Friday, March 28, 2008

Back To The Depot

Here's what I've learned this week -- I don't have the stamina to be a "groupie," political or otherwise.

I was still on my movie star high when I learned that former President Bill Clinton was going to be at the depot today stumping for his wife. (Translation: I was ready to go stand and gawk again, camera in hand, even if I am a somewhat less than stellar photographer.) So that's what the dh and I did. It was more involved this time around, what with waiting in a long line, filling out a form, and showing those in charge of security that I had nothing on my person but a checkbook and a digital camera.

The speech was outside in the depot garden. The swallows were flying. The sky was blue. The weather was hot. And I ended up in a less than helpful location for a photographer, especially a bad one. I spent a lot of time taking "short-person" pictures, i.e., the backs of other people's heads. Should I continue my celebrity hound bent, I'm going to have start carrying a box to stand on. There was no handy wrought-iron fence this time.

There were, however, people around I knew. Like Tad, a former co-worker, and my friend, Deena The Poet. Deena was in an excellent location for taking photographs, and this is her effort, which she kindly gave me permission to display here:

This is one of mine :

You wouldn't believe the amount of cropping I had to do to get rid of the heads, shoulders and ears in the way.

This is one of mine, too, and no, I don't know how this happened:

And here's some blue sky:

So that's how I spent my day -- gawking at history -- instead of working on the book proposal.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

LEATHERHEADS, The Movie, The Stars

What a revelatory day. I had no idea, at this late date, that I was a movie star groupie. The late Sidney Blackmer had been my patient when I was a student nurse -- twice -- and I'd seen cowboy star, Bob Steele, in person at the State Theater when I was three. I was...blasé when it came to celebrities. Really.

I was pretty sure I wasn't a George Clooney fan. I did know I liked Renée Zellweger (above) and had ever since I saw the "Show me the money!" movie. I liked her -- but did I like her enough to go stand and gawk when she and George arrived by vintage train to promote their new movie, Leatherheads?

Apparently so -- because despite the book proposal I should have been working on, less than fifteen minutes from their ETA at the restored 1920s depot (where some of the scenes in the film were shot), the dh and I decided to go. Amazingly, we managed to get to town, find a parking place, and hike down to the depot ahead of the train.

Let me say here that I am no photographer, and I have enough pictures of my own fingers and the cat from the ears up to prove it. Nevertheless, I am about to show you some of the photos I took on this exciting (I was soon to learn) occasion. You can see a larger version by clicking on any of them.

The crowd was daunting by the time we reached the depot:

And what a colorful crowd it was. Having never been to anything like this before, I had no idea that some people would actually show up in appropriate costume. And some not so appropriate. And the headgear. I was very taken by one lady's bright emerald green hat with feathers, and somewhat startled by another one which looked like a mirrored disco ball from the back. And then there was the man who was actually wearing a period leather football helmet -- the kind that inspired the name "Leatherheads." I assume he was a paid part of the PR/promotion effort, mostly because I don't know where a grown man would get something like that, much less wear it.

The train came shortly...

...and I took a stab at getting a photo of Renée and George as the train car they were in passed by -- in one of those bold hold-the-camera-high-and-shoot-what-you-can't-see moves. And I actually got it. Sort of. There's George peering out as if he's not the least bit scared of us, and you can just see Renée in the left window. She is so pretty. He is, too, for that matter. And at this point, I'm beginning to realize that this experience is going to be nothing like the ones with Sidney and Bob.

Which brings us to the taking of celebrity photographs in a mob of people armed with every kind of camera and picture-taking electronic device known to mankind, some of which had a telephoto lens the size of a water bucket. And they weren't afraid to use them, either.

I took most of my better shots while hanging off a wrought iron fence -- with the dh doing his best to keep me from falling. (I'm telling you this so you'll appreciate the effort if not the result.)

First, we have a photograph of George's hat:

(I know, I know. But, see, I wasn't brought up to whack people who are in my way no matter how much I might want to -- and believe me, I wanted to. I was getting into the spirit of this "groupie" thing.)

And here's one of George's sideburns:

(You have to admit this is a little better, right?)

How about this?

And here's George and the Giant Elbow:

(I can't tell you how hard it was to get this shot -- that elbow was formidable. George Clooney is pretty, isn't he? Forget what I said about not being a fan.)

Which brings us to Renée again:

She was so pleasant, chit-chatting and signing all manner of things, some of them living. Both she and George couldn't have been more gracious to the people waiting to see them. It was a truly enjoyable event. I don't know when I've had more fun. (And I loved her shoes.)

is in theaters on April 4. Maybe you'll want to check it out. I'm pretty sure I'm going.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fans and Fans

There are fans -- the reader kind who will buy one's books, read them, like them, and say so. Those are without a doubt a writer's greatest treasure. But this is about the other kind of fan -- the ones that fall under "memory keeping."

My personal experience with what is sometimes called "air conditioning on a stick" is confined mainly to "church fans." For the youngsters in the crowd, there was a time when neither public buildings, nor private homes, nor businesses, nor vehicles were artificially cooled. One flung open windows and coped the best one could.

