April’s Charm

IMG_0165It’s been a fairly warm winter and we only had one good snow storm — but it’s been a dark one with lots of rain. There were countless days in which all I wanted to do was to cozy up with a steaming cup of tea and somebody else’s book. But work on my own book was necessary. I reread and reread to check for mistakes that the editors, proof reader, and I all had missed. When the first day of spring arrived in March, I felt burned out on my story and wanted to throw it in the glowing coals of my fireplace. Fortunately, there were voices out there that told me to take heart, that many writers feel burned out at this stage of the game.

I’ve been away from my rereads for over a week now and feeling much better about the whole thing. I’m beginning to feel very excited as the back cover is coming together with great blurbs from a few people who have already read it. My airline tickets and hotel reservations are set for my trip to Chicago next month for Book Expo America, and my publicist spent an hour on the phone with me, giving me tips on what to expect along with lots of convention etiquette.

Being one who doesn’t like big crowds, I’ll be stepping way outside of my comfort zone. But, you know what? I’m looking forward to getting one more thing crossed off of the “Big Challenges List,” that I keep tucked away in my back pocket along with my Bucket List. I suppose they’re actually one and the same, but things on my Big Challenges List are more scary than those on my Bucket List. In the long run, it really doesn’t matter what happens. I will have done it and my sense of self-esteem and confidence will be have risen a rung or two on my “Life Ladder.”

The point is that regrets are built on the steps we don’t take to live out loud. I figure that I’ve been birthing this book for a long time and I must do everything I can do to bring it to life. If an infant isn’t breathing when it comes into the world, nurses and doctors don’t give up on it without trying to save it’s life. I’m not about to let my book die in the delivery room. I want her to be breathing nicely when she hits the first book shelf.

IMG_0162In the meantime, it’s April, and I have about six weeks before I need to worry about all of that. The days are longer and sunnier, I think the robin who kept me company in the garden last spring is back, and the greening of the new season seems greener than ever.

I celebrated an unusual happening this past week when two, yes that’s 2, handwritten letters arrived in my mailbox on the same day. One was a three page missive from grandson, Noah, to his grand dad, about a trip they are planning together, but he sent me his best wishes and love as well. The other was a thank you note from a friend who had recently visited me in Charlottesville.

How many handwritten letters get delivered to your mailbox in one day, week, or year? Once this book thing is done, maybe I’ll start writing letters to friends with a pen on real paper like I used to. I believe there is something very precious about someone taking the time to write me note using their hands, putting a stamp on it, and sending it through the mail. No one does that anymore.

I’m also celebrating my garden which is more beautiful than ever this spring. On Friday I went to myIMG_0163 favorite garden center to find some plants to in fill a few empty spaces. The varieties of flora took my breath away as I ambled up and down the aisles of ferns, hellebores, columbine, early blooming irises, and peonies. What to choose? How many? Which color? I came home with a variety of things that I’ll have to cover for the next few nights. It seems that winter isn’t giving up it’s hold on the weather just yet. Last week’s 70 degree weather will be gone for a while, but will soon return. At least we’ll not get snow like so many places north of here are promised.

There is lot’s going on in the future to worry and think about. But for now April charms me with her promises of a garden full of flowers, the first butterflies of the season, and birds singing their heart’s out in the early morning light.

Do you have a Big Challenges List and how do you keep yourself grounded in the present moment?

Another Lesson From The Garden

IMG_1630Monday morning. Feeling rushed, overtired, and foggy headed, I look out the window at the garden. Brilliant leaves of red, gold and orange cover the patio pavers. Those still hanging on silently drift down on a gentle breeze. Maria and her gang put the garden to sleep for the winter this past week, leaving only a few red roses and one lone, beautifully pink echinacea to remind me that life is still there, even when it goes underground for the winter. Brown, crusty leaves of Lenten Roses, are dying back and new green leaf shoots are beginning to show. Their flowers will fill the dark days of February lasting into March, April, and maybe even May, before they give way to summer blooming plants.

It’s cold this morning and heavy rain is promised later in the day. I remove my shoes and socks, wander barefoot through the leaves, listening to their crunch, examining their outrageous colors, and letting my feet taste the cold that the coming months will bring.

I ask myself, Why must I rush about? My eyes had a hard time opening this morning. The warmth of my quilt, along with Sam and Max’s warm bodies snuggled up against my legs kept me from wanting to throw the covers back and jump into morning. Can’t I stay here just a few more minutes?

