I Always Cry at THE END

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I took this photo a few years ago, but it seemed right for today…

This is one of those mixed up blog posts. I haven’t posted anything for a while, and yesterday I thought I should. I should blog, I said to myself. But I didn’t feel like it, I just didn’t. I dug around for a while (in my mind) to try and figure it out, and here’s what I came up with.

Winter. My next thought was about winter, of course. My next thought is always winter these days. The wind is howling outside. It’s cold and I’m really really grouchy about it. Right now, March 18, it’s 18F degrees. I’ve given up checking, searching the web, to see if we are having normal temperatures. I don’t care anymore. (I know we aren’t, I feel it in my bones.) I just want it to be warmer. I don’t want to wear a fleece jacket in the house anymore. I got an email from an (out of state, WARM state relative) who said he’d heard spring was coming to parts of the east (SOUTHeast, I told him). No. Not Maine. I was grouchy. We haven’t had a spring day since a year ago, last spring. We had snow showers yesterday and we’re getting more this weekend. And next week.

This blog is not about winter. (I think my last five are plenty.)

Reading drought. I love reading. I always love to curl up and read a good book. Sometimes I get so lost in reading that I need to lie on the couch and ignore everything else and finish in a rush. Last year I read a book that I loved so much I slowed it down. I couldn’t stand to read more than a few pages a day because I knew it would end soon. And it was a short book. When I finished reading, I cried. Cried and cried. It was a sad ending, a hard ending to read, but more than that, I loved that book, and it was over. Since then, I haven’t been able to read a book that I really fell in love with. And this year in particular I’ve barely read. I keep telling myself it’s because I’m so focused on writing (more about that later). I keep telling myself it’s the winter. I can’t stand to sit for so long. I’m antsy to get going. I tell myself it’s the books I’m reading. I’m picky. I need the right balance of good, unpredictable story with amazing writing. I like minimalist writing (usually) and sometimes books are overwritten for my taste. Anyway, I’m not sure why, but I can’t really stay engaged with any book. Most recently I’d been looking forward to reading a book (in a big way, I pre-ordered it), and I could barely finish it.

This blog is not about reading (but if you can recommend a book you love, please do!).

Experts. I’m a journalist by training. And one of the things that was drilled into my head when I was in college was the source. Find the right expert. Find the correct information. Be accurate. By training and by nature this is the kind of writer I am. I want to know. I want to know that I’m portraying something accurately. My current WIP (more about that in a minute) has a lot about horses in it. One of the horses gets injured (it’s integral to the story and the arc of the main character). Here’s the thing. I don’t know if I’m being accurate. I have a good friend who is helping make sure all the general horse information (behavior, care, tack, riding, etc.) is accurate, but I need to talk to a veterinarian. I have another good friend who is a vet, but she’s a small animal vet and has recommended I talk to a large animal vet. I haven’t been able to find someone, and it’s frustrating me.

This blog is not about experts (but if you know a large animal vet who might be willing to talk to me, please tell me!).

THE END. Back to that WIP. I just finished a major revision of one of my WIPs—the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo in 2013. Yes, that’s not last year but the year before, so I’ve been living with this story for a long time. In some senses, I’ve been living with this story for even longer because it’s loosely based on a real-life thing that happened to me (you can read about that here), a sad thing. Anyway, I miss those characters. I know I have to move on, but in a way I don’t really want to. Kind of like that book I loved so much. I know I’ll write another story (I’ve started a few), but it’s going to take a little time. As I type the words THE END, I always cry, every WIP I write, but with this book I cry every single time I read and reread the end (and believe me I’ve read it a lot of times). I miss those characters as though they were real-life best friends.

This blog is about mourning. Mourning THE END. I cried. And I always do.

Writing friends, do you cry when you write THE END? Everyone, please recommend books you love, large animal vets I can talk to, and please, please, think spring!

