My Garden and Writing Process Evolves

Last Sunday was a beautiful day. Saturday’s rains had blown through and my gardens are lush and blooming. I took my iPhone with its wonderful camera out to take some photos. The back yard looks like a park. Although we live in a neighborhood and have houses on three sides of us, the garden I have created over the last ten years now gives us a sense of restful privacy.

None of this was here eleven years ago this August when we moved in. I found a photo I took of the back of the house when we bought it. We had a double lot (almost 2/3 of an acre0, seven wonderful old maple trees and a little landscaping in the front that had been planted through landscaping cloth. I spent many hours removing that.

And this was the shed.

To my gardener’s eye the property was a blank canvas, but it needed some definition and I knew that we needed some place to put compost heaps, unused pots, garden stuff that you don’t need right now, but might in the future. Things you don’t want to see. I installed sheets of wood lattice attached to 4×4 pressure treated posts across the back of the property about 10 feet from the property line. Eight of them. I staggered them to create the beginnings of paths. Along the property line between us and the neighbors I installed three more. One property line has a privacy fence as the next door house was fairly close to our property line and it looked like their backyard was a big chunk of our back yard.

By the shed I installed white plastic lattice to make the shed took more important. We put window boxes on the shed and painted them yellow. This is what it looked like four years later. Unfortunately that gorgeous Golden Shower pillar rose never looked this good again. I’m now trying some alternatives.

A year after we bought the house we did renovations and added a deck out the back of where we had installed french doors flanking the fireplace. Now I could think about some landscaping.

The next year we added benches around the deck, and two years ago some railings by the steps. This is what the back of the house looks like now.

I’m thinking that my gardening process is not unlike my writing process. I spend time in the garden looking at it and thinking, visualizing. Then I plant and sometimes it’s successful and sometimes not. I move things around. A small decorative maple now happily located near the deck was moved three times. It will stay where it is.

I continue to work on book three in the Caribbean series. I spend a lot of time thinking about the characters and the story which is FINALLY revealing itself to me. I had to make a time line because I knew scenes were out of sequence. The story takes place in the summer of 2004 and thanks to the internet I could print out a calendar of those months and even find out when the moon was full. That full moon is important in making one of the bush medicine potions that is part of the plot. What the heck did writers do before Google?

At any rate, my garden evolves as does the story I am writing. The garden will never be finished. I am hopeful the novel will.

 

 

A Busy Weekend

Next year will be the 20th year of the St. Michaels Farmers Market. It was started by a couple of women who then helped start other farmers markets in the area. They called them Fresh Farm Markets and the parent organization provided insurance, organizational help, etc. Fresh Farm Markets are now primarily on the Western Shore (Annapolis, DC, etc.) and this is the last year they will be the umbrella organization for the St. Michaels market. We are in transition this year but have wonderful vendors with terrific products. It’s fun getting to know the farmers.

I volunteered to help get out the weekly market reminders on MailChimp. It was something I knew how to do and enjoy. And my husband and I have been volunteering some Saturdays to help with market set-up. We are scheduled to do that again this weekend. Last Saturday was rainy and I woke up this morning at 3:30 to the sound of rain. It seems to have moved off for now, but even if it rains, people come prepared.

By the time we got to the market at 7:30 it was 65 degrees and not raining. The market was bustling by the time I left at 10. I’d walked over to the Community Garden to take a look at a bed nobody wanted. I’ll weed it this weekend and plant some blue hubbard squash I raised from seed. The beds at the Community Garden are 14 feet long so the plants will have plenty of room to run.

Last week at the Farmers Market I bought a loaf of low gluten bread. What a treat. We don’t keep bread in the house because my husband has gluten sensitivity. We had the last few pieces last night – toasted and topped with homemade guacamole – while we played rummy.

