Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fear No Rain

I have been meaning to take another stab at retreat. I had the flu on my birthday, so my trip to the art/yoga studio at Herrbrook was a different experience than the one I envisioned. So I booked another stay. I brought my computer along. I was open to inspiration but my list of possibilities included: work on my novel, journal, write some letters, perhaps do some impromptu art, walk the labyrinth, plan my upcoming workshop, read Moosewood cookbooks, read a magazine, do some sun salutations, drink herbal tea. The day started off with sprinkles, but that didn't even come into my consciousness. I like the rain, and it pushes me to the interior world that was my destination anyway. So, armed with a cup of coffee, an oatmeal cookie, leftover potato leek soup, my computer, journal, and stacks of books, I entered the cottage. There was a chill, so I turned on the space heater. Took off my crocs and put on some snugly slipper socks. Lit a candle. Arranged myself under a blanket on a wicker rocker with a great view of the rainy garden intending to spend my first 30 minutes in journal mode.

This cottage is loaded with art supplies and books, but the one thing that was prominently displayed was a book entitled Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I know the owner of Herrbrook has peered at my blog, but did she peer into my soul? Who knows who put the book right near my candle, but I picked it up and read over 60 pages sitting in that chair. I also journaled 21 pages--enough that my hand couldn't hold a pen to sign my kids' permission slips later that evening. It was as if the book was written for me for this particular time and place. I went to a deep place. Some of it I absorbed immediately. Some I must sort through. I borrowed the book and will continue doing a chapter a day until I finish. And hopefully, I can reveal some of what I learned in these musings.

There was a mid-day break in the clouds, and I used the time to walk barefoot through the wet grass 11-circuit labyrinth on the property. I gained even more insight from this exercise. Waiting for me in the center of the labyrinth was a cat. I am not a cat person, but this cat seemed to know I needed a guide through the process. In the goddess tradition, Bast is an Egyptian cat goddess of play. Maybe that is more symbolism than is necessary here, but I did feel a kinship with this animal. It started to rain in sprinkles, but though I entered the labyrinth walking with my hands dug deep into my pockets, my arms loosened on the way out. I noticed that they were outstretched to feel and accept the rain. It was a reaction that was intuitive. I didn't think about the fact that I was doing it until I was almost done walking.

A little wet, I returned to the comfort of the studio. Sipped my soup. Ascended into the yoga loft where I could simultaneously read, journal, and hear the rain hitting the roof. This blog entry is about the physicality of the day. I will get into the insights later. But I slept well last night. That always a testament to a day well spent.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Friends, Forty, and the Finger Lakes

This past weekend, we journeyed with another couple to the Finger Lakes for a wine tour to celebrate my husband's 40th birthday. We still have a couple of days until he hits the big 4-0, but since his birthday falls near a holiday weekend, we are going to take the long road of celebration. Still on tap--live lobsters imported from Maine, live blues music, family gathering with a home-smoked turkey barbecue. Almost makes me want to turn 40.

This past weekend was a nice way to honor Mark's 40 years. We took a leisurely drive to the region, stopping at Ithaca's famed Moosewood restaurant for lunch. We had a great vegetarian meal. The salad was one of the freshest and tastiest I have had. It owed its goodness to the quality of the veggies and the dressing which was the house dressing of spinach/basil. Looking through the Moosewood cookbook after our return, I think it matches the Very Green Dressing recipe. I am looking forward to trying it. No fat! Lots of flavor. I had a tomato/potato soup which had some Andean name. It was spiced with a little cinnamon which was an unexpected delight. We also shared a Nut Brown Beer from Ithaca brewery. I enjoy the taste of the more full-bodied beers, but I just can't drink that much of them.

We sampled many wines at the wineries. Primarily we stayed on the west side of Cayuga Lake and the East side of Seneca Lake while maintaining a home base of Interlaken. The region is most known for its whites, especially Riesling, but we only came home with one bottle of Riesling. I was surprised at the stash of dry rose that came back with us. I like dry rose (not the sickening sweet white zin stuff) for a summer wine with meals of salad and grilled seafood on the deck. I can't wait. We also came back with a bunch of reds, mostly blends. The notable red varietals; Cabernet Franc, (pale) Pinot Noir, Baco Noir, and Lemberger were interesting. But we are used to California reds. We opted in many cases for the blends, which perhaps didn't reflect the region as well, but gave us a drinkable wine. The prices were great for both the tastings and the wine itself. When we were in California having our wine experience, we didn't buy any bottles that were less than $18. Here, we probably bought most of our bottles for $10 or less. In the end, our wine fridge is groaning with a nice variety including a bottle of hard cider, a sparkling wine, a dessert wine among others. Since we consume wine with meals, I can't wait to start planning some summer menues around our stash.

