Monday, June 30, 2008

51,733 and counting...

I did it. The O'Riley Bees reached 50,000 words on Friday. So, I made the word count. But the story is not over. I would have added many more words over the weekend but I sensed that the youngest member of my family had reached his word-count limit for a while.

By the time the kids were asleep last night, I was spent and had no more energy to go finish the story. A giant swarm of Beatrice's benevolent bees are hanging out over the ocean waiting to finally make it to Block Island and give their message to the throngs of people who are there to gawk at the visiting President. Paddy is no longer a bee, but a ghost, and Finn has yet to meet his father.

It is farm day so we are off to the farm to see yet another set of new ducklings! There will be Monday Farm photos later.

This challenge (and possibly, this adrenaline writing rush) ends tonight. I have to finish the first draft by the time I break out the champagne after dinner. Even if it means a really bad B-movie climax, the bees have to have landed!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

"One Local Summer" challenge - week four

Our local only meal included mashed potatoes with Yukon Golds from our farm and local milk and butter. There was salad and sliced onion from the farm - the onion was so sweet we could eat it raw. The best part of the dinner were the grilled pork spare ribs from Riverview Farms in north Georgia. The Terrapin Golden Ale was from an Athens brewery, an hour away.
We have eaten lots of zero-miles food this week, as more of our summer vegetables ripen. We snacked on heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers, eaten fresh off the farm with a bit of salt. The Crimson Sweet Watermelon was not ready yet, but that didn't stop Gillen from eating one - it was juicy but almost completely white! He thought it tasted great. The rest of us are going to wait a few more weeks.

We also had some of the last lettuce that we'll have until the fall. There will be a bit of salad mix still for customers at the market but no more salads at home for a while.

Using local Riverview Farms grown and milled corn meal (we also ate their grits this week) we had corn bread and fried okra, cooked the way Alton Brown and the NY Times taught me - in a cast iron skillet. Here is the recipe for the okra from a few years ago. I just skipped the flour part and I used coconut oil. The picture I took of it this year doesn't do it justice. But here is one of the corn bread and tomatoes:Last night we ate four to five inch ears of corn from Gillen's section of the backyard farm. It didn't get enough sun to grow to full size so Nicolas also brought some corn home from another farmer at the market. Honestly, Gillen's really were sweeter. Mmmmm. Tonight, we are using Gillen's basil to make pesto and his first eggplant in a medley of roasted vegetables.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Jesse has a horror of thunderstorms. It started when he read the Magic Tree House book about a tornado (he will forever be able to quote which number - #23) on the same day that he read the one about the earthquake (another number etched in his mind - #24). This was a few summers ago, on the fourth of July. That night, we took my born-on-the-fourth-of-July father to a Braves game. A big thunderstorm erupted in about the fourth or fifth inning with giant winds and the drama of people running all around us for cover under the awnings. Jesse has never been the same since. We live in Georgia. Big thunderstorms are a part of summer here. There have been three short ones just this week. Jesse and our dog, Tuki, have both been shivering phobic sad sacks. I was thinking that he managed to overcome his fear last year, as I didn't remember him reacting this way. But then I remembered. Last summer there weren't many storms. We were in a drought. If we had any, the intensity of our family joy over rain for the vegetables may have kept Jesse from having room to be afraid, or we just over powered the thunder with our screaming?

Jesse's fear of storms had developed into a dislike of regular old rain. Then he saw a picture of Logan (a much older unschooling boy who taught him to play yu-gi-oh at an unschooling conference four years ago and is still thought of as a hero). In the picture, Logan is outside in torrential Florida rain. He looks so happy. He is loving the rain. Plus he happens to be next to four very cool looking girls. Jesse saw the picture and announced, "I don't think I'll be afraid of rain anymore." He was right. Here he is, outside in the rain, a few days after that:

But he is more afraid of thunder and lightning than ever. : (

I know irrational fear. When I was in fifth grade, my best friend at the time, Sally Solomon, brought me to her mother-the-scientist's laboratory, at Boston College. She had a very large rat in a cage. In my memory, it must have been four feet long. I have had a big fear of mice and rats ever since. This week, when Gillen had a chance to learn how to feed wounded wild animals, with Pete - one of the cool wildlife guys at Charlie Elliott Nature Center (something Gillen has been wanting to do for years) my seemingly insurmountable fear of mice had to go away. I had to be there. There were lots of frozen mice and rats to be weighed, and then fed to assorted snakes and birds:

It was fantastic how quickly I let go of my fear of flying too, when I had to fly with my own little people and didn't want them to be afraid.

