About Me – I Had Plans……

I’d always wanted to escape to those special places they have where authors can write in a tiny cabin in the woods. An isolated place where you could go for weeks with no distractions except when someone arrived at midday to place a picnic basket filled with marvelous goodies at the door.

The MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire and Bread Loaf in Vermont were my top choices.

I had plans.

When I retired after more than thirty years as an English teacher and High School IMG_2257Administrator, I was going to move to Vermont, buy a small farm on a few acres and write to my  heart’s content. I would traipse around in the same outfit day after day (except when it was hot). Then, I’d spend the hours au naturale, taking a dip in the lake (Did I  mention the lake at the end of the grassy, well-trodden path through the woods?) between long sessions of writing humorous short stories or quirky poetry or mysteries or broadway plays. (I’m quite versatile.)

I had plans.

Plans change (or so Robert Burns would lead us to believe). At age 50, I married for the first time. He was an old friend from the past. He just appeared in the middle of my life one day and then he became my life. He had children he cherished and then there were his grandchildren. Powerful magnets that kept us in a place close to their busy lives. Vermont became a far-distant country in my dreams.

One night while we were out dancing, I fractured my foot. I was forced wear a cumbersome, orthopedic boot for a few months. It was an enlightening experience, as I’d never sat still for so long in my whole life. One day, to amuse myself, I wrote a short story. It was set on a farm (What a surprise!) up in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts.IMG_1884 Charley and I traveled there each August to sit on the lawn and listen to the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, their summer home. My own little tabby, ZuZu, a faithful lap companion, became the central character. In the story she hears music from her loft bed in the barn.

imageShe roams through the fields to investigate and meets a beautiful violinist playing Mozart who invites her to attend that evening’s concert. (The violinist is actually a real person, Anne Sophie Mutter. I had heard her play a few times and listened to her cd’s while imprisoned in my recliner.)I loved that story with its idyllic setting. I didn’t want to leave. So, I created more stories for ZuZu with settings around Tanglewood: The Hancock Shaker Museum in autumn; the Red Lion Inn at Christmas; the Berkshire Botanical Garden in springtime; Chesterwood, the Norman Rockwell Museum, The Mount. These were all places Charley and I had visited and enjoyed over the years.

I ended up with ten stories and, having time on my hands, sent some of them off to publishers. This was the beginning of a whole new education for me. The world of traditional publishing! Enough said about that.

I found out that most publishers will only take submissions and queries through an agent. I didn’t have an agent. I found out from the few companies which accepted my queries, that although my writing was “quite good”, my “children’s” stories did not fit into the acceptable  page and word requisites. That they were “too regional”. That committing to a whole series by an “untested writer” was not in the books (forgive my wordplay).

My “Recliner Course” on traditional publishing was discouraging.

But then I embarked on a new course. I entitled it “Self Publishing in the Comfort of Your Own Living Room”. I developed the syllabus. (Since I tend to be a bit OCD, it was daunting. I revised the ten stories into one book, learned all about formatting, editing, illustrating with photo apps, copyrights, ISBN numbers, etc.,etc, etc., and in the end, I aced the course. A Berkshire Tale was launched into the world.

Once the boot was off, I began studying “Marketing by The Seat of Your Pants”. This syllabus  changes every day. Visiting stores, reading in schools, meeting and greeting, book signings, and social media are major chapters.

I enrolled in WordPress’s Blogging 101 and whole new worlds, filled with interesting people, opened up for me. I’ve expanded the focus of my original blog, Around ZuZu’s Barn – The Importance of Early Reading With Children to encompass broader topics, even though A Berkshire Tale  remains at the heart of it all. My new sub-title became Conversations With Kindred Spirits.

I had plans. They changed.

In the process I created my own McDowell Colony, my own Bread Loaf, my own “Boot Camp”. And from it all, a charming book evolved which has opened many doors for me.

I had plans….

