Tag Archive for: #iamwriting

On the Road Again

Trucks rumble past, their trailers bumping on the rough road surface. A forklift keeps going in front of me, back and forth to service bays. Ironically, Jackson Brown belts out Running on Empty on the radio. I just try to keep breathing, slow inhales and exhales to calm myself as well as our 65 lb. Yellow Lab, Luna, who has decided to become a lap dog, propping half of her load on me, panting away. Brad is outside with the technician, who skillfully manages to pump nearly 70 pounds of air pressure into the driver’s side drive axle tires.

Kind of important to have enough air in your tires.

So begins our first road trip, or rather, return to the road trip, in a motorhome. Our journey really didn’t start with the dishwasher that didn’t run properly (I know, I know, a dishwasher, really???) overnight, or the toilet that refused to flush, the car that didn’t want to engage in neutral to tow properly, the under-inflated tires, or even, to add insult to injury, the door that took some creative manipulation of the hinge to get it to close.

Our journey began over twenty years ago, when after experiencing the death of our oldest daughter, Claire, my husband Brad, and I decided to up the ante in our quest to get our kids to all 50 states. We bought our first motorhome. And we completed our mission.

Memories of those trips often pop up in my brain feed, but even more so since contemplating getting back on the road. I’ll never forget all the purple, Claire’s favorite color, we witnessed on our maiden voyage in 2003, as we traveled to Yellowstone, the Tetons, and Glacier National Park. Those three weeks together as a family, just three years out from when we last said goodbye to Claire, set us on a path of truly living, not merely surviving.

I read Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose on our travels, our trip often a reflection of the text. I remember a reference to uncharted territory in the book, which I shared with Brad and the kids. Later that evening, while Ian was walking our dog, Ginger, I got a little nervous about how long young Ian was gone. I used the walkie talkies that came with the unit and radioed him, “Where are you? Are you okay?” His response, “We’re in uncharted territory.”

We’ll also never forget our daughter Kyle looking out on the rolling hills of Kansas, dark shadows cast on the green forests. She couldn’t figure out that the shadows were from the clouds. She was also very concerned about where the cows slept at night, bless her heart.

That motorhome continued to serve us well through road trips, college tailgate parties, and a few empty nest adventures, up until our last to Northern Michigan just months before Ginger’s journey was over.

So here we are, back on the road again, setting out to explore areas of this country we missed the first time around, creating new memories, all the while looking back on those from the past.

I feel incredibly blessed to have these experiences with Brad, in a beautiful, new-to-us motorhome. I hope you enjoy experiencing our trials, tribulations, and new, fantastic memories right along with us. Perhaps in some small way, during a time we could all use a little inspiration, my stories from the road will offer a bit to you.

 

 

Wall Street Journal Review

Virginia Hamilton: Five Novels was reviewed by the Wall Street Journal recently. It was such an honor to serve as editor for this collection!

Blooming

Bloom where you are planted, the saying goes.

But, what if we’re not blooming where we’ve taken root? Do we just stay put, confined to whatever or whoever is stifling our growth? Or, do we pick up stakes, literally or figuratively, and try to blossom elsewhere?

My garden provides lessons in this theory all the time. Most of the time I get lucky and place plants and flowers where they thrive under the right amount of sun, shade, and moisture. But, sometimes, despite my best efforts, it doesn’t quite work out. So, I dig the plant up and move it to a different spot. Sometimes it takes a little more work.

The most recent lesson came from a little sweet potato vine. I love the vibrant chartreuse, heart-shaped leaves of the plant. The vines make great accents in flower pots, as they grow and flow around the planter.

Except in the case of this one little sweet potato vine I had in a planter on my deck.

It simply refused to grow.

I watered it, trimmed it, and turned the planter.

But, it refused to grow.

I even filled its little pores with music from the speaker on my deck.

Still, it refused to grow.

So, I gave in, capitulating to forces beyond my control. I considered throwing the plant out, but those of you who know me well, are aware that along with refusing to kill any living thing, I’m also pretty stubborn.

