My house is a very, very, very fine house

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Crosby, Stills and Nash permeate my brain as I write this post. In April of this year, I will have lived in my little house for twenty years. Twenty years. The walls surrounding the six-hundred square feet I call home have protected me from the elements, shrouded me from the realities I wanted to avoid and comforted me in my greatest moments of sadness.

These walls have listened to me converse with the numerous characters I have created in my stories, they have reaped the benefits of my good times and they have absorbed the many tears I have cried while facing the catastrophic losses in my life, and there have been several since I have been a resident here.

I dealt with the loss of my grandmother in this house. I came home and sobbed for the loss of my best college friend in this house. I spent many sleepless nights in this house after the loss of my father. I awoke in this house to the early morning phone call that my mother had passed. I conquered my divorce in this house. And most recently, I came home to this empty house after saying goodbye to my dog, who was my child and who lived here with me for twelve and a half years.

These walls are not just walls, they are my asylum. This home is my retreat, my security. There have been many moments when I thought my home wasn’t enough but, when I consider everything it has given to me during the past two decades, I know this home is everything I needed it to be. It will never make the cover of any magazine but it covers me in ways I could never have imagined. It will never be featured in Architectural Digest, but the bones of its structure, to me, are more formidable and more hospitable than any million dollar mansion ever could be. This is my protection. This is my refuge. This is my home.

 

 

New year, new decade, new mindset

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It is the first day of a new year, a new decade, and I have made no resolutions. However, I have resolved to do a few things that are very important to me. A resolution is a decision to do or to not do something. Resolve is a firm determination to do something and I stand strongly in the resolve camp.

I go into this new year with a great deal of hope and while my bleeding heart would love to see the world embrace a new decade of kindness and acceptance, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Those steps need to begin in many places and go in a multitude of directions and I can only hope the ripple effect of kindness is sent far and wide.

My biggest objective is more focused on the path I would like to follow throughout this new decade. I have resolved to accomplish the things I have talked about but, perhaps, never truly believed could happen. Now, more than ever, I have the steely determination to see things through and to make things happen in my life. There will be no waiting for luck or timing, I am going to make my own luck. I am going to take the bull of life by the horns and stare it down until it realizes my potential.

There are a few facets of my life where this new determination could become a very welcome guest. I don’t have a bucket list. I feel my life is very full with the people and things I have in it and I have no desire to throw myself out of a perfectly good airplane. I am simply driven to succeed, to take my passions and harvest every leaf of hope that grows on their vines.

This is much more than a new year or even a new decade. This is a new mindset.

Micro-fiction and getting the writing bug back

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When I find myself wordless and lacking the drive to write, I go back and read through some of my past blog posts. Once I choose one, the suggested posts underneath take me on a journey into my own writing. There are not many things that will make me pat myself on the back but my writing has the ability to make me extremely proud of some of the things that have come from the depths of my imagination.

I used to participate in several micro-fiction competitions. Writers would be given a photograph or a phrase and we were left to our own devices to see where our stories would go. Mine, more often than not, led to the macabre but that is the genre where I feel most comfortable, the creative avenue where the words lead me and not the other way around. Click here to read one of those posts.

Not only did I feel the cylinders slowly coming back to life, I could almost smell the gas as it turned into power. The engine sputtered slightly but eventually roared back to life. I felt excited. I felt hungry for the high that writing gives me and then I felt inspired to put all of those micro-fiction pieces together and organize something resembling a chapbook.

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For now, this collection of fiction will serve as my inspiration. Those pieces of make-believe will remind me that I have the ability to weave a yarn that is entertaining, if not sometimes disturbing. Maybe, one day, I will want to publish those stories or perhaps they will remain on the pages of my blog. Regardless, they have rekindled the writing flame and it’s time to restore the lines of communication to the characters in book number two.

Every now and then, I follow a recipe

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Although I was able to attend the gift opening portion(s) of the day, I missed Christmas dinner and the family fun that followed. It seems one of my Christmas traditions is to get sick during the holidays and this year was no exception. I could have handled the sore throat and cough, but the fever did me in. I am always hot but, when I asked for a blanket on Christmas day, my brother knew I was sick. The pellet stove was cranking out some warm air, the oven was set to an ambient temperature to cook the bird and I was wearing jeans, a sweatshirt and a blanket. On a normal day under those circumstances, I would have become the victim of spontaneous combustion but I was still shivering. I left before dinner began and after a couple hours on my couch watching Christmas movies, I drifted off into a twelve-hour sleep.

The fever finally broke shortly after one o’clock today. I didn’t have a lot of energy but I knew I needed to muster what I had to spend some time in my kitchen. I had an order for an Apple Streusel Cheesecake and I had three pounds of mushrooms in my fridge waiting to be finely diced and made into my mother’s famous mushroom soup.

It’s no secret I love making soup. More often than not, I channel my father’s method of throwing a bunch of ingredients into a pot and turning it into something wonderful. I love to experiment with flavor combinations and have created an amazing Cauliflower, Pear and Blue Cheese soup that is outstanding. But I cannot “wing it” with my mom’s mushroom soup. The cocky wannabe chef in me has tried, on many occasions, to make a mushroom soup that would compare but I have fallen short every time. Today, I opened the recipe book and followed it step by step. The result is divine. Both the smell and the taste transported me back to the kitchen I knew and loved as a teenager.

