January 16, 2017

Giving Grace


It's possible that I need to tattoo this word on my wrist, or the back on my hand. Some place I can see it all the time. I feel I need a near-constant reminder these days to give myself, and others, Grace.

I've been going through a rough patch. Which is why you haven't seen my typical new year's post about resolutions and goals yet. I have several ideas and have started writing, but I'm in such a...I can't even think of the right word...blue period?...that I can't bring any of those ideas to fruition. Yet. Those posts will come. Just later. So instead of staying silent and, well, kind of suffering on the inside, I decided to write a post about Grace.

Grace isn't a word I've used often in my life. For me it always meant 'something you say before you eat dinner'. But a friend used the word with me a while back, using a different meaning, and it kinda stuck with me. Of course, I looked it up to see what exactly Grace means. Grace has more than one meaning, but here's the one I'm talking about:

Gracea :  approval,  favor <stayed in his good graces>b archaic  :  mercy,  pardonc :  a special favor :  privilege <each in his place, by right, not grace, shall rule his heritage — Rudyard Kipling>d :  disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemencye :  a temporary exemption :  reprieve
See that one I highlighted for you? We're talking here about granting kindness and clemency to ourselves and others. Giving ourselves (and others) a reprieve, a pardon, if you will. But there's a little something more to the word Grace than just that. Because I could use the word kindness or mercy or clemency. But none of those words capture what I'm talking about in the same way as Grace.
Grace is a different color. Grace is the color of a brilliant sunset on a warm summer's night just after a heavy, quenching rain. It is somehow both brilliant and soft. It is reds and oranges and pinks and purples. It is an easy watercolor swath. It is gentle and elegant.
Mercy is harder, colder, more icy greys and blues. Clemency might be brown. And kindness is lighter, maybe a buttery yellow. But Grace, Grace is different. 
I imagine Grace being granted with a gentle touch to the top of my head by Ghandi or Mother Teresa or some mystical medicine man. But in fact it is something that we need to give ourselves, and each other, all day, every day. I think maybe Grace is always the answer. No matter what the question is. What do you give yourself...
When you make a mistake? Grace.When you forget to do something? Grace.When you break something? Grace.When you yell at your kids? Grace.When you eat the cookie instead of the apple? Grace.When you binge watch Downton Abbey instead of cleaning the house? Grace.When you don't get everything done on your to do list? Grace.When you're not perfect? Grace.
And when your kids don't pick up their toys or when they talk back to you? When the driver in front of you doesn't know how to drive? When your spouse comes home from work in a bad mood? When your friend doesn't ask about the big thing in your life? When the waiter is terrible? When the checkout clerk can't work the register?
Grace. Grace. Grace. Grace. Grace. Grace.
Another way to better understand the idea of Grace, is to understand that it is the opposite of judgment. And when you're just starting out, if you've been in the habit of judging yourself and others at every turn, it can be a hard habit to break. But it is just that: a habit. It is not truth. It's just another bad habit, like snacking whenever you sit on the couch and watch tv. It is nothing but a habitual recording in your mind. And you have the power to turn that recording off, to record something new.
Whenever you find yourself jumping to judgment, catch yourself, just as you feel that frustration rise in your chest. Step back from the moment. Take a deep breath. And challenge that thinking. Is this really a big deal? Will it help anything for me to get mad at myself or another person? What if, instead, I give myself (or the other person) a gift of Grace?
Usually you'll find that if you challenge the thought that's leading to judgment, you'll find that it's really not that big of a deal. So I dropped a dish and it broke. Is it really that big of a deal? Is anyone severely hurt? Will the world come to an end without this dish? Or can I show myself a bit of kindness, the way I would a friend. Hey, no big deal. Don't worry about it. I can buy another one. It's okay.
Because it is okay. It's okay to make mistakes. It's okay to not be happy all the time. It's okay to not be perfect. You're human. Mistakes and changing emotions and imperfection is kind of the whole point.
It's okay. You're okay. Just as you are. Imperfections and all.
Until next time, bestow the gift of Grace on yourself and those around you. You'll be glad you did.

