Category Archives: writing updates

NaNoWriMo 2016 – Fin

I had ambitions of updating more often this NaNoWriMo, a la 2012. But that didn’t happen. A lot of other things did…

Okay, I’ll just say it. The election kinda poleaxed me. And that’s all I’ll say on that.

So I was processing a lot emotionally and intellectually the last few weeks. But, least you think that this is my “yeah, it didn’t work out” post, that is *not* in fact the case.

I accomplished everything I set out to do this month. I just crossed the 50k finish line (50,004 words) with a combination of new words for The Novel (maybe about 8k total) and over 42k words for the new POV character in the zombie novel. There was lots of action sequences in that, so I had a lot of fun playing.

Plus, I met Chris Baty when he came to talk at Words & Music. He signed my dogeared (and underlined, no kidding) copy of No Plot, No Problem and I ended up helping to introduce him. Basically, my fellow WriMo Hayley and I gave testimonials about What NaNoWriMo Means to Us, then sat down and Chris proceeded to give a hilarious and inspiring talk. That was cool.

I meditated almost every day of the month via the latest Deepak Chopra  + Oprah Meditation Experience. And I read. A lot. But most especially the 2016 Best American Essays, one essay each day. This is a tradition I usually do in January, to start the year off, but I really needed it this month.

So, in conclusion, my life really works best when I’m writing, reading and meditating every day, it turns out. I accomplished a lot this month. Annnnd, I’ve got something cooked up for December, too, so stayed tuned…

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NaNoWriMo 2016

It’s been so long since I updated this blog. Not since the end of 2015, in fact, and here we are again, in the home stretch of 2016. But enough of that.

NaNoWriMo has meant a lot to me since my first time … in either 2007 or 2008. My memory fails me. So, even though I am nearing the end of a major new draft of The Novel that I’m really happy with (finally), I’m also starting a new(ish) NaNoWriMo novel.

Ish because I’m back to my zombie novel, which I always have a lot of fun writing. It’s almost an entirely new story because I’m adding a POV character. When I wrote the story originally in 2012 (…), I had a strong sense of my POV character and her group of friends, but hadn’t conceived yet of a bigger story. Years later, I started thinking about a second POV character and pretty recently a third. I’m working this year on the story of that third character, because it’s the most immediate for me right now.

So I have two projects to work on right now, with two different deadlines. I’m going to use my NaNoWriMo sessions as playtime. Pure creation, which I definitely need to tap in to regularly.

I forgot how satisfying the stats page is for a NaNoWriMo project, so I’m really glad I logged into the site this year to put in my novel info (I don’t always).

Here’s a short summary:

Day 1 – After work, I met up with friends at a coffee shop and wrote the first 591 words of this new POV character.

Day 2 – In two writing sprint sessions with a friend I met at a write-in last year, I wrote a combined total of 2,829 words today. I also read Daniel Jose Older’s Pep Talk, the first of this year. I saw him talk at the library last night, so that that’s some synchronicity in my motivation.

Here we go, Brave New Year….

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My end of 2015 homework

This end of the year assessment is an interesting one for me. I started doing this six years ago, at Jamey’s prompting and now it’s one of my favorite ways to wrap up each year.

In the past, I often haven’t wanted the year to end and I’ve been anxious about the coming year.  The last few years have been really tricky and challenging, so I’ve been eager to start fresh. I feel really calm about 2016, even though my upcoming birthday is almost simultaneous with the beginning of both a month of Mercury Retrograde and a Jupiter Retrograde (which is going to be interesting, I understand from reading my horoscope).

All that is to say that while I haven’t achieved everything I’d hoped to achieve this year (see: the last item on the list), I’m still satisfied with my year. A friend asked me tonight what my resolutions are for 2016 and I realized that my only resolution is to continue doing what I’m doing and, in some cases, more of it.

1) I learned a lot about blogging and even met a lot of amazing bloggers. I just didn’t blog. If you count *this* post, I only updated three times this year, which is the total number of posts I published in December 2014. It wasn’t intentional and I felt really bad about it at first. And then I just stopped, posting and feeling bad. I decided to do it again when it felt right, when I had a better sense of what I wanted the blog to be in the future. And, in the meantime, I Tweeted a ton. It started to feel like poetry to me, the opportunity to quickly be creative within a rigid structure (limited characters). I hope to use Goodreads more regularly in 2016, because I would like to continue writing my fun, crazy subjective book reviews. I read a lot of great books this year.

2) My once-temporary apartment became permanent. At the beginning of 2015, I thought I’d be moving for the 3rd time since 2013 and I was pretty miserable about it. I’d fallen in love with my place and my neighborhood.

I’ve made a cozy, impermanent, perfect little home here for myself and while I’ll probably have to move again soon, I know now that I absolutely love Mid City…

I went so far as to look at a ton of apartments and while none of them was right, I thought I’d have to pick one. And then, on my birthday, a reprieve. It was pretty amazing timing. Since then, I’ve finally settled in completely, hanging mirrors, hooks and cork boards, buying a bookcase and filling it up with books that had been in storage for a year. I downsized to a smaller storage unit and while the majority of my books are still there, I’m now “all in” on my place.

3) My mission to cook more and eat healthier continued. If you need proof, my Twitter feed is evidence. It’s filled with food photos, love letters to cast iron skillets, longing notes about breadboxes. I became ravenous for avocados and beets, two foods almost unknown to my diet previously. Cooking and preparing meals became my main form of entertainment as well as a resolution for better health. A good friend moved last year and gave me a bunch of her kitchen stuff and I endeavored to use it. When the sweet amazing couple who I bought bread from every week at the market left town, the baker taught me how to make bread. Suddenly, I was baking my own bread every week, bringing a loaf (pic below) to every gathering of friends and taking serious pleasure from feeding the people I care about. There’s nothing like it.

Another friend visited early in the year, scoped the contents of my fridge and said, kinda judgey and suspicious, “What’s up with all the green stuff in your fridge?” I was thrilled. And so here you go, a pic of my fridge from a few days ago, way more green than earlier in the year. To round out the photos, a  “skinny cheesecake parfait” (mine is made with minced cranberries instead of strawberries) I just made with the mixer I got for Christmas.

4) I jettisoned broken things or any experience or relationship that didn’t work for me anymore. Including a job that was making me miserable. A grudge that kept me from walking into a place I’d once loved. I lovingly laid to rest painful “what-ifs” about past relationships. And the real biggie – I worked on giving up habits that weren’t serving me or were actively hurting me.

5) I challenged myself to do things that made me anxious or uncomfortable. Liiike, a friend gave me a VIP pass for Jazz Fest and I used it to go see Lenny Kravitz by myself – which is terrifying because I have trouble with crowds. Gotta say, the VIP access was huge in making it possible, but it was definitely still a challenge.

An editor of an amazing publication expressed interest in my writing and I sent work not once, but twice. I talked myself through a mid-flight panic attack. I binged the first 5 seasons of The Walking Dead and then read the comics and started watching every week, even though I’m a total wuss and almost never watch scary stuff. After years of being intrigued by this show, I just dove in and became a huge fan. Instead of letting panic or anxiety control my decisions, I let the things I loved, or wanted to love, guide me.

6) I focused on the people I was with and/or what I was doing at any given time. Meaning, my cell phone was in my bag or turned screen-down when I was hanging out or taking a meeting. I left the phone in the other room a lot. I gave myself permission not to answer if I was writing or decompressing. But I also returned calls more regularly and enjoyed Skype sessions with folks I love who are far away. I was thoughtful about how I spent my time, and with whom. And I was lucky enough to witness so many of my friends and colleagues achieve wonderful success this year, to be fully present when it happened.

7) I traveled even more this year. A 36-hour whirlwind of a trip to Portland for ValenTango (where I also got to visit with my brother). Atlanta for work and for dancing. Then, New York kept coming up (Anne and Hiro’s joint gallery show, their NYC debut!, a new tango friend who offered to host me). I haven’t been for years and in the past, I would’ve been practical and skipped it, but this year, I gave myself a trip to NYC as a present. I had an amazing time dancing and catching up with Anne and basically living at Google’s offices for the first day and a half (the cafeteria exceeds every legend you might’ve heard). I made new friends while I was there and had a random adventure going to see Karl Ove Knausgard at The Strand with one of them. I longed to go to NYC, so I made it happen. And it was fantastic.

8) (cont’d) Travel Pt II. I made a pilgrimage to a Tennessee mountaintop with Peauxdunque and on the way, stopped by Memphis to catch up with Jamey.

And then another whirlwind tango trip – this one 23 hours in Dallas to dance, catch up with great friends and celebrate the holidays.

9) Speaking of tango. For the second year, I assisted with the New Orleans Tango Festival, which has become, for me personally, a tango family reunion every year. More and more, I appreciate catching up with friends I might not get to see but once a year (if that) and to measure my growth against the last time we danced together. Check out this recap video (you can even see me about 27 seconds in):

And this year was even more special because of the time I got to spend with the ladies of La Bailonga Tango (+ Giovanni Parra), a Colombian tango band that came to Nola for the Festival. We had so much behind-the-scenes fun: getting them to their radio and tv appearances and trying to communicate in both English and Spanish (and oddly, French, which kept popping out when I tried to speak Spanish). I will treasure the experience!

We started working on 2016 very soon after this year’s festival was finished and I’m excited to do it again.

