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Big news! I finished a first draft of the book I’m writing about our cancer experience. In March, when I was in Arizona, I started compiling blog posts written during that time which will serve as the frame of the story. Then I added emails that I’d written to family and friends. Way last November I’d made lists of the emails I might want to use. The blog posts and emails made up 37,000 words.

My impetus? I’d gotten accepted into a two-week intensive memoir workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, a place I’ve gone to for many summers and have always learned much and enjoyed. The requirements stated 50-60,000 words by May. So, in April, I sat glued to my chair and wrote hundreds of words, compiling totals as I went along: 37,953…41,000…44,187…48,351…all the way to 60,000.

These hundreds of words sprain up from my gut as I perused the “charting” I’d done in a little notebook from early doctor visits until Marv’s final day. Most days, I wept as I wrote. The cries would start out as whimpers and end in long plaintive wails.

In early May, when I finally sent my 60,000 words to the instructor, I felt as if a sandbag blanket had fallen off my body. Even my head and my heart felt lighter. I told a friend that writing was the best grief work I’d done. As a non-crier, getting the words down on paper was my best catalyst for tears.

The last few weeks, then, I’ve been reading and critiquing the manuscripts of the other nine students in my class. Each took about two days to read and critique. I scheduled two a week and immersed myself in the hundreds of words they wrote, appreciating their authenticity and genuineness in sharing their life-changing experiences.

A good side effect of having to do all this reading and critiquing is that I continued my search here in Sioux Falls for a best place to hang out for this avocation of mine. In my nearly three years here, I’d already cased out eight places; none met my criteria of having the most conducive vibes.

Then I tried out a Starbucks where I’d never been inside. Shortly after Marv’s diagnosis, after we’d returned from Arizona, we’d gone in my Beetle to Menard’s on a frigid snow-laden day. Inching along snow drifts on the way home, Marv driving, I’d spotted this Starbucks that I’d not noticed before. “I’d sure like a mocha,” I said, pointing out the coffee shop.

“Now?” His tone said I was nuts to think of getting one in this weather at this time.

“Yes, now,” I responded, sweetly.

He dutifully turned off the main drag and, with a deep sigh, joined the long line-up for the drive-through. As he finally handed me my mocha, he grinned, saying, “The things I do for you.”

So, in my recent quest for the perfect hangout to read and critique, I decided to check out the inside of that Starbucks. To my surprise–perfect! Large. Varied seating–easy chairs, high tables, low tables. Facing north and east, so the morning sun. On a busy street–almost like my Peet’s on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, my last favorite hangout. Only two miles away. An outdoor seating area. Friendly baristas.

In fact, my daughter just stopped in with my grandchildren. A barista came over and offered ice water to the kids who, of course, were thrilled because their mom and grandma had refused to buy them pricey frappechinos.

Now they’ve left, and I’ve finished my ninth critique. I’m all set for Iowa the middle of July. As I sit here, with full view of the drive-up window, I can picture Marv putting in the order for my mocha. And, if I shut my eyes and concentrate hard enough, I can feel his presence and hear his encouraging words.