Saturday, December 13, 2014

So much goodness in one spot

Every year, I say I'm going to simplify.  "The tree is up.  That is enough." I say to myself, to my family. "We don't need all the clutter and fuss." I tell my co-workers. And so far, every year, I give in.  I pull out the plastic Rubbermaid bins we store in the eaves of my daughter's room.  There must be 8 or 10 of them.  I open one, just to look for the nativity set.  That is required, right?  And then one of my daughters peeks in another bin and wants to put up the Dickens' Village.  And then I see the stockings which are obviously not optional, but underneath are the stuffed animals I like to put in the entryway. And then the rolls of glittery ribbon, the sprigs of holly leaves, and the angel collection start calling my name.  "Just one more thing." Until it is all out. Again. Cluttering up our already small spaces, with memories.

But my favorite decoration is the one above. My collection of Christmas books.  They are not all great literature.  They are not even all good (some I just like the covers of). But most of them are like dear friends.  I have to read Miss Read's Christmas collection last, closest to Christmas Eve, so I can picture that mouse keeping her awake.  Some of them can be read in an hour or so, which at this time of year is a blessing.  To sit in my recliner, with the tree twinkling nearby, my dog Molly at my left, a glass of wine at my right and one of the Christmas stories I love to re-read in my lap is about as festive as it gets for Toni Lisa House Evans.

If I'm having a bad day, I read Maeve Binchy's short story collection that focuses on the stresses and strains of holiday time.  If I feel like laughing it is Dave Barry's or Charlene Baumbich.  There is a book for every mood. And every year, I pull them out and enjoy looking at them, reading them, and then putting them away again.  A Christmas treat for me.  Is there anything better than books? 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Just the right word

This is it.  My chance to make this the shortest writing slump I've ever experienced.  I feel like I haven't posted here in three years, but I see it was just mid-August.  That was only three months ago.
I am never sure what to call it, this dark feeling that entering my writing room is akin to fraternizing with the enemy.  I feel I have never experienced 'writer's block' and thus can not sympathize or understand it.  But today I clicked on a Writer Unboxed article about writing 'slumps' and I felt that spark of recognition.  A slump.  I get into these low valleys and it feels like my writing self is up at least at the camp halfway up the hill and I have no desire to do anything except stay down here. Immobile.  Where no harm can come to my writing ego.  Anonymous and happily so. It is safe in the valley of the writing slump.

But safe isn't forward movement. Safe is useful when needed.  But it isn't living really.  Living does mean taking chances.  And pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

For me, writing means believing in myself and when my writing gets criticized I simply stop believing in myself.  I tell myself I'm just a reader and to stop pretending otherwise. It happens every time.  And before you start lecturing me I already know.  Any artistic endeavor requires a thick skin. It requires being able to learn from criticism and improve your craft.  I have been reading that mantra since I cracked open my first 'How to Write a Novel'.  But it isn't in me.  It isn't.  And during these slumps I start judging myself, because these same 47 books I've read say a real writer can't NOT write.  And I can.  I can not write.  For months and sometimes years at a time.

But when I start getting the urge to leave the valley, I see that I have been writing.  I've been creative.  I've been posting.  I've been letter-writing.  I've been researching and learning. Words are still an important part of my daily existence and the more of them I consume, the better my day has gone.

And the word 'slump' did it for me today.  I like having a label for it.  I like knowing the task ahead, to get out of this slump.  And my first urge to blog in three months comes with that recognition.  Recognition that even though I'm currently 51 and awfully old to be a beginning writer, I am going to have more of these slumps.  I just am.  And if I'm ever going to get a book finished, I'm going to have to be patient.  Now next Saturday I might write that I never expect to allow myself back down there again, but as of 11/22/14 I recognize this is a part of me that I need to accept.  And if I am feeling like I might be coming out of the slump, I probably am.  And so I need to reinstate my writing discipline and get back to work.

