Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Review of "Eggtown and Other Stories" by Zack Clark Allen

In his collection of op-eds and poems Eggtown and Other Stories, Zack Clark Allen gently reminds his readers of what ought not to be forgotten. He even writes of himself and his role within the family, “Looking back was a job that fell to me…” Look back he does.

Allen’s pieces, written when he was a thirtysomething, and the short introductions to them, written thirty years after that, are a remembrance wrapped in a reflection. He explores his own childhood, the stories of his grandparents, the mountains of Western North Carolina, Asheville, and its many citizens, both living and passed on, who he encountered in his years working at the Asheville Citizen-Times. Also, because he cannot help being an editor, he comments on his earlier writing style and gives contextual background for the many stories.

He freely admits what he writes is nostalgic, yet he deftly wields his clear images and poignant, everyday dialog so that he does not stray into the sentimental. The bad, along with the good, bear remembering and he includes both. Allen observes like a poet, seeing the connections, philosophies, symbols, and details in life—and plays with the best words to re-present them to his readers. Yet he pursues story like a newspaperman. Both qualities are evident in his writing: vivid brevity with a depth of emotion and meaning.

In the temporary newspaper world, much of what he had written might have become lost and forgotten but for this collection of his finest work. It puts one in the mind of Shakespeare’s words:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.
By the time readers reach the final words of Allen’s last poem, they will be ready to take up his charge—or at least lend the book to a friend.
Now I pass it on to you;
Hold it, and its story
in trust for all of us.
Zack and I will read together on Thursday, November 11 @ 7pm in the Library Annex in Burnsville, NC. You are invited.

I would also like to make a recommendation as to how to read Zack's book. I read it straight through so that I could write the review, but I don't know that I'd recommend this as a one-sitting read. Spread it out, reading a chapter or two at a time, so that you have the chance to absorb and reflect on the stories. Additionally, it might not hurt to have a box of tissues close for some of them.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kirkin' o' the Tartan

A few weeks ago our pastor led us in a Kirkin' o'the Tartan ceremony at our church. Coming from a German Mennonite background, this was all new territory for me. She explained it, and I've done a little research on my own aside from experiencing it:

The "Kirkin' o' the Tartan" is actually a bunch of brigadoonery. (I had to look that word up too... but basically it means faux-Scottish -- like the musical Brigadoon.) Nonetheless, it has become an important American tradition to honor Scots-American families.

It began in 1941 when Peter Marshall, Reverand of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C., created and held a ceremony in which members of the congregation brought their tartans and they were blessed. Apparently this is not something that ever happened in Scotland, though it is widely practiced in the United States now. The purpose of the original service was to be a fundraiser to support Scottish churches and England during the early part of WW II. One is still held every year at the National Cathedral.

But for all its brigadoonery, it was a very meaningful service for our church in many ways.

First, many of the congregants are from Scotts-Irish decent and dressed their whole families in their family plaid (some even came in kilts). In particular, one of our older memebers who is 92 was actually born in Scotland, and I think hearing the bagpipes during the service and the having the blessing said over his family tartan moved him immensely. (At least it moved the rest of us thinking about it from his perspective!) But not all of us had tartans to hang. So, that's where we adapted a bit. The previous week, each family was given a square of cloth to make into a family banner.

Some families chose a symbol to represent themselves, some painted pictures or made collages, and several copied their family crests. We were all invited to bring our banners and they would be hung around the church during the service.

I was amazed at the level of participation.
It didn't take me long to figure out what our family "tartan" would be. Obviously it needed to be pieced and quilted! How Mennonite is that? Back when we'd lived in South Bend, I'd pieced curtains for our kitchen that I hadn't re-used yet, so I knew I had my background. (Yes. It's true, I just happened to have some spare pieced pinwheel quiltop laying about the house. That's how Mennonite I am.) But that wouldn't do by itself. It needed the peace dove apliqued on top and it needed to be quilted to truly represent. I had those materials sitting around the house too: batting, a big tension hoop, spare muslin, a thimble, and quilting needles. I felt quite pleased with the result, though admitting so is probably the least Mennonite part of the whole endeavor.

Secondly, though I hadn't realized fundraising was an inherent part of a Kirkin o' the Tartan, we had did have a special meal after. (No, there was no haggis served.) Since our church is much like a fusion restaurant anyway, it should almost be predictable we'd have a Guatemalan meal to raise money for scholarships of the students in our sister church there.
But it was more than that. Our pastor was retiring after 11 years of growing a church from a handful of members to a church body that has to split into two services in the summers because there isn't enough room in the parking lot for all our cars. In this service, she was able to bless our tartans, our families, and the larger clan we have formed as a church. Because each region of Scotland has different herbs which died the wool different colors and different weavers chose unique patterns, the tartan has long been a symbol of regional identity as well as love, togetherness, and protection.
Then, at one point in the service, she had us look around at our "tartans": There we all were, displayed for everyone. Each of us. We are the church. This is who we are. Yes, we were losing a leader, but look -- look -- we are here, all of our families choosing this place to worship, loving each other, loving God, and working to share that love with the world. That would continue.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Reading Scheduled

A Celebration Of Words:
Kaufmann, Allen To Read From Their Recent Work

Authors Zack Allen and Britt Kaufmann will hold a joint reading of their works at 7pm on November 11 in the Library Annex. All ages are welcome for this free reading of their stories and poetry.

Poet Britt Kaufmann’s chapbook of poetry was recently selected for publication by Finishing Line Press (Georgetown, KY). The collection of poems loosely chronicles her move from the Midwest to the mountains of Western North Carolina and calling a new place home. Included in the chapbook is the poem “These Lost Counties” which was written for and read at the 2008 Carolina Mountains Literary Festival.

Yancey County novelist Charles F. Price praises Kaufmann’s poems: “Transplanted to Southern Appalachia, she turns clear eyes on our abandoned tobacco barns, rock-ribbed heights, hardscrabble farms, tough good people. She sees a simple beauty in our rusticity. Whimsy, warm wisdom, a mother’s love, a good heart’s aspirations all live in these spare yet intricately woven lines; one hears unheard the four-part a capella harmony of her Indiana Sundays even as our mountain seasons turn, our rivers rise, our folk speak their highland talk.”

