Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life

Last of the Shade Trees

The figs are gone; we ate them all, and now we’re sad. No more figs for a year. Now the pineapples are growing–still green, but getting larger. The hibiscus shove out new blooms daily, and the butterfly ginger scent the side yard. Around us, the air is heavy with sweat–ours, and nature’s, as if even the skies can’t stand the heat and humidity of north central Florida in August. Never before have I been so glad for air conditioning, and shade.

And yet…next week, we’re losing two trees–laurel oaks, which are short-lived “weedy” trees. But trees nonetheless. They are the last two “big” trees on the property that I loved for its “beautiful trees making such shade.” Sigh. But they are coming down for a good reason–we’re installing solar panels on the roof! These two trees, already a bit lank and long in the tooth, are blocking the southern exposure. So out they go.

While I’m sad, the neighbors two laurel oaks will still shade our side yard, and I’m going to plant two smaller trees there. Probably chickasaw plums, which won’t grow tall enough to block the sun from the rooflines, but will protect the shady garden plants below. If they grow like the Scarlet Beauty plum tree did, they’ll be full and lovely in less than 2 years!

So there it is. Another month run away. Butterflies are everywhere, and hummingbirds argue over who has rights to the nectar feeder, and the dog pants, sleeping in the sun until the afternoon rain drives him indoors.

I sip lemonade. Dwell in the shade, savoring the trees until the trees are gone. Consider the sun that will soon be powering my air conditioner. I cannot help but smile.

Magic of the Everyday, Personal Life

Thanksgiving 2016

So, it’s Thanksgiving again. Despite much having gone wrong this year (see 2 posts previous, for starters), there is so much that I’m thankful for. Besides the obvious things, like husband, and dog–both of whom rank tops on my “grateful for” list! Here’s some more:

I live in a wonderful place. Here, I’ve gotten to experience new plants, both to visually enjoy, and to grow and cook with: pineapples, Meyer lemons, pindo palm fruit, various other types of palm trees, persimmons, and a wide variety of ornamental gingers are just a small sampling. Sometimes the gardens here overwhelm me, without a “down” season to forget them, but mostly, nurturing the earth and plants is a great way for me to nurture myself and my soul. And this time of year, as the weather cools off and the humidity declines, I really enjoy time spent outdoors again.

I’ve also gotten to experience new wildlife: alligators and water moccasins, sure, but also black racers and ring-necked snakes, red-belly cooters, Sandhill cranes, ibis, and zebra butterflies are all common here, and it’s been interesting to experience “taking them for granted.” Eventually, when you live with something long enough, the novelty wears off. And yet, deep down these creatures still delight me, even while I shrug a bit at their everyday commonness.

I attended Taos Toolbox over the summer. I met a bunch of new people, made some new friends, and got reacquainted with a writer I’d met before. It was a blast! And it was in a beautiful location. But it was also deeply educational, and I am starting to see now just how much that experienced helped me to “level up” in my writing. This is something I’m very thankful for, indeed!

Time slips by, one slow day at a time, until it piles up into years. Yes, it’s been just over 3 years since I attended Viable Paradise, way back in October of 2013. It was my first workshop experience, and I was terrified, going in. But thanks to fortune and co-attendee Paul Tuttle Starr, our little VP 17 cohort is still hanging out together (on a Slack channel) and keeping one another honest as writers, sane humans(well, more or less–we are writers, after all), and well-critted. This is honestly one of the best groups of folk I’ve had the opportunity to meet and hang out with, and their encouragement and honest delight at one another’s good fortune is balm to a wounded soul.

Writing, in general, is something I’m very grateful for, both my own and that I’ve read by others. Books and stories see me through so much, and I’ve loved them ever since I learned to read and disappear into a new world, a new point of view. Now that I’m writing, I still love falling into new worlds, and new mind-sets, and I love watching my writing slowly (very slowly!) improve. I love getting to geek out with other writers over stories, ideas, technique, books we love–all of it. This whole big literary life–I love it, and so glad to be a tiny, tiny part of it.

Family and friends are always there, but it’s good to take time to remember that, and recognize what a good thing this is, when you’ve got good ones. I do, and I am grateful.

There is more. Much, much more. But I’m not going to bore you with my gratitude for the dark skies that show the millions of stars each night, or the loud hooting of owls when I awake at 3 a.m., or the sweet, beguiling scent of the tea olive tree outside my bedroom window, or the taste of homemade chai on a cold night, or the hundreds of other small things that delight me. It’s enough to know they’re there. That I’m grateful for all this life is offering me. And that I’m hoping to pay it back by paying it forward.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Today's Desk

Writer’s Desk, 5/17/16

Caution: creaky writer hobbling through. Make way, make way for the woman with the ice pack!

Out the window: A high overcast, with occasional glaring sunshine and less-occasional droplets of falling rain. High humidity making everything feel like wilted lettuce–underwater wilted lettuce. Still and all, a good day for staying inside, ensconced at a comfy desk, and writing.

