Valentine’s Day

Doug gave me a camera for Valentine’s Day! I feel a bit intimidated by it, but have been talking lots lately about how I’d like something I could take better pictures of, because there is so much to take pictures of. I know there is more to photography than simply pointing the camera, but almost every time we go outside we see something and say, what a great photograph that could’ve been . . . the clouds of monarchs, too many to count, flying ahead of us in late summer, the gorgeous woodpecker who comes to the window each day, and, a few days ago, a plump little yellow-feathered Carolina wren visited the feeder. So I’m very hopeful I can take some decent photographs now and looking forward to warmer weather more than ever.

We visited the Des Moines Home and Garden Show at the weekend . . . bought some native grass and flower seeds to help attract bees and butterflies into the garden. Have loads of plans for the garden (as usual) and I think they’ll come to be little by little as we find the time, energy and $$$. No sign of spring here yet. It’s cold and snow covers the ground. During a brief respite from this yesterday I took the dogs out, Emily went wild with excitement and threw herself headlong into a pile of snow, Rudy much more cautious. I hate not writing, but decided to put aside my complete first draft for the duration, so I can look at it with fresh eyes at a later date. I’ve been churning over an idea for a few years now and started some research. Jotting notes in the kitchen, I realized I was being watched!


My First Draft

Last year I wrote a novel, a first draft, and I absolutely hated it so much I couldn’t bring myself to look at it again. I felt that all the joy had gone out of writing for me and made the decision to write something short, entertaining and fun. This was back at the end of September 2018. I’ve tried to write a little each day, scribbling in a notebook, editing as I go. Making a rough outline so I knew where I was going, but not obsessing. Reading good books and making contact with other writers along the way – I workshopped the first 500 words last week in a group ran by the WFWA (Women Fiction Writers Association). And yesterday I completed the end of my first draft, and even though it isn’t all edited yet, even though I have loads more to do and haven’t published anything since 2015 and am quite frightened I might have just written a load of rubbish, I’m so happy! I finished it – without giving up, losing my way, or getting bored! YES! Was so excited to tell Doug last night. Nobody else understands what this means to me the way he does. He has been listening to me blather on since September, answering my questions about how he’d react to various dilemmas, what would he do if he woke up and found it was 1955, etc etc. My little blue writing room has been a perfect place to scribble. My desk has space for all my reminders and notes, pens, pictures, books. (Typing this I just heard on the BBC that Rosamunde Pilcher has died, how very sad).

The weather continues quite bleak. I put out my leftover baking for the squirrels – the one above is nibbling a slice of Italian bread up our pear tree. Looking out of the  window this morning, I can see yet more snow coming down. I feel so grateful I don’t have to get outside and scrape ice off a windscreen and then navigate icy roads to work. Some days I just stay in my jammies, writing, cooking and hanging out with the dogs. On Sundays, Doug and I have started making brunch – bacon, eggs and hash browns. I’ve been practising my fried eggs. Nothing tastes better than hot coffee, fried eggs and bacon in your jammies when it’s snowing outside.

Polar Vortex

This morning the thermometer in the kitchen read 21 degrees below zero. Across a huge swathe of the country, the cold is utterly bone-chilling and it’s dangerous to be outside. Last night Doug and I stood at the kitchen window and spotted four deer in the park – we haven’t seen deer since the summer. As we watched, they trotted off,  such stunning creatures. This morning, Rudy and Emily ate their breakfast in the kitchen as the garage is freezing. Everything outside looked so still and frozen, and apart from a few tough little juncos and sparrows, the garden was deserted. I am so grateful to be inside and warm and safe right now. And it was so nice when Doug came home early due to a power shutdown.

I’ve workshopped the first 500 words of my novel this week; the positive comments and suggestions have given me a huge boost. I carried on with this for a bit, and gradually temps increased – it’s zero degrees now. The sun made a brief appearance and I threw out some leftover Italian bread when some squirrels ventured out of their hidey holes. One of the squirrels carried a slice of bread up one of our trees, nibbled on it for a bit, then wedged it on a branch and took off – we were laughing. It seemed so funny to see my bread stuck up the tree in this way. Some birds came along to peck at it, then a squirrel ran up and retrieved it.

I hope it warms up soon.

Snowy Days

I woke  up feeling dreadful this morning and the thermometer in the kitchen reads minus 2. I think I’m coming down with a cold. The weather is ideal for staying inside and getting loads of writing done, however I’ve read such excellent books lately anxiety is creeping through me about the quality of my own writing. It’s been a long time since I was an active part of a writing community, 4 years since I published anything, a long time since anyone even read anything of mine and said they liked it, so I’m feeling a bit bluh and worried this morning.

The Hotel Pattee restaurant

Doug and I ventured out into the bitter cold a few evenings ago and had supper at the Hotel Pattee, the food was less than spectacular, but we were seated in the exact same place where we sat on our very first dinner date together in the summer of 2010. The hotel changes management really frequently – so the level of service changes. We’ve had delicious meals there and prompt efficient service, we’ve also had to wait ages for luke warm coffee and meals that taste like school dinners.  It’s always feels a bit special to get back there because of those memories of when I used to visit Doug here, but we’ll probably give it a miss for a while and concentrate on cooking at home.