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This weekend, I will be given the turkey carcass and whatever leftovers remain to make what I like to call Christmas Soup. Every leftover, minus the turnip, becomes a part of this delicious soup my dad used to make after our festive holiday dinners. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, peas, gravy – all of it gets thrown in with the freshly made turkey stock to make the best turkey soup ever! There have been years when the leftovers were almost non-existent, so I made a fresh bowl of stuffing, a new pot of mashed potatoes and created a gravy so the soup would be perfect.

If my dream of having a soup truck ever comes to fruition, I am sure the only soup sold on the truck that is made from an actual recipe will be my mom’s Mushroom Soup.

Playing Santa Claus

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This is the seventh year I have been running a toy drive at the lodge where I work. It had a humble beginning since it was a new thing for us and, for the first few years, we donated the toys we received to the Salvation Army.

For the past few years we have been donating the toys to our local Food Bank’s Christmas Drive. Families were thrilled to arrive at the food bank and realize they could also pick out some toys for their children while picking up all the ingredients for their Christmas dinner.

Over the years, not only did we receive toys but we also received monetary donations that we could use to buy toys on behalf of those who were unable to deliver to the lodge. With that money, I shopped each year and bought as many toys as I could to cover all the bases since I didn’t know if I was shopping for young children or teenagers. This year, we changed the parameters.

I went shopping yesterday armed with a list of suggested toys for each child on our list. Don’t get me wrong, shopping for the past six toy drives has been nothing short of amazing but this year my shopping had more of  a purpose. I knew I was shopping for a ten-year old boy who wanted Lego for Christmas and when he opens his gift on Christmas Day, he will have the toy he wanted. The tree may have fewer presents under it this year, but those toys will be much more meaningful to the kids opening their presents on Christmas morning.

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There is no better feeling than the pleasure that comes from helping others, and not just during the holidays. If you have ever wanted to volunteer in some way but haven’t figured out how to do it, make that your New Year’s resolution. I guarantee it will be one of the best things you ever do.

 

The shameless act of self-promotion

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I am a writer whose dream is to one day find an agent and get published in the traditional way. That is much easier said than done.

The publishing industry has a death grip on their door handle and only a few authors are lucky enough to be invited through that door to the magic world that exists beyond the barrier between us and them. Having a novel that is marketable is one thing, being able to find the ONE agent who happens to be looking for that EXACT story is another.

I have been diligent in doing as much research as I can to find an agent but there comes a time when you have to sit back and take a deep breath. The publishing industry has become so specific about the gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation of the lead character in the story that many books will never find their rightful place on a shelf unless they are self-published. My first novel, The Waking Hours, meets none of the criteria the industry is currently looking for in a protagonist. Although the story is a great read and would make a fantastic movie, I have pushed it to the side to focus on my second novel and have heeded their new guidelines by creating characters who align themselves with the industry’s wishes.

When I began the journey of becoming an author, I thought the writing itself was the hard part. I was wrong. Many times when I sit down to write, the words pour out of me. I can’t type fast enough to keep up with the characters as they will me to tell their stories. I don’t have an outline, I just listen to them. The writing is the easy part, the self-promotion and the marketing are the difficult parts.

I talk about writing on social media. I post to this blog as often as I can. I have created an author’s page on Facebook, all in the hopes that I can create a platform that will be ready to hold me up when the time comes to announce my signing with an agent and a future publishing date. This is a dream I am not willing to let go. So when you see me posting about my writing, know that I am not doing it to inundate you with my progress. This shameless self-promotion is the only life raft I have to navigate these unstable waterways until I can float on my own.

A visit from an Angel

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For the past few weeks, my driving could have been compared to a young recruit at a police academy on a tactical driving course. The biggest difference is, I had been strategically steering my car to avoid running over fuzzy orange and black caterpillars, not trying to narrowly miss clipping each cone in a line of orange traffic pylons.

The Woolly Bear Caterpillar has been attributed with the gift of predicting the length and fierceness of the upcoming winter. I’m not sure if I would put money on those predictions, but The Farmer’s Almanac has historically used these furry little creatures to forecast the severity of the snowy season.

When I came home from work yesterday, I was greeted by two beautiful butterflies in my entrance way. I have had the pleasure of seeing many Monarch butterflies this year but these were unlike any butterfly I have ever seen. When their wings were open, the combination of colors was stunning. When their wings were closed, the mottled blend of grey and brown would be envied by any living being trying to camouflage themselves to find shelter in the forest.

I thought these butterflies were a product of the orange and black caterpillars I had so carefully been trying to protect, but these winged beauties are Compton Tortoiseshell Butterflies, also referred to as Angel Wing Butterflies. I immediately thought of my mother and the tattoo that has secured a permanent place on my forearm.

My mother loved butterflies. I always knew when she left this Earth she would find ways to come back and visit. Every time I see a butterfly, I know she has made that journey and my heart feels as full as it did when she was still a daily, physical presence in my life.

Never doubt our loved ones who have passed come back to visit. You just have to be willing to recognize the signs.