Curating Old Friends

There was a recent discussion amongst some writer buds about the books on our shelves. The question posed was, “am I meant to have read all of those books?” The consensus was, “no.”

The secretary desk curated. Four more bookcases to go…

In my case, this is what happened:

  1. I am gifted books. A LOT of books. At workshops and conferences, one receives books in the hope of reviews. At most writing conferences they have something called a “goody room” – a room filled with books, swag, and chocolate. I tend to hit the chocolate, I might take a free pen if it’s got a rubbery grip, and I’ll carefully select a book or two – not usually more than a couple, as I am a very slow reader. Okay, I might walk out with a bag full if someone is there thrusting them at me. I try to read them, but there’s an hours to day issue, as in not enough of the first in the latter.
  2. The TBR or the “to-be-read” pile. These are books that appealed to some part of me when I foolishly walked into a brick-and-mortar bookstore. I haven’t read them yet, but there is a plan to read them. These books often land in a stack on my nightstand until it begins to teeter when they are then stacked on a bookshelf until I eventually get around to putting them in order.
  3. The leftover “stock.” I may have mentioned that my family owns and used to operate an antique mall. Our parents needed help on weekends and later, full-time, so during my stint there, I kept a small room filled with used books. It was not a gamble in purchasing books for resale. I simply bought whatever I liked and that I thought I might get around to reading. When we leased the building to one of the dealers, I closed up “shop” and my entire stock of used books came home with me.
So sad to see you go… 🙁

The problem is, in my case, a real estate-to-book ratio. So this week began the process of moving bookshelves, painting, and curating the books, some of whom I consider to be old friends. I cannot possibly read all of the books on my shelves. Not enough hours in the day, weeks, months, years, but how do you choose which of your friends stay and which ones go? Here’s how:

This has become a messy madness of non-fiction!
  1. Try the Marie Kondo tidy. I tried. Everything was going great. I whittled down the clothes in my closet to a carefully chosen capsule wardrobe, and then I got to the section on “books.” That’s when I quit. How does one pare down old friends? Well, I’m trying it again this week. Bye bye, old friends. It’s not that I didn’t love you, but I want to share the love with someone else. I swear, you’re special!
  2. Donate those that just don’t have a permanent place in your heart to your local library. Maybe they just haven’t found their forever home yet.
  3.  Start a “Little Free Library.” I did that this past summer. Of course, I keep forgetting to go out there and refresh the selections… and I’m always a little bit hurt when I install a book that I have loved that no one else seems to want to read. Don’t they know it has had a life-altering impact on someone?

Then there’s the problem of how to organize those that you do decided to keep.

And the wires… and the attempt at a secret bookshelf door. Nope.
  1. Organize by color. I mean, you COULD. I wouldn’t. I won’t! (Note to my daughter – please do not re-arrange them again by color. It took two afternoons to re-alphabetize them. Okay, they did look great, but I couldn’t find anything.) The cover color often does not match the spine, or I remember it as being orange, but in reality, it’s blue with orange type.
  2. Alphabetize by category using a version of the Dewey decimal system. I have mine divided into fiction and non-fiction. All of the fiction is alphabetized by author, then title, but not by genre. All of the non-fiction is just clumped by subject matter – art, architecture, science and nature, history and biographies, crafts, building, gardening… A lot of these are going to get heavily curated. Sorry old friends. You’ve served your purpose, so now you can go into the service of someone else.

And sometimes, there is the odd book that just doesn’t make the cut. Sadly, I have a stack of books that I don’t mind turning into a craft project. And some of them get repurposed when I turn them, spine backward and use them for insulation in my office gable. Don’t judge me. Don’t judge a book by its… or maybe do.

Creepy Baby Book…

Have you ever judged a book by its cover? I absolutely have. There is power in visual communication and I admit to having been fooled by a misleading cover or two. Either that or I’ve found it was better than its cover suggested, or that it was not quite on-genre with its cover. Still, I tend to shop by cover design. Someday, maybe I will learn.