Instead, I dug a hole by the base of my steps, beside a dwarf butterfly bush, and tucked the little shy vine into the ground. I lovingly patted the dirt on top of the newly transferred Ipomoea batatas, sprinkled some water on it, and hoped for the best.

Virginia Hamilton, the most honored author of children’s literature did just that. As a young writer, she was encouraged by one of her professors to leave Antioch College in Yellow Springs, to learn from another instructor at The Ohio State University. The professor there encouraged her to spread her wings and head to New York City. It’s what a writer did back in the 1950s. While there, Virginia’s writing not only flourished, but she also met the love of her life, poet and teacher Arnold Adoff. The couple eventually moved back to Yellow Springs, but the roots of Virginia’s writing deepened after transplanting herself to a new environment.

My little sweet potato vine is also a reflection of my personal journey. For a time, I found myself committing to opportunities that although they were very fulfilling, didn’t seem to reflect my purpose. Eventually, I felt as though I was living a life that was taking me in a direction other than what I felt entirely comfortable with. I was beginning to feel stuck and going through the paces based on others’ expectations.

As life came to a crossroads, a dear friend of mine offered great advice. “Jules, look in a mirror, and ask yourself, what brings you the most joy,” Susan said. Before the conversation was over, I knew the answer to the question. Writing, researching, and sharing inspiring true stories with children is my jam. And, I can do this anywhere.

So, I transplanted myself. Always longing to live along the banks of the Maumee River, my husband and I found the perfect home for us. While I work in my office, I’m inspired by the sights and sounds of nature, from fox stalking the banks, to the screeches and squawks of six juvenile eagles who soar above. New writing opportunities continue to develop and present themselves, and my soul feels at peace. I’m thriving.

Maybe if you’re feeling stuck, if people or circumstances in your life are holding you back, you might want to consider uprooting, physically or emotionally. Try and find the conditions that are just right for you to grow and flourish.

It doesn’t have to be a huge effort, sometimes even the smallest measures make a difference. Take a walk in the sun, dance in the rain. Nurture your soul by calling a friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

Just like my little sweet potato vine, sometimes a little change is good.

 

Anonymous

“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” -Virginia Woolf

I discovered this quote while doing research for my latest proposed biography for young readers. My subject, even though she has a significant place in history, is unknown. This woman was the first to serve in her role. This woman stood toe-to-toe with men and held her own. This woman dared to buck the system to accomplish what she believed is right. This woman’s story has never been told.

I hope to change that.

I recently took to Twitter to begin an ongoing campaign to promote women in history. I searched through various online portals, such as “this day in history” and “this day in women’s history.” My campaign ended after three days. The ratio of noted accomplishments by men outranked women’s significantly. It is as if we’ve taken the root word of history literally. HIS story.

I hope to change that.

I’ve been blessed to share the life journeys of three amazing women, who have made their own mark in the world.

For years, no one knew that Carolyn Keene was not the actual writer of the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. There is no Carolyn Keene. The original author of the teenage sleuth stories was none other than Mildred Wirt Benson. As the very first ghostwriter for the series, Millie was indeed anonymous until her role was made public through a lawsuit. The legal action was filed by the former publisher of the series, Grosset & Dunlap, when the creators of the series, the Stratemeyer Syndicate, made a business decision to contract with Simon & Schuster to publish future Nancy Drew stories. When Millie showed up at the trial in New York City in 1980, Harriet Stratemeyer greeted Millie with a curt, “I thought you were dead.” Nope, very much alive, and no longer anonymous.

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Virginia Hamilton was the most honored author of children’s literature ever. EVER! Virginia was the first African American, male, or female, to receive the Newbery Medal, in 1975 for her groundbreaking novel, M.C. Higgins, The Great. Virginia’s 41 books for younger readers garnered every major award established for authors. Virginia was the first children’s book author to receive the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, otherwise known as the “Genius Grant.” Her body of work was recognized through the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing. Yet, her books have been buried among the stacks in libraries, her stories rarely shared with today’s young readers.