Making My Own Bread Loaf
Making My Own Bread Loaf

249 thoughts on “About Me – I Had Plans……

    1. I think you’ll like some of my posts, and love Roxie’s aka The Other Cat.
      I love food and so your blog is a magnet for me. I was just reading it a little while ago and already found recipes I want to try. Plus you have a couple of great followers I love dearly (Lynn & Osyth) so I know I’m in the best place when I tune in to your blog.

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      1. Charley and I have visited the Berkshires often and have many happy memories there. When it came time for me to finally sit down and write a book, I decided to set it in those places we visited: Tanglewood, The Hancock Shaker Village, The Berkshire Botanical Garden, Stockbridge, etc. and A Berkshire Tale evolved. ZuZu, my little kitten who was born in a barn here in RI, became the central character. The book was a joy to write because my heart was in it. I began this blog to talk about the settings in the stories and the importance of reading with children at a very early age. Then I took wordPress 101 and the blog took on other topics, as people, my new blogging friends, became involved. And I am truly enjoying this experience. Every so often one of my posts reverts back to its beginnings, though, and someone comments about those regional connections and I understand why people feel the way they do about such a beautiful part of New England and why I chose to make it the setting for my book.Thank you for your thoughtful words. Clare

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  1. Hi there! I found your link at Jacqueline’s Valentine link party. I am glad I did. I will be following you from now on. Congrats on your publishing of Berkshire Tale! Look forward to seeing more posts from you…..Happy blogging…..Annette

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    1. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful thought. I was an English teacher and spent a great deal of time teaching literature and writing. Now, I’m actually doing it and I realize that my strength is in the storytelling, not really the writing. I just tell a story as though I’m in the room with a friend and we are bringing each other up-to-date on what has happened in the past week.This really works well for me and the blog writing is helping me hone my skills in this area. I’ll be stopping by your place to chat later today. Clare

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  2. Hi Claremary – I just noticed that you have been very “busy” around my Blog (cannot keep secrets from WP!). I presume that you must have enjoyed what you found, and trust that you will visit us again. Many thanks. Colin (and of course Ray). 🙂

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    1. Hi, Colin. Yes I love the stories about you and Ray and Carol. I even watched the video of Ray and the yogurt cup. I post about once a week (unless I’m in the middle of writing a book). When I post, I always check comments and write a comment in return. As you said, WordPress is very good with notifying us about who visited and so, in addition, I also try and go to those followers’ blogs and read something they’ve posted and like or comment. Frequently, I start reading and get caught up in his/her stories once again and just keep reading and liking. Ray is a sweetie and I enjoyed spending time with all of you yesterday. Thanks for your comment and I will visit again. Clare

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  3. Ah, yes, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while we’re making plans.” I had plans to write as a career until I met my husband in college. So, I taught high school English for a while, had kids, tried to go back to it, couldn’t find a job except as sub (should come with combat pay), took a detour into Social Work and an MSW. and a career…and… And now, at last, back to writing. We had a ZuZu in our lives (named for Zuzu in a Wonderful Life) when our daughter was a teen, a little bit of fluff with a huge attitude, her Chinchilla. We spent many years driving through the Berkshires on our way from Syracuse to East Dennis on the Cape. I loved your Inn pictures and story…and the rocky, windy shore at Newport. Sorry for rambling a bit…time for a fresh cup of coffee, I guess. Any way thanks for visiting my blog…I thought I would do the same. So nice to meet you Claremary! My friends call me, Jo

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    1. Jo, We really have so much in common. I spent 20 years as an English teacher then 10 more as a high school administrator. It’s taken me many years to get into serious writing. Yes, my ZuZu was named after the little girl in the movie and she has a pet horse named Petals. ZuZu’s Petals. We have friends who live on the Cape and I’ve done a few posts about our adventures there. Rambling is a wonderful way to write and if I could I would probably use stream-of-consciousness all the time. Thanks for the visit and I will be going to your blog in a few minutes. And then I must try to write a post for this week!!! Very nice to meet you, too. Clare

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      1. It really seemed that way, too. I love that the horse is named Petals! (I almost said her Zuzu was named for Zuzu’s Petals! One of our favorite movies.) I hope you like my blog – My last post is set at Harbor Beach in East Dennis.

