"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

Friday, June 30, 2006

A Persian Rose

I've been messing about with the sidebar lately, adding a few different blogs. I've also added a couple of webcam views. One shows the area of London I occupied as a student. No, I didn't live right in the middle of busy Bayswater Road. But I crossed it a few times every day, because I often walked in Kensington Gardens, which I entered via Lancaster Gate. My neighbourhood has changed very little, I sometimes drop by, for old times sake.

The other is Oxford--on most days it's possible to see some of the "dreaming spires." The college where I spent time was father out on the Woodstock Road, so I didn't actually live within sight of the area shown on the webcam--although it was familiar to me.

I do wish I could find a view of the Mayfair neighbourhood that became our home away from home as a result of my husband working Over There. So far I haven't succeeded. Maybe because it's too posh for webcams?

The sun is out--a rare occurrence this week--so I think we're heading up to the Big Lake later. After I do a bit of work on my website update, and get the birthday pressies wrapped.

Rose of the Day

Ispahan, Rose d'Isfahan, Pompom des princes. This damask rose doesn't have a certain date of origin, but it's definitely from the Middle East. It takes its name from a city in Iran, the ancient capital of Persia. The tight buds unfold gradually, into a fluffy, many-petalled true pink flower with a scent that takes your breath away. The bush gets taller and more majestic every year. This year it's over 5 feet high.

The French cosmetics company Yves Rocher makes a fragrance called Ispahan Rose.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

With thanks to her ladyship and his lordship

For the past twenty-four hours, I've been soaring, all because of a research breakthrough.

It wasn't exactly holding up my progress. Nor can I claim to have suffered writer's block--I'm not really sure what that would look like in my case, as I seem always able to be writing something, and usually get paid for it.

But there's no denying that for several months I've been preoccupied with a mystery related to my novel-in-progress.

My characters are real people, with (for the most part) recorded histories. Yet why, I wondered endlessly, did my female protagonist enjoy an elevated position within her family, compared to her siblings? She was a renowned beauty, a sometime subject for painters and poets. Were they physically unattractive? (I had to rule out this possibility, given their lineage--their parents were gorgeous.) She was extremly healthy. Were they infirm or disabled? She married up. Why did they both die as spinsters? All three were their father's co-heiresses, not that he had much fortune to leave them.

I couldn't understand why she was so lauded, and they so obscure. It made no sense. Instinct warned that something was amiss, and given the morality of the times, it would have to be pretty damning. But I just couldn't prove it.

Until yesterday.

The evidence I sought found me, and originated with a pair of 17th century aristocrats.

I am extremely grateful to this countess, beautiful and musically talented but extremely snarky, for sliming both of my heroine's sisters in her diary. In the case of the elder, she exposed a scandal beyond my wildest imaginings. And in accusing the youngest of trying to steal her suitor, she let fly some choice invective, more than hinting about the rival's bad reputation. Outed!

His lordship here, a serial seducer who died a bachelor, was more circumspect in his own writings. But the editor of his letters kindly (and probably unintentionally) pointed to his presumed parentage of the youngest sister. This I had suspected, Mom was a slut and the girl's name was a dead giveaway. But a complaining letter from a discarded, neglected mistress, sprinkled with helpful dates, had me pumping my fist in glee. Outed!

My riddles neatly solved, thanks to these long-dead, long forgotten nobles, today I spent a very long time at Kinko's photocopying the pertinent sections of their respective writings, along with extracts from that massive 6-volume diary (written by an entirely different person).

Not to belabour the point, but this was one of those transcendant days when the rainshowers faded into the background, not dampening my soaring spirits one bit.

As well as attaining research nirvana, I was birthday shopping for My Chap--and I hit the jackpot there, too. Oh, is he going to be surprised, and pleased, come Saturday....

Song I Sung with the Loudest on my Car Radio: "I Need a Lover Who Won't Drive Me Crazy," Johnny Cougar. No reflection on the spouse.

Rose of the Day

Tuscany, the Old Velvet Rose. An ancient gallica rose, possibly originating prior to 1500, according to Peter Beales. The Old Rose Adventurer gives it a later date. From studying actual nursey catalogues dating from the 17th century, I know there was a velvet rose going back a long, long time. This is a wonderfully sensuous rose, with its deep rich colour, pure golden stamens, and velvet petals. In one of my novels, it was featured in a rather tense scene of passion and reconciliation.

