"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Monday, October 31, 2005

Autumn Glory

Due to so many rainy days this month, our foliage has been somewhat less than spectacular. And yet...for whatever reason, the season of glory has lasted longer than usual. Now it's Halloween, and we can still find amazingly colourful trees like this one on a nearby country road.

Looking down the same road, it's a tunnel of gold.

This majestic beech tree stands in our own front yard. When the sunlight strikes it, which it does for most of the day, it's almost blindingly bright.

This afternoon we plan to take our canoe out on the little lake one last time before storing it away. The weather is so warm and mild, somewhat atypical for Halloween.

I'm trying to decide whether to wear a costume for our cruise. Not that anybody's around to see me!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Cat Comes Back

I'm not exactly sure when or where or how I first heard the music of Cat Stevens. I only know that it was an important influence in my formative years. His questing lyrics, his melodies, his spirituality--all struck a chord with me. At least they did until I headed for college and grad school, where I was increasingly exposed to the stripped-down stuff offered up by New Wave and alternative groups. At some point, probably prior to a cross-country move, a de-acquisition occurred.

By then, Cat had converted to Islam, changed his name to Yusef, and had renounced music making to devote himself to education. Like many converts, he was extremely dogmatic--causing me much pain and grief by approving the fatwa issued against author Salman Rushdie when The Satanic Verses was published. That's when U.S. radio stations smashed his records and kicked him off their playlists.

After September 11th, he redeemed himself by firmly denouncing terrorism and terrorists, sounding like the peace-loving, charitable humanitarian I had once admired so passionately, whose tunes I'd played so endlessly. And I was peeved when the U.S. authorities mysteriously (and perhaps mistakenly) refused him entry to the U.S., yanking him off a transAtlantic flight and summarily sending him back to Britain. He started recording music again, to raise money for charity, including the single "Indian Ocean" following last December's tsunami.

In a fit of nostalgia last year, I began re-acquiring his music. I bought two--count 'em, two different Best of Cat Stevens discs, because neither one had everything I needed on it. In the back of my mind, I'd formed a plan to buy back some of the albums, because even the "Best Of's" lacked some crucial (for me) material.

Over the past couple of months, Cat/Yusef has been in the news a lot. In September, he was among the 16 nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, he won the Songwriter of the Year Award from ASCAP U.K. for "The First Cut is the Deepest." Rod Stewart famously covered it years ago, and Sheryl Crow did so more recently.

Last week, I read in a British newspaper that he has headed back into the studio to record. I've no doubt that there will be a hefty spiritual component to his new work--as there was in the old--but it does sound as though he's comfortable producing material that will appeal to a mainstream audience.

A few days ago, Dolly Parton, who has been collaborating with him on an album, spoke publicly of her support and admiration.

With Cat news popping up everywhere I turned, I suddenly got even more serious about my re-acquisitions. I started with my top two albums.

Buddha and the Chocolate Box is one that I practically wore out, years ago. It became my "driving around" music of choice for much of the week. Amazingly--or maybe not--I still remember practically every word of every song.

Catch Bull at Four is my very favourite. As far as I'm concern, it passes the test of time with flying colours--the music, the voice, the imagery. The songs sound the same to me, and yet because I've matured and changed, I hear them differently.

This is turning out to be a wonderful reunion. I'm discovering that the relationship was solid enough to survive a rough patch. I'm already looking forward to the new music. And I keep my fingers tightly crossed about the Hall of Fame induction. Here's hoping!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dreaming in Colour

The wild weather yanked me out of a dream this morning. It was one of those "so real that it doesn't feel like dreaming" dreams.

In it, I re-visited my past life in a vivid and tangible way. And my present life was represented, too.

I grew up in the theatre. My first stage experiences were in grammar school. My big break came at age 10, when I was cast in a featured juvenile role in a big play in a grown up theatre. Things progressed from there. I spent almost every night of my life--until I went to grad school--at rehearsal or performance. (There are great gaps in my knowledge of prime-time television, as result!)

