Apocalypse Now

My life is finely tuned to current events. Both are in a state of disarray.

I returned last week from a month in Pennsylvania, a drive that took over 11 hours counting the delays for construction. Luckily, I had downloaded an audio book to my phone, so I was able to pass the time without resorting to profanity.

When I walked in the door, ready to relax with a glass of wine, I realized what a mess four cats can make when left alone. Yes, I had someone to come and feed them and clean their litter boxes, but fur, tracked litter, barf bedazzled my floors and rugs. Plus, I had minutes to type up, websites to update, bills to pay, correspondence to attend to …

I think I can be forgiven for imagining myself in an apocalypse as I stumbled from one urgent chore to another.

The month I was away also saw the Chauvin trial and verdict, riots, shootings, and various inane and idiotic utterances from people in positions of power who ought to know better. Apocalypse?

No. This past week I learned that an apocalypse is not a time of destruction and turmoil to end all that we know. The word means, literally, unveiling. Old things are swept away to prepare for the new.

Sometimes the action of unveiling is tough. I think of a city destroyed by earthquake, only to rise again, more beautiful than before. When staring at a destroyed home, it is difficult in the moment to believe that the turmoil and pain will end and a lovely new thing will come from it. Think of a mother in labor, enduring unimaginable (to men) pain only to hold her child in her arms.

A new life. A new beginning.

When events cause us pain and despair, we need to remember that change is constant. Nothing goes on forever, there is continual breaking down and building up. We need to teach our children this early on so that they are not startled or dismayed when change happens. Yes, something is lost. But yes, something new will come from it.

I was devastated after my divorce. I had thought the marriage would be until death did us part, not until someone else came along. I experienced all the emotions: Grief, fear, doubt, loss of self-esteem. It was my own, private “end of the world as I knew it.”

Only after the storm had passed did I realize my marriage had been stifling me, holding me back from becoming the person I was supposed to be. I can see the divorce now as a time of turmoil that led to a new beginning and a new way of seeing.

A time of new birth.

So my life right now is a mess. It is not an apocalypse, it is a chance to prioritize, to see things clearly and realize that some changes need to be made.

But I do think that this world, in the midst of a pandemic with over three million lives lost, and our country, dealing with police brutality, natural disasters, mass shootings, and political stalemate, is undergoing a kind of cleansing storm. I believe the result, once we emerge from the storm, will be a better world.

We have learned how to rapidly identify a virus, find a vaccine, and get people immunized. My hope and prayer is that the vaccines soon reach all the world’s population and eliminate the funeral pyres in India and the mass graves in Brazil.

I hope and pray the verdict in the Chauvin trial leads to reform and a respect between the police and the people they are sworn to protect.

I hope and pray that natural disasters lead to real efforts toward addressing climate change around the world, each country cooperating instead of competing.

I hope and pray that our government will sit up and take gun control seriously and stop preaching the Second Amendment which, seriously. only addressed guns that had to be loaded one bullet at a time.

I hope and pray our elected leaders will listen to their constituents and become a government for and by the people. That means listening to what the people want and stop protecting their own interests.

I know l reacted to my divorce out of fear for the future. And I believe that same fear is holding back our representatives, a fear of losing what they have gained — money and power. The world is changing, the propertied white male is in danger of losing his status. But maybe, just maybe, if they let go, they will find out that money and power won’t give them the satisfaction they will find in a new world that rewards service and charity.

There is no need to fear the storm. Change is natural and inevitable. We only need to trust in a better future after the winds die down and the sun comes out again.

As it will.

Spring redux

Two weeks ago I left home and traveled 600 miles north. The trip took 10 hours and two months.

I say that, because at home spring had already come. The daffodils were fading, the forsythia had turned from yellow to green, and the birds were nesting.

As I drove, the trees lost their pale green foliage and once again were bare limbs reaching for the sky. The air was chilly and I was glad I had thought to toss a sweater in the car before I left.

I had watched spring’s arrival in North Carolina and now I was privileged to see it again in Pennsylvania, as if the first time had been a preview. Over the span of days Nature’s palette of pale yellow and green, pink and white, and the blue sky over it all gradually lightened winter’s landscape. I watched the daffodils once again push through the earth and don their bright yellow bonnets. Wild plum and cherry added their accents to the greening of the trees.

I hope that wherever you are, the promise of spring lightens your heart. It is a time of hope and affirmation. This past week in my study class we were musing over the teachings of Julian of Norwich, who said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

I believe all will be well. Get your vaccination, keep wearing your masks, and let the light overtake the darkness.

About Critiques

Back in college, many moons ago, I studied ceramic art. This not only included forming pots on a wheel, but a lot of chemistry as we devised our own clay mixtures and glazes. I was not particularly good at it, and only recently took my pots out of storage and displayed them in my home. The action brought back many memories, one of which was critique day.

I still have nightmares about critique day. In my dreams, I have skipped class all semester and have nothing to show. I go to the studio hoping to throw and fire some pots before the dreaded day, but no clay is available, the kiln is full of other students’ work, and everything points to my having to repeat the semester.

I think everyone has similar dreams, such as forgetting your locker combination or going to gym class in your underwear. High School is stressful, and that stress is not forgotten by our subconscious minds.

Somehow, the professors were willing to accept my pots and I did graduate. Have I done anything with that degree? No. But I had a double major, so education became my field.

