It’s a Big Wide World Indeed, The Prequel

After nearly two weeks away, it’s so good to be home!  I enjoyed time with family and friends, hanging out at the lake or visiting the nation’s capital.  Did some stitching and sewing and plenty of good eating, but this initial post-holiday piece focuses on my flight home yesterday.  The skies need to be noted before I get into what happened on the ground.

And to be honest, this post probably wouldn’t have emerged if not for what I saw on the last leg of my cross-country journey; I started Monday in Baltimore, heading for Silicon Valley.  Two stops, one in Minnesota, the other in Los Angeles, but schedules were smooth, and I kept myself busy with music and reading over what I’d just added to The Hawk.  My layover at Minneapolis/St. Paul was brief, but I managed a bowl of cereal with soy milk, charging up my phone for the haul across the southwest.  Back in Maryland, my hosts asked if heading to LA would be difficult what with the fires.  I said I didn’t think so, and sure enough, we landed safely at LAX with a minor two-minute walk to my next gate, providing me time to chat with my husband, who couldn’t wait to see me.

One of the best parts of coming home is being appreciated.

We discussed dinner; he had a watermelon in the fridge, which suited me perfectly.  We were thankful my flight was on time; he was leaving straight from work to collect me.  We noted that traveling becomes more wearisome as age steals some of our energy, but truthfully neither of us could complain outright, for his trip home had been fine, and mine seemed the same.  It makes for a long day, but after a couple of nights’ rest, life returns to relative normal, once the routines are reestablished.

Goodness knows I’m a creature of habit, but getting out of California is good for me, experiencing intriguing vistas only found far away.  Or up high in a plane where the scenery makes me snap shots that otherwise I’d never see.  As we left Los Angeles, I photographed the ocean, the remnants of fires in the background.

The haze grew worse as we ventured north.  Then suddenly amid the clouds appeared a large puff of smoke.  I kept snapping, wondering which fire this was, mesmerized from my vantage point.  The scene was unreal, yet all too authentic.  Clouds have always fascinated me, but this was wholly different.

As we flew past, the scope of that moment stayed with me; I’d just spent nearly two weeks in locales where summer rain is common, also plentiful.  As my flight passed from Nebraska into Colorado, the landscape began to alter, and by the time we flew over Denver, another America greeted me, that of mountains and high deserts, of rock and dryness and fire.  These two sides of The United States possess many opposing elements, but from green to grey to startling brown, the differences couldn’t be more stark.

On Sunday I’d stood in the rain at the National Mall, very near the Korean War Memorial.  Not even the trees could shelter me and a friend from that downpour, yet no rain falls in California in the summertime.  I shared that notion with my hosts as we drove back in a pounding storm; I grew up to the idea it never rained at all in summer.  Yet I spent much of Sunday in a muggy dampness that refreshed, also startled.  A day later, that notion was but a fleeting memory.   Yes I was home and glad to be so, but if only a little of that precipitation could have followed me.

As we reached the Bay Area, skies cleared some, but those images from minutes before remained within me.  When we landed, I was so excited to see my husband and be back in my element, which always seems more lovely when time has elapsed.  I mentioned what I’d seen, but in the exhilaration of being near my beloved, that cloud of smoke dissipated.  My hubby and I had been apart for nearly four days, and it wasn’t until later that I again considered the havoc, also the majestic but haunting beauty of that image.  Then I thought about this post.

This post-vacation entry was originally going to be packed with shots from the lake, some from the National Mall, with musings concerning how nice it was to get away.  Today’s title was what I’d come up with days ago, jotted down so I’d not forget it.  Hopefully I’ll find a minute to share those notions, although upon returning, there are revisions to complete, read-overs to do, place mats to make, some Christmas quilts to start, my goodness!  But in all those blessed and busy moments, first came this somewhat scattered but vital point; our planet is enormous and so volatile.  Floods destroy as easily as fire; Ellicott City in Maryland was recently devastated by saturating rains.  When I step out of my comfort zone, not only am I breathing in the goodness of those I love, I’m absorbing other vistas which broaden my outlook, increasing my empathy.  I’m no longer a world traveler, but America is vast enough to offer the opposing ends of the spectrum from one coast to the other.  Now back in dry California, I consider standing under that grove of trees as water dripped from leafy branches until our one dry spot was gone.  We stepped from that shelter onto the sidewalk across from a refreshments stand, watching as clouds passed over the Lincoln Memorial, the rain heading elsewhere.  If only it could find its way westward, I prayed….

