Refreshment

I grew up in the foothills of the Adirondacks. Mountains are my home territory, so to speak. They are where I feel the most refreshed, the most myself.

We don’t live near any mountains right now – none closer than an hour’s drive, at least – but we do have something else within a stone’s throw of our apartment, something that gives respite and encouragement both, something that exhilarates with just one breath.

I refer, of course, to the ocean.

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That’s Joy, in the pink jacket, happily exploring the tidal pools and climbing rocks.

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This rocky shore is about fifteen minutes from our home. There are closer beaches, but we wanted to explore someplace new.

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Climbing boulders while the tide comes in, never knowing when your path is going to get cut off by water, is most definitely an exhilarating experience.

Sometimes we get used to it, having the entire Atlantic at our feet, so to speak. And then sometimes, like this weekend, our first trip to the shore after a long and miserable winter …

It takes your breath away once more, and you can’t believe how lucky you are to be living here, even for just a few years.

Creative Outlets

I was flipping through old photos the other day (sort of – browsing through them on my computer, but that doesn’t have as evocative a sound), and found myself missing my big camera, and the time when I took photos regularly. Don’t get me wrong, I love the ease of my camera phone (even if the pictures do tend to have crappy quality), but there is something about seeing the world through my viewfinder that I miss. I’m hoping to do a photo shoot with the girls around Easter, maybe jump start my photography hobby again.

Although this one turned out pretty darn near perfect, crappy phone camera and all.

Although this one turned out pretty darn near perfect, crappy phone camera and all.

I play around with a number of creative hobbies, without getting super serious about any of them. I quilt, but not brilliantly. Sewing clothing, same. I used to scrapbook, but haven’t in about … well, I think the last time was when Joy was a baby. And occasionally I like to stick my toe in the waters of sketching, though I usually pull it back out again at once because that water is cold. I like baking and cooking, though having to do them every day or else we don’t eat does tend to diminish their appeal. Knitting I pick up at the start of every winter and lay down at the end and consequently never finish anything that takes longer to complete than a scarf. I adore music, and one of my goals is to someday take piano and voice lessons again, because without them my voice has turned to a rusty squawk and the piano winces every time I get near it.

One of my recent sewing projects, a white blouse for Gracie's Easter basket

One of my recent sewing projects, a white blouse for Gracie’s Easter basket

And a pink skirt for Joy's Easter basket.

And a pink skirt for Joy’s Easter basket.

I used to feel kind of badly about myself, that I dabbled in so much without ever feeling the drive to become expert in any of it. Of late, though, I’ve come to think of it as a good thing. I think it’s good to have something, a creative something, one can do just for fun, just to relax, without ever feeling the need to perfect it. I work to perfect my writing. There’s my passion. The rest? They’re more like … palate cleansers.

Sometimes my mind needs a rest from writing. But it doesn’t want to veg, it just wants to relax a little. So picking up my niece’s baby quilt (yes I’m still working on that NO I don’t want to talk about how long it’s been it’s pretty well a standing joke by now OK?) as a chance to rest those creative muscles without letting them get all flabby? I’m pretty sure I’ve killed this metaphor dead, but you get the picture. IT’S A GOOD THING.

So yes, I will pull out my nice big camera soon and enjoy once more the creative effort of setting up and pulling off some great shots. And I won’t feel bad that I don’t feel so passionate over my photography that I could totally make it my life, yo. It’s a fun hobby, and it’s just fine if that’s all it ever is.

Censorship VS Guidance

The Goosebumps books were at the entrance to the Children’s Room at the library growing up; you couldn’t help but see them whenever you went it. They were popular, too—very few of the books I loved were ever borrowed by anyone but me (this was back in the day when the patron’s name was written on the card in the back pocket, so you could see a book’s history whenever you picked it up. The nosy neighbor/author in me misses those days, when you could speculate about the other people whose names were on the card, especially if one name cropped up on several of the books you borrowed frequently. “I wonder who that person is,” you could muse. “I bet we’d be friends.” But I digress), but the Goosebumps books were always getting snatched up by kids about my age, and there were always gaping holes in the shelf.

“I don’t think so,” Mom said firmly when she saw me eying them speculatively. “Those are not a good idea with your nightmares.”

Saddened, but not wanting to mess with my nightmares—these were terrible, and plagued me well into my teens, and could be caused by nothing more than seeing a gruesome picture on a tabloid cover in the grocery store check-out line—I bypassed the Goosebumps books and went back to the delights of E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, Lloyd Alexander, and the like.

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An older friend of mine read and loved the Dark is Rising books, and lent them to me with a caveat that they might be scary in parts. So Dad read them first, and then handed them over to me saying that they did have some dark parts, but that he was pretty sure I could take it, and if I wanted to I could always talk to him about them. In fact, I loved them (as did he, and Susan Cooper remains one of our favorite authors to this day—I bought him King of Shadows for his birthday last year, in fact, and he was just as swept up as he’d ever been in one of her tales. But I digress again).

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My sister wasn’t much of a reader as a kid and teenager. While I would stay up late reading, she preferred to lull herself to sleep on logic problems. When she did read, she liked books such as Baby-Sitter’s Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and, as she got older, Sweet Valley High and Avalon romances. My parents called those “fluff” books—enjoyable but no substance to them—and the rule was you had to read a certain number of non-fluff books to the number of fluff books you were allowed. My sister grumbled a bit about this, more because she was the oldest and it was her job to complain about all of our parents’ rules than because she thought it was actually unfair, but she stuck with it. And a few years ago she was trying to convince me to give Dostoyevsky a try, because she’d read some of his books and thought they were awesome. She also still enjoys fluff books. And logic problems

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About a year ago, I was desperately trying to find books that Joy would want to read. Excited by her advanced abilities and unduly influenced by memories of the large tomes I enjoyed reading in kindergarten and first grade, I overdid a bit and overwhelmed her. While she was perfectly capable of reading the Little House books, she didn’t enjoy them, and her disillusionment with the “big” books I was giving her spread to reading in general.

