Just stick out your chin and grin and get thee to the library!
So, here in the Boston area we are having our twelfth consecutive day of some form of rain, whether it is trace amounts or of the copious sort. Today the skies are very prolific and here's what has become a familiar sight outside of my door--
But I know from my days working at a bookstore, while raising my young family, that a rainy day is a great day for BOOKS! Hopefully you're able to cozy up with a book at some point today or your next rainy day.
I decided to go for a classic and tuck into an author I have surprisingly never read: Agatha Christie. And the best place to start was with one of her more famous mysteries: Murder on the Orient Express.
It's a great read so far. So, if you find yourself stuck with a day that's grey, go visit your local library--they are open now! Yay! Or step into a bookstore near you and pick something up to distract you from the rather soggy scene outside.
On one more positive note--for the gardeners and conservationists or people who like to save a buck or two off their water bill--my rain barrel is full to the brim this summer, so far. Not that I've needed to use it with all this rain.
Enjoy the summer months and hopefully we'll see sun shining soon!
It's summer. Sometimes it's hard to stay focused on a project when the sun shines, the pool waves, kids abound and schedules turn loose-y goose-y. So, I am grateful for my writer friends. We need them. You know the ones that like to talk about writing--
who are actually willing to read what you write.
I just got off the phone after a good chat about the most recently revised version of my manuscript Lucy Bound in Lyrics with my writer friend and author of the daily blog Existential Auto Trip, Dom Capossela. He was one of the small, brave group of writers who strolled in to be part of the writers' critique group I was starting over four years ago in 2017. Wow! Here's a photo of that first meeting--though the current members are all different now.
Lucy Bound in Lyrics has undergone several revisions since then and I have grown as a writer as a result. At least I hope I have:) If Dom's feedback is any indication, I am on the right track. He really liked Lucy and appreciated her father's character. It was good to hear from a father who can see through that lens since he is the first male beta reader I've had.
So, thanks Dom! For all your support along my writing journey. It's important to have people in my life who will read my stuff and, if I'm really lucky, are willing to carve out an hour to talk about it on a summer's day.
I am grateful for good friends and honest feedback!
Sometimes a gal just has to sit and be silent with her thoughts. The school year has come to a close and the bustle that goes along with that has kept me away from posting, but I've been busy in the garden. Here's one of my newest additions: art and nature doing their thing. Hope you're enjoying the arrival of summer and taking time out to soak in a little silence along the way. Happy Summer!
Today I walked with my kids to school. I say, “walked with” because they have made it clear they do not require my escort services, but I let them know I need the fresh air, exercise, the undivided time to talk with them and a scheduled “event” to get my day up and running. Since the start of the pandemic, I've needed to create more structure to the day, especially when school was at home and there was no need to "get" to school at all.
A morning walk has been the silver lining for me. So, we walk.
Normally I just double back on the same route after we reach the school, but today I decided to take the long, uphill way home. It adds ten extra minutes to the walk and usually reminds me how out of shape I am once the hill kicks in.
Today—instead—it reminded me that we measure our impact on others all wrong.
On the way up the hill I came upon a family: a mother holding the hands of her two, young sons (possibly twins?) and a father pushing another in a baby carriage. Much to my surprise she seemed to recognize me and said, “Hey, are you the lady I see who always walks to school with your kids?”
“Yes, I do. I took the long way home today.” I smiled and enjoyed my celebrity status for a beat.
Holding onto those two all-boy bundles of energy for dear life, lest they break loose, she continued, “You inspired me, so we are walking.” She told me. “I saw your kids with the umbrellas and I thought . . . those kids—” I forget the rest of what she said, but I’ll imagine something poetic about my kids being able to tolerate unpleasant weather in the future.
I busted in with a, “Well, I heard there’s no bad weather just bad equipment.”
We all laughed and continued in our opposite directions, but that encounter stayed with me for the rest of my walk. “You inspired me.” Echoed around in my ears and it made me think. I thought of how we never know who we are inspiring when we live our lives the way we do. Never assume you don’t matter or that you are not making a difference in this world, the environment, children's health and wellness or whatever you feel passionately about simply because you have not yet met the person who has been inspired by you—even in just one small, but meaningful, way.
Why did this woman being inspired by me, now walking with her kids to school, make me happy? It wasn’t a fleeting comment about my hair or something on the surface. Truly, it had nothing to do with me, but with my beliefs and how I've chosen to live those beliefs out.
I believe kids who walk to school (with or without a parent) are better off: fresh air, some nature, social time together, exercise, gains independence, builds self-confidence and when they get to school they are more content to sit down because they've been walking. Not to mention the Vitamin D, social skills like saying Good Morning to neighbors, and the list goes on.
