Thursday, April 30, 2015

Quotation of the Day - April 30, 2015

I am a devotee of Martha Beck's words. If you paged through my journals from the past three years or so, you would find her words strewn throughout. Today's quote speaks to my novel writing and the new person I am becoming as I find joy and sweat and success in my running. How do her words speak to you?

"Quickening is an old-fashioned word that describes the moment when an expectant mother first feels her unborn child move inside her body. This is an apt metaphor for the moment desire becomes intention, because it captures the truth that although our wants come from within us, we aren't really in control of them. They have lives of their own, agendas that are largely unavailable to our conscious minds. All we can do is wait, wonder, and cherish the internal nudging that tells us something new and wonderful is preparing to be born."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How I Came to Write

It's 2:42 a.m. as I sit down to type. I've been awake for nearly an hour, and sleep does not seem to be settling back over me. Writing is my natural go-to in moments like this. I have a few things to say.

In the eighth grade, my sister and I spent a week with our grandparents. A huge pecan tree shaded their backyard. It had a curious, black-ish brown, gooey ring around it. I asked my grandparents what it was and they explained it was a chemical treatment to protect the tree from certain insects. With this explanation, a story took shape in my head. What formed was an earnest study of how this human act of protecting the tree (very noble) would have affected the insects that lived in and on the tree. Think Berlin Wall. It was 1988.

Some words made their way to a spiral notebook. I never finished the story. I had that notebook for years, and stumbled over the story, but it remained incomplete. Thirty odd years later, my sister is still asking for its completion. Oh how I wish I HAD finished then. I would love to read it now as an adult and get a glimpse of what that eighth grader thought and cared about. I suspect they are the same things as this 40-year-old who writes now.

My pursuit of the writing life happened in fits and starts. As I was making the big move from Kansas to Michigan at age 15, my beloved English teacher, Ms. Lynch gave me a journal and demanded that I write in it and not discard it as she had hers. I still have it and the 20 journals that followed.

I have handwritten letters from my kindred paternal grandmother that again and again encourage my writing and my love of words. I wrote a few poetry-esque pieces as Christmas gifts in college.

Recently, my dear friend T reconstructed where my writing life began from her vantage point. Three months later, I am still thinking about this revelation. I keep asking myself, how was it so clear to her?

I bumbled along for years being a journaler. I called myself an aspiring writer to a former colleague. She said at the time with her lovely British accent, "If you write, you're a writer." Those words absorbed into my psyche and hung out for a few more years. I sat in a patient exam room seven months pregnant writing in my journal capturing the details of the pregnant life and anticipating my life with this soon-to-be-born baby. My doctor was out of the office, so this check-up was with his partner. The doctor, a stranger, walked in the room and saw that I was writing. He asked me about it, and I'm pretty sure I said, "I'm a writer."

More time passed. More journals filled.

What cracks me up now is that during these years, I wrote professionally. I developed content for a trade magazine, ghost-wrote for a handful of association leaders, and performed other writing duties as directed. During all of this, I never described myself as a writer. My titles were PR Specialist, PR Manager, Communications Manager. Somehow in my mind it didn't count as writing. (I shake my head as I type this. Damn late blooming.)

Now I'm a mom, and I can see how much time I had that could have been spent writing pre-motherhood. I commit to starting a journal that I will capture the small moments, funny sayings and other minutia of my baby's life.

I began writing letters to the authors whose work moved me in some way. I knew that as a published author I would like to hear from readers who had an experience with my work, so I set my nerves aside and wrote handwritten notes. The habit was encouraged by the number of authors who wrote back. This practice landed me on a phone call with Laura Munson, a writer who facilitates writing retreats in Montana. I didn't go to her retreat at that time, but the conversation helped boost my confidence to enroll in the Washington University Summer Writers Institute. For two intensive weeks, I attended class three days a week and two weekend afternoons. In this class I discovered that I write as a way to metabolize the world-externally and internally. It was a revelation to uncover the truth that I will write regardless of whether I am published. There was liberation in that discovery. A few months later I started this blog. I wrote sporadically.

And then.

In the past year, the pull toward living a writer's life has grown stronger. I wrote an essay and submitted it to a New York blogger as a guest post. She posted it. My words garnered really powerful responses. (More on this later.)

I've found myself surrounded by friends who recognize my ability and my draw toward the written word. One friend read a few things I wrote and said, "Julie, there's a best-selling novel in there somewhere." At first I considered these words a bit of flattery and didn't take them seriously. And then other people said the same thing. I reconnected with another friend who said, "If I'm not mistaken, writers write. Are you writing every day?" No I wasn't. He challenged me to write a page a day. And so I did.

