Thursday, July 30, 2009

Smelling A Future

I was thirty-five before I started saving for retirement. Prior to that time, I spent everything I made--and, in some years, more--on experience.

I don't regret it. I'm richer for being able to call back a runner's high on the Golden Gate Bridge, and relive slow-breathing zen drifts in coral reef realms. Those investments don't vary with inflation or market fluctuation.

The flip side is that when I'm old, memories will entertain but they won't feed me. This truth smashed me in the head the year I was thirty-five. I'd been playing volleyball on the beach in South Beach. There's a lot of glitz to Miami's South Beach today but it was an area in transition then.

My old junker car was locked but some crackhead had found a way to break into my trunk and take my gym bag, in which I'd hidden my purse. I wanted to go out right then, looking for anything that was dropped. But the sky was dark, the streets unsafe. I did the smarter thing and left, anger bubbling in the pit of my stomach. The next morning I put on my running clothes and went out early to dumpster-dive the area around the scene of the crime. Crackheads don't want silk skirts or women's underwear, they want money. There was a chance I'd find my blouse with the marcasite lizard pin still attached.

The fetid smell knocked me back from the first dumpster I opened. I'd forgotten to bring gloves and I couldn't make myself crane over into the pit and put my hands in the garbage, so I just looked from the top. Which was bad enough. Before I opened the second lid, I took a big breath and held it.

Guys in cars honked and waved as I crossed the street, odes to my figure and their testosterone, until they saw me lift a dumpster lid, when they sped off. A construction crew yelled suggestions about what I could do for them until they saw me open a dumpster and lean in. The longer I searched, the more self-conscious I became. By the time I'd searched six square blocks, the odor of rancid vomit clung to me. In the last alley, a homeless man, someone who had that hearing-voices-in-his-head look, circled out of his way to avoid me.

I opened a 401K, AKA The Bag Lady Fund, that afternoon.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reading Fire

Update: Beth's blog is no longer online--the bad news. The good news is that she's concentrating on her writing and someday there will be a book to hold instead of words in cyberspace.

Since you can't click to read them, I'm attaching the wonderful words from her post, Fire Lines, referenced below, that I've posted over my desk.

"Life is a beautiful horrific braiding of events. We stand at the mouth of the river and the eye of the storm, that place where rainbows are seen. Some difficult days, we tread water. Some glorious days, we fly."
Beth Westmark, Switched at Birth, 7-29-09



Original post:
My friend Beth Westmark wrote an extraordinary piece today in her blog . Real crying-laughing life. I'm putting a paragraph from it on the bulletin board above my desk, where I can see it when I look up from my writing. And I'm giving the link as a present to you, a story to light your day.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Texas Time


In the Life is Short-Live Now category, I believe in celebrating. Every time we can. So when we recently hit the third anniversary of our move to Texas, we went out to toast each other and our good fortune.





We're grateful for our home here. We've created habitat that draws in wildlife, including birds that we'd only seen before in books. We've found friends--interesting, caring people who make our lives richer and better. And we're grateful to be close to my family now, able to celebrate my parent's golden years and enjoy my sister and her family. I'm particularly lucky to spend time with the baby. I'm pretty sure she's adding years to my life.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Where Did He Come From?

Denny and I have been talking lately about where stories come from. He says they grow out of experience, and imagination.

I get the experience part--bits and pieces from my years and miles.

But writing a novel is walking into an unformed world. People and events that don't exist. It's the novelist's job to make them up.

I put a lot of thought into the characters, starting with the name. (For more on how my characters are usually born, see Biographies .)

Yet every now and then, a character just appears on a page, complete and named. And insinuates himself (or herself) into my story. A stranger. Someone not on my outline. It feels a little like having someone show up unexpectedly in your living room. Where the hell did he came from and how did he get in my pages?

The day after one of these guys arrives, I decide if he can stay. So far, the unannounced are batting 1000. They've got good voices and they quickly find their places in my story, regardless of the fact that I now have to alter the outline to fit them.

My protagonist is a woman named Selby Wade. But my favorite character is the guy who introduced himself in this way:

The next evening, across the road from the flamingo-pink buses at Pinky’s Toobs, people left their vehicles wherever they could find space in the crowded Harley-Davidson parking lot. Balding men in business suits and middle-aged women in sensible shoes waved to each other as they forged around pickup trucks and SUVs. At the entrance, they slowed in front of beefy touring cycles lining the ‘Motorcycle Only’ covered spaces next to the building.