On the desktop: A blueberry-cardamom scone (we went blueberry picking over the weekend) and a cup of my very special tea–Mariage Freres “French Breakfast.” You can’t put that scone with just any old tea, of course, so I broke into the “good” stuff.

Today’s Work-in-Progess: I’ve taken up Book One in the Jessamin Stow trilogy and have started hacki– um, I mean editing it thoroughly. Not just a “clean up the rough bits” edit, but a hey, this whole bit here is wrong, and the structure is leaning and ready to collapse over here, while this bit is so overwrought it could support three books by itself kind of edit. Structure, pacing, revelations–all of it’s going under the knife. It’s amazing what a couple months’ distance will show you.

And while some of it is cringe-inducing (yes, really. But who doesn’t cringe at their writing errors–in hindsight, they’re so obvious), I’m still really, really enamored with the characters, the story, and the way I see it all evolving into something lovely. One day I’ll get to share it with you. Right now, I get to keep on editing. I get to savor the characters, hugging them to myself before I offer them more hardship and misery to work their way through. And I can’t wait until I see how they end up, after it’s all over.

And Another Thing: Why the fancy tea and indulgent scone, you ask? Because I’m treating myself for putting up with aches and ouches, scrapes and bruises. Yesterday I “bounced” off our paver-surround fire pit, and while today I’m no longer bloody, I am incredibly sore. To coddle myself into putting on my brave face, I’m pulling out the “good stuff,” tea- and treat-wise. It’s working, too. I don’t feel nearly as sorry for myself as I would without them. (And yes, the story of why I bounced off the fire pit is one of idiocy and farce all the way around, so no, I’m absolutely not going to share it. Suffice it to say it involves our version of “Hey y’all, watch this!” And I should know better by now.)

food, Writing Workshops

Food, Wonderful Food!

Saturday I got to spend the entire day playing in the kitchen! I made stock from bones stored in the freezer. I cut up and dehydrated sweet potatoes for the dog (who knows the words “sweet potato” and runs to the freezer when I say them). I started currywurst in the slow cooker for dinner and got to drool over the thought (and scent) of that all day. Finally, I wanted to make cookies, and ended up making macarons because it’s been too long since I’ve eaten really good, fresh ones.

IMG_2761Like many who enjoy puttering in the kitchen, I couldn’t stick to a known recipe. This was, after all, my second whole attempt at macarons (the first being many years and 3 kitchens ago), so “bucking authority” was obviously the way to go. I ended up making chocolate macarons with a chocolate-cinnamon filling. They were–are! I mean, they ARE–delicious! And they don’t look too bad, either, which is always a bonus.

So, why the bout in the kitchen? I was in a wonderful mood. And why is that? Because I’d just gotten the news that this July I’ll be at Taos Toolbox, a novel writer’s workshop in Taos, New Mexico, run and taught by Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress, along with a changing cast of special lecturers. Which means that my Jessamin Stow series will benefit from all this awesomeness! I can’t wait.

Will I see you there? Have you applied? Applications and acceptances are rolling, and ongoing until the class is full, and I know you have time yet. Until then, have a cookie!

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life, the dog

Rain, Rain, Rain!

The low pressure system that has been hovering over us for days and “gifting” us with drenching rains has finally floated away to the northeast. Not to say it didn’t rain here today; it did, but it didn’t last hours or come down in unending bucketsful, flooding every surface. Whew. Actually, I think I might see some sunlight sneaking down from between the clouds. 🙂

bluemilkcapThe rains brought out a new (to me) resident in our gardens: Lactarius indigo commonly known as the indigo milk cap mushroom, or the blue milk mushroom. Of course I had to look it up, and of course I wondered if they were edible. Apparently so, but the taste is debatable, so I passed on this one. Also, they just look too pretty. I mean, blue plants–how awesome!

We also discovered why the gazebo (the deck and railings without a roof) that the former owners left us is slanting. Despite the chicken wire underneath it, an armadillo dug an exit (entrance?) hole beneath it, right next to the far support, undermining it. We discovered this as we dismantled the flooring and lifted the first board, revealing a fairly recently excavated hole. Sigh. No wonder the dog has been going a bit batty over there of late–fresh armadillo scent. Bleah. Now to convince the armadillo that this is really not a good home.

Hmph, now that sunshine is gone and the clouds are thickening again. Looks like more rain. It’s a good time for writing. I’m off to it.

Magic of the Everyday, Personal Life, Writing

A Long-Overdue Winter Update

Fall has nearly slipped away, and winter is creeping in. Even here, frost limns the grasses many too-chilly mornings. Tropical plants need “frost cloth” laid over them to protect against the cold. I’m glad I have only 2 sensitive plants to coddle this way. (I am a lazy gardener in this respect. Even in Ohio, I didn’t like to swaddle roses, etc, in winter protections. A bit of mulched leaves? Sure. But no more than that. Live or die, baby–it’s a tough garden I run.)

The farmers’ markets, so paltry in summer’s unrelenting heat and humidity, are stocked full to bursting with greens, carrots, turnips, hardier seedling plants (for the same types of plants), and oddities (to me) like boiled green peanuts, turmeric root, and citrus.

