Monday, September 12, 2011

Circles and Cycles

I rarely share my thoughts on religion, never openly, and won't be sharing any conclusions I've drawn from years of  research on the subject, here on my blog or anywhere else. Only a few close friends and family members, up until this point, are even aware that I struggle with my beliefs, but what I have decided I believe or have accepted that I don't believe is more personal to me than any other aspect of my life.

In my search for truths, however, one thing I've learned, that I believe is fundamental to human existence, is the factual scientific basis for the belief in cycles and the need to celebrate them.  They are all around us in everything we do.

The cycles of the seasons never fail to surprise me.  Having been reared in an area of the world where seasons are either non-existent or barely discernible, I now find myself noticing every little change in the weather and my surroundings.  There are signs all around that signal the changing of the seasons and even the shifts in the weather from one part of a season to the next are becoming more familiar to me after ten years of living in the mountains.  It's amusing, however, that the changes are always surprising, and if too extreme, viewed as an inconvenience rather than a thing to be celebrated.  The first drop in temperature late in the summer that doesn't burn off by mid-morning is almost taken as an insult.  When the leaves begin to change we are more accepting of the temperature difference, as if the chill in the air is justified and we can hold our tongues and let Mother Nature do her thing as long as we are rewarded with a showy display.

We like the autumn colors, the smell of wood fires that lingers in the air, fall decorations, and the promise of Thanksgiving Dinner at the end of the season, but if Old Man Winter rears his ugly head a little earlier than expected we gripe and groan some more as if it's a mistake when an ice storm hits before the month of December has arrived.  Then if we don't get the picture perfect white Christmas we have always dreamed of, we are done with winter and whine until the tulips and daffodils begin popping up through the soil.

I am reminded of this and our reaction of shock when we step onto our sidewalks and driveways in fall to find a sheet of ice covering the pavement when I think of an incident that occurred a few autumns ago.  We had driven down into the foothills for the day to a little town in Georgia.  It was only early October, but there were snow flurries in the forecast for that night.  We had been listening to the radio so we were aware of this fact, of course, but that didn't mean that all of nature had any inkling that foul weather was on its way.  The roads were fine where we needed to cross Georgia's highest point, but when we climbed further north into the area that would lead us home the snow started.  With no warning, some of the biggest flakes I'd ever seen came drifting out of the sky.  We still had miles of winding, mountainous road to maneuver before we could turn onto the road that leads into our cove, so I was keeping just as close an eye on the asphalt ahead of us as my husband, who was driving.  The boys had fallen asleep, so it was just the two of us staring in awe at such an early display of winter weather when all of a sudden what seemed to be a large oak leaf fluttered toward us in what felt like slow motion.  Just as I was taking this in, it came closer and closer to our windshield until, "Splat!", it hit the glass in front of us.  It wasn't a leaf at all but a disoriented bat.  From what we could guess, the poor thing must have been so surprised by the sudden shower of large flakes that it lost its ability to navigate.  Unfortunately, though we were the only ones on the road that night, this happened just as our van came tooling through its flight path.

I feel similarly disoriented when, on a warm spring or early summer day the temperature rises to an uncomfortable level along with an increase in humidity.   Why are we so surprised when the changing seasons bring the weather we should be expecting?  The funny thing is that when we complain about it, as if there is somebody to blame, we act as if someone somewhere has made a mistake.  We live and die by the calendar, yet are always shocked when it does what it told us months in advance it was going to do.

Another circle that interests me is the circle of female family members.  I have always been amazed by it, but have never felt it in my own life but for fleeting moments.  The fact that whole generations of women can cleave to each other and feel a sisterhood among them is an amazing thing that I envy.  I've always wanted it.  I've needed it my whole life and I have indeed been there, I have experienced existing in this circle, but the members have been like sandpaper or thorny bushes to each other.  "Come close, but don't get too close."  "This is our circle, but don't get too comfortable here, we won't tolerate such signs of weakness."  I have seen other circles of women from the outside and have never failed to be envious while wondering what it is that keeps them bonded and easily existing within their circle.

