Good day and welcome! I'm pleased to bring the Quills post to you for the month. This time around, we are discussing five great things about spring. (Only five? Goodness...) I'll share my thoughts with you and then please do also check out what my fellow Quills have to say.
It might be difficult to mention only five, as spring may well be my favorite season, but here goes!
Temperatures. Of course, the season springs on us (see the pun there?) in mid-March, and ends in mid-June. In my neck of woods, that means that the average temperature goes from 39/22 (H/L) to 77/59 (H/L). To me, the best days are at about 70 degrees, and with a good spring, we get a number of them. Sitting outside is such a pleasure and I get a chance to do more walking which, admittedly, I do not do on the blustering cold, windy, and icy days of winter. And then there's the fabulous scent of spring that comes with the temperatures changing. It begins with the dirt and follows through with flowers and herbs and other living things...
The days get longer. I appreciate that this might not be a big deal to some, but it is to me! Here, our shortest day of winter daylight is only 8 hours and 45 minutes. Not so on the first day of spring. This year we got 12 hours and 10 minutes of daylight on March 20. Now, keep in mind that this came just a couple weeks following our getting an extra hour of daily sunlight as a consequence of daylight savings time. And the last day of spring? We will get roughly 16 hours—with a sunrise at 5:24 am following a “dawn” beginning to light the sky at 4:48 am, a sunset at 9:04 pm, and the end of twilight at 9:40 pm. I track the addition of minutes, almost daily, reveling in each and every one of them! The only downside, is that on the first day of summer, I then have to begin the countdown ...
Color and Life. This is easy. With spring, each day things turn more green, plants begin to flower, and color reigns! When I look out, I see the herds of deer that walk through my yard regularly, the eagles that fly overhead, and the red fox that like to slink around the chicken pen. What more can I say?
Thunder Storms. I love them. Thunder and lightning are like magic. The sights, sounds, and energy, intrigue me. Do you agree?
Special Events. The month holds Mother’s Day, two family birthdays, and Memorial Day. These are wonderful times to get together with family and friends to celebrate, share our lives, and spend time together—outdoors.
What are your favorite things about spring?
My friend and fellow Quill, Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, has thoughts to share with you. I wonder what her favorite things about spring might be ...
How do I decide on only five best things about spring? That’s like asking me to choose favorite children! If that’s the way we’re going, I’ve decided to keep the twins as one unit. Or the triplets, as it were. So, nyah. As I write this, I’m actually watching the grass grow outside my window. So exciting! But…
I can't wait to find out what Parker, author of A Hero's Curse, has to say about spring from his farmland homestead...
There's a lot to love about spring on a farm, and of course there's a lot of mud too...
A Drift of Quills for January 2022
This month we Quills are discussing portions we’ve cut from our final works. (Goodness, but there are too many to mention!)
As the issue of cutting is directly related to editing broadly, I'm commenting on how removing text fits into that process in a general sense. (In the final edit of my first work, I cut roughly 80,000 words. Imagine that!)
Some cuts come easily. Unnecessary verbiage may be removed with a simple change from passive to active voice. In particular, I look for words like “was,” “were,” and “by,” for these changes. Also, phrases like “could feel,” become “felt.” Additional edits include “throw away” words like “really,” or “very” or “many,” or “small.” On occasion, of course, a replacement in such an instance might require more words. For example, when I see meaningless descriptive word like “small” (which tells the reader little), I might instead use a comparative. That is, “the small, old hut…” might become “the quaint hut, rotting around the door from years of weathering …”
Cutting words and phrases is relatively simple, but cutting whole portions can be painful. After spending long painstaking hours writing something, it’s hard to pull whole sections from a work. In Oathtaker, the original completed story included pages of a “history of the “world,” as it related to the people of interest. (While I could share portions of that here, for some reason I’m temporarily unable to access them on my computer.) Eventually, I cut that history because, even while some of my early test-readers appreciated the section, I felt it slowed the work down. (Sometimes I have to remind myself that today’s readers want writers to “cut to the chase,” unlike readers of ages past who seemed to enjoy the slower pace of a work, allowing them to lose themselves in the pages for a longer period.) The upside to this process comes when sections I’ve removed at one time, prove useful at a later time...
Have you ever engaged in a massive edit/cutting exercise? What sorts of things did you look for? Did you find it difficult to remove portions you’d spent good time writing? Do share!
In the meantime, let's see what my fellow Quills have to offer.
You're up, P.S. Broaddus! What have you got for us?
Today we're sharing chapters or sections of our longer novels that might have been cut from the final draft. For those who haven't read the full story, maybe this piques your interest - for those who have read the tale, here's how it started...