Then I started writing, and critique day became a reality once again. It isn’t a requirement, but every writer wants someone with a clear eye to look over their work and point out any flaws. We hope they point them out kindly, but this doesn’t always happen. There are some people who find satisfaction is pointing out every teeny, tiny error, until you feel the manuscript should be burned on a pyre with appropriate songs of mourning.

Others balance their (probably fair) comments about errors in grammar or characterization or plot flow with suggestions for improvement, or by pointing out things that do work.

Once a pot is thrown, dried, bisque fired, glozed, and fired again., there is no fixing any flaws. Writers have the opportunity to go back and correct errors before submitting to an editor or publisher, who may also critique your story before rejecting or accepting it.

I have always tried to look objectively at any comments, especially if I invited them, and put aside my personal feelings.

And when asked to critique, I try to be truthful, but kind, applying constructive criticism rather than tearing down everything I disagree with. I’ve been on both sides, and while I want to be helpful, I don’t want to be the reason someone gave up on their dream.

After all, we want our work, whether it be pottery, poetry, or any other creative endeavor, to be the best we can make it.

;

One step forward

You know the old saying — “One step forward, two steps back.”

That’s how I’ve felt this week. I’ve been so scattered I even forgot to write last week’s blog. I apologize. Can I say the cats ate it?

I realized that I have two many irons in the fire, so I decided to concentrate on completing one project, then going to the next, in the same way you pay down credit card debt. First goal: Finish the audio book.

Another cliché: Easier said than done

I have spent entire days in my little makeshift studio, reading, reading, reading, until my voice was too hoarse to continue.

Editing the first two chapters went well. No background hum, clicks easily removed. The test clips passed the review.

Chapter three, not so good. My first listen-through revealed a loud “pop” every time I said the letter P. One of my main character’s name is Pope. You can imagine the result. Also, there were clicks in the middle of the spoken sections that could not be removed, as they can be in the pauses between sentences.

I have re-read that chapter more than I should have had to. I think I could recite it blindfolded at this point. The last attempt failed the test audio. I have to re-do it. Again.

I was so frustrated I went outside and mowed the front lawn. My go-to for stress is to do something physical.

When (and not if) I get chapter three ready to submit, I have to tackle chapter five. That chapter has a loud hum in the background. Did I forget to shut the door to the kitchen and I’m hearing the refrigerator? Or is it some other insidious intruder? No matter what I did, I couldn’t get rid of it. So, I have to re-read that chapter also.

I’m almost afraid of what lies ahead.

But and this is crucial, I am determined to learn how to do this and to get this book where it needs to be to get published. I have talked before about persistence. It isn’t just in writing, but in the editing process, which is far more difficult and time-consuming, all without the joy of creating a story. The story has been written. My goal now is to get the written word into the spoken word.

Because that is where the audience is.

The quilts that surround my workplace are intended to block outside noise. They also block the light. I feel like I’m in a cave.

Persistence

I am not sure how old this plant is. It was there when Jim and I married and moved ourselves and my three boys into a farm house in rural Pennsylvania. It stretched along a window bench in the kitchen. The owner of the house asked that we not throw it out because it had been his mother’s and had always been there.

So I took on the responsibility of keeping the plant alive. We moved the North Carolina some years later and we brought the plant with us. Not the whole zillion yards of it, but the considerably trimmed original.

Since then I have taken many cuttings from the original. This is one. And yes, the original still hang outs in my office.

The point is, this plant has tenacity. It has persistence. It has the will to do what it was meant to do, which is grow.

If your will is to write a book, persistence is the most valuable tool in your writer’s kit. You can read craft books, attend workshops and conferences join a critique group, but without persistence, you will never get that book published. Why? Because you stopped writing after the first well-meaning but disappointing critique, or you stopped sending queries after the second or third or fifth rejection. Or the twentieth.

Viet Than Nguyen is a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, the Andrew Carnegie for Medal for Excellence in Fiction, an Edgar Award, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Yet it took him twenty years to get his first book published. And no, it wasn’t the book that won all the awards. It was his second book.

He didn’t give up after twenty years of trying to get published. He wrote another book. And a third.

When asked what his advice was for beginning writers, he said one word: Persist.

Of course, being a writer, he added a few more words to his answer, but they just said the same thing with more detail.

Of his success, he wrote, “…I did it simply through sheer persistence. And that is what turns people into writers. That doesn’t mean you’ll be a great writer at the end. You should at least be a competent writer at the end. It doesn’t mean you’ll be a published writer at the end of that, but you can write something that you yourself will respect. And in the end, that’s what it boils down to.”

Maybe you won’t heed advice from an over-achieving plant that survives through sheer persistence, but I hope you take this advice from Nguyen. Because honestly, it is the best advice on writing you will ever get.

WD Interview with Viet Than Nguyen, Writer’s Digest, January/February 2021.

Write a little, read a lot

So I was going over my WIP (work in progress) as I do before I start my writing for the day. I usually begin from the top of the last chapter, editing a little as I go, to get myself primed for continuing the story.

I stopped halfway, stunned by simultaneous realizations.

One, I had two story lines going on. One was the mystery, the other a sorta romance. What I was writing was not a novel with an intertwined story line, but two separate story lines that needed to be untangled and sent their separate ways. This happened to me once before, and ended up in years of frustration when I couldn’t make the story “work.” I finally ended up with two books instead of one.

Two, the romance was silly. I studied what I had written and decided that any reader would have thrown up her hands and screamed (expletive deleted). I mean, the female character should have figured out the male character about two pages paragraphs into the story, not at the end. I blush now when I think that at first I thought the premise was “cute.” It isn’t.

