A Final Good-bye

Photo by Greg Wagoner, Flickr's Creative Commons

Photo by Greg Wagoner, Flickr’s Creative Commons

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

Like writing.

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

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

We also talked about her ongoing battle with breast cancer.

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

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

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

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

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

But mostly, I’d say this:

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

My love to you all,

Julia

 

Adaptation: The Missing Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia

The Big Reveal

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On the Half Continent: in Belize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Getting In Touch With my Inner Perfectionist

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A photo from my recent trip to California

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

“What?” He mumbled.

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

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

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

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

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

Because I’m a perfectionist that way.

Storybook Garden

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

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

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

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

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

The beans had gaps...

The beans had gaps…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,

Julia

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?

Groundhog Moments

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light

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

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

But predict he did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I digress.

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

These are my Groundhog Days. My Groundhog moments.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Believe in Magic?

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Back to the coffee shop… more magic!

It’s all coming back to me. Two days into NaNoWriMo and the drama has begun. And it’s not all about the writing. I’m beginning to think NaNo (or birthing a first draft of a novel) is a bit like birthing a baby. You forget all the bad parts—the physical pain, the fears and the feelings it can’t be done, the fear that something will go wrong, the sleepless nights, the anguish of worry—or maybe you’d never be willing to do it again.

Last year I “won” NaNo. That is, I wrote 50,000 words during the month of November: National Novel Writing Month. Actually, to be technically accurate, I wrote more than 50,000 words. And I finished the first draft of a novel.

Last year I also wrote four blogs about my NaNo drama. In one, I detailed how I decided (somewhat spur of the moment) to commit to NaNo. In one I recounted my injury that I was afraid might sideline me from finishing (I shut my hand in the car door)—well actually MEH (My Engineer Husband) typed that one for me. In one I recounted certain NaNo truths (and lies). And in a final one, I talked about how I won.

Today I reread those four blogs. Believe it or not, I’d forgotten all about them—except the one that talked about winning! I forgot I slammed my hand in the car door. I forgot it was a last minute decision. I even forgot how much fun it was. It kind of went by in a whirlwind to be honest.

Yesterday after my first writing session (I wrote only 782 words—and I knew that to finish the 50K I’d need to average about 1600 a day), I was discouraged. I felt pretty sure that my idea wasn’t a very good one. Then this morning I got up early. I made a pot of coffee and started writing. Before I knew it I’d written a thousand words. Then two thousand. The idea still didn’t feel like the best one I’d ever had, but I was inhabiting the world, I was seeing the scenes in my mind. I’d even identified a song that was emblematic of the story. (It wasn’t  one of the ones from my last post. It’s “A Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay. It’s now on endless loop while I write. Yesterday I heard it on the radio in the car and I had to turn it off—I started to feel my eyes drift closed, started to feel a writing trance coming on…no, really.)

And there’s more. That drama. It’s all falling into place. Like magic.

Drama.

I forgot when I got up that it was Daylight Savings. In fact, last night I accidentally set my clock ahead instead of back. So did I wake up two hours early?

I made coffee.

I wrote my words (2695 this morning).

I went into the kitchen and a spaghetti squash fell off the counter onto my little toe (as MEH said, “a squash squashed your toe.”

The first snow of the season started to fall.

After I posted a snowy pic on Instagram, I started thinking more about the novel I’m calling TYAAD.

More pieces fell into place, and I fell a little more in love.

Magic.

What are you doing for the month of November? Do you believe in magic? I do.

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. if you’re doing NaNo, too, let’s be buddies! I’m Julia.M.Martin!!

The Lost Mittens

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The lost mittens

Sometime around Christmas, MEH (My Engineer Husband) lost his mittens. Let me explain. I had given him a pair of brand-new super-warm dog-walking mittens a few days before Christmas, but they didn’t fit. It was a shame because I wasn’t supposed to buy them at all. MEH had given me strict instructions to not buy him any Christmas presents whatsoever—you may recall that MEH lost his job in September.

He didn’t want me to spend any money on him, but his mittens had holes in them and we had a super cold winter so I was worried about him and decided that since they were a necessity, the mittens should be an exception to the rule. But THEN I felt guilty right before Christmas and didn’t want him to feel like I broke the rule (especially since he wasn’t giving me anything either, that was the other part of the agreement) so I gave him the mittens before Christmas morning…before our kids got home for the holidays …

(By the way, MEH broke the rule, too. He gave me a book for Christmas which can hardly be called a necessity, although an argument could be made because it is the collected short stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, which really are kind of a necessity of life…)

Anyway, MEH tried the mittens on, and after ALL THAT, they didn’t even fit…so…he put them into a box…somewhere “we’d never forget” so we could return them right after the holidays. But…

Those Poor Little Kittens

You guessed it, we forgot where we put them. And we’ve been looking for those mittens ever since. Luckily we bought them somewhere that isn’t picky about returns (in fact, LL Bean is actually is a whole lot better than “not picky,” they have satisfaction guaranteed so you can pretty much return anything anytime, receipt or not).

