Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Year in Illinois - Part III

This week I continue Larry's description of our year living in Chicago, from April 1, 1969 through March 30, 1970. I thought I had posted it as a blog long ago, but I discovered I hadn’t. So, please enjoy Part 3 of his walk down Memory Lane.

During the winter months, my neighbor, Bob Wilson raced in both enduro and motocross. Enduro was off-road cross-country race, usually around sixty-to-one hundred miles in length. The route followed a path marked with white chalk, painted arrows on trees and warning signs indicating hazards along the way. The objective was to maintain a twenty-five mph average speed between checkpoints scattered along the route. This was not an easy task, as the trail often led through wooded areas, three-foot deep river crossings, and up and down steep, rocky hills. The sport was very big in Europe at the time, where some races were as much as five-hundred miles in length and lasting over five days.

Motocross, on the other hand, was a multi-lap race over a two-to-four mile dirt closed course with many jumps, tight turns, and always a washboard straight-away with a big jump in the middle. Here, the fastest cycle won.

I had left my 60cc Yamaha back in my parents’ garage in California. When Bob found out, he persuaded me to have it shipped out so I could join him on the winter motorcycle circuit. I contacted a shipper and was told the bike needed to be crated before they would accept it.

Back in California, one of my co-workers, and a good friend, moonlighted as a carpenter. I contacted him to ask if he could crate my bike for shipment. He agreed. Several weeks later, this amazing seven-foot long, three-foot wide, and four-foot tall plywood box, reinforced with 2x4s, arrived at the apartment. It took Bob and me several hours to pry the end off and extricate the cycle. The crate was so well-constructed, we couldn’t knock it down. Finally, I put it next to the apartment, reattached the end with hinges, and it became a motorcycle garage. When we finally left Illinois, the manager took over the box and used it for a storage shed for his garden tools.

Before I could race, the motorcycle had to be modified. Fenders, lights, license plate, and any parts not absolutely necessary were removed to reduce weight. I attached a skidpan to the bottom to protect the engine and frame from boulders, fallen logs, and anything else we might encounter on the trail. Finally, I added knobby tires for traction in the dirt.

Over the next couple of months, we spent Saturdays at the races in various small towns in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. I was in the sportsman under 100cc class, Bob in the 250cc class. Sportsman meant if you fell down on the course during the race, the other riders generally went around you. The professional class didn’t offer the same courtesy. The track announcer usually instructed the spectators to “…take your kids by the hand and tie your dog to a tree,” prior to the start of the professional race.

Just getting to the events was a challenge. Bob could easily load his bike and family in his truck. My cycle went on racks attached to the rear bumper of the little Toyota. With Lorna and Kim inside and the bike on the back, the car was really loaded down. I felt like I was always driving uphill. I’m sure most oncoming traffic thought I had my high beams on when traveling after dark.

Our first couple of races came before the winter frost set in. The tracks were wet and muddy. At one motocross in Elkhorn Wisconsin, by the third lap of the ten-lap race, the mud was so deep it came up to the wheel hubs. I loved it, however, as the larger, heavier bikes bogged down and sank into the ooze, while my lighter one planed on the skidpan and floated over the mess, while the rear tire threw a rooster tail of mud high into the air behind me.

Bob and I had differing riding strategies. Bob felt the fastest way to the finish was a straight line, over rocks, logs, cliffs, people, anything. I, on the other hand, planned my path and took the easiest way whenever possible. While Bob was faster, he tended to crash a lot, and spent most weeknights fixing the damage to his bike to be ready for the next race. Aside from changing spark plugs and the occasional tune-up, I did very little work on mine.

Following the first frost, the muddy tracks dried up and became hard and fast. Here, the larger, more powerful bikes had the advantage.

Winter Blue and Gray
Winter in Chicago started early. In mid-September, we had our first snow. It stayed on the ground until the following March, along with our spirits. Unlike Southern California where we saw snow in the mountains and, if so inclined, visited for short periods to ski, sled, or just play on the chilled white slopes, this was different. Here the fluffy-white turned mushy-gray with salt, soot, and dirt. It piled up on curbs and sidewalks, coated the undersides of autos, and generally made travel slippery and uncomfortable.

