Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blue Mt. Retreat: Day Two

What were you doing this morning between 6:30 and 8:30??

Here I am after two hours in the no-briar blackberry patch! In the pic I'm holding my compensation for my picking 9 quarts of blackberries: one quart of berries, one quart of Roma tomatoes, and some basil for bruscetta tonight.

When I arrived at the gardens at the foot of the hill where we're staying, Beth sent me to the hoop house (not a greenhouse although it appeared to be one) to gather the basil. She then outfitted me with a broad-brimmed hat doused with SkinSoSoft to ward off the swarms of gnats that seem to abound at the garden. She introduced me to her neighbor who sometimes helps her out with vegetables she needs. (I actually think he provided the tomatoes I took because Beth's tomatoes were barely turning.) I was given a picker to use which was an empty quart-sized container threaded with hemp to go over your head. That left both hands free to pick--very ingenious. Once I picked that container full, I emptied it into the flat of pints. Finally I filled 12 generous pints and moved on to a flat of quarts. After two I decided it was time to get back to the writing life, so I picked one more quart to take along. Quite a productive morning.
That is not to mention the added joy I had with Mary, a neighbor who also came to pick. Turns out, she is quite the reader and recommended many summer books for me. She works at the McClellan Museum near here. That perked me up because my mother-in-law met my father-in-law when he was stationed at Ft. McClellan in Anniston, AL. She is also a gardener and comes to pick for Beth here in order to also "pick" Beth's brain about organic farming. High on her reading list was a book called Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strought. This is a book of linked short stories. No way could Mary have known that I, myself, have a current writing project of linked short stories with a protagonist named Clyde!! Would you believe Strought's book won a Pulitzer?? Once I get settled down here and stop gardening, I will now be eager to resume my work on that project.

I believe in signs. I was supposed to be in that patch picking berries this morning with Mary. It's just like Patti's experience here. She had an epiphany this morning about writing a children's story about flying animals--those you don't expect to fly. Then when she went outside, a beautiful butterfly landed on her finger and wouldn't leave her.
That, to me, was an affirmation of her idea.

Want to see the finished product from yesterday's blackberries?
Edie sopped the pan! I don't think anyone remembered to take pics after they were baked. The little circular pie is mostly juice topped with the remainder of the pie dough. We were too hungry from the good smells from the oven to take pics. We ate it topped with lemon sorbet--a little more tartness, a little more sweetness.
And Gayle (who has just fixed me a snack of peanut butter/apple) and Patti are waiting to see if I'm ever going to work a little on writing--

as Bonnie is so diligently doing in the dining room.
So here I go to the real work. . . but, first, maybe I'll have lunch and a little nap. Things are so tough here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blue Mountain Retreat--ooweeeee!

I've escaped real life for a week in the woods of western Maryland! Thank goodness I'm not alone like Thoreau. The other writers here have just attended an SCBWI conference this weekend, and I've been involved with writers at home in the Alabama Writers' Conclave.

Deciding which genre to participate in is always a problem for me at any conference, but this weekend was a no-brainer. Recently, I've toyed over the idea of taking a semester of CNF at my alma mater, Spalding U, with Elaine Orr. (Next summer the group will be in Tuscany!! I think I could write some good stuff there.) Anyway, in light of that fact, I stuck mostly with Kathy Rhodes who edits Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal. www. asouthernjournal.com. (See my published short story there--"Woman's Wait," first issue of 2010.) That she has published my work had a little something to do with my interest as well.

My dear friend Susan Luther was also there presenting poetry, and Jo Kittinger was presenting for children's lit. I managed to sit in on one of Jo's very informative sessions where she, by example with Highlights for Children, showed the writers how to target a magazine market. Susan and I swapped poetry books and some good ideas.

We writers need to learn to listen more for good ideas and speak less. We'd learn more. (I'm talking to myself. Many of us are teachers ourselves and are used to presenting, but much is to be learned from other writers.)

Our writer hostess here is Edie Hemingway. (See http://www.ediehemingway.com/ and also google her great new book, ROAD TO TATER HILL. Great trailer on you tube. Catch up with her also at www.onepotatoten.blogspot.com/ ) Edie and Doug, head chef in the household, live in a log cabin at the foot of a small mountain in very picturesque Frederick. We traveled about thirty minutes west to this idyllic organic farm. On the way we passed Harper's Ferry and the scenery is breathtaking. Right now I'm leaving to pick blackberries. More later.

