It’s About Life

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

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

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

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

We needed those baby goats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s new with you this spring?

Cheers,

Julia 

It’s All About Relationships: A Conversation with Novelist Erika Marks

9780451418869_large_It_Comes_In_WavesToday I’m beyond excited to be interviewing my author friend Erika Marks – here with her fourth novel It Comes In Waves. As with each of her novels, Erika has been kind enough to visit my blog. Thank you, my friend! Erika describes herself in her bio this way: “a native New Englander who now makes her home in North Carolina with her husband and their two little mermaids.” Here’s what the bio doesn’t say: she’s one of the nicest and funniest and most-fun-to-talk-to writers I’ve had the good fortune to get to know online. But here’s the best part. Erika grew up very near where I live today, which we realized  after we met through our blogs, and so we can talk about all the places I go that she used to. So fun! I’ve also met her in person when she was home visiting!! Believe me that was one fun meeting and I have high hopes we’ll meet again next time she’s in her hometown here in Maine.

If you haven’t already read it, you should check out Erika’s new novel It Comes in WavesI loved it as I have all her wonderful novels: The Guest House, The Mermaid Collector, and Little Gale Gumbo.

It’s All About Relationships: A Conversation with Novelist Erika Marks

It Comes in Waves addresses many kinds of relationships—romantic love, friendship between women, friendship between men, mother-child, father-child, even grandparent-grandchild. This Q&A will focus on those relationships…and I’ve learned through her four books that Erika is a pro at describing these relationships. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to focus this Q&A on just that.

I warned you I would ask this question! One of the things I really enjoy about your novels is that each of them has a (well, at least one) love triangle. It Comes In Waves is no different. I don’t want to give anything away but how could anyone not be in love with Foss? What is it about the “rule of three” that makes love relationships more interesting to write about than “just problems” and tension in a relationship? Where do you get your ideas for the love triangles…do they come from your real life, or…?

This IS a great question—and I know you will think I’m being coy, but the truth is the theme of love triangles is not born of my own experience but there’s no question I find the idea intriguing. Okay, maybe it had something to do with playing Helena in my high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream—and as anyone familiar with the play knows, there is no end to the drama (and humor!) when a love triangle (or square in the case of AMND!) ensues. However, I am always interested in exploring how we evolve in our relationships and how, as we grow, our attractions grow and change—which will often lead to having conflicting romantic feelings and not knowing how to express them, which is what I think happens to many of the characters in my novels. Dahlia from Little Gale Gumbo, and Foss from It Comes In Waves, are examples of that.

I’m not giving anything away (it’s on the back of the book) when I divulge that best friends Claire and Jill reunite after a long estrangement. Have you ever had a friendship that ended? If so, did you end up reuniting? If not, did you base the Jill/Claire story on other friendships you watched crumble? How did your own friendships make you more or less sympathetic to each woman?

Believe it or not, so often my fictional relationships come out of a lack of personal experience. I think of a situation that I may not have any context for, and it fascinates me to explore it through the novel. Sometimes pieces of my own life creep in (You’re a writer, Julia, so I know you know how can it not, right?), but from the outset, it is the unfamiliarity of the relationship that intrigues me and compels me to write about it.

Slight spoiler question… if you haven’t read the book you might want to skip this one. Am I the biggest sap in the world? I kept hoping that the third generation (Jill’s son and Claire’s daughter) might end up together. I was kind of surprised, in fact, that Claire’s daughter left Folly Beach. Did you consider this possibility? Claire and her daughter have a tense relationship with some serious trust issues. Is it strange that when I write about teenagers I always take their side (not the parents’), so I’m curious—are you the same way? Did you find yourself on one side or the other or are you more impartial than I am?

Such a great question because I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I will comment after watching a movie how you know you’re a parent when you identify more with the plight of the adult than the child. However, that said, when I write, I go back and forth, depending on the character. In the scenes of Claire as a teenager, I definitely took her side more but when it came time to show her present conflicts with her daughter, I wanted to be more balanced, as I hoped to be when showing Claire’s tensions with her own mother in the present. What interests me as a writer is seeing both sides and showing them because the older I get, the more I see the different perspectives and I think it makes for a more interesting and compelling story to reveal both sides—or at least, have the characters grow through understanding that the other side exists.

