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One of the authors on a writing web site I follow noted that she doesn’t believe in writer’s block. She says, we block because we don’t know what we want to say next.

Come the end of November, it will be two years since we killed Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine, a monthly publication we produced for a decade.  When we ended the magazine, we were at the peak of our readership, reaching nearly 40,000 readers monthly with 18,000 print copies circulated around central West Virginia. We never could print enough copies.

Of course, I had a monthly column in the magazine, a continuing conversation I had with readers for ten years.

And when the magazine ended, I lost that audience and lost that conversation. For two years following, I did not know what to say. Who would I be talking to?

Perhaps I was reluctant to admit we failed the magazine. We could not rustle up enough advertising revenue to keep it alive. Perhaps I didn’t want to admit that I felt trapped by the business–its monthly deadlines, the routine of it, the box I had put around myself as a writer and career woman. I knew, for the last two years of the publication, that the magazine I had once dreamed of creating was something I didn’t want any more. The simple country Iife I had toted and promoted for ten years was feeling restrictive, limiting, and too much of a struggle.

I had hoped to create a publication that readers would love, and we did. That was the fun part. Keeping it financially viable with advertising income in an economically depressed region was a huge pain in the ass. That was no fun at all.

I did not realize until we discontinued the magazine, how much of a burden it was on us. Nor did I realize, until the deed was done, how much I would miss our readers. How much, as a writer, I needed that audience. I needed that conversation. (One-sided as it was.)

I was recently interviewed by an artist working on a project that she waited 30 years to start. We talked about how Two-Lane Livin’ started (an idea in a bubble bath) and how it ended (with phone calls to this day from readers who miss it).  We talked about my graduate school writing experiences, and then she asked me, “What do you want to do with your writing now?”

And the question that’s been percolating in the back of my mind for two years finally answered: I’d like to have an audience again. Not facebook followers, not sporadic literary journals, not a book (although that’s coming). I don’t want to deal with writing as a business right now, I don’t want to scour submission guidelines, subject my work to an editor, consider marketing tactics, web site SEO, cover photos, paper stock, sales tax.

I just want to write and be read. I want to start that conversation again, between me and the world out there, whoever cares to participate. For a writer, what other goal is there but to write – and to be read?

I have been blogging off and on, for 16 years. The archives on this site alone go back to 2006. Sixteen years. Good lord. That goes back to before I was a newspaper reporter, before I was a columnist, before I was a magazine publisher, graduate student, college professor, librarian. Who knows what is in those archives? I don’t. Who knows what new will be added? What’s this blog about? I don’t know that yet either. The photos I’ve put in the page give a review of some of the main points of my recent life — porch sitting, caregiving, library life, creative play, pictures of Daisy, our beagle. This is my space for expression — I cannot predict what is to come.

Blogs, they say, should have a niche. They should use photos, SEO, keywords, hashtags, make regular entries, include external links — there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.  I may or may not adhere to those guidelines.  I’m an Amazon Affiliate and have a Google Adsense account, so I might put those in play at some point, but the point here is to put the words out there, and hope folks read it.

Blogs should allow commenting…  Yeah, that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to moderate comments or take crappy criticism from strangers. (I’ll post links to these entries on my facebook page and profile. You can comment there if you’d like.)

Since it already has nearly 400 subscribers, I’m also reviving my email newsletter. It was originally intended to be monthly, but I think seasonal/sporadic is a more realistic description.  Highlights folks might have missed. Favorite entries, work published elsewhere. You can sign up in the form in the right-hand column–I’m preparing the fall issue to send out some time next week. You can also sign up here.

So, here we go again–writing via the blogosphere. I hope you’ll join the conversation (one-sided as it may be).

Dear Pen Pal – I’m “On Break”

Dear Pen Pal,

I turned in my final portfolio for this semester yesterday – I’m sure you remember what that was like.  I sent if off around noon, and spent the rest of the day wondering What do I do with myself now?

Of course, the answers are obvious – everything I didn’t do while I was doing my homework.

So, yesterday afternoon I cleaned off the porches, and cleaned up the herb and flower beds. I’d like to mow one more time, but it’s not really necessary.

