Musings on life, death, and wildlife (and Prince)

Exploring a ravine at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Exploring a ravine at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

When I heard the news that Prince had died, I was in the cemetery. I’d been there for hours with my sister Jackie and my friend Linsay, exploring the hills and dales, and mostly tracking critters . We spotted groundhogs, remarked on the number of chipmunks, stumbled (literally) upon a Prehistoric looking amphibian, and investigated critter dens.

A most unusual amphibian.

A most unusual amphibian.

Can you find the critter in this photo?

Can you find the critter in this photo?

We made some unusual discoveries. I learned, for example, that in Scotland, where Linsay is from, there are no critters like groundhogs or chipmunks; in fact, other than Pepe LePew, she’s never seen a skunk. Or smelled one. That led to a discussion about removing skunk smell with tomato juice, which sounds really weird to someone who’s never smelled a skunk.

We also found parts of old caskets that critters had dragged to the surface, handles of varying shapes and sizes scattered here and there in the cemetery, and we imagined what life underground must be like for a groundhog.

Casket hardware outside another groundhog hole, in a different section of the cemetery.

Casket hardware outside another groundhog hole, in a different section of the cemetery.

I’d met a groundhog a few days earlier, sitting for 45 minutes next to his den to see if he’d emerge. He did, slowly. When he was fully exposed, we considered each other. Then he retreated down the hole and I went home. I’ve been thinking ever since about what it must be like underground, among the caskets and remains, what the groundhogs and chipmunks disturb, and if anyone minds. Continue reading

Holy s*@#!

Our sewer line had a colonoscopy today.

Our sewer line had a colonoscopy today.

When I went into the basement this morning, I noticed a puddle of water on the floor, and another closer to the wall, and another near the sink, and another near the toilet, and another…

Uh oh. Water leak.

My first thought was that the neighbors had been draining their pool cover, and might have left the hose too close to our window well and sent water cascading into our basement. That happened once before, many years ago. But nope, that wasn’t it. I checked the washing machine. Nope. The toilet in the small bathroom did look full of water, and when I reached in to how deep it was (because it’s dark in there) I realized that the water was hot.

Hmmm. Curiouser and curiouser.

I called Darling Husband, who doesn’t have enough stress in his life, and told him what was going on. “Check the floor sewer drain cap,” he said. “Is there any water there?”

No, but there was dampness around it. His diagnosis: the sewer line was plugged, and because the cap was on tightly on the pipe the water backed up into the next closest outlet, the basement toilet. The laundry tub had a few inches of water in it, too. Why was the toilet water hot? “Did you just take a shower?” he asked. I had. “That’s the water that didn’t drain.”

What do I do? “Call the plumber,” he said. So I did.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one on my street to call Mr. Rooter this morning. “What’s going on over there?” the secretary asked, and told me my neighbor had just called with the same problem. She set up an appointment for me right after theirs. I called my neighbors – clearly something more was going on than just roots in our sewer line – and agreed that, yup, something more was going on that just roots on the sewer line. Continue reading

Groundhog holes and casket handles, oh my

Bandit and I, out for a walk at Mt. Hope.

Bandit and I, out for a walk at Mt. Hope.

Out for a walk this week, Bandit came upon a groundhog hole. Not unusual; the cemetery is a National Wildlife Federation “Certified Wildlife Habitat” and is crawling with squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, deer, and foxes. What was unusual? Around the entrance to the hole were items the groundhog had hauled to the surface while burrowing underground.

mt hope with bandit casket parts apr12 2016 020

Bandit found a groundhog hole with some interesting stuff in the dirt around it.

WhiteHaven dogs MtHope gopher casket 048 (2)

Stuff Mr. Groundhog hauled up from under the ground.

I think the handles are from caskets, and, because they’re so different, probably different caskets. The wood is probably from a very old coffin. (I also found another small item that’s neither metal nor wood. I’ll leave it to your imagination to figure out what it was.)

