Reflection: who are we blogging for?

While this is not any special anniversary of my blog, I’ve written enough that I feel like it’s time to look back and reflect. Scott Adams says he blogs as writing practice.  I’ve been doing that too: in fact I’ve already moved from the “blogging as practicing writing the novel” stage to the “blogging as procrastinating writing the novel” stage. I also like Demiannee’s list of what blogging has taught her

Continue reading Reflection: who are we blogging for?

The Book is Launched!

Geocaching GPS, a short story anthology with my story, “Bobbing for Bob,” is now available at GeoWoodstock XIII! When the conference is over, it is also available at Amazon.com as a paperback and a Kindle edition.

Either my husband or I (or both) had been hoping to be there, but we’ve had a rough week. His father passed away on Wednesday and we are leaving for Germany tomorrow for the Memorial Service.

I’m looking forward to reading it when I get back. There are a total of 43 different stories, and a Forward by Bryan Roth, a co-founder of Geocaching. The stories are placed in different categories in the book: Romance, Adventure, Connection. A few pages, including the Forward, are already available online in the Kindle edition.

Although I think my story could have gone into any of the categories, it’s in “Stories of Adventure.” I wrote about diving for a cache named Bob in Hawaii, and in the process trying to overcome a kind of deep-seated fear that I have of diving into deep water. I didn’t make it all the way past that fear during the cache find. Although I did make it to the bottom of the buoy where the cache was attached, it was my husband who was ultimately able to make the find and bring the cache container to the surface.

But what made it a story of connection and romance too, in my opinion, is that tough things, difficult things like facing your fears of drowning, are best done together, with someone you love.

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A Cache with a Story

Geocachers in my area are likely, at one time or another, to end up in an institution. No, it’s not because geocaching drives them crazy (although you never know). It’s because of where the geocaches are hidden.

For example, there are a few caches on or near the grounds of McLean Hospital, a mental hospital which at different times was home to troubled artists including Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, and Anne Sexton. We spent more than one long afternoon looking for a cache there called “Cache, Interrupted” (whose name evokes the mental health memoir, Girl, Interrupted). It has since been archived. No longer the fearsome setting described in The Bell Jar, McLean Hospital has become a fully modern clinical care and research facility.

More recently my husband and I decided to take a walk to another cache in a meadow, this one called “Unmarked.” It is a little multicache in a cemetery. Someone had planted daffodils at one of the memorials, but most of the graves were unidentified.

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The sign said that this cemetery was for people who had lived at the Fernald Center. I had driven by the Fernald Center a number of times, but never known what it was. It turns out that the Fernald Center is another institution with a more troubled history. It was founded as a home for the “feeble-minded” and Walter Fernald, the superintendent, was a proponent of eugenics. According to wikipedia, in the mid-20th century, some of its residents were subjected to sterilization and radiation experiments. It reformed its practices in the late 20th century, and it closed for good only last year, in November 2014.

The placer of this cache asked us to remember the people who lived there, and those who worked there and cared for them. Their stories should not be forgotten.

Memorial Tree

Geocaching GPS: My First Publication That Isn’t a Scientific Paper

HalliesCacheNaNoSince November 2012, when I wrote the first draft of my novel, Hallie’s Cache, for NaNoWriMo, I’ve been interested in writing about geocaching. My husband, who has over 10,000 geocache finds, is also better at logging his finds on the official site, whereas I, with <10% of his total finds, always seem to have a significant backlog.

I’d like to think that’s because I want to write more about each cache find, as I find it. I want each cache to have a story. But I can’t write a story–good or otherwise–about finding 20 or 30 caches in a single day. I just get overwhelmed. After a day like that, I can’t even remember what I was looking for that morning, let alone last week. So, like a lot of people, sometimes I make a template of 1-2 sentences about my caching goals, or a little summary of where we went and what we did, and then I just copy and paste it into the logs for all the caches I found that day. It makes logging easier.

Easier, yes, but more fun, no.

So, to see what others do, I’ve started reading fiction based on geocaching. It’s still a small genre, small enough that First to Find has not yet been totally overused as a book title. Morgan C. Talbot’s “Caching Out” series is a fun set of cozy mysteries based on geocaching. I read the first volume in the series with my husband in the evenings. I found the descriptions of geocaching to be very accurate. Her caching names are great–just as, if not more, inventive than those belonging to people I’ve met caching.  The characters in this series are also well-drawn and memorable: two women in a not wholly unlikely friendship, different enough from each other to be interesting, not so different that the reader can’t identify with them. And, in the course of the novel, she explains how geocaching works very well, without talking down to or boring more experienced cachers.