Let me know how you curate your old friends? I wonder, is anyone giving up all of their physical books in favor of e-books? I find I cannot and I regret having purchased some books in e-format and found myself wanting their company on my keeper shelves.

I’ll post an update once the shelves are moved, trimmed, painted and sorted with my freshly curated library. And in the meantime, I hope you find time to read a book, maybe curate and share a friend or two, and make some art!

Death and Taxes

My computer search history could really get me into trouble. There are queries like, “how long for a body to decompose in salt water? Fresh water? In a well? What common household chemicals might be used to induce a heart attack? Paralysis? Mental Illness? Then there are queries like, “can I write off my cat as a business expense? (For your edification, no, you cannot write off your cat, even if she is your muse. Bummer.)

Writing, like other forms of art, seems to conjure images of a writer working from an attic office, surrounded by books and colorful art and antiques, inspirational weaponry hanging on the wall, a mug of coffee… (Maybe I’m just picturing a favorite scene from KNIVES OUT.)

The reality of it is, sure, that image describes a portion of the day, but another portion of the day is filled with the business bits of being self-employed. Even if you’re published with a traditional publisher, there are things outside of writing that need to be wrangled.

Luckily, we have all been given a beautiful outline for conducting “the business of writing,”  courtesy of our federal government. I’m speaking of the Schedule C. (dah, dah, dummmm…)

This is not to be construed as tax advice. Merely, it is a handy-dandy guide to some of the bits and bobs that go into a writing career and expenses that must be tracked. You will more fully appreciate this if you’re beginning that annual task of filing your taxes.

I reference Schedule C as an outline for tracking business expenses because it is precisely that. In Schedule C, you will find a list of expenses that need to be tracked, basically, the money that comes in set against the money that goes out. Easy peasy. It’s even broken into two separate sections: Income and Expenses.

Profit or Loss From Business (Sole Proprietorship)

Income – the money that’s coming in. This includes all of the money you earn from the business of writing. For example, book sales or royalties, services you may provide as a private contractor – ghostwriting income, content creation for others, other copy, workshops, honorariums, advertising income from your website – anything for which you have been paid as a writer. Most of that can be pretty straightforward to track. For example, if you’ve earned more than $600 from one source of income, you will probably receive a 1099 from that source. A 1099 is a tax form, (a very expensive tax form if you have to purchase them as a pack of 50 from a certain chain office supply store… although it is a tax write-off) that is filed on the other end with a record of the amount of money that business, publisher, private contractor, has paid out to you. Some income, (generally amounts paid out to you that equal less than $600) do not require filing of a 1099, so those income streams are your responsibility to track. For example, I do not receive a 1099 for small writing gigs, but I track those on a log sheet. (More on that later.)

Expenses – this is a tabulation of everything you have spent in the day-to-day operation of your business as a writer – and this is where a Schedule C comes in very handy. At the date of writing this, you can obtain a copy of the 2022 Schedule C here: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1040sc.pdf. You can likewise just type “Schedule C form” into a search engine. Just make sure you select the dot gov link to ensure you link to a free, printable copy.

And there, under expenses, lines 8-27b, are the headings for the costs you are allowed to deduct as business expenses. Here, you’ll find things like:

Advertising, Car and truck expenses, Commissions and fees, Contract labor, Insurance, Legal and professional services, Office expenses, Rent or lease, Business property, Repairs and maintenance, Supplies, Taxes and licenses, Travel and meals, Utilities, etc.

For example, (and again, not tax advice. Just a “fer example”) Advertising. I choose this one because it is seemingly straightforward. How much did you spend on adverts for your books? Well, what about a website? Isn’t that part of owning a business and advertising your books? Reaching readers: What about the copies of your book you sent out to reviewers? Advertising. What about the copy you left at your hairstylist’s? Advertising. What about bookmarks you left at the local library? Advertising. Business cards? Advertising. Boo yah!

