outdoor activities

A Wilderness Escapade

When offered the option between staying home to write or venturing into the BWCAW with good friends last week, it was a no-brainer. At least for me.

BWCA Trip, annmariemershon.com
Jetty and Ann ready to head out—3 packs and 3 women per canoe.

I love canoeing with women. We chat all day long,  work well as a team, and feel empowered managing tough portages on our own. I took my first canoe trip in eighth grade with a church group through Camp Menogyn, and I assumed only guys could carry the canoes. Life has taught me differently. I’ve done the majority of my canoeing since then with women, and we manage just fine, thank you. On this trip we schlepped our stuff through a total of 20 portages and paddled 18 lakes (actually 9 each way) and who knows how many miles of river, about 40 miles in all—and we’re all in our 50’s and 60’s. I just realized I’m the oldest at 67. In spite of my advanced years I carried my Mad River Explorer across all 20 portages, then hiked back to haul a pack across 16 of them. That’s 36 portages. Not bad for an old girl.

BWCA trip, annmariemershon.com
My second time through a portage

We headed out on a sunny Tuesday morning, and my pulse raced as we drove up the scenic Sawbill Trail into the wilderness. Into heaven. I am forever thankful to live so close to the Boundary Waters, though I’m a bit embarrassed that I don’t get into it more often. We were six women with six Duluth packs—a lot to squeeze into two canoes. We figured it out.

BWCAW 2016 Kawishiwi trip, annmariemershon.com
Canoes packed, ready to leave (actually, just finished).

After paddling a little over a mile across Kawishiwi Lake, we forged into a swampy river, which boggled my mind. I loved the peaceful paddle through reeds and lily pads. The water lilies were in full bloom; they like to wait for the end of summer, as we do. Less bugs for us, but I’m not just sure what their logic is.

BWCA 2016 trip, annmariemershon.com
Water lily on the Kawishiwi

We traveled all morning through a burn, which is devastating yet beautiful in its own way. It breaks my heart, though, to consider how many majestic white pines were lost in the flames.

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip, annmariemershon.com
Portage through the Pagami Creek burn. Heartbreak, but coming back.

Our first few portages were short, both less than a football field, so the major work was unloading canoes, heaving up our loads, then reloading the canoes at the other end. Three of us went back for a second trip through the portage for the extra packs. Piece of cake for wilderness women!

BWCA trip, Kawishiwi Lake to Fishdance and back, annmariemershon.com
Ann Russ had boundless energy

Square Lake, more river, then we were stunned to silence by a rare sight as we emerged onto Kawasachong Lake : a swan. Bird experts Ann and Annie weren’t sure whether it was a whistling swan or a trumpeter, but it was awesome. None of us had ever seen a swan in this northern wilderness. We sat in our canoes hidden by the reeds, watching it feed as a young eagle perched on a tree behind it, probably sizing up whether it could manage this large feast. No dice, birdie. Mama and Papa were perched on the lake as well, supervising junior as he strove toward independence. I wonder how long it takes an eagle to fully fledge.

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip, annmariemershon.com
Our solo Boundary Waters swan

After lunch we faced the 181-rod portage, a little over a half mile. If you’ve ever carried 53 pounds on your shoulders for a half mile, you’ll understand. Luckily, the portage was mostly flat and well-maintained. And sunny, as we were still in the burn. We traveled about three miles in all through a corner of the Pagami Burn, a fire that destroyed 92,000 acres of wilderness in 2011.

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip, annmariemershon.com
Jetty, Chris and Ann after forging across one of many beaver dams choking the river

Enough of that, though. Highlights of the trip:

Well, the swan. Then Wednesday morning we rose to a dreamy mist on Polly Lake. Magical.

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip, annmariemershon.com
A morning mist on Polly Lake

We packed up and headed out, stopping at Malberg for lunch on a cliff overlooking a narrow waterway with an armada of 23 mergansers. What a hoot to watch them scurry, dive, flap and finally roost among the rocks. That is, until something startled them to action. Maybe it was us, rousing from our post-lunch doze.

That night our cozy campfire was interrupted when Ann exclaimed, “Look! The Northern Lights! ” We spent the rest of the night on our backs, marveling at the show of shimmering greens and pinks that pulsed through the sky. Oh, my. It’s been years…

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip, annmariemershon.com
The Aurora Borealis—Need I say more?