10) I threw myself into a new job, a new career. One that I really, really love. No matter how exhausting and challenging the day is, I end each one entirely satisfied by the opportunity to use my exceptionally diverse job history and my creativity while learning new things, every day. This job is bringing me balance and stability, but even so it’s also forcing me to face my struggle with change head-on. What is this job, you ask? I work at the library. It kinda seems like the obvious path for me, in hindsight.

11) (cont’d – this is worth 2 spots) So obvious that I was probably running from it. I realized that I was afraid of at least two things: a stable 9-5 career and also doing something I loved for a living. What if working at the library ruined what has always been my safe haven, my happy place? (This is the “don’t work at your favorite restaurant” theory). And, the biggie, what if career satisfaction removed all of my motivation to write? Luckily…

12) I wrote with more dedication and playfulness than ever before. For most of the year, I woke up a few hours early in order to write before work! I’d estimate that 2/3rds of the year, I went out of my way and made time for writing. Thanks to several months playing around with a novel about zombies (during the miserable job) and once again to NaNoWriMo in November, I looked forward to my writing sessions. I was light-hearted in a way I haven’t been in a long, long time.

13) I published. A short short story in Like a Girl pre-show supplement. A short piece of advice. More author profiles and book pieces for 225 Magazine. Several small business profiles for Gambit Weekly. An essay in the Scars Anthology. This last one is closely tied to #14 below…

14) I “appeared” more times this year than in the previous three years combined. I hadn’t read my work publicly for about 5 years before that, so this was huge.

A lot of the opportunities I had this year were because Maurice and I were promoting Scars locally. I’ve been so thrilled to share the experience with him and to be included in such a fabulous anthology. It was inspiring to get a tiny taste of what it’s like to publish and promote your work.

I got to have a book release at Garden District Bookshop, where I used to work, to share a stage with authors Jami Attenberg and MO Walsh at the Louisiana Book Festival and then to “work” at Octavia Books alongside authors Claudia Gray and Wayne Curtis for Small Business Saturday

After these experiences – I’m even more determined now.

15) I didn’t finish the novel by the end of the year, like I hoped I would. But I will finish it. After years of working on this novel and trying to put it aside and move on, I finally *know* that I will finish it, soon.

The best analogy I’ve ever heard about writing a novel is that it’s like building a boat in the middle of the ocean, no land in sight. I’ve spent more than 10 years with mirages of land or no hope of ever seeing it again. And now, there, not too far away, I see land ahead. I know where I’m going and that the journey is almost over.

A friend posted today about “done lists,” vs. “to-do lists.” I like that idea a lot. It immediately resonated. I think that’s what I’ve been doing these last few years. A list to remind myself of everything I’ve done, since it can be so easy to forget the sea of never-ending to-dos.

Can you see why I’m satisfied with 2015? It’s been pretty amazing. 2016 is gonna be even more so, I can feel it. Happy New Year, y’all.

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Quarterly Progress Report: 2015 Q1

Alright now, it’s been a while. You and I both know this, so I’m just ‘fessing up. Since I’ve been pretty quiet this year and because two of my favorite regular posts are the annual end of the year homework and the quarterly reading reports, I thought I’d just smash them together to create a quarterly progress report. Whether this will be a one-timer or a series remains to be seen – let me know what your thoughts are, if it’s something you’d like to see again or not.

Updates on 2015, my life and goals so far:

1. This blog: I’ve been writing and maintaining a blog fairly consistently since 2008 and it’s been a lot of fun. I started out writing 10+ posts a month, sometimes as many as 20-25 during NaNoWriMo in November. The world of blogging has changed so much since 2008, as has my personal and professional life, so there have been different iterations of this blog in that time and that’s the beauty of it, I think, watching it stretch and mutate to become what is most necessary and fun for me at any given time. I think the blog will be undergoing a new iteration soon and I’m in a phase of figuring out what I need from it. I’m crowdsourcing information from a group of other bloggers (look for their links on the right, under Band of Bloggers) and I would genuinely love to know your thoughts, whether you’ve been reading for a long time or catch the occasional random post, whether its in the comments or privately (my email is on my bio page).

2. My low-key New Year’s resolution: During the last few years, my email inbox has become a terrifying place, unproductive and chaotic, a black hole into which good information and correspondence have disappeared. Last year, I had more than 2,000 unread messages in my inbox (not in folders, inbox). Without quite intending to (at first), I started doing something about this late last year, picking up steam as I went. I stopped subscriptions to a lot of email newsletters, switched from daily to weekly in some cases, and deleted dozens of emails in batches. When 2015 started, I had fewer than 200 emails in my inbox, going back to 2012 and I have been steadily dealing with these, as well as developing better and faster data and correspondence management techniques that work for my personality and schedule. As I write this, I have fewer than 25 emails in my inbox, the oldest one is dated 3/1 and I intend, moving forward, to keep it that way. This might seem like an incredibly tedious, nerdy and anal retentive task to update you about however, this took so much patience and I feel such a sense of accomplishment that I just had to mention it.

3. Reading and re-reading: After the blowout success of last year’s Re-Reading Project, I had plans to keep going with new titles and more guest posts. I think a project of the same magnitude of last year’s, especially without having a list of titles in advance or any prep done, was just too overwhelming. The book titles I’d planned to read at the front end of the year were all massive and depressing and I just couldn’t do it in the depths of the winter. I haven’t re-read a single book this year. And on the reading front… well… I’ve been slacking off there, too. I’ve read some really amazing books this year, which I’ll tell you about in the Q1 Reading Report soon. I started off with 10 titles in January, a really decent number. But then I only read 5 in February. As for March…I haven’t finished a single book in March, which is an entirely unprecedented experience in my life (to my recall). I *have* been reading, of course, but mostly articles and excerpts of other work (Delanceyplace newsletter is one I kept, as well as the Smithsonian newsletter and NPR’s book and music podcasts). I’ve been reading one massive encyclopedia-esque book since last year and browsing some other books. Also, I sat down and read through the first 60+ pages of the memoir and have been recently re-reading the blog as part of my impending revamp. I’m sure I’ll finish at least one actual physical book this month… [I actually finished reading 2 books since I began writing this post.]

4. Home sweet home: In early 2014, I moved for the second time in 6 months and spent the rest of the year in a tiny temporary apartment. It was a hot mess when I first moved in and after some renovation and the repurposing of things I’d had forever, as well as things I inherited from friends when they moved, it became my home. It was in an area of town I’d never spent much time in and had always gotten lost in before, yet I started digging the neighborhood almost immediately. It was never supposed to be permanent, but it suits me so utterly, which has taken me by surprise. It was looking like I’d have to move again (3rd time in 18 months), so I started 2015 completely devastated, having realized how much I loved the place and how hard it was going to be to find a new home. Then, on my birthday, I got the news that I could stay for the foreseeable future. Very often, I look around my cozy apartment and think, “I’m so glad I live here.”

5. Eating right: One of my proudest moments of 2014 was when a friend looked in my fridge and said, “Hey, what’s with all this green stuff?” It’s only gotten “worse” (or better, more like) since then. I am now cooking and preparing the majority of my meals, eating at home far more often than I eat out. While I did eat canned soup for lunch pretty much every workday for three months (winter sucks, y’all), most every other meal was prepared using fresh and local ingredients. At the farmers market on my way home from work last week, I was telling the tomato vendor about the great sandwiches I’ve been making with her tomatoes and her market neighbor’s bread, as well as the kale from the vendor at the far end of the market. I told the baker (who’s become a friend) how the 8 people at the recent Peauxdunque retreat ate off one of her loaves of rustic white bread for two different meals (breakfast, paired with homemade apple butter and dinner, alongside my spaghetti). I let the citrus man talk me into a second bag of grapefruit on the promise they’d keep well in the fridge for weeks (and his grapefruit are so sweet I never use sugar on them). While I’ve been cooking quinoa without incident for a while, I was so excited to cook dinner for a friend that I cooked waaaay too much and then had to share several more meals with friends just to get all the quinoa eaten up. Happy accident. This has become my hobby, entertainment, passion, all in one, which makes for a very good investment.

6. Writing is my life: I’ve streamlined my life a great deal in order to write as much as possible. I get up at 5:30 or 6 a.m., get to the coffeeshop when it opens at 6:30 and write for an hour before work. Sometimes I meditate before my writing session. After work, I come home and cook dinner and prep the next day’s lunch, occasionally meditate, maybe talk to some friends or watch a movie and go to bed pretty early. I still dance tango once or twice a week, but that’s been pretty much all of my socializing outside my house. (Except for occasional literary events like Delta Mouth and the Tennessee Williams Festival). Except for going to the farmers market, I do nothing else regularly. This hibernation worked very well for me during the winter when it was miserably cold and got dark so early. I’ll probably be shaking it up a bit now that it’s getting warmer. But I know that, despite not being a morning person, I really treasure my hour of writing in the morning (even if the hour is actually only 15 or 20 minutes because I’m running late), so I will work hard to maintain that habit.

7. Traveling: Despite my craving for stability and structure, I really love the way travel shakes things up, energizes me and throws everything into a bit of chaos. I’ve already traveled twice this year. First, 36 hours in Portland, Oregon for ValenTango (and to see my brother) last month. Then, two days on a “ridge” near Nashville for Peauxdunque’s annual writing retreat last weekend. I’ve also recently spent a weekend in Baton Rouge, which was an odd and wonderful “staycation” experience in a city where I once lived for several years. It was a blast from the past that united family, friends from several eras of my life, a literary reading, a tango house party, a visit to a museum and several drives through campus. I hope to visit Atlanta soon and maybe carve out some time for a New York City adventure. Let’s see.

