Saturday, August 31, 2013

Week 35 of the 52s...Epic Time Travel

William and Addie ~ circa 1900
(Two of 148 known ancestors)


Wednesday night I was watching one of the few television shows I'm interested in.  As it ends and I'm reaching for my book, this other thing comes on called Who Do You Think You Are?  This is a spin-off of a program I used to watch in the UK, so rather than blow it off, I decide to see what the American version is all about.

Three days, peeps.  Three days I've been sucked into a time travel vortex, lost in a space/time continuum of major proportions.  Come walk with me whilst I explain...

Thursday morning, I'm mulling over the show, thinking of family and history and ancestors while hiking with the dogs.  When we get home, I finish some chores, have lunch, then because I'm curious, I sit at the computer and go to Ancestry.com...and lose myself totally, completely, absolutely. 

It was addicting and mesmerizing and exciting.  Also exhausting and brain damaging, but wow, what an adventure.  I learned an amazing amount of things, about my family, American history, life and death struggles, and the vagaries of Fate.

The mathematics of the experience nearly did me in at one point late Thursday evening.  It's one thing to start with your parents, easy to add in the four grands, still okay juggling the eight greats, and almost maintaining sanity with the sixteen great-greats...but then, like amoeba in a Petrie dish, they quickly turn into 32, then it's 64, and suddenly there are over a hundred--148 to be precise--each with a history, a story and a connection to...me! 

There were many plain, average folk: carpenters and millers, farmers and blacksmiths, gunsmiths and teachers.  There were also soldiers and militia men, captains and constables, judges and legislators, and even--I was amazed to discover--colonials and settlers back to the early 1600s. 

My 10th great-grandfather arrived from England in 1634.  He sailed with his wife and two daughters, ages 2 and 6.  They left behind all that was familiar to start fresh in the New World.  His family died on the voyage.  Can you imagine?  By the time his ship docked in Boston, he had lost everything.  After a few years, however, he remarried and had two boys...one was my 9th great-grandfather.  And here's where a strange fateful thought occurred to me: I wouldn't be here today if Thomas's family had not perished on that voyage. 

Thomas turned out to be a very interesting fellow--one after my own heart really.  So not into the whole Puritan thing, he and a merry band of like-minded people left Boston in 1637 and founded Windsor, in Connecticut.  Later, Captain Samuel, his son and my 9th great, fought and died leading the Connecticut militia at Ft Narraganset, in a battle known as the Great Swamp Fight, in December 1675.  (And yeah, I had to look that one up.  I'm pretty sure I didn't learn about it in school).  The next year, his daughter married my 8th great, who had just graduated from a fairly new university...Harvard.  

To a man, both sides of my family fought in the Revolutionary War; later, a good portion of them participated in the Indian Wars, and nearly all of them again in the Civil War.  Either they were very political and patriotic, or they just liked to fight.  Most of the families on both sides moved West after the War between the States, generally ending up in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Canada.

As I searched, some avenues petered out and some led nowhere.  Once I followed a thread for over an hour to find it was the wrong one and had to backtrack and start over.  Genealogy is grueling work, though I loved the discoveries and the research; the thrill of a eureka moment when finding a certain young Irish girl on a ship's passenger list from 1886, the girl who would become one of my great-grandmothers.  (See photo above).

I lost hours--okay, an entire day and a half--following the many branches of the family until I reached, well, the Atlantic Ocean.  Late yesterday afternoon, I crossed over The Pond and began to unearth the European connection.  I say Europe, but they all came from Ireland, Scotland, or England. 

Roaming, I went from the Highlands to Cornwall, County Cork to Northumberland, Yorkshire to Wales, Sussex to London...until I finally got to the absolute end of the line, where I couldn't go any further without physically being in the UK to read the parish records.  The last stop in the time machine came with three sets of 13th great-grandparents:  Richard and Ellyn, 1507; Oliver and Elizabeth, 1520; and Richard and Mary, also 1520.  I'm boggled really.  A tangible family cord that stretches out behind me for 500 years.

So, in my adventures for the 52s this week, I learned many things, and even with my head spinning after days of travel, I've still had long moments to contemplate just how fortunate we all are to have arrived at this point in time.  After reading about plague and shipboard fevers and deadly childbirth, wars and arrows and famine, I'm in awe of my ancestors for their strength and fortitude, because truly, without them?  I wouldn't be sitting here writing these words...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fred and Lorraine


I stumbled across this video today--not sure where I was in cyberspace when I found it--but decided it would be interesting to watch as I ate my breakfast.  And now I've acquired a new skill: cereal eating whilst crying.  I'm pretty sure Guinness would be impressed.