As a 22-year-old intern with the Miami Herald, sports journalist Christine Brennan made her way through the doors of the locker room of the Minnesota Vikings. It was previously all-male territory, even though a federal judge had ordered TWO years before that female journalists should have equal access to locker rooms. Christine continues to make her mark in the world of sports journalism, often the “go-to” whenever there is controversy or significant news with athletes. Yet, for all the doors that Christine has opened during her years as a sports reporter, a columnist with USA Today, and commentator on ABC News, her story was buried as a lead.

We are on the brink of Women’s History Month. Why just a month when we collectively try and create awareness of amazing female scientists, writers, artists, civil rights activists, educators, and business leaders? Why is there only a month to pull back the curtain on these anonymous makers of history?

Why not make every day a chance to share HER story?

I hope to change that.

Home

Home.

This simple word carries such complexity.

Especially now, as our homes have become our workplaces, our refuge, and our sometimes-too-close quarantine quarters all rolled into one.

Home means so much more than that, as I discovered while being on the road for a month, living out of a suitcase, far away.

I felt much like Dorothy, as I couldn’t wait to enjoy a respite from the patterns that the pandemic has forced upon us. Life was beginning to feel like a wash, rinse, spin, repeat cycle. Outside of a new, exciting project in the world of children’s book publishing, I had little desire to write, to journal, to create.

I was ready for an adventure.

Our travels took us from our home in Ohio to warmer temperatures of the south, from the Carolinas to Georgia and through to Louisiana. We loved spending time with our grown children, catching up with family and friends, and ultimately, bearing witness to my niece’s beautiful wedding.

We drove over 3,000 miles, listening to true-crime podcasts, talk radio, and sang to classic rock and Motown. I succumbed to eating gluten-free fast food, something I haven’t done in over 4 years. I’m now in rehab from french fries.

We raised our glasses to various life events, from celebrating a new baby within extended family ranks, to the bride and groom, to being reunited with children, siblings, and friends. We raised our glasses a lot. I’m now in rehab from wine too.

We hiked and walked nearly every day, enjoying the change of seasons and mother nature at her best. And worst. Zeta came in with a vengeance during our time in North Carolina. Heavy winds and rain brought down trees and power lines, putting our travels on pause.

We lugged our stuff into five different homes and one hotel, grateful to our hosts for such comfortable sleeping spaces. We adjusted to different night sounds, from coyotes calling and gathering, to city street sounds.

We fished, we golfed, walked our Labrador retriever, Luna, we swam, and we danced. We helped our daughter with home projects, inside and out. Then when we needed a break, we read, relaxed, did yoga.

After about three weeks, I really felt like Dorothy. After all the fun, the French fries, the toasts, the different beds, the coyotes, and the late-night horns honking, I wanted nothing more than to click my heels and to be back home.

I was ready for my quiet oasis, my writing space. I was ready for our kitchen, our bed. I was ready for home.

Yet, I tried to be mindful of the experiences that were behind me on the travels, and those still in store. All along the way, I tried to appreciate that home is less a place than a feeling.

It’s the first hug you’ve had from your grown son and daughter after being away from each other for months. It’s the stories shared from your childhood with your siblings, laughing until you almost pee. It’s the giggling, in person, with your nieces. It’s the walk on the beach with your sister-in-law, the making of communal meals with friends, and yes, the tears shed over those who are no longer physically with us.

Yes, Dorothy, there is no place like home, but home is truly wherever our hearts are.

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking True Center

 

In the Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh reflects on her life and her roles as a wife, bereaved mother, mother to five other children, and writer.

I’ve read this treasure numerous times, gleaning something applicable to my life at the moment each visit.

Mrs. Morrow Lindbergh shared her meditations from a little cabin by the sea in Captiva, as she temporarily stepped away from the responsibilities of her life.

Simply put, she retreated. She reflected. She wrote.

I’m doing the same, and I need to for my own health and well-being.

I told my daughter Kyle on a visit in March that I was feeling anxious about the numerous appearances, events, and presentations that filled my calendar early-April through May. I admitted that many of these activities are out of my natural comfort zone.

She responded, “You’d never know that.”

Revelation: at my core, I’m still that shy, not-so-confident girl from a small town.

Life has forced me out of my shell, just like the little hermit crab who resided in the channelled whelk shell Mrs. Morrow Lindbergh discovered.

