Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Premio Dardos

Thanks to Bo Parker over at Cobbledstones who passed on this award for “recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web."

Oh my goodness. And here I just thought I was writing about chickens and old pictures and books and dogs and stuff -- and taking pictures kind of as if you were walking alongside me and I was saying, 'Oh! Look at that!"

But I'm glad Bo enjoys my blog and my pictures and I'll pass this along to five more bloggers I enjoy.

Laurey Bikes The adventures of Laurey, a popular Asheville chef and caterer, riding her bike cross-country in company with other intrepid women to raise money to aid in the fight against ovarian cancer. I don't know Laurey, though I've enjoyed her food on several occasions and read and enjoyed her culinary memoir Elsie's Biscuits, but I'm vicariously following her adventure.

My Carolina Kitchen -- despite the name, it's quite a lot about food in France -- yum.

Reader Wil -- lovely pictures from Amsterdam and beyond. And Reader Wil's personal story is fascinating.

Urban Amish
-- more quilt talk from a quilter and fabric designer

Willow Manor -- an immensely popular and beautiful blog. Everyone would like to go have tea with Willow!

These bloggers are invited to copy the image to their own blogs and pass it on to others. Or not -- as they choose. They may be like me, running out of blogs they follow and running out of time to follow new ones.

Signing off from Bowling Green . . .

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunrise and Morning Light

A hurried post of some pictures from yesterday -- I'm off to Bowling Green to participate in a colloquium at Western Kentucky U. This will be a new experience for me.

I have finished expunging Myrna Louise and her subplot from the Miss Birdie book and, fond though I was of Myrna Lou, dang it, my editor was completely right -- the book is much stronger now. I wrote in more Birdie-specific material and am doing my final re-read -- 174 pages to go before sending the book off to Herself on or before the first.

Herself, of course, may want more changes. But, at this moment, battered and bruised and creeping near the finish line of this particular lap, I'm happy with the book.

Myrna Louise isn't gone forever --I hope she'll be back in a short story or a book of her own.

Assuming my hotel in Bowling Green has WiFi, I'll let you all know how things are going.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

What About the Cats?

In my post for the 27th, I revealed that I had promised a reader never to kill a dog in my books. In the comments, Victoria in California was quick to ask that I extend the same courtesy to cats.

It's a kind of unspoken rule among writers of cozies that you mustn't kill a cat -- or a dog or a child or anything cute and fluffy or any likable person.

But I don't write cozies -- I write psychological suspense. Sometimes bad things happen to nice people. . . or their animals. I'm not just trying to set up an interesting puzzle to be solved with some snappy repartee and zany hi jinks along the way --all done with a minimum of emotional involvement. No, I'm trying to make my characters real to my readers -- real people in real (well, except for the occasional touch of paranormal) situations where there is always some risk.
I'm trying to engage my readers' emotions . . . to move them to laughter . . . and sometimes to tears.

By making dogs, especially Elizabeth's dogs, immune to danger, I've lost a potential plot twist. I don't want to tie my hands any tighter by making more promises (next, the squirrel lobby will be pleading for an amnesty. And I like squirrels too; heck, I even like possums.)

I'm also very fond of cats. Ask Eddie and Miss Susie Hutchins. Even so, I've resisted, so far, giving Elizabeth one (in spite of Tammy of Fairlight Farm's encouragement that I do so.) Cats tend to take over mysteries, if given a chance.

In one of my books, there is a reference to a cat (or maybe two, I don't remember) that was killed in the past by one of the characters. Not, notice, a cat that we ever got to know. But I needed that reference to show the nature of a particular character. Remember, adult psychotic types often began by abusing animals when they were children.
I still can't see myself writing scenes of animal abuse. Indirect reference, though -- that could happen. Very indirect.

And, as always, I wonder why I (along with many readers) am more squeamish about the death of fictional animals (fluffy animals, it goes without saying) than the death of fictional people.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Farm Notes

Marigold, the Jersey heifer, is an aunt! Karen emailed from Yellow Branch to say that Silverbell, Marigold's half-sister (same mother, different AI sires) gave birth to Forsythia (seen above at about four hours old) back on Wednesday.

Another sign of Spring --unknown bugs appear --this one on my kitchen window sill. Time to think about putting the window screens back in. (Does anyone know what this creature is? I think he's rather elegant.)