Take ten minutes, peeps.  Surely you can spare the time for a love story...


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mud Pies


My usual dog hiking gear this Summer has been Capri shorts, Hawaiian shirts and sturdy walking sandals.  Easy, simple, no fuss and I've managed to stay marginally cool since the Gates of Hell opened in May.

So.

The heat was already building by the time the boys and I got to the soccer field park this morning, though it was still very pleasant in the shade along the river.  About three-quarters of the way around the park, you have to skirt the edge of one large playing field to get from one sidewalk to the next.  The grass is brown here, there are a couple of wooden bleachers, and no shelter from the blazing sun.  Even the dogs don't linger as we cross the Badlands.

I was sort of daydreaming at this point, not paying much attention to anything other than getting to the sidewalk and lovely shade, when I happened to glance down just as I was about to step on a yellow jacket.  I tried to avoid it by dodging to the side, but apparently my kindness was misinterpreted as some kind of apian threat, because the frigging thing rose in the air, buzzed angrily around my foot, then deliberately--with extreme prejudice--dived into that oh-so-tender space between my big toe and the next...and stung me.  Twice!

I should have crushed the bugger when I had the chance.

For a split second, I wonder if I've imagined it, that the hornet didn't really just attack me.  But then the teeth clenching, OMG this hurts, I can't help jumping up and down, stinging pain pierced through my foot.  I hobble to one of the bleachers, fling off my sandal and vigorously rub the two welts rising between my toes.  And without sounding like a big ol' crybaby?  It hurt like a bitch.

I should have crushed the bugger when I had the chance.

I'm miles from home, my toes are twitching in painful spasms and I'm trying to figure out if I can get to the nearest pharmacy, or even the grocery store, when the sprinkler system turns on in front of me...

And suddenly, I'm nine.  Barefoot, I have just stepped on a bee.  My mother is watering the garden in the back yard.  I howl and hop as she walks over, and with the hose and some dirt, makes a mud pie sludge and tells me to stick my foot in it until the stinging stops.  And yeah, it worked.

Limping toward the outer reach of a sprinkler where the water is hitting the dirt, I make a muddy poultice and slap it between my toes.  At first I don't feel anything but ridiculous, but then...is the burn actually cooling, the sting fading a bit?  After a few minutes, I put my sandal back on--mud and all--and finished the walk.  By the time we got to the car, the stinging had completely stopped.

When we got home, I washed my foot, soaped all the dirt and debris off, and wow...no more welts, just two tiny red dots.  Whew.  I will live to see another day...

I should have crushed the bugger when I had the chance.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Words and Weather


I had a most excellent weekend, filled with writing and reading and RAIN!!  Woo hoo.  Finally--at long last, after many parched and hideously dry months--it rained on Sunday.

But first...

Saturday the boys and I had a great though extremely humid walk.  The slogging heat seemed to melt something in my brain because the clamoring in my head from those interfering serial characters began to make sense.  I stopped for an iced mocha at the local coffee shop, then drove home and immediately began to write.  It was great and startling and a good thing all the chores were done, because I wrote until every last little gray cell had been prodded, poked and sucked dry.  Then I shut off the computer and walked away, letting things stew--in my head and on the nebulous pages of my word program.

After dinner I caught up on some television, finished a book, played with the dogs and drank a nice glass of wine.  Went to bed around midnight.  And suddenly found myself totally, completely, horribly wide awake.  High Noon awake.  Ten cups of coffee awake.  I tossed and turned for a bit, then switched on the TV, figuring there must be something mind-numbing that would bore me to sleep.



Maybe there was, but instead I accidentally stumbled upon a movie called Bright Star, the story of John Keats and Fanny Brawne.  And let me say, not only did I love the whole production, but holy crap, at the end I was bawling my head off right along with Fanny.  At 2:30 in the morning.

Ah well.  Nothing like a good tear-jerker to exhaust lull a girl to sleep.



So, I finally nod off around 3:00am, when close to 5:00 there is this bizarre sound that wakes me.  What in the world?  I get up, stumble into the living room and stand like a dope trying to figure out why I'm hearing drumming and whistling and rattling.  And then, like some lost, forgotten memory, I realize I'm listening to wind and rain, pounding and lashing around the house, on the roof, against the skylights.

I fling open the front door and god, I would bottle this joy if I could.  The cool, almost chilly current of fresh air that caressed my skin was intoxicating, raising goose bumps everywhere.  I actually stepped out onto the deck and let the rain drench me, the wind swirl and tease.  I could have swooned from the beauty of the storm, the clean scent of ozone, the wonder in being cool instead of hot, damp from rain not sweat.

