"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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Stroll, Mostly on Saturday

We didn't emerge from the Lodge on Black Friday after all. It was raining and we weren't in the mood.

Yesterday we modified our original dining and shopping plan.

You know you're on the Seacoast when you see licence plates like this one.

We arrived at Portsmouth legend The Friendly Toast in time for brunch. Lots of other people were there, too, in large groups mostly. It's way easier to get a table for two than for ten, so we didn't have a very long wait. The decor is very discinctive. The very defition of kitschy!

I orderd the Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict (and not for the first time, I might add.)

When we emerged the blustery wind was still raging and leaves were blowing everywhere. This one flew way up from the sidewalk and ended up in the centre of my shot looking towards the Congregational church steeple and Market Square.

We were really shopping for other people in the downtown shops and boutiques. Hoever, I couldn't resist a fave clothing shop. I'm really glad I went inside, because I found a vintage cream Angora sweater--sooooo Betty Draper--for only $13!

I'm a historian. So here's something historical--the entrance to the Antheneum.

As for the shopping, all I can say is we met with great success. We had no trouble parking, and though downtown was certainly busy the crowds weren't bad at all. I'm sure the same could not be said of the shopping malls and outlet malls!

We stopped at a supermarket on the way home to stock up on provisions for a busy week that will include overnight company, dinner guests, a few meetings and a legislative training and, at the end of it (weather permitting) the acquisition of this year's cathedral ceiling-scraping Christmas tree.

We knew something was amiss because the stoplights at a big intersection weren't functioning. The windstorm (with gusts over 50 mph.) had cut the power in the area. Despite the lack of electricity the store was open and the tills were working (presumably on generator power.) It was dark in there, but we knew the store well enough to find what we needed. The staff had stacked super-size packages of toilet tissue rolls in all the freezer cases to prevent melting, and the dairy section was closed off by blue tarps. If you needed dairy (and we did) you could ask the clerk to reach behind the tarp and get whatever your wanted.

We started in the produce area, which wasn't greatly affected. While we were wandering various darkened aisles, the electricity suddenly came back on. Everyone in the store cheered. And we got to watch the clerks remove all those loo rolls from the freezer cases and roll them back to the storage area on big trollies and put things back in order.

Back at the Lodge, we found that the power had been cut, also, but was only out for about 15 minutes or so. The new generator kicked on for the very first time, and we missed it!

Today marks the first Sunday in Advent. (How did that happen? Did this year fly by, or what?)

In addition to the usual activities of the day, we observed (in advance) the Feast of St. Andrew (which is tomorrow.) In honour of Scotland's patron saint, some parishioners showed up in plaids and tartans. I draped my McCallum scarf/shawl over my clothes. And we had a piper on hand for the Kirkin' of the Tartan.

Thanks so much for visiting. If you'd like to stroll some more, stop by Aisling's blog.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Feast

My kitchen helpers return from their long walk.

Question of the Day: Will my stuffed turkey breast look like the picture in New Hampshire Home magazine?

Soon as the chestnuts come out of the oven, the pumpkin pie goes in.

Mixing the stuffing: fried fresh bread crumbs, crisped proscuitto, chestnuts, melted butter, garlic, olive oil, sage leaves right off my plant.

After the turkey breast is butterflied, I pound it flat.

Laying on the stuffing.

Tying it up.

Browning the outside.

Roasting it in the oven.

Roasted and resting.

Quick, time to steam the asperges blancs!

Slicing the turkey.

Plated! Looks exactly like it's supposed to, what a relief!

It tasted even better than it looks. Not too many scraps for Ruth and Jewel, but we made sure they got some turkey, too.

The kitchen pig guards our pumpkin pie.

Settling in for some entertainment...the Chap gets to choose our movie tonight.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Revved Up

I'm definitely the One. No question about it. I'm pretty sure I've posted that image before but my present circumstances make it more appropriate than ever.

"What are you doing up?" the Chap asked when I emerged from the bedroom earlier this morning.

I mumbled something about getting back to the book.

Normally he has his coffee and breakfast alone while I loll in bed until sometime after he leaves for the office. But not lately.

Since returning from the UK I've taken advantage of the shift in my biorhythm. No matter what hour I go to bed--or to sleep, which can be very different--I've been rising earlier than ususal. I power up the laptop before I eat my breakfast and skim the morning paper. And then I start work.

Work? But it's so much fun!

Revelation: I write in order to revise. Fact: I don't often get a buzz from writing.

I love my job. I'm blessed and lucky to be a professionally storyteller. But like most jobs on most days it's nose-to-the-grindstone effort. When I'm feeling particularly confessional, I'll say things like, "I don't really like to write. I like having written."

And oh, do I have proof of having written. A massive, bloated, ginormous manuscript.