December 29, 2016

The Weight of Love

There is this sensation that is one of my most favorite things to feel. I call it the weight of love. It is the feeling of the weight of someone's body pressed gently against yours. Not the suffocating kind of full body weight on your lungs. Not a stranger bumping into you in a crowded space. But the gentle pressure of someone you love's body touching yours.

It is your dog asleep against your side.

It is your baby asleep on your chest.

It is your spouse's hand on your shoulder or back or hand.

It is the extended hug of a dear, dear friend--the kind where you lean into one another and hold each other up.

It is your child's embrace, their head on your shoulder, their body leaned into your's.

It is your spouse's leg or arm touching your's in bed at night.

It is the weight of love.

And sometimes I feel it simply as the lovely, warm contact that it is on the surface. But other times I feel it as the deeper connections of life. For it is as simple and as profound as anything there ever was, this weight of love. It is so basic and so very, very big. It speaks of responsibility. It reminds us that we are caretakers of others' hearts. It whispers of the connection of souls...to those we love, and to the world at large. It tells us to honor and respect those souls. It ties us together, and yet frees us to relax and let go.

It is a beautiful thing, this weight of love.

Until next time...

My sweet Cooper-dog resting against my legs not long before he passed away

December 21, 2016

Another NaNo...Another Life Lesson

As many of you know, I participated in my 4th National Novel Writing Month this November, and made it for the 50,000 word win for the 3rd time in a row.

First, let me explain something to you about NaNoWriMo that you don't likely understand if you are a) not a writer, and b) have never participated in NaNo yourself.

It is all encompassing.

When you participate in NaNo for the win, you live and breathe NaNo. To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to average 1667 words per day. (And, remember, you're not just putting any old words on a page here, you're creating a whole other world...and you're hoping at least most of the words aren't total crap.) That's a fair amount of work, especially if you have a job or a life or young children who aren't in school all day. You have to work writing time into your regular life schedule, and you have to immerse yourself in what you're writing. Which means you become obsessed with the whole thing. It also means that it's really hard not to talk about it all the time. (Because, seriously, you want to talk about it All. The. Time.) Consequently, I feel the need to apologize to everyone who had to be around me last month. I probably should even apologize for this blog post, which is really just another excuse for me to talk about NaNo and writing. I'm like a needy child. Sorry.

Anyway, this year's experience was a little different from years past. First of all, I wasn't starting a new novel, I was finishing the one I started during NaNo 2015. Second, I had done the most extensive prep-work yet: outlining, plotting and researching--even more than last year. This meant that the writing seemed to come a bit easier. Which meant getting in my word count each day wasn't as difficult. Which meant I actually finished two days early. I've never done that before. Plus, by year four, I feel like I'm just plain getting a little better at it.

But none of that is really what I want to talk about.

NaNo, for me, is about so much more than writing 50,000 words in 30 days. It is a kind of celebration of writing. It marks the anniversary of when I really started to get serious about writing as an adult, about going after a life-long dream. Because here's the thing, for as long as I can remember I've wanted to be a writer. I've wanted to write stories since, well, since I could write. And it was a dream that lived mostly inside of me, until four years ago.

I really hope to one day get one of my books published. But let's be real here, there's a pretty decent chance that that will never happen. (It's really hard to get published.) I hope it does happen...I believe it will...but it may not. Which means I have to reconcile spending lots and lots of time and energy on something that may never come to what our culture would traditionally accept as "fruition." And some days that can be tough.

When I'm alone, it's not so bad. I'm lost in my work and it feels like that's all that matters. But when I'm out amongst the people, it can get tough.

