Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays

My father’s mother, my greatest inspiration, passed away on December 8th at age 91. So this season has been one of introspection and reflection for both Don and me. I’ve been thinking a lot about her life and what it was that made her so very special. She was definitely the hardest worker I have ever known, running a dairy farm with my grandfather, outside of Scranton, PA for over 50 years, and raising five boys. When times got hard, and with two of the boys headed off to college, she went to work at Bendix Aviation Plant, helping on the farm during the day, and then heading off to work the night shift at Bendix for 14 years. She only slept four hours a night during that time, but somehow she found the energy to do what had to be done. She always did.

But she also found time to play. She loved to dance and sing and play shuffleboard and pinochle. And Christmas was her very favorite time of the year. She was always a child at heart. The smallest of things gave her great pleasure, hand-picked wildflowers, a four-leaf clover. So many times I heard her say, “God has given us such a beautiful world,” and she would gaze out over the green of the fields, the majesty of the mountains, and say, “This is the most beautiful place in the world.” She didn’t understand the notion of travel as she was happiest on her porch with her beautiful view. It was this appreciation of place, of nature, and her love for family that made her so content. Though her life wasn’t an easy one, she accepted it as it was, and always kept her sense of humor. She loved to tell the story of when she was feeding the cows in the barn one evening with her youngest son, and one of the cows pulled her pants down. She was so mad, but the two of them got to laughing so hard they were crying.

At her funeral, my cousin read a list of lessons she had learned from my grandmother, beautiful lessons, the first being “Live life with an open heart.” This my grandmother always did, taking in many strays along the way, including me, when I was trying to find my way. I was living with her at the time when I met Don. And I remember her holding my face between her calloused hands when I said I thought I was in love. “Oh, Lisa,” she said. “I’m so happy for you.” I miss the feel of those hands, the warmth of her hugs, the encouragement she gave me, and her faith in me. But her spirit is still here. When I went out to make a snowman yesterday she was with me, laughing at the flower hat I put on its head, helping me find the right curved branch for its smile. She still reminds me to take time to nurture my inner child and to laugh through the tears, to appreciate what is in front of me each day. To be satisfied in the moment.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Today I did something that I've been putting off for awhile: I gathered up the volumes of notepads and notecards and journals and audio tapes that constitute my novel in the making, and packed them all away in a huge plastic tub upstairs. This does not mean that I've given up on getting my novel published--I just needed to clear the way for the new. I am now working on a short story cycle set here on the eastern shore of Maryland, and every new project takes complete concentration. I realized I was still bogged down in my novel (no pun intended, as the Jersey bogs are part of my novel). Just as we clear the flower fields this time of year to make way for the new, my mind, and shelves, are now clear of past clutter. Onward.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kitty in the Straw

It is that time of year to cover the flower beds, to put them to rest under a warm blanket of straw, which our black kitty Neil thinks is just for him. W call Neil "the butler" as he is always in the driveway, waiting to park your car, then greet you and give you the garden tour. He is also known as "walky talky," as he is our most vocal cat with a perfect "meeeeow."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fall Harvest

The flowers are at their most vibrant this time of year--the deep velvet purple of the salvias, the dark wine burgundy of the dahlias, the pink, phosphorescent glow of the celosias. . . Part of the magnificent symphony of color before winter closes in. I could never live where this rush of color was always upon me, somewhere like Fiji or Mauii--it would spoil me, maybe even desensitize me. . . I love the seasons where there are turns and rests, much like a good story that fires, then smolders, stirring our blood, then cooling it down. . .

Monday, October 5, 2009

Going Native

This is a lovely flower, native to the eastern shore of MD: Eupatorium perfoliatum, 'Boneset'. We are making a transition to cultivated natives here on our flower farm, not that we have never used native flowers before. When we first started out, ten years ago, I would send Don out to gather flowers in abandoned fields, or along the roadside (where he had to explain what he was doing to more than one local cop--but, sir, I'm just trying to get lucky this eve. . .). I love native wildflowers--I always have. I spent the morning of our wedding in PA (20 years ago), picking my bridal bouquet on my grandparents' dairy farm. I have always picked flowers. And now that I grow flowers it makes such good sense to grow what is natural to the area, what the soil likes, the good bugs like, flowers that flourish in these hot, humid summers, and live in a symbiotic relationship. It connects with my writing as well, as I am working on a short story cycle set here on the eastern shore. As I dig deeper, I am finding what it is that makes the people of this area unique and what it is about them that keeps them happy and hardy and living together in a peaceful, and sometimes, not so peaceful way. . . but the natives are still here, still thriving. . .

