Sunday, December 29, 2013

Leavings . . .

I am leaving for Antarctica in less than a week.

Last night I learned that an acquaintance of mine, someone I very recently re-met after thirty years, lies dying.  And although I did not know her that well, she was dear to many who are dear to me.

I’m thinking about what this means. 
To regain someone, and then to lose them again, all in the course of a few months.

She is my age.  She was my age.  
Now they wait for her son to make the decision, when to let her go.

And what has this to do with Antarctica?  What has this to do with me?
Everything and nothing.  Nothing and yet everything.

As most of you know, due to complications from Lyme Disease my body is failing me slowly. Like Shackleton’s ship caught in the inexorable crush of ice tightening around its hull,  I can choose to stand outside myself and watch, wait for the inevitable as my world closes in and movement becomes more and more difficult until I too am stationary and waiting.

Or, I can move while I can, walk when I cannot run, attempt what seems impossible.  I can grab every opportunity that comes by and hang on tight for the ride, adapting my grip as necessary.  I can choose action, no matter how painful, over the relative ease of simply staying put and waiting.

L. was my age.  And now that is the oldest she will ever be.  I do not know if she wanted to go to Antarctica.  But I know she did not want to go easily.

Nothing is ever really easy. 
I will see you in Antarctica. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I know you haven't heard from me lately . . .

But I really do have a good reason. I haven't told many people before now as I was afraid something might happen and my chance would disappear. But so far nothing has.

I am traveling to Antarctica in a month.

This is not the start of a poem, nor is it a metaphor, except perhaps in that Antarctica is itself, in many ways, a metaphor for me.  It is the apogee, the peak, the very top (or in a literal sense bottom) of my bucket list.  It was in my bucket before I knew there was such a thing as a bucket list, and I could take everything else out, leave Antarctica, and be satisfied.

Anyone who has ever seen my bookshelves knows of my long fascination with the poles. I'm not one who has ever been overly concerned with facts and dates, yet I can recite the names of  polar explorers north and south, how far each of them got, whether they went in pairs or in groups, with ponies, dogs or man-pulled sledges.  I know how and where they died, or, if they survived, what their reception was upon their return.  I can close my eyes and see the outlines of their ships.

And now I too will be traveling in their footsteps, if only in the most minor of ways.  I'll be sailing on a ship not much bigger than the Endurance, although far better built and equipped.  I will pass by Elephant Island where the crew was stranded for four months, left behind by Shackelton  in his successful attempt to reach and cross South Georgia island again to find a ship capable of rescuing his remaining men. Four tries later the rescue was successful, yet with all that neither he nor the crew ever  touched any part of the Antarctic coast.

Unlike Shackleton’s endurance attempt; weather permitting, I will set foot on the continent of Antarctica.  I will see Shackelton and Scott's last huts, almost completely preserved by the Antarctic's intense dry cold.  
I will see the remains of sledges, tatters of tents, abandoned supply caches.  I will do all this in the Antarctic summer, dressed in proper survival gear, led by knowledgeable expedition guides.  There will be a warm, dry, well-stocked boat waiting for my return.

I will not be Scott, Shackleton, or Admunson; I will not ski, sled, or walk towards the pole.  I am not an explorer, or even an adventurer.  But I will look upon the same landscapes they looked upon; gaze at that vast white expanse of ice and snow.
 I will see fur seals and Emperor Penguins, walrus and sea lions, and for one brief moment I will touch the same reality.  

And that will be enough.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

For once . . .

I listened to reason. Sort of. 

A few posts ago I published my revised bio for grown-ups.  (I once had a girlfriend who informed me that I would never be a grown-up because real grown-ups referred to themselves as adults.  Well, there you have it.)  

Anyway, what I was supposed to be writing was a longer, more complete bio than the one on the back of the book, one that could be handed out by teachers as part of a downloadable package.  (Assuming, of course, that there were teachers who wanted to use the book in their classroom.)