I digress. MEH lost his mittens. And he’d never even worn them once. I felt pretty bad about it because he wouldn’t, WOULD NOT buy another pair. He wore a mismatching old pair of gloves (also too small) instead, the whole winter long.

Fast forward to a week ago and MEH’s trip to San Francisco: the one that I gave him for his birthday to see our daughter. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. If he doesn’t want a pair of MITTENS then how can I possibly justify a trip to San Francisco? Good question. Answer: frequent flier miles. Phew, now I don’t need to feel guilty about that anymore either.

Anyway, the day before MEH left for San Francisco, he had a job interview. It went well, but you just never know (and we’ve had six months of “just never knowing”) so we (of course) just put it out of our minds, and MEH went and had a blast in San Francisco with our daughter. As an aside, let me tell you that our daughter really knows MEH… she had planned all his favorite things: they went on a boat ride (to Alcatraz), to the Science Academy, to the aquarium, and walked all over the city at all times of day and night. They even had whiskey. MEH said it was “the best birthday present ever”!

I digress (again).

So, Here’s The Rest of the Story

MEH came home and the very next day he got a call and was offered a JOB!!! Yes! A JOB!! We were of course elated and incredibly happy, but mostly we were just really, really relieved. And it kind of felt like someone pushed the play button again after we’d been in pause for a really long time—if you’ve never experienced being laid off or living with someone who has been, I don’t know if that makes any sense, but that’s exactly what it felt like. (And, by the way, I don’t advise ever going through it, so I’m very happy for you if you haven’t been through it and just have hear about it from me.) This is a good place to say that I wish we could’ve known it was coming, that someone could’ve told us that MEH would have six months off then he’d find a job… then he’d go back to work. Then we really could’ve enjoyed that six months a lot more. As it was, I’m sorry to say that sometimes it was tense and difficult and we even had an argument or two, MEH and I. Unemployment is not good… well, that’s an understatement, but that’s all I’ll say about it because it’s over (MEH started his job today, and I’m a little lonely, but I’m mostly very very happy).

But what on earth does all this have to do with those mittens??? I know that’s what you were thinking, right? It’s just this. Over the weekend, after we pressed the start button, we did some spring cleaning. Well, to be honest, we finally felt relaxed enough to enjoy doing something non-job-search related, and we decided it was time to do some cleaning up…in particular to look for those mittens because it was kind of driving us a little crazy. MEH was pretty sure the mittens were in a room that had gotten pretty junky over the winter, a place we were basically storing stuff, and that was the “somewhere we’d never forget,” but long story short, they weren’t in there…which we didn’t discover until we tore the place apart.

After we finished putting it back together, and as I was putting away the luggage from the San Francisco trip, I spotted a box in our closet that had some fabric in it that I’d used to make some Christmas gifts. I lifted the fabric to put it away, and lo and behold, there were those mittens!!

We had another (much smaller of course) celebration about finding the mittens. Afterwards, I said to MEH, said I: why is it that you always find something the last place you look? To which MEH agreed: mittens and jobs alike, it’s always that last place. After that, it’s like pressing the play button.

And life goes on.

Have you ever been driven crazy by losing something? Have you ever felt like your life was paused and something happened to press play again?

Cheers,

Julia

MEH’s Big Birthday Surprise!

surprise for meh

MEH at the mirror art installation in Terminal C of Logan Airport…always the curious MEH. (If you look closely you can see he’s wearing his MEH sweatshirt!)

Sometimes a surprise works out perfectly—if I do say so myself—and such was the case with the surprise birthday trip my daughter and I cooked up for MEH (My Engineer Husband). It all started when I discovered that I had just the perfect number of frequent flier miles to get a free trip to California, just where my daughter happens to live! What better way to spend the miles than for a trip for MEH to visit one of his kids? (In addition to being a wonderful MEH, he’s also the world’s best dad. This is not open to argument. He has the “world’s greatest dad” mug to prove it.)

Now, if MEH were like me, this idea just never would have worked. First, I hate to fly and would’ve been freaked out if I’d found out just two hours before a cross-country flight that I was going somewhere, let alone on a plane…let alone cross country. Second, I’m a naturally suspicious (and sneaky) person so I would’ve figured the whole thing out way before it ever got off the ground.