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      2. The family home was on Stony Way just above Sesuit Harbor. It is such a lovely place (especially at sunset) and forms a powerful base of memory for us. Often, when I do a meditation, I take a walk there at sunset. The Ocean is probably the most relaxing thing I can imagine. I am so enjoying getting to know you! My turn to explore Zuzu’s Barn some more!

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      3. I’ll be doing more blog posts about travel around New England and the East Coast. My posts are not very long and more snapshots than albums, but I like to spend time with my comments. Around RI, the ocean is quite peaceful until July and August and then it gets a bit chaotic. Locals usually wait until the tourists have left for the season and their is no Parking fee. And the beech is truly lovely during the other three seasons. Oh, I appreciate your comments on meditation, particularly for people like me whose mind is in a constant state of flux.Going with the distracting thought and letting it float away works for me. Thanks

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      4. I loved the New England Coast and the Atlantic. I applied for the Director of the Domestic Violence program in Newport years ago. We walked an elevated trail along the water’s edge behind some elegant homes and a college. It was off season and the water was brash and wild, splashing almost to where we were walking in places. I will look forward to your posts! I love the Rocky Shorr so much more than the Outer Bamks and Cape Cod and all it’s towns best of all

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      5. You were on the famous Cliff Walk behind Bellevue Avenue and the Mansions. I took many an 11th grade class to the Newport Mansions when we read The Great Gatsby. It was filmed there. (The Robert Redford/Mia Farrow versions, that is) Yes, we have a gorgeous coast line here in RI. I live on the other side of Narragansett Bay from Newport. They’re connected by the Jamestown and Pell Bridges. Charley and I were just walking around the yard. We have to do another raking soon because all of the spring bulbs are starting to pop out of the ground. Spring is arriving in South County.

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      6. I didn’t know that was the film location – but one of my favorite books! We had friends in Providence and we probably crossed one of those bridges, exploring, before I turned the job down in Newport. Spring is in pretty full swing for us. The daffodils in my front Southern Exposure have been up since early February and now past peak for those blooms…all the others are popping open, more every day, along with our hyacinths. Fruit trees (Bradford Pear, Cherry,) are covered with flowers or ready to bloom. We’ll have 70s for high the rest of the week so everything will be out soon…of course, around here everywhere you look are pansies that have pretty much bloomed all winter.Spring and Fall here are my favorite seasons.

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      7. Pansies and johnny-jump-ups! In my younger days, in early spring, every time I looked at them in my front garden,their little faces smiled up at me and it always brought tears to my eyes. (Good tears)
        I think our temps around here will be in the 60’s for the next two days and this Sunday is Daylight Savings Time – the clocks are set 1 hour ahead and we gain an hour of light in the evening. Yay!

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    1. Thank you, Jane. I just found your blog today through A comment left on Andy’s site. I love to read the comments and conversations and sometimes, even jump in. I’ve been to your blog this morning and realize I’m years behind and need to keep revisiting to catch up. I think you are the epitome of what a blogger should aspire to be. Your kindness, understanding and wisdom emanate through your words and photos. I fell asleep after 3AM this morning and to wake to such affirming thoughts has made my day already wonderful. Thank you, again. Your new friend, Clare

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  4. A good plan always has a little place for improvisation!! I’m so glad your plans finally led you to be who you are!! I am always amazed to find open minded people like you!! I always held teachers in high esteem since you guys are the guides to what the youth of our country will become! My father was a French teacher for a couple of years and he loved it!! It was of course a lot easier to become a teacher back then…How things have changed! It has become so much harder to become a teacher here in Canada now and, well, it seems that all this making it more difficult thing haven’t been of much help since the cutbacks and the poor standards of the methods they now use to teach French have had such poor results on the next generation…They barely now know how to write anything besides the codes they use for text messaging!! In a movie I saw recently a teacher mentions to her students that they have to buy a book about such and such for their history class. One students repeats with despair ”a book”… And some clever girl beside him says yes A BOOK!! IT’S LIKE A LONG LONG TEXT MESSAGE WITH COMPLETE WORDS!!! It’s a bitter sour joke that pretty sums it up I guess…

