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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Beginning Color

Dying trees light the match—
bring first flame to wood.
Skeleton fingers rake the sky,
poking holes in somber grey.
Mostly though,
they bleed,
orange sifting to yellow—
You can almost hear
a stand-alone gasp
amid rags of faded green,
stronger trees pause—

then follow.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

A Side of Fried Potatoes

On the warm, lush, first morning of autumn, I drove past many walkers and joggersup and about for the health benefits, I suppose.  I however, was up and about for the hash browns.   Oh dear.  Did I say that out loud? Really, it was the change of scenery I was after, I swear.

Prior to summer schedule interruptions, Thursday was Library Day and last week, I finally plugged it back on the agenda, though, not without the same issue as before; I’m ready to go by 8:00 a.m. and the library doesn’t open until 10:00. Can you imagine? Those of you who have been reading Middle Passages for a while know most Thursdays mornings I’d go to the French Café in town for a cup of coffee while waiting. Sometimes I’d write as I sipped my brew, other times I’d write later about what I observed while sipping, but for some reason, this past Thursday, I wanted to experience something different.

It is easier to observe things when they feel new and fresh, I guess, and as it happens, in the resort town next to us, there is a coffee shop that I don’t get to very often. The sign on the back wall there says: “If you are in a hurry, you are in the wrong place.” My husband and daughter don’t like to go there on weekends, because you can wait a long time but a wait was what I was after last week, as it would give me plenty of time to pen observations into my notebook. The delay can also be worth it if you order their killer hash browns—though of course, that had no impact on my decision to visit. It was all about the writing exercise. Honest.

So, I rather than traveling my regular Thursday route, I drove over the causeway past my favorite two boats plus two walkers who didn’t even glance at them, over the town line to a seaside settlement that was built on the long flat peninsula cutting between Massachusetts Bay and Boston Harbor. The second you are over the line, the light brightens from the ambient shadows and colors wrought by thick woods, hills and winding roads and becomes clear and luminous on the flat, treeless streets lined with shingled cottages built between the ocean and the bay.

Jiggling over the rutted bumps that dapple these weathered streets, I arrived my at destination which sits at the bottom corner of a brick condominium building, positioned on land formerly occupied by an old amusement park. Across the street, a seasonally empty parking lot stretches to where a cement sea wall stands at attention and eyes a high-tide beach.

Inside the eatery, ten or so tables are surrounded by walls decked with kitschy signs like: “What if the Hokey Pokey really is what it is all about?” and “Be nice or leave.” A three-quarter wall blocks the view of the kitchen from the rest of the place and is stacked with antique toasters, old fashioned soda fountain equipment, and even a tall, red and green tin labeled “Premium Saltines,” exactly like the one my mother used when we were growing up.

I jotted all these images down in my blue notebook after ordering, until the man at the table next to me leaned over and asked me if I was writing a restaurant review. Not once, in all the months that I’ve been going to the French Café in my town, has anyone ever asked me what I was doing while I scribbled away. Smiling, I told him that I was simply entertaining myself while waiting for my breakfast, adding that restaurant critics usually “perform” in secret.

At his thoughtful nod, my food was delivered and I dug in.  Not that it matters a bit, but those hash browns were worth writing–well, I mean waiting for.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I'm in

The following blog post is a result of the Great Blogging Challenge issued by Elana JohnsonJennifer Daiker  and Alex Cavanaugh, in which participants were requested to discuss the topic: Writing Compelling Characters.  However, before we get to that, late in the game I found an opportunity to post a "gratitude post" facilitated by Jen at Denton Sanitorium.  This one is important to me, so, I'm including a link to a post I published a few weeks back and hope you will also read: At Long Last

Great Blogging Challenge

A few years ago, my then “tween” daughter started to watch “The Gilmore Girls,” a story about a single mom from a wealthy family raising her teenage daughter in rural CT. In those years, there wasn't much time for T.V., but when that show was on; I’d hear something intriguing, stop and sit down in front of the screen.  Before long, I gave up any pretence otherwise and planned my time to include each weekly episode.

