Happy 35th to me!

Today’s my birthday!

I’m 35. Which feels an awful lot like 34. But five-ier? To be clear, I didn’t expect any life-changing revelations when I woke up this morning. And my goals for the day are pretty modest. I just want to enjoy the sunshine, read some books, eat something sweet, and hang out with Graham.

So, this post will be a little short so I can get on all of that. I think it’ll still be fun, though. Last year, I posted 34 fun facts about me. This year, I present to you, in no particular order, 35 of my favorite things.

  1. Chocolate malt milkshakes
  2. Hayao Miyazaki movies
  3. Hot coffee on a cold day
  4. Cold coffee on a hot day
  5. Earl Grey tea with lemon
  6. Chicago (the city)
  7. Chicago (the musical)
  8. Also Gypsy (the musical)
  9. Red Velvet cake
  10. The Blue Ridge Mountains
  11. Old houses
  12. New friends
  13. Old friends, too
  14. And old books
  15. And new books
  16. John Prine
  17. Neil Gaiman
  18. Yona of the Dawn
  19. Mozart
  20. Dirt roads
  21. Craft beer (and cider)
  22. Weeping willow trees
  23. Guitars
  24. Wood-burning fireplaces
  25. Antiques
  26. Foggy mornings
  27. Rainy days
  28. Winter
  29. Snow
  30. Chicken and dumplings
  31. Christmas
  32. Halloween
  33. Foxes
  34. The color blue
  35. Graham

Feel free to share some of your favorites! And if it’s your birthday today, too, then I hope it’s a fabulous one! Or, more precisely, I just generally hope you have a good birthday, whenever it is, and a good day today, too, even if it’s not your birthday.

Bonus Post! More Q&A!

Y’all, I missed some questions! With apologies to Shivani (whose blog you should definitely visit!), I’m answering them now. Because they’re good questions. 😊

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When writing a story, what’s the first thing you take care of?

It varies. Sometimes a voice will come to me first and I’ll start with a character, and sometimes, I’ll have a setting in mind. It just depends on what kind of mood I’m in that day and what’s standing out most to me. That being said, the first thing I usually do when I sit down to write a story is to make myself a cup of coffee (sometimes tea, but usually coffee) and to write a few journal pages, just to get any messy thoughts and anxieties out of my head. I find everything comes out a little more smoothly after that.

How do you decide on a catchy title for a story?

Honestly, I have no idea, and sometimes, I don’t. Choosing a title is sometimes more difficult for me than actually writing the story. It’s usually the last thing I do in the process, and by then, I just hope that the story is good enough. My best advice is probably just to keep it simple. The story’s the real work and the real reward.

EDITED TO ADD:

Are you sure your house isn’t haunted?

LOL, no! It’s almost 3:00 a.m., and I’m still up writing, and the washing machine just turned itself on and off twice in a row. Do you think the ghosts want me to go to bed already so they can do their ghost things before the morning?

Q&A! (Long promised, finally delivered!)

As promised, here I am with a Q&A. Hope you enjoy it!

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Why did you start this blog?

I started this blog back in 2016. I’d left a corporate job to pursue writing full time, and starting a blog as part of that shift just sort of felt like the sensible thing to do. It never felt quite right, though, and looking back, I realize now that I was scared. I didn’t want to put my creative writing out there, because I was afraid people wouldn’t like it. And I didn’t want to share too much of myself, because I was afraid people wouldn’t like me. I more or less rebooted this blog (and myself, really) in very early 2020, after my grandmother died. She was my last grandparent, and cliché as it sounds, losing her made me realize how fast life goes, and how quickly everything can change. I stopped worrying about being liked, and started thinking about what I wanted to create and how I could get it out into the world. And here we are today.

What do you have in mind for the blog in the next three months?

More stories, more poems, maybe a couple of travel posts. I’m also really intrigued by the six-word stories I’ve been reading, so that would be fun, I think. And I’ve thought about incorporating more posts about my writing process, and more inside looks at how I build stories. Is that something y’all would want to read? Let me know!

Weren’t you going to start a YouTube channel?

Yes! And it’s coming, I promise! My non-writing life has been pretty unexpectedly chaotic this year, and I’ve had to put off really digging in and getting started making videos, but I’m still planning to make it happen. I might even write some posts about how it’s going, once I get started. 😉

Still working on your novel?

Which one? I mean, yes. I have a love/hate relationship with my novel(s) at the moment. But we’re working through it.

Who’s your favorite writer?

Neil Gaiman. I’m also very fond of Kazuo Ishiguro.

What’s your favorite book?

That’s like asking me to pick a favorite star in the sky! I really like Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I read it many years ago and it’s stuck with me all that time. Recently, I’ve been reading Yona of the Dawn, which is a manga series and yes, I know that’s not the same thing as a book (or is it??), and I’m really invested in the story. Would recommend. And I still find myself thinking about The Song of Achilles, which I read at the beginning of this year. So, so good!