We also found another mystery paperback in a geocache recently: To Cache a Predator by Michelle Weidenbenner. I admit that I have not read this one yet, and my husband took it on a plane trip to California, where he’s planning to leave it in another cache after he’s finished reading it. It’s interesting to me, though, that the author wrote this one during 2011’s NaNoWriMo. I’m not the only one who does this when faced with a blank screen to fill with 50,000 words.

The Geocaching Writing Contest from New Frontier Books
The Geocaching Writing Contest from New Frontier Books

It was actually on Morgan C Talbot’s Facebook page–which I liked a couple of years ago–that I found out about the geocaching story contest.  The contest asked for a personal story related to geocaching, about romance, adventure, or connection. It had to be 1000 words or less, and it had to be true.

There were all of 2 days left before the deadline, and I was scheduled to go to a training for teaching OWL the day the stories were due. I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it. But I thought it was worth a try, and I started writing that day, worked on it for a couple hours, thinking of what to write about. It wasn’t that hard to think of an idea. We’d been caching in Hawai’i last summer, and found a diving geocache called “Bob.” I found it with my husband, and we’d been bickering a bit before we found it. But the afternoon had, in fact, had a little something of everything that the editor asked for: romance (two lovers in an exotic locale), connection (husband and wife bickering but reconnecting in the process of finding the cache), and adventure (it’s diving and it’s in Hawai’i).

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Standing on the beach, ready to go for Bob.

But I was only about 2/3 done when I went to the training, and I had also arrived there late due to some teenage drama–all resolved, but still. After the evening session of training was over, we trainees went back to our rooms and settled in for the night. I ended up having a surprisingly passionate and somewhat prickly conversation with my assigned roommate, about music. I needed a break and I think she did too. So, I took out my laptop, and between 10:30 pm and midnight, finished the last third of the geocaching story. It seemed to end a bit abruptly, but I also know that I can be wordy at times without meaning to, and that I’m not always the best judge of when to stop writing. Regardless, it was exactly 1,000 words, and only a few minutes before midnight on deadline day.  I hit send and went to sleep.

It was more than another week before I found out that my story had been accepted. During that time I convinced myself that it was okay if it didn’t happen. I would still read the book even if my story wasn’t in it. Maybe there had been too much bickering at the beginning. Maybe it *had* ended too abruptly. Maybe my husband didn’t want to be in the story at all (even if he said he did). Maybe the title was dumb. Maybe she didn’t believe there really was a geocache in Hawai’i named Bob. But then I got the acceptance email. The book looks great! It will be launched at Geowoodstock, on May 23, 2015. I, the slow logger of caches, am now a published author! I can’t wait to read all the other stories too!

Diving for Bob
Diving for Bob

May Flowers

Flowers

“If April Showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?”
–“Pilgrims!”

My co-instructor told that joke last time we were teaching science to 5th graders. The kids appreciated it, or at least they humored us. I associate jokes like that with an age that I feel like I never quite left: the age before eye rolling and banter with quick-witted sarcasm. The age when clean puns are still funny.

I also associate May flowers with my mother. She taught me how to say “for-sithy-uh” and “pack-a-sandra” and “impatience.” My Mother’s Day gift to her growing up was usually a flowering plant, but that was for her, not me. To my mind back then, it was only ladies of a certain age who belonged to garden clubs and spent a lot of time and effort and thought on something that didn’t really seem worth it. Vegetables, maybe–I mean, at least you can eat those. But flowers? They smelled, they made me sneeze. And even worse, people brought them inside, where they died and shriveled up and became creepy. Flowers for Algernon. A Rose for Emily. Thanks but no thanks.

I’ve been an on-and-off reader of Laura Vanderkam’s blog for years. As a business writer, she writes about managing time and money. Several years ago, she wrote a blog called “What does it mean to be frugal?” that resonated with me. In it, she describes moving into a new house, where the “landscaper had a great sense of the eastern Pennsylvania rainfall and seasons, because with no upkeep whatsoever, a series of flowers has bloomed in that yard from March until June. One sequence of flowers comes up, then when it dies, another takes its place” (italics mine). Ever since reading that blog, I realized: that’s the kind of yard, and those are the kind of flowers, I want. Flowers that stay outside and require no upkeep whatsoever, but that make your life better because of their beauty and harmony with the seasons.