After several years, the show went off the air, fading out with youngish single-mother Lorelei and her then adult daughter Rory sitting in the coffee shop they frequented, eating a last breakfast together before Rory moved away. For weeks after, I wondered what happened next. How did Lorelei adjust to life without her daughter Rory? Did she and Luke, the diner owner, get back together? Was Rory successful in her quest to become a journalist? Did crazy Kirk get any less crazy? I lay in bed at night making up stories that continued the lives of the characters I’d come to love. Intelligent characters. Funny characters. Sincere characters. Characters I believed in. Characters that compelled me to watch the show.

Now, that, of course, was TV. But I could give you thousands of examples of characters in books that hooked me the same way—two that captivated me early in life include Scarlett from Gone with the Wind; and Meggie from The Thornbirds.

I read both of those books as a teenager and sat bereft after finishing. In spite of the fact that she was selfish and spoiled, I rooted for Scarlett, because the author made me understand that she was insecure,  unaware of her faults and though no one but the reader knew it, deep down she hosted snippets of goodness. I was so vested in her as a character that over the years, when poor imitators wrote sequels to Gone with the Wind, I rushed to purchase them, just to realize some resolution to what happened between Scarlett and Rhett. Those sequels were not well written, but I was transported by Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel and therefore compelled to read them, because I had to know what happened next.

As for The Thorn Birds and Meggie—ah dear Meggie. I ached for her in that household of taciturn men, and longed to pummel her mother for her lack of compassion for her only girl. And yet, though Fiona Cleary’s aloof demeanor has such a harsh impact on Meggie, McCullough imparted enough detail about the woman's early life that as much as I wanted to slap her, I felt sympathy for her. As for Ralph, the priest, well, he should have let Meggie move on, but instead demonstrated his humanity as he was drawn back to her time and time again. The right thing would have been to stay away. The real thing, the thing that most of us would have done too,  meant coming back.

Through this believable writing, authors Margaret Mitchell and Colleen McCullough captivated me with their stories and ensured that I was emotionally attached to the players. More recently, via Harry Potter, JK Rowling mesmerized my entire family. We’ve read all the books—together out loud, or one after another. During a notable summer when our daughter was at camp, her dad read one copy at home while she brought one to New Hampshire—I wasn’t allowed to see the secret notes she enclosed to him in her letters until he finished and I could take my turn.

Rowling fashioned her characters so legitimately, that we had to read.  Harry, Ron and Hermine were charming, genuine, kind, imperfect—everything kids are in real life (well, except for the magic part). Sure they could perform spells, but similar to mere mortals children, they got in trouble.  They were chastised for  taming trolls; mistakenly took potions that transformed them into cats, and were always discovered somewhere in the castle they weren’t supposed to be.

As readers, we bought into their reality because its impact on them was plausible (Who has never experienced an after school detention after all?) and because they got into mischief as a result of admirable goals. Driven by loyalty to Professor Dumbledore, they acted out of passionate desire to defeat evil. Nothing about their circumstances is believable, yet we believe in the characters, because in their mission to defeat Voldemort, they are human and fallible like us.

Where, you might ask, is she going with all this?  Well, here's the thing. I’m not practiced at writing fiction. It’s new for me—something with which I’ve challenged myself over the last several months. So what I have to tell you may go against all professional advice, or sound as naïve as a four-year-old. But given the above examples, I’d say if you want your characters to compel your readers, you must make sure they:

  • are true to life
  • instill emotion in the reader
  • provoke sympathy or empathy
  • come with imperfections
  • act believability, even under unbelievable circumstances (i.e. Harry Potter)
  • leave the reader wanting more
If you can do this, sign me up. I’ll read your book any day.

What do you think it takes to write compelling characters?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What a Difference Some Days Can Make

Last week, you may recall that when I took that walk with my friends, for what ever reason, my mind wasn't in the game. So, the camera remained in the car and I trudged along through sun-filtered woods, to the boathouse and along the meandering river, mentally kicking myself for leaving it behind. Perhaps I exhausted myself with all that internal angst, which is why later I fell asleep. Whatever.

Anywhooo, it did occur to me during our trek, that I’ve taken quite a few pictures of the same areas over the last several months, and that perhaps a change of venue is in order. Even though it’s twenty minutes away and requires a bit of forethought, the North River, the scene of last week’s trudge, seems like it could be a nice place to greet the day.

