First Snow of 2018

Parts of Tennessee got its first snow of the year last week, but we weren’t that lucky. Yesterday, however, we scored a few inches (yay!) and it’s cold enough today that the accumulation lingered.

Northerners will look at these piddly flakes and roll their eyes, but Southerners have a different experience with winter. Snow is rare and, therefore, magical. It has the power to shut down entire cities with one threat.

This morning it was still spitting, so I grabbed my camera and went for a short walk to visit our neighbors.

I love when they see me coming. My voice and figure are recognizable to them now, so once I’ve called their names, they come to the fence line to greet me and to see if I’ve brought them treats.

He smells apples!

We still do school work on snow days, which is the only way to stay on track. It isn’t without complaint and struggle, but we are always glad to reach the end of the school year and not have to extend our calendar. We can be done when it’s time to be done.

For now, the boys have finished their work (and gnashing of teeth), so they are outside sledding and expelling their energy. The temperatures will be in the 40s by Friday and the upper-50s by the weekend, so this first wash of snow will be short-lived.

By the look of the blog of late, it seems as though all I’ve done in 2018 is read. [That is partly true.] I am swimming in freelance work, so I’ve had to save my words for other things. Co-op classes are back in session, so that’s also taking a bit of my time. Fortunately, I’m keeping the promise I made to myself last year – saying yes to what I want to do and saying no to what I don’t. That is a freedom I dreamt about in my 20s and early 30s. As I approach 40, it’s old hat. It’s the norm. I love it.

Signs of Life Day Nine

Today was a good day. My classes went smoothly, I had coffee with a sweet friend, and Chuck and I stole time away for a lunch date. I didn’t even mind that yesterday it was 70 degrees and today it was 39. (Huh?) It was a good day with plenty of good things in it.

Then, on our way home from co-op, I got some troubling news. Nothing earth-shattering, nothing grandiose. Just troubling. As the boys chattered in the car about their day, I half-listened and half-wondered what this news might mean for me.

The sun was still shining after dinner was done and I contemplated going for a walk. It would give me time to think and settle my mind. It would make me feel less guilty about the Chick-Fil-A I’d just eaten.

Then I realized I had not visited the horses in more than a week, and suddenly that seemed like the best use of my time. 

I’ve already introduced these lovelies to you and explained the impact they’ve had on me, so I won’t go on about them again. Instead, I’ll just say that they bring me joy, even though they aren’t mine and I have no clue how to care for them. Looking across the street and seeing them there in the pasture is enough.

Someone likes the attention.

And I don’t mind giving it to him. 

No problems have been solved. Nothing has been erased. All the stuff that existed before the horses exists after the horses.

Yet, I feel a little lighter, a little happier. For that, I am grateful.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Our New Neighbors

When we bought our house in 2012, the plot of land across the street from our neighborhood was empty. It’s been empty for the last four years. Several months ago we saw a For Sale sign pop up on the land and immediately started speculating who might buy it and what might they do with the 6+ acres.

Two days ago we got our answer.

New neighbors

You guys. YOU GUYS. If you don’t know how significant this is for me, then you need to read these blog posts: First and Second.

I’m trying not to be the person who reads everything as a sign. I’m really trying.

But seriously.

SERIOUSLY.

Today we met the people who will eventually be building a house on the property, but in the meantime they’re letting their three beauties get used the plot and graze on the freshly razed land.  We swapped phone numbers and I told the owner that I’d be happy to keep an eye on the horses while they are away. I don’t know beans about the care and keeping of horses, but I’m happy to learn.

So yeah. We have the most beautiful new neighbors, and I can’t hardly believe it.

Diary of a Retreatant: The Horses

*This is the fifth post about my experience at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky, on July 22-24. Links to the first four posts are below.

Diary of a Retreatant: Showing Up
Diary of a Retreatant: Hike to the Statues
Diary of a Retreatant: Saturday Morning Sunrise
Diary of a Retreatant: Father Carlos

This one is long.

After lunch on Saturday, Annette and I walked over to the visitor’s center and gift shop to poke around and get some sunshine our faces. We talked a bit, which felt nice, and afterward parted ways again. I went back to the library and wrote until 4:30 p.m., until my rear end was sore and I was tired of being indoors.

At first I thought I’d go for a run, but then the thought of wearing my running shorts (emphasis on short) made me feel insecure, like there would be just too much leg showing around so much modesty. Instead I went for a quick walk in what I was wearing.

