To Mumsey & Dad

Red Bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes
) from Wikimedia commons
public domain, photo by Ken Thomas

This post is a writing new year’s resolution.

Here’s the thing. Last week I went to look up a bird that my friend Milli (@millivrstravels) tweeted a photo of. I reached for one of my bird books. I’m a bird nerd so, yes, I have several bird books. My personal favorite is Peterson’s Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies—a gift from my daughter about 5 Christmases ago.

And this blog is about that one particularbird book that I reached for to look up that woodpecker—did I mention it was a woodpecker Milli tweeted a picture of? I riffled through the pages of the book, annoyed I couldn’t immediately find the woodpeckers. Then I flipped to the back of the book to look in the index.

That’s when I saw it. On the inside back cover of the book, an inscription:

To Mumsey & Dad—May you enjoy identifying from Alle alle to Zenaida macroura & beyond to discovering those species “waiting” to be found. Pam/1982

I stopped looking for woodpecker in the index. In fact I stopped cold. Because a) I’ve never been called Mumsey (except as a joke), b) I was not even close to being a Mumsey in 1982, and c) I had never before seen that inscription in my bird book that was given to me by my daughter (whose name, incidentally, is not Pam and who was born 9 years after that inscription was written).

In short, I have no idea where that book came from. No idea. And yet, that book was in my bookshelf and was given to me by my daughter. Or so I thought.

I flipped through the book again. On the inside cover, another notation of a different name—again, one that was not familiar to me—and a place, a nearby island. Tucked inside the book I found three more things: an old newspaper clipping of “Maine Animal Tracks,” an old typed flier describing the best kind of bird seed to use to attract birds to your feeder, and a small sticker that said YES! and No. on it.

None of these brought me any closer to figuring out who Mumsey and Dad are and how their book got in my house. But I figure there are a few possibilities.

Something innocuous like someone left the book at my house? One of my kids borrowed it from a friend during a school project? The book was buried in a box of books that I bought at a yard sale or brought home from the Town Book Barn? Or something a little more mysterious—it was left by the last owner of our house? Old Mr. Able did have that parrot in the window.

The truth is I may never know. And this mystery will likely join the annals of the other unsolved mysteries of the Martin family. What happened to the hammer that disappeared from the back of a U-Haul truck when we moved in 1992? Where are the peat pots that disappeared from the pantry in 1997? And where did those blue bags come from?

The sticker
Even if I never find out, it’s started 2012 off in a good way, with a reminder that life is full of unexpected stories and mysteries. I just need to keep my eyes open to find them. Which brings me back to my new year’s resolution: to observe and note all that I see, to pursue my passion wholly, to fully embrace the writing life.

Like the sticker says, I can choose—YES! or No.

How are you resolving to start your new writing year?

Happy New Year!



  1. I adore used books, mainly because of the mysterious inscriptions in them! Jim and I often purchase our books from used book stores, or used on the internet, and we really enjoy reading other’s notes and inscriptions. It’s like a time capsule. Some of our spiritual books have notes in the borders from several people who have owned them previously, and these are such a pleasure to share. It’s a peek inside someone else’s thoughts.
    Here’s to fully embracing the writing life, Julia!! If you don’t see me much on Twitter lately, that’s why.

  2. JM Merchant says:

    I love those sort of discoveries. My dad buys me a lot of books and I wish he’d leave dedication’s in them, not just for me but for whoever’s hands they end up in in the future.
    When I was a child there was an old barn up the road from us called ‘Books and Bygones’ and I loved rummaging through the boxes and boxes of books wondering who they’d belonged to.

    My new writing year is ambitious so need to get some friends to kick me on a regular basis.
    I’m starting my other new blog series, ‘Pirate Profiles’, continuing ‘The Apple Diary’ of course and planning plenty more blog posts, as well as possibly migrating over to WordPress. On top of that there’s short stories to finish and a novel to start! It’s going to be a busy and exciting year 🙂

  3. You book thief! 😉 Perhaps your daughter purchased the book at a thrift store/yard sale then gave it to you for Christmas? I love finding books with highlighted portions or dog-eared pages. To me, it is like scars on the body; each little marking tells a story, and it’s up to the current reader to determine what that story is.

  4. Erika Marks says:

    We must have been in cosmic sync, Julia–after my tweet question only to learn you’ve posted about my very query! Wonderful!

    The kids are home one more day here so I’m trying to get back into the writing routine but finding it tough–but of course, I’m thrilled for one more family day.

