productivity is a relentless mistress AND a dispatch from the commitment club

Before we get started, I want to wish you a happy New Year! 2017! What? I know it’s a mark of aging to mention this, but doesn’t it seem that the turn of the millennium was just a few years ago? We threw a HUGE party at a friend’s warehouse loft in Boston in an area that has now (I’ve heard) become gentrified but at that time you just hoped your car was still on the street when you came back out at the end of the night. Even if it was a piece of crap. (Which it was.) So, if it seems to me that New Year 2000 was just a short while ago, it should come as no surprise to you that my happy New Year post is 3 weeks and a bunch of days late.

Okay—a new year! I know the turning of one year into the next is the traditional time for setting resolutions. And it’s not that I’m not too cool for that, but I have instead been using the new year as a time for reflection. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to manage the situation I often find myself in when the plethora (yes PLETHORA) of project ideas I possess far outweigh the time I have available to accomplish them. I started bullet journaling (really fun, but a whole other project in and of itself, so NO). Then I went to Michael’s with a 50%-off-a-regular-purchase coupon and I bought a nice, tidy little planner. Then I sharpened a pencil and filled in the daily sections I have cordoned off as “PRODUCTION SCHEDULE.” So, here were my plans set out from January through March: write novella for marketing promotion, implement marketing program I have been studying, retool website, build and launch a homeschool blog with unit studies to sell and write a giveaway eBook, keep working on current novel-in-progress. Also, sleep now and then. Go to the bathroom at least once a day. Raise/homeschool my children. And feed them. I got that planner filled in aaaaaaaall nice and tidy! Woo-hoo! I’m so organized! I thought. This will be a soooooooo easy to accomplish! I thought.

Then I immediately began to fall behind because I am just one person, people, and as it turns out, I need to use the bathroom more than once a day. (I know—slacker.) So, then I started to think about setting reasonable goals which led me to think about what the heck is a reasonable goal? And then I started to explore my unhealthy relationship with productivity.

Here’s how my unhealthy relationship with productivity goes:

step 1) I feel like I MUST get as much accomplished every day as possible;

step 2) I set completely unattainable daily goals and can’t meet them;

step 3) I attempt to play catch-up from all the previous days I failed to meet the completely unattainable daily goals;

step 4) I immediately feel like I am falling short;

step 5) the sliding scale of mild to acute panic about not getting the work done sets in.

Okay! Problem identified. Only here’s where I got stalled out. I’d figured out that my unhealthy relationship with productively was my problem, but this weird thing was happening—identifying my nemesis was not making me feel better and no solution to my problem was materializing. Then suddenly—while practicing yoga, of course—I figured it out. And here follows my truth; an admission that pinches—HARD.

The root of my uneasiness and anxiety is a need for external validation.

UGH.

I believed I didn’t care about that!

(Of course saying you don’t and wishing you don’t is not the same as actually not caring.)

It’s not about the unreasonable goal-setting. Or the unhealthy relationship with productivity. It’s about the attachment to to the outcome of the productivity.

Frickin’ eureka.

Okay, so my work has been identified. Stop caring if I’m ever Barbara Kingsolver or Anne Tyler level successful. Stop thinking about people I know—or don’t—evaluating my career. And, hey, while I’m at it, I’ll try a little more self-compassion and kindness and a little less self-judgment... I'd bet I’m probably meaner to myself than anyone else I know—or don’t.

(This is so embarrassing ... )

Commitments to myself.

Okay, so we discover things we dislike about ourselves and we move forward. My sister and some close friends (who share similar neuroses... or challenges... however best to phrase it) have formed a commitment circle. First we thought periodic group text check-ins would be enough but then we decided monthly meet-ups for live loving check-ins would be much better. We had our first meeting last Friday night. It is incredibly helpful to share your goals and challenges and have trusted friends help you clarify your junk. So for 2017, no resolutions, no insane goal-setting, no unhealthy relationship with productivity and no striving for external validation. Just do the work of my heart. For me, that is taking care of my family, homeschooling my children, writing what speaks to me at the rate that I am able. Also using the bathroom with no self or time-imposed restrictions.

In other words, do the things that makes the most sense to fulfill the really good goals of happiness, joy and sanity. Which leads me to ... 

BIG NEWS!

(“Big” might be a strong word. Also “news.”)

I am changing my blog post day to Saturday! And maybe you’ll only see me checking in once or twice a month. Because this is what makes the most sense for me right now in this attempt at an authentic and balanced life that I am living.

Happy weekend to you! And here’s to a happy and productive (but not unhealthfully so) 2017!

 

Find my novels, THE MOSQUITO HOURS and TALKING UNDERWATER, online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! I’m curious about something: would you like to stay up-to-date on news about my books as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on that little box right over there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)

friday stew—a random collection of unrelated miscellany

Hello and welcome to this, my most recent post of rambling thoughts! Enjoy!

decrepit bananas

We eat a lot of bananas. Steve (not his real name) likes them for breakfast drizzled with almond butter, we all enjoy daily smoothies, I squish them up in oatmeal and I bake with them in place of refined sugar. (I’m a bit of an immovable tyrant about sugar ... My kids love that about me. They might consider “bit” an inaccurate modifier.) Basically, I’m saying we eat a crap-ton of bananas around here. But all too often, when I go to the grocery store, all I find are green, underripe bananas. We do not want those. I drive from store to store looking for ripe bananas. What do I find? Green—they’re always green. For a while, I could find ripe ones at Target, so I had a source for nice, soft, spotty bananas, but then some other people must have figured it out and always go there and buy them up from under me! So now every time I go to Target, the bananas are stinkin’ green. Per chance, one fateful day, I stumbled upon a consistent motherload of brown, spotty, overripe bananas at a local gas station convenience store.

I cannot divulge the exact location. (I’m sure I don’t need to explain why.)

