Category Archives: writing

NaNoWriMo is Eating My Brain

That sounds worse than it is.

I’m sorry I have been absent so long, but writing a whole novel in 30 days is, well…exhausting. I write for work, I write for NaNo, I listen to Christmas music and eat take-out while I write, and then I get really sleepy and watch TV until I fall asleep on the couch or Tyler makes me go to bed. I know all I’ve done for the past 14 days is sit at a desk and write, but I am one tired little lady.

This is what my life has devolved into this month. Leftovers, take out, laptop (which may as well be my third limb), and tea. Oh-so-much tea.

And I’m behind. Oh, heavens to Betsy am I behind. I had 99% of the story already in my head when I began this crazy venture, but filling in that skeleton is harder work than it seems, especially with a deadline. I almost wish I’d started with a story I didn’t care so much about, one I could never revisit after November 30th if I didn’t want to, but would have helped  me get my novel-writing mojo in place before I started this story that I’m invested in and care desperately about. But it’s too late for regrets, and I’m certainly NOT starting over. I am, however, working diligently. And I’ve decided that if I don’t finish by November 30th? That’s okay. I’ll aim to finish by New Years, and then I’ll start the mammoth work of editing and re-writing. And I’ll take my time about it, because I do care about this story so very much.

And I am enjoying it! I’m reminded every day how much I enjoy what I do, how blessed I am to have a husband and family who support my writing and think it;s a good idea for me to chase after my dreams. I could do so many other things, but would my soul be this satisfied? I remain unconvinced.

I’m sorry I don’t have more to offer than this right now. I have managed to read some, so I’ll try to squeeze out a few book reviews soon. Until then, I’m going to go take a nap, and here’s a short snippet of what I’ve been working on, just to hold you over. Nd while you read that, Im going to take a nap. At 5:38pm. No shame!


People of the Trees (Working Title)

Excerpt from Ch. 1: First Magic

Della was old, so old that her skin was as thinnest parchment, too stretched and sparse to hold the wrinkles that had once caressed her cheeks. When she pulled me onto her lap, it was with surprising strength and the firmness of touch that always communicates love from mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter, great-great-great grandmother to me.

We live long lives, we Healer women. We grow slowly, mature slowly, age slowly. But we learn quickly and forget never. We are a race in-between, not the humble humans we walk and live amongst and heal, not quite akin to the elevated Silva, the People of the Trees, those mysterious creatures who slipped in and out of our world like whispers in the wind. I think perhaps once one of their kind and a mortal must have fallen in love, and from that union came the Healers, but if that is true the tale is long-lost in time and the forgetfulness that enveloped us all in the years before the Tragedy. Strange, that the most defining moment of our age should be called nothing but the Tragedy, as if Mannix should be just the Deceiver, and Della just the Heroine.

But I get ahead of myself. On this day, when Della pulled me into her lap, wrapping me in her fragile arms like a house nestling in the limbs of a young tree, I did not know anything yet of our tragedy, of her bravery, of all the evil we had survived to get to this day, the day when I, the last Healer, would begin my education.

It is funny to think that I am the last. It was stranger to me then, but now I am old too, older even than Della. I have seen the lasts of many things, and the passing of a race does not seem so impossible now. I know it must seem odd to you as well, after all you are my granddaughter, and it would seem natural that you must be a healer too. But no, our powers are spent, the great price we paid to save the whole world, not just our people but all peoples, from a terrible fate that still, even now, sits on the cusp of the horizon, knowing it can never break through and yet salivating at the dream that someday, if it wishes hard enough, it might. Someday if vigilance lacks and our security lulls us again into foolishness, then maybe it will have a sliver of hope, a tiny opportunity to again devour us whole. I shudder to think of such a chance, but I am assured that Della’s magic was tight, that the trade was solid, that the wall will hold.

That wall is why you, my sweet plum, will never know the thrill of the first magic as it tingles through your fingers. It is why you will never feel your hands get hot on a babe’s forhead, why you will never gather mushrooms in the far glade to make the new year’s wine, why you will age almost normally, and why you now bear the sons that have been denied the Healer’s for so long. The magic is drained from us, denied you, child. In a few generations we will be all but human.


Leave a comment

Filed under NaNoWriMo, writing

October Poetry, NaNoWriMo, and Some Books I’m Excited About

I was going to be such a good blogger today. I had planned to get up early and get this blog out by East Coast lunch time. But then I slept in. And then I decided to start my day reading instead of writing to get my juices pumping. And then I hopped on WordPress, but started reading other blogs instead of writing my own. And then I ate lunch of the patio, and it was such a beautiful day I just had to take the dog for a walk…and you get the drift of how today has done for me. So here I am at East Coast dinner time, just getting started. But it’s okay, because I have some fun stuff to talk about!

