"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, January 30, 2009

Pecking Away

Male downy woodpecker

Instead of worrying about slow progress on my manuscript, I'm rectifying it. As of yesterday, I've got a Plan. I've set Goals. And I intend to Follow-Through.

With so much going on in my life these days, I cut myself a lot of slack where writing is concerned. I'm not under contract. I'm writing on spec. That's well within my comfort zone. But it's also true that I'm getting impatient with myself. In my head, the book is there--it's alive, it's complete. I need to get the rest of it down on paper in a completed first draft. To do so, I must tap my reserves of discipline. The next book is already trying to shove its way into my consciousness, but there's no room for it.

Over the past year I've proved that when motivated, I can accomplish things.

This morning, practising my most challenging mandolin piece (and very well, I might add, I was cooking!) my mind re-wound back to this time last year. And realised how far I'd come.

Last spring I decided I wanted to lose 5 pounds. As of this morning, I've lost 26.

My Plan is this: I will write a minimum of 1000 words every day. Typed, longhand, hieroglyphics, whatever. If I succeed in this, that distant light at the end of the manuscript tunnel won't be dim indefinitely.

As goals go, this is hardly taxing. It's only about 4 ms. pages. It's only a couple of hundred words more than my opinion pieces, which average about 800 words. I could do it without breaking a sweat. The issue isn't the quantity so much as the consistency of effot, the habit of producing.

The Rules are these: After completing my 1000 words, I'm not supposed to stop. But I can. If I write 2000 words one day, I can't take off the next day. The only exception is weekends. For nearly all my career--except when deadline looms, or unless I'm in the mood for writing--my weekends have been sacrosanct. I try to preserve at least one weekend day when I don't even log onto a computer or do anything book-related. Therefore, I will allow myself to have a day off...provided I make it up. If I want to take off Saturday, I must do 2000 words on some other day--preferably in advance, on Friday--but if not then immediately after, on Sunday or Monday.

I started yesterday and exceeded my goal.

And I know the biggest test of my will versus my calendar of activities will be the coming week!

Female hairy woodpecker

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

White Stuff

An exceptionally rare "Snow Day" for the Legislature, so I'm here at the Lodge to capture thrilling incidents like this one--

Looks like they're dancing, but from Ruth's fierce expression, you know it's a play fight. I encouraged her and Jewel to chase each other round their yard until they were exhausted, so they would spend the rest of the day like this:

The above sofa view shows a typical configuration, whether I'm working on my laptop, watching television, reading a book or newspaper or magazine. There's just enough room for me!

It's the season for really scary icicles on New England houses. Our rooftop has a very sunny exposure and good air circulation, so we don't get much ice build-up. But we can boast a very impressive 'cicle clinging to the screened porch.

What so cool is that it's soooooo lengthy! It hangs down really far. I wish I could measure it, I think it's as tall as me.

Inside the house, there's white stuff, too. My beautiful white azalea is blooming. Later than usual this year, as if it knew I needed the presence of flowers more in wintertime than in autumn!

Busy legislative day yesterday, five public hearings in my committee. (I chaired one of them, so sat in the Chairman's big chair and banged the gavel at the start and conclusion.) Controversial bills drew members of the public to other committee rooms in droves. The Chap was there, too, monitoring bills, so we had a chance to lunch together in the cafeteria.

By early afternoon, as news of the impending snowstorm grew more and more dire, the Speaker announced that today's House session would be cancelled.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Yes, now anyone can transform an image into the famous, ubuquitous, iconic 4-colour Shephard Fairey poster.

Having my own personal Obama image to work with, I started with this:

Then I did Ruth & Jewel.

Then I did my head shot.

And finally, I did the Duchess who is a major character in my novel.

If you feel compelled to try it out, you can go here. Registration required. You can order stuff--coffee mugs, shirts--with your Obamicon. That's not my intention, of those items I have far, far too many.

That said, my jazzed up 17th century Duchess is mighty cool. So who knows?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Musical Monday

I've been a fan of singer Sam Phillips since the release of her album The Indescribable Wow, with the awesome single "Holding on to the Earth." I was very vaguely aware of her during her earlist incarnation, as a Christian recording artist. Much of her music was produced by her ex-husband, the amazing T-Bone Burnett.

