Once upon a time, my writing was my baby. I loved it, and lavished it with attention, and in my free time I couldn't wait to spend some quality time with it.
Then, I had a baby, and my writing was displaced. It wasn't just a matter of finding the time. More alarmingly, for the first time ever, I just didn't want or need to write. I wasn't writing online, or in my journals. The only writing I've been doing it the kind that pays my bills, because a job is a job.
I've always loved the Joan Didion quote, "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking." For as long as I remember that's been true. Through my dad's mental health struggles, I wrote, and it was therapeutic. I wrote through my travels, and through my pregnancy. But then the desire was gone.
The last eight months have been a jolt, tougher than I could have imagined. With so much intensity day to day - the good, and the bad - it seemed impossible to write about what I was experiencing too. I just had to ride the wave, and live it here and now. And boy was I relieved to realize that other writers feel the same way. Sometimes, you just have to experience things, without worrying about finding the words to describe them.
Luckily, like most love affairs, the flame that has died down can spring back up with a little care and attention. And with all those month stored up, I should have plenty to say...
Sometimes it is so easy to forget what's in our back yard. When I came back to visit New England when I was in Australia, I remember being wowed by the home I'd left behind. Somehow it's hard to see just how special a place is when you are there everyday.
I grew up reading "Blueberries for Sal," and having the romanticized idea of picking berries in the wild. Despite that, I can count on one hand the number of times I've gone picking.
Today I packed up the baby and a troupe of cousins and set out into the woods. The little ones were wowed that we could just walk along the trail, pick a berry and pop it into your mouth. By the end of the afternoon, the only arguments they were having were whether to make muffins, a pie or jam. No video games, no television, no structured play. Just some kids, out at home, picking blueberries.
Happy New Year everyone! This past year was a great one, especially career-wise. I loved watching the readership numbers for this blog tick steadily upward every single month. Thank you for making that possible!
I woke up to a beach this morning, but it wasn't the warm and sunny one pictured above. That was New Years Day 2011, when Mark and I woke up on a desert island in the South Pacific. The New Hampshire seacoast is great and all, but if you're like me and need to escape the cold and impending snow for a minute, click over to my travel blog and take a trip to Fraser Island.
And after your mini mental vacation, sit back and enjoy the beauty around you, even if your start to the New Year looks more like this:
I grew up in a family that worked in the trades, and I was always taught that although they may not have the most glamorous jobs, tradesmen had two things going for them: someone always needed them and they always had something to barter with. One of my favorite family memories was spending a week's vacation at a beach house in Maine. The prime summer slot had been given in exchange for painting that my parents had done at a customer's home.
More and more, I'm realizing that writing has the same benefits. Nearly anyone can use a writer, so I have become more comfortable asking if people are interested in taking payment in trade or in exchanging services. Recently, I've had two excellent experiences bartering with local professionals.
Last week, I got the itch to find out whether I'm having a boy or a girl. I looked into 3D ultrasounds, but with Christmas coming I couldn't justify the expense to find out the baby's sex just a few weeks early. On a whim I emailed Jessica at Diagnostic Ultrasound Suite, mentioning that if she would ever like to do anything in trade I'd love to talk. I knew it was a good sign when I immediately got a call back. Jessica had been in the process of finding a writer to revamp her website. Sometimes it's amazing how things work out. I got a sneak peak at baby GIRL Burch, and now Jessica and I are working together to made sure her website reflects her warm personality and years of professional experience.
This morning, my husband, my dog and I braved the single-digit temperatures to meet Kimberly Finn, of Stork Photography. Kim is the premier birth photographer on the North Shore (heck, in New England!). Her business is booming and she's so busy out shooting beautiful photos (like the one above) that she doesn't have time to sit home and fuss over a website and promotional material. Plus, she'll be the first to tell you that she's a photographer and not a writer for a reason (I have the opposite problem). I'm going to make sure that Kim has a fantastic website that shows the appreciation that her clients have for her birth story photography. In exchange, she'll be there working her magic when Baby Burch is born.
Meeting both of these women has been extraordinary. Sure, I received services that I was looking for. But much more importantly I met two strong, smart, local women who are running successful businesses. Although we're in different fields, bouncing ideas around and comparing victories and mistakes has been a great learning experience as we all work to bring our businesses to the next level. I can't wait to see what the new year brings for these relationships!
