Monday, September 9, 2019

Taking Time

college applications                 homecoming                            flag football                basketball

            SATs               final edits                    potty train the pup             class changes

driving permit                         transcript requests                   update kitchen cabinets

            soccer games                           ortho appointments                 haircuts            FAFSA          

taxi girls to school + everywhere else on earth           clean fridge            groom dogs

Here’s a limited picture of all that’s going on in the coming month for me. If you look closely, there’s not a whole lot of “me” in the mix. Because I anticipate these activities will wipe me out, I’m guarding my time. I won’t be back to blog until October.

I’m grateful my husband and I got away briefly over the weekend to celebrate twenty years of marriage. Here I am getting ready to go out on the water—one of my favorite places to be.

Hope you have a great September. Practice self-care and be kind.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Small Improvements

Something was bugging me. That’s usually where the inception for a new project begins. This bathroom was fine before I jumped into fix-it-mode, but that’s just it . . . fine wasn’t going to cut it anymore. (Like how I present an extra messy portrayal for the "before" pics?) ;-)

I’m constantly looking for ways to beautify my surroundings—ways to improve. This minor project ended up costing me next to nothing. I already owned all the paint for the cabinets, mirror, walls, and the floor. Pinterest was my friend, teaching me to be brave enough to paint tile.

Over the course of a few months, a few baby steps at a time, and this bathroom got a makeover. It’s nothing to scream wow over, but it makes me smile. And it feels fresh and updated.

Now if my girls would only stop trying to create toothpaste art on the counter.

Working on a project lately? Feel free to share pics.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Demo Day

Remember the bunk bed in my youngest daughter’s room, the one that made it impossible for me to paint the entire room so I ended up painting these stencil designs on her wall? I blogged about this several months after we moved in. And my girl liked the stencils. Until she sort of didn’t. She’s had a new color for her walls in mind for months. A light shade of charcoal. The stencils had worn out their welcome.

Normally I might not be so accommodating. I’d likely throw a typical mom-response at her, something like, “Well, you’ll have to live with it for a while.” But here’s the thing. She did live with it for a while. She was a trooper and agreed to have the bulky bunk bed in her room even though she never wanted it. And I happen to love to paint. So . . .

Charcoal gray it is. I painted everything I could around the massive bunk bed, then when it was clear this wasn’t a priority project for anyone else in the family, I got to work. I dissembled the top portion of the bed. Taking it apart took hours. The bolts and screws were seriously secure. I got to the last screw and I almost lost it. It stripped out, making it a real task to remove the last awkward piece of wood. Of course. On the last screw. Then I remembered the hammer I stored in the bathroom cabinet after sealing the paint can lid tight. I channeled Chip Gaines and went nuts on the remaining wooden slat. It was both therapeutic and a little scary. It felt great. A real “Here’s Johnny” moment. But the slat wouldn’t budge.

Until . . .

After a good ten minutes of whacking the daylights out of the bed, I took a deep breath. I reconsidered the direction I was wailing on the wood. I changed the position of my hammer, as a fresh idea tickled the base of my skull. With a healthy whack, and a new game plan, I thought about the vulnerable points in the wood. Then I launched my last attack. And the last piece of wood gave way.

I’m free to paint the rest of the room today. And all is right with the world. Nothing a little spontaneous demolition and paint can’t fix.

*Went a little lighter w/ the color. It’s called Portsmouth Landing. Will post pics when room is finished.

Monday, August 12, 2019

5 Ways to Jumpstart a Stalled Plot

Writing a novel can be a deliciously unpredictable process. Characters can spring surprises on me. Plots can wind in fantastic new directions. But there’s one thing I can pretty much rely on when working on a fresh idea. Somewhere, and at some point, when I reach the middle, the book will threaten to stall. It will dig its heels in and obstinately refuse to take another step.

Good thing I’m aware of this pattern. Because it’s forced me to learn how to deal with it. I have several coping mechanisms for this type of stubbornness. One is to plot out the book well in advance. However, there are times even that doesn’t work and then I have to rely on the other tools I’ve collected through the years.

Here are five ways to get the heart of your plot beating again when it starts to flatline . . .

Let Your MC Loose
Think of the craziest thing your main character might possibly do. Come up with a list. Of course these actions shouldn’t be entirely out of the blue, but tied to their personality, their wants, desires, losses, etc. Then, consider how instead of that bizarre and insane act, your main character could carry out a modified version of it. For example, instead of flinging himself off a roof, your main character could throw a highly valued item off a roof or something else that would create emotional consequences in his life.

Imagine a Window
In my years as an avid runner, I used to pass by people’s homes and wonder about their lives. Do they eat dinner together? Do they argue? Who goes up to bed first? I’d create all kinds of scenarios in my mind. Sometimes the middle of a book requires an author to take a step back. To adopt a unique vantage point. Behold your novel and your characters as though you’re on the outside of their house, looking in. Stalk them if you must.

