Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Pre-Birthday Lunch

Mary and Debbie at lunch on Tuesday.

It used to be that my friend Debbie and I could barely squeeze in one "girls' lunch out" together every summer. We were both high school teachers: I taught up here in the White Mountains and she taught down in the Valley. Although she and her husband George come up to the cool country every summer, in the old days I'd barely be adjusting to my summer break when it seemed Debbie had to hurry back to the Valley heat for the start of her school year.

Our cozy little corner in The Bistro @ Annie's yesterday.

Then Debbie retired a few years ago (although she continued as a substitute teacher until recently) and was able to enjoy the high country until late September. Suddenly, we were able to get together twice every summer.

I ordered chicken salad on wheat, with a raspberry lemonade.

And now, I'm retired, too! Since retiring, I've enjoyed being able to go to lunch fairly regularly with my friends Debbie, Wyndie, and Karen. And, this year, Debbie and I will hit a record high of going to lunch three times during her stay in her summer home! Last month it was Darbi's, this month it was The Bistro @ Annie's, and we're all set to meet at Jalapenos in September before she and George leave the mountain.

My half of the slice of triple-chocolate cheesecake that we shared.
I should have taken the picture before we split it, but it was yummy!

It has been Debbie's tradition to take me out to lunch every summer for my upcoming birthday, and that's what we did yesterday. (I can't believe I'll be sixty-three in just two days...) She is one of those friends who is incredibly giving, to the point that it's hard to get her to let you give back!

A note from our server.

We spent more than two hours in the restaurant, just visiting. No matter how often we meet, Debbie and I never have a shortage of news to share. As we were winding up, our waiter said, "I get the impression you two are celebrating something." When Debbie told him my birthday was coming up, he snatched back the receipt and scribbled "Happy birthday!" on it. He said it was his tradition, and I thought he was adorably sincere about it.

Debbie already showered me with gifts, and it's not even my birthday yet!

I hope Debbie won't be embarrassed while I brag on her, but she is a gifted seamstress. Last month she surprised me with a handmade bag as a retirement gift. It's the one with red handles in the photo above. I'm already planning what I'm going to pack into it for our trip next month: snacks, water bottles, CDs, camera, and other things I want near at hand in the front seat for long travel.

Then she told me about her burgeoning custom-purse business and said she wanted to make me one for my birthday. We went to a fabric store so I could select whatever cloth I wanted. Right before we went to lunch yesterday, she presented me with the lovely finished product, the brown-bear purse I'm holding in the picture. And she included the cute little bag to go with it. I love it!

In case anyone's interested in my funky hairdo, here's a closeup.

Thanks, Debbie, for the lunch and the beautiful bags, but most of all, thanks for being such an amazing friend! Your friendship is a great blessing in my life.

I got this "Majestic Hair Flower" at the Renaissance Festival in February.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Woods Canyon Lake (Mary)

"More than a thousand feet down, the highway zigzagged along a steep decline
and then on beyond our view. At the bottom, an eighteen-wheeler starting its climb
up the Rim’s face appeared to be no larger than a plump gray ant."

As I wrote in my last post about our day at Woods Canyon Lake, for Mark, our day in the wilderness was all about fishing, fresh air, nature, blue waters, and relaxation. For me, though, our little day-trip had a completely different focus.

Oh, I love the nature, too, and I truly did my best to relax. I was mostly successful in capturing the peaceful vibes of the environment. Nonetheless, my goals for our time at the lake were different from Mark's.

As I explained in the other post, I had taken my laptop with me, intending to work on my novel while Mark fished. For various and sundry reasons, my plan didn't pan out and I had to give it up. However, that didn't prevent me from thinking about my book, working on plot points and writing whole pages in my head. At least, that's what I was doing when I wasn't battling my stubborn little chipmunk opponent for our food!

"Approaching the edge of the escarpment, I saw that it was not actually the edge
at all, and I relaxed a little. Another shelf of rock, about four feet lower than
the one on which we stood, lay between us and a sheer drop to many hundreds
of feet below. Relieved, I released my hold on Hagen’s shoulder."

