Reading Cycles of Summer

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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 

Five Little Things

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These guys make me almost as happy as the baby goats!

Sometimes it’s the little things. That’s what this blog is all about: five little things that are making me happy.

First…if you like baby goats (and who doesn’t?), check out the Sunflower Farm barn cam. I’m a little obsessed. Sunflower Farm is a pygmy goat farm near where I live in Maine. The cam shows baby goats being born and generally frolicking. It is (a) highly entertaining, (b) cute off the chart, but (c) a little stressful (for me) to watch. Apparently I’m either a goat wimp or cross-species maternalistic because I get very worried and protective of these baby goats. Warning: this site can be very addictive. And very dramatic. But you really should check it out. Hint: It’s much more exciting with sound turned up so you can hear all the goats bleating!

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It doesn’t look like much yet, but just wait…and yes we do still have some snow

If baby goats are being born, then it must be spring, right? YES! Spring. We finally have spring! There are no leaves on the trees yet (and only a few flowers), but we went from snow last week to 70 degrees this week. Today I saw an Osprey and two Great Blue Herons flying over. Song birds are everywhere. Our temps (and winds) will be all over the place for a while, but I don’t think we’ll get anymore snow until fall—which is the important part—so we can get our garden area ready. This all makes me very, very happy. (Until I saw a fly in the house…no. I won’t complain yet.)

Parchment baked chicken breasts. I usually don’t write about food on my blog, but once in a while I need to. A few months ago I started baking chicken in parchment paper—I put (usually three skinless boneless breasts on a piece of parchment paper, squeeze juice of one lemon onto them, add a few tablespoons of wine, sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper, cover with another sheet of parchment, and crimp the edges. Bake until done (usually about 30 minutes), and you’ll have the moistest most delicious, healthiest chicken breasts you’ll ever taste. I’ve also used soy, balsamic, and lemon juice marinade, equally delicious. You can also use this method for fish and vegetables. Cooking Light has a better description of the method—you can find it in this article by Lia Huber.

In case you haven’t been to Google today…you’re in for a fun surprise. In honor of the 155th anniversary of the Pony Express, Google has developed a fun, easy video game. I’ve wasted spent at least half an hour on this today… and I’ve only collected 25 envelopes at best—you have to see it to truly understand. Check it out on Google.

After you finish collecting envelopes, check out today’s post on Writer Unboxed by Therese Walsh. It’s an incredibly helpful blog about multi-tasking—Therese’s third in a series. Therese says this: “If you multitask because you feel you have to in order to stay on top of things; if you’re overwhelmed with too much information and an inability to sort though it all; if you’re losing momentum on your writing projects because there is just too much on your plate… This post is for you.” She goes on to give methods for diagnosing what’s going on (or wrong) with your work habits, strategies for better productivity, and tips and suggestions to be more productive. It’s a really useful and helpful post….

Especially after you’ve been watching baby goats, cleaning your garden, playing Google’s Pony Express game, researching new ways to cook chicken, or generally trying to figure out how to focus more on writing and less on those other non-writing things.

What are some little things making you happy?

Cheers,

Julia

I Always Cry at THE END

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I took this photo a few years ago, but it seemed right for today…

This is one of those mixed up blog posts. I haven’t posted anything for a while, and yesterday I thought I should. I should blog, I said to myself. But I didn’t feel like it, I just didn’t. I dug around for a while (in my mind) to try and figure it out, and here’s what I came up with.

Winter. My next thought was about winter, of course. My next thought is always winter these days. The wind is howling outside. It’s cold and I’m really really grouchy about it. Right now, March 18, it’s 18F degrees. I’ve given up checking, searching the web, to see if we are having normal temperatures. I don’t care anymore. (I know we aren’t, I feel it in my bones.) I just want it to be warmer. I don’t want to wear a fleece jacket in the house anymore. I got an email from an (out of state, WARM state relative) who said he’d heard spring was coming to parts of the east (SOUTHeast, I told him). No. Not Maine. I was grouchy. We haven’t had a spring day since a year ago, last spring. We had snow showers yesterday and we’re getting more this weekend. And next week.

