Monthly Archives: September 2011

Writing backwards

I’ve been struggling for months to find a direction for the fantasy-in-progress, without being very happy with any of my attempts. Then a few days ago I started thinking about how it’s only a month to NaNoWriMo, and so I ought to come up with a new story to tackle for November. What to write…Oh! I know!

Over two or three hours at the most, the plot and various characters for a Regency assembled themselves. All I had to do was beg the ideas to slow down a little so I could transcribe them before they got lost. It was so much fun, and so different from picking up hunks of mental debris, turning them this way and that, then trying unsuccessfully to wedge them into chinks of the fantasy-in-progress to serve as a wobbly foundation for the rest of the story.

Okay, it was easypeasy to put together a Regency plot. Why? Well, we know where it has to end: hero and heroine realize that they are both charming people, and every bit as well suited to each other as the readers figured out pages and pages ago. And most of the other characters get happy endings too, suited to each one’s personality.

We don’t automatically know where a fantasy plot has to end. In fact, I’m trying to wrench the ending of the fantasy-in-progress away from that old dull overused trope in which hero and friends defeat the Dark Lord and save what little is left of the world. I’d like something closer to a “regency ending” – I don’t mean the story should end with true love, but it ought to leave most of the characters in situations that fit them well.

Ah. Now I know more clearly where I’m trying to go. Lead character(s), and many secondary characters, achieve a private satisfaction that may have public ramifications (if they’re the kind of people who are born politicians), but does not involve burning down Rome just to make a good campfire to toast marshmallows over. That’s the kind of story that I want to read. Since too few are being written for me by other people, like the Inklings I need to write my own.

I just need to figure out what would be a satisfying situation for Wilm (the f-i-p’s lead character) and friends to wind up in, and then arrange the story so they can get there.

(And so I started making notes about ways in which my characters could live more fulfilling lives, and after half an hour or forty-five minutes, I know how to take the f-i-p from its present state as a challenging, disheartening mess that neither characters nor author know how to fix, all the way to a nicely rounded story that ends with almost everybody better off than they were on the first page. Tomorrow – if I can squeeze out any time at all for writing when I’m already committed to help with a book sale – I know what to write next. Happy dance. Happy dance!)

A meal to remember

Evening in Naples. The whole population was strolling through the squares and along the major streets, and we drifted with them, looking for a restaurant. There didn’t seem to be any on the main streets.

Then we looked uphill. (Like most of Italy, everywhere in Naples is uphill from everywhere else.) Forty or fifty feet above us hung a restaurant sign! And getting there only required a short stretch of mountaineering up the narrow side street. (And apologies to anyone who lives with hills. I’m used to New Jersey, where we consider the average floor hilly. Italy is different.)

It was a little place, with quick, friendly service. We studied the menus for a few minutes and made our selections, then told the waiter what we wanted. A little pasta, some chicken for my husband, some rabbit for me, a little wine.

Or we thought we told him. A few minutes later the waiter was back with salad and some of that wonderful sourdough Neapolitan bread. We hadn’t ordered salad, but maybe it was included. And it was very good. Then, when we had finished the salad, the waiter returned with the centerpiece of our meal.


And what a fish. About a foot long, poised upright in the dish as if it were still swimming, perfectly baked. The waiter turned it from one side to another so we could admire it, then carefully separated the flesh from the skeleton and served one fillet to each of us.

Well, what could we do? We have some restaurant Italian, but not enough to deal with a situation like this. So we ate the fish, and it tasted wonderful. It was the best garbled dinner we’ve ever had, so good that when we got home I did a little cookbook and fish store research, and I’ve been trying to copy The Fish ever since. I’ve come close; but it’s hard to equal that mix of perfect presentation and complete surprise.

(How to cook The [Jersey] Fish:

Take a whole fish, two or three pounds, preferably something in the bass family. I think the original Fish was a bronzini.