Only a few days ago, however,  I found myself inside this circle, one that was formed by women I barely know.  It wasn't my mother and sister and other female family members that made up the ring and it has haunted me ever since for that reason.  I found myself within a literal circle of women.  We were giving and taking, sharing, laughing, RELATING in a way I've never experienced.  It was silly and fun, a meeting of moms who homeschool their children.  Of course we had things in common, but after I left I realized why it seemed so out of the ordinary and almost magical.  For a little while we were each others' mothers and sisters, treating each other the way we would like to be treated in a circle made up of those members.  It may not ever be an experience such as this again, our meetings.  In fact, I've never known a group of women to get along together for more than a few months, but that doesn't mean it can't happen.  For the first time in my life I'm believing that it is possible.  But really, I don't mind if it never goes off so beautifully again.  The fact that the carefree evening left such a similar impression on all of us says something about the cycles and circles of life.  I can't help thinking that that night of sharing and giggling was something all of us craved more than we could have begun to express and it amazes me that we all could have needed it at the same time.  There is an unseen hand in everything, one that touches the leaves of summer with an imaginary paintbrush and one that warms hearts that are brought together.  For me, there is no denying it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sometimes life gives you a pile of crap. Sometimes you can't find one no matter how hard you look.

Week 5, 6 or 7 (it's all such a blur I've lost track) of searching for our septic tank has every muscle, bone, knuckle, and joint in my body aching.  My husband and I feel like Indiana Jones in the Raiders of the Lost Ark when Marian is asking him where it doesn't hurt.  We don't even bother with that goodnight kiss anymore.

Even hiring a plumber to find it by flushing a camera down both toilets and searching for an attached GPS signal was a bust and we only took that route after probing and digging for the tank for weeks.  His best guess was that it was 6' below one our back patios. could be under our carport.  The master bath is on the roof of the carport so if we have to tear up the concrete below, what's going to happen to the roof and bathroom?

I'm tired of looking for it, researching septic tanks, thinking about it, and having nightmares about the stupid thing.  I've spent what should have been a fun weekend to make up for the time we spent looking for it Labor Day weekend before a series of storms hit, breaking up parts of our concrete patio and digging dirt out from under other parts of various slabs which make up the "patio".  I've always wondered why such a series of different levels of sections of concrete had been poured in different places behind our old farmhouse.  It's a neat little cottage that has been added on to so much over the years that I got lost the first few days inside.  Workers who come to make repairs always get turned around when they are inside.  The outside has more sidewalks, and patios with poured concrete than I'd ever expected to see surrounding a farmhouse in the mountains but shows that the majority of the additions and renos. had been done in the 60s when such modern amenities were popular.

Last week, when we decided to inspect the patio and carport more thoroughly to pinpoint the location that the plumber could only estimate, we beat ourselves up rearranging items that we keep stored in the back of the carport in built-in rooms, and digging and prodding all over the yard again.  We were just beat and had promised our boys that since we couldn't camp with the storms in the forecast that we would have a movie marathon, as well as roast marshmallows and hot dogs over our patio fire.  Before we gave up the septic tank search for the weekend and as we were heading in for the evening, a beautiful breeze came across the little farm from over the mountain that rims the little cove we live in.  I talked my husband into sitting for a minute on the patio to enjoy it.  Neither of us slow down much during the day and we never, ever just sit together.  But when we did, all we could do was brainstorm about the stupid tank.  He was telling me again where the plumber thought it might be, and I told him that there was broken up concrete at the edge of the patio where it met the back wall of the carport, that we could possibly excavate that area a little.  Then I remembered that there is a big hole there as welll that was filled with dirt and was always a problem for me because it has to be frequently swept and the area around it cleaned off.  It occurred to me that it may have been broken for a reason.  I slumped out of my chair, grabbed a hand trowel and got on my knees to investigate.  Sure enough, it was a jack hammered hole about 8" wide by a foot and a half long.  The jack hammered hole lead along the edge to a crawl space door in the side of the house that I could never get open because the vinyl siding had been installed over the edge of the door.  While I dug, he worked on getting that door open.  The door exposed the waste water pipe that led from the house.  We rigged lights and kept working, figuring that the more work we did that day, the more time we would be able to devote to the kids the other two days of the Labor Day weekend just hanging around together.  We didn't find anything, but knew someone had been chiseling at the patio for probably the same reason we were inspecting that location, so we felt positive that we were finally looking in the right place.

