The Week of 600 Bulbs

St. Michaels, the small-town on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay where I live, has decided to become an “In Bloom” town. Apparently there are lots of other towns across the country that are part of this movement which started in Europe. When I was asked to be involved, I sat on my hands. I have enough volunteer activities on my plate.

One of those volunteer activities is to co-chair the Grounds Committee at the St. Michaels Woman’s Club. We are a committee of two and my co, Joanne, and I do most of the work to keep the grounds looking good. Several times a year we ask for volunteers to help with clean-up, and sometimes we hire some help. The town mows the grass.

Joanne went to a St. Michaels in Bloom meeting and forgot to sit on her hands. The result was 500 daffodil bulbs that needed to be planted this week. That’s a lot of bulbs! I didn’t get a photo of the four large bags we got, but here are some of what we put in the ground. Multiply that by twenty.

Joanne and another club member planted about 100 on Friday. She asked me to come and I told her it was the only day that week that I didn’t have some volunteer activity and I wanted some time for myself. She was understanding. I planted 50 tulip bulbs at home that day and then went to the clubhouse and planted 50 more in the back. The weather was decent and Friday night it was going to turn cold so I wanted to get it done. Those tulips were my idea so I felt responsible for getting them in the ground.

Yesterday we planted the rest of the daffodil bulbs. They are being planted all around St. Michaels. 10,000 bulbs, so I’m really glad I didn’t go to that meeting. Five hundred was more than enough for me, but the Woman’s Club, and the town, will be glorious next spring. A Daffodil Festival is planned. I am super glueing my hands to my thighs after my wrists get back to normal from using the bulb planter.

From the Garden

Over the weekend I cooked my purple sweet potatoes. They were not a gardening success. I think the 6 plants cost $15. These are a Japanese variety that is supposed to full of good stuff that will make you life forever. I got a pitiful yield. Cut, they went into one pot. We’ll be eating them for awhile as it’s just the two of us.

The are a beautiful color, but I should have worn gloves when I peeled and cut them up. (The red stains were gone by the next day.) These sweet potatoes were tasty, but very starchy. I had to put them in my stand mixer to mash them.

We’ve had several nights of hard freezes. Tomorrow I’ll check out my radishes and turnips. I’m expecting the turnips will be okay, but the radishes may be mush. Baby bok choy looks fine as do the kale and collards.

On Stage…

My theater ladies and I saw Shakespeare in Love on Sunday afternoon at Baltimore Center Stage. It was a wonderful, funny romp.

The play was adapted from the movie and it was fascinating to see the creative staging. One of my favorite parts was a boatman rowing Violet and Will down the Thames. The stage has a small portion that can be opened to an understage area. Oarlocks had been installed on the underside of the trap doors and oars inserted. The boatman sat on the edge of the opening and rowed in slow motion. The audience imagined the water. It was such a clever bit of stage business.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a performance of The Boatwright, written and performed by Patrick Tovattin one of the boat sheds at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

Three actors sat on stools and read the play. A narrator sat on the side and gave occasional information about the setting which the audience could then envision. That worked better than I would have imagined. There really was no need for a set. The play was brought to St. Michaels by our friend, Mary Kay Powell, a former Hollywood mover and shaker who retired to our little town. Laura missed this one night performance, a fund-raiser for Talbot Mentors. I was sorry she didn’t get to see it. We get a lot of ideas from the theater performances we attend.

Writing

We are in the beginning stages of our second Santa Diaries play – same characters five years later. We have the arc mapped out and now need to write the scenes. The process is always an evolution, so just because we think we know what is going to happen, doesn’t mean the characters may not throw some curve balls at us.

That’s life in St. Michaels, one of the prettiest small-towns in America. It’s where write, garden, cook and, some weeks, plant 600 bulbs.

 

 

 

 

 

Software for a Writer + Garden Update

I follow the BookBaby blog and recently one of the posts was about editing software.I didn’t know such software existed. The post evaluated nine different editing software programs. These products will never replace my human editor, but I purchased one of the ones recommended and was thrilled with what it did for me. 

The post came at a propitious time. I had been tweaking the manuscript of my second novel (which I will be republishing under my name rather than the pen name I used twelve years ago). It seemed to me that I was using certain phrases too many times. What about my use of adverbs? Just how many times did I start sentences the same way?

