The Boy Wonder


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My son’s Batmobile, same bat-ride

When my son was about three, he went through a Batman phase that lasted several months to a year. He had Batman pajamas and underwear. He had a toy Batmobile, which is still in our basement. He ran around the house singing,


(Did I do that right? I know some of you out there are counting the “na’s”.)

And his favorite book for awhile was a large coloring book of Batman and Robin, in which the Joker was the villain.

Now, this was a really large coloring book—about three feet tall and two feet wide. Taller than my son at that time. Each page had a sentence or two of the story, combined with huge pictures to color and balloons with the words “POW!” and “BAM!” and “OOF!”

My son wasn’t very interested in coloring the pictures, but he wanted the story read to him every night. Often twice.

Soon he could recite the words himself. I doubt he was really reading it yet, but he knew exactly when to turn the page.

J on rocking horse circa 1984 cropped

The Boy Wonder . . . in cowboy mode. He’s younger than in his Robin days in this picture, but it’s one of my favorites and it needed digitizing because the colors are already fading.

Soon reading the story was not enough. He had to act it out every night with his father. My husband was Batman, and our son was Robin, the Boy Wonder. At that point, the kid was still in the hero worship phase with his dad, so our son didn’t mind being the sidekick rather than the star of the show.

And when my husband got the words wrong, our son corrected him. “No, Dad. It’s Ho-Ho-Ho, not oh-oh-oh.”

The story ended with Batman saying something like, “The joke’s on you, Joker! Leave the driving to us.” With this, Batman catapulted into the car and took the Joker off to jail. (If I’m wrong, Son, I’ll bet you can still correct me. You know all the words to every Seinfeld episode. Surely you remember this coloring book.)

Our son turns thirty-four this weekend. He’s still our Boy Wonder.

Happy Birthday, Son!

You Say Grandma, I Say Nanny . . . Doesn’t Have the Same Ring As Potayto, Potahto


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I’ve mentioned before that I called my maternal grandmother Nanny Winnie. How I came to call her that started on my father’s side of the family when my older cousin began calling our common grandmother Nanny Kay. I was the second of Nanny Kay’s grandchildren (though a third was born just months after me). By the time I started talking, my cousin who was two years older had imprinted the family—“Nanny” is what we would call grandmothers.

When my later siblings came along, they all called our grandmothers “Nanny” just like I did. I assume our younger cousins followed their older sister’s example also.

But at some point my younger siblings shifted to calling both grandmothers “Grandma.” I think the change occurred about the time they reached their teens—“Nanny” was too childish. By that time, I was out of college and married.

My cousins made the change from “Nanny” to “Grandma” also, but I don’t know when or why their transition occurred.

The result is that I’m the only one who held to the Nanny Winnie and Nanny Kay designations throughout these good women’s lives.

I don’t know why I didn’t make the shift. Maybe I was too old to change by the time my younger siblings were ready. Maybe it is my essentially conservative nature—I don’t like change. Maybe I don’t mind being different—it didn’t matter what my friends called their grandparents; “Nanny” was good enough for me. Maybe I’m just a little kid at heart.

When I had children of my own, they called my mother and my husband’s mother Grandma”. I didn’t feel the need to continue the “Nanny” designation into another generation.

Four generations with Nanny Kay

Four generations with Nanny Kay, my father, me, and my son

In fact, it was easier to have a different appellation for grandmothers and great-grandmothers. My children had both Grandmas and Nannies in their lives. They were fortunate to know both of my grandmothers—their great-grandmothers—for a few years, though they didn’t see them often, because both Nanny Winnie and Nanny Kay lived halfway across the continent.

In fact, one thing that saddens me now is that, should I ever become a grandmother, my grandchildren will not know my parents. No “four generation” pictures with my parents, me, my children, and my grandchildren.

Four generations, with Nanny Winnie

Four generations with Nanny Winnie, my mother, me, and my son

Nanny Kay’s birthday is coming up soon—Friday would have been her 105th birthday. Next month is Nanny Winnie’s birthday—she would have been 108 in mid-March. I think about these women frequently. They were part of my growing up and lived well into my adulthood.