I am going back from page one and slicing out any reference to romance and sticking to the mystery line. I haven’t written a mystery before, so this may be a big flop. But then, I gave myself permission to experiment and see where it takes me long ago. Women’s fiction, fantasy, historical, and now another genre. (If you are curious about my books, here’s a link to my website

Yep, I’m a genre slut. I never heeded the advice to find one genre and stick with it. I get bored too easily, I guess, which explains why I had so many careers — art teacher, bank teller, administrative assistant, and co-owning a media business. Oh, and wife, mother, and writer.

Last up for today, Smashwords is promoting Read an E-book Week March 7-13. Smashwords has thousands of titles in all genres (including some of mine) and for that week, books will be offered from 75% off to free. This is a good time to load up your e-reader in preparation for summer reads. Or winter reads, since we are all confined to our homes anyway.

Shake it off

A friend told me last night that she was having work done on her deck — actually replacing it all except the support posts. “When it’s done, I am going to have a cookout or picnic,” she said. I’m not sure if she meant the deck or the pandemic. Either way, I admire her optimism.

We all want it to be over and done. But the conversation did remind me of a problem I had when I started my current WIP. Should I place the story in the midst of the pandemic in order to reflect “real life?” I played with the idea for awhile, even writing the first chapter with people wearing masks and social distancing.

I ditched the chapter and started over, for two reasons. One, maybe when this is over, no one will want to read about it. If they are like me, they’ll want to put it behind them as quickly as possible and resume where they left off over a year ago. Secondly, I quickly realized it would take a better writer than I am to bring all the characters together, which they need to be for crucial scenes.

I stole this from Facebook so can’t give credit. But it is so darn cute I had to share.

As for my second project, it is slow going. The audio file needs to be as near perfect as possible before submitting it. I have read the same chapter four or five times and still find something wrong — an inflection that doesn’t fit, changing the “voice” of a character midstream, or hearing a click or some other noise that doesn’t belong. Beware of wetting your lips while reading, it makes a sound you don’t want in your finished file! Also, chairs that squeak, your stomach rumbling, and that truck that has lost its muffler and goes by my house several times a day.

I am determined the finish both projects, the Lord willing. Because I am stubborn and because I have invested too much time in it to give up now. (I don’t mean you shouldn’t give up if something is going wrong and can’t be fixed, but these things can be corrected.)

One thing I learned is that what everyone says, read your work aloud before publishing, is true. As I read my PDF, I see so many typos that I blush to think I thought the ms. was as polished as it could be. It reminds me of the author who visited the libraries in every town he visited to covertly amend a final paragraph in his book.

I wouldn’t go that far, but I need to edit and reload the book before some well-meaning reader points out all its flaws.

On a final note, I held a tiny sparrow in my hand for about five minutes this morning. It had knocked itself silly against the deck door. I talked to it and stroked, telling it is was all right (I could see no damage to either wings or legs). Finally the tiny bird shook itself and flew off. A good omen, I think, that we will soon be able to shake ourselves off , resume our lives, and invite our friends to that cookout or picnic.

A little of this, a little of that

Yes, I have been A.W.O.L these past weeks. But I have been busy! so very busy!

So busy, in fact, that I have to wonder what, exactly, have I accomplished?

The truth is, I have jumped from activity to activity, somewhat like a water bug, landing nowhere for very long.

I have been writing and can say I passed the 100-page mark. The mystery is progressing,, but not as fast as I’d like because …

I am also working on the narration for an audible version of one of my books. I don’t have to tell you how often I have to stop and re-record because I sneeze or the phone rings or the cat is using her litter box. And no, I can’t put her out of the room while I record because she would just scratch at the door, demanding to be let in.

I have been meeting via Zoom for various church, community organizations, and clubs. I skipped one session this week because of Zoom fatigue (is that a thing?) and skipped another because the group preferred to meet via telephone. I tried it last time and couldn’t tell who was talking. Not for me.

Then there are the crafts. My x-stitch project is going so slowly I wonder if I will have the tenacity — and eyesight — to complete it. And my little pine needle basket is half done and looks to stay that way.

Not quite in the same category was painting the guest bedroom. That, at least, is finished and I have hung up the new pictures after a morning spent in measuring and measuring and still not getting them even.

Let’s not mention the long telephone calls to catch up with friends, the books to be read (I have become Kindle’s best customer) and the TV shows to watch: Netflix, Prime, Britbox, Disney, and a new venue gifted to me by my middle son, a firestick. So much to choose from.

I have spent hours on genealogy, fascinated with my ancestors and their stories. Thankfully, no ax-murderers — yet.

Now Amazon wants me to start promoting my books and telling me the many ways I can do this. Is it worth spending even more time pursuing this?

I realize I need to prioritize. I need to make a list of the most important projects and stick to it. But in these uncertain and unprecedented times (are you as sick of hearing those words as I am?), I find that I, along with many of my friends, remain unfocused.

Now that our country is gearing up to attack its problems in an orderly and focused manner, I hope I can do the same.

A little of this and a little of that leads to a whole lot of nothing at all.

Have a good week and above all, stay safe!

A picture of Daisy lying on my in-progress cross-stich project. Of course, she is lying on the completed part.

The False Calm

It’s a strange world we live in now, as I wrote the title to this post autocorrect changed ‘calm’ to ‘clam’ and I liked it. Mostly, I feel calm inside -that the nation will get back on its feet and Democracy will survive. I’ve limited my news to the news. And getting back to writing and painting, with the sole exception of the sub stack of Heather Cox.

