Salutations April 2023

I say it every year, and I’ll say it again. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE SPRING! To see brave little buds on bare branches, the bursts of vivid daffodil sunshine, the delicate blossoms of bloodroot and myrtle – how can I not feel their joy? I’ve long believed that to be a gardener is to be an optimist, and no season feeds that optimism like spring – which is why I’ve loaded my garden with the bright beauties that herald my favorite season. I need an optimism booster after our long winter!

What a difference two weeks make. Tulips, myrtle, and grape hyacinths are today’s ground-level stars with dogwood and cherry blossoms brightening the skies. Soon they’ll be upstaged by lilies of the valley, Solomon’s seal, and lilacs who’ll have their brief moments in the spotlight before they too will fade and make way for blooms of early summer. Beauty’s fleeting nature seems like yet another metaphor for life – a reminder to savor while we can, to say our gentle farewells with grace, and anticipate what will come.

My spring pics could go on and on. I can’t stop wanting to capture the hope! Or sharing that hopeful joy!

Making Stuff Up

The cherry tree outside my office is filled with the blossoms you’ll soon see on the Look Up cover, evoking a pivotal scene in my protagonists’ journey.

My novel Look Up slowly edges closer to launch. It’s in the temporary holding pattern also known as editing – which is not a process an author wants their editor to short-cut. In truth, most of us could use a breathing space after we submit a manuscript for edits – to rest up for the approaching frenzy of final tweaks (shock at how very many typos I missed in my own self-editing!), the book-formatting process, and the hesitating finger when we think (operative word) a book is finally ready to release into the wild. Still, I feel a bit like the robin who nested near our back deck. I’m antsy to see this fledgling fly!

In the meantime, I’ve dusted off and built onto my next story by another ten thousand words. I’ve tried plotting in advance this time, a departure for me. As a pantser (a seat-of-the pants writer) I’m prone to letting my characters direct their stories, so this plotting thing is a new adventure this story seems to want. As wine growers, my protagonists march to a seasonal drum. I want their growth to leaf out and bear fruit in pace with the transformations that take place from the vineyard to the glass. These characters need strong roots and careful tending to balance sugars and acids into a spectacular sip with a great finish. And I need to keep practicing these wine metaphors!

Making Stuff

I have been felting up a storm in preparation for five – count-em, five – upcoming art festivals my friend Pat and I are doing this year. Five! You’ve gotta make stuff to sell stuff! With three of those festivals mere weeks apart, I won’t have much time to make stuff in between, so I’ve been trying to boost my inventory in advance!

We start with Rochester’s Lilac Festival in (gulp) two weeks, the Keuka Arts Festival in June, The Corn Hill Festival in July, Naples Grape Festival in September, and wind up the season with the Christkindl Market in November. You might want to come early for the best selection – in case we sell out. But not to worry. I’ve got lots of head-turners and will keep making more. Stay tuned to Butterfly Junction Designs on Facebook for updates and previews!

Reading Stuff

Enough about me. Here’s my roundup of April reads.

I loved this book. And I highly recommend it for anyone who has a friend of a different race – or wishes you did. Or if being ‘woke’ or its backlash has you confused. Or if you just like compelling characters and stories. Jen, white, and Riley, Black grew up together and feel like they’ve always known and loved each other. But that doesn’t mean they understand the other – not at all. Because of their different races, their paths in life have influenced hugely different ways of looking at the world – especially in regard to policing. Jen’s married to a cop from a cop family. Riley, a broadcast journalist has justifiable reasons to lack trust in the police. Also whites in general. How the friends navigate their differences and push each other to learn and grow – under contentious circumstances – is what makes this a terrific book. I learned tons about the hurtful effects of seemingly small slights born amid institutionally racist ignorance. Jen and Riley’s story helped inform me of my own ignorance and solidified my empathy goals.

Have I been on a Kristan Higgins reading jag? Yes, I have! Why? 1. I’m a fan – have been since Kristan spoke at a FLARE event a few years ago. 2. My library has a good supply of her fun books. I often laugh, sometimes cry, and always wish I could hang out with her characters after their story ends. These two are stand-alone stories. Clear Blue Sky showcases a Cape Cod mid-wife blindsided by an idiot husband’s desire for divorce. In Second Thought romance takes a back seat to a growing relationship between two very different sisters. Both explore family and learning to love oneself and one’s life. I devoured both in record time.

These two are books 3 and 2 in Higgins’ Blue Heron Series set in a charming town in the Finger Lakes where I live. Do I recognize the town? Pretty much. Do I want to live there and work at the Blue Heron Winery and be a regular at O’Rourke’s bar and restaurant? Absolutely! Romance is the big theme of the series, but it’s always surrounded by friendship, family, and small-town life. I rarely read series, but as soon as I finished book one a month or so ago, I started looking forward to reading these. And when I finished book three yesterday, I wanted to get my hands on books four and five. They’re that fun!