1: October Poetry Month: I know I may not seem it in the day-to-day ramblings of this blog, but I am a huge fan of poetry. In fact, I first came to my love of literature and writing through poetry. Well, my friend Christie created her own poetry month, wherein she writes a poem everyday during the month of October. I haven’t been focusing as much on poetry lately as I’d like, so I’ve decided to join her. I’m gearing up already; I’m reading more poetry to prepare my mind, I’m seriously contemplating which journal I want to document my month of poems in, and I’m trying to find somewhere local that sells those sever-year pens Christie mentions, because I feel I am forever in need  of a good, handy pen, and as soon as I find one I love it runs out of ink. Boo bad pens. Yay (hopefully)good poetry!

2: NaNoWriMo: I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not I’m going to take part in NaNoWriMo. In the past I was a bit too neurotic and obsessive to participate, but I’ve changed a lot in the last several years, my approach and thoughts on writing have changed, and I think I’m finally ready.  I’ve had a rather nebulous, though I think good, idea for a novel floating around in my brain for several years, but I never knew exactly where it should go or what the end game would be. In the last several months, though, a more definitive plot has started to take shape in my mind, and I’m very excited to get it going. To get myself ready for this, I’m pretty much just going to do what I already do. I typically write a minimum of 1,000 words a day everyday. The NaNoWriMo goal is 50,000 words in a month, so I just need to raise my minimum, knowing that there will be days I do more anyway. I’m also going to read the book No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, the founder of  NaNoWriMO.

So there’s that. Since I’ve never done it before, I don’t know how this blog is going to look or my reading goals are going to work for the month of November, but I do know that this is going to be Fun, with a capital F.

3: Books I’m Excited About: There are several books coming out soon that I’m very excited to read, and I though you might be too. October is going to be a good month to be a reader!

  • The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Lead the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente: You probably remember how much I raved about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making when it came out last year. Well, this is its sequel, and it’s coming out on October 2nd!!! My excitement is nearly incontainable, as you can tell by the fact that I allowed myself three whole exclamation points. (Three is the very outer limit of the number of acceptable exclamation points, or any other punctuation [such as question marks], in my admittedly snobby opinion. If I ever exceed three, assume that I am in the most serious delirium of joy ever experienced, or am dying.) Anyway, I am pre-ordering this book tomorrow, and then the day it arrives I will probably do nothing but read it until either it’s done, or I fall asleep from the exhaustion caused by my  fits of ecstacy. (If you’re reading this, many thanks to rhymeswithchair for the heads up about this book!)
  • Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women, & Scribble Scribble: Notes on the Media by Nora Ephron:  I don’t know if I’ve ever discussed it on my blog before, but I am a great fan of Nora Ephron. When Harry Met Sally is one of my top-three all-time favorite movies, and I first discovered her witty books in our local library when I was in high school. I’m actually fairly certain I read both of these books at some point in high school, because I read everything by her I could find before moving on to Erma Bombeck, but they have long since slipped my memory as well as the printing press. But no more! Because on October 16th both of these beauties will be republished in a single volume. Again, can I say, pre-order!
  • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: In case you don’t already have it marked on your calendar,  J.K. Rowling’s first foray into adult fiction comes out a week from today! I know it won’t be the same as Harry Potter, but I’m hoping the world she creates here will be just as captivating. And you can be sure that this time next week I will have this hot little book in my hot little hands, as I plan to wake up early to go buy it. (Yes, I sadly really am that big of a dork.)
  • Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? By Rhoda Johnson: I read Rhoda’s freshman release, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, last year, and adored it. It was pithy but respectful, and deeply interesting to me. (You can read my review here, if you so desire.) This sequel of sorts also releases on October 2, and is Johnson’s story of falling in love again after divorce, fighting breast cancer, and her return to the church. I’m definitely excited to read more from this funny, thoughtful writer.
  • The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton: Morton fans rejoice! I loved both The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden (The Distant Hours awaits on my shelf, ready to be conquered, hmmmmm….probably tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow. That solves that question.), and I’m excited for this new historical mystery, which releases on October 16. I’m especially excited because I was under the impression that this book came out next October, not this year, so this is a great little surprise for me!

4: Animal Pictures: Because there is no better way to end a blog.

Nobody takes baby out of her corner!

Oscar says, “I’ll do anything, just love me pleeeeeeeas!”

Have there ever been two more adorable animals? I think not!


Filed under Books, Cambria, NaNoWriMo, Oscar, Poetry, writing

What I’ve Been Reading, Part 2.

I think it’s only fair to warn you that these are mostly books that I have started but not finished yet. Some of them will be finished very soon, though, because I’m doing another week of trying to read a book every day. My writing has been slumpish this past week, and a good dose of vigorous reading usually helps me un-slump. Anyway, all that to say that my opinions may change by the end. We shall see.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones: A reader recommended this book to me several months back after a post about comfort books. I finally picked it up at my local Barnes and Noble last month, but just haven’t gotten around to really diving into it. I have dipped my toes in, though, and so far I’m intrigued. A girl who is turned into an old woman? A castle that moves about like it’s alive? If this book doesn’t absolutely tickle my brain I’ll be shocked.

Afternoons With Emily by Rose MacMurray: I’m about a fourth  of the way through this chunkster challenge book about a fictional girl who becomes close friends with the ever eccentric Emily Dickenson. I like it, but I have to be in the right mood to get into it otherwise I find myself reading the same pages over and over. I’m waiting for the perfect afternoon to curl up with some tea and really get into this promising story.