Way back in July, when I was pitched a story about the life of a real witch I was a little skeptical. Would it be all voodoo and strange sayings? At the same time, my interest was piqued.
Last week, in the lead-up to Halloween, I finally met Deborah D'Onofrio, the local witch who would be showing me the ropes. In addition to being a witch, Deborah is also a certified medium and a reiki healing master. I arrived at her (very normal looking house) to interview her, and after that the tables turned as she did a "session" with me, using her skills as a medium and a reiki healer.
I would say that I'm pretty open to believing in mediums and the like. I was excited for the session, and very curious about what would come out. I wasn't contacted by any family members what I was hoping to hear from (looking to you, Grandpa), but the knowledge that Deb had about me and other people in my life was erie. It had me thinking a lot about the energy that surrounds us.
As you can probably tell, I enjoyed the experience, but it was personal and I wasn't able to be very articulate about it. So, my personal experience didn't make it into the newspaper story. However, I did share lots of info about Deb and about witchcraft.
Here's an excerpt:
"The stigma surrounding her spirituality is one reason that D’Onofrio likes to speak out about being a witch and educate those who are interested in learning more. For D’Onofrio, who is a green witch, practicing her spirituality is all mostly a matter of being in touch with nature.
“It’s about being connected to the earth first and foremost,” she said. “I treat the world as a sacred place. It’s simple. No toads and dragons blood involved.”
Her main belief is clear and succinct: “There is power in all living things. The earth, elements and creatures all have magic. They are our allies.”
She also believes in a plethora of spirit guides and deities, and in the inherent power of thought.
D’Onofrio’s whole practice is built around these notions. Yoga and prayer appear in her practice regularly, as does meditation.
The less mainstream details of her practice may garner a few raised eyebrows: She uses candles, minerals, herbs and other natural items to add power to her intentions, or spells. She appeals to a variety of deities and is a trained medium and Reiki master.
Just like Christianity and other major religions, witchcraft can cover a wide array of belief systems. The individual-led practice that D’Onofrio follows is different from the well-known Wiccan religion.
“It’s like a tree,” she said. “The roots we all share. Yet, there are different branches at the top that break into tons of traditions.”"
You can read the rest of the story about Deborah here. I'd love to hear from you. Have you had any spooky experiences this Halloween? Do you believe in the witches?
During October, NFL players are prancing around in pink in support of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Less publicized but no less important is the fact that October is also Domestic Violence Awareness month. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in four women and one in seven men experience some sort of abuse during their lifetime. Those are staggering numbers.
Yet unlike breast cancer, domestic violence isn't something that is talked about. That's why this month, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is urging people to speak up and speak out, so that others can See DV (#seeDV). By sharing stories, the organization hopes that awareness will be raised, and that change will start with conversations.
In honor of that campaign, I'd like to share just one story. A family member of mine asked me to help her write this so that she could potentially help someone else suffering from abuse. After 18 years in a very abusive marriage, she is rebuilding her life, and hopes that by sharing her story others can avoid what she went through.
Here's her story:
Hind-sight is twenty-twenty, as the saying goes. We all have moments in our lives that we can look back on and wish we had made a different decision.
I married Dan* on July 2, 1994. Two weeks before the wedding, I stood in my mother’s kitchen, and told her I was having doubts about marrying him.
“Don’t wait,” she told me. “Go with your gut. We can call the people we invited and tell them something came up.”
I didn’t listen. In my heart, I knew that my feelings were more than the usual cold feet, but in some ways I was already committed to Dan, since we were expecting a child. I convinced myself that it would be fine. Everyone yells, I thought. This is marriage - you expect good times and bad. After all, Dan was good to my three-year-old son, and took good care of his two daughters from a previous marriage. I walked down the aisle and tried not to look back.
Unfortunately, having rings on our fingers did not make our relationship any healthier. Three month after the wedding, Dan’s two daughters moved in with us four days a week. Although we were suddenly caring for two more children, and expecting a baby in weeks, Dan quit his job, opting instead to work part-time for his brother’s painting business when the company needed extra help. In the last month of my pregnancy, I became a Mom to two more pre-schoolers and took on the role of breadwinner, in addition to running the house without any help from Dan. I worked until the day before I gave birth.
