Thursday, May 30, 2013

Tutoring Tales--Year's End

Wednesday was my last Reading Pals session for this year. I don't think I mentioned that I ended the year with two Pals, a 2nd grader and a 3rd grader. I'd split my sessions between the two young ladies since they were at different levels, and that seemed to work out well.  They left with bookbags filled with new and used books, and they each gave me a lovely hand drawn card to remember them by.

I cannot say enough what a delight it is to work with young readers. Even when we had our rough spots--and there were plenty of those--seeing the comprehension and skill levels rise simply from more reading made my day brighter. I've told the Reading Pals coordinators that I'm available to keep reading this summer, and I'll definitely be back in the autumn. Kudos to the United Way and the Alachua County School District for putting this program in place.

I ended the year by giving each of my Pals a special bookmark of her own. While I'm not a collector, over the years I've accumulated some bookmarks, naturally, and there are some I keep on hand for particular books--the one from the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum goes in science fiction novels, the one from the (sadly, closed) Gotham Books goes in non-fiction, my leather ACLD (public library) Foundation bookmark goes in hardcover fiction and my other metal clip Foundation bookmark is for paperbacks.

In fact, I love books and bookmarks so much that it annoys me when I use the bookmark feature on my Sony Pocket eReader. Their "bookmark" is a folded down corner of a page.  Even virtual mutilation of a book disturbs me!

Do you have special bookmarks? Do you save them for particular books or genres?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review--Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked up my copy of Jane Eyre the other day to check on something, and found myself re-reading the entire novel. This is the first time I've re-read it since I began writing novels myself, and I find a new, deeper appreciation for Bronte's skill in crafting her heroine.

Jane Eyre has been one of my favorite novels since I first read the Classics Illustrated version as a child. When I read the novel as a grown woman, Jane is a heroine I can admire at a whole new level. She doesn't settle for what society tells her is best, she holds fast to her independence, her dreams, and sets her own course. It's much more than a gothic love story, it's a tale of a woman's growth and strength in a world where she was viewed as having limited options.

If you've never read Jane Eyre, check it out. It might surprise you.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Eating like a local, part 5

The tables of the supper room groaned beneath haunches of
venison, pork pastries, shrimp, and fresh mullet. The rice and corn
were from nearby farms, and the squashes and vegetables were
seasoned with the hot peppers the locals loved.

--The Bride and the Buccaneer 

I've been holding steady on my "Eat Local Challenge", managing to eat something local at every meal until this past Memorial Day Weekend. We went to St. Augustine for a friend's wedding (lovely and romantic) and enjoyed some great food. I couldn't be positive I ate local at every meal, like I have at home in May, but I made an effort to patronize local independent food vendors when I wasn't at the wedding festivities. It helped that our hotel was smack dab in the Old City.  I had grouper tacos for lunch, coffee from a small independent shop (locally owned), and I nixed the offer of ice cream from a major chain in favor of a delicious fresh fruit pop from a local vendor.

So I feel like I'm still on track for the May, 2013 Eat Local Challenge. I've only got a few days left to go, but I'm optimistic. So far today I've had locally roasted coffee, kombucha and eggs from the farmers market, and tonight's supper will include farmers market tomatoes, cukes and blueberries.

It's no hardship trying to eat like a local, not when there's so much good food out there for the asking!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Eating Like a Local, part 4

“You ain’t never had watermelon?” Tom piped up.
“No. It is a melon? But how do you eat it?” she said, eyeing the
large chunks of fruit.
“Show the lady, Tom.” Martha laughed.
Tom grabbed a chunk off the middle of the plate and dived in
headfirst, snapping off a sizable piece, chewing it with delight, and
then spitting the seeds out the door.
“You are joking,” Sophia said to Jack.
“No, that’s how you eat watermelon. You learn this and soon
you will be a real Floridian.”
He was grinning at her and reached for his own slice of melon,
and never one to resist a challenge, Sophia wiped her hand on her
table linen and picked up her own slice. The juice ran down her
fingers but she managed to bring it up to her lips without too much
trickling down her sleeve. She took a bite and there was an
explosion of sugar in her mouth, and a cooling sensation from the
juicy fruit.
“Oooh,” she moaned when she caught her breath, “this is
The Reavers laughed at her response, but Jack seemed
entranced by the trickle of juice that escaped her lips to wend its
way down her chin. Before she could reach for her own linen, he
was leaning over and dabbing at it with his finger.
“You were leaking,” he said huskily, then cleared his throat.
“Watemelon’s mighty refreshing in the summer,” Mr. Reaver
said, reaching for a second piece. “I’m sure glad we could
introduce you to this treat.”

