"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

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Loon on Lake

As I drove past our little lake on my way to the State House, I spotted a waterfowl of a particular size and shape.

Our loon has returned!

I'd left the Lodge early enough that I had a moment to spare. So I hopped out of the car and take some pictures.

Usually we hear him before we see him.

He wasn't there when I came home after a short session--only 90 minutes of legislating. Things got weird right at the end, for protocol rather than political reasons.

Motoring to the Capitol City earlier I heard the beginning of the the Leftover Lunch radio show on Boston's WFNX.

I'm guessing I was the only legislator who drove to the State House singing along with Camper Van Beethoven's "Take the Skinheads Bowling."

Now I can't get it out of my head.


Ice on the Road

Not sure whether there was actually ice on the road this morning, I suppose it's possible. There was definitely ice on our big deck--overnight the temperature went down low enough to freeze the coating left by the rainshowers. When I went out to hang my bird feeders, Ruth and Jewel raced onto the deck before me and went sliding across the slick surface. They weren't expecting it to be so slippery.

"Ice on the Road" is the name of the piece my mandolin teacher taught me on Friday. It's a traditional tune from Québec, and to my ear it has that Celtic-Québec-y flavour I love.

When I was sufficiently familiar with the notes to speed up the tune, I had a bit of trouble with the timing and rhythm. What's it supposed to sound like? So I hunted online for an audio or video version.

And I found one. Sierra Hull is adorable and wonderfully talented. I love the way she pronounces "ice". She plays an electric F-style mandolin. (Mine is acoustic A-style).

This afternoon I'll be legislating for a while. An outing! Haven't left the Lodge for days, except for church on Sunday. At the weekend I started shifting my wardrobe from cold weather to warm weather garments--but had to stop when the temperatures sank. Worked on the book till yesterday afternoon, when I started reading the most utterly awesome historical novel...more on that later. I plan to finish it when I get home.

We're having a sunny but blustery day, temperature in the low 40's right now. March went out as a lion and so, too, is April.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Currently In Bloom

Another cold and rainy day, so I won't nip out to my garden, where the delicate and fragrant jonquilla narcissus has opened.

Instead, I'm featuring blooms from the screened porch.

Over a week ago I potted up these sweet williams, dianthus barbatus.

Also in the pot are stargazer lily bulbs. The colours are much the same and if I can manage to get both the dianthus and lilies blooming at once, what a display it would be! Here's hoping.

My potted jasmine is blooming most prolifically at the moment. The plant grows ever larger, from a cutting I took a couple of years ago from the mother plant--which has grown at my parents' home for as long as I can remember. In their climate, it's an outdoors specimen. Here, it winters indoors and spends spring and summer on the porch. The star-shaped blossoms are wonderfully scented.

As I sit here awaiting the snowshoe hare's next foray through the front or back yard, I'm listening to my Dublin friend Scott's radio programme on live streaming audio. So strange, being in this quiet remote location, hearing reports of dreadful rush hour traffice round Phoenix Park, interspersed with discussion of whether breastfeeding mothers are more "maternal" than non breastfeeding moms. Scott, father of quite a large brood himself, is moderating the debate on the "breast police" with great aplomb.

Apparently the Taioseach will address the U.S. House of Representatives tomorrow--his swan song, as he's stepping down in a week's time.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Change in the Weather

The hot, dry days of last week have given way to chilly, soaking rain. And a very good thing, too, for the garden--good ground preparation for the roses that are on their way to me--and a much-needed dampening for these Northern woods. Too many brush fires lately.

A portion of "our" mountain--the bigger one we view from the cottage on the Big Lake--was on fire Friday and Saturday. About 40 acres of it burned...crews and equipment from 40 towns were on the site. I'm not sure whether any damage would be visible from our vantage.

Over the past 24 hours I've returned to wearing sweaters and flannel and thick socks. We'd removed the winter duvet from our bed but now have replaced it with woollen blankets.

Last night I tried recreating in the Lodge kitchen those amazing pan-seared scallops I enjoyed at the restaurant last week...with considerable success. My reduction was a bit different but I couldn't help being pleased by how it turned out.