Re: Luke and Lizzie, it’s funny—when my mom started the book, she assumed Luke and Lizzie would end up together too—and honestly, I never considered it. But now, I can’t help but wonder What if…

I don’t know if you ever saw that old movie Romancing the Stone? At the beginning of the movie, the main character is crying as she’s writing…she always does. I’m that kind of writer. When I’m writing, I always cry…at emotional times in the story but especially if there’s heartbreak and always when I’m writing (or reading) the end. I’m curious, do you cry when you write? If so, what kinds of things make you cry? What parts of It Comes In Waves did you think were the most sad…that you thought, as you were writing, would make readers feel most sad?

You mean, have I seen it in the last two months??!! (It’s one of my very favorites—and was even before I became published!) I love that you cry as you write—very rarely do I, but sometimes when I’m at the very end of the process, maybe far enough away from all the edits and can see the story through fresh eyes again, I will definitely tear up. (And of course, I always hope I look even one quarter as adorable doing it as Kathleen Tuner does in Romancing the Stone!) In writing WAVES, I definitely teared up when Ivy spoke of needing a place to honor her son’s memory—and when Luke admits that he didn’t want to see the shop go because it might mean losing the only tie he had to his father.

I’m playing relationship therapist here a bit! Here’s a list of (some of) the relationships in It Comes in Waves… for each pair, can you give me a few words to describe the relationship and tell me which character in each pair you related to more or perhaps felt more sympathy for? Also (of all of them) which of was easiest to write, which was hardest to write? For those of you who haven’t read the book, I’ve noted the relationship…now you can see what I mean about Erika being the expert, right?!

Jill & Luke (mother-son)  I related to Jill more but I definitely felt for Luke. I have daughters but I think there is something different about sons—so possibly this was one of the harder relationships for me to write.

Claire & Lizzie (mother-daughter)  It went back and forth—I felt for Claire needing a closeness to her daughter and being so afraid of losing that bond but I also felt for Lizzie’s need for independence.

Claire & Jill  (estranged best friends)  Honestly, this one was challenging to write, but in a good way. As I wrote their scenes, I vacillated between who I felt more tenderly for, depending on the scene. I wanted the balance because I didn’t want one woman to come off as “the good one” and the other “the bad one” which might have been easy to do based on their history.

Foster & Shep  (best friends)   For whatever reason, maybe because I had so many male friends growing up, and was very observant of the way males relate to one another, I felt this relationship came together very naturally as I wrote it.

Jill & Foster  (love)   I loved writing their relationship because there was a purity to their growing feelings, a sense that they belonged together and they both knew it, even if they didn’t dare act on their feelings for a long time to spare the hearts of those they loved.

Claire & Foster  (love)   This one was tough because I knew as I wrote it that their love would eventually become unbalanced and I hurt for Claire’s longing for something Foster couldn’t give her. The mother in me came out, wanting to protect Claire from heartache but knowing she had to feel the blow before she would accept the truth.

Jill & Shep  (love)   This was a tougher relationship to unearth, because there is so much history, and because Shep takes Jill back after she leaves him for Foster. But it was the layers of that history that made it such an interesting relationship to explore.

Claire & Maura  (mother-daughter)   I felt more for Claire when she was young in this relationship but in the present, I definitely felt torn between the two. For better or for worse, Maura is who she is, and Claire is resistant to accepting that, as well as resistant to taking responsibility for her own choices and not blaming them on her parents.

Ivy & Claire (friends…and kind of MIL/DIL…well, it’s complicated)  There was such warmth there—the mother figure Claire never got to have with her own mother, and Ivy saw so much of herself in Claire.

Ivy & Jill   (MIL-DIL)  By contrast, Ivy and Jill were forever prickly, but their relationship was a fascinating one to write, because the tension was thick and I knew eventually it would boil over—but what would be the final straw?

Ivy & Luke  (grandmother-grandson)  Like Foster, Luke is Ivy’s everything and he validates her choices and her dreams—even if she knows deep down they are ill-fated. I loved writing their scenes.

Gus & Claire (new love)  Gus is such a dude and I couldn’t wait for him to swoop in and shake things up for Claire. The fact that he knew her from way-back-when and reminds her of her passion for surfing (and the fiercely independent young woman she once was) makes him so irresistible and lovable. And let’s not forget…

Margot & Gus (just joking but you still have to answer…dog-man)  A man who loves his dog and makes her as much a part of his world as anyone? Sign me up! I know this will come as a big shock to you, Julia, but I’m tempted to say this might have been the easiest relationship of all of them to write!

Thank you again, my friend! So happy you were able to take the time for this visit!

Bio: Erika Marks is a native New Englander who now makes her home in North Carolina with her husband and their two little mermaids. She is also the author of THE GUEST HOUSE, THE MERMAID COLLECTOR, and LITTLE GALE GUMBO.