Yours truly at the National Mall once the rain had stopped….

Gluten-Free Christmas Coasters

When I don’t have a book to write, there’s time for all sorts of activities.  And that a Burrito is on his way is impetus enough to attend to some sewing and baking.  Plus it’s best to run the oven while the day is still cool.  As I waited for some gluten-free banana chocolate muffins to bake, I attached bindings to three mug rugs I’ll finish on holiday.  And in the meantime, here’s a mini-tutorial for Christmas coasters.

(Recipe for the muffins is at the bottom of post….)

These coasters were originally going to be squares within a quilt, but my youngest daughter saw them on the wall and said, “These are great! Can you make me some coasters out of them?”

I never thought about that, but actually these squares made from a Moda mini-charm pack are perfect for mug rugs.  I had already sewed these charms into little blocks, so all I needed was to add a border.  Last week I cut the fabric for borders and bindings; the border strips are 1 1/2 inches wide in Kona cardinal and pewter, the bindings cut from the same shades.

The smallest coasters I’ll make are six by six inches, so these blocks with borders are just right.  First I sewed strips along the top and bottom.

Then I sewed strips along the sides.  I pressed the seams open, although when I sewed the blocks themselves I pressed them to the sides for easy nesting.

A mini-charm pack lends to the ease of this project; I don’t have the patience or time to cut a multitude of two and a half inch squares…

I spent yesterday afternoon choosing some backing fabric and batting for those I’d already completed, then machine quilted them last night.  The rest was done this morning as the scent of fruit and chocolate teased.

And speaking of those muffins…  This recipe is adapted from my Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, circa 1981.  I’ve used this recipe for years, but now having gone off gluten and lactose, substitutions are necessary.  If you omit the chocolate chunks, this is a lactose-free recipe as well.  But honestly, I need a little chocolate every now and again.

1 3/4 cups gluten-free flour (I used Premium Gold, which swaps out at an even 1-1 replacement for all-purpose flour)

1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup shortening (I subbed the same amount of non-sweetened applesauce)

2 eggs

2 tablespoons almond milk (plus approximately another two tablespoons; gluten-free flour is more dense than all-purpose flour and often requires additional liquid)

1 cup mashed ripe banana

1/4 cups chopped nuts (optional, which I did not use)

1/2 cup chocolate chunks or chips (optional, which I did add)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a large mixing bowl beat sugar and applesauce with electric mixer until well blended.  Add eggs, then almond milk, beating till smooth after each addition.  Add half of the gluten flour and beat until combined.  Add half of the mashed banana, beating until combined.  Add rest of gluten flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and beat until combined.  Add additional milk if batter seems too stiff.  Add remaining mashed banana and beat until combined.  Fold in chocolate chunks and/or nuts.  Spray muffin tins with baking spray, then fill each cup to about 2/3 full.  If using large muffin tins, bake for approximately 25-30 minutes.  If using small muffin tins, bake for 25 minutes.  Makes six large muffins or 12-14 small muffins.

Today I doubled the recipe, as I had four bananas.  I did double the amount of almond milk, and could have used an extra banana.  These satisfy not only my sweet tooth, but the desire to bake something special.  Having gone gluten and lactose-free doesn’t mean the end of my baking career, especially not when kids and grandkids come visiting!  And speaking of which, I need to vacuum.  But it won’t be a chore as there’s a muffin waiting for when I’m done, a glass of almond milk to go with it.

Lo and Behold….

One of the strangest yet very satisfying parts of writing is finding The End.  Now, let’s not get too far ahead of the tale; I haven’t completed The Hawk.  But just this morning, I finished Part 11.  Getting this section wrapped up wasn’t on my agenda, let me add.  In fact, while I had hoped to wrap it up, lovely interruptions drew my attention away from plot and characters.  We’re leaving on holiday next week, and I’d already decided to take along what I had managed, reading it over to refresh myself for our return.  However, that won’t be altogether necessary.  Part 11 is in the can!

