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 

My Year of Living Dangerously

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A sunrise from December…

It’s the seventh day of the new year, and I haven’t made any real resolutions yet. I’m not going to. The truth is I have only one goal this year: to live in the moment.

This is something I’m not very good at.

I like to plan. I like to analyze “what went wrong.” I like to talk about things endlessly—before, during, and after. I don’t know if that’s why I’m a writer or if I write because I like to do those things, but the two are intricately interwoven.

But for a series of reasons—a combination of reasons—it’s become necessary for me to live more mindfully, to live in the moment. Because lately I’ve felt I have very little (virtually no) control over my life or things that happen in it. I’ve sought advice, and every person I’ve asked (even some I haven’t asked) have said the same thing—

Live in the moment.

So here I am. But the truth is, where else can I really live? We’re here. In this moment. Whether we choose to look back or look ahead. We’re still here. Right? When it’s gone it’s gone.

John Lennon once said: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.”  (Or was it John Lennon? I wondered and briefly searched—see, this is the type of rabbit hole I often go down. Check out this link to see if it really was Lennon. I’m not trying to withhold information, I just didn’t read it, choosing instead to return to this blog post, this moment!)

When my children were very young, I was much better at this than I’ve grown to be. In those days I had no choice but to be present. When you’re a caretaker of young children, you live moment by moment (even if you plan things, sometimes it doesn’t go the way you think). You play Legos or dress up, you draw and color and paint, you read aloud, you eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you walk to the park and pick up rocks and look at the trees and the dogs, and then you get tired out and you go home and nap. Sometimes you feel like you don’t get much done. A load of laundry is an accomplishment. Sometimes brushing your teeth is an accomplishment. But you also have that small person who is along with you, admiring and loving your every move, as entranced by your ideas as you are by his or hers. Life is fun and work all rolled into one.

Well, that life is clearly well behind me (my son will get his M.D. this year, my daughter is applying to medical school—I know, I know, it’s taken me a while to get here…what can I say except it was a dream life for me, the life of motherhood). Now I need to figure out how to entrance myself, and I feel a bit untethered about it all.

I’m living in the moment while thinking about how I can enhance my own life. What I want to do. New things. I considered giving up writing completely in order to pursue new things, but that’s not an option—I write.

But while I write I want to do new things.

Sometimes I think of it as my leap into danger. Sometimes I want to live dangerously. Roll down the windows when it’s five degrees and turn up the music really loud. That’s dangerous. That’s dangerous? No it’s not. Clearly it’s not. But that’s part of it. I’m figuring out how to figure things out. As I go.

I suppose that’s as close as I’m coming to a resolution this year.

Figure it out as I go.

And that’s okay.

What about you? Do you have trouble staying in the moment?

Happy New Year!

Julia

 

Are You A Lonely Writer (like I am)?

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Maine winters are long. Not just by the month, but by the day. Darkness falls around four in the afternoon and the sun doesn’t rise again until after seven. Then there’s the snow. A lot of snow. Worse, once it falls, it never goes. Piles and piles and heaps of it stick around until at least late March, could be May.

This post is not about the weather.

All that darkness and gloom takes its toll. On a body, on a mind. On a writer. More time inside. More isolation. More potential for aloneness and loneliness.

For me, this has already been a problem this year. In case you wonder what loneliness looks like, this is what it looks like for me.

You know that overly-chatty mailman you usually run into your house to get away from? You invite him into your mudroom when he delivers a certified letter—then you chat for five minutes. You’re sorry to see him go. When you hire a carpenter to do some work around your house, he tells you, “We need to limit our conversations to two minutes a day.” (No I didn’t make this up.) You have gone through your friend list—twice—and wonder why it’s taken half a day (okay ten minutes) for people to respond to coffee invitations. You look forward to grand re-openings of the grocery store, of the library, of the new bridge to town. You spend more and more time on social networking (which of course raises its own set of issues). Your characters become your best friends, and you talk to other people about them as though they are real. You stop random people on the beach to tell them how much their dog reminds you of yours that died the month before (except they have a Shizh Tzu and you had a black Lab)…

That’s an excerpt from my post on Writer Unboxed today: The Lonely Writer. I hope you’ll head over to read it—it talks about the loneliness of being a writer, of this writer, but it also talks about ways to cope.

I’ll look forward to your thoughts, your input, but mostly I’ll look forward to having one more writer friend by my side along this solitary path.

 

Time to be bored?

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In Perpetuity. My TBR pile, my notebooks, and one of the folders from my current WIP box. And, yes, that’s a Kindle on top of the TBR pile!