 

An Interview with Jolina Petersheim, author of The Midwife

untitled (6 of 18)Please welcome author friend Jolina Petersheim to my blog! This is her second visit; not quite a year ago, she was here with a Q&A about her debut novel The Outcast. Today she returns with a Q&A about her second book The Midwife. Jolina was one of the first bloggers who reached out to me when I  joined Twitter—over three years ago—and she remains one of my closest blogger friends. I’m so happy to congratulate her on The Midwife, a fascinating book that absolutely captivated me. What I love most about Jolina’s books is that they pull me into wonderfully engaging new worlds. Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog for the second time, Jolina, and congratulations on your second book baby!

At the end of this Q&A you’ll have a chance to enter a Rafflecopter for a chance to win a copy of one of Jolina’s books, a Starbucks gift card, or an Amish wall hanging!

I read that you got the idea for The Midwife after a friend considered using a gestational surrogate. In the course of writing the book did you talk to surrogates or parents who used surrogates? What types of research did you do before and while writing this book? Was there anything that surprised you about surrogacy or swayed your own opinions about it?

I didn’t talk to parents who used surrogates or to surrogates themselves, but I did discover an online surrogacy forum early in the research of The Midwife that just transformed everything, providing me with a range of valuable information at the click of the mouse (which was very convenient since I had a newborn at the time). I didn’t realize, for instance, that a surrogate has to have carried a child to full-term and had a natural birth to qualify for surrogacy. This threw me off at first, because I wasn’t anticipating for Beth Winslow—the surrogate in The Midwife—to have lost a child through adoption when she was in college. However, as Beth’s backstory started to reveal itself to me, I realized that this loss of a previous child is one of the main reasons she refuses to lose the child in her womb when the biological parents of the surrogacy learn there might be a genetic abnormality and attempt to coerce Beth into terminating the pregnancy, which she refuses to do and instead runs and hides in an Old Order Mennonite home for unwed mothers called Hopen Haus.

You balance writing with motherhood—what advice would you give to a woman about to embark on a career in writing combined with motherhood? What has worked particularly well for you? What has been the most challenging?

Give yourself time! I wrote The Outcast (my first book) in six months—working up to eight hours a day because I had an agent’s interest but no official contract, and also because I knew I had a narrow window of time until my daughter was born. After her birth, however, I signed a two-book contract with my publisher. While talking about the timeline for my next book, I asked for a year instead of six months, and they kindly agreed. Trying to find my footing as a debut author and as a debut mom was a little challenging for a while, but with my husband’s and family’s help, it all worked out. I found that taking an afternoon to write at the library or at the coffee shop really strengthened my focus and gave me renewed zest for the story. And now, looking back, I see that having a creative outlet to pour myself into during my daughter’s difficult period of sleep deprivation was such a blessing to me. I would do it all over again!

978-1-4143-7935-7What inspires you as a writer and keeps you writing? Follow on: how do you keep track of your writing ideas? Do you keep a daily journal or notebook?

Books inspire me! I keep one next to the bathtub, one next to the bed, one in the diaper bag and/or my purse. Since my daughter’s birth two years ago, I haven’t had quite as much time to read, but I’ve made up for that by listening to audiobooks in the car or while I’m cooking. Hearing the story rather than reading it is almost more rewarding, in a way, as so many of the performers put their entire heart into the work (like the wonderful narrator, Tavia Gilbert, in The Outcast and The Midwife; I love working with her!). If I’m ever having a dry time creatively, taking a day or two to read or listen to a quality piece of literature refreshes me like nothing else. For instance, I read The Orchardist while I was working on the first draft of The Midwife, and those lyrical passages reminded me that writing is an art form, and we should give it the respect and time that it deserves.

As for recording ideas: I kept a journal from the time I could write until I got married, but six months after I married my husband, I started blogging and drafting my first novel (the latter which shall never see the light of day!). So, rather than using my spare time to record our life in my journal, I used the spare time to work on my story. This pattern has continued to this day. I used to think that finding a story idea must be the most difficult aspect of writing, but now that I’ve trained myself, I can see the ideas everywhere. Now I realize the difficult aspect is turning ideas into story!

Do you follow a certain daily ritual and/or schedule? Do you write at the same time every day? Are there things that have to be the same in order for you to write, e.g., a lucky coffee cup or other token you always need to have with you? How did these things change or remain the same after you had a child?