All today's photos are from the summer solstice, which I had wanted to include in a post, but I don't think I did.

Today’s photos are from the summer solstice, which I had wanted to include in a post, but I don’t think I did.

I want to share this mostly to highlight the unpredictable nature of creativity.  Regardless of our best efforts to schedule this or that element of the process, often the process sits outside of our control.  Case in point; halfway through today’s chapter, I had the sneaky sense this was going to be the last chapter of this section.  It was the way Eric….  Well, I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but he was acting so, so, so….  So let’s wrap this up huh, because there’s laundry to do and lists to make and a Burrito arriving tomorrow and who needs to be slaving away, writing a novel?  I’m smart enough to listen to my characters, but as I ended that scene, only twelve hundred words accounted for, I asked Eric, “So where’s the rest of this chapter going huh?”

Eric Snyder smiled at me, then said, “Talk to my pastor.  Marek will fill you in.”

And this is how my books are written; being very sensitive to one’s writing impetus as well as the story being told.  Literally, I had no idea where the second half of Chapter 218 was going.  My eldest called, asking how my day was, and I told her straight out; “I think I’m ending this part today, but I have no idea how.”  She laughed, posing a similar query; Little Miss is transitioning from two naps a day to one, and how to plan one’s schedule when nap time is erratic?   After she closed the call, I sat back at my computer, reading over what had been written.  I still didn’t know what was coming, but after nearly three years with this saga, I realized it’s not about me.

My friend Laura Bruno Lilly noted recently how my journey with The Hawk has been parallel to my father’s ill health and subsequent death.  That perhaps the extreme length of this book is essential as I travel along a post-Dad landscape.  It’s applicable; I began this novel right before my father made the decision to begin chemotherapy.  That led to a fierce year-long battle which culminated in his death in the spring of 2015.  But even though I knew my father was heading to a better place, it’s a totally different experience living without him.  And just maybe a hawk was sent to guide me safely through that wilderness.

But now it’s August 2016; while I’m still pinning some hopes to complete this tale by the end of this year, if not, it won’t be too much into 2017.  By then The Burrito will be almost two years old, Little Miss well over eighteen months.  Grandmaster Z will already be an official toddler, and as for this abuela?  I’ll be very ready to start my next story, let me just say.  But I don’t want to get too far ahead of where I am at this moment, which is still happily aghast at how the last chapter of this section practically wrote itself and Laura’s astute observation of why this book has been written as it has.  Work from the heart cannot be shoehorned into a convenient time slot, although occasionally that’s how it occurs.  That’s where Grace steps in, and oh man, Grace can just do all it pleases.  Writing by Grace is just as important as living by Grace.

Acknowledging Grace matters too.  Now it’s time for a walk, a trip to the grocery store, and to take clothes off the line.  I’ll return to The Hawk in all due time….

Altering Rhythms

Near Fort Bragg. California, from our mini-holiday a couple of weeks ago.  Within a few miles, the fog dissipated and sunshine ruled.

Near Fort Bragg. California, from our mini-holiday a couple of weeks ago. Within a few miles, the fog dissipated and sunshine ruled.

Amid summer visitors, I’ve been battling a pinched nerve.  The writing has come to a temporary halt, but I love sharing my home with those I adore.  The Burrito and his mum were two of our guests, and they’ll be back again this coming weekend.  They we are all off for our summer hols, and I can’t wait for some Midwestern hospitality with my hubby’s family, and probably some frozen custard as well.  I’ll share generously with my grandson, and by the time we return, August will be nearly over.  I had hoped to finish up this part of The Hawk, but I have managed a goodly chunk of words.  Part 11 is going to be significantly longer than previous entries in this story, which will be completed sometime in the not too distant future….

Watching the sunset from the Northern California coast.

Watching the sunset from the Northern California coast.

Ha ha, boy, for how long has that been my mantra?  Yet I have added impetus to wrap up this saga; a new idea is itching to be written!  I haven’t had a new novelistic notion for a while, and it has been a salve to roll characters and motivations through my mind as my right leg aches and the Giants lose.  They have been dismal since the All-Star break, about the same time my leg got niggly.  But life is a series of ups and downs.  Books take their sweet time, vacations linger in the distance until suddenly ours is ten days away and I’m almost done with the second to last part of a tale three years in the writing.