So I did-

My name is Margo and I was born in a small town in East Tennessee.  When I was growing up I loved animals and we always had dogs and cats in the house.  I even had a horse named Lady who lived on a farm about a half-mile away and I would walk over there and catch her in the field by rattling a can of dried corn.  Then I would put a halter on her and walk her over to the barn and saddle her so I could ride her.
She was so big I had to climb up on the fence rail to put the saddle on her and her back was so wide my legs stuck out almost straight.
When I was thirteen I started to work in my aunt’s pet shop.  I trained a monkey to walk on a halter and wear diapers.  Monkeys don’t care where they poop so you can’t house train them, but they won’t poop in their diapers.  I used to take the monkey to schools where she would sit on my shoulder and I would talk to the kids about animals.  
Once I brought the monkey home but my mother wouldn’t let it in the house.  She said she had to draw the line somewhere.

(this is a lot like the line she drew)

After high school and college I worked at a lot of jobs.  For a while I designed lights in the theater.

That was fun.  I traveled around the country for years.

Then I moved to an island and learned how to cook.  I lived on the island for fifteen years and ran and inn and restaurant with my sister.  That’s where I got the inspiration for Jessie’s island.  I started out with the real island     

but it wasn’t big enough so I had to add cliffs on one end and a lighthouse on the other, and make it wider and put more roads in.  Then of course it wasn’t the same island anymore so I had to come up with a new name.  There isn’t any real Bayberry island but there’s this island that looks a lot like it and that’s where l lived.
The End

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Okay . . .

it’s getting near the end of my first year as a blogger. (insert applause.)

I started this blog (full disclosure here) to try and get people interested in some island things and nature stuff featured in my series of middle readers. So hopefully they’d want to read them.  And . . .

 to get people used to my voice, and hopefully to like it.
That was the idea, anyway.  And so I have tried very hard to write these blog posts in the same voice as my Summerhood Island series.  While similar to my real voice, I have to admit it is slightly calmer, much less convoluted and much more rational.  It also, believe it or not, makes far fewer digressions than I do when I speak in what I refer to as my uncensored voice.

This has not been as difficult for me as I imagined it might be.  After all, I write in many different voices.  Usually though, those voices come about through other characters.

Here’s the  funny thing-  people are telling me that my blog doesn’t sound like me.  And these are often the people that suggest I might be a trifle off, or ask me to stop singing silly songs to the dogs, or speaking in iambic pentameter.  Sometimes they are even the same people who do not appreciate `to do’ lists written in Seusian form.  Go figure.

So here’s my dilemma.  Do I begin slowly reverting back to my more comfortable, quote normal unquote voice?  Will I scare off middle school teachers and librarians who work with my primary targets?( Sorry, I meant target audience.)

As my friend Amy Scott would say,

Thanks for listening.  Here’s your reward.
Since it’s almost Thanksgivkah-  (Thanksgiving and Chanukah both fall on the same day) have some pie dough recipes. 

(Disclaimer- I rarely make pies. Higgins always made the pies. I do not have what is referred to as “a light hand with pastry.” But these recipes work. They do. Honest.)
You’re welcome.


Flour                      1 cup
Baking powder                  1/8 tsp.
Salt                         ¼ tsp.
Cold lard or shortening                  1/3 cup
Ice water                             2 ½ T

Sift dry ingredients. Cut cold fat in until like coarse sand. Add just enough ice water to hold pastry together. Do not knead. Chill before rolling out crust. Roll out to 1/8” thick. Pierce before baking in pan. Bake in 450° oven for 15 minutes.
Lard                       ½ cup  (ok, use shortening, but it won’t be as good)
Butter                   ½ cup
Sifted flour                         3 cups
Salt                         pinch
Ice water                             8 – 10 T
With knife, blend lard, butter, and salt into flour. Moisten with ice water. Handle as little as possible. Roll dough out very thin. May be halved.