What does your name mean?

My personal name? Katie means “pure.” My mom chose it because she liked it. I’ve come around to liking it, too, but I desperately wanted a more unique name when I was a kid. I think a lot of kids do, actually. As for my blog name, I’ve lived in Virginia all my life, and I love it here. There are lots of places I’d like to see, and I can’t wait to be able to travel again, but no matter where I end up, Virginia will always be home.

Have you ever visited Waterford, VA?

Yes, I have! It’s a lovely little village here in Virginia, named after the one in Ireland, I believe, with some interesting Quaker history and lots of immaculately preserved historic structures. Graham and I actually looked at a house in Waterford, when we were searching for a historic home. It was our second choice, but a strong one, and I think we would have been quite happy there. Or in Ireland.

Tell me more about your house.

Well, I’ll start by saying that you don’t live in an old house so much as you experience it. And you’re not really the owner of an old house so much as you’re the steward. At least, that’s how I’ve always looked at it. I grew up in a small town with lots of history, and two main streets lined by beautiful old homes, and it was always a dream of mine to own a historic home of my own. It took over a year to find the right one.

Is it ancestral?

No. It’s housed many a family in its long lifetime, and I’m sure Graham and I won’t be the last.

Did you restore it?

We’ve done a few projects, and we have a few more to do. We bought it in good shape, though.

What’s your favorite part of the house?

I have several! I write in a comfy chair by the window and fireplace in my living room, and so I’m quite fond of that spot.

I also love the stone walls in the basement.

And the view. I love the view.

And I know it might be hard to believe, but I really love my small, practical kitchen.

Easy to use, but more importantly, easy to clean!

Is it haunted?

Depends on who you ask. Graham doesn’t think so and I’m pretty sure it’s not, but some of our friends are totally convinced it is. Either way, I think it’s a happy house, and we’ve always felt very comfortable. I did have a friend ask to come in and do a ghost hunt, and I was like, “No! Absolutely not! I have to live here when you leave!”

Tell me a funny story about when you were in school.

Here’s me, in high school, playing Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I once argued with a high school English teacher over whether Welsh sounds like French. (It doesn’t.) I should have just kept my mouth shut, but I was the kind of kid who…well, who just couldn’t. I also got in trouble in kindergarten for using paint brushes as drum sticks. Oh, and I broke my arm pretending to be a monkey on a set of monkey bars (isn’t that what they’re for???). Is any of that funny? I don’t know. I was an academic, musical kid, and I took myself super seriously. It wasn’t until I was out of college that I really embraced my silly side.

Do you have a favorite friend?

I’m fortunate to have a great group of wonderful friends, and since I’ve been working on the Better Friendships podcast, I’ve really started looking at friends and friendships differently. All of my friends bring happiness and value to my life in their own ways, and I treasure them for who they are and for how they each make my life a little better.

What do you think of The Gondwanaland?

I’m a fan! 😊 Thanks for asking, so I could say so!

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And that’s it! This was kind of fun, I admit. Maybe I’ll do another one when I hit 500 followers. We shall see!  

I wonder where we’d be?

On this day, two years ago, we’d made our way to Vík, Iceland.

A night later, we’d see the Northern Lights for the first time.

On this day, last year, we sat at home, wrapping our minds around quarantine and social distancing, with barely an inkling of just how much the world was about to change.

Today, I’ve spent the day plugging away on my laptop, and so has Graham. He’s outside now, trimming back a hazelnut bush in our front yard. In his pajamas. And I’m still on my laptop. Also in my pajamas. No itchy business casual attire for me, here in my house with only my cat to critique my lack of style.

I wonder where we would be right now if not for the pandemic. I’m sure I’m not alone. And I’m not impatient. Safety and health are never far from my mind, and I will wait this thing out in my house in my pajamas for as long as it takes. I’m grateful that we’ve not gotten sick, that our families are safe and healthy, that we have money coming in and a comfortable place to live and pretty much all of the creature comforts anyone could ask for. I am so grateful, in fact, that I sometimes feel overwhelmed and undeserving. How lucky we are. I never forget.

But I do sometimes find my mind wandering. To places we’ve been. To places we’ll go. Right now, I’ve mind-traveled to Japan, where I’m enjoying a big bowl of miso ramen with corn and butter on the island of Hokkaido.

One day, we’ll get there for real. For now, though, pajamas and home and the familiar clack of my laptop keyboard it is. And that’s okay.

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?

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.

Birthday lessons, and 34 fun facts about me! (Or, it’s my birthday, but there’s a pandemic.)

Today is my birthday. I’m 34.

Normally, I would be spending time with my parents – my dad’s birthday is on the 17th and we like to celebrate together – but today I’m home, eating cake and being lazy.

When I was 10, 13, 16, 20, etc., 34 seemed very far away, and women in their thirties seemed so wise and sophisticated and put together.