* * *
My daughter was born on October 23. When she was born, there was no doctor in the room - only me, the nurse and my husband. It was seven minutes from the time I waked into the hospital until the time K was delivered. Why did I wait do long? It wasn’t because I wanted to labor at home, or due to terrible traffic. My baby barely made it to the hospital because of what had happened the day before.
The previous day, I had been having contractions seven minutes apart. I was excited and scared - it was finally time to meet my baby. I called Dan, and he left work early to take me to the hospital. When we got to the hospital, my labor stopped. Instead of appreciating being able to rest uninterrupted for one more night, Dan was furious. He yelled at me and accused me of putting on a show for my mom. He said that she wanted me to be in labor, and since I was unable to say no, I faked the whole thing. Dan yelled the whole night - after all, he knew when someone was in labor, from his experience with his ex-wife. I was not in labor, he said.
I spent that night crying. The next day, Dan ordered me to take the kids out so that he could rest. My sister and I took the three kids pumpkin picking. I went home and quietly fixed dinner, before driving Dan’s daughters home to their biological mother’s house, thirty minutes away. The whole time, I was having contractions five minutes apart.
When I got home, I put my son to bed, and tried to lie down. I couldn’t rest though - every five minutes I needed to go to the bathroom. When I started bleeding, Dan finally caught on that I was in labor. We went to the hospital, and the baby was born seven minutes later.
Dan went home half an hour after the delivery - he needed sleep, he said. The next morning, he called me to say that creditors had called because we were behind on bills.
“Well,” I said. “You quit your job.”
His reply was that he wanted a divorce when I got home. How dare I accuse him, and blame him for our finances?
The day your baby is born should be blissful, but instead of appreciating my new daughter, I spent her first day of life worrying about how I could appease her father.
* * *
This is how our lives went on for eighteen years. I was physically, mentally, emotionally and verbally abused by Dan. My children were verbally and mentally abused, and had to live in constant fear about what might set Dan off next.
I called the police on Dan a few times, and even kicked him out of the house. However, he would come back with promises, and I would believe them. As soon as I let him in the house, it was back to the same cycle of abuse.
Finally, last summer, Dan pushed me to my breaking point, and made me realize that I needed to do something or I would die in this situation.
My daughter and I came home one afternoon and our dogs barked enthusiastically to welcome us into the house. Dan came downstairs screaming. His older daughter, J, told him to stop yelling at me.
“It’s none of your business,” he shot back. “This is her fault.”
“No, it’s not,” she replied. “What are you going to do, hit me, like you hit mom?”
He did. He went after J, and hit her again and again. I tried to run out the front door with her, but he pulled the door open, and punched J in the head, sending her flying across a chair. Dan went inside, and I knew I needed to get J to safety. She was bleeding from her head and her knee. Dan came outside, screaming at us to get in the house, and trying to pull us inside.
Dan went into the house to get his shoes, so that he could leave before the police came.
“Are you happy,” he asked me. “See what you did?”
The police arrived, and arrested Dan. They called the EMTs for J, who had cuts to her head and knee, and bruised ribs.
The next morning, Dan bailed himself out of jail. He called me to see if I would like to go to a show with him and talk about what I had caused.
Instead of going to a show, I went to the police station. My daughter and I got a three-week order of protection the next day. When that expired, we had it extended. Dan argued that he had not done anything to us, and that he should be allowed to live in his home. The judge was not convinced, however. He granted my daughter and I a two-year order of protection.
Even though Dan is not allowed to contact us, we don’t sleep. When we do, we have nightmares. We check the car every time we get in. At shopping centers, we scan the faces before we get out. The fear never goes away.
After eighteen years, many people didn’t think I would ever escape my relationship with Dan. I didn’t even believe it. But now my children and I are free, and we deserve it. My daughter and I take classes and participate in support groups. We try to understand the violence that we have lived with, and to break the cycle of abuse. We have connected with family that Dan has cut us off from. It has been over a year since I last saw Dan, and I am currently in a healthy, loving relationship. Although it is difficult, my family and I know that we can get better together.
Usually, I can tell when a story is going to be great - it has an appeal to me, and I can see that it will appeal to readers as well. Every so often, though, a story surprises me: a good story turns out to be a flop, or a bland story ends up being a lot of fun.
