A Sketchy Blog

woodpileOnce upon a long time in high school I had a fantasy about being an artist.  It used to keep pace with my other fantasy of being a writer.  I didn’t have any other professional goals – I fell into the field that employs me now almost by accident.

Even when I was buried in technology, I found time to write.  I wrote on the train and at night, convinced that I had a story somewhere.  Sometimes I fantasized about writing a comic book or finding a way to draw again, but art was something I bought, not something I did.

Then I signed up for a fateful workshop at a magical place – The Writer’s Project at Hubbard Hall led by Jon Katz and started a blog.  The blog needed pictures, but I was too cheap to pay for other people’s photos and too busy to go out and take my own.  It took me about 2 days to fall back on my  tried and true solution to every problem with an expensive solution and revive a long-dormant drawing habit.

Acclimating to the badge of ‘real writer’ (anyone who writes), I remembered this girl who used to draw constantly.  I wasn’t sure which outlet I should pursue, but our teacher said, “Do both.”

So I did both. The drawing, however, always seemed secondary.  I admit to being intimidated by the amazing work I’d see in Facebook groups or other webpages and never considered myself in a similar league with ‘real’ artists.

It’s a bit of cognitive dissonance – I’ll never be another Chekhov, but I don’t need to be to think of a life as a good writer and a working one.  But for some reason, I could never apply that logic to sketches.  It was just a hobby, something to add color to the blog.

Saturday, I had lunch with friends after a short story class before getting ready to hit the publish button on a new story.  Talk turned to publishing and selling artwork on the internet, and the group’s enthusiasm inspired me to voice a tentative desire to do the same.  The other artists at the table are established in their fields, so, despite encouragement from this talented group, I was still a little dubious about trying to put together a book of my ‘work.’

Sunday, after clicking Publish for me and setting up a blog for Thing2, I was feeling a bit bolder and started sorting through scans of sketches from posts and some that hadn’t made it onto the blog. When I reached the year mark, there were almost 150 sketches in the pile.  Labels and badges aside, art doesn’t just add cheap graphics to the blog.  It -as much as writing – is the blog.

Short Story – What Happens on the Road

What-Happened-on-the-RoadI put out a new story over the weekend, “What Happens on the Road.”  It’s available as an e-book as a PDF, ePUB or Mobi format.  You can read them on a computer or most e-readers.

Thing1 is the inspiration for this one.  A born lawyer, he mastered the art of banter by the time he was eight.  He’s thirteen now, and he keeps me simultaneously laughing and on my toes and, when experience runs into his wall of teen logic, trotting out motherly witticisms I swore I’d never tell my kids.

Blogger by Day


Seven-year-old Thing2 swears he can fly.  It’s one of his many superpowers and one of the few I don’t get to see with my own eyes.  I believe him when he says he can because I’ve seen proof of most of his other superpowers.  If he says he can fly, he does.  He’s a superhero, after all.

He doesn’t usually trade in the garden-variety  abilities found in the pages of many comic books. His powers make music in his head – as evidenced by a spontaneous pre-dinner ritual of jumping and pirouetting around the living room. They enable instant superhero wardrobe changes the moment anyone in the family needs cheering up or consoling.  He pulls impromptu party ideas for four out of his latest favorite movie and new worlds from his dog-eared sketchbook.

I was an easy convert to the Ministry of Encouragement over at the Open Group for Bedlam Farm Facebook. I’ve come to think of encouragement as a source of magic, as much as a belief system, however, because just like other magic, encouragement grows, sometimes producing unexpected results.

This is especially true for your average superhero.

Thing2 is my shadow whenever I pull out my notebook, and I bought him his own soon after starting my blog.  With my ‘borrowed’ colored pencils and stapler and a super-powered imagination, he’s written and published dozens of books.  Superheroes are in short supply these days, so I encourage all his creative adventures.  I was a bit surprised, however, when my superhero came to me seeking his own blog.

Forgetting the ministry’s edicts, I said I’d set one up for him and then got up to do the dishes.

A few weeks later and a week after that, he came to me still wanting a blog. Saturday, he got his wish, and Powerman, The Journal of an Average Superhero was conceived.  Powerman has mom’s help with the tech end, but the images and ideas will be his.

I’m not sure what new abilities he’ll discover with this endeavor, but I know the power of encouragement.  Someday, somehow, it will help him leap something a lot bigger than an ordinary building.

Live a Little

“Look up!” The thickly-accented command came as my skis crested the top of the conveyor belt. I obeyed just as I fell flat on my face and tried to remember what the hell I was doing here.

I hadn't skied in over a quarter of a century and didn't remember getting to the top of the bunny hill was so humiliating. Free lesson and equipment rental are rare, however, and I was committed to being able to ski with the boys for Vermont's junior ski program (JISP) next year.

JISP got our kids skating and skiing almost as soon as they learned to walk. For me, however, winter has been mostly a spectator sport. I'd been big on spectator sports until last summer, when a retreat from another abyss, made me question the affinity.

Twelve-year-old Thing1, had followed his cousin to a cliff's at one edge of a lake. The only remnant of an ancient waterfall that had once dwarfed Niagara Falls, the lake attracted swimmers and jumpers. Thing1 was ready for both.

My nephew went first, doffing his shirt and flip-flops before raceing off the cliff. We heard a whoop and a splash. Thing1 and I walked to the edge and looked down. The drop was about 25 feet, but the water looked plenty deep, so I kept my worries to myself. Thing1's cousin joined us again and took another jump.

