Summer is a Season for Open Doors.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Nest, by Esther Ehrlich: a Review

One of the many challenges for upper elementary and middle school Language Arts teachers is finding timely books with age appropriate characters and thought provoking themes, yet won’t spur parents to demand the principal to pull it off the shelf because of graphic violence, profanity or sex. Nest, by Esther Ehrlich, is a book that adults will approve of and young readers will love.

Set in 1972, the story centers on Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein. She and her father, mother and sister Rachel are year-round residents of Cape Cod, and the novel starts at the end of summer. At the beginning of the tale the Orensteins are a happy family; Dr. Orenstein has a therapy practice on the Cape, the girls get along well, and Hannah, the mother, is a former dancer who stays active in local dance recitals. Chirp, who gets her nickname because of her penchant for birds and bird watching, becomes friends with new neighbor and 6th grade classmate Joey Morell, whose parents often lock him out of the house.

Chirp’s idyllic world is soon shattered when her mother
,diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, falls into deep depression, and the story delves into darker themes of betrayal and grief. Yet Ehrlich skillfully balances this novel with resilience and hope while dealing with issues such as bullying, disease, child abuse, and suicide. Levity is provided through Chirp’s authentic voice, her passion for birds and her interactions with others.

Because the story takes place during the Vietnam War era, a time before cell phones and cable TV, it may be classified as historical, yet its themes are timeless. (Random House provides links to teaching tools.) The book stays true to an eleven year-old point of view where life hovers between childhood and adulthood, yet within that child’s lens is Chirp’s growing awareness of the world’s truths.

It would not surprise me to see this debut novel shortlisted for a Newbery or ALA award. I hope Ms. Ehrlich is working on more books for young readers so I can recommend them to my teaching colleagues. Nest is available September 9, 2014, for grades 4-8.

I would like to Thank NetGalley for my advance copy.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Painted Horses Book Review

Painted Horses,  a novel by Malcolm Brooks, takes one back to the mid twentieth century before the vista was littered with endless strip malls, where untamed horses and impetuous wranglers vied for the land.  The tale centers around twenty-three year old Catherine Lemay, a young archaeology student, and a mystifying cowboy named John H who paints his mark on horse’s flanks. The land itself is a character, both benevolent, offering glorious vistas and water, and malevolent, with “a line of severe hills like the teeth of a saw blade rises massively in the distance….the stripe of clouds above the hills gathers amber then purple then blue.”

Even though Catherine has spent time on projects in Europe, the world she enters in Montana is more foreign to her. She has been raised within a country club lifestyle back east, with expectations to become a concert pianist, not a woman who chooses to dig through the earth for ancient relics.  Catherine soon proves, in spite of privileged upbringing, she is tenacious and focused, and uses her instincts to compel her to accomplish her goal of finding historical artifacts to prevent building of a dam that will flood all that remains.

Catherine suspects she isn't supposed to find anything, that she was purposely hired by Harris Power and Light, the contractor for the Army Corps of Engineers to build the dam, because she is a woman and a novice. Harris and Jim Allen, the wrangler hired to help guide her in and out of the canyon, seem accommodating enough, but they underestimate Catherine’s tenacity and her growing suspicion that she is being duped.

John H, the mysterious horseman, inadvertently watches over her, and becomes her ally. Throughout the novel his back-story is gradually revealed. Interestingly, John H served in a cavalry unit during WWII because of his skill with horses. John H seems an unlikely friend to the young archaeologist, but  by the end of the tale the reader cares deeply about him and Catherine, separately and together.

If the novel has faults, they derive from my own impatience with several passages bearing long descriptions of horses. (I know, duh, it’s called Painted Horses.) I don't dislike horses, but I don't know enough about them to distinguish one from another, and for me the narrative dips during those moments, but the fault is mine as a reader.

Another issue was occasionally I was unsure if a chapter was a flashback or taking place in the present. Because I was reading an uncorrected proof, this may have been resolved by labeling each chapter with a date or location.

