Walking With Maynard

walking, writing, living

Category: family

1976, third grade, a sponge nose and golf

This is a Fourth of July story. Well, it happened a little before the Fourth of July, but it was 1976, the year America celebrated its bicentennial, 200 years as a nation. That theme permeated everything from the start of that year up until Independence Day. As a third grader, it just seemed like one big exciting party with everything colored red, white and blue.

In school, to highlight the history of our nation, my third grade teacher-I’ll call her Mrs. R-came up with the idea of having us do a play where all the kids played some key figure from American history, figures such as George Washington, Betsy Ross, Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln and more. There were more than 20 of us and there had to be enough parts for everyone. I, of course, wanted to be Betsy Ross. I dreamed of it, hoped and prayed and thought about it day and night until the parts were handed out.

The catch, and in my life there was always a catch: Mrs. R despised me and I despised her. I’m certain I was a constant source of frustration for her. I rarely completed my work. School was torture. I often disappeared into the worlds in my head as Mrs. R went on and on about the assignments I couldn’t keep up with or cared less about. I couldn’t keep track of what was left and right let alone figure out times tables and phonics. Mrs. R yelled at me frequently. It didn’t help. In fact, it more often than not made things worse. I was less apt to want to finish things. I was more apt to go deeper into the more pleasant imaginative world in my head. Eventually, she became so frustrated she began nitpicking at little things that really weren’t things that I necessarily did wrong. Once when I was in reading group reading aloud and using a bookmark and my index finger at the same time to keep my place as I went along she yelled at me to use only one, either the bookmark or the finger.

Still, I wanted to be Betsy Ross. I knew it was a long shot and it was indeed the last thing Mrs. R was going to do. In fact, nearly all the parts were doled out before I was given a choice. I was left with what everyone in my class saw as the bottom of the barrel. Everyone wanted those juicy historical characters we’d read about and drawn pictures of in class. Bob Hope wasn’t in the history books. He was a guy we saw on TV. Sure, he was funny, but he just wasn’t historical enough at the time to be cool for our class. Plus, I am a girl and I was as girly girl as they come. I wanted to wear period clothing and have a bunch of key lines.

It wasn’t meant to be, and when I went to tell my mom I was Bob Hope for my third grade class play about America’s bicentennial year, she must have sensed my disappointment. She always sensed when teachers weren’t working in the best interest of her kids. Of course that unnerved her to her core. She’s Sicilian and Sicilians are funny about their pride and their children. My mom didn’t fight her children’s battles by arguing or confronting those who wronged them. No, she saw it more fitting to one-up those who saw the worst in her children. My mom dove into making me the most convincing Bob Hope a third grade girl could be. She found some old golf get-up of my dad’s, tailored it to fit me, and carefully cut a likeness of Bob Hope’s distinctive nose from a sponge. The sponge nose was taped over my nose. My hair was pulled back, I was given one of my dad’s old golf clubs and viola! I was Bob Hope.

I did have a line. At some point in the play, maybe it was the end-I’d like to think I had the last word anyway-I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, “Golf, anyone? Anyone for golf?”

So, on this holiday, even though I don’t play golf, I say, Golf, anyone? Anyone for golf?

Feeding my writing

I haven’t done a pastry post in a while. I haven’t really experimented with pastries in a while. I’ve just made the standards, really, Grandma Scott’s sugar cookies and my son’s favorite, chocolate chips.

Truth is, for me baking is meditation, baking and walks with my dog, Maynard. Unfortunately, between the first nasty cold I’ve had in years and the “polar vortex” conditions we’ve been experiencing lately, Maynard and I have been mostly unable to walk outside.

Winter is a fantastic time to bake. I can’t describe the smells in my kitchen because I lost that sense a long time ago. Still, there is something visceral about baking. Perhaps, it’s that it brings me back to all that was good about growing up. That is being in the kitchen with family and friends. The kitchen in our house was Grand Central Station. It was where I did homework, where we gathered for holidays, where we sat with friends and discussed the workings of the world over sweet breads and coffee. Sure, we had a dining room and a table in that dining room, but it was rarely ever used except as a work station for my dollhouse crafting. My mother just preferred the kitchen, preferred everyone be in the thick of wafting scents and sizzling sounds of sustenance being prepared. We preferred it too.


