This past week I have done a number of writerly things, none of which had anything to do with daily goals, word count, or any of that stuff.
In case you can’t see it up there on the featured image, I’m on day 104 of a geocaching streak. It started the last day of 2015, and this morning my husband and I biked to and found a cache around the corner that has a similar name to our teenage daughter.
Streaks are more his thing than mine, and I started doing this so that we’d have something to do together. We don’t always find the same cache every day: he is doing a puzzle cache streak (again, more his thing than mine) and I’m doing an “any old cache” streak. So, sometimes it’s a puzzle, but often it’s not. Continue reading The Streak: Day 104
I’ve been doing ok with my modest goals up to now. I wanted to do 30 hours of research and editing, an hour a day. I was ahead of schedule: I was losing myself in the story, following characters as they ran along streets and crossed bridges, bridges that look sturdy enough now to be still standing in the year 2074.
Now that I’ve been blogging for a while, I think it’s a good time to take stock and sort out what my goals are and what I want out of this blog. I am taking the Word Press Blogging U “Blogging 201” course for the next two weeks. The first assignment is to think about the following two questions and write down three concrete goals. Continue reading Blogging 201: Goals
A little over 4 years ago, our son, then 7 years old, hid a geocache. He was a fan of an online game called Wizard 101, and his character was named Blake Winterforge. He decided to make that game the theme of this geocache, which we hid at the end of winter, under a bridge in a local park, Beaver Brook Reservation. Recently the cache was reported missing, so we went out to see whether it needed to be repaired or replaced.
The hiding may have been a father-son-only bonding activity, though, because when we got there I had no memory of the place. We walked through tall grass beside a meadow to get to a bridge in the woods, under which, supposedly, a Fire Troll lives.The bridge connects parks in two different towns: Rock Meadow in Belmont and Beaver Brook in Waltham, and it lets you know when you’re leaving one and crossing into the other.
It turned out, though, my husband didn’t really remember the bridge either. He thought they may have entirely rebuilt it. That would explain the cache’s disappearance. We waited for some muggles to finish wading in the stream and replaced the container.
I have lots of pictures of Belmont in the other 3 seasons: fall, winter, and spring, but summer stumps me a bit. It may be because most of my summer pictures are taken on trips and are of other locales. In our shady yard, most of the flowers are either gone by now or not blooming yet, and the plants either die or get overgrown with weeds. Either way, they don’t seem picture-worthy anymore. It reminds me a bit of our house, which right now seems both inactive and overrun with clutter, as we prepare to pack it up and move out. The woods are an antidote to this feeling. Just let it be. Let nature do its thing.
I used to think that cleaning up and organizing was fun, but that was also when I thought I was good at it. Unfortunately, my illusions have been shattered: I don’t feel good at it anymore.
MY HOUSE IS SO FULL OF STUFF! Where did it all come from? It can’t all go to California with us.
Yesterday we had a yard sale. We sold a lot and made almost a thousand dollars. The biggest item we sold was the snowblower we bought in February during snowmageddon. We had survived for almost 12 years with a little electric one and shovels, but this last winter we broke down and bought a gas-powered one. We used it once. It was kind of cool: with a 208 cc engine of its own, it was a bit like a small car. It practically drove itself along the sidewalk. Now somebody else owns it, and is a little more prepared for whatever next winter is going to throw at us. Them, I mean. Throw at them. We won’t be here.
The saddest part of the experience for me is the toys, and it’s not over yet. We sold quite a few toys at the yard sale, but we still have piles of them in the house: board games on shelves, Legos in boxes, dolls missing heads. Planes, trains, and automobiles. And stuffed animals. Oh, the stuffed animals.
I bawled watching Toy Story 3. I was a kid like Andy, or perhaps even more like Bonnie: someone who played with toys, often by myself, and made them come alive in my imagination. I was also an introvert and a bookworm, sometimes more comfortable with toys than with other people. My dolls had a government, they lived in a couple of doll beds/cradles, and each doll bed had its own elected leader. Blonde Cinderella shed her rags and became Mary from the LIttle House books. She was accompanied by the shorter, brown-haired Brownie doll who lost her uniform and beanie to become Laura. They liked to drink tea a lot. I played my violin for them at night as we crossed the living room prairie.
I didn’t realize until much later that not all kids would be like that. Nowadays, with my kids ages 12 and almost 16, they would have outgrown most of their toys no matter what. But even when they were younger, they played with toys much less than I did. For a while I saw this as a bad thing, and blamed the internet and computer games, which they do like and spend a fair amount of time on. “Kids need to play!” intone all these articles, bemoaning a loss of childhood imaginative play. And there have been times when I, like the mother bunny in Good night iPad, have wanted to take all the electronics away, dump them out by the curb, and leave them there in a grand gesture of protest and change. “Good night pop stars, good night MacBook Air. Good night gadgets everywhere.”
