Break Time!

I probably should have shared this at the beginning of the week, but I kind of forgot I’d planned to.

My parents are coming to visit! We’ve not seen them since Thanksgiving, and this will be our first time visiting with them since we’ve been vaccinated. I am so excited. Like, really, really, REALLY excited.

So, I’ll be taking a writing break for the rest of the week. I just want to focus on spending time with everyone and making that time count. But I’ll be back on Monday, May 31st, with a short story. And I hope it’ll be a good one.

In the meantime, I wish you all happy creating, and leave you with a cute picture of our little summer dog.

See you Monday!

A Poem for Meg

“What lovely flowers,”
I say,
and what I mean is:
“I see how much work it took
to create this blissful space.
It’s something I could never do,
at least,
not without significant difficulty.
I appreciate the beautiful things
you’ve planted and nurtured.
I can see the love in your heart,
because you’ve poured it
into these little pink sunbursts,
and all of the others around us, too.
I’m grateful for this time with you
in your garden.”
But that’s a mouthful
and a half,
and we’ve got limited time
this visit.
So what I say is simply,
“What lovely flowers.”
And I trust that you’ll get the message.

Found Friday #31: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers…”

Graham has entered his busy season at work, and the last two weeks have been really exhausting for him. I don’t generally encourage overwork, but I’m proud of him for hanging in there. He’s smart and talented at his job. But I know he’s tired. And so this week, I wanted to do something special for him, and feature some of the photos he’s taken lately of the birds we’ve been seeing this spring.

He’s a good photographer, and he’s always trying to get better, and I’m proud of him for that, too.

We see cardinals around the property all the time. They are the state bird of Virginia, so it’s not surprising, but they’re really lovely, and fun to watch.

This little guy hangs out on our power line almost every day. I wonder what he’s thinking about.

Just, you know, sitting down to lunch together.

I hope Graham has more time in the not too distant future to get outside and snap some pictures, and just to relax and do the things he likes to do, generally. But in the meantime, I’ll be here, cheering him on. And bragging on him a little. 😉

It’s already Wednesday?!

I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather today. Not COVID, and nothing serious. It’s just been sort of a busy time, and I’ve not been eating or sleeping well, and it appears to have finally caught up with me. Today, since my body didn’t really give me a choice, I’ve just been lounging and resting. And then it hit me, about ten minutes ago, that it’s Wednesday, and I always write a blog post on Wednesday.

Oops…

I try to write a few posts ahead, I really do, but it doesn’t always work out. And for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been writing posts day of. And today, I haven’t written anything.

Again, oops…

But, here’s a cute picture of Annie (also lounging, but not beside me, because she’s stingy with her cuddles sometimes) instead.

And I’ll be back with an actual, real post on Friday.

*P.S. Any good book/movie/TV recommendations would be highly appreciated! I doubt I’ll sleep much tonight, and I’d love to have a good distraction. Thanks, y’all!*

Why I Still Take Voice Lessons

“But why are you taking voice lessons?”

I get this question a lot. It’s usually followed by:

“You can sing.”

And, well, yes, I can. I’ve been singing for longer than I’ve been talking, or so my parents tell me, and it’s one of my favorite things in the world – to feel the music and create a moment and a memory.

But as with any skill, singing requires technique, patience, and practice, and the more diligent you are, the better you’ll become.

And I suppose that’s the simple answer to why I still take voice lessons. But I thought it would be interesting today to dig a little deeper. So, let’s get started.

I take lessons because I enjoy them.

I like learning. Even when it’s hard. Even when it knocks me down a peg. And the more I learn, the more I realize I still need to learn, and that’s exciting. Plus, I just like singing, and so it’s fun to set aside at least an hour every week that I know will be devoted to something I truly enjoy.

I take lessons because I am decidedly not an expert.

I started voice lessons when I was nine years old. I took them all throughout school, and then into college. And then I took a really long break. I decided that singing wasn’t what I wanted to do as a career, and I focused on other things. In the decade and change I wasn’t taking lessons, there were a lot of things I…well…forgot. Muscle memory fades, technique gets rusty. I’m not a bad singer, but I can be so much better, and I want to be.