I’ve been in a bit of an organizational frenzy for the past two days. My office/study/work room had fallen into a massive disorganized mess. I’m not just saying that because…well, I can’t figure out why I’d just say it if it wasn’t true. Take my word for it, it is was a mess. I quite literally couldn’t find things or even know what things I was trying to find. By the time I walked into the room I’d forget, overwhelmed because my desk was totally covered with papers, my files were out of control, and there were books everywhere.

To be fair to myself, I’ve been on a writing streak with NaNoWriMo, which continued through the month of December. And now—with a full house for Christmas and New Year—my mind is happily in Mom-land.

Still… I know that will end soon, and I’ll be in a bit of a funk after everyone takes off (starting tomorrow when my daughter leaves to go back west). So I decided to get a leg up on the New Year clean up and mind set. Yesterday as I put things away, threw things away, filed things, made stacks, a pattern emerged: I have enough to read and write and do to keep me busy twenty-four hours a day quite possibly for the rest of the year if not forever, eternally, and in perpetuity. (By the way, this sparked a conversation in our family (no, not about redundancy): we all agreed that we can’t imagine anyone ever being bored—there’s just too much exciting stuff to read and do.)

Anyway, along the way, with everything else I found to sort were books “to be read” and books I was in progress of reading. As I sorted and organized, I made one pile of books I want to read (soon). One pile of things-printed-off-the-Internet that I need to read (in reality this is a large expandable folder). And one pile of my current WIP (okay, it’s a box). I also decided to implement a new organization system I’ve been developing for several years. It still needs fine tuning, but it consists of a set of notebooks, each for a different purpose (more about this in a future blog).

The obvious question: is there a resolution in here somewhere? I’m not a huge fan of resolutions (probably because I’ve broken so many over the years), but when I told my daughter I wasn’t making any resolutions this year, she asked, “Why?” There was something in her voice that was at the same time disappointed but also encouraging.

So right then and there I decided I would in fact resolve something.

To be more organized…which will hopefully give me more time to read the books I want to read and to write more and maybe even have some time left over to be bored.

Are you making any New Year’s resolutions? Are you ever bored?

Cheers,

Julia

First Day of School: Reflections

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Wikimedia Commons

I woke up sad. I couldn’t figure it out until I set out on my daily routine. As I drove to the coffee shop, I passed the school zone flashing light and remembered: today’s the first day of school. For the first time—in more years than I can count—it’s a day of little significance to me. In fact if anything, it’s an inconvenience.

School zones are limiting my speed, school buses are clogging traffic, the coffee shops are more crowded with moms who just dropped kids off at school, and no doubt I’ll need to adjust to different busy times at the grocery store as well.

It’s the first time since my son started pre-school that I haven’t packed up a kid for the first day, taken a first day photo, or even dropped a kid off for college—my daughter graduated last June and moved to California. My son’s still in medical school, but he lives on his own of course, and he most definitely does not need my help getting ready for his 4:30 a.m. surgical rotation.

Sometimes I hear moms complaining about the first day of school—because summer’s over and they miss the beach and other summer activities. Other moms breathe a sigh of relief and head out to the gym or errands solo, grateful for a much-needed break from the constant companionship. I remember having years when I felt each of those emotions (although truth is I had many more when I missed my kids after they went back to school at the end of summer).

Now, as I sit in the usual coffee shop, I can’t concentrate on writing (not fiction anyway); I can’t think of much of anything but the years gone by, and to be honest I’m having trouble keeping tears at bay. I miss those first days. I miss the drop offs but especially the after school pick ups with all the stories that would pour out, the laughter, tears, teacher stories, homework complaints and even the extra-curriculars I had to rush to get my kids to after school.

After one first day—I think my son was in sixth or seventh grade—I asked him how the day went, and he told me it was great. That was the problem, he said. The first day was always great: all new and exciting. Seeing all your friends again, meeting your new teachers, checking out the new kids, seeing what the year had in store, wearing your new first day outfit (okay, that was just my daughter). The bad part, he continued, was the realization that you had to go back the next day… and the next … and the next.

And I guess maybe that’s what’s making today hardest. The next day. And the next. And the next…

How about you? How is/was the first day in your household? Do you have trouble with transitions (like I do)?

Cheers,

Julia

Tales from the Road

_DSC0014_2On June second my daughter graduates from college, and the next day we leave on an epic mother-daughter roadtrip across the country: from sea to shining sea. (If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know that she and I have been making regular trips back and forth from Maine to Pennsylvania, where she’s been attending college. You can read about those trips here and here, where my daughter explains her worries about mountain goats.)

