Snow and Books

This is the view from my window just now, with dawn coming from the east to light the mountain on fire. The clouds are the first of what they’re promising will be a big winter storm tonight and tomorrow, possibly bringing a good solid eight inches of snow if we’re lucky.

Maybe you don’t look forward to snow with enthusiasm.  I love it. Love the look of it swirling out of the sky, lighting on trees, blanketing everything so even a dry weed, standing alone in a plot of ground, looks exquisite. I love curling up in bed to read a good book while the wind howls outside. I’m anticipating the pleasure of being trapped inside for a few days in my cozy house with my writing, tea and soup and cats for company, painting and music.  Delicious.

This morning, I’m getting out to a tai chi class and run by the grocery store. A big pot of corn chowder for dinner.

Do you like storms? Snow? What is your favorite cozy weather? 

The Story of a Life in Dishes

Last night, as I unloaded the dishwasher, I realized I’ve had my blue glass dishes for quite awhile now, since the Christmas of 2002, when
I was broken-hearted and exhausted and shakily making my way through my divorce.  That year, both my mother and my sister-in-law gave me dishes. Without consulting each other, they both chose blue glass, and chose to give me new dinnerware. Isn’t that amazing?

Although neither of them would have articulated it exactly, they knew I needed a fresh start, a marker of my new life,
an un-wedding present. Food and cooking had marked my life with my ex.  He had (has) a big personality and liked entertaining, and most of our family gatherings centered either on his Sunday breakfasts or summer Sunday barbecues.  We had a set of white dishes, ordinary, but specific to that time–the china with silver around the edges, and a faint pattern of leaves.  I got rid of them and installed my new blue dishes with the most enormous sense of relief. Even as I’ve gone through my most foodie period ever, I’ve kept them. (Blue does not display food well.)  It’s probably a great gift for any woman–or man–getting divorced.p0000088843s0214t2

As I took the blue plates, given with such intuitive intelligence all those years ago, I flashed on the antique saucers and bowls, all edged with roses and gold, that I used to collect from thrift shops when I was a starving college student. And then backward to my mother’s Currier and Ives set, the ubiquitous dinner plates of the 60s.  She may still have a few remnants, but her dishes are bold and colorful now.

A couple of years ago. I happened upon an old set of china, much like the old saucers I loved.  They lacked dinner plates, but everything else was there–small dessert bowls, delicate cups, saucers, serving dishes, and the lot was only $25.  I now use them for tea parties and special occasions, supplementing my blue glass plates with the brightness of the antique china, and I feel like the whole me, young woman and older one melded togethimg_2274er.
The dishes we use are charged with powerful memories and emotions, a thousand meals and conversations, love and conflict, laughter and tears. I’ve been thinking about getting a new set of china lately, and that must be because I’m entering a new stage of my life. It will be fun to celebrate that with new dishes.

What do you currently use? And do you have memories of other sets of dishes? Did you ever give away a set, like I did?  

Wandering In

My cat is sitting on my feet as I type from my cozy bed, where I’ve retreated because it’s cold as heck, today.  Not even 15 degrees at nearly 11 am, and the sun is shining. In self defense, I wrapped up in sweater and quilts.

Every December, I go through the accomplishments and failures and recognitions of the year. As I do so now, I see that it’s been a challenging year in many ways, marked by the loss of a friend, a dearly loved relative, and….at last, and as we knew was coming, my beloved Jack on the last day of summer.  His death was as good as one could ask for a 14 year old dog–he had a stroke at lunchtime and it was plain I had to let him go. I was able to hold him and tell him I loved him as he departed, which is the great blessing we have with pets.  It was less kind for my uncle, but he, too, traveled with grace and peace to the other side.  It was sudden, which means it takes a bit to encompass, but I know he wouldn’t want me wallowing, so I won’t.  In time, I hope I can write something that does his life and influence in my life the justice it deserves. In the meantime, I’ll focus on joy.

The joy is in writing, and in teaching; the joy is in granddaughters, and the joy is in the anticipation of a big trip coming up in the spring. The joy is in you, in painting and in the art in the world.  Joy is in the first snowfall and the last leaf falling on my head.  The joy is in this photo of Jo and I at Uluru seven or eight years ago. 11334232_880057308751526_7369459254625975255_o

The joy is in many things, if only we look.

