Tag Archives: Carding Chronicle

The Wishing Stone

SH-amethystEveryone who knows Tupelo Handy agrees that she is a memorable child, a girl who seems happier in her own imagination than any place else.

So what does she make of the amethyst wishing stone that her Uncle Amos brings home?

What would you do with a wishing stone?

You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Lights in Water, Dancing, will be out early in 2018.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories will speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.



Come closer. Look me in the eye.
Tell me what kind
of animal you want to be today.
                —from “Picnic, Lightning” by Billy Collins

Most people, if they thought of Tupelo Handy at all, regarded her as a “rather strange girl.”

Her third-grade teacher, Miss Somerville, could tell you that Tupelo was happier wrapped in her imagination than any place else. She despaired that the girl would ever learn her times tables or that the name of the big river that divided Vermont from New Hampshire was Connecticut or that blue and yellow paint make green.

Nevertheless, Miss Somerville did admire the girl’s clever eye when it came to identifying flowers and bugs or the small differences among a maple leaf or that from a box elder or a sycamore tree.

Tupelo’s Uncle Amos, a rather eccentric fixture in Carding prone to wearing shorts and Hawaiian shirts in the deepest part of winter, took Miss Somerville’s concerns seriously. He was a building sort of man, one who could fix a dripping faucet or stop a door from squeaking or create a whimsical sculpture from discarded gardening tools and lawn furniture.

Amos relied on math in order to fit floor boards together properly or to calculate the correct pitch for a shed roof so he told Miss Somerville that he would take it upon himself to school his young niece in the world of numbers.

Tupelo’s mother, on the other hand, thought that her most important motherly duty was protecting her daughter’s imagination. Cassie had had her imagination cut off when her father died, a devastating blow that was compounded when her mother succumbed to the wooing of a second husband who turned out to be a wretched waste of oxygen.

So Cassie wanted her little girl to have all the time in the world to laugh and explore and climb trees and raise rabbits and chickens or any other creature she saw fit to adopt.

Cassie fed her daughter’s creative impulses with stories, many of them made up on the spot about whatever was at hand—a white rock or a black-and-orange caterpillar or an early-morning icicle dangling from a twig.

Amos enjoyed the stories too, when he heard them, but he often wondered if Tupelo recognized the border between the land of myth and the land of numbers where two-plus-two always equaled four.

Of all the critters in Tupelo’s world, birds were far and away her favorites. She’d developed a language of noises and coos that allowed her to communicate with the small flock of chickens they kept in a pen close to the house.

She convinced a pair of chickadees to eat sunflower seeds from her hand. Hummingbirds landed on her shoulders for brief respites as they fed on the red bee balm that grew wild in a nearby field.

And she hardly ever left the house without being accompanied by a crow quartet who functioned as heralds as she walked through the woods.

But now it was cold weather time, and the activities of summer were put away for the moment.

Amos now spent more of his time tending to activities at the Swap Shed located in Carding’s landfill than he did at home. The Swap Shed was principally for books, and there were always a lot to sort. But at this time of year, folks wanted to offload all sorts of non-book stuff like kid’s games, dishes, cooking utensils, and whatnots, and if Amos didn’t keep a close eye on what came in the door, the Swap Shed became impossible to navigate.

Not that he turned away everything but he’d learned you had to be selective.

His due diligence occasionally turned up treasures for “his girls,” as he called Cassie and Tupelo, which is how Andy found a chunk of rock covered with amethyst crystals for his niece’s “cool rocks” collection.

He placed it just so on their eating table so the girl would find it at breakfast, and her eyes grew wide with delight as soon as she spotted it.

“It looks like a purple porcupine,” she whispered as she picked it up. “What is it?”

“A wishing stone,” her mother said before Amos could swallow his mouth full of oatmeal.

“How does it work?”

“You look closely at it,” Cassie said. “And you tell it what animal you wish to be today.”

The girl wrapped her fingers around her new treasure, and raced to the window so she could hold it up to the light. What animal did she want to be? Her list was so long. A chickadee perhaps, flitting from the bird feeder to the trees and back. Or the garter snake who left his skin behind in the wood pile last summer. Or the monarch butterfly sleeping in its jade-colored cocoon that she’d tucked away in a corner of her bedroom to wait for spring.

