Sisters

A couple weeks ago, I received a book of poems written by Meg Files (my mentor and writing teacher), paintings by Susan Reimer, and photographs by Sally Cullen, all captured together. They are three sisters who traveled to Iceland. The Secret Destination is the story of their journey. I can’t read nor flip the through the pages enough. The book is beautiful in all ways as it describes their sister relationships and reveals the magnificence of Iceland. 

Part of the reason I enjoy their book so much is because I am so incredibly fortunate to be close to my sisters. They live in another state, and I haven’t seen my older one in seventeen months and my younger in fifteen. Yes, I have kept track. They have lived in the same town for over seven years and I long to be with them. We are hooked together like links on a chain, that bonded, that strong. 

Meg tells of “the comfort of your sisters’ secret twin language” as she falls asleep on the bus. I get what she means. My sisters and I, too, have our own language. We effortlessly know what the other is going to say before they’ve finished their sentence. People say we even use the same gestures to communicate, and we look at them with surprise. “We do?” We had no idea. It’s been as natural to us as harvesting corn in the fall. 

We’ve cried together, laughed over and over about the same memories, grieved over loved ones, called each other to ask about their well-being, even before mentioned. We attribute it to our thoughts traveling silently across the miles, no words yet spoken, just intuition. 

The years beyond are much shorter and our bodies let us know. If I allow myself to even entertain the thought, I ask myself how it would ever be without them? I don’t respond. The answer lies within my heart, as they do. 

I am excited as I write this because in twenty-four hours I will travel with my daughter and granddaughter to visit, to be with them…finally. But who’s counting?

Homemade

My brother and his wife built a log cabin nearly fifty years ago in the Colorado mountains near a small town called Fairplay. Little by little, they added a kitchen, a bathroom, a loft, a deck attached to the kitchen and a large, boarded porch entrance with rocking chairs. There are a few cabins “down the road,” as they say, but not many. They are surrounded by tall pine trees and white aspen with its quaking leaves.

Their cabin is less than three hours from where we live, and they have extended an open invitation to stay with them anytime they are there. We love being with them in the cabin, yet commit, then withdraw, then plan again to meet them, because it seems as if life, even at this age, (we four are retired) keeps us busy with our grandchildren, along with muddy roads, snowstorms, Covid and so on. This past weekend, we actually made it and were surprised to realize it had been over two years. Time has secretly shifted into overdrive. My husband and I relish the drive there in the fall to leaf peep. Aspen trees gather themselves in golden groups climbing the side of a mountain. There are a few independent ones straddling the mountainside by themselves or with a companion or two, but no matter what, the view is glorious as their color bursts beside the thick green pine trees.

My brother and wife are allowed to cut dead trees on their property, which they do to create furniture—wooden Santas, animal chairs for their teacher daughter, kitchen and coffee tables, and hiking canes my brother wood burns on a pattern his wife has made. Two years ago, the four of us were going to make a bookshelf for my writing room. Nix that. We didn’t come close. This time, we drove into Fairplay for lunch, then perused through one of the stores. We eyed a gorgeous hall table with a shelf below, all made of aspen. “Let’s make that!” We drove back to the cabin, rode four-wheelers into the forest and felled more than one dead aspen. We proclaimed the cut wood was gorgeous, drug the logs home on our vehicles and began the project. After three days, with close and even closer measuring, we finished stripping bark and cutting the shelves and legs, with a little sanding on the side for a table for each couple.

On Monday morning, we all had to leave and head home, our hall table pieces with us. We have very little left to do on them. Just measure and cut supports for the table, fit and join the legs to it, sand them and the shelves many, many times so the shine hurts your eyes AND polyurethane it with an unknown number of coats. Seriously? Just joking. I only hope we finish it before our next visit to the cabin and hopefully, it isn’t years!

Toe in the Water

Diana, Sally, and I continue to meet once a week on zoom for an hour or more. It’s second best to when we met in Tucson for all those years, twenty-five and counting. Since our book has been published and released September 6th, we’re now on a new road—marketing, an avenue we’ve never visited. Authors and writer marketing books have said, “Now starts the hard stuff.” Are they kidding? We thought writing the book and completing it was enough work to make us drop pounds, no gym involved.

During our zoom meeting today, we touched base and shared notes on contacts made, bookstores and libraries visited, a local magazine interview (in Tucson), application to Tucson Festival of Books held in February and last, but not least, a possible podcast interview. Sally and Diana have been covering the Tucson area faster than a road runner. They are the ones responsible for all the aforementioned. I can’t make the same claim and their patience with me is profound.

