Monday, April 23, 2007

April Twilight: Surprise Encounter with Spring

and the birth of Wet Knees Photos on Gather

A week ago, we received a snowstorm in upstate NY. It wasn't a bad one, by any means. Nothing to compare to what the folks endured along the sopping coast. But it was April, darn it, and I ached to put tine to soil and start gardening in earnest. So I complained. Probably too much.

For days it remained gray. Spitting snow. Raining. Melting some of the white stuff. I checked my tulips, iris, and daffodils. They bent their heads in shame, enduring winter's last laugh in the form of a cold blanket.

And then it happened. Tonight, I drove home from work in this strange light. It was yellowish, golden, really, and it seemed to have some sort of warmth associated with it.

When all the chores were done, I sneaked outside to take a look around the yard, and was rewarded with the best "wet knees" adventures a photographer could dream of.

Rays of sun glinted over the grass and plants, just ready to disappear. It shone sideways, illuminating choice items. I followed it around the yard. And found these beautifully lit tulip leaves. Standing upright. Strong. And healthy. My knees were soaked by the time I was sure I had that "perfect shot."

I scanned the front yard, which only that morning had been covered with a thick blanket of snow. There, in the distance, I saw something red. Something alive, glowing in the rays of the sun.

I found a loner, a leftover tulip that refused to give up. Planted a decade ago, this early bloomer used to be part of a collection. Its petals - backlit by the sun - glowed ruby red.

Moving around the front of the house, I crossed over the lawn and hoped to find some lively croci, but alas, they were flopped on the ground and fading. Next year I hope to capture that deep, radiant purple.

I moved into my original perennial garden, the one I started so many years ago with phlox, daylilies, sundrops, obedient plant, rose mallow, iris, poppies, and many more varieties. It's about 20 feet across at its widest spot, amorphous in shape, and very full of leaves! When I approached the lenten roses, I nearly dropped. There, in full bloom, were glorious, softly colored lavender/magenta flowers. Three plants, all blooming as if it were June!

Afterwards, I looked them up again and realized they are SUPPOSED to do this! I'd just missed them last year, and they were a relatively new addition to the garden.

On my knees, in the wet leaves, I snapped this one...

Now, mind you, the sun had almost started to disappear. These were not in a shaft of light, but resting in twilight, smug in their ability to surprise a seasoned gardener like me.
Look how the diffuse light shines through the delicate petals. It almost looks like a giant apple blossom, doesn't it? But this is about 2-3 inches across.

My knees totally soaked now, I tore myself away from these beauties and followed a shaft of sunlight to the top end of my old paddock fence which encloses the largest vegetable garden now.

One lone daffodil had pushed through the leaves and survived the snow. It is the first of many.

I found these red berries, dried and shriveled, shining in the light.
Their color was electric, an orange-crimson that glowed and begged for attention.

Not to be outdone, just inside the fence and growing beneath these berries, was a patch of Chinese Lanterns. Now, most folks find them aesthetically pleasing when they are in full bloom orange - either dried or fresh. But these were gorgeous. There's just something about the fact that they survived the harsh winter, with their frail-looking shells, and still hung from the vine, defiant and proud.

When I thought it was all over, I tromped through the garden and found kale growing on stems that laid down on the ground. Looks harvestable to me, but I didn't get a clear shot. Next time.

On the way back to the house, another patch of reddish green called to me. I investigated, and found that my rhubarb had already sprouted, and its leaves were burned by their sudden exposure to snow. New growth is coming, though, and the old leaves will just fade away.
See that new growth? It'll be just fine.

I stopped to snap a photo of my wet knees. I had to rotate it 180 degrees so you could see what my knees looked like. Actually, these look pretty good compared to how they'll be when the garden starts up!!
I decided that I really liked the concept of Wet Knees Photos, and created a photography group with that name on Gather. If you'd like to join a community where family type folks who love nature commune via their photos and comments, join for free, here.

Keep informed on! Content ranges from politics to cooking, and we earn Gather Points™ or cash for using the site!View my content here: aplazar

Just before coming inside, I snapped a shot of the last chunk of snow on the driveway.

A few days later, the temperatures shot into the seventies. Yesterday, I spent nine hours in the garden with my grandsons, barefoot and in shorts. We planted two forty foot rows of potatoes and some more beets and kale. And the peas, lettuce, and chard I planted in mid March are coming up!
I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings! ;o)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

There's a first time for everything.