So far I've carved 7,000 words out of the initial draft, meaning I'm halfway to my goal of 15,000. That sounds like a large chunk of the book, I know, but not so large as you might think. As I said the thing is B-I-G. And some of those excised words will be replaced with better ones. I started my revision from the middle, working towards the end, because it was written during a steady, swift push. I had fewer concerns about the first half of the book although that might change when I get round to reviewing it with a critical eye.

So far I'm mostly doing basic line editing and structural work and condensing. I've diced up separate chapters and sewed them together. I've virtually deleted a minor character.

When I finish this phase, I'll work on other refinements. Continuity. Shading. Theme building. More delineation of characters and conflicts.

After that, I'll take a little break. Let it rest for awhile, clear my mind.

Next, being such a visually-oriented girl, I'll print out the whole thing. (The dead tree stage of revision.) Probably not in manuscript pages (double spaced, 250 words per page) but formatted like actual book pages. That way I can trick my mind into thinking it's a "real" book. It enhances my objectivity, and I can better tell if it reads well. I can see if there's a good balance of narrative and dialogue, or which paragraphs need to be divided up. Or spliced together.

So if blogging isn't happening much around here, that's probably why. I eat, drink, think, sleep, and breathe this novel.

The other day--might've been Monday--my mentally unbalanced state weirded me out. About 9:30 a.m. I came downstairs with mug of tea, settled in to work. I was in a trance-like state. Much later I glanced at the clock. It was 3:00 p.m. I hadn't moved. I hadn't eaten. I hadn't even finished my tea. Which explains why I never needed to get up to go to the loo in all that time.

Since that bizarro incident I've been more sensible. I make myself get up, move around. Yesterday I even left the house for my music lesson and a Post Office and bird food run.

One more wacky thing. When writing, I quite often listen to baroque music--Purcell, Lully, all the hits from the day when my 17th century characters were alive. When revising...Lady Gaga. Incessantly. Yesterday I was refining a scene at a court ball with electronica playing in the background. I have no explanation for this.

I tend not to blog much about the writing process, and now you see why. So self-absorbed and airy-fairy and head case-y.

On Turkey Day I really should go cold turkey and leave the ms. alone. I don't know whether I can or not. Gotta do something while the bird is in the oven...but for sanity's sake perhaps I ought to sit down with somebody else's book instead of my own.

We're usually in the UK this week so haven't had to deal with turkey or trimmings for yonks. The Chap and the dogs and I look forward to a quiet, home-bound day. He's really getting into the spirit of things, wants us to brave the madness of Black Friday, in Portsmouth and Kittery. While in London I got a big head start on Christmas shopping. The prospect of finishing up before December arrives makes me giddy!

I wish my American visitors a very happy Thanksgiving Day, good feasting, and safe travels to those who'll be on the move today or tomorrow and at the weekend. I'm certainly thankful for all of you who come here, popping in from all around the world, regularly or occasionally.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Stroll: Berry Berry Red

The church door is red.

Along the walkway, bright red berries.

Holly by the door.

For their special St. Cecelia's Day observance, our female singers wore bright red tops.

Red bow on raffle basket from our (very successful!) parish fundraiser.

Red Santa belt bows for sale in the Undercroft.

Holiday treats on the food table, wrapped in festive colours.

More scrummy food, on a red tablecloth.

Thanks for stopping by. To keep strolling, visit Aisling's blog.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Just Desserts

Well, serves me right, making jokes about "back alley" flu shots. I expected the worst of it would be the usual ache in the arm for a day or so. Unfortunately I had a more substantial reaction to the vaccine and on this, the 3rd day post-jab, I'm still feeling the effects of it. Unprecedented, I might add. At a dinner party last night a friend told me her daughter also felt sick after her flu shot. I know it's not anything abnormal but usually I have no reaction at all. The Chap didn't when he got his.

This post might also be titled "Sweets with Stuff in the Middle."

Those who know me are aware that I'm convinced that the traditional ice cream sandwich--vanilla ice cream between chocolate cake--is the Perfect Food. I've expanded that opinion to include a new seasonal version of the ice cream sandwich.

The Egg Nog ice cream sandwich.

If you like eggnog--and for me, "like" doesn't even begin to describe my feelings--you will not believe the utter deliciousness of this ice cream sandwich. And only 140 calories per sandwich!

Here's another seasonal treat...perhaps not available to all. A friend of ours has a successful whoopie-pie business. Last night she brought a big basket of her delectable pumpkin-flavoured whoopie pies for the dinner party attendees.

I can attest that they're totally yum, so if you live in the Capitol region go to Shaw's Supermarket and look for the Whoop-It-Up display. I don't think you'll regret it!