The fish should be cleaned and scaled, no more.

Sprinkle lightly inside and out with salt and rub with lemon juice and olive oil.

Settle the fish upright in a baking dish long enough to hold it and put it in a hot oven, 400 to 450 degrees, for about twenty minutes.

Coax the meat away from the bones and serve. You’ll be left with the tail, fins, head, and bones in the pan.

Have a nice glass of Italian wine with The Fish, and be happy.)

The good life

It’s mine. All mine.

And it’s comfy.

So very comfy.

And tasty.

Yep, it’s mine.

And don’t you forget it.

(Philosophy courtesy of my Mom’s cat.)

More strange sights

I think these are cattails. Sort of. Maybe. I know they’re in Victoria, British Columbia.

This – these? – anyhow, here’s an entry from the Philadelphia Flower Show a couple of years ago. They’re conjoined carrot quintuplets, I think.

And a couple of pieces of outdoor art from the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.-

(I’m not sure what they’re playing, but somebody just got tagged)

(What can I say?
It’s a BIG eraser.)

A meal to forget

We had been to the restaurant before. It’s a little place, maybe twenty miles outside Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but on our first visit the food was memorably good.

A year or two later, we went back. And the food was, well, memorable.

I ordered the “seafood crepes with citrus sauce” – south central Pennsylvania isn’t an area noted for great fish dishes, but the first meal had been so good it seemed like a promising choice. And the crepes themselves weren’t bad at all. Unfortunately, the kitchen filled them and sauced them.

As far as I could tell, the filling was crumbled crabcakes – maybe leftovers from the previous day. They didn’t taste obviously spoiled, but they weren’t very fresh either. But you can get carelessly prepared food any place. The touch that made this meal unique was the “citrus sauce”.

Probably not the same brand, but the same thing

That’s right. The citrus sauce was orange marmalade, several spoonfuls of it dabbed over the top of the crabcake stuffed, rolled crepes. Orange marmalade and crepes for dessert? Might work. Orange marmalade with stale crabcakes? Unspeakable. Uneatable. Unforgettable.

Running wildly in all directions…

…no wonder I have trouble getting anywhere.

TBD week of 9/20/2011

update church website                                            9/20
Parish Family Ministry meeting                           9/20
EFM homework                                                       9/20 or 21
EFM class                                                                  9/21
mail newsletter, post on web site                         9/21 – 23

coffee with Arlene                                                   9/20
refreshments for book club                                  9/22 or 23
book club                                                                  9/24

email Eileen                                                             9/22

phone Mom                                                             daily (2x daily??)

make appointment to check brakes                    9/20

do laundry                                                               9/20 – 23
put away laundry                                                   9/20 – 23

finish SCI hat, make another                              9/20 – 23

dojo, Friday night class                                        9/23

clean papers off computer desk                         9/21

clean refrigerator before trash pickup             9/20

yard work before it gets too cold                      when the rain stops, if it ever does

blog                                                                        daily

clean kitchen counters                                      9/21

locate pakora recipe                                          9/21

WRITE!! WRITE!!! WRITE!!!!                      DAILY

Pumpin’ cactus

Small lizard squatting on sandy ground, with its front limbs fully extended


Hey ladeez…check out these guns…you know you like em...

(Seriously. I took this picture in the Saguaro National Forest outside Tucson, and a nearby sign about the local animals claimed that male lizards do pushups to attract females.)


Same lizard as above turns its head to look over its shoulder toward the photographer

Come on baby…my muscles have muscles…
lady, you’re just not my type

 (I have to say, this little guy did some pretty good pushups
with those shoestring arms.)

Same lizard running away as fast as it can go

Honey, I am Out. Of. Here.

(But he was a bit
camera shy.)

And we’ll have fun, fun, fun – but no pictures

Even though the weekend started sadly, on balance it was a good two days. We started by mourning our loss of A. and celebrating her arrival at the heavenly party, but after that everything was celebrations.

