Going (a little) Viral

Photo by Julia Munroe Martin, all rights reserved

Once in a while you get lucky. You get to see something or witness something that becomes a phenomenon. And once in a while it helps you go viral.

Enter the Westbrook Ice Disk.

If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of an ice disk or ice circle—why would we? I mean it’s a rare occurrence, described by Wikipedia in this way:

“Ice discs, ice circles, ice pans, or ice crepes are natural phenomena that occur in slow moving water in cold climates. Ice circles are thin and circular slabs of ice that rotate slowly in the water. It is believed that they form in eddy currents.”

That’s what pops up if you search for “ice disk” in Google. But what also pops up are photo after photo of the latest ice disk—described as one of the largest, if not the largest on record, at 300 feet in diameter—located in Westbrook, Maine, less than half an hour from where I live.

When I first heard about the ice disk, Friday of last week, I naturally told MEH (My Engineer Husband) immediately. I knew we had to go see it. We planned an early morning, sunrise viewing the very next morning. The area where the ice disk is located is right below the Sacrappa Falls on the Prescumpsot River, a spot conveniently next to a four-story parking garage. We drove to the top of the garage and took some photos—along with four other photographers—at six-thirty in the morning. By the time we left, there were cars lining the other side of the river for a glimpse of the ice disk, ice moon, ice circle . . . the phenomenon.

But I had my pic. A photo taken with my iPhone of sunrise at the Westbrook Ice Disk. I posted it to Instagram expecting my usual 250 to 300 likes of a nice sunrise or sunset, but within an hour I had over 400.

Photo by Lee Martin, all rights reserved

Later that day, MEH said he wanted to go back—to catch the sunset lighting up the disk, as we’d seen at sunrise. Alas, with a huge snowstorm bearing down, there was no sunset to see, only gray skies, but MEH took an amazing wide angle shot of the disk. And this time when we went back, it was crowded on both sides of the river, so much so we got stuck in a traffic jam on the drive to the river.

But It was worth it. It’s really something, that ice disk. And it helped me achieve something I’ve wanted for a while—to go (a little) viral. My photo of the ice disk now has over 1500 views on Instagram.

Have you ever witnessed a phenomenon?

Opening the door

This morning at 5:47 a.m., I spit into an Ancestry DNA test tube and placed it into the postage-pre-paid box.

When I was two years old, my bio-father walked out on my older brother, my mother, and me. He left for a younger woman who was a student at the local state college where we lived in Pennsylvania. The story I always heard was that he left my brother and me with a neighbor while “babysitting us,” my mother out for the day. After my mom figured out what had happened, she went to the college and had the “other woman” thrown out of school—she was always proud of that—then she moved with my brother and me to Boston and entered a graduate program at Harvard.

A year or so later she met a fellow graduate student, and they married three weeks later—he was the man who raised me from the time I was four, the man I called Dad. After they finished their degrees, we moved to California where he and my mom taught at a small college. The two spent their lives teaching and traveling the globe, conducting research together in cross-cultural child development. At the same time, they raised my older brother and me and had another son eight years my junior: the half-brother I grew up with.

Meanwhile on the east coast, my bio-dad Paul married the younger woman, and they too had a son, also eight or so years younger than I am. I saw Paul just three more times in my life and met that half-brother only once when I was a teenager, twice as an adult. But when that half-brother was about five, Paul left him and his mother, too—for another woman.

What I didn’t know until about a year ago was that Paul would repeat this pattern—with women, if not with children—at least four times in his life; he died twenty years ago.

To say I had a complicated relationship with my family would be an understatement. My fathers not withstanding. My mother, who died twenty years ago, and I were quite different. Among other things, she was both brilliant and also strong-willed (not that those things are mutually exclusive or that I am labeling myself as not-brilliant). She wanted me to bend to her will, to her high standards for me, and I spent much of my young life trying to live up to her expectations—at the same time fighting like hell to figure out who I really was and what I really wanted to do with my life rather than fighting against what she wanted for me. It’s been a struggle.

The whole time I was growing up, I longed to have a close relationship with my bio-grandmother (Paul’s mother). I felt closely akin to her, I’m not sure why. She, a Russian immigrant, lived in NY City; me, a very-American teen, lived in California. I saw her maybe once a year, if I was lucky. But in temperament, in spirit, I was very much my grandmother’s granddaughter—her only granddaughter. When my grandmother died I was “not invited” to the funeral. As in, I was asked not to attend. I suppose it was too complicated with various of Paul’s girlfriends/fiancés/wives, and at the same time, Paul was notoriously ill tempered—at least one relative told me I should be happy he wasn’t in my life. But to me, it felt like the ultimate rejection. I wish I’d gone to her funeral, and it still stings that I chose not to.

In the past six months, I’ve become active on Ancestry.com. I’ve researched both sides of my family—my biological roots—going all the way back (if I’m to believe Ancestry research) to my fifth great-grandfather Rabbi Eliyahu Zeldovich born around 1850 in Minsk, Belarus. On the other side, to the late 1700s (!!!) in Switzerland.