Tonight I'm making Colorado Chili.

I carefully avoid online time-wasters. All work and no play on the internets, that's me. I am, however, a sucker for good causes and thus allow myself to do Free Rice in small doses, forcing myself to stop at 2000 grains. (Except for the time I went to 2700...I was on a roll.)

If, perchance, you're in need of amusement, check this out: Online Etch-A-Sketch. I tried it just long enough to make sure it works. It doesn't feed people and increase your vocabulary, like Free Rice, but it's creative and fun.

At this moment Ruth and Jewel are barking at the snowshoe hare, dining in the driving rain. I suspect I can distract them with an offer of doggie dinner!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Where the Wild Things Are

We spent part of the day at Discover Wild New Hampshire Day on the grounds of the Fish & Game Department.

As soon as we arrived, I noticed Painted Turtle Girl. Due to having a pair of painted turtle hatchlings temporarily residing under my roof, I would've liked to have my photo taken with her. But she was too busy.

Smokey the Bear, however, is always ready for a photo-op!

I'm probably the only (supposedly) grown-up person who insisted on posing with him.

The ever-popular Locked in Death exhibit was there.

These two moose were discovered as carcasses, their antlers permanently locked in a deadly unlockable grip. A taxidermist went to work on them and now it's a travelling display.

The Trappers Association had their own taxidermy display, showing the various fur-bearing critters.

I particularly like the fisher.

At the edge of the woodland where the stuffed critters roamed was a sharp drop-off. Down below was the Merrimack River, and at a distance of about a mile is downtown--and this nice view of the capitol dome soaring above leafing-out trees.

The Falconers Association was there, with many many birds, on the arm gauntlet and on their perches.

There were fly-fishing casting clinics, classroom presentations in the education building, dog-retrieving exhibitions, huge tents with information on wildlife and environmental activities and reps from various the state agencies and nonprofit associations. The Search and Rescue air boat was there. The OHRV and Snowmobilers Association had displays.

The place was swarming with kids and adults. The weather was exquisite!

Not a wild animal, but very important nonetheless: a Spinone Italiano.

Her name is Stella. She's the only one I've ever met in real life. I've often seen the breed on telly at the Westminster and Crufts and AKC Eukanuba dog shows.

Why was becoming acquainted with Stella a highlight of my day? Because one of her (fictional) forbears appears in my novel. A serendipitous and most unexpected research opportunity!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

And Then There Were Two

This afternoon I found another baby painted turtle in the garden as I continued my tidying-up.

It's slightly larger than the first, and livelier. Are they from the same nest? That's my guess, but no way to know for sure.

I went into the woods and collected some water from one of the vernal pools--with larvae and dead leaves and organic matter--and poured it into the swimming pool. They prefer being in the water.

Haven't yet had time to research whether I ought to release them in the boggy area at the edge of our lake, in a vernal pool, or in the lake itself.

My legislative committee held an Executive Session this morning to dispatch two bills. I made the Ought to Pass motion on the second one, and wrote the blurb that will appear in a future calendar of bills. I was assigned to the four-person Performance Audit Review Subcommittee, which will examine the first three recommendations in the Fish & Game Dept. audit, and determine what legislative action should result. We are expected to make our report prior to October 1st.

We then took our Administrative Assistant to lunch, in honour of Administrative Professionals Day (which was yesterday). The chosen restaurant is conveniently situated next door to the tire store. So while I ate pan-seared scallops on a bed of wilted mesclun with an orange balsamic reduction, and socialised with my colleagues, our snow tires were replaced with the regular ones.

Here are some flower photos from my morning stroll through the garden.

Snake-head fritillary in purple...

...and in white.

Despite the blazing weather, we've still got a small island of snow in the shadowy place at the edge of the forest, and by the side of the garage a lump from the former snow plow mountain.

Ice Out was declared for the Big Lake today, meaning the big white boat that passes our cottage in summer is able to reach all five of its ports. As I was last year, I'll be on board for its "shakedown cruise"--and am looking forward to it!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Front lawn of the NH State House, this morning.

