Tag: writing life

World War II Wednesday: Knitting

Did you know that knitting has been an important source of support for combat troops overseas? 2014-08-21 11.44.00WWII was no exception, when Americans were urged to knit clothing for soldiers and sailors, to include socks, sweaters and hats. Recently there were drives to knit helmet liners for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Knitting has evolved as an art over the centuries, but the most notable development since WWII is probably the variety of fibers available to knit with. Still, the basics are often the best for a lot of my projects, like the “dorm socks” I knit up for my daughter (son’s are still on the needles). A basic sock pattern with worsted wool in a bright shade of purple did the trick.

For me, knitting is brain yoga. I get the best plot ideas in the middle of a purl. I hope you have your own way to chill your brain out, and that you make the time to enjoy it today.

Flashback Friday: A Veteran's Gratitude Check

Monday will be only the second Veteran’s Day in thirty-one years that I haven’t either been in uniform or married to a man in uniform. And it’s only over the past two years since dh (dear hubby!) retired from the Navy that I’ve been able to take a step back and appreciate what a gift it was to serve our great nation. From my first day of Plebe Summer on a hot July day in 1982 until our small, intimate retirement ceremony for Steve at The Army War College in Carlisle, PA (yes, my navy guy served his last year at an army post), it’s all been a gift.

It didn’t always feel like a gift, a blessing. As much as I always wanted to serve my country since at least high school if not earlier, following one’s dreams comes at a price. I didn’t have college summers to get a “real” job and play during off-hours. When dh and I married three days after my graduation (did we really do that, that young?) we had a month or so together until we faced months, possibly years of separation. Fortunately the navy was always good to us as far as co-location is concerned. Because of my active-duty training and deployment schedules, it was my experience that a lot of my emotional maturation took a back seat until I was in a more “regular” environment, the Naval Post Graduate School. Besides earning another degree courtesy of the navy, I was able to make life-long friends and take a hard look at my life–what did I want out of it?

For me the answer was clear: I wanted to have a family and write. I was lucky–I was able to keep serving our country as a navy spouse, since dh had found his calling (let’s just say he knew he wanted to Fly Navy since he was three years old) while having our babies and pursuing my writing career.

When the time was right I resigned my commission and became the “stability” factor for our family, most importantly, our children. Scary thought, right? Yet I had as much fun as they did. When Dad was off on deployment, meals became simpler as did our routine. It was the only way to maintain the energy level needed to raise two active kiddos while Dad was away. I was always grateful I was able to be home with the kids, writing in the wee hours of the morning or late at night after they were asleep. I lived one dream–having a family–while going after another–being a published author.

Again, it wasn’t always easy to be thankful. DH was deployed on 9-11, and I’ll never forget our first phone conversation and having to confirm that yes, he’d heard right, we’d lost friends. During the war dh was interviewed on CNN in-flight, and I learned to hold my breath and pray at the same time. Explaining war to young children–can anyone?

The best part of being a navy family was of course the wonderful places we lived, and the incredible people we’ve met. Our last tour in Moscow, Russia, we met many public officials and even celebrities. And yes, we really did meet the President of the United States. I blogged about it, have photos of it, and still people ask me if it really happened. Or maybe that’s my elementary-girl self asking if it really happened. What all of it has done has allowed my children to be informed, globally-oriented kids who will make a much larger impression in their world than I ever have. This was all made possible because dh continued to serve his country.

This Veterans Day I am so grateful for those who serve, who have served, and for the small contribution I’ve been able to make.

Leave a comment by November 11 and be entered to win a copy of Navy Orders or Navy Rules–your choice! I’ll pick one winner at random. (North America only. I’m sorry to my dear international friends but postage costs and different mailing systems make overseas mailings cost prohibitive).

A Little Bit of This, A Little bit of That

Tracy Wolff, Linda Cardillo and Me
Tracy Wolff, Linda Cardillo and Me

Okay, my editor would slay the title for this post–tres cliche! But I promised to share my RWA 2013 experiences. Rather than bore you with a long post and excruciating detail, I think a photo says so much. Take a look at this–Linda Cardillo, Tracy Wolff and I all met when we won Harlequin’s Everlasting Love contest, back in 2006. Lucky us, seven years later, to meet for breakfast at yes, 8 am on Saturday of RWA. I love my writer friends!