Kate the donkey with her herd. Justin told me that the other day there were six wild turkeys in the field with the cows -- three toms strutting and showing off for three hens -- and Kate took exception to their carrying on and ran them off. ("Get out of here, you turkeys;" one imagines her braying, "this here's cow country!")

And yet another sign of warmer weather! The first snake is out relaxing by the fishpool! (I feel like someone in a Charles Addams cartoon saying that.)

Happy Saturday!
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Friday, March 27, 2009

A Happy Woman

Today I received a list of questions from a person doing an article/promotion piece on some of the authors presenting at the upcoming Blue Ridge Book and Author Showcase. A couple of the questions really set me thinking.

1. What is one interesting tidbit about you that few people know?

2. If you weren't a writer, and could be anything you wanted to be, what would it be?

3. If you could have lived in a different time period, what would it be? Why?

4. What is the one subject that you would never write about? Why?

5. What is the most imaginative scene you have ever written?

I've been given that first question before and the way I answered it previously was to tell how I once broke up a dogfight using an unorthodox technique learned from reading Robertson Davies' The Rebel Angels. This time my answer was that in 1969 my husband and I spent three glorious months riding a motorcycle around Europe.

It was the second question that stopped me cold. I thought about it a bit and decided to go on and answer the rest then return to formulate an answer.

Question three, what other time period would I like to live in, is one I've thought about a lot. There are lots of times and places that I would love to visit but ONLY if I were at the top of the food chain, so to speak. Elizabethan England, for example, might not be so bad if you were wealthy -- unless, of course you were a Roman Catholic . . . or a woman . . .or a Jew.

And even if you
were wealthy, the hygiene, the medicine (or lack of it),the callous disregard for animal and human suffering (for example, bear-baiting, hanging, drawing and quartering for execution). . . no, I think I'll stay put in our times, flawed though they may be.

Number four, the subject I would never write about is cruelty to animals or the death ( other than old age) of a dog. Okay, I have killed a cat and a squirrel or two in my books -- but always quickly and without suffering.

Number five I had to think about. I'm not sure about the most imaginative scene I've ever written -- in a way, that's more for a reader to say than me. But off the top of my head, and since I was eager to get back to question two, I chose the scene with Elizabeth in the Melungeon cabin toward the end of In a Dark Season.

And then I went back to the second question, trying on, in my mind, other enticing directions my life might take if I could be anything I wanted to be . . . and I realized that there is nothing I'd prefer to the life I already have -- with or without the writing.

So I answered that I'd like to be a very wealthy gardener. I don't want to live anywhere else but money for more plants and more help in the garden would be nice.

Even without it, I'm a happy woman.

But you probably knew that.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Morning Stroll

Spring is hurtling along -- every day brings something new and wonderful.

My stroll to the chicken house yesterday morning yielded a nice haul of eggs and a little web album of the latest Spring arrivals -- Mother Nature's fashion show.

Note: Please ignore that empty Spinning Wheels post some of you received. I hit the wrong button. The post that goes before this one is Marigold the Jersey Heifer. Spinning Wheels will happen tomorrow, if I don't foul things up again. ~ V
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Marigold the Jersey Heifer

We took a long drive yesterday to visit a hemi-demi-semi cousin of mine (her mother was the sister of my father's sister's husband) in Graham County at the far western end of the state.

Karen and her husband Bruce are some of 'them that's doing,' as The Mother Earth News used to refer to involved back-to-the-landers. They have a small herd of lovely doe-eyed Jersey cows and Bruce turns out some of the best cheese I ever tasted.

Karen makes beautiful pottery and together they are Yellow Branch Pottery and Cheese -- their website tells the story more fully.

I'd been wanting to go over to Yellow Branch for years and years -- but it's about a three hour drive and somehow, it just never happened. Karen and I would exchange Christmas cards and lament that we were both too busy in our respective worlds. I would see Yellow Branch cheese for sale in fancy stores or on the menu at fancy restaurants and feel a little surge of pride -- 'That's from my hemi-demi-semi-cousin's farm!' I would say to anyone around.

But what finally got us to make that long-postponed visit was a Jersey heifer named Marigold.

We're buying her from Bruce and Karen with the intention of making her into a milk cow so that, as in past years, we'll have our own milk, butter, yoghurt, cream, (clotted cream, too, Karen B.!), soft cheese and maybe, maybe someday, hard cheese too.

