This has been a very frustrating year in the gardening department. *We spent several hundred dollars (and several weekends) getting the irrigation set to the garden beds. And several hundred dollars on great earth and heirloom seeds and plants. And then, several hundred dollars on water.
This year, we’ve produced two squash, a couple dozen tomatoes and a dozen peppers. Total. The birds have eaten another two dozen tomatoes. And we’ve lost some of everything to the sun.
We are currently in the middle of a crazy heatwave, even for Arizona. It has been 115+ for the last few days. My green, leafy garden looks like someone took a blow torch to it. The leaves are singed along the edges, if not entirely dead. We do have gourds going nuts, vining all over the yard. And the herbs, happily potted in the shade, are also doing well in the heat as of today.
But man, the first year of a new garden is rough. It is a lot of work for future bounty. I need a good attitude to keep everyone else in the house who is waiting on the bounty interested, instead of wondering where all of our time and money went.
Our fall garden? It will be great. We’ll pull everything out in late-August, mix in new soil amendments and start over. I’m half-tempted to pull the remaining tomatoes now and plant pumpkin seeds for autumn. We are trying something new: starting tomato starts from cuttings. I’m going to do the same with both types of basil we are growing as well. There is a chance we’ll be able to keep our favorite tomato plants from this year alive indoors until mid-October and then transplant. Because if it is 118 in June, it better not freeze come January. That’s the deal I’m making with Mama Nature.
Gardening is a long-term hobby. Some years you fall flat. Or burnt.
*and by “We” I firmly mean “Jason.”
I working on novel 3: “Counting Coup.” It is in the bare bones beginning stages, where I am throwing a bunch of ideas and characters down on the page and seeing what works. I’m about 15,000 words into this story — part of which is set on a farm in Nebraska in the 1950s and the other side, set in modern day Phoenix.
One of the characters has dementia. I’ve been struggling with how to get the details right about her care and her symptoms without barraging the reader with information that reads like a medical journal entry. Books that accidentally teach me something are my favorite. (A recent example is “All the Light We Cannot See,” and the creation and engineering of radios.)
Writing about dementia that lets the reader experience it emotionally, but doesn’t hit them over the head with sentimentality, is tricky.
This week my boss asked me to attend a health care conference in town. She was presenting and wasn’t able to attend several sessions of interest herself. Imagine my delight when I got the course material and realized one of those sessions was with an expert in dementia behaviors and treatment. Seriously. I took five handwritten pages of notes, was able to ask questions and got the details and nuance I needed to better develop this character.
When the universe aligns in this way, I feel like my friends Creativity and Inspiration are sitting on either side of me, paving the path to something great. I skipped out of there with new motivation to get back to writing and feeling very lucky. Speaking of — time to get back to it.
More than a year ago, I sent my second novel, “Basket Baby” off to a small publishing house in Montana. A friend of mine had success in publishing with them, and spoke highly of their work. She said she’d put in a good word.
They read the first few chapters, requested the rest of the novel, and returned it with detailed editing and a note that said, “This may or may not be for us. There are a lot of cliches.” (I’m paraphrasing, but the word cliche was definitely used.)
I made their changes, page by page. And I workshopped the novel with a group of people I trust. I watched common errors fall away — word echos that are hard to catch in your own work, for example. I noticed that my dialog skills were strengthened by reminding the reader who is speaking, even if it is just two people and it is wildly clear to you, the writer. My character descriptions became more consistent and true.
These are a few of many areas I worked through before sending “Basket Baby” back to the original publisher. A month later, I got the news: they had decided to publish the book. The edits were good, and I’ve been assigned another editor to work with during the next 60 days to make the story ready for print. I’m working with another staff member on designing a book cover. “Basket Baby” will be on store shelves December 6, 2016.
I mean… I’ve been talking about this day for decades. This novel, like the first, took years to see the light of day. And then took increasingly thick skin to make something worth sharing publicly. I’ve called myself a novelist since I self-published “Under the Same Moon” in 2010. Today, it feels real. And, it feels absolutely marvelous!
Thank you for hanging around here all these years to see this dream to fruition. I’ll be sharing book signing dates as they are scheduled and hope to see as many of you as possible.
