Pumpkin Patch Americana and a Happy Halloween

The first time I set eyes on a pumpkin patch in California, I was utterly mesmerised.  This was my idea of true ‘Americana’.

My boys having fun picking out their pumpkins for carving. Los Osos,California 1990 (c) Sherri Matthews

My boys having fun picking out their pumpkins for carving. Los Osos, California 1990
(c) Sherri Matthews

For me, growing up in England, pumpkins belonged to fairy tales and I had certainly never carved one to make a Jack-O-Lantern.  Plain and simple,  we just didn’t ‘do’ Halloween.

Thinking of it, we probably didn’t need to, at least where I lived. Life was spooky enough, never mind bringing on the extra thrills and spills of this time of year.  The noises that emanated from the woods surrounding my house out in the middle of the English Suffolk countryside gave me more than a few shivers down my spine as a girl.  I wrote about this in my post last year and how I eventually got into the ‘spirit’ of an American Halloween.

Some of my happiest and most fun-filled family memories are from this time of year when we lived on the Central Coast of California.  As a boy, my eldest son loved it for another reason: the sight of all those deep, orange pumpkins ripening in the fields that we drove by on our way to town signaled that his birthday was just around the corner.

It also heralded our annual visit to our local Pumpkin Farm, a visit that became a family tradition.  There, the kids not only got to select their pumpkins but sit among them…

Nicky at the Pumpkin Farm Paso Robles

I know which ‘pumpkin’ is my favourite… Nicky at the Pumpkin Farm in Paso Robles, CA 1990s (c) Sherri Matthews

…as well as on them.

Aspie D making sure this pumpkin wasn't going anywhere - 1994 Paso Robles, CA (c) Sherri Matthews

Aspie D making sure this pumpkin wasn’t going anywhere – 1994 Paso Robles, CA
(c) Sherri Matthews

There, they got to climb through haystacks…

Kids love Haystacks CA 1990s (c) Sherri Matthews

Kids love Haystacks CA 1990s
(c) Sherri Matthews

…and sit on those too…

On top of the world in Blue Sky California in October, Paso Robles Pumpkin Farm, 1990s (c) Sherri Matthews

On top of the world in an October Blue Sky California – Paso Robles Pumpkin Farm, CA 1990s
(c) Sherri Matthews

After drinking apple cider (non-alcoholic of course, we’re not talking Scrumpy here) and eating their way through little bags filled with homemade popcorn, we returned home to carve their pumpkins and experiment with their Halloween costumes…


Halloween at Home. Paso Robles, CA 1990s (c) Sherri Matthews

One year, we grew our own pumpkins which I proudly displayed on our front porch.

Nicky and home-grown pumpkins on our front porch, California 1990s (c) Sherri Matthews

Nicky and Aspie D with home-grown pumpkins on our front porch, California 1990s
(c) Sherri Matthews

Today, the boys are grown and moved away but will no doubt be celebrating their Halloween tonight with plenty of apple cider. And this time I do mean Scrumpy.

As for us, hubby and I look forward to seeing what creation Aspie will come up with for this year’s Jack-O-Lantern.  Will it be like this…

Halloween 2010 (2)

Aspie D’s ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ creation 2012 (c) Sherri Matthews

Or this:

Jack-O-Lantern created by Aspie D (c) Sherri Matthews

Winged Skull Jack-O-Lantern created by Aspie D
(c) Sherri Matthews

It might even be that she will get Eddie to help…

Eddie helping carve the Jack-O-lantern  (c) Sherri Matthews

Eddie helping carve the Jack-O-lantern
(c) Sherri Matthews

Whatever design she comes up with or without Eddie’s help, we will place it in full view to welcome the visiting Trick or Treaters as we used to when we lived in California.

Halloween has changed dramatically here, with today’s kids knowing all about it, but we are still one of the few in miles around to display a Jack-O-Lantern outside our home.   I love it when the kids come to our door and not only say a polite thank you for their sweets, but also tell my daughter that they think her carving is really cool.

Happy Halloween!!

Posted in Childhood Memories, Family Traditions, My California | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Flash Fiction: No Way Out Part Four: The Grave

It’s Tuesday, flash fiction time over at Carrot Ranch, which means more of Bill here at the Summerhouse.   But before I go, can I just say a huge thank you to those of you who have shown such an interest in this ongoing story.  This is all so new to me but I’m really enjoying the challenge and hope you will too.

But first, I would like to show you around a churchyard in the beautiful small market town of Sherborne, Dorset.

Charli’s flash fiction prompt this week is to write a creepy story in 99 words that has some connection to a cemetery.  Since I’m still writing Bill’s story, my flash will be ‘creepy’ but in a different way.

