A Song for Graham (Bonus Post!)

I know this isn’t a normal posting day for me, but y’all, my husband and I have been together for 12 years today, and I forgot until about 3:00 this afternoon.

On this day, 12 years ago, Graham and I basically looked at each other and said, “Let’s do this.” And here we are now, after all this time, married since 2013, living in our little historic house in our beautiful village with our needy pets and our embarrassingly extensive wine collection, and I have never been happier for anything in my entire life.

I can’t believe I forgot.

So, to make up for it, here’s a little Cole Porter, by way of Patsy Cline, for Graham. Note – no makeup, frizzy hair, don’t care. The most important thing is the love. I hope you feel it, too.

Real Talk: I don’t like public speaking.

I just don’t. It doesn’t make me nervous or afraid or anything. But public speaking is definitely not something I enjoy.

(I’ve got an obligation to do it tonight, and I’m already thinking about it, at 9:23 a.m. Can you tell?)

When I write, I feel like I have time to choose my words perfectly, to build them perfectly, and that people will take time to read them and digest them.

And I love to sing. I love to tell a story in a song. Basically, anywhere, anytime, and to any crowd. Here’s me, at my wedding, being both the bride and the entertainment.

One of my favorite memories, honestly.

But when I’m up speaking in front of people, even if I’ve written my statement and practiced it and I’m confident that it’s good and right, I’ll second guess myself. I’ll worry about my tone, my delivery, and my body language, and that the words I’ve chosen aren’t actually all that good or right, and that I’m not getting my message across, and that I’ve lost the audience halfway through.

What I’m saying, I think, is that public speaking is just not one of my core strengths.

But I want it to be!

So I’d love to hear any advice or suggestions from you. 😊 How do you approach making public statements? How do you pump yourself up and keep from second guessing yourself? And, for those of you who enjoy public speaking, do you have any advice for how I could shift my perspective?

Introducing: The Better Friendships Podcast!

I am so excited to share this announcement with all of you! I’ve been working on this project with a very good, very talented, very smart and fun and amazing friend since the summer, and tomorrow, it finally launches.

Here’s some information from our website on what it’s all about:

Have you ever struggled to stay connected to your friends? Have you had a friend breakup? On the other hand, have you ever met someone and just clicked immediately? Or enjoyed a years-long friendship that makes you feel whole?

Friendships are hard work, and research has shown that strong friendships make women happier, healthier, and more successful. But research – and our own personal experience – also indicates that many women struggle to make and keep close friends. We see depictions of mean girls on TV and in movies, we read about toxic female friendships in some of today’s most popular fiction, and there are countless self-help books dedicated to building and maintaining friendships. (We’ve read lots of them.)

Clearly, friendship is important to women, and we believe that all women deserve positive, supportive friendships that enrich their lives and raise them up. We believe in better friendships! And we want to help you build them. Join us every other Tuesday for Better Friendships.

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, or if you know someone who would be, then please tune in tomorrow, January 5th, for the very first episode of Better Friendships! You can find us on all major podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. In the meantime, check out our website, our Facebook page, and find us on Instagram  at @better_friendships.

Let’s be friends, y’all!

My 2021 Goals

I set goals every year, and I’m normally too shy to share them. But I’ve seen lots of posts over the last few days about goals and hopes for the new year, and I’ve found them all so encouraging. For what they’re worth, here are the goals I’ve set for 2021. I’m nervous to put them out there, but you all have made me feel brave and inspired. So, here goes!

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Go hiking and get outside more often

Whenever my husband and I travel, we hike. We’ve done big hikes and small hikes, and I’ve loved them all. I’m not the fittest person out there, but I’m pretty capable.

I don’t do a lot of hiking in my everyday life, though, and truthfully, I spend a lot of time inside. In my pajamas. I’d like to change that this year, and plan a good hike at least once per month. And, you know, just be outside more. There’s a lovely patio out back, after all, and I’m sure it would be nice to do some writing in the sunshine every now and again.

Make some improvements to the house

I love my house. I know I talk about it a lot. But I really, really love it. It’s the first place I’ve lived in my adult life that really feels like home.

In 2021, I’d like to spend some time painting, decorating, cleaning up and refreshing, and maybe even renovating (lightly…and inexpensively). I’ve not made a complete list of what I want to do, but I would like to make my home a priority in the coming months.

Continue to work on and grow this blog

And to engage with my wonderful followers. I’ve gained over 100 this year, and you all are amazing. Thank you for reading! And for writing and sharing your own thoughts and stories. 😊 In the new year, I’d like to gain 100 more followers, and to put out good, interesting, creative content that resonates and gets people thinking.

Start a YouTube channel

This is something I actually wanted to do in 2020, and I just chickened out on it. It’s kind of intimidating to think about being on camera. But I would love to take you all along on some of my adventures, especially in the beautiful Virginia countryside.

And to show you what it’s like to live in a very old house, and to just share some of my day-to-day life with you. What else would you like to see? Let me know. Maybe it will help me be brave enough to actually get something up and running!