A Hero's Curse, Excerpt from Chapter 1, First Draft
(Kitty and Essie are following the ancient pipeline that brings water out of the Valley of Fire to their farm. Their job is to find and report leaks...)
Something thumped. It sounded like Kitty walked into a rock while making fun of birds and lizards. I laughed out loud. “My, are you blind too?” I felt a damp spot on the pipe. “Here's another one. It is not a bad one Kitty—just a joint.” I let go of the pipe and tapped the ground and the surrounding rock for a second. “Ok—I know where we are.”
“So do I,” said Kitty.
I smirked. “Nose still sore?”
Well, Robin? I'm anxious to know what cuts you've made.
Do you like to see deleted scenes that didn’t make it into the final version of your favorite books? You’re in luck. Up until I wrote Crow’s Nest, I … didn’t keep deleted scenes. I’m one of those people who like to clear the decks and get rid of rubbish (except, apparently, in my office, where I need it the most!), so once I had the Final Version, I threw away what I deemed was junk.
Only it’s… not?
I know, what?? An author friend freaked out and forced a course correction. I now have scenes…
A Drift of Quills for December 2021
Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! We Quills are celebrating, in part, by sharing with you, some of our favorite holiday traditions, along with comments on those we love the most.
I love the holiday season!
My family typically celebrates the holiday on Christmas Eve. The day starts with my preparing a few thick and hearty soups. Often I go for chicken wild rice with pancetta; ham and potato chowder; and either a chili or a tortilla soup. I make large batches of each, then send some home with each of the kids when the evening wraps up so that they can snack over the course of the next day or two. (Of course, I also keep some for my husband and me. Soup is such great comfort food.)
Once the soups are on and melding their great flavors, it’s a waiting game until our three children (and their families or significant others) arrive. Typically they show up mid-afternoon. The soups, along with fresh oven baked buns, are available for everyone to graze as the day goes on. I generally have some brie for my eldest and me (as it is a favorite of ours), an extraordinary Chicago mix popcorn from Candyland (unlike any other), and a variety of other snacks and treats. These days, the kids also bring goodies to add into the mix. Some years we also prepare grilled panini sandwiches with good salami, prosciutto, aged provolone, sweet red peppers, and nummy, salty Kalamata olives. (I think we should do that again this year, as I’m making myself hungry just thinking of them.)
Sometime in the late afternoon, as the sky begins to darken (we do live nearer the North Pole than I’d care to admit, after all), we gather round the tree to start opening our gifts. We grab an item for each person from under the tree, then take turns opening. Everyone oohs and ahhhs over each item. When that round is done, we repeat—until everything is unwrapped. While there are not all that many of us, the opening goes on for hours as we take our time to open, admire, converse, laugh, joke, and generally have fun together—pausing from time to time for a quick bowl of soup or some other treat.
When the unwrapping is done and the kids are preparing to leave, we all remember (always at the last minute, it seems), to check everyone’s stockings for that one last gift for each person. Then the kids pack up their vehicles and off they go. Later—usually around 11:00 or so—I start a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. When finally relaxed (it takes me awhile to unwind) around 2:00 am, I make sure the caramel rolls that I’ll pop in the oven in the morning are slow rising in the fridge, and then head off to bed.
Christmas morning is chill. Over the past years, my husband and I have often spent the day alone. We have choices of places to go and people to see, but we seem to most enjoy the opportunity to relax in our own space.
I finish my jigsaw puzzle sometime in the mid afternoon, and nibble on soup as and when I please ...
This year is our first grandchild's first Christmas. It is sure to make our experience extra special! I can hardly wait.
What about you? What are your favorite holiday traditions?
Let's see what traditions Robin Lythgoe most enjoys.
The Christmas season here in the US is a time like no other. Folks don’t even wait until Halloween is over before they break out the holiday decor, crank up the jingle tunes, and start binging on holiday television shows.
When I was a little girl…
And now, for P.S. Broaddus. Parker? Are those kids of yours keeping you busy this holiday season?
First, I feel like my family and I are still young, and just starting out, so our traditions are fairly new, as far as traditions go. That said, there are definitely some things we have loved, and a couple we can’t stand.
Our family loves giving each other gifts. The childers love giving gifts. They also love receiving gifts.
What we don’t love is that frenzied, frantic, chaotic, ripping of presents open all at the same time in some kind of scene that looks more like a group of sharks going after a baby seal than it does Christmas morning. So we don’t do that.
Thank you for joining us. Please stop by again soon!
A Drift of Quills for October 2021
This month we Quills are sharing what we think are some of the best things about the fall Season. Come, join us!