You see, my novel is set right here in the White Mountains, where I live, and features aspects of the world I know and love. Back in 2014, when I'd first conceived of my tale and begun spinning the story, I spent a day at the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert with Jacob, Danielle, Dylan, Ryan, and Shera (Ryan and Shera being my former stepson and daughter-in-law). As always, I took a bunch of pictures and, along the way, I started "seeing" my characters carrying out the plot in different scenarios throughout the park. As a result, chapters 21-24 take place on an earth science field trip to Petrified Forest National Park.

"Moon took a step toward Hagen, but a shard of rock shifted beneath his back foot
and crumbled away, leaving nothing but empty air under the leg bearing his weight.
Without a sound, Moon fell backward and plunged down the face of the Rim."

Now here I am, three years later, with a book that's only a little more than half-finished and the time, finally, to devote to completing it. (I should clarify that the tale is finished in my mind, but putting it down on paper as it's envisioned is a slightly longer matter.) 

Right now I'm working on chapter 41. As it happens, chapters 38-42 take place at (did you guess?) Woods Canyon Lake. So this was something of a working break for me. Since I couldn't write due to laptop issues, I took a lot of pictures and thought about how the setting would direct the story.

"A parking lot overlooked the calm blue water, just a short downhill hike away.
Uphill from the lot was an empty picnic area with tables and rock-lined fire pits. 
Unseen smoke from distant campfires wafted through the air, 
teasing my nose with the subtle fragrance of grilled meats." 

Some of the scenes were already written, based on past trips to the Mogollon Rim overlooks and Woods Canyon Lake (excerpts accompany the photos above), and some are currently a work in progress. This day at the lake helped solidify what I was seeing in my mind, and even suggested some new action. Having a hungry chipmunk leap onto my shoulder from a nearby boulder will definitely make an appearance in the story! Not only because it was shockingly funny, but because I can see how it will advance events in one particular chapter in a more playful and interesting way than I'd originally foreseen.

The paragraph describing this scenery has been written and rewritten 
many times already. It's clear in my mind, but putting it into words...

It's always interesting to me how some scenes practically write themselves, flowing smoothly from the brain to the keypad, while others are like being in labor for weeks, messy and painful, before producing something that brings you joy. It is definitely a labor of love.

I found the flat rock where Haley (the main character) sits to observe her brother
 Hagen with Moon, a mysterious young man who both fascinates and puzzles her.

This is Haley's view of the shoreline. Moon will be just visible
around the curve. Hagen may be fishing from that rock just offshore.
We'll see how it looks when I actually get it on paper!

My goal is to complete my novel and start shopping it around by next summer. I have about 54,000 words written at this point. The typically acceptable length for young adult novels in the science fiction/fantasy/supernatural genres is about 90,000 to 95,000 words. I have my work cut out for me.

To compare, here are the word counts of some recently popular young adult fiction novels. Generally, the first book in a series is the shortest, and then they tend to become longer with each new entry.

77,325     Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone (first and shortest in the series)
257,154   Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix (longest in the series)
99,750     The Hunger Games
101,182   The Maze Runner
105,143   Divergent
118,975   Twilight
95,022     The Hobbit (one of my personal favorites)

As you can see, I still have a lot of writing to do!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Another Baby Shower!

August 26, 2012: This time it's going to be a boy!

Two weeks ago, Sarah and I attended the baby shower for Emily's baby girl, due in late October, who will find two older brothers awaiting her arrival as she enters this world. Today we attended another shower, this time for Tahna's baby boy, due in less than two weeks. This little boy will arrive to find an older sister, Natalie, waiting anxiously to get to know him.

Tahna is the second-youngest of my sister-in-law Dana's seven sisters. Thus, like Emily (Dana's niece), she is family to us. Not to mention that Tahna and Sarah have been great friends since their high school years. They even got married just four weeks apart back in 2011. We can't miss out on celebrating with the family and friends we love!

A brunch buffet awaits us.

We met at 10:00 this morning at a church building in Snowflake. The shower was put on, I believe, by one of Tahna's cousins (her husband's cousin, in fact) and included a delicious brunch buffet filled with sweet items that I'm absolutely not supposed to eat (but I did anyway). Sarah was my hero, and withstood the culinary temptations. 

This was the pile of gifts when I arrived, but it grew quickly after that.

