Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Three Lessons Learned

Photo by LollyKnit.

When NaNoWriMo started on November 1, I had stars in my eyes. I had dreams of days and nights of literary abandon. Lofty ideas of ending the month with a beautiful 50,000-word story worthy of the Newbery Award.

That's not what I got, though.

On December 1, I woke up with crust in my eyes. The kind you get when you spend more time screaming at your computer than you do taking care of your body and getting the rest you need.

And those dreams of literary abandon? Forget it. What I got was several sessions of teeth gnashing smack in the middle of the month. I haunted the hallways of our house, moaning and groaning, questioning How did I end up with a village full of Mary Poppins wannabes in this book? Where is the conflict? How can I stand another minute of writing about these very nice characters with no life worth reading about? I came very close to quitting.

But I wanted the bragging rights that go along with posting 50,000 words on the NaNoWriMo site by November 30. I trudged on.

About two-thirds of the way into my literary desert, I woke up one day sick and tired of going nowhere fast. I started pounding away at the computer and threw my heroine, a 12-year old girl, in the dungeon and demanded she find her way out. The dungeon had nothing to do with my story, but by golly, that girl needed some conflict! Several days of conflict and clever dialogue followed, and my word count soared.

In the end, I submitted 50,028 words. (Notice I said words, not story or book.) I did not end up with a proper beginning, middle, and end to my story. I did, however, win the battle with myself. I dragged me--kicking and screaming, most days--to that hallowed NaNoWriMo finish line. And I won.

Thankfully, I also learned a few things along the way:
  1. Before NaNoWriMo, the thought of writing one thousand words in one day used to scare the heebie-jeebies out of me. Now, though, pounding out one thousand words in one day strikes me as something I might choose to do on vacation. Are you kidding me? Give me a challenge!
  2. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, my main character has a fascinating best friend who keeps my main character in line, provides comic relief, and well may be worthy of his own series and/or Newbery Award. Someday.
  3. When stuff gets hard, when I get off track, when I wonder What the heck was I thinking anway?--whether it's writing a book, a new diet or exercise program, a decorating project, or a stab at NaNoWriMo 2010--I know I have what it takes to cross that finish line. Even if I have to drag me kicking and screaming.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NaNoWriMo and the Wisdom of Robert Frost

I've found out some very interesting things about myself in the first eight days of the NaNoWriMo challenge. For instance, I believe I will be one of those authors you listen to on the Oprah show who says, "For my award-winning book, I had to throw out the first 45 pages." "Why?" Oprah would ask, obviously stunned.

And I'd have to tell her, "Because nothing happened until page 46."

It's true. Although I didn't set out to do it, I have inadvertently created a village composed entirely of direct descendants of Mary Poppins, "practically perfect in every way."
You would love this place! I do. But guess what? No editor will love it. It's not fraught with enough peril and conflict. (Did I say enough? I meant any.)

So today after work, when I come home to add 2,000 words to my village and characters, it's no more Mr. Nice Guy. Now, it will be "Here comes the judge." (sigh)
But I really like these guys, and I hate to be a meanie. I know, though, it will be a better story once I get in there and really mix it up. Hearts will pound. Tears will be shed. Victory cries will resound. Maybe even awards will be won.

Robert Frost and I are in the same boat (or is it snowy woods?). I have "miles to go before I sleep."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Newsflash: Hard Times Hit Toilet Paper Industry

Photo by Est Bleu2007

First it was the hamburger: an almost imperceptible downgrade to a smaller bun and patty, all the while maintaining the price. Then it was yogurt: down from 8 ounces to 6. Same price. The toilet paper industry has evidently joined the bandwagon, so to speak. When replenishing the toilet paper in our bathroom and pitching the now-empty roll, I noticed the new roll (Quilted Northern, for those of you who wonder) is approximately one-quarter of an inch shorter than the old one. And you guessed it: same price. Pretty soon, they'll tell us a gallon (of whatever) is now a new, sleeker 125 ounces rather than the wasteful 128 ounces. And guess what? Same price.

Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNoWriMo--Day 2

It happened. And only on Day 2! I got so involved in my story I almost forgot to pick up my daughter from school. Almost. Good news, though. My two-day total is 4,816 words. Yippee!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaNoWriMo, baby!

Today's the first day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)--the day when founder Chris Baty cajoles thousands of people across the globe to throw themselves unhindered into the world of literary abandon for the entire month of November. These people--myself included, this year--put aside laundry, eating, sleep, and possibly even personal hygiene to attain the all-important goal of producing a 50,000-word novel between November 1st and 30th. All for the title of "winner" and the bragging rights that come with it.