In my dream, I was attending a sale of secondhand goods--books, clothes, stuff. Unexpectedly, I stumbled across a long rack of garments that I recognised as theatrical costumes, having worn some of them. I paused, and carefully examined each one, stroking familiar fabrics, toying with lace trimmings.

I found some of the ones I'd worn in the first important play when I was 10, although I didn't see the one in the picture at the left.

I also spotted a very pink, very princessy costume with a green velvet bodice that I'd loved from the moment I first saw it onstage (I was in the audience at the time). Whenever I went into the costume shop for fittings, I'd gravitate to that pink dress and imagine the day when I would graduate from juvenile parts to ingenue, and wear the really pretty gowns. By then, I was familiar with the backstage legend of the pink dress--constructed for a specific actress, who was very petite. In the weeks prior to her opening night she was sick and losing lots of weight, so the seamstresses had to take in the dress repeatedly.

I was a skinny kid, and confident that when I was old enough for it, that dress would fit me just fine.

But by the time I was a teenager, the pink dress had been used so many times that it looked a bit ratty. And not as princessy as I remembered. For my first ingenue role, I was perfectly happy to have a sea green dress--much more flattering.

A couple of years later, when I got another shot at the pink dress, I let another performer have it. I preferred a strong, rich colour, not a wimpy one, so I'd draw every eye in the audience. I chose a crimson dress that was part of our stock wardrobe, which fit as though it had been made for me.

As my dream self picked through the rack of stage clothes, all this history was floating in my dream mind. And yet, these memories had been absent from my conscious mind for years--even decades.

Suddenly somebody called me over to the area where the books were laid out. I'd brought a book to donate, by a favourite British author. I told one of the organisers how nice this author had been the first time I met her. Suddenly I wasn't Actress, I was Author. I was enthusiastically engaged in a conversation about books and writing at the moment of waking up.

I've had plenty of theatre dreams since stepping down from the stage. Every actor, or ex-actor does. Showing up to perform a scene in front of an audience without any rehearsal, or knowing the lines or business, is a recurring nightmare. It doesn't even scare me any more. Much.

But I don't remember ever having a dream about costumes I used to wear. And now it's got me wondering whether they still exist in the wardrobe room where I spent so much time fantasising about a princessy pink gown I never actually wore.

I did live out that fantasy, eventually. Once upon a time...when I played Cinderella...and a princessy pink dress was made especially for me.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Baseball Fever

The World Series started last night. This year we're running a low-grade Baseball Fever because our local team isn't in the running.

Instead of watching Game 1, we chose to re-live the delirium of last year and celebrate the fact that the Boston Red Sox are still--at least until this year's contest is decided--the reigning world champions. We watched Fever Pitch starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore.

Now another team has a chance to reverse a decades' old curse. So we'll shout what we shouted a year ago (with apologies to any Astros fans out there):

Go Sox!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Blessing of the Animals

Despite the bone-biting chill and the grey skies, this morning we drove to the village nearby, where our church offered a Blessing of the Animals service in conjunction with Oktoberfest. We arrived to find a music group playing polkas very enthusiastically in the bandstand.

Here we are, waiting to be blessed.

Lily the Nubian goat, who belongs to one of our parishioners. Her first time on a leash, but you'd never guess it.

Lola and Shadow keep an close eye on Lily's backside. They know pooping isn't allowed! Does she?

While the priest blesses the girls, I'm bowing my head devoutly. I'm not sure what they're doing.

Shadow is overwhelmed by the experience. I've got two tiny paw stickers on my forehead for having two dogs blessed today.

Here's Holy Lola, looking soulful.

Back at home, Shadow rests after all the activity and excitement. Yesterday, at the vet, she was given some antibiotics and pain meds for her toe injury. She also was given one of those big plastic megaphone-type dog collars to wear, to keep her from licking the affected area. Because it's such an affront to her dignity, I won't show a photo of her wearing it. She really hates it. During the day, we're letting her wear a blue sock instead. We tell her it looks very cute.