Justin and Claui are the reason -- they say they'll take on the milking. I'll pull my electric churn out of storage and try to remember what I once knew about dealing with great quantities of milk. Probably there will be a pig or two to raise on the excess. In short, back to the small farm economy we practiced for years.

This is all a year or so in the future. Marigold is too young to breed yet. But as we sat down last night to a meal of Justin's turkey vegetable soup, John's bread, and cheese (including one with flecks of basil) from Yellow Branch, we all felt that the future couldn't come soon enough.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Scene Around

Miss Susie Hutchins greets the dawn.

John gives the roof of the chicken tractor a coat of shiny green to match
the Spring. The dogs are not impressed

Blossoming trees (Bradford pears?) at the school where I teach on Wednesday evenings.

The weeping cherry down at the pond is blooming, enticing me to come sit beneath it . . .

But I am in the final throes of rewriting Miss Birdie and am stuck indoors for most of the time.
If nothing don't happen . . . well, I do hope to be done by the end of this month
. . . if nothing don't happen.
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Sunday, March 22, 2009


Carol, over at The Writers Porch has tapped my blog with the Sisterhood Award which I'm passing on to five blogging sistahs who expand and enrich my world:

Marta, the gardener at Marta McDowell, teaches, writes, gardens, and takes great pictures too. This is one of her own garden.

Byron, The Village Witch, gives a lively insight into traditional Appalachian witchery as well as the pagan/earth religion/Wiccan community. Alas, no pictures on her blog which is put up through The Asheville Citizen-Times.

Pepper at the Quilt Studio reminds me that I have a mass of fabric, waiting to be made into all sorts of wonderful quilts . . . someday.

Susan at Rambling Thoughts and Thoughtful Ramblings is a writer, would-be gardener, and blossoming entrepreneur with her pet-sitting business.

Victoria at Brushstrokes shares paintings, photos, and thoughts from her world somewhere on a mountain in California.

An interesting and varied posse . . . I invite them each to pass the award (a right-click will do it) on to 5 more Blogging Sisters with links to their blogs, notifying them by e-mail or by leaving a comment on their blogs...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Chanson Innocent

Sunrise, and Spring is here!

Yesterday was the Vernal Equinox . . . daffodils grew yellower still . . .

A few things were planted . . .

And John installed the new tuteurs (made for my birthday) in the box garden.

Spring is always a time of such infinite promise and ambition and joy . . . a time to celebrate with e.e. cummmings' s goat-footed balloon man . . .

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee

and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and



balloonman whistles

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Easy Artisanal Bread

Not content with making really fabulous pizza and biscuits to die for, John has now turned his hand to bread making. Inspired by a friend who came to dinner a few weeks ago, bearing a crusty loaf he'd made, John is now turning out these babies on a regular basis.

It's super easy; it just requires patience.

John begins, as in the picture below, mixing together flour, yeast, water, and salt. The mixture is very, very sticky. Next he covers the bowl with plastic wrap and lets it sit in a warm place for twelve to eighteen hours. This is the part about being patient.

When all this time has passed and the dough is looking bubbly, John flours a piece of parchment paper, turns out the dough onto it, sprinkles with more flour, and, using a spatula or baker's scraper, folds the dough over once or twice.

There is NO KNEADING !!! You couldn't if you wanted to; the dough is far too sticky and that's the way it's supposed to be.

Now you may have tried those so called no-knead batter breads in the past and been disappointed -- tasty enough, I always thought, but not like real bread.

This is different. The long slow rise and the cooking method work some sort of magic that produces a crusty exterior and an interior, dare I say it, reminiscent of a French baguette.

The heavy pot and its cover have been heating and now John simply picks up the parchment paper and the dough, plops it into the heated pot, puts the lid on and shoves it back into the oven.

The covered bread bakes for 30 minutes in its own little steam bath which is what makes that good crust. Then it bakes 15 minutes uncovered so the loaf will brown.

The full and original recipe is below -- the parchment paper, John's addition, makes for less cleanup and no chance of sticking. In the picture below, he's sprinkled sesame seeds on top before baking.

Full disclosure: In the middle of doing this post, I had to go downstairs and have a slice of this bread, I had made myself so hungry writing about it.

The New York Times
Printer Friendly Format Sponsored By

November 8, 2006

Recipe: No-Knead Bread

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.