Wineries we liked best: Atwater, Shalestone (only does reds), Lucas, Domiani, Bloomer Creek, Red Newt Cellars. I'll have to check through my literature to see if I am forgetting any.

As for our meals, we ate well at restaurants which support local and organic food. Red Newt had some great pasta and fish tacos--not to mention, the best smoked turkey sandwich I ever tasted (lunch). We also ate at Stonecat Cafe and got to sample an array of smoked meats. Mark surprised me and ordered the cassoulet. I think he was intrigued by the strange ingredients: duck legs and bison sausage. Our friends also got to the Ithaca Farmer's Market. I regret missing that. We also had a good time hiking the falls around Cayuga Lake.

All-in-all, a good trip. Now I will be torn between going back some day and exploring more deeply and checking out New York's other wine regions on Long Island or around the Hudson River Valley. Lucky for us, we all have a lot of birthdays to celebrate.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Playing to my strengths

If you read my blog, you know that the writing is coming slooooowwwly. I am just not happy with anything I have written--and I have written tons since Summers at Blue Lake. It is frustrating to work so hard with so little results. Like dieting without getting skinny--what's the point? The more I tried, the worse it got, and I began to panic. I feared (and still do to a small extent) that I will never again write anything that merits publication. Today, I got an email from a woman in CT who just finished my book. I have received a bit of fan mail since my book came out. Mostly from folks I know. I love all my nice mail, but I am positively giddy when I get notes from people I don't know.

I got this email today. Thanks, Julie, for that lift! As I read Julie's note about why she enjoyed my book, I realized that the aspects that she liked were missing in my latest manuscript (the one I am trying to revise--or rewrite as the revisions are more like Extreme Home Makeovers than Trading Spaces). I guess I was trying to write a serious book where my character evolve and have breakthroughs. A meaningful book with doses of hard reality. But what is missing from this book is the element of fun and frivolity. I was able to do both (fun and seriousness) with the last novel because I could go back and forth in time between two different stories. The story that took place in 1983 was more light-hearted, and it broke up the sobriety of the year 2000 story.

I then started to think about the other letters I received and the book clubs I attended. I remembered the comments about what people liked about the book. They told me of passages that made them laugh. They said they enjoyed certain characters--the grandmothers, in particular. Readers like the seemingly real reminiscences and details. They are anxious to read another book, and I need to deliver it. I can do this. I am now going back through my second book, and I am going to try a new tone. I think that even I will enjoy working with playfulness. Sometimes I can get caught up in my own seriousness. My authorness. I am not sure what will come out of it, but I need to trust this process which is scary in a leap-without-a-publishing-contract kind of way. That's all for now. I'm off to play.

Our family's favorite meal

Pittsburgh steak salads. Serves 4

1.5 pound (used to be 1 pound but I have a teenage son now) flat iron or sirloin steak
bag of mixed salad greens
large red pepper
bunch of green onions
Ore-Ida Crispers (no other fries will do) one large handful per person
1 cup Finely shredded cheddar jack cheese
Hidden Valley Spicy Ranch dressing
Cajun seasoning

optional--diced tomatoes--I use them if they are in season

Preheat oven (according to french fry bag) and grill
Cut white part of onion off and skewer them
Quarter the pepper and remove the seeds
Arrange pepper (skin down) and onions on grill (while preheating is fine)
Watch the onions--they get done fast. Let pepper skin blacken.
Put fries in the oven and set timer according to directions
Arrange lettuce on 4 plates
chop remaining onion greens and sprinkle on top of lettuce
Remove grilled onions if done. Slice and put on top of greens.
Season steak with salt, pepper, and Cajun seasoning
Grill steak according to taste.
When peppers are black, remove from grill and put in a plastic container to steam.
Remove finished steak and allow to sit (covered with foil) for 5-10 min.
Peel skins from peppers and slice.
Layer peppers and tomatoes (if using) on top of salad
Slice steak. Add to salads.
Top salads with french fries and grated cheese.
Serve with dressing and a nice bottle of cabernet sauvignon for the adults.

