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A Writer’s Valentine

Deb Maher:

Cherish this day, and every day, with your loved one. You don’t have to spend a lot. Make it simple. This post was my last Valentine to Tom. He told me it was the best Valentine’s gift ever. Happy Valentine’s Day!  ♥

Originally posted on Stringing Beads:

My passion is writing romance. I grew up on boy meets girl stories. I watch romantic movies, read romance novels, and write happily ever after stories. For years, I’ve been a member of Romance Writers of America ©.  Most of my close friends read and/or write romance.  Finally, and most important, I have been married to my own true hero for well over thirty years.

I should be able to come up with a unique and heartfelt way to say “I love you” on Valentine’s Day.  What can I give him?  And what will he give me?

As I ponder the questions, I don’t imagine that he’ll bring home a bouquet of long-stemmed roses.  That’s okay. I carried white roses on my wedding day. In our years together, he’s brought home roses for birthdays and illnesses, for Valentine’s Day, and sometimes for nothing special.  Nothing special flowers are best of…

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Resolutions 2014

“Believe you can and you’re half way there.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

New Year’s Day rings in with lists of resolutions. It’s a natural time to reflect on last year’s mis-steps and the new year’s missions. “This year,” the lists read, “I resolve to eat less, to exercise more, to stop procrastinating, to quit smoking, to spend less money and to save more.” happy_new_year_fireworks_and_special_effects_highdefinition_picture_170356Resolutions are posted in magazines and newspapers, on refrigerators, on Facebook and Twitter. Now there are even Smartphone Apps to keep us focused on these promises. Time’s article “10 Apps to Help Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick” helps assure adherence to improvement.

Like some of my Facebook friends, though, I’m not sure I want to write a list this year. Yes, it can help focus resolves. Writing down a goal is a first step toward achieving it, right? But will I stay focused? Is putting it on paper or online enough? Author Sharon Sala writes, “If you want to do better…or you want a change in your life, don’t make a big deal out of it. Just do it!”  Solid advice from a practical woman.

Paris - Seine - Copy 1

Tom & I cruising the Seine

The world is a scary place. It’s made scarier by those things out of our control – accidents, disease, violence, death. New Year’s Resolutions may improve our day to day life but they can’t guard against life’s tragedies.  What can help us get through is another sort of resolve – a desire to adjust our attitude toward life.  Toss out the bad.  Resurrect the good.  Cherish each day — past and present.  “Just do it!”

About four years ago I received a diagnosis. Eating healthier to lose weight would help.  That wasn’t easy considering weight loss is probably the number one fail on each list of New Year’s resolutions. But I told myself repeatedly that, if I didn’t do it, I would grow sicker and die. I told myself so often that I came to believe it. So I lived my life eating healthy. I cut out junk and counted calories.  Amazingly I lost weight and became healthier. I’ve backslid some since then, but parts of that belief are still ingrained in my brain, still nudging me toward health. I must listen. I have my sons, my family, and my goals to live for. (One is to publish the great American novel. Gotta do that before I leave this earth. :) )

Two years ago my soul mate and sons’ father unexpectedly left us. His sudden passing devastated me and his family. Those who have endured such loss know more than anyone that no words can describe the pain, the paralyzing grief.  On the day of his funeral, a dear family member quietly told me that if ever I felt myself slipping into despair, imagine instead that I was the one in Heaven and he was still alive on Earth but now sinking into darkness. Would I want him to grieve in such a way? Or would I want him to learn to live without me? Would I want him happy? In the shock of my beloved’s death, I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other. I did what must be done.  That led me through the first many months. Her compassionate words are leading me through the rest.  I would want him to be happy.

My new home in Wisconsin
(Thank you, Sue, for the winter photo)

It takes a change in attitude, learning to adjust and move forward. I believe that’s what is needed to see any sort of resolution succeed. For me, that means adjusting my mindset to help achieve my goals. At midnight, as I heard a few fireworks exploding in the distance to celebrate the birth of 2014, the word brave came to me on a whisper, Tom’s voice.  I need to be brave this year and in the years to come.