Kaufmann has lived in Yancey County for the last seven years and has served on the planning committee for the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival for five years. Her poems and prose have been published in Western North Carolina Woman, Now & Then, Main Street Rag, and SouthLit.com among others.

She is currently working on a joint project with local photographer Alicia Jo McMahan to coincide with the release of chapbook in January of 2011. Additionally, she is revising her play An Uncivil Union (based on historical events that occurred in Burnsville curing the Civil War) which the Parkway Playhouse will put on as a part of their 2011 season.

Author of the recently published, Eggtown and Other Stories, Burnsville resident and Asheville native Zack Clark Allen, says he is “way too busy” to be retired. In this collection from his years as a journalist, his stories and poetic insights “capture the flavor and essence of other times and other places; of people and dreams; and of life, as an unfinished poem. “

About his new collection he says, “Some of the stories in this book take place in the rolling hills rising to the south of the Rocky River in northern Anson County, North Carolina. These are memory pieces and reflect on my years with the grandfather whose name I bear. These were simple times that impressed vivid and comforting memories upon the heart of a young boy.

“The other stories are reflections in the waters of the French Broad River, in Western North Carolina, and many were columns appearing on the Sunday editorial pages of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

“One thing became increasingly clear as I looked back at what I had written: a newspaper is not in the business of publishing timeless prose. Writing on deadline makes it the art of the unfinished. So this book is what it must be – a retrospective collection of stories and poems, linked only by vague themes of rivers, currents and passages in my life.”
Allen’s serial careers have taken him on a diverse odyssey. After college, he worked briefly as a chemist in synthetic fiber research before his talent for writing steered him toward a 20-year journey as a writer, editor and columnist. He has published literally hundreds of articles in major newspapers, wire services, and, through syndication, in dozens of other publications around the world. His stories and columns have earned him many awards including being honored as the top columnist in the state for two years in a row by the North Carolina Press Association in the major newspapers category.

He is married to Maggie Lauterer, recently retired pastor of Burnsville First Presbyterian Church, who shares his love of singing ballads and early American shape-note music. He has two daughters, Sydney, and Sarah Addison Allen, who is carrying on the family tradition of writing as the author of three published books: Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, and The Girl Who Chased the Moon, two of which have appeared on the New York Times Best Seller List. Her fourth book, The Peach Keeper, will be published by Bantam Books next March.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Frosty Mornings

The last few mornings we've seen light frost silver-gilding the grass, so decided to pick everything we had left in the garden rather than resort to tucking the vegetables in at night under blankets. Lots of hot peppers. Some of those will turn into my husband's bacon-wrapped, cream-cheese-stuffed jalapeƱo poppers. Yum. But I think we're going to try to can some sort of green tomato, pepper relish. Though I haven't found a recipe I like... Many of them ask you to blister and peel the peppers. Not only does that seem tedious, the pain potential seems entirely too high. I'm forever accidentally rubbing my eyes. Before we put any of these plans into effect, though, we need to get a few pair of rubber gloves!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Get yourself to the mountains!

I took this photo from the top of our property last weekend. But in the last week, this same view has turned golden. If you're thinking of visiting WNC to see the leaves, now is the time! I might even suggest a yummy meal in Asheville at The Southern.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why do writers write?

I meant to (re)post this last week, closer to the time it was actually written...

Friend/local writer Alan Gratz blogged last week about why he writes. It's worth reading, especially if you're a writer.

I'm not even close to being in the same position he is... he writes to make a living. Perhaps, if I also had that driving force/need behind my writing, I'd have a few novels under my belt as well. But I don't, and I don't, and so I can slack around doing other things. (Other productive things, though. Like having twins.)

Even before reading his post, the notion of being mindful to what we want to say Yes to had been on my mind. If we can really identify what we want to say yes to, it become easier to say no to the the things that do not align with our yeses. I agree, that if you want to write and publish, you have to say YES to long hours in a chair pecking away at a keyboard. For me, this is not always enjoyable. The rush is when I leave the chair and feel the sense of accomplishment. I felt that last Monday, when I finished a series of revisions on my play An Uncivil Union: The Battle of Burnsville which the Parkway Playhouse will produce next year. The playhouse is submitting it for a grant to help fund production and thus, some revisions were in order. (Though not the last set of revisions, I'm sure.)

I hope the grant board likes it.

Alan's post made me think, since I'm not writing for financial reasons, why am I writing? His observations about wanting an audience certainly rang true. Yes, I want an audience for my thoughts. I think I have something to say--a perspective on life--that more people need to consider. Perhaps this is a product of being an oldest child, a mom, and a former teacher. Perhaps it's plain old arrogance. It is also a fun mental exercise for me to pull from life the odd connections and synchronicities and try to re-represent them in writing so that others can see/feel the same interrelationships. In particular, that's what writing poetry is for me. As my audience as been pretty small thus far, we'll see if I successfully do that or not with the new chapbook. I'll probably never know though.

Anyway -- Thanks for being an audience. I'll try not to be heavy-handed.



Sunday, October 3, 2010

Reading (Binge)

In the last four weeks I have read the following books:
The Blue Star Tony Earley
A Home on the Field Paul Cuadros
The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress Rhoda Janzen
Catching Fire Suzanne Collins
Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It Maile Meloy
Mockingjay Suzanne Collins
Dragonsbane Barbara Hambly

Now that the weather has turned cold, the time for climbing under a blanket with a book has begun. And of all the odd blessings... I haven't gotten addicted to any new TV shows this fall! Last night, while the ND football game was on, I happily sipped on my first gallon of spiced cider (made in the crock pot with an orange wheel sporting a cinnamon-stick axle and clove tread) and read about dragons, magic, and the plight of a 36 year-old woman caught between dedicating herself to her craft or loving her children and their father. Hmmmm. Though I don't get to turn into a dragon in the end--like she did.