Today’s read sent chills up my spine. The online chatrooms, the bravado of virtual threats and violence that preceded the insurrection on our capital. I kept thinking of the bullies in high school. How they would target people; how the football team and cheerleaders targeted mostly girls on the fringe. How the world revolved around a few privileged boys who played football, baseball, basketball or hockey -how supporting them became fanatical and cult like. In the 80s, there were so many movies like the Breakfast Club, these ‘jocks’ and their cheerleaders became a trope. There was always a happy ending, they released their hidden insecurities and everyone saw they were all more alike than them vs. us.

I was one of those on the fringe and couldn’t wait for it to be over. Along the way, I was told by art teachers and other well-meaning adults that it was all only temporary. Once I was 18, I was in charge of my life. I saw art school as my salvation -even if I had to do a tour in the Marines to get there. I never took the bullying to be a permanent place. I remember the song “Glory Days” and wondered what happened to these kids. I honestly assumed they’d grown up, raised kids, went to church and became the lawyers, dentists and doctors. I like to think most kids were like me, some lucky enough not to be targets but on the sidelines. I like to think we all grew up and forged our way.

I know it was a delusion and I was living in my own trope. PollyAnna with an edge. I joined the Marines, not really a place to wave your freak flag but I loved it. Every minute of every day I knew where I should be and what I should be doing. I still painted in the evening and dreamed of art school. I saw the occasional football hero and cheerleader in the Corps but they were as out of their element as everyone.

In art school, later college and afterwards in life, I saw that they still existed, the cliques, the clubs, the ‘those who won’t accept others’ groups. The difference was they no longer had any power over me. I put my head down and did my job, whatever it was at the time -caregiver to a dying husband, lame-ass step mom to adorable kids, clueless frigging widow in her 30s and now an old new Mom to a Tigger. They have always been here. The neighbors who are Southern Baptists and hate Catholics or TeaParty leaders who can’t figure out where to put me until they realize I can be ignored, that I have no interest in their club. I have some really good friends, one is my husband, some have slipped away but still a text away, others are only online but they are my anchors.

I don’t think I am that different from most people. I like to think there are a lot of us who are absolutely terrified of the dawning realization that the high school bullies have been simmering on the back burner. How stunning that people who spew hate online can actually realize their violent fantasies when they meet in ‘real’ life. I guess I always thought they would meet and laugh, see how silly they were.

Our world is sobering and they baby is crying for a morning clean diaper – me too if a clean diaper were a metaphor.

Lessons learned in elementary school

This morning I was thinking about the class elections we held in school, particularly elementary school. They didn’t mean much as far as any “governing,” but were frankly a popularity contest.

We took them seriously until they were over, and then we went back to arguing who held the title for the most jacks scooped up while bouncing a small rubber ball during recess.

We had rules for our elections. They weren’t written on the chalkboard, but we knew what they were.

First of all, you never, ever voted for yourself. I have no idea how this came about, but it was firm. The worst thing you could say about a winner was that she voted for herself.

I realize now that this is ridiculous. If you believe you’re the best candidate, of course you would vote for yourself. But we were kids, and this seemed to us the height of conceit. A leader should be modest and open to the idea that someone else might be just as good as we were.

The second rule was that once the votes were in, that was that. If you were disappointed, you kept it to yourself. If you grumbled about it not being “fair” you were called a sore loser. Not something anyone wanted to have tagged to their name.

The third rule was to remember that that there was always a next time. You could run again, maybe for another class office or an afterschool club. There were always opportunities to test your leadership,, particularly as we grew older and went to junior and senior high. We began to realize it wasn’t a popularity contest, and voted for the person we thought most capable. And yes, if that person was us, we cast our vote accordingly.

And if we lost, we shrugged it off and volunteered to help on committees.

I think we have forgotten the lessons we learned in school, and I’m not just talking about classes in government or civics, although I think those should be mandatory for every student starting at about the fourth grade with grave emphasis on the Constitution and what it means.

And perhaps it should be a mandatory sentence for those caught up in the sore loser mindset as well.

Good Intentions Meet Baby!

Well, I certainly chose the ^perfect^ year to have a baby. 2020… Moving to new house, Covid, surrogate adventures, selling house, driving back and forth to Florida, having a baby in a pandemic hotspot… and then everything that goes with a baby! I had such hopes to write, paint, organize new house, and dance like a fairy on a pin point.

this little, tiny human takes up a lot of office space!

I could easily write a book on any of the above adventures, if I had the time; but, wow, a baby! My friends have literally ROFL’d any mention of baby-brain, exhaustion, or lack of sleep, amid the covid fears. I’ve been told it eases up after 6 months, others say a year. On the 23rd of January, the Tigger is 6 months old and an absolute joyful, mysterious little human, so it’s comforting just knowing for now, things will eventually settle into a new manageable normal. Sleep is getting better for all three of us; and due to the pandemic, a zoom visit is the new normal with grandmother. Although, I might have to wait for hell to freeze over before I figure out the logistics of juggling formulas, diapers and laundry. Basically, our little human thinks footie pajamas are a uniform and my husband has taken to cutting off the feet if he accidentally tries to put on one she’s out-grown. Fancy dresses and endearing outfits are never worn because she grows so fast and there doesn’t seem to be a fancy dress event in this house. No going out, no. one coming in – visits to the doctor for shots are a big adventure.

It’s hard to fight baby brain – the snuggle is so addictive!

