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The Depths of Winter

Good morning from snowy Vermont. I’m on my second cup of tea and am just inside from shoveling out our little stoop and making a path to the cars. The path isn’t so much for us, but for Scout, who’s smaller than the height of snow.

Livia taught me something this morning. Turns out the author who wrote The Fault in our Stars, John Green, also is part of the Crash Course video series on YouTube. I see these popping up a lot in the materials our online instructors use. John and his brother Hank created this learning series about every topic under the sun. This week I watched several psychology and biology videos; my favorites are about the brain and its connection to the digestive system. Here’s the link to Crash Courses:

https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse

I got word on my book. Curiosity Quills is revising its author contracts. The submissions team won’t make any decisions on pending books until the new contracts are finished. It may be a while before I know about Quill Point. Timing-wise, that’s fine. I feel hollow though, like I’ve left my baby with an acquaintance and she hasn’t been returned. I think Quill Point is in good hands, but…

Outside of one medical appointment today, I’m free to be domestic. I’ve got a bunch of household chores to do, and I may watch some of the Olympics. We watched parts of the mens’ figure skating team competition. So many of the skaters fell, I wondered about the quality of the ice. And the bleachers were mostly empty. I guess in the spirit of cordiality, it’s better to have too many seats than not enough.

According to WordPress and Facebook statistics, my readers are dwindling at an alarming rate. Soon there’ll be just a few of you following me. I need to jazz things up. Perhaps my daughters will give me some pointers. Serena is doing a great job with my nephew’s book page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/undertheeagle/

I hope when the depths of winter pass, I’ll come charging out with new ideas and a new look. Where do you get your energy in the short but long month of February?

Check back next week for another segment of Finding Home.

Lisa

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Plaques and Tangles.

Good morning everyone, from cold and dim Vermont. I have a calendar. I have post it notes and a stack of scrap paper at my disposal. I have 8 1/2 by 11 pads of fresh yellow-lined paper. But I’m still forgetting things. I think it’s next week. Then I think it’s last week. I get phone calls from doctors regarding appointments I’m ahead of or behind from. Really, it’s bothersome and embarrassing. Is there something wrong with my brain?

Some people swear by their smart phones. “Just put everything in your phone and then it will tell you what to do!” Or, “Put it all in your laptop!” Well that’s great for the 90 percent of the population that feels comfortable using technology. You know by now I’m in the ten percent. You know I prefer pen and paper over computers any day.

But where does that leave me? Besides feeling like plaques and tangles are silently stealing my brain. Those damn plaques and tangles. I hear about them all the time in the health science classes I’m embedded in as a research librarian. I imagine what my MRI looks like, and as I once again put the phone in the freezer, the image haunts me with its unwanted ponds and creeks. Of course I’ve never had an MRI. Because my doctor says I’m suffering from severe stress, not dementia. But still.

I remember when my very special uncle was getting radiation and chemo for a brain tumor. I’d meditate, mentally reducing the size of the tumor until it was gone. Maybe I should start visualizing my stress, mentally reducing it until it’s gone. But I’ll have to schedule it in, and remember I did so. Maybe I should put my calendar in the freezer.

The good news is that I remembered to blog this morning–on Saturday, not Sunday. (According to Facebook, I lose most of my readers if I blog on Sunday.) The other good news is that I don’t have any appointments to remember or forget today. I can tidy Soft Landing, and even go out on a little date with my husband in Burlington while my daughter attends a birthday party. Full disclosure? I thought there was a doctor’s appointment today but when I called to confirm, she said I was a week off. Heavens.

So now I’ll sit down with my husband, dig my calendar out of my large, black purse, and review each entry in an attempt to make it stick. And I’ll do something fun today, like browse Barnes & Noble and write interesting titles down so that I can request them later through the library.

Where’s the strangest place you’ve found your phone? Check back next week for another segment of Finding Home.