I’ve also found living second cousins and third cousins and distant “aunts and uncles,” some of whom I met when I was a child, at my grandparent’s lake house near New York City. All told tales of life in eastern Europe and Russia, some told harrowing stories of escaping to the freedom of the United States. These stories fascinated me and still do, so I hope someday soon to visit a cousin and “uncle” whom I’ve reconnected with, who know more of those stories.

But to actually find people I’m related to via DNA? It took me a while to get there. When I first heard about the test, I was skeptical. What would that give me? But as I thought about it, I realized. Paul . . . his various wives, girlfriends, etc., I’ve known men like that. Surely there may have been others. Other relationships.

The younger half-brother I grew up with died five years ago. My older brother and my other half-brother (the one I’ve met three times) are still alive. But . . . the elephant in the room . . . did Paul have other children? One of Paul’s errant relationships (let’s be honest, here—no one likes to think of their parents this way—one errant sperm) could have produced another half-sibling. Another half-brother? Or half-sister? Maybe someone who’s wondering the same thing on Ancestry.com.

But to be willing to open that door. That’s something. That’s what I feel like I did this morning. I opened a door to . . . something . . . or nothing. I won’t start to find out for at least six to eight weeks.

To be continued . . .

Have you delved into your family’s history? Have you (or would you) explore DNA testing?

Reading Cycles of Summer


So happy to see our one sunflower bloom yesterday… early in the summer a deer ate most of the plant, but it came back! (Photo all rights reserved!)

I haven’t been reading much lately. Summer has been busy with gardening and dog training and outside fun and (most importantly) time with my daughter who was doing an internship in Maine and living with us while she did. I loved having her home and the freedom of summer to do whatever the day brought, but I didn’t do much reading. I wasn’t too worried—I do know that my reading always seems to go in cycles—but when first one writer friend, then another, asked what I was reading and I came up completely blank, I realized it had been so long I couldn’t even remember what I’d read last.

By the way, I clearly wasn’t blogging this summer; I haven’t posted a blog since the beginning of the year! Actually all my writing was in a lull this summer, my focus on other things, and I have a blog on Writer Unboxed about that on Monday.

The busy-ness all ended a few weeks ago when my daughter went back to medical school, then summer extended by a visit from my son and new fiancé. We talked and laughed and cooked good food and made ice cream together and spent time in the garden. MEH (My Engineer Husband) took the week off and went hiking with our son and fiancé in Acadia National Park and was joined in garden weeding duties by them as well.

After they left and MEH went back to work, the house seemed very quiet and felt really empty. (Turns out even a very vocal and energetic rescue hound can’t fill the void of my favorite people.) I wasted a couple of days with all-day news TV binges, but when that got too depressingly repetitive, I turned to Amazon and ordered a few new books.

This morning I picked up my Kindle to read. I started with Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt and was immediately hooked, but I also looked at another book I’d downloaded, a time travel novel: The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn. I was immediately drawn into that one, too. After that I have The Outsiders, All Our Wrong Todays, The Weight of Ink, and about 100 or 1000 or one million more books I want to read.

Oh, and I remembered the last book I was reading (my Kindle reminded me), and maybe that’s one of the reasons I took the break… I really didn’t like it very much and probably won’t finish it. Enough said.

Does your reading go in cycles, like mine does? How was your summer and how did you spend it?


Two Truths and a Lie

Version 2

Truth: One of my favorite things to photograph are dinghies.

When my friend Hallie Sawyer tagged me today to write a post based on the Two Truths and a Lie game, of course I jumped at the chance. For one thing, I haven’t posted a blog since February. (Truth. Sad, but still a truth.) For another, Hallie and I just talked about how I wanted to blog more (Again, truth). But, most importantly, Hallie is one of my very favorite friends I’ve met in the blogging world. (Truth.) Hallie is one of the funniest women I know–we laugh together all the time–and she has a heart the size of Kansas. She’s a mom to three kids, a holistic health advocate, and a physical fitness guru who has helped me become more physically fit. So when she tagged me, I couldn’t turn her down. (Truth. This one’s for you, Hal. Love you.)

I’m going to list two truths and a lie, and then I’ll challenge another blogger to do the same. So…here goes…one of these is a lie and the two others are truths:

  1. My first kiss was with a boy named Martin, and I married a man with the last name Martin.
  2. When I was in college, I worked as a squid cleaner at a seafood restaurant.
  3. I grew up all over the world, and I’ve lived on every continent.

Leave me a comment with your guess of which one is a lie (or which two are truths). Come back on Monday when I’ll post another blog and you can find out whether you’re right! Thank you Hallie for the push to post a blog. You’re the best (Truth.).

