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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Waiting for the rainbow

I meant to write this post on Wednesday. Or was it Thursday? It’s hard to tell when you wake up Wednesday morning and don’t know if it is Monday or Friday.

With everything that is going on, or not going on, the days seem to merge together. I do keep track of Sunday because Sunday night I have to take the trash to the curb to be picked up Monday morning. Or afternoon. Or whenever the city decides to send out the truck.

The months are acting the same way as the weeks. August is  nearly over, and in my muddled mind, it had just started. Where did it go?

The projects I initiated seem stalled in the water. I write a page, decide it doesn’t work, delete it, and start again. There seems to be no hurry about finishing it or the chapter.

Everything stopped in March and doesn’t seem eager to start up again.

Yes, there is the election. Four years ago, I resigned from the party I belonged to since I first registered to vote, but the candidates have not received the message. Every day the mail carrier delivers large advertisements printed on shiny card stock extolling the virtues of office seekers I wouldn’t support if the world were ending (which it may very well be).  If I had a parrot, I could use them to to line the bottom of its cage, but I don’t. I have cats. Maybe I could shred them for litter? Worth a  thought.

Even the election, fraught as it is, pales in view of the events nature is throwing at us. Fires out west, hurricanes and floods in the south, out-of-control storms in the middle of the country. We even had an earthquake here in North Carolina. Preachers are thundering about end times, as if we weren’t depressed enough.

I got to wondering what could be next, and then remembered the volcano slumbering underneath Yellowstone Park, long overdue for an eruption.

No wonder this doesn’t seem the right time to begin new endeavors.

And yet, we do. In spite of all that is wrong, we strive share a little light and volunteer at food banks and in schools,and take elderly neighbors to doctor appointments.  Churches, synagogues, and mosques are finding innovative ways to include their members in worship.

Halloween will come and kids will find other ways of collecting goodies besides going house to house. Families will celebrate Thanksgiving via Zoom. The election results will surprise us or not, and then we will settle down to business, and life will go on.

And songs will be sung, and poems written, and we will find that rainbow after the storm.

 

 

 

 

Zooming along

Just when I think I’ve figured out modern technology, something new comes along.

In the past two weeks, I have participated in no less than five Zoom meetings: two club meetings, one county convention, and two family meetings.  My son pointed out that Zoom is not exactly new, for we have had Facetime and Skype, but for some reason, Zoom has caught on. I love seeing everyone, once people catch on to how it works. You know, like how to turn on their mic or camera first. And I don’t mind people seeing me, for we all have bad haircuts. My granddaughter said she has “quarantine bangs” after a DIY with scissors.

I have tried to keep my person-to-person meetings to a minimum, but when I make a necessary trip to the grocery store, I am appalled by the number of people choosing to go maskless, refusing to obey the one-way signs in the aisles, or staying the recommended distance from other shoppers. I value my health and the health of others and it pains me to see how careless people are. If they don’t care about themselves, they should at least care about their older friends and relatives. I guess there isn’t enough technology in the world to cure stupid complacency.

Is it just me, or does this look like a dragon fell from the sky instead of a broken off tree-top?

 

My less rewarding technological effort has been with formatting my book. I have done it before, but somehow I got the page size wrong and from there everything went downhill. My proof copy was not at all what I envisioned, so here I am doing it all over again. I hate being tied to the computer on these nice days! I’d much rather be outside.

And, I need to be outside. In addition to the regular yard work, the high winds lately have contributed to my chores. First, three large limbs came down from the pine tree in the left corner of the yard. I think one limb struck the limb below it, and both then took out the third. Anyway, I managed to saw off the smaller branches and ended up with three logs I can hardly move. In fact, I got the hand truck out of the basement to move two of them to one side. I don’t know how many trips I made from the back of my property to the road with a wheelbarrow full of debris.

Then, just yesterday, high winds snapped a sweet gum in the right side of the yard “half in two” and I now have that mess to clear up. Luckily, neither mishap hurt any overhead lines.

Now that would have messed up my technology — as well as my neighbors’!

 

 

Interrupted by nature

The weather forecast said it would be warm Saturday, so I planned on doing yard work. A LOT of yard work. I had bulbs to replant, bushes to trim, limbs to pick up in the back yard …

I wanted to transplant some Easter lily bulbs to a better  location, but not until much later in the year.  To my surprise, they were already popping up, thus they were on my to-do list. I dug new homes for them and only managed to kill half of them. Ugh. those bulbs are deep and the little new growth is fragile. Still, I have enough re-homed to make up for my mass destruction.

Then I found a trespasser in my potted hyacinth that I had taken inside for the winter. I pulled it out and discovered that some squirrel had planted a pecan and it had take root. So I decided to plant it where the pear tree once stood. While doing that, I saw that the Japanese lilies I had planted out back a year ago had suddenly come up — not only where I planted them, but pretty much all over the yard. I had thought they were dead as they did not come up last fall when they were supposed to. Anyway, while planting the pecan seedling, I saw my preferred site was taken over by fire ants, so I had to treat the mound.