SmartEdit is the product I purchased. It cost $77 for Word. I had a little difficulty downloading it – or rather it downloaded and I had trouble finding where it had gone. But once that issue was resolved, the program now appears on the icon ribbon at the top of my word documents. It looks at eleven different editing issues: adverb usage, repeated phrases, repeated words, misused words, cliches, redundancies, monitored words, proper nouns, acronyms, foreign words, and profanities. It also checks for a variety of punctuation issues. I was less concerned about punctuation since my books are proofed before being published.

For each category you can see each use and where it is in your manuscript. the screen shows the list below and the manuscript area above. You can change it right then and there. I could also pull up my thesaurus at the same time so if I used a word too often, I could see what other words were available. The adverb checker was extremely helpful.

I would have liked to be able to copy the lists of proper names and print them out, but I was informed by the Irish creators of the program that that “functionality is not available.” I would have liked to be able to copy most of the lists as reference documents. Maybe that can be included in a future version. 

This is the link to the blog. SmartEdit or one of the other options may be just what you need.

 

Heavy rain Tuesday night made driving to my Working Writers Forum in Easton a nightmare. But, even after eleven years, I learn something every time, so was glad I went. The next morning lots of leaves were on the driveway and lawn.

This year I’m going to get help mulching the leaves. It takes alot of time to bag the mulched leaves with our small mower and I really want to be writing. So a guy with a big machine and big collection bag is getting my business. He’ll have to come several times as the maples aren’t yet denuded. I put the mulched leaves on the garden beds and some in wire pens I made. They decompose over the winter and some are used in the compost bins.

We are supposed to get our first hard freeze Friday night. I need to get the drip irrigation system winterized and a couple of other garden chores done. Those can be accomplished when I get up from my desk after sitting too long. By the end of Thursday, the “must do” chores will be completed, but there will still be some garden clean-up. Elephant ear tubers are dug after the first frost. I need to have elephant ears if I’m going to make more cement leaf castings next summer.

 

My fall vegetable bed at the Community garden needs to be covered with a floating row cover. I’ve been harvesting red skinned turnips and gorgeous radishes.

Tonight I’m going to saute them both (sliced) in butter and add some honey at the end. Yum! It’s the end of crab season and I’ve made crabcakes using a recipe from Mary Gray. I bake mine. A few will go in the freezer for a winter treat.

I am looking forward to dinner.

 

 

 

Maytag’s Run-around about My New Defective Refrigerator

Maytag knows they have a defective product and sell it anyway. Apparently there is a widespread problem with the foam insulation that oozes under the gaskests resulting in the doors not closing properly. Result in the freezer is snow all over everything and water on the floor.

Ten years ago, when we moved to St. Michaels, we bought all new appliances from Higgins and Spencer in St. Michaels. Competitive prices and other people told me they offered the best service.

Ten years later (almost to the day), our Maytag French door refrigerator died. We called Higgins and Spencer on a Saturday afternoon and within two hours had a loaner fridge/freezer so we didn’t lose our food. Talk about fantastic service.

We ordered a new Maytag French Door refrigerator and it took weeks to get it. Apparently it had to be special ordered because I wanted white and didn’t want ice and water in the door.

The fridge finally came and was installed. We were told to expect a life of 8-10 years on this expensive appliance. Planned obsolescence the service guy said. After all, those guys buy appliances, too, so they know. The refrigerator wasn’t as nice as the previous one. Cheap handles. Wire baskets in the freezer instead of the heavy plastic bins in the old fridge. It’s just kinda cheesy all around. That’s what you get for $1400.

Within a few days I noticed some water at base of the fridge. Higgins and Spencer came right away. The insulation in the bottom freezer door had oozed out of the gasket which now didn’t close properly and warm air was getting into the freezer. That had happened at the factory. They would have to order a replacement freezer door.

It’s now been almost six weeks that we’ve been waiting for the replacement door. I called Higgins and Spencer this morning. The replacement door has been ordered and it MAY be here in a couple of weeks. My guy at Higgins and Spencer was clearly frustrated. He told me he’d told Maytag that he would just get me a new fridge, but was told it would take longer to get a replacement fridge than waiting for the replacement door. He also told me that apparently this is a widespread problem and Maytag knows about it. Wouldn’t you think they would do a quality check on these freezer doors before installing them?

So I called the Maytag Customer Service line. Here’s what I learned.