The town will be chockablock this morning. Besides the Farmers Market, it’s the weekend of the St. Michaels Wine Festival. People who live in town have to put up with more than the usual weekend foot traffic – and some drunken shenanigans. We helped one of the first years of the Wine Festival when it was held at the Maritime Museum grounds. Now it is spread all over town at inside venues and tented spaces.We usually don’t go into town on Wine Festival Weekend unless we need to.

This afternoon we are helping with an event to be held at the Avalon Theatre in Easton. It is a fund raiser for the Talbot Interfaith Shelter. People will gather to sing together, raising positive vibrations in our community for this very good cause. Here’s the link to the inspiration. It gives me chills every time I watch it.

I’ll let you know how it turns out. When I get home I’m working in the garden. I have Amish paste tomato plants to get in the ground and my husband is going to mow at the Community Garden. This is the time of year when sometimes the grass needs to be mowed twice a week.

 

Juggling Writing and the Garden

Being outside is where I want and need to be, but my characters are tugging at me. I still don’t know how this third book in the Caribbean series ends, but I am writing small chapters about things I think need to happen. The flow isn’t there yet, but it seems to be helping me move forward.

Yesterday I printed out all the scenes separately. That will allow me to rearrange them and insert new scenes where I think they should go. I have a board with post-it notes of the scenes on it, but that doesn’t seem to do it for me. I’ll try this and see what happens. It reminds me of my wonderful daughter-in-law who is, among other things, a talented quilter. She puts the pieces of a quilt on her wall and is able to look at it to see if the pieces need to be moved around.

I am 200 pages into this book and it may be 300 or 350 before I get it all down. It won’t be that long when it’s finished because this is a first draft. Then the revision work begins.

Revision in the garden is ongoing. A small maple has grown to the point that things I had planted around it needed to come out. There were two Limelight hydrangeas near the deck that always got taller than a wanted and blocked the view to other parts of the garden. One of them was destroyed when we dug it, but the other one was moved to another spot where it is leafing out nicely. My spring and fall blooming iris have made their spring appearance.

I am also potting up volunteers and divisions for the plant sale at a Green Thumb meeting at the St. Michaels Woman’s Club the second week in May. I noticed a small Shademaster locust near the mother tree in the back. It is about the size as the one I brought home from that same plant sale eight years ago. It is now 20 feet tall. A fast grower.

Helicopter Wars

We have beautiful old silver maples on our property – seven of them spaced around the house. Many people consider them junk trees, but I am quite fond on them. We had an old silver maple in Harford Country. It was the tree our children’s tree swing was in and it shaded our 200 year old stone house. That tree was probably 100 years old when it was felled in a storm. We replaced it with another large caliper silver maple. We hoped the family who bought our house would install a swing for their children.

That’s the romantic side of the silver maple story. The downside is that they have a gazillion helicoptered seeds (called samaras) in the spring.

As I look out my office window, the trees look as though they are leafing out. There are tiny leaves coming, but those cursed helicopters are getting ready to be blown into the quarter inch spaces between the boards on my deck. They float down gracefully, spinning one way and then become sidewinder missiles on a mission.

It takes weeks for all the helicopters to come off the trees. Once we think they’re down, it takes us days to dig them out of the deck. Usually on our hands and knees with lots of cursing. So this year we decided to try and get ahead in the war on helicopters so we covered the deck with tarps!

Then the wind began to blow and we scurried to find more bricks. The deck always has to be cleaned with deck cleaner once the helicopters are removed, so we are hopeful that the tarp solution will work. I am a little concerned, however, that we may grow an impressive crop of mold underneath the tarps. Enough air seems to be getting under the tarps that maybe that won’t be a problem.

The helicopters are also a problem in my garden. I am amazed that the whole East Coast has not been covered in silver maples. I blow them out of the garden and into drifts on the driveway. I pull them out as they sprout. Those seeds are tenacious. I am already finding tiny maple trees in my garden beds and the helicopters have barely begun to spin. They must be from last year’s seeds.  I can’t cover my garden beds with tarps, but I’m hoping they help on the deck.