Yesterday, I didn’t make it there by dawn, which is now a “stretch” goal for sometime over the next couple of weeks. At 7:15 though, I hopped into the car, realized I was almost out of gas, refilled, got stuck behind a school bus and then encountered a detour which added about five miles to the trip, before arriving at Norris Reservation somewhat disgruntled about two hours after sun up—which ended up being just fine.

Sometimes, autumn light can be forgiving

Mill Pond

Boat House

North River

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Beets, Books and "Bugs"

It is 8:30 Sunday evening, and I don’t have a Middle Passages post written for Monday. Twelve hours from now, I’ll be doing a quick volunteer stint at the senior breakfast before rolling into the cheese shop for an eight-hour gig. Me-thinks I should have thought of Middle Passages earlier today—considering the eyelids are already dropping. But I didn’t, and here I am.

So, this is what I’ll give to you:

Things learned over the weekend:

Ironing your pants (a novelty for me) before a busy Saturday in the cheese/gourmet food store, guarantees  you’ll spill an entire container of red and yellow beets, flavored with ginger and cilantro. The contents of said dish will  miss your full length apron,  land directly on the pants and splatter all over your most comfortable work shoes. The ceramic “Made in Italy” bowl they were in will smash—all this while you are trying to sell “truffle white beans” to the gaping customers standing in front of you.

Definition of a hollow victory: when you close the cover on the book recommended on a Boston Globe Columnist's “must read” list you’ve been struggling to finish for three weeks, and the only thing you can say besides “Thank God,” is: “I understand why he recommended it—the description is some of the best ever, but the story is horrible, horrible, horrible.”

Even though your house is in full-shade for most daylight hours this time of year, it’s important to remember that in less-treed areas, the sun still climbs warm and high. A sweatshirt-less trip around the harbor, and through September rollers in the twelve-foot dinghy is one of the best ways to celebrate the end of summer. Encountering your brother-in-law hauling traps and acquiescing to his offer of six lobsters in trade for a container of homemade bisque works well too. (The "bugs" are cooked and in my fridge.  Anybody have a good recipe?)

Pot roast tastes especially flavorful when you are craving it and arrive at the store to find it on sale. Sharing it with cousins who live next door, makes it even more delicious.

There you go. Wash me up and hang me out to dry. That’s all I’ve got for tonight.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Cookies Look Like Hell, but they Taste Okay

Here’s the deal. I could write about the morning walk I took with friends through the reservation; the way the river drifted like slow glass through motionless cattails until two kayakers (one with a dog no less), dimpled the water as they paddled by. I could tell you how we shivered in the 59 degree shade until we emerged in a clearing where a shingled boathouse rests in full sun—and that I would have ransomed my cat for a cup of coffee plus an hour stretched out on the built-in bench lining the rails. Instead we kept walking.

I could tell you about the boardwalk that meanders through the low areas in the woods and how it heaved and tilted like a drunk stumbling across the pond—we weaved and leaned as a result, and how, on the edge of the path, amid a rippling forest of green wetland foliage, one friend found a brilliant red blossom.

Next, I could describe the after-walk cup of coffee I finally drank in a small-town Starbucks wannabe, and how I thought the caffeine-buzz resurrected me. Through its electric-charge I drove home, and then remembered, backed out and visited two banks, the post office, and returned to our chilly house to write this post. With a comforter pulled over my shoulders and the computer on my lap, for the first time in the eighteen months since I’ve been pseudo “at home,” I fell dead-dog asleep—in the middle of the day. No kidding.  It's possible there were snores involved.

I could tell you all that, and I guess I just did. But I’ll add this. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon, after twiddling around reading blogs, organizing photographs, picking up the house and deciding that the only way the day would be salvaged was to bake chocolate chip cookies, that I came-to enough to produce this post—which distracted me.  Darn it all, I didn't put in enough flour. 