These photos aren’t creepy, but they do capture a churchyard filled with peace and calm on a glorious, October afternoon.

Gate to St Mary Magdalene Church, Castleton, Sherborne, Dorset England (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Gate to St Mary Magdalene Church, Castleton, Sherborne, Dorset England
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

When I first met hubby, he enjoyed working as a stonemason at the weekends.  During their breaks, he and his friend often found themselves of a Saturday afternoon sharing sandwiches and drinking tea out of flasks while sitting on the wall of a cemetery deep in the Somerset countryside.

Views through the gate from both sides

Sometimes they worked on until well after sunset in the summer months, ‘fixing’ and repairing gravestones as well as setting new ones.  In my dark imagination, I conjured them up as a modern-day Burke and Hare lurking about the place with only the pale moonlight to guide their sinister steps.

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Part of their job was to clean up old gravestones. Hubby, being the artistic one, set to work carefully and respectfully engraving names and dates of beloved family members long gone but not forgotten.

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014  These gravestones are so old that no names can be read.

One of the first things hubby did when I met him was to take me to a tiny churchyard somewhere in the wilds of Dorset and show me the gravestones of his maternal grandparents, buried side by side.  He was so proud to have been able to clean up their stones and re-do their engravings.  I thought it was the most romantic thing he could have done.

Holly growing along the wall.  A sign that winter is on its way? (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Holly growing along the wall. A sign that winter is on its way?
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

We love walking around old churches and their grounds when we get the opportunity.  Every name and every date on the gravestones tell a story, steeped in history as are the churches themselves.

On sunny afternoons such as these, beams of sunlight illuminate the warm stone inside the church through the leaded-light windows:

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

The contrast of light and dark entranced me as the air hung colder and damper in this part of the churchyard, devoid of the warmth of the sun:

Light and Dark (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Light and Dark
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

I hope you enjoyed these photographs.  Here now is the next installment of Bill’s story in 99 words. Previous installments can be found here.

No Way Out Part Four: The Grave

Bill lurched backwards as disbelief spewed down on him like a black-as-death oil slick.

“Oh god…not Joey…”

Laura grabbed Bill’s arm.

“Someone knocked him off his bike, we’ve got to get to the hospital now… c’mon!”

Bill remembered the dead-eyed boy who haunted his dreams. Panic kicked his chest as he climbed into Laura’s car: he thought his days weeping at his son’s grave were over, with nothing left to lose.

At the hospital, fear leached from his brother’s broken body. Only the beep, beep, beep of the heart monitor played to the sick symphony of Bill’s long nightmare.

Posted in Flash Fiction, Photos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 74 Comments

Writing Process Blog Meme

Some weeks months years? time ago, Tess tagged me for a Writing Process Blog Meme.   I was flattered and told her I was happy to take part, but it might take a while.  No kidding.  Thanks so much Tess, and also for being so understanding.

Tess is a lovely friend to me and many others here in the blogosphere with her warmth, kindness and wonderful wit. She supports me greatly in my writing, not least of all in my recent foray into flash fiction.  This is a great compliment as she writes wonderfully entertaining flash fiction every Wednesday over at How the Cookie Crumbles. She also writes a fantastic series on Fridays showcasing her two-week holiday in China taken earlier in the year.  Meet Tess, if you haven’t already:

Tess KarlinskiTess Author Pic

(Tess) Teresa Karlinski lives with her cat, Lady Gaga, in Ontario, Canada. She is a grandmother and a student of life.

Although retired, she hasn’t enough time to read her overwhelming collection of new and used books.

Contact information: Teresa.Karlinski@gmail.com.


The rules for this meme are to answer four questions about your writing method and nominate three new people.  I will introduce three accomplished and excellent writers who agreed to take part shortly, but first, here are my answers:

1.  What am I working on at the moment?

I continue to write for publications and competitions (can I share? Delighted to have two poems and a story recently published in two anthologies as well as an article accepted for the regional magazine Suffolk Norfolk Life) and I am loving exploring flash fiction.

But for the purposes of this Meme and without wishing to bleat on about it as most of you already know this, my main WIP is my as yet untitled memoir.

This story has taken me down some unexpected paths: things I didn’t think would be written have revealed themselves as vital to the story and I had to take some time out a few weeks ago to sort things out in my head before I could carry on.  Now I am ready to pull up my sleeves, put my head to the wind and finish that illusive first draft.

2.  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

As with all memoir, my work stands alone as the unique story that only I can tell, the one that I own, have nurtured, soothed, but also raged against.

