Spring Sprain

Thursday was a lovely spring day here (at last!) I got in my walk up the hill with Carl, part of my new exercise regimen as I try to take back my energy and overall health. On the way back down we stopped at the small playground for campus kids and hung out for a bit with our neighbor and her too-cute-for-words baby boy. Eventually Carl went back inside to get some work done, neighbor took the baby in for his nap, and the girls and I decided to go across the field to see the leaves on their favorite climbing tree.

When we got there, all the branches were too high for the kids to see well, so first I tried taking photos, and then when that proved ineffective, jumped up to snag a branch to tug down for the kids to see.

The first branch I couldn’t quite reach, even when jumping up. The second one I grabbed, but when I came down I must have landed on an uneven patch. My ankle rolled, I heard an ominous “crack,” and I rolled my body with my ankle in an instinctive attempt to protect it (former figure skater: we learn very early on how to fall).

The ankle immediately swelled up to twice its size, and the pain was indescribable. With the kids there (and the campus preschoolers blithely playing behind us) I had to keep calm so I didn’t scare them. Luckily my phone was near at hand, I grabbed it and tried to call Carl.

He didn’t answer. Three times. (We found out afterward that his phone didn’t even ring. Technology, you suck.) So I gave my keys to Joy and told her to run across the field, carefully cross the parking lot, and tell Daddy that Mom had fallen and her ankle might be broken. She took off, and I collapsed on the grass and focused on not passing out or throwing up from the pain, hoping that it looked to the preschoolers like I was merely resting on the grass. Gracie kept me company and blessedly didn’t ask any questions.

Carl and Joy finally made it back, we dropped the kids off with a neighbor who said she’d keep them as long as necessary and not to worry, and then we took off for the emergency room.

Once there, I got an X-Ray and the doctors determined it was a severe sprain, not a break, and I nearly cried from relief. An hour after we arrived, we were leaving the hospital, me with an Ace bandage and air cast and crutches and strict instructions to stay off my foot completely for one week and then to ease back into using it over the next 5-7 weeks after that. We went and got pizza for lunch, since we were both starving by then, got back home and maneuvered my crutches and me up to our second-story apartment and onto the couch, and Carl went and fetched the kids, who were vastly relieved to see me with my foot still attached.

And so here I am on Day 3 of my Week of Rest, as I’m hashtagging it on Instagram (elouise_bates). I have finished Chapter 10 of Magic in Disguise (only six chapters left), read three library books, watched a number of episodes of Death in Paradise whilst knitting a sweater for Joy, and directed kitchen operations from the easy chair. I’m so thankful I only have a week of this.

Thankful for a lot of things, really. Neighbors who looked out for our kids so I didn’t have to worry about them as well as my ankle, as well as offering to take them this week for an hour or so at a time, since I can’t. Thankful that Carl is done with classes so he can do the meals and run the kids to their various activities (did I mention it’s my right ankle? No driving for me for a bit) as well as get to the library to keep replenishing my supply of books. Thankful for a cheerful and efficient hospital staff: this was my first hospital visit since Joy’s birth, and despite the agony in my ankle, this time around was much, much more pleasant. Thankful for kids who, despite their own fear, kept calm and did what I asked without arguing or panicking (two years ago they would both have been wailing and flailing through it all). And deeply, deeply thankful that I am not going to have to miss out on a summer’s worth of activities–our last full summer here on the North Shore–because of a broken ankle. One week of inactivity is so much more endurable than twelve!

So that’s the news from Casa E.L. Bates.

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Taking the Time

I’ve been reading through Louise DeSalvo’s The Art of Slow Writing, and while some of it strikes me as more than a little pretentious (what can I say, I come from good, practical, farmer stock), I do very much appreciate the reminder to be mindful, to be aware, to not be so overly focused on the result that one misses the beauty of the here and now.

With all that in mind, when we went out for a family walk yesterday afternoon, enjoying the late February sunshine even amid the biting wind, I took my big camera instead of just my phone, and enjoyed taking pictures for the sake of the photography, rather than in order to post them on Instagram (don’t get me wrong, I snapped one or two with my phone camera as well, and posted THOSE on Instagram, because Instagram is my happy place). And while they might not be the finest photos in all of creation, they made me satisfied. I’m glad I took the time to see things from a different angle, and take the photos even if it meant I didn’t get the instant rush of posting them online at once.