I've seen her in concert 3 times, but not lately.

Here's the video of another favourite song of hers, "I Need Love."

Wanna sing along with Sam? Here are her lyrics:

I left my conscience like a crying child
Locked the door behind me put the pain on file
Broken like a window I see my blindness now

And I need love not some sentimental prison
I need god not the political church
I need fire to melt frozen sleet inside me
I need love

Driving into town tired and depressed
Like a flare a street light burst and SOS
Peace comes to my rescue
And I don't know what it means

But I need love not some sentimental prison
I need god not the political church
I need fire to melt frozen sleet inside me
I need love

Broken like a window I see my blindness now

And I need love not some sentimental prison
I need god not the political church
I need fire to melt frozen sleet inside me
I need love
I need love
I need love

I need love

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Stroll: Snow Swags

This is a follow-up to last week's "Snow Shapes," one snowstorm later. On our deck railings, the snow has shifted and frozen in place, an unusual but very beautiful embellishment. I don't think I've ever noticed this phenomenon in all our years living here!

If you'd like to continue strolling, head this way!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Festivities & Felines

At yesterday's mandolin lesson I received the next sections in the longest, most complicated piece of music I've had so far. And I had a re-stringing tutorial. My instrument has needed new strings for quite a while.

Soon as I got back to the Lodge I was in a cooking frenzy. It was the night of our usual monthly dinner party--which, due to travels we've not attended together since August! (In Sept. we were in Washington, The Chap went solo in October when I was on my North Country church tour, we were in London in November, and there wasn't one in December.) I was doing the main course. I don't often cook for 15-20 persons! Fortunately my chicken parmigiana recipe is expandable. It got rave reviews, and only one portion was leftover.

We were quite a festive group. One person was celebrating an 83rd birthday. And we were all still experiencing post-Inaugural euphoria. The food was fantastic, there was cake and ice cream, and champagne.

The house where we partied is over 2 centuries old. It has a dog and about 6 cats, some of which are only rumoured to exist because they're shy.

A young tiger cat wasn't at all shy. At first we thought he was a new resident, but in fact he was there for babysitting. "This is Foster," we were told. "He's Compton's brother. He comes from Rhode Island."

Foster was very inquisitive and very friendly. He looks exactly like my childhood cat...the only cat I ever had. He also looks just like his big brother Compton. (Both are named for towns in Rhode Island.)

A friend was playing with Foster when I took these photos:

PS I forgot to mention...Neighbours of ours, who were at the dinner party, are the human grandparents of Boswell the Goose! So we received first-hand info about his condition and treatment and progress. If you want to follow Boswell's story, visit The Daily Honk...but because he's a celebrity as well as a medical patient, he doesn't have time to update it as regularly as his fans might like. So it's not actually a "daily" honk.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


My uncle: introduced me to Mozart operas.

Never in my life: have I ridden a motorcycle. Despite several opportunities.

When I was five: I expected to become a ballerina and show-jumper.

High School was: weird and boring. So at 17 I dropped out of prep school and went straight to college.

I will never forget: the first time I saw my future husband

Once I met: Barack Obama. And made him laugh!

There's this girl I know: who can remember things about me that I've forgotten. And vice versa.

Once, at a bar: near the Adelphi in London, a man went down on his knees in front of me and declared I was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. My husband and two friends were witnesses to this bizarre episode. I still wonder what the hell he'd been drinking....

By noon: I'm on my 4th cup of tea. At least!

Last night: I was so excited about the Inauguration.

If only I had: a completed manuscript.

Next time I go to church: I hope we sing one of my favourite hymns.

What worries me most: is my July trip to California.

When I turn my head to the right: I see a wall of research books and file folders.

You know I'm lying when: I say "I don't have anything to do today."

What I miss about the 80s is: a funky red & white top I used to wear a lot.

If I were a character in Shakespeare: I'd probably be Beatrice.

By this time next year: my next novel might be finished!