On to chore number two. I clipped about a fourth of the growth and was growing an impressive pile of branches. My goal is to be able to reach the privet that has taken root  in the very center of the quince bush. A quince bush is very spiky, so I couldn’t just reach in with the clippers because i would have had my arms torn to pieces even with gloves and a long-sleeved shirt.  It started to rain and I worked on, thinking a little sprinkle wouldn’t hurt me, but then it came down harder and I had to abandon my plans and come inside to change clothes.

The fallen limbs remain in place, as well as the hundreds of sweet gum balls that the last wind tossed down. I could almost hear the trees snickering.

I can see how this year is shaping up. I will be outside more than inside, raking and weeding and pruning more than I am reading or writing.

The good news is, I am this far from completing my third historical novel. I need to write a bridge scene, then go over it and make any changes and go over it again and again until I feel ready to send it to my favorite editor and beg a few people to be beta readers.

I know I need to balance my time. Sunny days for yard work, rainy days for writing.

Housework? Forget about it. That is for the day before company is expected.

What positively, necessary chore keeps you from tackling your work in progress? What can you safely ignore while listening to your muse?

I’m just wondering if I am a “normal” writer — if there is such a  person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Squirrels, Mark Twain, and pelisses

Well, that was fast!

One day I am sweating like a sumo wrestler just by walking to the mailbox, and the next I am rummaging through the closet for my sweater.

One thing about the cooler weather, I don’t have as much yard work to do. The grass  isn’t growing as fast, and the hedges and shrubs have slowed down in their efforts to add new little green leaves. So I have had time to get back to my book.

I feel pretty good about my writing this week. I’ve added pages and I can see where I am heading. I’ve gone over the last scene in the book so often that I’m now eager to get there.

The abrupt change in the weather reminded me of something, though. No, not Twain’s comment that everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. (Fact check: It might not be Twain who said it, but Charles Dudley Warner, who was an editor at the Hartford Courant in the late 1800s. There, now we’ve both learned something new.)

Image result for pelisse

A reader asked me what a pelisse was. It’s outerwear, essentially a long cape with sleeves.

I  try to be cognizant of the passage of time in my stories, noting the passing of one season and the advent of another by describing the weather as sit affects the protagonist. She might be glad for her straw bonnet on a hot day, or the the warmth of her wool pelisse on a cold one.  Candles must be brought out in the long, dark evenings while a rooster’s crow might wake her early on a summer morning.

If a story takes place in a short period of time, such as a few months or a year, it’s pretty easy. It’s more difficult if it spans a decade or more, which happens in the first two books of my historical series. In “Riverbend” and “Morven,” I solved it by jumping ahead a few years, hoping my readers would catch on without my explaining, “Now, 10 years have passed …”

I must get my present protagonist from seventeen to her mid-twenties without dragging the story out by describing each birthday. I don’t want to make a sudden leap, but had the idea of showing the passage of time by the dates on her correspondence. Whether that will work or not remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, I have a little success to report. I have complained about the squirrels eating the bird feed, no matter where I place the feeders. When one dragged a songbird feeder from the deck to where I found it in the yard, empty, I had had enough. I rigged a line from the persimmon tree to the post that holds the sun-flower feeder (that particular feeder is squirrel-proof, by the way) and hung my finch and chickadee feeders from it. It’s too high for the squirrels to jump up, and the line is too thin for them to crawl along it.

I thought I had the last laugh when I saw a squirrel attempt to reach the finch feeder. He made it, but the tube is glass, and he slid down it like a fireman on a pole, and fell to the ground. Several times.

Or has he simply figured out a way to spill the seed to the ground where he can eat it as his leisure?

You decide.

 

 

 

 

 

Tall mountains, big fears

It is a truth universally acknowledged that once you have faced something you feared and conquered it, you wonder why you were afraid in the first place.

I put off going to California to visit my middle son, Scott, and his wife, Dana, for three years. I considered driving there, or taking a train. Anything but flying.

But flying made the most sense.

It’s not that I haven’t flown before, and it isn’t that I’ve not flown by myself.  I took the three boys, the youngest not even potty-trained yet, from Pittsburgh to Tampa without a qualm. In the months after 9-11, I flew from Pittsburgh to Greenville, N.C., with a stopover in Detroit. Didn’t ruffle a hair.

I’ve flown from Atlanta to Frankfurt and to Rome, and from Charlotte to London. Nothing to it. The caveat is, my overseas flights were with a group and I didn’t have to worry. Just follow the crowd.

So why was I hesitant to fly solo to Los Angeles?

The answer in one word: the airport.

This was the view out my window that greeted me every morning  when I finally got to California.

I didn’t think I could navigate the huge, confusing airports without someone to guide me.

When Scott said I could skip LAX and fly into Ontario, a much smaller airport, I began to think it might be possible. I didn’t know that in trying to book a flight to Ontario, CA, the site read the “CA” as Canada and routed me to Toronto, Ontario. After three attempts, I finally typed in ONTARIO, CALIFORNIA. Bingo. And, Scott suggested I should leave from Atlanta so I could park my car at my oldest son Rob’s house for the week and not have to fight Charlotte traffic.

