thursday stew: a random collection of unrelated miscellany—the pre-vacation edition

We leave for our annual summer vacation at the beach in several short days and I am excited! Also, totally freaked out as I have a trillion things to do before Saturday. Here’s a little round-up of the pre-vacation goings-on around here.

Packing is not for amateurs (or husbands)

This is my vacation master packing list. It 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 after my kids were born, 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 ...

Like I'd ever forget my green tea...

Here is a little excerpt from my soon-to-be-released novel, Talking Underwater, wherein the main character, Amy, and her sister, Heather, prepare for their 2 week vacation at the beach:

“Have you started making your vacation list yet?” Heather whispered to Amy.

“Vacation is not for three more weeks,” Amy whispered back.

She cocked her head, raised one raised eyebrow and peered at Amy in the low-lit room. They sat on the carpeted floor of the mezzanine above the grand ballroom of the Copley Plaza Hotel.

“Okay, yes, I have,” Amy admitted.

“I knew it! Can I borrow it? You never forget anything.”

“I’ll print a copy for you.”

“Because of course you have it saved on your computer,” she said and giggled at Amy.

“Shhh!” Amy said and then laughed because they weren’t supposed to. They got up and stumbled to the bathroom where they laughed loudly.

“Oh, shit, we better hope that bride didn’t hear us!” Amy said.

“No way. That chuppah is completely insulated with fifteen thousand dollars worth of hydrangeas.”

They went back to the mezzanine and watched the groom break the cloth-wrapped glass. Kisses and mazel tov! and the guests were whisked to a different room for cocktails while hotel and event staff poured into the ballroom like ants to sugar. They worked fast, transforming the room from formal ceremony to dining and dancing grandeur.

When the room was ready, Amy, Heather and the other event staff went to a bar around the corner for snacks and a beer or two to wait out the wedding when they’d head back over to clear it all away.

When she got home, before she crawled into bed to curl up next to Matt after peeking in on her sleeping girls, she printed off a copy of her master vacation planning list for Heather.

“You can laugh at me all you want, but what would you do without me?” she’d asked her sister earlier.

Heather had put an arm around Amy’s shoulder. “Honestly, I have no idea.”

Summer Homeschool (is a joke)

Look at all the wonderful materials I lovingly and painstakingly researched and gathered for our summer homeschool studies! All of which we have not cracked in weeks. Why do I think we’re ever going to do schoolwork when there’s a perfectly good beach right up the road? Why in the world would we do that? I’m not entirely certain this is an appropriate point of view for a homeschooling mother to possess. Or maybe it’s perfect?

(I’ll save these for fall.)

Summer reading (if I had 80 uninterrupted hours)(I do not)

Look at all the books! Just look at this delectable, wonderful pile of books. Am I taking all of these on vacation? Yes. Can I possibly read all of them? Absolutely! If I ignore my kids. So, I suppose no then ... So why am I taking all of them? Exactly. But in all seriousness, you can really never have too many books in your possession. I mean on your person. That’s what your pocketbook, your reusable grocery bag, your fanny pack and the like are for, people. Books save lives. I don't know if that's literally true, but I'll bet that somewhere, sometime a book saved someone's life. Perhaps metaphorically, but saving is saving. And you never know what's going to happen. It’s better to be safe than sorry. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Keep on keep on keep on keep it keep on dancing all through the night. Just make sure you have at least one book on your person at all times is what I'm suggesting. Or if you are really serious about this, 3.

I’m also breathlessly awaiting the arrival of a new homeschooling book in the mail and I’m going to take that one along, too. I also won’t get that one read. You just keep trying, though. YOU. KEEP. TRYING.

This is NOT a desk. (Or is it?)

You know how I told you I spend 85% of my time in the kitchen? Well, that might have been a bit of an exaggeration because evidently this is my desk now.

THIS is supposed to be my desk. But evidently it’s not. It’s actually my Mem’s old sewing machine table. But it’s supposed to be my desk. Facts of my life. I hope they interest you.

The aforementioned is actually Mem’s super-cool round end table. There are two. One is at the end of the couch and holds a lamp and sometimes the tv remote. This one is a desk. Or not. No, it seems to be.

Okay, I have 14 more hours of packing so I’d better get to it. I’ll see you in 2 weeks! Happy summer!

*~~*

Find my novel, The Mosquito Hours, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or order it directly from the publisher. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! Look for my next novel, Talking Underwater, to be publisher in September 2015. Question: 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.)

when organizing the spice cabinet takes on earth-shattering importance

My kitchen is never so clean as when I’m editing a novel during which time I am able to find so very many other things to do rather than buckle down and get the book edited. What things? Well, things such as making sure the dishes that have air-dried on the drainer are put away. Is there an urgency to this task? Why no, there’s not! And the counters cleared of all detritus. Take out the kitchen scraps bowl to the compost bin! And have I checked the orderliness of my spice cabinet recently? No, as a matter of fact, I have not! How about the tea? There are a lot of boxes of tea—surely those require immediate attention. Why do I focus my attention on the kitchen? Most likely because 85% of my life is lived out of the kitchen. I’m actually only allowed out of the kitchen to sleep and shower. Lucky for me there is a half-bath off the kitchen because I’m not clear on what my les toilettes privileges are. (Everything sounds less crass in French. I guess unless you’re in France. Unless you are in France and don’t speak French. Then everything sounds classy.) Anyhow, when I’m editing a book, I can’t seem to stay out of the kitchen even though I’m actually being allowed out of it. As I’ve mentioned before, I should write a book about procrastination methods, of which I am capable of devising a-many. Mostly when I’m supposed to be editing.