I'm writing a middle grade novel. To make the NaNoWriMo 50,000-word goal, I have to write an average of 1,667 words a day. I'm off to a good start on my first day--2,266 words! Are you intrigued? There's still time to join. Go to to check it out. And check back here often. I'll let you know how I'm doing.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Place to Land

Photo by Joe (c)

I feel like I live in a wind tunnel. My eyes pop open every day, and I'm instantly swept up in the hurricane-force winds of To-Do Lists, my daughter's School-Piano-Volleyball-AndWhateverElse Schedule, and Other Responsibilities I have as a WifeParentFriendEmployee. I end many days exhausted, my hair a tangled mess.

My dear friend, Wendy Fields--who, lucky for me, is also my coworker--made a simple, but profound statement. Off the top of her head. Without a long period of rumination. As we talked together about workplace frustrations. She said, "We set goals to give ourselves a place to land."

A place to land. I like that.

After some consideration, I've decided my place to land doesn't have to be life-altering or memoir-worthy. Something simple will do. A goal that gives me a big red "X" on which to land before my head reaches the pillow and I check for light leaks each night. And it can be different every day.
Today, I will eat simply and take a walk.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gesundheit: The Power of Blessing

Photo by etech.
If sneezing were an Olympic event, my mother would be a gold medalist. When she sneezes, she lets loose as if there is no more important work in the universe at that moment. No sneezing into a tissue, the crook of her elbow, or her hands. She just wrinkles up her face, tilts her head back in anticipation of the coming "big one," and lets it rip. No feminine, almost-inaudibly squeaked out "chew!" She rares back, screams out "A-HA!" as if she's having the most astounding gestalt of her entire existence, and finishes off with a deeply satisfying, belly-jiggling laugh.

I'm used to this event. In fact, after practicing Mom's technique for myself, I've taken the view there is no better way to spend my sneezing time. For the uninitiated, however, witnessing Mom's sneeze can be a bit disconcerting. After your initial astonishment, your eyes will grow wide as dinner plates, and you will pronounce the most sincere "
Bless you!" you have ever in the past , or would hope to utter in the future. You will be pulled into her laughter, and when the giggling between the two of you has ceased, you can't help but feel that somehow you are the one who has been blessed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Not so Fortunate

Photo by dslrninja.

I needed white, Chinese take-out boxes for a project I'm doing for my daughter's school this week. I went to several stores, with no luck. I finally drove across town to a huge craft store. I thought Surely, my Chinese take-out boxes will be available there! I searched high and low, but this store was HUGE. I ran out of steam and finally asked a store associate, "Where do you keep your white, Chinese take-out boxes?" She went to ask a fellow associate, and when she got back she told me, "I'm sorry. We don't have them right now. Apparently, they are a seasonal item."

What I want to know is What season is appropriate for white, Chinese take-out boxes?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Parenting with Subtitles

Photo by Gaetan Lee.

Our kids - our 12-year-old daughter especially - nagged us relentlessly to join the 21st Century.

"All the other parents have cell phones, " she reasoned. "Why can't we have cell phones, too?"

"We do have cell phones." I held up my pay-as-you-go phone to make my point.

Rebekah rolled her eyes, folded her arms across her chest, and heaved a sigh. In our house, that translates to, "Pay-as-you-go phones don't count as real cell phones. How many times do I have to tell you that?"

Although my initial reluctance was a financial one, we bit the bullet and got "real" cell phones when our son moved away to college and we spent his first semester dealing with dropped calls over a free internet service.

Two days after getting the phones, my husband and I went Christmas shopping. Soon, I heard what I can only describe as a bubbly, jingly sound coming from my coat pocket. I fished out my phone and pushed some buttons. My screen lit up, telling me I had a text message. My first one ever.

"Dennis, I got my first text!"

"Good for you, honey," he said as he looked over the kids' wish lists. "Who's it from?"

"It's Bekah. I wonder what she wants."

I pushed another button, and my incoming text appeared on the screen.

Hey, mom, since I have 12 dollars can I buy some songs on itunes?

I pulled my gloves off.

How many songs 43 you want to buy?

I saw my "43" mistake only as I pushed "send."

Lol. Still getting used to hitting the right buttons? XD lol anysho...Uh like
11...cuz that's how many 12$ can can I?

I sighed.

"What's wrong?" Dennis asked.

"This texting thing. I know LOL means Laugh out Loud, but what is this XD thing?"

Dennis took my phone and looked at the screen. "Maybe it's one of those sideways face things. Maybe with squinty eyes and laughing?" he guessed.