Yesterday, I took my grandson, Julian (4), on his first bike ride that was longer than our living room. He'd been scooting and careening all over the downstairs for a week, since we bought him a new bike. Red. His favorite color. And really shiny, with big knobby wheels.We live in the country, but our roads are traveled by many farmers, tractors, milk trucks, and commuters. Our corner has a four-way stop sign, but folks don't always stop, and I don't trust my rambunctious little grandson out there on his bike, even on the driveway.

He just learned to turn and brake his new bike on Wednesday. Yesterday, after a family emergency the night before that had his mom a hair's breadth away from surgery, I stayed home to help watch the boys so she could recover from her ordeal and sleep a bit.
Daughter Allison and I took him to the Greenway that starts out at York Landing, in Fowerville, NY. You remember the Greenway, right? I've posted lots of pictures from this wonderful trail system in Upstate NY before. It follows the old railroad bed that was laid atop the original Genesee Valley Canal tow path. Now it's a beautiful place to ride or walk.

When we got there, Julian was so excited he could hardly wait to get started. But the soggy ground was a bit hard to get started on. He really had to push down hard on those pedals!

When we left the gravel and hit the grass and mud, he really had a problem when his training wheels were up high and his tires rode in the shallow depression. The tires spun, his face crumpled, and he became very frantic, on the verge of tears.

"Papa! It's too hard!"

I grabbed hold of his handle bars and walked beside him, guiding him and helping him stay upright.

At one point, we stopped to listen to hundreds of Canada Geese flying overhead. Their honking was an elixir to him. He stopped, watched, and listened. Then he got back on and tried again.

We found a level spot that had been graded with some new gravel, and sat for a long time, letting him ride back and forth along a nice stretch. He got better and better, and worked out all that little boy energy that had been pent up the whole cold, cloudy week.

Then the sun came out, for a brief, flash.

It was a beautiful moment. We packed up his gear, took off his knee pads and helmut, and headed home, after promises to return soon. Next year, when his brother turns four, we'll all head out together.

I usually walk the Greenway.
But next year, maybe I should get a bike!

Friday, April 13, 2007

My daughter, Melanie

Hi, folks!

This week I had an opportunity to witness the culmination of many years of focused study, grueling practices, late-into-the-night rehearsals, and difficult sacrifices. My daughter, Melanie (Allison's twin), is a performance major at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, studying voice. She hopes to sing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera someday, and has worked incredibly hard for her bachelor's degree requirements. She will actually be "taking five" next year, which means take an extra year of voice lessons, so that she can also be awarded a double degree. She's earn a bachelor's degree in psychology as well as music.

All seniors are required to do a senior recital. Melanie's was held on Monday, and I must say, her mom, grandmother, and I were so proud I was surprised my buttons didn't burst and dance across the stage floor!

We couldn't take photos during the recital, but it was spectacular. In addition to a wonderful pianist who accompied her, she included a clarinet player and a whole orchestra, including a harpist! What a thrill. My "little girl," stood proudly on stage in a sparkly pink princess dress, singing like an angel. ;o)

I don't have a current recording of her voice, but over the years I've made CDs of her songs and would love to have you visit my writing website, where I feature Melanie singing on many of the pages. Here are a few to try, if you have time and like a pretty soprano voice:

We were blessed that almost every important person from Melanie's past attended the recital. Of course, I bombarded them with emails months in advance and didn't let up until a week before the event! LOL! Above is a picture of Melanie with her high school drama coach, Bettina DeBell, and her elementary and high school music teacher, Chandra Downs. If you have read the second book in the LeGarde Mysteries (Upstaged), you may recognize Bettina's name from the dedication. Lots of great color and background material for Upstaged was absorbed by sitting in the back of the auditorium while Melanie prepared for 13 musicals over the years.

All in all, it was a grand day. Happy sigh. It was one of those great moments in a father's life, a special occasion I will never forget...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I am honored to receive "Thinking Blogger" Award! My good friend and crit buddy, SW Vaughn (aka Sonja Baines, aka Sonya Bateman) has granted me this honor. Thank you, Sonya!

Here are her kind words. I think she exaggerated a bit, but it sure sounded nice!

"One of the sweetest men on the planet, a painter of words and a fabulous photographer whose beatiful pictures on his blog always inspire me. Aaron's tremendously positive attitude and unflagging well of talent and support helps me to remember that the world really is a beautiful place."

It's now my turn to pass on the good will and award some of my favorite blogs for this award.

Now, I would have loved to have awarded the same thing to her, and to our friends Lesia Valentine, and M.E Ellis. But, they already received nominations. So, I will pick five of my favorite additional blogs to pass on the honor.

But first, some background about the award:

The Thinking Blogger Award is an effort to build a network of blogs linked together outside of the usual search engines. Here is how it works (sort of like a meme):

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that tickle your grey matter.