I’m just plain scared of stepping out my door. I wonder if there are other authors who feel the same? I am nervous about what people will think. I don’t know them. Will they listen or show impatience? Will they want to shove me out their door, hang up the phone, not look at the book, turning away? I roll over in bed at night, rehearsing what I should say. If I think it about it too much, I grab a brown bag and breathe into it. My doctor refuses to prescribe a year’s supply of Xanax. I’m guessing those thoughts are truly a big figment of my imagination. Diana and Sally have found contacts to be nice and respectful. 

My two co-authors have worked diligently to promote our book. Like them, I think it’s time to join them in this, our next step. I have put my toe in the water, hoping to reach my ankle soon. To be serious and fair to Diana and Sally, I am determined and slowly moving forward, facing the anxiety of being vulnerable, being “out there.” I never dreamed I would be so fearful of marketing. In fact, I’m not exactly sure what steps to take, but like a puppy following its mother, I watch Diana and Sally closely and plan on imitating their behavior. Just like our book reiterates, it’s their support and encouragement that binds us together and I need to respond and “move.” I think I’ll grab my contacts plan and head out the door. 

Age and Patience

I came in from my daily walk with my dog Rusty, moving like Chester from Gunsmoke. My husband saw me hobble into our living room. He asked what was the matter? I told him the back of my thigh hurt like crazy. Like someone was jabbing me with a knife each time I took a step. Being a football and basketball coach for over twenty years, he told me I’d pulled a hamstring. “Have you ever had a hamstring injury?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “glad I never have. They hurt like hell.” Comforting.  

I’d spent the day before wrestling with thistle and dandelion in our backyard, clearly enjoying each and every time I managed to decimate one. What I didn’t pay attention to was I had been bending over for at least an hour, moving from dandelion to thistle and repeating, pulling my hamstrings tight like the back of a slingshot.  

After a couple days of icing, I couldn’t ignore Rusty’s brown eyes begging to smell the world just outside our door. Conundrum. How to walk him and manage with my painful hamstring? Then, I remembered we had a cane downstairs we’d kept since my husband used it after knee surgery. I wasn’t thrilled about walking with one, it was clearly a symbol for “old.” (Forget the fact that injured athletes had to, but then again, they didn’t have graying hair). Out the door Rusty and I went. I hobbled along with the cane in my right hand. We were moving very slowly, creeping along past neighbors’ houses and watching cars drive by. I became embarrassed, bordering on shame. What are they thinking? That I’m old? Maybe useless now. I hoped they would remember it wasn’t the usual me. Remember I don’t limp and I don’t need a cane.  

My father died at the age of ninety-nine and two years before he went into a nursing home, his balance was compromised, his gait unsteady. He’d fallen at home more than once, luckily uninjured. A farmer for most of those years, he was used to being strong and agile. We reminded him over and over to use a cane. Doctor’s orders. “No way am I going to be seen using one.” He refused. We girls became more and more frustrated to the point of anger. What was the big deal? We agreed he had too much pride. 

Walking Rusty as often as I could, using the sturdy blue cane with its rubber tip, I realized how vulnerable he must have felt, how difficult it was to lose his agility and strength, sad to know life’s sunset was more vivid. I said, with no one to hear but Rusty, “I get it now, Dad. I had no idea how hard it is to feel old, useless, in need of help. I’m sorry.” I hope he heard me. 

Time for Licorice Records

This time, Adele was madder than a trapped feral cat faced by two dogs, one being a small Chihuahua with razor teeth, the other, fifteen-years-old and counting. Like the cat, Adele felt cornered. She loathed how her sister squealed on her for such trivial, small things. What was the big deal? All she did was sneak into her older sister Katie’s bedroom, open her drawer that held at least twenty pair of thong underwear and borrow Katie’s precious, guarded candy—black, stringed licorice shaped into thin connecting loops with a red dot of candy in the middle. Katie was sixteen and still liked how the licorice resembled a record, something that drove Adele nuts. Katie was four years older, a teenager, and she still hoarded those records? As for Adele, she was already into the real, addictive stuff—like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or strawberry-flavored B-B-Bats. She just liked a little variety, that being Katie’s licorice.

That evening, there was plenty of time for Katie to soak in the bathtub, at least an hour’s worth. She was going on her second date with Hap, a guy with thick black glasses and tall coiffured hair that could vibrate a clothesline if he tried to duck and walk under. Adele considered him a loser; despite Katie’s protests he was a “hot one!”  It was while Katie wrinkled in the tub that time pestered Adele and reminded her how tasty that black licorice would be. It commanded her to give in, get the goods.

