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Notebook Neurosis

Notebook Neurosis

Writers have their quirks, and Anne Fleck is here to confess hers...and reveal a few of her mother's, too.Today’s post comes from a fellow resident of our dusty gravel road. It’s a pleasure to turn the keyboard over to Anne Fleck who happens to be my daughter. Once you read what she has to say, you may see a family resemblance. And you’ll understand the significance of the yellow legal pad graphic, too.

Notebook Neurosis

I don’t usually think of myself as a neurotic writer. Disorganized, eccentric, prone to edit my work until the second coming of Christ, yes, but neurotic? Definitely not. I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and it was like reading a field guide to a foreign country: informative, but hardly familiar. When I sit down to write, there are not voices to ignore, no thoughts about success or failure or other people’s opinions. Just me, my pen, the page and the call of adventure.

The page is the fly in the ointment. When it comes to the physical paper I write on I am cagier than a zoo. I’m not alone. I seem to remember there being something about it in Bird by Bird. I’m not really that sure, I read it a while ago. In my own life my mother also displays a paper-related psychosis. She will only write her books on a yellow legal pad.

Clearly she’s a sick, sick woman. The very thought of it makes me shudder. That terrible yellow burning its way into my eyeballs, the red line a knife in the consciousness. The subtle horror of the lines–are they grey or blue? Blue–printed on yellow–looking grey? Or green? Let’s not even start on flipping the page up instead of over.

If there were nothing but yellow legal pads in the world I would write my novels on napkins and bed sheets before succumbing to their canary-colored tyranny. The correct thing to write on is a spiral bound, five subject notebook with a blue cardboard cover.

To read the rest of this article visit Anne’s blog,


When Your To Do List Doesn’t Get Too Done

When Your To Do List Doesn’t Get Too Done

What to do when the too do list doesn't get too done? The past week was an exercise in answering that question.Last week was one of those weeks. The kind where I looked at my goals on Sunday and thought, “Piece of cake. I can blaze through this list by Wednesday. Thursday at the latest. Just in time for company.”

Monday reinforced that forecast. I finished a week’s worth of Different Dream posts by noon and spent the afternoon revising See Jane Run! I didn’t get quite as far as I’d hoped, though I worked steadily, but it was only Monday. Not to worry.

Tuesday was when I remembered what I’d forgotten to put on the week’s to do list:

  • The 10:30 AM Tuesday appointment to look at a property.
  • CSA pick up at 4:00 PM the same day.
  • A stop at the Heartland AEA to drop off worksheets for an upcoming Educator’s Guide to PTSD class before visiting Mom on Wednesday.
  • Wednesday grocery stops after visiting Mom at Costco, Baker’s Pantry, and possibly Trader Joe’s if Costco didn’t have their amazing dairy free chocolate chips in stock. (They didn’t.)
  • A Friday afternoon date at the State Fair with our son and a friend.
  • Saturday lunch with the fam at Hickory Park to celebrate my 60th birthday. It was last month but this was when we could all get together.

At which point the mystery novel became the top priority, with peach pie and muffin baking close behind (because food is always high on my list), and cleaning the bathroom in third place. Only because it was getting too fuzzy to be ignored.

The next four days went like this:

  • Wednesday morning at the AEA, followed by being trounced by Mom at Uno, and grocery shopping at Costco, Baker’s Pantry, and Trader Joe’s.
  • Thursday morning working on novel revisions and the afternoon getting ready for and enjoying company.
  • Friday morning novel revisions and a sweltering afternoon at the State Fair.
  • Saturday morning muffin-making, lunch at Hickory Park, and final mystery revisions in the afternoon. Yes, they are done. Happy Dance, Happy Dance, Happy Dance!
  • Peach pie making before church on Sunday, and the new week’s goals already plumped up and in place because last week’s to do list didn’t get too done.

The new to do list? It’s a cinch. Because other than Connection Group, CSA pick up, and a party on Saturday (for which I volunteered to make three pies), absolutely nothing is going on around here this week. Nothing at all.



Exciting Times on Our Gravel Road

Exciting Times on Our Gravel Road

This summer's adventure has been our dive into multi-generational living. We're still figuring things out, but these four ideas have made a difference so far.The Summer of 2016 will go down in history as a most exciting one. The Man of Steel’s basement project, with its main components being large dirt piles, big holes, and large equipment, has been an ongoing source of wonder for our three young grandchildren. (The above action shot, the action being the dirt pouring out of the bucket, was highly appreciated by the 3 1/2-year-old.) The Wonderfully Made Family Camp (WMFC) at Hidden Acres, the trip to Latvia to be part of a special needs camp, and family camp in Idaho each had their own exciting elements.