I drove to Atlanta and Rob drove me to the airport and came inside to show me how to use the check-in kiosk. Things had changed, and I grumbled, cranky old lady style, that I had tucked away enough cash to pay the baggage fee and hadn’t planned on charging it to my card. I was pointed toward my gate and arrived just in time to board.

I won’t dwell on the flight itself. If you’ve flown, you know all about it. If you haven’t, I don’t want to spoil your illusions.

All through the trip I feared I would, indeed, land in Canada. Needless to say, I was spellbound when I stepped out  of the terminal in Ontario, California, and had my first glimpse of the mountains.  Scott met me and we set off for their home which was very, very high up the mountain. The road was a succession of hair-pin curves, and when I dared look out the window to see the valley below — far below — my remarks were reduced to “Oh! How high are we? Has anyone ever driven off? How high are we?” 

I took this from the car window. It’s hard to tell, but that valley is waaaay down there.

We were very high, indeed. More than a mile above the Pacific Ocean.

 

I had a lovely visit, and then it was time to go home. I dreaded arriving in Atlanta and navigating the airport. Something told me it would be different from my previous experience.

I got off the plane and dutifully called Rob. Then I followed the crowd: moving sidewalk, check. Mile-high (or so it seemed) escalator, check. All the while following signs that pointed to Baggage Claim. At one point I couldn’t figure out what the next  step was, then realized I was supposed to get on the plane train, which looked suspiciously like an underground transit to me. Well, I had learned how to ride that  in London, so I got aboard when the doors opened and grabbed a bar as, just like London, no seats were available.

The next stop was Baggage Claim. I looked at a board to see what carousel my flight’s bags were  on, found it, and immediately saw my little green bag. I grabbed it, went outside, and there was Rob. We had timed it perfectly.

“How was your trip?” he asked as we pulled away.

“Wonderful!” I replied, and I meant it. I may have been preening just a little. Maybe all my fears were unfounded, but I had overcome them anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

Backyard bullies

We all know what little bullies hummingbirds are. When I sit on the deck evenings, it is like the Royal Air Force meeting the Luftwaffe over the channel in WWII. I have even heard them body-slamming each other.

I didn’t know that wrens were also bullies. Yes, the wren couple is back, building another nest for a second family. I didn’t know that about wrens, either.

Father wren sits on the deck and warns every other bird away. I have a finch feeder and a suet feeder on the deck along with the bird house and humming bird feeders. I tried putting the feeders elsewhere, but the squirrels always found them. So far they are afraid to come on the deck.

Now the male wren in defending his territory has managed to frighten off the finches as well as the cardinals, mockingbirds, and woodpeckers that used to come to eat. He has not frightened the hummingbirds away. They just ignore him.

One last evidence of bullying: While watching the bird feeders in the yard (squirrel-proof) I saw a male cardinal take a sunflower seed from the beak of a sparrow! This was not a father feeding his young, this cardinal was definitely the boldest thief I’ve ever seen.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with writing. Nothing. It’s what I do when not writing.

I took this picture in the Tower of London.

As for not writing, I’ve been busy with that also. I decided to go ahead and publish the second book, Morven, in the series so that I can then finish the third one. Because it will be part of a trilogy, I needed to make the word count somewhat equal  in all three books. Riverbend, published last year, is 245 pages and 73,256 words (don’t you love the word count feature in Word?)

Morven came in at a hefty 355 pages and 103,680 words. No wonder no agent would touch it. Unless you are already established like Ken Follett or Edward Rutherford, you can’t get away with it.

I told a friend about my dilemma and she said she thought Riverbend was just the right length. Sigh. I love big, fat books with long, intricate stories, but I realize I am part of a limited fan club. If I want to sell my books, they had better be a reasonable length for today’s readers.

So I have been cutting. Long, descriptive scenes? Gone. Philosophical conversation? Deleted. Loving details of a room, a gown, a dinner? Off with their heads!

When someone said “Kill your darlings” I didn’t know what he meant. Now I do. Pardon me while I weep.

I am down down to 328 pages and 95,000 words. I still have a way to go.

The result may be a tighter, more easily read book. Readers will never know what they missed.

But I will.

 

Avoiding distractions — or not

I promised myself I would sit dutifully at my computer and play catch-up. First on my list was reading three contest entries and then filling out the score sheet. I don’t take this duty lightly, reading each at least three times and then trying to leave thoughtful, encouraging remarks. I know too well what just one disparaging comment can do to a writer’s soul. I’ve been on that end, too.

But distractions happen, and this time the distraction was not the telephone, doorbell, or a sudden emergency with my computer. It was the constant chirping from a small birdhouse filled with baby wrens.

I knew they were there. I’d seen the parents busily building their nest, heard the first feeble chirps. Maybe if I’d kept the deck door shut, I wouldn’t have heard them, but the cooler weather was too enticing.