They made me who I am, not only because they formed my parents, not only because they were refuges during my childhood, but also because they passed on certain traits to me. I look in the mirror, and I sometimes see Nanny Kay in the shape of my face. If I have any musical talent at all, it came from her. As I age, I feel myself moving from my typical reserved demeanor toward my Nanny Winnie’s ability to talk to any stranger. Maybe I am assuming her gregariousness as I mature, maybe I am now more relaxed and less stressed, maybe I actually am developing a greater interest in other people.

We all need Nannies to live up to in our lives.

What nicknames has your family bestowed? Which have survived, and which have been lost to time?

Salvaging Nooks and Books


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I’ve written before about my love/hate relationship with technology. That post recently showed up on my Facebook memories, so I reposted it on Facebook with a comment:

“Unfortunately, it’s been three years since this post. More computer upgrades can’t be too far in my future.”

That was on January 23, 2016, at 5:54pm.

About 9:30 that evening, as I was multitasking between PBS’s Mercy Street and a game of Solitaire on my Nook HD, the Nook began sending weird messages.

“Process X broken.”

“Process Y broken.”

There must have been about twenty of those messages, one after another.

Though, of course, the processes weren’t labeled neatly X or Y. They weren’t labeled with English words either. They were labeled with some unintelligible strings of mixed letters and numbers.

I knew it couldn’t be good.

In fact, my Nook HD froze. I couldn’t do anything with it. I powered off. I powered back on. Nothing. It got to the 99% rebooted mark and froze again.


I went to bed, knowing I would have to deal with the problem. After all, the Nook is my remedy for insomnia.

When I wake in the middle of the night, I read email. Or read Wall Street Journal editorials. Or a few pages of the current novel I am reading. All in an effort to turn off the to-do list scrolling through my head faster than I can scroll down the Nook screen.

That night, instead of reading my now-defunct Nook, I used my middle-of-the-night hours to develop a plan. My first course of action would be to activate my father’s Nook HD, which I helped him buy just a few months before his death. It had far less wear and tear on it than mine, which I’ve used for several hours each day for the three years I have owned it.

I turned on his Nook in the morning. Dead. I recharged the battery. When that was completed, I set up my email accounts on it as well as Overdrive (the app I use to download books from the local library). With email and something to read, I could function, if only at a kindergarten level.

But I discovered my dad’s Nook was of limited use to me. I would not be able to access the Nook books I had downloaded through my Barnes & Noble account unless I deregistered his Nook in his name and reregistered it in mine. Unlike a paper book, ebooks cannot be handed from person to person.

I decided to wait awhile to see if I could figure out a work-around to deregistering his Nook. In the meantime, I began the second step in my plan—a factory reset on my Nook HD. I knew this would be drastic. All personalization would be wiped out. More than the wallpaper backgound picture of Langley, all my files would be deleted. I would have to set up a blank device.

But I pulled the plug. Or rather, I pushed the Power button and the Home button at the same time until the device was nuked.

And then I set up my email and Overdrive on my Nook HD, just like I had on my dad’s. Once I had logged back in to my Barnes & Noble account, all my Nook books and Nook apps were out there, waiting for me to download.

I’ve chosen to be judicious about what I download. I don’t need half the stuff I had on my Nook HD, and I suspect part of the problem with it had been that it was chock full. Crammed. No bytes left to swallow more apps or data.

2 nooks 20160201_132834I’m semi-functional on both Nook HDs at the moment. And I’m in the market for a new tablet. I have loved Nooks for the past five years—first my Nook Color and then my Nook HD. But I think the market has moved beyond dedicated e-readers. In fact, the Nook HD is now essentially an Android tablet with close ties to Barnes & Noble. So close that Barnes & Noble refuses to let users download the Android B&N app to the Nook HD, though we can download the Kindle app.

