September 20, 2016

Week Three of the Empty Nest

We dropped the girls off on Labor Day. Two weeks yesterday. This is week three.

It was my idea not to pick up or see the girls until three weeks in. I felt they needed to get settled, get used to their familiar, yet unfamiliar surroundings, once again. David and I needed to take a deep breath and reclaim the house—and our sanity.

As anyone who has packed up children for college can tell you, it’s a never-ending ordeal. And the lists! No matter how organized you are, you’re bound to miss something on the list.

This year, Amanda moved into a single room in a suite of ten rooms. It has plenty of space, good light, and the building is near all of her academic buildings. But the extra-long twin sheets we had to buy for her Freshman dorm wasn’t going to work on her new double bed. We split up—Amanda and I kept unpacking, while David and Kate went off in search of decent sheets 30 minutes away.

And then there’s the emotional unpacking. What will this school year be like? Will I like where I live? Never mind the ordeal of leaving behind all of the things that bring you comfort, grounding, support. The first day of school (or anything) is the first day of school, regardless of how old you are. There’s a mixture of fear and excitement that sends your stomach into somersaults and addles the brain. For the parents, too.

The group texts began the moment one was dropped off and the other was on her way. Last minute things we weren’t able to get were added to a list or became the responsibility of the one left behind.

Thankfully, the girls have found their footing.

Kate is understandably exhausted—teaching full-time with a full load of classes each week—but she loves the school she’s been placed at, the children, and the teachers. She gets to walk through parts of the city that were once only explored for fun. We envy those walks every time she Snapchats a picture of another mouth-watering pastry, imagining the delicious smells that waft through the neighborhood.

To say Amanda loves her room is a vast understatement. The deep blue accent wall matches her bedding perfectly. And her room is always clean, clean, clean. Something she couldn’t quite pull off last year with her messy roommate underfoot. She hit a snag when she had to add/drop a class, but it’s all good. Her suite has a kitchen, so she’s cooking for herself for the first time.

For us…well, the house is very clean. We purged and organized our basement, I’ve been deep-cleaning closets and cabinets, and we’ve managed to tackle a few outdoor projects. The list of things to do will always remain a list, but you get the idea.

We’re managing.

It’s hard to let go each year. No matter how much practice I have under my belt, each year is different. Each year brings new challenges. And each year, as they both get older, brings reality closer to the surface.

But, no matter how much grumbling I do (and I do a lot) before, during, and after, I have to remember to take a deep breath, stop my whining, count my lucky stars, and cherish this time.


September 13, 2016

The Anatomy of a Writer

The writing process is different for everyone. Those articles you read, those words of advice from authors you cleave to, need to be filed away as research. It’s only opinion. Strategies that worked for them, and sometimes only them. And just like them, mine is only another opinion.

When I write non-fiction, I prepare an outline. I decide what information should be included and in what order. I make a list of things I need to research, then factor in my own knowledge, and begin. I organize everything into chapters and chapter titles. For me, it’s a very distinct process.

When I write creative non-fiction, I simply pick a subject and write. I write what I know and make notes of anything I don’t. If research is required, I usually start this process towards the middle or the end of the piece. It’s important to me to write down my thoughts and feelings on the subject first, then back it up (if necessary) with any “facts”. It really depends on how deeply I’m going to cover the subject, or how intimately I’m attached to the project to decide if research is even necessary.

Now the biggie: fiction.

I do not plot. I do not outline. My stories are character-driven, so a character sketch is the only thing I draft before I begin the writing process. I make notes about where and when the story will begin, where it will go, and possibly where it will end up. But that’s it.

My characters write the story. I may be the vessel they use, but they decide what’s going to happen, what they’re going to say, and how they will get in and out of a situation.

I don’t know how the story ends (even if I guess) because I don’t know what they’re going to do until they do it.

All I can tell you is that it’s like having a movie projector in my head. I can see, hear, smell, and taste everything that’s happening. I am in the room. I am in that body. I feel and empathize. I am a man and then I am a woman. I am young. I am old. I am learning and doing everything my character is learning and doing at any given time.

That’s my process. It’s a strange and wondrous thing writing fiction. I didn’t think I could do it. Until I did.

Is that all there is? Well, I have a note app on my phone where I keep thoughts, snippets of dialogue, and ideas. I have a slew of notebooks where I write more of the same, along with paragraphs and phrases. I use these tools to get started, keep me on track, and edit.

But regardless of what I’m writing about, the point is, I’m always writing. Always.

There are no days off.