Redwoods on our way home.

Redwoods on our way home.

Hunter Pence is back for San Francisco and maybe my team will start to win some games.  Just in time, methinks, as the dog days of summer approach.

Still working on this baby....

Still working on this baby….

I haven’t done much sewing lately other than some hand-quilting on the Big Bright Quilt.  I’ve moved to the bottom half of that behemoth, and it’s fun finding different backing fabric when I end a thread.  That process reminds me I won’t always be exploring the mid-1960s.  The new idea takes place starting in 1995, quite a change from where I’ve been stuck.  Or maybe that’s a little harsh; one of these days I’ll write the concluding sentences of The Hawk and that chapter of my life, as well as those characters, will be through.  Writing a first draft is its own animal, and will never happen for that particular set of plot-lines again.  When routine is shaken, even by the best of events, I long to return to a fictional realm as real to me as the Giants’ recent slump.  Summer can be wonky for writing, but autumn isn’t far away.  I’ve meant to blog, wanting to share pics from our little getaway, some of the quilt, even of my grandsons; Grandmaster Z visited while The Burrito was here, and those chaps are getting so big!  I’m blessed to have hands so full as if I blink, something will fall away.

Grandmaster Z on the left, The Burrito on the right; buddies forever.

Yet, I’m fully cognizant that all which needs to be attended will receive my proper attention.  Many deep breaths have been taken lately, appreciating all these blessings and maintaining perspective.  A pinched nerve is a drag, but grandkids are a hoot.  Bad baseball bites, but ticking off quilted blocks makes me smile.  Time with family and good friends balances the fictional world I often inhabit; life is a matter of seasons duly acknowledged.  When I take the opportunity to pray, the center of my existence remains at peace.  And maybe that’s the biggest lesson of all.

From our trip a few weeks ago.  My goodness I love the ocean.

My goodness I love the ocean.

Well, I know it is, just sometimes I forget.  I want to accomplish so much, but there is only one of me.  Again, it comes down to filtering the treasures from the noise.  But it’s not easy, a daily adventure.  Forgive me if this is a redundant post; maybe this blog is merely to keep myself on track.  Books and quilts will reach their ends and aims.  Reveling in love comes first.

Love and the ocean, both...

So Much Beauty Along the Way

Five years ago this week I independently published The War On Emily Dickinson.  2011 seems a long ways in the past considering all that’s happened in my life since, but sometimes it feels like yesterday for how brief has been this foray into indie publishing.  I’ve been wanting to highlight that event, and not only in regards to my authorial existence.  By releasing books in this manner, I discovered many personal truths as well as realizing a long-held dream.

A selfie from our recent holiday; more vacation pics to come....

A selfie from our recent holiday; more vacation pics to come….

The family joke is that I’m not the ‘techie sort’.  However, ask any indie writer, and you’ll find our talents go beyond penning good stories.  There’s the formatting and uploading of manuscripts, which for me also includes slapping drafts onto various gadgets for editing purposes.  Cover design falls into this category, although a few of my covers have been produced by outside sources.  These are elements that traditionally authors have left to their publishing houses, but formatting a manuscript, either for an online distributor or one’s own smartphone, isn’t any more difficult than following a recipe.  Believe me, if I can do it, anybody can.

While the nuts and bolts are vital parts of the process, it’s the stories that matter most, not only the yarns spun, but the spinning.  Indie publishing brokered a new world for me; that I could release my novels spurred on more first drafts, most of which I’ll leave safely in flash drives.  Julie K. Rose, who has designed some of my covers, eloquently speaks about the democratization of art; what a blessing to have this outlet, not only for ourselves, but for how others are affected.

But first comes the storyteller; I can’t honestly say what I’d be writing now if not for taking the horse by the reins, yet the words have only increased since The War On Emily Dickinson was published.  I had lunch with Julie recently, and we celebrated how empowering were our decisions to go indie, even for all the work involved.  Our artistic souls aren’t bound by a marketer’s choice of genre, our methods aren’t scrutinized by anxious agents, our individual paths uncluttered by the fickle winds of finance.  To many writing is a business.  But it’s not that way for me.