But as all these wishes sped through her heart, Tupelo caught sight of her reflection in the window’s glass, a girl with big eyes, sleep-tousled hair, and a magic purple stone.

Somehow, Andy sensed the child’s delicate balancing act as she assessed all of the possibilities that stretched out in front of her. He wanted to tell her that she could have story and numbers at the same time but he knew it was her lesson to learn.

On her own.

Tupelo brought the amethyst rock closer to her mouth, her eyes riveted on the yard and woods beyond the window.

“What’s your choice?” Cassie asked.

Tupelo took a breath. “Girl,” she whispered.

Tupelo Rising

Tupelo is the name of Amos Handy’s niece. He dotes on the girl. So does her mother, Cassie.

Now Tupelo is a child with a vast imagination. In fact, Amos is a wee bit concerned that she spends more time in “Tupelo Land” than she does on Planet Earth.

Cassie doesn’t see it that way.

So when Amos brings home a small rock festooned with amethyst crystals, is it a bit of scientific knowledge or a wishing stone?

Find out tomorrow when the latest Carding Chronicle appears.



SH-revelationEvery year, the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts throws a big bash to celebrate the winter solstice. There’s a craft and food market, a big dance, and a cheap wine contest.

A cheap wine contest? You betcha, and the invitations to participate are going out in the mail this week.

It’s one of the town’s favorite events.

You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Lights in Water, Dancing, will be out early in 2018.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories will speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.



“You are invited…” it said in vivid red letters on the front of the cream-colored envelopes. Carding’s postmaster, Ted Owens, smiled as Edie Wolfe set a large cardboard box full of them down on the PO’s counter.

“Is that it? Just one box this year?”

“Oh there’s lots more. The others are right behind me,” Edie panted as she pulled off her gloves. “Our mailing list for the cheap wine contest is just over a thousand people now. Can you believe it?”

“I sure can,” Ruth Goodwin said as she hipped the post office’s front door open, and staggered inside with a second box.

“Here, let me get the door,” Andy Cooper said as he hurried to hold the handle. “Unless you’d rather I take the box.”

“No, no, I think I’m okay,” Ruth said.

“Coming through,” another voice yelled. Agnes Findley was recognizable only by the wildly striped hat clamped over her silver hair. Ted darted around the counter to steady her burden before it spilled on the floor.

“Did I hear you say you’re mailing out a thousand of these?” Andy asked as they lined the boxes up on the counter for Ted to process.

“One thousand and sixty-seven envelopes, to be exact,” Agnes said. “Who knew so many people would be into cheap wine?”

“Good, cheap wine.” The shoulders of Edie’s coat glistened with stray snowflakes, and her eyes glinted and sparked. The Carding Academy’s Winter Solstice Celebration was her favorite event of the year, and the cheap wine contest had been her idea.

“Are you using the same rules as last year?” Ted asked as he calculated the postage bill for mailing the invitations to participants. “The wine still has to cost less than $10 a bottle, right?”

“Right. Folks write their own description of their favorite cheap wine, and send it to us along with a donation to the Academy’s education fund. Then we post the descriptions online for a week so folks can vote on their favorites,” Agnes added as she wrote out a check to the post office.

“Then the five wine descriptions that get the most votes are served at the Solstice Dance,” Edie said.

“And the folks who taste them get to choose the winner of the best cheap wine of the year award,” Ruth added with a tilt to her head. “Does anyone remember who’s supposed to make the trophy ribbon this year?”

“Umm, that would be me,” Agnes said, “unless I can persuade someone else to do it.”

“And it’s an award that’s highly prized among wine connoisseurs everywhere, I’m sure,” Ted said.

Edie laughed. “I don’t know about that. Last year’s winner seemed to be insulted. You’d think with so many wines for people to choose from, a winemaker would be happy about anything that creates publicity.”

Ted caressed the boxes of invitations before moving them to the back of the building. “Well, I know a lot of local folks have been watching their mailboxes for these. Some people have had their cheap wine picked out since the start of foliage season. Can you imagine doing it that early?”