Makes 2 crusts
Lard or fat                           2 T
Butter                   1 T
Sifted flour                         2 cups
Salt                         ½ tsp.
Sugar                     ½ tsp.
Milk                       ½ cup
Stir lard and butter in bowl until creamy. Sift flour, salt, and sugar, and add. Mix with milk. If dough is too thick, add cold water. Spread flour on board and roll out dough ¼” thick. Place in greased pie pans. Indent edges with fork.
(Alton’s hint and it works- replace a tablespoon of the liquid with vodka. Cheap is fine. As it evaporates in the oven it will make the crust flakier. No alcohol will remain.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

So I'm working . . .

on a new website that will encompass all of my books and allow me to feature each new book as it comes out.

Ok, full disclosure- Rebecca Caldwell is doing all the difficult tech work. Me, I am writing little pieces of things and sending them to her so she can fit them in the appropriate space. But that is beside the point. A digression, if you can believe that.

Here's the point.
Deborah (my partner, you should all know Deborah by now if you've been following long) told me I needed a longer, more complete biography to put in the downloadable handout we are compiling for teachers.

Fine, I thought, completely ignoring the fact that it was already 2 in the afternoon and thereby well past my "sell by date" otherwise known as the time I stop making sense. 
I shall write an amusing little bio that will reveal far more of me that the simply factual 50 words in the back of the book.

So I did. And Deborah told me to take a nap. Apparently she meant a bio for teachers to hand to the children. 

But I like this bio. So I am making it today's blog.

And I am not even going to run this idea by Deborah first.

Margo Solod was born in East Tennessee, and fled her hometown high school at 16, conveniently forgetting to graduate before applying to the University of Tennessee. Four and a half years later she was reminded of that fact when she went to the dean’s office to make sure she had the proper credits to obtain her degree. 

There she discovered that the University had never actually admitted her. This problem was solved after some discussion by allowing her to graduate with a B.A. in theater arts but denying her a high school diploma. 

Neither her degree or lack of a diploma appear to have made the slightest difference in her career path.

Her high school jobs of grooming dogs and working in a pet shop naturally led to years of work as a lighting technician and designer for theater and dance. These skills allowed her to effortlessly slide into restaurant work, leading to careers as a chef and innkeeper, with an occasional backslide into carpentry.

 Her early restaurant experience was on an island eerily similar to the one occupied by the fictional Jessie Silva, in an inn that remarkably resembles the Sea Inn portrayed in the second Summerhood Island novel. 

Winters on islands can be long and quiet, which led to serious contemplation and lots of long walks, and eventually to several books of poetry.

After that there was nothing to do but get in her truck(s) and drive circuitous routes around the country until she ended up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where, having learned nothing from the last 20 years, she proceeded to open (and close) two more restaurants and write a memoir.

All of these life experiences have finally prepared her for the offering laid before you now: the first Summerhood Island novel Coyote Summer.

There. Now you know everything.

Friday, November 1, 2013

So last night…

I gave away Halloween candy from the front door of my house for the first time in forty years. 

Ever since I left home I’ve been on the run from holidays.  The major ones (Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, Thanksgiving) I worked; first in the theater, then in restaurants.  The minor ones, Fourth of July and all the “days” (Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Presidents’ Day, Martin Luther King Day, Arbor Day) I either worked or did my best to ignore.

Holidays are easiest to ignore if you're in a strange town or city.  If I don’t know anyone, the hype and the decorations, the commercials and, around Christmas time, the ever present and infernal music don’t seem to get under my skin is so much.  I even found the luminaria lining the downtown plaza of Santa Fe
ok, so this is phoenix. it looks the same.

 and the sailboat masts in Charleston brightly lit as miniature Christmas trees sort of pretty.
and  i have no idea where this is but i think it's florida. sue me.

And Halloween.  That’s an easy one to ignore if you’re living in a strange town.  Just turn your lights off and pretend you’re not home.  I mean, it’s not your house anyway, even if it does get papered or egged.
truthfully, this is not my house

For years, when I wasn’t traveling I lived on an island. 
this island. i did live on this island. honest.

