I have had lilacs a bit on the brain lately. They are one of my favorite flowering bushes, and I have been waiting for mine to bloom. To me, they are a true indicator that summer is not far away.
This past weekend caused me to think about them even more. It all started when most of us siblings were gathered at my mom’s house to spend the day doing spring yard work. At one point, I was standing next to my mom while she talked about two smaller lilac bushes in the side yard. She said one of them was a cutting from a bush my father’s mother owned. Since my mom’s plant has probably been there for close to fifty years, it made me wonder just how old the original bush might be.
And I wish I could recall what she said about the origins of the second bush, because that is one tough plant! My mom wanted a dead pine tree in her yard cut down, and the only safe place my husband had to drop the tree was right over that lilac bush. Yet even though that poor bush was smashed by a huge tree, as soon as the tree sections were removed, that bush popped right back up like it was never touched. Amazing!
All of this made me a bit curious about the lilacs growing next to so many old houses. This prompted a bit of quick research on my part – something I am never reluctant to do. I discovered that lilacs are not native to North America, and were brought here by European settlers. There was a tradition of planting a lilac bush by the front door. However, the lilacs the Europeans brought were not native to most of their home countries, either. Lilacs originated in the Balkans, but made it to the rest of Europe in the 1500s by a long route through Istanbul. They were carried back from Istanbul to Austria by travelers on the silk route.
Since the very earliest settlers in North America were trying to simply survive in a harsh new climate, lilacs didn’t make it onto west-bound ships from Europe until the mid-1700’s. But the many-flowered stems have quietly been a part of our history ever since. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both made notes about the lilacs in their gardens. The longest living lilacs in North America are thought to have been planted around 1750 in New Hampshire. Imagine having garden plants which are over 250 years old! Lilacs prefer a cooler climate, which is why you will often find them in New England and the Midwest and also in Canada, which has a long history of growing lilacs and creating new hybrids.
All of this interesting background has helped me reach a conclusion. Once my husband and I are settled in our new house, I will make sure there is a lilac planted by the front door. After all, I don’t want to break with tradition. Perhaps, decades from now, people will be wondering who planted it.
The “Golden Spike” was driven on this date in 1869. What was the “Golden Spike”? Some of you may recall hearing it mentioned in a U.S. History class. This spike, which was truly made of gold, was not just a romantic bit of showmanship. It symbolized a huge milestone in U.S. history. The Union Pacific Railroad (starting from Omaha, Nebraska) and the Central Pacific Railroad (starting from the west coast) spent over six years building 1,900 miles of tracks to join the two sides of the country. And when the two railroads finally met up on May 10, 1869 near Promontory Summit, Utah, the golden spike was driven in with a silver hammer to join the two railroads into one continuous railroad line.
Even after several years of planning, this was no easy task. Small teams of surveyors had the dangerous job of scouting ahead through lands controlled by (understandably hostile) native tribes to determine the exact routes. Since much of the route went through enormous mountain ranges, trestles and bridges had to be built and tunnels had to be blasted. These edifices had to be designed and constructed before the teams laying the tracks reached them. The tunnels were particularly time-consuming. In fact, for many of the tunnels, which were hacked or blasted through granite, the crews only advance about one foot per day. Even on more level land, progress was slow, averaging about a mile a day.
Think about the logistics of all of this. Thousands of men were needed to construct firm, smooth roadbeds, build the bridges, force tunnels through the mountains, and actually lay the tracks. More people were needed to feed the crews everyday and provide some sort of sleeping quarters. Still more people were needed to keep the crews and their trains supplied with firewood, water, food – and work supplies. Think about not only the miles and miles of track and railroad ties needed, but all of the railroad spikes, shovels, picks, wheelbarrows and other equipment needed. And don’t forget the teams of mules and horses – and wagons –needed to haul materials to the work sites. Most of these materials had to be replaced regularly in large quantities. It all had to come from somewhere, and that was not easy to do when working in what at the time was truly “the middle of nowhere.”
But after six years of grueling labor, the “Golden Spike” was driven in and the work was done. Why was this a big deal? Because it was now possible to ride a train all the way from the east coast to the west coast. Before this, a person traveling between the coasts had two choices: 1) take a ship all the way around the southern tip of South America and back up the coast to California, or 2) take a ship to Panama, make the trek through the jungle to the other side, and then take another ship up the coast. These voyages took six months or more to complete. Now, the trip could be done in about one week on the railroad.
Another key thing the railroad did was to help open up the vast middle of the country to settlement. Not only did the trains make it easier for immigrants or other new settlers to get to their destination, but as part of their arrangement with the federal government the railroads were given huge tracts of land which they could then turn around and sell to the settlers. While the deal between the federal government and the railroads was not perfect, and in fact a few individuals became quite wealthy by rigging the system, it proved beneficial to the country as a whole. As a result, with the influx of new settlers, many of the places where the trains stopped to obtain more fuel and water became large cities we know today.