What the ultra-fashionable dog is wearing this autumn--a Louis Vuitton ribbon!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Leaf Peeping on the Lake

Our day on the Big Lake was gloriously sunny, and the foliage was putting on a good show for us.

lake view and foliage

a view up the bay

Here's another view, looking up the bay, from the hillside.

All the summer people are gone, the area was deserted. Only a couple of boats passed by--a small motorboat chugging up the bay, running into the wind, and the big boat, heading down the bay.

the boat goes down the bay

wearing a sweater on my head
It was so powerfully gusty down on the dock that I needed something to keep the wind out of my ears. I couldn't find a proper scarf, but I did find an old lambswool sweater handed on to me by my late mother-in-law. So I put it over my head and tied the sleeves under my chin. If my face looks flushed, that would be from the wind burn!

On the way home, I took this shot by the river--late afternoon, and the sun was lighting the trees beautifully. The photo really doesn't do the scene justice.

We stopped in the village to pick up Chinese noodles and crab rangoons, which we devoured when we got home.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

When work feels like play

Truthfully, it doesn't feel like work!

I love revising. Self-editing is a joy.

Staying home on a grey day to whack a chunk of manuscript (about 135 pages) into shape is the most fun you can have. With your bathrobe on. In the middle of the afternoon.

Sorry, no pics. It's not a pretty sight.

My reward for completing this task--not that I need one, it's a reward in itself--will be a day up at the Big Lake.

Because...the weatherman tells us the sun might shine tomorrow. I'll believe it when I see it. But at least the rain seems to be gone. Temporarily.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Autumn activities

Late last night the wind came and pushed the rain away--by bedtime we could glimpse the perfect full moon.

This morning was dry but blustery, so I rescued this pretty pink rose and brought it inside.

an October rose

Down the block from our church, the river runs right through the middle of town. The dam was still holding strong, but the roar of the rushing water was defeaning!

the dam

apples ripe for the picking
From there we went to our favourite orchard.

Apple harvest is in full swing, so it was very, very crowded.

Some people were there to pick their own apples, or buy them already picked.

hand-made donutsAnd lots of people had come for the hot apple cider and hand-made donuts. The line stretched all the way from the back of the shop to the front door!

They smelled absolutely delicious, but we had something else on our minds....


The farm dog tried to show us the best one out of the dozens of different shapes and sizes.

pumpkin-picking dog

Back inside the shop, we chose some apples to take home with us.

On the way home, at an intersection, we met a Fish and Game truck pulling along a dead moose. Hunting season started yesterday. And yet, considering all the flooding in the area, it's possible the poor thing had drowned. He looked kind of wet.

the late moose

After all the morning excitement, we were ready for a quiet and relaxing Sunday afternoon.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Rain, rain, go away

The stormy weather all over New England has been disastrous and deadly this week. Relatives in different parts of the country have phoned in to check on us, asking if the lake jumped the road and flowed onto our property. Luckily, it's spring-fed, not stream-fed and absorbs torrential downpours rather well. Our roads are increasingly rutted, but not washed out or impassable.

We're okay--if a bit grumpy--here at The Lodge, but our hearts ache for all those who have suffered flooding. Or worse.

Confined to my house, I've created my own little storm of writing. Revising and polishing a sizeable chunk of a book has been my refuge from bad and worsening news on so many fronts.

I'm one of the few writers, apparently, who was able to keep on writing in the aftermath of 9/11. My personal experiences during that day and the days that followed are some of my very worst memories. For a long time I was separated from everyone I love--there was no one to interact with except my own characters.

I prefer not to rely on writing as a form of therapy. (On the contrary, it's more likely that this crazy profession will propel me into the madhouse!) And while it's not a means of escapism, either, there's no denying that at the moment my fictional world is better, brighter place than the real one.

At least the sun sometimes shines in my work-in-progress. Whereas in New England, we haven't seen it for more than a week....

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Living Large at the Lodge

It's not unusual for us to name things before we get them.