I have no pictures from this walk because I took nothing with me. The woods across from the Abbey are vast with lots of overgrown foliage, and the paths are minimally maintained. About 15 minutes into the walk, I felt vulnerable to all the things I could not see, and thought, “No, this isn’t wise,” so I turned around and went back. I showered, went to Vespers at 5:30, then supper at 6 p.m. – Kielbasa, sauerkraut, broccoli and cheese soup, salad, fruit.

That night, Annette and I sat in the talking dining room. We swapped stories about what we’d done that day and I told her all about Father Carlos. We laughed and joked, which felt so good after being quiet for two days.

A funny thing though – after we were done, I was ready to go back to the silence. I missed it. I wanted to return to my purpose of being there, which was to finish my book. So I grabbed my laptop again and went back to the library until the WIFI turned off at 9:30.

Again, back in bed for the night, I couldn’t rest. What a cruel reality it was to learn that peace of mind is not something that can be absorbed simply be breathing in the same air as people who possess it. I felt calm, yes, but not at peace. As soon as the lights were off, I sorted through all the conflicting emotions of my writing career – 22 years in journalism, 0 years as a published author. It matters, it doesn’t matter. Write for myself, write for the literary agent. I know what’s true: I should write for myself. But what am I to do with the dream of being published? Why have these stories come to me if I’m to do nothing with them? 

Somewhere in between these thoughts, I fell asleep.

Lauds was at 6:45 a.m., then breakfast at 7:15. Oatmeal again. Back in my room, I considered going back to sleep. You could do it, I challenged myself. You can go right back to sleep. You have all day to write.

So I laid down. Immediately I poured over the last chapter in my mind, knowing I had just a little way to go until I could be completely done with the first draft. I thought of a specific character, and suddenly realized, She has more to say.

I jumped out of bed, grabbed my laptop, and went back to the library.

At 10 a.m., Sunday, July 24, I sat at a table in the library, Annette just a few chairs away, and I typed the last sentence. I finished. It was done. Editing was next, but still.

The second novel was done.

My body vibrated as I sat there, eyes darting around the room. Here I am in a silent library, in a silent retreat center, in a silent monastery, and all I want to do is scream.

I quickly ran back to my room and pulled out my cell phone, breaking a rule I’d made for myself. I texted Chuck that I’d finished the book but could not scream – obviously! – so, here you go “AAHHHHHHHHH!”

He replied that it was exciting, but it wasn’t the same as hearing his voice, as hearing my voice tell his voice that I’d reached my goal.

I laid down on the bed, nerve endings on fire, fidgeting. Mass was at 10:20. I could go, but I could also meet God in the woods. I could take my camera (and my phone for safety) and I could burn my energy there. So that’s what I did.

Butterfly

Butterfly2

Frederics Lake

Spider haven

I walked and smiled and took photos. I glanced at the map here and there so I knew whereabouts I was. I felt glorious, free, like I could run a marathon. Silently, I thanked God, I thanked Him over and over again for the weekend. I thought about my characters and how flawed and lovely they all were. I thanked God again.

And then, around the bend, out of nowhere, I saw the horses.

Horses by surprise

Friends, can we just take a moment here? There are no advertised horseback riding stables in Trappist, or New Haven, the closest city to the monastery. There is no horseback riding at the Abbey. There was no information at the retreat center about this being an option.

I DON’T KNOW WHERE THEY CAME FROM.

But then again, I did.

Did you know that I’ve been researching horses and competitive riding since the start of last year? Did you that I went to Franklin, Tennessee, in March 2015 to interview a farrier and spend time at a stable? Did you know that horses are a foundational part to the background of my book?

When I saw these horses and the strangers that were riding them, I knew they were there for me. I felt that they were there for me. 

My gift from God

As soon as they passed, I broke down and cried. There, in the middle of the woods, not 30 minutes after finishing the book, God saw fit to reach down into my tiny world and say, “I see you, and I love you.”

As silently as possible, I wept.

Sunshine through the trees

I kept walking but I no longer watched my direction. I took turns and curves and kept crying. HOW AM I THIS LOVED? I could not process it.

Mossy

An hour later, I was still walking through the woods. I was still in a state of euphoric gratitude that I could not manufacture on my own.

