Bless This House

My fascination with houses came from my mother. From an early age I witnessed her attraction for them. First came the stories she told of family and where they’d lived in her growing years. Later, I began to share her passion for Gothic novels. All featured a castle or mansion. After Mom died, I found a list she’d penned of the places she had lived from childhood on. She moved often in her life, yet each house had a name, an identity. And often, a personality.

Mom was a dreamer, her dreams fed by the books she read. In my own elementary years I’d devoured the LITTLE HOUSE books and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. When I reached seventh grade I discovered Mom’s beloved Gothic authors – Norah Lofts, Victoria Holt, Daphne DuMaurier, among others. The opening line of Du Maurier’s REBECCA still echoes. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” The houses in these stories were strong characters, embracing their inhabitants, loving, and sometimes haunting them.

An apartment where I once lived was not haunted but at times I almost sensed its past. Once a stately home in a fine neighborhood, it had been converted into three flats. I lived on the third floor, the former maids’ quarters. Access was up a winding back staircase. Two bedrooms, original tiled bath. There was also a lone sink in each bedroom. It was a charming place and my home for three years. I shared it first with Kathy, then Donna. The third year, Tom returned from the U.S. Army, we married and he moved in. Our first home together.

In my adult years, I’ve caused realtors some grief in my searches for the “perfect house”, one I could turn into a home. Our first house was a starter, two bedroom, one bath ranch. Despite the mediocre DIY work that had been done, it had a good floor plan and was priced right. We weren’t as picky as we later became. Four years later, Tom was transferred south. By then we had a three-year old and an infant. We needed more space. In those pre-internet days, we trailed our realtor through many walk-throughs. It was worth it. Montclair Court, a pretty Dutch Colonial sat on a 1/3 of an acre at the end of a cul-de-sac. It had a massive backyard with a circular brick-fenced patio. Our next transfer came seven+ years and another son later, to the East Coast. Along with location, neighborhood, floor plan, size, price, and yard, we had another huge item to consider — schools. Our realtor was put through her paces, but she persevered. Together we found Webster Farm, a dreamy 30 year old, four bedroom Colonial in a warm and homey neighborhood. Three years later, we moved again. Our final move together.

Though many do, we never wanted to build. We preferred older houses. More charm, often better constructed. But after scouring our preferred school district, we couldn’t find the right size, style, or location. We looked at floor plans, previewed new houses. We found a builder with a good rep for quality. We chose a neighborhood near the middle and high schools. There’s a lot more to building than I imagined. I probably irritated our builder more than I ever had the realtors. It was worth it. In 1992, we moved in. Emotionally, it was hard for me to sell after Tom died and our sons moved away. Very hard. But I’ve been happy to be back in the midwest. Creekside needed to be lived in again, by a young family who would laugh, shout, love, and create new memories within its walls.

The apartments and houses I’ve lived in since I left Mom’s home have been in cities and suburbs. When I think or talk of them, their identity is usually the street or neighborhood name — Montclair Court, Webster Farm, Creekside. But I am intrigued with how houses are often individually named in small villages in old British films, and in Mom’s Gothic novels. Their names help define character.

My younger brother and his wife named their home. It’s set among tall trees. Carved on a boulder near the curb is its name, Hemlock Manor. Cool! My own retirement house, this 1960 era, red-brick Cape Cod, still cries out for a name. I’ve tried out several. Soon, I’ll find one that fits.

What houses have you lived in that stand out in your mind? Have you ever named your house/s?

Paper, Pens, and Post-Its

IMG_4841

Backpacks for a new school year

Book stores top my list of pleasant stores to visit. Office supply stores come in second. Yesterday I stopped into Office Depot to buy a medium spiral notebook, the size that fits in my purse. A helpful young man directed me to Aisle 13 where I found a 3-pack with red, blue, and black covers. Of course, I couldn’t check out yet. What if I’d forgotten something? Better to refresh my mind. So, I strolled other aisles, as I’m prone to do. Good thing. I soon recalled I hadn’t yet picked up my donations for Project 1649, Rock County’s organization that helps homeless youths. I kept roaming but with a new purpose. I wandered, analyzing, choosing.  Backpacks, pens, pencils, highlighters.

