Marty’s Garden: Bay City, Michigan

After an intense week on the computer, I am itching to paint. I sneak away from downsizing and memorabilia to begin a long-overdue freshening-up of my nature card line. I set the dining room table with paper, watercolor pencils, paints, pastels, brushes, a battery-powered pencil-sharpener, an electric eraser and a small dish of water and putter away the day in Marty Sielinski’s garden.

Every spring Marty rototills two or three garage-door-sized patches of lawn and flings handfuls of sunflower seeds saved from the previous year over the upturned soil. In no time countless two-leafed plantlets crowd the plots and start a race for sun. A month or two later, hundreds of blooms—delicate to sturdy, yellow to multi-colored, cookie- to platter-sized—sway three to six feet over the ground, jammed in tighter than clowns.

It’s a very pleasant place to spend some time. To the east, Colorado spruce, apple trees and an elegant elm rise above a wide rolling lawn, throwing shade away from Marty’s garden onto the house. Nor is there interference from the row of greenhouses to the south, the large rocky field that stretches west to a parking lot on a trafficked street, or the quiet nature trail to the northwest.

Under such gro-light conditions, sunflowers thrive; tarragon, mint and oregano merge into thickets and Marty’s second major crop—Early Girl, Big Boy, Roma and Sweet 100 tomatoes—soon hang with fruit. The fifty little transplants that begin life precisely spaced in neatly hoed rows, by August can’t be seen for the weeds. Despite this, and despite the resident groundhog whose large holes appear mid-patch, the Canadian geese that trample like elephants, long droughts or too much rain, by summer’s end, Marty and I each haul home a challenging harvest.

For more than ten summers—in recent years with my Min Pin Gracie—I have dropped by Marty’s garden to measure progress, help with watering and enjoy the gulls strewn across the massive evening sky all heading north. Cardinals and blue jays, sparrows and chickadees flit about nearby branches, waiting for us to vacate the sunflower buffet, but we sit out the sunset in white plastic chairs, drinking beer, watching the furrows overflow, until fireflies blink and mosquitoes begin to bite. 

I can go there now: Marty’s garden is a retreat I visit behind closed eyes.

MEMOIR WORKSHOP: Illustrations

Yikes! I promise to write about downsizing and instead I add to the piles! Oh well, I make or break the rules at my house and, after a dry year, I’m going with the flow.

About illustrations: Pictures, paintings, or old photos can enhance a memoir, or they can just gum up the works. I find it distracting to have to photograph something, download the photo, enhance it on PhotoShop and save it as a jpg or tiff or pdf. Since I know how to do this and including color online is free, I have added them. Nevertheless, memoirs often often don’t need illustrations; I hope to write entries that read just fine without them.

Dealing with “cataloging,” objects as subjects & blessed ends

Wow! In one day we have 13 subscribers and one joiner that I know of! And some interesting issues have come up:

First, several of you report that you have already tried to “catalog” your belongings, a task quickly abandoned. I sympathize, having also attempted to describe objects for my heirs—and I also quit. But this memoir year is different: Our things will be subjects, not objects, or perhaps doors to the countless rooms of our palatial pasts.

Second, please! Do not be intimidated by the sheer number of those doors. Nobody knows or cares how many you ignore. God help us and especially our readers if we try to explore them all. I just choose something that sounds like fun, an approach I discovered writing Great Lakes Nature—for a year I took four or five walks a week, each time choosing one thing to write about. In three editions, no one has ever complained that I didn’t include it all!

Finally, defining an end to a project gives me the will to complete it. I’ll do what I can in twelve months and I’m done. Hurrah!

Please note that I have three “categories” for my posts: 1) 2017 Memoir Mary’s, for my personal memoir entries; 2) Readers’ Stories, for YOUR stories that I have chosen to share and for which you have given me permission; and 3) Memoir Workshop, for memoir-writing issues such as the ones discussed in this post.

Keep those questions and ideas coming!

