Found Friday #34: A most welcome visitor!

You guys! Look!

I’d lamented last week that I hadn’t seen a single cicada in my yard, and who should stop by shortly after but this little weirdo! I didn’t see him in person, sadly. He was hanging out on the bush that Graham can see from his desk, and Graham snapped a picture before he flew away. Not ideal, sure, but I’ll take what I can get!

Bonus Post! More Q&A!

Y’all, I missed some questions! With apologies to Shivani (whose blog you should definitely visit!), I’m answering them now. Because they’re good questions. 😊

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When writing a story, what’s the first thing you take care of?

It varies. Sometimes a voice will come to me first and I’ll start with a character, and sometimes, I’ll have a setting in mind. It just depends on what kind of mood I’m in that day and what’s standing out most to me. That being said, the first thing I usually do when I sit down to write a story is to make myself a cup of coffee (sometimes tea, but usually coffee) and to write a few journal pages, just to get any messy thoughts and anxieties out of my head. I find everything comes out a little more smoothly after that.

How do you decide on a catchy title for a story?

Honestly, I have no idea, and sometimes, I don’t. Choosing a title is sometimes more difficult for me than actually writing the story. It’s usually the last thing I do in the process, and by then, I just hope that the story is good enough. My best advice is probably just to keep it simple. The story’s the real work and the real reward.

EDITED TO ADD:

Are you sure your house isn’t haunted?

LOL, no! It’s almost 3:00 a.m., and I’m still up writing, and the washing machine just turned itself on and off twice in a row. Do you think the ghosts want me to go to bed already so they can do their ghost things before the morning?

Q&A! (Long promised, finally delivered!)

As promised, here I am with a Q&A. Hope you enjoy it!

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Why did you start this blog?

I started this blog back in 2016. I’d left a corporate job to pursue writing full time, and starting a blog as part of that shift just sort of felt like the sensible thing to do. It never felt quite right, though, and looking back, I realize now that I was scared. I didn’t want to put my creative writing out there, because I was afraid people wouldn’t like it. And I didn’t want to share too much of myself, because I was afraid people wouldn’t like me. I more or less rebooted this blog (and myself, really) in very early 2020, after my grandmother died. She was my last grandparent, and cliché as it sounds, losing her made me realize how fast life goes, and how quickly everything can change. I stopped worrying about being liked, and started thinking about what I wanted to create and how I could get it out into the world. And here we are today.

What do you have in mind for the blog in the next three months?

More stories, more poems, maybe a couple of travel posts. I’m also really intrigued by the six-word stories I’ve been reading, so that would be fun, I think. And I’ve thought about incorporating more posts about my writing process, and more inside looks at how I build stories. Is that something y’all would want to read? Let me know!

Weren’t you going to start a YouTube channel?

Yes! And it’s coming, I promise! My non-writing life has been pretty unexpectedly chaotic this year, and I’ve had to put off really digging in and getting started making videos, but I’m still planning to make it happen. I might even write some posts about how it’s going, once I get started. 😉

Still working on your novel?

Which one? I mean, yes. I have a love/hate relationship with my novel(s) at the moment. But we’re working through it.

Who’s your favorite writer?

Neil Gaiman. I’m also very fond of Kazuo Ishiguro.

What’s your favorite book?

That’s like asking me to pick a favorite star in the sky! I really like Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I read it many years ago and it’s stuck with me all that time. Recently, I’ve been reading Yona of the Dawn, which is a manga series and yes, I know that’s not the same thing as a book (or is it??), and I’m really invested in the story. Would recommend. And I still find myself thinking about The Song of Achilles, which I read at the beginning of this year. So, so good!

What does your name mean?

My personal name? Katie means “pure.” My mom chose it because she liked it. I’ve come around to liking it, too, but I desperately wanted a more unique name when I was a kid. I think a lot of kids do, actually. As for my blog name, I’ve lived in Virginia all my life, and I love it here. There are lots of places I’d like to see, and I can’t wait to be able to travel again, but no matter where I end up, Virginia will always be home.