How do I squeeze this with mothering, full-time employment, and checking off the 4040 list? I watch virtually no television. My house isn't quite as tidy as I'd like it, but every morning my alarm nudges me out of sleep and to glow of my laptop before sunrise. I started this habit on December 30 and haven't missed a single day.

At my birthday lunch, I read a piece of nonfiction to my friends. When I came to the end, I said, "What do I do with this?" The same friend who insists there's a novel in me answered, "It's a character sketch for a novel." There was the damn word again.

A few days later, in exasperation with a work situation, I texted a storyline to page-a-day friend. He liked it and encouraged me to take a stab at a short story. As I sat at my desk, a character named Astrid introduced herself to me and took residence in my head.

Twenty-one days into my page-a-day habit, my friend said, "There's a revamp to this daily habit. Now you can only write Astrid's story." You should have seen the perma-grin on my face. It was an expression of terror mixed with exhilaration. That was three months ago. I have written 48,000 words toward my goal of 80,000.

Last week, I checked my messages and found a note from Laura Munson. She was responding to a message I had sent her about her book landing on my top 40 list. She had a slot just open up for her June retreat and invited me to come. We spoke on the phone yesterday, and I have committed to it this time. I know attending this retreat now will catapult me into new writing space. It's scary. It's out of my comfort zone. It's exactly what I need right now.

I have learned that while I alone write these words, I am not alone as I write. My writing life has been inspired and encouraged by so many thoughtful people.

I have created a Go Fund Me campaign to help offset the cost of the retreat. If you choose to support me, you will not regret it!

Thank you for reading my words. You will never know how much your readership and support mean to me.

P.S. It's now 3:59, and I'm still not sleepy. I'm going to get my page-a-day knocked out ahead of schedule.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Four Days and Counting

In four days, I will be running my first 5k. My nervousness has transformed into excitement. My only goal for this race is to finish without walking, which in January when I started training, seemed questionable. This is no longer the case. I am running nearly half an hour without stopping and without feeling like I might keel over. What a transformation in just a few short months!

In the course of my training, I have found a place I really love to run. The trail starts on a bridge across the Missouri River and then runs parallel to a state highway. I put my ear buds in, enjoy music with a good beat to help me set a steady cadence, and I soak in the surroundings until my ear bud whispers "You are half way." And then I turn around and head back the way I came.

Last night we packed Cadence's bike in the back of my Pathfinder and set out. It was really fun running with her. For the most part, she cycled ahead of me. She'd stop and look back to check on me. I felt compelled to wave and smile--my silent cues that I was doing well AND enjoying the hard work of training. I keep thinking that she's recording all of these things in her young psyche and I want to be a good example. I want her to remember that I trained joyfully. That I was optimistic. That I didn't see it as a chore.

We ran/cycled a minimum of two miles, and she managed the hills like a champ. I captured in my mind's eye the sight of her pedaling with those strong legs of hers. Her little pony tail blowing in the wind as it peeked out of her helmeted head. I love the moments when using a camera seems unnecessary. That picture of her cycling ahead of me will last a long time.

After my running was completed, we met up on the bridge for a selfie. She rode ahead and waited for me as I walked back to our car. She said enthusiastically, "Thanks for taking me on this great adventure." I am so grateful that this is how she views the things we do together.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

34. Take Cadence to the St. Louis Symphony - CHECK

Cadence read this book to me as we drove to Powell Symphony Hall for this afternoon's Force of Nature Family Concert. It was a long story and took a good chunk of the drive. It helped her get in the mood for the concert, and also counted toward her week's reading for her reading log at school. We were very productive!

She was immediately enamored by the symphony hall and said it was like the White House. (She's preparing to do research on the White House, so she's got grand things on her mind lately.) We walked through the lobby and discovered that there were instruments from each of the families of instruments for children to try. We made a quick preemptive visit to the ladies room, and on our way Cadence exclaimed, "This is the most exciting thing I've ever done!"

We made our rounds to each of the instruments. She was able to make sounds come from each of the instruments she tried. Her excitement was really contagious and I was so excited for her. This child is musical and I cannot wait to see what direction(s) she pursues musically.

After we explored the symphony hall and had a second try of the clarinet and violin, we made our way to our seats. She was getting antsy, so we used my phone's notes app for me to "interview" her for my blog. I would type a question and then she would answer it. This activity did a great job of keeping her engaged until the concert began.

