Shying Away From Another 9/11 Anniversary

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Catching the sunset, August 2014

My son Carter sat perched on the edge of the Zodiac driving the outboard as he towed Jim and me in Jim’s hand-built plywood barge for a trip around the point to see the sunset. Carter’s jaw was set in a way his father’s used to when Arron was being “Mr. Big Pants,” the name I gave him when he was feeling super-confident and a little smug as he trotted off to work in his expensive Hugo Boss suit. Carter’s smugness came from a day filled with man-stuff, activities that only my boyfriend Jim could make possible.

My son is at the fifteen year-old boy stage of hiding in his room, grunting replies to questions, sleeping until 2pm and racking up hundreds of dollars a month in junk food. The fact that he joined Jim and I on a weekend excursion to our house on Vashon Island is astonishing, and Jim pulled out every trick he had to make the weekend exciting to a teenager hooked on Internet crack.

In one day, Jim provided Carter with gun lessons, patiently explaining their safe handling and then schooling him in the meticulous art of their cleaning; let Carter drive the Zodiac as they dropped a crab trap and shot off Jim’s .45 a few times across the Sound; allowed Carter to practice driving his beat-up Mercedes station wagon up and down the steep, winding road to and from the house; set up a shoe box so Carter could shoot holes in it with Jim’s air gun; wrestled Carter to the kitchen floor several times; and finally, let him tow us in the barge to see the sunset.

As I watched Carter drive the boat, I could see that in one day he had grown into a man. He exuded a confidence I swear had not been there the day before. As he grows and takes on more and more characteristics of his dad, I find myself wondering how our lives might have been different had Arron not gone to that trade show at Windows on the World. What would it have been like for Carter to grow up with his father? Would they have fought? Would they have been close? Would Carter be more or less self-possessed? Would he have been better disciplined?

Only a few weeks before, my daughter, a second-year college student who was six when her dad died, came to me with an essay that she wrote in her bid to transfer into The University of Pennsylvania’s Criminology program. As a high school student, I could barely get her to do her homework and hand it in, and here she was presenting me with an intelligently written essay about why she wanted to study criminology. Written over the summer. On her own time. Without my help. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that criminology has become her passion. The twists and turns that tragedy takes as it flows through growing children can never be predicted, except when in an odd way it makes perfect sense. As I read, she sat on the stairs behind me, her arms hugging her slim brown legs, looking both like a little girl and a grown woman at once. When I finished reading it, I turned to her.

“It’s really amazing, but there’s just one thing,” I said. She bounced down the stairs and stood over me.

“What?”

“I don’t think you should apologize for your poor high school marks. Show them how far you’ve come instead.”

“I wish I knew in high school what I know now. I wish I had studied more.”

“It’s OK. It’s never too late. You know it now. That’s what you need to show them.”

She smiled. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she said as she tied her hair into a high ponytail, grabbed her purse and headed out the door to the gym. I was struck suddenly by how strong she looked, both physically and mentally.

Another 9/11 Anniversary is upon us and I can’t decide how I feel about it. The truth is, I feel nothing. Dread perhaps, if anything. The day an unwanted spotlight shines upon us, in ways mostly good – filled with well-wishing “thinking of you” emails and phone calls from people I love to hear from and catch up with, but uncomfortable as well. I feel obligated to write or respond to each one, “Thank you for your thoughts…” when my instinct is to curl up and hide from all the odd attention. I love that people think of me, I’m just not all that thrilled with why they think of me. 9/11 is such a giant weight to bear. I keep searching for ways of making it bearable, or to give it a positive spin which in some ways is easy, in other ways impossible.

It seems after large-scale tragic events, there is an overwhelming desire to find someone responsible, to seek the whys, the should haves, the could haves. Reform is demanded and sometimes implemented, but rarely are the changes effective. We take off our shoes to board airplanes, we killed Osama, we’re no longer fighting a war in Afghanistan so therefore we must be safer, right? Since, you know, we’ve wiped out terrorism and all.

As a firefighter, Jim often says he is safer at work than he is at home due to all the rules and safety regulations in place to protect firefighter’s lives. His station is near a river that people occasionally drive into, but because the firefighters are required to wear life jackets during water rescues, they are often forced to watch helplessly as someone drowns because, with life jackets on, they are unable to dive under the water and rescue them. I can only imagine the fire safety requirements implemented in the wake of 9/11.