I wake in the middle of the night with an idea or plot solution for one of my WIPs but it just goes into the notes app on my phone. Several art projects are prepped and ready to start but they can wait. It’s not an agonizing decision, it doesn’t weigh too heavily on me, as her welfare and care is without question our new mission in life. It’s almost like a magical spell cast on our lives.

That said, she now naps in her room twice a day for at least 90 minutes and she is adjacent to my office, so I can actually do something. For the next six months, she still sleeps in our room, husband thinks it’ll be less time -we seem to bother her more than she bothers us. Another break is she really enjoys watching Teletubbies as I writer draw. Sitting at my computer and having time to actually do something feels so new – I find myself wandering the Internet, reading emails or erasing a ton of spam and it’s a treat. Discipline is elusive, when the little human is master of my time and interrupting me mid word for a bottle or clean diaper is one thing but changing clothes due to spit up is a new twist.

There is also the overwhelming temptation to take a nap when she does…

Still in the Game

I realize I haven’t written much lately about my … writing. From what I have been seeing on social media, many of my fellow writers have also been so dispirited by this past year that not much of anything is being committed to paper — I mean, a Word file.

Being a committed genre-hopper, this new work is a completely different direction for me. I don’t choose the stories in my head, they just take up residence there. So I am struggling a little figuring this out. I’m not complaining. I’m having fun getting to know the characters and being constantly surprised at where they are taking me.

I’m actually up to 83 pages of my first draft.

And, steadfastly ignoring the housework, laundry and other chores, I’ve embarked on yet another project. I decided last year to record one of my books and see what happens. Yes, Cleanreads has put all three of my novels on Audible, for which I am grateful. When I saw how the audio sales outstripped the ebook sales, I knew that was a market I wanted to tap.

My first attempt through Amazon’s ACX studios didn’t go very well. My son, who has home-recorded several music CDs, is helping me get the equipment I need for a professional sound. Honestly, until now I had never heard of room noise, clicks, or clipping–the pesky things that kept my first attempt from being accepted.

I am determined to make it work, though.

My last project ( in addition to my desire to paint the guest bedroom in lighter color) is another cross-stitch. I love to sit down in the late afternoon, pick up my Aida cloth and floss, and add more stitches while listening to an audio book downloaded from the library. As you can see, Daisy, one of my four cats, is helping.

Soon enough it will be Spring, the pandemic will be on its way out because people will be wearing masks, washing hands, keeping six feet away from each other, and getting the vaccine. I’m getting my first shot tomorrow.

Because I want to be around to keep on writing and recording and stitching.

A little death

Last week marked the fifth anniversary of my husband’s death. As my friends had promised, the grief was still there, but not the wrenching sense of loss I experienced that first year, or the sudden bursts of anguish that characterized the second. Yes, my grief had lessened, bit by bit, only to come back full force at unexpected times. But these bursts came further and further apart. As promised.

So I felt a little sad but not bowed down. I put one of my favorite pictures of him on Facebook without saying why. No one seemed to connect the picture and the day.

One friend called because she had remembered. I was grateful for that, for her words of comfort.

I thought I was doing well. I stood at the kitchen window, looking out over the winter-bare yard. I’d trimmed the blueberry bushes so they were red-leaved shrubs adding bright spots of color against the faded grass.

A movement caught my eye, a gray and orange flutter. A bird at the feeder, hanging upside down. At first I thought it was a nuthatch, a bird that eats upside down for whatever reason. But this bird was not feeding. It was in distress.

I walked outside and into the yard to investigate.

In the spring I had put two shepherd’s poles side by side and connected the poles with a squirrel baffle. It solved the thieving squirrel problem and I was pleased. I had not thought the two poles would become a trap. But here was the bird that I now recognized as a tufted titmouse, caught. One leg had slid between the two poles and he could not get away. He stopped struggling as I reached out and easily pried the two poles apart and freed his leg. I held him in my hand, stroking his tiny head and murmuring, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

The leg dangled from his knee (if that is what you call the joint in a bird). It was all but torn loose, held by one thin ligament. It could not be fixed.

My grip loosened and he flew away. I knew he could not survive with one leg. He would die of shock or loss of blood.

My heart ached. A thing I had done to afford me the pleasure of watching the backyard birds come and go had become a murder weapon. I had not meant for this to happen.

I took a roll of electrical tape and bound the poles together so this would not happen again, saying over and over, “I am so sorry.”

Grief and guilt. Beauty and death. Sorrow and loss.

And in the end, tears of regret for all that is gone.

The greatest gift

It is inevitable that today we are thinking of Christmases past. In the quiet, we recall the frenzied preparations that preceded the day itself.

My memories include taking a day off to drive 50+ miles to Eastland Mall in Charlotte. Most of the gifts for the three boys had already been ordered from the Sears’ or Penny’s catalogs. They had not-so-subtly put check marks on dog-eared pages to let me know their hearts’ desires. But there were other friends and relatives to buy for, and I guess I just wanted the experience of shopping by myself, my three rowdy boys at home with Jim.

The trip got me into the spirit of Christmas more than decorating the tree (a chore with a certain amount of satisfaction) or baking a dozen different kinds of cookies and allowing the boys to decorate them. (One year we had blue icing on the bells, stars, and trees.) There was just something about the happy crowds, children lining up to see Santa, teenagers walking arm-in-arm, laughing and carefree, people staggering under the weight of gaily wrapped packages. There were the decorated store fronts and carols sent out from loudspeakers that could be heard all over the concourse. And of course, the skaters whirling around on the indoor rink. You had to stop and watch, maybe sipping a hot chocolate.

