I’m Still Here.

I know, I know, I’ve been neglecting you! I’m sorry. It’s hard to remember what day it is, one trickling into the next. Wednesday seems the only day I can keep track of because that’s the day I meet with my Mindful Writers group. And the trash goes out on that day, something I surely don’t want to forget.

At the beginning of February I had another short story published in the third installment of the Mindful Writers Retreat Series. This anthology includes twenty-seven stories from a selection of our members.

My story, Love on the Edge, focuses on a young widow named Tilly and her neighbors’ reaction to her budding romance with a man she met in a coffee shop. I had great fun writing it and have a few ideas for future stories involving these characters and their lives in a Baltimore cul-de-sac.

As much as I enjoy visiting coffee shops, especially Red Canoe and Zeke’s, it was a photo of a red Austen Allegro that inspired me to write this story. I spied a photo online and was drawn to it. Who would drive a car like that? With that question barely crossing my mind, the image of a tall, lanky, dark-haired British man came to me and the character of Daniel was born.

The words formed quicker than I could type them out. I could see clearly the post-war houses around the cul-de-sac where the neighbors knew more of what was happening next door than the goings-on in their own kitchen, where voyeurism was a hobby, and advice was freely given out whether wanted or not.

Though I didn’t grow up on a cul-de-sac, I was familiar enough with neighborhood politics. My grandmother, Nana, and her friend Miss Ag were basically the block captains of our neighborhood. In other words, they were up to date with the ins and outs of everyone who lived around us. What they didn’t see with their own eyes they heard about on Saturday mornings at Miss Helen’s beauty parlor. These were the images I conjured up for my story.

This winter has been a hard one with more snow than we’ve seen in a few years. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read while curled up trying to keep warm. There’s only so many Netflix series a girl can watch! Treat yourself to this latest anthology. You can purchase a copy on Amazon (this week it’s free on Kindle!) and, as always, all proceeds go to charity. For this anthology our charity is Allegheny Children’s Initiative – Partners For Quality, Inc.

A WONDERFUL LIFE

One of my favorite Christmas movies, my all-time favorite movie, is It’s a Wonderful Life. I’m sure I’m not alone here on this one. I see it mentioned over and over again on Facebook. I remember one Christmas the movie played continuously all night on Christmas Eve. I came home from midnight mass and stayed up until dawn wrapping presents and watching Mary Hatch and George Bailey fall in love.

Through the years I’ve collected all sorts of Wonderful Life related items. I have picture books, a board game, trivia books, and a few copies of the film. My most prized possession is my Bedford Falls Christmas Village complete with Mary, George, Clarence and Ernie’s taxi. Every year I set it up on the work table in my office.

This year I feel as though I’m living in the Old Granville House. Hopefully no one will throw a rock at my window! My house was built in 1932 and, like all older homes, requires a big maintenance job from time to time. This year it’s the roof. Remember when George goes to the house on his wedding night and the rain is pouring through the ceiling? I’m beginning to understand how he must have felt.

Today I’ve waited for hours for roofers who were to be here in the morning, but have yet to show. It’s dinner time now. I was fuming by the afternoon and had the phone in my hand when I decided to take a step back. What would my idol Mary Bailey do? Instead of being a George, which I admit I usually am, and going off the deep end, I conjured up the Mary inside me. I turned on the lights of Bedford Falls, made a cup of hot chocolate complete with whipped cream and chocolate chips, and watched a few minutes of the movie.

Life’s hard, 2020 has left us battered and bruised, but it’s also an amazing miracle. I may have a leak in the roof, but I have a home to live in and a family to share it with me. All time passes quickly, good and bad. Take a moment to breathe and remember this life is wonderful.

Jesus in a Drawer

It will come as no surprise to anyone when I say here that I love Christmas. I enjoy everything about it, the shopping, the baking, the decorating, and even writing out cards to people I haven’t seen – or sometimes even heard from – in years.

One of my most favorite things about the season is arranging and displaying my nativity scenes. I have one for every room in my house which is a total of nine. Last year I actually gave two of them away to my daughter who now lives in her own apartment. I still have enough that I can set up one in every room, this includes bathroom!

