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Dear Emily,

Greetings from Gulf Island National Seashore. We are camping along the sandy white shore with the sparkling gulf to our south and a foamy bay to our north. The days are a bit chilly but there’s plenty of sunshine so we are doing just fine. 

Here’s your postcard:

  
What we did not realize is that we were assigned a camping spot in the Cantubury Tales section of the park. We are not in the tent section of course, with the tiny walk in spots. Nor are we in the large RV area. Those Giants could swallow our vehicle whole, I suspect and then us get digested on their big screen TV’s. Ewwww.

Instead we are nestled happily amongst the misfit toys- some proper camping vans, a few tents, smaller trailers, and us. Our hammock swings freely between two live oak trees and the kids happily ride their bikes everywhere. 

Our next door neighbor is Charles. He is the sort of neighbor who you can’t help but be friendly toward. Warily and resignedly you exchange introductions, aiming for just the right amount of kindness, lest he spend all day hovering. 

Charles speaks with a slight delay and slur that makes me suspect brain damage though he has no problem recalling details. With bright blue eyes and a friendly smile he explains that he has been cycling for the past decade. Ryan is currently giving his bike a tune up, because well that’s the way he rolls. 

Last night Charles invited us to his evening fire. I intended to decline but as I walked to the bath house I noticed Charles was already gathering chairs, anticipating our arrival. Somewhere he had managed to procure three pallets to burn. 

Across the bay, as taps was being played at a naval base, I cooked our dinner, knowing we would end up at our neighbor’s fire. Less than an hour later, we were all assembled. Charles had also invited three neighbors from our section. 

Jackie Ray hales from Texas. With a friendly drawl we learn that he is a triplet, born 14 minutes after his nearly identical sisters. Their mom was 22 and thought she was carrying just her first baby; a single  baby. 

With white hair and a fisherman’s outfit, he pulls his birth certificate out of his vest. Who carries around his birth certificate, folded carefully in a plastic baggie? Well Jackie Ray does for one. I notice that he and my Dad share the exact same birth date. He shows me where they wrote “still born” on his official paper, then crossed it out and changed it to “live birth.” I wonder what that would do to a man’s psyche, walking around knowing you were an unexpected miracle. I ponder this as Jack pulls out a coin to show us. He found it while scuba diving with his metal detector off the coast of Honduras last fall. 

Charlotte and Lloyd have clearly been getting to know Jack and Charles because Carlotte chimes in with details when they are skipped over in stories. 

Tell about how the newspapers covered your life events through high school, Jack. 

Oh and Charles was the state photographer for Illinois back in the day. 

Charlotte just turned 80 so she has plenty of back in the day sort of days.  It would be difficult to tell her age by firelight. She wears her hair long and her gentle smiling face is accentuated by long deep wrinkles that make me suspect she’s been busy living these last 80 years. 

She and Lloyd met at Yellowstone National Park in the early 1980’s. Between the two of them they have children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren spread across the country. They just downsized from a bigger rig to a more medium sized motor home and retired from camp hosting. They both hold pilot liscenses though their flying days are over, so they say. They sold their home on land and are making good use of this home on wheels. Next week they’re visiting the New Orleans branch of their family but this week they’re doting on my kids. 

I have not seen Lloyd or Charlotte yet today. I suspect they’ll come outside when it’s a bit warmer. 

Jackie is off with his metal detector, participating in an officially sanctioned archeological dig. 

As trailers leave, Charles busily shovels their discarded ice into his cooler and collects wood. There will be a fire again tonight and I eagerly await the characters and stories we are sure to meet. 

  

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I’m trying not to dwell on the last letter not making it to you.

Maybe just maybe the winds will bring it back to one of us sometime.

For now, another try.

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Barely under a two month turn-around.

I shall try to get better at this.

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A sunny, mild afternoon.

I hide in the laundry room,

Reading in peace, not folding towels.

I have 22 thousand words written on my book.

The way I have things formatted, that’s about eighty pages, though a normal configuration has me at about fifty. Fifty pages in seven months. That doesn’t seem like enough to me, but then I look at my word count and try to remember twenty-two thousand words from zero is not nothing. The fact that I will go back over it in a year or so and cut out large swaths doesn’t matter. I have written a small novellette of words, and created four giant posters that outline my plot. I know what I want to write, and that is not nothing.

