Monday, June 30, 2008

Verde Que Te Quiero Verde



Verde que te quiero verde.
Verde viento. Verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar
y el caballo en la montaƱa.

(Green, how I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The boat on the sea
and the horse on the mountain.)




Those are the opening lines of the Spanish poet Garcia Lorca's Romance Sonambulo. I studied Lorca in Spanish classes in college (Emory, Atlanta, Georgia, spring of '61, to be precise) and still remember these lines -- they bubble up from my subconsciousness at this beautiful green time of year, when the foliage forms tapestries all around me.



Green's a blessing, a promise of life and growth and abundance. Nature's neutral, it sets off blues and purples, reds, yellows and oranges to perfection. Green rests the eyes and calms the mind,
quiets the noise and refreshes the soul. Thank goodness for green.


Here's another web album. It's what's happening at the end of June in the garden
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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Weekend Update Update

Talk about your ivory tower -- when last night I posted words to the effect that it hadn't rained yet, I was upstairs in my workroom with the floor fan going full tilt and producing a bit of a dull roar -- white noise, very useful for concentration.. When I came downstairs just before midnight and said something to my husband about being disappointed there'd been no rain, he looked at me oddly.

"It rained for hours," he said. "Almost three-quarters of an inch."

So the old clothes-on-the-line sacrifice to the rain gods worked at last! And we awoke this morning to more gentle rain -- glorious!

And Tammy and Pat, here's the recipe for Blueberry Buckle, as inherited from my mother.

VIRGINIA LANE'S BLUEBERRY BUCKLE

BATTER

¼ cup butter
½ cup sugar
1 cup flour (sift before measuring)
1 egg
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk

Cream together sugar and butter. Add egg. Beat in well. Sift together dry ingredients and add, alternating with the milk. Pour into greased 8 inch square pan and top with

1 pint blueberries (Mom always used drained canned berries, the little wild ones from Maine, but fresh is good. And Kay Byer's plum-raspberry combo sounds terrific!))

TOPPING

1/3 cup flour
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup butter

Mix together the dry ingredients and chop in the butter as when making pie crust. Sprinkle over berries.

Bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Serve warm with scalded unsweetened heavy cream.
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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Weekend Update

The clouds are gathering and their dark bases, heavy with moisture, give us hope that there may be rain -- much needed rain. In order to encourage it, I have a clothesline full of laundry, the dog beds are spread outside to air, the car windows are down, and we're planning on eating out on the deck tonight. We're having chicken salad, peach pickle, and potato chips -- a standard Southern summertime meal from my childhood. In the past, this particular menu, when served outside has often brought rain.

The only other rainmaker I've known as effective was my older son. When he was young he had a talent for summoning showers anytime I asked him to go to the garden and pick beans. More often than seems credible, by the time he had his shoes on and started out the door, it would begin to rain. And if you fool with bean plants when they're wet, you run the risk of spreading bean disease. So Ethan would escape the dreaded chore -- at least till things dried off.
News of the peeps: Here's a closeup of what I hope will prove to be an Americana chick. And here's the wren family -- there seem to be three but I can't be sure.

I see a wren coming and going constantly with insects and caterpillars to fill these gaping maws. I sincerely hope both parents are on the job -- feeding a baby bird is no joke. One summer we watched a family of towhees where the father seemed to be doing all the feeding while the mother just looked in from time to time, evidently feeling that her responsibilities were over now that the eggs had hatched.

By summer's end, the poor male towhee was a pale, frazzled shadow of his former self, still followed about by his two children, both now bigger than he and fully capable of feeding themselves but still fluffing up and gaping their mouths at him while Mama, fat and sleek and rested, hung out in the rosebushes, gossiping with friends.
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Friday, June 27, 2008

And Still More Peeping

Every year we have wrens nesting on our porches, in our basement, under our eaves -- anywhere they can find a protected location. Dried grasses, mosses, ferns all go into the construction of these little nests -- and lots of hair -- from the dogs and from my own hairbrush. One little Jenny Wren has taken over a miniature zinc bucket, originally a country-style citronella candle, that hangs on our front porch, just beneath an outdoor speaker. And this morning I heard peeping.


Mama flies away whenever we walk out on the porch. So I lifted up my camera and shot blindly into the nest. The picture above isn't great but it does show an egg and a rather naked-looking hatchling or two.

