Monday, March 14, 2011

Latest Addition to the Garden

When I started this blog I promised myself it would be about the garden, writing and Art Web. Family and kid type stuff would have to stay in the land of Facebook. But sometimes there are strong crossovers. My gardening and writing attempts have become part of our daily lives, so bear with me.

This weekend my husband Ed and I celebrated our 11th anniversary by building a grape arbor for the garden. We have been talking about this for a long time but the project didn't come to life until we found the right material. Split cedar pony rails satisfied his need for clean lines and structure but were rustic enough for me.

My choice of materials gave Ed some trouble because the rails have a bit of twist in them. But he added another set of horizontal lines at the top to distract the eye from the wonky north post. I love it. The effect looks a bit like a Japanese shinto arch. It does a nice job of transitioning between our square vinyl village house and my hodge podge garden with its fence woven from tree trimmings

Yes, I know I'll have to wait three years for the grape vines to mature. I'm ok with that. Each year the Garden of Good Intentions has become a larger part of our lives and I like that its starting to tie in with the rest of the yard. I also like that every year I see more and more tomato cages popping up between landscaping plants in our neighborhood. Craving a few pieces of fresh produce from your own yard is no longer such an eccentric idea.

The arbor was a fun project. We didn't really have a plan. Just five pony rails, a post hole digger and a three day weekend. Ed still needs to climb the ladder with the chainsaw (eek) and trim the tops. I have to build the screens for the sides so the arbor also provides some privacy and looks good until the vines mature. But it was fun solving a puzzle together.

I think this is what makes Ed one of the first readers I turn to. We are used to solving problems together. But the problems that parenting and family life bring have stress with them. So its nice to work on an issue that has no baggage like crooked lumber and uneven ground in the garden or wonky plot lines in the writing.

Random garden whimsy picture - is it a pea trellis or a camel?
Matching the right reader with the right phase of the text is important. At the beginning of Billington Ed was enthusiastic and encouraging. But hearing about the text every day burned him out as a reader. It wasn't that he didn't want to help or didn't care. He just couldn't keep track of all the changes and was inundated with the text.

We came up with a simple solution for reader fatigue. Ed only reads manuscripts on Sunday morning. I'll make him a pot of cafe con leche and he gets to sleep in. When he wakes up there is a manuscript and a red pen waiting for him.

This has worked out great for both of us. It gives me little self imposed deadlines that keep the text moving and it keeps him from going snow blind to the work.

Writers need readers. But we need to be careful and nurture those brave rough draft readers.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Art Web or We Have a Name!

Catherine, Lisa and I have settled on a name for our group: Art Web. I like it because webs have anchors and threads like the plot of a good novel. Catherine likes it because most of our meetings occur virtually because of time and distance constraints. Lisa likes it because it is unlimited and leaves room for more creative minds to join us.

So here is an update from Art Web:

Catherine is putting the finishing touches on a painting of a unicyclist. She put out an e-mail for critiques a few days ago and the consensus was that the painting is finished. I love the bright yellow she used for the unicyclists shirt. She has also been auditioning to teach painting classes and put out some feelers for book illustrations. Catherine is also reading over Titus for me and making notations for illustrations. She has had a really busy two weeks.

Lisa is working on her entry for the Etsy Mud Team challenge.  She writes about it better than I can so here is the link to her blog:

This morning Lisa surprised me with a thermos of coffee and a request for a wood frame for a plaster mold she is making.  I forgot to mention that this is my other contribution to our group – I dabble in woodworking and will build frames and shop fixtures for the other two whenever they ask. I enjoy it and the simple task of making a right angle or two lets me participate in their processes.  The frame was done before the coffee was gone and I can't wait to see what Lisa does with the mold. 

The garden is getting ready for spring time and Lisa is taking notes. She draws inspiration from everything around her. Last week I had the pleasure of stopping by for coffee and seeing what she was doing with willow branches from her backyard.

There is a magical moment when the long ropey branches of the willow are almost ready to burst with leaves. Lisa clipped some and pressed them into the clay, capturing that in between time when nature and gardeners teeter between winter and spring. She was kind enough to let me take a picture of the greenware for the blog. I love the wood grain she pressed into the center of the plate. It invokes the trunk of the tree that puts out the branches and supports all this spring time growth.