I have an entire book gathering dust on my bookshelf devoted to all the changes that America was committed to making as a result of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. Streamlining the CIA, shutting down the financial sources of terrorist groups, a unified, national emergency response unit, federally standardized birth certificates and driver’s licenses, setting up a “Youth Opportunity Fund” to better educate Muslim Youth, better managing our borders to name but a few. We certainly implemented a regimented airport security system, but it seems some of the other recommendations have been commandeered for different purposes. Suddenly, “better managing our borders” is a hot political issue and has slid into the realm of immigration control. Immigration control, gun control, the justification for invading countries are cloaked in that “war on terror” cover story and thus we wind up deluding ourselves that we are safer now than we were then.

The world seems impervious to the lessons we were supposed to have learned from 9/11. The war over Palestine/Israeli territory continues to wipe out thousands; planes are shot from Ukrainian skies; journalist’s heads’ are lopped off in Middle Eastern deserts; mentally ill people walk into to schools with guns and open fire; unarmed boys are shot dead by the people meant to protect them. The crappy stuff keeps happening. Countless lives are turned-upside down on a daily basis, leaving kids to grow up without fathers and mothers, and parents who will not see their child become adults.

The anniversary of 9/11 seems like a day to be reminded that crappy stuff still happens, despite all the so-called safeguards and changes we make to prevent it from ever happening again. No wonder I have a hard time being remembered for it.

Maybe then, to give 9/11 a more positive spin, the lesson should be that despite such tragedies, fatherless fifteen-year-old boys still manage to grow up to become confident men, to learn the art of acting like “Mr. Big Pants,” to look and act just like the fathers they never knew. Daughters who muddled through high school can suddenly shine in college and discover their strength as they try to find meaning in their pasts.

Maybe that’s too simplistic: Crappy stuff happens, but we all still grow up regardless of our circumstances. Yes, we are resilient. I suppose it makes sense then, that for me, the anniversary of 9/11 has become a moment when I am reminded to look at that resiliency first-hand. It’s a moment for me to take stock: to notice the confident set of my son’s jaw, to marvel at my daughter’s strong legs and awe-inspiring essay.

Crab for breakfast? August 2014

Crab for breakfast? August 2014

This morning, Jim and I pulled up the crab trap and found a crab too small and too female to keep. We brought it to Carter’s room where he was just waking up (it was 1pm after all) and Jim held it, legs wiggling, over the bed. Carter giggled his dad’s giggle.

After the crab’s little adventure to the bedroom, we set her back on the beach and watched her crawl sideways back into the water and shuffle away, thankful no doubt and perhaps a little wiser.

Hmm. Maybe I should write a graphic memoir?

I had so much fun this past weekend at Camp Widow. I Segway-ed and didn’t feel like too much of a dork. In fact I loved it. I also took an amazing workshop with the wonderfully talented graphic memoirist (Not sure that is the right lingo),Anders Nilsen and did my very first panel of graphic memoir-ing. A weekend of firsts.

My first attempt is pretty rough and I clearly suck at drawing dogs. This is based on a true story, some of which has been told in this blog post. I really had fun doing this and Anders has a new fan. I have ordered his book, a graphic memoir filled with real letters, drawings, postcards, created after the death of his fiancée to cancer. Truly amazing talent.

graphic novel - dog

Navigating the Book Promotion Jungle – Part 2

12x18-max-room-where-the-wild-things-are-placemat3I thought I would give an update on my book promotion progress since my last post about book marketing. It’s been kind of exciting, although I can’t say the book is flying off the shelves exactly. Here is a list of the things I’ve done since my last post:

GoodReads Ads

I paid $50 to run some ads for the book on Goodreads. The nice thing is that I was able to experiment with the wording of the ads and found that this one brought the most clicks:

This book will make you laugh, cry and most of all, cherish your loved ones- those who are alive and those who have passed.”

Stats from the ad: I had 155,390 total views and 102 clicks for a CTR (click through rate) of 0.07%.

Assessment: Not sure that was worth my $50.

BookRooster Review

Spent: $67

Result: 1 review

Assessment: Total bust.

BookSends

Cost: $125 for a front page ad.

Result: I used one of my KDP Select free days for this and the result was kind of awesome. 4300 free downloads in one day!