Here it is again, as painted in the early 19th century by Pierre-Joseph Redouté:

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Doggie Decorating & ROTD

With all the flowers in the garden, I couldn't resist decorating a dog. Shadow loved it--or at least, put up with it quite cheerfully--so I tried it out on Ruth.

Ready for her close-up.

Eventually she started to gnaw at the lei, so I removed it. The blossoms come from my favourite perennial sweet pea--my very own volunteer, home-made, accidental hybrid. Years ago a helpful bumblebee cross-pollinated my pinky-purply lathyrus latifolius with my snowy "White Pearl," and the following year this pretty combination popped up everywhere. A welcome addition to the garden, even if it hasn't any scent, like the annual sweet peas. (Which haven't yet come into bloom, but are budding now.)

Lola doesn't like being decorated. It's beneath her dignity--she knows she gorgeous enough without any embellishment. She occupies her favourite corner of the deck, surveying her surroundings.

I rescued these roses from the impending rain, a mixed bouquet of damp albas, gallicas, and an exquisite Boursault--a future Rose of the Day. Stay tuned!

Roses of the Day

Maiden's Blush. This rose has several names in both English and French. The French one--Cuisse de Nymphe (Nymph's Thigh)--was bestowed in 1802, and was rather naughtier than its innocent, pastoral 18th century English name. An alba rose, it's a very pale pink with lots of petals, and wonderfully fragrant. Supposedly it was known by the 15th century.

Banshee. A mystery rose. My mother rooted a cutting for me--she got it from somebody else who referred it it as Banshee. I'm not entirely convinced it is or isn't, but I call it that, too. (Other rose types seem to have the name Banshee, creating confusion.) It grew from a stick into a monster bush, 7 or 8 feet high. Some sort of hybrid, it's practically a dead-ringer for Maiden's Blush: once-blooming, smells just as nice, dislikes rain just as much. As ever, it's loaded with buds, but the weather's been so wet that I don't expect a great display this year. Because nearly constant rain has caused the buds to ball up (happens every year), it's a frustrating plant. Somebody on their website dated its origin as 1773. Who am I to argue?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Some of the ways we live large on the Big Lake

Bird Watching


Pileated woodpecker

Boat watching

Nice day for a sail!

Good thing we had our money on the kayak!

Fine dining

French food every morning.

Crèpes, Part 1

Crèpes, Part 2 (banana & date filling, yum!)

Italian food every night.

Fried calamari

Checking out sunsets

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Where the Luggage Attacks at Dawn

We saw the loon yesterday afternoon, and watched a gorgeous sunset over the mountains from the end of our dock. After a grey-ish day, the sky grew progressively clearer, and sundown was spectacular.

Walked over to the neighbours' to chat for a bit on their dock, exchanging news and admiring a just completed home improvement/landscaping project. The view over there, beside the cove, isn't quite the same as ours, and I always enjoy the different perspective of mountains and water. Ruth enjoyed making new friends.

Later, after dark, I spied an array of fireworks shooting up high, on the other side of the mountain. Not sure why, but it was great entertainment.

Watched Iconolasts on the Travel Channel (it was originally produced for the Sundance Channel.) Italian Chef Mario Batali was hanging out with his chum Michael Stipe of R.E.M. Since certain members of R.E.M. and I go way back, it was a must-see for me. Loved the end, where the two of them were like total groupies backstage at a U2 show in Toronto.

Ruth and I headed to our respective beds and soon were slumbering sweetly. As it started to get light, the wee dog suddenly hopped up from her nest did something she'd never done before.

She growled.

And she barked.

She was terrified.

I fumbled for my specs and the flashlight. Had a raccoon broken into the house? Was there a mouse sitting on the dresser? Might it be a bat? (I was actually hoping...you know how I am about bats!)

She continued her freak-out, and was freaking me out with her brave effort to warn me about impending attack from--what? That rusty bark of hers was bizarre. I almost laughed at her.

I ran that torch over every inch of the room. I peered under bed, even though she was clearly fixated on the corner of the room.


Well, almost nothing. My trusty LLBean brown duffel was sitting on the chair, with some clothing stacked on top. It always comes with me to the cottage, stuffed with books and cds and notepads, and lots of knickers. I don't bring many garments along, having plenty here, but I carry them back to the Lodge for laundering.

