Monday, February 28, 2011

Time to Get My House in Order...

Okay, that's not actually my house. It's one I saw deep in the wilds of Alabama and it reminded me of what can happen when one accumulates too much stuff -- an event horizon that our house is rapidly approaching, especially in my workroom and my closet...

I've taken twenty or so boxes of books off to our library and how good that felt! -- but I couldn't resist bringing home two boxes of books that my friend who's moving offered to me. 

I tell myself, as I've told myself before, every time I leave the  house, I should take a box or two of 'stuff' -- to the dumpsters or the Goodwill. 

But which stuff? I have a massive fabric collection --I hardly ever make a quilt anymore but  I might take a notion...

My painting supplies, including a giant easel, take up a lot of space in my workroom and I haven't touched a brush in five or six years. But am I ready to say never on that particular avocation?
I won't even mention the gourds...
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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Simple Sunday

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

This lovely tune is from the Shakers -- an odd religious sect that created some beautiful furniture, ingenious inventions, including a flat broom, and brought a welcome new aesthetic to America. They're well worth learning more about.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Always Use a Bag - Repost

I'm fascinated by the beauty of many natural things -- old bones, shells, rocks -- and shed snakeskins. It's amazing to me how a six foot plus blacksnake can slip out of his old skin so neatly, leaving behind a perfect ghostly image of himself down to the lenses that covered his eyes.

There's been ample opportunity to study these shed skins -- we have one blacksnake who leaves a skin in our greenhouse several times a year while others twine their discarded finery into the crevices of our rock walls.

Blacksnakes are mostly welcome around our place -- they eat rats and mice and are said to deter copperheads. Unfortunately, they also eat baby birds and on occasion, one has taken up residence in our chicken house, swallowing the eggs one after another. When this happens, I try to catch the snake, put him in a bag, and take him for a ride around the mountain to release him in a wooded area.

I didn't always use a bag. It just didn't occur to me. But came the fateful day when I had hold of a great large snake lumpy with just-swallowed eggs. I handed him to my 15 year old son to hold while I drove the truck to the accustomed snake release area a few miles away.

We hadn't even gotten down to our mailbox before the snake began to poop. (Somehow, I'd never considered this possibility.) It was pasty and yellow and smelled (no surprise here) like rotten eggs. Appalled, my son let go of the snake's body but managed to hang on to his neck. "Arrrgh!" my son shouted. "Mum! Look what your snake is doing!"

And now the snake was regurgitating the last egg he'd eaten. I stopped the truck. "Just put him out here," I said, trying to sound really calm.

Easier said than done. My son had control of half of the snake -- the head end. But the tail end had slithered under the truck seat and was firmly wrapped around the jack.

By the time I'd gotten the indignant snake loose, the completely indignant son mollified, and the interior of the truck cleaned out, I'd learned a lesson.

Always use a bag.

This is a snake, lumpy with something he's just eaten -- probably mice. and this is a re-post -- there were no comments on its first outing three years ago -- maybe everyone was just grossed out.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Early Bloomers

The hellebores are finally emerging. In a milder winter, they bloom earlier, living up to the name of  Christmas Roses. 

This year we'll have to settle for their other  appellation -- Lenten Roses. But a rose hellebore by any name is a welcome sight.
And the winter jasmine's pale yellow flowers are beginning to twinkle on its bare stems -- brightening even a gray day.
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

'Real' Books

Flower by Christopher Beane and Anthony Janson is a real knock out! Beane's spectacular and innovative macro photography took my breath away and has me eager for peony season (and a super macro lens . . . maybe someday.)

High on the Hog is a thoughtful and charming look at African-American cooking and its various influences. It's more than that, of course -- a whole social history emerges  in these pages.

The title comes from the custom of slave owners and later employers giving their servants the lesser bits of the pig - tail, ears, feet -- in return for hard labor at pig-killing time. When eventually the ex-slaves could raise their own pork, they could eat chops, and hams, and best of all, tenderloins -- located high on the hog!
Life, Money, and Illusion is a book I heard about somewhere  (NPR?) and was convinced I needed to read. I'll report on it later. But what a great cover!
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Oh My!

Oh. My. Goodness. Look what the young uns gave me for my birthday on Monday!
I am now, what with the Ipod that came at Christmas,  the most technologically enabled old lady in these parts.
And there was a bouquet of tulips and champagne and a dinner prepared by John and another dinner by Justin and Claui and other lovely pretties -- including some terrific ink and paper books I'll show you tomorrow.

Another birthday -- and unless I plan to live to 136, I'm pretty sure I'm well past middle age. Funny how that happens...
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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

FAQ - Can Writing Be Taught?

