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?

The Ramblings of a (Dis)Organzied Writer

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My coffee shop subset

I am disorganized.

Not true. In my mind I am organized—and by this I mean that by nature I’m very organized and can keep everything I need to do in my mind. I’ve never missed an appointment (okay, there was that Easter party my son almost missed when he was four—he’s in med school now). I never almost never forget anything. I always almost always get everything done that needs doing. I always (I think) remember everything I want to make a note of. I don’t remember if I do. For instance, I had this great next sentence… but I just forgot it. (I’m only partly joking.)

But in my mind I’m disorganized. And by this I mean that I feel disorganized.

When I got an iPhone four years ago, I thought it would be better. With all the apps and calendars and organizational systems available, I decided that would be my salvation. I’d keep notes and calendar only on my iPhone. Then somehow all my notes got wiped out. Months of notes on my iPhone. Literally months. Luckily I was disorganized (or organized) enough that I didn’t miss them.

That’s when I started the notebooks.

Let me back up. For a year or so I’ve wanted to write a post about how organized I am. How I have this great notebook system that helps me be incredibly organized. But that was when I was developing this great notebook system, one that involves six seven eight I’m not sure how many notebooks of different shapes and sizes.

Movies to watch. Books to read & books read (yes I consolidated these into one notebook a few years ago, thank goodness). Future writing project ideas. Blog notes—for my blog and for Writer Unboxed. Household tasks and future posts. Things that needed to be done right away. Daily writing journal. Current WIP notebook. Quotes. Agents. The small notebook I keep in my wallet for when I’m not at home.

One notebook for each.

Now that the system is (pretty) developed, I’m not so sure.

When I’m at home, it’s not an issue. I have the whole of the house at my fingertips. But when I work outside the house, at a coffee shop for instance (where I am right now), I scoop up an entire pile of things (and by things, I mean notebooks) I might possibly need (thank goodness it’s only a subset since I leave “home task notebooks” at home) and load them into my bag along with my laptop.

The other problem is this. I’m not consistent. I don’t (necessarily) write things down in the right notebook, and the catch-all becomes the small spiral notebook next to my computer (if it happens I’m working at my desk)… or the pad of paper on the kitchen table (if I’m working there). And the phrase “you can’t take it with you” takes on a whole new meaning with the notebook system. When I’m working at a coffee shop, any old scrap of paper will do.

Don’t even get me started on my calendar. Kitchen wall? iPhone? Post it stuck to the back door. Yes, all systems apply.

And the other problem is that once I write something down—using the notebook system—I may or may not ever look at it again.

So that leaves me with…why? Why do I do it?

  • An act of passive resistance to being controlled by paper? Or phone?
  • Too much to do?
  • Not enough of a system?/Too much of a system?
  • A love of notebooks? (Can a writer ever have too many notebooks?)
  • The fear of putting everything on my iPhone/computer for fear “out of sight is out of mind”? And/or losing notes again?
  • Busy with writing so I don’t want to bother with the act of getting organized (that’s my favorite, by the way).

The truth is I’m not sure why. This post has helped me to identify the overarching possibilities. Sometimes I wonder if the mere act of writing something down in one of the notebooks (or a scrap of paper) will help me remember, and maybe that’s enough. (I’ve actually read that for some kinds of learners this is true.) Sometimes the mere act of writing a blog post (like this) will help me figure things out. Or start me thinking about it and help me solve it.

Maybe my system is too complicated.

Maybe the real problem is the feeling that things are slipping through my fingers. Not that I’d be more productive if I remembered everything necessarily (whatever everything is), but that I would be happier and less stressed if I didn’t have to worry about it.

Maybe I don’t really have a problem.

Or maybe I can think about this tomorrow and for today it’s more of an attitude adjustment I need.

Because maybe I am disorganized, but maybe I’m as organized as I need to be. For today. But tomorrow? Tomorrow’s another day. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be organized enough to figure out how to be even more organized.

What about you? Are you an organized person? Any tips, ideas, apps, or suggestions you have for me?

Cheers,

Julia

11 Coffee Shop Commandments

1408971366.556579.IMG_7976The RB closed. It’s as simple as that. One day when I got to one of the two coffee shops in town, the guy behind the counter explained—to me and to everyone else in line—that Sunday would be “our last day.”

Want to buy a coffee shop? He directed us to the sign next to the cash register. Only $10K, he said when I asked what they were asking. Basically the cost of the expensive espresso machine, he said. Of course there’s the rent. That was my next question, briefly entertaining the notion of buying the place—having a coffee shop all to myself. What writer wouldn’t want that?

But seriously. This is a problem. Granted I live in a town of only 8,500 people. But here’s the thing. Both of our two coffee shops—the RB and the MRC—are always crowded. MRC is always my first choice. In fact, I wrote one of my WIPs at the choice corner table. (It’s the most coveted table in the place.) But I would go to the RB when the MRC was full (which it often was even before RB closed). And if you sometimes (or more than sometimes) work in a coffee shop, this is especially a problem.

That’s not what this blog is about. By the way, I don’t want you to get the impression I go to the coffee shop every day (I don’t…not anymore). No, this blog is about coffee shop etiquette and acceptable coffee shop behavior. How you should (and should not) behave in a coffee shop—according to me, of course, because it is my blog and it is critical to my life right now with coffee shop real estate (and I mean in both the table- and shop-sense) at a premium. Good behavior is mandatory.

Here’s my list.

1. Thou shalt not talk on the phone. Especially all the time. One woman does this non-stop (she used to be at the RB and has now moved to MRC—yes at the coveted corner table). She had her headphones plugged into her phone last time I was there when she was; she talked for over an hour before I couldn’t stand it and had to leave.

2. Thou shalt not listen to movies/trailers/music outloud. This seems self evident (to me), but I’m just saying.

3. Thou shalt not hog electrical outlets. Back to the phone-talker. She does. Talk on the phone and hog the outlets…many outlets at once. What is she doing? It’s hard to imagine what combination of electronics could require four plugs. Shouldn’t she get a room (and by room I mean office)?

4. Be polite and friendly to all. This includes pulling in your chair when someone is trying to go by, keeping your voice at a normal speaking, inside—not outside—voice level, kindly greeting others who greet you first. You know, all the things most of us learned at home or if not at home then in kindergarten.

5. Don’t act like you’re at home—you’re not. No matter if you do go everyday (or almost everyday). Don’t speak in a loud voice (even if it’s an interesting story), don’t yell across the coffee shop to other patrons, and never ever put your feet on the furniture…yes, that means you Miss Pink Flip Flops who just put her foot on a table.

6. Make yourself comfortable, but not for too long. And if you do stay too long, for the love of God, don’t bring your own food, particularly coffee. Or soda machine. Or… is it just me or is this self evident? Even if you don’t buy something to eat every day, I like to at least sometimes buy a bagel or croissant—just to show I understand it’s a business. (Maybe then the RB wouldn’t have gone under and then maybe other places won’t go under like the RB did).

7. Make friends with the barista. Sometimes this is impossible (no matter how much you try). But let’s face it, if the barista’s not happy, no one’s happy. Smile at the people behind the counter, put something in the tip jar, care about their lives.

8. Chat with your fellow “coffee shop workers”—but only if they want to—and then not too much, after all—like you—they’re there to work. Making friends with other regulars can be fun and also is helpful when you’re looking for someone to empathize with about other particularly annoying “co-workers.” Need I mention phone-woman again? Or the couple who had the huge argument one day?

9.  Thou shalt not take cuts in line—yes even if it’s to ask “a quick question.” Again, is this not self evident? And yes, I’m talking to you, lady, the one who cut in front of me a few minutes ago to ask for napkins and didn’t even bother to excuse herself to me.

10. Clean up after yourself. Throw your trash away. Bus your table. Brush crumbs away. Sometimes things are so busy the staff doesn’t have time. Anyway, I’m pretty sure this is standard. (I’d extend this to the bathroom… there’s nothing worse than going into a public bathroom that someone hasn’t bothered to keep tidy during their visit. Throw paper towels away where they belong, don’t leave hair in the sink, and—well, I hate to be the toilet police, but shouldn’t guys always lower the seat?)

11. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor-writer’s computer. Now this is totally in fun, offered to me by one of my writer friends at MRC. He calls this the 11th commandment. By the way, he does covet my computer. Last month I got my first new computer EVER. A Macbook Pro. Retina display. Super light. My first very-own, non-handmedown computer. It’s pretty slick, I do have to say, and I have to pinch myself occasionally to believe it’s really mine. Don’t worry, there are downsides, if you doubt it, take a look at the blog I wrote about email.

Can’t we all just get along?

What about you? What are your pet peeves and commandments—or am I just too picky for words?

 

Over a Million Emails (but who’s counting?)

photo 2Warning: This blog is a rant.

A few weeks ago I got a new computer. A laptop. A mac. Retina display. Enough storage so I could keep my photos on it without an external hard drive. Super fast. Super exciting. I love(d) it.

My old computer (also a laptop) was six years old. It’s a hand-me-down from my daughter. It had become so slow and ponderous that it took five minutes to download twenty photos—on my new computer that takes less than a few seconds. Did I mention it’s fast?

But there are glitches. It has trouble finding the Internet sometimes. I figure the Internet is invisible—right?—and we all have trouble finding it sometimes. So maybe I’ll make allowances. I’m clearly kidding. Not being able to find the Internet is an issue. But it’s something I can live with as an intermittent problem. Not like the mail thing.

Here are my issues with Macmail.

1. I can’t tell if my mail replies have been sent or not. In Macmail it says yes. But if I go to gmail (which I have redirected to Macmail), it says my replies are still there as drafts. Many of these emails are business or writing related—what am I going to do, write to an agent or a magazine editor and ask if they got my email reply? Hardly. Which means I now need to reply by going to gmail.

2. I can’t open my email messages. That is, when I double click on them (in Macmail), nothing happens. I can’t see any content. I only know that I have a message from, say (like this morning), Writer Unboxed. This is problematic because I’m a regular contributor to Writer Unboxed and I also coordinate guest posts…and now I need to go to gmail to read and reply to those messages, too. Or I need to bother guest contributors, asking them if they’ve received my “thank you for sending in your post” replies. Once again I need to go to gmail to perform a task I should be able to do on my brand new fantastic macbook (did I mention it cost a lot of money?).

3. This one is perhaps the most perplexing and troubling. This morning I noticed (after opening Macmail) that there was a message in the lower left corner of the viewing window; it said MAIL ACTIVITY, followed by: Incoming Messages…135712 of 135712, but it didn’t stay at that number long. As I watched, the number kept growing until it was over 2,000,000. MEH (My Engineer Husband) laughed when I said: “I need to write a blog,” as I dashed out of the room to get my iPhone so I could take a photo. Luckily the computer is so fast it processed those over-2 million messages in a matter of minutes. So fast I didn’t have time to take a photo of the over 2 million, only of the over 1 million message.

Here’s the question. Where did those messages go? (I can’t find them.) I assume they are old, archived messages because they don’t show up anywhere in MacMail, and I boggle at the thought of receiving more than, say, one million messages on Sunday morning…

But here’s the thing. If they are all new messages, and you are one of my over-2-million emailers today, I may not be answering your email anytime soon. For one thing I can’t find it. But more importantly, I’m kinda busy…

P.S. In all seriousness, if anyone from Apple is reading this blog? Please fix Macmail. There are several KNOWN BUGS (from what I’ve read online), and I really feel pretty duped that no one told me I would have problems like these and wouldn’t be able to dependably use email like I always have. I no longer can funnel all my email accounts into Macmail (as I’ve always done in the past). Instead I need to go to each of my three different gmail accounts (toggling back and forth) and to one other email account online at Roadrunner. Not convenient and not cool. That’s all.

Cheers,
Julia

#SoLastYear

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By Stephen Slade Tien, via Wikimedia Commons

During my end-of-year cleanup, I found an article I printed out a couple of years ago: Using Twitter to Tap into the Mood of the Planet. It got me thinking. In 2013, how much was I in step with the mood of Twitter…ergo the mood of the planet?

Here’s what I found out as I started digging.

On Twitter, the most followed account was @katyperry (she surpassed @justinbieber this year…who “dethroned” @ladygaga a year earlier). I do not follow Ms. Perry (nor the others) but more than 49 million Americans do, including 57 people I follow.

What about retweets? Of the 500 MILLION tweets sent each day, the most RT’d tweet last year—tweeted over 430,000 times—was one by Lea Michele (@msleamichele) thanking fans for their support after her boyfriend and co-star Cory Monteith died. I never saw that tweet until I started this post. However, I did see (but not retweet) the #2 most retweeted tweet—one in December that confirmed the tragic death of actor Paul Walker. That tweet was retweeted only slightly fewer times than Lea Michele’s (about 400,000).

I was 0 for 3.  I felt sad and unsettled to find out that the most RT’d tweets in 2013 were sad ones…did this mean the mood of the planet was sad? I wondered if it was true for other social media—so of course I had to search.

When I referred to “#2” in the above paragraph, I wasn’t talking about hashtags… rather, I was using # in the old school sense, but it does lead me to hashtags. Let me tell you, I searched and searched (for longer than I care to admit) but could not find the top Twitter hashtag of the year. During my search, I did find the top hashtag for Instagram: #love. And in my Google search for the #1 Twitter hashtag, I was directed to the top Google search trends…where I found the Google top charts and a short video about them. It also listed top searches—broken down into categories. In the first category—“top trending,” the #1 search was again Paul Walker. (I admit I did add to that particular statistic since I did a search for his name after his untimely death.) #2 on that list was Boston Marathon Bombing, which I also searched, actually more than once (my son was living in Boston at the time).

So, for Google and Instagram, I’m 3 for 3. Although I’m not on Instagram, I’m all in favor of #love…and it’s a happier emotion than portrayed on Twitter…so I’m in step with the mood of the Instagrammians (?) on this one.

At that point in my research I realized I was only half in sync with the planet…so I wondered: what about other parts of the Internet scene? Was I in tune or not? That’s when I got a little more aggressive in my searching. What about apps for example? Turns out the #1 App Download of 2013 was Candy Crush. I’ve never played that game on my iPhone or on Facebook—so again I was out of step. What about shared events on Facebook? I’m also not in sync with the most popular event talked about on Facebook: The Superbowl. I never “talked” about it or “liked” a share about it nor did I even watch it!

I started to feel a little nonplussed. I must spend ten hours a week on social media—was I really so out of touch…so different…I mean some of these things I’d missed completely on each of the platforms. I continued to search, and what I found next re-instated my belief that I am in step with the world, at least more than I thought: the “annual list of words to be banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness” as kept for the past 39 years by Lake Superior State University. The top three words on that list are selfie, twerk, and hashtag…all of which I have heard of, do think are at least a bit overused, and yet I’ll admit here first that I have used 2 of the 3—online and even in casual speech—I’ll let you figure out which two. #embarrassing #ohno #YOLO

So what does this all mean? That I need to pay more attention? That I need to spend more time on social media? Or is it simply that I’m at least partially out of step with the planet—as proven by social media? Something I probably could’ve predicted based on the fact that often in my life I’ve been at least a little out of step with what’s hip…does anyone even say “what’s hip” anymore?

So…how’d you do with the mood of the planet? #comment #thanksforreading

#love

The Problem with Paper

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This large stack of papers are waiting to be shredded in the tiny shredder on the desk…

I was inspired by blogging friend Natalia Sylvester’s post this week—she wrote about how a change in setting (of her desk) and new meaningful decorating (of her new area) might inspire her stories. It was a great post, and I was especially intrigued with the photo of paper that she hung near her desk. Her husband took the photo a few years ago, as a part of a series focusing on seeing everyday objects differently.