"Someday we'll have a red Siberian husky. We'll call him Killian, after the red beer."

Within a couple of weeks of our marriage, even before we'd acquired a house or a backyard, we drove to Ft. Collins, Colorado (we were living near Denver at that time) to adopt a red Siberian husky. We named him Killian. He lived a long and comfortable life and now lies in a burying ground outside my office window.

So when we bought our New England dream home, nestled between mountain and lake, we already knew it would be The Lodge. The reason for this has less to do with the architectural characteristics of the house--which to some extent are lodge-like--and everything to do with a hysterically funny incident that occurred in the L.L. Bean store many years ago. People here in New England pronounce "large" like "lodge."

Shortly after moving into the new abode, I purchased this sign from a mail-order catalogue. There's a moose at the bottom, you can see the tip of its antlers. It was made in Jamaica, and the metal craftsman must have enjoyed making a beast not normally seen in the Caribbean.

If you name your house, gift-givers often provide cool stuff with your house name on it. Here's a housewarming present from my husband's family. (That's my chipmunk Diesel on the railing, patiently waiting for food.)

My sister-in-law provided this nifty, woodsy sign, which hangs in our kitchen. (You can also see it in the first photo.)

The Northern lodge motif is a popular enough trend in decorating that we could go totally nuts. We manage to restrain ourselves. But it's fun to proclaim our home's identity, while at the same time perpetuating an old and still quite funny private joke about our adopted region of the country.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Yesterday I was involved in a thrilling bat rescue adventure.

I don't mind bats. In fact, I appreciate them. On summer nights they flutter in our yard, half-visible, half invisible, devouring mosquitoes which nowadays carry dangerous and deadly viruses.

The closest I'd been to live bats was in wildlife parks or zoos, when they fascinated me from safely behind thick glass.

Until I met the bat in the bathtub.

Some friends have an office in an antique farmhouse with a big attached barn. They found a bat in the unused blue bathtub while I was there. There was some reluctance in telling me, but as soon as I heard, I wanted to see the bat. Not only that, I borrowed a digicam to take photos, while one of the guys headed home for a fishing net.

Myotis lucifugus

He scooped the bat up in the net and we opened a window and tried to release the bat. It tumbled (gently) to the ground. We ran outside to make sure it was okay. It looked up at me and smiled for the camera.

Little Brown Bat

Then it looked rather dejected. Clearly it didn't like the bright light, or the heat. My friend, scooping it up into his net again, carried it into the cool, dark barn--that's probably where it makes its home. The bat perked up instantly and seemed much happier. We left it alone. A later peek inside was reassuring--the bat was still there. It shied from the light, flying away, and retreated into a dark space.

When I showed my husband these two pictures, he couldn't believe it was the same creature.

When I read about bats later in my very useful book New England Wildlife: Habitat, Natural History, and Distribution (DeGraaf and Yamasaki), I discovered that my bat buddy is Myotis lucifugus or Little Brown Myotis or Little Brown Bat.

Evidently, autumn is mating season, so I hope the sexy beast--whether male or female--gets lucky!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Another important anniversary

I first experienced New England on this very day. When we arrived for our autumn honeymoon, at peak foliage season, it was love at first sight. But I never, ever guessed that eventually I'd be living here. Or that one day I'd possess twenty-plus acres of trees as gorgeous as this tall, stately one at the edge of our forest.

Here's a shot looking up historic Main Street on a picture-perfect October afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky.

October 7 was the first night I ever spent in the cottage up at the Big Lake. It was quite a long time ago, but like all the best, most cherished memories, it could've been yesterday!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

On our wedding anniversary

On this date lots of years ago, on a lovely afternoon in a distant place, my husband and I were married. All the hopes and dreams reflected in this happy young face have been fulfilled. And then some!

This morning at breakfast, we looked over the wedding photos as we talked about how to celebrate in style. He presented a lovely little present purchased in London with much forethought. I impetuously gave him something that reflects our life together and this home and region we love so much.

Our friend the phoebe, unseen for weeks--months--unexpectedly turned up to wish us happy anniversary.

