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It’s not like we weren’t expecting it. We have, after all, been smug about it, boasting, “This  year we’re ready.” The bees are winterized, the chicken coops prepped, the wood, chopped, split and stacked. We even cleared the composter and spread the completed compost onto the harvested garden beds. But we still had things to do. Relying on previous years, I thought I still had time to put in new garden beds–and plant bulbs for spring. Rick has just a little bit of wiring left in the barn.

And we’re not surprised to have some snow at the close of October. It’s almost a tradition. The joke is that folks in Michigan get their Hallowe’en costumes three sizes large–so they’ll fit over their winter coats. What we didn’t expect was that it’d stay this cold, this long.

Last year I was transplanting, dormant, into December. This year, I’d have to search in the snow to find the garden beds. It often snows in autumn–and then it melts. This year, it didn’t just snow. It pelted! It stripped the colored leaves from the trees, nearly overnight. That snow? We thought, just like Bolsonaro*, that it would never stick. We were wrong.

4326 words.

Never heard of it? Of course not. I made it up. With NaNoWriMo knocking at the door I had to decide. No. I will not register. I will not participate. Not that it isn’t time. For the first time in years, November arrives without needs pressing from every quarter. Not that we aren’t still “small b” building. Not that the bees and the chickens and the garden don’t continue to take up part of our attentions. But there is a pause with the approaching winter that leaves time for creative ventures. (It’s snowing out there now!)

And yet, I have at least three, good, but unfinished manuscripts from past NaNoWriMos. I really have to tackle the pending file before I can undertake some fresh new gallop across the keyboard. And I don’t feel it’s appropriate to register for NaNo, to work on unfinished business. In fact, it’s a little embarrassing. I have stories waiting. I have characters, sighing and checking their watches, resentful of my neglect. I have readers asking, “What happened to Fiona?” (or Denise, or Ben?)

The solution? PerNoWriCom. That’s Personal Novel Writing Completion! I’ll follow many of the NaNo rules–try to keep up with the word count (never my strong suit.) And shoot for completion of the first full draft of The Trial of Trudy Castor by the end of 2019. Then edit and publish by spring. Ready? Set? So let’s go!

Six years ago we moved here to Michigan from Sonoma County, California. We considered staying there, but the costs were climbing so fast, we couldn’t keep up. The straw that broke the camel’s back was water. In the area we wanted, local wells were going dry. And those that remained were often contaminated. Michigan, which had been home to me in youth, with it’s abundant fresh water, looked like a good bet. Our friends were horrified.

“Michigan?” “Are you crazy?” As if California were the only enlightened place to live. Native Californians tried to warn Rick, “You know, it snows there?” Really, did they think I was trying to pull some fast trick on my native-Californian mate?

We’ve had no regrets. It is beautiful here. Even the snow is lovely (and Rick thinks so, too.) And now, as we watch the wildfires in Sonoma County, we know we’ve made the right life choice. Though, so far, safe from the blazes, almost everyone we know is in an evacuation zone right now. Had we stayed put, we’d have spent the weekend in a shelter.

The Great Lakes are overflowing. In the gamble that is climate change, there are winners and losers. California has too little water, and we have too much. Still, we’re not lakefront property owners. For us, the season’s heavy rains have not been problematic. The forests all summer were deep green and lush. We had a spectacular color season–which is fading now to “tobacco spit” shades. We made the right choice.

And, by the end of the week, we’ll have snow, you know.

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Autumn has been a long run. Mostly it’s been beautiful, if a little on the wet side. We consider ourselves lucky. For the first time, we’ve actually finished the necessary outdoor chores, before being challenged by winter. Not that there isn’t more to do…there always is. But the wood for our winter’s heat is cut and split and stacked. Rick is just finishing up the wiring for the barn.  The bees are set–and the chickens. Today we even emptied one of the composters, giving us an empty to take us through winter.

Every day, we think it may be the last day. Winter is on the horizon (and clearly in the forecast for later this week.) So we’re working to be productive. The weather has been a pleasure, cool, and graced with the last bits of color. It’s been so nice, we’re tempted to keep going–to prep and plant some of the new garden beds, even once it goes cold on us. It’s hard to let go. And yet, every day ticking by has been wonderful and productive.

Maybe this is really the way to live. Plan for every day to be the last day. Pack your time, full to the last minute. Feast your senses on whatever the season has to offer. Spend your evenings tired, and satisfied with the events of the day. We may be on to something.

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Today was the big day. We’ve been watching the weather and today was possibly the last day. Tonight it will rain buckets. Tomorrow the temperatures begin to fall, and we’ll descend into winter-like weather. Of course, It could warm up again, later in November. But there’s no guarantee. So today was the day that we had to winterize the bees.

This year, we’ve done everything “right.” We kept a lid on our varroa numbers. We fed them through the dearth of autumn. (Though, in reality, they continued to bring in resources well into October and didn’t eat much of what we gave them.) And, because studies show that smaller hives fare better in winter, today we completely took their hives apart and reconfigured them for winter. We also harvested some honey for ourselves–but not that much.

We have two hives this year. One is a ‘pedigreed’ hive–fancy Saskatraz bees from out of Canada. They have a reputation for being especially winter hardy and resistant to the dreaded varroa mites. The other is a swarm hive–local mutts. They came from a swarm hive that our friends have kept, for years now. So we know they can over-winter in Michigan’s cold climate. The swarm bees are pretty mellow. The pedigreed bees have a pedigreed attitude. We paid good money to get bees who think that they are better than we are. We suit up fully when we open that hive.