St. Enochs stone house

The Hermitage

I checked my phone – it was nearing noon. I’d been walking for nearly two hours. Lunch would be served at 12:30, and I was a pool of sweat. If I didn’t get back in time to eat, so be it. I still had protein bars.

The walk home

By 12:10, the Abbey came into view. We would be leaving in several hours, but in that moment, I could have stayed forever.

The Abbey from the road

 

 

A Sunday afternoon of horseback riding

Last week, on the first full day with my parents, we went horseback riding. As a family we’d only been once beforehand, and Jackson did not ride his own horse. This time around, we let him have a go at riding on his own and did a great job balancing on the saddle. (Balancing and coordination are not his best skill sets!) He kept tethered to the lead horse and did a great job all around.

Jackson and TAT

Of course my animal-loving son was loving every minute.

Jeremy and his horse

A horse’s eyelashes are the most beautiful:

Equine eyelashes

Look into my camera

Petting Jeremy's horse

Chuck on his horse

Walking in a line

Riding through the creek was the best:

Through the river

We rode for an hour, which was just enough for these inexperienced bodies. The weather was perfect and the horses were precious. Such a great way to start our vacation 

Horseback riding in Philly

NaNoWriMo 2015 update

Despite all the distractions, like Jackson swallowing the wire from his braces, National Novel Writing Month is going very well. I’m close to 20,000 words and have reached the point in the story where the scene shifts from one place to another, we jump in time a bit, and horses come finally into play. It’s time to draw upon my visit to Franklin in March and pick the brains of riders I know around here.

Jenny leading a horse

It would be misleading to say I like this story more than the first one, but I wager the writing is better. There are rules I’m following, bits of advice I’m following, and I’m careful to make each sentence as important as it needs to be. Though it will need editing for sure, I’m trying to write a story that has little fat to trim.

I’m also on my 50th book for the 50 Book Reading Challenge of 2015, and it’s no coincidence that the 50th book I’m reading is Big Magic by Liz Gilbert. Of course it is, and no, I didn’t plan it this way. Providence continues to weave its quirky web around my writing efforts and I’m thankful for it. Each night I read and each morning I write.

Fingers crossed. Everything forward.

Research trip to Franklin, Tennessee

During our drive home from Chicago after Thanksgiving, the idea for my second novel was born. I would be remiss if I didn’t credit Chuck with helping to plant those plot seeds. We talked at length about a potential plot and once the conversation ended everything exploded in my brain. Names, places, ideas. It all flowed. The characters started introducing themselves, just like the other ones did, and I started taking notes.

Curiously, there are horses in this story and I know beans about horses. Hence the research trip to Franklin.

Let me talk briefly about providence. Just as it happened with my first novel, Leona of Uncertain Origin, there have been a dozen little confirmations that I’m on the right track yet again. I refuse to call them coincidences because this thing I’m doing is too big for such an insignificant word. Be it conversations, landmarks, connections, or a hot air balloon floating over my hotel on Saturday night, there is something about this story that feels right and true. There is providence in this process and I don’t even feel crazy for saying it.

We have friends (who started out as relatives of friends) who live in Franklin and live the sort of life I needed to research. I went with this family to the stables on Saturday and met their trainer and farrier, both of whom indulged my questions and curiosities. Nothing was off limits, including the horses.

Curious creatures, horses are. They looked at me as if they wanted to be interviewed too, like they had something to say or a story to tell. I’m thankful for their candor, for it confirmed that their role in this second story is more than just background.

It will be a while before I start writing the actual content so for now I’m taking notes, learning the terminology, and making sure I know each character inside and out. There’s also more to research than horses, but I’ll save those details for another time. In between all of this, I’m still sending out query letters for Leona.

Speaking of query letters, as soon as I got to Franklin Friday afternoon I met with a published author to glean advice and gain perspective on this hugely vulnerable task of finding representation. She’s currently working on her fourth book, so it wasn’t lost on me that she could’ve spent her time doing something other than letting me cry on her lap. I soaked in every word she said, including her advice to press onward no matter what. She also offered critique on my query letter, something I didn’t expect but consider priceless. Like always, fingers crossed.

Before leaving Franklin on Sunday morning, I went for one last drive. I snapped photos and imagined scenes and took more notes. As I circled around to head for the interstate, I drove past a piece of property that looked just as I’d envisioned for the protagonist’s family. I quickly pulled over, flipped on the blinkers, and grabbed my camera. It was providence, tire swing and all.