Still, although I have loved my Nook HD, I have been less than impressed with Barnes & Noble as an ebook provider—both as an author and as a reader. As an author, I have found that almost all of my ebook sales have been Kindle sales, not Nook. Reader traffic is flocking to the Kindle. Amazon is better at providing support to authors than Barnes & Noble.

As a reader, I have not found Barnes & Noble to be very accommodating in helping me to manage my account and ebook purchases. As an example, my son gave me two Nook books for Christmas via one of my email addresses. I redeemed the books, then found I could not open them on my Nook HD, because it was registered under another of my email addresses. When I contacted Barnes & Noble for help, they said essentially “sorry, we can’t switch your books to your other email.” So I can read the books on my cell phone, where I have downloaded the Nook app, but I cannot read the books on the larger Nook HD screen.

So I think I am about to abandon my loyalty to Barnes & Noble and the five-year history I’ve had with Nooks. An open Android tablet is in my future. I won’t be precipitous about making the decision, because I have two semi-functional Nooks on which I can limp along.

But I can’t wait too long—I worry about which of my three-year-old computing devices will go bad next. It’s time.

What technological problems have you faced recently?

Siblings as Targets and as Friends


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My father and his sister, probably not too long after the BB gun days

Both my mother and my father grew up in families consisting of two siblings—an older brother and younger sister. I’ve always wondered if that is part of why they were so compatible, although they each had an uneasy relationship with their sibling for much of their lives. I’ve written before about my mother and her older brother. This post is about my father and his younger sister.

I didn’t know a lot about my father’s childhood, but one family story that I heard frequently was about my father shooting his younger sister with a BB gun. The way I heard the story, she was still in diapers when it happened, though that would make my father (who was just 28 months older) only four or five years old. I cannot imagine giving a four-year-old a gun, even a BB gun. But then, I never lived in the rural Midwest in the late 1930s.

Anyway, as my father later told the story, his sister was sticking her white-covered bottom up in the air, and it was just too tempting a target. So he shot. Bull’s eye.

She cried, but no damage was done, except to her toddler’s pride.

Though if I had been his parent, I would have made sure his bottom hurt more than hers. But their mother, my grandmother, doted on her son, and I don’t think he got punished much as a kid. (Except by his grandparents, who made him toe the line, but those are other stories.)

The family moved from small-town Kansas to Pasadena, California, to Klamath Falls, Oregon. My dad loved the freedom he was allowed in Pasadena. I don’t know if my aunt—younger and a girl—got the same freedom to roam the entire Los Angeles area. My dad was not happy about the move to Klamath Falls. I don’t know what my aunt thought.

Just after my father graduated from high school, his family moved to Seattle, but he only lived at home part-time during his college years. My aunt finished high school in Seattle, got married, and my father and his sister never spent much time together after that. They didn’t have much in common, it seemed, and they went their separate ways in building families.

Their father died in 1975, and their mother in 1990. Still the brother and sister rarely communicated.

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My father and his sister, 2009. I think that’s his hat on her head, so they must have been getting along.

Until sometime after the turn of the century, maybe around the time my parents moved to Port Ludlow, Washington, in 2006. Long after both siblings had raised their children and retired from work, they became reacquainted. They didn’t meet often, but they emailed and phoned. “I’m closer to my sister now than I ever have been,” my father told me at the time.

She had health problems, but her death in January 2013 was sudden and unexpected. And as I have written, he died suddenly almost exactly two years later, in January 2015. But I’ve been glad the two siblings found each other in the last years of their lives.

I wonder if my dad ever apologized for shooting his sister.

What family stories do you know about your parents growing up?

How the Great Fires Shaped Early San Francisco


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The last survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake died earlier this month. William Del Monte was three months old when the earthquake struck and 109 when he died on January 11. Reading the news articles about his life and death brought to mind all the novels I’ve read about the earthquake and the fires that followed.

I learned a lot about history through reading historical fiction. One of my favorite authors from childhood into my young adulthood was Phyllis Whitney. She wrote at least two novels about San Francisco during 1906—The Fire and the Gold and The Trembling Hills. The saga of the beautiful city crumbling into rubble, followed by days of burning buildings fascinated me, both as a child and as an adult.

