Simple Joys

In the summer, the morning light has a warm, golden quality to it. Not as rosy as the late afternoon or sunset, but gold, just the same. As summer becomes autumn, it becomes more white gold as it transitions towards winter’s silver.

The light this morning was a brilliant white gold as it shone through the falling leaves and leftover drops of rain from last night’s showers, and the breeze holds that slight chill that hints at the coming frosts and snow. We’re still a few weeks away from the snow, but the frosts can come at any time now.

This is my favorite time of year, brief as it is. There are few things that bring me more joy than to sit on the porch with my morning coffee and just exist in the light of autumn, as carnelian and ruby leaves fall to the forest floor.

The Best Laid Plans

I swear, the Universe is mocking me this week. My original plan looked sort of like this:

Monday: Take advantage of rainy day and catch up on neglected housework.

Tuesday: Collect mail from Other House, aka my late father’s house, and maybe attempt to pull another bag of trash out of it. (My late step-mother’s Alzheimer’s made her start hoarding before she died, and Dad never went back upstairs to clean it out. Lucky me.)

Wednesday: Head out on the road in search of antique shops, dodgy side roads, and maybe a small god or two.

Thursday: Work on cataloging project, sort through photos to start building a database to work with for the winter when I can’t get on the road due to snow.

Friday: Housework and general relaxation. Maybe attempt an overdue foray into the Blackwater Triangle while the weather’s nice.

*insert image of madly cackling imps here*

What it ended up looking like:

Monday: Housework, made a nice stew, did some light baking because there’s nothing better when it’s cold and rainy than a bowl of hot stew and fresh, warm cider bread.

Tuesday: The lunch meat I’d casually tossed into my breakfast sandwich on Monday turned out to have gone off. Hooray for food poisoning! Leaving the house, not an option.

Today: Recovering from food poisoning. Mostly napping and watching The Muppet Show with the cats. All ground gained on catching up on housework has been lost. No idea if I’ll be able to get to the Other House this week at all.

Tomorrow and Friday: Probably catching back up on housework again.

At least I managed to cobble together something loosely resembling a Postcard for my Patreon Patrons, which is something, I guess.

Dragging My Carcass Back Into The Saddle

I’ve been procrastinating on getting words to the proverbial page because executive dysfunction is an absolute bear and just doing things like taking a sip of water from the glass in arm’s reach is sometimes a Herculean effort lately. Brains are fun! Seriously, who thought bodies were a good idea? Bodies are terrible. Anyway. Today’s FB outage reminded me that of all the sites I’m on, this is really the one that I should be focusing on the most, since, well, it’s mine, and if the other sites go tits up, this is the one I’ll be left with. I should probably use it more or something.

It’s weird. I spent years on LiveJournal, posting pretty much constantly, but then LJ went the way of the dodo and I ended up on FB and Twitter, which are not conducive to longform blogging, and now it’s actually hard to write a post. I guess some of it is that blogging became so much more…commercialized…and we were expected to all be fancy professional writers who only wrote Carefully Crafted Essays about one kind of thing and not just folks on the internet sharing things from our day to day or whatever, and it got intimidating. Like, I feel like I have to be Just A Writer Writing About Writing or Just An Artist Writing About The Business Of Making Art and not just, well, me, a writer and artist with cats and a long-term boyfriend (13 years this month!) and a house with a third of an acre of feral yard that’s been designated as a certified wildlife habitat that we share with a variety of native birds, bees, the occasional bigfoot, passing werewolf, and other things.

Look, cryptids are wildlife that face habitat loss, just like any other creature. As long as they don’t cause trouble, they’re welcome, too.

Here’s to getting back int the saddle, for real, this time!

Cursed Objects And Raspberry Jam

Does anyone else ever wonder why you only ever hear about the evil cursed or haunted objects?  Like, why don’t we ever hear about the annoying or benevolent ones?  Or the ones where the curse/haunting has no real interaction with the living, as it were?  For example:

– A stuffed animal  where the curse is actually that a hyper-masculine jerk is cursed to inhabit the body of the World’s Most Adorable and Plushy stuffed teddy bear, Mr. Flufferkins, and be the Guest of Honor toy for endless children’s tea parties and dress-up games until he unlearns his toxic ideas and learns that feelings and silly childhood games are not only okay, but actually good.  He’s a very slow learner, however, and has been stuck in the bear for a Very Long Time.  He refuses to admit that he’s developing a sneaking fondness for fairy bread with raspberry jam or that, in the deepest depths of his cotton-stuffed heart, he’s been thinking that maybe spending eternity as a children’s toy might not be so bad.  After all, it’s much easier to simply be a teddy bear.