It’s the same feeling I get when I write anything by hand, especially something in my journal, using cursive. It takes more time, it won’t be seen by anyone else, there’s no practical value in it – and yet there is something about it that satisfies.

I have tendencies toward dawdling (those did not come from my practical farming forebears), so it is important for me to not get lost in my daydreams and never accomplish anything. On the other hand, it is also tremendously important to not be so wrapped up in the end goal and “getting things done” that I forget to savor the slower things in life, the things that aren’t necessarily tangible or goal-oriented. A tricky balancing act, and one I know I’ve blogged about before, but one of which I always need reminding, and at which I will always need to keep practicing.

New Year, New-ish Goals

Friends, it is 2015, and I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t be more pleased.

Not that 2014 was a bad year. Not at all. We did a lot of learning and growing and stretching in it, and also took plenty of trips to the beach. Can’t really complain.

But a new year is here, and I am ready to put into action the results of all that learning and growing and stretching. And some more beach trips.

I signed Joy up for violin lessons with someone here on campus who teaches (EXCITEMENT ABOUNDS) and realized that this means she will be taking ballet lessons, art lessons, piano lessons, and violin lessons this semester; Gracie will be taking art and ballet (possibly starting piano in the fall, we’ll see); and of course we’ll be continuing with our Friday homeschool group. Guess there’s no question but that I’m a mom of kids instead of littles now, with all these activities. How am I supposed to be a proper hermit with all this running them around hither and yon?

I have a few goals for 2015. Learn and practice more self-discipline is the big one. I’m way too prone to flutter frantically around, getting overwhelmed by life and all that I need/want to do, and not get any of it done. This is an old tale, I’m sung it before here and elsewhere, and I am well aware that the kind of self-discipline I am after will likely take me the rest of my life to master. That’s okay. I’ll just keep plugging away at it.

Another familiar goal: read less, savor more, get deeper into what I read instead of charging through books so quickly that I can’t even remember them two months later without checking Goodreads. I’m working on this one already. I started Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her (I tried reading it once a few years back and never made it all the way through) and am stopping to jot down notes whenever something strikes me, re-reading certain passages if I feel the need or desire, trying to consciously slow myself down to enjoy the book instead of plowing through it like a bull in a china shop.

I’ve specifically set the goal of reading 12 non-fiction books this year. I find non-fiction incredibly rewarding, and yet incredibly hard to get through, so I figure if I plan to read one per month, by December, I might find it’s a bit easier to do.

For writing: I’m learning to slow down there, too (noticing a pattern, anyone? I told you 2014 was a year of growing). Not push, push, push to GET PUBLISHED GET OUT THERE OR ELSE YOU ARE DOOMED, DOOMED I TELL YOU. Enjoy writing. Dig deeper into it. Be more honest. Polish it up again, even after I think it’s perfect (because six months later, I’ll realize that it’s not). Explore new genres, new ways of sharing stories, new ways even of writing. Don’t be afraid of going off the path.

But at the same time, while holding this loosely, I have set myself a few goals, because how can you go off the path if you haven’t established what the path is? So, I would like to finish the first draft of of the serial story, with the goal of polishing and publishing through a newsletter one chapter a month. I would like to get From the Shadows polished and ready to publish. And I would like to start over again with Magic in Disguise – I am almost finished outlining the new version, so that’s exciting.

I’ve got a few more personal goals/hopes for this year – but I’m holding those close to me for right now. They’re fragile; I don’t want to expose them too much or they might disintegrate.

And speaking of self-discipline … I just remembered that I need to pack today for our almost-week-long jaunt to visit family which starts tomorrow, so I guess I’d better sign off from here and get to that.

After I finish my tea, naturally. Priorities.

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To Live In Joy

This has been a really awful few days. The shooting in Ottawa hit me just like a sucker punch to the gut. Ottawa is the closest city to my hometown (yes, we were closer to a Canadian city than a US. REALLY rural, and REALLY far north in NY State); we are very familiar with it. It’s a beautiful, warm, welcoming city, and to think of such a horror being perpetuated in it was awful and personal.