From an early age I’ve loved school and office supplies. I guess it’s how I roll. In first grade I had a box of Jumbo Crayons. In those days, the eight colors came in a heavy, flat cardboard box with a lift-off lid. I recall placing the colors in a special order. Purple and orange were always in the center. They were the royalty, the king and queen. Brown and green were on each side, the courtiers. And on. Not sure why I did this, except for my enchantment with stories my mom read from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. As I arranged the vibrant colors, I’d think of the stories. A daydreamer.

Vintage ad for Nifty Notebook

Vintage ad for Nifty Notebook, 1963

The appearance of the Nifty Notebook in about 5th grade awed me. It had a such a cool, sleek look with it’s two top holes, and magnetic pencil box. A vintage ad from Newspapers.com shows it on sale for $.98 with filler paper at $.69. It was a bit pricey for a large family in the early 1960’s. I knew if I wanted such a cool notebook, I’d have to buy it myself with earned money. And I did. I saved and bought a lovely green version. Although I only used it for a year or so, I held on to it for ages, buried in my bottom dresser drawer, then in a box. Memories.

August is the month to hunt for and buy school supplies. Shopping for them, or even just strolling through the stores brings back the excitement of Back-to-School. Backpacks, three-ring binders with fresh packages of notebook paper, colorful pocket folders, pencils and pens, erasers, rulers, scissors, index cards, composition books. And who can forget the fragrant smell of a new box of crayons?

IMG_4830 I recall shopping with my sons for their supplies when they were young. It was a fun time, bursting with anticipation for a new school year, a year to be filled with learning and creativity. Using their brand-new supplies, they learned printing, handwriting and telling stories. They painted and colored. They wrote spelling words and numbers. They made images from their growing minds.

I’ve been a student, a mom, a secretary, and a writer.  In the wonder and joy of each profession I’ve needed these supplies. They’re the tools used to communicate and to create. Of course, I haven’t touched on the technology that first came in my sons’ middle years. The wonder of that is for a different post.

Today’s Accomplishments

It’s been 5+ years since my last blog post. Much has happened since then but I won’t try to catch up now. Today, I…

… Cleaned the gutters. To be truthful, I hired a recommended pro to clean them. I just wrote the check. The growing forest of tiny maple trees that yesterday clogged the front expanse and back corners of my gutters is now gone. Cleared away. During thunderstorms I can rest easy, at least until fall.

… Met with my dietician to review what I have been eating, should be eating, how much of it, along with a few helpful tips to keep me on track. Good motivation for the coming months, if only I can stick to it. I also learned she’s retiring next month. Good news for her, not so much for me. I’ll miss our meetings.

… Answered a couple emails to friends. I keep vowing to surprise folks and start sending handwritten letters with ink on real stationery, mailed in envelopes with stamps, as we once did. Just haven’t gotten there yet. I love old-fashioned, penned letters. If enough of us sent them, perhaps we’d keep the U.S. Post Office in business.

… Pulled more weeds from my backyard jungle. Yesterday I weeded for a few hours, until my back began to ache. My gutter guy gave me the name of someone who specializes in garden weeds and lawn care. The thing is, I’d really like to do it myself. I feel better than I have in years and it’s good exercise. Still, it’s nice to have an alternative. I’ll keep the man’s name handy. When I tired of pulling weeds today I…

… Sat on my deck. I savored the sun, breezes, and perfection of blue skies and a 78 degree temperature. While sunning I read more chapters of John Grisham’s CAMINO ISLAND. It’s an interesting book about the world of literary and art thievery, different from Grisham’s usual thrillers about lawyers but still a quick read, a page-turner.

… Opened my laptop and typed “WordPress.com”.  Back in June 2008, when blogs were all the rage, I started this one — Stringing Beads. It began as a journal about me and the things I love — writing, family, love, life. The posts lessened after Tom’s death. My last post was around Valentines Day 2014, a re-hash of my last Valentine to him.  I stopped blogging.  Facebook became an outlet. Today when I opened WordPress, I found I needed to figure it all out again. I’d forgotten to renew my domain name. It was subsequently sold to a Texan.  I got a new one through WP and began refreshing my mind about how to blog.

Stringing Beads is now at debmaher.net.  Whether blogs are still “hot” or not, I hope you’ll follow my new posts, and perhaps skim back through a few of the old (in Archives tag, above). Comments are always welcome.

