Renewal trellis 5-16-15

Today I am filled with a sense of renewal.  If I lived in a beach cabin alone I could write an entire novel today, so filled with love, joy and a sense of abundance. This picture says it all … taken from my office window, warm and snuggly and still in my pajamas, thinking of the blessings in my life … those past, those here right now, and those to come.

To some this trellis might look like a worn out structure needing repair, or at least needing to be shorn up so it would stand straighter.  On the north side of the trellis, not shown in this picture, there is a pitiful grape plant, sprouting only a few leaves this May. In the past grape vines covered the trellis to the very top, and for two years in a row,  a momma robin sitting on her nest of baby birds the way I used to care for my own babies. Maybe this is why so many people love watching baby birds being fed and taught to fly.

This morning my trellis speaks to me of a life well lived, with the dragon fly mobile that catches the sun all day long and lights up after dark. Last summer, with a robin on her nest at the top, barely visible among the grape leaves,  before we decided to dig up the old grape plant last Fall, I wondered what our momma bird thought about the bright light under her nest each evening. On some level I’ve always wondered what birds thought. How would they ever tell us?

My dragon fly mobile fills me with joy and promise now because my good friend, Gail, sent it to me last summer. She has one too, at her house in California. Each morning it erases the miles between California and Washington and fills me with new hope, knowing the sun it catches during the day will be reflected back to me each evening when it lights up again. My own personal  Old Faithful.

Whenever I look at this trellis I marvel at the only peony  in our yard, a deep pink, magnificent in what it is in a hurry to become, like a beautiful young woman ripe with promise.

And there, peeking through the lattice on the south side of our trellis, is the Cecile Brunner climbing rose that Gail sent me, also last Summer, when I needed as much care as the plants I tended. I put a small selection of colorful river rocks around my new rose bush when it was planted and peeked at it each day as it thrived its way to the very top of the trellis.  A few days ago I placed my humming bird yard ornament at the edge of this rose bush I know will fill our trellis with pink sweetheart roses all Summer.  The humming bird sits there now like a watchful friend. It fills me with a sense of renewal, like everything else about this trellis, whether it stands up straight or not.

Is it any wonder this trellis fills me with such joy?

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Thoughts on the Essay Format

Thoughts on the Essay Format

This morning the essay format came to my mind as a subject we often overlook. We’re after the next best seller – the mystery, or a book so funny we read it and laugh out loud, or books in a series by our favorite writers. For me I’ll check out fiction best-sellers  by Dan Brown, David Frazier, Mary Alice Monroe, Paula Watkins, or Susanna Kearsley. Or a collection of Rosamunde Pilcher short stories. But who among us settles down on a weekend anymore with a good drink and a fine book of essays?

At some point in our educations, most writers have been introduced to essays from E.B. White, May Sarton or Annie Dillard, and more. For me, missing any of these authors would be like never having read a poem by Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson. I can’t imagine it any more than I could imagine never having tasted a potato chip.

An essayist has the knack of catching a moment ‘on the wing’ like a bird in flight, and giving it a whole realm of experiences, a destination, an arrival point.  An essayist can discover a moment ~ prying apart space to observe a happening, or a brilliant flower. Come. Quick. Look at that. Here’s what I see. It reminds me of eternity.

Essayists think in terms of big thoughts. Like seeing something so wonderful you have to bend down to observe it with a magnifying glass so you will not miss a single moment of it. It could be a rock in the shape of a heart, with a tiny frog perched there, throat pulsating, probably in fear that we will reach down to scoop it up. What a frightening trip for a tiny frog, moments before sunning on a heart-shaped rock, perhaps thinking big thoughts for a frog.

An essayist might ponder a southern magnolia tree with a swing underneath, cloistered and dusty, hidden from view, wondering whose feet might have dangled from this swing and dragged naked toes in the dirt underneath. An essayist will take this moment, enlarge it, and leave us with words to live by, thoughts to think, and ideas to be born. An essayist, without even knowing it, can change the direction of lives.

Yes, an essayist can do this ~ capture a moment with a few essential words and cause a torrent of memories to cascade across our hearts. Such a writer can care more for a  single moment than many people care for anything else in their whole lives. The essayist might watch the way a bee buzzes around on a lazy summer day, like a tiny drunken airplane with a bad attitude; remember stroking the soft underbelly of a family pet with an eager wet nose; or long to smell the first ripe peach of a season.

A few words here and there. Well chosen.  Always with a purpose. Remember. Think about it. Turn off the TV. Put down your cell phone or tablet. Close the lap top. Read a good book this weekend. If it’s a  book of essays, all the better. You’ll have a lot more to think about.

A friend once picked up my book of May Sarton essays from the coffee table and asked, “Are you reading May Sarton?” I paused and finally answered, “I am always reading May Sarton. Every day. She never disappoints.”