The week passed and Saturday morning we continued our search.  I was able to trace the sewer pipe to under one other section of patio above the one we were digging in.  It was obvious someone in the past had removed cinder blocks that makes an end edge to that slab, they had been patched in place so shoddily.  I took a sledge hammer to them, figuring that even if I didn't find anything useful, they needed to be replaced anyway.  Mint grows rampant through the cracks in these sections of slab which drives me nuts.  I love the mint, don't like all of the leaves they drop in this area or stepping over it when I step down from one slab to the other.  One of my planned projects for the fall was to patch it anyway, now I could do it right.  Well, the blocks came off so easily that, as I'd suspected, they had to have been pulled down at some point.  When I was able to dig out the dirt, which was much looser than it would have been if it had been untouched for fifty years, the time period we were told that the additions on the house had been made, I found where the pipe left the house and dug all afternoon until I could trace where it bent and turned to flow out away from the house.  It led to right underneath where I was sitting on the suspicious slab with the jack hammered hole.

My husband in the meantime had dug through the jack hammered hole until our post hole digger could no longer be used.  The hole was at least 6' deep and nothing was found.  He gave up and probed around the yard while I broke up an odd 1' X 3' section of concrete to see what was under that, hoping it was a septic tank lid.  Dirt.

It was getting late and we were supposed to camp in the yard and roast a chicken over the fire since we hadn't been able to for Labor Day weekend.  Hubby went to set up a tent and gather our firewood while I sat on the patio to think.  It suddenly occurred to me that if there was a tank under the patio, even though we had dug straight down and hadn't found it, that maybe who ever had jack hammered the hole had simply quit when they didn't find anything, maybe the tank was under the patio but far under the lip of concrete we had been digging in and the previous owner hadn't jack hammered far enough out into the slab of concrete.  I got onto my aching knees again and started to dig under the section of concrete I was sitting on rather than straight down.  I was able to get about 6" of soil removed, then decided to probe back underneath the slab to see if I ran into something.  Bingo.  At all different heights and levels I consistently ran into something solid, what we have been looking for for weeks.  Content with what I'd found, I gave up to go start the fire.

Tents were a mess, parts missing, I don't even want to talk about that it's so irritating to me, I got the fire going good and hot around 8pm. The four of us sat around it looking at each other, my husband and I literally in pain, he with an ice pack on his back where he'd wrenched it getting the tents out of the attic not long before.  After a short discussion on how late it was, how hungry we were, and how long the bird would take to cook, the boys headed into town to pick up fast food while I tended the fire.  Quality family time, sitting around the fire eating burgers and fries, tossing in our empty cartons and paper soda cups when we had finished.  Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

This morning I was up early after sleeping more hours in one night than I think I ever have before, and was all gung ho to get back at it.  I ended up watching 9-11 memorial coverage until noon.  I still had all afternoon and evening to tackle the patio and expose the side of the septic tank and my husband enough time to finish some contract proposals he needed to get done this weekend.

I made it hanging upside down over that stupid hole with my achy knees on that bare concrete, scraping my wrists, arms, and elbows on the edges of the broken concrete in the same irritated places I had the day before for all of 37 minutes. I realized after probing again several times and seeing that I have another 6" to go that it wouldn't accomplish much.  We talked and faced the truth that the only thing to do is rent a jackhammer to demolish the slab or hire someone to do it and that wasn't going to happen on a Sunday afternoon.  Done for the week.  Going to see what we accomplish before next weekend on this newest phase of our little project here.  Ah...blogging.  It soothes the soul.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Food Storage Debate. Maybe it's just all in my head.

I am not one of those people who believes everything they read.  I do, however, pay attention to things I read over and over again.  Two things I take seriously are aluminum in our bodies and the potential long-term effects of such toxicity, and plastic materials and the chemicals they are made from leaching into our food from food storage containers.

I once gave away an entire set of Calphalon pots and pans.  You know, the ones that line the shelves of high-end cooking equipment shops with the anodized aluminum sides and base that seem as if they could stop a round from an UZI?  I did.  It was because of all of the hype surrounding the connection between Alzheimer's and higher than normal concentrations of aluminum in individuals who suffer from the disease.

Around the same time, my friends and neighbors began selling Pampered Chef cooking equipment.  I attended more of those home sale parties than I could count and went into the whole thing very wary, suspecting a lot of high-priced, low-quality gadgets that I'd never need or want.  What I found was an entire line of baking stones in all sizes and shapes which meant I never had to bake in those cheap, flimsy aluminum baking sheets and pans again.  My stainless steel pots and pans have always been my primary source of stove top cooking equipment and once my godmother's set of cast iron skillets found a home in our little farmhouse, I never even missed the Calphalon.