I cannot divulge the exact location. (I’m sure I don’t need to explain why.)

Are the bananas more expensive? Well, they don’t call it “convenience” without consequence. Are we consuming food from a gas station? Perhaps. Am I that weird woman who goes to the gas station not for gas or lottery or over-sugared treats (hell, no!) but instead for 8 overripe bananas at a time? I’ve been accused of worse. But does my family suffer green, tasteless bananas?

No.

We.

Do.

Not.

Chloe DeLorenzo

Chloe DeLorenzo

puppy

Ever since our dog died last June, the kids have been begging for a puppy. First we told them we needed to mourn for a while. Then we said we’d have to wait until after we moved. Then it was winter, so, you know, we had to wait. When it became clear that our children were not going to forget the existence of puppies, we said we would look for one after summer vacation. So, when on the car ride home they asked if we were going to the shelter the following day, we realized we were not going to get out of this. So we got a puppy! My only stipulation was that the dog be small. At least smallish. Small dog equals small poop. This is an adage I live by. Also, I don’t want a dog tall enough to come along and swipe food off my kitchen counter. Everyone acquiesced to my terms. Our puppy is named Chloe and she really is sweet and adorable. And small. My daughters are besotted. Even my son doesn’t mind cleaning up her poop. We were very curious about her mix, so we did a mail-away DNA test. Guess what? She’s half Great Dane.

Crap.

lunch bags

People say to me ALL the time, “I don’t know how you do it—I could never homeschool my kids. I don’t have the patience.” Or, “Being with my kids all day would drive me nuts.” Etc. On the more annoying days, I could easily be persuaded to agree that this is a really bad idea. But I’m here to testify, moms of kids in school, that you have it worse. Much, much worse. And there is a singular reason: lunch bags.

Dreadful.

Dreadful.

Specifically, cleaning out lunch bags. This year, my kids are doing a wilderness class and a homeschool coop, both of which require bagged lunch. Oh, the horror. The sticky coating of yogurt all over the innards of the bag. On wilderness class days, the peppering of tree matter and dirt embedded in the sticky coating of yogurt. The smell of grade school cafeteria when I open it up at the end of the day. The flood of terrifying memories. Cleaning out the lunch bags is a solid-enough reason in and of itself to homeschool. Seriously, how do you moms endure it?

desktop screen organizer

Is there anything better than organizational tools? Okay, well, yes, probably. But aren’t organizational tools exciting? Perhaps “exciting” is an aggressive word. Unless you’re me because this desktop .jpg makes me all-caps EXCITED! You simply set it as your desktop background picture, then you can arrange your files and folders and pictures. Here’s a link to the blog In My Own Style where you can find it.

Look at it sitting there so pretty with everything arranged with utmost logic. So lively and vivacious! It’s not weird how much I like this. (It’s not.)

You know what else I'd really like? For you to go out and have a happy Friday!

 

Find my novels, THE MOSQUITO HOURS and TALKING UNDERWATER, online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! I’m curious about something: would you like to stay up-to-date on news about my books as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on that little box right over there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)

airing out—or, an author event!

If you've ever read my ABOUT page, you know that I spend approximately 85% of my waking hours in the kitchen. But from time to time, I'm let out into the world and the other night was one of those occasions. I was invited to speak at the ETA Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, an international organization of teachers that "promotes professional and personal growth of women educators and excellence in education."

We chatted as we enjoyed a lovely dinner together and then I read a passage from THE MOSQUITO HOURS, shared the origins of each of my novels, talked about the writing process as I know it and relayed a bit about my latest manuscript-in-process. Teachers are a wonderful bunch—they are curious people by nature and ask really interesting questions, which made for great conversation.

Yes, it is a blurry picture, but, on my honor, it's me. Also the blurriness functions similarly to candlelight: Voilà! Wrinkles smoothed out of existence! Poof! Gray hair? What gray hair? Who is that stunning 20-year-old?

Yes, it is a blurry picture, but, on my honor, it's me. Also the blurriness functions similarly to candlelight: Voilà! Wrinkles smoothed out of existence! Poof! Gray hair? What gray hair? Who is that stunning 20-year-old?

Writing is a solitary practice which makes it a perfect occupation for an introvert like me.  But when I do air myself out every now and again, I remember how fun it can be! Of course, the company makes all the difference and the DKG members were a pleasure and I am grateful to have been extended the opportunity to share time with them.

I actually have a couple of events coming up this fall. Next month, I will be at the New Bedford Book Festival on October 15th and 16th and then I will be a featured writer of the Author Series at the Lafayette Durfee House in Fall River, Massachusetts, on November 20th. If you are local, I would be so happy to see you! If you are not local, there are things such as planes, cars, trains, etc. No pressure, though.

Hey, you have a super-wonderful Friday!

 

Find my novels, THE MOSQUITO HOURS and TALKING UNDERWATER, online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! I’m curious about something: would you like to stay up-to-date on news about my books as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on that little box right over there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)

a foo fighters concert with seven-year-old twins

My house is 110 years old. I’m not exaggerating this time—it was built in 1906. Man, is it quirky. There are entire rooms that make you wonder just what the hell was going on with this? It's also tilting like crazy and I try not to think about that too much. But then look at this lovely dining room built-in.

The house is full of charm such as this, as old houses often are. Look how pretty and tidy it is! Want to see the inside?

Atrocious. But that's why I made the curtain.

While looking for something in this mess, I happened across a napkin covered in scrawled writing. While we were on vacation last July, we took the kids to see Foo Fighters at Fenway Park. It was the kids’ first rock show and it was probably the best I have ever seen. And I’ve seen a few in my time. My sister and I have 6 kids and a husband each between us, so we needed 10 tickets. However, they only sold them in 4 tickets lots, so we had 2 sets of 4 tickets together and one pair together. My brother-in-law took the 3 boys and my sister took the pair with her daughter—they all had field tickets. Steve (not his real name) and I took our twins—7 years old at the time—into the bleacher seats. This was not poor Steve's (not his real name) first choice, but being a mom first and a Foo Fighters fan second, I thought the safest place for 2 little girls was in the bleachers with their mom and dad.