    Funny you should ask about NY resolutions–I’ve been debating some for my blog on the very subject tomorrow at the Deb Ball–I’m not having any trouble coming up with some, only whittling them down! Argh! 😉

  5. Julia – I’m thrilled that the photo of the woodpecker that came to my office window tree led to your discoveries. Knowing your propensities, all of this just looks and sounds SO right up your alley I don’t think the mystery prize could have gone to a better person! :~)

    Even though (and perhaps because) the mysteries posed by the book have no definitive answers, I found myself getting anticapatory (sp?) goose bumps as you took us through the adventure. I agree, it feels like the perfect reminder that 2012 holds much promise and potential, but it’s up to us to notice, utilize and appreciate.

    ~ Milli

    P.S. One of the symbolic messages from Woodpecker as an animal totem: “The foundation is there and it is safe to follow through.” Not sure that means anything for you, but during the two days that the woodpecker came to my tree I was planning a new creative endeavor – so I was pleased to have his birdy stamp on it. :~)

  6. Cynthia, I agree about used books — love them too, and never thought of them as a time capsule, but I love that idea — like me living in an old house! And I hear you about embracing the writing life and easing up on Twitter — ME TOO! 🙂 YOU GO, CYNTHIA! 🙂

    Jo, Here’s to a good writing year all around!! I’ll be checking in on your blog to see your new series, can’t wait. Busy and exciting, that’s the best kind of year, isn’t it? (p.s. you’re so lucky to have a dad who buys you lots of books!)

    Jolina, I left out an important detail…. I eventually found the book my daughter gave me — I now have TWO of that book: the one she gave me and the one I…. stole…? who knows! I love your description of the book markings as small scars telling a story. Beautiful!

    Erika, We birders are a mysterious group, aren’t we?! I am thrilled for this week of my daughter being home, but also looking forward to getting back into routine and forging full speed ahead with this new writing year! I can’t wait to read your resolutions on the Deb Ball — as you say, whittling them down is the thing–me too! 😉

    Milli, Thank you for the birdy path to my latest mystery! Somehow this will weave its way into a Maggie story, have no doubt! (p.s. Very cool about the woodpecker giving its stamp to your creative endeavor!)

  7. What a fantastic post Julia! How mysterious! How wonderful! How intriguing. Of all of this, the part that intrigues me most is the Yes/No sticker. Apart from having never seen anything like this, fancy it finding its way into a bird book – how odd! And you finding it at the beginning of a new year – even odder. It’s almost like it’s been lying there waiting for you to find it! So glad it’s inspired you even more to embrace your writing aspirations. Plans for my writing year – to find an agent and to finish my YA novel… oh, and another collaborative project which I’m very much looking forward to!

  8. Barb Riley says:

    Ha ha! It is JUST like you, Julia, to encounter the new year with a mystery! I don’t think it could have been any other way. 😉 As others have said, I enjoy reading previous owners’ messages, but being a privacy freak, I no longer put personal messages on gift books as I don’t want my personal thoughts shared with strangers—in case the recipient decides to donate it one day. (I know; I have issues, LOL.)

    My new writing year is starting off slow, but I’ve got big plans, I tell ya. I also have a LOT of catching up to do on my blog, my novel, etc. I’m easing back into it all today…

  9. Abi, Glad you enjoyed the post and the intrique — me too! It was so fun to find it at the beginning of the year, leading me to think of it as a look into the year ahead and inspiring me in my writing! It’s so great to find out more about other writers’ goals: so inspiring — glad you shared! And I’m looking forward to a collaborative project as well!

    Barb, You know me so well! It really IS like me to encounter a mystery — I truly seem to seek them out! Makes life so interesting. I’m with you, Barb, I rarely inscribe books, being such a privacy freak (although I write that and think that here I am writing on the internet for billions to see…. hmmm….). My new writing year is starting slow too, but within a week I’ll be back into the crazy flow — CAN’T WAIT!! Happy New Year!!

  10. Becca says:

    This was a delightful story, and I’m so glad to have found my way here.

    I love finding inscriptions in books, and always inscribe books that I give as gifts. Should they ever find their way into a stranger’s hands, I think it makes them deliciously mysterious and meaningful.

  11. Becca, I’m so glad you found your way here as well! I’d never thought of inscriptions the way you present them — as a mysterious and meaningful treat for strangers who find them! What a lovely point of view! Thanks so much for your comment and for your visit to my blog! Nice to meet you and happy new year!

  12. That is so awesome! That’s my favorite part about used bookstores; they are usually full of other people’s scribblings and notes. Lately I’ve been finding my own notes in old books I don’t remember writing at all. That yes/no sticker is cool, and super retro.