But, as the summer winds down I have to say that our adventures in multi-generational living, which began on May 20 when our daughter, our son-in-law, and grandson moved into our upstairs, leave all others in the dust.* All in all, the transition has gone well. The fact that the upstairs consists of three large rooms and a full bath that is completely their space, makes the arrangement easier. But, we’ve learned, and are still learning, much about how to live together in shared spaces: the kitchen, the laundry room, the dining room, and sometimes the living room.

Over the next few months, the daughter and I will be sharing our perspectives about what has worked, what hasn’t, and how we’ve resolved what doesn’t. To start things off, here are four systems we’ve put in place that make multi-generational living much easier.

First, a command center is a must. Ours is a giant whiteboard in the kitchen. It’s a monthly calendar where everyone posts their work and travel schedules. Once that’s in place, we decide who’s going to cook each night and plan menus. We also record financial reminders about what’s owed for groceries and utilities and payment due to the daughter and son-in-law for projects we’ve hired them to complete. Honestly, without this system, we couldn’t function.

Second, compile grocery lists. This one took a couple months to get in place, mainly because I was gone so much it was hard to plan menus. We now have 2 lists, 1 for our local grocery store and 1 for Costco, Trader Joe’s and a Mennonite market where we purchase hard-to-find baking ingredients. Everyone knows where the grocery lists are and they are encouraged to add items that are running low or used up. We visit the local grocery store weekly. I make the Costco/Trader Joe’s/Mennonite market run about once a month, usually after a visit to Dorothy since those stores are 45 minutes from our Gravel Road, but only 20 minutes from her.

Third, get a joint credit card for groceries. This card is used only for what’s on the menu and each family pays half the bill. This simplifies finances immensely.

Fourth, only one joint meal is served per day. That meal is usually supper, though depending on schedules, it is sometimes lunch. The freezer, fridge, and pantry are stocked with breakfast items and everyone serves themselves. The same is true for lunch, at which leftovers are also fair game.

From my point of view, these four systems are life savers. We’ll see what the daughter has to say at a future date. It could be interesting!

*Please note: The use of this idiom was deliberate in light of the name of this blog.

Do you have a multi-generational living arrangement? How do you make it work? Leave a comment.



Absorbine Junior for a Fantastic Friday

Absorbine Junior for a Fantastic Friday

Absorbine Jr is more than horse or human liniment. It's also a bug repellent and a sexy and promising senior citizen perfume.Today’s post first appeared on Gravel Road in late June of 2013. But around here, gnat season is getting an early start. If you want to stay ahead of the bugs, this Fantastic Friday offers an easy and mighty fragrant way to do it.

Our shady neighborhood has been invaded by summertime’s unholy trinity: mosquitos, gnats, and deer flies. The invasion makes my morning walks a challenge and weeding the flowerbeds painful. If it wasn’t for a tip we learned when gnats crashed our daughter’s outdoor wedding reception 3 years ago, I would be a prisoner in my own home.

So what’s the tip?  Absorbine Junior.

Skeptical? So was I at first. But a little Absorbine Junior dabbed behind the ears, across the forehead, under the chin and across the back of the neck kept the nasty, naughty, gnatty wedding crashers away for a couple hours.

Still skeptical? Check out this story about Absorbine Jr.

The stinky stuff may have started as a horse liniment that graduated to human liniment. But that’s only one of it’s charms. I apply it to face, legs and arms every morning, and I feel like Moses parting the Gnat Sea during my morning walks. It’s not quite as effective when standing knee deep in weeds in a flowerbed, even when you’ve dabbed your shirty silly with the stuff, but it helps.

Don’t ask how I know this.

As you can imagine, muscle aches are a thing of the past, too. Of course, my aroma these days is akin to senior citizens on parade. But who cares? I’m going to be a senior citizen in a few years, and this is good practice. With a little cultivation, Hiram may think Eau de Absorbine’s kinda sexy.

Absorbine Junior. Don’t leave home without it.

Muffin Mysteries for a Fantastic Friday

Muffin Mysteries for a Fantastic Friday

When the biggest mystery in the house is muffins in the microwave, does it mean the residents of the house have memory problems?In the four years since this post first appeared on Down the Gravel Road, memory issues at the Philo house have only gotten worse. So much worse that this Fantastic Friday’s muffin mystery is one I don’t even remember. Which is why it’s worth solving a second time.