I loved being surrounded by a really diverse group of people. The young men to our right were not speaking English. I don't know what African country is their home, but music was not foreign to them. The young man I sat next to just seemed to radiate joy for what we were hearing the entire concert. It was a fantastic, universal moment.

Cadence reached for my hand during the concert, which warmed my heart. I saw her yawn a few times, and I suspected she might drift off to sleep, but the music kept her attention the entire time.

I am moved so deeply by all music. I sat awestruck as I watched and listened to the symphony do their thing. I felt a happy ache in my chest for the sound and emotions those instruments collectively evoked for me.

Yesterday Cadence went to the Cardinals baseball game with her dad. Today she was at the symphony. And she loved both activities. I love how well-rounded a child she is becoming. Today's concert was the final family concert of the season, and when I asked her if she would be interested in attending another one, she said, "I'd like to attend them all."

Excerpt from my interview with Cadence:

What was your favorite instrument to try? Why?

I liked them all because it was fun learning how to use them and to play them.

Tell me about learning about the families of instruments in music class before the concert.

We learned how you need to move your lips. We also learned what each instrument goes to each family group. We listened to songs that had the family groups.

What do you think will be the best part of today's concert? Take a prediction. (This is the expression she uses when she wants an answer and I don't have a ready one. She's tenacious.)

I think I'll like all of it because I know all about it. I hope I will enjoy it a lot today.

Did you have a favorite piece of music from the concert?

I liked the part where we make a storm. But I also think that it is very very very hard. (The conductor led the audience through a storm with wind (rubbing hands together), raindrops (fingers snapping), heavy rain (patting laps), and thunder (stomping the floor.) It DID sound very cool!)

What would you like my readers to know about the concert?

To convince them to go there one day in their life.

Today's visit to the symphony really was magnificent and another beautiful memory was made to add to my 4040 collection. Here's to another item checked off the list.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Training Continues

My training runs and novel writing are hitting the rough patch at the same time.

In both cases, I am past the midpoint. In preparing for the 5k, I have eight more practice runs. In writing, I hit the 40,000 word mark on the same day as my hardest run yet. 20 minutes without walking. This was a leap forward from the last training run. In my novel, I have identified my ending, which is a milestone. Now I have fewer than 40,000 words to fill in the blanks. As I mentioned earlier, my character becomes a mechanic.

I have put off writing about her transformation under the hood for about as long as I can. Now I have to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. I'm remembering what my friend said about running, "This fear is in your head." He was right. I told myself I had no other option but to run without stopping, so I ran. It was slow and probably not too pretty. I ran slow anyway, did not walk, and finished victorious.

I am approaching the writing the way I did the twenty-minute run: I'm going to type words and then type some more. I'm going to remember that the rough draft can be rough and keep typing.

This post is for me. I need to remember these words, so that frustration and anxiety don't sink in. I've come too far in my running shoes and at my laptop for that nonsense. Any chance these words can help you over some hump? I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Where Art Imitates Life

Four days after my fortieth birthday I was on the drive home from work when my car started making a "I'm no longer working properly" noise. This noise then ushered in a harrowing five minutes where I lost acceleration IN RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC, and prayed my way lane-by-lane to the shoulder only able to go 20 miles per hour. It is a miracle I didn't cause an accident or get hit by a car in the process.

Once I was safely out of traffic, I called AAA and they dispatched a tow truck. I then called a friend who was available to pick me up, and she sat with me while we waited for the tow truck. The temperature outside added to the drama of this evening's vehicular calamity. Cold doesn't even begin to describe the temperature. My car was still running, but it generated no heat.

As I sat in my car waiting for my friend and the tow truck, I thought about how handy it would be if I knew something about cars and car repair. How convenient would it be if I could raise the hood of my car and diagnose the problem? These meanderings were an attempt to keep my mind off the finger-numbing cold.

No one wishes for car problems. I certainly didn't. And I was no fan of the $750 bill that followed.

What I really wasn't prepared for, though, was that on that night on the side of the road, a major piece of my novel materialized. My musings about understanding car repair morphed into determining that my main character, Astrid, would become a mechanic after a life-changing event.

Now the daunting task has begun: Julie must learn about cars and car repair, so that Astrid can become a mechanic. It's laughable. And empowering. I keep telling myself, "If I can write a novel, I can learn about cars."

And so...

One of my Brownie mom friends has a vast knowledge about cars and is going to be a consultant. She looked over the list of maintenance work that still needs to be done to my car and pointed out the things I can do myself (with her supervision). Air filter and spark plugs for starters.