I think a friend's going to lend me The Girl With A Dragon Tatoo too...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Deed Gets Done

Stop right here. This is a friendly warning. I'm posting some pictures of the butchering (my first) at Mike and Lori's from Sunday and a description of what I learned. I have pretty tastefully cropped and blurred the photos so that there isn't any bright-red blood, but there are some up-close ones of me skinning our rooster. Yes, I held it together and was able to participate somewhat.

Mike started with one of his own roosters to see how I would do, and while it was slightly alarming, I didn't get woozy or feel the world fogging in on me from the edges. (I've fainted enough to know when it's coming--usually in response to seeing my own blood.) To be as quick and painless about it as possible, he makes two long slits along the neck so that the blood spills out fast and the heart pumps it all out of the body. Of course, the chicken flops around after it's dead -- like we all know they do -- but one of the benefits of hanging them is that they're not running around. That could have gotten to me. (My mother and sister-in-law have horror stories of being chased by headless chickens.) So, when it was time, I got Camillo out of the cage and hung him myself. That's how I got all the feathers stuck to my hand. But I did not slit his throat. I wasn't sure I could do it in a way that would make the process quick and painless.
Then, once all of their roosters had also been butchered and the blood drained out, it was time to skin. Mike and Lori's new fire pit isn't finished yet, so instead of plucking these, he just skinned them. So we'll be using them for soup, not roasting, grilling or smoking. (Actually, we'll be making the roosters into Grandma Carrie's famous chicken-pot-pie!) Anyway. After watching him skin two, I said I was ready to try skinning Camillo. After he started turning them inside out, they really started looking more like "meat" and less like "rooster" -- and I've worked enough with supermarket chicken/turkey carcasses for that to feel familiar, so I was pretty sure I could do it. Mike got the legs started, which is tricky, but once he got that done and the entrails out, it was my turn.
That leg sticking out did hit me in the face a few times as I was trying to get my hands in the right position. Annoying. (In the background you can see their extensive gardens which supply us with a vast majority of our vegetables since we get a CSA box from them - MiLo Acres - every week.)
Here Mike is telling me that when I pull down on the skin, I'm supposed to cut at the point of greatest tension and keep working my way around, pulling down. My doctor husband pointed out that I have my knife at the wrong angle for cutting fascia (the connective tissue that surrounds muscles). You're supposed to hold the knife at a 90 degree angle to the muscle and just saw lightly back and forth. I altered my technique and of course, it worked much better. (I tried not to think about the fact that he knows this not from butchering chickens but from cutting humans! In medical school/residency, in surgery, of course. But still. Ugh.)

Or maybe that's Mike pointing out the wing joint that I had to sever. I had a tough time with it, but I got it eventually.
Next time, my challenge to myself will be to reach in and pull out the entrails. Actually slitting a throat may have to wait for the third time--or fourth. Who knows. We left the necks on, since they make for great soup meat. Then once they were rinsed off, we took 'em home to chill. (Mike and Lori graciously cleaned up.) Right now we have three birds tenderizing in the refrigerator. I also learned it's best to let them sit in the fridge a few days before freezing them or cooking them. Who knew?

Also interesting to note in this process, though I don't have a picture of it, was the color difference between our bird and the others. It could have been just a difference in breeds or ages, but my husband suspected it had to do with quick-twitch muscles. Our rooster got to free-range through the yard (and subsequently had to outrun the dog) so had developed his leg muscles more than Mike and Lori's who have a large outdoor pen, but don't actually free-range. I can look in the pan with the three birds, and easily pick out Camillo's purpler legs. Odd.

In hindsight, I'm glad I did this, and am proud of myself that I saw it through. If push came to shove, I've proven to myself I could provide for my family some of our meat-eating habits. I could raise and butcher chickens should the world collapse around me.

I was able to eat food that night and have not sworn off meat by any stretch of the imagination. We do buy nearly all of our meat from local farmers and are making a concerted effort to avoid supporting large, cruel farms with our purchase dollars. However, homesteading is not something I'm ready to commit to 100%. I have, however, offered to come and help with other butcherings in the future -- if for no other reason, so I can learn how to pluck.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tomorrow


Monday marks the first official advance-sales date for my chapbook Belonging. I know I've already put up my website page, made an "event" on FB, and the postcards sent by Finishing Line Press have begun arriving in mailboxes. (And now I've blogged about it.) However, if you think that having seen one of these things makes you exempt from harassing phone calls -- well, you're right. I'm not going to call you. There is a good chance, though, that if your email address is in my gmail account, you'll be getting a friendly email from me sometime in the next six weeks! You have that to look forward to.

Here's my new website page about the chapbook. (With printable ordering form.)

Here's the website for Finishing Line Press and their Advance Sales Page. They also have an Amazon Store where you can buy their older titles.

The toughest part is doing all this publicity work now and having to wait until January to actually hold the finished product in my hand. That is a day I'm really looking forward to.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Life of a Carnivore


Back when we got the chicks we'd said We're only keeping one rooster even if it turns out that we've got more than one male.

Now what we were going to do with other males remained to be seen. We knew enough about roosters to know that having more than one would lead to fights, stress out the hens (perhaps hampering their laying), and serious increase the noise level.

Evidently, projecting that they were all girls, and thus labeling them with superimposed graphics, doesn't influence their genetic makeup.

Fortunately, of the 10 chicks we got, only two of them ended up being roosters. And they got named: Camillo & Grey Legs. (Mistake #1. But seriously, how do you talk about a think without having something to refer to it by?) So, that meant it really was a cockfight... fighting to the death... but a fight of a rather different nature.

Barbara Kingsolver, in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle helped us (as painful as it was for the kids) to determine qualities to look for: First, which crow is more pleasing to the ear? Grey Legs wins that one with a clear-throated sound that is not raspy and harsh -- as Camillo's is. Second, which rooster protects the hens? In several instances, like when our part-Lab (part-border-collie) dog chased the hens, Grey Legs would take off after the dog while Camillo idly watched the commotion from a safe distance.

