting device for caretakers.

Turns out that injured little girls are pampered by nurses, lavished with gifts and sympathy from grown-ups, and gratified by the envy of playmates. I enjoyed being a princess.

And then my parents took me home.

Dad had his job. Mom’s garden produced vegetables that demanded canning if we were to enjoy them later. Hopscotch and hide–and–seek soon called playmates away from our paper dolls, leaving me to lie and listen to their laughter and cries: “All–ee, all­–ee out’s in free–ee.” I wanted to play hide-and-seek with them.

Hatred for that old hen grew.

The carnival arrived, a yearly event topped only by Christmas. Night after night I watched the lights on the Ferris wheel turn in the distance. The merry-go-round’s jolly tunes called my name.

Two months flat on my back in that cast gave me time to start blaming every miserable minute on that old red hen.

Forgiveness comes hard. Given the choice between raising chickens and washing windows for survival, I’d do windows. But my husband’s mother prided herself on her flock and sold their eggs. She and my father–in–law traveled often. Guess who got to tend those cluckers?

Family tradition called for egg-gathering at dusk.

The hen house on the farm was not a palace. Stepping into feather-moted gloom scented with chicken poop, I’d see beady eyes staring at me from the tiered nests on the wall beside the roosts. No one was talking about the female’s biological clock back then, but I always found one or two hopeful mother hens sitting defiant on their eggs.

Supposing chickens did have brains enough to come in out of the rain, I doubt those fowl would have flinched at the sight of the old broom kept at hand had they known its purpose. Sometimes a nudge with the handle did the job. Other times, eviction required several whacks on the chicken condo’s slanted roof. Flying out, the hens flung particles whose source I preferred not to think about, or smell again. Eggs lifted from the straw felt unpleasantly warm.

Those old setters eventually ended up in Grandma’s stewpot. She made mighty good noodles for the broth. But in my opinion, chicken fried up golden in its tender youth is the bird’s most fitting end.