The impromptu glass of Sangria and breathing lessons.

Sangria and summer were meant for each other.


“We are always getting ready to live, but never living.” – 

 [Ralph Waldo Emerson] 

The pool area was quiet except for the gentle gurgle of the water filter doing its job from the shaded corner near the hosta bed. The summery ice blue color of the pool’s liner issued a friendly summons to wade, jump, dive or dangle toes. 

On the small patio table sat a large antique silver tray filled with rice crackers and cream cheese/chive spread, freshly baked sweet potato chips and a bowl of honeydew melon, its sweet pale green a stunning contrast to the carroty orange of the potato slices. Lime wedges floated on a thick layer of ice cubes that chilled purple-red sangria in a crystal pitcher as three large-bowled wine glasses waited for someone to pour. 

I would have missed all of this had I let my Type-A Shoulder Demon Angel have her way. 

Our usual Thursday night meeting had been canceled, so my friend Mari called me and suggested I stop by her house around 4 o’clock for a little impromptu pool time. Sue, our other friend who’d suddenly found her evening calendar cleared, was also coming over.  

I hemmed and hawed to myself, remembering I’d already reassigned tasks for myself since our meeting was canceled, and thought I really should pass and stay home and work. Fortunately, It Who Knows So Much Better What Is Good For Me, nudged me: “Don’t be an idiot. Tell her yes.” And somehow—I managed to listen. 

For two delicious, calming, water-cooled hours we three friends munched and drank those beautiful snacks while mingling with that refreshing water in that beautiful pool. We shared childhood swimming lesson horror stories, and before the afternoon was over I came to understand the ultimate importance that breathing plays in the process of learning to swim. (I’d had several years of American Red Cross swimming lessons while growing up; passed every class—and to this day—cannot swim. Slabs of granite can swim better than I do.) 

My heart rate slowed, and that felt good. It had been acting a tad bit hyperactive for the past couple of months, what with my new column and regular deadlines and then the novel coming back with major cleanup required. Do not misunderstand: I love where I am on the path, what I’m doing and all of these opportunities. 

Somehow, though, I forgot about the zit words I was supposed to be gleaning from the novel manuscript, the interview tapes that needed transcribing, the hostas waiting transplanting, the tree line clean-up work, the ironing, the laundry folding and blah, blah, blah. It never ends you know. It never will. 

I watched a leaf make its way from one end of the pool to the other, carried by the filtering current. Steady, calm and gradual. 

When I returned home I told my husband I could not remember how long it had been since I’d done anything that spur-of-the-moment, and it felt shocking to realize that I let task lists and notes/plans on the calendar ride herd over me to the extent that they do. I assure you I do enjoy life and a good many fun, entertaining activities, but I had to give myself a failing grade that evening as I realized how often, and even worse, how easy it is for me to deny myself some ad hoc downtime and fun for the sake of what I think I must/should/have/need to be doing in place of it. I really thought I was smarter than that. 

The extemporaneous pool/sangria moments didn’t interfere at all. I missed no editorial deadline; I did get a few more zit words killed off in the manuscript. The laundry didn’t get up and leave, and neither did the hostas.  

That sacred time we allow ourselves every now and then to throw off the daily numbered task list sitting on the kitchen island is the best gift we can give ourselves. That Emerson guy was so dang smart, wasn’t he. 

Thanks, Mari, for reminding me how easy it really can be. Maybe next time I can practice my new breathing lessons. 

Mari P’s Delicious Sangria

(as it appears in the Cedar Rapids Garden Club’s Recipe Book) 

1 bottle of Iowa wine (such as White Oak Vineyard Country Road Red)

1 can of Mendota Springs Lime Sparkling Water

Slices of one lemon – or – 1/2 lemon and 1/2 lime

Secret ingredient: one box of Berry ‘Juicy Juice’

Put all ingredients in a glass pitcher.

Stir to blend ingredients. Add ice to fill. 

(Additional note from Mari: I used 1 cup of regular grape juice and a fruity wine from The Wide River Valley Winery from Clinton, IA this time.)

True Grit


I came downstairs one morning this past summer to discover this spider web in progress across our patio doors. I watched that little spider work methodically to spread the web over the expanses from one side across to the other. Spider had to spin some far-reaching strands to secure the thing and it seemed such a monumental task, and I wondered why the little critter didn’t pick a smaller, more convenient area for its necessary creation. It struck me as a fitting metaphor for trying to finish a novel and find a market for it.

Two years ago today my writing friend Linda died from cervical cancer. She and I used to meet once a week for what we called writer’s luncheon. We’d discuss (and whine) about our novels, revisions in progress and all that jazz that goes with writing for publication/sale. We’d also exchange calls for submissions and other publishing/marketing stuff. These weekly luncheons were tremendously helpful for keeping the writing energy bolstered.

Every January we chose a word to keep us writing-goal-focused. The last year of her life she’d chosen “persevere” and I’d chosen “believe.”

Linda mailed my birthday gift to me early that year. It was a Christmas table runner with a large picture of St. Nicholas in the center with the word “Believe” bordering the four sides. She died two weeks later.

When a person works from home as a freelance writer, novelist, poet, whatever—it’s hard at times to keep hunkered down into the work. You wonder if anyone is reading what you’ve published—or if what you do with your life matters. Deep down you know it matters to you, but once in a while you need some outside validation—just because you’re as pathetically human as the next guy.

Linda had finished a couple of children’s picture books, one YA novel and one adult fiction novel, but she never found a literary agent who was willing to take her on. It wasn’t for lack of trying either.

Trust me when I say that Lin’s and my writing friendship was pretty candid at times, and it was she who got in my face several years back challenging me to “stop taking on more church committee work, planning more redecorating projects and house parties just so you don’t have to finish your book.” (She told me later she thought I might hit her.) I bought her a dozen roses the following week because she’d nailed it on the head. That’s what real friends do.

I told her I thought she held back too much in her fiction writing; that she needed to inject more of herself into it to make it more tangible. She agreed with me, but she wouldn’t go there. Said she couldn’t. We had to leave it at that.

The “Believe” gel gems that you see in the picture went up in December 2007, the last time Lin visited in my home. They’ve been up ever since.

In memory of Linda Lee Hanson (November 5, 1953 – October 9, 2008)