We enjoyed one game prior to the gift opening, in which we had to guess the name of a candy bar related to a new-baby event. For instance, New mom nap time = Take Five; Umbilical cord = Twizzlers; Baby-daddy = Big Hunk; Baby poop = Mounds; Bad obstetrician = Butterfingers; Epidural = Lifesavers; Newborn triplets = Three Musketeers; Newborn twin boys = Mike & Ike; Newborn baby girl = Baby Ruth... You get the idea. I couldn't name a single one, so no candy bar prizes for me!

Tahna begins opening her gifts, with a little help from daughter, Natalie.

Then it was time to open the gifts. So many cute baby boy things! Sarah and I, once again, were thinking alike. We both got little boy-baby outfits (mine said "best baby brother" across the chest), but that's not unusual. We both put our gifts in blue bags, but they were different sizes and hers was plain blue while mine had blue-and-white zigzags. However, we both chose the exact same gift tags, this time with sparkly blue stars on the front. (You can see them side by side in the lower right corner of the photo of the gift table, above.)

For Natalie, it was like Christmas morning. She was SO excited!
And, yes, she did understand that these gifts were for her new baby brother.

The person with whom I thought exactly the same was Tahna's mom, Cheri. Cheri had already given Tahna the same outfit last weekend, when Tahna's younger sister Whitney threw her a surprise baby shower. The outfits were different sizes, with Cheri's being "newborn" and mine being "0-3 months," but otherwise the same. We both left the tags on, so we won't mind if Tahna chooses to return one and buy something else she needs.

Tahna opens the present from Sarah.

Sarah gave them diapers and this little outfit with a cute puppy on it.

This was, I think, a bath seat. The water flows right through the mesh.

More adorable boy clothes.

We had a great time and we wish Tahna an easy delivery and great joy with her growing family. Despite the attendant trials, there's no blessing more amazing than motherhood!

Natalie liked this Mickey Mouse outfit.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Woods Canyon Lake (Mark)

August 22, 2017: A view of Woods Canyon Lake right across
from where Mark and I were sitting. I love that reflection!

On Tuesday, Mark and I drove out to Woods Canyon Lake, a lovely recreational area almost an hour away from home. He'd been wanting to go fishing for quite some time, so I figured I'd take my laptop and work on my novel while he pursued his favorite hobby for a few hours. We left the house around 8:30, ran some errands, and picked up some chips and sub sandwiches on our way out of town. It was about noon when we reached our destination.

My car is parked above the lake and Mark starts unloading it.

Mark was soon ensconced in his camp chair with a line in the water. My plans, however, weren't going so well. First of all, I had forgotten that I'd have no Internet service while out in the wilderness and that my most updated version of my novel is on my OneDrive, which requires Internet access in order to pull up. So I thought, "Okay, I'll just use the older version I saved to this laptop." Oh, wait, I guess I bought this laptop after the last time I used a laptop to work on the book, so it isn't saved on this one.

This hollow log by the car looked like a big fish!

Still trying to "think positive," I told myself, "Never mind, I'll just start a new chapter, the next one coming up." I think I wrote two or three sentences before I gave up altogether. The reflection of trees and sunlight on the screen made it hard to read, but worse yet was the way my arrow/cursor kept disappearing from view. I ended up spending most of my time trying to figure out where the arrow went so I could make the computer do what I wanted it to do. All to no avail. After weeping some tears of frustration, I put the laptop away and tried to talk myself out of my bad attitude.

From the top of the rise, it looks like a gentle slope down to the lake... 

Thankfully, it's hard to stay mad while you're surrounded by such gorgeous scenery. I found myself slowly relaxing and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. Most people know I'm not the most energetic person around, not even close, yet I find I'm always driven to accomplish something. Whether it's reading, writing, sketching, taking pictures, organizing, cleaning, whatever, I always need to be seeking after some goal. Simply doing nothing more than enjoying the world around me really goes against my nature.

...then you get to the rock-line and the precarious footing turns pretty steep.
It was tough-going for these old knees.