Q: Did Dickens, Jane Austen, Shakespeare and all those authors we know, get any help? I think that you don't want to be a writer -- you are one or you aren't.
A:  The questioner has a good point -- I don't think it's possible to teach the art of writing,  but I do think that there's a lot that can be taught about the craft.  I certainly learned a lot from the class I took and from some books I've read. Hints on how to write dialog, beginning with a hook, various methods for plotting, even such nuts and bolts matters as how long a book should be, or what font is preferred by agents and editors are useful to writers in today's over-crowded market.

That said, I also think there's a point of diminishing returns with classes and inspirational books and there comes a time when one must just concentrate on WRITING -- finishing that novel or memoir or collection of poems.

As for the art of writing.... 

The best advice I can give is to read books written in the kind of language you want to write. Read till the sentence structures and the music of the language comes naturally to you

Even better than reading , I think, is listening to well-read audio books. When reading, I tend to skim, in hurry to find out what happened. But when listening, I can savor the beauty of a well-turned phrase, a clever transition, an apt description. I love Jane Austen, Neil Gaiman, P.G.Wodehouse, Patrick O'Brian, and Douglas Adams on audio, to name just a few.  All of these writers are in love with language and can make words sit up and beg or sentences jump through hoops.

Elizabeth George was quoted somewhere as saying she always spends a half an hour before she begins to write, reading 'up.' That is to say, reading on a higher level than she writes. I think she mentioned Jane Austen.  And I'd say that's probably not a bad idea. I know my writing would become very spare and straightforward if I went on a kick of reading Hemingway.

Read the best of what you want to write.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thinking of Frankie Silver...and a Potential Setting

On Friday I traveled to Morganton, a charming town about two hours to the east, to meet a traveling ex-sister-in-law and have lunch.  We wandered about the town and I was reminded that this was where, in 1833, the teen-aged Frankie Silver was hanged for the axe murder of her husband. 

Some say she was innocent; others say her husband Charlie needed killing.  But the jury found her guilty and she was hanged from an oak tree (or a scaffold -- opinions vary here too) that stood on the hill where the beautiful present day courthouse stands. 

Sharyn McCrumb tells her moving version of the story in the carefully researched  novel  The Ballad of Frankie Silver.
The courthhouse was built after the hanging so I didn't go looking for ghosts.

But I did see a wonderful looking house that I may have more to say about later -- can't you just see a distraught young woman in a nightdress, running for the gate in the middle of the night? Long hair flowing, of course, and possibly holding a candlabra  with burning candles...

And what's in that tower room?
As always, when I photograph fancy buildings, I think of Merisi.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Freight Train

FREIGHT TRAIN by Elizabeth Cotten
Freight train, freight train, run so fast,
Freight train, freight train, run so fast,
Please don’t tell what train I’m on
They won’t know what route I’ve gone.

When I’m dead and in my grave,
No more good times here I crave
Place the stones at my head and feet
Tell them all that I’ve gone to sleep.

When I die, Lord, bury me deep
Way down on old Chestnut Street
Then I can hear old Number Nine
As she comes rolling by.

(The notes below are from Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes linernotes by Mike Seeger)

When Elizabeth Cotten and her brothers were playing music together each would have songs that they called their own, and this was one of that she made up and sung as hers, It was one of the few she ever composed herself and was largely inspired by the train running near her home. She sung the song in Washington and it was subsequently popularized by Peggy Seeger, Nancy Whiskey and Rusty Draper.

"We used to watch the freight train. We knew the fireman and the brakeman...and the conductor, my mother used to launder for him. They'd let us ride in the engine...put us in one of the coaches while they were backing up and changing...that was how I got my first train ride.

"We used to walk the trestle and put our ear to the track and listen for the train to come. My brother, he'd wait for the train to get real close and then he'd hang down from one of the ties and swing back up after the train had passed over him."


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Friday, February 18, 2011

It's Seasonal

The pussy willows, white and black, are showing, leading me to think that Spring herself may be on her way to our mountains.
Thursday was a beautiful day -- so warm that I left the doors open to the breezes and moved the snow shovel from the front porch to the back  of  the house.

In the pastures, the cows and calves lay on their sides, soaking up the sun, while birds flitted busily from tree to tree;

The last of the ice has melted from the road and after a winter of huddling by the fire, I'm wanting to do everything -- reorganize drawers and closets, polish silver, clean up the winter-weary garden, finish the unfinished projects, and start some new ones. 

It's like the nesting urge pregnant women get in the last weeks before delivery -- deciding that Now might be a good time to wax the floor and move all the furniture around. 

Outside, I see that the birds are beginning to pair up and check out the empty birdhouses.

Which leads me to wonder . . .  at one time did humans, like birds and most wild things, give birth mainly in the Spring? It makes sense -- food and warmth would be more abundant making a better environment for a newborn.

So when I begin to think about Spring cleaning, is is a primal memory stirring? Am I reenacting prehistoric nesting urges?

It's something to think about as I shove the furniture around...
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