That’s the nuts and bolts about what’s been going on the last three months. You’ll be getting a Q1 Reading Report soon and perhaps a reinvigorated, reconfigured bragging on post (or series…). In the meantime, don’t forget to comment or drop me a note about what you’ve enjoyed about this blog and what you might like to see more of here and from me.

 

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The Residency Road Trip Leg Three: Soaring Gardens to Philly

In my last update from Soaring Gardens, it was Day 28 and I was trying to both enjoy my last bit of time there and get on the road. I’d planned on being in Philadelphia by about 3 and I didn’t leave the house till after 3! I was running so late. There was so much to do and I ended up talking with Joanne when she arrived to work on the alle. Here’s a picture I took after locking up the house, just as I was about to get in the car and take off.

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I stopped to take some pictures on my way out, leaving by a different way than I’d come home from tango the night before, so I could say goodbye to all the sights. Swung by the post office to drop off some last postcards and then I was officially on my way.

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My drive through Meshoppen was enjoyable, but just as I was arriving on the outskirts of Tunkhannock, there was a long line of eighteen wheelers that were forced to go less than 20 mph because we were going down a steep incline. The rest of the trip went downhill from there, emotionally as well as geographically. After the logjam outside Tunkhannock, I was funneled through the wrong lane in a toll passage and many miles later, when I exited the interstate outside Philadelphia, I was asked for my ticket at a toll stand. But, I didn’t have one, so I had to pay the flat rate. I’m mostly over it by now, but I was pretty pissed at the time. All told, it definitely could’ve gone worse, but it wasn’t how I wanted my exit from idyllic, peaceful Soaring Gardens to go. It wasn’t an easy transition back to the real world.

However, I had a safe and welcoming place to land in Philadelphia. Returning to Anne’s house after our weeks together in creative isolation felt very comfortable and I enjoyed catching up with her husband Hiro, seeing how his month had gone since I’d last passed through town. We had a great dinner together, polished off a bottle of Malbec and then Anne and I decided to have a bake off. 🙂 Sort of. We’d meant to make apple pies while at Soaring Gardens, since we had all those apples, but there was never enough time. I make a mean apple pie and Anne has a killer family recipe, so we had a collaborative think tank night of apple pie making. Anne taught me how to make spectacular homemade pie crust, as well as a butter crumble top (ah-mayyy-zing) and I shared my secret apple pie ingredient. We both signed nondisclosure agreements first, of course.

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While the pies were baking there was, naturally, a cutthroat game of rummy. Which Anne won, of course. But I couldn’t be too sad because then there was pie.

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The next day, I had an early morning coffee meeting with photographer JJ Tiziou. Last year, around this time, JJ’s Kickstarter campaign, Everyone is Photogenic, was winding down. I heard about it via Upworthy and for me, JJ’s project was a perfect storm, distilling many of the personal and universal issues that were coming up as I began work on the dance memoir. I responded as both a writer working on a parallel project and as a human being who needed to hear this philosophy. I pledged support to the project and received backer updates from JJ that would drag feelings and thoughts straight out of my soul (any single one of these feelings and thoughts could’ve sparked a full-out essay). I started emails to JJ several times, but never sent them, feeling too shy. Unfortunately, the project didn’t get fully funded, but it was a game changer for me (and you can read on JJ’s blog all the things he’s learned and what’s happened since the project “failed”). I couldn’t stop talking about it and I would get occasional backer updates from JJ about his work.

Another project of his called How Philly Moves is about showcasing dancers in Philadelphia. A while back, I started to plot a tango-inspired road trip and one of the cities I had on my list was Philadelphia. If it all panned out, I thought I should visit with Damian Lobato and JJ. The road trip as I envisioned it didn’t work out, but the Residency Road Trip did and, coincidentally enough, I was going to spend time in Philly. So when Anne asked me if there was anything I wanted to do or see there, I said, “Dance tango, of course, and you know, there’s this photographer who lives there named JJ T–” She laughed and said, “I know JJ. You should definitely reach out.” There just wasn’t enough time on the way up and there was too many unknowns (I was driving for 12+ hours to get there). But knowing I’d come through Philly again and stay for a few days, Anne encouraged me to stop being shy. So, I did.

We met at an awesome spot called Milk & Honey Market where we had coffee and talked, about my time at Soaring Gardens with Anne, photography and writing, my dance memoir, tango and the gaze (in photography and dance). After all those unsent messages, I got to tell him, finally, how awesome I think Everyone is Photogenic is, both the project and the philosophy. JJ had a gift for me, some swag from the How Philly Moves project, which he’s doing a new iteration of (in case any of you live in Philly). And before he left for another appointment, JJ and I took a selfie together (technically, two):

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Later, JJ shared the second photo with the backers of the Everybody is Photogenic campaign and when we talked about the picture, I told him: “In the past, I might’ve cringed at it being made public, because my eyes are shut or any other reason I’d find to hate it. But, now…this is what I saw instead: I used to laugh just like that in photos when I was a kid all the time. That kind of laugh, for me, translates to being completely relaxed and in the moment and *not* thinking about how I look or how I should look, etc. So, I love the photo.”

I stayed behind at Milk & Honey to do some work for a few hours. And, enchanted with this vending machine, I bought a chapbook (“The Art of Destruction” by M. Elias Keller):

Book vending machine + self portrait

Book vending machine + self portrait

Day 29 late lunch

Day 29 late lunch

Back at the house, Anne and I made another meal together before we dispersed for the evening, one that’s become a favorite of mine. I’d decided to check out a class and practica with Lesley Mitchell and Kelly Ray. It was a serendipitous choice, made initially because Damian Lobato (who has taught several times in New Orleans) didn’t have a class on the night I was in town. I’d heard good things about Lesley and Kelly and I wanted to dance in the city, so I went for it. I couldn’t initially find the studio and was walked to the door by a woman I passed on the street and then I arrived at the same time as a tanguero, who led me upstairs and back into the studio. Like Blanche Dubois I, too, depend on the kindness of strangers. And I’ve always found that they are, generally, kind. Once I arrived in the class with the stranger who would soon be no stranger, but a dancer partner, I realized that the lady assisting Lesley was a friend of mine named Kristin, who I hadn’t realized had moved to Philadelphia. Small world, this global tango community. When the class was over, we squealed and hugged and it was wonderful to find a friendly face in a new place. She, Lesley and Kelly, as well as all the dancers at the class and practica, made me feel so very welcome. My dance stamina has been *ruined* by the last few weeks away from regular dancing, but they wouldn’t let me sit down! And they were such wonderful dancers that I just had to keep going. It was one of those lovely, satisfying tango evenings dancers live for.

I made my way back to Anne’s, thoroughly exhausted. And even though we were both tired and I had a long drive ahead the next day, we stayed up talking about our respective nights and played one last game of rummy (do I even need to tell you who won?). It was so nice and also a little sad. For the time being at least, our late night chats over a nightcap and rummy have come to an end. It was a nice ritual while it lasted and helped make the residency at Soaring Gardens everything that it was.

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Soaring Gardens Thank You Notes

So, in my last update from Soaring Gardens, I alluded to another surprise for the contributors of my GoFundMe campaign, as well as a handful of folks who have just generally helped me out lately. On my last two days at the residency, I walked around the house and the grounds, staging photos of thank you notes, which I think you’ll all enjoy seeing. This is my way of saying that y’all were there with me at the residency, that I was thinking of you and appreciative of your financial help, as well as all your support and encouragement over the last many weeks. I accidentally left off one of the contributors, so I’ll add a special surprise for her at the end.

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Amanda, I forgot to stage a thank you note photo for you at the residency, so here’s one from Philadelphia. And, as a bonus, I’m going to email you a photo from Soaring Gardens that I never posted here, something I think you’ll enjoy.

Pumpkin, gourds and corn from the orchard, at Anne's house in Philly.

Pumpkin, gourds and corn from the orchard on our last day together in Laceyville, now at Anne’s house in Philly.

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Filed under coolness, family, Friends, The Residency Road Trip, travel, writing updates

The Residency Road Trip: Soaring Gardens Week Four

This is the last week at Soaring Gardens – at least this time around! I’m determined that I’ll come back at some point and work in this space again.

Day 22

Woke late and lingered with a book over breakfast. It was a mild, beautiful day, so I decided to spend time with the four Barnum & Bailey Ringling Brothers programs that I found here. Since I can’t take them with me, I took 100+ photos of each one, trying to archive the text and photos for my research down the line. They really are the perfect programs for my story, from 1977 and 1980-1982, giving me a good window into the circus that my characters inhabit, which I wasn’t alive yet to witness. Here’s the 1977 cover, to give you an idea:

1977 cover

I spent the afternoon re-reading an essay from my graduate school days, as part of prep for a fellowship application I’m finalizing. To take advantage of the last of the afternoon light, I took the nonfiction book I’m reading out to the hammock. The squirrels and chipmunks were jostling walnuts and apples from the trees and they were landing with loud plops all over the lawn, so I held the book over my head as I read, just in case.

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We’d agreed earlier to work through dinner again, so I had leftover beef stew and kept working on the fellowship application into the late evening (lots of pieces to puzzle out!). Around midnight, Anne and I had a whiskey nightcap and a meal of leftovers (the chicken curry and coconut rice, some cucumber and sauerkraut, raita).

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Day 22 late snack

Afterwards, we played my family’s rummy (I won) and regular rummy (Anne won, much closer game this time around). Tomorrow’s a big day, so we tried not to stay up too late.

