Going (a little) Viral

Photo by Julia Munroe Martin, all rights reserved

Once in a while you get lucky. You get to see something or witness something that becomes a phenomenon. And once in a while it helps you go viral.

Enter the Westbrook Ice Disk.

If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of an ice disk or ice circle—why would we? I mean it’s a rare occurrence, described by Wikipedia in this way:

“Ice discs, ice circles, ice pans, or ice crepes are natural phenomena that occur in slow moving water in cold climates. Ice circles are thin and circular slabs of ice that rotate slowly in the water. It is believed that they form in eddy currents.”

That’s what pops up if you search for “ice disk” in Google. But what also pops up are photo after photo of the latest ice disk—described as one of the largest, if not the largest on record, at 300 feet in diameter—located in Westbrook, Maine, less than half an hour from where I live.

When I first heard about the ice disk, Friday of last week, I naturally told MEH (My Engineer Husband) immediately. I knew we had to go see it. We planned an early morning, sunrise viewing the very next morning. The area where the ice disk is located is right below the Sacrappa Falls on the Prescumpsot River, a spot conveniently next to a four-story parking garage. We drove to the top of the garage and took some photos—along with four other photographers—at six-thirty in the morning. By the time we left, there were cars lining the other side of the river for a glimpse of the ice disk, ice moon, ice circle . . . the phenomenon.

But I had my pic. A photo taken with my iPhone of sunrise at the Westbrook Ice Disk. I posted it to Instagram expecting my usual 250 to 300 likes of a nice sunrise or sunset, but within an hour I had over 400.

Photo by Lee Martin, all rights reserved

Later that day, MEH said he wanted to go back—to catch the sunset lighting up the disk, as we’d seen at sunrise. Alas, with a huge snowstorm bearing down, there was no sunset to see, only gray skies, but MEH took an amazing wide angle shot of the disk. And this time when we went back, it was crowded on both sides of the river, so much so we got stuck in a traffic jam on the drive to the river.

But It was worth it. It’s really something, that ice disk. And it helped me achieve something I’ve wanted for a while—to go (a little) viral. My photo of the ice disk now has over 1500 views on Instagram.

Have you ever witnessed a phenomenon?

Opening the door

This morning at 5:47 a.m., I spit into an Ancestry DNA test tube and placed it into the postage-pre-paid box.

When I was two years old, my bio-father walked out on my older brother, my mother, and me. He left for a younger woman who was a student at the local state college where we lived in Pennsylvania. The story I always heard was that he left my brother and me with a neighbor while “babysitting us,” my mother out for the day. After my mom figured out what had happened, she went to the college and had the “other woman” thrown out of school—she was always proud of that—then she moved with my brother and me to Boston and entered a graduate program at Harvard.

A year or so later she met a fellow graduate student, and they married three weeks later—he was the man who raised me from the time I was four, the man I called Dad. After they finished their degrees, we moved to California where he and my mom taught at a small college. The two spent their lives teaching and traveling the globe, conducting research together in cross-cultural child development. At the same time, they raised my older brother and me and had another son eight years my junior: the half-brother I grew up with.

Meanwhile on the east coast, my bio-dad Paul married the younger woman, and they too had a son, also eight or so years younger than I am. I saw Paul just three more times in my life and met that half-brother only once when I was a teenager, twice as an adult. But when that half-brother was about five, Paul left him and his mother, too—for another woman.

What I didn’t know until about a year ago was that Paul would repeat this pattern—with women, if not with children—at least four times in his life; he died twenty years ago.

To say I had a complicated relationship with my family would be an understatement. My fathers not withstanding. My mother, who died twenty years ago, and I were quite different. Among other things, she was both brilliant and also strong-willed (not that those things are mutually exclusive or that I am labeling myself as not-brilliant). She wanted me to bend to her will, to her high standards for me, and I spent much of my young life trying to live up to her expectations—at the same time fighting like hell to figure out who I really was and what I really wanted to do with my life rather than fighting against what she wanted for me. It’s been a struggle.

The whole time I was growing up, I longed to have a close relationship with my bio-grandmother (Paul’s mother). I felt closely akin to her, I’m not sure why. She, a Russian immigrant, lived in NY City; me, a very-American teen, lived in California. I saw her maybe once a year, if I was lucky. But in temperament, in spirit, I was very much my grandmother’s granddaughter—her only granddaughter. When my grandmother died I was “not invited” to the funeral. As in, I was asked not to attend. I suppose it was too complicated with various of Paul’s girlfriends/fiancés/wives, and at the same time, Paul was notoriously ill tempered—at least one relative told me I should be happy he wasn’t in my life. But to me, it felt like the ultimate rejection. I wish I’d gone to her funeral, and it still stings that I chose not to.

In the past six months, I’ve become active on Ancestry.com. I’ve researched both sides of my family—my biological roots—going all the way back (if I’m to believe Ancestry research) to my fifth great-grandfather Rabbi Eliyahu Zeldovich born around 1850 in Minsk, Belarus. On the other side, to the late 1700s (!!!) in Switzerland.

I’ve also found living second cousins and third cousins and distant “aunts and uncles,” some of whom I met when I was a child, at my grandparent’s lake house near New York City. All told tales of life in eastern Europe and Russia, some told harrowing stories of escaping to the freedom of the United States. These stories fascinated me and still do, so I hope someday soon to visit a cousin and “uncle” whom I’ve reconnected with, who know more of those stories.

But to actually find people I’m related to via DNA? It took me a while to get there. When I first heard about the test, I was skeptical. What would that give me? But as I thought about it, I realized. Paul . . . his various wives, girlfriends, etc., I’ve known men like that. Surely there may have been others. Other relationships.

The younger half-brother I grew up with died five years ago. My older brother and my other half-brother (the one I’ve met three times) are still alive. But . . . the elephant in the room . . . did Paul have other children? One of Paul’s errant relationships (let’s be honest, here—no one likes to think of their parents this way—one errant sperm) could have produced another half-sibling. Another half-brother? Or half-sister? Maybe someone who’s wondering the same thing on Ancestry.com.

But to be willing to open that door. That’s something. That’s what I feel like I did this morning. I opened a door to . . . something . . . or nothing. I won’t start to find out for at least six to eight weeks.

To be continued . . .

Have you delved into your family’s history? Have you (or would you) explore DNA testing?

In Search of the Zone

By Daniel via Flickr’s Creative Commons

Last week I wrote about by desire to re-enter the writing zone.

My intention was to have a resolution list ready to go on January 1. Things I’d do in 2019 to help me “get there”—back to the zone—but here it is January 15, and I’m just sitting down to capture my new year’s writing resolutions.

I keep an “everything list,” I update every month or so (most recently at the beginning of this new year), everything from decluttering closets to finding more vegetarian and vegan recipes to catching up on all the things I didn’t do in 2018. None of the things on this list will necessarily bring me closer to my writing goal.

Enter List 2. Ways to bring back the writing zone. In addition to continuing to go to the therapist, here are the things I’m planning to do to try and recapture the writing magic.

