In the Rearview Mirror

We had a postponed Christmas dinner last night with Laura and her family.

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It was lovely. We toasted with blue champagne, had oysters and shrimp from the grill, country ham on country biscuits and my excellent curried cheese ball while we stood and chatted in Laura’s kitchen.

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I don’t know where Laura was in this photo. On the far right hand side, I think, behind her husband in the Santa hat. Then we made room for tenderloin, potatoes and fresh asparagus sitting at the beautiful dining room table. Laura loves to make a festive table.

I made the desserts. Two Key lime pies at Laura’s request and an apple pie. And because I had eight egg whites left from making the Key lime pies, I made chocolate espresso meringues. I don’t have a pastry bag so dropped the whipped mixture from spoons. They were beautiful and delicious.

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I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I suppose I used to and they always seemed to be about losing weight. But 2017 was a year when I made a concious decision to step away from many volunteer activities. 2018 is going to be a significant birthday for me and I have a third novel to finish. It’s been marinating in my brain for ten years. That’s long enough. I’m getting close to the end of the first draft, but some of my characters seem intent on following roads I didn’t see, and I have to take the time to see what they want to do. They usually turn out to be right.

I suppose part of my decision in 2017 was because of volunteer fatigue. People come to assume that you will keep doing what you’ve always done. But I knew I was putting my own projects on hold and I didn’t want to do that anymore. The other thing is that I am making enjoyment a priority. If I raise my hand to volunteer, is it something I’ll enjoy doing? There are a lot of things in life that just have to be done, but I want to enjoy the things I choose to do.

Writing is one of those things. I find writing to often be an unconcious process. I get centered at my computer, sometimes using a dowsing crystal to help open my brain to the “movie” of my book. Then I write what I see. My friend, Helen, says I’m channeling and I won’t go quite that far. But I do enjoy the process!

In March of 2018 the Bay to Ocean Writing Conference will happen without me being part of the planning. For the past ten years I’ve been on the planning committee doing a variety of year-long tasks. By the time we’d get to conference day I was too tired to attend sessions. In 2018 I will enjoy attending.

Eastern Shore Writers Association is also going on without me. I’ll just be a paid member. Those almost daily hours spent keeping track of membership are now spent writing. I found some membership software to take over for me and the board agreed to the change. It was time that the organization moved in that direction and I gave them a push.

I stepped aside from my role as co-chair of Green Thumb, the St. Michaels Woman’s Club gardening interest group. It was time for new ideas, and there have been some splendid ones.

I did raise my hand to help at the St. Michaels Farmers Market last summer but it was just for an hour or so on Saturdays and an hour to send out a weekly market update. The market is undergoing a restructuring. I don’t know if I’ll raise my hand in 2018. I want to see what’s going to happen to the market before I volunteer.

And last year I was still involved in the organization of the St. Michaels Community Garden. A friend and I have been sharing the responsibilities for about five years. It’s time to pass the torch. We sent out an email asking for volunteers and got radio silence. The next step is to itemize what we do and send that out. Maybe if people see the discrete chunks, some will raise their hands. If people want a community garden it will survive.

I’ll stay connected with my Working Writers Forum. They’ve been reading what I’m working on for eleven years, and they always give me good advice.

Laura and I are hard at work for the Christmas play we’ve been commissioned to write for The Merlin Players in Faribault, Minnesota.  Collaborating with Laura is a priority for me. We both enjoy the process. It’s FUN!

It is now a little after 8 o’clock in the morning on the first day of 2018 and I’ve been up for several hours. I am at my desk and have just pulled up the file of my novel. I can’t wait to see where the story goes this morning.

I’m going to enjoy 2018. #enjoymylife

 

 

 

Christmas Parade Memories

“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!”

–Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

The Christmas’s I really remember are those from my childhood in South Bend, Indiana.  We moved there from Bryan, Texas when I was five. My father had left his teaching post at Texas A & M for a teaching position at Notre Dame. South Bend gave me my first experience of snow and all Christmas seasons ever after have needed snow. Even just the couple of inches we got last night transport me into the spirit of the season.

Young people today don’t realize that the Christmas season didn’t use to start until after Thanksgiving. And on Thanksgiving, in South Bend, it usually snowed. By the time we were finished with turkey and dressing, we were bundled up and took our sleds to the slopes of a nearby area the neighborhood kids called The Trails. It was where we played ball and hide and seek in the summer and built pirate forts year round. When it snowed, several small hills were perfect for our Radio Flyers. At least that’s the way I remember it. I can’t imagine it always snowed on Thanksgiving, but in my childhood recollections, it did. And that’s when the countdown to Christmas began.