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Living Art

This is our garden truck that, you can see, hasn't been used in a while for gardening. When my husband brought it home many years ago, it was love at first sight for me. Look at that torquoise color! And such a big expressive face! What personality! And, now, in its ripe old age, it has become a veritable work of living Art--a lovely vine winding its way through the windows, over the roof and onto the back bed, an on-going creation that stands as a testament to time, transformation, and immortality.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Good news from an e-mail last week--a story of mine has been accepted by The Main Street Rag, a literary journal out of N. Carolina. You'd think I would've been elated, but it was met with mixed feelings at first, as I was just about ready to tear into the piece again, make it better. . . But then I realized, I had set it free; I had felt it was strong and good enough to go out into the world . . . It is no different, really, from the bouquets I make for the market every weekend-- I could fuss and fuss over them til the cows come home (which I learned spending summers on my grandparents' farm, may be never, til you chase them down). Comes a time you have to let your creations stand on their own. And if you've tried your best, someone will treasure them.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

latest treasure

You can see who's claimed my latest treasure--twenty-five bucks from an antique store here in Galena. It's not sturdy enough for most humans, but will do just fine for my felines. . .

Monday, August 24, 2009


This is a month I've gradually come to love here on the eastern shore of MD. It is so thick with heat, so teeming with life that one is forced to slow down, to listen. When the nights finally cool down at the end of this month, and the windows can be opened, there is nothing so amazing as the symphony of bugs in the evening. They give everything they have, and I am reminded of the orchestra that kept playing as the Titanic went down. These bugs sing knowing it will be their last summer, that the chill of fall will soon silence them. But oh how they sing. From the heart. From every sinew. A harmony no human band will ever attain. So loud and boisterous some city dwellers complain when they come to visit. But that is because they aren't really listening. Give it a few days and they are lulled by the spell. They take that deep breath and give in.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Guests

I am Ben Ames, Aunt Lisa’s nephew. The boy on the left is me. I am 10 years old. I live in Catonsville, Maryland, near Baltimore. Aunt Lisa is inviting me and my two sisters, Ella (7), and Josie (4), over to her flower farm. My mom, Nicki Ames, is my Aunt Lisa’s sister, and so we get to sleepover at her house for a few days in August. We’re going to be here for three nights, and so we always do all kinds of crazy things. On Saturday, our parents dropped us off at the Chestertown Market where Uncle Don was, and then we went with Aunt Lisa to Betterton Beach and swam in the water. The algae levels are too high and the water has a lot of bacteria in it. Anyway, later that evening, we ate at the Sassafras Grill. The food is wonderful there. Today, Sunday to be exact, we went to Rolph’s Wharf and swam in the Chester River. They also have a pool to swim in, and we got to swim in there. Tomorrow, we’re planning on going to the Sassafras River and canoeing on the river. Were going to swim in the water also, and have a picnic. On Tuesday, our Nani and Papa are coming to pick us up. BYE.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Look closely to see that amazing colorful worm attached to the fennel. I wear my reading glasses now when I harvest, the bugs so closely mirroring the flowers, holding on for dear life. It's what we see when we look closely that is so amazing, that takes our breath away. So much missed in this precious life as we rush through our days. I remember a writing mentor at VT College once said to me, that it is a mistaken belief that nothing is lost on a writer--as if we walk around filling our minds with everything that comes into view. That isn't the case at all: it is that one miraculous thing that comes into focus, that alights our imaginative fire.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ordinary Point

Ordinary Point

She was a typical young
girl, it said in the paper,
who loved music and
dancing, but her love
for the Lord was
unusual for someone
her age, a wake
tossing her body
from a power boat
into the river where
my husband and I
now sail.

Surely, then, she is
in heaven, with her Savior;
surely, then, we have
no right to grieve.

But it is hard not to notice
the heavier cadence in the
movement of the river,
blues tinted more by grey,
and the sun making its
final splash, leaving us
in the dark.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Gathering