The mild weather is very unseasonal. So pleasant!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Back Alley Shoot Up

Another light blogging week. Been very Busy. Lotsa meetings--all good. Some PR work for cookbook. (Third printing selling out quickly, fourth printing coming soon to cover anticipated holiday sales.) Overnight company last night, which we all enjoyed--especially Ruth and Jewel. They were crawling all over our guest, who didn't seem to mind and in fact encouraged it.

Am now Distracted. A major explosion occurred within a branch of the publishing industry upon which I used to be a twig. The blogs and news sites are in a constant state of uproar. I'm totally removed from all this, merely a fascinated (and appalled) observer, although theoretically it could adversely affect real people I actually know so it does matter matter to me. These Internets suddenly make interesting reading as the industry and the entire population of published authors and aspiring writers tries to digest this bizarre development.

This morning after our company departed, I dressed and went to (undisclosed location) for what I jokingly (sort of) refer to as my "back alley flu shot." Seasonal flu shot, I hasten to add.

Many, many moons ago when the world was young and we all believed that seasonal flu vaccine would flow as freely as the Suncook River in the springtime, I was invited to sign up for a non-public flu clinic available to a certain (supposedly) privileged class to which I belong. I was disappointed that it was scheduled for after my overseas trip instead of before, but I signed up on the assumption that I would survive any foreign form of flu I might contract while travelling. (Major unexpected miracle: I returned to the US unaffected by any British or Flemish or Dutch germs, as well as all that germy re-circulated airplane oxygen.)

Shortly before flying off to foreign lands I received word that, due to massive demand for shots and resulting dearth of vaccine, the clinic was cancelled. I'd already made an appointment for later in the year with my Primary Care Provider, and at first assumed her office would have the shot...and then grew somewhat doubtful after repeatedly hearing reports of shortages.

A couple of days ago, after dark, I received a telephone call. "The clinic is back on," someone whispered. "We're informing only the people on the list. Don't tell anybody. Come to Room XXX in the XXX on Wed. the 18th between XX and XX o'clock."

"Okay," I replied in a low voice, even though I was the only human in the house.

Today I sneakily entered the secret location, found my way to Room XXX, exposed my arm, and got my shot.

Mind you, the only time I ever seem to contract something resembling the flu is in the years when I get the shot.

As for H1N1...who knows when or where or how? I'd like to think that one of these days I could score me some "back alley" anti-swine juice, too, preferably before I spend an entire winter and spring in a tightly-packed chamber with 400 other germ-breathing, bacteria-passing people. On the other hand, the demographics of New Hampshire's legislature are encouraging. The median age is well, well, well above the age groups most at risk.

In other medical (my least fave topic) news--the new recommendations for mammograms. Colour me confused. I only know I won't be seeking a "back alley" mammogram. You think they don't exist? Check out this dude:

Not much on my schedule in coming days. Manuscript editing and a dinner party. Snuggling with dogs. Planning Thanksgiving dinner. Probably some blogging, too!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Stroll: Home Ground

The week was light on blogging because heavy on activity. Some days I worked on my manuscript revision, cutting out stuff. On Thursday I had a planning meeting for our Diocesan Convention, followed by a Diocesan Council meeting. I'm moderator of both.

Two views of Friday's sunset.

Yesterday was my first time moderating our annual Diocesan Convention. For me it's like a big family reunion, I see friends--clergy and laity--from all around the state, with whom I've served on committees or got to know through various other events. Our Bishop's address and his sermon as part of the Eucharist were honest and inspiring. The business portion passed by very swiftly and easily--we finished before lunch rather than at 3 p.m. as scheduled. It was a very rainy day and I spent the rest of it on pre-company, pre-hibernation Lodge-tidying.

A little rain this morning when we went to church (I was designated this week's speaker on Stewardship) but by afternoon the sun was out and the skies clear.

I've just come in from my stroll. Very mild temperatures--spring-like! The forsythia has hardly any leaves left, but it remains confused about the season, sending out flowers here and there.

My towering winterberry bush, however, makes me nervous. If the enormous crop of berries correlates to the severity of the coming winter, we're in big trouble!

Jewel on the back steps.

Ruth on the other side of the fence.

Shaping up to be a busy week, with meetings or appointments or dinner parties nearly every day and overnight company on Tuesday. I even have a top-secret, confidential activity that I can only reveal after the fact. And probably won't give many details!

I'm obsessed with Thanksgiving planning. It's been years since we spent it in the US. I haven't actually formulated a meal plan yet in its entirety. But I think about it a lot.

Couple of things...a friend, constituent, fellow parishioner is doing a wonderful and energetic awareness-raising project for fallen soldiers. You can learn about it here. It's a demanding effort and he's holding up very well, I must say!