One morning, I awoke to find Chicago blanketed by over a foot of new snow. Roads were impassable with four-to-five-foot drifts. The company station wagon, in which I carpooled to work, was buried. No getting out that day. Phone lines were down, so donning my snowmobile suit, motocross leather jacket, helmet, and scarf to protect my face, I headed out on my off-road motorcycle to inform the other carpool riders.

The snow had stopped all traffic. I seemed to be the only one able to move through the drifts. Abandoned cars and trucks littered the streets of my three-mile trip. As I passed each vehicle, I checked for trapped passengers. Fortunately, I didn’t find any.

The dirt bike negotiated deep snow quite well. The skidpan, like a boat hull, rode up on the drifts. The knobby rear tire dug till it found solid ground below. The bike then lurched forward; and the spinning rear wheel repeated the action. Digging and lurching, I must have looked like a kangaroo coming down the snow-covered road. In some places, the snowdrifts were so deep they covered the gas tank. Then the bike would break from the drift like a surfacing submarine.

Arriving at the apartment complex of the other carpool riders, I informed them of the situation, and, after a warm cup of hot chocolate, headed back home.

On the return trip, I stopped along a stretch of road in the forest preserve and turned off the engine.

I was surrounded in a white, absolutely soundless world. Huge, fat snowflakes drifted slowly by. Some settled like doilies on the motorcycle tank before melting from its warmth. Beyond thirty feet, nothing was visible. I couldn’t tell where the sky and land met. The only color in my world was the blue motorcycle tank and my brown leathers. All else was white. The trees along the roadway edge appeared merely as faint shadows. No sound penetrated. It was the most quiet, peaceful place this city boy had ever experienced. I sat for several minutes mesmerized by the scene. Finally, with a sigh, I restarted the engine. Its two-cycle whine broke the mood, and I headed for the warmth of home.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Year in Illinois - Part II

Several years ago, Larry wrote a description of our year living in Chicago, from April 1, 1969 through March 30, 1970. I thought I had posted it as a blog long ago, but I discovered I hadn’t. So, please enjoy Part 2 of his walk down Memory Lane.

Being native Californians, Lorna and I had become used to the occasional earthquake, but tornadoes were a new experience. Our April arrival timed with the start of the storm season. We were soon to learn our new home was located dead center in an area known as “Tornado Alley,” and our apartment complex was built on land cleared of its former houses by a tornado some six years earlier. Not a comforting thought. The Baezas had offered their first-floor apartment (which was partially below grade) as shelter during the most severe blows, and several evenings the Collins, Wilson, and Baeza families all huddled there.

The second week after our arrival, the first of several twisters touched down a few blocks away from the apartment. Lorna watched out the rear kitchen window of the Baeza’s apartment. As she put it, “The sky turned green, really. Then in the distance, the unmistakable shape of a funnel descended from black clouds above.” Fortunately, it wasn’t headed our way. It touched down harmlessly in an empty school yard a few blocks away.
The family visited us in Hickory Hills

Extra Money
Bob Wilson owned his own company installing wood and metal siding on houses. It was a one-man operation consisting of a truck, a circular saw, some scaffolding, a couple of ladders, several hammers of assorted sizes, and Bob. The siding supplier paid him about sixteen dollars a square. (A square referred to enough material to cover one-hundred square feet of surface area.) In this case, one-hundred square feet of building exterior wall for wood, and eleven dollars a square for aluminum to install the material. Since decorative siding was very popular in the Midwest, Bob had all the work he could handle. When he found out I could actually drive a nail without bending it, he persuaded me to join him on weekends for some “second story” work.

Many of the new housing tracts in the Illinois area featured a traditional Midwestern style. These two-story dwellings had first-floor walls made of brick. Decorative siding covered the wood-framed second level. For someone working alone, installing the exterior wood siding was most difficult. He needed to first climb up a ladder to measure, then down to cut a section of siding to length, back up to hammer it in place, and repeat this for each piece. Not only was it exhausting, but so much time was wasted climbing up and down ladders all day that very little siding actually got installed.

Since Bob was paid by the square foot, it also meant very little money. Two people installing made a great difference. One worker on the ladder measured and called lengths to the helper on the ground. The helper cut the wood or aluminum and passed it up to be nailed in place by the person on the ladder. No climbing up and down. When the ladder person got tired, they could change places. Two people could install four times the siding of someone working alone and hence collect four times the pay. Bob could provide me a good salary and make even more for himself.