Inside, a soaring metal ceiling and polished concrete floor embraced a biker’s dream. Free-standing racks formed long aisles of lustrous commerce. Soft leather jackets, sturdy motorcycle boots, black biker’s gloves, all branded Harley-Davidson. Rhinestone logos on ladies’clingy tank tops and form-fitting jeans. And, in the center, rows of motorcycles stretched to the distant reach of the building. Bikes in deadly black and bikes in brilliant hues—blues and scarlets and yellows—all armed with polished chrome in a look so sleek that people walking by thought they heard a faint whine of tires on a twisting road.


Selby swallowed her breath as she walked through the glass doors. Oh my God, this is as good as Fourth of July fireworks. Pools of light from silvery pendants arced and glowed as music swirled up to the rafters, carrying drifts of laughter and shouted greetings. Without taking her eyes from the rows of bikes, she dug in her bag for her camera. A few adjustments, a couple of clicks, and she looked down at the screen where people eddied in a flow like smoke around rows of bikes.


The crowd spread out and Selby moved forward. Before she realized it, she’d walked past the Chamber of Commerce check-in desk and the clothing racks, then idled past the first two rows of motorcycles. At the top of the third row she saw a vision of herself astride the bike in front of her. She stopped, resting her hand on a muscular black number with yellow-to-orange flames licking the tank.


“That’s a good ride. Fat Bob.”


The deep scratchy voice made her jump. It had come, apparently, from a massive pirate who now stood to her left, towering over her. A red bandana covered his head, knotted in back, and a gold star dangled from a large diamond stud in one ear. He wore an open black leather vest over a red t-shirt. A small belly pooched over the top of well-worn jeans and dust lingered in the creases of his black boots. She stepped back a pace.


The brown eyes under the bushy black brows watched, twinkling. Then a slow infectious grin parted his thick, salt-and-pepper mustache and beard. “You’ve never seen a biker before, have you?” he asked.


She loosened her grip on her purse. “Not one of your magnitude.”


He laughed. “Touche´.” He held out his hand. “Name’s Isaiah Rudolph.”


As she put out her hand, Selby wondered if it was true that convicts often had the letters LOVE and HATE tattooed on their hands. When she stole a glance down, she was relieved to see Isaiah’s hands unadorned, even of jewelry. “Selby Wade.”


“Not meaning any disrespect, but you don’t look like a standard issue Chamber of Commerce member,” he said.


Not a bad line. And she admitted to herself that she'd had a thought of standing out in the crowd. The turquoise off-shoulder blouse and flowing skirt that swirled as she walked cried Artist, a welcome departure from the navy blue suit of her business past. She’d worn her hair down too and it swung like a curtain when she turned her head.


“And you’re probably the only pirate in the group.”


He grinned. “Hey. I’m not a pirate. No skull and crossbones. And you want to be nice to me. I’m providing the brew tonight.”


“Brew?”


“Cowboy Gold, finest beer in the Texas Hill Country. Brewed right here in New Braunfels, by yours truly,” he said proudly. “All-Pro Pilsner, Blitz Bock, and Victory Pale Ale.”


“That’s fantastic! I didn’t know there was a brewery in New Braunfels.”


“It’s not very big. But eventually I’ll go statewide.”


“How did you get started?”


“My Dad used to make home brew, like all the Germans around here, so I guess I came by it naturally. But I didn’t start tinkering around myself until I retired.”


“You retired young.” It just popped out of her mouth. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude.”


He laughed. “I played defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys. Twelve years is a full career.”


Selby didn’t know why his football past surprised her. Now that she knew, he had the build and the oft-broken nose of a pro ballplayer. Maybe she'd been thrown by the bandanna. Or the full beard. I still think he looks like a pirate, she thought. Except for the smile. That was pure warmth. Not what you’d expect from a man who used to knock people down for a living.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Serendipity 7-24-09

Under-wings patterned in mother-of-pearl, when the light shines through, they glow iridescent. Gulf Frittilary butterfly nectaring on Turk's Cap.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rumble

It was after 10:00pm and I was still puttering at my desk, working on the Deer Resistant Plant List for the neighborhood garden club meeting.

