Ten Forty-Five on a Piney Woods New Year’s Eve

THE GOOD OLD BOYS deep in these panhandle Florida pine woods couldn’t wait until 11:59 to kick up a fuss.  It’s only 9:15 when I hear the first muffled whumps and booms of roman candles, aerial repeaters and shells, and firecrackers.  When I step outside I feel a frisson of electricity in the air and hear the crackle of sparklers. The cloudy night sky erupts into a poor-man’s kaleidoscope.

Buck is writing at his desk in a bright circle. I’m already in bed, leaning against a stack of pillows, listening to a Spotify playlist for a random search of the word “Talisman,” and typing on the extension of my fingers also known as a Surface Pro 2, my all-time favorite gadget tool.

Ah, here he comes now with our treat for the evening, a bag of Dove dark chocolates.

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Earlier this evening we lightly steamed a pound of blue crab claws (the little, cocktail size) and nearly two pounds of sweet and tender Pensacola Bay shrimp. Buck stirred up his special dipping sauce, a mix of horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, ketchup and a smidgen of mayonnaise. I doused a small plate of sliced Feta cheese, Kalamata olives, and house-roasted meaty red peppers with olive oil, ground pepper and oregano. We took our feast to the room we call the Snow Porch (the naming of that room is a story for another time), along with a bowl of Naked Pita chips and our drinks, and fell to.

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Tonight is merely an arbitrary convention to delineate one measure of time from the next, but I welcome it as a conscious pause button, a mindful thumb on the scale.

I washed our bed linens today, the Oxford stripe blue sheets and the warm gold duvet cover.  The serene blue and burnished gold please me.

I’ve moved past the Talisman music and have gone to a favorite created playlist for my characters, Grace and Jess. They still have a lot of mountains to climb, a lot of growing to do.

Eons ago when I worked as Director of Communications for the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce, we began each year with what we called a “Program of Work.” I have a loose program of work of my own to start the year off with a bang that includes a challenging ten-week online course hosted by Creative Nonfiction, called Boot Camp for Writers.  It begins next week. Mid-month brings a six-week online course, Advanced Fiction. I’m fired up and ready to go.

So am I blogging again?  The title is The Do-It-Yourself Writer, subhead Elizabeth Westmark’s Scribble Space.  Maybe the sub-subhead should be Making It Up As I Go Along.

Hope you chase down or get covered up by clouds of bliss this year.

When Florida Trend Came to Call

Well, it was a long time ago. I was engaging in all sorts of activities on the life-change scale that can make a person anxious. I separated from my husband, the one I had told five years earlier I wanted a divorce, but as things do, they rocked along for a while. Then almost at once as though a fairy godmother had granted me three wishes, I met the love of my life whom I had been so lonely for and didn’t know how to find him, I had an idea for a business, and I moved to Pensacola Beach.

I guess the rest is history on a small, but lovely, scale.  I divorced, remarried (30 years ago now), created and eventually sold the business, Aladdin Communications, to some sweet guys from New York City. One day, when Aladdin was still in its infancy and I was living in, and running the business out of, a house on stilts on the beach, the prestigious magazine, Florida Trend, came to call. It was a little bitty piece, but startling to this small-town girl.

The writer and photographer came to call toward the end of 2003. By the time it appeared, in March of 1984, I had been properly divorced for 10 months and Buck and I had eloped to Ozark, Alabama and been married in the Dale County Courthouse on February 17, 2004. Big doins’ in those times. Big doins’.

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Talisman: my word for 2014

Sometime toward the end of 2012, I had one of my frequent attacks of DCRH (duck, cover, run, hide) and deleted my Goodreads account and, along with it, the record I had kept there of books read during 2012 and earlier years. Ever heard the expression, “I shot myself in the foot?” So I signed up for Goodreads again, vowing as God is my witness never to pull that trick again. I like the lists, and Goodreads is a simple way to keep them.

You can see my list of books read or listened to in 2013 in the Goodreads “Read” Shelf on the sidebar of this blog. It’s vaguely disappointing to me, despite the presence of several stand-outs. Of the 45 listed, 23 were fiction 22 non. Of the non-fiction, 8 were writing craft, and the others were a mix of memoir, literary nonfiction, social commentary and investing strategy (see DCRH above). Several (fiction and non) were read because I wanted to see how certain subjects were handled, or because I knew the author or their family. The books themselves arrived by hardcover, softcover, mass market paperback, Kindle, and Audible. The two James Lee Burke books were great for late night listening. Whether it’s because of Burke’s over-the-top (or under the bottom)  descriptions, or because of Will Patton’s silky voice, I can’t say.

I read most of those books because I thought I needed to learn something technical about writing. Did I learn anything? A little, but not enough for the sacrifice of time. And it was a dodge to avoid confronting actual writing.

Did I love any of the books I read in 2013? Yes. I enjoyed many of them, but only loved one: Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Yesterday afternoon I began to think about what (and who) I want to read in 2014. Some names: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, The Salinger Contract by Adam Langer, Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt,  authors Jonathan Franzen, Edwidge Danticat, Thomas Pynchon, and I’ve already begun Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Great writing. Fabulous books that move me, disturb me, make me laugh. Books outside my comfort zone. No craft books. Lots of poetry osmosed via the written word, audio and video. I enjoy Billy Collins’ animations, but there are so many wonderful poets to explore. I plan art gallery visits for (I’m embarrassed to say) the first time in my life. In other words, this year will be a 24/7 all I can absorb word and image buffet, a glorious tapestry, a mysterious tour of the intersection of souls and imagination.