  1. On the top of this second list is the nebulous goal to “do new things.” This is similar to how Julia Cameron suggests going on “artist dates” with yourself: “a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you.” To ask yourself, “What sounds fun?” I’m hoping introducing new things into my daily or weekly routine (though not necessarily always festive or artistic) will spark ideas and creativity.
  2. Another of Julia Cameron’s suggestions: morning pages. I have not been particularly successful at this in the past, feeling inhibited as I write, perhaps worried I’ll be upset or self-conscious when I read things later? (I’m not sure about why, to be honest.) The editor I’m working with suggested I shred the pages after I write them. I’ve done this a few times and it really helps me write more freely. My goal is to write pages every morning.
  3. Regular exercise—a tried and true method for kicking my creativity into higher gear—has fallen by the wayside as 2018 got busy.
  4. Write regularly. As in a daily word count for fiction. This has worked for me in the past; I’m hoping it will work again. Also, blog weekly.
  5. Read more.
  6. Less screen time. Specifically, less social media.
  7. Use my “happy light” every morning for half an hour or more. The Mayo Clinic says light therapy may help “if you typically have fall and winter depression, you may notice symptoms during prolonged periods of cloudy or rainy weather during other seasons.” Maine winters are notoriously long and dark—the county I live in ranks 2,622 out of 3,111 counties in the country for solar radiation. Mind you, this is an annual average, and during the summer we get a lot more sunlight. In the winter, it starts to get dark a little after three. BTW, curious where your county ranks for natural happiness light? Check out this cool map.

Most of the things on my writing resolution list are things I like to do as soon as I get up (exercise, write morning or daily pages, write fiction). My energy for these things fades as the day goes on. I’m thinking of using the therapy light later in the day to see if I can emulate the early morning hours, to see if it stimulates more creativity.

That’s my plan. It has not escaped me that I’m approaching the recapturing of a very untethered feeling (the writing zone) in a very structured manner. This does and does not worry me because whether it’s by design or through some mysterious alchemy, it doesn’t really matter, I just want to get back there.

To that end, at the end of last year, I started to feel tiny sparks from time-to-time, sensations of writing days past. These glimpses have become more frequent. Maybe this will morph into the writing excitement of days gone by? When the twinges first started, I felt sad—they seemed so out of reach—now when I get these feelings, I’m more excited . . . and curious. This makes me hopeful that a breakthrough is getting closer.

I’ll keep you posted. Do you have a new year’s writing list? I’d love to hear! We’re all in this together!

Finding My Way

Photo by Julia Munroe Martin, all rights reserved

Last year was a tough year full of change. And I didn’t do much writing because of it. I’ve written about some of these transitions here and on Writer Unboxed, too, as I figure out how to move forward with my writing.

Toward the end of last year, after one of my Writer Unboxed posts, I started to work with an editor—to develop some of my fiction ideas and to edit some of my past works. She and I have been working together for about three months now, and I’m happy to say that I’ve made a little progress.

But . . .

Not enough. Don’t get me wrong, she has been wonderful. Our weekly Skype sessions are not only helpful but also very enjoyable. I respect her opinions, and it’s great to have someone to bounce ideas off of. And I’ll continue to work with her.

But . . .

Something is missing. I still haven’t recaptured the feeling of being in love with writing. I’d almost describe it as feeling as though my writing is locked inside. Even when I have an idea that I love, I can’t seem to pursue it. I no longer feel the breathless excitement for writing like I used to; a lot of my enthusiasm is gone; when I do write, the flow or finding the zone, is almost impossible.

Do I want to give up?

Absolutely not. Quite the opposite. I want to re-find the zest I used to have. I miss it and long for it daily.

Blogging to the Rescue, Part II?

When I started this blog, I posted every day. And while I’m not sure I want to go that far, I do want to start to blog again (certainly more than three times a year like last year and the year before). My original intent for blogging was to kickstart my fiction writing (it worked: I finished one novel and wrote five more with many more partial manuscripts); I’m hoping blogging will do the same this time. For a while now, I’ve also planned to redesign my blog.

One of my long-time blogging friends Nina Badzin just added a subdomain to her main site, for her friendship advice column:

“I made a new site–a subdomain of this site–and that will be the home for all the friendship posts I’ve written since 2014 and all the friendship-related posts I will write in the future. You guys, I made the site with my bare hands.”

(By the way if you haven’t looked at Nina’s friendship advice posts, you should. She’s really helped me and taught me a lot about friendship. Invaluable advice!) But to the point today, kudos to Nina for making the site herself. She has inspired me to take a crack at redesigning my own blog. I had planned to hire someone—and still might—but between having some free time and a background in the tech industry as well as a husband who’s a software engineer (MEH—My Engineer Husband—for those of you who have known me for a while), I’m willing to at least give it a try.

In a way, spending more time blogging is like returning to my roots.

But . . . That’s Not Enough

I’m not so naïve to think that working with an editor or deciding to increase my blogging is the answer to coming out of what I need to admit is a writing slump (I can’t and won’t go so far as to say I’m blocked—I’m not a fan of that expression anyway).

So, I’ve also started seeing a therapist. I sought out someone who works with creative people. My goal is that she will help me find my way back to “the flow” I once felt while writing.

Talking with her has given me the chance to name my feelings and give them space—sometimes I don’t acknowledge I have a right to feel the things I feel. The therapist pointed out that in 2018 I dealt with a trifecta of life changes, and said it’s understandable how those changes would impact my ability to focus let alone my ability for writing to flow. Just talking with her, hearing her acknowledge my feelings and fears, has brought me a sense of peace and acceptance I haven’t felt in a while. And I’m hoping it’s just the beginning.

I know I have a long way to go, but the fact that I’m acknowledging that, and that I’m writing a blog to do so, is encouraging me. I know it’s just one step in many I’ll be taking this year as I find my way with my life and with my writing.

That’s what 2019 has in store for me—I’d love to hear what you’re up to!

Lost Not Found

By Patrick aka Herjolf via Flickrs Creative Commons

Yesterday I lost something. To be specific, I can’t find it. This thing—something recently given to me, a tiny book—is personalized. And highly personal. Truly priceless in its contents.

I’ve gone through every obvious place it should be . . . like the table where I last remember seeing it, on bookshelves, and in drawers of paper products. But I’ve also searched not so obvious places like piles of folded laundry and car glove boxes. I searched through the box of batteries and the junk drawer, too. I’ve looked through bags and boxes of all kinds of things.

When my son was a teenager, I lost my favorite pair of sunglasses—they disappeared out of the car. I searched high and low but never found them. My kids laughed along with me as I questioned each of their friends for months about my sunglasses, every time I drove one home from school or a group of kids to the beach. It became a joke, but it bugged me. I never did find the sunglasses and eventually agreed with the likely hypothesis that they fell out of the car.

Once when we were packing for a move—this before we had children—MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I misplaced a hammer (how do you do that?). We looked for weeks but never found it. We’d been using it in the old house, packed the last box, loaded it in the car, but never found the hammer in the new house. We searched both houses to no avail.

“Maybe I left it on the roof of the car,” MEH mused back then. We’d lost several coffee cups that way.

A pack of peat pots disappeared once. My son’s pre-school backpack (that really did disappear off the roof of the car, but when we turned around, seconds after we saw it fly off in the rearview mirror, we couldn’t find it anywhere). Socks, of course. A favorite nightshirt.

But nothing as irreplaceable as this.

In all other regards, it’s been my lucky month—my son and daughter have both been home. But I’ve been out of my usual routine, so I’m imagining I tossed the book aside as I ran to greet them, to chase the dog, or to pull a boiling pot off the stove.

But I wonder.