Natalia’s post not only inspired me, but it also made me realize what a mess my own writing space is (was). In fact, my entire office, study, work area, is (was) such a mess that I couldn’t sit at my desk anymore. Part of the problem is that we have three work areas in that room. One is for household paperwork, one is my work area, and one is MEH’s (My Engineer Husband). A few years ago MEH was laid off, and while he looked for a job (he found one within a few short months, thank goodness) he really spread out in that room. And nothing really ever got cleaned up after that.

The room was a mess. You’ll have to take my word for it because there’s no way I was about to take a photo of it. It was so much of a mess that I wrote anywhere but in there. I had desk avoidance, big time. For one thing, there was paper everywhere. I’m just saying. Natalia’s husband could’ve had a real field day taking photos of paper (of all kinds) in that room. Then last week we started having problems with our Internet connection. It was slow. Very slow. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting the paper was slowing it down. If only it could be that simple, right? But the timing seemed more than coincidental—for another reason. I wanted to clean up my space and the Time Warner guy was going to come and check out the connection (on a Sunday no less!), and I wasn’t even sure he could get to the wall socket or wiring. So it was necessary to clean up. The paper, the dust, the everything.

So it was that yesterday—for about six hours—MEH and I made the office/study our project. We cleaned and threw out and cleaned some more. We put a lot of stuff away, threw out more, and boxed things up. And while we cleaned, I realized something. I have a real problem with paper.

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These are manuscripts “in the drawer.”

I’m thinking this must be a common problem for us writers. If you’re like me, you print out copies of your manuscripts to edit, to proof, to give to other writers to read as beta drafts. This means you (and by you, I mean I) have reams of paper waiting to be printed. You also have reams of printed-upon paper waiting to be disposed of. And, to add to the problem, I (for one) am unwilling to put any of my fiction in recycling—being one of those paranoid people who is afraid someone may accidentally see it (okay, I admit it, I’m afraid there’s someone sitting in the recycling bin for the soul purpose of stealing MY fiction.). Anyway, regardless of the reason, I have stacks and stacks of paper waiting to be shredded and some waiting to be recycled, and I also have storage boxes full of manuscripts “in the drawer” along with notes and background information I’ve used to write those books—about seven books worth (not counting one picture book and two early readers). You don’t have to do the math, I’ll tell you: I have six storage boxes full of paper.

And I have to be honest, I’m just not sure how to keep up anymore. I have a very small paper shredder. And it takes a long time to shred a 400-page manuscript—or five copies that have been returned by beta readers. These stack up. I’ve isolated the recycling/shredding to one corner, but it’s going to take a while to shred things. (I realize you can hire companies to shred documents, but this again requires me to trust someone with my work.)

The long and short of it is that although the room looks a lot better, it’s not exactly the décor I was going for—what with the stacks and stacks of paper to come to terms with and the storage boxes everywhere. Maybe I need to designate that room as the office/storage closet and just move my office to the next room over–the dining room—and I can sit in there with my back to the office. Then, to paraphrase Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind: “I can worry about the paper another time…after all tomorrow is another day.”

Do you have this same problem? How do you dispose of your paper? Are you paranoid (like I am)? Any suggestions or tips (I didn’t mention in the post, but we also have filing cabinets, but they are filled with household papers)?

Cheers,

Julia

Coffee Club Culture

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Courtesy Wikimedia Commons (not my coffee shop)

I knew he was trouble when he walked in. Tall, well dressed, self assured, he strode to the back of the coffee shop to the couches—clearly he saw someone he knew. But there was something palpable in the air. Anger.

I wish I didn’t, but I have radar about these things. Call it sixth sense, call it ESP, call it busybodiness. I call it tuned in, observant. Even with my headphones on, the music turned up, I knew something was about to happen.

This story isn’t quite as dangerous as I’m making it sound. Not quite. But almost. The facts were that this man—middle-aged man—went to the back of the coffee shop to confront what I found out (what we all found out) was his ex-wife. He wasn’t physically threatening but he raised his voice—in his defense, so did she. Then for the next hour they argued.

Yes, an hour. Raising their voices frequently, I couldn’t help but hear them. We all heard them. It was unpleasant. At one point, one of the guys who I see almost every day turned to me and said just one word: “Brutal.” Later in the hour another guy—I’d never met—and I shared a few pleasantries. First we acknowledged the stress and anxiety we were both feeling. The awkwardness that was unavoidable. Then we chatted about the road work outside. He was an engineer for a large project our town’s in the middle of. He said that sometimes people yell at workers, swear at them even. He was a nice young guy just trying to do his job.

The coffee shop I always go to (I called it a club in the title because it sounded better between coffee and culture) has been problematic for me lately. I finally figured it out. I’m a regular. I’m comfortable, as comfortable (almost) as I am at home. I know the baristas, I know the cashiers (even the new ones), I know a lot of the regulars. We chat. It’s wonderful, but I feel like I’m losing my edge.

This morning one of the other regulars apologized for sitting at “your table.” He smiled when he said it, but it turned out another regular had said something to him. We all smiled, but it made me realize even more that I’m too comfortable. I have “my table,” I know the irregulars who come in just to fight in a neutral place or escape someone swearing at them, the barista has “my special drink” (for the record, I only have it once in a while because it costs $5.40 compared to $2.00 for a cup of joe), I know the prices of everything, where everything is. I even alerted the staff this morning that the bathroom was out of paper towels.

I’m too comfortable, leading me to complacency, I realized this morning as I nodded to all the regulars on the way to my table (which I reclaimed after it was vacated—hey, it’s near an outlet), settled into the chair in the same position as yesterday, proceeded to log onto Twitter and Facebook. Then I caught myself. That was the whole reason I started going to the coffee shop in the first place—I was doing those same things at home, having trouble concentrating…and writing.

As for the argument, the angry words died down, the well-dressed ex-husband left, and the boyfriend came back to sit next to the ex-wife. It was all starting to make sense. But the culmination of the fight was still one more distraction I had trouble tuning out, proving once again I’m just too comfortable.

It’s time to shake things up again. Maybe next week I’ll try a new table.

Cheers,

Julia

Have you ever had this happen to you in a too-familiar public place? Do you get complacent in your routines (like I do), leading to lower productivity? Have you abandoned routines because it becomes TOO routine? What techniques have you tried?

This post is for the birds

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This post really has nothing to do with birds, except the photo that shows the sweet little sparrows that were perched on one of our skylights this morning, capturing moths and other bugs stuck to the screen in their valiant attempt to make it into our house.  MEH’s comment: “I’m glad someone’s cleaning the screens.”

No, this post really has to do with technical difficulties…again…because this month seems to be going that way. Some have been out of my control (like in my last post) but some, like today’s, self-inflicted. To wit: did you use Google reader to subscribe to and read blogs…like I did? Well, right before I went on my road trip out west, I was reminded (again) by Google that their reader was going away. Imminently. Permanently. Shortly after I returned from my trip.

Like so many things on my list, I “forgot” to do anything. I’m using quotation marks because I willfully allowed myself to forget. Sure, I checked out other readers, but I couldn’t find anything free that I was satisfied with. Sure enough, on the promised date, the reader was no longer available. And I’d done nothing. Which means that every single blog I was subscribed to—every single blog—was lost to me.

Sure, there are some blogs I remember, those that I used to visit every time there was a new post: my regular readers, my blogging friends. But I counted on my reminders. When a new blog came out, I’d see it on Google reader. That’s not the worst of it. The worst is that there were many blogs (about 50) that I’d visit sporadically. I have no idea what these were.

Am I complaining? Yes. I’m even saying I’m mad. At myself. At Google. I’m not happy that there are blogs and blogs out there I must refind and then find a way to keep track of. Or that I will never get my list back.

And I’m also apologizing. I’m sorry I haven’t visited your blogs. Or that I haven’t faithfully read them. I’ve missed you, and I’ll be back soon. But not consistently until I find a new reader that I like…that’s free…that’s easy to use.

So in addition to this post being a gripe, an explanation, and an apology, it’s also a request. If you have had a good experience with the reader you use, please let me know in the comments. I will definitely check it out. And if I’ve ever left a comment on your blog (or even if I haven’t) please leave a comment so I can find your blog again! I can’t wait.

