Thursday, July 31, 2008


Late hydrangeas --
Heavy storm clouds billowing
Over my table . . .

By the mountain road,
Toadstools stand silent sentry;
Drenching rain passes . . .

Orange rosehips dangle,
Swollen fat with summer sun --
Last day of July . . .

Accept these pictures and these few words -- all the chicken talk from yesterday's post has plumb wore me out . . . and there's still the Goodweather Report to send tonight.
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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chicken Tractor

The chicks have moved (well, been moved, squawking and protesting) into their fancy new chicken tractor, built by my husband John. In the UK it's called a chicken ark and we first saw one in the side garden of a Stately Home (to which we had paid admission) in the Cotswolds a few years ago. We were entranced; John took pictures and we thought someday . . .

It's an elegant system for keeping chickens out of trouble and on green grass. They peck and scratch, eat bugs and green stuff, leave their droppings, and when the grassy spot has been thoroughly worked over, you move the tractor to another spot. (I have a tier in the garden where fat bugs of some sort -- maybe sowbugs -- have wiped out my squash and I'd love to put these biddies there.)

There's chick food and water and at night they can trundle up the ramp to the sleeping quarters (I've removed a panel so you can see) where there's a roost awaiting them. There are also nest boxes at either end when they get old enough to lay.

The chicks are happy to be out of the box and in more natural surroundings and Ali Ali seems to have decided that he's a chicken guard -- he's run off the other dogs when they've tried to investigate.

We still have the chicken house and the five old hens and Gregory Peck, the rooster. As these young pullets reach full size, we'll move some to the chicken yard -- 6 t0 8 is probably maximum capacity for the chicken tractor.

If you're interested in backyard chickens, this is a great solution. More and more communities are allowing chickens in backyards (not roosters, however.) There are any number of websites with plans and advice on chicken tractors. We even found a site where we could buy one just like the one we saw at the Stately Home -- for the stately price of about $1500 -- plus shipping from the UK.

This one looks just the same (John found the plans on the Internet), cost about $150 in materials (including the feeder and waterer), and features some small improvements. It's a lot fancier than it needs to be (here's a cheaper easier one) -- you can find plans for building a perfectly nice chicken tractor using recycled pallets -- but what a lovely addition to the garden of our stately home!
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Late July

Late July is a celebration of yellow- a myriad of tiny suns warm the earth -- black eyed susan, marigold, tickweed, hawkweed, sunflower, and coreopsis -- they beam from every garden corner, every field and roadside . . .

Late July is a surfeit of freshness, a ton of tomatoes, a cornucopia of cukes, a maze of maize, a battery of beans . . .

Late July is a pollen-blessed cat, basking in the sunflower's warmth . . .

Late July is a tired woman, a fading beauty
Worn out with all that bearing.
Her back bends; her hair trails down.
She holds the latest babe
And dreams of snow.
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Monday, July 28, 2008


...from Signs in the Blood. Phillip is looking at the goldfish pool.

"Whoa! That looked like a copperhead!"
"No, that's a northern water snake. They do look a lot like copperheads -- that is, till you see the real thing. The water snakes don't have that triangular viper head, but they get killed for copperheads just the same."

In the news this morning -- The American military admitted Sunday night that a platoon of soldiers raked a car of innocent Iraqi civilians with hundreds of rounds of gunfire and that the military then issued a news release larded with misstatements, asserting that the victims were criminals who had fired on the troops.

The attack on June 25 killed three people, a man and two women, as they drove to work at a bank at Baghdad’s airport.

Fear combined with ignorance is a terrible thing.
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Sunday, July 27, 2008

In the Beginning . . .

Back on Monday I did a phone interview with Lynn Kaczmarek, managing editor of Mystery News. (The interview will appear in the August-September issue, around the third week in August.)

It was fun -- like having a conversation with a friend I hadn't seen in quite a while and bringing her up to date on my so-called writing career. I suspect that Lynn's skills as an interviewer are the reason the time flew -- we talked an hour. And heaven knows, I spoke freely -- I can only hope I didn't say anything I'll regret.