I Capture the Castle by Doddie Smith: I love going to a book store without any specific book in mind and just perusing until I find some unexpected treasure. I almost always find something fantastic, like this book which I first discovered in 2008 on just such an expedition. Doddie Smith is most famous for her classic The Hundred and One Dalmatians, but I can’t figure out why she isn’t better known for this coming of age novel, which is narrated by 17 year-old Cassandra who lives with her impoverished family in a rundown old castle. Witty, charismatic, and just the right amount of quirky, I immediately fell in love with this book. I am sorely overdue for a re-read.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett: Y’all, I’ve joined a book club! I’m fairly new to San Diego, and making friends takes time. We were lucky that Tyler joined a company full of wonderful people that we have become true friends with, but outside of that I have yet to meet many people, and almost no book-ish ones. Them I met Gina. Her husband also works for Tyler’s company, and I think she may be my long-lost twin. And she has asked me to join her book club, where I am hoping to meet many more kindred spirits. This is the book club choice for the month of September, and  also my book for today. Why on earth have I never read anything by Ann Patchett before?! I could barely force myself to put it down long enough to write this post. An official review will follow soon. (Also, book club meets for the first time this coming weekend. I will definitely let you know how it goes.)

Half Broke Horses by Sheila Walsh: I read Walsh’s dynamic debut, The Glass Castle, in a single afternoon. Her sophomore offering has sat on my shelf for a while, often passed over for newer prospects. But after reading just 30 pages yesterday, I already know that this is going to be a new favorite. Walsh’s voice is pitch perfect and her story is, thus far, captivating.

Lit by Mary Karr: May Karr may very well be the perfect writer, if not the perfect person. Her word choice, the tone she strikes, and her honesty have all turned this into one of the best memoirs I’ve read despite the sometimes difficult subject matter. And I’m not even finished yet. I plan to do a full review when I’ve completed it, so I won’t say too much more, except I will be reading much more of Mary’s work in hopes that some of her genius with the English language rubs off.

New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2 by Mary Oliver: I bought this book during a Modern Poetry class in college, but I could never get into Mary Oliver’s work, and then I discovered Denise Levertov and officially shelved this poet. But then yesterday I was looking for something to read for my book of the day, and nothing was really grabbing me. So I took Mary off the shelf again and what do you know, I feel in love. She writes a lot about nature, but her poems are so much deeper, about so much more, than just simply animals and plants. I read all 172 pages of poems yesterday. My mind in blown and my soul is opened. I think I’ve discovered a new life-long favorite.

On Writing by Stephen King: Like I mentioned before, I had a rough time in regards to writing last week, so I thought it was the perfect time to break out this highly recommended memoir/writing advice book. I’ve tried to read a few pages every day, but I’m so fascinated that I’ll probably end up reading it all in one big chunk later this week.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi: I first read this book in a World Literature class in college. That was my favorite college course ever, and this tied with Dr. Zhivago as my favorite book from that class. Nafisi is a literature professor who used to teach in Tehran. She and seven of her most dedicated students started reading classics from the Western canon in secret, and this is the story of that experience. It is a true testament to the power of literature as well as a fascinating exploration of womanhood in the face of tyranny. Like with I Capture the Castle, I’m simply itching to read this fantastic memoir again.

So, after I finish all these up, I’ll have a few weeks worth of books that I actually own to read and then I’ll run out of books! I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you why I simply cannot EVER let that happen! So I need some suggestions. So far I plan to get:

  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
  • In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson
  • Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2) by Deborah Harkness
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Ann Frank by Nathan Englander
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
  • Where I Was From by Joan Didion
  • Love, Life, and Elephants by Daphne Sheldrick
  • Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth

I know that seems like quite a list, but if these are all as good as I anticipate, they will last we a few weeks at best.  Plus, I think my reading is getting faster. That means that in a month, I may not own any books I haven’t read. Eeek! And though I have a long to-read list, nothing else is jumping out at me. So, dear friends, give me your suggestions! What books do you love, what are you dying to read, what great new tomes would my life be incomplete without?

And finally, I leave you with a gratuitous animal picture. Because I just love my little furballs oh-so-much. And because they aaaaalmost like each other, and it’s starting to get cute!


Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Cambria, Oscar, Poetry, writing

Memories of Death, and Life, and Everything I Hope They’ll Be

I have a recurring dream where I sit on a porch over-looking a bay. I am very old with a quilt tucked around my legs, an old cat purring in my lap, sea salt breeze clinging to my lips. This is not one of those exciting adventure dreams, because here only a thin film of life lies between me and bodily death. I am frail. In a few moments, I will die. My parents and grandparents, who have all sat here before me, are all hovering all around, but they are not ghosts or figments of my imagination, I am simply half in their world already, and here on this porch with one foot in and one foot out of death, we’re discussing how death is really just the closing curtain of the first act of a magnificent play. My mother is quoting the last chapter of C.S Lewis’ book The Last Battle to me, “But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

I do not know how old I am, only that I don’t mind the thought of death. I’m a mere shadow of the woman peering out of my wedding portrait that hangs in the house behind me. My husband, my parents, my brother, and one of my children have all gone before me, and I long for the eternity to hold them again that death affords. I don’t mind leaving behind the children and grandchildren and great-grand children who are left because, after living it, I realize how absurdly short life is, and I know that in the space of a blink they will be the old, quilt-ladden body here on the porch, discussing with me how one departs this life in peace. I know I will tell them what my father is now telling me. I will tell them it is easy, because you do nothing. You breathe your last breath as you breathed your first: involuntarily, because this is the way you were created to do it. God does the rest. From the first inflating to the last deflating of your lungs, from your introduction to the world as a pink, wriggling baby, to the carrying of your soul from this wrinkled, spent shell, He has always done all the real work.

And then they are all around me, all of them solid, tangible, real, the people I love most. My dear, beloved husband, the only man I ever loved; my father whom I have always loved best; my mother whom I have missed with a deep ache every day for the last thirty years; my darling grandparents; and all my children, the living and the dead, to whom I have given every shred of myself until all that was left was this slight slip of humanity, drawing shallow breaths and singing, as involuntarily as I breath, an old spiritual my daddy used to sing in the shower. “Swing low, sweet chariot, commin’ for to carry me home. I looked over Jordan, and what did I see, commin’ for to carry me home. A band of angels, commin’ after me, commin’ for to carry me home.” I draw a breath, and I know it is my last. My grandmother, the one I am named after, pushes a few strands of hair off my cheek, just as she did when I was a child, and tells me, “Your life has been beautiful, it will be beautiful still.” I begin to exhale, and then…

Then I always wake up. Usually, I wake up sweaty, with a warm kitty curled around my feet, and the arm or leg of a sleeping husband thrown haphazardly over my torso. I’ve had this dream several times over the years, but lately it’s been on repeate, as though my mind is trying to cipher something out of it but can’t ever quite figure out what, and so it rewinds the scene, over and over, endlessly trying to find the missing piece.

Or maybe I’m overthinking it, as I have a tendency to do. My grandfather died three years ago today, and the memories have been with me heavily these last few weeks.

I remember my father’s call a few weeks before, telling me just how bad it was getting, and I sat in my office and cried, because letting go of those you love, even those who have had long, full, blessed lives, is painful.

Like in my dream, I don’t think Grandpa minded dying so much. My grandmother had died suddenly a few years before, and he was lonely without his wife of more than fifty years. Most of his children and grandchildren lived far away, and I know that I, for my part, wasn’t as good at keeping in touch with him as I should have been. I comforted myself by mentally repeating that he had thirty-some-odd grandkids, so my inconsistent correspondence was surely not so noticeable. But the truth is, I never got to say goodbye to my grandmother,  and talking to Grandpa was a painful reminder of a chapter I was struggling to close. It was hard to call knowing her soothing voice would not even out his rough, but loving, questions. I regret this all now, but I always wonder if I’ll regret it more when I’m old and understand what a call from a grandchild really means.

I remember vividly, though,  the last time he talked to me. I choose to visit him and say goodbye before he died rather than attend his funeral. Even if he was changed from the robust man I’d known for the last 22 years, I wanted to remember him alive, not cold and drained of blood and smeared with that vile paste the funeral home insists is make-up. I wanted to remember what his hand felt like in mine, with his pulse thrumming. I wanted to see him for myself, to hear his voice, even if it was just a faint echo of its former strength, one more time.

He wasn’t very responsive, and hadn’t been for some time, when I first entered his room at the nursing home. I’d been to the house already, where my parents and aunts and uncles were all staying, and also preparing it to be sold. I could not imagine this house without my grandparents in it, without their collections of bird figurines and bells, without its funny mis-mash of old and new, without the crush of our family, much too large for this space yet all somehow arranged within these walls, without my grandpa’s gruff morning chatter and bird feeders and homemade chicken noodle soup, or my grandmother’s strawberry patch and sky-high sunflowers and rhubarb pie, but the evidence of their departure was all around me. I hadn’t been here since my grandmother’s death, and now it seemed my family had managed to dispatch with 95% of my grandparent’s belongings in record time. With so many kids (7), and grandkids (nearly thirty, I think), and great grand-kids (putting us well within the 40’s range total), we all wanted a piece of them, something to remember them by. I took a quilt of my grandmother’s that I had always loved, several birds, and a few bells, and in this way we magpied away a good portion of stuff. Whatever was left my aunts sold at a garage sale. Still, this draining away of assets did not prepare me for the draining away of life.

My grandfather was bloated, his hair was wispy, and he had that peculiar smell that always seems to hover around those who are closest to death. His skin was yellowed and his breaths came at uneven intervals, often leaving whoever was in the room to listen with their heart in their throat, wondering if this was the end. But no- there was another ragged breath, another slow heart thump. The wait continued.