Day 23

After breakfast, Anne and I headed off for our big day of adventure. You see, it’s her last day here at the house, so we decided we’d go visit some of our favorite places, take lots of pictures and eat lunch at a restaurant halfway to Tunkhannock. So, we got fully dressed, put makeup on and everything. Not exactly the first time this month, but a pretty rare occurrence lately. It was a beautiful day and as we drove to the orchard first, we both noticed that all of the leaves are changing colors! It’s like we were visited by Bob Ross in the night because it was suddenly Autumn! Riding shotgun, I was taking pictures like mad, but of course none of them do the day justice. However, you might enjoy this short video of what Anne and I encountered when we stopped the car to admire a herd of cows (I don’t know what made me start a video right then, but it ended up being perfect timing).

We had a field day at the orchard. I bought two half bushels of different kinds of apples (I’d bought a half peck last time and it hadn’t been nearly enough), plus gourds and peppers.  I might’ve only bought one kind of apple, but the savvy ladies at the orchard handed me an apple of a different type to try and after walking around eating it, I had to take some home with me. Anne spent time inspecting the pumpkins before getting a few to take home with her for Halloween decorations.

Pick one, before they turn into pumpkins! Um, wait...

Pick one, before they turn into pumpkins! Um, wait…

Afterwards, we went by Four Seasons again and had a grand conversation with Tina and the lady we’d met the last time we were in, about a fire we’d passed last time and the neighbors. Gossiping at the farm stand, just like we live here all the time! I scooped up some produce and meat for my last few meals here and we headed out.

Black and tan

Black and tan

Ginger cider

Ginger cider

So, after picking up postcards at The Fireplace last week, I just knew we had to come back for a meal. It’s like a German pub, all dark wood, fireplaces, curio decorations and, of course, beer. It was so strange to order food and let someone else cook it, after the last month of meals. Nice, but also weird. The food was good, as was the dessert we shared, a British toffee pie. Very, very rich. We were both incredibly sleepy by the time we got back and even a short nap didn’t help much. So, I went on a walk down the road, to capture some of the new red foliage. Compare this next picture to Day 11‘s and you’ll get an idea how much new red we’ve gotten lately.

Autumn has arrived!

Autumn has arrived!

During my walk, I heard gunfire, shotguns firing up over the ridge. Joanne said she suspected the neighbors were practicing, now that the season’s about the start. I assume she means deer. I told a friend recently that I wasn’t sure how I felt about guns, but I’m pretty sure that the people firing these guns have every intention of eating what they kill, or giving/selling it to people who will eat it, so that seems far less offensive than the gunfire I might hear in the city. It was very loud, though! The shots echoed back  down the ridge. It was quiet again, and getting dark as I headed back to the house.

After the walk, I was much more awake and went into the studio to get some work done. I finished my fellowship application and did a bunch of research for the next part of the book I’m writing, discovering something about my tango journey that I hadn’t realized before: I began dancing September 6th, 2011 (not in August, like I’d previously thought). So it’s been my tango anniversary month while I’ve been here at Soaring Gardens.

Our evening game of rummy was pretty wacky, with both of us getting weird hands and odd scores. She still won, though! Since it was our last night together here, we made a party of it and played pretty late.

Day 24

So, the morning was spent talking to Anne as she packed to leave and once I finally woke all the way up, I started cooking lunch for us. I grabbed green tomatoes from the garden and cooked them up with some greens and cooked some quinoa as well. Finally, I cooked an egg for myself since I knew Anne planned on eating the rest of the smoked herring (blech). It turned out to be a nice last meal together, here at the house.

Day 22 lunch

Day 24 lunch

After lunch, Anne hit the road. I puttered around and did some work for my job back home. Then, I went into the studio. At first, it was very sad to see it empty of all of Anne’s paintings and supplies. But the light was beautiful, so I decided to move all the furniture and make myself a bit more room to dance. I just had a blast dancing in the studio pretty much all afternoon. I also wrote and read a bit, soaking up the sun as it filled the space with light.

I went back to the house and made myself a meal of the last of the beef stew. I went outside to enjoy it and just then, started to feel lonely that Anne wasn’t there to share the meal. But as I contemplated my aloneness, the mower fired up on the other side of the house and I wasn’t alone anymore, as Dalton had arrived to mow all the lawns.

Day 24 solo dinner

Day 24 solo dinner

The last few nights, I’ve been trying to capture how beautiful the sunsets have been, mostly in vain. I think I might’ve finally managed to get one that conveys something of how gorgeous they are:

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In the evening, I watched the first episodes of Dancing with the Stars while I finished preparing the last round of “tokens of my thanks” that I’m sending out to the fundraiser contributors. And then it was time for solitaire!

Day 25 

Today, something very upsetting happened. I was upstairs getting ready for my day when there was suddenly a tremendous crash. It sounded like half the house was collapsing. I dashed downstairs to see what caused the sound, but nothing seemed amiss. And then, I realized what happened when I stepped out onto the back patio and saw a very large, very beautiful, very dead bird curled up under the window box by the table where we’ve eaten most of our meals this month. I spoke briefly with Burton, the jack of all trades around here, and he said he’d come later in the day to take the bird away. After asking how he would handle it, I told him I’d take care of it. After all, I’ve been pretty good at critter disposal in the past. I got the large shovel out of the garage and was completely undone by the process of getting the bird onto it. I burst into tears and sobbed the entire way down the alle and to the apple tree beyond it. But I was glad I had done it, once it was over. Such a shame and, weirdly reminiscent of one of the sections of the book in the dinner picture last night.

I spent the rest of the day in the studio: dancing, writing and reading. I finished two books today, both of which I’ve been reading for a while (I’ve been keeping a different book in most rooms of the house).

In the evening, I spent some time cooking my go-to comfort food: spaghetti. This was the second time I made my own meatballs this month and I think I’m never going back to pre-made meatballs again. The spaghetti I’ve made here has been the best I’ve ever made. It was, like most things I’ve cooked this month, very spicy (cherry peppers, Crystal).  I suppose that cooking spicy food has been my way of answering my homesickness.

Day 26 dinner

Day 25 dinner

After dinner, I had a Skype conversation with a friend, which I’d scheduled so I wouldn’t feel lonely after a full day and a half on my own. Then, I watched the second week’s episodes of Dancing with the Stars and played more solitaire (I lost some and I won some).

Day 26

Today, I danced, read and wrote in the studio. I also worked on a few things to smooth my transition back home.

Three colors of tomatoes

Three colors of tomatoes

Day 25 dinner

Day 26 dinner

In the evening, I used up the last of the orange tomato, most of the green tomatoes I’d picked from the vine on the patio and a red tomato and together with a cherry pepper and a jalapeno, part of a red onion and some cilantro, I made another salsa. This is now one of my favorite things to prepare. I seared the last pieces of salmon and made some quinoa and had a very tasty, spicy meal.

For dessert, I made one of my favorites from the month. I certainly have enough apples for it.

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I spent the evening reading and plotting one last surprise for the contributors of my GoFundMe campaign. To be revealed soon…

Day 27

As you can probably tell, the days are going a little faster here because there’s less to distinguish them from each other. Even more so because I’m eating leftovers and haven’t had a conversation with another person for about 48 hours straight.

Today is my last full day at Soaring Gardens, so I spent most of the morning and early afternoon walking around, taking pictures of everything. Including, this photo shoot for my “syllabus” of my residency reading. The picture below features every single book/magazine/program I’ve read this month. While I didn’t read them all cover to cover, this is all of the reading material I’ve encountered during my stay. The painting is a self-portrait by Ora Lerman, who left her house, this house in trust for other artists to enjoy. And what a gift it has been.

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After lunch (finished the spaghetti), I worked in the studio until late afternoon. Then, it was time to get ready for tango!

I suppose this is what’s called Indian Summer, because though all the leaves have been changing colors drastically, the last few days have been so mild, even warm! I’ve been in heaven, strolling around in t-shirts. Very glad I could wear a light dress and not worry about all those layers like last time. I even took a selfie:

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At first, I was a little sad that I would miss magic hour at the house on my last full day, but as I drove down, I realized this was the best experience. The drive is beautiful, most especially at this time of day, after 4:30 as the blazing sun was hitting all the changing leaves. Plus, this time I could really admire the view the whole way because I knew where I was going. Here are two pictures that I pulled over to take, before I reached the highway:

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Once again, I have been super lucky because the tango group in Factoryville is hosting another phenomenal couple of instructors: Anton Gazenbeek and Jody Person. Anton and Jody’s class was incredible, their performance even more so. This time around, I knew more of the dancers, which was nice, and it was the last Tango in the Tent for the season! How serendipitous that I could experience it.

I didn’t need GPS on the way back (except for the super-dark section around the airport, before you reach the highway). Because I was more familiar with the road at night, I was able to spot a rabbit that almost ran into the road and watch him decide to turn around and hop back into the woods.

There were so many bad radio options that I found myself listening to bad 90s pop for a few minutes, before the signal became too thready (thankfully). Then, (more serendipity), I caught the Saints-Cowboys game. I was instantly homesick. And yelling at the top of my lungs when Jimmy Graham fumbled. Last season, I couldn’t watch the games because I figured out we lost whenever I did. This season, I suspect I need to start watching because I think they’re not doing so well without my attention. That’s all gonna change as soon as I can get back and start watching the games at Pelican Bay again.