This blog is not about winter. (I think my last five are plenty.)

Reading drought. I love reading. I always love to curl up and read a good book. Sometimes I get so lost in reading that I need to lie on the couch and ignore everything else and finish in a rush. Last year I read a book that I loved so much I slowed it down. I couldn’t stand to read more than a few pages a day because I knew it would end soon. And it was a short book. When I finished reading, I cried. Cried and cried. It was a sad ending, a hard ending to read, but more than that, I loved that book, and it was over. Since then, I haven’t been able to read a book that I really fell in love with. And this year in particular I’ve barely read. I keep telling myself it’s because I’m so focused on writing (more about that later). I keep telling myself it’s the winter. I can’t stand to sit for so long. I’m antsy to get going. I tell myself it’s the books I’m reading. I’m picky. I need the right balance of good, unpredictable story with amazing writing. I like minimalist writing (usually) and sometimes books are overwritten for my taste. Anyway, I’m not sure why, but I can’t really stay engaged with any book. Most recently I’d been looking forward to reading a book (in a big way, I pre-ordered it), and I could barely finish it.

This blog is not about reading (but if you can recommend a book you love, please do!).

Experts. I’m a journalist by training. And one of the things that was drilled into my head when I was in college was the source. Find the right expert. Find the correct information. Be accurate. By training and by nature this is the kind of writer I am. I want to know. I want to know that I’m portraying something accurately. My current WIP (more about that in a minute) has a lot about horses in it. One of the horses gets injured (it’s integral to the story and the arc of the main character). Here’s the thing. I don’t know if I’m being accurate. I have a good friend who is helping make sure all the general horse information (behavior, care, tack, riding, etc.) is accurate, but I need to talk to a veterinarian. I have another good friend who is a vet, but she’s a small animal vet and has recommended I talk to a large animal vet. I haven’t been able to find someone, and it’s frustrating me.

This blog is not about experts (but if you know a large animal vet who might be willing to talk to me, please tell me!).

THE END. Back to that WIP. I just finished a major revision of one of my WIPs—the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo in 2013. Yes, that’s not last year but the year before, so I’ve been living with this story for a long time. In some senses, I’ve been living with this story for even longer because it’s loosely based on a real-life thing that happened to me (you can read about that here), a sad thing. Anyway, I miss those characters. I know I have to move on, but in a way I don’t really want to. Kind of like that book I loved so much. I know I’ll write another story (I’ve started a few), but it’s going to take a little time. As I type the words THE END, I always cry, every WIP I write, but with this book I cry every single time I read and reread the end (and believe me I’ve read it a lot of times). I miss those characters as though they were real-life best friends.

This blog is about mourning. Mourning THE END. I cried. And I always do.

Writing friends, do you cry when you write THE END? Everyone, please recommend books you love, large animal vets I can talk to, and please, please, think spring!

Cheers,

Julia

This winter is about…

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This winter has been trying. The coldest February on record in many parts of Maine. More snow since mid January than we get in an entire winter most years. The statistics speak for themselves.

But this winter is about more than statistics.

This winter it’s hard to get around. There are huge snow banks at the entrances to roads and driveways that makes driving treacherous. People seem grumpier. In their cars. At the grocery store. At the gym. It’s grinding us down, this winter.

This winter is about isolation and crankiness and tiredness. It’s wearing me out. Twenty-two or more days below freezing (I gave up trying to keep track), so I really don’t want to go out. I love being inside at my desk writing, but I am tired even of that. I reach out to friends, but planned outings often need to be postponed due to yet another snowstorm. For a while we were on an every-weekend then every-Wednesday snowstorm schedule. It was predictable. The weather guys on one channel who usually wear sweaters (instead of suits) for storm days stopped wearing them. They stopped playing the “storm center” music, too.