Understand that everything is open to interpretation, so you may want to seek the advice of an accountant, but here’s another resource too often ignored: contact the IRS. Make sure you have the person on the other end of the phone send you the documentation that covers your question. Better yet, have them highlight the section that answers your specific question. If there is a miscommunication, the burden of proof is on you, so always make sure you can back up your claim to an expense.

The two certainties in life: Death and Taxes. One of which I write about. The other… well, yeah, I guess I’m writing about that one too, but don’t take my word for it. After all, fiction – it’s what I do. Check your sources, because I deal in red herrings, false leads, and subterfuge and because Uncle Sam tends to frown upon those plot devices, especially where it concerns your taxes.

The Word Crone Cottage

We have all learned a thing or two about adapting over the last couple of years. I’m used to working from home, so when three adults were suddenly working from home, I felt the need to carve out, as Virginia Woolf described it, “a place of one’s own.” As promised, here is the vlog covering how I turned an unfinished storage shed, stuffed with furniture from our antique shop, into an office/studio.

Continue reading “The Word Crone Cottage”

Time Management for Writers

Have you ever known a writer who seems to have been blessed with a 36 hour day based on their productivity? Do you wonder how they do it? Is it magic? Do they possess something us mere mortals lack? How about the writer who, despite having a pretty flexible schedule, cannot seem to produce any substantial work? We label it “blocked” and that may be true, but I believe some of those blocks may be of our own creation.

I would wager that the first person has mastered the magic of time management while the latter struggles with it. Of course, I’m not insensitive to personal challenges – small children at home, demands of other jobs, attention challenges, etc, but hopefully, one or more of these strategies will help you to wrangle all those cats into some semblance of order and productivity.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, (see last week’s blog post) here is a handy-dandy bullet list of some of the tools I find helpful in wrangling all of my cats, er, projects:

Make a list of your goals. As mentioned previously, my goal is to produce a novella every quarter this year. (That’s a lie. My real goal is to produce a finished novel every quarter, but that seems grandiose, so I’ll just call it a novella for now. Really what that means is I’ll be editing two completed novels, finish writing the third novel, and write one complete novel to fill out a small town murder mystery series.) It helps if your goals are within your power and not reliant upon someone else. For example, the goal: “I will get an agent” is dependent upon someone else, however, the goal, “I will submit queries to my top ten favorite agents” – completely within your power.

Allot a time frame for completion of your goals using simple math. I know, I know, we’re mostly humanities majors, but it is simple math. You take the projects you want to complete, divide the number of parts (or pages) by the number of days in which you have to complete the task and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how much work you need to do each day to reach your goal. For my first quarter, when I did the math, I had thirty-five chapters to edit and thirty-five business days (until the end of February) in which to do it. That will give me a month to refine, format, and promote the book.

Change your architecture to meet those goals. Have trouble starting a task? Maybe it’s that you have not designed your architecture to help with the whole “start your engines” process. The architectural changes might be big or small changes. For example, I hate exercising, but doing it on the regular required a simple architectural change. I realized that I don’t actually hate exercise. I hate going out in the cold to exercise. So I found a second-hand treadmill and moved it into my office. During the thick of the pandemic, I had to make a big architectural change in the form of my office. I took over a storage shed on the corner of our property, tricked it out, and no more problem getting distracted from the business of writing. (I’ve promised more on this transformation later, and I promise, I will, but, yep, later.)

Journal. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that. As mentioned in earlier posts, I journal daily, all-day-long. It sits to the left of my computer, follows me back and forth from office to house, hangs out beside my favorite chair, and goes to bed on my bedside table. In it, I keep a simple “to-do” list of daily tasks based on that simple math. I keep a monthly “to-do” list based on the quarterly goals that I’ve listed. On Wednesday, I wrote the outline for this Friday’s blog post into my journal with a list of keywords and possible images. (I think I wrote it at around 3 a.m.) I’ve added sections to my journal/calendar to include blog post ideas, art ideas, writing ideas, and social media statistics. If I need to see how something is performing, I can just look back in my journal. I check my quarterly goals regularly to make sure I’m on track and I often add to them. For help in designing your journal, may I suggest www.bulletjournal.com? There, author Ryder Carroll has designed a brilliant system for organizing your life through journaling. I suppose I use a sort of hybrid version of the bullet journal. I cannot seem to keep up with an index, so I just stick little washi tape bookmarks at the beginning of every month. I will add color coded washi tape tabs as I add to the “blog ideas” and the “pen and ink ideas.”

