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.
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:)
The world is opening up slowly but surely. Hopefully it follows spring's lead and petal by petal it stretches into a bloom so that we can enjoy life more fully. Imagine if flowers stayed buds forever?
What a tease.
The Massachusetts State Poetry Society had a meeting this past weekend. It was in-person at the Beverly Public Library, and it has been a while since I have attended any workshop or gathering in-person for the sake of being creative--even if only in bite-sized pieces. Poetry is sort of famous for being bite-sized, so this was a good start.
Poetry also has a habit of being famously impenetrable or snobbish. But, like so many things in life, if you can push past your own preconceived notions about poetry you'll see it's just words like everything else.
It's a magnifying glass for emotion and feeling.
It tries to get right to the point.
Its love for the heart of the matter can be seen as obstinate at times.
This is where this weekend's workshop on Acrostic Poetry comes in. Acrostic Poetry is quite possibly the perfect ambassador between people and poetry. It provides the suggestion of structure but does not slap you across the knuckles with its rules as some forms have a habit of doing. It simply provides a very entry-level chain link fence where you can see outside, but you are asked to play within its boundaries. What you play is up to you.
Some may see the fence and find it, well--offensive (pardon the wordplay:). It seems too elementary. In fact, you may remember writing an acrostic poem in elementary school. What an insult to your intelligence, because while you may not be up for the snobbery of a Shakespearean Sonnet, you will not be subjected to the ABCs of an Acrostic! Pfft!!
Well, I must admit to you, my attitude was quite the same. It had been years--decades--since I'd laid eyes, let alone my own pen, onto an acrostic poem. And yet, I played along.
I was brought over to the fenced in area.
The rules were simple and clear--refreshingly so.
So, I played.
And . . .
I absolutely loved it. Simple enough for my overwhelmed mind to participate and yet once I allowed myself to forget about the world beyond the fence, I felt safe and had some fun with words. I didn't drone on as I tend to do with prose. I picked and plucked and tried to put together a bouquet. Rearranging, crossing out, rewriting. It has been so long since I'd allowed myself to work at a poem that wasn't simply "freestyle." The "rules" offered just enough challenge without making the exercise daunting or frustrating.
So, I encourage you. I implore you: write an Acrostic Poem. Here's a link to get you started: Acrostic Poem
Many thanks to Jeanette Maes, President of the Massachusetts State Poetry Society, who facilitated the workshop this past weekend. The poem I wrote is titled "Gardening" and it could do with some reworking, but I'll include it as it stands currently.
It felt good to take a snapshot of thought and force it onto paper. There is a satisfaction in creating that we cannot, as humans, dismiss or constantly defer. I'm glad I shook myself from default to get my hot mess of a self into the car and to that meeting so I could start to remember why I love poetry and words as a medium, so very much.
It's been a while. Since, the writing--in here.
With a blog titled, "Dear Diary" I wanted to write, "Dear Diary, my mother passed away less than a month ago and I'm finding it hard to write. Why does grief take up so much room in my head? Why does it feel like such a relief to write what I'm thinking in my paper journal with my pen, but when it comes to typing in this Diary---I just don't want to?"
And that's a problem, for a writer. "Writer's block" seems to take on a whole new, debilitating strength after the loss of a loved one. It makes me think of the children's book I used to read to my children called, Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball by Vicki Churchill & Charles Fuge. For some reason, when I'm sad or overwhelmed, I want to get as small as I can. And, in an effort to get as small as I can I pull in my arms and legs and tuck my chin down.
It's hard to write when you're in a ball.
Writing is an extension of who I am and I suppose stretching myself out so publicly on a page is simply unappealing. It's the last thing I want to do because, well--when you lose someone you love you really don't want to do much at all. But I'm still a mother, wife, sister, friend, neighbor, volunteer, citizen and, still, I am a daughter--with all that continues to come with such a role even without the mother to show for anymore.
Loss happens and then--weeks, months, years later the essence of it still lingers. In sentimental human ways and in demandingly impersonal, bureaucratic ways. It suddenly shows up when you least expect it and seems to have abated only to soon make it clear it has not.