  13. Sara, Okay, you touched on something I *originally* put in the post — like you forgetting about notes you’ve made in books, I am a little afraid I bought the book at a used bookstore (or yard sale) and forgot…. who knows??? Or someone (maybe the Apple store guy?) is trying to drive me crazy? Anyway, I agree…. the yes/no sticker is super super cool and retro!

  14. Emma Pass says:

    Wow, what an amazing find, Julia! I love browsing through books in second hand bookstores, looking for inscriptions that might give me a clue about who used to own them and what they could have been like. When I was a kid, I even used to write fake inscriptions in disguised handwriting in my books, hoping to convince myself they’d once belonged to someone else. And this was long before I realised I wanted to be a writer!

    My writing resolutions are to make the edits on my novel as good as I possibly can, finish book 2 and let new ideas simmer away under the surface while I’m doing all that.

  15. Everything about this is awesome! I think your discovery is all the more exciting because you thought the book was something else. Oooh mystery!

    He’s a veeeery gorgeous woodpecker, too. I wish I could see more birds like that. Perth has a lot of birds, no doubt, but they’re very different. 🙂


  16. Ann says:

    Julia – aside from the fact that I just plain ol’ adore you and Milli – I adore the fact that you look and think beyond the obvious! I would think, “Hmm, this book is used” and that would be it!

    You SEE the story in everything. You were born to be a writer!

    I have a very old copy of The Joy of Cooking that has a name in it – I guess I should check it out!

    Have a GREAt day and stay warm (it’s gonna hit 32 tonight here – brrrr!)

  17. What a FABULOUS find. I love uncovering mysteries like this, Julia — makes the book that much more special. And so excited that the new year has already yielded so many wonderful bird visits.

  18. PS – I am not a fan of dog-eared, noted books though (my OWN, I should say). The poor people who have asked to read copies of my books get yelled at for returning them in non-pristine order.Dog ears? Heavens NO!!! I treat them like temples (and you can’t even tell I’ve read them. My notes are all on post-its)!

  19. lacouvee says:

    Julia – I found my way to your blog via your tweet about Mushroom Wellingtons with #ItsWhatsForDinner.

    I’m on the other coast, the west coast of Vancouver Island, and love to write too. Now to make 2012 a writing year.

    My husband swears by his Audobon iphone app for bird recognition 🙂

  20. Emma, I love that you wrote fake inscriptions in books — I used to write faked diary entries with disguised handwriting! I actually still do that sometimes for my characters as I’m developing them! Sounds like you have very clear resolutions for 2012 wonderful! Let the new year writing begin!

    Ashlee, It really is a mystery! I will try and figure it out; one of the advantages of living in a small town is that I may well find someone who knew who Mumsey and Dad were! As for the woodpecker, I’ve never seen it either! It’s one that doesn’t come as far north as Maine! I would love to see your birds in Perth — they must be amazing!

    Ann, I think what really got me about this mystery is that it caught me SO off guard! I knew my daughter had given me that book… but it wasn’t the same one! As you say, though, maybe not everyone would think of it as a big deal… still, I would be fascinate if I owned a cookbook with a name in it — you definitely should check it out!! Hang in there with the cold temps. BRRR is right!

    Melissa, It really does make the book more special and interesting — I hope like you do that the new year will yield many many more bird visits! As for MY books, I’m more like you, tending toward the very very pristine. It’s very hard for me to have a book that has folds and damage to it… but I am willing to write in and underline in my books!

    Lacouvee, So happy you found my blog via Twitter! I am so glad that you’re also making 2012 a writing year — I think it’s going to be a good one. Thank you for your comment and especially for your visit to my blog! Nice to meet you! (p.s. I’ll be checking out the iphone Audubon app; sounds very cool!)

  21. I love that you found that inscription! My mother called her grandmother Mumsey. That’s what I thought when I saw the post. For my new years writing, I’m going to finish off editing my children’s story, test it and query it. Life’s too short to wait, right?

  22. Leah, That’s so cool that your mom called your grandmother Mumsey!! I’m glad it brought that to mind for you when you read my post! I’m rooting for you with your children’s story! I’m also going to finish my WIP and query it. An exciting year, and YES life is definitely too short to wait. So happy to hear your writing goal!

  23. My new year resolution is to write lots this year and also read lots.

  24. Rachna, Great resolutions! Me too! Thanks for your comment and for your visit to my blog. Happy New Year!

  25. What a great story! You’re life is full of fun mysteries. I haven’t made a writing new year’s resolution yet, but I’d like to. I lack discipline, so I’d like to commit to writing a certain amount of time a week. I have to think about what I’ll realistically do. Hmmm…I’ll be back!