– A painting haunted by a long-dead grandmother who stays around to keep an eye on her descendants and doesn’t do anything more sinister than glare judgmentally at houseguests she thinks are unworthy of her family.

– A small gold locket that curses its wearer to forget about their steeping cups of tea.

I dunno, I just think it’s unfortunate that we only ever hear about the murder-dolls and evil rings and things.  There should be more awareness of the rest of them, and I think I might have a new project to embark on here…

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)

Pumpkin Cider Bread: A Straightforward Baking Post

(Yes, there’s a recipe at the end of this, because I’m totally gonna do that food blogger thing for a minute. Sort of.)
Recently I picked up a 6-pack of Woodchuck pumpkin cider, because I AM the target market for all things apple, gingerbread, and pumpkin, and will cheerfully try just about anything that involves them. I have zero shame about this. I was a bit dubious, because I wasn’t sure how fermented pumpkin juice was going to play out, but I was hopeful. Woodchuck has rarely steered me wrong.

To my dismay, it was just not remotely palatable. It’s deeply weird, and not in a pleasant way. I had Himself try it, and tell me what he thought, and his response was a single word: “Bread.”

I make beer bread in the fall and winter A LOT. It’s quick, it’s easy, it goes with just about anything, and as a bonus, it’s a good way to dispose of extra bottles of beers that looked interesting but turned out to be not to our taste. Something about the alchemy of baking soda, heat, and beer transforms sharp, bitter, or just…odd…flavor profiles into soft, toasty goodness with a buttery, crunchy crust that goes well with a good soup or stew.
I’ve never used a cider, though, and had no idea if it would work. In theory it should, but one never knows until afterward. Still, it was worth a shot. Worst case, it didn’t pan out, I toss the rest of the cans, and lessons are learned.

Of course, then we promptly had two tropical storms come through (with surprise! tornado activity!), and a heat wave with temps near 100F. Even with air conditioning, that is not baking weather.

Today, though, the heat broke, and it’s deliciously autumnal. Today was the day to see if pumpkin cider makes passable bread.

Y’all, this might be the BEST quickbread I’ve ever made. ALL of the weird, jarring flavor profiles mellowed into a subtle sweetness that is amazing. It went really well with the chicken goulash I made for dinner, as well. This is definitely going into rotation, and will need to be tested with other ciders, as well.

It was so good, I wanted to share it with you, so here it is:

Cider (or beer) Bread

Ingredients
3 cups AP flour
4 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
12 oz. Woodchuck Pumpkin Cider (or the beer of your choice)
3 Tbs. melted butter (optional)

Steps:
1.) Preheat oven to 375F.
2.) Lightly grease a 9×5 loaf pan with vegetable shortening.
3.) Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk together, making sure brown sugar clumps are broken up.
4.) Pour in cider or beer and mix with baking spoon of choice (I use wooden spoons or silicone spatulas, but use whatever works for you) until just combined. Batter will be thick and sticky.
5.) Pour batter into greased pan and smooth out so that it’s spread into all corners. If desired, pour melted butter evenly over top. (The butter’s not necessary, but it does make for a better crust and a softer bread, and I recommend not skipping it.)
6.) Bake for about 40 minutes, until crust is golden brown.
7.) Cool on cooling rack.
8.) Attempt not to devour entire loaf in one sitting, tempting as it may be.

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)

There Are Two Types Of People

The other day I decided to stop at an antique shop that I’ve been driving past a lot lately and check it out.  Poking around old antique shops is one of my comfort hobbies, and has been one of the things I’ve missed most during the pandemic.  On this particular day I *really* needed the happy brain chemical hit, so it seemed like a good time to grab a mask and wander in.  

It was a nice little place.  Small, well-lit and clearly well-dusted, filled with mostly beautiful old furniture and dishware, an unusual number of handmade witch dolls, and now that I think of it, a somewhat disturbing quantity of taxidermy.  Like, really.  I don’t know why that didn’t occur to me before.  It’s strange to realize just how very much the entire perimeter, near the ceiling line, was entirely lined by dozens upon dozens of taxidermied animal heads, and that it really didn’t register as anything particularly odd at the time…  Huh.