In churches, in the hot summer time, one of the ways of coping was to use a fan that was always left in the hymnal holder on the backs of the pews. (I'm sure the hymnal-holder thing has a name, but I don't know what it is.) Basically, they were religious pictures printed on thin cardboard and stapled to a scalloped wooden stick -- with an advertisement for the local funeral home on the back. That, in itself, was on the high side of disconcerting.

But these aren't the fans I mean, either. The fans I want to talk about are the ones found in my late sister-in-law's personal effects. This is one of them:

This is the Cuban fan I mentioned in a previous post. I could see immediately that it was different -- and special. It's silk, for one thing -- gilded silk. The ribs aren't bamboo but some kind of heavier wood, and the "Made In Cuba" imprint on one of them would indicate that it's pre-Castro regime. But who it might have belonged to and how it came to be here is the question -- an intriguing one for the "writer mind."

Here's another one -- with a thumb hole instead of a stick. There is an advertisement for the Marshville Furniture Company on the back which proudly proclaims: Furniture Dealers and Funeral Directors. I wonder how that worked? And wouldn't you feel odd giving both those things as your job description? Apparently not. This fan was "Made In The USA" (imagine that) and it has a patent date: 2-15 and 2-23.

It's pretty clear that some of these fans relied heavily on the power of suggestion. This one shows a cool, moonlit summer night. There's a sailboat on the water -- so you'll know there's a breeze coming off the lake. Very atmospheric. All it needs is frog sounds and fireflies -- and the ability not to dwell on the furniture-funeral thing.

And lastly:

This is a three-piece, hinged cardboard fan, clearly designed to make you feel the cold. The sun is sinking. The trees are bare. The snow is on the ground -- but in the distance, home, with a wisp of smoke curling upward from the chimney. There is no advertisement on the back of this one so I doubt it was a "freebie" from a place of business. Maybe you could buy them at a five and dime. I remember seeing the paper and bamboo Japanese fans at Woolworth's when I was a little girl.

But however they were made, and wherever they came from, the bottom line is that they actually moved air well enough to make you feel better. A good thing, as Martha Stewart would say.

And that concludes our foray into Memory Keeping for the day. We'll do it again sometime...

Saturday, March 15, 2008


It's happened once again. Intellectually I know that putting one seed into moist soil, after a certain interval, equals one plant -- assuming the environment isn't hostile and the seed hasn't fizzled. But I'm always surprised. It remains ever amazing.

I thought I'd show you the sprouts (I know you're rolling your eyes, but it's my blog and stuff like this is what I do when I'm not writing. I could dust or mop, but I don't want to.)

So here they are -- Brandywine tomatoes in the foreground, larger, white cucumber seedlings behind them. No word yet from the okra on the back row.

The dh, who is a ham radio operator, tells me that he heard one of the gardener-hams in the mountains say he soaked his okra seeds in kerosene before he planted them. I had a dual reaction to this information -- What!? and NOW he tells me.

My gardening history and experience does not include petroleum products of any kind. Still, the seedling disks don't have even a hint of an okra seedling as yet, so I have an open mind. Because I like okra. I like it fried. I don't like it boiled unless it's in vegetable soup. I'll keep you posted as to whether or not either of things might become a possibility. (And stop rolling your eyes.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Purple Flowers

I love violets, and the violets have arrived. I know this because the dh picked one for me. See?

It's a little worse for wear. Something had been munching on a petal, and the stem is bent. But they're still a wonder to behold every "almost spring."

I think my attachment to violets is because of a locket my father gave my mother. There was a war on, and he was a young paratrooper trying to convince her to marry him. The locket has an important place in the family history, even more so now because it's been lost for many years.

But picture this: a 14k gold locket inset with mother-of-pearl. And placed on (not "in") the mother-of-pearl, an enameled violet. It actually looked like a real violet sitting there -- very detailed -- the petals even had the tiny lines in them. And there had an amethyst in the center. I got to wear it once -- when I was fourteen.

I've never seen another one like it. It was almost as beautiful as the note that went with it. "To the one I love," it said simply. I was quite impressed by it when I was a little girl. I still am, actually, especially now that I know he didn't tell her the truth about how old he was at the time -- because he didn't think she'd marry him if she found out he was four years younger than she was. He was very determined. Paratroopers are like that.

Anyway, I really like violets. Sometime we'll talk about my other favorite flower -- lilacs. And the lost ring.

Monday, March 10, 2008

All The Flags Are Flying Half Mast

I happened to be in town today during the return procession for the two firemen who died in the fire on Friday. When we realized what was happening, we found a place to park near the firehouse and went to stand on the sidewalk to watch as it passed. There was a large crowd of people quietly, respectfully waiting. Old and young, business people, street people, store employees, parents with small children. I didn't expect to cry, but I did. The sense of grief and loss on the faces of the men and women who escorted the bodies was profound, heartbreaking. Such a sad, sad time.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Writer Totems

Do you have -- need -- a writer totem in order to do your best work? I do -- but not these. (Now who shelved that book upside down, I wonder?)