LibraryThing

Cost: FREE

Although LibraryThing is a difficult site to navigate, I have had some success with the giveaways (The link to do this is hard to find. Click the “More” link at the top of the page and then the “Get Free Books” link in the middle of the page). I did a second free giveaway and had 108 people signed up. I sent them an email through MailChimp and gave them a link to download the book for free using this amazingly handy new tool, Instafreebie. Highly recommend. It’s a great way to get promotion or review copies of your ebook out to people. And it’s FREE! Of the 108 who requested the book, through InstaFreebie, I know that only 53 actually downloaded it. I know I got several reviews from this.

StoryCartel

Cost: $30

This is not quite what it once was. You now have to pay $30 for a token and people will download your book and hopefully review it. Hard to tell the success of this one as there are no stats.

CONTESTS

It seemed like a good idea to enter some contests, so I entered the following:

IndieReader Discovery Awards

Spent: $150

Result: a professional review that I could add to my Amazon page. Frankly the review wasn’t wonderful, but they gave me a good line I could use. The cost also included inclusion in a contest. I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Assessment: Cheaper than a Kirkus review and includes a contest entry. Fair.

2014 USA Best Book Awards Contest – $69, September 30th.

Self Unbound Contest – $30, Deadline: October 1st

WD Writing contest – $25, Deadline: September 2nd.

Time will tell if these were worth it.

But as predicted, the overall book promotion bomb was….

BookBub

It took 3 tries to get accepted. I entered my book as a free book and gave flexible dates. I used my remaining 3 KDP Select free days.

Cost: $190 for the Women’s Fiction list.

Result: 44,500 free downloads! Holy cow! This resulted in my highest month of sales (62) and sales are trickling in this month as well (18 so far).

Assessment: If you can get into this email, do it!

OK, so to continue my accounting:

Blurb $50.00
b2b marketing $20.00
K-boards marketing $15.00
Promotion cards $200.00
Fivrr twitter promo $5.00
Blog Tour $80.00
Moo Cards $72.00
GoodReads Ads $50.00
BookRooster Review $67.00
IndieReader Review $150.00
BookSends (5/16) Free $125.00
Proofread $25.00
2014 USA Best Book Awards Contest Fee $69.00
Self Unbound Contest Fee $30.00
WD Writing contest $25.00
BookBub $190.00
 Total $3,183.00

And my sales:

Total Sales Total Revenue
Feb: 52 138.64
Mar: 21 31.29
April: 14 24.66
May 26 75.58
June 63 171.77
July 18
194 441.94

Which is to say, I’m still in the red: -$2,741.06

The good news is that I am up to 103 Amazon reviews now! Holy cow! That has been the most exciting thing. And people don’t hate the book! Amazing!

Next up, a print version of Remember The Moon. I decided to use Ingram Spark to produce my paperback version. I will write a further post on my experience there.

Happy publishing!

I Became a CEO Today!

Kelsye and Abby planning the birth of Writer.ly in 2012.

Kelsye and Abby planning the birth of Writer.ly in 2012.

What an exciting two years it’s been!

What started as a discussion in a coffee shop became a viable website that helps countless writers and freelancers connect to produce a better quality product – be it a book, a website, or a cover design.

Kelsye and I have had a wonderful time getting Writer.ly off the ground and we both marvel at how far we have gotten in such a short period of time. The other day we chuckled that we even managed to stay friends. Quite a feat for partners in a start-up, apparently!

We learned so much along the way – about running a business, building a website, fundraising, marketing and leading a community. Kelsye is one of the smartest, savviest, determined women I know and what I have learned from her has been invaluable. Most importantly, she taught me to be fearless, to take risks, to assume you can do something even when you’re not sure you can. What a gift!

Alas, the day has come for Kelsye to sail off toward her dream of becoming a full-time author, and I have no doubt she will be the next bestseller! I will continue to be her most enthusiastic cheerleader and wish her huge success.

Writer.ly would simply no be without Kelsye and so it will be my greatest challenge to carry on Writer.ly without her.  That said, I indent to use Kelsye’s gift of fearlessness as I continue to build Writer.ly. We had many great ideas for the site and the community which I hope to see to fruition. I have a team of great people helping me and I have Writer.ly’s incredibly supportive community cheering me on.

I look forward to a bright future for Writer.ly.

I hope you will continue to join me for the ride.