One evening earlier this week I sat out on the deck with my book and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.  The hummingbirds didn’t seem to mind, nor the the finches eagerly prising seeds from a cylindrical mesh sock. But the mother and father wren kept up a constant chatter. I looked up to see one parent scolding away with a bug in his or her beak.

I wondered how they could make a noise with their beak filled with supper for their little ones. Just as the thought crossed my mind, the bird gulped the tidbit down and flew away.  Then the other parent appeared, this time with a grub, and repeated the same scenario. Meanwhile, having been cheated out of their supper, the little ones cheeped pathetically.

It dawned on me that the parents would eat the food themselves before daring to cross in front of me to enter the birdhouse. Feeling like a schoolyard bully, I took my book and wineglass indoors. Peering out of sight through the screen door, I was relieved to see the parents resume their feeding ritual.

But this day, a day when I needed no distractions, the baby chorus had definitely increased in decibels. Even shutting the sliding glass door didn’t mute it. To add to the din, both parents kept up a loud, irritated cheeping of their own. I thought perhaps they were coaxing the youngsters from their nest, so I put my work aside and went to look. This event was something I’d long wanted to observe.

But no, the birds were scolding a cat, or another bird, or some other object of their ire. In between, they’d swoop in and temporarily silence their offspring with another morsel.

I eventually managed to put the outdoor racket from my mind, completed the score sheet, and sent it on its way to the judging coordinator.

I sometimes think I would be a more prolific, or at least a faster writer, if I didn’t succumb to such distractions.

But then, look what I’d miss!

 

 

 

 

Is it Summer yet?

Where I live in North Carolina, it feels like August. It has been unseasonably hot (or if you believe in global warming, as I do) maybe it is seasonably hot. Just a new normal. Honestly, it feels like late August and it isn’t even June yet!

I’ve been putting many, many hard hours doing yard work. I wish I could say I have been weeding pretty flower beds, but mostly it has been just keeping up. And I am not even doing that as I am behind with my raking up the winter’s accumulation of pine straw, pine cones, sweet gum balls, and general sticks and twigs along the creek edge of my property. Don’t get me started on mowing the yard! What with the rain and sun, the grass seems to grow an inch overnight.

In the interest of making the yard less labor-intensive, I took out six bushes along the front of the house, cutting my pruning chore in half. (Actually, I didn’t take them out. My son did, bless him.) Then we planted some dwarf hydrangeas and vintage gold cypress that won’t need so much care and will add color to the front.

I still have to pressure wash both decks and repaint them. Hopefully, my kids will organize a work party and come up to help me with that.

Along with that, I’ve been traveling. May is graduation month, so there is that. My granddaughter graduated from community college and my grandson will graduate from high school May 31, so there were trips to Wilmington and one coming up to Atlanta. In between, I am going to visit my sister in Pennsylvania! Lots of driving, but my motto is go while you can.

So as for writing … not so much. I am diligently trying to get in at least 1,000 words every day, but some days I just don’t have the time or the energy. I’ve been sending out queries but nothing to report there yet.I continue to be hopeful that some day someone will read my first 10 pages and be blown away and beg for the rest of the manuscript. However, I am realistic and know that the chance of that happening is slim.

And, this weekend I will be attending an author event which is always fun. I love to meet new readers and other authors! Maybe I will even sell a book or two, who knows.

So between writing, gadding about, and yard work, the summer is flying by before it even gets here. I do find time to sit on the deck evenings and watch the birds. A pair of wrens has nested in the birdhouse on the deck rail, and a cardinal mama is guarding her eggs in the gardenia bush. The hummingbirds are on their nests now, but soon will be coming back to fiercely guard “their” feeder. The purple finches and sparrows are at the finch feeder, and a mockingbird is enjoying the suet ball. All of which proves entertaining not only to me, but the cats, who chatter their teeth every time they see a bird. I keep them strictly inside as I do not want to encourage murder.

I hope everyone had an enjoyable Mother’s Day and that you are making Memorial Day plans. Before we know it, it will be Fourth of July!

Yep, summer isn’t even here and  it’s nearly over already.

 

 

 

 

 

Weeding and writing

I am trying to write this with one eye covered by a patch. I put a wet tea bag on it  in hopes it would reduce the swelling of poison ivy.

Yep, I did it again. Thought I was pulling out English ivy vines. And yes, I know the difference (after repeated bouts with the poisonous vine) but there were no leaves on them so …here I am again, itching and miserable.

Summer is winding down, though, and soon enough my only yard work will be raking leaves. Time to start on something new. Or maybe something old. I have some manuscripts that are (gasp!) typed on paper. I wrote them before the advent of computers, that is to say very early in my career.

Now, have I learned anything since I wrote those stories? Or am I going to keep making the same mistakes, as I do with pulling vines?

Delia Owens and David Joy at McIntyres Books.

My hope and belief is that I have honed my craft enough so that I will be able to look at these old stories and spot trouble points. I need to be sure there is theme, not just a plot; that my characters are identifiable and relatable; that I balance narrative and dialogue; and most of all, that the story is not boring.

