In The Company With Writers

Mary Gottschalk, Carol Bodensteiner, and Me

Mary Gottschalk, Carol Bodensteiner, and Me

I love all of my friends and enjoy spending time with them no matter who they are or what they do for work. But I especially love being in the company of writers. Last week I had the privilege of spending time with two writers with whom I have communicated on the internet but had never met in person. I’ve read at least one of the books they’ve each written and in that reading found myself connected with them through their use of the written word.

On their way to a writer’ retreat on Chincoteague from Iowa, they honored me with a two night visit. It was enough time for me to validate that intuitive voice that told me, “You’d like these women.” And I did. Over glasses of wine, good food, and lots of writing talk I found myself enjoying every minute. Although I was unable to go with them on a tour of Monticello, I did join them for a fascinating historical tour of the University of Virginia and how Thomas Jefferson, with difficulty, put together what is today the University of Virginia.

I’ve read one of each of their books, both novels, and now I have their memoirs to help me get to know them even better. Mary Gottschalk’s, A Fitting Place, is the story of a woman recently deserted by her husband, who is looking for aIMG_0133 relationship to fill in the empty hole that her husband has left in her life. That this relationship is with another woman, speaks of the complications that life brings when we don’t take the time to get to know ourselves and what we want and need to live an authentic life.

Carol Bodensteiner’s novel, Go Away Home, is the story of young woman who has grown up on a farm in Iowa in the early 1900’s, as she begins to define herself and her need to see and experience living in a wider world of employment and self discovery. Both books are delightful reads, and I look forward to reading Mary’s memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam, about her trip sailing halfway around the world, and Carol’s, Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl. If you are looking for great reads, pick up their books and get to know them for yourselves through their written words. You are in for a treat.

I will be taking some time off to whittle away my long list of Have To’s for the next ten or so days. I will be back on April 1st, with my newsletter which will include an excerpt from my soon to be published memoir. And I will be back here on my blog on April 5th.

I hope you are enjoying the spring as much as I am. As I walk among the newly blooming shrubs and trees, I see the promises of new life that this season brings to us.

On Listening To Myself

Peony #13, ©1994

Peony #13, ©1994

I’m in the middle of nowhere on my way to some spectacular site that numerous roadsigns keep telling me I must visit. I’ve never been in New Mexico before. It’s been a wonderful week of wandering this desert landscape by myself in my rental car. I have visited phenomenal landmarks, old adobe missions and cemeteries. I’ve toured art galleries in Santa Fe and Taos and hiked around lugging my camera and tripod through the countryside. This trip started in Texas where I opened a show of my photographs in Abilene last week. In the morning I’ll be boarding a plane in Albuquerque to make my way home.

As I travel along I notice there are no houses out here. The tarred road has suddenly become a gravelHelenMacCloskeyFilec (2) road with a surface similar to a washboard. I slow my pace to avoid skidding off to the side. There are no other cars in sight. My stomach begins to grumble, but not in hunger. Just an hour earlier I had consumed a huge breakfast at the B&B where I spent the night. I left stuffed with fresh melon, berries and a yummy casserole of eggs, cheese, mushrooms and onions with a hint of heat.

As I continue to drive, both the road and my stomach become more unstable. There are large rocks appearing in the road and I’m creeping along trying to avoid them. Something is telling me to turn around and go back to the main highway and forget this foolishness. But I’m stubborn and berate myself for being a chicken. Sometimes I can be a brave adventurer but my body also houses a scaredy-cat. I continue in spite of my fear.

I’ve been in predicaments like this in the past. And yes, sometimes I’ve pushed myself beyond my fright, and found nothing but joy and safety on the other side of my unease. But there have also been other times, when my trepidation has turned out to be spot-on.

I was about 12 years old and walking home from the bus stop one day, when a strange pick-up truck pulled to the side of the road next to me. The driver, a man, opened his window and started asking me questions. Like where do I live, what is my favorite color, if I have a dog, and what is my favorite candy. I felt very uneasy and fled the scene, running as fast as I could. When I told my mother what had happened she called the police. We were told that the man fit the description of someone who had been stopping other kids on the sides of area roads and trying to get them into his truck. I had reacted to my building anxiety and gotten myself out of harms way.