As my girlfriend Gayle offered, “we’d never know that because you do all that you do so well. But I get it…and since it’s not within your innate nature, it takes all the more energy from you.”

There’s more to the story too. Let’s just say that sometimes being an author of nonfiction for young readers can be challenging.

I find myself questioning who I am, and who I should be as a writer.

As Mrs. Morrow Lindbergh offers, this is a time in life when I should be “shedding shells,” shells of pride, self-ambition, one’s mask, one’s armor. It is a time, particularly as a woman, to find our “true center.”

I ask for your support as I reflect, retreat in my inner shell, and continue to discover purpose as a writer.

My heart is filled with hope that as I pull back and within, as I escape to my own waterside haven, that the universe reveals where my “true center” is.

To take heart…

I’m diving back into my memoir. Or more accurately, I’ve ditched the first draft and starting all over again. I so want to get this right. To share our journey of loss, but more so, our adventures through life, together as a family. Our daughter, their sister died, but we’ve lived.

Really lived.

In my quest to learn the art of stories involving loss, I read Mitch Albom’s the next person you meet in heaven.

In an exchange between Annie, the main character and her mother, Lorraine, they discuss forgiveness.

To offer background, when a defining moment in Annie’s life happened, Lorraine was off with her boyfriend on the beach of Ruby Pier, an amusement park they all went to. Eight-year-old Annie was left to her own devices and was about to get on a ride at the park when tragedy struck. A car came loose from the ride. It rocketed to the ground, toward Annie. Eddie, the maintenance man pushed Annie out of the way.

Annie lived. But her hand was severed in the process.

Lorraine asks Annie, “Can you break that last secret? Can you say the last reason for your resentment since Ruby Pier?”

Annie choked up. Her voice was barely a whisper.

“Because you weren’t there to save me.”

Lorraine closed her eyes. “That’s right. Can you forgive me for that?”

“Mom.”

“Yes?”

“You don’t need to hear me say it.”

“No, I don’t,” Lorraine said softly. “But you do.”

Mitch Albom’s words hit me, square in the chest.

Grief is a crazy thing. Sometimes it comes flying out of nowhere and smacks you in the head. Or, in this case, my heart.

The all-too-familiar pain seared through me. I set the book down, got up and mopped my floor. Yep, I literally dug in and cleaned my kitchen tile, perhaps trying to metaphorically wipe away the pain along with the dirt.

The words, “because you weren’t there to save me” kept running through my head.

My daughter Claire died of a misdiagnosed heart condition nearly nineteen years ago. While she was at camp.

I wasn’t there to save her.

The hardest part of the story is that others were, and they didn’t.

I’ve lived with this truth, this horrible, tragic reality for years.

I buried it in my soul, shoveling the last bits of earth over my nightmare, covering it up and then brushing it away to allow the light to seep through.

I chose to shut out the darkness and dance in her memory, share her love of reading and all the while hold on to the extended hands of my husband, two children, family and friends.

I learned to take heart, to look at the bright side of things and have faith that somehow everything would turn out alright.

It did.

But in little steps and big leaps. Raised voices, crushing pain, tears brushed away and smiles tucked in between. Anger so hot it seared my soul and laughter so deep it made me pee.

All the while experiencing indescribable love and unexpected gifts.

To say the last nineteen years has been a roller coaster ride is an understatement.

Once I determined my floor was clean enough and my head felt sufficiently rinsed out of bad thoughts, I went back to the book.

“Yes, yes, I forgive you Mom. Of course, I forgive you. I didn’t know. I love you,” Annie shares.

Lorraine placed her hands together.

“Grace?”

“Grace.”

“That,” Lorraine said, smiling, “is what I was here to teach you.”

Mitch Albom has taught me a thing or two through his writing.

It is my hope that I’ll be able to show what is in my heart and offer what I’ve learned through my experiences.

Maybe that’s why I’m here still…to teach.

I pray for grace as I move forward in sharing our journey through the darkness and into joy.

I ask for your hearts as I pour out mine…

 

 

 

A day in the life of a writer

When asked what I do, I used to rip off a litany of roles I’ve served.