A large version of the mini cinnamon sugar pumpkin muffin.

A large version of the mini cinnamon sugar pumpkin muffin.

The kitchen was part enigma, part fascination for me. I couldn’t cook my way out of a paper bag. I burned pizza and rice. My lack of sense of smell was a definitely a handicap when it came to seasoning savory food. It just couldn’t get it the way my mom could. Still, I always loved food, loved just about anything my  mother made–and now my husband makes. In fact, she and my chef husband have ruined me for your everyday restaurants. They pale in comparison to anything that came out of our simple, non-commercial, very homey kitchen. While trying to recreate some of that, for me, has been a challenge, the one thing I could do well was bake. I was always good at baking. Perhaps my pasta sauce needs a little work, but give me flour, sugar, butter, and pure vanilla extract and watch me go.

It started in the kitchen in our old house in Canton. It started there with my mother and her helping me bake chocolate chip cookies. It started with me watching and helping her make cannoli shells. It moved from my mother helping me to my best friend and I exploring our baking prowess on our own. Specifically, I remember the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, a classic, and numerous batches of drop biscuits and a few pineapple upside down cakes. Later, in college, my roommate and let our final exam stress out by baking Christmas cookies.

Now, I have my own very small kitchen, smaller than perhaps it should be for as much as it gets used. Still, we make our galley work. Also, if  there is one place I’ve ditched books and gone electronic it would be for recipes. My apologies to cookbook writers everywhere. With my iPhone I have so many options available at my fingertips and an endless number of new things I can try. What is particularly nice is that I can take the ingredients I find in my pantry, look them up, and usually find something that fits.

Last week, I took some canned pumpkin I had left over from Thanksgiving and found a cinnamon sugar pumpkin muffin recipe. You can find the recipe at Sally’s Baking Addiction. I made regular size muffins instead of minis, so I had to cook them a bit longer. They were not overly sweet. That’s fine by me. I hate when I get a muffin and am expecting a muffin, but it turns out sweeter than cake. Anyway, they were a hit with friends and family, and they made for nice morning side to my cup of ginger pear tea.

This week, I made a basic vanilla sheet cake from scratch for my son’s friend who is leaving soon for army basic training. I’d tried the Better

Sheet cake made from scratch.

Sheet cake made from scratch.

Homes and Gardens recipe many times, but the cakes always seemed a bit dry. This time I searched for another simple option. I landed on the best recipe at TheKitchn. The cake came out more moist than I had expected. I think a little tweaking with applesauce might make it just right. I consider myself a butter cream frosting connoisseur, so I can make it in my sleep. I need to beef up the cake decorating supplies and practice a bit with the tips. Still, it has been less than 24 hours and the cake has all but disappeared. And no, Maynard has not gotten hold of any.

In the end, what it does for me, besides making my family happy, is it gives me a little space from writing, directs my creative energy in another way that literally and figuratively feeds my writing and I think it’s important to take that time and do those things or we get burned out. I wasn’t feeling burned out, but it felt good all the same to fill the well in that way. How do you fill the well?


A space of her own

My corner

My corner

It’s a small space. It’s a corner of the room, the front room where the foot traffic is most certainly the highest, but there is a window. The window looks out on our street and the little bungalow-style homes that sit on it. In the spring, summer, and most of fall my Japanese maple is thick enough to hide a good part of that. The butterfly bush sends off its purple shoots that lure all kinds of fluttering things. This year I saw, for the first time, a hummingbird moth.

For a while I couldn’t come to my space. It felt cluttered and keeping the rest of the family’s stuff out of that area is a bit of a chore. I’ve dubbed the space my sacred space. I try to instill that notion in my family, but they don’t really get it. Ironically, I heard an interview with Roald Dahl’s daughter on NPR Friday. She spoke of his little writing hut and called it a sacred place. Unlike Roald, though, I can’t be in my own little hut. I don’t think I’d go there. It would feel too secluded. What my corner needed was a sense of peace, even though it is in the middle of everything. I realized in all of this that as much as I read those “the chores can wait until the writing is done” kinds of things, I can’t write until there is a sense of calm around me, calm amid chaos. In essence, I have to get the place spiffed up a bit in order to concentrate. Seclusion, as much I think it would be nice, would probably be less conducive. I go stir crazy very easily. I need a corner, a clean corner, a corner where some attention has been paid to placement of things.