It suddenly got quiet in the post office, making Ted twist his head around to see what had happened. Then he laughed because Edie, Ruth, Andy, and Agnes were all studying their shoes, and the expressions on their faces were a bit sheepish.

“You folks look like canary-stuffed cats,” Ted said as he shooed them out the door.

As soon as the post office lobby was empty, Ted locked the front door, and flipped the sign in the window from open to closed. It was lunch time, after all, his time to do as he pleased. Once he was hidden away in the back room, he lifted a bottle of a dark red pinot noir from his bottom desk drawer.

The bottle’s label was of the deepest black, its outer border sparkling with three thin lines of silver. Lightning bolts cut through the black, two in a muted shade of pewter, a third of deep red.

And across the bottom glowed the pinot noir’s name—Revelation.

Ted had found his vintage on sale for $9.99, just under the cheap wine limit, at a shop in western Vermont. Convinced it was a winner after only one taste, he bought two cases.

Ted hummed as he munched his noontime sandwich and stared at his sure-to-be-a-winner wine. He’d been working on his flavor notes for a while, and admitted to himself that he was a bit surprised to discover how long it took to find just the right two-hundred words to describe his treasured pinot.

He’d studied the winning entries from previous years, and decided that his notes had to be humorous yet elegant, witty yet understated, entertaining and yet keenly intelligent.

Even though wine snobs seemed to cop an attitude about vintages blended from a variety of grapes, Ted had decided that that was a standard worth ignoring. So he intended to call his pinot noir “well-traveled,” a phrase that implied the vintage’s origins without giving away the game. 

He pushed the last bite of his lunchtime repast into his mouth, raised his hands over his computer keyboard like a pianist about to tackle a piece of complex Beethoven, and leaned forward to type.

So far, he’d decided that his prized pinot had to have notes and layers of tastes, and they had to be described with luscious adjectives such as smoky (smoldering? seething?) or vibrant (quivering? pulsating? reverberant?) with a taste that caressed (exhilarated? embraced? inspired? gladdened) the tongue with a finish of piquant or complex spice notes.

Ted pulled a small pile of paper scraps from the bag that had held the wine. They were notes he’d made to himself while slowly savoring his winning vintage. When he slowed down, he could taste fruits other than grapes in his pinot. But were they raspberry? Or cherry? Blackberry perhaps? Dark apricots? (Whatever they were.)

His fiancée, Paula, swore she even detected a hint of tart apple in her glass.

Uncertain how to begin, Carding’s postmaster hunched over his screen to examine what he’d written so far.

“Yon fair vintage is good,” he read aloud. “Hmph.”

He leaned back in his chair with a sigh. This word business is tough, he thought again.

But then he raised his hands over his keyboard. He just had to try harder.

After all, wine isn’t aged in a day.

Cheap Wine

This story is the confluence of three inspirations. One is a story from the book Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. The story concerns the chances of finding a good wine by choosing it solely by its label. Come to find out, your chances of finding a tasty wine are really good if you go by label.

The second inspiration is from a friend who makes it his goal to find the best cheap wines money can buy. He can wax quite rhapsodic about his successes.

And the third inspiration is my own propensity to giggle whenever I hear the “flavor notes” on the back of a wine bottle read aloud. Talk about marketing hype.

Sorry, I digress.

But I wanted to explain why there’s a cheap wine contest in Carding, Vermont. This is a sample of tomorrow’s Chronicle.



Shiver Season

SH-shiver seasonThis week, the cold weather has finally returned to Vermont. While Edie Wolfe, Ruth Goodwin, and Andy Cooper are scrambling to find their winter accoutrements, their dogs are eager to get outside!

You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Lights in Water, Dancing, will be out later this year.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories will speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.


The weather had been deceptively warm—too warm, really—for so long that the first real cold of November caught everyone by surprise.

Edie Wolfe’s winter jackets were still packed in the back of her closet. Andy Cooper couldn’t find his heavy gloves, and Ruth Goodwin stayed up very late at night, swapping her summer shirts out of the closet to make room for the turtlenecks she’d packed away in April.

That morning, to add an edge of interest, the wind stepped up its activity from ambling to blustery, spinning a sprinkle of cold rain into tiny balls of snow that coagulated in the hollows among the brown leaves hugging the ground.