Seven-year-old twins generate many, many questions, which, after about 30 minutes of fielding, I started jotting down. Here is a sampling.

One of my earplugs fell out—can you put it back?

Daddy’s not wearing his earplugs.

When will it start?

Why are those lights red?

Is this where the Red Sox play?

How do they play with all those chairs in the way?

Why is Dave Grohl chewing gum?

When did Dave Grohl get married?

What song is this?

What song is this?

(Remember, there are 2 of them.)

One of my earplugs fell out again—can you put it back?

Daddy’s not wearing his earplugs.

When will it be over?

Can I have a snack?

Can I have water?

Can I have a snack?

Can I have water?

(2.)

Will the lights turn on when it’s over?

Is this just rain or will there be thunder?

Is Dave Grohl the main singer?

Why is Dave Grohl sitting?

Why is Dave Grohl standing?

What are you writing?

When are we going to leave?

Why do you keep telling her things? (one of them)

Why do you keep talking to her? (the other)

One of my earplugs fell out again—can you put it back?

Daddy’s not wearing his earplugs.

Why are you laughing?

What is that smell?

First I was asking when it would start and now I’m asking when it will be over.

Mommy, did you bring my jammies?

Is that a tissue you’re writing on?

How many more minutes?

Are you sure there will be no thunder?

One of my earplugs fell out again—can you put it back?

Happy Thursday—and should it seem a fabulous idea to take a couple of 7 year-olds to a concert, you'll know exactly what to expect!

 

Find my novels, THE MOSQUITO HOURS and TALKING UNDERWATER, online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! I’m curious about something: would you like to stay up-to-date on news about my books as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on that little box right over there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)

no longer on vacation

Damn it.

But it was, as usual, simply wonderful. It’s an exactly perfect vacation: no definite plans, nothing explicit to do, nowhere to go except the beach. Or out for ice cream. So calming and relaxing and peaceful. Kind of exactly counter to my everyday life ... hhhmmmmm. I seriously only now observed this as I was typing it. I should probably give that some thought.

But in the meanwhile, it’s time to unpack. You will not hear me complaining about this at all, because for some reason I really like it. I derive great pleasure from unpacking. And if that’s weird, then I’m weird! (I’m weird. We already know.) The day we return home from vacation and I get to sort, organize and clean up is one of my favorites of the year.

No mystery that this is due to my deep and unending love of being at home. When I’ve been away from it for our 2 week vacation, I walk in and I can really see it: my pretty kitchen counters and the curtains I made from one my grandmother’s old tablecloths and everything that matters to our family arranged intentionally by hand. I love the way my kitchen feels like home. I love the way my kids drift around a bit and then settle in once again, rediscovering. I love knowing that this is our place in this world. I love how it makes me appreciate it even more than before I left it.

And with vacation over, I will get my focus back on novel-writing. Every year I love this shift. I feel energized and renewed. I anticipate the green and heat of summer folding into the color and cool of fall. I’m sitting down at my desk and getting back to work.

I’ve peppered this post with photos I took of our beloved beach town. I hope you enjoy them. Happy Wednesday—it’s good to be back!

 

Find my novels, THE MOSQUITO HOURS and TALKING UNDERWATER, online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! I’m curious about something: would you like to stay up-to-date on news about my books as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on that little box right over there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)

smiling is a poor use of time: the vacation prep blog post

I am 2 days out, people. 2. There is no more time to be clever and cute about this—there’re no spare moments for giggles. Smiling is an utter waste of time. It’s head down and forge forward. At this point in the vacation packing process, there is no time for anything but abject seriousness. Here’s a flashback to what I wrote about packing last year. You can read it while I put things in bags and move the bags around and cross things off the list and add things I forgot to the list and then cross them off also. Enjoy!

Packing is not for amateurs (or husbands)

My vacation master packing list is 6 pages long. There are the “to pack” pages, the grocery list and general shopping list pages, the meal plans page and the crafts-to-do-with-the-kids page. Every year we take the same vacation: 2 weeks at the beach. Before I had kids, I could pack in about an hour and simply get in the car and drive to the vacation. For a few dumb years, I wrote a new list every summer, racking my tender brain-folds to recall everything we would need. Then it occurred to me to type it up, save it and revise it each year. (Duh.) I do the same for my weekly groceries. Yes, I am type A. You didn’t know that already? If you’re new here, welcome!

I start working on the list about 6 weeks before vacation. I start hunting and gathering about 3 weeks before vacation. I start packing the week before vacation. I sleep only 2 hours per night lest I go off task or schedule. I eat once per day. I check and recheck. I am more thorough than the people who pack for the president when he travels. (Although I really have no idea how that works. I’m just assuming.) I forget NOTHING.

Steve (not his real name) on the other hand, packs 7 minutes before we leave. He is relaxed even before we get there. It takes me about 5 days to settle down which is why I need to vacation for 2 weeks. Or maybe forever. That would about do the job. Probably. Despite the brilliancy behind my master packing skills, I think maybe Steve (not his real name) is actually the smart one here ...

This year’s pile so far. SO FAR. Yes, there will be more. We haven’t even added the Nerfs and light sabers yet. Seriously. And we’re pretty much minimalists in our daily life. My “just in case” side clearly beats the shit out my “minimalist” side for vacation.

This year’s pile so far. SO FAR. Yes, there will be more. We haven’t even added the Nerfs and light sabers yet. Seriously. And we’re pretty much minimalists in our daily life. My “just in case” side clearly beats the shit out my “minimalist” side for vacation.