In the dim light, the dark mass of duffel and clothing looked like a dangerous deadly beast to a small and nervous little dog.

Grabbing the duffel, I placed it on the side of the bed usually occupied by my spouse when he's here.

I had conquered The Beast. Ruth fell silent. She returned to her nest, curled up, and went to sleep.

I, however, couldn't. It was 5 a.m., the hour when birdies large and small start up their chorus. Shrieking phoebes, trilling goldfinches, screeching jays, cawing blackbirds--even the hummingbirds were zipping about on the other side of the windowscreen, fighting for the perch at their feeder.

And then I heard a motorboat in the Bay. Somebody tell me, who needs to be out there boating at 5 a.m.? That's just not natural, or necessary. It wasn't any fishing boat, that much I know. I'll cut the fishermen some slack. But the ones who troll in our waters are virtually silent. Their launch cruises the shoreline, powered by a whispering little egg-beater motor. I usually see them before I hear them.

I turned on the radio, hoping it would lull me to sleep. It did, eventually, but not till I'd listened to the hour-long early morning BBC newscast.

We're heading off for our walk in a little while. No big plans for the day, besides readin', writin', hangin' out on the dock, swimmin' and watchin' England v. Ecuador in the World Cup.

I'd originally planned to head back to the Lodge yesterday but decided on tomorrow instead. The clean knickers collection and my supplies of fresh food (and dog chow) permitted us to extend our stay.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Writer's Retreat

I'm having a quiet, productive time here on the Big Lake with my wee companion. We've spent time on the dock, we've taken long walks, I've been swimming. Tried teaching her to swim, but she wasn't terribly keen.

Last night we watched Meerkat Manor and The Dog Whisperer. Maybe Cesar will do a program on teaching your Border collie how to swim....

While here I accomplished my big goal: I've now finished all six volumes of that 17th century social/political diary. So now I'm rewarding myself with pleasure reading--when I'm not working on my novel.

Our first days here were dry, a bit muggy. The phoebes woke us up at 5 a.m. yesterday--and a lot of other birds chimed in. The only one we haven't heard is the big loon...but now that it's foggy and still, it's perfect loon weather. Very little boat traffic during the week. Expected some this weekend, but the climate isn't conducive.

I'm cleaner than I've ever been, because this recently installed shower head is incredible.

It's like staying in a 5-star hotel. A somewhat rustic one.

Off we go on a ramble, during this break in the rain. Must work off all that French toast I made for breakfast!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ruth says...

we have another house?

Nobody told me we have another house! On an even bigger lake! With mountains and sailboats and boatplanes!

on a really big lake?

What other crucial information are they keeping from me?

Yesterday was quite a shock, let me tell you. But in a good way.

Lola went swimming.

Lola goes swimming

I felt safer watching from my rock.

I don't go swimming

We had lots and lots of fun on the dock. I was so good that She brought me back here today.

She said I was good

Rose of the Day

Rosa mundi, or rosa gallica versicolor, is usually my reply if pressed to state my favourite rose. It's beautiful, a pale light pink and a rich deeper pink. It's ancient and historic (originated some time prior to 1581). It's a gallica, meaning it's hardy and reliable. It has a delicate scent.

And it's romantic, connected with the legend of Henry II's mistress, Fair Rosamund. "Like the rose, the colour of her lips was heightened by the comparative delicacy of her fair complexion."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sometimes the Job Finds You

I'm a recovering classified ads addict. I used to be a lot worse, then I got better, and lately I'm falling back into the old habit. Well, it's summertime, and people are sellin' stuff. Even if I'm not buying anything, I get hooked. Want ads in New England papers are often as entertaining as they can be informative.

Every Sunday I pore over the Employment section. My careers, present and previous, have been, shall we say, "nontraditional," so I'm fascinated to see what else a person can do for a living. (It seems those jobs in the paper actually provide regular weekly or monthly paychecks--just imagine!)

Other jobs sound so, so normal compared to mine. Which, basically, is listening to the voices in my head and writing down what they say. Or taking notes while reading diaries by obscure social/political personalities from 300 years ago. Or heading across an ocean to a royal palace just to wander through a garden and gaze upon a painting.

