Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Losing Home

Along with the rest of the country, I've been heartsick looking at the damage in Texas from Harvey. Right now, people are in shock, but in the days and weeks to come, the reality that they've lost their homes, their belongings, and their communities will start to sink in.

I know at least a little of what that feels like.

In December of 2010, we were woken by the smoke detectors in our home screaming their alert. We fled a burning house at 5:30 am, in our pajamas and bare feet.

Standing in the cold New England morning, watching our house burn, watching the firefighters smash windows and knock the fire down, I was numb. At that moment, all I could think of was how close I came to losing my family and that's what sent me into a spiral of anxiety and depression that lasted over a year.

In that first week or so, I didn't have the time to fall apart. My husband had to go to work. Our sons had to go to school. I was consumed with the details of just surviving: finding a temporary apartment, getting us all a few days worth of clothing, finding winter coats and boots, dealing with the insurance company and getting the house boarded up so the winter weather wouldn't make the damage worse.

Everyone remarked about how calm and in control I was. How amazing a job I was doing keeping it all together.

Which was true as far as people could see.

Whenever I was alone, I would start to cry. It took me about 15 minutes in the car before any errand just to put myself back together.

And we had only lost our home - not our neighborhood or our support network. Our losses were covered by insurance and we knew we'd rebuild and move back. Our children had the structure of school and their friends. People around us were able to help.

We were lucky.

We were incredibly lucky.

And I still struggled to get through every day.

If I heard a siren or smelled smoke, I would have a full blown panic attack. It was almost a full year before that became manageable.

The people displaced by Hurricane Harvey are not only dealing with enormous personal loss, but the loss of their communities, networks, and structure. Schools won't open soon. Or houses of worship. or local government services. Even if they have the financial resources, they can't just go shopping to replace clothes because all the stores are flooded and closed. If they had a car, it's now drowned. Hell, just getting food is going to be difficult for some time to come. Need medicine? Out of luck. Pharmacies are closed and their computer systems likely down.

If you've never experienced a personal loss like this, it's hard to imagine the scope of the devastation and emotional gut-punch of it. I'm not sure how I would have gotten through our fire and its aftermath without the support of our community. 

It took almost 10 months, but we got back in our rebuilt home. For most of the people in the hurricane, even if they have homeowners insurance, it doesn't cover flood damage. Whatever disaster relief funds there are, they won't cover everything and many of the displaced won't be able to afford the loans available. Or will fall prey to scammers once the rebuilding starts.

In the decade since Katrina, there are neighborhoods in Louisiana that have still not recovered.

So if you can donate to the recovery, please do so. And know that what we're seeing now is nowhere near the worst of what's to come. The destruction of the flood waters is a very visible reminder of the disaster, but what is more devastating is the emotional cost of these losses and that cost will continue to be paid by the people in Texas for years to come. 


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Monday, August 21, 2017

Bonus post: lazy peach butter

Wash approx 8 lbs of ripe peaches.

Halve peaches and remove pit. Don't worry about removing the peel. It will dissolve in the crock pot during the long cooking time.

 Load up your crock pot with chopped peaches. Add 3/4 to 1 cup of white or brown sugar and a few TB of lemon juice.

Squish with a potato masher until you have a nice amount of liquid in the pot. You don't want these beauties to scorch!  Cook on high for an hour or so. Then cook on low for 6-10 hours. Keep the lid cracked so steam can escape and the peach slurry can thicken. Time really depends on the juiciness of the peaches and the ambient humidity.

Blend with an immersion blender. (Yes, with the skins. They disappear. If you wanted, you could peel the peaches first, but that's too much work for me!)

Cook on high until it thickens, stirring occasionally. (If you put a scoop of the peach butter on a spoon, it should hold its shape and not release water.)

Add sugar to taste and other flavors as you desire. I usually pour in a few ounces of bourbon. It gives it a nice 'zing'.

Can 1/2 pints or 4 oz jars in waterbath for 20 minutes. Or freeze in suitable containers.

Use as a spread on toast, as a filling in crêpes, or swirled in plain yogurt.

(Note: this works with any stone fruit or apples, though I would peel the apples. Mix fruits for different flavor profiles.)


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So much time, so little to do. . .

Scratch that.
Reverse it.

Despite my best intentions of writing something for the blog consistently every week, I fail spectacularly in August.

I just realized that it's been weeks since I added anything new here. I think this happens every August because of our summer routines. I also think this summer has been particularly difficult with the current political upheaval. But you didn't come here for politics - I talk about that more on Twitter and G+. So I'll simply talk about some of the lovely things that have been keeping me busy.

We live this fiction that things slow down in summer, but for us, life has been quite hectic these past few weeks. 
August is the time when we usually take our family vacation to visit my in laws in rural Maryland and this year was no exception.

To be fair, it's hard not to do anything but stay in the moment with a view like this. And such was our view for a full week. There is something healing and centering about the ebb and flow of the water and the endless parade of clouds across a blue sky. The time we spend here is the soul's version of a field lying fallow for a bit. It recharges and reenergizes me.

We came home to an overflowing garden, full of summer's bounty. This is the time of year I can barely keep up with what comes out of the 6 raised beds my husband plants and then we get a weekly farm share as well. Yikes.