“I have a mystery on my hands,” I mentioned to my son when he came downstairs for coffee in the morning. He’d come home in the middle of the night, so the book had already gone missing before he arrived.

My daughter, though, had been home; I’d shown it to her and her boyfriend the day it disappeared. Had it somehow slipped into their things? They’re both in medical school and they always have plenty of books and papers, laptops, bags of more books—endless studying!—maybe I placed it on one of their stacks?

Déjà vu all over again (as an old boss of mine used to say)—like the sunglasses. After they left, I emailed them:Had they accidentally scooped it up? They checked and re-checked their things—

No such luck.

Last night, just before we went to bed, MEH went through the trash. (He’s nice like that; he kindly takes on many of life’s less savory tasks.) Then the recycling. We both looked under the couches and the dog bed, through the sock basket, through stacks of books. My folders—again.

Still no luck.

It’s missing. Gone at least for now.

I Googled missing things (of course I did), wondering—do other people go through this? Big things disappear. The whole city of Atlantis. Blackbeard’s Treasure. There are countless stories about those kinds of losses. But also . . . a story about a woman who lost her wedding ring while gardening, found it sixteen years later growing on a carrot. Another woman who lost an autographed book, only to find it five years later when she ordered a used book on Amazon—it was her very own personalized book.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think either of these extreme things will happen. I think in the distraction of everyday life, I put my lost item somewhere unexpected. Just waiting to be found. I fully expect that someday when I least expect it, I’ll open a drawer I’ve opened a hundred times and there it will be—in plain sight.

At least that’s what I’m hoping.

UPDATE: Four hours after I posted this blog, I found the little book…  it had fallen down into the mechanism of an office chair. Keep your eyes peeled for the hammer, the peat pots, and Blackbeard’s treasure, though!

Have you ever lost anything valuable? And irreplaceable? Did you find it? Any suggestions on where I should look?

Flying Solo

Photo by Alistair Morris, Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Alistair Morris, Flickr Creative Commons

I wrote this in January but didn’t have the heart to post it. Last month, my dad died, and I thought about this . . . written during another period of mourning. It seems fitting to post now, and maybe in another few months I’ll be able to post what I’ve just written about my dad. Today, please join me in celebrating the life of Eva Thompson.

When our kids were growing up, my very good friend Eva and I sent emails to one another when we were worried about something. We called them Worried Mother Alerts, almost immediately shortened to WMAs. If I got an email from Eva with WMA in the subject line, I’d open it right away, knowing she needed some support. She did the same for me.

When our kids were younger, it was always small stuff. School and teacher struggles. Heartbreak after one wasn’t invited to a beach party; anxiety after one was invited to a co-ed overnight prom party. One didn’t get a part in a play she had her heart set on, one was taking a solo train trip.

As the kids got older, the stakes got higher.

Once, while studying abroad, Eva’s daughter was stranded in Europe, traveling alone at night, and she’d lost her credit card. By the time I got the WMA, Eva had already come up with a solution, but she needed to write to someone who understood her worry and fear. I did. Eva was there for me, too, when my daughter moved across the country to San Francisco after finishing college.

Two worrying moms always seemed better than one. It certainly lightened the load. Made us feel like we weren’t quite alone in our fears. Like we didn’t need to worry as much as we thought we did. I think, although I never verified this with Eva, that I was the bigger worrier. I certainly had a more vivid imagination about what could go wrong—being a writer and all, Eva frequently said—and I was the bigger crier. Eva said she’d only cried twice in her whole life.

Eva would talk me down, tell me everything would be okay. She was always right.

Soon, we expanded the WMA. When my husband was laid off from his job and suffered from depression, I reached out to Eva with a WWA (Worried Wife). And when Eva received her cancer diagnosis four years ago, I sent her this email:

I’ve added you to my WMA list, flying this one solo.

That’s the day I came up with the WFA (Friend).

Eva wasn’t a big one for phone calls. We’d meet for lunch or coffee once a month or so, always arranged via email, occasionally texts. In fact, I only ever talked to Eva on the phone three times over our twenty-some-year friendship.

Once when we got our lunch places mixed up—she was on one end of town, I on the other. Once when I was trying to find her house after she moved. And once when she got the news that her cancer treatment wasn’t working, and they’d told her she had about six months to live.

Eva cried that day.

I cried, too.

And I cried last week when I heard the news I’d been dreading —my friend Eva had died. I sent texts to a few good friends to tell them, but it wasn’t quite the same. They’d never met Eva, just knew I had a friend who wasn’t doing very well. And they didn’t know anything about the WMA. I’d never really even told my husband about it—I don’t know if Eva ever told hers—not about the formal program, anyway.

To be honest, the WMA never entered my mind when I first heard about Eva’s death. But this morning I woke up sad and full of worry. My daughter called yesterday to tell me she’s moving four hours away. It’s a move dictated by her studies, not her first-choice location, and I cried when she told me—so she did, too—worried about me. I’d felt lucky that since her move to San Francisco, she’d returned to the east coast and was a quick two-hour hop from home. Now, she’d be way far up in the tippy top of Maine.

Eva’d have understood.

I felt selfish after I cried. Here I am, I’ll be fine. My daughter, too. So, I’ll drive a little farther to see her—is that so bad? As my daughter said after she told me: “It’s not like it’s San Francisco or anything, Mom.”

It’s the kind of thing Eva would have written in her return email.

But it wasn’t that. It was the realization. The letting go. Knowing that I’ll never again get an email from Eva with the WMA subject line. That I’ll never again be able to send a WMA email to her and share my worry . . . or sadness.

WFA. My good friend Eva died, and I miss her so much.

Eva would’ve understood. And now all I can do is cry.

I’m a Writer, Not a Waiter!

inspiration writing fiction Julia Munroe Martin Poynter amwriting One of my writer friends has a sticker on her computer that says, “Waiting for inspiration to write is like standing at the airport waiting for a train.”

I’ve been feeling a little bit like that lately, which could explain why I haven’t blogged since December. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing, but my writing inspiration has been challenged, and I can really relate to the quote above and others from Dan Poynter—because it turns out that’s who wrote that airport train quote.

He also said, “If you wait for inspiration to write, you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.”

I feel a bit like a poser. Like an imposter. But I’m working actively against those feelings, and one thing I do as frequently as I can to combat them is to hang out with other writers, particularly at conferences and retreats.

Hence, I just got home from the New England Romance Writer’s Conference, and although I do not technically consider myself a romance writer (even though I do write about love and I am co-writing a romance novel), I go to every conference I can conveniently get to because I always learn so much.

This one was no different. Here are some of the things I learned:

  • It’s really, really wonderful to be around other writers all day long—they “get it.” Meaning what it means to be a writer, and that’s a very comforting feeling.
  • I always meet people who are fascinating to talk to: writers but also non-writers who are traveling through the conference venue.
  • I agree with another writer (sorry, I can’t remember her name) who said she always comes away inspired to write more. Me too—thank goodness, because I’m not sure I could write less.
  • My author time is spent almost exclusively on writing, with almost no time spent on the business side of being a writer, and I need to learn more about marketing and SEO—thank you to Nam Patel and Sarina Bowen for the really excellent sessions on these topics.
  • Closely related: I don’t and have never done enough marketing of my indie-published novel, Desired to Death, written as J.M. Maison. This seems particularly important right now as I’m getting ready to publish the second book in that mystery series.
  • I pitched manuscripts to two literary agents, and I was reminded that any time I have a chance to meet face-to-face with literary agents is time well spent. I’ve read that some authors and some agents, too, have mixed feelings about pitch sessions, but I love them—not only because I can pitch my work, but because I get valuable information from every literary agent I talk to, and also because meeting agents as people helps me humanize the whole experience.