  1. The registration for the appliance that I had done on line doesn’t show up on Maytag Customer Service records. That only happens if you call them on the phone.
  2. Maytag  Customer Service told me the appliances they had a record of me purchasing. They track customers by their phone numbers. Must have been the person who had our phone number before because the appliances they said we had didn’t correspond to what we bought 10 years ago. That was when I found out the warranty I’d filled out on line wasn’t in their system.
  3. When you buy a Maytag appliance from a retailer (is there any other way to buy one?) Maytag says the retailer is responsible for any problems.
  4. Maytag offered to send out a repair person to analyze the problem. A week from now. Good thing I didn’t have a dead fridge full of perishable food. I said we already knew what the problem was and a new door had been ordered. I was told I should have called Maytag and now that I had called someone else, they couldn’t do anything. Oh, didn’t they just tell me the retailer was responsible.
  5. I wanted to know why getting the new freezer door was taking so long. The answer was that the doors are custom made. Really! These refrigerators come off an assembly line. They have to have a supply of doors. Of course, if this is a widespread problem I wonder if a replacement door will be better than the original. I may just have to live with snow on my frozen food and a towel under the freezer door.
  6. Finally I was offered a two year free warranty. Good only if I used a person the Maytag Customer Service people sent. I couldn’t use my Higgins and Spencer guys. When I asked where this repair person would come from, they had no answer except to say they had people all over the United States. We live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Nobody from Salisbury or Annapolis is going to bring me a loaner fridge on a Saturday or Sunday. For that matter, Sears or Lowes in Easton isn’t going to either. And if my fridge or freezer quits I can’t wait a week or more for somebody to come and analyze the problem.

My Higgins and Spencer guy gives out his cellphone number to customers so if you have a fridge or freezer emergency you can call him. Anytime!

I told them the free warranty didn’t do me any good. Give me some money back. Okay, that was a long shot, but worth a try. They didn’t bite. Maytag doesn’t care. I bought my fridge from a retailer. They are no longer responsible for any problems.

A frustrating hour of my life. But I’ll FB, Twitter and blog about Maytag. They know they have a defective product and sell it anyway. #defectivemaytag

Now I’ll go sit on my meditation cushion, take calming breaths and try to get my blood pressure back to normal. I’m reminding myself I have electricity unlike so many American citizens in Puerto Rico a month after the hurricane hit.

Minnesota Calling or Why You Should Read Messages to the Bottom

Three years ago Laura and I went to Faribault, Minnesota to see the Merlin Player’s production of our play, The Santa Dairies. We’ve kept in touch with the director and some of the performers.

That’s characters Sandy Hawes, who has the ‘Santa calling’ and Martha, one of the Hot Dish ladies.

At the beginning of September I received a text from Julianna Skluzacek who directed The Santa Diaries in Faribault. She asked if Laura and I had a new Christmas play. We didn’t have a new play and knew we couldn’t do something in a month. I replied, “Sadly, no.”

Then a week or so later I reread the text more carefully and sent an email:

Julianna, I just reread your message and realized you said 2018. What do you need? Laura and I would love to collaborate on something. Mala Burt

Julianna replied:

I’m looking for something that is like “Santa Diaries” in that it has a great love story, funny, some kids maybe but not necessary. I would need a title by October as that’s a deadline for a Paradise publication for 2018. Do you have something you could turn into a holiday show?

Laura and I talked. We had a funny holiday movie script called #Santa. We thought we could turn it into a play, so I sent an email to Julianna attaching the script, synopsis and cast list.

Julianna, we have a Christmas movie script that we could turn into a play. It’s called #Santa. It’s the story of a celebrity PR “reputation manager” who is arrested and sentenced to community service answering childrens’ Letters to Santa.

And we would work with you to make any changes you’d need for your geographic area. Cast list is based on the movie script and would be pared down. This would be fun!

Then we waited impatiently. After a week or so I forwarded the email above with this message.

Julianna, I just wanted to confirm you got our email. (the one with the script, etc.)

She replied she wanted to talk, so we set up a phone call for September 28. Julianna told us that she loved the script, but had some concerns. Our script was for a racially diverse cast and the Minnesota community wasn’t very diverse. She also thought there might be some expensive production challenges.

Toward the end of the converstion Laura wondered out loud what it would be like to do a play with the Santa Diaries characters but five years later. Light bulbs ignited in our brains. Who is Timmy’s father, anyway? It turned out the October deadline was really in November so we suggested sending her a one page synopsis of the arc of a new play.