For MEH, however, it was the perfect gift. For one, he LOVES surprises! For another, he’s had a rough winter, still job hunting… and on top of that we’ve had over two feet more than the normal snowfall this winter (guess who never complains about shoveling the lion’s share?). Plus, MEH loves to fly. He’s a pilot and I knew that part of the fun for him would be a seat where he could watch the wing flaps go up and down (he called me from the plane and thanked me). But, mostly, I knew it was the perfect gift because he misses our daughter like crazy. We’re lucky enough to see our son a lot (he’s doing hospital rotations—for med school—very nearby), but our daughter lives clear across the country now (you can read about that here).

When we drove down to Logan Airport (in Boston) yesterday morning, I told him we were going to see my aunt at the airport. (Except he told me later that he knew that wasn’t true, and he really thought our daughter was flying home to surprise him!) When I handed him his bag in the parking lot and said “Happy Birthday,” MEH did what MEH always does when he talks about “our girl,” he teared up. To say he was surprised would be the understatement of the century, and after he regained his bearings, we went into the airport, had a cup of coffee together…he kissed me good-bye and he flew to California!

I came home to Maine to do all my regular things and all the MEH-y things, too. No small task because that man is a powerhouse. But I don’t want MEH to come home and have to do anything… What kind of gift is that? So far, I’ve put everything back in the pantry (we cleared it out for a repair), walked the dog a lot of times (she’s discombobulated having MEH gone), ran errands (don’t worry they included coffee), did a couple of loads of laundry, took stuff to recycling and the dump, took stuff to Goodwill, changed a couple of light bulbs, and shoveled a foot of snow (okay, that’s not true, but after I wrote the list it seemed pretty pathetic so I thought I’d throw snow in for good measure). Soon it will be time to walk the dog again.

Oh, and since we’re having our first real spring-like day, I also went to the beach.

beachMaine

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MEH! We all love you and appreciate everything you do for our family…always with love in your heart and a smile on your face! You are the best (and so are you, Miss H, my partner in crime…we did it!). Sending love to one-half of the Martin family way out in California (touring Alcatraz Island as I write this), from the other half of the Martin family here in Maine.

Love,

Julia/Mom

 

 

 

From the NaNoWriMo Sidelines

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For the first time ever, MEH (My Engineer Husband) is typing this post for me. You may wonder why… so I’ll tell you. The thing is, I’m not that into sports—and I don’t think know I’ve never written a blog about sports. But if you thought about NaNoWriMo as a sport (stay with me here) then you could think of this blog post as my very first one about sports. Except it’s technically not about sports. It’s about sports injuries. And being on the injured reserved list….and having a pinch writer…if NaNoWriMo was a sport, and I was the injured player.

By now you’re probably wondering where this is going.

As I wrote in last week’s post, I was going gangbusters with NaNo. By early today, in fact, I was scheduled (by the NaNoWriMo website itself) to finish my 50,000 words by November 28th. That was after I wrote 2,000 words this morning, bringing my grand total to 28,907 words since November 1st. Bringing my total WIP to just shy of 53,000 words.

I admit I was getting a little cocky. I thought I had it all sewn up. The win was in my column (or is it corner?). Okay, there’s a reason I haven’t written about sports.

Here’s how it went down. MEH and I made a team decision to run to the health food store to buy…well, I can’t tell you what we were buying because it’s a present for my daughter and she might read this post. Anyway, we had a frustrating trip to the health food store, with some guy stopping in front of us at every turn, with no regard for the rules of the game. I even said “excuse me” a few times when I was trying to pass, but he blocked me every time.

Finally, after paying, we were on our way. I expressed my frustration to MEH who said: “you mean the guy with the blue shirt… yeah, he was in my way all the time too, so annoying.” We got in our car—MEH in the driver’s seat, me in the passenger’s, and as I did something out of the corner of my eye made me turn, flinch, choke, and I noticed a car pulling sharply into the parking place next to ours. I pulled my door closed suddenly, afraid he might hit the car door.

And that’s when it happened: I slammed three of my fingers into the top of the car door as I pulled it closed. OUCH. It’s been a few years since I’ve done anything like that, and let me tell you, it hurt like HELL. I cried, I admit it, and it took me more than a few seconds to tell MEH what happened. When I did, I cradled my injured hand and cried:

“NANOWRIMO. OH NO.”

Okay, that’s a lie. The first thing out of my mouth was: “D*** S*** F***,” repeat (but I didn’t really say asterisk of course). I’m pretty sure I’d have made a hockey player proud. Although I really did cry. A lot.

