Weekend retreat

The idea of coming together with other writers — some friends, some strangers — for an entire weekend away from the stressful realities of life felt both exhilarating and terrifying. It is something I need: space to think, to read, to write, without distractions and in a place that promised inspiring scenery. At home, I try to carve out time to write but there is always something else that pulls at my attention. The house, the cat, the never ending list of things I should be doing. At a retreat, there will be peer pressure. I will be forced to sit and write.

I will also be anxious. Anxious about the unknown, the societal expectations of such things, the way my brain doesn’t always filter what exits my mouth. The pressure to produce something wonderful, something that will make the trip worthwhile.

I drove down with a local friend, and hurray, we only had to turn around once. There were five other women there, three I know from the Pennwriters conference and two I met upon arrival. Everyone was nice. Our porch had a view of a beautiful lake, and we sat and enjoyed complimentary cottage wine.


Sunset wine. Photo inspired by my Lake O cottage neighbor, Phil

We shared a wonderful meal together. Eventually, I heard the nag in my head asking for a break. People don’t always believe I’m an introvert. They see me stand in front of crowds, comfortable in theatrical performance. That’s the thing: it’s theater. It’s me putting on another persona, someone confident and in control of her speech and surroundings. It’s not small talk with others, deciding what to reveal about who I am and what I believe. I’d rather tell stories, sing repeat after me songs off-key, explain the way something works. Otherwise I’ll just listen if that’s okay.

And it usually is. For a while. Then I need to be alone and in the quiet. And the great thing about other writers is that they get that, they understand. Most of us are introverted or at least need to go into that space of stillness and quiet in order to tune into the stories in our heads.

I slept, more or less. As much as one can in a strange place with unusual noises (like a toilet grinder that sounded like an angry monster) and light coming in from under the doorway. I missed the sound of my husband’s breath and the feel of a cat at my feet. It was lonely. But in the morning we woke to coffee and pumpkin bread and the stillness of the lake. The air was cold and full of fall. I wrote, I read, I took a walk in the woods with my friend. We climbed into a tree stand and talked to chipmunks. I felt relaxed for the first time in weeks.


Findley Lake


Took a lovely hike just beyond this outhouse

We gathered in the common area and wrote, a collective of creative energy. I worried about my story but tried to let the words flow without judgement. When we weren’t writing, we talked and laughed and ate amazing food. A group of us went on a mini adventure and embraced the idea of taking the time to do what makes you happy. I am thankful for that time, for the beautiful place, for a family that supports my passion and gives me space to pursue it.

I am thankful for other writers who are not afraid to share in their vulnerability. We are all on our own journeys, yet we are all committed to words, and I love how that bonds us. Love that I can spend the weekend with people other than my family and feel safe and comfortable.

Bonus: amazing food


Pasta with pumpkin sauce, sauted mushrooms and onions, ratatouille with vegan mozzarella, and homemade herb focaccia. YUM.

Cub scout camping fun and a book cover hint


vans at sea

Look at us! We’re in boats and not tipping over or rowing into the swimming area! If you have no idea what I’m talking about, stop, go read Row, row, row your boat…, and then come back here to finish reading this post.

I’ll wait.

This past weekend was our third trip to cub scout summer camp and the first time boat-incident free. Yay us! The boys had a blast (oldest tagged along as Den Chief), the weather turned out much better than the Wednesday afternoon predictions that had me packing all the rain gear, and I walked over 32 miles in four days. It felt great to be in nature, to hang out with friends, and to watch my boys do the things they love.

Some of you may know that starting next month, girls will be allowed to join cub scouts  and in February will be able to join boy scouts (which, going forward will be known as BSA) and start on the path toward Eagle. At camp’s closing ceremony, the director mentioned how there will be girls at camp next year, and no matter how we feel about it, we need to accept the changes and support them in their journey.

I was active in girl scouts from first grade through high school. I quit because A) it became uncool to be in scouts and our troop shrank to practically zero members and B) there was no ultimate goal to achieve. (I learned later that you could become a “Lifetime Member” but that did not hold the same weight as earning Eagle.)

