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. :-)

July 26, 2016

On The Dark Days

On the dark days
I want to buzz cut my hair and
look nothing like myself.
I want
to unzip this suit of
skin and face and hair
and rid myself of the weight of it.
It has become so heavy
like a wet, wool coat
beneath one of those lead vests
they drape you in for dental x-rays.

I want to feel light
like waves on the ocean,
skimming frothy on wet sand,
like birds on the air,
clouds on the sky.
But the iron-cast belly
of babies and middle age
drags me down.

I just want to wipe away the heat,
to lay on the cool tile floor,
feel the staccatoed breeze
of an oscillating fan,
hear nothing but it's gentle, caressing whir,
stare blankly into the space just
inches from the tip of my nose.

An hour later I'll notice
the comforting weight of my tiny
dog's body
against my leg
and it will be enough to release
the tears.

Silent drops.
Because, well, silence.

My reflection, forever
emblazoned on the back of my eyelids,
will heave my chest in breaths
I don't want to take
for fear that I'll only grow bigger
with each one. Only more
of what I don't want to be.

And the failure of this thought
will pile
shovel-full after
shovel-full of the dirt
of shame
and guilt on top of me.
Now I am buried
on the cool tile floor.

A new weight.

It will relax me.

Beneath the soil the tiny seed of
hope will sprout.
Its delicate, pale green tendrils will
swirl toward the surface
seeking air and sun and
warm, summer rains and
days that aren't quite so very

by amy lorbach

July 22, 2016

Ten Little Pieces of Inspiration

One of my little places of inspiration, Grand Traverse Bay

Lately, I find myself seeking out little pieces of inspiration.

I don't know if it's the state of my mental and emotional well-being at the moment, or if it's the state of our world today. But I'm seeking. In the books I'm reading, in the Pinterest memes I come across, in thoughts shared on Instagram, in the words of friends...I'm hungry for bits of wisdom that might correct the course of my day, or week...or, life.

I find these little motivational nibbles remind me to do better and be better. And I am always striving. (Sometimes maybe a little too much.) I am trying not to strive so much in the way of the perfectionist, but more in the way of the Frankie. (see Netflix: Frankie & Grace; reference also Phoebe Buffet, Friends) Not seeking perfection, but goodness...or maybe grace.

So I thought I'd share ten of these little pieces of inspiration with you today. Maybe one of them will change the course of your week or day, or even just the tiniest moment...for even if the sun shines only for a moment, the flower still grows toward it. And that can only be good. To lean toward the sun.

Even better, to be the sun.

With all the negativity and hate and fear thrumming through our world today, I think we can all stand little more warmth, a little more light...and maybe to be the light.

Be a lamp or a lifeboat or a ladder. -Rumi  This makes me dream of doing great things. Until I suddenly feel totally incapable of doing great things. But then I remember that this can be a small gesture. A phone call to a friend at just the right moment. A kind word. A chat or a snuggle with your kid. A smile at a stranger. It is a great thing to be a lifeboat. But can be equally great to be a simple bedside lamp.

She designed a life she loved.  This reminds me that my life is what I make it. When you get caught up in the daily stuff of life, it can be really easy to feel like you're caught in the current on a fast-moving river. It's important to remember that that river is shallower than it looks, and if you just put your feet down you can stand up and wade to shore. You can take a break there or decide to walk in the woods instead or go find a different river to ride. Even when it doesn't feel like it, you can design a life you love.

She took a deep breath and let it go.  The thing I need to do every day, multiple times a day. Just take a deep breath and let it go. Sometimes we carry the weight of things with us, these heavy, heavy burdens of shame or anger or guilt. We need to remember to let them go. Shrug them off like a heavy wool coat. The walking on is easier that way.

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. -Pablo Picasso  Whether your enjoying it or creating it, art is a balm for the soul. It truly is. Make it a part of your everyday. Read. Write. Draw. Color. Paint. Stare at beautiful art. Listen to music. Sing. Dance. Compose. Create. It will always do you good. It always does me good.

Expectation is the root of all heartache.  When I used to work in market research (a lifetime ago)  everyone always thought that the most important measure of a new product was what we called purchase intent (how likely consumers said they were to buy it). I always thought that the other most important measure was "performance vs. expectations" (how well did the product perform against how you expected it to). And I think this is true of most things in life. If you expect everything in life to be perfect, and it's not, then you will be heartbroken. But I think it's less about lower your expectations than it is about not having expectations and just letting things happen as they will.

Do for one what you wish you could do for all. -Andy Stanley  Here's an example: When I look at all of the dogs and cats out there in need of "forever homes", all those who have been mistreated and abandoned, it breaks my heart. And it feels so overwhelming. How can we ever fix this? I get a surge of emotion and desire to adopt them all, which, of course, I can't do. But I can adopt one dog and give him a great, loving home. And I can change the world just a little by raising two amazing kids who will one day go out into that world and be little rays of light. I can be kind to the person right in front of me, and, like the beating wings of the butterfly, hope that the current of that kindness goes out into the world in waves of goodness that grace it all.

This is the beginning of anything you want. -Boy  Anything. Truly. You can start anything right now. Right. Now. Anything you want. Just do it.

Be a warrior not a worrier.  Some days this can be so hard. But the truth is that worry never accomplished anything. It never saved anyone. It never got anything done. It never helped. Ever. Instead of worrying about things, power through and make things happen like the warrior you are.

No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anyone but oneself. -Virginia Woolf  Oh my, how often am I trying to hurry and sparkle?  Just be you, without the fancy wrapping paper and big, bright bow. Just you. You're enough. 

