Saturday Situation Report

It’s been a busy week, and I didn’t get much writing done on my WIP. Just one chapter. But I’m not upset, because, slow though it is, it’s all forward movement. I’m at approximately the halfway point now.

A lot of writers have daily or weekly word count goals.  I don’t. Yes, writers need goals, or we’d never get anything written. But I find it easier to shoot for a particular place in the story rather than a number of words. I guess my thinking is that words are just words; I want to write good words, words that carry enough weight that I care about writing them. Perhaps in the back of my mind I think if my goal were a mere number of words, I wouldn’t be satisfied with meeting it.

It also might have something to do with the fact that I used to be a little hypersensitive about word count. Several novels ago, I wrote a 200,000-word monstrosity in nine months. Eventually, when I realized how unwieldy all that was, I had to do a dramatic slash-and-burn.

Also, when I first drafted The Story in the Stars, I thought it was too long, so I hacked it to bits, too. Eventually I had to put back in several of the things I’d previously cut because the story didn’t track properly without them. Still nervous about the word count, I asked my editor if there was a limit on this. She said not to worry about it; use as many words as the story requires.

How wonderfully liberating! From then on, I haven’t given word count much thought.

On another subject: my new blogging schedule (which I’m still managing to maintain, as you may have noticed) will be put to the test next week, as we’re leaving early Thursday morning for a visit with the kids in Virginia. (Remember them?) Not sure when we’ll get home. So if I don’t post my Situation Report next Saturday or the Monday Musings after it, don’t worry; like as not the reason is that I’ve been busy, not fallen off the face of the earth.

For now, have a great weekend!

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Thursday’s Thoughts: Why I Grow Purple Beans (Part IV)

In my last post, I began to explain how our family got into gardening in a big way in the early 1980s. Now, to continue that thread:

One of the banks in town hosted a farmer’s market in their parking lot every Saturday morning during growing season. No fees or permits required; anyone who had produce to sell could set up a stand.

And so began the Farmers Market Years. At the beginning of that first season, we didn’t have much to sell. Just a few zucchinis and beans. As more of our produce came ripe, we were able to offer more variety. Also, I took it into my silly little head to sell homemade bakery, too.

This wasn't my stand; mine was on a blacktop parking lot, I didn't have a sun umbrella, and my pick-up truck was brown. But otherwise, my set-up was much like this one.

We planned our gardens (which became plural and included about an acre and a half of sweet corn) with the market in mind. Having only an ordinary kitchen oven for baking, I followed a schedule for when to make the pie shells, when to make the fillings, and when to put them all together for optimal freshness. I prepared bread dough on Saturday and got up about 3 am to bake the loaves. Craig got up before first light as well, so the sweet corn I sold would be fresh-picked.

Sometimes we purchased produce at a good price elsewhere for sale on Saturday, like the time we spent the day in Pennsylvania collecting tomatoes and peaches at pick-your-own farms. I varied my bakery offerings, and sold eggs and whatever else we had on hand in excess. All summer long, our lives pretty much revolved around the gardens and the market.

I’m not sure if it was Craig’s idea or mine, but we were both satisfied with my going to market to do the selling while he stayed home with the girls. I don’t know what the three of them did while I was gone, but they didn’t watch Saturday morning cartoons, because we didn’t have a TV. As for me, I enjoyed the opportunity to get away and enjoy adult company.

I had regular customers as well as random ones. The local funeral director across the street came over every Saturday for a crumb-crust apple pie. For most people, I used disposal aluminum pie pans, but for him I used glass, because they make a better crust — and I knew I’d get my pan back. One customer asked for blueberry, which I made for him the next time. He bought it with glee and walked away grinning, saying he’d take it home and eat it with peanut butter. (I guess we shouldn’t knock it until we try it, right?) Another customer asked me week after week if I had raisin pie, which I didn’t. The week I made one especially for him, he didn’t show up.

Some of the actual signs from the market; I found these in the bottom of the cash box I used to use.

One of the other vendors came over to give me a detailed lesson in marketing. He explained how I should wash my beans, remove the outer leaves of the cabbages, husk the sweet corn and pick it clean of silk, and otherwise fancy up my display so the produce would look more like what customers see in the grocery store. This, he said, would make them willing to pay grocery store prices. I said I wasn’t out to rip people off; if I give people a good deal, get rid of our excess, and make a little money at it, everybody wins. Problem with that was, my undercutting his prices left him out of the “win-win” picture. He was upset enough to write an angry letter to the newspaper about it. If I remember correctly, I replied; I believe that was the first time my writing was ever published.