--The Bride and the Buccaneer

I knew I wouldn't make it to the farmers market this week, so to keep up with the Eating Local Challenge for the month of May, I went to Ward's Supermarket.  Ward's is a Gainesville institution, and when you go there you're likely to see folks from eastside, westside and all over the place mingling together and searching out the best local produce and meat products. You'll find piles of fresh-picked collard greens alongside Gainesville's premier chocolate bar selection, bulk foods and flowers that scream "Take me home!"

I knew Ward's was participating in the eat local challenge, and that I'd find some veggies for the weekend there. The chocolate bars I snagged were an added inducement to shop there, and I came home with blueberries, tomatoes, pecans and potatoes to supplement what I had from my trip to the farmers market the previous week.

When you go to Ward's, be prepared to spend a moment in the check-out line discussing the weather, this year's tomato crop, your kids and your dogs with total strangers who'll call you "honey" and wish you a "blessed day". This is the South. We take it easy, enjoy our food, and know that taking a moment to be friendly is part of what life's all about.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Katie’s babbling finally wound down and she fell asleep on
Sophia’s lap, and Martha picked the toddler up and put her in her
cot. Sophia stood and stretched legs gone numb, then went out to
their mules to fetch what she’d brought for her hostess.
“Well, I declare,” Martha said, turning the china teacup
decorated with blue flowers over in her hands.
“I brought one for Katie, too, for you ladies to use when she’s
older. Sometimes it is nice to have something pretty and special
that is just for mothers and daughters.”
Martha blinked rapidly, then cleared her throat. “You are a
thoughtful lady, Mrs. Burrell. I will keep these cups for me and
Katie, and when we use them, we’ll think of you.”

--The Bride and the Buccaneer

Here's to all the mothers who have tea parties with their sons and daughters and who get to celebrate their special day today.  I still haven't received the diamond tiara I earned for all those years of wiping snotty noses, hugging messy people and getting sticky kisses (along with umpteen recitations of "No means 'no', it does not mean 'nag me some more'"), but I do have two fine young men who are educated, gainfully employed, and most of all, care about other people and  reflect that in their actions.

Happy Mother's Day to us!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Owl Post

She must have drifted off, because the next thing she knew an
explosion of cawing with a barking finish brought her sitting
straight up.
“What was that?”
“Owl. Go back to sleep.”
“An owl? Owls don’t sound like that, they make a ‘hoot’
sound. I have heard owls in England! That sounds like a wild,
monster dog in the trees!”
“It’s an owl. Do not let your imagination run away with you.”
“How do you know it is not a panther?”
Jack sat up and scrubbed his hands over his face. “Sophia, I
have heard panthers and I have heard owls. That is an owl. You
insisted I accompany you on this lunatic treasure hunt because I
know the land. I know a hawk from a handsaw and an owl from a
panther. Now, go to sleep!”
“Do not blame me if we are nothing but bones by morning,”
Sophia grumbled, but she lay down beside him again, snuggling
closer. He rolled over and fitted himself to her, spoon fashion.
After a few moments she said, “You are not asleep.”
“Yes, I am.”
“No, you are not. You are poking me from behind.”
“I can do that in my sleep.”
Something made a sound, a high-pitched bark. It didn’t sound
like it was coming from Jack, behind her.
“What was that?”

--The Bride and the Buccaneer

Twice this month I've looked out my kitchen window shortly after dawn and seen a good sized Barred Owl standing in the backyard. It takes off in the same direction into the woods behind our house, so it's likely nesting back there. This spring they were quite raucous. More than once I'd be awakened at 2 a.m. or so by owls having a noisy conversation out there, but they seem to have calmed down.

When my diva dachshund was a pup I wouldn't let her go in the backyard by herself until she got to be over 10 pounds. Between the owls and the hawks, she just looked too tempting for the local predator population. Our yard is fenced so I don't worry too much about coyotes, but the raptors like hanging around here, so I didn't want to take chances.

If Miss Owl keeps showing up, maybe I can train her to carry messages to Hogwarts for me.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Review--Let it Be Me (The Blue Raven, #5)

Let It Be Me (The Blue Raven, #5)Let It Be Me by Kate Noble
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I adored this novel, an illustration of what's best about Historicals. The author's research, the depth of knowledge of music and musical history, the charming love story, characters who are flawed but likeable, and a love story that's not based on a Big Misunderstanding; all of it makes for a delightful reading experience.

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The Light at the End of the Writing Tunnel

I got in some quality writing time on [working title] The Hot Pirate's Secret Baby, which I'm fairly certain will end up being titled The Pirate's Governess. I realized while walking the diva dachshund this morning that I could be finished with this first draft by the end of the month. My normal routine at that point is to set it aside for at least a week and do some research. This way, when I come back to the book I'm (ideally) seeing it with a fresh eye.