I worked through the summer and fall on my days off from the refinery whenever Bob had “second story” work, and the extra pay went directly in the bank to add to our “saving to buy a home” nest egg. The cold Chicago winters made doing anything outside miserable, so Bob took his vacation then. From November through February, Bob practiced his other passion, motorcycle racing.

The Family Meets the Mob or “Which way to the pool?”
Spring had passed along with its associated storms and wet weather. The notorious long, hot Chicago summer was about to start. In early June, our landlord presented us with a pass to use the guest pool at the motel adjacent to our apartment complex. He said he had friends there and had made special arrangements with the owner for us to use the facilities. We took it as a great opportunity to teach Kim to swim. Armed with the pass, we headed next door. The manager behind the counter, an older gentleman, glanced at our pass and, with a wave of his hand, motioned for us to proceed to the pool. He seemed a very serious type, never smiled and never said more than one or two words.

The Olympic-sized pool was originally outdoors, but a roof and solarium-type structure had been constructed around it. Green indoor-outdoor carpeting covered the pool deck. The carpeting was always soggy and added a slightly musty smell to the entire building. The pool itself was heated year-round. Kim took to the water right away and learned to hold her breath and swim short distances underwater.

We, however, began to notice some strange events next door. The pool and motel were usually deserted. We were often the only ones enjoying this retreat. The motel seldom had any parked vehicles, and rooms appeared to be unoccupied. However, on any given evening, one or several large black vehicles, filled with well-dressed men in suits, would drive up to the entrance and a passenger would call, “Do you have any vacancies?” To which the manager always responded, “Sorry, all full up.” The car would then drive away.

Also, the name of the motel appeared only on the flashing neon sign out front. No stationery, matchbooks, napkins, ashtrays, or anything portable listed the business name or address.

It seemed strange for a business not to advertise. But we surmised maybe they just did things differently in Chicago.

In July, my parents and teenage brother, Casey, planned a trip to see us. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be convenient for them to stay next door?” So, one evening as we left the pool area, we approached the manager. He looked up from behind the large desk he always seemed to occupy.

“Hi”, Lorna began energetically. “We were wondering if you would have any rooms available for the third week in July.”

“Maybe”, he blandly replied.

“Wonderful,” I joined in, “my parents are arriving for a visit, and it would be great if they could stay so near our apartment. Do you have a price list we could see?”


He didn’t have a list, but quoted a reasonable figure for three people for one week and wrote down names and dates on a nearby note pad. So the reservations were made.

My dad later said it was the strangest motel they had ever seen. First, there were no towels when they arrived. They called the main desk and made a request, but Dad had to go down and pick up the towels themselves as “maid service had gone home.” In fact, it seemed the housekeeping was non-existent. No beds were made or rooms cleaned during their entire week-long stay. They could hear late night activity in adjoining rooms but no one was ever there in the morning. Fortunately, they spent the days and most evenings at our apartment and very little time at the motel.

When checkout time came, Dad first had to locate someone to pay. The guest receipt he received was written on a generic receipt pad obtainable at any stationery store.

Some months later, all was revealed when the Chicago Tribune reported our little hamlet of Hickory Hills to be the most corrupt city this side of Cicero. The local underworld headquarters was identified as our nearby motel. The manager named Alberto Capone (brother to the famous gangster Aphonse Capone) had been arrested on a charge of selling 35,000 amphetamine tablets. The motel was closed for a week or so, then magically reopened as if nothing had happened.

It seemed our purpose there had been to populate the pool as “normal guests” and create a family atmosphere cover. After we discovered our true role, the swim didn’t seem so pleasant and we curtailed further visits. Summer was almost over and the weather was turning cold anyway.

In late fall, we were awakened to police sirens as officers again descended on our nearby neighbor. This time was more serious, a young lady had been killed in the motel. Thereafter it remained closed.

Several articles were written about corruption in the Chicago Tribune. One in January, before our arrival, and another in January of 1970.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Year in Illinois - Part I

Several years ago, Larry wrote a description of our year living in Chicago, from April 1, 1969 through March 30, 1970. I thought I had posted it as a blog long ago, but I discovered I hadn’t. So, please enjoy his walk down Memory Lane.