I put all the animals in the stable along with the shepherds and the angels. Mary and Joseph are set off to the side until Christmas Eve when they will make their appearance. Baby Jesus, all nine of them, are tucked away in a drawer in my breakfast nook cabinet until Christmas morning.

When my children were very young I would hide all the Baby Jesus’ much like I did eggs at Easter and have the children find them and place them in the manger before we opened gifts. And, just like the hard-boiled colored eggs of spring, there were a few times where one or two Jesus’ were hidden so well even I couldn’t remember where they were. Now I keep them snugged together so it’s easy for me to put them in their places. No more empty managers!

What decorations do you take the most joy in displaying? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to follow me here and on my Facebook page at Kimberly Kurth Gray – Author.

Holidaze

Usually by this time of the holiday season I’d be in a complete frenzy. I’d have numerous lists for cookies to bake, presents to buy, cards to send, meals to prepare, groceries to buy, and a list to keep track of all my lists. You’d think I was in charge of organizing a royal wedding!

It would begin pretty much the day after Halloween. The lists themselves took at least a week to prepare. Then throw in that both of my children have birthdays during the holidays and, well, the amount of things to do just grows to a staggering height.

This morning I’m sitting here at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee unsure what to do with myself. Last year I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. The cookie list gets ripped up. My family has been staying at home and social distancing since March. There was no family gathering at Thanksgiving, nor will there be one on Christmas or New Year’s day. The list of meals to prepare and groceries to buy has dwindled greatly.

Even present buying has taken a hit. Fortunately my favorite shops (Found Studio and Red Canoe) offer online ordering so I’m still able to shop local and support my friends and neighbors without leaving the comfort and safety of my home.

Without the “hustle and bustle” I’ve more time to reflect on why all these seasonal chores and rituals have been so important in my life. I’ve discovered, as I’m sure you have over these past long months, that it’s never been about the amount of cookies I baked or presents I bought, but about the people who enjoyed them.

This year the time I would have spent in my car, or writing lists, or standing in line, I’ve spent writing to friends and family. I found I had quite a collection of postcards and I’ve sent them to the people I care about just to say I was thinking of them. It’s been rather pleasant to not hurry, or sit down thinking I’ve thirty minutes to write out forty cards before I have to pick-up something from the store and get another batch of cookies in the oven.

I’m also taking my time to decorate, getting rid of items we no longer use or need, and placing objects in new areas instead of putting them up because that’s where they always go. This year, for the first time in twelve years, we have a real tree instead of the artificial one we’ve been using. I ventured out – a rarity these days – to Walther Gardens and bought a little Charlie Brown tree. It’s adorable and uses a third of the ornaments we normally haul out. More time is now spent on admiring the tree instead of adorning it.

I hope this season you find time to relax and enjoy the holiday. Leave the cookies to your local bakery, I’m sure they’d appreciate the business. Call your loved ones, send them notes and cards. Most importantly, stay safe, be well, and wear your mask so we can all be together for all the holidays to come.

The Detective’s Daughter: Spring Forward

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It’s a different kind of spring than we have ever experienced before, at least different from any I can recall. We are all feeling overly anxious, sad, bored, really too many emotions to understand or control. Let’s all take a deep breath and just for the next few minutes think of  the memories of springs from our past.

FullSizeRender (44)Spring has always given me a sense of hope, new beginnings, being on the cusp of freedom. Summer meant freedom, freedom from school and, in later years, work. Spring smelled fresh. The beautiful flowers in my grandmother’s garden bloomed and the weather now permitted laundry to hang outside where it soaked in the warmth of the day and the fragrance of sunshine. The house was given a good airing out and all the heavy drapes and carpets of winter were stored away and replaced with lighter materials.

The most prominent symbol that spring had arrived was the return of St. Mary to the garden. Pop-Pop would crawl into the shed and unwrap her from a nest of newspapers and Hefty bags and sit her in a place of honor on the birdbath.FullSizeRender (43)

As the days grew warmer my family and I would begin to gather in the side yard instead of the living room. The television set was replaced by our books or knitting or cards. We’d sit in companionable silence as Mom read, Nana crocheted and I played card games with Pop-Pop. Dad’s attention was usually fixed on Rikki our dog. Rikki, a Boxer, had been bought with Dad’s first paycheck from the Baltimore City Police Department. He was a good dog and would sit for hours while Dad brushed and groomed him.