Nevertheless, today I am in a deep fog. I have found out how easy it is to have everyday roadblocks keep me from my work. The immediate tasks of my last seven years have not gone away, and though I have gotten better at scheduling them, it seems easy to get stuck sacrificing my writing time before many other things that are less important but more insistant. I would say at least one writing day per week gets eaten up with someone’s doctor’s appointment, or a school kid with lice, or HOLY HELL THE TAXES, RIGHT NOW, THE TAXES. There’s no boss over here in my in-law’s spare room, getting pissed off if I miss another day. I’m beginning to toy with the idea of trying to get some freelance work as a translator, just so that I would have more pressure to get my ass over here, sit down in front of my laptop, and get to typing. My own inner boss is too wussy to yell at me. She’s much too understanding of all the circumstances, all of which are unavoidable. Naturally.

The problem – and I think anyone who writes can back me up here – is that the more often you miss a day of writing, the less you feel like a writer. The last few weeks, Thay has been ill more ofen than she has been well. She has stress of her own: her next round of exams come mid-June, and that will take it out of you if you’re also working a part-time job on the side. In any case, lately I’ve only written about once a week, for just a few hours. By now, I sit down and look at the last few sentences I’ve written, and feel about as strongly about it as I would about lukewarm cauliflower soup.

My biggest struggle is with dialogue, but without communication between your characters, you’ve got nothing. I can write the hell out of the play of sunlight in the lacy boughs of a beech forest, but making people talk is still hell. Just three weeks ago, I created a new character that I love: Stavros the gorgeous, gay Greek. I made him talk immediately, and now, when I look back at his conversation with my main character, it’s all, dear LORD, why did I make him GREEK? How the hell does one do GREEK dialect? And for the love of Pete, could I make him any more flaming? I am not writing for ‘Will and Grace’ here. I made him sound like ‘rote gay guy Nr. 3, the especially flamboyant one.’ NUANCE, Emily. Being gay doesn’t mean you have to have “theatrical hands” and talk incessantly. OY to the nth.

The cursor blinked at me for thirty minutes today. My fingers itched to fly over the keyboard and write paragraph after paragraph, but all I could manage was to pick at the keys like a chicken searching in the dust. That’s pretty much why I am here, after such a long hiatus. It’s not that I have anything of particular merit to write – I just wanted that feeling. I wanted the keyboard to make that satisfying sound again, without all the fretting and deleting and rewriting and deleting again. In a nutshell, I’m using you to give my fingers a workout, Linnea. Fascinating stuff, I know.

I know I’ll get back to the thrill. I always do. When I wrote about my main character getting attacked, my heart hammered and my ears got all hot. I just needed to come here, rattle it out of my fingertips, and remind myself of that moment.

Hey. Thanks for listening.

We Are…

Playing outdoors, trying to soak up as much of the non-rainy bits as we can before it gets much colder.

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Harvesting the last bits of frost-sensitive plants.

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Attempting to integrate this gorgeous hen into our less than friendly flock.

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Observing around us the contrast that is Autumn. Cold nights with darkness coming early, sunny afternoons with brilliantly bright leaves. Bike rides and playgrounds, cozy inside corners and library visits. Cooking with wholesome garden goodness and the onslaught of a Halloween sugar. Hours spent deep in play and others working out math concepts. Making rooted winter plans and dreaming up ways to travel. (Not that we have ever needed reasons!)

Life is full and good. The days continue on as we settle into their patterns.

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plum lucky

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Sunny skies + drawing notebooks + a big bowl of popcorn + a bunch of audio books and we are on our way !

This time it’s two drivers and two kids in a roomy car. We are headed to a wedding in Philly (friend reunion!) with special sister/aunt time and a brief fall color tour /camping time in New York.
(You know Autumn in New York…)

My brother asked J&A what they are most excited about: visiting the zoo? Seeing friends? Favorite parks? Restaurants? Camping?

Immediately Amelia shouted: a whole week with MY Papa. And Jack agreed excitedly. :::heart:melt:::

You will also be glad to know that I managed to finish taking care of the more than 2 bushel of plums we got in Northport. I canned jam and straight plums (for us & grandparents) plus Chinese plum sauce & ketchup. I gave a bunch away, we are (too ) many, made plum cakes, muffins, fruit leather, and of course, a large vat of Japanese boozy plums. Finally, I pitted and froze the last three gallons and called it good. Phew!

I have six canning jars left to my name, a filthy stove top, a sticky floor, and two nice blisters of pride.

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Ry seems relieved to see the bottom of the last basket (he can make coffee in peace again).

Ry: strawberries, blueberries, cucumbers, peaches, plums…all done preserving?
Me: you bet. Well except apples are next… and I’ll pickle the rest of the peppers…plus kraut… Oh and we have a quarter of a cow coming so we I will have to do something with that…

But I tell you- come November, we’ll have a full larder and lots of ready meals for the winter. And then we’ll be done…until we make Swedish korv at holiday time.

Oh boy, I think we had better hurry up and invest in an extra freezer…

But that (and the stove) can be dealt with next week. For now it’s blue skies and open roads!