I'm not saying I'm over the rat and mouse thing. The rodents this week were frozen, not to mention dead. I am going to pretend to be over it and see what happens the next time a live one is in my vicinity. I sure would love it if Jesse didn't have to wait until he has kids (or a girlfriend) to get over his fear. I was thinking of having some kind of ceremony to help him let the fear go and let the thunder in... Anyone have any better ideas? Or experience with phobias?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday Farm Photos

The Muscovy ducklings have hatched! We are so excited. There are six of them. It was hard to get a good look at them due to the very protective parents - Green Tea and Mae Belle. They kept moving them into the protective cover of a Leyland Cypress tree. Aren't they the sweetest, fluffiest creatures ever?
If Jesse hadn't (justifiably) insisted on getting on with our day, I would probably still be there, sneaking under the branches for a peek.

Gillen was very Huck Finn/farmboy this morning. Jesse wasn't. I like this picture that shows their different moods that moment. I confess - part of what I like is that they both saw it and decided that they want a hair trim. That never happens!

All this writing and research about bees had me noticing the pollinators:

Local crash

I was going to prepare a local-only lunch yesterday (right at the deadline), of omelette and vegetables. Instead we had a local car crash which took my attention.

A furious thunderstorm suddenly blew in yesterday afternoon, right after Gillen had gone bike riding in the neighborhood with a neighbor. Immediately, Nicolas drove out into the deluge to go rescue them. About five minutes later, a drenched Gillen had returned. After fifteen more minutes, Nicolas still hadn't come back. Finally, I got a phone call. He had been in a wreck. He had left the house without his license and needed me to bring it to him.

Jesse and I drove in Nicolas' van to the wrong wreck (there were three that happened during that fifteen-minute storm). In the wake of that wreck, the two cars seemed to have been deposited into a giant trash compactor. Jesse got hysterical. I rolled down the window and confirmed with the cop, for Jesse, that neither of those cars were our dark green Toyota. Jesse and I are still talking about what we saw and are sending good thoughts to the victims and families of that crash.

This was good preparation for finally finding Nicolas. He was fine. The other guy was upset (it was his dying dad's car), but physically fine. Our sweet car was carried off by a tow truck. We had just paid off that car and just put a lot of money into maintenance. But Gillen was safe. Nicolas was safe. The farm was not damaged by the storm. What's a hunk of steel compared with that.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Last year, the kids did a few day camps and loved them so this year they enthusiastically signed up for many more. I'm glad that they get this chance in the summer to try lots of new things.

Jesse just finished three weeks of camp in a row. Gillen was with him at this last one - circus camp. On Friday, I got to go to their circus. Gillen took to the air:

This fantastic ring master MC'd the event. There was a Beatlemania theme and there were lots of tiny people dressed as fairies and clowns dancing and leaping about. Those were two highlights for me.
Jesse rode a unicycle! He got by with a little help from his friends ; )This was the end of Jesse's first week of day camp, a nature camp that Gillen has loved for years. This was Jesse's favorite this year, as well. The orange-shirted boy in the middle is Logan, Jesse's best friend.
Yes, we are in Georgia and that looked like some serious worshiping but they are actually doing "the funky dance" for the parents. Their mascot that week was the screech owl.
Here is Jesse at the end of his week of theater camp. He turned eight on the last day of camp so was with the young group of actors who were five through seven. In this riveting production of Robin Hood, they played the skunks. The skunks main role was to sit silently back stage, awaiting their two entrances. Jesse was really annoyed with the boy to his right in the picture, who passed the time by jabbing Jesse. This boy was the main topic of conversation in every birthday call he had with relatives who called. Jesse can't wait to do theater camp next year as an eight year old, with lines.
I'm glad to have him home next week to just chill out before more camps.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The O'Riley Bees - a few paragraphs

Yesterday I hit the maaaad (as in crazy) part of this month long writing challenge. As I had earlier in the week, I got sucked into the research. This time I was looking up a few bee breeding and island facts and google filled my head and a pad of paper with way more than I needed to know. The book that Chris Baty wrote about this challenge recommended not allowing yourself to go to more than a few pages for research at a time. I see why.