I brought my beans to the market in bushel baskets but sold them by the quart. I’d hand the customer a quart container and let them fill it to their satisfaction, then put the beans in a bag for them to take home. Some would heap the container to ridiculous heights, and others seemed reluctant to fill it more than halfway. I didn’t ask the heapers to remove any from theirs, but for the timid ones, I’d throw in an extra handful or two.

One customer—I don’t recall if she was a heaper or a skimper—asked me if I’d ever tried purple beans. “Purple beans?” I said. “What are they?” She explained that they’re like a stringless green bean.  “When you cook them,” she said, “they turn green. But what’s really funny is, the water they cook in turns green too. I can’t figure out where the purple goes!” I wondered what the point of all this was, until she said they have a better flavor than a green bean. “I just like them better. They taste beanier.”

Intrigued, we ordered some from a garden catalog and put in a late crop that very summer. They were just beginning to bear at the end of August.

About that same time—August 30, in fact—the evening was so clear and cold that when we went to bed, Craig and I asked one another if it ever frosted in August. It almost felt cold enough, and we discussed starting a fire. (As you may recall, our sole source of heat was an old coal furnace in which we burned wood. If it got cold during the night, the heat wouldn’t automatically kick on.) “Nah,” we said. “We can’t burn a fire in August.”

I used to milk a goat in those days. The girls were still young enough that they were more hindrance than help where the morning chores were concerned, so I got up early enough to be done by 6:00, when I woke Craig up for work. That way I’d be in the house and ready for them when the girls got out of bed. So the next morning, I got up thinking how cold it was, went outside to milk the goat, and thought, “Wow, it’s really cold out here!”

I went to the barn—with the grass crunching under my feet, as if frozen—but no, we don’t get freezes in August, do we? Then, when I opened the latch to the chicken pen, I found proof of what I’d already suspected: the gate latch was furry with a heavy frost.

So we learned something that day. It can frost in August in Ohio. We learned something else as well: purple beans are hardier than green beans.

Of course that freeze wiped out just about everything in the garden in one night, and I was disappointed that we wouldn’t get a chance to make use of the purple beans just starting to produce. But I was wrong. Although the leaves turned brown and withered, enough energy apparently remained in the stems that the beans that had started to develop continued to grow. For the next week or so, we picked a continuous supply of fresh purple beans from the dying stalks. For that reason alone, I appreciated them.

But also, I agreed with the market customer. I like the flavor better; they’re beanier.

As she said, they’re deep purple when raw, but they turn green when you cook them. A slightly darker shade of green than an ordinary green bean, but not so much that you’d notice. And, just like she said, the water turns green too. Where’d the purple go? Turns out it’s still there, as I discovered when I blanched and froze the beans; the little bit of water that collected in the bottom of the bag turned lavender as it cooled.

All that is part of the reason I grow purple beans. There’s more to come.

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Monday’s Musing: Hair

I need a haircut. No, my hair’s not as long as the woman’s in the picture, but I need a haircut nonetheless. Perhaps I’ll go today.

I used to go to a salon where you made an appointment. That way, when I was there, I could make my next appointment in advance so I couldn’t put it off, as is my habit. But they kept raising the price. I didn’t need to pay for their “happy lights” (some sort of special bulb that was supposed to put the customers in a mellow mood). I didn’t need a vibrating neck massage. I didn’t need a shampoo; I wash my hair every morning at home. So why should I have to pay for all that?

True, it can be risky to go to the lower-priced walk-ins-only beauty shops, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. My hair grows fast, so if I get a bad cut (which does happen sometimes), it doesn’t last long.

I have three cowlicks. This limits the number of styles that work for me. I’ve tried wearing my hair a number of ways over the years, from very long and straight as a teenager to a short, ‘fro-like curly perm in the early ’80s (thankfully, that phase didn’t last long) and a variety of things in between. But through all that experimentation, the ‘do I liked the best was the style I had in the late ’70s, a Dorothy Hamill wedge. So a decade or so ago, I went back to it. I don’t look like Dorothy and I never did. (Did I mention, I have three cowlicks?) But that’s the basic style I wear, with a few modifications.

Have you ever wondered why we have hair? The evolutionists have an answer to that, of course; because we’re mammals, and mammals have hair. But for those who aren’t willing to deny the laws of logic and mathematics and buy into the idea that man descended from ape, that doesn’t answer the question.

Even if you do put humanity on the same plane as animals, that doesn’t explain why our hair grows so much more densely in certain parts than in others. Or why the hair on our head grows and grows, but the hair elsewhere reaches a certain length and then stops. I assume it falls out and starts over, like on a cat. But I don’t notice arm hairs lying around like I do cat hair.

And if you believe, as the Bible says, that man was created in God’s image, does that mean God has hair?

I don’t know. I do know, though, that I need a haircut.