2017 Memoir Project: Mine (and Yours?)

I am so excited about my new 2017 memoir project that I have decided to share this 12-month project with anyone interested in writing his or her own: You can do your memoir as I do mine! To read more about my 2017 one-year memoir project, or to read entries already posted, go to 2017 MEMOIR Mary’sTo have my entries sent to your email box as I post them, hit the SUBSCRIBE button above the right-hand column. Feel free to share this link with anyone you know who’s been hankering to do some sort of autobiography but can’t seem to get going.

Come on! Let’s do this! You can send me your stories via my Contact link. I promise not to share, edit or publish anything without your written permission.



The Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburg

I start my memoir with a book which, in the early 1980s, my son Dylan and I purchased from its author and illustrator, our hero, the fabulous Chris Van Allsburg himself. We were living in Healdsburg, California, and, being long-time Chris Van Allsburg fans, we’d been excited to learn that the Caldecott-award-winning author/illustrator soon could be found at the Alpha-Bit, a small children’s bookstore in nearby Santa Rose, signing his latest book.

Expecting lines out the door of the tiny store, we arrived early, only to find no one there but the book store owner, the author and ourselves. How could this be? Where was everyone? With plenty of time to indulge his thus far lone Santa Rosa fans, Chris Van Allsburg signed our purchased copy of The Garden of Abdul Gasazi with an original drawing:

About forty years later I offered to send this precious book—possibly now worth hundreds despite a torn jacket—to its rightful owner, but, having no children, my son suggested I just copy and email him the inscription. I could sell the book if I wished. Recently, however, he changed his mind and asked me to give it to his good friend and New Hampshire business partner, Jason Lemieux, who did have children. So today, the last Priority Mail day before Christmas, off it goes to the best home we could think of.

My Life as a Dig

As I approach my 75th birthday and watch today’s younger generation trend away from “stuff” and consumerism, I find myself clinging tighter to my treasured possessions, many of which I have boxed up and moved from coast to coast to coast and countless homes between. I keep these things for the pleasure of their company, the stories they embody and their daily reminders of the people, places and events that have made me who I am. Inevitably I will have to let them go: with luck, one by one, or—at any age, but particularly mine—illness or accident might take them all at once. These days, however, I can stuff them into a thumb drive accommodated by any condo, RV, or hospital bed. I can pass them along on a key ring to my minimalist heirs.

My efforts to lighten up began this past year, during which I delivered numerous Subaru-loads to our local on-line auction house as well as several carloads of books to my brother and his wife for their antique business. I have donated further loads to thrift shops, the Bay County Friends of the Library book sale and Saginaw’s Roethke House for its children’s poetry library. Except for the mighty shlepping, this downsizing was easy—I no longer needed or wanted any of it. Should I have to leave my spacious house, however, crammed with collections and treasures, the parting will be more painful.

I am often urged to write a memoir, but where to start? How do I get past the boring too-muchness or not-enoughness of the I-was-born-and-then-and-then timeline? But now I’ve discovered this magic trick—pulling memories out of objects—so I not only have easy access to my own life, thanks to the endless subjects within arm’s reach, but my efforts may inspire others—you, perhaps?—to do the same. I’ve resolved that in 2017—for one year only—I will sift through my personal archeological dig several times a week and write at least a page. I will post my findings on my website,, with a link to my FaceBook page.

“Sounds like fun!” cries my inner child, jumping up and down at the door. We can’t wait to get going.

MEMOIR WORKSHOP NOTE: I share this New Year’s Resolution with you, my friends and readers, as a free 12-month memoir workshop. Begin by using my posts as a blueprint and soon you may find yourself zooming off on your own. Even one page a week will result in a satisfying manuscript. From time to time I will add a MEMOIR WORKSHOP NOTE like this one. If you like, email me your stories using the contact link on my home page or the reply option on your Postmatic subscription,  and I will collect them. I may not respond much, but I will not edit, share or publish anything without your written permission.

Join me and my impatient artist child! Let’s see what we can create together in 2017.