I’ve relayed the sordid story of the genesis of Talking Underwater. (It’s somewhat less sordid than the word “sordid” implies. But a good story. Or somewhat less good than “good” implies. It is what it is, people.) This book has been a particular challenge to edit because it’s been with me for so long. When you write novels, you sort of lose the ability to see your current manuscript clearly at some certain, yet tenuous, point and you then wake at 3:00 in the morning in a cold panic worrying about putting it out into the world. Is it ready? Is it good? Will people like it? Is such-and-such character believable/foolish/too much like [INSERT CLOSE FRIEND WHO MIGHT NEVER SPEAK TO YOU AGAIN IF SO]? Will it send you flowers on Mother’s Day or some crummy dollar store card? Or (gasp) NOTHING?!

When I relayed my angst to my sister, she summed it up perfectly:

I understand. You just have been with it for way too long. Let it go like a child that just might become a meth addict but more than likely will be fine ...

As a writer, you care so much about each word and the meaning you are attempting to put forth on the page. You spend such a great deal of time with the characters that they feel real—they are real—and you just want to be certain you express them exactly right. And the dedication to ensuring all this makes it difficult to push the novel out of the nest. Hence the 3:00 in the morning angst and the spice shuffling.

I keep it real on this blog, folks. Fears, insecurities, les toilettes privileges (even though I’m still not clear on those)—everything. But Talking Underwater is going to fly. One more round of edits to go! And I think this child of mine is going to do just fine. I can’t wait to share it with you!

 

Find my novel, THE MOSQUITO HOURS, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or order it directly from the publisher. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! And 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.)

Beach Reading: an interview with Nancy Thayer

One fine day in April, I was surprised and thrilled to find an email with an opportunity to read Nancy Thayer's latest novel, The Guest Cottage, and then interview her. Nancy is the author of 2 dozen novels and if you enjoy a good beach read, I encourage you to check out her work! Not only are her books the kind that are fun to read with legs stretched out in the sand, but they are often set on Nantucket where she lives. Nancy KNOWS the beach!

Want to know what you'll find in The Guest Cottage? Well, here you go:

"Sensible thirty-six-year-old Sophie Anderson has always known what to do. She knows her role in life: supportive wife of a successful architect and calm, capable mother of two. But on a warm summer night, as the house grows quiet around her and her children fall asleep, she wonders what’s missing from her life. When her husband echoes that lonely question, announcing that he’s leaving her for another woman, Sophie realizes she has no idea what’s next. Impulsively renting a guest cottage on Nantucket from her friend Susie Swenson, Sophie rounds up her kids, Jonah and Lacey, and leaves Boston for a quiet family vacation, minus one.

Also minus one is Trevor Black, a software entrepreneur who has recently lost his wife. Trevor is the last person to imagine himself, age thirty and on his own, raising a little boy like Leo—smart and sweet, but grappling constantly with his mother’s death, growing more and more closed off. Hoping a quiet summer on the Nantucket coast will help him reconnect with Leo, Trevor rents a guest house on the beautiful island from his friend Ivan Swenson.

Best-laid plans run awry when Sophie and Trevor realize they’ve mistakenly rented the same house. Still, determined to make this a summer their kids will always remember, the two agree to share the Swensons’ Nantucket house. But as the summer unfolds and the families grow close, Sophie and Trevor must ask themselves if the guest cottage is all they want to share."

Many, many thanks to Nancy Thayer! And here's the interview!

Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo: What inspired The Guest Cottage?

Nancy Thayer: When my first novel was published, I was a divorced mother with two young children, much like Sophia, and I often felt like a table with three legs. Thirty-two years ago I came to Nantucket to visit a friend, and I also met Charley. Wow! We’ve been married for thirty years now, so I can truthfully say this island inspires romance. I have several good friends who have met their husbands here, too. One good friend told the man who wanted to date her: “You don’t want to date me. I can’t have children.” He said, “That’s great! I’m adopted, and I’ve always wanted to adopt.” This is true. They’re married and have adopted. That love-at-first-sight stuff gives me goose bumps every time.

MCD: In reading The Guest Cottage, the themes of big life changes, family and Nantucket as a character itself emerge. These often crop up in your work—what draws you to explore these ideas?

NT: I’ve always wanted to write about family, because I believe the family is the center of the world and holds the world together. Yet living in a family is hard work, sometimes exhausting. What we, especially women, moms, do every day is nothing short of heroic, and at least as valuable to the world as killing someone in a war. I wish the evening news had a section called “Another Family Survived the Day.” The screen would show a mom whose jeans have gotten too tight from stress eating lifting a screaming toddler from a grocery cart as her four-year-old accidentally pushes the cart over her foot. The mom would ignore her foot, soothe the baby, kiss her four-year-old, buckle the children into their car seats, and hand them all a sippy cup of water and a small box of crackers. She would sneakily eat a bar of chocolate as she drove.

MCD: What is your motivation when you sit down to write? What is it that you set out to do?

NT: First of all, I want to tell a good story. A good story saves the day every time. I want that woman with the screaming toddler to climb into bed with a cup of hot chocolate and my book, and to feel like she’s reading about her best friend. I want her to laugh, and cry, and be encouraged and inspired for the next day.

MCD: You've published many novels in your career—how do you maintain the momentum?