There’s so much ahead.  I’ll retire this year and say goodbye to my job of twenty years. I’ll move 800 miles back to my hometown, to my new home. There’s so much to do. I’m eager for my move, but it’s also a huge change and a bit frightening. It will take bravery to make it all happen.  A list will help but this year I must focus on attitude and my new found word to guide me. In 2014 and in the years to come, I must be brave.

What word will help you achieve your New Year’s goals?  ♥

Moving Forward

Last week I traveled to Wisconsin to visit my siblings and to attend WisRWA’s 2013 Write Touch Conference.  I also, unexpectedly, bought a house.  

It’s been a long eighteen months since my loss.  During that time, I’ve kept busy with my day job and various house projects.  But despite living in the East for close to 25 years, at heart I’m still a Midwesterner; most of my family still lives there. Last year I decided that when I retired in 2014, I would move closer to home. A logical decision, one that felt right in spite of the added drama so many nearby kinfolk might bring into my life. 

On the Internet I began to follow the southern Wisconsin housing market.  On trips, I began dragging siblings with me to see houses.  Most recently, I made offers on two separate houses, both non-productive.  On this particular trip, however, nothing seemed to fit.  Last  Wednesday, after two afternoons of seeing an assortment of selected listings, I parted with my realtor and headed back to my brother’s.  “We’ll find something next visit,” I thought.  “There’s time.”

Lovely Cape Cod

Minutes later, my realtor called about a new listing she’d just seen on their in-house board. 

When I drove up the quiet, tree-lined street to meet her in front of the brick Cape Cod, its traditional charm greeted me.  Mid-tour through the empty house, I called my local sibs, pleading with them to meet me at the house despite the busy dinner hour.   During their tour, each of them privately pulled me aside.  Although they may rarely agree on much, each said the same thing.  “If you don’t buy it, I will.” 

Bright Sun Room

Bright Sun Room

An hour later, back in the realty office over take-out pizza and store-bought peanut butter cookies, my realtor guided me through my offer to buy.  My husband and I, during our 38 years together, bought four houses.  And, as mentioned above, over the past few months I’d written up two other offers.  This still felt strange, alone.  At the form’s bottom, there are two spaces for the buyer to sign – generally husband and wife.  I signed the top line, noting the other line with a degree of sadness.  Thoughts raced through my mind.  It’s serious business, committing to buy a house, alone.  It’s serious business, committing oneself to an 850-mile move into retirement, alone.

Bedroom

Bedroom

Of course, I’m not alone. Everywhere loved ones reach out in support.  My friends.  My realtor.  My family.  My sons.  And always, my husband.  During the very long 22-hour wait for the seller to respond to my offer, I felt his warm presence.  I believe he would love this house.  (Well, maybe not some of the wallpaper, but that can be replaced.)

Right now I’m in mid-process. Inspections completed with closing scheduled for summer. With luck, all will move smoothly. It’s a friendly house with good bones. With some repairs and a few minor changes to make it my own, it will comfortably meet my needs when I retire and in years to come.  It’s a bright, airy house that, next year, I’ll make into my home.  

I’m moving forward.

WisRWA President Anne Parent chats with Keynote Speaker Michael Hauge

WisRWA President Anne Parent chats with Keynote Speaker Michael Hauge

By the way, the WisRWA Write Touch Conference was great.  I heard dynamic speakers, enjoyed wonderful visits with old friends, and savored the joy of forming new friendships.  At times, though, I had a tough time focusing on conference business.  In my mind I kept walking through the rooms of my new house. I stripped wallpaper, arranged furniture, entertained family and friends, read, and created new stories in that glorious sun room.  I’m glad my roommate and other writer friends were understanding, and that our Keynote Speaker, Michael Hauge, offered a DVD.  

Mothers & Daughters

Deb Maher:

I’m re-posting this as a tribute to my mother. She’s been gone over five years now. To Mom, to my dear Aunt Fran, and to all the Moms who bless my life – HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, with love.

