Almost Spring

Yesterday evening, Carl and I spent some time dreaming about visiting the Biltmore Estate over March Break. We visited there on our honeymoon (eleven years ago this July, and doesn’t that boggle the mind) (my mind, anyway. No reason why it should boggle yours) and have always talked about going back. It won’t happen, at least not this year, but even thinking about it and looking it up took us, for a little while, away from the snow and cold of this crazy New England winter we’ve been experiencing.

(We got more snow in one month than the region typically sees in an entire winter. After two months of unnatural winter mildness.)

There is hope even apart from dreaming, though. A few days of sun has caused icicles to drip, a welcome sound to everyone’s ears, especially those suffering from leaks caused by ice dams. It’s true that the snow is piled so high out our windows that it’s hard to believe we’re on the second floor … but that’s because it was all shoveled off the roof at long last. The sky, today, is that clear, pale turquoise shade you only get in March, and the sun is sparkling off the snow.

My birthday is in a week and a half, and I never believe we’re through with major blizzards until we’re past that date (having had far too many birthday parties canceled due to weather as a kid), but even so, I can believe that spring is coming. It’s not here yet, but soon, soon.

“For behold, the winter is past;
    the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
    the time of singing has come.”  -Song of Solomon 2:11-12

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See what I mean about a March sky?

Music and Story

Joy has started “bowing” (which I totally did not know was a word) with the violin, i.e. using the bow on the strings instead of simply plucking them, and thus far, anyway, the screeching has been at a minimum. I am very thankful for this. She is also improvising at the piano again, which means I get to hear a lot of the same three notes played over and over while she tries to figure out the next one. I do my best to endure this with grace, but I confess to occasionally saying “OK THAT’S ENOUGH NEXT SONG PLEASE.” These are the times a larger apartment would be nice.

She plays almost every single day, and is at the point now where I rarely have to remind her to practice. She loves both violin and piano, and usually will ask to play my guitar (which is way too huge for her) after she’s done with her two instruments. She’s also told me she wishes she could take guitar lessons, but I told her we probably ought to stick with just two instruments for now.

She has such an instinctive rapport with music. She doesn’t love to read the way I did as a seven-year-old; she’ll happily pick up a book if I suggest it, but she doesn’t usually think to read for herself. I’ll admit that I was concerned by that until I saw how lost she will get in music, making up stories and playing an accompaniment to them on the piano, composing her own little operas without even knowing what she’s doing.

She does have a deep connection with and love for story, something Carl and I wanted so much to instill in both our girls. She just expresses it through music more than through the written word. And that is just fine. In fact, it is better than fine: it is a delight.

(I suspect Gracie will be more of a reader. She already tends to get lost in books, even without being able to understand the words. Once she gets it down – yeah, my hunch is that she’ll wander around with her nose buried in a book more often than not.)

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Humble Editing Pie

I have a confession to make:

I always thought the whole “print your MS out to edit it” was a bunch of hooey. Sometimes that would help, I suspected, sure, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. How can it really be all that different from editing it as a document on your computer?

Hello, heaping great portion of humble pie.

I printed out From the Shadows a few weeks back, just to see if it would make that much of a difference. And because I love love love this story and want it to be as close to perfect as I can make it, so I’m going over it with a fine-tooth comb.

Has it ever made a difference. I’m only about a third of the way through, but already this round of editing is making such an improvement. To the story development, to the word choices, little details that yes, would have slipped my notice if I was just reading on a computer screen, to big picture issues that suddenly make much more sense when I can actually physically compare pages to see “oh yes, this needs to go here instead of here,” or something similar.

So, I am eating my words (not really, since I never talked about my opinion – eating my thoughts?), and humbly accepting that sometimes, the accepted practice really is the right one.

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Snow Fun

So, you might have heard about the big snowstorm that happened here, and in other parts of the country, this week.

From what I gather, it kind of fizzled elsewhere, but here, it fully delivered. A regular nor’easter, leaving behind nearly 3′ of snow once it passed.

Since we’d been forewarned and had plenty of time to prepare for it, and as we never lost electricity or heat, it was a pretty fun storm for us. The girls have never seen this much snow, especially not all at once, in their lives (that they can remember, at least – I think there might have been almost this much at either Carl’s or my folks once upon a time, a few years back when we visited. But that doesn’t count). They were out helping Carl shovel Tuesday evening, out again for more shoveling, walking, and Fox and Geese yesterday afternoon, and today I took them sledding and then tramping through the field in snow to my knees (which means Joy’s waist and Gracie’s chest) on our way back.