Wife, mom, founder of Claire’s Day, former council woman.

Now I simply respond; I write.

I write.

The next question is the obvious. What do you write?

And I say, children’s books.

Usually people are pretty stoked about that and assume I’ve written picture books of renown.

That is not the case, but most people are still impressed when I tell them about my books, all of which have been traditionally published.

Usually the conversation ends there, but every now and then someone asks me the same question I find so fascinating about other writers.

How do you write?

The simple answer is I write nearly every day, at my desk, in my home office.

But, to be very honest, a writer’s life, or at least this one, is so much more than that.

I’ll start by offering that I am blessed to have the emotional and financial support of my husband. I’m not yet at the stage that I could be self-supporting on my income. Many writers aren’t. I’m amazed by those who work full-time at another job, and just as much as a writer.

In my case, my goal is to get my derriere in chair by 10 a.m. every morning.

I take care of my non-writing responsibilities in the morning. I watch the sunrise while having a cup of coffee and hanging with my husband and 3-year-old Labrador Retriever, Luna.

Then I drink a magic potion consisting of kale, spinach, avocado, almond milk, and frozen fruit. It’s green, but it’s yummy, I promise.

Luna, known as Lunatic when she was a puppy, usually whines at the front door if I don’t have my tennis shoes on by 7:30. We high tail it around a golf course for 45 minutes, give or take a few if we visit with the golf professional or groundskeepers, then home.

Correspondence, social media, laundry, groceries, housecleaning all fall in the category of chores before 10 a.m. My local librarian and grocer are used to seeing me with a ball cap on.

Then, with the help of my magic potion and Pandora, I’m at my desk by the bewitching hour.

Then I stay there until 4:30, writing, creating, musing, meeting deadlines, both contracted and self-imposed.

But, and here’s the trick for me, I’m not glued to my chair.

Between my walks in the morning and breaks from my chair, I’m easily wracking up 10,000 steps daily.

If I get stuck, I get up.

I dance. (Although I can only listen to so much Michael Jackson, otherwise my response to the question as to what I do would be that. I dance.)

I daydream.

I sing.

I imagine.

I research.

I read.

I get back in chair.

I write.

I finish.

I query.

I submit.

I hope.

I wait.

I celebrate.

I repeat.

So, as simple as this all seems, it is.

And, I am so happy to be able to answer the question as to what I do, simply.

I write.

 

 

 

 

List of Happys

My daughter Kyle gave me an incredible gift this Christmas. It is a letter book, Treasured Passages, for mother and daughter. The concept is I fill out a card with a writing prompt, and send to her. She then fills out the card with her answers, and sends back to me to include within the book. I am so touched by her memories, loving responses and sharing of experiences both as a child and now as a young woman. One of the cards reads, “List of Happys” and is entirely too small to list all my reasons for being happy.

As she, her brother Ian and memories of her sister Claire are at the top of my list of Happys (along with my husband Brad, of course), I thought I would share with you, in honor of Mother’s Day.

Enjoy, and my your List of Happys be a long list too!

Any time with your dad. Seeing him first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Talking about our days, challenges and successes. Holding hands. Getting back rubs. Making him dinner. Cooking dinner together. Going out for dates. Both of us walking Luna. Playing any sport together, especially golf. Traveling and discovering the world as a team. Discovering fun things in our own back yard. Watching TV with him, even though I fall asleep a lot. Snuggling and reading. Snuggling some more.

Just being together.

Any time with you and Ian.

Visiting you and Ian, or having you visit us. I treasure every moment. When we can’t see each other, phone calls “just to chat” are the best. Sharing the world with you both!

Memories of our travels together. Memories of raising you, Ian and Claire. Precious moments spent discovering parks, zoo, museum. Memories of cuddling together with books when you were all three little. Playing board and card games. Kisses for boo-boos when you were little, a shoulder to cry on when you were older. Watching you both play sports. Offering guidance and support.

Just being your Mom.

Hanging with friends. Giggling over dinners and glasses of wine. Ladies annual golf trip, one of my most sacred times with close friends. Traveling with friends. Celebrating milestones.

Just being together.

Family. I feel so blessed with my relationships with my brothers and nieces and your dad’s family. My family. Our family.