Check off tasks completed. Make sure you’re acknowledging to yourself what you’ve accomplished. It’s easy, at the end of the day, to forget the multitude of tiny tasks accomplished that could be over-shadowed by the one big task you did not finish. Yesterday, I set a writing goal to edit one chapter. I edited two! Today, I haven’t completed my chapter edits. I think I will, but if not, I noted that I did it yesterday, so I’m still on target.

Adjust and repeat. Are you three days into the quarter and already behind? S’alright. Breathe. Re-do the math. You’ll have to work harder tomorrow to catch up, so think of ways you can adjust your architecture to hit your daily goals toward reaching your quarterly goals. Your adjustment may be that you had an unrealistic goal in hoping to finish the book in three months. It’s okay. Adjust your quarterly goals. Has something unexpected come up? Don’t sweat it. Just adjust, recalculate, and do a check-in on your goals regularly.

Celebrate and reward yourself! It’s the end of the first week (second week really, but I started late, and did the math accordingly) and today I am celebrating 1) my second blog post of the year, complete with keywords, 2) images that are vaguely apropos, 3) completion of a home renovation project – I painted and installed some eclectic stair spindles in our new media room, 4) assembled a LoveSac Sofa (trust me, not a small task, but worth it) 5) added Google Adsense to my blog to better track traffic sources, (although I’ve no idea where the ads are yet) 6) as of Tuesday, I had completed the outline notes on each of the 35 chapters of DEATH OF A SERIAL HUSBAND, the first book in my small southern town murder mystery series (shameless plug) and today, I’m three chapters in with the edits, 7) I organized the hall closet that kept trying to kill me, 8) I posted a short reel to Pinterest – first one I’ve done and I need to perfect it, but it shows the stair spindles I installed. (Ignore the nails sitting out at a wonky angle) 9) nearly finished a pen and ink drawing, 10) plowed through laundry tasks, 11) repaired a lamp for my mother-in-law, 12) drew the design for my next renovation project (moving and installing built-in bookshelves in the “library” and curating the books on those shelves – see drawing above), and 13) making loaded baked potato casserole for another family. Those are just the high-lights, the things that I needed to remind myself to do by putting them down in my journal. I celebrated this week’s accomplishments by treating myself to a new book. I’m reading a children’s book, Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata. Oh yeah! I can check off that item in my journal under the heading, “books read.”

It sounds compulsive. It is, isn’t it? But it gives structure to my day, ensures that I’m always learning, making, and writing. Here’s to your own successes and productivity! If everything else falls by the wayside, if you find at the end of the week you haven’t hit some of your goals, or any of your goals, don’t sweat it. “Make Art! Read a Book!” – you can’t go wrong by investing in yourself and adding to the beauty of the world. That, my friend, is magic.

The Magic of a Calendar Filled with Intention

Yep, it’s that time when every other blogger posts their “how to” on goal setting, starting a calendar for the new year, journaling, etc. I’m no different. My particular take on it though is to create a calendar filled with intentions, goals, rewards, and magic. So without further delay, let’s manifest together!

  1. Set down your broad strokes goals.

I keep what I call a spell book and in it, I write down my broad strokes goals. (Think about it. It’s like that cute meme with the witch sitting in her rocking chair, waving a pair of wands (knitting needles), muttering an incantation (swearing and talking to herself), and voila, like magic, she creates something magical (wooly socks.)

Same thing. Thus, I begin my annual journal with “First Quarter Goals”. That does several things. It identifies what I hope to achieve, and the time frame in which I hope to achieve it.