I take lessons because it holds me accountable.

I’m going to tell you a shameful secret. Are you ready? Oh, God, I hate to admit it, but: I AM LAZY. Like, really, I’m terrible at deadlines, I really like naps, and I’m not great at motivating myself. I do it, and I work hard, but it’s a challenge. Having a teacher (an awesome one, I might add) who can keep me accountable and help me choose the right areas to focus on is just really invaluable, and it keeps me moving forward.

I take lessons because it makes a difference.

I get a little better with every vocal warm-up. I get a little better every time I master a difficult passage in a song. With every lesson, I get better. And the better I get, the happier I am. My voice is an instrument, just like a guitar or a piano. How I take care of it, and the love I give to it, matters.

I take lessons because there is always more to learn.

I mentioned this a little earlier, but I think it deserves a few more words. I will never know everything about how to be the best singer I can be. The more I learn, the better I get, the more that world will open up to me, and the more I’ll have to learn. And I think this is applicable in life, just generally. There is always, always more to learn, and I’m pretty satisfied knowing that I’ll be a perennial student. It makes me excited, knowing that I’m just one breakthrough away from the next life-changing piece of information.

I think that covers it pretty well, but now I’m curious. I’d love to know – do you have a skill you’re still working to hone? How do you approach it? What motivates you to keep learning?

A random post for a Monday, I know, and different from my usual content, but I hope you enjoyed it!

Found Friday #30: Gatsby’s New Hobby

Y’all, what have I done?

The other night, relaxing in bed for a bit before I went to sleep, I was watching a video about a talking raven. Now, Gatsby has never, not once in his life, been even remotely interested in what’s on TV. He’s never noticed. He’s never paid any attention at all.

Well, he noticed that talking raven, and stalked down to the edge of the bed, and watched. Intensely. And so I thought, oh, fun, I’ll put on some videos for cats. Maybe he’ll enjoy them for a while. He’s an old cat. I won’t deny him some TV time if he wants it.

Now, he’s a cat obsessed. Whenever we come up to bed, he waits (mostly politely) for his shows to start. He stares at the blank screen and meows at us until we put something on it. He gets as close as he can, like a little kid watching cartoons. He gets invested. He watches TV like a little old lady watching her soap operas. It’s the most focused I’ve seen him in ages.

I think I’ve created a couch potato…

The Joyful Return of Live Music (or, Friends + Music = Happy Katie)

I’ve missed a great many things over the last year and change. I’ve missed hugs, I’ve missed people, I’ve missed travel, I’ve missed parties. Some of the things I’ve missed feel trivial – I love parties, but they’re not critical to my happiness – and some feel big, like hugging my parents. And some things just feel so…weird? I don’t know if that’s the right word. Like, just not right. Like, my world is not right without them. And one of those things is live music.

Music has always been a huge part of my life. I’ve written about that before, so I won’t tread old ground, but suffice it to say that me and music are an item. Long-term. Forever. We’ve never broken up and we never will. Music + Katie = True Love. My world without hearing live music has just been not quite right.

Which is why I’m so grateful that it seems live music is coming back, and that I live in an area where there’s plenty of live music to see, and that I have extremely talented and gracious friends (link below to their page) who, last Thursday, gave me the opportunity to make some good noise with them. Which, let’s be honest, is pretty much my favorite thing.

And luckily, Graham got a video! So, I thought I’d share it with all of you. I hope it brings you joy, as it did for me.

* The Crooked Angels are an extraordinarily talented, creative force for all that is good and positive in this universe. And they’re pretty cool people, too. Check out their music and share it with your friends. You’ll be glad you did. And so will I. 😉*

I Have My Mother’s (A Belated Mother’s Day Poem)

I have my mother’s eyes.
I have her temper, too,
and her stubborn streak.
(Just ask my dad.)
I have her joy in reading –
not from inheritance, but habit –
and, I hope, also, her kindness.
My mother taught me to laugh,
and grace and patience.
And she gave me part of herself:
years of time,
of being together,
of lessons,
of hugs and of presents,
and of watching her wild child grow.
She gave a million little moments
to build me up.
I have my mother’s heart,
a lifetime’s worth of love,
the greatest treasure.
And she has mine.