The View from a Paver Patio

These Remind Me of Orange Sherbert
These Remind Me of Orange Sherbert

It was a lot of work, time and effort but the spring push to get an additional paver patio put in that offers me a better view of the mini-forest behind our house was worth it. I have a place to sit and write to my heart’s content, and the birds aren’t afraid to come in for a visit. I will try to capture some of my feathered buddies over the next months. For now, I offer you some pics taken from the new patio. I took these photos only a week or so ago and the difference, day by day, is amazing.

Future Tomatoes
Future Tomatoes

It’s like that with writing, too. One paragraph, one page of dialogue may seem minuscule when faced with an entire novel to compose. Yet each word is a seed. Some words sprout into sturdy, tough plants like my tomato. Others are more fragile like the clematis who is so very tentatively starting to climb up the trellis I painted for it.

My View As I Write
My View As I Write

I don’t have control over what will bloom or not in my garden, not really. I can only do the research, consult experts, and time my planting as close to Mother Nature’s schedule as possible. Of course she, like my story, changes like the wind, like a mere few strokes of the keyboard.

Plant a seed today. In your life, in your words, in your garden.

Two Years in the Same House–and We're Not Moving!

We adopted a Dogwood!
We adopted a Dogwood!

My retired Navy family is hitting a major milestone this summer as we approach the two-year mark for how long we’ve been in one house, one home, one spot on the globe–and we’re going to stay here. After 13 moves in 26 years, you can imagine my relief. Even though I know we’re done with the Navy moves, and hope no other moves are in the near future, my brain seems to have a special compartment that must be labelled “Navy Move” or “PCS” (permanent change of station). I found myself restless about a month ago, thinking I needed to purge the house of junk, accumulated clothes or papers, books, etc. But wait–I did that when we moved in. And before we moved from Russia. And before we moved to Russia…

What do normal people, i.e. people who don’t live tour-to-tour, do?

Border garden around the new paver patio
Border garden around the new paver patio

Remodel! But wait, there’s the college tuition to consider for the eldest kid, and younger kid will be in college soon enough. What’s more economical?

Curb appeal! (HGTV junkie, full disclosure).

But we’re not selling, so who cares about the front of the house? I spend close to three seasons writing on my laptop or iPad on the patio. Shouldn’t it be a place of serenity and escape for me?

I am no gardening expert. After living in so many different places I’ve learned that if I want to have any success I need to stick with native plants. Lucky for me there is a local gardening expert who also happens to write a column in our paper and, for a very reasonable fee, make house calls and landscape design charts.

Because every garden needs a path...
Because every garden needs a path…

This has been a spring of deadlines and looming deadlines, and the excitement of attending a particular writer’s conference I haven’t been to before. But somehow the plans were drawn up, I limited myself to one side of the house per year (or every 5 years!) and besides the start of a wonderful garden I also have a second paver patio from which to write my novels.

How lucky can a girl get?

The Greatest Gifts Come Quietly

Seeking a full-time, paying career in writing brings madness, mayhem, and all to often, discouragement. This is why I glommed on to writers like Julia Cameron, Stephen King, and Anne Lamott even before I knew I was a writer. They speak honestly and often with humor about the writing life. I’ve learned that the writing thing is like the life thing–I only need take each day as it comes, step-by-step, word-by-word. There’s not a lot of drama in that, is there? As a recovering trauma-drama queen, it was hard to accept that while I can get as nut-so as I want on the page and in my novels, that is not the way I want nor need to be living my life.
In essence, I had to slow down. It’s a daily process and I’m not the best at it. But when I slow down and listen to the quiet, it gives my spirit room to grow and create.
It gives me room to live.
I hope you have a special space in your living today.

How Do You Beat the Winter Blahs?

I went to Scotland. Castles, mountains, wool, history galore. A writer’s heaven.