It might not be correct that on Thanksgiving weekend there was a Christmas parade in downtown South Bend, but that’s the way I remember it.  Overnight Christmas displays appeared in store windows, and at our Swedish Lutheran church the children’s choir began practicing songs for the Christmas Eve service.  It was an eternal month of anticipation. Would Christmas never come?

Living in a small town brings back those memories. On Saturday we went to St. Michaels main street to watch the annual Christmas parade. Three small children next to us were bundled into blankets as they waited for the parade to begin. It was snowing and I remembered the wonder of being that age.

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What I don’t remember about past Christmas’s in the snow is my hands and feet turning to ice. On Saturday I was trying to take photos for my blog. My gloves got wet and by the time we left, my hands were so cold I couldn’t feel them.  I wasn’t feeling joyful, I was freezing.  That’s me with my own Santa.

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The parade had everything. Marching bands, dogs,  floats, fire trucks and llamas. And because we live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, there were quite a few boats.

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We waited for Tom Campi, St. Michaels perennial Santa Claus, who had a special bay built into his garage for his sleigh. Tom is the inspiration for the Christmas play Laura Ambler and I wrote. The year it premiered at the Avalon Theatre, Laura and I walked in the St. Michaels Christmas Parade with some of the cast. It wasn’t as cold given how people are dressed and it wasn’t snowing.

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Apparently Tom’s Santa Claus was the last float in Saturday’s parade but we were standing much further down the parade route and thought the parade had ended. Everyone left. Someone later told me there was a big gap in the parade before Santa’s float. I was worried that something had happened to Tom, but he was okay and spent the rest of the day with kids whispering Christmas wishes in his ear.

This is a photo from a previous year’s parade. This Santa is the real deal!

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After the parade, my husband and I went home to our own fire-side and thawed out.

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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.

 

 

 

Overlooking Plein Air

Easton, MD has a Plein Air painting event that is considered one of the best in the country. People paint around the area for a week and significant prizes are awarded. On the Saturday of Plein Air week, activities center on Harrison Street. This painter was smart to put down a piece of cardboard to keep his feet off the hot asphalt.

About six years ago Laura had the idea to get a small group of women together to have lunch at one of the restaurants on Harrison Street and people watch. The first years we had lunch on the porch of Masons. Two years ago the restaurant closed so the following year we had lunch on the porch of The Bartlett Pear. People on the street wondered who we were to have such a great viewing location. Some asked if we were judges. We just nodded.

Bartlett Pear is now on the market and its restaurant is closed. Laura, being the master negotiator, rented the porch for us and we collaborated what each of us would bring for lunch. We started with cheese, crackers and fruit. Betty Ann brought two large pitchers of white Sangria. That was followed by a chilled carrot soup. Then a tomato filled with chicken salad. A mini-croissant completed the main course. Dessert was cookies I’d bought at the St. Michaels Farmers Market that morning and cut into quarters.

We had extra sangria so we shared it with the band. The left over cookies were given to the Bartlett Pear owner’s daughter to share with her friends. While we were still on the porch, artists would occasionally make their way up the stairs to get out of the sun and have a glass of sangria.

One of the signatures of Plein Air is that it seems to occur during the hottest week of July. This year was no exception. Temps in the high 90’s with Eastern Shore humidity. We had an occasional breeze on the Pear porch, but most of us were wearing as little clothing as possible that women of a certain age can get away with. After lunch we walked the streets for a little while and then took shelter in the air-conditioned Armory and the Art Museum where juried participant’s work was displayed and for sale.

I often think the palettes should be framed and sold.

By mid-afternoon we had sweltered long enough and went home. I took the remaining sangria fruit thinking I would cook it up, strain it and use the juice to make jelly.  I never want to waste anything. The juice is in the fridge and I will make Plein Air jelly tomorrow. There were so many kinds of fruit in the sangria that there won’t be one dominant flavor. I’ll see what kind of liquor I have in the cupboard that I could add to make a palate focal point. Peach schapps? Cassis? Port wine? Cointreau? I’ll let you know how it turns out. If it doesn’t jell, we can eat it over vanilla ice cream.