The Alzheimer's debate has gone back and forth over the years since I parted with my snazzy set of cooking equipment, but I have stuck to my guns and decided that I'd rather just not take the chance of using aluminum to cook my family's food in day after day.  It seems to me that heat would break down the metal and allow it to leach into our food, the same way we can receive the benefit of adding iron to food cooked in cast iron cookware.  After watching my grandmother deal with the disease, I was even more adamant about keeping aluminum away from the food we eat.  There are those little unavoidable problems, like soda in cans, the enormous sheet of foil I use every year to tent our Thanksgiving turkey, meat bought in bulk that needs to be portioned and wrapped before freezing.

We don't drink soda from cans very often, but I have always had trouble trying to find a way around the foil issue.  It is real.  It does break down during cooking.  At the last Italian restaurant I worked in the chef would reheat foil-wrapped baked lasagna and leave the foil on the pan all through service while it was kept warm in the steam table.  Where the aluminum would rest against the acidic surface of the lasagna, it would break down into a silvery-gray metallic residue which would sit on the surface.  I would have preferred not to serve it that way, but we were told that it was just fine and to scrape it off.  The sheet of foil would be holey in the areas that had been in prolonged contact with the sauce during baking and cooling and reheating and the holding time.  The foil so obviously was breaking down before my eyes.  At that point I decided that the only time I would cook with aluminum foil was in roasting that annual bird for the holidays and maybe when coal-baking potatoes for special occasions.

But what about wrapping leftovers in foil and storing food wrapped in aluminum in the freezer?  I don't know.  Maybe someone could let me know if they have the answer to that.  I'd rather be safe than sorry.  Alzheimer's is a sorry condition!  Having said that, however, it's only fair to mention a valid point I saw while researching this issue.  Just because Alzheimer's patients have higher levels of aluminum in their bodies doesn't mean the aluminum came first and the disease followed as a result.  The author of the article pointed out that Alzheimer's patients, as well as individuals who are ill with other afflictions, can't process out toxins the way healthy individuals can.  Metals can settle within our tissues and organs but can also be chelated out of our bodies through various natural processes.  The bodies of sick individuals may not be able to do this efficiently enough.  So maybe the Alzheimer's causes the increase in aluminum in the body, not the other way around.  It's possible I guess, but I still don't want to take any chances.

If I don't have foil to freeze my food in, I have to use plastic.  And liquids such as stocks and soups can't be stored in foil anyway.  I have made a habit over the years (because I'm such a cheapskate) of saving commercial packaging such as yogurt and sour cream containers to reuse as freezer containers.  I would like to think that I have helped the Earth tremendously by doing this my entire adult life.  But I may have been hurting my family at the same time.  What's wrong with plastic?  It's everywhere.  Well, for one thing, microwaving plastic, I have read at several different times, is believed to cause it to release a synthetic female hormone.  Take a look at this site sponsored by Cornell University and see how you feel about such a scary possibility, Breast Cancer and the Estrogen Connection.  I first became aware of this issue when my older son was a baby.  I made sure from the start to never microwave his food in plastic containers.  Can you imagine giving your son synthetic female hormones on a regular basis?!

Well then the whole sports bottle and bottled water plastic danger hit the news and for the same reason.  Only now they were telling us the toxins could leach into our food and beverages without being microwaved.  What are we to do?  How did our great grandmothers do it?  Food was dried, smoked, pickled, and fermented.  That's how they preserved their food.  Unfortunately, those methods aren't very good at preserving the nutritional value of food.  Thank goodness we have the modern convenience of refrigeration and the option to freeze our leftovers and bulk foods.  But we are left without a safe container to hold them.  I recently read that one of the best ways to reap the potentially harmful properties of plastic coming in contact with food is to reuse those store containers by freezing food in them.  The freezing and warming process breaks down the plastic faster.  I imagine dish washing in a machine helps it along even more rapidly, as does filling them with hot liquid before freezing.