Where JK Rowling Wrote Harry Potter
Where JK Rowling Wrote Harry Potter
As a kid in Western New York I loved winter and faced total confusion as my grandparents complained about the cold and snow. As long as I could make a snow man, ice skate, or even better, go sledding/tobogganing, I was thrilled.

Edinburgh Sun Rise
Edinburgh Sun Rise
The years have blinked by and now I “get” what they meant. It’s tough to drive in ice and snow, and worse to walk in it, especially in Russia where the ice can be inches thick on the sidewalks. If it’s hard for me and I consider myself in okay shape, how hard it must be for the elderly who need to walk to get to the kiosk that sells their favorite (most affordable) fruit or bread.

Swan on Loch Ness
Swan on Loch Ness
My children get a week off at the end of February for Winter Break, and we used the off-season prices to afford a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. Friends and family in the States thought we were crazy–Scotland, in the winter? It’ll be cold, rainy, miserable! Nope. It was chilly the first few days, but a relative heat wave to us. And the last couple of days were downright balmy. In the 30’s at night, but 40’s, maybe even 50 during the day.

Edinburgh Castle--View from The Elephant House
Edinburgh Castle–View from The Elephant House
Enjoy the photos–if you’re still in the grips of Father Frost, wherever you are, I hope they give you hope for the coming Spring. By the way, it’s 9 degrees Fahrenheit as I write, -2 wind chill.

Do You See Any Literary Fairy Dust in the Air?
Do You See Any Literary Fairy Dust in the Air?

Yoga, Russian-Style: A Metaphor for Life?

Honest, I’m not going to bore you with my transcendental journey while sitting in lotus or laying in corpse pose yesterday at yoga. Probably because my journey was more of a muscular nature, as in my lower back cramped up so badly I thought for sure I’d be laid flat and told to “take it easy, rest, eat whatever you want for the Holidays and no more hard work outs.”IMG_0328 [1600x1200]

Yet the class continued. Somehow I got through each pose, at times sweating out the discomfort. My lower back has been my nemesis  ever since college, and of course being a runner for so many years didn’t help it. I’ve learned to balance my exercise–heavier on walking, lifting (resistance), stationery bike, etc, and I only run for fun occasions like a road race I want to do.

I know that to keep the back pain away I have to work out–hard, especially on my core. It’s just part of the I-want-to-be-healthy-and-strong gig. Still my lower back and I have our moments when I’ve been doing all the right things, and it still fusses and gives me grief. My inclination is to take an anti-inflammatory and rest. Yet if I work through it (carefully, not abusively) the spasms ease and I enjoy another long period with negligible pain.

Hmm…sounds like the same prescription for writing relevant, real, touching prose. If I ignore my craft and blow off my regular morning pages and daily writing, I start to feel like crap. And then when I do get back to the page, I’m writing, well, crap. It takes a lot longer to produce a great dialogue or to insert a much-needed metaphor.

Writing regularly, practicing anything that’s our vocation on a regular, consistent basis, is tough. At all the writer’s conferences and workshops I’ve attended or given, no one has ever stood up and said “this is so easy! I write whenever I want and I’m a successful New York Times bestselling author!” The most successful among us are either quiet and listening carefully to glean new insight into their craft, or they’re not there because they’re at work—writing.

The yoga instructor is Russian and when I first started her class I thought “great, Soviet gymnastics-turned-torture.” But while her style is different from what I’m used to, it’s not bad. Just different. She has us hang indefinitely in painful poses so that we get past the pain. So that my muscles finally trust. Relax. Take in more oxygen.

Hang in there. Don’t beat yourself up. Enjoy the peace and joy this season is meant to bring. Soak in the beauty of a brightly lit Christmas tree, sigh in delight as another Menorah candle is lit. Breathe. Relax. Let your true vocation come through.

A Writer's Day in Moscow

Moscow is a city of wonder especially in the winter. The hardest adjustment here is learning to grocery shop in bursts. While we have one-stop shopping available, it’s not as convenient to either get to (you have to have your car to haul the groceries back) and unless you get there when they open or very early in the a.m., stores such as Metro (Cash&Carry) and Auchan are so busy that you have to add hours to your shopping trip. And of course, there is the sticker shock.  I paid the equivalent of $9.00 for a pint of raspberries yesterday. I needed/wanted them for a dessert I’m making for a dinner. A luxury, yes, but sometimes in the cold and often gray days of winter the simple burst of red from a raspberry can be paradise.