Halloween was a breeze there, what few kids there were (and some people brought their kids on island specifically for Halloween) all got together and rode from house to house in someone’s truck or all wheel drive vehicle that had been decorated for the occasion.  All the kids showed up at your house at once, you dispensed your treat bags and admired their costumes and went back to watching Jeopardy.

I don’t count that as real Halloween trick-or-treating, although I’m sure they did.

For the last fifteen years I’ve lived in the woods.  The only people who found me without invitation were the 2000 census taker and one set of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I’m still not sure how they did that.  
also truly my cabin in woods
I never had to put up Christmas lights, carve a jack-o’-lantern, or even put a political candidate’s sign in my yard.

Or buy Halloween candy.  Until this year, when we moved right into the center of town.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, even with three large mutts freaking out every time a stranger got close to the house.  Most kids passed us by, the combination of the front gate, the porch door and then the front door too daunting or too much trouble.

But I think I still prefer the day after Halloween.

Thanks for listening.  Here’s a pumpkin recipe for your trouble.


Sugar                     1 cup
Water                   ½ cup
Egg yolks                              5
Light cream                         2 cups
Pumpkin                              ½ cup
Cornstarch                          1 T
Sugar                     1/3 cup
Nutmeg                               1/8 tsp.
Cinnamon                           1/8 tsp.
Ground clove                     1/8 tsp.

Heat sugar and water, stirring frequently, until caramelized. Pour into 6 cups or ramekins. Mix together pumpkin, cornstarch, sugar, and spices. Beat in separate pan light cream. Add pumpkin mixture. Cool. Mix in egg yolks. Pour into caramelized dishes. Bake in a water bath for 1 hour at 350°.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Well it’s fall…

More importantly, it’s fall here in town.  I’m trying to remember the last time I spent fall in a city or town, and I’m coming up with somewhere around nineteen eighty.  Autumn is different in town that it was on the mountain, and different again from autumn on the island.

On the island seasons were subtle, especially the turns from summer into fall.  A few leaves drop, but the trees that are still standing don’t really turn colors like in the rest of New England.  The temperature change is more subtle there, as the water slows down the cold drops like a blanket over the rest of the East Coast.

What is missing from this picture? People.

Notice the absence of boats in the harbor

Down here in Virginia the mountains flame as brightly as any in New England.

 But when the leaves drop upon House Mountain they stay where they fall until the wind blows them somewhere else.  Here in town I see piles of leaves in yards, bagged on sidewalks, huge piles blown into gutters for the city to come by and pick up.

The whine of leaf blowers is gradually replacing the clatter and whir of lawnmowers and weedwackers, and I am still not used either sound.  Autumn on House Mountain was the ping of acorns dropping on a tin roof, the rustle of deer sheltering from hunters among the oaks, the sound of wind whistling through bare branches.

I miss the silence.  I miss being able to notice a full moon without having to look up.  I miss the stars.  I really miss being able to just let the dogs out to poop in the woods, without having to worry about picking up after them.
On the other hand, I can walk to the library, my drugstore, the movies, a coffee shop.  We ordered a gluten-free pizza from Domino’s and had it delivered.  If I forget something at the store it’s only three minutes away.  This tiny plot of land is a constant source of wonder.  I don’t know what’s planted here and new surprises keep popping up.

And although I don’t see this on my walk every morning –

I’m never going to see anything like this on House Mountain –

Oh my God.  For the first time in my adult life I’m going to have to buy Halloween candy.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Yes, it's been a while . . .( Recipe included! Don't stop reading!)

But I've been just a little bit preoccupied with this whole book publishing thing.  Well, actually not the publishing part so much (I have a publisher who's doing that) as the publicity and marketing part.  There's a hell of a lot more to this than I realized, and it takes a lot of time and energy.  