The next step is to go through it, fix obvious errors, and replace brackets. This is where I've been in the middle of a scene, and rather than stop and take time to add description, unless it's integral to the story, I write [DRESS] and come back later to fix it. I believe I learned that from Diana Gabaldon, so a tip of the hat to a mistress of the craft of writing. If I have to stop to research or check something, it can break the flow of the story. This is especially true when I'm in the middle of a scene with lots of dialogue, so I've learned to skip what's not vital and just keep writing ugly.

That's part of the process, "writing ugly". My first draft is full of sentence fragments, scenes that abruptly stop in the middle with a [FIX THIS] note attached, and lots of typos I pray either I or my beta readers will catch before I submit it to my publisher. I've learned from experience the most important part of writing a novel is to tell the story. Until I tell the story I can't fix what needs fixing, so I've given myself permission, as one writer put it, to "write a sh*tty first draft."

So as of today I'm at 95K words with The Hot Pirate, and I'm fairly certain that light I see isn't an oncoming train.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Eating Like a Local, pt. 2

Let's see," he said, wiping his forehead and looking out behind the house. "You have got cabbage palm, mangoes, tomatoes, and if I'm not mistaken, some yams and peppers gone wild in that garden."
Amanda was impressed.
"For a sailor you know a great deal about the things growing here."
"When I'm on land, Mrs. Stephenson, I usually stay at my farm."
"You're a farmer?"
His silver eyes twinkled.
"Shocked you, have I? I enjoy growing things and bought some property on the St. Johns River years back to farm. Nothing grows on the ocean," he said softly, looking back out over the garden. "Some of the sailors on the Zephyr were farm boys who ran away to sea. And I wanted nothing more than to run away from the sea and spend my days on my farm, eating fresh food I grew myself."

--Captain Sinister's Lady

I'm on track with the Eat Local Challenge, where for the entire month I try to eat something locally grown, produced, or served at an eatery that's independent and uses local vendors. It's not at all hard when I'm home, but eating out takes a little planning.

Yesterday I was at a baby shower brunch, and each guest had a chocolate "lollipop" at her place. When I turned it over I smiled with relief. It was from a wonderful chocolatier about a mile from my house, which filled my lunchtime local requirement. Whew!

It has been interesting to think more about what I'm eating. I've been shopping at the farmers market for over 15 years, and I look forward to certain foods coming into their season and plan my recipes around them. Of course, as my husband points out, this means we may have roasted brussels sprouts for three months, and then not see them again until the following winter, but to me that's part of the charm.

Now we're into blueberry season and watermelons are on the horizon. This says "Summer cooking!" and a lot of my meals in the next months will feature these items, along with grilled veggies like summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes and more hot weather foods. I'm blessed with the opportunity to live in a place where I can get fresh produce all year round, and it seems a crime not to take advantage of that bounty.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Eating like a local

North Florida, 1843 
When she took a break, some oranges from the trees in the front
yielded two tin mugs of juice, one set aside for Washburn with a rag
over it to keep the flies out. She drank hers down while sitting on the
front veranda, feeling the sweetness explode into every pore. It wasn’t a
bad piece of land, she thought as she looked around. The oaks kept the
yard shaded, and the house was laid out to take advantage of the light
and the breezes off the creek. There were figs and alligator pears and a
grapevine, and she recognized some of the crops growing in the field—
corn and squashes and new greens behind a fence where beans climbed.

--Smuggler's Bride 

I signed up on May 1 for the "Eat Local Challenge" from Hogtown Homegrown, a month long event where you try to build your locavore cred. Each day you have to eat some locally grown foods (like putting fresh local blueberries on your oatmeal) and only eat at locally owned, independent restaurants that incorporate fresh, local ingredients into the menu.

I'm already off to a good start, because my meals at home always incorporate some local produce or products. Each morning I start with Tree City coffee, for lunch I have fresh free-range eggs from the farmers market and kombucha (a fermented probiotic drink) from Micanopy Maiden, along with a slice of bread from a local bakery, usually Mosswood.  Supper always has some produce from the farmers market or Ward's, a family-owned market that buys from area farmers. During the day I snack on pecans and fresh berries.

The only difficult part will be if I dine out, but some of my favorite eateries are Mildred's, The Jones, and Sweet Dreams Ice Cream, all locally owned and using local ingredients.

The hard part will be if I'm out of town for a few days, but as long as I take some shelled pecans and fresh berries for the road, I should be in good shape.

So here's to good eating, North Florida style. As I've often said, "Life's too short to eat bad food."

Smuggler's Bride at Amazon