When I was totally soaked, I came in, changed clothes and dried off, then went back to bed and slept like a baby as the wind raged and the rain pummeled.  Nirvana.

So yesterday was a Sunday of dark clouds, intermittent rain squalls and the first time since early May that I've worn my jeans and a pair of socks to walk the dogs.

Later in the afternoon I went back to the serial.  Rewrote a few things, clarified others, then decided it might be too long for an installment, so I spent more time trying to break the story into two parts.  After posting the first half, I decided to take the rest of the day off.  I watched movies and dinked and reveled at the lack of a sinister yellow orb scorching the earth from above.

This morning the sun was back, the temps are in the high 80s, the smoke is once again filling the valleys, and I sit here hot and sweaty.  Still, now I think I can stand it, because I know the end is almost here.

I felt the cool foreshadowing of Fall, the promise of change in the touch of the wind...and I am so ready.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Short...Maybe Sweet


I am determined to get the chattering opinions from my serial characters out of my head today, or shortly thereafter.  Honestly, what a pushy bunch of folks.  Though, I did discover this morning whilst walking the boys, it was a good thing I took a day off--okay, two--to read my galley book, because I had a small epiphany.  I love those.  They make being a writer worth all the aggro when those crystalline moments of insight, illumination, or you gotta be kidding me, flash through the brain.  So, after a few chores and a phone call or two, I'm going to get back to the story.

Returning to the house after the walk, I was opening the back windows to catch a breeze--yeah, right--and noticed these two sharing the bird bath.

Well, not exactly sharing.  The sweet little gray chap was there first, then the bigger guy horned right in...and isn't that always the way?


Look at the expression on the gray one's wee face as water flies everywhere.  Seriously, someone should call the lifeguard...


Right after I took that last shot, the gray flew off, leaving the entire pool...er...bath to the bully.  Doesn't that figure.  I did get a laugh though because truly, I could see the little bird was totally pissed about the whole thing.

Camera still in hand, I went to the front of the house to continue opening windows.  From the guest bedroom I have a clear overlook across town to the south through the Halloween tree.

Several mourning doves were perched in the branches.  And yes, in case you're wondering, the smoke is still permeating everything on both sides of my mountain.  (I posted two panoramic views on the Shot of the Week yesterday.  You can really see how bad the smoke is between what is normal and what is not).

Birds out on a limb...


I love how the moss hangs on these trees.  Reminds me of a gothic southern mansion in the bayou.


Okay, that's about it, for now.  Must finish my work-related stuff so I can get on with the serial; the clamoring is driving me nuts...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Week 34 of the 52s...Deathmage

Over on the left margin, and down a bit, I have a section of links called Keep Up.  These are my daily blog reads...or as daily as the writers post them anyway.

One link is Lynn Viehl's site, Paperback Writer.  A best-selling author, Lynn has just published her 50th book.  I've been following her for quite awhile and have read most of her books, but lately my focus has been on the first part of her new steampunk series, Disenchanted & Co.

Part One, Her Ladyship's Curse, finally arrived August 12th.  I downloaded it to my Kindle, cleared the deck--no chores or interference allowed--and read the entire day until I finished--at a blasted cliff-hanger ending!

I commented on Lynn's blog about how much I loved the story--which takes place in an alternate America after losing the War of Independence to the Brits.  I might have grumbled a wee bit about having to wait until October for the second part, His Lordship Possessed.  I'm seriously drooling over bad boy, Lucien Dredmore: Long-haired, handsome, hot...and a legal assassin called a deathmage.

Another thing Lynn does on her site is have these great giveaways.  I actually have won a few and it's totally fun.

So, yesterday afternoon, just as I sat down to work on the serial, the FedEx guy roars up the drive and hands me a box.  Yay!  It's my giveaway win from last week, though I wonder why the box is a bit big since I'd won some Victorian-style jewelry.

Holy Hyperventilation, Batman! 

I'm calling this is a week in the 52s because of the excitement, the fun, the new experience--everything one of my weeks should be:

My signed, bound, print galley...


I couldn't believe it.  I mean, I totally couldn't believe it.  I'm pretty sure I yelled, hopped around, maybe even did an appalling victory dance of some kind...the details are a bit sketchy really, though I still had the presence of mind to send a gushing email of thanks to Lynn for the great surprise tucked in with the cool jewelry. 

Then I plopped right down and started reading.

I forgot about writing the serial, didn't water the garden, neglected the laundry.  And I didn't raise my head again until I got about halfway in, right to the part where Lucien is taken by--  No.  Not telling.  But I had to stop there because things just don't look good at the moment for the deathmage and I'm not sure how it's going to play out.