Cheers,

Julia

This winter is about…

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This winter has been trying. The coldest February on record in many parts of Maine. More snow since mid January than we get in an entire winter most years. The statistics speak for themselves.

But this winter is about more than statistics.

This winter it’s hard to get around. There are huge snow banks at the entrances to roads and driveways that makes driving treacherous. People seem grumpier. In their cars. At the grocery store. At the gym. It’s grinding us down, this winter.

This winter is about isolation and crankiness and tiredness. It’s wearing me out. Twenty-two or more days below freezing (I gave up trying to keep track), so I really don’t want to go out. I love being inside at my desk writing, but I am tired even of that. I reach out to friends, but planned outings often need to be postponed due to yet another snowstorm. For a while we were on an every-weekend then every-Wednesday snowstorm schedule. It was predictable. The weather guys on one channel who usually wear sweaters (instead of suits) for storm days stopped wearing them. They stopped playing the “storm center” music, too.

This winter is about water leaking into the house through a new window. It’s about MEH (My Engineer Husband) coming home from work early last Friday to climb up a ladder and scrape snow off the roof with a roof rake. (We have a two story house.) Then he used an axe to break ice a foot thick off the edges of our roof, all around our house, to ensure no more ice dams formed that would allow more water to leak around the roof shingles, through the walls, into our house around our windows. “The water finds a path,” MEH said before climbing another ladder onto the porch roof to shovel snow off of it. MEH spent the better part of the weekend shoveling snow off the roof.

This is usually water...Casco Bay... that's an Osprey nest out there

This is usually water…Casco Bay… that’s an Osprey nest out there on the pole

This winter is about new words and new ways of talking to our neighbors (that we see more at the grocery store than around the neighborhood). Ice dam, roof melt, roof rake, “the water finds a paths,” and “where will we put it?” become common conversation starters.

This winter is about giving up, giving in, embracing. One end of our driveway is unshoveled, unplowed. We have enough room for our two cars. Why should we shovel more? The end of the driveway (that’s not shoveled) has a five foot frozen-solid berm at the end. Snow is piled everywhere. The mailman used to avoid that end of our driveway; now he just walks through the snow and over the frozen berm.

This winter is about layers. Most winters I’ve worn fleece and (TMI?) sometimes long underwear (on top). This winter I wear long underwear (top and bottom) every day, pants and turtleneck, fleece top and bottom over that. Boots outside. Fleece slippers in. Down jacket everyday. And an indispensable lavender scarf my daughter gave me for Christmas. I often wear it in the house, while under the electric blanket.

This winter is about hats. I knit two hats in January before the historic snow season started. One for MEH and one for me. (No, they aren’t the same—color or style—I write that in answer to the question forming: “are they the same?”…a question my daughter already asked me.) I hate hats. (Especially with all the dry air creating static electricity.) But I wear that hat every time I leave the house.

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These robins found the morning sun…

This winter is about appreciating…

…the sun. Last weekend we had one day of 40 degrees. We reveled in the warm weather. It was a good day. A great day. It made us remember spring. And that spring is coming.

…the landscape that looks so foreign. The water froze over between the mainland and Cousins Island (a town island connected by bridge). Then it snowed over the ice. And the ice and snow got craggy and crazy looking. I’ve loved taking photos of the unnatural looking landscape. The landscape is so foreign that sometimes when I’m driving I miss a turn and find a new way home.

…the birds. Watching the crows roost. Hundreds upon hundreds of crows flying from tree to tree at sunset, looking for a place to roost. I’ve never seen this before. It was amazing. I also watched flocks of robins…I never realized that some robins winter over in Maine. I thought a lot about being a bird and trying to survive outside in this winter.

This winter is about new terrain, new landscapes, new landmarks, new ways of thinking and feeling and acting, new sights and sounds.

This winter is (I hope) almost over.

How’s winter going in your neighborhood? What is winter about for you?