Thank you (and cheers),

Julia

p.s. Meanwhile, it’s summer and lest you think I’m so consumed with these technical difficulties that I’m not enjoying it, I promise you I am. The bird watching alone has been spectacular (the sparrows but also eagles, great blue herons, osprey, mockingbirds, bobolinks among others), and I’m also enjoying the interesting weather that Maine has been having this summer: first we had the terrible Northeast heat wave. Then we had rain and cold. Then humidity and heat. Now cool and damp. The late planted garden is doing very well, and by very well, I mean to say that by December we should have tomatoes… or snow!

 

The Case of the Disappearing Notes

photo-desk

MEH and I worked computer-to-computer to fix the problem.

It started innocently enough. A friend alerted me that my emails were appearing in her inbox “as spam.” Not good, especially not good because I was beginning to query agents. That’s all I need—to have my queries shuffled off to spam mailboxes and never know what happened to them!

That was the first problem. Then my gmail (that I have forwarded to my mac mail and iPhone mail) started disappearing. Messages would be delivered to one device but not the other. Then my other (Roadrunner email) started acting up—I couldn’t send an email from my iPhone if I was within a certain radius of my laptop (I never figured out how far away I had to be, though). Confused a little? I was confused a lot.

One day everything was working perfectly, the next day nothing worked at all. I followed directions online, deleted all my mail accounts on both my mac and my iPhone and reinstalled them. Things were even worse. I stopped getting any email—at all.

Next I did something no one ever really wants to do. I made an appointment with the Apple store for “genius help.” Unfortunately the guy at the Apple store knew less than I did. He was generally rude and unhelpful…and did I mention apathetic? Turns out, he wasn’t even a genius. I found out when he said: “I could go ask one of the geniuses.” Me: “I thought I made an appointment with a genius.” Him: “They aren’t here all the time.” Me: “When should I come back?” Him: “You can never be sure…”

Did I mention customer unfriendly?

I called Apple. I know what you’re thinking. Now I’ll get somewhere. Yes, this is when I found out that my phone’s serial number was not correct and apparently (unbeknownst to me) the phone I got from the Apple store two years ago was an imposter (code word for they thought I stole the phone). Eventually I was transferred to Nicole, a “Senior Advisor” at Apple. Surely she would know the answer. Nicole: “When did you first notice your serial number was incorrect?” Me: “That’s not why I’m calling.” Nicole: “We can’t help you unless we figure this out. Where did you get this phone?” About forty-five minutes later, I hung up so I could wait for the email Nicole would send me about how to fix my gmail interaction with my iPhone. At least I had successfully convinced Nicole that I hadn’t in fact stolen my phone. But my email still wasn’t working.

Another hour later, after completing all the steps on the instructions Nicole sent, I still was having the same problems with my gmail. I gave up and moved onto the Roadrunner email problems. I did something even scarier than going to the Apple store. I called our internet provider (the one who administers that email account: Time Warner). TWO HOURS and FIVE REINSTALLATIONS OF MY EMAIL ACCOUNT later, I hung up with an increase of TEN DOLLARS a month in my cable bill (because the guy said my email problems were due to too slow an internet connection). This however did not fix my email problem.

That’s when I called in the big guns, did something I’d wanted to do from the beginning but had held off on doing because he’s been on a stressful, deadline-driven project: I called MEH (My Engineer Husband). That night MEH and I sat down, computer to computer, and two hours later my email was working again. All of it.

Now, to be honest, it doesn’t work exactly the way I want it to. If I’m to understand the (approximately) seventy pages of online group notes (read that gripes) and Apple support information, “improvements” in operating systems has caused my email to work differently than it used to. This would’ve been a valuable thing for Apple, gmail, or Time Warner to let me know right up front (they didn’t).

photo-notes

This is the kind of irreplaceable note I lost.

Oh, and the title of this post—the case of the disappearing notes? Well, sometime in the midst of all this uninstalling, reinstalling, moving, deleting, changing, talking, griping, and general teeth gnashing? I lost every single Note I’d taken on my iPhone. We’re talking observations, character notes, cross-country trip notes, songs I want to buy notes, funny story notes, things I need to do notes. Yes, everything. GONE.

Turns out one other thing no one told me was this: somehow Notes and gmail are integrally tied together—I still don’t know how. Even though I’d never asked for this “feature,” all notes were deleted from my phone the second I deleted the gmail account. So let me be the one to warn you. If you take notes on your phone (like I do) make sure you back them up separately and frequently (via sync-notes in iTunes—I think). Otherwise, you too could end up with…

The case of the disappearing notes. And let me tell you, no writer wants that.

Have you ever had a technology nightmare? I’d love to hear. You know what they say: misery loves company. And if you save notes to iTunes (or otherwise), I’d love to hear how you do that!

Cheers,

Julia

 

 

 

A Rose is a Rose is a . . . Rose, Right?

Flower_Bouquet

By Ken FUNAKOSHI from Yokohama, Japan (Bouquet) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m happy to announce that today I make my debut as a regular bimonthly contributor on Writer Unboxed!

In this first post, What’s In a Name?, I’m asking for help with a question I’ve been grappling with lately as I get ready to self publish Desired to Death. Here’s the thing: I write in  multiple genres, so I’m wondering . . . should I use a pseudonym for this mystery novel?

You’ll also get the nitty gritty on all the names I’ve had in my life.

So, I hope you’ll check out What’s In a Name? on Writer Unboxed. And while you’re there, please weigh in! (I’ve disabled comments on this post.)

Cheers, Julia

To Do


This zinnia has nothing to do with this post. But did I mention it’s snowing again? I had to look at the
photos of my garden to remind myself what it looks like when it’s not covered in snow. (I’m not kidding.)

My day in a list.
Note: This was not intended as an amusing read, but when I read through it I was amused. My task for today is to get organized. Let me break it down.

Task 1: Get organized

Note: I don’t know how she does it (me, not the movie).

Task 2:Self publish Desired to Death

Subtasks:Approximately a trillion, perhaps infinity.

Task 3:Plan the second book in The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series

Subtasks: Ditto subtasks for Task 2. Enough said.

Task 4: Go gangbusters on writing YA WIP, tentative title E&F

Subtasks: I am so excited about this project I wish I could just write all day long! (But note subtasks of Task 2 and 3 and entirety of Task 1.)

Task 5:Keep the house afloat

Note to self: I don’t ever want to clean the bathroom again or fold another load of laundry!

Task 6:Exercise

Note: You’re right, it shouldn’t be so far down on the list.

Task 7: Blog

Note: Oh yeah.

Task 8: Sleep

Comment: Yes, at this point (and sadly) it is a task.

Task 9: MEH. Not the word, the man. My Engineer Husband.

It’s a good thing we live together and that he doesn’t mind hearing ad nauseam about self publishing or I’d be in big trouble.


What’s on your to do list? 

Cheers,
Julia

Wisdom from my daughter


Courtesy Wikimedia Commons


“The Mountain Goat is not really a goat.” Somewhere in Massachusetts I read those words to my daughter, initiating one of the funniest and, perhaps, most fascinating conversations I’ve ever had with her.
We were hurtling down the Mass Pike at the time, on one of our mother-daughter road trips. These eight-hour trips have become a wonderful byproduct of her attending college many states away. We’ve had some great conversations. Some very serious, but most very, very funny. At times giddy; the giddiest are on the way home from a long semester after a very-low or no-sleep night for my daughter.

On this particular road trip our conversations had already ranged from the critical: the location of the nearest rest stop (we always talk about this oftensince copious amounts of caffeine, in many liquid forms, are consumed on every trip), why it’s against the mother-daughter code of road trip conduct to ever listen to an Adele song, how to prepare yourself for a rear-impact car accident, how to choreograph a car dance to Kelly Clarkson’s Catch My Breath, why Adam Levine was literally like the third passenger in our car, and why literally and trilla-anything (think trillasecond) are literally every other words out of either of our literal mouths.