On a side note about the dog: It's pretty amazing that while the chickens are in the yard, the dog is content to leave the birds alone. (The border-collie nature wins.) She has even, on occasion, calmly herded them out of the front yard and into the back/side yard where we'd prefer them to stay. But all that's when they're on the mown grass. In the event that one of the chickens should squawk while in the tall boggy area of our drained pond, her Lab genetics take over and nothing, not the children wailing, me yelling, or lightning, can keep her from chasing them--bounding through the tall grasses, floppy ears perked... lookin' for the bird, lookin' for the bird, I was born to find the bird...
See! Evidence I didn't know I had.
There's the white rooster, Camillo, trying to outrun the hens.

Back to the roosters.
Third, is the rooster kind? "Kind?" you're thinking. "How would you even begin to determine if a rooster is kind?" Well, spend some time watching chickens -- which is a lot of fun -- and you'll soon see. Camillo always pushed his way to the front to eat scratch out of our hands. Grey Legs waited and let the ladies eat first. Neither one of them attacked us -- so that's good. But I have, several times, seen Grey Legs pull a worm or grub from the ground and give it to one of the hens. Kindness.

You're getting the picture: Camillo's getting the axe. Tomorrow, in fact. But here's the thing: We can't just kill him & leave him for the foxes & coyotes. We've never been hunters and have never butchered before. Shoot. I've never even gutted a fish. So how do we even do the thing that's most responsible?

Fortunately, we have friends. Friends who, on our request, are inviting us over when they butcher their chickens and will teach me/us. I'm determined to be responsibly involved in process... the whole process of being a carnivore: raising the animal, protecting it from predators, feeding it, killing it, preparing it, and eating it.

I keep telling my kids (who are still refusing to eat the bird) that this is the trade we're making: We gave Camillo a healthy, happy life. In return, he will make our lives healthier and happier. It is a partnership. It is a reasonable trade and we will not be wasteful of his life. We will prepare the meat and make stock from the bones... if there are scraps on our plate, we will give them to the dog. We will use everything he give to us. (Or that we take from him -- however you want to look at it.)

I think this is a very valuable lesson for me to appreciate the amount of meat I've eaten in my life. It is sobering to think of how flippantly I treat the life of a agri-buisness caged-for-short-life chicken that ended up a gross Burger King chicken tender. I am woefully overdue for this dose of reality/responsibility.

Tomorrow, I may be woefully ill. But maybe I need to be. And I'm determined to do this. I'm even leaving the camera in my husband's hands to document how green I turn in this effort to be greener.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Loafing Under Trees

In his novel Middlesex, Jeffry Eugenides' narrator recounts the story of Princess Si Ling-Chi, who discovered the silk worm's thread when she was sitting under a tree and a cocoon fell into her cup of tea and unraveled. He writes, "Great discovery, whether of silk or gravity, are always windfalls. they happen to people loafing under trees."
So I resolve to do more loafing under trees.

Traveling a few weeks ago, I heard on NPR a report about how all our "screens" (smart phones, computers, televisions, ipods, etc.) are distracting us. They keep us from boredom, yes, but they prevent us from rest--the time we need to process and cement into our memory what we've learned. Checking our screens is the worst kind of recipe for addiction-making behavior: intermittent reinforcement. Constant checking prevents us from coming up with new ideas -- it inhibits our creativity -- even though the devices we are checking have the ability to greatly increase our production.
So I resolve to do more loafing under trees.

On the next program, Diane Rheem had on a man whose research showed the connection between our body and mind and how that affects our health. People with chronic pain treated themselves, by employing a relaxing technique and remembering back to a time in their lives when they were without pain to remember themselves back into wellness. He said in times of stress we need to break the cycle of our thought patterns, relax, and think of something else. He cited "believers" -- believers of anything -- being a healthier population than non-believers. The pattern of prayer takes us out of our routine, making us more relaxed, more healthy. One caller shared how in times of daily, routine stress, she stopped and recited poetry...
So I resolve to do more loafing under trees.

Summer is waning and soon the leaves will change... the weather will grow cold..
I believe I have someplace better to be right now.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Carolina Mountains Literary Festival

What a great weekend it was. I don't think I've ever learned so much in a festival weekend:
  • trivia facts: the quartz used in the Hale Telescope came from Mitchell county, Plott Hounds were a breed originated in Western North Carolina (I probably should have known that one, but I didn't grow up here), the 1904 Word's Fair had some 500 acres of land designated to "house" "indigenous peoples" from around the world and the Smithsonian arranged to have the rights to their bodies should they die during the fair.
  • new ways of thinking about writing poetry: the use of subordinating clauses to take you under surface meaning, abiding images, prose poetry as a means of avoiding the pretentious pause when reading line breaks, writing simply for the sound of the words, finding the plainest image to communicate meaning instead of the most abstruse one.
I also began to understand how each writer's process is different, needs to be, and the task is not necessarily to emulate a great writer's process, it is to discover your own. Stick with what works for you to be productive. Here are some processes writers described:
  • Long periods of self-loathing followed by furious bouts of typing. (hahaha!)
  • Starting poetry in the subconscious with #1 an "abiding image," #2 writing a big mess around that image, then in the conscious mind #3 attending to craft and paring it down.
  • One said, "Writing a novel is like putting hundreds of marbles on a table that's not quite level. And the moment I get them all to hold still I say -- I'm done. Because I know if I move just one thing, it'll all fall apart."
  • One has stopped journaling because it prevents her from writing anything else that day.
  • One calls it "canabalizing" (plagiarizing?) his own work as he takes the same images, words, and uses them in fiction, poetry, essay...
  • Some take copious notes and jot down things, some hold it all in their minds.
I was also very moved when Paul Cuadros was able to address 60 middle school students and probably 60 high school students... (there were about 240 in the room) about issues of immigration in small rural communities. His book A Home on the Field is very relevant and a worthwhile read -- especially if you like soccer. I would recommend it to you all.

