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When I signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo, I had to submit both a title and synopsis for my planned work of fiction. I didn’t have much time to plan or prepare to write before I started (see previous post), so when all was said and done, the story differed a bit from the synopsis. I’ve revised the synopsis to more accurately reflect the completed draft, and here it is:

 

Inseparable

Part One: Mothers and Daughters

Part Two: Daughters and Mothers

Part Three: Sisters

Synopsis

Emily and Elizabeth Palmer are twin sisters in their early 20s. Like many twins, they have been compared all their lives, although they are actually quite different in some ways. After a falling out between Emily and their alcoholic mother Ellie, Ellie confides to Elizabeth that the twins actually have another sister. Ellie gave birth to triplets but gave up one of the sisters for adoption; read the story to find out why!

Elizabeth struggles to decide whether to tell Emily, even though Ellie made her promise to keep her secret. Elizabeth tells Emily, and the twins decide to look for their sister without telling Ellie. An odd coincidence results in the girls meeting their sister, Marisa, who had always wished she had a sister. Sadly, Elizabeth and Emily learn that Marisa is dying of an inoperable brain tumor. Their all-too-brief interaction gives all three girls new perspective on their identity as individuals, and the true meaning of family.

After Marisa’s death, Elizabeth and Emily find that they have more in common than they imagined. After all, they are no longer “twins;” they are simply sisters. As a result, their relationship grows deeper and more loving, not only with each other but also with Ellie.

More to come; stay tuned!

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I know, I know, you haven’t seen the story yet. I have been asked several times lately how I came to write this fictional story, as well as what I’m going to do next. So here goes.

 

Back in October 2011, I went to a writer’s retreat in southern California, hosted by Marilyn Friedman of The Writing Pad. This was a weekend event in the 29 Palms area up in the hills near Los Angeles. I had been looking for a writer’s conference or retreat to go to, and chose this one partly because Adair Lara (author of Naked, Drunk and Writing) was one of the teachers attending.

 

We did a number of writing exercises over an intense two days. Many of them were of the free-writing type, where we chose a topic and wrote for, say, 10 minutes. Then we read what we had written and received feedback. (I love this kind of exercise.) One of the things I wrote had to do with myself and my twin sister as children. At the end of the weekend, Marilyn suggested that I write a longer piece about my sister and I, but with us as adults this time.

 

I thought about this all the way home. I had never really seriously considered writing fiction, but I was inspired with the idea to the point where I couldn’t focus on much else. More or less on a whim, I decided to participate in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and try to write my story.

 

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NaNoWriMo basically challenges writers to write 50,000 words of a novel within the month of November. I got home from the retreat on October 28, so I had barely 3 days to get myself ready. I came up with a title (“Inseparable”) and a synopsis. I had no idea how to do things like develop characters, and had little time to do it anyway. Many hours were spent over those 3 days just organizing the story; my hope was to keep the thing moving along and have it reach a natural conclusion by the time I reached 50,000 words. I had a large cork board which I had divided with masking tape into 4 horizontal columns representing the major story parts. I then used colored index cards (one color for each story line) and plotted out the story.

 

Then I started writing. As many of you know, I prefer to write my drafts longhand. I have found that I am actually more productive this way, even though it means spending more time later typing it all up. What worked for me in this case was to look at the board in the morning, decide which scenes I was going to work on that day, and then just sit down and write. I set a timer for 10 minutes and wrote steadily till it went off. Then I reset it and went on like that. It was actually quite easy to write around 2,000 words at a sitting over about 90-120 minutes this way.

 

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There were 4 days in November (Thanksgiving for example) when I did no writing at all, but I still got to 50,000 words by November 28. Then I pretty much set it aside and left it alone; I had thought up no plan at that point for what (if anything) I was going to do with the thing. About 3 weeks later I got a contract for my first non-fiction book, Pure Poultry, and the novel was pushed even further down the priority list.