Or, almost.

Bees are not always organized about how they occupy a hive. It’s their home, their choice. But what you want going into winter, (as a beekeeper) is bees in the bottom, with densely packed honey above them for their winter stores. That isn’t always what they provide. Sometimes the frames will be only partially filled, or only built out on one side, but not the other, or having some of the cells uncapped and “wet,” that is, not fully evaporated down to the 17% moisture level that makes it honey. Capped honey never goes bad. Uncapped wet “honey” can ferment.

So our job today was to tear apart the hives and inspect, frame by frame, and to rebuild the hives with the best, fullest, honeycomb frames above the bottom, deep super, that will start as their home for the winter. As the winter progresses, they’ll eat the honey stored directly above them, and move up in the hive as they eat their way through the winter.

Our work today was a pretty invasive process and the bees were not impressed. We want the total hive (bees plus adequate winter stores) to be as small as possible, because the bees have to heat it, with just their body heat. A cavernous hive with spotty honey resources peppered through it is not a good recipe for  winter survival. As extra insurance, we put hard sugar “candy” up in the very top of the hive, just in case the bees consume more in the winter than we’d estimated.

We started with the pedigreed hive. As anticipated, they were pissy about the invasion, and we had to smoke them aggressively. We were wearing full body bees suits, topped with heavy leather gloves. It was cool, about 54 degrees (F), so most of the bees were home.  We won’t open a hive under 50 degrees–the bees will lose too much needed heat. The air was full of peeved bees. We were covered with bees. When a hive is alarmed the tone changes–the low hum of a happy hive picks up to a loud whine. We tried to work quickly.

At one point, a bee discovered my Achilles heel. I stupidly wore thin socks. The bee stung my ankle, right through that thin sock. There was nothing to do, but press on. It was, after all, the last day. It was my fault, really. I never wear thin socks when working the bees. What was I thinking? Just as we were closing up the Saskatraz hive, another bee found my other ankle. Damn. Well, at least it’s a matched set.

The swarm hive was much calmer. They didn’t like the invasion, but their pitch never ramped up to that warning whine. We’d worked out a system by then, pulling and examining each frame and sorting which ones were best to pack back into the hive for the bees. Those swarm bees made the chore a pleasure. It’s amazing how different two hives, side by side, can be in terms of temperament.

We finished and carted our tools and our harvested honey back down the hill to the house. We had to stop, several times on the way down, to brush bees off of us. It’s best to leave the bees at the hives. You really don’t want angry bees hanging around, or on you when to start to strip down out of your gear. Finally, when everything was put away, I could settle in to tend to my swelling ankles. Now, with the help of a hot cider, with just a touch of Irish whiskey in it, I can put my feet up and reflect on the success of the day. Ready for winter. Nearly perfect. Marred only a little my my failure to dress for the occasion.

(Sorry, no pics, my hands were busy.)

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Our authors’ group held a “Local Color” event at the local bookstore. I was the primary mover and shaker in organizing this event. It is, apparently, getting harder to sell books at bricks and mortar outlets. Or maybe, it’s getting harder to sell books–the real item, with pages made of paper. So authors are looking for ways to generate ‘buzz.’

Admittedly it took some effort to get this off the ground. Directing authors in any concerted effort is like herding kittens. I shouldn’t be surprised. By definition, writers engage in solo efforts. Not all of them are up to public speaking. Many are unaccustomed to team building. Because of this, we ran a little short on the marketing time frame and the event was not particularly well attended. Or maybe it’s just difficult to get folks to abandon their screen time for actual human contact.

We didn’t sell a lot of books. But everyone who came loved it. Authors spoke about their stories, and their motivations. Some used the opportunity to expound on the research done for their backstory (after all, there must be some good use for all that work.) Some read poetry–their own and others’. In all, it was a captivating evening. Yet we didn’t sell many books.

Afterwards, I was cringing, wondering how my fellow authors would react. They could have been miffed that their energies were misspent. I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did everyone thank me on the way out the door, but I also received a number of emails, praising the effort and the outcome. One in particular expressed thanks at the opportunity to better get to know their fellow writers–and to hear, in their own words, about their individual paths in the writing venture. It turns out that authors are as interested in community engagement as they are in actual book sales. Many expressed interest in doing it again. Several even suggested it should be an annual event–you know, a tradition.

I am thrilled. I’m not immune to the lure of a successful book sale. But I also believe that  our relationship with our readers doesn’t begin and end with the transaction. The group’s objective is to create a relationship with our community, rooted in the joy of the written word. So I’m not cringing. We’re talking about ways to expand on this experience–maybe by genre, or by theme. We’ll need to experiment with better marketing. Maybe we will do this as a tradition. I don’t know where it will lead, but I know that it starts with a wider understanding of the concept of success. And that’s a great place to start.

Image may contain: Scott Couturier, standing
Image may contain: A.V. Walters, standing
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Image may contain: Tom Carr
Image may contain: Tom Carr and Bob Downes, people smiling, beard, eyeglasses, closeup and indoor
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Bob Downes is with Scott Couturier and 3 others.

Our Traverse City Author event at Horizon Books drew an audience of mostly authors, offering some fascinating talks on local literature. I stayed for the full 3 hours and loved every presentation. There’s an amazing reservoir of writing talent in TC!