My grandfather’s last wish was that he not die alone. So his seven children, their spouses, and assorted grandkids all rallied around him, each of us staying as long as we could. My father and several of his siblings, as I mentioned, had battened down the hatches in my grandfather’s home, determined to wait it out for the long-haul, however long that might be. He would not, we all silently determined together, die alone. Instead, he would die knowing that he was the opposite of alone, he was surrounded by love. We would do what family is supposed to do, we would carry each other, and him, through this last parade of his long life.

I remember walking the short five steps it took to get from the doorway to his bed, and being hyper aware of my own father’s presence, as though it was the weight that was holding me down. He took my grandfather’s hand. “Dad, are you awake? Dad, Amanda, your granddaughter, is here to see you.”

I think he said something else, but I don’t remember what. I remember wondering if Grandpa would get confused and think I was my grandmother, whose middle name was Amanda, but he didn’t. Instead he gave me the most beautiful gift. This man, inches from death, took my hand, and mumbled as best he could, “Amanda. I love you.”

Though I saw him several more times over then next few days, those were the last words he ever spoke directly to me. They were enough.

I do not know when or how I will die. I do not know what my future days hold, or the way my own children will remember me, but this is my hope: I hope they remember me as a woman who loved fiercely and would not stop, whose faith in her mighty God anchored her in every storm without fail, whose hope never ran out. I hope someday when my grandchild sits down to write out her memories of me she will be inspired to live with intention, to live with her eyes open to the beauty that can always be found in the world, even in the nastiest of times, because that is what I learned from my grandmother. I hope he finds strength when he opens my worn Bible and reads the years of underlined verses and scribbled margin notes, because that is what I found when I opened my grandpa’s good book, sitting in his livingroom so many years ago. I hope they remember me as the woman who never stopped running after God, even in the midst of her own mess, because that is who my mother is, a modern-day Mary pouring her perfume on Jesus’ feet no matter what else is going on around her. And I hope they remember me as a light tower, always pointing them to Jesus, to truth, to wisdom, and to love, because that is who my father has always been to me.

This morning, sitting on my twelfth story patio, slightly salty wind whipping my hair, a sleeping kitty curled up in the window behind me, I do not know for certain if I can be all these things. I am a fragile vessel, but perhaps, like all my parents before me, these treasures can be found in my jars of clay. Perhaps my mind can finally put to rest these dreams of death, because I know that it will come, and the details do not matter so much. Death will come to me involuntarily, as did life. I did not pick my birthday, I will not choose my death day, but whatever day it is will be a good day because my life is already beautiful, and it will continue to be beautiful no matter what storms pass over me. I can’t tell you why I know this, I just do. I will not be a perfect wife or daughter or mother, but I do not believe I will look over my life in the end and regret its sum. I will look over life and be thankful for the marriage I built, the children I raised, the lessons God taught me, the hope He imparted.

And anyway, today, this day which is all I truly have, is beautiful. I have the only man I have ever loved sitting next to me, I have the memory of my grandparents resting warmly in the scoop of my soul, and I have the early morning sun shining warmly on my face, a gift from the Heavenly Father who has orchestrated all the details of my days, and knows what their total will be. Today, though I have dreamed of death, will be filled with life, and I could not ask for more.


Filed under Faith, Some Thoughts, writing

Hello? Anybody There?

If you are still out there, then I am a: shocked, and b: grateful.  I’ve been gone a long time, but I needed to be gone for a long time. Sometimes those pesky little dark night’s of the soul pop up when least expected, and if you ignore them they get worse. Guess what I tried to do? If you said “ignore it,” you are very correct. And then it got worse, as I’m sure you’ve guessed. So I took a break from a lot of things: from reading, from writing, from blogging, from looking for a job, from beating myself up about it.  And I started spending a lot of time in prayer, and with my family and friends. I took a lot of time to focus on what matters and who matters, and tried to cut out the excess.

I love literature because it puts us face to face with truth, with reality, with the whole of humanity. But sometimes that hurts, and sometimes I need to look away. I’ve only really read the Bible and a few old favorites that are always good for my soul (Anne Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet, Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, Dr. Zhivago, A Wrinkle in Time, bits and pieces of The Chronicles of Narnia, and lots of Denise Levertov, Rumi, Rilke, Dickenson, and Frost.) That puts me hopelessly behind in my quest to read 104 books this year, but I just realized that some things are more important than reading, or even writing. I know most writers would balk at that statement. I’ve been admonished time and again that “We write because we must! Because it is our charge, our purpose, our calling! We write when it is painful because that is what it means to be a writer!” And sometimes we rest, because we are human, even those of us with calloused and ink stained fingers.

But there is a time and a season for everything. And this is the time and the season to crawl back into the light. Hello blog! I’ve missed you!Hello books on my bookshelf! You are dusty and beautiful, and I can’t wait for the adventures we are going to have! Hello pen and journal! I have so much to tell you! Hello story I was working on! I have so many ideas for your future! Hello great wide world! I am different now, but I think I’m better, and I’m ready to rejoin your dance!

