Hello July: Berries, Weeds…and a Lunar Eclipse!

blackberrySummer is here. No question. The dog days of August arrived early this year. Trust me. With two canines lying flat on their sides on the cool concrete of the porch, too enervated to even wag their tails at me, I know it’s true.

I can’t complain too much. After all, July is my birthday month (the 6th!) AND our anniversary month (the 7th!) and…. the month of berries and freestone peaches. Hurray! July also brings back that cherished, although awkward, memory of the lunar eclipse of 1982. Anybody else remember that? I boiled down that long-ago experience into an ultrashort flash essay that Mental Papercuts just kindly published in their Issue 1.5, Weird Summer Vibes. If you’re hankering for wildly creative, off-the-wall summer stories that may bring back memories of your own, please check it out.

Three poems of mine also appeared today, more writing inspired by the summer. “What the Weeds in My Yard Taught Me About Social Justice” and “September Raspberry” bloomed in the Summer 2019 issue of Gyroscope Review. And “Pulling Up the Wild Blackberry Bushes” just unfurled in the July issues of the gorgeous O.Henry and Pinestraw magazines, both of which are distributed in locations across the state.

As a reminder to all my writer friends, July also marks the halfway point for what we hope will be a productive year of writing. Now’s the time to start penning, gulp, other seasonal pieces (think: Halloween and Christmas) and most importantly, setting goals to improve.

Chinese fortune cookies are fun, not always prescient, but they can be surprisingly profound. Here’s one just for you. Of all our human resources, the most precious is our desire to improve.

So what are you doing to get better? For me, it means leading two workshops this summer at The Joyful Jewel because I learn as much, if not more, from my fellow workshop participants as they do from me! It also means taking a memoir class led by Dorit Sasson through Women on Writing, my favorite space for online writing classes.

I’m a little nervous because I’m new to the field of memoir (and a beginner in the world of creative nonfiction) but the good news is that I’ve got lots to learn. This means I’ll never be bored!

Stay cool, eat your berries, and set your own improvement goals!





Summer rain, summer magic

We woke up to bright sunshine, but in true July fashion, a sudden summer storm surprises us at Whale Tail Road. Perhaps my bougainvillea will dreamily shake her blossoms, Sara Teasdale-style.

Today two of my flash fictions make their appearance in the July 2018 issue of The Birds We Piled Loosely. Read “Etymology in the Neighborhood” and “We Are So Sorry”  by clicking on the cover of the magazine and scrolling to pages 15 and 25.

All of the work is distinctive in its own way, particularly poems by Emily Parker, Rich Ives, and Ally Young as well as evocative image-text pieces by Emma Sheinbaum.

This past month I’ve kept busy revising stories that I began in May’s “Story A Day” Challenge and already I’ve submitted several shorter pieces for publication.

Last week I wrapped up a one-week class offered by One Story: Write a Story with Hannah Tinti. I’ve taken online classes before but this was one of the most engaging I’ve ever experienced. It focused on structure, something I don’t always think about when in the heat of composing a story. And in just six days, all participants had the opportunity to craft, day by day, a solid draft with a viable structure. More importantly, it was FUN!

But today, as rain pounds our roof, I’m thinking more about poetry. I’m going to comb through my word boxes and see what magical combinations arise….I’ll be building dandelion suspension bridges, kitten-heeling my way into a sunset altar, and exploring the sovereignty of cookies.

A Story a Day Keeps the Doctor Away!

strawberry.jpgHappy Summer! It’s technically spring but it sure feels like summer in North Carolina! And the great news–besides a bed of strawberries now ripening daily–is that there are myriad things to write about. I decided to take Julie Duffy up on her creative challenge to actually draft a new story each day. I’m having a blast, and I hope, keeping the doctor away.

Here’s what I do. I rise first thing in the morning, and before the whirlwind of the day takes over (walking the dogs, eating breakfast, or painting shelves), I give my unconscious mind free rein. Yes, I do have an idea in mind, taken from an ongoing list, but I try not to think about it too much until I actually put words to the screen. It’s a crazy thing. The more I write, the more new ideas spring up.