Sure, you have to wake up a little earlier but you’re talking to a gal who detests mornings, so if I can get into the habit of forcing myself out of bed a little earlier, than anybody can. The payoff is just too good. Not to mention the peace of mind it offers me when I'm running late or cannot drive a child to or from school. They know what to do—how to find their way home. Driving is stressful and any parent who has ever dropped off or picked up at school knowns what a cluster it can be. Stress. Beeping. Honking. Fender benders. Getting all kids—especially young ones—strapped in and sitting down. It’s a logistical pain.
Here’s the other thing that hit me, and this landed in the form of a metaphor: Wall Street vs Main Street. It’s something we’ve heard a lot about in the past several years. How do we measure success, the economy, etc? This felt like a Wall Street vs Main Street moment which, in my mind, is also a parallel to Social Media vs In-person Socializing.
Success on Wall Street and Social Media is measured in broad strokes. There are numbers, peaks and valleys, money to be made, master manipulation and plenty of dubious characters running both—encouraging and ignoring addictive behavior in favor of financial gain. It’s wholly impersonal. It’s extreme and volatile. It’s very difficult to see the forest for the trees when it comes to Wall Street and Social Media. There’s no time and no interest. Things move fast. Emotions are high.
Success on Main Street and In-person Socializing is measured one person at a time. There are people with faces and feelings. There is eye contact and imperfect conversations—awkward silences. There is humanity and the desire to connect, to form a relationship (whether that is the owner of a store or restaurant hoping to earn a loyal customer or a neighbor wanting to be friendly). People are nervous, bombastic, shy, rude and really funny. It’s wholly personal. It’s small and often a slow process—connecting with other human beings, especially strangers. It’s all trees in all their individual characteristics with squirrels and birds and various shaped leaves when it comes to Main Street and In-person Socializing. There’s the need to take time and take an interest. Things move slowly. Emotions are real.
Unfortunately we measure so much by how active we are on social media or how many followers and likes we have. I’m not on social media and have no plans to be anytime soon. I think it’s toxic to humanity. I think it’s the worst thing to has happened to our young people in so many generations—it’s a poisonous flower. It may look good and sell well in the shop, but it’s not something you want to bring home or let your kids touch. It’s a flower I could never sell with a clean conscience. So, I stay away. I encourage others to stay away, especially with so many better ways to spend time.
The feeling of satisfaction that meeting that young family offered me has not evaporated. It didn’t disappear with the next click. It felt so good and healthy and human that it prompted me to write—to tell you! Maybe, that mother won’t be the only one I’ll inspire to step outside and walk with kids or her decision to walk will inspire another family and another. Perhaps I can inspire you too to walk more, but also to reevaluate how you measure your success. Are there ways to live what you believe? Maybe there's one small habit you can form to reflect a passion of yours.
Not enough people are imploring us to ask ourselves: Is social media doing more harm than good in my life? Am I living my life on my own terms or by somebody else’s standards or rules that deeply contrast with mine in a way I can no longer ignore?
Let me tell you—you are inspiring someone right now. You may never meet them, but it is the human part of you that is the inspiration, so embrace that. Know that it doesn’t matter how it is received on social media. Connect with one person, maybe two, in-person and you’ll have a better sense of what is worthwhile. Less is, so often, more. Particularly when it comes to people. When it comes to words, I still have work to do in that department. I write a lot of words. I'll have to accept it as one of my flaws:)
Go take a walk without your phone, all alone—in the big wide real world.
See the forest for the trees. There are some amazing trees out there!!
The other day I was reading The Last Story of Mina Lee. And that got me to thinking—so much so that I wasn’t remembering the first half of a sentence by the time I got to the last half. The book is about a daughter who hadn’t seen her mother in a year. There were complicated feelings there. When one is not sure as to the categorization of such feelings, the word “complicated” sums it up. And so, I was reading. She went to visit her mother and found her dead, face down on the floor.
There ends a visit and begins a process. Grieving, yes. But, also the process that anybody who has ever lost a close loved one knows is unpleasant to say the least. Sorting through belongings. Wondering what they meant. Are they clues? Rallying help to move furniture and put it—where? Someone else must live there now. That life is over and all the messy bits tidied up and thrown away, given away, taken in as gifts from the departed, sold. The mind churns and we grasp for things. Why? What are we trying to solve? Are we trying to solve something? Sometimes we are—especially when the last days of the departed were spent alone and the person left in a way that seems anything but natural or straightforward.