Finally, a word about Dan Poynter. When I decided to write about his quote, I had no idea who he was. Dan Poynter was an author, publisher, passionate skydiver, and parachute designer, who wrote over 130 books and 800 magazine articles. I can’t be sure, but I imagine that Mr. Poynter wrote through some rough patches because he wrote such apt quotes. But more so, I imagine he went through those periods because every writer I’ve ever known has gone through them.

I’ll talk about what I’m doing to address my own rough patch in future blog posts—one of the goals I made while I was at the conference was to set a regular blogging schedule—but I haven’t done that yet…

Stay tuned!

What are your writing goals? Have you ever had a rough patch? If so, what do you do to be a writer not a waiter?

Cheers,

Julia

Hello Old Friends

Writing friends at the Ungathering in Vermont last month. Photo by Therese Walsh (who should be in the picture!)

Writing friends at the Ungathering in Vermont last month. Photo by Therese Walsh (who should be in the picture!)

My blog started—almost seven years ago (I can hardly believe that!)—as a daily endeavor to get me writing fiction every day. I blogged every single day for a year, then a little less often, then even less often, until now I blog, well, sporadically. In 2016 I blogged eight times, and this is only my third post for 2017.

I’ve thought about shutting the whole thing down, but the truth is, I like having a blog, knowing it’s here if I want to write a post. I’ll keep my domain name regardless, so why not the blog?

A little update on where my fiction writing stands.

I’m focusing on finishing the second book in my mystery series. I self-published Desired to Death about three years ago under the pseudonym J.M. Maison. That book is languishing on Amazon, but I still get occasional downloads, and I’m hoping to breathe new life into it with book two—it’s always been my goal to have a mystery series.

I’m also really happy to announce that I’m co-writing a novel with my friend Amy Rachiele, mob fiction romance, the first in a trilogy. It’s been a long-time goal to co-author a novel, and I can’t think of a better partner. We have a lot of fun together, and I’m honored to be writing with someone who has so many successes. Check out Amy’s page on Amazon.

Earlier this year, I shelved a novel (commercial/literary) I’d spent about a year working on; I wrote a blog about that for Writer Unboxed.

I’m still looking for traditional homes for two other (commercial/literary) novels I wrote in the last few years. One is a time travel novel, the other is a historical novel about a Vietnam era love story. I had an offer for representation this year, but it wasn’t a great fit so I turned it down. That was a tough decision, but I see it as another commitment to my writing. To the professionalism of my writing—making conscious choices about how and where and when I want to direct what I’m writing.

At the end of 2016 I attended my second-ever writing conference—the Writer Unboxed Unconference. I can say that experience was truly life changing. Since then, I’ve attended two other conferences and two retreats, all with a subset of my “Uncon” friends. These writers, along with my accountability partner Jess, whom I talk to every Monday, and a few other writers I’ve been fortunate to meet along my writer’s journey, keep me writing on a regular basis. I can’t say enough about how much my writing friends have helped me—something I wrote about in another blog on Writer Unboxed.

As I embark on the new year, my goals remain the same as when I started this blog. To write fiction every day. To seek traditional publication for my work. I’ll add one more goal this year: to self-publish at least the second book in my mystery series and the first book in the trilogy with Amy.

None of this would be possible without all of you. You all keep me writing.

What are your goals for 2018, friends?

Happy New Year,

Julia

 

Reading Cycles of Summer

IMG_5459

So happy to see our one sunflower bloom yesterday… early in the summer a deer ate most of the plant, but it came back! (Photo all rights reserved!)

I haven’t been reading much lately. Summer has been busy with gardening and dog training and outside fun and (most importantly) time with my daughter who was doing an internship in Maine and living with us while she did. I loved having her home and the freedom of summer to do whatever the day brought, but I didn’t do much reading. I wasn’t too worried—I do know that my reading always seems to go in cycles—but when first one writer friend, then another, asked what I was reading and I came up completely blank, I realized it had been so long I couldn’t even remember what I’d read last.

By the way, I clearly wasn’t blogging this summer; I haven’t posted a blog since the beginning of the year! Actually all my writing was in a lull this summer, my focus on other things, and I have a blog on Writer Unboxed about that on Monday.

The busy-ness all ended a few weeks ago when my daughter went back to medical school, then summer extended by a visit from my son and new fiancé. We talked and laughed and cooked good food and made ice cream together and spent time in the garden. MEH (My Engineer Husband) took the week off and went hiking with our son and fiancé in Acadia National Park and was joined in garden weeding duties by them as well.

After they left and MEH went back to work, the house seemed very quiet and felt really empty. (Turns out even a very vocal and energetic rescue hound can’t fill the void of my favorite people.) I wasted a couple of days with all-day news TV binges, but when that got too depressingly repetitive, I turned to Amazon and ordered a few new books.

This morning I picked up my Kindle to read. I started with Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt and was immediately hooked, but I also looked at another book I’d downloaded, a time travel novel: The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn. I was immediately drawn into that one, too. After that I have The Outsiders, All Our Wrong Todays, The Weight of Ink, and about 100 or 1000 or one million more books I want to read.

Oh, and I remembered the last book I was reading (my Kindle reminded me), and maybe that’s one of the reasons I took the break… I really didn’t like it very much and probably won’t finish it. Enough said.

Does your reading go in cycles, like mine does? How was your summer and how did you spend it?

 

A Final Good-bye

Photo by Greg Wagoner, Flickr's Creative Commons

Photo by Greg Wagoner, Flickr’s Creative Commons

Online life can be strange. We “meet” people, friends, and connect briefly…or permanently. We can connect superficially or deeply. Often it’s like our friends IRL—we aren’t really sure what draws us together. Something unknowable, intangible, fleeting. Right place at the right time? Maybe something serendipitous or simply a similar interest.

Like writing.

One such writer I’ve connected with is Tracy Seeley. She was one of my earliest writer friends in my online writing community. I don’t really remember exactly how we “met.” On a blog? Twitter? (Not Facebook, I know that, because we were never friends there.) I only know that we connected deeply over her memoir My Ruby Slippers about a roadtrip to explore her past in Kansas and Colorado, spurred on by a cancer diagnosis.

I wrote to Tracy after reading her memoir, first on email, then on paper…by snail mail. I told her how much I enjoyed her book, and I was honored she wrote back. We exchanged a handful of cards—talking about our shared interests in gardening, places we’d both lived (Colorado and San Francisco), and of course writing.

We also talked about her ongoing battle with breast cancer.

We stopped writing to one another a few years ago. It wasn’t anything in particular that stopped us—not even that we ran out of things we could say—it was just that we both got busy, as friends do.

So today, when quite by accident I stumbled upon Tracy’s obituary, I was caught short. She died last year, and I didn’t know. That’s perhaps one of the cruelest tricks of modern life: someone who you’ve never met in person, who you think you know, feel like you know, can be gone just as quickly as they appeared. And you don’t even know. It feels like Tracy could be alive because I never saw her at the grocery store or on my way around the block with the dog or every year at a family reunion or conference and I never even talked to her on the phone or Skyped or Google-chatted with her as I have with many of you.