Does that mean that I clock in an 8-hour work day? No. Some days I only write down those thoughts and ideas. Other days, my butt is firmly planted in front of my computer where I sit and write for as long as it takes to work out an idea, or hit a particular work count, or when my brain freezes and my characters or the story just needs to rest.

When I’m not writing. I’m thinking about writing.

I had planned on a full day of editing yesterday, but the words just wouldn’t come. I got up and decided to work around the house. Physical activity helps my brain focus on other things and ultimately allows the words to come back to me organically.

And there it was. The words and ideas I needed for the Epilogue I wasn’t sure I was going to write.

I tell you all of this because I wish I had someone tell me these things during the years I spent spinning my wheels and “learning” how to write instead of just writing. Knowledge is power, but you can only learn so much before you actually have to go to work and just do it. Put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and write.

Just write. 

P.S. You may also like My Take on Writing and 1000 Words.

September 6, 2016

Hormones!

This not being old, sort of being old thing is so much fun. I’m too old to have a baby (socially, mentally), but I’m too young to be free from worrying about pregnancy. My body (and my mind) is in flux. I’m traveling through a wonderfully, glorious time in my life dubbed, perimenopause.

When we reach our early or pre-teens, we’re plagued with a monthly siege of pain and discomfort that ushers us into womanhood. We experience raging hormones and PMS—Pissed at Men Syndrome for some, Premenstrual Syndrome to others. Then, for the next 35-odd years (and roughly 455 periods), we spend that time either trying to, or trying not to get pregnant.

When you’re done making that decision, and life rolls merrily along, your body kind of reverses itself. And Bam! Hormones! Again! Only this time, they’re not the oh-that-boy-is-so-cute-I-can’t-stand-it kind, but something entirely different.

Visits to my doctor now include talks about my cycle. Am I tired, moody, anxious, sleeping well? Am I experiencing night sweats, vaginal dryness, or a low libido? Now let’s hop on that scale. Shall we?

Perimenopause can last between 5 and 10 years as the estrogen in your body makes its slow exit. Going to bed at 9:00 and waking at 4:00 becomes normal. Your monthly “friend” isn’t as friendly as she once was because you never know if she’s coming, how long she’ll stay, or what kind of mood she’ll be in. You’re hot, then cold, then hot again. And… well, I’ll spare you any further details. When I first read the book Our Bodies, Ourselves, I think they glossed over this part.

But the best part, the ultimate kick in the pants, is that your brain becomes foggier than any coastal town. We’re all doing too much, and it’s normal to be forgetful, but this is different. Where did I put my glasses? Did I just say something? Why did I come in here? These are normal, everyday occurrences that frustrate me to no end.

This is the reward we get for YEARS of wearing a sweatshirt around your middle because of an accident, of running off to the nurse’s office during school because you think you’re dying, of buying several sets of clothes throughout your life to fit over a bulging middle (pregnant or not), and of keeping companies who manufacture the products we desperately need each and every month in champagne and caviar. Forget gold. Invest in feminine products!

I’m told that once I reach my mid-fifties, things will be good again. Those nasty little hormones apparently fade into the background, sated and giggling the whole time.


P.S. You may also like Life in My 40s and Stress and Anxiety Triggers.

August 30, 2016

Past, Present, and Future

I have become extremely nostalgic lately. With the passing of another generational icon yesterday (the incomparable Gene Wilder - actor/comedian/writer), I can recall a conversation David and I started having just last week. “We are in for some sad times ahead.” I remembered saying, and he concurred.

As each year passes, we are reminded of just how short life is. Family gatherings were a time of celebration and happiness, and now—some of them are not. We are brought together to bear the burden of loss, of heartache. We look to the faces still present, thankful for each and every one. Blessed by each and every memory we can summon.

The fabric of our family is embroidered with treasured memories that sustain me to this day.

Although I grew up with just one sister, my many cousins lived in the same town, or close by, and we spent holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations together.

I remember cramming in next to my cousins on my grandmother’s couch on Christmas Eve, each of us donning our Sunday best and nibbling on treats as the adults carried on in various parts of the house. Near Halloween, my sister and I would shuffle through the woods as we watched our cousins try to scare the life out of us during their annual ghost walk. 4th of Julys, BBQs, Barbie doll birthday cakes, making whirlpools in the pool, wearing winter coats at the ice rink in July, pizza parties and scary movies, older cousins in charge of the younger ones, bible camp, drive-in theaters. There is an endless supply and each one can be played back in my mind with such vivid detail.

Photo albums are crammed with even more memories. Some black and white. Some yellow and faded. I compare chins, noses, hair color, and our crazy clothes. We share blood, a wise-ass sense of humor, the will to keep going, doing, being, inventing, creating. Forging through life no matter what it throws our way. We’re a sturdy stock, regardless of how each of us may feel about that particular moniker. 