So there is that. And somehow I plan to finish that memoir I started for the grandkids, who are now adults and maybe more interested in their shared history. Our writers’ club is holding a workshop on writing the memoir in November, and  I’m looking forward to learning just how to approach this.  It is a great opportunity, and timely.

Opportunities to learn abound. Last weekend a friend and I drove two hours to hear two novelists (David Joy and Delia Owens) read from their works and talk about writing. Well worth the trip. What I learned: it is okay if your first book is crap. Keep writing.

I hope you all take every chance you get whether it is attending author talks, reading, going to workshops or conferences, or just getting together with other writers to share your dreams.

And if someone out there is trying to deter you ( and there are naysayers whose mission in life is to pull you down) just carefully root them out of your life. They are poison ivy.

What are you reading?

What are you reading? This question was posed in a  comment on an earlier blog, and I promised to respond. As I told her, I’m an eclectic reader — which only means I will read anything, even the back of a cereal box if nothing else is handy.

It’s a tough question, so I went to my bag o’ books that I toted home from my last library visit. Here’s what I found:

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (almost finished)

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison (recommended!)

To Die But Once by Jacqeuline Winspear (yes, I’m a fan of Maisie Dobbs)

That Month in Tuscany by Inglath Cooper

Circe by Madeline Miller

I haven’t read the last two yet, so no comments.

Then there are the two books on my schedule for my book clubs. One club is reading The Book Club by Mary Alice Monroe. I have it on order. The other club is reading See Me by Nicholas Sparks. I may take this one to the beach with me next week.

Speaking of the beach, my favorite beach read authors are Nancy Thayer, Mary Kay Andrews, Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Alice Monroe, Elin Hilderbrand, Barbara Delinsky, Susan Mallery, and Debbie Macomber. I have probably left out a few.

I also love big, sweeping historical novels by Ken Follett, Edward Rutherford, Philippa Gregory, Colleen McCullough, and Diana Gabaldon. Gabaldon is my all-time favorite. History, romance and paranormal all in one. My kind of book. The TV series is the only one I ever felt compelled to buy. I could watch them over and over, and no, it’s not all Jamie.

As for mysteries, give me Anne Perry or Elizabeth George any time. If I see their name on the spine of a book on the library shelf, it’s in my hands immediately.

Of course there are many others. And, I like to try new authors by browsing Book Bub and Ereader News Today. (I like the solid feel of print books, but also the convenience and portability of my Kindle.)

I also read biographies and other non-fiction. My son let me borrow SPQR by Mary Beard. It isn’t a book you read all in once sitting. But I am slowly getting through it.

And where do I put Anne Rice, Anne Lamott, and Pat Conroy? Also favorites.

After The Prince of Tides, I wrote Conroy a gushing letter telling him how much I loved it. I had never written a fan letter before and didn’t expect an answer. But he sent me a postcard from Rome where he and his family were staying while he worked on his second book. It was a picture of the hotel where they were staying and he even marked the window of the room they were staying in. I still have it somewhere.

So that’s what I read. Anything, even the history of ancient Rome, which is interesting enough to keep me reading, but not so interesting that I won’t put it down in favor of something a little (ahem!) sexier.

And, in parting, if you are looking for something to read this summer, hop on over to my place and browse the shelves. You may find something you like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing a book

I have been on a roll, waking every morning for the past six days to roll  out of bed  and walk two laps around the park. Then home for coffee and to read the newspaper, after which I sit down and write.

Yes, I have also been writing every day. I’m pleased with my progress and how the story is developing. Maybe I feel just a little smug as I pat myself on the back.

I fully intended to follow that routine today, but so far the walk is the only goal I can check off. It’s been hot (have I said that before?) and because it hasn’t rained in a few days, my plants started drooping. So after my walk and checking the news, I decided to water them. Then I needed to pick off the dead blossoms.

I remembered I had purchased new clippers the day before, so it seemed like a good time to try them out while it was comparatively cool. Noticing that the grass and weeds around some of the larger shrubs had grown, I got out my

I wish my astilbe looked like these!

weed-whacker and  whacked away, accidentally decapitating one lily plant. Oops.

That done, I clipped around some plants and pulled some weeds. One weed was wrapped around an astilbe, and I accidentally (not a good day) pulled out part of the plant. So I dug a hole and replanted the separated plant and while I was at it, dug up and re-planted another that had unexpectedly popped up several feet from the parent plant. So now they are all in a nice row.

Swept the sidewalk, washed my tools, and washed my knees which were muddy from kneeling on the ground.

Gardening is a little like writing. You start with an idea, and it grows. Then you need to weed out the parts that don’t belong. Sometimes a scene needs to be moved from one chapter to another to make the story flow more clearly. As you write, time slips away until you realize you have accomplished more than you had planned.

It’s a good feeling, either way. My flowers are happy and now I am off to work on my novel.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer … bugs or books?

I don’t know what the temperature is your way, but here  in North Carolina it is hot! I mean, in the nineties hot.