The next day we paddled the Kawishiwi River to Fishdance, where we hoped to see the Native American pictographs. Yup. Amazing. Archeologists have determined that there were inhabitants here 10,000 years ago, but I have no idea how old the pictographs are. Old. My favorites were a canoe with two people in it and a pair of people carrying something, maybe three fish. It looks like a harp. There were also a number of red handprints on the rock. Of course we wondered how many pictographs have been lost over time due to rock flaking off and erosion. We lunched atop the cliff. I just can’t complain, except perhaps that it was a steep climb.

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip, annmariemershon.com
Fishdance pictographs—clearly a canoe
BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip, annmariemershon.com
Fishdance pictographs—how old?

We saw beaver, more eagles, skinny dipped every day, and counted our blessings. Oh, it’s a good life, especially when the bugs are few and the sun resplendent. And the company? Sheer delight.

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip, annmariemershon.com
An enhanced photo of our spectacular view up the Kawishiwi from our island campground
BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip, annmariemershon.com
The daily effort to dry out wet boots.
BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip, annmariemershon.com
I wonder if our socks ever dried out.

I’ll work on my books tomorrow. Today I’m reveling in the joy of my boundary waters adventure. As you can see, I wrote about it.

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip, annmariemershon.com
Skinny dipping is obligatory in the BWCA. Ah, heaven!

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life in general

Writer or volunteer?

I like to think I’m a writer, but my volunteering seems to get in the way. It’s the truth. I think I might be addicted.

I’m trying to beat it. I get up at 6:00 every morning to write for an hour and a half before the morning walk. I do some exercises, make coffee, and hurry to my computer, diligently ignoring the stack of volunteer responsibilities flanking my writing desk. Yes, I’m a writer.

As I sit at my computer, the school levy referendum perches on my right shoulder. “Have you got enough people lined up to write editorials? How will you manage to deliver the road signs?” Is this obsession a sign of addiction? Oh, dear.

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SCHOOL LEVY ROAD SIGN

If that’s not enough, there’s the Lioness Education Grant program. I need to get messages to all the teachers in the county, both public and charter schools, along with grant applications and a deadline. Goodness, how things pile up. I can’t seem to stop—another sign of addiction.

Back to writing—Whew! I’ve started a sequel to my historical children’s novel, Britta’s Journey,  and I’m on chapter two. So far Britta and her Swede-Finn family have left New York City and are riding a train to Minnesota. Researching the train ride has been fascinating, but I want to know more about what the ride was like. Was it noisy? Crowded? Bumpy? How will I ever find time?

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Steam engine, circa 1900, much like what pulled Britta’s train to Minnesota.

Oh, dear—the pile on the right side of my desk is pulling at me: the Art ‘Round Town banner project. We had a fiasco in the first printing of the downtown light pole banners, a striking design by local artist Jayne Richards. She silhouetted a herring fisherman pulling in his nets on a sunrise background—gold. Sadly, the design bled through our yellow banners, so I called  a board meeting the other day to resolve the issue, and we made a plan. I’ve got an e-mail out to vote on the color for our second attempt, and I’m dying to open the responses.

Art 'Round Town Banner, Grand Marais, MN, Best Small Town in America 2015
Our upcoming banner—yellow or orange background?

NO!!! That’s NOT writing! I write from 6:30 to 8:00, and that’s that. How can I call myself a writer if I spend all my time doing volunteer work? I mean, REALLY!

I got an e-mail yesterday asking for volunteers to stuff envelopes for the local radio station, and I was TEMPTED!!!! What’s wrong with me? Is it selfish to stick to my own projects? Why do I need to reach out to help everyone with…

Oh, dear! I haven’t met our new exchange student yet, and I agreed to be her liason for AFS, sort of like an auntie. That’s what it used to be in the old days when I was AFS president, but little did I know how things have changed. I’ve spent five hours filling out forms and taking online information classes, and now I have an e-mail warning me that I haven’t filed my first monthly report yet. COME ON! Give a writer a break!

AFS_Logo
Yet another commitment

I’ll never get Britta and her family to Eveleth if I don’t get cracking, and I need to focus more on marketing my new memoir as well as my other two books. Time to get organized. Three mornings to write, one to blog, and three to market. I’m posting a schedule beside my computer, and I PROMISE to stick to it. Somehow.