I know I’m going to have to work pretty hard to build back up my readership, but it was worth it. I have started reading a thing or two in the past few weeks, so hopefully come Monday I’ll have a new review up. And since I have nothing else worth while to say to you right now, here is a brief photo update of the last two months of my life: (Warning, if you follow me on any social media, this is going to be a lot of repeats for you and thus probably a little boring. So sorry!)

Remember my favorite baby Josiah? I cuddled him a whole bunch.

I spent a lot of time at the beach…

…and I spent it with my best friend.

I got some good advice from a fortune cookie, and from some friends, though I didn’t take their pictures.

I took many gratuitous photos of Cambria, who did not mind.

We ran a 5K obstacle course challenge. Or rather, Tyler and a few of our faster friends ran, and I walk/ran it with a few of our less ambitious friends.

Tyler went to NYC for business, and I had to stay home. But I started this book, and he brought me back this huge mug, so it was okay.

And while he was gone I got to spend my afternoons with this adorable puppy, so that made it okay too.

Cambria found a new hiding/sleeping spot in the bathroom.

We celebrated friend’s birthdays, and Tyler got even more handsome, which I did not realize was possible. Look at that jaw line. Mmmhmm.

A friend found a left-over turkey in his freezer, so we all got together and had a feast. All I can say is the world needs more holidays with turkey, and also look at that amazing view!

We bought Cambria her very own castle, and now she insists we call her “Queen Cambria.” It’s mostly an honorary title since she makes no laws and really just sleeps up there like normal non-royal cats.

We went to our very first Polo match!

At the Polo match we dressed all fancy and drank champagne and pretended to be rich. We are not in actuality rich, but we did look fairly dapper.

I made the Queen cuddle with me a lot, because even Queens need love.

(Not pictured: I also ate a lot of ice cream, called my mom and/or dad almost every day, and spent a lot of time snuggled up with my man watching Dr. Who. It was, all-in-all a good respite for my soul.)


Filed under Babies, Books, Cambria, Cats, Odds and Ends, San Diego, Tyler, writing

Little Facts: Words Edition

1: I’m a good writer (forgive my hubris), but a terrible speller. My first school, attended from kindergarten to 2nd grade, did not teach phonics at all or correct spelling for the first few years of my education. Thus I can spell words correctly if I think about them, but if I’m just going with the flow of my thoughts, it’s fairly atrocious.

2: Instead of taking a language I could potentially use outside a botany classroom, I studied Latin in high school. My favorite words are flumen, which means river, and fenestra, which translates to window. They’re just really fun to say. (Common, say them with me. Your mouth with have fun, I promise! Fluuumen. Fenestraaa. Fluuuumen! Fenessstraaa!)

3: For all my big vocabulary, I’m surprisingly poor at Scrabble. Big words can’t make up for a lack of skill in the strategy department. (Thanks to Words With Friends I am getting better, though!)


Filed under Little Facts, Odds and Ends, writing


I come in the night
Asking for my lack, as pilgrims do-
Straight spine,
Clever pen,

I have nothing for payment, but gifts are supposed to be free.

In the dark you chuckle.
I can see nothing, but you smell thick in the air-
A secret garden only the dead may know.

“You already have all, child. Next.”

I leave with the exact things in my hand
I have had since the start, but I
Smell better now.

I begin my journey home.


Filed under Faith, Poetry, Some Thoughts, writing

I’ve Been a Bad Blogger

It’s true. But now I’m back! Allow me to reintroduce myself. Hi. I’m Amanda. This is my blog. I read stuff and write about it, or at least I’m supposed to. Or at least, I’m going to again.

You know what I’ve discovered? Writing a blog is a lot like going to the gym. You know how it is. You sign up for your gym membership with much enthusiasm, and you find a good routine. You may settle into this routine for months, maybe even a year. But then, one day, you make an excuse.

“This sore throat is just really bad, so I think I’ll stay home and get healthy.”

“I know my spinning class is tonight, but that coworker I’ve only talked to four times is having her birthday party at my favorite sushi restaurant, so I’ll just go to the Thursday class instead.”

“I don’t know anyone in the Thursday class, and it feels so awkward.”

“This Wii fitness is totally the same thing, and it’s in my living room where there are no skinny women to make me feel chubby.”

And then- voila!- it’s been four months and when you go back they’ve given your locker to someone else, and you don’t know any of the trainers anymore, and you huff and puff through all ten minutes on the treadmill that you can muster before passing out in the shower with a power bar and a Gatorade, totally exhausted.

Not that I speak from experience or anything.

Blogging is like that. For me, my gateway excuse was these people:

My family! Aren’t they just the cutest? I spent 12 whole days with them in my favorite of all places- Ohio! It was pretty chill and included a lot of time to relax, which had me dreaming of the eight books I was going to read and the multitude of amazing blogs I was going to write…and then, I went comatose. I went into a vacation, my-mom-is-taking-care-of-me-and-I-don’t-have-to-cook-or-clean coma. It was pitiful.

Then I came home. I tried to write a few blogs, but they were, to put it nicely, pure drivel. And then the excuse-a-thon began. I thought about blogging. I’d fall asleep at night composing tomorrows blog that was going to be my great comeback. And then tomorrow would come, and I’d just read instead, because I was tired, or my instant gratification bug would kick in and I’d watch TV instead.