Writing. Nothing gives me greater joy than creating story and then sharing it with the world. My words are little pieces of me that will live on forever. And, I am so honored for the recognition of my hard work and talent. May they both continue!

Reading. My favorite memories revolve around books. From being read to as a child by my mom, to reading to you, Ian and Claire every night. Discovering new authors of different genres. I love the feeling when you can’t put a book down, but all the same, don’t want it to ever end.

Claire’s Day. It warms my heart to see children enjoying and being impacted by our tribute! Her day provided me with something positive to focus on to move forward through my grief. The best part is, it helped me be a better mom to you and Ian, never taking either of you for granted.

Great music. It inspires me! Whether listening to my favorite artists while writing, (Fleetwood Mac, Idina Menzel, Beatles, etc.), dancing by myself at home or going to a concert, I love music.

Exercising. Walking. Riding bikes. Playing sports. Hot yoga. Dancing. Just moving!

Cooking and enjoying good food. I love being at home, making a great meal and enjoying with dad, family and friends. Favorite is pesto chicken, yummy salad, nice glass(es) of wine, something chocolate.

All the little things in life. Your dad’s smile. Seeing yours and Ian’s face anytime. Luna. The smell of stargazer lilies. Purple. Sunrises. Sunsets. Birds. Surprise phone calls. Giggling with my kindergarten readers. Kind words, both giving and receiving. Cards in the mail. Smell of coffee in the morning. Candles. My writing space. The sun on my face. Memories, sweet memories.

Every day is a gift.

Little Sparkles

I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. The subtitle to this work by the author of Eat, Pray, Love is Creative Living Beyond Fear.

I really wanted to enjoy the book for several reasons. One, it was recommended by my friend and editor, Michelle Houts, and two, anything that suggests Big Things will happen just by setting aside our reservations has my name all over it.

But, other than an occasional twinge of inspiration, the book fell short. Allow me to explain.

Big Magic, according to Ms. Gilbert, happens when we let go of thoughts of incompetency or lack of confidence and just dig into our creative souls. By doing so, we let the universe in and karma take over.

I get that. I’ve experienced the incredible burst of writing energy where conscious thought goes out the window and the spirit moves me. And, I have to say, it’s pretty darn awesome.

However, there seems to have been too much focus on those fleeting Big happenstances and barely mention of those many smaller moments that make a Big difference in our creative lives.

Let’s call them Little Sparkles.

This year has been filled with them for me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I certainly had my share of Big Joyful moments and Big Sad moments in 2017.

The ones that stick with me the most though are those tiny nuggets that really encourage me to move forward on my creative journey.

Like when I met a mom and her daughter at the Cincinnati book festival. The young girl had written a report about Virginia Hamilton this past year. I’ll never forget her shy smile as I personally signed a copy of my biography of this amazing author to her.

Or when I spoke on Virginia, and friends showed up just in support of me.

I swear magic dust lines the paths on the property of the Highlights Foundation. It was there that my picture book biography of a little known, historical sports figure took root and grew. I can still recall sitting across from my mentor, Rich Wallace, the former senior editor of Highlights magazine, as he offered his words of encouragement for my project.

Kirkus reviews are anonymous, so I will never have the chance to thank personally whomever gave my book the coveted starred review. His or her incredible praise of my work lit up my world for weeks.

I saw Little Sparkles in the eyes of one of my little kindergartners I read to weekly when, after asking what I did other than read to him, told him I write children’s books. I feel like his newest heroine.

Little Sparkles happen with every kind word about my writing, every nudge from my husband to revisit stories that sit half-finished on my hard drive, every bit of pride expressed by my two children. And, always, I feel the energy from my late daughter, my little reader gone too soon.

The greatest lessons these Little Sparkles have taught me is that I have the power to reflect all this kindness back to others exploring their creative lives. Just think if we all waved our wands filled with sparkles on to each other, how much brighter the universe would be.  That’s where the magic lies.

Here’s hoping your holidays and New Year are filled with tons of Little Sparkles.

I can’t wait to see what you do with all of them. And I can’t wait to see what happens with mine!