What of the departed reflects the person no longer living? What reflects us—those left behind? Perhaps that is why so many are drawn to reading and viewing mysteries fictional or true. The word "searching" sticks out in my mind like a clue. And so, I wonder what we search for when a life has ended. What are we clinging to as we see the decline of health and therefore the ticking of the clock of time?
I think the answer is: Stories.
It feels like a natural instinct to demand a beginning, a middle and an end. We as humans seem to desire the rising and falling of an arc. Things need to make sense to us. So, we crave happy endings or justice or something that seems close to an appropriate reflection of how a story began. Were the decisions a person made good or bad? What influenced the journey now that we see where it ends? What do we hope to gain by knowing any of it---by possessing a certain artifact or document—some sort of tangible clue?
We need to digest the story because we feel it will inform our own story—the one we are writing right now with our body and our mind, our emotions and our actions. Archeologists are diggings for stories. Scientists are hoping to influence stories or discover them or predict them. Historians immerse themselves in nothing but stories. Faith is built from the foundation up, one story at a time—passed on one person, one page, one witness at a time. Math and the codes of technology are stories being told using a different language.
As I read The Last Story of Mina Lee I felt within myself a sudden urge to ask my own mother to tell us about herself. We’ve heard so many stories from her but have never written them down or recorded them. The details were sometimes hazy. The people’s names forgotten.
I picture my children with a microphone or a camera asking her questions that start from the inside and grow outward in a circle. Who is she? Her family growing up? Her parents, grandparents, siblings? Reaching back as far as her memory might go---seeing those stories in the water as they float around us. We in the boat lunge and pull the sopping wet stories out and up and into the boat—save them from sinking to the bottom of the sea never to be seen, at least not seen through that same lens, from that same angle and perspective.
What will we do with these stories once we’ve collected them? I don’t know, but I can feel the universe pulling me towards the work of saving stories, relating, understanding, witnessing humanity—together.
Spring in New England is like fishing--not that I fish all that often. But, I've done it before and I've watched Jaws. You cast the hook and hopefully something bites. Spring? You start to reel in. If it's a big strong spring you let the line out a bit. Let it run so you don't snap it. Then reel. Then run. Warm. Cold.
Finally, the fish.
Spring creates a conundrum for me. In or out. Dirt or paper. Where and with what should I work. Rain makes the decision easy. Sun makes it impossible. Some people go to the gym, but I go to the garden. I dig and pull roots and lug wheelbarrows and imagine color, snapping peas and figure out how to keep bunnies away.
Raised garden beds.
Chili pepper flakes.
Form is so fun. I think it's what draws me to the written word and to the garden. Interesting shapes and intriguing colors are the goal for both. It's art--all of it--in the end. If we could just admit that art is everywhere then we wouldn't be so hesitant to call ourselves artists: in the kitchen, the garden, the page, the clay--life.
You are an artist. Even if you can't admit it.
Embrace it. It's a good thing.
Now, go create!
Oops. It appears I've neglected this corner of my world for nearly a month. Seems like a good place to plunk a big ole turkey--with all the fixin's. Below is an email (letter) that I sent to my writer friend, Dom.
It's good to have a writer friend if you're a writer because they enjoy writing (and reading your writing--hopefully) and so every now and then you can write something you enjoy writing knowing they will enjoy reading. One of the best gifts a writer can receive is a kind reader. Truly.
Dom writes a daily blog (yes, DAILY!) and will often include emails and his responses within it:
You'd enjoy this food at-home adventure:
George and I had an idea back in November--Thanksgiving--that
we would get a big turkey later in the winter and have it long after Thanksgiving,
which is usually the only time we have turkey here.
We got a 20lb turkey for $14 and
it remained in the freezer until last week.
We thawed it and cooked it Sunday--stuffing, turnip and all the fixings.
It was so delicious to smell in the house--and
it was even more delicious because
we didn't have any appetizers like we do for Thanksgiving.
Just got to dig in.
It worked out that it was still freezing cold here, since
it would have been weird if it was too springy--but
I hope it's something we do again to jazz up a late winter.
It felt like our celebratory dinner that the pandemic is waning.
We even had St. Joseph zeppoles for dessert and
I made turkey soup out of it yesterday, along with
turkey sandwiches for lunch and the kids had them for dinner.
It's like a big whale washed up on the shore and
we're going to use up every bit of it!:)
Happy Birthday today Dom! Enjoy whatever food adventure you find yourself on:)
Blog meister responds: that's a great story!!!
totally love the anticipation,
the holiday atmosphere,
what a great home.