Last week, I was assigned to cover the re-starting of a clock in a renovated church steeple. I wasn't jumping at the story, especially when I learned that the clock would start at 7 a.m. However, the assignment ended up being one of the most unique I have covered, as I spent the morning climbing the steeple, winding a 100-year-old clock and helping to toil with the bell until it sounded just right.
Here's an except from the story I wrote about the steeple project:
On the morning that the bell was restarted, I scrambled up stories of rickety wooden ladders along with The Readings photography director Amy Sweeney. We reached the bell level and crawled through a hatch onto the open-air balcony, where the bell enjoys sweeping views of Reading.
“How high up are we?” I asked Levesque, the steeple construction guru. He replied that he doesn't keep track.
“If you go 20 feet you might as well go 120,” he said. “If you fall you're going to get hurt just the same.”
Levesque, along with his son and cousin, are clearly not afraid of heights. Part of the project included scrambling up the coppola to the highest point of the steeple to replace the weather vane at the very top, at least 150 feet above the town green.
Levesque is used to extreme working conditions and said that working on the Old South Church was a pleasure because of the people involved with the project.
“It helps to work with people that are enjoyable,” he said. “These guys were hands on and common sense prevailed.”
With a last-minute adjustment to the bell finished, we climb back into the hatch and down to the clock level. In the center of the small room levers in the clock's heart twirls and clicks. Long hands reach out to clock faces on four sides of the steeple.
“Want to wind it?” asks David Roberts. I take the long handle, and am surprised at how heavy the crank is to turn. After a few revolutions I hand the crank back to David, who completes the rest of the turns needed to keep the clock ticking each week.
Along with his brother James, David has been winding the clock at Old South Church since the 1970's. Every Friday afternoon, one of the brothers climbs up into the steeple and winds the clock 350 revolutions. As the clock is wound, weighted levers raise up through the steeple and drop as time passes during the week. The clock, which was built in 1912 is incredibly accurate, and it's intricacy is beautiful.
“It's a museum piece,” Weston said.
In the center of the steeple, levers turn, swinging a giant pendulum that reaches down to the floor of the level below. A zinc temperature compensating rod adjusts the length of the pendulum to make up for extreme temperatures in the uninsulated steeple. All of this happens without any electrical power.
“There's a lot of engineering in this thing,” Roberts said. “It's beautifully done.”
If anything can get in the way of the clock, it is nature. On stormy winter morning snow can build up on the north face, stopping the hands from turning. Occasionally, a fly or a lady bug will get caught in a gear and grin the whole clock to a halt, Roberts tells me as he pauses to catch his breath.
David and James Roberts tinker with the clock, and hands on all of the faces scramble into the correct position. The bell rings out, shaking the entire steeple, and the Old South Church's clock is back up and running.
“I'm very happy it's completed,” Weston said.
For Chloodian, who can hear the bell from her home and uses it to pace her day, the ringing has a deeper meaning. She is so passionate about the steeple project that when her grandparents died, she asked mourners to donate to the Reading Steeple and Bell Tower Fund in lieu of flowers.
“Now every time I hear it I think of them,” she said.
What about you? What hidden gems have you encountered lately?
Meanwhile, here's some of the other pieces I have been working on: During WWII, this father found a way to join his sons in the service, saying "If they've got my boys, they'll get me." On a much lighter note, this show at the North Shore Music Theatre was a great night out (and was my first theater review!). I got behind the screams at the biggest Haunted House in New England, and also took the photos that go with the story.
Yesterday I packed away my flip-flops and summer dresses, banishing the bright colors to a dark box and replacing them with thick cable-knit sweaters and knee-high boots. I was a little sad to say goodbye to summer, but when I put on a cozy long sleeve shift and accessorized with my favorite scarf - the one that had lain forgotten for months - I knew it would be alright.
I was never one to celebrate autumn. All fall meant to me was the end of summer and the upcoming snow - what was so great about that? But then when I studied in London I looked at the sprinkling of the colors in the trees with longing, and sought out the few leaves on the sidewalk to hear that familiar rustle and crunch. When it came time to pick a wedding date, the fall months jumped out at me. I wanted my husband's Australian family to see a the leaves change in New England. We can't compete with an Aussie summer, but we pass their fall by leaps and bounds.