The next day, I found out that the local college in my hometown – the school I attended for my freshman year before transferring to the state university the next town over – had to shut down because of threats on social media. MY town. MY school. Once again, the fury I felt was personal as well as abstract.

Today is the third anniversary of my grandmother’s death. And rather than continue to dwell on the things that make me angry, things I cannot change or stop directly, I’m going to do what Grandma would have done, and share some things that bring light, laughter, and hope to the world.

I’m certain I’ve posted this video before. Kurt Browning is one of my all-time favorite skaters – he is one of the greats – and this is a routine that never fails to brighten my day, no matter how bad it gets.

This song makes me cry. Every time. But they are good tears, tears of love for and pride in my grandparents and all those who choose joy instead of bitterness in the hardships of life.

Speaking of Patty Griffin … I love this song, too.

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I snapped this with my phone last weekend on our mountain hike. Glorious beauty in the dying of the year.

Not a picture or video, but – we have started reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the kids before bed (Carl reads, I sit and quilt and surreptitiously watch their faces). They weren’t too sure about it at first, but last night the four children had supper with the Beavers, and neither girl wanted to close the book after that. They’re hooked.

“I heard the universe as an oratorio sung by a master choir of stars, accompanied by the orchestra of the planets and the percussion of satellites and moons. The aria they performed was a song to break the heart, full of tragic dissonance and deferred hope, and yet somewhere beneath it all was a piercing refrain of glory, glory, glory. And I sensed that not only the grand movements of the cosmos, but everything that had happened in my life, was a part of that song. Even the hurts that seemed most senseless, the mistakes I would have done anything to erase–nothing could make those things good, but good could still come out of them all the same, and in the end the oratorio would be no less beautiful for it.” -RJ Anderson, Ultraviolet

I love this quote.

In really, really good news from this week (well, the tail end of last week), my dear friend A.M. Offenwanger published her first book! It is a delightful read. The link leads to the Smashwords page, but you can get it through Amazon or Kobo as well, or as a print version through Createspace.

One final song:

There are some of my happy things! I hope that, whether you are having a wonderful week or a dreadful one, that at least one item in this post has brought a smile to your face.

Sinusitis and Love

Sinusitis is no fun at all, guys. Seriously. I thought my occasional tyramine-intolerance migraines were bad until I had to deal with daily sinus headaches.

Ho-ly smokes.

I think I’m over the worst of it now, I’ve still got some pressure and pain, but I ate a tiny piece of jalapeno this evening and my head pretty much exploded and then I felt so much better. Not cured, but on the road. Thank goodness.

The downside to sinusitis (aside from constant pain, of course) is that I haven’t been able to accomplish much of anything for the last almost-three weeks. The upside is, I’ve gotten quite a bit more done on my niece’s baby quilt, since resting on the couch with a quilting hoop and Netflix was about all I could manage. If I’m very diligent, I just might get the quilt done in time for Christmas. Which would be excellent, since she turned a year old last week.

(In my defense, I am quilting in one-inch squares, no pattern to follow, no lines drawn in (the fabric is light-colored and I didn’t want to leave pencil markings behind), no stitching lines to follow, just me measuring and pinning every. single. line. as I come to it. If I’d drawn the lines in or was following a pattern, I’d have had this finished ages ago. I’m slow, but not usually that slow.)

I am, despite the burst of productivity on Miss M’s quilt, glad to finally be able to start getting some other stuff done. I set up the sewing table to work more on Halloween costumes today – I would be finished with the underdress of Joy’s medieval outfit tonight if it weren’t for the fact that the sewing machine noise keeps Gracie awake so I have to quit once they’re in bed. I cleaned the kitchen earlier today, and made a delicious, healthy supper. It doesn’t sound like much, but considering what I’ve been getting done, it’s a lot.

And just in time, since we’re having company join us tomorrow for dinner. (eek!)

Not a lot of writing done of late, but I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel for From the Shadows, and even a hint of hope that I might be able to finish the first draft of Magic in Disguise by the end of the year. I confess to feeling some discouragement that my wretched body seems determined to throw a monkey wrench into all my plans, all the time (if it’s not one thing, it’s another, she said in a gloomy tone to rival Eeyore’s), but I am determined to not let it master me.