Laura and I met, brainstormed, pulled together a synopsis and sent it off to Julianna. Then we waited.

And waited. (We aren’t very patient.) I knew Julianna was in a two week production and figured she was too busy to focus on our proposal. Waiting was hard. Laura and I really wanted this to happen.

Yesterday, early in the morning, I sent an email to Julianna. I knew her show had closed over the weekend and wanted to congratulate her on that, but I really wanted to know if she had any response to the synopsis. After all, this was not just her decision. It had to be presented to the theater board for approval.

She said she’d met with the board and they’d approved moving forward with the project. Then said she’d had a dream about the play and outlined an addition she thought might work. Actually it was brilliant if we can pull it off. (It invovles some cast diversity.)

Laura and I are over the moon! Of course we will go to Faribault, MN next December to see the premier production of our play – name to be determined. We would have missed this opportunity if I hadn’t gone back and reread that original text. Read to the bottom, folks.

 

 

 

Absence is a Play

Absence is a play, by Peter M. Floyd, about Alzheimers. It was part of a week long marketing effort by Integracare, parent corporation of Candle LIght Cove in Easton, MD, to bring awareness to their memory unit.  They want to have full occupancy which helps pay the bills and makes it possible for people with enough money to be able to have a safe place for those they love. That’s my cynical take. The week was also meant to be educational for professionals and families. All proceeds of the play ticket sales went to the Alzheimer’s Association

The play was heartbreaking, and difficult to watch. It made me want to cry. If I hadn’t been sitting in the middle of a row near the front with a friend, I would have left. I reminded myself that if you are caring for someone with dementia, you can’t leave. And quite possibly can’t afford the best residential care.

I suspect my cynicism was in part an emotional reaction to the play. As a playwright, I thought there were some problems with the structure and pacing of the play. Denial at work again? Maybe I was thinking about play structure so I didn’t start sobbing at what it must be like to lose the memories that make us who we are.

I wanted to go home and find a Doris Day movie on Netflix, lose myself in well-lit sets where beautiful people struggle with life, but always have a happy ending. As my friend and I walked into the parking lot, I was so absorbed that I almost tried to get in someone else’s car. I so hope that is not an early symptom of a downward slide.

Part of the week involved workshops and activities for professional care givers. A friend in my morning yoga class took part in a sensory deprivation exercise. She said it was extremely disorienting, but she was glad she’d done it. It gave her a better idea of what having dementia would be like. I think I’ll stick with denial for now.

It is estmated that 10% of people 65 and over have Alzheimers, and one-third of people age 85 and older (32 percent) have the disease. If other forms of dementia are added to that number it could be much higher. So kudos to all the people in the community who participated in bringing awareness to this issue. But the cynic in me wonders how the heck our country going to take care of all these people. I suppose women can quit their jobs and stay home to care for the elderly. Maybe lower income people without access to adequate healthcare won’t live long enough to develop dementia.

And then I wonder how the pharmaceutical industry is going to benefit. Would they really want to cure this disease? 10% of the increasing demographic of our aging population — that’s a lot of drug sales. What if the answer is less alcohol, less sugar and non GMO food? Or more good fat in our diets?  I’m cynical enough to think that profitability always seems to win. And that really makes me want to cry.

 

 

 

 

 

Today I Get Pummeled

I have a body work guy who comes once a month to my house. He brings his massage table and works on my shoulders, frozen thoracic spine and hips. His name is Billy and sometimes he makes me cry. Billy has magic hands, but this is not a feel good massage; it’s deep tissue work getting my body ready for chiropractic adjustments by Dr. John Mitchie in Annapolis. I try to schedule Billy in the morning and Dr. Mitchie the same afternoon. I feel pummeled by the end of the day, but my spine is getting better.

If I was rich, I’d have Billy twice a week. Maybe then, I could have a feel-good massage occasionally tucked in between the body work.

I went to chiropracher Dr. Mitche originally for mid-thoracic issues. I think I may have hauled too many 40 pound bags of chicken feed or tuck-pointing cement. I actually think this all started the week we hand carried 20 thousand board feet of lumber from the pasture and stickered it up to dry in the barn. That was many, many years ago, but I’ve had back issues ever since.