On Google I learned that you can eat maple seeds. Not the wings, but the seed is apparently quite good roasted. Who knew? Sounds like a lot of work to me (I buy my pistachio nuts and peanuts shelled), but if I’m in a survival situation I’m all set.

Revisions: Writing, BTO & Gardening

Writing

I’m almost finished with my several passes through the first Caribbean book – A Dream Across Time. It will be republished with a new title. The series will be called An Island Tale  and the titles will be An Island Tale – Dream,  An Island Tale – Circle and An Island Tale – Magic. They will be published under my name rather than a pen name – which seemed like a good idea at the time but in retrospect wasn’t. It seems like a lot of decisions in life are like that, but I’m getting a chance for a do-over with this. Not always the case with some life decisions.

I especially wanted to take a look at the dialogue which sometimes seemed to go on longer than it should. There aren’t any real plot changes so I haven’t had to get out my revision towel…yet. In the next couple of weeks the manuscript will go to a copy editor and then move on to CreateSpace for print and Kindle versions. Laura has proposed a cover series which I really like.

I told my Working Writer’s Forum that I would submit something for the April meeting. That will force me to spend some time on the third book – Magic. Those characters are rocketing around in my cranium and need to get on the page.

Bay to Ocean Writers Conference

Last Saturday was the 20th annual Bay to Ocean Writers Conference. We had good weather which is pretty miraculous in that we’ve never had to cancel because of weather. Anny, in the yellow sweater, is the “face” of BTO. She stands out in the cold and greets people as they come toward the building. It’s a welcome for which introverted writers are grateful.

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After ten years, I’m stepping off the organizing committee. Next year I will attend BTO and actually go to sessions. I’m looking forward to that. The day went smoothly, a tribute to the organization of this conference where 200 writers of all stages in their writing life come to learn about the craft of writing, different genres, marketing and publishing issues. We had a few hiccups with registration which wasn’t as organized as I would have liked, but I wasn’t in charge of that. Once we got people through the line, things moved right along.

We had three presenters who had requested AV assistance and they all had sessions at the same time. What are the odds? Chesapeake College had arranged for three tech people to be on hand. So something that might have been a big hiccup, wasn’t.

It was a long day and I was tired when I got home. I’d already told the husband I wasn’t cooking so we ordered pizza which is something we hardly ever do. Two in the morning I was up hunting for antacids. But that pizza sure tasted good going down.

Gardening

The weather here is very cold and windy, but we escaped the snow the rest of the east coast had on Tuesday. We got lots of rain and frigid temps. The daffodils are down for the count.

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I won’t know about other things (like my camellia) until things warm up. I had raked the leaves (which provide winter insulation) out of my garden beds when we had those mild spring-like days. I knew that was risky, but because things were just starting to poke out of the ground I could actually rake the leaves. If that chore gets put off, I have to “rake” on my knees with my hands.

When I sit at my keyboard I look out over a couple of big silver maples. I asked my husband to make me another birdhouse to hang on one of the trees. We hung four birdhouses earlier this year. He had made then several years ago and I finally got around to painting them. The holes are for small birds. I like the bright spots of color both in winter and summer. The one in the lower left corner was a craft birdhouse that finally fell apart. I kept it for the colors which I tried to replicate.

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We gardeners are always hopeful, and the lilac that I see from the window at my desk is in bud. Time will tell if the buds survived the cold of the last few days. If they did, the lilac will be full of fragrant blooms in another two months.

It’s Just a Shed

We have a cute shed in our back yard. It was here when we bought the house. The husband built window boxes for it and in the summer they are full of ivy and geraniums although it’s a little forlorn in the fall and winter.

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Like most sheds, things get put in it and don’t come out. One of our goals this fall was to see what was in the corners, so we started taking things out some of which were donated to ReStore. We found three boxes of stuff that had been put in the shed when we moved here eleven years ago. I had wondered where those cast iron garden birds had gotten to.

With the shed almost emptied I saw an opportunity. This was the time to install drywall. It would protect the insulation that someone had installed. I didn’t plan to paint the drywall.