I would lug my purchases home and spend another day wrapping them in preparation for our family gathering. Mom and Dad, my siblings and their families, a laden table and too-full stomachs, laughter and teasing …

The mall was empty for years before it was finally razed to make room for something brighter and shinier. And our family members are gone or scattered from from Vermont to California, from Pennsylvania to Florida. It would take a miracle to get us all together even without the travel restrictions and pleas from the CDC.

This year, all my shopping was done on-line. Instead of choosing toys for now-grown grandchildren, I sent them a check. Other gifts were order not from catalogs, but from the giants of the Internet, Amazon and Walmart sent directly to the recipient.

It may sound as if I am feeling sorry for myself, but that is not the case. Looking back and comparing Christmases past and present, I became aware that this year we have been given the gift of time. Time to pause, time to reflect. Yes, Christmas is celebration, gifts, food, and family. But what are we celebrating?

On Christmas Eve, I joined the members of my church in a virtual communion service. We had been told to set up our worship table with a candle, grape juice, and bread.

As I sang the songs and partook in the Eucharist, I knew in my heart that I was not alone. Other members of my church were with me in spirit. And people all around the world were with me and my friends. It was a gathering of millions, all celebrating the wonder and glory of the birth of Christ. A divine connection that transcends our mortal understanding.

Yes, Christmas came this year. You couldn’t stop it, not by pandemic or isolation or fear or anything else. It tiptoed in or came with a shout, but it came. And we know we are blessed in that we are never truly alone.

The things we keep

Our state is under a “stay-at-home” order — again! I didn’t like it the first time, but understood the reason behind it. This time I am resigned. But it does make me a little mad when I stay home, wear a mask when I do go out for a hurried trip to the grocery store, and then see pictures in the newspaper of people socializing sans mask, sans distance, and sans common sense.

Anyway, I decided to use my enforced time out in a constructive way, so for the past week I have been cleaning closets. Anything I haven’t used or worn since I last cleaned closets got tossed.

Mostly I was strong enough to let go, but when it comes to pictures I just can’t do it. Pictures of my Mom and Dad when they were young, my wedding photos, the grandkids at that goofy age … Nope, not gonna. Someone else will have to be strong. Maybe it won’t be hard for them as they probably won’t know who half of the people in the photographs are.

I inherited from my first husband’s family a variety of very old photos. I kept them for their beauty: babies in elaborate dresses and bonnets, women in full Gibson Girl attire. There are tintypes, fading no matter how carefully I have kept them from light. And these two, which tell a s tory of times gone by. They were faded and dull, but a program in My Heritage enhances and colorized old photos, so I went ahead and did it just to see what the effect would be.

One is of what must be first first bridge crossing the Niagara River and connecting the United States and Canada. There appears to be a trolley line if you look closely. I can’t tell you a date on this photo, but maybe some sharp-eyed historian can.

The second is of four young women picnicking by the river. I have no idea who they are, but they seem to be enjoying a carefree moment.

Nope, not gonna throw them away. I sort of hope whoever sorts out my stuff after I’m gone won’t discard them, either.

Ah, technology.

As you must have realized by now, I am somewhat challenged by technology. I once thought I was fairly adept, but technology grew faster than my brain’s ability to absorb it. I decided to stay with what I knew and not try to learn any new tricks, just like old dogs.

However, sometimes you have go with the flow. I had just about figured out how to slide my credit card without holding it upside down or backwards when I got a chip card and had to learn to insert it. Because every machine is different, I was often confused as to which was required, earning me pitying looks from teenage clerks.

Yesterday I received a new card in the mail and this time I have to tap it. A new learning curve — how do I hold it? When is it required?

At least I have learned to make a deposit at the ATM instead of driving 20 miles to the nearest branch of my bank. That’s only because I was held up in line at said branch and read a sign telling me I had just wasting an hour of driving time. (Not in those exact words, but when I read all the things you can do at an ATM, I got the message.)

I recently purchased a new, smart TV. I love it, and was pleased I was able to hook it up without calling one of my sons for assistance. One feature I wanted was the ability to cast something from my iPad to the big screen. This is because my provider dropped both ABC and Fox due to a controversy with their provider. It worked exactly once with the season premier of “Grey’s Anatomy.” I was thrilled.

Then, it stopped working. The familiar wheel goes round and round, but nothing happens.

I had an epiphany the other night after trying and failing to view “A Million Little Things” on the TV screen. As I said in my last post, the Internet was down for six days due to poles and lines being taken out by a car. I have friends who still can’t get or stay connected. My iPad drops the connection after a few minutes of non-use. It has tried for a week to get updated, but with no connection every morning it tells me it will try again tonight. Good luck with that.

So I am guessing my failure to cast has nothing to do with my ineptitude, but with the Internet signal not being strong enough to do the assigned task.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

What to do when your Internet is out

I am not exactly sure what happened, but those who know said it was a speeding car that took out several poles along with their lines and cables that flung me back to the pre-Internet era. I didn’t lose power, but I did lose my telephone and Internet connection for six days.

You would imagine I used my time writing, but I did not. The story in my head isn’t quite ready to transfer to the page. I’m still in the mulling stage, which means I think about it a lot. That’s how it usually works with me. Then one day I will sit down and let it flow.

No, instead I cleaned out dresser drawers and closets, rearranged furniture, and even built a piece of furniture.