As for me, I'm taking a break from Titus. I am a bit snow blind from finishing the first draft and need to get some distance from the text before I tackle the revisions. This leaves me wondering what to work on.

Looking at Lisa's willow plate makes me think of Sara's Garden. Lisa draws her inspiration from the forms around her in nature. The idea for Sara's Garden came to me the same way. There were two initial sparks.

The first spark is a piece of land that we drive by almost every day. If that land were mine, I would turn it into a community garden. When I was growing up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, my mother participated in a community garden started by a man's wife. She knew her husband loved to garden and it kept him vibrant but he was getting older and she didn't want him out there alone. So they opened up the well worked family land to the community.

The second spark for Sara's Garden happened while eating lunch with my kids at Costco. We do love those $1.50 hot dog combos. Plus, its a chance to turn a chore into an outing.

There was an elderly man sitting at the table next to us while he waited for his wife. He got up and bought a coke but his hands were too arthritic to unscrew the plastic cap. Two twenty somethings at the next table thought this was hilarious and they laughed as he braced the bottle against the shopping cart and tried to get some grip on the cap with the other hand.

The twenty somethings made me mad. The man was clearly a farmer. He was wearing overalls but you could also tell by his hands. Long fingers, large knuckles. It looked like he could and had fixed anything that needed fixing.

I pulled the mommy act and went over to help with the bottle cap. I made a joke about needing some peanuts to drop into the coke bottle. He talked with us until his wife came and enjoyed how curious my son was about goats and chickens.

He was a well read, well learned gentlemen farmer and reminded me of one of my professors at Wofford College who taught Shakespeare with a Bamberg, South Carolina accent.

So, between my longing for a community garden and the image of those hands, the story of Sara's Garden formed. I live in an area of urban sprawl where transplants to the community have a nostalgia for the farm life that their communities swallowed up. Sara's Garden exists amidst this conundrum.

Sara is in middle school and has recently moved near her grandparents. She loves this because she has always spent a month each summer with them on their farm. Her grandparents are a machine shop manager and a teacher but they both have farms in their pasts and like living to the rhythm of the land despite their jobs.

When we meet Sara, her grandmother has gone into a nursing home because of mental deterioration but her grandfather has opted to stay in the house. Sara is furious with him. Over the course of the book Sara deals with her grief for a grandmother who is not gone yet no longer with her and the anger she feels towards her grandfather.

Sara and Grandfather have to reforge their friendship without grandmother's presence. I think this is true for most men. Its the women in their lives who maintained the social ties with family and friends. When faced with the loss of a spouse, elderly men have to take over this role for themselves. It can be very isolating.

There is a lot going on in Sara's Garden and I hope that as it grows, it becomes a thoughtful read for adults as well as children.

That's all from Art Web for now. The three of us constantly pass the inspiration around – we'll see where it lands next.

Monday, March 7, 2011

In Between

Fort Mill had a rainy weekend but I still managed to slip outside on Sunday and get another section of fence woven. I think my family was grateful that I could get in some garden time. They stayed inside and enjoyed the peace.

The first draft of Titus and Annie is complete, right down to a graphic and a nice little blurb for submission packages:  

Titus is a 70 page, double spaced, middle grade reader and is the first book in a series about Titus and Annie, two wonderfully preposterous only children.

Titus is an unusual third grader who lives, eats and breathes ancient Rome. 

Annie is an energetic and social kindergartner who isn't afraid to step in and help, whether you know you need it or not.  

Titus is smart.  Annie is wise.  The two become neighbors first and then friends. 

I finished up chapter 12 on Friday morning and had the manuscript in the mail to my editor, illustrator and sister Catherine Gurri by lunch time.  But I forgot to account for end of project syndrome.  

As a reader, I try not to finish a book late at night. There is always a surge of mental energy that comes with the end of the last chapter. Its hard to fall asleep. Apparently I am the same way about writing.  Titus ended before I lined up the next project and I've been cagey ever since.