When I was finished crying and cursing about Mr. Blue Shirt—who let’s face it was the cause of the problem, not that I’m a sore loser or anything, MEH (being the champ he is) said, “I’ll type for you.”

Then we drove home where—lucky for me—my son was visiting and he (being 3/4 of a doctor and all) examined my fingers and assured me that rest, ice, and Advil was the best treatment. “Rest?” I asked. And that’s when I did cry out “NaNoWriMo” and when my son said “NaNo-what?” And MEH told me again he’d be my pinch-writer.

I took the Advil and promised I’d wait to type until morning, when all would once again be good in NaNoWriMo land.

And that, dear reader, is why MEH is typing this post for me. Which is a good thing because he’s a lot more into sports than I am.

Have you every had a writing related injury that forced you to take a break (or find a pinch writer)?

Cheers,

Julia

 

Slowing Down to Notice

photo 1

The inlet MEH and I were driving by….

The other day I realized that I haven’t blogged recently about Maine—about the natural beauty of the area where I live. This was followed quickly by the realization that I barely notice where I am. Truth is, there are whole days and probably even weeks that go by when I rarely think about my natural surroundings at all.

The small town I live in is located in southern Maine, on a small harbor on Casco Bay. A beautiful river runs through town (at the current time its banks are steeped in autumn colors) and it’s a short hop to the coast, to the bridge where I used to take videos every Sunday during the first year of this blog.

In August, when I was writing at a local coffee shop every morning, I’d leave for home at around noon. One day, instead of heading straight home (a five minute drive), I headed east, toward the bridge where I used to shoot those videos. I crossed the bridge and got out of the car and just stood, smelling the salt air and marveling at the beauty I rarely thought of on most days.

For a while, I’d drive out there everyday. Finish writing and visit the bridge. Just stand there and notice. It felt great. Not so much what I was seeing, but the fact that I was seeing. I was slowing down enough to see, to notice.

Like most of us, I got busy again. I think one day I had to go to the store immediately after the coffee shop or I was meeting a friend—I’m not sure which. Then MEH (My Engineer Husband) lost his job and I got really distracted. (You can read about that here on Writer Unboxed.)

photo 2

A few minutes later…

Then the other day MEH and I were coming back from Portland—about twenty minutes from our small town—and MEH was driving while I looked out the car window, and I noticed we were crossing a small inlet. I asked MEH… was he like me? Were there times he didn’t even notice? Yes, he said, many. And we just marveled. At where we live, at the things we drive by almost everyday. At the natural beauty surrounding us.

The more I paid attention, the more I noticed…the small things, the nuances. The more I noticed the better I felt. More connected to my surroundings but also to the moment. More aware. More alive. Better. Just noticing, just knowing, that out there—outside myself—is a whole big world. Of beauty, of nature, of nuances, of life.

And it reminded me that I really need to pay attention and to slow down enough to just notice.

Do you, like me, sometimes go through life blindly without even noticing your surroundings? How do you get yourself to slow down enough to see, to appreciate? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Cheers,

Julia

Pie, Life, and Thoreau

IMG_2281When things takes an unexpected turn, I do what any writer does…wonder how I’ll write about it. A “pie-off” and Henry David Thoreau help me make sense of a life reorganization in a post I wrote today for Writer Unboxed called When Funny Just Won’t Come.

 

 

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.

The Problem with Paper

photo copy

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.

photo

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

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

Dissection of a Book Cover


I was surprised how much I love this cover
(one of my favorites). The mix of bright and
black is both eye catching and evocative. I
also like the diagonal font because it jars me.

Yesterday MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I took a road trip to Barnes & Noble. I know what you’re thinking… a road trip to a bookstore? This is a big deal?

Sad but true, it is a big deal. Maine has only one large bookstore in the entire state—an hour from where we live—and for this particular mission I needed a large volume of books. Lest you get up in arms about me ignoring the indie bookstores in our area, I’ve already been to the two in my neck of the woods.

Anyway, I digress. This trip was not a pleasure trip (although it could hardly be called torture). I was going specifically for one purpose: to check out book covers of mystery novels.

This has been one of my biggest qualms as an aspiring indie author: picking out an appropriate cover for my book. I envy authors who have an agent, editor, publishing house to give opinions—even to force a certain cover. It’s all on me. That little online thumbnail is stress enough. But then I think about having a book launch at my local library or sitting at a table at a book fair. Not only does the cover need to represent the book, but it has to represent me, too, so it has to be something I’m proud of.

And I’m picky about book covers.