Yes, citrus. oh yum! We purchased an 1/8th bushel of oranges and juiced some yesterday. Oh my! This is what OJ should really taste like!

I was spoiled as a child. I visited my snowbird grandma at Christmas time, right as the citrus was coming to harvest. We’d drive to the grove and buy fresh oranges, packing the car full on the return trip to Ohio. Later, my aunt bought a trailer in Florida that held a number of mature citrus trees. There were too many to eat, so we squoze (yes, this is what we called it, because, well, we are a weird family) LOTS of oranges and tangerines into delicious juice. Because of that, I’ve never been a fan of purchased OJ. It tastes off, somehow. Always has. The newest “not from concentrate” varieties are much better, but still, something is…lacking.

So  now my tastebuds are in citrus heaven again. Ah! So nice.

We made cookies over the weekend, as well. I have to admit that making holiday cookies on a sunny, blue-sky day of 68 degrees isn’t what I’m used to, but I rather like it. I also like walking in the afternoons, when the shining sun is so warm that short sleeves are the clothing of choice (instead of woolen sweaters).

Dasher the puppy is also a fan of sunbeams, as you might expect from a boxer-mix. His favorite afternoon napping spot is out in the lanai, on a rug directly in the sunbeam’s longest path. Lucky dog.

Speaking of naps, Dash has settled into them, giving me time to write consistently once more. Which is a good thing. The novel is very nearly done, and a couple short stories are bugging me to write them as soon as it is. And of course, there are books and stories to be read–in a sunbeam, by the dozing pup, as the warmth soaks into my bones and brings the nap-fuzzies…No! I will write during writing time. I will! But a sleeping dog is such a calming thing. //goes off into a warm-fuzzy-dog glow//

And so it goes. Writing. Reading. Walking a dog (hurray!). Friends and family. Cooking. Small joys that add up to a good life. All things to be grateful for, to be glad about during the season of thankfulness and gratitude.

I wish you many of the same.

Today's Desk

Writer’s Desk, 9/15

Drama! Action! Excitement!–Someone sitting at a desk and writing!

Out the window: Sunshine dapples through the Lady Palm (which I’ve pruned to no longer actually tap on my window screens), shockingly bright. And out the other window, where the sunlight hits the white paint of the porch, it’s blinding. Soon I’ll have to close that blind so I’m not squinting at the computer screen, simultaneously trying to see and to not see.

On the desktop: A small, rather neat stack of papers to scribble on and reminders to myself about various small or side characters in the novel. And a jar of push pins.

Today’s Work-in-Progess: The novel. The novel. The novel.

But my mind is drawn to a short story that I really want to write. Can you say “cat vacuuming?” Unh-hunh. Back to the novel. (*sigh*)

And Another Thing: The real reason for the tidy desk surface is that I finally got a corkboard and hung it right over my desk. Now most of those miscellaneous market listings, reminders, great words to use, terrible words to avoid, etc., are all hanging up there! I should have done this years ago. I’m feeling so organized ^–^

Magic of the Everyday, Moving, Nature, Personal Life

New Home, New Photos: A Gallery

So, we moved from the north to the Deep North, as this area of north central Florida is known. Getting to know the place will take time, but here are some pics from around the area. It really is beautiful, in a very different way than I’m used to.

I’ll be gone for over the weekend. Husband’s birthday and our anniversary. When I come back, I’ll have some good news to share. Happy holiday weekend to those in the US. To everyone else, just “Happy Weekend.” Hope you all enjoy the photos below.

Turtles share the pond with tiny fishes, who all keep the mosquitos controlled.
Turtles share the pond with tiny fishes, who all keep the mosquitos controlled.
I'm absolutely fascinated by the Spanish moss covering the oaks. It looks so...ancient, and yet timeless.
I’m absolutely fascinated by the Spanish moss covering the oaks. It looks so…ancient, and yet timeless.
Welcoming committee member on my car tire.
Welcoming committee member on my car tire. I shooed it away before I drove.
This is great advertising!
This is great advertising! We went for the cupcakes.
Don't hate me--I don't know what this butterfly's name is...yet. I promise I'll learn it soon.
Don’t hate me–I don’t know what this butterfly’s name is…yet. I promise I’ll learn it soon. It’s on the Lady Palm in my front yard. How amazing is that!
Isn't this too gorgeous? Just don't ask how hot and humid it was...
Isn’t this too gorgeous? Just don’t ask how hot and humid it was…. The answer is “very.”
This is why I'm outside taking photos instead of inside writing!
This is why I’m outside taking photos instead of inside writing! Except today I opened and emptied the last box. Hurray!
Saw this while driving, and nearly laughed myself off the road. (No, I didn't take the photo then, but later when they were in my neighborhood.)
Saw this while driving, and nearly laughed myself off the road. (No, I didn’t take the photo then, but later when they were in my neighborhood. Insane I am not.)
My new "pets" in the garden. They can eat all the bugs they like!
My new “pets” in the garden. They can eat all the bugs they like. I call them all “Lizzie,” except for the huge one that lives by the garage door. That’s T-Rex, or Rex.