Lisa

 

 

 

 

In the Scottish Countryside with a Goat

Good morning from spring-like Vermont. This past week, Quill Point was “on the table for discussion.” I haven’t heard more than that, but I expect to know by Friday. Once when I submitted a piece for the magazine Mothering, I received a rejection with a note from the editor. She said her submissions team had argued long and hard over my work, and ultimately the argument itself led to its denial. I hope accepting my book will go more smoothly. It seems odd that Curiosity Quills wouldn’t at least let me finish up the sequel to a book it had already published. But these are lean times.

I’ve been watching several documentaries for work. More and more instructors are using films as part of their curriculum. For an herbology class, I watched Lumen, about whole plant healing. And for an environmental studies class I watched Revolution, about the state of our oceans. It saddened me to hear that the director and originator of Revolution died in a diving accident. Another voice for our planet stilled.

My lease for my car runs out in a year, so I’ve started the search for a new vehicle. It needs to have good head room, very comfortable back seats, be easy for my Mom to get in and out of, and get at least 30 miles a gallon on the highway. (In my neck of the woods, highway means a secondary road.) I’m thinking some sort of crossover, but I’ve yet to find one that meets all of my requirements. I’m glad I have the year to sort it all out. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

Time for me to close. I’ve a meatloaf to make and a daughter to visit before I start my shift. Unfortunately I got a late start to the morning, tangled up in a dream about hitchhiking in the Scottish countryside with a goat.

Check back next week for another segment of Finding Home.

Lisa

 

 

 

She looked like a movie star.

Greetings from mild, cloudy Vermont. In an hour we’ll be gathered and celebrating my mom’s 85th birthday. In 1933, one of the worst years of the Great Depression, gas cost ten cents a gallon. Hitler was chancellor and Cuba was at war. But in St. Jean, Quebec, Mom emerged into her small world welcomed and surrounded by love. She was third in line, a middle child, even-keeled, resilient, full of life, and positive. No wonder my dad fell madly in love with her. At sixteen, she looked like a movie star. In all my years, I’ve yet to acquire the grace she showed in her early photos. Can you tell I love her?

Tomorrow I go back to my regular work hours, now that the students are returning from break. I get a ton of focused, uninterrupted work done on Sundays, and though by the end of my shift I feel lonely for home, I find my Sunday through Thursday hours quite tolerable. I’ll have to remember to tone it down when I play music and sing along. The students in the carrells outside my office door might not be Little Feat fans.

I followed up this morning with the publisher about my Quill Point manuscript. It should be in the review stage right about now. I’m ready to start the long, tedious process of editing, but I’m also thinking that this might be the last book I write for quite a while. I feel like I need a stretch of living more to take my writing to the next level. More experiences under my belt. More contemplation. More travel. More rest. I may be going to an library conference in April for a week in San Antonio. That would be sweet.

But now I’m in Vermont and must stop writing to prepare for my mother’s party. I leave you with a photo of our lovely college library. What do you celebrate in January? Check back next week for another segment of Finding Home.

Lisa

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“In the midst of winter.”

Good morning from sunny, cold Vermont. It’s a confusing time. We’ve had flooding in at least two towns in our county, and homeowners and renters have been displaced. One homeowner said the fire department pumped 10,000 gallons of water out of his basement. Meanwhile, it’s minus three degrees in Burlington.

This past week, I’ve been so busy with sick daughters that I’ve been removed from the suffering of others. Just today, when things seem more settled here at home, I am catching up on the world around me and offer my prayers and sympathy. Our climate is definitely shaky; we don’t have to look across the globe anymore.

You know how I always have a combination of books going? Usually a romance, a mystery, a few works of nonfiction? Well, in all my reading in 2017, I formulated two life lessons: 1) Strive to be the best version of yourself, and 2) When you’re paralyzed with life’s challenges, take a small step and do the next right thing. Luckily, I’ve read this advice repeatedly enough that it’s good and stuck in my mind. When I’m wondering how to handle situations, either at work or at home, or in the grocery store, I remember these lessons and I try to act accordingly. It’s nice to have guide posts.