Which means this is a most excellent story...and a perfect choice for a week in the 52s.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Moonstruck


I have always been compellingly drawn to the moon.  Many nights in my childhood I would gaze through my father's binoculars, trying to hold still enough to see the craters and shadows.  When I was a bit older, I had a telescope; older still I've been to three observatories and marveled anew at the beauty and wonder of this incredible glowing ball in space.  I've planted by the moon's cycles, cast spells and made promises under full moons.  I have moon photographs taken from around the globe.
 
Does that make me obsessed?  Perhaps.  Though being born just before midnight on the night of a full moon might have something to do with it.
 
Last night, as the boys and I were walking back from the mailbox, I saw the moon just cresting the mountains.  I brought the dogs in, gave them their cookies, grabbed the camera and went back outside and across the road.
 
View through the Halloween tree...

This is better, closer, though not exactly the shot I was looking for...
 

Ah.  This is more like it...

(Clicking on the photo shows the surface--craters and shadows and mysteries, oh my...)

If I lived near an enchanted meadow instead of on top of a mountain, I would dance in the moonlight with wild abandon...and count myself blessed indeed.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits


Being Listless is very liberating.  It's rare, almost unbelievable really, that I've gone for four whole days without one--well, except for the ongoing grocery list, and the Things to Do When the Weather Cools list, and the Fall Chores list, and...oh never mind.

Anyway.

Because I had a few days without immediate chores, I've been able to catch up on some shows I've recorded over the past weeks--and man, do I love Longmire--plus read a book or three, and have some really nice, leisurely hikes with my two fur balls.

On Sunday, after our doggy walk, I detoured downtown to revisit the Courthouse Elm.  In early Spring, I blogged about trees for a Sundays In My City post; this shot was part of that post...















I meant to go back to see the tree in full leaf, then forgot.  The courthouse is just a block from the post office--which is on the other side of the river and across the valley from me--so when a little postal annex place opened up right below my mountain, I mostly quit going that direction.  Until last Sunday...

A beautiful, awesome elm...


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

During this scorching Summer, I have been watering the garden in the late evenings, but this weekend I started watering in the mornings.  It's a bit cooler--relatively speaking--and frees up my evenings after walking the dogs.

My vegetable garden, as I've mentioned in a previous post, has been terrible this year.  Immodestly, I'm going to say that I was born with a green thumb, maybe even both thumbs.  I've been known to rescue plants from dumpsters and bring them back to life.  In the past, friends have brought me the sick and neglected to heal and rejuvenate.  I'm telling you this, dear readers, because it kills me that my garden has not prospered, and in fact, is the worst veggie patch ever.  I'm trying not to take this failure personally because I'm pretty sure it's really the unrelenting, above normal, endless heat and not anything untoward that I'm doing/haven't done.

Still.

With that in mind then, it's a wonder what few tomatoes I've managed to keep alive are at last ripening and look so very tasty and delicious.

The Six...





Later tonight I'm going to pick the biggest, ripest one and make myself a BLT for dinner.  I love a good, juicy BLT, especially with a homegrown tomato on thick slices of homemade wheat (bought from the local monastery), fresh, crunchy lettuce, crispy bacon, and all stuck together with Hellman's.  Yikes, my mouth is seriously watering...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In May, my mother and sister came for a weekend.  We ate and drank and shopped and had a good time.  At the local garden center Mom talked me into getting this lovely little plant I'd never seen before.  She called it a Purple Fan and said it was a wonderful basket filler.

I planted it with some Lobelia and Alyssum in one of the baskets that hang from the back deck...


This morning whilst watering, I paused for a moment to really look at one of the blooms.  And wow.  Nature just astounds me.

The inner life of a flower...


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I've got an overabundance of thoughts swirling around in my head today about the next installment in the serial.  At this point, I can go in several directions, though part of the chaotic jumble is coming from the characters, each one it seems with their own playbook.  I'm going to let things percolate today, then try to act like the writer instead of the typist when I sit down tomorrow to sort things out.

In the meantime?  I'll be drooling for that BLT...