To the more mundane: the classes she’s taking next semester (hey, I’m not a bad mom, she’s a senior in her last semester, so she’s got this nailed), a recap of our favorite holiday memories, the kind of suitcase she needs to replace the one that broke as we loaded it into the car, and reminisces of past road trips. It was a long trip, okay?

But then we got to the Mountain Goats, and like I said, it was one of my favorite ever. Turns out, like I read out loud in that NPR article, 12 Half-Truths we Live With, the Mountain Goat is not really or literally a goat. The ensuing conversation had nothing at all to do with the validity of the statement—it was not even a point of discussion—we both readily accepted it as a fact. (Although we did read the associated link explaining why the Mountain goat isn’t really a goat.)

Here’s where it gets interesting, though. Turns out (unbeknownst to me after being her mother for over 21 years), my daughter (her words): “is obsessed with how mountain goats give birth.” Literally.

I was laughing so hard when she told me just that, so I asked if I could please record the rest of her rant for posterity (and to blog about), and she agreed; thank goodness for the iPhone! She answered an emphatic “no,” however, when I asked if I could include the recording in my post, but she did agree that I could transcribe it, and here it is, literally word for word (she was driving at the time):

“…I’m concerned about the Mountain Goats giving birth because they’re just going to…I’m afraid they’re going to…what are they called, kids? Are they still called kids even though they aren’t related to goats? I’m afraid the kids are going to go shooting out of their uteruses and off the mountain. Because where on earth are they going to give birth? Have you seen pictures of where the Mountain Goats live? It’s like on these jagged edges. There’s literally nowhere to give birth to these Mountain Goats. And then what do they eat? Lichen is not very hearty or healthy, and there’s absolutely nothing except for snow, and you can’t live off of that. And also they’re just going to be toppling. How on earth can they stay balanced? They just can’t, and I think they are just too dumb to realize the imminent risk they’re in. That’s my analysis of everything… And when they fight? Oh my God. They ram their friggin’ heads into each other, and they just shoot the other one off the mountain. It’s so gruesome. It’s weird. I just get concerned.”

There. Now you know, too, why my daughter is obsessed with Mountain Goats. And neither you, nor I, would ever have known if it weren’t for that road trip. Sadly there are some things a mother just can’t make right, and this is one of them. All I could do was listen, laugh harder than I have in a long time, and do an Internet search on how Mountain Goats give birth—turns out they go “into cliffs,” as one article said, to which my daughter replied:

“That article was literally written by a fifth grader. How can you go intoa cliff?”

If there’s a takeaway, it’s this: start early taking road trips with your daughters and/or sons. There’s nothing better. You learn a lot from them and not just about Mountain Goats, take my word for it.

Cheers,
Julia

Anonymously Yours


From Wikimedia Commons by Friedrich Bohringer

Lately I’ve gotten a lot of anonymous comments to my blog. You know the kind. Highly personal, beautifully written, heartfelt notes like this:

Hello, after гeading thiѕ аwesome aгticle i am
as well glad tο share mу knowledge
hеre with сolleagues.CSI: New York Season X Episode XFeel free to visit my web-siteCSI: New York Season X Episode X

Don’t worry, to further protect Anonymous’s identity, I’ve removed all ultra personal information (like which episode of CSI and the link to the very personal website).

And I really enjoyed this comment, left on my post about my broken dishwasher (I think the Cyrillic letter “K” really adds a special touch, don’t you?):

Oκ, enοugh ѕaid. This wаs probably
the best article I havе read tοdaу аnd I
oftеn do rеsеаrch daily on the subjеct of оnline tarot rеading.Thanks for ѕharing with the world. Cheers!My web blog ; believe in psychic readings

Seriously, I’m so happy it was the best article you read today, but I don’t think a Tarot reading will help me fix my broken dishwasher.

More than anything, this spate of anonymous comments got me thinking about another anonymous missive I received a long time ago, way before the Internet was even a gleam in Al Gore’s eye (no, I really don’t believe that).

In high school I received a long love letter including a beautiful poem—a young man, too shy to approach me and pledge his undying love. I remember sitting in my family room with my brother and one of his friends (let’s call him Roberto), analyzing the note and its heartfelt poem …

Roses are red, violets are blue 

Sugar is sweet and so are you 

We howled until we cried. It wasn’t until ten years later I found out it was Roberto himself who sent the love note. It’s too bad he didn’t tell me in person because if he had he would’ve found out I always had a bit of a crush on him, too, especially at Christmas time when he sang The Christmas Song. He could really croon.

My anonymous blog commenters could learn a thing or two from this lesson—come forward and identify yourself. Maybe it’s a mutual thing and I really wouldwatch that favorite episode of CSI or have my Tarot cards read.

You never know.


Have you ever received an anonymous (truly heartfelt) letter? Are you, like me, experiencing a spike in anonymous blog comments?

Cheers,
Julia


The Curious Writer’s Mind

Prince Edward IsAland

I am writing this post far from home: approximately 430 miles southwest of Maine. This early morning in Philadelphia, in a guest bedroom—more specifically guest bathroom (stay with me here) of my aunt’s house—I discovered this: I never turn off my writer’s curious mind.

But I get ahead of myself. MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I are here to celebrate an important birthday. Our daughter’s 21st! Last night we took her and four of her wonderful friends out for dinner at a delicious Malaysian restaurant. Then we wandered behind them through the streets of Philly, in search of a bar. Can I tell you it’s been a long time since I’ve done this? Of course I’ve never done it with my daughter! We had so much fun!

(An aside: If you have a daughter who at age two asks for a pony? Don’t expect she’ll outgrow wanting one. Even at age 21. Even as she’s sitting next to you on a barstool, ordering a drink called “Bulletproof.”)

I digress. What does this have to do with the writer’s curious mind? Earlier, on our way to the restaurant I took a photo—two houses with pretty unbelievable art displays in their front yards. I thought it was Halloween decorations, MEH thought it was more of a year round thing—and we discussed it for a while. But more importantly, I wondered: who lives there? What is their motivation? Why? What is the course of life events that leads someone to have such an assorted display.


The houses with the amazing art displays in their front yards.
Later, when MEH and I left our daughter and her friends to enjoy the late night scene, we wandered back to our small nondescript white station wagon. On the way we saw an amazing old building, beautifully lit up. I had to take a photo, of course, but I had no idea what building I was looking at—yes, I wondered and briefly tried to figure it out via Google on my iPhone. After I took the photo, we walked by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel—a couple dressed to the nines was getting out of a dark Mercedes, being helped by the doorman with their luggage. I had to wonder: who are they? Why are they in Philly? What’s theirstory? Are they in the foreign service? Are they spies? Are they here for their daughter’s birthday?
The mystery building turned out to be
none other than Philadelphia City Hall!
It just doesn’t stop. And so it was this morning (I told you, I’d come back to it), standing in my aunt’s guest bathroom, looking at the Map of the World shower curtain I noticed something. An island off the coast of Africa labeled: Prince Edward Isaland. No, that misspelled word is not a typo (well, not my typo). Of course I did what any curious writer would do: rushed back to my room for my iPhone to find out if there really is a place called Prince Edward Isaland—more specifically is it a typo?
The answer is yes, it is a typo. But, wait, there’s more! The first five search items returned in Google were other blogs written about this very same typo on this very same shower curtain (well, not my aunt’s shower curtain but another one just like it)! And one of the blogs was “overly harsh” (that blogger’s description, not mine) about this shower curtain, and not just because of the typo, but more about the mapping strategies and politics. And again, I wondered: why? Why the harsh reaction? What was that blogger’s motivation? It is, after all, only a shower curtain.

And that’s my short (not overly harsh) blog for the week—a look into this writer’s curious mind.

Do you, like me, see stories everywhere you look? Do you try to imagine what the people (and places) around you are all about? Can you turn off yourwriter’s curious mind?


