Derailed By a Bad Knee

Not mine…my mom’s.

And really, if I’m being truthful, I could absolutely have written while I was there, but I didn’t.

My mom had knee replacement surgery on January 3. So, being the dutiful daughter I am, I went up to Wisconsin for two weeks to help her get through the early part of the recovery.  Yep, I broke my cardinal rule about never going back to Wisconsin in the dead of winter. And let me tell you, after the freak snow storm in Charleston and my flight being cancelled twice, and then having to sit in La Guardia for an hour waiting for the plane to be de-iced and then stepping out into the bitter cold Wisconsin air…well, I should have stayed home.  Oh, and did I mention I was sick?  Yep…it is the perfect time to get your annual winter cold, right before you’re about to fly to your mom’s when she has been instructed by her doctor NO germs in the house because of her surgery.

Welcome to my life.

I made sure Mom understands I will NEVER come up in the winter again. I was never built for cold and I’m for sure not able to handle it anymore, having been away from it for 6 years now. There are perfectly nice summer months for her to have the other knee done. I made sure my niece understood I would not be attending any winter weddings, so she better tell any future fiance with a dream of a Christmas wedding that it’s absolutely not gonna happen because Auntie Julie will miss it. Unless, of course, they come down to Charleston (or some other place warm) and have a winter wedding. that I could do. They both giggled, thinking I’m kidding.

I’m so not kidding.

In any event, I had a week vacation and I could work half days and spread out the vacation hours for the whole of the two weeks. I could write when I wasn’t working, because, certainly Mom wasn’t going to be feeling like doing much of anything.

That was my plan, anyway.

What actually ended up happening was that I got involved with her in TV shows I never watch at home. I saw more episodes of Tanked in one day than I’ve seen…well, ever. It’s a neat show, but not something I would normally take the time to search for and watch. But here’s the thing, when Chris Jericho gets a custom fish tank (for the WWE fans among us), you watch. And then you are hooked and you sit down for the next several hours watching other celebrity athletes (who you couldn’t pick out of a line up if your life depended on it) get their custom fish tanks.

It was all I could do to not get sucked into The Young and The Restless. I’m not a soap opera watcher, but when you are listening to it in the background for two weeks, it’s hard to not get a little bit involved in the story line. Thankfully, I escaped Y & R‘s clutches just in the nick of time.

So, maybe on the weekend, when I wasn’t doing my half day work shift. Maybe then I would have time to write.  Well, no.  Because the weekend I was there I had to go through the boxes from my grandparent’s house.  It took, literally, all weekend.

For real.

The boxes were full of old family photographs, albums and other memorabilia. And when I say old photographs, I mean, there are a few that are tin! So, I have photographs of family from sometime back in the 1800s!!  Now I just need to figure out who they are.

In addition to all the photos — many of which had some type of labeling (thanks, Grandma!) or Mom knew who people were and was able to tell me the stories — there is a journal that my grandma kept the year my mom was born. I have a recipe “journal” from my 2 times great grandma – in her own writing!  I have an autograph book for my great grandma who had all of her siblings sign it – we didn’t know all their names and mom had actually forgotten about one of great grandma’s brothers.

I could go on and on…there is so much unbelievable stuff!  I had to mail three boxes home full of pictures and other treasures.  The scrapbooks I had to carry back in my carry on bag, which prompted a bag search at the airport. Just imagine your underwear falling out of the suitcase for all the world to see because you had stuffed them around the edges to give the old scrapbooks a little protection. Oh, it was delightful.

But we all made it back safe and sound. Now my next project is finding a place for all of it to live. Right now, it’s piled up on my work table, waiting patiently for me to figure out what to do with it all.

Oh yeah…and I’m going to write.


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Letting Your Story Marinate

I can’t believe two months have flown by since my last post. In my defense, I had two work events – the one where I wrote my last post and another one in November. And by then we were sailing straight into Thanksgiving. And now, we’re tumbling right into Christmas and the New Year.

On the plus side, I DID write as planned at my work event in October.  Sadly, I haven’t written a word since I’ve gotten back.

But I’ve read that just as much of the writing happens in your head when you are not writing as happens when you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Sometimes the story needs to sit in your head and marinate for a bit.

