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Monday, December 15, 2014

The Light of the Season

This glass bulb, filled with milkweed silk, was given to me by a 79-year-old at the senior center where I work.  Just goes to show we're never to old to capture beauty.

For as long as I can remember, I've enjoyed sitting in a room with the only light coming from the branches of a Christmas tree.  There's something about the glow that conjures up a connection to families that read together by candlelight, or popped popcorn over an open fire. 

This year, we have three trees.  The real one, in our family kitchen area, is strung with sentimental, homemade ornaments.  A "designer" tree filled with white and gold, glass and angels stands in front of the window in the living room.  My husband has decorated a tree downstairs, in the "man cave," with snowman lights and ornaments made during our daughter's classroom art projects. No matter what room I'm in, the light of a Christmas tree offers a warmth that seeps inside of me and makes me bubble up with a feeling of well being, of appreciation and gratitude.

I'm taking the rest of the year off folks.  Wishing you all joy and warmth and a season filled with Christmas tree light.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Small Town Festivities

Every year at this time, I write about the same thing, a festival put together by the churches surrounding our town common--a simple, soulful day that for me, kicks off the holidays.  It rained this year, but it didn't matter.  My girl was with me again after a three year absence, and together we picked out books at the book fair, gulped our steaming chowder, and sat in a 350-year-old church to listen to the town band play festive arrangements of holiday-inspired tunes. 

We arrive home as always, to discover the hard work of Mr. Christmas, who spends the day hanging lights and displaying nutcrackers around our house.  Later in the afternoon, it seemed like the right time to make some mulled wine.  I heated apple cider, a little Cabernet, cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange, poured it into mugs and we sipped, letting it warm us down to the core.  Yep, Thanksgiving was late this year, but it only took me a week to move on.  Christmas, I'm all in.

Welcome to the season.

Festival on the Common

Mulled wine

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

IWSG - The Book!!!

This is my December post for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a lovely group of writers helping and inspiring other writers.  To read more from this amazing group, click here.

I almost didn’t get this post written in time, but for good reason.  I downloaded The Insecure Writers Support Group Guide to Publishing and Beyond and started reading.  Do you have your copy yet?  No? What are you waiting for?  The book is chock-full of outstanding writing from talented folks who offer helpful and actionable suggestions about how to move forward in writing-related endeavors.

Monday evening, I’d slotted time to write this IWSG post but instead, I stayed up late reading the guide, and learning.  How could I not?  What a plum!  Over one hundred writers have contributed how-to and inspirational essays designed to help other writers, no matter where they are in the journey.  The depth and breadth of this publication made me step back and say, “Wow.”  

For three years, members of IWSG have been imparting wisdom and encouragement on a monthly basis.  Now there's a one-stop resource filled with similar support, I can turn to anytime.  Yippee! So today, like so many others, I want to thank Alex Cavanaugh and all the folks who helped him create this awesome anthology.  Please visit each of them and let them know how much their efforts have meant!

And, as a bonus, if you're interested in branding yourself as a writer, here's an intriguing take that will help you to do it like Hemingway, or Parker, or Fitzgerald...or Austen, or you!.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Last Bit of Reflection

Days of prep and days to recover, but I have Thanksgiving in my heart, and yesterday, as I walked off some of my food related misdemeanors from last week, I realized why.  During our oh-to-short gathering with extended family, a sixteen year old nephew told me how much he loved coming to our house for Thanksgiving.  Our twenty-six year old niece tells us it her favorite holiday too.

Twenty years ago, my husband and I volunteered to take Thanksgiving off of his mother’s shoulders which meant entertaining some combination of seven of his siblings, plus spouses, and children.  That first time, I was clueless how much effort it would take.  Our daughter, and several nieces and nephews were toddlers and I stepped over crawlers while trying to get dinner on the table.  I don’t even remember how many came that time, just that we managed through it and decided we could do it again.  And then again.  Who knew it would become a tradition?

Now, we look forward to it.  We have lists of what to accomplish each day leading up to a feast in which anywhere from twenty to thirty-plus folks may show up.  We know that on the day, Uncle John will arrive with a bunch of sides and join me in the kitchen where he’ll assure me the turkey is cooked, the stuffing is hot enough, and yes, it’s time to serve.  This year, our daughter made the pies, three delicious additions that saved me a half day of work.  Unbeknownst to me, one state away, the aforementioned twenty-six year old niece took over from Uncle John—her dad.  She made his traditional offerings, squash, sweet potatoes and veggie casserole.  When the "adults" (read that as, those of us with grey hair) sat down at the table, we marveled. “Look at us, passing it down to the next generation.” 

Across from each other, filling three of four adjoining tables, a group of cousins, those long ago “crawlers” talked about their jobs and college as if they’d been together the week before.  Those present live in five different states between them, and all of them (including the missing coast guard boys stationed in FL, and CA and one niece living in SC) keep in touch by a group text.  As I marveled about that, I realized Thanksgiving is one of the reason why.  This one day a year they're together keeps them bonded, in spite of schedules that make it impossible for them all to meet up at the same place any other time.

As I power-walked yesterday, trying to burn off the sins of dip, creamed onions and pie, I recognized  over the last twenty years, my husband, daughter and I have made memories, but not just for ourselves.  Someday, long after my generations is gone, the cousins will reminisce about their childhood Thanksgivings gathered as family at our house, and will remember joy.  That's an unexpected  life accomplishment for which I’m feeling pretty thankful.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Piece of Thanks

The visiting priest in church today suggested that before we say grace on Thanksgiving, everyone take a moment to mention something for which they are thankful.  It’s a lovely sentiment, one I’ve wanted to adopt for a long time.  But there’s a problem.  This year, there will be twenty-five of us seated around the table (four tables, actually), and I’m pretty sure the food would be stone cold before we all finished.  It’s a juggling act getting the meal out as it is, so I’m not going to ask that of our guests.

Instead, I’m taking this time out today to think about what I’m thankful for, not the least of which is that this writing life allows me to visit deep inside myself and recognize the person I’ve evolved into over the last several years is someone I like a lot. And please know how thankful I am for all you supportive readers.  You mean more to me than I can ever explain.

I am thankful for my dear and industrious husband, who is currently out raking for the sixth weekend in a row so the place looks nice on Thursday.  I’ll be out there helping to drag tarps full of leaves into the woods for him soon, and I’m thankful that I’m strong enough to do that and, because I’m twelve pounds lighter than I was three months ago, the hauling is that much easier.

This year, I give special thanks that our daughter seems to have discovered a path she loves.  Since September, we’ve witnessed her grow into a pastry expert as she attends culinary school.  She's doing so after grinding it out in the kitchen of a local restaurant kitchen for a year, which makes me respect her will and her dedication.  Cooking has always been my means to nurture those I love.  It's wonderful to watch as she turns something that has offered me such joy, into her career. 
And, yep, I’m thankful to hand off the rolling pin to her.  I'll be the sous chef as she makes the Thanksgiving pies this year.  Food is memory, and baking pie reminds me of growing up and my mother, and the comfort of home.  Creating things from scratch is my way of bestowing those feelings on my own little family, and now it appears our daughter may be carrying on that tradition. 

Watching someone you love learn and grow and come into herself in a way you treasure, well, let me tell you, that's some kind of tasty treat.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday . . . and lots of pie.

Monday, November 17, 2014

New Eyes

I left work the other day in my sweats and sneakers to discover a friend similarly clad, on her way for her afternoon constitutional.  My plan was to walk off a major chunk of the ten thousand steps a day suggested by the heart-healthy class I’m taking, so we joined forces. I tend to switch my route up to forestall boredom, and as I described my planned course, which would end up on a path behind a “private property” sign, she responded, “I’ve never been there.” The property in question is a retreat home for Jesuits overlooking the channel leading out from our harbor.  When I get there, I sneak under the chain hanging from two stone pillars marking the entrance to the driveway, and hike the edges of the property far away from the main house, convinced God created this overlook for everyone.  This time I enlisted my friend.  “Just don’t get me arrested,” she said.

It was hard to believe it was November.  By the time we arrived, the afternoon sun highlighted the estate across the water (owned by descendants of the John Quincy Adams, where I no longer dare to trespass although I have, but that’s another story). 
Walking with my friend that day, I saw the view from her eyes, new eyes, the kind I had when I started exploring around town five years ago. The sky was wide and clear, the tide low, the flats filled with seagulls and terns pecking in the mud.  Across from us, the marsh grass on the barrier beach has whitened to straw.  I think of November as dull and drab, but on this day, it was anything but, the muted colors, grey, taupe and rust reminding me that every season has beauty as long as we allow it to seep in.

The harbor is mostly empty now, except for the working fleet, a handful of lobstermen who keep their boats in all year.  And as we stood on the steps of an empty stone boathouse, they motored in--a sight I would have missed if sometimes I didn't disobey "No Trespassing" signs.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Frozen (and not in the "movie-everyone-loves" kind of way)

This is my November post for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a lovely group of writers helping and inspiring other writers.  To read more from this amazing group, click here.

Here’s what’s open on my desktop right now.   
  •  Draft ten (but really draft seventeen because after a while I stopped numbering them) of my novel UNDER THE APPLE TREE, inching ever closer to the day I dare to send it out.
  •  A draft query letter for UTAT I reread every few days and tweak.
  • A synopsis for UTAT.  Same deal as above, it's in minor revision mode.
  • An Excel spreadsheet of all the agents who ignored I sent my last novel to. 
  • A new Excel spreadsheet for UTAT, with agents and contact information to which I’m still  adding. In an attempt to avoid a response that says, “Thanks, but this isn’t my type of project” I’m trying to be very discriminating this time. 

It’s all sitting there waiting for me to do something and I can’t decide if I’m frozen (and trust me, I am ), because UTAT isn’t ready to send out yet, or I'm just scared to let this one go.  And then, there’s timing.  The upcoming holidays make for a distraction.  Do I want to send my baby out to someone who is trying to clear the decks before vacation? 

This book is as good as I know how to write it. And yet, is it enough?  Some days I wake up thinking that the fact I’m questioning it means it’s not.

Listen to your voices, I say to myself.  So I wait.  And tweak.  And wait some more.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Week by Week

My husband joined me for a walk last Saturday, and we ended up down by the harbor, where a new home for the town sailing club is taking shape.  It’s a shingled building with porches and decks as well as a high widow’s walk, accessible by steps from the outside. So, of course we climbed up there.  We’ve seen all manner of views of our harbor over the years, but being this high, in this place was new.  Our muted seaside autumn was on display, as well as a cloud line marking a potential bout of rain.  After taking a few photos, we continued our walk, optimistic that the storm would hold off.  It didn’t.  We returned to the car soaked.

This weekend, only the oaks and ash remain covered with leaves.  A mid-week nor’easter stalled over us for two days, hammering us with 60 mph gusts and pounding squalls.  By Friday, our yard was littered in branches.  Out in the woods behind us, a leaning pine tree finally gave up, splintering yet another tree on the way down.  Our driveway was so covered in wet leaves I was tempted to shovel them, like snow.  

But then, as always after a big storm like that, the air freshens and clears.  A week later, I took another harbor walk.   

 Wishing you all a wonderful week.