Three hours on the mat, practicing a dozen or so aikido techniques – now, there’s a dojo anniversary celebration. Sure, my wrists are a bit sore today, but that’s only because Kathy has such good nikyo.* And then we wrapped up the day with a dinner for the yudansha (black belts, or “people of dan rank”) – three hours of good food and catching up with old friends.

But that was only a prelude to today. Really, it started several months ago when my friend Donna and I found files in the church records about the 75th and 100th anniversary celebrations, and realized that we’re now at the 125th year of our parish. Can’t let that slip past! Before we knew it, a committee formed and everyone came up with ways to celebrate. Some of the other events will be a bit more solemn – we’ll be hosting Bishop Councell in a few months, for instance – but we wanted to start with a real birthday party.

So we did. Right after this morning’s eucharist**, everyone adjourned to the church plaza. The younger kids made a dash for the Bouncy House. The slightly older ones headed for the dunk tank, even if it was chilly. (One girl got tired of waiting for somebody to hit the target with a ball and drop her into the water, so she slid off the seat on her own.) The hot dog line seemed like it would never stop – by the time everybody picked up their first serving, some of the first people in line were coming back for a second helping. More and more children sported designs painted on their faces or (and) carried balloon animals. The pile of donations to the town Food Bank got bigger and bigger. And when things started to wind down, various people spontaneously began to clean up – it didn’t take long, with so many working.

I suppose that’s how things happen. A couple of people have an idea, more people join in, one person takes charge of doing this, another takes responsibility for that, somebody else handles the other…and you have a birthday party, or a movement, or, I guess, even a revolution.

Brick church with a white steeple and red door. In front of the entrance, a large plaza with park benches around the edges.But I wish I had had time to take a few pictures in between serving hot dogs.

Oh, well, let’s at least toss in a photo of the church plaza to give you something to look at besides text. Now picture this space full of tables and tents and people, with music coming out of speakers and wet kids running past your left hand to dodge between the tables and grab some more food!


* Nikyo – a counterintuitive basic aikido technique; counterintuitive because the more relaxed the person doing the technique is, the more twist gets applied to the wrist of the person receiving the nikyo. Kathy was very relaxed.

** Eucharist – Communion or mass, depending on which part of the Christian spectrum you’re familiar with.


A day in black and white

Strange day.

First, I’m going to a funeral. Poor A., one of my fellow altos. She was always bustling and determined; but she always suffered from asthma and back problems and who knows what else, even before her last few months with cancer. I can only trust she’s happier now in her “new life in the nearer presence of God.”

And after the funeral, a celebration. Sensei (and Sensei) are celebrating the dojo’s 35th anniversary this week. Today is devoted to an afternoon of training, starting with yudansha (black belts) only and adding additional ranks with each passing hour. But since A’s funeral and the anniversary training overlap, I won’t arrive at the dojo till sometime in the middle.

I suppose we all struggle to stay somewhere in the middle, balancing what we owe to the various pieces of our lives.  Yes, you hear about people who have such a fierce, pure dedication to their goals that they would blow off the funeral and probably skip the training too – but most of us end up trying to pay our respects to everything we’re tied to. And also clean up the debris left in the wake of the overly dedicated folks.

Looking around the corners and under the rocks

because that’s where all the strange things are.

Statue of elk with large antlers mounted so its feet are against the side of a building, about ten feet up from the groundIn Toronto, elk stand on the sides of buildings.

At the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, a large, roughly cubical, chunk of granite balances on one corner.In Maine, rocks balance on one corner.

Desert landscape with ruined stone building in the background. Near the viewer, a rock (about four feet across) which is solid on top but full of cavities underneath, almost like foam made of rock.In Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, rocks look like alien honeycombs.

A steel ribbon spirals down from the roof of a two-story building to street level. In front of it is a statue of a capering faun.

And if you look

down an alley

in Quebec

you might see

just about