NT: I often joke that it’s OCD, and maybe it is. I don’t seem to run out of ideas, and right now I have a marvelous editor who nurtures and inspires me. I couldn’t keep working like this if I didn’t have a great husband who does his own laundry and cooks his own meals—these are not little matters. I used to get snail mail and now I get real mail from women who have been nurtured by one of my novels, and their kind words are like rocket fuel to me.

MCD: What do you feel is your greatest contribution to women's literature? What draws you to the genre?

NT: My novel Stepping, about a young woman who married a divorced man with two children, then had two children of her own, was published in 1980. Before Oprah. Back when divorce, step-parenting, second wives, were all frowned upon. Stepping was a huge success. I received dozens of letters. Since then, I’ve continued to write about families, friends, children, and my greatest contribution is that I’ve written about “ordinary” women with “ordinary” challenges. I think I’ve chronicled my kind of life, not one with gems, yachts and princes, but our beautiful, amazing, ordinary life.

MCD: How do you think you have evolved creatively?

NT: Thirty years ago, before the Internet, people had more time to sit and read. My books are faster paced now, just like people’s lives.

About Nancy Thayer (from her website):

Nancy Thayer is the author of twenty-three novels, including Summer House, The Hot Flash Club, Beachcombers, Heat Wave, Summer Breeze, and Island Girls.

Her books concern the mysteries and romance of families and relationships: marriage and friendships, divorce and love, custody and step parenting, family secrets and private self-affirmation, the quest for independence and the normal human hunger for personal connections.

Nancy Thayer has a B.A. and M.A. in English literature from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. She was a Fellow at the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference. She has lived on Nantucket Island year-round for twenty-eight years with her husband Charley Walters. Her daughter is the novelist Samantha Wilde.

friday stew—a random collection of unrelated miscellany

strict deadlines

Each and every week my intention is to post on Wednesday. Or at least by Thursday. Then sometimes it ends up being Friday—the very latest. But Wednesday is my official, firm posting day. The week before last, I missed my very strict deadline of Wednesday. Also Thursday. And then also Friday. I am nothing if not utterly clear about my commitments. And then I didn’t post for another Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. Also another Wednesday and Thursday. See how this strict deadline thing works? Exactly. It’s Friday and here is the blog post right on schedule. See? Another strict deadline I have is for Talking Underwater which is due to the publisher on March 1 which is my excuse for not blogging more regularly. It may not be the perfect excuse but it’s all I’ve got.

organizing systems

I’ve been thinking that maybe if I could surmise the perfect organizing system, then I could keep it all going and my strict deadlines will be unfailingly met. I have tried many-a system. Date books, daily and weekly planners, apps on my Mac, apps on my Mac that pair with my iPhone, notebooks with lines, notebooks without lines, 8.5 x 11 binders, 5.5 x 8.5 binders, pieces of scrap paper in a pile with crap written all over them. These were all supposed to to make my life completely organized. Can you guess whether or not they did? But I have discovered that the perfect system is accepting that there is no perfect system. Nothing’s gonna rein this shit in. But I do find that making lists soothes me so I created a printable to-do list. It’s sorted into things to do right away, things to do soon and things to do eventually. I can revise my lists any time. I also use a printable blank monthly calendar, one I can screw all up by accident and then print out a fresh one and make it pretty again! I use this one, but if you don't like it, there are tons on the world wide web. I can’t figure out everything for you.

socks

Socks used to make me absolutely mental. If ever I were to find a single sock and not its buddy, I would go batshit nuts looking for it. And muttering. Lots of muttering about how no one but me cared about the socks. The knowledge of the lost sock would weigh on me, unsettling me until it was located. But seriously—if I don’t care about the socks, who’s going to care about the socks? You know who? I’ll tell you: NO ONE. And if all the socks go missing, then what? What the hell are we going to do then? What will happen if there are no more socks? Target as well as several other trustworthy retailers carry brand new socks. But that is not the point. What is the point? I don’t remember. I just really hate it when socks get lost. Oh, I just remembered my point: I’ve decided to stop going mental about socks. It’s just not worth it. I feel like Buddha.

weird stuff around my house

What do you think is happening on the couch? Whatever it is, it certainly has captivated their attention. I hope it ends peacefully. I don’t really like that couch but I hate war.

These photos are only weird because the room is so clean. It's because my kids were away for a few days with my parents. The room will look like this next pic within 2 hours of their return. They are maniacs. But in a good way.

This is the snow in my yard. *SIGH* That is a octagonal picnic table. It might be hexagonal. I can't remember. It’s not weird, it’s just ENOUGH ALREADY!! Not the table—the snow.

Have a very happy Friday!

*****************************************************************************************************************Find my novel, The Mosquito Hours, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or order it directly from the publisher. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! And 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.)

big snow, little snow

We just made it through a blizzard—a classic New England Nor’easter. The storm spun up from the south then curved north then east—over and over. And over. These storms produce a lot of snow (2 to 3 feet) and high winds. I heard they clocked 75 mph gusts on Nantucket. This one spun from 2:00 pm Monday and kept on spinning until Wednesday morning. It’s the first big storm of the season down here where I live. Time will tell, but it might just be the only one all year. Some years you get 2 feet of snow over the course of a few storms and other years you get 2 feet all at once.

When winter begins, you just don’t know how it’s gonna fall out.

  All the stuff we didn’t need since the power—much to my children's disappointment—did NOT go out. Took about 2 collective hours of waiting in lines for all of it. With 3 kids.   SIGH  .

All the stuff we didn’t need since the power—much to my children's disappointment—did NOT go out. Took about 2 collective hours of waiting in lines for all of it. With 3 kids. SIGH.