I AM a writer. Right? So WRITE!

Oops! I forgot to go sort children’s books for the Library Friends book sale this week, and I missed the Volunteer Fire Department STOP team meeting Wednesday night. Yup, I’m clearly addicted.

HELP!!!!!

Writer or Volunteer? annmariemershon.com
A refrigerator magnet from my friends the Bale/Andersons

 

life in general

A Conundrum

Life is a conundrum. One day I’m pummeled by the horrific massacre in Istanbul yet instantly buoyed by the artistic focus of our young grandson.

Painting in Jerry's garage--annmariemershon.com, amershon@edublogs.org
Our grandson in the throes of creativity

I shudder at news of insensible shootings by police and of police, then moments later I’m gleefully giggling at the absent-minded antics of Dory at the movie theater.

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How can this be?
Perhaps I should be thankful for the resilience that allows us to feel joy in the midst of pain, sort of like the warm laughter my siblings shared through our tears at our father’s death bed. It’s how we survive. How we cope.
At times I’ve worried that my recent memoir, You must only to love them [I know, it’s ungrammatical to use lower case letters, but it was a quote], might seem too light and airy considering the devastating violence going on in the world.

You must only to love them, cover, A Writer's Angst
You must only to love them, book cover

But then I realize my main intent with this book is an important one. I want to help people accept Muslims by experiencing the beauty of Turkey and its people through my eyes and experiences.

I want the entire world to understand that ISIS is not Islam but a heinous aberration of a warm and loving faith. I was repeatedly touched not only by the kindness and generosity of the Turks, but also by the many thoughtful expressions they use daily. In Turkey, when someone creates a meal for you, “thank you” isn’t enough. You say “Eleniz sağlik,” or “Health to your hands.” When you walk by someone who is working hard, you say “Kolay gelsin,” which means “May it come easy.” If someone faces a difficult time, you don’t just say “I’m sorry,” you say “Geçmiş Olsun”—”May you leave it behind.” Even language can be the key to a culture. I was charmed by the Turks and their many kindnesses. That’s why I wrote this book, and I hope it will serve a real purpose in showing people the beauty of Islam.

Bursa, Turkey, http://annmariemershon.com, http://amershon.edublogs.org
When I complimented the roses in her garden, this Turkish woman picked one for me. Oh, so kind!

 

My experiences in Turkey taught me exactly what my parents had taught me, what life had taught me: Be kind.

When I was a girl my mother stressed repeatedly that I needed to be kind to everyone—not just my friends. If Kathy (who I wasn’t crazy about) called me to play and then Sally (my best buddy) called, I wasn’t allowed to change my plans. I could, however, arrange for all of us to play together, but I had to treat Kathy as well as Sally. And I did.

I can’t tell you how many frogs I dated because they asked me out and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings by refusing. Thanks a lot, Mom. I think that might have been taking kindness a bit far, but I’d learned my lesson well: Be kind.

If only everyone were as kind as my mother wanted—as kind as the Muslims—perhaps we could all live in peace. At least we can counteract the world’s ugliness with our little kindnesses. We could be like the people I grew to love, the Muslims who stole my heart.
As my good friend Uygar said, “You must only to love them.”

Give someone a rose.

self-publishing, travel, writing

What man gives away carpets?

My new book, You must only to love them, is out, the reviews are great (HOORAY!), and I’m scrambling to market this baby—an overwhelming task.

You must only to love them, cover, A Writer's Angst

 I’ve done a blog tour (a new concept for me—I wrote blogs for other sites), I’ve tweeted and facebooked and built a new web site (annmariemershon.com). I’ve sent e-mails to everyone I know. I’ve given away free books through Goodreads and paid people to tweet and post for me. I’ve done author interviews and promoted myself ad nauseum. And this is only the beginning. Sigh..

I’ve decided to post a segment of the book online, so here’s a tidbit from my first week in Turkey, a late-night visit to a carpet shop in Selçuk:

from CHAPTER 5, POINTED SHOES

Every time we left the Nilya, Jana and I were hounded by a greasy-haired rug merchant with black shoes tapered to a pencil point. Jana ignored him, but I made excuses each time we saw him. I’d been taught not to ignore anyone but my bullying brother.