Now my turn to tag someone: Jamie Miles, one of my favorite bloggers. To be honest, I can’t remember exactly where I met Jamie…but it was about four years ago. We connected over our sense of humor and our kids and (of course) writing: Jamie has been a beta reader for one of my novels, and I hope to return the favor. She lives in Georgia, she’s an award winning humor columnist, she blogs, and she writes fiction. Jamie has three kids and one of her kids has the same name as one of mine (Truth.). She and I both love okra (Truth. I’m not sure Jamie knows this; I learned it today from her blog.). She is an avid runner and, I’m just guessing here, is always on the go. Will you play along, Jamie? I hope so because I love your blog posts–they always make me laugh!

Jamie, this is a two post game–like Hallie said–you state your three things in one post, adding a link to the blogger who tagged you (that’s me!). In the second post, you admit which of the three things was a lie, and you tag another blogger.

Now, you should go read Hallie’s Two Lies and a Truth post…and then subscribe to her blog. Because she’s the best. If you want a blast from the past, here’s another Two Lies and a Truth post I wrote back in 2011!

And don’t forget to guess which of my three statements is a lie. And just for fun…leave me three of your own and I’ll guess, too!

Getting In Touch With my Inner Perfectionist


A photo from my recent trip to California

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

“What?” He mumbled.

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

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

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

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

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

Because I’m a perfectionist that way.

Precious Autumn Sunshine

I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.”

-Nathaniel Hawthorne


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Five Little Things


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some little things making you happy?



My Year of Living Dangerously


A sunrise from December…

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

This is something I’m not very good at.

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

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

Live in the moment.

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

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

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

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

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

But while I write I want to do new things.

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

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

Figure it out as I go.

And that’s okay.

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

Happy New Year!



“On little cat feet…”

Yesterday's photo, taken with my iPhone

Yesterday’s photo, taken with my iPhone

(Thank you poet Carl Sandburg for the inspiration behind the title of this post!)

The last few days have been foggy off and on, which is fine with me. I love the fog—and anytime I think it might be foggy, I drive to the water’s edge (we’re five minutes from Casco Bay).

Yesterday, though, it surprised me. Sunny at my house, I drove to the Falmouth Landing—a place I go at least four times a week to take in the sights (and take photos). The dock was socked in. I had only my iPhone, but I still took a picture because it was surreal: thick fog over the water, sun and bright clouds above, dark at water’s edge.

Fog is an enigma. It gives the air a particular feel of both a lightness but also heaviness and weight. It is both lovely and also mysterious…at times it can feel dangerous. As you drive toward the coast, the fog leads you to the sea…with wisps and trails of clouds…and the scent and tanginess of salt. Standing on water’s edge, birds appear out of nowhere and boats disappear in the distance. The sky turns from white to blue gradually or the fog can blow off in seconds.

I hope you enjoy these photos!


I got out of my car just in time to see this gull landing… and today my camera was all set on the seat next to me



Stray lobster traps often dot the beach at low tide


Families of ducks float in and out of the fog


I love the way the islands look in the foggy distance. Casco Bay is sometimes called “the Calendar Islands” (because legend has it they number 365). The US Coastal Pilot says the Casco Bay islands number 136.

Lost in the story



Yesterday I finished. 50,000+ words since November 1st: “WINNER”

That’s what flashed on the screen after I uploaded my words to the site. But the truth is, I won the battle but not the war. (Can you tell I’ve been submerged in a novel that takes place during wartime?) I haven’t typed THE END. I’ve got my NaNo words, but I’m not done with first draft and then I GET TO edit and revise.

And I’m pretty happy about that. Because I’m lost in my story.

I can’t stop thinking about Pat and Marin and Jason and Jimmy and Mrs. Murphy and Ray and Tyler (if that’s the name that sticks). I dreamed about them last night. I wake up early to rush to the computer. I mean early. Some days in the middle of November, my eyes flew open a little before four and no matter what I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I’d get up and write. This morning was slightly better. I slept in until 4:15. (You get the point.)

And I’ve been annoyed and antsy if I can’t write. And agitated.

I don’t know how long the finishing of the first draft will take. Or the revisions after that. I do know that I’ve read a lot of blogs lately that point the fingers at NaNo-ers (like me!). I’ve been surprised. Some have been judgmental. Saying that “no one should write a novel in a month.” Because it won’t be good, that it will degrade the overall quality of what’s out there to read. I don’t know about that. I know that some novels that are well regarded (like The Night Circus, Wool, and Water for Elephants for example) got their start as NaNo novels. And I even read a great post about other (longer ago) writers who wrote speedy fast even before NaNo was around–and their novels are still well regarded. Bradbury, Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson. You can read about them here, it’s pretty cool. I also know that we all write in our own way, our own time.

And I know this, too. NaNoWriMo worked for me. And I’m happy about where it took me. Lost in my story, excited to write (and revise) more. I felt stalled out before I started this month, and my goal was to get writing again, and I did. Some of the results of my experiment truly surprised me, too. As I was writing, some of what I wrote seemed forced and like it wouldn’t “sound right” after I finished, but my fears were unfounded. Some parts I barely remember writing, and that’s always a good sign to me that I entered the writing zone. That surprises me, too (and makes me happy): that I can force the zone.