3.  Why do I write what I do?

Quite simply, I write memoir because I have a burning compulsion to tell a story, to create something meaningful and truthful out of the good, the bad and the ugly and to share it with you, friends, readers, fellow humans.   Maybe even one or two aliens.   Story-telling is a powerful force that binds us together, reminding us that we are not alone.  Writing memoir helps me connect with what has happened in the past, relive it and then discover that actually I have something of value to give back. I’m not so lost after all because I have found my home in the writing of memoir.

4.  How does my writing process work?

Ahh.  The million dollar question.  This Blog Meme has proven to be the perfect opportunity for me to take a long, hard look at this and I have come to the troubling conclusion that actually, my writing process isn’t working at all.

I don’t need to remind anyone of the difficulties of balancing writing, blogging and living. With the busiest time of the year fast approaching and pressing family commitments, I have got to take action if I am to get my memoir written.  The labour pangs are now full-on contractions: this baby is coming and things are going to start getting noisy if I don’t soon deliver the goods.

To do this, I am seriously considering taking maternity leave a leave of absence from blogging during November.  I’ll be posting more on this shortly when I’ve finally decided how to go about it (I do still hope to manage to keep going with the story of Bill for those of you who are enjoying reading).  I’ll carry on for the next couple of weeks as normal, trying to write my memoir in the mornings and blog for the rest, but for now, my writing process can best be described thus: I’m doing the best I can but I need to do better.


Now to my three nominees who so kindly agreed to take part in this Blog Meme and who will post their responses to the four questions above next Monday, November 3rd.  They will then select their three nominees who will pass on the baton and keep the Meme going.

So, with no further ado, I am delighted to introduce:

Charli Mills

Some of you will already know Charli through her wonderful Wild West history-steeped blog (Rock Creek anyone? Talk about family connections…) as well as through my flash fiction posts on Tuesdays.  You have her to thank for Bill, giving me amazing encouragement, confidence and friendship, putting up with me riding rough-shod and fancy-free through her new-to-me world of all things fiction.   From her ranch in Idaho to my small, Somerset town in England, we share many similarities, including a love of Prosecco. Cheers Charli!

Here she is:

Charli Author PicFrom riding horses to writing stories, Charli Mills is a born buckaroo wrangling words. With over two decades in freelancing, publications, sales, marketing, editing and speaking, Charli has been published in magazines, anthologies, books and online.

She moved back west to follow stories and sunsets, working on her first novels.

She writes commercial fiction, nature-lit, westerns, cli-fi, shorts, longs and flash.

She hosts a weekly flash fiction challenge with the Rough Writers at Carrot Ranch once a week.


 Luanne Castle

Luanne is a lovely new friend who I met through our dear, mutual friend Jill and oh what chats we have.  As a fellow memoir writer, I draw on every carefully constructed word of her excellent memoir book reviews and all that she gleans from them.   Her more than generous sharing of all things memoir captivate me with me the most wonderful ‘light-bulb’ moments every single time.  Please meet Luanne:

Luanne Castle’s first book, a collection of poetry called Doll God, is being published in 2015.Luanne Author Pic

She’s also writing a memoir called Scrap about growing up over a bomb shelter and in front of the city dump.

She lives with her husband and four cats.

You can find out more about Luanne through her excellent blog  Writer Site.



Last, but definitely not least, I am delighted to nominate Esther, another lovely new blogging friend.  I was thrilled to find her here on WordPress as I was already familiar with her column in Freelance Market News, a writer’s magazine with excellent tips, advice and competitions.  Here is Esther in her own words:

Esther Newton

SONY DSC‘My love affair with writing came about as a result of an accident. I couldn’t continue in my job at a bank but that accident was the best thing that’s happened to me!

I’ve now been working as a freelance writer for fifteen years, regularly writing articles and short stories for magazines and newspapers such as Freelance Market News, Writers’ Forum, The New Writer, The Guardian, Best of British, The Cat, Woman’s Weekly, The People’s Friend and My Weekly to name a few.

I have been fortunate to win a number of writing competitions and also judged writing competitions. An e-book of my prize winning short stories is out now, ‘The Siege and Other Award Winning Stories‘, with a paperback due out 15th November.

I have just finished a series of children’s books, which I’m now in the process of editing.

I love writing but equally, I enjoy helping others, which I achieve in my role as tutor for The Writers Bureau.’

Make sure to visit Esther’s wonderful blog for great writing tips, advice and hilarious funnies!



That’s it!  Thank you so much again to Charli, Luanne and Esther for taking part and to Tess for nominating me. I can’t wait to read your posts next week.