But unending lists and necessity pried away my comfort. Closing the window that keeps my bedroom very cool, I rushed into the bathroom. The litany of when and where I have to be played over and over again in my head. An old record stuck in the mud of have-to’s.

As I walked the dogs and had my breakfast of hot tea, yogurt, walnuts and berries, I reviewed the things I would be unable to do because I had too many other things to do. I wouldn’t have time to take a nice long walk, sans dogs. There would be no time to finish reading that book I’ve had a hard time closing at night, and taking a nap would be out of the question. Forget the idea of doing some visual art.

IMG_1624It’s got to stop, I thought. Would I be living this way if I knew I only had a month to live? Isn’t it time to pay attention to the time I fill with more and more things, making it sometimes impossible to do what I have at the top of my priority list? Like taking time to stretch my body and let it rest when it’s tired?

It’s a chronic problem of mine. I’m just too damned interested in way too many things. I love learning and want to know why the world is the way it is.  In the stillness under the quest to know more I think, Maybe if I can figure out why I’m so tired all the time, I can do even more?

In early September I made the mistake of signing up for two OLLI classes offered at the University. I chose, Elephant Sense and Sensibility, and How to Be an Olympic Swimmer in the Aging Tsunami. I love elephants, have seen them up close in the wild, and wanted to learn more about them from a man who probably knows it all and has a book or two to prove it. As to the second class, I thought it would be useful to learn more about where I am on the aging curve and what to expect as I move on down the road.

IMG_1626Both classes started last week, one on Monday, the other on Wednesday. I had other things to do those days. I rushed here and there, feeling unsatisfied and angry. The weekend passed by too quickly, filled with too many more things to do and not enough time to catch up on what I neglected to do last week.

Now, as I traipse through the leaves, freezing my toes off, I know it’s time to be honest with myself. I can read those books about elephants anytime. And I’ll figure out where I am on the aging curve as I go.

I throw out the idea of going to class, allow time for a long, leisurely walk around the neighborhood (with shoes), an hour to finish that book I am reading, and another hour or two for sitting and writing this blog post which I tried unsuccessfully to put together yesterday.

The glue is gone from my eyes. I no longer feel exhausted and my day is spread out before me. The mud where I was stuck has dried up. I’m no longer angry.

Being in the moment, knowing how I’m feeling, and what I need to do to take care of myself is what I need to do more of. Like the garden, I’m settling in as the days shorten and the wind blows colder.  Spring really is just around the corner and after resting for a few months I’ll be ready to spring into action once again.

Does the arrival of fall and winter make you want to settle down and rest?

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?

To Sell Or Not To Sell

My Last Bike

My Last Bike

Wanting to up our exercise choices, Bill and I bought us a pair of bikes eight or so years age. We were both members of gyms and worked out on a regular basis. I also did some flat water kayaking on the peaceful river we lived on at the time. Never really a fan of gyms and exercising indoors, I was interested in being outside where there were no membership fees or waiting in line to use a particular machine.

We took our bikes with us when we went to the Outer Banks on vacation every fall, where there are bike lanes along a straight expanse of road. Traffic at that time of year is always light and I felt quite safe when riding there. Along with beach walks everyday, I was getting plenty of exercise, and I loved being out in the chilly air with the wind in my hair and the sound of waves crashing ashore in the distance.

The biggest problem with riding my bike here at home was that there were no great places to ride. Living out in the country, the roads were narrow and curvy, and we knew someone who’d been badly injured when she was struck by a car, as she was biking along one of them.

Sometimes I loaded my bike in my car and took it to a county park, where I rode. But after a while that seemed like a pain in the butt. We lived on a lovely cul de sac that was long enough to get some speed up and also had a few little hills. I happily rode back and forth, burning calories for a while until I got bored with that.

As many things do, the bikes started gathering dust when we weren’t at the beach. When we moved here into town, where we thought we’d ride them more, they took up too much space in our much smaller garage. Though there are some bike lanes here in the city, I’ve seen too many near misses to get up the courage to launch myself into the community on my bike. So, our nice shiny bikes gathered even more dust.Once ion a while we’d  haul them out, wipe off the cobwebs, and pump up the tires. They were ready for a spin around the block, which never seemed to happen.