This week I noticed a very unusual, not quite normal yet highly intriguing job opportunity under "Part Time Help Wanted":

Remove from roof peak in A-frame house.

As any longtime reader of my blog knows, I rather like bats and I've got experience in bat photography, and bat-rescue photojournalism.

Only trouble is, I don't like ladders and heights and roof peaks. So I suppose I'm not really cut out to be a bat-trapper, except when the bats already happen to be down on my level.

There's also the fact that the town where the bat/s want trapping is a long way from my home. It would have to be a pretty steep hourly rate to even cover my travel expence.


Or should I say, Bats.

Rose of the Day:
Rosa alba semi-plena, a simple white alba rose dating from the 16th century. Or earlier.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Power Off, Power On

Last night we lost our power at about 8 PM, abruptly halting plans for our DVD Date Night.

The phones were knocked out, too, so my husband drove up the road to the place where our cellphones pick up signal, and called in a report of service outage.

Then we sat on the screened porch for hours, sipping wine and singing old camp songs and reminiscing about camp experiences of our youth. We have plenty of flourescent battery-powered portable lights for these rare occasions. But it was more romantic and intimate using my candelier with 3 candles.

Because it was such a warm night--okay, damned hot--and no fans due to lack of electricity, we elected to sleep on the porch.

When we laid down the foam mattress with a featherbed mattress on top, as our bed, Queen Lola assumed it was for her. Guess again!

Once we settled in, Ruth made a similar assumption, flopping down between us. She moved on eventually, which was a good thing--a warm little dog lying against my already warm leg was not what I was looking for.

We believe the power returned at 2:30 AM. When the morning light arrived, my spouse headed back to our real bedroom but I stayed on the porch. I must've been comfy, 'cause I slept there till 9 AM. Off and on--wee Ruth kept coming round to check on me and lick my face.

Other news:

I've put together pages of my Bratislava Trip. They aren't yet up on my website, you can only access from here, at least for now.

Rose of the Day: La Ville du Bruxelles, a lush white and pale pink damask.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Social Actitivies, Festive Anniversaries, Floral Assets, Toad & Wabbit

Busy times, much to report.

Friday marked the 12-year anniversary of our residence in this lakeside woodland Lodge of our dreams.

The first to congratulate us was this friendly toad, lurking in one of the gardens.

the friendly toad

Coincidentally but appropriately, we were hosting a potluck dinner that evening. As usual when the Porters host a major event, the weather was scorching! Summer has definitely arrived in New England. When we have parties in winter, a blizzard is guaranteed. In summer, a heat wave. But it doesn't stop us having fun.

We added a few leaves to the dining table and arranged all the chairs around it. Late in the afternoon, our guests arrived bearing food. We provided the main dish (turkey breast, sage & onion stuffing, gravy) and the others brought appetisers, salad, vegetable, bread and dessert. We were 8 in all, plus the 2 dogs, who were very friendly and reasonably well behaved. It was Ruth's first time among company, and she clearly loves people.

Our guests are the type of friends who feel like family (and in fact, we discovered a mid-19th century marital hook-up between our down-the-road neighbours' 19th century relative and an ancestor of my husband's.) Ostensibly this is a political group, but we talked about lots of other stuff too, late into the night, as we sat on the screen porch.

Saturday brought an additional celebration: Ruth has lived with us for exactly one month. She was happy to receive new toys--a pair of these wild pink furry-balls-with-3-squeaky-tails-attached. That's 6 squeaky tails in all, should keep her busy. She can entertain herself endlessly, with the right equipment. Balls and things that squeak are her delight.

Ruth gets (another) new toy!

It was a fairly quiet day. We tried to keep cool as we caught up on our reading. Ruth played with her many toys. Lola dislikes hot weather, and wasn't very energetic. Plus shedding season makes her cranky, especially our constant attempts to groom her. That Alaskan husky undercoat is coming out in messy chunks. Ruth loves being combed and brushed, so I worked on her while my husband dealt with Lola--until she lost patience.

In the evening, we had another social event, an Open House for the new town library. The Friends of the Library and the Capital Campaign Committee invited our generous donors and the public to check out the progress of the building (and maybe contribute something towards its completion if they haven't already done so!) Lots of people came--young families with their children in tow were well represented--and they seemed impressed with all that they saw. The community presence was very gratifying, and two of our state legislators were there.