The Winter of Sisyphus

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Yesterday’s view out our front door

This morning I looked out the window and saw a neighbor shoveling snow. With each new scoop, thrown onto the gigantic pile next to his driveway, at least half rolled back down. I immediately thought of the story of Sisyphus (didn’t everyone)?

You know, in Greek mythology, the first king of Ephyra who was a chronic liar and all around bad guy who murdered and pillaged and…well, read about all the heinous things he did here on Wikipedia. The story goes that Zeus (after being tricked and betrayed by Sisyphus) gave Sisyphus the punishment to forever roll an immense boulder up a steep hill, only to watch it roll back down…repeating this action endlessly.

Yesterday we got another foot of snow, on top of Juno’s (the blizzard last week or was it the week before?) two feet and another smaller storm in between and a few inches or so before that… well, I honestly can’t remember the progression of the layers and layers and feet of snow.

Here’s what I do know. We have a lot of snow. A. Lot. Of. Snow. Feet and feet of it. Spilling onto the porch from the ground (and our porch is three feet off the ground), blocking one end of our driveway (we have two entrances, thank goodness), covering our basement windows (will they leak, who knows?). Encasing one of our cars (I don’t really want to drive anywhere until tomorrow to be honest). Delaying school. Forcing people to work from home. You get my drift (yes, pun intended).

When we texted our daughter a picture, she immediately replied. “Can you get out?”

I mused to MEH (My Engineer Husband) what will happen with the next storm (predicted for Wednesday night into Thursday) and the one after that and the one after that… where will the snow go?

One of MEH’s co-workers emailed his department that she’s working at home again today: “I give up. I want to hide until Spring.”

We all want to give up. We all want spring. Well, everyone I talk to. That’s MEH, because I actually haven’t talked to anyone in person in about three days. I deposited checks (for the first time) with my phone app. I’ve barely stepped outside my door in two days. Did I mention we have a lot of snow, and it’s hard to get around?

Tomorrow I plan to go to the gym, but until then just call me Sisyphus. And the winter is my boulder.

But for what am I being punished?

Is it the plight of the writer, thus to be punished? I’ve made up lies upon lies—lets call it fiction. And now, after stories, pages, hundreds and thousands and millions of words of lies, I’m condemned to the life of Sisyphus, forever rolling the piles of snow up onto the berms surrounding my house, my car, my exit from the life of the hermit writer.

The writing life.

Groundhog Moments

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light

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

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

But predict he did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I digress.

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

These are my Groundhog Days. My Groundhog moments.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Today I’m Making Snowman-Ade!

MEH and I made this snowman.
Yes, this morning

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

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

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

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

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

Like snow.

Or a potential power outage.

Or undependable weather forecasters.

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

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

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

This morning, I’m making snowman-ade!

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

Cheers,

Julia

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

A Longing for the Morning Glories

This post was going to be about disgruntlement—a complaint and a rant that it’s still winter. That it’s March 4th and we awoke to snow for the second time this week. About how unusual this is, how last year it was spring today.

Then I looked back to my wordsxo post of March 4, 2011, which was: Writing Inspiration from a Winter Wonderland. It was 3.7 degrees. And it made me remember: I live in Maine. And in Maine, we do winter, sometimes for eight months a year. I’ve seen snow in September and snow in April—I’ve heard tell from some old timers that back in the day it might’ve even snowed in May.

And that’s when I realized. I can be as disgruntled as I want to be. But it’s still snowing today, March 4th, and the weather forecast says there will be snow later in the week too.

I keep telling myself to suck it up, that we’ve barely had winter. That it’s such an unusual year that in January and February we had so little snow we could see green grass; that this year even some old timers wondered will winter ever come? One of those days, before a March 1st snow, I found a photo on my iPhone of morning glories climbing the garden trellis.



And I let myself go there: to the garden. Because I had forgotten all about the morning glories! And the sunflowers! I imagined myself this morning, standing outside next to the morning glories, picking tomatoes, and hearing bees buzzing on the sunflowers.