Something like the manuscript I’m working on right now. However, it’s been more a matter of twelve or thirteen winters with the accumulation of 27 feet of snow. Some big storms, some little. A blizzard of words or minor flurries.

This book—Talking Underwater—has been a long time coming.

I started writing it when I was in graduate school in Colorado. It has a simple beginning: I missed my sister and I missed my favorite beach. (Well, all beaches since Colorado runs short on them, but especially my beach.) I wrote some little pieces and my peers really liked the work. I kept building on it and used it as part of my Master’s Thesis. I kept writing until it was something pretty much whole. So this novel is the first I ever wrote and first novels are too often like first pancakes: you usually screw up the first pancake. I have gone through so many drafts on this novel. So many people have read it and given me feedback. I have given up on it numerous times. But it keeps calling to me. And many of the good people who have read it keep asking when it will be published.

Well, we have a date! July 2015!

  That’s how the window looked during the storm. (This is definitely the best photo caption of this blog post.)

That’s how the window looked during the storm. (This is definitely the best photo caption of this blog post.)

Which means I officially have to finish writing it. Which means I officially have to stop procrastinating. Or, as I like to call it, cleaning. Organizing and reorganizing, decluttering, tidying, a little DIY-ing. (Checking the thesaurus for as many synonyms for “cleaning” as I can find.) Pretty much anything that can be cleaned up, put away, put somewhere else, purged or scrubbed is getting some kind of treatment. Also blogging. Another great way to procrastinate. I should write a post about all the best ways to procrastinate ...

Why am I procrastinating? Isn’t writing something I love? I never claimed to be uncomplicated, people. That’s why. Exactly. Okay, I am officially stopping all this and any unnecessary cleaning and I am getting back to editing Talking Underwater. I truly am so excited to share this story with you. I will be doling out details here and there in the next few months as I bring this book to life and into your hands!

  That’s about halfway through the storm. (This photo caption is also pretty good. But not as good as the last one.)

That’s about halfway through the storm. (This photo caption is also pretty good. But not as good as the last one.)

*****************************************************************************************************************

Find my novel, The Mosquito Hours, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or order it directly from the publisher. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! And 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 last several months in brief in the style of thursday stew—a random collection of unrelated miscellany

So you may (or may not) have noticed that I didn’t blog for, like, all of fall and through Thanksgiving and Christmas. I won’t bore you with all my very good excuses. So in lieu of that, today I’m going to catch you up on the several exciting things that happened during my absence. You may (or may not) find the descriptor “exciting” accurate.

I got a job! I am now a Library Assistant (capitalized) at my local neighborhood library 12 hours per week. You know, because I wasn’t working at all before. The homeschooling, homemaking, cooking, meal planning, shopping, managing all household minutia, writing novels, blogging, promoting novels (not capitalized) was just stuff I was doing to pass the time. Let me tell you about my job. I check out books and check in books and help people find books, I shelve books, I read books I am supposed to be shelving, I borrow more books than ever. (I know?! Really? you’re thinking. I’m more out of control than ever before!) I think I want to be a Staff Librarian (also capitalized) someday when my kids get older. They work 40 hours per week. And have benefits. And retirement plans. The great thing is now that I have this job, I don’t have to do all that other stuff. (Yes, I do.) 

  Even though I have told myself—repeatedly   and   sternly—that I needed to remember to take a picture of the library to use in this post, I have then forgotten almost immediately after the thought formed itself in my tender brain folds. Where do the thoughts go? I mean, their inception is in the same place from which they also disappear. How is that possible? I got this pic from a royalty-free photo site. It’s not my library; it’s the Royal Portuguese Library in Brazil. But you get the idea.

Even though I have told myself—repeatedly and sternly—that I needed to remember to take a picture of the library to use in this post, I have then forgotten almost immediately after the thought formed itself in my tender brain folds. Where do the thoughts go? I mean, their inception is in the same place from which they also disappear. How is that possible? I got this pic from a royalty-free photo site. It’s not my library; it’s the Royal Portuguese Library in Brazil. But you get the idea.

So, I have been doing a little overhaul on the family eating habits—making sure veggies and protein are the primary focus, cutting back on the grains and dairy. It started simply enough as a fitness challenge I did during the fall. I lost, like, 8 pounds without even trying and I feel really good. So with dairy as one of the foods I am trying to avoid, I have had to really think about my beloved green tea latté whose base is milk. This, I know, is shocking news. It’s okay. It’s all going to be okay. So how have I been doing with it? Not so good on kicking that habit. (Which is pretty much why everything is okay.) So, I have been working on a new green tea latté recipe. As we know, the homemade almond milk green tea latté turned out AWFUL. Undrinkable. I could not drink it. It was not drinkable. So, I decided to do a mix of coconut milk, almond milk and a splash of water and see how that went. It was pretty good. I had a raging cold at the time so my tastebuds were not 100%, but I’m pretty sure it was at the very least palatable. I am hoping it will taste as good as I think on a day when I can breathe through my nose. I’ll let you know.

Getting your first novel some shelf space in the bookstores is a real challenge. Partners Village Store is my local bookseller and not only have they graciously agreed to carry my book, but they have this amazing local section that highlights the work of local authors. The Mosquito Hours is doing really well there and I am very grateful and excited! I’m going to be joining another local author this coming Sunday, January 25th, for a reading and book signing. If you are local, please come on down and say hello! If not, there are things like trains and planes and what-not. Just sayin’.