I cane back about an hour later and got these: the babies have dried off and look a little less awful ---- and they're ready to be fed!


It's a precarious business, raising a brood on the front porch. We'll try to keep an eye on the cats when the babies are ready to fly and we'll hope that the resident blacknakes don't discover the nest. If they live, they'll be tough little birds, brought up on NPR and Bluegrass music, and used to paparazzi from their earliest hour.
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Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Mighty Mix of Chicks

The call came around 7:30 this morning: The chicks
were at the post office and off I went to collect them. As soon as I entered the lobby, I could hear the peeping. The business part of the P.O. was still closed, so I hollered through a mail slot that I had come for the chicks. The postmistress turned them over to me with a sigh of relief -- that incessant peeping can wear you right down and what with the general edginess attributed to postal workers anyway . . .


It was a group order: I was expecting 8 Ameruacana and 4 Gold Laced Wyandottes; my friend and her daughter had requested Brown Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, Black Australians, more Ameruacanas, and a neighbor of theirs had asked for 25 straight run Cornish Games -- 50 chicks in all. And the hatchery had assured my friend, who placed the order, that the chicks would be labeled -- which they were -- sort of.


When I got the box back to my husband's workshop where he had set up a nice brooder with lamps to keep the babies warm, and feeders and a waterer, we were faced with a dilemma: the other folks couldn't come for their chicks till tomorrow and we didn't have a good way of keeping them separate, even if we'd been sure which chick was which. There were chicks in the various sections of the box and the sections were labeled -- but there weren't 25 Cornish Games where they should be; they seemed to have oozed into the other sections.

I was pretty sure which were the Rhode Island Reds and the Black Australians but after that . . . and the babies were peeping and ready to be Out of the Box. So . . . we turned them out. All together. A mighty mix of chicks. Tomorrow we'll have a great chick round up and sort them out as best we can and send them on where they belong. I'll keep what I think are 8 Ameruacanas and what I can only guess might be 4 Gold Laced Wyandottes. There may be swapping later on, as the biddies develop and reveal their breeds. But for today, there's just a whole lot of peeping going on.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dessie and the Jockstrap

Back in May, I noticed the little walnut tree emerging from the clump of irises in our side yard and I was reminded of Dessie and the jockstrap.

In 1975, the year we moved to the farm, my neighbor down the hill, asked me to take her around the mountain to see her friend Dessie who was laid up with a bad case of shingles.

"Dessie, now she's the workinest woman you ever saw," Louise said, as we pulled up to the little frame house, set at the bottom of a shady holler. (Around here, all the best and sunniest spots were reserved for growing crops; for the most part, houses were set in places too rocky or shady for planting. Dessie and Walter's house was in perpetual gloom -- just fine for hot July but pretty dank the rest of the year and probably truly miserable come winter.

Louise called out as we approached the porch and a woman's frail voice replied, "Come in the house!" So we did.The tiny living room was dark and crowded with worn furniture. On a plastic-covered sofa, a frail little woman was half reclining. She wore a loose house coat, white socks, and a radiant smile. Even with the lovely smile, the whole setting was an awful lot like Cold Comfort Farm, and I half-expected Dessie to tell me she'd seen something nasty in the woodshed




Louise asked Dessie if the shingles were still bad. "Law, they like to worry me to death," said Dessie, "they're right here beneath my breast and hit flops down on them and the itchin' is some thing turrible. . . But my boy give me this doo-hickey here" and she pulled open her housecoat to reveal a jock strap around her neck with one withered breast held aloft in the pouch, "and it's helpin' right much."

For me, it was one of those 'You're not in Kansas any more' moments.


I got to know Dessie a little during the next few months before she and her husband moved to somewhere in the middle of the state to live with their son. She was the one who told me how to wean a baby. "You get you some soot from the lamp chimbly and daub it all round the nipple. When the young un gets a sight of all that black, hit'll keep it from wantin' to nurse."

Dessie was a giver -- she gave me raspberry canes from her huge raspberry patch, "Them's tame berries, twicet as big as the wild ones," bags of lambs quarters from her freezer, sweet potato slips from her starter bed, and a little walnut sapling from under her big tree. I planted it back in '75, with irises from Dessie's house at its base; it grew and grew till finally it blocked the view from our bedroom window and in the late nineties we cut it down.