My goals are simple, and my desires are even more modest:

  • Maintain regular blog posts
  • Solidify my niche
  • Complete one novella
  • Expand current book distribution.

Okay, in all honesty, second, third, and fourth quarter goals aren’t even written in my journal yet, because I’m not sure how much I can accomplish in one quarter, but there’s room there to add in after-thought goals. At this rate, I will have produced four novellas in a year. Can I do that? I haven’t thus far. I’ve produced full-length novels in a year, but… We’ll see.

That’s an example of my “work” goals. In addition to those goals listed above, I’ve also got a page of “home” goals, and “learning” goals. “Home” goals consist of home repair and renovation and world-building. Those goals all revolve around making our home a magical place. “Learning” goals are just that – things I want to learn. I need to brush up on my French in the first quarter in preparation for a little trip to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. As far as the acquisition of things? Nah. I don’t really want anything. Maybe a pair of those sweet wooly socks I saw in an advert the other day, but, nope. I don’t really want for things, but you could make that a broad strokes goal. No judgment. If you really want a, er, I don’t know, let’s say a home office, then make that one of your goals. For really big goals, you may want to break them into parts per quarter. (That was my goal in 2020, and voila, I waved a wand, a.k.a., a hammer, spouted an incantation (plenty of swearing), and here I sit in the Word Crone Cottage. More on that later.)

2. Create a daily breakdown with benchmarks for achieving those goals within the time frame you’ve allotted.

I usually write my blog posts on Friday, but I’m a day ahead of schedule, so I’ll probably spend tomorrow – and the next week – outlining this quarter’s novella. (I’ll let you know how that’s going.) I “completed” a full-length novel last year – 300 pages – but I think it’s going to sit in a drawer for a while. It has… issues. Onward and upward.

In order to fulfill my goal of a novella before April 30th, I’ll have to make note of the benchmarks to completion. This next week is all about outlining. Hopefully, I’ll have a completed first draft by the end of February, and a print-ready manuscript by mid-April. In and around that, I’ll probably identify a couple of books in French that I’ll read by the end of April to beef up my school-girl French. I’ll probably add in a couple of French films, maybe one per week? That could be a nice reward to me for completing the reading tasks.

This brings me to…

3) Tracking, and

4) Rewards

Tracking is just that. I create a page in my calendar at the beginning of the quarter to track with a simple check mark, those things that I need to accomplish in order to reach my goals. If I need to read 10 pages in my French novel every week in order to reach my goal, then I’ll acknowledge the accomplishment with a simple check mark. In addition, I try to reward myself for tasks completed. This next week, I won’t be treating myself, but rather, I’m being treated. My birthday is next week and my sweetheart is taking me out for dinner with some of the people I love.

I cannot imagine anyone is really interested in my line-by-line calendar journal as everyone’s goals and method of tracking will be different, and you know what they say about seeing how the sauce is made. Ewww.

In the meantime, I hope you have a fantabulous new year filled with goals of your own making and intention. I’d love to compare notes with you to see how those goals are coming along! As ever, I hope you find time in your busy schedule to make some art and read a book!

Sofie.

Clearing the Dust Bunnies

I’m jingle-jangling, and cookie baking, and gift wrapping! Woot! I love this season!

And yes, I always bite off more than I can chew, but I also accomplish more than I plan. It all comes down to getting organized, having a curated to-do list, and blocking off the hours in which I have to do all of the to-doing. S’all good!

Now’s the time to prepare my calendar for 2023. In addition to the new year’s calendar, I’m wrapping up my old journal. At the beginning and end of every new journal, I start by making a list of the big projects I want to complete, if not by calendar’s end, then by journal’s end. By looking back at what I hoped to accomplish in 2022, and ticking off those things that I managed to do, taking a good hard look at the things I did not complete, and acknowledging the things I didn’t mean to do, but did, I get a real sense of what I’ve accomplished over the past year. Yes, it’s time well spent to take time and credit for having accomplished all of those tasks. All important schtuff.