Our circulation desk is now in place, as is the fireplace in one of the reading rooms. The walls and trim are painting, all the lighting is installed and the ceiling tiles. And the air conditioning was turned on for the very first time! More finishing touches to come: carpeting has already been ordered, and the stacks also. Before long, we should be able to hone in on an official opening date.

This bump-out on the front of the building has our name (and donation) attached to it: the (Porter) Adult Reading Area. It's adjacent to the adult fiction and nonfiction sections.

our donation built this portion of the new town library

Here I am in the PARA.

admiring the (Porter) Adult Reading Area

These are "placeholder" chairs. Eventually this area will include bench-type window seats, comfy upholstered armchairs, sofa, reading table, and other stuff.

We returned to the Lodge, stuffed with yummy cookies and cakes, and settled down with the girls to watch our new favourite tv series, Meerkat Manor, which we'd recorded Friday night for later viewing. We're avidly following the adventures of the Whiskers family.

We awoke to a Father's Day surprise. No, not a meerkat, but just as exciting for us: a big giant bunny rabbit was nibbling wildflowers at the edge of one driveway. He stayed for quite a while, eating his breakfast, and didn't mind my snapping his picture from the deck.

We've spotted all sorts of interesting wild creatures in that general area over the past dozen years--weasels, black bears, deer, chipmunks, squirrels, a snapping turtle. But never a rabbit!

After the wabbit wandered off, I stepped outdoors to gather roses for a Father's Day bouquet. I forgot to take a basket or trug, so I had to improvise. I'm carrying the bounty in my white nightgown.

carrying roses in my nightgown

I harvested enough flowers for an arrangement and for decorating Ruth!

Ruth wears roses

After opening his pressies and the card from the dogs, the paterfamilias headed for church, where he had various important duties. I opted out of a formal church service today--like my druid ancestors, I'm worshiping in the midst of the natural beauties all around me. Trees and roses and birds and other wild things.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Objects of Beauty

Items connected with two famously beautiful--and scandalous--Englishwomen, both deceased, are in the news lately:

Vivien Leigh


H.R.H. Princess Margaret

Notley Abbey, the beloved country home of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, is on the market and seeking a buyer. It's situated on the Thames, in Buckinghamshire. To me it always seemed like the perfect getaway--with a historic past that connects theatrical royalty with the other sort (Henry II founded the abbey, Henry V stayed there.)

Christie's Auction House in London has just completed is two-day sale of treasures belonging to Princess Margaret. The takings exceeded all expectation and estimate. A good thing, as most of the proceeds go to charity.

Here is her diamond-encrusted wedding tiara, with a central rose. No, I didn't bid for it myself--I've got three tiaras, slightly less grand, none of which required added insurance. (The gems are paste!)

I do confess my admiration of this dainty brooch. I'm a Margaret, too.

As well, I've got a formal event coming up in September and it would be an appropriate accessory. But at the moment, the bulk of my disposible income is being invested in dog toys, so I had to pass.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Spreading the word about Slovakia

Great article in the online edition of USA Today about Slovakia as a wonderful place to visit, and why. I certainly enjoyed my time there--and would've done, even if I hadn't received the celebrity treatment!

It's still sunny. And downright hot. No complaints!

Monday, June 12, 2006

All that bright light!

The sun returned yesterday and remains with us today. Can't help squinting a lot. We've got so accustomed to rain, downpour, drizzle and fog that we've turned into moles. Even the dogs! Last evening we sat on the porch, soaking up the sunshine.

The garden is happy. I've got 4 roses in bloom now. Two white rugosas, Blanche Double de Coubert and the simple white rugosa. And two Scotch roses, Stanwell Perpetual and the Double Blush Burnet pictured below.

I'm also thrilled at finding ladyslippers at the edge of our woods. This one in the picture is near the house, and there's another across the road. They are considered rare--even endangered, as woodlands vanish.

For anyone wondering how the girls are getting along together, I submit these kissy-kissy pictures as proof that all is well.

I was hoping Ruth would kiss my husband's foot, but she didn't. She prefers faces, and who can blame her??

I'm off to lay a strawberry bed, before heading to the city where I have various meetings. (I'd rather stay home and play in the dirt...)

I'm up to Vol. iii of the diary. Each volume is very, very thick and the print rather small. So I consider this swift progress!