Please be sure to follow the links of my fellow Quills.
Autumn is a lovely time of year. In my neck of the woods, it is also that time when we prepare ourselves mentally and physically for the bitter cold months to come. As the temps begin to fall and the nights grow colder, we add more layers of clothing, turn the thermostat up—and attend to some of our favorite things about this time of year. Here are five of mine ...
1. It’s time to start putting fires into the fireplace again. What a cozy environment! Of course, this means having the chimneysweep out, as well. My cleaning is scheduled and I can hardly wait to start my first fire of the season.
2. The changing colors. What is not to love about looking out and seeing God’s wondrous creation turn from fresh greens that have grown weary over the months, to golden yellows, fire-like oranges, and intense reds. The best part is looking up through the branches for a glimpse of the unique blue of an autumn sky. I always enjoy watching my island home change from week to week.
3. October it a difficult month when it comes to “bills coming due.” In addition to the standard costs, there is the second half of the property tax to pay and my home insurance and one of my life insurance payments come due. This year I’m adding an unintended payment for my new double ovens. I would have hoped for more years out of the unit I purchased and installed when I revamped my kitchen a decade or so ago, but I’m told I actually got an unexpectedly long life out of them. So, while the cost is something I’m not thrilled to have to take on (in October of all months), I guess that’s life. The best part of the new unit though? French doors on the upper oven—which I’m sure I’ll appreciate more and more as the years go on. Oh, will that be nice!
I’m excited about getting the new unit delivered and installed (particularly since I am currently without an oven at all), so that I can start filling the house with glorious fall scents once again, like those of baking bread among other things—which is another great thing about autumn. (Pictured above: my new ovens. Pictured here: one of my absolute favorite breads, which is my Pepper, Chili, Cumin, and Cheese, Bread. I've added the recipe for you at the end. Do enjoy.)
4. Thanksgiving. This might well be my favorite holiday of the year. Having a heart filled with gratitude acts as good insurance against all sorts of troubles, and this holiday is a good reminder to be grateful at all times.
5. I already told the kids to start their holiday lists. Hopefully, they don’t share the same items with others who ask for lists from them, because I have a terrible habit of going down their lists and (barring something extraordinary!) ordering whatever they have there. (Somehow, they still seem surprised at the number of packages under the tree and at what's inside each when they start opening.) In truth, I don’t get much joy from going out in the cold to shop, so I do nearly all my shopping online these days. As the packages begin to arrive, I get to enjoy an extended holiday season. I even started a wish list of my own this year, to avoid that awkward moment when the kids ask me what’s on my list and I can’t think of a thing—because I am in need of nothing but to see them and to spend time with them. And that brings me to what is sure to be the best part of this holiday season—my first grandchild’s first Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am truly blessed.
My Pepper, Chili, Cumin, and Cheese Bread
5 to 6 cups flour (roughly)
2 packages dry yeast (4-1/2 teaspoons)
3 tablespoons sugar (or less, if you prefer)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons chili seasoning - I used Trader Joe’s which is a mix of chili pepper, cumin, garlic and oregano. (For the pepper, cumin and chili, if you like, add more, but I probably would not go beyond an extra teaspoon of each, as I wouldn’t want it to get overpowering.)
2 cups warm water (120° to 130° degrees)
2 tablespoons avocado oil (or shortening, if you like)
2 to 2-1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used a finely shredded blend of Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Asadero and Queso Blanco. A more coarsely grated cheese would leave small fissures of yellow—which would be great if that’s your preference.)
Makes 2 loafs about 8”X4”.
Blend 2 cups flour, the yeast, sugar, salt, pepper, cumin and chili. (The cheese doesn’t come until after the first rise.) Add the hot water and oil. With a mixer, blend all, then beat on med-high for 3 minutes. (This is a rather unusual step for bread, but it works so I won’t mess with it. I suspect it may account, at least in part, for the quick rise.)
Stir in the next 2 to 2/12 cups flour, 1/2 cup or so at a time. (I only need just 5 cups total, including for kneading, but humidity and temp can play into that.)
When you can work with the dough, turn it out on a floured work surface and knead for 8-10 minutes. (This is a sturdy, dense dough.)
Place the kneaded ball in a lightly greased or buttered bowl. Let rise until double—about 45 minutes. It’s ready when, if you poke your finger in it, the dent remains.
Punch the dough down, move to a very lightly floured work surface. Work in the cheese. You will actually have to knead the cheese in, a half cup or so at a time, as the dough doesn’t want to accept it. When ready, split the dough in half and shape two loaves. Put in greased bread pans and cover with wax paper until risen sufficiently (to the top of the pan or so) —about an hour.