From time to time I talk to MEH (My Engineer Husband) about what he should do if I die suddenly. How he will tell my online community…who he will tell who will then spread the word. We’ve never come up with a hard and fast plan. He doesn’t even remember where I keep my passwords. In truth, I keep them on my Macbook, on an electronic post-it, but of course he’d need my computer password to see them—that’s on the same post-it. I’m not sure it would be the first or second thing he’d think of; maybe he’d never think of it at all.

I do. And yet I don’t know what the answer is. For me. I imagine it’s different for each of us.

What I do know is that I wish I’d written to Tracy one more time. To say good-bye. To thank her for her lovely book—which I’ll treasure even more now. To say how much her cards and time meant to me; her acceptance and affection as a writer.

But mostly, I’d say this:

I’m so glad you were my friend, Tracy. You were a beautiful and wonderfully warm woman and lovely writer who I’m so happy to have shared time on Earth with, however briefly. Thank you for being my friend. I will miss you. Love, Julia

My love to you all,

Julia

 

NaNoWriMo Fail…Life Win

 

The sunrise over Salem Harbor

Sunrise over Salem Harbor

This year’s National Novel Writing Month goes down as a fail…in word count, anyway. In fact, I wrote fewer words in November than I have in any month this year.

But I see the month as a personal success. Big time. Here’s why.

In early November I attended the Writer Unboxed Unconference. I learned from the greats: Don Maass, Lisa Cron, Kathryn Craft, and Anne Greenwood Brown (to name a few). See my post at Writer Unboxed about one tiny part of what I learned. I made progress on my WIP in ways I’m still unraveling. I met writer friends I’d to date met only online or talked to on the phone: most notably Therese Walsh, my fearless and amazing editor at WU; Kim Bullock, my wonderful fellow assistant editor; Kathryn Craft and Vaughn Roycroft and John Kelley and Mike Swift and Jo Eberhardt and Rebeca Schiller and Chris Blake and Heather Webb and Keith Cronin and Tonia Marie Harris and Jeannine Thibodeau and Bernadette Phipps-Lincke…so many…writers on WU I’ve known for years. But what surprised me most was the friends I made that I’d never met online. Wonderful and loving writers all, now amazing friends for life. I could go on and on because “the UnCon” was truly a life-changing event for me, at least in part because as an introvert, I was afraid to go (almost didn’t)…but I challenged my fear…and I did it.

Later in the month, I went to Virginia to see my son and his wonderful girlfriend. While in Charlottesville, my son and I went to Monticello, where we had an amazing tour with one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had anywhere, which of course inspired more story ideas; we read and wrote a lot together (they are both studying for big exams); and we ate a lot of good food. It was a marvelous trip. And…to make the trip, I challenged my fear of flying…I was only slightly terrified, but I did it.

Finally, November is a win because I am reinvigorated in my story. I am looking at it in new ways and realizing how close I am to the (very rough draft) end. I’m hitting December with a positive attitude about writing and life—and that’s bound to translate into a winning December and coming year in word count and in happiness.

How can I ask for any better result from a NaNoWriMo fail?

How was your month? How are you feeling about your writing (and life) as you head into December and the new year? 

Happy Book Birthday: Author in Progress

Today I’m excited to announce the release of Author in Progress, a book for novelists in progress, published by Writer’s Digest and written by the writers on Writer Unboxed (including me!!). On Writer Unboxed today, there’s a full description of the chapters in the book, along with a GIVEAWAY!!

A little over four years ago I had my first post at Writer Unboxed: I’m Not Above Spying. Since then, I’ve gone from being an occasional contributor to a regular contributor to an assistant editor and contributor. Writer Unboxed started out as—and still is—my favorite blog for writers. It inspires, educates, informs, but above all else it’s positive and empowering. This is what sets WU articles apart from what you might see on other sites for writers, and it’s also what sets Author In Progress apart from other books for writers—all thanks to the vision of editor Therese Walsh, also the co-founder and editorial director for Writer Unboxed.

Author in Progress is for novelists in progress at every level, featuring all new essays on everything from how to push through challenges to how to thrive throughout the process of writing a novel, broken into 7 sections:

  1. PREPARE
  2. WRITE
  3. INVITE (critique)
  4. IMPROVE
  5. REWRITE
  6. PERSEVERE
  7. RELEASE

My essay is very-appropriately located in the section on persevering. It’s called, “The Torturous Waiting: How Waiting Becomes a part of Writing”—because I’ve done a lot of that. Let’s face it, we all do a lot of that—waiting for agents, for publishers, for critique partners—and it’s important to keep a positive attitude while we wait, focusing on the one thing we really can control: the writing.

Here’s a tip I offer in the article: find a writing accountability partner (like I have), someone to check in with weekly, to talk about how the writing is going, and to bounce ideas off of.

I hope you enjoy the book and find it as useful as I’ve found it (and I hope you’ll check out Writer Unboxed, if you don’t already!).

Cheers,

Julia

 

Adaptation: The Missing Link

IMG_2928Today I’m on Writer Unboxed with a post about Adaptation. Specifically, as a writer why it’s so necessary during life changes to reassess how things are working in your writing life then to adapt to current circumstances—but more specifically than that, about why it’s so necessary in my writing life right now.

It didn’t feel right doing that (talking about things, deeply personal things) that I haven’t shared on my personal blog. So here I am, out of my comfort zone for the second time this month (see last week’s post), writing about something I’ve grappled with about whether or not I want to talk about publicly.

Here’s the thing. A few years ago, I wrote about MEH (My Engineer Husband) losing his job. I’ve written a lot about MEH in general—he is, after all, a huge part of my life. My partner in crime. My ummer (don’t worry, I don’t expect you to understand—he will). Last week I wrote about how I met MEH. The story of how we fell in love.

What I haven’t written about here is MEH’s depression. After he lost his job, he fell into a depression. Clinically diagnosed. It’s been hard—hardest for him, of course, but hard on our relationship, too. And hard for me. MEH has always been the most positive, upbeat person I’ve ever met. It was hard to see him not be that way.

Things are much better. We’re okay now. More importantly, MEH’s back. Really back. For a while I felt like I was holding my breath, but now I can breathe again. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a ways to go (he does, we do), but the depression is in our rearview mirror. And that’s a very good thing.

My post on Writer Unboxed isn’t about the depression—not really. I only mention the depression in passing, to illustrate my point—but it didn’t feel right to not tell the story here first, the whole story (as much of the whole story as I’ll tell right now). Because you all know MEH, some of you have even met him in person.

So, now that you know, I hope you’ll read my post on WU. It would mean a lot. Because for a while now, it’s been hard to write, and now I feel pretty vulnerable even posting a blog at all, but especially a blog post that is this intensely personal, and I could really use your support right now.

What have you struggled with that’s been hard to write about? More importantly, what do you need from me right now? I’m here for you.

Sending love to all of you, and out into the world, too,

Julia

The Big Reveal

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On the Half Continent: in Belize

I’m one day late posting this, but I thought that would heighten the drama. That’s a lie. I had a really busy day yesterday, and the only chance I would have had to write a blog post was in the car zooming to Boston to have dinner with MEH (My Engineer Husband) and our two kids for the first time since Christmas. That wasn’t going to happen. Dinner was wonderful. (Truth.)