"Oh, I see it!" I entered my reply:

OK. Pay me when I get home.

I hit send, and Dennis and I continued our shopping. Two or three minutes later, I heard the now-familiar bubbly, jingle sound. "What does she want now?" I wondered out loud. "Unbelievable!" I said to Dennis.

"What now? Everything okay?" I showed him my phone screen:

Mom, any idea where my iPod is?

Dennis grinned.

"I can't even go shopping without having to stop what I'm doing to help someone look for something!" I punched my reply:


Thirty seconds later:

No ideas at all?



hey mom can we go to target when u get home?

I took off my coat. We'd been at the bookstore half an hour, and the only thing I'd accomplished was give permission to buy songs and reveal my inability to find iPods from a distance of seven miles away. I whipped out my phone for what I hoped would be my final text during our time out.

Dad and I are TRYING to shop. Do you suppose we could talk about this
when I get home?

A minute passed. Then the bubbly jingle.

Lol. Sry bout that mom! C u l8r, k? :oD

Dennis walked up to me, his hands full of books and movies from the kids' wish list. "Hey, you look like you could use a date with your husband. Let's get some coffee, ok?"

"LOL. K. And how about some ear plugs?"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Sure Sign of Spring

Photo at

My husband danced and rejoiced. My children whooped and hollered.
"Spring has surely sprung! Hallelujah!" they declared.

The source of all this glee? I, the wife and mother of the household, put away the space heater and allowed the use of portable room fans. My husband nearly wept for joy when I unplugged the heating pad, removed it from our bed, wrapped the cord up, and stored it in the linen closet.

I have not, however, conceded to using the central air conditioner.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I'm With Nehemiah

Photo by crabchick.

Our pastor, Jim Bailey, is preaching an inspiring sermon series right now about restoration. Not the furniture kind. The soul kind. The life kind. The kind that makes life worth living. (You can listen to his sermons yourself by clicking here and listening to the February 22 and March 1 sermons. Enjoy!) Jim's sermons come out of the book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament of the Bible. I decided to start reading on my own at home, and I came across a funny little phrase I want to share with you. In Nehemiah chapter 1, Nehemiah has just gotten some bad news, and he starts to pray. Part of his prayer in verse 6 says, "let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying..."

Have you ever had a time in your life when you were so overwhelmed or
flummoxed by your circumstances that you couldn't think of anything to say to anyone - let alone The Almighty God? So what do you do then? Like the character Sam Baldwin in the movie Sleepless in Seattle, maybe you just "get out of bed every morning... breathe in and out all day long."

I think that's where our friend Nehemiah found himself. Flummoxed and overwhelmed. So when he prayed, "Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear," I think he meant,
"Yes, Lord. Hear our prayers, yes. But also look on our daily lives. When we can barely lift our hands and our hearts to You and we don't have the words to form eloquent prayers. Look with Your eyes on our lives - on our getting out of bed and breathing all day long - and see the prayers our lives have become before You. Let that count. Answer those prayers, too."

What do
you think?

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Music of Marriage

Photo at
My friend Helen is doing one of the most difficult things I can imagine: she's saying goodbye to Luke, her husband of 25 years. He has cancer. With her permission, I've posted below what she has to say about her marriage.

It's Luke and my 25th wedding anniversary on July 14th. Will he make it?
I should qualify that question: Will he make it in the flesh? I have no doubt that his spirit will be with me.

I have been thinking about marriage. It's like playing a Mozart piano sonata. You have the left hand busy with the Alberti bass, regular, rhythmic and steady, with occasional runs. The bass part is the root of the harmony, it creates the richness and depth to the melody.
The right hand carries the melody. It's the bit in the public face, the part that people whistle, the part that carries the overt feelings. It's the extrovert side.
If you have two left hand parts your marriage is dull and plodding. Two right hands and it is two people competing for the limelight, - all froth no milkshake.

So 25 years ago Luke and I started our sonata together. For the first two years it sounded good. Then we started jarring each other. Sometimes we were playing different bars at the same time. The right hand got ahead of the left, or the left got over loud and drowned out the right. Between there were enough good bars to make it worth while.
We've had times when we thought it would never come right, and we should stop playing. But when we got it right it was so good it was worth playing through to the end.

Now we are almost at the end of the sonata. We are closing with a graceful ritenuto. Winding down our marriage, speaking it through, going back and talking out the difficult bars. Apologising for drowning the other out, dragging or rushing ahead. For jarring chords and banging down the piano lid on the other's fingers...