It was January 1969. I was twenty-four years old, had been married for three years, and had a daughter eighteen months old. My wife, Lorna, and I lived in a rented two-bedroom apartment in Alhambra, about five miles from the Southern California engineering office where I had worked for the previous three years. But everything was about to change.

Our apartment was on the corner of a busy intersection and had very little yard and no protective fence. Our daughter, Kim, was walking and already showed the independence, which would permeate her life. When Kim played out in the yard, she had to be watched constantly. More than once, we had to stop her from venturing too close to traffic.

When Doors Close and Open
The family began looking in the Alhambra/San Gabriel area for an affordable place to live. But most of the available places were beyond our budget, and those that weren't were not acceptable. We had looked at properties for weeks and even considered one in a questionable neighborhood in Rosemead, but finally realized it was not for us and backed out. The situation seemed like a dead end.

Then in March, my boss called me into his office and offered a field assignment to build an oil refinery in Joliet, Illinois, near Chicago. It meant relocating, but the company would pay for moving and provide a partial housing allowance at the new location. The job also included a premium 10% field pay increase plus overtime. Under normal conditions, I would probably have turned it down. Neither Lorna nor I wanted to leave California, our parents, or, for me, surfing. But, given the circumstances, when it seemed that all other doors were slammed shut, this door opened to an opportunity we could not ignore. After a short discussion with Lorna, I accepted the assignment, and in ten days, we were on our way.

I had only visited the East Coast once on a Boy Scout trip in 1957, and Lorna had never been out of California. So, for us this was to be a whole new experience. The furniture was packed, and we were off to Illinois. We loaded some clothes, diapers, and supplies into our little ’67 Toyota Corona and struck out for the great unknown.

A Race Across the Country
Our furniture would take about ten days to reach Illinois. To save a storage fee at the destination, for which we would have to pay, we needed to have a delivery address by the time our belongings arrived. For us, this meant no vacation time or dawdling along the way. We had to reach Chicago and find a place to live immediately. As the Allied moving van left, so did we.

In mid-March, the northern route was still buried in snow, so we elected to take the southern way through Arizona, New Mexico, a little of Texas, and then a swing north through Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and finally across Illinois to Chicago. We estimated five days pushing hard with motel stops each night. Fortunately the weather cooperated.

We reached the north side of Las Vegas the first night. We had no time to stop and see the city. Early the next morning, we started out again and drove to Albuquerque. We alternated driving chores and entertaining Kim throughout the trip.

Up at sunrise, we hit the road to Amarillo the next day, all through blue skies. The following morning, the Texas news channel warned of a major storm hitting Northern California, projected to sweep across the Rocky Mountains by nightfall. Now, not only were we racing the movers, we would also need to stay ahead of the storm. That day we pushed all the way to Springfield. Exhausted, we finally stopped for the night.

Ominous black clouds and big thunderheads to the west greeted us as we awoke the following morning. A light rain began to fall as we departed Springfield. After our short lunch break, the weather turned worse. Dark storm clouds filled the sky, and snow flurries dusted the already wet streets. We decided to skip the planned dinner stop and drive straight through to Oak Lawn, a suburb on the south side of Chicago, where we knew several other workers were staying.

Darkness found us still forty miles from our destination in a full-on snowstorm. The slush-covered road was slippery and became increasingly treacherous. The headlights illuminated about twenty feet of road in front of our trusty little Toyota Corona. The wind-whipped snow sparkled in the car lights before battering against the windshield. All else was black. Our plans changed again from reaching our destination to just finding a place of shelter for the night. Finally, about ten-thirty in the evening, we spotted a Ramada Inn with a VACANCY sign. No sight was ever more appreciated.

The room rate for Ramada was far above what we had budgeted, but we had no choice. After settling into our luxurious accommodation, dinner became the next issue. The motel restaurant, including room service, was closed. We knew of no local eating places open after ten o’clock. Nor did we want to venture out again. We finally settled on cokes, Hostess cupcakes, and candy-bars from the vending machine in the lobby. Not a very auspicious first dinner in our new home state.

The Apartment
Morning dawned clear and bright. Only the plowed snow banks along each side of the road gave indication to the carnage of the night before. We slept in till about ten o’clock, exhausted from the day before and the constant travel. This day we intended to meet with several of the other field personnel and their families who had already relocated.