Truth: I didn’t build it, I put it together. I ordered a new TV stand and it arrived two days before I expected it, which was hurdle #1. If I hadn’t stepped outside, I would not have known it was there. Thankfully, it wasn’t raining, and I would have eventually have seen it lying up the steps.

Yes, UP the steps. Hurdle #2. The package was at least six feet long and weighed more than I could handle. I couldn’t even budge it, let alone get it inside. So there it lay, sprawled from the sidewalk to my front door like a drunk who had collapsed while trying to enter the house. And, I might add, effectively stopping me from opening the door.

What to do? Luckily, I have two front doors, which is a little odd, I admit. One opens into the den (the blocked one) and the other into the living room. So I grabbed my cutter and went out one door and over to the other. I cut open the box and removed some of the pieces. Now that it was lighter, I could shift the carton enough to open the door and ease the pieces inside.

Then I got rid of the cardboard and foam that threatened to blow all over the yard.

Hurdle #3. I enjoy jigsaw puzzles, so this wasn’t quite the challenge #1 and #2 had been. I laid the pieces on the floor, took up the instruction manual, and identified each one — sides, top, middle shelf, divider. So far, so good.


Then I opened the box of parts. I wish now I had taken a picture of “before” and not just “after.” No less than a dozen little envelopes fell out of the box, each holding screws, bolts, different screws, wooden dowels, wedges, pins and objects I never saw before — cam bolts and cam locks. And of course one of those L-shaped wrenches to secure them all. Hurdle #4, not all the objects were numbered correctly in the instructions. However, by comparing the screws to the pictures, I figured out which was which.

Then I sat down and read the instructions through before starting to assemble the pieces.

Hurdle #5 was something I hadn’t foreseen. I have a tool box and tools including several sizes of Phillips screwdrivers. None of them seemed to be the right size. When I tried to screw the dang things in, the metal X on top of the screw was threaded (if that is the correct term) before I got it halfway into the hole. I resorted to using a pair of pliers to finish the job.

But finish I did, one step at a time. It took about four hours of a Sunday afternoon, but I got it done. The piece is sturdy and does the job. I am satisfied with it, but if I had a complaint, it would be to provide a better quality screw. I became a fan of cam bolts and locks.

Then it was time to unhook all the cables from the TV and DVD player, push them through the holes in the back of the stand, and reconnect them. This took some time because I couldn’t remember what went where, even though I had disconnected them all not ten minutes earlier. But I did get everything up and running. That was hurdle #6.

The final hurdle, #7, was rearranging the furniture to accommodate the new addition. I ended up moving a rocking chair to the bedroom.

Mission accomplished. I am almost as proud of myself for doing this than I am of completing a book.

Which will be my next project.

Those few words

While some are rejoicing in victory, others are weeping the bitter tears of defeat.

But emotions fade and reality comes into play. We all have work to do, and we need to do it together, no matter our individual ideologies.

To work together to ensure justice.

To lift up those in poverty and give them hope for a better future.

To provide a path to higher education for those who want it.

To help the sick, the lost, and the forgotten, and to welcome the stranger.

To come together to heal the planet, the only home we will ever know.

Most of all, we need to remember the vow we make, perhaps without thinking, when we face our country’s flag:

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

A brief statement that means so much.

May the next time we say it, we say it like we really mean it.

In the moment

A month or so ago, I complained to a friend that I had nothing to read. I’d exhausted my store of books — physical books, that is. I had plenty on my Kindle. Who can resist the allure of “Free?”

She kindly allowed me to browse her bookshelves and choose a few to borrow. In fact, she recommended several of her favorites. The last one I wasn’t too sure about, but took it anyway. It was non-fiction, and I read to escape.

The book languished, all but forgotten, as I read the others. I finally decided that if she had found it worth recommending, I should at least try it.

The title is “Soul Gardening: Cultivating the Good Life,” by Terry Hershey.

To be honest, I thought it was a book about gardening (not having quite taken in the title). I don’t garden. I did plant some shrubs and perennials out front because I like color. But honestly, just keeping the yard mowed and the bushes trimmed is enough for me. In fact, for two years in a row my pretty pink hydrangeas have succumbed to brown spot in spite of my best efforts to save them.

The book is about gardens. The author describes the various gardens he has visited, and how he grew to appreciate the lush, unplanned gardens where flowers are allowed to bloom not just where they are planted, but pretty much wherever they please.

But it is about so much more. I haven’t finished the book yet, but in reading I began to understand being in the moment. This is something like meditation, which I have never been able to master. I start out trying to make my mind a blank slate, only to have random thoughts litter the landscape like so many buzzing mosquitoes.

My late husband knew how to be in the moment. He would sit on the deck, looking out over the lawn, not reading, not listening to music, not doing — anything.

“What are you thinking about?” I’d ask.

“Nothing.”

“Ha!” I’d think to myself. “Impossible. You can’t just sit and not think about something.”

But lately, I have done that same thing. I sit on the deck and let my mind go blank. It is this moment, this point in time, and nothing else. I look at the blue sky and marvel at the clouds, how different each one is. I can stare at clouds for as long as several seconds now.

Or watch a dove searching for seeds on the ground, spilled from the feeder by a cardinal or jay.

Freeing my mind from tasks that must be accomplished in my busy life. Little by little, learning to appreciate the now that will never come again.

Like meditation, it takes practice. Too soon, I grow impatient. Who has time to gaze at clouds or birds?

Yet, Hershey says, it is not time wasted. You cultivate your soul just as you cultivate a garden. And sometimes, you need to stop and appreciate the world around you. You just need to spare a few seconds and look.

