So: one year later

Why hello, 47! It’s been exactly one year since I’ve written last. So, happy birthday to me! And also to my friends Sylvia and Steve who share this auspicious day with me.

Funny thing: Sylvia and Steve are also writers. Hopefully 2015 was better for them than it was for me. For me, it wasn’t the best year for writing anything other than cards, letters, the occasional silly verse, and of course, work-related copy.

Writers’ block wasn’t the trouble.

Nor was time.

Nor topics.

It was tenacity.

Fear was my excuse. Fear that I wasn’t writing anything interesting. Fear that I was repeating myself. Fear that my stories weren’t worth telling. Fear that my opinions were too polarizing. Or not polarizing enough. One fear after another. Building, building, building. Until it seemed easier just to forget about it. Do something else. Move on. Forget about it.

But then, in the early part of 2016 the signs started coming. A kick-in-the-pants blog post here. Some passing comments about missing my posts. An inspirational article there. And finally this post which makes a pretty cool point about fear a lot more eloquently than I do.

So, my gift to myself today on my 47th birthday is to live life with more joie de vivre and less fear. Before I decided to put myself out there with this promise/threat/vow/whatever you want to call it, know that I’ve been practicing for the past few months and you know what they say about making things a habit. You need to do them consistently. It’s worked for a bunch of other stuff in my life so it’s gotta work for my writing. Because if I don’t use it, I might lose it, right?

Well then, now that all that’s out there, rather than spend any additional characters looking back on the lack of well-crafted sentences, pithy comments, and tales of garden pests, I’ll share a non-comprehensive and certainly not all-inclusive list of the things I’m looking forward to in this 47th year:

-hearing that my mom’s hip replacement surgery went well today
-attempting the steps to each dance in my ZUMBA class tonight
-seeing which of the Gs is going to be tonight’s Downton Abbey marathon lap dog
-reading even more than I did last year
-continuing to work towards better health and fitness
-getting the spring plants in the ground and laying sod (another once again!) this weekend
-painting walls and cabinets a bright white
-spending time with an eclectic and inspiring mix of friends and family
-being inspired by the unexpected, the generous, and the kind
-writing whatever I want

Until next time,
xo Julie

PS: I’m trying to convince an artistic friend of mine to make me a little fear chair to put on whatever table/desk/sofa I’m using for my writing desk du jour. Portable so it could come to work! Even travel with me wherever I go! I think he could make a killing on Etsy. There’s got to be more of us out there who are doubting the talents that make us the happiest and need a visible reminder to hang out with us and give fear a place to sit. What do you think? Would you want one?

Water Lily

No mud. No lotus. It’s been one of my favorite thoughts for the past few months.

 

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So: hello, again

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I’m back, apparently by popular demand. Thank you, friends (you know who you are) and Bruce, for nagging, I mean, encouraging me to get back to it and start writing things down again.

Truthfully, I haven’t felt much like writing. I’ve had to do a lot lately for work and it’s been hard. Not because I’ve forgotten how or the specific assignments and projects. Definitely, not that. I’ve liked the challenge and the pace. It reminds me of what I love about advertising—the variety, the challenges, the solutions. It makes me feel alive, excited, and energized.

It’s just that I’ve been a little afraid of what’s going to come out. And when.

This winter has been one of the hardest I’ve had in a very long time. An early frost threatened to shut down the entire Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm’s winter production. We’ve purchased way more produce this winter than I intended. Thank goodness for Trader Joe’s and their organic produce selection and prices.

Once I got everything up and running again, we had February and March ice storms. Ice and snow days where I worked from home and the roads were horrible. Luckily the huge live oak that’s been another winter problem (plumbing) came through with insulating leaves that, along with the frost cloths, kept the young radish, beet, kale, lettuce, bok choi, collard green, mustard green, and chard sprouts alive. So there’s the garden. It looks ugly and neglected, yet it seems to have turned a corner now that the snow has melted and turned to rain. It’s waiting for the sprouts to thrive and mulch to keep it all alive.

There’s a silver lining to everything, right? That’s what I try to tell myself. When something bad happens, something good’s around the corner. A door closes and another opens.

The silver lining to the plumbing problem? An awesome and thoroughly modern outflow to the city sewer. Never again worrying about running the washing machine and the dishwasher at the same time. No more plumbing enzymes and emergency unclogging. Truthfully, I am relieved that once and for all the Mortroski Mid-Century’s plumbing issues are done. While I like Jim the 70-something plumber a whole lot and enjoy chatting about gardening with him, I hope I don’t see him for while.