Most days, I can’t remember if I’ve brushed my teeth. I think I may have been wrong about women in their thirties. I think we’re all just trying to figure out how to do this adulting thing.

But I do think I’ve learned a few good lessons, so I’ll share, because why not? And because I have very little else to do, given the pandemic and that it’s a Tuesday. And at the end, I’ll share 34 fun facts about me and a picture that will probably make you laugh, because…I can, I guess.

It doesn’t matter what other people think.

It’s old advice, sure, but it’s true, and I wish I’d understood it years ago. The only person responsible for my happiness is me, and so I’m the only one who gets an opinion.

When I left a full-time, well-paid office job to pursue writing, lots of people had nothing but kind and encouraging words. But lots of people also told me I was crazy and that I was throwing away opportunities I’d never be able to get back. A few people actually suggested I was lying, and that I just didn’t want to say what I’d actually be doing.

Whatever.

When I was younger and I wanted to be an opera singer, people made fun of me. I guess no one’s allowed to like opera before the age of 50.

Whatever.

When my husband and I bought a 200-year-old house, several people wondered, out loud, why we would take on that kind of burden, and if we would regret it, because old houses have old house problems and old house problems take time and money. And wouldn’t it be more convenient to just buy a new house in the suburbs and decorate it like an old farmhouse?

So. Much. Whatever.

I get to decide what makes me happy. No one else gets to do that. It’s like my own personal superpower.

And I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

No one is as hard on me as…me.

I used to spend a lot of time trying to live up to expectations. I was always so worried about how other people thought of me, and what they saw in me, and if I was making a good impression.

I realize now that other people don’t think much about me at all. They’ve got their own stuff going on.

Now, when I do something stupid or say the wrong thing or trip and fall in public (which happens a lot), I remember that no one judges me as harshly as I judge myself. And I remind myself to be kind to me, because…

“Perfection doesn’t exist in this universe.”

Neil Gaiman said that once, in a MasterClass I took. I like it.

It doesn’t do any good to hold yourself to perfection, because it just doesn’t exist. Mistakes are part of living. We can contextualize them, learn from them, and put them where they belong – in the past, behind us – or we can dwell on them, and let them rule what we do in the future.

Don’t do that. Perfect isn’t real. Everyone screws up. Be kind, to yourself and to others.

I know nothing.

Yep, John Snow and me.

The older I get, the less I know. I keep learning, every single day. I read, I write, I try to pick up new skills, I take a voice lesson every week, and I talk to people, because there is always more to learn. But every time I learn something new, I feel like it opens the door to 1,000 other new things I should also learn. I like this, because I get bored easily and I was always good at studying anyway.

Learning is beautiful, and it’s fun, and it’s valuable.

I am enough.

Just as I am.

And you are, too.

And because I said I would:

34 Fun Facts About Me

  1. I drink too much Diet Coke.
  2. I read at least one book per week. Usually more. Any genre.
  3. My favorite cake is Red Velvet.
  4. I forgot the words to the National Anthem while I was performing it once. It was embarrassing.
  5. I like winter better than summer.
  6. My favorite place I’ve ever traveled to is Wales (specifically, North Wales).
  7. Iceland is a pretty close second.
  8. I hate flying.
  9. But I love airports. The best people watching ever. And usually there’s wine.
  10. I am listed as “Katie Wineries” in the contacts list of one of my best friends.
  11. I have always wanted to learn to paint.
  12. I think ketchup is trash.
  13. I love mayonnaise, though. (Everyone tells me this is gross.)
  14. I am afraid of snakes, ticks, and ladybugs. (Don’t look at me like that. I don’t know, either.)
  15. My favorite gemstone is a ruby.
  16. I am a cat person.
  17. I don’t hold my pencil correctly, and I never have.
  18. I used to get pulled out of class in elementary school so they could teach me how to hold a pencil. Priorities, I guess.
  19. I will not wear shorts.
  20. I read palms for fun.
  21. I majored in English.
  22. I am a coloratura. Or, I was, when I was training to sing opera a lifetime ago.
  23. My favorite opera is Don Giovanni.
  24. My favorite composer changes every day. So does my favorite writer. (That’s two things, I know.)
  25. I played Shelby in a production of Steel Magnolias once. It’s been my favorite role to date.
  26. I love Mitch Hedberg.
  27. My go-to karaoke song is Gives You Hell by The All-American Rejects. It has been for years.
  28. Sometimes I’ll sing Desperado instead.
  29. I cannot play an instrument. (It makes me sad. I should learn.)
  30. I like pie.
  31. I prefer the mountains to the beach, but both are lovely.
  32. I bought tap shoes on Amazon once when I was drunk.
  33. I have OCD and anxiety.
  34. I love trivia, and I’m super competitive about it.

And the picture. I don’t know what possessed my mom to place that little bow where she did, but it was genius.

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