In November, I attended a book club meeting with some lovely women in Fall River. They read my book and then graciously invited me to join them for dinner and conversation about The Mosquito Hours. One of the things about being a writer is that you’re alone with your own brain quite a lot. Your brain and your stories and your characters. And sometimes you forget that there is a whole wide world of actual people outside of your own brain. Really—there is! Then you meet them and they are so nice and lots of fun and you wonder why you don’t get out more. Then you remember you’re an introvert and that was enough excitement for a while. If YOU would like to have a live, bonafide author at one of YOUR book club meetings, here’s a handy form for you. If I haven’t hit my quota of unnecessary social interactions for a singular time period, I’ll totally come. (You’re welcome.)

Since we last encountered one another, I have sewn up Cowie several more times, clocking in even more hours at the endeavor to keep this damn cow whole. Or some semblance of wholeness. The closet thing possible. (It’s growing ever-more difficult.) I’ve gone beyond the point of hoping for anything resembling cow normalcy. Normal is overrated anyhow. And, yes, this is the finished product.

Have a terrific Thursday!

**********************************************************************************************************************************

Find my novel, The Mosquito Hours, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or order it directly from the publisher. And don’t forget your local independent bookstore! And 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.)

 

gettin’ back to the diy

We moved a year ago this week and after all the work we did to prep our house for selling and then moving into a new one, I was so over diy projects. I was also so over moving stuff and fixing stuff and painting stuff and walls or anything else. What else would one paint? I do not know, but I was SO OVER it and I just stopped painting things. Now it’s been a year and I am feeling the diy itch. And for that there’s only one cure.

Gettin' back to it.

As such, I’ve decided to revamp our workroom. Let me just say that there is more to this project than my uncontrollable diy urges—I think it’s important to shake up the kids’ environment now and then. It helps them once again see all that is available to them. From a few new angles, they remember that we have games they love and books they’ve forgotten about.

 Our workroom.

Our workroom.

A big problem in this room is all the blond wood. I mean, this is MY problem, but still, it’s a problem. No one else around here considers this a problem. But I am SO OVER blond wood.

 Blond wood.

Blond wood.

I think most people were over it, like, maybe 7 years ago and I am not cool enough to have noticed. I honestly have no idea when it happened.

 Blond wood. Mismatched cubbies.

Blond wood. Mismatched cubbies.

At any rate, I am over it and almost everything in this room is blond. But it’s not enough to simply choose a new stain color. Nope. That would be a little too easy. So I am going to decoupage fabric to the art table-tops and stools. Have I ever decoupaged anything? No! Exactly. I’m also going to paint the table legs—no, actually distress them, which is a bit of a process. Why keep it simple? Exactly. Then I have to spray paint the storage cubbies since their finish is all wrong and always has been but they were such a good deal I could not pass them up. I was thinking I could sand them a bit and then paint them. But I hate sanding as much as pumping gas and going to the ATM which is why I am always running on fumes and possessing no cash and I’d have to prime them and then do 2 coats of paint, blah blah blah. Then I had a moment of brilliance and it was: SPRAY PAINT! Will it work? Who knows. We’ll see. Here’s another thing: when I decoupage that fabric onto the tables and chairs, I am gonna need new curtains because the ones I have will clash unspeakably. We shall not be able to speak of it. We should not. We cannot. We shan’t. So I’ll have to make new curtains.

 Decoupage fabric. I forgot to take a close-up pic of the curtains so I cannot visually demonstrate just how badly the two fabrics clash and we need to leave soon to go on a field trip and I don't have enough time to take and upload a pic but trust me when I tell you they clash. Unspeakably. I shouldn't even be speaking of it this much.

Decoupage fabric. I forgot to take a close-up pic of the curtains so I cannot visually demonstrate just how badly the two fabrics clash and we need to leave soon to go on a field trip and I don't have enough time to take and upload a pic but trust me when I tell you they clash. Unspeakably. I shouldn't even be speaking of it this much.

But before I do any of this I need to paint and distress this kitchen storage cabinet as it is sitting squarely in the middle of the workroom and I have meant to refinish it for a year so it will match the kitchen table.

 This is a bad place for this to be sitting squarely. It's messing up everything.

This is a bad place for this to be sitting squarely. It's messing up everything.

And I really need to get it done because the stuff that goes in it is out on the breezeway shelves and I just got some new bags and I need to use that shelf space to store them.

And this is precisely how diy spirals out of control.

I also realized that I should really spruce-up and unify all the containers we use for markers and such. I found some really cute ides on Pinterest.

 Eye-hurtingly un-spruced-up and un-unified containers.

Eye-hurtingly un-spruced-up and un-unified containers.

Freakin’ Pinterest ... you only make this worse ...

But it’s going to look go-o-o-o-od. Until it doesn’t. Exactly. (You totally get me.)

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Find my novel, The Mosquito Hours, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and at your local retailer! Wanna 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.)

my next novel!

I was going to write about my latest adventures in diy for you today—don’t fret, I promise I will next week! Instead I am going to share a quick update about my next novel, about which I am extremely excited!

But first take a walk down memory lane with me, will you?