Originally posted on Stringing Beads:

I’m thinking of her today. Her gentle voice and proud image linger about me.

The relationship between a mother and her daughter can follow many paths.  A childhood friend was incredibly close to her mom. The two of them talked, laughed and shared silly secrets. Yet another good friend and her mother were like strangers; they barely spoke. At various times I have envied both. Why?

She was generous in her legacies. I cannot fault her for that.

From her I learned the value of family. She was an at-home wife and mother with a large family. At a time when bottle-feeding was rampant in America, she breastfed her babies. When store-bought Wonder Bread became the national favorite, she kneaded and baked wholesome homemade bread and cinnamon buns filling our home with an awesome aroma. Our childhood meals always saw us seated together around the table. As a young mother…

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On birds

Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them? ~ Rose Kennedy

ravenI never thought of myself as a bird lover.   My feelings toward the creatures may have started in adolescence when I first read Poe’s “The Raven” then saw the dark movie with Peter Lorre.   Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”    Then came Hitchcock’s “The Birds” where flocks invaded a peaceful California town bringing with them chaos and terror.  For a short while after that I was repulsed by their reptilian quality.   But slowly some birds flew into my life bringing with them a fascination, and more.

As I matured, I remember watching a lone hawk soar against a blue sky; my heart beat faster.  I became awed with the sweeping silver V of snow geese overhead.   After a dreary winter, the brilliant red of a cardinal in the oak tree, or a bright blue jay in the maple, brought wonder to my soul.  I began to smile whenever I heard the first robin’s song in spring.  Who could not?

Mourning Dove eggs

Mourning Dove eggs

Many years ago our young family moved from Wisconsin to southern Indiana.   The winters there were warmer than our former northern home. One year I left a large hanging geranium on our side porch for the winter.  Careless me; eventually a year-end  cold spell hit and the plant died. In the early spring I found that a pair of grey mourning doves had nested in the planter.  I suppose the dead plant made a ready-made nest for the doves.  Each dawn when I went outside for the newspaper, I was greeted by intriguing coos.  As the young chicks grew and finally flew away, our whole family was awed.  Of course the next winter, I purposely left the hanging planter on the porch.  We all smiled when the gentle pair returned to hatch another brood.

yellow finch

Yellow Bird

Years later a smaller bird came to visit our new home on the East coast.  Our master bedroom sported a large arched window.  The east-facing window didn’t allow for sleeping in.  But for a while, it wasn’t the sun that roused us on weekends.  One Saturday spring morning Tom and I woke to an odd sound. We were puzzled until we saw a yellow finch, tapping against the arched window.  He came to visit regularly that spring, and the next as well.  Tom named him “Yellow Bird” and for a few years he became a part of our lives.   Yellow Bird, our happy little alarm clock.

My new parrot lamp

My new parrot lamp

Parrots, to me, are loud creatures, like an obnoxious drunken step-uncle in the bird family. I never thought a parrot might come into my life.  Then several years ago, my youngest son created a funny series of animated videos about a pirate, Amish J. Pirate.  And, as we all know, pirates have parrots.  Arrghhh!  Overnight, it seemed, I found myself strangely drawn to parrots.

Recently I’ve been searching for a new lamp.  I didn’t want a novelty lamp, just the right-size traditional table lamp to put in the front window in my living room.  For weeks I browsed in stores, in catalogs, and online.  And I kept returning to one particular lamp described as a ginger jar ceramic hand-painted parrot lamp offered by Lamps Plus.  No matter how many others I looked at, this one called to me.   So I ordered a parrot lamp, the last in stock.  A parrot lamp.  So much for traditional.  Arrrghhh!