So, so much to be thankful for. I truly had no idea what lay ahead, way back then, wearing my mother's wedding dress and the Brussels lace veil my mother and grandmother and many a family bride had worn before me. Nor could I possibly realise how splendid and miraculous a partnership I was entering into!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Scheduled to the max!

I was incredibly, insanely busy yesterday. Due to a quirk of timing I had 5 meetings, 4 scheduled and 1 impromptu.

As I approached civilisation early (for me) in the morning, the capital city was totally fogged in. Crossing the river, there's typically a gorgeous view of gold capital dome and soaring church steeples--and at this time of year, changing foliage. No such luck--everything was curtained over by dense fog.

I wasn't called upon to to contribute very much to my 9:00 a.m. meeting, which is fortunate because I went in undercaffeinated.

The next meeting, at 11:00, involved more activity. As we talked over the agenda for a diocesan convention, we strung olivewood crosses on hemp string to hand out to attendees. Interestingly, the crosses were made by Palestinian Christians. I stringed/strung/strang approximately 50 of the 400 seen below.

The workers laughed a lot and worked hard, and were rewarded with lunch. (The only solid food I'd see all day.)

The third (impromptu) meeting, me and one other person, took place between 1:30 and 2:00. It involved numbers and finances, not exactly my forte, but a helpful and informative conversation.

Then I had an hour-long break. So I went to Borders to buy a magazine and the Old Farmer's Almanac for 2006. And I had a new photo made, because it's time to renew my passport.

Next meeting was at 3:30, same place as before--a really good and productive session.

At 5:30 I raced home, grabbing "supper" along the way. (Medium Mango/Raspberry milkshake from McDonald's). Picked up the husband and the cookies and brownies an drove to church for the last meeting of the long day, attended by representatives from 6 area churches. And I was co-chairing it. I kept myself going with lots of sweets and de-caf (a faux stimulant, but by then my brain was too depleted to realise it was a placebo). The meeting was well attended. All the presentations and reports went well. The reviews were mostly positive. We ended more or less on time. I was pleased. And oh, so tired.

Throughout my day away, I was missing my dogs, mostly because I kept hearing stories about other people's dogs. The kind that make you want to hug and cuddle your dogs, and keep them safely in sight.

And yet there's joy in the sorrow. My friend, a priest, who tragically lost her four-year-old lab in late-night emergency surgery on Sunday is already approved to adopt a homeless Hurricane Katrina lab. She and her husband are planning to take their Norwich terrier on a "get acquainted" road trip.

Last night I saw another friend whose Border Collie had an emergency at exactly the same time on the very same night in the same animal hospital, with a far happier outcome.

I believe both incidents were caused by dogs eating things not meant for dogs.

Our Lola and Shadow don't chew on books or plants or shoes or stuff they shoudn't. Like proper canids, they gnaw actual bones--holding them upright between their paws as they chomp away. When they are distracted and move away, sometimes the bone is still standing--a phenomenon we call "Bonehenge." Illustrated below is a Bonehenge created by Lola. (Yes, she needs a manicure. Bad.)

At this very moment, Shadow is waking from a nap at my feet and eyeing a bone. So Bonehenge could reappear very soon.

When a bone is worn down to a nub, no longer able to stand up and be a Bonehenge, we toss it and get a new one.

Today I'm assimilating back into my quiet hermit-like existence of reading and writing and admiring the colorful fall foliage and watching for Bonehenges. That's my basic plan for the rest of this week!

It didn't seem like it yesterday, but there's an advantage to having 2 weeks' worth of meetings all bunched together in a 12 hour period! So much free time to look forward to...and enjoy!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Seasonal sights

My little lake, at 9:00 on this cool, clear October morning, with mist rising from the water.

the little lake at 9 a.m.

The final fig off my prolific tree...harvest is over. Shadow and Lola are appropriately worshipful.

My pet chipmunk Diesel, in hyper-gathering mode, impatiently waiting at the feeding dish.