By the time we got to Woodstock

Two years after the Summer of Love and life in the rural town of Pennsboro, Pennsylvania is about to explode. A dam that would flood the valley pits family against family. Protesters riot. Buildings burn. Amid the chaos of 1969, two lovers risk everything to fight for their dreams.

That turmoil forms the setting for my first standalone novel, Born Under a Bad Sign, a book that captures the spirit of the era through the eyes of an unlikely couple—a pacifist Quaker and a rebellious rocker, two people who wield their differences like armor and sword.

Elizabeth Reed has three passions: photography, the river the government wants to dam and a musician who can’t settle on any one person or place. Hayden Quinn, the guitarist Rolling Stone calls the next Jimi Hendrix, feeds a single obsession—to play Woodstock, the biggest concert of his life. He presents Elizabeth with a dilemma: does she stay to save her family farm, or relinquish her dreams to follow Quinn into the unknown?

In a time when her generation trusts no one under 30, Elizabeth must face the greatest risk of all—whether to trust herself.

The story of Elizabeth and Quinn is inspired by real events. I grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania, the site of that proposed dam, and watched the conflict tear apart families and entire towns. Our band never would have made it to Woodstock but we opened for national acts and played some of the holes Quinn’s fictional group plays. And like Elizabeth, I wielded a camera for a small newspaper that covered the crises of the region, including the forced eviction of its citizens and the squatters who claimed their land.

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, the novel is a portrait of love and loss in the one of the most turbulent times in American history.

With an on-sale date of May 1, Born Under a Bad Sign is available for preorder through bookstores and online at Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

10 things Fla. can learn from Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy wasn’t our first major storm but it was the first since we bought property in Sarasota, Florida. After five days without water, power or reliable phone service, we’ve discovered what many Floridians know: that while you can’t move your home out of harm’s way, you can mitigate the discomfort with a little planning. Here are 10 tips from a northerner who has learned about infrequent but damaging storms:

  1. Plan for the worst. Create two options, one for sheltering in place, the other for abandoning your home. Find a place to shelter before hurricane season. If you can’t stay with relatives or friends outside the disaster zone, investigate nearby motels and plug that contact information into your mobile phone. You can tough it out without hot food but not a shower: you don’t want to report for work with bat hair. Don’t assume your neighbors can shelter you. Chances are they won’t have electricity, either. Book lodgings at least two days before the storm hits or you’ll lose your place to other homeowners and utility crews.
  2. Everything runs on electricity, not just AC and the Internet. Even alternative-fuel systems with electric starters, like pellet stoves and some gas hot water heaters, won’t work. Credit card and ATM machines need power. So do gasoline pumps at service stations. Assume no one will have electricity, including the municipalities, and plan accordingly. That means bulking up on generators, manual appliances, and cash.
  3. Invest in battery backup. Power outages outlast computers, cell phones and smartphones. Consider universal power supplies and dedicated cell-phone chargers. Once a storm approaches, charge all devices every night you have power. And remember to check the batteries in flashlights. You don’t want to be one of the things that go bump in the night.
  4. Sign up for text alerts from the electric company so you’ll know when it restores power to your home. Create a neighborhood phone tree so when the electric company says it has restored power, you can verify, or challenge, that assessment.
  5. Store essential phone numbers on paper. Keep a copy in your house, car and pocket.
  6. Inventory your medications. Keep a list in your wallet or purse. As soon as the first storm forms, refill your prescriptions. Every time the weather service begins tracking a new storm, use those alerts as reminders to check your supply.
  7. Save plastic containers to fill with water for washing, drinking and flushing toilets.
  8. Fill your cars with gasoline as soon as the weather service says a storm will make landfall within a few days.
  9. Pack a crash bag and keep it in the trunk of your car. Include clothing, personal hygiene items, bottled water, flashlight, cell-phone chargers and over-the-counter and prescription medications. If you’re stranded on your way home, you’ll have a few essentials.
  10. Don’t overstock the refrigerator or freezer. Perishables perish. In addition to paper products and plastic utensils, stockpile liquids packaged in bricks, dry goods like pasta, peanut butter, bottled water, canned goods and a manual can opener.

If there’s one lesson Hurricane Sandy has taught us it’s this: hope for the best but plan for the worst. Your future self will thank you.

Learn about how to prepare for hurricanes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Ready.gov site.

Taking the temperature of weather apps

With much of the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern seaboard in the grip of hurricane season, residents might want to update their iPads with the latest weather apps. (The iPad doesn’t come with a basic weather app, unlike its smaller sibling, the iPhone.) Mashable’s Elizabeth Woodard has a few suggestions.

For basic information in an uncluttered display, Magical Weather presents a week’s worth of temperatures in a transparent pane over an animated background. Users can swipe to retrieve an hourly forecast.

For all the bells and whistles, Intellicast HD displays a full 10-day forecast with charts, graphs, sunrise and sunset times, moon phases, a radar picture, storm cell tracking, wind direction and a weather blog.

For customizable graphs, Seasonality Go shows users a series of screens they populate with weather data. Users can move and resize the panes with forecasts and maps until they find the one they want.