Jana & Ann Marie, Ephesus, Turkey-A Writer's Angst
Jana and Ann Marie, Ephesus, Turkey

On our last night we took the mini-bus back down to Selçuk, and as we climbed the dark hill home, light gleamed from Mehmet’s carpet shop.
“We really should go in,” I sighed. “I did promise.”
“But I’m so tired, and he hasn’t seen us.”
“It’ll only take a minute, Jana. One cup of tea and we’ll leave.”

The man who gives away carpets? A Writer's Angst
Cats in a carpet shop, Selçuk

Mehmet brought tea in tiny tulip-shaped glasses as we perused his shop. The worn wooden floor was  surrounded by stacks of folded and rolled carpets, much like other shops we’d passed.
“What can I show you?” Mehmet asked.
“I’m sorry, but I really can’t buy a rug. We’d love to see what you have, though.”
Explaining as he went, Mehmet showed us kilims (woven), carpets (knotted), and sumacs (woven and embroidered), piling one on another as he pulled them from his collection. I was drawn to the silk carpets, brilliant-hued masterpieces with a rich sheen. Mehmet picked up a tree-of-life carpet in soft shades of green with maroon and red, then flipped it around. The pale colors transformed to deep, rich hues when the nap faced us. The intricate designs of the silk stole my breath.
“How do you like this one?” Mehmet asked, pulling out a narrow silk carpet with three pink and white medallions on a field of light blue, framed with intricate floral patterns and long twisted fringe. When he saw my smile he offered me his “teacher price” of 400—was it dollars or lira? (A dollar was about 1.3 lira at the time.)
“I’m sorry, Mehmet. I really need to wait until I learn more about carpets.”
“Ah, but you will never find better price than this, and I can see you love this carpet. It is beautiful, no?” I had no idea whether his price was fair.
“Yes, it’s lovely, but I haven’t been paid yet. I have no money.”
“Do you have a credit card?”
“I never charge anything unless I can cover it.”
“It’s gorgeous,” Jana interjected. Thanks a lot.
Mehmet eyed me carefully. “I will make special offer only for you. You must take this rug home then look at other rugs in Istanbul. I know you will not find so fine carpet for such good price. Later you send me money or return carpet. You are teacher, so I trust you. In Turkey we love teachers too much.”
I was uncomfortable. It felt shady to take this rug with no down payment, yet Mehmet seemed sincere. Why was he doing this?
Jana convinced me that I couldn’t lose, and I finally succumbed. Mehmet wrote my name in a spiral tablet with a note that I taught at the Koç School in Istanbul, and I took his business card. I expected he’d charge something on my credit card, but he didn’t even ask for it. He rolled the carpet in brown paper and put it in a black nylon duffle.
“I have important warning to you,” he said as he handed me the package. “You as American woman must be very careful for Turkish men who try to take advantage of you.”
Right.

To learn what happens with the carpet, buy my book!  CLICK HERE

Here’s a hint:

Silk carpet on bed, A Writer's Angst
Trying out the silk carpet on my bed

self-publishing, writing

Unravelling the Intricacies of Publication

Talk about a learning curve! After years of writing, revising, querying agents, revising, querying more agents, revising some more and querying even more agents, I’d had enough. Call me the little red hen. If no one would help me, I’d publish this book myself. I had poured my heart into a memoir about my years in Turkey, and it was time to put it to bed.

Famous last words.
Scrivener logoI’d purchased Scrivener on the advice of a friend and used it for my final versions of the book. It’s a great program for writing; I wish I’d used it from the get-go. If I had, I’d have formatted my book as a novel. But I didn’t. Water under the bridge.
I knew there were tasks ahead if I wanted to publish on my own. I’d have to choose an avenue for publication, design a cover, format the book, and then market it on my own. A tall order to be sure, but I’d had no idea.

CHOOSING AN AVENUE FOR PUBLICATION

First, I’d have to chose a self-publishing company or a vanity publisher. There are plenty out there, and each offers different services. I researched online and talked to friends who’d self-published. After much deliberation I decided to go through Amazon because it has no costs up front and offers an impressive online presence. It’s not so great for marketing to bookstores, but more on that later. Amazon it would be. If the book did well I’d publish a photo version through IngramSpark, which offers cheaper color printing plus a wide distribution channel.