We blasted through our very short calendar of bills, finishing in 1 hr. and 45 minutes.

So, after a caucus meeting, which convenes in a few minutes, I can return to my garden.

Double "ahhhhhhhhh" !

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Turtle Cam

I've created a temporary habitat for the baby painted turtle in our aquarium, the usual lodging for rescued critters. He'll stay there until the Chap and I have researched the optimal location for his release.

See him swim. Watch him explore the terrain. Assisted by the Helping Hand.

Earth Day

I knew that this was the real Earth Day when I referred to it as being Saturday. But the weekend was the time for community clean-up and various activities. For me, I suppose every day is Earth Day. We recycle obsessively, conserve electricity, combine errands to cut down on driving (even before petrol prices skyrocketed), and in recent years installed new energy-saving furnace and water heater and fridge and dishwasher. And yet still feel guilty for not doing more....There's always room for improvement.

Here's what's happening on my little piece of the planet.

Bulbs are flowering.

I'm moving a stone wall to expand a garden so I can stuff more rose bushes into it. They aren't large stones. The difficulty is that it's like a puzzle with infinite possibilities...I can't simply re-create the same configuration of stones. It's like starting all over again, trying each one to see how it fits against the rest of them.

When tugging up some weeds, I pulled away a clump of dirt and dislodged this bright orange disk....

Which turned out to be a baby painted turtle.

Quite a mystery, this discovery. The painted turtles lay their eggs all over our property. The eggs usually hatch in September and the little ones toddle over to the lake where they spend the winter under the ice (I think) and grow bigger.

I can't imagine why this hatchling is hanging out in my garden. Did he spend the winter there? I must conduct some study, and if necessary, consult a wildlife biologist.

I put it in a glass jar and it's sitting on my desk.

After I show him to the Chap, he'll go back where I found him.

My horse head looks better in my gardening hat than I do.

"I need more garden statuary," I told the Chap when I came inside last evening.

To his credit, he didn't ask, "Why?"

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Pope's Parting Gift?

I don't actually think I can pin it on the Pope. I believe the catalyst was a magazine article the Chap was reading.

Said he, abruptly last night, "We need to go to Rome."

"Great," I chirped, assuming he meant this year. Then, "But not instead of London."

"No. Not instead of."

He's seen even more of Italy than I've done, and he hasn't even been to Rome. I loved Florence and left a part of my heart in Venice. I've nothing against Rome at all, it's just that it fell lower on the "must experience" scale than the other two.

I'm not sure this constitutes A Plan yet. But a seed was planted. The more I think about Rome, the more I want to go.

But not till after gardening and cottaging season. Oh--and I'm supposed to mount a re-election campaign, too.

Here's a not-very-good video of the girls messing about at the neighbour's dock. Jewel is wading, Ruth is shaking off the water from her swim and squealing, a dog from across the lake is barking.

And the Chap is sporting a t-shirt. Ah, spring!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Weekend Joys

After spending the winter buried beneath snow, my garden pig is filled with joy at being surrounded by miniature daffodils.

The King Alfred daffodils are also fully in bloom, the hyacinths are opening. The fritillaria and narcissus are laden with buds. I expect to find something new every day now!

My gardens have many growing zones. In one of them, the crocus are finished. In another, they are peaking.

On Friday afternoon I did my garden shopping, which included the purchase of a fine new pair of garden gloves. I went to Borders for books and music, too. The books must await a rainy day. The weather is exquisite, and I only want to be outdoors!

On Earth Day--Saturday--the Chap and I, and the girls spent our day outside. He was involved in fleet management--washing, detailing, prepping the four automobiles. Two are being taken off the road, two were being made road-worthy.

I was double-digging new rose beds, re-routing garden paths, weeding like a demon, top-dressing my antique roses (gallicas, damasks, boursaults) with composted manure. And I transplanted my Portland rose to a better, roomier location.

At one point I removed my new (but well-dirtied) gloves and tossed them onto the lawn so I could undertake the most necessary and most maddening and most fiddly of tasks, erecting the mesh deer barrier around the front garden. Suddenly I heard the Chap shouting, "No, Jewel! Put that down!"