Day 28 

I woke up early, at least early considering how late I’ve been sleeping here at Soaring Gardens. So much to do! Laundry, packing and cleaning. Yoga and writing in the studio, just to spend a tiny bit more time there. I’m already running late for when I’d hoped to be on the road, so I’ll leave you with that. The rest of Day 28 will be included in a traveling post and there will also be one last surprise for the contributors to the GoFundMe campaign. More soon!

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Filed under musing, tango, The Residency Road Trip, travel, writing updates

The Residency Road Trip: Soaring Gardens Week Two and Three

After my Week One post, it turns out, I’m addicted to chronicling our stay here at Soaring Gardens, so I kept photographing our meals and other miscellany of note. Here’s a recap of Week Two and Three of our stay. Enjoy!

 

~Week Two~

Day 8

Today, I spent most of the morning reading and doing some housekeeping for my job back home, just so it won’t be a complete mess when I get back. It was chilly in the house, but warmer outside because the sun was out, so I read outside to warm up. I’m reading a book about tango and it got me thinking about the book I’m here to work on, so I was taking notes and underlining like a madwoman (in a hammock). I wrote a bit on the bench by the studio (the office from Day 7) and a car kept going by on the street up the hill, slowing down near the house. I went up to find out what was going on. The driver was looking for the neighbors and I was able to direct him there, but just before he drove off, he looked at the studio and said, “That’s a weird house.” He was already gone when I rebutted, “It’s a studio, actually.” Very strange. 🙂 In the afternoon, I walked on the front lawn, listening to music and still pondering the book’s structure. It was a very contemplative day. Anne rehashed her chicken and red sauce dish with some eggplant and linguine and that made a nice dinner.

Day 8 dinner

Day 9

Woke up from a very strange dream this morning. That’s happened a bit while I’ve been here. I told Anne about the dream while we ate breakfast and she suggested it might’ve been related to our conversation over dinner last night, which made sense when she said so. After breakfast, I had an errand to run at the neighbors’ house. Mrs. Neighbor had come over and introduced herself on Day 2, our first full day, but I’d only seen Mr. Neighbor from afar as he walked their dogs. I walked up to their house (which used to be the barn for the house where we’re staying, when it was all one big farm) and introduced myself and he said, “Are you the writer, or the painter?” and then he asked me how my work was going and we had a lovely conversation about books, their dogs and Korean movies. Afterwards, I went back and got some work done. In the afternoon, Anne and I went into Meshoppen, following Joanne (the gardener)’s directions to Marty’s Market, which she said has a nice meat selection. We got a nice big steak and some fat chicken breasts, for meals we’re planning later in the week, as well as some sauerkraut and mushroom pieroges, and other necessary items. For dinner, I cooked the chicken, mozzarella and spinach sausages Anne brought with some kale and purple sauerkraut and Anne made the pieroges.

Day 9 dinner

Day 9 dinner

Every day, it’s been getting colder and I’d been feeling worn down. By the end of the day, when Anne and I watched Wall-E (instead of our usual evening rummy game), I was full-out sneezing.

Day 10

I slept pretty late and when I finally got up, it was a rainy, rotten day. But I felt a bit more energetic than yesterday and Anne had left me a get-better treat:

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Because it was cold and wet and I was sick, I set up in the studio (very warm and beautiful), making a nest for myself and my notebooks on the floor in front of a window. I wrote and read there in the late morning and afternoon and when Anne went on a hike, I spent a half hour or so dancing on the great wood floors in the studio. The sun came out in the late afternoon, so I read on the studio’s porch and admired the view.

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I worked at the table in the kitchen while Anne made dinner. My work was administrative, mostly correspondence, and I found out the identity of the mystery apple baker. It was Suzanne, one of the residents at the house last month. For dinner, Anne grilled the steak, made some sweet potato fries (with aioli) and veggies. It was very, very good and the wine on the table was one of the best so far, a Malbec. I put together a simple sweet treat for us after dinner.

Day 10 dinner

Day 10 dinner

Vanilla bean ice cream with toffee milk chocolate bits

Vanilla bean ice cream with toffee milk chocolate bits

 

 

 

 

That evening, I vegged out, watching tango videos, in anticipation of taking a class I found in a nearby town. More on that later. I went to bed early-ish and Anne worked late in the studio. No rummy this evening.

Day 11

I was feeling more energetic in the morning, so I decided to walk down the road a ways (passing no traffic, except for threIMG_3900e guys on two 4-wheelers). Instead of taking the road back, I cut through a meadow (seen in the pic) and then walked through the woods alongside the road, trying to stay close to it. But I couldn’t actually see the road (or hear it, without traffic) and winding through fallen trees and underbrush, I was further away than I’d thought by the time I decided to hike up to the road.

This fallen tree looks like a sea serpent!

Doesn’t this fallen tree look like a sea serpent?

And it was a hike because the road climbs up. But, I have a good sense of direction and I’d been careful to always keep the road on my left, so I came out  of the trees just one property over from the house. I was exhausted, though. And thirsty! I’d overestimated my energy level after being sick the last two days. So, I recovered on the swing in the mudroom and read some more of the book about tango, then ate lunch.

After lunch, Anne and I went by Four Seasons to pick up some fresh produce and we had a very interesting exchange with Tina, who runs the farm stand. First, I told her that Diane said hello. Diane was originally supposed to be my housemate and we were both scheduled to be here in August. I ended up here in September with Anne and Diane stayed at the church, a second property nearby that’s also part of Soaring Gardens. Tina said hi back to Diane and then asked if we’d gone by the church yet and met the couple staying there. We hadn’t known anyone was there, but she said they’d just been in, saying they hadn’t found the house yet. So, after dropping Anne back off at the house, I grabbed a bread pan (Tina mentioned they needed one) and the directions to the church and I headed off on an adventure. The church is just a few miles away and I was finding my way fine, except that the dirt road that the church is on apparently changed names recently. So I passed it twice and went almost all the way to Meshoppen looking for another likely white church on a dirt road. Finally, I called ahead and confirmed that was the church alright, so I headed back and had tea with Janet and Greg. They followed me back to the house so they could check it out and meet Anne.

Farm stand haul: purpley-green tomato, black raspberry jam, Amish butter and cherry peppers

Farm stand haul: purpley-green tomato, black raspberry jam, Amish butter and cherry peppers

After they left, I wrote for a little while in the studio with Anne and then went into the house to make dinner. This meal was inspired by a conversation with Joanne in the garden earlier in the week when she told me about making chicken breasts stuffed with ricotta cheese and veggies. I couldn’t stop thinking about putting this decadent dish together and our trip to Marty’s Market was partially inspired by my wanting to cook it.

Day 11 dinner

Day 11 dinner

I stuffed the chicken breasts with ricotta, mushrooms, basil, slices of tomato and cherry peppers (both seen in the pic above). I sauteed the rest of the mushrooms and Anne made a tomato/cucumber salad to go with it. Please note that the chicken is garnished with some of the cherry pepper and the pieces baked inside made the whole breast nice and spicy. Since it was pretty cold, we opted to dine inside tonight. Our dessert was sinful: a chopped local red pear over the last of the ice cream, with melted dark chili chocolate. 

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After dinner, we both worked very late in the studio. I think I’ve figured out the structure for my tango memoir, after some tailoring the past few days and I researched and made notes for the timeline of the first section of the book. I worked till about midnight, then read for a bit while Anne finished up. Then, we met for a super late and long game of rummy. And, I won for the first time! It was pretty exciting. Here’s the proof, our score sheet, which Anne illustrated:

Emilie's 1st rummy win

Day 12

Today was a rainy, dark, cold day! I ended up working in a new space: the corner of the dining room where there’s a little table and a comfy chair. I spent the morning and early afternoon there, breaking for a tasty lunch, which consisted of a thick slice of the purpley-green spicy tomato (stuffed in the chicken last night) on cheese and a peanut butter and black raspberry jam sandwich, utilizing the last two pieces of the pumpernickel.

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Jayne’s Orchard opened today and we’d been planning on going by, so even though it was a gross day, we went. I was a bit melodramatic and put on four layers: a thin turtleneck, a thermal with a hood, a thin sweater and then my raincoat. My excuse is that I just got over being sick, but really I’m just a wuss when it comes to being cold. It was worth going out in the chilly, rainy day. We scooped up some corn, honey and the most amazing apples at the orchard. We bit into them the second we were in the car – they just begged to be eaten.

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The sun actually came out a bit after we’d gotten back from the orchards, so I took my tango book out to the studio patio and soaked up what sun I could. After about an hour, I went back to the house to make dinner, something easy that would use up some of our leftovers and some of last bits of everything. So, I made a pico de gallo (most of our remaining grape tomatoes, the last cherry pepper, a jalapeno, cilantro, red onions and fresh raw corn), cooked the last chicken breast (marinated in Crystal and pepper, with some cilantro) and heated up the last of the steak from two nights ago. As I was cooking, Janet and Greg popped by to return the bread pan and before they left, I gave them some of the McIntosh apples and directions to the orchards. When Anne came in from the studio, she cooked some spinach and heated up the corn tortillas. The sun had made a full appearance by this point, so we took it all outside.