My goal this week will be to find the word for when you have just stepped above the cusp of the slump and have tentative aspirations again.  I love finding just the right word.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Day my Breath Sang in my Geek Lungs

 I was sitting in my seat in the cool auditorium, beaming down good vibes on our speaker for the evening, Elizabeth Berg, anticipating the next two hours with tangible relish. It was like I was slicing a happy cake and sitting there with a large wedge of it on my porcelain plate, ready for the first delicious bite, fork poised.  Elizabeth Berg slips on her reading glasses and peers down at a yellow sticky note and says "Is there a Toni House Evans in the audience".  My physical reaction was so clich├ęd.  Slow motion, face turns red, eyes bulge, heart beats hard. Don't have a coronary Toni, you'll miss the talk.   It felt surreal to hear my name come out of her mouth.  In a crowd of several hundred. Plus I'd never heard my facebook name said aloud before so I hesitantly raised my hand inch by inch while I said in my head.  Yes, that is me, right?  That is my maiden name with my last name.

She spotted my hand finally, as I raised it high and grinned like an idiot. 

"I need you to see me afterwards.  I have something for you." said Elizabeth Berg.  To Toni Evans.

I was speechless.  Now anyone who knows me knows I am never short of a word or ten. I was now breathing in and out choir music through my lungs.

She went on to give a heart-warming, realistic, and thoughtful talk about becoming and being a writer and author.  I did my best to absorb each word.  I took notes. I said to myself, 'Self, use all your senses here, breathe it in, this is the good stuff'.

I have to pause here for a confession.   Somehow(??) on the day before this conference, when she posted on facebook page about her upcoming speech, I got uncharacteristically ballsy and posted a link to my blog post about her  on her facebook. And she read it.  Here is the proof, I just can't resist storing it here for my grandchildren to see (Someday. If my kids ever get married. Wait-- will Blogger still be around?...):

So I have a written compliment from my favorite author and she said my name out loud in public.  "But wait," the universe said, "there's more!"

Afterwards I perused her books and bought one (even though I already own every single one)  so that if I told her who I was and she said 'And I care because?' I could just give her my book to sign.  I got at the end of the line. This guy was carefully handwriting everyone's name on a sticky note and placing it on the correct page for Elizabeth, so she could more easily sign and keep the line moving and didn't have to ask how to spell, etc.  I assumed it was another of the many conference volunteers being gracious.  But when he got to me he stopped and chatted and said "I'm Bill by the way."  I had just given my name so I just kind of smiled nervously and bobbed my head and he said 'Her Bill' and he nods towards the book-signing table.  Suddenly my face became very animated and I got very friendly, because just like every other blood-sucking celebrity fan out there, I thought I might get some little insight or morsel of Elizabeth-ness from him.  We chatted for a while as the line was long and slow-moving.  I liked him.  He was not intimidating at all.

I guess I used up all my charm on Bill, because by the time I got to Elizabeth I said something non-sensical, and then Bill said something like 'this is her' and then Kelly standing nearby leaned down at the same time to say "This is the Toni you were looking for earlier" or something like that, the blood was pounding in my ears, drowning out reality.  I then said something unnecessary as she was signing my book, along the lines of "I think I've read them all except this one." Even though I have read this one (?).  Then she said "I have something for you. A signed first-edition of my first novel".  Except in my ears it was like trumpets and her mouth moving and I just smiled and nodded and accepted this from her:

So I then asked for a hug and leaned across the table very awkwardly (I'm not even a hugger) and she said 'What?  I thought said you were going to show me your tattoos?'  Yeah, I'm a silver-tongued beast. As I floated away from her table, hoping to get away before I did anything to spoil the iridescent-glitter haze I was in, Bill stopped me and said "There aren't very many of these in existence."  pointing to my gift. My signed, first-edition copy of Durable Goods. I just kept saying "Thank YOU" and smiling and backing away.