In trying to find a few paragraphs to post here, I also ignored another cardinal rule, which is - don't reread what you have written. It started to make me a bit crazy last night to see how many inconsistencies have developed as my plot twists and turns. So I stopped looking for good paragraphs and am just going to post a few of the first paragraphs.

On an unseasonably pleasant day in July, on their Western Massachusetts farm, dusk was falling. Finn was picking the Brandywines and whistling a Flogging Molly tune to himself. He started singing, “If I ever leave this world alive,” carefully piling the giant heirloom tomatoes into an old bushel basket. He paused to take a bite of an overly ripe Brandywine, using the back of his hand to sop up the juice on his chin.

“Oh you don’t leave it alive, boy, but you do leave it with a sense of humor, if you’re lucky.” This was followed by a deep and bouncing laugh. "What is he doing harvesting in that shirt? What a mighty strange looking fellow.” The accent was Irish.

Finn dropped the Brandywine and looked around. No one was there.
“What? Who? Hello?” he stammered.

“You hear me?” came the cracking, surprised voice. This time, Finn was sure that it had come from the tomatoes. He squatted down and tentatively started searching for the hidden body, suddenly remembering the time when he was very small and talked to the fairies, right here at what was then his grandmother’s farm. At least, that is how his grandmother had described it when she’d come upon him in conversation. He had never seen anyone back then and had assumed, in retrospect, that he’d had a really vivid imagination. But now, he found himself searching for a little person, wondering if the Irish brogue could be coming from.. no, could he even let himself think it - a leprechaun? He moved aside a few of the branches, peering between the tomato cages, his feet grounded and ready to spring back if anything should appear.

“I didn’t meant to scare ya. I’ve never had a living talk back to me.” came the voice again, this time from a tomato bed a few feet in front of the one where Finn was crawling.

Finn froze, starting to feel wary of actually finding someone. What did he mean, “a living”. A living what? He was living, so that meant the voice was not? Then it occurred to him. It was the tomatoes! The Brandywines were talking to him. He picked one up and held it for a bit before quietly saying, “hello?”

And alright, because I happen to love one of my characters, Beatrice, this is from much later:

Once Finn and Beatrice had exited the bus, Finn had no idea where they should go. When he had only had a bee in a box to take care of he had assumed that he and Paddy would simply sleep on the beach. It was Newport. There must be a beach, right? But now that Beatrice was his traveling companion he didn’t know what to think. Did she have a plan? Was he supposed to follow her? He couldn’t imagine being away from her, even for the night. He adjusted the straps on his red backpack and stood looking up at the stars, hoping that she would say something. For an agonizing minute she just stood next to him, quietly watching the sky as well. All of the other passengers had collected their luggage and walked off to the station or towards the line of taxis, before Beatrice softly broke the silence.

“I hope the weather stays this mild. Bees can’t travel through rain and they are also handicapped by extreme heat. I think the weather will stay with them.” Beatrice turned to Finn, smiling. “Shall we get something to eat? I could eat a whole bushel of my auntie’s corn, slathered in butter. But I’ll settle for whatever they’ve got here.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The buzzing of bees, the chirping of chicks, the silence of kids away

Gillen and Jesse are in a circus camp this week. I had said that they couldn't be in it because it is an hour commute each way to get them there, but friends whose boys were also taking the camp offered to keep them with them for several days. They are loving it. They call every night with stories about aerial moves and learning to unicycle and they are getting along great with the other boys with whom they are staying. This means that there are four boys there. Under one small roof. It was a very generous offer and I will return the favor.

The quiet here is vast. I do like it, for this brief amount of time. I am getting so much written. And I am not alone. There are the Gillen poults that are in a cage on our side porch (well, only one is left, but he is very loud).
There are bees drinking from Gillen's garden pond:and Irish bees, specifically Maude and Paddy, buzzing in my head.