A better name for me would be: Julia Elizabeth.

I have a hard time understanding: bigotry.

If I ever go back to school: I'll have a Ph.D

You'll know I like you if: I invite you to "visit the lake cottage sometime."

If I ever won an award the first person that I would thank is: my husband

Take my advice: don't become a writer if you're doing it for the paycheck or the adulation.

My ideal breakfast is: eggs benedict. Or Scotch woodcock. Which contains neither Scotch nor a woodcock.

A song I love but do not have: Hobo Humpin' Slobo Babe by Whale. (Warning: if you're brave enough to play the video, it's loud!)

If you visit my hometown: go in springtime when all the beautiful cherry trees are blooming.

Why won't people simply: stop asking me to serve on committees!

If you ever spend the night at my house you probably won't get any sleep because: you'll be freaking out about all the sock monkeys in our guest bedroom.

I'd stop my wedding for: absolutely nothing. If I were having another wedding. Which I'm not.

The world could do without: so many SUV's.

I'd rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: watch Survivor again. Because the castaways do things like lick the belly of a cockroach.

My favorite blonde is: "Cousin" Kate Winslet

Paper clips are: very bendy.

If I do anything well, it's: grow houseplants, especially flowering ones.

I can't help but stand up for: the Nicene Creed.

I cry over: more things than you would believe.

My advice to my children is: my children are dogs, therefore, "No peeing in the house!" So far they have followed this advice.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dream, Believe, Change

"That is the true genius of America, a faith in the simple dreams of its people, the insistence on small miracles. "Out of Many, One," by Keynote Speaker Senator Barack Obama, Democratic Convention, July 27, 2004

"Do you ever build up a really favourable impression of somebody you don't really know but think you do (author, celebrity, politician, friend of a a friend)? And then, on meeting them, find out that they don't quite live up to your high opinion or expectation? That didn't happen to me this morning....the Candidate displayed a formidable degree of dignity, intelligence, thoughtfulness, pragmatism, sensitivity, boldness, conviction, and optimism." MEP on meeting Sen. Barack Obama, April, 2007

"The candidate addresses the crowd." MEP on seeing him the second time, July, 2007

"You know, they said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided; too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose." Sen. Barack Obama, Iowa Caucus Victory Speech, January 3, 2008

"Fascinating fact of the day: The woman who asked Senator Clinton the question that made her almost cry subsequently attended an Obama rally. And voted for him yesterday." MEP the morning after the NH Primary, January, 2008

"It is that promise that has always set this country apart - that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well." Presidential Candidate Barack Obama, Speech to the Democratic Convention, August 28, 2008

"Two Winners. I knew the outcome of my race by 9:00. Had to wait two hours more for the offical projection of the next occupant of the White House. Today was the most beautiful, bright, mild first Tuesday in November I can remember. All day my heart has been so full." MEP, Election Night, November 2008

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer." President-Elect Barack Obama, November 5, 2008

"The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness." President Barack Obama, Inauguration Speech, January 20, 2009

So here we are on Inauguration Day. When I witnessed the realisation of an improbable hope I've cherished for four years, five months, and twenty-three days. God bless you, Mr. President. Thanks for the service and commitment that carried you to this day.

And thanks for dreaming so big.

Inauguration Day

A happy day here at the Lodge. The morning skies were grey but the closer we get to the Oath Taking, the more sunshine and blue sky I see. At the same time, snowflakes are gently drifting down. Every television set in the house is switched on.

And we're all appropriately attired.

The oversized t-shirt was a gift from a State House colleague. New Englanders will recognise the popular "local" font. I'm standing in front of the portrait of my husband's Revolutionary War soldier ancestor. What would he, who fought to create this nation, think about this historic day, I wonder?

The girls are big fans of Obama. They are mixed breeds--he's mixed race. They are black and white. So is he.

More later....

Monday, January 19, 2009

Musical Monday

We've received approximately 1 full foot of snow since Saturday night. This song reminds me of swimming, and hot summer Southern nights. All of which really seem very distant right now.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Stroll: Snow Shapes

Over the course of a frigid, sub-freezing, occasionally windy week, the snow of last Sunday froze hard, forming interesting sculptures.