My father just recently gave me a very large box. Our lineage has been researched and documented and I am its new keeper and guardian. My heart lurches every time I see our name emblazoned on another record or piece of paper.

I have great plans to hang these framed artifacts alongside family photos. I will do this to honor the past and be mindful of the present. To share our family history with whomever wishes to stop and take the time to read bold script written on aged parchment, or gaze upon the many faces of loved ones who are no longer with us, and of those who still are.

This collection will grow and be nurtured by my own children in the future, and I will gladly share these with other family members who wish to take this particular journey back in history with their own families.

The past has a way of pulling us into the future. To allow us to chart our own course. To embrace where we came from and decide where we can go. To be at peace. We need to hold onto those memories with as much clarity and tenderness and love we can possible piece together, if only for the briefest of moments. We need to share these memories to keep them alive, and nurture them to keep these memories from leaving us.


P.S. I'm the tall dorky looking one in the matching dress.

August 23, 2016

I'm Not Ready

The girls are both at work right nowTheir last work week of the summer. Next week, they’re all mine, albeit for just one more. We plan to get our hair done, troll bookstores, watch silly movies, discuss books, and the inevitable fact that school is, literally, just around the corner.

We’re not ready.

I’ll be spending Labor Day hauling boxes and bags; hanging pictures and wiring lamps; picking up boxes of books and stocking refrigerators; driving mile after mile after mile to drop my girls off at their respective schools, and walking out of their buildings, missing them before I’ve left the parking lot.

Kate is a senior this year. We already know the day she will graduate. Two days after she moves in, she’ll receive her tassel at convocation. I had just gotten used to her being a college student, yet here we are, at another precipice, another milestone. The question of when she’ll be attending graduate school is on all of our minds. She’ll be teaching full-time while simultaneously juggling a full-load of classes fall semester.

Amanda is moving in to a single room amongst both male and female roommates. David is not amused. She will continue her research on the variations in parasite abundance between urban and natural populations of anoles. I don’t pretend to understand; I just know she’s doing some pretty cool stuff under the tutelage of one of the university's leading researchers. She’ll have her car on campus this year. She’s decided to pursue a pre-med track and double her workload.

We’re not ready.

As I marvel at all they have accomplished so far, I am very aware of what lies ahead. I have already lived my version of their lives. It’s not easy, but the rewards are well worth the effort. I know this. They know this. But it doesn’t make it any less challenging all the way around.

I dreaded them leaving high school, and now, I’m dreading what comes next. Not because I don’t want them to succeed and move forward with their livesI want all of that for them and moreit’s just that I have finally found my way. I’ve learned how to live this new existence somewhat fractured by changes that are unavoidably inevitable.

We’ve already given Kate her graduation present. We took a trip last January knowing it might have been one of the last opportunities we’d be able to, as a family. We’re grasping at fragments of time, too precious to be ignored.

I know the reality is not nearly as frightening as the anticipation, of not knowing. I’ve been down this road before. I will ring my hands, make endless lists, repeat myself again and again to make sure the two of them have everything they could ever need. And then they’ll be off on their own once again.

But I’m not ready.

P.S. You may also like It's Been Quite a Week and A Surprising Twist.

August 12, 2016

Setting Realistic Goals

For more than a year, I got down on the floor every morning and did yoga. I loved it. My body loved it. But like so many other things in life, it got pushed aside. Time moved on and before I knew it, I had stopped doing it. Of all of the exercises I have tried, loved, and hated, yoga was one I enjoyed immensely. 

While I was away, I managed to slip in a class on the beach. It's heavenly, and if you ever get a chance to take one of these classes, do! The sand is a perfect platform for yogayou can dig your feet or heals in the sand and it contours perfectly to your body. My goal was to attend one class a week. I only made it to one. I thought it was a realistic goal; I could manage one class a week. But it wasn't meant to be. 

I have beaten myself up for not keeping the same rigorous exercise schedule I had stubbornly adhered to (for more than two years!) more times than I can count. I had worked my body so hard, I injured my hip. Then when I was "recuperating" (read: not getting off the couch), I injured my rotator cuff shoveling snow because I had been too inactive. I had to go through another period of recovery. And on and on it went. 

The bottom line is, we all get busy, injured, tired, and we may not make it to the gym as many times as we'd like. We may slack off, take a break, eat more than we move, and make excuses. 