If by some chance you become wrapped up in thought with a book of essays and become too philosophical for your family, friends or co-workers, they might remark that you have too much thinking time.

A co-worker once said exactly that about me, in jest: “Ruth has too much thinking time on her way to work.” I took it as a compliment, and  had been reading an essay by E.B. White that morning, before leaving for work. The essay was called “Farmer White’s Brown Eggs.” I vowed from that moment on to always buy brown eggs. If anyone opens my refrigerator today looking or eggs, they’ll find only brown eggs.

If any of you are looking for a small gift for a friend for any reason, by all means consider a good book of essays.  It’s a winner every time!


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One Shiny Object

Some time ago I went to hear Jess Walter, best-selling novelist from Spokane. He was giving a reading & hilarious talk at the North side library here.  He said that it took him eleven years to finish his best-selling novel, CITIZEN VINCE. He said during this process he walked by a small pond on the South Hill of Spokane and watched a crow circle around the pond several times before diving down to pick up one shiny object in his beak and then the bird flew off. Jess Walker said that that triggered something in his mind about Citizen Vince and he knew then how to complete this wonderful novel. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s wonderful on so many levels.

After listening to him speak, I came home and realized I needed that one shiny object to finish my first novel, BENSON’S COVE .. and yes, I am still stuck on this but differently in so many ways.  Have found my one shiny object and want to be writing like I’ve been shot out of a cannon.  All in good time. Working a bit more on the structure, but finishing this is now on my agenda.

I recently read ONE PERFECT WORD (memoir of Debbie Macomber), and how she picks one perfect word for each year and her life now moves in the direction of those words, usually one per year. It’s working for me, too  I’ll share my new one perfect word with you:  It’s FOCUS.  I’m ready in spades to Focus on my novel.  🙂

And really do want to post more here.  Will share with you how my life changed after reading TIME IS A RIVER by Mary Alice Monroe.  Tune in next Friday for this!


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A Great Story Teller

My father was also a great story teller.  My guess is that I ‘get that honest’ as family members say. For some years now I have kidded myself about writing a novel. I even asked my husband not long ago, “Do you still tell people I am writing a novel?” He looked at me with a gentle smile and said, “I used to.”  Oh, dear … really?

This past weekend I attend the Emerald City Writers’ Conference in Bellevue, WA, and came home with a request for a partial. Since this novel remains as yet unfinished, the request is for only a partial – in fact, only 10 pages. In the past at various conferences I’ve received requests for 25 pgs., or 50, or the first three chapters, and once for a full manuscript. I sent some in, and for others I never responded.  I know now the reason is that it just wasn’t ready.

But today, with a request for 10 pages after it’s finished has stunned me into writing with the voice I love, the sentimental and nostalgic one I use when writing this blog, the one that fills me with purpose and I have no earthly reason why. It’s this voice, the one I have not been using for my novel. The thought of narrowing down only 10 pgs. (obviously the first ten) shocks me as I sit down to pound them out, or print off the first 10 of the hundreds already written in this novel I claim is about 60% done.  It isn’t.  Now I know that. And I know that there are probably not 10 pages in the whole novel that I’d send off.

So the struggle begins. To write again. With Purpose. And with my true voice. What a chore. I wake up each morning with scenes playing in my head like a movie. If only I could print whole documents from my brain … if only. Then I realize that’s not going to happen, but wait ~ we did put a man on the moon, didn’t we? In a few years, how do I know this won’t happen?

With my luck, if there was this magic printer that would print documents from the scenes playing in my brain, it would also send them off into space before I intended to let them go, the way my cell phone grabs my half-finished emails and shoots them into space. I might have to start anchoring those dream scenes.

At any rate, getting this small request for only 10 pages has changed my life as a writer. It’s making me write with a clear purpose, instead of focusing on the quantity of words I want to write on a given day. Hopefully this time is the charm.

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Each and every morning I find myself looking out at our back yard as I drink my first cup of coffee, and no matter what time of year, I am at peace.  Today, in the midst of July, I relish the beauty of our river birch, which my husband planted as a young tree the first summer we were in the house.  The way it has grown always makes me catch my breath.

I can also see our volunteer strawberry bed, filled with volunteers from neighbor’s yards which I am certain are in our yard from fruit the birds have delivered, knowing how much we love strawberries.  In the center of the window I can see the pussy willow that my husband insisted needed to be in the round flower bed where the Japanese maple didn’t make it last summer.  He was right, of course. I smile knowing I asked at the plant nursery for a pussy willow plant, but now find we have a pussy willow tree, but we don’t mind.

Not only do I look out at our birch, the strawberries and the pussy willow, I can barely see the grape leaves from our trellis by my office window, overflowing with greenery and a robin’s nest that holds three babies this year, and a busy mom and pop robin feeding three babies with fuzzy heads and hungry mouths.