It is not that I have to be constantly glued to a computer writing. It is the puzzle of the text rolling around in my head that I miss.  I also miss the focus. 

I have three options for my next project: The second book in my Titus and Annie series, Sara's Garden or The Vinyl Village Detectives, Leo and Arnold.  My plan is to blog about them individually for the next few entries and see which one demands to go first. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Time or Writing on Writing

Vi: mug warmer, first reader, supervisor, critic and snitty kitty.
When other moms find out that I consider myself a writer the first questions they ask me is where do I find the time.

Usually I tell them something outlandish and funny but with a grain of truth: I don't iron, my house is a stark raving mess, my laundry pile is an architectural feature.

But really my writing style has evolved to fit mom time. I thrive on interruptions, dryer buzzers and chaos. This is my first year with both kids in school full time and the house finally sort of quiet, yet I find myself going to the library during story time just to hear the voices of young children while I write.

One of the first things I learned about myself and my writing habits is that anything written after the two hour mark in a session needs to be deleted. No redemptive value what so ever. So why bother looking for such big blocks of time? This was quite a liberating realization for someone working on mom time.

Mornings that I volunteer with the Book Buddies program at my children's elementary school are the most formalized part of my week. My husband takes the kids to school at 7:15. I wave good bye, start a load of laundry and run straight upstairs to the computer. Book buddies is from 9:15 to 10:00 a.m. I love spending time with those first grade readers and listening to them makes me want to write even more.

Yesterday, after Book Buddies, I returned some pottery to Lisa and got to peak at her new willow plates. Very exciting stuff. Looking at her new ideas and works in progress drove me to tie myself to a chair (and the never ending coffee urn) at Jumping Java and finish chapter 10 for Titus. I was home in time to change the laundry before it soured. Double success!

The text is always in my head. If I am stuck on something or drawing a blank I fall back on the old teaching skills. I list my objectives. Then I walk away. But the list keeps rolling around in my mind while I fold laundry, mow the lawn or prepare for my Monday preschool science hour. When the problem is solved or one part of the equation is clear, I drop what I am doing and write it down.

My work rappels between yellow legal pads and the computer screen. I always carry my writing projects with me. If I have an errand, I arrive a few minutes early and pull out a manuscript. Lots of chapters have been blocked out sitting in the parking lot of the grocery store for fifteen minutes before doing the shopping. Pages of Billington were written with a Velcro child sitting in my lap during a puppet show or lying in bed waiting for the child that “can't sleep” to start snoring.

I can always bank on writing at least a paragraph while waiting for the kids at the bus stop. There is an electrical utility box that is the perfect height for a standing desk. So I bring the manuscript, plop it down on the green metal box and scrawl away until the bus comes.

So maybe I should find a more serious answer to the how do you find time question. The time is there. I've just learned to be flexible.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Weaving a New Fence

This weekend was a big work weekend for my sister Catherine and I.  We accomplished.  Billington, my middle grade reader, was submitted electronically and is back out in the world.  Titus received constructive criticism and a new illustration from Catherine.  We worked on application essays for Catherine and discussed illustrations for a project she is trying out for. 

We accomplished a lot but we also spent a lot of time inside.  So I have spent the past two days outside reclaiming the yard from winter and getting the garden ready for Spring. 
Two years ago, Ed and I cleaned out the strip of woods behind our house.  I used the trimmings to weave a wattle fence around the garden.  It was a happy little fence and added some character to our square house and square yard.  But now it is two years old and sad.

 So my first project this year is to make a faux wattle fence.  I'm using wood slats from last years bean screens and four foot lengths of branches and green wood to make 4' x 4' wattle screens.  This will let me replace sections of fence as needed.  The garden is also gaining a bit more realestate. 

Thanks to the recent rain, driving the new posts into the ground is easy.  Three sections of the fence are up.  Seven more to go.  However, I am out of weaving material. 

This weekend I will be taking my tarp around to neighbors who have not trimmed their crepe myrtles and beg for their yard waste.  I think its a win win situation.  They get to laugh about the eccentric neighbor who hauls away trimmed branches and I get my new fence.