You see, my daughter (all 21-years-old of her) landed her dream job straight out of college. I’m very proud because she’s a really smart young woman, a really hard worker, and she’s also one of the sweetest and nicest people you’d ever want to meet. But I think it’s okay to say I’m also going to miss her a lot. And so I jumped at the chance when she asked me if I wanted to drive across the country with her—as a graduation gift for her. For her?

So far the only place my daughter has specifically said she wants to go is the Grand Canyon, but I’m guessing we’ll probably go a lot of other places. A LOT of other places, three thousand miles worth to be specific, but the Grand Canyon is the only place firmly on the agenda right now. Well, that and the city she’ll be working in, in California. We’ll go there, too.

Of course she’ll be there a lot longer than I will be because after we get there, I’ll turn around and come home . . . And it’s the way home that will get a little more interesting because for one thing I’ll be missing my girl like crazy the second she’s out of my sight. (I mean, she’s been gone four years already, but she was “only” a day’s drive away. Now she’ll be 3,200 miles away. That’s a long drive, a long flight, a long way, and she’s my girl and she’s also just about my best friend.)

For another thing, I’ll be on my own, just be me and the wide open highway. Don’t get me wrong. I’m actually looking forward to all that time alone. It will give me a lot of time to think and think and think. And to listen to audio books and to say a novel out loud into a tape recorder or Dragon Dictation. (I’m not sure which way will be better, but it’s a long way, and I figure I need to have some mystery about some things—like whether I will use a tape recorder or Dragon Dictation. I’ll bring both and I’ll see what works best.)

I’m also planning to visit some friends I haven’t seen in a long (really long) time, and I’m planning to meet some new friends, some bloggers, who I’ve only ever met on the Internet or on the phone. So that will be great fun!

And what else? I’ll be blogging: every day from the road—both ways across. But more than anything? I’ll be driving . . . so, if you see me in my small white nondescript station wagon—if it’s at the Grand Canyon or anywhere else—please slow down to wave and say hey!

And come on back to the blog in a few days for my first tale from the road!

Have you ever driven across the country? And/or have you ever dictated a novel? Do tell!

Cheers, 

Julia

 

 

Desired to Death: The Story Behind the Story

Next month I’m taking the plunge: publishing a novel. I’m becoming an indie author. Today I’m a guest on my wonderful writer friend Julie Luek’s blog, A Thought Grows, where I’m talking about the story behind the story—why I wrote this particular book at this particular time. I hope you’ll head over there to read the post. But first…

Here’s an excerpt from Desired to Death, the first book in The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series.

Maggie felt guilty about brushing away Joe’s fears, and more than anything she wanted to drive to Boston’s Logan Airport to track him down—to reassure him his worry was for naught, let him know the visit with Lainey was anticlimactic, that she was just her usual self-centered self. She wanted a chance to tell him about her conversation with Jessie, about how well she was adjusting to college life.

Rush hour was just beginning, and it was messy on I-89 as it converged into I-93 as cars headed to Boston, to Concord, to home. It was still bright and sunny outside, but when she got home to Halfway Bay, it would be dusk. With Joe gone, only Smythe would be home waiting for her. She’d take the old dog on her walk alone, and Maggie felt lonelier just thinking about it. In the old days, when Joe was gone, she and Jessie would have girls’ night, painting their fingernails and toenails and watching girly reality shows: The Bachelorette, Bridezilla, and Jessie’s favorite, Say Yes to the Dress.

Somehow just the thought of sitting on the couch with her daughter made Maggie miss Jessie all the more. It had been tough seeing Lainey living so independently. Then talking to Jessie, so happy on her own, made Maggie happy but also made her realize she was becoming superfluous. She looked at the GPS, still over a hundred lonely miles to go, alone with her thoughts, the tires humming on the pavement. Maggie held back tears as long as she could, but it was no use. One tear followed another until she broke down into full-fledged sobbing.

What am I going to do with the rest of my life? I can’t just wait around until Hank and Jessie come home for a few weeks a year—if they come home at all.

Maggie blew her nose. The empty nest really can be murder, Cara was right about that. After a few miles on I-93, Maggie left the heaviest traffic behind when she exited onto 101 toward coastal New Hampshire. Traffic thinned even more when she hit I-95 north into Maine.

Now that she’d fulfilled Cara’s request, Maggie felt disappointed somehow. Her preoccupation with Cara, with A.J. Traverso, had certainly given her something to think about, to do, to keep her mind occupied and off her empty nest.

I hope you enjoyed this small glimpse of Desired to Death. And I hope you’ll head over to my post on Julie’s blog.

Cheers,

Julia