Using The Emotion of Grief For a Good Cause

Abby speaking at the 2014 Detlef Schrempf Gala Auction

Abby speaking at the 2014 Detlef Schrempf Gala Auction. Photo courtesy of Jim Evans

Standing on a platform surrounded by hundreds of round tables with orchid centerpieces and people wearing twinkly items that flashed around the room, I tried to speak slowly, give punctuation and emotion to my words. I was the final speaker before the “Raise the Paddle” portion of the evening where you hope to incite in the audience so much emotion that they dig even deeper into their pockets to donate to your cause. I joked earlier in the evening that I needed to make this audience of 350 cry.

The woman who spoke before me was a tough act to follow. She had us imagine a 16 year old girl who is told that her single mom has AIDS and all the prejudices she encounters in her high school as a result. And then the plot twist: the woman speaking was the girl’s mom. She was powerful. Her voice wavered at the end as she held back tears. She was knee deep in the emotion of her experience.

I tiptoed up to the platform and took the mic, knowing I was not. I spoke slowly. The waver in my voice came from nerves and not emotion. I made the mistake of stapling the corner of my speech and thus clumsily turned pages at inopportune moments. All along I was aware of my lack of emotion in my own story.

I forget the emotive power of my story. To me, describing my daughter as wanting to be a “happy person” a few weeks after her father died or wearing my two-year-old son like a heavy necklace because he wouldn’t let me out his sight is a distant memory. A memory that no longer has bite for me. But when I speak it, those small children come alive in my listener’s minds.

I have written and read this material for over ten years now, and so the emotion of that time has drained away for me (thank goodness), which is why I was slightly unprepared for the reaction I received when I stepped off the stage. A huge hug from a very tall man, Detlef Schrempf, whose foundation organizes the event; more hugs from fellow board members at The Healing Center on whose behalf I spoke, strangers congratulating me on a great job, the woman in the elevator who told me I caused her to spend more than she anticipated.

Which is why I think I’m feeling a little… is it guilty? Guilty for not feeling the emotion that I so blatantly unleashed upon others to drum up donation dollars. Is it fair to do such a thing? Exploitive? Manipulative?

After my speech, the Raise the Paddle began and many thousands of dollars raised. It’s lovely to think that my story played a part in helping other families who are new to the experience of grief. For that I would tell me story a million times over.

I never expected to wish to re-live the emotion of grief, but it might make moments like these seem a little less surreal.

 

 

A Father’s Day Round-Up

Photo borrowed from A Raja's Life and Stories (http://arajaslife.typepad.com/)

Photo borrowed from A Raja’s Life and Stories (http://arajaslife.typepad.com/)

I know how difficult Father’s Day is for the newly widowed. It’s another reminder of what is missing. The kids’ class-made Father’s Day cards and presents must find new recipients. Widowed moms try to make the best of the day, pat themselves wearily on the back for trying to be good dads and just get through it. Widowed dads might get lopsided pancakes in bed, a homemade card and a tie and try to not miss sharing those secret smiles with their wives.

I thought it might be interesting to go back through my old posts and see how I dealt with Father’s Day over the years. OK, ready for the ride down memory lane?

2008 – The Father’s Day Dilemma, where I advise another widow on how one might deal with Father’s Day as a widowed mom.

2009 – A Father’s Legacy, where Carter buys a Father’s Day card for his friend’s two dads.

2010 – Every Day is Father’s Day for a Mom Who is Also a Dad, an essay I wrote for HelloGrief.com on how I got through Father’s Day over the years.

2011 – Perspective, an essay I wrote about my own dad teaching me how to draw perspective.

2012 – Happy Father’s Day, Mom, more on how we muddle through the day, teenaged angst, and a lone call up from the basement of “Happy Father’s Day, Mom!”

2013 – Chasing Mavericks. Not exactly specifically about Father’s Day, but a clear example of being a mother and a father rolled into one.

This Father’s Day will likely go by without much of a blink from me or my kids. I’ll do my traditional call to my own Dad who will do his traditional grumble about Father’s Day being a Hallmark invention and that will be about it. Perhaps I’ll again get a “Happy Father’s Day, Mom” called up from the basement and I’ll laugh. If I play my cards right, I will be on Vashon with Jim doing Father-y things like repairing the path to the beach and life will be good.

For all those of you who are struggling through another “Hallmark” moment, take heart. It gets better. In the meantime, go have a G&T and put your feet up. You deserve it.