And if you don't believe me that it was a great weekend, check out what an unbiased participant had to say: Robin's Blog.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Threshold

I know I am right on the verge, the cusp, the threshold of a new era, but I just can't imagine what it will be like. And a certain amount of anxiety accompanies that. For six years now, I have anticipated this next week when all three of my children will hop on the school bus in the morning and not return for another seven hours. Seven hours. Six years ago, swollen with twins, I also knew I was on the verge of a new era and I had no idea what was coming. No idea.
For so long I counseled myself: Just wait. Just wait. One day they will all be in school and you will have time to catch up, have a clean house, can the garden produce, maintain the flower beds, learn how to bake bread... write.
I remember Barbara Kingsolver saying the schoolbus was her muse and I was filled with longing... Some day that will happen to me. But it was still so far in the future I couldn't really fathom it. Now it is almost here... and I'm no more able to predict what a school day will feel like. I've been doing this stay-at-home mother thing now for 8 years--longer than I have done any one thing in my life and I simply cannot form in my mind the new structure of my days. I am simply aware that it is almost here, about to begin, and once again, I have no idea what is coming. No idea.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Early Birds

We weren't expecting eggs from the pullets until August, but they surprised us by laying in July. My daughter even got her wish: an egg laid on her birthday.
They're still quite small compared to a grown hen's... but they sure do taste delicious. We've been eating fritatas about once a week now, throwing any garden veggies we have in with basil and cheese. The kids like it, too! I must say, I'm having to fight the urge to prick holes in the ends of the eggs so I can save them. They're just so CUTE though, I can hardly stand it. It's a lot of fun to collect them and my daughter even reports spying through the back of the laying boxes and actually seeing an egg being laid. A few of then hens lay blue-ish grey eggs. We got three like that just today.
With a total of eight pullets, they've worked themselves up to half-dozen days in just a few short weeks. Speaking of which, I should go hard-boil some of the stockpile we've accrued in the fridge.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

July Already?

The list of things I still need to do is nearly as long as the list of accomplishments.
I really should spray the tomatoes with copper before they blight, haul a few gallons of water across to the field to water the late corn, pull up the peas and plant beans... I've got four websites to create or update and literary festival press releases to send out. And then there are the obligations of a mother to her children during summer: teach good work ethic, ensure they practice piano, read Harry Potter to them, arrange time to be with their friends, plan birthday parties, take them swimming and see the latest block-buster kid movies.
Two more performances of Annie at the Parkway Playhouse.
But! I've driven to and from Indiana with the three kids -- sans husband, plus mother-in-law. We've had peas, lettuce, cilantro, kale and spinach from our garden. And it's only a little bit weedy. The chickens are all still alive and the dog has not run off. I've got a poem out in the most recent issue of Now & Then: An Appalachian Magazine out of ETSU. One of my poems was selected as one of 57 honorable mentions out of more than 900 entries in this year's Binnicale Ultra-Short Competition. I've got a profile on Wendi Gratz coming out in WNC Woman next month. And even more amazing, when I took my writing "vacation" last weekend, I wrote more than 30 pages of new material! That is a major accomplishment for me. I'm at page 60. I've NEVER in my life written anything that long before. Now, I've got to push through to the end.
I'm also keeping up with my morning pages and artists dates even thought I've complete The Artists Way. I'm sure that the work I'm doing with morning pages has a major impact on the previous paragraph's accomplishments. So, I've got to keep on going with the good-- and do my best to avoid Bejeweled Blitz and not binge on episodes of Farscape!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Long Quiet


So much good weather has seen me outside mowing the lawn, running, training the dog, enticing the chickens to eat slugs from my hand, and planting the garden.
Not all of it has gone smoothly though. For one, I decided to try the tomato trick of putting powdered milk in the hole when you plant. The calcium supposedly helps prevent blossom end rot. I figured, what could be the harm in trying? The harm, it appears, is that it entices my dog to dig up the tomato plants. ARG.
Further, this morning was an outright disaster. In my attempts to help the two teeny-tiny cute baby banty chicks we got from the preschool grow faster by upping the wattage of their warming light, I inadvertently baked them to death. The discovery of which was made by one of my children. Needless to say, my offspring hate me about as much as I hate myself.
However, I'm now up to 17 books read for the year which puts me between 3-4 a month. Right where I want to be. (I'm contemplating reading another one or two today to escape reality, but I have too much to do.) Recent additions are The Garden of Iden (sci-fi), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (bookclub selection which was sheer hysterical farce), and Because of Winn-Dixie (kids' book that was genius).
As for the BFF 5K, I finished under 30 minutes. 29:23 to be exact. And I've done a moderately good job at keeping up running even after the race.
However, I slacked a bit this week and had a few nights of poor sleep (and general crankiness) as a result, so am renewing my efforts.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Goal Update


So...
#1 - Script Frenzy in April -- miserable failure. I don't have more than 10 pages of my script written
#2 - Physical Health - Running - My New Year's Goal is to run 2 5Ks during 2010. The first, the Burnsville Fit Families 5K, is coming up on May 8, and I'm getting there. I'm not sure I'll meet my goal of running it in under 30 minutes, but it'll be close. A friend and I ran the course yesterday and clocked in at about 32 minutes... So, with a week and a half to go, I think I'll be able to get in some speed work and maybe, just maybe I can pull it out.
#3 - Reading - I've officially finished Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and it has changed the way I'm going to think and eat. Already last week we ordered more grass-fed local beef and pork from Farmer's Market vendors. (GO TO YOUR LOCAL FARMER'S MARKET AND BUY AND EAT THE FOOD!) Also, I'm going to include How to be Your Dog's Best Friend by the monks of New Skete. That wasn't quite a cover-to-cover read, but I've read several of the chapters multiple times already.

In other news, the dog will sit, stay, down, and come on command. And she's learning the boundaries of the property pretty well -- i.e. she knows she can be in the creek, but if she crosses to the other bank, she'll get in trouble.
Also, I've got spinach up in the garden! Still waiting for the peas and lettuce to show, but I need to get out and plant the next batches -- and get some broccoli.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

So this is my latest book (not quite done yet). It is really so timely... Just last week we got chickens, a dog, we've tilled the garden and I've already planted the first of my lettuce, spinach, and peas. (I like to plant them in batches a week or so apart so that things are edible over a longer period of time. I'm not trying to can/preserve any of these crops, so I don't want them to all "come in" at once.)
I cannot say how much I have been inspired by this book to live and eat more simply/locally.
Thanks to the unusual list of vegetables in the book, I'm going to plant some Long Keeper tomatoes too. The idea of having one's own garden tomatoes wrapped in newspaper ripening in October or November is so appealing I can hardly stand it! I've also got this new great system to (cross my fingers) keep my tomatoes from blighting and reducing the amount of space they take up. We'll see how it goes. I'll post pictures soon.
Meanwhile, in other areas of my life... tune in to WPVM at 6pm this Sunday to hear me read a few of my poems on air (between bouts of blathering).