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DESIGNING A COVER

Now for the cover. I’d decided to call my memoir “You must only to love them” after a bit of advice from a young Turk about managing Turkish students. I found it endearing as well as true. I have about 20,000 photos from my years in Turkey (not kidding), and I pulled a few favorites that I thought might look classy. I had mosque domes with a night sky, the Sultanahmet skyline at sunset, a poppy with a lake and mosque in the background, and the list goes on. I incorporated the title on a few, and they looked nice—but not great.

cover A
Too Dull
blue cover
Too blue
flowers cover
Pretty, but not particularly Turkish
poppy cover
I liked this one best, but…

It didn’t take me long to realize that a book about people should feature people on the cover. Duh! I pulled some photos of students and children I encountered in Turkey and finally chose a photo of me posing with costumed dancers at Mount Nemrut. It was my husband’s favorite photo of me. My artist friend Sue suggested that a handwritten title would offer a warm touch, so I wrote the title about a hundred times before I got one I liked. I sent my cover layout to my son Dustin, who used his graphic design skills to spruce it up. I’m lucky to have him.

Cover 795KB
The final cover, spruced up by my son Dustin

The front cover was enough to post the e-book on Amazon, but the paperback version needed copy for the back, and—oh, yeah—the spine! So much to think about.

FORMATTING THE BOOK

Years ago I attended a writing workshop that offered a session on formatting your book as an e-reader. I wasn’t open to e-publishing at that time, but from what I heard it was more than daunting. Fortunately, things have changed.
I felt pretty smart when I learned that Scrivener will magically format your book for e-readers (as well as other formats). Well, not totally. I soon realized that I had a lot to learn. I worked to educate myself about compiling the book from my manuscript, and it took weeks. I watched and re-watched the Scrivener tutorial videos, but my most valuable resource turned out to be writers’ blogs. Thank God for Google and the wonderful people out there helping us neanderthals understand the techno-world! I think I may have compiled the e-book fifty times and repeated the process again with the paperback, which had to be done differently. I felt envious of people who understand techno-speak, let me tell you.

So here I am with a beautiful cover (if I do say so myself) and a pretty good memoir all ready for the world. Now all I have to do is get the word out. Oh dear.

My memoir is available on Amazon—click here to check it out.

 

writing

Things Change

As I peruse my shelf of writing resources, Rogets Super Thesaurus,, The Elements of Style, and The Pooh Book of Quotations, I marvel at how the computer has changed the way I write. I seldom reach for those books nowadays, preferring to consult my computer’s thesaurus, which only requires typing the word I want to improve. I can pull up quotations in an instant on Google, and my computer warns me when my grammar isn’t up to snuff. Is this a good thing?

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My once-necessary resources sit (hardly used) above my computer.

 

I may be showing my age, but I remember writing on a lined tablet with resources lined up on the desk. Today my desk sports a printer/scanner/fax machine, a notepad, a camera, a computer, and a coffee cup. Is it simpler? Is it better?
I know it’s faster. I just timed myself, and I can only write about 40 words a minute, while I type more than twice that, almost as fast as I can think. I remember being frustrated that while I wrote longhand I would often lose a thought as I wrote the previous one. That doesn’t happen at the computer.
Natalie Goldberg, revered writing guru, lauds the value of writing by hand because of the organic connections it fosters. I’ve tried to go back to it, but my arthritic paws resist these efforts. I skip letters, and my handwriting is nearly illegible when I rush. The computer is clean, quick, and correct–but is it as deep?

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I still need to plan and organize by hand—old habits die hard

Many mourn the demise of the handwritten personal letter, and I must admit I’m tickled each time I receive a letter with a handwritten address, astonished if there’s a handwritten missive inside. I have one friend who still writes me longhand. Sweet.
I remember the excitement I felt at each tissue-thin blue letter from my London pen-pal, and the thrill of opening a long letter from a relative or friend was always a joy. air mail letter

It just doesn’t happen any more. We’ve all changed. A quick e-mail or text is the norm these days. I’m not quite up with the text thing, but I expect I’ll get there.

I guess I’m a victim of this new age, this new technique, this new speed. If my computer helps me get through my writing tasks a bit more quickly, I’m glad. I have a lot of things I love to do away from my desk. There are sunrises to marvel at, woods to snowshoe, and lakes to paddle.
To each his own, huh?

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So this is my way, a screen surrounded with handwritten notes. And, of course, a coffee cup.