Edie pulled on an insulated sweatshirt as she stirred up her kitchen’s wood stove, laying small logs on the embers to get the fire hot. It was quite the juggling act, placing the wood just so while hopping from one foot to the other in an attempt to warm herself.

It was tempting to turn on the furnace for a few minutes to warm up the house while she waited. But every time her eyes strayed to the thermostat, Edie heard her father saying: “Real Yankees don’t use oil when they can use wood.”

She jumped around some more, wishing she didn’t agree with her father.

Across the green at Cooper’s General Store and Emporium, Andy hitched the old rocker he kept in the basement closer to his wood-burning furnace. Over the years, he’d hired out the stacking parts of the store’s heating system to a series of high school students who worked under his watchful eye. But he reserved the stoking of the furnace for himself. Not only was he sensitive to its many eccentricities, Andy thoroughly enjoyed the daily opportunities to bask in its heat.

“There is no heat that warms you quite the way that wood does,” he told himself with a sigh, his hands wrapped around a large mug of cocoa laced with strong coffee.

Ruth carefully spread her jeans and a thick sweater out on the floor of her bedroom while her coffee brewed in the kitchen next door. Her small and tidy home was one of the many rewards she’d reaped from her first—and so far, only—husband when she divorced him. And he had been a devotee of radiant floor heating.

A few minutes later, Ruth sighed with satisfaction as she pulled on her pre-warmed clothes.

While their humans acted like so many heat-seeking missiles, the dogs in their lives parked themselves close to the doors that led outside, each of them ready for a morning frisk.

Edie’s cocker spaniel, Nearly, rocked from side to side, excited little whiny noises escaping from him from time to time. This was his kind of weather, and with the die-back of the thick undergrowth, it was his kind of terrain as well. There would be so many new smells to investigate.

Ruth’s beagle, R.G., occasionally abandoned his post in a vain attempt to herd his human toward the door. Coffee in hand, Ruth opened the back door to see if he needed to relieve himself but R.G. made it clear he was not leaving without her.

“Oh, all right, all right,” she muttered. “I supposed I can grab a bagel at the Coop.”

R.G. tilted his head back and howled with joy when Ruth grabbed his leash. Then he rushed out the open door, his tail lashing the cold morning air.

Sable, Andy Cooper’s rescue dog, tried to be a bit more diplomatic. She sat close by her human’s rocker, her chin up, shoulders back, and ears tipped forward.

“You look like you’re getting ready to salute,” he said, his hand cuddling her chin. Sable had been rather a surprise in his life. Andy thought he was done with dogs after he lost his chocolate lab a few years back. The heartache had been almost unbearable.

But he’d never regretted Sable for a moment. “It was a mutual rescue,” he’d confided in Edie.

He drained his morning mocha then stretched upright, pushing his hands into the small of his back. “Let me get my boots on, and we’ll be off,” he said. Sable was up the stairs, and seated at the store’s back door before the last word was out of Andy’s mouth.

“Hmph, I guess we’re in a hurry,” he muttered.

Sable got more excited by the second as she watched Andy draw on his boots and pull a hat over his ears. As soon as the back door opened, she exploded into the yard to run several yards up the path leading to Half Moon Lake, their favorite walk, and then ran right back again, barking joyously in the cold air.

Andy had just grabbed his favorite walking stick to follow the dog when two cars pulled in next to his truck.

“Well, this is a pleasant surprise,” he said as Ruth and Edie swiveled out of their seats. The barking index rose several notches as the three dogs greeted one another, ran, pivoted, and then ran some more.

“This cold sure does wake them up, doesn’t it?” Edie said as they watched the canine greetings.

‘Yeah, sure does.” He looked at his two friends. “Would you be in the mood for bagels?”

“I sure would,” Ruth said. “R.G. had me out of the house before I could finish my coffee, never mind grabbing anything to eat.”

“Be right back,” Andy said.

And so shiver season began in earnest that morning with a quick-stepping walk down a path through the woods, the dogs taking ten strides for every human’s one as they darted through the shriveled undergrowth to follow every promising scent.

November can be a very good month.