That’s what I have now. I have my corner. I spent an entire day painting the one wall. It’s the same color it was before. I needed to patch holes, to make the wall whole again so I could hang but two simple pieces up there, a piece that features various metal round plates each with a Fleur-de-lis on it and an angel. The Fleur-de-lis is a reminder of my time at Spalding University. I really got the art by chance. I wanted something round to keep with the Feng Shui placement of things and the Fleur-de-lis happened to be the only reasonably priced piece of round out. I took it as a sign. I don’t come by design or decluttering naturally, so having the road map that Feng Shui gives me has been more than helpful. In fact, my house does feel more open and conducive to creativity. The angel is one my mom gave me. She gives me angels. Somewhere along the line she thought I collected them or liked them enough to collect them. I don’t recall that, but I love the angels she’s found and having angels watching over everything isn’t all that bad an idea. To the left is the window with my little tree outside of it. I taped the rejection letter from Calyx Books to the window frame as a reminder to follow my novel through. It was a good rejection, with a nice note about my writing and a reminder that it was one of 25 final manuscripts to be evaluated fully for their contest in 2011. Even if it didn’t win, it was seriously considered and I keep little notes like this in view as incentive to keep at it.

So, here I am in my corner. It does feel nice. I’m working again, making progress on my novel. That progress was tripped up about this time last year, maybe by my cluttered space, maybe by other things. I hit a wall and never felt I could get past it. I am miraculously squeezing through a crack. Re-making my space is a huge part of that, I think. I don’t need a big space or a secluded space, just a space that I feel like I can work in, a space where I can sit and work through the tough spots in my  novel and then get up and get a cup of coffee or throw a load of laundry in. That’s this space.

Now that the space is done, I need to set a regular writing time. That was another nugget I got from that Dahl interview on NPR. He had discipline. He was at his space for two hours at a time, twice a day. He gave himself permission to write or not write in that two hours, but he always sat for that two hours. That is my goal.

I need to establish that kind of work time and make my family aware of that. That’s the hardest part, getting everyone to understand. That’s where the hut would be helpful, but there are no huts here, just a corner, just a corner. Time to sit in my corner.

My open letter to Miley Cyrus

Dear Miley,

I want to tell you that for a long time now every time “The Climb” has come on the radio in my car and my daughter is with me we sing the song together at the top of our lungs, but we will no longer be doing this. This is not because you wiggle waggled your tush on stage. While I have opinions about that, I really don’t care what you do when it comes to your career. I understand many young girls look up to you as a role model, my own daughter included, but I am also her role model and we can use all of that as teaching moments to have long discussions on self-respect and body image. Your fame will come and go. I will be her role model well beyond the time when your light has faded.

This is not about my daughter, though. This is about my son’s life. While watching the news, recently, because I was interested in knowing more about what is going on with the government shutdown than anything you were doing, I did see a most disturbing clip. The news program made brief mention of your Twitter back and forth with Sinead O’Connor and while the government shutdown is way more important than anything you do with your career, nothing is more important than my son’s life. My son has had struggles with mental illness, so I was really saddened to see your Tweet mocking Sinead O’Connor and Amanda Bynes’s struggles with mental illness flash on the screen. I know the actual argument is between you and them, but with all the people you are connected with and with all those young fans who follow you, I find it irresponsible and cruel that you perpetuate this idea that mental illness is something that can be made fun of.

I am here to tell you it is not something to be made fun of. As the mother of a child who has suffered through mental illness and come out the other side, I have to speak out and take a stand. Mental illness is heartbreaking. It is the most devastating thing in the world to see someone you love spiral so deeply into such a void and know there is nothing you can do to help him. What’s even more devastating is that people don’t accept the illness as an illness, and people feel the need to either mock that person or leave him or her out in the cold. Your comments carelessly perpetuate those heinous notions. Instead of judging Amanda Bynes or Sinead O’Connor, with your voice you could be changing the way people think about mental illness for the good. You could be extending a hand to either of these women, showing them compassion rather than spitting at them. After all, I read Sinead’s letter, and she actually complemented your talent and was merely sending you a warning, because she knows the music business and sees it for what it is. Still, that’s neither here no there in this letter.