Finish a novel

Oh yes, the big one. The main goal. The dream. I’ve been in some phase of working on a novel since 2016 when I started this blog. I’ve got several in various states of doneness. This year, I’d like to actually finish one. And then, if I can work up my courage, start the hard work on trying to get it published. Maybe to hold myself accountable I’ll do a weekly or monthly feature here. Is that something you all would like to read? I think it would help me to share the journey with you.

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And there they are, out there for everyone to see. I feel like by posting them here, perhaps I’ve spoken them into being. 2020 hasn’t been the year I thought it would be, but I’ve worked hard and accomplished a lot.

2021 will be better, I hope. I certainly plan to do everything I can to make it as good and as happy as it can be.

Oh, and one more thing!

I actually have a super exciting project to announce. It’s been a labor of love for the last several months, and I’m so excited to share it with you guys at the beginning of January. So stay tuned!

And on my December short story…

It’s almost done. It’ll be up on Wednesday. I swear.

Merry Christmas! (But It’s 2020…)

Well.

Hmmm.

I honestly don’t know where to start.

To say that this Christmas has not gone according to plan is an understatement. We aren’t where we thought we’d be. We aren’t spending time with the people we thought we’d be seeing. And I’m not making a lovely dinner for my husband’s wonderful parents.

Yeah, 2020 threw us yet another curveball.

But, you know, it’s fine.

We’re home, and we’re safe and healthy. It snowed a bit this morning. The Christmas tree is all illuminated and there’s a fire in our fireplace. The cat’s napping and the dog’s being cuddly, and we’ve got vanilla crème brûlée in the oven and a roast in the Crockpot.

I’m thankful for all of it. My heart goes out this year to everyone who isn’t so fortunate. This is a Christmas we’ll all remember, I think, and not for the best reasons. But I hope we’re all the happier for it next year, when we can hopefully celebrate with family and friends. And without worry.

From my home and my heart to yours, merry Christmas! I wish all of you joy, love, warmth, comfort, and very good wine (or the tasty beverage of your choice).

And I promise to have my short story up next week.

A Note on My December Short Story

I’ve been plugging away at my December short story this week. I think I like what I’ve got and where I’m going. My original goal was to post it today, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. So, I’ll try to post on Friday. It’s a Christmas story (I think), so it would make sense to post it on Christmas Day (I think).

If not by Christmas Day, then it will be next week.

By the end of December, there will be a new short story on this blog.

I don’t struggle with deadlines, I think, so much as I struggle with ideas. I’ve got lots and often I’ll start a few different stories at once and see which one finishes first. I’ve started two different stories for December, and I like them both. I’ve put in a similar amount of time on them at this point, but I think I know which one I’ll focus on in the coming hours/days.

I don’t know yet quite where it’s going, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it gets there.

I think that’s my favorite part of writing, at the end of the day. I love the journey. I love starting with almost nothing – a character, or a sentence, or a setting, or a few lines a dialogue – and building a whole world in the course of just a few pages.

There’s nothing quite so tantalizing and terrifying as a blank page.

So, onward, and we’ll see where I get to. Or rather, where the story takes me. Somewhere good, I hope, and a bit Christmas-y.

Four Snow Haiku

Delicate and slow
Snowflakes descend from gray skies
And turn the world bright

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In rhythm with life
Like white petals on a breeze
Fragile crystals fall

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Powder coats the ground
Soft like sweet icing sugar
Dessert for the eyes

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This new snow globe world
Brief and fleeting as a breath
Fantasy made real

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I love snow. I’ve always loved snow. I like the way that life slows down when it snows. I like the reminder that fragile things – tiny, delicate things – like snowflakes, can have a huge impact and tremendous power.

A December snowstorm is a truly rare thing here in Virginia. The forecast has changed several times over the last hours, so I’m not sure how much snow we’ll get today, but I can tell you one thing:

I will enjoy every single millimeter and every single moment of it.

What scares you the most about writing?

Someone told me once that they wouldn’t be brave enough to write, and that I must be very brave to try. I’ve been thinking about that this week, as 2020 comes to an end and I set goals and dream dreams for next year.

I’m not a very brave person. Truly. I’m afraid of heights, snakes, flying, germs (ESPECIALLY NOW), crowds, ladybugs (Don’t ask. I don’t know either.), and the dark. Yes, the dark. And yes, I am in my thirties.

When I decided I wanted to write – really write, and make a career of writing – it wasn’t out of courage. It was out of desperation. I felt like there was nothing else in the universe I could do, and do as well, as write, and that if I didn’t get my words out there, part of me would just…shrivel up and die. And I felt like I was perilously close to that happening, and I couldn’t let it. I couldn’t lose myself.

I know. It sounds very dramatic. I’m a Leo. And an only child. And a retired theatre kid.

But the sad truth is, writing scares me, too. I figure anything worth doing should probably scare you a little, and sharing my thoughts and my fears and my hopes and my demons with the world is pretty frightening.