A Writer’s Valentine

A Writer’s Valentine

Cherish this day, and every day, with your loved one. You don’t have to spend a lot. Make it simple. This post was my last Valentine to Tom. He told me it was the best Valentine’s gift ever. Happy Valentine’s Day!  ♥

Stringing Beads

My passion is writing romance.

I grew up on

boy meets girl

stories. I watch romantic movies, read romance novels, and write

happily ever after

stories.

For years, I’ve been a member of

Romance Writers of America

©.  Most of my close friends read and/or write romance.  Finally, and most important, I have been married to my own true hero for well over thirty years.

I should be able to come up with a unique and heartfelt way to say “I love you” on Valentine’s Day.  What can I give him?  And what will he give me?

As I ponder the questions, I don’t imagine that he’ll bring home a bouquet of long-stemmed roses.  That’s okay. I carried white roses on my wedding day. In our years together, he’s brought home roses for birthdays and illnesses, for Valentine’s Day, and sometimes for nothing special.  Nothing special flowers are best of…

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Resolutions 2014

“Believe you can and you’re half way there.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

New Year’s Day rings in with lists of resolutions. It’s a natural time to reflect on last year’s mis-steps and the new year’s missions. “This year,” the lists read, “I resolve to eat less, to exercise more, to stop procrastinating, to quit smoking, to spend less money and to save more.” happy_new_year_fireworks_and_special_effects_highdefinition_picture_170356Resolutions are posted in magazines and newspapers, on refrigerators, on Facebook and Twitter. Now there are even Smartphone Apps to keep us focused on these promises. Time’s article “10 Apps to Help Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick” helps assure adherence to improvement.

Like some of my Facebook friends, though, I’m not sure I want to write a list this year. Yes, it can help focus resolves. Writing down a goal is a first step toward achieving it, right? But will I stay focused? Is putting it on paper or online enough? Author Sharon Sala writes, “If you want to do better…or you want a change in your life, don’t make a big deal out of it. Just do it!”  Solid advice from a practical woman.

Paris - Seine - Copy 1

Tom & I cruising the Seine

The world is a scary place. It’s made scarier by those things out of our control – accidents, disease, violence, death. New Year’s Resolutions may improve our day to day life but they can’t guard against life’s tragedies.  What can help us get through is another sort of resolve – a desire to adjust our attitude toward life.  Toss out the bad.  Resurrect the good.  Cherish each day — past and present.  “Just do it!”

About four years ago I received a diagnosis. Eating healthier to lose weight would help.  That wasn’t easy considering weight loss is probably the number one fail on each list of New Year’s resolutions. But I told myself repeatedly that, if I didn’t do it, I would grow sicker and die. I told myself so often that I came to believe it. So I lived my life eating healthy. I cut out junk and counted calories.  Amazingly I lost weight and became healthier. I’ve backslid some since then, but parts of that belief are still ingrained in my brain, still nudging me toward health. I must listen. I have my sons, my family, and my goals to live for. (One is to publish the great American novel. Gotta do that before I leave this earth. 🙂 )

Two years ago my soul mate and sons’ father unexpectedly left us. His sudden passing devastated me and his family. Those who have endured such loss know more than anyone that no words can describe the pain, the paralyzing grief.  On the day of his funeral, a dear family member quietly told me that if ever I felt myself slipping into despair, imagine instead that I was the one in Heaven and he was still alive on Earth but now sinking into darkness. Would I want him to grieve in such a way? Or would I want him to learn to live without me? Would I want him happy? In the shock of my beloved’s death, I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other. I did what must be done.  That led me through the first many months. Her compassionate words are leading me through the rest.  I would want him to be happy.

My new home in Wisconsin
(Thank you, Sue, for the winter photo)

It takes a change in attitude, learning to adjust and move forward. I believe that’s what is needed to see any sort of resolution succeed. For me, that means adjusting my mindset to help achieve my goals. At midnight, as I heard a few fireworks exploding in the distance to celebrate the birth of 2014, the word brave came to me on a whisper, Tom’s voice.  I need to be brave this year and in the years to come.

There’s so much ahead.  I’ll retire this year and say goodbye to my job of twenty years. I’ll move 800 miles back to my hometown, to my new home. There’s so much to do. I’m eager for my move, but it’s also a huge change and a bit frightening. It will take bravery to make it all happen.  A list will help but this year I must focus on attitude and my new found word to guide me. In 2014 and in the years to come, I must be brave.