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme;

3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative gold version if silver doesn't fit your blog).

Aaron's Thinking Blogger Favorites, in no particular order:

1) Thomas Fortenberry
A kindred spirit with olde worlde values. This man loves and writes literature, has a sharp wit and huge heart, and is a renowned reviewer. Don't worry about Thomas telling you what he thinks - that would never cross his mind! ;o)

2) Jude Hardin
Jude is a superb writer. His blogs are as well thought out and as finely crafted as his great first novel, which I had the pleasure to read. He's just been picked up by a BIG agent and is going places. I reviewed his book and compared him to John D. MacDonald. Move over, Travis Magee! Nicholas Colt is in town!

3) Sonia Martinez
Sonia is a new friend whose passion for all things Hawaiian is contagious. I bought her cookbook (a great investment!) and love pouring over her lush photos of artistically arranged food. A real expert in this field, she is a wonderful teacher and has a lovely and generous spirit.

4) Patry Francis
Another new friend, Patry has become my hero. She wrote a fantastic novel, called The Liar's Diary, and sold it to Dutton. It's on the shelves now, and she's just completed a west coast book tour. Patry has a distinctive voice and is very generous about her advice. From waitress to renowned author - she did it!

5) Joyce Handzo
Joyce has always been there for me, and has written the most lyrical reviews for my books. They are so beautiful, the reviews deserve reviews! She has that knack for description that shines. And now - after a little prodding - she's started her own blog! I already love it and am thrilled that she's starting her first novel. Way to go, Joyce! Yay, bunnies!

Congratulations, winners!

- Aaron

Monday, April 09, 2007

Title: Valley of the Raven
Author: Ken Ramirez
Publisher: Twilight Times Books, Paladin Timeless imprint
Publisher's Address: PO Box 3340, Kingsport, Tennessee 37664
ISBN number: ISBN 1-933353-75-9
Price: $18.95
Publisher phone number and/or website address:

Valley of the Raven
By Ken Ramirez
Review by Aaron Paul Lazar

Valley of the Raven is a captivating novel set in the beautiful foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. When teenagers Ty Dettin, his younger brother Seth, and their pal Tanner White set out for a typical dirt bike ride in the California Sierra Gold Country, they are unaware of the life-altering adventure lurking around the next bend. Tooling along in the spring sunshine, Ty and Tanner follow Seth onto an overgrown trail that leads to decrepit buildings, vestiges of the California gold rush days, when the land was ravaged for the sake of monetary riches. While poking around one of the shacks, the trio discovers a map buried beneath floorboards in a tin box.

The yellowed map appears authentic, providing a detailed sketch of a gold-filled cavern, signed by “Coop.” Fueled with a desire to discover the gold, they set out to investigate.

In a strange and magical twist, the trio happens upon an elderly Native American woman, Nevar, who lives along the banks of a river in a remote and magnificent valley. She connects with them spiritually, most particularly with Ty, accompanied by her totem, the raven. Said raven, Kaji Taka, appears at all crucial points of the adventure, assisting and protecting the boys as they move closer to the awful truth of a pending scheme that threatens Six Hills and its pristine reservoir. Ty is touched by this encounter, haunted and somewhat frightened, but he cannot stop thinking about the old women and the strong urge to visit her again.

In a parallel effort to claim the gold of their ancestor, “Coop,” recently released jailbird Curtis “Junior” Cooper and his brother Carl begin an expedition to mine the gold. Assisted by fellow ex-cons, Skinny, a chain-smoking expert underwater diver who watched his abusive father drown in the pond by his home when he was a child, and Steve “Eight-Pack” Hunt, a body-builder mechanic who resembles a big Swede, Junior and Carl plan to drain a pond that hides the gold-filled cavern.

Mr. Ramirez expertly weaves yet another theme through the novel, bringing us back in history to the life of Buffalo soldier, Clay “Coop” Cooper, a strong and upstanding black man who fought bravely for the American army, and with his meager savings purchased the land that includes the valley in which Nevar appears to them. He and his wife, a lovely Lakota woman named Maka, begin a life in the rich Sierra valley, and implement a plan to purchase as much of the land as possible, donating it to the people and forbidding it to be sold privately in the future. The diverse history of the Native American tribes, the Buffalo soldiers, and their plights are beautifully told by Mr. Ramirez, a teacher himself, through scenes in a classroom where his own teaching abilities become apparent.