Like most literary novels, the book does not have the stereotypical happy ending where the characters ride off into the smiling sunset; the ending has a realistic resolution. Fans of Annie Proulx or Wallace Stegner will enjoy this book. Painted Horses is an ambitious debut, a ruminative, adventurous story that resonates, and these characters will stay with me for awhile.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Should I Be Insulted?

Recently I received a rejection from an agent thanking me for my query and wishing me luck.  She added links to three websites that might help me “learn about publishing.” Does this agent perceive me as a beginner? Should I be insulted?

I looked over the sites. One site, is group blog by industry insiders such as agents, editors, sales reps and writers. In spite of its push to market each contributor’s own books, this one looks useful. The other two links, however, looked like discussion boards for “newbie writers.”  Many of the questions posted are, in fact, by new writers, containing basic requests on formatting manuscripts and how to approach an agent or write a query.

The agent, I will call her Agent X, suggested one of the sites ‘as a place to post my query for critique.’ Should I be insulted this agent thinks my query stinks? That I know so little about writing I need to resort to an online discussion board comprised of random beginning writers?

Had I not already received glowing responses, albeit rejections, from several agents about the quality of my query and submission package, I might opt for seeking advice from one of these discussion boards. But should a writer, new or veteran, throw his or her work out there for perusal by strangers of dubious writing backgrounds?

I have heard of many friendships being formed by users of similar discussion sites. When I first started writing I welcomed input from anyone. I went through a series of workshops where participants shared their work with one another. Occasionally I was offered good advice, but for the most part it was the blind leading the blind down a steep rocky path.

Normally I’m not shy, but when it comes to my work I stick pretty close to my shell. I've been to enough writing circles where someone ends up in tears because others criticized her first draft of a story told through the viewpoint of a severed hand. Or when one of the participants prefaces each of his comments with “as someone who has had over thirty stories published in True Confessions,…".

Writers are solitary creatures, but there is value in attending writing conferences and workshops. Because I am in proximity of very few authors, I try to attend a conference once a year so I can discuss process and structure with like-minded people. Call me a writing snob, but I now only choose exclusive ones like Kenyon that require manuscript approval, where participants are (pardon the clich√© and pun) “on the same page.”

I am reluctant to show drafts to anyone. Even Elizabeth, my number one person I select for seeking feedback, does not see first draft materials. My work has gone through the wringer at least twice before she lays her eagle eyes on it.

How does one know when his or her work is good enough?  Sometimes you don’t. It takes years of writing and reading to trust when your work is good enough. And there are days when I've had yet another rejection I start to question this writing gig is worth my time.

Perhaps Agent X suggests these sites to all her rejectees, and as usual, I am over thinking her intent, so I shouldn't take this as an insult. Just say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ and submit to the next agent on my list.

Or as my fiend Myra just suggested to me, “write a trashy romance. That’s where the money is.”

Happy Writing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Am I Better Than My Work?

Often my writing sucks. Big time, and I remind myself often as I am drafting a manuscript with little side bars, for example, as I write this post, I may insert (THIS SENTENCE STINKS UP THE ROOM. ) but I am not criticizing myself, just the horrible combination of words that passes for a sentence.

Elizabeth recently posted a comment on Facebook criticizing a group of her poems, and several people remarked she should stop being so hard on herself.
“I was NOT insulting myself” she said, “I was critiquing the poems. I didn't say I'm a terrible poet, I meant, these poems poems need revision.”
“One must be hard on the work in order to improve,” I said.
“You’re a good enough poet to be cognizant of when your work is weak.”
“I’m not going to apologize for myself deprecating humor,” she said. “It’s who I am. I have an excellent self esteem.
Elizabeth needled me about a posting I had shared on ‘15 things you need to do to be happy.’ “I hate when people try to tell me how to improve myself,” she said. “I like my bad attitude and imperfect life.”
I laughed, and nodded. “Our writing comes from unhappiness and suffering. We kind of enjoy our pain. Pain is a catalyst for work.
She agreed. “Just because I criticize my own work does not make mean I’m unhappy. I can write really wonderful depressing poems when I am extremely happy. Being happy is overrated. I’d rather be fulfilled”
“I once had a drawing instructor tell me when you’re content with your work, you’re dead.”