By the way, that photo was taken on my hotel room bedspread minutes later, before I pulled the ribbon and peeked inside.  It now has a place of pride in my living room. I have only shared this story with about three people, because if you aren't a book-lovin' girl down to your toes, I will just sound crazy here. (So if you are thinking She's crazy, it is ok, I don't blame you.)  But hey, blogging is about transparency, and it just doesn't get much more transparent than this.  At least not and still be fun to read.  Which is one of my goals here.

Bottom line: I am worthy.  Regardless of how I come across in person. The memory of July 25, 2014 is tied with a white satin ribbon and always will be.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Writer, Know Thyself.

I love to write.  I do not love much else about being a writer.  This is what I learned at the Midwest Writers Conference last weekend in Muncie, IN.  It was a well-organized conference with great resources, entertaining speakers, friendly but serious attendees, a lovely facility we based ourselves in, good vibes, good food.  Everything you can ask for in a conference.  So I highly recommend this conference to anyone who feels attending a conference will boost their writing life and road to publication. A fantastic writer's conference.

However, as the three days passed, I became more and more despondent.  I was morose by end of Friday.  I had learned that I don't like networking (hate is an ugly word), that I don't care about Twitter, that my platform is basically a few grade-school teachers who haven't died yet, that my work in progress has the wrong-age protagonist, is too short for the genre I was going for, that my main character who I love needs to be cut out in favor of a sub-character coming to the front, that there are lots of amazing writers out there, who read out loud works they had created in the last few moments and they were awesome to hear.  My query letter was so confusing and nonsensical that the critiquer was speechless.  One of my comments in my pitch closely resembled a 'Don't' in a later speaker round-table.  Now, is it good to learn about everything you are doing wrong?  I am sure that is why I paid the money.  But I learned that I don't want to know all this.  I really, really don't want to know it.  I wish I could un-know it.  These are my feelings. But don't give up on me, see title of post.

I want to write in my room for myself.  I love writing.  I love the creative process that comes from no-where-ville and appears at the end of my fingertips.  I apparently am allergic to anything related to becoming published because all it did was make me feel unworthy, clumsy, and cynical. 

I felt my desire to write dwindling, and  I realize now why I went to a conference in 2003 at Iowa Summer Writing festival and haven't been back to one since.  I went back to my journals and see that after attending that conference, I packed away my muse for 15 months.  How can a person forget that ? (rhetorical question, I forget a lot, different blog post)

On the bright side, I also had a mountain-top moment during the Saturday evening session with Elizabeth Berg.  I want to savor it and keep it to myself for now, but I'll write about it eventually.  It made the trip so worthwhile.  And to learn something about yourself is always a great thing. I learned that getting out of your comfort zone is really uncomfortable and many writers have these same issues.   I learned my time would have been more enjoyable spent in my hotel room writing non-stop for three lovely, long, solitary days, but that is because I am a flawed and imperfect human-writer.  But perhaps more enjoyable isn't always best?  I'm learning more about myself each year.  Good to know, good to know.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Roots Part 1: The Daffodil Family

   So my second grade teacher was a witch.  I had worshipped Mrs. K and Mrs. M in prior years, but in second grade I was given a teacher who originated the duck-face.  I remember kids being pulled out of their dull turquoise desks by their ears.  I remember spike healed shoe pulled off and hitting the ornery boy with it, drawing blood.  Yes there were 40 kids and one teacher, but that doesn't explain why she ridiculed the slower kids, refused to let us go on field trips with the rest of the school, and barked like a deep-throated hound at the slightest provocation.  We'll call her Mrs. A.
     Mrs. A only liked to criticize.  She didn't believe in praise, or fun, or smiling.  She believed my hand-writing should be done with the paper perpendicular to my body.  90 degrees.  I liked to slant my paper.  No, no, no.  So she would walk me across the room and make me stand during hand-writing lessons, behind Bonnie.  Bonnie did it right.  Why couldn't I write more like Bonnie she would ask? 
     I remember a parent teacher conference where she told my parents that I was not trying in Reading Comprehension.  That to get the scores I had in this subject I must be purposely trying to fail.  My parents were not happy.
    So after all these tragic happenings at age eight, why did my writing roots start  here with witch-teacher?  Well, in the entire nine months I spent with her, there was one moment of sunshine.  It was when she showed my parents a story I had written.  Remember those pieces of paper with room at the top for a drawing and lines at the bottom?  I had written a story about a family of Daffodils and I had gone onto three pages to tell my story.  She was not happy, she did not say this with a smile, but she begrudgingly said to my parents, "This is way ahead of her age-level.  Very good work." 
     I didn't know then that it would have such an impact on me, but all that year of scalding negativity was balanced by this one tiny positive seed.  I did something well.  I did something better than witch teacher expected, who had only unreachable expectations.  I had made her unhappy, because she was forced to compliment me. 
     And so I thank the Daffodil Family.  Thank you for coming to me in 1971 and giving me a spark of hope.  Here is proof we can learn as much from adults how NOT to act, as how to act.  And how powerful a compliment can be.  Give some.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