Writing is liberation and creation.  It is messages of hope and love and joy amid drama and cliffhangers.  It’s reaching out far past where I can see as tales are extended to any and all.  Indie publishing has afforded me fantastic freedom, albeit with some rules to follow, also the pleasure of forging new vistas.  Five years along this road, I’m nearing the end of a most magnificent tale, releasing it in beta-form as I continue to write, what an adventure that has been.  What a gift to share all these stories, as well as realize a long-held dream.

Okay, one more shot, indicative to the nature of this post.

Okay, one more shot; the California coastline along Highway 1 just north of Fort Bragg.

I always wanted to be a writer; imagine how it feels to experience that goal on my own terms.  I am grateful beyond words, and there are many folks to thank; Julie Rose for inspiring and assisting, Mark Coker and Smashwords for facilitating, my family for putting up with this not-so-small obsession, readers for completing the circle.  Lastly my beloved husband for his endless support and patience, and my Savior for guidance in both the prose and purpose.  None of this has been by chance, much faith is involved.  But in any endeavor, conviction is essential.  Self-expression starts with courage, and bravery is independent publishing’s unspoken middle name.

Took a little break today….

A table runner in progress....

A table runner in progress….

I had planned on writing this morning, even though Andy Murray was playing in the Wimbledon Gentleman’s Final.  But last night I had second thoughts; I’ve been working many days, checking on tennis without watching much of it.  I’ve been a Wimbledon fan for a long time; I remember when Boris Becker won the title at the age of seventeen.  Living in the UK was heaven when it came to the grandest of the slams, but if I had that much access to the matches now, hardly any writing would be accomplished, ha ha.  As it is, I’ve made some big headway in The Hawk, and perhaps today was the perfect time to take a little breather.  I spent this morning hand-quilting the Big Bright Quilt while paying a fair amount of attention to the McEnroe Brothers and Chris Fowler commenting on the contest, considering not too much else.

That’s what happens when tennis starts at 6 o’clock in the morning!

Yesterday afternoon and evening I wrapped up another little project, a table runner for my eldest to match some place mats I made for her family.  I never posted about those, but the runner I did want to share, in part that I took several shots of it with my phone, although please don’t ask which setting goes with what photo.  Which of course is the reason I took these shots, sort of silly not to have paid attention to how they were snapped.

Currently the runner is basted and waiting for me to sit at my machine; I won’t hand-quilt this because I didn’t hand-quilt the place mats.  And because I have enough hand-quilting to do already, lol.  I took photos of that work while trying out camera settings and I was pleased with those shots as well.

I did consider, as Murray and Milos Raonic traded amazing ground strokes and very fine volleys, how hand-quilting provides time to appreciate the fabrics.  As I sewed, memories of making this quilt top were fresh in my mind.  I won’t get that experience when I machine-quilt the table runner, but I shall enjoy viewing it every time I visit Little Miss and her folks.

Watching Wimbledon is sort of like that; I recall the fantastic players of the past, like Britain’s Tim Henman, oh goodness I so wanted him to reach the Final!  Martina Navratilova is one of my all times faves, while the Roger Federer/Marin Cilic match offered a glimpse of Cilic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic, who won in 2001 as a wildcard entry!  (He’s the only wildcard to have ever taken the title, by the way….)  I was so pleased to see Juan Martin Del Potro back on the grass, maybe he’ll go further in New York at the US Open.  A small part of my love for Wimbledon is the rekindling of the past, the game as well as life in Yorkshire.  Most of it however is my affection for sports.  Yes I love to write and sew, but first came an appreciation for athletes, and it’s not just baseball players to make me smile.

However, the fortnight at the All England Club is over for another year.  I’m going on a brief holiday next week, then the work resumes on The Hawk when I return.  I am taking the Big Bright Quilt with me, something to do in the evenings.  I wonder in the future, while snuggled under this quilt, if I’ll consider Wimbledon and/or books.  Maybe Eric, Lynne, and the rest will be like those tennis players who stir happy recollections.  How the mind retains, then reflects memories is a curious, sometimes precarious notion.  I bet next month’s US Open will figure into that quilt too, but I’ll think about that in late August.  Right now Andy Murray’s win at Wimbledon is plenty to celebrate.