  26. Girl Parker says:

    Wow, when you said the inscription was years before your daughter was born, I had goosebumps!! Inspiring discoveries like that really get my “what if” juices flowing.

    I love your 2012 resolutions. Mine is simple. Finished first draft by fall. Gulp!

  27. Jen, I do love a good mystery, and I’m so happy to share with my wonderful blog readers! I know what you mean about commiting to a certain amount of time for writing — I agree, really helps me with the discipline! Free unstructured time is my enemy! I’ll look forward to your resolutions–come back and tell me! 🙂

    Girl Parker, That’s a wonderful 2012 resolution!! And I know what you mean, I plan to finish final draft of my WIP early in the year. It’s daunting no question. But YOU CAN DO IT!!! Here’s to a wonderful writing year ahead! (p.s. yes, goosebumps, exactly what happened to me, and also: HUH???)

  28. Jamie says:

    I remember having that book as a child. And how great that you found that sweet inscription. Makes me want to be sure to write something in all books that I give away. Good luck with all your writing goals, Julia.

  29. Jamie, I love that this makes you want to write something in all books you give away — and I’m glad you remember the book; it’s very cool! Thanks for your encouragement and support on my writing projects, and I wish you luck as well!

  30. Susan Okaty says:

    I love the mystery, Julia. I think this one could be the basis for a short story—or something more!

  31. Susan, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I agree, it would be very cool as a short story or incorporated into a larger piece! Thanks for the encouragement. Happy New Year!

  32. What a fun little mystery! Happy New Year to you, Julia — I resolve to be more present in the writing community. Hopefully, life will cooperate. Be well~

  33. Amanda! Happy New Year to you, too! Glad you enjoyed my little mystery. It’s wonderful to see you, and I agree — hopefully life will cooperate. xo Julia

  34. Hi, Julia.

    I gave you an award on my blog today.

  35. Hi Karen, Thank you so much!! That’s so nice of you! xo Julia

  36. CMSmith says:

    Ooooo. Are you back to your ghostly posts again from the archives of the paranormal?

    Captivating post. Reminds me of the movie Serendipity.

  37. Christine! I totally forgot about that awesome movie — I watched it a while ago, but when I read your comment I had to go watch the trailer again. Now I clearly need to rent it. Thanks for the lovely comment, and yes — if possible — I’m back to my ghostly paranormal but very real posts. Always captivating! 🙂

  38. What a cool mystery! This is one reason I have a hard time selling inscribed books of my own, even if I didn’t like the book … although perhaps I’m robbing someone of a good mystery, 😉

    I love your resolution, and look forward to reading more of what springs from it during the year, 🙂

  39. Mahesh, Glad you enjoyed it! I used to feel exactly like you do — about having a hard time selling inscribed books — but after writing this and reading peoples’ comments? I am really beginning to like the idea of someone finding one of MY inscribed books! I love the idea of someone feeling like they’ve uncovered a mystery! As for my resolution, I’ll do my best to share the unexpected stories and mysteries I find! 🙂

  40. Beth Hoffman says:

    I adore this post, the mystery and how it holds meaning for you really grabbed me. We think so much alike!

    I especially loved this: “Even if I never find out, it’s started 2012 off in a good way, with a reminder that life is full of unexpected stories and mysteries. I just need to keep my eyes open to find them.”

    Lovely … Happy New Year. May the muse be with you.

  41. Beth, I’m so glad you loved the post! It’s so nice to know there are others out there who are curious about the daily mysteries of life — doesn’t it make everyday such a wonder? Here’s to life full-steam ahead, with our eyes open to find every exciting mystery, large and small! Happy New Year and may the muse be with you as well!

  42. Ha! In my house things suddenly go missing then suddenly turn up again. I DO wonder where you got that book!

    As for writing resolutions . . . I resolved not to beat myself up about doing little beyond the blog for now. Instead of feeling crappy about what I can’t finish right now with 4 kids, I’m trying to feel good about what I AM doing well vis-a-vis writing–which for NOW is pretty much just the blog!

  43. Nina, Your writing resolutions sound great! Like you, I am trying to make goals that are very specific and do-able; then if there’s time for more, it’s gravy. Also like you, I want to stop being too hard on myself. As for your blog, if I were you, I’d feel VERY good about that accomplishment — it’s a smash hit! (p.s. I am absolutely sure my book mystery will re-surface as a short story and/or real-life adventure 🙂

  44. What a perfect thing for a writer to find lurking on her bookshelf! Let your imagination run away with you. I smell the beginnings of a story… 🙂