Last week I attended The Gathering literary conference in La Plume, PA. It was an amazing four days of lectures, workshops, wine receptions and delicous food. I met wonderful people and was inspired, humbled and awed by the talks of Greg Maguire (author of Wicked); poet Nancy Willard; Loung Ung, who wrote the memoir First They Killed My Father, from a chilling five-year-old perspective of her early life in Cambodia; and the great Sir Salman Rushdie, who has received almost every major literary award as a writer, and who had to live in hiding for ten years during which there was a death sentence placed on him by the Ayatolah Khomeini. It has been almost eleven years since the lifting of the fatwa, and he would rather put that period of his life behind him, but people still question him about that time, and his book, The Satanic Verses, that created much ado about, really, nothing (the passage that caused the uproar was merely a dream sequence meant, Rushdie said, more for humor. It suggested the prophet Mohammed once prayed to a mystical bird goddess), and his publishers would love for him to write a memoir. But as he said, he didn't become a writer to write about himself. For him, writing is as much about social change as it is invention. He believes it is more important than ever to write books that reveal what our governments try to hide from us, quoting Abraham Lincoln's remark to Harriet Beecher Stowe : "So you're the little lady that started this big war. " Citing the scene in Saul Bellow's, The Dean's December, in which an incessantly barking dog demands, "For God's sake, open the Universe a little more!" Sir Rushdie asserts that it is the artist's weighty task to be the expander of the Universe. Amen.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Finding Treasures

I am dedicating part of this summer to finding treasures to add to my flower garden. Last Wednesday I went to the auction in Crumpton Md and found this lovely brass table topped with shards of blue glass. When the sun shines it sparkles like bits of saphire--and only for ten bucks. It truly is the little things in life that make it all worth it. Lunch with an old friend. A kayak down a still creek bordered by trumpet vine. The cry of a lone blue heron.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Frog Heaven

Look closely and you'll see the little frog that has taken up residency in our garage for the summer. He has become the favorite play-toy for our four cats (they are ever so gentle), and he is a wonderful late night companion when I am shuttling flowers back and forth from our kitchen to the flower shed outside. At each passage, he hops along beside me, boldy staring up at me with those big, dark, pop-eyes. He has it made with the cats' water bowl for his swims, and as we leave the light on in the garage, bugs get fried then fall to the garage floor nicely grilled for him. For a bed, he sleeps inside Don's work boots. Good digs.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Let me introduce you to Jonathon J.J. Sebastian Cabot Kitty (aka The Fud, short for Fuzzy Wuzzy, which turned into Fudda Wudda). Two years ago it had been five years since Don and I lost our last orange cat, and I was thinking it was time for an orange kitten, much to Don's dissent, as we already had three cats. But I kept seeing this orange kitten in my mind and looked on-line at all the little orange cuties, though I was having no luck in convincing Don. But then I went to my grandmother's farm in Pennsylvania for a week that summer, and the first thing I saw when I walked in the door was this little orange fuzzball on her back deck. "One of the male strays found him in the woods and brought him up here for food," my grandmother said. "I call him Pee Wee," she said. "He needs a good home." Done. It didn't take long for Don to fall in love with him, or my other cats. He is the sweetest soul, with a trill for a purr (characteristic of a Maine Coon). And a peacemaker--he will go right in between my two males who have no love for each other and say in his gentle way, "Come on guys, fighting won't solve anything." In short, he was just what we all needed. And I have to believe that just the right literary agent will come along soon. Nothing, really, ever comes out of the blue. Prepare the soil, plant the seed, then water and fertilize what will be.

Friday, June 5, 2009


So I received my first rejection from one of the agents I pitched at the Writing Conference in NYC. She said she read the first 50 pages of my novel and came to this conclusion: young girls in their twenties wouldn't be interested in it, because it was written in present tense and about a young girl in the late eighties, not gritty enough for current days. And women in their forties and fifties wouldn't be interested in it--they would only be interested in it if it was written in past tense, with a narrator now in her mid-forties, looking back on her days in her mid-twenties. . . hmmm. . . . When I wrote this novel I thought nothing about audience in such a specific way, okay, I didn't think about my audience at all. . . Someone very wise once told me to put all marketing aspects out of my mind when I write, and it's the only way I was able to write a novel from the heart . . . Another wise person told me that you have to write for yourself--the publishing business is too competitive to count on. Writers are weeded out for a million different reasons: one common one being that the agent is already representing a novel too similar to the one in question. . . maybe one about a woman in her mid-forties who goes back to the Jersey Shore and reminisces about her time spent there in her mid-twenties. . . Another wise person said, and this one was an agent: "The chaos theory is at play here". . . Who would've guessed that all ages, young and old, of both sexes, would be drawn to Harry Potter? Or that women of all ages are being seduced by Twilight. I honestly don't think it's about relating to a character--it's more about being transported to another world.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Marketing 2

Inadvertently (while learning how to post pictures on this blog), I deleted my last post about marketing my novel at the "pitch slam" in NYC. So for those who didn't get a chance to read it, I was stressing over the fact that I had to distill ten years of hard labor into one tiny paragraph. . . And that it would have to be me that made the sale, rather than the novel itself, to the agents. . . I've really only ever sold things that sell themselves: records, grilled cheese sandwiches, flowers. . . my husband is the one that can sell ice to Eskimos. . . he's the talker, I'm the writer. . . But I had to step up to bat and do the best I could this past Tuesday at the Writer's Digest Conference, and I was surprised by how calm I was. . . I took the advice of many and just spoke from my heart. I believe in this novel. And I believe I conveyed it to the agents I spoke with. Time will tell now if they have the passion I do for the characters I've lived with for so long.