If you recall, I was freezing whole tomatoes from the garden as the season passed to process later – and later has come. They are thawing on the counter and I have jars in the sink water, the squeezo set up on the counter.

I also straightened the pantry, taking inventory of jars there. Looks like I’ll be making spaghetti sauce and/or chili sauce. There’s plenty of soup, salsa, sloppy joe sauce, juice, V8, pizza sauce.

I have an abundance of strawberry and watermelon preserves, rosemary and chocolate mint jellies. I keep thinking one winter I’ll teach myself to make tarts. If I don’t find some use for them, I’ll have them until the lids start rusting.

I’ve also gotten in my mind to sew me a new book bag for my next residency in January. The one you saw was measured to carry my lap top, which I did not carry so much after all. I’ve also realized there is a need for a pocket just to hold scarf, gloves, hat, etc when the temperatures drop to 4 below. Hopefully it will not be quite so cold again this year.

Canning, cleaning, sewing. All things that allow your mind to wander. I would be happy to not pick up a book at all for the next few weeks. I’ve heard again and again that writers should write every day. I try to be creative every day, but it may not always be through writing.

Of course, writing and publishing work still continues. We’re working on the December issue, our 100th issue and the Christmas issue. Magazine layout is like a big puzzle, and there are more pieces in the Christmas issue puzzle than normal. Also, more pieces and parts come in at the last minute, so there’s more pressure.

Planning work continues for the writing and creativity workshops we’re planning to launch next year. I hope to have a minimum of two next year, expanding to perhaps four different themes a year, depending on the response. I think I told you I have a poet friend working with me now – I value her input.

The garden may be finished, but our shiitake logs are producing well right now. They are so yummy when sauteed in sunflower oil and butter. We had intentions of selling the mushrooms, but like so many of the things we’ve learned to grow and produce, they’re so good we’re reluctant to part with any.

My teaching continues, as does yours I am sure. I cannot imagine carrying the load you currently are and I would not dare complain about mine knowing you are carrying three times as much. Won’t be long before Thanksgiving break, then finals.

I have not received a letter from you recently, but do hope to hear from you soon. I enjoy finding them in the mailbox, love the fact we’re keeping a lost tradition, letter writing, alive. Don’t worry, these online messages will never replace my snail-mail letters.

I was just thinking of you today, knowing you would understand this done with the semester burst of energy.

But now I’m off to deal with those thawed tomatoes, and to thread the needle on the sewing machine. And the sun has come out. I may mow the yard after all.

Real Writing Jobs! Click Here!

Garden, Schmarden

I just haven’t gotten the gardening bug yet. I had my seed order ready, and then a friend of mine brought me all of his seed catalogs. Even with all the extra options, I just haven’t been able to get my hopes up.

I thought browsing the new catalogs might do it. But no. I did redo my seed order, for better prices more than selection. I didn’t expand the list any — if anything, I trimmed it back. I just don’t have the garden dreams I had before.

Instead, I’ve been sewing. Frank spent a day cleaning out the hot beds while I sat at the sewing machine or the computer. Perhaps he thought it would inspire me.

It didn’t.

Oh, I still want to taste those home-grown tomatoes. Still want those days in the garden under the sun. I just don’t feel the excitement about it I did before. I feel disconnected from something that is (or once was) an integral part of our lives.

It’s a sobering lesson to lose all the work and investment in a garden and come up with nothing, like we did last year.

I find myself investing time and learning in other projects. Chickens, sewing, etc. Last year, by this time, in spite of an actual winter, I already had seeds started indoors. This year, I haven’t even placed my seed order yet, nor have I reviewed what seeds I have in our little seed bank. I’m just not there yet.

Perhaps when spring starts to show itself. Someone in the county reported hearing peepers the other night, and though I know they always freeze their little buns off at least once each year once I hear them, I hope that perhaps spring intends to arrive early this year — maybe that will get me going.

