Planting Lettuce, Reaping Joy

Also book festivals, and a talk with P.J. Colando

“The green thumb is equable in the face of nature's uncertainties; he moves among her mysteries without feeling the need for control or explanations or once-and-for-all solutions. To garden well is to be happy amid the babble of the objective world, untroubled by its refusal to be reduced by our ideas of it, its indomitable rankness.”
― Michael Pollan“Second Nature: A Gardener's Education”

A Pause to Pay Respect

I write my newsletters on Fridays. A few hours after I finished up yesterday, I learned that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. America lost a champion for women, a jurist of piercing intelligence and wisdom, and pathfinder who left her mark on our country’s history. As we go about our business today, may we consider how special she was and how much she gave of herself to all of us, particularly women. Then let’s find a way to give back with the same intensity, sense of justice, and willingness to serve that drove her.

Thank you. Deep breath. Let’s go.

In This Issue:

  • Calling for Contributions: Share Your Moment of Zen

  • A small garden yields more than we expected

  • Book Festivals!

  • Spark Interview with P.J. Colando

  • This shareable link to help you vote and make sure it counts

Calling For Contributions - Your Moment of Zen

Every week, we sign off with a P.S. and now “your moment of Zen”  - a shameless rip-off from The Daily Show but a feature of this newsletter that we all seem to enjoy. So, I’ve been thinking: what is YOUR moment of Zen? Let’s open this thing up. Send me your photos, a video, a drawing, a song, a poem, or anything with a visual that moved you, thrilled you, calmed you. Or just cracked you up. This feature is wide open for your own personal interpretation.

Who wants to be first? Come on, go through your photos, your memories or just keep your eyes and ears to the ground and then share. Send your photos/links, etc. to me by replying to this email or simply by sending to: elizabethmarro@substack.com. The main guidelines are probably already obvious: don’t hurt anyone  -- don’t send anything that violates the privacy of someone you love or even someone you hate, don’t send anything political, divisive, or aimed at disparaging others. We’re here to connect, to bond, to learn, to wonder, to share -- to escape the world for a little bit and return refreshed. 

I can’t wait to see what you send!

And now, onto this week’s edition of Spark.

Planting Lettuce, Reaping Joy

While you are reading this, I will most likely be outside in a floppy hat, hands in the dirt, planting lettuce in our little “orto” or vegetable garden that my husband started after the pandemic took hold.

I’ve never entirely gotten used to the idea that the end of summer here doesn’t mean the end of weeding, gardening, or in our case, fresh lettuce or chard. I still remember my first November here in 2002 when I was out in our front yard pulling weeds and wishing for the reprieve of a deep freeze and a layer of snow. I was such a newbie to Southern California. I planted flowers with abandon, thrilled with the colors, the possibilities, the thrill of having our own fruit trees. My husband warned me not to go overboard that first year. “Just buy a few ice plants,” he suggested. “They spread.” He was right, of course. Our front yard caused birds to blink as they passed overhead lest they be blinded. If you stood out there, your skin would take on a startling tint, as if about to break out in hives.

And the more you plant, the more responsibility you have for keeping it all alive. That’s what got to me in the end. I am the only person in the history of the world who has managed to kill mint, something that seasoned gardeners would never plant outside of a pot because mint in the ground, free to roam, will take over the world if allowed. My lemon tree died a miserable death in the front yard where everyone could see. Still, I persisted. I have wonderful friends who are skilled gardeners, one in particular Sue, who has a gorgeous blog called Edible Gardens 52. She often reminds her readers that gardening is all about experimentation, failure, and surprises. Not unlike writing which, I eventually realized, required the same stamina and tending and willingness to fail that gardening does. I decided I could not do both. I traded gardening myself for walking by the gardens of others, accepting gifts of produce from neighbors, and trying to return the favor somehow.

Last April, though, my husband who has the ability to make food into something special whether he is growing it or cooking it, said we ought to plant “a few things." We had some pots. He had the makings for a small container bed. No big investment, just use what we have. It would be a “hopeful thing to do,” he said. (The photo below shows what it looked like shortly after we planted).

He was right. Our little garden has supplied us with delicious tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce, cucumbers, green beans, a delicious green called bayan, a version of Chinese spinach. It has provided a cheerful backdrop for socially-distanced visits with friends. Yes, there have been failures such as the spaghetti squash that grew great leaves but no fruit. We also had to deal with a discriminating rat that plundered our tomatoes but only the red ones and only when they were ripe. We got to keep these beautiful green and yellow striped ones for ourselves:

The surprise? I didn’t expect to look forward to Saturday mornings when the two of us go out together to tend things, talk, and just be together while our hands are at work. I didn’t expect the joy that floods me every time we sit together over a meal that includes vegetables so fresh they startle and delight my tastebuds. The garden has become a small bulwark against the forces that darken the skies and push against our spirits. I am grateful for it.

And I won’t even mind weeding come November.


Book Festivals!

One of the silver linings of Covid is the ability to attend book festivals you’d otherwise miss. You get to see Walter Mosley talking from his kitchen. You get to discover a book or author you’d never know about otherwise. You can learn about everything from climate change to how to craft a suspense novel. The really beautiful thing? If you can’t sign on when everyone is “live” most are available afterwards online and you can attend at your own pace and put together your own private book festival.

