Un-Still Life with Birds


I love birds. Love to watch them. Love to collect their left-behind feathers when I find them on a trail. Love to find nests of eggs that we can watch hatch.

And I feed them. In fact, I would say that feeding the birds is a lifelong habit with me. One year when I was seven or eight, I asked for a bird feeder for Christmas. My Grampa Hakala kept three large feeders in his backyard every winter, and anything Grampa did was something I wanted to do too.

Anyway, my Uncle Don—handy guy that he was—made me a feeder that attached to the outside wall of our house so that the feeder itself was level with my bedroom window. We filled it with seed, and waited for the birds to show up.

They did. Chickadees first. They’re always the first to spy a new food source. And then the gray squirrels. Actually, I liked watching them too.

This winter, my two feeders are attracting flocks of wintering-over goldfinch. I’ve never seen so many goldfinches during the winter. And now their feathers are starting to change from their seasonal olive green to their brilliant yellow.

And then, three weeks early, a flock of redwing blackbirds showed up, eating seed on the snow before roosting in our big ash tree to trade gossip in their screeing voices.

Endlessly fascinating, these little critters. I’m so glad they’re a part of my world.

THE Book Sale


As winter begins to wane (and this year, it’s hard to tell because it never actually arrived), I look forward to one of my favorite annual events here in the greater UV. (Upper Valley, for the uninitiated.) For those of us in love with print media, this is THE book event of the year.

Folks from all over the region (and often beyond), strip their shelves of unwanted reading material and donate it to this fundraiser. Behind the scenes, dozens of volunteers cull the books based on their condition (no moldies need apply), price them, and then on the third weekend of April, everything gets sold.

I started volunteering to sort books about ten years ago, and last year, I wrote a long story about the sale for Upper Valley Life magazine to celebrate 5CBS’s 50th anniversary.

I just got the email yesterday—this year’s sorting site is ready, volunteers are revving up, and you’ll find my hands deep in the innards of a bag or box of books on March 3.

The best part is this: volunteers get first dibs on great reads. Just look at what I scored last year.

For my fellow book lovers, this year’s sale is on April 21 and 22 (half price day) at Lebanon High School just off exit 18 from I-89. Be there—or I get all your books.

Center for Cartoon Studies

The Schulz Library (as in Charles Schulz) is one of the many assets of the Center for Cartoon Studies

I spent this morning at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction. Great place, the first of its kind in the U.S., dedicated to comics and the graphic novel.

The students listened to me jabber about independent publishing and why, as writers and artists, it’s good for them. They asked great questions, we learned from one another (as in comic book stores are all served by only one distributor—yikes!), and I hope I get to go back.

My morning visit was the result of one of those serendipitous series of connections that happen more often than we notice. It begins many years ago when I met a fellow Vermont author named Joe Citro at a conference put on by the League of Vermont Writers. We kept in touch.

Joe knows writer and cartoonist Steve Bissette who now teaches at CCS. When I published Your Book, Your Way last May, I asked Joe if he would read it and, if the spirit moved, to review it on Amazon. He did. He liked it.

And as luck would have it, Joe had been contemplating indie publishing for his own work for some time. He brought my book to Steve’s attention. That yielded a getting-to-know-you period that culminated with my morning visit with a group that sure draws a whole lot better than I do.

Now that’s a win-win-win, eh?

Sometimes, It Just Flows

I always write my first drafts of fiction by hand

Every writer I know has to learn the lessons taught by every other writer who comes before. The lessons, like the truest platitudes, are simple and direct. And yet, somehow, every newbie thinks they can be ignored.

Take diligence, for example. I’m talking about the diligence that comes from writing every day. The kind of diligence that gets to the last page of the book you’re writing. The kind of diligence that moves all the other crud out of the way so that you focus on your work.

At one point in my writing career, I spent time reading interviews with other writers, mostly in the Paris Review of Books (still the best, in my opinion). When asked, every single writer talked about the importance of regular writing habits. Every one of them echoed Carl Sandburg’s dictum that books are written “One word at a time.”

There’s no way around that in any creative endeavor from making soup to making a quilt, to constructing a building or drawing a picture of your cat. It’s one onion, one seam, one wall or one line at a time.

I’m coming around the corner on a novel. I can feel its last page on the horizon, like the sun at the moment before it crests over the mountains to our east. I’ve poked at this novel at least twice in the past, abandoning the effort after reams of paper have sacrificed themselves because I’d cornered myself in something that didn’t fit quite right. But when I started this time, the writing just flowed out of me.

Mind, I’ve had to adjust the arc of the story a bit to fit my time frame better, and spent time going back to assess what I’ve learned about my characters. But the writing flows. It’s become a need, an act that I must do like a ritual every morning before I can move onto anything else in my day. Yep, Sandburg was right—one word at a time, daily.

Eating with my Toes

No conversion should be this hard on a Mac.

I bought a new iMac in early December. Cool, I thought, learn a few new bells and whistles and away we go.

I wish.

Ever since I brought home my iMac with Lion OSX, my life has been one long session in technical hell.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the system. Nope, standard issue Mac reliability from Day One. The problem is the learning curve. Or, truth be told, the vertical learning line.

You see, Mac’s new operating system is so different from anything the company’s done before, using Lion requires all new software. In addition, Apple decided that it didn’t make enough money on its handy little website program, iWeb, or its handy little host for iWeb-made sites, Moblie Me.

Never mind that lots of us were happy with what we had. Nope, now we’ve been abandoned, and you’ve got to learn more new software to maintain the site you used to be able to do in your sleep.

Same with financial software. Quicken was never my favorite program but it did the basics well enough. Nope, Quicken doesn’t work on Lion so the answer is, obviously, NEW SOFTWARE.

So everything I used to do with a click or two now requires days and days of frustration looking for a needle in a haystack. Or, more correctly, looking for the haystack.

Imagine if someone told you that from this day forward, you had to eat all your meals with your toes because of all the supposedly much-easier-to-use utensils that someone just happened to have for sale. For your convenience.

Nope, so not happy with this. I promise you, once I finally make it to the other side of this endless conversion, I will never buy another computer. When this new iMac wears out or can’t handle the technology, it’s back to pen and paper for this woman.

Pen and paper, the leading technology for the past two thousand years. Works every time.

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.