Some days are just like that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Winding Down

The tomato plants are turning yellow. We’ve reached mid September and the sun no longer climbs over the trees to warm the patio. Tiny orbs of fruit still ripen, but the vines slouch and hang with withered leaves. As I pluck the flesh from weary stems, squirrels stuff acorns into bulging faces in the yard behind me. The cicadas’ dentist-drill shrieks have faded to keening whispers. Holding a harvest of cherry tomatoes in the hem of my shirt, it occurs to me that I’ve been busy for the last few weeks and almost forgot to notice that we are in transition.

A month ago, the mid-afternoon sun poured over the top of the house and streamed into the back windows, producing sweat on my upper lip. Most times, the thermometer out back recorded temps over 90. Today I park myself at the computer in blue jeans and a sweatshirt. The house sits chilly in the shade, and when I walk outside to pick the tomatoes, I take a startled breath at air that feels warm.

For a moment, I sit on the back steps in the one sunny spot filtering through the shadows cast by waving oak leaves. In a few weeks, we’ll be stacking wood. The sun will set earlier.  We’ll light a fire, simmer soup on the stove, bake something apple in the oven. Trees will bleed the reds and oranges hard frosts cut into them; flannel shirts will brush soft against our skin.

There is so much to look forward to about autumn. But for the next few days, I’m going to focus on now—how the sedum blushes pink in the top garden while Black-eyed Susans brighten the ledge below, and especially, on a lingering shawl of warmth that wraps itself around my shoulders as the departing fingers of summer lift on a freshening breeze.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Which Way is Up?

Thank you to Bridget at J.B. Chicoine Unsupervised and at Large, whose email comment initiated a train of thought resulting in this post.

In my years of employment at a corporate headquarters, I was never a fan of “office-speak,” those clichéd phrases that percolate through the ranks. Lines such as:” There’s not enough band width on this one” made me cringe. After too much, “thinking outside the box” I longed to throw the container away, and when asked to “pick the low-hanging fruit,” I sighed. We weren’t “employees;” we were “associates,” which, I guess, is better then what Disney refers to as: “cast members” but still, can’t we just call it what it is? Apparently not. Toward the end, I squirmed in my seat when someone on the other end of the phone line told me, “We decided to re-purpose the meeting.” Ugh.

Even before it became personal, I despised the term “downsize.” Then it happened to me; and horror of horrors, “outplacement” meetings became a tool toward my own “re-purposing” and I gritted my teeth when asked to produce an “elevator speech.” However, in the spirit of moving forward, I spent the first months refining my goals and paring them down into a statement that could be expressed during the length of a ride from the bottom floor to the top. “I am an HR professional with skills in communication, writing, staff development, budget management and talent acquisition” (the last one another expression that caused a shudder). Then I never used it.

Now as a self-employed freelance copywriter, I have another of elevator speech, though sometimes, it's a struggle to communicate those few critical phrases designed to elicit interest. This became clear Saturday. Over the potato bins at the grocery store, a former senior executive at my old employer who had retired before the large layoff that swept me away, greeted me. Once he determined I was no longer with our old firm, he asked what I am doing now, and I bobbled it.

For the record: the speech should go as follows: “I have my own freelance business writing firm. I work with individuals and small businesses and focus on resumes, marketing materials, print and web advertising, flyers and business letters.” Instead, I looked down, looked up, and stumbled through: “Well I’ve been doing my own thing, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’m copywriting. Resumes, marketing materials; here let me give you my card.” He smiled, pocketed it without looking at it and then moved on after wishing me well. It was evident that during that brief exchange, my plummeting elevator had jammed between floors.

Pushing my cart to the check-out, I mulled over the many things I could have told him. In the last eighteen months, I’ve developed my own copywriting business, created and written regularly in this blog, have been published in two print magazines and one on-line anthology. I volunteered weekly for the Council on Aging, took two courses, and successfully completed multiple freelance writing projects including business letters, fliers, resumes, Web language and email communications.

I work part-time job at a cheese and gourmet food shop and am beginning the process to sell my photographs, via 5”x7” note cards on the Web. Oh, and there is one more thing. I haven’t told many people this yet, and it may go no further than the bottom of the drawer in which it currently sits, but I’ve finished the first draft of a novel. (The catch here is if the book ever gets beyond its current stage, it will need an elevator speech too.)

