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Daily Practice

Gardening is Also Digging Rocks

There’s more to gardening than planting flowers.

You can start seeds. You can divide and transplant. But you have to weed, or cover the soil with mulch. And before any of that, you have to work with the dirt you’ve got.

This summer I’ve spent a lot of time clearing wheelbarrow loads of gravel out of two garden beds. (Never will I landscape with gravel and black plastic, never!) I also dug up a pretty massive pile of rocks.

One neighbor shouted across the street, “Rose, what are you doing?”

I shouted back, “I have no idea.” I was making hay while the sun shone, I guess.


I’ve wanted to clear out these beds ever since we moved in six years ago. But the task was always daunting and far less inspiring than arranging peonies or transplanting tiger lilies from my grandma’s garden.

And I had bigger problems than gravel: my main beds were choked with snow on the mountain (impossible to get the roots out!) and lily of the valley (with 18 inch root beds!).

So for a few summers I dug out invasive plants. I shook dirt from the roots. I got the best garden tool ever and twisted the soil until the crab grass and the snow on the mountain roots sifted themselves to the surface. I did some plain old boring weeding.

And this year, all threats to my established plants taken care of, I started the season with an early weeding, and could sit back and let the garden just do its thing.

We’re almost to our sixth anniversary of moving in here— the longest Jay and I have lived anywhere since we met each other almost 14 years ago. And there are projects that continue to arise— not as surprises, but, now that more pressing matters are handled, as the next thing on the list.

I’ve been feeling frustrated with my hang ups about book layout and publishing. I’ve been feeling worried about not really knowing what I’m doing, worried about making mistakes in front of people, and mistakes that cost money to dispose of and/or fix.

I’ve been asking myself, how can making books be like making a garden?

It already is. I’m just in the rock-picking stage.

It’s not hopeless. This won’t go on forever. I know there’s good soil under it all. I just have to stick with it. Keep putting on my gloves and picking up my shovel. It can be tricky, since my flower gardens are in sight all the time— my progress is visible, whereas working in In Design or sitting on hold with Ingram are not.

Maybe I should make a map of my “book garden”— shade the areas that have been cleared, note the skills that have been learned. And maybe I need to cut myself a vase of flowers to put on my desk while I work.

Honeybee Magic

I’ve never liked “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” I hated that the fable was pro-hard-working, no-time-for-fun-or-art ant. I identified with the grasshopper, and it was pretty scary to see that not only did no one delight in (or even appreciate) his music in summer, no one wanted to take him in or give him food in winter. It seemed to me like the two options were: work hard and be safe, or do what you love and perish. (I have been known to be dramatic now and then).

I’ve been working in my flower gardens a lot this summer— some latent Gerdin gene has kicked in and I’m channeling my grandma. My husband said he really appreciates it, that it makes it nicer to live here. I told him I think I contribute the most in the “Thriving” category, and he’s really good at the “Surviving” category— and we’ve been in the latter for a long time.

Doesn’t anything bridge that enormous gap, the apparent chasm between Surviving and Thriving?

Yes. Honeybees.

Honeybees have the satisfaction of work— of taking something in and making something new that is not only nourishing but sweet and good. Honey is medicinal. It literally never goes bad— you could eat honey from a pharaoh’s tomb (if you weren’t worried about possible curses) or from a Viking cellar.

Honey is specific to plant and place: Tanzanian honey tastes different from Minnesota clover honey. It helps with allergies. It’s antiseptic. It can be made into mead.

And unlike ants who, to my eye, work at a frenzied, militant pace, honey bees dance to tell their hive where the good flowers are. They stitch a thread of connection from blossom to blossom over acres, over miles. If you could trace the line of their movement it would be, I imagine, a visual poem.

And they aren’t storing up fuel for decay, like ants; they are stuffing their furry, golden bodies into flowers, into the very center of colorful, feminine, temporal, perfumed chambers. The magic, the pollen, clings to them— they don’t cling to it, they don’t hoard it. And when they make honey— it’s just regurgitation. They are vessels, they transform nectar without doing anything particularly special or difficult.