I received this daily meditation booklet back in November. It has three months of one-page writings to contemplate. Today's passage felt too fitting to keep to myself so I thought I'd share. It feels like something for our country to consider at this pivotal moment in time. This is taken from Our Daily Bread Ministries booklet publication (Dec/Jan/Feb). The painting that serves as a backdrop to the small, but powerful, page was done by my small, but powerful, daughter Madeline:)
I know it’s considered cool to wake up early these days, but I can’t deny my love for sleep. The first part of Christmas vacation has been dedicated to getting as much sleep and doing as little as possible. I woke up just after eight o’clock in the morning the Tuesday after Christmas. Feet met floor at 8:15am. That’s a record so far—with the exception being Christmas morning for obvious, exciting and nonnegotiable reasons.
Crusty cookie platters and crumpled wrapping paper still linger, intentionally ignored while I attempt to recover from this past year—or, at least the week leading up to Christmas. The whole year will undoubtedly take a bit longer to recover from.
Restoring my body and mind can be a bit of a battle. I have no interest in cleaning, but I know it must be done eventually. I wait. I rationalize that eating a few cookies is a form of clearing away some clutter. Furthermore, I’m doing my 2021 self a favor by eliminating them as a future option.
That’s when the perfect metaphor seizes hold of me. Gardening!
Gardens grow so many life lessons.
During my inner battle of Recovery vs Productivity I have argued (with myself, of course:) that allowing myself the luxury of doing nothing for a while will eventually lead to the old clockwork clicking in and causing me to actually want to do some cleaning.
But—trying to force myself to clean without allowing my body and mind to simply sit dormant for a bit will only lead to an unhappy, very unproductive and prolonged mess. I insist that if I allow some quiet* to settle in long enough, any resulting effort—fueled by the genuine motivation I am confident will eventually bubble to the surface—will be much more productive.
These thoughts leave me to ponder the planting of a tree—a fruit tree, in particular.
People have a tendency to want to plant the biggest tree they can afford (myself included) wanting to fill up the space fast and get fruit sooner, in the case of a fruit tree. However, orchard owners and gardeners in the know assure us that a small, young tree—planted with care—will surpass the size and long-term health of an initially larger tree in just a few years.
Gardens are always about the long game. We should look at our lives through the same lens.
When we plant a tree—particularly a fruit tree that needs to put out a lot of energy later on in order to produce fruit—we are better off planting a small, young tree.
After you plant your tree (aka: whip) depending on the type, you usually prune it heavily which leads to the “stick” resemblance. No branches. No leaves. Definitely no apples. Why?
There are two reasons:
I have planted several fruit trees in the past: peach, apple and pear and have had to endure the befuddled looks of friends and family as they glance at the glorified sticks in the ground, then to me, then back to the sticks.
“Ok” they chuckle, “looks like you stuck sticks in the dirt.” They don’t share my excited anticipation.
They cannot see what I have faith will appear—eventually.
Truth be told, I had to hide my own doubting eyes upon introducing those first apple “trees” I planted.
I had bought and read a book. Ordered said “trees.” Followed the book’s instructions, no matter how wide my eyes grew in disbelief. I had to trust people with experience beyond my own.
I had to have faith and—as they say—the waiting is the hardest part.
It was a long wait.
The gift of growing older is that you have gathered some of your own experiences to guide you—hopefully. You can feel more confident that what others may not understand now will bear fruit later.
So, not only does this garden lesson tell me that as I sit quietly I am putting out new roots and strengthening what already exists below the surface, which is instrumental to any future efforts, but it also tells me that a stronger root system can benefit from a healthy pruning—a thinning out.
When it comes to the end-of-year cleanout, I need to give each room a healthy prune and clear away what is lifeless and broken. Then, I need to be more intentional with anything new. If something is blocking out sunlight, growing in the wrong direction or the angle is too narrow—cut it out, straighten it out or stretch to open the angle. If not, it may be difficult to support fruit production in the future.
With fruit trees as my guide—I’ll look to the new year knowing that healthy fruit can’t be produced with a poor root system or untended branches. What’s below the surface needs to be tended to even if it means friends and family might look at you with questioning eyes—not fulling understanding or, even worse, thinking you're doing nothin'.
Lying dormant, getting enough oxygen and making room for sunlight are necessities.
Have faith. Keep a good book by your side to guide the way.
And, above all—remember your roots below the surface.
They matter more than anything.
Tend to them.
*I use the word “quiet” loosely knowing I still have four kids, one husband and a cat under the one roof I am attempting to sit, sleep or stand quietly under.
New Year’s Resolution: To write a blog entry under 500 words and more of them, more often. I think I'll try to think of it more like a scrap book of ideas, thoughts, things I like, etc. We shall see . . .