Today I saw a badge on a FB writing site that said “Write What You Like”. Depending on the interpretation, writing ‘what I like’ in the context of being free to write anything, I agree. But writing only what I ‘like’ stunts me as a writer. Real writing comes from what bothers us, what we don't understand, and what scares the bejesus out of us. If we only write about what we like, we won’t grow as writers. We won’t explore the messy layers of the human experience and its gritty ugliness. We should not avert our eyes because something is unpleasant.

When I was in my MFA program, my first mentor asked me, what bugs you? I replied, “I didn't get the whole tattoo-piercing thing.” She said, “That’s what you need to write about.” All semester I entered the foreign country of tattoo parlors, marked bodies. I even attended a three day tattoo festival where I was the only unmarked person. I spent my time asking participants about what motivated their tattoos. One heavy young man said, “I don’t fit the standard of beauty, so I find beauty in my body by making it a canvas.”

Unlike journalist Dennis Covington, who chronicles his slow seduction into the snake handling culture in Salvation on Sand Mountain, I was not propelled to cover my skin with tattoos and piercings, but I gained insight into why others do it.

Good writing comes from what we feel passionately about, either positively or negatively. What bothers you? What scares you? You might not like it, and you may not like writing about it, but your writing will improve.

Happy Writing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

“Does it really have to be so be so difficult to kill yourself without being constantly disturbed?”

You know the type of book I’m talking about: one of those tales tempting you to call in sick so you can keep reading, but when you finish, you’re heartbroken because it’s over. A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman is one of those books.

Ove, a 59 year-old recent widower forced into early retirement has decided to join his dead wife rather than spend his days missing her. What could have been a dark exploration of grief turns into a lively tale in A Man Called Ove. In this novel, curmudgeonly Ove, the kind of man who inspects the neighborhood each day and takes down license plates numbers of cars parked for more than the allotted twenty four hours, displays great disdain for the “idiots” who cannot seem to read signs, and for the cat who starts hanging around outside his home. On the surface, Ove appears to be a grouchy old man who people avoid, and he likes it that way. All Ove wants is to kill himself and be done with it all.

His plans are thwarted by the arrival of new neighbors: an Iranian family consisting of a pregnant Parvaneh, her hapless husband Patrick, and seven and three year old girls. They meet when Patrick crashes into Ove’s mailbox with his moving truck. It does not go well, but Parvaneh recognizes a dormant charm on Ove, and she infiltrates his lonely life and provides the catalyst to force Ove to interact with his long feuding neighbor Rune, an odd kid from next door named Jimmy, a suspected bicycle thief, and a stray cat.

Alternating chapters reveal Ove as a youth and a young married man. He was never boisterous, but when his wife was alive she tempered any latent bitterness. The reader is privy to Ove’s one time happiness, series of disappointments, and his loyalty to Saab cars. (The feud with Rune was over Rune trading his own loyalty to Volvos for a BMW.)

Told in third person, the reader is privy to Ove’s distinctive voice with its subtle humor. On one of the days when he (unsuccessfully) tries to kills himself, he still performs his daily morning inspection. “Just because he’s dying today doesn't mean the vandals should be given free rein.”

This tale serves to remind us that each of us has a unique story. One can imagine Parvaneh lives by the creed, “everyone you met is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be Kind,” and she refuses to give up on mean old Ove.

I read an author profile by the Swedish author, Fredrick Backman, where he displays this same deadpan humor, claiming his motivation to write novels, other than “surely this must be better than working,”  is to feed his “major his interest in cheese-eating.” I wonder if Backman drives a Saab.