This year, instead of dreaming about book festivals I’d like to attend, I’m going — without leaving my desk. There are many opportunities to hear from your favorite authors in the coming months. Here are a couple of lists of upcoming festivals along with some that have already taken place and are available online. Here are some of festivals and author conversations or panels on my list:

And speaking of conversations with authors, here’s our latest Spark Interview with P.J. Colando.

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The Spark Interview

I met P.J. Colando back in the spring of 2016 in an Orange County coffee shop where I was honored to be reading along with a few other authors. I remember this reading for several reasons beginning with the way the espresso machine would launch into its hiss and sputter every time one of us got to a “good part.” I loved how it made absolutely no difference to the audience packed into the small space and grouped around the little cafe tables. Afterwards, P.J. was the first to come up and buy a copy of my book. She not only read “Casualties” but followed up with me to let me know what she thought of it and wrote reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. A writer herself, she knew exactly how to support one of her fellows. Today, I am pleased to return the favor by sharing a bit about P.J. and her new book“The Jailbird’s Jackpot”

Here is what P.J. Colando looks like

Here is her bio…

A former speech therapist, P.J. writing her “encore career.” Her “Faith, Family, Frenzy!” series of novels is rooted in the Midwest where she was born and raised before migrating west to Southern California. “Jailbird’s Jackpot” is the fourth novel in the series and she has plans already for the next novel. In addition to this series, she has written a collection of essays and short fiction published. You can learn all about P.J. here and see all of her books here. She welcomes the opportunity to speak with book clubs. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Here is her book…

And here is our interview…

SPARK: Tell us a little about your latest novel. What compelled you to write it? Can it stand on its own or should a reader begin with the first book in the series?

P.J. COLANDO: The protagonist compelled me to write her side of the story. She stands alone and her book stands alone. She was first introduced in Stashes, the first entry in my Faith, Family, Frenzy!” series. She was the conniving daughter-in-law... get the gist?

Here’s the pitch: Ex-con Amy Breeden has a problem, but becoming an instant millionaire isn’t it. Will she stick to her intention to take down the dude who double-crossed her or heed her parole officer’s advice that ‘living well is the best revenge?’

I dedicated“The Jailbird’s Jackpot” to Amy because she knows how to steer a plot.

SPARK:How do you feel about this book compared to your other novels or novels you have in progress? Is there a book in you that is screaming to be written that you have yet to write?

P.J. COLANDO: As an author, I am like a mother who loves all her children equally. The fact that I’ve written six books awes me!

SPARK: Tell us how being an indie-author has gone for you. What have been the high points? Is this a path you recommend? Do you see it as a business or an extension of your creative work?

P.J. COLANDO: Hmm. As we all are aware, the burden of publicity falls onto the author’s shoulders, especially during COVID-times. Writing is my encore career – I built a highly successful private practice in speech-language pathology before I began writing as an earnest hobbyist. I wrote thousands and thousands of clinical reports, so writing now is an escape from the form and strictures of reports. 

SPARK: When did you start writing and how has your writing evolved for you over time? 

P.J. COLANDO: I began writing in 2010, seeking a path forward after I ended my private practice. In 2012, I closed my practice – because I liked writing more than working with toddlers. When I wrote I could push ‘delete’ if/when I didn’t like a character’s behavior, something that’s not possible when one’s patients.

SPARK: You often have humor on your blog and wry observations along with that '"Boomer" comment right on your website. Do you want to talk about how being a "boomer" informs your view of life and the kinds of stories you write? 

P.J. COLANDO: Being of Boomer-age is great because I no longer let others’ judgments bother me. Humor is my default strategy and approach to life. I write satire and humor with a literary bent. When I speak, my tongue is always in my cheek.

SPARK: What does writing mean to you and how does it fit with the rest of your life?

P.J. COLANDO: Writing is a useful pastime and hobby. Not just during quarantine, but every day. I write while my husband watches TV sports. He likes that writing is a silent sport.

SPARK: Writer and activist Grace Paley once said "Life is too short, and art is too long."  What do you think of when you read these words.

P.J. COLANDO: I agree and would add this... “So, you might as well dance on the edge of the earth.” Writing is perfect for me, with its endless endeavor to hone craft – and one can write short stories or long.

I’m a lifelong reader with a prodigious vocabulary. While I can not use multi-syllabic words in daily conversation, I can slide them into my writing.


That’s it for this week. Let me know how you are, what you’re reading, and what you hope to read soon. Comment below (you may have to hit the “subscribe” button to register) or reply here. We’ll add your  books to our Spark Community Recommendations page at bookshop.org where every sale supports local bookstores and will, if we all make enough purchases, help us raise money for literacy programs. And please send those moments of Zen! We all need them. 

Be safe, wear a mask, get ready to vote!

Betsy

P.S. And now… your moment of Zen: click the photo and and follow the link that pops up to a piece of music that I associate with beauty and strength. May it lift you up.

(Music: Icarus, Paul Winter Consort)