Too hot to work outdoors, which I love doing in the summer.  But after a bout with both poison ivy and an allergic reaction to a couple of mosquito bites, I don’t plan on doing much yard work without a hazmat suit.

As you all know, the really best thing about summer is reading. And when the weather is hot and humid, I like to find a cool corner, a glass of iced tea, and a book. Doesn’t matter if it is an e-book or print. I am like a voter who refuses to pledge allegiance to either party.

I like getting messages in my inbox every morning from BookBub and Ereader News Today. I read the blurbs and sometimes click on the book to read more on Amazon — in particular, the reviews. You can also read a few pages of the book to get a sense of the author’s style.  I like the free books, naturally, but I do buy some. I’ve found a lot of great, new authors this way.

But, I do love to visit the library and peruse the shelves to see what’s been added since my last visit. Sometimes I score with a new book from a favorite writer. The librarians are helpful in telling me what other people thought of a book (reviews!) and often ask me what my opinion is. I come home with my tote bag full and settle in, usually with one of the cats on my lap.

Another place to find books are used book stores. We don’t have one near me, but when I visit one of my kids (who all live in bigger cities) that is one place we can mutually agree on making a stop.

And, when a really, really favorite author comes out with a new book I buy it simply because I want to a) support them and b) because I like owning a book I know I will read again. When my shelves get full, I go through and pick out those I know I won’t re-read or maybe didn’t love all that much after I read it, or were given and told to share after I finished reading them. These go to the senior center bookshelf, which is like a Little Free Library.

I know people who think summer is for swimming, hiking, boating, and other physical activities. Good for them and I hope they remember their sunscreen and bug repellent.

I’ll take a comfy chair and a good book any time.

 

 

 

Of mice and … cats

Since I am ever eager to learn something new about writing, I signed up for a webinar on social media. Instagram and Pinterest, to be exact.

I had a Pinterest account. In fact, I had two. I guess I should say “have” because they are still there. I lost my password to one, tried to set up another account and was blocked because I am not the owner. Whaaat? After trying to communicate with the site  and getting no response, I gave up trying to post anything.

So I had a vested interest, so to speak, in learning more about it. Like, getting my password back.

The presenter was very knowledgeable and had a lot of good tips. However, I was distracted. Frenchy and Jack were having way too good a time playing with a toy. They were running and jumping. I looked up, trying to see which toy they were so entranced with.

Frenchy and her new “toy”

Then Frenchy dropped it and it ran. She pounced and paraded across the room and into the kitchen, proud of herself.

The penny dropped. She had a mouse in her jaws!

She came back into the den and let it go. Jack chased it, but she got ahead of him and grabbed it again. I was standing over her when she dropped it at my feet.

It was still alive and probably saying its little prayers when I grabbed it by the tail. I took it outside and let it go. It scampered off, no doubt ready to tell its family of its narrow escape.

Judging by the cats’ interest in the fireplace lately, I suspect it had come down the chimney.

So I didn’t learn anything from the webinar. Luckily, I can go back to the site and watch it again. Maybe I won’t be so distracted next time.

Ups and Downs

I’m not talking about life in general, as the title may suggest. I mean the temperature. I don’t know where you live, but here in North Carolina, we’ve had extremes from freezing to near-nineties, all in the same week.

One day, I am outside raking the yard and bagging winter debris of leaves, sweet gum balls, pine cones, pine straw, and twigs. Or I might be mowing–in March! Yep, I’ve already mowed the front yard twice and the back yard once. And they both need it again.

I’ve been thinking about buying plants for my deck planters and maybe setting out a few more flowers or shrubs out front.

I need hanging baskets. I start dreaming of glorious color, maybe a visiting butterfly or two. Should I hang out the hummingbird feeders? I know when the azaleas bloom, it is time for the hummingbirds to return.

But the very next day the temperature plummets and I dig out my warm sweatshirt and my favorite throw and cuddle up on the sofa with a book. Forget the flowers, butterflies, and birds. All I see at the feeder are brilliant, red cardinals and a cheeky chickadee.

Maybe this is about writing after all. Sometimes the season is just right and the ideas flow faster than we can set them down. And other times–well, that’s when we curl up with a book and call it research.

The good news is, eventually the weather clears and the flowers get planted. Or the story gets written.

And it’s all good.

Have a blessed and  joyous Easter!

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for joy

This little visitor to my deck brought me joy this morning.

 

It’s easy to be pessimistic about life. Sad things happen. We lose family members and friends. Our jobs have gradually ceased to bring us satisfaction, but have become a chore. Children grow up and move away, leaving us more alone that we ever imagined. Our bodies age and we reluctantly agree there are some things that we just can’t do any more, much as we want to.

Sometimes our minds get set on our losses and sorrows, and we can’t seem to find our way out.

But there is a way to change that mindset. It really is simple. Bear me out.

In our NETworX program, as we support people overcoming generation poverty we ask that each participant tell us something good that happened to them that week.

In our monthly church leadership team meetings, we ask people to share “glory sightings”–something that brought them joy and gratitude.