I can thank NaNoWriMo for that. For helping me bring back the magic and for helping me get lost in my story again. I’m thankful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving (and happy writing!),


The Case of the Disappearing Notes


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

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

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

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

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

Did I mention customer unfriendly?

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

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

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

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


This is the kind of irreplaceable note I lost.

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

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

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

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






Road Sweet Road


I don’t remember where I took this photo… Nebraska? South Dakota? All I remember is my daughter was driving and the windows were rolled down.


It’s been ten days since I got home from my great cross-country adventure:

16 days

8,204 miles

20 states

546 miles a day (on average)

965 miles (longest day)

When I got home I was restless . . . in fact, the next morning I felt drawn to the car, missed the car. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being home, seeing MEH (My Engineer Husband) most notably. Sleeping in my own bed, having a private bathroom (not a fan of public restrooms—is anyone?).

Mostly I missed the sense of adventure—what will I see today? In the previous sixteen days of travel, I almost went international. When I came within 13 miles of Mexico (in Arizona) and less than 17 miles from Canada (in New York), I listened to only Spanish speaking radio stations then just three days later listened to stations in French. I wished I had my passport because I briefly toyed with dashing across each border, just because I could.

That’s what I miss the most. The possibilities. Letting the road take me where it would. Even if I stayed on the purple trail drawn out by my GPS, there was the possibility that I could follow the sign to the bridges of Madison County or take a detour into Cleveland or visit one of the many bird sanctuaries I passed or one more rest area in Minnesota or Ohio or even the rustic ones in Arizona.

There was also the possibility of visiting more friends and family . . . as it was, first my daughter and I together, then I alone visited a total of seven homes: 21 people, 4 cats, 5 dogs, 1 horse. We also stayed in six hotels. I met two wonderful blogging friends for the first time in real life: Shary Hover and Melissa Crytzer Fry. I laughed and cried with and hugged a million times two friends I’d missed for sixteen long years since we moved from Colorado to Maine.



Some of the things our wonderful friends and family gave us along the road… thank you for the coffee, the coffee cup(!), the lunches, the lunch box(!), the potions, the flower seeds, the book, the rocks… but mostly for the care! Not shown… the maps and directions you often gave us. Thank you for those, too!


I took a lot of photos (105 with my camera; 136 with my iPhone…two videos) but not as many as I expected to take, not even one of my daughter and me together (which I greatly regret, but I love the one of her in Las Vegas at a slot machine and the one of her driving). At a point I stopped taking photos completely, just wanting to be in the moment, enjoy the views, see things with my own two eyes instead of through a lens or with the distraction of the phone. So I was in the moment. I laughed a lot: at things and people I saw, at things I heard on the radio, at myself at times for all the crazy road ideas I had… but I found myself in tears more times than that. Overwhelmed at something I heard or saw or thought about. So much time, so many miles to think…

About my life, about my daughter moving 3,200 miles away (I could feel the length of those miles as I drove), about the years going by, about the friends I missed and lived much too far away from, about the other travelers on the road I was driving on—each with their stories, where they were going, what they were thinking…

I talked to a few strangers, but only a few. In fact, that struck me. How very solitary my trip became after I dropped my daughter off in California. I visited my friends, but otherwise, I talked to very few. Don’t get me wrong, that was okay with me, but it was surprising… and it seemed like a big change from the last time I was a cross-country traveler. It made me wonder. Has the world changed? Or is it me? Or them?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I thought about that a lot, too. The people I did talk to were respectful and kind, but few expressed an interest in what I was doing—did I express an interest in what they were doing? I think so, but everyone seemed more reserved than what I remembered from my last long travels (that was many years ago). Have we become warier about talking to strangers? I hope not. That’s such an important part of life—sharing the stories, gaining understanding—or at least for me it is.

This is getting long, I know, but a few more thoughts, that’s all—for me as much as for the blog—did I have ideas? I mean for writing? That was, after all, one of my goals, I even wrote a post about it for Writer Unboxed. So did it work? The short answer is yes. The longer, more complicated answer is no. What can I possibly mean by that? If I thought I’d get a lightning strike for an idea (like I did with my last book, that I’m now querying)—and I kinda sorta thought I would—I didn’t, but I did get lots of bits and pieces of ideas. I’m not sure how, but they will work their way into whatever I write next. The feel of the road, if nothing else. Because more than anything, that’s the story behind the trip. I loved the feel of the road, the grip of the steering wheel, being the master of my destiny—at least for that day, that mile. It was heady and exciting and fun, even on the hard, long driving days (see the things I’ll miss list at the end of this post).

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Should you do it? Yes. And what would I say to the lady at AAA if she asked again if I was nervous about driving across the country by myself?