Just to the left of these windows in the living room I can peek out and see a bit of the ash tree planted in the middle of our back yard when the birch also came to our house. I smile every time I see this tree because when our little grandson, Asher, was younger he thought the tree was named after him. And why not?

The beauty this window gives me fills me with joy every single morning, but not because I am able to look out at the trees and see how they are thriving. The real reason I feel blessed each morning is because my husband planted trees and plants like this all over our yard, so that no matter where we looked through our windows, we would see this beauty.

I remember his calling to me from the yard with the white flowering cherry, and the pink plum, asking me, “Here? Or there? Where?” I’d decide, then point, and the shovel would come out of the shed and before you knew it, we had something else wonderful to view out of our windows. I can walk around our house and see not only these glorious trees, but the Fat Albert fir and the small blue spruce in the corner by the fence, the clematis vines we see from the dining room windows in the front, along with our hanging planter and rope chair swing  on the front porch ~ everything that gives us peace here in this house.

On cool mornings a walk through the yard inspires me. If these trees and plants can thrive, so can the rest of us. We can stay healthy, drink in love and be active, just like these trees. We can continue with new thoughts and ideas, just as the plants send out new green leaves and fragrant flowers. There is hope all around us. Our lives are full of it. And then there are the quail we find sitting on our fence some mornings, or pecking for worms beneath the evergreens. Who can look at the quail and not feel love? There’s just something about nature that inspires us all to a higher calling. At least that’s the way I feel each morning when I look out of these windows I love so much, even in the winter when the trees are covered with snow. There’s a gentle beauty in that, too.

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4th of July

Momma Robin in her nest, 4th of July, 2014

Today I am spending this 4th of July wondering if this sweet Momma Robin has any idea of the joy she has given me, and feel certain it’s the same momma we had nesting in our grapevines at the top of our trellis the summer before.

Last June this robin with her babies gave me such hope as granddaughter Jamie was critically ill in the ICU at Sacred Heart Hospital, Spokane, after a serious car accident. Each afternoon I’d come home to see this new life springing forth. It did wonders for my spirits seeing these babies grow and leave the nest.  Soon after these babies flew off my granddaughter also left the hospital to go home to heal in her wheel chair for the rest of the summer, and has since ~ now a year down the road ~ made an amazing recovery. She just rafted the Colorado through the Grand Canyon with Mom and Dad, Phil & Diane, & younger sister, Tate.  They had a fantastic time and knowing this does my heart so much good.

Now we have just returned this past weekend from our time in Pensacola, Florida, to bury my mom’s ashes in the beautiful Bayview Memorial Park in the Parks-Ellis plot, between her husband and her mother, where she had longed to be. Like the robin tending her nest, I feel like I’ve tended the nest for my own mother, who instead of growing older and stronger, was growing more frail with each passing day. She was tired of living and I am comforted knowing she is resting now at peace where she most wanted to be.

As I watch these robins, two of them tending this particular nest ~ both a mom and a pop busy bringing worms to hungry mouths ~ giving them what they need, I know I gave my mother what she needed as she grew older, first in a walker, then onto oxygen and then into a wheelchair. I am comforted each day knowing her struggle is over. She is at peace. And I am at peace. The feeling is joy singed with sadness, if that’s even possible.

Life goes on. We all know this. And nobody gets out of this life alive.  We all know that, too.  But there is something magical about flags flying here on the 4th of July, robins tending their babies in the back yard at the top of our grape trellis, and the feeling of peace I have as I sit reading a book in my rope chair swing on the front porch.  Looking forward to brats on the grill later. In my view it just doesn’t get much better than this!

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Momma Robin

Momma Bird's blue eggs, 6-9-13

For the second year in a row we have a Momma Robin sitting in a nest she built one night just a few weeks ago.  She sits in it day and night, now, so I am sure she’s got eggs in there.  Last year we had a Momma Robin at the top of our grapevine trellis and she had three babies.

The funny thing is that we have a lighted dragonfly mobile hanging from the center of the trellis, so at night it lights up.  I wonder what the Momma Robin thinks of her nightlight?

While this Momma Robin is sitting on her nest, bringing her new babies into the world I am getting on a plane tomorrow to carry my own mother home, to Pensacola, Florida to bury her ashes at the beautiful Bayview Memorial Park cemetery where we have a family plot of graves.  I was so scattered earlier in the week I even wondered if it would be safe for me to drive.  I told my daughter all I wanted to do was pack my suitcase and weed the back flower bed.  She called that Meditative Packing and Meditative Weeding.  It worked, too!

Now I feel ready to do this, and have a few personal things to slip into the vault with my mother’s ashes.  But it’s still hard, seeing that beautiful young woman so vibrant in her youth, knowing she became old, bent and broken before she died. She did not want to continue living any longer yet made it until she was 95 1/2.  We’ll gather there, on Wednesday of this week, to tell Mama Parks goodbye.  I am grateful to be able to be there to send her off.

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