You don't want your oven too hot because of the cheese, which on the outside of the bread, can get quite brown. I go 350° for 45-ish minutes.
The bread crust is a deep brown, but be prepared to cover with foil while baking if it starts to get too dark (after about the first 30 minutes).
The loaves are done when you can turn them out and hear a hard hollow sound when you tap on the bottom. Because the crust is quite firm, I butter the top so it is easier to slice, later.
Cool before slicing. (I know it’s hard, but as with any bread, if you don’t want to end up with goo inside for the next few slices, it is highly advised.)
This bread is GREAT toasted for sandwiches, makes terrific grilled cheese-type sandwiches, too, and is fabulous for avocado bread. (I toast, butter, lightly garlic salt it, and then top with sliced avocado.)
Let me know if you try it and if so, what you think!
I wonder what PS. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse, will list as his five favorite things about fall. His list is sure to come complete with his signature humor.
Let's see then.
There are so many things I love about fall. And it’s more than fall, really. It all starts with Indian Summer, my favorite time of the year.
Where I grew up in the high desert mountains of the West late August kicked off Indian Summer. The monsoon season would finally settle the dust that had hung in the air since March. Cool, crisp mornings refreshed the land and the soul. The days would be warm and, well, perfect, extending through the first part of October.
And finally, Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies.
Check back for more from Robin! In the meantime, you'll find her site here.
Autumn is essentially upon us, and we Quills come to you with our latest! This month, we are sharing thoughts about our work space. I'll start so as to get things going. Then please be sure to follow the links for more from my fellow Quills.
In truth, I cannot complain about not having enough room. After 30+ years of raising children, my husband and I are now alone in our home. While I would not use “large” as a word to describe it, even with children in the house we had significantly more room than my family of ten (Mom, Dad, and their eight daughters) had when I grew up. In those days, up to four shared a single bedroom, and there was but one bathroom for the entire clan. I’ve been blessed in that the circumstances in which I raised my children were significantly better—and yet, I was always at a loss for finding space for one thing in particular. That one thing was: me.
A few years back, when we were down to a single child with us at home, I tried to claim some space on the main living level. I reasoned, since my husband had his own 40X60 outbuilding for all his hobbies, that so too, ought I have some space. I tried that for awhile, but it was too busy, as he came and went through my claimed space several times daily. About that time, my daughter-in-law came to stay with us for a year while her husband (my son) was deployed. After they put most of their things in storage, we moved her into our lower walkout level so that she would have her own study, bedroom, living space, kitchenette and bath. It was such a joy to have her! I wouldn’t change that opportunity for anything. But then, shortly after she left ... I decided to take the level over for myself.
My space is currently in a state of craziness—as I’m using it as a staging point for going through all sorts of things in storage (to determine what to give away, what might be worth selling, and what I may still need to store for my children, not all of whom have a place to call their own as yet). Even so, for the first time in many years, I now have space for my work and my writing, for relaxing and reading, where I can set out a yoga mat so that I can stop to use it as and when I choose, and possibly in the future, even to do some crafting. And when I need a break, I now step out to my own little patio to enjoy the garden I prepared there this year, and to watch the birds at the feeders.
I’m enjoying having an area to call my own these days. What, you ask, is the best thing of all? That’s easy: limited interruptions.
How about you? Do you have space to call your own?
I have a lot of updating to do in my writing space, but for now, I'm going to turn my attention to what my fellow Quills are doing. Robin, how are things there for you?
I am one of those wildly lucky people who can claim an entire room for her writing space. With a population of one at my house, the quiet and privacy isn’t important anymore, but there is something to be said for having space dedicated to one’s dream. If only the room was the right color…
Thank you, Robin!
Now, to P.S. Broaddus. Parker?
Scribblings, scritchings and scratchings.
My writing desk is situated in the study, against the far wall, just right for catching the morning sun. It's perhaps the one, sometimes, semi-quiet place in our small farmhouse complete with five kids. Other than the back corner of the hot water heater closet.
Thanks to all for stopping by. Until next time!
A Drift of Quills for August 2021
It has been a hectic time of late for we Quills, but this month we are back with more of our favorites - and we hope yours - FLASH FICTION!
P.S. Broaddus chose our picture prompt this time. Take a look!
Now that is one busy picture! Entitled Epic Journey, it is the work of Volkanyenen.
As promised, we have three new stories for you, each based on the this picture prompt. I'll set mine out, then follow up with P.S. Broaddus's story, and finally, with Robin Lythgoe's tale.
Are you ready? Here we go!
The Screaming Wilds