12 years ago, I started to write my very first novel. The Mosquito Hours is my first published novel, but it’s not the first I wrote. 12 years ago I was in grad school in Colorado doing a summer writing program and feeling very homesick for the beach (there ain’t no beaches in CO) and especially for my sister, who for me is inextricably entwined with the beach. (And my life in general. She is super-wonderful. There’s a whole other long-winded blog post about just how super-wonderful but I’ll stick to the current topic.) So, being homesick, I started writing about two little girls and a beach they loved and I work-shopped it around and received a lot of positive feedback. It turned into part of my master’s thesis and then into a full novel. I called it Talking Underwater. I asked a lot of people to read it and received even more good feedback. An agent read it and liked it a lot but said it needed more outside plot events. So I started to think about it very seriously and then promptly started having babies. One by himself and then by accident two at once. Guess how many outside plot events I came up with during those years when they were all still babies? Yes, exactly that many.

When I blearily emerged from the baby cocoon, I revisited Talking Underwater but was honestly SO SICK of it. Just SO SICK of it. I started writing other novels. Somewhere all in there, my publisher read Talking Underwater and loved it and after The Mosquito Hours was published, we talked about publishing that good old first novel.

Next, I thought up a great additional plot-line, then totally questioned it, tossed it and came up with one that I thought was better and more relevant and “deep.” I feverishly wrote it in but didn’t love it. I knew it needed a lot more work. Fast-forward (didn’t I say this would be a quick post? I totally suck at that ... ) to today and I received feedback from my editor and she thinks that plot-line is unnecessary and I was SO RELIEVED not because I don’t think the novel needs another little something in terms of the plot, but because I was totally forcing that other one.

I had a long talk with my publisher this morning (another super-wonderful woman who requires a whole long-winded blog post about just how super-wonderful she is but I’ll stick to the current topic) and told her about my original idea and we agreed it is perfect! I am feeling so energized to go write this thing! Before I was feeling like chucking the damn thing altogether but now I am so excited to get back to work on it.

9_2014_TU_screenshot.jpg

Okay, update finished. Gotta go do homeschool for the day and then get to writing! Hope you all have a terrific, inspiring and energizing day!

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Find my novel, The Mosquito Hours, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local retailer! Wanna 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.)

duck and cow

This is duck and cow.

They are 6. I should say they’ve been with us for 6 years—I can’t be sure when they were manufactured. We don’t like to think of them as having been “manufactured.” They are only a teeny step away from actually being alive. They might actually be alive—I have no proof that they aren’t. They certainly are loved. I would even go so far as to say over-loved. I mean, just look at them.

(But can one ever really be over-loved?)

Ducky and Cowy, as they are known in the inner circle, have undergone many operations—I’m talking about a LOT of white thread. There is little fabric left with which to sew these holes closed. Through my lengthy experience, I can surmise that the prognosis for this level of damage is fairly good, but the time required for sewing will be extensive. I’m talking about HOURS. I’m not even exaggerating. The last time Cowy went under the needle was nearly 2 hours. Even if I can free Ducky and Cowy of holes and rips, I don’t think I can make them look normal. But my girls don’t care at all. They love Ducky and Cowy no matter what.

I have been putting off Ducky’s and Cowy’s repairs (as well as blogging, and proper book marketing for my novel, cleaning, writing, clutter control, cleaning ... ) because I have been deep, deep, deep in our homeschool planning. We don’t really take summers off—we also don’t really “do” school at any time of the year—I plan out our activities, outings and reading material and try to connect the three meaningfully. But summer is looser. Because I want to go to the beach. I mean give the kids lots of time to play and be free. Mostly at the beach.

With my homeschool planning this year, I am attempting to cultivate a loose routine—I want everyone to be happy and all needs to be met. Theirs for me not bugging them too much and mine for thinking I actually have some semblance of control of things. I like control. Or the illusion of it. I’m fine with illusion. So in theory we will all be happy. A 2 hour period in the morning to work on projects, read-aloud, a little Life of Fred together. A lot longer periods of free time and trips to nature trails and playgrounds. A Magic Treehouse co-op (so excited!), a Magic School Bus co-op (how fun!) and a whole lot of hope that I am meeting their needs. Their need for both learning opportunity and freedom—it’s a delicate balance.

Having completed our plans for the year, I finally had time to to repair Ducky and Cowy.

Not too shabby, right? Ducky looks pretty much like a duck. Cowy looks a bit less like a cow than she used to ... But my little girls think Cowy is beautiful. I try to remember that they look at me with those same eyes. I’m pretty sure that’s the way love works.

I have a good feeling that all my plans are going to go smoothly. We’ll find our way. I’m pretty sure that’s the way life works.

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Find my novel, The Mosquito Hours, on Amazon! Wanna 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.)

it's not you, it's me

Melissa—Hey, blog.

Blog—Oh, so you’re not dead.

M—Come on ... I’m sorry. I’ve been really busy.

B—Seriously? “Busy?” That’s your excuse.

M—I have been! I’m on deadline for my next novel, marketing The Mosquito Hours, taking an online mentoring class for homeschooling parents, getting ready for our family vacation. BUSY. I really am.

B—Next you’ll say, “It’s not you, it’s me ... ”

M—I was not going to say that. But since you did, it is true.

B—Did you seriously just say that.

M—Look, I am just one person, trying to accomplish a lot of things and maybe we just need a little time apart.

B—Wait ... are you breaking up with me?

M—I didn’t say that.

B—What else does “a little time apart” mean to you?

M—It means just that.

B—Do you think being vague is helping this situation?

M—Look, I’ll be on vacation for the next couple of weeks. I’m sure after that everything will just go back to normal soon. I'm figuring some things out right now. I just need a little time.

B—A little time? A little TIME?! You just said everything was normal!

M—I said everything will go back to normal soon.

B—So it’s about semantics?!