And so this blog post is me putting the key in the ignition, turning with a sigh and knowing I need to turn the engine over every now and then to be sure the car will run in the future even if my heart just isn't in it today. But it will be. I have to believe that.
I need to try to not look too long into the void or it will swallow me. We humans have a habit of steering into what we're staring into. That's dangerous. So, I need to know the void is there in order not to fall into it and then avert my eyes, focus on the living, put one foot in front of the other and walk towards the light no matter how far off it appears at this moment.
Easier said than done. I know.
But, it's a start:)
I love the Peanuts cartoons and always have to watch Merry Christmas Charlie Brown when the holiday season rolls around. It's a wonderful, quiet nod to the real reason for the Christmas season and how community can lift us up, little things can mean a lot, and the underdogs in our lives can surprise us and save the day!
During such challenging times, fear can start making our decisions for us. That's not a good thing. The ever-present essence of fear in the air lately makes me appreciate the page from my Our Daily Bread book that I have included alongside this entry. Linus takes center stage and speaks so simply.
I hope that whatever faith you practice you are able to take strength from it, lean on something larger than any of us and shed some of the fear that we have all come to live with constantly.
I have faith that something is going to give and we will start to feel some relief from so much stress in the new year: 2022! Good times are ahead where we will be able to let go a little, enjoy the moments as they present themselves to us, and live fearlessly.
Happy New Year to you and all the family and friends in your life.
I am all in on the cozy factor of fall. About a million years ago my grandmother taught me how to make a crochet chain and then in high school (or college) a friend showed me and a few other friends a crochet stitch that could be used to make an entire blanket.
That one stitch has served me well and I have made a blanket for each of my children and some other family members. Walking into a store last week I saw a gigantic ball of yarn and had to have it, partly because looking at it just made me smile--it was the biggest ball of yarn I've ever seen in some of my favorite shades of rose.
It's nice to have something simple to do on a chilly day, to pick up and put down and that will give the mind a rest and eventually be something--whole. So, I purchased "Cozy Rosy," as I now refer to her, and she is a good companion along with my family when we watch a little baseball or a show that I don't have to follow closely.
Cozy Rosy is also a good reminder that a novel starts with one word, one sentence, one page and one chapter. Slowly but surely--little bits of writing or small works of art can amount to something to spread out, look at and enjoy!
Hope you are cozy and rosy this fall.:)
Sometimes a cup of tea and some sound, unsolicited advice from the tea tag hits the spot!:)
This is the story of The Little Clematis that Could
A little over two years ago, we were preparing to move. We had outgrown our house and needed a bit more room, so like a crab we molted--shedding our old shell in favor of a new one. Being a gardener, I had so many plants in my garden that I wanted, but couldn't, take with me. One particularly striking plant was a Clematis vine with big, beautiful, purple/blue blooms that ushered in the spring brilliantly.
Knowing I couldn't uproot that large plant I noticed a "volunteer" down at the base, which was a small stem sticking up that had taken root and could be separated and taken with us. So, that's what I did--took it with us. In the crazy chaos of the move it got lost and quite frankly I forgot I had even taken it up as it was not the only plant I had taken a division of and moved around. That little plant found itself all alone and down the Cape, still in its second-hand pot, all winter long.
The next spring we went down to find a pot on the banister. It had to have been found by someone and placed there because it surely would have blown off onto the ground if it had been left there for months during the snowy, blowy winter. I almost didn't recognize it with no leaves and no label, just a desperate little stick of a stem with nothing to distinguish it from any other little stick of a stem just trying to survive a long, cold, lonely winter. But, alas--I had a suspicion it might be that Clematis.
We moved into our new home and I found what I thought was just the right spot for that little transplant. When I pointed it out to my mother she said, "Oh no, that won't grow. Clematis don't like to be transplanted." Hurrumph. Well, it was in the ground and I was going to water it and see what happened. And guess what?
It grew. It started growing and I went out and bought a pretty metal trellis for it to climb and I anticipated how beautiful it would be, but--a groundhog came along one day and ate everything in that garden right down to the ground including the Clematis. All I could think about was how much that little plant had survived and yet, just as it started to thrive it was cut short. So short--surely it was a goner.