The Transcontinental Railroad was like the lunar moonwalk of its day. It captured everyone’s attention so much, it was said to be one of the inspirations for Jules Verne’s book Around the World in Eighty Days, and also provided the inspiration for several movies in later years.
Today, much of this original railroad line is still in use, especially the portions through the mountain ranges. While the original tracks and ties were replaced over time, the trains are still running on the routes laid out by those early survey crews and on roadbeds dug out by those early laborers. Personally, it provides me with the inspiration to take a train trip across the country. If I ever do, I will say a silent word of thanks for the men who worked so hard all those years ago to make such a daring dream a glorious reality.
Happy May, everyone. It feels as though we reached a long-awaited milestone on the calendar.
And speaking of milestones, I witnessed one yesterday which caught me totally by surprise. And for once, it had nothing to do with writing goals, or my current historical romance manuscript, or even with getting our house sold.
You see, last summer, I saw a mama turtle deposit a batch of eggs in a hole she dug in our lawn next to our front sidewalk. When she was done, she trundled across our driveway and (I presume) through a small bit of woods to reach a pond on our neighbor’s property where we assumed she lived.
I looked up how long it should take for those eggs to hatch, and marked the date on a calendar. When the time came, I kept watch and was very disappointed when no little turtles appeared.
I was gone for a time yesterday morning and when I arrived home, I surprised a tiny little turtle, about the size of my thumb, in front of our garage. You can see how small he is by comparing him to the dandelion in the photo. When he saw me approaching, he scurried over to the mud puddle and plopped into it, no doubt hoping I couldn’t see him. (I could – the puddle wasn’t that deep. But I did admire his persistence in not moving as long as I was there.)
When I told my husband about the little turtle later, he was the one who thought of the nest of turtle eggs from last year. Sure enough, there was a small hole – tiny turtle sized – in our lawn in the nest’s location. And according to my daughter-in-law, who works at a nature center, this sometimes occurs with turtles. If the eggs hatch too late in the summer, the baby turtles simply stay put underground and hibernate through the winter, not coming out until the following spring.
So I guess that is what happened with this little guy, and I am hoping will happen yet with his brothers and sisters. Once the weather finally warmed up, he crawled out of his nest and then used his in-born homing instinct to crawl hundreds of yards back to that pond where his mother came from last summer. Pretty amazing.
It dawned on me I could use him as an example for lessons on life, and for my writing. I could create some wonderful metaphors about not giving up. Or about waiting patiently for the right time for something to occur. Or about homing instincts taking us where we need to be.
But I decided not to. Instead, I simply enjoyed this beautiful example of nature and God’s design for all life. Happy May, everyone.
This past weekend, we attended a baby shower for our son and his wife. Our daughter-in-law and her friend did most of the planning and preparation for it, and did a marvelous job.
The first thing I noticed was the cookies they decorated. Since the shower had a “bee” theme, they made sugar cookies which looked like flowers and honey bees. Once you look at the photo, I am sure you will agree they did an amazing job decorating the cookies!
They also did a great job of organizing several fun activities. (I’ll be honest, I sometimes don’t enjoy the games at showers, but I thoroughly enjoyed this afternoon.) One of their challenges required prep work ahead of time to obtain baby photos from the guests, but once they mounted the photos on a large poster board, people had a fun time trying to guess the most correctly. And later on, watching teams of people trying to see how quickly they could change the diaper on a doll was a hoot.
Some of the other activities were less competitive, but no less fun. My daughter-in-law had baked several dozen cupcakes when she set on a table along with tubes of colored frosting and various containers of sprinkles. Guests had a ball decorating their own cupcakes. And those who were feeling even more artistic could then move to the next table over, where plain white bibs and onesies were waiting to be decorated with fabric paint. This proved quite popular also, and as an added bonus, my son and his wife ended up with many personalized items for their new baby afterwards.
In short, it was a wonderful day, and well worth the hours of travel required to attend it. I did regret not getting a blog out last week because of this, but I felt certain you all would understand. After all, new grandchildren do not come along every day, and milestones like this are meant to be savored.
So now, I am shifting back into “normal life again. The baby shower is over, and most of the tasks we needed to complete prior to selling our house have been dealt with. Perhaps now I can focus a bit more on my writing while I am waiting for the new baby to come and for our new home to be determined. If you continue reading in the coming weeks, I will keep you posted as to how both events are progressing.
Since my spring fever is spiking right now, I decided this installment of “If These Walls Could Talk” should include flowers as well as a house.
