Monthly Archives: June 2014

Keeping My Hand In

The writing hasn’t been going so well lately. Maybe the Mojo has left the building.

However, I gave up on writing once before and it took me many, many years to get back to it. I would rather not do that again, at least not yet. So I’m doing things tangentially related to writing, just to keep my hand in. I’m still writing my 750 words a day, but most of that writing is like pulling teeth. It’s not pretty; it’s also not fiction or in any other way marketable.

I’m also still posting on my blog and planning my Million Word Party. Yes, you’re invited. It’s on August 2nd. Other details will be posted soon.

In the meantime, I promised more vacation pictures from the Ladies Weekend I spent with Sis and some of the cousins. Part of it was in Monterey and part of it was in the central coast area/Paso Robles.

While in Paso Robles we visited wineries, of course, but the best part of being there was simply relaxing at the house my cousin Cecelia found for us called (I kid you not) Rancho Deeluxe. Here are a few Paso Robles pictures for you.

Rancho Deeluxe – a gorgeous log home, with views

We spent as much time as possible on the deck featured above, drinking coffee in the morning and wine at night, and looking at the surrounding countryside.

A view from the east deck

There were hummingbirds. I see them occasionally in Illinois, but I’d never seen any like the ones who visited the trees and flowers around Rancho Deeluxe. I wish I could have taken a picture that would do this little guy justice, but he was a fast little sucker!

Hummingbird – probably an Anna’s

I woke in the mornings to what sounded like a golf cart. The nearest neighbor made his rounds of the vineyard in the evenings and in the mornings, often with a small child in the passenger seat and a big black dog scouting ahead.

View from my bedroom window

Naturally, I wanted to note my impressions of my glorious vacation surroundings. We hardly ever used the den, so I made it my writing area. I described every sensation I could, but much of my writing time was spent pondering what a great writing retreat one could have at Rancho Deeluxe.

Where I sat to write, mornings

Rancho Deeluxe will sleep up to 15 people. I’d go back in a heartbeat, and sharing with a bajillion people would make it more affordable. So. Who’s up for a writing retreat?

Tour de Farms – June 21 & 22, 2014

My Bike MS event packet

I’m too excited and preoccupied to write about anything else, so today’s post is about Tour de Farms, a Bike MS event in Dekalb, Illinois. Cookie and I are leaving this afternoon to ride in it.

A number of people have contributed to the National MS Society and to sponsor my ride. Many, many thanks to: Lorie & Steve, Bart, Kurt, Cousin Steve, Mickey & Janet, Katherine, Tom, Praful, Sara, and Quentin & Family for your generous donations this year.

If anyone still wishes to donate to the National MS Society, you can do it at any time by searching on National MS Society. On behalf of BK, as well as other friends we know with MS—and people we don’t know—I really appreciate it. If you want your donation to count towards the Bike MS 2014 total, you can donate (by July 31, 2014) to anyone on our team, the Power Pedallers, at this link, or to sponsor my ride directly at this link.

Finally, if you’ve ever wanted to do something like this, I can unreservedly recommend the Bike MS Tour de Farms event for your future planning. The atmosphere is great, the people are wonderful, and you have many ride choice lengths, from 15 to 125 miles. Maybe Cookie and I will see you next year!

Ladies Weekend – Monterey Aquarium

The Monterey Aquarium is fabulous, and I say this as someone who will tout Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium at the drop of a hat. There was a lot to see there, but what I think I loved most was the kelp forest. In it, you could see what you might really see if you went diving in Monterey Bay. It’s not as easy to take pictures of animals as it is of flowers, but we tried!

Anchovies in the kelp forest


Someone forgot to tell this this fish to stay horizontal


Eeep! Sharks!


California Sheephead fish

The sheephead fish were probably my favorite kelp forest fish. An aquarium volunteer told us they’re all born female. At a certain point they look around and say, hey, we need a male sheephead fish. So one of them volunteers or draws the short straw or whatever and then takes a while, but eventually turns into a male fish. If he decides to go off for cigarettes and just doesn’t come back, then they find another female to morph into a male. If suddenly their original male comes back, she quits changing no matter where she is in the process and stays as she/he is. The other fish are fine with it. Cool, right?

The sea otters were awkward and lazy. Most of they time the just floated on their backs. They were also pretty adorable.

A sea otter enjoying her shrimpsicle dessert


Someone must have told these 2 there were more shrimpsicles on land

There were non-flying sea birds, too.



A puffin – I’m told they taste like liver

The Monterey Aquarium took over the last old sardine-canning factory on Cannery Row.

Cannery Row in 2014
Cannery boiler


John Steinbeck bust in Steinbeck Plaza

Yes, that Cannery Row, the one John Steinbeck made famous. That made John Steinbeck famous? One of the two, anyway.

Blooming Things

These have been blooming in my yard in the past few weeks. It’s very good of them, since I haven’t been home as much as I usually am this time of year. Today, for example, I’m at the Writing the Other Retreat in Chattanooga. Suffice to say, I haven’t taken very good care of them. Ah, the joys of perennials! And being able to draft blog posts ahead of time!