MEH kindly agreed to be my wingman. My job was to identify covers I liked and take photos of them, and his job was to measure the books and take notes about who designed what cover. Despite an initial speed bump when MEH realized (as we pulled into a parking space after driving for an hour) that we didn’t have the tape measure with us, fortunately there was a Michaels Craft Store right next door, and we were able to buy one.

There were no more speed bumps. We spent two hours perusing the mysteries. I saw about five covers I loved. And I came away with some very good ideas. I also broke some of the misconceptions I had about what I liked. For instance, I knew without any doubt, before going in, that I wanted a matte cover for my book. But guess what? I liked the glossy covers more. What really surprised me most, however, was that I was drawn more to the brighter colors than to the muted (this has not been the case in the past).

That’s not to say I don’t still have qualms and stresses. I want the book cover to portray the contents of the book—and there are certain secret rules, of this I feel certain: more lighthearted mysteries (like mine) should have these colors, more graphic and heavier mysteries, others. But I’m not totally sure what they are—and believe me, I’ve put in hoursof research. And, let’s be frank here, we all know that to some extent we all judge a book by its cover or at least analyze them.

I like the more traditional feel of this cover
but, I miss the brighter colors (like the
red cover behind).

Writer friend, Melissa Crytzer Fry, recently posted a blog about just this thing from a reader’s and writer’s point of view. Her post, Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover, came at a perfect time for me. In it, Melissa poses this question:

Do I put too much stock into cover art? Maybe. Or is it just human nature to (literally) judge a book by its cover? Artwork – colors, photos, drawings, font size, graphic treatment – creates mood, doesn’t it? A cover tells its own story, right? It’s a huge marketing tool for the sale of books…

If you haven’t read her post, I highly recommend it; it provided an excellent analysis of several covers and addressed many of my concerns. The discussion in comments is informative and excellent as well.

Finally, once I decide what I want the cover to look like, I still need to find a designer who can carry out my vision. For this, I’ve again combed the web, asked other indie authors I know, and—yes—have even gotten names off book jackets. But I haven’t settled on anyone or anything yet, so the search is still on.

Stay tuned.

I’m interested in what you think…would you (like me) be stressing over this? Do you have preconceived ideas of which genres should have what kind of covers? Colors? Shiny or matte? Are you self published and were particularly pleased (or disappointed) in your cover? Can you recommend a designer? Or web service? Have you heard of 99designs? Know anyone who’s ever used it?

Cheers,

Julia

The Tumble

It could have been so much worse. I know that.

“I’m not at work yet,” MEH (My Engineer Husband) said first thing when he called this morning. MEH rides his bike to work. He’s lucky—he works in the same small town we live in, and it takes him about ten minutes to ride to work.
“I took a tumble…my bike hit some black ice. And I landed on my back,” he said.

“I’m on my way,” I said.

“No. I’m fine. I was lucky.”

MEH didn’t want me to come. Even though his bike couldn’t be ridden, even though he landed on his back, even though (unbeknownst to him until I got there) he had a cut on the bridge of his nose where his glasses dug into it. But I had to go.

When I saw him in the bank parking lot he was hobbling. I wanted to take him to the doctor—his wrist hurt and his back hurt more—but he wouldn’t go. “Just take me to work.” Cheerfully.

I loaded the bike into the back of the car. He wanted to do it but I wouldn’t let him. He groaned as he got into the front seat. I asked if he had some Advil at work.

“I hope my bananas are okay.” MEH had taken two bananas in his pack for breakfast (what did you think I meant?). He opened his backpack to check. “And my pens.” Of course MEH would worry about his pens, he loves pens.

We drove the two blocks to where he works, and on the way, MEH examined his helmet. “I’ll tell you, I was glad I had this thing on—my head hit the pavement hard when I flipped over those handlebars.”

I shuddered.

After MEH painfully got out of the car, he tried to make me laugh by waving to me with his injured hand by holding it and shaking it with his uninjured one. MEH’s like that: he always says his day is better if he can make me laugh—even when he’s hurting.

As he limped into the building, I couldn’t help but think again—like I do every single day—that I’m the lucky one. It could have been so much worse.


Cheers,
Julia

"Yeah, I’d Kill Someone for 110K"


From Wikimedia Commons
(by Francinegirvan)

“Yeah, I’d kill someone for 110K.”

You might think this is a line from my nearly-complete WIP (a mystery novel). But it’s not. It’s what I overheard at the grocery store the other day…in the produce section to be exact. I don’t think they were serious. Actually I’m pretty sure absolutely certain because I lurked around for a little a lot longer. Let me be honest, I stayed as long as I could without raising (too much) suspicion.