Recently I've been clearing out my bookshelves for my move to Seattle, paring them down to half. Most of my Advance Reader copies I've given away or donated to the Friends of the Library bookstore, but this one I’m keeping. It will be shelved with books I plan to reread.

Pick up a copy on  Tuesday, July 15, 2014.

Happy Reading.

Friday, July 4, 2014

What Shall I Name the Dog?

I’m trying to find a title for my latest novel and it’s like doing a word problem for Algebra. My initial title was Pagoda, a nickname one of the characters calls Michel, the protagonist. While it’s a catchy word, the underlying meaning and function of a Pagoda does not fit the book’s themes.

The novel takes place largely in summer, and Michael’s car is called the Blue Whale, but my current title, Summer of the Blue Whale sounds like a feel good beach book, which it’s not. I toyed with The Blue Whale of Summer as a nod to a line in a poem by Pablo Neruda about watermelons being “the green whale of summer,” but the reference is too obscure.

In one scene Michael gives his sister a copy of The Arabian Nights, a childhood favorite. Michael’s Tale? But the book is not just about Michael.

Kerouac already stile On the Road, so I can’t use that one. My novel isn't really a road story anyway, even though the car is a character, and one character takes a long journey.

I like From Here to Eternity. Not so much the book, but the title. The words roll off the tongue.
The Signature of All Things is another catchy title. It fits the book and has a pleasing cadence.

I like titles where you don't understand them until you have read far into the novel. The Catcher in the Rye is like that. The reader has to dig around and wait. Shadow of the Wind drives the tale on two levels: it centers around a book with the same title, and much of the tale takes place in shadows.

I don’t want my title to reveal too much, but it needs to be inseparable from with the story, almost like a tag line. Anyone who hears “yada yada yada” immediately conjures Seinfeld. When I hired Elizabeth to edit, she suggested A Whole Lot of Smirking Going On, since I had numerous incidents where Michael and Shelly smirk at one another. Another suggestion was Because Because Because as I had used the word because three times in one sentence.

Cindy S said she likes coming up with titles, such as, Tiger Lilies, Chicory and Queen Ann’s Lace. “I don’t know what it would be about, but I like the sequence of words.” I said it sounds like a good name for a cozy mystery about a gardener.

Cindy R is good at coming with titles, but she hasn't read my book, so she’s no help at all. (Note; it’s not that she refuses to read my book, she doesn't have time.)

Perhaps I will choose something simple. The Goldfinch ties this massive story together. It's a simple confluence of words, but once you read the book, no other title fits.

Friends have told me not to stress about the title because chances are it will get changed anyway, but I am trying to attract an agent, and a sucky title might put my query in the sucky query pile. It’s a Catch-22 (another rocking title.)

Happy writing and titling.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A First of the Month Post

Friends keep asking me how retirement feels. It’s summer, and as a teacher I didn't normally work the summer months, so I have noticed little difference. Until yesterday when I saw a Back-to-School display at Dollar General loaded with notebooks, pens and other student paraphernalia. The words “back to school sale” always filed me with a combination of dread and excitement. Now? It’s just another sale.

Carl the cleaner is in my home again today, this time scrubbing the basement and garage. The basement doesn't need much other than a dusting, and some bleaching on the floor where my kitchen drain leaked on Christmas Day. I spent the holiday shop-vaccing the water until I figured out where the water came from.

One of the reasons I bought this house was its dry basement, and after eight years never had a problem. On Christmas Eve I had gone down to do some laundry and noticed the unfinished half of the basement under water. Elizabeth came to my rescue with her shop vac.

Intermittently, small pools formed at random times. I thought perhaps the water came from the melting mountains of snow that series of Siberian blasts had dumped on my yard. So all day I went downstairs, vacuumed up water, and checked each hour. The last time I noticed a puddle it had suds in it. Wait a minute; I had just done dishes. I looked up and noticed the drain pipe had separated from the ring that holds it to the main drain. I was flooding my own basement every time I washed dishes or made coffee. It pays to look up.