What also appeals to me is that if one honeybee fails— if one is somehow flawed and simply can’t do its job for a day or a week or its whole life… well, it’s one of many. It is impossible for the failings of one bee to kill the world’s flowers, fruits, vegetables. It is impossible for just one bee to save them all, either. There’s no pressure, no blame, and no credit. But there is beauty. There is sweetness.

When I was very young, my parents kept bees. I can still remember my dad in the dust-colored suit, netting protecting his face as he moved slowly among the hives with his tiny bellows of soporific smoke: a sweet and comforting smell.

I like that the bees aren’t killed or driven out or even alarmed in order to harvest the honey— they are made drowsy and dozy. They sleep. Maybe they dream. Then they get back out there, following sweetness, and do what they do best.

We found a 5 gallon bucket of honey stored in the root cellar some years after my parents divorced. It was crystallized and thick, a deep golden amber. We scooped it out and heated it slowly. And it was still good.

Lizzie + Bluebeard: Sharing a Work-in-Progress

Lizzie Bluebeard_blog banner

It seems backward to write a book while also working the busiest season at our B+B and performing in the summer musical– but the energy of summer and long daylight (and some writing buddies to check in with three days a week) make it pretty easy.

This is the first time I’ve shared a book as I go. It’s always been tempting… and terrifying. Now the timing is right, and it’s been a great way to have accountability.

A surprise benefit has been writing up chapter summaries as I go. (I know internet strangers won’t all start reading at chapter one). I’m not an outliner, but I do appreciate having a loose outline form as I go. (I use Scrivener, which makes all of this a fast process).


This is how I imagine Bluebeard’s forbidden North Tower. Image: https://mediaandpcmodreveiws.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/oblivion-mod-dungeons-of-ivellon/

I’ve often read that you should ‘write for an audience.’ And that’s just never been my natural style. I write for me. I write for the same reason I read: to discover a new land, to fall in love, to be delighted and transformed.

But I have a couple of good friends who, without any prodding on my part, have been reading the novel regularly. Sue just sent me a facebook message today saying she’s especially enjoyed the last two chapters. Julie reads the new chapters before bed. (Since the book is based on the very gory “Bluebeard” fairytale, this surprised me…) It’s nice to have that little boost to keep writing each week.

Start reading “Lizzie + Bluebeard”

Lizzie + Bluebeard is built on the Bluebeard fairy tale, but also incorporates a few other stories I came across in my career as an oral storyteller, including “The Giant With No Heart in His Body” and various “Baba Yaga” tales. Today I got to write the meeting of Lizzie, Bluebeard’s 36th wife, and Baba Yaga, the Mother of All Witches…

Ch 29: Inside the Witch’s Hut

Dawn breaks as Lizzie enters the witch’s yard. It is deserted but charged with magic. She knocks at the door…

What about you? What are you dreaming up?


She Slept Alone for 40 Nights: 10 First Sentences

1. She slept alone for 40 nights.

10 First Sentences

2. How big is a whale, really?

3. It was an occasion for silly hats, and Brad did not care for hats.

4. ‘If’ and ‘When’ and ‘How’– they all mean such subtly different things.

5. “The parade’s coming! I hear the– oh, no.”

6. He had worked at the fair for 25 years and he did the same routine at two o’clock each day.

7. She was a hesitant pianist.

8. The sky was orange for days from the far-off fires.

9. The latest thing to catch her interest was mushrooming.

10. “If you only knew how precious you were,” said Aunt Margaret in a tone that said something else entirely.


Kelly Barnhill mentioned that she writes 10 First Sentences everyday. I love this. I love seeing glimpses into so many worlds. (It reminds me of reading Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree as a kid).

Share your 10 First Sentences in a comment– or write what comes next!