Another thing happened this winter: my grandmother died in December. She was just one week short of her 100th birthday. She had some kind of massive event that left her breathing and just barely alive when she was found. She never recovered from it. To say I was looking forward to her birthday would be a massive understatement. I had plans! I had surprises! I had so much I wanted to celebrate with her! I had been looking forward to it for a really long time! We were going to have fun!

When I found out what had happened, I was devastated. As Bruce wisely pointed out one night in January when I was wallowing in my sadness, I was only thinking about myself, not her, with all of my planning. Would she have appreciated the letters and cards from all over the place? Maybe. Would she have rather I showed up more often to visit her? Definitely.

Yes, I feel guilty. And very stupid for assuming that a woman who was over 99 and very tenacious would be around to see her 100th birthday surrounded by family and friends at a big party. But she’s been part of my life for the past 45+ years? Why should that change?

Because it did. She reached her expiration date and, unfortunately, her frequently repeated remark of “I may not make it to 100” came true. I just thought she was bluffing. I haven’t dealt with it very well, I’m afraid. But I’ve been trying. I know, I know, she lived a good long life. But selfishly, I hoped for one last hurrah.

The silver lining? The lesson? I am trying really hard to really live in the moment. To connect with the people in my life. To really listen. To realize that it might be the last time. To be as kind as I can be.

My grandmother’s house was the only home that has been in my life for my entire life time. My family moved a lot when I was growing up and Bruce and I’ve done a great job of carrying on the family tradition. My grandparents’ house was a lovely brick ranch bungalow built in the 1960s. It was always so clean and well-cared for. And it maintained a lot of its 1960s charm. Interior brick walls. The planter/bookcase next to the front door. Slate tiles. The pink bathroom fixtures and formica countertop with the sputnik pattern. The red power room sink. I’m sure subconsciously it influenced the purchase of our midcentury, which was built around the same time with a similar private area layout.

So when it came time to clean out her house, I didn’t really want to let go. I took worn quilts. I took an afghan in 1970s brown and orange. I took a gravy boat. I took glassware. I took games I played as a kid. I took random things, hoping that surrounding myself with them could bring me comfort.

Even this morning as I mixed up pancake batter for breakfast, I thought of her. It wasn’t even her recipe from the back of the yellow Bisquick box. She made Bisquick pancakes with King syrup for us as kids and it always made her—and us—happy to have pancakes together. In her later years, my brother took over when he visited, making pancakes for her. I always thought that was such a sweet gesture. It’s amazing how a food memory can affect you. Then, I poured orange juice into 1960s style flowered jam jar glasses that I took from her kitchen. I don’t know the whole story behind them, but I wish I did. She gave me 4 others when I was in my 30s and admired them. I now have a set of 6, two red, two yellow, two green. I wash them by hand.

There’s been a lot of death this winter. First, Grandma. Then, Bruce’s uncle. Older people who have both lived long and productive lives. Then came the one just over a week ago that slapped me hard in the face, reminding me that life is a precious gift. My college friend, a mother of 4 young adults, just a tiny bit older than me. She was put to rest yesterday. Hundreds of people attended her rosary and funeral in California. There is no doubt she was loved. She was someone who lit up a room. Someone who was always kind. Someone who helped others. An amazing volunteer. But there is also no doubt of the unfairness of such a vibrant life ending soon. What might have been. Her daughter’s wedding. Her sons’ graduations.

So, I’ve tried to spare you the sadness and the self-indulgent posts where “so” not “sow” or even the always rare “sew” is the focus. Writing nothing if I can’t talk about the plants and the extreme Texas weather or the funny things the Gs do (today, they all had baths and they are finally not completely pissed off at their humans) seemed like the better course of action.

But I’ve really had enough. I’m tired of keeping what I’m thinking and feeling to myself. So this is a fair warning then: it may crop up as the year progresses. Writing is the way I have always dealt with everything, especially emotions, education, earning money, and ignoring that fact has really put a crimp in my style. That’s why you’re getting this long-ass post. Bruce has checked on my several times, since I’ve been banging on this laptop for a while now.

For the last several month I’ve felt rather stuck. I tried doing other stuff. My photography skills are improving, but still, there were days even posting garden photos on Instagram (@julie_petroski) felt hard. I’ve made a lot of soup. Distracted myself with recipes that sounded good. Tried to get zen with dishwashing and household chores.