I've been chopping and freezing tomatoes and pickling cucumbers and zucchini in an old crock a friend gave me. We're on our 3rd or 4th pickling load and the fridge is full!

And then there are the peaches.

For the first time in my life, I have a property with fruit trees. In January, we bought what will ultimately be our retirement plan, but for now is a weekend/retreat space about 90 minutes from Boston in Central Massachusetts. As the seasons have changed, we've started to learn what lives on the property. And the most delightful discovery has been the 3 peach trees. After last year, where there was no stone fruit at all north of NJ, our trees are laden with sweet peaches.

Today, I prepared a crockpot full of what will be peach bourbon butter, sliced and froze 3 quarts of peaches, and made 4 halfpints of peach syrup. And I still have most of the 3 boxes of peaches I picked this past weekend. There will be at least as many more ripe next week to pick.

We've named the place StarField Farm and on a clear, dark night, the sky overhead is, indeed, full of stars.

Right now, we're in the midst of construction, which is another claim on my time.

When it's finished, this will be a large garage/workspace with a car lift on the ground floor. The upper floor will be a master suite with a living room/office/spare room.

It's been a fascinating process to see something go from concept to drawn plans to hole in the ground to the shell of a building in just a few months.

We're currently only able to spend 1-2 weekends a month there and wonder of wonders - this 'city mouse' has fallen hard in love with small town rural living.

A few days ago, I attended the Hardwick Fair. They had a ceramics category in the arts and crafts judging, so I entered this handbuilt teapot. 

Not only did it win first prize, but it was awarded a premium and I was given a rosette ribbon. Not too shabby for my first fair!

It would be easy for me to mock the earnestness of the fair and its attendees. There's a lot that could be described as small town cliche - the tractor parade, the cow showing, the pit bbq, the canned goods judging, the yarn spinning demonstration, the live music. But I loved being there. Every part of it. It was a town wide block party and it showed off the best of people's hard work and hobbies. Also, I helped judge the Literary Contest. I suspect I've been swept up into the Fair forever.

And yes, I'm writing, too. Work proceeds on Halcyone Space book 5 and I'm in the midst of finishing a short story for a themed anthology.

So I'm still here. I just may be a bit quiet on the blogging front until mid September. It's nearly tomato canning time, after all.


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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

And so it begins. . . Again

This is the start of Halcyone Space, book 5. After letting the characters incubate in the back of my head for a few months, it was time to figure out the major goals and issues for each of them. This will help me form the main plots and subplots that form the core of the book.

I don't typically do a formal outline, though I will plan out several scenes ahead with one sentence 'blurbs' and once the story really starts cooking, I'll know where each character is and where they need to go. And I do know how the book will end. At some point, near the 75% mark, I typically go back and outline the entire project so I have a sense of its organization. I use this as a revision tool.

I have colleagues that write complete and detailed outlines before starting a single word on the story. That's not my process, but it's no less useful and valid. Don't let anyone get away with saying there's only one way to write a novel.

These beginning steps take some time. Once I find the flow, the story will move more quickly. Having done this a time or three already, I don't panic when I don't make my wordcounts for the day in these early stages.

There is a huge advantage to having gone through the process of idea to beginning through middle and finishing. It's one of the reasons I think it's important not to rewrite your first book over and over again, but to move on to something new. You can always go back to the earlier project and you'll have grown as a writer when you do. (Though sometimes even experience cannot help - I went back and did 2 major rewrites of Heal Thyself and it's still not ready for prime time. I haven't given up hope. Yet.)

I didn't know that when I started on my first novel in 2004. I thought if I kept at it, I could make it work. Four rewrites later and it's still trunked. I suspect no amount of poking at it will bring it to a publishable state. Trust me on this. It's 150,000 words of confused fantasy cliches and badly overwrought prose.

Books 1 through 12 represent my finished novels. 13 and 14 are works in progress. The ones in bold have been published.

1. 2004-6 Wings of Winter (trunked)
2. 2005-2006 MindBlind (trunked)
3. 2006-2007 House of Many Doors
4. 2007-2008 Heal Thyself
5. 2008-2009 The Between   (pub 2012)
6. 2009-2010 Future Tense  (pub 2014)
7. 2011-2012 untitled ghost story
8. 2012  Derelict   (pub 2014)
9. 2013-2014 Time and Tithe  (pub 2015)
10. 2014-2105 Ithaka Rising  (pub 2015)
11. 2015 - 2016 Dreadnought and Shuttle (pub 2016)
12. 2016 - 2017 Parallax (pub 2017)
13. 2017 Vito Nonce Project (in progress)
14. 2017 Halcyone Space book 4 (in progress)

That list comprises well over a million words of fiction. (And this doesn't count short stories.) Some of it unpublishable either for issues of quality, premise, or market. But each of the books I completed taught me invaluable lessons and made the next book better.
Halcyone Space, book 4, is my 14th novel.  (Not counting the 2 projects in the mid 2000's not listed here that I wrote about 30K each on and abandoned for various reasons.) Knowing what I know now about my process, (and barring any major catastrophe) I am confident that books 13 and 14 on this list will be finished, revised, polished, edited, and published.

At some point, I'll feel comfortable to share snippets of the work in progress.

Stay tuned!



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