Monday, August 19, 2013

Magpie Tales 182...Movement

photo by Elena Kalis
 
                                                        Kite strings of
                                                             broken red bonds
                                                                  Falling like Icarus

                                                        Porcelain skin in
                                                             silken white gown
                                                                  Ripples with air

                                                        Graceful beauty as
                                                             clear blue water
                                                                  Beckons new life
 
 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
 
 
Magpie Tales 182.  Not only is this a very cool photo, but I love that with just one rotation of the picture, everything changes.  Suddenly, there's an entirely different perspective, and interpretation, after the twist...
 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Week 33 of the 52s...The List


I make a list, sometimes Sunday nights, usually Monday mornings.  The List is to keep me on track with chores, appointments, whatever, but it's also a way for me to get a sense of accomplishment because with every task done, I get to cross it off.  Some weeks certain things don't get done, so must carry over to the next week.  Depending on my priority/procrastination level, one or two items might appear for weeks on end. 

Like the last thing on this week's list....

I have this really lovely Berber carpeting throughout the house.  It was very pricey back in the day.  I know this because it's at least 20 years old and is just now starting to show a bit of wear in the high traffic areas.  The carpet was cleaned when we moved in, but that's been over two years now and it's time again.  Rather than have rug cleaner guys come in, I did some serious research into finding a machine I could buy to do the job myself.  I settled on a Bissell, with a most excellent rating on every site I reviewed and bought it about six weeks ago.

It's not only been in the garage since then, but "carpet cleaning" has migrated from list to list for weeks.

When I made this week's list on Monday, I had two other carry overs, besides the carpet cleaning, amongst my chores.  I decided I was going to finish every last thing on The List this week, no matter what.

And I did.  I was down to one last thing today.

There was a big piece of carpet that the previous owners had used by the front door; it was dirty and awful.  When we had the carpet cleaned, I had the carpet guys also clean this remnant, then I put it downstairs in the laundry room which leads out to the garage and the back yard.  It has collected a vast amount of dirt and grime, which made it a perfect test piece for me to not only try out the Bissell, but to see if the cleaner lived up to all the ratings.

This afternoon, temps in the high 90s, I'm going to strike off the last bloody item on The List and start the weekend free of all tasks, so I drag the carpet piece into the garage; my reasoning being if something goes awry with the machine--or the operator--I won't have a big mess to clean up in the laundry room.

My new carpet cleaner...


For some reason, the dirt isn't apparent in this "Before" shot, but believe me, two years' worth of dogs and rain and mud and wind and laundry fluff and whatever else we don't want to know about, really made this carpet gnarly--something my mother would have clucked her tongue at, then given me the look for my crap housekeeping skills.


"After" and two complete tanks of carpet shampoo later (I said it was dirty)...a spotlessly clean laundry room carpet:


I'm ready to do a commercial for Bissell.  Really.  Though it took two efforts, I can't complain, considering what I started with.  The machine is lightweight and very easy to operate, and the clean-up afterwards consisted of just three parts which snapped out and snapped back in with no hassle at all.  It was good to experiment first so I know exactly how to clean the main carpet.

This might not have been a fun week for the 52s, but it was definitely a new experience.  Not only do I feel really good having totally finished The List, but I have a nice, clean carpet in the laundry room, and know how to operate my new machine for the real cleaning to come.

At some later date.

Because right now I'm going to savor the No List moment...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bits & Bobs


I worked for a few hours yesterday to clear the hundreds of desiccated poppy stalks off the back slope, but after too much smoke inhalation, compounded by the humidity, I had to give up.  At this rate it will take me until Halloween.  And though I water every night, my vegetables are crap this year.  So far I've only gotten two small zucchini and one squash--last year I was giving the zucchini away by the armload--and my tomatoes are just now turning red...all four of them.  Considering the brutal heat this Summer, I would have done better to plant habanero or jalapeƱo peppers.  Or cactus.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Last night I was out stargazing and, being the moon child that I am, couldn't resist getting out my tripod and taking some telephoto shots of the half moon.  I posted my favorite on the Shot of the Week, so if you'd like to see it, just click on the camera to the right there.  Or here.

I dropped my camera the other day from a height of about three feet onto the stone path in the back yard.  I was sure I'd done serious damage, at the very least jarred the lens or delicate internal bits, but other than a scratch on one corner of the body, I haven't noticed any glaring irregularities in my photos.  Whew!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Speaking of the camera, I had it with me this morning walking the boys at the soccer field park so I could take a photo of some beautiful flowers growing near the parking lot.

My favorite color...


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

High school kids were having a big fundraising car wash for...something, by my grocery store this morning.  After the dog hike, I went shopping and whilst loading my stuff into the car, I took a good hard look at my car...my really, really dirty car.  So, I added to the high school kids' fund for...something, and got the Blazer sparkling clean.
 
In my change I got a fiver, with a Where's George stamp on it.  Now, I thought the whole point of Where's George was the George part: it had to be a one dollar bill.  I went online when I got home to register the serial number and it turns out any bill will do.