Even making my usual elaborate to-do lists that I’ve made since college seemed too hard. It’s been hard to think about more than one day at a time. So, better to do nothing and relax, right? Wrong. It’s been unnatural and exhausting. Rather than feeling refreshed and calm as I had hoped, I feel like a bag of knots. And unnaturally tired. My dreams have been strange. Multitasking has been hard. Chores have been neglected. I’ve been losing and misplacing stuff from my silly Invisalign braces to computer parts to favorite pens. I’m thinking it is all a big hint from the universe that I need to get my head back in the game.

Today, the clocks sprung forward. On the 21st, spring will be here. It feels a bit like it’s time to move on. Besides, there are four raised beds and three stock tanks full of little sprouts that you’ll want to hear about.

Thank you for your patience. It’s time to get back to oversharing.

So: trip down memory lane

I’ve spent the past couple of days visiting with my parents. The place where they live these days is not one of the many homes I grew up in. It has become somewhat familiar over the past 14 years, but truthfully I have not visited here as much as I should have. I’ve met up with my parents in another of other places, usually with lots of other people around.

This time I had them all to myself.

There was a lot of show and tell, mostly because my parents are avid travelers these days. So there were hours of hearing lots of stories, showing of souvenirs, flipping through amazing photos of exotic and not-so-exotic locales. We ate a lot of food. We drove around in their golf cart. My mom and I spent a couple hours at the pool. We just hung out.

But one of the other things that I did was go through a big box of stuff that my mom tells me that I wanted to save so she’s moved it several times. And at this point, she wants it out of the garage. (She also offered me some vintage Daisy covered 1960s outdoor cups, a matching ice bucket, and a matching pitcher that she had in the garage. She’ll ship them to me.)

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picture from etsy of a similar daisy ice bucket and tumblers that my mom wants out of her house


By the way, I had no recollection of this box or putting things into this tattered box.

I put off digging through it until after dinner tonight because there was so much reading involved. You see, in amongst certificates earned for playing the piano, programs for long ago violin concerts, science fair programs, attendance and field day certificates, a couple of sweet love letters from a very articulate high school boyfriend, a few pieces of jewelry, 80s LPs, some trinkets from my grandparents’ vacations, and a bit of random proof that at one time in my life I could do math, I found many reasons why there was no other life’s work meant for me besides writing (well, maybe except for farming, but I consider that a Plan B career possibility).

I also found BandAid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

In addition to this classic, I also found BandAid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

 

The box was crammed full of paper. But what was obviously important to me were the words on the piles of paper (and the grades earned).

So tonight I:
-read a completely incoherent “story” that I wrote and illustrated in kindergarten.
-found countless book reports and essays marked with neat A+ grades, some with the occasional comment in red about my atrocious spelling.
-saw how I could put together very technical hand drawn graphs, charts, maps, and handwritten copy and make a lovely presentation.
-enjoyed a “book” I titled Absurdities which had bizarre drawings of things like a four-legged woman and a pink cat and crazy descriptions that made me wonder if my teachers in the 1970s were feeding us kids mind altering substances.
-continued to see a pattern with poor spelling and frustrated teachers who wanted to give me a lower grade for my sloppiness, but couldn’t because they were amused by the work (and the drawings).
-laughed at heartfelt (but horrible) attempts at poetry, elementary school journalism, and even 4th grade marketing.
-chuckled at a couple of “memoirs” that date back to high school days.

But one thing was clear as I flipped through these ancient relics of my childhood, I loved to write. And I found my voice, my life’s work, and my joy at an early age, but didn’t know it. I am so lucky to have these gifts—and to have had them with me for such a long time. I must never forget that they’ve been a part of me since practically the very beginning — and kindergarten was oh so very long ago. And I can rest easy knowing that spelling has always been an issue for me. I am not losing that gift. I never had it!

I’m trying hard not to be a packrat (I’ve already gone through many “treasures” from high school and college and whittled them down to a very few pieces that are stashed in my closet at home.) While most of this crumbling debris is destined for the recycling bin in the morning, some of it is coming back to Dallas with me as a not-so-subtle reminder that no matter what, writing is what I’m meant to do.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo features the boys:

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Stoic Guinness and anxious George anxiously await my return home • photo by Bruce

 

 

 

So: lacking super powers

This week the Gs have all been a bit off. Exhausted. As cranky as happy go lucky dogs can be.

Me too. I’ve been severely lacking in super powers this week. Work, usually the place where I could spend hours, drains me in eight hours. On Tuesday, in an internal meeting, I could barely be articulate about one of my clients that I’ve worked on for more than five years.

So I haven’t been writing much outside the office. And I haven’t really done much in the evenings when I get home. Or in the mornings before work as I usually do. Taking a long weekend off has brought me to a grinding halt. Not much gardening (tonight it was too wet after today’s storms). I’ve been resting. Going to bed early. Taking the easy way out when it comes to meals, chores, attire, everything. Believe me, the dog hair tumbleweeds on the floors are getting bigger by the day. If I sweep them together, I might get another Guinness.