Cheers,
Julia

THE VOICE: A Writer’s Dream


By AJ.iitm (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
via Wikimedia Commons
Lately on Monday and Tuesday nights, you’ll find me glued to the tube. I write this with some regret because if you recall, last year we got rid of cable TVcompletely—but then “they” made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: free cable TV for a year.

Sounds great, right? But here’s the problem. Before, I would watch the occasional movie on Netflix, sometimes an old TV show. But now? I watch TV. More specifically, I watch whatever’s on TV. In fact, that’s how I found my latest TV obsession: THE VOICE.
This is my first season watching THE VOICE, but I can already tell you that all writers should be watching this show. First, it’s high drama. Second, it’s reminiscent of a writer’s querying experience. If you haven’t seen it, in this reality TV show, singing contestants audition to be named “the voice.” To begin with, four teams of sixteen contestants are formed—each coached by a celebrity singer.

But here’s the best part. The competition is done by blindaudition. The four vocal judge/coaches (Christina Aguilera, CeeLo Green, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton) have their backs to the contestants as they sing. If a coach likes what he/she hears and wants the singer on his/her team, he/she presses a button on their chair and they are magically turned around. (Okay, maybe it’s a mechanical switch that turns the chair around, but it seems magical. Stay with me here.)

Sounds simple and even kinda stupid, right? But no. It’s amazing. Because if more than one judge turns around, the lucky singer/contestant gets to choose which vocal coach they want to work with! And the coaches fight and compete amongst themselves—while at the same time trying to woo a contestant’s attention. Like I said: high drama.

The parallels to my querying process do not escape me. For one thing, I am quite impressed with the guts a contestant has to have to even enter the competition. One shot. Ninety seconds on stage. A query letter. Sing well enough to make a judge or two or three or maybe even four turn around. Enticing an agent (or two or three or four) to read a manuscript.

It makes me think. What if I had to stand on a stage and read the first page of my manuscript? Would my voice quaver? Would I have the high drama Christina was waiting for? Could I hold the tension long enough to make Adam Levine turn around? Would my premise be quirky enough for CeeLo? Could I belt it out honky tonk enough for Blake?

And what if I blew them all away with my prose, my dialogue, my characters? And they all turned around? Who would I choose and how?

Of course, the truth is there is no reality show for writers—but if there was? What would that look like? Maybe not a stage with magical chairs for coaches. Instead maybe it would be a room full of writers at tables or in a library, pecking away at laptops, torturing themselves until they were happy. The coaches in magical rolling chairs appearing at a writer’s elbow, saying yay or nay to a manuscript page. It sounds kinda stupid, right? But if there was a reality show like that, I know I’d want to go on, give it my best shot, turn those chairs around.

But until that day, I’ll live the dream with those singing contestants on THE VOICE. I’ll be glued to the tube Mondays and Tuesdays, of that you can be sure, watching each singer give it her/his all.

Sing your heart out, go after your dream—I’m rooting for you!

Have you ever watched THE VOICE? If there was a writing reality show, would you step up to the plate….er, laptop? Being on THE VOICE is also kind of like going to a pitch session, which I’ve only done once. What are some of the ways you’ve put yourself out there and gone after your writing dream?

Cheers,
Julia


When Good Appliances Go Bad

For the past several weeks, the town I live in has been doing work on the sewer lines in front of our house. First I thought they were doing regular maintenance but then they started cutting the road (in a square) away from the manhole covers. Every day the faithful town workers are there, blocking the end of my driveway with their machinery and orange cones.
And of course making noise.

But this morning there was a new noise. This morning it was a tree trimming company cutting down a large maple down the block. By the way, if you’ve never been witness to such a thing, it’s pretty amazing, but it’s also loud, very loud. The chainsaw, the chipper they grind all the pieces up in, and the thuds of large trunks of the tree hitting the ground. It can be a little distracting.

Luckily they were just finishing up when the sewer crew arrived to do their daily work. Which somehow seemed to involve the tree crew, because today I’m pretty sure they somehow got the wood chipper down into the manhole or at least that’s what it sounded like from the high whining sound coming up from the street.

It was just about then that I gave up on editing.

Maybe it was the high whining noise or maybe that’s when Mr. Appliance called. I’m not making this up, that’s the name of the company that will (hopefully) fix our dishwasher. Actually if I’m to believe there is a Mr. Appliance, I’m pretty sure it was Mrs. Appliance who called. You see our less-than-one-year-old dishwasher is not working properly. The lights and chimes that used to greet me in the morning before I unloaded the dishwasher? They no longer light and chime. And, the dishes aren’t as clean as they used to be.

That’s what MEH (My Engineer Husband) told Brittany at Samsung when he talked to her yesterday. Brittany told MEH that Mr. Appliance would come and fix our dishwasher on Wednesday. But Mrs. Appliance said no, no one told her that.

“Why don’t they tell me those things?” Mrs. Appliance asked me.

I wasn’t sure.

Instead—Mrs. Appliance continued—Gary who is “one of our best technicians” (who I don’t think is Mr. Appliance but I really didn’t want to open that can of worms today) will be here on Friday between noon and 3.

When I politely pointed out to Mrs. Appliance that Brittany told MEH that Mr. Appliance would be here on Wednesday, Mrs. Appliance said that there was absolutely no way they could do that—“our schedule is quite full,” Mrs. Appliance said. I was hoping for a simple: “I’ll let Brittany know not to make promises she can’t keep,” but I don’t think Mrs. Appliance and I were on the same wavelength about this. Maybe not even the same planet.

And speaking of other planets, somehow the blog I posted yesterday (Query Fail, which of course I can’t provide a link to) has gone missing, as in no sign of it on Blogger. Maybe it’s on the same planet as Mrs. Appliance, I’m not sure.

I wonder if Gary can help me with that, too?


Cheers,
Julia

The Glamorous Writing Life

One of my blogging/Twitter writer friends, Natalia Sylvester, and I joke about the glamorous writing life—you know the one we all have in all our free time, lounging around and writing in our PJs…eating bonbons, that one. Sometimes I think about that life these days—when I’m deep in a project like I have been recently, because then….

The house goes down the tubes—as the expression goes—like it always does during one of my intense writing sprees. As I worked steadily at the dining room table, toward the final draft of my WIP, each and every one of the other surfaces in the house eventually got covered.

The kitchen table: by whatever came into the house (oh that was also MEH’s—My Engineer Husband’s chosen work at home spot, quite possibly because I’d consumed every other spot). The office “home desk” is covered with bills and incoming mail; my desk in the office is covered with various other writing and research projects. Yet another, a table we use for games, still has a half-finished and very dusty jigsaw puzzle left from my daughter’s last visit home.

This weekend, as I de-cluttered the dining room table and loaded up a file box with all my notes and research folders and everything else from the finished novel, I started cleaning up a little, too. Because when I stopped writing so intensely, I noticed the house was an abject mess. Let me just say, I could never be described as a neat freak…. but I also do not like an overly messy but especially not an overly dirty house. I hate that. Nonetheless, that’s what I have.

It’s one of the (very) few luxuries about having an empty nest: not worrying too much (if at all) about the house being remotely clean. (Don’t ask me about the other luxuries, I don’t write that kind of blog.) We don’t entertain a whole lot; if we see friends we usually meet them somewhere else. That means no one really comes in and out of the house except us. Used to be our kids’ friends’ parents would drop by to pick up their kids from play dates and gasp at the drifting dog hair. In truth this never actually happened at my house but once I picked up my daughter at a friend’s house and was truly shocked, truly, by the large quantities of dog hair drifting by—something I’ve thought of once or twice or every hour as I pondered the near-ankle-deep dog hair in my own dining room. When you have a black lab, like we do, especially in the spring these things happen, or that’s what I told myself…

On Saturday a Furminatorarrived in the mail. (If you don’t know what a Furminator is and you have a dog that sheds, especially a dark coloreddog, you should definitely check it out because “unbelievable results” does not begin to describe this dog brush.) Okay, this is pretty embarrassing…but here goes: we bought ours on rush order by direct instruction from our vet; last week she tested Abby for hypothyroidism because she (the dog, not the vet) had gained some weight and her fur looked “uneven and unkempt,” something that might indicate her thyroid is out of whack. It wasn’t—out of whack—it was because we didn’t have time to brush our dog (and were giving her too many peanut butter treats). The vet called to give me, as she said, the good and the bad news… “Her results are normal. Here’s what I want you to do. No more peanut butter treats and buy a Furminator.” We bought.