And I wondered about last year when I wrote about inspiration from the snow—was I just trying to figure out something to blog about? Or was I truly inspired? Because this morning all I feel is disgruntled.

And a longing for the morning glories.




Cheers?
Julia


p.s. What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods? If you live in a wintery climate, are you still getting snow? Or is it spring time? If you live in a place where you never get snow, do you wish you did? Are you inspired by your weather? Or are you like me—disgruntled?

Hello, Goodbye

What’s left of the trees :(

Today marks the final wordsxo video from the beach overlook. MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I have been trudging (okay, driving) out to the bridge once a week—usually Sunday morning—rain or shine or wind or snow or whatever. It was a year-long project, started on February 13, 2011. I had planned to have next week be the last video, BUT today we arrived at our usual spot and the town had cut down the trees that we used as our backdrop frame of reference.

I saw that as a sign. Enough.


In honor of this being the last video, I decided to make a vlog. Hello! I’m not crazy about appearing on camera (especially January in Maine in the wind…challenging to be out there let alone look decent), but since MEH refused, I decided I’d take the bullet for the wordsxo team. 


I realize it’s almost impossible to hear what I’m saying so here’s the basic transcript: It’s the last video, it’s really super windy and cold, the trees were cut down, thank you Hallie Sawyer for planting the idea for my appearance, thank you to Sara Grambusch for being Sandbar’s biggest fan, goodbye videos.


Starting tomorrow, I’ll be blogging twice a week: Mondays and Thursdays—with no more vlogs or videos in the plans. But I will be writing about writing, editing, the writing life, and where I get my inspiration. You can also count on many more photographs and even a few more Maggie mysteries! So please stay tuned.
I hope you enjoyed the videos—they’re all on youtube, here. Someday soon I’ll be writing a wrap-up blog about them. Have you ever made a change in course on your blog or in your life? How did it go?

Cheers,

Julia

“It’s Maine, Deal with It”

“It’s Maine, deal with it.” This expression came to mind as I stood on the beach overlook at 2 degrees.
I used to have a neighbor who moved to Maine shortly after I did, and she loved to say that to me: about the heat and humidity in the summer, about the blackflies in May, about too many tourists in August, but especially about the snow we know we’re going to get—no matter how mild the season starts out.

When we looked at the thermometer at home this morning it was a flat 0 degrees. So if anything I was disappointed it was 2 by the time we got out to take the video. Luckily, with not a wisp of a breeze, it felt like maybe 3 anyway. I stood in a foot of snow to take the video, and you can hear the crunching of snow under our boots, the zip of my jacket pocket as I take out my iPhone to take a photo of my boots, and the snap of the photo being taken.



Other than those sounds and the slight movement in the water, you’d think this was a still shot this morning. Lucky us, by the time we got to the other side of town (inland) it was all the way down to minus 6 degrees. So cold that even Abby, our black lab, wanted to go home. She held up one freezing paw after another in the crunchy snow, and we lasted all of 5 minutes on the dog walk.

What’s an expression you associate with the place you live? Are there things you just know you’re “going to have to deal with” in your weather and in your life?

Cheers,

Julia 

This is What 1 Degree Looks Like

(Sunday, January 15, 2012, 7:35 a.m. EST, 1 degrees F)



“How long does it take to get frostbite?” I asked MEH (My Engineer Husband) as we came back to the car after shooting the video on the bridge. 

I asked him this question because MEH wanted to walk a little farther, to get one more photo. He threw me the car keys.

“Get in. I’ll be right back.”

I got in the car and cranked up the heat.

The predicted low for this morning was 0 degrees, but we didn’t quite make it. It was 1F degree as we crossed the bridge; a disappointing 2F degrees when we parked the car—but it was windy to make up for the warm up.