Here’s my stack of journals. They are, essentially, bullet journals, but I keep my journaling to a low roar with composition notebooks. Do they all fall in chronological order by year? Nope. In the past I have had the occasional slip up when I have misplaced my journal. I just pick up another empty journal and start journaling on page one as if it’s a continuation, then when I find the lost journal, I may or may not slip back into that one. So while this stack of journals does represent my years of journal keeping, they are not all full, not all representative of the tasks of a single year, nor even a single quarter. Some of them are half-full, others are full with time skips, etc. What’s important is the here and now… and planning for the future journaling as if I won’t lose the notebook.

If you’re interested in a means of organizing your tasks, you may want to visit www.bulletjournal.com for their beginner’s tutorial in journaling. If you look at youtube and search bullet journal inspiration, you’ll be inundated with folks who keep beautiful, artistic journals. I’m artsy, but I ain’t got no time for that. 😊 I’m a straight-up list keeper. I’ll maybe note a particularly special day with a homemade emoji or snowflake or dots and dashes, but I’m pretty much just keeping a tab of what I have to do and checking off what I’ve done. My journals are not pretty. They’re a hot mess that helps keep the hot mess out of my brain.

Without applying too much pressure to myself, I do like to list to-do projects for the week or month out. For example, this week, the week before Christmas, I’ll be finishing up a painting/home renovation job in my bathroom. I’ve allotted a full day to finish that. I’ve allotted a separate day for each room that needs deep cleaning. I’ll be starting another painting/renovation project in the basement/game room. That will take the rest of the week. I’ve also allotted the preparation of different food dishes for different days. The meats will be prepared the day before Christmas but leading up to Christmas Eve, I know which days are set aside for the preparation of which dishes – based on those that can store in the freezer before Christmas.

It sounds stressful, but having the to-do list written out clears my brain and I can relax. Ahhh.

Here’s wishing you a happy and relaxing holiday season! Feeling stressed? Make some art, read a book, or maybe put down in the form of a to-do list connected to a time frame. I’ll be preparing my 2023 journal to free up some brain space. I’m taking off the next two weeks, but I’ll be back to blogging in 2023. Maybe I’ll share my process for tracking business expense. It’s a thing of organizational beauty!

Illustrated Mysteries?

I didn’t post on Friday. Why? Because I was having a crisis of purpose. Then it hit me, I don’t need to compromise, do I? You see, my goal, since elementary school, was to be an illustrator. My best friend, Paige, was committed to becoming a writer, and because we did everything together in first grade, including sharing a boyfriend, Dean Newton, I decided I would be a book illustrator.

That changed by the time college rolled around. I decided I was going to be a scientific illustrator. The first in my family to go to college, I did not know a lot about choosing schools based on the programs they offered. In fact, I thought any college would provide me with the skills I would need for my chosen profession, thus I ended up a rhetoric major. Yeah. That’s another blog post unto itself, but no regrets!

I tried to cobble together a program that would lead to scientific illustration, but alas, I justified rhetoric as the thing that could be morphed into anything I wanted, and it kind of is.

Now, almost 30 years later, I’m a writer, but I have always felt like something was missing. Sure, I kept up with the art. I returned to college a half-dozen years ago to complete a program in graphic design, toward building my own book covers, book formatting, and all things book-related. It was only recently that my mother encouraged me to take some of the illustrations I had created 30 years ago for a children’s book and “do something with them.”

Sadly, I do not own the copyright to the book to which those illustrations belong, but what the whoo? I write books all the time, every day, so why not start illustrating those?

“It was gray. It was twisted. It was desiccated. But it was clearly not a twig.

It was clearly a severed human finger.

Small towns are filled with surprises. There are characters – eccentrics bordering on madness, gossips, keepers of the peace, but there is always a skeleton or two hidden in a closet… or in this case, a small jewelry store box from a store I had been warned harbored evil.” – from my w-i-p, DEATH OF A SERIAL HUSBAND.