Mother's Day

I intended to sit and read on Mother's Day. Total sloth. My husband's a good guy. He works hard around the house on the weekends. He doesn't mind doing it. In fact, I think he likes the feeling of accomplishment he gets from hard work. He is not much of a reader. I am, and I can get a sense of accomplishment from finishing a good book. I'm not sure that Mark understands that when he is busy mulching, and I am sitting the chaise lounge with a book, my faithful pug, and glass of iced tea. So I do what I can to look like I am industrious, too. But on Mother's Day, I have a free pass.
It didn't work out. I taught Sunday School--my last class of the year. After church we dropped off Mark's mom's present and went to look at flooring at Lowe's. Simultaneously, too many choices and not enough. And too scared to ask the nineteen-year-old salesman for his opinion. On the way out, we saw that they had Kitchen Aid mixers on sale. I'd been hinting about getting one ever since my daughter broke the old one. (Not my daughter's fault. She is truly on her way to being a fabulous cook like her mother. She was making cake batter, while I was cooking dinner. I told her that the beaters just came out and to pull harder. I forgot about the release switch and she pulled hard enough to send the mixer across the kitchen. OOPS!) Now Maren and I have a new mixer.
Had to try it out. One thing led to another, and I made...a mess. A batch of white chocolate macadamia nut cookie batter to freeze for later. A batch of rhubarb pecan muffins for breakfasts. A batch of strawberry rhubarb sauce for my vanilla yogurt. (No mixer required.) Pittsburgh Steak Salads. So, mother's day was spent in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning. I love the cooking part and I had an awesome day, but I missed my laziness opportunity. Mother's don't get them often.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


It is a by-product of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that my enthusiasm for my vegetable and herb garden has grown by leaps and bounds. I have a small raised bed garden that is only about 68 sq feet. But I have so much packed into a small space. Peas, onions, 3 kinds of basil, 10 types of hot peppers, 9 tomato plants, tomatillos, 3 types of eggplant, leeks, cilantro, parsley, lemongrass, spinach, arugula, lettuce, dill, tarragon, rosemary, as well as a proliferation of oregano, mint, sage, and thyme.

This morning, I pulled out my green onions (mainly because I had to make room for other things). They smelled so fresh and lovely. I also harvested enough arugula to make my first batch of arugula walnut pesto which I froze for a rainy day when I will pull it out and drizzle it all over some warm cheesy polenta. My mouth is watering to think about it.

My daughter has been studying organic food choices in her school book club. We are planning some local and organic meals, and this summer we will take field trips to fruit stands. (We are not purists by any stretch, but we are exploring our world of food.) We plan on asking if all the produce comes from the farm or if it is shipped in. We are also going to ask if the produce are organic. I went to Landis Valley Herb Fair yesterday and bought some pepper and eggplant plants from a place called Happy Cat Organics. Besides plants, they also sell produce. I can't wait to take Maren on a field trip to visit them.

If that wasn't enough, I am taking a workshop on cheese making. I did get some cheesemaking supplies for my birthday, so I am all set. I can see it now--herbed goat cheese and some sort of hot pepper cheese. My husband Mark's birthday is this month and he has asked for a kit to make sourdough bread.

Bread, cheese, vegetables, fruits, herbs. Can life get any better?


I just wanted to update on some of the posts I wrote previously.

I did not get accepted for the PA Artist in Residence program this year. I wrote that the interview was daunting, but it was also good. I was able to work through my ideas with the committee. I realize now that those ideas were not fully formed at the time of my interview. They invited me to reapply next year. I have enormous respect for the program. It is something I will consider, but I must see where I am in my life and career process next year at this time. I, too, am a work in progress.

From disappointment to elation. At the service auction for our church, we auctioned off a book club with a tapas style dinner at the author's house for six people. I was nervous about putting myself out there. But the auction went well. Seats at the book club went for $100 a piece, raising $600 for our church. I was very pleased, and I can't wait for the event to happen.

Weekend writer

Many people ask me about my second book. I don't always know what to say. I wrote one, finished it years ago, but my agent felt it wasn't the right book with which to move forward. Book two is pivotal in a writer's career. There is enormous pressure (real and perceived) for me in this my sophomore effort. I feel like I can't leave my book two characters behind. So I am trying to rewrite the book to make it have more of an impact. To say this is scary is an understatement. I try to write for the joy of it without thinking about my agent's voice on the phone or possible publication or future reviews. I have said before that I am currently listening to the Eckhart Tolle/Oprah A New Earth web venture on my walks. I am familiar with Tolle's The Power of Now and have studied meditation with one of his pupils. In this vein, I am trying to stay present and write. But I find all sorts of excuses not to sit in front of my computer. Perez Hilton. Computer solitaire. Food network. Vices I am not proud of. Add into this equation the late suspicion that I, along with certain members of my family, are affected by ADD--Attention Dances Differently. I digress. Where was I?