I’ve always enjoyed mysteries, and snippets of conversations raise my curiosity. But so does everything else. For instance, the other day MEH (My Engineer Husband) couldn’t find his navy blue slacks. He looked high and low. As he left for work, he said: “Don’t take that bag of stuff to Goodwill, I think my pants are in there.”

The thing is the day before we’d cleaned out our bedroom—went through all the drawers, the closet too. And MEH had a large pile of clothes to give away. By the way, MEH and I came to the conclusion as we sorted through things, that MEH has a lot more clothes than I do. (In truth, I called him a clothes horse.) This isn’t really a mystery, though—MEH works outside the home and I sit at the dining room table all day…in my sweat pants or other extremely casual wear (I admit it, some days I don’t even get dressed unless I’m going out of the house).

Anyway, I digress. The navy blue pants. MEH told me not to bother looking—he’d take care of it when he got home. But I couldn’t help myself. First I went through the hefty bag of Goodwill. Nothing. Then I started going through laundry baskets, drawers, our kids’ rooms, still nothing. I finally gave up. I knew they didn’t just walk away so they’d turn up sooner or later.

Although, there were those peat pots we lost once and never found. And the hammer. What about all the missing socks? Maybe MEH’s pants joined those notorious items?

A while later, I went to do a load of laundry, and when I opened the washing machine, I solved the mystery of the missing pants. During the cleaning frenzy, MEH had started a load of laundry and forgotten all about it. I put the blue pants in the dryer and declared “the case of the missing pants” closed.

The Next Big Thing

I want to thank writer friend KarenWojcik Berner for tagging me in the “The Next Big Thing”—a fun blogger tag game in which participants answer the questions about their WIPs. Here are answers about my new mystery. 
What is the working title of your book?

Desired to Death

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve had the protagonist (Maggie True) in my mind for some time—since my son left for college. The specific premise for the plot in this book came from a conversation with a friend.

What genre does your book fall under?

Mystery.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I truly have no idea.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Maggie True’s ex-best-friend is arrested for the lurid murder of her hot young lover, “Tattoo Boy,” the now-empty nester puts her intuition to work as a sleuth and enters a seamy underworld far from her typical mom routine.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

To be decided.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Two months.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired to write this book when faced with the empty nest—just like my protagonist Maggie True. For me it’s a bit of a time of turmoil, of figuring out what I want to do next, of lots of conflicting thoughts and feelings.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Here’s an excerpt… I hope you like it!

Maggie couldn’t keep herself from asking. “Who is that guy?”

“Oh em gee,” Jessie said, rolling her eyes. “A.J. Traverso. He teaches kickboxing or something. The old women go crazy over him. They call him “Tattoo Boy.” Think you might want to take up kickboxing, Mom?” Jessie gave Maggie a playful push.

“Of course not…” Maggie could feel herself flushing and hoped Jessie didn’t notice. She didn’t. She was already gone, heading to check in at the lifeguard station. As Maggie turned to leave the Club, she couldn’t help herself and took another look over her shoulder in the direction of the group of women, forming such a thick circle she could only see Tattoo Boy in glimpses. As she watched, Tattoo Boy reached up and stretched one muscled arm over his head, flexing and turning his head with his hand, like he was loosening his neck muscles. When he moved he looked like a jaguar—with spots of tattoos on one side of his back, a vine of flowered tattoos on the other, leading to jagged dark lightning bolts down one arm, another jagged tattoo on the back of his neck. Maggie watched as he repeated the stretch with his other arm, his fluid movement mesmerizing. But he also looked as dangerous as a wild animal.


Instead of tagging specific writing friends, I’d like to tag all of you reading this! What’s your next big thing? And (I’m curious, naturally!) what mysteries do you have going on in your house and life?

Cheers,
Julia

"What’s it like being married to a blogger/writer?"

MEH on one of our daily early morning dog walks
My Engineer Husband (MEH) makes frequent appearances on my blog. But yesterday when I read a blog by blogging friend, writer Jamie Miles, about what her husband thinks about her blogging, I realized I’d never written a similar blog. When I started putting together questions to ask MEH, I remembered another blog I’d read a few months ago by writer Annie Neugebauer, asking her husband what it was like to be married to a writer. I’ve been a writer all our married life, but since I’ve only been a blogger for the past year and a half, I decided to merge the two questions.
When I asked MEH if I could interview him, this is what he said: “I really think you can do something better with your time. Doesn’t seem like it’s a productive activity. There must be someone more interesting out there to interview.”

But, that’s just MEH being modest, because he’s my biggest supporter and helps me anytime I ask. He always reads my blogs and everything else I write, too. So naturally I want to know what he thinks.