 

I’m not really sure what prompted me to pull out this file and revisit the novel just now, but I did. Interestingly, as I read through it, I discovered that much of what I wrote 5 years ago seemed to parallel things going on in my life today. I read through the whole thing in one sitting, then went back and began to revise. One thing near the ending seemed particularly trite to me (“cringe-worthy” as my niece Chaidie put it), so I re-worked that until it made more sense to me.

 

So now, as I prepare to travel to Pennsylvania for a speaking event later this month, and am assembling the proposal package for my third non-fiction book, I also find myself oddly drawn to this fiction project. An important next step will be getting additional eyes on it and feedback. Like poetry, I never really saw myself as writing fiction. But I’ve had a deal with myself over the past several years; to pay attention to inspiration, and act on it when it arrives. There’s a reason why I dusted off this file when I did, and I intend to see it through, wherever it may lead.

 

 

OK, so this is a very tiny peek. When it’s published I’d like you to buy the damned thing , so you can’t reasonably expect me to give a lot away now. I’m going to milk the excuse “It’s just a draft” for all it’s worth.

 

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So… Working title is “Inseparable.” Here is the opening paragraph of Part One:

 

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am a BAD MOTHER. Yes, smack your lips over that one. I used to think I was at least a decent person, but never, not even in my most wildly self-congratulatory mood did I ever convince myself that I was a good mother. Hell, I never should have gotten pregnant in the first place, I mean, how stupid is that. That man never cared about me, he just said the right things, what I wanted to hear, what every girl who wants to be a woman thinks she wants to hear, the things that somehow distract your attention from the risks of unprotected sex.

 

That’s it for now, I’m busy writing! Post a comment or shoot me a message on Facebook if you want to read more.

On Saturday morning, I was heading down toward Sequim (or Sin City, as we like to call it) when I was unavoidably detained. About halfway between the house and the gate, a tree was down across the road. Not that huge of a tree, but I knew before getting out of the car that it was too big for me to just move it off the road by myself.

 

Tree across road

A little geography: To the left in this photo, a few feet off the road, there is a steep drop-off into a canyon. To the right is the stump end of the tree, about six feet from the road. (It appears to me that the tree was struck by lightning in the storm last Thursday.) The real problem was that most of the length of the tree, the top end with all the branches, was hanging over the edge of the canyon.

I walked back the quarter mile to the house to grab my Swedish bow saw. David was out of town, and we have a rule about not running things like chain saws unless there is someone else around. I picked up this bow saw for $10 at an army surplus place, and it is amazing. The blade is about 30″ long and is super-sharp. It is my go-to tool for cutting anything more than about 1″ diameter.

To digress briefly about tools… I should explain that I have always had a particular affinity for hand tools. There is something about using hand tools, a rhythm, a pattern, a sound. Don’t get me wrong, power tools definitely have their place, and I do use them. But whenever possible I always seem to choose the hand tools first.

Back to my action-packed tree saga! Since I had an appointment I couldn’t spend a lot of time dealing with the tree. I cut it on the downhill side (to the left in the photo) and was then able to move the 16′ piece to the side of the road and drive on.

Tree in 4 parts

Later I loaded up a cart with my trusty ancient Workmate, the pickaroon, leather gloves and a bottle of water. I really didn’t expect I would be able to haul that thing uphill; it’s an alder that turned out to be over 60′ long, green and very heavy. Luckily the first part of the drop-off wasn’t too steep, so I was able to scramble down a little ways and cut off another 12′ section and haul that out. The rest of the tree was fairly easy to muscle up onto the road. The photo above shows the whole thing, cut into 4 sections.

Saw and pickaroon

Then I started cutting it up. With my hand tools. The pickaroon (with the wooden handle in the photo above) is very handy for grabbing a log without bending too much, and the Workmate was just perfect for holding the logs at a good working height. Once I had trimmed off all the side branches it all went fairly quickly; in fact, I was amazed that the entire job took only a little more than an hour and a half. Damn good workout, too.

The photo below shows the stump end of the tree, up on the Workmate; this piece is about 12′ long, 9″ diameter and very heavy.