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    1. Oh, how true it is, Tobe. I am so glad to be retired, although I really loved teaching. I do enjoy going in to the elementary schools and reading with the younger children. It is a joy.
      I was thinking, after we were chatting last night, that I have learned so much from other bloggers and that they are all teachers. I go to blogs for advice on cooking, travel, history, animal care, art, music, photography, crafts, publishing, writing and so much more. Every one of them is an expert in one or more areas. It’s the best school I’ve ever attended. And it helps me to hone my own writing skills in the process. So, you are my teacher, too and I thank you for opening up a new world of art I never knew existed. Clare

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  5. Clare, I find your story so inspiring. Congratulations on making so many positive things happen. I am currently working on a children’s writing course- it so encouraging to see other people out there succeeding with their writing. Best of luck in everything you do. Regards of course, to my new friend Roxie!

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    1. Thanks, Marie. Are you taking the course or preparing to give it? Your writing is filled with imagination and I’m enjoying catching up on your older A-Z challenge posts. Success is a bit relative, right now. I’m still trying to make it in the world of children’s lit. It really entails getting out and marketing your work. Some days I do well and others, not so much.
      I’m in the dog house with Roxie right now because I found her eating potato chips from a bag on the counter and took them away. I’ll give her your regards when she stops pouting and comes out from under the bed. Clare

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      1. Hey Clare (btw do you mind me calling you Clare or do you prefer Claremary?) Amazing that you’ve been rereading them. Now you dont hear that very often in cyberspace. I’ve just posted a new one about the in-laws 😉 Yes no pollution today 🙂

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      2. Clare is great. That’s what most people call me. After I finished your book, I really wanted to check out the pictures in your posts again. I think your writing style has really developed over the past few years. I’ll head over there now to read about the inlaws. Breathe in deeply while you can. Clare

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  6. I’m sure Roxie will forgive you-eventually! I am just at the start of ‘wanting’ to be a children’s writer. I’m working through an online course, which is great. It does seem a difficult path, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Thanks so much for your lovely encouraging words. I truly hope great success is just around the corner for you. Your writing is so engaging and fun.

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    1. Good morning, Marie. I think your plans to write a children’s book are wonderful. I been to County Kerry and it’s a beautiful area. I’ve found that settings are my own inspiration. The Berkshires, the Botanical Garden, my own village of Kingston were all the starting points of each of my books. In A Berkshire Tale, I created the farm I’d always wanted and every time I re-read a story in the book, I am back on my farm. I hope the course is helpful to you. You already have the imagination and the writing skills to start you on your writing journey. All you need is to put pen to paper.Have a lovely day….Clare

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      1. Thanks Clare. It’s just so nice to talk to other people who are interested in the same things as myself. Writing can be a bit of a solitary path. I’m so happy that I’ve discovered blogging and connected with like minded people, and cats!

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  7. What a lovely, inspiring blog you have. Glad I found you. As a cat person myself, I love the idea of ZuZu’s story (and that’s a fabulous name for a cat; ours is Gandalf). I think your taking the WordPress class is a wonderful idea, something I’ve considered. I am in the process of writing a story for each of my three children (don’t tell them; it’s a surprise), and don’t have a clue about publishing. I’m a long way from that point, though. I’ll be back to look around some more. 🙂

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    1. Karen, I have to update my About Me because I eventually did take that course and it made a major difference in how I write and the topics I choose for my blog. (Although I try to keep posts as simple as possible.) Definitely visit other blogs. The comments following each post are a wonderful way to find people who are filled with ideas and are supportive. And if you can take the WordPress 101 course, you will find many more friends who love to share ideas.
      If you are a cat lover then my Roxie aka The Other Cat will be fun posts for you to read. And, Roxie thinks Gandalf is a truly Regal name.
      I’m teaching a workshop to Senior Citizens this summer on Writing To Share and it’s about creating a poem or story for someone they care about. I will be interested in your stories and I’m sure your children will cherish them. I encourage you to pursue publishing your work. Of course, any time you post, you are publishing, so you have a good start already. I recently did a post on To Publish or Not which explains a little about the journey I travelled to get my first book in print. I am so glad you stopped by and I will visit your site very soon. Clare