Have a great week everyone and as always, thanks so much for the read :-)

Posted in Blog Hops, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 39 Comments

Cats of Croatia

When I look back over photographs of places I’ve visited, I can’t help but notice all the cat photos amongst them.   Maybe it’s because I miss my two when we’re away, or maybe it’s because I just love cats.

Then I discovered that Michelle runs a Weekly Pet Challenge over at her lovely blog Hope* The Happy Hugger and I thought it would be fun to share some of these ‘holiday’ cats with you. Hopefully my two won’t be too jealous.

The challenge runs Tuesday to Tuesday and for my first entry, I’m sharing some photos of Croatian cats taken during my trip with hubby to Dubrovnik in 2012.

Here they are:

This handsome cat was definitely king of his territory inside the old city of Dubrovnik keeping close guard outside…

(c) Sherri Matthews

(c) Sherri Matthews

…and in…

(c) Sherri Matthews

(c) Sherri Matthews

This pretty young kitty was sound asleep – so sound that a passer-by actually asked me if it was alive as I took this photograph.  I can assure you that it was and not about to let the gathering crowd bother it one bit, having found a lovely, comfortable ledge on which to spread out…

(c) Sherri Matthews

(c) Sherri Matthews

As you can see, this sweet ball of fur was more than a little content to take a nap on a café chair, not at all bothered by the likes of tourists like us, as happy as can be…

(c) Sherri Matthews

(c) Sherri Matthews

Then we found this darling little kitty.  Surprisingly most of the cats, despite being feral, were in good shape and obviously fed and looked after by local business owners.

(c) Sherri Matthews

(c) Sherri Matthews

This sweetie was adopted by the cafe where we stopped for lunch and was more than happy to let me have a quick cuddle…

(c) Sherri Matthews

(c) Sherri Matthews

…as was this baby. Never mind our lunch…

(c) Sherri Matthews

This (c) Sherri Matthews

This beautiful kitten was one of a litter.  It appeared during our walks along a path around the bay in the delightful seaside town of Lapad.  Someone put bowls of food on the side of the path for him and his brothers and sisters every day.  This little guy had a squint in one eye which didn’t seem to bother him too much and he soon became hubby’s favourite.  You can see why…

(c) Sherri Matthews

(c) Sherri Matthews

As daylight came to a close and the street lamps in the old city of Dubrovnik lit up, this mischievous cat was more than ready for a night of adventure and hunting.   Also rather coy I thought, as in, “Who, me?”…

(c) Sherri Matthews

(c) Sherri Matthews

I hope you enjoyed these beautiful cats of Croatia .  For more pet/animal pics,  click here Thanks Michelle!


Posted in CATalogue, Travel, Weekly Pet Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , | 81 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Refraction

The theme for this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge is ‘Refraction’.  Over at the Daily Post, Kevin asks:

‘For this photo challenge, show us what “refraction” means to you. It could be an image taken in a reflective surface, it could be light bent from behind an object, or it could mean remedial math homework: the choice is completely up to you. I’m looking forward to seeing how you interpret “refraction.”’

Not being too clear on the exact meaning of ‘refraction’ as opposed to ‘reflection’, I came across ‘wiseGeek‘, a website described as having  ‘clear answers for common questions‘.   My kind of website in other words.

It defines ‘refraction’ as:

‘… the bending of waves as they pass from one medium to another, due to a change in their speed. The phenomenon is most commonly associated with light, but can also apply to sound, or even water, waves.’

A rainbow captures this as a perfect example. Sunlight has different wavelengths of colour (for instance, blue has a shorter wavelength than red) which ‘bend’ when they pass through raindrops.  The different colours are split, so creating a beautiful rainbow:

Rainbow over the River Bure, Norfolk Broads, June 2013 (c) Sherri Matthews

Rainbow over the River Bure, Norfolk Broads, June 2013
(c) Sherri Matthews

In ‘Duck on Bridge’ as I like to call it (I wonder why), another example of refraction, I think, is the image of the bridge captured in the reflective surface of the water:

Duck on Bridge.  Ranworth, Norfolk Broads June 2013 (c) Sherri Matthews

Duck on Bridge. Ranworth, Norfolk Broads June 2013
(c) Sherri Matthews

Sunlight catches the reflection of this glorious rhododendron celebrating an early summer as it dances on the waters of this tiny inlet:

Neatishead - Norfolk Broads June 2013 (c) Sherri Matthews

Neatishead – Norfolk Broads June 2013
(c) Sherri Matthews

The way sunlight refracts through the water here makes me think of melting glass:

Picture 343

Water. Or Melting Glass. (c) Sherri Matthews

Or maybe it could just be the way sunlight slices through the blinds in this window, warming my cats:

Cats Basking in Slices of Light (c) Sherri Matthews

Cats Basking in Slices of Light
(c) Sherri Matthews

I may not have captured ‘refraction’ correctly in some of these photos, but I hope you enjoyed them anyway.