And now it's back -- whether from the old roots or from a slow germinating nut --and I think of Dessie.
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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dog Nose . . . Where the Day Went

I spent the morning in the garden -- tying up and suckering the tomatoes (again) and hoeing and weeding the corn and beans and squash and chard and all the other odds and ends(again.) But there are always new things to look at -- like this voluptuous squash blossom sprawling like a lady of the harem in the hay mulch. A volunteer plant that sprung up amid the tomatoes, it's taking full advantage of the drip hose and the mulch.


And then there was a close encounter with what I took to be a tomato horn worm. He was on the tomatoes and had a horn, so, after taking his picture, I snipped him in half, feeling bad about it but wanting to protect my lovely Cherokee Purple tomatoes. Now, having looked in one of my bug books, I'm not so sure --maybe he was a Great Ash Sphinx larvae and it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oh, the karmic burden! It's too bad, because because sphinx moths are so cool -- they feed at dusk, hovering before the flowers like humming birds.

The sunflowers -- more volunteers, planted by chance and by chipmunks -- are beginning to open. The spiral pattern of their seeds is a true marvel -- right up there in geometric ( if that's the adjective I'm looking for) beauty with the Chambered Nautilus and ripples on a pond.


Growth and beauty, life and death -- it's all there in the garden. A good place to be on a beautiful June morning.
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Monday, June 23, 2008

My Nancy Drew

They weren't particularly well-written. And the ones I first got hooked on -- from the library and from the 1930s -- were at least twenty years out of date when I began reading them. Cloche hats -- what were they? But, oh! that plucky girl detective with her conveniently permissive and well-to-do widower father (no mother, another plus for a girl who wants to pursue adventure); the kindly housekeeper, Hannah Gruen; her loyal (and easily-led) friends, Bess and George; her attractive but never demanding boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, and oh! oh! oh! that blue roadster!!!

When I attended my first Malice Domestic convention, I saw this book and, though it wasn't a title that had been a particular favorite (the bookseller didn't have The Clue in the Crumbling Wall or The Mystery of the Tolling Bell), I somehow felt that I had to have it, in a nod to my first encounter with mystery.

I wonder how many other female mystery readers and writers got their start with Nancy Drew? I would bet something like -- most. And Nancy's still going strong -- a bit on NPR this morning talked about how that blue roadster has morphed over the years into a convertible and now a hybrid. (I tried reading one of the seventies versions and it just wasn't the same. I guess that every generation has their own Nancy Drew.)

Here's a link to a site that explains just who this prolific and astonishingly long-lived Carolyn Keene is.

And here's Nancy, within arm's reach of my writing chair, just in case I need backup from a plucky girl detective.
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Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Elusive Miss Birdie


I'm hard at it, changing Miss Birdie's voice from third to first person point of view in The Day of Small Things. I believe I've finally got a handle on her personality -- the complete woman beyond the cute little octogenarian neighbor. I've gotten rid of most of the big words and English major sentence constructions that Elizabeth (and Vicki) tend to use and am trying to write in a simpler style. I do feel as if I'm getting into Birdie's head and understanding her much better.

Interesting developments are occurring -- remember the picture of the two men and the hound a few posts back? Well, it's going to be a story in this book. And Inez and Odessa are going to play a part as well.

I've had an image for the cover for a long time -- I told my editor and she liked the sound of it but nothing will happen till I turn the book in, which I'm not ready to do yet. The picture above is my idea -- as best I can realize it with the limited tools and expertise at hand. A mountainscape, a blue sky, and a bird's wing to hint that the bird is escaping. Light filtering through the feathers, the sky a sort of Maxfield Parrish blue. Could work, but it'll be up to the Art Director and Marketing, I suspect. We can only wait and see.
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Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Weighty Question


In an oral culture, words shift around, depending on who's using them. One of the on-line lists I follow has been having a discussion about using slang words in writing -- the words under discussion were 'skanky,' which I first heard a few years ago, 'hokey,' which has been a part of my vocabulary for a very long time, 'skeevy,' which was new to me, and 'hinky,' which I've heard and understand but don't use.

As the discussion went on, it became obvious that some of these words were used slightly differently in different parts of the country. And then one exasperated writer asked, 'Don't we have enough good words in English -- why do we need these new ones?'