So what are we to do?  Obviously those matching sets of molded plastic storage containers are thicker than the reused dairy tubs, but I can't see that they would break down much slower.  I have messed around with waxed paper to see if I could prevent freezer burn by wrapping my vegetables and meats in it before wrapping the bundle in foil, with the idea that the paper would keep the foil from coming into contact with the food itself and it worked, but then I was faced with the problem of wax on the waxed paper which I'm sure is paraffin which is also being demonized right now...SIGH...What about good old butcher paper?  Sounds like a great idea to me but I still have no idea what to do with the gallons of stock I make quite frequently.

For a Christmas gift this last year, I was given a set of those matching plastic storage containers in a color that also went with my kitchen's decor.  About two days later I noticed that a large section of script on the box claimed that the plastic used to make the containers was BPA free.  I guess that's a solution.  But are they really safe?  I'm going to keep using them as I'm all out of other options until they tell me they will kill me too. As my sister likes to say, "You just watch...sunscreen will end up causing skin cancer."  She's probably right. 


Suggested Reading:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Home school flack...

It seems there will always be someone to offend and I will always find a way to offend them.  My husband and I crack up (after a significant period of time passes after each incident of course) because we are pretty quiet people who pretty much keep to ourselves yet always end up under attack.  He says it's typical bully behavior, I agree for the most part.  We are quiet, we are polite and for some reason this leaves us open for criticism.  I don't know, though, the more I listen the more I hear of similar things happening with everyone else around us too, so it's ridiculous to think this only happens to us.

I think the solution to the problem, however, is that more people should keep their opinions to themselves.  I was thinking of this today while I was making our final preparations to begin our school year, then a friend fell under criticism for her family's decision to school their children at home and I'm really just fed up with the whole thing.  Granted, I am speaking my mind on a public blog with provided space for comments, so any negative feedback I get is to be expected and the honest thing to do would be to accept it graciously.  Soap boxes can get pretty slippery, I know.

Personally, we decided to home school with no great convictions in either direction.  We aren't too opposed to sending our kids to school and have always left it up to them.  There were no religious reasons behind our decision to home school.  I grew up in private school which I never really liked.  I just didn't get it, why I had to sit there all day and then go home and do hours more of homework.  Home schooling would have been a dream come true.  My husband grew up in public school and couldn't find much he liked about it.

Before we had children we toyed with the idea of keeping our kids home.  I just couldn't see what was wrong with devoting my time to my kids and giving them the gift of the freedoms that home schooling could allow.  We still hadn't decided either way when our older son was getting close to school age.  When he was ready for preschool, we enrolled him as all "normal" families do even though I was home during the weekdays at the time.  When my mother learned that she had cancer, we took him out of his class, knowing we would be traveling the 3 hours to her place of treatment and to her home with no idea what the duration of time would be.  Fortunately, her treatments were few and successful, but not long after, we were required to make a move to another area for my husband's new job.

The move was pretty touch and go and we didn't end up getting our things transferred until the day before public school in the new county was scheduled to begin.  I didn't have the heart to move our little guy into a new house, new town, and then dump him in school the very next day.  I knew he would be fine, but home schooling for kindergarten was the answer for us.  We loved it so much that we have never stopped.  This will be our ninth year, in fact.

Now I'm not going to detail the complaints and I'm just plain sick of the "social" subject so won't even go into that, but my gripe is that because we have made the decision to home school, others think it gives them the right to point out the major problems they see with the lifestyle we have chosen.  It never fails to irk me when I think of this.  Honestly, people think, imply, and have come pretty close to saying that we haven't taken our children's best interests to heart in our decision.  I have even had someone say to me, "I'm not saying you aren't doing a good job with them academically..."  First of all how do they know?!  I might be an utter failure at teaching my children what they need to know.  They aren't in our home during lesson time, they don't sit at our table with us while we do our work.  I have never shown anyone our boys' end of the year test scores but the state home school office, as is required by law.  No, they were saying our children were being neglected in other ways and they know as much about that as they know the color of my pajamas on any given night.

Do I grill people on their decision to send their children to school? Would I be so bold as to pull another parent's child aside to ask them what they want as others have done with my children concerning home schooling, as if it had never occurred to me to ask them myself if they wanted to go to school or not?  Of course not!  I wouldn't be so rude.   And anyway, who am I to say I have any idea what is best for their children? And as my dear friend is fond of pointing out, do you think we home school to make parents of schooled children feel smaller?  Do parents of "traditionally" schooled children honestly think that we spend hours educating our children, weeks preparing to educate our children, and allow the government access to such a enormous aspect of our personal lives just to one-up parents of schooling children?  Do they really think we devote our lives to their education only to imply that we are the better parents, all without stopping to consider our children's needs, feelings, rights, likes, or wishes along the way?