M—You accused me of being vague. I'm simply trying to explain myself.

B—I’m speechless.

M—Can we still be friends?

B—Shut. Up.

(I’ll be back in 2 weeks. I swear.)

do what matters

This week Steve (not his real name) and I went to our local theatre to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band—our favorite. Derek Trucks is the best guitar player ever and that is no overstatement.


See?!

Simply stated, his playing makes me happy. It's gorgeous and lush and euphoric.

After the show, we went out back and hung around the tour bus just to see what would happen. One by one the band members began to filter out of the theatre. I was given a set list by one of the brass players! I got a kiss on the cheek from the really cute back-up singer! Then from around the side of the building, I saw him. Now I am not that easily star-struck, but I have been dying to meet Derek Trucks for a long, long time. And he was so sweet! He signed my set list and I touched his shoulder (!) and then he posed for a photo with Steve (not his real name) and me. He disappeared into his tour bus and just as we were about to head home, I spied him walking down the street with one of his bandmates.

"Steve (not his real name)," I hissed. "Let's go!" I began to follow them.

"We can't!" said Steve (not his real name).

"Yes we can! When is this ever going to happen again?"

And with some reluctance, Steve (not his real name) agreed to stalk Derek Trucks with me. Stalk is such a strong, yet thoroughly accurate, word to describe our actions. But that is how we found ourselves in a hole of a bar in our hometown with the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Until we had to go home because our sitter is under 21 and cannot legally drive past 12:30.

We will—mark my words!—be part of the inner circle within 3 years. Then when the band sees us at shows, they’ll be all like, “Melissa and Steve (not your real name), how’ve you been? Please tell us you’re coming out after the show to hang? Pleeeease?” And we’ll be like, “Well, we’ve got a sitter and she can’t legally drive past 12:30, buuuuuut... okay! You know we can’t say no to you guys!”

 An actual photo Steve (not his real name) took at the actual show. We were in the 3rd row. It was AWESOME. And slightly more focused.

An actual photo Steve (not his real name) took at the actual show. We were in the 3rd row. It was AWESOME. And slightly more focused.

When I watch someone like Derek Trucks do the work about which they are obviously and deeply passionate, it makes me reflect on my own work—the work of my heart.

So, we all get an eyeful of the Pinterest and Facebook lives of everyone else. Some people keep chickens or bees and have big summer gardens. Some build stuff and do lots of crafts with their kids. Some have super tidy homes. Some are always somewhere. And I know you know where I am going with this, because I am not the first person to talk about it, but it’s very easy to compare and criticize your own life against that backdrop.

But there are only so many hours in the day and the way you use them should matter.

What you will do matters. All you need is to do it. Judy Grahn

One day I was feeling a little badly that I don’t grow my own arugula and do 27 crafts every week and I don’t even really know what Instagram is. Suddenly I asked myself: what are your passions? When my son feels badly that he doesn’t want to do art projects while his sisters are endlessly enthusiastic about them, I tell him it makes no sense to do anything that doesn’t bring you joy. Don’t do the art project if doing so doesn’t make you happy—do the things that make you happy. I swear I tell my kids things like this and wholeheartedly believe them except when I totally forget to apply them to myself. All those things everyone else is doing are not MY passions! You may be saying yeah no kidding, Melissa but this was a blindingly beautiful revelation! I had another one a few blog posts back, however I can’t remember what it was. I hope I’ve internalized it and now it’s an established part of me making my life better every moment. I can’t be sure. But this is also a really good blindingly beautiful revelation!

So, these are my biggest passions: writing and homeschooling. They take up the majority of my time and mind-space. They give me joy. They are important to me. They are where my time and energy and effort should and does go. So there is no time left over for a big garden or scrap-booking or a perfectly tidy house. Or a marginally tidy house. But that’s okay.

You can't do everything but you can do what matters.

Do what matters.

Now I think you should take a moment to watch this because it will simply make you happy. (And I hope you have a lovely Friday!)


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Find my novel, The Mosquito Hours, on Amazon! Wanna 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.)

diy catastrophe

I’ve DIY’d some pretty nice stuff. For instance, the twins’ potato-stamped toy chest.

chest_purple1.jpg

Our distressed kitchen table.

And—my favorite—my antique wooden crate shelf.

Sometimes DIY goes brilliantly and other times it simply does not. Did I ever tell you about DIY sunblock? The only thing you need to know about DIY sunblock is NEVER MAKE DIY SUNBLOCK. Even if you have cross-referenced a dozen recipes, throughly researched and sourced out the best ingredients, painstakingly executed the recipe to the letter, been initially very satisfied with your results and you find that it’s too late to follow my advice to NEVER MAKE DIY SUNBLOCK, I implore you to follow this advice: NEVER USE DIY SUNBLOCK. This is what will happen if you do: you will burn. I have nicely olive-toned, Portuguese-y skin and I burned. My sister, whose skin is less Portuguese-y and more Irish-y, burned worse. We burned more than we would have if we hadn’t used any (effective or noneffective) sunblock at all. What happened was we actually got somewhat cooked. So, the moral of the story: neither make nor use DIY sunblock. Even if you can make it in your slow cooker. Which I did. It seemed like such a good idea. Total efficiency, right? Yes, and yet so wrong.

But I let neither abject failure nor second degree burns thwart my DIY ambitions! I carry on and make more stuff!

This week, however, in spite of my unwavering DIY optimism, my efforts did not turn out so well. Wait—I should amend that: my DIY efforts this week turned out very well, but what I did with the results, not good. Not good AT ALL. Okay, is it time to dispense with all the vagueness and just tell you what I did? Fine.