I’m actually in pretty good shape. And, secretly, I really enjoy this process. It’s a part of the fun of vacation. I love observing how every year the master list changes—sometimes markedly, sometimes in more subtle ways. I save each year’s list—one year after another in what is now a 56 page document—so looking back I can view little snapshots of our life as a family. Pack-n-plays, diapers, baby chairs were featured for many years, and then they slipped off the list. Nerfs and headlamps and art supplies have replaced them. It’s a refection of the stages of our life together. This year seems to be a middling kind of year—I didn’t cross off much of anything from the 2015 list. But one big change: the other moms and I did decide to slash our arts/activities plans. Now, let me start by saying that I am a big hands-off kind of mom when it comes to adult-led activities. I think kids benefit fundamentally from creating their own games and art based on their own choices and imagination. That being said, a few vacation craft projects never hurt anyone! This small change means the little kids aren’t so little anymore, and I suppose that is a big change in disguise. Over the last 2 summers, we’ve noticed a significant shift toward independence from the group of kids—they never lack for things to do together. So this year, it’s all about board games and bins of paper and markers and NO PLANS! I love plans more than is probably normal or medically recommended, but this kind of lack of planning is most welcome!

If you are planning your summer vacation, I wish you great success in your packing. You can even go ahead and smile. But only a little—this is still serious.

 

SUMMER BOOK SALE!!! LAST 3 DAYS!!!

There is still time to take advantage of my Talking Underwater summer book sale! For the whopping deal of $9.99 (+$3.00 s&h, media mail), I will send a signed copy directly to your mailbox! Simply visit my order page and we can make this happen. And all new subscribers to my newsletter will be entered to WIN a signed copy chosen by a handy randomizer! All new subscribers who sign up between June 29 and July 15 will be eligible! And I won’t even ask you for the shipping costs! What?! I know. Awesome.

 

Find my novels, THE MOSQUITO HOURS and TALKING UNDERWATER, online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! I’m curious about something: would you like to stay up-to-date on news about my books as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on that little box right over there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)

thursday stew—a random collection of unrelated miscellany

vacation master list

Last year, I shared my use of a vacation master list with you. But it is so stellar in its thoroughness and organization that it deserves annual attention. And as such it shall receive it.

The master list contains several sublists including: shopping—groceries, shopping—other, to-pack, to-do, meal plans for both weeks, art/crafts projects and activities. (If all this bores you like crazy, I’m sorry. If you are really stimulated right now, you totally get me!) I know what you’re thinking: relax. RELAX. But the thing is, I am relaxed because of my thoroughly organized, exhaustive list. Will we forget the Qtips? Check the list. Will we forget the extra bedding? The AAA batteries? The board games? Check the list. Extra bathing suits? What do you think—check the list. What will we eat on the second Tuesday? Check the list. When I get there, I don’t have to think at all for 2 whole weeks. No thinking for 2 entire weeks. No thinking Sunday or Monday or Tuesday or any of the other days. And then again no thinking the week after. NO THINKING. If I gotta be crazy for the 3 weeks prior to the 2 vacation weeks of no thinking, so be it. I’m also crazy ALL the weeks preceding vacation, but that has nothing to do with my stellar vacation master list which is spectacular.

new roof, new chimney and new trim

Boring, boring and boring. Nothing like dropping a crap-ton of money on boring house renovations. A new chimney?!? Nope—it’s not exciting even when you use multiple forms of punctuation. Was this work necessary? Yes. And, yes, no more leaks in the bedroom from the faulty roof. Yes, the chimney won’t topple into the driveway. Yes, no more lead paint flaking off every edge of this old house. Not interesting at all. Could it save a life? Perhaps. I should be grateful this work is being done. I am. Also still bored. And broke.

I don’t claim to be photographer, but even if I were, I doubt there can be any way to take a stimulating photo of a chimney.

I don’t claim to be photographer, but even if I were, I doubt there can be any way to take a stimulating photo of a chimney.

farm box

It’s farm box season! I love the farm box. Have you participated in a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program? It’s wonderful! You buy in during early spring and once the farm begins harvesting, you get a box full of fresh local produce every week. So healthy and delectable, and you’re supporting your local farmer. If you’re like me and neglect and kill houseplants and regularly forget to water living things (kids excluded) and cannot be bothered with plants that need deadheading or anything more complicated than forgetting about them for weeks on end, then you NEED to make friends with your local farmer.

And look! You get weird stuff like garlic scapes with which you have no idea what to do! Then you figure it out and make a fabulous bean dip with them in it and you’re like, I learned something—thanks, farm box!

And look! You get weird stuff like garlic scapes with which you have no idea what to do! Then you figure it out and make a fabulous bean dip with them in it and you’re like, I learned something—thanks, farm box!

exercising and overnight oats

Does anyone call it that anymore? “Exercising?” I guess everyone “works out” now but I still exercise. Not willingly. Well, willingly but not ungrudgingly. I pretty much hate it, but I do it to stay healthy and strong. I’m no spring chicken and I don’t want to lose any flexibility and strength I’ve managed to accumulate thus far. At this point, I can only slide backwards. It’s not going to get better, so it’s all about maintenance. I’ve been doing some cardio (oh, I hate it) and weight-training (like it okay) and I’ve amped-up my yoga practice again (love it). I started this fitness program that advocates I eat 4 cups of veggies everyday. Don’t get me wrong, I love veggies, but 4 cups is a lot. One way I’ve been adding some in is with overnight oats. Have you ever done overnight oats? Just google it—there are approximately a million recipes. I devised one I call Carrot Cake Overnight Oats. Does it taste like carrot cake? What do you think? But the power of suggestion helps a little. Okay, take a cup of shredded carrots, 1/2 cup of rolled oats, half a smooshed banana, a tablespoon each of chia seeds, raisins and chopped almonds, some maple syrup to taste, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice and mix it all up. Now loosen it up with a little milk (of choice) and a 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt. Spoon it into a jar and toss it in the fridge. It will be all soft and yummy in the morning. (You’re welcome.) Pretend it’s cake. Hell, pretend anything you like. It’s your morning.