It’s not the coldest temperatures I’ve ever been in, and on the way home MEH and I talked about it. Forty below zero my freshman year in college in Minnesota, I said. I was from California, and it was the coldest temperature I’d ever heard of let alone walked outside in. My friend from Connecticut told me her dad once said if you get colder than 0 degrees it all feels the same. It didn’t.

One of the photos MEH took while I was in the car:
“Ocean on the Rocks”

MEH lived in Anchorage, Alaska, for a while. The story he likes to tell is that he took a year off from college and went back four years later. One winter he worked in a gas station with no heater, and it was thirty below zero on a regular basis. His shift was midnight to eight o’clock in the morning, and he spent the night running up and down the parking lot to keep warm. He pumped the gas so the customers didn’t have to get out of their cars. The first night he tried to wash a windshield, but the washing fluid froze to the windshield and the driver was not happy with him—so he stopped. He never had more than 10 or 15 customers any night. He did a lot of running.

Today will be a good day to edit at the dining room table. MEH will write some software at the kitchen table. His sub-zero running days are over.

How’s the temperature in your neck of the woods? What’s the coldest weather you’ve ever been outside in, and how did you cope?

Cheers,

Julia

Deep Blue Cold

(Sunday, December 18, 2011, 1:04 p.m. EST, 24 degrees F)

We’re in the deep chill, with a high today around 24F degrees. With a brisk blowing wind it felt much colder than that while we were standing on the bridge overlook.  There were a few ducks and geese swimming in the frigid water right off the sandbar, but it’s hard to see them in the video because the camera was being buffeted so much by the wind. Although it was cold, the view was incredible—with the intense deep blue color of the water and a set of solo prints on the sandbar—and for the first time ever you can also see the shadow of the bridge.

I hope it’s warmer where you are!

Cheers,

Julia

45 Degrees of Separation

(Sunday, December 11, 2011, 7:08 a.m. EST, 22 degrees F)

Full moon setting: this photo was taken 45 degrees to
the left of where we stand to shoot the video, toward the mainland

I visit this spot on the bridge (at least) once a week. This morning we arrived at sunrise—at 22 degrees the coldest since we started to record the videos. The beauty was absolutely breathtaking, captivating, magical; so phenomenal that words truly cannot describe. A full moon setting, the subtle pinks rising and reflecting from the water, a flock of Canada geese floating on the water just out of video view.




So beautiful that, after taking the video in the usual direction, I turned the camera about 45 degrees and took another. Now you can see the more intense pinks, the flock of geese congregated and warming up before they take flight.





Despite the frigid temperature, we stood on the bridge for almost ten minutes and then we walked more, in another direction toward another vantage point, to take some still shots toward islands north of us.


When I watched the videos at home, what struck me most was the incredible stillness interrupted by the cars zooming by. I marveled at the fact that the people in those two cars (and others we didn’t record) drove by the stunning beauty without even slowing. And it made me remarkably glad that I started making the videos—so that for at least the time it takes to make the video, I am required to stand and just observe and truly see what I might otherwise pass by. And it made me wonder…..what masterpieces of nature do I drive by or take for granted every day?

Are there places and things you pass by everyday that you never really notice? Are there times you force yourself or take the time to really slow down and see and observe?


Cheers,
Julia 

Happy Snowtober Nor’easter Video

(Sunday, October 30, 2011, 1:32 p.m. EST, 41 degrees F) 





You can’t really tell from the video but we got our first snow last night—“only” about six inches where we were, but 18 inches in other parts of Maine and 26 inches in other parts of New England! We got off easy with this one. The media is calling it “Snowtober,” a rare October snowstorm.

In addition to the snow, it was also very cold…26F degrees, our coldest temperatures this year. It was especially cold in our house after we lost power. The temperature in the house hit 54F degrees right before power was restored at a little after noon (a huge thank you to the wonderful crews of Central Maine Power). Today the snow has stopped, and much has melted away; all that’s left is high winds up to 35 mph.