At nineteen, working in Queens, New York, I rode buses and trains back and forth between home and work everyday. One evening when I was late leaving work, I got on a train that was packed full of other commuters. As they got off at the various stops, the crowd thinned out until I found myself alone in the car with a man sitting several seats in front of me on the other side of the aisle. He turned around and stared at me. Again I felt a bit of anxiety, but feeling very tired and not wanting to change cars, I ignored him and stayed in my seat. A few minutes later, he got up and walked up the aisle toward me. He unzipped his pants and facing me, started masturbating. I didn’t know what to do. He was standing in the aisle next to my seat, blocking my escape route. Fortunately the train came to a stop and more people started boarding the train. The man zipped up his pants and went back to his seat.

I quickly reported the incident to the conductor. He and another conductor escorted the man off the train. They came back to me and asked if I wanted to report the incident to the Police. When I said yes, they started telling me that the type of behavior I just witnessed happened on the train all the time and that no harm had ever been done by the perpetrators. And since they had already made him get off the train, it would be difficult to find him and could cause all kinds of difficulty, especially for me. Though I wanted to report it, I felt my hands were tied. To this day I regret that I hadn’t insisted on reporting the incident, giving the police the best description I could manage. I had not listened to my intuitive voice that had told me to move to another car, and to report the incident so that other girls could be spared the jolting experience I just had.

Now I’m again listening to what my inner voice is trying to tell me. I rethink what I’m doing, find a place to turn around and head back the way I came. As the road becomes smooth again, my stomach settles down and I’m at ease. I will never know what would have happened if I’d gone on. But it doesn’t matter.


Here I am, years later, still listening to that voice that helps me get through the thick and thin of life. It not only keeps me safe, it helps me in my visual art as well as in my writing. The series of abstract photographs of plants and flowers I exhibited in Abilene in 1996 wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t listened to that voice telling me when to move in closer to capture the image I saw before me. Nor would I now be getting ready to publish a memoir. It’s also what stops me when I’m overwhelmed and so tired I can’t think straight. I have found that there is no better authority when it comes to what I should do next. It’s a matter of trusting myself and listening to what my mind and body are telling me.

Do you listen to yourself when it’s trying to tell you something?

My Book Cover Reveal!


Yes!  That’s it!  And I Love it!!

No, that’s not me.  That’s my mother. She was eighteen years old at the time.

What an exciting time this is. Now that I have a cover and a fresh manuscript back from the proof reader, it’s beginning to feel like my memoir is real. But still, I occasionally have to stop and ask myself if all of this is really happening. Had you asked me 5 years ago if I’d write a memoir and even have it published, I would have said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” But, life is filled with surprises and this is one that I will celebrate for a long time. But this is only the beginning.

Today my words about my book and how I came to write it are over on my blog at She Writes and will be included in today’s She Writes Newsletter, as part of the Behind the Book series. I ended the post with these words saying why this could be an important book for many to read:

“SCATTERING ASHES, A Memoir of Letting Go, is my personal story of caring for my mother while searching for peace within myself and with my abusers.  It is also an important story. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 43.5 million of adult family caregivers care for someone 50+ years of age. The  US Census Bureau reported as of April, 2014, there were 76.4 million baby boomers. Clearly the problem of finding caregivers is growing. As is the need for family members to find ways of handling their own emotional trauma as they care for those who can no longer care for themselves. It is my hope that my story can be of help to those who are intending to care for their elders and/or those who may already be doing so.”

Please go over and read the whole post. You won’t be able to leave a comment unless you are a member, but you can certainly leave one here. I’d love to know what you think.

Christmas Past

Saks-#2The images in this post were taken at Saks Fifth Avenue, way back in December of 2007, when Bill and I were visiting the city to see some good theatre, movies, and eat mouth-watering food.  These days the city is way too crowded for me to be comfortable at this time of year, so we’re staying here at home reliving trips from the past.  Besides, Bill will be having knee replacement surgery on January 4th.  He’s in a lot of pain, so traveling, especially to the Big Apple is out. I can tell you he’s already salivating over a few shows that will be there in the spring. I have a feeling that once the surgery is over and the pain subsides a bit, he’ll have show tickets ordered and train tickets in hand.

Today I found myself remembering one of my favorite early TV shows that we watched on Sunday nights way, way back in the ’50s, called, I Remember Mama. It was a drama-comedy about an immigrant Norwegian family living in San Francisco during the 1910s. Peggy Wood, played Mama, and Judson Laire, played Papa.  I was smitten with the family and their lives as told through the eyes of their grown daughter. They were the family I longed for; loving, supportive, and extremely kind … unlike my own very dysfunctional family.

