About Mala Burt

Mala Burt writes fiction and non-fiction, screen and stage plays.

Write on Wednesday – All Shapes and Sizes – April 17, 2019

My writing projects come in all shapes and sizes recently. Ongoing work on my novel revision is BIG. Smaller projects are less time consuming. I was asked to come up with some ideas for the copy that would go inside the presentation box of this year’s Christmas in St. Michaels Christmas ornament. I was told what the ornament would be but sworn to secrecy and produced some ideas which may or may not be used. A new ornament is designed each year, usually by my gardening buddy and artist, Joanne Buritsch. That little project just took a couple of hours.

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Another project is more fraught. I belong to the Woman’s Club of St. Michaels. We are a social club with a purpose and get together for recreation and fellowship and our fund raising supports a number of community outreach projects. We are particularly proud of the scholarship we give each year to one or more seniors at St. Michaels High School.

At our monthly general meeting we begin with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. We also recite a short Collect. Or some people do. I don’t know when the Collect became part of the way meetings were started, but it has a distinctly religious tone which I don’t find appropriate for a social club that hopes to be inclusive.  I, and many others, stand there and don’t recite the Collect and would like to see it modernized. Others like the religiosity and the history of the words.

Our brave club president called a meeting of those who would like to have a discussion about the collect. About a dozen people showed up. I don’t know what that says about our membership of 170 women. Maybe most people don’t care. I am one of the people who does as I think the current wording doesn’t reflect who we are, nor do I think it is welcoming to potential new members.

So now I am on a committee to work on putting together some suggestions for possibly changing the Collect. That word, by the way, means prayer so that’s a problem for me right from the start, but I totally understand about traditions and how hard change can be.  We have people on both sides of the issue who will meet today to continue the discussion.

I have some ideas about a compromise which would be more reflective of who we are as a Woman’s Club and keeps a lot of the traditional language in the original. This small writing project really goes to the heart of how important every word is. It remains to be seen how this will play out. Novel revisions seem easy by comparison. I get to make the final decisions!

Image credit: ID 69931279 © Trueffelpix | Dreamstime.com

 

Six on Saturday – Housekeeping in the Garden – April 13, 2019

We’ve had a dry spell and there is not one soggy place left in our yard. I have a few housekeeping chores in the garden to do today (Friday) in anticipation of some predicted weekend rain. But I’m happy that the leaves have been pulled out of the azaleas and raked from the areas where perennials are shooting up. There is always that brief window of time before raking becomes impossible.

I pulled out seven azaleas that I lost to the winter wet conditions. Or perhaps a combination of late summer drought, then months of wet. Who knows. I’ll have to do some thinking about what to replace them with.

Chores for the upcoming week. 1. Clean out the fireplace and spread the ashes around the hostas. Thanks, Fred, for the suggestion. That seemed to work well last year to deter slugs. 2. Hook up the drip irrigation system and test it. 3. Explore my seed box and see what old seeds can be planted outside to see if I get germination. I hate to throw away seeds.

  1. I have started some seeds inside. The cord on the light support broke after two days. I took it apart, went to the local hardware store which helpfully had an array of cords and then tried to figure out how to thread the damned thing. A long piece of slender copper wire and 45 minutes of patience and I was operational again.

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2. A week ago I wanted to finally start some seeds. I couldn’t find all the parts to the heat mat/light gizmo so remembered someone told me they started seeds in egg shells. What the heck. I had all the parts and these were old seeds for Sun Gold tomatoes. A week later seedlings had emerged and I had found and repaired the rest of my seed starting equipment. It lives on the top of what is now called “brown furniture” but what we seniors call an antique sideboard.

3. The amaryllis bulb that I rescued from a red wax casing last year and then lost in the garage…was found a couple of months ago and planted. (There seems to be a theme here of me putting things away and then losing them.) This is the reward. There will be four blooms in total.

4. This is a geranium a friend brought me last week. It’s such an unusual color. I’ll wait awhile before putting it outside. In the meantime I’m enjoying the pop of color. I’ll try and take some cuttings.

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5. When I cleaned out the winter foliage from the window boxes in the front of the house, I found a lone tulip. It must have been planted by an industrious squirrel. I used to have a lot of tulips. Most have been dug up by the squirrels. This year there were a few coral colored ones near the hellebores. I’ll have to decide if tulips are worth the bother. If the squirrels don’t get them, the deer think the blooms are a delicious dinner.

6.  Last fall when I helped with clean-up at the Reading Garden at our local St. Michaels library, I pulled up a sucker on the Buckeye Bottlebrush shrub colony. It is always spectacular in the early summer with lots of white flowers. I’ll put these in pots until they are big enough to survive in a bed.

That’s my Six on Saturday, photos of my garden as it comes alive after what seemed like a longer and certainly a wetter winter than usual.This meme was started by The Propogator, a UK gardener.  This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

Write on Wednesday – Walt Whitman Hears America Singing – April 10, 2019

For some reason this poem resonates with me as the current evening news is filled with our country’s inability to resolve our immigration issues. Stopping desperate people from seeking asylum is not the answer. We still need immigrants. They make America strong.