I first visited San Francisco when I was about ten, though I’d been to the airport earlier on trips to visit my grandparents. San Francisco always seemed not only beautiful but exotic—Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, and cable cars—all attractions that didn’t exist in my small town life. On one of his business trips, my father bought me a Chinese outfit (black trousers and brocade shirt that buttoned with frogs) which I wore for Halloween for a couple of years.

I’ve visited San Francisco several times as an adult, but my early impressions of the city came back to me when I began researching my current work-in-progress, part of which takes place in California during the Gold Rush years. In my research, I learned that the fire after the 1906 earthquake was far from the first conflagration in San Francisco’s history.

December 1849 - First Great Fire

December 1849 – First Great Fire

Frequent fires shaped the development of both San Francisco and Sacramento, and the years of 1849 to 1851 were a particularly fiery time in the history of both towns. My novel takes place between 1848 and 1850. Sacramento is one of the primary settings of the novel, and some scenes are set in San Francisco as well. So I decided learning something about the San Francisco and Sacramento fires would be good background. This post focuses on San Francisco.

The First Great Fire of San Francisco occurred on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1849. The fire started at Dennison’s Exchange on Kearny Street between Clay and Jackson Streets. The Exchange was a three-storied building used as a saloon and gambling hall. Allegedly, a black man started the fire after a white Southern bartender beat him when he ordered a drink. The fire spread rapidly and destroyed over fifty buildings (most of the city at that time), causing $1,500,000 damage.

Within days of the First Great Fire, the city organized a variety of fire companies, and in less than a month, San Francisco rebuilt. The hasty reconstruction shows what a boom town San Francisco was—plenty of labor and plenty of money to throw up buildings to generate profits from the Forty-Niners flooding into California.

4may1850fire SF

May 1850 – Second Great Fire

Less than five months later, on May 4, 1850, a Second Great Fire broke out. This one started in the United States Exchange, another saloon and gambling house, built on the same site as Dennison’s Exchange. This time, paroled Australian convicts were blamed for the fire. This fire burned 300 buildings and caused $4,000,000 damage. By this time, the city had a fledging police department that controlled looting, but the fire department was still inadequate to the task.

A week after the Second Great Fire, construction began on the city’s first brick building, and more fire companies were started. But just a few weeks after the second fire, on June 14, 1850, the Third Great Fire occurred. This fire began in the Sacramento Bakery in the Merchants Hotel at Clay and Kearny Streets, probably because of a faulty chimney. It destroyed 300 more buildings, with damages estimated at $5,000,000.

17september1850fire SF

September 1850 – Fourth Great Fire

More fire companies resulted, staffed by experienced firemen from the East. But on September 17, 1850 the Fourth Great Fire destroyed 150 buildings with losses of $500,000.

Although these four fires were called the Great Fires, 1850 saw other conflagrations also. In late October 1850 the City Hospital burned, though the 150 patients were saved. Loss was $40,000. And in mid-December 1850 a fire started in the Cooke Bros. and Co. Building, causing damage of $100,000.

Then on May 3, 1851, a fire began in a paint shop. The fire consumed wood buildings, then reached a three-story brick store. The citizenry thought the brick building would hold, but it did not. Over 1500 houses were destroyed, many people died, and the losses were $12,000,000.

Another fire in June 1851 destroyed many wood and adobe landmarks of Old San Francisco, and cost another $3,000,000 in damage.

Each time, the city rebuilt. The boomtown could do no less. If the original landowners would not build, squatters would take their place.

Fifty-five years later, when the 1906 earthquake and fires hit San Francisco, some residents of the city would have remembered these conflagrations from 1849-51. So we are just two lifetimes away from these great early fires—from the witnesses of the original fires to William Del Monte to 2016 it has been 167 years, but just two lifetimes.

Thinking of these great disasters reminds us how short modern history is. We are just two lifetimes removed from the Gold Rush.