This winter is about water leaking into the house through a new window. It’s about MEH (My Engineer Husband) coming home from work early last Friday to climb up a ladder and scrape snow off the roof with a roof rake. (We have a two story house.) Then he used an axe to break ice a foot thick off the edges of our roof, all around our house, to ensure no more ice dams formed that would allow more water to leak around the roof shingles, through the walls, into our house around our windows. “The water finds a path,” MEH said before climbing another ladder onto the porch roof to shovel snow off of it. MEH spent the better part of the weekend shoveling snow off the roof.

This is usually water...Casco Bay... that's an Osprey nest out there

This is usually water…Casco Bay… that’s an Osprey nest out there on the pole

This winter is about new words and new ways of talking to our neighbors (that we see more at the grocery store than around the neighborhood). Ice dam, roof melt, roof rake, “the water finds a paths,” and “where will we put it?” become common conversation starters.

This winter is about giving up, giving in, embracing. One end of our driveway is unshoveled, unplowed. We have enough room for our two cars. Why should we shovel more? The end of the driveway (that’s not shoveled) has a five foot frozen-solid berm at the end. Snow is piled everywhere. The mailman used to avoid that end of our driveway; now he just walks through the snow and over the frozen berm.

This winter is about layers. Most winters I’ve worn fleece and (TMI?) sometimes long underwear (on top). This winter I wear long underwear (top and bottom) every day, pants and turtleneck, fleece top and bottom over that. Boots outside. Fleece slippers in. Down jacket everyday. And an indispensable lavender scarf my daughter gave me for Christmas. I often wear it in the house, while under the electric blanket.

This winter is about hats. I knit two hats in January before the historic snow season started. One for MEH and one for me. (No, they aren’t the same—color or style—I write that in answer to the question forming: “are they the same?”…a question my daughter already asked me.) I hate hats. (Especially with all the dry air creating static electricity.) But I wear that hat every time I leave the house.

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These robins found the morning sun…

This winter is about appreciating…

…the sun. Last weekend we had one day of 40 degrees. We reveled in the warm weather. It was a good day. A great day. It made us remember spring. And that spring is coming.

…the landscape that looks so foreign. The water froze over between the mainland and Cousins Island (a town island connected by bridge). Then it snowed over the ice. And the ice and snow got craggy and crazy looking. I’ve loved taking photos of the unnatural looking landscape. The landscape is so foreign that sometimes when I’m driving I miss a turn and find a new way home.

…the birds. Watching the crows roost. Hundreds upon hundreds of crows flying from tree to tree at sunset, looking for a place to roost. I’ve never seen this before. It was amazing. I also watched flocks of robins…I never realized that some robins winter over in Maine. I thought a lot about being a bird and trying to survive outside in this winter.

This winter is about new terrain, new landscapes, new landmarks, new ways of thinking and feeling and acting, new sights and sounds.

This winter is (I hope) almost over.

How’s winter going in your neighborhood? What is winter about for you?

Love Notes: things to love mid-winter

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This photo was from a much warmer day (last summer), but it seemed perfect for a post about love… 

I meant to get this blog posted yesterday, for Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t, and here’s why…

Another blizzard. More snow predicted. But here’s the thing: it missed us. (Collective sigh, followed by a cheer.) Various predictions said we’d get one to two more feet of snow out of this storm, adding to the four feet of snow already on the ground. Instead we woke up to two inches! Yesterday was a flurry of activity to get ready for the possible power outage, being snowed in, etc. We even succumbed to the “bread and milk” grocery run, except since we were baking bread and I’m lactose intolerant, instead we bought flour and yeast. (By the way, if you haven’t seen the hilarious bread and milk youtube video, here’s a link.)

Here are a few more things I love this month:

For my post on Writer Unboxed yesterday I asked other Writer Unboxed writers to contribute Valentines to Writing. Why and how they love writing. Check out “Writing…Will You Be My Valentine?” to see the twenty wonderful love letters, poems, and words about writing. I loved compiling this Valentine box of words.