Then we found the Rainbow Magic books at the library. Pumped out by computer, lame by any standards, they were nonetheless perfect for a six-year-old who enjoyed the thrill of reading “chapter books” but wasn’t ready mentally or emotionally for the themes in most MG writing. Despite the wrinkled noses of many of my friends, I cheerfully borrowed them by the armload each week for her, while at the same time giving her more picture books and other young readers (the Magic Tree House books were another big hit, which has worked out nicely with social studies, I must say—I never know when she’s going to pipe up over something we’re studying, “Oh! Jack and Annie went here.” Digressing again). I’m exceedingly thankful to have had them, especially now when I catch Joy happily curled up with any book from Ladybug Girl to the Frozen novelization to Winnie-the-Pooh to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. On the other hand, when this winter the library didn’t have the next one in the series, I deliberately did not suggest ILL or skipping that one to move on to the next. Thus far, she has plenty of other reading material, and she hasn’t seem to miss the Rainbow Magic too badly.

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There’s a lot of justified complaints about censorship out there. Including and especially parents censoring what their children read. Or what other people’s children read. But sometimes parental guidance gets lost or unfairly shuffled into the same category as censorship, and I think that’s a shame. Because gentle guidance and help with reading—whether it be in limiting the number of certain types of books your kids read, or reading books before letting them read them, or telling them to wait until they are older, or even swallowing your pride to let—even encourage!—them read books that are frankly crap (and then move on when said books have served their purpose), is something that I wish more parents would do. And it’s a far cry from censorship. It is, to be blunt, simply part of what being a parent is all about.

Clearly, Joy is much more comfortable with reading these days

Clearly, Joy is much more comfortable with reading these days

Thanks to Maureen, whose tweets on this subject got me thinking about my parents, and how grateful I am to them for the way they encouraged my sister and me to be readers, and then prompted this post.

Also, in case anyone is interested, the Little House picture books are well-loved by both Joy and Grace, and went a long way toward piquing Joy’s interest in the real books once she got a little older.

Paper Edits and Tomato Soup

The nice thing about having printed out your MS to edit, is that it’s much easier to haul a stack of paper around everywhere you go than it is your laptop. For me, anyway. For instance, at Joy’s violin lesson. Or in the car while I’m soaking in the (rare) sunshine during Grace’s ballet class. Both places where balancing a laptop on my knees would be awkward and uncomfortable.

As a result of this papery delight, I’ve been moving along at a surprisingly (for me) rapid pace on the edits to From the Shadows, and this afternoon, I finished them.

Now, this round of editing mostly consisted of notes saying “fix this!” or “this scene will need to be moved” or “hey, you have world-building now that changes this.” All of which needs to be actually implemented. But the hard work, the thinking part of it, is done. All that remains is to write out the changes I told myself to make. (And yes, for me, the writing is generally the easy part. Figuring out how to make the writing work is the hard stuff.)

This is exciting on multiple levels. For one: yay, another step forward! For another: after I finish implementing the changes, I can send it off to my actual editor. For another: once I reach the sending-it-to-editor stage, I consider the book officially done (everything else is polishing), and THAT means I can purchase The High King.

See, way, way back when I finished my first novel, I was so shocked and pleased that I felt I had to do something to celebrate. It wasn’t a publishable novel, so nothing that anyone else would consider party-worthy, but it was mine and I had finished it. So I celebrated by buying The Book of Three in hardcover, a splurge since I always buy paperback.

Collecting the Chronicles of Prydain one by one, each book marking the completion of one novel, because a milestone for me. Despite the fact that I’ve only published one book (and some short stories, but those didn’t count as novels – though I’m pretty sure I bought The Prydain Companion to celebrate those), I have written four (not counting novel-length fanfics, of which there are Many), and so I own all but the final Prydain book.

Finishing – not publishing, but finishing – FTS will be the fifth. After that, there’s The Foundling and other tales, and then … well, and then I will either no longer need to have that private celebratory milestone, or else I’ll have to start collecting a new series.

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After I finished the paper edits, I was fizzing with creative energy. Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches were on the menu for tonight’s dinner, so I turned all the creativity toward that. The tomato soup recipes I had were all great for crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes, even diced tomatoes … but I’ve had a terrible time finding good recipes for soup from tomato sauce, and that’s all I usually have on hand. So, I made up my own.

And I have to tell you, it turned out to be the best tomato soup not from fresh tomatoes I’ve ever had. To my taste, of course, which might be quite different from yours. But just in case it isn’t, I’ll include the recipe here. Because – yes! I actually remembered to write it down, so I won’t have to rack my brain to remember it next time.

2 TBS Butter

2 TBS Flour

Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Basil, Salt (to taste)

3 Cans Tomato Sauce

2 Cups Chicken Broth

1 tsp Baking Soda

Pinch of Brown Sugar

2 Cups of Cream/Milk

Salt, to taste

Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add flour, stir and let cook 1-2 minutes. Add spices and tomato sauce, stir until well mixed. Add chicken broth, stir well. Sprinkle in baking soda and brown sugar, stir until foam has settled. Bring to a simmer. Add cream or milk (I used 1/2 c. cream and 1 1/2 c. milk), stir until evenly combined, let heat through. Add salt to taste, and serve.

Not too bad for a Tuesday afternoon’s work!

(I am sorry there are no pictures of the soup: we ate it all.)

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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