It's the most satisfying thing I have ever done. Finishing off beautifully something it has taken 25 years to create.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Peanut Butter of Peanut Butters

Photo by

A few months ago, I browsed the aisles of the grocery section in Wal-mart. I looked up and saw Naturally More peanut butter on the top shelf. I liked the name, and when I saw on the front label that it was fortified with flaxseed and flaxseed oil, I decided it was in my best interest to try it.

Well, let me tell you. I will never willingly eat another peanut butter again! This peanut butter is far superior to any peanut butter I know of in all ways - nutrition, taste, and texture. The price is not so bad, either. (Just be sure to stir it well when you open it. Then store in the fridge. Easy.)

If you want to do something really nice for yourself for under $3, buy Naturally More! You'll never go back to what you currently refer to as peanut butter.

(By the way, Naturally More Peanut Butter is NOT involved with the current peanut butter recall. You can check out their website at

Friday, February 6, 2009

For All You Sticker Lovers

Photo by justinlai.

Do you love stickers? I do. I decorate my journal with them every chance I get. They make my pages jump up and say, "Yes! I've got something cool to say on this page, and there's a sticker on me to prove it!" And - they make me happy.

So guess what? The friendly folks at Google are giving some cool stickers away (while supplies last) to anyone who sends them a self-addressed stamped envelope by February 14, 2009, to this address:

Send me some Gmail stickers already
P.O. Box 391420
Mountain View, CA 94039-1420

(Enclose an international reply coupon (IRC) for one ounce if you're outside of the U.S. One per person, please.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Making Friends with Monotony

Photo by KaCey97007.

I got laid off from my job a few weeks ago, and I find myself rattling around in the house like one lone marble trapped in a pickle jar. It's not like I have nothing to do - I have tons to do! But, being one lone marble who prefers the company of other marbles, I rattle around and flit from activity to activity, while accomplishing not so much.

The problem, I see now, is that I float mindlessly through my day until something
outside myself (an email, a phone call, a meeting, an editing assignment) breaks the monotony for me. I check my email over and over, waiting to hear from an editor. I surf the web until a friend calls. I move from thing to thing and don't follow through unless the activity is nailed to a deadline. This leaves me with half-vacuumed carpets unless company is coming, half-read books unless it's for an assignment that's due, and half-written articles (lots of them!) unless an editor is knocking on my door. (It also leads to far too many trips to the refrigerator, which has led to larger numbers on my bathroom scale.) Something must be done about this!

The cure, I finally realized, is to make friends with monotony, the fabric of life. Monotony is the main stuff. The calls from editors, the vacations to Maui, and all the other fun things are the sparkles in my fabric. But it's mostly monotony.
Or, the commonplace, if you prefer.

So my goal for February is to strengthen my endurance muscles in dealing with the ordinary. I will choose something mundane and plain like doing the laundry, and I will finish the task to the end. I will inhale the clean smell of the dryer sheets, I will savor the quiet of the house as I fold. In short, I will practice
enjoying all the little bits that are "doing the laundry." And I will not be distracted until the task is done.

Soon, my everyday life - in all its glorious monotony - will be a thing of beauty in itself. With or without the sparkly calls from the editors.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fat Cats are Fun

We used to have a beautiful and dainty all-white cat who had just a smidgin of grey on her forehead, so we called her Smidgin. When we picked up Cat #2, my then 5-year old daughter thought we should call him Pepper since we had an all-white cat, and the new cat was white and grey.

Smidgin is gone now, but Pepper remains like a linebacker holding the line. At 24 pounds, he weighs more than some of my friends' children!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Soup Party

Photo by superbez.

The last time I served food at my blog, we had that delicious "Banana Tres Leches" cake. It's been awhile since I had you all for over a bite to eat, so I want to serve you my favorite soup. Not only that, but I'm sharing the recipe with you, too, so you can enjoy all the benefits of being the Best Cook Ever.

Let's dig in!

This soup is so delicious, so easy, and so good for you - there must be a law against it somewhere. Thank the Lord we just can't find that law at this minute.

Heather's Yummy Delicious Soup She Stole from Her Mother-in-Law (thanks, Mom!):

2 cans of chicken broth
1 can water
1/2 - 1 pound smoked sausage, polish sausage, or kielbasa
1/2 box linguini, broken into 4-piece sections
1 can black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1/2 bag frozen leaf spinach

Cut up the sausage and brown in a little oil in the bottom of a soup pot. (We prefer canola or olive oil; do not use WD-40!) :) Add broth and water and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until done. Add the beans and spinach. Simmer until heated through. Taste before giving into the temptation to season with salt or pepper. This soup is terrific all by its lonesome self!

No official thank-you notes are necessary, although comments are definitely appreciated. Enjoy!