This really amazed me as I can't think of a better way to delineate character than by the words, especially slang, he or she uses. Miss Birdie won't call someone a skank -- though she might recognize the word as we know she watches television -- she'd use the older word 'huzzy.' Elizabeth or Phillip would likely be familiar with the word 'hokey,' but Ben and Laurel would say 'sketchy.'

Slang is a wonderful part of a writer's tool-box -- you just have to fit it to the character.

But that leaves us with the question: What do you say (if you say it at all) -- butt naked or buck naked?
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Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer Solstice


Today marks the Summer solstice: the sun is rising at the northern end of its range.




It has far to go before it reaches its northernmost point on December 21.

For time out of mind, people in the northern hemisphere have celebrated the Summer Solstice
( also known as Midsummer (see Shakespeare), the Christian St. John's Day, or the Wiccan Litha). Dancing and bonfires to help increase the sun's energy were common and among the Druids, the Summer Solstice was known as the wedding of Heaven and Earth -- thus the present day belief of a lucky wedding in June. Pagans called the Midsummer moon the Honey Moon for the mead made from fermented honey that was part of wedding ceremonies performed at the Summer Solstice.

Midsummer was also known as a time of magic, when evil spirits might appear. For defense against evil, Pagans often wore protective garlands of herbs and flowers. One of the most powerful of them was a plant called 'chase-devil', which is known today as St. John's Wort and still used by modern herbalists as a mood stabilizer.


Today, the day is still celebrated around the world - especially in England at Stonehenge and Avebury, where thousands gather to welcome the sunrise on the Summer Solstice. Pagan spirit gatherings or festivals are also common in June, when groups gather to light a sacred fire, and stay up all night to welcome the dawn.

I'll be celebrating with a reading at Accent on Books at 6 this evening -- no dancing, mead, or bonfires, but there will be wine and nibbly things and there will be a witch (Byron, Asheville's Village Witch, is one of the booksellers.) Six o'clock -- not seven, as posted elsewhere.
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mish-Mash Photography

My camera is always full of varied images -- of course there're the dogs and the flowers and the sunrises -- I can't help it; they're always calling out to me. But then there're some other shots . . . quirky, idiosyncratic . . . like this big A, hanging outside my workroom window. I picked some dead leaves off a house plant that sits in this window and, since I have an aversion to throwing plant materials in the trash and since the window has no screen, I lowered the window from the top and tossed out the few leaves that they might fall to the earth below and thus return to the soil.

Only they didn't. They just hung there, caught in a spider web and forming an A. So what I want to know is, should I take this as a Sign? And if so, what does it mean?



And then there's this treetop tapestry -- not a very exciting picture but just look at all those different colors and textures! I spent a long time thinking you had to have flowers to make the landscape interesting but really, flowers are just the exclamation points; it's the foliage that paints the big picture.
There are images that remind me I want to improve my photography . . . like this humming bird. I'd like to do better than just the silhouette. Oh dear, that means more time sitting on the porch, sitting and watching and waiting. A tough job but . . .

And finally, this. Is it a comet? A microscopic something or other?

Nope. It's last night's moon. It winked at me from behind the trees on the ridge to the south and made me think of a senorita with a black lace mantilla, half-covering her face. There was no time to set up a tripod as the moon would rise clear of the trees in a few seconds. But even though I steadied the camera on the window frame, just pushing the button made the picture swerve.


I kinda like it though.
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Coming to a Small Screen Near You

Many thanks to all of you who showed up yesterday over on the Fresh Fiction blog. Kinda like the high school yearbook -- I wanted something under my post so it didn't look like I had no friends. And you all came through very nicely! This guest blogging is a weird thing -- nice to be back home.

And now for something completely different. When I was at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Carlottesville last year, there were folks doing videos of the various authors talking about their current book. For free. It took a while (over a year) but they've just sent me the link to mine. That's another weird thing. My accent is more pronounced than I think it is (but I knew that from the first time I recorded a message on our answering machine) and for some ungodly reason, I close my eyes when I answer questions. So I can think undistracted, I guess.

Anyway, if you're interested, here's the link
for the video. I had to down load this
(Apple Quicktime Player) in order to watch the video. If you do this (and it's quite easy), be sure the sign up box is unchecked in order to avoid promotional emails.
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