Well, I’m just not sure, so I put it to you here. Would you read an illustrated, adult, cozy mystery?

Just to be clear, here’s one of the illustrations I’ve completed in the past week. It’s dark. There wouldn’t be a lot of illustrations, no more than one or two per chapter, but can I do that? Maybe that’s my problem. I’ve been waiting for permission to do a thing, and I just need to… do it. Stay tuned.

St. Joseph and Caring for the Aged

This story falls under the “truth is stranger than fiction category.” It is a re-write of a short non-fiction story I recounted about a decade ago. It seems worth repeating.

Some years ago, we found ourselves grappling with the dilemma of how to handle care for older parents. The solution in our case, was to purchase a house, large enough to comfortably house everyone under one roof and move the in-laws two states south to be with us in Virginia.

The search for a house was to begin, but mother-in-law, a fun, lively eighty-something at the time, (she is ninety-four now) said we should purchase two St. Joseph statues (as in Mary and Joseph) and plant one at the house we wanted to sell – their house – and one at the house we hoped to purchase – a very cool, out of our price range, massive Victorian.

Image by moingay84 from Pixabay

I feel I have to post this in the interest of full disclosure; I have rather, areligious proclivities. Never went to church. I think it put me in a minority growing up. I have the greatest respect for those who are of religious faith. I just… don’t. I believe in the sun and the moon and the interconnectedness of all things crunchy granola. Just putting that out there, for whatever it’s worth. Some might be tempted to stop reading right there… but maybe you shouldn’t.

Out of respect for my mother-in-law and her beliefs, we stopped at the little mission store in the snowy mountains of Western Pennsylvania, purchased two of the St. Joseph statues, about six inches each, made of white plastic, rather like two giant chess pieces, and wrapped in crunchy, plastic cellophane. We planted one in the planter at the corner of my in-law’s house – the house we wanted to sell – and drove back to Virginia to plant the second Joseph at the “out of our price range massive Victorian,” or the  OOOPRMV.

It was dark by the time we made it back to Virginia. My husband had stayed behind to care for one of his parents who really should have been receiving round-the-clock care already, so I was traveling alone with our two tweens. They were both pretty excited by the prospect of doing something proactive toward convincing the sellers to accept our ridiculously low offer for the OOOPRMV, so we drove straight to the OOOPRMV under the cover of darkness, and stealthily snuck around the back of the house where we knew there was a dirt patch under the back porch of the house. It was all very cloak and dagger-like. The kids were in high-gear excited mode, and I was full of adrenaline, imagining how I would talk myself out of being arrested if one of the neighbors called the police about the trespassers. All this, plus, I was trying to be respectful of my mother-in-law’s beliefs.

I had to keep shushing my giggling kids, while I tried to dig a hole in dirt that was VERY hard, using a stick that kept breaking in my hand. I thought, there must be some ceremony that should accompany the burial of our little plastic St. Joseph, so I took him out of his plastic bag shroud, roughly calculated which direction was east, and buried him like a corpse, his feet toward the rising sun. Is that correct? Should his head have been pointing east? Maybe he’s supposed to sit up facing the sun? Ours was feet toward the rising sun… hopefully. It was difficult to gauge cardinal directions at midnight in some stranger’s backyard.

Our task complete, we piled back into the mommy minivan and headed to our small, cozy home.

For the next couple of weeks, we drove past the OOOPRMV every day… until one day, the “for sale” sign disappeared.

It was kind of like buying a million dollar lottery ticket. For weeks, we imagined our lives living in the OOOPRMV. We thought about how we would restore it, one-room-at-a-time, all our budget would allow for, how we could squeeze in a rental apartment in the basement to bank-roll the restoration, renovate the in-law suite in the back yard, connect the garage for a handicapped accessible addition, clean the stain-glass window on the middle landing, re-glaze all of the original windows, revive the outdoor model train!!! Yes, it had tracks for a large, outdoor model train, complete with a trestle bridge.