My husband teases me and says I’m one of the most routine-oriented creatures he’s ever known. Indeed, I do get a little flustered when something throws my day off, and I’ve had to acquire more flexibility after giving birth to my daughter, because newborns and toddlers have a schedule all their own! However, usually I try to write in the morning from 6 until 8. My husband, at 7, gets our daughter up and gives her breakfast before he leaves for work. I respond to emails and do a little social media by sitting on the tiled floor during my daughter’s bath time (she would stay in there until her fingers and toes are pickled!), and then – during her nap – I work for two more hours. Rarely do I work more than four hours a day, even on deadline. It just doesn’t seem to work out with my family’s schedule. Still, I’ve found that slow and steady does win the race, so I just plod away a little bit each weekday (saving blogging and guest posts for weekends), and at the end of the year, I usually have a manuscript.

I don’t have any special place that I write, though in the winter I do gravitate toward a comfy chair in the living room with a footstool (sometimes, if cajoled, my husband will build a fire in the fireplace). The other seasons, I like to write outside on the front porch that has a panoramic view of our field and the surrounding mountains. This past week, the farmers baled our hay, and it was so beautiful to watch the gold pieces rising into the air and the grasshoppers springing across the field.

Before my daughter’s birth, I used to write up to eight hours on weekdays, so that has certainly changed, but I have definitely found a routine that I love now and that works for everyone. Come September, though, when our other baby is due, I know that this routine is going to change. By the time I’m eighty, I’m really going to have this flexibility thing down pat!

I really liked the name Ernest Looper, and I’m fascinated by the name Rhoda Mummau—and I’m wondering if there’s significance to these name or other names in the book? Do you choose based on just “what you like” or is there a method to the naming?

Earnest Looper was actually a road sign we passed one afternoon, and I liked the sound of it and just changed the spelling a little. Rhoda seemed, to me, like the name of someone you wouldn’t want to trifle with—which Rhoda closes herself off to the pregnant, unwed girls in her midwifery care, although she is ministering to them in such intimate ways—so it fit. Mummau was actually the last name of my great grandmother, Verna. I like to choose names that I am familiar with in some capacity because I think they ring true. I have a nonfiction book on my shelf called The David and Anna Miller story, which records the names of everyone in my Mennonite heritage, back to the 18th century. I like to sort through the names and rearrange a first and last name until I find one that I enjoy. For instance, I found the name Leona Ebersole—the main character in my next book—by using this method.

Sometimes during my writing, I find one character in the book that I can identify most closely with—was there a character in The Midwife you felt most similar to? If so, why?

Though Beth Winslow, the surrogate in The Midwife, is an introvert and I’m about as extroverted as a golden retriever, I really found myself relating to her journey of learning to overcome fear with faith.

Because she has lost a child in the past, she holds on to the child she’s carrying as a surrogate with an even greater fervency. When her worst fear comes true, and she is unable to get the child back from her biological parents because they share no genetic connection, she must walk through a journey of healing and self-discovery.

I was in the editorial process of The Midwife when my husband and I miscarried a child at ten weeks, and suddenly I found that Beth’s journey of healing and self-discovery was my own. It was such an incredibly powerful time for me—rereading the scenes that my own fingers had typed before our family’s loss and seeing how God had orchestrated those scenes to later minister to my soul. I believe the redemption I experienced during the editorial process is conveyed in the midwife’s story, as it is not just the midwife’s story, it is also my own.

When I interviewed you for your last book The Outcast, I asked if you had actors in mind who might play the characters in a movie or in a reader’s mind. I’ll ask the same for this book… what actors might play the lead characters in this book?

I love this question! Again, I had so much fun with it that I created a Pinterest board with the characters. I would share the names of the actors I’ve chosen, but I believe you have to see them in the poses that I’ve selected to get an idea about what kind of character I imagine.

Thanks for having me here, Julia; what an incredible honor to visit with you!

The honor is all mine, Jolina! Thank you so much for being a return visitor to my blog! You can connect with Jolina on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Goodreads. And don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter for a chance to win one of her wonderful novels.

 

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Time to be bored?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,

Julia

Tales from the Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers, 

Julia

 

 

As The Nest Turns

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If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you know that I’m a bird watcher—in fact on Twitter, I’m part of a small group of writers who alerts one another about our bird watching activities—we call ourselves the bird nerds.

And this week, as a bird nerd, I found a new distraction: nestcams!

This is extreme bird watching up close and personal, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Three sets of birds—Great Blue Herons, Eastern Blue Birds, and Red-tailed Hawks, tend nests of tiny baby birds while closely watched by hundreds, probably thousands, at any given moment.