The two most important things that some are SO concerned with my boys missing out on?  Prom and a chemistry lab.  Really?  Heaven forbid my boys miss out on prom night and I guess that shark dissection they participated in did nothing for them, since it wasn't performed in a "lab" and neither will the myriad of other animal dissections we will be doing when my boys begin high school biology.  Lessons sitting by a river in a national park, hours spent just playing with friends at weekly home school meets, field trips with other home schoolers, parties, science fairs, craft days...all the things we can do as a home school family...worthless in their eyes.  Not enough in their opinion.  Never enough.  And the worst part is that they have to fill our ears with this flack as if we've asked.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Edible Rose

The rosaceae family of plants boasts hundreds of varieties of the pastel and jewel-toned flowers that are so popular as ornamental shrubs and climbers in the landscape. But roses are not only gorgeous as decoration and to be used for shows of affection between lovers, parts of the plant are also edible and have been used in cooking from the times of early man.

Most people are aware that rose hips, the bulbous fruit that appears when the bloom is spent, can be used to make tea. The flavorful, red fruit also makes a wonderful aromatic jelly and is a great nutritional source as it is high in the antioxidant Vitamin C which is known for its immune boosting properties and ability to repair blood vessels.

Rose hips can be harvested from any organic rose bush, wild or domestic, that has not been treated with chemical pesticides or synthetic sprays for at least an entire year of growing. Plants near major sources of traffic should not be foraged, as the steady assault form vehicles' exhaust can contaminate the shrubs and fruit as harmful pesticides do. Another reason these plants should be avoided is that government agencies frequently spray roadsides to keep down growth and you can never be sure of the spraying schedule.

Rose blossoms and petals can also be eaten or used to make rose flower water which is popular in Middle Eastern cuisine and as a perfume and skin toner. You can distill your own rose water by collecting fresh, untreated petals and setting up a distilling arrangement on your stove top. Instructions are widely available on internet websites and by doing it yourself you can save hundreds of dollars on this pricey, natural extract.

Roses require consistent amounts of water to bloom, but too much can be damaging. Heavy mulching of rich, organic matter at the root crown helps the plants to build up disease and pest resistance. Try growing the beautiful rose with culinary uses in mind.

Roadside Rambles by Ila Hatter, Editor
Based on the original works by Marie B. Mellinger: Out of Old Fields and Roadside Rambles
2001 Cookbook Publishers, Inc.

Friday, September 2, 2011

"No...just blogging..."

I have an acquaintance who is a published author whom I met through a small writer's group that she started with another local author.  In this group, the members, about six of us, would share excerpts from our work by reading aloud with the intention of having the others critique the writing.  Nightmare.  Absolute nightmare for someone like me.  Hell.  I don't know why I went.  Yes I do, I wanted to learn.  I did learn, but I always politely declined when asked to show my work, which was actually kind of rude since I was the only one unwilling to lay my guts out on the table to be picked at by some very kind, knowledgeable buzzards. Because it wasn't fair to critique their work when I wouldn't show mine I only gave encouragement when it was my turn to give an opinion and couldn't help countering everyone else's criticism of  the work of the person in the hot seat by pointing out what I liked about the piece they had shared.

All this came on the cusp of getting reacquainted with a childhood friend who writes and asked me to read one of her books to critique it.  Then a friend of hers who writes asked me to read something she was working on and suddenly I found myself, a person who has always written with the idea that no living person, not even my husband would ever see anything I had written, surrounded by writers and in this little writing community that I couldn't have found if I'd tried.  I believe in fate, destiny, serendipity...and I decided to go with the flow and accept what life had given me as inspiration.

I'm not the best writer, and that's not modesty or humility speaking, it's true.  But my husband once said that if I can't stop the itching in my fingers to get down on paper what I have to say or quickly jot down dreams of people I don't even know and snatches of dialogue between them from the dream that sound like a story, then I'm probably a writer.  He's right.  If I need to write, whether my writing is any good or not, then I am a writer.  I am a writer.  I have so much trouble saying that, but I am a writer.