10 Things a Traditionally Published Author Should Know About Self-Publishing (That I Didn’t)

Imaged borrowed from Ilovetypography.com

Imaged borrowed from Ilovetypography.com

Talking to a writer friend of mine about my experience self publishing, she suggested I write a blog about what I wished I knew going into it. Since my first book was traditionally published, I may have been a little naive when it came to self publishing. It seemed like a good choice. My own agent had no interest in my novel and I wasn’t getting anywhere with other agents. I was lured by the promise of “70% royalties” and “full control” over my book. It seemed like a no-brainer. Here’s what I wish I knew BEFORE I self published (not that knowing it would have changed my path, but I would have had a more realistic idea of what to expect):

 

1. Self Publishing Takes Longer Than You Think

I formatted my ebook myself. I used to be a desktop publisher (back in the days when such a thing existed), so it was something I felt comfortable doing, and in fact, love doing. I have even been doing formatting the books of a few author friends. I wrote the book using Scrivener which has a “compile” feature that allows you to set up and compile your book into an ebook or a print book. Kinda handy. I compiled over and over, probably 50 times before I got the book looking the way I wanted it. It was a learning curve. Next time it will probably take me less time, but even if you have someone doing this for you, you will likely get the book back not looking quite like you wanted it. Ebooks are funny things and text appears in ways than you don’t expect. Be prepared for a cover design to also take longer than you expect. Depending on how well you were able to articulate your design idea to the designer, you may go through a few iterations before you are happy with a cover design.

 

2. Self Publishing Happens Fast

Of course, once you have the files ready, publishing takes no time at all. I wanted to experiment a little with KDP ( (I used Amazon’s KDP to publish my ebook) before I published and then all of a sudden with one click of a submit button, I was published and not at all prepared.

 

3. A Self Publishing Plan is a really good idea BEFORE you publish

Because publishing happens with the click of a button, you have to be disciplined to not “impulse publish” like I did. I would have done well to follow the advice of my Writer.ly co-founder, Kelsye and have a plan. View her webinar on 10 things you should do BEFORE publishing.

 

4. Publishing the book in ebook format is not enough

I went into this whole self publishing thing a little hesitantly. Even the day before I impulsively published, I sent the book to agents. I figured that if I just self published the ebook, I’d be simply testing the waters a little. I’d get a few reviews and see if there might be any interest in the book. What I’m quickly realizing is that my sales campaign would have been a whole lot stronger if I had published the paperback and the ebook simultaneously.

 

5. There is still a significant bias against self publishing and some of it is self-imposed

Now that I have to produce a paperback lickety split, I need some decent reviews to add to the back cover. I am friends with a lot of traditionally published authors, so I figured I’d have no problems getting a review. When each one turned me down (kindly), I put myself in their shoes for a minute. Is there any benefit for a traditionally published author to write a blurb about a self published book? Not really. In fact, it could be a little detrimental to the traditionally published author who needs to remain loyal to their publisher. Loyalty in publishing is a hot topic right now, and I could probably write an entire post just about that, but you get the idea.

 

6. Self Publishing your book is the EASY part

Once your book is published you need to let people know, and for me, this is the hard part. Through my association with Writer.ly, I have been inundated with information about how to market my book, but when it came down to doing it, I was overwhelmed. For my traditionally published books, I had so much done for me – entering the book into contests, getting the book into bookstores, setting up launch parties and readings. I’ve already written a little about this, so I won’t bore you with the details here. As Guy Kawasaki says in his book, you really do have to become an entrepreneur. And even though I am one (with Writer.ly), selling your own creative output is harder than it seems because it feels like you are bragging or pushing your work down people’s throats. It’s a hard nugget to swallow for us introverts.

 

7. Marketing your book takes a long time

I thought that I would put my book out on KDP, do a few KDP Select “Free” days (where you agree not to sell your book on any platform other than KDP for 90 days in exchange for the privilege of having 5 Free days on Amazon) and have thousands of downloads which then leads to hundreds of reviews. But I’m finding that it’s a slow build, and that every action you take to market your book builds up to the next. I’ve now had several free days and have tried different things for each one. The first two had abysmal results (90 or so downloads), but then I lucked out with the last one and had 5000 downloads. This got my book ranking higher in at Amazon which then led to it be seen by more people searching for books (in this case searching for FREE Kindle books). I hope the next (and last) round of my free days will yield even more downloads. After that, I will move on and try uploading it to different platforms. I plan on using IngramSpark.