The thing that scares me the most, though, more than anything else, is that once I write and put my words out there, they don’t belong to me anymore. They belong to anyone who reads them. And once I’ve sent my poems and stories and essays out into the great, wide world, I hope they’ll find the people who need them, who want them, who will love them. But I know the world is not a safe, kind place for stories.

I write anyway. I think that’s the thing about life. You’ll always be afraid, and you’ll live anyway. Boats are safest in the harbor.

But that’s not where they’re made to be. So of course, I’m afraid to put my writing out there. But I do it anyway, because stories are meant to be read. And words are their own kind of magic. And I’d rather use the magic and be afraid than live a life without any magic at all.

Some Thoughts on 2020 Thanksgiving (and Why I’ve Already Decorated for Christmas)

This time last year, we were prepping for a big Thanksgiving with my husband’s family, and a quick trip right after to Las Vegas.

We stayed busy. We saw EVERYONE. Hugs all around.

And I got to see the Grand Canyon for the first time.

We came home exhausted.

This year? Well, we’re exhausted. We’re in the middle of self-quarantining for fourteen days, so that, if we’re still healthy and they’re still healthy and none of us has had any known COVID exposures or symptoms, we can see my parents over the holiday next week.

Just my parents. No large gatherings. I don’t even know if we’ll make the traditional dinner.

Yes, so far, the holidays feel very different this year. But, as I look forward to next week, whatever we end up doing with ourselves, I am thankful.

I’m thankful that my family is healthy, and that I’m healthy. I’m thankful to have money coming in, and food on my table, and a roof over my head, and books. I’m thankful for books, always. I’m thankful to have time to write and to rest. I’m thankful for the sun in the morning and the moon at night and for a world that just keeps turning even in the midst of chaos and crisis.

2020 hasn’t been the year I anticipated, but it’s the year I got, and I’ve tried to be as grateful and happy as possible for every little thing that’s good. And where I can, I’ve tried to make good things happen.

Which is why it’s November 18th and I’ve already put up Christmas decorations.

No regrets. It was the right choice. What can I say? This year’s been all about finding joy even in the darkest of times.

It’s been hard. It will likely continue to be hard. But I’m here and I’m healthy and my loved ones are, too. And in 2020, that’s plenty to give thanks for.

A Grandfather’s Story

Veteran’s Day always makes me think of my grandfather, my favorite veteran.

He died in 2015. He didn’t talk much about his service, at least not to me. What little I do know, I’ve learned from my mother, and I’m always trying to piece it together in stories, because those are all I have left of him now. I wonder how many grandchildren could say the same thing.

Here’s something I wrote not long after he died. I thought I might include it in a larger work (that still isn’t done, and might never be).

Some of it’s true.

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At a fork in an old country road, surrounded by rocky fields and green mountains and flanked on both sides by cracked pavement, sits an old white farmhouse. Its shutters and clapboard are going grey, its chimney is crumbling, and any reminder that it used to be part of a functioning farm is long gone, replaced by overgrown patches of wild onions and cattails. There’s no sign now that it ever housed a family. This is the house where my grandfather grew up, nestled outside of a small Appalachian town.

The land is called Hell’s Half Acre, and my grandfather knew, when he was a boy, that he’d have to work it. Walking home from school, a satchel of books swinging in his hand, he wondered every day if it would be the last he’d make the trek. And one day it was. He left school in seventh grade, a servant to the farm. It was that, he told my mother, or be sold to another family, one with the resources to afford another mouth to feed.  Instead, he used his hands to work. Evenings on the farm, and days underground, laying wood for mine shafts. And each day, he’d stare at the fork in the road, and wonder if he’d ever get to choose any direction at all.

“When I grow up,” he said to himself, eating dinner at a quiet table full of tired, hungry people, between gulps of buttermilk and bites of toasted biscuit, “when I grow up…” He didn’t dare dream of that time. Dreaming felt hopeless, not an escape but a trap, a long, dark tunnel with no light at the end. 

Then, when he turned sixteen, there came a war.

“I’m going to sign up,” he said to his brother, and he did. He lied about his age, though not by much, and found himself on a train west, to basic training somewhere in the Dakotas. And then a ship east, to Africa. And then a ship north, to Italy. And it was there, sleeping in empty towns and eating blood-spackled bread, that he met a girl. Sort of.

Back home, my grandmother was reading books by flashlight every night, hiding under her covers from a father who thought women shouldn’t read and a step-mother who wore her dead mother’s clothes. Sometimes, in the quiet, heavy darkness, my grandmother would talk to her sister, who died when they were both very young, because she had no one else to talk to. 

“Lucy,” she’d say, “when I grow up…” And she’d pause. “When I grow up…”  And she couldn’t finish the thought. When she grew up, she would be some man’s wife, some child’s mother, and finally some graveyard’s newest coffin.

And then one day, she sent a picture and a letter to a soldier from the county, off fighting in a war that involved the whole world. And it changed everything.