But I’m back on the bandwagon now, and I may be a little flabby and out of practice, but dude, I have missed this blog! And I’ve missed my blog friends! And man-oh-man do I have a ridiculous amount of books to review!

These are the books that I’ve read:

Plus three e-books: Real Marriage by Mark& Grace Driscoll, Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan, and An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson.

And these are the books that I’ve started, but for various reasons haven’t finished yet:

That top one is The Story of Charlotte's Web, for those of you who aren't magic and can't read pure light. Sorry about that. There's a window right behind my desk.

I’ll start reviewing all the ones I’ve read so far tomorrow. Promise.

For those of you keeping score, I’m a teeny bit behind where I should be. To be honest, I’ve been a little lazy on the reading front the last few weeks, so I’m trying to finish five books this week. And if I don’t stop blogging right now, I probably won’t get today’s books finished and get my dishes done. And if you saw my kitchen after a three-day weekend, you’d know just how dire this situation is. Speaking of which, I will not show you my icky kitchen, but I will show you the book of the day:

But more on that tomorrow.

PS: One last thing. A certain little someone has missed you too, and she wanted me to let you know.

Dear Mai Friens, Ai know you've missed me a whole bunches. Ai missed you too, when Ai wasn't sweeping or eating the tuna fishes. But never fears! Caturday draws nigh! Lub, Cambria


Filed under Books, Cambria, Cats, Caturday, Odds and Ends, Ohio, writing

Stuff I’m Doing

1: Reading. A lot. I’ve got these little beauties either started or waiting in the wings:


Plus a few e-books: Real Marriage by Mark & Grace Driscoll, Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan, and An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson. That should hold me over for the next few weeks, and put me at eight total books for the month. I’m hoping to read a total of 10 books in January, but my birthday is today and I want to save room on the list for any birthday books I may receive.

2: Spending far too much time in Starbucks. We haven’t had Internet these last few weeks, so I’ve been writing and blogging from Starbucks. The older gentleman at the counter knows my drink by heart and almost remembers my name. (“Venti passion tea lemonade, sweetened, light ice for…Amber? Camilla? Miranda? No, don’t tell me. I’ll get it!”) I wish I could say I’m one of the cool kids who supports the fair trade, locally owned coffee shop, but it’s far far away, exorbitantly expensive, and crowded with people far more hipster and socially forward that I shall ever be, so I just come here instead.

3: Packing. We go to Ohio tomorrow to visit my family, my dog, and also my favorite used book store! But I’m more excited about the family, of course. Included in this packing process is how to make my Southern California wardrobe stretch and work for the Frozen North. I’m excited about the possibility of snow, and I actually miss the cold of my native Midwest, but I no longer have the wardrobe for it. I think I’m going to have to invest in a lot of warm leggings.

4: Finally taking down our Christmas tree. That poor tree is deader than MySpace and almost as unsightly, and it’s starting to bum me out.

5: Working on this. I love the idea of tiny, month-long resolutions, they seem so much more manageable than the grandiose, idealistic gestures people tend to make every New Years. Plus, I am notoriously bad about my writing schedule. I’ll go strong for three weeks, then do nothing for a month, or get distracted during my writing time and then stay up until all hours if the night scribbling like a mad woman. I may adjust some of the months to fit my own needs, but I think I’m going to do this. In fact, I’ve had two solid hours of uninterrupted writing time for the last three days already, and it feels really good. I also love the idea of reading a book on my craft every month. Any suggestions? I’ve read Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, (which I will probably re-read), and I own but haven’t yet read Stephen King’s On Writing.

6: Watching reruns of 30Rock in anticipation of the new season that premiers today! To summarize how 30Rock makes me feel, I quote the words of the great Liz Lemon: “I’m a star! I’m on top! Somebody bring me some haaaaaaaaaaaaam!” Amen.

7: Getting ridiculously excited over a new mop. I’m aware that I’m starring 25 in the face, and getting excited over a new mop does not bode well for me as I try to hang on to my last remaining scraps of youthfulness, but it’s just so shiny and fancy that I can’t help myself! I’m twenty-five, I’m a housewife, and I like my mop! Get over it, younger version of Amanda!

And I think that’s just about it. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last five days. What about you guys? How are you doing with your resolutions and your reading? I’ll be back tomorrow to share reviews of my second and third books for the month, and probably some Cambria pictures, since it’s been awhile and her little diva feelings are getting hurt. And maybe, if I feel all fancy, I’ll blog from the plane on Friday.


Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Odds and Ends, Ohio, writing

Happiness Is…

Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang is, by far, my favorite cartoon ever. I especially love the Christmas holiday special, and the “Happiness is…” calendars that I used to hang on my wall each year.

As much as I love Charles Schultz’s happiness meme, I’ve never thought much about happiness. Maybe it’s because I’m naturally a pretty happy person. I’m not given to melancholy or depression, I’m usually pretty content, and my glass is almost always half full. I do have a temper, but it tends to die down just as quickly as it starts up, and I’m no good at grudges because I always forget what I was mad about. A warm puppy (or a warm Cambria!) really is enough to make me happy most days.

With that in mind, I started Gretchen Rubin’s memoir-cum-self help book, The Happiness Project, yesterday, expecting a light, enjoyable read, and not expecting to be challenged. But, of course, I was.

While this cheerful little paperback is unlikely to become a classic, I both truly enjoyed it and was truly challenged. (Though I read the words happy and happiness so much that they ceased to seem like real words anymore, becoming more like the nonsense syllables of a baby just discovering his voice.) Focusing on happiness may seem vapid or selfish, but the true questions here are deeper than that. It’s about quality of life: am I doing the best with what I have? Am I maximizing life, finding the joy in where I am, or am I letting my temper, the circumstances I wouldn’t have picked for myself, etc, get in the way? Not only are these worthy questions, but they aren’t as selfish as they first appear. The truth is that I cannot change my loved ones, but I can do my best to improve myself since who I am directly affects their lives. It’s in my husbands best interest for me to be healthy and happy, just as it’s in my best interest for him to be the same. Plus, it seems silly to waste the life God gave me wallowing in mediocrity, wasting the gifts and opportunities for joy He’s handed me.

Some of Gretchen’s approach I will leave on the table. I’m not going to make a resolutions spread sheet for each month of the year, or research happiness from the angle of every discipline I can think of. In fact, this will probably be my only happiness book. Additionally, I’m not going to keep a food diary, study Buddhist meditation, or read multiple memoirs of catastrophe. Some of the things she needed to focus on don’t apply to me: I’m already a committed Christian, so I don’t feel the need to try to imitate a new spiritual leader. I already make plenty of time for books, and I don’t have children yet, so while that chapter was very insightful, I didn’t highlight quite as much.

But some of this really challenged me. I need to discipline my house keeping, cut my husband some slack for his faults, and stop being afraid of failure and aim for what I want instead of hoping it falls magically into my lap. And while I’m still not going to make any spread sheets, I did take a few cues from Gretchen. I wrote down Ten Commandments for 2012:

20111206-165615.jpg These commandments to myself crystalize my core values: I love Jesus, I prize authenticity, I desire to live a life characterized by kindness to others and unconditional love. I’m going to post my notecard by my mirror so I will always be reminded: this is how I want to live.

I also identified some goals:

1:Schedule dedicated writing time each day. I want to be a writer. It’s what I’ve always wanted, but, for a variety of reasons, I’ve never given myself the leverage to go after it. I may not get published this year, or the next, or for another decade, but I’ve got to start somewhere. So I’m starting here.

2: Visit the zoo; go to the theatre; see a symphony; try a new museum. Do something adventurous at least once a month.Part of Being Amanda Always is knowing what I do and do not enjoy. I’ve spent too much time in my life trying to like things because I feel that I should. But the truth is, I prefer art museums to going out dancing. I’d rather go to a Jazz club than a rock concert, and I love sushi, but Indian food just isn’t my thing. I want to have adventures, but I’m tired of doing it on everyone else’s terms and never my own.

3: Make some concessions. Always choosing love means making concessions. Tyler loves house music with a fiery passion, so sometimes I go out with him even when I’d rather read a book, and I’ve eaten a lot of Pad Thai so he can indulge in his favorite curry because I’m learning that love trumps preferences. And when my love is happy, I’m happy.

4: Blog every day. I love my blog. It makes me happy, stretches my creativity muscles, and helps me connect with others, so I need to stop neglecting it every time I get the sniffles.

5:Do fifteen minute tidy-ups of the closet, bathroom, and kitchen each day. I am not a natural house keeper. I’m often times so distracted I don’t notice a mess until it has grown legs and teeth and is trying to eat the cat for breakfast. But both Tyler and I are happier, more relaxed, and more productive when the house is clean. These are my three problem areas, so I’m going to focus on them.

6: Give both time and money. One of the biggest things God has taught me is that if I really want to be on His team, I can’t sit on the bench. I need to be giving my time, energy, talents, and money to help the hurting and spread love. Happiness won’t do me a bit of good if it’s at the expense of my own soul. Plus, helping others makes me happy! It feels good to pass it on.

There are also some little things I want to do, like get a library card, find a reading group, keep fresh flowers in the house, buy an audio book to listen to while I clean the house, keep one dollar bills in my purse to give to the plethora of homeless folks that populate my neighborhood, try to read a new magazine each week, make time each week for at least one of the artsy projects I have lined up, go for more walks, visit the dueling piano bar that looks so interesting, talk to both of my parents and my brother at least every other week, write more letters. And Marissa and I are going to try to double our reading goals, shooting for two books a week this year.

I used to be more spontaneous. My list of stuff I wanted to do never got very long because when stuff popped in my head I want ahead and did it. Maybe I’ll never be that same carefree girl again, but, like Gretchen, I’m going to try.

What are your goals for the coming year? Do you make resolutions? Or better yet, do you keep them? What little things (or big things) are you going to implement to improve your happiness in 2012?


Filed under Book Reviews, Books, writing