Bleeding Hearts
Pink Columbines
Coral Peony
Species Columbine
Pink Peonies
Duchesse de Nemours Peonies
Linda Campbell Rose



I’m leaving in 3 days. The image above is a visual clue to my destination. If you click on the picture, there’s an audio clue as well.

I’m very excited. And nervous. I call this state “happrehensive” because I like to shove words together to make new ones. Maybe it’s the German part of my heritage.

Anyway, here’s what’s happening: I’m going to a writing workshop/retreat with some wonderful writers-as-instructors: David Anthony Durham, K. Tempest Bradford, Mary Robinette Kowal, Nisi Shawl, and Cynthia Ward. There are also some pretty impressive writers-as-fellow-workshoppers, but the list is really long so I won’t subject you to it. However, many of my fellow attendees have some rather impressive credits, so I’m hoping not to embarrass myself.

Next week you’ll probably mostly see photos in this space—some from my garden and some from vacation. Sis, some cousins and I went to California for a long weekend. It’s a thing we do.

There will be a workshop-related post later. Maybe more than one.

Public domain photograph of the Appalachian mountains by Ken Thomas.

Civil War Days – Clothing and Food

Part 2 of 2

Mostly, the Civil War was no picnic

Naper Settlement’s Civil War Days was a fun way to do period research. However, I picked up so much information that I’m mostly sharing interesting factoids, rather than anything that will make you a Civil War expert.


Sis and I saw some swell clothing at the Civil War Fashion Show. Many of the ladies who accompany the gentlemen reenactors like fashion as much as I do—okay, maybe more—and they have a tremendous commitment to dressing authentically.

Fashionable Yankee Ladies

I bet most of the ladies we saw were Yankees. Though several were more humbly dressed in cotton, we saw plenty of silk, and had it been cooler, we might have seen wool, too. Well-to-do Confederate ladies might have had those fabrics early in the war, but as time wore on, many of them ended up in homespun. Of course you might have met a confederate lady who, like the fictional Scarlett O’Hara, didn’t much care what anyone thought of her, but most ladies would rather not wear blockade-run fabrics, even if they’d been able to acquire them. Some very high-toned ladies learned to spin and weave their own cloth.

Parasol, piping and reticule

If you were lucky enough (or Yankee enough) to have a new dress made, it would almost certainly have piping. In addition to being an interesting decorative detail when done in contrasting fabric as with the dark edges of the dress above, it also helped the garment wear better. In those days, women didn’t have nearly as many outfits as we do now, so a dress needed to last a good long time and hold up well.

Lady with veil

Ladies might have veils on their bonnets even when not in mourning. Veils served as protection against debris while traveling, as well as protecting their skin from the sun. The lady above is wearing a dress with the lowest collar she could possibly wear (during the day, that is) and still be considered respectable. The shawl helps. A proper lady took a shawl with her even in the warmest weather, since to go out “uncovered” would be quite the scandal.

Lady with expensive ribbons

The lady above had a lot to spend on expensive silk ribbon for her bonnet. Also, like many of the other ladies, she wears mitts to protect her hands from the sun.

Work petticoat next to hoop skirt with hem saver

When a lady had physical work to perform, she was likely to wear a corded work petticoat and work corset (one without whalebone stays) so that she could move. If she was only paying calls or going to church, she would wear the whole shebang: linen underclothes consisting of a chemise and knickers, a corset, a petticoat or three, a hoop skirt, possibly with a hem saver to catch any dirt before it could get to her dress, and then the dress itself. Half-sleeves might be worn under the decorative outer sleeves of the dress to give the dress a different look in daytime before one met friends for dinner. Of course, in public, she wore a jacket or shawl, and a bonnet. Even indoors, she always wore some sort of head covering, though it might be just a light fabric.

Confederate after the battle

The Confederate gentleman above no longer has his gray uniform, but his jacket is in the butternut that often served as a substitute. His trousers are ordinary civilian garb. Despite his injuries and the fraying of his attire, he was anxious for us to notice his cravat, since that signaled that he was still a gentleman.

Union camp site

Soldiers’ Food and Supplies

A gentleman from the Illinois Eighth Cavalry displayed samples of the food and other items a soldier might carry as they camped or marched. Union soldiers could often tell that they’d soon be in battle, even before receiving orders. They could count on hardtack, salt pork or beef, coffee, sugar, and salt. If that’s all they got, they were about to head out. If they also received soft bread, cornmeal, dried peas or beans, rice, tea, vinegar, molasses, and vegetables, they’d have time to cook so they might be in camp for a while.

Vinegar can make spoiled food palatable, and maybe even safe to eat. Among soldiers’ rations during the Civil War, they were issued vinegar. Sometimes the food was not as fresh as it should have been, and they’d prepare it with vinegar, which masked the off flavors.

When I said something like, “Great, then you won’t know when you’re getting food poisoning” the quartermaster said that actually, the vinegar was able to kill some of the microbes that cause food-borne illness. Huh. Who knew?

Union kit with canteen, utensils, soap, candles, and game pieces

The number one leisure activity among soldiers was writing letters, or reading letters they received from home, but they also enjoyed reading books, making music or playing baseball, checkers, dominoes and other games.