When I think of spring, theses are the days I remember. The scent of Hyacinth sends me to that yard and once again I’m on the side steps next to my Pop-Pop.  These last few weeks have been challenging and it seems a few more are in our future.  Keep your good memories close at hand and pull them out as needed. Close your eyes and roll out your private home movies. Spring still means hope. IMG_2483

 

The Book Club: Girl, Woman, Other

 

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Last night we met at Kim’s. Not me, the other Kim. She once lived across the street from me. We soon learned we had a lot in common. Both of us are mother’s to two children, one daughter and one son with the girls being the oldest. Not only are our first names the same, we are both married to men named Eric, and our last names are similar.  Needless to say, we are now friends for life.

This month our selection was Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. It was a thick book, about 450 pages, which none of us had completed by the time we met. In fact, Kathleen was still waiting for her copy from the library. I was finally able to finish the last few pages this morning.0310201905

I enjoyed the book immensely. Each chapter is about a woman beginning with Amma and ending with Grace. It covers twelve characters over several decades and each woman’s struggle to survive and live the life she’s envisioned for herself.  It covers many current day topics, including feminism and race. There were sections that I could barely make it through without crying.

Next month we will be reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Please read along with us and tell us what yo think about the book in the comments. Do you have any suggestions of books you’d like our group to read? Please let us know!

Brunch at Marie Louise Bistro

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I can’t think of a better way to start a Sunday than with brunch. Yesterday morning my husband and I ventured into the Mt. Vernon district of Baltimore City. Our main purpose was to go to The Walters Art Museum to see the prayer book of Saint Francis of Assisi, but couldn’t be in the neighborhood without stopping in one of our favorite restaurants.

Marie Louise Bistro has been in operation for ten or so years now. I discovered it one day as I was searching for a place to have lunch while on break from jury duty. I returned many a morning to have a cafe au lait at one of the sweet little bistro tables that sit out front went the weather is nice.

My daughter is also a fan of the bistro and chose Marie Louise as the restaurant where she wanted to celebrate her 16th birthday. It was quite a dinner! We arrived in a limousine and the host greeted us outside. The food and service was amazing and the entire staff sang Happy Birthday to her.

0308201303aYesterday’s brunch was much more laid back. We came without a reservation, but that wasn’t a problem. The back of the bistro was full, but we were given my favorite table near the window in front. I ordered a cocktail [I wasn’t driving] and we chose the steamed mussels in white wine for our appetizer.   My drink arrived first. It was called a  Twinkle Pink and was a mix of gin and grapefruit juice served in a chilled glass. It was definitely a good start. 0308201303

For the main course I enjoyed Salad Nicoise. It was a large portion filled with fresh greens, hard boiled eggs, grilled Ahi tuna, saffron potatoes, green beans and, of course, Nicoise olives all dressed in a French vinaigrette. 0308201331

Though there were many customers, it was a quiet and relaxed atmosphere with friendly and timely service. If you’ve not yet visited this charming bistro, please make plans to do so in the near future. Marie Louise Bistro is open seven days a week and is located at 904 N. Charles St. you can also find them on Facebook and at marielouisebistrocatering.com

I’d love to hear about your favorite restaurants and please give me some recommendations of places to visit.

 

The Book Club

 

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I love books. There’s no doubt about that in anyone’s mind. Just ask my husband, he’ll tell you we have too many books. Too many? You can never have too many books! It’s only natural then that I should belong to a book club.

We meet once a month on a Tuesday night at someone’s house. There are around twenty-eight women in our group, but only about seven ever show up to our meetings. Kathleen, Sylvia and I have been there from the start and along the way we have picked up new members – Kim, Katie, Margarita, Carrie and Angela.

It’s been at least five or six years ago since Pam invited me to join the group. “Come on, now,” she said, “I’ve started this book club for residents of Northeast Baltimore. It’s mostly young moms. Please come. You love books, and, well, I don’t want to be the only older woman there.” So, how could I refuse with an invitation like that?