Crystals and geodes, while very mystical, just don't have the whimsy I require to feel at home. I have these where I can see them. I can appreciate their beauty and the geological upheaval that produced them -- but I can't "bond."

My sense of humor leans sharply toward the "Muppet-y," so I need something more...emotional. Amazingly beautiful but cold doesn't do it for me. I need a sense that somebody is actually in there. I need to be aware of the "hands." (See the post about forsythia bushes and tomatoes.)

Ergo, my totems are these:

Tom Clark gnomes. I have several "book lover" gnomes in the grouping -- "Hinson," who is reading to a frog prince, "Curtis" and "Will," who are dedicated bibliophiles. And two gnomes who just "love" -- "Val," who is standing on a Valentine, and "Pumpkin," who will forever say "I love you" in American Sign Language. (I like Pumpkin -- though it's a bit disconcerting that she looks like "Ben" on the TV show "Lost.") And there's sassy "Sparkle" with her hat down over her eyes and her skirt hiked up enough to show you her petticoat -- I'm not sure she's entirely sober. I need her for her fun-loving spirit. (I have to watch the gravitas.)

The one far in the back isn't a gnome at at all. It's a bear -- surrounded by stacks of books and writing, writing, writing. He's there for his fine example. Which brings us to "Edison." He's the one with a light bulb stuck in his hat. His job is to have ideas, and he's standing in a light socket ready to pull the chain switch. Believe me, I have been desperate enough on occasion to think this might be a reasonable solution to the blank page staring back at me. And lastly, on the left, is the long suffering "Job." He's known for his patience. He's just there...waiting. In this business, I always need him.

So. Does anyone else have any totems they'd like to talk about?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Who Are You? (Or So The Song Goes)

It's a migraine day. I'm not sure what I did to get one. Usually I know -- some kind of over-preserved food full of sodium nitrates (nitrites?). Foods I love, of course. But this time I didn't knowingly fall off the wagon by eating a hot dog or a fried bologna sandwich with brown mustard. The "aura" is gone at the moment, the pain is moderate, the concentration is WAY down -- and just when I'd figured out what to do about the current WIP.

But, enough whining. My thoughts are...not so collected, so I thought I'd just show you a photograph today. A "tintype," to be precise. I've reached the age when I am the Memory Keeper for the family. I've been going through my late sister-in-law's belongings -- a long, drawn out task because it makes me sad to do it for any length of time. Among these things are some very old family pictures, anonymous now and therefore seriously intriguing.

He's showing off an important possession -- the watch, chain and fob -- as they sometimes did in old photographs. Or I assume there's a watch. I'm guessing from the style of the clothes that the photograph was taken in the late 19th century -- if anyone has any thoughts about the time period, I'd love to hear them.

He could be a Reavis. He could be a Hopkins or a Way or a Clendenon. He could be somebody's friend or beau and not a family member at all. I wonder why his hair is cut so short?

So that's the blog for today. Oh, I'm working on a "trailer" for the other "orphan" and hope to post that soon. (See below for Orphan Trailer #1) And later I'll show you some more things that have turned up in the Memory Keeping -- like the Cuban fan. (I love the Cuban fan.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Spring and the Writer Mind

The forsythia hedge is blooming -- a welcome portent in my part of the world. It's also sporting a cardinal -- that's the tiny red blob in among the bare branches -- also a welcome sight to the winter-weary. I shouldn't be all that weary, of course -- we haven't had any significant snow or ice storms. Yet. March sometimes presents us with both, but I'm choosing to think spring is almost here and behaving accordingly. I've started some tomato seedlings -- rescued Brandywine seeds from a previous crop. I'm a little late planting them -- I should have done it on Valentine's Day. For those of you not familiar with tomato plants, Brandywines are an "old" variety, which means they are generally neither uniform in size nor pretty to look at. They're also not hardy. So why bother? The taste -- which is wonderful and firmly established in my childhood memory data bank. I had many a quick summer lunch of a freshly baked buttermilk biscuit and a still-hot-from-the-sun Brandywine. Make that "a carefully selected Brandywine." Sometimes you might get extra protein in the tomato if you didn't check for worm holes first -- just one of the joys of organic gardening.

I have my own method of saving tomato seeds: I spread overripe tomato pulp onto a newspaper as thinly as I can, then let it dry. Then I cut small snippets of the newspaper with two or three seeds on each snippet. The pieces of paper get tossed into an envelope and placed in a drawer until planting time. These snippets are very easy to handle and plant. You can scrape the seeds off or you can plant snippet and all. I usually scrape because they come up faster.

But why am I boring you senseless with garden-talk? Because I'm a writer and have what I believe to be "the writer mind." Writers' minds are generally considered to be unlike those of the more practical and grounded among us. And mine leads me to note that it isn't just the act of growing something good to eat that appeals to me. It's the connection I feel to my farmer forebears on both sides of my family. When I plant -- and use the knowledge my green thumb father and my grandfather taught me, things their fathers and grandfathers taught them -- I'm still able to touch them even if they are all long gone. It isn't just the growing; it's the family. My family. I once said of one of my characters who appreciated old ruins that it wasn't the stones she saw, it was the hands that had carried them. It's something like that...