You can really see the winds buffeting the camera in today’s video. What a difference from last week’s tranquil sunrise! And I think you can see some snow on the distant shoreline (high tide is hiding the sandbar beach).



We planted the garlic yesterday!

Meanwhile in the garden…. yesterday when we knew the storm was coming, we quickly went out and planted garlic—knowing it would be our last chance to plant this fall. Then we mulched it with straw, and sure enough today the garden is covered in a blanket of snow.

And covered with straw!

And this morning…. WOW!!
What a difference a day makes!


32 Degrees

Today we had the first frost—when we left our house early this morning for the dog walk the thermometer said 32 degrees (F). 


The first thing that popped to my mind was the zinnias in the garden, always the first thing to go with a frost. But miraculously the zinnias survived this time. In a small pocket of warmth from the driveway.
I dug my down jacket out of the back of the closet. It smelled musty but I put it on anyway (thinking to myself, I need to wash this later today). Last week as I was looking for something else, I found an old pair of stretchy gloves and an ear warmer, so those I washed. I found them this morning on top of the washer.

We begrudgingly turned on the heat—partly as a test that it will still work. The old furnace boiler gurgled and grumbled but came on. (Note to self: we really need to call the furnace guy.)

It seems too early for this. That’s what I thought to myself, that’s what I said to MEH (My Engineer Husband) as we got in the car, the windshield frozen.

At the dog park, frost covered the grass, but the ground was still spongy and muddy from all the rain we’ve had recently. I was relieved, but I know that soon the ground will be frozen solid. The old dog is invigorated by the cold and frost. She frolics and digs her nose deep in the frosty grass, snorting. We shuffle along, and I wish I’d brought my scarf too. My neck and ears are cold, I tell MEH. It won’t get colder than this, will it? Time to toughen up.

We take winter seriously in Maine. We have to. Maine winters are a serious matter. The snow won’t start until November or December if we’re lucky. But when it does, it doesn’t stay on the ground for a few days and then melt like some places. It stays the whole winter long. And layer upon layer of snowstorm like a sedimentary rock ledge will line the streets. Sometimes so high that it’s impossible to safely get out of our driveway—the piles hide oncoming cars.

So cold that when a sunny day starts to melt some of the snow, it refreezes that night, causing treacherous conditions for driving and walking too. How many times have I fallen or heard of friends breaking bones when falling? Too many to count.

When we get home from the dog walk, we come into our warm house. I am thankful that we have heat, oil in our tank. I pour MEH and myself a cup of hot coffee, and I remember the better side of winter. Sitting and reading by the glow of a tableside lamp, huddling over tea, making savory stews and soups and apple pies.

Even better: our son and daughter and their friends home for the holidays, a feast in the dining room, sleeping under one roof, snow falling all around. The outside noises quiet and muffled, we are insulated in our own world.


Do you have winters (or other seasonal change) in your part of the world? How do you feel about yet another impending change in the weather?

Cheers,
Julia

In Celebration of Season


This week marked the beginning of Spring. And, in celebration, today’s Wednesday Word is season. As with many words, season can function as either a noun or a verb, depending on the definition you are using, and what you are trying to say.

(1) season: One of the four natural divisions of the year—Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter—in the North and South Temperate zones. Each season, beginning astronomically at an equinox or solstice, is characterized by specific meteorological or climatic conditions. American Heritage Dictionary via thefreedictionary.com

Here in Maine, it still feels a lot like winter. Granted, the temperatures are warming, birds are returning, and the snow is receding. We no longer have perilously high snow banks on every corner, that just last month created hazardous driving conditions—but we’ve had snow fall twice this week. And if you comment to a neighbor about the warming weather, they are likely to issue a standard Maine response:

“Don’t get used to it.”

Too early to garden, but not too early to dream, that packet of arugula seeds is still on my kitchen windowsill. And before long, they will be planted in my vegetable garden. By early summer, we will eat tender arugula, tossed with fresh tiny green onions and balsamic vinegar. And then winter will be a distant memory.