Consulting our AAA TripTik, we discovered it was a good thing we had stopped the night before as we had missed an important turnpike exit and were now several miles off course. Retracing our path from the night before, we were soon on the correct route again. By mid-afternoon, we arrived at the home of our friends, the Baeza family. Hector, Sarah, and their children, John and Wendy, had relocated several months before. Hector also worked on the project.

They had great news for us. The third floor apartment in their complex was available. It was only one bedroom, but that was all right as we had not moved our bedroom furniture and planned to sleep on the sofa bed. Kim would get the bedroom. They called the manager, and he would be by later to meet us.

Joe, the owner/manager, was a warm and friendly Italian. He reminded me a little in both looks and temperament to the actor Abe Vigoda. Joe apologized. The apartment had just been vacated, and he had not yet had the chance to clean or repaint. We said we’d take it as it was and, if he provided the paint, we could do the walls ourselves. A handshake sealed the deal.

Our furniture arrived the following week, and we moved in. We had the third-floor walk-up apartment; the Baezas were on the bottom floor. The second floor apartment was occupied with a family from Arizona, the Wilsons: Bob, Carol, and their three year old daughter, Denise. Kim and Denise bonded immediately.

Next week, learn all about tornadoes, Larry's "side job," and our encounter with The Mob. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Celebrating Christmas

I love Christmas. Always have and always will. Some of this I inherited from my grandfather. He adored Christmas. He decorated his front yard every year. For several, he had Santa on the roof and a full-size sleigh and two reindeer on the lawn. The deer were made of reinforced concrete. After Grandpa died, my parents took them to our new house. My brother and I grew up with them. We pretended to ride them. Eventually, they crumbled and, somewhere along the way, they disappeared.
My dad and Grandpa built the little picket fence and the “little houses” on the wall in the photo. Eventually, they created a whole village on the lawn with lampposts made from tin cans, complete with lights, and a tiny picket fence. (This photo was probably taken around 1945.)

By the time Grandpa died, he and Dad had made about a dozen houses and a replica of the Wee Kirk of the Heather church at Forest Lawn, where my parents were married (and where my dad was buried in 1954). However, a couple of years after Grandpa died in 1948, a fire in my grandparents’ garage destroyed most of the houses. Like the reindeer, we had a couple of unfinished houses in our garage growing up. Dad could probably have finished them, but I suspect he lost interest after Grandpa died.

Mom loved Christmas, too. Although we never had much money, she tried to make the holiday as special as she could. She shared her father’s enthusiasm. Mom was a pianist and loved Christmas music. Throughout the season, she played all the old hymns and some of the popular seasonal songs. My memories of the holiday are filled with the sounds of carols.

For years, we hosted the family Christmas Eve party for up to forty people. We had a sit-down dinner each year. I made the meal and everyone brought decorated cookies. The adults drew names for one gift each, but all the children received a small gift from everyone until they were eighteen or married. One aunt always gave crazy socks. Another gave each child a crisp, new two-dollar bill. An uncle gave them each a new silver dollar.

When we moved to our present home, we continued to host the family get-togethers.
Even though our parents’ generation is gone, and many of the cousins have moved away, we still have the family here to celebrate. On Christmas Eve this year, those who are able to join us will be here again, and my grandfather’s tradition of honoring the holiday.

Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

Monday, December 12, 2016

I Hate Moving

I hate moving. No exceptions. Maybe this is the reason we have been in our current home for nearly thirty years. Even when we lived in Japan for three years, we were able to leave much of our “stuff” in the house. (This photo is several years old.)
We owned our prior house for seventeen. We rented it furnished to a friend for nearly a year while we lived in Denver, CO. (I don’t think I’d do it again because of the amount of damage.) Larry’s cousin bought this house when we moved to Dana Point, and she still owns it. Maybe long-term home ownership runs in the family.
I keep saying we should downsize because “someday” we will probably have to move to a one-story house. Larry says he’ll install a chair lift or small elevator rather than move. I can’t say as I blame him since we live in a wonderful neighborhood with the best neighbors in the world. However, all the issues with my knee during the past two years has proved to me how vulnerable I am. (Of course, aging has nothing to do with this…) I haven’t convinced him, but periodically I purge excess “stuff.” I don’t look forward to the day when we really have to get rid of our surplus—and we have far too much.

