Ivy and Nellie

I haven’t been working this week because of a bad cold. Since Jeremy just changed jobs, our health insurance doesn’t kick in until the end of the month. I am very susceptible to bronchitis, so I’m being more cautious about exposing myself to germs than I would ordinarily be. Yesterday I started feeling better, so I started organizing my craft armoire, and then realized mid-job that making something with the craft supplies is a lot more fun than organizing them. Sometimes my life feels like an ongoing episode of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I started itching to make a doll version of Ivy, one of the protagonists in my just-completed novel Good Medicine. Jeremy and I went to the craft store for polymer clay. When I got home, I tried to sculpt it into my vision, and that didn’t go well at all. So I went online for help and discovered this handy mold here:

Yesterday I decided to try making a doll with the mold. I had mixed results. You have to fill these little cavities, which are silicone, and malleable, meaning that if you aren’t careful, you can squash the shape trying to pry the clay out of the hole.

Then you have to assemble the body parts. (Straight pins don’t work as well as paper clips for connections.) Bake the clay at 275F for 15 minutes, let cool, paint, and dress.

I did Ivy first.

She is a sixth-generation plant healer in Western North Carolina, who is none to pleased when John, a city doctor, arrives in town and doesn’t hold with her folk remedies.

John is also none to pleased that someone without formal medical training is brewing any old plant in boiling water and calling it a cure.

As you might imagine, this is not a love at first sight situation.

John describes Ivy like this:

“Out of the firelight and shadows, Ivy had lost much of her luster… Her sunburned face and thin frame hinted at the hard life she’d led. Her dress, so deep and green in the Whitaker’s cabin, was drab and wash worn. The fabric was threadbare at the elbows. The skirt was many times patched. Her hair, that had seemed so vibrant and alive in the firelight, was a dull ruddy chestnut in the daylight, and her eyes were now a flat and unremarkable green.”

This is Ivy.

Behind her is one of many images of the destruction wrought by the 1916 Flood.

I was stoked by how close the doll is to the one I imagined in my head. I’ve never tried making clay polymer dolls like this before, and for a first attempt, this is pretty awesome, even if I do say so myself.

I sent the image to Jeremy at work. His response was “That’s amazing! Are you going to do Nellie next?” This is one of nine bazillion reasons why I love that man. He always encourages more creativity. Always.

I figured, why not? So I repeated the process again. The second attempt went much more smoothly.

Nellie is Jeremy’s favorite character in Good Medicine, and many of my Beta readers have been surprisingly invested in her story. She is the nine year old daughter of Ivy’s best friend, and when the story begins, we learn that her mother, Eliza, recently passed away in childbirth.

Just as a side note, some of the characters in Good Medicine are completely fictional. Ivy and John, for example, were born in my head.

Nellie, however, is based on the life of my great-grandmother’s sister, Hattie. Hattie was much younger than my great-grandmother, Ida. Ida was married with kids of her own, living in a different community, when her mother died. Hattie was about nine at the time, with a baby sister to care for. She took over all the domestic chores–cooking, cleaning, etc. and the day-to-day care for her baby sister (who sadly passed away of illness some years later in childhood). Her appreciative father went to the cobbler and bought her a pair of sturdy shoes meant for adults because he said she worked as hard as any adult woman. When a new school was built in the area, Hattie wanted to go, but didn’t think she could because she had to care for her sister. The school teacher told her to bring her sister along, she wouldn’t bother anyone. That is how Aunt Hattie was able to get her education.

(Second side note, Hattie lived into her 90s and I knew her and visited her fairly often as a child. Some of her recollections are part of the research I did for this book.)

In my novel, John and Nellie develop a deep friendship.

This is John’s first description of her.

“He turned to find a little girl standing there watching him, every inch the queen of the wood. She wore a long muslin dress, and her long chestnut hair was unbound, falling around her shoulders like ermine. Around her head was a woven crown of red clover. In her hands, an empty wooden bucket. She looked like an illustration from a fairy tale.”

And Ivy says this about Nellie:

Maggie and Nellie had the look of the Wall women on them. Wide open, intelligent faces. Almond shaped eyes the color of crisp winter sky. The same sourwood honey-colored hair. The same wandering sideways part. The same tumble of unruly curls.”

I had a lot of fun with the details on her.

Nellie’s basket filled with creasy greens and a paper boat.
Her unbound hair and red clover crown.
Eyes like a crisp winter sky. Sourwood-honey colored hair. A wandering sideways part.