Once the deed was done, the licorice in her hand, Adele had time to dissipate the tiny amount of guilt that crept into her head. She reminded herself she was “helping” her sister. Katie needed to cut the calories. It was easy to figure that out every time she watched Katie lay on her back on the bed, flat as a pancake to cave her stomach in and force enough gap to zip up her jeans. Not so for Adele. She stood straight up like a hiking stick and zipped up her jeans with one hand only, thank you. She easily managed all the chocolate.

Just in time, Katie suspected something was up when she couldn’t hear Adele making a ruckus outside the bathroom door. She called to her mother and squealed on Adele and just as Adele started to pull the licorice records out from under Katie’s underwear, her mother stepped into the room. “So-o-o, are you needing something from Katie’s drawer?” Adele thought for just a nano second. “Oh, yeah, Katie needed a pair of underwear when she gets out of the bath.” Her mother came closer and frowned. “Oh, really now?” She looked down at Adele’s hand with small pieces of black peeking out from her fingers. “Katie told me you were stealing her candy.” Adele knew it was over. “I think it’s about time you learned a lesson.” Here it comes, Adele thought. “No sweets whatsoever for you for a month.” Her mother turned and left, forgetting to take the licorice in Adele’s hand. She shoved the records in her mouth.  

Pay Attention

I am sitting on our deck this morning before the heat comes screaming in around noon or one o’clock. Colorado may have low humidity, but 95 and above for days makes me complain. That and sadly, the smoke drifting in from fires burning in other states to the north. However, it isn’t all bad. We face the mountains and the view shifts nearly every day. Sometimes, the sky hovering over them reflects into a soft pink or the sun behind mixes oranges with shadows interspersed in the vistas. It’s a lovely painting.

We live on a hill and just beyond us, resting below, are three goats with three kids. I delight in the way the kids just casually stand on their mothers’ backs or when they “feel their oats,” as they say, and charge across the pasture, jumping into the air, kicking their legs out. They are so filled with happiness; they make me smile every time I watch them up close with binoculars (I hope their owner doesn’t see me and think I’m a stalker!). There are also two horses—a pinto and a bay. They are in two different, fenced pastures, so they meet up several times a day, resting their heads together over the fence while swatting their tails to brush off pesky flies. It’s endearing.

 I ask myself, “Why aren’t I out on this deck more, sitting in my favorite brown wicker rocking chair each and every morning, sipping my coffee with cream and a teaspoon of sugar, watching the animals below? There’s no solid answer except that like a big boulder on the side of a mountain, I start rolling and rolling with busyness until I crash. I can’t even tell you what I am doing all those times. Possibly cleaning house, shopping, loading the dishwasher, going somewhere I consider to be an absolute, without a doubt, for sure, absolute task. The morning slips away faster than my dog Rusty when he discovers his leash is unhooked. He’s over ten-years-old and still charges to the nearest tree to relieve himself, even though he accomplished that act at least twenty times on our half-hour walk.

Sadly for so many, Covid arrived and dictated we were to isolate. I had no other choice but to stay put because most of us in the country were homebound, with the exception of the courageous essential workers. For we three, it was decided we needed to use that time and gather our stories and narratives into creating our book. Finally. I truly believe we would never had completed this magnanimous goal if we wouldn’t have been homebound. We learned to use zoom and and nearly wore it out. We certainly met on it more times than we could count. We’re still meeting. As illustrated in our book, Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets, we take turns devising a prompt, write about it, and share the next weekWe relish the time together. Since I’ve moved and we can’t meet in person, well by gosh, we’ll do the second best and zoom!

I know I’m too busy and despite vaccinations, recently contracted Covid, which sent a clear message, being “slo-o-ow down.” My body is in command now. I hope to pay attention to this message. Watch the goats’ kids romp, listen to the horses whinny when one is out of view, wear the rocking wicker chair out. I need to value nature and my own well-being much more. It’s a great goal, an attainable one, if I just pay attention.

Journaling – A Different View

Talk of irony! Or maybe familiarity? I just arrived home from a two-week vacation and have to be honest. I didn’t read Sally’s post this past Wednesday until yesterday and I’d already written mine for today. Well, she read my mind or maybe I read hers, we know each other that well. We both blogged about journals and journaling! I cross my heart, hope to die, we did NOT touch base on this. I decided to still post mine. It ties into this week’s prompt. Writing your own take. It’s a subject we wrote about in our Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets. The same subject. Different ideas. So, here’s mine.