I'd been working on the program since late this afternoon and it was past time to quit but I kept thinking just one more plant...until I was alerted to a skunk altercation outside... by the perfume seeping in. Now it's REALLY time to leave the office.

Backyard Miracle


Golden-Cheek-Warbler
Originally uploaded by egdc211
I was there, this morning. When the miracle happened.

As I watered a barrel of backyard plants, a tiny black-framed flash of gold streaked past. He perched, not ten feet away, studying the dropping edge of my stream. Slowly, my hand tilted up, the flow arching softly toward his tree. He fluttered closer. And closer again, until he shivered at the fine-mist edge.

Birders come from around the world to a small Hill Country region to look for the endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler. If they're smart, and lucky, and if they're here in time, before his kind declines from Endangered to Extinct, they may catch a tree-top glimpse.

This morning, in my own backyard, I was there.

Thanks to egdc211 for use of her photo. For more of her lovely work, see her Flickr stream at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/egdc211/ .

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Whatever Works


At 105F, it was so hot that even non-swimmers were taking a dip.

Wasps normally anchor to the edge, stretching to the water to drink. This guy must have been parched. He did a belly flop more than once, floating for a moment, then taking off to circle and flop again. It's an interesting innovation, and a risky one. I don't know if he'll have long-term success. But that's never known early in an evolution.

He might stay a mili-second too long, feet sinking below surface tension, and find himself unable to take flight. Or he might be one of the wasps the female summer tanager snagged later in the day to feed her young.

I'm hoping to see him again. Innovation is good. And there are plenty of edge-hangers for the summer tanager.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Rain !!!!!


My Hill Country friends will love this post. People who, until yesterday, had forgotten what water-from-the-sky looks like.

Yesterday we had 1 3/4" plus a layer of nickle-sized hail in less than an hour. I filmed a few seconds from our back porch. For everyone who wants to see falling ice and water again, a link to the video is posted below, just click the arrow.

If you squint and turn your head just right, you might catch a joy-crazed figure dancing naked in the trees.

The almost-hour of rain was so good I dreamed water all night.

video

CSA





























The beautiful basket that holds our July 18th bounty was hand-made by Alison Hodges as a wedding present. Don't you love functional art? And love it more when you know the care and good wishes that went into it?



We're trying something new this year, a 12-week subscription to a CSA. When I first googled CSA, the lead link was for the Casting Society of America...not what we were looking for...

We purchased a share of seasonal produce from a Community Supported Agriculture farm. I found ours through the Local Harvest website, http://www.localharvest.org/ , a food-farmer-community site. There is a cool map on the home page with a green dot for every farm they list--and there are farms in all the lower 48. It showed a lot of farms in Texas but I'm still jealous of the eastern states that were almost solid green.

We paid up front and now, every Saturday morning through August, I pick up a bag of fresh. Never know what this week's fresh will be, but I do know that it was in the ground a day before. Some weeks we'll get a lot of one thing, like the first week when we got little sweet onions and pounds of pickling cucumbers. I didn't have time to pickle so we ate cucumbers lunch and dinner every day the following week. But they were good, and a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K and Potassium. Having said that, I'll admit I'm glad we've moved into pepper and squash season. The fresh cayenne pepper that I used in a recent Curried Quinoa and Garbanzo Stew gave it a nice under-burn.

Our farm is also certified organic. So we not only get produce grown within thirty miles of our front door, we don't have to wonder what's been sprayed or sprinkled in the growing. We live a ways from a big city and our access to organic produce is somewhat limited, but I believe in eating organic when we can. It's better for every living thing that the air, water and soil aren't imbued with poisons and synthetic fertilizers.

And organics are a better choice for my body. The breast cancer taught me that my body is capable of harmful mutation on its own--it doesn't need additional encouragement.

A CSA isn't for everyone--there's no choice in the basket--and it's not inexpensive. But my farmer sends beautiful, clean, healthy, delicious vegetables, and an occasional recipe for using them. Next year I'm going to have more time, I'm sure of it, and I'm going to make the cold-cure pickle recipe. A cold tangy crunch will taste good when the thermometer hits 100F.

We support our local farm and we get great food. Amen.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Living Light



I first picked up a camera because I wanted to learn to see.

Last Sunday, the air crackled at nearly 100F as we watered the community garden by the highway. I was dragging 125 feet of hose, looking down and back, when a flash bounced in the air of yucca fronds to my right. A Golden Orb weaver spider, the sun shining through her like living light.