That's one area where I could take a lesson from Mark. His personality is so uncomplicated. He lives in the moment (sometimes a little too much so) and is completely accepting of everyone and everything. While he was fishing, he was totally relaxed and absorbing the good things surrounding him. All while I was wrestling my computer, cursing my bad planning, and elevating my blood pressure. I really need to learn to relax!

After he stakes out his fishing spot, Mark returns for another load.

Mark sets up his fisherman's paradise.

Now he's all settled in, fishing pole in one hand and Pepsi in the other.

A wide view of our section of lake, the distant dock, and a cloudy sky.

A large crane sails off from the shoreline where he was fishing the shallows.

A beautiful corner of the lake, carpeted in my favorite shade of green.

There were lots of others enjoying the lake, like this young couple.

And like this trio of determined fishermen.

Not long after we settled by the lake, I was joined by a bright-eyed chipmunk who was clearly hoping for food, eyeing me curiously and darting in to check my purse and other bags. He even tried to unzip the ice cooler bag! Eventually, he gave up on me and went away. He returned immediately, though, as soon as he heard me open my small bag of potato chips. I ignored him until he left again. After all, aren't we supposed to not feed the wild animals?

A while later, I was sitting with my back to a tall rock and staring placidly out at the lake when something heavy landed on my left shoulder from behind. Something furry with little claws, tangled up in my hair. I let out a squawk and dumped the little critter off me. I'm sure I gave him as much of a heart attack as he'd given me, but he stuck close, determined that I must share my chips. At that point I gave in and complied, handing him a couple of small bits. That wasn't enough, however. After he'd eaten them, he took off, but then he circled around me and sneaked in to try to take the whole bag, which was on a chair behind me. I barely rescued it!

When the potato chips were gone, I put the bag on the ground for him. He went right in for the final crumbs, just his tail sticking out, and then lost interest.

This little character kept me on my toes throughout most of our visit.

My chipmunk friend went away for a while after that, but he put in another appearance when I took out the sub sandwich to cut in two for Mark and me to share. I was using the cooler bag as my very short table while I cut the sandwich with a plastic knife, and the little guy didn't hesitate to join me. Literally. He climbed right up onto the bag with the sandwich. When I tried to give him a piece of the bread that I'd already broken off for him, he ignored it. Instead, with lightning speed, he snatched the top half of the loaf right off the top of my sandwich and absconded with it! 

"You little turd!" I yelled. The elderly lady sitting with her husband farther up the ridge gave me a reproving look.

To add insult to injury, the critter tore out a chunk and took off with it, leaving the rest lying in the dirt. Mark helpfully picked up my bread, dusted it off, and started to put it back on top of my sandwich. I let out another squawk and pushed the bread away just in the nick of time. "Not only has that been in the dirt," I told him in no uncertain terms, "but it's been in a chipmunk's mouth!" In typical male fashion, Mark seemed to find my outburst to be a slight overreaction.

A huge blue jay enjoyed the final crust of Mark's sandwich.

It was a little after 5:00 when we started packing up our stuff to reload the car. Mark hadn't caught anything, although he said he had a lot of nibbles. He wasn't too troubled by it, though. To him, it's the fishing itself that matters, more than the catching. I'm very destination-oriented, whereas Mark is an "it's-the-journey-that-counts" kind of guy.

These cow elk were completely unconcerned by the presence of my car.

The fun didn't end when we drove away from the lake. Along the road out of the park, we found four cow elk grazing peacefully. They didn't pay any attention to us when we pulled over beside them and started taking pictures. One of them was actually grazing in a campsite, where a guy was sitting on the ground with a very nice camera, capturing her in close-up. She was moving closer and closer to him, completely unthreatened by his careful, quiet presence.

Looking west toward the edge of the Mogollon Rim's high precipice.

Our final stop was one of our favorites. Whenever we're in the area, we like to pause and stand at the highest escarpment of the Mogollon Rim (part of the Colorado Plateau) and look down at the world below. My house is actually only a mile or so from the lower southwestern edge of the Rim, and there are some beautiful views in our area, too. But this part of the Rim is breathtakingly high, with must-not-miss vistas. It was the perfect way to end what turned out to be a most enjoyable day.

The view from one of the Rim overlooks.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

First Harvest

August 16, 2017: My first harvest of tomatoes and green beans!