But the body is resilient. You can get back to a routinealbeit a bit slower this time aroundbecause muscle memory is alive and well in your brain. It remembers what it feels like after your body has gone through a workout. That feeling of accomplishment and euphoria you get as endorphins pump through your system. Then all of a sudden, you remember that the gain far outweighs the pain. 

I may still be shy of my goals, but I've given myself the time to reach them. As my body ages, it doesn't bounce back quite the same way, but that's okay. I try not to make excuses, I try to take it one day at a time, setting realistic goals that don't drive me crazy. 

P.S. You may also like The Benefits of Lemon Water, Emotional Release, and these Good Health pins.

August 9, 2016

Summer Vacation Reading Contest

Eight years ago, I started our annual summer reading contest while on vacation. I won handily that year, but only because my daughters were just 10 and 13 at the time. However, this year, I won again for only the second time! It took me seven years, 3,306 pages, and 10 books to do it, but I did. Again, in all fairness, those 3000+ pages weren't even the most read in the history of our contest. Amanda holds that honor. She read 4,222 pages four years ago. So I take my victory in stride, knowing full well that it will be a long time before it happens again.

So what did we read? 

The picture above belongs to Kate and is a sampling of what she devoured in July. She loves fantasy and dystopian novels, and she highly recommends The Dead House from this year's picks. "It's not your usual novel.", she told me, and then proceeded to show me all of the graphics the book included. I won't spoil it for you, just check it out. Her all-time favorites are the Gemma Doyle trilogy, Delirium trilogy, and Before I Fall.

I took along a mix of fiction and non-fiction, but ended up only starting Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It. I'm about half way through, and I've found some of the essays inspiring. A scant 221 pages long, Anne Rivers Siddon's The Girls of August was a quick, delightful read. I had zero expectations, but enjoyed it thoroughly. I only read three books from this list, and I was disappointed in all three. I usually don't read popular books right awaythe hype is usually too muchbut I waited for one to come out in paperback, and it didn't wow me (or scare me) like I thought it would. I'll leave it at that.

Amanda recommends The Unexpected Everything. She enjoys realistic fiction and cites Jodi Picoult as one of her favorite authors. She fell in love with The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy years ago, and has read it more times than she cares to admit. The last book is her all-time favorite. I finally read it last summer and I agree. 

While we were away, we visited several local bookstores, which are really the hidden jewels of the book industry. It's interesting to learn which books are selling better locally, and most of the recommendations you receive from the staff is spot on. To be read: A Man Called Ove and The Last Summer of the Camperdowns.  

Both Kate and Michael have copies of The Cursed Child, but neither has read it yet. I'm waiting to hear their reviews before I decide whether or not I'll read it. For me, Harry Potter ended with book 7. We ALL list HP as some of our all-time favorite books. 

It's amazing how much you can read when you don't watch television. Yup, no TV on our 4-week vacation. And very little technology all the way around. I snuck off to write on my laptop a few times, and with the release of Pokemon Go, well... the girls did use their phones. But in all fairness, the phones were mostly silent and pocketed away.

I highly recommend taking a technology break and use that time to read!

P.S. You may also like Delicious Reads and Children's Books.

A shout out to our favorite local bookstores while on vacation: Yellow Umbrella Books, The Brewster Bookstore, and Edgartown Books.

June 28, 2016

Good-bye... For Now

Summer vacation has begun! Thank you all for hanging in there. I will be up to my usual tricks towards the end of the summer. I'm looking forward to writing more about Life in My 40s and getting back to a regular blogging schedule when I return in August. 

Much progress as been made on my new project, and with any luck, the blog will be moved and I can tell you more about it when I return. 

In the meantime, I hope you have a glorious summer!

P.S. You may also like...

May Summer Last a Hundred Years

2016 Summer Reading List

Scenes From Around New England (a.k.a. where I'll be hanging out)

Chatham

10 Things to do in July

Home

June 3, 2016

Free Fun Fridays

Boston winters may be long, but once the trees leaf out, the grass turns green, and the sun warms your face, it's time to head outdoors and enjoy the many parks and green spaces now available. But on those rainy days that force you inside, there are lots of things to do in and out of the city, and thanks to the Highland Street Foundation, you can get into museums, zoos, and gardens for FREE every Friday starting on June 24th. 

Here are my picks:

June 24th: Tanglewood's Family Fun Fest
July 1st: Boston Children's Museum or Cape Cod Maritime Museum
July 8th: Museum of Fine Arts
July 15th: Boston Anthenaeum
July 22nd: Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park
July 29th: Nantucket Whaling Museum
August 5th: The Greenway Carousel
August 12th: Concord Museum
August 19th: The Institute of Contemporary Art
August 26th: Norman Rockwell Museum

Enjoy!