We usually do not remember the role that fire has played in creating our modern cities. Fires and earthquakes and floods and mudslides can overcome all our human ingenuity and productivity in an instant. It takes far less time to destroy a city than two lifetimes.

And still we rebuild.

When has a natural disaster impacted you?

My Wool Dress from Garfinckel’s


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Most people pull out their wool sweaters and socks for warmth during winter. Not me. I hate wearing wool. It makes my skin itch worse than mosquito bites. As a child, I mostly wore cotton—my grandfather kept us well-supplied with Carter’s clothes. My brother was allergic to wool. He had one lambswool sweater that made him sneeze, so my mother didn’t buy much wool for either of us.

Then came the 70s and polyester. I wore a lot of polyester. During my high school years I made a lot of my own clothes, and double-knit polyester was easy to sew.

T in down jacket skiing 2-79 cropped

Me in my down jacket (though this is from February 1979, more than five years after I bought it). The hat is acrylic.

During college I sported jeans, a variety of tops, and a down jacket. The down jacket was one of my first purchases at Middlebury, and it lasted me through my college years, through law school (in California—it didn’t get much wear), and into my first years in Kansas City. But no wool scarves or hats accompanied my down jacket. I again stuck to cotton or synthetics.

In 1975, I spent the fall semester of my last year in college at The American University in Washington, D.C.. That autumn I decided I needed a nice dress. I don’t remember my motivation—I rarely wore dresses when I was in college. I took the bus from The American University north on Massachusetts Avenue to a nice shopping area where there was a Garfinckel’s department store. I’d never shopped at Garfinckel’s, but I knew it to be an upscale chain.

I tried on several dresses and finally landed on a nice sweater dress. (This was back in the days when I could wear sweater dresses without fear of bulges.) Mostly tan, with stripes across the top. It seemed sophisticated to my 19-year-old self. I bought the dress, and a few weeks later I packed it to take home for Christmas festivities.

That’s when I discovered it was wool. Or at least partially wool—as I recall, it was a blend of wool and acrylic. It hadn’t bothered me during the few minutes in the fitting room, but wearing it for hours at a party made my skin crawl. And sitting still during Mass in it was torture.

T in wool dress 12-77 cropped

Me in my Garfinckel’s wool dress, December 1977. Still tolerating it on occasion.

For the next few years, I wore it in winters when I really needed a dress. I took the hem up and down as fashions and my tastes dictated. I wore it to a friend’s wedding in December 1977. I wore it with a camel jacket for a few interviews during law school. But I wouldn’t wear it to work, once I started working in 1979—I couldn’t bear the thought of itching all day.

The dress wouldn’t wear out. It was from Garfinckel’s, after all. But I finally donated it to Goodwill sometime in the mid-1980s. By that time (post two children) it didn’t fit as well as it once had, and I could rationalize giving it away to someone who would appreciate its quality and warmth.

I’ve received many wool gifts over the years—sweaters, scarves, and the like. I’ve exchanged the sweaters worn next to the skin as a first layer right away. No use keeping something I don’t even like to put on. I’ve kept most of the cardigans, but been careful to wear them over sleeved blouses. The scarves I’ve mostly donned over turtlenecks or kept over my coat collars.

I’ve had to give up many lovely pieces, but I learned with my Garfinckel’s dress. If I’m not comfortable in a garment, it’s not worth wearing.

What purchases have you made that were a mistake?

Snow Days: A Recent Phenomenon


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Maybe this is one of those “when I was young, we had it tough” stories. But when I was young, we didn’t have snow days. At least, I don’t remember my classes ever being canceled due to snow, nor for any weather-related events. It might have happened, but I don’t remember any such occasions. Hoping for bad weather so I could stay home was not part of my growing-up years.

My brother and me in Richland, when it would have been nice to have a snow day

My brother and me in Richland, when it would have been nice to have a snow day

We didn’t have a lot of snow in Richland, Washington, where I grew up, but most winters there were at least a few snowstorms. And we often had “black ice,” which those over driving age feared more than snow. I’ve written about my dad letting me drive his new Capri after one snowstorm—my choir practice was certainly not canceled that evening due to weather.