I made my own almond milk!

 So pretty!

So pretty!

Yes, I did and it is really good. The kids even like it. And instead of the 47 ingredients in the store-bought stuff, mine has 3! Almonds, water, vanilla. It was very easy. I used this recipe, but next time I will tweak it a bit until I get the creaminess/water ratio just right. Also I will add a few dates for sweetness. It really came out great. Totally delicious.

 I even made homemade almond meal with the leftover ... almond shards? No idea what the right term is.

I even made homemade almond meal with the leftover ... almond shards? No idea what the right term is.

Here’s the tragedy: I made my green tea latté with it and it was awful. AWFUL. A-W-F-U-L. There are not enough ways to say awful that can fully express how awful it was. I did not think it was possible that my beloved green tea latté could be awful. It was utter betrayal. UT. TER. It tasted terrible. The flavors did not compliment each other whatsoever. WHATSOEVER. (That is a great word.) There was some nasty bitterness and the honey flavor did not shine through as usual so it was merely cloying. CLOYING. (Another great word.) Oh, it was unspeakably awful. I am still reeling. In a bad way. And I was at a party to which I’d brought my green tea latté (What.) so I was unable to make an emergency quick green tea latté (Yes, I have a method.) and I was unable to enjoy my beloved green tea latté for one entire day. Which is one entire day too many. What was I thinking? Do not ever do this, people. It was worse than second degree burns from DIY sunblock. Once again, don’t ever do that, either. Neither make your green tea latté with homemade almond milk nor make or use DIY sunblock. I encourage you, however, to tackle a potato-stamped toy chest, a distressed kitchen table or—my favorite—an antique wooden crate shelf.

I made an emergency quick green tea latté to enjoy after the kids were in bed. I salvaged the day and went to bed happy. You can always make it work, people. You can always make it work.

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Find my novel, The Mosquito Hours, on Amazon! Wanna 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

Three weeks ago I skinned my knee. I haven’t said “I skinned my knee” probably since I was 7. Because generally grownups don’t have to make that statement because mostly grownups don’t trip on a stupidly short lip on the sidewalk that they didn’t notice and then fall in front of a bench of guys, tearing their favorite linen pants. And skinning their knee.

 There it is!

There it is!

The remnants of the scab still remained 2 weeks ago at the time of my book launch event and I had to adhere a bandage to cover it. See it there? Moral of the story, don’t wear your favorite linen pants near sidewalks with stupidly short lips. You’re welcome.

(I’m so sad about those pants ... )

This is a bad place for a picnic table. There’s not much more to say about it. Tree matter and bird poop galore. I thought it would be great. My Pep used to sit out here under these trees in his lawn chair and drink drippy cans of Bud. It would have been nice to come out here to eat our supper, but the BS from this tree is too much.

And it seems as though the matter has sort of ingrained itself into my table. Which weighs 3 tons. And the other day when there were a bunch of guys here I forgot to ask them to move it until they’d all left. Of course. Stupid trees.

Did Sharpie fumes ever kill anyone? I’m hoping not, but we might be treading awfully close to mass brain cell death. My girls LOVE permanent markers—the colors are so bright and brilliant and opaque and so efficiently and definitively destructive. I gave them a pack about a year ago and, several ruined dresses later, I hid them. However, the girls never forgot them.

“But,” I’d say when they repeatedly requested them, “they ruin dresses. Permanently.”

Accidentally,” they’d emphasize. As if intention makes a Sharpie less permanent.

Well, I decided we’d give it another go and so far so good. Except for the potential brain cell death. (Please tell me that’s not a thing ... )

This is vegan ranch dressing. Says “salsa” but it’s not. It’s vegan ranch dressing. I know, I know ... But it’s quite good. I found a recipe for vegan mayo in this really great cookbook called Happy Herbivore Light & Lean. Lots of really yummy stuff in there. I am reading Happy Herbivore Light & Lean because summer is nearly here and I experience an annual panic when I think of slipping on skimpy hot-weather clothing. So I found this vegan mayo recipe and as it goes, mayo and sour cream are the base of my homemade ranch dressing for which I possess a fondness bordering on the obsessive. But it’s 72 calories a tablespoon. So I made a version of it using this vegan mayo and it’s delicious and only 13 calories a tablespoon! Freakin’ 13! Go ahead and laugh at me but when I am strolling down the beach like an aging Victoria’s Secret model, who will be laughing then? Exactly.

Savers is my new favorite place. Nothing thrills me quite like a bargain—don’t tell Steve (not his real name)—and Saver’s is the very epicenter of bargains. Around back you drop off the stuff you don’t want anymore, get a nice tax deduction and on really lucky days a coupon, then you go inside and peruse the stuff other people didn’t want anymore, drove out back and dropped off and got themselves a nice little tax deduction. I don’t know if they went inside after that, but let me just say they missed out if they did not! Clothes, books, housewares—all at amazingly low prices! Lately I have hit the jackpot on kids’ books—novels, math texts, a kid’s guide to the night sky atlas. The other day they had a 50% off sale on clothing and I found 4 skorts for my girls, a pair of yoga capris and like 8 shirts for me—grand total $25! What?! Yes, you read that right!

And this little purse for $6.99. Yes that IS the vegan ranch right back there. Look at her all pert in all her healthy low-calorie-ness!

You all get out there and have a happy Friday!

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Find my novel, The Mosquito Hours, on Amazon! Wanna 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.)