When the boys and their friends discover the Coopers are planning something so dastardly the entire region is threatened, they push forward with great integrity and courage, in spite of the mind-numbing roadblocks that constantly impede them. Ty is drawn to a destiny ingrained in his part-Comanche genes, and moves forward on a path of sheer lunacy and utter heroism as he endangers his own life to save the land and people of Six Hills.

Mr. Ramirez has created a lyrical world that breathes with life. The boys’ dialogue is natural and real. Their actions, fears, discussions, and reactions ring true, a testimony to the author’s acute understanding of youth.

Aside from the engaging storyline, Mr. Ramirez’s has painted enchanting descriptions of the countryside, as in this excerpt:

“As the sun crested over the surrounding granite peaks in the glorious morning scene reflected on the lake, its surface completely smooth, not a wave, not a ripple, a true mirror – Maka’s Mirror. The sky and lake together burst into a flaming golden-orange, accented with large white clouds whose fiery bellies seemed almost metallic. A small flock of Canada geese circled the lake and then, with extended webbed feet and outstretched wings, skidded across the surface of the placid mountain water, their honking amplified by the stillness of the dawn. When they finally settled on the water, the wakes of disturbance rolled through the liquid canvas, sending splinters of color and sparkling reflections in every direction.”

As the completely satisfying adventure escalates toward a pulse-pounding finish, Mr. Ramirez incorporates surprising, yet believable twists in his characters, all the while subtly sharing life lessons about responsibility, stewardship of the land, respect for people of all nationalities, and following one’s destiny. The most important lesson deals with the insight that our natural world – with its sparkling streams, wildflowers, tall pines, and unspoiled wilderness – provides the true “riches” which transcend monetary wealth.

I highly recommend Valley of the Raven to readers of all ages. It will quench a deep universal thirst for adventure and heroism. My only question is this: will Mr. Ramirez grace us with a sequel?

Aaron Paul Lazar is an engineer by day, but his passion lies in writing. The first book in the LeGarde Mystery series, Double Forté, is an absorbing tale of love, intrigue, and murder; “a feast for the senses that will leave you breathless.” Upstaged, the second book in the series, features a disturbed stage mother, a deviant predator, and a twisted saboteur who lurks backstage, terrorizing the drama club with deadly, psychotic games. “Lush, vibrant, and delicious.” Lazar’s latest book, Tremolo: cry of the loon, a literary coming-of-age mystery, is available through Twilight Times Books.

Lazar has written a second series featuring paranormal mysteries with Sam and Rachel Moore, a retired country doctor and his wife who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Watch for
The Green Marble, coming in October, 2007, from Twilight Times Books.

Lazar’s monthly columns are featured in the
Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, Voice in the Dark newsletter, and The Back Room ezine and his writing advice articles have been often published in Absolute Write. He lives in Upstate NY with his extended family. Visit his websites at;, and his blog:

Friday, April 06, 2007

Lost Shots

How long will it take before we can burn images stored in our brain onto a computer? Do you think it will ever happen? I hope so, because even though I used to dabble in art in college, I never inherited the landscape gene. I could do portraits, from live models or pictures, but I didn’t have the knack to capture a glowing sunset or wavy grasses, or a frothy seascape. Perhaps, with the proper training, I could make a decent stab at it, but for now the only way I can immortalize scenes of nature is through the lens or with my pen. Figuratively speaking, that is, since I haven’t written via long hand in many years.

Lately, I’ve been lamenting potentially award-winning photos that I’ve missed. Lost shots. Those showstoppers, the gorgeous scenes I couldn’t acquire because of unsafe driving conditions or a timetable that didn’t allow lollygagging. I still see them, clear as cold lake water, simmering and shimmering in my mind’s eye.

The first lost shot occurred last fall. We’d been scurrying around all morning, getting ready to deliver chairs to our customers. One of my side jobs, besides engineering, writing, and photography, is chair caning. My wife does the hand caning, and I do the rush, splint, flat reed, and pressed cane. Every Saturday morning, we load up the van with chairs and head for Honeoye Falls and East Bloomfield, where we deliver them to the shops that hire us. My wife and daughter were with me that morning, since we were going to squeeze in a little breakfast at George’s, our favorite small town diner. We were hungry. We were late. And I forgot my camera.

It happened only five minutes from the house, and I’ll never stop kicking myself for not turning around to get that camera. The night had been cold, and the morning dawned sunny. Frost had crackled under our shoes as we tromped across the lawn, and there was a freshness to the air, heightened by the icy morning. We traveled north on Lakeville-Groveland Road, and when we passed Booher Hill, I glanced eastward. This is one of my favorite stretches of land, where multiple layers of trees, fields, and hills delineate the ridges that cradle Conesus Lake. When the sun rises over the eastern shore, it kisses the lake valley with rose, orange, lavender, and hot yellow.