I think this photo fits the bill perfectly. Better yet, it combines romance and mystery in its story.
The lovely flowers in the foreground give it a lush, summery, welcoming air. Yet at the same time, the narrow path leading to the old buildings in the background gives it a sense of curiosity and adventure.
What do you suppose lies at the end of this path? Is it a charming home, with children playing in the yard and a fresh-baked pie cooling on the windowsill? Or is an empty, tattered shell clinging to its fading memories? Is it derelict and abandoned, or still well-preserved and much-loved? Looking at this photo gives me the urge to make my way down the path and find out. No matter what lies at the end of the path, the flowers along the way would make it worthwhile.
And if I were really lucky, perhaps the buildings would tell me some fascinating stories about the previous owners. That is, If These Walls Could Talk.
For some reason this year, I am more impatient than ever for spring to arrive. Perhaps this is because our cold weather has not been interspersed with many of the warm days which encourage us to hang on until spring is really here.
One effect of my spring fever is that I have been noticing more articles recently about gardening in ways to encourage the proliferation of bees, as well as attracting more butterflies and hummingbirds to a garden. Since they are all useful as well as beautiful, I was curious to see if it is possible to attract all three with the same plants and methods, and did a little internet research. It is!
I quickly found several good sites with information about attracting one or all of the little flyers. Some of the general tips I consistently saw included:
As I looked at the tips, and the lists of flowers for each (bees, butterflies and hummingbirds) I started noticing some flower names appearing more than once.
Here is a list I compiled of flowering plants which seem to attract all three:
Here are more flowering plants which attract at least two of the three:
I hope these lists inspire you to plant a few of the flowers above in your garden this year, or even in a window box. Our colorful little flying friends will appreciate it. And if you enjoyed this blog, please sign up for my email list. I will appreciate that.
In the meantime, try to enjoy spring (I hope it exists wherever you are) and I will return next week with my next blog.
I have been thinking about research lately. So much so, I almost feel as though I should capitalize and underline the word, as in “I have been thinking about Research lately.”
You see, I am at the stage in revisions for my current romance manuscript where I am looking for places where I need to do more world building or add historical details. Hence my dilemma. How much world building should I do? And how many historical details should I add?
I love reading a book by a good storyteller who can make me feel as though I am learning about a previous time and place while enjoying a great story. One or two authors come to mind who deftly add interesting details I never knew – and never knew I wanted to know.
However. There is a flip side. If the addition of details is not done well by the author, it can become tedious, or almost come across as a lecture. I do not want to be that writer!
Perhaps you can see where I am going with this. How many details should I add? And what types of details should they be? These questions tie back to my opening comment, since above all, I want to be accurate. What is the right type or amount of research I should do to get the right type or amount of details? It is all too easy to dive down a rabbit hole while researching something which, while interesting, is not germane to my story.
Last night and this morning were a good example. I wanted to know what breed of horse might be pulling a heavy wagon on an English road in my Georgian historical romance. So while I was at the bookstore last night, I cruised the bargain aisles for books about horses. I found two, so then had to decide which one to get. This morning, I spent time paging through the chosen book looking for a likely horse breed – only to decide later that it wasn’t necessary to be that specific. So while it gave me a chance to look at beautiful photos of horses, it wasn’t very productive in the end.
Perhaps I will toss the question out to you, my readers, for some input. If you were reading a romance which took place in England in the mid-1700s, what historical background or details or descriptions would you like to see included?
Any writer will tell you filling a blank page with the words of a first draft is hard. Luckily, I have found something I call a “creativity circle” which helps me push through.
It all started some months ago, when I was talking with a few romance writing friends about how we all stay motivated to write. One of the friends described for us a visualization exercise which included thinking of one of the chakra colors and then imagining a circle in that color on the ground in front of us. Once we could see that colored circle in our mind’s eye then we each stepping into our circle, where we could feel the energy and joy and warmth which comes to us when we write.
As luck would have it, I was looking at online crochet patterns a few weeks later, when I stumbled across one for a large cowl. This circular garment was large enough to fit around the model’s shoulders in one of the pictures.
Looking at that photo, I immediately thought of my circle in the visualization exercise. How wonderful would it be, I thought, if instead of an imaginary circle on the floor, I could have a real circle around my shoulders?
That quickly, “creativity circles” were born. I bought the pattern and some yarn in pretty shades of blue (the color of creative expression and communication), and over the next several nights, I made myself one of the cowls as I relaxed on the sofa.
Now, when I settle down in my writing space, one of the first things I do is to arrange my blue circle around my shoulders. It is like a form of muscle memory which helps to instantly put me into the necessary mindset for writing or editing. (And as a bonus, it also does a great job of keeping my shoulders warm.)