Now… in case you’re interested, here are a few random anecdotal stats from the trip…

Favorite moment: seeing the eagle and the deer in Wisconsin (this was the highlight for both my daughter and me)

Second favorite moment: driving along the Pacific coast

Most heard song—on the radio (dubbed our song of the trip): Mirrors by Justin Timberlake

Other most frequently heard songs: Stay by Rihanna and Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

Songs we always rolled the windows down to when we heard them: Wagon Wheel by Darius Rucker (I found out my daughter knows ALL the words to this song, even before the trip! I’d have never known why if we hadn’t taken this trip…)

Cruise by Florida Georgia Line (Baby You Make Me Wanna Roll My Windows Down… of course!)

Most popular muscle car… not my favorite, but the favored on the road, by the sheer number we saw coast to coast: Chevy Camaro, Mustang seemed to be almost as popular on the east coast

Worst drivers: New England and New York (sorry, it has to be said! Too much tailgating and aggressive driving and worst merging of any place I drove)

Best drivers: California

Number of Maine license plates we saw after leaving Pennsylvania: 1 (this really surprised me, by the way)

Things I’ll miss:

  • Sharing the trip with my daughter; laughing together (clearly the biggie)
  • Seeing friends I haven’t seen for a long time
  • Meeting blogger friends on their home turf!
  • Wide-open deserts and plains, the big skies of the west
  • The thrill of not knowing what’s next and of being in new places and seeing new things
  • Not caring what I wore or how I looked (although I felt bad for the people we visited that I looked SO rumpled). By the way, my daughter always looked beautiful and unrumpled wherever we went!
  • Feeling empowered to be able to drive across the country by myself
  • Not having a set schedule; being able to do what I wanted when I wanted
  • Watching the license plates as they went by and making up stories about the people in the cars
  • Bird watching and animal watching state by state (most unusual animals: camels in Colorado)
  • Being anonymous; not worrying what people would think of me, especially when I was rocking out and singing at the top of my lungs!

Things I won’t miss:

  • Aggressive drivers
  • Rest stop bathrooms
  • Not showering on a regular basis (TMI?)
  • Worrying about speeding tickets
  • Wrong directions from the GPS
  • Trying to find a hotel after dark
  • Not being able to find a good song on the radio
  • Trying to find something in the car when I’m driving alone
  • Looking for something healthy to eat at a rest stop
  • Sleeping in a different bed every night—I don’t sleep well away from home so I was pretty tired by the end!



Hazards of the Road

roadhazardI’ve driven almost seven-thousand miles since leaving Maine two weeks ago. I can hardly believe it.

The past few days have been some of the most challenging on the road, with night driving, aggressive drivers, terrible thunderstorms, and road fatigue.

A few nights ago I drove into Albuquerque, New Mexico, late at night. The lights were beautiful and dramatic, but I was tired and had no plans for the night. I eventually found a motel, but it was after ten, and I fell into bed exhausted. Today, two days later, I drove through a thunderstorm with the most dramatic sky to ground lightning I’ve ever seen (really saying something because I used to live along the front range in Colorado, famous for its dramatic storms).

I also had to put up with excessive speeders and ridiculously close tailgaters—you know who you are, Mr. Illinois, who was about two feet from my bumper as I drove next to a semi-truck. Terrifying. Also, today (for the first time) I felt incredibly drowsy while driving, so I pulled into a rest stop, covered my head with a blanket, and slept for twenty minutes. It really surprised me that I could sleep at all because I’m usually not a napper and there was a thunderstorm going on (gives you an idea how tired I was). I awoke refreshed and drove on another two-hundred miles.

Tonight, right over the Iowa state line in Illionis, I had a quick dinner in my motel room, and now I plan to fall into bed. I’ll be getting up early to try and dodge more predicted heavy rains.

I haven’t been able to relax enough to enjoy the sights along the road, but the farmland in Iowa was beautiful, and I really loved the prairies of Nebraska. I also saw three camels right at the Wyoming border, passed John Wayne’s birthplace, and I saw some really, really weird freeway overpass sculptures in Iowa—I thought they looked like Edward Scissorhands (here’s a blog I found that someone else wrote about them).

I’m hoping I’ll get home early Sunday…I’m ready to be home. When I get there, I’ll catch up on blogging about two wonderful blogging friends, Melissa Crytzer Fry and Shary Hover, who I had the opportunity to visit while I was on the road!






From Sea to Shining Sea

cambriaWe did it! As we drove across the Bay Bridge yesterday—from Oakland to San Francisco—my daughter and I gave each other high fives. Minutes later, after lugging her heavy footlocker up two flights of stairs, we stood together on the porch of her new home. We already agreed we’d make it short and sweet—we’d had a week, we agreed in the car. Best week ever, by the way.

Earlier in the week in Chicago, my daughter and her best friend watched the last episode, the college graduation episode, of Gilmore Girls. In that episode, Lorelei irons frantically to keep from getting too emotional about Rory leaving for her post-grad dream job. After our hug, I started to walk away, then I went back for a second hug. I told my daughter it was time for me to start ironing… so I got back in the car, cranked the music, and drove some more—to Cambria, California.