My New/Old Writing Nook

I'm sitting in what used to be my son's room.  Eight years ago when he went off to college it was going to be our "ILLINI" room where the guys watched sports and we had a second television.  Then as things do they change.  It has been a dumping ground, back to being my son's room, a guest room, an art studio, back to being a dumping ground, and as of a few moments ago, it is my writing nook.  I thought I'd share some pictures of how clean and empty it looks, on its first day of life, as I'm sure it won't stay this way.

So, here is my new writing nook.  As you can imagine, I will spend just as much time writing on the bed as at the desk.
Here is my 'new' desk that my husband Chuck found for me at an estate sale.  It was exactly what I'd been looking for for a long time.  Simple. Sturdy. Not sure how old.
Here is my view, sitting in my chair, with the tree in the window and a nice breeze coming in.  The name plate I got in 1984 at my first job out of college.  So it is...old. 

For any of you writers, these are some of my most re-read, most practical writing advice books.  I recommend them....
Some whimsy.  An old victrola cabinet that 'came with the house' full of scrap books. And a new 'writing muse', a gift.

And the all important chocolate.  Who can write without chocolate?  On this special occasion, I got a pack of Peanut Butter M&Ms.  My sister would understand.

And, this, my first writing at the new desk.  If only every writing day were so pleasant, right?  No re-editing bad scenes.  No scratching your head at what you were thinking when you wrote that.  Of course, decorating a writing room isn't the same as actually writing.  A fact that isn't lost on me.  But for today, I'm going to just savor the flavor of new beginnings. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Nine Years to the Day

I signed up to have my query letter evaluated by a professional query letter evaluator.  I signed up in February when I was sure I would have my manuscript not just drafted but polished, not just outlined but synopsised (is that a word?).  In February, July seems very distant.  Anything is possible.  Well somehow the day after tomorrow is July and I have not made the progress I'd hoped for.

The entries are due tomorrow.  So yesterday I went looking for my last query letter, thinking I could just have them review that and still learn from their analysis.  I found the query letter in my email history, faster than looking through an old laptop for it.

So I knew it had been a while since I gave up on book #1, stopped writing fiction, and stopped trying to sell that first child/novel. A while.  Like at least five years, maybe six.  Well, it turns out the last time I sent this query letter was June 28, 2005.  That is exactly nine years ago.  Nine years passed without my writing a new work.  Nine years without searching for an agent or attending a writers conference.  It is scary, what a little discouragement can do.  It rings true to the quote I often hear that successful writers are just those who don't give up.