And let me tell you… this is high drama in the bird world, as high as it gets—as I wonder and worry along with everyone else: will all five chicks survive in the heron nest? (the fifth chick is a little small and runty looking—we’re rooting for you #5!). Will Mama Red-tail Hawk ever stop demanding her chicks eat one more squirrel entrail despite their obvious soporific lethargy? Will the blue bird eggs ever hatch? Tune in tomorrow…I’m telling you, this stuff is addictive!

You may think this post is about bird watching—okay, it is—but not just about bird watching. Because as I watch these nestcams, I can’t help but think about my own nest—just a few short years ago I too had a full nest—just like those mama birds on the screen. One-by-one my chicks flew the nest. And now my nest is empty….mostly.

Because here’s the thing—it’s a process, just like almost everything in my life these days. And this mother-in-progress, after all these years, is getting used to change (kind of)—I think it’s a requirement for the job. This month the nest is refilling for a while. My son is taking a class at a nearby hospital (he’s a medical student) so we’re happily seeing him more than usual, and my daughter will be coming home for a few weeks before starting an internship in another city. Then my son’s wonderful girlfriend will be here for a family birthday celebration later in the month—when we’ll go to our favorite sushi restaurant (maybe we’re not that different from the herons afterall…)

Our happy nest will be filled again—for a while—and it will be full of song, too (no this isn’t a metaphor—my kids listen to a lot of music and the house seems pretty quiet without it). And for a while, I’ll be more irregular in my writing while I slip back into my mom-routines of chatting at the kitchen table, cooking bigger meals, walks together on the beach and in the woods—setting my daily writing schedule by more than just my own whim. In short, I’ll be one very happy mama bird, tending my nest.

But then, come the end of May, when each chick flies off, our nest will once again empty. And MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I will settle back into the life of the empty nesters: our schedule rising and falling by the walks with the dog, me returning to a more-regular writing schedule, and—yes—watching the nestcams.



Then just like those mama birds when their baby birds finally fly away—I’ll take a long look in the direction my baby birds flew. And I’ll wistfully remember the lingering evenings at the kitchen table talking to my son, the wonderful cuddles on the couch watching movies with my daughter, and the sweet sweet music filling the air.

Cheers,

Julia




Related posts: Check out my friend Christine Grote’s great post: Early ancestors, vegetarians, parenthood, and ambivalence.

Sharing a Landmark Day

Landmark days—often these are what we mothers remember and hold onto: the first birthday, first steps, starting kindergarten or high school, moving your child into their first dorm room….moments frozen in our minds.

At the beginning, these memories are shared memories: their firsts are our firsts. As they get older—high school, college, and beyond—we mothers become someone to share good news with, sometimes a sounding board, maybe a shoulder to cry on. Then finally, our children’s landmarks become their own.

They find their way, they make their lives—in short they grow up. As mothers, if we’re so lucky, we may still have a glimpse, hear the exciting news, share in the moments and the landmarks.

Last weekend was such a landmark day in our son’s life, his journey. We were invited to attend his “White Coat Ceremony,”the symbolic occasion in the early days of medical school when students receive their first white coat. We traveled out of state and met up with our son, his girlfriend, and our daughter—all of us living in different states. We did what families often do the night before an event: we gathered at a restaurant. We congratulated and toasted, reminisced and talked, with much of the conversation centering on science and medicine—passions close to both my children’s hearts.

My son—a talented writer, who wrote a novel for his college senior thesis and was urged by mentors to seek an MFA—has known since a “job shadow” at 16 that he wanted to be a doctor. This is not an easy road, and he has worked tirelessly to make his dream a reality.

Last month, as he left our home to head out of state for his first day of medical school, he came over and gave me a hug—I’m happy to say he’s a big hugger, my son—and said: “I’ll make you proud, Mom.” He knew my reply before I gave it: “You already have.”

Sunday morning we went together to the beautiful theater where the ceremony took place. My son joined his class of medical students, and we joined the proud families in the audience. We sat and watched as our son along with all the other sons and daughters received their white coats and took the Hippocratic Oath.

Watching my son, now a man, pursue his life goal and passion makes saying goodbye to my daily job of motherhood a lot easier. To attend this ceremony, be a tiny part, is icing on the cake.

My time, my memories, of every step and every landmark as a mother are just that: mine. His time, his memories, as he takes this momentous step, are a continuation of hislife journey. Sitting in that lovely place, watching my son be “cloaked” with his first white coat made me happy beyond words to be a part of my son’s, this wonderful man’s, life and landmark day.