Some apps, like WeatherBug and The Weather Channel, are also available for iPhone and Android devices.

Now if they’d only keep the roof from leaking.

 

 

We may never pass this way again

The shovel blade bites into the earth, black with rain and rot. It tangles with roots and rocks. The sun slants across the rising mound of dirt. Mosquitoes hover like angels of death.

We wrap Jenna in her favorite towels that feature a smiling sun, a baseball team’s logo, a lobster at the beach. Lifting her from the carpet she seems heavy and stiff. I trudge up the hill, slipping in the mud. We bury her in a shallow grave, in this bowl-shaped depression at the edge of the woods, under the oak and pine, her head toward the east to meet the rising sun. Gently we cover her with topsoil, plant two trees at either end of the grave and cover the surface with mulch.

I use a stone I unearthed to mark the spot. The rock is about a foot-and-a-half long. It points skyward like a crooked finger. She went this way, it says.

 

 

 

The Fog

Slowly the fog,
Hunch-shouldered with a grey face,
Arms wide, advances,
Finger-tips touching the way
Past the dark houses
And dark gardens of roses.
Up the short street from the harbour,
Slowly the fog,
Seeking, seeking;
Arms wide, shoulders hunched,
Searching, searching,
Out through the streets to the fields,
Slowly the fog –
A blind man hunting the moon.

— F.R McCreary

The bear went over the mountain

A bear crosses the ridge this morning 50 feet from the house, a black hole of primal energy surfing the woods for the huckleberries that are beginning to ripen. We watch from the safety of glass as it passes and keep a weather eye on the dog, who sniffs the grass at the end of her lead, unaware of the animal. The bear is alone, no trailing cubs to spark an angry outburst, yet with its massive shoulders and haunch she is a force to avoid, like a tropical storm that could strengthen at any moment.

It’s trash day in our neighborhood and we wonder if she’s  hunting for the garbage cans that line the road. We’ll know in a few minutes when we slide into cars for the trek to work. She lumbers down the slope toward the neighbor’s screened porch, unaware of the watchers at the edge of the woods, her legs like two humans moving under a blanket, her pace as easy as sleep.

Twilight time

We’ve taken to walking in the evening after dinner. The road rises steeply to meet us, you can feel it in your calves, as if gravity increases with altitude. Trees reach across to shake hands, congratulating each other on another fine day. Lilies start to spiral inward, their yellow throats glowing in faces of orange. Under the pines the darkness condenses from the air and settles like silt in a pond. It rounds the edges, turns trees into hills, gives them a solid shape you can feel a hundred yards away. Reminds me of “Evening” from the The Moody Blues’ “Days of Future Passed.”

It’s late, the dishes await.

In search of the perfect orange, part 1

Two days after New Year’s we flew from Allentown, Pa., to Orlando International for a tour of Central Florida’s lake district and a search for real orange juice. I carried a mangled nest of electronic devices and cords for coverage of the International Builders Show the following week. My wife had packed a half-dozen books and manuals so she could rewrite her school district’s curriculum while I worked the trade show.

One of our suitcases weighed 57 lbs., 7 lbs. over the limit. I’m not saying whose suitcase. The airline people wanted to charge us $49 in addition to the $20 fee per checked bag. We carried the books on board the plane. The flight took off at 5:43 p.m. and landed about two hours later. We got in earlier than expected but still later than we’re used to flying. Nearly another hour to take the shuttle to ground transportation, retrieve the luggage and rent the car (present your pink rental sheet to the guy in the booth on the way out). Then a nearly two-hour drive north on great black highways through low-lying country to Silver Springs, just east of Ocala.

Tuesday, Jan. 4. Explore the Ocala National Forest. Drive east on Route 314 looking for 314A and lakes but they’re harder to find than you’d think, and all of the land surrounding them is privately owned and virtually inaccessible. Drove past great stands of pine, their trunks blacked from controlled burns. Past trailers and junk yards and small houses—quite a contrast to Lido Key and St. Armand’s Circle, our destination last year. Spanish moss hung like scarves from live oak trees, palms cracking, dry leaves scudding across the pavement.

We drove down sand-covered roads with dust billowing, clouds wispy, the sun warm on our backs as we walked a pier on Lake Kerr and watched the powerboats bob at the makeshift marina next door, dogs howling in the background, a trio of orange trees dropping fat fruit on a green lawn.

We pulled off Highway 19 for lunch at the Square Meal, a small restaurant near the office for the Ocala National Forest. The Square Meal looks like a local hangout, sandwiched between a real estate office and a Laundromat. Big red Coke sign on the wall next to a rack of fish hooks. Many of the men and two girls were dressed in camo jackets and caps. Several women ordered the special—fried pork loin with white gravy. Pay at the counter on the way out, cash only.

Dinner was ordinary but good at the Outback franchise near our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express in Silver Springs, a new, clean and friendly place with complimentary breakfast. The only complaint: for the heart of the citrus industry, the orange juice was surprisingly bad, tasteless and watery. Florida supplies 40% of the world’s orange juice. Let’s hope they don’t get this stuff.

Lunch at the Square Meal

Lunch at the Square Meal