When Whitman, who lived from 1819 to 1892, wrote his poetry the immigrants were primarily from Germany, Ireland, Britain and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. People came here to escape war, famine and because the United States was a land of opportunity.  My German and Norwegian ancestors came to America during this time. My parents both told stories of how their parents did not allow them to speak German or Norwegian at home. They were determined to assimilate in their new homeland.

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I like to think that the voices Whitman wrote about were the voices of immigrants, singing in different languages, as they created the rich diversity that makes America such a special place.

I Hear America Singing

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

Six on Saturday – Spots of Color – April 6, 2019

We’ve had some dry days. More rain predicted for this weekend so yesterday I got out to do some garden chores — cutting back the grasses and red twig dogwood. I managed to get the grass debris into bags with the husband’s help on Friday, but the dogwood cuttings are waiting to be picked up.

  1. The camellia is in bloom. The blossoms don’t last long, but by the time the show is over, other things are in bloom. I try to keep this one from getting too big. Anyone have suggestions for trimming camellias?

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2. The daffodils are open. Still lots of cleaning up to do in the beds but there is something to enjoy while I’m on my knees. I don’t know where the bulbs of the daffodils on the right came from but the clumps increase quickly and I now have them many places in the yard.

3. Clematis are leafing out and I think I see a bud on the Montana clematis on the right. The one on the left is Jackmani. I took a slip from one my father planted when I married and have brought it with me to every house (and husband) since.

4. Garden clean-up has begun. The ground has dried out enough that I was able to get the red twig dogwoods cut back. The bed still looks a mess because I haven’t raked it. Dead leaves sat in water all winter in that area. I’ll root some of the cuttings and plant more in this area. I was late getting the grasses but back but couldn’t get into the beds before now.

5. I need to plant new hyacinth bulbs next fall. The ones I have no longer produce many flowers, but they are a welcome surprise in the garden this time of year.

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6. I need suggestions about how to care for these yuccas. I see the one in the front could be divided. All I’ve done with the others is try to get out the dead leaves that are on the bottom. They all bloom. Thus far they have been afforded benign neglect.

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That’s my Six on Saturday, photos of my garden as it comes alive after what seemed like a longer and certainly a wetter winter than usual.This meme was started by The Propogator, a UK gardener.  This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

Write on Saturday – Making a Leaf Casting – March 23, 2019

On Wednesday things had dried out enough that I was able to get out in the yard for a couple of hours. I was thrilled to be able to cut back the Knock-out roses in the back and cut back some of the perennials that I leave through the winter. Then on Thursday it rained. Again. All day! And now at 5 on Friday morning I can hear it raining. Hard. Yesterday the back yard was as wet as I’d ever seen it. It’s too dark yet to see how big the lake is this morning. I’m not going out to try and take pictures, so will do a post on something a couple of you have asked for — how to make a cement leaf casting.

When going through my photos I found some which show the process. The pictures don’t quite show all the steps, but it should be enough if you want to give this a shot. I’ll explain what’s missing. I wasn’t thinking about doing a post about the process at that time. There are lots of YouTube videos, too.

  1. Don’t make the mistake I made the first time when I put my work board on the ground. Very hard on my back. The next time I put an old slab door on saw horses and covered it with plastic so I could work at waist height.

I used large leaves from my elephant ear bulbs. I’ve also done hostas.

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2. Make a mound of sand that is a little larger than the leaf you are casting. I used builders sand because it was what I had. When I needed more I got play sand. I thought it was a little fine. You have to dampen the sand to get it to retain the mound shape.

In the photo below (with the hands) the sand mound should be bigger to support the pointed part of the leaf. You aren’t trying to make a flat casting and you won’t need gloves until you get to the concrete.

3. I used Quickcrete Vinyl concrete patcher that I got at Lowe’s. I mixed the concrete in my wheelbarrow with a hoe and at the end used my hands to get into the corners. Put on rubber gloves or you may burn your hands. I think you could mix the concrete in the plastic bucket it comes in but I didn’t try that. One bucket made two medium sized castings. It needs to be the consistency of peanut butter. If it’s too dry it will crack and if it’s too wet it will slump. Don’t forget to hose out your barrow,  hoe  and any other tools you’ve used when you are finished.

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Take handsful of concrete and pat it over the leaf all the way to the edge. You can cut the stem off close to the leaf or leave it and have a hole in your casting. If you are making a bird bath you don’t want a hole. You want the thickness of the cement to be half an inch or less. Don’t make it too thin. Make the edges smooth with a putty knife. You can see that we made flat spots on the casting bottom so they would be more stable.