Person: So, what do you do?
Me: I stay home with my kids...and I write.
Person: Oh, you write? What books have you published? Anything I might have heard of?
Me: Well, I haven't actually published any yet, but...fingers crossed.
Person: Oh, well, um, good luck with that. (wonders why I call myself a writer when I'm not published yet and looks awkwardly for subject change)
Me: (feels suddenly like a failure despite trying to go after my dreams) So, how about this weather?

Our culture does not support going after your dreams unless you actually achieve them. Only then are you a success story (especially if you make lots of money when you achieve them). No wonder so many of us focus on the destination rather than the journey. (And why we're all so amazed by things like the Tibetan monks who do the sand mandala paintings--hours and hours of work to create something so beautiful, only to sweep it away to symbolize the impermanence of life. ...Wait, they do what??)

And it can be hard to go against popular culture in any way. I can think of lots of examples, some big things, some small...like being a stay-at-home mom, for example, (especially after having a career)...or, hold onto your hats here, being a stay-at-home dad! There's so much pressure to do it all and be it all...have the family and the career and be awesome at everything. Or it can be things like: choosing to homeschool your kids; choosing not to have kids (or not to get married); choosing not to join the uber-prevelant and super-competitive "busyness culture"; choosing not to buy into the pretty/sexy girl culture...the list of ways we can, and do, buck the system/go against the grain/stand up to pop culture is never ending. So I'll stop my random brainstorm there. Because I do have a point. (Thank goodness.)

It can be hard sometimes to do what is right for you when it isn't what fits neatly into the culture you live in. But it's so, so, so important to do it anyway. Life is so short, you must do what you were put here to do and you must do it your way. You must live the life you want. Even if it's not what your parents want or what your friends think is cool or what fits within the narrow strokes of what our culture has painted success to be.

And this is what NaNo does for me: it provides a sub-culture that supports my dream; it validates  what I spend so much of my time on, even if I haven't reached the imaginary finish line; it doesn't judge or get awkward, it just gives me a safe place to create my own kind of sand mandala; and it gives me other writers who, like the monks who pray around those painting the mandala, support and encourage and send good mojo. And that counts for a lot.

Until next time, go buck the system and live the life you choose. Do what makes you happy. Follow your dreams. And don't worry about what others think.

Namaste, my friend.

December 17, 2016

Book Love: All the Bright Places

If you ever read my book reviews on this blog, then you know I have a particular soft spot for character-driven YA novels. (See: Eleanor & Park, Aristotle & Dante Discover the Universe, Mosquitoland, etc.) There's just something about the capturing of that time of life. It's so hard, so pivotal...the stories so relatable. Even if I've never really been through what the character's going through, there's just something universal about the trials of adolescence and early adulthood.

So, after basically taking the entire month of November off from reading (aside from a parenting book and a memoir for book club) I thought I'd jump back in with a good character-driven YA read. And, my oh my, did I find another beauty.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is the story of Violet and Finn, two broken teenagers who meet under most unusual circumstances and at exactly the right moment in their lives. It is a story of love and courage and a fight worth fighting, even when not everybody wins. The true beauty of this book is Niven's rendering of Finn. You will fall in love with this boy and he will stay with you even after you've read the last page.

Think about adding it to your to-read list...or even your last minute Christmas list. You can get it from Amazon for less than $5 right now, and it is so worth more than that. Or you can check it out from your local library for nothing. Or, if you live near me, you can borrow my copy. ;-)

Until next time, happy reading.

October 24, 2016

On Writing (part 2): Prepping for NaNo

A metaphor for my month to come...
Tortoise Battle: Real Tortoise vs Pretend Tortoise (not unlike Real Life vs. Fictional World)
Note: Pretend Tortoise appears to be winning

I've been pretty absent here on the blog of late. I've been writing and revising a lot. And I really haven't had much to say here. I have a few books and recipes I could share...and I will, eventually. But I've pulled out of most social media of late. I can't handle the negativity right now. So instead of talking about any of that, I'll share a little about what I'm gearing up for (besides trick-or-treating).

We are one week from the kick-off of National Novel Writing Month 2016. 