So that’s a thing, I guess?

Anyway, I was wandering around, looking at well-maintained writing desks, hutches, dining sets, and all that, when I turned a corner and came nearly eye to baleful eye with the most ragged and moth-eaten stuffed rabbit I have ever seen.  I stopped dead in my tracks and blurted out “That is the MOST cursed looking thing I have ever seen in my life!” to the old guy who ran the place, who was sitting on a bench nearby.  He laughed, and agreed.  I took a photo of it, because holy cats.

(A faded, bright yellow stuffed toy rabbit, missing large patches of fur, with a pale blue ribbon loosely tied around its neck, sits on an old olive green and brown antique sled. It has a single, unnervingly red eye.)

There’s only the one eye.  The other one is gone, probably sacrificed in exchange for some nefarious purposes.

Being me, I posted it on social media when I got home, and I have to say, I am deeply amused at the reactions to that thing.  It was a 50/50 split of “I NEED A YOUNG PRIEST AND AN OLD PRIEST!” and “Awwww, someone loved that bunny so much!”

There are two kinds of people.  Only one of them makes it out of the horror movie.

Which one are you?

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)

There Is A Hole In The World And I’ve Forgotten How To Fly

(Warning, I’m talking about parental death in this post, so if you’re sensitive about the subject, please feel free to skip this one if you need to.  This is a hard subject at the best of times, and this is not the best of times.  Please take care of yourselves, my loves.)

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When I was little, I used to love going for walks with my dad. This was complicated, because Dad was 6′ 5″ in his prime, and his legs were so much longer than mine.  He’d try his best to go slow enough for me to keep up, or catch up, but it didn’t really work.  That’s what this month has felt like.  Like I was running, trying to catch up, and he was trying so hard to slow down and wait, to give us more time, but it didn’t work.

Early on the morning of July 7th, exactly one week from the day we found out that his cancer treatment hadn’t done a damned thing, and he was being admitted to the hospital so that they could try and get him strong enough to start another kind of chemo,  I held my father’s hand as he took his last breath and was gone.  He had tried so hard to slow down and hold on just a little longer, but it didn’t work.  The cancer was too aggressive and there was nothing anyone could do to fix it.  I sat vigil by his side through that long night, in a darkened hospital room, singing the songs we used to sing together when I was little to him, and the lullaby that my mom used to sing to me, and held his hand and told him that I loved him and that I’d be okay, and counted each breath as he slowed down, like a little wind-up spring toy, until he simply stopped between one breath and another.  I had promised him that I would not let him be alone, and I kept my word.  It is the most important thing I have ever done, and as much as it hurts, I am glad that I was able to be there for him when he needed me most.

There is a odd kind of peace that comes over you, there in that liminal space where life and death and the infinite meet.  A kind of calm, as if you have briefly stepped outside the world and time has no hold where you are.   I can’t describe it better than that, but I am glad for its presence.  It made a terrible situation bearable, and I will hold that peace in my heart forever.

There was a cheshire moon in the predawn sky when I stepped out of the hospital and back into the world and time, followed by the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen.  It made me smile, because it was the kind of morning that Dad loved most.

I am as okay as one can expect to be in these situations.  Which is to say that I’m a total wreck and I’m swinging between wanting to punch a god, wanting to curl up in a little ball and become an endless pool of tears, relieved that my father is no longer suffering and afraid, and wanting to scream at the world to just. give me. five. fucking. minutes to process what the fuck I just went through.  Sadly, I can’t do any of these things, and besides, his lack of will means that I have to deal with getting his house and property through probate, which is going to be a massive part of my life for the next 6 months.  There is so much more work involved in probate than people realize, even with my incredibly straightforward situation (I’m the last of my line, and have no other direct relatives who might be able to claim anything, so I get the “easy” probate.  It’s still damned near a full-time job, and one that’s currently eating my entire free time and a mind-boggling amount of financial outlay until I can get it through and reimbursed.)

I don’t know what things are going to look like for a while.  I wish I did.  I’m hoping that today’s round of paperwork will be the last of the major time-sucking portions of this, and that I’ll now be able to get my ass back to work, but the reality is that I just don’t know.  I’m in uncharted waters, and I don’t know what the currents are like or where the rocks are.  I’m taking this weekend off from any responsibilities besides trying to reclaim my house from the wreckage of a month of not having enough time to deal with anything but the most basic of cleaning attempts.  I might knit something.  I might throw out half my stuff and redo my entire life’s goals from the ground up because life is too short and precious and I might start over from scratch. 