But to the day, June 28th.  That catches my imagination up and I wonder, what changes will happen in my writing life between now and June 28, 2023.  That is only nine years from now.  I sure hope that it is more than zilch, zero, nada.  I hope that if this book #2 doesn't flesh out, that story #3 will pop out without pause.  And the fourth, and the fifth, until I am old (er) and gray (er) and even if all 17 have not found a publishing home, that I will look back and see that I did not give into discouragement ever again.  Once is enough.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Ted Talks

I was home sick yesterday and discovered, a site with enlightening speakers, people who make a difference, speaking for less than 20 minutes on a subject.  I had heard of Ted talks before, but never seem to have 'free time' to listen to self-improvement or mind-stretching things like this.  Too many groceries to buy and socks to wash.  I concentrated yesterday on writers.  The one by Amy Tan was amazing.  She was hilarious.  Every minute was some deep concept or tongue in cheek statement that made you think.  I listened to J.K.Rowling, Ray Bradbury, and a few other writers.  Next time I go there I'm going to search on 'humor' because there is nothing better than a good hard laugh.  Out loud.  It cures most things that you might be ailing of and wandering over to to find a cure is not a bad idea at all.  Not at all.  Try it next time you are feeling less than whole:

Sunday, May 04, 2014

"Yes, Virginia, there really is a spring...."

It is a crazy beautiful day in central Illinois.  All I want to do is take my camera and photograph the abundant flowering tree branches, the daffodils, the bright young green of the grass, the stillness of the blue sky.    Every year, but especially this winter of 2014, you could easily convince yourself spring will probably not actually come. The winter comes back over and over when we think it is gone, like some terrible bout of flu that keeps reinfecting our households.  Pretty soon even the most strident winter-lover has given up hope and is sure that this is the year that winter is going to last 12 months.

So why live here?  Well the advantage we have over California or South Carolina or one of the other eternal spring states, is that we let spring attack us with joy here.  We can barely believe our luck that a cold wind isn't trying to down that row of red tulips. Look at them, so red.
We enjoy spring here the way thirsty marathon runners enjoy that next Gatorade. We relish the mild-temperatured freedom, floating on the scents and sounds, as if on a movie set.  It all feels so foreign.  We literally pinch ourselves, assuming this is a pleasant dream. And it lasts such a short time.  Spring in central Illinois is about a fortnight long. You just put away the wool socks, start to take a few breaths and the air conditioners click on as it hits the upper 80s by June.We are grateful, down to our toes, for spring here, and we never, ever take it for granted.  It is like a little miracle we observe every year.   Just when you give up hope, that is when hope arrives.  In the form of grass seed sprouting, earthworms coming up for a tan, and lilacs popping out overnight like a row of dancing showgirls down the avenue. ("Park Avenue...")

Hope thy name is springtime.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Elizabeth Berg Stalker

So some people have a movie star or a sports legend they would be goofy over meeting.  For me it is authors.  I have anticipated meeting a particular author for many years now.  I first fell in love with her prose when she wrote parenting articles for Good Housekeeping (or Parenting I forget which) and discovered her books and ate them up the way you eat a bunch of cool grapes on a hot summer afternoon.  (or a butterscotch candy at a football game. ) Then I waited patiently as her books gradually were released and treated myself to one whenever they came out.  There is something about her writing that makes me feel like we could easily be best-friends.  I discovered that I'm not the only one that feels this way about Elizabeth Berg.  She now has a facebook following of very kindred spirits and I'm still surprised how many of them will post something that is exactly what I was thinking. 

Some years ago, I guess it would be 15 now to be exact (as I remember this trip was just weeks after my youngest was born), I was going to Boston on a business trip and I knew Elizabeth lived there.  Then I discovered the hotel they were putting me in was in the very suburb that I'd seen her mention in her essays.  I knew from her writing book that she often spent time at a coffee shop and so I decided while in this little burb, I would hang out at the coffee shop in hopes of sighting her.  This got me so excited, that I expanded the idea, and I wrote her a letter asking her to meet me for coffee at this shop on a particular day in June.  Just know that 'stalking' wasn't even a term then.

No surprise thinking back now, but she was unable to meet me.  She wrote me a charming letter on stationary though, explaining she would be in Hershey, PA that day. And though crest-fallen, the thought of her having a chocolate-related excuse did give me some comfort.  I'm sure if a complete stranger figured out my home address and asked me to meet for coffee, I wouldn't be the least bit suspicious or wary.  But, we didn't meet.