I looked round to see the dog gnawing on one glove. She wrecked it. My fault for being so careless.

When we finished our work, we celebrated with caipirinhas on the screened porch.

Last night, before we settled in to watch Cousin Bette (the ancient BBC television serial, with a baby-faced Helen Mirren as Valerie Marneffe) I remembered to take down my bird feeders. When I stepped onto the deck, I saw a snowshoe hare--not, I think, the one I saw a few days ago. This one was more brown.

I was in such a rush that I didn't check or change my camera setting, so the low-light image didn't turn out well. And the flash gave him "mad bunny" eyes. But here you have him...or her.

It's changing colour...only white underneath. The other one I saw was mottled, mostly white with a little brown mixed in.

We saw the much whiter bunny in the main drive very late, just before we went to bed. It was up to no good, as I discovered this morning when strolling my garden. I'd left a gap in the deer barrier at ground level--the bunny had got inside the garden and gnawed the leaves of some crocus down to the ground. They'd finished blooming, but still! And it left a little bit of bunny poo as further evidence.

Right after church we drove to the city for more shopping. At Lowe's, I used up what was left of that gift card, buying more manure and an identical new pair of garden gloves, stargazer lily bulbs, and sweet williams. The Chap had received a Petco gift card from his fellow board members, so we used part of it for stuff the girls needed.

Including this new red ball. Oh, the joy!

Ruth thinks it's just for her.

When we returned from our walk round the lake with the girls (see previous post), I moved plants and planters onto the deck and the porch. I transplanted some sweetheart roses I rooted from cuttings over the winter. I planted my lily bulbs.

So many more gardens to tidy. More roses to prune. The tasks seem endless--but so is my enthusiasm for them!

Ice Out

On Friday afternoon, when I returned home from the State House tour, my mandolin lesson, and shopping for my garden, the last remnants of ice were still floating on our little lake.

Sometime on Friday night or Saturday morning, the ice went out.

Today--Sunday--the Chap and I took the girls for a walk round the lake. When inspected our near neighbour's cottage and dock, the girls enjoyed what must've been a very cold drink.

Ruth decided that swimming season should open as soon as the ice is out.

Jewel waded in and out, but only wee Ruth was brave enough to swim. Repeatedly. Then she shook cold water over all of us.

There was a canoe on the lake yesterday, kayakers today. We're ready to put our canoe in the water, too. Soon!

Representatives Hall

I spent part of last summer and autumn working temporarily (part-time basis) for a continuing ed/lifelong learning nonprofit. I had been doing some consulting there and when they lost a staff member at a time when they were too busy to embark on the hiring process, I filled in. Shortly before I left, I was asked if I'd be willing to talk to a class about being a State Representative in the spring, when they would tour the State House. "Sure," said I.

Friday was the day of their tour. The director of our State House visitors' centre is a constituent of mine, and she knows everything about the building and its long, long history. I joined the group tour at the outset, and when we arrived in Representatives Hall, they sat down in the front rows of Division 3, and I described my life as a legislator, from filing for office to an average session day.

Because part of my job last year was shooting photos for the course catalogue and marketing materials, I took my good camera along with me. Old habits die hard, and I thought I could capture some fun pics of the group on their tour. (And I did.) But I also benefitted. Usually when I'm in the Capitol, I have the Chap's little pocket digicam. With my own, and with plenty of time to play with it, I was able to take some pictures for myself.

Here's our entrance to the anteroom behind Reps Hall.

The red arrows are pointing at the back of my seat, number 93 in Division 3. It's the 4th one, next to the last row.

This was taken from the House Clerk's vantage. The arrows are pointing at the electronic vote tally apparatus. You can see the layout of the five divisions. Each seat position lights up when the member has pressed the red or green button at their seat. We're allowed 30 seconds to cast our vote.

Divison votes and roll call votes are both taken electronically. The equipment isn't at all new or high tech, and we have to wait a few minutes to let it "rest" if we have two electronic votes in a row.