I read part of a letter from Camus to a loved one, and since it’s in the public domain, I’m sharing it with you.

“My dear, in the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. I realized, through it all, that…In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger—something better, pushing right back.”

Perhaps this resonates with some of you? Check back next week for another segment of Finding Home.

Lisa

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Ten below and all is well…

Good morning from spicy cold Vermont. This morning Liv and I braved the wind and went to Breakfast Club at Deb’s Place (grilled, iced blueberry and raspberry muffins and strong cups of tea), the library (her three thick books to my two), and finished up our route at Second Chance, the used clothing store, where I finally got rid of the two bags of clothing I’d been hauling around in my car. Now, we have the entire day to be inside while winter does its worst. I’m hoping that Tim will hang some more of our art, especially in our bedroom, where the Audubon prints rest against the lower walls, making the birds look flightless.

This past week I emailed my publisher to see if my manuscript had been reviewed. It’s next in the queue, so I should find out within the next two weeks. I like this time of not knowing. Of not having to meet a deadline. Of not trying to fit writing in between trips to the washer and dryer. But if all goes as planned, soon you’ll be hearing me grumble about having to rewrite scenes, and being offended by the nasty (but true) comments of the editors.

We took our Christmas tree down last night. I’ll miss Bing and Dean and Buck and the King Family, and I won’t hear them singing again until early November. But there are other events to look forward to as we step into this new year. My mom’s birthday, for instance. That’s a day of rejoicing for sure.

I’ll finish up now. I’m going to do some house chores and cuddle up with the dog and A Paris Year, one of my library finds. Keep warm, everybody. I’m grateful for you.

Lisa

 

 

I don’t want to miss the miracles.

Good afternoon from frigid Vermont. It’s New Year’s Day, of course, and good wishes and good health to all of you for 2018. We’ve had a fairly good stretch of holiday here at Soft Landing, and I’ll admit right now that going back to work tomorrow won’t be easy (and this from someone who loves her job). But my plants need watering, and I’ve about 80 classes to prep for. I’ll adjust. And did you notice that, ever so slowly, our light is returning?

I haven’t checked my emails or Facebook all week, so I don’t know if my publisher has contacted me regarding Quill Point, but I’ve made a decision. If I don’t get a contract, I’ll blog each chapter throughout the year, until you all have read it. I don’t have the time or energy to look for a new publisher, and I really want to share my work. What do you think of that?

This morning we woke up to a cracked window in our upstairs hallway, from the deep cold and new construction, maybe. And I said, “Oh well, I’ll just call it in.” How uplifting–a burden that doesn’t need to settle onto our shoulders and whack us to death. Amen, sister!

I’ve made one resolution this year, to keep showing up. I don’t want to miss the miracles. What are your resolutions? Check back next week for another segment of Finding Home.

Lisa

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Jingle Bells.

Merry Christmas Eve from wintery Vermont. Today the elements promise a white Christmas. Snow, of course. A chuff of chill, a bit of bluster. And plowed roads. As my daughters say, “We’re good.” This mid-day; it’s my quiet time. No more shopping, no more chores, no more deliveries. All is well.

My dad’s last brother, in fact his last living sibling, died last night. He was 90. They started off with thirteen children, I think. I remember their names: Roland, Gerard, Wilfred, Roger, Rene, Rita, Alice, Arthur, Raymond, Lucien, Cleanda, Liliane, and Normand. They are not in birth order, but my Uncle Raymond was the last of them. I thought at first that this meant the end of the line. But no, because all of us children continue on, with our children, and their children. Still, it’s the end of something.

I’m told that deaths around Christmas are common. But my Uncle Raymond wasn’t common. He knew about circuitry and plumbing and how to fix just about any machine. I remember his coming over to fix my parents’ old washer–kept it going long after it expected to remain. He sang well, had an ear that harmonized to just about any piece of music. And he knew his Bible. I think he was the tallest uncle I had. Keep his family in your thoughts and prayers this Christmas, will you?