Down the road she moved to Chicago. And one year she was going to speak at the Iowa City Book Festival and I was going to go and spend two days there and hear my favorite author speak.  So close to home, books, party, and Elizabeth.  It was all meant to be, right?  Right.   Until I came down with not just a cold but pneumonia in July and had to miss that trip.  So close. 

I've reread her book for Writers every other year or so since it came out, "Escaping into the Open".  And I've daydreamed about attending one of her writing workshops she holds in Italy combining cooking classes, food, and fiction writing.  What could possibly be better?  But then I remind myself that I haven't written in weeks and do not deserve something like that until I grow my chops as a writer.  Until I get off my butt and get disciplined.  Unless I show that I can write and write and write some more.  Which in my mind, I haven't done.  I seem to take my writing career similar to that of a postage stamp hobbyist -- I work on it when the fancy strikes me, with weeks in between.

After that  I decided it was better not to meet someone that was so built up in your imagination that they couldn't possibly ever live up that image I have created over the years. It would be like meeting Mary Engelbreit and finding out she was jaded and negative in real life, like myself at times.

Then, surprise surprise, I found out she is speaking at the Midwest Writers' Workshop I'm attending this July.  Elizabeth Berg is the Saturday evening speaker.  At a dinner.  In INDIANA!  It seems crazy to think it.  And no I don't plan to go up to her and tell her, as the 597th fifty-something woman to do so, that I'm her biggest fan.  I don't plan to ask her to read my manuscript.  In fact I'm really hoping I don't have to speak to her at all.  I just want to soak it in.  Being in a room, watching her mannerisms, listening to her words, and matching what I've grown to understand about her over the years with a face. I do know she is human and not perfect and is in fact perfectly imperfect in the same way I strive to be.  I will go back to my hotel room and write down all the details I can and keep it for a rainy day when I want to read about it.  Because face it, now that I'm more mature, I can take a step back and acknowledge it for what it is -- a bit creepy.  But it is meant with genuine affection and esteem, and I sincerely hope I do not embarrass myself when the opportunity does present itself this July. 

No really.  I swear.  I'll be mature.  And I'll stay away from the wine.  Ok, I'll stay away from more than two glasses of wine and only take four pictures.  No three. Well, for now, anticipation.....

if you want to become a fan too, here is her website:
and here is the link to the writer's conference

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Target: Muncie

This week I registered for the Midwest Writer's Workshop in July, which includes a manuscript critique, a pitch session with an agent, and a query letter review.  Each of these is about 3 minutes long, so I don't expect to stress about it.  I am feeling excited because I don't actually have a manuscript, query letter or pitch as of this moment.  I have a manuscript begun, a query letter from my last novel, and a plan to Google what a pitch session is.  But, I need this like I need water and chocolate: external, structured, kick-in-the-butt.  I have paid for the conference, I made hotel reservations, I took the days off work.  So now, assuming I get to my writing room three weekends out of four, I have a total of about 36 hours to achieve these goals.  Not much.  Do I start polishing the five chapters I have completed?  Do I work on a synopsis (part of the ms review) and try to plan out my story?  Do I go back and review the dreaded query letter that gained me 132 or so rejections last time around?  Do I practice my pitch to my dog Molly? 

What I need to do is first things first.  And first things, at least the next 5 or 6 weekends, is going to be going full-steam on my story.  I have no  hope of creating a synopsis or a pitch until I get the story arc figured out.  Then I can try for a synopsis, and then start polishing, the first five pages, which is actually the limit to what they will critique.

In any case, my blood pressure is up even though I'm sitting on a comfy bed with a velour throw and my laptop actually in my lap.  I'm primed for writing.  Now, to keep that excitement flowing.  Note to self: Blog about this next weekend....How to keep the fire burning.  And the following week...Elizabeth Berg.


In January I wrote three blog posts and three chapters in my Work-in-progress on three consecutive Saturdays. Then in three blinks of an eye I realize I have missed the last two weekends completely.  One blog post and zero chapters so far in February.  This proves something that we all know, action begets action.  Inaction begets inaction.  My momentum was interrupted and my lofty plans slid into some closet in my brain just that quickly. 