What has come of this for me is that I will not buy your records. I will not encourage anyone I know to buy them, not because of your creative choices, but because of your irresponsible remarks. You have no obligation to anyone. I understand that. I am just one little old person, a nobody who is probably not much of anything to you. I understand that, but I can’t have this forum, however meager it is, and not make a stand. I can’t, knowing first hand how heartbreaking it is to see people judge someone you love for having an illness he did not “decide” to get, sit by and listen to someone be so crass and so insensitive. So, when I hear “The Climb” on the radio in the car the next time (a song I ironically found to be a very inspiring message for my daughter), or any of your other songs, I will turn the station. I know that won’t make a mark on your record sales or even be anything for you to bat an eye at, but art is about making people think. Art is about inspiring people and moving people. I supposed you moved a lot of people in some way. Now, you have a huge forum. What is that saying? “With great power comes great responsibility.” I may be small, but I have great power. It is my responsibility for both my children to banish you from my listening devices. Consider yourself banished.


Cristina Trapani-Scott

NOTE: My son gave me permission long ago to speak openly about mental illness, especially if it is to crusade against the ignorant attitudes that continue to diminish the very real struggles that define mental illness.

A sense of place

So often I read calls for submissions that say something about looking for work that has a sense of place. Sometimes, when I see this I stop and wonder about place. For most of my adult life I have felt rootless. I have lived in places, but the constant seems to be the need or want to live someplace else. It kind of is an affliction in my family. I can’t blame anyone for it. We are still trying to find our place here after three generations or two or a mix there of. My family is from Sicily. I have family there, but I haven’t seen most of them in almost 20 years. I grew up in various places in metro Detroit, mostly Canton, but when I go back I don’t really know anyone there anymore. My immediate family is scattered, across continents and across oceans. It seems like we are always searching for something, a kind of home, a kind of place.

This weekend I went on a pilgrimage of sorts. It wasn’t a long pilgrimage. We just made a short trip south to St. Marys, Ohio, where my husband, Jay, was born and lived for a part of his childhood. In our nine years of marriage we have never made the trip. We passed St. Marys multiple times and every time Jay would say, “There’s St. Marys.”  Not only is St. Marys where Jay was born, but his parents grew up there. He has roots there. He has family there.

We traveled to St. Marys for a wedding, Jay’s cousin Sherri’s wedding. It was a beautiful wedding. What made it beautiful more than the flowers or the church or the food was the intense family rooted in place vibe, a vibe I really haven’t felt a part of in a long time–if ever. I met Sherri’s longtime friend, briefly, and I listened as she laughed with another cousin about stories of when they were young. People were there because they love Sherri and her family and still know them and still live near them. In essence it was a small community in all the small community kind of ways I’m sure, but I realized that more than them being rooted in place, place is rooted in them. Perhaps this is sentimentalizing everything a bit, but I envy these scenarios sometimes. I envy the real sense of belonging people have when they are rooted somewhere. I envy Jay’s parents that they can go back home to St. Marys and see people they know and care about, people who still live in their hometown or have a strong connection to it. I envy Jay in that his cousins really are not that far away. They are my family now. I do know that, but I am not from a place like St. Marys. Still, I have searched for that sense of place often. I spent years at a small community newspaper trying to make place and roots kind of happen, but none of that can be made intentionally. It just happens over generations, over time. Perhaps, that’s why I am always stopped by that term “a sense of place.” I am an observer of it more than a participant. Hopefully, my children will have more of it than I have.

This morning, we woke and had breakfast lakeside at Grand Lake, the lake where Jay’s mom grew up. After, we drove around the lake and saw the house that Jay’s mom grew up in and then the house Jay lived in as a little boy and the house that Jay’s dad lived in as a boy. I heard how Jay would steal away from home to go to the pool when his mom wasn’t looking. I heard all kinds of stories and appreciated being immersed, for even a brief time, in this sense of place.

Regardless of all of it I feel that place isn’t just about place. It is about the people that are rooted in that place and deeply connected with it. It is Grand Lake and two towns where everyone knows each other. It is the rocky shore and the old little cottages that haven’t been dozed for bigger lake homes. It is the history of the lake itself. It  It is the winding neighborhood streets that lead to town. It is the fact that Jay’s parents can return to that place year after year and find friends and family welcoming them back. Now that I know that, I will work with that. I will understand that a little better when I see those calls and when I set my characters in place and set place in them.