We’ve been watching another season of the British Baking Show, and this afternoon, my younger daughter and I will make our own challenge. In three hours, we’ll bake and decorate a Christmas cake, pretending that we are in the great, white tent, using all of the British cooking words we know. “Do you care for a tipple?” I’ll ask. “Oh–you’re getting boozy,” she’ll answer. We haven’t figured out what a marchpane is, but we’re pretty good at making things up.

I wish you all a sweet Christmas, especially that one moment when you feel something really good, that moment when your load lessens and your mind and soul and body say, “Ahhhhh.” The release of tension. The love of family and neighbor. The “you go before I.” Christmas cheer.

Me, I’m feeling it now, as I listen to George Winston’s December and prepare to make salads for lunch. Jingle bells. All is well. Merry Christmas.

Lisa

 

“Christmases of long long ago.”

Good morning from possibly sunny Vermont. When I was growing up, Christmas was a grand affair, with rituals pulling from my mother’s French Canadian side of the family. We spent Christmas Eve day preparing for midnight mass, and gathering and making foodstuff for the large reveillon (French for “awakening”) celebration that my parents hosted after mass.

My dad got his guitar out as often as he could around barn chores, and practiced the many carols and hymns he’d be playing and singing as he directed our church choir. My sisters and I would sing with him as he worked the kinks out. Though he loved his music, directing stressed him out, so we carried a bit of his tension as he went through his day.

It seemed that the kitchen and the laundry room next to it were packed with platters and bowls and Tupperware containers filled with food. Mom always left room for my aunt’s homemade eggnog, with cream stacked so thick that none of us could drink it without getting a bit “egg on our faces.” We didn’t mind.

As the day turned into darkness, Mom sent us, and later we sent ourselves, off for naps. I remember curling up on my bed, unable to sleep, wondering if I was missing anything downstairs. I’d take my bright yellow transistor radio and listen to stations from as far away as Chicago. My “naps” never lasted long. I’d get up, get dressed in my special Christmas clothes, and head downstairs to see who had popped in.

As the night drew on, we watched Vermont choral groups performing carols on WCAX, a pre-recorded show. A few times we picked out my sister’s or my cousins’ faces.  Then we’d watch The Christmas Carol, and  I loved the thrill of simultaneously feeling scared and safe. We all took our turns in the far living room, watching the tree lights and eying the presents already tucked under the lowest boughs. (None of them were for me; I’d already checked.) What would Santa bring?

Around ten o’clock, we’d get our coats and boots on and pile into the car. The church was just a few miles away, and for me, the best rides to church were in blinding snow. Sometimes there were luminaries lining the entrance to the door. Inside, it was all evergreens and red ribbons and tiny, white lights. And it was cold! I took my coat off so everyone could see my new dress, and shivered all the way through mass. Later, when I directed the choir, I wore thick sweaters and corduroys. I gave up looking chic for warmth. Still do, in fact.

My dad got nervous, and sometimes his fingers wouldn’t listen to him as he played his guitar. And sometimes my Uncle Roger, who played the organ, his fingers wouldn’t listen to him. And sometimes we singers were a tad off or forgot to start when we were supposed to. But overall, the music (imagine a packed church with everyone singing) the service, they were something special.

I think I was about four or five when I joined the family for midnight mass, so you can imagine how long those first services seemed. But I developed tricks to get through. I’d count all of the Christmas lights on the trees, or count the tiny blocks formed by the register on the wall. I’d count how many words I could make out of the word “Missalette.” (Try it!) I had a rich inner life to help me through the long stretches, and I guess I still do.

Then home. My dad had to talk with everyone, and he had to pack up his guitar, and this took hours. I even remember tugging at his hands a few times and reminding him about Santa. As we drove into our yard around 1:30 AM, he’d slow down and point to our roof. “Look at those tracks!” And you know what? They were there, every time!