We have just started eating brunch at home on Sunday mornings, there’s always a busy view of the garden. I baked a pineapple meringue pie yesterday and some cranberry lemon bread. The squirrels always appreciate any leftovers.

this isn’t allowed – the squirrels are really determined to get at the bird feeders and make their way over the rooftop.

I just hurried into the kitchen (heard a thump and thought it might be a squirrel on the birdfeeder again) and saw the bird that has been causing Doug and I some frustration lately because we can’t identify it. It’s about the size of a large thrush, with a black/white speckled chest, distinct black chevron collar, red on its head – not a woodpecker though, it’s not the right shape.

The thermometer reads  a sizzling 8 degrees now.


The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

I’m lucky enough to be able to spend the first morning of my weekdays reading these days and this week’s read has been The Radium Girls by Kate Moore. I’m almost finished. Tears have sprung to my eyes over this one. It’s a non-fiction title (I generally stick to fiction, but this is my second NF already this year) I picked up at the thrift store some weeks back. The elderly lady at the checkout told me her sister had read it and told her all about it; we’ve been treated terribly, us women, haven’t we? she said, and I was astonished to hear this, you don’t exactly expect feminist leanings from old ladies in Iowa, it was quite heartening. Anyway. The Radium Girls tells the stories of several women who were teens or in their twenties when they started work as dial-painters in watch factories in the 1920’s and 1930’s. They were thrilled because the work paid well – they were all from working class families and money was scarce. Radium had only been discovered a few years previously and was thought to be a sort of miracle substance capable of curing ill-health, and amazingly it glowed in the dark! The girls (Grace, Katherine, Mollie, Hazel and others) were taught to ‘lip, dip, paint’ – get the bristles of their paint brushes into a nice point with their lips and tongue, dip them in the radium paint, then paint the numbers on the dials. They did this over and over during the course of their work days, ingesting radium, which began to settle in their bones and eat them from the inside out.

And then their teeth began to fall out, and leave great holes in their gums that refused to heal, they ached. Doctors realized what was up, the factories were notified, the problem was, there was a huge demand for products containing radium. And so the industry decided to ignore the evidence, to call the women liars, refuse to let them see the results of the factory doctors’ tests, which showed that their bodies were fatally contaminated. They lied, and told these young women that the radium was good for them. What makes this book such a painful read is hearing the words of these women themselves, who desperately wanted to be writers, and mothers and wives and just live out their lives, but then realized they were doomed. They suffered excrutiating pain, but managed to change the law so that industries are actually required to offer some protection to workers. I just kept looking again and again at Grace Fryer’s picture as I read this book. She looked so smart, had all sorts of hopes for her future.

I wish I could reflect upon how we’ve moved on so much since these days, but that’s not really the case. So many of us are still considered as disposable. Poverty is a thing right now in the US, thousands of people have been poisoned in Michigan, children sleep on the freezing cold concrete floors of cages.

The writing is going well – by which I mean I am managing 1k words a day and it’s not all complete crap. We had snow last weekend and more is on the way. The garden is often full of foraging squirrels, woodpeckers, cardinals and all the rest. We love our busy garden. The government is still shut down. The world seems in complete turmoil. Doug and I finished watching season 6 of the Great British Bake-Off – it was an emotional roller-coaster – and are now immersed in a Hulu show called Killing Eve. It’s brilliant and quite scary. Rudy hurt his paw and Doug shone a torch on it and helped me clip off a claw we thought we might be causing him some trouble.  And I’m all booked up for my trip to England.


Doug comforting a very sad Rudy.

Rudy back on his toes and barking at me while I cook supper; Emily just looking up beseechingly in hopes of a scrap.

we call the female cardinal who lives in the garden Cardy B.

The Weekend

It’s Wednesday today, cold and blowy, and the dogs had to be practically dragged  for their a walk. They loathe cold, and so do I. Last night Trump addressed the nation and explained how dangerous immigrants are, bringing drugs, raping and beheading American citizens. I really do try my best most days not to think of him. This morning, after the painfully cold walk, I put out left over gingerbread for the squirrels. They usually have lots to eat, and occasionally the garden is totally overrun and they get greedy and try to encroach upon the bird feeders.


squirrel in a panic, being chased off our bird feeder

Unlike this week, the weekend weather was great – up in the 50s, and Doug had Saturday off so we drove into Jefferson for a coffee and to poke around the junk and thrift store there, in search of books and vintagey bits and pieces. We were in the New Hope thrift store (massive, stuffed with clothes, books, old furniture, kitchen stuff) when Doug said to me ‘what do you think of this?’ and we looked at an odd little casserole dish with Picasso like faces painted on the side and the names of Italian dishes on the lid. It was so vibrant and unusual and I thought we should definitely get it – I’d never seen anything quite like it. And it was just $3.