Sadness swept our home. All the while, my husband was commuting… from Pennsylvania, to work half-weeks in Virginia, the other half remotely so he could care for his father.

No one really had much heart for house hunting after that, but perhaps it was for the best. I was more practically minded. I looked at 1) location, 2) square footage, and 3) resale potential, no longer interested in stained glass or fireplaces. And of course, we found our new home in short-order. It was a brick ranch house, in a nice neighborhood. It had a sufficient number of bedrooms, all under one-roof instead of an in-law suite, but with a ramp inside the garage, it would serve the need.

We bought it, we rented out our old house, and we moved in, readying the house for the in-laws.

My husband was away from us for half of every week for months and finally, the Pennsylvania house was sold, the in-laws’ furniture arrived and was integrated into the ground-floor and the in-laws themselves were being driven down, four-and-a-half hours, to their new home.

I wanted everything to look familiar to them. Most of their furniture had arrived ahead of them, and I decided, their first view of the house would be their approach, facing the garage. There were two wooden half-cask planters on either side of the garage door, too heavy for the previous owners to move, so they were sold with the house. I purchased the largest chrysanthemums I could find, and I placed one in each planter.

About an hour before in-law arrival, I drove my hand down into the dirt that already filled the old wine-cask planters… and I felt something kind of creepy. It was hard, but covered in something damp and slick. I grabbed an old stick from the edge of the woods, and dug down, into the center of the planter and pulled out…

…a St. Joseph statue. It was white plastic, about six inches tall, in a clear plastic shroud. I guess everything is interconnected… or maybe I should go to church.

True story.

The Universe has Spoken (da da dum…)

It’s a feeling, an impression, the hair rising on the back of your neck, an irritation of the bowel…

That nagging sense that something is amiss. Thus is the feeling I have for this, my most recent manuscript. Yes, I was ready to hit that plunger like a nervous contestant on Jeopardy, but I hesitated. I pulled my hand back from the plunger.

Just FINISH the damn book, I keep hearing over and over. I should have finished. It was “finished”… only not. So I sent it out to a few Beta readers and alas, the readers are getting back in touch. Nope. Not ready. Do not flush. Do not pull that cord. Just… do… not…

So here I am, calling it. It will not have a pre-release date. Not yet. There will be no pre-Christmas sales, no promotional roll out to catch the wave. I turn in on myself, listening for more signs from the universe. Well, the universe has spoken, at least for now. It said, “put your butt back in that seat, woman.”

Reconnecting with Community

Writing is a crazy solitary endeavor. Hours, days, months, sitting “alone” in the Word Crone Cottage. Okay, I’m not alone. I have some accountability partners who check in every morning to give me a reason for hitting the keyboard by 9 am. (Okay, I’ve been rolling in around 9:30.) Even after we check in with one another, there are the other people I talk to throughout the rest of the day. (And yes, 90% of those are imaginary people.)

I’ve been reading a lovely book called LOST CONNECTIONS by Johann Hari, and it made me mindful of the connections I neglected throughout the pandemic. Specifically, I was thinking about the connections we make with our communities. Gone are the days of sitting on the front porch and waving to the neighbors, knowing all the kids by name, seeing the kids playing in the street until the street lights come on. We are no longer a front-porch nation. I live in a very rural area, but on my little road, I always make a point of waving at neighbors as they drive by if I happen to be out in the yard. That’s not quite community building though.

So this weekend, I decided to tackle a project I’ve been contemplating for a while. I built a Little Free Library. Already, I’ve had passing conversations with two of my neighbors. (My son and I just put it up about an hour ago.) Hopefully, it will help forge more contact with my neighbors. (More so when the paint dries and I can actually install some books tomorrow.)

I’m always curious. How do you connect with your community? Is your street pedestrian friendly? I hope so. Ours is a little dodgy. Despite a 35mph speed limit, there is a lot of high-speed traffic on our little dead-end road. Maybe those folks racing to the dead-end will pause, browse a book at that Little Free Library, and hopefully, wave back at that crazy woman who waves at everyone who drives past.