The pointy curvy one. Like an elf shoe. Could there be one lying on its back, buried beneath that white blanket?

A snow buffalo.

Actual snow cone.

With light shining behind it, this snow wall is translucent. And there's a little tiny passageway at the bottom.

Snow hugs a door sill.

Sharp peaks formed on the back staircase.

Admission: the above photos were taken on Saturday. I knew the shapes would disappear today because...

...we're getting...

...a lot more snow!

Much to our poor displaced robin's chagrin. It sits in the winterberry tree almost all the time, which offers the best--perhaps the only--source of sustenance.

Thanks for stopping by.

Keep strolling over here!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mostly Good Stuff

I'm not going to start out by moaning. Good news first!

It is a beautiful, bright day. Just like yesterday. I'm comfortably settled on the sofa in the downstairs sitting room. Jewel is curled up beside me (encroaching slightly) and sleeping, and she's a living, breathing heating pad. Ruth is curled on her cushion, gazing back with half-open eyes. (I think she knows I'm writing about her!) My mandolin practice session this morning was good, I'm finally winning the battle against a complicated piece of music. The weekend schedule is clear, enabling me to continue the progress made on my manuscript this week. On Tuesday I attended my first Chairs & Vice Chairs meeting, followed by the Fish & Game & Marine Resources Committee's organisation meeting, followed by a presentation from the F&G Department, followed by a diocesan Mission Resources (not to be confused with Marine Resources!) meeting. All good.

I refuse to let what I saw this morning burst my bubble of contentment.

That's right. Minus 9 degrees. I'm sure it looked worse overnight.

I've heard this is the coldest day for 4 years. Somebody's keeping track.

The temperature has now zoomed up to plus 9 degrees, and I think that's where it will hold. Sure, it's a single digit...but there are worse single digits. And it isn't windy.

Yesterday, when it was nearly as cold as now, I spotted a robin. A miserable robin. She was perched in a sunny spot in one of our big hemlocks, feathers fluffed out as much as possible against the cold. Considering the date, she's no harbinger of spring, or the "January thaw." (We should be so lucky.)

Poor thing, she's lost. Or crazy. I hope she's already flown south to warmer climes...like, oh, Nashua.

Lucky I could hibernate during the extreme cold spell these past 2 days. Today, however, I've got a music lesson, so I'll be out in it. But not for long!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


It's my invitation. To attend and participate. In the Inaugural activities.

No, I'm not going. Never intended to go. Yes, I could go. Many people I know are going, and not all of them are legislators. This invitation isn't a ticket. You must have a ticket--to the inauguration itself, to the balls. Yes, I could've had them for the asking. I didn't ask.

In recent days, hearing my friends' and colleagues' hectic planning, their logistical gyrations, the weather forecasts, etc. all make me very glad to be staying home. One attendee told me that the Million on the Mall (or however many they will be) will actually have a better view of proceedings, via the jumbotrons, than the 125,000 (or however many they will be) who are official ticketed guests.

I confess, I expected to feel more conflicted about staying home than I do. After all, this is an event of historic proportions--on so many levels--for which I've longed since August, 2004 (the night of the Democratic Convention in Boston and then-Senator Obama's speech). Joyous as the occasion will be, dearly as I love Washington (my mother's home town), these are incontrovertible facts:

--I've been travelling a lot since I was in DC in Sept. and have a resulting sense of inertia

--My joy would be greatly impaired by having to stand in cold and windchill for 4 hours (or more) without water, food, toilet access, etc.

--I would miss all the informative commentary and the superiour access and panoramic vistas provided by the television cameras

--I've already attended a Washington ball, not that long ago. That said, "our" inaugural ball, the New Hampshire one, has the best title of all: The Grits & Granite Ball. It's a joint celebration with South Carolina, the 2nd Presidential primary state, and ours, the First-in-the-Nation Primary State. Almost everyone I know will be there. The First Couple is expected to pop in.