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  8. I live in Western MA and visit the Red Lion Inn often…love it there!! Funny how our plans take twists and turns…if you start offering any online courses…either the Barcalounger one or the Seat of your Pants…I’m in!! 🙂
    Your sense of humor and style of writing are delightful!! 🙂 I’m off to fine some Roxie stories…

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    1. Deb, I love your part of Massachusetts and we visit there often. It inspired the settings for my ZuZu series. In the December story, ZuZu is brought to the Red Lion Inn where she meets Simon, the cat. He introduces her to Santa so that she can make an important wish. I wrote most of that chapter in one of the upstair’s rooms of the Inn.Thank you and I am actually going to teach workshops this summer entitled “Writing to Share”. I may be teaching it for Osher Life-Long Learning Institute up in the Berkshires next year. Maybe, we’ll meet!

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      1. Ya it’s pretty here…I’m not in the Berkshires though, I’m 40 minutes from Red Lion Inn but that’s pretty close!! I’m actually going there the second week of July, my parents will be visiting and we always go there for lunch, they love it too! Your stories are really terrific, you are quite talented and I see many more books (starting with Roxie) in your future! Wow I’m guessing your workshops are local? If you do teach one there and it’s on the weekend I’d go to it…that would be awesome!! I have to go back and read more stories on your site. They are so enjoyable!! xo

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      2. You’re very close. We’re planning on going up there in late July for a concert. I’m really looking forward to it. Thanks for taking time to read the stories and I hope they keep entertaining you. Roxie loves to be the center of attention. My workshops will be during the week at our local college, but I’ll be talking to people in the Berkshires to see about presenting them up in your area next year. Thanks & Hugs!

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      3. Oh what concert? Are you bringing Roxie??? Oh they are extremely entertaining, I hope you do find an illustrator they need to published in book form! Oh I hope they say yes, I would love to hear you talk, I’ll even take the day off if it’s ends up being during the week!! I’ve been to Bryant College to watch the Patriots practice, when they used to practice there! Oh you are most welcome and Big Hugs back!! 🙂

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      4. We’ll be at Tanglewood for the BSO Concert. I’ll make sure I fill you in if I get some firm plans for a workshop in place. Bryant is in the northern part of RI and we live about an hour away in the southern part. Roxie will once again be left alone to babysit ZuZu. I’m sure everyone will hear all about it.

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      5. I wish you a beautiful summer’s day for the concert!! Yes please be sure to let me know,that would be fantastic! I look forward to Roxie’s grumblings…

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  9. This is, without a doubt, the best About Me page I’ve read over the past year on WordPress. I loved how “I had plans” and “they changed” echoed throughout, and it makes me happy to see you so happy in the pictures!

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    1. Thanks, Nicole. i wrote it over a year ago when I started blogging. I think I may have to revisit it at some point to make sure it’s still accurate. I really do smile a lot because I know how fortunate I am and I never take a day for granted. I’ll visit you soon. Clare

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  10. I loved your plans and how you’ve overcome, adapted, improvised. Plans change, evolve, fall apart, and somewhere in the midst of it all, we realize life is like a current. It carries us along and forces us to examine where we are in relationship to our goals, our friends and our loved ones. If we’re fortunate, we bend, twist, flow with it and smile at the rewritten script we’re handed. Wishing you great success and happiness.

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    1. I love this analogy. And the current continues throughout my life. Now that I’m older, I know how wise it is to adjust. Every time I have done this, the results have been a happy surprise. I wish I’d realized this earlier in my life, but learning from past mistakes has not been so bad. Wishing you the same and now, I will visit your blog. Clare

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Cheryl, Thank you for such a thoughtful gift. I’ve always loved going to blogs and seeing all of the interesting questions and answers from each blogger. I really appreciate your kind gesture. Your friend, Clare

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      1. Claremary, we may be family! However, lots of Pratts in the world. My husband’s paternal family has English and French background. One story is that his ancestor came over on the Mayflower as crew, but we’re not sure if that’s myth or truth.