Failure is only the opportunity to begin again. Only this time more wisely. -Henry Ford (variation)  I almost never am able to remember this in the moment of failure. It's only later, when I've calmed down and gained a little perspective that I can see this. I'm hoping to get better at seeing it in the moment. Someday.

And a bonus tidbit, from one of the great philosophers of our time...

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. -Ferris Bueller Remember that. It really is true. It. Goes. Fast.

Until next time, friends, be inspired...better yet, be an inspiration.

July 12, 2016

Zucchini-Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies

So, it's summer. (In case you hadn't noticed.) And summer means spoils from the garden and time to bake. So I've recently re-shared my favorite recipes for zucchini bread and zucchini brownies (which you can find here: MamaManagement Zucchini Recipes...along with a few others). Now I'm sharing my newest zucchini baked good: Zucchini-Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies.

If a chocolate chip cookie and a slice of zucchini bread had a baby, it would be these cookies. A marriage made in the gardens of heaven! They really are delicious...give them a try!

Zucchini-Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c sugar
1/3 c packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c shredded zucchini (excess water squeezed out and packed into measuring cup)
1 to 1 1/2 c old fashioned oats (start with 1 c and then see if you need more; I used closer to 1 1/2 c)
1 1/2 c chocolate chips
3/4 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl, then set aside.

Either in the bowl of an electric mixer or in a mixing bowl with a hand held mixer, whip together the butter, sugar and brown sugar until creamy. Mix in egg and vanilla. Mixing on low, add zucchini, mixing until combined. Then slowly add flour mixture. Stir in oats, chocolate chips and nuts (if adding). At this point, take a look at your dough and make sure you're happy with the consistency. It should be slightly wetter looking than your typical chocolate chip cookie dough. I started off using just 1 cup of oats, but ended up adding close to another half cup of oats to stiffen the dough a little more.

Scoop by tbsp onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake 11-14 minutes or until the edges are just a touch golden and the tops are set. Cool on baking sheet for a couple of minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.


Until next time, happy baking.

June 1, 2016

Listen * Support * Encourage * Believe

Some of the best parenting advice I've absorbed recently can be summed up in four little words:

Listen * Support * Encourage * Believe

I think I've shared this belief before: I believe that if you're paying attention, the universe is constantly sending you messages. And when they're really important, the universe will present these messages to you in a variety of ways, often in rapid succession.

The universe will put articles and books and people and experiences (and blog posts) in your path that direct you to lessons and information you need right now.

And that's how I feel about this particular lesson. I read at least three different articles/books/posts within a very short period of time that all said essentially the same thing about helping your child deal with tough stuff. And all at a time when I was feeling less sure about how best to help my 7 year old cope with increasing complex emotional and relational issues.

And the lesson can be boiled down to four steps.

When your child comes to you with a problem, or melts down and you're trying to understand why, or wallops her brother for no apparent reason, or is upset after school and won't say what's wrong....

Whatever the reason, when your child is dealing with something tough, don't dismiss his/her fears or anger; don't try to fix the problem for him/her; and don't banish him/her to their bedroom.

Why? In the words of Rachel Macy Stafford: My friends, shielding our loved ones from struggle, challenge, pain, and disappointment is tempting; I know. But let us remember the characteristics we most want our beloveds to develop are often born from a place of adversity. So that one day, when our beloveds come face to face with sadness, trauma, loss, or hopelessness, they will not be paralyzed with fear or give up because it's too hard. Instead they will say [to that adversity], "I know you. I've seen you before. You cannot take me down. In fact, I'll face you and come out stronger than I was before."

Instead of shielding our children from the tough things (or worse, ignoring that there even are tough things), try doing these four things:

Listen * Support * Encourage * Believe

1. Listen...Really listen to what they have to say. Hear what they are going through. Don't think about how you'll respond as they're talking. Don't interrupt them. Don't solve the problem, even if you know the solution. Just. Listen.
2. Support...When they've told you their story and you've truly heard it, offer your support. Let them know that you're there for them, that you love them unconditionally, that you support them in how they choose to handle things.
3. Encourage...Once you've shown them your support, give them some encouragement. Tell them that you believe they can handle this, that you believe they can overcome any obstacle, that you believe in them. Tell them that they're strong and smart and wonderful.
4. Believe...Then...really believe everything you've just said. Really believe in them. Really believe that they are strong and smart and wonderful. Really believe that they can handle this. Believe in your child. Believe that this too shall pass. Believe that he/she shall overcome.

It's that simple (not always actually "simple" to execute, though...until you get used to it). As RMS reminded me, our role in our children's pain and struggle is not to rescue, minimize or abandon them in their time of need, but is instead to listen, support, encourage and believe in their ability to overcome whatever obstacle they're struggling with.

Here's the really cool thing about this approach-- it's not just applicable to parenting. It's perfect when anyone (like your spouse or your best friend) brings a problem to you.

Guess who else you might want to give this a try with? You. Yep. You. The best thing you can do for yourself when you're faced with a problem...listen, support, encourage and believe. You deserve that just as much as your child and spouse and BFF do.

True story.

Thank you Dr. Laura Markham, Rachel Macy Stafford, Glennon Doyle Melton (some of my go-to parenting/life gurus) and all of the other people/places that shared some form of this concept with me in recent months. And thank you, universe, for bringing it to me.

Until next time, happy relating to the ones you love most (and listening, supporting, encouraging and believing ;-) ).


**To read Rachel Macy Stafford's post that was part of the inspiration for this blog post, click here: http://www.handsfreemama.com/2016/03/29/your-role-in-a-loved-ones-struggle/. **