This morning, however, the sun had risen hours earlier. But what greeted my eager eyes was not the sun, but a cloud.

I’m talking about a fully fleshed, cotton ball cloud. It sat directly on top of the lake, laying like a thick eiderdown on the water. This cloud was not filmy, like mist or fog. It wasn’t transparent. It was rock solid puffy white, and it rose at least 1000 feet over the lake, stretching north-south along fourteen miles of the narrow trench carved many years ago by a glaciers. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and fear I’ll never see it again.

The memory is sharp, but I wish I could really show it to you.

The next two scenes that haunt me happened this winter. The frustrating part was that I had the camera with me both times, but just couldn’t stop because it wasn’t safe to pull over on the snowy roads.

The first was a scene I pass every day on the way to work. Normally, I admire the textures and contrasts of this spot with an almost casual, see-it-every-day insouciance. I do take pleasure in the old barns, dilapidated farmhouse, antique cars in the open sided shelter, and the young Thoroughbred who paces in a small paddock. And each time I pass the old milk shed, I admire the faded white paint and the attractive timeworn look it has from years of exposure to sun and wind. My fingers itch for the camera here most mornings, but it’s private property, 6:30 in the morning, and it’s positioned near a country intersection, which makes it a bit awkward to stop and snap pictures of this venerable old building.

This particular morning, however, snow blasted sideways across the road in such ferocity and beauty, it quickened my heartbeat. It was a fierce burst of white, constant and rippling, blinding whoever crossed its path. The contrast electrified me. Deep turquoise metal-sided barn, cement block barn nearby, white post and board fence swaying in the storm…they were simultaneously shadowed and revealed by the spraying snow.

But I didn’t stop. I worried about arriving late to work, and the sides of the road looked very slippery. So… another lost shot.

Later that week, they closed the whole county for whiteouts. I had to get home, I was determined to get home, and I sure as heck didn’t want to spend the night in my office. So, I spent an hour and a half dodging blinding whiteouts, and finally made my perilous way down Groveland Road, almost home. Another half mile, and I’d be safe in the driveway.

And then I saw them.

Snow devils. Cyclones of white. Billowing and flowing over the hills to the west, up the sides of the valley, rolling across the fields like massive sheet-white tornados.

My jaw dropped. My insides thrilled. And I gripped the steering wheel tighter to stay in the snowy lane. I didn’t get the shot. Once again.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not really complaining. I’ve captured dozens of deeply satisfying photos this season and have been blessed with pastoral scenes of breath-taking beauty year-round. I’ve snapped hundreds and hundreds of photos. But those lost shots…they keep haunting me. Which, I guess, is why I’ve written about them today. When visions haunt me, they spill out of my fingertips.

There is one consolation. The images still reside in my brain. And someday, maybe soon, I’ll download and show them to you. ;o)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hi, folks!

I have a gazillion things to post about, and no time to do it. Yet. But I will. I promise! I'll tell you all about my super weekend at the Keuka Lake Winery Murder Mystery Tour, show you photos of our cabin in the woods, and give you a new column about lost shots - photos, that is.

But right now I want to introduce you to a new website. My crit buddy, Sonya Bateman (aka SW Vaughn and Sonja Baines) has just landed a big city NY agent. This agent is best of the best. Sonya has worked herself to death getting there, and deserves this more than any writer I know. This agent is going to rep Hunted (and her future books), Sonya's newest urban fantasy that I've had the great pleasure of reading, chapter by chapter, as she wrote it. It is a superb, fast moving thriller that will knock you off your seat and propel you into a world of the Nephilim - intriguing half-angels, hunted by angel zealots who will scare the heck out of you. Told from the point of view of protagonist Grace, it's a fast ride filled with action, taut suspense, and sprinkled with surprising touches of lyrical poetry. Most of all, though, it's a darn good read by a heck of a writer!

Check out her website, her blog when you have a chance. Here's a blurb from her site:

Meet Grace Carrington: runaway, loner, and freak.

Grace wears colored contacts. Otherwise, she'd have to answer some uncomfortable questions about why her eyes glow. Grace can hear thoughts and manipulate machines.

See Grace cheat sleazy casinos to make enough money to live -- and to evade her mother, who wants to turn her into a sideshow attraction.

Grace trusts no one. Her peculiar talents have forced her to exist outside of society. She's never found anyone else like her, until now.

Unfortunately, the man with the glowing eyes has just been brutally murdered by a pair of killers with inhuman strength and extraordinary power... and now they've seen her face, and marked her for death.

See Grace run.