In the meantime, I’ve been sewing garden aprons. I thought perhaps a new garden apron would inspire me to get in the garden mindset. It didn’t. Instead, I ended up inspired to sew more aprons. I made 20 aprons in a weekend. At least I’ll have something to sell besides eggs at the spring farmer’s market…

 

The Peepers Always Freeze Twice

One of the biggest cues that winter is ending is the emergence of the Spring Peepers. When you have a lake in your back yard, sometimes they can be so loud they make it hard to fall asleep at night. Most folks, when they hear that first “peep,” they think that spring has sprung.

But I know — the peepers always freeze twice.

It’s been about a month since we heard the first peep around here, and two weeks ago, there was a spread of snow. Then, we had warm days with rain, hail, thunder — all a small taste of spring. I planted seeds, inside and out. The hens began laying again. Crocus bloomed, forsythia bloomed, daffodils bloomed.

But last night the peepers were silent, and this morning — there’s snow.

As much as I would like to think we’d be delivering the April issue along sunny roadways with the windows down, I realize that’s not the weather predicted for the upcoming week. And though the Vernal Equinox has passed, I know the loading docks at the printer in Parkersburg tomorrow will feel as windy and cold as pick up in January.

<sigh>

The new T-shirts I ordered for Frank and I to wear on delivery sport our logos and a new promotion arrived yesterday. Looks like they’ll be pulled on over thermal shirts and hidden beneath coats all week. Bummer.

The arrival of spring is a month filled with disappointments — because once we start seeing the signs, we have higher expectations of sunshine, warm breezes and open-toed shoes. But I have learned not to get my hopes too high, and to leave the electric blanket on the bed.

I may switch from snow boots to rubber boots for yard work, but I know to keep the wool socks handy.

I clip daffodil blossoms and forsythia branches, and bring them inside to put in water.

Because the peepers always freeze twice.

READING BETWEEN TWO LANES – My Hur Herald Column

Allow Me to Introduce Our Tomatoes

Seed catalogs begin to arrive shortly after Christmas, anticipation of what I like to call “the gardender’s Christmas” in February. One day, there in the mail is a small box, holding treasures inside. Little packets of life that, if cared for properly, will grow into creatures with characters all their own. Personally I prefer heirloom seeds, for many reasons, but not the slightest is that they have their own lineage, their own history, their own story.

First, returning from last year, is the Black Krim pole tomato. This is the species I discovered that helped me overcome my distrust of dark tomatoes, and is the secret to my wonderfully tangy catsup. This Russian heirloom originated in Krim, a Crimean town on the Black sea. I ordered more seeds this year, because I didn’t save enough over from last year. I ate too many of them.

A new addition this year is the Ace bush tomato. Originally introduced by the Campbell Soup Company in 1953, Ace is reputed to be an excellent canning tomato with nice red color and mild flavor.

Saved over from last year is the Red Oxheart tomato, a popular Italian variety grown since the 19th century. Oxheart are strawberry shaped, with very few seeds, so they are excellent for canning and sauces.

Of course, we also have the classic Brandywine tomato. Dating back to Amish Country near Philadelphia in 1889, these lovely dark pink fruits are a joy to see and taste even better. They are considered to be “the benchmark” for real tomato flavor. They are excellent sliced or stuffed.

Our Amana Orange is a yellow version of the Brandywine.

This year, we’ll be adding another classic, Roma tomato. Roma hails from Italy, where it is a standard paste and canning tomato. Romas produce up to 200 fruits per plant that are firm, meaty, with few seeds.

After discovering a love of dark tomatoes last year, this year I also purchased the Cherokee Purple tomato, which originated in Tennessee, rumored to have come from the Cherokees. It is said to have intense tomato taste and just the right level of sweetness.

We also saved several German Queen tomato seeds, which are supposed to be rare seeds. These meaty slicers performed very well for us last year, and were great sliced and on sandwiches.

We must have gotten some mislabeled seeds last year, because some of our plants turned out to be Zapotec Pleated tomatoes. This rare variety hails from the Zapotec of Southerb Mexico. The fruits are not smooth and round, but pleated, and made very nice salsa.

Of course, it’s way too early to plant any of these lovely seeds yet, but still I shake the packets imagining the bushels of tomatoes each one will produce. Alas, this early in the season, all we can do is look at the pictures on the front of the packets and dream of how good the contents will taste some day.

via READING BETWEEN TWO LANES – Notes From The World of Two-Lane Livin’.