Our chamber, the oldest continuously occupied legislative chamber in the nation, has become my home away from home. I'm glad I had the opportunity to shoot it when it was unoccupied and I had some time to roam about. I got a lot of good stuff.

Friday, April 18, 2008

From My Garden

Yesterday's warm weather--over 70 degrees--encouraged these early-flowering daffodils to open.

I spent 5 hours in my biggest rose garden. I raked leaves, turned the earth, pulled weeds, divided perennials in the two largest sections. Also I pruned my damask roses, rosa canina, the floridundas and hybrid perpetuals, and whatever else I left undone last time round.

While working with my garden claw beneath the gallica rose Tuscany, I disturbed my old friend Mr. Toad. It was our first encounter of the gardening year.

He is always in exactly the same spot, and I always manage to disturb his rest. His first hop startles me, but never surprises me--I expect to see him. The rest of the time I'm working in his area, we try to keep out of each other's way, with varying degrees of success.

I've prepped some of the places where new roses will go, but there's more to be done. I'm eradicating two pathways in order to extend garden space, so I'll need to amend the soil when I dig up the paths.

I did something I'd never done before--I brought dogs into the front yard while I worked. Normally I leave them in their fenced part of the backyard. Or I put them on the deck. But we haven't set up a table or umbrella yet, so there's no shade on the deck. The house casts a lovely big shadow in front--the reason there's still a snow berm.

Our dogs are always behind a fence or on a leash--they aren't permitted to roam. All the long tie-out paraphernalia is up at the cottage, so I strung a lot of leashes together to allow freedom of movement while still keeping them out of my way.

At first they were confused, thinking we were supposed to go for a walk. Then they settled down, and spent the afternon napping in the sun, sitting in the shade, cooling off on the snow berm, rolling in the grass, or sniffing the places where the chipmunks hide.

A good time was had by all.

I was typically immoderate and wore myself out. I used a different set of muscles--digging muscles--then I did the other day. But I did wear better protective clothing, except for the Swiss cheese gloves, so I didn't get nicked and pricked.

Wish I could be out there again today but I can't. I'll explain later.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hare in the AM. Bear in the PM.

Yesterday consisted of lots of legislating, bracketed by two wildlife encounters.

When last I wrote, I was on my Tartan Day lunch break, wishing I were at the Lodge with the snowshoe hare I'd spotted. Things didn't look good for a short session. It took all morning for the House to deal with two education bills. (A kindergarten funding bill and an adequacy costing bill.)

Returning to Reps Hall, we carried on with other things. Like requiring youth and children to wear age- and size-appropriate head-safety helmets on snowmobiles and ATV's and OHRV's. Requiring home inspectors to be licenced. The usual stuff.

And then we prohibited a procedure called resomation, after a tortured and gacky debate. It wasn't a topic we enjoyed discussing on a full stomach. You probably don't need to know about resomation, unless you're into creepy medical stuff and forensics like my ex-doctor bestselling author friend Tess Gerristsen--who probably already does. If you want some basic info, go here. We decided the Granite State didn't need to be the first one in the US of A to legalise this procedure, used in Europe for the mass disposal of mad cows and such. I think it was the comments linking "vermin" and the residue of resomated bodies that did the trick. That particular quote was printed in this morning's paper--I stumbled across it while eating breakfast. Gack.

Our last bill of the day was the one that drew an interested crowd of activists and the television cameras and other media: House Resolution 24, urging the Congress to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The committee that heard the bill judged it Inexpedient to Legislate.

I received around 200 emails urging me to pass the resolution. Of those for which the writers identified a location, most came from PA, and a fair number from the way west--OR, WA, CA. About 3 of those emails originated in my own state. And I got only 1 from an actual constituent.

There was an impassioned and well-reasoned speech by the prime sponsor. Some thoughtful and cogent objections from both the majority and the minority. In the end, the resolution was tabled. In effect, the thing--if not the sentiments, which probably most of the majority shared--is dead.