At Great New Books this month I posted a recommendation for Roz Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant. I saw this book as a long love letter to her parents (as they went through the aging process). The book is at turns hilarious and heartbreaking and Chast is amazing at expressing feelings through her cartoons. I loved this book.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of Common Ravens. These massive black birds, “cousins” of the crow, are larger than a Red-tailed Hawk, and I don’t see them often in Maine. (I don’t think… they are solitary birds so if I saw one alone, without comparison to another bird, I might think it’s a crow—crows weigh about half as much, but without comparison, this difference is hard to see). You can tell ravens from crows in flight by the raven’s wedge-shaped tail. I saw a lot of ravens in the west when I drove across the country, but it’s really spectacular to see them in the snow. The contrast is beautiful and striking. I haven’t gotten a photo of one yet, but I would love to by the end of the winter.

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Winter is far from over. This is a shot of the Cousins Island Bridge, looking toward the mainland.

Winter…which is far from over, despite the lack of snow from this particular blizzard. We are in the deep chill, with temperatures well below freezing (we’ve had thirteen days below zero in February; I don’t love that). I still go out and take photos, but with clear skies, sunrises and sunsets are less spectacular (we’ve had a few good ones), most boats are out of the water, and it’s harder to get access to beautiful areas—the snow banks are huge.

Another thing I really love today is that it’s only 32 days until the Spring Equinox. And even though I’m sure we’ll still have snow on the ground, there’s a lot of hope resting on that day!

How’s your winter going? What do you love this month?

The Winter of Sisyphus

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Yesterday’s view out our front door

This morning I looked out the window and saw a neighbor shoveling snow. With each new scoop, thrown onto the gigantic pile next to his driveway, at least half rolled back down. I immediately thought of the story of Sisyphus (didn’t everyone)?

You know, in Greek mythology, the first king of Ephyra who was a chronic liar and all around bad guy who murdered and pillaged and…well, read about all the heinous things he did here on Wikipedia. The story goes that Zeus (after being tricked and betrayed by Sisyphus) gave Sisyphus the punishment to forever roll an immense boulder up a steep hill, only to watch it roll back down…repeating this action endlessly.

Yesterday we got another foot of snow, on top of Juno’s (the blizzard last week or was it the week before?) two feet and another smaller storm in between and a few inches or so before that… well, I honestly can’t remember the progression of the layers and layers and feet of snow.

Here’s what I do know. We have a lot of snow. A. Lot. Of. Snow. Feet and feet of it. Spilling onto the porch from the ground (and our porch is three feet off the ground), blocking one end of our driveway (we have two entrances, thank goodness), covering our basement windows (will they leak, who knows?). Encasing one of our cars (I don’t really want to drive anywhere until tomorrow to be honest). Delaying school. Forcing people to work from home. You get my drift (yes, pun intended).

When we texted our daughter a picture, she immediately replied. “Can you get out?”

I mused to MEH (My Engineer Husband) what will happen with the next storm (predicted for Wednesday night into Thursday) and the one after that and the one after that… where will the snow go?

One of MEH’s co-workers emailed his department that she’s working at home again today: “I give up. I want to hide until Spring.”

We all want to give up. We all want spring. Well, everyone I talk to. That’s MEH, because I actually haven’t talked to anyone in person in about three days. I deposited checks (for the first time) with my phone app. I’ve barely stepped outside my door in two days. Did I mention we have a lot of snow, and it’s hard to get around?

Tomorrow I plan to go to the gym, but until then just call me Sisyphus. And the winter is my boulder.

But for what am I being punished?

Is it the plight of the writer, thus to be punished? I’ve made up lies upon lies—lets call it fiction. And now, after stories, pages, hundreds and thousands and millions of words of lies, I’m condemned to the life of Sisyphus, forever rolling the piles of snow up onto the berms surrounding my house, my car, my exit from the life of the hermit writer.

The writing life.