There is sweet, loving Fracas.
And camera shy Tuki-dog, who is my constant companion, sometimes lying on my feet while I type.

I won't be sorry when the boy noise returns. I don't always love their noise, but with the noise comes the boys.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"One Local Summer" Challenge

Jesse was responsible for the most innovative contribution to this week's all local meal. He has been wanting to cook lately, but rarely from a cookbook, usually only from his head. This time his idea turned out to be delicious. He talked all week about stuffing burgers with vegetables. On Friday, I helped him do it. He searched through the fridge for every vegetable he could find, all of which came from the farm, so it worked out well for the challenge. He found parsley, chives, English peas (which he shelled), and carrots. There were big, beautiful sweet onions but he wanted nothing to do with those. So I chopped those up and mixed them with leftover farm potatoes and broccoli into something like hash browns. These onions, cooked, make even the oldest leftovers taste good.

We used ground pork for the burgers. It was from Riverview Farms.

We also had a strawberry smoothie this week made with local frozen strawberries and local milk and we had our first blackberries of the year.The most exciting new farm vegetable (ok, fruit) that ripened in time to appear at our local-only dinner was the Heirloom Black Krim Tomato!

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I should be plugging away at the book, since I spent the past many hours hanging out with my kids instead of writing, but I am feeling sentimental and have to write a tribute to Jesse before I can go back to my story of the bees.

Eight years ago today, I was talking to my second babe, who was still in the womb. I was telling him that this might be a really good time to get this show started, to begin the moving and shaking that would commence his natural descent from my body into the world. As with his brother, I had reached that doctor deadline of two weeks past my due date the day before. I had a nurse-midwife and had thought that she would be more flexible. But instead, she scared me with her fear. She talked about the possibilities of there not being enough amniotic fluid and of all of the things that could go wrong should I choose to wait for contractions to begin. I agreed to allowing something to be placed near my cervix over night, to soften it. Nothing happened, other than some reactions of the staff to the funny heart rates Jesse showed on their monitors. I was bullied into another c-section. At least this one wasn't preceded by four days of labor. I set a precedent at the hospital by taking a stand about the nursing. I made them agree to holding Jesse next to me, allowing him to nurse while they sewed me up. My arms were pinned down so I couldn't touch him but it made such a big difference having those moments with him, feeling him successfully drink my milk, before being wheeled off to recovery, away from my baby for the next two hours.

This boy is uniquely wise. He is a story teller and game creator and a seeker of magic. He is passionate about what interests him and sensitive to others' needs. He is honest and thoughtful and curious.

I love you more and more Jesse. Happy Birthday.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Shanna, an artist, created this silhouette of me and I created the background. This was a few weeks ago when I was first thinking about the novel writing challenge. I realized today that it is an accurate visual of who I am right now (including the horn at the top, which is also the curl on the top of my forehead). My head is filled with broad strokes, small moments, Irish music, the bees of my story and the somewhat neglected bees in my yard, exciting storms and passionate chemistry, too much chatter and not enough silence.

I've written ten chapters and over 18,000 words in the past 12 days but am still 2,000 words behind where I'd like to be by now. But that's O.K. While getting behind, I was discovering a wonderfully useful but horrifically true article about GMOs, about the Irish potato famine and about bees, all of which are in some way in my book. Doesn't it sound like light reading? The article is not, but I am hoping the book will be.

I met a really interesting columnist the other night at the GA Organics event. She is wonderful with words. She writes a column called woman to woman that compares a conservative woman's point of view on a topic to that of a liberal woman- the woman I met - Andrea Sarvady. We talked the other night about how unusual it is for women to get into it with other women about politics or religion. Men are much more likely, in person, to duke it out and try to convince the other guy that they are right. Women do it more anonymously I think, via blogs or email.

Lastly, I saw a film last night that was very quiet and moving called The Secret life of Words. Tim Robbins is in it and he is so different than in anything else I've ever seen him in. I liked it a lot.