But it wasn’t just the dog hair. Laundry was piling up. A lot of it. In fact yesterday when I sorted it all out on the kitchen floor, there were ten loads in all. Don’t judge too harshly. Six of the ten loads were sheets and towels—the kids are coming home and we’re preparing. But it wasn’t even just the laundry.

Every spice I’d used in the last month or so (maybe even since the new year started) was out on the kitchen counter, and I use a lot of spices…. And even the sprinkles I used on MEH’s April Fool’s Day birthday cake had not been put away. To be fair to myself (and MEH, who pulls half the cleaning duties in the house), we did do the basics: washed dishes, loaded and unloaded the dishwasher, took out the trash, washed and wore clean clothes (most days), fed and walked the dog, wiped up spills on the stove, occasionally (very) swept the dried up mud out of the mudroom. But beyond the basics? Not a lot.

And there was a lot to be done. So yesterday I did some cleaning—not all of it but I got a good start—and I’ll admit I feel a lot better: the spices and sprinkles are back in the cabinet, the counter’s cleared off, the jigsaw’s still there (and will be until my daughter is home next month…who knows, maybe she’ll still want to do it…yeah, that’s it) but the rest of the tables got cleared off. We vacuumed the drifts of dog hair in the dining room. Oh, and we “furminated” Abby.

Last night I literally gasped with pleasure as I slid between our clean sheets (nothing more about that! Remember? Not that kind of blog…). This morning I woke up and saw only three loads of laundry lingering on the kitchen floor. Another gasp. And then I knew it was true… I really do lead the glamorous writer’s life.

Today as I sit down to start anew, the fresh and shiny WIP awaiting me on the cleared-off kitchen table, I’ll happily watch the dog hair build around me, the spices congregate on the counter, and the tables fill one by one…. Because in truth, there is no other life I’d pick over this one, not one.

Cheers,

Julia



Answers to Your (In)FAQs

This is a photo of an old church
around the corner from my house.
If you want to use this or another of
the photographs on my blog,
please ask first!

Dear Readers,

Today I will attempt to answer questions you are curious about. No, not those of you who visit (and read) my blog on a regular basis and ask me questions. But you, the other ones—and you know who you are—those of you who find my blog via a google search, one that is perhaps only tangentially related to my blog. One that, when I read it, makes me smile, shake my head, or just plain wonder.

This post is dedicated to you, random searchers. Welcome to my blog, feel the wordsxo love: I will attempt to discern what you were after, answer your questions, or at least commiserate. (This post is also dedicated to blogging friend Sara Grambusch who gave me the idea!)

1. typewriter smudges: Is a typewriter smudge something left behind by a ribbon? I’m guessing it’s something you want to remove, right? If the smudge is on your skin, try fingernail polish remover; if it’s on the paper, I’d go for the white out…do they still make white out?…For the record, I once wrote a post on a typewriter, and it has plenty of smudges, so don’t feel bad, it happens to everyone. It’s part of the charm.

2. creepy church: One of my posts had photos of a church up the street from where I live; I take a lot of photos of it to help me establish a mood for my WIP. If you want to use one of my photos, I’m honored. But please ask first.

3. Chicken With Crow Experiments: I’m sorry, I don’t know where to find experiments that deal with both chickens and crows (and yet when I googled this myself my blog came up 5th in the google search list, I have no idea why). I’ve never done one of these experiments. However I do write a lot about crows (MEH—My Engineer Husband, see #12—and I love crows), so maybe I slipped a chicken in there somewhere…



Abby eats lots of peanuts, as many as she can. She seems fine,
but please consult your veterinarian if you have real concerns.

4. Is it okay if my dog eats the peanuts I feed to crows? My dog Abby eats them (shell and all) and she seems fine! Of course, she’s a lab. Please consult your veterinarian if questions remain.

5. Hermione mug: Did you find one? Please tell me where, I want one too.

6. man stuck in a rowboat: I’m sorry, I hope you got out. If you didn’t, try calling the U.S. Coast Guard. Immediately. You could get cold, see #8.

7. How to make a bridge out of toothpicks:One time my daughter built one of these in middle school. It was a huge pain to make, but it was beautiful. And she got an A on the project. She gets a lot of A’s.

8. Is 1 degree cold or hot weather: Do you spend too many hours of the day in your house, in front of your computer? I’m not sure how you don’t know this, but 1 degree (either Celsius or Fahrenheit) is considered cold, yes. Please go outside next time your thermometer says 1 degree and live the cold (but Mom says wear a jacket).

9. Iphone low battery: I have this problem too, so if you found a solution please come back and tell me.

10. antic house: The definition of antic is an attention-drawing, often wildly playful or funny act or action. I live in a quaint antique house, and there’s nothing funny about it. And I honestly think I’d prefer to live in an antic one—it sounds like a lot more fun.

11. Oprah waving: I wrote a post about Oprah and Meredith Vieira, and how I want to be interviewed by them when (for the record, I refuse to say if) I get famous. I don’t want to see Oprah waving, I want her to give me a hug like she gives all her guests. And yes, I admit a bit of a girl-crush on her (and you too, Meredith—just in case you’re reading!).

12. 8 meh: I only have one MEH (My Engineer Husband). But he’s as good as 8 regular MEHs any old day. He’s a keeper.

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. What are some of the weird searches that got people to your blog? I’d love to hear in comments! And if you have more questions for me, leave them….I’ll try my best to answer them.

To Mumsey & Dad

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

This post is a writing new year’s resolution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are you resolving to start your new writing year?

Happy New Year!

Julia

MEH, the Wild Life, and Me

Charlie II

We live a wild life in Maine. Oh yes we do.

Let me back up. It all started yesterday when I came downstairs and saw a mouse by the toaster. Let me back up even farther. It all really started last year when we trapped and released 51 mice.


Because, here’s the thing. MEH and I—and let me extend that now to our children—do not believe in harming woodland creatures. This extends to insects of all kinds (with exceptions noted below), rodents large and small (including the chipmunk that was loose in our house two years ago), and even scaly animals (yes, that was a snake we found in the downstairs of one of our houses years ago).

So it was this morning we found ourselves transporting Charlie II in the car to be released in the Dog Walk Park. As MEH carried the live trap to the car, I mused:

“Should it be in a bag or something, what if it escapes?”

“It can’t escape.”

“Famous last words…”

This post is not about Charlie II disappearing into the depths of our car. He did not escape.

MEH carries the trap to the car
By now you’re probably wondering: Why Charlie? I can say only this: last year when we trapped (and released) those 51 mice, MEH started to wonder…does this mouse look familiar? So when there was a new mouse in the trap every morning, he’d scrutinize it as he released it. Then he’d come back in the house (yes, in those naïve days we were actually releasing the mouse into the compost pit about 50 feet from our house), and say:

“That mouse looked awfully familiar…”

When our college age daughter came home for break, she suggested something startling. Maybe it really was the same mouse coming back again and again. (For the record, and since this is my blog it is my record, I still believe it was different mice, all those 51, yes. You say naïve, I say denial.)

So this morning, with our first mouse of the season, we decided to play it safe. When we got to the park, MEH carefully carried the trap to the softball field (yes the very one where we feed the crows). He opened the trap. My job was to get the picture as the mouse jumped out of the trap. But of that mouse? All we could see was a tail.

MEH shook the trap. Still only the tail. I took about six photos of a mouse tail sticking out from the internal workings of the trap.

“Really?” MEH said, shaking the trap a little more vigorously.

“Maybe it’s dead,” I said, remembering the years we’ve found dead mice in the traps. I walked away, not willing to take a photo of a dead mouse.

“It’s not dead.” MEH said, now shaking the trap up and down as hard as possible. “Seriously?”