 

8. Giving away books as many books as possible is a GOOD thing

I knew this going in, but still it seems counter-intuitive. To be honest, I’m not in the writing game to become a best seller. I’m in it to write and to impart ideas that I think are interesting or important or helpful. So giving away my book is easy and I love doing it, but I didn’t ever equate FREE books with SALES. My next point will illustrate why this is so.

 

9. Reviews are the gold of the publishing world

The reason you want to give away so many free books is that when you do, a handful of those readers will review and rate your book on Amazon or Goodreads. And reviews are the currency you need to qualify for some of the most successful marketing platforms out there. They change constantly, but for the moment, the killer app in this realm is BookBub. If you can get your book included in a BookBub email, you will have thousands of downloads. Which is what leads to “buzz” about your book. The buzz is the magical elixir when it comes to self publishing. You want people talking about your book so that word-of-mouth can take over and those giveaways become real sales.

 

10. You probably won’t get rich self publishing

We all have those secret notions that our book will somehow get all kinds of the aforementioned “buzz” and become an instant bestseller (making us millions in the process, because we made the smart move to self publish, thereby receiving huge royalties), but the reality is that few books ever manage to hit that nirvana. Perhaps you will achieve this if you write genre fiction, write it as a series and write it quickly, but most of us slog away at our books and write in unmarketable genres.

In the end, we are doing what we love (hopefully) and no matter how we publish, sometimes success is measured not in buzz and dollars, but in the joy we get from telling our stories.

 

The 9/11 Gift Store

Pandora 9/11 charms

9/11 Memorial Museum. For New York Post. credit: Sue Edelman

I woke up to this story this morning and couldn’t help feeling a little sick to my stomach. I think until now it was possible to convince myself that no one would be profiting from the 9/11 Memorial Museum, but of course who was I kidding? This is America, land of consumerism and greed. Even a repository for remains of the dead is fair game. How many other people’s cemeteries have gift stores?

You can bet the 9/11 gift store doesn’t carry my book, or any other book by a 9/11 family member. How about something that tells the real story of what happened and it’s aftermath, words filled with the emotion, blood, sweat and tears of our upside-down lives.  But no, instead people will buy their FDNY Pandora charms and think they are taking home a piece of history.

Remember, “Never Forget.”

Perhaps we could take some cues from the Pearl Harbor memorial gift store. It’s mostly a book store and proceeds go towards outreach programs. Let’s give people a chance to learn about the impact of that terrible day rather than have them take home a meaningless bauble or t-shirt. A gift shop could be a perfect way to make a meaningful difference and give further understanding to people of what they have just seen in the museum.

God, my black humor is getting the best of me… Here’s a t-shirt idea for families:

“My loved one died on 9/11 and all I got from the 9/11 Museum was this lousy t-shirt.”

The Oak Table

For Mother’s Day, I thought I would post this excerpt of “The House and I,” a memoir I’m writing about owning the home of the late “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle” author Betty MacDonald on Vashon Island, WA.

 

The kitchen on Vashon

The kitchen on Vashon

The Vashon house came equipped with two built-in bunk beds, a questionable queen sized bed in the guest house, two 60s era egg-shaped wicker chairs and a bejeweled thrift store painting that I requested from the previous owners, two more conventional wicker chairs, a grey piano with two candle holders attached and metal piano seat, and the requisite old-house cupboard full of half-empty cans of paint and stain (despite the fact that there are almost no painted surfaces in or around the house).