I remember walking to the bus stop during my high school years in the snow. Over unpaved paths, uphill . . . both ways. (Well, actually, my route was fairly flat, but it was mostly unpaved, cobbled with large river rocks uncovered when a bulldozer cut a path through what would become the rest of Sierra Street some twenty years later.)

Some school days I’d worn tennis shoes in the morning, and was surprised to find snow when I left school in the afternoon. I still had to walk home from the bus stop. There were no cell phones to call my mother to pick me up. If we didn’t have prior plans for her to pick me up at school, I walked.

Far worse than snow in Richland was the wind. I had less trouble walking home in wet, icy shoes than I did in a 40-mph windstorm. On those afternoons, wind gusts blew me back a step as I trudged west up the unpaved portion of Sierra Street.

I went to college in Middlebury, Vermont. Vermont has a lot of snow. But classes didn’t get canceled there either. I slipped and slithered up and down the campus hills from my dorm to my classes. The grounds crew did a wonderful job of shoveling and salting, but of course college students made their own paths from building to building and didn’t stick to the cleared sidewalks and streets.

Middlebury in snow

Middlebury College in the snow, before the students made paths across the commons

Most years at Middlebury, I lived in dorms without dining halls, so I had to bundle up to get to breakfast before my 8:00am classes. Not fun. Many students slept through breakfast on snowy mornings (and other mornings as well), but not me. I couldn’t last until lunch time without sustenance.

Then I had three years at Stanford. It only snowed once that I can recall in those three years. No need for snow days in Palo Alto, California.

Snow days didn’t become a factor in my life until my kids were young in Kansas City. I was fortunate that my children’s day care almost always stated open, despite the snow. Although their grade school closed due to snow a few days every year, the day care portion of the school stayed open. My kids were in the extended day program at the school, so I could still take them. They went, whether they wanted to stay home or not.

I only remember one day ever that the day care center called to ask me to come get my kids. It had already snowed six inches or so, and big fat flakes were still falling heavily around 4:00pm. I got on the freeway downtown with every other commuter in the city, inched my way over a bridge to the Northland where we lived, and made it to my kids’ school about the time we usually picked them up. What was usually a fifteen or twenty minute drive took me close to an hour.

The next day was a snow day for the school, but the day care center was open.

It wasn’t until my children were in high school that snow days became important for our daily planning. As were “late start” days—which was their schools’ nod at inclement weather that might delay students’ transportation plans but wasn’t bad enough to cancel classes. My kids and I watched the television on evenings when it snowed, hoping that school closings would be announced before bedtime. If not, we had the television on at 6:00am, my children still hoping for the good news of a day at home.

Of course, my husband and I had to go to work, no matter what the kids did.

It took several years after my youngest graduated from high school before I quit watching the school closings list on TV. Snow days no longer matter to me now—I can declare my own snow days, when I refuse to drive. I try not to, because I know I’m just being cowardly. But it’s not me I worry about, it’s the other idiots on the road. If I don’t have to deal with them, why should I?

What do you remember about snow days?

Real Life Does Not Make Good Narrative


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burroway coverI’ve been reading Janet Burroway’s book, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. I started it a few months back, and every so often I dip into it again. I’m not reading it linearly. I started with the chapters on character, then moved to theme and setting, and last week I read the first chapter of the book on “The Writing Process.”

In that chapter, Burroway discusses the old advice to write what you know. She says that writing exactly what happened to you at a particular time is the least likely way to produce good fiction (her emphasis). She states:

“To the extent you want to capture ‘what really happened,’ you remove your focus from what will work as narrative.”

That sentence stopped me cold and made me think.

Burroway goes on to say,

“Between the fiction writer and reader it is the revelation of meaning through the creation of character, the vividness of scene, the effect of action that take priority over ordinary veracity.”

Writers, think about that. What happens to us in real life does not make good narrative. When we attempt to recount the literal truth, we lose the story and its meaning. Only by shaping our narrative can we get at what matters.