Unfortunately, I was so captivated by place in this sense, I didn’t take the time to photograph the lake or anything. Oh well.

Football, fall and the wonderful women in my life

Jay's UM hat.

Jay’s UM hat.

It’s Sunday again and I am posting again. It’s a miracle. I know it’s not officially fall, but what marks the beginning of fall in our house more than the autumnal equinox is the first Saturday kick-off at the Big House (University of Michigan Stadium). While I could really care less about U of M football (and the fact that they killed my alma mater Central Michigan University yesterday), what I enjoy is that reason it gives for us to gather with our good friends. My husband, Jay, and his friends (nearly all of whom he’s known since high school or middle school) all attended U of M. They now all attend all of the U of M home games. The wives hang back at someone’s house nearby, have cocktails and chat while the kids run and play.

Ideally, we should gather other times. Sometimes we do. We are all good friends, however, most likely because football brought us together. I met all these women through my husband. I love my husband. It’s an extra bonus that all his friends’ significant others are such wonderful people. I’m blessed in that I’ve gotten to know them over the years and football season is really the impetus for that. In fact, at yesterday’s tailgate we were laughing about the first time I experienced a football Saturday with the gang. It was an away game, so everyone gathered at what was just Jay’s house at the time to watch the ever heated annual battle between University of Michigan and Ohio State. I hadn’t moved in yet. University of Michigan lost. The guys were none too happy and a television controller happened to slip out of my husband’s hand and crash against a wall. No worries. The television controller is the only football casualty I’ve witnessed to date. Well, a few UM baseball caps have been hurled violently to the ground, but nothing more. Still, the passion for their team is what brings us together. It was bringing the gang together long before I came into the picture, and it has continued to bring everyone together for the past nine years that I’ve been with my husband. I probably wouldn’t have gotten a chance to know these women the way I have if we hadn’t spent many long leisurely Saturday afternoons going to parks, shopping, playing badminton, among other things, while our male counterparts baked in the sun or sat in the rain or cold watching UM football.

My immediate family lives an ocean away or at the very least many states away. My friends from previous lives are scattered as well. These women are the family I have here. So, as much as I might grumble that the chaos of football season has begun. It can get chaotic when there are three home games in a row (eight home games total) and the events of those days take up the one down day left in the week. Still, I appreciate the lasting friendships that my husband has built with his friends, and I appreciate that consequently I have built lasting friendships as well. These are the women I am blessed to have in my life. These are the women that make me grateful that University of Michigan football really means the start of fall in our family. A friend of mine gave me a sign that I hang in the house in the fall. It reads “We interrupt this family for football.”

Yes, we do interrupt this family for football. I am so happy for the interruption. I’m so happy to have these lovely days to spend with the wonderful women in my life.

I will be 45, not 29

From a walk in the woods the week before my 45th birthday.

From a walk in the woods the week before my 45th birthday.

In two days, I will be 45. I am not 29. I was 29 once. I don’t want to keep being 29. I’m 45, or almost 45. I have creases at the corners of my eyes. There are lumps and bumps and sagging places on my body. All of that is because I have lived nearly 45 years. I have lived, sometimes not the way I thought I would, sometimes exactly as I had always pictured it. It all has gone as it has gone. I don’t want to keep being 29. I want to be 45. I want to be 46. I want to be 47 and so on and so on, as long as I can. For now, I’m almost 45 and it’s all been beautiful to this point.

I think of my favorite line from Doctor Who. My kids will laugh at this. I’m an obsessed Doctor Who fan, or Whovian is a fan term I’ve run across, for no other reason than for the imaginative story telling…and the characters…and the monsters…well, you get the idea. In essence, I most appreciate the writers. In this case, for this quote from the episode “Vincent and the Doctor“, the nod goes to Richard Curtis. Anyway, when Amy Pond laments the fact that she and the Doctor couldn’t change the course of Vincent Van Gogh’s life, even after carting him to the future in the TARDIS to see how important he became, the Doctor tells her, “The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.” As the daughter of a painter and the granddaughter of an artisan shoemaker, I loved the “Vincent and the Doctor” episode most. I loved the idea, even in pretend, that Vincent could get a chance to see what he gave the world.