Pam was right. That first meeting we were the oldest women there. A group of young moms gathered in a girl named Meghan’s house and we discussed the book A Dog’s Purpose. It was, and still is, my least favorite selection. We have now read close to seventy books.

0207191853These book club has read really wonderful books, and really, really forgettable ones as well.There have even been a couple of occasions where no one has read the book, but that didn’t stop us from meeting. We learned the kind of wine we liked best and what foods to serve. More importantly, we’ve learned about each other and some very strong friendships have developed.

This month we are reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. Below I’ve listed a selection of books we have read over the years. Many of these books I would never have selected on my own, but I’m glad to have read them. I think it’s important to not only read, but to read outside your comfort zone.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstein

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Outlander by Dana Gabaldon

The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman [we must really like her!]

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

As Long As We Both Shall Live by Joann Chaney

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albon

On Being Human by Jennifer Pastiloff

The House of Spirits by Isabelle Allende

Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler

 

Happy reading!!!

The First Valentine: A Detective’s Daughter Memory

It’s Valentine’s Day again. Not quite as exciting as it once was when I could have all the gluten I wanted and received a box of Rheb’s chocolates. I discovered a very sad thing this morning, Rheb’s chocolates are not gluten free. It’s a depressing day here in Northeast Baltimore for me!

FullSizeRender (32)But long ago in a kingdom called South Baltimore I was given a small heart of chocolates every year on Valentine’s Day. Dad would go to the Rheb’s stand in Lexington Market, where he did all his shopping, and buy hearts for his favorite girls. Mom would receive the largest heart, the top of the satin box covered in ruffles and bows. To his own mother, my Nana, he would give a more conservative box, deep red and no frills. My box was small and held four pieces of chocolate. The heart box was red trimmed in gold and the words Be Mine or Valentine was usually printed across the top.

Though Daddy always brought me a heart shaped box with sweets, I must admit my heart belonged to another man. My grandfather, Pop-Pop, was truly my first love. Daddy had interesting stories, but it was Pop-Pop who was my pal. FullSizeRender (34)

He walked me home from school nearly everyday and was always up for a game of cards or checkers. Once a week we’d ride the transit bus over to Pop-Pop’s sister’s, my Aunt Tootsie, where you never knew what you might find. She took in every stray injured animal in Southwest Baltimore. There was always pigeons {“Dang boys shootin’ them poor creatures.”}, kittens and dogs about to deliver puppies, which was my favorite. Sometimes even turtles or squirrels and once she had a opossum.

Saturday mornings after I went to the market with Mom and Nana I’d go to see Mr. Joe the barber with Pop-Pop. Afterwards we’d walk over to Mr. Palmer’s Bar and Pop-Pop would have a glass of beer while I had a Coke and a box of Mr. Salty pretzel sticks and spun around on the stool until Mr. Palmer yelled, “Hey! Ain’t got no seat belt for that, hon.”

It was Pop-Pop who taught me to sing and to love music. I knew all the words to Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey before I could recite the alphabet. He bought me Tiger Beat magazine and never minded watching soap operas with me. He even watched them and took notes – on paper –  the days I was in school!

Pop-Pop passed away on February 12th, three months before my thirteenth birthday. He had served in the military and had fought during WWII and was the recipient of the Purple Heart. I still have the flag that was draped over his casket.

Today remember all the loves that have graced your life. I’ve been fortunate to have an abundance of love and kindness in mine. I hope you each have had a Pop-Pop in your life. His sweetness will be remembered long after my memory of chocolate fades away.

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New Day, New Project

 

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I decided it was time for a Facebook author’s page. It wasn’t an easy decision and one that took over two years for me to finalize. After sending in my manuscript to my agent for an historical mystery [more on that another day] and having my fourth short story accepted in an anthology, I thought the time was right.0605190911

I’m always writing new stories and most of them come to me while I’m sitting right here at my kitchen table. That’s why I always say the best stories happen in the kitchen and it’s the reason I came up with this blog title.

If you’d like to read more from me and are on Facebook, you can follow me at Kimberly Kurth Gray – Author, or look for me by searching @Kimgraywomensmysteries.

 

Is there something you’ve been longing to do, but keep putting off? Please share your stories with me in the comments below.