When I was figuring out how to bring my main male character back home after he walked away, it took a bit to come up with a satisfying story line to explain his absence. And then I had to find a way to bring him back because he needed to get sick and die. It’s what causes my main female character to take some chances. To get up out of the rut she has allowed society to box her into and make some changes in her life. It’s her chance to grow. His death – caused in part by the society they lived in – will give her the strength and determination to rise above. After all, she has children to raise. And she wants to be an example for them to follow. Her babies are the first generation born free and she will not allow them to accept being treated as slaves.

In any event, I had written myself into a place where I needed some time to mull it over and find a way to bring him to the illness to which he succumbs. A diphtheria epidemic rolls through Charleston and their youngest child becomes ill.  In working with the general idea that illness generally is hardest on the young, the elderly and the weak, it’s going to take him and the young child. This is going to be the most painful thing my main character has ever gone through (even having been born into slavery) and it’s going to be the fuel she needs to make changes.

Don’t ask what those changes are, because right now, I haven’t a clue. I have to wait for the story to get that far so I can see what direction she wants to take. Will she leave Charleston? Will she stay and fight for her rights? I expect she will stay, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned through this process is that you can never assume you know what your character wants to do until she’s right there, having to take action.

Word count 38,068

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Work Trip = Writing Time

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re supposed to be working when you are on a work trip. And I will be. But think about it.  I work for 8 hours and spend much of the rest of the time in a hotel room without any distractions. No cats demanding my attention. No laundry that needs to be done. No neighbor across the street who, for the one millionth time he’s tried, still hasn’t learned that the motorcycle he’s trying to start just needs to be retired to motorcycle heaven.

Joe wheeler

This is the view off my balcony. So peaceful.  This morning there are two ducks out on the water, just hanging around, not in any hurry to get anywhere. I love being along the water’s edge. It doesn’t even need to be the ocean – a lake or large river or even a creek (this is First Creek, off the Tennessee River in Alabama) will do. It just needs to be a large enough body of water that you can feel the energy of the moving water. If I sit on the balcony, I can hear the gentle lapping of the water against the bank.

Water like this inspires me. I feel centered and at one with the earth. It’s almost like little water nymphs are flying up and sprinkling me with fairy dust. I imagine three little fairies flitting about, joyfully making their way from the water to my room and back again.

I’m expecting to get a decent amount of writing done.

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Hurricane Irma

Well, another week, another writing delay.  We’ve been hovering around the TV for much of the last 2 weeks tracking Hurricane Irma with our local meteorologist. Much of our free time has been spent in preparation for both an evacuation and for hunkering down and waiting for her to pass. As the days went on, sometimes it looked like she was coming right for us but by the next day, her track would shift and it looked like she would be ruining someone else’s day. Back and forth, back and forth she went. We cut down the two trees in our yard that had been weakened by Matthew. We made hotel reservations in a pet friendly hotel. We bought cases of water and gas for the generator.

As it has turned out, Irma is ruining someone else’s day. In Charleston, we are expecting flooding near the coast, but much of that is, at least right now, being caused by king tides and many of the areas that often flood with a good rain have flooded. We aren’t getting any rain yet, but we’ll see what happens overnight and into Monday morning. Other than that, we’ll get some tropical storm force winds, but nothing like what Florida is experiencing.

Sometimes, the waiting is the worst part. With hurricanes, there is so much time ahead of the storm’s arrival to worry and obsess about it. When Matthew came through last year, it got to the point where my husband and I were just like, “Let’s get on with it already.”  There’s only so much prep you can do ahead of time and waiting for him to work his way up the coast started to mess with our sanity. It wasn’t fun to listen to the wind howl outside and watch our trees whip around in the yard, or the river that formed in the road in front of our house, but once it has started, you at least know you are that much closer to having it be over.

This time, we are spending the waiting time worrying about friends who live in Florida. One lives in Tampa and one in Palm Bay (Atlantic Coast). While they’ve had rain and some wind most of the day, Irma is supposed to really amp up for them overnight tonight (till about 1am). We are praying for their safety, hoping that Irma keeps weakening as she makes her way north.


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When Your Niece Comes to Town

It’s hard to write when you have out-of-town company.