They love it. Gracie has hated snow from her very first winter (she was born in May). Joy adores winter, never gets cold, and would live outside if allowed, so I was expecting her to be in bliss, but Gracie has shocked me by enjoying being outside, and not once complaining that she’s cold. It’s a blizzard miracle!

Last year we took the kids sledding at Grandma’s house. The snow was covered in an icy crust, and Gracie, of course, the one whose guardian angel works overtime just to keep her in one piece, took a face plant and skidded, ending up with a bloody forehead and cheek and a black eye. She was understandably a little hesitant about sledding this year. She went down once with me, once with Joy, and then finally, when I reassured her this snow was not going to scrape her, tried it on her own. And had a great time, though she still liked going down with her sister the best.

Joy, of course, wanted to go down the part of the hill that had been carved into bumps and gullies, and loved it even when her sled took flight. We’ve got to get that girl a snow saucer.

If I’m perfectly honest, I don’t take quite the personal delight in snow, and sledding, and breaking a path through knee-deep snow, that I once did. Still, I went down the hill a couple times on my own, grumbling in a just-audible tone the entire time about why it hurts so much more now when I’ve so much more padding than I had as a kid. And at one point, waiting for the kids to catch up as we walked back, I flopped down on my back in the snow, stared up at the sky, and just breathed.

And it was good.

Baby Joy, a little over a year old. SO HAPPY TO BE IN THE SNOW.

Baby Joy, a little over a year old. SO HAPPY TO BE IN THE SNOW.

Baby Grace, about 8 months. About two seconds from screaming her desire to be inside and warm.

Baby Grace, about 8 months. About two seconds from screaming her desire to be inside and warm.

January Snippets

Joy is learning about atoms and molecules in science right now, and hardly a day passes when Carl and I don’t look at each other and say, “Huh. I didn’t know that.” Homeschooling can be pretty awesome, folks.

Gracie is finally starting to get the hang of sounding words out properly instead of looking at them as a collection of random letters and wildly guessing at how they’re supposed to go together. Which is also pretty awesome. I suspect, when she finally “gets” it down pat, she will be a reader exceeding even her sister. She loves stories, this girl.

~

I printed out From the Shadows a couple days ago to begin proper edits on it – all 161 pages. Granted, it’s still sitting on my bedside table, waiting for me to begin, but it’s nice having it there, at least. Makes me feel a little more like a proper author.

~

Carl’s classes begin on Monday. This semester is going to be a bit tougher than the last – isn’t that the way of all spring semesters? – but he’s looking forward to it, and I am as well. To be perfectly honest, I’m just eager to get through this semester. Because then we’ll be halfway through, and that is tremendously exciting.

~

I had suggested, back when we started reading through the Chronicles of Narnia, stopping after Voyage of the Dawn Treader (quick note: we read in published order, not chronological order, because both of us feel like you lose half the wonder of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe upon first read if you’ve already read The Magician’s Nephew, and once you start in published order, you might as well continue). I remembered The Silver Chair, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle all being slightly dark/heavy/creepy in places. It might not be a problem for Joy, but Gracie tends to have problems with nightmares as is, and she is, after all, only five.

Carl was not convinced, and by the time they’d made it through Prince Caspian all three were gung-ho to go through the entire series all at once. I subsided. They are now almost finished with The Silver Chair, and Carl has decided that after The Horse and His Boy, they will wait a few months to a year to finish the series.

I only said “I told you so” once, which I think shows great restrain on my part.

~

I am not doing so great on my goal of reading one non-fiction book a month, but I have started reading a commentary on 1 Peter, which even if it takes me six months to finish will be well worth six shorter books. I also have the first collection of Dorothy L Sayers’ letters now sitting on my shelf, and I can’t wait to start perusing those (my parents gave me an Amazon gift card for Christmas, and that was top of my list to buy with it). The last few days, though, I confess to re-reading Tey, Marsh, and Christie. My brain’s been too worn out from school with the kids to tackle anything new, even light fiction. I’m starting to get annoyed with all the detectives, though – Grant, Alleyn, and Poirot alike – so it might be time to give them a break.

~

I have been getting in a good-ish walk once a week the last couple weeks, thanks to Joy’s violin lessons. We walk the 1/4 mile to her teacher’s apartment and then back, going at a good brisk clip. It’s lovely, and it’s encouraging me to try to get out more than just once a week for a walk. The tricky thing is finding the time, between school and housework and cooking and writing and simply needing to make sure the children don’t take a hundred years to do their basic chores. Ah well. I’ll get it figured out at some point. I’m just thankful for being forced to walk at least once a week. It’s so much better than nothing.