This morning, I woke at 5:30 with my characters dancing in my head. So I sat down and started writing. Since I quit my job, I have not been writing on the weekends. I feel like I should devote that time to my family. But this morning, the house was quiet. What a wonder to write in my free time instead of thinking--I have to write in my scheduled writing time and get finished so I can start painting by X o'clock so I can complete this before the kids come home from school. It has been a long time since I reminded myself of why I write. Because I love it. I take time out during the week to do things for family and friends. There is no reason why I can't on occasion write on the weekends and prove that this really is a happy pasttime. Maybe the paycheck will come, but I cannot let that consume my thoughts. In the now of things, in present awareness, I can find glory in the doing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A New Earth/ A New Manuscript

I have been stumbling in my writing life. I am scared. I am reworking a novel I thought was finished 2 years ago. It is painful. Am I just beating a dead horse? I love my characters, and I can't let them go. If I put them aside to write something new, I kind of feel as though I am Paris Hilton--bringing home a new puppy and ignoring the other dogs I have. So I have committed to writing through some of this agony. I am listening to the Oprah/Eckhart Tolle online series on A New Earth. I have taken meditation workshops in the past with someone who is a student of Tolle's. I don't feel the lessons are as new for me as they seem to be to some of the folks who call in. The ideas are reminiscent of other teachers I have had both in person and in books. (I don't quite believe Oprah when she says she is having these A-Ha moments because she, too, has been a student of this way of life for years.) Still, I like listening to the online tutorials because they help reinforce key ideas in my mind and in my practice. The lessons are helping me in my writing life. I work to become present, centering myself in that place of nothingness-- where no words exist but from which they all spring. I take care to enjoy the process of linking words and phrases, playing with language. It isn't always easy to do the last part which is to write without thought of the future or expectation. I seem to have given up that luxury when I decided I should do this for a living, but I am trying to let the outcome occur in its own space rather than to force it. Keep my writing going forward and refrain from editing. At this point in the game, I just want to get as much down as possible. I can prune later.
Another thing I am trying to do is to journal after I am done with my writing for the day. Just a few sentences about how I felt, where my writing is going, and to give myself a specific assignment for the next day so I don't get lost getting back into the stream of it all.

My developing practice:

Show up every day
Center myself in the silence
Enjoy the play of putting words together
Refrain from expectation (Or Be open to possibility)
Limit editing
Journal briefly about my writing experience for the day
Give myself an assignment or starting point for tomorrow
Go for a walk/run in nature


My May goal was to start painting with the oils I bought over a month ago. New medium. New start. I am working with old subject matter--my dancing daughter. It is too early to say that I don't like oil paints, but I can say that I am beginning to wonder why I chose them over acrylics. I know that sometimes when I am painting, I wish that the paints were more forgiving. I figuered that oils dried more slowly and would give me more to to correct. They are also giving more time to make mud. I am not upset with my first attempt. It is a work in progress, and I think I'll be able to finish something that will make me happy. It just may take me longer to figure out the how-to of this new medium. Is it bad to say I like the smell. It reminds me of college and makes me feel somehow more like a real painter.

Write-wing conspiracy

I don't like politics, but I don't like feeling powerless either. Today (encouraged by my friend Beckie Bittle who submitted a opinion piece to the Lancaster Sunday News) I wrote to my state senator who introduced the Marriage Amendment (SB 1250)to the state legislature. He wants to change the PA constitution to put a limit on our rights. It is a proactive stance from a Senator who represents a very conservative constituency to get to the laws before the liberal judges do. I don't think it will surprise anyone who read my novel SUMMERS AT BLUE LAKE that I believe that gay marriage should be allowable and dare I say...celebrated. It's love, and it's not a choice. Who are we to block love? I try not to wear my politics out with me because I don't want to get into bigger battles than I can take on. My verbal volleying skills are limited to paper. But this amendment doesn't just shut down marriage between people of the same sex, it denies health coverage to families, it changes the way domestic violence cases are handled. Not married? Then it isn't domestic violence. And if this amendment does get passed...does that mean my own marriage is more sacred? Please! I just think that more is at stake with this proposal than most people realize. Pennsylvania was founded by the Quakers on a basis of religious tolerance. It is fine for a person to oppose gay marriage because he or she does not believe in it, but let's not legislate against it. I asked Senator Brubaker, who just happened to be a member of the church where Mark and I got married (for all I know--he still is), and asked him to use his time to take a stand against hate crimes and prejudice instead of taking a stand against my rights.
The moral of this story is that by writing, I felt powerful today. I urge everyone, even those who have politics that are different than mine, to find an issue you feel passionately about and take the time to write to your representatives in the legislature. We get to vote, and that is a great thing, but why limit yourself to feeling powerful 2 times a year? In the words of Henriette Klauser (and the title of a great book) Write it Down; Make it Happen.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Log cabin consciousness