But, this post isn’t about Doctor Who. This post is about life and birthdays and about how that line from Doctor Who resonates so deeply in my life. It’s about how life, my life, is all one big messy ball with frayed strands of disheveled threads hanging everywhere, but it’s a beautiful ball nonetheless. I can’t help it. I can’t make excuses. I can only say that’s the way it is and I would gladly have more. Even on the worst of the worst days, I would gladly have more. Perhaps we won’t make as profound an impact as Vincent. Perhaps we will. The point is we can’t know. We can’t go and see. Somewhere, though, for someone, we still exist. We still make an impact, but we do it for celebrating what is now. We do it by celebrating this wild and crazy beautiful life with all these disheveled diversions. As much as I might whine about them, I love them. I would not change them. I wouldn’t even ask the Doctor to change them.

So on Saturday, toast 45 with me, toast your own age, toast the lines and the sags and the bad and, most of all, the good. It’s what we have. It’s what we’ve earned. It’s all very, very important. Someone might even say it’s the most important thing in the whole universe.

When resolutions are resolved

We hear so much about how people make resolutions and then consequently fail at keeping them. We are inching ourselves further way from the start of the New Year, but I wanted to write a little success story. Each year I declare either that I am never making another resolution again or that I am resolving to start running, to get back in shape and any number of other things related to health. Last year, I made a resolution to go deeper than that, to start from further outside myself.

Authors of the book Life at Home in the 21st Century note that “For more than 40,000 years, intellectually modern humans have peopled the planet, but never before has any society accumulated so many personal possessions.”

I would have to say that in my life this was indeed true. I looked all around and there was stuff. I felt its heaviness. Even before I saw statistics, I felt overwhelmed by it all, so last year I resolved to lose the excess weight caused by accumulating stuff. In fact I put it like this on my Facebook status, “New Year’s resolution: Lose weight, but not body weight, material goods weight. In essence, I just want to purge all the junk and open up some peaceful space for family togetherness and writing.”

I actually did it, or a good chunk of it anyway. Here is how I did it. I let go of the emotional attachment to things. I thought about what would ultimate serve my dreams of becoming a writer and what would hinder them. I thought about how I have grown and don’t need to hold on to too many keepsakes from a time when I was someone I no longer really know. In essence, I am letting go of yesterday and not getting caught up in what I think I might need tomorrow.

photo (1)

My latest Goodwill pile.

Along with letting things go, I understand that this kind of transformation is a process. It can’t all be done at once, though in my case I get focused and before I know it I have gutted the basement. By making it a resolution at the start of last year, I understood that  it would take a year or more to do this. Throughout the year, piles formed at my front door. Piles I would take to the nearby Goodwill store. I have one now consisting of bags of cookbooks, not the good ones my chef husband has collected, but the ones that I thought I would look at and never have. Now, I have an iPhone with millions or recipes at my fingretips, so there is not need for cookbooks I never looked at in the first place. So, off to Goodwill these books go.

I have succeeded in keeping with my resolution. I have purged load after load of stuff. Goodwill and Freecycle are my friends. It’s amazing how much more there is to get rid of. I have another Goodwill pile growing in my front room. What I learned from the experience and continue to learn is to make peace with the small space I live in. Part of making peace with it is to rid myself of things to open up the small spaces and make them peacful. As part of all this  I have been rearranging things and dusting corners that have not been dusted in years. In fact, I discovered a little book in my bookshelf called “Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life: How to Use Feng Shui to Get Love, Money, Respect and Happiness.” I figured decorating my home with the guide could do me some good. Essentially, the idea is to clearn things up and place things in order to increase the chi, or the universal energy. I will admit a few good things have happened since I began moving things. Whether that’s because I’ve moved my stuff or just because they happened, I do believe that the new placement and the purging has opened the flow of energy, a peaceful energy that allows the the creativity to flow and allows the space for good things.

The resolution, however, does not end. There is more work to do. I have conquered a good chunk of my house. The major projects are done. The year ended with the basement purge. Now, it’s the smaller areas–drawers and cubbies. Things seem less overwhelming. There is space. There is chi. Now, it’s time to honor my creativity.