Day 12 dinner

Day 12 dinner

Day 12 dinner (also)

Day 12 dinner (also)

Afterwards, Anne and I jointly concocted what is probably one of the most decadent (and still somewhat healthy) desserts ever. Using some of the maple syrup Anne brought and a little of the whiskey I’d brought, not to mention some of the Amish butter, we cooked one of the McIntosh apples from the orchards, along with some blueberries from Blueberry Haven. Then, Anne took the leftover ricotta cheese, mixed in some half and half and a tiny bit more syrup and we combined the two for this amazing dessert:

IMG_3940After putting everything away and cleaning the kitchen, we went back for the second shift. Me, back to the dining room corner and Anne back to the studio.

new spot

We played another late game of rummy and I won again! I think the secret to beating Anne is playing when I’m hyper late at night and Anne is exhausted. 🙂

Day 13

I stayed up very late finishing a book, but still woke up fairly early because the sun was shining brightly through my windows. After breakfast, I set up in the office and worked on my Jurassic Park Re-Reading post most of the morning. I’d told Anne that I thought I’d have a big late lunch since I would be at the tango workshop around the time we’d normally be cooking and eating dinner. She said she’d join me and cooked some salmon, made a tzatziki sauce for it and served it with corn on the cob. It was delicious. In the picture below, you can’t really see the salmon on the front plate, so look at the plate in the background.

Day 13 dinner

Day 13 lunch

After lunch, it was hard to pick an outfit that would be warm and give me the freedom of movement I need to dance. It was a chilly day and I knew it’d get colder once the sun set. Finally, I settled on dance pants under a dress with a pashmina and a coat. No picture of that, unfortunately for y’all. 🙂

I left early because I wasn’t sure if I’d get lost on the way, plus I had some errands to run in Tunkhannock, since I was passing through. I guess I should say that I was aiming for a place called Factoryville. When I’d been pining for tango a few nights ago, I did an Internet search and found out there is an event every Sunday in September called Tango in the Tent. Factoryville is only about 45 minutes away, and the dancing takes place on the grounds of a small airport, of all places. I was extremely lucky because I found out that the class today was being taught by Johana Copes and Joaquin Besga. So, of course I had to go!

My errands went quickly and I didn’t get lost at all, so I was a bit early to the class. Mike, one of the organizers, showed me and another early bird around the house and the property behind it. It was the magic hour around these parts: the sun starts going down and gets very hot and everything just blazes up in color. Here’s a photo, to show you what I mean:

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It was just ridiculously beautiful. There were small planes landing on a runway on the right side of the photo above, as well as tangueros and tangueras arriving, all dolled up for dancing. Pretty much the instant I arrived, the hosts (Mike and Karen) found out I’m from New Orleans and told me about hosting Alberto and Valorie here a few years ago. The world really is very small and the tango world is even smaller. Thousands of miles from home, in an entirely new tango community, there are connections to home through this dance I love so much.

The night was fabulous: a good class, new friends, live tango music and tasty food. It was so good to dance again – it’s been weeks since I danced last, in Atlanta, and even longer since I’ve danced with my home community in Nola.

It was so dark when I headed back to the house! Earlier in the week, knowing that I was going to be coming back in the dark tonight, Anne and I drove back from Marty’s Market via the route I’d take and noted landmarks I could still use in the dark. And when I headed down to Factoryville, I was very careful to note the landmarks and mile markers again. Anne was on standby to come rescue me if I needed it, but I had absolutely no trouble making it back. All of our advance scheming paid off!

I was buzzing after my wonderful evening, so Anne made us a late, light snack and listened patiently as I talked all about tango, tango, tango!

Day 14

Slept in a bit today and then spent the day working in the office and reading. I finished the book about tango I’ve been reading the past week or so. I’d gotten a late start and got caught up in my day, then realized that Anne and I had decided to keep doing a big, late lunch instead of our dinner feasts. I didn’t have anything defrosted or planned for the meal, so while Anne headed off the the farm stand, I made a big egg and veggie scramble. When she got back, she cooked the greens and made a salad.

Day 14 lunch

Day 14 lunch

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I redeemed myself a little bit by cutting up the last of the peaches and putting it on some ice cream for us. Great dessert. After the late lunch, I joined Anne in the studio and worked there the rest of the day.

~Week Three ~

Day 15 

Spent the morning working in the office. Janet and Greg came by again and brought dark chocolate nonpareils with them (kind and evil, all at once). Since I haven’t included a photo of the office yet, here’s what I see on the desk as I work:

This coffee mug is becoming a bit like the gnome in Amelie, isn't it?

This coffee mug has become a bit like the gnome in Amelie, hasn’t it? 🙂

For the big, late lunch, Anne made BLTs with some bacon she got at the farm stand yesterday, and a cabbage and apple salad. For dessert, we had ice cream with some nonpareils sprinkled on top.

Day 15 lunch

Day 15 lunch

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After our meal, I spent the rest of the day working in the studio again: basking in the sun on the porch off the studio as I wrote in the afternoon and enjoying the quiet companionship of a shared workspace in the evening. After our work was paused for the day, my short rummy winning streak came to an end. I played well, but still somehow managed to get some pretty low scores.

Day 16

Felt pretty sick again today. Anne asked me earlier if I had a cold or allergies and I said, “Honestly, I think it’s a bit of both.” But it’s very strange how I’ll have full-out cold symptoms and no energy one day and then next, I’ll be a bit better, and then feel sick again the day after. I’m definitely dealing with some allergies, though. And it’s tough for me to stay warm, unless the sun comes out and then I just try to soak it all up. My cheeks have been pink for the last few days because of the sun bathing (and maybe the cold, too).

Anyways, I did some work for my job back home early in the morning and then read a bit, finishing one of the nonfiction books I’ve been reading. In the afternoon, I wrote on the bench underneath the studio’s porch (see Day 7), enjoying the sun. Then, I went put together today’s big late lunch, making meatballs and using the spinach and mozzarella ravioli again, cooking them both in a cream of artichoke. We finished off the cabbage and apple salad with it.

Day 16 lunch

Day 16 lunch

Maybe I’ve got tango on the brain, but doesn’t that salt and pepper shaker set look like a couple dancing?

Climbing the hill

Climbing the hill

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At the top of the hill

In the late afternoon, I went on a walk down the road a ways and up a hill. I wondered what I would see from the top. By the time I reached the bottom of the hill and started back to the house, the sun had lost a lot of this brilliance and it was starting to getting dark.

I spent the evening watching tango videos and writing some correspondence. Then, I went to the studio and did a bit more work there. Anne slaughtered me, again, in our evening rummy game.

Day 17

First thing, I drove into Tunkhannock to run some errands I hadn’t been able to do on Sunday (post office, liquor store). Even though this was only the third time I’ve driven “to town,” it’s starting to feel familiar, so I can really enjoy the scenery as I go. On the way back, I stopped at the Welcome Center for maps and postcards and the lady there told me to go by the Fireplace Restaurant for more postcards. It was a bit after noon and the smells in there were amazing, but I couldn’t stay for lunch, sadly. Had ice cream melting in the car and a big late lunch to get to. I did take a different route back to the house, though and pulled over to get a picture of the amazing view.

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I suspect that the hill towards the right of the picture, in the background and all lit up, is the hill I climbed yesterday.

Day 17 lunch

Day 17 lunch

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Back at the house, Anne made BLTs again with the awesome bacon from the farm stand. She made a spicy aioli this time, since I don’t like straight mayo, and it was really, really good. The tomatoes are orange ones, also from the farm stand, that look like apricots when sliced up like that. We cut up the biggest of the McIntosh apples, cooked it with some maple syrup, butter and whiskey, and added it to some ice cream. Maybe the best dessert ever.

I’d gotten mail! One of my good friends in Nola had retrieved my Poets & Writers, which got waylaid before my mail forward went through, and he sent it to me with a sweet card. I have felt so bereft without it all month! Here’s a photo of me enjoying the magazine on the studio porch. It’s turned to the page that announces this same friend’s contest win.

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I spent the evening working in the studio. I have to admit, I was a bit worried about the Scottish Independence vote tomorrow. I have some friends who live there and I enjoyed my time in St. Andrews seven years ago. I’ve always wanted to go back. So, I wondered how this vote would affect the lives of my friends in Scotland, as well as my ability to visit them and travel in the country. Anyway, as has become ritual, we worked pretty late and then settled in for a game of rummy. Anne won, once more.

Day 18

In the morning, Anne and I planned the big meal and a visit to the farm stand over breakfast. She set off, running the two miles to the farm stand (using a more direct route that I’d suggested might cut through near the house and sure enough, it did). I left a while later and scooped her up on the road close to Four Seasons, where we encountered not Tina, but a new lady. We had a great time visiting with her, scooping up some mint and seeing what is definitely the largest potato I’ve ever encountered. In the picture below, you can get a sense of the size of this thing by the scale and tomato (pretty large itself) in the background.

Award winner?

Prize winner?

Back at the house, I decided to go ahead and cook the big meal. I’ve discovered during this month that I really am naturally more alert in the evenings, so I tend to get more creative work done in the studio after the main meal, in the warmer late afternoons and quiet nights. I’m generally more distractable during the mornings, less focused. I always knew myself to be a night owl, but I wondered if it was still true. Guess so.

Day 18 big meal

Day 18 big meal

Yum

Yum

I chopped up a bunch of our veggies and peppers, many of which were on the verge of going bad, and made a spicy salsa. It looks a bit like a mango salsa in the picture below, because I used one of the orange tomatoes (seen behind the potato above). In addition to the tomato, I added some of the blueberries and corn for sweetness, to balance out the Crystal sauce, cherry peppers, cilantro and jalapenos. I seared some salmon and Anne cooked some spinach, which took on a lot of flavor from the salsa when we put it all together. It was very tasty. Anne cooked one of the Honeycrisp apples from the orchard, along with some blueberries, in whiskey and red wine. Here’s a picture before we’d even put it on the ice cream, because it was already so gorgeous (and delicious).