I spent the night alone in a house overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I didn’t sleep well, and every time I woke up I could hear the crashing surf. It made me feel every one of the 3,200 miles I was from home. It’s pretty weird being alone after the week in the car with constant companionship. But I won’t be alone for long. Today, after breakfast, I’ll head out for another two days of driving, to meet first one then another of my blogging friends! Then back to Colorado for another visit with long-time friends.

Then? I’ll head back to Maine, although I’m not sure exactly which way the open road will take me. As I wrote in my bi-monthly post on Writer Unboxed today—the drive across the country has been one of the best ways I could imagine to spark story ideas, and I am allowing myself to be open to the stories I find along the open road.

Here’s to more stories and to my first day of solo travels! (And here’s to my daughter’s first day on her new job! You go, girl!!)



Adam Levine Makes Everything All Right


The view from our window… amazing how you can see forever!

We’re in Valentine, Nebraska, this morning. Yesterday a detour (a real, highway detour) took us off the path we expected to take (down through Lincoln, Nebraska, heading for Fort Collins, Colorado). We used to live there, and we’re going to see two of our best friends—can’t wait!

But we did have to wait. We puttered a bit yesterday morning…for some reason I thought it was a “short day” of driving (later when I told my daughter this, she said she thought it was a “long day”). In any event, we stopped at a lot of rest stops early on. In Minnesota we stopped at the Blue Earth Rest Area (how could we not??). It was a lovely rest area—we took a walk around the perimeter of the parking lot. And we saw a female Downy woodpecker at very close range on a green ash tree. It was a nice moment. We also saw a man with a Middlebury sweatshirt on (my son went to Middlebury College in Vermont).photo copy

The next three or so rest areas were nice, too. We also stopped at a gas station. Then, the detour—a longer swing than expected through South Dakota, which was absolutely gorgeous and we saw millions (well maybe trillions) of cows and windmills. We also saw our first cowboy of the trip. And we drank too much coke and other caffeine products…hence the final rest area in South Dakota…which I admit I started to be a little grouchy that we were even stopping at (we’d only just gotten gas), but as I started to feel the rise of frustration, a Maroon Five song came on the radio, we turned it up and started singing along, prompting my daughter to say: “Adam Levine makes everything all right.” Which I really couldn’t argue with, right?

photo copy 2And once again, I was glad we stopped because it turned out we were pulling into the Salem Rest Area—named after settlers from Salem, Massachusetts, and I have a special connection to that place through my current WIP. It was exciting!

Then we took a much smaller road (Highway 83) from South Dakota to our intended stop for the night: here Valentine, Nebraska, near the Niobrara River. It was an absolutely gorgeous, remote road and it’s absolutely gorgeous here. Another place we never would have seen if we hadn’t gone off our planned trail.



p.s. I’m sorry that I’m not spending as much time (as I usually do) worrying about proofing or laying out these posts. But time to pack up (again)!


Life is a Highway

highwayWhen we first got in the car to start our cross-country roadtrip, my daughter turned to me and said, “You know what song we should listen to? Life is a Highway by Rascal Flatts.”

It took 567.2 miles and 8 hours 52 minutes of driving (not that we’re counting) for her to get her wish—on I-80, going through Archbold, Ohio, in a construction zone, one of many, let me tell you.

“Roll down the window, Mom!” My daughter said. She sang joyfully at the top of her lungs while car-dancing to the song that by title alone could be our roadtrip anthem.

It was a highlight moment of the day, but there were many to choose from, just to name a few: the Great Blue Heron that flew parallel and eye-level with our car so we could clearly see its feathers ruffling in the breeze, the horrified look on my daughter’s face when I sang along with The Bee Gees’ More than a Woman, the woman in Ohio who derisively proclaimed “only in Ohio” would a highway-side Dairy Queen be out of strawberry milkshakes (maybe you had to be there?), not to mention the sheer excitement of crossing each state line. We also had one close call (“knock on wood,” as we say in our family), when the car directly in front of us blew out a tire going 70 mph and skidded off the road. It was very fortunate that the driver knew how to handle the car after the blow out, and that the tire landed where I was easily able to avoid hitting it. I was also lucky that I wasn’t distracted (at that moment) by my phone, my coffee, or anything else; that my attention was firmly on the road—as it should always be—it served as an excellent reminder.

Yesterday we left Pennsylvania and drove through Ohio and Indiana before stopping for the night just north of Chicago where we stayed the night with one of my daughter’s best friends who just graduated with her. Her parents were lovely and gracious enough to take us in for the night, as they might family, despite having just returned from graduation themselves. A heartfelt thank you!

Today it’s on to the great American plains. We’re heading toward Colorado (where we lived when both our kids were born) to see some of our very best friends. I can’t wait!



Lessons from day one

photoFirst leg of the epic mother-daughter road trip. In this episode, MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I drove from Maine to Pennsylvania. One notable update: at the last minute the nondescript white station wagon (see previous post) had electrical problems so we decided to rent a car. Probably a good choice since the wagon has over 220K miles on it. So, instead of that, we have a brand new Nissan Altima… here’s hoping all the college gear fits into it!