I still agree broadly with those sentiments, but as I survey the leftovers and try to come up with a plan that will satisfy my need for decluttering, my Toy Story angst, and my desire to keep junk out of landfills, I think the story is a little more complicated. We did try to shield our kids from a lot of commercial TV, and perhaps as a result they didn’t spend a lot of time lobbying us for toys. Sometimes they couldn’t even say what they wanted for Christmas or their birthdays. I remember being a little frustrated about this, and buying stuff–toys that I thought were beautiful, or interesting, or educational–anyway in hopes that they would warm up to it. Occasionally they did, but often not. Now I have to get it out of the house.
This is about the time when I suspect that someone reading this blog is going to mention Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Maybe it will be on Facebook. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read reviews of it. The author’s main point seem to be that you keep only things that “spark joy.” While I find joy complicated and elusive even under the best of circumstances, I like the idea that you decide what to keep rather than deciding what to throw away. I also like her idea of thanking things for their service before you get rid of them. That makes the part of me happy that still thinks that toys have feelings. What I don’t like about her approach is that she seems not to care very much where the stuff goes when you get rid of it. The focus is all on the happiness of the person doing the discarding and not on the consequences of that discarding to the rest of the world. That bothers me.
So I realize that for a lot of this stuff, it would have been better to have not bought it in the first place. I bought many of the toys more for myself, and for my idea of what childhood should be like, rather than for my kids. I didn’t know, and I just assumed they’d be like me in their approach to toys. Maybe I should have listened better to them. In the intervening years I’ve heard much more about kids who don’t play with toys, kids who are overwhelmed by all the bells and whistles that modern toys have, why it’s better for kids to have fewer toys, and people of all ages who want to simplify by having less stuff. All of this is normal, and it doesn’t mean your kids are internet-addled automatons just because they don’t play with toys as intensely and imaginatively as Andy and Bonnie. In any case, it’s not too late for me to become a better listener and a better steward of the stuff we do have.
And if you want a gently used Sorry! board game or a Webkinz turtle or unicorn in good shape from a smoke-free, pet-free home, please let me know.
Since 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.
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).
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!
“If April Showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?”
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.
Like 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.
I 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…
One 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.
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.
The 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.
Recently my husband and I went on a geocaching trip to Washington, D.C. While I was there, I found my one-thousandth geocache. This got lost in the shuffle a bit, because the main event was my husband finding his ten-thousandth cache, and completing the Cache Across America series. That was the whole purpose of the trip, the reason we went. My husband ranks among the top ten geocachers in the state of Massachusetts.
The occasion made me think back to when we both started geocaching, back in late 2008. Back then it was just kind of a fun thing to do with the family, a way to get outside and see some local flora and fauna, and to hike with a purpose. We shared an account. And we helped our daughter’s Girl Scout Troop, Troop 71915, find and hide a cache of their own.
At the time he and I were more equal in our interest. I even sometimes found caches that he didn’t. I particularly remember one at an airport in Germany, where the rest of the family, following their geosense, were going to give up. But I followed the GPS, and, most importantly, looked at where we’d all been, unsuccessfully. And went a different way. I found it myself on the road less travelled.
In the intervening years, though, he’s gotten more serious about the hobby, and I’ve gotten less so. He started keeping statistics and lists, and completing challenges and goals. He didn’t let wasp stings, aliens, or his GPS ending up at the bottom of a river, deter him from these goals. But I did. For me, what had started out as fun became an unpleasant chore and a source of stress and even strife. I would occasionally tag along, grumbling, but then neglect to log my finds, deeming that a waste of time.
What I decided, on this trip, on the occasion of my thousandth geocaching find, was to try to change all that. I’d already given up anxiety for Lent, and decided I was going to shed this stress as well. Instead, I would embrace geocaching my way, without heavy-duty lists, challenges, goals, or stress. But what would be different this time? What would make the next thousand geocache finds better than the first?
I got the idea to blog from the last time I picked up a long-term project again after burning out. I re-started playing the violin several years ago as an adult, after not having played for a long time. It was hard to come back to it as an adult student, especially in an instrument learning culture that values an early start and has an obsession with prodigies. No cute little “Twinkler” on a fractional-sized instrument, I. But somehow, in writing about it, I was able to keep going, and enjoy the journey. Everywhere I looked, I found something new that helped me become a better violinist.
So that is my overarching goal for this blog: Geocaching as a metaphor for life. There are many ways to find what you seek. Just keep looking.