BackyardBunny1Like Vanderkam’s house, our house had some landscaping done by the previous owner, but whether due to age or neglect, it was not blooming in an orderly series (or, sometimes, not blooming at all). Bushes got crushed or bent out of shape by snow during the winter. Perennials and bulbs got hidden by weeds or overgrown bushes. One year I ordered some plants from the Farmers’ Market. They were locally grown and supposed to be adapted to our New England environment. I planted them in the backyard and then one night they just disappeared–a critter’s meal. A big tree branch crushed a flowering rhododendron during a windstorm. My husband also managed to mow down a rose bush with the lawn mower. And on top of all that, our yard is mostly shady. It gets a little sun at certain times of day, in certain places. But tulips weren’t blooming, phlox died, and bunnies and squirrels continued to feast.

SnowSquirrelI decided I needed to lower my expectations. I was now myself a lady of a certain age, but unlike Mr. McGregor in a Beatrix Potter book, I wanted to co-exist with the bunnies, and with the squirrels, who have built at least 7 nests in the trees around our property, a few seen peeking above the roof when there are no leaves on the trees. And, like it or not, I needed to co-exist with the snow.

No upkeep? Well…

daffodils2013One thing I did was plant blooming perennials. First I planted daffodils, a free offer from the Breck’s catalog. Then I planted tulips (I bought those). Then I tried a couple of sorry-looking specimens from Home Depot, bought on sale at the end of their flowering season. One was called Dicentra spectabilis. At least that’s what I called it, “dicentra” for short. It had a lot of pretty leaves and it grew big and filled the space where I put it, only to die way back in the winter. There were also some ferns that grew along the garden border, from moss that I decided not to get rid of, because, at least it was green and didn’t have to be mowed. Hostas acted about the same as dicentra: started out small, but soon grew like gangbusters, without fertilizer and without watering. The daffodils and tulips, too. I didn’t water or fertilize them, and I didn’t cut them down for weeks, until the leaves themselves started to turn brown and shrivel up on their own.

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This year I had 11 tulips, which was 10 1/2 more than last year. (I’m calling the one that lasted for 24 hours before becoming bunny food 1/2). They get their sun, but only at certain times of the day. These almost looked like they were genetically engineered with some kind of fluorescent protein, but it’s just the way the sun hits them for about an hour.

RosebushJarThe rose bush that my husband accidentally mowed grew back, surprisingly, and yielded many pretty red roses. I made a few cuttings and put these under jars that someone else had discarded. This year I have 3 rose bushes instead of 1. We know that original rose bush is a survivor. We hope that its offspring are, too.

The daffodils have become my friends over the past several years. I see their little green shoots poking through, and I know the snow is going to end eventually. My garden blooming felt like a symbol of hope two years ago, just after the trauma of the Boston Marathon Bombings and the manhunt less than a mile from here.

On Mother’s Day, my mother just got back from Holland and we were discussing tulips, and dicentra. Both are blooming this year, in kind of a sequence, without much upkeep. “What’s dicentra?” she asked. It’s apparently called “Bleeding Heart,” but I rather prefer the Latin. I don’t want a garden that’s bleeding. Mother’s Day this year was all about chocolate. And flowers in the garden.

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Cache In, Trash Out

TheFamCITOIt’s called “See-Toe” or CITO, for “Cache In, Trash Out.” In honor of Earth Day, geocachers organize events to help clean up local parks and rivers. This was the second time my family and I have participated in one of these events on the Charles River in Cambridge.

The day was a little nippy, so fortunately they provided gloves–and T-shirts (for layers). (You can also see that I’m about to become the shortest one in my family! I’ve known this day was coming for years . . . )

There were about 25 of us, each ready to take a big plastic bag along the river and put in whatever trash we could find. It was a long, tough winter, and one might expect that the melting of the snow would reveal–what?RiverBridge

Actually, the river, with its daffodils along the banks, tree buds just opening, and geese swimming, looks pretty good already. But if you look a little closer, you’ll always find something. I didn’t find a geocache. But I did find one leftover stake from a tent, maybe a park festival last year. Wrappers, cigarette and cigar butts, especially around the benches. These are definitely rarer, though, than they were a generation ago when I was a kid. So are bottle caps. And particular spots in the river seem to accumulate trash. A soccer ball. Something that looks like it might have been a buoy at one time, before it broke free and floated down here. You pick up the big stuff and think you’re done, but keep looking and there’s always more. Snickers bar wrappers. Dunkin’ Donuts. Styrofoam, lots of styrofoam. It actually does look like it’s breaking down at least a little bit. I wonder if its ingredients have gotten more biodegradable than in the past.