Understand this. MEH may have been slightly enhanced for this blog—to the point of hero status. He does have his fatal flaws, just like all heroes. Patience with mice is not one of his strong suits. This may well be because he’s trapped and released approximately, give or take 7 trillion mice over the course of our marriage. I’m just sayin’.

Five minutes later, MEH pounded the metal trap onto the ground in a valiant attempt to dislodge what now must be a terrified mouse suffering from shaken-baby syndrome. I walked further away, but MEH reported later that the mouse tail vibrated back and forth with every pound. Finally the mouse gave up and jumped from the box to safer havens of winter in Maine. (I should add that this morning was a balmy 50 degrees—although we havereleased mice in subzero weather, Charlie II lucked out.)

Charlie II lives and breathes the good life in Maine. And our wild life is back in nature’s balance. For now.

This was the amazing sky we saw while we were
at the Dog Park releasing Charlie II,
feeding the crows…oh, and walking the dog!
And about those insect exceptions? We do kill mosquitos and house flies and we once killed a Black Widow that was in our then-baby son’s room. Yikes. We only lived in that house for two years although it backed up to a beautiful view of an open field in Colorado and we could hear coyotes howling at night, it was plagued by mice, snakes, and that Black Widow. We never knew what we’d find by the toaster in that place!

Have you had experiences with wildlife in the house?  Or outside? What do you do? For writers: my productivity went down to zippo while focusing on the mouse—although it did give me this blog. What reduces your writing productivity? Have you ever been inspired to write based on a wildlife experience?

Cheers,

Julia

If You Give a Blogger a Pie….


This is my first “real” blog in three weeks. Not counting the coast videos or the scientific reports on crows.

I love blogging but it’s kind of falling by the wayside as I’ve focused on my Work-in-Progress, on Thanksgiving, now on Christmas countdown. And the problem is the longer I’m away the more I miss it but the more unsure I feel. Kind of like when you haven’t seen someone in a long time: how will they feel about me now?

And that’s exactly how I’m feeling: how will they (and when I say they, I mean you) feel about me now. Sure, I can write about crows, about Canada geese on Casco Bay, about the sunset and the moon and the tides. But can I write about feelings, about writing….can I still write a blog?

Which made me think: what exactly is a blog? And what makes me think I have anything at all to add to the 145 million other blogs out there. Which made me realize: this is crazy. It’s the same question I’ve been asking since my very first blog post. And which reminded me that this is the way I always am when I’ve waited too long to do anything.

Like make a pie crust. When I made the pumpkin pie this year for Thanksgiving, I was afraid. I love making pie crusts and I used to make them all the time—when my daughter was in her last year of high school I made a quiche every single Sunday. But since she left for college, I haven’t. And I lost my mojo. (Haha, I just love to use that word even though I don’t really know what it means, see second definition in urban dictionary.) Or I thought I lost my mojo (haha again).

But I didn’t. I remembered how to make the pie crust—and it was one of the best pumpkin pies ever. And then two days after Thanksgiving I made a quiche, and that was pretty spectacular, too, if I do say so myself.

And then it hit me. I really didn’t ever forget how to make the pie crust, and I really haven’t forgotten how to blog, either. It’s all coming back. Right? And next time I promise a real blog, whatever that is, or maybe a quiche.


Do you ever doubt your ability to blog or wonder if you really have anything to add to the blogging world?

Cheers,
Julia

The Great Crow Experiment, Part 2

The Gang of Seven
Abstract
The Great Crow Experiment is a non-scientific study conducted by wordsxo scientist-wannabes—MEH (My Engineer Husband) and me. As previously reported in MEH and the Crows (citation: wordsxo) and Science News (citation: Science News), American Crows are extremely intelligent animals. The hypothesis of this experiment is that Corvus brachyrhynchos (American Crow) has the ability to recognize individual people and individual cars. Part 1 of the experiment presented the hypothesis, materials, and method. This post, Part 2, presents Results, Conclusions, as well as opportunities for further research (i.e., things we just don’t know the answers to).

Results
On September 7, 2011, we started to feed the crows at the sports and recreation area where we walk our dog—about 1.5 miles from our house as the crow flies.
October 7, after a month of feeding the crows, and as evidenced by the Crow Log audio below, the crows definitely recognized us and waited for the peanuts. This is especially significant because we were not at the usual location (the softball field) but were instead at the nearby baseballfield. This indicates the crows saw our car (and/or us) and came to that spot for peanuts. Other cars did not elicit this response.

Crow Log Audio: Crows recognize the car (and us?), note the excitement in my voice!! (October 7, 2011)

Crow Log 10-7-11 (mp3)

These are the incredible contrails I mentioned
in the audio recording! Gorgeous!

On October 22 we were in a nearby town (about 10 minutes from the recreation area) and the crows saw us in the nondescript white station wagon and sat in a nearby tree and cawed at us, apparently waiting for us to give them peanuts.

On October 23,when we came out of our house, there were three crows in the tree outside our back door—this is the first time we saw crows in the trees around our house. We believe these are the same crows that we feed at the recreation area.



This video was recorded on November 12; it shows the crows arriving and descending when they note our car’s departure. (MEH’s caution: people who suffer from motion sickness may not want to watch.) 

Conclusions

“The Gang of Seven,” a murder (group) of seven crows recognize our car; and we believe they also recognize us and our dog, too. We believe these same crows may come to our house for peanuts—although we’re not sure it’s the same crows.

Feeding crows is a fun activity, but it can be hard to stop. It can also provide amusement to family members. Our college-age daughter told me that she and her friends were talking about what their empty-nest parents were doing since their kids left for college. She said our stories of feeding the crows made everyone laugh—hence it’s all worth it. After we sent her a photo of one of the seven crows, she said: “That’s one large crow! Have you considered what happens if you STOP feeding the crows and you have 7 large and angry crows outside your house?” 

She may be remembering a similar time when I was feeding chipmunks and one of the chipmunks ended up coming into our kitchen, presumably looking for food. (Note, chipmunks look really big in the house; crows probably look even bigger.)

Further Conclusions:

  • ·      Crows are very smart and definitely recognize our white nondescript station wagon, but they do not seem to recognize our dark blue even-more-nondescript sedan.
  • ·      We think the Gang of Seven recognizes us, too, because they turn around to look at us when we’re walking at the recreation area.
  • ·      Crows are very shy. Most of them fly away as soon as our back door opens—however, there is one larger crow that I’m convinced recognizes me because he/she does not fly away when I come out the door but instead sits and watches me.
  • ·      Putting peanuts in your yard will attract crows but will also attract squirrels, chipmunks, and Blue Jays (also in the crow (Corvid) family).  All of these are less shy than crows, and will come to get peanuts while we are in the yard (crows will not).
  • ·      MEH can drive and shoot videos (backwards!) at the same time—this is not a recommended activity but he only does this on a dirt road when no other cars are around.
  • ·      Many people we’ve talked to about what we’re doing have said they don’t like and/or are afraid of crows (some associate them with danger, death, Poe, or The Bob Newhart Show).
  • ·      Dogs (at least our dog Abby) love peanuts and will eat them shells and all (crows do not eat the shells).
  • ·      Peanuts are scarce this year because of drought conditions experienced in the south—and this has driven up their price (peanuts are expensive).
Opportunities for Further Research

We still don’t know with absolute certainty that the crows we see at the softball field (the so-called Gang of Seven) are the same crows that come to our house for peanuts. Casual observation indicates they are: we see them first thing in the morning at home; then when we arrive at the recreation area (about 1.5 miles from our house as the crow flies), they arrive about 5 minutes after we get there by car. MEH says the only way we’d know for sure is if we wore a cave man mask and banded them. (Note, if you don’t know about why we would choose a cave man mask, read about that here.)

Comic Relief

This audio recording made me laugh when I listened to it, and I thought I’d embarrass myself (even) further by sharing it with one or a trillion Internet users. (Don’t worry, my eye is fine.)

Crow Log Comic Relief (mp3)