Happy Thursday everyone :-)


Posted in Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , | 82 Comments

Flash Fiction: No Way Out Part Three: Godsend

So, do I carry on with my story about Bill? For this week’s flash prompt, Charli asks us this:

‘In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that has an expectation met or missed. It can be an implied expectation to your reader, or a character’s expectation for an outcome. Think of how expectations can direct a story.’

I thought I’d continue with it if there is an interest.  As a reminder, you can read parts one and two here: No Way Out and No Way Out Part Two: The Yellow Boat.  Here is the next installment:

No Way Out Part Three: Godsend

“Bill! Let me in…!”

Laura’s frantic knocking on the front door shattered Bill’s silence. What the…? Panic struck as he grabbed the hose, throwing it back behind the freezer while kicking the scattered toys out of view.

“Bi i i i i i i l…..” screamed Laura. She stopped in stunned silence to the creak of the garage door as it opened and Bill walked out. Turning on her heels, she rushed over.

“Thank god! I’ve been trying to call you, why didn’t you pick up…?”

“I’ve…Laura… there’s something …”

“What…? It’s Joey, you have to come, it’s bad…”


Posted in Flash Fiction | Tagged , | 65 Comments

Crazy Alien: Bite-Size Memoir

Whenever I think of anything to do with immigration, I get a shiver of crazy.

My first brush with American immigration happened when I turned up alone at Dulles International Airport newly arrived from London. It was 1980, my boyfriend was seriously ill and I was desperate to get to Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland where he was being treated.  There was no time to complete the paperwork for an extended stay, so I took my chances.

Unfortunately, the immigration office at passport control was not impressed and I was hauled off into a side-room for a grilling.

Thankfully I was able to corroborate my story, thanks to a call to my boyfriend’s mother who was staying at a motel close to the hospital.    With strict instructions to attend the Immigration Department in Los Angeles within a specified time frame, I was allowed to travel on with a stern warning that I was lucky not to have been deported.

One Crazy Chick - Suffolk, 1970's (c) Sherri Matthews

One Crazy Chick – Suffolk, 1970’s
(c) Sherri Matthews

Indeed. I was extremely grateful for my lucky break.

In my own private mayhem, I struggled with my heavy luggage while fumbling about for the right coins with which to make a phone call for a taxi.  Finding an AT&T phone booth but not knowing the difference between a nickel and a dime,  I had to ask the guy in the next booth for help.  I got it right eventually.

Even though I lived in California for twenty years, married to an American, I  lived and worked as a ‘Permanent Resident’, retaining my British citizenship.   It amused me that after going through reams of paperwork, medical tests, background checks, interviews, proof of marriage and financial support, not to mention a few fees to pay for the pleasure,  all I got at the end of it was a small, laminated card, the all-important  ‘Green Card’.  Even though it is actually white.

What really made me smile though was my ‘official’ title, spelled in big letters above my photograph, which read:

‘Resident Alien’.

As such, my status as a ‘resident alien’ allowed me everything except the right to vote and attend jury service. A shame really, as I was summoned three different times but each time I had to decline.  A shame because I have never been summoned back in Britain.

So why this post?  It’s great to have Lisa back again with her Bite-Size Memoir challenge which she is running fortnightly  (do we still use that word?) for the time being (lovely to see you Lisa!). Her prompt of ‘crazy’ reminded me of my many immigration misadventures – they obviously left their mark – but it is a very different kind of alien that I write about for the ‘Bite’, in 150 words no more, no less:

Crazy Alien

During the summer of 1979, a special event came to Ipswich. My boyfriend and I had been intrigued for weeks by the mysterious posters plastered all around town announcing the next big film. The black background with a strange, egg-shaped thing suspended in the middle was compelling enough, but what really had us going were the words:

In space no one can hear you scream’.

The Odeon cinema in Ipswich had one, huge screen with graduated seating and an usherette selling Kia-Ora orange juice and ice cream at the intermission.

The big moment arrived. Glued to the big screen, the atmosphere electric, we watched, terrified, as John Hurt writhed in helpless agony. When the alien ripped out of his chest, I was out of my seat and down on the floor, flinging my drink all over my boyfriend who thankfully, was laughing hysterically.

Nothing like a bit of shock value.

Posted in Bite Size Memoir, Memoir, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 91 Comments