So, I said my life was like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, right? Well, now that I’ve made an Ivy doll, I feel like she needs a Hickory Nut to go with her. Hickory Nut is her little brown feist.

And then I need to make a John. But he comes with a dog and a horse.

And Nellie needs her sister, Mourning (which is a name I did not pull out of thin air. It’s actually a family name, passed through many generations of one line of my family).

And so on…and so on…

These characters feel like family to me now.

Don’t be surprised if by the time all is said and done, I end up with a doll for each character and a full scale mountain cabin for them to hang out in. 😉

End of The Year Reflection

I realize there’s a few more weeks of 2019 to go, but I’m sick with a cold, and don’t have the energy to do much more than type. So I’m getting a jump on my end of year reflection. I’ll save the end of decade reflection for the end of the month.

  1. What is something we did this year that you think you will remember for the rest of your life? I got married on January 5th, so that was a pretty monumental day. I also finally finished the novel that I’ve been working on for so long. I’m honestly not sure which one was the bigger deal. They were both life changing events.
  2. What is something you accomplished this year that you are proud of? I am most proud of finishing my novel. I’ve been dreaming of writing a novel since high school, but for whatever reason, novel writing didn’t come easy to me. I came up with the story for Good Medicine, and I have fought and fought for years to pull the story out of myself. When I finished the book in September, I cried through the final pages. It was so emotional to finally be done after dreaming of that moment for so long.
  3. What was the nicest thing someone did for you this year? This is really difficult to answer. Jeremy is constantly doing nice things for me, but I’m not sure I can pick a single thing he’s done. He’s been so supportive of my writing–he encouraged me to finish my novel, even if that meant I checked out of most everything around the house for a month. He took me to NYC to see a play when I finished, because I needed a carrot to motivate me. He went to a writer’s conference with me, even though he’s not a writer (yet). He watches hours and hours of youtube videos about publishing, getting agents, writing queries, and synopses. He is my biggest cheerleader and gives me invaluable feedback when I’m working through difficult parts or trying to make edits. I feel like I’m a much better writer now because of all the support he gives me.
  4. What was the most challenging part of this year for you? Well, I’m naturally shy and hate conflict, so it was super stressful to quit the administrative job I hated, and chuck it all to become a full time substitute teacher. I love being in the classroom, but at first, before I got into a groove, it was nerve wracking and slightly terrifying.
  5. Where is your favorite place you’ve been this year? This is so easy. London. London. London. It’s always been my favorite city and this year Jeremy and I went there for our honeymoon.
  6. If you could change one thing that happened this year, what would it be? Honestly, it’s been a pretty awesome year. I can’t think of anything that happened that’s even worth complaining about. If I have to pick something, I’d say it was when a tree fell across the street and ripped the weather head out of the house on New Years Day (2019 started with a bang! Literally!). We had no power (and no heat) for three days in subzero NY, just days before our wedding. We had to buy a kerosene heater, it was an expensive fix, and a pain in the butt, so it would be nice if that had never happened.
  7. What are the three most important things you learned this year? 1) Money isn’t everything. Jeremy and I both took a pay cut to switch jobs this year, and we’re both significantly happier as a result. 2) I started doing some youtube workouts and one thing they always say is that just doing something means you’re lapping the people sitting on the couch. It applies to workouts (which I don’t do enough of) but it also applies to my writing journey. Every time I freak out that I’m not more successful, I remind myself that I finished my book. Some people never do. And I’ve gotten manuscript requests. Some people never do. It’s so stressful, but at least I’m further ahead than I would be if I was doing nothing. 3) I learned that Spanish black radish is a miracle supplement that calms down my chronically unhappy stomach.
  8. What is something that was hard for you at the start of the year but is easy now? I have learned so much about writing queries, synopsis, twitter pitches, blurbs, etc. I had no idea at the beginning of the year but I did a lot of studying, drafting, swapping, etc. and I feel like I’m much more confident when it comes to writing those types of things.
  9. In what area do you feel you made your biggest improvements? Definitely with my writing. I had some kind of a novel writing breakthrough this year when things finally clicked for me and I was able to see my way through an entire story. I’m working on the very rough beginnings of two new books now, and unlike Good Medicine, that I started without a middle or ending in mind, these two novels are fully formed in my head already,
  10. What is your favorite part of the day? Why? I’m such a morning person. Please don’t ask me to do anything after noon. Except write. I feel so energized at the start of the day and I love to watch the sun come up. It always feels like a blank slate.
  11. Of the books you read this year, which was your favorite? Why? I hate this question. It’s like picking a favorite child. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was probably my favorite book, although not my favorite story (it’s has some really sad moments). It’s heartening to see Appalachian stories in the mainstream and to see a book similar to mine have so much success. I wish there were more stories about Appalachia out there to read. It feels like going home to Asheville. The book I enjoyed reading most was Well Met. Fun, escapist fiction that took me back to my own working-the-Renaissance-Festival days, I literally whooped with joy when I found out there would be a sequel.
  12. What was the best piece of writing that you did this year? Why do you think it is your best? Well, obvious Good Medicine. There’s blood, sweat, and tears in those pages.
  13. What person made the biggest impact in your life this year? Why? Oh, I really can’t pick one. I will say, we live in very interesting times, and there’s a lot of anger and fear and negativity out there. I really try to avoid it all as much as possible and fill up my life with as much light and love and laughter and beauty as I can. I am constantly impacted by all the artists who are putting beautiful, inspiring, joyful things out into the world every day–whether they are artists, crafters, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, singers, etc.
  14. What are six adjectives that best describe this year? Creative, adventurous, fun, settled, magical, furry (omg with six pets, I am constantly covered in fur, looking at fur, sweeping fur–it’s endless)
  15. Knowing what you know now, if you could write a letter to yourself that would travel back in time so that you would receive it at the start of the year, what advice would you give yourself? I would tell myself not to worry so much. That everything happens in its own time, happens as it should happen, and I’m finally on the right path and doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.

My Favorite Holiday Tradition

My mom said the first years she lived on her own (and couldn’t come home for Christmas) were the worst of her life. She didn’t have any holiday decorations and couldn’t afford to buy much, and the lack of them made her very depressed. She never wanted me to have to experience that, so from the time I was a toddler, she’d take me to Hallmark every year and let me pick out a couple ornaments I liked. Then after Christmas, we’d hit up the after Christmas sales and get a few more.

When I set out on my own, it was nice to bring a giant box or ornaments with me–ornaments I had memories of and felt an attachment to (especially because they are so expensive now!) They also bring back a bygone time of corded telephones, walkmans, phone booths, etc. All things that were common at one point in my life that are now obsolete. I love the memories they bring back. So that’s one holiday tradition from my childhood that I’ve continued with the boys. Most years I only buy them one ornament (because believe it or not, you can collect so many they won’t all fit on your tree!).

Now that they are 11 and 13 they don’t want to leave their rooms. I managed to convince them to come out with me Saturday to paint pottery, but I knew asking them to go ornament shopping with me on Sunday was a bridge too far.

I got them ornaments anyway. Sam got a cat because he loves cat things and John got an antique airplane because that’s what he loves.

What are your favorite holiday traditions?

Book Club With Mom

When I decided to become a full time substitute teacher, it was all about the shortened workday and ability to be home in the afternoons with my boys. I wasn’t able to imagine all of the other side benefits I would get out of it. Chief among them is stories. Every day is an adventure. I am full of stories about what goes on every day in schools. Part of that is seeing what school is like for my boys, and better understanding them and their academic experiences.

My youngest son, John ,is not a fan of most stories, and he would read the first 20 minutes into a book, and decide he hated it. Rinse and repeat for years. The teachers never pushed him to read more, because he did what he was asked to do, and read for 20 minutes a day. But to my way of thinking, timed reading discourages kids from really sinking their teeth into a story and (I know, this is crazy talk) actually finishing it.

So John decided he hated books and reading. I bit my tongue until this year when he started 6th grade. Watching him whine and moan his way through language arts was more than I could bear. John might be an engineer someday but he’ll have to get through high school and college English to get there. He needed to learn a different way to read. And as is often the case, I decided that if I wanted things to change, I’d have to take matters into my own hands. And so Book Club With Mom was born.

John’s been very interested in politics and government lately, and often wants to know why things happen the way they do. He’s also been interested in WW2 for years. So, in looking for a book we could read together, I looked for something short(ish), with simple language, a straightforward story, and maybe, most importantly, a book that would give John a sense of accomplishment after he read it. I picked Animal Farm.

There was much whining about it. But I explained to John that this was not a kid book in any way, shape, or form. This was a book for adults and if he listened very carefully, he would come to discover that’s it’s an extended metaphor for the Russian Revolution.

So we started reading the book together.

I found the audio book on spotify and bought us each a paper copy. We take time every day to listen to a chapter together. Using colored pencils, we highlight parts green for setting, circle the characters’ names, and important parts of the plot are orange. After we go through the chapter, we go back over the chapter to re-read the important parts. John asks questions, I point out things I want John to think about and ask him why Orwell might’ve used certain words or certain descriptions to say certain things. We talk about the narrator (who is surprisingly very opinionated for a narrator), and the different characters and what they might represent. For example, today we talked about the fact that Moses the raven reminds John of a minister, and the Sugarcandy Mountain he talks about sounds like heaven. John said “Oh, he’s named Moses, like in the Bible, too.” I told John that that is a clue that his inferences are correct and we talked about who Moses was and what he did in the bible, which also seemed to mirror his character in the book.

For the first time ever, John is really engaged with his reading and seems to enjoy the book a lot. He asked me today if we could play the chapter all the way through without stopping one time and then go back and listen one more time for the highlighting part, because he’s getting into the story and doesn’t like the starting and stopping. Whoohoo! Mission accomplished!

John doesn’t know it yet, but when we get to the end of the book, he’s going to write an essay with me on the theme of the book. I’m going to show him how to use his highlighting to help make his literary argument. More than anything I want him to be a confident reader and writer. He doesn’t have to love it. I just want him to get through it with a minimal amount of aggravation.

This goes along with something a friend posted on Facebook, too. It was about executive dysfunction and ADHD. The article posited that part of the reason that students with ADHD often have trouble completing a task is because they lack the ability to visualize what the task completed would look like. I think that is part of John’s problem (but I imagine it’s true for many other students as well). I’m showing him (I hope) what it looks like to read a book critically, and then to use that critical thinking to write about it. I’m going to show him what a completed critical essay looks like and go through all the different parts with him so that he feels confident doing it himself.

At first I thought this would be a one book thing, but it’s going so well that I’d like it to become a regular part of our routine. Maybe we’ll try The Metamorphosis next.

Doing It The Heming-Way

I reached 60,000 words of my manuscript last weekend. My goal is to be at 70,000 words by Sunday night. Is it realistic? Probably not. But it doesn’t hurt to have a goal to shoot for. I’d still like to be “finished” by the end of the month, and it’s going to be a long hard slog to get there. I say “finished” because having a completed 80,000 word manuscript is only step one of a ninety-billion step publishing process. I’ve been listing to a lot of podcasts related to publishing and the unofficial publishing timeline goes something like this:

  1. Spend literal YEARS writing a manuscript.
  2. Then have it workshopped, critiqued, and edited by any friends, Romans, countrymen, king’s horses, king’s men, ladies dancing, lords a leaping, and drummers drumming you can happen to rope into becoming beta readers and critique partners. (Start cultivating your list of fellow creatives early on in the process)
  3. Once all of these people deem your book not-cringeworthy, you can either A. Pay for an editing service to go over your book with a fine tooth comb, B. Pray, and start querying agents, or C. Say forget it and self publish on Amazon. (Yeah! Your novel becomes a choose your own adventure book at this point!)
  4. After paid editor goes over your book you can move on to 4B or 4C
  5. Plan to query hundreds of literary agents. Some people query for years.
  6. If the agent likes the book, they will most likely give you edits.
  7. Do the edits. Resubmit book. This may happen several times.
  8. Then your book goes on submission with editors and one of them might want to buy it. Yay! It’s going to be published! (Maybe in 2 years if all goes well)
  9. But first the editor will give you still more edits.
  10. Do the edits.
  11. Wait.
  12. Work on next book, repeating process.

Is it any wonder Hemingway said “Write drunk. Edit sober.” I’ll stick to the drinking, thanks. I’m going to need A LOT of alcohol to get me through this. A LOT.

The next time you’re in Barnes and Noble and you hold a book in your hand, I want you to think about all the pure, unadulterated hell the author went through to get that book to you. It’s madness.

And yet, there’s not a thing I’d rather do.

I have this image that keeps replaying in my head of walking into a bookstore and seeing my book sitting there. (Of course I will emblazon social media with that moment!) Bonus point for starred reviews. And people throwing ticker tape parades in my honor. Ok, maybe not that part, because I LOATHE being the center of attention. But a nice note, on pretty stationary, that says you enjoyed it, and the 11–12–13–15(!!) years it may take before the book I’ve been working on off and on since 2008 ends up in a bookstore was worth it in the end.

Anyway, if it sounds like I’m punchy and out of my head, it’s because I am.

I put my notice in at work. Which was weird. Ever since my divorce, it’s been the stinky, rotting albatross around my neck. I was simply not made to sit at a desk and think about business in any capacity whatsoever. I can do it, and do it well, but it is not what I’m supposed to be doing. However it has been what I was supposed to be doing for so long, that now that I have other options, I don’t quite know what to do with myself.

And I’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing my novel lately. Which is also weird. And I’m gnashing at the bit to get it done, partially because I really need a break from it, but also because I miss crafting. I want to go back to bouquet making and open my etsy shop, but I’m struggling so hard to stay focused on one thing and see it through. You really have no idea. I don’t think I’m really meant to do that point A to point Z thing either. I’m a meanderer and a saunterer, through life and all artistic pursuits. Again, I can point A to point Z with the best of them, but IT SUCKS!

Which explains why this blog is so all over the place tonight…

I did have a point to make. It’ll get to it.

Back in my previous incarnation at http://www.re-writingmotherhood.com, I used to complain a lot about how difficult it was to be a mom and a writer. It was difficult then because my two lovely children were hellbent on becoming Darwin awards every time my attention was elsewhere.

Now that they are 11 and 13, I firstly deserve a pat on the pat for keeping them alive this long, and secondly, want to update my complaint to say that it is still difficult to be a mom and a writer at any age.

This morning, for example, I was trying to write. I had my notes at the ready, and was all set to go, when I got interrupted by John, who couldn’t find any shorts to wear (because, ironically, they were in his drawer and not on the floor, or the laundry basket, or in the refrigerator (where I presume he looked, because he looked everywhere). So I get up to help him find the shorts (miraculously apparating into his drawer the minute I opened it), and in the time it took me to do that, Rory ate my notes that I left beside my laptop on the bed.

*insert your favorite string of expletives here*

So I want you to imagine, just for a moment, the mere suggestion that say, our good drunk friend Hemingway would ever be called away from his writing to locate a pair of wayward shorts. Or that one might ever pester F. Scott Fitzgerald (drunk again) to drag himself from The Great Gatsby to make breakfast. I want you to picture Charles Freaking Dickens stopping mid-A Christmas Carol to remind his child to brush his teeth. Laughable right? And yet, when I’m writing, all of that is just par for the course.

The children are obnoxiously needy, but the dogs are even worse. Wrestling right on top of my laptop keyboard, barking to go out, barking to come in again, barking because there’s a full moon, or an empty dog dish.

I’m tired of writing this book in tiny, stolen moments. It’s impossible to go into the deep, sustained writing headspace I need because of all the damn interruptions. I locked myself in a room last weekend and made huge progress. That is what I need. I wonder if it’s because I’m a woman, or because I’m a mother, or because I’m unpublished, that my writing time isn’t viewed as sacred by anyone else.

I’m not doing it anymore. I’m reclaiming my time.

I let it be known, to all who inhabit this house, that if I have announced that I am writing, and have disappeared behind a closed door, and have not made both visual and verbal contact with them first, before they try to have a conversation with me about dinner, or if the laundry has been folded, or where the remote might be hiding, or why they had no matching socks, or whether I would take them to the store, or why they aren’t an only child because their brother is driving them nuts, to first ask themselves “Would I interrupt Hemingway with this?”

(They don’t know Hemingway from Adam’s house cat, so I used Stephen King and Rick Riordan as other examples.)

If the answer is no, they not would interrupt Hemingway, (or King or Riordan) then they are absolutely, positively, most assuredly requested to vigorously leave me the hell alone.

I’m finishing a novel. Everything else can wait.

Thoughts On Being a Writer

This has been a strange week.

Of course, when you’re a writer, every week is a strange week. I have characters popping in and out of my head all the time. We have little conversations every day, my characters and I. I know these people better than my own family members, and sometimes they just don’t like me and the situations I’ve put them in.

This week, after trying to write a scene that had been in my novel for as long as I’ve been trying to write it, I hit a wall. No matter what angle I tried writing it from, my characters rebelled. They hopped in a car, and like Bonnie and Clyde, fled the scene, killed some darlings, and went rogue on me. This happens sometimes, but it’s still weird when it happens. You sit there thinking, Wait a minute. This is *my* story. I’m supposed to be the one in control here. How can imaginary characters–out of my own mind–run over me roughshod like this? But somehow they can, and they do. If you want to keep your sanity intact, and finish the damn book, you just have to let it happen. So I did. I think the story is better for it.

And of course, when things are back on track and starting to go well, what does my brain do? It decides to go into the ADD death spiral, and spins me out a perfectly constructed, super interesting plot–for another book. Thanks, brain. So now I’m distracted by the pretty new shiny thing in the back of my mind, and am having trouble staying focused on the novel I would finish if I could just get my shit together.

And then there is the matter of the book I did finish. When you’re a writer, especially when you blog and write poetry and pseudo-memoir like I do, you put yourself on the page for all comers. Even if those comers are your ex-husband and his new wife. I don’t know how she stumbled upon Courtesan , (thanks, Google) but she did, and in an act of what I can only characterize as masochism, she’s reading it. Awkward.

But here’s the thing with writing. The things I write are from my point of view. First person limited all the way. The narrator is so, so unreliable. And anything I create is not written in blood or set in stone. It’s a snapshot of a moment, of however I was feeling the second I wrote the words down. And thoughts and words are fluttery, un-catchable things, that either allude you, or land on you, or come to you crawling, and over time, start flying.

That’s one of the things I love about words. They’re so capricious. One sentence strung together with random words means one thing. Take one away, the meaning changes. Add another, and it changes again.

My world is full up with words right now. My novel, my next novel. The books piled on my nightstand that will frustrate and inspire me, and make me doubt my sanity and my talent. The 8 page snippets from my writer’s critique group waiting for critique. Twitter. Facebook. WordPress words.

If I am quiet, and you want to know where I am, that’s where you’ll find me.

Conversation With My Muse

Muse: Pssssst! Brittany! Are you awake? I have an idea.

Me: It’s 5 am. Can this wait?

Muse: (in an obnoxious sing song voice) It’s a great idea! Get out of bed sleepyhead! You’re gonna miss it!

Me: Can’t you just come back later?

Muse: Nope. Limited time offer. I’m going to give you all the words. All. The. Words. But you’d better wake up and write them down.

Me: But, you had me up past midnight! Way past midnight! I have to go to work today. I can’t be writing now.

Muse: Do you remember what happened the last time you sent me away? You’ve re-written that paragraph sixteen times, and it’s never even come close to the perfection I gave you. Ready or not, here they come! *Unfurls the words*

Me: Oh for god’s sake! Let me get my phone.

(leaves a note for myself on google keep)

Me: Are you done yet? Can’t I go back to sleep now?

Muse: Yep.

Me: Do you plan to hang around today?

Muse: Nope. You’re on you own. Until maybe 10 o’clock. Then I’ll come back.

Me: In the morning?

Muse: At night, silly!

Me: (grumbling) We need to have a talk about standard business hours.

Muse: We need to have a conversation about the word your character used on page 137. You should change it. In fact, you should change the word and then write an entire paragraph about stars.

Me: It’s 5am! I was going to go back to sleep.

Muse: Oh? Would you like help with your next chapter, or no?

Me: I hate you.

Muse: You love me, too.

Me: Fine.

Muse: Fine.

To Each Their Own

Jeremy and I were talking not too long ago about our desire for a lazy weekend, but then complaining about how even the most potentially lazy weekends become consumed with doing things. All that spare time seems to get filled up so quickly by errands, chores, and lately, birthday parties and holiday visits. We both wished for just a couple of hours to do something creative (me) or hit the casino for some poker (Jeremy), but also filed those wishes away as not likely to happen.

My life has taken on a certain pattern. On weekends when I have the boys, I try to plan fun activities for us to do together, and it’s usually a whirlwind of day trips, eating out, and general adventuring. Then the weekends I don’t have the boys become a mad scramble to take care of all the things I neglected the previous weekend and an attempt to carve out some time to myself to pursue the things that fill my life when I’m not creating foreign customs documentation.

This weekend was shaping up to be equally nuts. The boys have an all day taekwando event today, and since the rain has decided to give us a reprieve, I have several months worth of yard maintenance I need to tackle, and windows that desperately need a cleaning. Super fun. Not. But then John was invited to a sleepover last night, which coincided with a painting I was dying to try at Saratoga Paint and Sip. The wheels started turning.

I can’t tell you the last time I did anything one on one with either of the boys, so I texted Sam and asked him if he’d like to go on a “mom date” with me. He readily agreed. After that was settled, I sent Jeremy a text and said “You are going to have the house to yourself Friday night. I strongly suggest you go play some poker.”

This is one area that I am absolutely adamant about in our marriage. It is healthy to have time to ourselves to do the things we love. I am not one of those wives who discourages Jeremy from doing the things he enjoys. And he is not one of those husbands who discourages me from doing what I enjoy. In fact, we push each other to cut the self-sacrificing bullshit and do things for ourselves whenever those rare moments present themselves. This is why I married him.

He acted like I’d just presented him with a bow-wrapped Porshe in the driveway. A night to himself to do whatever the heck he wanted? Sign him up!

So we were all happy.

I told Sam that he could pick the restaurant for dinner, and to my surprise, he chose The Whistling Kettle in Ballston Spa. Ever since Jeremy and I honeymooned in Paris and introduced the boys to the crepes we fell in love with there, the boys have become serious crepe connoisseurs. When we took them to Montreal, they ate their weights in crepes, and are determined to partake in crepes everywhere. The Whistling Kettle makes amazing crepes and has always been one of my favorite restaurants in the area, so I was absolutely fine with that suggestion.

After dinner, we drove up to Saratoga Springs, another one of my favorite places in the area. And then we painted.

The finished products

Every time we go we see lots of women, usually a very small contingent of men, and never any moms with kids. I don’t get it. For me, it’s the perfect bonding activity with the boys. They put their video games and phones away, we talk, we compare, we ask for advice, we bond in the shared experience of doing something together. As a parent, when was the last time your kids saw you trying and failing and doing something completely new and working through figuring it out? We are constantly on the sidelines watching and cheering on our children, but how often are the roles reversed? And how often do our children get the opportunity to work side by side with us, as peers?

Sam’s Paso Fino

At work, in the break room, an Everything-I-Ever-Needed-To-Learn-I-Learned-In-Kindergarten poster hangs on the wall. But for me, there are some major life lessons to be learned at Paint and Sip.

  1. Everybody is looking at the same image, everybody receives the same instructions, has the same paint, and the same paintbrushes, and every single person is going to interpret that image differently. It’s amazing at the end of a class to walk around and see all the little micro decisions people made that completely changed their painting from the one used as an example. It’s a lot like life, plus it’s a metaphor for the ages.
  2. It’s ok to go rogue. Just because everybody is doing the same painting, that doesn’t mean you can’t do something entirely different. Anything goes at Paint and Sip. It’s your painting, so do what will make you happy to hang it on your wall.
  3. Everything is more fun when we support each other. There’s something truly magical about the camaraderie, the encouragement, and the whole lack of judgement at Paint and Sip. We’re painting a horse and you think yours looks like a duck? Awesome! Paint or duck! Or, we’ll fix it!
  4. Everything can be fixed. There is no such thing as a painting emergency.
  5. The finished product is not the point. The process is the point. The learning is the point. The figuring it out as you go is the point. And it’s also the fun part.
My Paso Fino

The Under the Sea Birthday Party

Sometimes I feel like, for a couple of years there, I completely dropped the Mom ball. Between just-getting-through-the-day depression, soul sucking work at a series of jobs that brought me no kind of joy, and just being tired, and poor, and overwhelmed generally, I wasn’t able to do the type of things I wanted to for the boys.

In past years, instead of throwing them a birthday party, I instead gave them experiences. We went to NYC and we did some day trips, and we had fun. But this year, John was turning 11, and when he said that what he really really wanted was a birthday party with his friends, I took a deep self-collecting sigh, and agreed to whatever he came up with.

Every day with my boys is a reminder that time is constantly marching on. They are 11 and (weeks away from) 13, and I see my relationship with the boys is changing daily. I’m entering new territory as a teen/preteen mom. All the things I loved doing with them in their young childhoods are soon to be things of the past. Like birthday parties at the house. Sooner than I would like (or am ready for) such things will be passe.

John wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for his birthday, but for what is probably his last party like this, I wanted to do something memorable for him. One of the things we really enjoy doing together is paint and sip. And he’s incredibly good at it.

John’s version of Van Gogh’s Poppies

He painted this last summer when he was 10.

I happened to go to a paint and sip locally, and Nicole, our leader and painting guru, from Paint Parties by Nicole mentioned she did home parties. When I suggested a painting party to John, his eyes lit up. Winner, winner chicken dinner. Nicole sent me some pictures of possible paintings we could do, and John picked this one.

Under the Sea

So we had a theme. I’ve mentioned before how much I love a theme and the planning that goes into a party. So I fired up Pinterest and John and I pinned a bunch of images of food, cakes, and decor that he liked. Then later, I went back through the images and selected the things I knew I could pull off. I live in fear of becoming a walking, talking Pinterest fail, so I try to be realistic (okay, sort of realistic).

This is what I did:

Something fishy is going on…

And I decided that since my days as birthday party planner extraordinaire were numbered, I would go whole hog and make the cake too.

I am not a baker. I have never not been a buy-the-cake-from-the-bakery kind of girl. But I was feeling nostalgic and wanted some of my doting Mom street cred back. So I made one myself.

Yeah….

Yes, it’s lopsided, the icing isn’t smooth, and the decorations are, how do we say this nicely… underwhelming. But it is a cake, and the girl who never makes cakes made it.

The layers look good

I am particularly proud of how the layers turned out though. I had to figure out how to dye the batter myself, and I nailed it! (I added one drop of blue food coloring to the batter, mixed it, and put it in a pan. Then added another drop to the remaining batter, mixed, and put it in the pan. I did this for each successive layer and as you can see it worked perfectly!) Plus it was pretty tasty, and the kids didn’t complain. That is a marker of a good cake.

The kids all seemed to enjoy painting as well, and John was in his glory. Here are his and Sam’s finished products.

They turned out great!

The Best Step Dad Ever

This is my new favorite picture of Jeremy.

We recently went out to dinner when something amazing happened. Sam left half his sweet and sour chicken on his plate. No sooner had the words “I’m full” come out of his mouth than Jeremy reached over, grabbed a piece of chicken, and popped it in his mouth.

This would have been perfectly normal in a lot of families.

But we’re a step family.

It happened so quickly, and so naturally, that maybe no one else even noticed. But I definitely did. For our family it’s kind of a big deal, because Jeremy is the step dad and (even though it seems like he’s always been around) in actually he hasn’t even been in our lives 2 years yet.

But the fact that things are this comfortable between us all is HUGE.

I was raised by a single mother, and I can tell you right now that if any of her boyfriends had ever eaten my leftovers, that would’ve felt supremely weird. And since she didn’t remarry until I was 30, I never had to get used to the idea of having a stepdad around. But I imagine it’s hard.

So whenever I see Jeremy with my boys, I want to pinch myself, because they make that whole bonding-with-stepdad thing look effortless. Tonight we went out to buy a new keyboard for John’s computer, and on the way home, I was serenaded by all three of them singing show tunes from Avenue Q and SpongeBob and The Book of Mormon on the way home. In my wildest dreams, that was never how my fantasy remarriage looked like, but every day I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.

The funny thing is, I’m not sure Jeremy and I would have figured any of “us” out had it not been for the boys.

We’d gone on one date, and if I’m honest, I was ambivalent about the whole thing. Jeremy seemed nice enough, but we’re both shy, socially awkward introverts, and first dates are not exactly where we shine. I’m pretty sure I spent the whole date just trying to maintain eye contact and look engaged even though I was disassociating through most of it (as I’m want to do when get-to-know-you small talk gets too tedious). I assumed, like so many first dates before him, I’d never hear from him again.

But he kept texting me. So I kept texting him. And I asked him if he planned to go to the family picnic the Facebook singles group we belonged to was planning for 4th of July. He said he’d go if I was going, so we met up there. Only this time, I had the boys with me.

Again, if I’m honest, I was still super blah about the whole thing. In my mind this was NOT a date. But the boys really seemed to like him. When he heard them complaining that the party was boring and that they’d rather see a movie, he invited us to all go see a movie together, which impressed the boys immensely. On the way home in the car, they went on and on and on and on and on and on and on about the awesomeness that was Jeremy. Sam said I needed to marry him and make this guy their stepfather, preferably as soon as possible. I did not get it. But I trust dogs and children. And Archie, my dog, had already laid claim to Jeremy.

I talked about that here.

From the moment Archie met Jeremy, he made it quite clear that Jeremy was the greatest human alive. He said to me, in no uncertain doggie terms, “Thanks for springing me from the shelter. Thanks for feeding me, and walking me, and giving up 2/3 of your bed to me for the last two years. But now that Jeremy is here, I’m going to pretend I don’t know you, and try to wedge myself between the two of you at every opportunity because Jeremy is MY human, not yours.”

With the boys jumping on board the We Love Jeremy fan club, I stuck it out, and here we are. (It didn’t take me long to figure out what everyone else saw in him so readily. It just took me longer.)

But again, if the boys hadn’t brought up marriage and continued insisting that they wanted a Jeremy stepfather and not a Jeremy mom’s boyfriend we would probably still be living together and probably less likely to make it official. But here we are, five months in, and I’ve truly never been happier. A big part of what makes me so happy is seeing the relationship that Jeremy had created with the boys, and how happy they are around him.

He’s not trying to be their dad. He’s not trying to be their friend. He’s more their bonus parent–an additional adult who has got their back in life. An adult who expands their world, and shows them one more example of how to be a good man and good father. We’re all really lucky to have him.