Where’s the joy in your life?

Wordless Rest

FullSizeRender-4This is an in-progress drawing that’s been living on my desk the past week. It was a thin watercolor sketch from a photo I shot last summer, which I decided at the time didn’t appeal much. Somehow, I found it and started messing around with some excellent pens I found last summer when Mel Scott and I wandered around (one of) the gigantic Blick’s stores in New York.  It’s not meant to be great art; I’m posting it to show you how my creative process is evolving.

As I posted last week, I’ve been working with great focus on the Restoration project, Whi
tehall,** set in the court of Charles II of England, one of the most fascinating characters to ever hold the throne. I love everything about this era–the people and the clothes and the world hurtling from the old into the new. It was a time of burgeoning knowledge in the sciences, particularly “natural philosophy” an early term for the observation and recording of the natural world, in all arenas from medicine to botany, for which Charles also had a passion.The Royal Society, one of the world’s most revered scientific communities, had its first meetings at this time.

And who could help but love the brilliant, rakish, doomed John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester?

When I agreed last summer to do the project, I had a thimble-full of history about the era, which has meant fervid immersion in all things Restoration, which is a lot of intense mental work. Which is one of the reasons I became a writer, frankly–there’s nothing I love more than learning all about something–but it’s hard work. Tiring. I have to take breaks, look away, change both my mental focus and my visual focus.

So I’ve been painting and drawing more. I write/research for an hour, then spent ten or fifteen or twenty minutes drawing, painting, scribbling. Something. It moves my brain into a completely different mode, entirely non-verbal but also laser focused. Every molecule of my attention goes into the shape of a line, a petal, a shadow, this very minute portion of the work. Which is like writing in a way, of course–you can only write the sentence at hand.

But behind each sentence in a novel are dozens, maybe hundreds, of bits of information. Fifth grade grammar class and the research from how gardens were arranged and where they were located to the shoes of the characters and her undergarments and how her hair was curled and what how the fabric moved and the relative positions of the players and what I wrote in the former scene and what’s coming later. It’s a lot of heavy lifting.

A line is particular, but it is particular to itself and this drawing or painting. I am only interested in how it shapes this page. I suppose there is a lot behind that line I draw, the colors I choose, other studies I’ve made, classes I’ve taken, but it’s not words. For this writer, I suppose that’s the thing. There are no words in painting. I love to read and I love to write, but sometimes that part of my brain just gets very tired. That’s why I cook. That’s why I garden. And now, that’s why I paint and draw.

If you work with words, what are your tricks for resting your brain? If you work in other ways, do you need a different kind of rest? 

**The first episode of Whitehall will be released in mid-May. Sign up for my newsletter if you want to be sure to be reminded when it begins.

Makers and Flippers

4040456368_8bf09758c3_mA friend of mine has started a business flipping houses. We live in a lucrative market for this kind of thing, and she’s a very practical banker sort who has systems in place to make renovations fairly standard–the kind of kitchen needed for most houses, the flooring that’s attractive and yet not too expensive, the bathroom upgrades people need.  She’s a business woman.

I would love flipping houses. The great project of my thirties was saving a house build in 1912. It was a mess when we bought it for a song and sweat equity, and I do mean a mess–almost everything had to be redone: the crumbling plaster ceilings, the electricity, the plumbing, the floors, the crooked windows.  Even over the course of the nearly twenty years I spent there, not all of it was finished, but I saved that beautiful old house. We fixed her bones and her bricks, sanded the splintering pine floors, replaced all the wiring and 90% of the plumbing.

I’d love to do more of that–saving old houses, taking out the old ugly things and replacing them with more beautiful stuff.  My friend knows this, but when it came to partners for this kind of business, she went to a couple of her more practical friends.

As she should have. She’s a flipper.

I’m a maker. I don’t want the practical pods of the usual kitchen makeover. I want to enter each kitchen and gauge the light and imagine what woods would compliment the era and what might make it the most beautiful kitchen ever. I would never do it for the money, because I make things. Books, of course. Now my paintings and drawings. Gardens. Food. My goal in flipping a house would be to make it into something I would live in happily forever–and that would be a sure way to lose money.