Friday, April 16, 2010

Spaghetti Dinner - May 8

Yep. It's time for the Spaghetti Dinner to benefit Church Street Preschool. See me for tickets! Please. I've got twins!Where? Garden Deli
When? Saturday, May 8, 4:30-7:30 (dine-in or take-out)
What? spaghetti (meat or marinara sauce), salad, bread, beverage and homemade dessert

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

AW Assignment (from a few weeks ago)

One of the tasks in the Artist's Way is to create a collage of images culled from magazines. So I went to the local library and picked up a dozen old magazines for about $1.50 and started ripping away. (I love doing this kind of thing!) Instead of looking for pictures that represented my past and future, I went strictly with images I was drawn to. And I love the result:
The words by the dog are an old Chinese saying: Pleasure for an hour, a bottle of wine; pleasure for a year, marriage; pleasure for a lifetime, a garden.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Quest for the Perfect Dog

I know this is slightly unreasonable, but here's what I'd like to find:
A dog that is...
  • more than a year old
  • medium sized
  • good with kids
  • can handle being an only dog
  • is able to keep warm outside in the winter (he/she will not come inside)
  • will not kill chickens
  • will run off rabbits & deer from my garden & worry the groundhogs
  • can be off the leash & un-penned, but not run away
Bonus qualities:
  • is easily (or already) trained
  • likes to play fetch
We met this guy at the shelter yesterday and he seems like he has a great disposition... but I've read that Basset Hounds can be stubborn (not easily trained) and like to follow scents and then have a hard time finding their way home... That would be less than ideal. Further, this guy seems like more of a porch accessory than a fetcher. But you'd be hard pressed to find a sweeter porch accessory!
Now, I know labs are great family dogs too, but I'm worried about their "birding" instincts. And I know several chicken owners who, because labs train fairly easily, have trained their labs to leave their chickens alone.
So, the dog-searching adventure continues.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

AW Update -- up to Week 7

It's strange, I'll get to one week's tasks and think... Oh, I already did this a few weeks ago. Or conversely, I'll do one weeks morning-page suggestions or tasks the week after I was assigned to do them. There is a more lax flow through the different sections this time. I don't know if that's because I anticipate what's coming, or if I was just so ready for the process this time... and I'm being more forgiving with myself about doing things "on time." In fact, I've had a very difficult time being "on time" in the last few weeks. I wonder if that's because I'm being more present in the moment rather than always trying to anticipate what's coming next...

Phrases from the book that have struck me in the last few weeks:
  • We decide how powerful God is for us. We unconsciously set a limit on how much God can give us or help us. We are stingy with ourselves. And if we receive a gift beyond our imagining, we often send it back. (p 91)
  • Pray to catch the bus, then run as fast as you can. (p 92)
  • The desire to be worldly, sophisticated, and smart often blocks our flow. (p 93)
  • An artist requires the upkeep of creative solitude. (p 97)
  • What we really want to do is what we are really meant to do. (p 108)
  • Expect the universe to support your dream. It will. (p 119)
  • As blocked artists, we unrealistically expect and demand success from ourselves and recognition of that success from others. (p 121)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What's coming in April

I have lots of catching up to do with blogging, but I'll get to that later.
My big plans for April include this -- Script Frenzy -- from the fine folks who brought you NaNoWriMo.



Friday, March 12, 2010

AW Wk 4

OK. Not reading anything is supposed to prompt me to produce more... so there's really no excuse for not continuing to blog. But I have been trying to avoid the computer as much as possible, since that's where I can fritter away a lot of time--reading other people's blogs, emailing, checking in on my friends' lives on Facebook, surfing, etc. The internet is a real trap for curious people, like myself. And it's reading.

But back to The Artist's Way-- The phrases that struck me from this week/chapter:
Checkhov advised, "If you want to work on your art, work on your life." (80)
People frequently believe the creative life is grounded in fantasy. The more difficult truth is that creativity is grounded in reality, in the particular, the focused, the well observed or specifically imagined. (82)

The biggie for the week, is of course, no reading. I haven't been able to give up email entirely, but I have avoided reading novels, magazines, newspapers, others' blogs... And I've made good headway on some of my other creative ventures and knocked off a lot of things on my To-Do list that have been on there for quite some time. I know these things are related.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Week 4 - the hardest task, I think

So, Week 4 in The Artist's Way is Reading Deprivation Week. That's right. I'm not supposed to read ANYTHING this entire week.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sunshine on Snow

After 3 snow-day cancellations again this week, the kids are finally in school again today. Albeit with a 2 hour delay. And tomorrow, with sunshine in the forecast and highs in the 50s, they'll be off to Saturday school.
But tonight I get out of the house: solo. Well, almost solo. I'm planning a dinner date with Holden Caulfield and some battered deep-fried green beans.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Artist's Way - Week Three

Passages from the book that struck me:

Anger is meant to be acted upon. It is not meant to be acted out. Anger points the direction. We are meant to use anger as fuel to take the actions we need to move where our anger points us. With a little thought, we can usually translate the message that our anger is sending us. (61)
It's my [Julia Cameron's] experience that we're much more afraid that there might be a God than we are that there might not be. (63)
The criticism that damages is that which disparages, dismisses, ridicules, or condemns. It is frequently vicious but vague and difficult to refute. (69)
Creativity is the only cure for criticism. (73)

Now while this chapter is very helpful about criticism and anger, it does not really discuss the impersonal rejection. I can't remember from the last time I worked through the book whether subsequent chapters shed any light on this, but I hope so. There's nothing in a canned response tersely printed on a 1/4 sheet of paper stuffed in an SASE that might lead to an "Ah-ha!" moment for revising the work. While Cameron admonishes "don't pick up the first doubt," I feel it might be foolishly arrogant to keep getting rejection letters and not consider that (major) revision is in order. But which part to revise? hmmm. I will stay open to advice on this issue.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

When the most perfect thing just flies out of your mouth...