Anyway, I’m ready for some big reveals: what’s true and what’s not from my last post but also some revelations from my life.

I grew up all over the world, and I’ve lived on every continent. LIE.

Did you guess this as the lie? Congratulations! Especially because this was kind of a trick statement. The first part is kind of true, but the second part is false. The truth is, I’ve only lived on 3-1/2 continents. What does that even mean? I was born in France (Europe = 1). I lived in the United States for about three-quarter of my childhood (North America = 2). I lived in Africa for about one-quarter of my childhood (Africa = 3). And I lived for a little over a year in Belize (Central America = 1/2). I consider myself a TCK—third culture kid, which means I grew up (some of the time) outside of my parents’ culture—which has created both wonderful and difficult times in my life.

My first kiss was with a boy named Martin, and I married a man with the last name Martin. TRUE.

When I was in sixth grade, my family lived in Kenya. I never felt like I fit in after that (part of the TKC thing), so when I was a freshman in high school and senior Martin Radley invited me to a dance, I was over the moon. He was my first date…a senior! My parents were out of the country, and my grandmother was staying with my brothers and me, and I like to think that if my parents had been home, they’d have forbidden me from going out with an eighteen year old guy. After the dance, Martin drove me home, and he parked his car across the street from my house, away from the streetlight (and my grandmother’s line of sight). I remember my back pressed against his dark blue sedan when he leaned down to kiss me.

I felt very cool going on a date with a senior, but when he kissed me I felt nothing. (True story.) Later, when my parents came home, my dad teased me—for many years—about dating “Boo” Radley. My apologies, Martin, for admitting (after all these years) that I really wasn’t enamored with you but especially for you finding out that my dad called you Boo.

When I was in college, I worked as a squid cleaner at a seafood restaurant. Also TRUE.

Seven years after the date with Martin, I met MEH. I was a squid cleaner and dishwasher at a restaurant near Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz, California, and MEH Martin worked at another restaurant with my boyfiend (yeah, I know it was a train wreck, but the truth is I met MEH through my boyfriend). Anyway, MEH came in to have lunch at the restaurant, and I decided he’d be perfect for one of my friends and offered to set them up (I was the original Tinder, let’s face it). He accepted. I was unreasonably annoyed that he was willing to go along, and I had to admit to myself I was smitten. The blind date never materialized—MEH was too shy to call my friend.

A few months later I went to work at the restaurant where my boyfriend and MEH worked. (They as cooks, me as a waitress.) One morning I invited MEH out to breakfast on the pretense of helping me pick out a present for my boyfriend (I told you: train wreck). After breakfast we went to the beach, and that’s where we fell in love. The ensuing days were not fun, and I ended up moving from Santa Cruz to Berkeley. MEH followed. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Were you right with your guess? Have you checked out Hallie’s reveals (she tagged me to play Two Truths and A Lie)? You should also check out my friend Jamie’s Two Truths and A Lie post about why she’s not blogging (I tagged Jamie in my last post).

 

 

Two Truths and a Lie

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Truth: One of my favorite things to photograph are dinghies.

When my friend Hallie Sawyer tagged me today to write a post based on the Two Truths and a Lie game, of course I jumped at the chance. For one thing, I haven’t posted a blog since February. (Truth. Sad, but still a truth.) For another, Hallie and I just talked about how I wanted to blog more (Again, truth). But, most importantly, Hallie is one of my very favorite friends I’ve met in the blogging world. (Truth.) Hallie is one of the funniest women I know–we laugh together all the time–and she has a heart the size of Kansas. She’s a mom to three kids, a holistic health advocate, and a physical fitness guru who has helped me become more physically fit. So when she tagged me, I couldn’t turn her down. (Truth. This one’s for you, Hal. Love you.)

I’m going to list two truths and a lie, and then I’ll challenge another blogger to do the same. So…here goes…one of these is a lie and the two others are truths:

  1. My first kiss was with a boy named Martin, and I married a man with the last name Martin.
  2. When I was in college, I worked as a squid cleaner at a seafood restaurant.
  3. I grew up all over the world, and I’ve lived on every continent.

Leave me a comment with your guess of which one is a lie (or which two are truths). Come back on Monday when I’ll post another blog and you can find out whether you’re right! Thank you Hallie for the push to post a blog. You’re the best (Truth.).

Now my turn to tag someone: Jamie Miles, one of my favorite bloggers. To be honest, I can’t remember exactly where I met Jamie…but it was about four years ago. We connected over our sense of humor and our kids and (of course) writing: Jamie has been a beta reader for one of my novels, and I hope to return the favor. She lives in Georgia, she’s an award winning humor columnist, she blogs, and she writes fiction. Jamie has three kids and one of her kids has the same name as one of mine (Truth.). She and I both love okra (Truth. I’m not sure Jamie knows this; I learned it today from her blog.). She is an avid runner and, I’m just guessing here, is always on the go. Will you play along, Jamie? I hope so because I love your blog posts–they always make me laugh!

Jamie, this is a two post game–like Hallie said–you state your three things in one post, adding a link to the blogger who tagged you (that’s me!). In the second post, you admit which of the three things was a lie, and you tag another blogger.

Now, you should go read Hallie’s Two Lies and a Truth post…and then subscribe to her blog. Because she’s the best. If you want a blast from the past, here’s another Two Lies and a Truth post I wrote back in 2011!

And don’t forget to guess which of my three statements is a lie. And just for fun…leave me three of your own and I’ll guess, too!

Writing as a Lifeline

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Luna and Sasha

My last post was on December 12, 2015. I’ve missed major holidays and events. “Happy holidays,” “happy new year,” and “happy St. Valentine’s Day,” by the way. I missed my blogaversary. As of February 4, I’ve been blogging for five years—I can’t believe it.

And while this isn’t the longest break, it’s the first time I’ve seriously considered stopping. Blogging. Not writing. I’ve been doing plenty of writing. No. That’s not completely true. I’ve been writing. I kind of have been on a hiatus from fiction writing, too. For a while I had a technical writing contract, but that’s not why. I’ve also felt too distracted to write.

Why? A lot of life changes. Big and small. Now, the potential for a move to a new state. Away from Maine. Away from Maine? Where I raised two children. Said good-bye to two dogs. Owned two houses. Have lived the majority of my married life. Have taken hundreds upon thousands of photos and videos. Written millions (yes, I’ve calculated), millions of words.

It’s not definite. And if it does happen, it won’t be for a year (or so). But the writing is on the wall. Funny, that particular expression coming to mind. The fact is I can write anywhere—I know because right now I’m writing from a garrison in Newton, Massachusetts, overlooking not a tiny New England town but busy traffic on Walnut Street.

Right now it’s like I’ve stepped into another life—because in essence I have. I’m living with and caring for two dogs while their owners are on the other side of the world for the month. When I walk the dogs, I see first familiarity then confusion on the faces of neighbors. Who is this woman? Not the neighbor they expected. The dogs are the same, the person not. If they look carefully enough they’ll see reflected confusion in my eyes. There are times I feel like I’m not myself. Different house, different dogs (my own sweet dog gone over a year ago), different neighborhood, different people.

I miss my friends, I miss my life and routines. I know that if I moved to this area permanently, I’d meet new friends, I’d develop new routines, I might even get a new dog. This situation is temporary. The problem is that everything in my life feels pretty temporary right now, and it has for a little while.