My four mornings a week 7 a.m. yoga helps. Sitting at my desk writing for hours most certainly does not. I’m thinking about a standing desk. But it’s standing for a long period that really makes my mid-back hurt. Like the days I can tomato sauce or make jam. A conundrum… But all of this therapeutic work means I can work in the garden and not be crippled the next day. And I rarely take ibuprophen any more. A GI bleed (three years ago) that landed me in the hospital needing three pints of blood stopped that. Tumeric also helps.

Two weeks ago at the Farmers market I got some fresh lima beans. I shelled them and put them in the fridge not sure what I would do with them. Then, twice that week, guys who came to do appliance repairs at the house talked lima beans. These were shore boys who knew a thing or two about cooking fresh limas. Both told me to soak them overnight before cooking them. Fresh limas? Yes, overnight soak. That keeps them from being too starchy, I was told. The next day I cooked mine with a smoked ham hock and the result was creamy, delectable limas in a succulent broth.

The week after that I found cranberry beans at the Farmers Market. I’d never had them before and they were so beautiful, I just had to buy them. And Charlene, the vendor I bought them from, told me I’d never again use kidney beans in chili once I’d tried Cranberry beans. I also asked Charlene, from whom I’d bought the lima beans the previous week, about soaking fresh limas overnight. She’d never heard of that, but my results were so delicious I’d do it again. Fresh limas and cranberry beans are hard to find except for a very limited time at Farmers Markets.

I shelled mine, blanched them and now have four one cup bags in the freezer for winter soup. I found six pods that were quite dry. I set them aside to get totally dry and will save the seeds to plant next spring. This is a link to a Cranberry Bean Pasta Fagioli recipe. It sounds really good. First cold day, it’s going on the stove.

In the garden things are winding down. The huge pot of red geraniums that comes inside to bloom all winter has been cut back and the pot is sitting on the deck. I just have to wash the outside of the pot before my husband helps me bring it in. I can’t lift it on my own. A rootbound clivia has been divided and two repotted plants given to friends. The one I divided will come back inside for the winter, but I’m told by the gardener who gave me the original that it probably won’t bloom this winter. I also divided a huge agapanthus. I’ll bring a smaller pot of it inside, but haven’t quite decided what to do with the leftovers. Some people tell me they can winter over in our area, but I don’t have a sheltered place to plant them. They may go on the compost heap.

My bed at the community garden is full of winter greens. I should have radishes in two weeks.  I’ll put a row cover on it next week to keep out the falling leaves from a nearby maple.

A raised bed at home has bok choy that needs to be thinned. I’ll take the thinnings and plant them in another bed. That’s on the schedule for this weekend.

Soon I’ll be inside most days, with even more time spent at my desk. I really need to think about ordering that standing desk.

 

Harvest

Tonight is a Harvest moon. We go to bed early, so I’m going to try and stay up for moonrise.

This year I bought some small yellow, Dutch potatoes at Harris Teeter. I thought they were so good I went in search of seed potatoes. The closest variety I could find was Yellow Finn so I ordered them and planted on St. Patrick’s day. I can’t remember the last time I planted potatoes. The harvest in late July wasn’t very big, but they were tasty. The plants had died back so I thought it must be time to dig them. It was probably a draw between what I paid for the seed potatoes and what the Dutch potatoes at Harris Teeter would have cost.

The volunteer eggplants produced but I can’t find the picture I took. My beds at the Community Garden are finished except for the purple sweet potatoes. They will be harvested after we have a frost. But the last of the tomatoes, carrots, beets and a couple of cukes were welcome.

I’m still making tomato sauce from the “not quite ripe” tomatoes I harvested. That is an attempt to outwit the squirrels. When I get to October, and am still making sauce, I wish the squirrels would have been more industrious. However, the last quarts of sauce went into the fridge instead of the canner. I can pull some out for soup and quick spaghetti sauce.

This is what you get if you don’t thin your carrots!

I’ve planted fall crops in one of my Community Garden beds and have planted some things in one bed at home. The others will be covered to sleep for the winter. The leaves are beginning to fall and a row cover makes spring clean-up easier. I saw a couple of Harlequin beetles the other day. I’m trying to hand pick them. What we really need is some cold weather. And, of course, rain. It’s very dry in the mid-Atlantic right now.

In between cooking and gardening, the writing continues. I spent the morning assigning new ISBNs to the three books. There is an ISBN for a print book and a different ISBN for an e-book. I can’t use the already assigned ISBNs as changing the author’s name or cover is too big a shift.