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4. If your work area is in the sun, cover with some plastic while the concrete dries. In a couple of hours when the concrete begins to solidify you can do some more smoothing on the edges before the cement gets too hard.  After a day or two (when the concrete seems dry enough), lift the castings off the sand and remove the leaf. You’ll be able to tell when the casting is hard enough to move. On smaller castings it might just be a day. Sometimes I just turned them over and left the leaf on for awhile before pulling it off. If it dries in the veins use a small screwdriver or a wire brush to clean the casting.

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5. I made the first ones in the fall and left them to cure in my garden shed through the winter because I wanted to use some craft paint on them to give them a little color and enhance the vein definition. You can use a file to smooth the edges if you want. As I went along I got better at smoothing the edges while the cement was still soft and since my work surface was waist height I could lift the plastic and check every couple of hours.

On the casting below you can see (left side) where I should have taken some of the overlap off before the concrete dried. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the leaf stops. You don’t want the edges to be too thin.

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6. Below my writing partner, Laura Ambler, is holding the casting I made for her after I had painted it. It filled the trunk of my honda. The other photo is my yoga buddy, Gail, who made the largest leaf casting of the bunch. It was forty inches long and took two bags of Quikcrete. It sat on the table for a week before we lifted it off the sand. On somthing this size you want the concrete (except for the edges) to be thicker. You don’t want it to break.

The past several years I’ve put my castings in the shed for the winter. This year I left a couple out to see what would happen. I made sure they were sitting off the ground and turned so water wouldn’t freeze in them.

Two years ago I taught thirteen women friends (one or two at a time) how to make leaf castings. Last year my workshop was closed! But I might get the itch again this year. If I do, I’ll take better photos of the process.

That’s my Six on Saturday, photos this week of making cement leaf castings.This meme was started by The Propogator, a UK gardener.  This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

Write on Wednesday – Why I Write – March 20, 2019

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
― Toni Morrison

This quote is probably the reason I’ve written three romantic suspense novels set in the Caribbean. I loved the humid air that enfolded me when I stepped off the plane, the hummingbirds that visited bouquets of flowers through the open windows of our rental house, the sunrises and sunsets. And the glorious flowers… who couldn’t look at this flower and imagine a story that needed to be told.

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This Angel’s Trumpet invites one to lift it and explore the pendulous bloom. But beware. All parts of it are poisonous. Hmmm. The dark underbelly of the tropics. A sub-plot is emerging.

I remember being on a plane (back in the days before Kindles…when you brought a hard cover or paperback book along) and thinking that although the author was someone who sold a ton of books, there was more I wanted. More description, a more intricate plot, more family drama. I wanted more than boy meets girl, the conflict that keeps them apart, and a happy ending where they are united. So my first novel was a book I wanted to read.

And then I wrote the second in which the same characters continued, needing to know what happened to those people who inhabited my brain. I was writing a series before it was the thing to do.

On my desk is the second edit of the third in my Caribbean series and I am desperately trying to clear the decks so I can give it my undivided attention. And wouldn’t you know, spring is finally here, the yard is finally drying out and all that clean-up that I couldn’t do in the fall (because it was too wet) is shouting at me.

My story is calling me, too. I need to get to work.

 

Six on Saturday – Spring Has Arrived – March 16, 2017

Thunderstorms were predicted for Friday afternoon. It’s now 5:00 and I suppose we could still get some rain, but I’m hoping not. I walked around the garden in my Sloggers because the standing water is gone. Things are still very muddy, but the garden is coming alive. A neighbor’s tree was full of noisy grackles, but I didn’t mind. It was over 70 degrees and I was outside without a coat, hat and gloves.

On the Eastern Shore March 17th is the day the ospreys return to their nests. We’re all watching.

  1. Daffodils are blooming — the tiny Tete a Tetes and another somewhat larger daffodil. In another part of the yard a different variety has some opening blooms.

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2. The hellebores are stunning, even if you have to get on your knees to really see them. Lots of babies coming up. Does anyone know… do they cross pollinate? If it stays dry, I can get into that bed and clear out the winter damaged leaves. The epimedium next to the hellebores needs to be sheared. This bed was shady before we took out the river birch. I’ll be interested to see how everything does with more sun. The crepe myrtles should give them some shade.

3.  In another section of the garden the stump of the river birch clump is waiting for me to make the metal hoop sculpture to sit on top. One of the SoSers suggested I include one one of the big leaf castings in the sculpture. I’ll post a photo when I get it finished. I thought it interesting that the river birch stump is weeping. I know it will sprout up again.

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4. Nearby a bird house is waiting for occupants. I found it at a garage sale for a quarter. I need to measure the hole to see what kind of birds might use it.

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5. In a window box of herbs the tarragon looked dead but when I poked around I found green shoots.

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6. My azaleas are full of buds but I won’t know if the buds were cold blasted for another two months.

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That’s my Six on Saturday, photos this week of my waterlogged garden coming alive. The SoS meme was started by The Propogator, a UK gardener.  This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.