Have you ever visited Waterford, VA?

Yes, I have! It’s a lovely little village here in Virginia, named after the one in Ireland, I believe, with some interesting Quaker history and lots of immaculately preserved historic structures. Graham and I actually looked at a house in Waterford, when we were searching for a historic home. It was our second choice, but a strong one, and I think we would have been quite happy there. Or in Ireland.

Tell me more about your house.

Well, I’ll start by saying that you don’t live in an old house so much as you experience it. And you’re not really the owner of an old house so much as you’re the steward. At least, that’s how I’ve always looked at it. I grew up in a small town with lots of history, and two main streets lined by beautiful old homes, and it was always a dream of mine to own a historic home of my own. It took over a year to find the right one.

Is it ancestral?

No. It’s housed many a family in its long lifetime, and I’m sure Graham and I won’t be the last.

Did you restore it?

We’ve done a few projects, and we have a few more to do. We bought it in good shape, though.

What’s your favorite part of the house?

I have several! I write in a comfy chair by the window and fireplace in my living room, and so I’m quite fond of that spot.

I also love the stone walls in the basement.

And the view. I love the view.

And I know it might be hard to believe, but I really love my small, practical kitchen.

Easy to use, but more importantly, easy to clean!

Is it haunted?

Depends on who you ask. Graham doesn’t think so and I’m pretty sure it’s not, but some of our friends are totally convinced it is. Either way, I think it’s a happy house, and we’ve always felt very comfortable. I did have a friend ask to come in and do a ghost hunt, and I was like, “No! Absolutely not! I have to live here when you leave!”

Tell me a funny story about when you were in school.

Here’s me, in high school, playing Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I once argued with a high school English teacher over whether Welsh sounds like French. (It doesn’t.) I should have just kept my mouth shut, but I was the kind of kid who…well, who just couldn’t. I also got in trouble in kindergarten for using paint brushes as drum sticks. Oh, and I broke my arm pretending to be a monkey on a set of monkey bars (isn’t that what they’re for???). Is any of that funny? I don’t know. I was an academic, musical kid, and I took myself super seriously. It wasn’t until I was out of college that I really embraced my silly side.

Do you have a favorite friend?

I’m fortunate to have a great group of wonderful friends, and since I’ve been working on the Better Friendships podcast, I’ve really started looking at friends and friendships differently. All of my friends bring happiness and value to my life in their own ways, and I treasure them for who they are and for how they each make my life a little better.

What do you think of The Gondwanaland?

I’m a fan! 😊 Thanks for asking, so I could say so!

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And that’s it! This was kind of fun, I admit. Maybe I’ll do another one when I hit 500 followers. We shall see!  

(Not) Found Friday #33: Cicada Season

Brood X. That’s what they’re called. Billions of cicadas, emerging from a 17-year underground nap, all over the Northeast U.S., including Northern Virginia.

These critters are seriously fascinating. I know they’re a little odd to look at, but they’re just the sort of oddity of nature that I find super compelling. (I’ve never been particularly squeamish about bugs. Well, except ladybugs. But that’s a post for another day.)

I hear these little winged weirdos are pretty good for the environment, and, though I’m not brave enough to try them, one restaurant nearby is even serving them in tacos.

It’s too bad I haven’t seen a single one at my house. Those pictures? My sister-in-law, who lives a few towns over, took them. This one, too.

Apparently, I live in a tiny pocket of Loudoun County that sees a different brood’s migration. I’m disappointed. I feel like this should be the soundtrack of my early summer…

…but alas, all’s quiet around here.

Happy Place (A Poem)

On summer days,
my happy place
is not a beach
or mountain path.
It’s so much more
(or less)
than that
(depending on
how you look at it).
My happy place, when
the weather’s warm
and the days and nights
are long and quiet,
is by your side
wherever you are.
My happy place
on summer days
(and winter, fall,
and spring days, too)
is a whole world:
me and you.

Thank you for 300 followers!!