Particularly when the aforementioned out-of-town company is your niece and you haven’t seen her in two years. AND she turned 21 three months ago and you weren’t able to take her out for a drink.  Haha!  I actually wrote “take her out for a drunk.” I fixed it but decided it was hilarious and perhaps not even wrong.

This is what we had to celebrate, not one hour after she landed….

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It was AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS. Made of Dixie Vodka, Midori, orange & pineapple juices. It’s a good thing they were $7 each or I would have been teetering out of the restaurant and my niece would have had to drive us to my house, where she had never yet been.  Here’s hoping I would have been able to still give accurate directions. In any event, my husband has been advised that whenever we go to Sticky Fingers Restaurant, I’m having another Alligator. And we go fairly regularly because they have the best deep-fried pickles in the Lowcountry. But that’s another story.

The drink was the perfect start to a weekend where alligator hunting was high on the To Do List. My niece loves alligators. I have to admit a weak spot for them too, but I’m really a shark girl. The plan was to see as many alligators as we could get our hands on. Well, not literally. OK, maybe…

We started at Caw Caw Interpretive Center in Ravenel, South Carolina. We told the park staff guy what we wanted to see and he marked on the map where we were most likely to catch a glimpse of the elusive beasts. He was not wrong.

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This was just a little guy.  Maybe a couple of feet long. We saw another smaller one at this park, but that was it. We thought, too late, about playing the baby gator distress call (of course you can get this on your smart phone) to see if we could get any Momma gators to show their faces. Probably that wouldn’t have been our smartest hour – especially since I promised my niece’s mom that I would send her back home in one piece.

The next day, we were at Magnolia Plantation and we took their boat tour of the old rice fields. We saw a couple of small baby gators out there. But the best photo opportunity was in the petting zoo.


But it wasn’t all about reptiles. We got out on the harbor for a dolphin tour. It was amazing! This is the new “must do” activity for anyone who comes to visit us. We saw SO many!  Or maybe the same few over and over again, but either way, it was awesome.


We had a bunch of fun and ate some really great food. My stomach is actually still a little annoyed with me about all the rich, delicious foods I stuffed down there in four days: BBQ, shrimp and grits, salmon and shrimp, a loaded baked potato the size of my face, a burger with (southern staples) fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese, pizza, french toast and hashbrowns. My tummy gets bloated just thinking about it all. Here’s a pic of the potato…


This was actually my husband’s potato. Mine had all the fixings…green onions, sour cream…there was BBQ meat hidden in there too. And check out those onion rings!  They are the size of donuts! Very fluffy and not greasy.

And then there was Monday, the day of the Eclipse. Charleston was straight in the path and expecting the sun to be completely covered by the moon. I had to work Monday, so we didn’t attend any of the events planned around town. My husband had bought glasses to watch it from home and me and my coworkers were taking an hour and a half lunch so we could sit out in the parking lot to watch.

You know the only place where the weather was bad in the whole tri-county area was where we were? Neither my husband or I got to see it because it stormed in Summerville and Ladson. In fact, the lightning we were getting was providing an eerie backdrop for everyone else’s enjoyment of the eclipse. I suppose you could say we took one for the team.

So if you were in Charleston for the eclipse, you’re welcome.


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It’s Like Beginning Again

After this much time away from my novel, I’ve had to spend time reading it. I had to get back in touch with the details I wrote over a year ago and forgot about completely.

I had forgotten that Margaret’s old friend’s husband beat up her new friend’s husband because of the color of his skin. This is why Margaret’s husband was walking away. His idealistic view of society crashed and burned around him as he watched the man who was his cousin beat a black man into a bloody mess just for being a black man trying to vote.

After this revelation, I wondered what else I might have forgotten that would be important as I move forward again.

I didn’t read all 50 pages word for word, but I scanned much of it just to feel again like it was mine – my words on the page.

And I was able to largely pick up where I left off, as if I hadn’t taken a year-long break.

In other news, I passed my final for the medical billing & coding program. Maybe I learned more of it then I thought but the exam was multiple choice, so really it was a matter of not choosing the answers I knew were wrong.  That would leave me with only two plausible answers to the question. I realize I could still have bombed it if I wasn’t able to correctly identify the right answer between the two, so I’m back to thinking maybe I learned a little more than I thought.