But here’s what I’ve come to this morning. One thing hasn’t changed: my writing mind. My ideas, my thoughts. My writing. My blogging. Which brings me back full circle to why I will not close down my blog. The opposite. I’ll be blogging more. My goal is weekly (we’ll see).

Writing. It anchors me. It’s my lifeline. It’s what keeps me, me.

Cheers,

Julia

Getting In Touch With my Inner Perfectionist

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A photo from my recent trip to California

“I need to make a change,” I said to MEH (My Engineer Husband), my feet hitting the floor much too early this morning.

“What?” He mumbled.

I have a blog going live on Writer Unboxed today. (You can read it here.) I’d worked on the post all day yesterday, the day before, too. As I always do, I woke up early, especially early knowing I have a post going live.

I used to blog everyday. Everyday. My husband reminded me of that. But I don’t do that anymore. In fact, I’ve neglected my blog a bit lately. Probably because my writing is more varied, a lot going on. I have two novels under revision; in addition to being a contributing writer, I’m also an assistant editor for Writer Unboxed; I’m helping a friend with a tech start-up company (I’m doing the—big surprise—writing; I’m also about to start a part-time gig with another tech company.

What hasn’t changed is that I’m still a perfectionist. I get nervous when any of my work is about to go public—whether it’s on a blog (my own or another), in a published article, to a tech customer, on submission to an editor or agent, and even being read by a beta reader. I want to put my best foot forward, but more than that, I want my writing to make a difference.

For some of my writing—the technical or business—that means helping someone understand a product or service. For some of my writing—the fiction—it means connecting on a more personal, a feeling level. Finding a way to infuse my writing with the feelings I have, with the feelings I’d like my readers to have.

And that brings me full circle. My post today on Writer Unboxed is about just that. Feeling the feelings. Recapturing the feelings. Because whether I’m writing for a technical audience or a more personal one, that’s important to me. Reaching the reader. Getting to the heart. In that way, writing is writing. Bringing me even more full circle—this is why I started blogging (over four years ago), to say this: Words are words. And whatever those words communicate, and for whatever purposed, they better be the right ones to communicate the right thing.

Because I’m a perfectionist that way.

Precious Autumn Sunshine

I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.”

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

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Summer, How I’ve Grown to Love Thee

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“It’s gonna be a hot one,” he said as he stepped onto the boat.

I’m not a summer person. What I mean by that is I don’t like the heat (usually).

But I grew to love summer when my kids were young and they played outside all day long, soaking up the summer warmth and fun. I loved it even more when they were school age and teens, when summer meant long vacations, sleeping in (for them), leisurely trips to the beach, long summer car vacations. In short, I loved summer with my kids.

My kids no longer have summer vacations (not long ones anyway, they both work full time)—although they’ve both been to Maine for a taste of summer—and I’m rethinking how I feel about summer, in general… Last winter was the winter from hell. It was colder and snowier than any winter we’ve had in a long time, and now I suddenly find myself a fan of summer. I can’t even seem to mind the heat. And I don’t want it to end.

Yesterday we—and by “we” I of course mean MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I—went to take sunrise photos on the dock at Littlejohn Island (that’s one of the photos I took at the top of the post). As we stood and watched the sun rise, a fisherman walked down to the dock and stood with his gear, waiting. “Mornin’,” he said as he walked by. Across the water, we could hear a boat approach from Chebeague Island. As MEH and I watched, the commercial fishing boat pulled up to the dock and the fisherman got on board.

He looked up at us as he stepped onto the boat and said, “It’s gonna be a hot one.” He smiled and waved as the boat pulled away. He was right.

This summer I’ve found lots to do. I haven’t blogged (here on my blog) for almost two months—the longest break I’ve taken ever from posting a blog. I’ve been doing other things during my summer break…

Writing. I’ve revised one novel (cut over 15,000 words and wrote a new first chapter), and now I’m querying. I’m also 20,000 words into a new novel; it opens with four kids graduating from high school and starting summer vacation. It’s sweeping me away.

Reading. I’ve read a lot of books this summer. I really loved middle grade When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. And Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor—which I just wrote this review about for Great New Books.

Editing. At the beginning of this summer Therese Walsh asked if I’d be an assistant editor for Writer Unboxed. I was honored. I’ve been working for Writer Unboxed, coordinating guest posts, for about a year and a half. I’ve also been blogging there for about three years (how is that possible?). I had two posts there this summer, one about why I’m rethinking my spying ways, and last week, I posted one about my writing rules (and why I have only one).

Watching. MEH and I just finished binge watching Alias, which I loved. I also watched HawthoRNe (not about the famous writer, which is why I started watching in the first place), which I didn’t love. VEEP, which we loved and laughed through, and I strongly recommend. We watched movies. Spy in the theater, which we loved and laughed through, and also strongly recommend. We went to see Paper Towns which I wasn’t crazy about (I read the book, too, also not so crazy about it). And last night we watched The Rewrite on DVD and it was (yes) about writing and was a good movie although not deep in the least.

Gardening. But not enough. The weeds and woods are taking over the garden. And the deer ate most of the beans and a good deal of the Swiss Chard, and about half the potato crop was eaten by some kind of grubs. It’s the way life is as a backyard farmer in Maine. But we still have lots of tomatoes and kale. And we have a lovely volunteer pumpkin (the plant reseeded itself from last year). And we’ve been going to the Portland Farmers’ Market every Saturday where we’ve bought the best blueberries we’ve ever eaten. Summer makes eating local so easy and good.

And that’s what I’ve been doing on my summer vacation, how about you?

Cheers,

Julia

Three Good Days

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It was low tide so this lobster trap float was high on the shore

Late this morning I went to a favorite waterfront spot to take photos—the Town Landing in a small town nearby. It was packed (by Maine standards). Swimmers. Kids catching crabs. Sun bathers on the rocks. Two boats being launched,  a teenager taking off on his paddleboard.

It’s been raining for about a week. Today it’s clear, not a cloud in the sky, and there’s a light breeze. Humidity is low.

An ambulance was sitting in the small parking lot, but there was no emergency. Four EMTs sat on the dock eating lunch. As I walked by, I heard one of them say, “We get three good days of weather in Maine each year, this is one of them.”

It’s true. Unfortunately I only had my iPhone with me so my photos aren’t the best…but here’s Maine at its best. I guess there’s a reason we have state slogans like Vacationland and The way life should be. These days will carry us through the next winter; they’re what we wait for.

For more of my Maine photos, follow me on Instagram @juliamunroemartin

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There are plenty of boats in the harbor–these dinghies are used to row out to where boats are moored

Storybook Garden

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This year I want to have a storybook garden. You know, the kind the neighbors and passersby look at (and envy). The perfect kind you see in stories. I’m well on my way. Yesterday, we bought and planted “Hansel and Gretel” eggplants—the varieties named on the plant markers. I thought they were an apt addition to a storybook garden.

But—here’s the thing—the reason we are planting the eggplants is that the spinach seeds failed. They didn’t come up. The truth is that we have bad luck with spinach. There was that stand back in Colorado when our kids were young, the one that’s become a legend, but that’s been a few years, and subsequent years we’ve not had good luck.

Spinach isn’t the only crop that disappointed. I just got in from replanting bean seeds. There were gaps between the small plants: seeds that didn’t germinate or seedlings that came up with deformed or missing leaves. I looked this up on Google. Chances are the corn seed maggots got to them, apparently. Maybe thrips, too.