I’m so excited, you guys! I’ve hit 300 followers (plus a few more!), and I’m so grateful. I mentioned in a post when I hit 200 followers earlier this year (and I think in a previous one before that…) that I’d like to do a Q&A, and I’ve not had a chance to sit down and write everything out yet. So, if you have questions for me, post them below! I promise a Q&A post next week. 😊

In the meantime, thanks to each of you who follow my blog and read my work. I appreciate it so much, and I love being part of this wonderful, supportive, creative community. Y’all are the best!

Found Friday #32: (Almost) All Grown Up

The fox kits that live under our barn have been extra active this week. Look at them!

They’re almost grown! They’re so big, you guys. And their little tails are so fluffy! I’ll be sad to see them leave their den, but red foxes tend to stick to the same area their whole lives, so hopefully we’ll still see them around from time to time.

True story, y’all…

My mom and I were having a funny conversation a couple of weeks ago, talking about how stubbornness runs in the family. Like, both families. My dad’s and my mom’s. And so I come by my stubbornness honestly, and I told her that. I added that out of the three of us, I thought I was probably the least stubborn, and my dad was the most. She said she’s much less stubborn than me. I told her she’s absolutely more stubborn than I am. (Though we both seemed to agree that my dad is the most stubborn of all of us, so there’s that, I suppose.)

This (good-natured) back and forth went on for a little while, and then Graham (poor Graham), came upstairs to make a cup of coffee. So of course, I asked him to settle the matter and declare which of us – my mom or me – was the least stubborn.

“Your mom,” he said. “You’re so much more stubborn than your mom.”

She burst out laughing. I objected. The conversation eventually moved on.

And then I sat down today to write a poem for the blog. I wasn’t even thinking of the stubbornness conversation. Honestly, I was sitting in my chair looking outside at the sunshine and the cardinals in the yard, happy as a clam.

But, well, this is what I wrote:

Please, by all means,
tell me I can’t.
There is no better way
on the face of this planet
to ensure that
not only can I,
I will.

Y’all, I think Graham may have been right…

The Return (A Short Story)

*This story’s a sequel to last year’s May story, “The Bridge.” I’ve never written a sequel before, but every time I sat down, I just couldn’t get Allie and Michael out of my head. I don’t know if, even now, they’re quite done with me. We’ll see, but in the meantime, enjoy!*

–The Return–

It’s May, almost June. It’s hot. The leaves, just grown and bright green, already droop and sag and wilt and wrinkle under the blistering sun. I have not missed this. I dread more days of it, while we’re here.

“Supposed to hit 100 today,” says my brother.

I prop my head against the window. With the air conditioning blowing so close to it, for just a second, it feels cool against my sticky skin.

My brother drives. I count the road signs. And together, we make our way home.

There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be.

The thought hit me out of nowhere on the flight here, and it won’t let go.

Of course, I tell myself, there’s somewhere I’m supposed to be. We’re going home together from our separate cities, to visit our sick father and divide up assets in the house where we grew up. The only thing my brother wants is Dad’s old red and white Ford truck. That should make things easy, because the only thing I want is to get this over with.

I don’t want anything, is what I’m saying.

I’ve never been a collector. I don’t like being weighed down with stuff. My corner apartment is constantly filled with sunlight, the constant, churning whirlpool of my anxiety, and little else. Clutter makes me nervous. I just want to see Dad, hug him, and say goodbye.

“Allie…”

I jerk my head upright. I’d started to doze. I feel a trickle of warm drool on my chin.

“You’re supposed to be watching for the exit,” Michael reminds me.

“You’re not going to miss it,” I answer, because he won’t. I wouldn’t either.

The pull of Dad’s little red brick ranch-style house tugs at both of us, always. It’s brought us back together over and over. It’s brought me here from London now, and Michael from Seattle, that modest house in the middle of a nowhere neighborhood outside of a nowhere town. It’s hooked us both.

It will be the hardest thing we talk about, this weekend: What we’re going to do with it.