With expectations very low I gathered a few tree branches and lay them over the spot where the stem still appeared in its heavily munched state. I figured perhaps the branches with their twigs sticking out all around would deter any hungry animal the next spring. I waited and waited and then--
Signs of life. The vine started to stretch and green up. The sticks I had covered it with were not a problem as the vine wound around, through and up. It grabbed hold of the metal trellis I had supplied it with the year before and it kept climbing up and up and up. There were lots of leaves now and it was spreading out in all directions.
Watering it one day I noticed a big hole behind it--clear of the sticks that had been placed in front of the trellis--between the trellis and the house which was about four inches. Bunnies! A bunny had decided to dig a nest for her babies back there behind my Clematis vine. How? Why? I don't know. Perhaps it seemed like a safe place for my Clematis and for some baby bunnies. Somehow the digging didn't bother the roots of the vine enough to kill it. The bunnies stayed, until they left.
Before too long the vine was green and healthy and continuing to climb so I cut away the branches I had put in front of it to protect it and was able to fully admire it. But then. Those bunnies. They were hungry and began to chew on all sorts of things in my garden despite the plentiful clover: my Amelanchier tree, a swamp Azalea I had planted only weeks before and yes . . . that Clematis vine.
The infuriating thing about it was that those bunnies didn't even eat the whole thing. This time they just took a nibble low on the vine so as to cut the power to the rest of the plant that had so miraculously climbed that trellis. Snapped it in half and walked away so that slowly the leaves of the top of that vine started to brown around the edges and curl inward toward itself. Feeling defeated and somehow emboldened I pulled away the dying part to toss into the compost bin and made a trip to the store where I bought chicken wire.
With little chicken wire experience I cut through it, shaped it, cut my hands up plenty, got about twenty mosquito bites as I worked, but was determined to surround the base of the Amelanchier, the Azalea and that Clematis with something strong and unpleasant. Life went on.
The summer was hot and rainy. With so many things growing I didn't notice the Clematis as much. Perhaps I didn't want to. It had been such a roller coaster seeing it grow and then be cut down, then grow and then severed once again seemingly beyond my control. But, there appeared to be hope. Somehow it grew and climbed once again and there was even what appeared to be a bud. Well, that could not be because this vine only ever bloomed in the spring. And this particular plant only ever grew to be eaten by animals soon after.
Yesterday was a beautiful day. Labor Day. A holiday and the last gasp of summer. We sat out in the backyard to enjoy the sun and the air. I had sat down with my garden book to try to look up the name of a flower I had forgotten the name of. That's when my daughter pointed and yelled, "Mom!"
She was pointing to a big, beautiful bloom on my Clematis vine. It was September 6th. That little plant had seemed to live and die and live and die over and over and somehow, against all odds, it was blooming its heart out. It was a sign of hope. A sign that things don't always work out the first time, or the second--but at some point there will be a bloom of color and joy to savor and appreciate.
The big, violet bloom was also a message. It was telling me not to give up--ever. That little plant was surviving against all odds and there it was blooming for all to see.
So, I'm passing this message along to you because it's not a message to keep to myself.
It is a message meant to be shared.
Don't give up
This past year has taken a lot from so many. Most of the loss has been obvious--tragic, tangible. Other losses have been more like the heat out of a drafty window--largely unnoticed until one is alone in a room and the chill is highlighted by the absence of distraction. In some of the quiet calm of this summer's vacation days I felt myself feeling the loss of a year and a half of childhood for every child in the world--and more personally my own. No matter how fortunate, innocence was lost this past year along with the care-free nature that is the hallmark of youth. It is as if my vision was so blurred by all that has transpired, I now look up to discover I missed some of the tailwinds of childhood as they swept by. My children continued to grow though time seemed to stand still for so many of us. They have grown in so many ways! This poem helped funnel those feelings through and out. There is so much we have not yet processed and that only quiet, contemplative time can yield. There is much to lament and it is important that we all allow ourselves the time and space to do so. It's a healthy, albeit unpleasant and often awkward, part of the natural grieving process.