I suppose it's not strictly true that this is the first harvest of the season, since I pulled off the first bell pepper more than a week ago (quite delicious in my meatball sauce, by the way). Plus, I've harvested about two dozen strawberries by now. Still, it was exciting to reap the rewards from two vegetables at the same time. And so many beautiful beans!

Tonight's dinner was a tasty treat!

And so, Mark and I enjoyed fresh green beans with our steaks tonight. We both like frozen and canned green beans, as well, but there's just no comparison with those fresh from the garden. In fact, tonight was the first time Mark had ever eaten fresh beans, and throughout the meal he kept saying over and over, "These are really good!" He has now been introduced to a new gastronomical delight!

August 12: This little tomato ripened before I even noticed.

As for the tomatoes, I was starting to wonder if any of the many green tomatoes on my four tomato bushes were ever going to ripen. Then, last week, I took a branch off one bush and took it to the nursery where I buy my starters and sought their expert advice on why the lower leaves were turning yellow. Three of the employees--including the main go-to guy--all said precisely the same thing: blight, caused by too much moisture. They said I could use an anti-fungal, but probably I just needed to let the earth around the plants dry out. Not an easy task, since we'd been having weeks of non-stop rain, but they predicted that letting them dry out would also inspire my tomatoes to start ripening.

I don't recall this ever being an issue in my second husband's gardens, but then, as I've mentioned before, this has been the wettest monsoon season I can remember having in a very long time. Probably in ten years or more. Luckily, after my visit to the nursery, the weather dried up somewhat and we had about three days of little-to-no rainfall. I didn't water the tomatoes at all, though it made me a little nervous. Sure enough, within two days I had three tomatoes starting to show some color! 

Aug 12: Two other, larger tomatoes were blushing like this just four days ago.
Today, both were already ripe. I picked this one and left the other on the vine.

The rainstorms resumed on Friday, accompanied by wild thunderstorms (our neighbor down the street had two trees struck by lightning and their Internet fried), and continued for the next four days, but now we're entering another dry phase. Tonight I went out and watered the rest of the garden, but left the tomatoes alone. I hope more tomatoes will soon start to blush.

There are lots of green beans like these all over my beanstalks.

The green beans have become my favorite garden children. They never give me a moment of worry! I expect to enjoy plenty of fresh green beans over the next two months.

August 12: No cucumbers yet, but they're blooming like crazy.

The cucumbers are still on hold, but I see the little swellings on the female blossoms that foretell future tasty cucumbers. Fingers crossed!

See all the nubs of snipped-off pepper blooms and leaves!
Photo taken this afternoon.

When I visited Christopher's Gardens with my tomato branch last week, I also took in several little clipped-off bell pepper blossoms to show the nursery staff what's been happening, hoping they'd know what kind of pest was doing this to my plants. Unfortunately, they were stumped. Nursery workers kept coming in to have a look at them as other employees told them about my odd problem. One lady called it a "Nancy Drew mystery." There was a lot of head-shaking going on.

In the above photo is the plant from which I harvested the very first bell pepper. It's still alive, but there's not much left. You can see one of its snipped leaves in the background mud. The attacks seem to have focused on that plant for now, which at least has allowed the other two plants a chance to start forming little bell pepper starts.

Today: There will be more bell peppers!

In the end, the nursery folks sold me a can of Sevin-5 dust, an insecticide that's supposed to work on all sorts of insects, since the diatomaceous earth hadn't helped much. Again, the constant rain is a battle, washing away anything I put on the plants, so the clipping of leaves and blooms continues. I'll try the insecticide again tomorrow, now that we're entering another dry period.

Today: Finally, a little bell pepper is growing on the third plant.

Today: Lots of little bell pepper starts, four visible in this picture.

My strawberry plants are getting huge and throwing out runners with new baby plants all over the bed, but the production of berries has slowed way down. I suspected that it might be due to putting so much energy into reproduction (the runners), so I went online to find out. Sure enough, the experts recommend clipping most of the runners and allowing each plant to only send out three. Ten of my twelve plants are reproducing, and nearly all have started six to eight new plants. It's crazy. I guess it's time to do a little bit of cropping...

Today: My strawberries are still going strong and reproducing.