Another thing that I find inspiring is a talk that I had nearly twenty years ago with my college writing instructor.  She simply told me that I needed to try to get published because my short stories were well-written.  I believed her.  I did.  It meant a lot to me.  I started writing a novel soon after.  I started another a little over a year ago, and then a third in the spring.  I still lack the confidence to show my work even though I have since begun blogging.

A couple of years ago I wrote a short story about my grandfather's sailboat and what it meant to our family and after a year and a half of messing with it, got up the gumption to send it to two editors.  The second wanted to publish it, but asked for pictures to go with the story.  I sat on it and sat on it.  Even at the time I knew the reason behind the delay was that I was still afraid to show my work.  She published it a couple of months later without telling me, saying it was a touching story for their Christmas edition.  It was to be a birthday gift for my dad, but I still had trouble telling him about it.  Finally I did and he showed the family who responded with such encouragement that I knew I needed to get over my confidence problem.

I started blogging.  This sounds strange, but Facebook, sharing my thoughts and ideas in daily posts, broke the ground for me to begin blogging.  Blogging to me, is a glorified Facebook status post, I can handle that just fine, but still quiver a little just before I publish a blog post and 9 out of 10 times I change something after I read the published version.  I am an obsessive "fixer".

So I've been blogging for nine months, putting "my guts out there", as I call writing of any kind, for people to see.  It hasn't always gone smoothly.  I have deleted things I've written and many posts disappear before I "publish" them, but I like having that control too. I also started writing for one of those web content sites to grow in writing. 

So with all of this working, I was stunned to hear what came out of my mouth the other day when I met with one of  my writer friends.  She asked, "Are you writing?".  I replied while having trouble making eye contact, "No...just blogging...".  I did stammer and sort of apologetically add that I do content writing, but emphasized that it doesn't pay very much and they will let anyone write for those sites.

Did I tell her I have three novels working and that I obsess over them in my spare time, which isn't really spare time?  No.  Did I tell her I've had something published?  Of course not.  Because I don't consider myself to be a real writer yet.  I have a lot of work to do.  Yes, I need to hone my grammar and punctuation skills, work on character development, flow, and I have a real problem with dialogue, but the biggest thorn in my side is still in the self-esteem department.  Lesson learned. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

No Man's Land

It's the time of year when I feel like the garden is just about to be put "to bed" for the winter, we are ready to start school, and the temperature is in the 50s at night and up to the 90s during the day...not quite summer, but not quite fall.  I like it.  It's like that Monday morning feeling when you anticipate getting back into the swing of things after those couple of "anything goes" weekend days.  Feels like limbo or No Man's Land but in a good way, a really good time to catch up on things, finish up projects, and get everything as organized as possible before our days are dominated by schoolwork.

It's been crazy here in our little cottage.  Most things good, some things bad.  We have a major issue going on with the farm right now, but everything else feels like those first warm late winter days when you can feel spring coming.  "This too shall pass".  We are all healthy and happy and that's all that matters.

I gave one of our chickens to a friend the other day.  The poor thing had suddenly become shunned and outcast from the rest of the flock and had started to refuse to stay in the coop with the others.  Up onto the hen house she would hop, down over the covered duck run and into the garden.  Her flight feathers had been trimmed and the hen house roof is a good five feet in the air, but she and our Bantam managed to build up their leg muscles enough to squat and flutter up that high.  Eventually she just gave up on going home altogether.  I wonder what she did that was so offensive, to be so ostracized.  We let her be and fed and watered her separately and on the day we gave her away, I found the nest of eggs she had made.  I'd wondered what she had been doing about that.  Finally, I decided that if we were going to get anything more out of what is left of the garden and try to plant cool weather crops again, she would have to go.  Our little Bantam still scratches around, but if I keep them wet she seems to stay out of the the vegetable beds.  Hoping for lots of fresh kale, carrots, brussels sprouts, and potatoes come fall. 

It's Labor Day weekend in a few days.  We will avoid the crowds as usual and stay home camping in our backyard as we do every Labor Day weekend.  It always seems a little silly until we wake up in the morning, unzip the tent, and are met with a view that we would be hard-pressed to find in any of the wooded camp grounds around.  And when our three day family weekend is over so will our time in No Man's Land and we can finish letting summer go and start the next phase of life together.  I can't wait!