Like many folks, Lynn seemed to find it interesting (perhaps astounding) that, with no more writing background than I had and at the advanced age of 60, I ended up with a contract with Bantam Dell and an editor as renowned as Kate Miciak.

Yeah, I know. I was very, very lucky.

But all this talk sent me back looking through a scrapbook from the beginning of my involvement in the writing thing and I thought I'd share a couple of goodies.

My certificate (suitable for framing) from the class that got me started writing about Elizabeth Goodweather. So it's not an MFA -- the price was right -- $40. And it worked.

And below (the flower - a galliardia -- is just for pretty) is a contract, written by a young man (son of friends of friends) who obviously has an eye for control, if not the economics of publishing. Though if I could get five dollars a book, I believe I could put up with his demanding ways.

I will fire you if I need to -- he got that part right, by golly. That's how publishing works.
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Saturday, July 26, 2008

When Growth Is Good

Those baby chicks that were hatched on June 22 and received on June 24 (above) are almost completely feathered and will soon be out of their brooder and into the chicken house. Most of the chicks, the ones with gray-green legs, are Ameracanas -- layers (god willing and if nothing gets them) of blue-green eggs. The four dark ones with yellow legs are Golden-Laced Wyandottes -- and I'm eager to see if they grow up to be as attractive as they're pictured.

And those tomato plants I put in back on May 7 . . .

. . . are performing magnificently! We have are lots of plum tomatoes for sauces and roasting and then there are these big Cherokee Purples. They won't win any beauty contests but their flavor -- deep and rich and sweet and just acid enough -- makes them the best tasting tomato we've grown.

A lot of you have probably read it already but I can't resist putting a link to my article on Tomato Porn

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Keep on Going -- Sun Up to Sun Down

Yesterday was a long day -- I was up early to drive to Brevard where I had an 'event' at Highland Books - a very friendly and enticing (aren't they all?) bookstore. There was a nice turnout -- one of the best they'd had, Peggy (co-owner with her husband Tim) told me. And there was coffee and cookies (Thanks, Katie, for the brownies!)

Though a previously shy person, I find it amazingly easy to talk to folks about my books. And it's so gratifying when people say nice things and ask interesting questions -- most of which I even know the answers to! (Of course, I have had to do a bit of apologizing for the cliffhanger ending of In a Dark Season. )

Then, after lunch with friends and an hour or so of feet-up-relaxing at a friend's house in Cedar Mountain, it was off to Greenville, SC. where I was talking to the Upstate Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

I had two (different) sets of directions from the Internet, plus a map and more (different) directions from my friend. So I set off, more or less secure in the knowledge that I'd probably find the bookstore where the meeting was being held. It was a beautiful drive, the road winding through tall trees down a mountainside -- and I really got to enjoy the scenery because I was behind a HUGE moving van going (this is not an exaggeration) 18 miles an hour, its brakes sending out distress signals with the smell of burning rubber.

An hour later I was in Greenville, SC, in the middle of a commercial area comprised of every fast food franchise in existence. It was the right street, (in spite of not having followed the directions, any of them, exactly) -- but it was North Pleasantburg and the bookstore was on South Pleasantburg.

I stopped at an auto parts store to ask if I was heading the right way (Being female, I don't mind asking directions) "Sure thing," the wizened old guy said, enveloping me in an exhalation of cigarette smoke, "you just got to keep on going!"

I kept on going for what seemed an awfully long time and the street signs still said North Pleasantburg. What's more, it was now past the time (6:15) I was supposed to be there so I stopped and called the bookstore. "Oh yes, you're going the right way; just keep on going."

Two minutes later and North turned to South. Five minutes later I was there -- and the Upstate Chapter of Sisters in Crime was waiting.

I had been tasked (love that military jargon) with speaking to the problem of getting beyond the first few chapters of a novel. I made several suggestions, such as introducing a subplot that will tie into the main plot, introducing a new character, switching point of view, switching time (flash back or jump forward) or place -- all things I've resorted to when my writing has become so linear and one dimensional that I'm boring myself.

We talked a bit about getting an agent and the realities of publishing: having a book published -- even by a big New York house -- doesn't mean you should go start pricing sports cars. (As if.)

They were an interesting group with lots of good questions and we talked till nine -- when the bookstore owners were ready to toss us out.