I have always loved log cabins. Perhaps the romance started with the cabin my Gramps built. We didn't go often, but when we did, it seemed like a little secret, tucked as it was in some woods with only a narrow, bramble-guarded road to access it. I am not sure. But here's a telling fact. In collage, engaged to be married, I bought more log cabin magazines than bridal magazines. (Okay--I was an abnormal twenty-year old art student in the era immediately preceding the tattoo craze and when the University of Delaware had only 3 color monitors on campus. We had to make our own brand of fun.)
Skip to present or last week (close enough). I spent three days in a log cabin while chaperoning my daughter's class's environmental field trip. The log cabin bug (along with a few mosquitoes) bit me again. I love the simplicity. I kept taking pictures of the cabins and having visions of the television show Men in Trees where New Yorker and writer Marin Frist takes refuge and writes from her little cabin in Alaska. I can picture myself on my porch sitting in a steamer lounge chair with my laptop and a cup of dark roast. Perhaps a colorful shawl and most definitely a pug at my feet. There is something calming about a building that fits so perfectly within its environment. I am not an Americana, lodge-y type decorator. If I had a cabin, I'd offset the rough aesthetic with sleek modern furnishings and bold dashes of color. It would be more whimsy than outback.
The day after I returned from Camp Swatara, I met a friend for lunch. She was staying at her sister's log home while her home was being remodeled. So I got to see another take on log home living with a great kitchen and a beautiful deck overlooking a large pond. So is the universe trying to tell me something? I don't know. Yesterday, my in-laws returned from a trip to the Midwest to visit relatives and do some genealogy. They gave my daughter a T-shirt emblazoned with a graphic of the Lincoln Log Cabin.
Maybe I need to rent myself a little refuge and get to writing.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The value of my time

So, all-in-all, the experiences were positive. But I really did over schedule myself last month. There is a lesson in that, but will I learn? I came home from my 3 days away to the following : a request for me to chair a committee for the Woman to Woman annual event, a plea to pick up my son's friend from his field trip since his single father won't be home, a lunch request from a stranger--a writer who wants to pick my brain, 40 pages of a first novel that I've been asked to review by someone who came to the Lancaster Book Festival, a request from my church to make 4 two-sided signs to carry in a family service procession. In the week before I left, I agreed to submit a book club/dinner event complete with autographed books for our church auction and to teach an 8-week adult education class for our church in the fall. I am still contemplating helping a girl's environmental camp with some journaling prompts this summer.
I guess some clarity (from my rock pile?) would help here. I want to do it all. I want to give everything I have, but it leaves little for me in the way of my own goals. I did cut my daughter off from being in yet another community theater production this spring. I feel proud for having set that boundary. But as far as the other stuff goes, I don't know what will lead me to my next step. Chairing the Woman to Woman event would be a big feather in my cap and line on a resume, but it isn't going to get a novel written or a painting painted. I hate to squash opportunity. And even without apparent opportunity, I really do like giving back to my community. It is just that the giving would be easier to do if I were getting paid in full for the work I am already doing. I paint and I write and I spend time on my workshops but pay days are few and far between. I realize I must have value because people are always calling on my services. Is it too much to ask that that value be represented by dollar bills some of the time? Maybe, I just don't ask to be paid what I am worth. It is hard. As a woman and a mom, I am constantly asked (and was socialized) to give away my time for school fundraisers, chaperoning, teaching Sunday School, baking for school functions. Can you imagine if we mothers were to claim the worth of all this volunteer time on our household income tax return?
I will have to decide what my priorities are and give fully to those things I deem worthy. I think I already know what I must do. Maybe just the act of pruning will produce more fruit when the time comes for a harvest.