walks

Do you have a thing you love that you do every day just for you? If not, get something. Preferably something healthy. My thing is my daily walk. I have been doing daily walks for a long, long time. It started when my son was a baby and wouldn’t nap unless he was in motion. I grew to love my walks and continued when my girls were born. Once all the napping came to an end, I’d take my kids out every afternoon to stroll the neighborhood. We had many great adventures. Watched a worm for 20 minutes once. It pooped 4 times. Phenomenal day. Now I walk after supper on my own. You can’t imagine what you notice when you slow down to a walking pace. The scents (there is a tree in front of a neighbor’s house that blooms in spring for about 1 week and the perfume is sublime), the sights (if you stand beneath a grove of trees with the setting sunlight resting atop the leaves, the shades of green become multitudinous), the sounds (your suburban neighborhood is full of a myriad of birds—just stop and listen)—you cannot experience any of this with the speed a car imposes. You need to slow down.

One thing I really like to do when I walk—besides look around and listen and smell—is read. I read almost all of Alice Munro’s books while my kids were napping. People think it’s weird or amazing or possibly stupid (I do get a lot of remarks and funny looks), but it’s much easier than you might think. And aside from the occasional sidewalk trip, it’s really quite safe.

 

SUMMER BOOK SALE!!!

There is still time to take advantage of my Talking Underwater summer book sale! For the whopping deal of $9.99 (+$3.00 s&h, media mail), I will send a signed copy directly to your mailbox! Simply visit my order page and we can make this happen. And all new subscribers to my newsletter will be entered to WIN a signed copy chosen by a handy randomizer! All new subscribers who sign up between June 29 and July 15 will be eligible! And I won’t even ask you for the shipping costs! What?! I know. Awesome.

 

Find my novels, THE MOSQUITO HOURS and TALKING UNDERWATER, online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! I’m curious about something: would you like to stay up-to-date on news about my books as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on that little box right over there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)

 

summer reading and a SUMMER BOOK SALE!

There’s always a good deal of attention given to the concept of the summer-read. But what makes a book a good one for the sunshiny months? For me, it’s something set by a beach, because for me, beach IS summer, and I especially enjoy books set sometime in the past for my summer reads. I like them to dig juicily into character and story. I want to get lost in my summer read.

I know last week marked the first day of summer, but I am still hard at work on my very strict reading schedule, so my summer reads will have to wait a bit longer. Right now I am working through Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier and Some Luck by Jane Smiley. Charles Frazier is not only a great storyteller, he’s also an amazing nature writer. I keep finding myself completely immersed in his descriptions of a tree, a flock of birds, the curve of a mountain trail. I usually have to read those passages twice because they are so startlingly gorgeous. Some Luck is the first part of a trilogy and I adore long stories. Jane Smiley writes these sweeping, deep novels about family and agrarian life. I’ll have these two wrapped up before we leave for our beach vacation, but in many ways they are hitting the summer read mark for me.

Here’s what I’ve gathered so far for vacation reading:

I have a couple more on hold from the library and I just downloaded Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal to my Kindle. I heard him on NPR and I can never resist writers and books that get talked about on NPR, as it is one of my dearest wishes to get talked about on NPR. Or interviewed on NPR. Mentioned in passing. Any reference whatsoever. I’m not greedy.

So what’s so great about summer reading? I think it begins with our natural inclination to slow down during the warm months—the long days and warm breezes, taking time away from work, being outside more (at least for those of us who get buried in snow for the other part of the year). Somehow we appreciate time a little more during summer. And lazing around with a fat novel feels good and indulgent. My family hits the beach every year for our vacation and I love getting up early to a quiet, cool cottage with a book and tea. I love digging my feet in the sand with a book in my hands. Those are my favorite times to read on vacation. I always bring along at least 6 books, because in spite of the assured knowledge I possess that I will never have the time to read 6 books while on vacation, I am an optimist! Also, it’s good to have choices.

So, tell me, what are you reading this summer? My novel, Talking Underwater would be an excellent choice! And wait! What’s this about a summer book sale I mentioned in the blog title in all caps?

SUMMER BOOK SALE!!! (Here it is again!)

Well, let me tell you! I have in my possession a big old box of copies of Talking Underwater and I’m thinking a summer reading sale is in order! For the whopping deal of $9.99 (+$3.00 s&h, media mail), I will send a signed copy directly to your mailbox! Simply visit my order page and we can make this happen. And all new subscribers to my newsletter will be entered to WIN a signed copy chosen by a handy randomizer! All new subscribers who sign up between June 29 and July 15 will be eligible! And I won’t even ask you for the shipping costs! What?! I know. Awesome.

 

Find my novels, THE MOSQUITO HOURS and TALKING UNDERWATER, online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! I’m curious about something: would you like to stay up-to-date on news about my books as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on that little box right over there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)

wednesday stew—a random collection of unrelated miscellany

time-sucks

What are your time-sucks? At one time I would have said Facebook and the cool people probably say things like SnapChat and Instagram and whatever other new and hip social media that’s out there that I have no clue exists. Well it’s none of those for me. Internet recipe hunting and homeschool book selecting are right up there for me—the vortex of book researching is deep, man. But lately my black hole of time loss is counted cross stitch. I’m always like One more row, just one more row, then I’ll stop... I can stop any time I want... but just one more row. I mean it. I’ll go halfway then stop. Maybe I’ll just finish this row. I can stop whenever I want.