 

What Were We Thinking Turned into So Glad We Did

Last Friday Laura and I flew to Los Angeles. Four months ago we had signed up for a two day Dramatist Guild workshop held in Culver City. On Thursday it was one of those “this seemed like a good idea at the time” commitments. Laura had been out of town and flew back on Thursday morning. She had the day to sort things out at her office. I was busy moving sprinklers around my garden every thirty minutes trying to save parched plants. It’s been really hot and dry the last couple of weeks on the Eastern Shore.

Laura had arranged for a driver to take us to the airport on Friday morning. Getting dropped off at the Southwest gates saved a bunch of time and parking hassle. A smooth flight to Los Angeles and we Ubered to Culver City where we had a reservation at the Culver Hotel.

The six story hotel was built in 1924 and considered a sky scraper at the time. The Wizard of Oz was filmed nearby and locals know the Culver Hotel as the Munchkin Hotel as many in the Oz cast stayed there. The hotel was essentially abandoned by the 1980’s and slated for demolition. But by the 1990’s it had been partially restored and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The renaissance was completed when the hotel was bought and fully restored in 2007.

Today it’s a charming hotel where historical touches remain.

Culver City used to be a down and out area, but has been revitalized. The center of town is full of shops and restaurants. The entertainment company, Sony Pictures, is nearby and fueled the renewal.

The first night we were at the hotel we dined on the outdoor terrace. The weather was gorgeous. We’d left east coast temps and humidity behind.

We had a wonderful breakfast every morning. Tiny croissants, little ramikens of butter  (with a sprig of dill on top) and raspberry jam, fresh fruit, Greek yogurt and granola. And of course, lots of coffee for Laura and a selection of teas for me. That’s my breakfast below. Laura is not a breakfast eater. She had half a bagel with cream cheese. Typically her breakfast is a diet coke at McDonalds that she takes to the office.

We could walk to the Kirk Douglas Theater where the conference was being held. Just 50 participants. We were the only people from the east coast. Most Dramatist Guild workshops are held in NYC but the DG is trying to extend learning and networking opportunities to its west coast members. If you are a member, check out their online classes.

Right away I met Bradetta. See my previous blog. I still can’t fathom the odds of that happening. Add to that the fact that I am a true introvert, so the fact that I actually struck up a conversation is remarkable.

 

The first day of the conference was terrific. Lots of information, good handouts and engaging instructors. The morning session was The Artist as CEO – Marketing & Social Media. The instructor was Zack Turner. I was thrilled to learn that the only social media he uses is Twitter. I, like lots of other writers, get overwhelmed with social media.

After a boxed lunch, the afternoon session was a panel called Playwrights in the Writers Room. They were all much younger than I, but it was particularly interesting to hear the experiences of the two women panelists in a man’s world. I guess some progress is being made.

That evening we walked to dinner where we met my daughter who lives in the area. What fun to see Kira and connect in person. She had asked a friend, who knew Culver City, for a restaurant recommendation and made reservations for our group at Akasha. We ordered a variety of delicious small plates. (I always forget to take food photos until we’ve made a dent in the items. There were way more shrimp to start.)

Sunday morning’s conference session was a continuation of The Artist as CEO – this time focused on the Business of Writing for the Stage. The instructor was Ralph Sevush. He’s an attorney with years of helping playwrights and was an engaging and knowledgeable speaker.

The afternoon was a Masterclass on Structure, taught by Gary Garrison. What a fabulous teacher! So much of the material also applied to writing fiction. We felt like we were double dipping.

That evening we had dinner with our friend, Shar McBee, who used to live in our area of the Eastern Shore. After years of speaking about nonprofit leadership (because of her book “To Lead is to Serve”) Shar just launched a new project “Leadership & Yoga.”  She is starting with workshops and train the trainer events.  Maybe it’s because she’s in California where there is a yoga studio on every corner, but Shar says she’s stunned at how people are responding to her new material.  It has opened up a whole new path of activity.  The week we were there, Shar had five speaking engagements about “Leadership & Yoga.”  www.JoyofLeadership.com

If you live on the Eastern Shore, you may remember that Shar organized the Leadership for Women Conferences that benefitted Chesapeake College.  Even then, she was including yoga sessions led by Freya Farley.

After breakfast  on Monday, we Ubered to the airport, boarded our flight and got home a little after eight on Monday night. A driver picked us up and took us across the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake. It was a whirlwind trip, but surprisingly relaxing, fun, full of connections, and crammed with learning.

It turned out to be an “I’m so glad we did this” trip.

 

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.

 

 

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.