Reading Between Two Lanes 9/9

As published today on The Hur Herald (www.hurherald.com)

Obviously, the weather hasn’t been so cooperative for the delivery of the February issue. Losing two days of delivery last week has put us a little behind. As much of our delivery route includes what the Department of Highways calls “Secondary Roads,” delivery is especially challenging in the winter. But, that’s Two-Lane Livin’, isn’t it? If your area hasn’t yet received their copies, and you simply can’t wait, you can check out this month’s articles online at   www.twolanelivin.com

No matter how inconvenient, I can’t deny the beauty of white winters. Daisy, our beagle, and I have enjoyed daily walks through the snow covered fields following rabbit tracks, and I enjoy watching the morning sun sparkle on the fresh fallen, freeze-dried flakes on the ground. I find immense joy in the fact that I can walk through my yard, along the paths, without worrying about mud. I have a new flock of friends at the birdfeeder. I’ve finished two books, knowing that such reading time is only possible because of the extreme weather outside.

Winter weather captivity allows time for reflection and regrouping, adjusting plans and goals, and when that extreme weather seems to just keeps coming, even allows time to put some plans into action. It also allows us time to be creative, or, better yet, just “be.” I completed an art project – one that I started last year in February, and never finished. I’ve redrafted my business goals, objectives and strategies, and created a new sub-section to our web site to help business owners understand the uses of print advertising. All things I never found time for before.

So often, in today’s world, everyone seems to be in “Go” mode. But when winter weather really lets us have it, we seem to have no choice but to at least take a pause or slow down. How often are adults given a day to fine tune their routine, catch up on their chores or, even take a nap? Like school children on their snow days, even adults get the opportunity to “play,” or at least get a break from their routine when winter weather gets extreme.

Still, I am glad to see they days growing longer, and relished in the unseasonable warm day of sunshine this past Sunday, knowing the mud appearing beneath the melting snow would be frozen again Monday morning. I truly wouldn’t mind such cold winters if the days weren’t so gray.

We’re only four weeks away from Daylight Savings Time, and as much as I try to appreciate this winter opportunity for hibernative activities, I count the days until the time change.

With the February issue in circulation, our staff and columnists are already thinking on those days of daylight, the Ides of March a month from now. The March issue is already filling with the light and warmth and rich smells of pending spring. So, enjoy these quiet days of winter. Enjoy the February issue of Two-Lane Livin’, knowing that within a few short weeks, the March issue will be at hand, and spring shall not be far behind. We’ll all be back into “go” mode then.

I Resolve To Give Up “Multi-Tasking”

I remember when the term “multi-tasking” emerged. America began celebrating the human ability to do more than one thing at a time. Talking on the phone while doing the dishes became “multi-tasking.” And then, it seems, the race was on to see who could do the MOST things at one time.

It seems that talking on the phone while doing dishes is fairly safe. However, talking on the phone while driving? Well — in many places, that’s against the law.

I am a “task-oriented” person. That means, when I’m into a task, I’m really into it. At that moment, there ARE no other tasks. But, the world now expects us ALL to multi-task, scoffing, “Can’t you do more than one thing at a time?”

The answer is this — for me and for all of you as well:

NOT IF YOU WANT ME TO GIVE IT MY UNDIVIDED ATTENTION.

NOT IF YOU WANT ME TO GIVE 100%.

Sure, there are things in life that don’t need 100% attention. Dishes, for example. It’s not like a dirty dish is going to jump out in front of you and bring that frantic scrubbing to a screeching halt.

Obviously, driving needs a high percentage of your attention. Sometimes, it’s easy to know what needs your focus, and sometimes it doesn’t.

You can’t “Be Here Now” if you’re multi-tasking. Then, you’re here and there, and there, and there — all at the same time. How can you truly enjoy life and your activities and do them well if you never stop juggling long enough to give 100%?

Sure, life can be simpler if you manage your tasks and do a little multi-tasking. But be careful. If you never give or receive 100%, constant multi-tasking could diminish the true quality of your life.

It’s okay to do only one thing at one time. That just means you’re giving it your all.