Our daughter, Kimberly, has lived in Texas for nearly twelve years. She has been in three different apartments. Whenever she moved to a new place, we visited to help her unpack, arrange furniture, and hang pictures. A week ago, she purchased her first home, a condo in Plano. The timing of this major life event couldn’t have been more difficult for her. Three days before escrow closed, she started a new job. This was a promotion with an appreciated raise, but making the change at this time was a challenge. In addition, she sings in the choir at Prestonwood. The first two weeks of December, the church presents “The Gift of Christmas,” an over-the-top production. She had to sing in thirteen performances while trying to move in.
As always, new homes have issues, and she hasn’t been here to address them. Fortunately, we are.

The major challenge is lack of storage space. Her last apartment had huge closets throughout. This one has small closets and few of them. We bought her a new queen-size bed for her guest room since we are sleeping there. We chose a firm memory foam mattress with a metal platform. There is room under the platform for several plastic bins for her linens and other items for which there is no other room.

We are nearly finished, but we have worked harder this week than we have for a several years. Our muscles are sore, and we’re very tired. We look forward to returning home to get a rest.

Two days after we get back, Kim arrives for a couple of weeks as she does each Christmas. We’ll probably all try to get lots of rest. And I don’t plan to move for a LONG time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Storm - John M. Wills

My guest today is award-winning author John Wills. I have had the pleasure of editing his recent books, including this current release. I asked him what inspired him to write this book. Welcome, John.

Hi, Lorna. I wanted to let your readers know about my latest novel, The Storm. Here’s a brief synopsis: Anna’s life in the small town of Heavenly Harbor, Michigan, seems idyllic. Married ten years to her childhood sweetheart, Mark, she wants for nothing, except a baby. Unfortunately, her husband doesn’t share her enthusiasm. Anna has been secretly keeping a journal. She’s recorded her suspicions about Mark’s reluctance to share her dream and his possible infidelity. As she is about to confront him, lightning strikes, literally, causing her to lose her memory. The Storm will not only damage Anna physically, but possibly destroy her marriage as well—and Mark’s secret life is about to implode.
I was inspired to write this story because I’ve had people in my life who’ve suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. I’ve witnessed the steady progression, sometimes developing slowly, however, it may also have a sudden onset. The destruction the malady causes is beyond description. After a while, the victim hardly realizes what is happening. Sadly, however, those close to the patients suffer immeasurably. Their once-vibrant loved one disappears before their eyes. In the final stages, it’s not unusual for the victim to be unable to recognize family and friends.

So, while I was pondering a story involving memory loss, I thought it would be interesting if it centered around a young person. Rather than Alzheimer’s, I thought an injury-induced case of amnesia would make for a compelling story. Thus, the making of Anna’s story began.

I did my research with respect to injuries resulting from lightning strikes—how they affect the physical and mental well-being. And I wanted the protagonist to be likeable, believable, and strong. Anna is that person, and her tenacity after her injury makes her character even more powerful. The injury transforms Anna’s character, once a one-dimensional teacher and wife, into a strong determined woman who knows what she wants and how to get it.

Of course, what would a story be without at least one antagonist readers dislike right from the beginning? We have such a character in Vicky, a personal trainer at the local health club. Her chicanery and outright lack of morals wreaks havoc upon Anna’s marriage. Add to the mix a couple of great cops, and the recipe for a great novel is ready to serve.

Early reviews have been outstanding and I look for more to be posted. Now excuse me as I need to start the wheels turning and come up with a tale for my next book.

Thanks, Lorna, for allowing me to introduce my newest novel—The Storm.

John M. Wills is a former Chicago police officer and retired FBI agent. He is a freelance writer and award-winning author in a variety of genres, including novels, short stories and poetry. He has published more than 150 articles relating to officer training, street survival, fitness and ethics. John also writes book reviews for the New York Journal of Books and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. His book, Women Warriors, is available online and at the National Law Enforcement Memorial Gift Shop in Washington, D.C. John’s books include The Year Without Christmas: A Novel, Healer, and Dancer. Visit John at:

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Oak Tree Authors Cook!

Thanks to Jackie Taylor Zortman for blogging on this subject. 

I used much of her blog to create this one. I appreciate her efforts as well as her contribution to the book itself.