"Excuse me," I said to the couples crowded by the restaurant door waiting to be seated and reached my hand toward the door handle of the unisex bathroom.
"That one's full," one woman called out helpfully. "You'll have to use that one." She pointed further down the hall.
"Thanks," I said and let myself in and locked the door behind me. Their conversation resumed. Apparently they were very hungry and more than anxious to be seated soon. I felt a little sheepish for eaves-dropping and tried to read the wallpaper of Cook's Magazine plastered to the walls. I felt a little guilty for lolly-gagging at the end of my meal, but no matter, my husband and I were about to leave. So I washed my hands quickly and eased the door open.
I didn't want to bang into anyone in the hall, so peeked cautiously through the crack I'd made and saw people shuffling out of the way and tapping others to make them aware of my re-emergence.
"How did you do that?" one man asked incredulously. "How did you lock the door? She locked the door," he explained to his friend.
All eyes turned to me.
"I, uh, pushed the button," I stammered.
"Where? What button? Where's the button?" he pulled the door open examining the levered handle.
"Right there, underneath," I gestured. The group pushed forward, craning.
"Sure enough!" the man declared bending down to see it and pushed it himself. "There it is! How did you know that? " He looked up at me. "How did you know it was there?"
"Because I'm a mom," I said sliding through the group back toward my table. "And moms know everything."
"Good answer," I heard a woman murmur. "Good answer."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Artist's Way - Week Two

Quotes from the text that struck me:
Often creativity is blocked by our falling in with other people's plans for us. We want to set aside time for our creative work, but we feel we should do something else instead. As blocked creatives, we focus not on our responsibilities to ourselves, but on our responsibility to others. We tend to think such behavior makes us good people. It doesn't. It makes us frustrated people. (p. 43)
Setting skepticism aside, even briefly, can make for very interesting explorations. In creative recovery, it is not necessary for that we change any of our beliefs. It is necessary that we examine them. (p. 51)
The reward for attention is always healing. (p. 53)

During this process I am to look for moments of serendipity or coincidence or re-occurrences/themes. Among these this week was the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Second Wave

Rejections are always hard and have been especially hard for me lately. My chapbook, comprised of what I think are my best poems that fit together, has been rejected over a half-dozen times.
A drop in the bucket, you can say in your detached way. And I know it's true, in some small part of my brain or gut, but that objective part is certainly not in my heart. The rejections are residing there currently. Even if I know simple, obvious things like the judges are subjective and it might not be their style, or it's not right fit with the press, or you have to persevere, it still stings every time. It's petty, I know: The winning poet probably is a better poet than I am. But not having made the honorable mentions once causes me to doubt each of my poems' individual qualities, the collection of them, and the order. Everything.
I keep revising and submitting, though. Right now it's out five other places. (...awaiting rejection, my pessimistic side adds.)
Today, though, I got a package in the mail from one of the presses I submitted to: It's the winning chapbook of a contest that rejected my manuscript. A new twist to rejection--here, read what we think is better than your poetry. I also realize--I've got another dozen of these chapbooks on their way in the next year.
I wonder if I'll be able to read them.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ash Wednesday & Lent Begins

Oh, yes, I spent lots of time thinking about Jesus yesterday and praying "Dear God!"
You see, we decided to give up some vices (as a family) for Lent this year. After a family discussion, we settled on no meat on Fridays--a nice traditional Lenten sacrifice. And truly, the way large-scale farms treat animals and the way they are processed so neatly for us consumers as to remove us from poor living conditions, death and butchering is a vice prominent in my life. I should give it up a little more often than Fridays in Lent. (We do get our beef from Pleasant Gap Farm, though: local, grass-fed, hormone & antibiotic free.)
The other vice my family and I over-indulge in is "screen-time," for lack of a better word. So, we picked our busiest day of the week and designated Wednesdays during Lent No Screen-Time Day. No TV, no computer, no Wii, no movies. The implications of this are huge: no blogging, email, facebook, Mario Cart, kidspbs.org, Nick Jr., American Idol results, Big 10 basketball, nor Olympics. (We did TiVo Olympics & Idol though.) But Wednesdays are busy days so it shouldn't be too much sweat: school/preschool, piano lessons, kids church, dinner... so by the time all that is done, it's only about an hour and a half before the kids go to bed.
Unless, of course, it's a snow day. Which it was.
Oh, want to know what a snow day in the Appalachians looks like? Mind you, this picture is from today -- the 4th snow day this week. I guess I should rephrase: the 4th cancellation this week.
I have just a little bit of cabin fever going on, in my defense. I know there are plenty of steep, twisty, curvy roads with "black ice" that makes driving a bus treacherous, but for crying out loud, can we please get a day of school in this week? June 10 should be summer vacation.
But back to Wednesdays during Lent: all in all, it went very well. The kids never asked once to watch TV or play computer games... never tried to get me to "bend the rules" since it was a snow day. They expressed frustration or wishfulness, yes, but no temper tantrums. And I certainly considered vices, sacrifice, and Jesus a lot more than usual... which is part of the point of Lent after all.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Artist's Way Update

So I began. Yesterday I read the first few chapters -- up through Week 1--and made my promises to myself to see it through.
This morning, I got up 30 minutes early, before the kids (who had another snow day) and wrote my morning pages and worked through some of the exercises.
Phrases from the text that struck me...
Many real artists bear children too early or have too many, are too poor or too far removed culturally or monetarily from artistic opportunity to become the artists they really are. These artists, shadow artists through no fault of their own, hear the distant piping of the dream but are unable to make their way through the cultural maze to find it. (28)
Creativity is play, but for shadow artists, learning to allow themselves to play is hard work. (29)
Our chief needs as creative beings is support. (25)
To learn more about The Artist's Way, written by Julia Cameron, visit her website. It may seem hokey, and she'll be the first to admit it, but it's a 12-week time investment of about 10 hours a week to do the necessary work of self-examination, writing, and pattern changing.