I had more mail, this time a care package from my mom, including a copy of Entertainment Weekly. It was two weeks old, from all the forwarding, but I was so glad to have it anyway! Of course, the cover story is on The Walking Dead and I already have a hard enough time not thinking about zombies while staying at here at the farmhouse, so I skipped that story.

The studio was nice and warm in the afternoon, so I got to work and stayed there the rest of the day, till just before midnight. Here’s a picture of what my workspace looks like in the afternoon – it’s a bit of a greenhouse right there in that corner, by all the windows. It gets downright hot, which is how I like it.

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During our evening rummy game (Anne’s on a winning streak), we had a great conversation about realism, magical realism and surrealism in both literature (my work) and visual art (hers), as well as the work of Haruki Murakami. Anne’s a big fan, but I’ve only read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (and a ton of interviews), so she recommended a novel of his for me to read. We’ve had a ton of these interdisciplinary conversations the past few weeks and it’s all been very fun and useful.

Day 19

Had another slow morning: eating breakfast, reading and cleaning up a bit. Very Saturday-ish kind of activities. It was a nice day today, not cold at all, so we threw open the doors and windows to enjoy it. It was especially nice in the kitchen, between the open front and back doors. It was very breezy and just very pleasant.

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Day 19 big meal

Doesn't look like much, but was very good.

Doesn’t look like much, but was very good.

I spent some time with the big meal today, a variation of my beef stew recipe.  I played around with the gravy and it ended up being pretty thin, more broth-like, but it was very rich regardless. The veggies were all still pretty crisp, which I love. I used two different kinds of potatoes, which needed to be used up, as well as one of the cherry peppers and, of course, Crystal (couldn’t resist). Even so, the stew wasn’t spicy, just flavorful. Anne made a beet, cranberry and carrot salad. And afterwards, I made a variation of s’mores, with gingersnaps instead of graham crackers and some chocolate caramels that Anne picked up at the farm stand the yesterday. Surprisingly, this was spicy, plenty of ginger in the snaps.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I have a stalker out here, a chipmunk who likes to creep close and then dash away whenever I realize he’s there. There’s no reason to believe that this isn’t multiple chipmunks, but I feel pretty sure it’s the same darn one. I haven’t been able to get a photo of him. Till now. I came across him sunbathing in the backyard and though he knew I was there, he didn’t run away this time.

Alvin? Is that you?

Alvin? Is that you?

The sun came out and I spent the afternoon on the studio porch, writing and letting my hair dry after a shower. It was just absolutely beautiful and I enjoyed basking in it. After the sun set, I went back to the drafting desk in the studio and worked till midnight again. Neither of us was very tired, so we had a big Saturday night: a whiskey nightcap and a *very* close game of rummy (she still won), then Egyptian Rat Slap (I slaughtered her) and then I taught her a family variation of rummy I hadn’t played in years (she picked it up fast and almost beat me). What hooligans we are. 🙂

Day 20

We were hoping the orchard was open this morning, so we took a drive out there. Alas, it wasn’t, but it was a pretty drive regardless. We passed a total of two vehicles roundtrip (if you count a tractor in one of the fields).

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Once again, it’s not too cold, so it’s been a nice weekend to walk around and enjoy the sun, meditate and think. We decided to skip the big meal today and each eat leftovers as we worked. I spent the evening in the kitchen, brewing up a “detox tea” and doing some research for the memoir. The rainstorm that’s been brewing for two days finally started. Anne came in, made a Greek salad for a late light meal and we had some of the tea as well.

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Day 20 light snack. Anne’s with smoked herring on top…

...mine without smoked herring.

…mine without smoked herring.

After the snack, we both worked till pretty late, well after midnight. Our rummy game was very close tonight and I was in the lead every hand until Anne swooped in at the end and stole the game. But I won both of our very quick Egyptian Rat Slap games after that. One of these days, I’ll beat Anne at rummy again…

Day 21

It rained most of the night and was cold again in the morning. But what a mild, pretty weekend! Anne went into Tunkhannock today, so I spent the morning dancing in the studio. Can’t let my tango walk get rusty! It’s been good to have all this time to practice on my own, but I certainly miss dancing with and seeing my tango friends. The days were pretty slow for a while there, but now that we’re nearing the end of Week Three (and the residency), they seem to have picked up speed.

Day 21 big meal

Day 21 big meal

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After Anne returned from Tunkhannock, she used the cookbook she brought to make “Chicken Curry in a Hurry,” along with some cucumber raita. We opened up a Malbec. It was all delicious! Our dessert was two ripe bananas I’d frozen before they could go bad, chopped up with the chocolate sauce we made. Yum!

And then, into the studio we both went, to work on our respective art. We were there, working, most of the evening, till about midnight once more. It’s been a pleasure to share a workspace with Anne all these weeks, and to see her paintings develop and change every day. It’s remarkable how much the two art forms are similar, and all the ways in which they differ.

Tonight’s rummy battle was one of the most heated yet, with several hands that took us into negative scores. Well, me. Anne had to take points off her score one hand because I went out sooner than expected, but overall, it was the worst slaughter yet. Afterwards, we played a full game of my family’s variant of rummy. Well, I say my family’s because I played it growing up and my aunt taught me and my mom, but I haven’t discovered whether it’s an official version or not. Anyway, I beat Anne, but she got better with each hand, so it’s only a matter of time till she’s lethal in this rummy, too.

Hope you enjoyed reading about Week Two and Week Three here at Soaring Gardens. You can read about Week Four next Tuesday, so stay tuned!

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Filed under food, musing, tango, The Re-Reading Project, The Residency Road Trip, travel, writing updates

The Residency Road Trip: Soaring Gardens Week One

The last post was a bit of a cliff-hanger, wasn’t it? I left y’all right at the moment when Anne and I arrived at Soaring Gardens. And now, here it is, the first day of our second week here, so I thought I’d share a bit about the first week.

Day 1 

We arrived in the late afternoon and spent a bit of time unloading the cars. I picked a corner bedroom upstairs, which has two windows, so lots of light. I later found three Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey programs from 1980-82 on the bookshelves, as well as books of Russian fairy tales, so it felt like a sign that this was the perfect room for me. As we were unpacking and settling in, I checked my email and learned that a short essay I wrote was accepted for an anthology, so that felt like very lucky timing.

I volunteered to cook dinner while Anne set up the studio. I plan to do a bunch of cooking while I’m here, so it was good to start right away. I made salmon and quinoa and Anne put together a salad. We sat on the back porch and ate as the sun set. Someone (we don’t know who yet) left us baked apples, so we had that for dessert. Right before it got really dark, a group of deer came out of the trees behind the house and snagged some apples off a tree that’s down the alle from the house. It was a great start to our time here.

1st dinner

Day 1 dinner

Day 2

Today, first thing, I put on my mud boots and went down the alle and through the land immediately behind the house, exploring. It was hot and muggy (not like I’m used to in New Orleans, of course) and the views were spectacular, as you can see for yourselves.

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Back at the house, I worked on the edits for the essay that was accepted for the anthology and did some administrative work. I got word that I wasn’t accepted for a residency in Scotland, but I was one of 12 finalists, so that was a second bit of good news. I worked mainly in the kitchen today, which is a gorgeous space (as you can see here):

kitchen workspace

In the afternoon, Anne and I took a field trip to the farm stand and bought some fresh local produce, cheese and jam. We did a quick drive-through of Laceyville proper so I’d know how to find my way there and back.

When we got back, I volunteered to cook again, throwing together some frozen spinach and mozzarella ravioli with a cream of mushroom sauce and some fresh spinach and grated Pennsylvania jack cheese, both from the farm stand. I didn’t do a very clean job of plating it, but it was tasty. We finished off the baked apples, which I finally thought to take a picture of, right before mine was all gone.

Spinach and mozzarella ravioli in cream of mushroom sauce with fresh spinach

Day 2 dinner

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We ate on the back porch again, watching the sun set. We talked about our respective days and it was remarkable to realize how similar our different mediums are in many ways. After dinner, we each went back to our work for a few hours and then reconvened for cards in the library. I taught her Egyptian rat slap and she taught me how to play rummy. Regular rummy, not the family card game we figured is a variation.

Day 3

I fell asleep with a moth hovering around my room and when I woke up and started moving around, the moth decided to cling stubbornly to me. So, I went on a walk to get him back outside. Here’s what I saw this morning:

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Today, I wasn’t feeling so great and was having trouble focusing. So, I decided to set up in the library and make it a research and reading day. I took care of a few more administrative tasks, talked to a friend who called, listened to music. But most importantly, I mused and journaled (I may already have an idea for my NaNoWriMo story this year). I found another Ringling program, this one from 1977 and spent some time looking through it, which rekindled the Novel a bit. I browsed a book on Vermeer (the library houses an enormous collection of art books), among my more on-task reading.

Anne insisted on cooking tonight and I was providing the cornbread (we’d found a cast iron cornbread pan), so I looked up a recipe and made my best stab with the ingredients we had on hand, experimenting a little. It turned out more like polenta, but was still tasty. Here’s Anne’s dinner, tofu steaks with assorted veggies and sauerkraut (plus, my “cornbread”).