        My maiden name is Bonin. I’ve been using the hyphenated Bonin-Pratt for my writing because there are other Sharon Pratts or Shari Pratts in the world, but I seem to be the only Sharon Bonin-Pratt.

        Looking forward to friendship with you.

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  11. I really enjoy your blog! The way you use images and white space, even the topics are intriguing. Can you post more about your marriage? As a college student almost ready to graduate, I am haunted by the fact that my parents met each other around this time. Some people say I’m too young for marriage, others say “Never Settle!” and I just wish there was one clear set of instructions. I like your insight.

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    1. Hi, Jess. Thank you for such a nice message. It took me quite a while to catch on to a style I was comfortable with. I started this blog around the theme of reading with children but because of all the bloggers who began to follow, I branched into other topics. My husband is in many of my posts. The ones that center on us are in the Menu under Charley and Me. We married late in life. I was 50 and had no intention of ever marrying,but when you meet the person you are meant to spend the rest of your life with, it somehow negates the reasons why you love being single.My advice is to be your own person. Enjoy whatever phase of life you are in and be open to all possibilities. I’ll be stopping by your blog today. Take care and keep writing. 📝 Clare

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    1. Thank you for such an encouraging message. I was “chatting” with one of my blogger friends in India today explaining why I thought that after two years, I may stop posting and her advice was to post but not let it stop me from writing and publishing my books. So, this is an affirmation that she was right. It would be very hard for me to leave this community of kindred spirits. I’ll visit your blog very soon.

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      1. Thank you for this. It’s been very helpful for me. I really do understand the importance of our blogging community. The educational value, alone, that can be found within each post is amazing to me. I’ve learned so much about so many people, places and things over the past two years from all the posts I’ve read. And writing on different topics has honed my own skills which I’m sure that will make my future books better than they might have been. So, I have been giving this a lot of thought.
        It would be very hard for me to totally walk away. I’m trying to find a reasonable balance so that I can continue being an involved blogger while writing and doing all of the things that make up my day-to-day life. I’m going to visit your blog right now. Thanks, again.

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      2. Isn’t it true about the educational value. We learn from so many others and the areas they report from. Its like being there with the people as they tell the story through their pictures and words. There doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day is there? LOL.

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  12. GREAT about page, Clare. I jumped over looking for the kitty posts and realized that, although we have interacted in a comment or so, thanks to Bernadette, I was not following you. Corrected now.

    I, too, find the Berkshires one of God’s special places, and got engaged in my 50s. My story did not have your happy “ending” and I felt I had no choice but to break it off, so I am thrilled for you and Charlie to have been able to make a life together. Congratulations.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Madelyn, thanks for finding me and a special thanks to Bernadette. As you surely know, there are quite a few complications in marrying late. We’re already so set in our ways. In our case, we had to add in dealing with a toxic ex-wife and two grown children and that is a steep hill to climb. But we survived, scarred, but appreciative of having each other to lean on when going through good and bad times. I like to write about the good times, so people can take heart that it does get better most of the time. Toxic people, takers, cancer, money issues, self-absorbed children, can all take a toll. Somedays, Charley and I look at each other and can hardly believe we made it through all of this and got to the other side. Our perspective has been extremely altered and we are optimistic about the future.Thanks again, Madelyn and I hope you enjoy the Roxie Dammit posts as much as Roxie enjoys complaining to her audience.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Tink will love connecting with Roxie — and a special thanks to Clive for the link, btw.

        With my ex-fiance, the family was extremely welcoming, so I didn’t have to deal with the struggles you describe (sorry that you did).

        The ex himself turned out to be the problem in my case. Speaking with his [young adult] daughter, it seems that he was self-focused and “set in his ways” since before she was born – lol.

        No need to share details, but it simply would not have been life-enhancing for me to remain in that situation. Still love to read “happily ever afters,” however. Congratulations.
        xx,
        mgh

        Liked by 1 person

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