Groundhog Moments

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light

It’s Groundhog Day, and Punxutawney Phil predicts six more weeks of winter. As two of my Instagram friends discussed this snowy morning, “there’s never been a more Groundhog Day than today.” (Thank you @littlelodestar and @lemead)

You see it’s been snowing pretty much nonstop for a while now. It all started with Juno, the Blizzard of 2015—was that only a week ago? When I realized it was Groundhog Day today, I started hoping, irrationally that Phil (the groundhog) would see his shadow and in six weeks voilà it will be spring. (I say irrationally hoped because I really don’t believe that Phil can predict or not predict anything—he is a Groundhog after all.)

But predict he did.

That’s not what this post is about. Not really. It’s about the iterative process of life. About the predictability (and unpredictability—shall we say serendipity?) of life. The hopes of life. The moments of life. Because the other side of Groundhog Day that has become legend (in addition to Phil) is the movie Groundhog Day. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Not only because it’s good, but because it has become iconic.

And that’s what I was thinking about this morning. Not the snow falling outside (yeah, yeah, another foot. What’s another foot when you’ve got three or so already?). Well, first I thought about the snow. Then I thought about the movie, and Bill Murray’s character reliving the same day over and over again.

I started thinking. Which day, days would I want to live over and over again? Murray’s character didn’t get to decide. But as long as I’m reinventing things, I’ll say I can. Decide. I started thinking while I woke up this morning. Which days?

Topping the list (of course) are the obvious ones. The days my children were born. The day my husband told me he loved me the first time. I reconsidered, realizing that while I definitely would want to live those days over and over again, there are other less obvious contenders.

The day my son harvested garden vegetables with us when he was just four. He carried a pumpkin he’d grown from a seed onto the stage of the 4-H Perfect Pumpkin competition (alone, he told us to stay in our seats in an auditorium of about 400 people), and walked onto the stage to claim his prize for “the perfect pumpkin.” That day.

The day I strolled arm in arm with my teenage daughter down the L’Avenue des Champs Elysées in Paris. That day.

The day our young family drove across California on the roadtrip of a lifetime and my son made up a song about “Dusty Mountains in the Distance,” and my son and daughter (five years old), unbeknownst to me, got into a competition to see who could make me mad first. That day.

Actually, any road trip day with either of my two kids is a day I’d like to live over again. Talking, playing, singing, napping, looking at colleges, the companionable silences, even the bickering and the complaining (mine as well as theirs). Those days. All of them.

Or a day like yesterday. MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I enjoyed the first sunny day in a good long time by going on an outing. It was cold and of course there was snow, but it was beautiful. We went to Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth and watched children (and some adults) sledding with the Atlantic Ocean as the backdrop. We visited the “Portland Head” lighthouse. We took photos—many—as is our wont to do. Ice coated the huge rocks surrounding the lighthouse. We met a small Yorkie Terrier running faster than any dog I’ve seen, across fields of ice. We chatted with Clyde’s “parents” for a few minutes about Clyde’s Patriots shirt (yes the Yorkie was wearing a shirt). They were excited about the Superbowl, and they’re probably even more excited today. Maybe today’s a day—or yesterday—many Patriots or Patriots fans would want to live over and over again.

I digress.

Yesterday was a day—an everyday day—that I’d want to live over and over again. Days like yesterday provide the framework of my life, they give my life meaning. They remind me that it doesn’t take much. A sunny day. An hour car ride with someone you love. A beautiful lighthouse to take photos of. A call from your daughter. An email from your son. A warm house to call home. A delicious meal shared.

These are my Groundhog Days. My Groundhog moments.

What are the days you’d want to live over and over again? The moments?

 

 

 

 

 

How to Prepare for a “Potentially Historic” Snowstorm

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This is from another (smaller) storm…but you get the drift

The storm is brewing. “Potentially historic,” the forecasters are saying. “Up to two feet.” In Maine, you grow used to this. The storms and the predictions. The rush to the grocery store for bread and milk. It’s kind of a joke (that people focus on pre-storm bread and milk), but it’s based on reality. At least that’s what my checker friend Carol says.

Carol is one of the people I see almost every time I go to the large supermarket in our small town. She’s one of the people I enjoy talking to. She’s engaged with customers, but she’s focused on her job, too. I know she has two sons, twins, who are now adults. She loves reading. She’s always upbeat so I seek her out when I look for which line to stand in.