A kitchen table and chairs seemed the first order of business and they were the one thing I was happy to move from Seattle to Vashon as the white painted oak table and orange plastic chairs didn’t really suit the Seattle house. Only two years before, in a fit of questionable decorating projects, I spray-painted the beautiful oak table white. It was now stained with various colors of Sharpie, marred with scratches and unidentified blobs of crusty stuff that even a knife couldn’t scrape off. A white table would most certainly be out of place in the pine-paneled, terra cotta tiled kitchen of the Vashon house, which is how I found myself sitting on a tarp of newspapers on the dining room floor one Saturday morning, yellow rubber gloves up to my elbows, covered in orange smelling goo, stripping the round oak table and cursing myself. I scraped paint out of the claws of the lion-footed pedestal and apologized to the body-less lion whose feet I had cruelly defaced. As the oakiness of the table re-emerged, I remembered the day Arron bought the table at an auction. It happened to be the same June day that Olivia and I came home from a south Boston hospital twenty-four hours after her birth. Earlier in the day, before picking us up at the hospital, Arron found the table (precisely matching the description of a table I mentioned in passing I had always wanted) at an auction house and twenty minutes after we arrived home, insisted that we go and bid on it. He rushed me out of the house, certain the table would be gone before we got there and I frantically tried to pack the diaper bag and figure out how to put the baby car seat back into the car. I could already feel the tell-tale prickling that told me I was perilously close to yet another fumbled attempt at breast feeding the baby. By the time we walked into the auction house, the table was on the block and the auctioneer’s gavel hitting the lectern as he yelled “Sold for five hundred dollars!” Arron threw up his hand and called “Five twenty five!” Everyone turned to look at us. I can only imagine how crazed we must have looked. The auctioneer looked dumbfounded, but recovered quickly. “Can I hear five fifty?” He was met with silence. I looked at Arron as he broke into a wide grin when the auctioneer clapped his gavel down declaring, “Sold for five twenty-five!” Olivia squawked and I hurried to the car, where I sat awkwardly in the front seat holding Olivia like a football under my arm and trying to hide us under my t-shirt while Arron and the auctioneer slid the table into the back of the SUV.

I shook my head remembering how chaotic buying the table had been. “We’ve been through a lot, haven’t we Mr. Lion?” I said aloud. When I finished scraping, I wiped away all the goo and then polished the table with oil until it shone in the sunlight.

During their first visit to Seattle to visit us, My father and step-mother Sheilagh helped me disassemble the now denuded table, put it into my car and reassemble it again in the Vashon kitchen where my lion finally seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. The orange plastic chairs, (another of my questionable decor choices) were placed around it and suddenly the hub of the house came alive.

 

Happy Mother’s Day to all you awesome mothers and fathers being mothers out there!

The House and I

It’s official. I am writing another memoir. This one will revolve around the home I own on Vashon, once the home of famous 40s author Betty MacDonald, who wrote “The Egg and I” and the “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle” series of books. I plan to call the book “The House and I.”

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Vashon house 2014. This is the addition that Betty built onto the house. The original part of the house is hidden behind it.

Vashon 1938

Vashon house 1938. The structure in front was the original kitchen but was moved to make room for the addition and is now the guest house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope it will be a little bit memoir, and a little bit biography of Betty, since there seems to be very little published about her, which is a shame. She was such a great writer of humor, her words and phrases are brilliant and although she insisted she didn’t write what we would now call memoir, her stories are very myopic and revealing, more for what she doesn’t say than for what she does. None of her books mention her divorce from her first husband, but after her experience at the chicken farm near Port Townsend described in the “The Egg and I,” she took her toddler daughters, Anne and Joan and left her first husband Robert Heskett after four years of marriage to move back home with her mother in Seattle. While in Seattle, she tried to get a job, or rather a series of jobs which she later chronicled in “Anybody Can Do Anything,” her book about trying to find work in Seattle during the Depression. She was then forced to leave her children (now around 9 and 1o years old) with her mother for almost a year while she was treated at Firland Sanitorium (in her book “The Plague and I” she called it The Pines) for tuberculosis. Later, she met Don MacDonald and in 1942 they married. Together with Anne and Joan (now 14 and 15) Don and Betty moved to Vashon, where she eventually left her job with the government to write her first book, “The Egg and I.”

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The living room as it looks today.

The living room as it looks today. The flowered couch in the picture to the right is in approx the same location as the sand colored couch in this picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been doing some research on Betty by going to the Vashon/Maury Island Heritage Museum where there are two big binders of letters, photos, book covers and such. I sat in the back room of the museum surrounded by shelves of books, the binders open with me snapping photos of the pages with my iPhone. Gee, remember when we used to photocopy stuff? There were so many letters, written by Betty or by people writing to her. I particularly liked this one that she wrote to Bert Lippincott (the original owner of J.B. Lippincott Publishing Company, the publisher of her books, but who had obviously retired from the company) because it mentions how she is beginning to write “Onions in the Stew,” her book about Vashon and the house.

 

Betty_letter_2-6-1954So many fun aspects of the house, Betty and Vashon to explore. Thus begins the journey!