The program ran from 1949 to 1954. Since we were the last people on the block to get a TV, I missed many of the early episodes.  But my favorite episode of all time, was the Christmas show, set out in the barn around a manger.  A cow, horse, and sheep tell the story of Christ’s birth from their animal points of view, while the human family listens in on the other side of the door. So sweet. So simple. So life affirming. And for me the perfect Christmas story.

I turned seventy-three last month and find myself enjoying precious moments from the past. I thinkSaks-#4 this remembering is one of the things that makes aging such a special time of life.  As I look back at what once was, I take solace in the way things were and am grateful that I had the opportunity to live a much more simple life when I was a kid.  There were no huge displays of holiday lights, no Black Friday sales. No robots. No cell phones. No standing in line to get a bargain on Thanksgiving night. Gifts were simple and came from the heart.  A handmade doll, a stocking filled with walnuts, oranges, a pair of hand-knit socks or mittens. I went caroling with friends in the our neighborhood.  It is that spirit that I wish to surround myself with during the holidays.

Do you have precious Christmas moments from the past?


Exciting News About My Book

Yes, iIMG_1239t’s fall … my favorite time of year. The leaves are changing from green to bright yellow, gold, red, and orange, too. Yesterday on my walk, there was a a cool breeze out of the northwest. Leaves were dropping like a steady rain. It was magical.

So it seems appropriate to tell you that during this spectacular time of year, another spectacular event is now officially beginning to happen. My book, Me, Myself, and Mom, is officially on the road to being published and will be on bookshelves next September.

I’m publishing with She Writes Press and I couldn’t be happier.

From my first contact with this fairly young press, I’ve been impressed by the quality of the books they send out into the world, their award winning authors, and the help they provide for those like me who are technical dinosaurs.

One of their developmental editors, Annie Tucker, was a dream to work with. She respected what I was doing and never tried to make my manuscript into something it wasn’t. You don’t have to sign a publishing contract with SWP in order to hire one of their prize editors. The experience of working with a professional like Annie, gave me the confidence I needed to know that my book had a great chance where ever I decided to go with it.

In the beginning, I was thinking of self-publishing. But I’d already self-published one book in 1980, before it became the wave of the future. That book, about a way to use fleece directly from a sheep’s back to make rugs and other gorgeous items, was a huge success. But the end process of being a bookseller and taking care of all sales and shipping, was hard work. I had little time for anything else. When other back-to-the-landers, like myself, started getting older and the market began to cool, I let it go out of print.

I asked myself why I would want to take all that on again.

I figured this new book, a memoir, was something entirely different. I’m in my seventies now, I enjoy tending to all of my interests instead of just one. I want to travel. I want to spend time with my family. I want to work in the garden and cook. I want to make art and write much more than I already have.

I knew it could take the rest of my life to find a traditional agent and publisher that I wanted to work with. So the idea of working with a hybrid press like SWP, sounded just right for me. And my experience with Annie, convinced me that going with them was what I needed to do.

Two years ago, when I was still considering self-publishing, I made contact with a publicist at the Virginia Festival of the Book. She was on a panel with two other publicists giving a run down on what publicists do for writers. Between the three of them, I found, Caitlin Summie Hamilton, to be the most down to earth. She seemed like the real deal … open, honest, and approachable. After the panel discussion, I talked with her and later chatted with her on the phone about what she could do for me and what the costs looked like. I really liked her and promised myself that if I decided I wanted to work with a publicist, she would be the one.

Imagine my delight when I found Caitlin on SWP’s list of recommended publicists. I talked with her again last week, and she’s writing up a proposal for me.

I’ve also sent in material for my book cover and look forward to a chat next month with Brooke Warner and all of the other authors whose books will be published in the fall of 2016. I love the community of writers that SWP has created and look forward to getting to know them all.

To say that I’m excited would be an understatement. There were days when I never believed I’d get this far. There were times when I wanted to shred the manuscript and give up the idea of ever publishing this book.

Reliving what I was writing about was painful. But the idea of giving up and throwing it away wasn’t an option and I focused on the idea that this book just might help someone else going through a critical time in their life. I’d learned too much to just let it go and not share my story.

So I hung on. And look where I am today!

Have there been moments in your life when you wanted to trash an important project you were working on? What kept you moving toward the finish line?