As the buzz became a reality in current scouting, I did a bit of research. There are 169 National scout organizations around the world, and only 11 are exclusively for boys. We were number 12 up until this year. When you look at the boys only countries, many of them restrict the behavior of women as well. Why do we need to keep scouts gender segregated? Boys and girls alike can enjoy all elements of scouting. I loved being a girl scout. Would I have joined the BSA if I could have and worked my way to Eagle? Probably. Am I excited about the changes? Yes. Do I think our country should have one scouting organization open to everyone, including transgender youth? YES!

Scouting sometimes gets a bad rep — for being exclusionary, for pushing a particular agenda, for other terrible things I don’t want to discuss on my blog. (Believe me, as someone actively involved in the organization, we do a lot to make sure stuff like that doesn’t happen on our watch.) But at its core it instills solid values, nurtures a child’s strengths and interests, and provides a place to make lifelong friendships. Often for both kids and parents, as is the case in our family.

When I set out to write my YA verse novel (WHICH WILL BE IN THE WORLD IN LESS THAN SIX MONTHS!!), I wanted my main character to be active in scouts. I gave him a moral dilemma and had him use the points of the scout law to figure out how to navigate through it. I’ll be revealing the book’s cover soon, and I’m excited that scouts plays a huge role in the design.

I don’t have a funny/embarrassing story for you this year. But I have a lot of wonderful memories that will never fade and mosquito bites which thankfully will. My boys found the sunglassed lifeguard from last year and invited him to sit at our table for every meal. We played. We laughed. We sang ridiculous songs at the tops of our lungs. We studied toads in mud puddles and celebrated accomplishments. We barely slept. I captured moments like this:


brothers and best friends

It was awesome.

Happy Camper

I love camping. Fresh air, campfires, afternoon naps in the sun. The blissful escape from routine.

Back in the days before kids, hubs and I camped all over the state. We weren’t very adept when we started out—on our first trip we forgot pillows and other essentials and had to drive to a nearby mega store. (Incidentally that was not the only time I forgot pillows on a camping trip and had to drive to a store to buy them; somehow pillows are not high on my list of necessities for sleep).

I remember trying to cook in the pouring rain, hunched over the propane stove, umbrella in one hand, utensil in the other, and then eating our meal in the car. After that we purchased a simple canopy, which took off down the hill in a strong gust of wind and retrieved right before it landed in a nearby creek.

But the misadventures were part of what made camping great, the stories I tell when people ask why I love it. During a visit to Letchworth State Park, we arrived to discover the campsite was full. The ranger directed us to a nearby campground which turned out to be one of our favorite places to stay.

Enter children.

When our oldest was two, we took him to the above mentioned favorite campground. He had a blast despite the rainy conditions. However, I fretted for most of the weekend and did not enjoy the mountain of muddy laundry on Sunday night.

Next we tried to camp on the beach. Readers, you should NEVER CAMP ON THE BEACH. A strong wind collapsed our tent in half on itself (there is no way to fully stake it in the sand), the lack of distinguishable sites meant our neighbors were all on top of us, and when we got home after leaving early because of previously stated reasons, SAND WAS EVERYWHERE.


At first I laughed. “Hey, everything’s sandy, like me!” Two years later I used one of our sleeping bags as a prop in a play and my student commented on the sand still stuck in the bag. I had stopped laughing.

That ended camping for a while. When our youngest joined scouts, we started going as a family to overnight cabin trips, and took the boys to summer scout camp. The camping bug returned, and I remembered why I loved it. This despite the constant rain during summer camp, a car that smelled like wet feet, and a kid so covered in mosquito bites I needed to dump him into a bathtub full of calamine lotion.

Through scouts we found a great group of friends with similar aged kids who also loved to camp. Moms who don’t mind getting dirty and being without makeup or running water. We took them to our favorite spot and had an amazing weekend. But camping with two kids is a lot of work. The prep, the execution, the cleanup. I do most of it on my own. Also, to be perfectly honest, I’m not a huge fan of sleeping on the ground.