That's seven days to prepare myself and my world for 50,000 words in 30 days. 

Technically, I started prep last week. I got my current "novel under revision" (a middle grade book titled The Smart Girl and the Magic Boy) to a comfortable pause-place, and readied both my November and my December writer's group critique submissions so there will be no extra work there. I finished my November book club book almost two weeks before our meeting so I wouldn't have to worry about that either. And I've scheduled the babysitter for every possible day in November that I don't have some other way to get some kid-free writing time in.

Because I will begin NaNo 2016 by finishing the novel I started writing in NaNo 2015 (a YA fantasy novel currently titled The Firefly Bookshop), I'm kicking off this week by rereading all of my notes and outlining on that book. Then I will read the 55,314 words I've written so far and re-immerse myself in the book's world. And finally, I will make notes about where I want to go when I start writing. 

I'm not going to lie to you, I've put myself in a rather difficult position for this NaNo. The back half of this novel is very complex and involves weaving in outside pieces and research--not easy when you need to churn out 1667 words a day. But, fingers crossed, I'm gonna make it happen anyway.

I don't know how many words it will take to finish this book, but I'm guessing maybe another 30,000. If that holds true, that means I should finish the first draft of this book a little past halfway through November. 

Then what do I do?

I start the next one.

The other prep work I did last week was to review and further flesh out the outline for my next book--a middle grade adventure book called The Knight of Chocolatetown that I'm super excited to begin writing!

And if I need some rescuing at any point, I can always fall back on the "novel currently under revision"...I'm doing such serious revision work on this book that I'm writing lots of entirely new chapters and would have no problem getting my word count going with it if need be.

So that's the nuts and bolts of where I'm headed in one week. 

Now, here's the other side of it...

I am SO excited for NaNo. 

This will be my fourth year participating in NaNoWriMo. November is a thrilling (and stressful and scary) month for me nowadays...and I love it. I feel so tired and so alive when I'm writing at the pace required during NaNo. It's a total rush...and like no other experience I've ever had. I become submerged in the fictional worlds of my books-- so much so that I sometimes get confused between what's really happening in my life and what's happening inside the world of my book. Crazy, I know. But they both definitely compete for my time and attention for these 30 little days.

And I'm so excited about the worlds in all three of the books I'm preparing to work on...it makes me wish I really could just live in those worlds for a little while. It also makes me hope I can do a worthy job of transcribing what lives in my head when I'm writing, to something people can one day read on the page. I want you to see and hear and feel what I do.

And that's why I do this. That's why I write. That's why I participate in the insanity that is National Novel Writing Month. That's why I design as many days as I can around "getting some writing time in." I know it may seem crazy to other people. I treat this writing thing like a job. I think of it that way. I just don't currently get paid for it. And not getting paid for it demotes it to hobby-status in the eyes of many. But not in mine. This is my work. More important for me than any paying job I ever had. It's my life's work...along with parenting my kids. I put my best time and effort into both endeavors. 

Anyway, I hope this little update finds you all well. I doubt you'll hear much from me until December, so have a wonderful November. Happy Thanksgiving...and a lovely everything else. I'll see you all again in 30 days and 50, 000 words...on the flip side!

Until next time, be good to each other, be happy, have fun.

August 31, 2016

Books I've Been Reading

I've been on a bit of a reading binge lately. According to my husband, I've been ignoring him.


So sad.

Anywho...here are a few of the books I've had in my hands lately...