The garage itself is dusty and messy, but the biggest issue is the dead mice smell. Until this year I had noticed a mouse problem, but maybe winter was so frigid the mice needed a respite, and they chose my garage. On sultry summer days the odor is really strong, so I have asked brave Carl to find the bodies and dispose of them. I wouldn't want to buy a house that reeked of dead animals.

So here I am deported to Starbucks for a few hours while Carl cleans. It’s the first of the month so I need to avoid, well, just about everywhere. Because this coffee shop resides next to a check cashing place parking will become a problem later. When my house is being shown this afternoon I may just take a drive, or perhaps go to Staples and gape at all the Back to School Sale items I don’t need to buy.

 Happy Writing.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Clean Living

A professional cleaner scrubbed my house yesterday. It’s so clean I want to freeze-dry it to prevent cat fur, dust, and me from messing it up. I’m tempted to check into a hotel until my house sells so it always looks “move-in ready.”

This morning, rather than fix myself eggs, toast and coffee, I ate breakfast out so the egg smell wouldn't linger for the 1 pm showing. My car is starting to look like a Hoarder’s episode because I am stowing stuff that usually gets shucked onto tables and counters.

Last night, after Carl the cleaner left, I was so inspired by the pristine condition of my house I straightened closets, thus nearly filling a trash bag with dried up hand lotion bottles and half empty shampoos I forgot I had.

Rather than fold the sheets that are in the dryer, thus filling up the now tidy hall closet, I left them in there, hence leaving wet towels in the washer until I come home later. Normally the clumps of grass my mower leaves doesn't bother me, but today I raked the yard to remove the clods of grass.

I’m even sleeping differently. Since I now make my bed every day, I tucked the top sheet into the bottom of the bed when I changed the sheets last night. I like my bedding loose because I roll around a lot at night, and I want my bed clothes to move with me. But it’s easier to stage a bed if all the blankets and sheets are secured. Now I sleep like a mummy, which could explain the weird dreams. Like the one I had right before I woke up this morning where I gave Hilary Clinton the finger. In the dream I meant it as a joke, but she was not amused. Obviously I haven't established enough of a personal bond with Mrs. Clinton to make inappropriate gestures, even in jest.

I hid my favorite pillow in the closet because it doesn’t lie flat enough on the bed. It’s one of those side sleeper pillows with a dip in the center. I placed a decoy under the one of the shams. After making the bed, I also hid the ocean.

I don’t know about you, but I need white noise in order to sleep, so I sleep next to the ocean every night, except this one is from the coast of Radio Shack.

Most of the crap cluttering my dresser (deodorant, jewelry trees, and hand lotion) is stashed inside the drawers, along with the stack of books that usually forms a precarious tower on my night stand.

I didn't spray my hair this morning since Carl successfully made my unfortunate choice of white grout on my bathroom tile sparkle like new. My hair never looks great anyway, so forgoing spray won’t make a difference. I scan the floors for stray cat fur clumps and place those in the trash. I empty all the small cans into kitchen trash can and change the bag. I’ve become my own hotel maid.

Now would be a good time to invite people over, but I don't anyone in my house to mess it up. Most of my friends are like me; people who put our feet up and relax in our homes.

So here I am, exiled to Starbucks until a t least 2 o’clock as strangers open cabinets and track footprints on my clean floors. Like Hyacinth Bucket on Keeping up Appearances, I hope they “don't brush against my walls!”Happy Writing.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Interstitial Life

My living room is now painted white, with non-offensive pictures on the walls. (Prior to painting my once terra cotta walls several nudes I had painted in a figure drawing workshop graced the walls.) The family photos are stashed in a box, random other personal stuff stowed in closets, and I now make my bed daily. I’m a guest in my own home, but soon it won’t be my mine anymore. The For Sale sign went up a few days ago, and there is a young man in my house scrubbing it from top to bottom as I sit in Starbucks and write.