This morning, I was up bright and early. At 6:15 I left the house to walk, my back exercises, Bible study, and breakfast already completed. Ten minutes later, my phone rang.

By the time I fished it out of my pocket and untangled the iPod ear buds wrapped around it, and I inadvertently pressing several buttons, the caller gave up. The screen said it had been Hiram, so I tried to call back. But somehow I hit the mute button and had to hang up. Eventually he called back, and after explaining I really hadn’t hung up on him twice, he remembered why he called in the first place. Which is a miracle in itself, as the rest of the story proves.

“Did you put muffins in the microwave this morning?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered, and then added. “And I ate them. For breakfast.”

“Okay,” he said. “So these in the microwave are mine?”

I pondered the question for a moment.
I didn’t remember putting more muffins in the microwave.
But the older I get, the more I forget what I’ve really done.
The older I get, the more I confuse what I only considered doing with what I actually did. And the older I get, the more reality seems like a day dream and the more my day dreams feel like reality.

That’s when I realized Hiram and I have been married for a long time, and he’s rubbing off on me. As my internal dialogue confirms, though I have spent the last 35 years pulling him out of the anti-memory-time-and-space vortex where he lives, growing older is gradually sucking me into it with him. My days as household memory queen are numbered. Maybe even over already.

Hesitatingly, I answered. “I don’t think I would put a second set of muffins in the microwave. And my stomach feels full, so I ate mine.”

“Okay.” His voice remained cheerful and unperturbed. “They must be mine. I just don’t remember putting them there.”

I laughed. “We’re pathetic.”

He agreed, and we both hung up. I slipped the phone back in my pocket and felt something long and stringy wrap around it. I pulled the phone out again, along with a tangle of iPod ear buds.

Where in the world did those come from? I wondered. Then I stuffed them in my pocket and walked down the road cheerful and unperturbed.

Just like my husband.

Finding Beauty on this Fantastic Friday

Finding Beauty on this Fantastic Friday

After a frustrating week, I searched my memories for the days' hidden beauties and found them.The red buds are blooming in our neighbor’s ravine again. They are as achingly beautiful as they were at the end of April last year. Twelve months ago I wrote this post, and though I feel better than when this post appeared in April of 2015, the words written in it are as true on this Fantastic Friday as they were then.

Finding Beauty in a Not Very Easy Week

The week just past was not an easy one. Last Sunday, I was finally home for a good long while after months of speaking engagements and Grammy duties, with no book deadlines looming. Don’t get me wrong, all of the above are good–even great and blessed–events. But they were wearying, too, and I naively thought that the week would be devoted to creative activities that rejuvenate me…like finally getting back to poor, patient Jane and her languishing mystery novel. That didn’t happen.

Because I had forgotten that the first several days after being gone
are devoted to catching up on everything that piled up in your absence.
Grocery shopping.
Once those were taken care of,
it was  time to respond to people I’d told,
“Contact me a few days after I get back, and I’d be glad to help.”
All that took until Saturday.

Which left me as frustrated as the crazy, two week allergy elimination diet I began on Sunday has been leaving me hungry after every meal. (More on the diet tomorrow.) And I was tired. Bone tired. A wee bit out of shape. And whiny because the weather’s been rainy and cold for days. Something had to be done. So Sunday afternoon, I sat down and racked my memory for the beauty hidden in my not-too-easy week.

Once I started looking, beauty was everywhere,
in the cherry blossoms in our neighbors’ yard,
blossoms left untouched by a nip of frost.
in finding the exact watch Mom wanted to replace her old one at the first store visited.
on the heavenly red bud trees blooming in the ravine along our road.
in the forgiveness of our church Connection Group
when I totally forgot about the potluck we were hosting.

Most beautiful of all,
most heart-breakingly beautiful of all,
in the kindness of staff members interacting with a resident in Mom’s memory care unit,
as they encouraged him, though his mind is dimmed by disease, to play his trombone,
as they hummed the birthday tune to him until the notes brought back his memory,
and he played the tune straight through,
with vibrato
and rhythm
and perfect pitch.
In his fellow residents giving him a rousing round of applause,
and asking him to play it again…
and again…
and again.

A miracle.
A miracle of grace.
A miracle of beauty.
A miracle of unequaled beauty almost overlooked,
though hidden in plain sight,
and waiting eagerly to be found.

And to think,
I almost missed it.