Real life doesn’t have a story arc. It doesn’t have characters designed to reveal a theme or an archtype. (Real people are too complex and inconsistent to be good fictional characters). Our real life takes place in settings that are messy and usually mundane.

Writers have to shape real life to make it into story. Burroway focuses on fiction writing, but she acknowledges that even in memoir and other nonfiction writing, which must “maintain a basis in fact,” some shaping is necessary to make it compelling to read.

“Even the most factual account of a personal experience involves choices and interpretations—your sister’s recollection of the same event might be entirely different.”

I repeat: What happens to us in real life does not make good narrative. As we tell our stories, whether we are telling them to ourselves, to friends and family, or fictionalizing them, we are making choices. We edit as we tell the story. And that becomes the basis for our memories, our myths, and our epics. There’s a reason that in French “histoire” means both story and history. Both story and history come from our editing of real life.

As I write about my life for this blog, I have found this to be true on a small scale. Some of my posts contain “truthy” dialogue—true to the spirit of what happened and how I and my family members interacted. But rarely could I attest that the words in quotes were actually spoken. Still, adding the dialogue makes a better story.

In other posts, where I’ve tried to be more factual, I find I’m fighting boredom—mine in writing about the event, and most likely the reader’s in reading about it. Sometimes humor doesn’t translate without the backstory. Sometimes an event that was meaningful to me seems pointless as I try to tell it to others. There’s no story in my telling, unless I reshape history.

I’ve written before that one nice thing about writing fiction is that I can make up the facts. I’m not bound to the literal truth, as I was as an attorney making a case. I can edit out the extraneous and the inconvenient.

And so I do, both in this blog and in my novels.

Our stories are more meaningful when we shape them, for ourselves and for each other. Unfortunately, we must always come back to real life. It may not make good narrative, but it has to be encountered and embraced as it is.

When have you edited a story from your life for others?

A Tale of Two Retirements


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I retired nine years ago from my corporate job to become a writer. My husband retired from his law firm a little more than a year ago. So how is our retirement working out?

As I intended, writing has been my primary activity for the past nine years. In the first six months after I retired, I drafted a novel. It was a very rough first draft, because I didn’t know what I was doing. I also read books on writing, and after I completed the first draft, I launched into revisions.

LMH front cover Facebook optimum 600After about a year writing on my own, I discovered a local writing group. Their encouragement and advice made all the difference. (Well, more experience and several more drafts helped, too.) I’ve now published two novels and drafted a third.

By now, I feel I’ve fully engaged as a writer. I’ve had short fiction and essays accepted by Chicken Soup for the Soul and other publications. I’ve won a few regional writing contests and placed in several others. I was an occasional newspaper columnist for one year. I’m a member of two great critique groups, a larger writing community, and also an epublishing and marketing discussion group. Although my pace isn’t always what I want, I have learned a tremendous amount in the past nine years and found friends and colleagues with similar interests.

I had also hoped to build a part-time mediation practice, but that has not come to pass. I mediate occasionally, but not as much as I had planned. Still, I’ve made a conscious decision that writing is more important to me. When there is a conflict between these two parts of my world, I usually choose writing. I know I would rather be writing than mediating, even if my legal and dispute resolution skills are a part of me also.

During my retirement, I’ve also served on boards I enjoyed and boards I have not enjoyed. I’ve tried to arrange my time to include only activities that I care about. Sometimes it has worked and sometimes it has not. Reshaping my daily agenda is a work in progress.

And I’ve assisted family members on both happy and sad occasions. I’ve traveled to weddings, reunions, and holiday celebrations. I’ve helped family members cope with accidents, surgery, dementia, and death.

IMG_2152Meanwhile, during his first year of retirement, my husband became more active in several organizations he’s been a part of for years, from an area rowing club to the Coast Guard Auxiliary to a large metropolitan nonprofit. He began chairing a local foundation board. He bought a boat, which he has used for both personal and Coast Guard Auxiliary activities.