Because in the long run, what’s a few extra weeks, or months, or even year? Am I suddenly going to lose masses of fans because I didn’t publish the sequel to Magic Most Deadly exactly one year after the first book? Or are people going to forget all about me if I’m not churning out books steadily? Is my value, my worth, going to drop if I don’t publish on a regular basis?

(The answer to all those questions, by the way, is no.)

And you know, a few weeks with constant pain has taught me a lot, even as it’s eroded my plans. Plus it’s given my husband and kids a chance to show their love for me in practical, tangible ways, like Carl making an absolutely delicious supper Saturday evening because I couldn’t move my head, even though he’d had class Friday night and all day Saturday. Or the girls playing quietly and nicely with each other several afternoons without me having to ask, just because they saw me resting on the bed and knew that Mommy was hurting again.

I dunno, as important as writing is to me, moments like that are even more important in the long run. Maybe not to me as a writer, but to me as a person.

So there are my ramblings from the last few weeks. What’s new with all you?

One Year In

I was tremendously excited a few weeks ago, thinking about the approaching anniversary of Magic Most Deadly’s publication. I’ll do a sale! I thought. I’ll do the giveaway I never managed to do for its publication, of those lovely vintage jewelry pieces I bought! I’ll do an excerpt of Magic in Disguise! I’ll post some of my memories of the writing process! I’ll share some of my favorite moments in the book! I’ll talk about what I’ve learned in one year of being a published author!

A little over a week ago, Joy got sick. It was nothing major, just a head cold. It spread to Grace, and then to me. Joy got better. Grace started to get better. I kept blowing my nose.

Grace got bronchitis. I kept blowing my nose.

Today, Gracie is tired but recovering from the bronchitis. Joy is all better from the cold. Carl, the stinker, never got sick. I, you guessed it, am still blowing my nose. With a massive sinus headache to boot (but I’m not complaining too much, because I went to the chiropractor yesterday for the first time in years, and this morning I woke up with no backache at all, which hasn’t happened for months).

Which means that it wasn’t until around 11:00 that I blearily remembered that today was the 30th, and one year ago this day I became the official published author of a novel.

Sorry, Magic Most Deadly. You deserve a better celebration, but I have to go blow my nose again.

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Lord, Have Mercy

Saw a snide comment today on Twitter about how “all people who aren’t talking about Ferguson are contributing to the problem” and it enraged me. Enraged me to the point that I am having to do something I expressly don’t want to do, which is engage on social media about this.

There is a lot of horrible stuff going on the world right now. Ferguson, Irag, Ukraine, two Amish girls kidnapped from my old stomping grounds (thankfully they are now back home with their parents, but the media is still exploiting their story for all it’s worth), a group of kids and adults, short-term missionaries from the North Shore here brutally attacked on their way to the airport after completing a week of working overseas, atrocities still committed regularly in Nigeria …

It’s horrible. The world presses in heavily. And I don’t see that Twittering about it is going to make it any better.

If it comforts you to express your thoughts and emotions in 140 characters, by all means, do so. I can’t. I have tried to do so in the past, and it leaves me feeling more frustrated and helpless than before.

Instead, I am praying. Lord, have mercy. It’s a lot less than 140 characters, but it’s going straight to the throne of grace instead of getting lost in a sea of banality and empty outrage on the internet. Lord, have mercy.

I am acting. I am sharing food from our garden with our neighbors. I am reading to my children and giving them hugs. I am speaking words of encouragement and love to those I see.

I am living. Living as though life is worth something. Living with joy, because that is so much more powerful than shouting in anger.

I am creating. Making art, making music, writing stories. Because the act of creation trumps acts of destruction any day of the week.

Hatred doesn’t fix hatred. Darkness cannot defeat darkness. Only light can defeat the darkness. And for me, personally, spouting off on Twitter or Facebook is not contributing to the light in this world.

So, angry person on Twitter criticizing people you don’t even know, sweeping everyone under one comprehensive judgement: I understand, because there have been times when I have felt that other people’s silence equaled a lack of care. I hope I know better now, and understand that sometimes silence means a person cares too deeply to be able to say anything at all.

Sometimes it isn’t that something isn’t important enough to be tweeted. It’s that it is too important for such a useless exercise.