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Life with My Heart in Two Places

Life with My Heart in Two Places

Life with my heart in two places was hard for many years. Writing fiction helps me cope, though my homesickness will remain as long as I live.

Life with my heart in two places began in 1978 when Hiram and I moved from the ice cream capitol of the world in Le Mars, Iowa to a remote part of South Dakota. I was homesick for paved roads, orderly green fields of corn and soybean, and living close to the library and stores. And my family. I really missed my family.

Not surprising since I was twenty-two and away from home from the first time.

The surprising bit began seven years later when we moved back to Iowa, and I became homesick for South Dakota. My homesickness continues to this day, even though my morning walks along the lake are filled with beautiful views. I snapped this picture and imagined what fall must be like in Harding County as the cottonwoods drop their leaves against a backdrop of rugged buttes and short grass prairie.

Life with my heart in two places won’t end as long as I’m on this earth.

Writing fiction is the perfect way to cope with homesickness. Every afternoon I sit in our Iowa living room, open my work in progress, which on this day is Hear Jane Sing!, and start writing. Immediately I’m in the town where we once lived, surrounded by the children and families I still love. I can smell the crisp, fall air and almost touch the stars hanging low in a sky untouched by light pollution. When it’s time to fix supper, I return to Iowa where a trip to the grocery store for missing ingredients takes ten minutes or less.

So far as life with my heart in two places goes, this is the best of both worlds.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

When in a Pinch Write about Pie

When in a Pinch Write about Pie

When in a pinch write about pie. That’s my best authorly advice for wannabe writers when unusual life events blast their routines to smithereens.

A plethora of unusual life events also explains why this post features pie instead of an update about See Jane Run! Here’s what made the short list

  1. The Iowa derecho. It did a number on our yard. Everything but the giant cottonwood in the east pasture has been cleaned up. The tree’s our late-summer-into-fall project that we’ll keep chipping away at.
  2. Grieving friends. A text came from friends during the weekend just passed about the unexpected and devastating loss of a family member. To preserve their privacy, I won’t go into details other than to say it wasn’t COVID-related. They’ve been texting updates, and each one leads to fresh tears.
  3. House construction. A crew arrived this past Monday before 7 AM. By noon they had constructed the forms for the foundation walls . At 5:30 they had emptied the contents of 4 cement trucks into the forms. Tuesday morning they were back at 6:30 AM to disassemble the forms. It was great entertainment for the whole family, but not conducive to writing. This modern process for building foundations is also not conducive for the hiding of dead bodies. I’ve rebranded the time lost to writing as research because it makes me feel better.

Okay, that’s enough of that. Let’s move on to pie. My recent Instagram post about taking a pie to neighbors who helped us out during the derecho was pretty popular on Instagram and Facebook. It came to mind when I didn’t have time or energy to blog about what I’d hoped to tell you about See Jane Run! this week.

A little voice in my head said when you’re in a pinch blog about pie because people love pie. So here’s what I have to tell you about pie.

  1. The crumb top apple pies I made, one for our neighbor and one for our family, were delicious.
  2. You can pulverize rolled oats into flour in the blender and use it instead of regular flour in the crumb topping to make gluten free apple crisp that’s almost as good as pie.
  3. To make the pie dairy free and soy free, replace butter with half Earth Balance vegan buttery sticks and half lard.
  4. Homemade pie crust made from Grandma Conrad’s Never Fail Pie Crust recipe is the absolute best. If you want to go vegan, you can use Crisco, but it’s not the same. Sorry about that.

Finally, here’s the connection between a post about pie to a cozy mystery blog. In one of the final chapters of See Jane Run!, Jane makes an apple pie and uses Grandma Conrad’s recipe for the crust. Because as Jane and I both know, it’s worth writing about when we’re in a pinch and when we’re not.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

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, Not-SoStarvingArtists.com.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.