Lemons, fig cake and setting

When life sends you lemons (and figs) via the U.S. Postal Service, make lemonade and fig cake. Okay, so life didn’t really send the lemons and figs. My parents sent them. They sent them all the way from their home in California where lemon and fig trees produce so quickly they can’t eat or use the fruit fast enough. I’ve enjoyed the gifted bounty. I have made delicious fresh-squeezed lemonade and an out of this world fig cake that I found a recipe for at a blog called Lemons and Anchovies. With a name like that the recipes have to be good. This one was probably the best thing I’ve baked from scratch ever.

None of this has anything to do with the Midwest Writers Workshop, except to say that my time there was a nice gift in what has turned out to be a stressful, quickly dissolving summer. As I mentioned in my previous post, I learned so much. I think today’s nugget will focus on what I learned in D.E. (Dan) Johnson’s workshop classes. I attended two. For those who don’t know Dan, he writes historical mysteries set in Detroit in the early 20th century. I have not read his books. I intend to even though I’m not one to really read mystery. I’m compelled by the glimpse I had of his writing and by his writing knowledge. He knows his stuff.

Fig Cake made with figs from my mom and dad’s backyard in California.

His workshop on setting was an elaboration on the writing mantra “show, don’t tell.” That description doesn’t really do it justice, because he dove deeply into what that really means and how that really works to bring a narrative to life. I think the most valuable piece of advice I walked away with was his technique for making sure he’s using enough of every sense. He goes through his manuscripts with five different highlighters each representing one of the five senses. This gives him a visual diagram of how often he’s using these to bring out setting. I haven’t tried it yet, but it has made me much more aware of where I’m using all the senses in my work.

So, now that I am thinking of the senses, time to go let the golden, soft fig cake melt in my mouth, so I can taste the hints of sweet cream, olive oil and butter as the smell of baked fig wafts about my head. I won’t forget to wash it down with the sweet and tangy fresh lemonade.

My life as I envision it

I realize I have not posted in ages. It has not been for lack of trying. I have tried. Oh god, how I’ve tried. The words just will not come. I’m in a sort of writing limbo. I need to give myself time to come out of it. My method for this is to get some writing, any writing, done and forgive myself for the slow pace of it all. In addition, I am giving myself time with everything. There is no hurry. Sure, it seems like everything must be done right now, but not so. I have been working through some personal things that have taken up a lot of time and a ton of energy. For fun, and for a brief moment of escape I am going to take a page from my friend who once wrote in presence tense his vision for his life. I think it’s an exercise that life coaches and motivational people use, but I thought it might give me the boost I need this morning to begin the necessary steps to make that vision a reality. Also, my friend Cynthia Newbery Martin at her blog Catching Days shares  how well-known writers spend their days. Every time I read one of those posts, I feel like I am reading a bit about the life I envision.

My life as I envision it:

I wake up. Make myself a latte with no flavors. Have a delicious breakfast of fruits, nuts and coconut yogurt before going to my desk, which is in my writing office that had a big window that looks out a wooded area with a pond. I don’t look at any mail. I sit down and begin work on my second novel. My first book, “Sometimes the Smallest Things,” has been published by St. Martin’s Press and I am preparing to go on tour. My agent gently, or not so gently, nudges me to finish book two. I love the silence in the mornings and feel bolstered by the sound of birdsong and the soft rhythmic breathing of my dog who lounges at my feet. I work like this for a good three to four hours before I get up to take the dog for a walk and grab a sandwich. In the afternoon, I usually get a call from my son, who has a moment between classes just to check in. He likes to check in. I like to hear from him. My daughter calls, too, but later in the evening after she has spent time in the recording studio. I take a few moments to get the business of emails out of the way. I see that I have readings scheduled all over the country and I have been invited to lead a few workshops. This gives me a nice little nudge to work a couple more hours on my novel before doing some work in the garden. Jay returns home from his restaurant to have dinner with me before he is off again. Some days I go to the restaurant. I spend the rest of the evening reading and getting a few odds and ends done.

Okay, so that’s only one day, but that would be a nice day with a lot of nice stuff going on. Now, I do have some quiet time. It’s time to get to my projects, for real.


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