But tomorrow’s Friday.

At work we have something called summer hours which means if you’ve worked 40 hours by noon on Friday, you can leave. Because I was off on Monday, I don’t qualify. Even still, Friday’s my favorite day of the week in summer because everyone leaves early. It is blissfully quiet and the phone doesn’t ring. No meetings after 11 am. Everyone is nose to the grindstone all morning long so they can get out and start the weekend a little early. If you need me, I’ll be at my desk all day and when I leave at 5:30 or 6 pm, I’ll ensure my to do list for Monday is a lot smaller.

George may come to work with me tomorrow. We have a dog-friendly office and well-behaved dogs are allowed to visit. Godiva started visiting when she was a freshly potty trained pup. Guinness has been too, although neither of them have really enjoyed visiting once they became a pair. Godiva freaked out when Guinness had his heartworm treatments (thought he wasn’t coming back, we think) and when he had his TPLO surgery (same thing). But George hasn’t really visited yet and Guinness and Godiva don’t mind as much when he leaves (ah, the puppy). I’ll see what he thinks in the morning.

Right now, he’s pretty wiped out.

It's also really hard to type with George in your lap. He likes to put his chin on the mouse. Photo by Bruce

It’s really hard to type with George in your lap. He likes to put his chin on the mouse. Photo by Bruce

 

So: Valentine’s Eve confession

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February love letters for moreloveletters.com

On this Valentine’s Day eve, I’m going to share a big secret with you: I write love letters. They’re to someone other than my husband, Bruce.

I write them frequently too. Usually once a month, but several times a month if I’m asked. And sometimes, when the spirit moves me, I write them and leave them places. In those annoying pockets on an airplane. In restaurants. In a dressing room. In a magazine I abandon at the airport. In a hotel lobby. Sometimes even at work. And I always have some sort of notecard or paper plus my trusty assortment of Sharpies on hand for emergencies. Shhh. Please don’t tell or you’ll blow my cover.

You see, I’m a secret (love letter) agent. I enlisted back in September during a typical dining al desko lunch break. I watched a TED talk featuring a woman named Hannah Brencher. She founded an organization of love letter writers called moreloveletters.com. So I joined it.

Once a month, Hannah’s team asks me (and scores of other people all over the globe) to share words of love, hope, support, friendship, inspiration, motivation, and care with people we don’t even know and will never meet.

Here’s what Hannah says about her organization:

“We’re going to tell you that we write and mail love letters, handwritten love letters, to strangers in need all over the world. We’re going to invite you to request a love letter for someone in your life who needs one. And we’re going to insist that you step out of your own shoes of Comfort & join us. You are going to think we are a bit crazy. A tad loopy. But you’ve been looking for a website that leaks love all this time… so we aren’t worried you’ll leave us.”

You’ll probably want to check out moreloveletters.com on your own if you want more details. No point in cutting and pasting their content here.

I’d like to say I’m not in this for myself and that my heart is completely pure and selfless while I write. But it’s not. What I really liked about joining moreloveletters.com was that it was an easy way to take a few minutes out of my busy month and do something nice for someone who really needs to a boost.

Selfishly, I usually write the love letters during lunch at work when my day is going particularly wonky and I need to remind myself of what’s really important. On those days when I need to breathe. When I need to think and not speak.

Perhaps if I was a smoker, I’d take a smoke break. Instead, it’s a writing break. Taking those few minutes to pen some encouraging words and tell someone that they matter and that things will get better for them, makes me feel better too.

Writing the letters has also made me more aware of the power of the pen. Of course, people can write terrible, hateful things. Things that they’d never in a million years say to that person’s face. But you can also write wonderful things. Loving things. Hopeful things. Uplifting things. Joyful things. Comforting things.

So on this Valentine’s Day eve, I ask you to do one thing for me tomorrow. You love birds might not have a lot of time, but do it anyway. Even if your heart is hard because romance hasn’t gone your way lately, go about your day with love.

When you pick up your morning coffee, thank your barista with a smile.

Greet your coworkers like you’d want to be greeted by them.

Hug your kids and furry family members extra tight.

 

And on this silly Hallmark holiday, maybe consider leaving a little anonymous note where someone who really needs a boost can find it. You’d make someone’s day. And yours too.

 

PS: Please don’t worry about Bruce. He will get a real “from the wife” Valentine love note sometime tomorrow even though he hates this made up event. Remember, I like writing.