My problem is that Saturdays and Sundays are so precious.  I work five days a week like many people, Monday through Friday.  Dinners are late, work runs over, church and kid activities fill the evenings. You know the drill.  So on Saturday I have ten or fifteen things crowding into my brain for attention.  Groceries?  Video games?  Lounging? Dishes, laundry, taxes, piles of mail, someone's birthday, a new flip house, housecleaning, gardening, social plans, baking, sleep, movies, reading books, visiting with family, church, and?  And writing.

I know when I'm thinking clearly that if I could pick a vocation that feels like I belong in it, it is writing. And when I'm thinking clearly I make promises to myself and others that I will place priority on my writing time.  All the other things can wait.  But regardless, if I leave a sink of dirty dishes or pass up a baby shower to go write, I do not feel good.  

And when I'm thinking clearly, I know that I just have to do it.  Just go in my writing room and write during my office hours and all the other stuff will be waiting when I come out.  It is not so much hard to follow my own advice here, as it is easy to not follow it.  Swirly-mind is what I call it.  All the demands and needs are just there above my head, swirling in a soup of obligation and responsibility.  Even writing is in the soup now. 

My password right now is one that makes the annoying song pop into my head "Put one foot in front of the other..." But I do that on purpose.  I use my password more than 21 times a day, which is the number of times the adult brain is supposed to need to 'get' something.  So I keep reminding myself to stop looking at the soup.  Stop looking up and instead look down.  At my feet. And put one foot forward.  One blog post.  One batch of cupcakes.  One clean toilet.  That is the only way I've found to turn swirly-mind into productive human being.  And it works!  Well, some of the time anyway.  Some days the swirl hypnotizes me with the steady beat of  'Pick me. Pick me.'  But today? I looked down. 

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Flip House: Take Two

When my husband and I were in our twenties and idealistic, living in high-cost-of-living Chicago suburbs, a tiny two bedroom house with no garage could easily run you over $100k.  We were used to Pekin prices, where one of the nicest house in town might go for that.  (this was 1984).  And along with some of our other early married dreams (a horse-drawn sleigh through our land to our tiny mountain cabin somewhere exotic like Colorado), we dreamed of eventually moving back to our small town and fixing up homes for a living.  30 years ago, the dream is born.  Four kids, 4 houses of our own, several career changes, and 30 years later we are living that dream.

We survived our first flip house.  We hoped to complete it in 3-4 months.  It took nine. We thought we'd do two of these a year, piece of cake.  We are doing one every two years.  It was a strain on the marriage and family life, taking up many, many weekends pulling out old nails, ripping up floors, painting old siding in the glaring sun.  But in the end, we did good.  We left the house 1000% better than we found it.  We made a little tiny postage stamp of the neighborhood a place where a family can enjoy living again.  We made some money on the house, not enough to buy the horse-drawn sleigh, but enough that we were pleased.  Of course if we figured it out to an hourly rate that might depress me.

We worked on that first house, removing the dirt and grime, the neglect and odors, the damage and disorder.  We lovingly and very slowly, improved it, giving it a fresh face, a solid foundation, and a few bells and whistles.  By the time our three months had turned into nine, we were both sick to death of visiting 'the flip house' and yet not ready to hand our baby over to just anyone.  Well, actually we were willing to hand her off to anyone for the right price, but we were attached.  So much positive energy, wishful thinking, color swatches, elbow grease, all handed on to the next owners.  And when it was over, it was a very happy and mildly sad time.  I needed a break.  I wasn't ready for the commitment it takes to give up shopping weekends and barbecues for paint rollers and putty knives.  But, here we are, one year after that first sale.  And we are ready to love again.  Like the first house, we stumbled upon this one after rejecting many on the market.   It took so long for the current owners to respond to our offer, we had almost forgotten about it after the first week or two of anticipation.  But then in January, the news came.  The prior owners were accepting our offer and we potentially have another baby to raise.  Another house that is. Another flip house.