Kill or Introduce
Some middles beg me to get ruthless. There’s nothing left to do but kill someone off. Other times it’s not necessary for me to be quite so brutal. Instead, I invite an entirely new, albeit significant character into the mix. Think the mother-in-law in Big Little Lies.

Lift the Candy Higher out of Reach
Know what means the most to your character. Then keep it just out of reach. Or tease it close enough to touch, then pull it away. This creates beautiful tension. It’s all about understanding the acuity of timing.

Press the Button
Along the same lines as dangling candy, a wonderful way to add more tension to a plot is to make your character hurt. I know, so mean. But it works. And as the author are the one with the best insight about what will hurt the most. You have access to all the memories, the scars, the fears, and the insecurities. The middle is the perfect place to press all the right buttons to make it feel like things may never go right for the hero. Cruel as it may seem, pressing the button might be exactly what your plot needs to get a move on.

It’s been given the unfortunate nickname of Sagging Middle. Novelists, don’t disgrace your book like this. Don’t let it deserve that name. Imbue life back into the middle. Get creative. Break from formulaic writing. Free up the plot so it can breathe again.

Monday, July 29, 2019

My Way Through

Every so often I come across a book that moves me in a memorable and transformative way. I think there’s a reason I was inspired to read ONCE MORE WE SAW STARS by Jayson Greene during this season of my life. In this poignant memoir, a father draws a map for the grieving soul as he recounts, through raw and honest narrative, the heartbreak of losing his young daughter.

Greene finds language I wasn’t sure existed as he details the agony and release I’ve been experiencing in these past months after losing my sister. Through his story, I’ve received layered and comforting truths, truths like I’m not alone, and others are walking, have walked, and will walk this rocky terrain.

Someone recently asked me why I’d want to read a book like this, questioning if this kind of story would just make me sadder. Yes and no. It’s a good sad. A necessary sad. Emotion that connects me with humankind and strengthens every empathy bone in my body. Books like this are my way through. And I’m grateful beyond words for Greene’s vulnerable portrayal of loss and life after loss because it’s become an unexpected and beautiful pathway on my own road to healing.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Most Helpful Writing Advice

I’ve been hard at this novel writing gig for twelve years now. I’ve lost track of how many books I’ve written, not to mention how many I’ve started.

Ready for my wild and crazy two cents on how to improve your craft?

I can sum it up in one word because one word has been doing it for me for a dozen years.


Get your hands and eyes on as many books as possible. Glean an understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Learn story. Read for pleasure. Read for instruction. Expose yourself to multiple genres and styles.

I’ve always thought it’s the coolest thing that every time I pick up a book I can call it research.
Even in these sleepless days of puppy raising, I’m finding time to read. It’s important to me and it’s an imperative practice for writers who want to improve.

A little bonus literary fun . . . the cover of the book I’m reading matches my reading glasses.

*In other news, I have my suspicions my puppy is fake-peeing when I take her out. She squats so I’ll lavish her with praise, but I think she’s mastering the art of faking me out.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Everything My Puppy Reveals about Me

I brought home another baby last week. After months of discussing it, we committed to becoming a family home with two dogs. Meet our puppy, Bear . . .

Going on little sleep and a lot of coffee, I’ve been thinking about the kind of influence Bear has had on me in the past eight days. In this puppy stage, she requires a great deal of work, however she’s a pure joy and worth every second I invest in her.

The following are a few reflections I’ve had as I take on the task of raising another puppy.

Bear has brought to light . . .

How I respond to inconveniences
Cleaning up accidents is not my idea of a relaxing summer task. It’s tedious, humbling, and no one ever feels like doing it. But I have a choice how I go about it. Complain with every squirt of Resolve or suck it up and just do it.

How well I function on little sleep
Ha! Let’s just say I’ve been freakishly forgetful lately. Naps are my best friend. I have to be mindful to keep my fogginess and my irritability in check. This is familiar ground. Babies put me through the same test.

My preferred method of teaching
I’m a researcher. My Google feed must have forty different puppy-type searches on it. I want to learn all I can, then adapt my style with what works. I’ve always believed in the philosophy there is no one way. For me there are forty ways squished into one workable, effective way that often adjusts in time.

How willing I am to admit when I’m wrong
I started off following an old school method of raising a pup, only to do a little fact-finding and quickly shift my application. I was wrong. I didn’t like the first way. So I changed.

My ability to trust a little one to learn—to let go of perfection and control
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told myself she’ll get it over the past week. She will though. I wouldn’t expect a baby to act like a young child. Growing up is hard work. It’s my job to guide Bear through that in a safe and loving environment. That’s the fun part, really—watching her get it and releasing control.

How well I’m able to step back and allow others to work out conflict resolution
We knew this transition could be interesting because we threw two dogs in the mix. They need time to figure out where they stand. There’ve been some dicey moments. 

Then again, there are times we catch them chilling out together like this . . .

Most of all Bear has shown me how much love I still have left to give.

Taking Time

college applications                 homecoming                            flag football                basketball             SATs   ...