Tofu dinner Day 3

Day 3 dinner

In what has already started to feel like a tradition, Anne and I ate on the back patio, talking and watching the sun set, then cleaned the kitchen together and went back to work. After a few more hours of our respective projects, we reconvened for rummy and tea, more talk about how the work had gone.

Day 4

I stayed up very late last night, writing and reading, which was great, but also a little foolish, because I was woken by the guys who work on the property, who I’d known were coming by fairly early. Despite the lack of sleep, it was a pretty productive day, in which I actually did some work on the Novel (inspired by the 1977 program, surely). No big walk for me today, but I made little trips to the mailbox and the compost pile to break up the work. I went out and lay on the front lawn for a while, watching butterflies and thinking.

Since I knew I was making spaghetti tonight, I had a very light lunch which was so pretty I had to capture it. Earlier in the day, I marinated some local ground beef in some Crystal I brought from home and I made meatballs. Then, I made added a huge, gorgeous purple tomato from the farm stand to the spaghetti sauce (wish I had a picture of that for y’all). I added some red onions and a tiny bit of fresh jalapeno peppers. A local, spicy version of my go-to spaghetti. Anne made a tasty Greek salad and we finished it off with some toasted garlic bread. Yum.

light lunch

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Day 4 dinner

 

 

 

 

After dinner, we talked and saw the deer again, way more than we’ve seen previously. It’s not a great picture (couldn’t get very close without spooking them), but here they are in the pond and you can see that there’s quite a few.

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And then Anne made s’mores for dessert. We didn’t have a campfire, but it was dark and we got marshmallows and chocolate all over us and giggled like children, so it was absolutely perfect:

S'mores

Day 5

Today, I had a mission: drive to Tunkhannock for a big shop before the rain started in the afternoon. We’d been making a shopping list of odds and ends that we still needed and I was curious about the area and the biggest nearby town. I had a plan to swing by the library, but that didn’t quite work out this trip. Anne went by the farm stand and had adventures at a nearby orchard as I drove the half hour to the Weis in Tunkhannock. It was a nice drive and I didn’t feel nearly as nervous about the twists and turns and sheer drop-offs this time around, partly because my car was lighter and partly because I was more familiar with the roads. Once I was at the Weis, I realized I’d forgotten to bring the cooler, so I had to improvise by buying a bag of ice and chilling the frozen/cold items for the drive back (the reason the library visit didn’t pan out).

And the drive back didn’t go quite as smoothly as I ended up taking the roundabout way back, instead of the more direct way. But the ice cream and I both arrived back at the house no worse for the detour (mostly).

Anne was cooking tonight, so I got busy with work, this time in the upstairs office. I’ve been a bit of a Goldilocks the past few days, moving from room to room in the house during my work each day. The office has four windows and the view from the desk is of the studio where Anne is working, as well as the front of the house. It was a good day to be upstairs, as it was rainy throughout the afternoon and started getting gradually cooler.

On one of my breaks, I went by the mailbox and my first mail had arrived! My neighbor back home had sent a packet of mail that had gotten delivered after I put in my forward request (oh Mid City postal office, how frustrating you are!). It was nice to get some mail here and even nicer to have some little daily rituals developing, like my walk to the mailbox.

Day 5 chicken dinner

Day 5 dinner

Before dinner was ready, the delicious smells were already wafting upstairs. We ate in the more formal dining room, since it was rainy and cool. I toasted some of the fresh pumpernickel I’d gotten today, and we opened up the Malbec, since I was missing my tango community a little. I don’t know why, but homesickness for them and for dancing hit me suddenly a little before dinner and I ended up wistfully watching some tango videos that friends posted. So, the Malbec was perfect with Anne’s chicken dish, as were the chocolates we had after dinner.

By the time we reconvened for rummy and tea after our second shift of work, it was so chilly we both had to put on sweaters and socks. I stayed up late reading and may have found some local-ish tango. More on that later.

Day 6

Today was a reset day, full of administrative work in the office, laundry and then reading. Here’s the station I selected for the reading, because it was a gorgeous day after the rain yesterday:

The view from my office

The view from my office

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Today’s office space

 

 

 

 

And after an hour or so of hammock reading, Anne and I set off for Blueberry Haven. She’d stopped there yesterday and talked to one of the owners, who said that the blueberries were done for the season, but he’d leave the gate open today and we could have any blueberries we found. Challenge accepted! So, we went back and spent almost two hours wandering through the rows of blueberry bushes. On our own, it was quiet and meditative and then we met up again at the bushes near the front, still loaded with berries! Here’s some pictures from the field trip: the note left at the stand just outside the field, berries on the bush, the Blueberry Haven sign, Anne and I at the stand, the berries we picked between the two of us (turns out the berries are not, in fact, done. Not quite.).

IMG_3724 IMG_3734Super excited about picking blueberries!blueberriesBlueberry Haven

 

 

 

 

The sun was blazing on our drive back, so we sat down with our feast of leftovers just as magic hour was starting. Afterwards, I made a sweet treat first made for me by a dear friend, so it was a shout out to her.

Spaghetti's 2nd appearance, with sweet corn from Blueberry Haven and a tasty salad

Day 6 dinner (spaghetti’s 2nd appearance), with sweet corn from Blueberry Haven

Vanilla bean ice cream with olive oil drizzle and sea salt

Vanilla bean ice cream with olive oil drizzle and sea salt

 

 

 

 

After some more work in the office, I transitioned to reading in the library. It was getting very chilly, so I shut all the windows and curled up with a blanket. Anne slaughtered me at our evening rummy game, but I am getting better. By the time I went to bed very late (or very early), I’d gotten deep into two nonfiction books. Three, if you count my hammock reading from the afternoon.

Day 7

I found a new office today, shady and comfy and with a stunning view:

Day 7 office

officemateIt was a very still day. The longer I sat meditating and ruminating without moving, the more creatures visited: a few caterpillars, a daddylonglegs, even a hummingbird. After a while, I decided to walk up to the house and eat lunch.

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Walking back, I noticed the flag on the mailbox was down (I’d dropped off a stack of mail earlier in the morning). Inside was this gorgeous postcard, from a great friend and writer, encouraging me. It was so lovely and timely. I propped it on the coffee cup and got back to work.

inspiration

Then, it was time to make dinner. Earlier, I’d chosen a recipe for “Cajun” salmon from a great cookbook Anne brought. I’m normally skeptical of anything Cajun that’s not prepared in Louisiana (snobbish? maybe), but I decided to just go with it. Check out the 6 spice soldiers I had to draft into duty and the finished dish (with a slaw-ish salad from Anne and some white wine):

Spice Soldiers

Day 7 dinner

Day 7 dinner

 

 

Anne made some rice pudding for dessert and afterwards, I did some reading and walked around the pitch-black property admiring the full moon. And then, I found yet another office, doing some writing in the somehow very warm studio, where Anne works. There’s a second drafting table that I set up my computer and notebooks at, the dark windows turning into mirrors.

I can’t promise that I’ll be this thorough with future weekly updates. We’ll see how it goes. But I had a lot of fun taking food and landscape photos this week.

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Filed under art, coolness, musing, The Residency Road Trip, travel, writing updates

Anniversary August and my GoFundMe campaign

August is ridiculous with birthdays (soooo many people I love!) and anniversaries–marriage anniversaries (my parents, my sister and her husband) as well as two of my personal milestone anniversaries.

Seven years ago (7!) I moved to New Orleans. I’ve now been in Nola as long as I lived in Baton Rouge. Maybe I suffer from the seven year itch, because I was desperate to leave BR in 2007 and with all of the shakeups in my life recently, I’ve been wondering if I need to be elsewhere for a little while. More on that in a minute.

Three years ago, I went to my first tango class and started my journey as a tango dancer. Because the community of tango dancers worldwide is fairly small and they tend to travel a lot, tango has actually increased my desire to travel to new and favorite places. To dance with new communities and return to those I enjoy: Chicago, Atlanta and now D.C.

Which brings me to my GoFundMe campaign, which I launched about a week ago. I’ve been offered a place at Soaring Gardens, an artists’ residency in rural Pennsylvania. I get to live and write in this house for a month and I’m raising money to fund the trip. I’ll be working on new chapters of my memoir, Tango Face, named after the essay I wrote about the cabaceo, which won the 2012 Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Awards in the essay category. The memoir is about what learning tango has been teaching me about myself and my relationships. The way people have been responding to what I’ve written so far has been very gratifying and has pushed me to continue.

Every year, I make my best attempt at 50,000 words during the month of November for NaNoWriMo, so I know I can write lots of new material in a month, especially since I’ll be removed from the distractions of my everyday life. Including my tango community, which is bittersweet. While I’ll miss dancing with them, it’s been really cool how supportive and encouraging they’ve been.

In fact, all of my communities have been extremely supportive through this process. I’m very grateful and inspired by all of you!

Be on the lookout for a NolaFemmes post soon about New Orleans-specific places and things I’ll miss while I’m gone.

On Sunday the 17th, at the 2-week mark of the GoFundMe campaign, I’m having a goodbye party and fundraiser celebration. It will be at Pelican Bay on Elysian Fields, starting at 2 p.m.

And the GoFundMe campaign will officially wrap up on Wednesday the 20th, one week from today. So, if you have $5 or $10 to donate, please do. Every single contributor will be named in the acknowledgements of the memoir when it’s published *and* I have secret lagniappe gifts to thank everybody. Plus, I’m planning a special Bragging On post just for contributors to share how talented and wonderful all of you are.

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Filed under bragging on, freelance work, Friends, musing, New Orleans, tango, travel, writing updates