After I showed my creativity circle to this group of friends, they expressed interest in having their own. Here is a photo of one I crafted for a fellow author in the lovely shades of purple she picked out.
To me, my creativity circle is tangible proof of the way the various aspects of my life now intersect. My writing, my hobbies, my personal routine – even my well-known tendency to always feel cold – are all wrapped together by a bit of blue yarn. Which makes sense, I suppose. Writing is more than a job to me – it is something I have been passionate about for a long time. It isn’t really surprising then that it overlaps with the other facets of my life.
Do you have something in your life about which you are equally passionate? I hope so. If not, perhaps it is time for you to find that one thing which has the ability to fill all the corners of your life. Once you do, perhaps you will find your own creativity circle to bind it all together.
Those of you who are regular followers of my blog know I have been a bit… well… sporadic with it lately. I apologize for that, and I am using this blog to give you a quick recap of what has been going on lately to disrupt my routine.
First, the good news. A few months ago, our son and his wife informed us they are expecting their second child in June. What wonderful news!
This good news made my husband and I think about how hard it is to be a part of our grandchildren’s lives when they live a few states away. Our granddaughter is nearly 18 months old, and we have missed so much already. We have a chance, though, to enjoy some of those missed moments with the second baby.
So my husband and I have decided to move closer to our son and his family.
Our plan was to update our house before selling it and move later this summer. But do you recall the Burns’ quote about “the best laid schemes of mice and men”? That’s us. Once the word spread that we would be moving, people approached us who wanted to buy our house now. (I know we live in a very desirable area, and I personally love our house, but I didn’t expect this!)
So, the last few weeks have been hectic, to say the least. There was a lot of starting-and-stopping going on. We started talking to a contractor about our remodeling project, and then stopped when the first person approached us. And then once the first showing was scheduled, I started cleaning the whole house like mad, and didn’t stop until the couple pulled in the drive. We did this a couple of times. I am glad it didn’t go on longer.
To cap off all of the madness, we also had a fairly severe medical issue to deal with. My husband got some flecks of rust in his eye (don’t ask!) which caused some damage. This meant several visits to a specialist and daily treatment to clear up the injury to his cornea. Dealing with an eye injury at the same time as selling the house really amped up the stress level.
Where are we at now? My husband’s eye seems to be nearly healed. And we have an offer to buy our house, no remodeling or real estate agents required. Better yet, the couple who wants our home is in no rush to move in, so we can still stay in the house a bit longer, as we had intended. Honestly, it all feels as though it is all part of a larger plan for us, the way things worked out.
Best of all, the reduction in stress has allowed me to get back into a writing mindset. In the previous weeks, even when I tried to write, I was too distracted to accomplish much. I am please to say that is no longer the case.
So, thank you for our patience while I was temporarily AWOL. I am back! I am resuming my weekly blog schedule, and will be a bit more active on social media as well. Keep an eye on my blogs/posts, and I will give you periodic updates on the new craziness in my world.
I have been thinking about creativity lately. More specifically, on the well of creativity which exists in each of us, and what causes it to temporarily run dry at times.
Creativity can run dry on a given day. I have heard it said that each of us only has 3-4 hours of strong creativity each day. I tend to agree. Historically, I have done better if I focus on my writing in the morning and then shift to other tasks in the afternoon. By lunchtime, I don’t feel as if my mind is welling with ideas any longer. Since my allotment of creativity has run dry, it is better to shift to other duties in the afternoon. It is a good time to do more straightforward or “mindless” activities, such as research or promotion or even (sigh) paying bills. From what I have heard, many other romance writers take the same approach.
Creativity can also run dry for longer periods. All of us, at some point, go through a long drought where the urge to create is noticeably absent. For me, this is typically when I have other complicated or stressful events occurring in my life. In these situations, the dry spell usually lasts for much longer than a day -- sometimes for weeks or months. For example, I battled with this in recent weeks because all of the stress and decision-making associated with a remodeling project in our house was swamping my writing. And several years ago, I had a dry spell which lasted for two or three years while I was designing and then installing a large, complex IT system during my day job. That project took over my life and sucked up every ounce of creativity in me. I had nothing left for writing for a long time.
But like any drought, even creative ones end at some point. When I got past that large project a few years ago, it was like rain falling on arid ground, and the urge to write came back. And in my recent situation, just as a spring thaw melts the snow and encourages early flowers to bloom, mindfully making other distractions melt away allowed my writing to send up green shoots through the detritus which had piled up on it.
So if you are going through a dry spell, don’t despair. It will end someday and your well of creativity will start flowing once again. Just be ready for it when that gusher starts.
I write historical romances, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.