A few years ago, fellow Oak Tree Press author, Ilene Schneider,  suggested an authors' cookbook to feature recipes from our books. She compiled the recipes, and I edited and formatted the manuscript, but other projects got in the way. Recently, Ilene I decided to resurrect the cookbook. It is now available in two editions. One features a full color interior and sells as a paperback SPECIAL EDITION for $24.99. The second has a black and white interior. It sells for $14.99.  Both are available at Both are 6×9 trade paperbacks.
otp-cookbook-ebook-coverThe gorgeous artwork for the cover is an original pastel painting called "Wine and Cheese" by author Mary Montague Sikes.  The following authors contributed recipes Amy Bennett, Holli Castillo, Lorna Collins, Lesley A. Diehl, Michael Eldridge, Nicola Furlong, J. L. (Janet) Greger, Shirley Skufca Hickman, Ann K. Howley, Marilyn Levinson, J. R. (John) Lindermuth, Nancy LiPetri, F. M. (Marilyn) Meredith, Sharon Arthur Moore, Radine Trees Nehring, Carolyn Niethammer, Eileen Obser, Beryl Reichenberg, Tanis Rush, Ilene Schneider, Anne Schroeder, Mary Montague Sikes,  Denise Weeks, Robert Weibenzahl, John R. Wills and Jackie Taylor Zortman.
The Amazon description  of the book is: ” Not only are the
Back Cover of OTP Authors Cookbook
Back Cover of OTP Authors Cookbook
Oak Tree Press authors wonderful writers, they are also great cooks.  Meals often appear in their books.  This cookbook assembles the best of their recipes along with author profiles and a bit about their books.  Special thanks for the owner of Oak Tree Press, Billie Johnson, for her support and encouragement.”
Books make wonderful holiday gifts. Consider them for hostess gifts and for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Hanukkah presents.  Please keep all our books, including this one, in mind as you prepare your holiday gift list.  Buy a copy for yourself, and wrap copies to give to someone who likes to cook or who just loves books.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

About Ichabod Wolfe

Today my guest is Frank Fiordalisi, the author of Ichabod Wolfe. I asked Frank to share his inspiration for his debut novel, Ichabod Wolfe. Welcome, Frank.

Writing Ichabod Wolfe

American history fascinates me. The most critical times in bygone days serve as signposts and testament to the courage and character of our nation. The Civil War may have started when Fort Sumter was fired upon in 1861, but war began years before. The rapid westward expansion of the country had a monumental effect upon the politics of slavery and states’ rights. While policies were argued in Congress, guerilla-style battles raged between slave and free states. The Kansas-Missouri border conflict became the prelude to the War Between the States. Actions taken by passionate men resulted in what historians refer to as “Bleeding Kansas.”

Ichabod Wolfe is set in those times. The exploits of men like William Quantrill, “Bloody Bill” Anderson, John Brown, and the Jayhawkers fill the pages of nonfiction and fiction alike. They tell of violent and often heroic deeds. But what was it like for the non-political farmers and shop keepers who wanted peace, security and better times for their children?

I didn’t sit down to write a “western novel.” Rather, I began to write a fictional story of a thirteen-year-old orphan who happened to live in Kansas in 1860. Ichabod Wolfe led me farther west, and the story became a western. The protagonist’s decision to follow the Santa Fe Trail in order to seek his fortune caused me to doubt his wisdom. However, like a pair of new Levis, it became more comfortable in time. Ichabod Wolfe is a story of success in violent times, rather than heroics.

Nothing changes with the passage of time. The same emotions and needs drive us now as they did our ancestors. We all desire success, recognition, someone to love, and for love to be returned. We all live with failures, regrets, guilt, and rejection, as did Ichabod Wolfe. He was a good man living in violent times. That is who he was and that is how I tried to tell his story.
Frank Fiordalisi was born in NYC and attended St. John’s University where he received a B.S. degree in Pharmacy. After teaching high school science, he returned to the practice of retail pharmacy. He later moved to Miami, Florida and joined the Miami-Dade County Police Department, where he served in a number of assignments, retiring as a Detective Sergeant after twenty-nine years of service. He has a daughter, Jacqueline, and a son, Francis. He currently lives with his wife, Christine, in Gainesville, Florida.