As a matter of fact, we went to the flea market this morning, which is the writer’s equivalent of paradise. I often joke with friends that I’d love to one day lead a workshop where I take my fellow writers to Sophia, to the flea market off Highway 311. Among the ripe mangoes, rose and hibiscus plants, old books, movies and the strange assortment of someone else’s odds and ends, there is a plethora of random and intriguing conversation.

  • “There you go, getting all cynical again!” said a vendor, possibly to a long-time customer.
  • “She’s not really a people person,” said a little girl when we asked to pet the Dachshund puppy in a stroller. (Would it be a “people dog?” Not sure. :))
  • “Do you know where Bulgaria is?” asked a man in response to my question about his accent.

Today I bought a picture from 1908, when people printed images and mailed them as postcards. Where else can you find such a thing from more than 100 years ago? I’m sure that gem will also be a prompt of some sort in the future.

We’re almost halfway through the month, and I’ve drafted stories about a baker, a university town that pays its residents for their dreams, and two bickering sisters who accidentally leave their aging mother at a rest-stop. They may not all pan out as complete stories but as the writer Ray Bradbury once said: “Write a story every week. It’s impossible to end up with 52 bad stories.”

Here’s hoping your writer’s garden blooms with inspiration!


I Have Drunk the Wine of Life at Last – Day 3

Today we journeyed to Lenox, MA, to The Mount, the home of writer Edith Wharton. Just like Millay, she defied social expectations for a woman of her time and pursued her intellectual ambitions to the highest degree.

Although most of her relationships with men (including her husband Teddy, whom she later divorced) were unsatisfying, she did have a few brief moments of happiness. As the quote in the title of this blog implies, she reveled in the good times. She cherished her friendship with ex-patriate writer Henry James, with whom she enjoyed a true marriage of the minds. They possessed “a sense of humor and irony in exactly the same key.”

Having only read Ethan Frome (Ann and I) and The House of Mirth (Jen), we were amazed to learn that Edith penned 40 books in 40 years!


Her first book was actually on interior decorating but she penned many other non-fiction books in addition to countless novels such as The Reef, Summer, and The Age of Innocence, which earned her a Pulitzer Prize.

Edith’s philosophy and intellect are reflected throughout The Mount, which made the visit all that more interesting. In contrast with other mansions of the Gilded Age (think Biltmore), The Mount was full of intimate spaces and natural light. We adored our tour guide, Cecily, who was charming, funny and smart. Cecily encouraged us all to read The Age of Innocence, claiming it was Wharton’s most accessible novel.

During the tour, we learned that “Edith liked her tables round, her lighting low, and the conversation sparkling.” Being dog lovers (Edith considered cats “snakes with fur”), we were thrilled to see that dogs played an integral role in her life. Her dogs slept on cushions under the table and dined from bowls of Chinese porcelain by the fireplace.

french gardens






Her gardens were equally impressive, with French- (above) and Italian-inspired designs. Not surprisingly, she even had a pet cemetery where several of her little darlings now rest in peace. Unfortunately, our visit did not conclude with a view of her grave, as she is buried in France where she spent the latter years of her life.

We next went to the nearby homestead of William Cullen Bryant, a writer and naturalist who was most famous for penning Thanatopsis, a mediation on death. While his home is now a National Historic Landmark, unfortunately for us, it was not open today. But we did peek inside the picturesque barn, which still had the individual house stalls and troughs.







Our tour for the day concluded in Northampton, where we strolled the grounds of Smith College, which prides itself on building generations of independent young females. Seeing a young woman seated by the Mill River Dam, where she laughed to herself as she leafed through a book, Jen quipped: “Now there’s a young woman who thinks for herself.”

And on that subject, tomorrow we’ll go to Amherst, the home of the notoriously independent-minded Emily Dickinson. It will be quite different from The Mount, as Emily never reached the fame of Edith in her lifetime, but given her talents, we expect to be equally delighted.