JMM: What is your impression of blogging in general?

MEH: It’s a crazy crazy world that I don’t understand. 

JMM: In what way?

MEH: There seems to be this whole social network of bloggers interacting with one another—a whole culture and society. It’s very different from my culture of engineering where I just go in and do my job with very specific milestones and end results.

JMM: Twitter?

MEH: (Laughter) Even more incomprehensible.

JMM: What do you think when I blog about you?

MEH: I don’t know why you’re blogging about me. I’m embarrassed and I think you’re incredibly creative and have actually created an entirely new character (of me) out of thin air, and it’s very impressive.

JMM: Are you implying that you’re nothing like you are in the blog?

MEH: Yes. That’s what I’m implying. You’ve created a character and attached my acronym to it—or more accurately, your acronym for me to it. (Laughter)

JMM: What do you think of the time I spend in blog world?

MEH: Sometimes you come out of it looking very dazed, as though you’ve gone into another world through a porthole in our dining room. You come out and regale me with stories of what happened in this parallel universe—it’s very science-fictiony.

JMM: Twitter?

MEH: It causes you to have incomplete thoughts. It makes it very hard to talk to you sometimes after you’ve been on Twitter because sometimes thoughts need to be longer than 140 characters.

JMM: What’s your favorite blog I’ve ever written?

MEH: MEH the Amygdala and me. It was a funny blog about our life.

JMM: Any blogs you wish I hadn’t written or can’t understand why I wrote them?

MEH: The blog in the middle of winter when we were out there on the bridge in minus 10 degrees in the wind and the snow, videotaping the overlook. I thought we could’ve done without that. (Note: for the first year of this blog, we videotaped a certain spot in Maine every week. Here’s one of the winter videos.)

JMM: What’s the best part of being married to a writer—please tell me there is a best part?

MEH: (Laughs hard) There are so many. I love it when we’re sitting in a restaurant and I can see the misty eyes you get and then I realize you’re listening to somebody else’s conversation. The amazing trips and stories we’ve gone on in our minds after observing ordinary actions of life, like overhearing a snippet of conversation that takes us down a rabbit hole in your creative mind. These are things I never would’ve seen or done if I hadn’t been married to you.

JMM: What’s the worst part of being married to a writer?

MEH: Trying to understand what you’re saying in 140 characters. (laughter). Seriously, watching and feeling the angst and pain when you get rejections—and the self-doubt that it inflicts.

JMM: How would you describe what I do all day?

MEH: Torture. You torture yourself until you’re happy.

JMM: Torture?

MEH: I see you sitting there with your head in your hands, sobbing (laughter), and you stand up and you stomp around and you sit back down and you pull your hair and then you throw things away and then you start over again. And then you say: “this is awful.” But in the end it seems to make you happy.

JMM: What’s the craziest thing you’ve found yourself doing in the name of helping me do research?

MEH: I think that would have to be pawing through a trashcan. Although taking pictures of random people in the grocery store is up there. And standing out there on the bridge in minus 10 degrees, when you used to do the videos for the blog, seems incomprehensible, although fun at the time.

JMM: Not being interviewed today?

MEH: That’s not crazy. Perplexing, maybe, but not crazy.

Have you ever asked your partner what he/she thinks of being married to/living with a writer? Would you (or have you) blogged about it? Did you discover anything surprising?

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

I Predict Coffee Cake in Your Future

It’s 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Our first day of being empty nesters after a wonderful month of our kids being home. We’re driving back from the place we walk our dog—a rural park—about 10 minutes from home; we’re talking about going out for breakfast. But then, there’s a loud clunk from under the car and a lot of metal scraping on pavement. This is not good. We fear the worst for good reason: the new muffler just put on our car two days ago has fallen off.
Did I mention it’s raining? And MEH (My Engineer Husband) is now outside in the pouring rain, lying in the mud, under the car, trying to force the muffler joints to stay together, willing them to stay together. He’s yelling, and every other yelled word is a swear word. Effing this, S word that. MEH is a calm man by nature, but when he’s mad, he’s mad. I am dry in the car, feeling incredibly annoyed at the car repair place, but also unbelievably relieved and grateful….

Back up two days. We’re all getting ready for long trips. Our daughter off to Pennsylvania for a summer internship; our son to Massachusetts for another internship in a rural area. Our plan for a while has been for our son to take the “other car,” an older sedan—the one with the muffler. MEH and I would continue to use the nondescript white station wagon—and MEH would bike to work for the summer.