Found Friday #29: Look who’s back!

Back in September, I shared some pictures of a little fox family that had made their home under our barn in the spring. It seems Mama Fox liked that spot, because she came back this year.

We’ve seen her out and about pretty frequently, but we’ve only gotten occasional glimpses of two little kits.

They were out this morning, though, and my goodness, they’re adorable. I feel very lucky that I get a front row seat to watch them grow.

Listen, Step Back, and Trust Your Gut (or: How I Wrote My Latest Story)

I thought it might be fun today to talk a little bit about my creative process, and to show you what my latest short story, “Quiet Neighbors,” looked like when I started writing it. This isn’t something I’ve done before, but as I work to make a better routine for myself and eventually, hopefully finish a novel, I think it might actually be helpful to take a better look at how I’m currently operating.

So, first thing – I never really plan ahead, and I usually don’t know what I’ll write about when I open up my laptop and get started. Sometimes, a setting will come to me first. With “Quiet Neighbors,” it was a suburban neighborhood, newly built, without much space between houses (or privacy between neighbors). Sometimes, I’ll hear a voice first. When this happens, I listen. I always like to write from a character-driven place, and so if I’ve got a strong character from the get go, I feel like I’ve already got a head start on the work to come. When “Quiet Neighbors” started to take shape as what it eventually became, it was the narrator’s voice that compelled me to write. I wanted to know more about that character, and how that character perceived and interacted with the world.

Second thing – I try not to force a story to work. There’s lots of advice – and it’s good advice – about forging ahead and writing past blocks, but I find that if a story isn’t flowing, I’m not telling it the right way. When this happens, I like to take a step back, a few days away, and just give my brain time to think and process. In the case of “Quiet Neighbors,” I actually loved what I was building when I started, but something just wasn’t clicking. And so I started to look at it differently, and pretty quickly, things fell into place, I think as they were always meant to. I don’t mean to say that I never push through, and that every story has to flow easily for me actually finish it, but if my gut tells me it’s not right, I trust it.

And now, because I’m sure (or at least, I hope) I’ve made you curious, here’s what “Quiet Neighbors” looked like when I started it. It became something I’m really proud of, but it certainly didn’t start where it ended up, and I have to say, I couldn’t be more pleased about that.

*************

“The Quiet Neighbors”

There are two things you should know. The first is this: We liked them. They seemed like a bright young couple.

They moved in on a rainy day at the beginning of April, one of those gray, not quite cold days when you can feel the spring in the air. We heard the moving truck before we saw it, clunking down the wet pavement, the hiss of rain-slick tires.

We missed the MacKinnons. They’d lived in the big house at the end of the cul-de-sac for ten years before they moved, raised their children alongside all of ours. They hosted a Christmas party every year, they always put out the best Halloween candy and they could be relied on, you know?

Their house sat on the market for longer than anyone thought it would. Almost ten months ticked by filled with a string of showings and open houses, and a couple of times, the house went under contract. We all offered to help. We landscaped the garden beds over the summer and kept the front porch swept. We shoveled the driveway when it snowed. We all wanted to see the house sell, not only because we knew it make life easier for the MacKinnons – they’d moved in with her mother because of the cancer – but because we wanted the best new neighbors we could get. We wanted someone who’d take pride in the house and the neighborhood, just like the MacKinnons had, and just like we do. That’s what makes a good neighborhood. That’s what makes a home.

So the moving truck pulled into the driveway in the middle of an early spring downpour. We’d heard about the new owners from the realtor. A young married couple with no children (yet). They both worked in the city but wanted the space to grow. They had one dog, no cats, and oddly, only one car.

“How do they commute to the city?” That was Mr. Grayson to the realtor.

“They drive in together,” the realtor answered, “and they both get to work from home on Friday.”

“Must be nice.”