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Saturday Situation Report

Welcome to my second weekly Situation Report.

Here’s the situation:

1) I’ve been able to maintain my new blogging schedule for over a week, and am ridiculously impressed with myself;

2) I’ve been making better progress on my WIP than has been usual recently. I never was a fast writer, but this time it’s been an agonizing ordeal to eke out one chapter a week. This week, however, I completed two and made good progress on the third. So this makes me happy too;

3) As I announced Wednesday because I was too excited to wait until today to break the news, my second book, Words in the Wind, is scheduled for release on August 1. For all y’all who are eager to read it, take heart: books are ordinarily available before the release date, so you should be able to get it in your hands sometime next month.

And that’s that. Have a great weekend!

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Thursday’s Thoughts: Snobbery

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that we all think we’re right. If someone disagrees with us, that person is wrong-minded. Obviously!

This applies not only to big issues like politics and religion, but also inconsequential matters. For instance, I sincerely believe Craig puts too much pepper on his eggs; he sees this opinion as proof that I’m wrong in my thinking. But that’s okay; he’s wrong to like old Clint Eastwood movies. I mean, he simply has no taste.

Writers and readers also have different opinions about what’s good and what’s not. That’s why there are so many genres and writing styles. I read a variety of them, but I have definite ideas of what I like and what I don’t.

In the course of the average week, I do a lot of critiquing of other people’s writing, for accomplished writers as well as those who are in the early stages. For obvious reasons, a lot of the novices’ work is sub-par. I’m happy to offer my suggestions (which is the reason they’ve submitted their work for critique in the first place), and I try to do it in a kind and encouraging manner. Whether they see it that way is another matter. (She didn’t like my story? What a self-centered snob! She thinks she’s better than me just because she’s published and I’m not!)

We’re all learning. I don’t care how far along we are in this writing thing, there’s always room for improvement. Since I’m not very far along, I know I have lots of growing to do. That’s one reason why, when I read for pleasure (as opposed to reading to critique and help others out), I think it’s important to expose myself to something that will help me, stretch me, teach me. The kind of book that makes me say, “I want to write like that!” The kind of story that sends a smile creeping across my face as I appreciate its depth, subtlety, or beauty.  I want to read the sort of novel I aspire to write but fear I’ll never achieve.

Or, as the saying goes, I want to grow taller from walking among the trees.

Awhile back, a fellow writer asked if I’d be willing to read and review a new release of hers put out by a major Christian publisher. I wasn’t familiar with the writer, and it always worries me to commit myself to something like that. Because, of course, I’m a snob, and I’ve read too many things I don’t like. But I agreed to look at it.

I let it sit for a bit while I got caught up on some other things, but picked it up earlier this week and started to read. I tried. I really tried. But before I’d gotten a third of the way through–actually, I probably barely managed to get a quarter of the way into it–I gave up.

If this were submitted to me by a novice writer, I’d have said it showed real promise. It’s technically competent; I can’t complain about editing errors. But the writing was lifeless. The characters gave me no reason to care about them. The story line was thin. (Even a fantasy should be believable.) Because it’s from a Christian publisher, I was disappointed to see scriptural truth reduced to the level of magic and mysticism.

Or at least, that’s the way I see it, though I might be wrong. After all, the author managed to find an agent to represent her and a major publishing house to buy her manuscript, neither of which I’ve been able to do. How dare I find fault with it?

But find fault I did. After an hour or so of groaning and rolling my eyes in annoyance, I decided I’d had enough, and quit reading. And I felt bad about it. I wondered if there was something wrong with me, that I, a writer of Christian speculative fiction,  doesn’t like Christian speculative fiction.

I recently read a lengthy discussion on the subject of Christian horror fiction. Reading the give-and-take in the comments, I concluded I had nothing to contribute.

So be it. Other than my critiquing efforts, I’ll continue to read what I feel is beneficial to me as a writer and enjoyable as a reader. As much as practical, I’ll continue to bypass the books I see no value in.

And I’ll confess to being a snob.

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News Flash: Book #2 Release Date is August 1

I just learned from a Twitter follower who lives in Italy (isn’t that a hoot?) that Words in the Wind, Book #2 in the Gateway to Gannah series, is scheduled for release on August 1.

Anyone who hasn’t yet read The Story in the Stars (Book #1) can buy the Kindle version for just 99 cents between now and August 1.

Actually, you can buy Stars on Kindle for 99 cents even if you’ve already read it; it’s available at that price for everyone.

Unfortunately, the sale doesn’t extend to the print version, which is still $16.99 on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. If you live near me, you can also find it at the Dayspring Christian Bookstore on West High in New Philadelphia, or the Gospel Bookstore in Berlin (in the German Village).