Also, not to be picky, but the rows of plants aren’t totally straight. This bothers me (maybe a little too much). This is an ongoing topic of conversation between MEH (My Engineer Husband) and me every year—we’ve had a lot of gardens together. MEH has deep agricultural roots. His grandfather worked for the California Extension Office and he grew oranges. Not for fun or storybooks, but for real. There was an orange named after him, the Gillette Navel. MEH grew up cultivating and irrigating orange groves. He gained serious weeding skills, an even more serious work ethic when it comes to gardening.

On the other hand, I’m what you might call a fair weather, storybook gardener. If it gets too hot, if my crocs get dirt in them, if I get too many mosquito or black fly bites, or if I want to write a blog, I bolt. (MEH’s still out weeding.)

The beans had gaps...

The beans had gaps…

That’s not to say MEH is perfect in the gardening department. He doesn’t sow seeds uniformly (or in straight rows), he’s a reluctant waterer (too many California drought cycles, I’m guessing), and he is gung ho at the beginning of the gardening cycle, but by the end not so much. And MEH doesn’t like weeding. This was a surprise to me because I always thought he did. This morning was the first time I asked him if he liked weeding, and he laughed before answering quickly, “Of course not. I felt like that was my punishment as a child.”

We talked about it for a few minutes. Our memories of childhood gardening chores and how they might have impacted our adult views of gardening—how they might have impacted our life. My backyard was tended mostly by my mother and, later, by a gardener. We might have had a tomato plant or two, a fruit tree or two. Up until I graduated from high school, we had family gardening hours on the weekend when we cleaned up. But we focused on the beauty of the outdoor space. MEH’s experience was more utilitarian: weeding, watering, mowing. MEH had a lot more chores than I had. And because of his family’s dynamics, MEH was often solitary when doing his outside (and inside) chores—he was alone a lot in general.

I’ll admit that the garden has caused some tension over the years. Particularly during planting, we seem to have different approaches: form over function for me. The opposite for MEH. Probably not surprising considering our gardening roots. We’ve been known to argue when planting (those crooked rows) and for other reasons surrounding my storybook expectations. This morning we didn’t have any disagreements. We were both quiet and contemplative—we went out early to beat the bugs and heat—before we talked about our families of origin.

I left MEH in the garden shortly after—to write this blog. I had a pebble in one of my crocs, I had muddy hands, but I’d also finished weeding my half of the garden. I’m faster but less patient and less thorough, and I often leave the weeds’ roots—which drives MEH crazy. MEH’s slower and more methodical; he is more thorough. My beds look better after weeding; MEH’s last longer.

As I walked up the porch steps, I heard “the Tweedles”—dubbed by my daughter when she was home last month—a sweet House Finch family that’s nesting in the eaves. The baby birds were cheeping, and I watched as Mr. Tweedles emerged from the nest and perched briefly on the string of Christmas lights before flying out for more food. Mr. Tweedles might be the more persistent gatherer, I mused, but maybe Mrs. Tweedles is in the nest tending and sprucing. I wondered if the Tweedles chirped about this together. If they ever squabbled.

Last year we didn’t have a vegetable garden—a combination of the weather and lack of gardening gumption. It was our son’s last summer in Maine, and he missed it he said. This year we cleared and planted the garden shortly before he and his girlfriend moved to the southeast. He expressed disappointment when he realized he wouldn’t be around for the bounty, then he said he was thinking about planting a vegetable garden at their new place—“There’s a space,” he said. “I like my agricultural roots.”

I thought about that—what stories my son might tell in his garden.

After I finished my blog, I went out to check on MEH’s progress—he was almost done. I watched him carefully rake out the soil between the rows, and I realized something. Turns out we do have a storybook garden, but not in the way I thought I wanted. Not the glossy cover shot—the story goes much deeper than that.

What’s your gardening style? Are there parts of your life you’d like to be storybook?

Cheers,

Julia

It’s About Life

_DSC0010Long-awaited spring finally came to Maine…finally. Then we went back to winter briefly, followed immediately by a fast-forward to summer. Last week we hit the record books with one of the warmest days on that date in history: 84F degrees. The warmest day in 222 days. I was sweltering and I almost complained. (I didn’t.)

This post isn’t about the weather. It’s about spring. It’s about life.

Renewal and new life is everywhere. Daffodils in the garden. Tulips. That burst of heat brought the leaves into full bud (last week there were none). And the weeds are growing, too. MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I have been starting a spring cleanup in advance of a summer garden—there’s a lot to clean up after our long winter. A sweet House Finch couple is nesting in our porch eaves, and this morning I listened to the male singing happily while sitting on the string of Christmas lights we never took down (because of the enormous piles of snow)…now we’ll likely keep them up so we don’t disturb the nest.

Yesterday, for Mother’s Day, I had the happy and (these days) only approximately twice-yearly occasion of having both “my kids” home along with my son’s wonderful girlfriend. Bliss is not too strong a word. We had a lovely breakfast together then we went to a nearby goat farm to visit the baby goats. My daughter and I have been planning it for months, but I think my son was a bit skeptical. I’d been to the Sunflower Farm Creamery once before to “hold baby goats,” and I thought it was just the thing we all needed after a long winter of bad weather, of being indoors too much, of work, and of stresses…we’re all together because next weekend we’ll be celebrating the very exciting occasion of my son’s graduation from medical school. If you’ve read my blog for long, you may remember when he started medical school—it was the year I started this blog—four years ago. Those years have flown by (for me). For him it’s been a lot of work.

We needed those baby goats.

Did I mention that my daughter is preparing to apply to medical school? (Which in itself is a major ordeal.) She’s home—on vacation—but she’s working the whole time. Like I said we really needed those baby goats.

There were only about four families at the goat farm when we arrived, and almost every person—man, woman, and child—had a cat-sized baby goat in their arms. The goats were resting peacefully in their arms, and the people were quiet and peaceful, too. As we entered the pasture, we were immediately surrounded by bleating goats. I watched them scampering; watched the other families interact with the goats around us; watched the baby goats nibble at people, chase down their mothers for reassurance; watched even very small children quietly and gently stroking sleeping goats in their laps. It really was magical.

“Holding those baby goats really was therapeutic,” my son texted me after we parted ways: he and his girlfriend rushing to the next busy thing in their lives as they prepare to move a thousand miles away to where he’ll start his medical residency and she’ll start law school.

“I miss the goats,” my daughter said, as she settled back in front of the computer. “I wonder if I can find a medical school with a goat farm.” She put in her ear buds and turned her eyes to the screen. Next week she’ll head back to the west coast to start a new job—having her at the dining room table working for the whole week is this mother’s dream come true.

Later this month, the baby goats will head to their new homes, the woman who owns the goat farm told me. At eight weeks the baby goats go in pairs. She’s very particular about where (and to whom) they go. She has a long waiting list. My daughter and I would love to own a goat farm someday; we talked about it in the car on the way home. Someday.

Next week we’ll gather for my son’s graduation: my aunt, my father, and my son’s girlfriends’ parents will join us. It will be a celebration of life. As my son graduates, I know I’ll wonder. Where did those four years—where did my babies—go?

Then, we’ll scamper. To new homes, to new jobs, to new projects. We’ll all begin anew.

What’s new with you this spring?

Cheers,

Julia