All summer long we’ll harvest vegetables: spinach and lettuce, beets and kale, beans and tomatoes. Finally, as the days shorten and autumn begins, we will enjoy pumpkins, squash, and hopefully a melon. A bounty will remain for us to can and freeze—before the season changes again.

And, that we can get used to.

(2) season (verb): To make or become mature or experienced. – Collins English Dictionary via thefreedictionary.com

I have been blogging now for seven weeks—every day of each week—45 consecutive postings. Although still a newbie, I am becoming a more mature blogger, I’m finding my legs. As I read and watch others around me, I am gaining more understanding and knowledge of this new world I’ve entered. I no longer stress out at the thought of writing a daily blog; I actually enjoy and look forward to it! And as I learn and change as a blogger, my blog site is maturing and changing too—which brings me to the third definition of season.

(3) season (verb): To improve or enhance flavor; to add zest, piquancy, or interest to. – American Heritage Dictionary via thefreedictionary.com

In honor of this definition of season, I am adding zest to my blog with some changes to its appearance. The photos in the heading represent each of the seasons—but also the natural beauty of everyday things that inspire me and my writing. I hope you will let me know what you think—the heading, my blog, and my writing continue as works in progress.

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. Are there ways that the changing seasons inspire you? Where are you in your blogging journey? How have you seasoned as a blogger—and what landmarks or seasons can you identify along the way? And, please let me know what you think of the new wordsxo appearance and contents. How am I doing?

Writing Inspiration from a Winter Wonderland


This morning it warmed up to 3.7 degrees F before I had to take the dog out. Most mornings in winter, My Engineer Husband (MEH) happily takes her out to the “Dog Woods Trail,” where we’ve been going for the past nine years. And when I say happily, it’s because I’m happy I don’t have to go. MEH and I laugh as he puts on his four layers of pants and shirts, three sets of socks, great big winter boots, and his huge L.L. Bean parka. He assures me it’s not overboard, but I always wonder.


MEH is rarely out of town, but when he is, it falls to me to take the dog. This morning I wanted to wimp out. 3.7 degrees, warmed up from zero when I first got up. Too cold. But I don’t like to wimp out. Plus, I told myself that it would be inspirational for the fiction I’m writing; there are a lot of scenes where my protagonist, Maggie, walks outside with her dog in the winter and it’s cold…. you can see why I need the inspiration.


I pretty much had to convince even the dog to go—she’s nine and arthritic. And she was comfy in bed (mine). But the dog biscuit did the trick, and out we trudged. Me, in my two layers of pants (huge mistake not to go for four), long silk underwear (not racy, believe me) and fleece shirt, bulky down jacket, L. L. Bean boots (yeah, those same ones as in the other blog), ski mask, and hat. I took a picture with my phone but couldn’t bring myself to post it. I am a little modest. (Instead I posted a picture of my dog—she wore her birthday suit for the occasion.)


It was very very cold at Dog Woods Trail. So cold that when I breathed and my breath condensed inside my ski mask, it froze almost immediately. The inside of my nostrils froze. Abby’s whiskers froze, and she had frosty glaze on her black fur. And I had plenty of time to reflect, gather information, be inspired by, and in general observe the freezing cold morning because Abby, in her infinite dog wisdom—that we humans can only hope to someday understand—left her toy somewhere midway through the walk, and we had to turn around to find it.


Still, I’m inspired. My character, Maggie, still hates the snow and cold, and she’ll be happy when her husband Joe returns from his latest business trip. But not because the late-winter woods aren’t beautiful. They are. And the sight is incredible to see.


The snow was piled high everywhere, even where it didn’t fall—the wind shifted it to between the trees, around the rocks, and in every imaginable crevice and opening through the Dog Woods and out onto the trails and fields. The fence surrounding the parking lot had all but disappeared, with only the tip-tops of the posts to see. Maggie almost forgot the cold as she marveled at the absolute volume of snow, if nothing else. She followed the path through the woods that led her to the same circuitous trail they always took, around the ball fields, which the dog—and she—happily traced, trudging slowly where it was icy slick, being careful not to fall.