The University of West Florida is only about ten miles from our home. As an alumnus, I have a free parking decal (actually a pretty big whoop) and can fill my canvas satchel with ten books at a time. The library even has a Starbucks in it.

I can’t wait to get started. I’m eager begin my treasure hunt. Actually, I’ve already begun. There will be moonbeams and nuggets to put in my pocket all along the way.  Maybe even a talisman. What are you looking forward to reading in 2014? And are you a little weird, like me, and have a theme word for the new year? 🙂

First Cup of Coffee on Thanksgiving is the Best All Year

Thanksgiving morning: hard frost, dazzling sun, vermillion pops of color at the bird feeder, and the fawn who lost its spots has found corn in the trough out back and learned to stand on its hind legs to reach the delicacy. After this accomplishment, she does a dance of joy, running madly in circles.

It is Thanksgiving. Time to make the squash casserole, the wild rice and cherry pilaf, and prep the herb-roasted turkey breast. Coffee’s on. I’m ready to chop, sauté, simmer and roast. I made the Triple Cranberry Sauce (with its secret ingredient) yesterday and packed it into quart-sized Ball jars. Also a pumpkin-cream cheese dip for apple slices, just to prove there’s room for a Mayo Clinic-approved desert side by side with more indulgent treats.

I’m not exactly back to blogging. But Buck and I are on a brief contemplative hiatus in our mad pursuit of novel finishing (me) and agent-finding (him) to walk the woods, gather with family, and savor the holiday.

Best wishes to you and yours. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tough Old Bird

She reminds me of an old four star general, marching reflexively to distant cannon fire and preparing for battle with a ferocity no mere civilian can grasp. Thanksgiving is coming, and there is an eighteen-pound Butterball to be bought, defrosted for three days and reconstituted as a living symbol of perseverance.

I’m only 62, a youngster compared to our venerable guest. She has buried more relatives than I even know, including her husband and several sisters. She has been to the brink, too, peered over the edge and decided she would rather gamble in Biloxi on Saturday, place a different sort of wager in church on Sunday, and hop a cruise ship every chance she gets.

“Take it easy,” is not in her lexicon of acceptable phrases. The first word out of her mouth is “No,” quickly followed by “This is what we’re going to do.” She made a major concession to be our guest Thursday along with seven other family members, but only because I was implacable on this point, and she is busier even than usual, shuttling between visiting another sister in and out of the hospital, applying hot and cold compresses to her own eye following a procedure last week, and planning her next trip.

Come Thursday afternoon, Madam General will load her Lincoln Town Car with the glorious bird, pans of cornbread dressing, pole beans fresh from the farmer’s market, and homemade chocolate layer cake and fudge pie. She’ll drive her 85-year-old self to the woods. She’s one tough old bird and I salute her.

Walking My Path

My new motto is: write first, blog later. I’m not gifted enough to do both, that’s become abundantly clear!

And so, as of today, this space will be a placeholder for what I hope will one day become an author site.

I’ve been lucky enough to find my path. Now I’ve got to go walk it. I wish you all happiness and success in yours.

Thanks for encouraging me — you all are the best.

Planting Day at Longleaf

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My heart is indurated, my head obdurate. The broken ground, here, friable. I kneel and smell its fragrance, nurturing as good bread warm from a mindful oven.

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The green grass, which I mow all summer on a small John Deere lawn tractor, encroaches a little more each year and the strip sown in a wheat, oats and rye mixture for the deer has narrowed. The deer nibble the grass, too, so I’m not sure they mind. Besides, they make their circuits to two other fields grown just for them. Once there were six, but as Harold has grown more frail and Buck’s bred in his bones fire for hunting has self-extinguished, the only reason for planting even two food plots now is nostalgia and the imperative of the season.

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Harold has been in and out of the hospital twice in recent weeks. His son (far left) helped plant this year’s fields. Buck is in it now for the friendship, the symbolism, the memories., and the beauty of the moment.

Our twenty-year-old granddaughter, Andie, spent Tuesday night with us, then she and I took mugs of French Roast coffee hot as fire and drove the old black pick-up truck to Sunshine Hill for the seed while Buck, Harold and Huey prepared and fertilized the ground. Andie and I saw fields nearly white for harvest up near Molino, where cotton has returned. When she and I returned, we drove to the fields and slung fifty pound sacks to the ground or slid them to the tailgate for pickup. I got distracted listening to Harold’s stories and stood in a bed of ants. Andie saw them marching double-time up my calves and alerted me. They bit in unison when I jumped, ran, and tore off my jogging shoes and socks. No damage done, just a few red bites on my feet, legs and fingers. They were a mild tribe.  Andie focused and refocused the camera in her mind, I could see her do this, and I know this is a day she shall never forget. She saw her granddad and me in a surprising venue, away from our desks, the hearth, the kitchen and the dining table.

A farmer’s rain came yesterday as if we had ordered it from a menu to tamp down the soil and swell the seeds.

The fields were prepared. The seeds were planted. And the rains came.