My friend Lisa once hosted me at her home in Indianapolis. She and her partner Dan are two of the most gracious people I know. Also, Lisa happens to be a total fitness nut and hilarious. I love the bits of time I get to spend with her when she’s in Arizona, and hope to travel to Indiana again to see them.
Her 50th birthday was a few months ago and of course I didn’t get anything in the mail to her her in time. So, I asked her if I could make a log cabin pillow to match one of the colorful rooms in their home. She sent me photos of the Cuba room, and this is what eventually arrived as a belated gift:
Have I mentioned lately how much I love Indiana?
I asked Finny a while back for her list of favorite books. I knew I wanted to make a book pillow for her. The package arrived today and she was happy, which in turn makes me happy. This was a fun project — challenging because I am fairly awful at embroidery. And yet, there is her smiley face!
I’ve talked about this before, but finding time to be creative is essential to my joy. And by “joy,” I mean “not screaming my head off and breaking things like the Hulk.” When life gets busy, especially at the end of the school year, the schedule leaves little space for new recipes — much less time to just sit in the garden and talk to the plants.
What? You don’t talk to your vegetables? You should.
I’m slowly and painfully learning to let go of the picture of what life should look like. Do you trip over this too? That all the beds should be made daily (Reality: once every 2-3 weeks when I get sheets changed), that the catch-all basket on the kitchen counter is organized and the mail and bills are caught up (Reality: more mail shows up daily), that I’ll get caught up at work (Reality: never. This is absolutely never going to happen), that I’ll feel like I’m getting enough exercise/sleep/sex and not worried about too many glasses of wine/calories/gray hair (Reality: are you kidding me?)
Letting the house remain dusty, the weeds grow one more day and junk mail unsorted gives me the time to sit down with a cup of coffee for a few minutes in the morning, cuddle the pups and knit a couple rows. Or embroider. Or practice the piano in the evenings. And making the time to do these things makes everyone in my family happier. I’m a resentful grouch if I spend all my time cleaning. This house is never, ever going to be wholly clean and organized. I’m working against two teenagers, three dogs, a bunny and the open, beautiful desert nearby — which is also REALLY dusty. And no one in this house needs to be nagged about being tidy. What we do need is to be regularly reminded we are loved.
There is no perfection. This life is messy and busy and absolutely wonderful as is, which I can see more clearly when I have time for the hobbies I love.
My friend Liseanne has a bounty of fruit trees and an incredibly generous heart. Whenever things come into bloom, she shares her harvest. Once upon a time, I had pounds and pounds of key limes that were transformed into pies and frozen juice. This week, it was plums. I took these (super tart) purple gems and turned them into a small batch of preserves.
I didn’t take a photo of the 5 half pint jars this made, but you can imagine. I added brown sugar and all spice to the Ball plum preserve recipe. We included a bit of this last night over pork chops and it was delicious — even the little one liked it. (Win!)
I am so thankful for this community of women in my life who share what they have, whether it be fruit or ideas or support.
My friend Ross, who runs a large homeless shelter in northern Arizona and is one of the most dynamic, loveliest human beings I’ve ever met, is pregnant with her second son. We were invited to go to Flagstaff last weekend to celebrate the addition to their family. Of course, with nothing else on my plate, I decided it made sense to make a quilt in a week so we could take it with us.
Let’s just say, it kept me busy for that week. And it came together well, and Ross was happy.
Giving gifts like this makes my whole self happy. And I cannot wait to meet this new babe.
Taking the bus means I’m walking more, and seeing things from a different perspective. I’ve rushed by this building a hundred times thinking it was neatly covered in road signs.
Walking, I see it is an homage to Arizona’s centennial: 1912-2012.
I am so glad to be in Arizona and working for my state. Politics aside, it is a great place to be.
Do you guys subscribe to Polka Dot Chair? I swear, Melissa’s sewing and quilting tutorials are some of the best I’ve read. Her ideas are fresh, she’s got a cute new line of fabric out, and I’m receiving nothing in return for this glowing review. It’s just honest.
She is creative and generous in sharing her ideas.
One of those recent ideas was a Mickey-themed earbud pouch. It shamefully took me way too many attempts to make this work. I didn’t follow her instructions, which was dumb. Mercifully this weekend, I had a bit of time to finish this and the corresponding tote bag for the Mickey fan in our house.
Another thing Melissa does well is emailing her subscribers. Her monthly quilt block project makes it more than worth it.