I am selling this house in Ohio, with more than 1100 sq feet of living space and a quarter acre yard to move into a tiny, 1 bedroom condo in Seattle. Both properties are in the same pricing range; the three bedroom ranch with attached garage is going for 129,900, the condo is 90,000. My new home will come with an outdoor parking space, and a small patio. But I do not rue downsizing. How much do we really need to survive? 638 square feet is tight, but I regard it as a personal challenge to fit my necessities inside the new space. (Luckily there is an Ikea in Seattle.)

If you read my previous blog post, you would know that the two negatives of living in Seattle will be traffic leaving my friends behind. The traffic I can handle. I listen to books on CD to keep me from road rage. But my other con of leaving my friends weighs so much more. It almost supersedes all the pros about living in Seattle. Almost.

I recently saw this Buddha quote: “In the end only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

A month ago I retired form a career I mostly loved. The last two years were tough because I was beginning to suspect my position had lost relevance, and this was confirmed by who they hired to replace me. I realize now my work did not matter to them. It stung for a day or so, but my new mantra is, “Not my circus, no longer my monkeys.”

I live gently with occasional moments of bombast and unpredictability. In one of those Facebook tests that asks What Kind of Novel Are you? I am an adventure. So yes, I live a gentle adventure. I’m not starting wars and leading protests movements, but I've been known to take impromptu trips to parts of the world. And now hey I’m ripping off the Band-Aid of my staid life to move across the country with two cats and half of what I now own.

Paring down possessions is the easy part of letting go: some of what I own is not meant to be with me forever. The hard part of paring down is leaving the cherished people in my life. Many of them are meant for me. They would not be my friends otherwise. I’ll miss writing time with Cindy S and Cindy R. They provide good company, and I am able to channel creative vibes from them even as we sit across the table ignoring one another.

I will miss Olive Garden and Starbucks dates with Cindy R, and sharing a room when we go to writing conferences. We share a love of reading and literature, and a similar disdain for schlock and shallow books. I will miss our conversations about irreverent topics, such as yesterday when she told me about an article she read about how porn stars prepare their bodies for anal scenes.

I will miss Amanda and Dennis, who had a red wedding on 06/06/06 (we all survived it, though). After visiting them today, instead of waving, we gave each other the finger.

There is a litany of other friends who I will miss. Too many to list here, but they know who they are.

The hardest person for me to leave is Elizabeth, sister of my heart, my chosen family. We’ve been the best of friends for nearly twenty years. We share writing, secrets, and family. I know her daughter better than my own nieces and nephew. We have been through moments of great joy and searing depths, and take care of one another’s cats when one of us goes out of town. When my beloved kitty Lynx died she was there for the backyard funeral where she recited a Pablo Neruda poem and we tossed his ashes in the woods behind my home. She will weep alongside me when Henry, my nineteen year old tabby cat, finally goes.

When I had surgery on my foot, she and our friend Amanda were there in the waiting room. This past Christmas Elizabeth came to my rescue when a pipe burst and flooded my basement. She brought over the shop-vac and helped me toss ruined things in the trash.

Every time I get a rejection letter (which is often) and doubt my ability as a writer, she assures me I’m better than I think I am. Actually we do this for one another. Every writer I knows feels like a fraud, and criticism and rejection is part of the process. It takes nerve to put yourself out there.

Recently Elizabeth healed some wounds when I remarked that my years as a school librarian didn't matter.  “Your work did matter. I saw your interaction with kids when they came to the library.” She often conducted writing workshops at my school for kids in grades 6-12. “I know what being a librarian entails, and I couldn't have done it.”

I regret Elizabeth won’t have access to me as a writing partner. All of us need that one person who shares your values and beliefs, and “gets” you. My family and most of my friends don’t mind that I write, but their eyes cross and their faces take on an expression like how I react when sometimes tries to explain football. I am hoping she can develop a writing bond with the two Cindys.