--The elegant, comfortable, and conveniently situated house where I normally stay in Washington can't accommodate me

--Transportation gridlock would make me insane

--Did I mention it's going to be really cold? And that attendees will have to stand outside? And walk everywhere?

In honour of the occasion (and because leadership and a large chunk of the majority party are headed to the Capitol) there are no NH legislative activities scheduled on Tuesday. I intend to spend the day it in front of my television. I can cuddle on the sofa with warm dogs. Build a fire. Imbibe hot tea at will. And let emotion overwhelm me in the comfort and privacy of my own home, sweet home.

Thanks for the Invitation, Inaugural Committee. Another cherished keepsake of an incredible and intense election cycle. I'll be celebrating, for sure--but wouldn't want to do it anywhere else but here at the Lodge.

However...I have expressed to the Chap that I'm tempted to stake our claim on our rooms in that wonderful Washington house for the next Inauguration...in 2012!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Pride of the Winslet(t)s

So exciting for us of Winslet(t) stock. "Cousin Kate," as we refer to her round here, was awarded two Golden Globes last evening, as Best Supporting Actress in The Reader and as Best Actress in Revolutionary Road.

We were riveted to the season premiere of 24, so missed the first 2 hours of the awards show, and were unaware of Kate's first win of the night. By the time we tuned in, the major awards were being handed out...and they pleased us immensely (30 Rock and Mad Men are must-see-tv in this household!).

I was somewhat startled to find Kate almost entirely incoherent at the start of her acceptance speech for Best Actress...now that I know it was her second time at the podium, I can almost understand why she might've felt so overwhelmed. I love her for remembering to thank so many of the crew and behind-the-scenes folks, who usually go unrecognised. Too bad that the 2 films in which her performances are lauded (for which she will surely receive matching Academy Award nominations) are so dark and heavy. I don't think I'll be rushing to the cinema, but they'll go onto the Netflix queue.

Laura Dern won for her portrayal of Flordia's Secretary of State, Katherine Harris in Recount (which I recommend most strongly!) I was, many years ago, ever so slightly acquainted with the real-life Harris. I prefer not to be more specific. I still haven't fully recovered from the 2000 electoral debacle in FL.

Kate of the one-t Winslets grew up in Reading, England, where her family still live. My crop of two-t Winsletts hail from the same general area, in Surrey. You can clearly see that it's the heart of Winslett country on this map. Nobody's quite certain whether our lot added a t, or the other lot dropped it, but spelling in olden times was far from codified. The history of the Winsletts after their arrival in America (under extremely dubious circumstances!) is fascinating.

My first (and only female) cousin's middle name is Winslett. I'm often tempted to adopt it as a pen name.

*** I'm envious of Kate's new weightlifting accessories! A little while ago I was copying her moves with my free weights. Yes, as of today, I'm feeling well--or bored--enough to resume my exercise regimen!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sunday Stroll: The Whiteness

Not a lot of outdoor strolling...mostly I was strolling from window to window, although I did step outside onto the big deck and the back deck.

Fans of snow.

In front of the house, a mysterious trail begins near my mermaid birdbath...


and comes to an abrupt conclusion in the middle of my rose bed.

Rugosa canes.

In this weather, the birds are never far from the feeders.

While I was birdwatching, the first of our two driveways was plowed.

The Chap went to church this morning, out of duty as much as devotion: there was a Vestry meeting to work on the budget. After our late night, and the lingering Bug, and the snowy weather, I felt it prudent to stay home.

The pre-show reception was well-attended and the bidding at the fundraising auction was amazing. I bid on a couple of items myself, and was the high bidder for one of them! Saw several fellow state representatives, and at least one state senator.

The Capitol Steps were fantastic, nearly all the material and songs were new and quite current--as current as the recent election and the travails of the Illinois governor and the Big Three auto manufacturers bailout. Afterwards I was exhausted and aching for near-constant laughter. But it is the best medicine, they say!

Last night's Full Wolf Moon was beautiful. We saw it while driving to town, behind a hazy veil of light cloud. Magic!

PS To keep strolling, go here. It's worth the click just to see Aisling's banner/blog title photo!