I know—even if I were riding to the top of a fifty-floor tower, this recitation would be way too long, but packing up my purchases and pondering it, I smiled in relief. The art of pushing elevator buttons may be beyond me, but at least I can say that I’ve climbed a few flights of stairs.

What is your least favorite office-speak phrase?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Small Town, Big Happenings

The number of times mail has appeared in the business-related post office box I’ve rented for the last few months could be counted on two hands, not including pinkies or thumbs. So let me tell you what a charge it is when I stop by and the clerk remembers that my 60-year-old-box opens only one out of the, say, fifteen times I spin the combination. He hands me my mail (mostly junk; today a delivery confirmation) before I can even ask.

I was a teenager once, so I understand why my daughter and her friends moan about our tiny town while muttering under their breaths how they can’t wait to leave. I on the other hand, love the place. Don’t get me wrong. It is small (her high school class has less than 90 kids) which presents limitations, and though the winding roads and ocean vistas are post-card beautiful, the area has issues and misery like any other.

But there is something about the clerk who knows me even though there’s rarely mail in my box—and a town common that hosts a weekly farmer’s market that welcomes not only the three farmers who attend, but also a jewelry maker, a cookie baker, a sirloin vendor and a Yoyo seller—to make you feel part of something pure, a throwback, if you will, to an less sophisticated time.

The 2:30 market kick-off is announced via a ringing cow bell, and other than the snaking string of humanity that waits for fresh-picked corn, the longest lines form in front of an ice cream truck and a hot dog stand. From the number of barefoot kids running across the grass, it’s clear that the Thursday afternoon market offers major entertainment for the toddler set and an engaging distraction for young moms who spread blankets on the grass and nurse their infants while listening to a middle-aged guitar player croon Jimmy Buffet, the Bee Gees and Neil Young. Older kids romp in the safe area between the Unitarian Church and Meeting House Pond, skipping back once in a while to beg mom for a pony ride or a painted tattoo.

In the corner, bushel baskets tumble with plump green beans and the first tart apples of the season. Piles of smooth yellow squash and shiny zucchini sit next to stacks of fresh corn, where silk hangs like floss from unmarked ears. All around, vendors and customers chat with each other. The crowd sifts and changes as people walk by gripping cloth bags heavy with tomatoes, topped with fat bouquets of bobbing sunflowers. Visitors peruse the booths until the weight of their purchases sounds the supper bell. By 6:00, it’s all over.

The last of the stragglers return home for supper, stakes holding up the white peaked tents are yanked from the ground, and this new vendor, hosting a table for a one time market test, takes a deep cleansing breath, aware that over the course of the afternoon, a kind of soft wind blew through, pushing out all that is stale and musty and leaving the air untainted and fresh.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Last First

I admit to being a sentimental mush-bag, so even though it was the thirteenth time I waved my daughter off on her first day of school, a lump formed, the eyes filled up, and I turned away so the high school senior didn’t tease with a smiling “Maaa-uuum, you’re such a looooser” before pulling out of the driveway.

Then, I stepped inside the house mulling a thirteen-year-old memory of a pre-kindergartener with a Dutch-boy haircut stepping on a practice bus on “Move up Day”—a recollection that was followed by an unfathomable image of next fall. Instead of waving her off to high school a mile away next September, we’ll be hauling trunks into some college dorm room, God knows where.

“It goes so fast” has a new reality for me today, though when she reads this (and she will) and laughs at me for being a sap; I’ll confess that this year is not markedly different from any other. On every first day of school I cried, because the day meant another milestone reached—another landmark in her life had passed. As a mother of an only child, I’ve never experienced the “here we go again” feeling that I imagine parents with more than one child go through. Once our girl moved on, that was it. There were no “do overs” and usually, after the fact, I’d wring my hands thinking, “What do you mean we’ll never be doing that again?”