It is that time of year in the garden when all the little volunteers start popping up--plants that were self-seeded from last year, blown in the wind and scattered seemingly willy-nilly. Last year, after the daffodils were done, the entire patch became a bed of daisies, all volunteers from nearly half-an-acre away. Easy money one would say, unless the volunteers drown out a more valuable crop, but this rarely happens. It is as if they know where they can unobtrusively take up space, where they have the best chances of thriving: i.e. shade loving plants never self-seed in the sun and visa versa. Volunteers are not weeds, as the original plants were cultivated and planted at one time, such as a theme in a work of art that proliferates--in the garden of words they are the repeated motif. Once planted, the design will continue to emerge in the work, a subtle design that doesn't wish to over-power, just provide that nuanced color of meaning.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Recently, I had my seven-year-old niece, Ella, over for an artist's weekend. Ella is a budding painter, so I took her to visit a few of my artist friends. First, Evie, who paints portraits and animals and still life, and then, Paula, who is more of a visionary artist. Ella said, "Evie paints what's on the outside, and Paula paints what's on the inside. A sharp observation for a young soul, though not entirely accurate as Evie makes what is on the outside even better--her subjects are softened, made more radiant, perhaps one could say created in their perfect form. Paula brings to life raw emotion and the inner working of the mind, but she, too, is starting from some common point we all recognize. It is why when we look at her work we have that glimmer of recognition--or as it happened to me, a feeling that she had painted my very being. These artists approach their work in different ways, but they both share that ability to capture what "is" and then infuse it with higher meaning. In the words of Chagall, "Great art picks up where nature ends." It is no different for writers--whether we look outside or in, we are searching for the truth.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Eckhart Tolle in his book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, says that flowers can be looked at as the enlightenment of plants. And can also lead to enlightenment. He tells the story of the Buddha giving a "silent sermon" once during which he held up a flower and gazed at it. After a while one of the monks that was present broke out into a smile--according to legend, that smile was handed down by twenty-eight successive masters and much later became the origin of Zen. I get that. I have felt that deep, inner smile when working or just being in the flower garden. And I feel that as well when reading the words of Proust, his descriptions are a flowering of enlightenment. And it is this very thing that I have been struggling with as an artist for the past week. How to create this enlightenment on the page. The late David Foster Wallace is quoted in The New Yorker as saying, "Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it'd find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilites for being alive and human in it." Chekhov's powerful little story, "The Student," seems a perfect example of this. It begins in the desolate, darkness of the forest and ends with this student's enlightenment--the feeling of the past touching the present in an unbroken chain, brought on by this darkness, the realization that we are connected by the darkest of moments. An epiphany that leaves him filled with an unknown, mysterious happiness. It's not that all of our characters need to have happy endings, but something, it seems, must transcend the illusion of our dark realities. . .

Monday, March 16, 2009


On this cusp of spring, expectation is in the air, the buds quivering on the trees, the green of the bulbs pushing their way through the frozen ground. It is as if we all, on this side of the hemisphere, take a collective breath and hold. . . and it seems to me that a good story elicits this same response. We read with anticipation, expecting a flowering of insight or understanding when we reach the end, and, if not, we are disappointed, let down by the writer. Not that every story must lead to some great epiphany, but there must be at least the slightest shift in pereception, like the setting sun casting its rich hues on the garden, and then, swiftly, night falls.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


The only place I can really run is along the beach, by the sea, its energy invigorating me, saturating every pore of body. It is similar to the energy in the garden, the explosion of life in the middle of the summer, bugs buzzing, flowers humming, swallows soaring, cats hunting. . . How else, but for all this energy I absorb, could I harvest bucket after bucket of flowers every Friday eve? Energy begets energy. But is it the same with writing? In writing workshops a common thing to say is that there is such energy in the language. But how do we transfer physical energy to the page? Is it merely our choice of words? Our punctuation? Our rhythm? Proust lived mostly a sedate life when he worked on his masterpiece, "Remembrance of Things Past," yet there is such life, such energy in his work, as if all the energy he received in his youth, all his pereceptions, imagined and real, were released from his being like an explosion. But I believe energy can spill directly onto the page from the waves, the moon, the festivals and the trees. . . not just from the realm of memory, but as a direct transfer, where we are the medium, tapping into the pulse of life that with a little alchemy brings our characters to life.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Maybe it's because I went ice-skating every Saturday in February that balance has been so prevalent on my mind. One is so keenly aware of the body when skating, a sweep to the right, a sweep to the left, then that centered, forward glide. In this fast-paced society it is so easy to be knocked off balance, to forget how to breathe, how to truly exist in a balanced, natural state. The buzz of activity in the garden by day quiets and closes come evening. But we are still restless at night, worried about the days ahead. If we could only learn how to glide more. A sweep to the left, a sweep to the right, then let the universe take us where it will.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