Elizabeth admitted she wanted to, “selfishly talk you out of moving, but this is the right thing for you.” Our community is intellectually isolating. I’m moving to a culturally rich community . We don’t even have a bookstore, so I hate leaving her behind in desolation, as if I am moving toward something, but she will remain in exile. But then, there are many wonderful people here, and potential for rich friendships. Perhaps without me as a distraction, she will find someone more interesting than my sorry self.

Happy Writing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Clueless in Seattle

I came here nearly three weeks ago house sit for relatives while they travel in Germany and Austria. I came with the best of intentions: work on my novel in progress, read several books. I pictured myself like Hemingway, sans the cigarette and hangover, tapping away furiously at my cousin's dining room table, hammering out a nearly complete draft of my latest mediocre American novel. They don't have cable, so what could distract me?
(play doom music here)
They have Netflix.

Instead of being creative, or even useful, I've been binge watching Arrested Development and Louie, and when I ran out of episodes, started on Portlandia. (I watched a few episodes of Mad. Men, but it was like watching my parents generation devolve, and I don't Ike being reminded of the overt sexism of mid century office politics.

Here is what else I have been doing:

I drink a lot of coffee. Hey, it's Seattle. I think I know why this is such a coffee addicted city. It is nearly the end of June and it is 52 degrees outside. Coffee is a necessity to stay warm. Coffee is also needed to keep one awake. In between rare, gloriously sunny days, the skies vary in tone from sidewalk to slate gray.

I am house/ pet sitting, so I'm not totally useless. One of their three cats has bonded with me, and she sleeps with me, follows me around the house and even accompanies me partially on my daily walk. A second cat, Indy has been living up to his name; very independent. And the third cat, Negro (pronounced nay-gro) only approaches when hes so hungry he will risk tipping past this foreign human. The first night, as I sat on the couch to binge watch Arrested Development season 1, the black cat approached, laid a paw on my thigh and studied my face, as if to say, wait, you're not Jena. He dashed off, and has been a phantom other than to dine and dash.

Jena has a lovely garden, and I have been tending it and even added a few plants to it.

Im trying to keep the house clean. The housekeeper came the first week I was here, but she wont be back until after I leave.
Im also taking out the trash. So what? Everyone does that. In Seattle, trash day is an ordeal. *See notes on recycling Nazis for further explanation.

I went to the movies. Here's what a small world it is; one of my friends from high school, more than forty years ago, has been living in Seattle for twenty-five years. Her house is exactly twenty blocks south of my cousin's. Like most of us nowadays, we found one another on Facebook. The first time we met up, we walked the three miles around Green Lake. A few nights later she asked me to see The Lunchbox, a lovely independent film. See it.

My dearest friend Elizabeth has a friend here who I have met up with for lunch a couple of times. Elizabeth calls us her two favorite people in the world. Cat and I bonded right away, and we ended up spending the day together shopping, having coffee, and browsing Sky Nursery. I bought Jena another plant. Cat and I are now friends, too.

One morning I put on my bus pants (Big Bang Theory fans will understand the reference) and rode down to Pike Market to walk around in the rain. I discovered Left bank Books, bought an old copy of a book that beckoned me from the shelves. a thin volume called Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal. I recalled the author's name from something I read about Czech lit. The book is underlined with notes in the margins (my favorite type of book; proof someone else engaged with its text) and a bargain at $5. The woman at the counter remarked, "Thats my all time favorite book."

One cannot visit or live in Seattle without stumbling across bookstores. This is part of the reason I am moving here. Each store I ventured into displayed subtle anti-amazon signs. At Third. Place Books, a sign promised 20% off and free delivery on pre-orders of Robert Galbraiths, (aka J. K. Rowling) latest Hachette title The Silkworm.