Is cross stitching dorky? Perhaps. But not as badly as it could be because this is a Storm Trooper! (I have no empirical evidence that this makes cross stitching any less dorky. It’s more of a hunch.) Cross stitching is very meditative, like knitting or actually meditating, but in the end you have a STORM TROOPER. Hold your envy at bay—you can also aspire to the same heights of coolness. I believe in you. You can find this pattern and many others on Etsy. Beware: Etsy is also a time-suck.

grocery shopping service

There is just a little bit of truth in my joke (haha!) that I don’t really ever want to leave my house which is why I LOVE my local grocery shopping service. Feeding this family is never-ending. They are relentless. All of them; Steve (not his real name) included. The amount of time I spend shopping for food, planning meals, running out for the thing I forgot, running out for the thing we ran out of ALREADY, ARE YOU SERIOUS? and preparing snacks and meals is staggering. These people need to settle it down. But they won’t and that is why I love, love, love the grocery shopping service. I’ve mentioned it before because I love, love, love it. You create this nice little profile with a shopping list and then every time you want groceries you visit your nice little shopping list and click off the things you want and someone gets them for you and brings them to your car. What?! It’s true! Look:

I DO announce my arrival and a nice disembodied voice asks me my name. She’s always so nice.

 

It even works in the rain. I love it beyond measure.

writing discipline

Those 2 words together are very funny! So, I need to write some character sketches for my novel-in-progress. That’s my self-imposed task for this week. When you’re a writer you have to impose tasks on yourself. The thing is you can easily blow yourself off and nothing really bad happens. Like you don’t get a verbal warning or a written warning or fired. No one yells at you or tells you to clear out your desk. You must gather up all your willpower and just do the work. Do the work, man. It does not do itself. You must make it a priority. If you want to be productive, if you want to publish books, you must DO THE WORK. Who am I talking to? You? Is it you? I think I’ll just go do one more row on the Storm Trooper. Really, I will. I will! Just one! Gawd, get off my back!

enormous cans of tomatoes

So, my tenant works at the local food pantry and sometimes they acquire items they can’t give out for one reason or another. Such as the cans are enormous and who in the world could use up this quantity of crushed tomatoes? That’s a very specific example but here’s how I know. She sent me a text, “I have some big cans of tomatoes—do you want some?” I texted back, “Sure. I can always use tomatoes.” Now, when you hear the phrase big cans of tomatoes, do you think of 7lb cans? Neither did I. Now, when you hear the word some, do you think of a dozen? Neither did I. And yet I have a dozen 7lb cans of crushed tomatoes in my back hall. I’ve cooked up several giant batches of sauce and I’ve given a few cans away but it seems as though they are multiplying. If you want a can, or 5, please message me. Please.

These are ridiculously enormous.

These are ridiculously enormous.

You get out there and have a happy Wednesday, now, you hear?

Find my novels, THE MOSQUITO HOURS and TALKING UNDERWATER, online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! I’m curious about something: would you like to stay up-to-date on news about my books as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on that little box right over there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)

broken promises

That has to be an 80’s pop song. I mean if there’s a “Careless Whisper,” there must be some “Broken Promises.” Right? But I’m here today to talk about my broken promises, not George Michael’s. I don’t actually know if he has any. He had the careless whispers, but I can’t speak to his promises, kept or not. I personally do not have any careless whispers that I can recall, but broken promises, yes.

At the beginning of 2016 I made a solemn promise that I would not, under any circumstance, buy a new book for myself until I had read all the books in my to-be-read pile. Behold my shelf of to-be-read books.

I suppose the shelf could be more accurately described as “shelves.

I suppose the shelf could be more accurately described as “shelves.

I possess every intention of reading all these books, however I do not possess endless reading hours. Also, I keep buying news ones and then the pile gets larger and larger and that makes it more difficult to get through it. There’s also my Kindle but we don’t need to discuss that. And then of course the library. Also borrowing books from friends. But I made a solemn promise!

And I did not buy a new book. Alright I did. But it was East of Eden which I’ve never read and the money goes to the Friends of the Library, who do such great things for the library, as good friends should, and I use the library a lot so it’s only right (and friendly) that I also contribute. But then I was at Whole Foods one day and they had some used books for sale and the proceeds went to a very noble cause. I have mailed away for just a few from PaperBack Swap, but technically those are swaps, so I don’t think they count. So far this year, I’ve only broken my promise an estimated 6-8 times. Books I check out of the library do not count. I estimate only 12-15 of those. (My estimates are typically 85% accurate.)

All things considered, I’ve done better than I have in other years when I have made this same solemn promise. I swear in general I am better at promises. For instance, I have been faithfully married to Steve (not his real name) for going on 15 years. And if you tell me a secret I WILL NOT tell anyone. I’m like a vault. Not only because I forget things all the time, either. I have a spot in my brain that is literally a vault. Steve (not his real name) will love that. Misuse of the word “literally” drives him mental. Literally. But there is literally a vault in my brain where I lock up my friends’ deepest secrets. I even have a little key. Maybe I mean figuratively ... 

Bottom line: I cannot do this no-buying-new-books thing.

So since it’s clear that I’m not bothering with that solemn promise, we can move right on to more enjoyable topics, such as you must be dying to know what I’m reading, right? Since the beginning of the year, I’ve read The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (lovely), Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders by Julianna Baggott (incredibly clever plotting and her website is awesome), Georgia by Dawn Tripp (a poignant and rich novelization of Georgia O’Keeffe’s relationship with Alfred Stieglitz done up in gorgeous prose). I reread The Shipping News by Annie Proulx for the 8th time. It’s most likely my favorite novel, which for me is like choosing a favorite child. You CAN do it if you are really pressed, but people frown on it. Wait, that’s actual children. It’s just very hard for me to pick a favorite novel. The reviews on Amazon for this book are hilarious. People either love it with unchecked passion or hate it beyond reason. I read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey in January and, oh lordy, I swoon for it. It was one of those times when I mourned the closing of the back cover. The prose was melodic without distracting from the narrative—a perfect balance. She has a new book coming out in August and I cannot wait. It’s in my planner. (Yeah, I’m gonna buy it.) The story was both realistic and speculative in equal parts and somehow that worked perfectly. Just last week I wrapped up Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera. Oh, this book! A jewel—every sentence sings with imagery, visceral and lush. It’s sad but beautiful. She has a new book out and I'm planning on it for my summer vacation read. (Yeah, I’m gonna buy it.)