Have I been on a romance jag lately? I guess so. This one was billed as a sweet romance – and I often opt to pass on those. Too often, they’re so sweet I fear I’ll contract diabetes. But since this one takes place in Charleston, and I really enjoyed a visit to that town, I gave it a chance. And enjoyed it more than I expected. The competing tour guide characters were feisty enough to balance the sweet, and they interspersed the story with spiels from their tours and meals in restaurants I’d been to. Was it like being there in person? Not even close. But I liked picturing the streets they walked on, the wrought iron gates, the St. Michael’s spire (which was featured in Celia Garth, a Revolutionary War tale by Gwen Bristow I’ve loved for years,) and more. I wished it came with a side order of shrimp and grits or fried green tomatoes, but I liked remembering those treats even if I couldn’t taste them.

I sometimes get ‘Jennifer’ authors confused. Is it Jennifer Crusie, Jennifer Weiner, or Jennifer Close I like so much? Not Close – or maybe this wasn’t her best effort. This novel has a mom, two adult daughters, and a soon-to-be daughter-in-law sharing the lead roles, and I can’t say I liked any of them a lot. The mom, one daughter, and the daughter-in-law were terribly earnest and fretful – about things I couldn’t work up much fret. The other daughter didn’t seem nearly earnest enough. Overall, I perceived this family’s story – much ado about little – as a slog. Eventually, they reached a resolution of sorts with a week at the shore, but I had the feeling that each of them would soon fall back into the same patterns that didn’t serve them well in the first place. Some might call my Higgins binge lightweight reading compared to this one. But I’d choose friends and characters in books who approach their real problems with humor and grace over those who slog.

Alas, here’s another story I didn’t much like despite its setting in Rome. But did we feel the grandeur of that city? No. Levine focused her energy on minute details of a doomed but all-consuming affair between the American artist – who by the way, never creates art in the story – and her Italian lover – who is living with and engaged to be married to another woman. And he insists the two women should be friends. Really? And the artist goes along with this? In minute detail. Now twenty-some years later, the artist – still no art – and lover resume contact, the artist spends weeks – in minute detail at a Buddhist retreat which inspires her dweeb of a husband to take up with the artist’s cousin and demand a divorce. Which conveniently sends the artist back to the arms of her lover – and his child whom she gave up for adoption. In minute detail ala Henry Miller. The author’s intent comes through in the title and I suppose she achieved her goal. There’s nothing she forgot to include. Nothing much to like here either.

For several months, I’ve seen this book on important lists – hot new books, Reese Witherspoon recommends, book club favorites. The premise – two young Black women face unplanned pregnancies in the late 1940s. Sounded interesting, and I had high hopes. Alas. Yes, I learned about racial challenges of the time and how a woman’s dreams could get derailed by sex. And yes, their stories were likely fairly typical – premature marriage for one, a home for unwed mothers for the other – after an abortion could not be found. This is where the story lost me. The married almost-grad of Howard University miscarried and plotted in ridiculous secret to adopt, hiding her un-pregnant state. Meanwhile, the other survived a horrible ordeal in the home run by the Sisters of Magdalene. (See the film of the same name. It tells that part of the story better.) I give Johnson credit for discussing skin color bias among Blacks, the lack of options for women of that time, and the life-altering ramifications of pregnancy. I give her far lower marks for character and story development.

The Memory of an Elephant by Alex Lasker will top my list next month. For now, I’ll say I loved it and save all the reasons why till after our Really Readers Book Club meets. Discussing any book with these smart, smart women always gives me new insights, so stay tuned to gain your own vicarious insights from my dear friends!

Meanwhile, the darling month of May awaits my attention. It’s going to be a busy one with a break of only two days between the Lilac Festival and my much-anticipated trip back to my Home Place. Though I got transplanted from that place long ago, my friend Phyllis with whom I’ll stay and I both share deep roots there. As kids, the two of us knew each other’s homes as well as our own. I’ll also see other grade school friends who spent our first through eighth-grade years together and share family lore with my only family still living in Illinois. I want to visit the museum where our ancestor’s artifacts are displayed with my nephew Butch and walk the golf course that was our family farm. I even plan to knock on the door of my old Home Place and ask to see inside – with a copy of my novel Home Place to offer as a gift for their trouble. Can you tell how excited I am to make this trip?

Before I go, tomatoes and peppers need to be planted and grass seed sown. I’d like to divide and transplant yucca and myrtle and weed-whack the pesky wild mustard before it goes to seed. Likely, I’ll get only as far as tomatoes and peppers and resign myself to the reality that my gardens will once again get way out of my control. But May is the month I always believe it might be different this year, that I might keep up with all the goals I’d like to see achieved. Or maybe I’ll concede defeat now and put my energy into enjoying what is instead of wishing it might be different. Because there is plenty to enjoy in this darling month of May. Redbuds, lilacs dogwood, forget-me-nots, and leaves on trees. Why would I need anything more? Do you?

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