Monday, February 15, 2010

That's It

Maybe it's cabin fever. Maybe it's starting a new year and having a birthday. Maybe it's stircrazies. But I've had it.
I'm doing The Artist's Way again and getting to the bottom of this. Getting to the bottom of this and doing something about it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pack Rat

I am a pack rat extraordinaire. Throw something away? Never. I might need it later, for some project. Of course, if you'd ask me what I was going to use it for at the time I decided it needed to be squirreled away, I probably wouldn't be able to tell you. However, I've used saved wine corks to plug our spurting water filter, ripped up jeans to mend another pair of ripped up jeans, the shiny insides of Puff's Plus boxes for Valentines, old onion bags to put wet lettuce in to "spin" the water from...
Other people even know this about me, so when my mother-in-law was going through her mother's odds and ends of fabrics she knew I'd want them and brought a big bag of vintage scraps for me. She even included some half-sewn quilt squares and pre-cut pieces that had been her grandmothers.
This Christmas, much to my self-satisfaction, I found the perfect use for them.
After a trip to Mountain Farms, I came away with a 1 gallon bag of lavender leaves and buds. You have no idea how much this is until you see it. And seeing it is nothing compared to opening the zippered bag and smelling it.
Then, I started combining the pie-shaped pieces and sewing them into little sachets. The kids helped me spoon lavender into them and then I stitched them up by hand and gave them away with presents.
Note the hand stitching on the beginnings of a hexagonal pieced quilt top. What a lot of work!
I also purchased a few yards of soft flannel from the local fabric store Needle Me This and sewed rectangles that the kids filled with a combination of rice and lavender. Once I closed the top, they could be put in the microwave for about a minute-and-a-half and -- wa-lah a portable heating pad. I used one like this constantly after the accident so decided to make about twenty as gifts.
The bonus of this adventure is that I learned Mountain Farms, aside from making about the best goat cheese around, has a labyrinth made from lavender plants. I can hardly wait for the summer to try it out!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

In the back of my brain

The recent discussions about Goshen College's decision to play the National Anthem reminded me of an old GC Bulletin cover that upset some people. But I was especially pleased to re-read Keith Graber-Miller's article that went with it. I'd recommend re-reading it. It comforts me to know that Keith is still teaching in the theology department. He was one of my favorite professors.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Now I am 36

It's closer to 40 than it is 30. That can make me gulp if I dwell on it, but it's all silliness, I know.
Things that happened my birthday weekend:
#1 - It was quiet and peaceful. That, in large part, was because my in-laws kept the kids and we headed off for a weekend in a Gatlinburg cabin with a sauna and hot tub. There is great value in totally relaxing.
#2 - I learned a new word: Loyly - the steam produced by pouring water over hot rocks in a sauna.
#3 - I read an entire 400+ page book: Archangel by Sharon Shinn. More of that sci-fi & theology mix that I'm really enjoying right now. It's so much fun for me to see the age-old theological questions brought up in a completely different context so that different answers are possible. For example: If god is omnipotent, why does god allow children to be enslaved? In this book the answer is: god doesn't, just give it time and the right people to do the work. The joy of inventing different parameters! But I like how it pushes one to reflect back on current, real-life issues: give it time and the right people to do the work.
Of course, conversely, I think god in this instance is a being on a space-ship who communicates to the oracles through a computer interface and likes music... but it does cause one to reflect about it all anyway.
As an aside: Can someone figure out a job for me in which I get paid to read? I'm really good at it.
#4 - I'm not sure this was the best part, but it was the perfect way to end the weekend away: Dear friends of ours had their baby on my birthday & I got to hold him.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What's on my mind...

First, a WHINE: yet another snow day.
Braggin' on a Friend: frequent commenter alias Kimik (A.C. Leming on the list) has placed as a finalist, in the top 21 in the Writer's Digest Poetry Aside chapbook contest... we keep checking for the winner announcement to be posted today at http://blog.writersdigest.com/poeticasides/
Accomplishment: finished up a website for Gary Gavenus who is running for Superior Court Judge. See here.
Progress on Goals: I stayed up until about 2am this morning finishing The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. If you're like me and like sci-fi mixed with theology, this is a fascinating read. Not general-theoretical theology like Dune, but Judeo-Christian/Catholic theology and a planet on Alpha-Centauri. This is no walk-in-the-park Happy-Christian read, though. Brace yourself (no pun intended). Throw in violence, aliens, healthy marriages, celibacy, human suffering, devout believers, questioning believers, and a healthy dose of atheists. Good mix.
And speaking of goals, local writer Alan Gratz has a great post today about setting goals as a writer/creative person. I can relate... except for the fact that I haven't completed anything or gotten multiple books published like he has... It's a good read. Go!
Another post on the GC-Anthem issue: Here's another good post my brother directed me to on the issue.
I have also emailed my piece to the board at Bethany Christian Schools which has had several discussions about this same matter because of a complaint lodged a few years ago with the IHSAA. As it stands now, because of the complaint, Bethany is not able to host sectional or regional events on behalf of the IHSAA. (Or at least for volleyball and basketball. I guess the state couldn't let Bethany's great soccer fields go as BCS is still asked to host soccer sectionals on occasion...)
Interestingly enough, playing the anthem for a IHSAA event hosted at Bethany wouldn't bother me. Bethany might not even be one of the schools playing in a particular game, and might not be considered the "home" team (by jersey color, etc.). To me this seems entirely different. Additionally there are other regulations a Tournament Host School is required to comply with during sectional games that aren't in place in regular-season games: number of line judges, number of refs, distance of bench to court, and various other peculiarities. Of course, if BCS chose to decline to play the anthem and forgo their ability to host sectionals/regionals I would proudly support them. (If Mennonites are really permitted to be proud.)
Punxsutawney Phil: I have no kind words for that poor groundhog today.

Saturday, January 30, 2010