And I’m not the only one. Yesterday while I was standing in Carol’s line, an elderly woman rolled up behind me in a seated shopping cart. She asked if it was a “14 or fewer” line. I said no. When Carol overheard us, she asked me what the woman had said. When I told her, she smiled and said, “That’s because I’m usually at the 14 or fewer registers.” Because Carol is fast. She’s fast and courteous and positive.

I knew the woman in line in front of me, too. She works for a friend of mine—Mark—who runs a catering business. She’s the best at rolling pie dough than anyone I’ve ever seen. And by best, I mean she can roll perfectly round pie crusts, seemingly effortlessly. Mine? Mine are more like oblongs or amoebas or some other amorphous shape.

Mark is famous (I told Carol) for his chicken pies.

“Oh I know,” Carol said. “Mark and I grew up together. We were like cousins.”

Of course. Everyone knows everyone in our small town. In Maine, too. There are only 1.5 million people in the entire state. Here, we have two degrees of separation (compared to the normal six). You don’t mention the name of someone to another person unless you’re saying something flattering—unless you want a fight or a cold shoulder. And those cold shoulders can last a long time (take it from someone who’s breached the two-degree rule on occasion).

The pie roller paid and left, and Carol started ringing up my purchases.

“You know those leftover edges from your rolled dough?” Carol said. “My mom used to make them into popovers. My mom made the best pies…”

Carol spoke lovingly about her mother’s pies—how they grew all the fruit, how she’d fill the freezer with unbaked pies to be baked mid-winter during a storm. I imagined Carol as a small girl, sitting next to the wood stove eating a piece of blueberry pie that was made from berries she and Mark picked the summer before. They wouldn’t care about the weather outside or a power outage, either, because they’d be warmed by the stove and by all the love that went into that blueberry pie.

I paid for my bread and milk and drove home.

Here’s hoping we don’t lose power—and if we don’t I think I might just bake a pie. I have the ingredients. Carol made sure of it.

How do you prepare for an epic storm…or the threat of one? Do you buy bread and milk?

9 Questions: How I Write

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“Am I?”

Last month my writer friend Kristen Ploetz asked a series of questions in a blog post called Nine Things I Wonder About Other Writers. I answered Kristen’s questions in comments to her blog, but two of my other blogging friends—Nina Badzin and Lindsey Mead—answered the nine questions on their own blogs, and I liked the idea so much, I decided to do the same.

Because here’s the thing…Kristen hit a nerve. With me. With a lot of others, too. Many have answered in blog posts, and I’ve read a lot of those  posts, too. They make me feel more connected to the online writing community and help me understand what it is to be a writer, to call ourselves writers—because, here’s the thing, just like Kristen (her incentive to the post), sometimes I struggle with identifying myself as a writer.

For me it’s back to that old question. What is a writer? I’ve worked as a technical writer and a freelance writer, and now I write fiction, blogs, and essays, yet, I do sometimes wonder if I have the cred to call myself a writer…which goes back to the question of what “other people” think of when they hear the word writer, i.e., a novelist? A traditionally published novelist? A newspaper writer? Aren’t we all writers?

Ironically, this was the topic of my very first blog post, published  February 6, 2011. Yes, I’m approaching my fourth blogiversary. In that post, I wrote this:

As a long-time technical writer, by training and profession, I’ve often been told “you’re not a real writer.” I remember the first time someone said that to me, I’d just finished writing a 400-page technical manual. Let me tell you, I certainly felt like a writer. Still, even as I branch out to business, creative non-fiction, fiction, those words ring in my ears. But, when I really think about it, I come back to this: words are words, writers are writers. As a cross-over writer, going back and forth from technical and business to fiction and creative nonfiction—I’m blurring the lines. This blog examines those writing lines and the people and pieces that blur them. Writers are writers, regardless of genre or specialty, we’re all putting words together. As Maya Angelou wrote: “We are more alike, my friends,/ than we are unalike.”