I’m going to try not to do that last part too aggressively, because this close to a major loss is the absolute worst time to make life-changing decisions, but it’s also the best time, because you do see what REALLY matters to you so much more clearly, but yeah, major decisions, not the best time. Might start working on some retooling, though.  Might also just sleep for a few days straight.  Idk.  We’ll see.

Hug your loved ones.  Don’t put off the things you want to do.  Be kind to one another.  Enjoy the sunrises, and the cheshire moons, and the taste of your favorite foods, and just…savor every drop of being alive that you can.

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)

“All mimsy were the borogoves…”

Every now and then, something reminds us of things that we had forgotten. For instance, earlier today someone mentioned their frustration with the lack of clarity on the meaning of the phrase “10-4!”. It can mean either “understood” or “yes” or both and which it is can vary depending on who you’re talking to.

Of course, this reminded me of CB radios…

Back in the ’70s and early ’80s, there was a span of time where owning a CB radio and talking to folks on them was really popular, and a lot of folks had them and would chat with whoever happened to be in range, usually in the middle of the night. Much like existing on social media now, usernames or “handles” were used. There was a whole CB subculture.

My mom was one of those people, and she went by Cheshire Cat. She’d usually talk to the long-haul truckers that went through the area we lived in, and she’d been doing it for so long that she developed several friendships with some of the guys passing through. Sometimes she’d let Tiny Me talk to them, and one of them, a guy who went by Papa Bear, gave me a handle of my own.

I was very proud of this (I was about 5 years old at the time, and things like having your Very Own CB Handle Bestowed Upon You By A Trucker Named Papa Bear are SUPER EXCITING when you’re 5).

The name he gave me? Cheshire Kitten.

Somehow I suspect this also explains a lot.

Yes, I smile every time I hear S.J. Tucker’s song “Cheshire Kitten” because of this.

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)

By Forest, Field, and Old Side Road

A bit over a year ago, I went out for what would be my last road trip for a long time.  It was the beginning of lockdown and the end of the Before Times.  Some of the trip was morbid curiosity; I wanted to see what the world looked like without traffic and people everywhere.  It was, as expected, disconcerting and more than a little apocalyptic.  A lot of it though was, honestly, to say good-bye.  I didn’t know when I’d be back on the road again, if ever.  I didn’t know what the world would look like if I was able to be out there again, but I knew that whatever it was, it would never be the same.  Something was dying, and I needed to be there to witness and honor its passing.

It’s strange to be getting back out onto the roads again.  The last time I was off the road for this long was when I broke down in the Bridge God’s courtyard, and that was a long time ago, now.  My body has forgotten how to be behind the wheel for very long, and finding that almost Zen-like state where the truck becomes an extension of me is harder than it used to be.  I know it will return soon enough, but in the meantime, it’s hard not to wonder if this is the time that I just can’t get it back, that too much time has passed and I’ll never remember how to hear the Road sing again.

The world is different now, as well.  Places that I used to pass by all the time are gone now, doors and windows shuttered.  Others are still there, but changed.  Some places the changes are obvious; restaurants and coffee shops with outside tables on extended sidewalks or sections of parking lots, that sort of thing, while others are changed more in feeling.   They feel almost haunted, as if some intangible part of them died, and while they’re still going through the motions of being Places, there’s something that’s gone.

Still, there are other places that are…cozier…than they were before.  Like over the recent months the place drew closer to itself, remembered what it was, and found a kind of  strength from the remembering.  Places like this were where I passed the world’s Most Adorable (and socially distanced) Town Fair and a small farm that had decided to set up a stand with a sign for Free Food, because they knew how much people are struggling and this was what they could do to help.  I cried a little at that one, because it’s good to see people caring for, and taking care of, each other.

Of course, there are the places that haven’t changed and there’s a comfort in knowing that the area around the Quabbin is still Very Clearly Riddled With Terrible Fae Traps like the “Detour” sign directing people off the highway and down a narrow, tree-choked dirt road, or a “Help Wanted” sign at the end of another dirt road leading off into the woods, with nothing indicating the presence of an actual business of any kind… (Sadly I was on a time schedule on the way home at that point, or I’d have gleefully turned the truck down either or both of them to investigate, because that’s just the kind of dumbass I am.  Maybe next time.) 