It was a long afternoon, and after the session there was a legislative reception hosted by the highly leveraged and financially unstable entity that is buying out Verizon's telephone lines in NH, VT, and ME. Having received voluminous correspondence and petitions from my constituents and other citizens of this state opposing the sale, and having myself expressed strong opposition to the Public Utilities Commission on more than one occasion, I chose not to attend. On principle. These gatherings are standard and I can't fault the prospective owners of the land lines for wanting to ingratiate themselves with the legislators. It's standard operating procedure. But I just didn't feel like eating their food. Call me a sore loser, I don't care. I harbour grave concerns about this deal and its impact on the state.

The Chap and I saw the first hour of the Travesty ABC News Tried to Pass Off as a Political Debate, before tuning into American Idol, then back to MSNBC for post-debate "analysis".

It was nearly bedtime when we heard an echoing thud on the big deck.

I was on my feet and off the sofa in a flash. The sleepy-eyed dogs looked at me like I was nuts.


On radio and in the paper I'd been exposed to notifications from NH Fish & Game that our black bears were waking up and moving about and bird feeders should come inside. But, silly me, I hadn't yet put my intent into practise. I thought there was too much snow in the woods still. And our bear never shows up until May.


The girls were oblivious, but they raced upstairs with us. From the windows we could see the bear in the drive, an enormous lumbering black shape on all fours, moving away from the Lodge.

I grabbed the camera and stepped onto the deck, while the Chap held onto the dogs' collars.

One of my tube feeders, the one that holds safflower seeds, was swinging on its wire (supposedly too high for a bear to reach). A chunk of it was missing.

So was the bear.

I grabbed the intact thistle feeder and scooted inside.

This morning, I confronted the evidence.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Jewel learns what a bear smells like.

So does Ruth.

I'm guessing the bear--most likely our local sow--whacked the feeder with her paw. Usually she stomps on it, too, but not this time.

I've hanged/hung a different safflower feeder this morning, and the thistle feeder. But I'll be bringing them inside at dusk from now on.

As we say round here at this time of year, Something's Bruin in New Hampshire.

No really, we do. There's even a bumper sticker!

What's really embarrassing about this episode, for me, is that my legislative committee is...Fish & Game.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tartan Day

In the House of Representatives this morning, we celebrated things Scottish. So, while I would've liked to stay home watching the snowshoe hare who emerged from the forest, I wrapped myself in the McCallum plaid and headed to the State House for the festitivites.

(However, to honour my Irish heritage, I pinned the tartan scarf with a shield pin purchased in Dublin.)

I had an honoured guest today--my husband. He was present for the beginnig of session and had his name read out loud by the House Clerk as the "special guest of Representative Porter."

At the start of session, bagpipers piped in a group of young dancers from the School for Scottish Arts. The blue arrows indicate the presence of the Chap in the front row of the gallery.

After some pronouncements and some dancing and some bagpiping, the performers received a rousing ovation.

And the House got down to the big business of the day. More on that later. Perhaps.

I shot this view of the State House dome when running out of the chamber to grab a cup of joe.

Such a lovely day. Wish I could spend it outside instead of in!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Blackbird Morning

Where be a blackbird to?
I know where he be
He be up yon Wurzel tree and I be after 'ee
Now I sees 'ee and 'ee sees I
Bugger'd if I don't get him
With a girt big stick I'll knock 'im down
Blackbird I'll 'ave 'ee

That's a little ditty by the Wurzels, sung in a heavy West Country (specifically, Bristolian) accent. We used to sing it in the car, on driving trips round the Cotswolds and to Bath Spa or the Forest of Dean and in rural Ireland or--well, pretty much everywhere.

Now it's running in an endless loop through my brain.

No, I didn't see a blackbird in a wurzel tree. But I did see two black birds this morning.

I spotted a raven in one of our big beech trees.

In the photo he looks more like a common crow--it doesn't show his unmistakable bumpy-forehead raven profile. His soaring flight and broad wingspan were also clues to his identity.

A moment later, a common grackle landed on a birch sapling. The sun striking his chest revealed that amazing iridescent blue.

Also in the treetops, scaling the giant hemlock, a chipmunk.