This one has been on the road for 4 years and 344 days.  It started in Pennsylvania, and I'm the first one to register it in all that time.  Too bad actually.  I wonder about the places it's been since 2008.  It's in surprisingly good shape, which made me think initially that it was new on the circuit.  Ah well, they say money talks, but not in this case.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I also bought a book at the store, since they were having a big sale, and though I have a few more chores to do around the house, I'm going to sit down soon to head into the heart of a blizzard in the Michigan wilderness.

Anything that takes me away from heat, humidity and smoke works for me...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Magpie Tales 181...Yes, You Can

 
painting by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
 
  
Music heats the blood
Skirts fly in wild abandon
Breathtaking cancan
 
  
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 
Magpie Tales 181...and a painting from one of my favorite artists.  I have always loved his Moulin Rouge posters, and his other colorful depictions of bohemian life in France.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Week 32 of the 52s...Extenuating and Impossible


Since Friday morning things have been fairly fraught around the homestead.  It started with a barrage of thunderstorms that rolled, one after another, across the valley, shaking windows and rattling doors.  I actually liked it, and though I fervently hoped for rain--there was nary a drop--the noise drove the dogs into panic mode.  At one point, late in the afternoon, I thought Max was going to have a heart attack from the stress of it all.  By bedtime, things had eased back enough for both dogs to collapse in exhaustion, wedged between the wall and the bed like earthquake survivors.
 
The relief was short-lived.  Early Saturday, before sunrise, a clap of thunder woke all three of us, me with my heart galloping like a stampeding horse, the boys first barking, then clambering all over me while they tried to bury themselves under the duvet, whining and shaking.  Bloody hell, another day of angst and anxiety.
 
But worse, there was no rain in the storms, just thunder and heat lightning.  Which started a whole slew of new forest fires, as if the dozens that are raging right now across Oregon weren't enough.
 
This is the view across the valley at first light today.  Somewhere out there are mountains, and forests, and wildlife...



The smoke is everywhere.  It reminds me of being a kid, sitting around the campfire when the smoke shifts and blasts right into your face.  Stinging eyes, burning nose, coughing and sputtering.  The difference is, at the campfire you can jump to your feet, wave your arms around and dodge to the other side of the fire.  There's no escape here.
 
The storms have moved on today, leaving fire and destruction in their wake, though I'm pretty sure the dogs don't care; they're just relieved the bangs and tremors have stopped.
 
Here's the extenuating part of the 52s this week:  Because of the weather I couldn't leave the dogs by themselves as Armageddon roiled, which meant I couldn't do what I had planned.  The Douglas County Fair is this weekend.  I wanted to go early on Saturday, to see the baby goats and the wee piglets and the quilts and maybe even eat some great artery-clogging food that can only be had at any county fair in America.
 
I suppose I could've still tried to go today, but with the smoke and the swampy bayou humidity of Dagobah, I can't be bothered.  Frankly, it's all I can do to breathe at this point.
 
Though I also didn't want to miss a week.  I've come so far, I've managed to find some adventure, something new, every week for over six months.  As I walked the boys this morning, it just seemed impossible to--

Wait.

Impossible.

Why does that jog something in my mind?

By the time we get home, I remember:  Impossible Pie.

I dig through my recipes until I find the one I want, this odd coconut pie from an old-time recipe--my favorite kind--called 'impossible' because it miraculously forms its own crust while baking.  How cool is that?

The recipe is very easy, six ingredients, all mixed in one bowl, poured into a glass pie pan, cooked for an hour, and ta da...

Impossible Pie...


It will take some time to cool, so I'll have to get back to you, dear readers, on the mysterious crust, though even without that, it smells heavenly and the top is crunchy and firm.  I'm looking forward to a piece after dinner tonight.

So, though my original plan for Week 32 didn't happen, the impossible did.  And I'm really good with that.

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Update:  Hours later.  Dinner finished.  Slice of pie on the plate.
 
The Impossible Pie...
 
 
The top was crunchy and deliciously coconutty, and wow, the mystery crust was truly there.  It was crust-like on the back part of the slice, the bottom being a more firmly cooked custard base, though I've had soft bottom crusts, so this wasn't really a detraction.
 
Now, to be completely, critically accurate:  The pie tasted like a super moist macaroon.  And for me, that's a very cool thing; I totally love a good macaroon.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Chores and Choices


Once I started on my Tuesday cleaning rampage, I couldn't stop with just vacuuming and dusting. Yesterday the madness continued with windows and appliances and floors and other wretched tasks, even a few things on my must do but don't want to list. Today the house is sparkling and I'm feeling marginally cheery about it--except that housework is like weeding: it's never truly finished.