I'm excited, anxious, kind of like the second pregnancy.  You know the pain ahead of you, your eyes are wide open, and yet it was a good enough experience, that you want to try it at least one more time. So flip house #2, here we go.  Let's hope you too someday become the house we drive by occasionally to see how the new owners are taking care of you, commenting once again with parental pride, "It really does look good, doesn't it"

Flip House #1: After. 2012

Sunday, January 26, 2014


I’ve read a lot lately about having an outline rather than going by the seat of your pants when you are writing.  The idea of an outline scares me because I don't have a good idea where my story is going when I start.  So today I think I’ll brainstorm story ideas.  I’m starting a new folder titled ‘story’ and I’ll just let it flow.   My setting is gelling up nicely, my characters are revealing themselves in an exciting way, but what is the story I'm trying to tell?   I don't have a lot of burning stories in my gut waiting to be released like you hear some authors do.  And truth is, these are the kind of books I like best. Quiet stories, where the characters are experiencing everyday life and making discoveries about themselves.  The feeling on one hand is that there isn't a market for that.  The feeling on the other hand is that if I like them, someone else must also.  So I have these people in this town, and I'm not sure what they should do next.  I read that this is a universal writer's problem.  But when I sit down to write an outline, meh.  It is like a faucet shuts down.  I feel more like free writing and just seeing what comes out.  I know it may not be the wisest course of action, but it feels right.  And after all, this isn't for publication, it is for my own expression of creativity.  I need to quit thinking what will thrill an agent and just go to town.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

How do you spell Kumbayah?

How do you spell Kumbayah?  
Well I Googled it and as you can see I figured it out.  This is a term my husband and I have been throwing around  lately to describe a state of being that we just can't seem to get to. We can't seem to 'unsee' and 'unhear' things that have been done and said that were hurtful, or unnecessary, or manipulative. 

How do you forgive someone who has behaved in a very unlovely way? 
I Googled it and it turns out this all has to do with love.  Forgiveness is to remove anger from your insides so it doesn't turn you into a bitter and depressed person on the outside.  So you do it for yourself and because it is what God wants you to do. 

But wait, what if they don't even realize they did anything wrong?   
This is a tougher one, but Google still returned with "About 97,800,000 results (0.42 seconds) ". Even though nothing in those results really satisfied me, it is comforting to know I only read the first three. The answer could still be out there.

How to discuss a depressing topic without depressing those around you?
Yeah, I didn't bother to Google this one.  We all know it isn't possible.  That is why I'm blogging about this rather than talking to or emailing friends.  Because I don't want to share my dark cloud with anyone who is currently sitting in a chaise lounge in the sun.  Having said that, the theme of this blog is how writing keeps me sane.  And it does.   Like, now. See the sanity returning? 

If someone doesn't like you, why does it bother you? 
Googling this made me smile, as the second entry in the results was "How to not be annoying, 11 steps with pictures" You mean, like maybe they have an actual reason for not liking me?  Now I'm disappointed Google.  I thought you were going to tell me that it doesn't matter what other people think.  

Is it better to live in a world that seems fine but isn't?  Or one that doesn't seem fine, but is?
I think we all live in fantasy world a good portion of the time.  We see what we want to see and we ignore the rest. Until something smacks us in the face like a bluejay hitting the glass patio door.   God knows and I know that truth is what sets you free.  For that bluejay to pretend that the glass wasn't there did him a world of hurt.  We need to see the glass. And fly another direction.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Office Hours

With a new year comes fresh energy to launch my writing personality once again.  My first step is to commit to defined Office Hours for myself.  Starting today, they are:

Saturdays 9:00 am to Noon
(Every Other) Sunday Noon to 3:00 pm

A re-beginning. I'm writing on the guest bed in my son's old room. If I get a two chapters done by February, I will allow myself to buy a desk, but so far, the bed feels just fine.  Onward, pen.