We don’t have to wait until someone prods us during a meeting to come up with something positive in our lives. We can look for it every day.  I wake in the morning and remind myself that today  I am going to find something that makes me happy.

It doesn’t have to be a winning lottery ticket. Once I went to pay my check for lunch, only to be told someone had already paid it.  That was huge! Another time, I found a flower blooming in a spot no plant could possibly grow–yet it did. And one day I went to the library and found not one, but three books by three of my favorite authors! What a dilemma to decide which one to read first!

Sometime it’s an unexpected call from a friend, just when I need it, or maybe turning on the radio and hearing a song I love and haven’t heard in many years.

As you look for these “glory sightings” or “joys” or whatever you choose to call them, they will appear more and more frequently. And you begin to realize that your outlook on life has slowly changed.

At this point, you will start to wonder how you can bring joy to someone else.  Maybe you pay the charge at the fast-food drive-in for the family behind you. Or ease up on the gas pedal to let that person trying to merge get off the ramp and onto the highway. Smile and thank the cashier at the grocery story or the teller at the bank. Swallow that snarky remark that may seem funny to you, but may be hurtful to the recipient.

As you look for ways to spread joy as well as finding it, I think your life will be better … both for you  and for your loved ones.

I read in a newspaper column that the writer’s one resolution for 2018 was to be kinder.

If all of us made that resolution, wouldn’t it truly be a wonderful world!

Best wishes for you and yours in the coming year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disaster preparedness

I love Nature as much as anybody: sunsets, beaches, mountain vistas …

But lately, Nature has been a little too upclose and personal. Ask anyone from Texas. Or Mexico.

If I had to pick between a hurricane and an earthquake, I’d pick neither, thank you very much.

It looks as if we’re getting something, though. A full-fledged hurricane or maybe some strong wind and rain. Not sure of Irma’s path. At one time predicted to roll over us, now maybe to the west, but wait, that could change.

So I went to Walmart yesterday to fill my gas tank, and get a few staples just in case. I remember Hurricane Hugo and the ensuing week without power. At that time we had a generator and lots of propane goodies like a lantern and stove. I no longer have any of those because I didn’t know how to use them and since Jim isn’t here to do it (or show me) I got rid of them, congratulating myself on the storage space I was saving.

I wish he were here now, not necessarily to fire up a propane lantern, but to talk me out of my misgivings about this storm. He was always  calm, but methodical. He knew how to get ready for an emergency without scaring me to death.

So anyway, I got the car gassed up and started looking for a battery for my heavy-duty lantern-type flashlight. I went to just about every store I could think of and finally went to an auto parts store. The clerk there told me they used to carry lantern batteries (the big, square 6-V kind) but now everyone had gone to LED lights.

So I bought one. And two packs of AAA batteries to back up the ones that came with it.

I also bought lamp oil for the two antique oil lamps in the den. I fired one up and it still works, so it’ll be all right if the smoke doesn’t drive me out of the house.

Food? Breakfast bars, some tinned meat, another loaf of bread, a big jar of peanut butter and a box of crackers. I figure I can pop up some corn ahead of time and put it in a bag. Won’t be able to brew coffee, but I can make cold-brewed tea.

And of course, wine. And books. Which I will read by the light of the new LED lamp or kerosene lamp or my flashlight. Because how else do you pass the time with no TV?

Of course, I am figuring some days without power if the wind is strong enough. If it is stronger than knocking down a few trees and takes my roof with it, all of the above is moot.

Maybe none of this will happen, but I’d rather be prepared. In 1999, Jim prepared for Y2K by stocking up on all the aforementioned things that I just got rid of. No electronic meltdown happened as predicted, but we did get 16 inches of snow New Year’s Day, almost unheard of in the N.C. Piedmont. And the power was out for a week. So it all came in handy and he couldn’t wipe the smirk off his face for a month.

So wherever Irma heads, be careful out there. And be prepared.

 

 

 

 

And the winner is…

Nature is trying to kill me.

I don’t mean tornadoes or erupting volcanoes or  tsunamis, or any other horrific events. My demise will be slow and tortuous. My enemies are chiggers, hornets, fire ants, wasps, and poison ivy.

Not that they are lethal in themselves. Except maybe fire ants. I hate fire ants and can see no Earthly good in their existence except to provide snacks for guinea hens. I have spent the summer putting poison on their nests, only to see another pop up, or after a good rain, as many as 20 new nests. It gets discouraging, but I can’t give up because they would gleefully sting me to death if they had the chance. I know it and they know it. So the battle for survival continues. Image result for poison ivy

There is a hornet’s nest in a bush in front of  the house. I accidentally discovered it when trimming the bushes. A swarm of hornets flew out and chased me across the yard. They did sting my left hand, which swelled up to the point I had difficulty pulling my glove off. I’ve avoided that bush ever since. I’m afraid to spray the nest because I think they will rush to defend it and this time it won’t be just my hand that gets stung.