My new lamp arrived today.  Looking at it warms me.  It makes me grin;  I sense Tom’s smile, too.  I guess there’s something to be said for parrots.

cartoon-parrot-007

Reading

Reading is an encounter, in silence, of two minds.” ~ John Updyke

Mary_Cassatt_The_Reader_1877

Mary Cassatt – The Reader (1877)

Road Trip

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Words haven’t come easy these last months.  I’ve struggled to simply hang on, to perform routine jobs – household projects, tasks at work – seeking a sense of normalcy in a suddenly abnormal world.  Other than two valued meetings, my once bright realm of writing dimmed into darkness.

Country Highway

But recently, out of the night shadows a plan slipped in that might help awaken my creative soul.  I decided to go on an adventure.   I would take a road trip.

So, early Friday morning I brewed strong coffee, grabbed suitcase and snacks, and climbed into the Honda Accord.  It was my husband’s car, the one he used on his daily commute.  Driving it, I still felt his warm presence.  I gave Ingrid her coordinates then began my journey across the vast green of Pennsylvania and beyond.  A three-day weekend lay ahead.

Over rivers and rolling farmland, through the turnpike’s mountain tunnels – Blue Mountain, Kittatinny, Tuscarora, Allegheny – I drove west toward Pittsburgh.  A quick stop at a service plaza netted farm-fresh peaches and a jar of homemade pear butter.  Occasionally I’d turn on the radio, scanning local stations.  Mostly I drove in comfortable silence keeping company with thoughts and memories.

Cathedral of Learning

As I neared Pittsburgh, partially cloudy skies greyed.  Ingrid guided me into the city and through the proper turns while rain splashed down.  The downpour didn’t last long.  By the time I reached my son’s apartment it was dwindling to a drizzle.

He’s a Pitt student, my middle son, as was his father’s father.  So after I toured his apartment we drove toward the University and parked.  We ate lunch at The Porch on Schenley then strolled over to the Cathedral of Learning, built during the early part of the 20th century in part by dimes collected by the nuns from area school children.  It’s a magnificent structure filled with beauty and knowledge.  My son showed me where he’ll attend classes and hear lectures this fall.  Together we walked around campus and I bought Pitt t-shirts – 2 for $12 at a corner street kiosk.  Too soon time ran short so we made plans for Sunday then hugged and parted.

I continued on my road trip, toward Cleveland and a Saturday writers’ workshop just south of the city.  It was the timing and location that first tempted me into registering for NEORWA’s one-day workshop.  It fit well with my needs, I thought, and might motivate me to begin writing again.  It was all that and more.

From 9 am until 5 pm on Saturday, prolific Texas author Candace Havens spoke to a group of 60+ writers on a myriad of writing topics.  She talked about goals, plotting, and brainstorming.  She gave a thrilling talk about Fast Draft – a way to generate the first draft of a novel in two weeks by writing 20 pages a day.  She discussed Michael Hague’s six-step plot structure, and Jim Butcher’s story arc. We broke for lunch and conversation with fellow writers.  The workshop continued into the afternoon –  “Revision Hell,” branding, marketing, and building an image in the marketplace.  An incredibly rich, motivating day.

Pitt Panther

On Sunday morning I drove back to Pittsburgh where I once more met with my son.  This time we enjoyed a full and varied Sunday breakfast buffet at Joe Mama’s on Forbes Avenue.  Under blue skies and sunshine, we again strolled around campus.  Then, as on Friday, all too soon it was time to part.

The drive east went smooth, despite heavy Sunday traffic and occasional summer road construction.  Two-thirds of the way home, I detoured down to the National Cemetery near Annville to visit my beloved’s grave.  The section where he rests isn’t filled so the sod is not yet laid.  The brown, barren ground around the granite stones gives it a stark appearance.  But that didn’t diminish the power of the site. For a long while, I stood in silent conversation then strolled back to the car.

I arrived home late evening.  It was a good trip for many reasons.  The open highway in fair weather brought some peace.   I cherished the visits with my son. I enjoyed NEORWA’s writers’ workshop and new writing friends made there.  I savored the warmth of memories relived.

And somewhere, along the way, a seed for a new story miraculously germinated and is taking root.   ♥

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