You have to understand that I have done a fair amount of drywall in my life. I helped install it in several rooms of our old house and I was the mudder. I still have the tools to prove it. But the last time I did drywall I told myself I was never doing drywall again. However, the passing of years meant I’d forgotten what a pain in the butt it can be. I’d also forgotten about digging drywall dust out of my nose.

My husband handed me the jigsaw you use the cut out the bits where the electric sockets are. I’m sure I would have gotten better with more practice, but after my first cut, I told myself – IT’S JUST A SHED and handed the jigsaw to him.

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And since it’s JUST A SHED I’m not going to spackle the seams and screw holes. I did begin to think about paint, however. Not to make it pretty, but to protect the drywall. We have two sheets of drywall to finish the job and they are standing in front of the space in the garage where I store paint. I’ll have to see if I have any partial cans that would do the job. Or I might go to Lowe’s and see what they have on the “oops – that’s not the right color” shelf. I am not paying $30 a gallon for paint for the inside of the shed where the drywall seams haven’t been taped or mudded.

Update: On the Saturday after Thanksgiving I went to Lowe’s but they didn’t have any “oops” paint. I went around the corner to ReStore and got a never-opened gallon of white paint for $7. Two days later all the dry wall is painted (two coats) and now we can install hangers for tools and sort what has to live in the shed. Those unmudded seams and screw holes are a little bothersome to my perfectionist self, but my mantra is…It’s Just a Shed!

 

 

My Green Thumb Eats Apple Cake

Last Friday was my monthly Green Thumb meeting. This is a group of gardeners who are members of the St. Michaels Woman’s Club. We get together for informational meetings, gardening workshops and road trips. This year I am co-chairing Green Thumb with my friend, Carol, who is terrific to work with. We have some different skill sets which makes for a good partnership. Plus, she always makes me laugh which is a very good thing.

The speaker at this month’s meeting was a local floral designer, Nancy Beatty. She was showing us ways to use greens to fill our outdoor containers and window boxes. And she also demonstrated some fantastic indoor arrangements. The tillandsia (air plant) in the arrangement below acts like a bow, but it’s a tropical plant that would not tolerate outdoor freezing temps. Replace the tillandsia with a red bow, however, and this arrangement would easily transition to the winter holidays.

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Nancy lives in the country and scavenges the fields and forests near her house for plant material and interesting embellishments. She found the turkey feathers and even the deer antlers used in the arrangement below. Nancy assured us that she gets permission from her neighbors to forage in their woods. The  scrolly things are copper wire.

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An outdoor container with the summer plants removed makes a perfect foundation for a tall, sculptural arrangement that will last through the winter. The plant materials are just stuck into the potting soil. The wrought iron tower is wrapped with honeysuckle vine Nancy found in the woods. When it’s fresh, she told us it doesn’t have to be soaked. A white pine cone garland drapes the edges of the pot. She showed us how to make them with only pine cones and wire.

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We always have refreshments at our meetings and women take turns being “hostesses.” At this meeting another friend, Diane, baked an Apple Cake that was outstanding. She said I could share the recipe on my blog. I think I sent my bundt  and angel food cake pans to the thrift shop. Seems every time I do something like that I need the darn things later.

This recipe might just make it to the Thanksgiving table.

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DIANE’S APPLE CAKE**

3 c. unsifted flour                  2 ½ tsp vanilla

2 ½ c. sugar                          1 tsp baking powder

1 c. oil                                    4 large apples, thinly sliced

4 eggs                                    2 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp salt                               4 T. Sugar

7 T. orange juice

  1. Lightly grease large angel food or bundt pan
  2. Beat together until smooth: flour, sugar, oil, eggs, salt, orange juice, vanilla & baking powder
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together apples, cinnamon and 4 T sugar
  4. Alternate layers of batter and apples in pan, beginning with batter and ending with apples
  5. Bake approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes at 350

** Also known as “Jewish Apple Cake”

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