IMG_2404Most of the group, except these geese, leaves me behind as I work on my little spot. But the sun feels nice and I warm up. An old church hymn comes to mind as I’m working:

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?

I don’t know this at the time, but the next day, Sunday, we are going to sing this hymn in church. Some of my church friends are working on the same project, with another group, just downriver. Great minds think alike, I guess. Right now I feel like the lyrics have gotten a little ahead of us too. This river is gentle and tame, at least in this time and place. I usually imagine the Mississippi River when I hear this hymn, something great and wide and archetypal, a vision that might give hope to a person laboring under the yoke of disease, fear, or oppression. And there’s no getting around it: this hymn is about death, the imagery that of the Apocalypse. It’s what we all with our little trash bags and canvas gloves are working against.

This is what our whole group collected in about an hour and a half:

Trash Bags

When we are finished, the river looks much the way it did when we came, teeming with early spring life. I hope we’ve done enough.

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A Musical Weekend

Last weekend was a bit of a blur. I know as the spring comes on things really start to get busy. From now until the end of the school year, it just doesn’t let up.

And, this year I have tulips:

Tulips

Two years ago, I planted tulip bulbs, but last year the bunnies or the squirrels ate them all. This year they seem to be protected, hiding there in among the daffodils.

The arrival of the daffodils and tulips also signals the arrival of our church talent show and my orchestra’s Sponsors’ Concert. Usually those two are not on the same weekend, but this year they were: talent show, Saturday night, concert Sunday afternoon.

I’ve performed violin or viola solos for several years. Last year I played Ashokan Farewell with piano, which worked out nicely. Usually I try to get one or both kids to join me, but this has had mixed results. My son, a cellist, has been more willing to do it than my daughter, who plays the violin and bassoon. The first year he played “Simple Gifts.” Other times it has been his recital piece, or a carol at Christmas. Performance seems to be working a bit more as advertised for him than it ever did for my daughter (or for me as a child). This year we played “Entrance to the Queen of Sheba,” by Handel. I found the arrangement on a site called Free Gig Music, which I’d like to give a little shout-out to. This site has good arrangements of classical standards and old favorites, for many instrument combinations, and at an intermediate level appropriate for students and sight-readers.  I first used it last December when a septet from my orchestra was playing at a Winter Market for the holidays. I was playing viola with that group, and there was an awesome viola part to “Wachet Auf” as well as other nice Bach pieces appropriate to the season.

Invariably, a few hours before we go on, the feet start to get cold. “Do I really have to?” “I don’t want to.” “Maybe we should just stay home.” I recognize echoes of this in myself too. It gets better, I want to tell him. Sometimes I do tell him that. And when we play, neither of us is perfect (that piece, intermediate arrangement or no, has a lot of 16th notes!), but it’s fine. And it’s fun.

A few acts later the band comes on and plays a Stones medley, complete with dancing, and nobody remembers those few flubbed 16th notes or the missed shift (except maybe the person who played it). That’s one of the many beauties of a talent show.

Sponsors Concert Poster

The next day was something entirely different: the Philharmonic Society’s Sponsors’ Concert. This concert had an eclectic musical program: Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, our Young Artists’ Competition winner playing Stamitz viola concerto in D, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater with full chorale and orchestra. We perform this concert in honor of our sponsors, local businesses who donate to have ads included in a yearbook. Rushing home from church to eat lunch, we didn’t get much of a chance to bask in the show’s afterglow before heading to the warm-up.

The viola soloist was awesome from start to finish. We haven’t had a viola competition winner before now, while I’ve been in the orchestra. He played the Carl Stamitz viola concerto in D, the one in every violist’s repertoire (as opposed to the Anton Stamitz viola concerto in D that I learned a few years ago). I’ve been looking for a new solo piece to work on, and this might be it.

I had been a little concerned with how the Rossini was going to go. In the course of learning this piece I came to wonder why Rossini isn’t a more well-known composer. He is well known, of course, by classical music people, and fans of Looney Tunes cartoons can sing his overtures. But the Stabat Mater, an ambitious choral piece with many key changes, ostensibly about the suffering of Mary, Mother of Jesus, is something else. We had a quartet of awesome professional soloists to sing with us, and some folks from a Rossini society came to the concert. It seemed to me, and this impression was confirmed when I did a little reading about the piece, that the music is more secular than its subject matter. It is highly dramatic, has soaring melodies, is even witty and charming in places, as well as being grandiose.

The final fugue is great fun to play, and you really have to memorize the last page of music in order to keep up. The conductor wanted to take it really fast–and he did.

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We have a week off before starting rehearsals for POPS, and at least I need it!