These transitions have never become less surprising, which strikes me as strange, because I think I’ve been paying attention. Not once, in the seventeen years that she's been alive, have I taken her for granted. Something about the hard-earned victory that was her arrival, and that fact that she remained the sole star of the show, has made me grateful for every moment with her. Yet, no matter how clearly I focused, I can’t count the number of times I turned around to discover she’d suddenly moved on…from a toddler to a school girl, from a tween to teen, from a partner in the passenger seat, to an independent driver with her first summer job. Now she hovers on the brink of adulthood and I’m floored to contemplate what next year will bring.

Today I’ve stepped on a speeding train. The track is on a downhill slant. I’m tempted to reach out and pull the emergency cord but won’t because slamming on the breaks is dangerous. That said, will someone explain to me why as parents, we spend so much time grooming our children for the future, only to hold our palms up at its arrival and turn yearningly toward the past?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Looking Out

I wrote this post a year ago, but that was back before Middle Passages had readers.  Seems like a good time for a rerun.

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to live in a lighthouse? I’ve pondered that thought since discovering The Word from Old Scituate Light, a blog about a family who moved into the keeper’s cottage at the lighthouse one town over. I can hear the young daughter answering a friend's question: “Where do you live?” as, “Oh, down at the point.” “Which house?” “The one at the end; you know, the one with the tower attached?” I imagine her response to an English composition assignment: "What makes you special?" as something like, “I may be an regular kid, but there aren't too many people who live in a house like mine.”

Other than a power-walk past it with a friend this summer, I hadn’t visited the lighthouse or the jetty lately. So yesterday, after lunch at our one of our favorite home cooking spots, in acknowledgement of the last day before school begins, my daughter and I drove the winding lane around the harbor to the lighthouse. Years ago my husband and I climbed the stone tower itself during an open house. Recalling that, I pictured iron steps leading up to a little girl’s circular bedroom, which of course is not the case; the house is attached to the tower, not a part of it.

Finished in weathered grey shingles, bordered by a rock-lined garden blooming with fall mums, the keeper’s cottage stands New England stark and plain. Without the white tower stuck to its side, it would resemble a modest home like any other. Only, to the left the teal blue Atlantic somersaults, and out front and to the right, granite jetties point like fingers to the channels and moorings of Scituate Harbor.

Wandering the public area, with ankles that gave as I picked my way over the sloping sea rock lawn, I mulled what it would be like to wake at dawn, surrounded by water on three sides as the fiery sun heaves itself over the horizon shelf, or, during the adventure of a fierce Nor’easter. I can hear the wind moaning and whistling around corners, the clank of the halyard on the flag pole out back barely audible over the crash of water hitting the jetty.

We’ve visited the lighthouse after storms, when rocks and seaweed litter the parking lot behind it. The jetty and tower likely protect the keeper's quarters from the open sea, but there’d be little sleep during the relentless tossing and turning of an angry winter night. Storms are only part of the story though. Someday, the little girl that lives in the house will be my age. Perhaps she’ll live in Iowa, or Kansas, surrounded by children who have never seen the ocean.

Taking a deep breath, she’ll describe the rumble of lobster boats departing at sunup and the shriek of seagulls hanging suspended as they beat their wings against a strong east wind. Closing her eyes, once again she'll listen to rocks that clatter and tumble as the green sea recedes, and have to yell to be understood over the boom of the waves. Her nose will wrinkle at the briny smell of seaweed at low tide.

She'll witness the color of the sun, setting pink below the blackened outlines of the town across the harbor; the utter darkness at night as she peers out toward the sea.

What types of buildings or places inspire you?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Haiku for the Season

Stephanie Thornton over at Hatshepsut, the Writing of a Novel  is sponsoring a haiku blogfest this weekend. Since these 5-7-5 verses are usually nature related, it seemed timely to participate. Herewith please find my entry:

Trees sway, bend and crack
Shattered by hurricane winds
Dawn delivers calm

Head on over to Stephanie's blog to find links for more.

6:40 a.m. update.  I wrote that haiku last night in anticipation.  Dawn has indeed deposited calm.  As for Earl, well, he delivered a great big nothing—all hype and no substance, that guy.  It rained overnight and perhaps one gust of wind blew.  Period.  Earl's impact on us didn't even merit "wimp" status.  I'd go for "blip."

Thank you all for your kind thoughts and prayers. They worked!  Here's wishing you all a wonderful long-weekend.  Enjoy your last blast of summer. 

