Thursday, June 30, 2011


We are fortunate to have several pair of Eastern Bluebirds here on our farm.  John has made nest boxes for them and almost every year, they raise several gangs of babies. 

I was taking a break from hoeing the corn on Tuesday when I saw what seemed to be a bluebird family, introducing the young uns to the world. Bluebirds are voracious bug and worm eaters so I was happy to see the male poised above my winter squash.

Mama was there briefly but I didn't get her picture. Below is one of the babies -- or 'juvenals' as the bird book calls them -- also perched above the squash.
The term 'the bluebird of happiness' has a long history in many cultures. But for me, there's a more personal meaning.  Back in 1973, when we visited my old school friend V.O. here in the mountains and decided to look for a farm, V. O. told me how, when they had first seen their place, a bluebird had flown across their path and she had taken it as a sign that they'd found their home.

When V.O. came with me to inspect the farm John and I had fallen in love with,  she and I tramped up and down, admiring the views, the wild flowers, the flowing streams. And as we were leaving, driving down the dirt road that ran alongside one of the pastures, a bird flew up and crossed in front of the car.  The sun flashed on its red breast and blue wings.

"There's that silly bluebird," said my friend.  And I knew that I, too, was home

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Anticipation . . . and a Winner!

of the book Time Is A River
is . . . (drumroll)
who will need to send me her mailing address.
My email is vicki_laneYOUKNOWWHATGOES

Congratulations, Jon Lee!

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Order Out of Chaos -- Gardens and Mysteries

I spent the morning in the garden -- hoeing weeds and suckering and tying up tomatoes.  The rest of our yard is badly overgrown with shrubs in need of pruning and rampant with wild grape vines but in the vegetable garden order reigns -- for the moment, at least.

One of the accepted conventions of mystery novels is that readers like them because  the protagonist -- whether police detective, private investigator, or amateur sleuth -- is presented with the chaos of an unsolved crime out of which -- in the course of the novel -- order is restored by nabbing the culprit.

Conventional wisdom say that the writer of mysteries must make sure that Good conquers Evil and that all loose ends are neatly tied up.  Some exception is made for ongoing series -- the main plot line may be resolved but there can be some questions left for the next installment.

Kind of like those weeds  -- hoe them down today but give it a week and there they are again. The battle to bring order out of chaos is never-ending.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Allure of Women's Fiction

A friend recently sent me a copy of  Mary Alice Monroe's  Time is a River and I dived right in. It's set in western North Carolina and is the story of a breast cancer survivor, looking to rebuild her life after her husband has dumped her for a younger woman.  

I'm kind of fascinated how many books there are with a similar theme -- woman seeking wholeness -- and how many are best sellers. Which leads me to wonder how many women there are in real life on a similar quest.
This book has a nice extra -- fly fishing.  Mia, the protagonist, after attending a fly fishing workshop designed for breast cancer survivors, stays on in a run-down cabin once owned by a famous fly fisherwoman -- one of the first -- who became infamous when she was charged with murder. In an old armoire, Mia discovers vintage fly rods -- and beautiful china and silver, as well as a royal blue taffeta evening gown.  When she later finds diaries kept by the supposed murderer,  Mia is hooked -- so to speak.

And so was I.

The mystery of the infamous previous owner is eventually unwound in a very intriguing manner and there is lots of lovely description of fly fishing and the beautiful setting. 

I read far more critically these days and, while there were bits of the novel that were predictable -- here comes the hunky and sensitive guy for her to fall in love with -- I was fascinated by the very predictability of it.  But a certain amount of predictability is comforting, I suppose. 

Mia spends a lot of time cleaning up this old cabin  she's renting and making improvements to it. Of course this is a metaphor for what she's doing with her own life but I admit to being a complete sucker for tales of people fixing up old places -- Laurie R. King's Folly, one of my favporite novels, hit a lot of the same notes. And somewhere I have the beginning of a novel I started forty years ago with Hester and a snarky husband and the old farmhouse she brings to life.

This was a very pleasant read -- and I'll pass it along. If you'd like to have your name put in the hat, tell me so in the comments. I'll draw a name on Wednesday.
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Friday, June 24, 2011

House Wine of the (American) South

Now that summer is upon us, mornings begin with making tea for the day's ice tea. You Brits and others, devoted to making the proper cup of tea with loose tea and a warmed tea pot and all that, just avert your eyes because around here this is how I fix tea for iced tea.
Two giant teabags, about a teaspoon of sugar, and some fresh-picked sprigs of mint go into the pitcher, along with boiling water  -- filling the pitcher about two-thirds full.  Cover with a folded dishtowel and let brew a while -- 3 to 5 minutes but it's not the end of the world if you forget and come back an hour later.

I like the tea to be strong  so it can stand up to the ice-- the tiny amount of sugar mellows it out without really making it sweet. Other folks make what they call sweet tea and use a cup or more of sugar -- sweet enough to make your ears ring.

Some folks like to garnish their tea with mint and lemon -- I do too, but that's fancy sitting-on-the-porch iced tea. For utilitarian tea --the kind you drink out of a Mason jar when you come in from weeding the garden -- I don't bother with the garnish. But putting the mint in with the boiling water flavors the brew in a most refreshing way.

(As my grandmother taught me, the best place to grow mint is near a water faucet.)

Iced tea - house wine of the (American) South!

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Xena -- the Rescued Calfie

Not quite two weeks since her rescue and the calfie -- who Claui has named Xena the Warrior Princess -- is doing great.
Xena enjoys playing with her rescuer -- slide show HERE

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Not a Knot Garden

When I first began to garden, one of the To Do's on my list was a Knot Garden. I drew up plans and even began to price plants. The dream lasted for quite a few years as one of those Someday projects.

Someday I'll have the time, the money . . . but then I realized that without major bulldozer work I also didn't have a large  flat area near the house to accommodate the garden of my dreams.  Ah, well...

But I was determined at least to have a herb garden -- parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme -- as well as dill, rue, lovage,  tarragon, fennel, basil, oregano, pineapple sage, cilantro, catnip,, bay, pineapple sage, perilla, and clary sage ... 

Most of these are in what we call the Box Garden -- not tiny hedges of perfectly trimmed boxwood, alas. but eight long boxes of soil.
The herbs are above the wall and in the four end boxes while the four center boxes are used for vegetables -- this year they hold  lettuce, beets, onions, sweet potatoes, collards and broccoli. 

It's not elegant like a knot garden but it's do-able  -- and it suits our rural idiom.
The bay laurel and rosemary are in pots, as they must winter over in the greenhouse.
The bay below was a tiny sprig in a cup when I bought it about twenty -five years ago. 

 Willowbrook Park blog (from New Zealand) has a nice overview of knot gardens for those of you who might be tempted . . .

Meanwhile, at last I'm putting in a lovely knot garden -- in the book I'm currently writing.
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