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Remember last month, after my basket class, when I gathered up some fallen pine needles whilst the boys and I were walking at the VA one Sunday?  Laying the little bunches in the nuclear heat of my garage, every few days I would turn them over so they would dry evenly.

Four weeks ago...
 

Last week I stripped the needles off the stalks to help them really dry, then yesterday I felt they had reached maximum doneness, so gathered them up on newspaper and brought them inside for bundling...
 

I managed to get four nice bundles, enough for maybe two smaller baskets or one large one...
 
 
Next, into the freezer for 3 to 4 days, then they're good to go, lasting for years.  And I've just gotta say how cool I find this whole process:  
  • Gathered off the ground: easy. 
  • Drying the needles: even easier. 
  • Removing from stalks: a bit time-consuming, but good for meditating on Nature's bounty. 
  • Arranging needles into perfect bundles: not difficult, especially with the subtle fragrance of a pine forest wafting around me as I carefully sorted.
I'm going to get back to working on my basket this weekend.  With any luck I haven't forgotten how to weave the sinew and needles.

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I had my camera with me this morning walking the dogs, mainly because I wanted to take a shot of this weird tree I've been looking at for ages. In the Winter months it appears even more demonic when it stands out from the other trees. I can't get closer to this clump of trees to see if this is several dead ones, or just a single tree with strange dead limbs. Still, doesn't it look like scary skeletal fingers clawing out of the foliage?


In a little glade, to the side of these trees--which hang over the riverbank next to the old veterans cemetery--was this beautiful swath of blue wildflowers. I got down low and let my camera decide what to focus on. I like the slightly ethereal look of this shot...

 

Done with the walk and after a few quick errands, I come home...and find the neighborhood lunch wagon is apparently open for business.  Is it any wonder I'm having a hard time getting the plants in the front yard to thrive?  Plants, I might add, that are allegedly deer resistant...
 
 
I did get the photo I'm using for the Shot of the Week, though it was a toss-up between those cool blue wildflowers and what I ended up choosing.

So, now my plan is to work on the next installment of the serial this afternoon, though I stopped by the used bookstore this morning and my new/old books are whispering in my ear, and I suppose I should haul out the sprayer and douse my bushes with deer repellent while I still have any greenery left at all.

Writing, reading, spraying...choices, choices.   Ah well, at least the house is clean... 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Escape Pods...

One of my neighbors, further along the mountain road from me, is coming over this evening, which means I should vacuum and dust--two things I loath, especially when it's to reach nearly 100* today--though sometimes I need the incentive and motivation or these chores wouldn't get done until Fall.
 
In the few years I've lived on my mountain, I didn't know this neighbor at all; she was always working, and other than the casual wave as we passed each other driving up or down the road, I'd never actually met her until a few months ago.
 
One evening in May, walking to the mailbox with the boys, I ran into a woman walking in the opposite direction, a woman I might have recognized.  We stopped, introduced ourselves, and in that fifteen minute chat I found out why, for the very first time, I was actually meeting her in person, not just waving at a vague figure in a car.
 
The reason?  She had left her job, because with just 6 weeks to go before she took early retirement and started a new adventurous life with her husband--plans already in place to head first for Hawaii, then round the world--she finds out she has breast cancer.  A very advanced, very bad kind--not that every kind isn't bad, but hers was the worst of the bad.  She gets the news on a Friday, and has a double mastectomy on Monday.  On this day we met on the road, she was three weeks past the surgery and one week from starting chemo.
 
I honestly didn't know what to say, because what can you say: Good luck?  Hope you get well soon?  Hang in there?  Life is really fucked up?  Instead of platitudes, I asked her if she reads.  She said yes, though she'd been working so hard for so long, she hadn't been reading much.  I asked her what kind of stuff she liked; she didn't care, just anything to keep her mind off her illness.
 
That night I went through my bookshelves.  I filled a large canvas bag with a variety of books.  The next evening, on my way to the mailbox, I dropped the bag off at her house.

Then I didn't see her again for nearly two months.  I was actually afraid she had...well...you know.  But last night, coming back from the mailbox, I heard a voice call my name.  I turned and wow, here she comes, striding along, pink-cheeked, healthy-looking and smiling widely.  Chemo was over, and though she ended up in the hospital for two weeks, near death because she had no immunity, she bounced back against all odds and is now making an amazing recovery.  With only the reconstruction part left, she and her husband are back on track for Hawaii in October.  Her courage and bravery and resilience are mind-boggling.