Dad’s house saved our family after our mother died. It kept us whole and safe, gave Michael and me a place to explore. It made Dad a handyman, a gardener, and a better father. But at the end of the day, it’s four walls and some windows, two doors and a bedroom that doesn’t belong to me anymore.

There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be.

I look over at Michael, his face as serene and still as a sleeping baby, and wonder what he’s thinking.

I ask instead, “Should we stop for gas before we hit town?”

“No, we’re good,” he says. “But if it’s okay, there is one stop I’d like to make.”

I know where he’s taking us. I don’t have to ask.

There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be.

We’re thinking of the same place, a dirt path and a bridge, a fork and two sycamores, and a house that’s always there but never the same. When it’s even there at all.

On the tip of my tongue, I can almost taste strawberry ice cream. And in the pocket of his dark wash jeans, I’m certain Michael has stowed away a hand-carved wooden fox.

We’re not certain, haven’t been in years, if the people we met and the house we visited ever really existed. We were sad kids, motherless too young, trying on a whole new life. Did we make it up?

Does it even matter?

We’ve talked about it a few times in the decades since, but only with each other. Who would believe us, when we’re not even sure we believe it ourselves? And again, does it even matter? It brought us together when we were lost, gave us a mystery, left us feeling touched by magic. We’re lucky, I think, even if we’re delusional.

“Do you really want to know if it’s not there?”

We’re at the exit now, and Michael turns the wheel a little too sharply. The car lurches around the turn before we settle onto the winding road into town.

“It’ll bother me forever if we don’t check. Who knows if we’ll ever come back here, once Dad’s gone.”

He’s not wrong, but, “What if we made the whole thing up?”

“Do you really believe that, Allie?”

I shake my head. No, I think. But maybe.

There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be.

My hands start to tremble.

“We’ll be fine either way,” I say.

But my voice gives me away. It trembles, too. I don’t know why I’m nervous.

We drive through town, a still charming collection of turn of the century store fronts and tree-lined sidewalks. This town never changes. It just gets older. We turn onto the gravel road that will take us to Dad’s house. And to the dirt path, too. At least, I hope it will. Michael pulls over at a wide spot, and for a moment, neither of us moves.

“We could just go on,” I say.

“Fraidy-cat,” he calls me.

“You’re being mean,” I tell him.

I open my door first. I am not a fraidy-cat, and these days, neither is Michael. He jumps out faster than I can, and comes around to my side. Together, we walk.

And suddenly, there it is. Michael notices it first, and quickens his pace.

“It’s here,” he says, and in his voice, I can hear relief.

My feet won’t move.

There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be.

“Michael,” I whisper, careful to control my tone, to hide the frantic hitch in my throat “I think we should just go on to Dad’s.”

“Allie, I have to know.”

“Why? Why is it so important to you?” I ball my hands into fists. I fight the urge to raise them to my chest, to plead with him. “What does it change?”

“I don’t know,” he answers. “I don’t know, but I know I have to do this. I have to find out.”

“I can’t,” I say. I hang my head. I feel the tears coming before they start. I wipe them away before they fall. “I need to go.”

I turn on my heel and beat an unsteady path back to our rented sedan.

“Allie!” Michael is only a few steps behind me.

“I’m going on ahead,” I manage. “You can walk to Dad’s from here.”

There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be.

“There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be,” I finally say, out loud, “and it isn’t here, in the past.”

I stop and turn to face my brother. His chin is high, his brows are set and his mouth cuts across his face like a thin blade. He won’t budge on this. Neither will I. We’re stubborn, both of us. Who knows which of us is right.

“Fine,” he finally bites out.

“I don’t want to know what you find,” I tell him. “I’ll see you at Dad’s.”

He leaves me by the car.

There’s somewhere I’m supposed to be.                                                                    

I get in, turn the key, and drive forward.

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Thank you for reading! This is the fifth of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2021 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Home.

Here are the first three stories, if you’d like to read them: 

The Roads

This Place

Talk Out the Fire

Quiet Neighbors

And if you want to join in the fun, here’s more information. I hope you do! But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here!

The next story will be posted at the end of June.