One of the most amazing things I find in the garden are the imposters--the weeds that do their best to look like the real flower in the row or bed. Sometimes they do such a good job I let them be. They may be fakes, but there is something admirable in their struggle for existence--and who are we to say what is a weed anyway? I once had a lady come pick her own flowers on our farm and she took home a bucket of weeds and was pleased as punch. Seems to me we are all weeds aspiring to some ideal vision of ourselves. And, as in the case of Hedda Gabler, when that vision is at great odds with reality, it is great tragedy. Or as Thoreau said back in the 1800s, before all the secret talk of the laws of attraction, "Sometimes, no doubt, we find it difficult to choose our direction, because it does not yet exist distinctly in our idea." At least these weeds in the garden know what they're aiming for and keep trying to perfect themselves year after year. Worthy of praise.

Monday, March 2, 2009


The world blanketed in snow is a clean slate on which to create: cardinals and bluejays came first today, then small, yellow finches. And then the flock of noisy blackbirds that clean out the feeders, but are still part of the design--black on white. Ying Yang. The balance soon regained. Walkways shoveled. Roads cleared. Power restored. But where would we be without the storms? Those storms that upend us and make us stop. Watch. Listen. A good story does this. It threatens. It rattles our doors and windows, forcing us out of ourselves and into communion with others, leaving us, together, to assess the damage. What a storm, we might say, what a story. . .

Saturday, February 28, 2009


A friend of mine recently retired early from her full-time job and said it felt as if she were floating that day--not just from sheer joy, but she was feeling less grounded, her routine altered. Change is good they say, but it can feel as if we've been uprooted, re-potted, even with the most careful of planning. When we dig up herbs or perennials, extricate their roots, then transfer them to a different bed, they require nurturing for several weeks or months after--extra fertilizer, extra water, shading for some. They have been yanked out of their familiar environment and are vulnerable. We are no different, the characters we write about are no different. Yes, some people adapt to change better than others, but there is always an adjustment period, a time when we are at the mercy of nature and rely on the kindness of strangers and friends. The victims of a tragedy, such as Hurricane Katrina, understand this all too well. And I believe it is so when we transition from this life to the next. . .

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Necessary Art

In a recent article in Poets and Writers an editor uses the word 'necessary' as one of his criteria for choosing a book to publish. He was using it in the sense of originality, or possessing that quality that will increase sales by word-of-mouth, but it is still such a vague, subjective word. Perhaps 'spark' is a better word. Or 'resonance.' But 'necessary?' Every year, during this time, my husband and I pour through seed and plant catalogues, trying to decide what flowers will be needed on our specialty cut flower farm. What colors will turn the most heads? What fragrances? There are some flowers, like the sweat pea, that always evoke a story, a memory. While others inspire and are taken home to be arranged into art, then painted or photographed. Still others that provide comfort or grant forgiveness or just plain bring a smile. It is with great pain that we leave out some beautiful varieties, and it has more to do with money than necessity. It is true there are subjects over-visited in the world of writing, and that some writers have such a magical gift for language they could write 500 pages on rock formations and we would still be awed. But who can truly judge what is necessary? Doesn't the creation itself make it so?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I have always been a person in need of the seasons--to grow wild, then settle, then incubate for the new birth. My visit to Maui left me wondering how one can live in paradise. . . how one can remain in one phase of life, be it heavenly, for an extended or eternal phase. For me, I know it wouldn't take long for ennui to set in. . . I would like to experience a long, harsh Russian winter to appreciate the spring more, but this mild Maryland winter must do for now. . . I can hear the murmering below in my flower field--the incubation period nearly over, life readying to burst anew. Winter, for me, is a time of thought, of great productivity in my writing, but there's a lack of vitality in my words that only vibrant living can bring--that pulse of energy that the spring heralds and the summer exudes. This is my first blog post. Good night and namaste.