I still feel that way! And that’s why I’m chosing to revisit this question through Kristen’s nine questions. And here they are.

1. Do you share your work with your partner or spouse? Does it matter if it’s been published yet?

Yes. I (almost) always share with my husband. Sometimes in draft form, sometimes even as I’m writing.  In fact, MEH (My Engineer Husband)—as he’s known in this blog—is one of my trusted readers.

2. How much of your family and/or closest “friends in real life first” read your stuff…let alone give you feedback about it?

This is complicated. Some of my friends are also part of my beta reader circle. For fiction—my WIPs—four friends have been part of that circle for one or all of my novels in progress. As for family, I have one aunt who’s read three of my novels in progress. I also have one self-published mystery novel. A lot of my friends and family have read this.

As for my blog, I can’t say for sure. My gut reaction is that almost no one I know IRL reads what I write—but I’m not sure. I’ve had comments from unexpected people, like random people I’ve run into at the grocery store, someone I met at the gym, one of my daughter’s college friends…my mother-in-law. Sometimes people will tell me they “keep up with what I’m doing” by reading my blog, and it makes me cringe because my blog is NOT necessarily representative of my life.

3. What do you do with the pieces that continually get rejected–post on your blog? Trash? When do you know it’s time to let it go?

I have lots and lots of words and articles and essays and multiple novel manuscripts in “the drawer.” Sometimes an essay I write and submit will end up on my blog (more usually a blog post I write might be expanded into an essay I’ll submit elsewhere). Fiction, which is what I am focusing on almost exclusively right now, never winds up on my blog. Anything that I write that gets rejected continually (there’s a lot, by the way) goes into the drawer. I view this as my training ground. Everything I write makes me a better writer, I know that for certain.

4. Are there pieces you write for one very specific place that, once rejected, you just let go of, or do you rework into something else?

Everything I write gets reworked some time, some how. It may just be a feeling or emotion, maybe a character, a scene I’ve witnessed, a conversation overheard. The specific passages I’ve written for one thing are rarely (I can only think of one chapter I ever pulled out of a past WIP to rework for another), but the feelings of a piece are definitely used at times for the bones of other scenes…everything is always stored away in my mind for future work.

5. What is your main source of reading-based inspiration (especially you essayists)? Blogs? Magazines? Journals? Anthologies? Book of essays by one writer?

Novels, short stories.

6. What tends to spark ideas more for you: what you see/hear in daily life or what you read?

My biggest inspiration is what I see (and hear) and what I imagine. I have a crazy insanely wild imagination.

7. Who have you read in the past year or two that you feel is completely brilliant but so underappreciated?

Last year I read a book written in 1986 that I think is the best novel I’ve ever read, certainly my favorite by a long shot: The Blind Corral by Ralph Beer. It is out of this world good. It’s the only novel he ever wrote. I also love Tim O’Brien’s writing in The Things They Carried, and think it should be essential reading for content alone, but the writing is brilliant. I also reread The Scarlet Letter last year. I think Nathaniel Hawthorne (though well read) is not appreciated enough in the current day. His writing is incredibly modern in thought.

8. Without listing anything written by Dani Shapiro, Anne Lamott, Lee Gutkind, or Natalie Goldberg, what craft books are “must haves”?

I really liked the first half of Stephen King’s On Writing. And the other craft book that is indispensible for me is Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Burroway and Stuckey-French, editors.

9. Have you ever regretted having something published? Was it because of the content or the actual writing style/syntax?

I’m not sure “regret” is the right word, but if I had it to do over again, I doubt I’d have self-published my mystery novel.

As I said to Kristen in comments to her post: “Long story I’ll tell you over coffee someday.” If any of my writer friends make a trip to Maine (or I travel to wherever you are), we can meet up. We can talk about why I’m not so sure I’d self publish again and much, much more about writing—I’d love that.

Now it’s your turn. I would love to see how you answer these questions—in comments to my blog or on your blog (if you do answer on your blog, please link back to this post and of course to Kristen’s).

Happy Writing!