I'm still seeing her beauty.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cave Without a Name

My geologist sister came for a visit recently. Sisters are the best people in the world, and the most fun.

We drank sparkling wine every day and played like tourists. Floated on rivers. Swung on a rope into a 1,250,000 gallon spring-fed pool. And visited a cave. Geologists rock.

The last time we 'did' a cave, we  r e a l l y  did it, an Adventure Tour at Natural Bridge Caverns. Three and a half hours of belly-crawling, including wiggling through an 18" opening named the Vaginal Canal.

This time, we toured Cave Without a Name, just outside of Boerne, Texas. Gravel paths, walking upright. The hour-long tour through six cavern rooms passed too quickly.

 

The first thing they told us was to visit the restroom before we went down into the cave. This is what we saw when we opened the door labeled Restroom.









It was 104F outside as we walked down 126 steps into cool, damp 66F undergound air.

















The cavern was formed from running water and, even in the current beyond-extreme drought, water still drips and flows.

 


Everyone liked the flow-stone (which Melvin, our guide, called Cave Bacon)...











and stalactites and stalagmites, still in process of forming.


My sister was impressed with the natural terracing, (seen at the foot of the picture).










Any day you visit another world is a good day...and there are lots of good days in the Texas Hill Country.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mussel Celebration








My Canadian sister was here for a few days. We live too far away so we bring everything to each visit. We swam, walked the Cave Without A Name, hiked, drank wine and told stories, not all at once.


Her favorite dinner was the wine and garlic steamed mussels with roasted sweet potatoes and asparagus. Fast, easy, fun, fabulous food. The night we made it, we drank cabernet as we cooked, a seriously good 2003 Terra Valentine Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from I Block.


You may not be blessed with a sister, but you can recreate the mussels. And it only takes about 20 minutes, start to finish. Here are the approximate proportions for 4 generous servings:


3 lbs live mussels (nice if they come already cleaned, if not, you'll need to scub & debeard)
2 Tblsp olive oil
red pepper flakes to taste
2 medium onions, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
8 oz crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
~ 1 cup dry white wine, more if you need it
kosher salt & fresh-ground pepper


Use a wide, heavy pan--the mussels will steam more evenly if they're distributed over a greater area. Heat the olive oil with red pepper flakes (more if you like heat, less if you don't) over medium high heat. Saute the onion and celery with a hearty pinch of kosher salt until the vegetables soften. Add mushrooms and continue to saute until the the edges of the onions brown. Add bell pepper and garlic, stir for about 30 seconds. Add a little more salt and some pepper. Stir again. Add the wine & stir. It will boil quickly. As soon as it does, add the mussels, quickly spreading them out in an even layer. Cover. Cook for about 3 minutes, then peek to see if the mussels are opened. If not, cover & shake. Check & shake every few minutes until the mussels have opened and released their liquor. Remove from heat.

Great served over brown rice or with crusty bread to soak up the sauce.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Joining of Life and Flow

I finished the first draft of Chapter 20 Friday evening. I started it weeks ago. True, I had some outside time commitments and vacation, but I felt mired as the chapter lingered. It seemed that no matter how far the characters went, there was still farther to go.


Then this little paragraph materialized and I could feel the door of the chapter trying to close:

"On the ride back, Selby pushed everything else out of her mind, letting the road and the bluffs and the river course through her. Time felt elastic, bending around every curve, stretching, reaching away in a pure joining of life and flow."


The pages that preceded the paragraph started with uncertainty and resolved into activity--a coffeehouse conversation, a brewer's tour of his boutique brewery, a dramatic motorcycle ride. So when Selby fell into the elasticity of time, it felt to me like the chapter was over.


But there was still story to tell...and I went on writing. And I liked the evolution. Good scenes, a different kind of story-telling. The characters exploring each other, each action also a reaction. It was interesting seeing their chemistry emerge as they talked, more so as it happened in a way I didn't foresee.


At the end of the day on Friday, I revisited...and let Chapter 20's door creak shut, back at the joining of life and flow. The subsequent pages are now in Chapter 21, where they belong.


Denny and I adjourned to the front porch where we hoisted a Shiner Bock to celebrate. It was a good flow.