I’ve abandoned a few—I have no trouble with this. I used to finish anything I started, like some kind of hero. As John Irving says, “Grown-ups shouldn’t finish books they’re not enjoying.” I took his advice and stopped reading his latest. It just wasn’t doing it for me.

Right now I am really into Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I read Arcadia, her last book, too and loved it. Her characters are so round and full and leaving her books is like saying goodbye to friends. I’m also reading After Birth by Elisa Albert, whose website is super-cool. I’m not sure about the book yet—the protagonist is grating and kind of unlikeable, her voice harsh. I haven’t decided yet whether I dislike her enough to say goodbye—I still want to see what happens to her. We’ll see.

I recently downloaded Modern Mrs. Darcy’s reading journal. I gave a copy to my 14 year-old niece and I wish so much that I’d been keeping track of my reading since I was a kid. If you sign up for Modern Mrs. Darcy’s newsletter, she will send you the journal to download! I have a list of books I want to read, but I won’t promise not to buy them until those up there on the shelf(ves) are read. You wouldn’t believe me if I did. I do not blame you.

BONUS BLOG MATERIAL!

I know?! Awesome, right? How many blogs provide bonus material? Just me as far as I know. Which isn’t terribly far, but still. Here’s the 80‘s song about broken promises that’s been floating around the edges of my tender brain folds ever since I started thinking about broken promises. 

Why is he in jail? High concept 80‘s videos—so cerebral. Bonus material WITH mullet and indecipherable metaphor? This is what they call value added, people. You should probably tell all your friends to subscribe to my newsletter. I’m just suggesting. I mean if you’re a good friend. Like the Friends of the Library. They really get what friendship is all about. And their weekly book sales are fabulous.

Find my novels, THE MOSQUITO HOURS and TALKING UNDERWATER, online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! I’m curious about something: would you like to stay up-to-date on news about my books as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on that little box right over there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)

questionable book-pushing

Good mothers will do anything for their children. (Even mediocre mothers will do some things. I know this for a fact.) My mother is really good and will do anything and even somewhat questionable things for her children. She reads my books in airports and on subways, making sure her fingers cover neither my name nor the title of the book. She nearly cripples herself with hand cramps in order to strategically hold the book for best possible sighting. She also keeps a stash of my books in her trunk and sells them to whomever she can push them on. My mother does equally loving things for my sister, lest I’ve falsely led you to believe she plays favorites with her children. Chief among them was the time she sewed a penis costume with removable foreskin for an anti-circumcision rally my sister—a midwife—was attending. There’s no pattern for that kind of thing, people—you have to make that shit up from scratch. My mom possesses many talents and a deep, deep (seemingly bottomless) sense of adventurism.

Last month she attended a wake for an elder from her church. This woman was very kind, very involved in the church and parish school and was known and loved by many. My mother sold 6 of my books. At the wake. Also, this woman was a nun. A mother’s love knows no boundaries. It’s a singular, beautiful thing.

(As my social skills are somewhat less advanced than my mother’s, I can only imagine the boundaries I will cross to benefit my children over the course of their lives ... )

Me and Mom and Sister. Mom made those vests. (Disclaimer: Not a recent photo.)

Me and Mom and Sister. Mom made those vests. (Disclaimer: Not a recent photo.)

Book marketing and publicizing is difficult and time-consuming and comes with a huge learning curve. I’m not good at it in the least, I never, ever have enough time for anything and I’ve not yet mastered the curve. I’ve not yet really made it onto the curve. I’m at the very edge of the curve sort of looking at it sideways from a long distance. So I’m grateful for my mom’s efforts. She’s better at this than I am for sure.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this riddle lately. I mean, I have 2 books out there, so how to get them found in the haystack that is the literary world? There is a deluge blogs and books to help a writer with this challenge and honestly, so many of the ideas require ample time commitments that I simply don’t have to give. And many of the other ideas have to do with social media and Amazon algorithms and things that seem math-y. Math is horrible. It is one thing I will NOT do for my kids. I make them do the math. (Similarly to my mom and book-pushing, they’re much better at it.)

I’ve been chatting with a publicist of late and she’s going to help me get a game plan together. I like blogging and I like interacting with people, so I am going to keep my eye on that. It takes a village to get a book found. And it feels a lot more authentic to me to focus on relationships than algorithms or tweeting. (Also I do not understand Twitter. It seems math-y. It probably isn’t but I’m taking no chances until my kids check it out.)

Happy Wednesday, and I hope you are not having to do anything math-y today! Unless you want to, although I don't know why you would. You can just make your kids do that. And if you like, say hello right down there in the comments—it's less math-y than tweeting!

Find my novels, THE MOSQUITO HOURS and TALKING UNDERWATER, online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! I’m curious about something: would you like to stay up-to-date on news about my books as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on that little box right over there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)

hibernating

I never want to leave my house again.

I’m just kidding. (Not completely.) But it’s nothing too serious—I’m just hibernating. And there is really nothing I don’t love about it.

As if staying home 90% of the time were not magical enough, I discovered that my local grocery store has a to-go service. You go on the webs and click on the products you need and they collect all of it from inside the store and bag it up for you and bring it to your car at a time you choose. You neither need to leave your car nor step foot into the store. What?! It’s as though this were designed expressly for me! Thank you, Hannaford. You have, as always, my undying love.