As we walked along the road together, we eventually came around to my books.  We talked about which ones she'd liked, which were her favorites, why she didn't like others.  Then she said would it be okay if she came by tonight to return them?  Of course, I said yes, though in the back of my mind I hear the evil twin laughing with wicked glee that now I'll have to vacuum and dust.  I asked her if she wanted more books.  She stopped on the road and faced me.  "I want to thank you so much for what you've done for me."  God.  I really didn't do anything for her.  I try to say that, but she shakes her head.  "You helped me get away." 

Because I'm embarrassed and I always get flippant when I'm uncomfortable, I grin and waggle my eyebrows.  "Want to keep going?"  She burst out laughing and said "Oh yes, please." 

When I got home, I went through my books again and found another nice stack to give her tonight, stories filled with adventure and promise and worlds beyond our own bubbles.

So, I guess in the whole scheme of things, I really don't mind that I'm vacuuming and dusting in the scorching heat of a summer's day.  There are far worse things a person has to do in life, for sure.


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BTW:  Yesterday, after two days of struggling with Blogger and the Shot of the Week fiasco, I deleted the whole blasted page and started a photo blog instead.  Clicking on the camera photo in the right margin will take you to the new photo site.
 
 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Pluots


So I'm at the grocery store this morning, almost done with my shopping, and as I cruise through the fruits and veg, I see the most peculiar fruit.  I wheel my trolley closer, pick one up, smell it, tip my head to read the produce sign.
 
Have any of you ever heard of a Pluot?


I certainly haven't.  As I'm curiously fondling the little globe--in a nice way of course--it reminds me of a plum, then I realize it must be a cross between a plum and an apricot, though frankly, if I had invented it, I would have gone with plumcot...at least that makes sense.
 
The produce manager walks by just then and I waylay him to ask about the pluot.  Turns out it's from California, and indeed is a mix of plum and apricot.  He shows me how to pick the ripe ones...


...and I grab a half dozen just because they're totally cool.
 
By the time I get home, I've decided to make a peasant tart, my favorite kind, using my pear tart recipe.  I have no idea how juicy these pluots will be, or how they'll cook, but whatever, I won't know unless I try.
 
After peeling the skins, I was amazed the flesh was such a wonderful color, like edible rubies.  As I was slicing them, I ate one of the wedges to see how they tasted.  The chewing part tasted like a plum, the swallowing part was more apricot.  Weirdly good.


I got the tart made, and learned something right off the bat that I will have to remember if ever I make another pluot tart in the future:  Drain off the juice.  The pluot made way more juice than any plum, pear or apricot I've ever used.  I had to do a bit of finagling at first, but after dotting the top with butter, I finally managed to get the pastry folded over the fruit without too much trouble.


Still though, way too juicy.  At one point I actually took the tart out of the oven and carefully held it over the sink to let some of the juice run off.  (Now at this point, with my usual finesse and skill, I would have accidently dumped the whole tart in the sink, but hey! Miracles do happen and I didn't!)
 
Done and out of the oven.  While it was cooling, I made the icing and drizzled it over the warm tart...


Three hours after having discovered an entirely new fruit...my first piece of Pluot Tart...


I know this will sound sort of goofy, (a tart tart) but it was deliciously tart, a bit like rhubarb, and still very juicy even after I'd already drained off about a quart of liquid.  The pastry is foolproof and always tastes yummy; the combo of crunchy crust and tart fruit was really good.
 
These little gems would make the best jam.  I'm considering making some for my What The Hell Was I Thinking? project since August is usually jam month.  By the time the weather cools enough that I'll be able to spend hours in the kitchen, the pluot season might be over.  (If I'm lucky).

Still. Even if jam never gets made, my experimental pluot tart came out just fine...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Blogger Bugs

I've been trying, off and on all day, to post a photo on the Shot of the Week page.  It has been spectacularly unsuccessful, as has any help from the frigging Support Desk to explain why I can't save my post. 

Some days I would love to kick Blogger in the butt and go elsewhere.  Several times a year I get all riled up, spend a day researching other options, decide--for all it's faults--Blogger is easier than just about anything out there...and I give up and stay.

Though, I came so-o-o-o close to jumping ship today.  And yet, here I am.  I still haven't resolved the problem, but it's getting late, I'm cranky, and like Scarlett: tomorrow is another day.

Instead, I will post my shot here.  Pretend it's on the right page...

Monday, July 29, Sunset

The last clear photo of the valley, taken from my back deck, before smoke obliterated the view of the mountains, polluted the air so every breath is tainted, while fire is destroying the forests faster than I can type this.  It's been a truly bad summer.