The thing is, makers have to learn to be business people, too, especially in the current world. It’s great that I want to write (and cook and paint and garden) but I also have to live in the real world. I have to eat. I don’t have a patron, though husbands kind of count, since they share the load and make loans upon request. Being a maker, I want to make things all the time, all day long–and luckily, it doesn’t matter what it is. I’m happy painting. I’m happy writing (writing a blog or a novel or a letter). I’m happy digging in the earth to plant seeds to make my garden.  The trick of my day is to keep the money-making aspects of making, the commercial fiction, occupy the most vigorous part of my day. Thus, I’m writing this morning. When I’ve done my words, I’ll make a loaf of pumpkin bread for a friend who is mourning. Later this afternoon, I hope to have some time to work on my drawing.

A lot of my friends are makers, and I bet a lot of you are, too.  Tell me about your projects of the moment. If you’re a flipper like my friend, I’d love to hear about that, too.

Bright and Dark

My old dog is pacing this morning as he often does these days. He’s a thirteen year old chow mix who has arthritis in his hips IMG_8636and shoulders (not helped by the leap he took from a second story window as a young pup, or the time he went through a plate glass window in terror over fireworks on New Year’s Eve and ran like hell for miles, only limping home at four in the morning with a sheepish expression). He’s not completely deaf, but not far off.  He sometimes stops now in the middle of the room with a bewildered expression, and I know he forgot what he was doing.  Since I’m familiar with this, I tell him to go back where he started and his purpose for going to the kitchen will come back to him.

The point is, he’s old and getting really old right before my eyes. The pacing started recently, just a restless, endless circling of whatever floor we’re on. He can’t get comfortable. He has all the supplements and the painkillers and a special drug for Cushings and….well, none of it is going to keep him alive forever.

12705453_10153418938840893_4732546385600136097_nOn the other hand, I have a new granddaughter.

January Reads

128409807_d7047ebeea_zOne of my friends (Marie, looking at you) keeps a book log every year. I used to keep one all the time and I’m going to keep track this year. I don’t promise to make long commentary about all of them, but will add a word or two about each one so you can tell if it would be something you’d like to sink into.  My tastes are very broad and almost no one is going to read all the same things I enjoy.  Without further ado, the January list:

The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah. Upmarket fiction. This book has made many best of the year lists and it is on mine, too. Every sentence is true and unflinching. Not a single false note anywhere, and I am a major WWII buff. Really, one of the best books I’ve read in ages and I highly recommend it.

A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara. Literary. This is a bleak book. I loved a lot of it, and read to the end, but it has many dark literary turns. Be warned.

The Shameless Hour, Sarina Bowen. New Adult, very sexy. Well-written, intelligent, with a hot Latino hero who is a really good guy.

One Plus One, JoJo Moyes. Women’s Fiction. Addictive, romantic. Set in England. Fast becoming one of my favorite writers.

Winter Light

16659679817_c417f03b88_bBirches in Winter by Mayfield Parrish, from Flickr Creative Commons.

One of my goals as I get back to blogging is to celebrate beauty in as many forms as I can. Books, food, animals, writing, love. And paintings. This one is by Mayfield Parrish. He’s a favorite of mine because of the way he used light and especially the way he captured the light of the mountains, the strange, rosy look of it.

This one is appropriate for a snowy winter day. That mountain could easily be Pikes Peak. It makes me feel calm. As if all is well and maybe I should go cook dinner.

I’ve just learned this afternoon that his work is unique and he belongs to no particular school. He created his own process of glazing thin layers of oil alternating with varnish. Until just now, I didn’t know that some of his paintings hang in the Broadmoor, an old luxury hotel here in Colorado Springs. I should go have a look at them.

Is there a painter who captures your part of the world especially well?

Rave Review

This kind of review is why writers stick with it. Thanks, Puppitypup.

from Amazon
5.0 out of 5 starsFiction/Romance –
So Much Deeper than I Expected
By puppitypup

The Lost Recipe for Happiness.
I was blown away by this novel. Somehow I was expecting lighthearted, chick-lit fluff.

What I got was story that broke my heart and stole my breath and brought tears to my eyes.

Ms. O’Neal has a gift for describing the nuance of a moment, making the novel so real that it hurts. This is a book I will not soon forget.

It is a sensual novel, one that will hold great appeal for anyone who loves to cook. The spice and texture and taste of Elena’s creations fairly jump off the page.

Ms. O’Neal also brought that elusive ingredient, without which I will never give 5 stars.