She was extra careful to step around all the piles of frozen poop that had been left by other walkers’ dogs. Or maybe by the dog with the cross-country skier, who glided effortlessly past her earlier in her walk. He meant to pick it up; Maggie was sure of that. Finally, just when Maggie wished she had worn the third or fourth layer like Joe suggested, she and her faithful companion reached the car and—none the worse for wear—headed gratefully home to its wonderful warmth.


Looking forward to your comments about my winter observations and yours as well. If we can’t get inspiration out of this crazy winter weather of ours, then what is it good for? Do you enjoy the snow or are you just looking forward to spring (or a little of each)? How do you catch a mood or feeling for writing from your character’s point of view?


Cheers,

Julia

Why This Blog is Not About Arugula


Yes, it’s true. I was going to blog about arugula today. And hope of spring. Because Friday when it was almost 50 degrees and the sun was shining, I went to the grocery store, and there they were. The towering racks of seeds right inside the door. MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I almost swooned. Really.


When you live in Maine, and it’s dark and dismal and cold and icy for endless months on end, you take any sign of spring as an encouragement. Like the groundhog seeing his shadow. Like the garden thyme desperately peeking out from the only non-snowy corner of the driveway. Like one sunny day at the end of February. Like the seed towers at the local grocery store.


And so MEH and I oohed and aahed over every seed packet, every possibility, what should we buy as our representation of spring? To tuck into a prominent spot of the kitchen so we could appreciate the reality that someday soon we would return to the garden, dig up the beautiful bountiful earth, and engage in our yearly ritual of planting.


Flower or vegetable? Root crop or leafy green? Someone walking by might have thought we were playing 20 questions or Animal Vegetable Mineral. Someone walking by might’ve thought we were crazy. No we’re in Maine. They knew. They understood.


Finally of course we knew it had to be a vegetable. We passed by the beets, the spinach. Breakfast radish, a new favorite from last year, almost made the cut. But in the end, we went with arugula. This spicy, almost-bitter green sprinkled with balsamic vinaigrette, is the bee’s knees of culinary delight. Closing our eyes, we could almost imagine: feel the springtime, standing in the warm sun, pinching back the arugula sprouts, thinning and then devouring the tiny harvest. Sublime.


But instead more snow. Only lightly falling, but still. This morning an annoying reminder that we need to wait. And so for now the seed packet of arugula sits on the window sill. A small reminder that soon I will be able to begin to consider that maybe someday, I will sit and think and write and maybe even blog in the warm spring sun while I watch the arugula grow where now there is only snow.


Cheers,

Julia


p.s. How does the weather inspire or discourage you in your writing? What gives you hope for spring? If you’re a gardener, and you live in a warm climate, how’s the growing going?

Commitment

It’s the first warm-ish sunny day in a while, and I’m inside at the computer. If you live in the Northeast, like I do, you know these days have been few and far between this winter. Lots of snow, ice, rain, even lightning, you name it. If you don’t live in the Northeast, trust me: it’s been miserable.

A friend I met for coffee this morning was on her way to go cross-country skiing. I haven’t skied for years, and then only once, but it sounded really fun. “You can walk next to me,” she offered. I imagined myself running down an ice-packed trail in my clunky L. L. Bean boots. I declined.

The truth is I was anxious to get home. I started blogging this week, and I am serious about the commitment. It sounds silly even to me. No one is counting on me but me; maybe no one has even read my first blog from yesterday, I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. I am blogging to get myself writing, and so it’s words I must write!

After coffee, as my friend headed toward the sunny side of town, I headed the other way. I drove home, and I booted up my laptop. It took all morning, and six pages of starts, but I did it. I wrote my second blog. And that’s good enough for today.