After my first bout with poison ivy I learned to recognize the plant by counting. “Leaflets three, let it be; leaflets five, let it thrive.” But it is more difficult to recognize the vines, which also can give you a bad case of itchy, oozing sores.  I’m just sayin’ there are several types of viney plants in the part of my yard that used to be a jungle of privet, honeysuckle, poison ivy, cat brier, and the English ivy my husband planted not knowing that while ornamental up North, it is an invasive species not unlike kudzu in the South. I can’t tell the difference when  I’m uprooting vines. So I pull them all and pray.

I know when I’ve been careless when I feel my skin begin to burn. Then the blisters come, but I must be getting immune because they don’t last as long as they used to. So score a mini-victory for me.

It’s a constant battle, but I have a feeling that in the long run, nature will win. She is more tenacious and has more weapons at her command, and they will no doubt still be stinging and biting long after I am gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The necessary break

This past week, I was at the beach … St. Simons Island, to be exact. Shopping, eating sea food, walking on the beach, floating in the pool, exploring historic sites, and enjoying the company of my oldest son and daughter-on-law. Also the three granddogs.

And not even thinking of writing.

Bruno loves the beach. So many new friends to meet, so many birds to chase, and lovely water to wade in.

I didn’t check my sales, do any  searches for publishers or agents, or even plan out my next book.

Nope, I relaxed. Read a little, talked, walked the dogs.

And I didn’t feel even a little bit guilty.

We all need to take a break once in awhile. I’m pretty sure even those writers who stay at their desks for 8-10 hours a day, seven days a week, take a break.

Otherwise we would stagnate. We can live in our imaginations only so long before we need to refuel, and we do that by re-entering the real world.

We see things that spark our creativity, see people who could be characters in our book (and  maybe we don’t  jot the details down, but that hairdo, or tattoo, or outfit may just find itself in a description), and overhear conversations that pique our curiosity.

And don’t forget the wonderful sounds and scents we encounter. The tang of salt air, the fragrance of roses, the gentle roll of the surf … all add grist to our mill.

I am home now, ready to get to work. I’m energized when only a week ago I was busy finding excuses not to move my project forward.

If you find yourself bogged down and can’t find the time for a week or even a few days away from your WIP, you can take a mini-break by going for a walk, seeing a movie, or calling a friend and meeting her (or him) for  a glass of tea and conversation. A few hours away from your desk (or wherever you write best) won’t detract from your work.

It might even make it better.

 

 

The sins of my youth

When I was young, a hundred years ago, I thought I needed three things: a gorgeous tan, blonde hair, and adoring boyfriends.

I got the blonde hair from a bottle, and the tan from hours of lying in the sun in my teeny-weeny bikini. No, it wasn’t polka-dot.  And sometimes the sun tan turned into a sunburn, with accompanying blisters. The boyfriends came and went, not all adoring but faithful enough for brief periods of time.

Image result for sunburn meme

Then I married and had children. No time for tanning, no time to redo the roots of my hair. I let it grow back into its mousy brown.

As I got older, I began avoiding the sun. In the past few years I do my yard work protected by sunscreen, a floppy hat, and long pants. I get my various moles and other blemishes checked periodically by a dermatologist. I became especially vigilant after my younger brother died of a melanoma he’d had 20 years previously. They thought they got it all, but during those years it had metastasized, unknown to him and his loved ones.

So just before I went on my annual trip to Pennsylvania to visit my sister (my excuse for no blog last week) I got a call from my dermatologist. She’d removed a suspicious mole during my last appointment and sent it for a biopsy. The results were melanoma in situ.

It wasn’t that big of a shock. I knew the risks. I knew that in spite of the care I’d been taking, my foolishness 50 years ago had more than  likely set me up for something like this.

Of course, we didn’t know back then of the danger. Baby oil and iodine? Slap it on for a deeper, browner tan. Hours spent on the beach or on a towel in the back yard. A sunburn was a small price to pay. Sure, it hurt, but the blisters eventually went down. And then we did it all over again.

I went back Tuesday to have more tissue removed to make sure that all of the cancer was gone. It wasn’t fun. The area was numbed and then I lay on my stomach, my arms slowly falling asleep, trying not to twitch as she cut and cut … and cut. The the stitches. I didn’t ask how many, but it took a long time. The wound is covered with steri-strips, so I can’t see the damage. Yet.

And I’m waiting for word of the second biopsy. She was cheerfully confident it would come back clear, but I’ve heard that song before. I had to go for a third surgery when I had breast cancer because the margins weren’t clear the second time. Hopefully, that won’t happen again.

My back is sore and it hurts to stretch or move suddenly, but I tell myself that’s a small price to pay if the threat is truly gone.

Now I must be ever more vigilant because what happened once can happen again. I told my three sons they also must take care. We now have a family history of melanoma. I’m sorry to pass that on to my children and grandchildren. Fortunately, the grandchildren’s parents have been more cautious than I was, and slathered on sunscreen whenever the kids went outside.

I’m writing this as a warning. If you have children or grandchildren, please, please, make sure they are protected. They, like me, won’t think ahead. They think they will always be young and anyway, who cares what happens then they are “old.”

They will care. And it’s up to us to protect them now.

 

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