This winter the rear struts that hold up my hatchback lost their effectiveness. Any time I opened the door, I'd reach in the back and immediate feel the door fall and rest on my backside. I hit my head a few times too.

With this new interest in learning about cars and my friend's insistence that car repair isn't as tricky as most people think, I decided that I would attempt to replace these parts myself.

What the first three months of being 40 have reinforced is the importance of asking for help when you need it. Maturity dictates that not asking for help is really quite dumb. So I asked a friend at church to take a look. He walked me through how to get the parts and how easy he thought it might be to accomplish it. He also recommended that I google how to replace them for some background.

I made a trip to Autozone and ordered the parts.

Lesson number one: Be specific when you need two of something. Do not assume you are buying two at the time of purchase.

Lesson number two: Inspiration and help in writing a novel will come at the most unexpected times.

When I returned the next day to pick up my parts, I discovered that I had ordered only one and that one was ready for pick up. Angela, the newly promoted store manager, assisted me in ordering the second one. It turns out that just as I had suspected the day before when I was ordering part number one, Angela has a story.

She grew up around cars at her grandfather's side. She didn't proceed to work on cars herself for 25 years because he believed that girls shouldn't work on them. She told me that she loves it. Her face lit up as she was telling me about it. I told her about my novel. How there's a scene that takes place in an Autozone. How I may become a familiar face needing to look around and get inspiration. She welcomed my questions.

Around this time, my long-awaited used copy of Auto Repair for Dummies by Deanna Sclar arrived. I need a handy reference, and this book seems to be written for me.

A few weeks later, I attempted to replace the struts. What you will see on my face in the photos captured by my daughter is CONSTERNATION.

I was getting nowhere. I was getting frustrated. I found a video online that showed that replacing these struts was a two person job, and warned about the pressure in these parts and the injury that can ensue.

Enter Maturity, Patience, and Common Sense. I decided to let go of the idea of doing it myself and ask for help.

Last night my parents came into town for my daughter's birthday, and I asked my dad, an engineer, to help.

He, unlike me, was able to make sense of the instructions. I watched him. And I learned. And the parts are replaced. And the door will no longer fall on top of me anymore.

I asked my Brownie mom friend, "So how am I going to know what to write about my character working on?"

"I'd say your character drives a 2006 Nissan Pathfinder. Whatever you do to your car, she can do to hers."

After last night's demonstration of replacing rear struts, it looks like Astrid has her first assignment.

Friday, April 10, 2015


Cadence Jewel at 8:

*Has a kind, helpful heart

*Is hilarious and loves to giggle

*Calls herself a tomboy but thinks the word should be tomgirl

*Loves being a Brownie Girl Scout and says she will be one forever

*Is looking forward to being in choir in third grade (the girl can SING)

*Loves her cousins L & J like they are her brothers

*Loves to read, but in spurts

*Takes tender care of her babies, Annie and Reagan

*Still uses the word "have" when "has" should be employed

*Does not want to give birth, but plans to adopt so I can still be a grandmother

*Has an eye for fashion

*Is a true STL Cardinals fan

*Loves going to car shows with her daddy and has specific tastes about the cars she likes

*Asks about the characters in my novel-in-progress regularly

*Is inquisitive and creative and loves to learn

*Can hammer a nail like a pro

*Loves to travel


I am one really, really blessed woman to shepherd this child through life and I cannot wait to see how she uses her life to bring joy and love to those around her. It is an honor and privilege to mother her.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


This time eight years ago I had an IV dripping Pitocin into my hand, and I was certain I was going to give my 85-year-old grandfather a birthday buddy.

It turns out that Vivian’s birth story (we had a code name before we revealed her real name) became a two-day event. Don’t worry. While delivering her into the world is quite a story, it’s not one I’m going to share here.

I just want to share some photos and reflect on the days that ushered in the beginning of my life as a mother.

The day before had been Easter and I opted not to go to church. I was so uncomfortable by this point that the thought of showering, dressing, singing, sitting through the service, and acknowledging that “No, she’s still not here,” and “Yes, I know I’m huge” just wore me out.

The pain of back labor took me by surprise. I sat up through the first twelve hours of unmedicated labor. I was determined to see how long I could go without an epidural. I was supported by family who took turns applying pressure to my back and he-he-hooing me through my breathing for HOURS.

Since this was my first labor, I took things in stride. I was present for the entire thing. I didn't look too far ahead. I just kept breathing and praying for more progress. The pain was searing and later became more than I could handle, but it also galvanized for me that I was strong and could endure a lot. That has been helpful to remember in the past eight years.