We are off to drag the tomato plants out of the garage.

Oh man, and I guess I have fake hurricane on the brain, because I forgot to mention KarenG's BBQ blogfest, which is being held over the Labor Day weekend.  Click on the link: Coming Down the Mountain... to find those in attendance.  I've had some fun reading so far!

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Waiting Game

Every once in a while, we participate in Phase I of "the drill:"

Extra batteries? Check
Flashlights? Check
Candles? Check
Gas in the car? Check
Bottled water? Check
Patio furniture stored? Check
Hanging plants pulled down? Check
Munchies for a long afternoon? Check

However, at this moment, Hurricane Earl threatens and we've moved to Phase II, which we haven't had to implement in the eighteen years we’ve lived in this house:

Canned food? Check
Propane in the grill? Check
Bottled water? Check
Sails pulled off the boat? Check
Dinghy yanked from the dock in the harbor? Check
Generator tested? Check

It's been a long time between blows.  Hurricane Bob, the last hurricane that hit us, roared to shore in 1991. Unlike folks down south, we don't see hurricanes that often.  They usually peter out to wimpy tropical storm status before they reach us.  So Bob was only the second hurricane either my husband or I remember. The afternoon it landed, the view from the front windows of our old house reminded me of the Wizard of Oz after Dorothy is sucked up by the tornado.  Sitting on her bed, she watches cows, chickens, and the Wicked Witch blow by.

In this case, there was no Margaret Hamilton. Instead, we gazed fascinated as most of the branches that dropped southeast of us soared past our front yard—until a big one slammed into the window, ripping a hole in the screen. Looking at each other with “Duh, yea, this is dangerous” expressions, we stepped back, grateful the glass hadn’t shattered.

Meanwhile, the wind continued to carry debris across our front lawn to the lip of the retaining wall beside our driveway, where it dropped the collection. As the eye of the storm passed over us,  the sun came out and we took a brief step outside to find our entire driveway piled with branches. It took a chainsaw and countless trips with a borrowed pick-up truck to clean up the debris. And power? Several days passed before we experienced that luxury again.  Let's be clear though.  Compared to what others went through, the impact on us was tiresome but inconsequential.  Still, I'd rather skip a repeat.

Our current home is perched in a hollow, surrounded by leggy pines and a huge umbrella oak right off the back of the house.  I’m trying not to contemplate our five picture-windows that enhance the woodland view. For eighteen years I’ve said, “I don’t want to go through e a hurricane here.” At this moment, it is possible that we may. As I write (I’m pre-posting this) Earl has been downgraded to a Category three hurricane which looks to make landfall on Cape Cod, about 40 miles to our south. We are within the edge of the predicted storm zone, and are under a official hurricane watch.  The weather folks give themselves a 100 mile accuracy swing, so I guess you could say I'm a tad concerned.

I'm not the only one.  It is screaming hot here, but even at the beach there is an uneasy quiet.  Pick up trucks with boat trailers move purposefully toward the harbor.  Over the last few days, the air has been dead calm, but now, a steady off shore breeze makes it hotter.  In spite of the wind, the day feels like a held breath, a water balloon about to burst, and what does a girl do with all that anticipation?  She goes to the sea to check out the waves...which are non-existent.  Just how I wish this storm would be.

10:00 a.m. update.  Earl is down to Catagory One.  Our town is about five miles south of where the hurricane warning line ends...so fingers crossed that by tonight, we creep into the "tropical storm" zone.  A FB comment from Virginia Beach described Earl as "One big sissy."  I'll take it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Post Called on Account of...Sunset?

I cannot tell a lie.  A draft of what was to be today's post is saved on the laptop, and gosh, I almost finished it.  Honest.  But here's the thing.  Hurrican Earl is threatening; we may or may not be in for a bad blow by the end of this week and sunsets preceding a storm are often spectacular.  So rather than writing, it seemed prudent to grab the camera and drive one town over to the bay where there are clear west views.  When a thundering pack of Harley riders stopped beside us and took out their camera phones, we figured we'd made the right decision. 

It didn't hurt that there was ice cream involved too. 

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