Notes From The Dog by Gary Paulson...It's a super short read. Something like 150 pages. I read it in two days. It is super sweet and funny and touching and definitely worth the read.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead...The most recent book from a favorite author of mine. Her book When You Reach Me is one of my favorites of all time and I adored her book First Light (and enjoyed Liar and Spy). They're all middle grade novels, but worth the read for adults too. And this one was good as well. A touching story that expertly captures some of the perils of early adolescence with main characters you'll root for.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell...It's no secret that Rainbow Rowell has written one of my all time favorite books, Eleanor and Park, plus another fave, Fangirl. And I really enjoyed her most recent book, a fun romp titled Carry On. Landline is her first foray from YA into adult books and I had put off reading it for just that reason. I wasn't sure I'd like the switch. And while I'll say that it didn't capture and hold me the way that Eleanor and Park or Fangirl did, I did like it. It took a little longer for me to get invested in the main characters. I didn't really love or identify with Georgie early on...but then I did. I found the story moving and totally relatable. The book definitely got me thinking and it proved an excellent reminder that we all must remember to invest time and energy in the most important relationships in our lives.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a play by Jack Thorne (and the gang)...I was hesitant about this book too. I, like many people, absolutely love the Harry Potter series. And while I will always want more of it, I'm worried about reading something that is supposed to be a part of that story but doesn't really measure up. Plus, this is a play, not a novel, which makes it a different reading experience (and not one I'm typically a fan of). But a man at a bookstore told me, as a Harry Potter lover, it was my duty to read it. So I did. All that said, the book turned out to be an interesting, fun read. It is decidedly not a JK Rowling novel. It doesn't paint the pictures for you the way she does in her novels (but, in Jack Thorne's defense, it is a play, so the picture-painting tends to happen on stage). Anyway, after reading all of the HP books and seeing all of the movies, it's easy enough to paint the pictures yourself. Honestly, the book felt more like reading well-done fan-fiction than anything else. Regardless, it was fun to read along with someone's idea of what might have happened in the world of Harry Potter 20 year later. And it was just nice to revisit that whole world again. So I agree with the bookseller...worth the read!

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen...I won't say much about this as it was our book club read for the month and we haven't yet met to discuss it. But I will say that it provided a similar reading experience to the other Dessen book I've read, Along for the Ride. A nice, easy, enjoyable read. Perfect for a little light escapism.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer...this is book two in The Lunar Chronicles series. I read book one, Cinder, a few months back and am finally getting around to book two. I'm only about 150 pages in, but so far, it's proving to be similar to book one...a fun, fast-paced, dystopian future read with a unique fairytale twist.

So that's what I've been up to. How about you? Read anything good lately? If so, let me know. I haven't decided what I'm reading next, so I'd love to hear your recommendations.

Until next time, happy reading!

August 15, 2016

Book Love: I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

I love this book so much that I want to eat it so that I can keep its words forever with me. (Is that weird?)

I love this book so much I oscillate between it making me want to be a better writer and it making me want to admit defeat, for I will never write characters that come alive on the page the way Noah and Jude do.

I love this book so much that I want to share it with you. So, here we go...

I put I'll Give You The Sun on my list of absolute favorite character-driven YA & MG books. It's right up there with Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park and David Arnold's Mosquitoland, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Wonder by RJ Palacio. (All amazing books...if you haven't read them yet, go do it now!)

These are books that sucked me in from page one, with characters that captured my heart, and held me until the sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet, end. These are books that are extremely well written, with interesting stories that keep you engaged and guessing. But they are ultimately all about the characters--the three-dimensional, quirky, realistic, lovable, amazing characters.

In the case of I'll Give You The Sun, that means it's all about Noah and Jude. Noah and Jude are twin brother and sister who've been inseparable since birth. That is until something comes between them...something called puberty. The book alternates between Noah's point of view beginning at age 13 and Jude's beginning at age 16, and tells the story of how they fall apart and how, eventually, they find their way back to each other.

A lot happens in between. A lot of big life stuff. And a lot of little life stuff. It's all the stuff of finding yourself and finding your way, and the painfully amazing stuff of growing up. And love. It's about love, too.

Anyway, it doesn't really matter what it's about. You don't need to know any of that. All you need to know is that it's amazing and you should read it.

So there.

For a list of more books that I've loved over the years, check out the Books Worth Reading tab at the top of this page.

And, until next time, happy reading.

P.S. Thanks to my niece, Katie, for loaning me the book. :-)