Fat end of tree

It seems odd that a tree over 60′ long can be reduced to about 2 cartloads when it’s been cut up. The photo below shows the whole thing, some in the cart already; altogether about 400 pounds of wood, which will be premium firewood when dry. Oh and the smaller branches will be used for fuel in my outdoor oven! This is how I like things: nothing goes to waste, including my time and energy.

Tree cut up

I simply adore my hand tools. Still dreaming of setting up my own forge so I can make and repair my own tools one day. In the meantime, every time I encounter a challenge like clearing a tree from the road, I feel a little more confident that with some time, effort and a few good hand tools, I can easily and safely tackle just about anything.

 

Moliere's Muddle poster with white background jpeg

 

Olympic Theatre Arts in Sequim has a darling little tradition of offering a “specialty drink” during each of its shows. This drink is intended to fit somehow with the theme of the show. It’s a fun way to make the show a little more memorable, as well as generating sales to benefit this wonderful non-profit community theatre.

 

In another I-have-no-idea-what-possessed-me moment, I volunteered to come up with the specialty drink for OTA’s summer show, Scapino! For some reason I decided at the outset to concoct an original cocktail, something I had never done before. I did quite a bit of reading about how to combine acidic things with sweeter things, counteracting one thing with another, and like that. (I know, I know.) Information overload for sure.

 

Then I looked at the Wikipedia page about Scapino, since I knew basically nothing about the show and thought it might help me get some idea for the drink ingredients. Scapino is a comedy set in Italy, and based on a play by Moliere. So right away I was thinking of how I could use both French and Italian ingredients. (Seriously, I don’t know what possessed me.) Also, Scapino seems to be a character known for making confusion out of just about everything; hence, Moliere’s Muddle.

 

Anyway, it actually didn’t take all that long to decide. I’d never used Campari before, although I knew vaguely that it was a famous Italian liqueur; you know, one of those things that have a long list of super-secret ingredients that leave you wondering which of them is responsible for the bright red color… for the French element I chose Lillet Rouge, a wine-based aperitif. I’m not sure why I decided on adding my homemade ginger liqueur but it seemed to me that the relative sweetness of the liqueur nicely offsets the bitter edge to the Campari. Plus, I just like ginger liqueur.

 

Considering the show is happening in July, when the weather can be expected to be warm, I was trying for something not  too high in alcohol and definitely not too sweet. Interesting challenge to have it be fairly fruity without being overly sweet, but the Campari balances that out nicely.

 

A week ago I made samples for the OTA office staff, and received an all-around thumb’s-up. So naturally I went and volunteered to be in charge of the specialty drinks for all 8 shows in OTA’s upcoming season. Hey, you never know, if I can keep coming up with interesting drink recipes, my publisher might just want to print a new edition of Craft Distilling!

 

In the meantime, the poster above lists all the ingredients in Moliere’s Muddle. Do come see the show and try one (or several) cocktails. Scapino opens this Friday, July 8, with a preview show on Thursday. More details are on the OTA website, or you can phone the office at (360) 683-7326.

It’s discouraging to me that there seems to be an increasing tendency to lower expectations in our society. This can easily be observed, whether in young children or the leaders of the land. We’ve all heard phrases like “dumbing it down,” “leveling the playing field,” “lowest common denominator,” and many more. They all add up to one thing: Lowering expectations. I think that is very sad, as well as a dangerous precedent.

A phrase I’ve heard recently (although I’m sure it isn’t new) is “No expectations, no disappointments.” I get what this means: The less you expect, the less likely you are to be hurt or let down. I can’t fall out of bed if I sleep on the floor, right? I wouldn’t argue the truth of this concept; however, I do believe that by adopting this attitude, we cheat ourselves out of a lot of possibilities. Sure, something bad could happen to me, but what if I’m wrong about that?

Some of my friends who are parents of 20-somethings complain that their kids are apathetic, that they seem to have no hope for the future. The attitude of “What’s in it for ME?” is common. “I might as well not work, because Social Security isn’t going to be there for me years from now.” I can understand this outlook. It just proves my point that when expectations continue to be lowered, the loss of hope is the price we pay. We simply can’t afford that.