But then we took the “other car” to the shop for its yearly state inspection. Despite its clean bill of health, something didn’t sit right with me. They fixed some rust, they put on a new muffler; they said it was ready to go. But I wondered. There was the shimmy on the highway, and something wasn’t right with the way the new muffler looked from the back as I followed MEH (My Engineer Husband) home. I was concerned.

Here’s the thing. I have intuitions—I won’t go so far as to say I’m prophetic; I can’t see into the future. I prefer to think that I’m really in tune with my surroundings. I watch, I observe, I feel, and I pay attention to those feelings. Sometimes it seems like I can read minds. (Like right now, I know what you’re thinking….)

When we first picked up the “other car” with its new muffler, I told MEH I had a feeling, a bad feeling, that our son should not drive the “other car.” MEH has learned to listen. He (almost) always listens. (For the record, sometimes he doesn’t listen—like when I followed him home in the nondescript white station wagon, after we got the new muffler. I honked the horn and asked him to pull over into a parking lot; I told him something didn’t look right about the muffler. He looked at it and said it was fine. I wanted to turn around and go back to the mechanic. He wanted to go on. We went on.)

But this time, about the rental car, he listened. And on the big departure day we set off—MEH, our daughter and me to Pennsylvania in the rental car; our son in the nondescript white station wagon to western Massachusetts, where it will stay for the summer.

Back to Sunday morning, sitting on the quiet rural road in the disabled “other car,” listening to MEH swearing under the car, hearing the scraping metal as he tries to force the muffler together, waiting for the tow truck. But thinking about my son—safe and sound in western Massachusetts—how it could’ve been him on the highway driving at a high speed when the bolts came loose, the muffler dragging on the ground, maybe safe (but I’m thinking probably not), then stuck somewhere in the pouring rain by the side of a busy turnpike.

Sunday morning safe and sound at home, the car towed away—we are carless, no way to go anywhere or buy anything, no way to go out to breakfast. We could walk, but it’s still raining hard. I get out the binder where I keep tried and true recipes, and I turn to one given to me the day I got married by an old family friend. Coffee cake, an old-fashioned moist and delicious crunchy-topped cake—warm and comforting for MEH who’s still soaking wet and mad after lying in the cold rain trying to fix the muffler.

I pre-heat the oven, I blend the ingredients, fill the pan, and soon warm cinnamon scents fill the air. And I can predict coffee cake in our future.

Classic Coffee Cake

For the dough:

Cream

3/4 c. sugar

1/4 c. butter or shortening

1 t. vanilla

Add one egg, then add and mix:

1-1/2 c. flour

dash of salt

1-1/2 t. baking powder

1/2 c. milk

For the topping:

1/2 c. brown sugar

2 T. flour

2 T. melted butter

1-1/2 t. cinnamon

1/2 c. chopped nuts

Combine topping and spread 2 alternate layers of dough and topping (end with topping) in 8×8 pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden and a toothpick comes out clean.

Enjoy!

Cheers,

Julia

Today I’m Making Snowman-Ade!

MEH and I made this snowman.
Yes, this morning

I’m not going to lie. When I looked outside this morning and saw snow—more than a dusting but certainly not a blizzard—my heart sank.

It’s March 28, people, “you” didn’t warn us. And by “you” I think I mean the weather people, although I’m not sure why… for one thing, I don’t watch the weather….I do look at the NOAA forecasts, the iPhone forecasts, and occasionally listen to the radio. So, yes, THOSE PEOPLE. They said there would be sleet today. A 50 percent chance.

Which does not translate to measurable snow. Not in my book.

And speaking of books, that’s why I’m annoyed. Because I’m a hair’s breadth (whatever THAT expression means) from being done. I don’t like unexpected things, like snow apparently, to happen when I want things to be predictable.

I want my ducks in a row, smooth sailing, no surprises, so I can sit and write and finish and not worry about anything new or unexpected.

Like snow.

Or a potential power outage.

Or undependable weather forecasters.

Or the fact that maybe the real reason I’m upset is that this business of writing? It’s kind of like the snow: unpredictable. Just when I think I’m close, a hair’s breadth, I realize that Chapter 4? It really is too much backstory. And in Chapter 22? My MC would never do that.

And then? Then all of a sudden it’s snowing in my novel and it takes place at the end of summer. What will my MC do? Maybe build a snowman.

So this morning? When it’s snowing? This morning, instead of being upset anymore?

This morning, I’m making snowman-ade!

How about you? What do you do when the unexpected strikes? Are you like me, first thrown for a loop but then figure out Plan B and go with it? Writers: do you make snowman-ade when your writing doesn’t go as planned?

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. and if you (like me) are curious what hair’s breadth means (by the way, I did think it was hair’s breath ’til I read this!)… check out this link!