 I absolutely love when we have 2 whole days together and we can just relax and go off somewhere. It can be so cold and bleak here, with weather so severe you have to stay inside, but Saturday was crisp and lovely, all the dormant fields sparkling in the sunshine, and the old barns looking picture perfect. We found a few things, then came home and made coffee and Rudy and Emily went mental with excitement, as if we’d been gone for a year. Looking at all our finds (a lady head vase, some old postcards, a fruit bowl, a vintage ash tray, a painted chair) we examined our funny old Italian casserole dish again.

retro ahstray, I love these

intriguing old postcard

a glamorous lady with a chipped hat and a missing earring

our painted chair

We looked at the scrawl on the bottom, which said ‘Desimone’ followed by a number. And then I Googled. And it looks like we scored a rare piece of mid-century pottery, hand painted by Giovanni Desimone over 50 years ago. The one available on Etsy (which has a crack) is on sale for $380. We were really stoked.

Emily is snoring as I write this. She seems improved, her appetite has picked up. She just likes to sleep most of the time, which I expect all old creatures do, people included. She is coming out to the kitchen again when she hears the electric knife slicing up her favourite Italian bread. I’m not really allowed to, but I can never resist giving her a tiny bit.

Rudy and Emily

10 years ago, Ivy with Rudy and Emily

Having beloved animals around really brings you face to face with the passage of time sometimes.  I don’t want to get too gloomy but some days now it’s really evident that I have 2 senior dogs, you see it in the way they walk slowly and carefully, the grey on their faces (especially Emily) and the cloudiness in their eyes (Emily again, especially).

Fifteen years ago I lived in a large suburban house, three young kids aged 7, 6 and 4 and a terrible marriage. Lara, my oldest, was 23 and still at home. We received a call one day from the local animal shelter –  2  daschund puppies were available for adoption. The children’s father and I had discussed the possibility, several months earlier, of getting a dog to join our goldfish and dear little hamster, George. He said he’d only consider a daschund and asked the shelter to let us know if one became available for adoption – I remember privately thinking this was probably unlikely, as surely it was mainly mixed breeds that ended up at the shelter, but oh well, I had enough on my hands with the house and everything. Will had been diagnosed by this time nad his behaviour was becoming increasingly challenging. And then that call came, and Conor and Ivy were so excited. We all loaded into the minivan and into Denver, announced we’d come about the daschunds (we can only take one though, I piped up, but nobody seemed to hear me). A woman led us off, past the area where all the sad, unwanted dogs and cats were confined. Two small black pups were waiting for us in a small room – I think were about 3 months old, I’m not sure. Conor and Ivy immediately fell to the floor in delight and were covered in kisses, and I said you’d better choose one, and the shelter woman said, oh, they are a brother and sister, what a shame to split them up. Their names were Romeo and Ophelia. The kids decided Rudy and Emily were more appropriate names.

All I can really remember about the next year is lots of puddles and smells, along with the kids being very, very happy and loving them so much. We’d all walk around the neighbourhod, Ivy on her trike, William in his pushchair, the dogs skipping along joyfully on their leashes. Emily was never happier than when she was chasing a ball; Rudy didn’t like to play this game and got jealous if Emily received too much attention. They liked to sleep with the kids, and barked at squirrels and birds and the lawnmower, even when the lawnmower wasn’t in use. I loved them a bit grudgingly because I was very quickly responsible for all their care. My marriage ended and the dogs came with me and the kids to a trailer and were with us through some difficult years, as the kids grew up and changed. When Ivy left for college, Emily would walk down the hallway into the tiny bedroom where she’d snuggled on the futon with Ivy so many times.  She would look at the futon, then walk over to the desk and look up at the empty chair and I would say, she’s gone, Emily. After a while the dogs began sleeping on my bed. And now yet  another chapter of their lives has started, alongside mine. And when they are up and about (they sleep quite a lot now) they love life here; all the smells in the park and the wonderful walks and tons of affection. I thought I knew everything there was to know about Doug before I came here but I didn’t know he loved dogs quite so much; they adore him and rush to say hello when he comes home from work. Doug has built a ramp to help getting in and out of the garage easier, they have collars with their names on, treats and regular visits to the vet.

Gosh, I didn’t mean to make this a long doggie post, what started it was when I rose this morning and started some tea and laundry just before 7, Rudy followed as expected, hoping for some breakfast and I said, where’s your sister? I checked and she was still fast asleep on her bed. So I fed Rudy, not too worried as Emily is usually sleepier and slower than him, but an hour later she was still sound asleep, which is highly unusual. And I grew worried, because she felt ill yesterday, throwing up a few times and not wanting her favorite snack, Italian bread, and she’s been confused a couple of times, peeing on the couch. I went back and forth into the bedroom and was just about to shoot off a text to Doug when she appeared in the kitchen, and ate a fairly decent breakfast, responded to my chat with a waggy tail. So, phew.

I’m not sure how I went from the woman who said ‘you will have to choose one!’ and being upset about things like ruined rugs, to a middle-aged woman who prefers the company of her dogs over most people, but there you are. I just cannot imagine life without them and so when I think about how old age is encroaching, I feel so miserable and afraid. I suppose this is what happens when you lose your heart.

Emily, cozying up to the heat register in the front room.