I prefer to support my local vendors when I can, which means a trip out to the kiosks that are sprinkled all around the metro stations. So many of you ask me what a typical day in Moscow is like–there is no “typical” day. But here’s a glimpse…

I began the day with my usual morning routine–coffee, prayer, coffee, writing. Did I say coffee? Actually I don’t drink that much, and keep my caffeine intake low. But I do enjoy that hot drink to coax me awake. Then I prepared to go shopping for fresh fruits&veggies, some flowers, and maybe even take-out lunch from the local kebab/shashlik place. As it was a Russian holiday I was lucky enough to get my husband to go with me, to carry the treasures. I didn’t tell him about my plan to take pics all along the way, so in one picture you’ll see his “okay, how many photos of an alley are you going to take?” expression. Yup, I married a saint and I know it.

A Glimpse of Where I want to go Later!
A Glimpse of Where I want to go later!!

When we walked out of the embassy gate I looked to my left as we crossed the street and spied where I knew I’d be later. Can you see the skaters in between the fence posts? It’s part of the biggest ice rink I’ve ever been on–they flood and freeze a soccer field. And it’s only a 5 minute walk from my door!

My Down Coat Is a Lifesaver!
My Down Coat is a Lifesaver!

Back to the grocery shopping. Check out the snow–we’re in the midst of a record-breaking year for snowfall and temperatures. We stomped and climbed through snow to get to the alley that we cut through to get to the major kiosk area near us–at the Barrikadnaya Metro Station.  Notice the statue that is our protector as we walk through the alley. It’s only one of several magnificent statues on this particular Seven Sister building–there are 7 of these gothic-inspired, “wedding cake” buildings that were commissioned and built in the 1950’s.

There are kiosks for flowers, beer, bread, kebabs, fruit and veggies, rottisserie chicken..pretty much whatever you need when you’re going to or from the Metro on your way home or to some romantic rendezvous (I put this in here to keep your attention). Because of the heavy snow and flat rooftops of the kiosks, the owners have to shovel off the snow, which can be a danger to those of us walking below!

And more alley--yes, I'm taking this photo, too!
And more alley–yes, I’m taking this photo, too!
Our Shortcut Through the Alley
Our Shortcut Through the Alley
Alley Sentry
Alley Sentry
Barrikadnaya Metro Station--Kiosk Heaven
Barrikadnaya Metro Station–Kiosk Heaven

I found most of the fruits and veggies I sought, minus any fresh herbs like parsley and mint, and green onions. It’s interesting to me what can be available depending on the day and time of year.

While I bought flowers, Steve went over to the shaslik place and got us our yummy lunch–tortilla wraps stuffed with  roasted meat, veggies and a great sauce, then put in a panini press. Our teenaged kids were grateful for the snack.
Fruit and Veggie Stand
Fruit and Veggie Stand
Shoveling snow off the Prodykty (Produce) Kiosk
Shoveling snow off the Prodykty (Produce) Kiosk
My-My's, Can we go there for lunch?
My-My’s, Can we go there for lunch?

I was distracted for a moment when I saw the new My My (moo-moo) restaurant that’s opened near the zoo, also near the Barrikadnaya Metro. My-My’s has a tasty, affordable selection of Russian faire to include borscht, beet salads, roasted meats and pemeni, the Russian verson of tortellini/ravioli.

On the ice in front of one of the Seven Sisters
On the ice in front of one of the Seven Sisters

I was lucky to be able to finish out the day as I’d hoped–on the ice. My kids took these pics, and while I’ve come a long way from skating during the Blizzard of ’77 in Buffalo, New York, it’s a great thing to be able to get on the ice again, all these, um, many years later.

I hope you get to go out and make the most of your day, wherever you are, whatever your abilities, limitations, blessings, or crosses.

It’s how you feel, dahlink, not the date on the birth certificate!

Yes, I'm really on skates!
Yes, I’m really on skates!