I have another friend who wanders the back roads with her camera, taking pictures of wildflowers, butterflies, toads, mushrooms, or whatever catches her eye. She has learned to capture the moment, not just with her camera, but with her entire being. She, like my husband, knows how to be still and be in the moment.

I am trying to imitate them, to stop, to listen, to really see what is around me. And, for a while, a span of seconds, stop thinking and just be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting away

Given the current climate … not the weather, but political … I jumped at the chance to get away. Not that I couldn’t turn off the TV, grab a good book, and go into home isolation.

Oh wait, Already doing that due to the pandemic. I enjoy my back yard, but I needed a physical change of view. So I said a resounding “Yes” when offered a chance to go to Cumberland Island, GA. I have wanted to go there ever since I read about the former summer residence of the Carnegie family. I wanted to see the ruins of Dungeness for myself.

And the wild horses. (By the way, the term “wild” is not how to describe these animals that own the island. “Feral” is the correct term.)

My son, daughter-in-law, and I took the ferry, the Cumberland Queen, from St. Mary’s. Passengers are limited in number and required to wear masks and social distance.

The ride takes about 45 minutes on the intracoastal waterway. Once we docked on the island everyone dispersed to follow their own inclinations. We chose to walk the beach path and were gloriously alone for long stretches of beach surrounded by untouched dunes. There were shells all along the way. I found a conch, but on picking it up I discovered that it was inhabited, so I gently replaced it in the surf. And, there were dolphins feeding near the shore, and gulls following a shrimp boat. Everything you hope to see at the beach.

Untouched is the keyword here. The island has been left alone to manage itself. Fallen trees, from magnificent live oaks twisted into fantastic shapes by the winds to palms and laurel, are allowed to lie where they fell, home to fern and mushroom. Walking the boardwalk through the marsh or the narrow path along the river, we felt as if Nature was only allowing us to visit and not to linger.

We saw the horses, which are also left unmanaged to forage the marsh grass or the manicured lawns of the Dungeness estate. They ignored their human guests, knowing they were safe from harm. We met a mare and her yearling offspring on a path and stepped aside. They clearly had the right-of-way.

The ruins of Dungeness are both amazing and tragic. Twice destroyed by fire, the outlines of stone and brick tell a story of years past, when it took a staff of 200 to serve the family.

There are informational signs to explain the island’s rich history throughout the War of 1812, the Civil War, and present times.

After walking for six hours, with water and lunch breaks, we were ready to return to “civilization” via the return ferry. It was a day where we could forget the turmoil and stress, and I felt a renewal of mental and spiritual energy. The world is not such a bad place when It contains such wonders as a tiny red mushroom, a purple flower growing in the dunes, playful dolphins, and feral horses grazing peacefully along the edges of a marsh.

We all need to step away occasionally, away from the anger and tension that is presently the norm, take a deep breath, and realize our human concerns mean nothing to Nature.

I’m guessing that in the long run, She will prevail.




A promise — or a hope?

Fall is my favorite season. Maybe it’s because each postcard-perfect day may be the last before winter comes. Trees are bright with red and gold foliage one day and bare the next. The cerulean sky becomes ash gray. The warm temperatures plummet to near freezing. So I cherish every morning that promises another glorious day.

One way I celebrate the season is to buy a mum. Not a little one, but the biggest I can find. I want it to make a bold statement on my front deck. I want it to holler, “Look at me! I’m the best of all Fall can offer!”

So I went to the garden center as soon as they said their mums were in. There they were, in neat rows, all buds tightly furled.

“I want a yellow one,” I told the clerk. He shook his head. “They aren’t labeled. l don’t know which are yellow and which are  orange.”

I inspected several.  I thought I detected just a smidgeon, just a speck of yellow on one bud. A promise that the rest would be the same vivid hue. “l’ll take this one,” I decided.

“It might be yellow,” he said, squinting. “But you can’t be sure.”

“I know. I’ll take the chance, and if it isn’t yellow,  I promise I won’t bring it back.”

I brought it home and set it by the door. After several days of hoping and waiting, the first buds began to open.

Yellow. Definitely yellow. That hint of a promise gave birth to reality.

Sometimes promises are hard to believe in, especially now when we wonder when this pandemic will end. There is a promise of a vaccine, there is the promise that numbers will drop if we follow the rules and wear masks and social distance. There is the promise that we will be reunited with our loved ones before too much more time goes by.

But when we can see that tiny, tiny speck of hope in the darkness, we can start to believe that the promises will come true.

Previous Older Entries

My Mad Siberian Gulag

Hostage to Two Siberian Huskies

Blue Ridge Vinlandia

The Wineries of the Applalacian Foothills

Summer in New Hampshire

NH - America's Vacationland

Mimosa Mornings Writers

Writers Wearing PJs, drinking coffee, dreaming mimosas

Jennie Spallone

MYSTERY AUTHOR, SPEAKER, AND BOOK REVIEWER

The Dream Well

Dream Well, Be Well

Ozark Pagan Mamma

Folk Magic, Druidism, Heathenry, & Pagan Parenting

WTFville

Sketches and Journaling

Farm to Table Asian Secrets

Full-Flavored Recipes for Every Season

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

Pam Grout

#1 New York Times best-selling author

Book Ends and Odds

Mary Incontro blogs on books, pop culture, and criminal cases

Writer Unboxed

about the craft and business of fiction

%d bloggers like this: