I'm sure you've heard of the term, "I've got a frog in my throat." 99 times out of 100--the person is not referring to an actual reptile that has hopped down their windpipe unbeknownst, though last summer frogs were beyond reasonable numbers in my backyard. (See July's blog posting: Wild Kingdom or Unexpected Sanctuary for more on the frogs.) The vast majority of "frogs" in throats are actually emotion or nerves. Emotion can make it difficult to get words out.
Emotion is like a cloud floating above us, unnoticed while we buzz about our daily routines, until they gather and rain. Just as clouds can shed water, emotion can become too much to ignore. The frog in my throat presented more like a frog in my pen. I couldn't get words out on paper--aside from the necessary words for correspondence and work-related writing.
When my mother passed away at the beginning of last year my work-in-progress, which is a middle grade novel that focuses on a secret garden, got dropped suddenly from my list of "things to do." For some, grief and creativity work well together. For me, grief is a head space hog. It saunters in, plunks down with elbows boldly claiming what I understood to be a shared armrest. Shoes kick off, cell phone conversation blares--smelly and loud all at once. Grief is the most obnoxious and inconsiderate airplane seat mate imaginable. There will be no relaxing, no focusing, no enjoyment on a flight alongside grief.
Creativity evaporated. I had been really enjoying my work-in-progress, Secret Lives of Leaves, up until my attention was no longer my own and grief took hold of all my senses, sucked out my reserves of energy--insisted on getting my full attention. Clearing my mind became impossible. Time passed. A whole year. Then, a couple weeks ago--I sat down to write the next chapter of that novel. One great thing about middle grade is that it allows for shorter chapters. So, I talked myself into writing a paragraph, then two--then, might as well finish the page . . . as I rounded the corner to the next page, I developed a scene in my head and had to follow it at least until page two. The result was a 6-page chapter.
It felt so good to get a little further on a fun project that had so long lay dormant, just as I had been getting to the good part: the secret garden! One year later, I find myself at the other end of the emotional spectrum. The juxtapositions of life border on comedy--satire, really.
One year after my mother's passing, I am distracted again by emotion. A frog in my pen. But, this time it is excited emotion as I await word from my brother that his first baby has been born. He and his wife are at the hospital, setting out on a journey that will change life as they've known it forever.
Want some more irony?
That chapter I finally wrote after so long is titled, "The Journey." Good luck on your journey as it twists, turns, stops and starts.
I can't say I'm sorry to see the year 2022 bid adieu. Goodbye!
"Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord . . . well, you know the rest."
This year has been skipping to the same beat all year and it sounded like this, "What! A new month? Which one?! (Insert current month here) already!! No way." Even on the lead-up to Christmas week the song I remember hearing most was any Christmas song by Trans-Siberian Orchestra with its electric guitar and spastic musical climax. That could have easily been the theme of the entire year: hurried, admittedly painful, too much and yet not enough.
So, there it is: my year in review. Uninspired perhaps. Soggy and a bit stodgy, as they say on the Great British Baking Show when they bite into a piece of cake that is supposed to be yummy, looks promising, but just isn't--at all.
Let's hope that 2023 is all that 2022 wasn't.
I did not dress up for this evening's ringing in of the new year.
Wearing my favorite pair of sweatpants (with pockets of course), a well-worn t-shirt that has an image of Cape Cod's Sagamore Bridge and reads "Cross that bridge when you come to it!" beneath a long, cozy sweater (also, pockets:) and fuzzy, purple polka-dotted socks is how I will enter the new year:
Hopefully 2023 will skip to more of a Nat King Cole beat: slower, steady and soothing.
It's the little things, right?
I had a great Thanksgiving! Love that holiday. It's my favorite, filled with eating and the ability to nap spontaneously, and the long weekend didn't hurt either. More time, guilt-free naps, and longer weekends are something I'd love to see more of in my future. Until that's possible I will celebrate the discovery of a reasonably simple dinner roll recipe that I found in my attempt to relax. Relaxing is something that needs to be eased into for me, so finding myself unable to just sit still and veg out, I thought I'd try my hand at making some dinner rolls.
I googled "dinner rolls recipe" and the second recipe I found was a winner. I did a test run and THEY WORKED!!
It is amazing that people have made bread and bread-like items since the dawn of time and here I am in modern civilization celebrating my ability to made dinner rolls. But, you see, I'm not a baker as much as I am a cook and I bake only when required by the need for a birthday cake, a big zucchini that is only good for zucchini bread, overripe bananas that must not be wasted, or a school bake sale assignment. Baking is a bit too slow-paced for me and I just don't have time. So, I found myself with some time.
It was so exciting to make hot, pull apart and slather with butter rolls that my family devoured in short order. I watch British Baking Show and it always looks so complicated and takes so much time: the measuring, the water temperature requirements, the kneading, the proofing, the actual baking with the threat of something being "undah-baked"--the science of it all
I'm not a big dinner roll person at Thanksgiving. I'd rather dig into all the other stuff, but my brother likes them and I thought his wife might enjoy a fresh-baked roll. The recipe I found, which you can find HERE, didn't require the greasing of bowls and it only made 12 rolls, which is a reasonable amount. I don't need the 24 rolls that many recipes yield.
I did have a couple of tweaks: I had to use regular yeast I had in a jar (so activated it before mixing it by combining it with the very warm water and then a teaspoon of sugar and waited ten minutes), I used a wooden spoon and elbow grease to mix instead of the electric mixer in the recipe, and then just followed the recipe and let it "rise" for more than the 30 minutes in the recipe, but still they were really fast as far as homemade bread goes. I didn't brush them with anything before baking and they came out golden brown.
A success! These days with so much going wrong all around us, it's nice to have a humble success to celebrate--and eat:)
I just did something for myself. Well--not counting the KitKat bar I just asked my second born for. She obliged willingly taking it out of her sibling's bag. I shouldn't have accepted or condoned or whatever crime it was to allow my second born to take a chocolate from one of the other born's bag for my own craving--but it's Friday, so I did.
Anyway, that was not what I did for myself. What I just did was participate in a poetry workshop. On Zoom, which I'm a bit sick of . . . but it was free, and I needed something. Like the KitKat, but for my creative spirit. I needed somebody to feed me creatively and force me to produce something creative. The workshop was sponsored by International Women's Writing Guild (IWWG) and facilitated by Warrior Poet Kai Coggin. She'll be offering a poetry intensive workshop if you are looking to get creative. Find out about that here.
Here is the poem the workshop helped me produce. It's a draft--as everything is:)
She sat there
in our ordinary kitchen.
My cup of tea, still hot,
perfectly sweet and splash of milk.
Ordinary black. Stringless bag. Sinking. Steeping.
She sat there
knowing she wouldn't stay.
She couldn't --
-- wear out her welcome
-- be taken for granted.
Sitting there--as if always.
In our kitchen
every ordinary, sleepy Saturday.
Tea and talk, dancing.
So simple until she slipped away
to another kitchen,
somebody else's unassuming moment.
I've kept a journal since I was a teenager. However, writing in a journal was like one of those on-again, off-again relationships. I can't say I ever really wrote with any reliable level of consistency over a long period of time and often, when I was younger, the entries were more centered on "what I did" than "what I thought."
But, when the pandemic started in March 2020, that changed. I started filling up a whole journal every three months, so I'd say I probably filled about six journals since then, alone.
It was as if writing in my journal was my moment to take a deep breath at a time when it was becoming increasingly difficult to breathe. Today, the third page I wrote in my journal was my attempt to figure out why writing in my journal is something I have begun looking forward to as much as my morning cup of tea. I'm transcribing my thoughts here--in this online "Diary," to encourage others to find solace and sanity in the safe confines of a journal, diary, notebook or whatever you term it. (Warning, part of the perk of journal writing is no grammar, run-on sentence, spelling mistakes exist or matter--so I'm copying it in here as it was written in all its carefree format.:)
Here's what I wrote:
Anyway, I'm enjoying the pocket of time right now when I don't have to be anywhere and the kids are watching cartoons downstairs and I'm in this chair in the living room with a cup of tea and this journal. I can't quite understand why writing in this journal is so attractive to me, why it feels like such an "escape" but I almost crave it at times. Maybe it's because I'm safe here--as cheesy as that sounds. I'm able to say what I want whether I'm right or wrong or politically incorrect. I am able to sort out my thoughts, maybe make sense of them, perhaps vent my frustrations with anyone and everyone without worry of offense or disagreement, and also I am able to let out the leash to allow my ideas and imagination to run wild. To dream on paper and quietly out loud:) Silently out loud. Without fears of contradiction or being talked sense into. It's a vision board sans images. Sans color! A vision board of black and white that leaves the imagination of the reader to fill in the vivid greens and bright blues. Time and space and freedom. There are so many means available these days that allow people to escape, to breathe a little, loosen the collar--so to speak--and here is perhaps one of the healthier, most accessible, cost efficient and convenient of them all:
Writing in this here humble Journal . . .
Thank the Lord for paper and pen :)
Every now and then the universe sends in something that tells me to "slow down!" The world has been moving at warp speed lately and this morning I took some time out to go into my garden and do some deadheading. Snipping or snapping off spent blooms can seem like an onerous task, but often that is the magic of the garden--many of the things you need to do in the garden are not exciting and take time. But, that's sometimes just what we need.
This morning, while looking closely at the various Cosmos scattered in patches within my front and side garden, I saw something move. First it freaked me out and then I looked closer. Yes--nature is wild! A Praying Mantis was sitting on the plant and since their advantage is camouflage, I hadn't noticed it until it moved, perhaps in an effort not to also get snapped off by me.
I once watched a Praying Mantis crawl on the outside of a screen door and they are extremely (painfully!) slow moving creatures. Watching paint dry pales in comparison to watching a Praying Mantis move. From that first sighting onward, I took the sighting of a Praying Mantis as an indication to me that I need to slow down. I hope to do some slowing down this weekend, but until then--it's full speed ahead.
If you find life is moving too fast--go outside, into a garden and try to find a Praying Mantis.
Sometimes weekends away are relaxing. Some are more along the lines of work. Other times they are a hybrid of the two and you come away exhausted but content. But, definitely exhausted:)
Two weekends ago I went on a "retreat" that I had no business going on because life was rather ramped up at the moment with four kids back to school and sports exploding all over the calendar in addition to those not-so-savory things a person has to do--like clean the house, do the laundry, break into the fall wardrobe while still floating the summer shorts.
Don't even get me started on the socks!
Socks. On the floor. A basket of matchless singles growing and growing. Smelly socks stuffed in shoes. Inside out socks in the middle of the stairs. Even socks OUTSIDE! Enough about the socks. On this retreat there wasn't a sock in sight. :)
There I was, on a writer's retreat to Squam Lake. What a beautiful location! So beautiful that it was a challenge to not spend the whole time walking around exploring or jumping in the lake. I was there to focus on my writing, so I soaked all the nature in from a comfortable and semi-productive distance.
What was so exhausting about that?
Well, it was a bit like a mini-conference and anybody who has ever been to a conference knows there's a lot of talking, meeting people, introducing yourself, figuring out what it is you might tell them, wondering more about them, and sharing a room with a stranger. Sure, she'll feel like a friend by the end of the weekend, but there's a process and so sharing a room can add to the lethargy. Throw in a wonderful old cabin that doesn't muffle anything and only amplifies every footstep and shift of weight. A toilet flushing? Sounds like Niagra Falls has just dumped down the walls and onto the floor.
It's all part of the charm, but also the process of allowing yourself to be uncomfortable, a little awkward, and eventually feel a bit like family when it's all said and done. It was a great experience and it felt so good to meet so many wonderful, creative, nerdy minds like myself. People who wrote, researched, animated, edited, agented, revised, read, made dolls and were all interested in each other. It's a great feeling to be surrounded by people committed to creativity!
The weather was perfect. Everything was photogenic, as you'll see below, and the whole experience helped me to grow a little bit more as a writer, a reader, and a member of the big wide creative community I love being a part of.
Delete. It's magic and it's a curse that's available at the touch of a finger.
No wand required.
This (here) text block had previously waxed poetic about Due Dates.
Yes, I went on about it for about the same length I will consequently go on about Dew Points, but with one important difference: I deleted the block about Due Dates.
Did I mean to? No. I had inserted an image and then something went kaflooey, as things tend to do in the tech world, and as I thought, "Maybe I should copy the text in case something goes wrong." Another thought pushed that first thought out of the way insisting, "Just keep going--fast. Do it. Press that little 'x' and only the image will disappear, not all of the text too."
So, I went with option number two and "Delete" happened. And, worse? I did not see an "Undo" for the life of me.
Come on! No "undo" to hit?
I'm not rewriting it. I'm writing this rant instead and since this is a blog and not a term paper, or a novel, I can do that.
Thank the good Lord for blogs and journals.
Now, onto Dew Points . . .
Wow--how did I go most of my life without caring or even knowing what these were?
It's not the heat, it's the humidity. No--it's the dew point! Dang that number that either means I'm going to have a refreshing breeze dance by or that I'm going to feel beads of sweat gather and drip down my back or from the inside crease of my elbow at some point. Ugh and ew!
Does that change anything? No. But today started out with a dew point in the 70s, which is nasty, and it ends somewhere in the 50s, which is Shangri-La.
After a summer that has been moist in all the worst ways and yet somehow extremely dry also in all the worst ways, I am running towards September and its promise of low dew points and long sweaters with absolute adoration in my eyes.
I have a few wonderful events coming up that will mark the transition from summer--when I let my brain go into detox and veg mode--to fall--when I fire up my pens and all things start to buzz and bubble with energy. Next weekend (not to be confused with this weekend:) I am off to a Writers' Retreat at Squam Lake. Boy, could I use anything with the word "retreat" in the title just about now. Then the following week is the Commonwealth Pen Show in Somerville, MA where I can go and luxuriate in all things pen and ink and paper. If there is a better two-weekend lineup that inspires the written word, I can't imagine it right now.
So, go. Retreat. Write. Then, pen. Write some more.
I'll put the pen show flier below for those who would like to attend and need more concrete details than my general gushing above offers.
Here's to extended deadlines and falling dew points!
This has been a hot summer to say the least. My kids have been in the pool a lot and so have plenty of frogs! Wow, who knew there were that many frogs in the area? It seems unnatural--there are that many! I just took two out of the skimmer.
They were among the lucky ones, still kicking and when I put them down they hopped off. How long before they are back in the pool?
Yesterday there were baby turkeys. I didn't see those but my family and my neighbor did. Last week a skunk waddled out from the bushes mid-morning as if it was the most ordinary thing to do.
Maybe it was--for him. Later he hung a right around the back of the shed and then faced off with a bunny. The skunk rolled on its back and the bunny hopped perhaps to appear more threatening than he really was. It was like nothing I've ever seen.
The week before that my children were running a wild petting zoo with four baby bunnies having been born after the mother made a den (nest?) in my raised vegetable garden. I went out to water one morning to hear thumping every so often. Finally after some investigating I realized it was a baby bunny running from the water and into the sides of my raised bed. The next day there were two little sets of ears huddled together hiding beneath the cucumber vine and among the marigolds. In the evening there were three bunnies where there had been two. Within a day there were four bunnies total. I couldn't believe my eyes.
(Side note: My vegetable garden beds are raised to keep bunnies out. Now they serve as a maternity ward for them.) Later I came out to see my girls and a neighborhood girl each holding a baby bunny lovingly, patting them and telling me their names: Squirmy, Gucci, Chubs and Lily.
Two evenings ago, I found what looked like another bunny nest in the same place and we all watched as the mother bunny circled and finally jumped in to feed her babies. We watched goldfinches visit our feeder and what we think is a wren flying and perching on my vegetable gardens, then swooping under our deck to where we think she may have a nest of her own. This afternoon one of my daughters came across three baby birds in the pool.
Two died. One sat in the grass at her mercy while she sat patting it wondering what to do. Four more kids gathered around the bird wanting to help. Finally, I scooped it up with my shirt and put it into my raised vegetable bed so nothing could get at it. While my son bent over to see the baby bird, he spied a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar that must have been feeding on the dill growing in abundance. Perhaps the baby bird or its mother will be feeding on that catepillar before long or it will be left to grow into a beautiful butterfly.
Who knew my raised beds would serve as a functioning animal hospital for animals of every sort?
The walls I thought would be a barrier for my vegetables has become those of a sanctuary of sorts.
Gardens are definitely sanctuaries--for animals and humans alike:)
I can't help but feel like a slacker. The trouble is there's still only the original 24 hours in a day and that just doesn't seem to be enough for me to get the things I need done, followed by the things I want to do done, followed by the things I should do done: you know that resting, relaxing, recovering, and rejuvenating thing we hear is necessary for a healthy and happy life.
Some writers and artists seem to create when the mood strikes them or when they feel something come over them and that used to be my method too, but with life so busy I'm going to have to come up with some other way that forces me to make more time for my personal writing projects, not just the writing I need to do for work or various other commitments, but the novels and poetry and blog posts (ahem!) I really want to be able to do.
Some writers and artists claim that the morning hours are best and I'm sure they are, but I'm not a morning person. Can I try to become one? Sure. Do I want to try to become one? No. I don't want to try, anyway. If I woke up one morning and was suddenly a morning person--sure, I'd love that. But, I don't have the energy to try to become one.
So, what's a gal to do? Well, it's almost summer. Ok--technically it's summer on the calendar and meteorologically it's summer, but according to my children's school summer is has not started yet. Yes, it's nearly July and "summer vacation" is still hours away.
What does summer have to do with anything, you may be wondering?
More time? Hopefully. But, based on historical precedent there seems to be no more time in the summer months than there are in the other nine and anything extra should be devoted to a good amount of resting and relaxing that every body needs in order to carry on for those other hectic, hurry-up-and-go months. One thing July has going for it is sunnier mornings which may be a help toward earlier mornings which may be a help toward writing in the mornings.
Throw in a good, old fashioned one-month challenge! Don't forget to include public accountability so others can see if you are holding to your commitment and have every right to heckle you if you slack off.
So, here goes. I am going to try to challenge myself to produce something creative for one month's time. I suppose I have to figure out what that is first, but I have a week to come up with something and report back.
That's just what I'll do.
Stay tuned. :)