Last year we decided that it would be best to sell them. We were too busy, or was it lazy, to make the effort to get them ready for rides we’d never take. This past week, Bill finally hauled them out, cleaned them up, and listed them on Craig’s List. I took one last wobbly ride down the driveway and back, just to be sure I wanted to part with my loyal stead. I decided my long morning walks were much safer.

But when the first call came in just after Bill had listed them, I felt very sad. It seemed like the end of an era and my youth. I felt older than my soon to be 72 years, and like I was giving up too easily on my need to stay young and fit.

My bike sold immediately. Bill’s is still in the garage, but I expect it to go soon. Feeling the same way I do, he and I mourned our losses together at Sunday brunch, over a scrumptious frittata, crab cakes, salad, and a Bloody Mary.

I have a friend, a few years younger than I am, who recently bought a new car. She was excited telling me about it. But the conversation ended when she added, “This is my last car.” I was taken aback. Her comment probably has something to do with the way I’m feeling about my bike, that isn’t mine anymore. I’m not that old, but the fact is I have to, “That was my last bike.” I do not intend to get another.

A few days later, I’m now thinking that it’s best that I did sell it. I wouldn’t want it to go unused and be something I’d trip over when trying to find something in the garage. I’m not giving up on my need to stay fit and young. I’m being realistic. I will not say that the car I have now, or that the next one I buy will be my last. But I am allowing myself to feel comfortable with the cross trainer in my studio that keeps me dry when it rains or snows, and the magical walks I go on when the weather is gorgeous.

DSCF0620Like right now. The sun is shining, the sky is cloudless, turning leaves are drifting down in a light breeze, and a flock of starlings are gathering in the trees for their long flight south. I’m putting on a sweater, and am heading out down the street. Selling my bike was not the end of an era. It was an end of a season and the beginning of another. There are many more still left to be lived … a little bit differently perhaps, but always as wonderful as ever.


Changing With The Seasons

IMG_0490Here we are again, in that beautiful time of year when leaves start to change their colors, nights call for soft blankets, and chilly mornings make me run to the attic to unpack a few cozy sweaters.

I LOVE this time of year. Though spring is always magnificent here in Virginia, with it’s colorful blossoms and the promise of new life, summer, usually leaves me exhausted with its busy pace that eventually drains my energy. The best parts of summer for me are those sun warmed tomatoes picked directly from the garden, and sweet, juicy peaches that make my hot weather breakfasts of yogurt, fruit and nuts, especially delicious. Now the peaches are getting scarce and when I can find them they’re mealy in texture. So I’m turning over with the season, moving to warmer breakfast foods like left over soup, bowls of hot cereal, or eggs and bacon.

DSCF0621My writing muse is fighting with my garden genie, which is calling me to spend more time outside amongst my plants. I’ve dozens of baby hellebores that need to be dug up and moved, lots of weeding, and the roses that have gone wild over the warmer months need pruning. In the summer, working in the garden is an early morning affair, but now cooler temperatures lure me out all day long. Thank goodness both are creative activities.

The arrival of autumn encourages me to slow down and get ready for the cold months, when I spend most of my time indoors writing, and reading. When I’m cold, I like nothing better than a long soak in my big tub filled with bubbles and the scent of lavender. Hot steaming cups of tea that include warming herbs and spices, like cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon, sipped in front of a crackling fire also will do the trick. I’m going to bed earlier now, and get up later, with the sun. I’m yearning to cook stews, braises, and soups with root vegetables like parsnips, beets, sweet potatoes, and carrots that warm my soul.

On my morning walks, I notice squirrels stashing acorns away for the winter. Birds are fewer and quieter than they have been. Lilliput, my cat, is playing her seasonal game of in and out, unable to decide if it is more pleasant inside or out in the yard. The dogs walk at a much brisker pace cutting our walk time from about twenty minutes to fifteen. Once the real cold arrives they’ll walk even faster, wanting to come back in the house to warm their small bodies, in five minutes. Lilliput will go out to do her business and perhaps stalk a blue jay, but will be back in a flash if no bird are about.

Change can be hard. As a child I moved with my family from house to house, like a gypsy, as fast as my father could build them and sell them. I had little sense of what home really was. I’m ready to stay put now, especially at this time of year, when my feather comforter and warm wooly socks invite me to curl up on the sofa with a good book.

Do you enjoy the change of seasons? What is your favorite season and why?