Monday, June 09, 2008

"One Local Summer" Challenge

Purple potatoes:

Last night we had grilled local pork chops, with broccoli and potatoes from the farm. We missed butter. Gillen missed barbecue sauce. But not so much. It was all so fresh and flavorful.

On Tues., there is a local GA Organics event happening at Restaurant Eugene. It is a five course local meal with wine pairings and a meet and greet with farmers - so Nicolas and I will get to be there. Five courses at Restaurant Eugene. yum!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Jesse's Birthday Party

Jesse turns eight next week but will be in a play that day after doing a theater camp all week. His schedule is packed this month! So we celebrated him, with three other families, yesterday.

He wanted no theme this year, just milk shakes and cup cakes. Half the cup cakes had chocolate frosting and half had vanilla. We bought lots of candy with which to decorate them. For a bit, while the candy was still intact in bowls on the table, the cupcakes were laid out and I had the vanilla, strawberry and chocolate milk shakes shaking, I felt deliciously special, like an oompa loopa in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. There is nothing like a strawberry milk shake made with local, fresh strawberries, or an unexpected mojita made by Mindy with mint collected from the neighbor's back yard. Our time together was so sweet that we all were still hanging out at 11pm. We toasted Jesse for bringing us all together. It was a good day.

Here's the birthday guy after showing up to his party with Claudia and her family. She took my boys fishing all morning so I could bake and clean. He and Gillen jumped right in the pool with their clothes on. So far, it's been the hottest June I've ever known.

Notice Gillen making plans for the candy.

There was a spontaneous Pokemon card hunt at one point. Jared found a horse shoe which inspired a game of horse shoes for the dads.

Gillen and Sophie exchanging jokes at 11:00. Sophie is wearing a hat identical to the one I wear when I write. I sent her home with this one. I had two and was glad to give it to a fellow writer. She too is writing a book. The day after, I've just gotten my coffee and Nicolas is already vacuuming. I am so lucky. I do know this.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


That is the way in which my friend Helen referred to this crazy lone-wolf pursuit of mine to write a novel in thirty days. It isn't really nanowrimo, as I am not doing it in November with all of the good support of the usual national novel writing participants.

It is Madnowrimo - meaning one of several things, depending on the hour:
  1. Madeline's novel writing month
  2. Mad (as in utterly insane) for choosing to write a novel this month
  3. Madly (as in obsessively, but with a joyful skipping-through-the -flower-fields-and-glens feeling) novel-writing this month
  4. Mad for not writing in the same month as inspiring people like Alecto and Jessica.
  5. Mad no wri' mo'!
So far, in the brief four and a half days I have been doing this, it has mostly felt like #3. But there have also been moments of #2.

I read that the first week is always a breeze compared to the rest of the month. Once I am in week three I can imagine being reduced to a blubbering, barely audible #5, all of the words I have heard of in my entire life having been used up in the previous days' word counts, my brain a warped, gray, plastic tub of sour grape jelly.

As for the story, I usually don't know what is going to happen next and that is exciting. So far, the book is about a fourteen year old, Flogging Molly-loving farmer-boy named Finn, a somewhat bewildered Irish ghost who starved to death in the potato famine of 1849, and a quest to find Finn's missing father who may have the answer to the bees' Colony Collapse Disorder, but could also be the reason that the African bees were released in Brazil, thus having caused the beginning of Aricanized killer bee colonies that have reached the United States.

I am writing while Jesse is in day camp, for several hours every day. Yesterday, with Gillen gone those hours as well, I stayed at the computer and forgot to eat anything but chocolate and was a depleted mess by dinner time.

The writing is so much fun that I could imagine doing it on a regular basis, even if just to then read it to my children. But with them around, the words don't make themselves heard so loudly. The words don't like interruptions. So I am enjoying this now for all it's worth.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Picture of Obama, From My Sister in Montana

My sister Bhu took this photograph a few weeks ago when Barack Obama came to speak in Bozeman, MT. I just heard that his win in Montana clinched it. He is now the official nominee for the democratic party. It's a pretty exciting moment, historically. As he said, "this teaches the American children that the oval office is within anyone's reach." I do hope that it is in within his reach. I'm glad that my sister's lens was in reach to get this great picture.