~

Also better than nothing is blogging little snippets here and there. If I go too long on here without writing anything, I start to get lonely. Even if the majority of my social media interactions are done on Twitter these days.

Happy approaching-the-end-of-January, friends!

Speaking of exploring Narnia ...

Speaking of exploring Narnia …

Slow But Steady

Writing productivity has slowed to a trickle these days. We started school back up on Monday (the girls and I – Carl’s semester doesn’t begin until the end of the month), and between that and rearranging the bedrooms and organizing the arts and crafts supplies and being neighborly and recovering from holidays and travel, and just being so tired (I actually dozed off yesterday afternoon for a little while, which never ever happens), it’s awfully hard to get anything done.

The nice thing about where I’m at right now is that I don’t feel guilty about it. Sure, I’d like to be writing every single day. I’d also like to be awake enough to take care of my clothes each night instead of letting them accumulate beside my bed, but so far that isn’t happening either.

I’ve learned – am still learning – to go with the rhythms of life. Some times I am going to be able to focus on one thing, sometimes on another. Right now, my main focus is on school and keeping the apartment basically livable. Since I have company coming over for tea next week, I imagine pretty soon I’ll have to spend some time focusing on cleaning. Eventually, school will find its own groove again, and I won’t be as tired from all our travels, and I’ll be able to think about writing again.

My stories aren’t going to perish if I don’t tend them every day. My writing abilities aren’t going to vanish if I take a week or so where I only write a few words here and there. I know this is contrary to what most professional writers say – that you must write every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. I’m sure there will come a time in my life where that kind of self-discipline is absolutely applicable. Right now, it’s more important to me as a person, not necessarily as a writer, to show myself grace.

It’s also more important for me to be a good teacher to my kids, since I have taken up that responsibility. It’s more important for me to be a present and engaged mom and wife. It’s important to be a good neighbor and friend. Writing is important, and it is vital to who I am, and I would not dream of just “not writing” for an entire season, but it doesn’t need to be first and foremost on my list of priorities right now. There will come a day when my children are grown and my life is more settled, and I will be able to bump the writing up on my list.

For now, I’m okay with simply making sure I don’t go too long without doing writing of some sort.

Narnia, Redux

We took a little break after finishing Voyage of the Dawn Treader, to read some picture books, some Christmas books, and Children of the Noisy Village, but now the holidays are over and we have finished traveling, and we have picked the Chronicles of Narnia back up with The Silver Chair.

Even as I type, sitting in my comfy grey recliner (“This is my silver chair,” I said smugly), Carl and the girls are curled up on the couch across from me, the girls utterly engrossed as Carl reads aloud. They are on the chapter where Caspian sails away and Eustace and Jill miss their chance to greet him. This is one of my favorite chapters, what with Glimfeather and Trumpkin and “If he’s useless, we don’t want him here!” (paraphrase) which is a favorite line in my family, and used often.

Joy especially is enthralled with Narnia. She wants to read other books like them (alas, there are few of those indeed, darling daughter!); she informed her grandmother that if she had a magic wand her first wish would be that Narnia was real; and when Carl read the description of Aslan’s Country in the first chapter of this book she had the most incredibly dreamy expression on her face, picturing it in her head. It’s the most delightful thing in the world, seeing her imagination so completely captured.

Gracie incorporates Narnia into all her play. Her stuffed moose become a reindeer, her rag doll made of white cloth becomes the White Witch, a doll stroller turned on its back becomes a sledge, and voila, all she needs is a dwarf driver (usually portrayed by one of her baby dolls). This is also a delight to observe. I have to be careful not to chortle too loudly, or she gets self-conscious and quits playing.

They loved Anne of Green Gables when I read it to Joy for school, and that was wonderful. Seeing them love Narnia so much, though … that goes beyond joy. Narnia was – is – such an integral part of my life, of my very identity. The Narnia books were some of Carl’s sole interest in reading as a child. For both of us, they helped to shape how we view the world, our ideas of heroes and sacrifice and love and friendship and adventure. It is wondrous to see our own children take fire with these very same stories.

I wonder if CS Lewis had any idea, when he wrote these books, of how deeply they would affect children of every generation ever since. I am so, so thankful for them, and for him.