So when an opportunity came along to buy a small cottage on the lake, we jumped on it. Hubs calls it glamping because it has all of the things we love about camping—nature, fire pits, no technology, without the things we hate—sleeping on the ground, washing dishes in a plastic tub, dealing with drunk neighbors. I love waking up early and watching the sunrise. Sitting around the campfire and playing board games with my family. Curling up with a good book and taking a nap in the middle of the afternoon. No TV, no video games, the responsibilities of life left at home, at least for the weekend.

Camp NaNoWriMo kicked off on Sunday. We were out at the cottage, and despite the sweltering heat I was able to get back into my WIP and make forward progress. Last week I took the first chapter to my critique group and they loved it. Told me I needed to keep writing. When camp started I set a modest goal and made a commitment to myself to sit down every day and write. So far so good. We’re back out at the lake and I am sure my muse has found me here. (She likes to go places with no wifi—who knew?) Our friends are coming up for the holiday and I hope they love it as much as we do.


Ready to write on the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo

Sometimes I think the secret to life is as simple as this: find what makes you happy and do it. Adjust as necessary to accommodate children and bad  backs.

Why I simultaneously love and fear small creatures

I love nature and animals and have been known to carry on many a one-sided conversation with the creatures who visit our backyard. But if they try to come into the house, I freak out. And if they end up dead anywhere on the property, I freak out even harder. Which occasionally happens out here in the suburbs and which inspired me to write a piece called “Carcass”. I entered “Carcass” into the Pennwriters In Other Words contest, an annual contest with three different categories: non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. Pieces must fit on one single sheet of paper and are posted on the wall for participants to vote on during the conference. My first year in attendance (2015), I took third place in both the fiction and poetry categories but haven’t had success since then.

Until this year. My friend/traveling companion and I both entered, and we wanted to stick around for the results but decided to leave early so that we could be back with our families by dinnertime. We asked the coordinator if we won. She looked at our name tags and shook her head. Disappointed but still full of positive energy from the weekend, we returned home.

Later that day, someone posted on Twitter that her friends had won. I sent a message of congratulations, and she said, “heard you won one yourself”. Say what? Turns out I earned second place in the non-fiction category, and my friend won second in fiction. We were thrilled, but a little sad we missed the excitement of receiving the award. Thankfully, the coordinator contacted us and sent us our certificates in the mail.


I’m pleased to have placed in all three categories, and will keep writing and aiming for that first place spot!

Without further ado, here is my piece:


 There’s a dead mouse in the basement.

I walked down there to look in my high school memory box for my not-quite Rubix Cube because the youngest spent all afternoon trying to solve the actual Rubix Cube. I went down to the basement and there it was.


All sad and mouse-like on the freshly vacuumed carpet. Carpet, I might add, that until last week was covered in piles of boxes, tissue paper, unwanted toys, and tons of other crap. We spent the afternoon cleaning everything out and uncovered scattered mouse poop who knows how old. My 40th birthday cards were in that pile. I turned 41 three months ago.

Now the space is clean, the rug mouse-poop free. But not mouse free. Because as soon as I saw it my heart started to pound in the way it does when I come across dead things, and I did an immediate about face. Headed back upstairs and pretended I had never gone down there in the first place.

Hubby comes home late tonight. He’ll come across the mouse. Eventually. He’ll take care of it. The question is, do I wait for him to notice it or tell him I saw it and didn’t feel it was within my realm as chief house cleaner to do anything about it? When he sees it will he clean it up without saying anything?

I think back to the last mouse, the one that squirreled away cat food in a rolled-up rug and caused Mia to pee all over the house in anger. We put out poison but never found a body. The tiny green pellets housed in innocent looking cardboard triangles remained scattered throughout the basement. Leftover poison. We killed this mouse. And it took the liberty of dying right there in the newly cleaned room.

Sadness weighs on me, like steel.

Is it sadness I feel, or something else? And why do dead animals bring trauma to my soul? I remember the suicidal crow that landed in our back porch back in Corning. Hubby was away; I had to carry it into the woods by myself. Scooped up its body with a shovel and carried it back there on our rickety wheel barrow. When I think back to that day I can still feel my pounding heart.

And the bees I found when I unscrewed the switch plate in my parent’s living room. Oh Lord the bees. Vacuuming them out from across the room after a panic attack that lasted much longer than one should panic over a pile of dead, harmless bees.

I think there might be something wrong with me.