Overall, it was a good drive and good way to start scraping the rust off.  Now that the seal has been broken, Wednesdays are officially designated weekly Road Days.  Even pulled together a nice collection of dishes and utensils specifically for eating Real Food while I’m out and about, instead of scarfing down a protein bar or having to stop at a fast food place.   My goal is to eventually get a small trailer with a bathroom/shower hookup, or an rv, so I can go on longer trips, but that’s a ways in the future yet.  For now, this is a good restart while I figure out the new protocols and get back in the swing of things.

Let’s see what’s down those little side roads, shall we?

(Your friendly Routewitch preparing to get back behind the wheel.)

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)

A Life In Myth

Once there was, and once there was not, a young girl. She lived with her mother and father and an assortment of cats, and if they never lived in one place for very long, it was alright.  No matter where they lived, they were always surrounded by artists, musicians, actors, storytellers, magicians, and other misfit sorts of people.  It was a hard life, to be sure, for Society doesn’t like people who don’t fit into its neat little boxes or don’t have deep roots, but for all that, it was hers and she was happy in it.

Then, one terrible morning, her mother died, and with her, the way of life the girl had known.  Her father remarried and her step-family, while pleasant enough people, were very different from the people the girl had grown up around, and they didn’t understand why she was the way she was, nor she, them.  Soon enough, all of the people from her childhood were gone, as well.  When the last of the musicians drifted away and the house fell silent, the girl put her face in her hands and wept for all she had lost.  It would be the last time she did so for many, many years to come.

She learned to live like the Rooted People, or at least go through it’s motions, and pretend she didn’t desperately miss her old life.  She grew up and took a job she hated to her marrow because it was expected and made her father and step-mother happy, and if she dreamed of open roads and a life of stories and music and art, she didn’t say a word. 

She tried to escape from time to time, but it never worked.  She married briefly, but he was one of the Rooted People, and while he liked the idea of her world, he didn’t want to live in it.  When he decided that he didn’t want her living in it, either, she packed her things and her cats and left him behind.

She wandered for some time, trying to fit into the Rooted People’s world just enough to find her way again and build a life from what shattered pieces she still had, but the pieces were so old and fragile and the Rooted World still refused to accept her, Unrooted misfit that she was.  Eventually, she met someone who was neither one of the Rooted People nor the Unrooted People, but was something else in between.  He had no interest in living an Unrooted life for himself, but understood and accepted that she needed to and if he stayed home while she wandered in search of stories and songs, he didn’t try to stop her and she knew he would be there when she came home.  She unpacked her things and the cats found sunny spots to sleep in, and there was music of a kind and stories and actors and the freedom to be again, and she was mostly content.

There were still issues, though.  The Rooted World still didn’t want her and as she grew older, she grew tired of trying to fit into a world that had never done anything but reject her.  

One night, she took out the box she kept the chipped and faded shards of her old lives and held them in her hands.  She cast them onto a cloth to see what she might see, but no matter how hard she looked, or how many times she recast them, the only thing she could see for certain was that the pieces were simply too broken to ever be put back together again.  The girl put her face in her hands once more and wept for all she had lost and for so many years of pain and grief and loneliness until she had cried out every last tear she had in her.

When she was done, she washed her face, poured herself a mug of tea, and considered the pieces again.  She couldn’t piece them into anything that made sense, that much was clear, but maybe there was some other thing she might do.  She sipped her tea, thoughtfully.  She thought about her lives, the child she’d been, the sound of her mother singing while she painted, as her father played his guitar along with her, and the silence that came after her mother died.  She sighed deeply, and gazed into her tea.  As she watched the faint wisps of steam dance along the deep amber surface, she had An Idea.

She gathered up the broken pieces and, one by one, considered each carefully.  She discarded some and kept others and when she was done sorting them like millet from ashes, she put the pieces she’d chosen to keep into an old stone mortar and ground them into a fine powder.  She mixed this powder with seawater and rosewater and turned them into ink.

She couldn’t rebuild her broken life but, using the parts she loved most and the things she had learned over the years, she could write herself a new life, with all the fantastic stories she could think of or find.  It would be hard, for the Rooted People probably still wouldn’t understand, but that was fine, because she found that she no longer cared.  If they wouldn’t accept her no matter what she did or did not do, then their opinions didn’t matter.

She smiled, and began to write…

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)