I'm telling you, it would really be so much easier on me if I could just say, "Hey, did you know my book Coyote Summer is out now?(which it will be any day, i promise)  Why don't you go and buy a copy?  And while you're at it, why don't you buy a copy for your local library?

Or your child's school library?"
Or actually, you can just go into the library and request it, and most of the time they will order it for you.  Not that you wouldn't want your own copy as well.

That would be so easy.  Then everyone would go out and buy a copy, and they would be like, "Wow, what a great book!  I think I will recommend this to all my friends and neighbors!"
And that would be that.

But I'm told it doesn't happen that way.  Which is annoying, to say the least.  Because I would much rather be writing new books than trying to get you read the ones I have already written.  Frankly, I'm kind of tired of those books already.  I mean, I'm not one for re-reading a book anyway, here I am forced to read my own writing over and over again.  It's a good thing I like the way I write.  It's an even better thing that I find me funny and amusing.  Often when no one else does.
i really are funny

So anyway, I've been proofing and making up teacher worksheets for the book so teachers can use it for reading or science assignments in class if they want.  Even though it's fiction, the facts are real.
 And I've been writing people asking them to write one or two line blurbs for the cover of the book.  People I don't even know, which I hate.

So with all this going on, can you blame me for ignoring my blog?
Of course you can.  Mea Culpa.  Have a recipe.  It's on the house.


 Mayonnaise                       1 gallon

Sour cream                         ½ gallon
White vinegar                    ½ cup
Garlic, chopped                 2T
Cracked black pepper     4T
Worcestershire sauce    ½ cup
FRESH grated parmesan 8 cups

Mix all ingredients. This is a base recipe. Thin for service with milk. Approximately 1 cup milk to a quart.

(Yeah, I know, it's got that gallon thing going on again. but this one is an easy conversion.  Just divide by 4 and use quarts. Or send me a note to show you really care and I will do the conversion for you to your personal requirements. Now there's an offer you don't get every day.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Don't panic . . .

This looks much harder than it actually is. Honest. Although it is a bit more work than, say, opening a can of cream of mushroom soup and pouring it over some frozen tilapia fillets. Not that there's anything wrong with that. (Although, actually, there is. It's just wrong, on so many levels.)

I digress. What a surprise. 

But you will probably save this to serve for a dinner party, where you want to thrill and impress your guests. Or perhaps a valentines day or birthday dinner for a loved one.
I'm betting it is fairly unlikely you are going to come home from work and say, "I think I'll whip up a nice striped bass en papillote for my supper tonight." 

Although you totally should. You deserve it.

Striped Bass en Papillote 
6 teaspoons unsalted butter, softened 
1/2 pound fresh spinach, cleaned and roughly chopped 
2 cups sliced asparagus 
½ cup thick sliced crimini mushrooms 
4 (6-ounce) skinless fillets of wild striped bass 
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper 
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves 
4 springs fresh thyme 
2 medium shallots, very finely chopped (or ¼ cup fine chopped onion) 
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped 
1/4 cup dry white wine
Lemon wedges, to serve

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
Fold 4 large square sheets of parchment paper in half. 
Starting at the fold, cut out a large half heart shape. 

Open the paper flat on a surface with the point of the heart towards you. 
Butter the centers of each heart lightly with a teaspoon of the butter. 
Divide the vegetables into four piles. 
Place a pile onto each heart, centering it on 1 side of the heart, towards the crease. Season the fish well with salt and pepper and place a fillet on top of each pile of vegetables.
Place 1 teaspoon of butter on each fillet and sprinkle each with some of the parsley, thyme, shallots, and garlic. 
Drizzle a little white wine over each. 
Fold the paper over to cover the fish. Starting at the top of the heart, tightly fold over the edges, overlapping each time, all the way to the point, until it is sealed. Tuck under the last fold to keep it closed.
Butter the tops of the packets with the remaining butter. 
Place the packages onto a baking sheet and put them into the oven for 15 minutes. 