One of the members (thanks, Polly) led me to the exit that would take me to Asheville. And after only two serious slowdowns -- traffic crawling long at 15 mph due to an accident and then construction, I pulled up to our barn a few minutes before midnight, tired and bleary-eyed, but happy with good memories.

Ah, the glamorous life of an author 'on tour!"

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

His Was Bigger Than Mine

Vic Copeland, our house guest has a Serious camera and got some good shots of those same hummers.

And while I'm here -- there'll be no post tomorrow -- I'm leaving early to do an 11 am event at Highland Books in Brevard and on to Greenville, SC to speak at a Sisters in Crime meeting at The Open Book. No sitting on the porch tomorrow-- or at the laptop either.

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Elusive Hummers

Sitting on the porch yesterday afternoon with a visiting friend (instead of a courtesy mint on the pillow, we supply a courtesy dog for your lap) . . .

while Miss Susie Hutchins ignored us all . . .

I tried to get pictures of some of the humming birds, buzzing about the feeder but only captured these fuzzy silhouettes.

So let me offer this link to some really good hummer pictures -- the birth of a hummingbird

Be sure to click on 'NEXT PAGE' at the bottom of each page; there are 5 pages in all with pictures from the egg to leaving the nest -- 24 days from birth to flight.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Three Thousand Words

A picture is worth . . a lot to this writer, in the questions they raise for my imagination to answer.


Who is that, peeping through the dusty glass in the gable window?

What lies beyond this gate?

And this old building, in the field near the bridge -- what was it like when it was new? When was it still in use?
How did one get in that door?

These pictures have provided inspiration for scenes in Birdie's book -- at least three thousand words' worth.
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Monday, July 21, 2008

Think Pink

It's that time of year again -- time for a mammogram. The technology has really improved -- digital cameras and no waiting around to see if they got a good picture -- plus the new machines don't have to squeeze so hard to get a good image. No more of that tit in a wringer stuff. I was in and out in less than twenty minutes -- time well spent when you consider how prevalent breast cancer is and how very curable it is with early detection.

There's no history of breast cancer in my family, but I trot along every year for my mammogram, just as I do for my pap smear and ovarian ultrasound (there is a history there, as my mother died of ovarian cancer). And now that I'm in my sixties, there's the colonoscopy every few years. All of these are tedious in their way but how lucky we are to have these early detection systems. Expensive, for sure, but late stage cancer's even more so.

And the really great thing, for me at least, is that, having had the mammogram or pap smear or whichever, now I feel like I've done what I can do -- and for the rest of the year, I pretty put these particular worries out of my mind.

Note: Spell check suggests substituting the words cloudscape or kaleidoscope for colonoscopy. Wouldn't that be nice?
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Sunday, July 20, 2008

High Summer

Not what some of you might be thinking -- no Cheech and Chong goings on here. I'm talking about the height of the summer with sunflowers and garden produce and blackberries. Fleas and flies too, more's the pity. Hot, of course, and dry. So I try to get my watering and necessary garden work done before noon, then it's back to Miss Birdie's book and trying to find places to incorporate some of the thought and images of this time of year.

The rows of corn have a rhythm of their own, like soldiers marching. I imagine a swishing, rustling sort of tune and two bare-footed little girls playing hide and seek in the green maze.

The wide brown band on the woolly bear caterpillar -- the first I've seen this year -- promises a mild winter. (Good news with heating prices rising. We heat with wood and have a kerosene backup -- which we'll be using less and less, I have a feeling.) Of course, there's no scientific evidence to support this old wives' tale, but that doesn't mean Miss Birdie doesn't believe it.

So, along with the cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, and squash I picked this morning, I also harvested some ideas. I'll work them up, just like I do the beans and tomatoes and get them into a form that will keep --adding texture and depth to Birdie's book.

P.S. We're keeping two extra dogs for the weekend while my younger son and his girlfriend join her family at the beach. Ali Ali has made himself at home in my work room and though I'm pretty sure he's the cutest dog I've ever seen, I'm going on record here in this public forum to say that probably eight dogs in our house is too many. They're all well-behaved - it's just that they just don't leave much floor space.
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