We need young people to grow up believing that integrity, compassion and kindness matter. That it is sometimes necessary to choose an action (or lack of action) simply because I believe it is the right thing to do. Even if you are no longer young, these things matter. In fact, these choices are critical. People tend to live up (or down) to expectations. By raising expectations instead of lowering them, we send the message that “I believe in YOU. You are important in the world simply because you are here.”

Everyone deserves opportunities. Everyone deserves to find those possibilities. Everyone deserves the chance to discover his or her passion, abilities and purpose, and to use them to contribute something of lasting beauty and value in the world. Isn’t that what we all want more than anything? To believe that, even if I am not the one who discovers the cure for cancer or who writes the prize-winning musical or who has the most money, I am here because I have a contribution to make. Grasping that belief allows hope to enter the picture.

We’re living in a sound-bite society. “You have thirty seconds or less to get your message across; the viewer’s attention span is very short, you know.” (Another example of lowering expectations.) This is especially evident in this presidential election year. I say, give the viewer a little more credit than that! Make the message more meaningful, not less. More personal, not less. More challenging, not less.

No expectations, no disappointments? Don’t you believe it. Raise the expectations of yourself first, and prepare to discover the height and width and depth of who you are, and what you can accomplish, right there, where you are today.

It certainly isn’t easy to find a balance between expecting too much and not enough. You’ll make mistakes. But eventually you will find yourself looking forward to getting up the next day and trying again. Keep trying. Don’t give up. Strive for excellence, absolutely! But don’t expect perfection. Do expect more, and better, of yourself and others, and see what happens next.

SHot glass

Oh boy, I love these presentations. This coming Thursday, May 19, I will be speaking at the Port Angeles (WA) library on craft distilling. I will give some background on the current legislation, as well as an update on legislation now in committee in the U.S. Senate, which will directly affect home or hobby distillers. I’ll be glad to answer technical questions about distilling, and sign copies of my award-winning book Craft Distilling: Making liquor legally at home.

 

We will start promptly at 6 PM. See you there!

 

Hens with cherry tree blossoms

Next up is the Mother Earth News Fair in Albany, OR, which runs June 4-5. Two presentations and a book signing scheduled: Poultry Unplugged, a photo-centric talk on the benefits of free-ranging poultry and how to manage predator issues and a lot more. And of course I will be doing the popular talk on Craft Distilling!

 

I hope you can come to at least one of these events, they are always a lot of fun. If you’d like me to come speak to your group or club, please use the contact form to get hold of me. I love doing small local events as much as the larger ones; for me it’s all about sharing information and ideas. And be sure to check out Pure Poultry and my new book Craft Distilling, which recently won a Bronze medal at the Independent Publishers Book Awards!

If you follow me on Facebook (and if not, why not?) you know I will be performing the next two weekends in the musical revue “TomFoolery” at Olympic Theatre Arts in Sequim. TomFoolery is a tribute to Harvard math professor Tom Lehrer, who was very popular as a performer years ago, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. His dry humor and knack for political satire resulted in songs such as “The Masochism Tango,” “Wernher von Braun,” and “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.” He even pokes fun at his own career as a mathematician and scientist in “New Math” and “The Elements.”

 

This is definitely a stretch for me, having always considered myself much more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person. On the other hand, lately I seem to be in a phase of gravitating to things that push me out of my comfort zone, and this is certainly one of those challenges. She understated.

 

The one thing I had going for me coming into this new experience was my familiarity with Tom Lehrer’s music. My father was a big fan of Lehrer’s, and had several of his earlier recordings, which we listened to as we were growing up. I remember laughing hysterically to “Masochism Tango” long before I had any idea of what it meant. Back in February, when I happened to be on the Olympic Theatre Arts website, I saw that this show was coming up and had a wild idea about auditioning for it.

 

I have no clue why, but I decided right then that if I summoned up the guts to audition, I would sing “The Elements,” a fairly frantically-paced list of 102 chemical elements, set to the tune of a Gilbert & Sullivan patter song. My husband David (who obviously knows how to push some of my buttons) challenged me by claiming it was impossible to memorize such a song. His theory is that memorizing any song without anything repeated in it simply can’t be done. (Actually I had already disproved this theory when I memorized the wonderful song Waters of March.) I said, “Bet you $5 and a ham sandwich that Tom Lehrer memorized it; no way was he reading off a script while performing at that pace.”