You can do this on a pan on the grill if you want, but the cooking time is tricky. 
To serve, put the papillotes onto plates and unfold them at the table. (Be careful of the hot steam.) Serve with lemon wedges. 

 When I first began cooking at the Allen House in 1982, serving striped bass in the restaurant was a big deal. The years of fishing guides pulling in boatloads of fifty, sixty, even seventy pounders were a mere fond memory, leaving only pictures on the restaurant walls of huge catches filling skiffs and lined up on the fish dock.

But in the 70's strict regulations had been put into place concerning the size and weight of a “keeper.” Commercial fishermen were not allowed to catch striped bass at all. Only sport fishermen with rod and reel were allowed to catch and keep bass. And a special license was needed to be able to buy,sell,or serve striped bass. 
this is an example of a bass that should not be served.

 We were considered very lucky, as we had three striped bass fisherman working out of the Allen House. Any catch that was the proper size and over the customer’s limit they were allowed to sell to us. I don’t remember the exact size limits at that time but I believe at one point nothing under 40 inches was considered a keeper. And that is one big fish, especially when you consider the bass is a wide bodied fish. 
george is the only one of our guides from that time still fishing

The fishermen were required to bring us the bass whole, just in case somebody needed to check and make sure the fish was the proper size and weight. Since we had to accept them whole, Steve decided to turn this into a merchandising gimmick. He’d place the whole fish on ice in the raw bar out by the dining room. Then the first person to order striped bass got to watch Steve go out and wrestle a huge fish out of the raw bar and carry it into the kitchen to be portioned. 

Because we had to fillet on the fly, usually in the middle of at least two other dinner orders, I quickly learned the best way to gut, fillet, skin and portion a fish so large it took up half the work space in our tiny kitchen. I also spent a lot of time after service was over cleaning scales out of odd places where they’d flown in the heat of battle. 

Our restaurant was, at that time, one of the few places where you could almost always be assured of being able to order striped bass, and over the years we became famous for it. even as the striped bass population slowly increased and the fish became easier to acquire and serve.
Duane and Tyler

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My cousin wrote me the other day . . .

"When's that coyote girl book coming out?"

 “Coyote girl.” Sounds like it should take place somewhere in the southwest and involve a young Native American woman and some kind of ceremony.  Sort of a Lois Lenski Strawberry Girl vibe.

(For the record, I am NOT comparing myself to Lois Lenski.) 

It’s got a nice ring, though.  Maybe I should let my cousin name all my books from now on. 

Coyote Girl.
  Ghost/thief Girl.
Hurricane Girl.

Hmmm . . .

Well, it's too late for this series.  This is the Summerhood Island series. 

Coyote Summer, Ghost/Thief Summer, Hurricane Summer. Each book takes place over the course of a single summer.

And this first book, it’s not really about the coyotes. Just like the second is not really about the ghost/thief, and the third’s not really about a hurricane. 

Although all these things are integral to the stories.
photo n. brodeur

You see, these books are really about the girl, Jessie Silva. 

Coyotes, ghost/thieves, and hurricanes are what involve Jessie, but they aren't really what the books are about.  

The summers of a girl who lives on an island, an almost magical place where kids can still wander freely, still have adventures, still go off on their own and be safe; a place where a young girl is free to make choices and deal with their consequences without fear of predatory adults, or drive by shootings, or muggings; the feelings of a girl who grows up in those summers- that’s what the books are about.
photo matt lovell
photo a. hinson

Jessie Silva: a girl who can live the childhood you had, or wish you'd had, depending on your age and situation. A childhood most kids reading these books will never have a chance to experience. 

Because the world has changed. And maybe it never was as safe as some of us thought. Maybe the freedom we had as children was an illusion. 
malia. photo m. shaver

But not on this island. Here, in these books, in this place, even in this day and age, a girl can wander. And have adventures. And live the childhood we wish we had, the one every child should have- but can't. 

Except in books.