What word will help you achieve your New Year’s goals?  ♥

Moving Forward

Last week I traveled to Wisconsin to visit my siblings and to attend WisRWA’s 2013 Write Touch Conference.  I also, unexpectedly, bought a house.  

It’s been a long eighteen months since my loss.  During that time, I’ve kept busy with my day job and various house projects.  But despite living in the East for close to 25 years, at heart I’m still a Midwesterner; most of my family still lives there. Last year I decided that when I retired in 2014, I would move closer to home. A logical decision, one that felt right in spite of the added drama so many nearby kinfolk might bring into my life. 

On the Internet I began to follow the southern Wisconsin housing market.  On trips, I began dragging siblings with me to see houses.  Most recently, I made offers on two separate houses, both non-productive.  On this particular trip, however, nothing seemed to fit.  Last  Wednesday, after two afternoons of seeing an assortment of selected listings, I parted with my realtor and headed back to my brother’s.  “We’ll find something next visit,” I thought.  “There’s time.”

Lovely Cape Cod

Minutes later, my realtor called about a new listing she’d just seen on their in-house board. 

When I drove up the quiet, tree-lined street to meet her in front of the brick Cape Cod, its traditional charm greeted me.  Mid-tour through the empty house, I called my local sibs, pleading with them to meet me at the house despite the busy dinner hour.   During their tour, each of them privately pulled me aside.  Although they may rarely agree on much, each said the same thing.  “If you don’t buy it, I will.” 

Bright Sun Room

Bright Sun Room

An hour later, back in the realty office over take-out pizza and store-bought peanut butter cookies, my realtor guided me through my offer to buy.  My husband and I, during our 38 years together, bought four houses.  And, as mentioned above, over the past few months I’d written up two other offers.  This still felt strange, alone.  At the form’s bottom, there are two spaces for the buyer to sign – generally husband and wife.  I signed the top line, noting the other line with a degree of sadness.  Thoughts raced through my mind.  It’s serious business, committing to buy a house, alone.  It’s serious business, committing oneself to an 850-mile move into retirement, alone.

Bedroom

Bedroom

Of course, I’m not alone. Everywhere loved ones reach out in support.  My friends.  My realtor.  My family.  My sons.  And always, my husband.  During the very long 22-hour wait for the seller to respond to my offer, I felt his warm presence.  I believe he would love this house.  (Well, maybe not some of the wallpaper, but that can be replaced.)

Right now I’m in mid-process. Inspections completed with closing scheduled for summer. With luck, all will move smoothly. It’s a friendly house with good bones. With some repairs and a few minor changes to make it my own, it will comfortably meet my needs when I retire and in years to come.  It’s a bright, airy house that, next year, I’ll make into my home.  

I’m moving forward.

WisRWA President Anne Parent chats with Keynote Speaker Michael Hauge

WisRWA President Anne Parent chats with Keynote Speaker Michael Hauge

By the way, the WisRWA Write Touch Conference was great.  I heard dynamic speakers, enjoyed wonderful visits with old friends, and savored the joy of forming new friendships.  At times, though, I had a tough time focusing on conference business.  In my mind I kept walking through the rooms of my new house. I stripped wallpaper, arranged furniture, entertained family and friends, read, and created new stories in that glorious sun room.  I’m glad my roommate and other writer friends were understanding, and that our Keynote Speaker, Michael Hauge, offered a DVD.  

Mothers & Daughters

I’m re-posting this as a tribute to my mother. She’s been gone over five years now. To Mom, to my dear Aunt Fran, and to all the Moms who bless my life – HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, with love.

Stringing Beads

I’m thinking of her today. Her gentle voice and proud image linger about me.

The relationship between a mother and her daughter can follow many paths.  A childhood friend was incredibly close to her mom. The two of them talked, laughed and shared silly secrets. Yet another good friend and her mother were like strangers; they barely spoke. At various times I have envied both. Why?

She was generous in her legacies. I cannot fault her for that.

From her I learned the value of family. She was an at-home wife and mother with a large family. At a time when bottle-feeding was rampant in America, she breastfed her babies. When store-bought Wonder Bread became the national favorite, she kneaded and baked wholesome homemade bread and cinnamon buns filling our home with an awesome aroma. Our childhood meals always saw us seated together around the table. As a young mother…

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