And if you want to keep strolling, hop on over to Aisling's blog as usual.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

From the Lodge

Last breakfast of the trip. I finally caved to my pent-up desire to try this most tempting product. All the Waitrose yogurts feature Jersey cream, but the richer ones are about 250 calories per pot and I restricted myself to about 200 cal per pot, meaning I relied upon Duchy Originals (Prince Charles's brand) or something else, or the fruity Waitrose ones.

The last dinner of the trip was another curry meal at our local. Well, we had the chicken biriyani as well as a lamb curry. And bindi bhaji.

Flight home was severely bumpy in the middle, just as we were served lunch. I ate throughout the turbulence. Drinks services were suspended; the air hostesses were sent back to their seats to strap in. The air smoothed out after a while, except for another bumpy patch just before we made landfall. Landing at Boston a bit rougher than I would've liked.

Back home in New Hampshire we found an altered landscape, mostly leafless. Without the foliage, the countours of our surroundings are more clearly visible, and very beautiful in this stark new version of autumn. I had an opportunity to admire the terrain as I drove to kennel to fetch the dogs, winding from hill country up to the high ridges.

Here's the view they enjoyed during our absence.

On their first morning home, Jewel inspects the property.

Happy Ruth in mid-wag.

It'll take ages to sort through the post...the PO handed over a huge bin filled with stuff. Way too many catalogues, and a towering stack of magazines.

I phoned my dad on his birthday. After hearing my description of the sublime meals we enjoyed overseas my mother (who I think believes I shed too much weight a year ago) asked, "And what about that 30 pounds you lost?"

"Didn't gain an ounce," I reported. I admit, I was surprised. But I was walking so much I must've burned off all calories. Or else I was eating more sensibly than I thought. (You know, by avoiding those really rich Waitrose yoghurts!)

The Chap had the day off from work, for Veterans' Day, so I kept thinking this was Saturday. We made the most of Our Beautiful Laundrette, aka our new laundry center. We used our front-load washing machine and clothes dryer extensively today.

I found buds on many of my houseplants--azalea, camellia, banana shrub. Cyclamens in full bloom. Anniversary kalanchoe still has flowers.

This little British robin followed us home.

It's meant to be a Christmas tree ornament, but I didn't want to wait to enjoy it.

Diocesan and parish matters are about to take over my time: tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday. Good thing I don't have jet lag!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sunday Stroll: Remembrance Sunday

Remembrance Sunday honours the fallen in the wars of the 20th and 21st centuries. It's also an occasion to thank surviving veterans for their selfles and heroic service.

In the morning the Service of Remembrance took place at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, where the Queen laid a wreath.

Other members of the royal family laid wreaths--Prince Philip, Princes William and Harry, both in uniform of their respective regiments. Then representatives of all the Commonwealth nations and all brances of the service placed their wreaths.

When that was done, there were prayers and hymns, closing with God Save the Queen. Then there was a veterans parade, and very impressive it is. I watched a portion of it before leaving the hotel.

My plan for the day happened to take me to the heart of the action. Navigating London was a bit of a challenge, the Victoria Underground Line was closed, and services were unavailable on other lines. But I got myself where I needed to go, and arrived at Westminster Abbey. The bells were pealing.

The tolling continued for hours, and mingled with the organ inside the abbey, where a worship service was taking place. I couldn't visit the graves of my characters but I did have a nice wander through the cloisters.

Poppy wreaths laid at a military memeorial.

Personal messages of remembrance.

Oh, look, it's actress Anne Bracegirdle's gravestone. She appears in my novel, very briefly.

The lead pair in the boys' choir procession. They participated in the Cenotaph service.

This military gentleman was striding towards the same place I was.

The Field of Remembrance on the Abbey grounds, sponsored by the Royal British Legion.

The Poppy Appeal for this year is the most successful ever. I did my part.

Looking down the line at the memorial crosses. Each one represents an individual.

Part of the Army section.


Section for the U.S. fallen.

Many faiths are acknowledged. In this group are the Star of David and the Crescent as well as the Cross.

All generations were united in remembrance.

A hero in Parliament Square.

Winston Churchill overlooking Westminster Hall.

By the time I arrived at the Cenotaph, the final ceremony was in progress. A Salvation Army chaplain was making remarks and leading prayers. The band played hymns. In this video you'll hear the very last bars of God Save the Queen.

I continued along Whitehall to the Banqueting House, a setting for a few scenes in the book.

I can never resist photographing Horse Guards.

I crossed over to St. James's Park. The purple berry bush next to the bridge is doing its thing, right on schedule.

Buckingham Palace from the bridge.

I walked through Green Park to the Tube Station and got off in Oxford Street. The trains were jammed in late afternoon...I bought three skirts in a favourite store, then returned to the hotel.

This was a moving and emotional day, one I'll always remember. I've never made the effort to participate in Remembrance Sunday and I'm so thankful I did.

To continue strolling, please head over to Aisling's blog. And thanks for visiting mine.