The Story in the Stars is also available at the main Tuscarawas County Public Library in New Philadelphia as well as the Sugarcreek branch; the Dover Public Library, and also in the Loudenville Public Library. I took a copy to the Bedford branch of the Cleveland Public Library as well, but I don’t know if they ever put it into circulation.

My sincere thanks to all who have said so many encouraging things about Stars. I hope you’ll find once you’ve read it that Words in the Wind is even better. I think it is, anyway. I’m looking forward to holding this new baby in my hands!

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Monday’s Musings: Why I Grow Purple Beans (Part III)

It seems appropriate to start my Monday’s Musings series with a continuation of the garden thoughts begun earlier.

In our last exciting episode, Yvonne and family moved from suburban Cleveland to rural Ashtabula County, Ohio. More specifically, here:

Note the dearth of major roads. We weren’t exactly in the suburbs anymore. In order to avoid a long commute, Craig took a local job, which required a major pay cut. At the same time, being new homeowners with aspirations to one day farm for a living (we were young then, and dreamers), our expenses soared.

We were, therefore, broke. Not living-in-a-cardboard-box-and-raiding-dumpsters broke, nor even skipping-meals-and-being-evicted broke, but merely robbing-from-the-kids’-piggybank-to-buy-gas-so-Craig-could-get-back-and-forth-to-work-until-payday broke.

Right off the bat, we had to learn about new things such as wells, well pumps, and septic systems. When the hot water tank didn’t work, at least that was something we were familiar with. But when we turned on the tap and the water came out in rhythmic pulses, or dwindled to nothing by the end of a shower – and when sewage backed up through the floor drains in the basement – we needed a crash course in country living. And did I mention the house had a coal furnace? We decided instead of buying coal, we’d burn firewood that could be had for free in abundance. But that involved spending the summer locating it, cutting it, hauling it home, splitting it, and so on. Which involved buying a chain saw. Which involved…

You get the picture. There were a lot of things to do, buy, and learn when we first moved in. Consequently, though now we had plenty of space for a garden, Craig had to be content once again with digging up a small vegetable patch with a spade and planting a tiny garden. It was bigger than our city garden, but the soil was even more hard and clay-y and full of perennial weeds.

I had to admit, it was pretty neat to be able to go out and pick a cucumber when I wanted one. I was less fond of peas, because they were a pain to shell. We had tomatoes in abundance. I don’t remember if I canned any that year. I think I did – trying out my new book and my new jars and canning equipment, and learning new skills. But for the most part, there were too few to can but too many to eat before they spoiled. I tried, though. In fact, I ate tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and supper until one morning I woke up covered with so many hives, my eyes were almost swollen shut. Took me three days before I figured out it was the tomatoes that were doing it. (So I’m not that bright, ok?)

Though I’m not real bright, I can be taught; and by the second summer of our Little House life, we were in full swing. Working with a neighbor family who, like us, wanted to get into farming, we pooled our resources to try to make it work. With tractor, plow, and rototiller, we were able to put in a big garden and do the canning, freezing and preserving thing in a big way. Craig started work at the factory at 7 am, left for home at 4:30, and worked on the land until dark. I did what I could; but with a little girl whose delicate complexion burned crisp after five minutes of exposure to the sun (this was before they made good sunscreen) and who was devoured by deerflies if I put her in the shade, I wasn’t a lot of use outdoors.

Gardening at that time was an impossible chore. Something I wished I had more time for. Something I felt I constantly neglected.  I wanted to do it, but felt inadequate to perform all that was involved. I loved the concept of gardening, and especially self-sufficient living, but didn’t love the act of it.

But we pressed on.  Expanded the operation. Expanded the family; Baby #2 was born our third year there.

We discovered something early on about large gardens. They produce more than a small

This is not our family; I borrowed the pic from Bing Images. Hope no one minds.

family like ours could consume, even when we preserved the excess. I don’t appreciate spending untold hours picking, cleaning, and freezing green beans only to have thirty bags still in the freezer when next year’s crop is ready to pick. It sticks in my craw to have to till last year’s beans into this year’s garden.

But for some reason, where the excess produce was concerned, we couldn’t give it away. We could if we wanted to pick it for them; but when we made our garden available to others to come and get whatever they wanted, we didn’t find many willing to take us up on the offer. Most people wanted us to do all the work.

So that’s why we expanded our garden space even though it was already too big. If we couldn’t give away our extras, we’d sell it. And if we were going to sell it, we might as well plant enough to make it worth our while.

But I’m running out of time and space. I guess you’ll have to wait until Part IV to learn more about purple beans. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a few more scenes from our Little House days. I don’t have any pictures of the gardens. Just the characters. And as you can see, we were characters!

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