Here are some lessons from Day One.

1. If you’re leaving super early (okay, middle of the night), make sure the alarm is set for a.m. and not p.m.

2. Bring sunscreen.

3. Tape EZPass to the windshield of the rental car.

4. It really is possible to take too much stuff (and this is directed at ME not at my daughter!).

5. When you’re driving through New England, you can see seven states in seven hours.

6. A lot of motorcyclists don’t wear helmets and drive like maniacs.

7. It’s much faster to fly than to drive.

8. Hugs from my kids are the best!

Tomorrow: Graduation in the morning and then my daughter and I start our roadtrip to California, and MEH flies home to Maine.



Thank you friends!

photoToday I’m a guest at my friend Lisa Ahn’s wonderful blog, where she has interviewed me about my protagonist Maggie True’s intuition, place as character,  the good and the bad about characters in my book, and much more. If you haven’t read Lisa’s posts, you really should. They are wonderfully original and fresh and always full of something to make you smile and make you think, and her favorite words are  ” ‘once upon a time,’ an invitation to curiosity and magic.”

Thank you, Lisa!! Please visit me on Lisa’s post!

I feel so fortunate to have had so many good friends welcome me to their blogs! Thank you also to Shary Hover, Dina Santorelli, Susan Okaty, Lisette Brodey, and Julie Luek!

Meet Tattoo Boy

tattoo man stevek

“Tattoo Boy” AKA A.J. Traverso*

On any given day you’ll find me trying to tie up the loose ends on my self-published book (I’m still working hard to get it into paperback format… it’s a process, believe me). Let’s just say I’ve been spending a lot of time in front of the computer, on email, on the phone, talking to graphic artists, printers, etc.

And my head is spinning. There are a lot of steps involved in this process . . . which is the reason there’s a picture of a partially naked, tattooed man accompanying this post.

Say what?

Let me backtrack. If you’ve seen the cover of Desired to Death, you may recognize the photo. It’s “Tattoo Boy,” AKA A.J. Traverso. But how did I pick that image? Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. I had to go through hundreds of half-naked men pictures on half a dozen stock image sites on the internet.

I even dragged a single friend into the process.

Me: If I look at one more half-naked man, I will . . . (I paused, not sure of what I would do . . .)

K: Let me help. (Smiling.)

Yes, K and I went through page after page of naked man photos (HALF naked, okay?).

We finally settled on this one. Why? Part of it was that we both agreed he was A.J. (AKA Tattoo Boy), part of it was “enough is enough,” and part of it was that day I found myself at Rite Aid Pharmacy . . .

There I was at the self-service photo computer, innocently trying to print a graduation picture of my lovely daughter (she’s graduating from college, soon!!) BUT what should pop up on the screen—filling the screen—but the latest torso of a muscled-up young half-naked guy covered with tattoos. Thank goodness MEH (My Engineer Husband) was with me to step in front of the screen to block it while I quickly, frantically clicked on buttons to close the image. I didn’t want some little old lady collecting her prescription to keel over (or steal my thumb drive).

All this to say, it’s been pure hell getting the cover ready for this book (you have no idea, no really, it has). But I’m about three weeks from the paperback books (of course, I’ve been about three weeks from the paperback books for approximately three months).

At least the scenery has been good along the way.

And if you’re wondering what MEH has to say about all of this? “Meh.”



*In the interest of full disclosure, some of the tattoos were given to Tattoo Boy by a very talented graphic designer.

Today I’m on a Q&A at blog friend Susan’s, you can see it here!

And here are some other blogs I’ve been on in the last couple of weeks…

An Interview with Smythe True, Canine Hero
Really fun Q&A with Maggie True’s dog, Smythe, by Lola on writer Shary Hover’s blog.

Meet Julia Munroe Martin
Q&A on Dina Santorelli’s blog about the release of Desired to Death.

The Empty Nest Murder Series and Julia Munroe Martin
In this guest post on writer Julie Luek’s blog, I give the backstory to inspiration behind Desired to Death, the first book in The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series.



Coming by it Honestly

9780989290401-Perfect copy.inddHave you ever had one of those moments when you remember something from your childhood that makes you realize part of why you are the way you are?

I had one of those moments this past weekend. I was talking to my dad on the phone, and I was telling him about my book (launched as an ebook today), and he said he wanted to read it. Already I’m stressing: A) It has a half naked man on the cover. B) It’s kind of a soft mystery with a female protagonist and he’s a guy. C) He’s a Harvard Ph.D. and he and my mother (also a Harvard Ph.D.) have always kind of intimidated me in the writing department.

But he was interested and kind and supportive, and even when I warned him that it might not be his cup of tea, he still wanted a copy. So of course I said I’d send him one when I get the paperbacks (he doesn’t have a Kindle).

I digress.