Thursday, July 9, 2009

Learning Skills

I looked out of the bedroom window one day last week to see the doe and her fawn at our backyard birdbath. The normal watering holes are dry... She's the only fawn in the neighborhood this year. A couple of years ago, the year of record rains, there were seven or eight. Maybe she's the only one born in this second drought year. Or she's the only one to survive.

The little one slurped from the saucer on the ground while the doe drank from the pedestal bath. But the saucer ran dry while the fawn lapped, and she was still thirsty. She circled the pedestal, and stretched, trying angles and stances. She tried over and over, from one side or the other, until she found a way to drink the high water.

As young as she is, she's already practicing survival. She may outlast this drought.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Island Time Shrimp Kabobs


I was feeling islandish when I went to the grocery...and these wonderful fresh Gulf shrimp called me...

Shelled the shrimp and threaded the skewers with bell peppers and onions (zapped for a couple of minutes in the microwave to soften), fresh tomato and pineapple slices, then melted some awesome apricot jelly with a little fresh lime juice and dry white wine, salt and pepper, pressed garlic and a chopped jalapeno (I'm noticing a theme with other recent posts--fruit and hot and pungent flavors...). Brushed it on everything and let it sit for about 15 minutes before gently grilling. Served over Jasmin rice flavored with smoked paprika, added sides of sauteed zuchini and sliced fresh tomatoes. Dinner was served in 45 minutes (total, including sitting time). We enjoyed a glass of Chateau St. Michele Riesling with it, flavors of pear and citrus and spice, nice.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Drink in Drought



Our area in the Texas Hill Country just finished the hottest June in recorded history. The drought has now surpassed the last one (2005-2006), which surpassed the 1950's dustbowl years. Trees are dying in the hills.

It looks like the frenzy of hummingbird migration every day now at our feeders as the tiny wonders try to survive and raise families in 110F temperatures.

It's hard to watch the old trees die and the creatures suffer.




Blackchin Hummingbird female 7-5-09

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Serendipity - 7-4-09

I loved this crystallized moment of surprise.

Does it trigger ideas for you? Share your mini-story as a comment...

Or--if you have a visual serendipity of your own to share, post the image on your blog or Flickr stream and leave a comment here. I'll add your link to this post.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Comfort, Texas


People come to Comfort for the time. It passes more slowly here. Might even go backwards.

I'm not making this up. Most of downtown Comfort, Texas, goes back a ways. Even the National Register of Historical Places thinks so.

The town was founded in the mid-1800s by 'Freethinker' German immigrants. The Freethinkers were practical idealists. One of their demands in 1854 was that laws be enacted, so simple and intelligible, that there should be no need of lawyers.

Most of the 2,500-3,500 area residents today are descendants of the founders. They care about their beginnings and the buildings that grew from them. Someday, when you need more time and Comfort, you can come for a visit. Until then, here's a pictorial introduction. Click any of the pictures for a larger view.

You can follow the signs...










Or, get directions from Jolene at Cypress Creek Antiques, who says she 'works the corner'.


















And a varied corner she's working, too.

There were more antique shops than we had time to try...








Across the way, a museum inhabits the 1908 Comfort State Bank building, an example of locally quarried limestone and solid German-heritage architecture
.




























Jolene sent us down the street for lunch at 814 - A Texas Bistro, in the 1908 Post Office building. They serve a mean hamburger at lunch and Texas favorites with a twist at dinner. Interesting wine list, too.











Across High Street is the Comfort Meet Market. The sign in the window says Friday and Saturday nights.
















A sweet library occupies the 1916 Arno Schwethelm Memorial Building at the corner of 7th and High. Before taking on a life of the mind, the building served as a bottling works, general store, tractor dealership, grocery store, ice cream parlor and more.







The Library must be expecting my friend Beth, who writes Westmark Writes, to include them in her hedgehog stories because they named a corner of the children's section after her.
(Click the picture for a larger view.)




After the Library, you might want to set a spell with the guys at Gael's Comfort Barber Shop. Gael Montana's official title was Tonsorial Artist and Hill Country Contrarian. She passed away this year but the shop is still a good place to go.


When you're ready for a break, wander down the path from High Street to the Comfort Cellars tasting room and taste the wines, including the only Jalapeno Wine in Texas .
















There's a lot more to see and do in this town on the Guadalupe River, but you can't leave without a visit to Comfort Feed and Garden. That would be like leaving Seattle without going to a coffee shop.