This weekend my husband and I went on a much needed mini vacay. You might recall we are from Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, we have a custard shop called Culver’s. They have a grill and do burgers and such, but their claim to fame is the custard. We love Culver’s. It’s one of the things we miss most about having moved hundreds of miles away. Imagine our delight two years ago when we discovered there was a Culver’s in Greenville, SC. Only problem is that Greenville is a three hour drive.

One way.

Now you know how good the custard is, because we’ve made this trip twice so far. Usually, we make a weekend of it – get a hotel room and find some things to do. We eat every meal at Culver’s. Except breakfast, but only because they don’t serve breakfast.

On Monday, my husband started talking about how he really wanted to get some custard. Because I’m off every weekend now, it was easy to reserve a hotel room and spend the rest of the week waiting until we could hit the road.

We drove up Friday evening and had our favorite butter burgers for dinner. We shared an order of deep fried cheese curds and he had a raspberry shake.

Here’s another ringing endorsement for how good the custard is.  I’m lactose intolerant. I can eat cheese, but milk and ice cream turn my stomach into a…well, you can imagine. Culver’s custard is well worth the stomach turmoil.

The first time we went up, we wondered if we could transport custard home with us. We bought a small cooler, bought 2 pints each of our favorite flavors (John loves red raspberry, while I prefer bonfire smores), filled the cooler with ice and made the three hour journey back to Charleston.

It worked so well that this time, we got a second cooler and brought back 4 pints each. I think this will quickly become a yearly pilgrimage.

Which is perfect, because I also have a love of waterfalls. Charleston, as you know, is a coastal community. I adore the beach, but now that I have the beach all the time, I’m developing an appreciation for the mountains. More specifically, waterfalls in the mountains. So, each time we’ve gone to Greenville, we’ve gone to see a different waterfall.  The brochure I have shows 7 waterfalls in Greenville County alone. We’ve got 5 more years of easily tying our love of custard into a weekend getaway to see a different waterfall.

The first time we went up, we went to Reedy River Falls, right in downtown Greenville.

reedy river falls

It was a pretty dry year and it wasn’t that impressive, but it didn’t matter to me – I love the sounds of moving water (partly why I love the beach so much, with the constant crashing of the waves).

This year, we went to get a look at Wildcat Branch Falls, largely because it was supposed to be the easiest one to find – you were supposed to be able to see it right off the highway. I think the trees must have grown up a little since my brochure was printed, but we did manage to find it.


It’s been raining like crazy by the coast, so I had hoped for better rain in the upstate too.  Obviously they haven’t gotten as much. But it was a nice waterfall and we did a 1/4 mile hike that took us by two more waterfalls – one of them about half the size, located directly above and behind the main one in the picture. Back further into the woods was a huge waterfall that, with more recent rains, would have been amazing to see. The rock ledge looked as tall as the tree tops (officially, 100 feet tall), with smooth rocks all the way to the rocky and wooded trail where we stood. I gazed at it in wonder. The picture does not do it justice.


Again, the water cascading over the top wasn’t as impressive as it could have been, but I loved it anyway.

The water energizes me and I came back from Greenville ready to get back to writing.

Or ready to eat custard.

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Finally Finished My Studies!

It’s been a long road that I still don’t know is going to bear any fruit, but I finished my final exam today for the medical billing and coding program. Fingers crossed I passed and I don’t have to take it again! I won’t know how I did for about two weeks. I should be insane with worry by then.

But, enough about that – now I can get back to writing!

This might have been just what I needed – a year-long break to mull over the plot corner I had written myself into – because I have just the solution to get my character’s husband to come back to the story. Yay, me!

I’ve also recently started a new job – away from the storage industry and into recreational boating. A large part of my job consists of writing newsletters. How much more perfect could a job be? Well, if I was being paid to sit on my sofa and read, that would be more perfect, but for real world jobs, I finally lucked out. The job is close to my house (and could end up turning into work-from-home at some point down the line) and I can wear jeans and flip-flops to the office. I’m about as happy as I can recall ever being about a job, so that’s a huge win.

This all means I should be back to doing some regular writing and blogging again.

It feels good to be back.


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