What stands out most to me is the determination of two particular friends to stay with me (and not always at my side - they spent hours on the floor of the waiting room reading and napping) until I brought Vivian safely into the world.

In order to keep both baby and me healthy, my doctor decided a c-section was the route to take after nearly 18 hours of labor and two hours of pushing. As they wheeled me out of my room and to the OR, my mom met me in the hallway. I was beyond exhausted and scared. I had never had surgery before.

My eyes started leaking and I said, "T and K have gone home, right?"

My mom smiled and shook her head. She said, "No, they're still here. They are waiting with us."

I cried more and whimpered, "I have the best friends."

Mom agreed, gave me a few words of encouragement, and then I was wheeled down the hall.

These women and others I love dearly have mentored me, loved me, laughed and cried with me through my mothering. I am a better mother because of their presence in my life. Today I celebrate the journey of motherhood. Tomorrow I will celebrate the young girl who made me a mother.

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Cause for Being Gentle

I woke with a start and realized that I hadn't done my four sun salutations yesterday.

I laid in bed soothing my disappointed self. It's okay, I kept repeating. This one day's lapse doesn't mean failure.

Yesterday was a full day. We had family in town. We were returning to work and school after a three-day weekend. I was preoccupied. Then I went to tennis and wore myself out. I read to my daughter, did a few things around the house, and went to bed. My mat time slipped off my radar. For the first time in three months.

I must admit I had to coax the gentleness out of myself because it didn't immediately come. There was some self-chastisement, some "what does this mean for checking off the list?"

And then the new, kinder Julie kicked in. These messages include: it's just one day. It's not a reflection of you or your dedication to your project. And with some time I believed myself.

I am still slightly out of breath because I just finished eight sun salutations to make up for yesterday's zero. I turned on Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto album and got lost in the music and the movement. I moved more quickly. At first I thought it was because I was trying to finish the extra ones more quickly. And then I felt a surge of energy. My legs were straight! My heels brushed the mat! My chatarangas remain strong! I love yoga!

Then I started day dreaming about the play list I would use as a yoga instructor. I heard myself say, I hope my class likes Coldplay. Gentleness returned and I finished my eight slightly out of breath and warmed from the inside out.

Yoga continues to be such a teacher and friend to me. I am grateful. Namaste.

Tennis Lessons - COMPLETE

Last night was my final tennis lesson, which means CHECK! Another item has come off the list! You can see my progress here.

By this fifth lesson, I felt at ease with the drills. I was the veteran of the "newbie" group of students. I recognized the look of overwhelm on the faces of the other women in my group. I reassured them that feeling awkward was part of the process and that all of the things we are learning would begin to feel more natural with time.

One of our drills was hitting the ball toward a target and aiming to knock it over. Last night I knocked the cone over for the first time! I have come a long way in five weeks. I am also aware of how I have just scratched the surface. There is so much to remember and to forget and to remember again.

It is said that adults forget how to play. I think about that a lot and look for ways to incorporate play in my every day life. I have felt a child-like sense of play and joy as I've taken lessons. I've worked hard at not taking myself too seriously. I have practiced relaxing and it has paid off.

I am taking a hiatus from tennis lessons. I must stay focused on the activities that have yet to be completed. I will definitely return to Steel Shop Tennis Club.

I continue to marvel at the way this bucket list is changing me. I never would have predicted that tennis would be a sport I would not only like but want to pursue after checking it off my list. My world is expanding. It feels so good.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Another month of Sun Salutations Complete

I have now completed another month of sun salutations, and this month brought a sense that my body really will transform by the end of the year. It's taken three months of daily yoga for me to feel that possibility.

I have had more days when my legs are nearly or completely straight than ever in this three-month-short practice. My heels have begun to hit the mat. That was an amazing thing to experience the first time.

The first summer I began practicing yoga four years ago, my heels were easily two-and-a-half inches from the mat. So the fact that on many days they brush the mat if not are firmly planted on the mat feels as amazing as the realization that my chatarangas are strong and consistently in proper form.

The 5k training runs, page-a-day novel writing, and daily yoga are all teaching me the same lessons:

1. A slow and steady approach really does make solid progress.

2. Looking just ahead of where you are right now is about as far out as is reasonable to look. I couldn't have gotten to 36,000 words of my novel if I was trying to do it 10,000 words at a time. However, in increments of 350-450 words a day, I have done just that.

What will I learn about life and my yoga practice in this new month of daily sun salutations?

PS: I love having Audrey joining me for this journey. Isn't she lovely in this photo?