Out for another walk on a different day and in a different section of the cemetery, this time sans dog, I came across yet another groundhog hole, and lying right there in the open was more casket hardware.

Casket hardware outside another groundhog hole, in a different section of the cemetery.

Casket hardware outside another groundhog hole, in a different section of the cemetery.

I’ve been thinking about the groundhogs ever since. What do they do underground? How far underground do they venture from the hole? What do they do with items that are in their way? I’m assuming that over time they’ve hauled a lot of items to the surface and discarded them in dirt piles. Is it unusual to find stuff like this?

I’ve been tracking the groundhogs, so I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE: Here’s a post I wrote for Patheos about my groundhog adventures.

Honor our sister suffragists by voting in today’s primary

Susan B. Anthony's grave, a popular place to visit on election day.

Susan B. Anthony’s grave, a popular place to visit on election day.

It’s primary day in New York. Honor suffragists like Susan B. Anthony, who fought for the passage of the 19th amendment, and vote. Vote your conscience, vote your heart, vote your morals and beliefs. But make sure you vote.

Thank you, lady with the alligator purse.

This photo was taken at Mt. Hope Cemetery. Susan B. Anthony’s grave is located in Section C, Lot 93.

“What The Dog Said (And Other Adventures in Everyday Life)” on sale in April

book cover higher res
In honor of the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop that I just attended, and which I still have to write about, my publisher, WordCrafts Press, has graciously dropped the price for “What The Dog Said” for the month of April!

Yay!! You can get the ebook for just 99¢ at any ebook retailer – what a bargain! And you can take 40% off the paperback price by visiting http://wordcrafts.net/what-the-dog-said/ and entering promo code ERMA16 at checkout. (The links are at the bottom of the page – just click “trade paperback” and it’ll take you to the purchase page where you can enter the promo code. Same with the ebook; click “ebook-$5.99” and . it’ll automatically change the price to 99¢.)

It’s not Erma, but there’s still a little slice of life, love, and humor on every page.

Back from Erma, flu-free

erma workshop logo

I awoke slowly, a tiny ray of light peeking through the curtains as I tied to open my eyes. The dog was breathing in my face, his wet nose crammed into my right eyeball. My eyes hurt, but I don’t think it was from dog slobber. They felt itchy and irritated, and when I finally hauled myself out of bed and looked in the mirror, I could see they were also red. I panicked.

Uh oh. Do I have pink eye again?

I’d recently gotten back from the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton, OH, where I spent four days socializing and eating dessert before dinner. The sessions were instructional, the keynote speakers inspirational, and the message one of encouragement and embracing one’s mission. We all left feeling empowered.

And for some, nauseated.

What do you get when 350 women and 9 men check into a hotel for a weekend-long humor writing conference featuring top notch guest speakers, dessert with every meal, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys?

You get the flu, that’s what you get.

Prior to the conference, most of us had joined the Erma Attendees Facebook group, taking time to learn each other’s names, discuss packing lists, and admit fears about attending the premiere workshop for humorists.

After the conference? The talk was all about who caught what from whom and when.

Patient Zero clearly brought the dreaded virus with them to Ohio, because a few attendees were struck down the first night and didn’t recover until it was time to head home. A few others got sick over the weekend; as I left the hotel on Sunday morning, I saw several people who looked like they might not make it out the door.

And then as people returned home to their corners of the country, like a giant domino chain of nausea and fever, one by one others fell. Someone even started a Facebook poll to track who was sick, since so many people were posting “Me, too” in the comment sections of other people’s posts.

Me? I got lucky. My stomach was upset, but that could have been from all the cheesecake; I don’t usually have dessert at every meal. I checked my temperature every hour, just in case I was burning up and didn’t know it. Nope, no flu here. But my eyes were killing me, and I was afraid that in addition to my business cards maybe I’d also passed out pink eye. If the next discussion thread was about who caused the painful temporary blindness, all fingers would point to me.