But before we could get to the tree and its surprises, first we partied. Up to seventy friends and family came into our farmhouse, and we little ones got and gave our double kisses, took their coats and dumped them onto my parents’ bed, until they became a mound at least four feet high, taller than we were, anyway.

We got plates and cups and filled them with exotic foods like shrimp and macaroni salad and cream cheese and lime jello, and that rich, frothy eggnog. Then came the hard part. Waiting for everyone to leave. My little cousins and I, along with my sister who was next in age, would pounce on anyone giving signs that they were finishing up, and we asked if they needed their coats. Finally, the house emptied. Do you think it was time for presents? Nooooo. It was time to clean up. We went around the downstairs gathering dirty dishes, and we cleared the table of food. We hand washed and dried loads of glasses and plates and utensils, until my oldest sister gave the signal: Time for pajamas!

For those of you keeping time, let’s say it’s about 3:30 AM. We ran upstairs to throw on our nightwear and then settled into our assigned spots in the far living room. (Remember, there were eight of us.) I sat on the floor for years, finally graduating to a place on the sofa when my older siblings started having their own Christmas Eves elsewhere. I never offered to play Santa, not having enough patience. Our presents were often homemade, often practical, and always wonderful. I remember soft yellow flannel nightgowns, my little Martin guitar, ornaments made up yarn or walnuts or pinecones. Molasses cookies, books, stationery, poptarts, socks.

My dad and brother never bothered to go to bed. They just stayed up until milking time. But the rest of us got to sleep in. I was usually the first one down, around 7 AM, because I wanted to go over my loot. Over a breakfast of poptarts and eggnog, I’d scrutinize every gift and marvel at my good fortune. Then my sisters would join me one at a time, choosing healthier breakfasts. Eventually, my mom, who must have been exhausted really, joined us while still in her nightgown, a rarity, as she was always up and dressed so early. She too would review what she’d opened the night before.

We had Christmas dinner over at my aunt’s and uncle’s house. Sometimes we’d walk through the woods to get there. Our families grew up very close. My mom and her sister married my dad and his brother, so their four boys and one girl and our five girls and one boy made quite a pack. To this day it awes me that we share the same genetic material, even though we’ve all gone in different directions.

So this is my heritage, and this is why this time of year still gives me goosebumps. I couldn’t have asked for better holiday memories, and I hope that my girls are experiencing even just a bit of the joy I felt then, and still do. But so much is in what we remember, isn’t it?

What is your holiday story? Check back next week for another segment of Finding Home.

Lisa

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Angels watching over you.

Good morning from snowy, cold Vermont. At my Mom’s, people are always dropping things off and picking things up. It’s the grand central station of housewares, clothing, and shared foodstuff. Yesterday, someone dropped off a card for us Kents and left it in the inside of the front storm door. When Tim went to check on Serena, he brought it home for us.

It was a rare Friday night here. Liv, Tim, and I were tucked into the sofa with the dog. Tim worked on his Sudoku puzzle, Liv read, and I worked on a New York Times crossword. I casually opened the card, assuming it was from one of my cousins. The card itself was pretty–“Joy to the World,” it read, in greens and reds, with a background color of gray. I opened it to see who it was from.

“There are angels watching over you,” someone had written. I didn’t absorb the reference until I noticed what was tucked inside. And then, the floodgates opened as we held hands and cried. Angels from somewhere, somehow, gave us exactly what we really needed to close the year and start anew.

Just in case these angels are reading this blog, thank you from every inch of our hearts and souls. In an instant, you have turned something laborious and even grim into something joyful. And while I’m at it, thank you all you other angels, who have given of yourselves to help us get through this trying year. Angels all over the United States. Angels from Canada. Thank you again and again, and may you truly be blessed as you have blessed us.

Do you have a blessing story? Check back next week for another segment of Finding Home.

Lisa

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