“I'm going to do it.” The second splash was too much for Thing1. “Mom, can you take my shoes back?” Not waiting for an answer he setup for his maiden run. “I'm going.”

There was silence and then a massive splash. Thing1's whoops echoed through the canyon, and he scrambled back up the cliff. “Mom! You gotta try this!”

I nodded and smiled and retreated to the picnic area. The family swam while the boys jumped, each splash a siren call to join the fun. I soon found myself paddling toward the tiny beach by the cliff.

Another group of divers appeared at the top of the cliff, and my stomach tightened as I thought about marching my paunchy body up the beach in a bathing suit. I'd wait until they were gone, I decided. The strangers lingered, however, and I never jumped.

Now I waited for direction at the top of the bunny hill. Thirty minutes passed, and no instructor was to be found.

“I'm going,” I said to myself. I slowly slid down the hill, muscle memories reviving as I banked and turned. At the bottom, accident free, I surveyed the line for the bunny hill lift, trying to decide if my pride would endure another run.

Just then, Thing1 and seven-year-old Thing2 came racing up behind me, their faces flushed with exertion.

“Mom!” Thing2 got to me first. “We went up the big hill! You gotta try this!”

“I'm still wondering about the bunny hill,” said to him. “I fell flat on my face. I may wait.”

“I fell too,” answered Thing2. He patted my sleeve. “But he got me back on my feet.” He gestured at his older brother. “You just have to try again.”

“Yeah, Mom.” Thing1 nodded. “You just have to live a little.”

So, forced into life for and now by my boys, I went again. And next year, I'll jump.


Breaking the Chain

running-encouragement.jpgI don’t usually wade into debates on current events on this blog, but a link to  news story this morning grabbed my attention and hasn’t let me go.  It was immediately followed by a link to a post from a member of a Facebook group of which I’m a member.

The first link took me to the story of a woman battling cancer and still tackling a marathon and encouraging other young women to be their best – all while wearing a tutu -who had been ridiculed by a fitness magazine dedicated to women.  As the mother of a tutu-afficianado, I was first caught by the joy in this woman’s face and couldn’t help smiling at someone who, at a time in her life when it would be perfectly understandable to withdraw a little – is giving her all to others and to life.  It made me want to get off my butt and go run.

Then I read the rest of the story – how this fitness magazine had used her photo – without warning 0r research – to shame this display of joy.  The first thought that went through my mind was, why?  Why did this magazine feel the need to promote fitness in some women by putting other women down?   Did that really build anyone up?  All I could think was if this beautiful, strong woman could be the subject of ridicule while running a marathon with cancer, what do people think when they see a short, still-pudgy middle-aged mom running down the road?

I was still boiling from this affront to a woman I didn’t even know when the second link caught my eye. It took me to a hilarious acerbic and unapologetic attitude adjustment by a woman I know only through Facebook and her blog. It was a rallying cry for herself and anyone reading the post.  Without bashing anyone else’s journey, she reminded us all, it doest matter what the hell anyone else thinks about your lunchbox contents or your spare tire.  All that matters is getting it back on the road, and I put away the cookies.

She didn’t know it, but her post was a call to arms – not just to eat better and run more but to break out of any chains forged in negativity or meanness in favor of making links with other people who are ready to shout, “Atta Girl!”  (or Boy!)

History Lessons


This is the grandmother of my great-grandmother – Hannah Pattee Wood, circa 1880. Her father fought in the American Revolution, and, looking at this photo, taken almost a century after his service, I think about all the changes she saw in her life. I also wonder how much the stories she may have heard from her father affected her outlook later in life.

I think about that a lot now as we watch Russia absorb Crimea – as it has at other times in each region’s history. I wonder if those people on the ground feel more Russian than Ukrainian or more Crimean than Russian and what they actually want. I wonder how much of their identity is wrapped up in stories of Revolutions or wars that they heard at their grandparents’ feet.

Our politicians love to warn us that ignoring the lessons of history will be dooming us to repeat it (Personally, I think this class is still in session). Right now, I’m chasing my family’s history and wondering how this new great geopolitical game will affect the next generation of family histories. I love studying family history (not just mine) because it’s the story of the people who lived with the consequences of kings and conquerers – the Johns and Peters and Catherines-the-Greats.

hannah pattee and john w wood with grandchildren

The Great ones will always exist in one form or another, and I’m getting to a point where I think no amount of study will prevent them from trying to drag us into one conflict or another. And that’s when the stories of how the people in their wake lived matter more. It’s when I remember how they lived then is as much a part of who we are now as are the Greats and the games that they played.



In my inner world, I fight dragons. I take on armies and villains, triumphing over any challenge with wit and courage. Did I mention this was a fantasy?

In the real world, I've wrapped myself in the notion that my dreams are the result of an active imagination. Lately, though, as I look at my life and the things I haven't achieved or the real demons I've been afraid to fight, I've come to an uncomfortable admission. It's not just the inner triumphs that are fictional. Everything in that world is imaginary – especially the courage.

Before thirteen-year-old Thing1 was born, I never thought of myself as especially kind or patient or even steadfast. When he came into our world, however, right away he needed me to learn all of those things and, for him, I did. My kindness or patience still wouldn't win me any awards, but because of him I learned to keep trying when the breast milk wasn't flowing right away. I learned to stick by someone who was screaming in my face and to put someone else's needs before my own.

Right now we're navigating the first year of adolescence with all the pitfalls I'd expect and some I didn't. And even though he's getting stubble on his chin, I still look at him and feel the same powerful push to be better. He needs me to be brave now. So, not just for him but because of him, I will be.


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