Not how I want to be remembered. Continue reading

Plucking words from the universe and dancing with my muse

radiolab muse elizabeth gilbert

Click the photo to go to Radiolab.org and listen to the podcast.

I just got back from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, OH. I attended in 2004, 2006, and 2008, and then last summer, while at St. David’s Writing Conference, I met three women and talked them into going with me this year.

I’ll write more about the actual conference later, when I’ve recovered from four days of cheesecake, teaching, and social interaction. It was, as expected, fabulous. But I wanted to share one thing with you now.

As I drove from Rochester to Dayton, I binged on past podcasts of RadioLab. One in particular stood out: “Me, Myself, and Muse.”

If you read my blog, I often lament about having great ideas that I don’t follow through with, or about book ideas that I don’t write and then see someone else has written them.  I get stuck, and overthink, and talk a lot about things I want to do but don’t, and it’s been going on for while. Too long. Like, if this whining was in a plastic container of leftovers in my fridge it would have not only gone moldy long ago, it would have sprouted a civilization that developed a cure for cancer.

I’m even on deadline, right now, right this minute, for a book I’m contracted to write that is just completely stalled, and I’m spinning my wheels creatively.

One of the reasons I was back at the Erma Bombeck Writing Workshop was to get my creative self back into alignment. Some time ago, I went from a very successful stint as a music blogger, with regular paying freelancing gigs, and lots of paid blogging and writing, to walking the dogs and binging on Netflix and bemoaning the fact that I offer nothing to the world. To be fair, things had changed in the music and publishing industry, and magazines and newspapers I’d been writing for were sold, which meant those paid writing gigs were gone. And I got jaded and lost my passion, for life and writing. (And there was also that stalker, too, who caused me no small amount of aggravation and was the last straw in the camel’s backpack that led to my taking a break from regular, serious writing for a while.)

The last few years have been a process of stopping, starting, reevaluating, doing well, crawling under a rock, taking stock, and emerging with wings that aren’t quite unfurled. Other parts of my creative life have emerged – improv and, most recently, stand up.  But the writing is now in a different climate, from a different perspective on life, and amidst a great deal of disorganization in my creative life. I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk wondering if I have any words left and, if I do, where I’d find them under this pile of folders and books and notes and dog toys.

So the message of this podcast has really stuck in my head and heart, particularly the part where Elizabeth Gilbert says:

“I kind of believe the world is being constantly circled as though by Gulf Stream forces, ideas and creativity, that want to be made manifest. And they’re looking for portals to come through in people. And if you don’t do it, they’ll go find someone else. And so you have to convince it that you’re serious and you have to show it respect and you have to talk to it and let it know you’re there.”

It haunted me the entire drive. And then the first workshop session I went to at Erma was with Alan Zweibel, who among many, many, many things, was an original writer for Saturday Night Live. He told us that the secret to writing is to write, and that we should focus on the process, not the product. There there are words out there, he said, and they just need to be plucked out and put down.

There it is again.

I’d never thought about my ideas or creative inspiration being something outside of myself. I always felt like creative inspiration was supposed to be inside of me, and if I wasn’t feeling it, it was because I didn’t have any.  But what if ideas and creativity are constantly swirling around me, like bits of the universe that I can reach out and catch, if only I open my hand? Well, that’s another story. Because then, what I’m lacking isn’t the creativity. What I’m lacking is the work. And I have total control over that.

So the takeaway, from the podcast and the sessions and the whole conference? It’s all there for the asking. All of it. ALL OF IT. The only thing that’s required of me is the work. The muse will join me in this dance of creativity once she sees me out on the ballroom floor and believes I’m going to stay there for the entire song.

Food for thought I wanted to share with you.

There’s so much to say about the conference, which is still digesting in my soul, and I’ll write about that in a separate post. But right now? I’ve got some work to do.