Each day I walk 1-3 miles, occasionally accompanied by the cat for the first few yards. The distance was dependent on weather and my right knee, which I sort of blew out on the flight here, and allergies. I'm kind of allergic to everything in the air here, so I blow my nose a lot. If I run out of tissues on a stroll, the walk is curtailed.

I met my brother and his wife for lunch in Centralia, which is a halfway point between Portland and Seattle, where they forced me to buy shoes at the Nike outlet. Okay, not forced, but their daughter-in-laws 30% employee discount and the extra 20% sale enticed me to purchase a $100 pair for thirty bucks.

I've looked at properties. Housing is expensive here, so my standard of living will alter from a. Three bedroom house with an attached garage and large yard to a one bedroom condo half the square footage.

I drank coffee. Oh, I mentioned that already. Ive only had two cups so far today.
I baked cookies and banana oat bread. My cousin Bob, Jenas father, believes buying in bulk saves you money, and shortly before Jena and Scott left for Europe, he bought them fifty pounds of oats from Bobs Red Mill. Guess what I eat for breakfast every morning?

I took the bus to Archie McPhee, a store where absolutely nothing is necessary. But maybe it is, because the store is filled with ridiculous items like a switch blade comb and rubber octopus appendages. I bought Shakespearean Insult Bandages.

Every day I drive Jenas pickup truck and get lost, thus finding my way around. I know most of you rely on GPS devices to navigate new places, but I prefer the old fashioned way of getting lost and digging my way back home.

Here's what I love about Seattle so far:

Bookstores. Theyre everywhere

Thus, a lot of writers live here.
People read for no reason. On the bus the other day coming back from Archie McPhees, I overhead a conversation between two young men about poet Charles Bukowski. We were not near a university.

Except maybe we were. There are several universities and college scattered throughout the city.

Community gardens abound. Near my cousin's house is a lot reserved for city gardeners. It's open for public browsing, but not picking. One shriveled mess of a garden had a sign posted Please water my garden while I am out of town. It was apparent this person had either been away for awhile, or nobody else had seen the sign. I fetched a watering can from someone else's garden plot, filled it, and drenched the thirsty patch of land. I was tempted to pick the ripe strawberries, but remembered this was not my garden.

In cafés and coffee houses, friends and strangers share tables, writing, conversing.

The city is socially and environmentally conscious.
*Some may consider Seattleites recycling Nazis, and it IS often confusing to figure out what's trash, whats compostable and whats recyclable. In Ohio we toss it all out. (Lately there has been a movement to recycle pop bottles and paper, but Ohio has yet to start charging for plastic bags or providing refunds on glass and plastic.) Here, one has to think about each item discarded.

People dress for comfort, not high fashion. Yes, I will admit, I have worn socks with sandals. A friend of mine recently sent me photographic proof. In Ohio, and most parts of the world, that attire is regarded with looks of derision. In Seattle? Normal.

Nobody has a tan. My ghostly skin looks normal here.
Close proximity to family who live in California, Oregon and Washington, but not so close any of them will drop over at all hours.

Jazz music. Instead of country music indigenous to where I currently live, cafes and bookshops play jazz or blues soundtracks.

No town is perfect, however. Heres what I don't like:
Traffic. Listening to a book on CD keeps me from having road rage. I always have several handy in case I finish one.

Cost of living. I will be living in less than half the space of my current home for the same amount of money. Today I bought a book called The Cheap Bastard's Guide to Seattle. Since I am one. Retirement income, this may just come in handy.

Most of my friends dont live here. This will be the hardest part of moving. (That, and driving two cats across the country in the back seat of a Honda Civic.) I have many treasured friends back in Ohio, relationships that have been tendered for years, so Ill be lonely for awhile once I hit the highway. Yes, I have blood relatives here, but friends are the chosen family.

Overall my list of likes out-measures the dislikes, and Seattle feels like the place I need to live. It feels like home.

Happy Writing.