He also hung around the house and complained to me about our slow desktop computer. (By default, I am our primary technical support.) We ate lunch together some days, though evening activities have kept our dinners together from becoming more frequent.

Then this past October, a year after my husband retired, his law firm asked him to come back to work. The attorney who had picked up most of his practice was on maternity leave, and several matters were pending when she left. So for the past three months, he has gone to his office most weekdays, which gave him the advantage of much better technical support and a free copy machine.

Langley for Xmas ltr 2015His temporary assignment started just before Langley, our daughter’s dog, arrived. When I agreed to take the dog, I had anticipated that my husband would be around to help, but I ended up being the primary dog sitter. (Though he did some 5:00am wake-up calls, and even early morning walks.)

“How much longer will you be working?” I asked my husband recently.

He shrugged. “Till sometime in February, maybe.” He didn’t seem to be too concerned. Of course, the winter isn’t a good time for boating anyway. And there is that free technical support.

So, how is our retirement working out?

It’s a work in progress. As are most things in life. It will probably be different in another year than it has been thus far. Maybe better, maybe not. We can never shape our lives to be exactly what we want.

When has one of your life transitions not worked out the way you expected?

My 400th Post: On Planning, Flexibility, and Commitment in Blogging and in Life


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To my surprise, this is my 400th post, which seems worthy of mention. I last wrote about blogging in any detail on my 250th post, on July 28, 2014, about a year and a half ago. I write two posts every week—a schedule I have now maintained for almost four three years—so I shouldn’t have been surprised that I wrote 150 posts in about a year and a half, but I was. At this rate, I’ll hit Post 500 about the end of 2016.

In my 250th post, I commented that blogging has taught me how to write to a deadline and to write regularly, even if the quality is not always consistent. And in an earlier post, I discussed the need to plan one’s blog posts in advance.

I haven’t learned much new about blogging since writing those earlier posts. But today I want to reemphasize the importance of planning, flexibility, and commitment.

Of course, planning, flexibility, and commitment are important in all aspects of life. But blogging has reaffirmed the criticality of these three traits for me.

I do have a plan for my blog—topics I want to cover every month, from family to history to writing. I even have a schedule for when I’ll post about which topic. I don’t always follow the plan, but I have it to fall back on if I need it.

Still, I find it works best when I keep my plan loose—that’s where flexibility comes in. Sometimes I stick to the plan. Sometimes life and death and the world get in the way, and there is something more important to write about than what the plan says. I try to maintain the flexibility to write the posts that demand to be written.

calendar clipartThe most important aspect of my blog to me is my commitment to have some post go live every Monday and Wednesday morning.

When I travel, I try to write ahead, so there is a post waiting for each Monday and Wednesday that I’m away. Sometimes I schedule my posts three or four weeks in advance. But then, if I have a more timely idea, it’s harder to make myself adapt. Writing ahead maintains my commitment, but hurts my flexibility.

So my planning, flexibility, and commitment all work together to provide the posts you see each week. I find this is true in many other endeavors—both in my other writing, and in other aspects of life (even in preparing to file my tax returns and other detested tasks).

But there are still many posts I dash off the night before they must appear for readers. (You can’t tell which those are, can you? I hope not. At least, not always.) On those occasions, I’ve kept my commitment, but my plan failed, and often so did my flexibility.

Even planning, flexibility, and commitment don’t always assure high quality. Once again, this also is true about all aspects of life, from writing to cooking to managing a staff.

Believe it or not, this is not one of the posts I am writing the night before you read it. I’ve thought about this one. For about a week. I drafted it days ago. And I’ve edited it. It’s better now than the first draft, but far from the most compelling post I’ve written. Some days—and weeks—are like that.

Here are a few of the most read posts from this blog thus far:

Life Without Electricity

Haunting Book: Still Alice, by Lisa Genova

Whitman Mission

My Mother’s 80th Birthday: The Meaning of Decades and of Days

Christmas Traditions in the Late 1840s

Fellow bloggers, how do planning, commitment, and flexibility play into your posts?


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