 

So for the next 6 weeks or so, I worked on The Elements, and finally got to a point of being fairly comfortable with it (I’m not kidding) just a few days before the first audition in late March. We all sang our audition songs a capella, and I did in fact sing The Elements. I came back for a second audition a few days later, singing “We will all go together when we go” that time. I thought I did better at that audition but I was still totally taken by surprise a couple of days later when the director, Anna Andersen, notified me that I was going to be in the cast.

 

I am lucky enough to be part of an ensemble of seven, of which I am the one true novice. It’s been a bit intimidating being a beginner in a room full of professionals (she understated again), but I have learned a lot and certainly feel a lot more comfortable now. Having had quite a bit of public speaking experience over the last 5 years, I am used to being up in front of crowds of people. But believe me, this is WAY different. First of all, I am singing, not just talking on a subject I know well and taking questions. In addition, most of the songs (including my solo, The Elements) involve walking off the stage and on the floor in and among the audience. It is a very intimate setting, to my mind very conducive to this type of show.

 

The revue has 19 songs, solos and ensemble pieces, which I won’t tell you too much about because I want you to buy tickets and come see the show! It opens this Friday at 7:30 PM; call the box office between 1:00 and 5:00 PM at (360) 683-7326, or stop by to buy tickets. It’s a whole lot of show for only $10; I hope you can come to see it!

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I actually didn’t even know my new book, Craft Distilling: Making liquor legally at home, was in the running for an award. So imagine my surprise when my publisher notified me last week that the book won a Bronze medal at the Independent Publishers Book Awards, in the how-to category (click the link and scroll to category 59).

 

Possibly I am unreasonably excited about this, but honestly I am thrilled. And very grateful. As you know, this is only my second book, and I am still learning a lot as I continue to write and navigate the publishing process. I remember reading somewhere that “Writing is an art, and publishing is a business.” While I understand that concept in my head, still I find it so interesting how the two combine to eventually produce something like a finished book. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I can’t take all the credit for this award; the wonderful people at New Society Publishers took a chance several years ago on a completely unknown writer, and after a lot of hard work on all sides, I am now the proud author of two books, and working on the concept for my third.

 

Those of you who follow me on Facebook have been a constant source of encouragement and support throughout this process. Thanks to all of you who have cheered me on, come to my speaking and signing events, and even bought my book! It might sound like a cliche, but I truly feel this has been, and continues to be, a team effort.

 

 

Well, it’s that time of year again: Another Mother Earth News Fair happens this coming weekend in Asheville, North Carolina. This will be my first time at this venue, indeed my first time visiting North Carolina. Would you believe, this is my 12th Mother Earth News Fair since I had my first experience in public speaking back in 2011? Later this year I will be traveling to Oregon, Pennsylvania and Kansas to speak at the Fairs there, in addition to other local and out-of-state speaking engagements.

 

As you know, my second book, Craft Distilling, was officially released in January. Since then I have been keeping busy with events at bookstores, libraries, even a coffee shop or two. Mainly these events have been about promoting my books, but while it’s always nice to sell books, the most important part for me is connecting with people, answering questions, and getting feedback. Whether I’m in front of 10 people at a bookstore or 350 at a speaking event, I love these events and am grateful for every single opportunity to get out there, meet new people and share some of what I’ve learned in my 10 years of off-grid homesteading.

 

Also coming up are two presentations at the Port Angeles, WA library. On April 27 I will be doing a presentation on the basics of raising poultry; on May 19, the subject will be craft distilling. Both these talks are scheduled for 6 PM and will run about an hour, maybe a bit more depending on how many questions I get.

 

I hope you can make it to at least one of these events. It’s a great opportunity to learn a lot, for little or no cost, and maybe even buy a book. I would love to meet you, or catch up if we’ve already met, so save the dates and come on out!