LATER: I applied sun screen and wore my baseball hat and trusty walking shoes for the trek down the path to the gardens. The katydids and other critters were all tuning up for the day on the shady path down. I tried to recognize trees, but they're so different from Alabama trees I can't name them.

I am equally ignorant of most of the plants in the garden. Beth, the propietor had said the "wall" of blackberries was in the first fenced garden. (Deer I do know!!) It has a rickety old gate she said and the only requirement for picking blackberries is that you close that gate behind you. I first examined the sheds on the premises which had large white buckets for picking, I presume, and small quart-sized recylcled food containers strung with hemp of some kind for picking and holding it on your shoulder, I supposed. Buckets of red geraniums livened up the place as did clumps of flowers planted at the ends of rows in the vegetable gardens.

My first try at opening the gate was a bust. Don't ask me to write a mystery. The wire (I call it hay-baling wire) that held the two parts of the gate together were twisted for about four inches and my hands weren't strong enough to untwist the thing. Not easily bested, I walked on out to Beth's home and called her from the garage. She said, "Did you try lifting the wire up off the slats?" Duh. I hadn't even noticed that possibility. She offered me a small quart container to pick some breakfast berries for the group.

Once inside the garden, I was astonished at seeing so many blackberries so easily accessible. Back home, if I pick blackberries, it is definitely a Br'er Rabbit situation and you'd better watch out or you'll get stuck in the briars. Or worse, encounter a rattlesnake who's afraid of you. He will bite. These blackberries have no briars. And I saw no snakes. And since we're all organic here with no pesticides, guess who ate her fill as she picked? Me, yes. The one with the blue, seedy teeth.

The blackberries were staked and stood taller than head-high in long rows. My first inclination was to go to the far end of the rows because I know the novice will always start on the end nearest the gate. A natural thing. But after I had walked about halfway, it struck me that it didn't matter where I picked because I'd have a quart in no time. My problem would be stopping. When there are fruits or vegetables ready to be picked, I find it hard not to pick everything that is ready. That's how you're trained on a farm. Any time I've ever gone to a peach or blueberry pickin' place, I always have to talk myself into stopping? What would I do with bushels of peaches or gallons of blueberries.

So, about midway of the garden I began picking the most plump, lucious blackberries I've ever seen. They were hanging in large clumps with an equal number of red and purplish-black ones. If you don't know the blackberry, you will be stunned for a moment at the first taste--its tartness, its seeds. But like an infant after its first taste of apple juice you will want more. Lots more.

Edie is dropping Donny Seagraves (a presenting writer at the SCBWI conference) at the airport and Patti Zelch and Teresa Crumpton are along for the ride. Gayle, Bonnie, and I are holding down the fort (we're supposed to be working) here. I've sent a list of ingredients for them to bring back so that I can back a blackberry cobbler sometime this week. Or one every day???

Tune in tomorrow for that story. Meantime check out the web sites of the published writers/friends here:

Edith Hemingway at http://www.ediehemingway.com/
Patti Zelch at http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/ for READY, SET, WAIT! Search for Author Patti Zelch on Facebook.
Teresa Crumpton, ya writer, has a web site in progress. She has fine-tuned her ya novel and is looking for a good home for it. Visit her on Facebook
Bonnie Doerr at http://www.bonniedoerrbooks.com/. See her blog and try for a free copy of ISLAND STING at http://www.bonnieblogsgreen.blogspot.com/.
Donny Seagraves at http://www.donnyseagraves.com/ or see the blog at http://www.wintervillewriter.com/.
Gayle Payne, our wonderful airport shuttle and fellow poet from Ft. Lauderdale, is here, too. She writes but needs to enter the 21st century--her quote. She has a great body of fiction on different levels, so look out for her!
Kathleen Thompson, http://www.wordforword.com/.

That's who's here. And there.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Zinnias + Parties = Summer

Is there a fire extinguisher in the kitchen??? (Note the zinnias. Note Will. "Give me the camera!" This is not a party pic but taken at home in his high chair. Couldn't leave him out.)

Zinnias go well in a silver bowl, too!

Below: a baby shower and I'm serving up Becky Bradley's lucious peach punch to Grandmother Diana Spencer.

Zinnias are best in their glorious growing state!

The circular bed at the corner of our yard is the site of a flowering cherry tree which was killed during the drought two years ago. In the center is a small cedar tree which was transplanted from the north side of Tuscaloosa County in my sister Annie Bell's woods before the zinnia seeds from her garden were planted all around it.

Message in a Blog

  About twenty Birmingham language arts teachers endured my holding forth yesterday in my current gig as a Road Scholar ...