Now, I've come to appreciate the fall as the change of seasons at its best. Crisp days, soft sunlight and a blaze of color everywhere you go. I hurry to the farmstand to see what new produce has been harvested this week, and I hoard Macoun apples by the bushel. I only with I could send them across the oceans so that my family abroad could taste a perfect little sample of autumn in New England - fresh, crisp and gone too soon.
What is your favorite season? Do you have any family traditions for the fall?
Recently, I moved down to the beach for the winter. Although it seems counterintuitive, living at the beach during the off season is going great so far, with cheap rent, empty beaches, and amazing views from the back yard.
I've always wanted to watch the sun rise. I think I actually made it once or twice, only to have the image in my head thwarted by clouds. Seeing the sun rise over the ocean seemed especially romantic. When Mark and I spent New Years Eve on Fraser Island in Australia, we swore we would get up and greet the sun rising over the Pacific, but it didn't happen.
With the sun rise in Southern New Hampshire happening just after 6 a.m., it is coinciding perfectly with when I get up. Each morning, before I leave my bedroom at the end of the apartment, I can see the blazing sunlight peeking in under and around the door. When I walk into the living room, which faces the ocean, it is on fire.
I always stop to notice a beautiful sunset and think about all the things it represents - a higher power, the tiny part we play in the world, and the amazing power of nature. This week, I have been blessed to start my days with the most stunning skies. It reminds me to take a minute to enjoy the quiet before jumping into the hub-bub of the day. It's hard to have the morning blues when the world is so beautiful, just outside your sliders.
What about you - what things can help you start your day right? Have you ever seen the sun rise?
Meanwhile, here is my writing, elsewhere
I wrote the cover story for Renew Magazine about musicians in recovery. It was a fun story, where I got to talk to Marissa Rhodes, former American Idol contestant, and Wes Geer, former touring guitarist for Korn.
As I blogged about before, I've loved interviewing WWII vets for an upcoming book. This vet told me about flying in a bomber during the assault on Dusseldorf, Germany, and later visiting the city as a tourist with his wife.
For those of you who are local, this horse show by the brain behind Cirque du Soiel was amazing, this film festival in Portsmouth this weekend is bringing a taste of Telluride to New Hampshire, and this new show in Boston will give you a fix for Pottermania.
Late last week I was in the shower, contemplating some ideas for blog posts, and hoping that one would jump out at me. Be careful what you wish for. Just as I stepped out of the shower my phone rang: "I'm worried about your dad."
Most of you probably remember my post about my father and his bipolar disorder. Amazingly, that post not only gardnered a great response from my friends and family, but also opened an honest dialogue between me and my dad about his disease. Through some luck and a massive amount of effort, my dad has been more functional this summer than he has been in five years. For the first time in a long time, he was trying.
That's why it hurt all the more to get that call. I immediately got in the car and drove to his house, to see what help I could give, knowing all too well that there is often nothing I can do when he begins to slip into a depression. However, the rapport that we had built up in the summer showed. For the first time ever, I was completely comfortable saying "I'm worried about you. This is what we need to do." We agreed to make a doctor's appointment for as soon as possible. A simple start.
Not quite. Even though I had a long list of referrals from his primary care physician, I left the house two hours later with no appointment booked. Time and again I heard, "We're not accepting new patients," or "Sorry, we don't take that insurance." At one point my dad looked at me and said, "You have no idea the anxiety this causes me. I wouldn't be able to do it." Out of a list of more than ten providers, one was able to see my dad, on the condition that he come into the office to make his appointment in person. For you or I, that would be an inconvenience. For someone slipping deeper into a depression it's a daunting obstacle.
Nearly everyone would agree that the healthcare system in the U.S. is broken, and it often seems that the mentally ill have the shortest end of the stick. With little or no preventative care, their diseases are left to run rampant. Then, when they are at a critical point, they must find their way through the health care labyrinth. No wonder so many get lost.
My father is lucky enough to have a large family, where there is always someone willing to help. One of us can step in when another is burned out. I can't imagine any mentally-ill patient going at it alone.
In the end, he got an appointment, which another family member took him to. He's weaving his way through the healthcare maze, and despite the bump in the road, he's still trying.
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