When I told my dad what the book was about—a woman who becomes an amateur sleuth to help a friend arrested for murder, and that it’s kinda sorta based on my own curiosity, my own interest in righting wrongs—my dad reminded me of something that happened when I was a kid. And it made me realize that I came by my spy tendencies honestly (and when I say I, of course I mean Maggie True, my protagonist).

One year when I was a kid some mysterious things started happening in our neighborhood: rocks through windows, tires slashed, bikes stolen, peeping Toms . . . shenanigans. Nothing terribly dangerous, but it looked like it might be heading in that direction. At the time we had a small black dog, named Zookie—a cockapoo. Little Zookie was afraid of almost everything, and he would shake and quiver and hide if anything seemed out of sorts. Late at night Dad would walk Zookie one last time, and for a long time I thought that was all it was.

But in reality Dad was on patrol. One night—after hearing about a tire slashing—he hid in the bushes between our house and a neighbor’s, confronted someone who it turned out was just a neighbor. One night he chased a guy down the street (Zookie hid, cowering, in the bushes). One night he ran after a guy who had stolen a bike—Dad got it back. In short, Dad was a badass. He grew up on the streets of Baltimore in the 1940s, and he knew how to defend himself. And his willingness to put himself on the line was pretty awesome, and I knew I wanted to be that same kind of person: hiding in the bushes, chasing down the bikes, protecting poor little Zookie.

Truth is, he never caught the bad guy (long story short, it was a family affair), but he protected the little guy and stood up for what was right. Funny thing, when I created my protagonist in Desired to Death, I never thought about those days, my Dad being a bit of an amateur sleuth of his own, but after he reminded me, I realized that Maggie True and I? We both come by it honestly.

Today is book launch day! Desired to Death is officially available on Amazon (in ebook format; it will be available in paperback in about three weeks). For two weeks, you can buy it for just .99 cents, as a thank you to my loyal friends, fans, and blog followers. Thank you for your support, I truly could not have done it without you!



Putting Myself in the Corner

photoI’ve never been able to write in public places; I’ve always been too distracted. But lately I’m too distracted to write at home. The business side of writing (self-publishing) has been cluttering my mind and my dining room table. And I’ve really missed writing (my new WIP) while I’ve been attending to business.

So three weeks ago I did something I’ve never been able to do before: I started writing in a public place, specifically a local coffee shop. I was pretty nervous because I’ve never been successful at it before—still, I was desperate because I’d been making such slow progress at home. The truth is, most days I wasn’t writing any fiction at all.

I tend to be a creature of habit and a stickler for routine, so to ensure my success, I follow the same routine every day. I . . .

. . . Leave the house at the same time every morning—almost like I’m going to work. And it has to be early. The coffee shop fills up quickly! I try to be out the door by eight.

. . . Go to the same coffee shop every day. In fact, I try to sit at the same table (in a corner). That’s why I need to get there early—I think that table is a favorite of other coffee shop workers, too, so I need to beat them to it!

. . . Bring my headphones so I can listen to music—partly because I don’t necessarily like the background music, so I find it distracting, partly because I sometimes get distracted by conversations at neighboring tables and my music blocks those conversations out. I’m there to work, not gather dialogue!

. . . Bring everything I need for a morning of work: research, index cards, notes, pens, pencils, power cable for my laptop. It seems intuitive, but I have forgotten one or more of these items on any given day, and it’s made my work a lot more challenging, so I try to pack up carefully.

. . . Put aside my guilt about hogging one table all morning (this is a biggie). I try to tell myself that the coffee shop (and other patrons) are okay with it, but I’m not sure this is really the case. In any event, I’m doing this for a relatively short time, to achieve a specific goal, so I’m okay with doing it. I’m not sure if I’d be comfortable dominating this one table every morning indefinitely, but I’m okay for a couple more weeks.

And the results? I’m happy to report my plan worked! My productivity soared, and I’m expecting to finish the first draft of my WIP by the end of this coming week . Once I start revisions, I’ll try working at home again. If that doesn’t work, then I may try another spot—maybe a new coffee shop? Or the public library? Maybe a different table in the same place? Now that I know I can handle public WIPping, the sky’s the limit!

Do you ever work in public places? Are you able to concentrate? Do you have any tips to pass along? Do you ever feel guilty (like I do) about dominating a table?



The blog formerly known as wordsxo


Remember this picture?

For the past two years, I’ve used the name wordsxo for my blog, with that header. Starting this week I’m saying good-bye to wordsxo and hello to my new author website and blog, known simply by my name.

Welcome to my new website and blog! (Bear with me, it’s still in progress!)

I hope you’ll keep visiting me at my new WordPress blog. I’ve been talking about making the jump for, well, about two years. More about that transition in a future blog. Right now, I just want to say welcome to my new home. Please sign up for my mailing list so you can receive updates about Desired to Death, coming next month! If you sign up by April 5, you’ll be entered in a contest to win a copy of the book. 

I’m looking forward to many more posts here at my new blog, and I hope you are, too.