What came first, the chicken or the egg? It’s an age-old saying we all have probably used at one time or another. I then wonder, what came first, the journal or the writer? Most likely the writer, followed by the journal’s beckoning. I know I have answered its call. I have purchased so many journals, displaying them would look like an art gallery. I love the cover designs, the different types of paper, lined and unlined, the size, the quotes. So, I buy one I can’t be without and write in it for a while, then my eye drifts to another and I pick it up, open the cover, and start writing. Different journals are a candy shop I delight in, lending me my own personal newsletter.

A few weeks ago, I decided to sort my journals into those I’d written in from those that were yet empty. I was on a mission to fill up the “used” ones and move on to those not yet touched. Over the years, I’d labeled journals by dates, travel, and a multitude of other subjects. I began to count how many I had and even surprised myself. There were lots. My first thought was wondering what I’d written so many years ago. 

The second thought centered around my children. I knew the journals openly displayed on my bookshelf were nothing so personal they couldn’t be read by family. I had written so many thoughts and feelings. I wanted to share a part of myself and history they didn’t know. What legacy should be left for them? After all, I’m seventy-two and the years ahead are much smaller than those behind.

The third thought was wondering if there were some pages in my journals I wouldn’t want them to read? Our lives had traveled down many roads. Was there any written part that would unnecessarily hurt one of them? Maybe they shouldn’t read everything? I decided to go back to my beginning journal and read each one, which I hadn’t done in years, some never. As I suspected, there were pages that would serve no purpose except to confuse or hurt one or all my children – the time I was unfairly angry at our son and wrote things I never dreamed I would, the time one of our teen-aged daughters threatened to leave home and my written desire to never see her again. I journaled the truth at that time, but it served no purpose now except to hurt. I just plain tore them out. I’ve had no regret. I’m glad the pages have drifted somewhere into the universe. The essence of who I am remains, all emotions included, in my journals. 

I’m not done yet. There are more journals to read, page by page. By the way, did I mention how personally entertaining it is to read what you’ve written nearly forty years ago?

Moving Forward

Some authors can use very little dialogue in their stories or novels while still holding the reader’s interest. It’s a unique talent. However, I venture to guess many more writers intertwine dialogue within their stories. It gives the reader a knowledge of the character. Their likes, dislikes, happiness, sorrows and so forth. The dynamics are endless. 

After the three of us attended many classes on writing, we heard more than once the dialogue must move the story forward. Added sentences without that purpose can cause the reader to lose interest or take away from the dimensions of a character.  

Writers gather their stories by observing others in a multitude of situations. Countless times, they might be in a mall, at a restaurant, or at an athletic event. The list goes on. Two or more people discussing a subject is often interesting and if you are close enough to hear, may be the ember that ignites the story’s dialogue. In Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets, our prose includes dialogue. In Diana’s first version of Things Taken on pg. 76, she uses the prompt to write two full pages in dialogue only. It’s worth reading just to see how this technique gives the reader important information and truly does move the story forward. 

Too Many Questions?

It’s hot enough to melt the metal handle on my purse, even if placed in the shade. That might be an exaggeration, but it borders on the truth. It’s July and my husband and I are staying with our son and his family in Hot Springs, South Dakota in an Airbnb apartment on the uppermost floor. We’ve hit the jackpot because it has air-conditioning in each window and the extra luxury of ceiling fans. My husband and son are golfing in the hundred-degree scorcher, Chloe’s mom is napping on the couch and I’m coloring with Chloe, our five-year-old granddaughter. The fan whips cool air above our heads. She tells me she can’t color with her best friend, Olivia at daycare. I ask her why? She tells me because they fight, but Olivia always apologizes. I ask Chloe if she apologizes to Olivia. Silence. I try again as we both color on the same picture. “Grandma,” she says, “stop asking questions!” I smile to myself.

I’ve been accused of the same crime before. Asking so many questions. Where do you live? What’s your dog’s name? What breed is she? Where did you go on your trip? Why did they move there? Did you work there long? It’s just I love peoples’ stories and a good memoir delights me almost more than peanut butter chocolate crust cheesecake with homemade whipped cream. 

Some writers struggle with writing a memoir. They wonder, Is it ho-hum? Is it self-indulgent? I’ve wondered about mine. Who in the world wants to read about me merrily driving a John Deere tractor, singing a Beach Boy’s song at the top of my lungs while plowing a field, then making a turn too wide and ripping out a barb-wired fence at the end of the field? Surely, others have done that. Who would care to read it? It’s that doubt that leaves my manuscript tucked away in a file for over twenty years. I know I need to muffle my critic’s voice inside, dust the manuscript off and believe my story is worth sharing with others.