This is how I experience the outside world now.

This is how I experience the outside world now.

So, why the all-powering desire to stay home?

Well, the 2015 summer, fall and early winter proved to be long, long, long. Really stinkin’ long in that emotionally draining sort of way, followed by a straight-out busy sort of way. Okay, long story short (as if such a thing were possible ... ) we decided to move out of my grandmother’s house and back to our property out of town (100 miles away) in part because managing a property from 100 miles away is very stressful, and people who rent your house are either absolutely wonderful or totally weird, and when we got word that one of our tenants thought another the other was running a prostitution ring upstairs (I swear) we sort of just thought it might be a good idea to go back. We found no evidence of a prostitution ring but honestly I don’t 100% know what I’d be looking for even though before I had kids I used to watch CSI like crazy. (The Vegas one. The Florida one is ridiculous.) So I got the apartment professionally cleaned and let it go. Hookers aside, the decision to leave my grandmother's house and move away from family and friends was really painful. Luckily, a wonderful family (you know who you are!) has moved in and they love the house and are really sweet to my parents next door, and Mem’s house is being loved and lived-in and I am really happy about it! Even so, it was really, really hard. Then once the decision was made to move, there was the packing, the packing, the packing. The PACKING. Have you done this? I’ve done this lots of times and yet I always forget how difficult it is. Like labor. Which I never have to do again. I know we’ll move again but by then I’ll have forgotten how difficult it is. Anyhow, we moved the day after Thanksgiving (exactly) and then there was the unpacking (sigh) and Christmas and then it was January and all I wanted to do was stay home and not do any work whatsoever. Oh, and I forgot to mention, I published a book somewhere all up in there, too. So right now: hibernation.

You do too much. Go and do nothing for a while. Nothing. Lillian Hellman (I have taken this advice very seriously.)

Evidence of such: I started writing this post about 6 weeks ago with the intention of ending the hibernation at the time, so it seems that process took a bit longer than I had anticipated in spite of Punxsutawney Phil’s February prediction...

But I’m happy to announce that I am emerging like a beautiful butterfly! It was 70 degrees today and I think I’m ready to put this winter behind me. There are so many things banging around in my head to share with you—and I will! Stay tuned! (You must be so excited!)

Find my novels, THE MOSQUITO HOURS and TALKING UNDERWATER, online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! I’m curious about something: would you like to stay up-to-date on news about my books as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on that little box right over there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)

the awkward post

How much do you talk? Because, oh my stars, I talk SO MUCH. Sometimes with verbal expressions I imagine a Southerner might use, y'all. I don't even always mean to talk so much. Do you know what I'm talking about? This unceasing chatter that some of us spout to restrain our general awkwardness to arms' length. Or—wait—perhaps exacerbate our general awkwardness? Hmmm... Oh, dagnabbit...

(Is it awkward to have brought all of this this up?)

There are times when I do mean to talk a lot and that is often with my sister. I mention her not for the sake of making idle chatter to keep my awkwardness at bay, but because our relationship inspired my new novel, Talking Underwater, which is OUT! (Awkward segue? Sure, why not! Might as well.) Here it can be found on Amazon and here on Barnes and Noble and never forget your local independent bookstore.

This past Sunday I celebrated the official launch of Talking Underwater with some dear old friends and family, some recent friends and some brand new friends at Partners Village Store in Westport, Massachusetts—the often, though unnamed explicitly, setting for much of my fiction. Partners provided a beautiful backdrop on a gorgeous September day. Many thanks to all at Partners, especially Lisa and Laura, and to everyone who came out!

You may have noticed that my glasses are perched on my head. (Or not, that’s okay—no pressure.) In 7th grade it was discovered that I was nearsighted. I probably was for a lot longer than that, but you grow accustomed to being semi-blind—the human body is beautiful and mysterious. I used to wear my glasses all the time—to be able to see distances (I mean 12" away from my face), when I was reading, to recognize people across parking lots, etc. Funny story, and not even unrelated, which is not always the case with me—I just said that I used to wear my glasses all the time, but that's not entirely true. In high school I was too vain to wear my glasses unless I absolutely had no other choice. That did not include walking in the halls inadvertently ignoring my friends, or geometry class (I was never gonna understand that shit anyway), or collecting shopping carriages at my job at the grocery store. I could conduct entire conversations with people who seemed to know me from several rows of parking spaces away without being able to identify them. Or driving. My wonderful sister used to navigate as my seeing-co-pilot. "Stop sign!" "Pedestrians!" "Tree!" I’ve outgrown vanity and now, truly, wear my glasses all the time. But I’m getting old and my eyes won’t focus close-up if I’m wearing my glasses, so I need to remove them in order to read. Also, I am somewhat terrified—I mean entirely terrified—of public-speaking and when I’m not wearing my glasses, everyone is all nice and blurry. It calms me. People tell me I should get laser surgery on my eyes, but I say NO. I say it loud and proud and in bold typeface. I count on having the option of my world being fuzzy and soft and nonthreatening. It’s so much nicer than those with 20/20 vision could ever imagine. I’ll keep my shitty eyesight, and I thank you very much ( à la Scarlett O’Hara. Or Elvis. Both qualify as Southern).

And so comes to an end my most recent blog post. It’s been awkward. You know what else is awkward besides my general demeanor? Writing a blog post when you haven't in some time. Apparently. Yeah. I'm so very sorry about that...

 

Find my novels, THE MOSQUITO HOURS and TALKING UNDERWATER, on Amazon, BarnesAndNoble.com or order it directly from the publisher. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! I’m curious about something: would you like to stay up-to-date on news about my books as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on that little box right over there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)